Apotheosis of the Condemned

Apotheosis of the Condemned

0 INK

[Private] In a small American town, the veil between the worlds grows thin, and all manner of supernatural creatures attempt to pass though. The only hope of fixing the problem lies with the mysterious Solomon Brothers, Inc.

2,129 readers have visited Apotheosis of the Condemned since Dynamite created it.
Naga's Shadow, and Nephilim are listed as curators, giving them final say over any conflict & the ability to clean up mistakes.

Heads Up: Completed Storyline!

This universe is marked as COMPLETED, indicating that no further changes will be accepted.

Introduction



Image

Image

A Private Roleplay for Mihael, Asilian, and Dynamite

Theme: Nine Lashes || Anthem of the Lonely



There are those that say the Wheel of Life has been ever turning, that there was no beginning, and there shall be no end. There are others who believe that, like everything else, it had a genesis and shall have an apocalypse. Regardless, every being that exists has a place on it, from the lowest of plants and insects to the greatest among the gods. Many of these things do die, and all of them can. On the Wheel, each realm is a spoke, and anytime anything in any of these worlds dies, its soul is retrieved by a powerful spirit, called a shinigami, that then opens a Gate to Chūno, home of the gods themselves.

The soul is weighed and measured in the eyes of Kurogami, the Arbiter, the Judge, and it is he that determines its place in the next life, from its deeds and its character. Sometimes, souls are condemned to periods in Yoruno, the Dark World, and other times, they are given the chance to walk for a while amongst the gods in Chūno, also called Paradise. One or two souls have attained such perfection that they have even become gods, joining the ranks of those that already exist.

Gods alone have the power of miracles, but even they are not permitted to create new souls, for the power is beyond them, and the delicate balance of the Wheel would be tipped beyond repair if any of them did. Though they are mighty, they are not the beings humans often believe them to be—and indeed, many of them are vulnerable. It is not uncommon for them to keep their own realms within Paradise, and each commands an army, for protection and in case of conflict with another god, or, heavens forbid, another realm. These armies usually consist of spirits and demons, those considered mightier than their brethren in Yōkaino, the Demon World. Humans are limited to Ningeno, the largest and most populous of the worlds.

All of the worlds have defined dimensional boundaries, and in the usual case, the only way to travel between them is via World-Gates, often referred to simply as Gates. Few creatures have the power to summon or banish a gate, and it is beyond even most of the gods. Kurogami, lord of Reincarnation, employs for this purpose the shinigami, and they alone can move about at will. Most often, shinigami are drawn from the ranks of the departed, those who had potential, but whose lives were cut short, or ones who still retain the redeemability of those who did not fall entirely to the darkness that tainted them.

But there came a time when the Arbiter believed that this was not enough. And so, unbeknownst to the rest of the gods, he committed the one forbidden act: he created life. The being he made was called the Hellhound, and unique among all the creatures in all the worlds, the Hellhound had no soul. Though it lived in the worlds, it existed outside the Wheel, and this made the gods fear it. All except Kurogami, who loved it like a child. For he had created where no other could, and this was his creation. The act ignited a great discontent, and because of the wars between the gods, the fabric of reality was damaged, creating weaknesses in the bounds between worlds. Weaknesses that allow some forbidden travel through the realms. The Wheel itself tilts out of balance, and no one knows what will happen if it falls. Everyone who understands even a little fears that like nothing else, but there are opportunists who take advantage of this chaos to wreak havoc of their own, attempting to claim places that they were not allowed by the Arbiter.

What will come of this remains to be seen, but it will not be without consequence.





River Lake is not the kind of town one would expect to be at the center of a story about a conflict between realms, gods, and powerful spirits. It’s not even a town one would expect to be the setting of a reality show or a sitcom. It’s quaint, and quiet, and virtually everyone in it knows everyone else. Little ever seems to happen—in fact, the town appears to be slowly dying, as the younger residents move out and away for greater opportunities elsewhere. The drably-named burg boasts a population of several hundred, a post office, one bank, two police officers, a pharmacy, the eponymous river and lake, and several small businesses, but not much else.

This unassuming settlement, however, has one very unfortunate fact in its disfavor: it is something called a Hollow Point, a place where the veil between realms is thin, the very fabric of space-time unstable and thus delicate. Here, creatures strong or small enough are able, should they have the skill, to pass from their world to the mortal realm without the use of a Gate or the leave of the gods, and no few of them have taken advantage of that. As a result, the cosmic leakage has affected the area immediately around the town, making it not only verdant and blooming during the growing season, but dangerous and formidable at night. Seldom do the residents wander about after dark, for fear that they, like some others over the years, will never return. Those from outside the place dismiss its locals as superstitious and backwards, pegging the missing people as runaways who just didn’t want to stay in River Lake.

But there are those that know better. Recently, a new business has opened up in town, called simply Solomon Brothers, Inc. Who the Solomon brothers are, or what they do, is largely unknown to most, though some claim them to be a private investigation firm, run solely by two young men. This is, of course, but a fragment of the truth, and what unravels with their arrival is everything River Lake promises it will not be: a tale, grand in the telling, of a man with no soul, a puppet who longs to pull his own strings, a woman with dark talents even she does not fully understand, and a black kirin, shunned by those who should have loved her, and loved by those who want most to shun her.

Their journey will take them across worlds, over fantastical landscapes, and into the darkest corners of their own minds, but where it ends is entirely up to them.




Image



Image
Ephraim Solomon | The Hellhound | Played by | Dynamite

Image
Virgil Solomon | The Kitsune | Played by | Dynamite
Image
Nerys Liacht | The Black Kirin | Played by | Mihael

Image
Keira Mizuki | The Medium | Played by | Asilian



Toggle Rules

Threads

No threads found.

The Story

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ephraim Solomon Character Portrait: Virgil Solomon Character Portrait: Nerys Liacht Character Portrait: Keira Mizuki

Earnings

0.00 INK

Image
Image




Snap. Snap. Snap. Snap.

Keira's wrist was beginning to turn red from her messing with the rubber band so much. She'd gotten a lot better at holding things in over the last few months, but sometimes...

Some customers got the better of her. It was ten minutes before closing time, and this woman had come bursting in, demanding they make her daughter a birthday cake. Keira's face was a placid mask, staring blankly at the woman as she began ranting about how the Gourmet of Delights was the best in town, and they just had to do this, because her daughter would just die if she didn't get a cake on her birthday from here.

Once the woman finished, Keira blinked at her, her eyes sliding to the right for a second, where the spectre of a man was standing next to her, rather accurately miming the woman in her body movements and gestures. If Keira had been anyone else, she might have laughed, however; Keira found little humor in the actual situation. Besides, normal people did not laugh at thin air, and she was supposed to be acting normal.

As it were, this woman was testing the limits of her patience. "Ma'am." She said slowly, keeping her tone as even as possible, "If you would like to place an order with us, we would be glad to get you a cake within the week, however; it is ten minutes to closing, and I'm afraid the bakers responsible for the making of our cakes have already gone home. Unless you already have an outstanding order that is ready to be picked up, or you would like one of our smaller, ready-made cakes, I'm afraid there is little we can do for you tonight."

The woman blinked owlishly at her. "But, you're a bakery! Can't all of you make these things? Surely it wouldn't take you very long? Can't you just whip something up?"

This caused Keira to scowl slightly. She wasn't sure if the woman was tryng to play her, or if she truly was as stupid as she was making herself out to be. "Ma'am, I am a waitress, not a chef. As such, no, I cannot simply whip something up as you so aptly put it. I will ask you again, would you like to place an order with us, or are you going to leave?"

The woman looked put-out, clearly upset. "But my daughter will just die if she doesn't get one of your cakes!"

Keira sighed, becoming more and more frustrated. "I'm quite certain that your daughter will not die if she does not get a cake from a certain bakery. I have tried to be patient with you, and I am now asking you to leave. Please, the door is right behind you."

The woman seemed to take this as an insult, as her face reddened, and she raised her hand, as if to strike Keira, which she did try. "You little--"

Whatever she was going to say was cut off by Keira, as she raised her arm to block the woman's incoming hand. There was a steely coldness to her eyes as she spoke, her voice flat-lining to a monotone. "I am now exercising my right to refuse you service, if you do not leave now, then you leave me with no choice but to call the authorities, and I'm fairly certain that jail is the last place you want to be on your daughter's birthday."

The woman paled, and abruptly turned and marched out of the store. Once she was gone, Keira sighed. Nari rubbed up against her leg, and she bent down and picked him up, burying her face in his fur. "I really hate people, Nari..." She muttered softly.


Nerys swayed, a smile plaguing her lips as the music played through the small ear-buds in her ear. Usually, she would be out in the front, taking care of last minute orders, however; she was currently in the back baking a few extra things. She was placing the final touches upon an order that was to be picked up tomorrow, and she wanted everything to look perfect for the couple that were picking it up. It was their wedding cake, and as such, Nerys personally took care of it. She knew how special weddings could be, and though she had some pretty great bakers, she wanted to add an extra flare to it. As such, she leaned over, reaching inside of the oven and pulled the sheet out, placing it on top of one of the tables before turning her attention fully to it.

She grabbed the pink frosting, coloring roses in the process. Once she was finished, she placed the last layer on top of the already large-stacked cake and nodded her satisfaction. She glanced at the clock, noticing it was five minutes until closing time, and smiled brightly. Dusting off the extra flour on her hands, she untied the apron at her waist and placed it upon the hook where a majority of the other aprons called home. She made her way around the back, peeking her head out of the door and spotted Keira, burying her face into one of the foxes' fur and a woman who begrudgingly left the bakery. A frown marred her face for a second before she shook it away. Instead, she walked over towards Keira and placed a hand on her shoulder.

"Keira," Nerys spoke, her voice calm and soft as she offered Keira a warm smile. "If you want to, you can head home now. I know it's getting late," she stated, removing her hand from Keira's shoulder in the process. "Besides, I might stay a little late tonight. I need to finish this order so that it's ready to go in the morning. There are a few things I need to attend to before it's complete," she added, her smile brightening in the process. Which was true in a sense. The order, though complete, wasn't exactly complete. She still needed to add the last decorations to the cake and there was a few extra minor details that she needed to change. She wanted the cake to be perfect for the happy couple, and she wanted to make them happy on such a bright day.





“No.”

The word was delivered with some irritation, which was not at all uncommon when the speaker happened to be speaking to the person in questions. Of course, it was perhaps a little unexpected that the speaker was a large black dog, its shoulder of a height with the ribcage of the tall man he walked beside. It was perhaps a shade larger than any dog on this plane was, but from far enough away, he could pass for a massive wolfhound, were it not for the fact that his eyes were red. Still, it wasn’t like most people got close enough to tell this, though the fact that he was walking beside this particular individual did tend to make it a close thing, sometimes.

Virgil attracted as much or more as Ephraim repelled. The two were opposite in this sense. And many others, for that matter. “But why not?” the more humanoid of the two responded, though if asked, perhaps it would have been the tendency of no few to say that humans were not so pretty without a lot of work and no inconsiderable artifice. Cynical, maybe, but the suspicion would have been well-placed, for the man was no more human than the hound that walked next to him.

“They’re probably closed, and besides that, I have no particular desire to ignore you while you play around with the staff.” They’d just finished banishing a small clan of succubi back to their own realm, though not before they’d propositioned each of them in increasingly-vulgar fashions for the duration of an hour-long confrontation. He was not in the mood for more of Virgil’s shenanigans… even if a false acquiescence was ultimately the reason they’d finished so quickly.

“Well that’s an easy fix,” Virgil said with a wicked smile. “Just play around with us.” The growl that rumbled from low in the hound’s chest was exactly what he’d expected, and his musical chuckle confirmed as much. “Honestly, Ephraim, it’s on our way back anyway, and I happen to know that there are still five minutes before it closes. Plenty of time to get something to go, no?”

If a dog could roll its eyes, that was what Ephraim was doing right now, but nevertheless he chuffed a sigh, and in a gradual process that never failed to fascinate his so-called brother, the canine became a man. It was not the same bright flash of light as a kitsune transformation. In fact, there was very little flashy about it at all. Ephraim simply became something else, as though he had always been. The transition was so smooth that it was hard to remember what any of the intermediate stages even looked like. He towered at his full height, somewhat taller even than Virgil, but he said nothing, and allowed the other to lead the way to the Gourmet of Delights, as it was called. They passed a rather angry-looking woman on a cell phone as they went, and she stopped mid-sentence, blinking owlishly and reddening as Virgil fixed her with a heart stopping smile.

“Really?” Ephraim asked, sounding faintly disgusted. This, of course, caused Virgil to laugh.

“She was quite upset, and calling her attorney, if I’m not mistaken. She doesn’t remember why, now.” Virgil could guess why, and he simply wasn’t having that. The bakery was too entertaining to be shut down by some rich human and a cadre of high-powered lawyers. That would just be a shame, indeed. Pushing the door open with his index digit, he stepped through to the sound of a soft chime, smiling in his trademark fox-like fashion. “Good evening, ladies. I realize you’re almost done for the night, but if my brother and I could trouble you for some beverages to go, we’d appreciate the favor.”

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ephraim Solomon Character Portrait: Virgil Solomon Character Portrait: Nerys Liacht Character Portrait: Keira Mizuki

Earnings

0.00 INK

Image




Image




Keira flinched when Nerys touched her shoulder, immediately shrugging away from the contact. She glanced sideways at the woman, and then glanced back at the front. She had been about to answer when two regulars came in. They were decidedly not Keira's favorite customers. But then, she didn't have any favorites.

If she were any other person, her eye probably would have twitched, and she would have sighed. As it were, she simply looked at them with an almost blank expression, avoiding looking at Ephraim altogether, and asking, "And what can I get the two of you to go, then?"

She let Nari down, who instantly jumped up on the front counter, rubbing against Virgil's hand. Keira glanced down at the fox, frowning slightly. She could feel the tremors trying to make themselves known along her spine. She always got this way whenever the two brothers [so they called themselves, Keira thought otherwise] came into the establishment.

As an afterthought, she turned back to Nerys, saying, "I'll just take their order, and then I'll go home."


Nerys frowned when Keira recoiled from her hand, but replaced it immediately with a smile thereafter. She would break through Keira's wall eventually, she just had to work at her own pace and not push things too far. She didn't want to have Keira hate her for that. Instead, she turned towards the two customers that walked in, her eyes light with recognition. She offered them a bright smile as she blinked a bit, watching as Nari rubbed up against Virgil's hand. She was about to say something when Keira spoke, stating she would go home after she took their orders. Nerys merely shook her head.

"It's okay Keira, I have this. I am staying a bit late to begin with anyways. You should go home and get some rest," she stated with a bright smile, turning towards Virgil and Ephraim. "I can never say no to the both of you, of course it won't be too much trouble!" she stated a bit enthusiastically, grabbing a note pad and a pen. With a soft click, she placed the pen across the paper, turning back towards the two brothers. "Is it the usual scone for you Ephraim?" she stated. Ephraim usually always chose the scones, but Virgil was more inclined to try something different every time they came in, which wasn't very often, but often enough to know their faces and names.


Virgil could feel the discomfort radiating from the medium; he found her proclivity to try and hide such things very amusing. The foxes that followed her around, however, showed absolutely no reservations about him whatsoever, and he would have found it more than passing strange if they did. He scratched at the little one’s ears, leaning forward so that his elbow hit the counter and his chin rested in his hand. This put him basically on a level with Keira, though the wood and granite of the counter separated them. The way he smiled, and the mischievous glint in his eye, promised that this was a formality he was observing only because he wanted to, not because it would actually provide any sort of protection should he desire to cross it.

“Not even a hello?” he purred, in a voice like honey. “You wound me so.”But in the end, he did not press any further than that, merely winking one of his bright blue eyes at her and straightening himself back into a more proper stand, not particularly mindful of the fact that Nari had climbed up his arm to rest over his shoulders like some kind of living scarf.

Ephraim sighed through his nose and rolled his eyes at Virgil, who only shrugged lightly, not enough to disturb the fox draped over his person. The taller of the two men nodded at Nerys. “And the usual coffee.” He said, though he did at least manage to keep most of his general crankiness out of his tone. It was hard, but people on this plane really relied on manners. It lacked the formal ritual of some of the other realms, but not snapping at them was expected. Not that he was particularly inclined to snap at these two, but abrasiveness was in his nature, and a certain kind of coldness.

“He means thank you, Nerys,” Virgil corrected with a smile. “I’ll have the chamomile tea and…” He trailed off, looking at the mostly-empty pastry case. The detriment of arriving just before closing. Nevertheless, everything was delectable, so it wasn’t like he was put-out by this. “Oh, one of the blueberry tarts, I should think. Much obliged, dear.”


Keira's eyes narrowed further, but she didn't say anything as Nerys took their order. Instead, she returned to the back room, leaning against the wall for a minute, trying to get her body under control. The fear she felt around Ephraim was potent, and she understood little of it. She sighed, grabbing her jacket and her keys, and walked back out to the front, intent on leaving, the two foxes following on her heels. At the door, however, she paused, glancing over at the men, now the only people in the cafe aside from Nerys.

"Goodbye, Mr. Solomon." She said flatly, exiting the building. The night was cool and brisk, and she sighed, turning down the dark alleyway. Ghosts and spectres floated around her, but she ignored most of them. She'd spoken to all of them before, and most of them had been around so long that they had begun to lose themselves, repeating the same thing over and over. There was even a male native american indian. Virgil poked around in the back of her mind, causing her to scowl.


Nerys smiled as she took the orders, shaking her head slightly when Ephraim spoke and Virgil clarified. "It's alright Virgil. I know he means nothing by it. It's just how he speaks. Everyone has their own way of speaking, some people are just not inclined to notice the variations of one's speech patterns though so they might have taken offense to it. I shall be back in five minutes! Oh, and here's your blueberry tart!" she spoke, rambling a bit as she dived underneath the counter to produce Virgil his requested item. She wrapped it in a light blue napkin as she handed it to him.

"Be careful Keira!" Nerys called out after Keira as she left, frowning momentarily before shaking her head. "You two can take a seat. It won't be long I promise," she spoke to the Solomon brothers, turning her back to them in the process. "One of these days!" she mused to herself as she walked towards the back, heading straight for the coffee machine. She brewed the coffee, made it as Ephraim usually liked it before she set work to Virgil's tea. Once both were done, she exited the kitchen area, drinks in hand. "Here you go, one coffee and one chamomile tea," she stated, smiling softly in the process.


Virgil didn’t move as the fox on his shoulders left them to follow his mistress, though he did smile a little. Nobody ever left his company without thinking about him for a while afterwards—not if he wanted them to. And he rather enjoyed the thought of her being unable to tear her mind away, for a little bit. He took the offered seat, and though Ephraim moved with him, the Hound remained standing, another habit of his.

He’d blinked slowly at Nerys’s little ramble, something which Virgil found honestly rather adorable. Ephraim, on the other hand, was simply mildly confused. The younger of the two men nibbled on his blueberry tart, enjoying the mixture of sweet and tangy flavors. The woman really did know how to bake a sweet. When she returned with their beverages, Ephraim succeeded in remembering his manners. “Thank you, Nerys.” Virgil glanced up at his brother and half-smiled coyly, but whatever was on his mind, he kept to himself for the moment, accepting the tea and paying for the both of them.

“Thank you indeed, dearheart. We’ll see each other soon enough, I’m sure. Try not to miss us in the meantime.”. It was entirely a joke, of course, but that didn’t make his parting grin any less lascivious, not even when his brother frowned at him. The two departed, leaving the proprietor of the shop to her own devices for the eve. There was, after all, business to be attended to, and Solomon Brothers, Inc, did most of its work after dark.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Virgil Solomon Character Portrait: Keira Mizuki

Earnings

0.00 INK



Image

Image



It was Saturday, and Keira had off that day. As such, she currently found herself wandering through an older part of the woods on the south end of River Lake, the trees shiedling her for the most part from not only the sun, but prying eyes as well. A few ghosts floated by, and she greeted them in passing. They were surprisingly new spirits, and still retained the memories from when they had been alive, however; none of them seemed overly interested in drowning her with their troubles, and Keira was quite content to leave it at that.

Nari and Kami bounded after her, occasionally dashing ahead, playing with leaves, or each other, the young foxes rather happy to be outside. It brought something of a ghost of a smile to her face. She had no idea why the cubs seemed so attached to her, but they never left her side. In a way, they were her family.

Kami suddenly pricked her ears up, and gave a small yip, dashing off through the bushes. Frowning, Keira followed her, to make sure the kit stayed out of trouble, although; trouble seemed to have found them. Or perhaps just Keira, as she found herself face to face with none other than Virgil Solomon. Keira blinked once, the smile that had been on her face gone, replaced by the calm mask of neutrality she wore around others.

"Mr. Solomon." She said briskly.


Honestly, after the fiftieth unauthorized realm transfer spat something nasty out practically on our front doorstep, things got a little annoying. Virgil was, of course, a very patient being, but most of the attempts were made by low-grade spirits and the occasional demon. One time, there had been a lesser kami. He’d quite enjoyed putting fear into a god. Or rather, watching Ephraim do it. While Virgil was fully capable of intimidating even the higher-order gods, his disdain for them was great enough that he would rather the Hound handle it. The only extra-worldly creature he was concerned with anymore was Benihime, and when he found her, that bitch was going to die.

This particular section of the dark forest surrounding River Lake was home to one of the town’s Hollow Points, those special zones where the veil between realms was thin. This particular rift led to and from the realm of the dead, Shino. As such, there were various spirits floating about from time to time, but most of them gave him a wide berth. As well they should—kitsune were one of the few creatures just as dangerous to the dead as they were to the living, should they choose to be. Virgil did not, on most occasions, and chose to reserve the burn of his foxfire for things other than twisted amusement. Though… he really did get bored sometimes. Even so, most of the ghosts here were not malignant, and unlike Ephraim, it was decidedly not his job to put things back where they belonged. He couldn’t operate a Gate even if he’d wanted to.

So instead, he laid sprawled in the meadow, the dark bark of the trees like columns, supporting the canopy of rich, emerald green leaves. The sun occasionally peeked through it, stippling the grass and Virgil himself in dappled light. His loose hair fanned about his person like a silvery cloud, bereft of no luster for lack of light, but for once, he was not particularly attempting to exude any allure. There was nobody here, after all, and while certain aspects of his appetitive drives were rather insatiable, one might say, he was a being capable of quite some degree of control. A fog-colored butterfly passed him by, landing for a curious moment on his nose, and he smiled, exhaling a gentle puff of air to bid it on its way. “Flattering,” he murmured as it took off, “but misguided. I am no flower.”

His keen ears picked up on a yipping noise, and he placed it immediately as belonging to Kami, the female fox so often in the medium’s company. The associated scent was enough to confirm that she was, indeed, headed this way. “I can never decide if the gods love me or hate me,” he said to the fox as she curled up on his chest. “I do hope it’s both—but they shouldn’t make it so easy.” He fell silent, however, until the woman herself appeared, adopting that cool, crisp demeanor of hers. It was amusing, how much she managed to hide with it. Too bad there was no hiding from an empath.

“Miss Mizuki,” he replied, though his tone was anything but cool. If she was an autumn leaf with a hint of frost at the edges, he was… oh right. He was what he’d always been. Sex and death. Cunning and sensuality. A fox, in the truest sense. He turned his head faintly to meet her eyes, though he had yet to sit up. He didn’t feel the need. “Your friends are delightful, I must say.”


As if in response, Nari, too, went running up to the blonde man, and Keira simply silently watched them for a few seconds, before replying, "They certainly like you well enough, it would seem."

She wondered what he was doing out here, contemplating asking for a second, however, she held her tongue. It wasn't like it was any of her business, anyhow. A subtle tremor ran through her, when their eyes met. A part of her senses always seemed to be screaming at her to run whenever she came too close to Virgil or Ephraim, but in Virgil's case, another part of her seemed to be almost...drawn to him, like a magnet. It annoyed her as much as it confused her.

"You are here alone?" She blinked after she said it. What an absurd question.


“Mm, don’t blame them too much. It is my nature to be loved or feared… or both.” His eyes narrowed slightly, the nature of the aquamarine gaze shifting until there was a faint hint of danger in it, but not too much of course. Most people managed to convince themselves that they were imagining things. His index finger curled under Kami’s chin, and he scratched her there with an amused half-smile on his face, diverting his eyes from Keira long enough to do so, but returning them as soon as she’d asked the question. A perfectly-arched brow ascended his forehead, and he stood smoothly, repositioning Nari over his shoulder and cradling Kami in one bent arm.

He drifted a few steps closer, stopping just barely inside of what he took to be her personal space, which was admittedly quite a lot more than most people reserved. “It’s just me, you, and our mutual friends,” he said languidly, referring of course to the foxes--or was it more than that? “But I do wonder, Miss Mizuki, what could possibly have possessed you to ask a question like that…” His smirk was wicked, but his eye were light with amusement.


Keira did not think that she imagined seeing danger in his eyes. She knew she'd seen it. Every nerve ending in her body screamed danger whenever she looked at the man before her. He was dangerous, she just could not figure out in what ways. Perhaps in every way. She shuddered involuntarily. It was worse with Ephraim, it had always been worse with the dark-haired man, but Virgil still affected her, too. Keira could simply not understand it.

But then, she did not need to. Her arms had been hanging by her sides, but the minute Virgil stepped closer to her, she crossed them in front of her, holding them against her abdomen, as if to form a wall between herself and him. She glanced away from him, unable to hold his aquamarine gaze any longer.

"It is unusual to see someone this far into the forest alone, is all. Most of the locals believe it to be haunted, and dangerous." And how right most of them were. Ghosts of all ages glided past them, male and female. Over the course of two years, Keira had spoken to quite a few of them, and helped those that she could. Some were beyond help, though.

She was uncomftorably aware of him, when he was this close, and she could feel...something, like there was something shifting underneath his skin. There was something nagging in the back of her own mind, too, something that called her to command him.

Keira could have scoffed at the thought. She had no authority to comand anyone, let alone a man who flirted with everyone and seemed to have no shame in it. She took two steps away from him, unable to remain. Her skin crawled, and if she could see herself in a mirror [which she did not own, surprisingly, and those she could not get rid of were covered], she would have noticed that her grey eyes had begun to glow, ever so slightly. It was the power that slumbered deep within her, reacting to being in such close proximity to one such as Virgil. Not that she knew that, or would even understand it if she did. She blinked slowly, becoming slightly light-headed.

"I apologize for intruding." She said, but still did not move. It was something that had been ingrained in her, after years of being institutionalized. You did not leave until you were left, or bid to go. She couldn't help it, either. It was more than just second nature by now, it was almost to the point where it was a need.


Her defensive posture was not unexpected. She was spiritually aware, and as such, instinctively wary of something as powerful as he was. For once, the thought carried no arrogance—it was simply true. There were few beings in the world that could hope to stand up to a yokai of his particular stature. Weaker ones, certainly, but those few that occupied his own place on the Wheel were posed little threat by anything other than one another, though the dark beings of Yoruno sometimes became problematic.

He was amused by her response, and cocked his head to one side, a length of his silver hair falling over the corresponding shoulder. “An interesting explanation. But dangerous for whom, I wonder?” Technically, he would probably fall into the category of a reason the place was dangerous, rather than someone who out to avoid it for such reasons. But of course, she had no way to know that.

The air around them shifted as the power in him called to the power in her, beckoning it forth with an invisible gesture every bit as seductive as the one he might use of his own choice, but in a different sense. He was intrigued to note that the light in her eyes, the manifestation of her spirituality, brightened, and he felt the slightest bit of pressure from her will. He almost laughed. Almost. She didn’t know she was doing it, but she was trying to compel him. Foolish girl. Not even her god of an ancestor was capable of that—not without his soul and quite a lot of trickery. But all the same, there was an undeniable connection there, a thread, so tenuous and thin, but stronger than he expected, and he felt just a little of his demonic energy escape the tight bounds in which it was confined, flecks of bright gold entering the dazzling blue of his irises.

It was impossible to maintain human guise around Inari—the god was simply so connected to the kitsune that they could never be other than they were in its presence. That was not a power this girl had, but that little thread of it was there, and he was immensely curious to know what would happen, if she ever recognized that sliver of divinity for what it was. It was probably good that he was intrigued and amused, because his other visceral instinct had been to kill her for even thinking she could try to command him. He recognized however, that she did not believe she was doing this, and was in fact unaware of what effect she was having.

He, however, was not. While Virgil quite liked pinning people in place with nothing but his eyes or his smile, her reluctance to leave now was not because she was charmed by him, though she was not inured to him, either. Even so, the inability of her feet to move came from elsewhere, and he had no desire to exercise that kind of control over anyone anymore than he wished it to be exercised upon him. In fact, he found it moderately disgusting to even think about. The villainous smile faded from his face, and he sighed through his nose, placing Kami down on the forest floor, and gently removing Nari from his shoulder as well. Straightening, he looked at her with uncharacteristic sobriety, then shook his head. “Don’t be… there was already a crowd, no?” The place, after all, was filled with ghosts. His face regained its usual half-smirk as he passed her by on his way back into town though, and as he passed, he tucked a lock of her hair behind her ear with surprising gentleness, letting his long fingers trail lazily along her shoulder until his momentum took him by.

Let her try and forget that.


Keira narrowed her eyes slightly. What had he meant by that? A crowd...? Nari ran up to her, jumping up into her arms as Virgil left, and when he tucked a lock of her hair behind her ear, she...

Did nothing. She stood right where he'd left her, a surprised look breaking through the mask. She hadn't flinched, or shied away from him. He'd touched her, and she'd not reacted.

What on earth did that mean?

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ephraim Solomon Character Portrait: Nerys Liacht

Earnings

0.00 INK

Image




Image




Nerys smiled, the soft click of the door locking as she stuffed the key into her pocket. Saturdays tended to be the days where the shop closed early. She typically gave the weekends off to Keira so she could enjoy them. There were not a lot of people who liked working weekends, but Nerys wasn't one of those people who minded. If she had the stamina and will power, she would work all day, every day. It would make readying orders easier, and it wouldn't put a lot of strain on the other bakers. She always had their well-being in mind, and if she could, she would have them all doing what they wanted to do, rather than the tidbits she could afford to give them.

She shook her head, laughing lightly at herself as she hummed a light tune to herself. It was still early, and the day was still young. She glanced up, watching as the sun danced in the sky with a bright radiance, causing her to squint her eyes just faintly. Well, she could use a bit of stretching her legs, having stood in the back all day baking. With that in mind, she decided to wander through the small town, greeting people and stopping every now and then for idle chit-chat. It was nice just to stop and talk with the townspeople. Everyone almost knew everyone on a first name basis and it made for making friends fairly easy.

Of course, that wasn't the same if you were new to town. The new townsfolk were always the hype of the gossip around town, and it made no difference when Nerys could pick up the names of Ephraim and Virgil being thrown around. She frowned slightly at some of the gossip but chose to try and ignore it. People were always willing to jump to conclusions and spread things that were untrue around. Perhaps that was just her way of thinking, but regardless, she kept the smile on her face. She passed by a window, backtracking as she stared into the glass. There, on the display, was a rather worn out jade pendant with a tiger engraved on it. She frowned slightly, pursing her lips together as she stared at it.

"It's so pretty," she mused to herself as she continued to stare at it. She fumbled in her pocket, searching for her wallet and pursed her lips further together. She could buy it, but what purpose would it serve? She didn't need it, but she wanted it. She couldn't wear it either less she'd lose it. And she didn't want to lose such a beautiful piece of jewelry.

Ephraim cracked his neck to either side, and then each of his knuckles, which was at this point more a reflex than anything. It wasn’t like he had to worry about the health of his joints. This body had served him for a thousand years, and it was just as healthy now as it had been on the day he was created. He didn’t deteriorate, or if he did, his power allowed him to reject this particular facet of reality. He currently made his way down one of the commercial streets of town, on his way back to his own building. The one he and Virgil occupied for the moment was a shop on the bottom floor, which they’d converted into the least conventional-looking office in own, and an apartment on top, with a pair of bedrooms, two bathrooms, and a central living area.

He wasn’t one to care much about décor, so he’d let his partner choose the furniture. Mostly Ephraim used the place to sleep and, when he needed to, eat. Beyond that, he simply had no concern for it, and would have just as readily lived outside.

His weapons for the moment all of the concealable variety, he shoved his hands in the pocket of his dark duster coat, choosing for the moment to ignore the whispers he could hear the humans making about himself and his so-called brother. Virgil wasn’t exactly making things easy on them, causing such a stir as he was, especially among the sparse segment of the population that was both young and female. There were more than a few angry fathers and brothers and boyfriends around, but that was hardly of Ephraim’s concern. Virgil could dig his own grave if he wanted… not that it would be his grave. There was a certain ruthlessness to the kitsune that the Hellhound knew quite well. He wouldn’t allow the other to kill anyone here, but anything short of that, he just didn’t give a damn about, honestly. It was hard to, given what he was.

No few of the whispers, he noted, were about him. Mostly suspicious or fearful—he had none of his brother’s magnetism or allure, and he did not desire it. Even so, it grew tiresome after a while, and he was almost inclined to snap something caustic at the nearest gossipers, but losing his temper would only reinforce their point. Which was perhaps, when he saw someone he was not generally inclined to snarl at, he took the opportunity presented by her presence. Stopping a few feet from Nerys, he caught the end of her statement and glanced at the object she surveyed. She seemed to be indecisive about it, though he wasn’t sure why.

“You might as well,” he said bluntly. “Not everything has to have a use.” It was a bit of an odd sentiment, coming from him, but sometimes, even he got tired of his own relentless practicality. Maybe it was an effect Virgil was having on him. If so, he was disinclined to welcome it, but that didn't mean she should be. She wasn’t him, after all. Her life was not one lived on a short leash. The way he saw it, she could do what she wanted, so she ought to take the opportunity once in a while.

Nerys turned in time to see Ephraim standing a few feet behind her. She tilted her head a bit at his statement and seemed to entertain the idea for a moment, however; she smiled and shook her head. Not everything had to have a use, but everything had a purpose. And whatever that purpose was, she wasn't going to ruin it by purchasing it. Instead, she shrugged her shoulders lightly, the smile returning to her face in the process. She glanced back at the pendant one final time and turned to fully face Ephraim.

"You may be right, not everything has to be useful, but it has to have a purpose. One and the same thing, maybe, but it makes no difference. It might be more useful to someone else, so why would I want to take that away from the person who it could be more useful to?" she asked, the question innocent in its own way. She continued to smile before she blinked slowly, causing her to frown just a bit. "If I would have known I'd run into you, I would have brought you a scone, or a coffee," she murmured to herself, shaking her head in the process.

"I'll just have to make up for it next time. When you and Virgil come in, I'll give you both something on the house!" she stated, giving a satisfied nod in the process. It wasn't like she had to do it, but she felt the need to do it. She didn't know exactly what they did for a living, however; she was aware that most of it took place mainly during the night. And everyone knew you had to be awake for overnight jobs like that. Most people took to sleeping all day before getting up late at night, while others took to caffeine. She only assumed that Ephraim and Virgil consumed caffeine, one in coffee the other in tea.

He really didn’t understand this woman. Everything had to have a purpose? He supposed so, but some things were made for no purpose more glorious or interesting than being pleasant to look at. He was fairly certain human adornment was one of those things. He shook his head slightly, throwing some of his ink-dark hair into his face. “Suit yourself,” he said flatly. Who was he to tell anyone else how to live, anyway? He’d certainly managed to fuck his own existence up poorly enough. Maybe she was right and he was wrong. Maybe there just was no answer to such questions. He knew a lot about how the world worked at its most fundamental level, but for everything he knew, there was another thing he did not understand.

It was perhaps best that he left now, but… he wasn’t really in any hurry to be anywhere, and he would admit if only to himself that there was something a bit… nice about being in her presence. He’d met kirin before, and this was usually the effect that they had on other people, even, apparently, the ones without souls. That she was only half a kirin did not seen to noticeably diminish the effect. “It’s not necessary—the arrangement we share does not demand external obligation of you, and it certainly does not require that you render your goods and services without cost.” He was a little puzzled that she seemed to even consider it, blinking red eyes slowly. She ran a business, not a charity, and it wasn’t like he and his partner were bereft of human funds.

“If you are going to give a person something, at least let them work for it,” he added, his eyes narrowing slightly as he scrutinized her. She did not seem to be the kind of person who would idle away an entire day looking at things she had no intention of buying. Perhaps… “Is there something you are looking for in particular?”

Nerys pulled her lips into a tight frown at Ephraim's statement. "But, I want to. It's what friends do for each other. I know you probably don't consider me your friend, but I consider you mine. And if I want to give you and your brother something, consider it a gift!" she nearly huffed, her face turning a light shade of pink in the process. She really did consider him and his brother to be her friends, and as such, she wanted to treat them to something, at least every once and a while. She blinked at his question though and took a moment to process the question.

"Well, no not really. I had the rest of the day off and I figured I could stretch my legs by walking. It gets a bit tiring standing in one place all the time, and it is such a beautiful day," she began, her fingers laced behind her back as she spoke. "It just felt nice to take a walk around town. I only stopped because that pendant caught my eye, but I'd like to finish my walk," she continued as a thought struck her. "You don't have to, I am sure you are busy, but," she began, fidgeting a bit with the hem of her shirt.

"You could walk with me?" she questioned. He didn't have to, like she said. He was probably busy and should be getting back to work, however; in the slight chance he wasn't, she wouldn't mind the company, besides... "I enjoy your company," she stated, as she straightened back up and smiled a bit brightly. Her cheeks were going to cramp if she kept smiling so much.

The look on Ephraim’s face was at first perfectly impassive, but some small piece of humor and perplexity cracked the visage, and he sighed through his nose, shaking his head. Friends? She wouldn’t be saying that if she knew what they were. Then again… perhaps she would. She seemed just ridiculous enough to not care, at least not as much as a reasonable person would.

Reasonable people, Ephraim had learned, were overrated.

It wasn’t like he had anything better to do. An hour or two’s lost sleep wouldn’t affect him either way—he honestly only did it because he needed to consume the daylight hours somehow, and so little in the world could keep his attention for long anymore. He supposed that was what happened when you lived in the realms for a thousand years. Sometimes, he just wanted it to be over, though he had not the comfort that others did. He’d never come back, not as anything . If he should ever cease to exist, that would just be… it. Whether this was better or worse than continuing to live was up in the air for him.

Whatever the case, he shrugged his shoulders, cocking an eyebrow. “If you really want my company, you can have it.” he wasn’t sure what about it was worth having or seeking after—he was brusque at the best of times and caustic otherwise. It was hard to imagine being any more different from her than he was, but… at least she was relatively interesting. He wouldn’t mind this overmuch.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ephraim Solomon Character Portrait: Virgil Solomon Character Portrait: Nerys Liacht Character Portrait: Keira Mizuki

Earnings

0.00 INK

Image
Image




“I can’t believe you just let a damned lich walk right past you. Are you insane or just a fuckwit, Virgil?” Ephraim was about as close to shouting as he ever got, but largely managed to contain himself to snarling, mostly because there was always a chance some errant human would hear them. He didn’t smell anyone around, but then, his nose was kind of occupied with the twin aromas of the undead and Virgil’s own spicy fragrance. It made his nose itch, honestly, though that might have just been the irritation he was feeling.

Virgil himself was much calmer, which was honestly highly irregular, his mouth set in a rather grim line, the rest of him impassive. They moved quickly now through the fields on the outskirts of town, in pursuit of their Dark World quarry. For a lich to have been capable of breaking through at the Hollow Point only confirmed Virgil’s own theory—it was getting bigger, the veil weakening to the point where it would eventually shred altogether, and what would remain would be a gaping hole between dimensions. The presence of two beings with as much power as they had wasn’t helping it stabilize any, but they had to be here, else the town would soon be overrun. “I told you, Ephraim—there was nothing to be done. I sensed no phylactery, which means it’s either hidden beyond even my sight, or…”

“Under the control of something stronger that can’t get through yet, yes, I know.” The Hound replied testily. That didn’t mean he had to like it. While Ephraim relished more than was strictly healthy in the sport of hunting and banishing such creatures, his orders were to keep the town and its occupants safe and unaware of what was going on around them. That grew less possible when his so-called partner just let a lich pass through the veil without even trying to slow it down.

“Think about it, brother—if it is under the control of a superior sorcerer, we need to know what that being is after. Should we not allow it to go where it has been bidden? At the very least, we can be more prepared for the next thing, that way…” His only answer was a low growl, but that was as close to recognizing the wisdom of the move that Ephraim was going to get, so Virgil simply accepted it, and they continued to track the creature from a distance, waiting for it to select its destination—or its target.

Liches as a rule were invisible to ordinary human eyes, but of course there were more than a few humans with some level of spiritual awareness in the town. Just being born close enough to a Hollow Point of such a size was sufficient to imbue many of them with supernatural sensibility. It was the reason, unidentifiable by most of them, why they tended to shrink away from Ephraim. Certainly, his humanoid form was a man of forbidding presence in some senses, but even so, the outright fear he produced in some was a more instinctive to reaction. He felt wrong, because he had no soul.

To such people as had the awareness to actually see extraplanar entities, a Lich looked much like a skeleton, though faintly green and phosphorescent, giving the bones an eerie glow. Its eyes burned with an inner flame, usually red or orange in color, and this particular one was clad in lengthy, tattered robes of black linen. It was far from a Lich King, but even so, without a phylactery they could locate and destroy, its technical immortality would make it difficult to defeat. Virgil did so wonder what it was up to, though…


Night descended upon River Lake, the hours having passed by in the blink of an eye. Nerys smiled at the last customer, givng them a soft wave as they exited the pastry shop. With a satisfied nod, she walked from behind the counter towards the front door. She fumbled in one of the apron pockets and pulled out the keys, placing it in the key hole to lock the door for the day. It was closing time, after all, and there were no more customers in the shop. If there were, she'd be strongly against closing the shop until they all left. Tilting her head sideways a bit, she glanced over her shoulder, watching as Nari and Kami lay in their designated area.

"Well, today was interesting," she stated, a smile tugging at her lips as she recalled today's events. Nothing interesting happened, at least not noteworthy, though there was the one incident where she tripped...she shook that from her mind and walked back around towards the counter. "I can finish up the rest of the closing stuff if you want to go home Keira," she stated, turning her attention towards her friend in the process.


Keira glanced back at Nerys, nodding slightly. She really did not like leaving early, but she'd also learned a long time ago not to argue with the woman. Besides, she'd begun shivering in the past hour, feeling rather ill, though she'd done an excellent job of hiding it. It was as if something was looming over the store, like a dark cloud. She grabbed her things, saying a soft goodbye over her shoulder as she left, Nari and Kami bounding off after her.

The cool night air hit her face, not making her feel much better. If anything, the feeling only got worse, and for a second, she just stood there. There was an overwhelming sense of danger, though she had no idea why that would be.

She shuddered again, and not a block from the bakery, her eyes caught something. It was tall, and looked very much like a skeleton, clothed in a black tattered robe. She stared at it, unblinking, wondering what it was. It was certainly what was exuding the aura of danger that she so keenly picked up on, but...it looked at her, it's eyes like two candles. For a second, Keira found herself drowning in them. She couldn't move. It was like she was paralyzed by fear, and her feet would not respond, though every nerve in her body was screaming at her to run.

There was also something else she picked up on, like she was able to read its thoughts, if it had any thoughts. The thing was after the woman with the light hair...Keira's eyes widened.

"Nerys..."


Nerys shook her head softly, counting the last pastry before putting the note pad back into her apron and took it off. She placed it back on the rack and took one final look around. Every thing was accounted for, nothing was out of place, however; there was a light chill that went down her back. She couldn't explain it. It was as if someone was drawing circles, lightly against her skin with cold fingers. She pursed her lips together as she thought about it, closing her eyes for a second. She was trying to search for the source, but found there was nothing.

"Odd," she muttered to herself before shrugging her shoulders. It was probably the fatigue settling in. She had not slept well in the last two days, and the reason for that was unknown. She couldn't place it, but something felt wrong, and it had caused her to toss and turn in her sleep. Frowning just lightly, she decided to push the thoughts away, and made her way towards the front of the store. Once she locked it up, she began the slow walk home, however; not even a block away, she spotted Keira, standing with a shocked (or about as shocked as she could appear) expression upon her face. She made her way towards Keira, but was stopped when the chill grew stronger. She glanced around, her eyes momentarily locking with something not human.


Ephraim swore, loudly and, as far as Virgil was concerned, rather impressively. The lich had entered the town, which, while usually near-dead by this time of night, was apparently still occupied by the lich’s targets—and said targets were not unknown to the brothers. “I told you this was a fucking stupid idea,” he said venomously, causing a large claymore to appear in one of his hands. As a shinigami, he was able to use and quite frequently did use small interdimensional pockets to store his reaping weapons, and more or less picked them at random when he needed one. Gathering his legs underneath him, he leaped onto the nearest rooftop, Virgil a half-step behind and just as agile.

“Oh, I don’t know,” the fox replied, his voice slightly distorted as the fangs extended in his mouth, “I’d say it has the potential to end in a lot of violence.” For the two of them, this made it a better idea rather than a worse one, and Ephraim knew it too, if the tilt to his lips was any indication. The Hound tsked through his teeth, but didn’t argue with the reasoning. It was true that they were supposed to minimize human casualties, and any kind of awareness of what they were doing. But… even if they were spotted, Virgil had talents in memory modification that would take care of the problem. It was potential structural damage to the town that was the major issue. That and drawing the attention of too many people.

“I love small towns,” the yokai continued, as though reading his brother’s mind. “Most everyone stays in after dark.” The pair hit the roof of the bakery just as Nerys was coming upon the lich, and Ephraim rolled his eyes. Fantastic. He’d smelled them, but he’d rather hoped they wouldn’t just run into it. This was going to make things a bigger pain in the ass than they already were.

“Virgil,” he intoned, and the fox smiled, golden eyes flashing as his ears swapped forms to the white, furry triangles situated on either side of his crown. He nodded, the light tenor of his chuckle expressing his amusement with the situation, but it was he who leapt off the roof first, landing lightly and almost soundlessly in between the lich and the familiar females.

“Sorry, Itchy. I don’t think the café serves its workers’ souls as part of the menu. Ladies, pardon the intrusion.” He did not sound very apologetic to any of the three people he addressed, however, and with an astonishing celerity of movement, he wound an arm around each woman’s waist and tossed them over his shoulders, leaping back up onto the roof just as the lich swung downwards with the wickedly-curved dagger in its left hand. Ritual dagger—someone was supposed to be a sacrifice tonight, he thought, wondering which of them it had been. Probably Nerys—kirin blood was rather in demand for one’s immortality ritual of choice, and that was usually what a lich was after: a more permanent kind of immortality.

As the three of them arced upwards, Ephraim jumped down, bringing his claymore up and around in a devastating cleave that shattered most of the creature’s bones. Virgil set the two women down gently, then crouched at the edge of the roof, his ears swiveling slightly to catch all the noise in the area. Ah, there it was—the faint whine of necromantic magic. The lich’s bones were reassembling. Indeed, it was whole again within the space of ten seconds, but Ephraim was prepared for this, and lowered his sword to his side, circling the creature with a wide grin on his face, only accenting the flash of his pearlescent, distended canines.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ephraim Solomon Character Portrait: Virgil Solomon Character Portrait: Nerys Liacht Character Portrait: Keira Mizuki

Earnings

0.00 INK



Image

Image



Keira was shivering violently as Virgil set her down, enough so that she hadn't even reacted to being picked up, or being in such close proximity to him or Nerys. Indeed, her eyes had begun to glow again, being this close to Virgil in such a state, and brighter than before, but her silver eyes kept locked onto the creature. Ephraim's presence wasn't helping her either, and the longer she was around them, the more ill she felt.

Her head was spinning, her stomach roiling, and something inside of her screamed at her to be let out, though she knew not what it was. It was all she could do to keep from passing out again, and that she would not do. She was able to draw her eyes away, taking in Virgil's appearance, and she blinked.

"What is this?" She asked softly, not referring to the creature or to Virgil or Ephraim, but to the entire situation. She was beginning to think she was in some kind of waking nightmare.


Nerys wasn't sure what she was staring at. It was a creature from a different realm, that much she was aware of, however; she didn't know what it was. The only realm she was aware of was the Kirin realm, and even then it was a realm that was extremely hard to get into. They were extremely defensive of the entrance, but this creature was most definitely not a Kirin. Her eyes widened slightly at the sense of someone touching her, and immediately her eyes were upon someone's back. She blinked confusedly, the familiar voice of Virgil finally reaching her senses.

"Virgil?" she finally managed to state as he set her down, her eyes following the trail of Ephraim as he attacked the creature. There was something, dark about the situation, and Nerys could only frown. She felt the strong urge of something pulling from her stomach as she turned towards Keira. She heard the statement the girl made and her brows furrowed. How could she answer that? It was a question that perhaps the two Solomon brothers could answer. Well, one of them at least seeing as Ephraim was currently engaged in battle.

"Thank you Virgil," she stated as she smoothed out her shirt, turning and placed a hand on Keira's shoulder. She couldn't do much for the girl, however; she could at least try and ease the situation for her. "I...have never seen a creature like that before," she finally stated, her lips pulling into a fine line.


“You’re quite welcome, Nerys,” Virgil replied, and though the flirtatious note in his voice was just the same as ever, he looked at neither of them, staring intently at the battle raging below. Ephraim’s bloodthirsty smile really was something, he thought. It suited his face even more than the broody scowling did. It was clear from the way the man moved that it was here, in the middle of a pitched fight for his life, that he was in his element. The fox would be willing to bet that no few of the more violent deities watched his antics with great enjoyment. Kalia’s probably in love with his carnage, he thought to himself offhandedly.

But he still did not see what he was looking for, and with as shredded as the creature’s robes were becoming from repeated devastation of its form, he probably just wasn’t going to. How inconvenient. Sitting back in his crouch, he draped his forearms over his knees, tipping his head back slightly to look at them over his shoulders. It would appear that Keira was having a very negative reaction to the situation, probably including his present state of partial manifestation. “This,” he pronounced with a smidge too much glee, “is our job.” He smiled, fangs and all, but then gestured lazily with a hand.

Ephraim would probably not approve of sharing the information with the women, who, despite their extraplanar heritage were for most purposes countable as human, but Virgil didn’t really care about that. “The glowing skeleton is what’s called a lich. Mid-grade, as far as the undead go. It’s usually not too hard for one of us to kill one, because they have to bind their souls to objects called phylacteries, and generally must keep them close by. This one, however, has no phylactery, meaning it is the puppet of a superior sorcerer, probably from the same plane of existence.” He paused for a moment as Ephraim decapitated it, crushing the skull entirely just to make sure the phylactery wasn’t in it, but it reformed again anyway.

“This, of course, makes the body immortal, though they don’t usually reconstitute this fast. In a moment, Ephraim here is going to get tired of playing around and open a Gate to the Dark World, in order to shove our bony friend through. It’s really quite something to watch.” The fox’s eyes glittered with mirth, and in fact, he was entirely correct, for with a sigh exhaled through his nose, the Hound stepped back, banishing the sword into thin air and staring at a fixed point somewhere over the lich’s shoulder. The creature was disoriented and weakened by its constant need to regenerate, and unable to do much but wait obediently for its banishment.

Right where the dark-haired man was looking, the air began to shift and change, shimmering as though part of a desert mirage for a moment. If the women looked hard enough, they would be able to see it—a massive pair of doors manifested themselves, a series of chains laid over them and meeting in the middle, where a large, circular lock lay. Ephraim spoke a word in a language only Virgil recognized, and the lock burst open, the chains retracting like snakes and the doors slowly swinging inward.

From inside poured a gust of bone-chilling air, and it seemed for a moment as though all of the hope and joy had been sucked right out of the atmosphere. Even Virgil’s permanent smirk faded, until he watched only with calculating eyes. His ears both faced forward, and with them, he could hear the fell howls of the undead and the damned. It was not a pleasant sound, and he was glad when Ephraim used a foot to shove the lich inside the doors, speaking another arcane word and standing silently as the door closed and locked again, fading from view as though it had never been there.


Keira was barely registering what Virgil was saying. It was all she could do just to make herself believe what her eyes were seeing. But then, she didn't want to believe it. She didn't want to see this, she wanted to wake up from whatever nightmare she was trapped in. She didn't care where she was, all she wanted was out. She wanted rid of that nagging feeling she felt to release something, to let loose the growing pressure in the back of her mind.

Her eyes were almost white now, in response to all of the supernatural energy around her. Physically, the air around her was almost painful, the energy escaping her a bright, searing pureness that was not meant to come into contact with energy from the Dark World. Even what was escaping her was only a fraction of what was truly contained within her, and she was utterly unaware of it. She was trembling worse now, her eyes wide, the fear, the confusion, laced through them, perhaps the most emotion she'd shown on her face in years.

Her hands were clutched at her chest as the power within her tried to struggle free, and she fought to keep it clamped down, this unknown thing that was inside of her. It terrified her.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ephraim Solomon Character Portrait: Virgil Solomon Character Portrait: Nerys Liacht Character Portrait: Keira Mizuki

Earnings

0.00 INK

Image




Image




Nerys listened as Virgil explained what the creature was. It was something called a Lich, an immortal creature that bound its soul to something. She frowned slightly. Then what could a creature like that possibly want from this realm? There was nothing here for it. With that in mind, she turned towards the battle Ephraim was currently having with the Lich. He seemed to almost enjoy fighting with the Lich, and it only caused Nerys to deepen her frown. By nature, Kirin were peaceful creatures, and she was no exception. She wasn't prone to violence.

If she could keep it out of her life, she was happy. Though that was probably the naive part of her wishing that. She knew that there would always be violence, that no one could ever just be nice to each other, there wouldn't be so many things wrong with the world. But then again, if everyone was too nice, things would never be accomplished. Perhaps being a little bit forceful was necessary. She sighed softly, shaking a few of her pale azure locks from place. Virgil said it was their job, and that pulled at her lips even further so. Wasn't this dangerous for them?

They had to have known that if they chose it as a profession, that part of it felt like it wasn't chosen. It was then that Virgil's last statement caught her attention, and she turned back towards Ephraim, watching as he summoned something like a door before banishing the Lich inside of it. When it was gone, she hadn't realized she was still frowning. A shiver went down her spine as she continued to stare at the two brothers. They were doing something dangerous, and though she didn't know them, she considered them her friends. And as such, she would now worry about them. She would worry if they were okay; if they were harmed; if they were dead. That thought caused a skip in her heart beat.

If they died, she wouldn't see them any longer. They would no longer exist, and that thought saddened her greatly. Before her thoughts could sink further, she turned her attention to Keira, who appeared as if she were having a panic attack. "Keira? Keira are you okay?" she questioned. What was going on? She could feel something coming from Keira, but she couldn't place it. All she knew was that her friend was suffering from something, and the paleness of her eyes did little to settle the bout of fear creeping within Nerys.


Virgil had to fight not to snort when he sensed the sudden spike in Nerys's concern for them. As though something like a lich could actually pose them a threat. The town, on the other hand… well, she would have more cause to worry if they were not here, to say the least. Such an innocent concern, really… it was very peculiar. He was less straightforwardly confused by it than Ephraim was, but that didn’t mean he thought it made much sense.

He turned his attention to Keira, however, even as Ephraim jumped back on the roof, dusting off the sleeves of his long coat, his face back to the usual slight frown he wore. “Not today, I think, my dear,” the fox said amiably, reaching out with an index finger to touch the medium’s forehead. The effect of the application of his power was instantaneous. For the moment, the latent divinity in her was quiet. He would not bother to keep it so forever, but the last thing they needed was a beacon of such energy going off tonight. Even the humans would start to feel the disruptions in the area if this one place had too much more of it. Worst-case scenario, in which all four of them put their figurative backs into it, he wouldn’t be surprised if they created a brand-new Hollow Point in the center of town.

The light in Keira’s eyes dimmed back to her usual color, and the choking feeling in her chest subsided, though it was not as it had been before. There was something there, like a barrier in her soul, and that was entirely his doing. He was not overly fond of using soul magic, but he was quite capable when the occasion called for it. “She’s suppressed?” Ephraim questioned, narrowing his red eyes slightly. Virgil shrugged.

“For now, certainly, but I’d rather not keep it going indefinitely, given the proximity restrictions.” His brother didn’t seem to care much, exhaling through his nose and shoving his hands in his pockets.

“Fine. Go ahead then.” Virgil tilted his head to the side, regarding Ephraim for just a moment, and then turning to face the two women. The smile that crossed his face was not immediately identifiable with any common adjective, or perhaps there were simply too many that might apply to say that any of them certainly did. It didn’t mean good things for Ephraim, and he well knew it, his mouth dropping even further into a deeply-etched scowl. “Virgil…” he growled softly, and the smile grew.

“You know, Ephraim, I'd rather not. And don’t spout that nonsense about the standard procedures at me, because I know you care even less about them than I do.”

“It doesn’t matter if I care, you dumbass—we have to, unless you want Kurogami deciding I don’t get to help you anymore and yanking my leash a bit tighter.” He was clearly livid, if the way his eyes illuminated was any indication. “Get them off the roof, replace their memories, and let’s go.”

Virgil sniffed. “Mm… no, I don’t think I will.”


Something seemed to lift from within Keira, and she was able to breathe easier. Whatever he had done to her, it had worked, and while yet again she did not react to Virgil touching her, she did shrug away from Nerys's hand on her shoulder. "I'm fine." she told the other woman softly.

Her confusion only deepened, however, when Ephraim reappeared, spouting various things about rules and memory and suppression. She could barely follow the train of the conversation, but she could pick on on one thing in particular. Whatever had just happened, she and Nerys were not supposed to know about it. She flinched visibly at Ephraim's obvious anger, and while perhaps it was not the most conventional time to be sarcastic, a part of her could not help with responding,

"I have no idea what is going on, but if you're supposed to do this to prevent word from spreading, I spent the majority of my life in a mental institution, and I'm pretty sure what just happened is far from what is considered normal. As I have no desire to go back to where I just got out of, and I'm trying to forget what happened anyway, can we kindly skip whatever tumor-inducing magic fingers trick you plan on using?"

She surprised herself, she hadn't spoken like that to anyone in years, and she was, frankly, surprised she even still knew how.


Nerys glanced between the brothers, watching, listening as they spoke. Her brow furrowed in confusion as the two brothers bickered. She felt an overwhelming sadness take hold of her as they both quarreled. Even if they wanted to erase her memories, or replace them, they wouldn't truly be able to. One of the drawbacks at being a Telepath, anything dealing with the mind was practically almost void and null for her. Not that they couldn't replace or erase her memories, it would just be a great deal more trouble. She sighed softly, rubbing her temples in the process.

"Please, don't fight," she stated softly. She didn't like arguments, or confrontation, and they usually only caused her to form headaches. "It...probably won't do much, but what this is, isn't exactly new for me. I didn't know there were other realms that existed besides my...own," she stated, stating the last word with a bit of hesitance. They didn't, or perhaps they did, know of her Kirin heritage, but she was certain Keira did not. The girl wanted to forget anyway, however; Nerys merely frowned at that.

"If...if you erased my memories, would I forget the two of you?" she asked, the question innocent in its own way. "Because if that is the case, then no. I will not let you take them," she stated, her eyes hardening a bit uncharacteristically. She wouldn't let them take her memories if that were the case. She didn't want to forget them, nor anything else. This was all just a part of how things worked...right?


Virgil nearly lost control of his laughter when Keira spoke, but he managed to contain his mirth to a dangerously-fanged smile. Magical as my fingers are, dear, I have not been known to induce tumors in anyone. Though I may just give Ephraim here an ulcer one day.” From stress and aggravation, no doubt. He winked, but then sobered slightly when Nerys spoke. “Well, there you have it, brother. Our dear little half-kirin couldn’t bear to forget us. Are you really going to say no to a face like that?” He gestured to indicate the woman’s frightfully-sincere expression. She really was too naïve.

Ephraim’s eyes narrowed precipitously at his brother. When he spoke, it was as though he bit off the end of every word with some violence. “That has nothing to do with this. What I seem to be unable to compensate for is your inexplicable failure to see logic.” Shaking his head, he suppressed the growl building in his chest. He could do the mind-magic himself, but his method of erasing memory was painful for the recipient, and he had not the finesse for it that Virgil did. He would not subject them to the equivalent of mental torture—they were innocent unless Kurogami decided otherwise. His upper lip lifted in a slight snarl, making clear that his own eyeteeth were presently just as long as his so-called brother’s. “Fine.” Turning abruptly, he jumped off the roof and left them all on it, disinclined to continue a useless confrontation.

“Don’t mind him,” Virgil said cheerily, “he’s just not very sociable. How about I come by the shop tomorrow, hmm? I’ll let you ask me anything you want to, and I do mean anything.” He worked his particular brand of magic, and his more foxlike features disappeared, his eyes receding to their customary bright blue and his teeth retracting to a more humanoid length. His claws and tail disappeared, and his hair took on a slightly blonder shade, rather than the silver-white it had been. “Until then, doves.” He hopped off the roof after Ephraim, and for a moment he wondered how they were going to get down.

The thought made him smile. They were smart—he was sure they could figure something out.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Virgil Solomon Character Portrait: Nerys Liacht Character Portrait: Keira Mizuki

Earnings

0.00 INK



Image

Image



As he’d promised, the kitsune showed up to Gourmet Delights the very next day, about midway through the afternoon, ensuring that he caught the eye of both women before he took his usual seat. He honestly was uncertain whether they’d even bother taking him up on his offer to provide them with information, though if they were smart, they would. Because they would have inferred that the incident last night would likely not be the only one of its kind, and even if they lacked outright curiosity, they should at least have enough self-preservation left to want to arm themselves against subsequent dangers.

Then again, humans still sometimes amused him with their lack of basic concern for such things. Some of them seemed not to want to live, but only to do it for lack of the will to simply die. Still, from the fact that they’d wanted to keep their memories, they must have at least some inclination to protect themselves from supernatural interference, and whether they realized it or not, he and Ephraim were the best way to do that. Not that Ephraim knew he was here, of course.


Nerys wore an uncharacteristic frown upon her face. It had taken a bit, but she and Keira were able to get off of the roof that Virgil and Ephraim had left them on. To say she was bitter would have been an overstatement. She wasn't upset, not in the slightest. She was, however, feeling a bit left behind. She shook the thoughts from her mind as she addressed a new customer. Her eyes traveled to the door as it signaled a new customer. Her eyes brightened before she pursed her lips together when she saw who it was. It was Virgil, and he was alone.

She shook her head softly before she smiled at him still. She wasn't angry. She could never be angry, or at least not for long. Instead, she pulled a pastry from the case, wrapped it in a blue napkin and walked over towards Virgil, after getting one of the other employee's to cover the cash register. One couldn't just leave something like that unattended, not to mention if someone came up to the counter looking for a pastry. She had to take care of her other customers too, not just him. He was her friend, though, and she did have some questions, and he did say he would answer them.

"Hello, Virgil," she spoke, offering him a smile as she handed him the pastry. "How are things?" she asked, glancing from the corners of her eyes as another person entered the building. "I know you said that you would answer any of the questions we had," we meaning Keira and herself, "but I do not believe this is the proper place to discuss such things. I mean, isn't what you do supposed to be kept kind of, well, a secret?" she added, twirling her thumbs together in the process.


As per usual, Keira pulled the mask over her face, the smile pleasant enough, but utterly fake. She went about her day as normal, trying her best to forget about the previous night. It was not as easy as she'd thought. His appearance was not helping matters, either. However, she let Nerys handle him, she was perfectly fine with ignoring him.

The bell chimed, signaling the entrance of yet another customer. Keira turned, the smile once again pinned in place, until she saw who it actually was. No. Not him. Anyone but him. The smile slipped from her face, and for a second, every emotion, the confusion, the pain, the anger that she felt was there for everyone to see. The man looked around, a five'o'clock shadow on his face, bags under his eyes. It gave Keira some satisfaction to see that he looked almost as bad as she did, though it was a trifle emotion. And then he looked at her. For a second, she waited...

There was nothing. No recognition, no smile, nothing. Her jaw clenched. He had no idea who she was. Something passed over her face and then the mask was back, the placid one that showed nothing, that felt nothing. She stepped away from the counter and into the back room, and without a word, Keira left the building. Nerys could ask about it later, she had all her information, she could call, or drop by. Frankly, Keira didn't care. At the moment, it was all she could do to keep herself composed as she walked down the street. It wasn't long before she was crying.

The man, on the other hand, seemed slightly confused by the young woman behind the counter. She seemed, oddly familiar to Takashi, but perhaps that was simply him. He sighed slightly, ordering a black coffee and then sitting down in one of the corner booths. He had a notepad, and seemed rather absorbed in whatever was in it. He would, however, glance up every so often, to the table where Nerys and Virgil were. He also kept wondering about the girl, too.


Virgil chuckled, inclining his head in thanks for the confection, and tilted his head sideways at Nerys for a moment. There’s more than one way to have a conversation, dear. Kirin are usually telepaths, are they not? He knew they were, of course, but it was largely a rhetorical question anyhow, and he saw no need to make clear just how much he knew, nor exactly who he was. He would, however, be quite willing to part with the what, but that would require actually being asked a question first. He didn’t just go saying things for free, after all, so while there were many things he was perfectly willing to talk about, what he did say was entirely up to her.

Well, almost.

From the corner of his eye, he caught a flicker of movement, and though Nerys had her back to the departing Keira, Virgil could see her directly, and registered the look that flashed across her face with a mild surprise that he concealed well. It wasn’t hard to pick out what it was in reaction to, but he didn’t immediately discern the connection. While Keira was a cocktail of emotions, the man was slightly puzzled at best. But the closeness of their coloration and features… the answer presented itself to him with immediate clarity. Or at least a very strong hypothesis. For now, however, he did nothing. While he did enjoy meddling, he had much larger things to meddle in right now. Like fate.


Ah, I didn't know you were a telepath too, she responded as a bright smile littered her face, as if she were some small child who had just discovered a secret. She leaned a bit further into her spot, curiosity sparkling behind her eyes. He was right, for the most part. Kirin were usually telepaths, however; there were the few odd ones who could not develop that particular ability. She was, however, fortunate to have inherited the ability. It would make conversing about the topic a bit easier. With that in mind, her smile still in place, Nerys tilted her head slightly to the side, as if trying to formulate the proper questions before she asked them outright.

How many other realms are there? I only know of my mother's realm, and this realm, the human one. Mom always said there were more, but I never truly thought there could be more," she stated, her question and statement coming out in a a hurried thought. She usually forgot her control when something exciting as this appeared. And to say that she wasn't excited, or even curious, about it would be telling a lie.


My dear girl, I am many things, a telepath scarcely worth mentioning, comparatively. He smiled, something mischievous twinkling behind his eyes, then lowered himself so as to prop his chin on his hand, leaning against the table. She’d asked about the realms, though that might actually be a better question for Ephraim. The Hellhound had been to almost all of them, whereas Virgil’s travels were a bit more limited, given that he couldn’t just summon a Gate whenever he wanted to. Still, he had his methods, and he’d been many places he should not have gone, including the kirin’s realm.

The spokes on the Wheel are many, he replied, his mental voice laced with some amusement at her obvious enthusiasm and curiosity for the topic. Generally speaking, there are believed to be nine main realms, but there are several smaller ones as well, that sort of branch from one of the chief worlds. The world of your mother is one such, an offshoot of Yokaino, the world of demons and certain kinds of spirit. The kirin, seeking a place removed from the territorial disputes of other yokai, petitioned the gods for a small realm of their own, and it was granted. Most of the gods have their own realms as well, though by far the largest worlds are Yokaino, Yoruno, the Dark World, Chuno, the center of the Wheel and home of the Arbiter, and this world, Ningeno, the Mortal Plane.


She listened to every word he said, giving him her undivided attention as she stared at him in awe. Her expression was that of a child, learning something new for the first time in their life, and she was in all honesty, excited. She had never known another realm other than her mother's, and hers, the one that Virgil labeled as the Ningeno plane. Her expressions changed as he continued explaining each one, how the Kirin realm was an offshoot of the Yokaino, and how the Kirin came to have it.

I see! What realm are you from, if you don't mind me asking," she stated, her eyes still sparkling with wonder. I know you're not from this realm, you or your brother. Is Ephraim really your brother? she continued before reeling in on herself. That may have been too personal a question to ask, and she quickly apologized. I'm sorry, I shouldn't have asked that, she stated, rubbing her arms in the process. She could get carried away sometimes, and she needed to learn to control that...at least a little better as to not offend anyone. That was the last thing she wanted to do.


Virgil laughed aloud at the question, though not at obnoxious volume. To anyone looking, it would simply seem that he and the café’s owner were having a staring contest, and that she was making funny faces to try and break his concentration. To the onlooker, she would have succeeded. Nothing more, nothing less. There is no question too personal for me, my dear, he replied with obvious humor, but he did tilt his head to one side. My kind are from the Demon World, but like most of my family, I spent much of my life in the realms of the gods. I am what is referred to in myth as a kitsune, a fox-spirit. Ephraim… is not my bother by blood, no.

Here, Virgil paused for a moment. He could very easily tell her just what his so-called sibling was, but… even Virgil had certain lines that he was hesitant to cross. He was not sure how Ephraim would take this piece of information being given out. He was rather direct himself, and would probably simply tell the woman if she asked, but it was different for the information to come from someone else. He is something unique in this world, and all others. I think, however, that that is a story best requested from the man himself. I cam here for another reason, however, Miss Liacht. It is imperative that you be careful. That lich last night did not come to this plane seeking you specifically, but it was drawn to you as soon as it appeared. The borderlines between worlds are thin near here. I can only expect that it will get worse.

The smile dropped off his face, and for once, he looked at her in all seriousness. I know it is not in your nature to fight, but it is surely in it to protect. Ephraim and I will do everything we can, but there may come a day when we cannot reach you in time. If you like… we can help you learn to keep yourself safe should such a thing occur.


Nerys nodded a few times as Virgil explained where he and Ephraim were from. She pursed her lips together, tilting her head to the side a bit before she allowed a soft smile to pull at her lips. She leaned back in her seat as she played with her fingers. My father taught me how to fight, to at least defend myself if I needed to," she began softly. But after seeing that Lich, I know that what I have learned will not be enough to keep not only myself safe, but everyone else, she continued, her fingers tightening slightly together. If she could at least keep everyone else safe, she would do what she must.

He was right, though. By nature, she wasn't one to fight. She didn't like it, nor did she care much for it. She wanted things to stay peaceful, to remain calm, but she wasn't so naive to believe that could actually happen. It was the reason why she tried so hard to make everyone as comfortable as she could in her establishment. I appreciate the offer, Virgil. If I can learn just that, then I would be humbled if you took me on as a student, she finally answered, smiling brightly in the process, nodding her head.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ephraim Solomon Character Portrait: Keira Mizuki

Earnings

0.00 INK

Image
Image




Ephraim was headed to the Hollow Point, not so much because it needed guarding, but more because he needed something to do. It was midafternoon, and he didn’t know where his brother was, though he sensed him nearby. Scratch that… he knew exactly where the bastard was, but he didn’t do anything other than sigh through his nose. In some ways, he was somewhat envious of the fact that it was impossible to leash Virgil. In other ways, it annoyed him more than he could properly describe in words. Sometimes, he really wanted to punch the smug fucker in the face…

He was brought from his thoughts by a somewhat-familiar scent, and he glanced further down the road to note that the waitress was headed in his direction. He was not the empath Virgil was, but he’d worn an impassive face long enough to understand what it looked like when someone was struggling to keep it on. Ephraim stopped in his tracks as soon as they would have crossed paths, meeting her eyes with uncanny red ones. “Something troubles you.” It was not a question. “Is it Virgil?” That seemed unlikely; his brother did not often distress women in this way, but he supposed it was always a possibility.


Keira, unwilling to go home, began picking her way to the forest, tears still falling from her face even as she wiped them away. She was well enough absorbed in her own thoughts that she didn't notice Ephraim until she was almost four feet from him. She looked up, her grey eyes meeting his. She was unsure exactly why, but she didn't seem to be having the reaction to him as she normally did. She was still afraid of him, but...she didn't have the chills or spikes of fear and cold running through her.

She didn't really care, and she wiped at her eyes again, perfectly intent on ignoring his question, except that her mouth had other ideas, apparently. She was speaking before she even realized she had planned to. "No. It is not Virgil. It is my father." She said simply, cutting herself out so that she did not go on to blurt anything else. Her personal life was none of his business.


Ephraim blinked. He wasn’t exactly sure what to say to that. He wasn’t exactly sure why he’d even asked, nor why she’d bothered to answer in even that much detail. He supposed that the human response here was to apologize or ask for further explanation, in an empathetic sort of way. It was probably what Nerys would have done. But Ephraim did not do that, nor did he attempt what he supposed would have been Virgil’s preferred response. His lips compressed slightly, but that was about all the reaction he showed, at least for the moment.

Instead, he appeared to switch topics altogether, as though he hadn’t even noticed the fact that she was crying. As though the face she wore was still perfectly in place as far as he could tell. He wondered which of her relatives had been the god-blooded. But he asked a different question altogether. “How long have you been able to see them?” He perceived that they were headed in more or less the same direction, which meant she was making for the Hollow Point as well, though he doubted she understood it as such. So rather than stand uncomfortably in the middle of the street, he simply resumed walking in the intended direction. It was, after all, possible to walk and talk at the same time. Or not talk, if she chose it.


For reasons she neither understood nor cared to, Keira found herself walking beside the dark-haired man. Well, man was perhaps not the right word. It mattered little, she supposed. Ghosts slowly began to slide past them the closer they got to the Hollow Point. She kept her eyes downward as she stilled her face, the mask slowly forming once again.

She was unsure how to answer him, as she herself didn't know the answer. She pursed her lips, thinking silently for a few minutes before speaking. "All of my life, really. My mother died when I was five. She was the first spirit I ever saw. Ever since then, they just sort of...show up. Most of them here are caught in loops, they've been on this plane for so long, but a few of them still have enough sense of self they can communicate."


Ephraim glanced around him at the passing ghosts, nodding simply. In those with hereditary abilities of this nature, a traumatic experience would often force power to manifest before one generally came into such skill. The result could be disastrous, and frankly, she was lucky there were not worse things than ghosts around at the time. The Hound slid his hands into the pockets of his dark coat, tracking the progress of a poltergeist with slightly-luminous red eyes. He let it go, though—it was a low grade creature, and would do nothing more than steal the occasional fruit from a basket or reorganize the objects in a house; nothing terribly malicious.

“There may come a time when it serves you to know that your powers stem from a trace of god’s blood. I expect that your mother was the one with the powers, else you would have known already. Judging by your affinity to foxes—” He paused, and the barest flicker of a smile graced his face, but it was gone too quickly to read properly—“I believe the god in question is Inari, should you be interested. This Hollow Point is growing larger, and unless it is contained, it will eventually create a Rend, a gaping hole in the fabric of spacetime, as a scientist might call it. Neither my presence nor Virgil’s is helping keep it stable, but it would tear even if we were not here. When it does, your blood and your power will draw them to you… whether you like it or not.”


Keira looked blankly at Ephraim. She cared little where her powers came from. Frankly, this was almost amusing, his choice of words. Her voice was rather flat when she spoke, "Everything in my life has come without my consent, the least of which being the death of my mother and being institutionalized as a sociopathic schitzephrenic. It does not surprise me that something like this would happen without my wanting it. Fate has an ironic sense of humor."

That succeeded in wringing a somewhat-amused snort from the Hellhound. Not the most conventional reaction to such a revelation, perhaps, but it was clear that neither of them was a conventional person. “As someone with a taste for gallows humor and irony both, I suppose it’s a shame I’m not laughing,” he replied darkly, a thread of amusement laced in it all the same. Yes, fate was rather unkind. That his problems were on the grand cosmic scale did not render him blind to the fact that ones less massive were capable of affecting someone just as much.

“If you want to survive the next year, you should talk to Virgil. He’s an insufferable fuckwit, but he can teach. And with as many things as are going to come out of that Hollow Point, you’re going to need to know if you desire to live. If you prefer to die, I will take your soul to the Arbiter myself. You will not become as these.” He shrugged. Some people really didn’t care one way or another, and who was he to say that was wrong? He was halfway between life and death himself, a creature with breath and a mind but no soul to speak of. What she wanted to do with her time on this plane was no business of his.


Keira sighed, staring at the space that seemed to be where the more vibrant souls were converging. She could actually see it now, though whether this was because of Ephraim and Virgil's influence over her or if the Hollow Point was geting larger, she did not know. "Perhaps it is because of my affinity for seeing the dead, but death has never really caught my fancy, elsewise I'd have probably taken my own life many years ago, when my father abandoned me. So, there will be no visits to the Arbiter, thank you." There seemed to be nothing left to say on the matter, and honestly, Keira felt...better. An odd thought, for someone who had just spent the last half hour in the company of a Hell Hound. As she turned to leave, she turned back, her hand on a tree as she looked over her shoulder.

"Thank you, Ephraim."

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Nerys Liacht Character Portrait: Keira Mizuki

Earnings

0.00 INK

Image




Image




She had left so unexpectedly, and had not returned to work for the next few days, that Nerys had began to worry about her co-worker. Normally, in Keira's case, she would have let the woman be and thought nothing else of it, however; when one of her other employees mentioned how fast and abruptly Keira left, Nerys was a bit concerned. She didn't understand why, but she felt the need to find her friend and see what was wrong with her. It was in her nature to care about others, even if they wanted nothing to do with her. She would always care. It was one of the gifts her mother had given her in life before the woman died.

Nerys found herself wandering aimlessly through the small town, looking at the sheet of paper that held Keira's home address. She had never, personally, been to Keira's home, and here she was trying to find it. After a few wrong turns and getting herself lost, Nerys finally stumbled upon the small apartment complex that housed Keira. With a bright smile, and a sigh of relief, Nerys walked around the complex, trying to find the apartment number. After almost giving up and knocking on someone's door, Nerys found the door and took a deep breath. Hesitantly, she reached for the door and knocked, waiting for any sign of life to answer.


Keira sighed, knowing it was Nerys long before the knock actually came. She glanced around the small apartment. It was only three rooms, a bath, a bedroom, and a kitchen living area. The walls were white, with no pictures or decoration of any kind. There was a small table, with two chairs sitting next to it. The floors were all hardwood, scratched and scuffed from years of use and numerous tenants. There was one window, blocked off by heavy black curtains. In the corner, there was a dog bed, and two large dog bowls. Nari and Kami were both currently curled up on the bed.

There was a couch, but it was old, faded, the tan fabric worn in places. The kitchen was small, with a fridge, a microwave, and a hole where the stove had once been, the wall behind it rather clean compared to the nicotine-stained walls of the rest of the room. From the doorway, one could see into the bathroom, a small, dingy room with a flickering light bulb, like some cheap prop in a budget-cut horror film. The mirror, which Keira had been unable to take down, and would have been charged for had she broke it, was covered by a thick black trash bag held on with duct tape. The bedroom door was shut.

Keira stood up from the chair, and slowly crossed the room, Nari picking his head up. She opened the door, her face as passive and blank as ever. "Good morning, Nerys." she said flatly, moving aside so that she could enter if she wanted.


Nerys smiled when the door was open, however; it was slowly replaced by the pursing of her lips into a fine line. "Good morning, Keira. May I come in?" she spoke, watching as Keira moved to the side, and her eyes sparkled just a bit more. She stepped inside the small apartment, looking at it with a rather solemn look. She could almost feel a shade of darkness pulling at her heart as she frowned slightly, something that she did not like to acknowledge was becoming more frequent. Instead, she forced the smile back to her face until it came naturally again. She took a seat upon one of the chairs in Keira's small place, and folded her hands in her lap.

"You don't have to tell me, or anything really, but," Nerys began, tilting her head back and forth for a moment. "I...am just a bit worried about you, that's all. The others said you left pretty abruptly the other day, and you haven't come back to work the last few days. I...am not going to fault you for that, I understand, but, will you at least tell me why? Again, you don't have to...and oh jeez, I think I'm rambling now," she stated, laughing a bit nervously to herself as she sighed softly. Keira didn't have to tell her anything if she so chose, and Nerys wasn't going to blame her for it.


Keira let out a soft sigh, taking a seat in the remaining chair, leaning her chin in her hand as she propped it up on the table. For a long moment, she considered not answering the question. What gave Nerys any reason to believe her? But then, Nerys was not the sort of person to not believe someone. Not to mention what they had been through almost a week ago. Still, it was not an easy tale to tell, and as a matter of fact, she'd told no one. Even so, she wasn't completely inclined to tell it all now.

"I left because my father came in. I have not seen him since I was seventeen. It...hurt to realize he had no idea who I was. Though really, I should have expected it. The last time I saw him, I was being restrained in order to be sedated, having been labeled as a sociopathic schizophrenic, all because I can see ghosts. What a funny little world."

Her voice held no humor, though, and was rather flat. There were seriously large holes that she'd left out, but that was at least enough to explain why she had left, and why she had not returned to work. Nari jumped up softly onto the table, nudging Keira's cheek with his nose. That, surprisingly, managed to get a small smile onto the woman's face, something coming to life behind the dull grey eyes.


Nerys stared at Keira, listening to every word she said. Her face changed multiple times, the first morphing into a smile. Then, it slowly ebbed away, replaced by a frown before it continued to deepen. Her father came into the shop? She left because of him? She described the circumstances as to why she left, and for a moment, Nerys felt a strong urge to hold the girl, embrace her and pass off the warmth that only she could give, but she resisted. She knew Keira's aversion to touch, and she wasn't going to make the girl any more uncomfortable than she need be. She opened her mouth to say something, but no words came out.

What could she say? She wanted to speak words of comfort, to say something to make it better, but she couldn't. There was nothing she could say. And then she spoke about seeing ghosts. That...explained a lot. "I...can help with that, maybe," she spoke. She wouldn't be able to do much, but perhaps calm the ghosts down just a bit, or at least get them to vanish for a few hours at most. She could sense souls, and that was what ghosts were. They were souls who either couldn't reincarnate, or refused to. "But, that is only if you wish. It's not a permanent solution, but it'll be something for now," she spoke, fidgeting in her spot.

She could pacify the ghosts, that was it. To rid them permanently would be to get them to accept to move on, and that was no easy task. Most souls were too attached to the plane, and if they refused for too long, they would eventually become nothing. At least, that was what her grandmother had told her. Perhaps she only said it because her grandmother did not like Nerys much, and tried to think of ways to scare the child, by telling her stories of vengeful ghosts and the likes. Her mother had tried to lay serenity back into Nerys, but it took a few years. If Nerys could help Keira, she would do so, only with the girl's permission.


That, oddly, got a slight chuckle out of Keira. She exhaled slowly, her face betraying the emotion in her head. She shook her head. "No, Nerys. I have long accepted what I can do. Ephraim told me that I am descended from a god of some sort. I will not throw away something I was born with simply because my father and society cannot accept it."

Nari regarded her with large brown eyes, and she petted him softly. "Ephraim also told me that you will begin training with Virgil soon. I...believe I will join you. I need to learn what else my blood holds, as I am sure that seeing the dead is not the full extent of my abilities."

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Virgil Solomon Character Portrait: Keira Mizuki

Earnings

0.00 INK



Image

Image



Virgil was back out in the forest, though this time, he was up a tree. He’d sensed a disturbance out by the Hollow Point this morning, and told Ephraim he would take care of it. A bit surprising, considering his seemingly inborn laziness, but every fox needs a forest every once in a while. The disturbance had been an attempted invasion by a minor horde of insect demons, which was easily enough dealt with. Virgil had set them all of fire, but in his dismissal of them, he’d been careless, and one of them managed to nick him with its stinger. While such a wound was nothing short of fatal for a human being, it simply made him a bit dizzy for a while, and he was resting in the branches while his nausea faded. That one had been particularly large—he suspected it might perhaps even have been a minor god of wasps.

Well, a minor god was hardly a match for a demon of his stature, but still… perhaps he should examine the wound more closely… prodding at the spot on his forearm with his index finger, he frowned slightly upon noticing the bruise, which was a deep purple color and appeared to be spreading. Dammit. Surely it hadn’t been…? He almost laughed. Ephraim wasn’t going to be pleased if creatures of that ilk were already able to make it beyond the Hollow Point.

Jumping down from the tree, Virgil landed lightly—then promptly collapsed, his limbs refusing to hold his weight as his demon aura fought to purge the toxin from his system. His vision blurred. “If that was a minor god, then I’m the Arbiter,” he murmured, mostly to himself. He didn’t like the way the poison was clouding his senses over. It made him feel foggy. Rolling onto his back, Virgil sighed. He supposed there was nothing else for it. Letting his eyes fall closed, he relinquished his hold on consciousness, the bruise spreading up his arm and his breathing shallowing until it was almost not enough to even move his chest up and down.


Keira had not planned to enter the forest. Really, she'd been on her way to the library. Yet, as she skirted the edges of the trees, she found herself drawn to it, and just sighed. She didn't want to, but there was an undeniable pull that was almost painful to ignore. And so, she entered, silently wandering through the greenery until she almost ran into someone. She blinked, a slight look of surprise flashing on her face before the mask pulled itself back on.

Virgil was just lying on the ground, and by sight, he almost looked asleep. Or dead. That was a slightly amusing thought. Keira would be interested to see what could kill him. Keira cocked her head to the side for a second, and then, silently, she simply turned back, intent on leaving the way she'd come. She had no desire to speak to the man. She only made it about ten feet when a wave of pain radiated through her, nearly sending her to her knees. She steadied herself with a tree, gritting her teeth. It was that damned pull, forcing her to turn around and go back to the demon who lay on the ground. She hissed out a breath. "Damn it all."

She found herself standing next to him once again, and this time, she nudged him with her foot before she sat down, a few feet from his head. "Hey. Are you dead?"


Even in his trance, he was somewhat aware of his surroundings, and so he felt it when she entered the area. Some part of him was peripherally amused when she tried to leave, but it would see the pull on her end was just as strong as it was on his. He was half tempted to catch her ankle as she moved it back from where she’d nudged him, but he didn’t want to scare her to death. Only a bit, really. So he waited for her to settle before he brought himself out of his waking sleep, cracking one eyelid. The iris beneath was golden, not blue, though he was for the moment bereft of his ears and tails and claws.

“Will it disappoint you, when I say no?” he replied silkily, blinking his eye shut and then opening both of them. He did not, however, move to sit up or do anything else, save the fact that he brought his injured arm up to hold in front of his face. The purple was fading to red, but he still felt dizzy, which was perhaps to be expected. “I wasn’t expecting Dokugami to be able to make it through the Hollow Point yet. Ah well, he’s dead now. I hope he reincarnates as an actual insect this time.” It would serve him right.


Keira raised an eyebrow, the only form of emotion flickering over her face. "Would it disappoint you if I said that I really don't care either way? I just did not wish to be sitting here with a dead body." Well, it had been unnecessary. She'd known he was still alive, else she would not have been drawn to the spot as such as she was. She blinked at the mention of Dokugami. She cocked her head to the side, reaching out and catching his wrist in her hand.

The initial spark was surprising, but she paid it little heed. Whether she knew it or not, energy was passing between them, speeding up his healing process. Her fingers were cool to the touch. "You were reckless." she said simply.


He was amused by the gesture—he had more ki in an exhausted state than someone like her had at full steam. That was just part of being what he was. But hers was of a different kind, and the reaction was interesting to say the least. His own system burned out poison, as his ki was primarily fire-based in nature. Hers was more like air, a trait she shared with her ancestor-god. After all, what fed a flame but air? Where her skin was cool, his was warm, and he slid his arm through her hand to catch her fingers in a deft motion. So much fragility, and yet a curious kind of strength. Humans were endlessly-fascinating creatures, and divine touch or no, he found her to be the same. Many of them were admittedly also vile, but some were not always so.

“Perhaps,” he said playfully, “it would if I believed you. But… I don’t.” He brushed his lips, gossamer and delicate, over the tips of her digits. “You have lovely hands, Miss Mizuki,” he said simply, releasing them back to her keeping, as it were. The comment about his recklessness, he let slide. It was, after all, somewhat true. He was used to dealing with low-level demons; he had not been expecting the god of Venoms, Toxins, and Poison to be disguised in the group, but then… Dokugami had always had a reputation for being more clever than most. It was really just bad luck for him that he’d run into Virgil on his way into Ningeno.


"Keira." She said flatly. She had no desire to be tied to the man who had a part in bringing her into this world than she already did. She would not share a name with him as well.

She withdrew her fingers when he let them go, her fingers burning where he'd kissed them. Her eyes narrowed slightly, "Just Keira, if you will. And my hands are none of your business."


A small smile played over his lips, undoubtedly mischievous, but not in a malicious manner at all. “Ah, but if I am to oblige, then you must call me Virgil,” he replied with amusement. She’d called him ‘Mr. Solomon’ since they’d met, which was in its own way very entertaining. But there was a certain sense of intimacy to first names, one that he suspected she would not welcome if she did not see it as necessary for some reason. He took it that she did not like her last name, which meant that there was at least one other person that bore the name that she did not feel overly familial towards. It piqued his natural curiosity, but he knew when not to push, hard as it might be to believe.

Virgil sat up, the last vestiges of the poison clearing from his system, and even thus, he was considerably taller than she, a fact he took advantage of, leaning slightly to the side and down to speak lowly into her ear. “Are you so sure?” he asked in honeyed tones. “You’ve felt it, the pull. It’s why you’re sitting here in the first place. It’s why you can’t. Just. Leave.” He punctuated each of the last three words with a thread of amusement laced into his voice, though to be fair, it rarely ever seemed to not be there. He breathed softly onto her ear, then pulled back. Fox-breath was actually sweet, like flowers and jasmine on a summer breeze. One of those oddities of being a yokai, he supposed.


Keira shivered, and for a moment, found herself unable to speak. A shiver ran down the length of her spine, and the mask slipped, allowing a very odd mixture of emotions to pass over her face, ranging from annoyance to confusion to loneliness to desire, none of which she really understood. Even so, she shook her head gently, shifting her face into a slight scowl. Yes, she could feel that pull, and she hated it.

"Be that as it may, that still does not give you business with my hands, Virgil."


Delightfully-stubborn, this creature. But he was the furthest thing from oblivious to the reactions his simple gesture had incited, and he felt them as well, a little spike of empathy. Of course, being what he was, desire had a tendency to stick a little better than anything, but… he would admit to a certain sense of solitude, if only to himself. He had his brother of course, but two people in a fraternal bond did not a balm to loneliness make. Not for such a social creature as he. He pushed the thoughts to the side, however, allowing the dark little chuckle held within his chest to escape. An odd tendency of humans, not to deny themselves what they wanted, but to refuse to admit that they wanted it in the first place. She was lonelier than he’d ever been, and yet she could not bring herself to admit that she desired connection.

That people tended to crave intimacy, in any sense of the word, was an obvious fact. So why did any individual believe themselves to be the one and only exception to the rule? It was a sort of arrogance, if one thought about it carefully enough. He did not believe it was at play here. Rather than arrogance, he would say that what stood in the way of her acknowledgement was fear. But Virgil did not say these things aloud. What use would they be? Some things had to be shown rather than told. “My business is nothing more or less than I make it, Keira,” he said simply, his lips tilting into a smirk. “And you know what? I rather like the way you say my name. That little irritated bite is quite endearing. Perhaps I should make my business about more than just your lovely hands.” He leaned in close for just a moment, then pulled back again with a twinkle in his eye and winked.

He knew when not to push, after all, and deciding that he’d probably just about hit the limit of her tolerance for one day, he stood with fluid grace, brushing loose debris from his clothing. “Nerys is going to learn to master her powers. If you are inclined to do the same, you are always welcome to join. It’s entirely up to you, of course.” With the quirk of an eyebrow, Virgil took his leave of the forest and the Hollow Point.


Keira watched him leave. That man....that man. Irritated was not the right word. Unlike anyone else in her life, he infuriated her. The worst part of it was, she didn't even know why. When he was gone, she allowed the mask to vanish completely, and she clenched her teeth. Next to her, a rather large crack suddenly rent in the tree, and she flinched. Maybe she should take him up on that offer...

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Virgil Solomon Character Portrait: Keira Mizuki

Earnings

0.00 INK

Image
Image




“You’re going to want to rein that in a little bit, lovely,” Virgil advised dryly. It hadn’t been more than a week ago that he used his own power to unseal what in Keira’s was blocked, and in the days since, he’d been teaching her to control it. The primary form of her ability, as with those belonging to most gods or god-blooded, was ergokinesis, the manipulation of energy. They could not create or destroy it, of course, but it could be harnessed and used to manipulate the environment. Each god had different ways of doing this. Inari had a flair for raw concussion, kind of like Ephraim did, and also using it to move objects with the mind, as a form of telekinesis. He had a feeling Keira would be the same, if she wanted to be. Of course, the god could do substantially more than that—Inari was, after all, a god, and while perhaps not in the first ring of them, far from minor, either.

Presently, the kitsune still occupied his humanoid form, but he looked a little different from usual. As he had advised her to do, he was dressed for physical activity, of a sort: his white-blond hair pulled into a tail high on his head, his feet bare on the grass of the field, and his clothing nothing more sophisticated than a blue t-shirt and dark runner’s pants. He might have opted to train bare-chested, as Ephraim usually did, but it wasn’t really part of his persona, as such. Also, unnecessary as he found clothing to be, he for once was not looking to distract anyone from what they were doing. Learning this was important, and so the fox was as businesslike as he ever got, which was still considerably less so than his counterpart, but Ephraim was elsewhere at the moment, as was Nerys, so it fell to him to conduct the session. Not that he minded, of course.

“It is initially tempting to think that more power will do the trick, but allow me to make something clear: many of the creatures we face will have more raw power than you, god-blooded or no. What you must do instead is learn to be more precise. Collapsing the same amount of energy into a precision stroke will do more damage than just trying to bludgeon things with it. Think of it like the concept of density—the same amount of matter, in less volume. Only this is not matter, but energy. Now. Try hitting me again.” He grinned, and despite the fact that he wore not his own skin, there was still something dangerously-feral about it. He figured making himself the intended target would be a bit more of a motivator than having her aim at an innocent tree or suchlike.


For the most part, Keira wore a mask to cover up what she really felt, pretending rather than showing herself. In the kitsune's presence, however, that mask often slipped, and after a week, she didn't even bother with it anymore. Virgil was the only one aside from Nari and Kami who actually saw her, the real her; she still was unsure of how she felt about this. As he explained, her eyes narrowed and her mouth pulled down into a frown. The ball of energy she'd been trying to control dissolved with a slight sigh. She really was starting to get annoyed with this. She crossed her arms, and then pulled out a pencil and a notebook from her bag. She was not overly good with explaining things with words, so this was the next best thing.

After she was finished, she held it up, showing it to him. It appeared to be some type of chart, and she began to explain. "Alright, let's get a few things straight. This is how I view things, because frankly, a lot of this stuff I really just don't care about. I ask myself these questions: Does it want to kill me? If no, then fine, I leave it alone. If yes, can I kill it with a sword? If yes, fantastic, problem solved. If no, then can I kill it some other way; namely my ergokinesis? If yes, again, problem solved. If no, then simply run like hell. This is my solution, so tell me, just how many things will I come across that I cannot use my blade against? And, if there are that many, is there perhaps a way to use my ergokinesis in conjunction with my sword?" That would probably be the easiest way to go about this, seeing as she was already a master of the sword by most standards.

Perhaps what made this the most amusing was the fact that her face was kept in a rather neutral look the whole time.


Virgil stared at the flow chart for a moment. It was… well, to put it mildly, it was clear that Keira’s talents did not include drawing things, or even making straight lines, really. The childishness of the illustration combined with the flat look on her face made him smile, and for once, there was nothing lascivious or even particularly dangerous about it. He just appeared to be amused. Shaking his head the fox hummed a note in the back of his throat. How to explain this? “Think of it this way,” he said, placing an index finger gently at the top of the flow chart. “The things I’m talking about will most likely want to kill you. Or absorb your soul, depending on what kind of thing they are.” He traced the tip of his digit down the appropriate line of the chart and to the next question.

“Some of them, though only the very weak ones, will in fact be killable with human weapons and human strength and speed. I will also be able to teach you to sense relative power levels, so you’ll know those ones when you see them. Most, however, will have speed too great or hides too resilient or intangible to fall to such mundane methods.” Virgil slid down the ‘no’ side of that branch to the final question. “This, I’m afraid, is where the answer is always more complicated than a simple confirmation or denial. As I mentioned, there are a number of creatures that would be able to shrug off a blunt concussive blast. However, many of those same creatures would be susceptible to a more concentrated, compact bit of energy, one that could pierce hide, for example. So… no if you continue to use your power as you are using it now, and yes if you can master the lessons I’m giving you.”

He moved his hand back to his side, canting his head slightly to the side. There was mischief in his aquamarine eyes, though, and the plain amusement had once again taken on a different cast. “Do be warned,” he said playfully. “While running may sometimes be wise, there are creatures who very much enjoy the chase.” He’d leaned progressively closer to her as he said it, steadily invading her personal space until his nose was only a few inches from hers. With the upward quirk of an eyebrow, however, he pulled back.

“Now, concentrate your energy. If you can master this, I’ll teach you how to use it to hone the edge of your beloved blade, which should help with some of those armored beasties.” He moved backwards again, standing far enough away from her that she wouldn’t be caught in the blowback of her own energy if something went wrong when it came for him. He was more than durable enough to withstand anything she was capable of at this point, though he was interested in seeing just how well she could hone this link to her ancestral power. “Hit me with everything you’ve got, lovely. You know you want to.”

[font=candara]Keira's face remained rather neutral as Virgil spoke, explaining more. She supposed she really should have expected such an answer, especially for one such as him. She cocked her head slightly as she listened, giving her the look of a curious fox, which was actually slightly ironic, given the person she was looking at. When he leaned in towards her, however, she felt heat snaking up her neck and face. Her eyes widened, and she fought not to take three steps back. She did, however, lean back away from him slightly, being able to breathe again when he stepped away.

For a second, she pursed her mouth in a thin line. She'd never reacted like that to anyone before. It was...highly annoying. Usually, she didn't really react at all to Virgil, whereas with everyone else she would flinch and shrink away. But this...this was new to her, and she wasn't sure she liked the way her heart sped up. Narrowing her eyes, she scowled at him. Why did he have to be so damnably persistant and annoying?

She didn't think about it, she really didn't process anything, really, she simply reacted. The energy formed around her hand rather than in it, the edge, where normally it was fluid and moving, like water, was fine, sharp even, and she used an upwards slice, much like as if she was using a blade. Her form was impeccable; it should be, after almost sixteen years of training herself, and she blinked in surprise, looking back at her hand. She sighed slightly. She really did not like this man, even if it did work this time.


Virgil took the energy attack square in the chest, having made no attempt to move away from it. While it did succeed in tearing a long gash in his shirt, the skin beneath was unbroken. She’d hit with force, though, more than he’d expected, even, and her form was undoubtedly good. That was fortunate—it was one less thing to work from, one less thing he had to teach. Not that he minded teaching, especially not when he was teaching her. He raised a brow. “So bothering you is the best form of motivation, is it? You and I are going to have so much fun, darling.” He hadn’t missed the way her face and neck started to turn pink; the process was more gradual than he’d usually bother with, but she was coming around. He hadn’t lied, after all, when he said that some people enjoyed a good chase. He was absolutely one of them, and he made no apologies for that.

He smiled, then seemed to disappear. When he reappeared, he was holding her sword loosely in one hand, though how exactly he’d managed to slide it from the sheath she was wearing with absolutely no disturbance or notice was hard to say. Turning it so that the edge faced the sky, he ran a thumb experimentally along the sharp end, cocking his head to the side when a small trickle of blood escaped the digit. He raised the pad of his thumb to his tongue and swiped the rest off that way, satisfied with the condition it was kept in. “Ordinary steel is not the most effective of conduits,” he remarked conversationally, “but if you can convince your ancestor to consecrate it, it will channel your power quite effectively. There is a way to make the request, if you would like to attempt it. To put it in your terms… it would increase the number of things you could kill with it, human strength or no.”

Making bargains with gods was always a little iffy, but they tended to favor their own descendants more than ordinary supplicants, and were more likely to offer them gifts of this nature, to ensure they remained alive to spread the blood another generation down. “Inari actually likes consecrating weapons, being the god of smithing and whatnot.” Deftly, he flipped the blade so that he held it between his fingers, hilt towards Keira so she could take it back. This time, he did not cut himself, a sure indication that he’d meant to the first time.


Keira blinked, realizing that her blade was gone. That alone left her with a rather large sense of unease. Ineffective as it was, perhaps, it was still what she was most comfortable with, and she was not overly pleased by having it taken, especially not with the deft skill the kitsune had. She narrowed her eyes, watching as he tested the blade. She raised an eyebrow as she took it back from him, sliding it home into its sheath.

"So how would one go about making such a request? Descendant or not, Inari is still a god, and I am merely human." That, and she was not particularly sure she wanted to meet her anscestor. Gods were not beings she wished to meddle with, probably for good reason, as well.


Virgil snorted. “How does anyone talk to a god? You pray. Of course, there are a large number of other things that have to be done to actually open a channel that will allow for the transferal of the necessary energy, but if you want to do it, I can arrange that part of things.” Truth be told, he was not terribly thrilled about the idea of speaking to Inari again—the god was still undoubtedly very upset with him and would probably ask for truly ridiculous things of him in exchange for the consecration, but this was not something he could simply do himself. He had not the divine energy required. His was demonic, and infusing that into a sword would poison and eventually kill the wielder, were they not youkai themselves. He was not really inclined to do such a thing.

Keira raised a brow. You prayed? She would have thought such measures were only human-based, though she supposed it did make sense, in a way. She had been about to respond when a beeping noise caught her attention. Her face pulled down into a frown. Nerys was the only one who had her cell number, and she was with Ephraim. Why would she...?

She blinked, the number reading unknown across the screen. She let out a slightly irritated sigh and answered it. The reaction was almost instantaneous. Shock flashed over her face as she realized who was speaking on the other end, and with every word, her face darkened. Her eyes flashed, and she shut the phone, hanging up rather than responding to him. How had he gotten her number? Well...it was on record at the Institution, seeing as they were the ones who had provided it. He also was still her father, so they had probably just handed it right over.

She clenched her jaw, pulling her sword out once more. All it took was one stroke, and the cell phone lay in two pieces on the ground. "I'll have to remember to tell Nerys I'm changing my number." She muttered darkly.


Virgil only blinked slowly at the rather rapid series of events, tilting his head slightly to one side and sighing. “And here I’d rather hoped I was the only person who made you that angry.” It was hard to tell what he meant by that statement, as it could have been interpreted many ways, including as, of all things, an expression of a wish for her happiness, which would not have been like him at all. “Well… I think we’re done for today. Time to reap the rewards of hard work.” He let that implication hang in the air just long enough to sink in, then disproved his own innuendo by simply trotting over to his bag and rummaging around until he produced a small object. As he returned, it became evident that it was a woven band of cloth, modest in design and dark blue, mostly. Without asking permission—because when did he ever?—he put the end between his teeth for safekeeping and raked his long fingers gently through Keira’s short hair, straightening it and pulling it away from her face. The band, he tied neatly, though not into a bow, as he doubted she would appreciate that. It was designed to keep her visibility intact during the vigorous movement of training, really, but of course he did not say this in a straightforward fashion.

“There,” he pronounced softly, but the mischief was right back in his tone thereafter, when he stepped back to study his handiwork. “Now I can see your lovely eyes.” He wouldn’t ask her about what was bothering her, not at this stage. But that didn’t mean he wouldn’t offer a distraction, even if it was relatively innocent for him.


Keira was not the type of person to talk about her feelings, and that was not what she did now. Really, at the moment, she was thinking. It had been a week since she had started this training, and if she was showing any progress, considerable or otherwise, Virgil had not said, nor had she asked. She didn't really care overmuch, so long as it kept her alive. She cocked her head slightly about his statement about making her angry. No, anger was not the correct term. She was furious.

Even so, she said nothing as he went rummaging and returned, stepping up to her in the process. Most people probably would have objected to this, but she, as usual, said nothing. This had not been the first time Virgil had touched her, yet it still surprised her that she had no such desire to shrink away from him. She couldn't even stand within three feet of Ephraim without flinching.

She blinked slowly at his comment about her eyes, her grey orbs meeting his liquid aquamarine ones. It had been quite obvious over the last week that she was, indeed, taking better care of herself, and the training had helped a lot as well. She didn't have such a frail, waspish look to her any longer, even if she did still hide her face from the public with that fake smile. It was only with Virgil that the mask slipped and fell away. He was the only one who ever saw her, for who she really was. Even so, the need for comfort, for acceptance, had been something she'd lost sight of a long time ago, and given up on. But he made her remember, and she wasn't so sure that was a good thing. She was going to lose herself if she wasn't careful.

She stepped forward, reacting rather than thinking, and found herself leaning against him, her fingers curled into the material of his shirt, her forehead against his chest. She wasn't hugging him, exactly, but this, initiating any sort of contact, was far more than she'd done in several years. "Thank you, Virgil." She whispered softly. She did not specify just what she was thanking him for.


For once, he didn’t take advantage, simply laying a palm on the crown of her head, his other arm loose by his side. “You’re welcome, Keira.”

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ephraim Solomon Character Portrait: Nerys Liacht

Earnings

0.00 INK

Image




Image




It wasn’t exactly easy, trying to train someone to fight who clearly had no interest in hurting anyone. But the important part, he supposed, was that she know how to defend herself, and to this end, he was at least making the attempt to further familiarize her with the powers at her disposal. Virgil most often used the fields outside of town to train them, but Ephraim preferred the sandy area that served as a beach for the lake. Of course, people were occasionally out and about here, so he’d picked the far bank, rather than the near one. It was a few miles of travel, but worth it for the assurance that what they were doing would not be discovered. The terrain was also harder to move in than solid ground would be, and that helped build strength, balance, and speed, all. It might not be a lot of difference, but he knew quite well that a hairsbreadth could be the deciding factor between life and death, especially for these two, who would continue to attract the supernatural to them like twin beacons for the foreseeable future.

Presently, he straightened from the martial artists’ bow he was in and cracked his neck to either side. Nerys knew Wing Chun, so he’d put her through her paces on that front first, careful to check his blows, but place enough pressure on her to give her serious trouble keeping up. He'd also been working on teaching her Gentle Fist, which would help more the more she learned to use the other powers available to her. It wasn’t exactly merciful, but then, that lich wouldn’t have been merciful either. The bruises would heal, and sleep would take care of the rest. In the meantime, she’d get better at it, and that was the important thing. Ephraim moved over to where he’d discarded his shirt and shoes, taking a towel from a small bundle of supplies and tossing it to her. She was sweating a hell of a lot more than he was, after all. In the sunlight, it was evident that the ink which had been used for his tattoos was actually somewhat metallic, as it would occasionally glint when he moved a certain way.

Fixing Nerys with a red eyed stare, he spoke tersely, but not unkindly. “Transform.”

To say she was having fun would have been an overstatement. Nerys was in fact not having fun. She had known that Ephraim wouldn't take it easy on her, and she wouldn't have preferred it any other way, but currently, she was sporting a bruised upper forearm from when she blocked improperly, and a bruised cheek from a misplaced thrust. The spot they were currently sparring at was rather away from public view, and a little more earthy than what Nerys was used to. The sand made it difficult to maneuver properly, however; it was good in building up muscle and stamina where she would most likely need it. It was odd, really, when she thought about it. She would never have thought to spar with anyone really, other than her father, but sparring with Ephraim was proving to bring to light some startling truths to Nerys.

One, she wasn't as prepared as she thought she was, and two, she was in desperate need of training. Though she was reluctant and applying her techniques in the event of actually hurting someone, she would need to do so in order to protect herself at least. The battle with the Lich had proven that to her. She would have been killed because she wasn't prepared to deal with a foe such as that, but she had Virgil and Ephraim to train with her. Keira, also, was training her own abilities, something Nerys thought was a good thing for the girl. Distracted by her own thoughts, she almost missed the towel thrown in her direction. She blinked a few times, glancing down at herself in the process. She was covered in sweat, more-so than Ephraim was, and that was perhaps about accurate. She smiled brightly at Ephraim.

"Thank you, Ephraim," she stated, dabbing at the sweat that coated her body. She blinked again at his statement and tilted her head in confusion. "Trans...form?" she questioned. It took a minute for her to process exactly what he was asking, and her face tinged a bit red in embarrassment. She laughed and coughed awkwardly into her hand before sighing. "Um, honestly, I've only done it once," she murmured, and it was true. She'd only shifted once back when she was in the Kirin realm, and it had felt so natural just to do so. She couldn't do so again so freely. It wasn't something that came easily to her.

He’d wondered about this. Straightening from where he was crouched by his supplies, he glided without discernible effort over the sand, taking the towel from her hand and replacing it with a water bottle. He’d sucked most of the energy out of it with his ergokinesis, meaning that it was quite cold despite the heat of the summer afternoon. Pursing his lips, he gave her a moment to drink and catch her breath, then spoke, regarding her steadily. “It’s nothing to be embarrassed about,” he said flatly. He really didn’t understand why she would be, but then, there were a lot of things he didn’t understand about people. Blinking red eyes down at his charge, he asked himself, not for the first time, why he was doing this. Virgil had made the offer, not him. By all rights, it should be Virgil trying to figure this stuff out. Then again… it wasn’t like he had anything better to do, and unless something came through the Hollow Point or someone died nearby, he was on permanent standby. It was driving him a little crazy.

So instead he was attempting to teach violence to a kirin. That was rather like trying to teach a mouse to fly, but he’d done supposedly impossible things before. He did another one every time he took a breath, every moment he continued to exist, without a soul to tether him to the wheel. Even stones had souls, of a kind. Drawing himself from his thoughts, he realized he was still staring. Not at her, really, but his eyes were resting there, on her face. He shook his head, exhaling slightly through his nose. “It comes easier with practice,” he said simply. “You have to be in the right mindset. Remember what it felt like, to be in that body, to move with those limbs. To see through those eyes.”

He was shit at explaining things, he really was. Frowning, he took a few steps back. Ephraim didn't need to center himself before he transformed, but this time, he did, just so she had an idea of what it looked like. Spreading his feet shoulder-width apart, he grounded his footing in the sand, and inhaled, letting his eyes slip closed. He gave it a few moments, then pulled up the memories he wanted—the feel of earth beneath paws rather than feet, the subtle gradation in sound that only his canine ears could pick up on, the tiniest variations in pheremonal signals that—while detectable even in this body—were keenest and sharpest to the hound’s nose. The thrill of the hunt, of chasing something down and gathering the powerful muscles of his legs underneath him to spring…

As smoothly as though it were the most ordinary thing in the world, Ephraim shifted, his limbs thickening and taking on massive proportions, acquiring a coat of fur so dark it seemed he was cut from a shadow on the sun, absorbing all the light around him like a black hole. His face elongated and he dropped easily onto all fours, until what stood in front of Nerys was no man at all, but a massive, car-sized hound. It was not quite what a dog looked like, given the size and the sheer mass and the fact that it seemed to have hellfire in its eyes and embers concealed beneath the night-dark coat, which glimmered and shifted as he moved much as his body art had before. When he opened his mouth to speak, it was evident that his teeth were massive and silver as moonlight. “The other body is part of what you are. Seek it, and you’ll find it.”

"Ah, it's...not that I am embarrassed. It's just...I've...okay, yeah, I am a little embarrassed about it," she stated, laughing nervously again. She glanced back at him and tilted her head a bit, watching as he stared at her, but not at her. She rose a brow in a questioning manner, about to wave her hand in his face when he spoke again. It was easier with practice, but then again, wasn't everything? She sighed softly, nodding her head in understanding as he continued to speak, explaining to her that she had to be in the right mind set. She frowned slightly at that thought. She really had no desire to be anything other than in her human form. The first time she transformed, in the Kirin realm, it really wasn't a welcoming gesture she received from the others. Most of them fled, screaming foul things to her, something she wasn't quite sure Kirin were even capable of, however; any creature was capable of anything.

She watched Ephraim take a step back before his body began shifting, taking on a different form. Once he was fully shifted, Nerys resisted the urge to reach out to his fur and run her fingers through it. Her eyes shone a bit brightly as a smile of wonder appeared on her lips. There was something lurking in her, something that should be afraid, however; it wasn't fear that she felt. It was curiosity, excitement, wonder, and awe. There were so many things running through her head, yet fear was not present at all. She took a step closer to him, circling him like a vulture upon its easy meal. Once she was finished assessing him, a bright smile pulled at her lips as she clapsed her hands together. She could do this too. All she had to do was remember what it had felt like. But she was still a bit hesitant about it. He wasn't a Kirin, so there wasn't much to worry about there, but still. The way they had reacted to her still caused a bit of doubt and fear to creep up within her.

"Alright, I can do this," she spoke to herself, closing her eyes as she tried to recall the feeling. An image fluttered over her mind, and it pulled forth a warm and gentle feeling. It was an image of her mother, when she was still alive, laughing and smiling with her father as they sat on a picnic blanket. They were smiling, all of them, and she allowed that to be the basis of the feeling she received when she first shifted. It took her no more than five minutes to find the rest of it, and she could feel her body shifting. She could feel her arms and legs elongating, her feet and hands shifting into something harder, rougher and more solid. Before long, where she once stood, a black Kirin stood, head hanging lowly, the white mane touching to the ground. She shifted, the gold markings along her body shimmering in the process.

Had Ephraim had eyebrows as such, he would have raised one of them when she moved around him in a large circle, but he allowed it without protest. It was a bit odd-looking, and if she was inclined to do so, then so be it. It wasn’t like it bothered him any. There seemed to be some hesitation about her, and he didn’t understand it until she transformed herself. “Hn. Unusual,” he said, but the vocal equivalent of a shrug was in his tone. It wasn’t like he cared what color a kirin’s hide was—why should he? He supposed it might have something to do with being a half-kirin instead of a full-blooded one. “All right. You need more endurance, and I’m guessing that if it applies in the form you always use, it applies in the one you never do. So we’re going on a run. Stay close; I’ll let you know what to do if any humans approach.”

That said, he took off to the east, setting a moderate but relentless pace. He needed her to hold the transformation for as long as possible and also to get used to moving in it a little easier. Some of her powers would be easier to use in this body, and besides that, it would be faster if she needed to run away. It could also carry Keira, if it came to that. There would doubtless be times when both he hand Virgil were otherwise occupied, and a viable escape plan was vital. Ephraim never ran from a battle, but Ephraim also didn’t care much whether he lived or died. Whatever the reason, he would really prefer they not have to face death before it was due. Maybe it was because of his work as a reaper, maybe it was because of them. He didn’t really bother to contemplate it.

Fifteen miles later, they rounded back towards the lakeside, and he nodded to indicate it was fine for her to change back, and did the same himself, straightening to his full human height and shrugging back into his short and shoes. It was a few more miles walking back to town, but they’d used most of the afternoon in total. As soon as they were back on the way into River Lake, he glanced at her from the corner of his eye. “Any questions?” he inquired, shoving his hands into his pockets and walking with an easy, lengthy stride. He didn’t go faster than she could manage, however.

Nerys shifted on her legs, trying to get the feel of being in this body. The first time, it felt natural, and she was able to walk and run without much trouble, however; she took a first step and stumbled. She felt like a newborn foal trying to learn to walk its first few minutes of birth. She tried taking another step, but her legs felt unsteady, and she stumbled again. She took a deep breath, listening as Ephraim spoke and she turned to stare at him with mortified eyes. They were going to run? She could barely even walk! She was about to state that fact when he took off. She let out a frustrated cry as she tried moving her legs after him, and ended up in some odd trot. Eventually, she managed to make her legs cooperate and she ran beside Ephraim.

There was something about running next to him that caused her to feel at ease, allowing her to keep pace without over-working herself too much. By the time they had finished, her breathing was a bit heavier than normal, but it was to be expected. She didn't have the stamina nor the endurance in this form as she did in her human one. With more practice, the two would gradually grow. She was looking forward to it actually. She shuddered a bit, knocking away any and all the dirt that coated her form before shifting back into her human form, a bright smile still plastered upon her lips as she stared at Ephraim. He then asked if she had any questions, and she thought for a moment. She didn't have any questions, really.

"Why can't I sense your soul?" she blurted out, both hands immediately flying to her mouth as her eyes widened slightly. She hadn't meant to say it out loud. It was just a thought that fluttered in her mind from time to time, and she had always kept it inside. She'd never ask it outright, but here she was, blurting out the question all the same. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to ask," she quickly apologized, her hands still covering her mouth.

He’d actually been expecting that one weeks ago. He wasn’t going to tell anyone who didn’t ask, but it wasn’t like it was some big secret, and though she clearly expected him to be, he wasn’t offended. Ephraim shook his head, a glimmer of amusement flickering behind his red eyes at her reaction to her own curiosity. “Don’t worry about it,” he replied. “I’m a thousand years old, Nerys—you’re not the first person who’s asked me that, and I doubt you’ll be the last.” He continued before she could say something about how it still wasn’t polite. As though he cared about manners or something. Honestly, hadn’t the girl noticed that he was basically the bluntest person in the entire town? The only one even close was Keira, and he didn’t feel any real shame in being as he was. Was it annoying how many people and gods felt the need to talk to him about it, try to gain his allegiance or kill him? Sure, sometimes. But she wasn’t doing that. She was just asking a question.

“Don’t hesitate to ask questions of either of us. Virgil has more secrets than I do, but we’ll tell you things if you want to know. And you should want to know, because it might just save your life someday.” He paused a moment, though he didn’t stop walking. In the end, he shrugged as if to himself and just decided to be as straightforward about it as he was about everything else. If it bothered her as much as it bothered others, then she could do her training with Virgil entirely. He just didn’t care what other people thought about him anymore.

“You can’t sense my soul because I don’t have one.” He was staring dead ahead, and allowed that one to sink in for a while, then explained a little more, since it was kind of unhelpful to just leave it like that. “Every soul that exists in this world was generated in the initial miracle of creation. Those souls can move around on the Wheel, but they are never created or destroyed. They earn their places by the sum total of their choices and their experiences, and when they die, the Reapers take them to Kurogami, the Arbiter. He weighs the soul and determines what it will be reborn as. But not even he can create a soul.” None of them could. It was speculated that Creation was a combined effort of all the gods that ever were or would be, but that would imply that some souls had existed before the rest, which seemed contradictory. So really, nobody knew how it happened.

“He tried once, though. He got as far as a body and even a mind, but no soul. I was the result.” Ephraim shrugged. “I’m called the Hellhound. Some of the things that come through that Hollow Point will refer to me that way, so now you know.” He fell silent. While the information was his to give, nobody but her could decide what she was going to do with it.

Nerys' lips pulled back into a frown as she made to speak, but was unable to do so when Ephraim spoke. Still, she shouldn't have asked the question so directly. She was curious, but she didn't need to sate her curiosity all the time. She sighed softly in defeat and remained silent as he began explaining why she couldn't sense his soul. It was because he had none. That...confused her. He had no soul? How could he have no soul? He continued explaining, telling her about the wheel and how the souls were all judged and weighed by a being called Kurogami.

She stared at him with a mixed sense of fascination and something else she couldn't quite identify. It wasn't mortification, that much she was aware of. It wasn't even fear, and she knew what fear was like. Once he was finished with his explanation, she allowed the information to roll around in her head, trying to make sense of it all, and once she did, she smiled. It was soft, understanding, yet also a bit worried. Why was she so worried? She was worried for him, and it was still something she couldn't understand.

"I suppose, yes now I know," she stated, straightening herself back out. "But you're still Ephraim to me. I don't think anything you say can change that fact. You are still Ephraim," she stated, nodding her head as if she'd figured out some grand scheme. It was true, for her, though. He would still be Ephraim, soul or no soul. It wasn't a soul that defined a person, after all, but the person themselves. Or at least that is what she thought and how she saw it.

Ephraim raised a brow, shaking his head slightly. “You’re weird,” he informed her bluntly, but it didn’t sound like an insult, exactly, more an observation than anything else. He supposed he’d more or less expected a reaction of this kind, given her inherent generosity and the fact that most people living on this plane didn’t really understand the implications of being a creature with no soul. She had no way to know that his very existence was tipping the balance of the Wheel in an unknown direction, and that the consequences of it could potentially be dire. It probably hadn’t quite processed that while she and everyone and everything else in the universe would have most likely infinite lives over the course of time, he only got this one chance to exist. Once he was dead, that would be it. There would be nothing else, no opportunity to be again, or to be different.

Or maybe she did know, and it just didn’t matter. He generally liked to believe that it didn’t matter to him, either—it wasn’t like life itself was so great that he wanted to hold onto it forever. He’d run a spectrum from miserable to more or less basically content over the course of his millennium, but he did not delude himself into believing he had ever been happy. Why would he want this over and over? Once was enough. It was surely enough. He glanced sideways at her for a moment, hands still in his pockets, and, without really having a reason that he could think of, he spoke. “It’s the same for you, though, right? Black kirin or no, weird or no, you’re still Nerys. So don’t hang your head like that again. You have nothing to be ashamed of.” He referred, of course, to the submissive body language she’d adopted upon transforming, as though she were waiting to be scolded or yelled at. He didn’t like it, honestly. It made him feel… uncomfortable.

Ephraim's first statement only brought a brighter smile to Nerys' face. "I've...been called worse things, and I take that as a compliment. Being weird is better than being normal," she stated, her smile still plaguing her lips. It, however, disappeared slowly at his next set of words. That was true, she was still who she was despite being what she was. It was the last part of his statement that caused her to inwardly flinch. She rubbed her arms, a sudden chill running down her spine. She took a soft breath and released it slowly.

"It's...just a reaction I suppose. It's not the easiest thing, especially since the first time I transformed...I was met with fear. I didn't mean to scare any one, but my coloration is what made everyone afraid of me. They called me an abomination, a monster," she spoke, the melancholy laced in her tone as she shook her head. "They feared me because I was different than they were, and I didn't transform again when I was in the Kirin realm," she continued, shaking her head softly before allowing the smile to pull at her lips again. "I'll try though," she added, smiling brighter in the process.

That feeling… it was one he could understand very, very well. “…yeah,” he said simply, expressing his agreement with all or part of what she’d said, it was hard to tell. Abomination was something he’d been called before. The servants of gods would often spit at him when he walked past, before he grew into his power and scared them in a different way. Ephraim had dealt with that constant rejection in perhaps not the best of ways. When he was a child, he’d bottled it up, let it simmer underneath his surface, and given nobody the satisfaction of seeing him hurt. When he got older, his response was often violence, and there was a good century in there when nobody but Kurogami would meet his gaze, and the man who had created him only looked disappointed. But he’d been the one being Ephraim would never attack, would never defy in any fashion.

Eventually, his violent period had passed, at least as much as it could, and what he was now was positively tame compared to the half-wild thing he’d been then. At least his violence was contained, and directed only at those who needed dealing with. He could ignore the slights now, because somewhere in that span of time, he’d found a measure of peace with himself. He acknowledged that he was a deeply-flawed creature, but then so were those who hated him. That acknowledgement allowed him to see past their words and their actions, and though he still found them insufferable, unpleasant, and soundly in need of a lesson on most occasions, he knew how to stay his hand from dealing out that lesson himself. Let them learn it from someone else—he didn’t care about them anymore. And that, he knew, was the very worst loss he could deal them.

He knew that would never be her approach; it was obvious that she cared a lot, about everyone. But he still hoped for some reason that she’d be able to find her own way to the same end anyway. Ephraim didn’t pretend to know a lot about who deserved what, but it was clear that she deserved that much. Maybe more than he ever had. “You do that, Nerys.”

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ephraim Solomon Character Portrait: Virgil Solomon Character Portrait: Nerys Liacht Character Portrait: Keira Mizuki

Earnings

0.00 INK



Image

Image



It had been perhaps a month since the Solomon brothers had taken to training Nerys and Keira, and both were showing steady progress. Not so much, perhaps, that the two males were entirely comfortable leaving them to themselves on nights when the Hollow Point seemed particularly active, and this was one such night. It had been rather unexpected, the sudden spike in energy around the Point, and as such, it had taken both men from their office and to the bakery, which should just be closing. They entered through the front, Ephraim standing back and allowing Virgil to do the talking, something he was much better at anyway.

“In about thirty seconds, you’re both going to be able to sense a small horde of minor demons headed in this direction. As is often the case, I’m afraid, they’re going to make straight for the two of you, and the two of us. Unless, of course, we go to meet them first, outside of town.” He smiled, but there wasn’t any particular mirth behind it. While he found fights entertaining on some level, these creatures would pose the likes of him no threat at all, but it would still be a fight better had beyond the limits of town, where the risk of collateral damage was minimal. He wouldn’t want just anyone in on the little secret, after all.

“You could think of it as a test, if you want. Or the opportunity to defend your town, or yourselves, or whatever you wish. Eph here and I will make sure nothing happens to you, of course, but it’s about time you started putting those new skills of yours to work, no?” In truth, it would be good for the both of them to handle this. There was no telling when Ephraim would be called somewhere else, nor when Virgil’s efforts to locate and destroy Benihime would necessitate his own departure. The more equipped they were to deal with threats on their own before that happened, the better. He would, of course, not mention these things to them.


Nerys smiled, waving the last customer off as it came close to closing time. It had been nearly a month since she and Keira started their training with Ephraim and Virgil, and honestly, she wasn't sure if it was something she should continue doing. Violence was against everything she was, however; the desire to protect those she cared about, her family, her home, was burning stronger in her veins than what was right or wrong. If this was so she could protect herself further from harm, and to keep those she loved safe, then she would continue to do so. Her sessions with Ephraim had always been a bit interesting to say the least, though she would admit, the few sessions she had with Virgil were fun, or at least fun in her mind. She smiled and canted her head to the side as she spotted the twin fox cubs, thinking slightly of the Solomon brothers before leaning down behind the counter.

Just as she picked herself back up, she heard the chime of the door opening. She was about to mention they were closed, but stopped half-way to opening her mouth when she spotted who it was. Again, she was about to greet the Solomons, however; Virgil beat her to the punch and spoke first, causing a wave of confusion to cross her features. A horde of demons? They were going to head towards the town...because of them? By now, Nerys should be used to this, being half a Kirin, and Keira being part of a divine God, it was only natural she supposed. Sighing softly, she shook her head. She couldn't, wouldn't allow those demons to enter the town. They would try and destroy it, and cause harm to its inhabitants. She glanced towards Keira before turning back to Ephraim and Virgil.

"We can't let them in the town. There are still people wandering about at night, most of them families returning from dinner or a night at the movies. We have to go to them," she spoke, her voice firm and unwavering, for once. She didn't actively seek violence, nor was she excited about having to deal with the situation, however; it was called for and she would do what needed to be done. "A test? Ah, okay I see now. I suppose we could see it that way, but protecting the town is more important!" she stated as Virgil mentioned their newfound skills. There wasn't much she could do, but she could at least attempt to do something. So far, she could fight in hand-to-hand combat. She hadn't discovered anything of use of her Kirin abilities quite yet.


Keira looked blankly at the men as they entered, only the barest of smiles appearing, though it was gone soon after. It was not as a result of what Virgil told them, merely; it was simply how she was. She listened silently, almost shaking her head. True, protecting the town and those innocent within it would be a top priority, however; Keira could not help but feel a slight tingle of anticipation, of excitement at the oncoming battle.

She bent down, grabbing her sword from where she'd stashed it below the counter, strapping it into place at her back. It may not be of much use, but she would still take it. Better to have the weapon she was most comfortable with and not use it than to need it and not have it. Her grey eyes roamed over the other three, finally resting on Nerys.

"Well, we should probably meet them outside of the town then. Shall we?" She made a slight movement with her hand, signaling to the two foxes to stay where they were.


At the agreement, the Solomon brothers led the two outside of town, and by now, the presence of the youkai was obvious for them to detect, given the way their powers had been growing of late. What awaited them was a large mass of youkai, perhaps three dozen in total, predominantly of the insect and rodent varieties, which was not to say they were small. Wasps half the size of Keira buzzed in the air above rats as large as wolves, and the air was thick with the fetid smell of disease and pestilence. Nerys’s healing properties would protect her from infection should she be bitten or stung, to a large extent, and Keira’s divine power would likely do the same. That was not to say that they were invulnerable to the kinds of attacks that would be leveled against them, but at the very least, it was as safe as a battle with youkai who wanted to kill oneself was ever going to get. Virgil and Ephraim took up a spot on the crest of the hill they’d climbed to arrive.

“Well, dears,” Virgil said with perhaps a little too much chipperness in his tone, Do show us what you’ve got.” He flashed a smile, folding his hands into his sleeves and nodding down at the oncoming group.

Ephraim’s advise was marginally more useful. “Watch your backs. Individuals are hard to detect in large groups like this. An ambush can kill anyone.” Of course… he and Virgil wouldn’t let that happen, but it was an important point nevertheless. He and Virgil, after all, might not always be around, and the point of the lessons was to make them strong enough to stand on their own, or with each other.


Nerys followed behind Ephraim and Virgil, keeping her pace more steady with Keira's. They were led to the outskirts of the town, and she could feel her skin crawl. She could feel something, and she could only surmise that it was the youkai that had entered. Once they reached the outskirts, Nerys couldn't help but allow a frown to tug at her face. There were youkai...and each one was variant of the other, however; they seemed to be of the same species. There were ones that looked like giant rats, and others that seemed like over grown wasps. Her eyes widened slightly at the sight of the wasps, her stomach lurching somewhat. She really wasn't one for bugs, however; that wasn't what caused her to lurch.

It was the smell they were expelling from them. It was horrid, and vile. She wanted it to go away, however; she knew better. Instead, she tilted her head towards Virgil when he spoke, pursing her lips slightly together. Sighing, she took the first step forward before glancing over her shoulder. "I promise we won't disappoint," she stated, a smile forming on her lips in the process. While she was still hesitant to go into battle, Nerys was indeed more nervous than anything. She had never had to fight, let alone fight demons, but she kept telling herself it was for the town. They needed the protection. If no one else could do it, and she was capable of providing that help, she would do it. Regardless if she would be hurt herself, if that is what it took to protect the townspeople, she would bleed if it required her to.

And with that thought in mind, she went to meet the small horde of demons, fixing herself into a fighting stance before she engaged with the first youkai, which happened to be a rat. She shivered as she stared at it, twisting her body so that she missed its fangs and claws, however; she did not escape unscathed. The youkai managed to scratch her arm, producing a thin line of red and she frowned, bringing her fist forward in an open palm, catching the youkai on the side of its face, and sending it a few feet away from her. She hit it with enough force to send it away, but not enough so that its neck was twisted and broken. She didn't have it in her to fight, so what would make them think she would have it in her to kill? She'd fight to protect the townspeople, however; she wasn't so sure she could kill for them. Perhaps that outlook should change...and soon.


Keira walked beside them in silence, becoming more in tune with those around her. She could sense them now, better than she had before, thanks to the training with Virgil. Bunriki, her reverse-bladed odachi, slid out of its sheath with a metallic sound. While it would be nothing like slicing through a human being, these creatures were weak enough to be wounded by such a weapon, so long as enough force was applied. Keira's grey eyes watched as two of the rats made to surround her, her face calm. One lunged, and she sidestepped, the creature clumsy enough to run headlong into his partner.

Keira wasted no time in taking advantage of that situation by plunging her sword through his eye. She may not be able to get through his hide, but other parts of his body were susceptible, the eyes a direct line to their brain. The creature stilled, the dead weight trapping the other beneath it. It hissed at Keira before its life, too ended at the end of her sword. She glanced over at Nerys, a slight frown marring her features. She was aware of Nerys's gentle nature, but now was not the time for it. She was going to get hurt if she wasn't careful.


The demons were numerous, but there were a few among them that were something even worse—clever. When, for example, Nerys took down a rat demon with nonlethal force, it collapsed as all the others had, but it was not unconscious. Ephraim frowned, taking half a step forward to interfere before Virgil stopped him with a hand on his shoulder. That the Hellhound tolerated the touch without reflexively taking the hand off spoke perhaps more eloquently of the nature of the bond between the two men than either of them would ever bother to do. The fox shook his head—the rat had the potential to cause a problem, but if they truly needed to, they would interfere. At the moment, it was more important that Nerys learned a certain lesson about the true nature of mercy, and the consequences of being merciful when one wasn’t strong enough to get away with it.

And some things had to be learned the hard way.

Both watched with impassive eyes as the rat covertly regained its feet, skittering around behind Nerys and choosing instead to approach Keira from behind. She was preoccupied beating off several wasps—Virgil may have sighed, thinking of the flow chart and wishing she would just dispense with them using her energy, since it would be much easier—with her blade, and did not notice the rat behind her until it was upon her, vicious teeth gnawing into the juncture between her shoulder and neck as it carried her to the ground beneath its weight. Virgil waited exactly as long as it took Nerys to notice the situation before the rat was consumed wholly by a gout of blue foxfire. It was a cold burn, and it never touched Keira, though the extra illumination made the dark shine of the blood soaking the clothes on her back quite evident.

“And these,” Virgil murmured quietly, “are the consequences of ill-placed mercy.” The most merciful thing to do to a rabid dog was to kill it quickly—these low-level youkai were not so different. Ephraim was frowning slightly, but he did not specify why, and Virgil chose not to ask. There was no mistaking that what they did was grim work, after all. It was not unusual for Ephraim to be frowning. Virgil only smiled because it was the superior disguise.


It was a rule that Nerys was never a violent person. The most she had ever come close to being violent was when she was escorting a customer out of her shop when they had threatened one of her employees, and even then she was still smiling about it. She wasn't a creature of violence. She couldn't be, though she needed to be. This was apparent in the attacks she landed upon the various rat youkai that continued to attack, however; each attack wasn't aimed to kill. She couldn't do it. This, was perhaps, something she should have accepted a long time ago. The world she lived in was cruel, and spared no one. It would not be merciful to others as she had been, and it would take everything she strove to protect if only to see her fall.

And she fell. The sight, the scent, everything hit her with a force that almost knocked the wind out of her. Keira was bleeding. She was hurt because of her. She had not missed the rat youkai latch upon her friend's juncture between the neck and shoulder, and she did not miss the fact how it was the same youkai she had merely knocked away. She couldn't explain it. The sudden desire to protect, to hurt the one that had hurt her friend, and Nerys stared wide-eyed at the scene. She couldn't get the image out of her mind, and with a silent scream, Nerys felt her world turn black. She wasn't in control of herself, she knew that much.

The scent of blood filled her nose as her hands twisted and snapped a rat youkai's neck, her hand plunging through another before ripping it out violently and smashing it against another youkai. She wanted to kill every last one of them. She wanted them dead. And she was their death dealer. She didn't understand the reason behind it, but she could only guess it had something to do with Keira and the sight of her friend being harmed. Though Keira was not gravely injured, the fact that she was still injured because of a poor choice on Nerys' part, sent the half-kirin into a fit of rage. Her fist collided with the lower jaw of another rat youkai, the cracking of its jaw echoing as she twisted behind it, snapping its neck before ripping its head off.

She tossed it, forcefully, at another, watching as it smashed into the ground, and immediately, she was on the downed creature, her fists beating repeatedly into the creature's skull, until there was nothing left but broken pieces of skull and blood pooling beneath her. And she continued still to punch the creature, even with its face already gone, and something warm falling from her eyes.


Keira had been aware of the oncoming youkai before she felt the initial bite, but she was not fast enough to evade it, and the pain lancing through her was enough to drive her to the ground, even without the weight of the rat on top of her. She was aware when it was removed, rolling away and not bothering to watch as it died; that would only waste valuable time here. She flinched, however, when she caught sight of Nerys.

Something had happened, though she knew not what. She was given little time to ponder it, as well, as two of the wasps were now directing their attention to her. By the time she had dealt with them, the crazed kirin had all but obliterated the rest of the youkai, though that was far from Keira's mind. Wide-eyed, with a look of dazed fear on her face, she was staring at her hand, stained and dripping crimson. She realized she was bleeding, and that fear paralyzed her, forcing her to her knees. She was unable to do much other than sit there staring, and tremble.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Virgil Solomon Character Portrait: Keira Mizuki

Earnings

0.00 INK

Image
Image




At last the final youkai were cleared away, and Ephraim moved to Nerys’s side so automatically Virgil knew he hadn’t even thought about it. The notion of such a thing amused him immensely—it would seem that the kirin girl was triggering some natural protective instinct in the Hound, but Virgil knew quite well that this alone could mean any number of things, some of them more entertaining than others. He doubted Ephraim had the vaguest idea of which at this point, so he left the matter alone, his own gaze seeking the second semihuman female. He could have found her in a room full of people or a desert leagues wide—there was no mistaking the part of her that was as Inari was, and he would always be sensitized to it, because of what he was.

Keira, it turned out, was not in particularly good condition. Though her injuries were nothing life-threatening, they were numerous, and the initial rat-bite had been rather vicious. More than that, though, she seemed to be completely transfixed by the sight of her own blood, glimmering darkly on the grass and falling from the tips of her fingers. He presumed it had run all the way down her arm from her shoulder, where she’d been bitten. Tucking his left hand into his right sleeve, he moved towards her, sharp eyes not missing the fact that she was shaking, perceptibly trembling. He had the absurd thought that she should have told him, if she reacted that way to the sight of her own blood, but why? It was really none of his business unless she wanted to make it, regardless of the things he might say to her with teasing words.

Sighting softly through his nose, Virgil gripped her by the uninjured elbow with surprising gentleness, pulling her gradually over to the hillside and sitting her down. For a moment, he inspected her situation with a clinical eye, and then he knelt on the injured side, extending his claws and tearing a neat line in her shirt, sufficient only to expose the injury. Virgil didn’t have a lot of principles, but he did have some, and he was sensitive to the fact that her condition right now did not merit his usual mannerisms. From the sleeve, he produced a small glass bottle with a cork stopper, some water, and a clean towel, all of which he laid on the clean grass beside where she sat.

The water was first, cleansing the dirt and debris from the injured area. With a moment of thought, he tore the rest of the way through her sleeve, and chased the dirt and blood all the way down her arm, washing it off completely. Lowering his head, he sniffed delicately at the wound—no infection yet, but it was best to be careful. Some of these vermin had toxic saliva. Warming the towel between his hands with a deft, subtle application of foxfire, he dried the arm and shoulder he’d cleansed, then unstoppered the glass vial with his teeth. What was within proved to be a thick blue substance, and this he swiped over the wounded area as gently as possible. It would sting a bit, but cool immediately after. Now all he needed to do was bandage it.


Keira had, in fact, been trembling at the sight of her own blood. Even she really didn't understand why she was so terrified of her own blood, but then who ever understood something they feared? She was vaugely aware that Virgil had guided her away from the area, and her trembling slowly subsided the longer he cleaned. With the fear leaving, it left her looking...tired. She winced slightly at the application of the salve, but had little reaction otherwise. It did surprise her, however, that the Kitsune still had not said anything at all. That...seemed a bit unlike him.

"What, no two-side comment from the peanut section?"


Virgil raised a brow, extracting a gauze pad and roll of bandages from a small satchel at his waist. Magicked so as to be bigger in the inside—gnomes were clever like that, though they were also greedy. He hadn’t felt much remorse about making the last owner of this item a bet he knew he’d win to get it. Laying the pad carefully over the wound, he held it delicately in place and started winding the bandages around her upper arm, moving up to encompass the shoulder and the bite wound as he went. “You are hurt,” he said simply. “And you were not yourself. It is hardly fun to tease or insinuate when the one being teased or insinuated to is in poor condition. But if you would prefer that I provide commentary on the amount of skin currently exposed to the eye, I certainly can.”

It was true—he’d cut through her entire sleeve, which had consequently bared large swaths of her torso, but his determination had been that cleansing the blood from her sight was more important. Though she certainly would not want to wander around in public in such a state, he oddly enough had looked at nothing but what was necessary to complete his task. When he’d tied off the last of the bandages, he removed the outer layer of his haori-style shirt and draped it over her shoulders like a jacket, both protecting the wound from the chill and her exposed flesh from eyes, including his own.

Returning the items that had come from his sleeve into the secreted pockets there with deft motions, he took a crosslegged seat beside her. Though Virgil fit in to a certain degree during the day, at night, it was almost impossible to miss that he was something other than human. That hint of gold that allowed his hair to pass for blond was nonexistent under the moon, and indeed, the long strands, presently tailed high on his head, shared the same hue. Given that the under-layer of his shirt was white and his skin so fair, he hardly seemed anything but a spirit himself. Bright blue flickered as he cut at glance at her from the corner of his eye. “I was not aware that you were hemophobic.” He said it neutrally, allowing her to take it to mean whatever she wanted. She didn’t even have to respond, really, but it was an invitation to talk about it, had she the desire.


His explanation as to why he had not spoken actually got a slight smile from her, or at least half of one. He would mention skin. For a while, she stayed silent. Being hemophobic had never really crossed her mind. It had been long enough since she'd last seen her own blood that she'd actually forgotten, as odd as that may sound.

"My hemophobia only extends to my own blood. I'm fine with anyone else's. I've had it for as long as I can remember." She shrugged slightly, pulling the haori closer around her. She could smell him on it, though she really did not understand just why it was that this surprised her. "To be honest, it's been so long since I've seen my own blood that I'd actually forgotten." The last time had actually be when she was fifteen, and after struggling against her restraints, she'd torn a gash down her arm. It had been then that they had classified her -wrongly, mind you- as suicidal.


Virgil inclined his head, more to show that he had been listening than to express agreement. “Chances are good that you will see it many more times before all is said and done, if this is the path you choose to walk,” He said in response. Overcoming one’s fear was not a simple thing to do. Fear was as much a plague upon the strong as it was upon the weak, for the strong knew little about how to deal with it, unless they had been weak first. Even then… it only meant that what was feared was that much worse. He turned his head then, to regard her more fully.

There was, of course, no mistaking that he took a certain kind of masculine satisfaction from the fact that she was wearing his clothes, but, inclined to such trains of thought as he was, Virgil was in fact capable of things other than sex and innuendo, and so he allowed the feeling only a moment to savor before he turned it aside and refocused on the matter at hand. “Whether you tread any further down this road is as much your choice as it was to begin. Know this. At any point, you can stop, you can be done. What you are will never change, but you would not be the first god-blooded child to successfully ignore your heritage. I could even suppress your power, if you wanted, or take your memories, or both. This could all become nothing to you, if you want it to be.” He was not, of course, telling her what she should do or should want, only what was possible if she chose it.

He almost envied her—not the circumstances, but that ability to choose. For all his appearance of being free and beholden to nothing, Virgil had made very few of his own choices in his life, because what he was, who he was, had always carried a set of expectations, and there was no suppressing what was gifted to him—or what he was cursed to be, depending on how he felt about it all on the day. But just because he was a bit jealous of the choice didn’t mean he would deny it to her. Quite the opposite, in fact.


Keira cocked her head slightly, as if in thought, which in truth, she was. He was right, of course. There was a good chance that she would see her own blood a lot in the days to come, if she chose to continue. She thought about his offer. It was an interesting choice, really. To be able to forget, to move on like nothing had happened. But it was not what she wanted. Having her memories erased was simply running from what she was, and she would not do that. Her father ran from his problems; she would not become the man.

So, she shook her head. "I do believe that I've already told you once that I would rather not have my mind poked around with tumor-inducing magic fingers. Just because something is difficult does not mean that I'm going to simply run away. It simply means I need to overcome certain fears."


A smile tilted Virgil’s mouth, and he raised an eyebrow. “Just as I believe I told you that my fingers do not induce cancerous growths. I assure you, I only use their magic for good.” Reverting to his much more usual self, he’d leaned in such that the last sentence was breathed against the shell of her ear. He was tempted to just move the extra few inches and nip it, but he refrained, instead using one of said magic fingers to trail with ghostlike lightness down the column of her spine, ending at the small of her back. She was so tense—he suspected it was a permanent condition. One of these days, he really was going to make her relax. And perhaps he would work the knots and tension out of her with said hands.

Purely as a courtesy, of course. Warriors needed to remain loose and limber, and there was no substitute for a good massage. He doubted she’d ever actually had one; psychiatric institutions hardly seemed the right setting, and trying to imagine someone with an aversion to touch actually going to a professional for such a thing was absurd at best. So on his way back up, he gently knuckled the same line, pressing at a few of the worst spots and shaking his head. “Perhaps whilst you are overcoming those fears, you should consider taking better care of yourself, lovely. It does not do to take on difficult tasks at less than one’s best, no?”


It really was odd, for one to have such an aversion to touch, that she would not be bothered by Virgil's touch. Of all people who she wouldn't want touching her, he should be at the top of the list. Yet he was the only one who could touch her. She shivered slightly as he worked out her back. She rolled out her neck then. Perhaps he was right, though really, she couldn't help it most of the time, as stiffness and the tense feeling she had had been bred into her since she was about ten years old.

She exhaled through her nose. "Well, considering you are the only one who can touch me without adverse consequences, what exactly do you suggest then?"


He wondered for just a moment if he should be offended by the question. She was making it so easy for him, really. It wasn’t like he needed such obvious opportunity. Then again, maybe he did, if she hadn’t guessed at the answers he’d give already. The expression he gave her was clearly incredulous for just long enough to convey his disbelief that she’d given him such a massive opening, and then his features reassembled themselves into their usual vaguely-sly cast, and he leaned close, pressing with a single digit only against her good shoulder, until she was laying back against the hillside.

Perhaps it was time for a reminder of just what kind of creature he was, if she could so easily forget in such a manner. Mindful of her injury even so, he braced a hand on either side of her head, looming dangerously close, but touching her not at all. “No adverse consequences?” he repeated, his voice a sultry purr. “Are you so sure, lovely?” There it was again, that damnable pull of hers, like she was a magnet and he was made of iron, but he was stronger than that, and so he only suggested, lowering his head to breathe in the smell of her from the spot between her jaw and throat. Her hair was especially fragrant, actually—he rather liked the scent.

From that spot, his next words were barely a murmur. “I know many good ways to ease tension, Keira. You would enjoy each and every one of them, I promise you that.” He was so tempted to just prove it, too, but it wasn’t enough. Not when, consenting though she would be, she would only resent him for it later, file it away as another unpleasant memory in a litany of them, a trauma to be added to the list. No—he would never be satisfied being such a footnote in someone’s life, not when he had committed to the chase. He would see it through, and in the right way. There was just the barest glint of gold to his eye when he smiled, pearlescent canine teeth more prominent than they would be in a human mouth. However docile he might appear to her, he was nothing so tame as a human, and disdained the idea of being thought of as one might think of any other man.

Abruptly, he pushed away, resuming his seat with a truly unfair amount of dignity and grace considering what he’d just been doing, the smile receding to the faintest hint of smugness. “But actually, I was speaking in general terms. One should always be mindful of one’s health. With regards to muscle tension, you’ve already used the right idiom. Magic fingers.” He raised a hand, digits spread, and moved them in a vaguely wavelike fashion. “Conveniently, they’re never cold, either, which makes for effective massages, really. Whether you take advantage of my talents is, of course, entirely up to you.” He didn’t specify which talents he was talking about, either.


She perhaps should have expected him to reply as such, though still, the strength of his response was much stronger than she expected. Much to her surprise, she felt herself drawn to him, as well. It both terrified and surprised her, and she had no idea what to make of it. She shivered as he smelled her, her physical response not at all what she expected. She wanted to touch him, to bring him closer, to make him give her what he was offering.

That was utterly terrifying. And then, he was gone, and for a long few minutes, she simply lay there, trying to regain control of her body that had seemed to have a mind of its own. Her heart was racing, but it was not quite the adrenaline she was used to. She took a deep breath, exhaling slowly as she sat up, this time scowling. For another few seconds, she didn't say anything, and then finally, she said, "You're an asshole, you know that is not what I meant."


Perhaps it was only Virgil who could find being called an asshole endearing, but he certainly could. Ephraim called him worse things than this several times a day. That it was the most potent insult she could think of in the moment, or the one she felt was appropriate, only managed to make him chuckle. She was quite in denial regarding some things, and it was, dare he say it, cute. He never really enjoyed himself when the pursuit was easy, after all. His sense of smell was far too good to miss the pheromones she was giving off, and besides that, he could hear the beating of her heart if he listened for it.

“Then perhaps, lovely, you should have been more specific. It’s a very valuable skill, to be able to tell someone exactly what it is that you desire.” As usual, he was talking on several different levels at once, and all of them were quite true. “Though I suspect that in this case, letting me be a bit creative had its benefits as well, hm?” He smiled that dangerous fox-smile, and then stood, brushing grass gently from his clothing before offering her a hand up.

“I do believe, however, that you’ve had rather enough excitement for one night. Shall I take you home?” Ephraim and Nerys seemed to have wandered—not that he would have cared if they’d seen any of that. Virgil didn’t have a lot of shame, after all.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ephraim Solomon Character Portrait: Nerys Liacht

Earnings

0.00 INK

Image




Image




No sooner had the battle ended than Ephraim had moved, approaching Nerys, who was still beating the dead rat, seemingly unaware of what was really going on around her. Watching her lose her mind after Keira’s injury had been unexpectedly… difficult. He was beyond used to fighting and killing himself; in fact, nine times of every ten, he enjoyed himself when doing so. It was just part of his nature, and it served a purpose. Logically, it was better for everyone involved that she overcame her resistance to the idea of taking life, because she would not have the luxury of such easy prey in the future. But… viscerally, he wasn’t at all pleased by the way it had happened. He almost felt a smidge ill, but suppressed the feeling as he crouched in front of the girl, catching her next incoming fist in the palm of his hand, and the other in his left immediately afterwards.

“Nerys,” he said, his volume soft but his tone firm. “Nerys, it’s over. Stop.” He held her hands where he’d caught them, readjusting so that he was grasping her wrists instead. He was careful not to break them, a feat of which he was surely capable. In his youth, he might have even done so by accident, but not anymore. He, unlike she, was in control of his strength and his violence. It was not something he’d expected to have to teach her, and so he had not. Perhaps this was an oversight on his part, and Virgil’s as well.

She was crying. Why was she crying? What was she doing? Nerys couldn't think, at all. Her mind was a complete haze, and the only thing she could register was the fact that she was crying. She could feel her hands wet and sticky with a substance she was familiar with, but she couldn't put a word to it. Her fists, she could tell they were being bruised, but by what? Was she hitting something? What was she hitting? The image of blood crossed her eyes and they widened substantially. She could see Keira being hurt because she wasn't strong enough to do what she needed to do. She needed to kill in order to protect, but she had been reluctant to. And it was with that hesitance that caused Keira to be injured.

"It's my fault," she stated, barely above a whisper but easily enough heard by anyone who was close to her. "It's my fault she was hurt, because I wasn't...I couldn't..." she continued, choking on her words in the process. She wasn't strong enough to protect her friend, because she couldn't kill. And then when she did, she found herself crying because she had taken a life, even if they deserved it. She was crying for the life she had taken. It wasn't fair. It really wasn't. She paused long enough to stare at Ephraim, who was currently holding her wrists. She could feel a fresh wave of tears pile into her eyes as she continued to stare at him.

She couldn't really explain why, but the moment her eyes met his, she immediately leaned forward, trying her best to just hold him in an embrace as best as she could with her arms being restrained by his. "I'm sorry," she spoke, her voice still cracked as she tried to get her tears under control. She couldn't. "I'm so sorry," though she knew not why she was apologizing. Was she apologizing for killing? For hesitating to kill? For getting Keira injured even though the girl was fine? She couldn't understand it, and she kept whispering it.

Ephraim did not immediately respond, largely because he did not know how to. In a thousand years of life, he had seen people cry, of course. Souls, after all, were not always happy to be reaped, and a lot of them wept. But… this was different from that, and given that his usual method of dealing with crying people was ignoring the fact that they were crying, he had no way of being able to do much of use right now. So, for the moment at least, he did ignore it, insofar as he offered no comment. Instead, he pushed slowly back into a stand, using his hold on her wrists to take her with him and pull her to her feet as delicately as he knew how.

Releasing one of her wrists, he used his grip on the other to tug her gently along behind him, away from the battlefield and the stench of death and the sight of her injured friend, so that she could at least regain a little of her center. He didn’t stop until they’d reached the edge of the lake again, the near bank this time, because it was too late at night for anyone else to be there. Carefully, he pressed down on her shoulders until she got the idea and sat down, and then he took a seat himself, directly in front of her. They were both crosslegged, and close enough that their knees touched. He’d heard somewhere that kirin were sensitive to body language and physical contact. Ephraim wasn’t much for it, but this wasn’t his problem. So it didn’t require the solutions that worked for him, and he wasn’t going to let a little discomfort stop him from doing what he wanted to do.

And he wanted… to what? Help her? He supposed so, though the sentiment was odd to him, like a shirt that didn’t quite seem to fit. This was more Virgil’s territory than his, but Virgil was tending Keira’s wounds right now, and so it fell to him to do this, in whatever way worked. He draped his hands in his lap, not knowing what else to do with them, and for a while, he just… let her cry. Wasn’t it supposed to help, sometimes? He didn’t know--he wasn’t even sure he could cry. Was it in his physiology? Perhaps, perhaps not. He certainly had never tried to find out. “We don’t have to talk about it, if you don’t want to,” he said, sure that the words sounded as awkward to her as they did to him. He wasn’t used to this strange note of softness in his tone, though he was trying it on purpose, because he didn’t want to sound mad. He was rarely ever mad, but people sometimes read him that way regardless.

“But if you do want to, I’ll listen.” He wasn’t sure there was much else he could do. But he wasn’t a mind reader—if she wanted him to know how she was feeling, what she was thinking, she had to tell him. He could guess at some of it, but he wouldn’t. That wouldn’t help anything, and he didn’t want to just assume.

Nerys said nothing, did nothing, as Ephraim led her away from the field. Her mind was blank, unreadable almost if someone were trying to read it. She could still feel the warmth of the creature's blood soaking her hands, the sight of her friend being injured still playing in her mind. She could have prevented Keira from being harmed had she killed the creature first. If she had done that, Keira wouldn't have been injured, paralyzed at the sight of her own blood, and wouldn't be in the condition she was currently in. It was all her fault, and she knew it. She wasn't even aware she was sitting down until she could feel her knees touching his, and some part of her relaxed. She didn't understand it, and she really didn't want to at the moment.

The only thing that ran through her mind was the fact that she was the reason why her friend had been hurt. Keira had been hurt because she couldn't bring herself to kill a creature that needed to be dealt with. "It's my fault Keira was hurt. If...if I hadn't hesitated...if I'd been strong enough to...she wouldn't have been hurt," she spoke through choked sobs. Her crying had nearly ceased, however; she could still feel them pooling down her face. She rubbed the back of her hands over her eyes, but stopped momentarily to stare at the blood crusted upon her fists. Her eyes widened at the sight. She'd killed something, and she had their blood on her hands.

It was Keira's blood too. She had Keira's blood on her hands. She dropped her hands to her side and raised her gaze to finally meet Ephraim's. "I'm...useless as a fighter, a killer. I couldn't even protect my friend. How can I be expected to help keep the town safe? I can't..." she began speaking, though her voice was soft, as if she did not want him to hear her. What could he do to help? What could he possibly say that would make it all okay? There wasn't really much he could say, but somehow, Nerys knew that whatever he would say, would make it okay, that it was alright. "I am...useless," she stated, a light smile pulling at her lips.

Ephraim attempted to keep his expression as impassive and neutral as possible, something he’d always been moderately good at, but he couldn’t quite keep the furrow from his brow, nor the frown from pulling at the corners of his mouth. It was true that he really wasn’t sure what he was supposed to say here, so he settled on the truth: the brutal, honest truth. “Yes,” he said flatly. “What happened is, in part your fault. It is true that if you had been more ready to kill that which threatened you and your friend, she would likely not have been injured. You made a mistake.” He paused, and then shook his head.

“But one mistake does not make you useless, and it is not unforgivable. You learned something tonight—you learned that the things you will fight are not like you. They do not do as they do because they believe it is for the best. They do not fight in defense of that which they love. They are often impossible to talk to or reason with or persuade. They will not show you mercy because you are kind or good or gentle. And it will not always be you who suffers the consequences of your mistakes.” He leaned forward a little, bracing his elbows on his knees and hunching a bit so that they were closer to the same height. Ephraim held Nerys’s eyes steadily for a moment, red meeting gold, and for a moment he felt regret. Regret that she ever had to learn these things at all. Perhaps it would simply have been better to leave her alone… but no. He and Virgil, however strong, were not infallible. There may come a day when what she learned from them was all that kept her alive.

And for some reason, he wanted to keep her alive. Actively desired that she continued to live. He’d never met anyone like her before, in all honesty, not among the gods and the exalted nor the demons and the damned. Not even among the other kirin. Something about that was worth preserving. Something about her. “So do not weep. She will live, and so will you, and that means that there is a chance for you to learn something from this mistake, and to work so that you never make it again. Nonviolence and mercy are not the same thing. It might have seemed merciful not to kill those beasts, but what mercy is it if the town is overrun? Remember why you have chosen to take up arms, and then you will know when the time is right to spare something you could have killed.” She was not weak—kindness was not the opposite of strength. But she had been unwise.

Ephraim had been unwise enough times to know that it was something she could change about herself, if she really wanted to.

His words stung, but they rang the truth. She had been at fault, and she would be to blame for Keira's injuries, however; he was also right in that she had made a mistake, and that she could learn from it. And she would. She did not want others to suffer from her mistakes, she wanted to save them. If it meant that she must learn to be merciful by killing something, she would learn it. She could...she could do it. She could learn to kill because she had said she was going to protect the townspeople. If it meant doing something so vicious, so cruel, she could learn to do it. Even if it went against her nature, because these people, their lives, were more important than her nature. She smiled still at Ephraim, tearing off a small piece of her shirt in the process. It was stained with blood already, and she used the small piece to wipe the blood off of her hands.

"You're right, Ephraim. I...I won't let it stop me again. I will work at it, continue to train with you and Virgil so that I can be strong enough to do what I must do to keep the ones I love safe. That includes Virgil and yourself. I worry about the two of you, if this is what the both of you do for your jobs. I know that...you and Virgil are stronger than I am, and that the both of you have been doing this for a long time, but please," she paused, taking in a slow breath as she let her eyes falter from staring at his. She still couldn't understand the feeling of wanting to keep the both of them safe above all others. It felt...odd, because though she wanted to keep them both safe, she wanted him to be safe more-so than she thought necessary. She enjoyed it when the both of them came to her shop, even if it was just for a moment.

"Be careful. I don't think I can bear the thought of losing either of you. The both of you have been so kind to Keira and I, and I don't think we would be here if it wasn't for you or Virgil. Thank you, Ephraim," she spoke, laying a gentle hand upon his face before letting it fall. "I won't let my weakness hinder me, not as long as I still have all of you here," she continued, smiling once more, brightly. And she wouldn't. She would try to overcome this hesitance to kill. Kirin or not, she was still partially human, and it was this side that she would have to rely on when it came to making the more dire choices. Her Kirin side would almost compel her to not fight, to retreat and go home, however; her human side sang to her to stay, to keep those she loved safe and to continue training to be able to do so.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ephraim Solomon Character Portrait: Keira Mizuki

Earnings

0.00 INK



Image

Image



Keira rolled out her shoulder, the joint stiff. Her injury had mostly healed, quite a bit faster than she was used to at that. She suspected it was because of the salve Virgil had used. As she rang up the customer's order she made a mental note to thank him again. Perhaps it was unnecessary, but she felt it was worth the time. It may not have been a fatal injury, but it could have turned into one had he not helped her.

Due to being hemophobic, she was utterly useless when she was injured, and that was beyond bad. It was something she needed to get over, and as quickly as possible. She had been making slow, but surprisingly steady, progress. She hadn't started on her hemophobia, of course, but she'd managed to uncover her mirror that morning. She'd been a bit startled at her reflection, but then, she hadn't been sleeping all that well the past few days.

She told herself it was because of her injury, but that was a lie, really. He was on her mind, and no matter what she tried, she could not banish him. She knew why, too. She had told Virgil that she wasn't going to run away, yet she was running away from perhaps her biggest problem of all. Her father. The blue band of cloth that Virgil had given her was currently being used to tie her hair back, the ends of it brushing the back of her neck. It reminded her of him, really. Of his touch. She shook her head, trying to banish the thoughts. It was absurd, and she had no reason to be thinking of him.

She glanced up as the bell chimed, signaling that someone else had entered, her grey eyes meeting similar orbs, the fake smile dropping from her face almost instantly. Her biggest problem had just walked in through the front door. For a second she watched as he glanced around, looking lost. She realized he still didn't recognize her. The blank look never left her face as Takashi Mizuki walked up to the counter, saying, "Hi, perhaps you can help me. I'm looking for one of the employees here, her name is--"

Her tone flat, she cut him off, crossing her arms in front of her chest. "Keira. I know. You're looking at her, Mr. Mizuki."

Takashi blinked, clearly surprised at how she'd addressed him, and she watched the flicker of emotions play across his face. She realized with some satisfaction that he was trying to figure out if she was being honest or not. "Is it really necessary to call me that? I am your--"

She cut him off with a sharp glare, her voice lowering. "My what? Father? I think not, you gave that up a long time ago when you abandoned me. This is not the time nor the place for this conversation, I would ask you to leave."

Takashi, however, did not move, but instead glared right back at his daughter. "Stop interrupting me!"


Ephraim did not ask to become embroiled in the argument. He rarely asked to be involved in any way in other people’s problems, being of the general opinion that he had enough of his own, and such things were hardly his business, besides. All he’d really wanted out of this two-hour period in his afternoon was to enjoy his cup of coffee—which he’d paid for despite the fact that Nerys seemed to give away too many free things to actually run a successful business—and complete his crossword without Virgil reading over his shoulder and suggesting words with sexual overtones for every blank. It got annoying very quickly.

But apparently, fate had other ideas in mind for the Hellhound, and the white noise of low voices and baking machinery was interrupted by the sounds of an argument, or at least one side of it. Keira was as monotone as she always was, but the man yelling at her—her father, he could only presume from the general similarity of coloration and the content of the discussion—was beginning to irritate him. The neutral set of Ephraim’s mouth became a scowl, and people were beginning to notice the confrontation, though most of the customers were polite enough to try and ignore it.

Ephraim was not known for being polite. Exhaling through his nose, he laid his pen down on the table and stood, advancing across the room to the register. He allowed the barest flicker of his natural malice to escape him, enough that even a human should easily notice it, and when he spoke, his voice was a baritone rumble and his eyes were faintly backlit, which only made their red color all the more eerie. “Is there a problem here, Keira?” he asked flatly, leveling his stare at the side of the man’s head and sliding his hands into the pockets of his dark jacket. As usual, Ephraim let his physical presence do most of the talking for him.


Keira was somewhat surprised when Ephraim walked over. She'd seen him stand up, and had expected him to leave rather than attempt to help. Even so, given the reaction that her father was currently going through, she was actually grateful. At least until the man spoke again.

Takashi's eyes swiveled over to to the Hellhound, the air around him suddenly...darker. Takashi fought not to shiver, and only just succeeded. He beat his daughter to speaking though, as his eyes narrowed. "What, this your boyfriend? You should learn to muzzle your dog." Even so, it was clear that he was more than uncomfortable, and he turned to leave, but not before throwing over his shoulder, "This isn't over, Keira."

Keira sighed. "Like hell it's not, bastard." She muttered, her eyes swiveling over to Ephraim. "Thanks, by the way. You didn't have to do that."


It was perhaps fortunate that Ephraim was both used to worse insults and insinuations than that and also very much in control of himself. He still didn’t like being referred to as a dog—it was attached to a lot of the more unpleasant moments of his life. Still, it was not as though he particularly cared what opinion this human had of him, and as soon as Takashi was gone, he allowed the malice around himself to subside, the slight glow in his irises fading and his posture relaxing just a hair. He would never stand with anything other than a somewhat-military precision, but at least he wasn’t ramrod-straight anymore to take full advantage of his already considerable height.

So when he turned his eyes to Keira, he looked like he always did. Blinking once, he shrugged, a strange gesture on him, really, because it seemed so…ordinary, and he most certainly did not. “We've got enough problems to deal with. No point in letting more add themselves before it’s time.” It was a personal matter of hers, yes, and therefore not really his business, but insofar as it might affect her ability to think straight and defend herself, then it could also affect the rest of them, or get her injured. However it had come to be so, that was his business, now. It was the least he could do.

“I do not believe I have removed him permanently, however. If that should become necessary…” he trailed off, but the dark look that flickered over his eyes said enough. He was not permitted to kill humans, nor really to injure them unless necessary, but he could be a lot more intimidating than he just had—if she needed the man run out of town for good, it was well within the realm of possibility for someone like him.


Keira regarded Ephraim blankly for a second, the barest of smiles pulling at the corner of her mouth. She shook her head slightly. "No, for now, just let him be. If he doesn't get the message..." She shrugged slightly, the gesture looking as odd on her as it did Ephraim. If he didn't get the message, they could always deal with him then.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Nerys Liacht Character Portrait: Keira Mizuki

Earnings

0.00 INK

Image
Image




Keira glanced at her reflection again. She didn't look as bad as she had a few days ago. It had been about two weeks since the attack, and for the most part, her injury was completely healed. It was still slightly stiff, but that hardly bothered her much. She smoothed down her hair, becoming oddly conscious that she had been wearing the ribbon that Virgil had given her almost every day. She actually liked the way she looked with her hair pulled back. She surprised herself to see a slight smile creep across her face. She shook her head slightly. She was getting oddly sentimental.

Without further ado, she and the two fox cubs left the small apartment, their destination being Nerys's home. Keira had been worried about her, as she could remember how the woman had acted after she had been wounded. But, over the past two weeks, there really hadn't been much time to simply sit and talk, though Keira was wholly unaccustomed to something of this nature.

With some slight hesitation, unsure of exactly how to proceed, Keira knocked on the door.


Two weeks had passed since the incident, and Nerys had all but let the light fade from her. True to her word, Nerys had remained in training with the Solomon brothers, doing her best to learn from them, however; part of her was still so very hesitant to accept the fact that she would need to kill to protect that which she loved. Currently, she resided in her home, having taken day off and leaving her shop in the hands of one of her more senior employees. She trusted him to lock up the place and do what needed to be done. She had been a bit too sore to go in, and though that would have never held her back before, she did need to rest a bit, otherwise she'd end up killing herself.

Training wasn't that intense, however; she had pushed herself more than once to her limits. If she was to learn what must needed to be done, then she had to train hard. A soft sigh escaped her as she stretched her arms over her head a content sigh leaving her lips before her attention was called to the door of her apartment. She blinked a few times. Who could that be? She wasn't expecting anyone and she stood from her small couch to answer the door. Opening it, she was slightly surprised to see Keira standing there, and she blinked a bit confusedly at her. She then let out a short gasp and ushered her in.

"Ah, Keira! What brings you here?" she questioned, a smile forming on her lips as she closed the door behind Keira. Nerys' apartment wasn't anything flashy, but it wasn't exactly like Keira's. She had a bit more color, which consisted of a neutral beige and a pastel green covering her walls. Her couch, oddly, was a bright red color, a seemingly stark contrast against the green and beige. She had liked the couch, and it was comfortable, so she didn't really mind it being out of place. She, after all, was a creature out of place anyway.


Keira blinked while being ushered through the door, but smiled slightly all the same. Nari and Kami bounded in after her, Kami winding himself around Nerys's legs. Keira took in her surroundings, cocking her head at the bright red sofa, but saying nothing about it. "Oh, I just wanted to make sure you were okay. You...seemed upset, I..." She trailed off, unsure of how to continue. She really wasn't in her element here. What did one say in these situation?

Nerys giggled softly when Kami wrapped around her legs as she bent over to pick up the fox cub. She scratched behind his ear before setting him back down. She turned her attention back to Keira and blinked a bit owlishly in her direction. Oh, that's right, she'd forgotten that Keira had seen her snap. She sighed softly, motioning for Keira to take a seat wherever she liked and sat back in her couch. She shook her head softly and smiled at Keira.

"I am fine, Keira. I just...I..." she began, pausing as she searched for the right words to say. She took a deep breath before releasing it slowly, her eyes falling to her hands in front of her. "I'm sorry that you were hurt because of me. You wouldn't have been hurt so badly if I had just...if I'd been strong enough to do what needed to be done, you wouldn't have been hurt so," she stated, her voice growing a bit soft in the process. It was true, if she had been stronger, been able to kill when she needed to, Keira wouldn't have been hurt because of her.


Keira shook her head. "No, Nerys. That was no one's fault. Being gentle is not always a bad thing. Perhaps not practical for every situation, but it is a good thing. Besides, I'm fine, see? No permanent damage." She glanced at the couch again, and pursed her lips.

"I...may not be the best person to give design advice...but is there a particular reason that your couch is so vibrant while your walls are neutral?"


Nerys smiled softly at Keira, and nodded her head. Keira was fine, no permanent damage. She tilted her head in confusion when Keira asked a question about her couch. A bright smile covered her features as she tried not to laugh. "Because it is comfortable," was her short reply. Which was true, the couch was extremely comfortable to the point that she had contemplated just using it as her bed, however; she'd rolled off of it too many times. She shook her head softly, the smile still plaguing her lips as she continued.

"It may seem out of place, but that's okay. Not everything is meant to co-exist in a perfect harmony. As long as the one who owns it, loves it, it will always have a place to exist. It doesn't matter if it's different or if it doesn't quite fit in. Everything, even people, will always belong no matter how different," she stated, the bright smile still plaguing her lips that it felt like her cheeks were going to cramp any time soon now. But, she spoke words that were true to her. It didn't matter if it matched with the interior, she loved it because it was comfortable. The truth could be said about people. No matter how different they were, it was because of those differences that others found something to love in them. Look at her parents, literally two different beings from separate worlds who fell in love.


Keira could only shake her head slightly, and smile. "Well, I suppose that's what counts, then." She paused then, comepletely unsure of what to do. She'd wanted to make sure Nerys was okay, and now that that was done, she didn't know what reason she had to stay, but wasn't sure if she was supposed to excuse herself or wait for Nerys to say something. She wasn't even sure what friends--

Her mind skittered to a halt on that word. She blinked once. Friends? It was odd, really, she'd never thought of anyone as a friend, yet the word had come so natually for her, and it just felt...right, in a way Keira couldn't explain. There were many things she didn't quite understand about Nerys, but...she did think of her as her friend. But then, friends did things together, didn't they? At least, Keira thought they did.

She furrowed her brows slightly. "Um...do you...want to go shopping? I could use some different things for my hair, and I really...have no experience in that."


Nerys blinked at Keira before her smile morphed into a large grin. Keira thought of her as a friend, a friend, and if she could have, Nerys would have burst into happy tears. As it was, she decided to settle for the grin on her face. "I'd love to!" she stated happily, standing from her spot and grabbing Keira by the arm, and dragging the girl out of the apartment. Keira was her friend, and she was Keira's friend.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ephraim Solomon Character Portrait: Virgil Solomon Character Portrait: Nerys Liacht Character Portrait: Keira Mizuki

Earnings

0.00 INK

Image




Image




It was another three months, the weather turning towards autumn, before anything else of significance came through the Hollow Point. When it did, Ephraim and Virgil had been expecting the event for several days, the area around the point growing more and more unstable. It was as though something was amassing behind it. Ephraim almost wondered if it wouldn’t have been better to handle the matter on their own, but as soon as the point opened up and the demons spilled forth, he understood why Virgil had insisted.

This was going to require an exorcism.

Well, technically, they could just kill everything in sight, but that would be rather injudicious. Ephraim found it very hard to care about whether the things he was fighting really deserved to die, but it had become surprisingly easier in recent weeks to try and consider the alternatives. He would never stop loving to fight and destroy—this was in his nature. But the need to kill was not as prevalent in him as it once had been. Neither he nor the fox could perform an exorcism of the kind required here… but he knew two people who would be quite capable of it.

“Virgil,” was all he said, and then launched himself at the entire oncoming pack. It was perhaps four or five dozen demons, these ones inu for the most part. They all bore the eerie blue-white eyes of the possessed, which meant that there was some greater force, likely a demon of some kind, controlling them from beyond the Hollow Point. It reminded him of that lich, not long after they’d moved here, but it would not end the same way, If Virgil could coach the women through the process. Ephraim went to work subduing the demons, summoning a blade from the ether, and hitting dog-heads with the flat of it, minus the force he would have used to crush the skulls. They were dropping unconscious at an alarming rate, but the possession meant that they would not stay that way for long.

“All right, ladies. It’s time to learn something new. Today, you’re both going to be performing an exorcism, which unfortunately is something that dear brother and I are fundamentally incapable of doing. I can, however, tell you what to do.” Reaching into his sleeves, Virgil withdrew several vertical strips of paper with strange characters written on them. The gods’ language, though of course they did not have any reason to know that. “Now, this is going to require a bit of teamwork. Nerys, you will be the eyes, and Keira lovely, you are the arms, so to speak. Each of these inu demons is possessed by some other force, which means that they likely do not even want to be here. Once you exorcise them, Ephraim will be able to open up a Gate and they should go right back through, but while possessed, they will of course continue to attack.”

He smiled, as though this were perfectly normal and not dangerous or worrisome at all. Perhaps, for Virgil, both of those things were true. “So, here’s how this works. Nerys, dear, you’re going to need to focus your soul perception. Each of these inu has a mark somewhere on their bodies, likely underneath their fur. That is the nexus of the possession, but simply disrupting the physical mark is not enough. You must also disrupt the magic, counter it with divine influence. Keira, that’s up to you. These sutras should do most of the work; you simply need to charge them with your power and lay them on the spot Nerys indicates. It will look like a shadow on the soul, manifesting on a leg or the heart or something.” He shrugged, handing the sutras to Keira and flitting over to the nearest unconscious inu, which he picked up by the scruff, wrinkling his nose slightly before depositing the unconscious thing before them. It was about twice the size of the average timberwolf, and an indistinct ruddy brown in color.

“Try it with this one.”


Three months led the season to change as quickly as the color of the leaves. Nerys found it rather pleasant, and had deemed Autumn to be one of her favorite seasons. It was usually around this time that business was rather slow, most of the townspeople leaving to one of the larger cities to ready themselves for the holidays that were sure to come swiftly. It was usually during the winter time that her business flourished more, people coming in to place orders for fruit cakes and other such things, and it usually made her happy. Even though it had been three months since the incident, Nerys still felt rather responsible for what happened to Keira, and knew in part that she was. It was perhaps, the reason why she was confused when Virgil and Ephraim had appeared and had taken her and Keira to perform an exorcism.

"Ah, okay," she stated, her voice softer than usual as she listened to Virgil explain. It made little sense, however; it all came together when he mentioned that these inu youkai were here, probably, against their will. She frowned slightly at the thought. Why would anyone want to do that? Control something against their will? She sighed softly, trying her hardest to banish the thought from her mind. It was precisely this train of thought that caused Keira to be injured, and she wasn't going to take that chance again. Instead, her gaze was focused on Virgil, occasionally swaying to Ephraim, who was still knocking out the inu youkai. She couldn't understand him sometimes. When she had first seen him fight that Lich, he had seemed Happy about it, but now...

"A mark?" she questioned as she stared at the youkai now laying in front of them. Taking a deep breath, she closed her eyes before re-opening them, and began searching the creature. Soul perceiving hadn't exactly been the easiest of things to do for her, but she had managed over the months of training. Slowly, her eyes continued to roam the creature, her fingers threading through its fur in the process. She continued to frown as she searched, carefully rolling the creature on the other side. It was then she spotted something odd, and she tilted her head a bit. It was lodged between the base of its ear, connecting to the side of its jaw, and Nerys could not stop her fingers from stroking the area.

"It's there," she spoke, her voice soft and laced with concern. The creature, it was being controlled against its will, and it pained her to know that. Why did it have to be such a cruel world? None of it made sense to her, and she wasn't sure she wanted it to.


Keira's moonlit silver eyes slid over the canine-like creatures, nodding once to show she understood. She took the sutras that Virgil handed her, studying the first one closely. It was simple enough, and honestly...she could understand the need to dominate. It was something she had to deal with herself, the need to control, to compel. The difference in her was that she did not allow herself to succumb to it.

She silently watched as Nerys began to search the Inu youkai. She held the first sutra between the first two fingers of her left hand, the paper responding to the energy she poured into it. She was careful to conserve her energy, though. With almost five dozen of these things, she was going to have to dig deep and pool her divinity if they were to exorcise all of them. She stepped up to the Inu, her eyes glowing as she laid the paper on the mark, which then vanished. Efficient and down to business as always, she turned to the Kirin.

"We should move to the next one, Nerys." She spoke softly, but she was all business.


Virgil watched as the two of them navigated their way through their first exorcism, impressed with how swiftly they mastered the general principles. It might seem to Nerys as though she were seeing a physical mark, but she wasn’t—she was seeing a mark engraved on the soul. It would have been invisible to any of them but her. And Keira hadn’t had any difficulty channeling into paper, which was different from channeling into steel, like her sword. Admittedly, the fact that the sutras were already prepared was beneficial, but still. They were learning well, and he smiled a little slyly as the deed was done. “Perfect,” he said playfully, tucking his hands into his sleeves. “Follow me.”

Virgil was long experienced in navigating an active battlefield, and it wasn’t difficult for he and Ephraim to coordinate with one another, even without words. Granted, the work was easy enough by their standards that they could have likely carried on a full conversation while Eph was knocking out inu youkai, but Virgil understood that his brother was serious enough about making sure they were not hurt that he’d prefer to focus wholly on his task. So they did not speak, merely moved around one another without ever crossing paths, like oil and water, pausing at each downed foe for the women to exorcise it.

At one point, a massive , slavering white dog demon tried to slip past Ephraim and latch onto Nerys’s leg while she was distracted by her search for a mark, but a blast of raw energy slammed into its side, carrying it more than thirty feet away and dashing it against the ground. Virgil was quite certain he heard its ribcage break. “A little excessive, no?” he inquired of his brother.

“It’ll live,” The Hound growled in response; Virgil only chuckled. Sometimes he almost managed to forget how much he enjoyed working with this man, and then he’d be reminded. He’d never met someone so raw and free of artifice before. If there was beauty to be found in violence—and Virgil had always thought there was—then Ephraim was perhaps its best expression. It was no wonder the gods trembled in his presence.

They reached the last one, the alpha inu, and Virgil frowned. “There may be as many as three or four marks on this one,” he said, narrowing his eyes. “Generally, more powerful youkai are harder to control this way. They’ll also be harder to free. Don’t overtax yourselves. If we have to kill it, we have to kill it. Better it than you.”


Nerys frowned as they navigated through each youkai, finding the marks and watching as Keira purified them. With each youkai they managed to exorcise, she had ran her fingers through their fur, muttering an apology to each one. She wasn't sure why she did, but she wanted to. They had not deserved this, and she had only hoped that they would not remember this. She had been caught off guard when a large white inu youkai slipped past Ephraim, heading for her and trying to latch onto her before it was blasted away. She blinked towards Ephraim and muttered a 'thank you' in his direction. She returned her attention to the demon laying on the floor, and before she knew it, they were glancing at the Alpha. It would be difficult to locate the marks? And it had more?

"If it can be saved, then we shall save it. Death, though an option, shouldn't always be so, not if this creature is being possessed. If...we cannot save it, then death may be the only way to save it," she spoke, her voice low and lost of its usual brightness. She knew the consequences of leaving something dangerous alive, however; these inu youkai were not the rat youkai. They were simply being controlled against their will, and as Virgil had mentioned, probably did not desire to be here in the first place. Why should death always be an answer to set things free? Nerys made her way towards the Alpha, and immediately began searching its body. She found the first mark, located on the back of its neck.

"There is one here, on its neck. Another here," she stated, pointing to the middle of its snout. "There is another...here, on the base of its tail," she spoke, and was about to glance away when she spotted something upon its chest. She rolled the creature over, gently as she could, and rubbed her fingers across it. There was a fourth mark, located over the spot where its heart was. "And there is one on its heart," she spoke, frowning in the process. She wondered, for a moment, if it was painful for them to receive such marks, at being possessed.


Keira almost raised an eyebrow at Virgil's statement of overtaxing themselves, but managed to keep her face passive. If the dark circles under her eyes and her heavier breathing were any indication, she had already overtaxed herself; but she could also tell just how upset Nerys was about this whole situation. She wasn't about to just sit back because she was tired.

Pain lanced through her forehead, and she frowned. Something akin to a memory had flickered across her field of vision, but it was not a memory she recognized. However, she had little time to worry about it, Nerys had pointed out a total of four marks, and she had to dispel them. She exhaled softly, steeling herself and making the first sutra, laying it on the inu's neck, and then the second one on the snout. The third was a bit harder, as her eyes slid out of focus for a second; but soon enough, the third sutra was across the creature's tail.

She had to close her eyes in order to focus enough for the final sutra; and she put just a little more of her divinity into this one than she had the others. She wasn't sure if it was because she needed to, or simply because she couldn't shake the feeling that that was what it would take in order to dispel the final mark. She took a deep breath and then opened her eyes, laying the sutra across the inu's heart. By now she was dizzy, but she kept her feet.


As if given an inaudible signal—or a telepathic message from Virgil, which was the case—Ephraim banished his sword and moved a few dozen yards away from the rest of them. A Gate to Yokaino wasn’t as likely to kill someone as a Gate to the Dark World, but it was better not to risk it, given how exhausted the two women were bound to be.

This Gate bore visible differences from the first—the portal itself was a light grey in color, its stone surface carved with images of various kinds of demons, most predominately foxes, dogs, and cats, and when it swung open, a sliver of sunlight was visible beyond, and if one were looking closely, rolling hillside, with mountains and forests in the distance. The air smelled fresh, and more fragrant somehow than the air on this plane. Virgil looked at the Gate with a curious expression on his face, one that Ephraim caught.

“You could always go with them,” he said bluntly, as the inu, revived by their exorcisms, instinctively headed towards the Gate and what smelled like home to them. It was a version of the same thing he’d said to Virgil every time he’d opened a Gate to the demon world or the gods’ realms since they met.

The fox’s customary coy half-smile slid onto his face, and he shook his head. “And leave you lonely without me, Ephraim? How could I be so cruel?” The Hellhound snorted, but regardless closed the Gate behind the alpha, who had paused for just a moment to wag his tail at Keira and lick Nerys’s hand before he followed his pack-mates home. It was a version of the same answer, too. They both knew Virgil wouldn’t go back until he’d accomplished one thing in particular, and Ephraim had promised to help him do it. Until then, the fox was as stuck as the Hound.

“Well. That was very nicely done, ladies. I think that’s quite enough for one night, don’t you?”


Nerys smiled as Keira managed to purify the last of the inu youkai. She watched as the demons woke and fled back to their homes, glad for just a moment that they did not have to kill the creatures. She was glad they could be saved, all of them, and smiled brightly when the alpha licked her hand, she rubbing her hands against its fur as it left with the others. Nerys was not as tired as Keira seemed to be. She had merely used up a bit more energy than she was used to, and sat on the ground, taking in deep, slow breaths to release the fatigue from her body.

"I believe that is enough for one night," she replied, the soft smile still on her lips as she turned her gaze towards Keira. She frowned slightly as she noticed the fatigue was growing more on Keira, and made to stand to go to her aid, however; it seemed she too was succumbing to the weariness. Perhaps she used more energy than she thought. "Thank you, Virgil, Ephraim..." she stated towards them. She was confused, but that confusion could be dealt with at a later time. She would need to learn the difference between when to make the decision to kill, and when to just help. She would learn eventually, but for now, she needed to rest.


Keira's gaze slid over the others for a second, her breathing heavy. She was dizzy, and she was conscious of the fact that she was literally swaying where she stood. But somehow she had managed to pull through and exorcise all of the youkai, and for that, she was glad. So now that they were done, there was little need for her to fight the fatigue any longer, so she didn't. In te end, she just sort of fell over, landing with a soft thump on the grass.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Virgil Solomon Character Portrait: Keira Mizuki

Earnings

0.00 INK



Image

Image



It was dark, and cold, the rain pounding down around them. It dulled the senses, like some sort of filter on the world. Her little hand was enclosed in a larger one, the contact warm, comforting. She looked up at the woman with big grey eyes, her face one of confusion. "I thought Daddy was supposed to pick me up, Mommy..." The woman smiled down at her daughter, but there was worry there, too. She didn't say anything, but glanced behind them again.

They were being followed. Miami Mizuki had enough years and control that is was easy to pick up the location of the Oni stalking her daughter. However, she had desired to keep this life a secret from Keira, and as such, there was little she could do right now. She would not allow this part of the world to drag her daughter down. Not like it had her.

Fate seemed to have other ideas, because the Oni apparently decided it wasn't going to stalk them anymore, but rather attack them outright. Miami came to a halt, pulling her daughter close. Apparently she didn't have a choice; her daughter was going to know, and that was that.



Keira couldn't make sense of what she saw. The grotesque, great beast stood before her, tusk-like fangs protruding from it's lower jaw, the thick, ragged fur matted down with grime, blood, and rain. The little girl's eyes widened, her only instinct to stay still. She was on her knees in a pool of bright crimson, the substance warm against the rain. Her eyes were drawn down in front of her, and grey eyes met grey eyes as the light began to fade from the second set.




Keira's eyes snapped open, her chest heaving, her body drenched in a cold sweat. Fear was evident in her expression as she sat up. She struggled to make sense of what that had been. She'd always thought...she shook her head, trying to banish the thought. A human being had killed her mother, not some otherworld beast that had been after her daughter. Her fingers curled into the sheet she clutched to her chest, regaining control of her body.

It had been a nightmare; nothing more.


After Keira had at last collapsed on the field, Virgil had volunteered to take her back to her own home. He’d been in the place once before, and though he did note some interesting changes—the uncovered mirror among others, he was for the most part still left to shake his head at the state of the place. But he’d set her gently on her bed and pulled the blankets up over her, resisting the urge to crawl in beside her to startle her horribly when she woke up. The girl had earned a bit of respite, what with all the exorcisms. So instead he’d passed a few hours of sleep on her couch, waking early in the morning and rummaging through the pantry only to be sorely disappointed. There was a dearth of edible items in the house.

Half an hour later, he’d returned from the early-morning farmer’s market with quite a lot of food items, and by the time she stirred, there were vegetable omelets, bacon, and berry pancakes all cooking on the range, which had apparently not seen much use in a while. Did she just order food for delivery all the time? Or eat at the shop and nothing much else? Virgil exhaled heavily through his nose. He’d told her to start taking better care of herself—either she was ignoring him or she didn’t really know how. He’d have to find out which, and remedy the situation. Last night would not be the only time she was pushed to the outer limit of her ability.

His ears picked up the sound of irregular breathing from the bedroom, and he left what he was doing for a moment to push open the door and step inside even as she sat up sharply. He could smell the residual fear on her, and his brilliant aquamarine eyes narrowed slightly. That was no simple dream. Leaning casually against the doorframe, the fox crossed his arms over his chest and tilted his head sideways, the sly smile sliding its way onto his face. “Good morning, lovely. Breakfast is ready in five, if you would care to eat.” He said nothing else, simply vanishing from the doorway and heading back into the kitchen.


Keira blinked rapidly, clearly not expecting Virgil to appear in her doorway, and then disappear just as fast. For a few seconds, she simply sat there in her bed. She glanced around, ensuring that she was in her apartment, and she was. She sighed, sliding out of bed and quickly changing into a simple t-shirt and pair of jeans. She wondered slightly where on earth he had gotten the food, but try as she might, she simply could not picture him shopping.

But unless he had a farm shoved up those magic sleeves of his, that was the only explanation. She ran a hand through her hair, frowning slightly. Why was he still here? She was fairly certain she'd only lost conciousness after the exorcism, so there really wasn't much of a reason for him to stick around. She sighed again, irritated, and then she shook her head, shaking off the last vestiges of fear that still tried to clutch at her.

She emerged from the bedroom, Nari leaping up into her arms as soon as the fox spotted her. She stroked her gently while she regarded Virgil with a mild curiosity. "Is there any particular reason you're in my apartment at eight in the morning? Or that you have been here all night?" She wondered slightly, why it didn't seem to overly bother her. She was annoyed, of course, but...most would have a more adverse reaction to find someone like Virgil in their apartment in the morning after knowing you had lost conciousness.


Virgil flipped the omelet, smiling to himself when it landed in a perfect fold. A little more browning on both sides, and it was done. He slid it onto a plate with a couple slices of bacon and a shortstack of the berry pancakes, and with a bow and a flourish, presented it to Keira. “As a matter of fact,” he said with quirked brow, “I was making you breakfast. So yes, there was a particular reason.” Within short order, the fox had a plate to match, and had invited himself to sit at her small kitchen table to eat the food he’d prepared.

“Were you expecting something else?” he inquired slyly, well aware of what his previous behavior might have suggested his motives were. Still, it was quite the assumption to be making about him. There was quite a lot of difference between promiscuity and being the kind of person who would actually take advantage of someone unconscious. He was not the latter.


Keira tilted her head to the side, her eyes narrowing just barely. She did, however, sit down at the table. She did like bacon, quite a lot, actually. It surprised her though, to descover that he could cook. Perhaps it shouldn't; Virgil was, as she had learned, a man of many talents. For a few moments, she sat in silence, but then answered him.

"Frankly, I was expecting to be alone. If you haven't noticed, I'm not the most social person, I don't have people in my place of residence." She blinked then, a memory coming to mind. "This is the second time you've been here, isn't it?" She almost sighed, but in the end she didn't.

A flicker of the nightmare flashed across her mind again, and she frowned. No matter what she did, it simply would not leave her alone. She did sigh then. "What do you know about memories?"


Virgil tilted his head to one side, chewing over a bite of omelet and considering the question. “You’re going to need to be more specific, lovely. I know all about my memories, and memory suppression and traumatic repression and occasionally memory retrieval, but there’s quite a lot of information in any one of those categories, I’m afraid.” It would perhaps take days to get through all of it. He’d lived for more than five hundred years, after all, and very few of them had been at all dull.

Still, he had a feeling he knew what she was actually getting at, and so he bypassed all the inevitable difficulty of getting there indirectly by going straight for the point. “Perhaps, however, we should begin such a discussion with a recounting of the dream you just had?”


Frankly, recounting the dream was the last thing she wanted to do, but she did it nonetheless, in surprisingly vivid detail; she could even recall how the creature had smelled. But what she wanted to know was, was it a true memory? Or simply her stress catching up with her? The official police report had stated that she had been murdered, the weapon some sort of blade. There had also not been any record of Keira being there; she could not remember the night herself, but it had been established that she had been at home, with her father.

So why was she remembering something that she hadn't seen? She couldn't have been. It had to have been just a nightmare. Virgil had described oni to her, so she knew their general look, though it varied. The fact that she had so much detail on the oni from her dream really only meant one thing: she had actually seen it, at some point in time.

As she recounted it, another piece of the memory came back to her, one that she had not recalled in the dream. That realization made her shiver, because it was getting harder to harder to convince herself that it was nothing more than a dream. "It said my name." She shivered again as she spoke. The voice had been deep and gravely, dark and tinted with danger.


For a while, Virgil looked thoughtful, or as thoughtful as someone could look while eating. In the end, he tilted his head back and forth several times. “It’s hard to say whether that’s only dream or also memory,” he admitted. Some people dreamed very vividly, after all, and while he did not believe prophecy was one of Keira’s talents, it did show up from time to time in the god-blooded. Sometimes, familiar things were arranged strangely and vividly in dreams to encrypt the future. That didn’t seem to be what was going on here, but there was no way to be certain. Dream interpretation was an art, not a science.

“From the vividness and the detail, however, I would hypothesize that it is in fact a memory, not simply a phantasm. “ It was also obviously highly traumatic, as far as such things went, but that was neither here nor there with regards to the memory itself. He slung an arm over the back of the chair, his plate thoroughly clean by this point, and tipped his head up towards the ceiling, as though studying the pattern of the paint. “Well… if it starts disrupting your sleep on a regular basis, let us know, but other than that, I wouldn’t worry too much until I needed to, were I you. I could stop them if they persist, but as I already know your feelings on magic fingers and tumors, I shall refrain from offering.” He tipped his chin back down and smiled mischievously at her.

“And how did you find breakfast, lovely?”


To be honest, Keira had been so wrapped up in the dream that she had not realized she'd still been eating. It had been a while since she'd had a decently cooked meal, and Virgil's cooking was far better than simply decent. Even so, gratitude was perhaps not one of her stronger suits, at least, not the way Nerys would have shown it. It didn't help the fact that what he told her was not really what she had wanted to hear, but that was also to be expected, she supposed.

If he was correct, and it was a memory, then...she pursed her lips together. It wouldn't be surprising to learn she'd surpressed the event, it was a horrifying experience, and the human brain would have blocked it off to prevent damage. She had only been five, and the shock at seeing her mother killed by what most children considered to be the boogeyman, well. The logic wasn't hard to sort through. She sighed through her nose.

"It was excellent, honestly. I would not have taken you to be a cook, though."


Virgil snorted. “I am a man of many talents, darling. One picks up all sorts of odd things over five hundred years or so. I do hope it surprises you more that Ephraim is even better at it than I am. He’s the one who taught me.” If ever there was an incongruous mental image, it was probably of that man in a kitchen.

Leaning forward a bit, Virgil rested his chin on his hand, which he propped on the surface of the table itself. Brilliantly-hued eyes blinked lazily, and then he shrugged a bit. “I could pass on the lessons, were you so inclined. Keeping yourself healthy is absolutely imperative, you understand. Of course, either way, there is now actual food in your refrigerator and pantry. You’re welcome.” He winked playfully, as if to indicate that he didn’t actually require thanks or repayment for this fact. And he didn’t—why should anyone show gratitude for a whim, much less try and repay one? He was a capricious creature, most of the time, and the occasional spontaneous act of goodwill was just the natural expression of that. It need not be anything more.


Keira shrugged slightly. "I can cook." she confessed. It was more of a desire not to. But, in the end, she supposed he was right; taking better care of herself was a priority, but it was not something that she could simply turn off overnight. She was making steady progress. Slow, but steady. Perhaps, in time...she could end up being better.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ephraim Solomon Character Portrait: Virgil Solomon Character Portrait: Keira Mizuki

Earnings

0.00 INK

Image
Image




For once, the Solomon brothers were both in their office. Or rather, the basement room of the building that housed their office and their apartment. Virgil was finishing the chalk sketch of an ornate symbol—an eight-pointed star surrounded by stylized flames. A star for a fox’s soul, and the flames for their fire, or the fires of a forge. It was Inari’s crest, and he knew it as well as if it were branded on the back of his hand. Fortunately, it was not, though the bitch had been known to mark her servants that way. Nearby, Ephraim was seated in the corner of the room, apparently meditating. What he was actually doing was something rather different, something of which only he was truly capable. It was not entirely necessary for him to be there, but Virgil was a careful man when it came to dealing with Inari, and so he had deemed the Hellhound’s presence a personal favor.

He’d have to repay it someday, but knowing Ephraim, he wouldn’t ask for much. Virgil was already so far in his debt it was stupid. The worst he ever had to deal with in return was a few extra household chores or a message run. Nothing like the things he would have made someone do. The life-debt, they just didn’t talk about.

Spreading the salt over the chalk on the bare cement floor, Virgil crouched in front of the thing, toying absently with a long, curved dagger. Silver alloy, from the sheen of the blade. They were just waiting on Keira, now. He’d told her how to get here from the ground floor of the offices, and to bring her sword with her, but little else. Virgil had the nasty habit of remaining obscure even when clarity would be helpful, at least when it came to most things.


Keira was not the smartest person, perhaps, but she knew enough to guess what Virgil was getting at when he'd asked her to bring her sword. So, with that in mind, and Bunriki strapped to her back, she silently made her way through their office and into the basement. She resisted the urge to smile when she saw them; she was getting dangerously close to both men, something she had promised herself that she wouldn't do. It was one thing to get their help, it was another to be attached. Attachment got you hurt, and she knew that all too well.

Still, she was here for a reason, and she was fairly certain she knew what it was, too. Something inside of her, her god-blood she assumed, recognized the crest instantly, though she knew she'd never seen it with her own eyes before. Her grey eyes slid across Ephraim and then Virgil. She was wearing much what she had when Virgil had been in her apartment a week ago; jeans and a t-shirt, though this time she had pulled her hair back with a simple, black headband. It was one of the ones she'd found when she'd gone shopping with Nerys.

"So, how does this work?"


Virgil felt no need not to smile, and so he did, flashing a line of perfectly-white teeth. “Hopefully, it works without either setting Inari loose on this plane or further destabilizing the Hollow Point. That, however, is what Eph here is for.” He gestured to the other man, who cracked an eyelid, meeting Keira’s gaze with a single red iris and giving a small nod. “His aura can suppress divinity wholesale. As long as he’s here, your honorable ancestor won’t be able to leave the circle.” The emphasis was slight, but pronounced with a certain disdain that indicated with stark clarity just how honorable Virgil believed Inari to be. Of course, he wasn’t honorable either, but that was hardly the point.

“As most gods do, Inari will require a sacrifice. Hold out your arm, please. …And look away, if you would.” As soon as she’d complied with the instruction, Virgil took the silvery knife and drew it across Keria’s wrist, holding it over the circle until a few dozen drops had landed within the confines. As soon as that was done, he covered the small wound over with a gauze pad and a few deftly twisted bandages. The touch of divinity would get Inari’s attention, but something else would be required to earn her presence.

He looked absently at the thin red lines still on the blade, then slid the flat of the thing along his tongue. It seemed to have a marked effect—without the need to consciously release his human form, he was transforming. He grew an inch or two, his large fox ears sprouting from his head, and not one but nine tails appeared behind him, each of them a perfect snow-white in color. His eyes flickered a few times before they settled on a resplendent, liquid gold, and his canine teeth and claws both grew, the latter turning as white as his tails.

He slid the knife across his own forearm, allowing the resulting bloodflow to comingle with Keira’s. A bit barbaric, honestly, but then the gods were very old creatures indeed. “Just try to ignore that, wench,” he muttered darkly, stepping away from the circle just in time for it to begin to glow. “All right,” he said to Keira, and the smile this time was full of fang and dangerous. “You had best start praying, scion of the god’s house.” The summoning magic would need a specific direction. The symbol went some way towards that, but the rest would have to come from an actual entreaty to the god being brought forth.


Keira's eyes slid open as soon as she felt the bandage on her wrist, and watched with almost a mild interest as Virgil slit his own arm. What she had spoken was true, his own blood did not bother her; it was simply hers. Even so, she closed her eyes once more as the circle began to glow.

Great goddess Inari I thank you for the blessings and abundance already in my life. Let me be mindful daily of your presence and gifts in this world.
Bless me further with growth in power and let my home be safe, always full of food, fun and reverence. Blessed be!
I am your descendant and ask that you come forth. I have need to speak with you.


The first part of her prayer had actually been one that she had researched, but the end had been something rather impromptu. She opened her eyes again.


As if in answer, the circle flared with a violet light, and a strange humming picked up, as if out of nowhere. It swiftly became a slow, almost eerie song, as though hummed by many voices at once, and a figure began to materialize within the circle. As it did, a corresponding aura came to life, bright and harsh as daylight upon a dark-dweller, tinged with forge-fire and the essence of the forest. Virgil’s own reacted to it, as all kitsune did to Inari, rising upwards like a column of blistering heat and blue flame, and the scent shifted to something unnamable, but sweet, like the breath of his kind. It was only then that Ephraim suppressed both of them, mostly to prevent the output from injuring or killing Keira. It was hard enough for a human, even a partially-divine one, to be in the presence of a god; she didn’t need to deal with a proud demon trying to outdo the god as well.

The effect was like blessed cool darkness, and it dimmed even the light of the circle. When the feminine figure solidified, she narrowed dark grey eyes at the Hellhound, her full red lips pursed into and almost frown. The cascade of her rich black hair fell to pool upon the floor, even standing as tall as she was, and her height was nearly a match for Virgil’s. The tilt to her chin was aristocratic, and she had the kind of beauty that was often sung about, or poetry written to attempt to capture.

The eyes slid from the Hound to her descendant, passing for the moment over the fox as though he were not present at all. “Few would dare summon a god,” she said after a moment of appraisal, and appeared to occupy herself idly running her fingers along the edge of the ornate silk fan she carried, the surface embroidered with brilliant flames in red, gold, and purple, and white foxes with all number of tails. “And ordinarily, I would not answer. But you have piqued my curiosity, Keira. What is it you would ask of me, and what are you prepared to offer in return?” Her voice was cool, detached, but there was an underlying thread of heat that suggested it had better be something good.


Keira's own blood sang in the presence of where it had come from. She had inwardly flinched at the rise of both the God's and the Demon's auras, but outwardly, to her credit, she remained passive. She did have a knack for that, even in the worst of situations. Her grey eyes snapped back to Inari as the Goddess spoke. Offer in return? She had a feeling she was about to make an enemy.

"What I want is a consecration of my sword. What I offer in return I suppose depends on whether or not you will perform my request, and what you would request yourself."


Inari raised an elegantly-arched brow, and her own smile was surprisingly foxlike. Then again, perhaps it was not so surprising, considering her areas of dominion. “Well, I’m afraid whether I do this for you depends on what I get for it,” she said boredly, sighing through her nose. “But. Given the company you keep, I’m certain we could come to a satisfactory arrangement.” Her eyes lifted from her fan for the first time, to meet Virgil’s. “Imagine my surprise when I felt the sacrifice of the blood of a white kitsune. A ninetails, no less. And specifically this one…” Her smile was still that coy half-smirk when she reached forward, sliding her index finger back along Virgil’s jaw. She could not step outside of the circle, but it would appear that her captor was allowing her at least this much leeway.

She felt the muscle tighten reflexively, and the smile grew by just a fraction. He remained still as a statue, though. “This was your idea, wasn’t it…? Ah, yes. You call yourself Virgil Solomon now, don’t you? Just how much are you willing to give for the protection I could grant this girl, hm?” Inari’s eyes glittered darkly, flickering to Keira for just the briefest moment and then returning. Her hands were just slightly clawed, and she used the tip of her still extended digit to trace his pale bottom lip. Applying pressure, she nicked the tender skin, splitting it and causing a bead of blood to well and drip down the marble-cast smoothness of his face.

It was Virgil’s turn to smile, but though it looked a lot like the typical mischief and flirtation he usually put on, it failed utterly to light his eyes. “Sorry, gorgeous,” he purred. “I don’t have it.” He didn’t sound sorry at all. She cursed herself, just a little, for the fact that that voice still had an actual effect on her, quickening the pace of her heart just a fraction. She should not play games with this one, given what had happened the last time. But oh, she was tempted. She wanted to beat him at it, to own him like she owned so many others. But she sensed he was telling the truth, so that would be impossible.

There was something else, however, that she could do. “I don’t want yours,” she lied with a chuckle. “But… how about the one belonging to your firstborn son?” It wasn’t quite as good, but she was willing to make the wager that any child of that line would have the power she so coveted.

That gave Virgil genuine pause, and he contemplated for a moment, tilting his head to the side and folding his arms into his sleeves. He did not plan on having children, and he never had. But Inari was somewhat prophetic, as many gods were. She would not ask unless she believed she would one day collect. He had to be very careful with this. “It shall be given to you upon his birth, may the Arbiter pity him,” He let the insult hide the implication: it would be given, but not necessarily kept. If the poor bastard child could find a way to get it back, the entire deal would be pointless on her part.

She either missed the implication or did not care about it, because her smile slowly widened. “Then we have ourselves a deal. Your sword, girl.” Inari drew back one of the sleeves of her kimono, extending the corresponding hand, palm up, to receive the weapon in question.


A slight frown marred Keira's features for the barest of seconds, but it passed just as soon as it came. Inari wanted Virgil's firstborn son? Keira knew little of Gods and lore, but...this just did not sit right with her. However, it was not her decision to make, and therefore she kept her feelings to herself, as well as her words. So, she slid Bunriki out of his sheath with a dull sound, taking a step forward and handing the blade to the god.

Inari accepted the sword, looking it over for a moment before murmuring something in the gods’ language, running her first two fingers along the flat of the blade. A sparkling trail of violet light followed her motions, and seemed to be absorbed into the steel, which turned a gleaming white in the wake of the magic. Other than that, it seemed to alter not at all, though it felt markedly different to the sixth sense, almost as though it were a living entity, but not quite. “And so it is done,” Inari said slowly, handing the weapon back to its owner. “A shame your guard dog won’t let me out, Virgil. Alas, old times will have to remain old… for now.”

“Pity.” He wouldn’t mind if they stayed old forever, and considering just how lovely she was and just what old times she was referring to, that was quite something, coming from a demon with as much hormonal impulse as he.

“Take care of that sword, girl. You’re not the only one who can use it, and in the wrong hands, it might just destroy you.” Inari didn’t sound all that fazed one way or another at the prospect, but neither did she leave any chance for a response, fading away in another glimmer of amethyst radiance.

When she was gone, Ephraim snorted, rising from his meditative posture and shaking his head. “Bitch.”

“You’re not wrong.”

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Nerys Liacht Character Portrait: Keira Mizuki

Earnings

0.00 INK

Image




Image




Keira was not really in the best of moods; her conversation with Virgil about her dream had not been what she had wanted to hear, but such was life. If in fact, her mother had been killed by an Oni...it made Keira wonder just why the creature had not killed her as well, after her mother was dead. It was a question that was bothering her. Unfortunately, she was so wrapped up in her thoughts that she wasn't actually paying attention, and ended up running straight into the door of the convenience store she had planned to shop at.

She stood there fore a second, rubbing her head, and silently thanking the gods that Virgil had not been there to see that; he'd have given her no end of grief about it. As it were, it seemed that no one had been around to see it, at least until she heard her name from behind her. Keira turned, coming face to face with Nerys. Keira smiled slightly, shrugging lightly. "Don't worry, I'm alright. The only thing wounded is my pride, or at least it would be if I had any."


She was out of a few things, and the only thing Nerys knew to do was to go down to the local convenience store to purchase the items she needed. There were not a lot of things, just simply household items such as soap, and a few food items. The household items could wait until the end of the week, however; she was running low and her groceries could not wait. She quietly made her way through the town, list in hand, and smile placed on her lips. The day had been bright, the sky blue and clear, and it seemed to be fair weather all around. It was on of the rare days that came about, and she wanted to take advantage of it by walking.

She made it to the store in time to see a peculiar sight, and she frowned slightly, giving Keira a worried look. She pursed her lips together as she stared down at Keira, watching as she collected herself. "You should still be more careful, Keira. You could have hurt yourself," she replied before shaking her head softly and smiled. "But as long as your okay, I suppose it's alright. Ah, are you out of food too?" she questioned, her eyes brightening up slightly.


To her own surprise, Keira actually blushed slightly. Her habits of drawing were not something she usually shared; none of the others even knew. Well, Virgil probably did, the man had a habit of knowing everything that he shouldn't, so it would not surprise her at all to learn that he knew of this. Still, it wasn't like it was some sort of big secret that she had to keep. Nerys was her friend, after all. What harm was there in her knowing?

So, she reached into her bag, pulling out an old, tattered, and very full sketch pad, and shook her head. "Actually, I'm out of paper and charcoal. My latest three subjects have given me quite a bit of inspiration, and as such, I seem to be burning through my materials rather quickly." That was very true, indeed. While she had quite a few sketches of animals and trees and things of that nature, later on in the book were many different views of Nerys, Ephraim, and Virgil, from profiles to full-forms; human to their other sides. There was even one of Inari, though that one was faceless. Perhaps it was because she was a goddess, but Keira had been unable to get her face to look right from simple memory.

There were also quite a few pictures of Nerys and Ephraim together; Keira had taken to drawing them while they were training or sparring, the same with Virgil and Nerys, or Virgil and Ephraim. There was an interesting one there, as well. It showed a fox and hound, not quite matching what Virgil and Ephraim looked like exactly in their other forms, but close enough that if one knew about them, they could tell what they were. The were circling each other in a yin-yang like fashion. That one was Keira's particular favorite. Oddly, there were no pictures of Keira herself. She'd never drawn a self portrait before.


Nerys blinked owlishly at Keira's reply. When Keira produced an old sketch book, Nerys tilted her head before it clicked, seconds before Keira explained. She gently took the book from Keira and filtered through the pages, her eyes glancing over the detail each picture produced. Her eyes lit up as she passed a few pictures of herself, Ephraim, and Virgil, each one with impeccable likeness that it almost frightened Nerys; if things like that scared her, of course. She frowned slightly when she noted there were no pictures of Keira, and wondered why, for a moment. She gave the book back to Keira and offered her friend a small smile.

"They are really beautiful drawings, Keira," she stated, folding her hands to her side. "I wish I could be that talented, but as it is, I am not. Why...have you not created a self portrait? It would be just as beautiful as you are," she stated as if it were the most natural thing to say, and to Nerys, it was. She was never one to tell a lie. "We could go in together and get your things first!" she stated, making a grab towards Keira's arm but stopped herself. Keira was adverse to touch, that much she knew, and she didn't want to make anything uncomfortable for Keira. Instead, she ushered Keira in front of her so that they could enter the store to grab their necessary items.


Keira pursed her lips slightly, unsure of exactly how to answer. She'd tried to draw a self portrait once, but she'd burned it shortly thereafter. She had been terrified of the lost, soul-less look she'd had; it was also the reason that she had kept her mirrors covered before. However, she had never gotten a chance to answer, as Nerys had moved as if to take her arm and then stopped herself.

A slight smile graced her lips; Nerys really would never change, and that was okay. She shook her head slightly, offering the other woman her arm. "Come on. I can make a few exceptions. I cannot say that it will be exciting, but if you want, you can watch me muse over which charcoal sticks to buy."


Nerys' eyes lit up when Keira offered her, her arm. She hesitated still, not entirely sure if she should take Keira's arm, even though it was being offered. Deciding it would be okay, she laced her arm with Keira's and smiled brightly at her. She would have to find a way to thank Virgil and Ephraim soon. It was because of them, that they were closer. They had managed to do wonders for her, and more-so for Keira, and Nerys would be eternally grateful to the Solomon brothers for that. She needed to thank them. For now, she would enjoy her time with Keira.

"But it is exciting! There are different varieties and brands and things to choose from! Even though essentially, it's all the same, it's the process of choosing which one speaks to you that makes it exciting!" she stated, perhaps a little too enthusiastically. She shook her head slightly, the smile still on her face as she dragged Keira inside. "Also," she stated, stopping momentarily and released Keira's arm. She turned to face Keira as her eyes set into a serious stare, something she had never used before, at least not with Keira. "I'm happy to see you looking better, Keira. You seem more vibrant, and...happier. I'm so very glad," she stated, a small smile returning to her lips as she hugged Keira.


Keira blinked in surprise when Nerys let her go, the look on her face one so serious that she didn't know what to make of it. Her face slowly went to a neutral gaze as Nerys spoke. Keira was aware that she had begun to change, to become...bright, as she had said, but she did not necessarily think that it was such a good thing. At least, not with...

She forced her mind away from that thought. Instead, she smiled again, just slightly, as Nerys hugged her. Keira even managed to lay an arm on the other woman's back. It wasn't a hug exactly, but it was far more than she had ever initiated before. She cocked her head to the side slightly. "Honestly, Nerys. You never cease to amaze me with your ability to see the good in others. I thank you for that."

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Virgil Solomon Character Portrait: Nerys Liacht

Earnings

0.00 INK



Image

Image



Nerys wrapped her index finger in the blue bandaid, closing it tightly against the wound that was slowly healing. She frowned as she glanced at the pastry laid out in front of her. She had baked the cake at least five times now, and it was starting to frustrate her. She wanted it to be perfect for her friend, as she did everything else when it came to her pastries. She wasn't known for her skills for nothing, after all. She sighed, grabbing the piping bag, and began decorating it. The sixth batch had come out near perfect, and the eighth batch had managed to come out exactly how she wanted it to. It was decorating it now, that was causing the frustration. Kitsune were white, or a majority of them were, however; the coloring she chose wasn't exactly so...dull.

"Alright, Nerys, you can do this," she spoke to herself. By the time the cake was full of frosting, Nerys was sporting a few icing patches upon her face and covering her knuckles. She smiled brightly down at the cake, satisfied with its appearance, and nodded to herself. "Now, to cover it and deliver it!" she stated happily as she wrapped the cake up. There was nothing special as to the reason why she had baked the cake, only that she had wanted to thank one of her friends. If it were not for either him or Ephraim, she wouldn't have learned as much as she had, and she'd probably be dead, given the Lich incident and the youkai incidents. She sighed at that memory. Instead of lingering on it, she pushed it away, and exited her apartment.

She held the cake gently in her hands as she passed people upon the street, stopping momentarily to engage in small talk before excusing herself and continuing her way. She eventually reached the office of where the Solomon brothers worked, and she smiled to herself. She entered, and immediately searched for either of them. Her gaze landed upon Virgil, who appeared engrossed with a piece of literature, however; Nerys knew better than to judge. He could be doing a plethora of things, each one unknown. Instead, she cleared her throat softly and made her way towards him. She set the cake down in front of him and smiled.

"Good afternoon, Vivi. I know it's not much, and I don't really know when your birthday is, but," she began, pausing for a second before continuing, "I just wanted to share my thanks. If it were not for you and Ephraim, I wouldn't know as much as I do now, so I just wanted to show my thanks. This...is the only way I know how," she stated, turning a light shade of pink as she laughed nervously. She wasn't exactly sure how she was supposed to state that, however; it was too late to take it back now and correct it.

The “office” was not at all typical of what one expected to see when they heard the word. There were two desks, and that was about where the similarity ended. The entire first floor of the building was one room, and against nearly every conceivable wall were bookshelves and filing cabinets, all in a rich cherry wood. For all that, there were only a moderate number of books, and most of them were old-looking… more like museum pieces than anything. The rest of the shelves had glass cases on them, most of these containing artifacts from other worlds. They were carefully labeled in a language unreadable to those without the right education, and it wasn’t anything a university in this world could teach. Some of them gave off auras or faint glows, and it would have been mostly impossible to identify most of the purposes involved.

A series of paper lanterns hung from the ceiling—though not currently needed, they provided illumination during the evening. While both of the Solomon brothers had excellent night vision, it would be quite strange to not have lighting in the room, and there was always a chance that they would entertain a visitor who needed the luminance.

Presently, the younger brother was the only one in, as Ephraim had gone to take care of several nearby reapings for Kurogami. Being a shinigami was not a job that allowed for a lot of downtime—though Eph’s other duties had been relaxed a bit for the sake of his investigations into the Hollow Point, they did not disappear entirely. Virgil was uninterested in such drudgery, and so had remained behind, currently perusing a book while not honestly thinking much about it. His mind had wandered, as it often did, to rather darker places than one would expect. Namely, Benihime and Inari and his family. He was doomed to be caught up in these webs, it seemed—the harder he fought to free himself, the more entangled he became. He had actually frowned, a very uncommon occurrence, when he sensed Nerys drawing near and immediately smoothed the expression over, returning to the book until she actually arrived.

The sight of a fox-shaped cake, combined with her explanation, actually brought a smile back to his face, one that held no trace of his usual slyness or cunning, though there was a little mischief still. He’d never be able to get rid of that. “Ah, Nene, you shouldn’t have,” he teased. “My dear brother will be so very envious that I received such a wonderful cake from our favorite baker and he did not.” Actually, Ephraim would probably just frown noncommittally at it and mutter something rude about Virgil, but she didn’t need to know that. She was much too fun to fluster. Though he had to be careful—else she’d run back and make a second cake, he was certain.

Nerys smiled brightly before tilting her head in confusion. She hadn't forgotten about Ephraim, she was making something for him, but she wasn't quite sure what yet. At least for Virgil, it had been a little easier. She smiled still and sat down in one of the chairs presently in front of him. "It's okay, I am planning something a little different for Ephraim too. I just can't seem to figure out what he likes the most. You, your sweet tooth is vast so it's easy to put together something simple. Ephraim is just a little harder to figure out, but I don't mind! I'll figure it out one day!" she stated, her voice carrying an extra light note to it.

Ephraim was more reserved than Virgil was, so it was easier to read the Kitsune. But she wasn't going to let that stop her. She'd figure out a way to read Ephraim one day, perhaps. She had picked up on small things, but they were extremely small. She wasn't even sure she had picked up on anything really. Maybe it was just her imagination? She sighed softly before leaning back into her chair, sliding down slightly as she glanced at her hands. She could feel a light flutter in her heart beat and she glanced back up at Virgil, her mind fluttering towards Keira for a second.

"Also, I know she probably won't say it, but," she began, pausing as she thought about how to phrase it. "thank you, for helping Keira out. She...she looks a little happier since the both of you have come into our lives. And I am grateful for that," she continued, lowering her head slightly. Ephraim had told her once to not hang her head in such a manner, but old habits were very hard to kill.

She really was precious, wasn’t she? Virgil couldn’t help the smile that overtook his face, and he shook his head slightly. Perhaps he had an act of charity left in him for today—the woman had just made him a cake, after all. So, reaching across the desk, he placed a finger under her chin and lifted so that she was facing him straight-on again. Despite having a rather lofty opinion of himself, Virgil did not enjoy servile behavior being directed at him. It was an old disinclination, a relic of days when he’d had servants. “Then you are welcome,” he said playfully, tilting his head to the side, “and so is she.”

Standing, Virgil made his way over to a closed door and opened it, revealing a small storage closet. After a bit of rummaging, he managed to produce two paper plates and a pair of plastic forks. Ha, he’d known they’d come in handy. As for cutting… well, Eph probably wouldn’t kill him if he went for many of the weapon racks on the wall, but he had a better idea. Making his way back over to the desk, he set the plates and forks down, one of each for her, one for himself. He was almost loath to cut the cake—it really was a work of art.

Nevertheless, a very deft and precise application of cold foxfire did the trick, dividing the thing perfectly into pieces, and he served her one before taking his own. The cake itself was strawberry—she knew him so very well in this respect. Reclining back into his chair and gesturing for her to eat, he spoke. “Well, in terms of understanding my brother, you’ve come to the right place. I am much more happy to talk about him than he is to talk about himself.” As someone who’d eaten quite a lot of Ephraim’s cooking, he had a fairly good idea of what the man’s preferences were. “So I’ll let you in on a secret: he’s very fond of apples. And cinnamon.” He also generally preferred the spicy to the sweet, but anything with the red fruit in it was more than acceptable to the Hellound.

She could feel a little heat run to her face when Virgil placed a finger underneath her chin and lifted her head. She really should stop lowering her head. She offered him a meek smile in return before it brightened at his words. She truly was grateful to have both he and Ephraim in her life. They had made everything much more vibrant than it had been, and they even managed (or at least Virgil did) to bring Keira out of her shell slightly. Nerys had tried since she had first hired Keira, to break her out of her shell, but everything she ever did only managed to strain their relationship. She was genuinely glad now that the two were friends. She watched as Virgil placed the plates down in front of her and himself and cut the cake. Her eyes lit up when he spoke of his brother.

"Apples and cinnamon? Oh, I can make an apple pie!" she stated as she had searched her memory for a recipe that would use both. There were other things, of course, but for some odd reason, apple pie was the first recipe to pop into her mind. She could make that for Ephraim the next time he came by, or if she visited the office again. She had to make a mental note to keep the apple pie stocked in her bakery. "Or I can make apple and cinnamon muffins, or --" she started trailing off on the various recipes, taking a bite or two occasionally from the cake.

Virgil shook his head, but simply allowed her to talk, for once relatively silent as she started listing off recipes that suited the criteria he’d laid out. There was something about Nerys that was just pleasant to be around. Oddly, he didn’t feel all that compelled to flirt with her, either, at least not most of the time. It was surprisingly refreshing, truth be told. While Virgil was hardly the kind of person who would do something as silly as revile his own nature, he did occasionally get a little tired of playing those games. This one, the one that he was playing with her—though of course without her knowledge—was quite different in character from the usual. He wondered just what would come of it.

Whatever the case, he was rather enjoying himself in the present. The cake was delicious, and company was pleasant. All in all, it was a much nicer evening than he’d been expecting to have. Perhaps it hadn’t been such a bad idea to follow his brother to this town, after all.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ephraim Solomon Character Portrait: Nerys Liacht

Earnings

0.00 INK

Image




Image




She pursed her lips together, contemplating whether or not she should ask. Truly, she didn't need anyone to go with her, she'd managed fine on her own before, however; the thought of going alone when she didn't have to made it complicated. She really didn't want to bother them, specifically him since Virgil was out probably with Keira. And she really didn't have the heart to bother Keira if that were the case. Virgil was working wonders with Keira, and she would forever be grateful to the Kitsune, even if Keira hadn't realized it yet. She scrunched her nose up and sighed in defeat. She really didn't want to go by herself. With that in mind, she glanced around her shop, spotting said Solomon sitting in the back, as per usual with a coffee and the crossword puzzle.

She made her way towards him, stopping occasionally to check up on the customers that had been there and making sure they had everything they needed. Once that was done, she slid into the booth with Ephraim and stared at him from behind his crossword puzzle. "Ephraim," she started, calling his attention first. Once she was sure she had it, a bright and nervous smile fluttered across her face. "It's...probably silly to ask, but...could...would you mind going with me to Mr. Bailey's supply store? There are a few things I need to get for the bakery...and...well," she fumbled nervously for the words to speak. She really didn't want to impose on him, nor did she want him to agree to it if he had other things to do. Which would be odd seeing as he was here and not out there if he did have other things to do.

"I didn't want to go alone," she murmured, pursing her lips together while glancing away.

Ephraim wasn’t the kind of person that people usually asked things of. Actually, they generally hesitated to ask questions at all, or even talk to him. He knew that humans were naturally uneasy around him, as were most things. This was fine and didn’t really bother him, but he’d put considerable effort into trying to make sure that Nerys and Keira at least knew that they could approach him whenever they wanted to, and ask him most anything without fear of anger or reprisal. Given how nervous she clearly was in asking him a single thing, he was wondering if he hadn’t failed after all. He was solitary, not misanthropic. At least, not exactly. It was more a distrust than anything, but it seemed that people were always nervous around him anyway.

He supposed they were blameless for that, but it was just another constant reminder of his abnormality—they were reacting naturally to the fact that he was soulless. He folded down the newspaper, preserving the crisp lines in the document, and set his pen down neatly. For a moment, he studied her wordlessly. There was something very peculiar about the request, and he wondered why she’d made it. If she was worried about heavy supplies, she needn’t be. With the right application of ki, Nerys would have no trouble carrying whatever she needed, though it might perhaps look strange to a human if they saw it. Not freakishly so, though. But… to ask him because she didn’t want to go alone? He had to admit, he didn’t really understand it. Surely there were other people better suited to providing pleasant company than he.

Nevertheless, if for whatever reason it was his company she desired, he saw no reason to refuse. He wondered if the supply store had any imported spices. He was running low on saffron. Tucking the newspaper into his coat, he followed it with the pen and stood. “Very well,” he acquiesced flatly, gesturing with a hand for her to precede him.

Nerys' eyes brightened when Ephraim agreed to accompany her. It showed as her lips tilted up in a bright smile. "Thank you, Ephraim!" she stated happily. She could not understand the reason why she was happy, but she was, and she slipped out of the booth. "I need to tell one of the others that I will be back! Mr. Bailey's isn't that far from here," she stated, walking towards the back of the bakery before reappearing. Once everything was taken care of, she led the way towards Mr. Bailey's, walking quietly next to Ephraim in the process.

"Ah, um..." she began, pursing her lips together as she fumbled with the words she wanted to say. Conversations were not exactly the easiest thing to start, however; she felt the need to say something; she just didn't know what. "You didn't have to come with me, but I am glad you agreed to. I really do enjoy your company," she spoke, offering him a slight tilt of her head and smiled before returning her attention to the front of her. It was true, she really did enjoy his company, something that perplexed her, but gave very little thought to. She didn't need a reason to enjoy his company, and she wasn't entirely sure she could figure it out regardless.

"There...are not a lot of people who would come with me," she stated, a hint of melancholy in her voice. She wasn't sure why, but a lot of people wouldn't have come of their own volition. They would have went because they felt obligated to or if they felt that their jobs were on the line. She would never fault anyone for saying no, and encouraged most of her employees to have that option, but she could always see it in their eyes, the disdain, the contempt they felt towards her. She'd never wronged them, but there were times she wondered if she had in a past life. She shook the thoughts from her mind, replacing the frown on her face with the usual smile.

"But I am glad you did."

For someone as reserved as him, it was odd to watch the expressions play so freely over someone else’s face. He didn’t know exactly what all of them meant in this context, because he was generally very bad at understanding or empathizing with other people, but… for her at least, he tried. Not that he really understood why. It was just… well, whatever this had been to start with, she and Keira were the only mortal beings he’d ever had any connection to whatsoever. He taught them to fight, and he’d thought it would be simple enough to keep it at that. Perhaps it would have been, if he were the only one thinking about it. But one didn’t just decide to invite one’s combat instructor on an afternoon’s walk to a supply store. He wasn’t sure what someone had to be to do that—he hesitated on the word friend, but it didn’t seem like an acquaintance sort of thing, either. Perhaps it was somewhere in between.

Maybe there just wasn’t a word for it. Ephraim was used to there not really being ordinary words for things in his life. There’s wasn’t even a word for him. People used Hellhound, and he didn’t care that they did, but he wasn’t a creature of the Dark World, he was a creature of nowhere. The Void, even.

None of that seemed to matter to her, and he was strangely grateful for it. He didn’t care that she was only half a kirin or half a human, and he didn’t really give a damn that the was odd even for such a one. He just didn’t think of it. She was Nerys. What more was there to be said? He was unaccustomed to receiving the same attitude in turn, but she had expressed as much already. He wasn’t really sure how to reply; you’re welcome wasn’t really the kind of thing he said. Besides, it was obvious that he didn’t mind, lese he wouldn’t have been here. Ephraim did what he wanted, when the choice was his, and only the Arbiter could obligate him into doing anything. So this wasn’t for obligation. He wondered if it was for the way he felt more… settled, now, than he had a few minutes ago. Even doing things that usually relaxed him didn’t produce the feeling in quite the same way.

Because he didn’t know what he was supposed to say, he just picked the first thing that came to his mind. “Then there are not a lot of people who accurately estimate the value of your company,” he said with a careless shrug. The things most worth knowing were often the hardest to discover, after all. That was just obvious to him. “You don’t need to thank me, Nerys. I just… do what I feel like doing, and I guess right now I felt like… doing this.” He’d almost said being with you, but he wasn’t sure he wanted to. It could be easily misunderstood, though which of them would be more likely to misunderstand it, he didn’t know. Better to leave it unsaid.

"But...I want to thank you. You and Virgil...ever since the two of you became a part of our lives, you and Virgil have helped us more than words can properly explain. If it were not for you, for Virgil, I..." she started, her lips tilting down for a second. If it were not for them, she and Keira would probably be dead. She would not have learned to defend herself against the other creatures of the different realms, Keira would not have harnessed her powers as well as she had, and there was so much that Nerys had to be grateful for. Whether or not he realized it, he and Virgil had been pillars for her. They had helped keep her grounded to the floor when everything had become a bit overwhelming. The rest of the walk had been silent thereafter.

She didn't know what else to tell him, and she was sure he enjoyed the silence more-so than anything. She wasn't going to disrupt that if he desired it. They had reached Mr. Bailey's within the few minutes it took, half an hour at most, and she entered the store. Immediately, she was greeted by the older gentleman who's namesake ran the store. "Good afternoon Mr. Bailey!" she greeted cheerily, greeting the older man with a hug before turning towards Ephraim. "Ah, Mr. Bailey, this is Ephraim. Ephraim, this is Mr. Bailey, he provides most of the supplies for my shop," she stated as she introduced the two men. Mr. Bailey was a man in his late sixties, balding for the most part with a long beard that he took pride in.

He stared at Ephraim for a second, his eyes closed as they usually were, before a smile grimaced across his face. "You attract odd company, Nerys. What can I do for you today?" he spoke, placing his hands behind his back as he stared at the two. Nerys blinked at his choice of words before glancing towards Ephraim. Odd? That...perhaps wasn't the right word to use, but she let the thought drop as she remembered why she was there in the first place. She was low on a few things, and one of her blenders had broken. She needed to replace it, and she needed a few ingredients that she was out of.

"Ah, I need a new blender. Mitsuko broke one, but it was old already. And...I need about two bushels of apples, the Honeycrisp ones if you have any. And a bushel of your Mutsu apples. I will bring you and Mrs. Bailey the first of the batch of apple pies I make with the Mutsu apples," she stated as Mr. Bailey chuckled, disappearing behind the store to retrieve her items.

Ephraim blinked slowly at Mr. Bailey. The man’s aura was more powerful than a human’s usually was—he suspected that he was spiritually aware, perhaps a shaman of some kind. The Hellhound shifted somewhat uncomfortably. It wouldn’t be hard for such a person to detect his absence of a soul, and he suspected that if so, it would not be long before Nerys was advised against keeping his company. He might not have come right out and said to her that it was a bad idea for her to be around someone like him, because he couldn’t quite bring himself to do it. But that didn’t mean that nobody else would. It would probably be for her benefit anyway. He’d taught her enough to deal with most things—it was probably safest if he just left her to her life now. Keira, too—the longer they remained embroiled in these events, the surer the chance became that it would kill someone.

He offered a nod to the man, an acknowledgement of more than simply the introduction, but he said nothing, returning his attention instead to Nerys. Apparently, the shop was in need of a new blender and… apples? Honeycrisp. Ephraim pulled a rather odd-looking face, somewhere between a grimace and a thinning of the lips, but he still didn’t offer any commentary. He really enjoyed apples—though it was kind of weird and so he tended not to indulge himself in this fashion. Still… he supposed there was nothing untoward about this. Apples were a regularly-used component of many of the things at the bakery. He knew because he could smell them regularly. A particularly needless form of self-torture, really, to smell but not eat.

“If the others are for pies, what are the Honeycrisp for?” he asked, a faint note of curiosity entering his usually flat tone.

Nerys stood, humming softly to herself when Ephraim spoke. She turned and blinked at him, confusion lacing her eyes before she took in a sharp breath. "Well, I use them to bake with. They make really good baked apples, especially if you stuff them with cinnamon, brown sugar, walnuts, and dried cranberries. They come out savory rather than sweet, and they are delicious," she explained, she tapped her chin in a thoughtful manner as she thought of other things she used the apples for. She used them, occasionally, in the apple pies, but Mutsu apples were better suited for the job. Honeycrisps she enjoyed using them in other things.

"Ah, and also, they make really good crisps, like the Apple Almond Crisp. I...I can make you one when we get back to the bakery if you'd like. They usually take about an hour, but only if you want to wait for it. I have to make them anyway so it won't be much of a problem. Or, I can make you the baked one with cinnamon and dried cranberries," she continued, shuffling a bit nervously in her spot. She wouldn't mind making it for him, really. And it wouldn't be a hassle either since she needed to fill up the pie section along with the apple crisp section and tarts. But, that was only if he wanted to wait. She'd make one especially just for him, if he wanted to wait the hour or so it took to make.

He was certain that Virgil had something to do with this. He didn't know how or why—beyond the fact that it was making him slightly uncomfortable and Virgil liked doing that—but he was absolutely sure that this was somehow the fox’s fault. Ephraim really didn’t like accepting things from anyone, but he could tell just by the look on her face that she would be needlessly sad if he refused. And he didn’t exactly want to, either. Sighing somewhat heavily, he shook his head. “Very well,” he said, almost too quietly, as though he were just waiting for Virgil to poke his head around a nearby corner and laugh at him. “I would… appreciate that, thank you.”

Characters Present

No characters tagged in this post!

Earnings

0.00 INK

Image
Image




Almost a year to the day from the time the Solomon Brothers had set up shop in the small downtown area of River Lake, things became more serious than either of them had thought to expect. Not because of what appeared in the middle of town—though admittedly oni of this level were uncommon—but rather because of the fact that they used a Gate to get there. Only shinigami and the occasional very rare god could use Gates, and that meant that this was highly unauthorized… or authorized by someone who thought they were above the Arbiter’s rules.

It was actually Virgil who was closest to the scene, which was fortunate, because he was immediately able to create a blanket illusion that would stop the humans from panicking or trying to get near—implanting empathetically in them the sudden desire to be elsewhere while showing them nothing but an empty street. It wasn’t exactly easy to maintain such a large-scale deception while also controlling emotions and trying to fight off a dozen massive oni, but he was managing.

If Ephraim could get here quickly enough, it wouldn’t be a problem, but… he might have to stop doing one of these three things shortly, and ending any one of the tasks prematurely could be a disaster… at least for the town. For Virgil, it was admittedly a point of pride more than anything else.


It had been almost year now since Keira had met Virgil and Ephraim. She had changed quite a bit since then, as well. She had all but lost her malnourished look, her body filling out, color returning to her. She looked...healthy, really. She honestly had Virgil to thank for that, and while she had opened up some, actually smiling every now and again, she still was rather wary to form any sort of strong bond with either of them. The same could not be said of Nerys, however; the females were now what society would consider best friends, and Keira found that she quite enjoyed her company.

Her abilities had grown as well, and while she would never be as strong as the other three, she had enough skill in order to protect herself and others should she need to. It was her sensure and telekinesis that she had the most control over, which was perhaps why she was able to sense what was happening not far from her position. Her eyes narrowed, the blue ribbon tying her hair back flapping in the breeze as she moved.

She could tell that they were oni, and quite a few of them, too. While Virgil could have easily handled them by himself, he seemed to be at a bit of an impasse; she was here, she may as help him. On top of that, she felt some type of inevitable pull, one of oni felt familiar in a way she could not place, but she joined her friend nonetheless. Her eyes slid across the kitsune briefly before slicing through one of the oni's arms. It howled in pain, and Bunriki was still in its sheath. The enegy resonated around her open hand, her eyes narrowing slightly.

"You started the party without me." she said flatly.


Virgil chuckled, twisting his hand in a sharp motion to throw a gout of foxfire at the nearest oni. “Well, the guests were already here… thought it would be rude to just leave them waiting,” he replied dryly. The hides on these ones were thick, but they still burned. Slowly, but surely. It was probably for the best that she was using her ergokinesis for this—sanctified or not, the sword would have a hard time getting through most of these. By and large, they were massive creatures, each fifteen feet tall at least. Their skin was hard and resilient, and in places, they had matted hair for extra protection. Most of them also bore tusks protruding from their lower jaws, in various stages of damage and decay. A few were missing one or the other or both tusks, even.

As brutish as they looked—and behaved, in Virgil’s opinion—they were still higher-order creatures than any Keria or Nerys had ever fought before, though at present neither the half-kirin nor Ephraim had arrived. There was something to be said for that. Ephraim tended to clear fields too quickly for anyone else to really have any fun. The Hellhound enjoyed himself regardless of the circumstances or duration of combat, but Virgil found that he only really had the taste for it when it provided some kind of curiosity or challenge for him.

This wasn’t exactly anything like that, but it was closer than anything had been in a while, so he was willing to accept that he was just lucky and go with it.


Nerys hummed a light tune to herself, a small smile on her face as she finished locking the door to her bakery. She tilted her head from side to side as the night drew on, calling forth its nocturnal creatures and beckoning its solar creatures to sleep. It wasn't extremely late, or late enough that Nerys was tired, however; a year's worth of training, one was bound to build stamina, endurance. She had learned much, and yet so little, during her training sessions with the two Solomon brothers, but she would not change any of it. They were her friends, and if it were not for those two, specifically Virgil, Keira would not be as bright as she was now. Before she could follow her train of thoughts, there was a shift in the air, one Nerys had learned to recognize, and she tilted her head towards the sky.

Something was off, and she didn't like it. She didn't like the way how a cold chill crept along her back, nor the way the hairs on her arm and neck stood on end. She could feel Virgil and Keira in that direction, and her legs were automatically moving, carrying her to the scene. And what she saw almost, almost made her stomach lurch. These creatures, they were different from what she was used to seeing, and she wasn't sure what exactly they were. Going by their appearance, and the things Virgil had described to her, she could only guess they were oni, judging by their brutish appearance and the tusks they seemed to sport, or at least most of them did. Keira and Virgil seemed to be engaged in battle with them, and Nerys stood for just a second, a frown marring her face.

She really had no desire to fight, but she had made that promise she would to protect the town, to protect her friends. It was this thought in mind that pushed her body forward, rushing towards a nearby oni that had tried to catch Keira from behind. Channeling the Ki she'd learned to control, she pushed it through her body, and slammed into the back of the Oni, sending it and herself a few yards away from Keira and the others. Rebounding quickly, she turned, her fist aimed for its jaws and arms. She needed to incapacitate it by either taking out its arms, or making it so that the creature wouldn't be able to move again. She would have to do that with most of the oni, however; she did not know their worth. She wasn't sure just how durable these creatures were. It was, perhaps for the best, if she started with just one.


Nerys’s arrival was quite timely, but Virgil wondered where his brother was. He could sense Ephraim nearby, and another large source of energy, but he could not tell from this distance what it was. So the fox applied more ki, manifesting his fire around his hand, and raked his claws across the chest of the nearest oni, digging deep, bloody furrows into its hide. He was surrounded by a good five of them now, which was good, because it took the pressure off the other two. What was less fortunate was that a particularly large specimen was making for Keira, and Virgil’s eyes narrowed when it spoke.

“I know this thing. You are Keira—I have waited for this chance, god-blooded.” It was generally believed among oni that eating one of divine heritage made a warrior more fearsome and powerful. Whether that was true or not mattered little. This one had been waiting for another chance to enter the human realm to consume the god-blooded one it knew existed there. It had had one so far—two would be more than most of its kind could ever dream of. The power and prestige it would earn would make it chief, easily. This in mind, it raised the massive club it was carrying and swung downwards for Keira.


A cold chill ran along the back of Keira's spine. It wasn't until the largest of the oni spoke that she finally understood why there had been that familiar feeling, that pull, the nagging sense of recognition. It was the voice; the one that haunted her nightmares, and the one she would never forget. His appearance was different, he was missing one of his tusks and three fingers on his right hand; but she knew. She knew it was him.

It was the same oni that had killed her mother eighteen years ago.

For what seemed like several hours, Keira just stood there, unable to move. She knew she needed to, that she was under attack. Move. she tried to will herself. Move! But she couldn't do it, her legs wouldn't respond to her body. But her hands would.

MOVE!

Her blood stained the concrete below her, but that was of little matter. She pulled the small blade out of her thigh and tossed it to the side, the wound shallow. The pain had forced her mind to clear, and allowed her to move, dodging the blow by the oni, but just barely. Even so, she was still shaking; not only from her hemophobia which she had yet to fully overcome, but also from fear. She was afraid, and she cursed herself for it. She tried to calm herself down; she would need her head for this fight. Of course, her adversary gave her little recovery time, forcing her to dodge again, this time taking a glancing blow on her left arm, making it run red.

She let out a hissing breath, flexing her fingers. She still had movement in her arm, and she was quicker; but he was far stronger, one hit, and she'd be done. Her eyes narrowed, trying to focus, but certain memories wouldn't leave her alone. She could remember her mother dying, the oni looming above her. She grit her teeth.

"I know you as well. Tell me, why didn't you kill me back then?"


It was hard to tell, but the oni might have been smirking. The missing tusk gave his face an odd sense of unbalance, though honestly, he was already plenty ugly by human standards. “Simple. You weren’t awake. Godsblood is better when godblooded has its powers. Like the woman did.” The maybe-smirk morphed into a full-blown grin, exposing a full row of yellowed teeth.

“She was tasty, but you’ll be better. More power in you.” He swung the club again, this time horizontally so it would be harder to dodge—his reach was enormous.


Keira didn't try to dodge the club, or even block it. She didn't have to. The oni's words rang in her ears, and she shut her eyes. When she opened them, all color had drained from them, making them pure white, and glowing. In response, the oni's club simply stopped, perhaps an inch from coming into contact with her.

"Unfortunately for you, you will not live to taste this blood."

Her voice was not her own, it was two-toned and slightly musical, with a heavy undertone of danger and power. The energy around her surged in response as she began to draw it from the earth, so much so that it had begun to spill over. Blood began to run from her nose, but she ignored it. The energy took the form of glowing-white tendrils, writhing in response to her will, and they slowly began to snake towards the oni.

His death would be slow and painful. She was acting purely on rage and instinct, completely in disregard for those around her; or even herself. The tendrils latched on to the beast in front of her, his neck, wrists, and ankles, and began to pull. The club hit the concrete with a rather loud crack, and still she pulled. It was an agonizing twenty seconds before both arms were torn from his body, followed not long after by his head. There was almost a wicked smirk on her face, the blood splatter stopping before it reached her.

She was not without her own blood, however; it had begun to leak from her eyes, making her look like some warped version of a weeping goddess, though she showed no signs of stopping. She could feel other presences around her. They were not oni, but she seemed to recognize a demon. Still, they seemed to be of no threat to her.


The primary deficiency of any oni was that it was slow. Virgil was so far the opposite of slow that it was actually impossible for mortal eyes to track him as he moved, at last dropping the empathetic control and illusion since there were no more humans in the area. He kept the sound muffled, though, so as to avoid attracting more. Nerys seemed to be handling her oni quite well, but Keira… he’d not missed the words, and the subsequent flare in her divinity. Human bodies, god-blooded or not, weren’t meant to handle that much divinity. He knew of only a few left alive who could, and the vessels were hardly human anyway. It would be more than Keira’s system could take if she kept it up.

With something that sounded suspiciously like a snarl, he tore through the last of his opponents. Nerys had felled her first, and there was only one remaining. “Nerys, you have to handle the last one. If I don’t stop Keira now, she’s going to die.” And wouldn’t that be ironic? He’d given his firstborn son to Inari so she’d live, and the foolish girl might just do herself in before anything else could. Virgil’s tails lashed irritably at the thought, which was quite something, considering how seldom he showed signs of any such emotion at all. He smoothed them out, however, as he approached her from behind, slowly at first, and then much more rapidly once he was certain she was aware of his presence.

She’d need to be brought out of the state by force, and he doubted mere words would do the trick. So he used his speed to seemingly materialize right behind her, wrapping his arms around her ribcage and pulling her back against his chest. Leaning down, he murmured into her ear. “He’s dead, Keira. It’s over now. Let it go.” At the same time, he pulled his own ki aura around them like a cloak, using it to dampen and suppress hers. He could force it all the way down if he had to, but it would be much easier on her system if she could do so herself.


She had felt him coming, of course, but his speed far outmatched hers. She let out something between a growl and a scream when he grabbed her, the sound strangled. She didn't like being touched, least of all by a man. But his words, his voice...it seemed familiar. She wanted to say something, to demand he let her go, but the words would not come. She became aware of things as her aura was suppressed; it tried to flare, but was no match for the demon's. Why should he command her? He had no right to do so.

But she felt pain; she tasted blood, her own blood. She realized it then, that she was killing herself. This power was not hers to command, and it was tearing her apart from the inside out.

This is not what I wanted for you, little one. Let it go, child.


Her eyes widened then, her aura flickering out almost entirely with the shock that came with hearing that voice. She knew that voice. She shouldn't be here, she didn't want her to know, to see what she had done. The energy flickered and vanished, her eyes returning to their normal steel grey, though the light had vanished from them. She stared at nothing as her eyes and nose bled, her vision blurred. Tears mixed with her blood as she simply sagged against the demon. She didn't make a sound, she simply trembled as she cried.


Virgil felt it the moment she stopped fighting him, and he wasn’t surprised when she slumped against him and cried. She’d just dealt with a lot, and it wasn’t an isolated incident—this was connected to things she’d been through before, and he’d mostly put the pieces together. Gently, he picked her up and brushed his lips gently over the crown of her head, then turned to Nerys. “Are you all right, Nene? We need to get her home, and it would be good if you were up to helping a bit.” They needed to get Keira cleaned up and out of her bloody clothes, among other things, and he knew she would not appreciate him being the one to do that, for reasons both obvious and more subtle. Virgil was all for pushing boundaries, but not these ones. Not right now.

He held her as one would a small child, one arm banded under her legs and the other hand moving up and down over her back. Her head rested on his shoulder, and he looked over hers to address the café owner.


If this had been a year ago, Nerys would have had trouble with fighting the Oni she currently was. She might have even been killed, but as it were, she had Ephraim and Virgil to thank for that. She had learned to control her ki, to help amplify her strength when she needed to, and to learn the difference between mercy and killing. Though she was still hesitant at killing, she had learned when it had become necessary, such as now. If she did not, they would surely hurt everyone in the town, and she could not have that. As it were, she felled the first oni she had attacked, managing to plunge her fist into its ribcage and shattering its lungs, piercing the soft flesh in the process. It would drown in its own blood.

She glanced around, watching as they all fell to Keira and Virgil and herself. It wasn't long before there was a particular oni that Keira was conversing with. She made her way towards the demi-goddess, however; she was stopped by Virgil's words. Nodding in understanding, she would do as he said. And so, she made her way towards the last oni, slamming into him with as much force as she could to keep him away from the other two. The oni was a bit stronger than her last one, and she had to twist and contort in different ways to avoid being hit by its weapon. One wrong move and she could end up with a shattered arm, leg, or any other body part it managed to club. She and the oni exchanged blows, she ending up with a bruise or two, and perhaps, with the amount of pressure she used to force her hand through the oni's tough skin, sprained her wrist in the process.

It would heal, eventually in time, but she watched as the last oni fell and glanced worriedly towards her friends. She hadn't missed the way Keira's aura flared just slightly at the use of her divinity, and with what Virgil had stated, she knew it wasn't good for her friend. She nodded her head at Virgil when he inquired of her. "I am fine, but let's get Keira home first," she stated, wincing slightly as she rolled her wrist. She'd remedy that after Keira was taken care of first. They brought the demi-goddess to her home, and Nerys took Keira from Virgil, helping her to her bathroom where she washed the blood soaked on her, from her face and other various places it had caked upon. She helped Keira dress afterwards and resurfaced with her in tow.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ephraim Solomon Character Portrait: Nerys Liacht

Earnings

0.00 INK



Image

Image



Nerys tried to even her breath, however; with the current affliction she was feeling, it was difficult. She didn't know when it came, it just hit her. She could feel her head getting heavy, her vision blurring every now and then, and tried to subdue the coughs that fought to escape her. She tried to take medicine for the sickness, but nothing seemed to work. She shouldn't be out here, training with Ephraim, however; she needed to be. She couldn't let a small cold stop her from training and becoming stronger to help defend the town, or Keira, or herself. But it did not help the fact that she was slugging in her attacks, and her evasion was becoming slower.

They had paused for a moment, earning a small break, and Nerys sighed softly. She could feel the cough pulling from her chest as she covered her mouth, her cheeks puffing out slightly as she tried to contain it. It looked very similar to a hamster stuffing its pouches full of food, and her eyes were starting to water slightly. She could do this, she could hold on for another hour or so to finish her training. She couldn't give in to it yet. It seemed, however, that the sickness was adamant of releasing itself from her, expelling out into the air as Nerys coughed. It wasn't soft either. It was hoarse, dry, and burned the back of her throat. She frowned slightly as she contained it once more.

She glanced towards Ephraim, her eyes slightly wide before they settled back. She shook her head softly, returning back to a fighting stance and smiled softly. "I'm okay, we can continue," she stated before another round of coughs escaped her. She frowned slightly. She didn't want to stop, and she didn't want to let her illness get the better of her. She could do this. Or maybe not, the pressure in her head began to increase, her body swaying just a bit as the feeling of a dizzy spell came over her.

Ephraim hadn’t missed the fact that Nerys was slower and more sluggish than usual, but he had been willing to allow it to pass without comment—she knew it and he knew it, so why bother mentioning it? But when she coughed, he sighed, shaking his head and crossing his arms over his chest when she settled back down into a fighting stance. “And just what do you think that will accomplish?” he asked, tossing his head back a bit to flick some overgrown dark bangs out of his face. “Either it will do nothing, because your body cannot properly metabolize right now and so all the work you are doing will build no muscle or skill, or else it will just make you sicker, perhaps both.” He paused when she stated to teeter, scowling when it became obvious just how hard it was for her to keep her feet.

A hand appeared at her back, Ephraim splaying his fingers over the upper half, touching just at the tips of his fingers, but it was enough to stabilize her. “Something could attack any day, Nerys,” he said, and this time his tone was a bit gentler, almost sympathetic, though it was kind of hard to tell whether or not he was even truly capable of such a cadence. “I understand the desire to push through to be ready, but what you are achieving is the opposite—you’re wearing yourself out further when you should be recovering.” His hand fell away from her back, and Ephraim walked over to the duffel bag of supplies he always brought with him, fishing out some water before slinging the whole thing over his shoulder.

He handed her the fluid, suspecting that she was probably dehydrated. Even if not, it would help soothe the dry cough. “Come on. You’re going home, and you’re not stopping to do things for people on the way.” He’d noticed that she tended to get caught up in small talk and favors for various townspeople she ran into, and if all went according to pattern, she wouldn’t make it home before she was exhausted. At least his presence would dissuade all but the most oblivious or fearless of interlocutors. It would hopefully also dissuade her from dallying.

She allowed a frown to pull at her lips when he spoke. She...wouldn't be accomplishing anything? She sighed heavily, slumping her shoulders in defeat. She wouldn't be accomplishing anything if she pushed herself when sick, and she'd only be making it worse on herself. She glanced at the water bottle he handed her, taking it and keeping it in her hands. She glanced up at him, her head lowered slightly, through her lashes and frowned still. She didn't mean to interrupt the training that way, and she glanced back at the water bottle, taking a slow drink from it to sooth her throat.

"I'm sorry. I won't do it again then," she apologized. What if she unintentionally caused him to be delayed in something he had to do? What if there were other things he needed to be doing, and she was only hindering him by coming to training, sick? If she told him, he would have been able to do something else. She pursed her lips together as she stared at his back, his words only now entering her senses as she snapped her head back up, momentarily regretting it. But she wanted to help the ones that asked for her help. She enjoyed doing it, but what if she got them sick while helping them?

"O-kay," she stated lowly. "I don't want to get them sick too," she continued as she trailed behind him. He could leave the moment she was at home, and she could tend to her sickness herself. She could make a bowl of soup, or something warm that will help clear her up a bit. It wasn't long before they reached her apartment, and they stood outside the door. She fumbled around for her key before glancing up at him. "Thank you, but you can go. I don't want to get you sick either," she stated. He could go now that she was home, and she meant it too. She didn't want to get him sick.

Ephraim resisted the urge to roll his eyes. He wasn’t trying to insult her, he just wanted her to understand that her health was of importance to her as someone who endeavored to protect this town. When she made to leave him at the door, he put his palm on it so that it wouldn’t close, then shook his head. In an attempt not to inadvertently set her back to timidity and meekness, he made his voice as quiet and soft as he could. It wasn’t easy, but for once in his life, he’d really rather not be misunderstood. Normally, he wouldn’t care; in fact, he thought he’d given up on trying to get people to understand him a long time ago. Only two people really did, and one had created him. The other… well, he didn’t ever have to explain himself to Virgil. The fox was just intuitive enough to know without needing to ask.

“I don’t get sick,” he said, and it was quite true. He’d never had an illness in his life, nothing from the common cold to the terminal. “And I think you misunderstand me,” he continued, exhaling heavily. It wasn’t quite a sigh, but it was rather close. He hunched slightly, so that he was making proper eye contact without her needing to crane her neck. “If our positions were reversed right now, would you want to leave?” He raised an eyebrow slightly. He knew the answer was no—the woman was so obsessed with caring for other people that she had likely forgotten how to let anyone else take care of her for a while.

He… wasn’t exactly the best choice for that, but he was the one who was here, and that meant he was really the only choice, at least right now. Maybe he’d tell Virgil—the fox was better with people, and it probably wouldn’t be half as strange for him to come look in on Nerys’s condition as it doubtless was for Ephraim to do so. But for now… he felt a little weird essentially asking for permission to enter her home, as generally speaking he didn’t enter other people’s homes and he didn’t have to ask permission for much, but here he was anyway, and he wasn’t just going to barge in like he owned it. That kind of arrogance had left him a long time ago, if he’d ever had it at all. “You’ve mentioned before that you consider us… friends. Is it not part of that to assist one another in situations like this one?”

True, she wouldn't want to leave him if he were sick, but that was just the type of person she was. She was used to helping people, not being the one receiving help. She couldn't even remember the last time someone actually helped her with anything, except for maybe her father. But he was the same as she was. They wanted to help, not receive help. She shrank a bit underneath his gaze before ultimately conceding. She did consider him her friend, and part of her really didn't want him to leave. She offered a small smile with a shake of her head. There was no saying no to him really.

"Yes, you're right. If you were sick, I wouldn't want to leave you," she stated softly. "It's...not much, but you are welcome to come in," she stated, opening the door wide enough to let him in before closing it behind. "I can...make something if you are hungry!" she suddenly stated, remembering that they had been training and he would more than likely be a little hungry. Or maybe not, she didn't know how his metabolism worked. Even if they had been training together for a little more than a year now, she felt that she only knew so much about him.

Perhaps that was how he wanted it, and she wouldn't push. She had told Virgil once that Ephraim was who he was, and that if there were things he wished to say, he could say them. She wasn't going to force anyone to speak of things they wished not to, and she wasn't going to push them into doing so. "Or, I can um...," she began, pausing as she tried to think of what else she could do.

He didn’t really understand the need to be modest about one’s dwelling-place; perhaps it was simply because he’d never had a home. As far as Ephraim was concerned, her apartment was functional and well-kept, and that was more or less the end of things. At her offer to cook, however, his eyes narrowed and his mouth compressed into a thin line. It would appear that words alone were insufficient to convey what he wished to say. Either he was very bad at getting his point across, or she was very bad at grasping it. Perhaps at was a combination of both. He supposed it was better encountered here than in training. But that was more physical anyway, so he applied the same principle, placing his hands on her shoulders, spinning her around, and steering her to the red sofa.

“That will not be necessary,” he said flatly. “Sit.” He swore he was learning an entirely different language in order to communicate with this woman. It wasn’t entirely comfortable to a person who rarely touched anything he wasn’t planning to kill later, but he would make do. For her sake. Because for whatever reason, she mattered—he supposed it was because she was his friend. Whether he was hers… he honestly didn’t know how to be one, but he would try.

Fortunately, the couch was easily-visible from the kitchen area, and they could easily conduct a conversation, if necessary. Not that Ephraim was prone to conversing, but it might distract her from attempting to help or otherwise do things for him while he was here. So, he gave it a shot. He wasn’t particularly knowledgeable regarding the kinds of things friends talked about, so he simply asked something he was curious about. “Tell me about your family.” Though the kitchen was not his, he found it to be logically organized, and within minutes, he was chopping vegetables with professional ease and evidence of great comfort handling knives, among other things. Unfortunately, the only aprons she owned were very… feminine, so he wound up picking the least offensive color (bright orange), and donning it. It had the benefit of also being the largest—he wondered if perhaps she had guests who cooked from time to time.

She tried to protest, opening her mouth to do so, however; she shut it immediately at the gaze he sent her, and let him lead her to her couch. She sighed softly, stifling a laugh when he donned one of her aprons. Perhaps she should get one that wasn't so...feminine. She almost frowned at that thought. Why would she need to do that? He was only here this one time...right? So there would be no need for her to get one that was a little more plain. She blinked at his question, or rather his statement, and thought for a moment. He wanted to know about her family. A soft smile spread across her lips as she thought of her parents.

"Ah, well," she began, twirling her fingers in her lap. "My mom died when I was young. We...we were coming back from a movie and dad," she paused, shaking her head. He asked about her family, not what happened to them. "My dad teaches Tae Kwon Do in the city. He helped me open my shop a few years back. He's...where I get my human half from. Mom was a Kirin. She used to tell me stories about Kirino, how beautiful it was, and that she missed it sometimes, but," she began, stopping momentarily to allow her smile to return. Her mother did miss Kirino, however; she would always tell Nerys that the homesick feeling she had was nothing compared to the love she had for her father and for Nerys.

"She said that even though she missed it, she did not regret leaving. She...she never said why she left, only that it was because she needed to. But, I am glad she did because then I would not have been born, and I would have never met you," she stated, her smile widening as she glanced at Ephraim. "Or Virgil, or Keira," she quickly added as she glanced away, looking at her hands as she played with her thumbs.

Ephraim continued working as she spoke, but he was listening quite intently all the same, evinced by the fact that every once in a while, his red eyes would flicker back to where she sat. By the time she was done, there was a large pot of savory soup on the range, and he threw in a number of spices to bring out the natural flavors, washing utensils and cutting boards as he went. He was more efficient in a kitchen than he was on a battlefield, perhaps, because here he had no need to draw things out any longer for his amusement. If he noticed the strange pause between her last sentence and the amendment, he made no particular note of it—he was the one here, after all.

He was inclined to ask after what became of them, but when he opened his mouth, something very different came out. “I didn’t have parents,” he said, then blinked for a moment. He knew she’d probably deduced that much, but he elaborated. He’d talked about it already; might as well actually explain. “Before adulthood, I was uncertain what a family was. I’d never had one—while I suppose the Arbiter has some kind of attachment to me, as I’m a being of his creation, he did not raise me. Nobody did, really.” It had made him both profoundly solitary and also half-wild, a beast in a glass house when treading around the most important beings in the universe on a regular basis. He had not always been as reserved as he was now. Once upon a time, he’d worn his bitterness like a protective cloak, and embraced his violence like it was the only thing that would save him, would carve for him a place in the universe.

A place to belong.

He no longer sought anything so foolish. The fact of the matter was, he didn’t belong anywhere, and he never would. So he spent a little time everywhere, and was as content as he could get with that alone. “It was the damn fox that taught me… though I’d thank you not to tell him that.” Virgil was perhaps the first person who’d ever looked at him and seen what was actually there. And then he’d just accepted it. Initially tried to use it, but that effort had been abandoned with the sort of capricious ease that the fool had a penchant for. He’d stuck around anyway, after the life-debt business. They’d been partners for four hundred years now. “Sometimes, I’m still not sure what I’m supposed to do, to be a… good brother. Or a friend.”

The soup had heated to a rolling boil, so he killed the flame on the gas range and served it up, moving the leftovers into a plastic container which he threw in her fridge, in case she was still feeling under the weather the next day. He carried hers over with a spoon and handed it to her silently, sitting on the opposite end of the couch with his own. At least if he ate, she shouldn’t complain too much.

He didn't have parents, that much she kind of figured. He had said he was without a soul, a creation of the Arbiter. She listened as he continued speaking, nodding her head once when it was needed and blinked in confusion when he spoke of not knowing what to do, to be a friend or a brother. She pursed her lips together when she mulled the thought over. He didn't have to be anything to be a good friend, or a brother. It wasn't something that defined him for doing something. She sipped at her soup until he was finished speaking, remaining silent for a few minutes.

"You...don't have to try anything, or know anything to be a good brother, or friend. Being good at something doesn't necessarily mean you always have to be taught beforehand. Somethings come naturally, others come at a learned pace. If...if you were not doing a good job at being a good brother, then I don't think Virgil would have stayed with you. I mean, I don't know your relationship with him per se, but I know enough to know that he loves you, in his own way of course. Being a friend is different, and...I don't think you're getting it wrong," she stated, pausing to catch her breath slightly. She stared at the soup in her hands and glanced at him from the corner of her eyes.

"You're here, being a good friend right now, and you were being a good friend when you went to Mr. Bailey's with me. I...I don't want to say much, but I'd like to think that we are also your family too, Keira and I. Probably not like you and Virgil, but...oh," she stated, realizing she probably said too much. She offered a nervous laugh before sighing. "I'm sorry, I guess I can't think straight yet," she offered as an apology. She probably didn't make sense to him in her state.

Ephraim frowned, but it was pensive rather than offended. In the end, he only shrugged his shoulders. “I suppose… that if family is the kind of thing one can gain by choosing rather than only by blood, then there is no reason you should not be.” It was true that the relationship was not the same one that Ephraim and Virgil shared, but they’d had a long time to reach the point they had. “One year in, and I still hated Virgil, so… it’s probably better that it’s not the same,” he pointed out, chewing over a few of the seasoned carrots in the soup. He didn’t smile, exactly, but something about the harsh neutrality of his face softened a touch, so that rather than seeming frightening or accusatory, the deep crimson of his eyes was more like a warmth of sorts, or perhaps something from the deepest part of sunset. Ephraim had never really known it, but Kurogami had actually put many centuries of thought into his creation, and though they were not peaceful thoughts, not all of them were intended on the destruction of enemies.

It was still with that warmth that he spoke, the timbre of his voice lightening just a fraction from its usual stoniness. “Perhaps… if we are to be such, you should not be afraid of overstepping yourself with your words. I am not so petty or fragile that I will be offended by simple speech. You are free to say what you think, Nerys. I have certainly already claimed that privilege.” He was never anything other than direct, after all.

"Yes, perhaps it is best that it is not the same. Family comes in many different forms, or at least that's what my dad used to say. Whether it is by blood or by bonds," she stated, her eyes flickering slightly as she set her empty bowl down. She smiled at Ephraim's explanation. One year in, and he had hated Virgil, and that thought caused her to laugh inwardly, her lips stretching just a little wider. Virgil certainly had his own ways, though she knew very little of him, she couldn't really imagine Ephraim hating Virgil. But then again, she didn't know much of either of them or what life had been like for them. Everyone was capable of a little hate, she just tried not to make it a part of her life.

"I don't think I could ever hate anyone. Even if they wrong me, I don't think I could hate anyone," she stated, her eyes growing a little heavy as she fought to keep them open. She could feel the illness still, the fatigue it was causing, and she didn't want to fall asleep quite yet. "And I know. It's...it's just hard speaking so freely about anything when I'm used to being careful of my words. I do not wish to offend anyone if I can help it," she offered in reply, leaning a bit into the couch. She turned to Ephraim and blinked slowly, trying to read his expressions before a thought crossed her mind.

Usually, she would have refrained from doing such a thing, however; it may have been due to the illness, or just to know what he would look like. She leaned a little close to him, her index fingers pressed to the side of his lips before she pulled them up, forcing him to smile. "You should smile more often!" she stated in her usual tone. Granted it was a forced smile, it was still a smile nonetheless, and she had never seen a muscle move in him other than when he was frowning or making a face at Virgil.

He seriously doubted she could hate anyone, either. That was just her nature. Not as a kirin, but as a person. He froze when she made him smile, his form immediately stiffening into a stillness so perfect it could only have been forced he was not often touched, and truthfully, if he’d not seen it coming, he might have reacted badly. The only people who touched Ephraim were those that wished to strike him, largely because the kind of physical contact he knew best was that found in a fight. He had to fight down the visceral instinct to force some distance between them, and to say he was surprised when at last her intent was made obvious would be something of an understatement, though he hardly showed it.

He didn’t smile. This was simply a fact of life. She couldn’t hate, he couldn’t bring himself to be happy enough to bring forth a natural smile, and he was uninterested in forcing one to feign the underlying emotion, either. The muscles of his jaw tightened, and his eyes narrowed warily. He looked oddly like some kind of cornered animal, cautious and dangerous, but not necessarily hostile, exactly, though it was clear that he could quickly become such.

Reaching up, he wrapped his hands around her wrists and tugged, removing her hands from his face, though he did it with some care and deliberateness. As soon as they were gone, his face was back in its completely neutral cast, save for the slight furrow between his brows. He shook his head faintly at her. “I don’t do things I have no reason to, and I’ve no reason to smile, all things considered.”

Nerys frowned only for a second before she too shook her head. She pursed her lips together, trying to imitate his facial expression, but failed. "Well then, Mr. No-Smiles, if it is a reason you need, then I promise to one day give you a reason to smile," she declared, nodding her head once, in the process. "You don't always need a reason to smile, you know. But, if it is a reason you need, I shall find it. Everyone should smile at least once in their life," she continued, her eyes finally growing too heavy. She closed them, allowing the fatigue to finally claim her, and allowed her head to fall sideways, leaning onto the couch in the process.

It was a rather strange thing to promise someone, but then, she was a rather strange woman. Once she’d fallen asleep, Ephraim gathered the dishes and washed them out, drying them off and setting them back where he’d found them. He headed back into the living room thereafter, contemplating her half-leaning form for a moment before trying a few of the other doors in the apartment until he found what was clearly the master bedroom. Throwing back the comforter on the bed, he trekked back to Nerys and lifted her carefully, leaning her head sideways against his chest to support it, then padded quietly back to her room, placing her down on the mattress and pulling the blankets up to her shoulders.

A few locks of her bangs were obscuring her eyes, and without really thinking about it, he reached down and brushed them aside with his fingertips, shaking his head at his own strangeness. Much as he was never touched, he usually avoided initiating contact unless necessary, which this was not. Still… at least she wouldn’t wake up because her fringe irritated her or something. He turned off all the lights as he exited the apartment, finding a loose key on the counter and using it to lock the deadbolt on the door before he slid it back underneath, to prevent unwelcome intrusion. It was quite a small town, but one never knew, not in this world.

The Hellhound shoved both hands in his pockets and exited the complex, a bit surprised to find that it was already nightfall when he left. He’d not noticed the passage of so much time. Even so, it wasn’t like there was anything pressing he had to take care of, and therefore it didn’t really bother him.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ephraim Solomon Character Portrait: Virgil Solomon

Earnings

0.00 INK



Image

Image



“You know, if you’re not careful, someone’s going to think you have anger issues,” Virgil said, picking himself up off the ground and parting the halves of his shirt to inspect the massive new bruise that was blossoming under his pale skin. Ephraim had cracked most of the bones in his ribcage, and that had been from a rather glancing hit. Most of the time, Virgil was fast enough to keep up with his brother in a spar like this, but sometimes, the Hellhound still managed to surprise him with his sheer power. He could feel the bones mending under his skin, and the bruise faded back again slowly. His breathing loosened, but Virgil waved a hand to call off the fight, not that it wasn’t already obviously done.

Both men were covered in a fine sheen of sweat, and for once, the blonde was as disheveled-looking as his brother. Ephraim had sliced the tie out of Virgil’s long hair a while ago, so it fell freely in loose tangles over his back and shoulders, and his clothing was torn and wetted with blood in places. He was not the only one with damage, though Ephraim was admittedly breathing somewhat easier, having not just had his ribs shattered and his lungs punctured in several places by bone fragments. They didn’t kill each other when they sparred, but there was very little mercy involved, either.

“I do have anger issues,” Ephraim replied readily enough. It wasn’t a lie; though he’d not often displayed it of late and it was a bit harder to trigger than it had once been, his temper was positively explosive, and usually ended in dead bodies. This in itself was not something he really took issue with—he didn’t go around killing the innocent, after all, and found it rather pointless to feel guilty about visiting his particular brand of rage on those who provoked him to it or tried to attack simple humans.

Virgil sighed. His humor really was lost on his brother sometimes. It was actually a bit charming, in its own very strange way. Not that Ephraim knew that, of course. “There are other ways to vent one’s pent-up aggression, dear brother,” Virgil insinuated, the innuendo slipping easily into his words. It was second nature by this point in his life. The fox returned to a more humanoid state, raking spindly fingers through his silklike hair to work out the knots. He flicked his glance over to Ephraim though, who was, predictably enough, frowning, his eyes narrowed.

Honestly, the Hellhound was fairly certain his so-called brother couldn’t give it a rest. Though… well, whatever. What Virgil did with his time was hardly Eph’s business. “Not all of us are hormonal imbeciles, Virgil.” In terms of setting himself to rights, all Ephraim really needed to do was banish the dagger he’d been practicing with and shake out his hair before trotting over to their things and pulling a shirt over his head. Virgil had the thought, as he had many times before, that it was really quite a shame that his brother wasn’t more hormonal, though he was glad he wasn’t an imbecile, really.

“Better one of those than an emotional dead fish,” he replied slyly, and Ephraim turned back over his shoulder to level a glare at him. “You heard me. You don’t spend a year with two women like that and not have thoughts, not unless you’re a eunuch or the emotional equivalent of a corpse.” The look on his face matched the tone of his voice, and he laughed—inwardly of course—when Eph turned on his heel to face him, crossing his arms and fixing the fox with a wary look. He needed very little now, to goad him into something interesting, and really, the finisher was obvious. “And I know you’re not a eunuch.” Though it was true that Ephraim had a better handle on his passionate emotions than most people ever would, even that combustible anger of his.

The response was at once what he’d predicted and entirely unexpected. One of the things he liked most about Ephraim was that, empathy or not, the other man still managed to surprise Virgil on a semiregular basis. Life with the Hellhound was never boring, that much was for certain. “Then I suppose I have the emotional depth of a corpse. I’m more surprised by your restraint. Gods know you haven’t been all that discriminating with the other females in town, so why with her?” They both knew which her Ephraim referred to, but Virgil decided it would be more fun to play coy.

Eph was right about the fact that he hadn’t really used much caution when it came to his other liaisons—he was polite enough, obviously, but he wasn’t much one to care whether or not someone was attached or free at the time. If someone wanted to sleep with him—and many did—and he wanted to sleep with them as well, he didn’t really let human conventions get in his way. It wasn’t as though he purposely chose people that were promised or wedded to others; in fact, he never bothered to ask. It just happened to work out that way sometimes, and as a result, he’d found himself dealing with more than one unanticipated (but not unexpected) case of jealousy. It made life at the office more interesting.

“Color me surprised, Ephraim. I rather thought you liked the fact that Nerys was so sweet and naïve. The world hasn’t ruined her yet. Are you really encouraging me to do so?” The fox’s smile was wide, his eyes glimmering with mischief as sea-blue met fire-red, and the Hellhound actually growled at him, a feral sound that crawled up from the soles of his feet to his spine in reverberant echoes. He resisted the urge to shiver, but his grin only increased. That was a bit of an unexpected reaction, and from the suddenly-perplexed look on his face, Ephraim hadn’t expected it either. Virgil could feel irritation and confusion mixing around in Ephraim’s current emotional repertoire, and he could have laughed. Thankfully, he didn’t.

“You know I wasn’t talking about her.” He did, in fact. It was, after all, not Nerys he’d been pursuing for a year. Less aggressively than he might have pursued someone else, but that was in response to Keira’s own sensitivity, not due to a lack of desire.

And he did desire her. Very much, in fact. But Virgil knew very well that if he let her know just how much, he’d probably scare the girl away. In these matters, a delicate approach was sometimes called for. Keira was rather like a butterfly, actually—he wanted to catch it, but if he went about this in his usual way of pursuing and grasping what he desired, his grip would be too tight and crush her, as it would to hold a butterfly in one’s fist. He had to be a little more careful, and entrap her gently if he was to retain a hold.

“You haven’t even kissed her—that’s strange for you.” Ephraim knew that it had never in his extensive experience with his brother taken Virgil more than a month to bed someone he wanted to, and, her reticence or not, the Hellhound did not doubt that he could have managed something similar with Keira if he’d really turned his effort towards it. It would have unmistakably damaged the woman, so Ephraim was glad Virgil hadn’t, but the fox was not really the kind of person who usually considered that sort of thing. A one night stand was just that—one night. What happened afterwards was usually nothing Virgil cared about.

“I’m amused that you know that, dear brother. But I assure you, I haven’t lost my touch. I’m just… playing a different game, this time. It would be so boring if I did the same thing all the time, don’t you think?”

The Hellhound shook his head, tossing his bag over his shoulder and starting for their shared apartment. “Whatever you say, Virgil. If you’re going to fuck her, fine. But don’t fuck her over.” They needed to be able to still train with Nerys and Keira both, if they were to finish preparing the two of them for whenever it was that they would leave. Even if they managed to close the Hollow Point, creatures of all kinds would be attracted to those two for the rest of their natural lives, and Ephraim cared at least enough to want them to be able to defend against that. He was not inclined to let Virgil chase Keira away from that training with his usual disregard for how his nature could bother people who did not share it.

For his part, Virgil was quite entertained. Falling into step beside his brother, he quirked an inquiring eyebrow. “And if I change my mind? Perhaps decide I’d like to pursue Nerys?”

He was baiting, and Ephraim knew it. Still, that knowledge did not stop him from halting mid-stride, and giving his brother a glare that could have peeled paint. Keira was mostly sensible, and she knew how the world worked, how fundamentally unfair it was. He could at least trust that she knew what she was getting herself into, if she consented to such a thing. Well, as much as anyone could really understand what they were in for with Virgil. Nerys, on the other hand, was still so much an innocent that it sometimes physically ached to listen to her speak about things. He was always torn between disillusioning her and letting her be, letting her keep that innocence for as long as she could hold onto it. It was such a rare thing—he’d never met any adult who still had as much of it as she did. He always ended up holding his tongue, in the end, and couldn’t help but hope that it would survive just a little longer.

“Don’t.”

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ephraim Solomon Character Portrait: Keira Mizuki

Earnings

0.00 INK

Image
Image




Ephraim stood outside of the apartment complex, a frown etched over his face. There was no doubt that this had to be done, and as the shinigami in the area, it certainly fell to him to do it. Normally, such tasks were highly impersonal. Then again, normally he wasn’t tasked with transporting the soul of a friend’s mother to Chuno for weighing by the Arbiter. Still, unpleasant or not, he had no choice—he’d waited long enough. A week and a half had passed since the incident with the oni, during which he’d been rather busy killing the massive warlord of the clan, who’d foolishly gone seeking the strongest aura he could find. Well, he too was being weighed and measured on Kurogami’s scales, and probably found wanting, honestly.

It didn’t take him long to find the right door—he could sense the spirit beyond, and Keira as well. Usually he didn’t bother knocking, but he made an exception in this case, raising his fist to the door and rapping sharply four times before he dropped the hand and shoved both into the pockets of the dark duster coat he wore. He was not visibly armed, but then… he never was. Why bother to be, when he could summon any blade he wanted from the Void?


Keira started at the knock. Her mother's spirit, too, turned towards the door, the look on her pale face almost...drawn. Not that Keira cared either way. She had utterly ignored the spectre since she had shown up again; Keira had long since put to rest the woman who had been her mother, and even considered her spirit to have passed over. She did not appreciate being wrong about that. Still, there was little she could do, and she did even less. It had been a week and a half since the battle, and Keira had yet to actually emerge from her apartment.

She'd stayed since Nerys and Virgil had brought her home, and had not left it since. She'd not gone to work, and had not seen anyone, either. Both Virgil and Nerys had tried, and while Keira knew very well that the kitsune could very well get in if he truly wanted to, apparently he respected her enough to not push it. Or perhaps he simply didn't care.

Her chest constricted at that thought, and she frowned sharply. Why should that bother her? She shook her head, and answered the door. She looked flatly at Ephraim, and then stepped aside. "I know why you're here. You didn't have to knock." She spoke flatly.


He didn’t really have much to say to that, and so he stepped over the threshold in silence as Keira moved aside to let him in. The spirit was right there in the living room, and it looked considerably more distressed than the living woman did. Then again, Keira wasn’t really the kind of person to become distraught unless the situation actually warranted it—and putting the dead back where they belonged, he thought, should not really warrant as much emotional reaction as it frequently got from both the spirits themselves and those still living who had known them, on the occasion that they were able to see what was happening. Mostly, it was the spirits though. Few people were ready for death, though it took most eventually.

He was always tempted to tell that that it wasn’t really dying, since they got to live again.

That much was something he would never receive.

But he didn’t. A darkened scarlet look flickered between ectoplasm and flesh, ethereal and solid, and he blinked. “Then if there is nothing you have left to say, I shall proceed.” The Gate he summoned into the home was far less grandiose than the others he’d thus far called in her presence, for it was only made to admit one. These were the only doors he could never pass through—for only souls could pass under their arches—souls which would immediately be stripped of any trace of the material worlds and ushered to the Arbiter. Ephraim had seen the judgement process countless times, but he’d entered Kurogami’s presence a different way. This was only a door for the dead. Its surface was a plain dark wood with an iron handle, but the stone archway over it bore the name of the deceased—Miami Mizuki. He directed his command to her.

“Enter.”


For several seconds, the spirit gazed at her daughter, as if she wanted to say something. There was a shadow across Keira's face, making it largely unreadable, but the muscle in her jaw tightened. In the end, Miami left, departing the realm of the living for the realm of the dead. Keira kept her eyes on the wall, refusing to look anywhere else until all traces of the Gate and her mother had vanished. When it did, she glanced over at Ephraim.

"You don't do that with the other spirits roaming around; at least, not all of them. Is there a reason for that?"


Ephraim looked at the place the door had vanished from for a moment, as if contemplating his answer. When at last he turned his gaze upon Keira, there was nothing particular about it—he might as well have been discussing the weather or something equally mundane. “Most of those have already been judged, and the form of a spirit is simply their next turn on the Wheel. Generally, those are contained to the Dark World, but many of them escape through Hollow Points. They interfere only minimally with other workings of the Wheel, and so they are allowed, for the most part, to remain here. Most cannot even perceive them. That one had not been judged yet, and further, she was interfering with the natural order of the life of someone still living it.” It was true that he had to put spirits back through Gates to Yoruno sometimes, but generally, those were the only ones who attempted to interfere with humanity.

The Arbiter was only minimally concerned with keeping creatures in the realm his pronouncements sentenced them to. If a spirit was inventive or lucky enough to escape the Dark World, that, too, was simply part of the karmic balance of its life. But to interfere with the delicate fabric of Fate by attempting to kill or subjugate humans or other mortal creatures was not the rightful place of such a spirit, and that was what Ephraim was for. Most shinigami were shepherds only, but he was more or less an extension of Kurogami in such matters as these. His hound, if one liked.

“There was nothing you wished to say to her.” It was less a question and more of a statement, but the inflection, little as there was, left it open for comment, if she so chose to explain. He would not demand such an accounting, however—there was no reason to.


Keira regarded Ephraim with a flat look, her face expressionless. She wasn't exactly sure how to explain, but perhaps just being straightforward; when was she not? was the easiest.

"My mother died when I was five, and when I was seven I lost my father. He was still around, but he was not a father as one should be. I was moved from doctor to doctor and medication to medication; I have lived my entire life without parents and with abilities most humans never dream of having. I wouldn't know what to say to her, so I said nothing."


Ephraim nodded. That was an explanation he accepted willingly enough. For every spirit he’d seen with a more-or-less functional family, there were two or three from broken homes of some kind. It made him wonder what value there was, in something that shattered so easily. Should one not pursue only the things that would last? Perhaps it was a reflection of a human need or desire that he did not share. At least, not to his knowledge. “Fair enough,” he said simply. He glanced around a moment—he could still smell faint traces of his brother in here, and Nerys. They were likely both frequent enough visitors, but they hadn’t been by since the incident with the oni, he supposed.

His gaze found its way back to Keira for a moment, and he blinked. “Nerys is worried about you,” he said. It wasn’t hard to tell, even for someone as bad with reading emotions as himself. “Should she be?” It was, perhaps, Ephraim’s own way of asking her if she was all right. Direct enough, but still not the exact words.


Keira sighed gently through her nose. She was well aware that Nerys was worried about her, and she did not miss the indirect question, either. All of them, it would seem, were worried about her in their own way. That alone...was something she was highly unaccustomed to, and as such, she wasn't sure how to handle it.

It hit her then, something she'd read long ago. Over her years of solitude, she'd done quite a bit of reading, and poetry had been something she'd enjoyed quite a bit. She hadn't even realized she'd been speaking before the words tumbled out of her mouth.

"What though the radiance which was once so bright, be now for ever taken from my sight; Though nothing can bring back the hour of splendor in the grass, of glory in the flower; We will grieve not, rather find strength in what remains behind."

Her eyes narrowed then, and she pulled out the blue hair ribbon, tying her hair back. She glanced around the room, a contemplative look on her face. Finally, she locked eyes with Ephraim. "One thing I've learned is Nerys tends to worry about things overmuch. While I cannot say that she did not have reason to worry, I can assure you that she doesn't have reason to now." There was a slight smile on her face, and she grabbed her keys from the hook. "I assume you can let yourself out? I...have a few things I need to pick up."


Ephraim paused for a moment, and then: “In the primal sympathy, which having been must ever be; in the soothing thoughts that spring out of human suffering; in the faith that looks through death, in years that bring the philosophic mind.” he finished in a murmur. Nodding, he turned and left. What she’d said was fair enough, and beyond it, things were none of his business anyway.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Virgil Solomon Character Portrait: Nerys Liacht Character Portrait: Keira Mizuki

Earnings

0.00 INK

Image




Image




Nerys furrowed her brows, staring intensely at the paper pad in front of her. She sighed softly, placing the note pad back into the drawer of the desk. Keira had been a little under the weather as of late, depressed almost, and Nerys was beginning to worry about her. She had given Keira the rest of the weekend off, and from the visits she made to the other girl's apartment, it seemed Keira was intent on staying put. She couldn't have that. Keira needed to get out more, or at least brighten up her apartment. An idea struck her as her eyes lit up. She would need his help, but if they managed to pull it off, she just might be able to get Keira out of her dark cloud.

She pushed herself from the desk and exited the office portion of the bakery, making her way to the front and stopped. She blinked owlishly as she spotted Virgil sitting in one of the booths, already taken up residence. A bright smile covered her lips as she made her way towards the kitsune, taking a seat on the opposite side of him and clasped her hands together. She contemplated her words carefully. She knew it wouldn't take too much to ask the kitsune for help, however; she didn't want to just ask for it without giving something in return. What could she give the fox in return for his service? The answer made its self known to her as she grinned.

"For all the free strawberry tarts you can handle, I need your help with something," she stated, the smile never leaving her face. "Keira has been a little depressed lately, and it makes me sad that she is. I want to do something for her, but in order for me to do it, I need her out of her apartment. You are the only person I know who is remotely capable of doing that," she continued, rolling her thumbs around as she glanced at her hands. It was true, if there was anyone who could get Keira out of her apartment, at least for a little bit, it would be Virgil. "I...want to put a few things in her apartment that will make her a little happier, or I hope it will."


Virgil leaned back in his seat, hooking one arm over the back of the booth with a contemplative look, which swiftly morphed into a smile. This sounded like mischief, and he did so love mischief. “Nene, dear, if you let me in on the whole plan, I’ll do it for free.”




The next hour found the both of them hard at work. As it turned out, Keira had left her apartment—Virgil could sense her at the convenience store a ways down the street. Perhaps it had simply become necessary to procure food, perhaps she was out for some other reason, but she was definitely out, which meant that he was able to help Nerys execute the plan; fortunate, because he doubted very much that the woman knew how to pick a lock like he did. It didn’t take a lot to let them both in, but from there, it was Nerys’s game, and he was simply a willing participant.


It was fortunate that Keira was not home. She could use Virgil's help in what she had planned, and Nerys waited for Virgil to open the door to Keira's apartment. She would have to apologize to Keira later, for breaking and entering her place of residence, but it was a price she was willing to gladly pay to help brighten her friend's mood. She glanced around the small place, trying to figure out where she would be able to start. She already had the items she needed, however; she needed to retrieve them first. She glanced at Virgil, her lips pursing to a fine line as she let the thought roam.

"Alright, I...want to fill her apartment with stuffed animals. I think they are cute and they will help brighten her mood, if only a little bit. I left them at the bakery, in the back, so we will need to bring them here. There are two bag fulls, which should be more than enough given the space," she began, walking from Keira's living room and towards her bedroom. She would leave the bedroom untouched, but the other rooms were fair game. She placed her hand underneath her chin as she thought the plan over. "Ah! Could you...um, perhaps have a kitsune, OH!" she stated, hitting her fist in the palm of her hand as a sudden thought struck her.

"Do you have a kitsune form!? You can hide in the animals and surprise her! I'm sure she'd like that!" she stated with an enthusiastic nod. Of course, she did feel bit silly asking the question since he probably did have a kitsune form. She, after all, had a Kirin form, and Ephraim had a form all his own. Being of the supernatural world almost, almost guaranteed that.


Virgil blinked over at the girl, but then just grinned and shook his head. “I do,” he said, his voice quite nearly dripping with amusement, “but the usual one is a bit too large for any of these rooms, I’m afraid.” He was, after all, the size of a large vehicle in that form. But he had something else that would work instead. “I know just what to do, though. Let’s go get those stuffed animals and get to work.”

He honestly wasn’t nearly as convinced as Nerys that Keira would actually like the result of this little plan, or be particularly cheered by it. She would appreciate the attempt on her friend’s part, he was sure, and she would behave as though mostly annoyed by or indifferent to him as she usually did, but whether she would appreciate her apartment being filled with stuffed animals was another matter altogether. Fortunately, he was far too entertained by the whole thing to even consider putting a stop to it, and two bags full of stuffed animals later, they were standing in a living room filled with far too many childrens’ toys. It did lend a bit of cheer to the place, he would have to admit.

Making eye contact with Nerys, he raised an index finger and placed it over his lips, smirking as he made the universal sign for silence. His form shifted, shrinking and morphing until what sat where he’d once been was a baby fox kit, white as snow with enormous golden eyes and a black nose the only points of color on its otherwise entirely pristine visage. Virgil swished his fluffy bottlebrush tail and selected a pile of other stuffed animals, turning a few circles in place before he settled back onto his haunches, going uncannily still.


When one leaves home, they usually do not expect to find it occupied. Even if they were friends, they were still uninvited. Keira sensed Nerys and Virgil from the hallway, and she frowned. She'd only been gone for about half an hour; it would seem Virgil had finally decided to force his way in. Even so, Keira was utterly unprepared for the scene that greeted her.

It honestly looked as if a toy factory had exploded in her apartment; there were fluffy animals everywhere. She blinked owlishly around her living room, and she stood with her hand on the doorknob. She cocked her head slightly, her eyes narrowing at one of the piles, where a small white fox kit sat with enormously round yellow eyes.

Setting her bags down on the table, Keira walked over to it and knelt down, her face as blank as ever, but there was a bit of humor in her eyes. He could stay perfectly still and act like a stuffed animal, but he couldn't hide from her. "You know, somehow I'd thought you'd be bigger, Virgil."


In response, the little fox made a mewling noise, and then its tiny pink tongue darted out, catching Keira on the tip of her nose. It blinked, jumping from its spot to land behind her, and in little time at all, what stood in that location was in fact the humanoid Virgil, sans more foxlike features. Blue eyes glittered with mirth. “I am,” he said, “when it suits me to be. But that form looks markedly less like a toy.” And markedly more like something that could kill a person. He smiled mischievously at her, then flicked his eyes towards Nerys. He’d let her explain herself—he was just the help here, after all.

Nerys watched, her eyes sparkling as Keira entered the apartment. She seemed to not notice the half-kirin, and she could only smile when the other woman went to the stuffed animals and easily picked Virgil out amongst them. She smiled softly when she noted the humor laced behind Keira's eyes as Virgil shifted back into a humanoid form. She took this as her opportunity to speak to Keira when Virgil flicked his eyes to her. She stood so that she was about two feet away from the two, hands laced in front of her as she smiled at Keira.

"This was my idea, Keira!" she spoke, her smile still placed upon her face as she closed her eyes and smiled. "I...I just wanted to make things a bit more colorful for you. You seemed so...sad as of late," she continued, her voice lowering a notch in volume when she spoke. She didn't like seeing her friends in such a way, and she wanted to help in any way she could. Even if she made Keira upset or mad, it was an emotion that was different than being sad. Any emotion was better than sadness, or at least to Nerys it was.


Keira sighed gently, shaking her head. Nerys would never change really. She unconsciously took a step away from Virgil; she still had her personal boundaries, after all. She smiled slightly. Colorful, hm? It seemed that Nerys was, indeed, worried about her; though Keira would never begrudge her that.

Lifting a finger, Keira pointed to the bags she'd left on the table; many of them were filled with various colors of paint. "It seems that we had the same ideas about making it more colorful." Her smile widened slightly, glancing at both Nerys and then Virgil. "Well, the two of you are here, you may as well help. We're going to have to move everything out of here first."


Virgil was tempted to step into the space Keira had vacated, but in the end he chose not to, glancing over at the buckets of paint now sitting on the table and raining both eyebrows. He had the distinct impression that she wasn’t planning on painting her rooms a single color each, from the sheer variety of colors she’d selected. This could be interesting. Blinking, Virgil shrugged and picked up the sofa with no apparent effort whatsoever. He figured it would be most sensible to store the furniture in other rooms until they could bring it back, so he stowed the large piece in Keira’s bedroom, one of few spaces not presently filled with stuffed animals.

“What’s your favorite color, lovely?” he asked idly, returning back into the living room and helping the others move the smaller pieces of furniture and the stuffed animals to safety. He had a feeling that this process might become a bit messy, but that only increased the appeal. Life was boring if it was perfectly in order all the time. Virgil had an appreciation for certain kinds of chaos, really.


If Nerys could have smiled any wider, her face might have fallen off. Keira actually smiled, as small as it was. It was still a smile, and Nerys felt it like a contagious wave. She shifted a little in her spot, almost as if she were doing her own version of a happy dance. She made to help Virgil with moving the furniture, cleaning out the stuffed animals in the process. If they were going to paint, she didn't want the stuffed animals to gather any paint on them and ruin them. Once they were packed away safely, she continued helping Virgil with the furniture in one room. She glanced at Keira when he asked Keira what her favorite color was, and before Nerys could hear a response, her phone went off in her pocket.

With a startled yelp, she quickly excused herself. When she returned, she had a frown upon her face. She released a soft sigh as she glanced at her two friends. "I'm sorry. I want to stay and help, I really do, but Toni caught the dishwasher on fire. I...don't know how she did it, but I have to go and make sure everything is okay. I'm sorry Keira!" she stated, throwing her arms around the girl and with water filled eyes. She really did want to stay, but as it were, her bakery was in need of her. "I'll make it up to you, I promise!" she stated before she left the apartment, making her way quickly back to the bakery.


Keira raised an eyebrow slightly, answering Virgil's question with "Blue?" while Nerys went to talk on the phone. She smiled and bid the girl goodbye; if Toni had managed to catch the dishwasher on fire, she could only imagine the state of the rest of it. Keira would go back to work tomorrow; somehow everything always seemed to work out when she and Nerys worked together, even if it was just the two of them.

So, that little half-smile still plastered on her face for no reason at all, Keira turned to Virgil and handed him a can of paint, opening one of her own. It took no time at all for the room, and most of them, to be covered in various colors of paint. It also ended up with Keira actually laughing; she couldn't rightly remember when she'd smiled this much, or had as much fun as she had. It took a few hours for the paint to dry, but when it did, Keira stood back up from her sitting position on the floor, and took out a small can of black paint.

It took her no time at all to scrawl the words onto the wall, the black bouncing off the colors vibrantly; the room was so much more bright than Keira was used to, and perhaps that was a good thing. A step in the right direction. She stepped back, looking at what she had written.

What though the radiance which was once so bright be now for ever taken from my sight; Though nothing can bring back the hour of splendor in the grass, of glory in the flower; We will grieve not, rather find strength in what remains behind.

In the primal sympathy which having been must ever be; In the soothing thoughts that spring out of human suffering; In the faith that looks through death, in years that bring the philosophic mind.


She smiled softly at the memory. She would have to remember to thank Ephraim.


Virgil watched with interest as she painted the words onto the wall, leaning back on his hands, his legs crossed in front of him. There was paint in his hair and on his clothes, but he didn’t seem to mind. In fact, he likely could have avoided most of it if he’d bothered to try, but he didn’t mind the mess—he’d had quite a lot of fun watching her—and making her, more often than not—laugh, and something about being spattered in all kinds of vibrant colors seemed to suit the mood of the occasion. “Wordsworth? Interesting selection,” he said, but despite the pensiveness of his question, there was a smile on his lips and it reached into his eyes, setting them alight with some sort of inner fire.

“And just what are you calling this masterpiece of yours, dearheart?” he asked speculatively, raising an eyebrow.


Keira blinked owlishly at his question, but then vanished into the bedroom, coming back with her sketchbook. She handed it to him and explained as he leafed through the pages. "Nerys asked me once why I never drew a self portrait. I told her that I'd tried, once. But I didn't keep it; what I'd drawn scared me. So..." she gestured around the room, "This is my self portrait, more than any drawing of me ever could be."

Virgil flipped through the drawings with considerable interest, an unreadable little smile adorning his features when he came across the one of himself and Ephraim, both slightly more beastly than they usually looked. It wasn’t the most accurate rendition of what they looked like, but it was close enough that he immediately got the idea. Besides, she’d never seen the forms in question, so the guess was actually rather impressive. He had to admit, she was very skilled technically, and he could perceive the care she’d put into the renditions. He raised a brow at a depiction of Ephraim and Nene engaged in a sparring match—she had his brother’s scowl down to a T, and it made him chuckle.

At her eventual answer though, he gently closed the sketchbook and set it aside, looking back and forth between the paint-spattered walls and Keira, as though to assess the accuracy of the “self-portrait.” He understood what was really meant, of course, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t have a little fun with interpretation. Standing smoothly, Virgil surreptitiously moved a hand behind him, brushing an object that he’d been sitting near, then moved a few steps closer, tilting his head sideways as though making very thorough inspection of her face. When he smiled, it was that wicked, half-dangerous thing. “I’ll admit that there’s some resemblance, but for full accuracy…” he moved his hand quickly, swiping a stripe of gold paint down the bridge of her nose. A few more, and she bore a full set of demon markings, of the same pattern he wore when in his proper form, all in his favorite color.

“Can’t forget a little war paint, for the fighter in you, no?” His tone was as light as ever, and he was still wearing that damnable smile, but there was something almost serious behind his eyes. “And such a fine kitsune you would have made, lovely.”

He could feel that pull again, the one drawing him to her, but it no longer felt like an attempt at compulsion, more like a simple magnetism. He wasn’t even certain if it existed because she was Inari’s blood and he was a fox, or because she was Keira and he was Virgil. It didn’t really matter—and he didn’t bother to fight it off this time. He knew he could, but where was the fun in that? So the hand that had decorated her face slid back through her hair, tangling his elegant fingers in the strands, and he descended, pausing for just a breath an inch or so from her lips, to give her the opportunity to refuse if she really wanted to. When she did not move, his smile inched a little wider, his eyes sparking with mischief, and he closed the gap, covering her mouth with his. The kiss was a languid thing, delivered with a patience that suggested he had all the time in the world, but there was a ribbon of heat underneath it that bespoke his desire as well.


She'd known what was coming, he'd even given her a chance to stop it. But she didn't. A lot of females dreamed and fantasized over their first kiss, wanting the moment to be magical and perfect; Keira was unlike most females, and had honestly never given the matter much thought. She'd never really expected to be kissed; at fifteen years old, she'd expected to spend the rest of her days in solitary confinement.

But there was no denying that spark. Whatever it was, whatever caused it, it was there, underlying everything with a smoldering heat that clouded her mind and made her feel things she didn't want to feel; this man was going to break her, and she was letting him do it.

She was letting him do it because she kissed him back with such a need that the realization of that need terrified her, her fingers curling into his shirt as she pulled herself closer to him. She'd spent her life alone, and had fully expected to spend the rest of her life alone; having someone in it who showed an interest, even if in the end it meant nothing, was dangerous. She was losing herself, and a part of her didn't care.


He’d honestly expected a positive response—he couldn’t recall the last time he’d gotten a negative one—but was pleasantly surprised by her enthusiasm. Heat stoked heat, and tempted as he was to tease her a bit more, there were decidedly better ways to drive her crazy at present, and it was one of these he went with, lifting her with his free arm so that they were at a more even, comfortable height, and then he moved them both until Keira’s back was pressed up against the newly-dry wall, and his body weight was keeping her pinned there.

Virgil murmured something indecipherable against her mouth, not because the words were impossible to hear, but because they were in the native tongue of he world he’d come from. Whatever they were, they sounded suspiciously raspy and low, darkening his usual light tenor almost to a baritone, the words carrying the natural hint of a growl. Parting her lips with his tongue, he explored the inside of her mouth with a sort of playful thoroughness that well characterized him in general. He was a big believer in doing things the right way, after all, and he’d so hate for this to be dissatisfying. He was aware, or rather he had easily guessed, that this was nothing Keira had ever done before, so he intended to guide her through it, rather more slowly than he would usually have bothered.

Humming a sonorous note in the back of his throat, Virgil drew back a little to let her breathe, nipping her lower lip with his teeth. He hadn’t really noticed until then, but a couple of his more demonic features had slipped free of the human guise he usually wore. His eyes were liquid gold and his teeth considerably sharper than usual, for one, though he drew no blood with them. He trailed a wet line of kisses down the left side of her jaw and the column of her throat, peppering in small bites, which he soothed with his tongue.


By the time Virgil finally removed his mouth from hers, Keira was panting, and not just from a lack of air. Heat and desire flowed through her, reactions and emotions that both terrified and thrilled her. She couldn't explain them, and the warning bells were going off in her head; this had already gone too far, and it certainly had the potential to go farther. But still she didn't stop it, instead threading her fingers into his hair. Having drawn him as much as she had, she knew his features, from the planes of his face and torso to the silk of his hair.

She tried, and failed, to clear her mind. She couldn't say that this wasn't what she wanted if only for the fact that she didn't know what she wanted, not any longer. She'd long lived by letting her instinct guide her, and at the moment, her instinct was making her do things she otherwise wouldn't have done; like the soft moan that escaped her as his teeth grazed her neck. She was shivering by that point, standing on that fine edge between reality and desire, with no direction which way she would fall.


Virgil was pretty sure that what he did next should earn him a minor sainthood, or at the very least, a promotion in the next life. Not that he necessarily had a next life, being immortal and all. His own instinct drove him forward, demanded that he take, consume, devour, and she wasn’t making it easy to do otherwise. Not when she was making sounds like that, shaking in his arms. It pulled at his instincts to claim and to soothe, to possess and to protect, and the demonic part of his nature seethed not with anger, but with a much more basic, primal heat. He was used to indulging it—resistance was difficult. But he was not a base demon, ruled only by his youkai energies and impulses, and he prided himself on his self-control.

“You’re not making it easy to be good, lovely,” he half-murmured, half-growled into her ear. With effort, he braced his free hand against the wall and pushed himself away, setting her down gently and allowing for a foot or so of empty space between them. The hand slid away from the wall and traced the line of her cheekbone delicately with a claw. Frankly, he wasn’t sure why he was trying so hard to be good, as normally he wouldn’t have bothered. He wanted it, he could tell she did, and honestly, there was a time when that would have been more than enough. But now it simply wouldn’t do, because he could sense the reservation and uncertainty still left.

He’d been telling the truth when he told Ephraim that this was a different game from his usual one. The only problem was that Virgil was making up the rules as he went along, and he had not anticipated this one. Still, in every hardship, there was opportunity, or so believed the optimist, and the kitsune liked to think of himself as one of those, most days. The opportunity to leave her very hot and bothered had a certain merit all its own, he supposed. The index digit at her cheek swept back towards her ear, and then forward along her jaw to her chin. He used it to turn her head just a little to the side, then pressed a chaste kiss to her cheek. “Good night, Keira.”

And then he was gone.


About as quick as it had started, it was over, and Keira found herself alone in her apartment. Wide-eyed and dazed, she stared blankly ahead of her for a second before sliding down the wall to a sitting position, her legs splayed out at odd angles. She was shaking still, and she bit her lip, hard enough to draw blood.

"Damned asshole."

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ephraim Solomon Character Portrait: Virgil Solomon Character Portrait: Nerys Liacht Character Portrait: Keira Mizuki

Earnings

0.00 INK



Image

Image




Nerys stared at the letter in her hands. She had read it over at least a dozen times, and she still couldn't understand it. Not once, had she received anything from that realm. She pursed her lips together, rubbing the sides of her temples as she tried re-reading it once more. They wanted her to return, but why? They didn't specify the reason, only that it was to be immediately. The only problem, Nerys did not know how to enter Kirino. She needed help, and the only person, or rather people who could help with that, were Virgil and Ephraim. She could ask them for help. Plus, she didn't want to exactly go by herself. Maybe she should invite the others along? With that in mind, she called Keira and left her a message to meet her at the Solomon office.

She began the trek towards the office building, stopping every once and a while to greet the townspeople. What would have usually been a fifteen minute walk, turned into a thirty minute walk. Perhaps she should take Ephraim's advice and not stop so often. Once she reached the office, she let herself in and greeted the fox and the hound, waiting patiently for Keira to arrive. It wasn't more than a few minutes later that the demi-goddess arrived, and Nerys smiled at them albeit confusedly. She took in a deep breath, releasing it slowly as she tried to form the words correctly that she wanted to say.

"Um, thank you for coming Keira," she stated, fumbling with her fingers as she glanced off to the side. "I...I received a letter from the Kirino realm, and," she continued, pausing as she felt a large lump in her throat. She swallowed it, taking another needed breath as she tried again. "They need me to return to Kirino. I...don't know what the reason is, but they said it was urgent. I don't have the means of getting there, so I was wondering if, Ephraim, if you could help me," she stated, glancing at Ephraim first and then towards Virgil and Keira.

"And...I don't want to go alone. I was...wondering if you all would go with me," she finally asked, glancing at them with hopeful eyes. She truly did not want to go alone. The last time, she was with her mother. She wasn't sure what they would do if she went alone, but the letter sounded so urgent.


At that same moment, Keira herself was staring at a letter, her mouth a grim line. She'd forgotten, and she had no idea how she'd managed to forget, honestly. Then again, a year ago she wasn't worrying about other realms and powers and otherworldly creatures. People labled as sociopathic schitzophrenics were not usually let out of solitary confinement, and as such, Keira had to submit to a yearly drug test.

It was a week away. She sighed, and jumped when her phone rang. Her eyes narrowed, and she immediately left, heading for the Solomon Brother's office. Her eyes narrowed when she saw someone walking away from the building, and she paused by the door before entering; it was her father, but she decided not to worry about that right now.

She raised an eyebrow after Nerys spoke. If she had her information correct, Nerys's parents were dead, and she had only been to Kirino once. Keira herself, obviously, had never entered another realm. She stood with her arms corssed, and ended up speaking before she realized she'd made a decision.

"I'll go."

And she would, too, if only to protect Nerys and her naivete. Keira was suspicious of anything that had to do with family in situations like this; you didn't get summoned to return home for a good reason.


Virgil glanced over at Ephraim, who was seated at his desk with one leg crossed over the opposite knee. He was silent for a while, as if contemplating something, and Virgil was half-expecting to hear something about how he couldn’t just go opening Gates on a whim, without the Arbiter’s say-so. It even had the benefit of being technically true-unnecessary travel between realms was frowned upon, though if it wasn’t outright hostile, it was generally tolerated, more because it would waste too many resources to stop. To Virgil’s surprise, however, his brother nodded.

“Very well,” Ephraim said. “Gather your things and return here in the morning tomorrow. I will open a Gate then.”




The Gate to Kirino was made of ivory, reminiscent somehow of the horns the creatures bore. It wasn’t massive, but it was very ornate and decorated with inlaid gold and silver scrollwork, carven images depicting the kirin themselves. Overall, it was fancier than some of the Gates Ephraim had shown him to gods’ realms, which gave Virgil a fair idea of the esteem the creatures held themselves in. This was going to be interesting, certainly.

The other two had arrived not long ago, carrying whatever luggage they thought they’d need. Virgil had his goblin-made pouch, and as such was carrying nothing extra, and Ephraim had only a small rucksack, tossed carelessly over one shoulder. It was also bigger on the inside, but not by as much. Certainly there was less in it than most people would need; the Hellhound was used to traveling light. He stepped through the Gate last of all, whereas Virgil, used to this method of travel, led the way in order to demonstrate.

He landed lightly, though there had been a short drop when he stepped off the threshold. That was actually quite a bit less jarring than some landings he’d been through, as the way Gates opened was somewhat unpredictable. He waited until all the others were through, taking a moment to survey his surroundings. He was looking mostly at a forest, a fair mix of deciduous and coniferous trees, and the air smelled incredibly fresh. He was also willing to bet that any water here would be as pure as water got. He’d not been to this particular realm before—it was a bit of a backwater, as far as such things went, and he’d never had business here. Ephraim had been, of course—the Hellhound had told him once that he’d been to all of the known realms, and a few that probably should not have been.

Once everyone was ready to move, Ephraim turned to Nerys. “Do you know where to go from here, or should I lead?” He wasn’t sure which settlement her family was from, but his nose could get them to the nearest populated area, anyway.


Nerys could have cried in happiness when they agreed to go. She nodded her head enthusiastically at Ephraim's reply. The next day found them all before the gate to Kirino, a hint of nervousness fluttering about Nerys's stomach. It was such a long time ago that she had visited Kirino. She was about five years old when she was last there. She couldn't exactly remember. She stared in awe at the gate though, noticing the designs and patterns etched alongside it before they were all ushered through. She smiled, landing softly behind the others before her eyes widened. It was beautiful, more-so than she could remember. So enamored with her breathless view, she almost missed Ephraim's statement.

"Ah, well. I don't remember, I was only five the last time I was here," she replied nervously, shifting in her spot as she adjusted the small bag upon her shoulders. She had not brought much, just enough clothing for a few days' worth. She wasn't exactly sure how long they would be here. It could be a few minutes, or a few days, and she wanted to be prepared. Whatever they had summoned her for, surely it had to be somewhat important. They had not been hesitant in expressing their disdain for her the first time she was here, so for them to have summoned her, it must have been important. At least, that was what she kept telling herself.

"I...I think it's that way," she stated, pointing towards the northeast. She couldn't explain it, but there was a slight pull coming from that direction. A sudden thought popped into her mind as she turned towards the group. "Ah, I do not know if you know this or not, but please...be careful. Though gentle by nature, Kirin have what one calls a Shirei. They are very similar to youkai, however; they form contracts with Kirin to protect them. In return, the Shirei gets to eat the Kirin's body when it dies," she stated. The only reason she knew of this is because her mother had told her of them.

It was a way for Kirin to protect themselves since, by nature, Kirin were non-violent. The Shirei would take care of most of the violence should they ever need to be associated with it. Regardless, she didn't want her friends to be startled if they stumbled upon the creatures in the realm.


Keira felt slightly ill after going through a Gate, but then, she was mostly human; she really wasn't meant to travel between realms. Still, she stood glancing around her as she did so. The expression on her face was...a little more surprised than usual.

"It looks like a fairy-tale book threw up all over the place."

Well, at least it wasn't all pink. Keira raised an eyebrow as Nerys explained a few things, but otherwise kept silent. She was out of her element here; really, she was only there as moral support for her friend, and nothing more.


The comment drew a laugh from Virgil, which trailed off into snickers thereafter. “Unconventional metaphor, but astute,” he observed. Frankly, he thought vomit would have been a slight improvement in some sense. The place smacked of the neat and orderly, and it was a forest. Surely, there should have been a little more chaos somewhere, but apparently not.

The corners of Ephraim’s mouth twitched, just fractionally. It wasn’t a smile, but it had been dangerously close to one. Really though, the only time he smiled was when he was fighting something that challenged him, and it had been a while since that happened. Even that wasn’t really what one would generally consider a smile, because while it was made because he enjoyed himself, it wasn’t really a happy sort of thing.

When Nerys explained, he simply nodded. The direction she’s pointed was the one from which the scent was issuing anyway, and so he took the lead, following his nose and leading them around various—still somehow neatly-arranged—terrain hazards. It took them a few hours walking at human pace, but they eventually made it to the settlement. Here, there were several kirin, out and about in human form, accompanied by their contractual companions, the Shirei. At their approach, basically everyone went rigid, eyeing the newcomers warily. A few vaguely recognized Ephraim, from the looks they were giving him, and none of them seemed to like him much, not that he cared.

He stepped slightly sideways, looking back over his shoulder at Nerys. “I do not know whom we are here to see,” he pointed out, indicating that further progress was her responsibility now.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ephraim Solomon Character Portrait: Virgil Solomon Character Portrait: Nerys Liacht Character Portrait: Keira Mizuki

Earnings

0.00 INK

Image
Image




Nerys shifted uncomfortably, trying to remain somewhere in between the group when they entered the small village. She spotted a few Kirin, some she recognized only briefly, and some that she did not know. She felt small underneath their gazes, and immediately, the timid posture returned. They were sneering at her, she could feel it in the way they were gazing at her, and she could feel a slight tremble in her body. She tried to gather her courage, tried to pick her head back up, however; it remained where it was, somewhere between half hanging and half lifted. She was only brought back when Ephraim spoke, indicating he did not know who they were here to see. She sighed softly, shifting in her spot in the process.

"We are here to see my Grandfather. He is Siorys," she answered, her voice soft as she glanced back up at the others. She left out the fact that he was much more than just a regular Kirin. They would know in due time, though if Ephraim had been here before, he would know exactly who Siorys was. He was the last King of Kirino, however; if the contents of the letter were true, then he would be dead. They would be looking for his adviser, then, Caius. Carys, her mother, had been Siorys' only child, therefore, he had no heirs. He, himself, had no siblings, therefore; Nerys had no cousins or uncles or aunts for that matter.

"We will actually be looking for Caius, though," she added. She sighed softly as they continued to walk, watching, waiting for any sign of the Kirin they were looking for to show up. She could hear the others talking faintly, calling her half-blood, abomination, and it hurt. She kept her gaze down, only lifting her head every now and then to ensure she would not run into anything. It wasn't until a voice called out to her, that she fully lifted her head, spotting a somewhat familiar face. Her lips pulled down into a deep frown as she stared at the fair-haired man.

"It appears the half-blood decided to appear, how convenient," he spoke, glancing at the others. "Did you not heed the contents of the letter? You were to come back alone, not with these, creatures, especially that one," he spoke, his voice firm and harsh, pointing towards Ephraim in the process. Nerys winced at his tone, glancing anywhere but at him as she fidgeted behind Keira. She did read it, but that didn't mean anything to her. She had not wanted to come alone. Caius sighed harshly through his nose, waving a hand dismissively in front of him. "I should not have expected more from an abomination," he continued, causing her eyes to falter.

"I...came as you requested, Caius, please do not insult my friends. They are here on my request," she spoke, her voice too soft to actually be heard.


Ephraim was hardly surprised by the particular hostility he was shown. As a being, he was basically everything the kirin reviled. Violence, predatory instinct, and without even a soul to redeem him, meaning that they could read nothing of his intentions or his character using their perceptive abilities. He was well used to this sort of reaction, including from them. He did not, however, appreciate this fool attempting to undo all of the progress he had been making in the attempt to help Nerys locate some sense of self-worth, drowning as it was in the seemingly bottomless well of her charity. It was not difficult to see why, given the way she was treated simply for existing. It struck a nerve with Ephraim—he’d been in a similar-enough situation once. He suspected that all four of them had, even Virgil.

His upper lip curled slightly, and if this form had hackles, they’d be rising. “Watch your tongue, ingrate. I don’t think I need to remind you what happened the last time one of your kind crossed me. The woman’s here exactly as long as she wants to be, and she’s under my protection.” Funny; he’d been fully intending to say our right there. Somehow it had come out in the singular instead. Regardless, the reminder was a potent one. The last time he’d been here, someone had tried to interfere with his removal of a soul for Kurogami’s judgement. He’d taken three souls instead of one: the original, the idiot who’d tried to stop him, and said idiot’s Shirei. He hadn’t even blinked, either.

Virgil, his hands folded into his sleeves, was not the sort to take kindly to his friends being insulted, but left the threatening to his brother. It was one of the things that Ephraim was just better at. Oh, Virgil could certainly threaten, but he didn’t have quite the same raw edge of violence to him that Eph did. And really, it was that sheer destructive capacity that a race like the kirin would fear the most, being entirely without it.


Caius rose an eyebrow at that, turning to face Nerys who stood a little dumbfounded behind Keira. "I am afraid you have little interference in the matter, hound. She is here to stay. You are looking at the last line of the royal family. Half-blooded as she is, she is the last one of Siorys's family. This was not exactly the logical choice, having a half-blood rule, however; as it is, there is little choice left," he responded, a shiver rolling down his spine at the way the hound spoke. He recalled the incident of when the man was last here. It had been unpleasant to say the least, and the use of unnecessary violence was a little overkill in his opinion.

Nerys, on the other hand, still dumbfounded, moved her mouth to speak, but found she could not. They wanted her to rule? "Surely there is someone else! You...I'm not...I can't," she stated, finally finding her voice in the process. They could not expect her, of all people, to rule. Sure, she was Siorys's granddaughter, but she wasn't fit to rule. She couldn't. It was obvious enough that they disliked her, hated her for simply being alive, so why would they want her to rule? Caius sighed through his nose, taking a deep breath in the process. He had expected this reaction.

"Trust me, princess, you were the last choice we wanted on the throne. Unfortunately, the blood that runs through your veins is the same as Siorys's. You must rule, however; there is one other option," he spoke. There was one option, but he knew she wouldn't like it. He glanced at her friends, regarding each one with a steady gaze before turning his attention back to the half-breed. He wondered if she would take it.


Ephraim’s lips pulled back from his teeth in a silent snarl, but he really did have little business in dynastic matters. He was here for Nerys only, and whatever she chose, he would consent to. Virgil, on the other hand, used the opportunity to snap his glance back to Caius. He, unlike his brother, knew exactly what was being implicated. He wasn’t especially fond, having dealt with many such attempts to control his own life. He was mildly surprised that Nerys happened to be of the ruling line of kirin, but in the end, it was about as likely as anything else that happened to him on a daily basis, so he was hardly shocked.

“You’re suggesting political marriage,” he said, rather bluntly for him. Quirking an eyebrow, the kitsune folded his arms into his sleeves. “But of course, you’re not really suggesting anything at all. We all know she can’t rule; she’s been here, what? Once in her life? She’s completely unprepared to do so, and you know who you really want for the job, so it’s as simple as getting little Nene here to agree to it, and then everyone but her gets what they want.” He was smiling, but there was nothing even remotely friendly about it.

The air around them seemed to shift and darken a little, an unmistakable shiver crawling down the spines of all those present. His face wasn’t showing any more than irritation, but Ephraim was angry. Interesting. Now, was it anger for a friend being forced into something so permanent against her will, or something else? Virgil found that, while he had a suspicion, he didn’t actually know. It was that unpredictability again. What was unfortunately much easier to predict was Nerys’s reaction to it. He knew what she was going to say, almost down to the wording.

He only wished he were wrong.


From the moment that the one called Caius spoke, Keira had no problem judging the situation. It was easy enough to see that this was all about one thing: control. They had little choice on actually choosing Nerys, being of royal blood, but if they paired her with someone they wanted ruling, especially because she was female, it wouldn't matter.

Except that Nerys would be stuck here, and Keira would lose her best friend to a system that had once tried to overtake her.

Nerys was not the fighter that Keira was in that sense; those that tried to control her failed, whereas Nerys was painfully oblivious to the fact that she was being controlled. At least, she usually was. Here...there was a slight sliver of hope she would at least be able to see it. But Keira also was not willing to bet on it.

Her steel grey eyes narrowed at Caius, and she shifted almost unconsciously; Nerys had already been half-way behind her, and Keira moved so that she was behind her. It was subtle, but bold. Even Keira knew that she posed the least threat here; but she'd be damned if she let this man intimidate her friend into doing something she didn't want.

"You're a damned fool if you think Nerys is staying here."


Nerys could feel the animosity her friends were giving off, and it didn't help matters much when she felt a shiver rolling down her spine by the hostility Ephraim was radiating. She didn't understand, why were they so angry? It wasn't until Virgil spoke, that Nerys finally understood, and her brows furrowed together. They wanted her...to marry? Who could they possibly want her to marry? Couldn't she just give the throne away? To whomever it was that they wanted to rule? From the look upon Caius' face, it wasn't that easy. She sighed softly, her shoulders slumping as she lowered her gaze. She placed a hand on Keira's shoulder, pulling the girl slightly back before forcing a smile to her face.

"Keira," she spoke out gently, turning so that she stood in front of her friends. She didn't want to cause them unnecessary trouble, and if she would have known this was what the Kirino realm wanted from her, she would never have asked her friends to come along. Goodbyes were always hard to do, and she wasn't so sure she could say good bye. The realm needed her, and the ever helping creature that she was, she couldn't ignore that. Even if they would despise her, hate her for just being what she was, she would still help them. It was the right thing to do, and it was her obligation, even if the royal blood that was in her was diluted.

"You are correct in your statement, fox. An arrangement that would benefit the realm, and yes, everyone would get what they wanted, except for her. She does not have a choice in the matter, this realm needs her to continue her line, as diluted and tainted as it has become. She is the last," Caius spoke, his words straight and forward. "Otherwise, the realm will fall apart," he continued, stating the words to the group, but staring straight at Nerys. He knew she would not refuse then. And she didn't. She couldn't deny these people the help that they needed.

"I'll do it," she spoke, timidly and almost afraid. "I'll do it if...if only to help," she continued as a smile crept upon Caius' face. She glanced back at Ephraim and Virgil, offering them a meek smile before she left to stand in front of Caius. "I'll stay on the condition that they attend the ceremony. I...want to be able to say goodbye to them," she stated softly, glancing down as Caius rose a brow. An odd request, but nonetheless acceptable. They could stay if they wished, however; the decision was up to them.

"Very well, but that is their decision if they stay or if they do not. You are to ready yourself, the ceremony will be in three hours time," he spoke. Nerys frowned but said nothing else. She would do this because she had to...right? Sighing softly, she followed behind Caius, trailing behind him a good distance.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ephraim Solomon Character Portrait: Virgil Solomon Character Portrait: Nerys Liacht Character Portrait: Keira Mizuki

Earnings

0.00 INK

Image




Image




Upon reaching the large, mostly tree-based structure that served as a home for the ruling line of Kirino, the three guests had been escorted up several winding flights of stairs, carved into the living wood of a simply massive tree, and emerged into a set of rooms that clearly served as an entire guest wing. The place had been constructed with equal parts craft and magic, and multiple trees supported wings like these ones, connected by staircases and rope bridges held steady by ancient spells, magicks the kirin had long since lost the ability to command. It was through the presence of those from the First Line that the spells maintained themselves; Ephraim knew this very well, and he suspected Virgil had at least guessed. None of them were capable of magic like this any longer. Solitude in this realm had deteriorated the species, whose magic was once made stronger by interacting with others. Isolation had its prices, even if the reward was eternal peace.

Ephraim had been loath to allow them to split Nerys off from the group, but she had already made her decision, even if he didn’t like what it meant—for her or for the rest of them. He should, he knew, respect her wishes. He had no place interfering in her life unless she desired him to do so. That much had always been true. As agent of the Arbiter, neutrality was required of him, unless his help was asked for. It was no business of his what happened to the kirin as a species, or Nerys as an individual, even if he did find the latter surprisingly difficult to swallow.

He was, in fact, still quite angry. Enough so that when they’d been informed their current state of dress was not sufficient to the ceremony of the occasion, it was only his brother’s firm hand on his shoulder that prevented him from snapping—whether figuratively or literally he didn’t even know—at the small group of servants who’d attempted to pull at his coat. The three of them had been ushered into different rooms, and Ephraim had thrown out the pair of servants who made as if to help him dress. He certainly did not require that. Judging by the number of them out in the hallway, either Virgil or Keira had done the same. He was going to say Keira. He knew what Virgil was like. The fox had probably only gotten to partially undressed before he decided to proposition one or both of the handmaidens that followed him inside.

As he often did, Ephraim chose not to think about it. He was incredibly tempted not to change his clothing at all, because frankly, the standards of these people were of no consequence to him, but in the end, he decided that Nerys was already suffering enough for having invited them; things would only be worse for her if he started a confrontation about something so irrelevant. So with a withering glare at the clothing that had been left for him, he shook his head and dealt with it.

A half-hour later, he was arrayed in a deep, indigo blue that sharply contrasted the crimson color of his eyes. The traditional garments of Kirino had not changed much since they first acquired their own realm, and still showed influence of human history—in this case, what he wore was comparable to feudal-era formalwear from Japan, where most of the creatures had once been concentrated. Much of the garments of Yokaino were similar, but for the opposite reason—demon royalty had inspired humans, back when they used to cross much more frequently between realms. He lingered for another half-hour or so, mostly because there was nothing else to do, and emerged some time later to find Virgil doing the same from across the hall. He was dressed in green, of all colors, but it was the smell that wrinkled Eph’s nose. He’d been right about his brother’s activity. It would not register to a human or kirin nose, but perhaps the rather bright red faces and slightly-shaky strides of the attendants said enough.

Ephraim scowled at Virgil, who only smiled in reply. Now they were waiting on Keira, and then they could proceed to the ceremony.


Keira had been ushered into a room down the hall from the Solomon brothers, where a pair of female attendants set to work, or at least, they tried to. After several attempts at removing her clothing and trying to get her to bathe, Keira had ended up slapping the one; she wasn't fond of being touched, and on top of that, she had no wish to be a part of this.

Nerys was a fool for agreeing to this, and if she wanted to throw her life away, then so be it. Keira wasn't going to stop her. For several long minutes, Keira sat in the room in front of the mirror, and finally she couldn't lie to herself anymore. She would go; and she would stop it.

She bathed by herself, but she had no idea what they expected her to dress in, so she reluctantly allowed the attendants back in, but only briefly. The end result mortified her. While the color was alright, she was in a dress of all things, and a very form-fitting one at that. It was red, and strapless, and made Keira herself highly uncomfortable. For a second she stood there blushing a crimson almost as deep as the dress she wore; but she would just have to get over that.

Taking a deep breath, she stepped out into the hall, and was not at all surprised to see Ephraim and Virgil already out. Keira took one look at the kitsune and dropped her eyes; she could feel her cheeks turning red, much to her horror, and she hissed through her teeth, "You say one word and I'll throttle you." Honestly, what was wrong with pants?


“Then woe is me, I shall simply have to use more than one,” the fox replied cheekily, grinning brightly, the flash of fang perhaps not strictly necessary. But he liked making the kirin uncomfortable, as they so clearly were with predatory creatures like himself and Ephraim. He liked making Keira uncomfortable, too, but for entirely different reasons. So he used a clawed fingertip to trace the bare line from the base of her ear to the inside of her wrist, leaning in close enough to lick a stripe over her pulse point. Really, he should have at least been satiated for a while, considering what he’d just been doing, but the desire he had for her was not of quite the same kind as the desire he had generally. Virgil was no fool—he knew he should be wary of that.

He just couldn’t bring himself to care.

“You look simply ravishing, lovely. Red is a good color on you,” he purred, though whether he referred to the dress, the blush, or both, was unclear. Ephraim rolled his eyes and cleared his throat, but Virgil was, as ever, unperturbed, and simply drew back slowly, turning his head to glance at his brother from the corner of his eye. Eph was scowling, but that was normal for him, so it would have been impossible for most anyone to tell what kind of mood he was in. Empathy did have its uses, however, and Virgil knew just how angry the Hellhound was, though there was a fair amount of confusion in the emotional cocktail as well.

“Let’s go,” was all he said, and the three were escorted from there to an open meadow in the middle of the great forest. As one would expect of such a place, it was strewn with brightly-colored flowers, the sunlight illuminating the occasional pollen floater that took to the air, carried along by a gentle breeze, just barely strong enough to notice, but not near strong enough to actually disturb anything. It was like even the world they were in was adverse to chaos. Unnatural for Virgil, who came from a realm that oftentimes embodied chaos.

They were led to a place on the left side of the meadow, with what looked to be kirin dignitaries of minor importance. Eve attired as they were, the three of them stuck out like sore thumbs among the universally pale-haired, fawn-eyed kirin, most of whom were also rather short, perhaps no more than five and a half feet for the females and five-eight or so for the males. The ceremony appeared to be quite traditional for these people: at the center of the meadow was arranged a large circular platform, perhaps two feet off the ground, that currently held both the officiator and what appeared to be Nerys’s groom—he looked like the rest of the kirin present, except that he was dressed much more richly. Apparently, the color of kirin weddings was yellow. Or at least it was the color of this one. Virgil supposed that the bride would be led to that platform and assisted in ascending it. A few ritual-looking objects were placed on an altar between the officiator and the parties, including some kind of chalice and a knife. Virgil had a feeling he knew what that was about—the binding ceremony for some youkai was not so different, though he would have expected the kirin to find it too barbaric.

There was a persistent light feathering of music, though nothing so loud or lively as to risk offending the distinguished attendees, and even that fell silent when the bride approached.


Nerys sighed, standing perfectly still as the handmaidens went to work on her appearance. They drew long combs through her pale azure hair, smoothing it out and leaving the strands luminous. She pursed her lips together when they began tugging at it, pulling it together and looping it so that it was pulled back into a formal bun, leaving longer strands to fall in soft waves down her back. She was then donned in soft silk, the same color as her hair. It was light, feathery to the touch, and it only caused Nerys' frown to deepen. She was to be wed to someone she didn't know, for the sake of the realm, to someone she didn't even love. Maybe, in time she could learn to love them...but it wouldn't be the same as to be in love with them.

Her mother had told her once to never learn to love someone, because it wasn't love. If it had to be learned, then it wasn't real love. But who would possibly love a half-breed? That thought caused her eyes to falter, overshadowed with a dark glaze as the attendants stopped what they were doing, blinking confusedly at her. They shook their heads before continuing their work, and the end result was...odd to Nerys. She glanced at the long mirror, gazing at her reflection. It felt odd to see another person there, for the person staring back at her was not her. The person standing in front of her was dressed in a white kimono, the pale blue gown underneath barely visible. It was tied with a matching blue obi, and etched with gold rings.

It was beautiful in every sense of the word, and Nerys felt out of place, undeserving of such material. Before she could linger longer on her appearance, she was ushered out quickly, a startled yelp leaving her lips in the process. "Hurry or you'll be late!" one of the hand maidens stated as they pushed her out the room she currently occupied. It wasn't long before she met the doors to the outside of where the ceremony was to take place. She hadn't even been told who her betrothed was. She had a faint guess as to who it was, after all the man hadn't really changed even after almost twenty years. She sighed softly as the murmurs disappeared behind the doors. She shifted nervously.

Why was her body shaking? She was making the right decision, because it had to be right. She was helping out her realm, by being here she was helping them. But why did it seem so wrong? There was a lurch in her heart, a knot forming in her stomach, as her breathing became slightly labored. Was she having a panic attack? She couldn't breathe. She felt like she was suffocating, and the walls around her began to close in on her. She couldn't do this, she couldn't. But she had to. Before she could turn around, the large doors were opened, and a bright light filled her eyes. She blinked to readjust them, and her eyes fluttered towards the outside, glancing at the handmaidens who led her to the meadow. She could see her friends, and the frown that had been placed on her face pulled into a light smile. At least they were still here for her, even if it was for a few hours longer.

With a heavy sigh, she moved slowly, even as the music receded, her legs would not allow her to move faster than the pace she set for herself. She glanced up to see who her groom was, and a frown marred her face. She was wrong about who she thought it was, but perhaps that was for the best. Glancing at the man who would be her husband, she wondered once more if she could learn to love this man. It was evident behind his eyes that he had no desire to do the same, however; the question of heirs would be brought up, and that thought caused Nerys' face to flush slightly. She would be required to have heirs with him, to continue the lineage. She didn't want that with him, but in the next few moments, that decision would no longer be hers to make. And she couldn't keep her eyes from glancing towards him.


While Keira was never one to sit with bad posture, she was currently sitting ramrod straight, her eyes forward. Her face was as placid as it ever was, but there were undertones of anger in her eyes. A part of her simply could not fathom just why Nerys had agreed to this, and then she also knew why her friend had done so. Nerys simply could not say no when it came to helping others.

Keira sighed through her nose, more than a little irritated. Her grey eyes followed Nerys as the woman walked down the isle to meet her groom, the knot in Keira's stomach tightening along the way. This was wrong, and all four of them knew it. She was sitting between Ephraim and Virgil [who had chosen the seating, she had no idea], and her hands were in her lap. The longer that the ceremony wore on, the tighter she clenched her hands, until her knuckles were white.

When it came time for the bride and groom to exchange their vows, Keira couldn't stand it any longer. Though Ephraim was between her and the isle, she was up and over him before she'd even realized that she'd made the decision to move at all. There were numerous murmurs and startled cries as other guests and patrons realized where she was headed: straight for Nerys.

She grabbed the other woman, pulling her away from the altar and glared at her. "I've had enough of this! You marry someone because you love them, not because someone is telling you to marry them, you idiot! I'm not going to let you do this, and be miserable for the rest of your life. You're going home, with us, because they don't need you here. We need you. I need you...you're my best friend."


Ephraim made no move to stop Keira when she half-jumped, half-climbed over him to get to the aisle, though he did shoot a glance at Virgil, who was grinning before anything was even said. They both knew the general thrust of what was about to happen here, of course, and honestly, both were a little relieved. They might not be allowed to interfere in this, but a human? She could do whatever was in her power. The laws of the universe and the Arbiter were strange things, but Ephraim knew that Kurogami had never made a single one of them without a very good reason.

Nerys’s groom looked more startled than anything by what was going on, blinking in surprise, but his eyes immediately sought Caius’s, and that man was anything but surprised. More like enraged, which, while a rare emotion in kirin, had been known to happen. Just because they were usually nonviolent didn’t mean they were immune to the nastier emotions—though perhaps to know only Nerys would give someone that impression. “Guards!” the man in charge shouted, and several of the sterner-looking creatures moved to pull Keira away from Nerys.

Well, at least that had been the plan. Unfortunately for them, the hostility against a technically weaker species—Keira was far from a typical human, but rules were rules, and they didn’t make an exception for beings like her—meant that agents of the Arbiter were allowed to interfere if it suited them. The first hand that reached for Keira was intercepted by Virgil, who gleefully squeezed hard enough to fracture it. “Fantastic,” he said playfully, “I was getting a little starved for chaos. This should be fun.”

Ephraim wasn’t so sure fun was the right word—such soft creatures were hardly any kind of amusement to defeat—but that was only until Caius transformed, and then a slow grin split his face. “I wondered why you’d picked a puppet instead of trying to take power directly,” he said, eyeing the beast before him. At first, he’d simply assumed that it was disdain, that he was so very disgusted by the idea of being bound to a half-blood that he’d elected to have a pawn do it in his place and rule indirectly. But the marriage ceremony required at its later stages the transformation of both parties, and the gasps from other assorted members of the Court were quite sufficient to confirm that he had not wanted them to see this. “But I suppose it’s obvious enough just how the king died now.”

“You know nothing, Hound,” Caius snarled, but Ephraim was quite sure he knew enough. The kirin before him was neither the white of most nor Nerys’s black. Rather, his entire hide, mane, and tail were all a deep crimson—the exact shade of blood. That was only known to happen in the rare instances in which one kirin killed another in cold blood. It marked them apart, so that the rest of their kind would know their shame and their sin. Rather overdone, perhaps, but quite useful at the moment, considering. He wondered why the man had transformed now, but the answer was evident enough when the kirin charged towards the altar and his friends,

Ephraim waited all of a second before dropping to all fours, the jaws of the Hellhound parting in a feral snarl that, despite the noise of the various guests and guards and commotion, managed to be louder than everything else taking place. Several people froze, wide-eyed, and watched uncertainly as the red kirin made to kill their former leader’s heir and her friends.

—at least until he was pounced on by a full ton of muscle and angry Hound. Ephraim locked his jaws around the base of Caius’s neck, twisting his body and dragging them both down to the ground, where they fell in a heap not ten feet from the altar. Caius’s Shirei shrieked and made to interfere, but promptly collapsed in a blaze of blue-white fire, the kitsune flames eating through it and leaving only ash behind. The rest of the guards, some wounded but none dead, backed away, no longer certain what to do. They’d been taking orders from a murderer, the killer of their former king, but… were these outsiders any better? It was not a question with an immediate answer.

Ephraim’s shoulder was pierced by Caius’s horn in the struggle, but in the end, the Hellhound had the kirin pinned to the ground, jaws still closed around his throat, but he hadn’t bitten hard enough to kill him. In fact, he seemed to be deliberately keeping the man alive, something that perhaps none of those present understood the reason for until he looked up, red eyes locking with gold ones, and stilled, as if waiting for something.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ephraim Solomon Character Portrait: Virgil Solomon Character Portrait: Nerys Liacht Character Portrait: Keira Mizuki

Earnings

0.00 INK



Image

Image



It was immediately clear to Virgil what his brother was doing. By refraining from actually killing the man until Nerys indicated what she wanted, he was placing the fate of this murderous kirin, and quite possibly the entire realm, in Nerys’s hands. Not his own, not the Arbiter’s, and certainly not those of any of these people. He was giving the most hated and reviled of them all the power to choose their fates. He felt fear spike in many of those around them, as well it should. The way they had treated her, Nerys could well decide to have him kill them all, and Virgil did not doubt that if this was what she requested, Ephraim would do it. He watched the other kirin search themselves, question their purity, and realize that if they had a Shirei that strong, and had been so wronged by those around them, they might just be tempted. They each had that much darkness in their hearts, and they could no longer pretend otherwise.

But he also knew that Ephraim did not expect that outcome. Frankly, neither did Virgil. Caius was one matter—a traitor and a murderer. But Nerys would never order the rest of these people slain for what they had done to her. She wouldn’t even think of it. “How very clever of you, brother,” he murmured, perhaps softly enough that only Keira could hear him. Her mercy would show them, once and for all, that she was everything they were not, that it was the abomination alone who most embodied the traits the kirin had so much pride in.

In the time between the Hellhound indicating that he was at her command and the young woman giving her answer, nobody moved. Nobody else spoke. A few of them probably didn’t even breathe.


"Keira," Nerys whispered out softly as her friend grabbed her, pulling her from the alter and trying not to trip over the wedding gown. She had managed to pull her wrist out of Keira's grasp and was about to tell Keira that it was okay, that she had made the decision knowing what it meant, however; she was unable to. Caius called for the guards, and immediately, Nerys's eyes widened. She made to make a sound, but nothing came out of her throat. She tried to order the guards to stop, however; her words and voice seemed to fail her. It wasn't until the moment Caius transformed that it made sense. Ephraim was the first to speak, and the words fluttered through Nerys's ears.

A crimson based kirin. He murdered her grandfather? But why? What did her grandfather do to deserve such a fate? Of all the kirin, he had been kind to her, gentle, loving. He had treated her as one of them, like her mother, however; her grandmother was a different story. It was her grandmother who held disdain for her, who disliked her for simply being what she was, and it rubbed off on the other kirin. Caius, had he murdered her grandfather for that sole reason alone? But that didn't make sense to Nerys. Her grandfather had been a just ruler, a fair ruler. At least, that is what she thought for the moments she was here. She could feel the warm tears pulling at the back of her eyes as she watched the crimson kirin charge her and her friends.

Ephraim managed to subdue Caius, and when his eyes met hers, Nerys felt her breath hitch in her throat. She hadn't realized her shoulders were shaking, nor that the tears were streaming down her face. How could he have killed her grandfather? Why would he? Those questions would never find the proper answer, because for once, Nerys felt anger. She felt that burning hatred that had stirred in most people's hearts, and she wanted nothing more than to make the kirin pay for his crimes. And then it subsided. As much as she wanted to, she couldn't do it. She couldn't bring herself to fully hate this kirin, because that was not who she was. She couldn't hate Caius for what he did to her grandfather, and he deserved his fate, however; she wouldn't be the one who spilt more blood. It needed to end.

Instead, she walked, slowly, towards Ephraim, her eyes still glued to Caius. She placed a hand on Ephraim's head before kneeling down and taking Caius' head into her hands, Ephraim's jaws still in place. "You will never be able to retain the white sheen you so desperately wanted to preserve of our kind, but I will not be you. I will not stop Ephraim from doing what he wishes, and if he wishes to kill you, that is his decision. Just know, that I cannot hate you, but I cannot forgive you for what you did to grandfather. We are not creatures of death, we are creatures of life. We do not kill each other for the sake of higher power."

"Is that not the reason we created our own realm? To attain peace, tranquility? To attain a life free of murderous intent, of selfish desires?" she spoke, her voice oddly calm. She was still crying, her tears still burning hotly behind her eyes, but she could not falter now. She leaned forward, and pressed her lips to the crimson colored kirin's head before standing. "I cannot save you, but I can still save them," she finally stated, her eyes meeting Ephraim's in understanding. He would kill Caius, there was no stopping that, and she wouldn't stop him. But she could save the rest of her realm, the rest of her people. They would be spared, because that is what her grandfather would have done.


It would have been easy, terribly easy, just to clamp down a little harder and tear, to remove Caius’s throat from his neck. It was what he wanted to do, even. Ephraim was a killer, created for the purpose, and by nature a creature who enjoyed that. He found a great deal of satisfaction in his violence, in the subjugation of lesser creatures. At least, those who believed themselves greater. From his very first exposure to anyone besides the Arbiter, this had been the most efficient, most natural way to communicate his worth, to prove that he had a right to exist in a world that would sooner have seen him destroyed for being what he was. It was how he validated everything about himself. It was nature, it was habit, it was simple.

And yet… when Nerys stood and backed away, Ephraim’s jaws did not tighten. In fact, they slackened, and he stepped back off of the red kirin with a threatening growl that only indicated that if he tried anything, he’d be dead. Caius stood, but he neither changed forms, nor, at first, spoke. Instead, he moved his head back and forth between Nerys, Ephraim, Keira and Virgil, and the rest of those assembled. “You don’t understand,” he told the half-blood, and his tone, while bitter, was also weary. “The realms beyond move, the gods grow restless, and what waits for us? Nothing but the dominion of other, more violent creatures,” He looked at the Hellhound when he said it, then shook his head. “The first time he came, I knew. We would not be safe from outside influence forever. We can either choose to remain weak and placid, or we can become stronger, strong enough to protect our peace against monsters like him. Your grandfather would have had us remain sitting ducks until they came to conquer. I have never done anything that was not to protect this world. And if I bear this stain and their hatred forever, then so be it.” He lowered his head for just a moment.

“It has certainly made you no weaker to do the same.” Turning, Caius put his back to them and left the gathering, several other kirin scattering out of his way as he passed.

Ephraim stared after him for a moment, then shook his head slightly. Just one more thing that was, at least partially, his fault. He had learned to shoulder such burdens a long time ago, and he had convinced himself that he did not mind them. If death was what it took for him to continue, then death there would be. But now… the Hellhound shifted forms until in the place of the massive canine there stood a tall man in blue, and he turned to Nerys. “If that is all your business here, I think it best that we leave this farce and return to Ningeno. Unless… you wish to remain.” He told himself it wasn’t any of his business if she did.


Nerys lowered her gaze, a painful squeeze passing through her heart when Caius spoke. Perhaps, perhaps that was the way it was to be, however; she knew, had trusted, that her grandfather would have made the right decision. That would never be seen because of the decision Caius spoke. She understood, on some level, that he did what he had to to protect their future. In doing so, he cursed himself to carry that burden for the rest of his life, and he would be marked as an outcast just as she was. But that was a path he chose, never one that she chose. Perhaps there was hope for him to be redeemed. Not saved, but redeemed. She hoped he could. When Ephraim spoke, she turned to face him, wiping the tears from her eyes in the process.

"I want to stay," she answered quickly, but there was a pause. She did, she wanted to stay. She wanted to stay to help her realm out, but there were others who needed her more. If she stayed in this realm, she would only hinder her species, and she did not want that. There was, perhaps, another way to save her realm, but it wouldn't be easy. "But I cannot cripple this realm any longer," she continued. She took a deep sigh, and glanced at the other kirin still present. If Caius was right, if this realm would be invaded, then the best chance the kirin had, as a species, would be to leave. They would have to learn to hide in plain sight, or come to terms with the fact that they were no longer safe.

"If what Caius says is true, this realm is no longer safe, nor are the others. There will be little I can do to protect them. The only way I know how to protect them is to let them be on their own. I want to stay with them, but I cannot. They need to learn how to coexist once more with the others. It is then that they will only be able to truly protect themselves. They did it once before this realm was built, did they not? Besides," she spoke, pausing once more and glanced towards Virgil, then Keira, before finally resting her gaze on Ephraim.

"I wouldn't be able to see my friends, and I do not want to leave you. I want to go home with you," she stated as she closed her eyes and smiled brightly.


Keira had unconsciously moved closer to Virgil; she was anything but comfortable with the level of hostility in a place that was so...nonviolent. She listened to Nerys speak, and when the woman said she would go home with them, she released the breath she hadn't realized she'd been holding. Looking at Nerys, she smiled then.

"Then let's go home."

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ephraim Solomon Character Portrait: Nerys Liacht

Earnings

0.00 INK

Image




Image




The ordeal in Kirino left Nerys a little shaken. Her grandfather had died because of the shift Caius had spoken about, and because of one kirin's fear. Could it have been prevented, if Kirino had never been created? She sighed softly, letting out a huff of air as she glanced up at her ceiling. Even if Kirino had never been created, kirin would still be as vulnerable as they were. It didn't matter where they were; they would always be hunted. And because of their peaceful natures, they would always be weak to protect themselves.

She shook her head, glancing down at the pillow she clutched to. It was not helping her state of mind to stay inside, she needed air. With that in mind, she picked herself up from the couch and exited her apartment. The wind blew in a gentle caress against her skin, the sky painted bright blue, and the sun shined softly in the distance. The weather was pleasant, cool and crisp, and Nerys found her mood instantly lifted, a smile playing at the corners of her lips. She walked along the edges of the town, finding that her legs carried her to the one spot she had always found comfort in. The park was small, a bench occupying the edges of a small pond, with a trail winding around it that led back into River Lake.

She made her way to the deserted bench, pausing to glance into the small pond and smiled. Making the decision, she sat at the waters edge and placed her bare feet into the pond, watching as the fish swam idly by, ignoring her presence before taking interest in her feet. She laughed softly when she felt them nip at her toes and turned her gaze to a pair of turtles sitting on a beached rock. She reached over and plucked one of them up, the smaller of the two, and held it to eye level. She watched as its neck stretched out, meeting her eyes with its own as they held a small staring contest. She blinked slowly, before sighing. She placed the turtle back down and leaned back on her hands, staring up at the sky in the process.

Do you think I made the right decision, grandpa? she thought to herself. She wasn't sure if she had, leaving the kirin to their own fates and allowing Caius to live. She wouldn't regret that decision, however; a part of her wondered if she had made the right decision. It wasn't in her nature to hate someone, no matter how badly they wronged her, or how much they hated her. She wasn't capable of hating someone. Forgiveness, however, was a different story, and much harder to obtain once it has been wronged. Maybe...she shook her head faintly. This was not something she should be second guessing. She made her decision based on what her grandfather would have done, and that was all that mattered...right?

Ephraim, on the other hand, was all too capable of enmity. Perhaps he didn’t hate that often, but that was mostly because he found that few people or things were worth the effort and energy it took to hate properly, not because he found some moral problem in feeling the emotion. He didn’t bother much with morality period, considering that it had no use for him. In the end, he was a tool in the hands of the Arbiter, and the Arbiter was… well, he was the final decision maker on what was right and wrong. The closest thing the universe really had to what most people thought a god should be like. If the Arbiter told him to kill, then it was what he did, simple as that.

But this, as with many other things, had been growing less simple with time, especially in the last year and a half. His certainty in some things was shaking, just a little bit. Not enough that it had produced outward changes in him—at least, not until Kirino. There was a time not so long ago when he would not have hesitated to tear Caius’s head from his body, however well he understood the man’s motives. Not because he was threatening people Ephraim happened to care about, but simply because he could, and that capability was such an entrenched part of his nature that it required no debate or consideration to answer a challenge with a death. It was simply the way of things. It wasn’t like he was destroying the man’s precious soul. Life and death had never been all that important to him, knowing that the cycle never ended for anyone but him anyway. They simply got to live again when he killed them, so why bother caring about that?

That there could be something uniquely worth living in an individual, specific life was something he had never considered, and he was only just beginning to understand.

Ephraim tilted his head upwards slightly, scenting the air in a very canine fashion despite his present humanoid appearance. Her scent was not difficult to pick out—it never had been, and the attempt only grew easier with time. It was familiar, now, in a way that was surprisingly… pleasant. The only reason he’d ever had cause to learn a particular aura or scent well in the past was to know when something was coming that he wanted to be wary of. But this… this was very different. The Hellhound followed the smell, tracking her through the town and to the near edge of the lake. A park surrounded it, and he took a relatively easy, if deceptively swift, pace through it. The edges of him seemed to blur and meld with the shadows as he walked, his natural affinity for the element subtly alluded to in the way he moved with the dark. It wasn’t something he even noticed anymore.

He found her sitting on the edge of the lake, her legs dangling into the water. For a fraction of a moment, Ephraim hesitated, unsure how to approach the situation. He’d known with instinctive certainty that he should seek her out, to determine her condition if nothing else, because like it or not, her condition mattered to him. The seeking had been easy as it always was, but he was rather at a loss as to how to go about the determining. So he treaded to the edge of the lake and sat down beside her, leaving a decent half a foot between them, and crossed his legs beneath him rather than sticking them in the water. It was a few moments before he settled on what to say, and when he did, he wasn’t exactly satisfied, but they would do. “Are you all right, Nerys?”

It was never difficult to know when he was around. It had become almost second nature to her by now, to know he was near. She glanced up in time to see Ephraim sit next to her, and offered him a smile. It was easier to smile in his presence, to draw comfort from it in a way she couldn't explain, but it wasn't unpleasant. She had desired it, often, and though she couldn't pinpoint exactly why, she never thought much more of it. He was comfort in an odd sense, and a part of her almost felt selfish for seeking it out. She pushed the thought out of her mind as she turned back to facing the pond. She pondered his question, thinking of the best way to answer it, but sighed.

"Physically, I am fine," she began, casting her gaze down in the process. "Mentally, I am not so sure. I...I don't know if I made the right decision," she answered, speaking the last part softly, almost too soft to be heard. She couldn't help but feel that she had made the wrong decision to leave. She wanted to stay, she truly did. But how could she stay and be expected to rule a realm she knew almost nothing about? It wouldn't be fair to them, and she couldn't do that. As much as she wanted to, she couldn't bring herself to do it because she wouldn't be leading them at all. She would only make matters worse on herself and them.

"Part of me says I should have stayed, that I should have helped them in another way, but," she paused, taking a slow breath as she glanced over towards Ephraim. "If I had stayed, then I wouldn't be here with you, or Keira and Virgil. I would have remained in the Kirino realm," she spoke, a certain hint of melancholy tainting her voice. "I don't know if I would have been willing to give that up, and I wonder if I made that decision out of selfishness," she continued, pausing to tear her gaze away from him. Had she made that decision out of selfishness? Did she truly have their interests at heart, or was she simply making a decision based on what she felt?

"I know I am not strong, and I know that I don't have a shirei, being half-blooded as I am, but... I can't help but think that I might have made the wrong decision," she spoke, shaking her head in the process. "But...even if I did make the wrong decision, I can't bring myself to take it back, because if I did, that would mean leaving you, Virgil, and Keira. And...and I can't do that," and she wouldn't. These people were her friends, and she needed them more than anything.

He didn’t understand it. She owed them nothing. More than that, they didn’t deserve her kindness, any more than he did. And yet she kept giving it all the same. “Selfishness isn’t all bad,” he said flatly. “If you just keep trying to solve everyone else’s problems all the time, your own will sneak up on you when you least expect it. We’re selfish so that we can remember that there are problems in our own lives that need solving as well.” He wasn’t sure if that was true, but it was certainly a reason she should be more selfish. She would have sacrificed her happiness to help those kirin if she thought she would be of any help, he understood that. It also made him… discontent. Perhaps even a little bit angry with her. That feeling made little sense to him, though, so he didn’t dwell on it for too long.

He digested the rest of what she said, a faint flicker of incredulity passing over his features when she spoke of herself. Not strong? Was she really so blind to herself? He wasn’t sure how he could make her see what he saw, what was really there. Perhaps it would simply be best if he were honest. He wasn’t sure he could be anything else anyway. “Strength is not measured by the caliber of things you can kill, Nerys. It’s… the way you deal with adversity. And in that… I believe you may well be the strongest person I have ever met.” He did not say it to flatter, nor to make her feel better. He said it because it was the truth. He had never met anyone who could keep giving the way she did and not be crushed by it.

“My life would have been much simpler if I’d ever had half the strength you do.” He’d been like her for so long, hated for no other reason than how he was created, what he was. But he’d reacted to it in the weak way, by lashing out with violence against those who would challenge his right to exist. He was realizing this now, and it was why he was no longer so satisfied with the simple fact that he could kill whatever stood in his way. Because it took more strength to show mercy than it did to withhold it. And she had more mercy in her smallest act than he’d ever shown in his entire life.

Ephraim turned himself so that he was facing her side, and a thought occurred to him. If she was concerned that she had not her people’s version of what was considered to be strength, then… “You could have a shirei, if you wanted,” he said simply, then he paused, as though searching her face for something. Really he was searching himself, asking if he had the strength to make a vow of this kind. He knew Kurogami would not like it much—he was supposed to be tied to nothing but the Arbiter. But it was already far too late for that. At first, it had only been Virgil, but… now there were two more to whom he was connected, and she… she was a special case, even among those. Perhaps it was his realization about what it really meant to be strong, but… something compelled him to speak the words that followed.

“I don’t know what goes into forming such an agreement beyond the obvious, but… I would be yours, if you desired it.” His eyes never did leave hers.

She was strong? She was strong because of the way she dealt with adversity? How could that make her strong? He was right; strength wasn't measured just by physicality, or how well one could kill. She knew that, but she wasn't strong in the way he made her out to be. She was weak, she knew that and she accepted it, just as she accepted everything else. Still, it did not stop the small smile that fluttered across her lips as she kicked her feet, gently, through the water. Perhaps, he was right. She should be a little more selfish, but helping others had always made her happy. Even if it meant ignoring her own problems, which were not abundant to her knowledge.

Nerys sighed softly, turning so that she was facing Ephraim again, studying him when he spoke. She blinked, slowly at first. She could have a shirei? How? She wasn't a full-blooded kirin, and it was only they who could make such contracts with the demons. She wouldn't be able to form such a thing with the small amount of kirin blood that ran through her, even if she was half. It wasn't until his offer cleared through the rest of her fog before she registered exactly what he had said. He...was willing to be her shirei? Her shirei? She furrowed her brows together, confusion fluttering across her face as she studied him. He had never lied before, and what reason would he have to lie now?

"You...you'd do that...for me?" she spoke, uncertainty laced in her voice. She couldn't stop the irregular thump in her heart beat at the thought. Truly, he could be someone else's, someone who had more warmth and courage than she did. Someone who was stronger than she was, because that's what shirei did. They chose masters worthy of taming them, not out of random necessity or because a kirin needed the strength. "I--" she began, pausing as doubt continued to run through her. But there it was again, that bout of selfishness that coursed through her, that wanted to say yes. To accept his offer of becoming her shirei, to have him as her shirei.

"A shirei provides what a kirin cannot do. When the kirin dies, the shirei has permission to eat the kirin's body, however; during the course of its life, shirei are bound to servitude. I...do not wish to do that to you, but," she continued, glancing away from his gaze to stare anywhere else but at him. She didn't want to do that to him, because he didn't deserve that, and even though she couldn't really form a contract such as that with him; it would still act as a bonding agreement. It was, in a way, a way to cage, and she had no desire to do that. Especially to him, for a reason she still couldn't fully understand. She turned her gaze back to him, and smiled.

"You are Ephraim, right? You are not a shirei, you are not a youkai. But what you are is my friend," she stated, her smile growing a little more. "I do not need a shirei when I have you as a friend already. That is all I need. You'll still be my friend...right?" she finished. She didn't want a shirei. She wanted her friend.

Ephraim was still while she spoke. Most of the details were things he knew already, though he readily admitted that he had no desire to eat her flesh when she died. In fact, the thought made him feel quite ill. Not simply because of the act involved—he was a predator, after all—but from the thought of her dying at all. It just sat uncomfortably with him. Nor, of course, did he desire complete servitude, but he knew she wouldn’t impose that on him to begin with. It was the general sentiment he’d been after, the idea of compensating for her weaknesses just as she was strong in the places and ways he was not. He’d lived his entire life on a leash; that in and of itself did not bother him. Unrestricted freedom… well, he might be able to handle it now, but in his youth, well, he nearly shuddered to consider what he might have done had he no fetters at all.

Her conclusion was somewhat surprising, though he was getting used to such expressions from her, if indeed one could get used to being so casually called a friend, like it was no problem at all. He thought she’d missed his point a little, but it wasn’t a disaster or anything. He just… “I am not a good person, Nerys,” he said solemnly, shaking his head slightly. “I do not do the right thing simply because it is right. I do not readily sacrifice my own well-being for that of others. I kill readily, without hesitation, and I take pleasure in that kind of violence. I do what I am commanded, or simply what I want. What is right rarely becomes a consideration.” And it was true. What was morality to the servant of the only true judge in the universe? Nobody else really knew what was right or wrong, but by most accepted theories, he wasn’t a good person in the least. It wasn’t a particularly pleasant thing to say, especially not to her, but he wanted her to understand what she was really asking.

Things would have been much simpler if there were some kind of contract, some defined rules about what he was supposed to do. But these notions of friends and things of that nature… they confounded his understanding of what exactly was going on. It didn’t matter what other people thought of him; it wasn’t supposed to. He’d moved past needing the approval of others—needing others at all—a long time ago. Or so he’d thought. He didn’t think he needed this, whatever it was, but… he cared about it, at least a little. Maybe that was why it felt like she needed to understand this about him. “If we are to continue to be… friends… you should know this. I am not the kind of friend you should want to have, or admit to having. Other people will think less of you, or think you manipulated or deceived… and they would not necessarily be wrong.” It was entirely the fault of things beyond her control that he was even here in the first place, after all.

The smile she had been wearing turned upside down until it was a full frown. If one were to pass by, they'd think her silly for pouting. She couldn't understand it, why, anyone really, could see themselves as such. Maybe she was being hypocritical, often thinking of herself in such negative ways to begin with, but she couldn't see why he saw himself as such. There were many forms of what was right, and what was wrong. She knew that much, often trying to do what was right even if it might seem wrong to her. It was just who she was. And if that was who he was, then perhaps they were not so different in some ways.

"I am used to people thinking lesser of me, Ephraim. I grew up with others thinking of me as nothing but an abomination, something that should not have existed and something that should still not exist. What difference would it make if I consider you my friend? They will always think lesser of me. If I am being manipulated and deceived, then it is because I am choosing to be so," she spoke, her voice stronger than usual. There was a small bout of fire behind her eyes as she stared at him. She didn't care, oddly, if people thought lesser of her for being his friend, because they didn't matter to her like he did. She shook her head softly and glanced away.

"And you don't have to be a good person. Violence...might not be in my nature, and killing is definitely be against my nature, however; if that is what makes you who you are, what right does anyone have to change that?" she continued, her frown tilting to just a purse of her lips. She would accept him for who he was, because that is what she did. She accepted everyone for everything, no matter what they might have done, or who they might have wronged. And he would be no different. If it was in his nature to be violent, to revel in killing other things, she would accept it. She would accept it because she wanted to, because he was her friend. And he mattered to her.

"I don't know why, but...you," she paused slightly, unsure of how to say this. How did you tell someone they mattered to you without it coming out as something completely different? "If that is what it takes to be your friend, Ephraim, then I will do it. I will do it because you matter to me, like Keira and Virgil, but...differently than they do," she finally stated, fidgeting in her spot in the process. She wasn't sure if that sounded like what she had intended to say. She could only hope it did.

Ephraim’s face blanked completely for a moment, largely because he wasn’t sure how to interpret that, exactly. He was fairly certain she didn’t know, either, so what he took from it was simple. “You’re still too nice,” he said bluntly, but it wasn’t so much an admonishment as an observation. She claimed not to want to change him, and he believed her. He desired that she’d at least try thinking of herself more often, but if it really wasn’t in her to do that, he would accept it in return. Shaking his head slightly, he stood fluidly, the motion disguising a bit of sleight-of-hand. He doubted she would notice until he was already gone, but there was a small new weight in her pocket. “But I suppose accepting that is no great chore. Just… look after yourself, please.”

He wasn’t really one for polite requesting, but clearly, the more direct method of telling her to do it was out of the question. She was remarkably stubborn about some things. Rolling his shoulders, Ephraim settled his hands into the pockets of the coat he was always wearing, sighing softly through his nose. “And try not to keep your feet in the water for too long. You’re looking after yourself next time you have a cold.” His gruff tone was belied by the slightest twitch to his lips—why he was in such a good mood all of a sudden, he didn’t precisely comprehend, but he wasn’t one of those people who needed to analyze absolutely everything, so he just let it be.

“See you around, Nerys.”

Nerys smiled when he spoke, allowing her face to scrunch up in the process. "I'll try. Looking after myself more I mean," she stated, watching as he stood to leave. Her smile only widened when he spoke of her not catching a cold, and she couldn't keep the light chuckle from escaping her. "Then I'll just have to not catch a cold this time," she replied, watching as he left. She blinked softly shifting her hand into her pocket and frowned slightly. She pulled the object from her pocket and her eyes widened slightly. She thought the object had long been bought by someone. She felt her eyes water slightly as the smile brightened on her face.


"Not everything has to have a use," she echoed his words before placing the pendant around her neck, keeping it close to her heart in the process.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ephraim Solomon Character Portrait: Virgil Solomon Character Portrait: Nerys Liacht Character Portrait: Keira Mizuki

Earnings

0.00 INK

Image
Image




Keira sighed, looking up at the medical building in front of her. It had been two weeks since they'd returned from Kirino, and it had only been yesterday that she'd remembered her appointment. As such, she'd simply told Nerys that she needed the day off and had given no other explanation. She'd even taken her medication, and she could feel her power being stemmed. That bothered her, more than she cared to admit.

With a sigh, she left about an hour later; she'd passed, just as she always did. Even so, she really did not like how she felt. She felt...normal. She couldn't sense anything like she normally could, or even see ghosts like normal. She shivered slightly. She just needed to go home and sleep.

She never made it home.




A woman, one who looked an awful lot like Keira stood in front of the forest. She'd been searching for the Kirin-girl, but had been unable to pinpoint her location. The woman frowned then, her eyes an eerie blue. She'd been surprised, it had been so very easy to possess the god-blooded one. But then again, modern medicine was an amazing thing, really. Those who were not normally susceptible to possession would be easily possessed under the influence of the drug she'd ingested earlier.

After searching her memories it became clear that the kirin-girl ran a bakery in town, and that would be the best place to find her. Unfortunately, there were also the Hellhound and a Kitsune nearby. They would complicate things if she wasn't careful.


As fortune would have it, Virgil had been training Nerys in the forest that very afternoon. Ephraim was at the office, taking care of a backlog of artifacts, trying to get them sorted by realm and region of origin, a bit of a task, when many of them had been warped far past their original form and use. But this was part of their job, too, and they had to make an effort at it where possible. Fortunately, it was not Virgil’s turn to deal with that task.

He strode through the forest at an efficient clip, though not too fast. He’d left Nerys picking flowers in a clearing, though she’d promised to catch up so they could take the walk back to town together. He’d been considering stopping and waiting for her, at least until he felt Keira’s aura entering the wood. Well, to be more precise, it was partially Keira’s aura, and partially something other. She seemed suppressed in comparison, and his eyes narrowed. There were only a few things that could mean and none of them were good. So the fox hastened, drawing to a stop in front of the creature using the young woman’s body.

Now how had this happened? They’d spent several weeks on just avoiding possession, a task which should have been relatively simple for her anyway, considering the godsblood she possessed. He could sense strong malevolence from the spirit, but as it usually was, Virgil’s instinctive reaction was to smile. There was no joy in it, of course, but it was rather bright all the same. “Well, well, well. And what have we here?” he asked, his tone nothing more than idly curious. He folded his arms into his sleeves, spiking his aura slightly. It served two purposes, the first and primary one being to alert Ephraim to focus in on what was happening here. The second was purely for intimidation. One did not meddle lightly in the affairs of youkai of Virgil’s stature, not if one was wise.


The spike in the youkai's aura elicited a chuckle to emerge from the woman, her tones much darker than normal, maliciousness laced into her words. She could not ignore his presence or aura, as he was a bit higher than she'd expected. She sighed through her nose softly. If her master had known about this one, she wouldn't have been sent alone.

Or...

She was meant as a sacrificial pawn. She grinned then, clearly seeing the girl's memories. This one was...important to the girl. How delightful. She could at least have some fun before she died.

"I believe it's a thing called possession, Handsome. Oh?" She giggled then, a slight look of surprise flashing across her face. At Virgil's aura, Keira's own aura had flared, just slightly. "Oh my. She really does like you...even with the lovely little pills helping me, she's still able to fight me with you around. How adorable."


Virgil’s eyebrow ascended his forehead, the smile on his face turning several shades darker. Everyone likes me, dear. Even the people that would rather hate me. So really, it has more to do with her own stubbornness than anything I’m doing.” Not that he wasn’t in, his own admittedly somewhat twisted fashion, glad to hear it, even if it was from a malevolent spirit currently possessing the person in question. He had a feeling he could use his own aura to draw Keira’s out if necessary, but that was a risk to her, one he wasn’t going to take until it was absolutely necessary. Judging from the corresponding spike in Ephraim’s, the Hound had understood what Virgil had communicated, and was even now locating a way to solve the problem.

All he had to do was stop the spirit from damaging Keira before his brother arrived. “And she is rather adorable, isn’t she? You’ll understand then, why it’s rather imperative that she remain unharmed,” the last word lost all pretense of pleasantness, and was instead delivered in a still-smooth, but dangerously-dark tone. He wouldn’t mind taking his time destroying this one if that was what it took to get the point across. And if there was one thing Virgil was good at, it was taking his time, applied across a wide range of things, really. Patience was a virtue, after all.


Two weeks into returning from Kirino, and Nerys resumed her training. Currently, she was with Virgil, improving her telepathy, which wasn't much, however; it proved to be a bit useful when reading the right minds. She hummed under her breath, picking another flower to weave into the flower crown in her hands. Virgil had left her to her own accord, which currently meant she was picking flowers. She was done for the day in her training and since they were in the forest, she had wanted to collect a few flowers to make crowns for her friends. For Keira, she had made one, a daisy chain, out of daisies. For Virgil, she had made one out of the amaryllis' that were bloomed in a creamy, yellow color. And for Ephraim, she was currently working on his.

She had debated whether or not to use camellia flowers, however; her face had turned a bright shade of pink when she remembered the meaning behind the flower. Though, perhaps she was the only one who read into things like that, she had eventually decided against using the flower. She was reaching for another when her body froze, a strong sense of paralysis flowing through her as her eyes widened. This feeling, it was odd. She couldn't feel aura's as the others could, however; she could still feel something was wrong. Her head snapped in the direction it was coming from, and immediately she was up. Her legs carried her as quickly as they could towards the area where she had felt the change.

"Keira?" her voice called out softly as she spotted Virgil and Keira standing in front of her. She was closer to Virgil and she made to stand by his side. "Vivi, what's wrong with Keira?" she questioned, noticing her friend's oddly blue eyes. Her eyes narrowed somewhat as she glanced at Keira, noticing that her soul didn't quite look as it usually did. It was darker, a deep blue almost covered completely in a black substenance, and Nerys frowned.


The spirit laughed again. "Oh, how disappointing. It's the little kirin girl. It's too bad I couldn't have come across you on your own." She smiled that wicked grin again, her blue eyes roaming from Nerys to Virgil, where they lingered. "I'll admit that the girl is stubborn, for sure. But she never tried to fight me until you showed up, Handsome. So, yes, it is you."

She giggled again before backflipping up into the tree. She closed her eyes, and when she reopened them, they were a deep, midnight black, with no distinguishable iris or pupil. Her grin etched wider as she tapped her chin with a clawed finger. "So, you said something about the girl remaining unharmed? Seems a bit difficult, I'm not too careful with my toys." As she spoke, the claw moved downward and across her throat, the line of red welling up, a stark contrast to her pale skin. It wasn't deep enough to actually kill her, but it certainly wasn't shallow, either.


Virgil’s smile never faltered, and indeed, he didn’t move much, his hands remaining inside his sleeves even when the creature taunted Nerys and then jumped into the tree. There was little indication of what he planned on doing at all, actually, save a little tilt to his head. His eyes closed for just a moment, making his expression about as foxlike as a human expression could be, but when they opened again, they were no longer blue. “Wrong answer,” he said mildly, though what happened next was anything but mild.

To the outside observer, it would appear that Keira’s body had been engulfed in blue-white flames, licking up from her feet and climbing viciously all the way to the crown of her head, but what was happening was not something so straightforwardly physical. Indeed, the sensation of it was, to the skin, something more like a gentle caress, slightly warm but nowhere near the temperature required to burn. What it was doing to the soul was another matter. Foxfire had a number of interesting applications for those old enough and adept enough to use it this way. What Virgil was doing was not an exorcism—he was not simply removing the spirit from Keira’s body with an application of power. There was no particular compulsion in the ability; the wench did not have to leave.

What he was doing was something more like torture.

He was simply burning the foreign soul, as one might burn a body, but much more painfully. He could not destroy it utterly, but he could reduce it to something lesser, drive the spirit even further out of its mind, eat away at the rational faculties until it was no more intelligent than a mouse or a stone. And that’s what he was doing,; though the process was slow, he’d never met anything that could endure it for long. This creature was no exception, and when it fled Keira’s body, the flame followed it rather than staying with her. He changed its nature then, switching to destroying the ethereal form instead, until what was left was only soul-stuff.

It was then that Ephraim showed up, an object in one hand that looked like a Buddhist monk’s ringed staff. This one bore strange, arcane markings along the wooden haft. The Hellhound took one look at the scene even as Virgil moved to catch Keira, who was falling out of the tree, and sighed slightly. “Would it have killed you not to provoke her?” Now he had to ferry yet another soul back to the Arbiter, and he knew for a fact that his master was not terribly pleased with him right now. Ephraim wasn’t afraid, but all the same, he would have rather avoided the fresh disappointment he was about to encounter.

“Mm… maybe,” Virgil replied carelessly, raising an eyebrow at his brother. “I’ll leave you to the joyless task of interdimensional courier, Eph. In the meantime, Nene and I shall get Keira home. Do have fun in Chuno.”

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Virgil Solomon Character Portrait: Keira Mizuki

Earnings

0.00 INK



Image

Image



As soon as they’d gotten back to Keira’s apartment and tended her wounds, Virgil had reassured Nerys that he could take care of the rest, and had settled the god-blooded down on her bed and spent a bit of time wandering the home. Other than the redecorated walls, the place was starting to show other signs of repair and redesign as well, and he took in the new touches with some amusement. He was considering whether or not to settle himself for a short nap on the couch—and was leaning towards yes, because there was a nice column of sunlight right there that looked rather inviting—when he heard a small noise from the bedroom.

He frowned slightly, his keen ears picking up on it immediately, and padded into the space, eyes narrowing when he noted that Keira appeared to be in the throes of another nightmare. Not exactly surprising, since possession often forced one to confront the most uncomfortable parts of one’s mind. And she had a lot of discomfort and trauma to deal with. He may not regularly make indication that he knew, but he did. It wasn’t terribly hard to guess, and some of the things she’d said over time had filled in the blanks such that he actually had a rather complete picture of her life by this point. It was far from a sunny portrait, unfortunately.

Virgil waited for a few moments, leaned against the doorframe, wondering if she would wake on her own. But though she still moved around too much, she did not come out of her sleep. The fox was considering just waking her, but she would need to sleep off what happened, and he was unsure she would do so if she knew he was around. He did, after all, make her rather nervous, and it was not an unjustified feeling, he would admit. He’d done it quite intentionally. Still… a wicked smile that nobody saw appeared on his face as a different idea came to him. Keira’s aura was fluctuating slightly with her dreams. Chances were, if he could use his own to calm it, and whatever effects the drugs the spirit had mentioned were having on it, she would sleep peacefully.

He could do that from the next room, if he thought about it, but where was the fun in that? Instead, Virgil toed his shoes off and tugged the tie from his long silver-blond hair, loosing it around his shoulders and down his back. It was not terribly difficult to settle himself beside her, and she stilled quite quickly given the proximity of his ki to hers, which allowed him to band an arm around her waist and pull her flush against him. Her body temperature was naturally lower than his, given his affinity to fire, so she was pleasantly cool, in truth. Virgil curled around her, tucking his chin upon her crown on the bed’s only pillow. Spotting a leftover stuffed animal in one corner of the room, his lips twitched into a smile before he allowed himself to slip off into a light doze.

He was only peripherally aware of the fact that while he slept, his hold on his human disguise weakened, and her presence banished the rest of it entirely, so that when she woke, it was to a sleeping Virgil that looked a little different from usual, nine pristine white tails tossed haphazardly about the both of them, an ear that occasionally twitched in his own dreams, and a canine tooth poking from beneath his upper lip.


Keira was, in fact, having another nightmare; but she wasn't truly afraid. More or less, she was angry, and it was at herself. She'd been stupid, and allowed this to happen. She was only thankful that the others hadn't been hurt. Her brows furrowed as she felt something; it was as if something were calming her from the outside. Instinctively she reached for it in her sleep, curling herself towards it. Whatever it was, it was...warm.

She wasn't sure how long she stayed like that; she wasn't dreaming in this state. It had perhaps been a few hours, and her eyes slowly opened. At first, she wasn't really aware of what was different, but there was something...furry draped over her legs. At first she thought it was Nari and Kami, but then she registered that whatever it was, it was too large. Not to mention that what was around her waist was an arm.

Her eyes shot open, slight panic taking her over before she forced herself to breathe, and then she just sort of...froze. She could feel her face turning a bright shade of crimson. What on earth was going on? And why was Virgil in her bed? Finally she seemed to be able to move, and she placed both of her hands against his chest, pushing him away from her.

"What are you doing?!"


In truth, his dozing was interrupted as soon as she woke up, having twisted herself around in his grip so that she was facing him. When she started to struggle, though, he cracked open first one glittering eye, and then the other, blinking down at her as though this sort of thing were an everyday occurrence. Let it never be said that Virgil Solomon could not choose his appearances well. He raised an eyebrow, almost coolly, but the warm, liquid quality of the gold in his irises didn’t quite let it seem so. “Well, I was taking a very pleasant nap,” he said slyly. “Now, however, I am being reprimanded for my choice of location.” he tactfully refrained from mentioning that he’d actually done it at least partially out of a desire to help her sleep. The point was to make her capitulate of her own free will, not because she felt she owed him anything. The push-and-pull beforehand would simply take as long as it took, and he was fine with that.

She was quite a challenge, actually, but he knew that it was often the things one had to wait for that were the things most worth experiencing.

He didn’t let her go, exactly, but he did loosen his hold so that she could establish some distance if she wanted it. His free hand, however, found one of the hands currently braced against him and lifted it, pressing a chaste kiss to the palm. “Now… would you care to tell me how someone trained in resisting possession was overcome by such a weak spirit? It mentioned pharmaceuticals of some kind?” The question was light, but pointed. There was something here that she had not told the rest of them, and while he thought he could fill in the missing pieces on his own, he would rather she explained it in her fashion first. Not that he was planning on making it so straightforward, of course; this was perhaps evident by the fact that he took the opportunity to move a dexterous thumb in slow circles over the pulse point in her wrist, smiling a bit to himself at the evidence of her current heart rate. He licked the spot, feeling the minute contractions and expansions of the artery, nipping softly at the delicate skin. Even the strong humans were so fragile—there was something fascinating about it, he would readily admit.


Keira's eyes narrowed into a glare as Virgil answered; she'd expected that answer from him, at least something like it. She fought back a sigh, and only glared more when he brought her hand up to his lips. For a few seconds she held his eyes with hers, intent on not answering. But she couldn't simply ignore him either.

So instead, she looked away from him, the crimson on her cheeks deepening. "I've told you already, they don't just let sociopathic schizophrenics wander around, they only let me out because I was good. I don't take the medication because it messes with my abilities, but I have to take it once a year because they test me. If I don't pass the annual test, then they lock me up again. And I'm not getting locked up again." She silently wished he would at least let her go; it wasn't easy for her think straight when he was this close to her.


As usual, however, Virgil was inclined in the opposite direction of thinking, and had rather decided that they were not close enough. Using the hand he was still holding, he drew the rest of her closer to his person, then rolled them both a quarter turn so that he was braced with hands on either side of her shoulders, and leaned down to nibble at the shell of her ear. He had to be more careful in this form than the usual one, because many of his teeth were sharp rather than blunt, but this was something at which he was long practiced. “Hm,” he hummed beside her ear. “Next time, tell me. I do have the ability to craft illusions, lovely. You are always welcome to take advantage of what I have to offer.” The entendre was thick in his tone, its second meaning reinforced by the fact that he placed an open-mouthed kiss to the spot just beneath the lobe of her ear, where it met her jawline.

“And how long is it that these… medications typically last?” He certainly had no intentions of leaving her alone to deal with whatever came of weakened defenses and overall a much stronger aura than she’d had in the earlier years of her life. It was a disaster waiting to happen, as this afternoon had almost demonstrated.


She wanted to fight him, to tell him to leave her be, to stop. She wanted to tell him that she didn't need his help. But the words would not come, no matter how hard she tried.

Because in the end, she did want this, him. But she wanted something that she shouldn't have; it wasn't smart, and it wasn't...her mind drew a blank there, and she shivered when she felt him kiss her underneath her ear. He shouldn't be doing this, she shouldn't be allowing him to do this. Her mind and judgement clouded over, and she hadn't even realized that she'd looped her arms around his neck until he'd spoken, dragging her back into reality.

The desire, the need, the heat, it was worse than it had been before, and she was afraid of it. She was afraid of what she would become if she let it consume her. Unfortunately, the less rational side of her no longer seemed to care, and the answer was tumbling out of her mouth before she'd even made up her mind.

"Anywhere from twelve to thirty hours, depending on the ingestor's metabolism rate." She was surprised at how breathless she sounded.


Virgil paused in what had become a downward trail of kisses along her neck, smiling against the skin of her throat. “Is that so? It does rather sound like we need to up your metabolism, lovely. We could, of course, go train if it suits you.” He drew back as far as her arms would let him, raising an eyebrow. His smirk was almost dark, but his eyes were perhaps best described as burning. The urge to consume was a strong one, and it had many faces. This was one of his favorite aspects, really. No, it was assuredly the favorite.

The fox’s tongue wet his lips with deliberate slowness, and his eyes never left Keira’s grey ones. “But I had something rather different in mind.” Leaning back in, he hovered a centimeter from her mouth. “I can promise you’ll enjoy yourself, darling, but if you wish me to stop, you need only say so.” He wasn’t oblivious to her insecurities, but this was something that Virgil did very well. And, done properly, it could and did make people more confident and assertive in themselves and with others. It certainly wasn’t the reason he was so interested, but nevertheless, being a good lover required a certain amount of generosity, and when the mood took him, he could be very giving, indeed.

The kiss he gave her was backloaded with a year’s worth of blistering, consuming heat, and he was not shy about the things he could do with lips, teeth, and tongue. He fully intended to steal the breath right from her lungs—he rather liked the way she sounded when she seemed to be missing it. Virgil’s hair spilled over his shoulders, curtaining them from view of the room, and with a shift in his weight, he freed one of his hands and trailed it down her side to rest on her hip. Moving back just a pair of inches, he smiled. Not a smirk, not a grin, just an actual, genuine smile. Of course, he was still a fox, and there was a lot of mischief in it, but there it was all the same.

“So, lovely… what’s it going to be? What do you desire?”


"I want you."


There had been no hesitation, no thought, no preparation. She'd simply answered, her voice husky, her eyes dark with desire. Desire for him. Everywhere he'd touched her, she burned, and it felt as if she were being burned alive. She moved one of her hands to slide her fingers through his silken locks. It was as if her reservation, her hesitation, had flown out the window; she didn't care if she was scared, or if it wasn't smart. She cared about nothing, she knew nothing. Nothing but him.

"I only want you, Virgil." she murmured, drawing herself up to meet him, this time kissing him.


To say that Virgil was pleased would be quite the understatement. “Well then, lovely, it is I you shall have.” The wandering hand found its way beneath the hem of her shirt, and he decided he was going to see just how many times she could be coerced to say his name in one night.

He’d always loved a challenge.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ephraim Solomon Character Portrait: Virgil Solomon Character Portrait: Nerys Liacht Character Portrait: Keira Mizuki

Earnings

0.00 INK

Image




Image




After waking up and realizing just what exactly had happened, Keira had had something akin to a meltdown. She'd all but thrown Virgil out of her apartment, and then had spent perhaps a good hour and a half in the shower, standing under the hot water. What on earth had she done? How had she let it get this far out of hand?

She sighed, heavy and deep, and then she dragged herself back into her bedroom. She shivered at the sight of her bed, and then turned away. She pulled on an outfit that was a bit dressier than normal for her, a blouse that was slightly low-cut with a pair of jean shorts. Without a second though, she dialed Nerys's number.

She needed a distraction, and she wasn't going out drinking alone.


Nerys sat upon her couch, dressed in a simple black tank top and a pair of khaki shorts. It had been a few weeks since the ordeal in Kirino and she had finally settled back into her normal routine. She still felt an ache, a pull to go back to Kirino. She had wanted to go back, to make sure everything was okay within the realm, that it had not fallen apart without her, however; she stayed in Ningeno. The kirin were smart creatures, they would figure out how to be on their own. The sound of her phone startled her out of her couch, falling onto the carpeted floor in the process. She blinked a few times and glanced at the caller I.D., a bright smile pulling at her lips.

Immediately, Nerys was out of the door and headed towards Keira's apartment. Something had happened, though she didn't particularly say what, and Nerys was concerned for her friend. To say that they had found themselves inside the local bar was an understatement. Keira had managed to convince Nerys to go with her for a drink since Keira did not want to be alone. And being the creature she was, Nerys couldn't refuse and went along, however; she had a cup of water in her hands as she rubbed her thumb over the glass. She stared at it for a few seconds, watching Keira from the corners of her eyes down her first drink.

"Do...do you want to talk about it? You don't have to, I understand if you don't, but...it might be easier if you did," she stated, giving Keira a concerned stare. It was probably nothing horrible, however; she wanted to make sure with her friend first.


Keira sat with her legs crossed and a scowl on her face as she went through three beers. She'd never actually drank before, but honestly, this stuff wasn't that bad; certainly better than the fruity shit she'd tried a few years ago. There was a slight buzzing in the back of her head, and it was pleasant, like a promise to make her forget, or perhaps make it easier to accept.

She needed to simply put it behind her; the problem was her heart didn't want to let her. She sighed then, staring t the fourth glass in her hand. "I made a mistake and let things get out of hand, is all. Now I just need to forget it happened." Being the telepath or whatever it was that she was, Nerys would be able to pick up the pieces of what she'd not said, because she couldn't stop thinking about it. The way he'd held her, the way he'd made her feel, the way it had felt to say his name. Irritated, she downed the glass, ordering another.


Nerys listened to what Keira said, a brow ascending her forehead as she stared at Keira in confusion. She wasn't one to pry, and usually Nerys left someone's thoughts unattended to. She had no business in someone's head, however; Nerys wanted to help her friend. And in order to do that, she needed to fully understand what her friend was experiencing. She sighed softly, and opened her mind to Keira's. What she found immediately caused her face to feel as if it were on fire, and Nerys took the first drink of something that wasn't her water. It burned the back of her throat, however; the taste was a little sweet. She ordered another one before she turned to Keira.

"Do you love him?" she questioned telepathically. She didn't want to converse such an intimate matter out in the open, what Keira had to say was her business. It was a personal question, she knew. But if Keira did love him, it would make accepting what had happened between them easier. "I...I don't know much about love, but...I know that if you love him, then you shouldn't let yourself think of it as a mistake. What happened between the two of you, I don't think you wouldn't have let it go that far if you didn't love him," she continued. She could be wrong, however; the confusion that swirled around Keira told her otherwise. She smiled softly against her drink.

"It's...not a bad thing, though, Keira. I mean, it's not a bad thing if you do. I understand it can be scary, feeling something for someone in a way we can't describe. I..." she paused in her thought. Did she know that feeling too? She lifted her eyes from her drink and stared towards the door, half expecting them to walk through, but shook her head. "I know that it is terrifying to let someone in that way, and I can only imagine how hard it is for you to feel that, but don't...don't be afraid of it. Don't be afraid to love him. It...love can be a powerful thing and maybe...maybe one day it can save us," she finished, noticing the appearance of certain spots in her vision. How many drinks did she have?


Keira made an indecent noise as she snorted through her nose. By now, she was perhaps five drinks in, and since she didn't weigh all that much, it was beginning to hit her. "It's not that it isn't easy, it's that it's impossible. Everyone who ever cares about me leaves, in the end. My mother died, my father abandoned me; though honestly, he might have never loved me in the first place."

She glared down at her drink, as if expecting it to suddenly vanish, like all the people around her seemed to. "Even you were going to leave...so I can't..." She shook her head, trying to clear it slightly. "I can't just admit that I love him. Because then he'll disappear, too." In the end, she was fairly certain that she did love him, and she could risk telling him. She just couldn't.


She...was afraid? Afraid that he would leave her? Nerys pulled her lips into a frown. Had she really hurt Keira that much by almost staying in Kirino? If she had known, she would...wouldn't what? She wouldn't have even considered staying in Kirino? She would have stayed with Keira, with Vivi, with Ephraim. She would have stayed with them all if she had known that was how Keira felt, and it hurt. It hurt so much that it felt as if she were being impaled over and over in the heart with a hot sword, and it hurt. She felt like crying, because she had hurt her friend this way, and she hadn't meant to. She stared hard into her glass, fighting back the tears before wiping at her eyes with the back of her hand.

"I'm so sorry, Keira. I never...If I had known I would have never," she spoke, grabbing Keira into a hug, and burying her head into the girl's shoulder. "But see, it's because I didn't know. I didn't know that that's how you felt. You can't...you can't keep bottling up what you feel. I won't disappear, I promise. I'll never leave you again. You, or Virgil or Ephraim," she continued, squeezing Keira a little harder in the process. Once she released Keira, she smiled brightly at the girl, grabbing her hand and pulling her with her towards the open floor. The music was low, but loud enough to hear it, and Nerys continued smiling.

"Let's dance!"


Keira's eyes went wide when Nerys hugged her, but ultimately smiled slightly. "We got you to come back, and that's what matters." she said roughly. She was surprised again, however, when Nerys tugged her along to the dance floor. "But I...don't...oh never mind." She sighed, her head spinning. Dancing probably wasn't the smartest idea at the moment, but if Nerys wanted to dance, then she would dance.




About an hour later, Keira was back at the bar with her head in her arms. She'd been correct; dancing was not the smartest option. Nerys, who was not quite as drunk as Keira was, had asked the bartender to call Ephraim and Virgil, while Keira feebly protested. She didn't want to see Virgil, especially not while she was drunk.


Virgil received said phone call with a little more glee than was strictly appropriate for someone essentially being dragged out to a bar to drunk-sit, but then… he’d never exactly been typical. It was with much reluctance and some grumpiness that Ephraim agreed to come with, mostly swayed by Virgil pointing out that “protection” had a very definite meaning in cases like this. There were any number of unsavory things that could happen to an intoxicated woman walking home alone at night, even in a town this small. It was in this manner that both of the Solomon brothers soon found their way into the town’s one bar, where the friendly bartender pointed them in the direction of their evening’s charges.

Keira didn’t look her best, all things considered, slumped over the counter with her head in her hands. Nerys seemed a little better, but definitely also drunk. The women smelled a little like a distillery, but that was partially the bar itself. Virgil smiled his usual foxlike smile, but Ephraim was frowning, though that was also quite normal for them. Virgil folded his arms across his chest, being absent of sleeves wide enough to place them into, and glanced sideways at his brother, who was currently getting a few wary looks from half-drunk patrons, his hands shoved deep into the pockets of his coat.

“Well, well, well… rough night, ladies?” The fox asked, amusement laced into the words.


By the time she finished dancing, Nerys was laughing and smiling brightly at just about anyone. She had called Virgil to come retrieve her and Keira because it would be safer. She would have called her father, however; her first instinct was to call them. Not that she minded, she enjoyed their company. She had danced with at least three other patrons by the time Virgil and Ephraim arrived, having bowed out of the next dance to slide up to the two. She offered them a bright smile, and linked her arm with Ephraims's, grabbing hold of Virgil's other arm as well. She blinked owlishly up at Virgil, tilting her head to the side as she regarded him with a confused look.

"Long night? It's not even...oh wait it is," she started, glancing out of the windows to notice the sun had indeed set a while ago. "But you are here!" she stated, releasing Virgil's arm and latching fully onto Ephraim's. "You know I love you right!?" she stated towards the both of them, though her gaze never left Ephraim's form. She crunched her nose up, a broken smile on her face as she stepped onto the tips of her toes, placing a chaste kiss upon Ephraim before reeling back down, the smile only brightening. She blinked once. Twice.

By the fifth blink, Nerys' face was sporting a rather interesting red color as it registered what she had just did, and said. She quickly released Ephraim's arm and jumped behind Virgil. "I'm sorry!" she quickly apologized, trying to disappear in Virgil's back. What did she just do?


If Virgil was somewhat amused when Nerys misheard him and started latching onto arms, he was positively delighted when she unexpectedly stood on her toes and kissed his brother full on the mouth. Granted, it was rather tame as such things went, but the shock value was the funny part, especially considering the fact that it actually registered on Ephraim’s face, as a widening of the eyes, and he took a step backwards, regarding the reddening woman with a slight frown.

The fox had to admit, though, he was quite disappointed with Ephy’s reaction. “Nerys, you’re drunk,” he said, his voice flat, and then he sighed, which was admittedly more than most ever got out of him but still decidedly not what Virgil was hoping to see there. Really. His brother could be so very dull at times. “You need to go home.” And drink a lot of water, else she would be feeling positively awful the next morning, and it was already questionable if she’d be remembering any of this tomorrow.

The fox glanced over and down at the girl trying to hide herself behind him and chuckled. “He is rather correct, dearheart.” Virgil contributed, laying a hand on her head. “I think perhaps you’ve had enough fun for one night, hm? The both of you have,” he added, glancing over at Keira. He’d been unsurprised that she’d thrown him out of her home the morning after their little liaisons, but a little disappointed all the same. He would much rather have stayed, but alas, not everyone processed change the way he did. He was, however, distinctly disinterested in a repeat encounter in her current state. Virgil had never found intoxication enticing, because taking advantage of a person in such a state smacked of desperation, and he was many things, perhaps, but desperate had never been one of them.


Keira, even in her drunken state, still knew exactly when Virgil entered the premises. She'd always been aware of him, but this...was unsettling, to say the least. How she seemed to know when he moved, where he was in relation to her position. It irritated her, honestly. So when he spoke to them, she picked her head up and glared at him, and without a second thought her hand cracked across his face.

"Asshole."


Virgil blinked. He’d seen the hit coming, of course, but that didn’t mean he’d moved out of the way. He’d have probably knocked Nerys on her rear end if he’d moved that fast with her clinging to him, and also drunk. There was some force in the hit, but it didn’t appear to faze him overmuch, and indeed, he tilted his head faintly to the side. “Am I now?” he inquired lazily, raising a brow. “Well, I’ve been called worse. Ephy, I think perhaps you should take lovely here. I do not believe she will consent to walking with me, at present. I’ll make sure our darling Nene makes it back to hers, no?” Much as he would love to be a fly on the wall for the very awkward interactions that would result from forcing Ephraim to take Nene, he was telling the truth. Keira was in no state to deal with him at the moment, and though he was capable of being things other than insufferable, now was not the time.

Ephraim pursed his lips, glancing between the two of them, then nodded. “Very well. Make sure she gets enough water, Virgil.” The kitsune only smiled.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ephraim Solomon Character Portrait: Virgil Solomon Character Portrait: Nerys Liacht Character Portrait: Keira Mizuki

Earnings

0.00 INK

#, as written by Asilian
Image
Image




The Hollow Point was tearing wider.

The process was slow by human standards, perhaps—at the rate it was currently going, Ephraim supposed it would be large enough to allow even a god through in perhaps two more years. The problem was, he doubted it would continue at the current rate—the growth was exponential, not constant, and that was a problem. It was erratic, so putting an estimate on the time that remained was difficult, but he could say with near certainty that he had less than two years to figure out just what to do about it. Usually, clearing out whatever came through was sufficient for the rift to mend itself, or else a shinigami like he could stabilize it and Kurogami himself would perform a minor miracle to close the tear. But something was interfering, both with his efforts to stabilize it and also with the Arbiter’s attempts to banish it entirely.

And things were still coming through.

It was not at all usual, and the fact that whatever was on the other end of this phenomenon was both undetectable to him and strong enough to interfere with both his own power and Kurogami’s at once… he wasn’t sure he knew of any singular being in the known worlds who could do that, which meant that either it was many powerful creatures working in concert, or… even he knew not what. Whatever the case, it was resulting in more frequent incursions. Most of them were nothing too difficult, neither for himself and Virgil nor for what his brother had dubbed the trainee team, consisting of Nerys and Keira. In order to make it easier on all of them, they’d taken to patrolling in shifts, because the appearance of creatures was frequent enough to warrant regular patrols now, but usually things were not bad enough to require more than two people to dispatch.

For the past month or so, those patrols had consisted of himself or Virgil during the day, and then either himself and Keira or Virgil and Nerys at night, followed by a team effort by the Solomons in the most dangerous part of the sleeping hours, just in case. It also meant that the two women put in about an average of five hours every two days, which was not overtaxing, even when combined with their jobs at the bakery. He and his brother had judged that this was probably for the best—they were not, after all, obligated to help, though they seemed inclined to do so, and he wasn’t going to stop them. Better an organized system that let them grow used to the work than letting them organize something themselves; he knew that Nerys definitely and Keira possibly would work herself too hard if given the option.

Of course, things were slightly less flexible when Keira had requested of him not to be on patrol alone with Virgil, which had led Ephraim to the (correct) conclusion that they’d slept together. Of course, he’d guessed as much the day she’d slapped him in the bar and he’d maneuvered things so that it was Ephraim who took her home. It was annoying, but it wasn’t the first time that Virgil’s indiscretions had been inconvenient. Strangely, however, his brother seemed to be willing to give the woman her space, and had therefore ceased actively making passes at her, offering little more than a smile whenever he walked into the shop, even. Ephraim had no idea what his stupid partner was doing, and fortunately, he didn’t have to know.

As for himself, he kept the same training routines with both of them as he always had, though doubled in the case of Keira, since obviously she didn’t train with Virgil, either. He presumed Nerys had forgotten her drunken behavior, and he generally acted as if she’d never kissed him at all. She’d been drunk—people had done many more stupid things when drunk before, and would doubtless continue to do so in the future generations of humanity. It was no unforgiveable transgression, nor was it anything to dwell upon. Ephraim was a man as well as a Hound, and he was not oblivious. He’d noticed her loveliness just as surely as Virgil had—he simply chose not to linger on it. He’d had a few lovers over his very long lifespan—more than a few, but that was perhaps to be expected over the span of a thousand years—but she was an innocent, a factor that immediately stopped him from thinking any further in that direction anyway. He was enough of a blight on the universe without adding the corruption of such people as her to his list of sins.

So Ephraim did what he always did—he invested himself in his work, and did not bother to entertain notions of doing anything else. It was a pleasantly-warm evening at present, the sun having dipped behind the horizon about two hours ago. He and Keira were in the middle of their patrol route when Ephraim stopped, his eyes narrowing as his nostrils flared. There—that scent on the wind. Decay, rot, death. But most of it human.

“Necromancer,” he said flatly, glancing down at his patrol companion. "Alert the others—we’re going to the graveyard.”


For near on a full month, Keira had managed to put as much personal distance between herself and Virgil as she possibly could. She'd even returned to calling him Mr. Solomon. While that had also led the Kitsune to refer to her as Miss Mizuki, that was something Keira could live with. At least, that was what she told herself. She had not expected it to hurt quite as much as it did. Virgil had seemed to be quite content in letting her be, as well, and for that, at least, she was thankful. There were simply too many things she needed to sort through to have to deal with his prying as well.

She grimaced when the stench hit her nose; it was powerful enough that even she could smell it, and gave a single nod to Ephraim, the only indication she'd heard him at all. She sent out a quick text to Nerys with the exact words that the Hellhound had spoken, and then followed after him. She said nothing, but did wrinkle her nose as they got closer to their destination. It...was not a pleasant smell at all.


Nerys smiled, walking next to Virgil as they walked in silence. It had been a month, or so, since the bar incident, one that still played ever so vividly in her mind that she had to keep her mind shut from prying eyes. She didn't regret it, not one bit, however; it was perhaps, a little uncalled for. She normally would not have been as bold as she had been were she sober that night. She, in the back of her mind, wondered if she had damaged their friendship by doing so. Granted, she acted like the kiss never happened, unsure of how he had taken it (because she didn't remember anything after that), and she didn't want to bring it up. So, for the most part, she had taken to patrolling with Virgil, who was oddly kept at arms' length by Keira. She wondered if it had anything to do with that night, and could only assume it did.

She paused in her steps when she felt her phone vibrate, and pulled it from her pocket. Her lips pursed into a fine line as she stared at Virgil. "Graveyard," was the only word she spoke. She grabbed a hold of Virgil's arm and pulled him along, making her way through the town as quickly as she could, without drawing too much attention to herself or Virgil. The last thing they needed was curious eyes following them to the graveyard, though luckily enough, it was already night time. Most of the towns people would already be at home or closing up the last of their shops. She was taken back by the stench that emitted from their destination as they got closer. Though her nose was probably one of the least senstive to smells, this particular scent was overwhelming.

It was the scent of death, of decay. She had smelled something similar to it, vaguely similar, and that was with the Lich. This scent, though, was overwhelming, and Nerys had to cover her nose in order to breathe properly. It wasn't long before she came upon the spot where Ephraim and Keira were, taking a side next to Keira as she stared at the two. "What's going on?"


Virgil sighed wistfully. “Oh good. It’s been a while since we’ve done something fun. A pity neither of you owns a crossbow. These, my dears,” he said, raising his voice slightly to be heard over the ruckus of more than one grave bursting open. “Are zombies, brought back to unlife by a Necromancer, itself likely having crossed here from the Dark World. Charming, no?”

As the first one rose to full standing height, a crossbow bolt did indeed blossom from its chest, thrumming into the flesh with a solid sound, but it had not come from either of the women. Ephraim reloaded the thing, before slinging the quiver of bolts over Nerys’s shoulder and placing the weapon into her hands. “Some of your popular mythology is not far from right, but some of it is quite wrong. Removing limbs will only slow them. Removing heads is pointless. They don’t need to eat anything and they don’t have functioning minds. They are flesh-puppets, and the strings are all anchored in the heart area. Severing those cuts the magical connection, but it can be restored, so be careful.” He paused a moment, then adjusted Nerys’s hands so that she was properly holding the device. It was sized for her rather than him, but it would be heavy even so.

“You remember how to use this, right?” he asked quietly, earning a small snicker from Virgil. His brother was terrible at showing it, but he was clearly concerned. And perhaps he should be. Necromancer-puppeted zombies were not the usual fare.

“Of course,” Virgil continued explaining, setting another three on fire and burning them away to ash, “They are just as susceptible to energy attacks as anything, so I don’t suspect you’ll be needing a crossbow yourself, Miss Mizuki.” Smiling pleasantly, the fox stepped forwards. There were literally hundreds of them—the four were in for a long fight. Of course, once the Necromancer showed itself, things would get easier, but there was no guarantee that would happen anytime in the near future.


Zombies, as in the dead, coming back to life? An involuntary shudder ran through her at the thought, and only subsided when Ephraim clarified what a zombie was. She released a breath of relief, however; she sucked it back in as quickly as it escaped when Ephraim placed the quiver upon her shoulders and handed her the crossbow. She blinked owlishly for a second, feeling the weight of the object in her hand. She still remembered, yes, but she wasn't shooting targets. She was shooting living, or rather dead things. And her accuracy hadn't been all that great to begin with. Even with the practice, she still needed more in order to accurately hit things.

"Point and shoot!" she answered his question with a hint of chipper to her tone. It came out a bit more merrily than she had intended, and pursed her lips together. "I mean, yes. I remember, but...I still am not very accurate," though she toned down her voice at the last words. If she were being honest, which she was, she'd probably have to resort to impaling them with her horn. She scoffed at her own thought, remembering suddenly that there were others around and zombies, surrounding them. There were a lot, and perhaps even that was understating it, and Nerys knew she would run out of ammo way before they'd even cut in half the numbers of the dead.

She sighed softly, shifting the crossbow in her hands to fit more easily, and lifted it up to her eyes. She narrowed them slightly as she fixed on a particular target, releasing the arrow and watching as it landed in the creatures shoulder. She frowned, reloading the crossbow and tried again. Before she could aim, she ducked, missing the arm of a zombie reaching out for her, and brought her foot underneath it, tripping it and plunging the crossbow towards its chest, letting the arrow loose. She rolled away, reloading once more and aimed again. Well, it wasn't exactly what she had in mind for the night, but at least she was with Virgil, Ephraim, and Keira...right?


Keira chose to ignore Virgil's comment other than to plunge her hand through the chest of one of the zombies. She watched as Nerys struggled with the crossbow, taking out the zombie that had swiped for her. She at least had her best friend's back, if nothing else. Her mouth was set in a grim line as she scanned the line of zombies, driving her sword down into the chest of one that had sprung out of the grave, grabbing her ankle.

"So where is the Necromancer?" she asked flatly.


Ephraim tried very hard not to sigh, and thankfully mostly succeeded. The first relevant thing any of them said, really, was Keira’s question, and so he answered that rather than responding to anything else, crunching a zombie’s ribcage in with an ergokinetic blast strong enough to blow back everyone’s clothing. The corpse was shattered—he did not envy whomever was responsible for cleaning all of this up in the morning. Why some humans buried their dead rather than burning them would never make any sense to him at all. “He’s around, but he won’t appear until he absolutely has to, which means he loses enough of these things that he has to resurrect them again. Until then, he’s intangible—a little like the asshat can be sometimes.” It was obvious who the asshat was, though Virgil faked a very dramatic pout and sighed loudly, even as he vanished and appeared behind Keira, incinerating a zombie trying to flank her with a flick of his hand.

“The kinds of things I put up with from you lot, really,” he said, but the grin on his face rather ruined the effect of the words. As, perhaps, did the way he bent down and blew in Keira’s ear before vanishing again. “It’s a good thing you’re all so cute.”

An entirely separate cluster of zombies appeared to the left, and at unspoken signal, Ephraim materialized a curved sword from nowhere, and tossed it to Virgil, who despite not looking in his direction raised a hand and caught it as though the whole thing had been choreographed. Without bothering to slide it into his belt, Virgil held it for a draw, crouched slightly. It slid free of the sheath with a ringing sound and a glimmer of silvery steel, and perhaps five seconds later, a good fifty zombies, the entire new throng, were in pieces on the ground, and Virgil slid the sword home in the scabbard

“Sloppy,” Ephraim chastised, the half-mad grin on his face a sure sign that he was warming to the fight. It would appear that the Necromancer had raised every last zombie in the place, because there were fifty more headed in from the west, and amid these, a few Wights. Stronger, faster zombies, with more magical threads and sometimes armed. These carried largely inefficient farm implements, but they were all sharpened to deadly points, and so would require some care.

“Alas,” Virgil agreed, surveying his handiwork. It really shouldn’t have taken him so long. He was out of practice. “My father would be ashamed.” He said it with a hint of glee, though, as though he would not mind in the slightest if that were true. “Though perhaps it’s impossible for him to be any more ashamed of me than he already is. I could not say.”


Nerys muttered a thanks to Keira who had taken down a zombie that had tried to flank her. She pulled the crossbow up, taking a few steps back from the scene to provide the room she needed to be able to reload safely. She watched Ephraim and Virgil take in their fill of kills, not missing the half-grin on Ephraim's face. It caused her to purse her lips together, however; she would say nothing of it. He had told her once the type of person he was, and she had accepted it a long with everything else that had come of the time they had all spent together. She twisted out of the reach of a zombie, watching as its hand went past her face, nicking her cheek in the process.

She frowned, twisting her arm around so that the crossbow was pointed at the zombie's back. She pulled the trigger, watching as the creature fell in time to hear Ephraim's comment about the Necromancer being intangible. But...didn't souls give off aura's? Intangible or not, unless the Necromancer could conceal his aura, she should still be able to see it...right? She didn't give much more to the thought as one of the newer zombies appeared. Her eyes widened a fraction as it charged her, quicker than the others, and drew a sickle down upon her. With a startled yelp, she rolled away, however; the sickle grabbed her in the back of her arm, and she hissed.

The wound wasn't deep, but it was enough to draw her blood, and quickly, she tried to cover it. Her blood could heal, but it could only heal others, not herself. She pursed her lips together, deepening the scowl on her face as she continued to apply pressure while dodging the attacks of the Wight. She quickly rolled to her feet, applying her ki to her fists as she right-hooked the Wight in the jaw, sending it away from her and managing to knock its head off. She shuddered as she watched it fly across, hitting another zombie in the head before something sharp pierced her shoulder. She took in a sharp breath of air, turning so that the weapon came loose from the attackers hand, the weapon still lodged in her shoulder.

She brought the crossbow across, swiping at the zombie to knock it away from her before providing a good distance between her and the others, and the zombies. She pulled the weapon from her back, a Hori Hori knife, and tossed it aside. She needed to be more careful. She was getting wounded, and that did not bode well. The others seemed to be more efficient at handling the situation than she, as they were currently wound free. Perhaps she should train more, though with all the training, one would think she'd be more capable. Sighing softly, she put more distance between her and the zombies and reloaded her crossbow. She was running low on arrows.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ephraim Solomon Character Portrait: Virgil Solomon Character Portrait: Nerys Liacht Character Portrait: Keira Mizuki

Earnings

0.00 INK



Image

Image



Keira sighed, getting slightly irritated. There were simply too many of the things to even put a dent in their numbers. Thankfully because of all of the training she'd been through, her stamina had improved drastically. The energy in her hand hit its mark, nailing one of the zombies in the place where a heart should have been. Despite this, she was beginning to become surrounded.

So, she took a deep breath, centering herself as the energy she was drawing to her took on a rather familiar shape around her. It would waver and shimmer, but the form around her was clearly fox-like in nature, with ears and tails to boot. The total number of tails was five; she'd lose control of herself if she absorbed anymore energy. She'd tried to change the shape before, but this one was the easiest and the most natural for her. In the heat of battle, she needed something that took the minimal amount of concentration. She would simply have to live with the grief that Virgil would assuredly put her through because of it.

Each tail found a new home in the chest of a desecrated being, her hands taking out the wight in front of her. She ducked another, and clawed upwards; the ground around her was soon littered with fallen corpses. They needed to find the Necromancer, and soon rather than later. They couldn't keep this up forever, and Nerys was running out of ammunition, not to mention she was getting hurt. Keira winced as a knife pierced her shoulder from behind; she'd just barely dodged the hit by moving a fraction of an inch, the weapon missing her heart. She twisted, her foot connecting with the zombie's head, which went flying off through the air.


Of course, as they’d been warned, taking off the creature’s head did not kill it, and so it wasn’t until the zombie went up in blue-white flames that it was commended to the grave once more, and Virgil simply smiled at Keira. He’d been highly amused by this little display the first time he saw it, but he hadn’t really had the opportunity to properly tease her for it, considering the version of the cold-shoulder routine she was giving him. Really, the woman was stubborn. How long had it been, a month? Time was tricky for a being who had theoretically eternity at his beck and call. She, however, did not.

Ephraim, on the other hand, wasn’t exactly the most rational of people at the moment. The smell of blood was known to rouse his fighting instincts—that was simply a basic fact about being as he was. He had also known that, on the few occasions Virgil had been known to bleed in a battle, this had made him rather angry, but he’d always been able to keep a lid on the worst of his temper even then. Smelling theirs, however, especially hers, was a much worse sensation. Something in him rebelled against the very idea that she should be injured, and by such as these, creatures that he would happily rend apart to prevent that.

It wasn’t so much a thought process as it was an instinctual reaction: the hound transformed, eyes alight with fel power, the embers embedded in his coat being thrown off as dripping, ruby-colored hellfire, scorching the ground where he walked. Even the mindless zombies shrank away from his presence, for when one drew within range, it was inexorably caught by obsidian claws or moon-colored fangs, growing redder and redder as he shook what little blood remained, stagnant and foul, from the corpses.

This was something he hadn’t seen in a while—Ephraim was on a full blown rampage. “Oh dear,” Virgil intoned, and though the words were light, a flicker of worry did pass over his eyes for just a moment. He wasn’t very good at telling friend from foe in such a state. “Stand back please, both of you—I think he’s found the Necromancer.” And indeed, the creature had appeared. It was mostly humanoid in appearance, save for the sickly pallor of its skin, the absence of hair, and the slight blurring at the edges of it, almost as though it were partially translucent. That seemed to matter little to Ephraim, who was upon it in a moment, heedless of the cutting magic it threw at him, and the miasma, though that was a concern for the other three.

It didn’t do much more than irritate Virgil’s delicate olfactory receptors, but it was quite deadly to humans, of supernatural blood or no. Well, actually… Nerys should be partially, though not wholly immune, due to the effect if kirin genetics. Indeed, he could see the air clearing around her as she purified it without even conscious effort. Still, it would make even her feel sick, and Keira… godsblood didn’t matter much against miasma like this. Especially not when she had that open wound. Well, there was a solution to that, he supposed, though she wouldn’t like it much. Wrapping an arm around her waist from behind, Virgil pulled her close in to him, rendering the both of them translucent. The miasma was so thick and heavy that it passed right through.

“My apologies for the indignity, Miss Mizuki,” he said smoothly, “But I’m afraid I care a bit more for your life than your protests, and you should, too.” He smiled, though she couldn’t see it, and rested his chin atop her head, not terribly mindful of the blood from her shoulder wound that seeped into his shirt. He did take care not to irritate the injury further, though.

All at once, the zombies around them collapsed, a sure sign that the Necromancer was dead. As the miasma cleared enough for them to see, it was clear that he wasn’t just dead—he’d been torn to pieces, many of which were strewn about the Hound, whose lips were still pulled back from his teeth in a snarl. Blood and bile dripped with saliva to the ground at his feet, and he turned to look over his shoulder at them. Virgil knew from that look alone that Ephraim was still not himself, and they were the only living targets in the area. “Nene dear,” he said, maintaining his calm but speaking much more quietly and seriously than was usually possible for him, “I need you to do me a favor. Ephy’s not feeling very well right now—I need you to show him that you’re all right.”

Because he had a feeling that that was what had triggered the transformation. If he was wrong, the results could be bad, but they’d be worse if he was right and she didn’t. Ephraim would probably attack them on instinct, and while Virgil was a very strong combatant in his own right and should be able to hold out long enough for his brother to set himself to rights, there wasn’t necessarily a guarantee of that. And the time it would take would expose Keira to the miasma, which had by now spread over a mile in any direction around the cemetery. Their best chance was for something else to shake him out of it. And Virgil was putting his money on something else being Nerys.


Nerys wasn't sure what to make of the scene. One moment she was staring at zombies, attacking her and her friends, and the next, she was staring at a rather large hellhound. She knew it was Ephraim, that much was obvious, however; something had seemed a little off. She watched as the zombies withdrew from his presence, though that did not help them much. They were slaughtered, and even Virgil's voice fell on deaf ears as the necromancer finally appeared. She stood, watching as a thick miasma covered much of the area, and only kept her gaze focused on Ephraim. There was a sickening feeling in her stomach, something unsettling and she couldn't quite place it. Whether it was from the miasma or not, she couldn't tell.

She was brought from her trance by the sound of Virgil's voice, calling to her. She turned and gave him a questioning glace. Her? What could she possibly do for this favor? "I'm...alright?" she repeated. Why would he need to know she was alright? She shook her head, before taking a hesitant step forward. She felt a chill run down her spine at a sudden thought, and she stopped, paralyzed in fear. She was afraid not of Ephraim, but afraid that she would lose him. She couldn't understand the way her body refused to cooperate, the way it refused to move when she commanded it to. Even as her eyes searched for him, she could not will her body to move.

"Ephraim," she whispered out softly, calling to her friend. "Ephraim, it's...it's okay," she continued, finally moving her legs so that she was running to his side. She stopped about two feet away from him, her hand reaching out to touch him, however; she pulled back. She wasn't sure if he'd burn her or not, and she didn't want to make things worse than what they already are. She rested her hands to her side, lowering her gaze for a split second before picking her head back up. She smiled at him, years filling her eyes as her bottom lip quivered lightly. She wanted her friend back.

"See...I'm...I'm okay, there is nothing wrong. We're all okay, the necromancer's dead. We'll be fine," she continued, her voice growing a little stronger with each word. She wiped away her tears fervently, removing them as she tried to keep her smile even. "Please, Ephraim, come back to us, to me," she pleaded. That was all she wanted: her friend.


The Hound was very still, watching warily as she approached, but he made no move to attack her. Indeed, he seemed to be studying her, lowering his head slightly and turning it to the side so as to regard her with one large, luminous red eye. When she was done, there was a long pause, during which it was unclear exactly what he was thinking, but the fact that it seemed he was thinking at all was a good sign, and Virgil knew then that it would be fine. He even managed a breathy chuckle when Ephraim’s tail swished once back and forth before he began to shrink and regain his usual form. This one’s head was still tilted to the side, still studying Nerys as though she were some absurd curiosity the like of which he’d never run across before. He shook himself out of it, however.

“Come on… let’s leave before the miasma makes you sick. It should disperse by morning, and we do not want to be here when the gravekeeper discovers the condition of this place.” There was something he wanted to say, but he didn’t quite have the words, and so he said nothing at all, merely turning and leaving the area, the other three in tow.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Virgil Solomon Character Portrait: Nerys Liacht

Earnings

0.00 INK

#, as written by Mihael
Image




Image




Another day, another patrol. He was currently walking the border of town with Nene, the two of them talking of whatever happened to come to mind. She was truly a delightful person, but oddly, Virgil felt almost no compulsion to be anything other than her friend. He expected this was how things should have been between himself and his sisters, but they never had been so. too much politics in the in-between, though… perhaps with Kimiko, something like this could have happened. Unfortunately, Kimiko had not lived long enough, and that chance was squandered before it had even begun to flourish.

There were things a man like him could forgive. That was not one of them.

He watched her talk, amused by the way her face gave away all her feelings, as easy to read as a large-print book, even without his empathy. He liked that about her, actually, how open she was with her feelings. Not many people could trust others enough to be like that. Too often, in his world, people got burned for it. People like his little sister. She used little gestures, too, to emphasize what she was saying, and he wasn’t even sure she knew she was. Virgil smiled to himself and slung a causal arm over her shoulders, matching his pace to her shorter stride. That was all he did though—it was a friendly contact, and unlike Ephraim, he was not at all averse to more tactile methods of conveying affection, of any kind. And that was what there was here---a gentle, warm affection. He’d not even really thought himself capable, but then, he expected it had more to do with her than him, anyway. Nerys was the kind of person that could inspire gentleness in even the hardest demeanors. Like his, because deep down, Virgil was indeed a rather cold, calculating individual. And like Ephy’s, because the only man he’d ever met less likely to genuinely get attached to someone was his brother.

“Nene,” he asked suddenly, or at least it seemed a bit abrupt. It wasn’t, of course—Virgil planned everything several moves in advance, but sometimes the illusion of spontaneity was the important part. “What are your thoughts on Ephy? Really, I mean. Deep down.”

Nerys walked beside Virgil, talking about everything and nothing all the same. It was a pleasant day, though they were currently on patrol. She had always enjoyed their small talks, even if it was she who did most of the talking. She had never had any siblings, and at times, she wondered if this was what it would have been like. To have a brother, to have a sister, to have a sibling, however; her father never remarried and she was the only child to him and her mother. Perhaps that was the reason as to why she was speaking of family, or was it siblings? She couldn't exactly remember exactly what she was saying. Not that it mattered, they could talk about anything, really, and still understand each other. She did not mind the way his arm slung over her shoulders, providing a sense of warmth in the process. She smiled softly, tilting her head both ways as she returned the gesture, wrapping her arm around his torso.

Her thoughts, however, were put to an abrupt stop when Virgil asked a question. "My thoughts?" she repeated, giving him a dumbfounded look. "Well I...I mean, um," she began, stumbling over her words as a light pink dusted her cheeks. She pursed her lips together, her cheeks puffing out as she tried to find the words she wanted to say. "Well, he...he's...um, I don't know!" she finally stated, releasing Virgil in favor of covering her face that began to take on a darker hue. She didn't know how to state what she thought of Ephraim, because honestly, she had no clue. There was something there, but she wasn't quite sure she knew what it meant. She had an idea, but it was still a far-fetched idea. She cleared her throat and brought the heat in her cheeks under control.

"He's interesting," she finally managed to state. "Interesting because I've never met anyone like him. It has nothing to do with the fact that he has no soul, it's just," she paused, glancing up at Virgil as she kept her lips pursed. "I mean, really, he's just...unique as a whole. It's fascinating really, because I've never felt like that before about anyone," she continued, glancing away from Virgil. She could feel the heat across her cheeks, spreading towards her ears as she kept her gaze forward. She didn't know exactly what to say, and she wasn't sure what she had said made any sense at all to Virgil. It probably did, it probably didn't.

It took all of his considerable skill as an actor not to laugh at her. It was really quite adorable, the way she was trying to figure things out. Of course, the connection was still in its early stages, but that was precisely why he was interfering in this fashion. Virgil knew Ephraim, perhaps even better than Ephraim knew himself, and he knew Nerys as well. This was not going to be an easy road for the poor girl to travel, and his oblivious brother didn’t even know it was there to walk down at all. Which honestly meant that bashful little Nene would have to do most of the work here. Taming the Hound was not going to be a simple process, or a smooth one, but Virgil happened to think it was possible, and would be good for the both of them. Ah, but he was getting a bit sentimental, wasn’t he? Perhaps it was just the season—spring was the right time for it, surely.

“Is that so?” he asked speculatively, affecting a thoughtful demeanor mitigated only by the sardonic tilt of one of his brows. “And do you kiss everyone in your life that you find interesting? Because if so, I’m gravely insulted that you think I’m so boring, Nene dear.” His grin was foxlike, but he was only teasing. Of course, with Virgil, applying a word like “only” to his teasing was misleading, because it made him sound like a man with mercy. He was not.

Darting around so that he was walking backwards in front of her and bent slightly so as to be at her eye-level, he tilted his head slightly to the side. “There’s nothing wrong with it, you know. If you happened to like him. He’s a difficult person to understand, Ephy, but only at first. Do you want to know why I asked you to talk to him, in the graveyard?” Part of it was indeed because he wasn’t in much of a position to do so himself, but as always with the things Virgil did, there were layers to his reasoning. He wondered if either of them would ever get it, or if he’d have to spell things out for them.

"What? No! I mean...I don't...you don't..." she stumbled over her words at Virgil's statement. That kiss, she'd tried to forget it because there was a part of her that called to her. A part of her she wasn't so sure she even had. "Of course I find you interesting too, Vivi. I don't get to meet Kitsune very often, and you've been really nice to me. As for the kiss...I...it was not something I had planned, nor do I plan on ever repeating...at least...well," she mumbled again, glancing away from Virgil, unable to look him in the eye for that last sentence. She didn't want to repeat that again when she was drunk. It would, perhaps, be better suited when she was sober. Even then, though, it's not like it'd happen again anyway.

"I'm not so sure, though. I've never really liked someone," she murmured softly. It was partially true, she'd never really liked anyone. She was always either caught up in her business, or caring for everyone else that she's never experienced what it was to actually have a crush on someone, let alone love someone. She knew what love was, or at least had a semblance of what it was. She had seen it with her parents, when her mother was still alive, and she had seen it with Mr. and Mrs. Bailey. It was in the way they cared for each other, the way they would have little fights just to laugh it off and make up. It was small things like that that she had come to understand what love was, at least for them. But love and like were two completely different emotions. And she wasn't sure which one was which.

"I thought it was because we were injured, and I was injured," she decided to address his last statement. She hadn't figured out exactly why he had asked her to speak with Ephraim that night, however; she really didn't think about it much. But then again, there was a certain spark of curiosity in her as she stopped walking. "Why? Why did you ask me to talk to Eph? You have more of a connection to him than I did, do," she muttered lightly. "You could have spoken to him just as easily," was whispered out softly, chancing a glance back at Virgil.

Virgil shrugged a little, a careless gesture. Desire, love, like, lust… he wasn’t honestly convinced they were all that different. So-called love was really just ordinary lust and desire combined with the wish to possess the person desired. But of course someone as dear as she was would perhaps see things differently. She saw the world in shades of pink when he knew it to be very red. Still, whatever name you gave it, she wasn’t so far away from it, though she might be further from the realization of it. “For what it’s worth, I think you’d find the experience much more pleasant when sober. Ephraim is under the impression that you’ve forgotten all about it, that you didn’t mean it in the first place.” He raised a brow, as if to ask her if she had meant it. He probably knew the answer better than she did, but it didn’t matter if he knew. It mattered how she felt about it.

And then she took the bait, and he smiled. “I asked you to do it,” he said smugly, “because it was you he changed to protect. Ephy doesn’t much like the smell of an ally’s blood, but he’s never gone off that badly before. He needed to know that you were safe so he could back down a little. And it was you, not Keira and I. If I’d tried to approach him, he probably would have attacked me to get to you and confirm your health for himself.” He was having a little too much fun giving away his brother’s secrets, and the best part was that it was all true. Virgil knew how Ephraim worked, and nothing but knowing he’d succeeded in tearing apart whomever had threatened the girl and saving her life would have brought him back from that.

He wondered, for an idle moment, what Ephy would do if Nene died. Not that he wanted to find out, of course, but it was a curious scenario to contemplate all the same.

Nerys's face managed to turn a deeper shade of crimson at Virgil's statement. She hadn't forgotten, and part of it was intentional. She just didn't know how to respond to that feeling, and she was afraid of giving in to it. It was obvious enough how Ephraim was, how he viewed things, and how he saw himself. She didn't need to put other things on him such as that. Besides, she was quite sure, somewhere, that he just wasn't interested and that broke her heart a little. It wasn't because she didn't know, but rather the fact that she didn't know what to do. She had never known what it was like to like someone, and it was new territory for her. She was terrified of it, really. Her mother had told her to be careful of her heart, because it was a one time thing for all Kirin. Even though she was half-kirin, the effect would still be just as strong within her.

For her to have chosen Ephraim, it felt as if someone somewhere was laughing at her. She knew her feelings, to an extent to know that, somewhere along the way, she had chosen him. And it wasn't fair. She was brought from her musings when Virgil continued speaking. He changed...because of her? Because she was injured? It was her fault that Ephraim had changed and had almost attacked everyone else. Her gaze lowered for a second, her shoulders slumping. Why was it that it was always her that caused something bad to happen? "I...did mean it, the kiss. I just...it...shouldn't have happened that way. And I shouldn't have..." what shouldn't she have? She was so very confused right now, and she didn't like the feeling at all.

"I...am sorry," for what she was apologizing for, she had not the slightest clue. She rubbed her upper arms in an attempt to collect a warmth that seemed missing all of a sudden. "I...because of me I put everyone in danger. And because of me..." she paused, a light hiccup in her voice as she kept her gaze away from Virgil. "I'm sorry," she stated, lifting her gaze finally to regard Virgil with watery eyes. She was so very confused now.

Virgil sighed, smiling ruefully. “You’re looking at this all wrong, Nene,”” he said, gentling his tone so that she knew he was serious rather than teasing. “We’re always in danger; nothing you or anyone else does will change that about us. What you’ve done is given us something that makes the danger worth being in.” And that was something more than either of them had had in a very long time. Strange, that they should find it in their curious interactions with a pair of very unusual women on the most mundane of worlds. “What I told you was not meant to chastise. You can’t keep trying to bear all the blame for things yourself—it hurts you, and because it does, it hurts us. “ Honestly, the girl needed to learn to be a little more selfish. Weren’t they supposed to be happy to hear that someone out there in the world was willing to go to such extremes just for them? There had to be something nice about being valued that way.

Virgil wouldn’t know—nobody had ever felt so about him.

Reaching out, the fox patted her cheek gently. “All I meant to say was that you matter to him. I don’t think Ephraim knows how, yet, but you do. Enough that he wasn’t prepared to deal with his own reaction to you being hurt, and enough that you were the right person to bring him back from that, and not anyone else. That’s nothing to cry about—nobody was hurt, after all. That means things went very well. Accidents happen, even with people as old and experienced as us. We’re not perfect, my dear, though I daresay I’m pretty close.” He smiled, but it was brief. “Don’t give up before you try, Nene. Think about what you want, for once, and the see if maybe you can get it. You deserve to have your wishes granted sometimes, too, you know.”

He moved his hand, playfully tapping the tip of her nose with an index finger. “But the sweetest wishes are the ones you have to work to grant yourself.”

Nerys released something of a snort and a sob, creating a strange mix of the two at Virgil's statement. She wiped the back of her hand across her eyes, stopping her tears momentarily as she soaked in his words. What she wanted? But she's never wanted anything before, and she wasn't sure how to go about going after it. She was far too timid to do something like that, and she wasn't as straightforward like Keira was. Or perhaps as vocal as the demi-goddess. Maybe...just this once she could try to be more selfish, even if it would be difficult to do so. Her nose twitched at the light contact of his finger, effectively bringing the smile back to her face.

"But...the only wishes I've ever had were for others. I...don't know how to be selfish," though that wouldn't mean she wouldn't try. She might not know how to be selfish, to go after what she wanted, but she would try. Just as she had promised she would try to be stronger, to learn the difference between a mercy killing, to a killing in general. If she could learn how to let an ounce of selfishness through, then perhaps her heart wouldn't be breaking as easily as it was now. She mattered to Ephraim, that much Virgil had stated, but it did not mean anything much to her. For all she knew, she mattered to him because they were friends, and that was something she was decidedly learning was breaking her heart even more.

"Thank you Vivi, for everything," she stated, wrapping her arms around his torso in an embrace. She would try to be more selfish; to be more believing in herself that she was capable of being as such. "I'm glad Keira and I met you both."

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ephraim Solomon Character Portrait: Nerys Liacht

Earnings

0.00 INK



Image

Image



Nerys smiled brightly, her hand laced with the hand of another as they both swung back and forth. She felt, happy, something she had always felt near him. It did not matter if she was sad, angry, or upset; whenever she was with him, her spirits were always lifted. Of course, her father always had that affect on her, even when she was a little child. Though, when her mother had passed, it was she that he had leaned on, and it was she that he drew his strength. She didn't see it that way, and had thought it was the other way around. She pursed her lips together, the two of them coming to a stop as she stared in the window of one of the shops. She glanced at the objects, shaking her head lightly as her father rose a brow. He wrapped an arm around her shoulders and brought her close to him, a playful smile crossing his lips.

"When are you going to introduce me to your friends?!" he nearly whined, allowing himself to hang slightly off of her shoulders in a childish manner. Nerys tilted her head to the side, a smile pulling at her lips as she shook her head softly. "Or is it that you are ashamed of me!?" he suddenly stated, a look of pure horror crossing his face as a similar look pulled across Nerys's. "Is my Nene ashamed of her dear old dad!?" he continued as tears welled up in his eyes. Nerys began to panic, her eyes dodging back and forth as she tried to calm her father down.

"Of course not! Why would I be!?" she tried to state. "Why would I ever be ashamed of you?!" she continued, wrapping her arms around her father as a light chuckle escaped his lips. He wrapped his arms around her and brought her into a tight hug, causing Nerys to purse her lips together. She could feel her heart beat thumping wildly against her chest as she tried to even it out. She truly hated when her dad did that. It caused her to worry, and he seemed to have no end of pleasure in doing that to her, if the smile on his face was anything to go by. "You know, one of these days...you're going to give me a heart attack," she murmured lightly, grabbing his hand again as they began to walk again.

"Not before your old man does," he replied, bumping her shoulder lightly with his, however; he failed to notice a blockage in his path. By the time he realized what happened, he found himself, pulling Nerys along with him, falling towards the concrete floor. His eyes widened slightly as Nerys closed hers, falling on her father as they both descended to the floor. "Well...I did not see that coming," he spoke, blinking his eyes in an owlish manner. Nerys pursed her lips together as she untangled herself, sitting back as she glared at her father, her eye twitching in the process.

The blockage blinked red eyes down at the both of them, slightly confused as to how someone could be so oblivious as to walk right into him. Pretty much everyone, aura-blind humans included, noticed him unless he really didn’t want them to, and he’d been putting exactly no effort into concealing himself at present. Ephraim had in fact been making his way back to the office, having just traded the patrol with Virgil. “Apologies,” he said, though he wasn’t certain he had anything to be sorry for in this case. It was not he that had run into them, after all. Then again, at some point in his life, he’d become rather accustomed to apologizing for things beyond his control, like his existence. That was a long time ago, now. Perhaps the recurrence of the phenomenon was her fault—she did the same, after all.

“You did not mention you would have family visiting, Nerys,” he said, offering her a hand to aid her in standing. He didn’t think about it, really—he just did it. “I will take your patrols for the duration.” He did not want her to spend her time in such a tedious way when she had a guest to entertain. Judging from the similarity, they were closely related, and given the man’s apparent age, he would guess that this must be her father.

The light blush that had stained Nerys's face lightly, had grown ten shades darker when she realized who her father had crashed into. She shook her head fervently, waving her hands in front of her as she took his offered hand. She stood, dusting herself off and straightening out her outfit in the process. "Ah, it's okay Ephraim. There is no need to apologize," she spoke, addressing his first statement before blinking owlishly at him. Take her patrols? "There is no need for that! I can still do th--," she began, however; she was cut off abruptly by her father. He grabbed Ephraim's hand and shook it just as fervently as Nerys had shook her head moments ago. Nerys reached out, a look of horror crossing her features as she tried to pull her father back.

"So you're the Ephraim Solomon I've heard so much about!" he stated, releasing Ephraim's hand in the process. A bright smile crossed his lips as Nerys gave her father a pleading look. "I've heard nothing but good things about you from little Nene here," he stated, grabbing Nerys by the arm and pulling her closer to him. "Ah, I must apologize, where are my manners. I am Cain Liacht, Nerys's dad," he stated, releasing Nerys in the process as she pushed herself out of his grasp. Her face was sporting a rather dark hue of red as Cain scratched his cheek nervously. "Also, I have to thank you, Ephraim, for taking care of my little Nene. She's always the one taking care of people that she forgets to take care of herself sometimes," he stated, placing a hand on her head as his eyes softened a bit.

Nerys pursed her lips together as she stared at her father. Really, he didn't need to say that, especially not in front of Ephraim. The smile that crossed his face was one that Nerys knew all too well, and she did not like where it was going. Before she could say anything more, her father spoke. "And it seems that you are a man after her own heart, with the way she speaks of you and her friends, but mainly just you," he spoke, a mischievous smile forming on his face. Nerys felt that she could just die at the end of that sentence, her face buried in her hands as she shook her head.

"Dad," she drawled out the word, trying to disappear from sight as if a simple thought could make it happen.

He had to remind himself not to break the other man’s hand when his own was abruptly seized. Not because he wanted to, but because his reactions to being touched without his permission were usually visceral and unpleasant. It was an old instinct, a need he’d once had—perhaps still had—to be prepared to be lashed out at at any time. Fear could do strange things to people, and it made them cruel. Perhaps it was only the fact that he saw the opposite quality in this man that made it possible to overcome that reflex. It was similar to the way he saw it in his daughter, actually, though perhaps not the same.

Ephraim was… surprised to learn that he was spoken of with any frequency, and his eyes flickered to Nerys for a moment, a clear bit of puzzlement making its way over his features for a second before it faded back into something more normal for him. “She would say nothing but good things about her worst enemy, had she any enemies,” he replied simply, though there might have actually been a hint of humor in the statement, if one was listening closely enough. “You taught her very well,” he said, referring to the martial arts she had known when he met her, which had been taught to her by her father, she’d said at one point. Her fundamentals had been very solid, which had honestly made teaching her much easier than it could have been.

He had a point about the not looking out for herself thing, and to that note, Ephraim merely nodded. He was… he didn’t mind doing it, actually, which was somewhat strange for him. He’d only ever really been close to Virgil before he came here, and the Kitsune hardly needed looking after. In fact, it was explicitly part of their relationship that Ephraim did not pull him out of the occasional self-made hole he dug himself into. Not unless it was particularly serious. Things were… different with the other two, especially Nerys, for exactly the reason Cain had mentioned.

The Hound’s eyes, however, narrowed slightly upon the last comment, largely because he was unsure how to interpret it. The idiom usually meant that two people were similar, but he and Nerys were obviously about as opposite as two people could get, so it seemed to apply poorly in that sense. As for the other possibility—he was likely overestimating something. The man’s daughter had a generous heart, and had professed herself on several occasions to be his friend. That was simply the truth of it. He was left unsure what to say, however, and wound up sliding his hands into his pockets and searching for some words. “She is… insistent,” he said at last, going with the truth as he saw it. “And surprisingly stubborn, for someone of such a nature.” He looked right at her when he delivered the next statement.

“I suppose she has managed to convince me that I can have friends, after all. It was not an easy thing to do.”

Cain raised a brow at Ephraim's statement, a light chuckle escaping him as Nerys only further buried her head in her hands. Really, her father was trying to kill her with embarrassment, and from the look in his eyes, he knew it too. "A trait inherited from her mother, really," he replied, his eyes softening into a melancholic appearance. It was quickly replaced with something more bright, and he glanced down towards his daughter. "And if she were to ever have enemies, I would feel bad for them. She'd probably love them to death too," he replied, chuckling lightly as she pouted her lips at her father. "Though, I wouldn't consider her stubbornness a bad thing. If she is capable of befriending even those who do not consider themselves, friend, material, then what's wrong with that?" he continued, bringing his daughter into a hug, pressing his cheek against hers as she struggled to get out of his grasp.

"I resent that! And dad, stop!" she stated. There was, however, a slight thump of her heart when he spoke his last sentence. A small smile appeared on her lips before it disappeared into a normal smile. "It wasn't," she added to his last statement. It was true, it had not been easy to convince Ephraim to be a friend, let alone her friend, however; apparently she had succeeded, even if it was partially true. Cain set a hand on the top of her head, bringing his hand back to rest against the back of her head and just smiled. She was really too kind, another trait inherited from her mother, and partially from him. He was a kind person, but he knew this world, how it worked, and how other people's minds worked. And all he ever wanted was to protect her from that. Apparently, he taught her well.

"Yeah? She wasn't the easiest pupil. Even then she couldn't hurt a fly and refused to learn simply because she was afraid of hurting something. I'm glad...that she at least can do that much now, even if she still doesn't like hurting something. That is another reason I must thank you. She has learned a great deal from you, more-so than I could ever teach her," he spoke. Nerys shook her head softly. "Besides, there is more to it than you know," he continued, causing Nerys to tilt her head in confusion. More to what? Her father only shook his head. He didn't have to be a mind reader to see it, and he knew just by the way she talked about her friends, especially him, however; he would not push anything upon his daughter. In time, she'd probably figure it out for herself, however; he only wished her to be careful. As for the man in question, it was plain to see by his posture alone that there was something predatory about him.

There was something that Cain could not quite understand, however; his daughter never made a bad decision. If this was what she wanted, he would give his blessing in the only way he knew how. He wanted her to figure it out for herself. "You know, I don't think there could have been a better person," he spoke, but of whom he referred to, he gave no inclination. He did not know this person well, but he knew enough to know that if anything happened to him, his daughter would be in good hands. Nerys sighed softly. Her father always spoke in such a riddled tongue sometimes, and it confused her to no end. "Well then, since we are all here, why don't we go grab a bite to eat!?" he suggested, the friendly demeanor returning as he clasped his hand around Nerys's.

Ephraim wasn’t entirely certain he understood everything that was just said, but that was unsurprising. What experience did he have with the relationships between parents and children? Having no parents of his own, the best he could manage was a sort of abstract concept of what it might be like for other people. He was bound to miss some things. He blinked at the abrupt change in topic, but he made no effort to revert it, having said all he felt comfortable saying on the subject of his relationship with Nerys. Being a friend was still new to him, and he was not overly experienced with or fond of praising people as a rule. He’d just about reached his quota of compliments for the day in this one combination. He’d have to insult Virgil a few times just to regain some hint of balance.

“I… suppose that is a satisfactory suggestion,” he replied, though he felt a smidgeon… awkward. This was one of those situations that would have been very well smoothed by Virgil’s presence. Perhaps it would be best to call him back from patrol, and invite Keira as well. If cost was an issue, he’d take care of it himself, as well. It might be best for Cain to meet the others as well—if only because it seemed Nerys was less likely to be embarrassed if the man was distracted. And nobody could distract people like his brother.

Then again… perhaps it was better if the two never met.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Virgil Solomon Character Portrait: Keira Mizuki

Earnings

0.00 INK

#, as written by Asilian
Image
Image




Takashi Mizuki was really getting rather sick of having to track his daughter down. He knew her place of residence and work, yet he never seemed to be able to find her. He simply could not understand just why she was avoiding him so much. He was the only family she had, couldn't she see that he was only trying to help? He sighed, tossing the notebook down on the table in front of him. His leads were getting him nowhere, and Keira was nowhere to be found.

Until she walked through the bakery door. It had been a few months at least since he'd seen her. She looked...a lot better, honestly. There was color to her now, and she no longer had such a thin, frail look to her. He was not at all surprised when the smile she wore vanished at the sight of him. She looked contemplative for a few seconds before actually coming over to him; that was surprising to him. She did not give him a chance to speak, though.

"I've told you before that you're not welcome here. But if you wish to speak then fine, but we shall not do so here. I will not have you causing a scene here where I work. We'll talk when I get off." Needless to say, her mood for the next six hours was not the most pleasant thing, but true to her word, she met her father outside, and the two of them began walking. For a while, neither of them said anything. Takashi had no idea what to say, and it seemed that Keira had no intention of speaking on her own.

"So...are you going to tell me why you don't wish to speak to me? I've been worried about you, you know."

Keira pursed her lips, her face forming a scowl as she stared ahead. "I don't wish to speak to you because I have no reason to speak to you. There is nothing to say to each other; you abandoned me when I was fifteen, and after I was seventeen I never saw you again. What on earth could possibly be said? I have learned to live without you; I certainly don't need you now."

It was then that Takashi, an emotionally ruled man as he was, grabbed her, halting her steps as he pulled her around to face him. He had been about to say something when she cut him off with a glare sharp enough to cut. "Let me go."


Virgil had decided that morning that today was a good day to cease the farce of enforced formality between himself and Keira. It had been going on for three months, which was honestly more than long enough. Properly, it should have also been long enough for him to lose interest anyway, but though he had indeed had several more lovers in that span of time, human and otherwise humanoid, he was still… preoccupied. It wasn’t something that had ever really happened to him before, so he was willing to explore it, see what came of it. He certainly wasn’t concerned about being burned by it, because, well, cold as he could be, he was still a creature of fire, and thrived in the situations too risky or touchy or challenging for other people. And she was certainly proving a challenge—perhaps it was time to make a more concerted effort, rather than waiting for her to change her mind.

Most of the morning had been occupied by his patrol, but now that it was over, he tracked her by scent, noting the other one in the area as familiar. It was that reporter who was always sniffing around the office. Ephraim had informed him that the man was actually Keira’s father, and quite estranged, from the sounds of things.

Understandably, perhaps, he was less then pleased when he came upon a rather compromising situation. His eyes narrowed, flashing gold, and he was hit with a rather unexpected wave of possessiveness. Virgil was never possessive of his lovers—it wasn’t generally kitsune habit. The only time it was instinctive was—

Well, it wasn’t that. So he put it down to the fact that they were friends, of a sort, as well as lovers, or at least they had been both simultaneously at some point. What they were now was less than both, but not quite neither. He didn’t see a particular need to give it a word, so he did not. Fighting back the desire to be physical or threatening about this, he instead adopted a light tone, polite and almost cheerful. “Well, well, I do hope this is not what it looks like. Assault is a very serious crime, as I understand it. And, well… I hate to say it, but if it really came down to that, she’d have you floored in about five seconds. I daresay that’s being rather conservative in my estimation, also.” He doubted it would take her five seconds, if the man didn’t unhand her and she chose that route.

He smiled in a generally charming fashion, but by now Keira at least would recognize the threat behind it. So he wasn’t entirely succeeding in being civil about things… oh well.


Keira was both annoyed and relieved when Virgil entered the premises. She was relieved because now at least Takashi would have more presence of mind to just leave, and annoyed because she really had no desire to be alone with him. But she wasn't going to worry about the latter at the moment, focusing more on her father, who had dropped her wrist as though he'd been burned. The man's eyes narrowed as he looked back and forth between the two of them.

One day he might learn to keep his mouth shut, but today was decidedly not that day. "You certainly work fast, don't you, girl? Dumped the dark broody one for the playboy?"

There was a lot she could tolerate from her father, but insults towards those she cared about, especially slanted towards him -even if she wouldn't admit it- was not one of them. Her eyes flashed, and before Takashi had even blinked her hand had streaked across his face with such a force that she split his lip. "Don't. You. Dare." Her voice was more emotional than normal for her. "Don't you dare insult him, not in front of me. I suggest that you just leave. For future reference, if you haven't noticed, I have no intention of forgiving you. So stop trying."


Virgil was pretty sure that the only way this could be more entertaining is if she’d punched him instead. Ah, humanity… such a dramatic species, really. He had merely arched a brow at the comment, amused that this man seemed to have been under the impression that Keira was seeing Ephraim. He supposed it might be the kind of mistake easily made, given the similarities in their demeanors. But they were too alike—those kinds of relations worked best with a little more vigor in the dynamic. Differences made things interesting, after all. The fox also didn’t really consider what was said about him to be an insult. Still, her reaction was priceless, and he’d bet his left arm that she hadn’t planned on the rather charming intensity of that reaction. As he was left-handed, that was the better arm, too.

He was inclined to snort at the part about moving “fast” though—hadn’t it been a year ago or more that the man had seen Ephraim and Keira together? He went through a lot more than two lovers in a year. Actually, he often went through a lot more in a night. Not infrequently at once, even. Such a bizarre standard, that one. Virgil tilted his head at the man, deeply satisfied in a way he could not define by his split lip, but desirous of inflicting more damage in a way to which he was not accustomed. He could take pleasure in a confrontation, but not unless it was somehow novel or challenging. A hand-to-hand match with a human would be neither, and yet… “Run along now, Mr. Mizuki—I’m afraid you’re souring my mood. And I’m not merciful like your daughter is.” He smiled with too many teeth, allowing just a hint of demonic aura to press down upon the man, who did in fact flee the scene, prompting Virgil to turn and regard Keira for a moment.

“Can something be an insult if it’s factually accurate?” he asked, though the question was quite rhetorical. He moved deliberately, closing the majority of the distance to the woman, circling her slowly, uncannily like a predator sizing up his intended prey. He wore the facial expression to match, a chillingly-sly little half-smile and half-lidded eyes. “I confess, darling, that a little well-placed aggression is a trait kitsune find incredibly appealing.” A pause; he reached out with one hand to trace the line of her jaw with a fingertip, blue eyes darkened with desire and something unidentifiable, something even he would not be able to name if he saw it in himself. “Or perhaps that’s simply me.”

The fingertip reached her chin, and he used it to gently tilt her head up so that their eye contact was indisputable. “And here we are again, lovely. I’m wondering: isn’t the cold shoulder a little lonely? Company and warmth both seem infinitely preferable, and yet, here is this distance you will not close. Why is it so?” He sounded almost a little… melancholy, though not for himself, and for once, though there was a subtle note of jest in his phrasing, his tone was, more than anything, soft.


There were times when he was everything he desired and everything she loathed, and at the moment, she couldn't place which one seemed to be making its appearance now. She tried to swallow, but couldn't get past the lump in her throat. She wanted to both close the gap between them and run away at the same time; but her body wouldn't respond to any of the commands that she tried to give it.

But he was wrong when he said she wouldn't close that distance. She perhaps would not close it the whole way, but...

Impulses were not really her thing, but...what she did, was nothing short of impulsive. Her fingers curled into his shirt as she pulled him downwards, stretching up on to her tiptoes as she pressed her lips to his. "Because I'm terrified of what it will mean to me and not to you. That's not something I'm prepared to risk."


Ah, so it had come to this crossroads. The question now became: what did he want to do here? Virgil would not deny that he enjoyed her, and the possibility of delicately allowing her to believe that the potential was present on both sides was tempting, for what it would allow in the meantime. He was not a particularly good person. Unlike his brother, he wasn’t even really all that honorable. He was manipulative to a fault, he could be cruel and calculating and utterly ruthless when that was required to obtain what he desired, and he would be a fool to deny that he desired her. Virgil Solomon was many things, but he had never been a fool.

But in this case, he could not quite bring himself to just say the right words, the ones that he knew worked in this situation and got him what he wanted, to eventually fracture and leave her without. He did not desire to break her, this tragically strong, infinitely fragile little woman. Indeed, like the rose in winter, he desired to watch her bloom, even when all circumstance was against her, as it surely must be even now, considering.

Virgil sighed, and smiled a little ruefully. “So many things I could give you, lovely, and you ask for the one thing I do not have.” Leaning down, he pressed his lips chastely to her forehead. “Very well then, my dear, I shall halt my pursuit. If it is meaning you seek, I do hope you find it elsewhere. You do not deserve to be lonely.” He tucked a stray lock of hair behind her ear with long, dexterous fingers, letting his hand rest on the side of her face for a moment. “But please, truly. No more of this Mr. Solomon business. Our… relationship may be anything else you like, but we shall not be strangers, Keira.” He let the hand fall away, taking a half step back to establish a more respectful distance, and tilted his head slightly to the side, as though awaiting an instruction.

Inari would have been over the moon if she could have beaten half this much submission out of him. He was going soft, perhaps.


Whatever she had expected, Keira had not expected it to hurt so much. Even so, she somehow managed to smile. She brought a hand up to her chest, and she was able to at least smile. "Thank you, Virgil."

It was only after she managed to get herself home that she was able to allow herself to cry. It was utterly maddening, and she didn't understand.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ephraim Solomon Character Portrait: Keira Mizuki

Earnings

0.00 INK



Image

Image



It was after the third too-weak expulsion of ergokinetic force that Ephraim called a halt to the training session, tossing Keira some water and pulling his shirt back over his head, though considering he was in short sleeves today anyway, a large portion of his body art was still visible, from the backs of his hands to midway up his biceps and then again on his neck. This tended to draw attention of a negative variety, so for convenience, he generally preferred his trenchcoat, but he didn’t really bother when it was just one of the other three. Strange, that he grouped them together in his head. Nerys called it family. He, having never had such a thing, was unsure. But it was… nice, and it included Keira, so when she was obviously bothered by something, he decided the least he could do was inquire. If she didn’t want to share, that was her business.

“What’s the problem, Keira? Did the asshole do something?” The cause of her problems was usually Virgil, but this didn’t surprise him, because, supernatural intruders excepted, the cause of his problems was usually Virgil also. Ephraim helpfully had a tolerance that Keira had not quite developed. Still, he didn't think Virgil was the sort to push things too far—not anymore at least. Back when they’d first met… it would have been harder to say. Then again, back when they’d first met, Ephraim had been angry and even more violent than he currently was, even, prone to taking limbs and lives from people who looked at him the wrong way. So it wasn’t like he was in a position to judge anyone else on a moral basis. Even if he wasn’t quite like that anymore.

He took a seat at the edge of the lake, crossing his legs rather than dunking them in, though he did dip a hand in and then run it over the back of his neck. It was quite warm, for spring; summer was approaching. Heat didn’t bother him, really, but being a more regulated temperature was still preferable for metabolic reasons, if nothing else.


Keira let out a frustrated sigh, dropping to the ground next to Ephraim before completely laying backwards, staring up at the sky. For a few seconds she said nothing because she had no idea what to say. She wasn't able to focus on anything anymore, and she knew why. She was finally aware as to just what she felt for him, and it was more maddening than not knowing.

Because she knew he didn't, and quite possibly couldn't, feel the same way. Knowing that hurt more than she'd thought it would. "It's not what he's done. It's what he doesn't do, or perhaps what he can't do. And nothing is going to change that fact. Now I just need to get over it."

She hadn't even realized she'd decided to say it until the words had tumbled out of her mouth. "I love him, Ephraim, asshole or not."


Well… that was not what he’d been expecting. He had the sense that this sort of thing had happened before, when people got involved with Virgil, but it wasn’t like he’d ever been at all involved in the situation, so… this was quite different from his perspective, anyway. In all honesty, Ephraim wasn’t really sure what to say to that. “My condolences,” he said, without a trace of mockery. “That is not an easy position to occupy.” Still… there was a lot she didn’t know, and perhaps it would at least be helpful, if she needed indeed to get over it, as her phrasing went.

“I don’t expect he’s told you much about kitsune,” he started, perhaps a bit abruptly. It would be just like Virgil to withhold that kind of information, because information like that could be powerful, and the fox did not enjoy anyone having more power over him than was strictly necessary. “They are not incapable of the bonds one might call love.” Of himself, he was not so sure. It wasn’t like there were other Hellhounds to look to for that information.

“In fact, they are naturally monogamous, and generally speaking, fiercely loyal to the ones they consider their mates. Considering that such bonds can in some cases last forever in the literal sense, I suppose that would be necessary.” He rolled his shoulders and leaned backwards slightly onto his hands, glancing down at her from the corner of one red eye. “The promiscuity is…normal, but only before the mate bond is established. Virgil is—” Ephraim pursed his lips, trying to think of how best to explain it. While it was true that the fox knew the Hound better than the Hound knew himself, it was also true that Ephraim had rare insight into what made his brother tick.

“He makes a great show of being otherwise, of being open and rather obvious with his moods and his… affections, but I would say he trusts less easily even than you. Less easily even than I. If it seems that he is incapable of what would be termed love, I believe that would be the main missing component.” Knowing as much about Virgil as he did, he could certainly understand why. There was a lot of information there, and he did not doubt that some of it was open to questions, so he fell silent for a while, allowing her to voice them if she had any. If she wasn’t even that curious, then it probably wasn’t worth continuing to speak anyway.


For a few seconds, Keira didn't reply, trying to absorb the information. He didn't...trust? Well, that made sense, but it didn't really help her. She had the same problem, and she had no idea how to fix it. She wasn't even sure if she could fix it. She'd already told Virgil that she wasn't willing to risk her own feelings for something that more than likely wouldn't happen.

"As true as that may be, it helps little if both parties have the same issues. I'm not willing to risk what little I've gained by the three of you being my friends. I've already been tossed aside once in my life; I wouldn't be able to handle a second time."

She'd sat up by then, pulling her knees to her chest. More and more, what with the issues with Virgil and not to mention her father...she'd begun to consider the option of just...leaving. Even with what she'd told Nerys, the rest was simply too painful. So long as she knew that she loved Virgil, it would be more than painful to be around him, it would be downright unbearable.


As a rule, Ephraim was not the type of person one spoke to about emotions. He wasn’t very good with them himself, and he’d never been in the kind of relationship with anyone where they sought him out for counsel on such matters, so his opportunities to learn had been few. He’d had lovers, very occasionally, but though they lasted longer than Virgil’s, there wasn’t much more feeling in the connections. He was respectful, and certainly didn’t make a game of such things, nor lead anyone to believe anything that wasn’t true. None of them had ever loved him, of that he was quite sure. He certainly had not loved them. Which meant that all of his personal experience was unhelpful.

He had, however, managed to build a meaningful relationship of a different sort with Virgil. They trusted one another, and considering who they were, that was almost miraculous in and of itself. “I did not mean to suggest that he will never trust you,” he said. “It is simply something that takes time. And patience.” A lot of patience, the way Ephraim recalled it. Then again, he’d never sought to give trust to or receive it from his brother, it had simply happened.

“But it sounds as though you have already made up your mind.” It was a statement, not a question, though there was an implied query there, regarding what she was going to do if she was unwilling to take the time and put in the patience. It was not as though Virgil was going anywhere; he would still be around regardless of how she decided to handle this…. unless she was not.


Once again, she was silent. Time and patience, huh? If only it were that simple. She simply could not believe it to be so, if only because she, unlike Ephraim and Virgil, was not timeless. Even god-blooded, she was still very much mortal. So many things had happened in the last two years that she would always be grateful for, and there were some things that she would rather forget, but it made her stronger knowing, but...

She did not have it in her. She wasn't that person, and she'd learned that the hard way. This place simply held too many bad memories and painful reminders. "I can't stay." she spoke softly, but there was a determined note to her voice, more so to convince herself of her resolve than anything else.

"This is where I lost my family and my individuality and who I was. It's where I finally found a family and where..." she hesitated, because she simply could not speak the words. Not again. "It's also where my father is and the home of too many other painful reminders. I've spent my whole life in this place only to be miserable ninety percent of the time. I can't do it anymore. I need to...move on."


He’d figured it would be something like that. It was odd, that he felt a twinge of betrayal. He supposed he was one of her friends, and that they, part of the sum total of good things that had been part of her life, were not enough to outweigh the rest… well, it was uncomfortable to say the least. His eyes narrowed, and he sat back up straight. “At least call it what it really is,” he said bluntly. “Your courage is failing you, and you are running away so you do not have to face things.” He wouldn’t stop her, but he was not fond of being lied to, and they both knew what was really going on.

Nevertheless, he at least did not feel inclined to simply abandon her entirely. Perhaps he really was a hound, a creature of loyalty. Though not easily given, it was not easily given up, either. With some kind of complicated hand gesture, he pulled an item, for once not a weapon, from interdimensional space. It appeared to have the shape of a very old-fashioned key, made of something like iron, but colder. It was about as long as Ephraim’s longest finger, and about an inch thick. “This is a Shinigami’s Key. It allows limited access to other realms at the will of the user. It will take much of your energy to use it, but if something should find you that you are not prepared to fight, it will not be able to follow. You need only think the name of the place you want and will yourself there. I recommend Shirano if you simply need a sanctuary. It is ruled over by the goddess of snow and hospitality. It is cold, but one of the most peaceful realms on the Wheel. She also will not begrudge wayfarers in search of safe respite. When your energy has recovered, you may then return.” He extended his hand, offering her the object.

“It goes without saying that losing this or using improperly could kill you, I should think.” Nevertheless, he said it anyway.


Had it been a year earlier, she might have flinched when he'd said that. Now...she could only smile sadly. He was right, of course, she was running away. In the end, that was all she was good at. Running away. She took the object he offered. It was well named, for it looked like a key. She stared at it, thinking. She didn't deserve it, honestly, but...she was also not one to look a gift-horse in the mouth, either. Well, not usually, anyway.

The both of them were adverse to touch, but that didn't seem to bother her at all as took two steps froward, throwing her arms around the Hellhound's neck. "Thank you," she whispered, "for letting me call you brother." Of course, she'd never called him any such thing, but...she, like himself, perhaps, had never been good at expressing herself, and this was perhaps the only way she could.

She'd let go of him as soon as she'd latched on, and then...she was simply gone. She knew better than anyone that the longer she prolonged it, the harder it would be for her to leave. And she could not stay.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ephraim Solomon Character Portrait: Virgil Solomon Character Portrait: Nerys Liacht

Earnings

0.00 INK

#, as written by Mihael
Image

Image



The very same day, Ephraim sent a text message to Nerys, asking her to meet himself and Virgil at the office. This was probably news best delivered while her father was still in town—she would need someone to lean on emotionally, and he wasn’t well suited for that. He also had not the faintest idea how Virgil was going to take the news, which was a first. Hence the more-or-less private location. He hadn’t bothered to specify what the meeting was about, and he knew that they would likely assume it had something to do with the Hollow Point. The Hound would be delivering bad news one way or another—even he knew it was best to do so in person.

He sat at his desk, ostensibly working on his crossword, but his pen had not moved in minutes. Virgil had noticed this, and caught on to the fact that his brother was… anxious wasn’t the right word, nor was dreading, but… he certainly was preoccupied by something, and he didn’t like it. The thing was, though… if it was more news about the Hollow Point, it probably wouldn’t have bothered him even this much. Ephraim was fairly nonresponsive, emotionally. Whatever this was, it was probably the kind of thing that would make someone like Nerys cry. Keira was probably just say something snarky, and of course he would tease her for it. Perhaps, when looked at like so, it wasn’t so bad after all, but that remained to be seen…

“My, my, brother,” he said, getting a head-start on the teasing. He was in a decent mood, if not a great one. He would admit, it… irked, the situation with Keira, largely because he seemed to have residual inclinations to chase that which was not inclined to be chased. At least, not intellectually. Perhaps she was still viscerally inclined, but that was ultimately of little relevance. “Quite dramatically silent, are you not? Planning a dramatic reveal of some kind?” He raised a brow.

“I don’t want to say this more than once,” Ephraim replied curtly. Not unusual, but still… something was going on here. At the very least, Virgil could usually sense disruptions of significance in the Hollow Point himself, though Ephy was attuned to even the minor disturbances. But he wouldn’t be so short over minor disturbances—he was not one to make mountains of molehills. Quite the opposite, really.

“Has something happened to one of the others?” When Ephraim’s only answer was silence, he cast his senses out widely enough to encompass both of the women’s homes. Nerys was fine, and quite close at that, but Keira… was not anywhere to be found. “Ephraim…” for once, Virgil’s tone was low, slightly threatening. He wanted to know what was going on, now.

“What aren’t you saying?”

Nerys had been sitting in the living room when her phone went off. Her father, currently sporting the same bright orange apron Ephraim had used, was in the kitchen. The blade in his hand stopped chopping as he regarded his daughter. Nerys only compressed her lips together as she read the message. It was from Ephraim, and he wanted her to meet him and Virgil at the office. She wondered, for a brief moment, why Keira was not mentioned in the message, however; it was probably nothing. She glanced at her father and gave him an apologetic smile. he just shook his head and ushered her out. "Go, and dinner will be ready when you come back, oh! And invite your friends over! We can all have dinner together!" he spoke as Nerys chuckled nervously. That...wasn't a bright idea, however; she merely nodded her head and left her apartment home.

After a brief encounter with a stone that was sticking out, Nerys finally made it to the Solomon office, stepping inside in time to hear Virgil's statement, and immediately, the smile that had been on her face was wiped away. Was something wrong? Did she come in at a bad time? She tugged at a piece of her hair and threaded her fingers through it, combing through the strands as she made her way towards the two. She glanced around for a moment, and hadn't spotted Keira. Come to think of it, Keira did not respond to the message she had sent moments before she stepped out of her apartment. She did not like the foreboding feeling that was settling in the pit of her stomach. It left a sense of emptiness in her, as if she already knew what he was going to say, however; she couldn't be sure, and she wanted so desperately to be wrong.

"Ephraim, Vivi, is something wrong?" she finally decided to ask. It wasn't quite what she had intended to ask, but nonetheless, she spoke. Something didn't seem right, and she was certain that, whatever Ephraim was going to say, it wasn't going to be pleasant for either her, nor Virgil. Somehow, she thought it would affect him worse. And that was something she didn't quite like.

There was no point in delaying anything further. “Keira has left town,” he said quietly, aware if not precisely sensitive to the fact that this would not necessarily be easy news to accept. “Permanently. I sent her away with something that will keep her safe in our absence,” he continued, speaking over what had been looking like the beginning of an objection from Virgil. As though he would have let her leave without some form of safety measure. “I gave her the Key.” that, of course, only meant something to the kitsune, who nodded slightly. He’d almost been ready to rise out of his chair.

Now, however, he was very deeply entrenched in it, and Ephraim could tell from the look on his face—subtle, but there if one knew how to look—that he was thinking quite hard about whatever it was that had last transpired between them. Ephraim would not waste the breath telling the fox that Keira loved him. Either he knew already, which he very well might, or it wasn’t his business. She had elected not to confess this to him, and it wouldn’t be Ephraim that decided to change that indirectly. He’d meant what he told her—he supposed Virgil was just as capable of monogamy as any of his kind, but he did not trust.

So this is what it looks like when he remembers how that feels. If he ever forgets. It was not the first time Virgil had dealt with someone he had some regard for—however much it was—leaving his life abruptly and without telling him. Ephraim imagined it was quite a keen reminder, and edged. Even he’d felt it, a bit, and such bonds were not really in his nature. It had hurt most of all when she’d called him brother and then left anyway.

“I see,” the kitsune said slowly, then rose from his chair. He smiled brightly, so brightly that it could only be feigned, though it was as flawless as every other piece of the man’s artifice. Only much time had taught the Hound the difference. Ephraim’s eyes tracked his brother as he ascended the stairs to the apartment above, and it wasn’t long before one could hear faintly the sounds of a piano.

Sighing though his nose, Ephraim turned to Nerys, taking the seat across from her, which was at his desk anyway, leaning his arms on the polished wood. He didn’t know what to say, but… he could at least listen.

Because that did so much good before, didn’t it, dog? The voice that sneered at him from his own mind was familiar enough to ignore for now. It belonged only to him, and to what he’d once been.

Nerys stared at Ephraim as the words left his mouth. For a second, she heard nothing else. She simply stared at Ephraim, a blank expression over her face. Even her thoughts had come to a complete stop. If one tried to read her mind, they would find absolutely nothing, because Nerys felt nothing. It was an odd concept, one she wasn't even sure she was beginning to like. Keira...left? She left without so much as a goodbye, or at least something that would have caused the empty feeling growing in Nerys's stomach to be smaller than what it was. Why would she leave though? And why hadn't Ephraim stopped her? Wait, he said he sent her away. Her eyes narrowed in on her hands as they balled in her lap. How could he just let her go like that?

"Why?" she spoke, the sound coming out as a mere whisper, however; the edge to it could still be heard, as softly as it was whispered. "Why did you let her go!?" she felt her voice rising in volume. She could feel the wetness of her tears sliding down her cheeks, her eyes refusing to look at him. Keira had once told her that she was afraid everyone would leave her, and yet, here she was doing the leaving. She had left without so much as a word, and he had let it happen. Some part of her begged her to think more rationally, however; she couldn't. Perhaps there was something more to it, the reason why he let her go, but she could not make herself see that. Keira didn't want anyone to leave her, but Keira was the one that left. Keira was her friend, she could have told Nerys what was bothering her.

But would it have made a difference? She could feel her shoulders shaking lightly, the sobs silently escaping her. Was she not Keira's friend anymore? Was she not worthy of having Keira's friendship that the demi-goddess would just up and leave without at least saying goodbye? Her eyes widened slightly. Was she going to lose Ephraim and Virgil's friendship too? Would they leave her just like Keira did? The fear, it welled up inside of Nerys as she wrapped her arms around herself. What if she lost them too? What if they left her too? She'd be alone. She didn't want to be alone. But...maybe she deserved it if she couldn't be a good friend to Keira. If she couldn't even help her friend stay. She had never felt so small before. Even when she had been insulted back in Kirino, this was nothing compared to that.

"Why?"

“Nerys, stop.”

The command was harsher than he’d intended, but then, perhaps the situation could use a bit of harsh. It was the only thing he knew how to be. Ephraim was not gentle, he was not kind. He wasn’t even good. But he was her friend, or so she said, and perhaps that was why he just wanted her to stop what he could see her doing. Blaming Keira was one thing—blaming him and especially herself were entirely different. At least the first was a reasonably rational reaction to what had happened. This was… the opposite of rational, and he wasn’t entirely sure how to handle it, because the only irrationality he’d ever really indulged in was the violent kind. This wasn’t that, either.

“I let her go because she is an adult who can make her own decisions without needing to ask me for permission. I had no right to stop her, and she only told me because she knew I wouldn’t try. At least this way, she was able to leave with a safety measure with her, rather than without one. Her reasons for leaving are her own, and it is her business whether or not she chooses to disclose them to anyone, now or later.” He paused, consciously making the attempt to gentle his tone. He never got it quite right, because gentleness wasn’t part of his makeup. It could be at best a decent facsimile of the tone in others.

“It wasn’t because of you. There are things here that had become too difficult for her to deal with, and they were not the kind of things that could be solved with a little help and a little time. She chose as she did because she felt it was the best thing for her to do, for her own sake. She had to make a decision on what she wanted from her life, and she chose to start a new one somewhere else. I know… I know she was your friend. I believe that she was mine as well. It is… I did not want her to leave, but it was not and is not something I get to decide. The choice was hers, and she made it. We have to allow her that right.”

He wasn’t sure he’d ever actually said that many words at once before, but…well, he found himself with the desire, once more, to make her feel better. It was really a shame that it was something for which he had no talent whatsoever.

She flinched slightly, not meaning to, at the sound of his voice. He was right, she knew that. Keira was an adult, and as such was more than capable of making her own decisions for her own life, however; that didn't mean that it hurt any less. She could have at least said goodbye, Nerys would have tried to understand. She would have tried because Keira was her friend. She would carry an empty space now, in her life though. Keira...she was gone, and Nerys didn't even get the chance to say goodbye. She raised her eyes, slowly, allowing them to land on Ephraim's chin, because she could not raise them higher to meet his eyes. She couldn't do that.

"I'm sorry," she stated, wiping the back of her eyes with her hand as she dried her tears. "I just...I...didn't get to say goodbye," she stated. She could feel her eyes burning, but she refused to cry. Crying wouldn't bring Keira back, and it wouldn't make her feel any better about the situation. "If...if you and Virgil leave too, will you at least say goodbye?" she spoke. She wasn't sure why she wanted to make that request, but she wanted to. "I...you don't have to, but," she paused, unsure of what else to say. They didn't have to say goodbye, but she hoped they would. She could feel something in her heart clench at the thought of them leaving, especially him, but she would accept it.

She would because she couldn't bring herself to be more than anything else. She couldn't be more than just Nerys, the Black Kirin, the Abomination. And who could ever want that? "Never mind," she stated, her voice tired and somehow weak. They did not owe her anything, and if they decided to leave, then they were free to do so. Keira was her friend, and she had liked to think that Keira would at least talk to her about something, even if it was in an indirect way, she would have understood. And she wouldn't be hurting so much, though she did not show it. She couldn't, because then, she was being selfish. She couldn't be selfish for that. "I hope she finds what she is looking for."

Cautiously, only half-sure of what he was doing, Ephraim reached a hand across the desk. His first instinct was to lay it on her head, but that felt too paternal, so he rested it on her shoulder instead, ducking his head to make up the distance she couldn’t seem to manage for eye contact. “I can’t see the future,” he said, “and my decisions are not mine to make. I work for the Arbiter, and where he tells me to, I go. But… for the foreseeable future, that it here. And you have my word that if we ever have to leave for more than a couple of weeks, I will tell you.” he paused, sighing through his nose. He seemed to be doing a lot of that lately.

“You too, right? If you get called somewhere, or have to leave for some reason, you’ll come tell us, won’t you?” Not that he foresaw that happening, but he wanted… he wanted her to understand that she counted. In Virgil’s estimation and in his. He knew what it was like to believe the opposite, and it was, while not the worst feeling in the world, pretty close.

"Okay," she replied, but somehow, she wasn't sure she believed it. She wouldn't leave. She never had reason to leave the town she lived in. Everything she had, needed was here in this town. She didn't travel, and she had no desire to. Her father lived in the larger city, a little past River Lake, however; he always came to visit her at least once every other week. Perhaps, if he was unlucky, once a month. She kept his gaze before allowing it to falter once more, removing his hand from her shoulder and placing it back on the desk, however; she kept her hand in his. It gave her slight comfort, but she released it soon after. She couldn't.

"I'll tell you and Virgil too, if something ever comes up," though she doubted it will. He and Virgil went where the Arbiter sent them. That could be anywhere, and if the Arbiter decided to send them away for good, she would be left behind. She pushed those thoughts aside as she reached for the bag at her side. "I...brought this for you and Vivi," she decided to say, laying the pan on the desk. "It's apple cobbler."

Virgil was behind this somehow; he just knew it. Ephraim’s left eye twitched just minutely, but he nodded slightly. It smelled delicious, but… “Thank you, Nerys,” he said quietly, then shook his head just slightly. “Perhaps… you would stay and have some as well? I do not believe Virgil will be back down for the evening, but… you are welcome to remain if you wish.” With him, and why did it seem so strange? They were by themselves all the time when they trained, and occasionally on patrol as well. Perhaps it was only the strangeness of knowing that it were three of them, now, where once there had been four. “If you’d rather go home, don’t feel obligated to stay, of course.” It might be that she’d prefer her father’s company right now, and that he would certainly understand.

Nerys smiled softly, something caught between acceptance and sorrow. It was weird, pulling at her lips like that, but she had to smile. Keira made her decision, there was nothing more Nerys could do about it, and Nerys did not want to go home quite yet. If she did, she was afraid she would break in front of her father, and she did not wish for the man to see that. "I'll stay, and, Ephraim," she paused, lifting her head finally to glance at him fully. "You're welcome."

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ephraim Solomon Character Portrait: Virgil Solomon Character Portrait: Nerys Liacht

Earnings

0.00 INK



Image

Image



Two months from the day Keira left, and life had settled into a new routine. They were one person short in terms of patrols, but considering how much time Virgil spent by himself these days, everything was still covered fine. The kitsune would circle the town on his own several times a day anyway. Ephraim picked up the slack that was left—neither of them was of much inclination to let Nerys go by herself, considering her nature, and the fact that she was what drew many of the things to the town in the first place. Well, a fair number of them, anyhow.

Virgil otherwise acted exactly like he had before Keira had left, or rather… before he’d met her at all. It wasn’t a major difference, but Ephraim had known him long enough to notice the regression. His habits were annoying as ever, and though he did not ever bring people back to their residence, he’d started making ventures to the nearest decently-sized city. It was more responsible, considering the way information tended to travel in this town, but also inconvenient for their job here. Ephraim hadn’t said a word about it, because… well, he told himself it was because it wasn’t any of his business if his brother wanted to fuck everything in a fifty-mile radius, but really it was because this was a conversation he didn’t know how to have. There was more to it than there had been, but how it was supposed to work now, the Hound hadn’t the faintest idea. So he’d left it alone.

He was sitting in the office—Virgil was taking the evening patrol and Nerys was in her bakery. He knew this without having to check; it was becoming a strange awareness of his, that he knew always where she was. Still, he didn’t bother contemplating it overmuch. He was not really a contemplative kind of man, and rarely understood himself even when he tried. That reporter had been sniffing around again, apparently unconcerned with his daughter’s disappearance or just unaware of it, but he was not expecting someone to step through the front door.

Ephraim looked up from his crossword and coffee and blinked ruby-colored eyes at an elderly couple. Not the Baileys, but perhaps of a similar apparent age. Of course, both of the Baileys were not quite what they appeared, whereas these were simply humans. They had the aspect of a longtime couple—even he knew what it looked like, what it meant when two people stood like that. Like their entire world was oriented around the other. He gestured for both to sit, and watched the man move out a chair for his wife, who moved with the assistance of a cane. She smiled pleasantly at him as she sat, and then her husband did as well, both apparently undeterred by his rather forbidding appearance. He could and did respect that.

“The Baileys tell us you’re the one to go to if we need to fix something… strange.” the man said, looking a bit uncertain. Ephraim couldn’t blame him; the kind of thing people would come to him for was hard for most humans to accept even existed, let alone admit to believing to a stranger. He inclined his head slightly in a form of encouragement.

“It’s our wardrobe, you see,” his wife continued, a bit reassured by the fact that he wasn’t staring incredulously, yet. “For as long as we’ve had it, things would occasionally show up at the bottom of it that we never remembered owning or buying. Odd things—old-fashioned sandals, silk scarves, even jewelry.”

Ephraim placed his elbows on the desk, leaning forward slightly and clasping his hands together, propping his chin on them and raising a brow. “And you’re sure these aren’t items other people may have left, or old ones you just forgot about?” He flicked his glance between the pair, who were looking at each other with apprehension. Seeing that they were hesitant to tell him what they really wanted to, he suppressed a sigh. “Mr. and Mrs…?”

“West,” the man supplied, holding out his hand. “I’m Arthur West, and this is my wife Eliza.” Ephraim took the hand and shook it, followed by the woman’s.

“Ephraim Solomon. You should know that anything you tell my brother and I is held in confidence. We are licensed private detectives; our confidentiality is protected by law, and I certainly have no reason to tell anyone but my partners what you tell me.” He watched the unease fade a little, but when Arthur spoke, his voice was still low.

“We thought so, too. But… but last week, a… a corpse showed up in there. We were in the room eating breakfast, and there was a thud from inside. I went to open it, and… a woman’s body fell out. She had a stab wound, I think… there was blood all over her clothes, and then… she disappeared.”

“Just dissolved into particles, like snowflakes, only they travelled up and disappeared,” Eliza added, shuddering.

Well, he certainly understood why they’d come to him. “This woman… can you describe anything about her?”

They both breathed a collective sigh of relief, doubtless because he believed them, and seemed to know what he was talking about. Arthur looked thoughtful for a moment, then nodded. “She looked young,” he said, “Maybe as young as Beth? That’s our granddaughter. She’s… twenty four now, I think.” Eliza nodded in agreement.

“She had brown hair, but her eyes were closed. Oh! She was wearing a kimono, I think it’s called. A white one. You could… you could see all the blood…” She trailed off, looking faintly ill.

Ephraim nodded. “Find someone to stay with, if you can, and don’t open the wardrobe again without myself or my brother there. We'll be by tomorrow morning to take a look.”




The wardrobe looked relatively plain, if well-made, but that was no indication of anything. It was located in the master bedroom of the small house the Wests shared. Ephraim stood in front of it, Virgil to one side and Nerys to the other—he’d instructed them to pack for an extra day, but lightly, so all of them sported some kind of backpack or satchel.

“Ready?” he asked. He wasn’t exactly sure what was going to be in there, but he had a pretty good hypothesis.

It wasn't easy, running the shop without Keira there. Though she had her other co-workers, the place just seemed empty without Keira. Even Nari and Kami were gone, and it felt empty without them. She had went through the motions the first month, trying to readjust herself into a world without her best friend. It hurt, the first few weeks, but she'd simply stopped crying herself to sleep; stopped blaming herself for something she didn't do nor had any control over. Keira was gone, and there was nothing else she could do about it. She had noticed the small change in Virgil, though. It was hard to see, but after knowing him and his brother for so long, she had come to pay close attention to smaller details, ones people would usually miss.

She didn't say anything about it though. It wasn't her place, and she was sure that there was something more to it than what she was seeing. She couldn't do anything then, and she couldn't do anything now. She didn't want to make things worse than what they were, if they were in fact worse. She received a call from Ephraim, telling her to meet him and Virgil at the Wests' home. She had smiled softly to herself at the name. She knew the Wests, they were kind, and gentle people, very similar to the Bailey's really, but she couldn't, for the life of her, figure out why she and the others were needed there. Apparently, it had to do with an old wardrobe of theirs.

Nerys had left the shop in the hands of Erika, trusting the girl to run the shop while she was gone. Ephraim had spoke for them to pack for an extra day, just in case, and she didn't want to leave the shop unattended to. She didn't have very many backpacks to begin with, though she did have one bag. It was a plain white satchel, something that used to belong to her mother, who had given it to her when she was still young. She smiled softly as she stared at the wardrobe in front of them, glancing between the two brothers before allowing her eyes to drop. It was still weird, but the feeling had subsided to just a small itch.

"Is that a trick question?" Nerys stated, shifting nervously in her spot. She wasn't sure what was in the wardrobe, or what was even going to happen. Perhaps it was another gate, or maybe something else could be wrong with it. Nevertheless, she shook her head and puffed her cheeks out. "Ready when you are captain!" though she really wasn't.

Ephraim raised an eyebrow at her. Captain? That was a new one. Virgil snickered, ruffling Nene’s hair a bit before he allowed his arm to fall back to his side. He knew she was feeling apprehensive, but sometimes the only thing to do in such cases was to keep on moving forward. Not that he was doing a particularly good job of that right now. He must be slipping, if the both of them had managed to notice his unease. Ephraim, he would have expected, only because they knew each other with the kind of knowledge only centuries could provide. Nene, he supposed, was simply good at reading people, though Virgil counted himself rather adroit at not being read.

Well, perhaps it was to be expected, when he himself had no idea how he was still in this figurative mental place. The one where he missed her. Virgil had only ever missed one person in his entire life, and she was of a decidedly different kind from the one he missed now. From this whole situation, really—the two cases could not be compared. He supposed he would miss the other two, if something happened to them, but more in the way he was used to than in this way.

But Ephraim was opening the wardrobe, and it was time to abandon the strange direction of his thoughts, to ignore the bizarre ache—to know what it meant was not the same as accepting the truth of it. Shaking his head slightly, he refocused on what was going on, sniffing the air slightly and frowning. Oh yes, this was exactly what—

Virgil blinked when Ephraim parted the clothes in the wardrobe and climbed up into it. He disappeared for a few seconds, then appeared again from between a pair of sweaters. “I found the other side,” he said, “come on.” So saying, he reached forward and took Nerys’s hand to help her up into the wardrobe, which should not have been able to fit the both of them comfortably but did. Nodding slightly at her, he turned and pulled her gently behind him, through what seemed to be quite a lot more clothes than the Wests could possibly own. As they went, they changed, too, becoming fewer sweaters and slacks and more silken kimonos and so on, clearly feminine and exceptionally well-made.

“A wardrobe connected to a wardrobe,” he explained, with a small snort of derision for the sheer quantity of clothing in the second. Then again, when you had eternity to accumulate it all… “The second belongs to a god. We’ll be out in a few more minutes—don’t take any detours.” Given the instruction, it was a safe bet that he did not realize he was still holding her hand, which would obviously prevent her from doing so regardless.

They emerged into an opulent bedchamber in a traditional style, some elements quite similar to ancient Japanese ones—more evidence that there had once been a Hollow Point of great size in that country. Even some of the cultural aspects of life in a god’s realm had leaked into the human society there. Curiously, some of the bedclothes were disheveled, and many items that had once been on the shelves here had fallen to the floor.

“Ransacked?” Virgil asked, emerging from the armoire behind them. He noticed the fact that his brother had still not let go of Nene’s hand, but he said nothing, any possible joviality killed by the blossoming of an ugly feeling in his chest. He was aware enough to identify it as jealousy, but not in the usual sense. It was not a feeling he was used to, and he did not like it. Sighing through his nose, the kitsune banished the thought and stepped further into the room.

“So it appears,” Ephraim said, observing the way the bookshelf in here appeared to have been rifled through almost obsessively. “But why here? The god is minor at best—what would they want to take?”

Nerys pursed her lips together when Virgil ruffled her hair, however; she just smiled at him and watched Ephraim head into the wardrobe first. It was only a few seconds before he reappeared informing them that he had found the other side, and lead them in, grabbing Nerys's hand in the process. She paid no mind to it, instead, clapsing her hand over his and let him lead the way. After all, even if it was just a wardrobe, it was a magical wardrobe, and Nerys had no intentions of getting lost inside said wardrobe. There were a lot of clothes, and Nerys couldn't help but marvel as they continued going through them. They began changing into kimonos, reminiscent of the ones from her realm, and she couldn't help but think of them. She wondered how the realm was doing, wondered if it was getting back on its feet, however; those thoughts were for another time.

"You're holding my hand, Ephraim, how could I make any detours?" she spoke softly behind his back, though she glanced behind her to spot Virgil, and smiled at him. Once they emerged, Nerys pulled her free hand towards her mouth, covering the gasp that had threatened to come out of her as she surveyed the room. It was cluttered, books, clothing, and any minor thing were thrown carelessly about. Someone wanted something in there, it was obvious enough, however; if the God was minor as Ephraim stated, what could they have possibly gained by doing this? It made no sense to her, and she made to move, but her hand was still in Ephraim's. She glanced up at him, and tapped his shoulder. "You can let go of my hand now, Ephraim. I am not going to go far. I just want to look around," she spoke softly as she released her hand from his, and waited for him to do the same.

"Usually, people who don't need a reason to break into a place. If there is something valuable or not, they'll take whatever they can just to sell it," she replied. It was not that long ago, before she met Ephraim and Virgil actually, that her bakery had been broken into. They didn't steal much, but they did get away with a few of her appliances. "But I suppose it's different in a different world than in ours," she added softly. It probably worked differently in different realms. Like with Caius, who wanted something and ended up killing her grandfather for it. Perhaps this was a similar case? She sighed softly, shifting the bag on her shoulder in a more comfortable manner before glancing back at Ephraim and Virgil. "Perhaps, we should look around more and maybe ask who knew who owned this room? It might not be much, but...we can at least figure out who lived here and get information," she stated, her voice soft as she continued glancing around.

Ephraim blinked, releasing her hand immediately. He hadn’t really been paying attention and had forgotten he’d even taken it in the first place—it wasn’t like him to be so unobservant of what was going on, especially not of what he was doing. It just felt… natural, a thought he quashed before it could get any further than that. Virgil rolled his eyes, but not where either of them could see it. Really, they were so blind. Well, not Nene; she seemed to have some idea of what was going on. But his brother, on the other hand, was completely oblivious. Even without his empathy, he would have been able to guess what was going on there.

“You’re right about one thing, Nene,” he said, shuffling through a few of the documents himself. “People don’t always need a reason to do something like this, but… to consciously make the decision to raid the home of a god is considered a crime against order, and does not go over well with many people. Whomever did this just made himself, herself, or itself a lot of enemies, and took a big risk. That suggests that they had a good enough reason to want to.” The documents weren’t telling him anything useful, so he turned back around, to find Ephraim running his hands along the walls, nostrils flaring as he doubtless took in some scent that was impossible for even Virgil’s sharp olfaction to detect. There were simply things the Hound did better than anyone else he’d ever met, and that was one of them.

Ephraim’s knuckles rapped against the wall, and then he dropped into a crouch, examining the juncture between wall and floor with a tilted head. Virgil approached, and noticed what had drawn Ephraim’s attention. There were very slight scuff marks on the wood, right up next to the wall. “Hidden door?” Virgil asked curiously.

“Perhaps,” his brother responded thoughtfully. “But we won’t know unless we can find the switch.”

Nerys had wandered to a different part of the room after Ephraim had released her hand. Virgil had answered some of her questions at least. The room belonged to a God, and the person who ransacked it had to have had a reason to have done so. She pursed her lips together, a frown marring her face as she glanced towards Ephraim and Virgil. Apparently Ephraim found a trapped door, and they needed to find a switch. Didn't switches usually hide in bookshelves? Or was that just in the movies? Probably just the movies, but whatever the case, Nerys began her own search, letting her hands glide over the books in a nearby shelf before sighing. There was nothing out of the ordinary, and everything seemed to be in place.

"I don't suppose you can just say 'Open says me' and the door wi--" she began the statement with the purpose of finishing it, however; for all that she was, Nerys was not looking down for once. If she had been, she would have noticed the broken board laying in front of her foot, slightly tilted up so that when her foot slipped in the hole, it would be caught. And it did get caught. Her eyes widened, her mouth slightly open as she made to yell, however; her hands shot outright to catch herself. While trying to catch herself, her hand tapped against a vase, a rather expensive looking vase, and while doing so, knocked it off. She tried to catch it as well, however; as she fumbled with it, the first reason she had knocked it over to begin with, momentarily left her mind. She fell to the floor, the vase still in her hand as she blinked up.

"I'm sorry," she immediately stated as she glanced at Ephraim and Virgil.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ephraim Solomon Character Portrait: Virgil Solomon Character Portrait: Nerys Liacht

Earnings

0.00 INK

#, as written by Mihael
Image

Image



“No need to apologize Nene,” Virgil said cheerfully, smiling at the comedy of the scene. Ephraim had blinked at her, as though disbelieving that someone could possibly actually fall so dramatically, but he regained his sense of immediacy once she actually hit the ground, and walked over with a sigh, quite literally picking her up and setting her back on the ground. “You did open the door, after all.” His guess was that the vase on was some kind of pressure switch, which activated when it was removed, because the wall had slid to the side, explaining the scuff marks near the edge of it.

“Indeed. Though perhaps next time, you could succeed in solving the problem without putting yourself at risk for breaking something.” Ephraim’s tone was caught between his usual flat one and something gruff, almost grumpy or sullen; Virgil, knowing exactly why, laughed, earning himself a glare from ruby-reds.

“I thought it was adorable,” the fox said, turning back to what the door had actually revealed. It was not a corridor or anything, more like a small storage compartment. Curiously, two things were still inside, artifacts that Virgil recognized. The space in the middle, however, was conspicuously empty. “Oh dear,” he said, a note of genuine concern entering his jovial voice.

Ephraim, approaching from behind, looked over his shoulder and swore in several different languages, including the arcane ones. Figuring he should probably fill in his friend, Virgil shook his head and folded his arms into his sleeves. “These artifacts are part of a triplicate belonging to Himitsukami, the god of Secrets and Mystery. She would not have parted with even one of them willingly. It looks like the thief left the Whisperer and the Lexicon.” He glanced down at the two artifacts still in the case.

“Which means it took the Obscuring Lens.” Ephraim replied, gritting his teeth. It was not a weapon, but it was perhaps more dangerous than any singular damaging object could be in a certain sense. He glanced over at Nerys. “The Lens is an object that allows someone to pass between realms without the use of a Gate, and beneath the sight of even The Arbiter. Whomever has it is a ghost, essentially, able to go where, when, and why they please, without needing the assistance of a Shinigami or even a Hollow Point.” It was hard to say for sure, but he was willing to bet their problems had just gotten a whole lot bigger. Or at least his, as the long arm of the Arbiter.

“Come on; we need to get out of this room; see if there’s anyone around that can tell us what happened. Virgil, take the Lexicon and the Whisperer. At least if we have them we know nobody else does.” Those objects were far less dangerous, but still bad in the wrong hands. He sighed raggedly through his nose, the end of the noise bottoming out into something like a growl, but he suppressed it. Now was the time to investigate, not get angry. They needed to figure out as much about what happened as possible. Leading the way to the door out, Ephraim opened it and stepped through, the others behind him.

Nerys pursed her lips together at Virgil and pursed them further at Ephraim's statement. She hadn't meant to trip, and knock over the vase. It just happened, but at least they found the switch, as Virgil pointed out. She blinked as Ephraim literally lifted her from the floor, and set her back on her feet. She thanked him quietly as Virgil moved to inspect the door that had opened. She blinked when she heard him speak, and tilted her head in confusion when Ephraim seemed to speak in different languages. She wasn't aware what they meant, but judging by his tone, it couldn't be good. And it was made clear why. The object that was stolen was an important artifact, one that rendered its holder practically invisible to the Arbiter. But who could want such an object? She allowed her eyes to fall before quickly glancing back up.

She followed behind Virgil as they exited the room, her eyes glancing around to inspect the home. It was large, obviously so. It belonged to a Goddess after all, however; as they continued down the hall, it appeared as if there was no one around. Odd, the place looked well-kept, and had a Goddess not lived here not more than a moment ago? Shouldn't there be servants, or others of such-like statuses in the place? She traveled a bit aways from the two males, opening doors and sliding cabinets open. She sighed softly as she pursed her lips together, raising a brow as she continued her search. There had to be someone around, right? She stooped lowly, opening a lower cabinet and peered inside.

"We came out of a wardrobe, wouldn't there be other things like it?" she muttered to herself, closing the cabinet door and turned towards the two Solomon brothers. "Where did all the people go?" she muttered, frowning slightly. There had to be others around, unless the one responsible for the theivery managed to slay everyone. That...was not a pleasant thought, and it only caused Nerys's frown to deepen. She hoped everyone was still okay, if there were in fact, other people around.

Ephraim blinked, shaking his head when Nerys checked under a cabinet. Her thought made a certain kind of strange sense, for someone without all the information. “Himitsukami was authorized to have an emergency Gate to Ningeno,” he explained. “She was probably attempting to use it when she died, which explains how the Wests found her. She was dying when she reached them, and she simply didn’t survive much past that point. Gods and most of the beings that function as servants of gods do not leave corpses when they die. They simply become light or air or something similar depending on their natures. Even if everyone here were killed, we wouldn’t know, because there would be nothing left behind.” He suspected that was what had happened though—it was far too much of a coincidence to be otherwise.

“And without knowing which ones belong here, it’s hard to identify the intruders and servants by scent,” Virgil added, shaking his head. “Still… we might as well check the grounds. This is a very small realm; if anyone is still here, we should be able to pick up on it from out there.” Ephraim nodded, and the three of them started searching for the exit.




As it turned out, the grounds were so lovely, one might even be able to call them divine. As Himitsukami also happened to be the god of roses—sometimes, a god’s dominions really had nothing to do with one another—the gardens were massive, containing not only the flowers of her essence, but also dozens of other varieties, all awash with the golden glow of the sun. The scents were heady and almost intoxicating for someone with a nose as sensitive as Virgil’s, but he was fairly skilled at not showing it. The paths cut into the sprawling flowerbeds, herb patches, and trees were natural and paved only in dirt and stone, and the sound of running water indicated a fountain or a stream nearby.

“Nothing,” he said with a pursing of the lips, and Ephraim shook his head to indicate that he couldn’t pick up on anyone’s presence either. “Still, I suppose it’s something that we know the Lens was stolen. Himitsukami wasn’t exactly social—it could have been decades before anyone thought to stop in on her and discover what happened.” That got him a nod, but he could tell Ephraim’s mind was wandering.

“Well,” he said, glancing around. “We brought enough supplies for another day. I don’t know about the two of you, but I at least am hungry. We should eat before we do anything else, and where better than here?” they’d searched the castle top-to-bottom, and it had taken them the better part of a day.

Nerys allowed her gaze to falter. If there had been other people here, the person who stole the Lens had to have either been extremely strong, or perhaps, they were the silent and stealth type. How could one person manage that much on their own? Granted, it could have been more than one person, however; the staff might not have all been trained in combat, and it could have only taken one person, or thing, to slay them all. Nerys could not help but feel sad for them. They did not deserve to die like that, or at all. Why couldn't the person have just stolen the object? What need was there to kill everyone? It was times like these that Nerys could still not understand the objective of killing someone just because. She sighed softly through her nose, following the Solomons as they made their way around the castle.

By the time they reached the outside, a few hours had passed. Nerys, however, stood in awe of the realm. To say it was beautiful might have been an understatement, but there were no other words to describe the place. In a way, it almost reminded her of the Kirino realm, however; even with all its purity, the Kirino realm could not hold a flicker of flame to this place. She blinked slowly when Virgil spoke, and her eyes lit up. If he was hungry, and they had extra supplies, she could make something. Would it be rude to use a dead god's kitchen? Perhaps, but then again, she did bring left overs, and if Virgil wanted, they could re-heat and share them. She also brought a few pastries from her bakery, however; they needed more than just sweets.

"Well, I can make something if you'd like! I also brought a few things from the bakery, like," she paused, rummaging through her pack before pulling out two separate dishes, "the strawberry scone and some apple fritters with peanut butter caramel sauce," she concluded, opening the two dishes up and presenting it to Ephraim and Virgil. She smiled before it disappeared with a sudden realization. "But you might want actual food first. If...if you want, I can still make something," she stated, this time a bit lower as she glanced away and fidgeted nervously.

“You go right ahead and do that, Nene,” Virgil said, smiling. “An outdoor meal sounds perfect at the moment. Ephy will even take you to the kitchen so you don’t have to cook alone, won’t you, Ephy?” Virgil grinned at his brother, who glared venomously. Something he saw, however, mollified him somewhat, and he sighed his resignation and nodded, gesturing for Nerys to follow him.

Virgil remained in the garden for a while, glad that his brother had interpreted his meaning correctly, and his mouth pulled down into a frown. Something about this place hit him with a sense of nostalgia, for things that had been a long time ago, and things that might have become but never were. It was difficult for even him to continue smiling under such circumstances, and he would not frown in front of other people. Not for such reasons as these. As far as almost anyone knew, Virgil had all the depth of a dry puddle, and he was fine with people believing this. It kept things simpler, and there were certain aspects of his life in which he had never enjoyed depth or complication particularly.

Both, unfortunately, had found him, and fooled the fox himself into believing they were as idle and frivolous as the rest. Golden eyes lost their focus for a moment, and he resigned himself to the building ache inside his chest. It was part misery, but also part compulsion. The instinctive need to seek, to find, to possess. A rather ugly part of himself, all things considered, but then when it came right down to it, most of what was under his skin was ugly. He knew it was his fault, that she’d gone. Just like it was his fault his sister had been murdered, in the end. His touch had a way of poisoning things; intellectually, he knew it was better that she’d gone.

But it was still an action taken too late to help him any.

“Just my luck,” he murmured, something dark and bitter creeping into his tone. Five hundred and odd years of living, and he’d avoided this problem. Leave it to her to take a year and a half to undo so much of it. He was never one to linger on a lover, and yet, the memory of her was so keen he could still see the rare smile on her face, such a little expression, but precious for its infrequency. He could hear the flat tone she used to chide him, the way it changed so utterly when she was breathless beneath him. He could smell her, laced in with the roses, as though she were standing right behind him. Nothing had chased her taste from his tongue since that day.

He hated her for that, just a little. His life might not have been what most would consider good before her, but he had been content in it. Now he was only despondent. Reaching over to a rosebush, he ran a finger along the petals of the nearest, an impossible blue one. The texture reminded him of—

His eyes narrowed. Would this never cease? Still… he reached over, cutting the stem of the thing with his claws, bringing the flower to his nose. Lowering it slightly, he chuckled mirthlessly, cursing his fortunes. A rose by any other name would smell as sweet, a man had said once.

Apparently, a rose by any name at all would still smell like Keira.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ephraim Solomon Character Portrait: Nerys Liacht

Earnings

0.00 INK



Image

Image



Nerys nodded to Virgil, glancing towards Ephraim before he lead the way towards the kitchen. She hummed softly behind him, glancing at the various objects that were still in the home. It was odd, cooking in a place where a Goddess had once lived. For a moment, she wondered what type of people they were, the servants and the Goddess. Virgil had mentioned that Himitsukami wasn't exactly social, but she still wondered if the Goddess was kind or if she was exactly as unsocial as Virgil made her out to be. She pushed the thoughts out of her mind when they reached the kitchen, glancing in awe at how large it was. The castle itself was large, and she shouldn't have been too surprised to know that the kitchen was also large. There was probably a large staff to feed at one time.

The question that remained though, was what to make. Nerys could bake, and her cooking was probably mediocre at best, however; she would try her hardest to make something pleasant for her friends. "Is there anything in particular you and Virgil might want?" she finally settled on asking. After all the months they spent together, she was uncertain of their preferences. Though, there was that one time Ephraim cooked for her when she fell ill. The soup had been delicious, even if she could barely taste it with her nose clogging up and her taste buds being off whack. "I am not so diverse in cooking as I am in baking, but I can at least try!" she continued, smiling as best as she could in the atmosphere.

She truly did wish to help in any way she could, and as she spoke those words, she made to gather supplies. Pans, spoons, whatever she could get her hands on, and laid them out. It wasn't many, and she was sure she'd probably grabbed more than what they needed, however; they would need to cut things. She turned, searching a few drawers for the knives, and hummed in content when she found them. She grabbed a few of them, and placed them down, however; as she laid one down, her finger slipped on the edge of one and her hand immediately flew to her mouth. Immediately, the metallic taste of blood passed over her tongue, and her face wrinkled in disgust. She really should think of a better reaction every time she harms herself.

Ephraim watched her gather the first of the supplies, considering the information she’d provided him and reaching the determination that he should probably assist. While Himitsukami, like most gods, enjoyed the most useful of modern conveniences from Ningeno and had indeed supplied a kitchen more or less on par with a professional restaurant one, he wasn’t sure all the ingredients would be things she was used to seeing, unless she was accustomed to cooking for very, very wealthy people. He could not have been more than through the first two cabinets, however, when the sharp spike of her blood hit his nose, he turned abruptly, registering with merciful quickness that she was not in any danger—save perhaps from her own gracelessness. The Hellhound frowned, closing the space between them and gripping her wrist, lowering it until her hand came away from her mouth. Turning the faucet on with his elbow, he guided the injured digit beneath it. It wouldn’t chase away all chance of infection, but it was better than saliva.

Which did not explain why he’d been tempted to lick it himself. That, he put down to bizarre instinct and the healing properties of her blood. And the smell; definitely the smell. He wasn’t a vampire, but he was a predator.

Once the wound was clean, he turned the tap off and grabbed a towel, padding it dry with the soft fabric and withdrawing a small roll of bandages from his coat pocket. He wasn’t Virgil; he didn’t have extradimensional space up his sleeves, but he traveled frequently with someone prone to accidents—it paid to be prepared, as now. Carefully, he twined the roll around her finger a few times, tearing it off with his free hand and his teeth when the wound was sufficiently covered. The hand holding hers smoothed back from her palm over her wrist, fingers trailing halfway up her arm to her elbow. When had he stepped so close? He couldn’t recall, but something about her smell from this proximity was…

Ephraim didn’t really think about what he was doing—he simply moved, leaning in and down, slowly enough that he didn’t notice, either, not until his nose was maybe three inches from hers. Such a minor wound—on anyone else, including and especially himself, he simply wouldn’t have cared. So why had his automatic reaction been to treat it, here? Why did the knowledge that she hurt, was in even a trivial amount of pain, move him this way? He’d killed people and felt less at their deaths than he did when this woman cut her finger in her own clumsiness. He’d always known he was a monster, by most definitions, but that… he’d at least known he was like that with everyone, and so hadn’t believed himself to even have the capacity to care. Not like he cared about—

The gap had closed to an inch—even her breath was sweet—when he abruptly realized what he was about to do and slammed the brakes on all his thoughts, backing up several paces and shaking his head. That had been… what? A near miss? She’d already kissed him, why should he not repeat that here? Perhaps she didn’t remember—that was bound to be uncomfortable. Perhaps she regretted it—that even seemed likely. He wasn’t stupid; he knew he was attracted to her. But he couldn’t bring himself to act on that, not like he had before, with other people. Would have, with anyone else in the same situation. Because this wasn’t anyone else, it was Nerys. And unlike his brother, he didn’t believe in mixing business and pleasure. They could be friends—were friends. But that was it.

Taking up the knife that she’d cut herself on, he washed it deftly and changed cutting boards. “I’ll handle the sharp objects, I think,” and mercifully, his tone came out the same as ever. “To answer your previous question, Virgil is a bottomless pit who will eat basically anything. I don’t have any significant preferences beyond a very marked dislike of asparagus.”

Nerys frowned slightly until Ephraim stood closely in front of her. She blinked up at him, finger still in her mouth until his hand grabbed her wrist, tugging the digit from her mouth. She pursed her lips together, letting him move her hand so that it was being rinsed underneath the faucet. Once it was rinsed, he pulled a pack of bandages out, and Nerys had half the mind to think that it was because of her, that he even had them. She'd been with them for, what, almost two years now, and they already knew she was an accident prone person. She tried, she really did, to watch out more for herself so that she didn't have to make her friends worry about her, or inadvertently cause another scene like with the graveyard incident. That was something not worth repeating, however; most of her thoughts came to a halt when she felt something trailing along her arm.

She blinked, taking notice of their close proximity, however; she was able to fight the rising of her cheeks and keep the blush from appearing. She opened her mouth to say something, but couldn't find the words to speak. He was so close to her, their noses just a few inches from each other, and she tried to gather her thoughts into a more coherent stream. Nothing seemed to work, and all she seemed to focus on was the reality of their closeness, and his face just a mere inch away now. She could feel her heart beat rising, feel it slamming against her chest as every thing around them seemed to be drowned out. She lifted her hand, intent on running it through his hair, however; it fell to her side almost as quickly as he backed away, realization spearing through his eyes, and Nerys found it quite hard to breathe suddenly.

She could feel the blush she had fought, creep up against her cheeks, and she tried to readjust her breathing so that it came out in slow, even breaths. He had been so close, so close to repeating the same incident which she had did not long ago. And somewhere, Nerys was...disappointed. She didn't regret what she had done, that day in the bar, however; she had only wished that it was not when she was incapacitated. Perhaps she had made him feel uncomfortable about it, and she didn't desire to ruin their friendship in any other way. But she wanted to. Somewhere, with that same disappointment, she wanted to ruin that friendship, but she didn't, because she couldn't bring herself to make that decision. It was selfish, and even though she tried, she just couldn't bring herself to be selfish about things.

She still recalled what Virgil had told her, but that did not help matters. Ephraim probably only cared about her for other reasons than what she wanted to believe. She wanted to believe that he cared, she really did, but she couldn't, because she cared. She cared so much, she was starting to realize why. She might have been naive about things, but she wasn't so much a child that she couldn't figure things out. She sighed softly, shaking her head when he took over the cutting. Perhaps it was better this way, however; she glanced at him and spoke softly.

"I know I never said it properly, but I am sorry," she stated, glancing away as she grabbed one of the pots. "About what happened in the bar, I mean. I shouldn't have done that, but I don't...I don't regret it. I just...I just thought you should know," she added. She allowed her mind to drift to what he had spoken. Virgil was a bottomless pit, and he liked anything that wasn't asparagus. "Well, dad was always a fan of Japanese curry, and it's probably one of the only dishes I can actually make properly," she suggested.

Shouldn’t have done it, but didn’t regret it? Ephraim considered himself fairly terrible with words, but at least he was usually more clear than that. He couldn’t really decide what that meant she thought about the whole thing, but he hoped very much that the emphasis there was on shouldn’t have done, because if there was a chance she meant what she may well be implying… then this friendship of theirs was not going to end well. At this point, it would end with him rejecting that implication, because he didn’t want to accept it and make things worse down the line. He was an instinctual creature, and usually did not really have problems with arrangements of the kind, but this was Nerys. She felt everything she did, cared too easily. If it turned out she felt for and cared about him like that… she would be sorely disappointed.

Perhaps he was more like Virgil than he wanted to believe. Unlike his idiot brother, however, Ephraim wasn’t going to let anything go so far, precisely because he refused to allow Nerys to suffer as Keira had. Virgil… he had not expected the fox to suffer the way he was, but there was no mistaking that nevertheless it was happening. Ephraim wasn’t sure he could ever be connected enough to someone else to feel their loss so keenly, but he didn't want to find out. He didn’t want to lose anyone else. That his other friend was gone was bad enough; he wouldn’t chase anyone else away, and he wouldn’t let anyone else closer than they were. Things were in such a delicate balance as it was, and he was not known for his social grace or his civility—he would destroy her.

And he refused to let anyone do that.

“Curry is fine,” he said simply.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Keira Mizuki

Earnings

0.00 INK

#, as written by Asilian
Image
Image




How long had it been? She honestly couldn't know for certain. She found herself staring at a copy of some old book. It was a title she didn't recognize, but she was focusing on the golden embossed letters. The color was faded and no longer as bright as it once had been, but it still made her think of him, of his eyes. She shook her head. Almost a year, or perhaps over a year, and she still could not rid him from her mind.

His smell, his touch, his taste...everything about him plagued her, from the time she woke up in the morning to the time she went to sleep, and even then she was not free; he was in her dreams, and her nightmares. All three of them were always in her thoughts, but it was predominantly him. She'd moved to a small town almost one hundred miles south of River Lake, and the adjustment had been slow. She'd managed to find a job, in a library, and that was where she currently was.

Her father had not made any attempts to contact her, which made her think that either he hadn't found her, or he had finally realized that she wanted nothing to do with him. Or, as in her rather pleasant fantasies, he was hit by a bus. She sighed through her nose, finishing her work for the day before leaving. As was the norm for her, she began walking home. She felt uncomfortable in her own skin, as if she didn't belong here. And honestly, she didn't. As far as she could tell, she didn't belong anywhere.

The lights flickered on in her apartment, the walls bare and an off-white. She looked around with that blank look on her face. There was a hollow ringing in her ears, reflecting the utter silence of the room. She hung her key on the hook before sitting down at the single chair.

Something caught the edge of her vision, and she turned her head to look at it more fully. It was the blue ribbon that Virgil had given her for her hair. She hadn't worn it since before she had left River Lake; as far as she knew, she'd never unpacked it. She crossed the room to the counter where it lay, a frown marring her features. How had it ended up here? She picked it up, his face flashing in front of her eyes.

She closed them, trying to banish the image. What was she doing? It was never going to end, she was never going to just forget them. She couldn't just forget them. She wound the blue band around her hand, trying, and utterly failing to stem the flow of tears that suddenly surfaced. She should never have left. Hadn't she told Virgil that she wasn't going to run away anymore? Yet that had been her first thing to do.

Gods but she was a hypocrate.

She hadn't realized she was moving until she was out the front door of her building. She glanced around, wondering just how exactly she was going to--

Her eyes lighted on a car not far away. She hesitated slightly. She'd never actually driven before, but this was a bit of an odd situation. Her fingers ran over the key-shaped object that hung around her neck, and she found her resolve.

She was going back to River Lake.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ephraim Solomon Character Portrait: Virgil Solomon

Earnings

0.00 INK



Image

Image



The rich scent of summer in the forest was heavy on the air, pressed down with humidity. Truly, their home was more a jungle than anything in the hottest part of the year, tropical flowers blooming in riotous colors, bright-plumed birds opening their throats to sing in the boughs of trees such a dazzling green they almost did not seem real. All of the colors were saturated, here, just like the air. And for all its heat, it was not in the least uncomfortable, at least not for its denizens. The rains were frequent, great storms that would lash at the foliage and the great castle built into the side of the tallest mountain in Yokaino, standing sentinel over this lush place and all the things that surrounded it.

And in that castle lived kings. Well, perhaps not proper kings, as they did not generally impose rule upon any outside of their own kind and a few races of servitor demons, who gave labor and skill in exchange for protection and resources, but they looked like kings and queens. Like radiant suns, vibrant yellow-orange-red coats that shone like fire, sleek forms that wound through the tree-trunks and undergrowth like they owned it all. And among them, the lights among the lights, the kings and queens among the kings and queens, were those that wore the coats of white fire, multiple tails carried high and proud.

At other times, they would walk in the forest in the shapes of men, but still possessed of their foxlike claws and ears and tails. They were lovely, figures so elusive and unreachable and radiant so as to almost seem divine. But they laughed at notions of gods. Gods could only fear their power, seek their servitude, and they would not give it. The one he walked with, though, had little concern for such things. She was young, barely a woman grown, and so very gentle compared to the others—for this, she was considered weak, but he loved her all the same. To him, she was the most important person of all, and it was perhaps why he was so troubled now.

“You just don’t know him, Aki-nii. He’s not like the other gods. He never wanted anything from me but my attention!” The girl reached up, plucking a bright orange blossom from a branch and lifting it to her nose. He wasn’t sure why she did that—she could smell it just fine from where he had been. As they went, however, she plucked several more of varying warm shades and began to weave them together.

“I still don’t like it, Mariko. I don’t trust him.” There was suspicion in his tone, but it was dominated by something of an audible pout, and the snow-haired girl threw back her head and laughed, the delightful sound reminiscent of chimes. When it died away, she shot him a sideways glance through golden eyes.

“You don’t trust anyone, Akihiko. Least of all with me.” He pursed his lips then, but he did not tell her. How could he explain his suspicion of gods? All he had was a very personal anecdote about Inari, and general information about the way these things always worked. But Mariko, like every infatuated girl, wanted to believe that her object of affection was different. For someone so sweet, she could be stubborn, and not even their father’s threats to disown her had stopped her. “Besides,” she continued, “he already has it. I gave it to him, and he’s never once done anything with it.” She stopped, a bright, innocent smile on her face, and reached up to place the crown of flowers on his head. He was speechless just long enough for her to succeed, then grabbed her wrist with his hand, too hard from the way she winced, but his pressure did not relent.

“You did what?” He demanded, the fear crawling over the surface of his heart like ice. “Please, Mari, please tell me you didn’t. You can’t.” She frowned at that, tugging at her hand until he released it.

“I thought you of all people would understand, aniki. I can feel it. He’s the one. I haven’t had anyone else in months—the thought sickens me. He has my heart, what more is my soul?” When he continued to stare incredulously at her, fuming, she huffed. “Clearly, you don’t understand. You’re just like father, Akihiko. Well, there’s nothing either of you can do about it. Disown me if you want, ignore me if you want. But you can’t change it—I love him. And I always will.”





Virgil’s eyes cracked open, and he brought a hand to his forehead, pressing the heel of it into his brow. He hadn’t had that dream in a long time, now. Most nights, he dreamed of her instead. He honestly couldn’t decide if this was better or worse, but it was certainly different. Sighing slightly through his nose, he inhaled again and sat upright, catching the scent of his brother in the living room of their shared apartment. It was spacious, considering it was above their offices, but Ephraim was rarely ever in it. Noting the oddity, Virgil pushed the old memories to the side and parked himself on the arm of the sofa, crossing his arms over his chest and cocking his head to the side.

“This is new,” he started, but then blinked when his brother handed him a piece of paper. There was only one sentence on it, but it was enough to justify the serious expression Ephraim was wearing.

“When did you get this?” Virgil asked, his own tone darkening, face taking on the aspect of a thundercloud. His teeth ground together audibly. Good news was never purely good, was it? There was always something to remind him that he wasn’t allowed to be entirely free or happy—that state eluded him and dangled in front of him like something enticing but forever out of reach. He hated that.

“Ten minutes ago. The contact had to go to ground, though.” Virgil nodded. It wasn’t safe, the relay of information like this.

The kisune sighed. “Then it looks like it’s time to see my family.” He didn’t sound happy in the slightest, and he wasn’t. “You get Nene—she is coming, Ephy, we both know it would hurt her more to leave her behind right now.” Nerys had grown particularly attached to them since Keira left, and Virgil knew it would be unwise not to include her. She would be in danger, yes, but better to have her where they could keep her safe than leave her to herself in a town this dangerous. The Hollow Point wasn’t getting any smaller, and an indefinite stay in Yokaino would prevent them from helping her. Speaking of which… “Is Kurogami going to be okay with this?”

“Probably not.” Ephraim raised a brow. “I wasn’t planning on asking.” If Virgil could have smiled, he would have. That was just like his brother. Defying the will of the most powerful being in the universe to help him of all people, only because they were close. And he thought there was no good in him.

“Probably for the best.”

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ephraim Solomon Character Portrait: Virgil Solomon Character Portrait: Nerys Liacht

Earnings

0.00 INK

#, as written by Mihael
Image


Image



The Red Queen is in the land of demons.


Virgil stood outside the bakery; Ephraim had gone in to retrieve Nerys. Knowing his brother, he would only tell her that they needed to leave, and tell her to make arrangements to take a vacation, perhaps put someone else in charge of the place. He didn’t know how long actually finding her would take; Yokaino was a large realm, though not nearly as large as the one the humans lived in. He expected that a certain relative of his would be willing and able to help. That fact would thankfully get them to her faster, but on the more unfortunate side… it meant he had to make a visit home. And he wasn’t going to enjoy it any more than Nerys had enjoyed Kirino, perhaps less.

He might not be an abomination by the standards of his people, but by this point, he was certainly a pariah, and kitsune were not nonviolent in the way kirin were. His reception could vary, but that was why he was bringing Ephraim. The two of them together could handle things, and he knew Nene was no pushover, either.

When his brother and his friend emerged from the bakery, he smiled at the young woman, but it was a gesture that did not reach his eyes. “Hello, Nene,” he said chipperly as Ephraim led the way out of town. “I do apologize for interrupting, but as I was telling Ephy, you’d surely be upset if we left you behind, so here we are.” He folded his hands into his sleeves. “You don’t have to worry about packing anything; where we’re going, there will be plenty of clothes and soap and all that sort of thing.” Angry at him or not, his family would never suffer the indignity of showing off anything less than the best of everything to outsiders. To do otherwise would be to appear weak or stingy, both bad reputations to have in negotiations with other powerful clans. They would dare not risk it, especially considering a representative of Kurogami would be present. Ephraim often forgot that he was important, but few other people did.

“We’re going to Yokaino,” Ephraim put in. He was not so sure they should bring her. Virgil was a flirt and a menace, but he was quite tactful and disciplined compared to many of his kind. Someone like Nerys could easily become uncomfortable in an environment like that, and her discomfort was not the worst risk. “I would not recommend going anywhere without at least one of us present.” Ordinarily, that would have produced a teasing comment from Virgil, but as things stood, his brother was absolutely right to insist.

“Questions before Ephy opens us a Gate?” Virgil asked.

The bakery's business had hit a stalling point, receiving a few people a day, and if she was lucky, at least more than ten people a day. It wasn't hindering her business in any way, and Nerys was certain that it would pick up again later in the month, however; her attention was taken from the calendar when a familiar face entered the shop. He spoke directly, as he always did, and she made the necessary arrangements. She left her veteran employee in charge, and had called Mr. Bailey to inform her of her departure, and to see if he would be kind enough to check up on her employees at least once a week until she returned. He agreed, and she left, greeting Virgil's smile with one of her own.

"Hello, Vivi," she responded, and canted her head to the side. "Oh, you didn't have to worry about that. I mean, thank you for taking me along and everything," she began, pausing when Ephraim stated they were going to Yokaino. She'd never been to another realm, her own not included. Though there was the God's realm they went to, and now that she thought about it, it seemed interesting to be able to go to another. "If you would have just told me you were leaving, I...would have managed" she stated, whispering the last few words as she pursed her lips together. She wouldn't have been upset if they left her behind, as long as they told her they were leaving. Not telling her would have caused a light bout of panic to swell before it would explode.

"Ah, no. Oh, well...besides not going anywhere without one of you, is there anything else I should know?" she answered as she turned to Virgil. She'd never been to Yokaino, so she understood, somewhat, why they didn't want her to go anywhere by herself. But if there was something more she needed to know, then she needed to hear it.

Virgil considered the question for a moment, tilting his head to the side and contemplating how much he really needed to tell her. He didn’t want to leave her without necessary information, but he wasn’t exactly enthused at the prospect of discussing these things. In the end, he erred on the side of caution. “We’re going to find someone,” he explained while Ephraim summoned a Gate to their location. This one was a massive arched door in a style that vaguely equated to something east or south Asian, painted red. Carved into the square archway were various figures—kitsune, tengu, bakeneko, inu, and others like them. “Not a nice someone, I’m afraid. She stole something from me, and I need to get it back. In order to find her, I need to talk to a cousin of mind, which means we’ll be staying with my family.”

He paused, attempting to decide how to put it so that she understood the point without scaring her. “Not all of them are particularly nice people, either. Some of them are very forward, moreso than I am. Some of them are cruel. Some are both at once. Don’t trust any of them.” Ephraim glanced back over his shoulder, gesturing the both of them forward.




Virgil had failed to mention that his family occupied a simply massive castle, with pagoda roofs and a wide, sprawling floor plan. All the floors themselves were either shined wood or bamboo tatami, and the furniture was incredibly rich and elegant. The grounds were a taming of the natural bright jungle surrounding the castle, brilliant flowers in profusion. The air smelled sweet even to those without superhuman noses. The view was extraordinary, given how high on the mountain the castle sat.

The first person they encountered prostrated himself on the ground before the fully-kitsune Virgil, clearly recognizing him. This man, as well as most that they encountered, had one tail and fox-ears both in a ruddy gold, his eyes an amber shade of brown. “Akihiko-sama! Please, follow me!” There was a lot of that, the bowing, strangely mixed with obvious leering at the three of them from a portion of the foxes, mostly the young ones, still dealing with adolescence. The older ones were either mated or simply more discreet about such matters, but it was clearly still irritating Ephraim, who flashed teeth at a pair of young kitsune men who got too close to the trio. They backed off, though Virgil wasn’t sure how long that would last.

They were led eventually to a room in the castle, the door of which was pulled aside. “This room is for your guests, Akihiko-sama. But… your lord father wished to meet with you alone now.”

Virgil sighed. He’d expected something of the sort, but it was going to be odious, and he wasn’t looking forward to it. Though… there really should have been two rooms for the others. Perhaps Ephraim’s actions had been misinterpreted. In fact, that almost certainly had—kitsune were only territorial over a very limited number of things, and friends were certainly not one of them. Neither were lovers, usually. The household probably assumed Ephraim and Nerys were mates, a fact which might work to their advantage. He shot a questioning glance at his brother, who nodded. Probably better that they stayed close—it was not unheard of for rooms to be snuck into at night.

“Very well, Aoi,” Virgil told the servant, who looked shocked that his name had been remembered after all this time. But Virgil never forgot names or faces. “Lead on, then. But do make sure they are fed.”

Nerys nodded her head, acknowledging what Virgil said. Though she didn't understand some of it, she understood quite well that she needed to be careful. And she would be because she did not want her friends to have to concern themselves with her. She wasn't so sure about the trust issue though. Nerys wasn't exactly one to not trust someone, but she would still try her best if it was at their request. She followed behind the two, entering the realm and staring in awe and wonder. The grounds were, not as beautiful perhaps as Kirino, however; the radiance it held would have held a candle to the Kirin's realm. It was something she'd have thought to never have seen, unless she watched the old movies, but even then it would not have done it justice.

"It's so beautiful," she muttered to herself, glancing around at the scenery before they stopped, another Kitsune not too far ahead of them. When he fell to the ground in front of Virgil, and addressed him in a different name, Nerys gave a questioning glance towards Virgil, but said nothing. She followed behind him, slightly closer than normal to Ephraim as she tried her best to ignore the stares. She had smiled at a few of them, thinking nothing of it, but kept as close as she could to her friends. When they entered Virgil's home, Nerys only, barely, managed to keep her eyes from widening and admiring all of the objects that were inside. They were things she was not used to seeing, things that were either high quality, or appeared rather expensive, however; she was not able to linger on it much longer when they were introduced to the rooms.

"I'll...be sharing a room?" she questioned more to herself as she glanced at Ephraim. Shouldn't they have had separate rooms? She opened her mouth to say something of the situation, however, she kept it shut when Virgil and Ephraim exchanged glances. She didn't know much of Kitsune, or their habits, or whatever else was going on with this realm, so she would have to trust the two Solomon's to know what they were doing. And she did.

And here he’d been perfectly fine with the idea of ignoring the implications of that. Ephraim knew it would be a whole lot better for both of them if everyone here assumed they were lovers, but that didn’t mean she was going to understand that, and somehow, the question just made everything uncomfortable. “Don’t worry about it,” he said, ushering her into the space without actually touching her. “I plan to sleep on the floor.” If he slept at all. It wasn’t a problem of hostility in all cases, but he knew that Virgil was not universally-liked here. There would be those who assumed he was back to reclaim his place, and in doing so usurp the power they enjoyed. Overly-amorous juveniles were not the only potential problem here, else he might have been willing to take a room with a simple connecting door. But he wasn’t going to take any chances with assassins.

The room itself was every bit as luxuriant as anything in Himitsukami’s realm had been; all silk and bamboo and rich wood. The walls were decorated with a series of scrolls depicting the history of the clan and the kitsune race, because those two things were inextricably bound up in one another. This family had been leading the foxes since they first came into existence. Several of the scrolls also depicted Inari in one role or another, though perhaps all that Nerys would recognize might be that the woman looked an awful lot like Keira, only with much longer, somewhat darker hair and violet eyes instead of grey. One of these images was quite striking—it showed her holding a hovering, spherical object from which a bright glow issued, and a pair of white-coated foxes kneeling before her, heads bowed. Between them rested a kit, being of the extraordinarily-rare nine-tailed variety, its face marked with red stripes in a peculiar pattern.

Ephraim shook his head. He knew those markings, and a number of things that had always been vaguely but not completely understood clicked into place. The Hound blinked, for the first time fully appreciating the irony that was his brother’s life.

Nerys frowned, but complied anyway. He didn't have to sleep on the floor, but the only other piece of furniture there, was the bed. She sighed softly, shaking her head before entering the room, her eyes widening a fraction. It was just as lovely as Himitsukami's realm, and Nerys found herself frowning. Everything was so nice, she was almost afraid of touching it and breaking it somehow. Though she knew she wouldn't, it was an irrational fear. All of her things back home were mediocre at best, or hand-me-down's from the stores she shopped at. She never liked extravagant or impressionable things. They were too...bright for her. She glanced at a photo, however, of two people, Kitsune obviously, and she canted her head to the side.

"It's a beautiful picture, I wonder who they are," she stated more to herself as she stared at the picture. "That woman, though, she...looks a bit like Keira," she added, taking a closer glance. There was a subtle difference in appearance, but the resemblance was still uncanny. She seemed to be holding something, something bright and glowing, and she couldn't help but be captivated by it. She reached out to trace the outline of the scroll, but pulled her hand back just as she was about to touch it, shaking her head faintly at her own silliness. She sighed softly before turning to Ephraim.

"You've been here before, right?" she stated. "If...you don't mind me asking, do you know the story behind this?" she asked, giving him her full attention, her eyes a light with curiousness.

“The first of many bargains,” Ephraim replied, folding his hands behind his back. “For all the power of demons, there are some things that only gods can do. The creation of a realm is a rare miracle, one that is not without cost. When the Wheel first came into being, there were not as many realms as they are now, and the youkai lived always with the gods. It wasn’t particularly ideal for them, and there were a lot of clashes. The white kitsune, this family, bargained with the goddess Inari for this realm, for all of demonkind. In exchange, the firstborn of every generation was hers, body and soul.” He pointed to the object in Inari’s hand, his fingertip hovering a few inches from the surface of the scroll.

“Kitsune are unique—their souls are external to their bodies. Thus, they can be possessed by another, as this one is possessed by Inari. The first of every generation is born with markings on his or her face, so that she knows which one is hers. Things continued that way for thousands of years… until Virgil tricked her and got his back.” In doing so, he’d broken the curse, by getting Inari to surrender his soul to him. That was why she’d been so compelled by what he’d offered in return for the consecration of Keira’s sword—because she would never have them all again, the thought of one was sufficiently enticing. Doubtless Virgil assumed that any child born of him would be able to do as he had done. Or perhaps he assumed he would never have children. Either was a fair guess, all things considered.

“He was a hero to his people for that, but he is also a traitor, because he left them, and his duty as heir to this castle.” It was therefore understandable that his reception here was likely to be mixed—the vast majority of his people adored him for overthrowing the dominion of Inari over the ruling clan of foxes, but some could not see past his choice to leave his duty and his title behind. Perhaps his bargain with the goddess had been a long-sighted attempt to make himself less appealing as heir. Ephraim wouldn’t put it past his brother to think in those terms. Not by a long shot.

Nerys listened intently to what Ephraim said, the curious smile that lingered in her eyes, dying out to a dull flicker. She never knew things like that could be possible, possession of someone and an external soul. That made a bit of sense as to why she couldn't exactly see Virgil's soul, however; it wasn't quite the same with with Ephraim's, given that Ephraim didn't have a soul to begin with. Virgil's soul was just external. She glanced back at the picture, keeping her eyes focused on the markings on the kitsune's face. She smiled at the last of Ephraim's sentence.

"I'm glad, Virgil was able to get his soul back. No one deserves a life of servitude," she whispered softly, turning away from the picture.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Virgil Solomon

Earnings

0.00 INK



Image

Image



The place had hardly changed at all.

The faces, or at least some of them had altered a bit—perhaps a few of those that were children when he left were grown now, but his people did not age beyond a certain point, and the royals did not die, and so other than this, some new kits, and a few mated pairs that had not existed when last he was present, basically everything was the same. It even smelled the same way. It was autumn now, so the scents from the gardens were largely of maturing fruits and suchlike, and of course the castle itself still smelled like wood and incense, and the unique bouquets or its residents, no few of whom he passed on his way to the Lord’s quarters. That was unsurprising—to half of them, he was a myth, a figure told of but never seen. To the other half, he was a ghost, a figment of the past, be that one well or ill remembered. A hero or a villain, prodigal or pariah, it was always difficult to know, and frankly, he cared little.

This place was his home no longer, and this visit was therefore not a homecoming.

The rice-paper doors that led to his father’s study were closed, and the servant leading him knelt, announcing their presence and sliding aside the screen when assent was murmured from within. Virgil did not have any care to see his father, but propriety must needs be observed in situations like this, and he was imposing on the man’s good graces, such as they were. His father would give him what he wanted, for the sake of honor and not love. But then, Virgil didn’t love him all that much either, so perhaps they were simply just as bad as each other. Mariko had told him as much once, had she not? That dream seemed at once so far away and so imminent, as though it walked with him when he crossed the threshold, bowing slightly before he sat, though in the manner of one equal addressing another, not as son to father.

“Akihiko.”

Virgil grimaced at the use of what was in truth his given name, but a coy smile soon replaced it. “Michio.” He settled onto the cushion on the opposite side of the low table from the stately-looking lord. Partially a façade, to be certain; he was just as inclined to deception and mischief as any of his kind, but age had tempered him somewhat. His father was even older than Ephraim, perhaps two human millennia stood between now and the day of his birth so long ago. He’d held this post since his father’s death in war about seven hundred years previous. His older brother still served Inari as far as anyone knew, but like most of those she took, he was never seen again. Virgil was the singular exception to that rule.

“It has been long since you were last here. I infer from the presence of your… guests that you have not returned to take up your duty.” His father’s tone was dry, but there was a cunning sharpness in his eyes, another trait of the royals alone. Other kitsune had eyes of amber or occasionally citrine, but gold was a color of the high-blooded only.

Virgil’s smile grew wider. “Alas, no. I’m afraid Seiji will be taking up the post he’s always wanted, when the time comes; we both know I’ve no interest in it.” It was something of a sore point with his brother, that Virgil was still there, a not-quite-threat to his position as heir. It seemed that no matter how many times he made it clear that he didn’t want anything to do with any of this, his father was still wont to insist. Why, he had no idea—it wasn’t like he’d make a good leader, in particular. Seiji was much more suited for it, considering how badly he wanted it. Back in their younger days, Virgil had always wondered if his younger brother might not attempt to off their father just to have that power. Apparently, he had not yet attempted it… or at least not yet succeeded.

Michio sighed, his aristocratic features turning down into a resigned frown. It was well known to him that when his eldest smiled like that, he was not to be dissuaded. The expression was not one of friendliness in the slightest, and the Lord had long since given up on trying to make him do anything. Though powerful among his kind, he was only seven-tailed, and even two made a serious difference. “War is coming, son, and this realm will not be spared. You’re as selfish as you’ve ever been, but I thought at least you would not want all of us to fall with it.”

“Oh, don’t be so dramatic, father. War or no war, you’re hardly helpless without me. And I am selfish, so I’m afraid that until it concerns me, I care not at all.” Not quite true, anymore, but one did not reveal one’s weaknesses to a man like his father unless one wanted them to be ruthlessly exploited. Let him draw his own conclusions about what Ephraim and Nerys were to him. He was unlikely to get it right, considering what he knew of Virgil’s nature… or what his nature had been several hundred years previous.

“What do you want, then?” Michio said irritably, not particularly happy to have his concerns dismissed in such a willful fashion.

Now they were getting somewhere. “Not much, from you,” Virgil said, unable to resist the verbal jab. “Benihime is in Yokaino. I intend to find her, and then I will take back what is mine. In the meantime, I will base my operations here. Think of it as eliminating a possible foe in this war before it even begins, if it placates you. Put up myself and the others, and do warn the young ones that the Hound’s bite is much worse than his bark.” Virgil shrugged. “Unless of course you don’t want them around anymore, in which case feel free to let them do as they please. It’s been a week at least since Ephraim’s killed anything—I’m sure he’s getting antsy by this point.”

Michio’s frown deepened; demons did not have the same revulsion for the Hellhound as gods and creatures like the kirin tended to, but that didn’t mean they were entirely comfortable with his presence. Most demon hierarchies were determined by a combination of strength and wit—meaning that someone that strong was a serious threat, should he choose to be. Fortunately, he’d never shown any interest in such things. Benihime, on the other hand.

“Very well,” the Lord of Yokai consented. “You may stay for as long as you need, and help yourself to the armory and supplies. As long as the bitch dies at the end.” the upstart half-oni liked to think she could seize power by holding his son’s soul captive? Mightier than she had tried to keep hold of it, and even Inari had not succeeded. Michio would never say so, but he was exceedingly proud of Virgil for this. It was one of many reasons why he wanted the fool child to assume his rightful station as heir. But perhaps if he were to stay long enough, he would remember what it was like to walk among his own kind, and in remembering, find the desire to stay. It wasn’t likely, but it was the best chance he had, for now.

Virgil’s grin stretched wider. “That, dear father, was a foregone conclusion.”

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ephraim Solomon Character Portrait: Virgil Solomon Character Portrait: Nerys Liacht

Earnings

0.00 INK

#, as written by Mihael
Image

Image



Nerys shifted in her spot, having left the room of the Kitsune's home and began wandering the grounds. She had thought Ephraim stayed behind, however; when she glanced back, the hellhound was trailing behind her, and she shook her head softly. There was a reason, she knew, but she didn't give much thought to it. It wasn't her place to ask, and she wasn't going to. Instead, she wanted to enjoy the beauty of this place. Maybe it was the kirin in her, that yearned for this peace, even if it wasn't peaceful. Or maybe it was just the beauty of this place that the kirin part of her yearned for. She shook her head softly at the notion, but she wouldn't put it past herself. It was a natural instinct, just like many other things she felt.

Her gaze faltered for a second, her mind wandering towards her parents, what they were like, what they had been like, and a fond smile found its way to her lips. She missed her mother, that was something she would always feel. She never wanted any of her children, if she had children, to feel like that. She never wanted them to lose her as she had lost her mother, and if they did, it would be heartbreaking to know. She banished the thoughts from her mind, rolling her shoulders back and glancing around where she found herself. It was a rather small pond, crystalline in appearance and bright. She peered over the edge and spotted koi fish swimming idly by. She smiled, kneeling down and placing her finger inside of the pond, watching as the koi fish ignored her finger and continued swimming.

One, curious, swam and nibbled on her finger before swimming off, causing Nerys to chuckle lightly at herself before another one swam up to her. She blinked at it as it stared at her finger, assessing it almost, before it repeated the same gesture of nibbling on it. She wasn't prepared, however, when it decided to try and eat her finger, causing her to pull back quickly, startled, and causing herself to fall backwards. She landed on her backside, blinking rapidly before laughing nervously, and glancing behind her towards Ephraim. "I guess that one likes fingers," she stated sheepishly before glancing back at the pond, crossing her legs under her.

Sometimes, he wondered if she fully understood the danger she was in. He suspected she did not—and perhaps that was partially their fault. They had not necessarily made the more gruesome details of things clear to her, though whether that was from some misguided protective instinct or something else was hard to say. He didn’t like to dwell on it in any case. So when she left, he followed, like the hound that he was, always treading at his master’s heels. Only… the master was not presently about, and would not, he suspected, take particularly well to this diversion of theirs. Kurogami was a being too great to be described in terms like good or evil, but it was fair to say that he had the interests of the universe itself always on his mind. With such a long view, it was hard to justify diverting any of his resources to smaller causes. Ephraim was one of those resources, and the matter of one soul, even if it was the soul of a youkai prince, qualified as a smaller cause.

He watched impassively as she teased the fish in the pond, unsurprised when she flailed backwards and landed on her rear end, readjusting herself so she was seated properly at the edge of the pond. There wasn’t really much to say in response to her statement—an admonishment to be more careful would be too much, and it would fall on deaf ears besides. She was a willful creature; surprisingly so for a member of a docile species and one who had difficulty asserting herself over others. It was a little paradoxical, but then, weren’t they all?

Ephraim remained standing, just close enough that it would be obvious to anyone wandering by that he was indeed with her in some sense of the word, though not the strongest. It was thus—Nene sitting at the pond and Ephraim blending in that effortless way he had with the shade beneath a nearby tree—that Virgil found them. The corner of his mouth ticked upwards at the picture they made. They really were quite the study in contrast, like yin and yang. Perhaps Ephraim was gaining a bright spot on his heart where she had been, but he did not realize, at least not yet. Perhaps one day, Nerys would have a little bit of shade and chaos in her, as well. It wasn’t necessarily a bad thing—the dark could be a comfort, a refuge. Virgil knew that much very well.

He settled at the pond beside the half-kirin, smiling over at her softly. “My sister used to like watching the fish,” he said, his voice unusually quiet. “Mariko was her name. Back then, I was Akihiko, and this was my home.” He sounded almost a little wistful, but that passed quickly enough. He didn’t belong here, not anymore. He wasn’t as they were—he had seen too many of the realms, become too much of those other places. He was foreign here now, even if only slightly.

Nerys glanced to her side when Virgil appeared, offering him a smile before returning her attention back to the fist. She furrowed her brows slightly, barely missing the wistful tone to his voice, before she gazed curiously at him. He had a sister? For a moment, Nerys tried to picture what kind of life Virgil had here. What it was like, how he must have lived it, and she had a hard time picturing his life. She pursed her lips together before shaking her head in defeat. She couldn't see him in this realm. All she could picture him as, was her friend, with Keira, a life in their world. There was nothing to picture in this one.

"They are beautiful fish, I can see why," she stated, twirling her finger in the water again, keeping them away from the fish this time. She allowed her finger, however, to glide over the scales of one. "Akihiko? That...is a mouthful," she stated, tilting her lips upward in a small smile. "I think Virgil suits you better," she stated with a nod of her head. She pushed gently into his shoulder with her own before righting her posture and glanced back towards the pond. She opened her mouth to say something, however; she closed it just as quickly. His mentioning of a sister would mean that he still had a sister, but the way he said it.

She wondered if his sister was still around, and though she was curious, she said nothing of it, instead, speaking of something else. "Is this why we came to Yokaino? To visit your family?" she asked, glancing at Virgil from the corner of her eyes.

Virgil huffed a soft laugh, shaking his head. Virgil suited him better? “I would hope it suited better—I did choose it for myself, after all.” Akihiko was a wish his parents made—a bright prince to guard the future. Virgil Solomon was who he really was now, and his only sibling in this life he’d made for himself was a brother. Well, and perhaps the little sister sitting next to him. The ghost that sat on his other side would always have a place in his heart—withered and blackened or stone-cold as it might become. But that was all. These people were not his family; not anymore, just as this was not his home. There was too much bad blood here for that.

“We are not here to see them, Nene. We are here to confront someone who stole something important from me, and to take it back, by whatever means necessary.” Part of what Benihime had taken, he would never be able to get back. Mariko would never return to him—that had taken him a long time to accept, but in the end, he had. But perhaps there was still some use for his wretched soul, and if so, he wanted it back.

Nerys listened as Virgil spoke, and the smile only grew into a grin. It melted away, though, as soon as he mentioned the reason they were there. She blinked slowly, taking the information in before shifting in her spot. If they were here to get something back, something that was taken from Virgil, then she would help in any way she could. Virgil was her friend, he was family. They were all family, at least to her, and she wanted to ensure that her family remained happy. Even if they were currently down one member, she wanted what was left, to be happy. She turned back to Virgil, tilting her head to the side as she regarded him.

"Well, what are we waiting for then? Do...you know where it is?" she questioned. Though she was unsure of what it was, it seemed important to Virgil. And if it was important to him, it was important to her. "Or are we waiting for information on where this person is?" she added. If that was the case, then perhaps it was best to wait it out. If they did not know where this person was, going about it blindly would not be the best course of action. Furthermore, if that person didn't know Virgil was here, to retrieve that which was his, then the element of surprise was still theirs. She may not be one for combat, but she knew how important it was to remain hidden from the enemy.

“You’re a dear, Nene,” Virgil said, laying a hand on the crown of her head. “We’re here at the moment because I’m waiting for more precise data on her location from a contact. So enjoy yourself a little; my father’s home is a beautiful place.” His smile was touched with familiar mischief; the glance he cut her out of the corner of his eye sly, but he sobered for a moment afterwards, stroking along the flow of her hair until his hand rested gently at her upper back. He was a naturally tactile creature, after all—touch was comfort.

“When we find her… I must warn you. I may not be entirely myself. If that happens, I ask that you let Ephraim handle it, okay?” He didn’t want to hurt her, and that was a feat of which he was quite capable, especially knowing that she’d never be willing to fight back against someone she cared about. Ephraim, on the other hand, would do what was necessary, and Virgil was counting on it. In truth, he had no idea how this was going to go—he could plan as much as he liked, calculate as much as he felt necessary, but he would still not know enough to predict the outcome. He could well end up dead.

The thought was not so repulsive as it had once been, but nor did he seek it as he once had. That much, at least, was behind him now.

Not be himself? What had this person done to Virgil that he would resort that way? It only caused her lips to further purse together before releasing a sigh. He wanted Ephraim to handle it, when the time came. If the time came, and perhaps she would oblige him. She wouldn't be able to fight against her friends, however; time has a habit of changing things, changing views. She would do what she had to, regardless of how it made her feel. Her friends always came first, and she'd be damned if she'd let one of them be hurt again. But, she also didn't want to be the one getting hurt. She didn't want another episode of what happened in the graveyard.

"Alright...I'll try. Just know that...even if...even if you don't happen to be yourself, you'll still be Vivi, no matter what. And that's all that will matter," she stated, smiling brightly at Virgil before wrapping her arm around him, giving him a hug before pulling back. "And you are right, this place is beautiful. Anywhere in particular I should stay away from?" she questioned, the smile pulling into a light grin. She only hoped everything would be okay...in the end.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ephraim Solomon Character Portrait: Virgil Solomon Character Portrait: Nerys Liacht

Earnings

0.00 INK



Image

Image



In total, it took them three days to hear from Virgil’s contact. Ephraim did not take that well, and his brother suspected that it was largely due to the amount of attention the visitors were receiving, not all of it of the same kind. Ephraim and he shared many similarities beneath the surface of their personalities, and one of those things was that they were used to being looked at, particularly as oddities or freaks of nature. It had never been as bad for Virgil as it had for his brother, and it had never bothered him as deeply, either, but even so, he understood. The constant scrutiny was wearing a little thin.

Thankfully, word reached Virgil before he had to stop his brother from hurting anyone. It was with purpose in his stride and a sword in his obi that he knocked on the door to the room Ephraim had been sharing with Nerys. His brother opened it, and Virgil ducked inside. The space was quite nice, but he could judge quite easily that Ephy, when he’d been sleeping at all, had been doing so on a pile of linens in one corner of the room, on the floor, probably in Hound form to further deter intrusion and give his already-sharp senses that extra boost. Though he’d likely not been sleeping well, he looked no different than he always did, save for the fact that he was now dressed in the fashion of Yokaino men. Since they hadn’t brought anything, they’d been provided garments by Virgil’s family, and as was to be expected, they didn’t have a lot of Ningeno clothing to choose from. Virgil’s haori was dark blue, Ephraim’s a deep red, and they both wore hakama in dark grey.

“I know where she is,” the fox said without preamble. “It’s time to go.”

She didn't know how to take it, really. Nerys was a modest creature, one who didn't think much of herself like that. She couldn't, and besides, her brethren had made it so that she viewed herself as nothing more than as they had viewed her. Perhaps, over the course of the years she's been in the company of Virgil, Keira, and Ephraim, her view has shifted slightly. But she still regarded herself the same. She wasn't used to being stared at, and the only thing she could do was what she always did. She smiled. Perhaps that had been the wrong thing to do, but whatever the case, she was glad that Ephraim had followed her where she went. She didn't dare venture anywhere unless she knew Ephraim would be there, and even now, she didn't leave his company.

She had been sitting in the other room when Virgil arrived, turning so that she could glance over her shoulder at him and offered a slight wave, but stopped when he spoke. He knew where she was? She pursed her lips in confusion before it set in place what he was talking about. Immediately, she was up, shedding the homongi she was wearing. Though Ephraim and Virgil were provided garments for not bringing anything with them, Nerys had. She still took the kimono when it had been offered to her, not wanting to offend Virgil's family by refusing, but she wore her comfortable clothing beneath it. It was a plain white shirt and a pair of black shorts. If there was a possibility of a fight, she would need to be able to move more fluidly.

The kimono would restrict her, and she couldn't afford that. "Lead the way!" she stated, perhaps a little too enthusiastically.

Well, he would, but perhaps not in the way she was expecting. Glancing over at Ephraim, Virgil nodded, and both men transformed. Fortunately, the home was built with the size of fully-fox kitsune in mind, and Ephraim was no so much larger that he would no longer fit through the doorways. “If you’d be so kind as to ride with Ephy, Nene, we need to move as fast as possible.” The white fox, his face streaked with prominent marks of red-orange, slipped out the doorway with no more noise than a ghost.

“I won’t burn you,” Ephraim said, his tone altered by the Hound’s teeth and tongue until it sounded a lot like flames over wood and stone, low and gravelly. He even crouched so as to make it easier for her to climb on, because swift as she was, they needed to be faster still if they were to get there before Benihime knew they were coming. It wasn’t much of an advantage, but given the leverage she had over Virgil, they would need every bit of it that they could get.




The demoness sat upon the throne in her newest castle, one leg thrown carelessly over the other, looking rather bored. Her chin was held in one hand, and her other toyed with a strange object. The sphere, just small enough to close her palm over, was a singularly-beautiful object. It was perfectly smooth, perfectly round, and seemed to catch every glimmer of light and reflect it back beautifully. Colors swirled like smoke inside of it, casting rainbow luminescence from the diamond-like edges. They shifted, she supposed, with the moods of the one it belonged to. Of late, it had shown her a variety of rare colors, and now, it burned the hot crimson of anger and the steely silver of resolve. It was a lovely combination, and she knew somehow that she was the cause. Nobody else made him as angry as she did, and that, she relished.

She enjoyed being the object of his thoughts. She honestly didn’t care much what he thought, as long as it was of her. His devotion would have been heady, she supposed, but she would take his rage, because it was such a beautiful color. Benihime herself was red of skin, a shining scarlet that belied her heritage—one part oni, one part succubus, she was a dangerous combination of the best traits of each. Strong like her father’s people, warlike and given to temper, she was sleek and seductive like her mother, with small horns and full crown of snowy hair, currently bound up but long enough to flow to her ankles should she wish it. She had also inherited the ability to calculate, to plan, and that alone had made her the most formidable oni warlord in a thousand years. The weakness of her people was that they were too impulsive, too shortsighted. She was only rarely guilty of being such.

And because of that, she had sat a dozen thrones like this one, conquering more and more regional lords and provincial rulers in Yokaino. But she lusted for the Kitsune lord’s throne, and for his eldest son, perhaps in equal measure. That was also the product of her dual nature. Oni wanted power, succubi wanted sex, and Benihime knew that the two were not so different, and wanted them both.

“Mistress,” the voice belonged to Hiroto, one of her more intelligent subordinates, and she cocked an eyebrow at the green-skinned ogre, inviting him to continue. “Intruders have been spotted at the perimeter. One of them appears to be a white kitsune. What are your orders?”

The woman’s amber eyes flickered, and a slow, sultry smile curved her ruby lips. “Why, we send in the welcoming party, of course.”




It was obvious enough that they had been spotted before they reached the castle, but then, that was expected. At least the oni within had only a few minutes to prepare. Unlike the ones the group had previously encountered, however, these ones were disciplined, each of them a monster even among his kin in size and strength. They were not the kinds of bottom-feeders who usually bothered dealing with humans. They were warriors to the last, and interested above all in a good fight. Something that Virgil quite intended to give them.

Neither fox nor Hound bothered transitioning back to their more humanoid forms, though the latter did stop to let Nerys slide off him before entering the fray, pouncing on the nearest massive oni and going straight for the throat. Another tried to best him off with a club, but the iron-banded wood merely splintered over Ephraim’s back, and the Hound turned his head, snarling with bloody muzzle and snapping at the hand that had held the thing.

All nine of Virgil’s tails seemed to be on fire, as did his four paws, the flames blue-white and cold. It did not stop them from incinerating the first oni who crossed his path. There were a lot out here, though—he doubted Benihime intended for these to stop his progress, but she doubtless desired to tire his friends. Well, perhaps she would succeed, perhaps not. All of that remained to be seen, and none of it would stop him. Not now—not when he was so close. She had been elusive for a long time, never assuredly on any one of the many battlefields her men conquered, or else definitely shut up in her main castle, a place even he would have hesitated to storm. But he was no longer of a mind to wait—this had to be done now. He could feel it calling to him, his soul. It was near.

And he would have it back.

Nerys stared in mild awe as the two men transformed into their respective forms. Had she not been momentarily stunned, she might have followed suit in their transformations. It was Virgil, however, who kept her from doing so. She complied, climbing onto the back of the hellhound, raising a brow when he spoke. He wouldn't burn her? She didn't think he would, not for a second, but then again, she did forget momentarily that his body was covered in embers. She shook her head, adjusting herself so it was comfortable before they left the confines of the home.

When they reached their destination, it was to a small army of oni. Ephraim had paused, only enough to let Nerys down from his back, before he and Virgil engaged in the battle. Nerys stood off to the side, keeping her gaze upon her friends as the oni seemed more intent on fighting them, not her. Perhaps because they were the stronger of the three, and she was merely a spectator, however; that was not the case when one of them went for her. A small yelp escaped her lips as she ducked, the oni's weapon missing her head by mere inches.

She ducked to the side, watching as the oni flailed the weapon around again towards her, applying a bit of her ki to her hands and legs to keep herself from being too slow to evade. She didn't have a weapon, nor was she a weapon like Ephraim and Virgil. She needed to disarm this creature if she wanted to keep her life. She sighed softly, muttering an apology (though she was sure she shouldn't) when she attacked the oni. She punched the oni as hard as she could, behind the elbow, listening to a crack as the oni whirled his arm around, catching Nerys in the side of the head. She skidded a few feet away from the creature, hissing in pain as she grabbed her head.

"Ow, stupid," she muttered, unable to finish her sentence as another oni appeared. She pursed her lips together, taking a deep breath as the oni attacked her with a spiked mace. It caught the ends of her hair as she jumped to the side, running so that she was behind the oni, jumping upon its back. She leaned forward with as much strength as she could, holding tightly to the oni's neck with her thighs as she brought the both of them forward. With her hands outstretched towards the ground, she managed to flip the oni onto its back and twisted as hard as she could. The familiar snap signaled a broken neck, and the spiked mace it once held tightly, was now hanging loosely in its hands. She grabbed it and threw it at the first oni, watching as it embedded itself into its arm.

"Aw, man, now he has two," she stated to herself, watching as the oni ripped the weapon from its arm.

“Not anymore,” Virgil said from beside her, burning both of the maces to cinders. His brilliant white fur was streaked with crimson blood, and more of it dripped from his mouth, but he was wearing a fox’s best approximation of a smile. “You’re doing well, Nene; shouldn’t be much longer now.” It might have been a challenge for him to take this many oni by himself, but all three of them? This chunk of the army didn’t stand a chance. It was why Benihime’s trump card with respect to conquering his family had always been her possession of his soul. These weren’t even her elite troops—for those she would not have sacrificed to the jaws of her foes. Well, and fists, in Nerys’s case.

The threat to his friend greatly reduced, Virgil moved on to the next armed opponent, working to keep them off Nene as much as possible. While he did that, Ephraim tore through the lines, carving them a bloody path to the castle gate. All told, it was an hour of hard toil before they were done, but done they were. By that time, there was more red on the fox than white, and the Hound was bloodier even than that, though it was hard to tell given how dark his coloration was. Oni corpses lay scattered everywhere, many of them in more than one piece, no small number little more than charred remnants.

“Well,” Virgil said, surveying the damage, “Looks like it’s time to move on.” He didn’t show it, but he was feeling considerably more apprehensive now than he had been before. Benihime had had time to prepare, now, and that woman had a calculating edge to rival Inari’s. He knew that whatever awaited them, it was probably unpleasant, especially for himself. But in the end, that mattered little to him. The bitch deserved to die, as his father had said, and it was probably the one matter on which his son wholly agreed with him. That said, the kitsune shifted, regaining his more humanoid form. It would be considerably easier to navigate hallways as such, though of course some of his foxlike features remained, including the tails. Ephraim appeared to consider for a moment, and then did likewise, shaking himself in a very canine fashion as if to reacclimatize himself to his body. It probably worked, but it also sent his dark hair flying in all directions.

Nerys blinked as the oni's weapons burned, Virgil speaking in the process. She thanked him before he left, turning her attention back to her opponent who was now weaponless. It was an hour before they had managed to clear the battle field, and Nerys felt an uneasy settlement in her stomach. There was blood everywhere, and the smell of it all, even if she didn't have the hellhound's nose or Kitsune's nose, was overwhelming. She scrunched up her nose in distaste before turning her attention towards her comrades. She frowned momentarily, noting how much blood coated their fur before they both shifted back to their respective forms. She tried not to laugh when Ephraim shook himself, and instead turned her attention back to Virgil.

"To the end of the line," she spoke, following behind Virgil as he lead the way through the hallways.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Keira Mizuki

Earnings

0.00 INK

#, as written by Asilian
Image
Image
Image

Keira's hands shook violently as she pulled the car to a stop. She shut her eyes and leaned against the steering wheel, vowing silently to herself that she would never drive again. Ever.

She winced as pain lanced up her arm from one of the fingers on her right hand, and she frowned when she saw it was twisted and crooked, not the way it was supposed to be. She tried to remember when that had happened. Probably when she'd glanced that tree...she sighed, grabbing it and wrenching it back into place with a sickening series of pops.

She glanced at the car as she got out, and winced again. The vehicle was in no state to be driven any longer, and she probably should have stopped driving when she'd crashed for the sixth time. Or had that been the seventh? She wasn't sure, but she started and then ducked around the corner when she heard sirens. The police were back already? Her eyes narrowed. This was bad. Why had she decided to do it this way again? Because she was trying to get back the fastest way possible. Well, she wouldn't be going anywhere if she were in jail.

She slipped away silently, her feet leading her down familiar roads. She knew her destination, whether they wanted to see her or not. Her feet slowed at that. It had been an entire year...what if they didn't want to see her? She'd hurt them, all of them. She slumped against a lamp post, looking weary. "What am I supposed to do, Mom?" she whispered. She jumped, feeling something brush against her leg, and she gasped when she looked down, meeting a pair of the brightest emerald green eyes. "Nari!" The kit had grown big over the past year, and was honestly no longer a kit. He mewled at her and she bent down. Without any hesitation the fox went straight up to her and nuzzled her face and neck until she laughed.

She hugged him, burying her face in his orange fur. She smiled slightly. "It's good to see you. I'm glad you don't hate me." She stood up, her resolve found once more, and headed towards the office again, this time Nari at her heels. Maybe they didn't want to see her, maybe they hated her. But she had to see them, and at least apologize. She had been wrong, and she knew that now. She wanted to make sure they knew it, too.

Unfortunately, the office was abandoned, and no amount of searching could pinpoint any of them, not even Nerys. Keira pursed her lips. Had they left town? No, the office still showed signs of use. Perhaps...they had left to go somewhere? That seemed the likely scenario. Her fingers brushed the key that lay against the skin of her chest. However, without knowing where they went, it would be little good. She couldn't just go opening gates to every realm looking for them. She sighed again, this time frustrated.

What was she supposed to do now?


Not too far from the office door was a bus stop, and at the bench there sat Mr. Bailey. His attention was caught by the appearance of a young woman he recognized, and though he could see the bus approaching, he stood and moved away from the stop, approaching Keira and clearing his throat gently to announce his presence. “They’ve been gone a few days, now,” he told her, looking to the office door, which currently bore a sign reading ‘CLOSED.’ “But you’ve been gone for much longer, Miss Keira.” His tone was gentle, understanding in the way that seemed unique to the elderly.

She jumped slightly, even still. But she did her best to soften her expression when Mr. Bailey spoke to her. She cast her eyes down. "I was a fool. I never should have left in the first place." she said softly. She looked up at the older man again, this time meeting his eyes. "Do you know where they went?"

“A little foolishness is to be expected, when we’re trying to figure out who we really want to be,” the old man replied kindly. He tilted his head to one side, regarding the young woman through heavy-lidded eyes, and nodded sagely, bringing one hand up to hold his chin, absently stroking the length of his silver beard. “I don’t know exactly where they went, no. All I have is a general realm, I’m afraid.” And Yokaino was rather large, as far as realms went. Still… perhaps there was a way.

“But you know, that key doesn’t work in only one way. Sometimes, the place you want to be has nothing to do with location at all, now does it?” He smiled a little, bracing both hands on the top of his cane. “If you can focus clearly enough on what you really want to find, I think you’ll get there quite effectively,” The smile dropped into solemnity for a moment, and he seemed to peer quite intently at her.

“But your focus must be clear. If you allow yourself to doubt your destination, you may well end up in more than one place, in more than one piece. If you think you can succeed, well… I think I know some people who will be very happy to see you, indeed.”


Keira shivered slightly, because it was as if the man were looking through her instead of at her. But even that information didn't sway her. Her eyes were hard when she looked back at him. "I know I can."

The smile returned to the old man’s face. “Then you know more than most people ever do.” That level of conviction, of certainty—it was rare. But if anyone needed it, it was those four people, and she was one of them. “Take hold of the key, and focus. Tell it what you need, and the Gate will open for you. Good luck, Miss Keira—I am afraid that you will need it.” Inclining his head, he departed, leaving her to it.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ephraim Solomon Character Portrait: Virgil Solomon Character Portrait: Nerys Liacht Character Portrait: Keira Mizuki

Earnings

0.00 INK

#, as written by Mihael
Image

Image



The lazy dripping of his own blood, slow and languid against the scuffing staccato of their footsteps—well, the ones belonging to himself and Nerys; Ephraim was oddly soundless as always—was perhaps the loudest sound in the castle they now traversed. It seemed overall to be rather unoccupied, though perhaps they had simply gone through a large portion of the residents before they’d made it inside. This was hardly Benihime’s elite force—he supposed that this had been a rather routine matter before they’d arrived so unexpectedly. Then again, it wasn’t like she’d believe she had any cause to worry, given the trump card she was holding. There had been a lot of oni even still, and though his wounds were already healing, Virgil was unable to escape unscathed. He could smell traces of his brother’s blood as well, but Ephraim’s injuries were likely to be trivial at best. His own—a long gash that ran half the length of his right arm—was bleeding profusely in the way that shallow ones sometimes did, but he wasn’t concerned over it beyond noting that it was staining the sleeve of his hakama.

He’d suffered much worse, and he probably would again before this was all over. Benihime herself was much stronger than any of her footsoldiers, but it wasn’t even this that concerned him, in the end. There was precious little Ephraim could not be counted on to handle, and she was not in that number. Rather, Virgil was more concerned about what he was going to do, if he found himself under her sway. Or rather, what she would make him do. It had been a long time since he’d been close enough to the starball to heed commands given with its power, and he was not looking forward to the experience. This too, however, was necessary. He needed it back—he could live no longer knowing that invisible strings hung attached to him, slack only until someone decided to pick them up. The knowledge was maddening, and he was surprised he’d been able to tolerate it this long. Perhaps it was only that he’d had plenty of other things to deal with in the meantime.

He was tracking her by scent—hers was one he would never forget, after all. The passages of this castle were serpentine in the strangest ways, such that he began to suspect they were designed to be confounding. Perhaps understandable, considering that the last resident of this castle had been a bakeneko, and they were well-known for being able to give even kitsune a run for it when it came to illusions. Virgil had always liked cats.

They came at last, however, to a large, double-screen door, and he knew that she was behind it. Smell wasn’t the only reason, either—he could feel it in there, calling to him, waiting to be reunited with him. The