Ashes from Ashes
While treatment for the children would be considered relatively minor, Inga had suffered tremendous damage to throat, heavy bruising across her entire body, and the most extensive injury to prove the most difficult if not impossible to fully heal is her crushed womb, and her shattered pelvic region in general, parts of her thighs and lower spine are severely damaged as well, with the pelvis almost completely shattered like glass. Due to the extents of these injuries, she has yet to wake.
"This one will take awhile to heal, even with the best of chirurgeons."
"A while or slow by your own standards?"
"Both. The best bet would be either to terminate her or methodically remove and and replace that which is destroyed."
"If the High Inquisitor deigned this person, regardless of their black stained history, worth saving, then we cannot terminate them."
"True enough, but this level of damage is..."
"Oh come off it. It just means a tad bit more work on your part, maybe an extra dollop of effort, but you can do it while we get the other preparations ready."
"Indeed, you've seen worse and dealt with it in kind. There is little need to get worked up over this when you've successfully restored near dead mounds of flesh to proper condition."
"Yes, I get it. If you would leave my space while I begin my work, that would be most helpful."
One of the children is noticed pressed up against her mother's side, despite having originally been kept in another room entirely, it is also noted to be slightly different from the others, while most of the hair is pink, the hair growing from the back of the head is distinctly golden blonde. However everything else, except for her tiny size compared to her sister and two brothers, is the same, including the distinct pink eyes of the family.
The child seems to unusually focus directly on the two speaking and squeezes herself tight against her mother, seemingly wanting to be left with her.
"Hm, a little one..."
"From your tone, you don't seem to mind them being here."
"In the room, no, but against the patient is a different matter entirely."
"You aren't moving to remove them?"
"I'd imagine that this particular child understands that they need to move, else nothing good will come of it."
"And why is that?"
"You learn these things when you do this on a day to day basis."
The child seems to slowly inch away from her mother, pausing when it reaches the edge of the bed.
"Further and I can begin my work."
"Any further and they'll be on the ground."
"No, there is a cradle programmed for such cases here."
"Ah. We'll be on our way then."
The child seems to stare intently at the drop, before seemingly appearing on the floor as if she was always there.
"Tsk, the cradle would have been more sanitary, but if that is your desire, so be it."
Various liquids begin to float around the room, some combining into solids, others rapidly evaporating.
"This should be enough."
The child makes its way to said cradle after a time and rests with its brethren, exhausted. Nearby Inga is a large bound tome which seems to glow with green runes, which seems to glow aggressively if disturbed, but has bothered none who have left their curiosity in their proper place. It keeps itself well away from anyone besides Inga.
Such a risk, but the High Inquisitor knows best in these situations... At least, when the Grand Inquisitor spares reprimand.
The liquids surround the room while the solids organize themselves into small masses. The gas produced dissipates over the room, generating a warm yet chilly sensation as the liquids connect to Inga while the solids shift and change shapes.
A slight wheeze is heard as she exhales, croaking as she inhales, then is silent.
Beginning bone and organ tissue replacement...
The liquid seeps through Inga's skin slowly, the solids liquefying to merge with the already moving liquids.
She seems to cough heavily in response, the tome unbinds itself and numerous small green symbols float about her head, before she untenses and her coughing settles into quiet rasps.
Damage to ocular region detected... But that is of little consequence at the present. Not compared to recreating muscle fibers and replacing ruptured organs.
The tome appears to be providing specific life support such as oxygen and nutrients autonomously, changing its sigils as the situation demands, it seems to have stabilized her but nothing more.
Useless olde world magicks, not worth the time or effort to use at this point... And, tissue fully restored along with muscle fibers. Bones will take another two ours, but tose can simply be left to mend while I take care of other business.
The runes on the tome seem to glow fire red as it seems to 'look' in his direction, it opens and pages whirl for a moment, strange noises are heard akin to a dark form of speech, before it returns to a emerald color and hovers directly over Inga, now radiating a sphere of green light which completely envelopes her. It appears to realign and overall mend most bones over the course of a few minutes. After it completes its task, it seems to transform in a blaze of emerald fire into a staff which hovers above Inga with a white ivory color.
Inga seems to be closer to the realm of consciousness after this occurs.
Aye, useless olde world magicks. There's a reason we Inquisitors simply ignore the stuff.
"The High Inquisitor will like a report at this point. May as well get that written."
One could almost hear the faintest of laughs squeeze from the unconscious witch's lips.
An indeterminate amount of time passes before voices can be heard once more.
"...Implying the Crusader Drive would bond to an unfit vessel."
"If its restrictions and parameters were lowered, it could work."
"The current parameters are the lowest they can be and only two-percent of all Great Knights can use it without overexerting themselves. If lowered any further, it'd be as if you strapped them with extra dead-weight."
"But all of the..."
Unlike before, upon approaching it is clear that Inga is awake, sitting up, and though her eyes unseeing and glazed, she is looking directly in the direction of the speakers. A faint shimmering can be seen about her, as if the vague shadow of a witch's hat and armor are superimposed on her. She remains silent, but her aura carries a strong hint of distrust.
"Ah, she's awake. The Inquisitor of Land should be informed of this."
"Aye, they should be with the High Inquisitor at the present. I'll inform them."
A flaming emerald eye appears next to her, appearing to be looking for something, her eyes are shade of green. While it briefly looks in their direction, it seems more preoccupied with another matter, busily looking for something else in the room.
Not much later, heavy footsteps echo from afar, denoting an armored figure- or a person of considerable weight. It doesn't take long for Inga and everyone else in the immediate area to feel a passive, yet great pressure coming from the person en route.
The shadow begins to intensify to where it is predominant and has gained a faint green hue with licking flames coming off of it. While a form of magic, it possesses unusual qualities. Another eye has appeared, focused on the doorway while the other one seems to locate the children, and makes a sonar like noise before disappearing.
"So the witch is indeed awake," says a soft, metallic voice. The passive pressure seems to swell with each word. "Why have you shown her no hospitality?"
"With all due respect ser, she-"
"Is our guest until further notice. Should that change, it will be dealt with then," chides the owner of the voice, "Until then, treat her as you would your kin."
The eye trained on the doorway now focuses on the newcomer. Meanwhile Inga blinks very slowly, then speaks.
"Answer my question, and you will truthfully answer, lest ruin come to you." She says simply and continues on in a matter of fact manner, "So I would ponder this question before you answer: What has been seen in the Dread Witch's heart that somehow compels the Order of Beowulf to spare her life and convinces them of it? I do not see it. Do not sell me an answer of simple charity, it doth not exist, nor speak of innate goodness, for everyone's good intentions are subverted by the desire to use another to gain something else."
"Because leaving three children motherless would have been cruel, simple as that, witch. Otherwise, why save someone who, by all means, would be a target of the inquisition? Rest assured, we have no intentions of using you- nor do we need you- but I imagine the more special of your three children does require you for something. You were spared the blade for that reason only, and that reason alone. Should you take issue with that, you may face the blade or disappear and never be heard from again," The soft spoken figure says coldly, hardly phased by the threat. "Look not a gift horse in the mouth, else you'll find yourself lacking in comparison to those bearing the gift."
"..." She is silent for a moment, eyes closed. "So that is what you based your decision on, and nothing else..." The shadow ceases to flame, and now merely blankets her like a dark mist.
"Despite everything, the determining factor was if I carried them or removed them..." She mutters briefly before opening her eyes.
"While my initial impressions were wrong, you still are exactly what I imagined... ...a platform for man to stand upon and proclaim his goodness and his justice and never questioning who is the monster and who is the knight."
The shadow dissipates utterly and she makes her way to the cradle without another word. The world never changes. It will always see me for what it turned me into, not what I was. ...I don't even remember what I was like before... ...has it been so long?
She mulls as she surveys the children with the help of the orb.
"Were it not for your collection of souls to fuel a certain ability, there would be less of an issue with you. You have been stained black, by the world you say, but that in itself is a result of your ultimate choice, not a simple driving force, witch. Some of us once walked a similar path, but therein was a choice to continue and another to turn over a new leaf under the eyes of one who believes in second, third and fourth chances." The soft-spoken figure is utterly indifferent. "And, no, man is as much a monster as beast can be, whether it be in his 'holy crusades' or the anarchy caused by the differences in his beliefs. The difference between us and them is that, we care not for man or beast when deciding who shall be hunted, not a one-sided crusade against those who are different in race or ideals alone. But enough of that talk, it appears that you are indeed in good condition, so I need not bother with you until a later time frame."
"If you're aware of my ability, then you should have even the slightest comprehension of what it means for humanity when causality can be altered if not totally overruled. You saved a black hearted witch who happened to bear four children. But who saved the child who fell from a skyscraper and lived, who was then desired by the whole world as a military weapon to annihilate their enemy? No one, save herself. No, she was doomed to a life of murder and torment, and forced to watch as her heart first turned to ice and then to emptiness when it was her only escape from a living hell and the possibility of causality being in the hands of mankind.
There was no Order of Beowulf to rescue her when she was forced to run from home and kill others just to survive. No Templars or knights in shining armor when over eight hundred years pasted and the girl now a monster returned home to find her mother's grave, only to be landed with the fate of being a weapon once more looming upon her shoulders.
No, Inquistor. There is no justice. Not from man, or myth." She says this in an empty tone, her voice carrying the eight hundred years of her empty life.
She strokes one of the children's cheeks. "Not when four more threats to this world exist, yet they were spared because her mother could not kill them, knowing she would just become like the rest of the World by doing so, and rob children of their mother. They at least, can have a childhood. Mine was taken forever. I can't even remember it anymore, or if I even had one before my endless exodus."
The soft-spoken figure sighs. "Eight hundred years ago, there you would have been burned at the stake. Six hundred years ago, your flesh would have been flayed from your bones. four hundred years ago, a cursed sword would have been driven through your heart. Two hundred years ago, you would've been weaponized to fight in a great and bloody war. One hundred and fifty years ago, you would have been imprisoned in a mobius cube. One hundred years ago, your soul would have been extracted from your body and placed in a lifeless doll. seventy-five years ago, you would have been caught in a bloody war and sealed within the moon's shadow. forty years ago, you would have been dissolved and distilled into a replicable solution to fuel a super weapon. Fifteen years ago, you would have simply been observed until you became a threat, after which you would have been torn apart by the Hounds. Only in the past ten ears, would you ave been given a chance to live a more earnest life, a proper life, because the last seeds of conflict have finally been removed. You may not believe in justice, witch, but to those who would carry that flame within their heart, it is their guiding, blinding light, just as your emptiness blinds you. Unfortunately, the unenlightened rarely see this and continue along their path, unable to see that chances aren't as abundant as one would think- not the meaningful ones, at least." With that, the soft-spoken figure leaves, the pressure following them as they do.
"Congratulations, you made one of the few people who advocated for your life upset," speaks another person. "If not for him, you'd be that yellow bastard's plaything or a rotting corpse at this point. And before you say anything, witch, know that your speech of an empty life means absolutely nothing to him or us. Emptiness is nice compared to the hell we five went through. Now get some rest, lest the new biological material holding you together start rejecting you as a host." This person sounds far more spiteful as they stalk off to a place unknown.
Inga 'watches' them depart, then after briefly looking after the children, retires to her bed, while she does not truly sleep, her consciousness leaves her body to commune with one from another plane, her body long ago already laden with many wards and trigger spells to alert her of developments.
"I don't understand why you'd save her of all people, even now!"
"I have my reasons. Even if ending her life would have been the easier route, it is not the route I would take."
"Cryptic nonsense again... You know I wouldn't have even touched her if it weren't a direct order from you."
"Which is why I ordered you to do so. I am not entirely pleased that you did not fully restore her as you were instructed to, however."
"She doesn't need sight or taste or anything of the like."
"You know exactly what I mean."
"...If I didn't cut her down to size in some way, I'd be willing to bet that she'd have attacked our trainees, our squires."
"You forget, you were once similar to what you predict."
"Don't bring that up."
"Ah, but you are allowed to behave as such? Truly, you haven't changed."
"Just because you rank higher than I do, it doesn't me-"
"You forget your place. I believe that, given time, she will attain peace, as we did."
"As you did. The rest of us may no longer be simple beings anymore, but you are the only one who has reached that peace you refer to. Or did you forget that in your old age?"
"We speak of entirely different things. I refer to peace of mind and heart, you refer to tranquility, lucidity and ultimately, the origin of all things, zero."
"There you go again..."
"Lord Inquisitors," called a voice.
"Yes, sir Knight?"
"We have reason to believe that one of our own is a spy for the Erthsgard, sir!"
"Oh? Do explain."
"You recall the incidents where several squires claimed to have spotted a figure perched on one of the castle towers, yes? Recently, those squires have been turning up injured by a lacerating blade of sorts or under some sort of delirium."
"I see. Carry on as you would normally, but make sure that the squires are kept supervised and that the few who were attacked are treated with the utmost priority. Land, if you would?"
"Aye, can't have any of the children croak. Lead me their way."
"Hm, the biological matter is bonding rather easily with her."
"What do you expect from the person who literally does this and more every other day, an accident?"
"Knowing their temper, an accident of the purposeful sort."
"As if the High Inquisitor would allow that. After all, he does know them best. I'm much more worried about the current mind outta body thing happening here."
"Oh? But couldn't you stop that?"
"Aye, but until I'm certain harm is being done I'll just remain... alert."
Whatever transmission she is delivering, it is spoken in a tongue of unnatural origins, making the context of her endeavor unknown until she abruptly switches to an understandable wavelength.
And while I would like to see such a world realized, it is not within my power any longer, and even if sight returned to me, Oub'oturo, fate has given me... ...other directives. You already have the resources to enable your endeavor to its conclusion. Consider our ties terminated.
Unideed, Oub'oturo uwil ventri thy tranciev.
Inga's consciousness returns to her body, and she begins to enter a light sleep soon after.
"You caught something?"
"Aye, but nothing worth reporting yet... And she's finally resting."
"I see. I wonder if the preparations on Wave's end are complete."
"Knowing her, they were complete before she got on Land's case."
"That's accurate, I won't lie."
"Oh right, you can sense stuff like that. I forget that you have trivial abilities like that, Dust."
"Trivial? Perhaps it is at the present, but the future may deem it otherwise."
"And now you sound like the High Inquisitor again."
She sleeps for a few hours before finally stirring once more, though faintly. After a while of laying down, she sits up slowly and manifests a book of some description, and busies herself in reading.
Inga feels a glancing presence for a moment.
"Hm, you're almost fully stable. Half a day at most before you can move relatively on your feet."
And with that, the presence is gone.
Inga pauses for a moment.
Ignoring the fact I'm more humoring them rather than incapable of settling that issue on the spot...
She glances through the pages of her book. They probably don't realize I spared them the mercy of being slaughtered by him... ...hmm, perhaps I am a bit softer than usual. Can't let that stay a habit. That's what got me into this situation to begin with.
"Origin." She intones, as a pressure burst releases from the book, dissolving it in pink light which engulfs her, restoring her body and usual functions to its primary condition prior to her injuries.
"That's better. ...No, wait. Still cannot see. It was supposed to... ...unless my vision was just terrible from the beginning, and my Causality... ...that would make sense. My earliest memories always were blurry but I attributed them to the time..."
She smiles. "You learn something every day, was it?" She soon grimaces as her vision begins to go black.
"I forgot about that." She faints from the energy toll.
"Hm... If she grows violent, you may have to suppress her, Dust."
"Easier said than done, my Heritage is unstable still."
"And she's not at full capacity. It's an even match, so to speak."
She doesn't take long to awaken, only an hour or so. When she does, she doesn't initially move.
"System Check," She intones, and a circuit like blue light runs across her body before fading. "...Despite low spiritual output from Overuse... ...functional."
She lets out a soft sigh. "If I didn't have the environmental energy take most of the hit, I'd have been finished..." She looks around briefly.
"Quit whispering about, I know you're watching and your location. For that matter, I have no interest in you lot. Your trainees have insufficient souls, there wouldn't even be a point in slaughter. For the record, you vastly underestimate my prowess with magic, and in most normal cases, you'd find that in a day, much like any who have threatened me, there would be no Order left. This is not normal cases, however.
I'll also point out briefly I took your mercy and aid into consideration last night when I told my colleague to not annihilate the entire order, so we are either even or you in fact owe me. Said debt could be repaid by not fearing my very presence, as I have no desire to put myself and children at risk. The only people who will be injured or face death are the ones who draw their blades. That being said, practice keeping your swords and weapons where they belong, sheathed, and no harm will come to any.
So relax." Her tone carries minor tones of anger and annoyance, before sitting up and pulling out a book, this time purely for recreational purposes.
She hears raucous laughter from afar.
"Believe me when I say our order is a bit harder to handle than you would think. Alas, our job is to monitor you and make sure that you get optimal treatment from Land, but that's a different topic. Should you attempt to harm those... children, we'd be forced to act, just as we would should you deign to attack us or our leader. So why don't you relax, it's far less of a hassle than being stressed."
"Oh, the High Inquisitor may be coming by again."
"I will not dignify a response, as once again your organization proves wet behind the ears and incapable of understanding the most plain of speech."
She closes her eyes. "What nonsense. Such insecurity and paranoia, ill befitting of such an organization." There is a strange pop, and their words cease to reach her, telepathic or otherwise.
"Congratulations, she muted us."
"Ah well, her loss. It's unfortunate that she didn't realize that she's being used to lure out a traitor."
"Indeed. Once that's over, the High Inquisitor may send her on her way."
"I fancy that he only has her here for that, and that he'll port her elsewhere soon after, mayhaps to the past."
"Imagine for a moment, that every sound denoted the future, every touch told ancient stories of creation and destruction, and every glimpse of a person told you unbound prophecies of great fortune, emptiness, or total, absolute ruin. What if you could be a person, know everything about them, based on the briefest of interactions? What would such a world be like? What things could you see? What people could you save, what marvels of advancement could you create?"
Inga says, if she is addressing them, it is unclear.
"To know is to suffer in silence, for the future and past may not be changed, not by the unsanctioned many's hands."
"..." Inga is silent.
"I have little patience, Inquisitor. Speak your real mind, not your poorly veiled disguise. For the record, this was a punishment you two. The next time you fail to understand the most basic of expressions and intentions, you will not be forgiven."
A loud pop is heard, and they can be heard once more. "A curse of melding flesh to sew your mouths would be far more fitting a fate for such empty minded beings. Be grateful for my mercy." Her eyes are a faint shade of red.
"What do you need from me? I wish to attend to my children and eat."
The echo of heavy footsteps signals her coming answer. "And you yourself know best? Rubbish. I came to inform you that the situation briefly changed, but nothing more. In addition, you may try to place a curse, but you'll find that will be rather ineffective, witch." The footsteps then grow distant.
"And you want to keep her around why?"
"Because, her being here makes luring out the Erthsgard agent more clean and because I've yet to find a nicer place to send her so that she may live in peace. I may have to create one, but that has yet to be seen."
Inga's eyes are closed. "I do not appreciate liars. Nor will I aid liars or those seeking to use me." She summons the children to her side and is silent as she engages with them.
"I am also terribly hungry. Unless you intend to eventually kill me via gradual starvation."
"It isn't the appointed time for food to be served."
"Indeed, another two hours before the kitchen work is done."
"I have not eaten in days."
She glances at her children, her expression momentarily softened at their presence.
"Regardless, you must still wait until there is food to serve."
Inga's face hardens in response to hearing their voice. I am really starting to lose my tolerance with these individuals. They know next to nothing about me, and clearly let alone why I was called Dread Witch in the first place. Too many made the mistake of believing divine instruments or tools against magi could protect them from me...
Inga sighs. "Mortal beings are such stressful creatures..." She resigns herself to occupying the children's attention, lest their own hunger cause a ruckus.
"I'm under the impression she misunderstands."
"Aye, not that's it is very important... Hm, no signs of the preparations being done, but at least the seasoning is done."
"Ah well, time to go back to making sure the trainees are properly studying."
"Indeed. I'll make sure nothing untoward is directed towards the visitor from Land."
Before long, Inga has collapsed into her bed, with her children clinging and crawling about her. Only the youngest is relaxing, cuddled against her. She is also the most developed out of the four, despite her age difference.
The three other children are showing signs of discontent and are on the verge of crying. Inga lightly sits up and tries to keep them distracted longer.
One starts to audibly cry, and Inga shushes the child quietly, stroking his head.
The others eventually begin clamoring, and Inga sighs, and begins trying to feed them.
I don't believe I'll have enough until after I've had a decent meal...
She grimaces. They'd better hurry.
"Hm, I need a new set of armor soon."
"Already? Didn't you just get a new set?"
"Indeed, however this one has a leak. A small leak, but enough of one to prove troublesome."
"...I'll let the Forgelord of Life know."
"Very good. It would be ill-suited for miasma to be released here."
"You and the High Inquisitor share that issue."
"I am aware. For him, it's a sign of his past. For myself, it's a sign of something soon to come..."
"Indeed it is Wave. To think that you, too, would awaken within this life time."
"You give me too much credit, Lady Alma. I just followed in his footsteps, not unlike my sister."
"But unlike her, you aren't helping a near madman pursue revenge."
"Aye, but that is the path that she chose and it isn't my duty to stop her unless she breaks the Covenant."
"Ah yes, your oath. You and the High Inquisitor both made different oaths, is that correct?"
"Aye, his oath and mine differ, but as you know we are unable to discuss the details of them."
"I remember... Let us change the topic. Are your preparations complete?"
"They have been as of the past twelve hours."
"I believe in getting the jobs assigned to me done with minimal delay."
"Ah, of course."
Inga begins murmuring incantations, faint symbols comprised of the space around her itself flicker in and out of view in a circle as she chants, only ceasing when a pale glow covers the children and they return to sleep. She then reminiscences, an occurrence rare for the witch, but what remains unclear, as her protective measures and defenses bar access to her mind. She remains this way for a great period of time, almost tuning out completely outside disturbance.
The High Inquisitor looks down from a spire of the castle. Below him lies a sea of clouds, but with a whisk of his hand the clouds to him become transparent, revealing the courtyard far below. A faint amber glow burns under his helm as he takes a closer look at the courtyard, its details clear as day to him. He watches as several cloaked figures emerge from the shadows and make their way towards the medical ward, steam slowly escaping the helm's grill.
"So the rats take the bait."
He makes a simple gesture and a transparent globe forms from the air near him. "Bring supper to our guest. She and her children have waited long enough. Inform Land of pests en route."
The globe winks out.
Inga meanwhile has largely remained motionless, though a black mist hovers in her vicinity as her children have once again begun to mewl in hunger, the sound greatly agitating the tired mother.
"Oi, wake up," an irritated voice Inga has come to recognize as Land's snaps. "Food's here." As he says this the smell of freshly cooked meat and vegetables wafts into the room along with a cold, tangy scent and a warm herbal scent.
"...I'm not asleep." Inga says, movement coming to her limbs subtly. After a moment...
"...I can't see my food."
"Can't see?" Land doesn't seem bothered. "Hm. Sight would be important I imagine. One moment." There's a loud bang followed by a cry of sorts claiming to be after the witch and then a shriek a room over. A few more surprised yells follow and then the other room goes quiet. "Tell you what, I'll make you some glasses, but you'll have to apologize to the High Inquisitor first." Land seems nonplussed by the sounds from before.
"Depending on what you want me to apologize for, I will either readily accept or immediately refuse. You have your code, and surprisingly, I have mine." Inga says indifferently.
"Mainly acting as if he's your enemy when he was the one who rescued you and your children, essentially decreed you a guest rather than below a Serf, had you healed and was straight with you. Dunno if you realize it but your life was in his hands. Still is really, but he doesn't renege on promises without informing the other party," Land intones. "It's a matter of respect really. He doesn't care because he expects as such, but I care just a bit. So it's an easy trade: glasses for two words that won't cost you much if anything."
"I won't refuse on the grounds of disrespect to hosts. Bare in mind, that until the High Inquisitor said as much, for all I knew, at that point, I was in the hands of my enemy. And I was powerless. I haven't felt that way in eight hundred years, and I ran from my days on Earth because of both those who tried to use me, and those who looked upon me from afar and judged my worth to be a monster."
Inga straightens up. "I've made my point clear though. I already said my peace, and my view was discarded. If he is listening, then I apologize for my actions based on hysteria in a moment of weakness. I will not change for you, but as I have done thus far, I will heed your council and do what you whim - to an extent. That is as far as I will bend." Inga had looked in the direction of Land's voice while speaking, and looks away after finishing.
"If he is not able to hear me, then I will repeat myself if that is required."
"No need," Land says as a hard object falls into Inga's lap.
"...?" Inga reaches out for it, fumbling a bit.
Some fumbling indicates the plastic arm of a pair of glasses.
She tries her best to secure them onto her head, with trouble, though once she opens her eyes, she recoils from an increased sensitivity to light, and has to spend some time naturalizing herself to the sharpened vision. When she is finally able to stand the light, she slowly removes her hands from her face to observe her surroundings.
She notes that she's in a simple room devoid of furniture aside from a bed, a tray with a plate of food, a cup of tea and a bowl of yogurt, a playpen of sorts and a cradle. Standing at the far side of the room, with a fitting look of disdain, is a child no older than ten in appearance with long red hair near reaching the floor tied back in a ponytail with two bangs framing his face, piercing blue eyes with a minor green tint with bags so heavy one might infer they never sleep wearing a pristine labcoat over black slacks and a white top. He's holding a clipboard in hand. "Better?"
"..." Inga is observing him, not processing what she is seeing. "...I know that I picked up on your being young... ...but I didn't think this is what my senses meant. ...Right. Yes, better. ..." It takes her a moment to say the next phrase...
"...Thank you." She says, as though unused to the phrase. She brings her attention to the food, and slowly begins to eat.
I'll keep any other commentary to myself... In any case, he appears to be a stickler for manners... ...That'll be difficult. The last time I said 'sorry', barring just now... .......was what I told Mother while she slept.... Her expression carries no indication of her inner thoughts, as she silently eats and recollects.
"You're welcome," he huffs then turns to leave. "Don't hesitate to pipe up if you need anything. My job, until further notice is to keep you safe. Call me on a whim and I'm not liable to listen." And with that Land exits the room.
"..." She continues to eat her food, and then after some time, she beings to nurse the hungry children, who are by this point more than grateful to eat. She then spends some time comforting them, as after the loud noises, were fairly rattled.
She doesn't speak or do much during this time, but regards the children with an uncertain look.
There are a few muffled cries a room or so down that gradually fall silent.
Inga takes note, but is unreactant for the most part, choosing to continue looking at her surroundings, still unused to her vision.
I can't remember how long it's been since... I could see the world without all of its mysteries handed to me, and just seeing the world for... ...what it is. ...It feels... ...nostalgic?
"Land can be nice from time to time," Dust says, surprisingly right next to her. Clad in full plate barring a helm, the young man has shockingly green hair and equally green eyes. He looks to be in his late teens to early twenties. The odd thing is he's made no sound the entire time. "Oh right, should explain. I'm 'immune' to walls and such so sometimes I accidentally walk into walls and out of others."
"Things like that would not bother me." Inga responds quietly, as though not remotely surprised this was the case. "When I was little, I fell from a skyscraper. I should have died, except for the part where I dizzily stood up, got home, and proceeded to fall into a coma for the rest of the year. That is when my Causality awakened, and the Witch that sits before you began to be born."
"Fair enough. Good to see that you're doing well at least," Dust says. "Allegedly I just divide things by zero or manipulate large scale probability, but I prefer being 'immune to walls'. Easier to say, easier to think about."
"I will accept 'well' as a definition for how I am doing. Earlier I was tempted to see if I could amplify the range of crying infants to such an extent that all in the area would share in my frustrations, but food came before I lost patience, so 'well' summarizes my mood." Inga says simply. She eyes one of the children about to crawl off the bed and without changing expression, grabs them and puts them in her lap, an unreadable expression on her face as the child fidgets there.
"You aren't sure what to do with them," Dust remarks. "But you would see them safe."
"...Correct. The thought occurred to me to simply rid myself of their existences while they swelled within my womb. I considered them, like me, merely threats to the greater picture of things. If captured, they could wield terrible power for those who do not understand it. ...I thought of Mother as well. I don't understand why I didn't do it. What prevented me from carrying it out..." She trails off.
"...Perhaps it is simple as a mother wolf protecting cubs, following their natural instinct..." Despite what she says, it doesn't seem like an answer, but confusion, attempting to rationalize something she doesn't understand. "...Is this what feeling is?"
"Probably familial love," Dust says. " You imagine that them living could result in disaster and yet you would spare them the figurative sword and protect them. Seems like maternal love and instinct rolled into one."
"...I assume from the occasional ruckus, that the purge of your guests is continuing as expected." Inga says, picking up the child as it begins fussing, which seems to sate their need for attention for the moment.
"Land is probably interrogating them. Something something meat popsicles." Dust shrugs.
Inga doesn't say anything, but Dust notices something odd, she notes that Inga's eyes have very little of their original pink, and have dulled into a hazy dark grey, with only a faint ring of pink toward the pupils, though thinking back on it, the color had seemed to be growing more and more dull over the passing days, but Dust hadn't really noticed the color also shrinking in prominence like this either.
"Hm. Well yell at Land as needed, need to check up on my trainees." And like that Dust just seems to pop.
Inga after a while, begins to nap, with the children all slumbering adjacent to her.
Inga perceives in a dream, a vague smoky figure, gaunt and seemingly leeching the light of the stars themselves as it grows, looming over Earth and the remains of Echo, with the former greying and its surface turning to dust. In its eye sockets, two women are embedded, glowing with red light, seemingly serving as 'eyes'.
When Inga wakes, she seems to remain silent, observing her children, before silently reaching out to the outsider she had made encrypted contact with before, and making use of a similar but alternative encryption, the message is faster, and seemingly frantic, as if hurried in composition and in urgency. Once she has finished, she quietly observes the children, before quietly attempting to 'play', mostly in the form of awkward attempts at tickling.
After some time, she falls silent and takes no further actions.
Eien... from that encounter, I'd say he had slipped further along that course... and judging by what happened afterwards... ...the Joining of the Mother and Muru will take place within the next few months. In addition, if his leader made such a move, then the rest of them will not be far behind. And that vision... what I sensed... indeed, things are moving quickly, much more quickly than anyone realizes. Before they know it...
...What do I care... if they cannot see the obvious rising danger, then they are all fools, doomed from the start. While they have been nipping at tiny fleas, the true threat is on the verge of making itself known. Alpha has been busy. Becoming more desperate. It's close now... it'll find that soon.
Inga closes her eyes. No good will come from any of this.
"I assume you have some reason to disturb me," Inga says, alerted by unseen forces and her eyes opened.
"The Master Inquisitor wanted to ensure your health," a masked figure states. "Were you not we were directed to move you and any other person save for the Exiles to the medical bay."
"I am fine. The children are accounted for as well." Inga says indifferently.
"If you are certain, we shall pass that message along." The masked figure vanishes.
I was almost certain that blame would have been assigned to me, knowing that one... Inga silently ‘observes‘ the situation as it develops.
Inga silently takes out a tome with many handwritten notes. It's been a while since I finished my observations of that realm... it's too bad that people were too busy trying to kill me to notice what I was observing. After all, I was the one who let Oub'oturo in on that particular issue. Not like I never attempted to leave subtle hints, but no one would listen to a Dread Witch.
Maybe I'll let them borrow this if they ask nicely...
Inga quietly desummons the tome. Knowing that red head, it'll never happen. Still, might make for some amusement.
Inga spends some time stretching her muscles, and putting the children to bed.
"...So they don't understand, after all. Perhaps I will give them a hint." Inga claps her hands, and a brief flicker of power emits from her.
"Run that by me again," Land says, voice devoid of emotion as he looks at what appears to be a mound of pulsating meat held up by strange yellow fibers. A vague human mouth can be made out, whimpering an answer. Land's eyes narrow and the mound begins to expand and protrude boney ridges and spines, the mound screaming as it does. "Try again. I know that you're the head of this little incursion, Hilde, and I'm thoroughly disappointed in you. Especially when I was perhaps a day away from recruiting you to the Pneuma division, no less."
The mound whimpers a response as Land circles it, glancing at the inert forms of five other humanoid beings, each breathing in a labored manner. "If you answer this question, I'll let you go and return you to your original form, Hilde. You'd be stripped of your rank and your knowledge of this place burned away, but you'd be able to live outside. Try my patience more and you may remain as you are now until your expire naturally in a few hundred years. So it's your choice really; Tell me who informed you of this place or stay silent." Land waits for several moments then sighs. "Silence it is. I hope you enjoy your new life, Hilde."
As he walks away he hears a weak cry.
"W-wait... I-i-ill talk, Ma-master Inq-ui-iiis-tor! Pl-please!"
"Very well," he nods, eyes sharpening as his irises fade to a toxic yellow. "Tell me everything you know and spare no detail..."
The mound of flesh jumbles out words as Land glares at it. Much of it seems to be the mad babble of a fraying mind but a few things stick out to him.
"So the Moon's Shadow would stir and attempt to strike. How foolish," he says, eyes narrowing. He stares at the mound and it begins to quiver violently before bubbling and deforming, a horrific shriek issuing forth from it as thin yellow needles form in the air and stab at it, methodically and carefully picking it apart as flesh colored foam and yellow bubbles spew from it, the shriek muffled into a gurgle as the entire mound becomes engulfed in the foam and bubbles, needles still picking at it until the gurgle ceases as well, an inert human form left in the middle of the bubbles and foam, which soin decay.
"Be glad, Hilde," Land says to the unconscious form as he leaves the chamber, "Your memory of this place are gone, but your punishment will haunt you until you die."
Land walks up a set of stairs, passing a few Squires. "There are a few Exiles that need to be clothed and taken out-" And then everything shakes and the Squires begin to glow and shake. They soon fall to their knees and begin to mutate as mismatches of scales and fur grow from beneath their skin outward. Screams and shouts echo from throughout the castle as a yellow glow sets in, though Land begins to glow violet and dispel the glow. Soon emerald, crimson, indigo, gold and ashen grey auras intermingle with the violet aura from across the castle grounds and the yellow aura fades. The two Squires gradually begin to return to normal, though their appearance is haggard at best. Land narrows his eyes. "To the medical bay. Now." He snaps and five masked figures appear. He directs one to Inga's room while he directs the others to begin aiding others.
One returns to him shortly thereafter. "Your guest is accommodated, Master Inquisitor."
"Good, contact the others if you haven't. I take it we're about to have a big meeting."
"As you command."
Minutes after the masked figure vanishes does another appear.
"Master Inquisitor, you are being summoned."
"Expected. I want a fully compiled status report when I return."
"As you command." Land shakes his head and vanishes in a cloud of vapour, reconstituting himself in a room where Dust and three others wait.
"Took your time, Land," Dust shrugs.
"Called collecting information from unwilling parties. Takes time," he returns. "The Moon's Shadow is active."
"Joy," sighs a caramel haired woman with long and curly locks of hair clad in billowing robes. "First some calamity strikes the Earth and its harmonic, splashing at us and now that lunatic is mucking about?"
"Aye, Alchymia," Land nods, finding a seat. He looks over to the two figures clad head to toe in armor. "Our guest is fine."
"Good," the shorter of the two nods.
"Our best bet in regards to Earth and its harmonic, on a larger scale is to let them sort themselves out," Dust proposes. "The time it would take to gather proper information regarding the larger issue would be too long, even if we set our resources to solely handling such. It would be better to launch relief measures across Earth, whether that be rebuilding cities or providing food."
"Seconded," Alchymia says, "Though I doubt much of the populus will accept the aid of people from a flying castle or knights. We may need to resort to more covert operations."
"You could just say you want me to go and fix things," Land states. "Wave and the old man can't leave the castle, Dust would likely break more than he could fix and you'd need a large amount of time to get things done effectively, Alchymia."
"This is not incorrect," the shorter of the fully armored figures says. "You would be our best bet but you look like a child Land. You'd need an escort, both for safety and appearances."
"You know good and well I can handle myself," Land returns. "Besides, I could take a Mask or two."
"Denied," the taller of the armored figures says. "The Masks are unerringly loyal to us Inquisitors and that works against your goal if a 'child' is called 'Master Inquisitor' by adults."
"And what would you suggest then, old man?"
"I would accompany you," the last figure says, a young woman in her twenties with blonde hair and grey eyes wearing a simple robe.
"L-lady Alma? Why?"
"I've business on Earth regardless," she says patiently. "Besides, who else would reign you in should your temper flare, Land?"
"I understand," Land says, "though would you not need an escort? "
"I've a dashing knight at my side, though his temper and means of doing things leave much to be desired," she says dryly.
"Hmm, I would skip the free lunches. As I understand it, there's only so much time left, before mere beasts of power remain, and what dark secret Echo contained is finally freed. Oh, and I really do mean, even your organization will crumble, and those who survive the pruning process will turn into unimaginable monsters. No thought, no emotion, only the desire to live and survive as beasts." Inga's voice rings out from a faint sphere.
"If you want to have that knowledge you were discussing earlier, you just so happened to take prisoner the one person who could tell you everything. Who also is terrible at communication magic, so this message should-" The orb abruptly pops.
Inga feels an immense pressure, as if something predatory is dissecting her bit by bit with its eyes. She hears a voice in her head immediately after.
"Very well then, honoured guest," a pleasant voice says, though it leaves her ears ringing. "If you would share such information, by all means do so." The voice, while pleasant physically hurts, not due to malicious intent or purposeful harm, but the sheer restrained power within it, as if an ocean were attempting to fill a water bottle through a filter.
"If I am allowed to leave my quarters and discuss this with the rest of you. Else I will just send my research notes."
"You may." A simple gate opens in the air for her to pass through.
Inga passes through, and summons her staff. She takes a quick glance at those gathered before sighing.
"There's a reason Echo is so obnoxious to travel to and generally around, why it's buried so deep in the fabric of things, and why its flow of time is so off balance. It's the same reason that your men developed scales, fur, and other mishaps. Why realms were briefly merged and then ripped back apart."
Inga summons a large tome, with glyphs on its face. She waves a hand over it, and they disappear. "For more specific reading, for whomever is the most trusted individual you can think of. But the point..." She draws a deep breath.
"Echo is... rather, was, the prison of an ancient being, one whose origins lie in the foundation of all that exists now. I will assume you are familiar with the manifestations of Order, Chaos, and Balance? Well, if you could consider them all 'siblings', then the being that lies within the ruin of Echo is none other than a lost sibling of Chaos and Order, from their earliest years.
A being that remembers what the old world was like... a time before sentience, and only power and strength, primacy. Its prison is fractured, and with that mere crack, the world remembered what it was, and began a process of Reversion. It doesn't matter anymore if you saved those men from what happened to them. Reality itself will enforce its will soon enough. For now, it will happen slowly. But... exponentially. Until the world we know ceases to be, and remembers the old power of Stagnation." Inga closes her eyes.
"I'm not expecting you to believe me. Nor do I expect you to be capable of doing anything about it. But for what it's worth, you can consider me a monster for my actions, I frankly don't care. But even an individual such as I, warped and blackened, values her own existence, and..." She trails off.
"Well, I'm not willing to cease to be on the account of a being whose time long past." She says finally. "I'm in the same boat as you, in other words."
The taller of the fully armored figures stares at her and the pressure she felt before quintuples. There is no ill intent only ancient power washing over her, whispering eldritch promises and sweet tales before the pressure fades, leveling out around her.
"Another ancient gaol threatening to shatter," the High Inquisitor breathes and Inga gets the feeling seeing and hearing him is detrimental to her based solely on his presence. "The Starfallen is not a welcome occurrence."
"You know what she's on about," Land asks.
"Aye, for reasons that are my own."
"...So you are aware of that thing." Inga says, for the first time since being there, an emotion is present in her voice: dread.
"I felt its presence the moment I set foot on that world. I didn't dare look down for the longest time. I have seen many things... ...but only that thing ever made me feel even a glimpse of what true fear was. Madness almost overtook me. I made it a rule to never look at the ground there if I could avoid it again. In any case... you know what it is... you must know... ...about who would benefit from its release." Inga says, weary.
She then looks at Land and the others. "My advice, is to quarantine anyone who showed signs of being altered. They may seem rectified for now, but I promise that won't remain the case. Their existences will have been made unstable, and anyone in contact with them is in danger of sharing their fate. The alterations can spread like plague, if not kept in check. If you don't like that, then don't blame me when I get to say, 'I warned you'. If you really want to waste time on Earth, feel free. Unless you could do something about the present situation on Echo, there isn't much that can be done.
...I've said my piece. Browse through my notes if you really wish. I don't see what use I have to you now, so I will excuse myself, and return to my time out corner." With that, she returns herself to her quarters.
The High Inquisitor sighs. "Alchymia, the notes are yours to research. Land, handling a quarantine would be easy for you. Dust, see to it that Pneuma is clear to continue. Wave, tighten the defenses in the area and monitor the Paladins," he barks, voice clipped and even.
"I take it you and Lady Alma have much to discuss," Wave states more than asks, her superiors nodding. "Very well."
"Roger," Dust salutes before vanishing as if he were never there.
"Gonna need an explanation for this later, old man," Land growls, eyes flashing blue.
"I'll get right to it," Alchymia says, picking up the notes and peering through them.
Alchymia's first sightings of information appear at the beginning, which seems to be from Inga's earliest days, initially describing her experiences with the world, seemingly prior to her described observance of what lay below. She seemed to have taken immediate concern to the odd nature of things, such as how teleportation and other means of travel were very inaccurate if not dangerous to attempt, how time seemed to be incredibly out of sync, and just the sheer scale of the realm.
It's not until a brief maddened log describing something that she saw 'below' the realm that Inga's concern transitions to enlightenment. What follows is a detailed yet vague series of logs describing these bits of clarity:
"It makes sense. This world was never meant to host life. It was meant to be a living, breathing fortress. If one does not calculate the correct temporal flux, one is flung into distant past, distant future, or nihil. If one does not interpret the complex spacial anomalies, one may be flung into the heavens, or into the very bowels. These aren't by accident... ...whatever I saw that built this plane... ...did these things intentionally. It wants to keep... ...it wants to keep the Universe itself away from this place. To keep it away from... ..."The rest of the passage falls into madness, as though Inga had been struck mentally ill by witnessing what had lay below Echo's surface, and this trend continues for a while, until it abruptly pops into clarity, up until it appears to discuss her travels toward the Moonlight Shire, the kingdom of Echo's Fey, after which, the log is seemingly encrypted in a foreign tongue, as well as guarded by fearsome hexes. Inga obviously never intended anyone to read what followed in this passage. There are other such encrypted sections, with plain parts in between.
Most curiously, after these points, is when Inga starts to make mention of The Black King, and the forging of an alliance with him.
Alchymia pauses, eyes glowing red when she notices the hexes. "Hm. This will be time consuming." Potent Wards and Arrays begin to appear in the air as Alchymia begins decrypting the text and picking apart the hexes for relevant information.
The language appears to be that of the native tongue found on Echo, but a more advanced version than the common folk's, meaning someone of relatively high status, such as the Royal Family of Chinmoku would have had known about this dialect written here, which in of itself is odd, as it's known that the special version of the language isn't shared to outsiders, so how Inga is capable of writing it isn't clear. The hexes are more easily dealt with, but the language contains few translatable parts in its current state.
"High Inquisitor, your expertise will be needed," Alchymia intones, "Once you are available that is."
Far above the floating castle soars an odd black object, teardrop in shape, smaller than a human head. A single red light flickers on and off, indicating the activity of its processing unit. Sets of small thrusters allow it to travel incredibly fast, which it uses to gain ground on the castle.
Traveling into range. Beginning scan.
Scan complete. Quarry #1 identified. Secondary subjects identified. Designated as 'Ignore'. Quarry #2 identified. Target location's protections scramble direct location of Quarry 2. Designated as Top Priority. Assuming orders: Ignore Quarry #1 and respective secondary subjects and focus on securing Quarry #2. Failure is assumed intolerable. Analyzing threat assessments from last known databank: Treat with serious caution and attempt to attain Quarry #2 without threat of violence. Unit Tao has accepted orders. Unit Tao should now proceed to secure a temporary means of communication.
Its diagnostics being complete, its thrusters engage, and rocket it towards Castle Schere, becoming akin to a meteor before crashing into the ground, being mostly embedded in the soil.
...Unit Tao is now embarrassed. Unit Tao is now stuck.
With no ability to free itself, and noting its red light is still visible, it makes full use of it by beginning to flash it in a very specific frequency:
"... --- ..."
"Land, send a Body to deal with the interloper," the High Inquisitor intones, mid conversation with the Grand Inquisitor. He pauses. "Yes, any Body so long as it has a rudimentary nervous system."
"An interloper," asks Alma.
"Aye. It will get a single chance to explain its purpose here and, if deemed unsatisfactory, it will be carved from this space."
The metallic pod, buried quite well in its impact crater, 'watches' the local onlookers with its eye like light, which appears able to move across its surface without limitation, maintaining the constant repetition of the sequence of flashes it started earlier. The 'eye' is even vaguely expressive, narrowing whenever it sees someone holding a weapon remotely nearby it.
A vaguely humanoid form with gangly limbs and a skeletal frame manifests above the pod, falling upon it in an unceremonious heap.
’’Unit Tao expressing annoyance. Proceeding to deal with situation...’’ Without warning large black spines extend from the unit, quilling the form, before roping into the sinew and stitching itself inside. A sudden flash of holy light obscures the pod and form until a nude masculine angel like being with blonde hair and slate grey eyes emerges from the light, while not changing their expression, they give Land the impression it is displeased.
”I am Unit Tao. I am here to evaluate and confirm if an individual whose fate is very much the dire concern of my master is truly present at this location. I am then to perform a procedure to ensure they avoid a calamitous end. I will not hinder your operations, if you do not attempt to obstruct my own.” The being called Tao says, unemotive but their seriousness is unquestionable. However, their presence seems oddly wispy and undefined, the High Inqisitor unable to pin precisely where they actually are aside from vagueness and a sense of them being everywhere in the castle grounds yet in one place at the same time.
Almost immediately it notes that something is binding its presence to a single place, an unconscious power rather than an active power but one that feels a great deal more powerful than... anything it has felt. A green sigil appears before it as Land looks on impassively.
"Before you ask, that Rule isn't gonna break regardless of what you try, Interloper. It isn't aimed at you specifically, but any and every being that isn't invited in," Land explains. He gestures for the being to follow him, boredly, as he opens a door that connects to a room that should be much higher up than it is in the castle. "The old man is willing to hear you out, but if the deemed hostile, he's gonna just revoke your access to this place fully."
Tao is now entirely unregisterable to the area, save on a physical level. "Unit Tao asserts that you are the only aggressors here. Unit Tao suggests not speaking in absolutes, as nothing possesses that quality." His voice is oddly light, and while his eyes had briefly flashed crimson, they are a steel teal in coloration, though Land gets the impression that neither color is a positive. Tao's expression hasn't changed, but there is a certain... uncaring air coming off of him.
Tao less follows and more simply has appeared next to Land, floating into the room.
"Right, that was your warning," Land says as Tao once more feels himself brought back to a single point, the sigil from before glowing a pale amber as if in warning. "Again, you weren't welcomed here, but you don't care so if you get popped out of this place, don't blame me."
The room beyond has a small table where a heavily armored figure and a woman in simple robes sit.
"Explain the full extent of your reason for being here," the High Inquisitor states. "Leave nothing out and do not attempt to disperse yourself once more. Appropriate accommodations will be made as needed, but until then deal with this." His voice is monotonous.
”Not possible. Aside from my abrupt entrance which is not something this unit is able to control, I have made every attempt to be passive or otherwise non threatening in order to facilitate a diplomatic outreach under urgent matters. You have shown me spite even as I attempted to regulate my being to prevent a possible hostile reaction.”
Tao’s countenance is now blistering to behold, Land’s eyes burn when in direct view of Tao’s now smoking, red tinted form, as though a great and intense heat was building inside. Any hint of composure is gone, replaced by a unnatural level of anger barely held in check, eyes flickering between silver and blood red.
”Your behavior is...” He falls silent. His eyes fade to a faint dull red.
”...I will tell you what I am allowed under the restrictions of my programming.” Tao’s demeanor is oddly subdued considering the direction his tone was headed in.
”If you bare issue with what I tell you, I am forbidden to communicate with my master. He has been recently compromised and my security will not allow me to connect with him. I will now act accordingly to his last instruction. There is someone that I have been tasked to save from a dire fate, and my last scans suggest that they reside here. I was not able to confirm this but based on their last known long distance scan, their soul’s internal structure will be at severe threat of imploding on itself.
Part of this being‘s soul was extracted, and my master holds the other half. I hold the authority to rejoin and mend the damage. Before I can do so, I must confirm if my reading is accurate and locate the individual. Once located I am to perform the mending and oversight of their recovery. I will then ask of their will, and whatever their wish, I will grant it before I depart. Even if that choice should be to rejoin my master. My urgent entry was in response to this situation. My master trusts no one, and given my internal report, it is inadvisable for him to reach out at this time. For security purposes we are unable to interact with others unless in a host, and only intervene if we believe it mandatory to our mandates. I have told you what I am permitted. Higher authority is required from one above me to disclose sensitive information.”
The High Inquisitor seems to stare through Tao, unflinching. "Spite you say? I could give you a lecture on spite and have more than enough leftover to write a twelve book series on it if you believe my being blunt is spite," he states, voice without emotion. "But that is not the meat of the matter. Your information is insufficient and dodgy. While I can surmise who you are referring to, more information is required before myself or milady can believe you, especially so if they are a guest. If you cannot contact your master, contact another you know is uncompromised. We will not interfere, but we shall remain wary."
The Lady speaks up. "Your intention is felt, regardless of your entry, but there are things we cannot permit."
"There are things I cannot compromise on." Tao says shortly, closing his eyes briefly.
"So, fair warning, 'she' is coming here, she hates telepathic conversations. Oracle doesn't like me for reasons, so she's not happy about this, but she will tell you more. Is that acceptable?" Tao says, opening his eyes.
"It will suffice," The High Inquisitor says. "Until this Oracle arrives, have a seat, but again, do not attempt to disperse yourself, you are not welcome to do so nor will you be for the duration of this visit."
Tao only looks off to the side as a pulse of power is briefly detected before a woman with soft blue eyes and long blonde hair with a set of angelic wings extended from her back appears from a flash of light. She wears a simple white dress and white gloves, and carries an arcane staff in one hand.
"Oracle," Tao says evenly.
"Tao." The woman responds, eyes subtly narrowed. "Remember that this isn't a favor. I don't owe you, and you don't owe me." She turns her attention to the Inquisitor and the lady.
"Apologies. I'm not much of a fan for the Units, as in a sense they are my jailors on most occasions. I am Oracle, though once I was Hillia, the Iron Queen of the Lightning Fairies, who ruled the Moonlight Shire of Echo. History also knew me as the sole surviving daughter of Eien Tsuki, legendary fourth Lightning Slayer of Phoenix."
She bows to them slightly. "What Tao is not allowed to speak of is the relationship between his master and those he is seeking to aid. That being, the efforts of a father seeking to save the lost souls of his children. The souls of his children were torn from their vessels, including mine, and while he fought to save mine, he was not able to fully retrieve the other souls, only securing fragments.
The one who took us from him was none other than the Dread Witch, who currently is recovering from childbirth at this very location." She mentions the title of Inga Kankei with a reserved dislike, but nothing suggesting ill will.
"I, as the only soul saved from the fates of the others, was allowed to live my life as Hillia Tsuki, but I was not aware of what my father was planning til much later, towards the end of my life. He was repentant for failing to save the rest of us, but I treated him with great scorn and animosity. ...In a rage, he combined my form and soul with one of the first of the Chaos Engine species, and I became Oracle. He seeks to find my siblings and their reincarnated halves, and reunite them.
In the case of this location, I would assume that Tao has picked up the location of the second eldest, one who lost the majority of her soul to Inga at this location, for I also sense her presence, and has come to restore her being. If the reincarnated soul or the original takes hold, is not clear, but it is the intention of the units to facilitate this restoration in addition to providing vessels that will not be so easily harmed like in our youth, CEs.
In essence, Tao's mission is to verify my sibling's reincarnation's presence, and facilitate the restoration and upgrading of her being, much like I was." Oracle finishes her explanation, adding... "I dislike the Units, but in his case, he is sincere, but I would understand any trepidation in this matter. However, i must urge you also understand that in the case of my elder sister, time is not wasted. Tao should have explained their condition by this point, yes?"
"Very well then," Alma sighs. "He will be allowed to do as such, with the condition of allowing the High Inquisitor and Inquisitor of the Land to bear witness... assuming you convince the one in question to agree. While you have my word that neither Inquisitor will disrupt the process, the one affected may shy away from you."
Tao rubs his forehead. "This would be so much faster to do if I could just..." Tao falls into irritated mumbling as the red third 'eye' on his forehead begins scanning for the location of his target.
Oracle watches him for a minute or two before simply point in a direction. "Look in that direction, Tao."
Tao just gives her a scathing look. "You couldn't have mentioned this prior, Queen Foresight?"
"You didn't ask. I just wanted to make it easier on you regardless." Oracle responds impassively as Tao just mutters under his breath, flying off toward the direction indicated.
"Would you prefer I remain till the end or am I dismissed?" She asks, turning back toward the Inquisitor and Alma.
"You may stay for the time being, unless you've more pressing matters to attend to," Alma says as the High Inquisitor gets up and vanishes midstep. "The High Inquisitor means very little harm, but he is one who finds the basic formalities to be rather important... hence his severe reaction towards Tao. But enough on that, you say that beings akin to him are your jailers more often than not. Aside from your disdain towards your father, why is that?"
”To be clear, it is because of me that Father acts through his puppets the Units. When I crossed him that first time, it was in a way, granting my wish of having nothing to do with him. At that point I had not been supervised or truly bound aside from my knowledge as a reborn being. As I grew in strength and years past, so did my animosity. I convinced myself that he was just a monster, a monster needing to be stopped. I thought that I truly knew everything about my father at that point.
When I finally left, I had no way of knowing just how little I understood my father. I search for him, but he is the sort who can find you easier than you him. And so my ignorance childish zealocy lead me to try and stop the man I despised so much.
The only way to describe him was as if he had become a force of nature. His wrath was indescribable. I had never seen something so terrifying or beyond my understanding, not even my mother, thousands of years and unfathomable power couldn’t have held a candle. It was amidst my fear and hatred that I said it. I told him if mother truly saw what he was, she would never have accepted him. The cloak fell - no, tore itself off of him, and he lost everything. Every ounce of reason.”
She says nothing, but a flash of the Observer without the signature cloak, in black shirt and legging, with faintly greyed hair, one blue eye glowing with ominous fury, while the other eye...
The other eye is faded, with a white static exploding out of it and scarring along his face, but not just there. Along that entire side of his body, it is broken by cracks of the white static, which swirls malevolently like a hurricane. The look on his face is one utterly driven to pure, primal wrath, dedicated to utterly eradicate that which stand in his path.
The sight passes, but Oracle is clearly unwell after remembering it.
”...If Tao didn’t take me back by force, I would have been obliterated. From there, the units refuse to let me out of confinement. From there, Father began his remote plan to rescue the rest of us through the Units, and distanced himself whenever possible. It took me a while to understand, but he hadn’t been hurt in so long in the way I did that day. The guilt and remorse was too strong, and he brief accepted his madness. In a way, they are protecting me from myself. But I have learned since those days. I just want him to understand getting revenge and saving us do not go hand in hand. I fear that he will learn that too late.”
"I see... I remember being in such a situation, but that's in the past. Anger, hatred and even madness, should they be tempered or guided become tools, either to the person with them or those in the surroundings. And like all tools, overuse leads to the tool breaking and any control held over them lost." Alma seems to look into the Oracle, eyes glowing briefly. "At least your experience, harrowing and dangerous as it was, has lead you to greater knowledge and understanding. Not all can say that in the face of annihilation."
"The only knowledge and understanding I have gained is what a fool I was." She says sullenly. "Some days I feel as though I deserve the isolation I was dealt. At least, it is a safe isolation." She muses, before closing her eyes. "I suppose I should check on Tao and reign in his unstable temper from being an issue." She begins to walk out.
Tao you better have made yourself dignified.
Tao dislikes the assertion that the natural form is undignified.
What have I said about you being a walking embarrassment?
Tao does not-
Tao I will fry your circuits.
Tao has, reluctantly so, donned simple robes, much to the relief of the sensitivities of others, and is quietly attempting to narrow down his search, ignoring most if not everyone else not immediately relevant to his endeavor.
The High Inquisitor strides behind him, occasionally vanishing at odd steps. A put out Inquisitor of the Land follows behind him.
Tao seems to eventually find what he's looking for, as he begins to speed up. Shortly after this, Oracle appears.
"Since you do not trust him, I figured it best to supervise him and make sure he remains level." She explains.
Tao has narrowed in on the practice yard, where a male and female member of the organization spar, both observed to be High Knights testing each other’s weaknesses. The man is blonde and possesses green eyes and a healthy, muscular frame, while the female High Knight is light but equally well built in service to her role, bareing silver hair and light blue eyes.
The male notices Tao first and comes to his ally’s side, she notices and turns, both notice Land and the High Inquisitor and are taken aback.
”My Lords? It’s an honor to see you... but who is that?” The male seems suspicious of Tao, whose temper remains observable through their appearance resembling that of a red star, intense heat radiating from the unit.
"Leo, Thysia." Land nods to them. "This er... GMO is the rude term here, but I guess it works," Land shrugs. "Is here to apparently help one of you before it very quickly leaves this place after entering without asking. I ain't gonna force you to accept it's aid, instead me and the old man are here to keep the peace."
The High Inquisitor is quiet, his armor making no sound as he crosses his arms and looks at Tao.
”...Help?” Leo says slowly, wearily, and Tao rubs his forehead, before his eyes glint for a second, and he turns to Thysia.
”Answer a question so I know if I got it right... any peculiar dreams or disturbing nightmares?” Tao is intently looking at Thysia.
”A-ah... only one where I was surrounded in murky black fog... I thought I heard yelling but it was just Leo coming to wake me.” She says, not expecting much of a reaction, but Tao’s eyes glint ever sharper.
”I figured, it matches the analysis. Girl, your soul is compromised and lacks its original internal structure and foundations. You won’t last very long.” Tao says abruptly and sharply.
”I would think I would notice-“ She begins but Tao cuts her off.
”It will be an agonizing end. Your body will tear apart as your fetters fall away and everything you are dissapates like a bubble of gas into the atmosphere. You won’t even reincarnate, you will become yet another Lost. Like shrimp said. Your choice but I don’t think your boyfriend over here will be able to handle watching you rip apart into a gas cloud of base material and then less than that.”
Leo stiffens, irritated, while Thysia just looks fearful.
” I won’t sugar coat it. You don’t want things to end like this though, right? There are too many things you cannot forgive this world for, so you must fight, right?”
She seems taken aback by what he says. “How...?“
”Someone tasked me a long time to observe and protect you until today. Since you were a little girl. It wouldn’t be incorrect to say I am your guardian, from someone who has your interest in mind.” Tao says, and then continues,
“Of course I didn’t know if you were whom I sought until a few years had passed, but there was always a mathmatical chance I was wrong. I had to be absolutely certain. Anyway. The point is, you don’t have time left. Make your choice, so for both our sakes, a good outcome results.”
Tao extends a hand.
Thysia hesitates, but slowly extends her hand and takes Tao’s.
“...” Tao remains silent for a moment, before a faint pulse of energy emits from him, and a large red crystal momentarily appears, and opens up, revealing a mechanical interior. Something akin to a lifepod drops from it, and lands next to Tao. The crystal machine then vanishes, and both the pod and Thysia begin to softly glow.
Tao looks at Land and the High Inquisitor. “You had better keep your word. No interference.”
"A promise is a promise," Land says. "Unless of course she is harmed, then all bets are off, tin can."
Thysia's glowing reaches a peak intensity, before abruptly, she dissolves into light, which gets sucked into the pod, which begins to hum and vibrate softly, while its glow doubles in intensity.
"Melding beginning. Approximate several hour process. Mandatory to ensure optimal chances of damage or abnormalities." Tao intones, before sitting in front of the pod.
"The machine is isolating their beings, so that no outside forces will tamper with the process, and allow them to interact and eventually meld together into a whole. It is a delicate process, so we won't be going anywhere." Tao explains, closing his eyes but awareness as acute as if they had been open.
Land and the High Inquisitor observe, Land's eyes shifting to a poisonous green for a moment.
After a few long, tense hours, the pod makes a distinct sound, and Tao's eyes open, and he stands, turning toward the pod. A hatch opens, revealing the modified Thysia, whose hair now has a faint blue sheen, her skin showing as greys and blues due to newly grown, downy scales, and two angelic wings that rest folded up on her back. She remains still, asleep for a time, but once she stirs, something shifts, and she seems to resume her prior form, though there is a glimmer of a vibrant, soothing aura around her.
Her eyes open, the color a much more brilliant hue, but she looks at those gathered as though they were strangers.
Tao just offers a hand, which she takes. She turns her attention to Land and the High Inquisitor.
"I am Lafila Tsuki, daughter of Eien Tsuki. It is nice to make your acquaintance." She curtsys, before continuing.
"Thysia's fine, she's just tired. We had this whole debate on who it would be more fair to have the body, once that started getting old, I just said let's share. It's like we're twins with one body~" She smiles.
Tao meanwhile seems stumped. "I was pretty sure the master told me one or the other typically happened... this isn't normal at all..." Tao seems to retract into a state of pondering.
Lafila seems perfectly fine with ignoring Tao's comments. "I thought it was cool what your organization does, so I just decided I would help her. I've some experience as a fighter, though my talents always were healing, either way, I'll make sure to not let anyone down."
Leo's face is the most dumbstruck of those present, almost as though his mind went off to vacation deeper inside to wrap its head around what was going on.
"..Just to be safe, she needs precautionary observation, this hasn't happened before..." Tao's anger by this point had melted away, he seems more genuinely concerned than anything.
Both are pretty certain they hear a mumbled and sighed "Not another Lightning Faerie." But neither Land nor the High Inquisitor seem to have spoken, though it's fairly hard to see the latter speak in the first place.
"The same stipulation applies, Tao," the High Inquisitor says before addressing Lafila and Thysia, "Lady Alma will want to speak with you."
A moment later he tenses and the air loses breathability as he clutches at his chest. Ancient wards and runes immediately form around him as Land pulls both Leo and Thysia away from him, while the ground seems to latch onto Tao and pull him away as well.
"Geezer, now isn't the time to have an episode!"
"Yes, I'm perfectly aware of that and the Veil being sundered," the High Inquisitor breathes as the ground near him begins to fill with overgrowth that withers immediately before regrowing and withering in a rapid cycle. The air begins to warp and combusts into a grand conflagration that freezes and shatters into droplets of molten lead that evaporate into small birds. "Get to Lady Alma at once!"
Thysia seems to waste no time in following the order, having awoken shortly after things had escalated, dragging the still mentally out of it Leo along, and Lafila saying little aside from needing to be somewhere for a moment and switching places unceremoniously.
Land wastes no time phasing through walls, pulling the duo along with him, not caring much for how queasy phasing through solid objects may be for the two with him until he reaches Alma and Oracle. Alma shakes her head and points to a fairly large notepad, the words "Is the Veil threatened?" written. Land nods and the woman sighs, but stops herself short as the temperature plummets in the room. She massages her temples then swirls a finger in the air, normalizing the temperature slowly before writing another note on the pad. "Find Wave and get Aschen his cloak before his wards fail."
"Right," Land states before looking at Thysia and Leo. "Lady Alma will keep you safe in the event this gets worse. Just... cover your ears if she has to speak before this gets sorted out. It won't stop your eardrums from rupturing, but it will stop your heads from popping off. Not very reassuring, but I won't sugar coat it if you might die."
With that Land phases through another wall and vanishes, leaving the four in silence.
Thysia feels a slight headache as Lafila seems to return after a moment, as though distraught. She isn't able to figure out what's wrong, only something terrible seems to have transpired in regards to whatever she had been trying to do. Without much recourse in terms of answers, she instead looks at her hand, which when she concentrates, has short gentle claws and greyish blue scales, but also a gentle fey warrior's hand that both took up the sword yet healed in equal measure.
She observes these different, simultaneous states of being for a time, as though trying to get used to them, before flashing Lady Alma a brief look of confusion and anxiety, as though looking for answers to a situation that indeed goes far beyond what she's known. Leo seems to have pulled himself together and merely tries to show support by holding his fellow High Knight's hand. Though, unlike his peer, isn't able to hold the questions inside of himself.
"...Forgive me for speaking out of turn, but what is all of this? I've never seen the High Inquisitor, let alone any of the Four so panicked, let alone perturbed. And what was that business with the fiery angel thing and what did it do to-"
Thysia squeezes Leo's hand lightly, which stops him losing himself in the moment. "It will be fine... ...I'm sure it will. Worry less about my sake, I'll be fine. I've been through worse than simply meeting Lafila."
Alma picks up her pad and writes.
"Aschen is worried, rightfully, for all of you. The Veil- a force that reduces the strength of many strong beings- is currently damaged. Due to that I cannot speak or move quickly without causing harm to others, whereas being near Aschen is near fatal. Thus he's attempting to repair the Veil- at least around the castle at a minimum- before his wards fail. That's the same reason Land is looking for Wave: she'd have the item capable of assisting him."
Thysia grimaces a moment, taking in a breath. “You wanted to see... us?“ Thysia asks, speaking for herself and Lafila. “The High Inquisitor told me as much, at any rate.” Lafila still seems uneasy, whatever happened on their mind but now paying attention.
"Yes." Alma scribes. "More specifically I wanted to meet your other. We've met before Thysia, when you were first recruited and on your first assignment and assessment."
"I remember... it has just been a long time. ...Give me a moment, this is a bit like stumbling in the dark..." She trails off, until her posture jerks and she looks at Alma more directly, the way she looks at her tells Alma that Lafila had emerged.
"It's... a pleasure to meet you. ...I'm terribly sorry about all the commotion this caused you. I'll work hard to earn what I've been given. You have my word." Lafila bows their head lightly after speaking.
"Thysia does good work and I will expect as much from you. You've no need to be formal with me though, I've said this more than enough times and yet people seem to forget that." Alma looks up. "What is bothering you?"
"...My father. Something was happening and the rest of my siblings, with what little we had, were trying to reach him, but..." The expression of Lafila's face betrays the feelings lurking in her mind.
"Something went very wrong, and now we can't tell what's happening, I can't even reach the others now. There's no way we can find out if Father is even alive anymore. I'm well aware of what he's done, and I can't defend him. Even still, I can't turn my back on him, because those happy days of Mother and Father... they're all we have left." Lafila smiles sadly.
"We don't even really have each other, most of us are flung far and wide in places we could never reach."
"That is troubling to hear, but..." She closes her eyes for a moment as the air thickens, a faint smile appearing on her face before she speaks. "I do believe that things will be fine, given a bit more time."
Her words do not cause any form of harm as Land returns through a door.
"Resolved. The Veil around the castle is repaired, but it'll be a bit before the old man can fix it elsewhere," he reports. "Wave is on standby to assist, as is Dust. Alchymia is still deciphering the book."
"And you," she asks coyly.
"In the process of surveying the area and Earth for collateral damage and external influence past the expected. I'll be contacting the leaders of the nations their via proxy to get their assessment of the situation and whether or not they need aid after that."
Lafila is silent for a while, but Oracle speaks instead. "From what little I'm able to gather as of now is something was in control of Father, and an unknown adversary was engaged in battle with them. The conflict was resolved, though from the intensity I would have sworn a deathmatch was taking place, yet Father seems alive, not well, but alive. It's not immediately clear what he'll do aside from lick his wounds for the time being."
The news seems to bring a small amount of relief to Lafila. "It is good that you at least carried on your existence, my older sister. It seems you found a role more suited to what you desired growing up." Oracle speaks with a smile to her.
"...I guess that's true. I never expected to be treated... as amicably as I have. What of the others?" Lafila asks Oracle.
"Various states, I don't know much about the majority of them, but two. The youngest, Cae resides in a kingdom ruled by a benevolent demon lord (heh), as a young knight. Father, after recovering, will likely turn his attentions there if he hasn't already. The eldest, Asmille is in a complicated situation due to interference in Father's last attempt to fix her. Due to where she's ended up, he'll probably address her situation last." Oracle informs her elder sister before turning to Lady Alma, briefly acknowledging Land.
"I must thank you. It's not in my nature as the Iron Queen to ignore a debt. That book, you're referring to the Dread Witch's book if I assume, correct? I would be willing to help with that issue and relieve some of your problems in the process. I will be quite safe from its defenses, as well. I'm quite adept at the tongue of my world as well.
If my assistance is not needed however, I will not keep you from your duties and impose upon you as an undue guest."
"Should the situation on Earth be handled in a timely manner, I would be glad to aid you in finding your lost siblings," Alma says before addressing Land. "Progress?"
The Inquisitor's eyes flash blue for a moment. "Deal is set. I'll be letting the others know their assignments."
Alma nods, then addresses Oracle. "I will take you up on the offer to decipher the book. It appears our experts on such will be busy for a time and I will admit languages from other planes are difficult for me." She offers a calm smile as Land leaves through the same door he entered from.
”I have little- -nay, nothing but that empty world I languished in. I would be more than happy to start on the tome as soon as possible. As for my siblings, my Father knows but I very much doubt he would allow help (willingly), or tell outsiders where they are. He is quite determined to resolve this matter himself. I fear for what will become of my siblings, as surely it will not always end on such a high note as here. In essence if you wish to do that, know that it might be problematic when he gets involved.”
"The option is on the table regardless, if you believe it necessary to both aid your siblings and reduce the potential danger to others your father poses on a larger scale," Alma states. "Besides, if the little one at the door of awakening causes him to reassess things, I wonder what one who sleeps in fragments will do when drawn back together..."
For a moment Alma's presence shifts and Oracle sees a vision of Alma, but her features are different. Gone is the simple human, instead she is replaced by a being of alien beauty, too much to comprehend. Her eyes, the first pair at least, are a warm and kind brown, but a second smaller set beneath the first open and reveal bewitching jewels of the deepest black. Her caramel hair flows in longer gentle tresses, carried by an unseen wind and a gentle smile adorns her face before the vision ends as quickly as it began. Alma doesn't seem to be aware of the vision however.
”...I leave it to your descresion on that matter. ...Onto the matter of the tome? Where is it located? I would like to begin sooner than later.” Oracle responds.
"Right," Alma nods, closing her eyes. A moment later, Alchymia arrives, tome in hand, some notes sticking out of it.
"You requested this, milady?"
"Indeed. Thank you Alchymia," she smiles and the other Inquisitor briefly stiffens before leaving the room in somewhat of a hurry.
As soon as Oracle receives the tome, she begins pouring through it and whatever notes have been added. "Thank you kindly. I will work through this as well as I can. Considering the heavy presence of curses, I will probably need to disarm those and preferably in a place where no valuables are in the line of fire in case I have an accident. I may be well versed but Inga is notorious for being crafty and underhanded, and it's been a while since my last purification of a hex. I myself will be fine, however."
She pauses. "I don't have love in my heart for the woman, I certainly haven't forgave or forgot, but neither do I want her dead, it wouldn't serve a purpose. That said. I'd like you to give the Witch this. She'll know who it's from."
Oracle offers Alma a worn, sealed envelope, most likely meant to deliver some manner of letter. "I wrote it and rewrote it when I saw her with child."
Alma nods, but replies seriously regardless, the temperature plummeting for just a moment. "That is fine, but please do not hand me an object if there is even the slightest of intent to cause her harm. She is the guest of the High Inquisitor until further notice. If there is no such intent within this envelope, then think nothing of that." Her smile returns and the temperature with it.
"It may have been a great number of years since then, but I was once Queen. I still like to think I bear the honor of one." She says, not flinching or otherwise reacting as she continues reading through the tome.
Alma nods once more and holds out the envelope. A cloaked figure materializes with a bow and takes then envelope before looking at her for instruction. "To our guest, please." The figure nods then vanishes.
After a while, Oracle seems to pause, and eventually continues reading, having gone through some of the encrypted texts. However, she does speak up not long after this.
"I've had kids, grand kids, and great grand kids. You learn a lot of things watching three generations grow up. She may be my former nemesis, and caused my family great pain, but she is now in a position I was. Unsure, alone, and confused. I figured that if I made no effort to take everything I've learned, being the old crone I am, and try and say something, then I'm no better than her if that lot were to lose their way."
Oracle stretches and sighs, taking a minor break. "It's the old generation's duty to guide the misguided and lost of the younger generations with everything we have. That's the lesson I learned in spite of... ...no, because of that witch."
After a bit more stretching, she resumes.
"It seems she wanted to make sure no one knew how she got into the Moonlight Shire, or her actions there. A detailed account of what she did leading up to and after Auntie Kio's downfall. But more interestingly, she started noting and recording various accounts of suspicious Avatar activity increasing fifty years ago, and she seems to have recorded suspicions that there was a grand scheme at work in the realm of Echo, being deployed by an unseen, unknown actor."
She glances at the tome again. "I'm currently in the midst of purifying some intensely powerful hexes, but I think this next segment refers to some dealings with the acting Black King of the Southern Spirits."
Another cloaked figure appears before Inga, producing an envelope. "Something has arrived for you, honored guest."
Inga initially looks boredly at them, before her eyes land on the envelope, and she seems to freeze, as though noticing something. However after a moment, she takes it slowly, and brings it close to her, staring at it, doing little else for a while.
Inga is then observed slowly, almost with incredible deliberation, pulling open the envelope as though seeking not to damage it. She then takes out what appears to be a letter, and reads, first stony faced, and then this erodes, first subtly, then notably as her expression seems to become a odd mix of emotions, the most prominent being confusion, her face similar to how a child reacts to being in trouble but not understanding why.
After a while of just staring at it, her hands start shaking, and she takes a deep breath before equally as carefully placing the letter back in the envelope and she places it under her pillow. She then gestures to one of her children, placing them in her arms, and just cradling them against her body.