User:Arrow Quivershaft/Out of the Darkness

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3P story universe

Out of the Darkness

Author: Arrow Quivershaft

"Aw fuck," Alex groaned softly, saying what was on everyone’s mind as we approached. I watched the beast closely, not sure if we were going to have to fight again here. It watched us, but it didn’t get up to move. This one was a fair bit smaller, and lighter colored, than the one we encountered previously. Blossom dug into her robe and pulled out the familiar flask, but she was behind me, so the cerberus didn’t see it.

I stood there for a moment, evaluating. The riverbank here was only about 20 feet wide, and we already knew that the river wasn’t a safe option, so running seemed to be out of the question. That said, it didn’t seem to even be getting up, just watching us with curiousity at the moment...though that didn’t mean I was going to let my guard down.

"We need to be ready to fight if needed,” I said. “But let's see if we can get by without one." We were all pretty hurting by this point; Alex and Dawn were also exhausted from walking all the time. So any conflict we could avoid...

"Alright, then let us continue." Blossom said, putting the flask away, and looking at the soul. She’d really gotten more risk averse on the way up...I was glad for that. Then she looked back to the cerberus. "It looks odd.." she commented.

I started up. "It's a different one, I think."

"What happened to the other?" she asked, her and the rest following me.

"I guess it lost it's job." Alex said. Timmy grunted, looking ready for a fight. I had my sword in my hand, in case it tried something, but I wasn’t very confident I’d be good in close quarters against something this big. Still...better than nothing. That said, the thing just sat there watching us with two of the three heads. Blossom waved to the thing as we got close.

"Ey," said the two heads watching us, in unison.

"Hello." I said, turning on the diplomacy again.

"Greetings," Blossom said, turning on the cute.

"Are we permitted to pass?" I asked carefully.

"Go for it,” said the left head. “I'm here to keep people out, not in."

"Oh, ok..." I said, not really having expected that kind of easy outcome. I wasn’t going to question it, though. “Thanks.” I started out.

"Have a good run?" said the center head.

"Well, no we are just travelling," Blossom said, probably misinterpreting the realmwalker slang.

"Hmm, pretty good, I think." Alex said with a nod. Easy for him to say, he was probably the least hurt of any of us.

"Yes." I agreed. We didn’t need to show weakness. I headed through the gate with the others, and looked up at the moon as everyone else followed through. It was...refreshing to have overhead light again. Even the relative darkness of the moon seemed impossibly bright after 3 days underground.

They all followed me through, Blossom giving a polite wave as she did.

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We had to break for camp after we got up out of the blast crater the castle was in, but it was a relatively quick stop. We ate, slept, and got back on our way. We were running kinda low on supplies, and we all wanted to get out of the underworld, so we were all pushing ourselves just a bit harder. The morale was better too.

We spent the next day getting back to the tributary river and following it up. Some things I’d noticed had shifted, but not much. We had a few fights, but nothing noteworthy. Nobody was dead. We had to take it slower for the injuries, and because we were going uphill, but having Dawn and Alex back in the sky again really helped.

Towards the ‘evening’, we were heading up the last half-mile to the mirror. It was still dark, but things were looking familiar. Blossom was mumbling something to the soul, which wasn’t responding. But it seemed to comfort her to talk to it, so I saw no harm in it. I noticed Dawn circling around, probably looking for bat-creatures, since she didn’t want another of those fights, and then she circled down towards a lower orbit. Alex followed along with her.

“Mirror ho!” she called down to me. I looked up at her at that and nodded, signalling with my hand. We’d made it!

We pushed on towards the mirror, everyone’s energy seemed to be a bit higher. Dawn landed near us, starting to hop along, Alex mirroring the action a bit farther away to avoid salad-shooting anyone.

"I'm... actually surprised we pulled this off," Dawn said as we got near the top of the hill that the mirror was on. Alex chuckled, though I didn’t find it as funny. Sure, jinx it at the finish line. That said, it was the same thing I was thinking, so I wasn’t going to say anything about it.

As we got up to the top of the hill to crest the ridge in front of the mirror, I looked forward at the mirror...but I wasn’t expecting what I saw there. There were four people there, looking like they were getting their bearings. Had they just come through? I quickly sized up the situation. There were two skoll marked to Fenrir, a hemt marked to Horus, and...a sphinx, marked to Bast. Though she’s the only god that does sphinx, so that was obvious.

Shit. There was no way they hadn’t seen us, and Bast of course would’ve wanted Nick’s soul back herself. So it was fight with us in the depleted state we were in, or try diplomacy. I took a deep breath and stepped forward, hoping that there was going to be some peaceful resolution to this.

“Hello?” I stepped forward, calling out to the other group. I raised my lightstick up, and took the front position of my group, keeping them behind me. I was kicking myself mentally, mind racing. We’d just given Bast a week to catch up, and we hadn’t been subtle about our hiring reasons. It probably had been easy as pie for them to find us. Did they know where the body was? If they did, would they need us alive?

Hell, for that matter, how had they even gotten through the Athene temple? I could feel the distaste Athene had for Fenrir and Bast through my marksense. I wasn’t sure I’d like the answer to my question.

"Hi," one of the skoll said blandly, scrutinizing us. Skoll are like anthropomorphic wolves, except they’re plantigrade. Now that I could see him better, it was clear he was male, along with the hemt (short, scorpion-tailed fennec fox anthro). The other skoll looked like she was female, though they were all armed for bear.

“Hello.” Blossom said shyly, uncertainly. Good, even she knew this wasn’t a great situation.

I looked back to the skoll. "Can we assist you, or may we pass?" Just get past them and into the mirror and we were safe. Unless they’d fought their way through the temple or something, but then how’d they get through the mirror...it didn’t make any sense to me.

"We're lookin' fer wherever souls on their way t' th' afterlife'd go." the male skoll said. His mark had an odd ‘flavor’. Like he was in the direct displeasure of Fenrir himself. I’d heard of Shame-Marks before, but I’d never encountered one.

Dawn held up a wing as a wave, as she moved to my side. "Just head for water and follow it downstre-"

Blossom suddenly cut her off, levelling a finger at the male skoll angrily and shouting, “YOU!” I looked back at her. SHIT. Now this was going to go off the rails...Alex was suspiciously quiet at that.

"What'd I do now?" the skoll asked, not entirely surprised, just...like he wasn’t sure which of many actions it was.

Blossom looked at us, and then back. “This is Aaron, yes?” she asked. Hell if I knew, it was dark, he was silhouetted by the mirror, and his fur was all black.

"I is me, yeah," the skoll said, seemingly intentionally mangling the sentence. He was clearly the leader in that group by the way the others looked at him. The hemt glanced around, tail curled up behind him. I looked to Blossom, not sure if I should interrupt her. No one had made a move yet, so at least that was encouraging.

"You killed Nkosi..." Blossom accused, narrowing her eyes at Aaron.

"Yeah, he did. Why?" the female skoll said, looking a bit confused. Her mark didn’t have the same “Shame” feeling that Aaron’s did.

"When someone tries t' kill ya, you usually hafta kill'em right back." Aaron said. Was this the same one from the news? If so, he wasn’t a skoll...but I couldn’t tell any difference readily.

"You killed Nick too!" Blossom shouted in rage. So this WAS the one from the news.

I started briefly. We needed damage control, NOW. "Blossom. Please let me handle this, thank you."

"..and that's why I'm down in fuckin' spookyland, alright?" Aaron shot back.

"You intend to retrieve Nkosi's soul?" I said, trying to calm the situation down.

"Don't bother..." Blossom growled threateningly. Gods, she was interesting, but a total liability in most negotiations.

"Pussywillow can blow himself.” Aaron spat. “I'm here fer Nick."

"Easy, hon," the other skoll said in a low voice, stepping over to gently scratch Aaron’s back. He calmed a bit, but didn’t seem to like Blossom’s attitude. So they were a couple, too.

"Blossom, let me handle this." I said, raising my voice a bit to make it clear this wasn’t up for debate. She glared at me, but shut up for the moment.

"They are one and the same..." the sphinx said, continuing to stare at Blossom.

"We have the soul and intend to return it to the body." I said, trying to reach a middle ground.

"Well good. We walked all th' fuckin' way fer nothin'." Aaron said angrily.

"Have I... missed something?" the hemt said to Aaron.

"I don't know. People here think I \know\ what's goin' on,” Aaron muttered in anger.

"... Wait. You guys already got him?" the female skoll said, looking a bit surprised.

"That's the fox Nkosi kicked out of Tel Aviv,” the sphinx said. “He didn't want Bast to get her, so I got to play taxi."

Blossom stopped glaring at me and aimed it back at Aaron. “Nick’s right here.” She pointed at the soul-ball that had been following her the last few days.

I nodded in agreement. “We did get him,” I confirmed.

"... Well, that makes things simple." the female said.

"..an' here I thought I was gonna hafta reenact a few levels of Doom." Aaron said, seeming slightly disappointed.

"You are Mr. Aaron Dowrey, correct?" I said, trying to reach a common ground.

"Yeh. I am." Aaron said. Good. Now we could get to business.

I nodded back to him. "I’m Nathan Renfrew, professional Realm Walker. I have been the guide of Blossom and Alex for the last month and a half...if you desire, you may accompany us to the body to restore the soul."

"Th' body? Still got his own?" Aaron said. So they didn’t know where the body was...good, we had leverage.

Blossom seemed to calm down, looking at Aaron "I know you had no choice...I am sorry for my anger." she apologized. I’m not sure if it was sincere, but the gesture was at least welcome. "The body is back in the grove." And there went our leverage.

"Good. Th' guy's been through \way\ too many bodies," Aaron said. There was something here I didn’t know, but it wasn’t my concern at the moment.

The hemt gestured to me, speaking in a light arabic accent. Maybe a forcemark. "I like the way this fellow thinks." He said.

"Storytelling can wait, as for taking the soul back to the body that isn't happening." the sphinx said, ominously. She got a few glances from both groups from that, but backed up.

"Wait, I thought these were exactly the people we couldn't trust, hon?" Dawn said to me, trying to be quiet. I shot her a “SHUT UP” look. I didn’t need this.

Aaron eyed Dawn. "Couldn't trust.....why?" Bloody hell. The sphinx sat on her haunches with a sigh, flicking her tail.

"Whatever. Nevermind." Dawn said, trying to cover.

"What do you mean, not going to happen?" Blossom asked the sphinx.

"Go back and the spirit will dissipate into nothingness,” the sphinx explained. "Souls can't survive topside alone."

"...so, whatcha mean, Vikkinet? Take th' body \here?\" Aaron asked. There was another name.

"No...plan B, and time to come clean with you guys." she smiles at the skoll and hemt.

The hemt uncoiled his tail, looking carefully over at the sphinx. I looked at Vikkinet uncertainly, too, reaching for my crossbow.

Blossom blinked. "What do you mean?" she asked.

"Paki here is smarter then he gets credit for." Vikkinet said, nodding to the hemt. PAKI? Of all the names he could have, and he chose THAT? I know hemt are blasphemous little smartasses, but...

The hemt saw my expression and quickly said, “It means “Witness” in Xhosa, a South African language.” Oh. Well, that made it a little bit better.

I brought my crossbow into my hand, keeping it lowered to the ground as I watched Vikkinet...all eyes were on her by this point, as she lowered her head to the ground and spat up something.

"So...how about...Jesus Christ!" Aaron exclaimed. The two skoll reached for their weapons, the female for a dart pistol, Aaron for a sword. Blossom jumped back a bit. Vikki wiped her mouth with a paw and stepped back with a “bleh!” sound.

The female skoll stepped back, looking in disgust at the object that was on the ground. We all moved back a bit, watching carefully until we saw what it was. I kept a tight grip on my weapon while analyzing the object...it appeared to be a metal bottle. Ornately carved, golden gilded, but still a bottle.

"Gah that sucked,” Vikkinet said. She turned to Blossom. “Anyway, little fox person. Come on over and grab this thing. The spirit can survive within it, so you can take it to Selene." Vikkinet held up the bottle in her paw carefully.

"... Time to come clean?!" the female skoll said. "Jeeze, Vikki, you had us ready to shoot you!"

"No, no. Wait. What th' FUCK!?" Aaron shouted, looking at her suspiciously.

Blossom made a disgusted face. "Alright...I guess.." she said in a wary tone, stepping forward.

"Bast gave me this bottle with orders to take his spirit back to her." Vikkinet said. So, she WAS a plant. But it looked like the other three weren’t in on her plan.

"Stop! Wait a sec!" Aaron yelled.

I agreed with him. We needed to hear more of this story. "Wait, Blossom."

Blossom stopped. “Why?” I motioned for her to listen and looked back to Vikkinet.

"I however am refusing to do so," the sphinx concluded.

"Then are you certain that anyone else besides her can open it?" the female skoll asked Vikki. The hemt dropped to his hands and feet. Four on the floor gave his tail more range of motion, I guessed. He didn’t look happy either.

"Selene should be," Vikkinet said.

"And who's Selene?" the female skoll asked.

"Her goddess," Vikkinet said, nodding to Blossom.

"I don't trust this, Kate..." Paki said. So that was the last name I needed. Good.

"I don't fucking trust this..."

"Selene is the goddess of the moon,” I confirmed. “And...I have to note my caution as well."

"Ya just mentioned Bast gave ya orders," Aaron pointed out, the distrust clear in his voice.

"... And apparently shoved a bottle down your throat," Kate said.

"How can I be sure Nick will be safe in that bottle?" Blossom said, uncertainly. Good, she was learning.

Dawn looked up to me and said quietly. "On the list of things that I thought was going to happen when we got back to the mirror, this... I did not expect." I nodded to her in agreement. This was totally out of left field. Still, it was better than meeting an entire Bast task team. That would’ve been a bad fight...here, it looked like Vikkinet stood alone

"Bast demanded my presense that day and gave me the orders to capture his soul and bring it to her,” Vikki explained. “I asked her why, she said she wanted it and /might/ give him a body someday. Other then that she'll put it on her mantle. Being a spirit trapped in a bottle to be observed by a goddess is no way to live out an existence,” she said, pausing. "So here, take the bottle and take him to his body."

"...I don't like it," Aaron said with a shake of his head.

"... I don't either," Kate noted, looking warily at Vikkinet.

"Nor I," I agreed.

"Waaaaay too contrived," Aaron said.

"Like it or not this bottle is the only way to preserve his spirit," Vikkinet said. She had a point. If what she said was true, we were kinda over a barrel here.

"Why th' fuck did ya not \mention\ this in th' first place?" Aaron asked, angrily.

"I think I can offer a mutually agreeable compromise," Paki said, tail twitching. "We slit her fucking throat, and half of us go grab said body." Thankfully, no one seemed to take that idea too seriously for the moment.

"No, it's the only way we have on /hand/." Kate said, glaring at Vikkinet.

Blossom backed up, stepping back behind me halfway. Dawn was plastered to my side as well. Timmy and Alex were off to my left and back, both seeming to let this play out, just ready to jump in if a fight started.

"You wouldn't believe that I was going to Selene with it," Vikkinet said. “That’s why I didn’t say.”

"No /shit/," Paki sneered.

"No fuckin' kiddin'!" Aaron echoed.

"Bast specifically mentioned Selene were to not get the spirit, a.k.a that's where "Nick" died," Vikkinet said. She seemed honestly contrite, but...she could’ve been picked for this mission for that skill. And even if she was telling the truth, there’s no reason that Bast would’ve told her everything.

"Sorry, Vikki,” Kate said. “I wouldn't believe that you're not just giving us a bottle that no one besides Bast can open."

"Yes, I will not hand him over to you," Blossom agreed. Common sense victory.

Vikkinet put the bottle back down. "Then what do you suggest?" she said.

"Fuck th' bottle, these folks send some people t' get Nick's bod, then retrieve it.” Aaron said. “I an' other folks'll guard th' soul."

"My compromise solution is looking pretty nice,” Paki said, tail still twitching.

"Where is the body? How far from here?" Kate asked, looking at us.

"It'll take two weeks, there and back." Vikkinet said.

I ignored her, giving my own estimate. "Four days walk. One way." And that was assuming I was at the head being a taskmaster.

Kate looked at me, then at Vikki, then back at me. "So just over a week," she said. "What'll happen to the soul if we don't guard it?"

"I don't wanna find out." Aaron said. That I could agree with, too. The guy had a slightly better head on his shoulders than I’d expected.

"Look, all the gods have comparable powers,” Vikkinet protested. “Selene will be able to open the bottle...as for "handing him over to me" I want /you/ to keep the bottle." she said, aiming the last part at Blossom.

"How do i know you’re not lying...?” Blossom said, accusingly.

"I know I don't have a lick of trust, I never have among you guys and I really haven't cared,” Vikkinet monologued. “I'm out of Tel Aviv, and intend to live the rest of my life free from deranged goddesses. I wouldn't want Bast to stare at my soul in a bottle every day smiling. I wouldn't condemn a guy like him to that fate."

"Okay, okay. You said, 'I know you don't trust me, but...trust me?'" Aaron pointed out.

"Because you were one of his girls?" Kate asked Vikk flatly.

"Yeah and he was one of us, he gave a damn and died for us." Vikkinet countered to her.

"Despite having known only the piece of him that Bast twisted into her own little inept Vader?" Paki said. Ahh, the standard hemt charm...or lack thereof.

"I've given you guys the whole spiel, he didn't have a choice,” Vikkinet huffed. “Kinda happens when you land in an ocean and become a personal pet."

"I would feel better if we brought his body here." Blossom said to me. “I don’t want anything to do with Bast.”

"He didn't choose his fate, it was chosen for him unjustly so fuck it. Why let her get her way when she's fucked with everyone I care about," Vikkinet argued. She turned to Blossom. "You aren't, god do you guys not listen or something."

"I ain't gonna risk Nick bein' buttfucked from this. Fuck yer bottle, then eat it again." Aaron growled.

“The only problem we'd have with that would be supplies for the people who are guarding the body, and specifically dealing with the priests on the other side," Kate said to Blossom.

"Here's the game plan, soul in bottle, bottle goes to Selene, soul in body." Vikkinet said confidently.

"..but we don't know how th' bottle works!" Aaron shouted, gripping his sword again.

They had issues with the priests? That might be my in. "You came here from Athene's temple, correct?" I asked them.

"Yes," Aaron threw back to me, still aggressively staring at Vikkinet.

Kate looked over and nodded to me, more calmly. "Yeah, we did," she agreed.

"You open it and he goes in, then let a priest or Selene herself open it so the soul doesn't dissolve." Vikkinet said.

"Yet \you\ are th' person who made |NO| mention of it!" Aaron roared at the sphinx.

"But why would /Selene/ help us?" Kate asked. I was losing them.

"She will help, she's keeping Nicks body alive right now." Blossom said confidently.

I raised my voice a bit so I could be heard. "I was Marked at the temple you just came through. I have no problem 'dealing with them.'" I didn’t like that last turn of phrase, but it was an easy way to make the point.

Kate heard me and motioned to me with the rest of her group. "Well, there's our ticket."

Paki suddenly lashed out, attempting to bring his tail to Vikki's neck. It didn’t penetrate, but the knife-to-throat analog was obvious. Vikkinet glanced to the stinger at her throat, but otherwise went very, very still.

Aaron twitched and turned back to the motion. "HEY!" For the love of gods, if it wasn’t one thing, it was another. All eyes turned to the standoff, Alex backing up and spreading his wings slightly.

"Stop!" Blossom shouted.

"His tail paralyzes. /Relax/," Kate said to everyone around. I knew that, but everyone else, not as much.

"Still acting like she calls the shots here...” Paki growled. “Someone /very/ much needs a reminder of how tenuous she has just made her position here."

"Big whoop if it gives her a 'nother breathin' hole..." Aaron muttered.

"Hmph, can't we think of this logically...” Vikki said carefully. “Let me explain really quick."

"No," Kate said to Vikki.

"I \did\ think this through logically,” Aaron said flatly. “I. Don't. Trust. You."

"You're done," Kat agreed.

"Why would I reveal everything and expect to get away with "orders" around a bunch of armored folk?" Vikkinet pleaded.

"You've said your piece,” Paki said. “It's time for the /proven/ to make their choices about what's going to happen now."

"Because you're carrying an ace we don't know about." I agreed, aiming the main statement at Vikki.

Kate’s hackles went up fast. She was MAD. "And why would you act all coy and tell us Paki was right about you all along if you were trying to /help/ us?" she practically barked at the sphinx. "If you're trying to help us, you're /horrible/ at the diplomacy!"

"He was right I was keeping something, hell what would you expect me to say when you inevitably asked why I spit out a magical bottle? Where'd I get it, the pawn shop?" Vikkinet protested, knowing she was losing ground.

"Tellin' us th' day we left th' realm \may\ have been smarter," Aaron countered.

Blossom tugged on my clothing, showing me the same flask from earlier with what little tranquilizer poison she had left. I looked at it, and shook my head. Not yet, and we didn’t have time to prepare to use it. She nodded, and pocketed the flask as we both turned back to the tumult.

"Paki, if you please," Kate says, motioning to Vikki. The hemt looked to Aaron for confirmation.

"Yeah,” he gave it. “Don't kill'er, though."