Valero as Deniisius Perfide - Mystydjinn as Aelflead Kirastes - Dysney as Ignis of Animi
Wordcount = 4690
The brisk winds of the Heimis night nipped at the cheeks of three “heroes” as they exited a tarnished bar in varying states of inebriation. Deni and Ignis huddled close to one another while their bar acquaintance, Aelflead, was floated out on a platform made of vines, leaves, and flexible branches.
The enlil, a woman with pale skin flushed red from the cold and a few too many drinks and short, dark head feathers, turned her gaze to the most drunk of the three.
“Alright, Aelf, which way do we go?”
The floating drunk’s response was predicated by the loud SNAP of vines and branches snapping en masse, and the familiar THUMPing sound of a body hitting the floor.
“Jactatio’s edge!” Aelflead half-slurred, half shouted as she stumbled to her feet. Twigs and leaves from Amicus’ floating platform were strewn about in her hair and clothes, making her look like a bush that had caught flame, and her normally cool and measured gait had been reduced to a dizzy dance to stay upright.
The redhead clearly didn’t hold her alcohol well, and as if to prove that point a strong breeze rolled through the street and nearly knocked the woman over.
Ignis huddled close to Deni for warmth, taking advantage of the Pelagian’s exposed skin. The pale woman blinked a bit sluggishly, resting more weight on her partner as her balance wavered. The avian woman was by parts too hot and too cold. The mead and wine from before had warmed her and the rust colored feathers coating her body did a fine job of insulating her, but her hands and face remained unprotected and were quite chilled.
“Alright,” Deni replied with a slur. His arm was wrapped around Ignis’ torso, binding her furthest arm to her waist. The night air held a vicious chill like it always did in Heimis. Fortunately, in his drunken state he was only distantly aware of the breeze whipping at his skin. The velen had felt even more drunk since leaving The Vitae. The fresh air had made him realize how much he had to drink in quick succession.
“I suppose we’ve got nothing better to do. And I do love a long walk after a heavy night.”
Deni glanced at Aelflead and raised his voice.
“Are you able to walk or has poor Amicus got t’carry you the whole way?”
The redhead mumbled something unintelligible in velen and pointed… or at least seemed to point, at a turn in the street up ahead and stumbled towards it. “Mleygs work ine!” She managed after a moment, after angrily kicking over a trash can she nearly fell into.
“C’mon!” She said, waving the couple after her.
“C’mon!” She said, waving the couple after her.
Amicus twitched, rustling in amusement at Aelflead’s drunken antics from his place safely tucked inside Ignis’ cloak.
Ignis stifled her own laughter and nodded. “Alright. We’ll follow, but if you fall on your face Amicus will carry you.” She looked up at the tall man clinging to her and said, “that goes for you, too, Den.”
“Oi!” the pelagian objected, but reduced his complaints to a murmur.
The enlil velen couple followed Aelflead through the streets, Ignis stumbling a bit under Deni’s weight, but nevertheless mostly upright. Despite her drunken flush, Ignis’ eyes were bright with alertness and anticipation. She had never seen where the gruff spurii lived before.
Despite their shared moment during the invasion, things between the two women had been awkward. With some of the hostility gone, torn away by the battles they’d faced together and crumbled by unexpected vulnerability and compassion, they didn’t really know how to act around each other. Their relationship had been antagonistic and dictated by anger and spite for so long, the two women simply didn’t know how to get along without that pattern to fall back on.
Perhaps this moment would lead to something more comfortable, something to make the closeness they’d shared less confusing.
Deni did not share his companion’s awkwardness around the fiery redhead. Her anger had a short fuse and she was as stubborn a woman as any that Deni had ever met. Yet they had shared a smoke on the journey towards the Black Portal and she had seemed a lot more mellowed out. All it took was a little folium and care with his words.
As if that spurned an idea, Deni slowly - reluctantly - pulled away from Ignis’ grasp. Once he was certain she could manage a few steps on her own, he reached one arm into his jacket and fumbled around, almost missing a step in his concentration. Eventually, he managed to pull out the small tin. It clicked open and revealed the unmistakable contents. Half a dozen folium cigarettes that had been already been rolled, ready to light.
Deni flashed the inside of the box to Aelflead and Ignis as if it were a trophy.
“Look at this here. I rolled them back when I was sober.”
The velen placed one in his mouth, though he kept his arm extended, offering them to both women.
“That’s organization for ya!”
Aelflead stared at the rogue for a minute, her face scrunching up as if she were squinting at something far away before a weak frown made of confusion replaced it and she turned away.
“Nu-uh nah. I-hic-M’m too drunk for that sheet.” She pushed off the wall and stumbled, stepping into something sticky and unpleasant in the road, and threw her arms out to the side as though she was a blocker in a kinchaa game to catch her balance.
“Ma usedda do all tha shee inone go. ‘Mdoodrunk.”
A sign that read Jactatio stood over head on a corner, casting shade onto the street and resting over Aelflead like a veil.
Ignis took one of the proffered cigarettes and slipped it in her pocket.
“For later. Sounds like your mom liked parties, Aelflead” the enlil asked, curious to see if the other woman would answer, if the alcohol had loosened her tongue.
Briefly, the avian wondered if they could have just taken Aelflead to Deni's apartment. That way, they could be sure the brusque woman would be looked after. Frowning briefly, the pale woman wondered if her acquaintance had anyone to go home to. It was a sobering thought.
Deni shrugged and drew a match out of the tin. He struck it against his jacket and used it to light the cigarette, then threw it on the ground before he returned the tin to his jacket. The first drag seemed almost distant in his drunken state, yet he still released a satisfied sigh as he exhaled a cloud of smoke away from his two companions.
He had detected the mood after Ignis’ question and elected to keep his mouth shut, instead opting to hum a folky tune to himself - possibly one of the songs from the tavern - and pretended that he was not hanging on Aelflead’s next words.
Ignis pulled herself from Deni's grasp to steady Aelflead with a firm grip on the spurii's shoulder.
Amicus peeked out from the neck of the enlil's cloak to give Aelflead an annoyed look. Nevertheless, he conjured another leafy platform for the brash woman before disappearing into Ignis’ robes once more.
“Here, climb on.” The avian tried to guide her drunken acquaintance onto the makeshift stretcher.
But Aelflead didn’t seem to want to move. She’d stiffened since the enlil mentioned her mother before, and the signposts shadow seemed to grow darker over her face, hiding her hair beneath her bangs.
Deni stopped walking when he realized Aelflead wasn’t following. He took the roll out of his mouth and tapped it with his finger, letting a little ash fall to the floor. His eyes were on the stars up in the black Hiemis night sky, but he might as well have been staring at the two women for how much he was deliberately not glancing their way.
“What happened to your mom, Aelf?”
“You fucking kidding me?” She spat, her flaring anger focusing her tongue.
She flung her free arm out, shoving Ignis away, then let go of the sign pole she’d been gripping to round on the rust feathered woman; both hands now bound tight into white-knuckled fists.
Her eyes should have still been hidden by the sign pole's shadow and her hair, but regardless something flashed unnaturally bright from beneath her bangs.
The breeze suddenly turned warm.
Ignis stumbled back, nose wrinkling in irritation at Aelflead's sudden aggression.
“I'm not joking, what is with you? You're so touchy.”
“Touchy? Ask abou that bitch like it’s the vis-damned weather an I’m touchy!?”
“How is anyone supposed to know what bothers you when you never want to talk about anything? You did this last time, too. You tried to swing at me last time, too!”
“Howabou you assume I don’t wanna talk!” Infuriated with the help of the drink, Aelflead stomped, cracking a stone in the road.
The feathery woman clicked her tongue, annoyed. “Then don't bring up things you don't want to explain!”
The velen made no move to interject, but his lazy eyes suddenly looked awake, darting left and right between the spurii and the avian as if they might turn on him next.
Had the redhead been a stranger they had only met that night, Deni would have been at Ignis’ side within an instant. Yet he had known Aelflead for quite a while, even if he did not know much about her truly, and something about the confrontation did not quite add up. There was a missing puzzle piece somewhere. Why was Ignis being so persistent?
After a few silent moments Deni decided that if they wanted him to know, they would tell him eventually.
Women are definitely going to be the death of me, he thought to himself. Then he heaved an exasperated sigh and placed the cigarette between his lips once more.
“Are you pair goin’ to throw hands?” he asked through the side of his mouth. “Because it would be significantly less messy to throw words instead.”
Ignis’ ire turned to Deni next, her eyes starting to glow faintly with mounting frustration. “That's great, Den. Beautiful input. Did you say that because you thought it will help?” Between the alcohol and feeling defensive from Aelflead's moods, the pale woman was running out of patience.
“Fuck both of you!” The redhead snapped at the couple, her face still veiled by shadow, and her fists shaking like leaves in the warm breeze -turned gale whipping around them.
“I’m the only one allowed to pissed right now!”
“Not when you can't even walk home straight.”
Deni’s eyebrows tried to climb off the top of his head at Ignis’ tone. There were few enough occasions where she had aired her frustration so openly. Throwing anger at him when he was trying to be some sort of mediator, no matter how terrible he was at it, didn’t seem like something she would do. Perhaps it was the alcohol.
At least they’re still only using their words.
Then the velen noticed that Aelf was getting ready to throw a punch. Deni’s eyes narrowed and in two great strides he was standing between the two women.
“Both of you need to calm down,” he said in a clear baritone. His head twisted repeatedly as he tried to keep his blue eyes on both of them, a small wisp of smoke from his cigarette constantly rising and then dissipating into the night. “Think of all that we’ve been through. The whole Black Portal campaign, the horrors we have witnessed. We’re lucky to be alive. That’s why I organized this night to celebrate and it was fucking great. So why don’t the pair of you let this drop? Unless there’s something else I’m missing.”
Aelflead stared and said nothing. Her eyes were burning coals in her skull but the anger that’d brought clarity to her mouth was doing little more than grinding her teeth now.
Ignis’ shoulders slumped at Deni's outburst. With a wave of her hand she signaled Amicus to move the platform closer to the glaring woman.
“Just get on if you still want a ride.”
Deni sighed, exhaling another stream of smoke. He hadn’t realized that he had been holding his breath. Even though the immediate animosity seemed to have been subdued, he did not seem relaxed.
The enlil carded her curved talons through the shortened feathers decorating her head, another reminder of what they'd gone through. While somewhat misplaced, Deni's words weren't completely wrong. Thinking back to what they had gone through together only emphasized the awkward tension between the pale woman and the volatile spurii instead of quelling it as the velen might have hoped. If he knew, if she's told him about their interaction back then, the Pelagian likely wouldn't have thrown the invasion in their faces to end the dispute. That was neither here nor there, though. Even after all this, Aelflead and Ignis were like oil and fire.
Things had been easier when the avian didn't view the angry woman as a real person, but that incident had been an unwitting opening of “The Vault Inscrutable”; the effects on Ignis’ perspective were permanent. Now that Aelflead had come to life, she couldn't be reduced back into a caricature. If that were possible, Ignis would have been laughing instead of annoyed.
She clicked her tongue and pulled a matchbox from within her cloak and lit it. Then, Ignis dug out the joint Deni had offered her and lit it while it hung from the corner of her mouth.
A deep drag later, Ignis held the smoke in until she felt light headed. Smoke wisped past her lips as she chuckled softly.
“It's poetic justice. What happened during the Portal campaign is exactly why we're here right now like this. That's why I can't seem to let it go. I wouldn't have cared before then. Well, are you done, Aelf? It's cold and I wanna see where you live. You'll just have to deal with me being nosy and way too nice for your tastes. I'm not just going to leave you like this. You should know better by now.”
“Whuh ah noe, isat yor head’s up yer ass.” The woman spat, and swiveled to a hole into Ignis’ eyes with her glare.
Instead she found the side of the enlil’s head. Ignis was staring off into space, as if the world was of little consequence, and affirming the fact with a flat smile. and deflated with a beat.
Aelflead let go of the lamp post, it’s newly warped metal cold to the touch again and climbed back onto Amicus’ platform, diminished. “Fuck it, let's go.”
The pelagian threw the end of his cigarette on the ground and immediately withdrew the tin to take out another. If the atmosphere kept up, it was going to be a long walk to Aelflead’s place.
Suddenly, he could feel the cold again.
When they arrived at Aelflead's abode, the pale enlil looked up with a frown. This wasn't an ordinary house, but what resembled an abandoned orphanage.
Her mouth opened into a small 'o’. Aelflead's closed off nature and aggression made sense, the spurii had been guarding a sore spot. Ignis had known that Aelflead had a rough life, but some of the essential details had been left in the dark.
“I think I might owe you an apology, Aelf,” the avian said quietly.
The building was expansive. Every inch of it was either blue or dingy white, and it stretched two stories above the tiny homes they’d passed to get there. The top most was topped with a worn spire-style roof, patched in places by someone inexperienced with home repair, and circular windows to the attic. The second floor boasted wide and cracked rectangular windows from an older time, and the ground floor contained a shaded porch marred by chipped paint, sections of missing rail, and a set of hooks attached to its ceiling that grumbled about a missing porch swing. A massive set of blue double doors served as the front entrance.
“Tace*.” Aelflead bit at the enlil, clambering off Amicus’ floating table of twigs, and stumbling to the door.
The tension had far from cleared, and Aelflead was still drunk and full of spite.
The redhead strode forward to the large, blue, double doors leading into the massive worn building and shoved them wide with a heave. The smell of old wood rushed out the massive doors to meet them and a room too dim to describe from outside.
She took a minute to catch her balance again, hands on her knees, then stood up and started forward inside. “You two comin’ or gawkin’?” She called back to the couple, impatient.
After a brief observation of his surroundings, Deni shrugged and followed the ill-tempered spurii. If he was surprised at Aelflead’s living conditions, he gave no outward sign. Instead, he opted for another silence, as he had done for most of their journey. With his usual sharp tongue, he could have easily dismantled the peace being held between the two women and calming them both down had been a tough enough job the first time.
Sniffing loudly at the musty smell as he followed the redhead into the building, he chose his words carefully.
“Nice place you got here. It has a… rustic feel to it.”
Ignis followed Deni and Aelflead into the large yet unkempt building. If the pale enlil hadn't known that the gruff woman ahead of them was an engineer, she'd have been concerned about the structural integrity of the place. Although thoughtless, Aelflead wasn't stupid.
“I'm surprised you're letting us in,” the avian woman noted, fluffing her rust Colored feathers to keep warm.
The makeshift stretcher dissolved, leaving behind a few leaves on the floor. Ignis swept them aside with her foot before continuing on. She glanced around the area with a pensive expression on her face. What kind of life does Aelflead live?
“Guess the invasion did a number on this place.”
“A consherto. Everything ‘cept the basement’s like this.” She paused to step over a fallen beam and then pointed up at the ones still standing up above.
“Marilynn told me it used to be a manshon when I was a kid, built it strong ‘cause the first owner was a punk or summing. They remodeled about ten years ago.”
While Aelflead stumbled deeper into the building, the large and tattered foyer the couple found themselves in started to make a bit more sense.
Claw, burn, and scorch marks covered nearly everything there, but most of everything was there. Pictures that had been stapled and glued to the walls were torn and scorched to shreds, but the walls still stood... Mostly. In any case it was easy to see that the invasion hadn’t destroyed all the building’s history, only damaged it badly.
A gilded auritium door covered with gears stuck out from the wreckage like a sore thumb though. It was obviously taken much better care of than the rest of the damaged foyer and Aelflead seemed to be meandering toward it.
Deni stared at the auritium door, his head cycling through questions that never left his lips. He remembered the initial invasion. That pub that he was drinking in when it first started had looked no better than Aelflead’s home. The only likely difference was that the pub had been rebuilt, whereas this ‘mansion’ remained a mess. He supposed she couldn’t really afford to fix the place up, and he wasn’t surprised judging by the size of it.
Ignis took in the damages quietly, making a mental note to check her own residence at some point. Had it held up or did it look even worse than this?
“Not much time for repairs,” the enlil noted, “but you did good on that shiny door.”
“It's jus a door-” Aelflead slurred, stopping a couple feet away from it and squatting, presumably to regain her balance. “Jus a bunch of shit in there.”
Despite everything that had just happened, the enlil's curiosity remained insatiable. She didn't ask questions, but fishing for information still wasn't out of the question.
“Still, it's fancier than anywhere I've ever lived.”
Aelflead laughed. “Bullshit!” She said and stood up shakily, pointing a finger the enlil. “You had a nice ma as a kid didn you?”
“Nice doesn't have anything to do with it,” Ignis grumbled, annoyed with her disbelief.
The spurii spun -a little too fast because she looked a little green- and jabbed her finger at the rogue like a gun. “Quickshot, what abou your ma? Loved ye teh death diddn right?” Aelflead said, not questioning, but accusing. A drunken prosecutor with a loaded gun.
Instead of stiffening his back in defense, Deni folded his arms and wore an unpleasant smile. He was growing weary of playing mediator.
“If she loved me to death, I wouldn’t be standing here right now, would I?”
The velen fixed his eyes on the spurii woman. It seemed the heated conversation was going to revert to the topic of Aelflead’s mother regardless of the consequences. ‘Might as well wrestle the shark before it puts a hole in the boat.’
“You can’t go around being envious of everyone that had a better relationship with their mother than you,” he said with only a sliver of vexation in his voice. “That shit’s in the past. I know it makes us poorly adjusted, but you just have to live with it.”
His voice grew a fraction weaker.
“We all do.”
“Cute, ere’s that from??” The spurii retorted, the breeze growing warmer again. Then she stood up a little straighter and Aelflead began to stumble toward Deni.
“Cuz that’s real fun-woah-ny, irony.” Aelflead said and pulled the scorched remains of her cloak off her neck, the heat being too hot to stand with it on; but in doing so bringing the familiar view of her scars, particularly of her shoulders to attention.
Of note though was a mark that seemed a bit too deliberate to be something haphazardly given in battle. It was black, stark in contrast to the brown of her skin and but dull unlike her scales, twisted and stretched. It was a burn scar in the shape of a flowering rose.
“Cuz see myma did love me to deaf.” She said, punctuating each statement shaky step by shakey step. “No wai, tha’s wrong. I loved her to deaf-I burned that bitch.”
Ignis glanced between Deni and Aelflead, sensing the tension rising once more. The Pelagian hadn't told her much about his past and the avian had never thought to ask. Their relationship was in the present, so their histories had been left behind them. Aelflead pushing the conversation to the past was uncomfortable for everyone involved.
Frowning, Ignis tried to think of a way to redirect the situation ...and failed.
“I gotta wear that shit forever- I can’ even scratch it off-”
Deni wanted to step away, to put more distance between Aelf and himself. It was stubborn curiosity that caused him to stay exactly where he was as she approached him. As his blue eyes scanned the unusual black mark, one he tucked one thumb casually into his belt. Then he fixed the agitated spurii with a wary gaze.
“What exactly is happening here?” he asked all too calmly. “Is it a fight you want? A hug? Or do you just need a pair of ears to listen to your sad story?”
Deni’s cutting retort hung impassively in the air and Aelflead stood frozen in front of him. Speechless for a tense moment before sputtering; “F-fuck you.”
Aelflead was visibly tense. Her hands clenched and stepping back and forth, stumbling -not quite on beat- but following an awkward drunken rhythm.
The air had warmed again.
“I got yer feckin’ sad sory, I had-No, fuck you. Get outta-.”
“Aquila’s wings!” Ignis swore, feathers ruffling with frustration. “This isn’t pity, Aelflead! Clearly you have a problem and you need to talk about it. You managed to do that once you stopped swinging on me last time. What’s so different now? Are you scared or something?”
Aelflead stumbled backwards with a growl. “Fuck you! I ain’ scared o’ sh-I killed a vorax wit’ my own hands-”
The pale woman took a step towards the branded spurii. “I can’t figure you out! You get mad at everyone around you but every time someone tries to help you try to fight them. We’ve had this conversation before; this isn’t pity. It’s human decency.”
It was sweltering in that room.
It was an effort for Deni not to throw up his hands. He’d had enough of inebriated egos flaring up and would have dragged Ignis out of that place in an instant - or at least tried to - had he not thought that Aelflead was on the verge of a long-needed emotional breakthrough.
Either way, it was going to get worse before it got better. For some reason, he was reminded of shellfish. You need to break the shell before you can get the juicy goodness. Great. Now I’m hungry.
“We’re all fucked up,” he said simply, wearily. “We wouldn’t be where we are, living in half-wrecked buildings and taking illicit jobs to make ends meet if we weren’t. That’s why I drink and why you’re angry.”
Deni’s hand got halfway to his jacket pocket before remembering that he had ran out of cigarettes, so he let his arm rest at his side.
“Everyone has a different story, different reasons for ending up here, but what matters is that we’re all in the same boat now. So, if you ever need someone to confide in or rant to without judgement, I’m your man.”
He spread his arms for a moment and then glanced at Ignis when he let them drop.
“That goes for both of you.”
The blunt statement hung indomitably in the air and Aelflead tensed again, her eyes widening for a brief moment before turning to slits again.
Ignis huffed, feathers still ruffled, a petulant expression on her face. After a few moments, Deni’s words seemed to sink in and she relaxed somewhat.
“Killing something doesn't mean you aren't scared,” the avian said quietly. “You can end something and still be scared, even after it's dead, whatever it is.”
Brief memories of the basilisk that nearly was her own end came to mind, unbidden.
“Not even bullets can kill the ghosts that linger after it's all done, after things should be over.” Her knuckles were white, and her face was paler than usual, despite the heat Aelflead gave off. The distant tone of her voice left no room for question, it was unornamented truth; and unornamented and unsheathed, the truth is a powerful piercing weapon.
But a blade will only dig so far into a drunk sponge.
Aelflead stepped away from the couple, backing towards the gilded door behind her like a dazed animal and waving them away. “Fuck you, an’ the tree you rode in on. Get ou-.”
Ignis arched a feathery brow. “-Don't you mean the tree you rode in on?”
Deni couldn’t help but chuckle.
“Alright,” he said and sighed as if some tension had slid off of his shoulders. “We got you home and I would like to get back to mine before sunrise, so I think it’s time to leave.”
He raised his hand into a half-hearted wave - he wasn’t about to risk a hug or even a handshake in her current condition. Staying out of swiping distance was about as wise as he was going to get.
Ignis gave Aelflead a mock salute on her way out. The enlil was more than happy to follow the Pelagian out at this point. A combination of fatigue, inebriation, and frustration had convinced the avian to give it up for now.
“Sleep tight, Red.”
The door clicked shut after the pair of them, leaving Aelflead alone with her thoughts and demons that she had struggled to express.
*Latin translation note: Tace = Silence/Shut up/be quiet