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[IC] TTG Chapter 5: Wrath

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Tai

 

A sudden "Wh-" escaped from Tai's lips, with his eyes widened in both surprise and confusion. Another "But-" was about to leap out of his mouth as well, but he held his breath, letting his crazily-throbbing heart quiet down for a moment instead.

There is an explanation for everything here, from the suspicious scream of a banshee to the relocation of his mech. And he would be patient, and wait for the explanation that would dispel his paranoia.


"Sorry. I missed the memo, so I got lost for a bit." He uttered with a forced calmness, one that showed restraint rather than cool. 

 

There was certainly a difference between "important" and "dangerous," even if lately they've been overlapping more and more often than ever before in his life. If it was of any consolence, though, at least he had company again.

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Tai

 

"It's not my time, you're the one dying." the girl responded, still sounding a bit annoyed, "I should introduce myself, I'm Tejfidh, one of the beings you would call an ancient."

 

The girl stood and her clothes, which up until this point didn't even exist in Tai's perception, materialized as a long grey robe, the folds of which she used to perform a curtsy alongside her introduction. She then sat down again and Tai's perception of her outfit vanished, it reminded him of the feeling of being watched he'd sensed in the earlier room, he knew something was there, but no matter how hard he tried he couldn't seem to focus on it. When he thought about it, he realized that all details about Tejfidh except her face and hair were obscured to him in this way. The only things he clearly understood of her were the things that he was directly interacting with.

 

"Since your kind can only exist in one Plane at a time, you can't navigate accurately, so I've made myself available as a navigator. In some cases when I notice someone who will die without my help, I try to coax them into becoming a host, as I did with you." Tejfidh explained, "This is the first time I've encountered a host who has already been inhabited by another. She doesn't seem to be here currently, but I needed to ask if the vacancy was permanent. Once you accept my help, I'm here to stay, she'll never be able to return. If you're okay with that, I can lead you to safety."

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Tai

 

Oh.

 

Tai must have skipped the terms and conditions somewhere amidst all the mess that happened ever since he met Cardinal, because, this information was all new to him. The discreet use of pronouns allowed him to realize that he had been "hosting" Cardinal ever since that day.

 

Though, like any other person who had suffered for their ignorance, he knew to use the experience he had with Cardinal to review the sudden deal. And, although he had finally settled things with her, the relationship still left a particularly sour spot on his heart.

 

When he really thought about it, he had never seen Cardinal in her physical form. She'd either show up in his mind, or project herself here. And with details strangely escaping from his eyes now, he began to consider the possibility that none of what he was seeing was actually "real," especially seeing that Tejfidh had noted how he was still dying.

 

Should he let another person - a person with power far greater than his - take up his mind again, would he be risking another round of abuse like how Cardinal had treated him? What were Tejfidh's motives? And even more importantly, how much did she knew about him?


"I deserve some questions before I make another life-or-death decision, don't you think? Since I'm still dying, I'll make this short - two questions," he took a small, but firm step forward, toward the hazy figure before him.

 

"What do you gain from inhabiting me?"

 

"And, how do you know it is a her?"

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Tai

 

Tejfidh nodded, "Your reservations are fair, I will do my best to answer quickly.

 

"I do not gain anything from inhabiting you in particular, I typically have several hosts active at any given time. In general I do this because I have nothing better to do, it fulfills my boredom and I enjoy helping others. I can tell you more when things are less urgent, if you want. I'd prefer to recede to the passive relationship I have with my other hosts though.

 

"As for your second question, I know her gender because I latched on to some of your recent thoughts when I first entered. I like to get a general idea of the people I'm helping, and it's usually a good idea to check that they aren't a criminal that has been fairly exiled. I can't read your mind under normal circumstances unless it's something you willingly share."

 

Tejfidh smiled happily, and it seemed genuine. Considering the situation, it was actually a very odd expression, and it was hard to judge exactly what part of her explanation made her feel like smiling. Whatever the case, the movement caused her hair to flop back into her face, and she had to brush it aside again.

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Tai

 

"Then it's my turn to answer," Tai took another step forward, accepting Tejfidh's apparent sincerity. "She's not coming back anymore. She's dead. And that's all you'll ever need to know about her."

 

Yes. All you'll ever need to.

 

"And so, go ahead. Help me... piece my life back together." He looked into Tejfidh's eyes. After all that, he still couldn't stand on his own legs. The idea that he could take care of himself without the help of others seemed to be less and less realistic. His world back then was small enough for him to fight against, but it has only expanded since then.

 

One could say it was a lesson learned too late. If he had just accepted Cardinal's help back in the fight against Temperance and Hellfire Knight, he wouldn't be at the mercy of Chronos. He would be enjoying his victory meals.


Was it really so wrong to accept help in a world that was far, far beyond his grasp, even for a brief moment?

And only then, did he truly forgive Cardinal for what she's done.

 

 

He made a wish to himself. That although he would have to hold another person's hands to brace through the ongoing storm, he would one day become strong enough to be above it all.

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Adam

 

Knowing just how much stress Swag was under in normal circumstances, Adam wasn't surprised to see him break down under the added pressure. Not surprised, but still terrified. Swag could spit in the face of someone twice his size and force them to back down without a fight, if he was at the end of his rope, they were truly in dire straits.

 

Nastasia's nudge seemed to remind Swag of where he was, and he quickly restored his composure, but he didn't return to his full stature and it was apparent that he was still hurting.

 

"Adam." was his only response to her introduction. He didn't have any interest in sorting through his grievances with the other competitors with anyone but them, so having her directly call attention to the fact that he was still standing wasn't something he appreciated.

 

Hiroki's question was welcome as a way to bring back their focus, but Adam didn't want anything to do with the answer. 

 

"Not it." he said quickly, "I'm not going anywhere near that room right now, and if you want to keep your heads you should avoid it as well."

 

If Swag had snapped, there was no doubt that the rest had at least cracked. At this point even Bear might be struggling with the weight placed on his shoulders. Adam didn't even want to imagine what it would look like when the other gods found out that Arcturus was their opponent.

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Hiroki fixed Adam with a scowl, feeling a heat rise up that nearly overrode her nerves for a moment. "I guess I should have known you wouldn't be up to it." She might be a coward herself, but at least she'd never resorted to outright torturing her opponents into forfeit. The girl looked back down at the table for a moment. She couldn't really say much if she didn't go herself, could she? And she wasn't exactly keen on subjecting herself to yet another embarrassment, yet another inadequacy in front of the gods. The silver-haired girl sighed, running one hand back through her hair in a gesture that looked far more relaxed than it actually was; her fingernails dug into the back of her head when they reached it. 

 

Still. . . Hiroki looked up. Swag, or Sain, or whatever she should have been calling him at the moment, had endorsed her at least. And Blink seemed to, for some reason, actually like her, sort of. She'd fought hard to get this far, fought and won the right to stand next to the gods. She let out an uncharacteristically noisy sigh. "Fine. I'll, um, do it." Before giving herself a chance to change her mind, she pushed herself up off of the table, standing and making a beeline for the door. Her steps were short and quick - more than usual anyway - as she tried to force herself to just not stop moving, feeling like there was someone sitting on her chest as she moved towards the dining hall containing the gods.

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Hiroki

 

Adam looked sufficiently admonished, and merely hung his head as Hiroki brushed past him to leave the room. She would have just enough time to regret her decision as she walked down the hall to the room the gods had occupied.

 

Upon opening the door, Hiroki would immediately be met but the clamor of several people trying to speak at once. It was impossible to make out what anyone was saying, but at the center of it all were Blink and Lord, who were so caught up in their argument they'd managed to climb up onto the table. The room was more of a family dinner between bitter relatives than a meeting between the rulers of the land.

 

A loud smack brought the shouting to an abrupt end. Blink's voice weakly cut through the silence, "Take that back." It was more of a plea than a demand.

 

Lord touched her cheek gingerly and looked genuinely shocked, even impressed, at the audacity of Blink's slap. She didn't seem to have a response for Blink, and she certainly didn't seem to be in a mood to take anything back.

 

"I said take it back!" Blink screamed, raising her fist to strike Lord again.

 

But rather than Lord, Blink's fist met with Seeker's stomach. Seeker seemed completely unfazed, and said very calmly, "Let it go, Amelia, before you cross another line."

 

Blink looked utterly shocked and betrayed, but only for a moment before anger took over again. She spat at Seeker's feet and shouted, "That's for every goddamn one of you!" Before sticking her middle finger up and storming out of the room, nearly barreling over Hiroki in the process. 

 

There was silence, and the gods seemed to finally pick up on the fact rhat they had a visitor, but none of them seemed willing to acknowledge Hiroki. Instead, Bear broke the silence, "You didn't have to say that."

 

"Of course you would take her side." Lord sneered, "I only told her the truth."

 

"No, he's right." Seeker turned to face Lord, "I know you can't stand her, but you could at least try to be a little sensitive to her past. That man is the absolute last person Blink would work with. I suspect you're second on that list now."

 

"I don't care about her past." Lord said, her calmness clearly forced, "It only makes sense if the coup is fake. It happened too quickly, Blink wouldn't retreat without a fight unless she had an ulterior motive. And now we have twice as many Planes to worry about."

 

Seeker shook her head, "Her ulterior motive was probably to focus on defeating Aries, not holding a fight against him and the tenth completely on her own. And Aries taking Envy is good for us. Defeating Aries on his own turf would be virtually impossible, Wrath is practically impenetrable, but now he has to split his efforts so he can hold Envy as well. We don't have the time to lay siege to Wrath, but taking back Envy is absolutely feasible."

 

Lord seemed at a loss for words again, and silence descended on the room once more.

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There were a great many things Hiroki didn't expect upon opening the door. A sudden silence, maybe. A hostile question; why was she there? Those she had been prepared to deal with. Sort of. Prepared in the way that one might be "prepared" for a bear attack, but at the very least she had run through what she might attempt to do. She glanced back over her shoulder in the direction Blink went. Blink was her. . . friend, or something. Patron? Not really that, no, but part of her felt she should follow the goddess. Thinking about that was a brief but ultimately unhelpful distraction from the situation before her. Something she needed to at least deal with.

 

She was not prepared (returning to that previous line of thought) to walk in on the gods bickering like children. She was even less prepared to break their silence when she had come here on her own. The girl's mouth opened, and no sound came out. She felt small. She was small. Hiroki closed her mouth. She was also the top competitor in the tournament. She had stood before the strongest one in this room and. . .  had been crushed mercilessly. She was an upstart. Don't remind yourself of that. If the tournament had gone to plan, she could be sitting among them instead of intruding. Hiroki closed her eyes for a moment; she was the Hellfire Knight. Before anything else, she was that, and the Hellfire Knight had the right to speak.

 

Hiroki opened her mouth again. "Uhhm-hm." Her eyes opened as she cleared her throat. "I. . . Um, you need to know, um, something. Arcturus, he was in, um, Wrath. He challenged me." She didn't feel confident enough to weigh in on what she had heard, not yet. She agreed with Seeker, even if she believed they should focus on Cardinal; after all, if Cardinal ceased to be a factor, Ares wouldn't be an issue. Or, well, wouldn't be a reality-rending one. Hiroki tried to focus on thoughts of strategy and not thoughts of how her head had been tampered with.

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Princess

 

"Don't thank me, it was his idea." Princess directed Grima's gaze to the photo of her husband, "Would you like another glass of tea? I can only do that so often, so it will be a little while before I can send you on your way."

 

Tai

 

Tejfidh raised an eyebrow when Tai mentioned Cardinals death, though her expressions didn't seem to quite line up with what he'd expect, so he wasn't sure why.

 

"So long as you're certain." she said with a shrug, her existence beginning to fade entirely from Tai's perception, "From this point on I will sustain and guide you. I'd rather you ignore my presence, but I did agree to answer more questions under less urgent circumstances, so I won't be upset if you call on me."

 

Tejfidh vanished completely, and Tai suddenly found himself back in the snow. He was standing outside a building not unlike the one he had just been inside, but significantly more crumbled. He couldn't quite explain it, but the world seemed smaller, he felt certain that if he walked a little ways, he could find his way back into town.

 

Hiroki

 

The name Arcturus managed to force the gods' attention from the altercation with Blink onto Hiroki. Whether or not that was a good thing was unclear. Lord and Seeker dismounted the table and returned to their seats. They seemed to have taken a more professional appearance for Hiroki, but their unwillingness to look each other in the eye belied the lingering tension. 

 

"It seems we have an empty seat," Lord gestured to the chair that Hiroki assumed to have sat Blink, "If he left you with anything else, we need to hear it. Even if not, you probably deserve to be in here anyways."

 

"What are you-" Gryffin started to ask.

 

"She can sit with the other failure, as far as I'm concerned, she's not one of us until she gets her Plane back." Lord replied, apparently trying to spark a fresh debate. 

 

Gryffin rolled his eyes and sat back in his chair, miffed but unwilling to respond.

 

"You can't just unilaterally declare her seat void, let alone give it to someone who isn't even a god." Queen protested, "I don't like her either, but it's not your descision alone to make."

 

"I'm inclined to agree, especially when Wine is still too ill to break the tie on disincluding Sain." Bear chimed in, though he continued his response in a surprising direction, "But Amelia won't be back, and she has backed Hiroki in the past. I think it would be fair to consider the Hellfire Knight as Blink's representative, and I think Amelia would be okay with that." 

 

Seeker nodded, "I'm not happy with your choice to offer the seat without any discussion, but Bear is right, Blink would be fine with Hiroki sitting in for her."

 

"That's fair enough, I suppose. I'll accept it as well. Gryffin?" Queen agreed, though he still seemed unconvinced.

 

"I was going to say, 'what are you talking about?'" Gryffin said with all the passive aggressive might a teenage boy could muster, "I don't know what this Arcturus thing is. But yeah, I'm fine with the Hellfire Knight borrowing Blink's spot."

 

"Right, then it's decided." Lord pointedly chose not to apologize for her actions, "Hellfire Knight, you may temporarily assume Blink's seat at the table. Please tell us if Arcturus left you any other memories, and then I'll explain exactly what he is for the uninformed."

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Tai

 

The bitter winds blew on Tai again, but it didn't feel dreadful anymore; he had a path before him once more. With the lingering warmth of the building, he hit the roads again. The wasteland seemed to have shrunk in his eyes... Or could it be just that he became a bigger person?

 

Whatever the case, he felt like he finally had what it took to leave here. He lumbered through the thick snow, letting intuition, or perhaps it was Tejfidh, guide him back.

To pass the time, he decided to get the more trivial questions out of the way first. "Tejfidh, do you mind explaining the building back there? Did you own the place?"

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Hiroki opened her mouth, then quickly shut it once more at the criticism of Blink. She wanted to defend the goddess, but it was hard to speak out against Lord. She didn't know enough about the situation, anyway; there was clearly more history here than she knew of. She should probably have just been fine with being acknowledged as being worthy to sit at the table, but something about that felt hollow. After all, it wasn't her being there - it was Blink being absent. She tried to refocus her thoughts as she walked in small, hurried steps over to Blink's chair, somewhat awkwardly shuffling herself into it. The girl glanced about furtively between the gods present, trying not to let the pressure get to her. Not that there was much of a point to this; it was like stepping into the arena without her mech, trying to speak without her "disguise." 

 

She closed her eyes and reminded herself of how she got here again. Furthermore, why she had to do this. It wasn't just her own pride at stake. One more deep breath and she spoke once more. "I met, um, Arcturus after I left Aries's hall. Um, he challenged me and I, um, said I had to go." It was still unsettling to think about. "I know we talked, um, more, but that's all, um, I remember."

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