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Crowquest – Chapter 2: Lunia

Lunia
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The image of the Seven Heavens of Mount Celestia was firmly held in Nick Shadow’s mind as he walked through that portal, his brave smile giving way to grim resolve. Oh, yes, he knew exactly where he was going: the pinnacle of lawful goodness, a place of anathema to all fiends. Being lawful himself, he would not be quite as antagonized there as a demon would be, but he knew that nothing friendly would be awaiting his arrival. And arrive he did, at the very bottommost layer of the great mountain plane: Lunia, which was dominated by a great ocean of holy water known as the Silver Sea. He tumbled from the portal, straight into that water, and at once felt as if his flesh was aflame, being burned away by the sanctified water. With a frantic beating of his wings, Nick rose out of the water and sought recourse; there, not twenty feet away, was a beach, its sands lit by the beautiful, starlit night sky that perpetually hung over the lowest Heaven. Dragging himself ashore, Nick groaned at the burns on his skin and looked around to see if Anivari had arrives. Worry flickered through him; she was part fiend herself, and would likely also be hurt by the Silver Sea if she fell into it.

 

Of course the crow would be unharmed. He managed to pull himself from her shoulder and hover in the air as Anivari hit the water. And, almost as if it were a natural defense, she began to glow and lift from the water as well. She felt, much like Nick, as if her skin were on fire. Though, with the bloodline she was part of, it was a little more painful for her. Anivari seemed to float over to the shore as well, panting rather heavily. She immediately looked to Nick, concern in her golden eyes. “Are you all right?” She felt as if she had failed him already. She’d let him get hurt and they’d barely set foot in this damn realm. She clenched her fist, taking the naginata from her back.

 

“Tch…!” Nick gritted his teeth and shoved a hand into his luggage, producing a rather goofy-looking towel with a the face of a grinning devil on it. “I… will be,” he managed, obviously in a considerable amount of pain. He buried his face in the towel, hissing with relief, and shakily got to his feet, holding it out to her. “’Ere… it’s supposed to negate burns from ’oly water. I carry it around just in case.” It would be funny if the whole business wasn’t so painful. He was burned, but not badly, and the wounds wouldn’t affect him too much. If he had stayed in that water for any longer, though… the idea that he might actually have died before their journey had properly begun chilled him, as did the thought of breaking his contract with Anivari. The devil resolved to be more prudent in the future.

 

Anivari quickly took the towel and began to wipe the water from her exposed skin, of which she had quite a bit. She finally let her breathing settle, frowning. Was that magic that had saved her? She wasn’t fond of that idea. But, it was useful, she supposed. The crow landed on her shoulder, making her hiss in pain as his talons dug into a spot that was burnt. Damned bird. She looked at Nick, realizing that now was as good a time as any to say what she had intended before stepping through the portal. “Nick, before we go any further.” She took a deep breath, gripping her weapon in her hand. “I want to say that…. This short time I’ve spent with you? It’s been the best time of my whole life. And I will get you back safely. I swear that. Contract or not, I’ll do it.”

 

“…And contract or not, I will see you to your mother, Anivari. You’re my favourite person, full stop, and I will not let you down.” Nick hesitated before fluttering up to kiss her on the cheek and wrap his arms around her strong shoulders. He hung there for a moment, in spite of the burns, and then let himself fall back to the beach. The wet sand made his feet itch, due to the holy water suffusing it, but it was bearable. “Hmm.” On further inspection, what they were on was less of a beach and more of a sandbar, about a hundred meters out from an actual beach. Beyond that beach were white cliffs, and atop those cliffs, a citadel carved from the same alabaster stone as that which it rested on. Towers and palaces rose high from the glistening citadel, some shining with faint but unmistakable divine power. Nick shuddered, feeling himself standing on the very edge of preternatural enemy territory. Even the water hated him. “Could you get yourself across with that levitation of yours, missus? I could use a portal coin, but I’ve only got so many…”

 

And once again, she let out a little squeak as she felt him kiss her cheek. But she wrapped her own arms around him, holding him close for a moment before he pulled back. She looked at where he pointed, and the idea made her frown a bit. But, for him? She’d do it. “All right,” she said. “Though… I don’t know how I did it. It was more of a reaction.” She was a little nervous, it seemed, about using her magic. But…. she closed her golden eyes, and the red-skinned Tiefling began glowing again. She lifted off of the beach, and she let her levitation wrap itself around Nick as well. If all went according to plan, he would lift up a foot or two as well. “Also,” she said with a smile. “I, uh…. I wouldn’t mind if you called me Ani. Only one other person ever has. Even though I’m sure she was only kind to me because she had to be.” She smiled at him even wider. “But, with you? I think you’re kind because you want to be. And that makes me happy.”

 

Nick flapped his wings, letting the levitation bear him aloft and controlling his direction with his own flight. Even if she hadn’t been able to extend her power to him, he would’ve been alright, but this was much easier. “Wow… this is really cool.” He looked at the water passing beneath his feet in amazement, and back up to her upon hearing her tell him he could call her ‘Ani’. Which succeeded that adorable squeak as the cutest thing ever. Nick smiled back and nodded enthusiastically, quietly honoured that she’d let him refer to her so casually. “Okay. Ani… I really like it. I’ll call you that from now on.” From deep beneath the water, faint music seemed to rise – the song of the aquatic elves that inhabited the Silver Sea, no doubt coming up to investigate what they’d be feeling as a disturbance in the purity of Lunia. Two fiends would certainly be enough to draw their attention. The devil bit his lip nervously. Would they be intercepted so soon?

 

Anivari smiled at him, glad that he would call her that. But the singing caught her ear. She gripped at her naginata, the only real method of defense that she currently had. The crow flew beside them, his red eyes on the water as they flew towards the beach. Anivari had no doubt that there would be a fight. Perhaps not here, but soon. After all… this place seemed to hate her more than most people did. She shook her head a bit. No, she couldn’t let herself think like that. She knew that if Nick had heard her speak those thoughts out loud, he would disagree, so she kept them quiet. The crow was silent for now, but she knew that as soon as a fight broke out, he would chime in. It was his usual custom, she knew. “Thank you, Nick,” she said with a grin. Oh, the Tiefling seemed a bit different now. Almost as if she were less unhappy about things in her life. Almost as if there was some contentment carried within her. Her golden eyes sparkled and her hair blew about in the breeze, even tied back as it were.

 

Nick looked up at that barbarian lady and flat-out blushed from how awesome and beautiful she looked. Despite the hostility of this plane towards them, he privately thought that the starlight of Lunia really did her justice. But now was not the time to be getting lost in Anivari’s hotness! Nick shook his head and stared at the oncoming shoreline, even as the song of the elves grew steadily louder. “…Don’t mean to be pushy, Ani, but can you levitate any faster?” he asked, his long, spined tail wriggling anxiously. Oh, right! As he had recently achieved the rank of spinagon, he’d stand slightly more of a chance in a fight than he would have as a mere imp. He was still no warrior, though, and would much rather avoid direct confrontation if at all possible.

 

Anivari frowned, but he had a point. She closed her eyes again, focusing on that weird sensation deep within her. It seemed that feeling was where her magic was stemming from. And as she focused, the pair began to speed up some. Well, ‘some’ was an understatement. Their speed would increase quite a bit, for Anivari wasn’t too fond of fighting in the open place that they were in. And she wasn’t too sure about exactly what her magic was capable of. But she was willing to embrace it. Especially if it meant getting her and Nick back to their realm safely.

 

Nick was looking relieved at the increase in speed, right up until he happened to glance down again and saw a fey countenance staring up at him in surprise and horror – an expression which was reflected on his own face at once. He opened his mouth to warn Anivari, but before he could shout, a long, finned arm with webbed fingers was reaching out of the water to wrap around Anivari’s ankle. At once, Nick was reaching into his luggage and pulling out his fork, while the ocean behind them came alive with swimming elves, all brandishing spears and tridents. Yet the shore was close by; perhaps they could make it onto solid ground and outrun the elves, or at least fight them on less disadvantageous terrain.

 

As soon as she felt the hand close around her ankle, Anivari let out a grunt and wrenched her foot away as much as she could. However, that was the last push she needed to speed them up enough to beat the elves to the shore. While she didn’t mind having to fight, she was certain that their odds would be much better on solid ground. She kept a firm hold on the naginata while the crow actually did something useful for once. He moved towards the one who had grabbed Anivari and began pecking and clawing at its arm. “If anyone is going to hurt the stupid one, it’s going to be me!” The words made Anivari roll her eyes and continue towards the shore, angling herself so that she could touch down on the approaching sand.

 

Ugh… well, at least the damn crow was being useful, instead of just talking shit. The hand quickly fell away from Anivari’s foot, not being much stronger than any normal human would be. Nick and Anivari would arrive on the sandy shore, the host of elves hesitating before surging after them onto the beach. As soon as he was on solid terrain, the devil hissed and vanished from sight, causing the elves a brief moment of confusion before the one closest to Anivari was smacked in the face by a well-thrown bar of soap. Shall we run for our lives, Ani? rang Nick’s voice in the tiefling’s mind.

 

Anivari wanted to fight, but she knew that Nick’s idea would save them time and possible injuries. She clenched her jaw and nodded, remaining silent as she turned to begin running. The crow would fly as well, his multitude of eyes keeping watch over the fleeing fiends. Not due to any care he held for either of them, but simply because he wanted to save his own feathers. Anivari kept the naginata ready to sweep behind her as she ran, just in case one of the elves got a little too close for her comfort.

 

The elves shouted threats in their melodious, warbling language, which sounded like as if they were coming from a person speaking underwater, though the elves were clearly on land. Footprints appeared in the sand where Nick was running, him having stayed invisible to avoid any projectiles they might launch after them. One elf did throw a spear in frustration, trying to hit that bird if nothing else, but besides that, it seemed they would not be pursued. Ahead, a rather precarious pathway appeared lead up the cliffside, which was nearly four hundred feet high in some places.

 

It was a fortunate thing that Yatagarasu was good at dodging, at the very least. Anivari paused at the start of the pathway, looking at it since she didn’t know where Nick was. “Well, this looks like fun,” she said sarcastically. “Is this really our only way up?” She was panting a bit, and she pushed a few strands of hair from her face before catching her breath.

 

Nick chose to reappear at that moment, seeming to suddenly materialize beside her. He was panting a bit more than she was, being less fit than her. “Well… I can fly, so it’s not really an issue for me.” The young devil considered their prospects, tilting his head and gazing up at the pathway. It was walkable; one would just have to be careful… and if an attack somehow came upon them, it would be very difficult to deal with, taking into consideration the decreased mobility and chance of falling. “And if you slip, I’ll catch you!” He smiled, trying to look confident. Although he wasn’t particularly weak anymore, he wasn’t strong, either, and he wouldn’t be able to gain altitude while holding her.

 

Anivari thought for a moment. “I’m sure I could levitate again if I need to,” she said. “But… this is all so odd.” She let her brow furrow before looking over at him. “I didn’t even know I could do something like that.” But she would begin to take the pathway nonetheless, the knowledge that he was there helping to calm her somewhat. She’d never really gotten close to anyone, so she was still a bit skeptical about all this. Most of it was doubt that once their quest was done, she’d never see him again. She silently cursed the crow for all of the doubt he’d ever put into her head. She slipped the naginata back into its place on her back, taking a deep breath as she began the climb. “Can I ask you something, Nick?” She didn’t turn her head, but she let her eyes flick over to where he was.

 

“Sure, anythin’ at all.” Nick unfurled his leathery wings and hopped into the air, slowly flying up the cliffside in time with her own ascent. He wanted to leave the way as open to her as possible; if she ended up tripping over him, he’d never live down the guilt and shame. He looked at her curiously, his hands clasped behind his back and his long tail slowly swaying. “What is it, Ani?”

 

Part of her had hoped that he wouldn’t let her ask, but she realized that it would come up sooner or later anyway. She cleared her throat, rubbing the back of her head a moment. “Uh… well.” She blushed again. “What…. made you…. want to… dammit. Uh, stick around me?” She looked over at him, this time turning her head. She didn’t add that she didn’t feel special or anything. And she was genuinely confused what it was about her that made him want to keep her company. She quickly looked back to the path, trying her best to hide the deepening of the red in her face.

 

“Oh!” What an odd question. Nick hovered a bit closer, his steady wingbeats unconsciously mirroring his heartbeat. “Well, why wouldn’t I want to stick around you? You’re one of the only people I’ve ever met who ’asn’t belittled or bullied me in some way. You haven’t ’eld me at bladepoint, threatened me, spat at me, or anythin’ like that. From the very first moment I met you, you were considerate and friendly and a complete non-asshole. You even went along and had a picnic with me in the woods, even though I was a total stranger. I hope you understand, no one ’as been as nice to me as you’ve been, ever. Doesn’t ’urt that I find you beautiful, either. I can think of no one I’d rather be ’elpin’ out, or goin’ on an adventure with, than you, Ani. I like you. A lot. A lot, a lot.” Oh, dear. Now he was blushing too, and his heart and wings had both sped up quite a bit since he’d started talking.

 

Anivari looked right at him then, her eyes widening. She was a little taken aback by his words. Not so much the compliments he was paying her, though those shocked her as well, but by the things he said people had done to him. She frowned. “Why would I belittle you? Or threaten you, for that matter?” She let the frown fade, though, as his words sank in. He liked her? She took a deep breath, knowing that no matter how calm she seemed, she’d end up a stuttering mess by the time she started speaking. “W-well,” she said. And there it was. She couldn’t help it. “I… um… r-really like you t-too, Nick.” She rubbed the back of her head. “Y-you’re h-handsome. And…. and you’re s-so kind. I c-can’t imagine anyone… threatening you. O-or being m-mean to you.” She smiled a little. “I’m… I’m g-glad that you s-stuck around too. T-that you’re w-willing to help me. It really… m-means a lot.”

 

“I mean… people don’t like imps. They’re devious and connivin’ and pathetic by nature; the nuisances of the Infernal legions. People can push them around, so they do.” Nick smiled sadly. Although, maybe now that he was a spinagon, people’s perception of him would begin to change somewhat. Then he registered everything she’d said, and it came near to making his heart stop altogether. “Y-you think all that, of me? …W-wow.” That treacherous blush wasn’t going anywhere. The devil made an effort to keep his hands clasped, since he knew otherwise he’d give her a big hug and risk knocking her off-balance. When they got to the top of the cliff, though, he’d show her exactly what he thought of what she’d said. “…W-well, c’mon. No use ’angin’ around on the cliff-face for somethin’ to come find us.” He sounded nervous, for whatever reason.

 

Anivari blushed once more, nodding her head. “I… I do think all that.” She rubbed the back of her head and kept walking up the path. At least with him next to her, she felt a bit more at ease. Despite her urge to fight something, she would keep walking. She had to keep her promise and get him back to the Material Plane in one piece. She smiled at him, admiring his wings for a moment. She almost wished she had her own – no doubt getting around would be a lot easier. She rolled her shoulders, trying not to let the thoughts show on her face.

 

Several minutes of walking up the cliffside path later, and several close calls where the path seems to almost give way, the two of them would be able to reach the top of the cliff unscathed. Nick’s slow, methodical flying had tired him out a little, but not so much that he couldn’t tell Anivari what he thought of her words to him. Warm wind, comparable to that of a summer night, blew through the devil’s blond hair as he stood atop the cliff, facing the white stone citadel that rose majestically before them, and the great mountain beyond whose peak would see them exalted into the next layer of the Heavens. He admired it all for a moment, but it paled in comparison to the woman beside him. Nick fluttered over to Anivari, tilting her face to look at him, and wet his lips nervously. “Ani…?” He realized his face was quite close to hers, and that if she didn’t want to kiss him, it might be uncomfortable… but still, he thought he’d ask.

 

Anivari took a long breath, glad that they had made it up the side of the cliff unscathed. So far, so good, she thought. And then, she noticed how close to her he was. She looked over, turning to face Nick fully. “Y-yes, N-Nick?” She could feel her heart pounding in her chest. She blushed again, her skin almost seeming to glow as the red tint darkened slightly. His hands on her face made her calm, but made her stomach flutter all at the same time. She smiled softly, and she had all but forgotten that the crow was actually still nearby.

 

“I… I… um…” Oh, how badly he wished to be able to speak eloquently, without stuttering like a fool… but still, there was nothing for it. Nick’s face felt uncomfortably warm; just looking at her was making his little heart thrum in his chest. “Ani, c-could I… k-kiss you?” Wow, that sounded so silly now that he’d said it. He felt himself unconsciously drifting even closer, until he could’ve touched his nose to hers. He knew that if he didn’t ask, it would just keep distracting him all the way up the mountain so… there it was.

 

Anivari blinked before smiling softly, placing a gentle hand on his cheek in return. “I… Well, it’s… it’s my first,” she admitted. “And… I w-would… well, I w-would l-like y-you to b-be my f-first.” Her face darkened in a blush more than even before. There it was. She had admitted that she had never kissed anyone before. And he would be her first.

 

He would be her first?! Nick felt the breath catch in his throat. So… she was really going to let him…? She really wanted to…? Well, he knew if he hesitated any longer he might just cease being able to process reality from the embarrassment of asking her for a kiss, so he closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and leaned in to softly press his lips to Anivari’s, his hands slipping from her cheeks to her shoulders as he did what he had been wanting to since they’d met in the woods.

 

Anivari closed her own eyes, letting him take the lead as she kissed him back. She wrapped her arms around him gently, her heart pounding away in her chest. Anivari was truly glad that he was the first person she had ever kissed, after all the kindness and care that he had given her. She brought one hand back up and rested it on his cheek, that blush still prevalent on her face. The tiefling used the arm that was still around him to pull him a little closer, unable to even think with his lips on hers.

 

Not even a few seconds had passed since they’d touched and the poor spinagon’s head was already swimming, made dizzy from kissing her. Oh, wow… her lips were so soft and inviting, just asking for him to kiss her deeper. Though every fiber of his being wanted to continue doing this, they were sort of on the edge of a holy citadel, and if they lingered long it would be difficult to miss two fiends passionately making out atop the cliffs. With extreme reluctance, Nick broke their contact, and was about to say something when something flickered in the corner of his eye. He turned his head to see a lantern archon hovering nearby, just a sphere of light hanging uncertainly in the air. Despite having no facial features, it somehow managed to look embarrassed, glowing apologetically before floating away rather quickly. Nick blinked and looked back at Anivari, not having unwound his arms from her shoulders. “Um… so…” They should probably get going, but… oh, wow, he just wanted to look into her eyes for a while longer. Stupid heart! Some meddling angel was going to sense those powerful emotions and come smite the both of them at this rate. Communicating how wonderful kissing her had felt would be impossible with mere words, so he tried to shape it into a thought and gently pushed it into her mind. It was still an inadequate expression, but… closer to how he actually felt. “?.”

 

When he pulled away, Anivari was still glowing slightly. She smiled at him, all her current thoughts in those golden eyes. She took a breath, the thought in her mind that had been passed from Nick still fresh and making her blush deeply. She let her hand linger on his cheek a moment longer. “We should, uh.” She cleared her throat. She really didn’t want to go anywhere. She wanted to stay right there with him and keep kissing him. She’d never wanted anything more than that in her life. But she knew they were there for a reason, and so she slowly and reluctantly dropped her hand. “We should probably get going,” she mumbled. She leaned forward and pressed her lips to his cheek. “When we get back, I…. I want to k-kiss you a-again.” She blushed again, and she would have thought she’d be more comfortable around him. But even the thought of his lips on hers again turned her into a stuttering, blushing mess.

 

“Oh, Ani…” Nick’s head darted forwards to smack another kiss on her lips before letting himself float back to the ground. “If you wait that long to kiss me again, I’ll get sad.” Still blushing brightly, the devil shuffled his feet. “If we didn’t ’ave somewhere to be, I think I’d j-just… go on kissin’ you until I couldn’t anymore. Well, c’mon, let’s be on our way!” His eyes shining like a pair of blue stars, Nick took her hand and tugged her towards the citadel, trying to shake off the dizziness he was feeling.

 

Anivari grinned, even as he kissed her one more time. As much as she’d like to stay there and just snuggle him, it was clear that he was right. She brushed her fingers through his hair and planted her lips on the top of his head for good measure. “That d-does sound n-nice,” she said with a smile. With the awkward romantic tension out of the way, she took his hand in hers and let him lead her to their next destination. She still had that giddy smile on her face, and nothing that she heard in her head from the crow was overshadowing the happy thoughts she had at that moment.

 

Nick’s tail wriggled frenetically when she ruffled his hair and kissed the top of his head. She made him feel so cute and little, without any of the demeaning subtext that usually came with it. Gosh, he just loved everything about her, he realized. Except for that bird, which could rot on the highest layer of the Heavens for all he cared. Besides that, he wouldn’t mind staying with her for much, much, much longer after all this was done. “So… Ani,” he began, as he led her towards the gleaming white city, “Where do you think your mother’s soul would be, cosmologically speakin’? Lunia is a good place to cross over to other planes, so before we go any further, it would be useful to know how she was morally aligned.”

 

Anivari thought for a bit, tilting her head to the side a bit. “All I know is my mother was a Priestess. I don’t know much else about her, sadly. My father never spoke of her.” She used her free hand to rub the back of her head. “But, from the little I do know of her…. she was a very good person. She was kind and caring.” She looked at Nick with a grin. “She was much like you, I think. W-well, like you are with m-me, at least.” She blushed and looked back in the direction they were heading.

 

“Oh… well, I’m afraid to say that doesn’t tell me much.” Nick smiled apologetically. “I’m actually lawful evil, which I doubt your mother was. And if she ’appened to be… we’d ’ave to go to the Nine ’Ells.” The little devil shivered, before listing off some possibilities. “If she was good, though, she could be here in the ’Eavens, or Arcadia, or Bytopia, or Elysium, or the Beastlands, or Arborea or Glasheim. Searching all of those randomly could take us a lifetime. Or several.” Which he had to spare, being semi-immortal… but he suspected neither he nor she wanted to spend that long creeping through the Upper Planes. Although, as long as he was with her, he imagined he’d be content to wander the planes. Nevertheless, if they were to find her with any sort of efficiency, they were going to have to take a risk. “I think… we’re going to ’ave to find an angel, and ask them where she is.” The idea was a chilling one, but it seemed like the only thing for it.

 

Anivari fidgeted a moment. “Do you really think that they would help us at all?” She glanced up at the crow. “I mean, I hope they would just want to get us out of here as quickly as they could. But…. would they?” She squeezed his hand gently, obviously nervous about this idea. She’d never even seen an angel before, nor had she ever wanted to see one. She could only imagine, with as harsh as most mortal races were to her, that an angel wouldn’t be any better.

 

“That’s the question, isn’t it? To be ’onest, probably not.” Nick had only seen an angel once before; more specifically, he had seen a solar, greatsword in hand, decimating an entire army of legion devils without breaking a sweat. The sort of creature that could kill him with a flick of its finger. “Certainly if I were a demon, it would just kill both of us without a second thought. But since I’m lawful, and you’re not evil… we might stand a chance of getting one to talk to us.” The spinagon fidgeted uncomfortably. “Or we could wander until we find her. Again, I’ll leave it up to you, Ani.” He smiled encouragingly. Nick Shadow was resolved to lead her, whatever she decided.

 

Anivari’s alignment was closer to neutral than evil. In truth, she had no idea what any of this alignment stuff really meant in the way her companion was talking about it. She glanced over to Nick, hiding her uncertainty. She really didn’t know what to do, but she nodded. “It may be easier to ask an Angel. Perhaps they can point us in the right direction; I know I would rather not wander about this place for longer than we need to.” She fidgeted herself, pushing her free hand through her hair. “It makes me slightly uncomfortable, but I do feel better with you here.”

 

Nick beamed up at her, as confidently as he could. “And I feel better with you ’ere. Okay, then! We’ll find an angel to tell us where your mum is! And if not… I dunno. I suppose we’ll just ’ave to find ’er another way.” His wings fluttered nervously before folding against his back. “And if we’re to find an angel, our best bet would be atop one of the towers in the citadel.” They were close, now; those great white towers rose high into the starlit sky against the majestic backdrop of the great mountain. The entire city seemed to glow with holy light, from the lanterns to the people walking through it, some of whom wore bright colours and others who were bright themselves. It was almost enough to hurt Nick’s eyes, but he bore with it.

 

Anivari kept her grip on Nick’s hand, keeping her eyes on the ground. Everything did seem to hurt her eyes as well. Even the crow seemed uncomfortable. He landed on her shoulder, the talons digging into her arm. She grunted and kept her eyes in front of her, letting Nick lead. She refused to look around, refused to keep her eyes on anything but her little companion. “Ah,” she said after a moment. Her voice was quiet. “Well, lead the way, Nick.” She smiled at him, meaning for it to be reassuring. Though, she was sure that he could see the apprehension in her golden eyes.

 

He saw that apprehension in her eyes, and a bit of her worry sought to infect him, which he pushed aside. For her, he’d be brave. “You ’ave pretty eyes, Ani,” he murmured, returning her reassuring smile before looking ahead and trying to scope out a tower that seemed… not… as good as the others? Well, he supposed they could just start with the closest one and hope for the best. The young devil did his best to ignore the looks of incredulity and hostility thrown their way as they walked through the street, and hoped Anivari would be able to do so as well. On the bright side, no one had attacked them. Yet.

 

Anivari was used to people glaring at her and silently wishing for her death, so she was able to ignore the looks. Nick’s words even managed to make her smile. Pretty? She’d never seen her eyes or anything else about herself in that light before. “Well…. uh… if w-we’re being honest…” She had to pause and clear her throat abit, keeping all her senses attuned to their surroundings. “I like your eyes too, Nick. And most everything about you.” She smirked and chuckled a bit.

 

“Oh… you’re so very nice to me! Sayin’ all those sweet things…” She made him feel all warm and fuzzy, and the longer he thought about it, the more okay he was with that. Before he could say anything more, though, Nick’s pointed ears twitched as his tail perked up, flicking back and forth before he suddenly led her off the main street into the relative darkness of an alleyway. Relative, because even in these shadows, the starlit sky seemed reflected in the stone pavement. Pulling her into a doorway, Nick put a finger to her lips, looking sideways to see a host of muscle-bound, dog-headed humanoids, armed and armoured, passing by the mouth of the alley. “’Ound archons,” he whispered. “They’re the guards of Lunia, and won’t stop to ask questions if they find us.”

 

Stealth? Oh, dear. That wasn’t her strong suit. But, she simply nodded and clenched her jaw. Had they been more human, she could have taken them on. But she figured she was no match for something like that. Even the crow was silent, not liking the way the dog-headed things looked. Silently, Anivari thanked the stupid thing. She may have hated the bird, but at least he knew when to keep quiet.

 

Nick was relieved that she remained silent. Not that he had any doubt in her common sense, but if they took on the guards, more would come from elsewhere in the citadel, and they’d get into a real nasty predicament. “…You know, it might be less suspicious if I weren’t lookin’ like I am. A lone tiefling won’t attract nearly as much attention.” He thought about that for a moment, before giving her a quick kiss on the lips. “Thanks for stayin’ quiet, Ani.”

 

Anivari tilted her head. “What do you mean?” Her voice was low, almost imperceptible. But with as close as she was to him, she was certain he heard her. A lone tiefling? Please. She would probably draw more attention if she were alone. Especially with the way she looked. Perhaps if she looked more human. No. Now wasn’t the time to think like that. She did, however, smile a bit when he kissed her. “Of course,” she said softly, blushing once more. Why would she want to draw attention? She knew that if they could get in and out with as little conflict as possible, she’d have an easier time keeping her promise.

 

“I could be a bird,” said Nick earnestly. And promptly became one. Instead of a cute spinagon, there was a small raven, fluttering his way onto Anivari’s shoulder and croaking brightly. “There!” the Nick-raven exclaimed. “Now I’m an inconspicuous bird. No one will look twice at me… at least, no more than your other talkin’ bird.” With a motion of his wing, Nick pointed to the white tower where they had been headed, a few streets away. “The way’s pretty clear. If you need me, just ask, and I’ll be a spinagon again. Or a rat. Or a spider.” That was the extent of Nick’s shapeshifting. Limited, but circumstantially useful.

 

Normally, a bird would have made her think about the crow, who promptly lifted from her shoulder and used his own small pool of magic to remain unseen. Anivari smiled at the raven perched beside her head. “And I like you more than I do him,” she muttered as she left the doorway. She was beginning to wish that she’d had a cloak or something to hide her face. Even with her height alone, the woman stood out. She clenched her fists at her sides, the naginata resting on her back once more, and made her way out of the alley and through the streets to the tower, doing her best not to make eye contact with anyone on her way there. Her heart pounded in her chest, but not in the pleasant way it did when Nick kissed her. This was her barely containing her fear and rage.

 

Nick heard that mutter and happily ruffled his glossy black feathers, hopping around on her shoulder and surveying the environs as Anivari made her way to the tower. This citadel was curious; it seemed to work quite similarly to a normal city on Hellifyno would, except everything was several orders of degree brighter and infinitely safer. Not to mention, everyone they saw seemed fairly content, except when their gazes happened to fall on Anivari. Even so, some people didn’t appear to mind at all, simply giving her a passing glance before returning to minding their own business. Though odd glances came their way, it was a far cry from what a celestial might experience walking through the Hells. Nick knew, though, that if the guards came upon them it would be a different story, so he kept a watchful bird’s eye out for any other hound archons that might be patrolling the streets. To his relief, they made it to the base of the tower without any difficulty. A pair of massive golden doors, looking as if they would take nothing short of an angel’s strength to open, loomed before them. “…Oh. Is this a test?” Angels and gods were notorious with their tests. Ascending the tower would likely not be a wholly straightforward endeavour.

 

Anivari hadn’t paid any attention to the looks she got. She simply looked up at the tower, and then at the doors with a pensive frown. “I could open them, but I doubt it would be easy. And it would probably draw attention to me,” she muttered. While capable of insane amounts of strength, that only came into play when she went into a rage, which had the effect of greatly draining her stamina. Looking a bit worried, she glanced to Nick, hoping he had a better idea than she did at that point.

 

“Mm. I’m afraid I don’t know ’ow we’re supposed to… oh?” Nick’s gaze had been drawn to a window a small ways up the tower, some twenty feet or so. “Give me a moment, Ani – let me see if I can’t get in through there and open up these doors from the inside.” The raven spread his wings and hopped off Anivari’s shoulder to fly up to the window. Fortunately, it was open and glassless, owing to the permanent ‘warm summer night’ climate of Lunia, so Nick was able to pop inside without any trouble. Once he was in, he turned back into an imp, immediately turning invisible and fishing around in his luggage.

Oh, hooray! A rope – an indispensable adventuring tool – was produced, which he uncoiled and flung out the window. But there didn’t seem to be anything to fasten it to… besides a single white stone statue of an eladrin, on the floor below. Nick flew down and prepared to fling the rope around the statue’s neck, when its eyes began to glow. It was at that point that the invisible spinagon noticed that this particular statue was also carrying a sword – a sword which was now held in the hands of an animated construct, likely programmed to defend this tower from outsiders of any alignment besides good. Whoops. Hey, Anivari? If you could rage right now, that’d be fine.

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