While the Coalition's party made treaty with the Library, four Kobald trespassed onto its territory. None saw how they entered, and there was only a vague sense of 'something out there.'
Four Kobald darted from one place of cover to the next. Their bodies cloaked head to toe in deep blue garb to hide their scales, and to blend into the stillness of the night. None of them spoke. Only hand gestures to communicate.
<Wait. Danger. Enemy close.> Leo would signal as he took point, watching the coalition party and their escort leave.
<Active patrol from my position.> Raiph would signal back, tail pointing in the direction of a pair of armors pacing the parameter of the building.
Leo nodded. <Wait. Observe.>
There, in borrowed cover of ornamental hedgework, the four waited under cover as the automaton returned. Dion inched forward to get a better look. His mind busy working through the details he had to work with. Clearly magically animate suits of armor. Automata that had a greater intelligence than the armored suits. A variety of mechanical creatures that would periodically take positions allowing them to resemble inanimate decorations.
Set aside fear that these things already knew where he and his brothers were. That was a mind trap. If their senses were perfect then the four of them would not be here.
<Thinking.> Dion signed to the others.
Mikey's head tilted. <Plan?>
Dion answered wit ha shrug before resuming his thoughts. There had been several lights from an upper floor for several hours after the coalition's party entered. Then those lights turned off before they left with only a single escort rather than an armed contingent. He and his brothers had to be seen as an independent party else they might accidentally harm chances of alliance.
He would then get his brother's attention. <Plan.> The hand-signs they used were made for short clipped responses in the field, but had an alphabet associated with it in addition to the shorthand gestures. This made communicating complex concepts time consuming, but it helped fill in gaps the more consist gestures presented.
<Got it.> His three brothers would sign. Then, when they finally broke cover, it was unseen. There was no alarm raised, no flurry of activity.
Even their footfalls were silent, owing largely to the wrappings around their claws. It made walking more of an effort on smooth surfaces, but the deadening of sound by means that couldn't be dispelled was well worth it.
<Clear!> Raiph would sign. <Moving up with Leo.>
Dion nodded as he and Mikey looked thorugh the first floor of the library. For a moment he wanted to see what texts they had, then brushed the thought aside. Their goal was fact finding. So instead he made several notes on each room of texts, their arrangement, and notes on the organization system, and moved on.
As he and Mikey took turns taking point he noticed the ceiling Murals. Notes were made on each, and with each his frown deepened until he stopped at one showing a star field with a drawn representation of a pair of circling fish overlain.
It was then he noticed this room differed from the others. It was larger, the stone floor had an inlain image of the sun orbited by eight bodies with a scattered band of debris separating the inner four from the outer four. Dutifully he began sketching this design, frowning at it. "This isn't right." He hadn't realized he spoke. "The first world is alone. The second lacks a ring." Yet more details caught his attention as he stood where the sun was in the floor, and found himself at the center point of where the fish circled.
"What you see is the World that Was." A female voice. Solid green gemstone eyes looked at Dion, holding him in place not with magic, but with his own curiosity as the voice spoke again. "I would ask what you are doing, as you have both come uninvited, and have caught us unawares."
It was then that Dion's mind snapped from his curiosity to the mission at hand. As he suppressed an inward cringe at his own mistake he stared at the automata before him.
The librarian's voice grew cold as she sped towards the intruder, her staff in motion. "The Scoria is not welcome here!"
As he parried the blow Dion tried to speak, "We're not with the Scoria! We're-"
"They do not let their own leave," The Librarian stated as she vaulted over Dion, forcing him to roll away from the strike. "Nor would they allow any to wear their garb."
"We got rescued when we were little." Dion again attempted to explain. "We're not your enemy!"
It was then that the Librarian moved her head just far enough to one side ot let Mikey's bladed chain pass by harmlessly. "Give me reason to believe you."
"Wha-" Mikey ran at the Librarian as he pulled the chain back, both coiling the new excess of length only to find the Librarian had intentionally looped it around her staff and pulled far harder than her slender frame suggested. Though, on reflection, if either brother were to reevaluate the moment they'd see she had used leverage and momentum to her advantage rather than draw on some unnatural means of augmenting whatever strength her frame had.
"You both still have your tongues. Yet you move like the Scoria train." The Librarian would stand her ground, speaking after turning Dion's staff strike aside. "I will hear your words. I suggest you speak quickly for the sake of whomever else is in your party."
⁂ ⁂ ⁂
Raiph and Leo saw the automaton in the center of a large chamber that matched where lights had been when the coalition group had been inside. Her bone white face was featureless save for a pair of obsidian eyes. Between blinks she had a bow in her hands and an arrow readied. "I know you are there. Children of the Scoria."
Both of the brothers froze, though not out of fear.
"I do not know whom you have been sent to kill," The automaton's voice was soft, and spoke in flat statements as the arrow was pulled back. "Nor do I care."
<I'll distract.> Leo signed.
<Careful.> Raiph signed back before holding three fingers to Leo. Two. One.
Leo burst from cover, small iron darts were thrown to the automaton, hitting points that would have been very inconvenient were she a being of flesh and blood.
Her arrow flew, a white shaft that Leo, somehow, knew would not be turned aside if he had tried blocking. Instead he twirled, his sword striking the side of it, deflecting it away just as she readied another.
Raiph charged as she readied her second shot, causing it to go wide as she launched herself into the air. The light in those obsidian eyes flared in surprise as Raiph matched her leap, swinging at her chest as they were mid-air.
Leo heard a hard thunk as delicate seeming fist connected with Raiph's sternum, sending him flying. When she landed, the Automaton again spoke. "I have finally reunited with my family, and one I had thought I'd never see again in this or any life. I will not allow that to end because of you."
Leo held a hand up as Raiph stood. "We are not here as killers."
Obsidian eyes again shone brightly, all momentum immediately stopping as her eyes looked to the Kobald's. "Y-you speak. I thought the Scoria took the tongues of its initiates." The pressure on the bow string eased as she considered this.
"Long story." Raiph grunted as he moved to stand beside his brother. He then grunted as he looked the automaton over, "So ... Uh. You and the skeleton with the bow?"
Obsidian eyes flared as her head turned to the kobald as he slowly sheathed his weapons. Taru's voice was a careful neutral, briefly considering the bow in her hands. "We have history. Yes."
"Right." Raiph would look to his brother briefly before shaking his head in aggravation. "C'mon. Dion's probably already neck deep in trouble."
Taru's head tilted, eyes flashing in approximation of a slow blink. "I have questions. Your cohort-"
"Brother," Raiph corrected.
"Your brother dying would hamper answering those questions." Taru walked ahead of the pair, leading them back downstairs. "Come."
⁂ ⁂ ⁂
The four brothers were in Naoko's office as she stood in front of her desk. "I will forgive your trespass if you agree to aid in our defense against the forces that had already sent scouts through our territories."
Dion nodded, "Considering our goals are aligned and I dislike the idea of this place being burned on principle."
"As leader of our group," Leo's voice was formal. "I accept these terms and duration of your indulgence in our trespass ma'am."
Taru's obsidian eyes flashed as her weight shifted, "And why are you here Child of the Scoria?"
Dion looked to his three siblings, who all nodded to the unspoken question. "Fact finding mostly. We have been asked by our," He scowled as he considered his words, "Master had asked discretion."
Naoko nodded, allowing Dion to continue. "We were given reason to fear that the local assessors for the dungeoneer's guild may have been compromised."
Taru's stance again changed, her eyes dimming into coal-black holes in her otherwise bone white frame. "I can assure you this is not the case."
The sudden firmness got Naoko's attention, as did the change in her companion's stance. "To make a long story short, Nine of us," She paused, head tilting down as she brought a hand to her forehead. "Ten now I suppose with Kamio's presence. We reincarnate in proximity and ways where our paths inevitably cross and re-cross each other's lives. The lady whom you re investigating is, by bond if not blood in several incarnations, my friend's mother several lifetimes over, and the gholem her father."
This caused the quartet to pause, considering the situation before Leo spoke up. "I... Understand miss Naoko. We had no way to know given how rare confirmed reincarnations are, and Kronos's machinations had included spirit domination judging by its ability to chain an ensouled being against its will and nature.
"I ... Guess that's fair." Taru's voice faltered, losing the hard edge it held before.
It was then that a large spider dropped down from the ceiling via a silken thread onto Taru's shoulder and made several gestures with forelimbs, pedipalps, and several wiggles of its abdomen.
"Charlotte says there is an intruder, goblinoid... but. Not." She sounded confused. "Something about pheromones. It's hard to make out details."
That got the quartet's attention.
Naoko's eyes dimmed. "Only one, are you absolutely sure?"
"Positive. It's... weird. Charlotte described it like it was acting like it was arguing with something.
That caused Naoko to look from Taru to the quartet of kobald. "Incapacitate if at all reasonably possible. However, treat as if you are fighting an infectious zombie."
The features of all four grew grim before bowing and then disappearing as they were engulfed in a smoke pellet.
Taru looked to the spot where they stood and sighed. "Why isn't it ever easy?"
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Book Two Index