Foyer, the city of the Tree, of Jöurnalmungandr, Tower of Leaves, home of the Scripteraph Hive.
Its entrails had been recently disrupted, pulled apart by a thing beyond names that had crawled upward through it, pursuing a flicker of darkness and hunger behind the shadow of one Alice Huang. It was taking a fair amount of Third Uriel’s vast power to rearrange the shattered remnants of the city’s lower segments into the positions they were in before.
The creature in question writhed and fumed behind the bars of a cage made of words and light that steamed and hissed with a divine dark fire. Outside this makeshift prison, two of the Scripteraphim who had trapped it hovered, their watchful multiocular gaze on the formless thing, tracking its movements.
And, standing at a slightly greater distance, Gyran watched as the thing, often called the Formless by survivors, impotently railed against the bars of its new prison.
“How did its old container get here?” she asked.
One of the Scripteraphim guarding it looked at the other, shrugged, and said something in Beenochian. They were a pair of young angels, barely ten feet tall from bladed stinger to the single pair of horns, fused at the tip into their first halo.
“I… do not know what happened here,” one of them said apologetically. “This creature sprang up from the roots.”
“Ask Third Uriel if the creature had an obvious first victim, and if so, if they’re in any fit state to talk. I have questions for the first people who saw it.”
“We will pass on your query, miss.” With a rush of air and a few powerful wingbeats, the Scripteraph was gone, over the edge of the platform and out of sight faster than something that size should have been able to reasonably manage.
“Now, with your permission,” said Gyran to the remaining angelic guard, “I’m going to approach the prisoner.”
The remaining Scripteraph tilted its head slowly to the side, before murmuring an assent in Beenochian.
“Thank you.” She walked up to the glimmering and immaterial cage, hunkering down so she could look directly inside at its inhabitant.
“Oh hells,” came a voice from behind her, “you’ve found another Project.”
She stood back up. “Ah, Red. Good of you to join me. Aren’t you supposed to be following your lady-friend around?”
He barked out a laugh. “Bit of a big assumption, mate, that I’m all in one place.”
“So, how’re you and your Ms Alice doing, then?” she asked, watching impassively as Red visibly ground his teeth.
“Firstly, you fossilised bastard, no matter how much you like meddling, me and Alice aren’t a thing.”
Another voice entered the conversation. “Really? My impression was that you wished you two were, colloquially, ‘a thing’.” The deep melodic chimes of Hatred In Crimson’s ‘voice’ were unmistakable.
Red’s voice grew sharply in volume. “I will not take romance advice from a literal rock and someone who hasn’t got laid since before the dawn of civilisation!”
Gyran shrugged. “We’d probably find you some better teachers if you showed any aptitude.”
“Do you not think that that is ‘jumping the gun’ somewhat?” added the mask floating above the empty suit filled with smoke. “We are too early in his education to determine if there is anything salvageable.”
“Oh har har. Are you stooping that low, Gyran? Giving Crim scripts so you can mock me in tandem?”
“You malign me, Red. Hatred in Crimson is really improving in their understanding of irony and humour.”
“Well, that was the other thing I was gonna mention,” Red continued, “before you two so rudely interrupted me. You better not be making this… this formless thing into another of your ‘projects’, like Crimson.”
“I’m afraid you’re going to have to be more precise, Red.”
“Oh come on. You’re going to take in another incredibly dangerous and destructive creature under some bizarre misplaced protective instinct. Hatred in Crimson is a Faery Nobile – their natural instincts are to dominate and destroy minds!”
“He is not incorrect.”
“I was under the impression that we were capable of working past our basic natures, as members of a society?” Gyran’s voice was flat, but people who had known her for a long time would have sworn up-and-down that one of her eyebrows rose a fraction. Red was one of those people.
“When was the last time you saw a ‘natural instinct’? Pretty sure your people did away with them centuries before you were born! This-” he indicated the Formless, still struggling in its imprisonment – “is too dangerous!”
The fleshless suit of Hatred in Crimson turned its mask to regard the creature. “It is dangerous. I am dangerous. You are dangerous. Gyran is more dangerous than either of us.”
“In any case, I have prior experience with this creature.”
He rolled his eyes. “Don’t tell me – you were the one who originally sealed it in whatever it was in before this rampage?”
“Good guess, but I was not. I actually argued at the time that Amaranth was just delaying the next rampage by sealing it like that. She was always one of the more brash of my early pupils.”
“Huh.” He paused a second, realisation dawning. “Wait, you don’t mean Amaranth Amaranth, do you?”
“It’s not a common name, so maybe.”
“She’s a goddess of magic.”
“Then we are talking about the same Amaranth.”
“She was your pupil?”
“Admittedly, most of the teaching happened before her apotheosis,” she replied, the barest hint of smugness in her tone.
“Look, anyway, you can’t…” he paused for a second, the briefest hesitation before he went there, “mother this thing into not being a murdering amorphous monster!”
There was a long pause. Red’s life briefly attempted to flash before his eyes, but he suppressed it. He’d crossed this particular line significantly further in the past and survived, but his ego had taken heavy damage.
Gyran sighed. “You had a good point earlier, Red. How’s it going, controlling your base instincts? Easy? Difficult?”
He winced. “Okay, fai-”
“I wasn’t finished. What would you recommend, today, if some dangerous creature were to turn up, delirious and raving, attached to an artifact,” she gestured to his right arm, “of such potent destruction? Surely, a creature like that is beyond help, a victim to its own cruel desires. Do you agree?”
“Of course not.” The tension dissipated from her body language, and she almost cracked a smile. “Red, I hear your concerns, but I know what I am doing.”
Red opened his mouth and was lining up to put his foot right in it again, when a rush of wind, followed by the return of the Scripteraph who had spoken before, interrupted his latest near-death experience.
“Third Uriel will see you now,” they said melodically. “They have with you much to discuss.”
Gyran gave a short bow. “I thank you, honoured Aeon.”
And, at that, she turned from the group, walked over to the edge of the platform, stepped out into empty air and hovered briefly before plummeting out of sight.