Disclaimers:

I don't own Umineko no Naku Koro ni. It's owned by 007th Expansion.

I don't own anything from the works of H.P. Lovecraft. He owns whatever he created.

I don't own Atlach-Nacha. Atlach-Nacha is owned by Brian Lumley.

First off, this story is now the longest one-shot I have written. The first longest one-shot I had written was Terra Sator, a crossover between Izuna: The Unemployed Ninja and the Cthulhu Mythos. However, the title of my longest one-shot now goes to this story, as it has dethroned Terra Sator from its seat at the top.

As to one-shots in general, I don't think I'll be doing any more since I've got a lot of chapter stories to do (mostly Amnesia: Dark Descent stories), so you won't be seeing anymore one-shots from me; perhaps for a long while. I don't know how long to be exact, but it may be a long time.

To get back to this story, I had originally planned on putting it up on Halloween, but was unable to because I lost my internet connection for several days. I've gotten my connection back the other day, though I hadn't put it up because I forgot to upload it. So now I'm putting it up so that I may return to my Umineko-Amnesia: Dark Descent crossover series and a pure Umineko story.

Happy belated Halloween!

"Ugh, I hate gardening." Came Satan's dreary voice as she dug down into the soil, raising her arm to wipe away the sweat trickling down her face. If the task had been simple, she wouldn't have sounded so tired.

"Aw, come on Satan!" Beelzebub, her younger sister, shouted with glee as she placed a few seeds into the hole she had dug. "It hasn't even been fifteen minutes yet, and you're already complaining like you always do!"

"Excuse me?" Her older sister retorted with a bit of venom in her tone of voice. "Complain? Me? Don't be ridiculous, you pig. I was merely stating my opinion of this rather unsophisticated task."

"Yeah," Satan's other younger sister, Mammon, replied sarcastically while kneeling down next to her. "Sure you are." She smiled mischievously and giggled, covering her mouth with her hands as she tried to hold in her laughter until she got hit on the head, a cry of pain escaping through her mouth. "Hey, what was that for?"

"Don't play stupid with me, Mammon." Her older sister brought the small shovel down after using it as her weapon of choice. "You know damn well what that was for."

"Oh, really." The Stake of Greed narrowed her eyes, intending to tease her older sister some more by offering her a modest challenge. "Well you'd better enlighten me, because I don't see what I did wrong."

Satan was seething by now- so enraged that her anger had already gotten high enough to the point where she wanted to kill something. The shovel she was using was sharp enough to use, so…

Beelzebub started to laugh as she joined in alongside Mammon. "Oh, I bet she can't explain how she just got so angry for no apparent reason. She must be so ignorant, that she doesn't know what her reason was for hitting you was."

Suddenly Beelzebub cried out fearfully when her older sister pinned her to the ground with the shovel raised high in the air- the blade pointing downward, aiming right for the Stake of Gluttony's face.

"I'll show you an apparent reason!" The Stake of Wrath shouted as loud as she could, her hand shaking with rage. "I'm not so ignorant as to know where to bury this!" She would've brought the shovel down in the next instant to kill her younger sister, had she not been restrained by Lucifer.

"Drop the shovel, Satan." Her older sister commanded while holding onto her arms to keep her from slaughtering Beelzebub- and eventually Mammon. "They're doing this just so they can get to you."

"Well the little cretins deserve it!" Satan argued as she tried to struggle out of Lucifer's grasp. "Did you even hear what they said to me?"

"I didn't hear them say anything from where I was sitting, but I can hear you quite clearly." Leviathan spoke up as she walked over to scold her younger sister. "Your shouting is seriously starting to give me a headache, so might I just ask if you could please keep it down."

"And might I just ask you to stay out of this, Levia?" Satan turned her head towards her older sister to shout out a sharp retort. "What these little maggots did is giving me a headache!"

Watching her older sisters begin to fight over by the vegetable section of the garden, Asmodeus just cocked her head to the side in confusion as Ange finished digging a hole in the soil. "Shouldn't we try to stop them before it gets out of hand?" she asked while turning her head back to the witch.

Ange just shrugged as she began to speak. "Let's let Lucifer handle it for now. I'll yell at Mammon and Beelzebub when we go inside later."

As her youngest sister placed some roses in the hole Ange had dug, Belphegor just threw a quick glance over to them and sighed- sitting all by herself, away from Ange and her sisters.

Most of her sisters were fighting again, as usual; and Mammon and Beelzebub were the ones who got in trouble again- with the Stake of Greed as the one who started it, as always. Younger siblings were like that, so it was to be expected when you had three of them; though older ones could be like that too, if they were immature.

Her older sister, Lucifer, was quite mature, so she was a perfect role model. Her younger sisters should've been mature like her.

Leviathan, despite being the second oldest, was always jealous and was a big crybaby- although she was mature at times.

Satan was also mature, except whenever she got furious with her sisters when they criticized her, or insulted her.

Mammon was, to put it bluntly, a bratty delinquent- not to mention, a thief who stole whatever she wanted from her sisters.

Beelzebub was, to put it bluntly again, a gluttonous pig. Like Mammon, she too was a thief, and would steal anything as long as it got her food to eat. She'd either steal food whenever it was available, or steal things from her sisters and pawn them off for money so she could buy food. It was to be expected since she was the Stake of Gluttony.

Asmodeus wasn't like her older sisters at all. She felt that she couldn't talk to them at all because she thought they didn't want to listen to what she had to say, or were too busy with what they had to do.

Being the youngest sibling in a large group of them was certainly tough. If it wasn't for Ange acting as her older sister, Asmodeus would probably feel like she was a burden to her sisters, and would've felt lonely and neglected.

Belphegor kind of admired how all of her sisters could talk to the witch so freely and openly. She wished that she could speak with her too, but the Stake of Sloth knew that it was a luxury she wouldn't be granted because she was incredibly shy and extremely timid.

Besides, what Ange had done to them on that day was still imprinted on her mind. She could hear the witch's words even now, ringing in her ears nonstop…

"ALL OF YOU USELESS FURNITURE SHOULD JUST VANISH!"

With those words, Ange had destroyed her and her sisters with the anti-magic. They all turned to glass and shattered. Only Mammon had been initially spared from that cruel fate, but after having an argument with the witch just a few minutes after the cruel deed had been done, she too had fallen to the anti-magic.

Their reunion took place on the boat to Rokkenjima Island, just months after that terrible incident. Ange summoned all of them and Sakutaro back to her, apologizing to them for what she had done. While Sakutaro and her sisters forgave her, Belphegor found it was very difficult to forgive her and forget all about what she had done.

It wasn't that she was angry with the witch for doing what she did, but rather because she was scared.

Not just of the possibility that the witch would use the anti-magic again…

But also of Ange herself…

Belphegor felt so ashamed that she had become terrified of Ange. She knew that the witch had become a better person, but she just didn't have the courage to talk to her.

She wanted to keep as much distance as she possibly could between them by making sure their paths didn't cross. If Ange was in the same room with her, she'd either leave the room or stay on the other side; and talk faster than she normally did when speaking to the witch, as well as keep the conversation short.

That had to have been why Ange probably couldn't understand whatever it was that she said.

There was also the fact that she still treated the witch as her master instead of a friend by referring to her as 'Miss Ange' in conversation- with the witch herself, or with one of her sisters when speaking to her about Ange.

Her actions weren't like her at all, but Belphegor couldn't help it, having no other choice available to her. It was her fault for hurting Ange's feelings- if the witch did feel hurt- but it was a risk she had to take, even though she didn't like it. She felt very uncomfortable and scared by getting herself into such a situation, but she could attempt to keep it from blowing out of proportion by staying on Ange's good side- as long as she didn't screw up.

Hearing the sound of a shovel that wasn't being used by her, the Stake of Sloth turned her head slightly. Looking over from underneath her bangs, dread crept its way down her spine, bringing chills with it the moment she saw that Ange had moved over to another spot closer to her.

Looking down at the spot where she had been planting some sunflowers, Belphegor could see that, compared to how nice everyone else did, she herself had done sloppy. The hole hadn't even been fully dug out yet, but the soil that had already been removed was replaced with too many sunflower seeds. She might've already wasted the whole bag on just one hole!

Realizing that, in her anxiety, she hadn't been paying attention to how many seeds she was pouring into the hole, she slowly started to panic. Her heart started beating faster as sweat trickled down her face, her whole body beginning to shiver as her already pale complexion grew paler.

Digging another hole right next to it, not caring that it was way too close to the first one, Belphegor grabbed a handful of seeds from the large pile and put them in the second hole.

Throwing another quick glance over to see if Ange had gotten closer, the Stake of Sloth became alarmed- noticing that Ange and Asmodeus were already done with the second spot, and had come closer to work on the third hole.

In frightful haste, Belphegor covered the second hole up with the little bit of soil she had dug from it and moved on to make her third hole- repeating the process the same way she had done it the second time: shove the shovel into the soil, dig out a little bit of it, grab a handful of sunflower seeds from the first hole, pour a handful of sunflower seeds into the hole, and cover it up.

It was a messy process, but by the time she had finished, the witch and her youngest sister were three spots closer to her first hole.

As she breathed a sigh of relief, Belphegor looked inside the bag of sunflower seeds to see if there were any she hadn't used, but there wasn't a single one. She had used all of them up.

There were more bags over in the wheelbarrow by a small gazebo on the other side of the garden, so she could go get more. She could just find a small bag and take it to a different spot- one that was farther away from Ange.

Walking as fast as she could, but making sure that it didn't look like she was in a hurry, the Stake of Sloth made her way towards the wheelbarrow.

Pushing aside big bags of soil and mulch when she reached it, she threw little bags of seeds over her shoulders in her hunt for something much smaller. She felt relieved when she found a small packet of watermelon seeds that would do just fine.

Leaving the mess she had made, she began to search for a place she could plant the seeds- one where she wouldn't be seen. Noticing a patch of dirt right under some nearby bushes, she rushed over and crawled under to get to work.

It was a perfect spot which suited her perfectly, seeing as how the leaves blocked her from sight. Belphegor couldn't have asked for a better place to hide. She could just remain there for the rest of the day- maybe even overnight- and nobody would notice that she was there.

As she dug down into the soil, beginning to calm herself just a bit, her mind wondered to all the previous holes she had dug and filled with sunflower seeds. By now, Ange could've arrived at the spot next to her first hole. The witch must've noticed that the work was carelessly done, and with a cold chill traveling down her spine, Belphegor came to another realization.

There weren't any sunflower seeds in the first hole at all, nor was that hole covered up.

She had been sloppy with her work, and now Ange was certainly going to see it. The witch could become worried about her and see what was wrong…or be angry and yell at her for doing a terrible job.

But no matter how Ange probably would've felt when she was looking for her, Belphegor didn't want to be found. The witch would definitely come looking for her when she found her mistake, but the Stake of Sloth could be safe as long as bushes concealed her.

And if she did come to find her here, the frightened Stake could at least get a bit of a reprieve to relax and calm her nerves. She might have a little bit of time to think of an explanation to bypass Ange's concern, or anger. However, that explanation would be a lie that would make Belphegor feel even more ashamed of herself. It could also infuriate Ange even more if she was already angry, and no matter how hard she tried to avoid it, Belphegor knew she'd have to face the witch's wrath sooner or later.

But by trying to hide from her, she came face to face with another of her worst nightmares.

Lifting her head up as she was about to open the packet of watermelon seeds, just after she had finished digging the hole, Belphegor became paralyzed with terror. Her heartbeat spiked, and then stopped completely. Her complexion turned from pale to ashen. Her whole body trembled just as she started sweating even more. The packet and the shovel fell to the dirt when her grip slackened. Her eyes grew wide as they remained rooted to the bush in front of her.

There, on the leaf closest to her…

Was a praying mantis.

Belphegor wasn't afraid of other insects or arachnids. They weren't worth her attention, but a praying mantis definitely captured it. How could she not miss it?

Those long bent legs…

Those two spiky forearms…

That long body…

That triangular-shaped head…

Those big, wide eyes…

Those long antennae…

And that strange mouth…

How a simple praying mantis could be so frightening was beyond her. Maybe it was the fact that it looked like some sort of Lovecraftian horror from the stars. Maybe it was because of how fast it's spiky arms were. Maybe it was because their eyes seemed to stare into a person's soul. Maybe it was because it looked so deadly that it could kill a person on its own by using deadly poison that dripped from its spikes, or fangs.

Whatever the reason, praying mantises scared the hell out of her. It might've been ridiculous to be so scared of an insect like it, but Belphegor could only imagine what that thing could do if it was bigger. Such thoughts made her shudder with dread, turning her dreams into nightmares that, when combined with her fear of Ange, were enough to potentially traumatize her.

Ange could've a praying mantis disguised as a human, acting completely innocent until she snared her pray in those arms of hers. Unable to escape the witch's grasp, the helpless victim could do nothing as he or she was devoured by her.

Even now as Belphegor stayed motionless, she stared at the mantis just as it stared at her- both of them making eye contact with each other. She could feel its eyes burning deep into her skin, piercing through her flesh, and melting deep into her mind. Its gaze was hypnotic, leaving her in a frightful trance while she gazed upon reflections of cyclopean architecture, ancient deities of colossal stature and terrifying power, and lost reaches of the deep cosmos.

She felt a cold breath against her back, but she didn't turn around out of fear that something had come to take her life. Eventually she could feel saliva dripping down on her, slowly at first, but faster as it became heavy. Her clothes became damp with moist, feeling drenched as they began to stick to her body; just as her hair got so wet that her ponytail was drooping even lower than usual.

By now Belphegor was on the verge of fearful hysteria, finding it difficult to breathe as she became short of breath. Whether she turned around or not, she felt as if she'd go insane before she died a horrible death at the hands of whatever was now behind her, leaning its head over her to stare at her from above. Her mysterious assailant could've been a gargantuan praying mantis for all she knew.

Although she expected it to strike immediately, the thing bided it's time so that she could suffer through the torture of knowing that she was going to die there.

And when it finally did strike, when she felt a spiky arm against her back, Belphegor screamed in terror as she began to struggle out of the grasp of whatever had her in its grasp. She tried to get to her feet, but was pinned down by the thing's massive body, sandwiched to the ground as she suffocated. Something grabbed her left leg and dragged her out, lifting her up off the ground so that she could stand up. In a last effort to see the face of her assailant, she whirled around as quickly as she could, losing her balance and falling back into the mud after slipping in it.

Her body brushed against the bushes, causing the leaves to break off from the branches and covered her body, sticking to the mud that was all over her and making her look completely messy.

"Belphegor, calm down!" She could hear a familiar voice shout above her struggle. "It's only me!"

With a final gasp of horror, the Stake of Sloth could see that it was no gargantuan praying mantis that was in front of her.

It was just Ange.

The witch had her right hand placed over Belphegor's chest, holding her down to keep her from struggling. An umbrella was in her other hand, held high above them both to act a shield from the oncoming downpour. She was wearing jeans to keep herself clean from kneeling down in the mud, and a jacket so that she could stay warm and prevent her shirt from getting wet.

She looked somewhat startled, but mostly worried as she stared down at her friend in concern. "Belphegor, are you alright?" she cried out while helping the frightened Stake to her feet. "What happened to you? You look awful!"

Belphegor finally found her breath as she kept gasping for it, hyperventilating as she placed her left hand on her chest to steady her breathing as best she could. She tried to regain her composure in front of her master, but it was hard to do so since she was absolutely terrified of the witch- and for the fact that Ange was keeping her pinned down.

Ange apparently noticed how scared she was and became more concerned. "I'm so sorry for startling you like that. I didn't mean to scare you. I just became worried about you when you didn't show up for dinner."

"I-Its o-okay, M-Miss Ange." Belphegor attempted to accept the witch's apology, but found it to be difficult because of how scared she was. "I-I'm fine."

It was a lie, and one that the witch would easily see through, but Belphegor tried her best to hide the truth.

Ange cocked her head to the side in confusion, though from the look in her eyes, it was easy to see that she was still worried. "Are you sure you're okay? You look so pale and dirty."

Belphegor nodded without saying anything in response, just wanting to put what happened behind her.

"Well, let's get you inside before you catch cold from this rain." The Witch said as she grabbed the frightened Stake's arm to help her to her feet. "I'll get a warm bath ready for you while you get out of that muddy outfit. Than after that, I want you to get some rest, okay? I'll take your temperature later to see if you're sick."

It was a nice offer, and while Belphegor knew that it was common sense to get herself cleaned up, she thought that wasn't what Ange's intention was.

As she freed her arm from the witch's grip, she took a step back and slipped in the mud again, uttering a startled cry as she was about to fall again. Fortunately, and also unfortunately, the witch quickly reached forward and grabbed her arm again.

"Whoa, take it easy." She spoke softly while quickly yanking Belphegor under the umbrella, helping the terrified Stake steady herself. "I'm just trying to help you, so there's no need to be afraid of me or something."

"I-It's n-not th-that, i-it…" The Stake of Sloth stuttered her words as she spoke, knowing that Ange was right. But it didn't look like the witch had realized it, so she could lie to her and hope that she didn't see through it. "I-it's just th-that I-I'm, u-uh, just-" She suddenly jerked away again when she noticed that Ange was reaching her hand up to her left shoulder.

"Hold still for just a second." The witch told her while reaching her hand up again. "You've got something on your shoulder."

Belphegor leaned back a bit, apprehensive about what her master was going to do. "Wh-What?"

"I don't know." Came Ange's answer as she reached her hand up a third time, but more slowly since she didn't want to spook the Stake of Sloth. From how venomous her voice was, it was like the witch was a snake attacking an enemy intruding in its territory. "I'm trying to find out, but if you weren't so shy, I'd have known by now."

Belphegor inhaled a breath of air before exhaling it as she bowed her head in shame. Ange noticed that and became even more concerned, worried that she accidently hurt Belphegor's feelings. "Don't worry, Belphegor, I'm not mad at you." She spoke softly as she tried apologizing for what she just said. "I just want to see what that thing is, okay?"

The Stake of Sloth didn't respond, her hands clenching the flaps on the bottom half of her uniform. Her soggy form shivered from having been out in the rain for around two hours, but she also looked scared, submitting to whatever fate Ange had in store for her.

Perhaps the witch was going to have her work through the night without sleep, or just work all day while skipping meals, or maybe a combination of both. Or maybe…

Ange would use the anti-magic on her, turning her to glass and shattering her to pieces.

Despite being a punishment that was most severe, and terrifying, Belphegor felt that it was also appropriate for this situation. It certainly would relieve Ange of having to stand out in the rain, speaking to her about something that was on her.

However, that didn't seem to be the case. Feeling the witch's fingers underneath her chin, her head was gently lifted up so she could make eye contact with her master. The Stake of Sloth had expected her to be angry, but she saw no traces of that expressed on the witch's face. Instead, all she saw was Ange's warm, comforting smile, and her eyes which seemed to show that they understood how she was feeling.

"Belphegor, it's okay." The witch spoke soothingly to try calming her friend down. "I'm sorry, I didn't intend to sound mean. I only want to help you because you're my friend."

Her words didn't convince Belphegor, or provide the comfort that went with them. The Stake of Sloth knew she couldn't be Ange's friend because of how scared she was of her.

She looked down just a bit to avoid making eye contact with her, raising her left foot up with the front of her boot touching the ground. Bringing her hands close together, she closed most of her fingers up with the exception of her index fingers- rubbing the tips against each other as she blushed just a bit. "O-Oh, u-um, o-okay…" Her response came out as a shy whisper, a tinge of fear added to it indicating that she was becoming uncomfortably anxious.

Ange knew that Belphegor was an incredibly shy girl, a withdrawn introvert with absolutely no social skills, or any experience in social situations. She'd never say much at all- just a few words that would get her by in conversation- and would never have anything she wanted to talk about.

Although when she had something to say about her work, she'd never omit anything- not even the smallest details- and would talk way too fast for anyone to understand her. Her words were never clear when she spoke, always slurred as she stuttered most of them out.

The witch could see how difficult it was for the Stake of Sloth to make friends or serve someone because of how shy she was. Her sisters didn't want to talk to her, and wished she'd just shut up when it became apparent to them that trying to get her to speak slow and clearly was a concept lost to her. Any friends she might've had back when she served Beatrice might've felt the same, and even Beatrice herself possibly gave her an order to never say a word again as punishment.

To put it short, Belphegor was pretty much an outsider to everyone she knew. She'd be in the very back of the group, hiding in the shadows with the hope that nobody would notice her. Such solitude could end up being too much to bear, leading her to a life of loneliness, miserable at not being able to make at least one single friend.

People like the Stake of Sloth were often the targets of bullies, but while Ange wasn't one of those people, she had known that being alone would make a person feel very unhappy. There were some people who enjoyed being alone, having been afraid of being involved with others, and the witch used to be no exception. She had been bullied back when she was a student at her old school, though Maria- in her witch form- Sakutaro and the seven Stakes of Purgatory had become her friends.

For the first time in years, she had become happy that she finally made some friends; though that happiness was short lived when she could take the torture of those bullies who tormented her. When she had seen they could do nothing to help, to get rid of the other girls who bullied her, she had cast them aside- used the anti-magic to destroy them, denying their existence and paying no heed to their pleas. It wasn't their fault for being unable to do anything- it was Ange's fault for turning her anger on them when they did nothing wrong and were trying to calm her down.

Then when she was on a boat to Rokkenjima Island, just months after she had graduated, she summoned all seven of them back to her- apologizing for what she had done to them that day, as well as recognizing their existence and accepting them as real, and as friends. The Stakes had accepted that she was sorry, though now that she was thinking of it, Belphegor was the only one who appeared to have trouble forgiving her.

It didn't look like the Stake of Sloth was, or had been angry. It appeared that she was…scared.

Maybe she was terrified that Ange would use the anti-magic on them again- though she might've just felt that she'd be the only one whose existence was denied the next time.

Since that day when they were reunited, Belphegor seemed to be off. The Stake of Sloth would be reluctant to speak with her, and would be extremely nervous when the witch wanted to talk with her; though that could be attributed to her just being shy.

However, whenever she'd see Belphegor, the shy Stake would walk away from her as quickly as she could; or put as much distance between them as possible.

To her knowledge, the Stake of Sloth wasn't avoiding her sisters on purpose. It seemed as if Belphegor was indeed frightened that the witch would truly use the anti-magic a second time, and it certainly had been proven to be true when Ange accidently scared her a few times- including several minutes ago.

There were even times when Ange would take the Stakes out somewhere, and Belphegor would suggest that one of them remain behind to guard the manor. It was a logical suggestion, though when the Stake of Sloth kept volunteering to be the one, the witch had thought that it was because she was shy.

Ange had taken all of the Stakes out to stores so they could personalize their bedrooms, but Belphegor merely said her room was perfectly fine, and that it didn't need anything else. But her room was just bland, lacking character as it had only a bed, a dresser, a closet, a desk, a nightstand with a clock on it, and a little table in the center.

The bed just had plain old white sheets with gray covers, a combination that had no style to it whatsoever. The dresser was empty, save for about seven sets of the same outfit Belphegor wore day after day after, including an equal number of nightdresses she wore when she went to bed. A large, empty suitcase accompanied all the unused hangers in the closet. The only thing that covered the desk was dust, and the drawers were all devoid of clutter that went in them. The table didn't have a cloth to cover it- though it didn't really need one- and there was nothing on it to present a bit of character. The nightstand was pretty much just like the table and the desk, so there wasn't much to be said about it.

No matter how many times the witch had offered to get her at least something to decorate the room, the Stake of Sloth refused, insisting that she required nothing else. She wouldn't even go out with her individually, as her sisters had done, so Belphegor had essentially just been cooped up in the manor without having ever set foot off the property. She did go outside quite often, though that was just to do yard work, such as mowing the lawn, or gardening as they had done today.

By seeing how Belphegor had acted around her, Ange had learned that the Stake of Sloth wasn't just terrified of the anti-magic, but terrified of her as well.

She couldn't blame the poor Stake for that. If she hadn't used the anti-magic in the first place, the frightened Stake wouldn't have been so scared of her.

She had to do something to show her that she had changed and become a better person.

Reaching her arm up again towards the nervous Stake's shoulder once more, she noted how Belphegor lowered her arms and grabbed the flaps of her uniform again. Her grip on them grew tighter as she flinched uneasily, moving back slightly to widen the gap between them. She looked very uncomfortable, still refusing to make eye contact with the witch whilst swallowing a lump in her throat, sweat trickling down her face as she continued to tremble. Her complexion had always seemed to be a tad pale, more so than usual now- maybe even ashen.

She looked as if she could have a panic attack at any moment.

"It's alright, Belphegor." Ange kept her tone of voice soft with a comforting smile on her face. "I'm not going to hurt you. I only want to see what's on your shoulder, that's all."

Having paused for a bit so the Stake of Sloth could calm down, she brought her hand closer to her friend's shoulder. Belphegor showed no sign of reaction, perhaps having become calm enough to allow her to check her shoulder; though she might've thought she was helpless in this situation.

Ange needed to provide some more comfort to her later, but for now she focused on looking at the thing on Belphegor's shoulder.

A few more seconds passed and eventually the witch looked a bit surprised at her finding. "Oh…"

"Wh-What?" Belphegor sounded like she was becoming panicky, looking alarmed as if terrible news had been told to her. "Wh-What's th-there?"

"A praying mantis." Came the reply Belphegor dreaded to hear.

There was a…praying mantis...on her?

That…thing...was perched on her shoulder?

Her heartbeat spiked once, and then died completely. Her legs started shaking so much that they might've given way any moment. Her breath got caught in her throat, more sweat trickling down her face as she felt short of breath. Her somewhat ashen complexion grew even more ashen as her whole body shook, just as uncontrollably as her legs. Her words were stuttered when she spoke, the tone of her voice sounding horrified. "G-G-G i-i-it o-o-off…"

"Okay, just hold-" Ange started to speak, but was cut off when the frightened Stake screamed in terror.

"PLEASE JUST GET IT OFF, MISS ANGE!"

"Ah, alright!" Ange said hastily as she quickly yanked the praying mantis off of Belphegor's shoulder and stepped past the terrified Stake to place the insect on the bush behind her. "There, it's off now! You're-"

But when she had turned to comfort Belphegor, she found that the Stake of Sloth was already halfway across the garden. "Belphegor, wait! What's wrong? I got it off, just as you asked!" She called after her while walking to catch up.

In her rush to get inside, Belphegor nearly fell a few times from having slipped on the brick path made slick by the pouring rain. She couldn't bear to be near Ange, or the praying mantis any longer. As she climbed the steps up to the backdoor, her feet slipped to the right as she fell to the left, grabbing onto the railing to keep her balance. She shot her arm towards the doorknob and pulled it open when she made it to the top landing, slamming it shut behind her as soon as she stepped inside, not realizing that Ange was following her.

Shivering from the cold and the fear, Belphegor walked up to the bathroom as quickly as she could, passing Mammon on the way up.

"How's it feel, Belphe?" The Stake of Greed teased her while being unable to control her laughter- not that she was trying to, anyway. "Do you like crawling around in the mud like a worm?"

Belphegor only quickened her pace, desperate to get to the bathroom without attracting the attention of her other sisters; though she knew Mammon would tell them, and then they'd all make fun of her.

She was kind of lucky when she head the backdoor open, as well as a small cry of pain escape her younger sister's mouth. If she wasn't so scared of Ange, then she would've gone back down to thank her for shutting Mammon up. Maybe the Stake of Greed would be punished for making fun of her, as well as be threatened with further punishment if she told the other Stakes that their perfect sister had become a dirty girl.

But Belphegor didn't think about that, as it wasn't her business, nor was it her intention to apologize to Ange for shutting the backdoor on her. She just wanted to get to the bathroom take a nice, long shower to get all the grime off of her, and forget all about the praying mantis.

In the middle of the night, Belphegor was suddenly jolted awake in a cold sweat. Her eyes were wide with fright as she gasped for breath, sitting up in bed while clutching at the sheets of her bed, recovering from one of the most horrifying nightmares she ever dreamed of.

As she swung her legs over the side of her bed, the sweat on her face trickled down and dripped onto the frilly, green nightdress she was wearing. Placing her right hand on her forehead, she took a few deep breaths as her whole body shivered, her complexion turning very pale.

She spent a while just sitting there, staring at the floor until she averted her eyes to the clock on her nightstand. It was nearly half an hour after midnight.

All of her sisters were asleep in their own beds now, exhausted from all that gardening they did for the whole day. Belphegor didn't want to disturb them so they could listen to her nightmare, afraid that they'd tease her about it, or be angry that she had woken them up.

Ange wasn't an option either. The Stake of Sloth was too scared of her for the same reasons as her sisters.

That left a total of three choices left to her.

She could remain awake for the rest of the night and eventually succumb to her drowsiness, but that could lead to her having another nightmare.

Going right back to sleep immediately wasn't for her, as it would have the same results as the first choice.

The only thing she could perhaps do was to go down to the kitchen and make a cup of tea to calm her nerves. It was a logical choice, and one that was preferable over her first two options.

Standing up and walking towards the door, Belphegor pushed it open and stepped over the threshold. The hinges creaked just a bit, but she wasn't too worried since Satan and Leviathan snored loud enough to muffle even the loudest explosion.

As she walked towards the right, passing the rooms where her younger sisters slept with the loud snoring of her two older sisters behind her, a sudden sound made her jump. She whirled around to face whoever was there and became petrified with horror, her complexion turning completely ashen just as her whole body began to shiver uncontrollably. Her breath got caught in her throat as her eyes grew wide with fright.

At the other end of the hall, in between the doors to the rooms where the two snoring Stakes were sleeping…

Stood a praying mantis larger than her.

Belphegor couldn't see what it looked like, but she could definitely make out its outline in the shadows of the hall.

The thing looked like an ordinary praying mantis, but its chest seemed to be one huge gaping maw of sharp jaws just waiting to devour her. That large mouth growled in unison with the snoring, as if her older sisters were supplying the sound it needed.

Belphegor would've screamed at the sight of such a monster, but that would've awakened her sisters- and possibly Ange if she could hear it from her bedroom. However, she couldn't scream at all, her vocal cords having felt like they had gotten tangled together. Her mouth was hanging agape, her lips trembling while she tried to get a hold of herself.

"I-I-It's n-n-not r-r-real…" She was finally able to whisper, her words coming out stuttered whilst sounding like a paranoid schizophrenic traumatized by a gruesome sight. "I-I-It's n-n-not r-r-real…I-I-It's j-j-just a-a-a d-d-dream…Y-Y-Yes, th-th-that m-m-must b-b-be i-i-it…" Her voice started to rise in pitch, becoming hysterical while she began to feel dizzy.

Instinctively, she slowly reached her left arm up to her right one, lifting the sleeve of her nightdress up. Grabbing a bit of skin between her index finger and her thumb, she pinched herself as hard as she could. Wincing in pain, she closed her eyes and expected to awaken in her bed, opening them when she began to feel the pain subside…

To see that the praying mantis was now in her face.

"Belphegor! Belphegor, wake up!"

Belphegor could hear a voice calling her name as she struggled in bed, trying to free herself from the insect's grasp. She didn't know who it was, but she didn't care. The person was telling her to awaken, implying that she was having a nightmare.

But how was that possible? She was already awake, and in the arms of a giant praying mantis that was about to devour her! She was going to die!

"Belphegor, it's okay! It's just a nightmare! Wake up!"

With a frightened scream, Belphegor threw her arms around whoever was in front of her at the moment, her eyes shut tight to block out the horrible nightmare. "H-H-Help m-m-me…" Her voice was shaky as she cried, her words stuttered whilst tears trickled down her face. "P-P-Please…d-d-don't l-l-let i-i-it t-t-take m-m-me…p-p-please…" She was trembling so much that it was like she was in some sort of frozen wasteland with temperatures below zero. Her complexion had turned from partially ashen to completely ashen, giving her the appearance of someone covered in white paint. "I-I-I d-d-don't w-w-want t-t-to d-d-die…P-P-Please…S-S-Someone…S-S-Save me…"

"It's alright, Belphegor." She could hear someone say to her while feeling that person's arms embrace her in a hug. "It's okay, you're safe now. I'm here." From the sound of the voice, it was a girl speaking to her, a girl who sounded familiar. But where had the Stake of Sloth heard her voice? Why did she know her name? Was she someone she knew?

It definitely wasn't one of her sisters; that was for sure, as they were all asleep. Nor was it Ange, for she too, was asleep.

So then who was this mystery girl who was providing comfort to her? Some sort of assassin who was going to take advantage of the moment and suffocate her? A thief who had broken in and stumbled upon her, wishing for her to go back to bed so she could steal stuff- though that was to be expected of Mammon and Beelzebub.

If it really was one of her sisters, then Belphegor prayed whichever one of them it was wouldn't take the opportunity to tease her- or lead her to the rest of the Stakes and then tease her. Maybe all of her sisters were in her room with her right now.

It was said that sticks and stones could break a person's bones, but that words would never hurt anyone. That was a stupid thing to say, half true and half false as it was. Words weren't like sticks, or stones, but they definitely caused so much pain, emotionally and psychologically. The Stake of Sloth didn't want her sisters to say things that could hurt her, so she had to stop crying now and go back to bed, even if it seemed to be too late to do so.

But no matter how hard she tried, she was still sniveling with her face hidden in the other girl's chest. She couldn't help it, having been through two nightmares- one nightmare in another nightmare- that had left her in the traumatic state she was in now.

Though her weeping had ceased, she still sniffled constantly with tears still in her eyes, and her voice had already died out. What more could she do to try giving the impression that she was fine when she really wasn't?

"Here, come with me to my room." The other girl whilst scooping Belphegor up in her arms. "We can talk in private there, okay?"

If the Stake of Sloth hadn't been so terrified right now, she would've paid better attention to what the other girl just said, and would've noticed that she was being carried like a bride with her arms around the other girl's neck.

But about fifteen minutes later, she stopped sniffing; though her eyes were filled with tears, and calmed down enough to realize…

That she was in Ange's room with the witch herself sitting right in front of her.

Almost immediately a cry of fright escaped through her mouth as she backed up against the headboard, nearly falling off the witch's bed while scrambling to get off it. "O-oh, a-ah, u-um, M-Miss Ange! I-I d-didn't, u-uh, know th-that you were still awake!"

"Well, yeah, it's only ten forty-five." Ange simply stated without moving from her spot, looking unfazed by how the Stake of Sloth reacted. "I usually stay up till eleven so I can read for a while, but I wanted to see you in private before I went to bed. Is that alright with you?"

"I-It's, u-um, f-fine, a-as l-long a-as y-you, u-uh, n-need m-me." Belphegor spoke timidly while stuttering her words, swallowing a lump in her throat as she tipped her head down, averting her eyes to avoid making eye contact with the witch, out of fear that Ange's gaze just might turn her into glass and make her shatter. "U-Um, i-is th-there s-something y-you w-wish f-for m-me t-to, u-um, d-do? I-If n-not th-then, u-uh, m-may I-I, u-um, b-be dismissed s-so th-that I-I m-may, u-um, return t-to m-my room?"

Belphegor knew it was unlike her to ask if she could be dismissed, or excused. She was the Stake of Sloth, and a hard worker who would do whatever task she was assigned to. If she was told to do something, she'd do it. If she had already finished a task, she'd ask if anything else was required of her. It was who she was, and it was her duty as Furniture to the Golden Witch- who just happened to be Ange.

But now that she was alone with the witch, she felt as if whatever task she'd be given would be too much for her to handle. She'd feel pressured to do the job right and get it done on time because of how scared she was of the witch.

Ange took a deep breath, choosing her words carefully so she didn't make Belphegor uncomfortable. "Actually, I brought you in here so I could talk to you in private."

Belphegor lost all hope of being dismissed. She was probably going to do something humiliating, or perform a task that was dangerous to her wellbeing. "U-Um, about, u-uh, wh-what exactly?"

"About you."

Belphegor couldn't describe how terrified she was right now.

Ange was angry with her, and was going to punish her.

Belphegor didn't bother to ask why since she guessed it was because of how she acted before.

Her muscles started to tense up as sweat began to trickle down her ashen face, her breathing getting caught in her throat again while beginning to tremble.

Ange could easily see how terrified Belphegor was becoming. "Don't be upset, Belphegor. It's okay, I'm not mad at you." She tried to comfort her friend by putting a warm smile on her face whilst trying to console her. "I just never had the opportunity to really talk to you, that's all."

Despite the witch's kind words, Belphegor didn't believe her. "O-Oh, u-um, I-I'm, u-uh, s-sorry, I-I-" Looking up from the floor, she suddenly uttered a small cry of terror when she could see that Ange was now standing in front of her, backing away from her until her back was to the wall, slumping to the floor. "I-I'm s-sorry, M-Miss Ange, I-I-"

Her apology was cut off when she saw Ange casually saunter over to her desk and pull out a drawer, reaching her hand in and moving about whatever was in there. When she finally found what she was looking for, she pulled the object out and pushed the drawer back in, tossing the small, round thing she was holding up in the air just once, catching it when came back down.

Belphegor only became more frightened as she observed that Ange began to slowly approach her again.

What was that small, round thing in her hand? Was it a poisonous orange, or a cherry bomb, or an egg which contained something deadly in it that would be unleashed when it hatched?

If it was that last one, Belphegor prayed it wasn't a praying mantis.

But for some reason Ange sat down on the floor, just about three feet away from her. She set the object on the ground and rolled it over to the frightened Stake.

Belphegor cringed as it came closer, flinching as she closed her eyes and raised her arms in front of her, hoping to shield herself from whatever the thing was. She was expecting something very bad to happen, and had become really apprehensive and scared in response.

But as a couple minutes passed, nothing happened. No explosion, no monster hatching out of it, no being turned to glass by the anti-magic and then shattering, no nothing.

Belphegor moved her arms down just a tiny bit while partially opening her left eye. Looking down at the object Ange had rolled over to her, she could see that it was just a ball.

That was it.

It wasn't a cherry bomb, a poisonous orange, or even an egg.

It was just a ball.

An ordinary ball.

A plain old red ball.

Her nerves starting to settle down, Belphegor trembled as she fully opened her eyes and stared at the little red ball. She closed her eyes once and rubbed them, opening them again to make sure that she was really looking at a red ball, and not a cherry bomb, a poisonous orange that was painted red, or an egg that was painted red.

She really was looking at a little red ball.

"Roll it back."

Ange's sudden order made Belphegor jump. The Stake of Sloth looked up at the witch fearfully, swallowing a lump in her throat as she became hesitant to move her hand down. Looking down at the ball again, she moved her hand towards it slowly, fearing that it actually was an egg that could hatch the moment she touched it.

Her fingers eventually came into contact with its surface, but while it felt smooth, it didn't feel like an egg at all.

After swallowing another lump, she sent the ball back to Ange.

The witch caught it when it had rolled back to her, sending it right back to Belphegor, who in turn, rolled it back again after hesitating some more.

A few more minutes passed, and it was already ten fifty-five. By now, Belphegor seemed to have calmed down some more. She had stopped hesitating before returning the ball to Ange each time the witch rolled it over to her, and she had even stopped trembling, her complexion slowly returning to its slightly normal shade.

She was feeling more at ease by how relaxing this little activity was, finding that it was actually becoming a little fun to roll the little red ball back and forth to each other. A small, shy smile came to her face, enjoying herself with such a small, meaningless task. She never had this much fun just by simply rolling a ball to someone who'd roll it back- though in actuality, she never had fun doing something at all. She was all work and no play, but that was who she was. That was what defined her.

For a girl as shy and timid as she was to be having fun by doing something so simple was strangely…soothing. It was as if she didn't have a care in the world.

She didn't feel like returning to her room so she could go back to bed; she wanted to stay here all night and just roll that ball back to Ange. She didn't even feel like doing any work at all the next day. Rolling the ball was just too much fun!

"Do you feel as if you're ready?"

The sudden question made Belphegor look up at Ange, the ball having stopped when it bumped into her. "U-Um, s-sorry, what was that, Miss Ange?" She was starting to blush, embarrassed that she hadn't been paying attention, while also feeling a little afraid that she could've been in trouble because of that.

"I asked if you felt ready." Ange didn't sound mad at all when she spoke. Her tone of voice was gentle, soothing, trying to comfort the Stake of Sloth.

While that did relieve Belphegor just a bit, she couldn't help but feel rather apprehensive that Ange had something in mind for her. "U-Um, u-uh, ready for, u-um, wh-what exactly?" Despite not wanting to make eye contact with the witch, Belphegor didn't want to be rude. That could get herself into trouble, so wanted to prevent that from happening.

"To talk about what happened today."

Belphegor started trembling again as she became scared. "O-Oh, u-um that. U-Um, uh, I-I'm, uh, s-sorry, um, about that." Her voice was shaky as she apologized, nervously scratching her right arm whilst stuttering some of her words. "I-I'll be sure not to, u-um, do it again."

"Belphegor, it's okay. You don't have to apologize." Ange spoke as she pointed to the ball and gestured that the Stake of Sloth could roll it back. "I'm not angry with you for that."

Belphegor sent the ball back to the witch. "You're n-not?"

Ange slowly shook her head and returned the ball to her friend. "No, of course not. Why would I be?"

"W-Well, I-I was out in the garden for the whole day and had never come in. I-I made you worry about me."

Ange looked concerned when she heard Belphegor's answer, sending the ball back to her after she had rolled it back. "That's true, but why do you think that's a bad thing?"

Belphegor blushed shyly and averted her eyes. "I-I just…" She began, and then paused to take a breath of air. "I-I just don't to trouble you."

"Belphegor, it's no trouble at all." Ange gave the Stake of Sloth a warm smile to provide some comfort to her. "I worry about you because you're my friend."

"You, um, think that highly of me, Miss Ange?"

"Well of course I do. I'd rather have you as my friend than as my Furniture."

"You really…would?" Belphegor looked at Ange, feeling quite bashful as she rolled the ball back to the witch, not expecting to be treated with such kindness from someone she was terrified of.

Ange nodded to confirm what she said. "Absolutely."

"O-oh…" Belphegor shyly blushed as Ange sent the ball right back to her, sounding nervous that she was held in such high regard. "U-Um, o-okay…u-um…th-thank you?" Although she was thankful towards the witch, she expressed her gratitude in the form of a question. Being the shy, timid girl she was, she didn't really know how to properly express it.

"You're quite welcome." Ange smiled as she moved a little closer now that Belphegor seemed to have felt somewhat comfortable in her presence. "Now, do you want to tell me what's wrong?"

Belphegor looked at the witch while gently tugging at the collar of her nightdress. "You're sure you want to, u-um, hear it?"

Ange nodded. "Of course. That's what friends are for. Besides, you'll start to feel better as you get it off your chest." Her advice was sound, almost as if it had come directly from a therapist.

Despite being something incredibly impossible to do, Ange's words made it sound like it wasn't that difficult at all. The witch seemed to be telling the truth about that, but while Belphegor wasn't so sure that Ange was lying or being truthful, she felt as if she couldn't pass this offer up.

Maybe it would be a good idea to tell Ange what was bothering her.

"W-Well, u-um, o-okay…" Belphegor began shyly before swallowing a lump in her throat, taking a couple minutes to get herself as ready as she could be. Talking about herself was really hard to do, especially when she didn't know where to even begin. "U-Um, wh-where do you want me to, uh, start?"

"Wherever you'd like." Ange simply answered while the Stake of Sloth sent the ball right back to her. "You can talk about what happened today, how you feel when your sisters tease you, how you felt when I had used the anti-magic on you, or your fear of me."

That last one filled Belphegor with dread, her pale complexion turning more pale. "Y-You…k-know…M-Miss Ange?" Her voice came out as barely a whisper, but it was still loud enough for the witch to hear.

"Well, how can I not?" Ange didn't sound rude this time as she spoke, unlike earlier when they both were out in the garden while it was raining. If anything, she sounded worried. The frown that had showed up on her face seemed to prove it. "I mean, I started to figure it out eventually when I noticed that you've been avoiding me."

"O-Oh, u-um…" Belphegor looked down bashfully, her whole face turning red because of how ashamed she was. "I-I'm s-sorry…"

"You don't need to apologize for that." Ange smiled again as she moved closer while consoling the shy Stake. "I understand that you're scared that the anti-magic might be used on you again and that you're also scared of me."

"Y-You…d-do?"

"Yes, I do, and it's quite alright. I don't blame you for being afraid of me and the anti-magic. If someone was going to use it on me, or had already used it on me and then brought me back, I'd be scared too."

Ange was right about her beginning to feel better as she spoke about her problems, even though the witch had brought one of them up. Belphegor found that it was becoming a little easier for her to say what was bothering her. Maybe this whole thing wasn't so bad after all.

Shifting in her spot just a bit, the Stake of Sloth thought of which next problem she could tell Ange of. She had a choice between her fear of praying mantises, or how timid she was. Perhaps she could go with the former first, and then move on to the latter.

"Hey, Belphegor?"

Belphegor looked up when she heard the witch speak. "U-Uh, yes, Miss Ange?"

"You don't have to talk about all of your problems at once." Ange moved a bit closer again as she gave more advice. "You can tell me about your other problems whenever you'd like."

That was a good idea, seeing as how Belphegor would be given more time to think about what else she could talk about, besides her timidity and her phobia of praying mantises.

"O-Okay, but…" She paused after beginning to speak. She knew what she was doing could wait, but she wanted to get it done now.

It wasn't because she wanted to get it done and over with so that she could return to her room. It was because she wanted to have the courage to speak with someone, to talk about what bothered her, and, above all else, to get over her phobia of Ange.

"Can I talk about them now?"

It wasn't necessary, but Belphegor felt it had to be done.

Ange closed her eyes halfway, the smile never leaving her face. "If that's what you want to do, go ahead. I'll listen to you."

Belphegor closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and focused on what she wanted to say first. "Well, before when I was in the garden, I had done a sloppy job with planting some sunflower seeds."

Ange's eyes were fully open as she placed her hands under her chin, the expression on her face showing that she was giving her full attention to the Stake of Sloth. "Yeah, Asmodeus and I had noticed that, but we filled the empty hole up with a few leftover seeds from another packet."

Belphegor bowed her head to express her gratitude, despite knowing that she was to only do it whenever she complied to carry out an order and obey a command. "Um, thank you, Miss Ange."

"You're welcome, but please don't refer to me by some sort of title like that whenever you're talking to me."

Belphegor opened her eyes. "Oh, my apologies, Mi- I mean, Ange."

"No, it's okay. You don't have to apologize for that. I don't want you to feel like Furniture- you're my friend." Ange raised her arm up to scratch the back of her neck, closing her eyes while showing a somewhat sheepish smile. "Plus I find it embarrassing to have an honorific used before my name."

"Oh, um, alright." Belphegor took another deep breath before she continued. "Anyway, after getting a packet of watermelon seeds, I went over to some bushes and hid under them. I had planned on planting the seeds there- um; you're okay with that, right?"

"I'm okay with it, but that's not really the best place to plant something as large as a watermelon."

Belphegor nodded- she'd remember that for next time. "Okay, I'll plant them somewhere else instead."

Ange also nodded while gesturing for her to continue.

"But when I was planting them there, I didn't get a chance to even open the packet because of that…that thing." Belphegor shuddered as she brought up the insect.

Ange came even closer until she and the Stake of Sloth were just nine inches apart. "You mean the praying mantis?" Belphegor shuddered again as she nodded before the witch continued speaking. "So you're scared of insects and arachnids?"

"Not really, to be honest." Closing her eyes again, Belphegor took a third deep breath. "I can handle spiders and scorpions- even though I've never seen a live scorpion before- and I don't have anything at all against other insects. It's just praying mantises I'm terrified of- so much that it's a phobia for me."

"They must be really scary if you have a phobia of them."

"I know it's a ridiculous phobia, but yes, they're that frightening to me."

"It doesn't sound ridiculous at all. I think you've got a good reason to be so terrified of them."

Belphegor shyly fumbled with the lacy bow that was attached to the collar of her nightdress, blushing slightly as she felt somewhat embarrassed to talk about her phobia. "W-Well, I-I feel as if their eyes can stare deep into my soul, which is really creepy." Her voice started to rise in pitch just a little, sounding a bit hysterical as she began to speak faster. "And those arms are just so sharp, and they're just so fast. I-It's like they're some sort of alien- no, Lovecraftian horror come from the stars to destroy humanity, and- and- and it looks like they are an alien, a Lovecraftian horror like that spider thing created by that other author, and- and-"

Ange rushed over to her and placed both of her hands on the frightened Stake's shoulders. "Whoa, Belphegor calm down."

Belphegor didn't listen, already completely hysterical with fright while beginning to cry again. "I even saw one that looked like it could be some sort of Lovecraftian horror! It was in my dream! I had awoken from a nightmare where I was sitting on one of the branches of a bush and had gotten attacked by a praying mantis, and then when I woke up and left my room to go to the kitchen to make some tea for myself I saw it! That thing! It was at the end of the hall where Satan's and Levia's rooms were, and it had a large mouth on its chest filled with so many sharp teeth! And after I tried to wake up, it got right in my face and then attacked me!"

By this point Ange had already embraced Belphegor in a hug, rubbing her back in an attempt to get her to settle down. "There, there, Belphegor." She said softly to calm the terrified Stake's nerves. "It's okay. It was just a horrible nightmare, but it's over now. "I've got you. You're safe now."

Belphegor continued to cry with her face hidden in Ange's nightdress, her whole body already trembling as her complexion turned ashen again. She had thrown her arms around the witch for protection, clinging to her as tight as she could. "It seemed so real! I was so scared!"

"Nightmares can make you scared, but they can't hurt you because they're not real."

Belphegor looked up at Ange with a pleading look in her eyes, hoping that the witch was telling the truth. Her voice came out as but a frightened whisper when she spoke. "R-Really?"

Ange looked down at her friend, the warm smile on her face becoming a bit wider as she closed her eyes. "Really." She repeated the only word the Stake of Sloth had said to reassure her that what she said was true.

Belphegor stared up into the witch's eyes for a few moments before wiping her arm across her eyes to clear her tears away. She had stopped crying when she had seen the expression on Ange's face clearly indicating that it was the truth.

Closing her eyes while taking a deep breath, she slowly began to withdraw her arms away from the witch, but paused for just a bit to allow herself this luxury.

Ange's grasp was unlike that of a praying mantis. Her arms were warm, comforting, and safe. Belphegor felt secure whilst Ange was holding her, her fears and insecurities fading in the face of such light.

After a few minutes had passed in silence between the two of them, they both stood up. Ange returned to the desk to put the ball away while Belphegor just stood where she was, having stopped trembling while her complexion began to return to normal.

"Um, Ange?"

The witch turned around just as she was pushing the drawer in after putting the ball inside. "Yes, what is it, Belphegor?"

The Stake of Sloth hung her arms at her side, prepared to speak about her other problem. "You know how I'm incredibly shy, right?"

Ange nodded in response.

Belphegor took a deep breath as she closed her eyes, opening them again before she spoke so she could make eye contact with Ange. "Well, there's another reason why I'm really uncomfortable around others."

"Do you want to tell me about it now, or sometime later?"

"I'd like to tell you now."

"Sure, go ahead." Ange said while gesturing for the Stake of Sloth to continue.

Belphegor had already spoken with the witch about two of her problems already. She had been scared when Ange brought the first one up, and had wanted to speak about the second on her own so she could try to find the courage to talk about her problems with someone else.

Now she wasn't scared anymore. She was quite ready to tell Ange about her other problem. The new feeling of confidence in herself was strong enough for her to do it on her own.

And so, after another deep breath, Belphegor looked directly at Ange and made eye contact with her before she spoke up. "I'm also extremely timid."

Time seemed to slow down after she said that. If a sound was made, it wouldn't be heard- it was just too quiet.

Finally, after what seemed like an eternity of silence, Ange was the first of them to speak. "You are?"

Belphegor nodded in response, no longer looking like the frightened girl she was just a couple minutes ago.

"Is that why you sometimes get so jumpy all of a sudden?"

"Yes it is."

Ange crossed her arms while placing her right hand under her chin. Her thumb and index finger were just below her mouth, which was pointed down in a frown. "I see…" She said as she began to think of what she could do to help her friend. "So you don't like it when someone startles you, or scares you on purpose?"

Belphegor nodded. "No, I don't. It makes me feel really embarrassed when I'm startled or when I get scared for some reason. I try to hide it from my sisters, but while I've been successful so far, I fear that they may find out sooner or later."

"Well, whenever you get scared, just tell them that you need to do something very important and then come find me. I'll take you to a spot where we can be alone so that you may talk to me in private, okay?"

"But what if my sisters find us?"

"Then I'll tell them that I'm busy for the moment and to wait somewhere else until I can get to them, okay?"

Belphegor nodded her approval. "Yes, that could work."

Ange smiled again. "Alright, we'll do that." She said as she also nodded. "Anyway, do you feel better now that you've spoken to me about your problems?"

Belphegor bowed her head in respectful gratitude. "I do. Thank you, Ange."

"You're quite welcome."

Belphegor would've left now, but there was something else she needed to ask. Shyly looking down at her feet, she lifted the heel of her left foot up so that she could keep it on her toes while rocking it from side to side. "Can you please not tell my sisters about everything I had told you tonight? I don't want them to tease me if they find out about this."

Ange smiled and winked at her while holding the index finger of her left hand up in front of her mouth. "Don't worry; it'll be our little secret."

Belphegor smiled too, but hers was a shy smile with some blushing added to it. "Thank you, Ange."

"You're welcome." Ange shut her eyes and slightly cocked her head to the side before opening them while walking over to the Stake of Sloth. "Are you ready to go back to sleep now?"

Closing her eyes while nodding, Belphegor turned to head towards the door. "Yes. Good night, Ange."

When she was about to leave, she felt a hand on her shoulder and turned around to find the witch right behind her.

"Do you want to spend the night with me, just to be safe?" There was a warm smile on Ange's face as she asked that, the kind of smile that a close friend would use to comfort another friend in need.

Belphegor smiled back. "I'd appreciate that; thank you. But I'll have to get up at five thirty like I always do, okay?"

"Well, seeing as how I always get up a half hour after you, that would work just fine."

The fact that her sisters would get up at different times after six was reassuring. That meant that none of them would know about her talk with Ange and that she was spending the night with the witch.

Going over to Ange's bed, they both pulled the covers up before lying down underneath them. The witch held Belphegor close to keep her safe from any nightmares, and the Stake of Sloth wrapped her arms around Ange for protection.

As they slept, Belphegor felt at peace, preferring to be in her friend's arms than the arms of a praying mantis.