Tuesday, September 13, 2016
Glass and Roses, Chapter 13
Laurence put his hands on his hips and beamed a smile at the rooftops peering over the horizon. “There's Abertswyth, the greatest city in the kingdom!” he said.
“Does Luck have any strictures against boasting?” Valdimer teased.
“Not a one!” Laurence said with a laugh. “She's the patron of gamblers, after all. It's why I believe your father was a very forward thinker to create an actual church for her. She's the only greater god who didn't already have one.”
“I always thought she didn't want one,” Berit said. She sat in the back of the wagon, balancing a dagger on her index finger as the wheels rolled over dents and lumps in the road. They had joined a small caravan as they got closer to the city, and the number of travelers had deterred bandits and raiders. Berit threw the dagger and caught it on another finger. “The Wandering Goddess, they call her. She doesn't want her followers to settle down, so having a church for them seems a little...”
“...Counter-intuitive,” Valdimer finished.
Laurence shrugged. “We do not function as a home so much as a consistent waypoint for travelers. Those of us who are actually clergy are always expected to leave the headquarters before staying too long. That is how we find pleasant surprises like you!”
“Except the high priestess,” Berit said. “You mentioned we can find her at the headquarters, so she must always stay there.”
“Well, yes,” Laurence said. “Someone must.”
Berit sheathed her dagger as the caravan approached the city gate. “Still seems a bit odd to me.”
Abertswyth was small for a city, but thrived on the trade brought in from travelers who came for the bath houses. The city was home to several natural hot springs that the citizens used as attractions for visitors. People from all across the kingdom heard of the soothing waters of Abertswyth, and the city raked in plenty of revenue from tourism. Laurence brought their wagon to a stop in front of a building that looked like one of the bath houses. “Welcome to the Abertswyth Temple of Luck!” he said.
Sure enough, when they entered, Berit, Valdimer, and Dror saw that the back of the cella was a bubbling pool. Instead of tourists relaxing in it, the occupants of the pool were robed worshipers of Luck, praying and making offerings to the halfling goddess. One of the worshipers turned when she heard the group approaching, and smiled at them. She stepped out of the water, removed her wet robe, dried herself off, and moved to greet them. “Rest, weary travelers,” she said. “I am Melantha, High Priestess of the Church of Generous Luck. Feel free to use our spring or worship in any other way you feel comfortable.” She gestured grandly around as she spoke, maintaining a smile on her round face. “We have clean robes if you wish them, but do not feel the need to change your clothes. Luck favors the road-weary, and will tend to your spiritual needs no matter your garments. And welcome back, Laurence,” she said, turning to him. “I trust your deliveries were successful?”
“They were, High Priestess.” Laurence indicated the other three with an outstretched arm. “On my travels, I encountered these three adventurers.”
“We're not really adv-oof!” Valdimer said before Dror elbowed him.
“They made fantastic companions, but you'll be interested in meeting the half-elves specifically. May I introduce Valdimer and Berit Rhosynglas.” Melantha's eyebrows rose, and Laurence nodded. “Madoc's children.”
“Indeed!” Melantha said. “I take it you are not here for worship, then.”
Valdimer flashed a thin smile. “Why would you say that? Our father founded this church. Aren't we likely to follow his religion?”
Melantha motioned for the group to follow her, and walked to a side passage that led to the back rooms of the temple. “Madoc and I are old friends, and while it was his idea to start the church, I am as close to the co-founder as you can get. He told me a lot about his life, even some that he kept secret from everyone else. I have heard much about you two, though in the stories you were both much younger.”
“Dad talked about us?” Berit said. “But he was never at home. We haven't even seen him since we were kids. That's why we sought you out. We hope you can tell us where he is.” She put a hand on Melantha's shoulder. “We just want to see our dad again.”
Melantha sighed and moved so that Berit's hand fell from her shoulder. “I wish I could help, my children, but I too lost contact with Madoc after he arrived in Velsea. I will reach out to my contacts and see what I can find, though. You are welcome to stay here for the night.”
She showed them to rooms in temple with small cots they could sleep on. Berit, Valdimer, and Dror thanked Melantha and bid farewell to Laurence, who returned to his own quarters on the other side of the temple. Valdimer started to unpack, but stopped before he had finished and repacked his bag.
Berit appeared in the doorway later that night to find Valdimer writing more of his memoir. He glanced up at her. “Can't sleep either?” he said.
“Something about all this still doesn't seem right,” she said. “I know it's been decades since we saw Dad, but he was never the kind of man who cared much about the gods. He always seemed to just think about himself.”
“Maybe he had an epiphany,” Valdimer said, but he didn't sound too convinced. He stopped writing and scratched out a line.
“I suppose it's possible.” Berit looked out the small window at the moon. “But then why wouldn't he come back to us and ask for forgiveness? We weren't the ones in hiding.” She sighed. “I just feel like he must have had a selfish reason for doing this. He only ever cared about himself and I can't see him changing enough to found a church without reconciling with his own children.”
Valdimer closed his notebook and put it back in his bag. “I noticed as we were being led here that there were no doors around the back of the cella.”
“That's because the hot spring was there,” Berit said.
Valdimer shook his head. “The wall that the pool was against didn't go back far enough to compensate for the extra room in the hallway on the other side. There's another room there with no entrance.”
“I wonder if they're hiding anything there.”
“There's one way to find out,” Valdimer said. “Let's do a little investigation.”
Berit cracked a grin. “You're suggesting we snoop around a temple in the dead of the night?”
“Well, when you put it that way...”
“I like it,” Berit said. “Let's get Dror and go back to the main chamber.”
Dror was asleep, but when they told him they wanted to see if the high priestess was hiding something, he quickly got up and agreed to help. “Never met a priest I trusted,” he said. “Unless you count Zhihao as a priest. Does that make you a priest if you have a god inside you?” They went back to the cella, now empty and silent except for the quite gurgling of the hot spring. They examined the statuary and potted plants that lined the walls, but found nothing unusual. Valdimer sat down next to the water, then stood back up suddenly.
“There's something down there,” he said.
“Something alive?” Dror asked, gripping his sword.
“No,” Valdimer said, adjusting his glasses. “Some sort of valve. Why would a natural hot spring need a control?”
Berit waved him forward. “Well, go on. Val, valve. It was meant to be you.”
Valdimer frowned. “I hate swimming, you know that.”
“I'll do it!” Dror said, rolling his eyes. He waded into the pool, creating small waves that lapped against his maroon skin. He had to dive under to reach the depth where Valdimer saw the valve. He turned it, and the fountains stopped refilling the pool. A stone segment of the wall on the other side of the pool shifted, revealing a doorway to a dark stairway leading down. Dror swam back to the surface and caught his breath. “Did it work?” he said.
They crept down the staircase, holding their breath against the silence. As they got deeper, the quiet was slowly replaced with a deep hum. They finally reached the bottom to find a room that had been carved out of a cavern, where the spring that fed the pool in the temple had also created a small pool in the center of the room. Hovering above the water was a glowing node of energy.
“What is it?” Dror said, slowly approaching. Valdimer grabbed his arm.
“Careful,” he said. “It could be dangerous. It appears to be some sort of portal.” There was the sound of lightning as if from far away, and the portal flickered.
“This must be what they're hiding,” Berit said. “But why? What does it do?”
“The better question would be, where does it lead?” Valdimer said.
“That is a question you will never have answered,” they heard from behind them. They turned to see Melantha standing at the bottom of the staircase with armed paladins moving in front of her. They pointed their swords at the three travelers. “I knew you would not be satisfied with my answer, but I wish you had not been so nosy. Children of Madoc or not, you cannot be allowed to leave here with knowledge of the Fountain.”
Dror drew his sword, Berit pulled out her dagger and crossbow, and Valdimer readied his rod, but he hesitated. The paladins weren't making the first move. He still wasn't sure if their intentions were pure or selfish, and he didn't want to fight anyone with the favor of a powerful god if he could avoid it. He darted his eyes around the room, looking for another exit, but the staircase was the only one.
Suddenly, they heard another voice on the stairs. “What's going on here?”
Melantha turned to see Laurence standing behind her. He looked like he had just discovered that his parents had been the ones sneaking candies under his pillow, not the magical gift faerie like they had told him. “Where did this room come from?” he said, then saw the portal. “And what is that? Why haven't you told us about this?”
Melantha stammered. “Laurence, you were not ready for this knowledge,” she said. The paladins guarding Melantha shifted, unsure whom they should be guarding her from. “It's all part of Luck's design for us.”
“Luck doesn't have a design!” Laurence said, drawing his warhammer. “If the church keeps secrets, how can I know what I'm really fighting for?”
Melantha started to respond, but Dror tackled one of the other paladins. Berit and Valdimer rushed by in the sudden confusion. Dror quickly followed as the paladins scrambled to stop him. Laurence stepped in between them and allowed them to run up the staircase.
“Quick!” Berit shouted. “There are more paladins on their way!”
They burst out of the temple and ran until they were out of the city entirely. They stopped at the side of the road to catch their breath, but then heard heavy, metallic footsteps drawing nearer. They hid among the trees, but saw it was Laurence who was following them. Valdimer stepped out of hiding and clapped him on the shoulder.
“I don't know what was going on there, I swear,” Laurence said. “They were keeping that thing a secret from me just as much as you. You have to believe me.”
“We do,” Valdimer said. “She called it the Fountain, but I've never heard of it. We're going to find our father and make him tell us.” They traveled a bit farther from the city before setting up camp to get what little sleep was left in the night. In the morning, they would head for Velsea, the city Melantha had mentioned was the last place where Madoc was known to be.
Monday, September 12, 2016
Glass and Roses, Chapter 12
Berit woke up to the sound of hissing and chanting. She groaned and tried to move, but her hands were tied to a pole. She was hanging from her hands and legs, being carried by two figures. One turned when he heard her awaken. He had the body of a man, but the head of a snake. He hissed and bared his fangs, then turned back to the path. Berit craned her neck to see Valdimer, Dror, and Laurence also captured.
They reached a large clearing in the jungle. Berit wondered how long it had been since they were ambushed. She barely recalled something jumping out of the bushes at her back on the road. How would they figure out how to get back? Berit shook her head, reminding herself that they needed to escape before they could worry about being lost. The snake people had stopped walking when they reached the center of the clearing, in which there was a circular pool of water about twenty-five feet across.
Great, Berit thought. We're being fed to the crocodiles. How typical. She looked over to see that Valdimer and Laurence were also awake and trying to analyze their situation. Dror was still dangling limply. He did always like to sleep in.
The snake people began a ritualistic song, and placed the poles so that the four victims were dangling fifteen feet above the surface of the water. "Okay, now would be a good time for a plan," she said, now that there were no spears being held to her throat. "Got any spells prepared, Val?"
"Yes, but I can't cast anything with my hands tied," he said.
"I've been praying since I woke up," Laurence said, "but Luck is a fickle goddess. I believe she will come through for us in the end, but it may not be as soon as we'd like."
The water stirred as the chanting grew more fevered. "We'd better come up with something soon," Valdimer said. "Before they serve the main course."
Berit wiggled her hand until it was straining against the binds, but pointed in the right direction. She then flicked her wrist in a way that unsheathed the dagger that was hidden there, and starting using it to cut through the ropes. "I'll be free soon, if they don't notice. Stall the crocs while I work."
"And then what?" Laurence asked.
"We'll figure that out when we get there."
She heard the surface of the water part below her. She started sawing faster, not looking down. It would only make her lose her focus. "Um," Valdimer said. "That's not a crocodile."
"I don't care about the difference between crocs and alligators," Berit said.
"That's not what I meant."
Berit sighed and looked down. Rising out of the water were four heads of an enormous hydra. It had glistening green scales and webbed spines, and four sets of long, pointy teeth. "I knew I shouldn't have looked!" Berit shouted, turning back to her binding.
"This is a good thing!" Laurence said.
"Are you mad?!" Valdimer shouted.
"No, listen, hydras like to play with their food! We have extra time!"
"THIS IS NOT A GOOD THING!" Valdimer said as one of the heads starting nudging him, drool dripping back into the water.
Berit freed her hand and her head fell backwards, as she was only suspended at her knees now. The snake people started hissing with displeasure, but they could not reach the victims now, and they did not want to throw spears for risk of hitting the hydra. Or maybe it was some part of the ritual that they couldn't interfere with the feeding, Berit didn't know. She tucked her body up, barely missing being chomped by the hydra, and fully unsheathed her dagger. She cut her final bonds with one slice, and stood atop the pole.
Three of the hydra's heads were focused on her now. She jumped from her pole as one shot up and bit down on it, splintering it in half. She balanced on Laurence's pole, and he shook his head. "Don't cut me, I'm still wearing my armor! I can't swim!"
"And I can't balance like that, I'd fall right into its mouth! Er, mouths," Valdimer said.
"What am I supposed to do alone?!" Berit shouted. She looked over at Dror, still somehow unconscious. She saw that his sword was still strapped to his back. She also heard an ululation from the side and quickly dodged a spear that was thrown at her.
Berit jumped onto Valdimer's pole, then Dror's, and swung down to dangle next to him. The hydra's eight eyes were all focused on her, ready to lash out. She grabbed the pommel of Dror's sword and yanked it out of its sheath. The hydra stretched up to gobble her down. She let go of the pole and dropped into the midst of its necks. She splashed to the water, and all four heads recoiled down to follow her.
There was a moment of thrashing in the water, and then silence. Then, Berit resurfaced, and three severed hydra heads bobbed up around her.
"That was very impressive!" Valdimer shouted. "Now what are we going to do about them!" The snake people were getting ready to slay the sacrifices themselves.
Berit grinned and rose from the water, her feet pushing open the last hydra's mouth as it tried to consume her. It moved higher, allowing her to jump off and land in the crowd of snake people. She brandished Dror's sword.
Dror eventually moaned and opened his eyes. He was sitting on the ground under the shade of a tree. He looked around to see that the clearing was covered with the bodies of snake people. Valdimer and Laurence were nearby, rubbing their wrists. “I knew Luck would come through for us,” Laurence said with a grin. Valdimer rolled his eyes.
"What happened?" Dror asked.
Berit smiled and handed him his sword. "Let's figure out where we are, and then I'll tell you."
Sunday, September 11, 2016
Glass and Roses, Chapter 11
Valdimer looked up from his desk when he heard a knock on the door. He put down his quill next to his magic rod and stood up to open the door. Hannah greeted him with a smile and a plate of warm bread, butter, and slices of ham. "Mum thought you'd be awake!" Hannah said. "She sees the light under your door before sunrise every morning. She thought you could use a proper breakfast for once!"
Valdimer chuckled. "Thank you! I sometimes forget to eat while I'm writing."
"There's more downstairs if you want it," Hannah said, and headed back down to the inn's kitchen. Valdimer started to close the door, but paused and changed his mind. He left his room and walked over to the next door. He knocked once, waited a few moments, then knocked again harder.
"Hey, it's time for breakfast! How late did you stay up?" he shouted through the door. He heard a low grumble from the other side, then heavy footsteps, before the door cracked open and Dror stuck a horn out. Valdimer gave him a goofy smile, and Dror rolled his eyes. "We haven't spent a proper day together in a while. Come on!"
"Let me get dressed at least," he said, closing the door again. Valdimer heard rustling and a swear, then the door opened fully. Dror blinked in the sunlight from the window at the end of the hall, but he had a small smile on his face. "Well, come on, get moving. Don't want it to get cold."
They arrived in the dining room. The inn was small compared to those they had stayed at in the past, but it was a small town that didn't see many passers-through, and so most of the rooms were usually empty. Hannah's parents had refused to allow the twins and Dror to pay for their rooms, saying that saving their daughters life gave them a lifetime stay if they wished. Valdimer still snuck coins into their chest whenever he could.
Dror sat down at one of the two tables and started gobbling down the ham, his face growing less drowsy-looking with every bite. "Say, where's Berit?" he asked through a mouthful of meat. "She's usually here in the morning."
"She's usually back by the time you normally wake up," Valdimer said. "Which would be in...almost two hours. But in the morning she likes to go to the archery range and practice. I don't think she's missed the bullseye even once, but she still seems to think there's room for improvement." He spread a large slab of butter on a slice of bread and took a bite.
"She probably just wants to stay in shape," Dror said. "I can understand that. You do the same thing, in your own way. But while she keeps her body in good condition, you focus on your brain." He tapped Valdimer on the head, and Valdimer laughed and pretended to shoo Dror away. "How's the memoir going, anyway?" Dror added.
"I'm trying to put as much detail in it as I can," Valdimer said. "Remembering the details of our battle with Mephutozim is challenging, however. Zhihao kept it from escaping while Hannah recited the binding ritual, and we protected them both from the lesser demons, but it's mostly just a blur. I was acting on reflex, since I thought we were as good as dead. But, if there's one thing I've learned on this journey, it's that a well documented history of your life can mean all the difference in the future."
Dror rolled his eyes and let out a bark. "That's your lesson? Not, I dunno, don't mess with demons?"
Valdimer smirked. "Our mother was able to use Folami's family history to find Hannah and manipulate her. If we had known more about our mother, we could have stopped her sooner. I suppose this information could be dangerous in the wrong hands, but it's better than letting anyone in the future be ignorant. There's just one thing I still can't figure out."
"Whuff dat?" Dror said, two pieces of bread in his mouth.
"She never explained what spell she needed from Mephutozim, or why she needed it. It must have been something powerful, if a demon was the only way to gain quick access to it. Summoning demons isn't easy, yet it was still easier than actually learning the spell she wanted. And she was afraid we would be mad if we found out. I'm just wondering if it had something to do with-"
The front door burst open, and Valdimer and Dror looked up to see Berit standing at the entrance, eyes wide as if she had just seen a ghost. "You need to come and see this, Val," she said.
He stood up. "What's going on? Is everything all right?"
"Yes, sorry, there's no danger," she said, looking over her shoulder. "It's just...someone just came down the road, and he's wearing the blue rose. Our family's crest."
Valdimer's brow clenched in confusion, and he quickly followed Berit out of the inn. Dror took a few more pieces of bread and ran to catch up. They walked to the stable, where a man in full plate armor was tying up his chestnut horse. He turned around when he heard them approaching. Emblazoned on the front of his armor was not just any blue rose, but the same symbol that hung from Berit's neck. His black hair was starting to grow gray around his ears. He gave the half-elves and devilborn nearing him a questioning look.
“Who do you work for?” Berit demanded. “Why do you bear that crest?”
“I'm sorry, I don't understand-” the man began, but Berit unclasped her brooch and thrust it towards his face. His eyes focused on the symbol it bore, the same one he had on his armor. He looked back up at them, more curious now than before. “My name is Laurence. I am a paladin of the Church of Generous Luck. We are a small, young order, but this is the symbol that represents us.”
“That is the symbol of our family, from our father's side,” Valdimer said. “But we haven't seen him since we were young. We are Valdimer and Berit Rhosynglas. Does that name sound familiar to you?”
“Yes,” Laurence said. “Madoc Rhosynglas, the founder of our order. So then, you are...”
“His children, yes,” Berit said. She looked at Valdimer. “I know you've been wondering the same thing I have. What was the spell Mom wanted from Mephutozim? Maybe Dad has the answer.”
“He abandoned us in the most vulnerable time in our lives,” Valdimer said. “Do you really think he'd care to help us now?”
Berit shrugged. “It's worth a try. Besides, knowing where he might have gone makes me want to find him even more. I have a few choice words to tell him.”
“Fair enough,” Valdimer said with a smirk. He turned back to the paladin. “Laurence, do you think you could take us to your headquarters? We would love to be...reintroduced to Madoc.”
“I would be honored to escort you,” Laurence said. “Madoc was an upstanding envoy of Luck, and if he wronged you in the past, I am sworn to make it up to you on his behalf. Unfortunately, you won't find him at our headquarters. I don't know where he has been for a couple years now. The high priestess might have answers for you, though.”
“Then lead the way.” Berit turned to Dror. “What about you, Dev? You're welcome to join us, but I won't blame you if you want to stay here where there's always fresh food and free rooms.”
“That there is,” Dror said. “But this place doesn't have anything to fight! I want to head out onto the road again.”
“The temple is in Abertswyth, a three weeks' journey from here,” Laurence said. “I just need to make another delivery in the next village over, and then we can head back.”
“Thank you,” Valdimer said. “Although I personally hope we don't come across any fights along the way."
Laurence chuckled for the first time since they met him. “Then you're hoping for a different road, my friend!”
Saturday, September 10, 2016
Glass and Roses, Chapter 10
“Mom?” Berit said.
Rebekka smiled. “Hello, Berry. Nice to see you again.”
Dror drew his weapon, but hesitated. “I thought we were chasing a mad demon summoner. She seems...sane.”
“Perhaps her calmness in the face of the danger she has caused is proof of her insanity,” Valdimer said. He drew his rod as well, and pointed it at Rebekka. “I wish I could say it's nice to see you, mother, but you have caused too much death for me to forgive you. We are here to stop you.”
The girl with Rebekka looked at her worriedly, but Rebekka stood her ground. “I have never intentionally caused death. I grieve for those who died because of my actions, but I did not summon the demons that now stalk me. I am cursed, Val. You have to believe me.”
Valdimer did not lower his rod. “I can't take that risk.” He charged a spell.
“Killing me will only make this problem worse!” Rebekka said. “If I die, Mephutozim claims my soul and gains a foothold in this world.” Zhihao gasped and moved forward at the name of the demon lord she was chosen to oppose.
“Aren't you already his foothold?” Valdimer said. Berit stepped up next to him and pushed down his arm. He looked at her angrily, but Rebekka made no move to take advantage of the situation.
Berit and Valdimer stared at each other. “She is our mother,” Berit said. “And I can tell she's telling the truth.”
“That doesn't make sense,” Valdimer said. “Why would she have come out all this way if she is being pursued by demons? How could she have escaped them so long if they are faster than she is? Her intentionally summoning them is the only conclusion.”
“You and your conclusions!” Berit shouted. “It doesn't matter what logic dictates, I know she is telling the truth by the sound of her voice and the look on her face. If you can't come to that conclusion, then there must be something you don't know, that you're not factoring in.”
“It was supposed to be just once,” Rebekka said. The twins turned to look at her. She wrung her hands, scratching at a scar on her right hand. “I called upon Mephutozim, without bringing him to this realm, and I made a foolish deal. I thought I could fulfill my end of the bargain and that would be that, but it got out of hand.”
“Why on earth would you resort to demons to cure your illness? We would have found the right medicine...eventually,” Valdimer said, although he didn't sound too convinced.
“It wasn't about my health,” Rebekka said. “It was for a much more important reason. I was never sick. The medicine didn't work because I spat it out when you weren't looking. That was one of the many lies I had to use to hide my activities, and I truly am sorry for it.”
“Then why?” Berit said. “Tell us!”
Rebekka laughed dryly. “If I tell you now, you might go back to wanting to kill me.”
“Would you deserve it?” Valdimer said. Rebekka simply shrugged, but her face was heavy with guilt. Then she looked up again, her eyes glistening with ardor.
“I have found a way to break the curse, though,” she said. She indicated the girl standing next to her. She looked to be only thirteen years old. “Hannah has the ability to help me. There's a loophole in my contract, and that is why I have evaded the demons. They cannot harm me, only chase me and wait until I make a mistake. And along the way, they will cause havoc to everyone around me. But I want to make it stop!”
Valdimer looked at Hannah. “What sort of ability is this?”
Hannah looked worried again. “I don't quite know,” she said. “But I saw the demons. Rebekka protected me from them. She wrapped herself around me, so that they would have to touch her in order to harm me, and they couldn't do that. She stayed with me until they left, and then we fled. She saved my life. If she says I can break her curse, I believe her.”
Berit nodded. “What are you waiting for then, Mom?” she said. “What needs to be done?”
“There is a sacred spot where Mephutozim was last banished by the demon hunter Folami,” Rebekka said. “That is where we need to go.” She smiled. “I don't think it is a coincidence that you found me as I was about to reach the end of my journey. I am glad you could be with me for it, children. Will you join me, or do you still not trust that I am telling the truth?”
Berit took a step towards her, then broke into a run and hugged her. Valdimer smiled, but his brow was still furrowed. He believed she was telling the truth, but thought there was still something missing. He looked over his shoulder to Dror, Zhihao, and Catarina. “I'm sure you must feel a little awkward at our family reunion, but please join us, in case there are any surprises.” They nodded and the group followed Rebekka as she led them up a tall hill.
“It is not much further,” Rebekka said as the path became steep.
“Do you care to share the details of your contract while we climb?” Valdimer said.
Rebekka shook her head. “I needed a spell that only a demon could provide on such short notice. Of course, not anyone can summon a demon at will, but my background in arcane rituals had already taught me what I needed to know to get started. Another secret I regret keeping from both of you.” She sighed. “I drew the circle, I wrote the runes, I chanted the incantation. Mephutozim appeared before me, but he could affect nothing. I asked for the spell without demanding it, as you are supposed to do, and all he asked in return was that if I were to die before casting the spell, he would be allowed access to our world, through my soul.”
“Then how did all these demons get here?” Berit asked. “Why have they been spreading chaos in your wake?”
Rebekka clenched her jaw. “I got greedy. I should have left it at that, but he offered more than I asked for, and I took his offer. In return, he requested a simple task of me that I thought would be harmless. Of course, it began a chain reaction that led to the breaking of a seal on a demonic prison, unleashing the first attack on Thaeril.”
“I thought you died in that attack,” Berit said.
“I thought I would too,” Rebekka said. “But Mephutozim had given the demons clear instructions not to harm me. I didn't know it at the time. I thought I had gotten lucky. And to try and fix my mistake, I made it worse by summoning him again. I asked to be protected from the touch of any demon. He agreed, at the cost that demons would always be able to find me wherever I was. I thought it was the perfect deal. They can find me as much as they want, I thought, since they can never touch me! I didn't realize the sheer number of demons that would seek me out and follow me, hurting everyone I got near.”
“You summoned him again, didn't you,” Valdimer said.
“Yes. Once more, months later, trying to break the curse. I made him promise that he would revoke every deal we once made and call the demons that run free back to his realm, if I would ensure he could not be banished again if he were to gain entrance to ours.”
“Wait,” Valdimer said. “You said he would only enter our world if you died before casting the spell he gave you. You haven't cast it yet?” She nodded. “Why?” he asked.
“It is too late,” she said, staring at the ground as she walked. “It is a story I will tell you one day. But if I cast that spell now, I am terrified of what will happen.” Valdimer and Berit both wondered what she could possibly fear more than the hordes of demons that stalked her and the demon lord that held her soul in the palm of his hand.
The group reached the top of the hill, where there was a large white stone. The sky was gray, the clouds heavy with the threat of rain. Warm wind tugged at the grass and caught Rebekka's hair as she brought Hannah to the stone. As they got close, they could see the symbol of Folami etched into the stone's surface. Rebekka stared at it, scowling in silence for a moment before she spoke. “This is the seal that guards Mephutozim's prison. This is where you come in, Hannah. I don't know if you are aware, but I found out that you are the last living descendant of Folami, the demon hunter who banished Mephutozim.” Hannah gasped.
“That explains why you were in Nangarth,” Valdimer said.
Rebekka nodded. “That is where Folami was buried, and where I could find information about his family tree. They wouldn't allow me to enter the mausoleum, but when the demons attacked, nobody noticed an old woman sneaking in to read some old scrolls.”
Zhihao spoke up. “You utilized the demons for your own gain? People died in that attack. If you had avoided the town, the demons would have followed you and they would still be alive.”
“I know that!” Rebekka snapped. “I did what I could to get to this point! And now we're here. Hannah, Folami made sure that if Mephutozim were to escape after his death, he could still be banished without the need for another demon hunter as powerful as himself. He branded Mephutozim with a powerful rune, that if activated, would send it back to Hell. Did your father teach you a chant before he passed?”
“Yes,” Hannah said in amazement. “He always sang this strange nursery rhyme to me. Even after I outgrew them, he insisted that I memorize this chant, and that he would one day tell me what it meant. I always thought it was just in another language, not a spell!”
“On their own, the words are meaningless,” Rebekka said. “But when spoken by a descendant of Folami in the presence of Mephutozim, they would activate his rune. If anyone else were to learn those words, however, it would have no effect. You, Hannah, are the last person that can banish it if he returns.” The wind howled a forlorn song, and the sun began to set somewhere behind the clouds. Hannah blinked, confused as to why Rebekka was looking at her with such sad eyes.
“Your contract,” Berit whispered.
Rebekka's hand that had been gently holding Hannah's arm clenched. Hannah tried to pull away, but Rebekka held fast. “It's you, or the world, Hannah. I have to make it so that Mephutozim cannot be banished.” She drew a dagger from the folds of her tunic. Suddenly, there was growling from behind them. Demons were circling the hill, and some had climbed up the path and were approaching. Dror, Catarina, and Zhihao started trying to fight them off. Valdimer and Berit rushed to their mother.
“What are you saying?” Hannah cried.
“I'm sorry, child,” Rebekka said. “You must die here for this to end.”
Valdimer grabbed her hand. “I can't let you do this. No way.” He glared at her, but was suddenly distracted by a demon that swooped down from the sky. It grabbed at him with its claws, neatly missing Rebekka, and he was forced to throw himself backwards onto the ground in order to keep his head.
Rebekka looked at the chaos that was starting as the battle raged. “This is the only way to stop this!” she shouted over the sounds of demonic roars. “I can't live this life anymore! I don't want to be the source of this horror! More will keep dying, everywhere I go!” She turned back to Hannah. “One innocent life in exchange for hundreds.”
“No!” Valdimer shouted, but more demons surrounded him, preventing him from reaching her. Berit was already firing at them with a crossbow in one hand, and cutting down any that approached her with a short sword in the other. Valdimer unclasped a vial from his jacket and threw it at the demons, sending a shock of electricity arcing between them and giving him time to reach Berit. “We have to stop her!”
“It could be our chance to get her back!” Berit said.
“Not at this cost!” Valdimer shouted back. “It makes us no better than the demons!”
“I...” Berit said, watching the demons surge up from every angle. They stood back to back, Valdimer slinging spells and Berit unleashing iron at any that dared approach. After so many months of fighting these monsters, they had grown into formidable demon hunters. Berit saw that the others were starting to become overwhelmed. She looked back at her mother, pinning Hannah down against the white stone. She saw Hannah's face, streaked with tears. Her mouth was screaming with terror, her eyes wide with fear.
“You're right,” Berit said. The demons were swarming every inch of the hilltop now, except for a tight circle around where Rebekka stood. They were crowded in between her and them.
Valdimer shot off another series of lightning bolts from his rod. “We can't reason with her! We've got to do what we came here to do!” Berit gritted her teeth, but it didn't hold back the tears.
Rebekka finally wrestled Hannah into a position she could hold her in with one hand. The other raised the dagger. “Let this be my repentance for my faults!” she cried. “Let this put an end to the madness! LET THIS BE THE END!”
She gasped as she was struck in the back by two bolts. One of lightning, one from a crossbow. She dropped the dagger and collapsed to the ground. It was another few seconds before she died. Berit and Valdimer could tell, because it was then that the white stone cracked in two, splitting the seal on its surface. The demon horde roiled into a frenzy. Hannah was nearly consumed, but the twins had already slain a path to her and kept the demons at bay.
The horde suddenly backed away. Valdimer and Berit looked at the stone to see a green claw burst from the ground. On the other side of the hill, Zhihao rose from the ground, light spilling from her eyes and hands. A deep voice thrummed through their bones. It said, I AM MEPHUTOZIM. LET MY REIGN ON CALEMOR BEGIN.
Friday, September 9, 2016
Glass and Roses, Chapter 9
Catarina stood up after examining the ground. “This is their trail, and it's fresh,” she said. “We don't have much longer before we have caught up to the bulk of the horde.”
Valdimer stood next to her on the hill, overlooking the rolling knolls and patches of woods. He pulled his hood up, unconsciously making sure the others couldn't see the longing on his face. “Are you sure this isn't another straggling group?” he asked.
Catarina gave a sharp nod. “The tracks all move in the same direction, and are spread over a large area. There have to be hundreds of them.”
“Where are they going?” Zhihao wondered out loud. Valdimer took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes with a sigh.
“We think someone is summoning them,” Berit said, understanding what Valdimer was thinking. “But we don't know what her purpose is.”
Dror stiffened and looked at her, remembering what he heard at the scrying pool. “It's your mother, isn't it?” he said. Berit nodded.
Valdimer started walking down the hill, and the others followed. He began to speak. “Almost six years ago, our mother seemed to be growing ill. She started acting strange, sneaking out and getting lost at night, forgetting simple things, and no amount of medicine seemed to help. I worked a trading post and Berit took assassination contracts to help pay for the debts we were acquiring. Then...” He trailed off, lost in memory.
Berit continued for him. “One day, I visited Val and our mother to see how she was doing. Val and I were not getting along, and our disagreements piled up into an argument. A loud one. We didn't noticed that Mom had left. When we did, we blamed each other, and stormed out looking for her. We never found her, but we saw what she did.”
“While we were searching,” Valdimer said, “the alarm was suddenly raised. Demons were killing people in the streets, out of nowhere. Berit and I split up...”
“That was the last time we had seen each other before we set out on this quest seven months ago.”
They passed through the shade of a small grove between two hills. Demons had definitely passed through the area, as told from the claw marks on the trees and dying plants. Life was starting to return, despite the corruption. A mourning dove called for its mate, and from far off it was answered. Small patches of green were sprouting up amongst the brown.
Valdimer let Catarina start to lead again. “We both figured out later that it must have been our mother who summoned them,” he said. “We found ritual supplies that she had hid in her room, and found out that she had been doing research on demons. She must have been seeking a cure for her illness.”
“I assumed she had been killed by whatever demon she had summoned,” Berit said.
“I didn't,” Valdimer said. “I knew she was still out there. Otherwise they would have found her body. Demons don't do much cleaning up after themselves.”
Berit smirked. “Neither of us went searching for her, anyway. But Valdimer made sure to pay attention to news coming from almost every town and village in the countryside.”
“And after five years,” he said, “it paid off. I heard of a demon attack believed to be caused by a summoner. It had to be her.”
Dror nodded. “I had never heard of demons breaking into this realm in such huge numbers. Another occurrence like that can't have been a coincidence.”
“I was skeptical at first,” Berit said. “Or maybe I just didn't want to believe it. But in the end, we're helping to stop the outbreaks, even if it's not her.”
“It's her,” Valdimer said, and stopped walking. Berit was about to walk past when she saw that Valdimer wasn't just being confident in his logic. In the grove ahead of them stood two women, one young and one old. They both turned to look at the five approaching adventurers.
Thursday, September 8, 2016
Glass and Roses, Chapter 8
Berit leaned on the door frame and tried to conceal her concern. “How is he holding up?” she asked.
Valdimer took off his glasses and wiped his brow. He shook his head. “He's not getting worse, but the wound has some sort of magical effect from the demon that inflicted it, and I can't identify it. I'm going to stay with him and make sure nothing changes.”
Berit looked at Dror, lying unconscious on the low bed. He hadn't woken up since he was knocked out by the demon twelve hours ago. Berit tried to say something encouraging, but faltered and simply left. She walked out of the ward where the guards who let them in the city had told them to tend to Dror, and found Zhihao and Catarina waiting for her. The birdfolk ruffled her feathers and stood to attention, while Zhihao only stared at her with wide, worried eyes.
Before they could ask, Berit relayed what Valdimer had told her. “Which means we will be in town for a while,” she continued. “Cat, do you have any way of knowing where the demons went? We were using our last clues to even find that forest.”
Catarina shook her head. “I do not. Our only option is to move east and hope we pick up the trail.” Berit nodded, noticing that she had included herself in the group. Berit had thought the warden would only care whether the demons were in her forest or not, but it seemed she had the ability to think beyond her home.
Berit clapped her hands together. “Then we've got to prepare for that. We can't lose another battle that badly. If Dror doesn't recover, we might be able to find more help, but we'll be losing his experience with us and against demons. We need better equipment.” She smiled. “It's time to go shopping.”
It didn't get the reaction she had hoped. Zhihao blinked and tilted her head. Catarina folded her wings and shuffled her feet. Berit put her arms around their shoulders and began walking them down the street. “Come on, don't give me that! We've got some extra gold, right? There are shops in this city which'll have enchanted armor, warding pendants, and maybe even some magical weapons for sale. Just ask around and we'll find something for each of us!”
“When you say enchanted armor,” Zhihao said, “does that mean I have to wear armor?”
“No,” Berit said. “You can keep your robes. Maybe you can find enchanted robes.”
“But that is not armor.”
“I...I know, I was just...You know, never mind.” She stopped them in front of a trinket store. The sign boldly proclaimed Raganthium's Rarities, the Most Unique Items for the Most Unique Individuals. “This looks like exactly the place we need!” She started walking inside, but Catarina stopped.
“They want us to...enter the building?” Catarina asked. “Is that the custom?”
“Yes,” Berit said airily. “You need to enter the building to see the wares.”
“Not unless they've invited us in, surely?”
“They don't need to invite us.”
“Then how do you stop someone from entering your home, if there are no social norms for these sorts of situations? I would not walk into a bear's cave without permission. I would get eaten.”
“The fact that it is a store is, itself, an invitation to enter,” Berit said. “There are no bears, only a man who wants to take our money in exchange for his stuff.” With that, she opened the door and walked inside. Catarina and Zhihao tentatively followed.
“Welcome!” said the man who must have been Raganthium. He was a blue-scaled dragonborn wearing tacky wizard robes. “Tell me if there's anything Raggy can do for you!”
Berit walked up to his counter and put on her best bargaining voice. “There certainly is! You see, we've run into some trouble lately and plan on getting in a few more fights with some monsters. We need something that can protect us in a fight, both from claw and magic. We wouldn't mind seeing if you had anything that packed a punch either. If you have anything in cloth, leather, or-Zhihao!” she shouted.
Zhihao had picked up a helmet from a shelf underneath a sign that said Do Not Touch. Raganthium let out a yelp that sounded like a puppy who had just been kicked and scurried over to the helmet. He snatched it from Zhihao's hands, put it back on the shelf, and pointed to the sign. “Can't you read?” he snapped.
“No,” Zhihao said.
It wasn't long before they were walking down the street again, empty handed. Berit's hands were balled into fists, and Zhihao and Catarina had to jog to keep up with her stride. “Let's try this one, then,” she said, entering another shop. “And stay by my side this time. Both of you.”
The shopkeeper was an elderly woman with strange tattoos on her neck that slunk down under her collar. She happily started showing them different robes and jewelry that had been enchanted to make the wearer heartier or harder to hit. She handed a pelt chest piece to Catarina, who turned it around in her hands and clicked her beak.
“This is despicable,” she said. The shopkeeper paused in the middle of her sentence to Berit about the runes on a particular amulet.
“I'm sorry?” the old lady said.
Catarina pointed to the fur. “This armor is made from a thunder bear.”
“Yes,” the shopkeeper said. “It is very tough and contains natural magic that will-”
“They are majestic beasts who should not be killed for such selfish purposes!” Catarina yelled, throwing the armor to the ground.
Berit put her head in her hands as they sat on the side of the road. “At least I got this before you had us kicked out again,” she said, fiddling with the amulet around her neck.
“We are sorry,” Zhihao said, and Catarina nodded. “We are just not used to...people.”
Berit sighed and tried to think where they should go next. Her thoughts were interrupted by a rattling sound approaching from down the street. She realized that the foot traffic seemed to have disappeared. She looked up and saw a man pulling a cart heading towards them. The cart was filled with swords, bows, arrows, hammers, necklaces, bracelets, rings, and more. Everything seemed about to fall off, but somehow stayed on the cart even when it went over a bump in the road. The man pulled up next to where the three women sat and turned to smile at them.
“Good afternoon, ladies!” he said. “It looks to me like you could use a bit of magical assistance. What do you need?”
Berit stood up and examined the wares. “Well, I'm looking for a set of leather, my friends wear robes and-”
“No, no, perhaps you misunderstood me,” the vendor said with a chuckle. “Tell me how much you are willing to spend, and I will provide you with as much as I can afford to give for it.”
“Will you let me finish?” Berit snapped. “I'm trying to tell you what we can use.”
The vendor smiled. “No need. Only tell me how much you are offering.”
Berit wrinkled her eyebrows. “Three gold pieces, twenty silver,” she said, starting low and expecting the bargaining process to start.
The vendor, however, simply nodded and started taking things off his cart. “For that I can give you this fine suit of leather, enchanted to make feats of acrobatics more achievable. For your friend, perhaps she would like these gloves that increase the impact of any punches delivered.” Berit looked over at Zhihao, surprised that he had guessed her fighting style. She almost interrupted to ask him how he knew that, but he had already continued to the next item. “And your avian friend might like this belt. It tunes the wearer to the spirit of the land around them, making them both harder to knock around and tougher to kill.” He handed it over with a smile, then held out his hand politely for his payment.
Berit looked at the items, checking to make sure they were real. There was no mistaking the aura of enchantment they each exuded. She looked back up at the smiling vendor. “What if I added in another gold piece?” she asked.
He grabbed a small item from his cart and dropped into Berit's hand. “Then I could add this magic ring. It will help keep the demons at bay,” he said with a wink.
Berit, Zhihao, and Catarina walked back to the ward with their newly acquired goods. Berit was still deep in thought, wondering how the vendor could have known exactly what they needed. She also wondered how he had disappeared so quickly. The crowd had suddenly returned when she had turned around to give the other two their items, and he had been gone the next instant. She pushed the thought from her mind and knocked on the door to the ward.