Sunday, September 4, 2016


Glass and Roses, Chapter 4

The swoop of wings. The scratching of claws on wood. Anabelle's feet pounded but she had to keep running. She dodged trees, desperately searching for a sign of the road she had lost. A mucousy hiss sounded behind her, and there were suddenly talons tugging at her back, grabbing onto her shirt. She screamed.

Then the thing was thrown sideways by some bolt of energy. Four figures stepped out of the shadows. A man wearing a leather coat and small round glasses lowered a smoking magic rod.

"Are you okay?" Valdimer said.

"Yes," Anabelle replied. "Thank you! I don't...What was that thing?"

Berit had walked over to the creature and bent down to examine the body. She nudged it firmly with her crossbow, but it didn't move. She shot it twice in the head anyway. "Definitely a demon," she said as she stood up.

"Then we're on the right track after all," Dror said, looking sideways at Zhihao. She still wore her robes and cloak, which looked several sizes too big for her. She didn't seem to notice that Dror had implied anything.

Anabelle brought the travelers to her home of Nangarth. Berit looked around at the houses of the small village. Windows were boarded up or broken, large fires were kept lit so that even during the night everything was visible, and on almost every roof crouched an archer staring warily at the surrounding forest. Townsfolk eyed the newcomers with open suspicion, so Berit tried to give them a friendly wave. She then remembered the dagger she had strapped to her wrist and put her arm down.

A small group of men approached, and for the first time since entering the village they met a smiling face. The man had gray hair, but was not old enough that he couldn't move quickly and confidently. He looked at Berit and Valdimer like a ringleader would look at his audience. Or, Berit thought, like a lion would look at the ringleader.

"Welcome to Nangarth!" he said. Valdimer, Berit, and Dror all looked at Zhihao this time, who allowed one corner of her mouth to tilt upwards. The old man continued, "My name is Zedeth, and I'm the town's mayor. We're glad to have adventurers visiting us in this dark time."

"Oh, we're not adve-" Valdimer started to say, but Berit cut him off. "Everyone who lives here seems to be quite on edge," she said. "What exactly is happening?"

"We were recently visited by a woman who claimed to be a demonologist," Zedeth said. "She wanted access to our mausoleum, claiming it was for her research, but when we refused she revealed herself to be a demon summoner and has been attacking the town day and night for almost a week. She was a human around my age, with short gray hair and a nasty scar on her right hand."

Valdimer visibly tensed, recognizing the description of their mother. Berit remained composed. "Do you think she is nearby, then?"

"Yes. In fact, you can see where she's set up camp at night. She doesn't try to hide it. When any of our warriors get close, they are assailed by demons. We've lost five good people already. No one can leave the town and nobody has come to our aid. That is why we are so glad to see you!"

Valdimer stepped in. "Did she mention exactly what it was that she wanted to study in the mausoleum?"

Zedeth shook his head. "She seemed to think she'd know when she saw it. I'm glad I refused to allow her access. There are historical relics in there that she might have defiled with her witchcraft."

“Let's take her out then,” Dror said. The mayor started to thank them, and rushed them to the edge of town, where he pointed to a pinprick of light on a hill amongst the trees. Valdimer grumbled, but Berit led them towards the camp.

The kept on high alert, but no demons came to attack them. It wasn't long before they had arrived at the base of the hill, the moon glowing down at them from a cloudless sky. Berit was the first to walk up the hill. She tried to hide her shaking hands. She saw the shape of a woman standing next to the campfire and almost froze. This was a moment she had been dreading for over half a decade. She reached forward and put her hand on her mother's shoulder...

...The scarecrow tipped over, and with a horrible ululation the demons were upon them.

The first monstrosity charged Zhihao, who dropped into a fighting stance and reached forward when it was within her grasp. Her hand touched it's chest, and the demon hissed as its skin burned. It flopped away, rolling into a heap at the bottom of the hill. Dror swung his sword at the next wave, while Berit and Valdimer fought at range, Berit with her crossbow and Valdimer casting spells. A demon with bat wings and three rows of long, sharp teeth jumped onto Dror and knocked him to the ground, but Berit shot it between where it's eyes should have been and it sagged enough for Dror to throw it off him and chop off its head.

After a furious twenty-second battle, the forest grew quiet again. Dror turned to the others with a smile, always happy after a successful fight, but saw the looks on Valdimer and Berit's faces and didn't speak. Without a word, the group headed back the Nangarth.

They were brought back to the village meeting hall, where Zedeth was discussing battle plans with some of the veteran militia. When he saw the group returning, he dismissed everyone and looked at them eagerly. “Well? Did you find your mother? Did you get rid of her?”

Dror grumbled and kicked a chair to the floor. “It was a decoy,” he said. “She sent demons to attack us as soon as we discovered she was not there.”

“Ah, that's too bad,” Zedeth said. He began to pace around the room.

“If I may offer our services,” Dror continued, “I would like to help defend the town until we find out where she is hiding. If the others do not agree, then I will gladly stay here myself to assist.”

“Of course we'll stay,” Valdimer said, looking to Berit to confirm. She was staring thoughtfully at the table. Zedeth paced behind her.

Zhihao turned to Zedeth and reached out. “We are sorry we could not have ended your trials already,” she said, putting a hand on his shoulder.

Zedeth screamed with pain, dropping the dagger he had secretly drawn.

Berit swung her arm up, revealing she also had pulled out her dagger. “We didn't tell you that she was our mother,” she said, and leapt at Zedeth.

Zedeth swung his legs and parried Berit's attack aside. “How foolish of me!” he said mockingly. The elder's skin split, his eyes bulged, and where a man once stood, there was now a hulking demon. Smoke spilled from its nostrils. It grew until its horns scraped the ceiling.

“He's been possessed!” Valdimer cried.

“The whole time, likely,” Berit said as she dodged an attack. “He's been attacking the town, and set up the campsite for us to be killed. Death is all fun and games to a demon.”

Valdimer started hurling spells and trying to conjure wards around the four of them. Zhihao unleashed a fury of punches and kicks, each one sizzling as it touched the demon's skin. It flapped its wings and thrust out its three-jointed arm, hitting Zhihao in the stomach and sending her sprawling to the ground. Dror joined the fray, slashing with his sword to draw the creature's attention. The demon took a few hits, then knocked Dror's sword out of his grip. It raised its hand, ready to crush the devilborn.

Berit jumped on its back and plunged her dagger into its throat. The demon screamed again, and this time it didn't sound remotely human. It thrashed, hurling Berit into the wall, then slumped down and stopped moving. The body immediately started turning into ash. The doors burst open as townsfolk who heard the commotion were coming in to help. Valdimer went to explain what had happened and assure them that the demon's attacks would soon stop now that their leader was slain.

Zhihao checked herself for injuries and found no major ones. She then crawled over to Berit's body, grabbing for a bloodroot potion to cure her wounds. She turned Berit over to find the half-elf smiling. Blood trickled down her head, but she was otherwise unharmed. “Never lose track of an assassin in a fight,” she said with a chuckle.

<< Chapter 3, Scry

Chapter 5, Relic >>

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