“You mean murdered.”
“She begged me. There were demons everywhere, flaying or desecrating the living bodies of her neighbours. Better at my hands than theirs.”
“Didn’t want another demon to have her soul?”
“Clever wizard! Alright, better to kill her myself than give anyone leverage.”
“I’m sure it was quick, painless.”
“Come now, even you don’t believe that. Vial after vial of bottled Agony. Sometimes they come to me in dreams, those rending screams; I haven’t found anything quite like it. And I’ve looked for a long time.”
Bliks dug her fingers into the stone of the tower, her eyes watering as she stared into the setting of the Worldwound bloated sun. It was the same feminine voice from before, from Irabeth’s house, nestling in beside her ear like a reclining lover. The thought made her retch.
Still she stood away from her travelling companions, mindful not to let any Scrying see more than just her, and far enough that their exchanged whispers were not overheard. The sagging of her mood lingered on, keeping her from summoning the winds that kept her company, that held her aloft.
“Please, call me Areelu. Bliks is it?”
“Bliksemani Volgeling, witch.”
“Don’t they call you that too? The Androffan Witch of Numeria? Besides I’m far more than just a witch now.”
“What do you want?”
“To talk my dear! It’s refreshing to talk to an esteemed colleague.”
“You tried to Dominate me.” Bliks gritted her teeth at the memory.
“And you resisted, so no harm done! How could I truly know I was in such company without an incy, wincy, little test? But you didn’t pass on your own, did you? That Shadow Demon was right, wasn’t it?”
“My mind, my soul is my own.”
“Surely you jest!”
“I am not in the habit of trading gibes with the likes of you.”
“Such hostility! But I suppose it’s understandable, as I succeeded where you failed.”
“I defeated my enemies. Destroyed them. Them and the nation that birthed them. Ground it into a gruel and fed it to Lord Deskari’s horde. Sadly, too few knew it was me.” The voice seemed to pout.
“You haven’t defeated the Crusade.”
“The Crusade? They oppose me, but I have no enmity towards them. Oh no, my enemies died with Sarkoris. You, all arcane spellcasters come to think of it, should thank me.”
“Thank you … thank you? You’re a monster who allies herself with demons!”
“Come now, be reasonable! How long did that prison, Threshold, stand? Where was Cayden Cailean? Arshea? Taraksun? Even Desna? Gods all, and yet none raised a finger at our imprisonment. Only Lord Deskari heard my pleas for freedom. Only he had the strength to break my bonds. And for what was I imprisoned? Not magic alone, as those snide druids would flaunt their powers to awe those Kellid simpletons, but arcane magic, magic they couldn’t use, didn’t trust, but wanted to yoke like any beast of the field.”
“You say I have not defeated my enemies, but the Technic League has been crushed, the tribes that opposed us in the Sovereignty Succession have been driven back, and I didn’t need to destroy Numeria to do it!”
“I suppose you think I should have focused on the Acolytes of the Green Faith? A weed does not die if you cut off its bloom. Tear the root from the ground. Scour the earth. That is why I rest easy at night when you toss and turn. Mark my words, the Kelllids will turn on you, abandon your reforms, smash your slaves. They are an obstinate people whose base nature sullies everything they touch.”
“Is this the fate you wished to have? For your name to be cursed, for the blood of millions on your hands?”
“Better to be cursed and remembered then thanked and forgotten. When you drove your mechanical Androffan slaves along the Dagger and Seven Tears rivers, wiping out encampment after encampment of Blood Gars, did you not create fanatics who still curse your name? When word got back to Starfall, were not the whispers behind your back now tinged with respect born of your power?”
“They are not my slaves Areelu! The League may have treated them as such, but under our rule, they are free.”
The voice chuckled, “thank you for being so familiar, Bliks.”
Beneath newly formed threatening clouds a light bloomed. The signal. Somewhere in the Gate District Marilictor Volso was discarding the now useless flare gun and locking his horrific helm in place. Seconds later a rising shout announced the start of the assault. Bliks grinned and waved to the air, casting Mind Blank, cutting Areelu’ Scrying off.
Eryno, still pointing to the drifting red flare, turned towards the hatch that would lead them down the tower and out into Old Kenabres when Hex caught his shoulder. “Wait.” Looking first to his Sovereign’s hand and then face, Eryno wrinkled his brow then looked down.
“But Hex, the longer we wait, the more will die. Wasn’t surprise the plan?”
“My Crusaders will do their duty, even if it means death friend. The plan was to clear a path to the Gray Garrison. So they must be drawn out and there’s nothing better to draw out the demons than moral deaths,” Irabeth explained. “If you wish, you can join me in prayer, for those who have fallen and those who will.”
Bliks walked to the others, returning Hex’s nod. About her companions she set the components she would need, marked out the space with a wide circle of runes, focusing her thoughts on the spells she had prepared hours earlier, drawing them out so only a word would finish their incantation. All the while Irabeth and Eryno knelt, hands clasped over the hilt of Radiance, its golden blade shimmering in the failing light of day.
“I will have faith in the Inheritor. I will channel her strength through my body.”
“I will shine in her legion. I am the first into battle, and the last to leave it.”
“I will never abandon a companion, though I will honor sacrifice freely given.
“I will not be taken prisoner by my free will. I will suffer death before dishonor.”
Hex slipped on a pair of Green keyed VeeMod Goggles his back to the two praying warriors. From their tower they had a clear line of sight to what remained of Clydwell plaza and the Gray Garrison on its western edge. A great rift had consumed not just the Cathedral but also many of the buildings bordering the plaza and those that it had not, demons had torn to pieces. Little was intact in Old Kenabres.
The Gray Garrison itself was a small building that could have been mistaken for a manor house in any other setting. It also had the look of a church with an offset nave poking through the roof, all stone construction and not a window in sight. Even the roof was stone, mostly flat but where the third floor rose, peaked across its length. No demons were visible.
And so they waited.
The injured sun dipped below the horizon and the brightest lights in the sky started to appear. Bliks hesitated in calling these points of lights stars, as she did not recognize the shifting constellations and smears. The stagnant air reminded her more of being inside than standing on the tallest remaining tower in the city.
Hex’s word broke Irabeth and Eryno’s repeated affirmations. Irabeth drew out a telescope while Eryno took the VeeMod Goggles and worked quickly. “I count … five dozen humans? And a dozen dogs and demons.”
“Probably tiefling and human cultists,” Irabeth added.
“There’s a squabble and … one less cultist. I’d guess half the group is heading out?”
Hex turned to Bliks, “Cylex?”
She held up a finger, casting off the spells she had prepared and then said “Cylex. Eryno, are you ready to have some fun?”
Outside the disgusting human building the guards milled about as one of them continued to rifle through the belongings of the one who had questioned Faxon’s orders. Their bodies moved jerkily, as if they had forgotten how to walk properly, while their bloated limbs strained their clothes, skin taut like a drum. Telepathically they shared lewd humour or complaints about being forced outside. Between them they wore no armour but carried primitive, wicked pole arms.
From the shattered road their cultist allies had marshalled out came a wisp of a figure. One of their number barked something in Abyssal at the figure that could be interpreted in half a dozen ways but was then silenced when it got jabbed with a scythe. Waddling to the fore was a man with thinning hair and a heavy horseshoe moustache, both silver but speckled with blood. A single boot was crammed on a bulging foot, while he wore a red and gold cape over torn matching finery.
“Prelate Hulrun!” the waif called out.
“Yes my child? Have you come to unburden your sins?” the obese man replied, his voice thick like his cheeks were packed with food.
“I worry for your health, you seem to have gained a few inches.”
“Fear not! I have longed for this day, when I could grow fat on the gifts of Desakri. Perhaps you have come instead to turn yourself over to him as well?”
“First I need to know something.”
“What is it my child?”
“Of all the elemental powers, which do you fear the most?”
“Rovagug’s bolts from the sky, with their peals and crashing.”
Bliks nodded and from her fingertip a bolt of lightning jumped the space between them, cutting through the man and a handful of his compatriots behind him. He just laughed as his scorched skin cracked and split, shedding to the ground in strips. Freeing itself from those remains the four tailed worm like creature continued to deeply chortle like a frog.
“Only a fool tries to use that on a child of the Outer Rifts. Now I will wear your skin!”
Tilting her head Bliks fired off a second spell and now lightning stretched along the front lines of the assembled Vermleks which was matched again by uproarious laughter by unharmed demons. The blocks of Cylex secreted into their lines by an Invisible Eryno, felt the charge pass and added their roars to the laughter. As the Androffan explosives detonated sending bodies and parts of bodies flying in every direction.
From the shell of a nearby building the other three travellers rushed down the street to join their wizard. Eryno carried the critical Rod of Cancellation strapped to the inside edge of his shield, letting Irabeth take the lead to the door. From a side pouch Bliks pulled a pair of Androffan Grippers and slipped the head into the gap between the doors after confirming they were locked.
“Sorry, I know it’s a museum,” she said as she reversed their action, snapping the lock free.
As they charged in, they quickly surveyed the foyer. Its mural had been defaced with blood and feces, but the clattering of arms and raised voices in Abyssal from a side room was quickly silenced after Eryno loosed a pair of Concussion Grenades. The debris from the room was caught up in the travellers’ Fickle Winds spell.
“Here, through the shrine,” Irabeth led.
As they raced through the next room, she staggered at the sight of the altar covered in blood, but quickly recovered, “Iomedae will be avenged for this insult.” With a snarl she slammed her heel against the door to the stairwell and it cracked open. The spindly and pathetic Dretches stationed there looked up from their game in time for Radiance to end their lives.
A red skinned horned man blocked the top of the stairs, shouting. Bliks grabbed Irabeth’s shoulder before she stormed up, leaving Eryno and Hex to their bloody work. The retort of Hex’s revolvers added to the ringing from the earlier grenades but body after body tumbled down the stairs, Eryno shoving them out of the way as he steadily made his own ascent. Mounting the blood slick stairs after them, Irabeth crossed the hall and tried kicking the door there. Following her and then peering around a corner, Bliks saw a handful of cultists hastily stuffing sheaves of parchment into a small chest. Spreading her fingers, Magic Missiles struck them dead.
A crash signalled Irabeth’s success and as they entered the room Bliks was thankful for the Fickle Winds in place of her usual breeze, as she was sure the smell would have otherwise made her gag. A handful of bloodstained white robed zombies stood in a circle, the poor men having had their bellies cut open to fill the basin they surrounded. Again Radiance blazed in Irabeth’s hand, ending their defilement.
Sealing the door behind them with a Hold Portal, Bliks quickly followed the others mounting the final set of stairs. This vestibule had mirrored alcoves housing bent and broken armour, previously held in pristine honour. The room stank of unwashed bodies and the fine carpet was scuffed and burnt in places.
Ahead was the reliquary room, where captured cultists had revealed under Charm Person that entry was punished by death. In council this, combined with the concentration of demonic forces at the Gray Garrison, was the agreed upon hiding place of what might remain of the Kenabres wardstone.
Its door swung open and a bitterly sultry voice called out, “come in my honoured guests!”
‘Areelu Vorlesh’ Bliks sent to the others who caught her eye and nodded. Irabeth again led the group in, all eyes scanning for traps or concealed opponents.
Sitting across from the door was a ravishing beauty. She lounged in a chair, one of her finely painted nails playing with a tassel that drooped between her nearly exposed breasts while the other waved cordially. Her red dress clung to her form with a wide cut out exposing much of her chest, blending from a near sheen at her shoulders to a black flame pattern at her bare feet. When a sinuous tail wrapped itself around her tattooed legs, her other alien features suddenly became clear. Horns curved back from her forehead and behind the chair rustled a pair of leathery wings.
Her form silhouetted a great egg shaped cage, in which floated a lightly glowing spire of cracked stone. Above the cage floated a foot long perfectly smooth purple cone of crystal, it’s point down towards the remnants of the wardstone behind the bars.
Standing, the succubus bowed, her eyes not straying from the drawn weapons of the travellers. “Your majesty! Had I known I would be welcoming such a prestigious guest, I would have prepared a better welcome.” She fixed her gaze on Bliks, “your Magister failed to announce your presence.”
After a silent beat she smiled, tilting her head and continued, “well Bliks? Will you not introduce us?”
“I am not your servant, Areelu.”
“But those in my service do find it ever so … pleasurable. And I would say I too would find pleasure in you, Eryno. Your … physique is remarkable.”
Irabeth stepped forward, levelling Radiance at the woman, “step aside, foul demon, and you may be spared this day. Refuse and you will be sent screaming to your just reward.”
“Tut tut Irabeth. I speak with those beyond your station.” Languidly she reached out a finger, resting it atop Radiance’s golden blade, her flesh searing under its holy power. Another broad smile without a twitch of pain spread across the demon’s face. “You are also beyond your depth.”
“Submit Areelu.” Hex said, his voice level and hard.
Bringing her seared fingertip up to her mouth, she licked the already regenerating wound then tapped her lips. “I think not,” and in a flurry of motion, flew up and away from the travellers.