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Demon Eye - Part Three

Author: 
David Simpson (MacShimes)
Old Vault Category: 
fanfiction
Old Vault ID: 
388

“There are perhaps a dozen amulets in existence, including yours,” explained High Priest Boodin impatiently as we strolled around the grounds, “It takes the better part two years to make one and there are perhaps half a score of us with the ability to do so.”



We walked through the grounds of the Parm temple, which had virtually overnight become the headquarters for anti-demon activities. Boodin had been busy in our absence; according to my instructions he’d begun coordinating a resistance amongst the populace. The expansive grounds were currently housing close to a hundred souls, with more arriving constantly. Tents were neatly set up on one side - courtesy of one of the mercenaries we’d appropriated to manage such things - another area was for cooking and another for weapons training. It seemed people had had quite enough of demons.



“All right, so much for plan A,” Erin said firmly. She had obviously been thinking of a better idea.



“What’s plan B?” I asked.



“The Rite of Banishment.”



“Our friend Damut destroyed it,” I pointed out, “Makes it a bit difficult to use.”



“Yes, but it was previously the property of the ancient priesthood of Quat - he said so.”



“So?”



“Soooo...” she said, as if explaining that water was wet, “They must have read it don’t you think? Something that important? Hells, it was probably required reading. At the very least they would’ve dusted it off once the demons started throwing their weight around. Right uncle?”



“Hmm, yes,” Boodin said, “I would certainly think, sink, plink so. Though I’m not sure how many copies they could have made in the time permitted them. Remember that some of them welcomed the demons.”



“The Quat priests who didn’t return to the temple,” I mused, “They wanted the ruby because…”



“Its part of the Rite,” Erin continued my thoughts, “They needed it to complete a new Rite of Banishment. They might be arrogant bastards but they’re not so corrupt as to accept demon overlords… some of them anyway.”



“You’d think they would’ve just explained that and asked nicely.”



“One of the drawbacks to being an evil priesthood I suppose,” Erin said, “No one trusts you. You though, uncle Boodles, should have come clean right away.”



She looked at the high priest of Parm reproachfully and Boodin reddened. “Yes, well. You know how it is Erry. I mean, its not as if we could do anything about it had we told everything we knew, could we?”



“Not to mention you didn’t want to join your counterparts on the gallows,” I said jumping to my feet, “Alright, so we need to find some priests of Quat.”



“And steal the ruby... again,” Erin pointed out.



I sat back down with a sigh.



“There’s something else,” she said, earning questioning glances from Boodin and me.



“Damut had the scroll,” she said, “The original Rite of Banishment.”



“Yes?”



“Well, why didn’t he destroy it a long time ago? Why wait until then?”



“I suppose he didn’t want to risk it falling into our hands,” I said, thinking the explanation sounded a bit weak. It had seemed a bit odd to me as well.



“Yes, but why hold onto it at all?”



I had an epiphany, or rather I caught onto Erin’s.



“Whoever held it would have the power to send them all back! It was a threat!”



“Hahzak was the subject of the statue,” Erin pointed out, “That scar was obvious. But he deferred to Damut.”



“Yes, yes,” Boodin chipped in, “Hahzak was the leader the first time round. Round, round, grab the crown! It was he that was summoned, but he somehow managed to drag the others along with him. Quite a surprise for old Kopp according to the records.”



“Damut held it over them!” I said, “He used the scroll to force them into accepting him as leader! They couldn’t risk killing him for fear of what he might’ve done with it... whose hands it might fall into.”



“But with the ruby in place and us standing in front of him he didn’t want to take any chances.” she smiled a small, nasty smile, “Damut would be in a much weakened position if his friends found out it’d been destroyed.”



“You know,” I said with a matching grin, “I’m glad I’m on your side.”



#



We spent the next day preparing. We had to put together a team and formulate a plan to get back the ruby. We also had to collect as many amulets as we could, find a virgin, capture a priest of Quat, and learn the Rite of Banishment.



I volunteered to find the virgin.



“Right,” scoffed Erin, “She needs to stay a virgin. Putting you in charge is like putting a fox in charge of egg collection.”



“That’s unfair,” I protested, “I’m simply volunteering for what will very likely be the most difficult task, given the morals of the Geshettans I’ve met so far.”



“Oh fine,” Erin snorted, “I’ll round up the volunteers.”



Surprisingly, virgin hunting wasn’t as difficult as I’d imagined it would be. Soon after the word had gone out a rather hefty young woman named Toola was brought forward by one of the soldiery. She had bad skin and, effectively, a single bushy eyebrow which seemed to be perpetually contracted in a scowl. She wasn’t exactly the nubile young priestess I’d imagined but appearances suggested her qualifications were good. The soldier fidgeted nervously as he introduced her and left as quickly as he could. It seemed he’d left the pertinent question to me.



“Yes, well. Toola,” I said with a little cough, “I suppose you’re wondering what’s going on?”



Toola simply frowned questioningly at me. I looked around helplessly for Erin but there was no sign of her.



“Well. It’s like this... We have this Rite of Banishment, you see? Or at least we will have once we get a priest in here. The thing is that this Rite involves some components. Several of them in fact. Grass and tears and... well… we sort of received some hints from one of the demons and we thought you might help us out... possibly that is. Possibly. Given that you... uh... fit the description.”



“What?” She had a surprisingly high voice.



“Well, uh... this is a bit awkward but... are you by chance... I mean have you ever... been with a man?”



Toola’s eyes narrowed and she looked me up and down as if I were a freshly strung deer that she was planning on butchering. I could almost hear the strain behind her eyes as she came to the wrong conclusion. She suddenly smiled coquettishly and blushed.



“Oh,” she said with a little giggle, “I thought you were with the bald lady.”



My mouth just flapped for a moment.



“Ah. No! I mean, yes. I am. Definitely am. No, it’s this Rite you see. If you haven’t been with... a man... then you might help us out with it. Sort of pitch in a bit.”



“What?”



The confused scowl was back. I took a deep breath.



“We need a virgin’s blessing.”



The strained look came back while she worked that out. When the blush returned to her face I blew out the breath I’d been holding.



“So are you...?” I asked.



“Well, it depends...”



That wasn’t the answer I was looking for. Nor was it a concept I quite grasped.



“More of a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ question, isn’t it?” I said uncomfortably.



“Well, I haven’t actually been with a man, as such...”



Oh merciful gods.



“...but I have this hairbrush...”



“All right then!” I said quickly, “No men! Perfect! Just fine! Tell you what... let me get back to you on this Toola. Thanks so much for your time.”



I ushered her out in a rush then dug out a bottle of something alcoholic. I decided that discussing the specifics of virginity with a young... maid... should be better left to my female partner. After a few solid pulls at the bottle I went to track her down.



I found her pacing up and down in front of a line of naked men.



There were six of them, all young, muscular and bearing the scars of seasoned warriors. They were decidedly uncomfortable, but for one fellow who was smiling widely at the various camp ladies who’d begun gathering at a not too discreet distance.



He had quite a lot to smile about.



“No need to be embarrassed gentlemen,” Erin was saying to her charges, “Have to be sure you’re ‘up to it’ after all. Ha ha. Can’t have you running for cover the moment your clothes burn off, can we?” She was happily looking over each of the men, pausing to take a closer look periodically while slapping a thin baton she carried against her thigh.



“Ahem,” I coughed.



“All right,” she said without looking around, “You’re dismissed for now. We’ll reconvene here tomorrow morning after breakfast. Jerdo, make sure you bring that brother of yours you mentioned.”



The smiling man nodded and threw her a wink. The other men scrambled for the clothes piled behind them and, under the tittering gaze the impromptu audience, scrambled to pull them on.



“Interesting inspection method,” I observed as she turned to me.



She grinned back and shrugged. “No sense in being shy. Did you find a virgin?”



“Sort of.”



“It’s sort of a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ question.”



“That’s what I thought. I need you to make a ruling.”



“Ah,” Erin raised an eyebrow, “That sounds unwholesome. Well, let’s wait until we get the details of the Rite. Or is there a chance she might have a change in status anytime soon?”



“No chance.”



We decided to check in with Boodin, who was in charge of rounding up more amulets. He didn’t have good news.



“Four,” he said despondently, “Four eggs in a nest, three were rotten one was best! Including yours. We may have one more coming in this afternoon, assuming young Grundle makes it back in one piece.”



Erin and I looked at each other. It had taken two of us to wound one demon. Four against four didn’t seem like particularly good odds.



“There are only twelve amulets in existence,” Boodin explained, “The owners are scattered all over the place. Three are known to be so far away as to be useless. Three more have been lost for years. We have people out looking for the other two, but Leisha is long overdue. Grundle is expected back today.”



“We’ll need to improve our odds somehow,” I said.



“How?” asked Boodin.



“I don’t know yet.”



“I only had six volunteers,” said Erin.



“Before or after you made them strip?”



“Alright, nine.”



“Still not enough. Its not just the demons remember. There are all their sycophants as well. We need a Plan.”



“We’d better start drinking then,” Erin said seriously.



“Agreed. Boody, lets have the amulets. We’ll need to demonstrate their effectiveness for our demon fighters. Any word on a Quat priest?”



Rounding up a priest of Quat had turned out to be problematic since they were being heartily lynched by anyone who could get their hands on them. Boodin just shook his head and sighed as he handed over two more amulets. Erin and I still wore ours around our necks.



We walked back to our tent, settled ourselves and opened a bottle of rather expensive wine that Erin had liberated from someone. I found a battered tin cup which she filled for me while she drank from the bottle.



“This plan better be good,” she said after a brain lubricating swig, “The demons know how the amulets work. Our volunteers might be invulnerable to fire, but they’ll be extra vulnerable to regular weapons. Four fighters aren’t going to buy us a lot of time.”



“Two,” I amended, “We’re not going back in there without these things on our own precious selves. Let’s start with what we have to do.”



“Alright. One: Get into the temple.”



“Two: find the ruby.”



“Three: put it back. Again.”



“Four: perform the Rite of Banishment.”



“Simple,” Erin said, “Except that, one: they know we’re coming, two: they know we have the amulets, three: they’ll have hidden the bloody ruby, four: we don’t know what the Rite of Banishment is, and five: we’ll be outnumbered a bajillion to four.”



“Don’t be so pessimistic,” I said, prompting her for a refill, “We must have something going for us.”



“I’m cute and you’re witty.”



“There you go! See? Two advantages already.”



“Damut.”



“No need to swear.”



“No. Damut. The demon leader,” Erin said thoughtfully, “The scroll.”



“Right!” I remembered, “He was holding it over the others... we think. Now that it’s gone we can... what? Tell the other uglies? Start a demon civil war?”



“Or recruit Damut,” Erin suggested slyly.



“Extortion! I like it! But wait. We’re counting on a Quat priest having made a copy or knowing the Rite by heart. Won’t the uglies have come to the same conclusion?”



“They didn’t strike me as being particularly smart,” Erin observed, “Why else would he have held onto the scroll unless he thought it was the only copy? Of course, he might be right.”



“Bah! More pessimism! Let’s assume they’re as stupid as they are ugly.”



“Alright,” she agreed, “He’s an idiot. What can we extort from him?”



“That,” I said thoughtfully as I held out my cup again, “Is a very good question.”



#



“You know, I kind of like it,” she said.



I grinned and held her back at arms length, slowly letting my gaze travel over her shiny-slick body. After two bottles of wine we’d decided that a bath was called for so we’d commandeered a high ranking priest’s private chambers. The tub wasn’t really big enough for us both, so we stood in it with the water to our knees and washed each other. I slid my hands down her shoulders, across her flanks, her stomach, stroking every inch of her unnaturally smooth skin.



It’d been two days since our fire immersion and we’d quickly found that the novelty had worn thin in direct proportion to the growing discomfort as our hair began to grow back. It was worse for me of course but I had temporarily solved it that afternoon with a demonstration of the amulets effectiveness for our potential demon fighters. It went over spectacularly well, with plenty of dropped jaws and gasps of astonishment, and left me naked and smooth as a babe once again. I noticed however that Erin was suspiciously stubble free as well, so I asked her how she’d managed it.



“Well, I must admit there was a certain…” she said with a hint of embarrassment.



“Rash?”



“Tenderness. So I sort of had a fire bath.”



“Really? How?”



“The kitchen has this huge fireplace. I shooed everyone out and cleaned up a bit.”



I grinned at the mental image of Erin scrubbing herself in a roaring fire while terrified cooks peeked through a door. “I suppose we’ll have to let it grow back eventually.”



“I’ll wait until I have very little moving around to do, thank you. Besides, if we’re just going to get blasted again why bother?”



We were silent for a bit as we continued our mutual ministrations then, just as things were getting interesting, Erin broached another subject.



“Why are you doing this?”



“Well… I’m a man and you’re a woman…”



“Not that. Keep doing that! I mean all this? The demons. Everything. This isn’t your responsibility and the promised rewards can’t seem sufficient anymore?”



Women. Here we were naked in a tub, glowing from several cups of very good wine, and she wanted to talk. I had to make a conscious effort to reengage my mind which had removed itself to considerably lower regions.



“Oh, I don’t know. Bad judgement I suppose.” I tried to keep the moment going and was rewarded as she took over the washing duties, though with a somewhat absentminded air.



“Seriously.”



What did she want me to say? That I was an incorrigible criminal? I liked stealing things? That I revelled in doing things no other man, or woman for that matter, could do? That, at the end of things, I did what I did simply because I was extraordinarily good at it? And oh, by the way, that I was intoxicated with a certain bald headed thief?



So I told her.



When I spoke my last justification, Erin stopped what she was doing and I had a panicky feeling that I’d said something wrong, but when I opened my half closed eyes I saw she was smiling and her eyes looked distinctly watery. I assumed that was a good thing, though I admit to almost a complete lack of understanding where women are concerned. It was. We soon resumed our explorations with an even greater gusto and there was little more talking for the rest of the evening.



#



Grundle showed up the next morning. He’d failed to retrieve the fifth amulet, but did have a skinny young fellow strapped across the back of his horse. The man was ragged, dirty and looked to have been sorely abused. He wasn’t wearing priestly robes, but Grundle asserted that he was in fact a priest of Quat, having shed his garments to avoid prosecution.



After a cursory cleanup the unfortunate fellow was deposited in front of Erin and I, who received him in our large, comfortable tent. Drinks and a plate of fruit were served and we endeavoured to play the polite hosts in contrast to the treatment he’d so recently received. It was a chore made difficult by the hangovers we both nursed as well as the fact that he was a surly little bastard.



“Let’s start with your name,” I said.



“Go bugger yourself,” the fellow said, stuffing a purple berry into his mouth.



“Tell me your name or I’ll have the guards stuff all that fruit into you the wrong way.”



“Brother Pinker,” he said, quickly putting down the fruit tray. So much for polite.



“You’re a priest of Quat.”



“No.”



“You just called yourself Brother Pinker,” Erin pointed out, causing the man’s eyes to dart about nervously.



“It’s a nickname,” he finally said.



“Look Pinky,” I said with a hint of impatience, “We went on a bit of a bender last night,

alright? So I’m in a bad mood and she’s worse. Don’t make me use that melon.”



“If I was a Quat priest, and I ain’t sayin’ I am, I’d be pretty stupid to admit it wouldn’t I?” he said, “I mean what with the hangin’s and beatin’s and general downturn in our popularity.”



“In normal circumstances I’d have to agree,” I said, “But as it turns out we don’t want to kill you.”



“Yet,” added Erin helpfully.



“We need the Rite of Banishment,” I said.



“Never heard of it.”



“Let’s have Jerdo drag him behind a horse for a while,” suggested Erin.



“Oh THAT Rite of Banishment!” Pinker suddenly remembered, “Well, I heard of that of course. Not that I’m admittin’ anything mind you!”



“Of course not,” I sighed, “How about this. You’re friend was a priest of Quat.”



“Ooh that’s good. Yeah! My friend told me all about it.” He winked at us, conspirators in his new alibi. Erin muttered something under her breath.



“Great,” I said, “We need to know how it goes.”



“What?”



“The bloody Rite, you arse-clenching goatherd!” Erin yelled, though she immediately regretted the outburst and cradled her pounding head in her hands.



“Well, how in the name of Quat am I supposed to know that?” replied Pinker.



“Didn’t you, your friend I mean, ever learn it?” I asked, “What about when the demons appeared? Didn’t copies get made? Passed out to the whole mucking priesthood?”



“Well sure,” Pinker replied, drawing a short-lived sigh of relief from me, “Most everybody read it. But I mean, who paid attention? The lower ranks just clean out the dungeons and do the baking and whatnot, you know? We expected one of the high and mighty’s to put ‘em back proper.”



There was a silence as Erin and I digested this information. Brother Pinker took the opportunity to scarf down some more fruit.



“You actually read the Rite,” Erin finally asked, “But you don’t remember it?”



“My friend read it,” Pinker said with a smug smile.



It was the wrong thing to say. Erin was of her chair and onto Pinker in a heartbeat. After a moment I pulled her off him.



“Not the head dear,” I said, “Don’t want to damage what little’s in there.”



Erin stumbled back to her chair and snapped at the guards who’d poked their heads in to see what the ruckus was about. They quickly retreated as I leaned over the curled up form of the priest.



“Just a suggestion Pinky,” I said, “But you may want to try and jog your memory.”



“My memories leakin’ outta my head!” Brother Pinker said in a muffled voice.



“No, that’s just blood. Don’t go anywhere.”



I returned to my chair and turned to Erin, who was chewing a fingernail.



“He’s read it, so it’s in there somewhere,” I said, “It’s just a matter of extracting it.”



“Right. You hold him and I’ll beat him.”



“I was thinking of your uncle, actually.”



“He couldn’t beat a rug.”



“Think more magic, less blood.”



“You think uncle Boodles can cast some sort of spell to get this worm to remember?”



“I saw a priest do something similar once. Or was it a mage? Worth a try anyway.”



“All right. But if it doesn’t work…”



“Boody and I will both hold him,” I assured her.



#



The overdue Liesha showed up that evening. She was battered and road worn with a story to make a strong man quail, but she had an amulet.



That made five.



#



The plan started to come together. We had almost one hundred fighting men at our disposal; volunteers, mercenaries and a contingent of soldiery donated by the city. Geshetta didn’t have a heavy standing military, but the few dozen trained soldiers were likely to make a huge difference.



Lord Hammis, the man in charge of the city, tried to foist his senior officer on us but Erin and I disliked the man at once. We chose instead one of the mercenaries, a heavyset woman named Skeena but whom everyone called Squeezer for reasons I decided I would rather not find out. Between us, we decided a diversion was the only way – the appearance of a frontal attack with as much force as we could muster. Squeezer estimated Quat would be able to field about the same number of bodies as us but most would be farmers and tradesmen, with a few dozen priests thrown in. Militarily we were far superior. The priests were a bit worrying but we thought we’d be able to negate them with our own Parm volunteers. The flies in the ointment were the demons. We assumed at least two of them would take the field.



Which meant if we actually attacked, we would probably lose. Badly.



The plan then, hinged on our forces staying out of range for as long as possible while garnering as much attention from the Quat-ites as they could. We’d have the priests work some spells and the soldiery lob some arrows, without actually encouraging the enemy to do much about it.



We broke down the plan into its parts.



Number one: Get into the temple. This was possibly the easiest task. Not that it wasn’t going to be difficult - the Quat temple had already suffered two incursions so we could probably count on the place to be crawling with heavily armed men - but I was supremely confident in my abilities in this particular area. The distraction of our mob would cover an entry into the temple from the opposite side. We had a complete layout courtesy of Brother Pinker and had chosen a spot where at best we’d only need to deal with a single lookout.



Number two: find the ruby. This was problematic. Where would they have put the thing? We were talking about demons here and we simply had no idea as to how they might think. Would they hide it? Guard it? Hold it themselves?



“The scroll,” Erin finally said, “Damut produced the scroll, remember? Where did it come from?”



“He wasn’t carrying it at first,” I said.



“No. So where was it?”



“Doesn’t matter,” I decided, “The point is they’ll put the Eye in the same place.”



“Agreed. But not they. One of them.”



I thought about it and realized Erin was right. The demons didn’t seem to be a cooperative bunch. The question was: which of them grabbed it?



“I’m betting on Damut,” I said finally.



“Why?”



“He and Hahzak were the only ones that saw the Eye back in place. We chased Hahzak out but Damut left the room beforehand. I’ll bet he didn’t go too far. Having destroyed the scroll, he’d lost his leverage over the others. The Eye would make a good substitute, don’t you think?”



Erin nodded. “So much for extortion.”



“Extortion is always a viable option,” I grinned, “You just have to turn it in the right direction. We have to offer Damut what he wants.”



Erin frowned and thought hard. After a moment she grinned as well.



Number three: put it back. Again. Assuming we could pull off number two, that shouldn’t be too hard. See number one.



Number four: perform the Rite of Banishment. This was the difficult bit. Boodin had been able to extract the Rite from Brother Pinker’s slightly damaged skull as I had hoped however there was a catch - several of them in fact. Firstly, we needed an ordained priest of Quat. We had that in the form of Pinker but the twist was that he needed to lay hands on the Eye. Meaning he was going in with us. Ditto for the virgin. I shuddered at the image of us hauling Toola over a wall and creeping through a temple crawling with warriors, priests and demons. Not to mention that all those bodies seriously depleted our amulet supply.



It was, in fact, something of a show stopper. Even as predisposed as I was to brilliant plans, I could not imagine any way to drag an obnoxious priest and a portly virgin into the temple. I inventoried everything we had and went over everything knew a dozen times.



Then I finally smiled.



We had the order wrong.



#



I went in alone this time. Erin clambered up after me and took the place of the newly unconscious lookout on the east wall. She looked cute in the oversized helmet and kissed me good luck before I dropped into the courtyard of the Quat temple. It was the hour just before dawn and there were shadows aplenty to conceal my entrance but the yard was very crowded. Ramshackle tents and lean-tos were scattered everywhere and the air had a redolent stink of open refuse pits and unwashed bodies. Despite the hour many people were up and alert; cooking, cleaning weapons or just chatting quietly. I was wearing a genuine Quat robe so I abandoned the shadows and strode into the throng with authority.



I made my way directly to the nearest door to the main temple complex, steering clear of anyone that looked remotely like a priest. The conversations I overheard along the way mainly involved the small army camped outside to the west. We’d timed it so that our people had arrived in the dark, making as much noise as possible to conceal their relatively small number. The mood of the Quat mob was tense and excited, but far from panicked. Still, the distraction served its purpose as most of the soldiery were arrayed to the west side. They were a motley seeming bunch, I noted, with only a handful of real soldiers amongst them.



Getting into the temple proper was easy enough. Every door was guarded but I simply walked by without a word and was not accosted. Inside was a little different. As I’d expected, heavily armed guards roamed the hallways. I also assumed that, where they did not, the traps Erin and I had dealt with previously would be restored.



I stopped and thought. I had the layout of the temple in my head, courtesy of Brother Pinker, but had no idea where the demons would be making their home. I didn’t like my chances just wandering around since my disguise wouldn’t stand up to close inspection by a priest.



So I asked for directions.



I waited at the first intersection of corridors I came to and waited for a few minutes. The pair of guards that finally turned up were clad in patchwork armour and carried spears. They gave me no notice until I spoke, then they came to a clanking stop and regarded me with the blank stares of the terminally unimaginative.



“Excuse me,” I said pleasantly, “Could you tell me where Damut is?”



#



The sun was up when I re-entered the little glade in the east forest. The dew on the grass sparkled like diamonds where the new sun managed to break through the canopy. Jerod, Pinker and Toola all looked up at me expectantly; the latter two with a goodly amount of apprehension. Toola was sweating and Pinker didn’t seem able to stand still. Jerod simply nodded tensely and shifted his longsword to his other shoulder.



“Well boys and girls, everybody ready to meet a demon?” I said cheerfully.



Toola’s eyes went even wider and Pinker closed his eyes and muttered something. Jerod just snorted.



My cheerfulness was a sham. I was as nervous as the rest, perhaps more so. I’d stood face to face with Damut not a quarter hour ago and had managed to convince him not to fry me outright, which had been my biggest concern. Luckily, he was every bit as conniving as we’d hoped and he’d listened to what I had to say. I’d thought long and hard on what we had and what Damut wanted, but in the end I’d crossed my fingers as I made the offer.



An offer which basically boiled down to giving him Geshetta.



It was really quite clever; I’d congratulated myself at the idea’s inception. What Damut wanted was power; so I’d serve it to him on a silver platter. We had the Rite, he had the Eye. What need to waste our time fighting one another? Together we could send Hahzak and his buddies back to their prison, leaving Damut to rule uncontested. Not only that, I’d throw in the priesthood of Parm as well - or rather throw them out. Their role in the original summoning was a perfect tool for blackmail and I produced a signed promissory note from High Priest Boodin stating that they’d vacate the lands around Geshetta as long as they were assured that 1) Damut alone would rule and act in a relatively benign manner and 2) Parm’s role in the original summoning would never become common knowledge. The icing on the cake was that such a move would leave the weak ruler of Geshetta, Hammis, in an untenable position. He would be forced to capitulate and I humbly offered my services as intermediary in those negotiations.



Why, the mistrustful demon had asked? Why would I do this? Because the current situation was so much worse, I answered. Far better a thinker like Damut in charge than a brute like Hahzak. Humans were adaptable creatures, after all. As long as Damut promised not to eat everyone, or burn the place to a cinder, they would quickly accept the situation. After all, would the common man’s lot really change? Of course, I’d also want compensation for my services. My pick of the spoils once we took Geshetta was a good starting point. Perhaps a position of power as well… Advisor to the Demon Overlord had a good ring to it. Greed was something Damut well understood.



The demon had swallowed it like a shark. Oh, the wheels turned in his head to be sure; he wasn’t stupid, after all. He asked questions. Who sanctioned this offer? What exactly did ‘benign’ mean? And how was it we had not burned, as Hahzak had reported?



I bargained earnestly. The idea was mine, I admitted with a touch of pride, but the main players would go along. ‘Benign’ basically meant not killing anyone unless there was good reason. Finally, I revealed the amulets and promised to hand them over, except mine, once the deal was consummated.



The carrot of power, mixed with my obvious and admirable greed, won him over. He’d agreed to meet outside the temple and lend the Eye to the performance of the Rite. There was no restriction, as it turned out, as to where the Rite was performed. The sanctified jewel would simply have to be returned to the temple to complete the exorcism, which Damut himself would do, retaining it afterward of course as insurance. I would stand hostage while the Rite was performed - to ensure the name of Damut didn’t slip into it. I would then treat with the Geshettans, securing a truce. We’d arrange for some appropriate hostages, and I would oversee Parm’s immediate departure from the area.



The rule of Damut would begin.



#



I did not, of course, intend to honour the bargain.



I wasn’t about to let Damut leave the glade alive, let alone give the Eye back to him once we had it. I didn’t know much about demons but I was pretty sure they were at least as untrustworthy as thieves, so I didn’t feel too badly about the deception.



The time crawled as we waited wordlessly in the forest. Eventually our patience was rewarded as a shadow in the trees suddenly resolved itself into the form of Damut. He had approached with unnerving quiet and I found my skin prickling as I turned to meet him, even though I’d just recently stood in his presence. There were sharply indrawn breaths behind me and a squeak that I assumed came from Toola, though it may have been Pinker. From the corner of my eye I saw Jerdo moving to one side, sword held low and a grim look on his face.



The demon stood tall in the dappled sunlight, looking for all the world like a burned corpse come to life. His skin was a mass of weeping boils and reddened scar tissue, set over muscles like taught ropes. A predatory gaze took in everyone as it swung round the glade; coal black eyes set in ravaged sockets lingering on each mortal for an instant.



“Damut,” I greeted him, “Shall we do this?” I gestured to a small blanket set out by Pinker. It looked like an impending picnic, with various containers arranged on it.



“The amulets,” the demon grated; his voice was like claws on stone.



I laughed, but it was a sound without humour. “Once the Rite is complete. Not before.”



Damut looked around and his gaze lingered on Jerdo, whose typically cheerful disposition was conspicuously absent. He looked back at the demon unflinchingly, though his posture was as tense as a drawn bow.



“You will throw down your sword,” Damut ordered. I nodded and Jerdo complied. The demon then turned his attention back to me. “You will kneel in front of me. You will die first if my name is spoken.”



I simply nodded and moved to comply. Such precautions were not unexpected. I knelt with my back to him and sensed him step close. The faint aroma of burnt meat came to my nostrils.



“Priest,” Damut ordered, “Take this.”



Pinker jumped and his eyes widened at what I expected was the Eye suddenly produced in Damut’s hand. I’d seen the trick before but could not see the jewel from my vantage. Pinked gulped and approached. He quickly reached out to retrieve the thing and skittered back to the blanket. I then saw the extraordinary ruby once more as it was placed in the middle of the blanket. The deep red of its surface seemed to absorb the sunlight, making it almost black. The life in its heart was still there though; a flickering, like distant fire.



Without preamble Pinker knelt on the blanket and pulled a piece of parchment from his robe. It was the newly scribed Rite of Banishment and he moved his lips as he read it for the hundredth time. No one rushed him. Eventually he put it down and reached to the assortment of containers. He began mumbling words as he extracted the first contents and sprinkled it on the Eye. Surprisingly, the little man seemed to become calmer as he worked.



Aside from Pinker’s mutterings it was completely silent in the glade. Even the birds seemed to have deserted the place. After a few moments Pinker had worked through the various components and he turned to Toola. He reached out a hand but she hesitated, looking wildly at me. For a heart stopping moment I thought she would bolt, but I nodded with what I hoped was an encouraging look and she took the priest’s hand. He placed her hand on the ruby, now covered in grass and tears and other things, and prompted her to say her words. When she was done he released her and she stepped back from him as if from a precipice.



Pinker then looked up at us. His face was unnaturally calm and I must admit I was a bit unnerved by it.



“Javik,” he said in a clear voice and Damut voiced a low hiss.



“You are banished,” Pinker said and waved a hand across the Eye. All eyes were drawn to the ruby. Its flickering heart seemed to steady and become clearer.



“Lamaxas. You are banished.” Again the wave and again the ruby responded. It seemed to pulse now, like a beating heart.



“Hahzak,” Pinker said, and I could feel Damut behind me. Heat seemed to be emanating from him. “You are banished.”



The Eye was aflame now, throbbing in time to an unheard rhythm. Pinker looked back down at the ruby and shook himself. He slumped a bit and took a shuddering breath. When he looked up again it was with an astounded air.



“It’s done,” he gasped, “Only needs to be put back to finish it.”



That was the key to my plan. The Rite didn’t need to be performed in place. The stone simply needed to be prepared then returned to its resting place. I had supreme confidence in my ability to get into the temple one last time and do so. That would take care of Hahzak and the other two demons.



I was pretty sure Jerdo and I could take Damut.



My hand slipped to my waist where I’d concealed one of the several daggers I’d secreted about myself. They were thick bladed things but narrow; made for punching through armour. My move would be Jerdo’s signal. Damut had to go down quickly lest we drew attention from the temple. I tensed in preparation, a suitably witty remark prepared upon my lips.



Then suddenly, the entire glade erupted in flame.



#



“Hahzak!” Damut screamed. Rage and terror were commingled in his voice.



“The Eye! Get the Eye!” someone screamed. I realized it was me.



Everything in sight was aflame, including me. My clothes were gone in seconds. It as if we stood in the midst of a roaring campfire, shrunken to the size of insects. It was terrifying, even though I’d been through it before. I could only imagine what the others were feeling. Then suddenly, through the fire and billowing black smoke, strode Hahzak.



Where Damut was a monster, Hahzak was something else. He was tall and hideous; every inch of him aflame, but he stood as a god amongst sheep. His chest was thrust out and his arms thrown back; flame dripped from his fingertips and streamed from his mouth like vomit. His single eye burned yellow as fired gold. I had the sinking feeling I’d not seen him at his best the first time we’d met.



“BETRAYER!” he roared, and it was the howl of a thousand stentorian voices raised in anger.



Something rushed by me and I watched in amazement as Damut, wreathed in red flames, rushed at Hahzak. They collided like colossi, slashing at each other with talons and spewing fire. Where their claws struck true black, burning blood erupted from the wounds. Their screams tore at my ears. I watched the spectacle in amazement, unsure of what to do.



Then another figure entered the fray. Jerdo.



He was as smooth and naked as a newborn but for the amulet swinging wildly round his neck. His sword ran with fire as it slashed at Hahzak’s unprotected back. The demon screamed as it scored deep. Hahzak threw the grappling Damut from him like a child and spun, slashing at his new tormentor who jumped back out of reach. Damut landed heavily not ten feet from me but rolled and came to his knees, spitting black blood. He shook his head then rose and stalked slowly back toward Hahzak, his entire form rigid with deadly purpose. Meanwhile Jerdo had reengaged, twisting his blade through the air in a deadly dance. Hahzak parried with leathery forearms and steel-like claws. The demon did not give any ground though and wounds began to appear on Jerdo’s chest.



I finally roused myself from my stupor. My knives were in my hands but I hesitated. Who should I attack? The plan had been to kill Damut, but with Hahzak here was he now the greater threat? The Eye would take care of him after all.



The Eye.



I spun and raced to where I thought the Eye had been. Though it was only a few feet from where I was I could not see it until I stumbled on the site. Pinker crouched there, gibbering and newly scourged by the fire. He clasped the Eye in his hands. I dropped a knife and grabbed him by a scrawny arm, dragging him bodily toward another naked form curled upon the ground.



“Toola!” I yelled, “On your feet!”



Her fire bath had actually improved her looks somewhat, some perverse part of my brain noted. She looked at me in terror but did not move. Cursing I dropped my other knife and pulled her along as well. I dragged them both to the edge of the fire, angling abck toward the battle, but to one side. We’d collect Jerdo and race back to the temple, I decided. Let the demons beat themselves to death. If Damut survived, we’d deal with him once we’d banished the others.



Monstrous forms suddenly appeared through the flame; their bodies writhing like dancers seen through silk curtains. I pulled Toola and Pinker close.



“Run!” I yelled, “To the temple wall! We’ll be right behind you! And don’t let go of that rock Pinky!”



I thrust them from me and leapt back into the fire, intending to grab Jerdo and pull him out of it. As I came near though, disaster struck. Hahzak, beset by both Jerdo and Damut, was fighting like a mad thing. Gouts of flame issued from him, engulfing everything, and he struck madly at whoever came in range. The two circled Hahzak as if by unspoken accord, looking for openings for blade and claw. Then, as I came within an arm’s reach, one of Hahzak’s talons caught the chain about Jerdo’s neck. The amulet was ripped from him.



Jerdo screamed. His body went up like a funeral pyre, flames reaching three feet above his head. I stood stunned for an instant then turned my back on his writhing figure and ran.



The screams of the demons and the dying man echoed in my ears.



#



We met Erin halfway back to the temple. She jumped into the path as we came barrelling along it and stood with a crossbow at quarter arms and the too big helmet still on her head. We came to a skidding halt, our chests heaving. Toola collapsed upon the ground and began to sob.



“Bit cold out to be running around like that, isn’t it?” she said.



“Jerdo’s dead,” I replied, killing the banter.



Erin didn’t reply but just closed her eyes for an instant, as if remembering the man. When she opened them she was all business. I gave her a quick run down of events and she took charge.



“There’s a bunch of Quat-ites right behind me. A demon too. Your handiwork is visible from the walls. I had to scamper out of there. Come on.”



She took charge of the Eye and began to lead the way, straight toward the temple. Pinker leant an arm to Toola as she struggled to her feet.



“Won’t we bump into them?” I asked.



“Yes. Tie yourselves together with this rope and try to look panicked.”



Well that wasn’t a problem. I thought I saw how Erin was going to play it and helped to tie Toola, Pinker and myself loosely together. We continued jogging along the trail, Erin in the rear and a moment later ran head on into another demon. This one was at the head of a dozen armed and armoured men. It was every bit as ugly as Damut and Hahzak with the added bonus of a ragged hole in the middle of its face where its nose should have been. It smouldered as we came to a halt in front of it and for a moment I thought it would simply fry us where we stood. We’d survive that of course, but the other weaponry pointed in our direction would have little problem getting through our overly exposed skin.



“Hahzak and Damut are fighting!” Erin yelled before anyone could speak, “Parm-ites in the forest! Going back for reinforcements! Quick! They need help!” She roughly pushed us to the side of the trail so that the soldiery could get by.



To our great relief the demon sprung forward down the trail, leaving everyone behind in an inhuman burst of speed. So much for old Damut, I thought. The leader of the human contingent however was a bit more inquisitive.



“Who are these?” he asked. His eyes lingered a bit on Toola’s naked form and she blushed while trying to cover herself with her hands.



Erin spoke in clipped tones, as if she was accustomed to her orders being obeyed. I didn’t think she had a chance at pulling it off, given that her outfit was several sizes to big for her and her slight form was anything but military in bearing. Still, the Quat-ites were a ragtag bunch and the man didn’t seem overly intelligent, just curious.



“Prisoners. Hahzak burned ‘em naked. Want’s ‘em for later. Spare me a couple of men? I need to get ‘em back and get some reinforcements out there.”



The man looked at her appraisingly for a moment, but there really wasn’t a lot going on behind his eyes.



“Burned ‘em naked eh? Didn’t know they could do that. Handy. Kipper! Pokes! You’re with her! Rest of you, let’s go!”



He waved an arm and an instant later they were gone. One of the soldiers reached out to pinch Toola on the way by. She squeaked but her face flushed with something like excitement. Kipper and Pokes stood to one side, spears levelled at the ‘prisoners’. As soon as the main contingent was out of site I slipped the rope off and Erin tossed me a knife.



“Here! What are you doing?” Kipper, or it may have been Pokes, said.



Erin levelled her crossbow at them.



#



Getting through the small east gate worked in much the same manner, save that I was now dressed like a Quat-ite irregular. Toola had taken the other set of clothes and set out for the Geshettan lines, with instructions to have our forces make as much ruckus as possible. There was still one Demon unaccounted for and I wanted him on the walls rather than wandering around the temple.



Pinker was still tethered naked to a rope.



“Why me?” he muttered for the thousandth time as we marched him across the courtyard.



“Quiet worm,” Erin said loudly, and gave him a solid backhand slap.



“Ow! Hey!”



“You heard her dog,” I chimed in, “Shut your hole.” I gave him a whack on the back of the head for good measure.



We marched the grumbling ex-Parmite straight across the wide, busy courtyard. The intent was to take him into the main temple, on Hahzak’s orders of course. It was working quite well too, until a high pitched voice arose from the throng.



“Pinker? Eustasius Pinker?”



A tall, thin man pushed his way through the crowd in front of us and blocked our way. Erin and I did not even slow, but simply pushed our way wordlessly past him, dragging Pinker along with us. The man however simply fell into step.



“Oh this is too rich,” he chuckled, “They’ve caught you! I told you you’d be for the gallows Eustasius!”



“Enjoying it, are you Belfries?” responded Pinker testily, “Careful you don’t pee yourself. Or is that only at night?”



The man reddened. “That was you, you bastard! You put my hand in that bowl of water!”



“Ha! So I did! And I’d do it again too!”



“Goat kisser!”



“Spanking boy!”



The exchange had me wondering about the after-temple activities of the Quat brethren when Belfries suddenly reached out a hand and grabbed my shoulder. I shrugged it off but had to acknowledge him, still surrounded by the crowd as we were.



“Wait! His ropes! He’s not even tied properly! What… what’s going on here?”



We were only a few steps from the main doors now so I simply shoved Belfries into the crowd.



“Back off!” I yelled loudly, “No one touches the prisoner!”



Erin jerked Pinker forward, hurrying him last few steps, but the guards at the door had noticed the commotion and moved to block our way. Then, before anyone could speak, there was uproar at the west wall. Bowmen loosed; shouts of men and the clatter of metal rose above the general clamour of the yard.



The Geshettans were attacking.



“Fools!” I hissed, “They weren’t supposed to actually attack!”



One of the guards turned his head to look at me suspiciously and I saw Erin slip a dagger into her hand.



Then an explosion blew through the courtyard.



The small side gate we had entered on moments before was suddenly blown inward in a gust of flame and boiling steam. Fragments of wood and stone flew through the air and people fell to the ground all round it; knocked senseless, bleeding and dying. Through the debris and dust two tall figures could be seen striding through the ragged opening.



“Run!” I yelled. Erin and Pinker didn’t need any encouragement. We shoved the staggering guards aside and bolted through the door, into the building. A howl burst out behind us that was answered by another, then a third. The sheer fury in those monstrous voices made my blood run cold.



We careened through the halls, Pinker’s scrawny form in the lead, making for the temple room. Guards we passed were busy running in the other direction, toward the fighting. We yelled out encouragement to them as we went by. We had to stop only once at a solid looking door. Pinker indicated a sigil written on it and muttered some words. Behind us the sounds of pursuit closed horrifyingly fast. The door abruptly swung open and we went through, but Pinker hesitated on the other side, continuing to mutter.



“Come on!” I shouted, but he ignored me. I realized he was resetting the ward.



“Go!” I yelled to Erin, “We’re right behind you!”



She took off and a few heartbeats later we followed. Ten more after that we heard a sound like frying bacon and an unearthly scream. Pinker hooted.



The temple doors were suddenly in front of us. Erin was there as well, hacking at an armoured guard with her daggers. His partner lay on the floor with a crossbow bolt protruding from his chest. I entered the fray like a charging bull; there was no time for subtlety. I slammed the man against the wall and he went down with my knife in his ear. I grabbed his shortsword and followed Erin into the temple room, Pinker hard on my heels.



“You get climbing,” I said to Erin breathlessly, “We’ll hold them off!”



“We?” squeaked Pinker, “What dy’a mean we?”



“Cast a spell. Spit on them. I don’t care!”



Erin threw me a look over her shoulder as she laid a hand on the statue of Hahzak, but there was no time for words as the doorway was suddenly filled with the figures of three demons. She leapt up and began climbing.



The demons slowed their rush and stalked into the chamber, fanning out as they came. Hahzak was in the middle with the nose-less one to the left. A shorter, stockier pile of ugly was to the right – he seemed to have a network of fresh welts crisscrossing his torso. Steam issued from all of them and their chests heaved. The one on the left noticed Erin first. His eyes narrowed and he drew a hand back, ball of fire suddenly appeared in his palm. I shouted out a warning to Erin as the ball of flame streaked across the intervening space. It ripped through the air with a sound like tearing cloth and hit Erin square in the back. The impact knocked her from her purchase and she tumbled down to crash onto the floor. Luckily she was not too far up and she bounded to her feet again, leaping once more to resume her climb.



There was nothing for it. Erin needed time. I rushed them.



I went straight for Hahzak. He was looking terrible. Black crusted wounds covered his body; gifts from Damut’s claws and Jerdo’s blade, and his scarred eye socket wept blood. His other eye still burned brightly however. He growled something unintelligible as I made for him but the fire came from the other two – Hahazak, it seemed, was all burned out.



Demon fire engulfed me. The leather and cloth of my soldier’s gear were instantly consumed and the metal pieces fell around me, but I was ready for it and managed to shrug them off without tripping. I emerged from the maelstrom like a berserker, sword and dagger in front of me. I hit Hahzak with a scream on my lips and his huge form momentarily gave way to my momentum; his talons desperately parrying the blades. My sword was batted away, skidding along a leathery arm, but the dagger struck true, driving deep into his belly. He screeched in fury and pain and I felt his claws grasp my shoulder, digging in to the bone. I was thrown back as if I were a doll. Blood sprayed an arc around me.



Scenes flashed past my eyes as I slid across the floor. Time seemed to slow. One of the demons, the stocky one, was bathed in a ring of blue sparks. He writhed on the floor in agony as if beset by a thousand wasps. Pinker stood with his hands thrust out toward him and sweat running down his face, but his strength was beginning to fade even as I watched. Hahzak had gone to one knee, holding his belly as black blood gushed from his wound. His furious eye remained fixed on me. Lastly I noticed the third demon, the one with the ravaged face. Fire was dripping from his hands like burning tar and his face swung upward once again, toward Erin.



I struggled to my knees. My hands clenched and I realized I had lost my weapons. My shoulder was a throbbing mass of pain. I yelled in vain as the monster raised his hands toward the statue. Gouts of flame issued from them, shooting upward to where Erin climbed. I wrenched my head around in horror and saw her figure, just beneath the idol’s head, become drowned in fire. Waves of it pummelled her. I saw her clutch for purchase, trying to weather the storm, but the pounding flame did not relent. The demon had thrown his head back and was howling as if in pleasure; the release of fire and flame seeming to loose his very spirit. A rasping sound echoed underneath the clamour and I realized it was Hahzak. He had struggled to his feet and looked up at Erin’s fire-bathed form with glee. Even though black blood streamed from his mouth and his belly, he was laughing. Behind him, the third demon was struggling to his feet and shrugging off the blue corona as Pinker sagged, his strength spent.



“Burn it Lamaxas!” Hahzak shouted, “Burn the very stone from beneath her!”



I had nothing. I was naked and bleeding with naught but the amulet round my neck to protect me.



My hand clasped at it as if of its own volition.



With a wrench I pulled it from my neck, snapping the chain. The heat of the room hit me immediately and I almost fainted from the force of it. I felt my skin blister and the air suddenly burned my lungs. I struggled to my feet and lurched toward the demon Lamaxas, whose attention remained fixed on high. Every step was like moving closer to a bonfire, but with each I moved faster. In five paces I was at a shambling run, and my purpose was unstoppable. Hahzak saw me. Immediately saw my intention.



“Nooooo!”



I crashed into Lamaxas. My hands drove against the searing heat of his body. I felt the skin peel from my hands; the stench of burning flesh filled my nostrils. I slammed the amulet into his ribcage in a wash of pain and heat.



His fire went out as if snuffed by a bucket of sand. Lamaxas batted at me with an arm and sent me sprawling again. He clawed at the amulet but it was fused to his skin. It seemed to burrow deeper, draining the fire from him. He fell to his knees then flopped onto his back, screaming soundlessly. His limbs contorted and twitched uncontrollably as if best by unimaginable waves of pain.



Then Hahzak was on me.



I was lifted from the ground, my already damaged arm clasped in his taloned, agonizing grip. With inhuman strength he lifted me from the ground; held me in front of his face. His scarred visage was bleeding and battered, and I knew the wound I’d delivered would be mortal if he were human, but the gleam of his single eye left no doubt that he had the strength and resolve to see me incinerated. His mouth opened and waves of heat boiled from it; a maw of death and fire. I closed my eyes.



And fell.



Darkness.



Pain.



Cold.



#



Cold?



That didn’t seem quite right. I struggled to open my eyes, sticky eyelids working awkwardly. Blurred images. Memories? Boodin? Pinker? Toola? Erin? Light and dark. Fire and ice. Where in the nine hells…?



After a moment of disorientation I finally fathomed my surroundings: a large room with dressed stone walls and heavy tapestries. Lamps guttered from their wall brackets, giving a dim light to the darkened room. The surroundings reminded me of somewhere… Parm. I was in the Parm temple. The bed in which I was lying was wide and soft and a cool breeze seemed to be coming from an open window behind me. The sound of waking birds heralded an approaching dawn. Crisp white linen covered me and a table and overstuffed chair were set to one side. Erin was sitting in the chair; her head lolling to one side as she snored lightly.



Still blinking I extracted an arm from beneath my covering and held my hand in front of my face. Last I’d seen it it’d looked like lump of charcoal with overdone sausages set in it. It was now pink. New skin crinkled as I flexed it. It hurt. I looked down at my chest and along my arm. New skin there as well. In fact, it looked as if I was mostly pink, with only a few patches of roughened hide that looked original. Boodin’s priests doing, no doubt. Something else seemed odd, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. Then I had it.



Hair.



I had hair growing on my chest. My hands found my face and head and found it there as well. I’d been abed for a while, it seemed. I squinted at Erin. Sure enough, her head was covered in stubble as well.



“Mumblsufd,” I said.



Erin stirred a bit and I tried again, forcing my underused tongue back into service.



“A’m waekld. Ern.”



Erin finally blinked. She raised her head slowly, gave it a little shake then realized what had woken her. She was on me in a heartbeat. She smelled like sleep and sweat. I buried my face in her shoulder and winced as she hugged me, but hugged her back just the same.



“You need a shave,” I said finally.



<center>The End</center>

 

Demon Eye - Part 3 © David Simpson (MacShimes)

Migrate Wizard: 
First Release: 
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