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Demon Eye - Part Two

Author: 
David Simpson (MacShimes)
Old Vault Category: 
fanfiction
Old Vault ID: 
363

Demon Eye – Part 2 By David Simpson

Erin’s story was impressive, to say the least. It began with a nameless adventurer stealing a ruby the size of a melon from an evil shrine in a dark, southern land. Evil shrines were as common as flies down south, so that wasn’t much of a stretch, but this was a particularly nasty place and the theft was a thing of legend. I could attest to that since I’d actually heard the story myself. It was a much coloured tale by the time it reached my ears of course; full of supernatural monsters, human sacrifices, and all sorts of nasty business.

More surprising was: she proposed that the tale was largely true.

According to the story, removing the ruby – the eye of a demon statue – had caused the place to go completely berserk. The thief escaped, but it was rumoured that a host of demons had suddenly appeared, having been kept in check in some mystical way by the aforesaid eye. The demons had run roughshod over the countryside. Anarchy reigned and all sorts of evil doings were now under way.

I must admit my estimation of Erin slipped a couple of notches. The story was obviously greatly exaggerated. Talk to your archetypal farmer on any given day and you’ll hear tales of witches, faeries, dragons and a host of other things you’ll never run across in a million years; even if they did exist. Farming, to hear the farmers tell it, was a far more dangerous profession than thievery. I hadn’t expected Erin to be so gullible.

More practically to my mind, Erin explained that pretty much everybody was trying to recover the ruby. ‘Everybody’ included a couple of rival priesthoods, the local soldiery, and several private bounty hunters. None of these parties were particularly gentle in their methods and all were vying against the others, all of which made for a chaotic and exceedingly dangerous situation. This had been going on for several weeks now but neither the adventurer nor the ruby had been found.

Enter Erin, or more accurately her father, who suddenly came into possession of the stone. Erin was pretty vague on the details at this point, but intimated that her father was a fence and had acquired it in the normal manner - that is, he’d acquired it from the thief. He’d apparently taken possession of it before things got out of hand and was now worrying that he’d gotten in over his head. If he tried to sell it he was sure he’d bring the wrath of someone down upon him, whether it be evil priesthoods, ticked off bounty hunters, or the local authorities. He’d decided that the only solution was to put it back quietly. And so Erin had been dispatched to speak to an old acquaintance of his – the recently gelded Redblade - in the hopes he might have someone up to the job. Redblade had instead locked her up and dispatched a ransom note proposing an exchange of the ruby for the daughter; which is approximately where I stumbled in.

The story was certainly entertaining, but weak in several places. Ignoring the so-called ‘demons’ for the moment, why not just drop the ruby off at the local magistrate’s office and let the local government negotiate? Hells, hide the thing somewhere and send an anonymous note to the authorities telling them where to pick it up if he was really worried. There was obviously more to it, but I decided to let it lie for a while.

Instead, I bargained.

“Soooo… demons eh?”

She looked at me with narrowed eyes. “Yes.”

“Nasty I expect,” I said, nodding sombrely.

“I know how it sounds,” she snapped, “So don’t patronize me. I’ve seen their handy work. If they’re not demons they’re… something. Something extremely nasty.”

“So you’ve seen them then?”

“Not exactly…”

I let the silence stretch for a moment and she had the grace to blush slightly. I was no stranger to exaggeration but liked to be the one doling it out rather than swallowing it.

“All right. What’s in it for me?” I finally said.

“What do you want?”

Ah, the sweet sound of desperation. Of course, Erin and I had a budding relationship so I made a strong attempt to reign in my natural greed. That failed miserably, as it usually did.

“My weight in precious stones.”

“What?! Are you insane? My father’s not the blasted king!”

“Well, what does he have then? What were you offering Redblade?”

“A pair of Magic boots, a relic, and a bag of gold.”

“I don’t trust magic,” I scoffed. More often than not ‘magic’ items turned out to be fakes, and when they weren’t they usually caused more problems than they solved. “What’s the relic?”

“The Tongue of Hathelee.”

I raised an eyebrow at her. I had a passing interest in historical relics. I found the stories intriguing, even as contrived and moralized as they usually were. Consider the Tongue. The Temple of Parm was dedicated to relatively beneficent ideals. They promoted brotherhood, helping the less fortunate, and all those things regular people had no time for. One of their revered founders was Hathalee, whom they insist was persecuted for espousing his faith and had his tongue torn out. The legend says that, though unable to talk in normal conversation, he remained able to preach and indeed the power of his voice grew to stentorian proportions. His tongue was divinely preserved and kept to this day as an item of veneration. It was reputed to grant the power to speak all languages to anyone who held it. A bit of research however revealed the true story: Hathalee was a terrible drunkard. He had his tongue torn out for lacing his sermons with foul language and political jibes. The magistrate sent the tongue, pickled, to the temple afterward as a warning.

“Truly,” Erin said, “He won it from the high priest of Parm in a card game. They play every fortnight.”

“Hmm. The relic is a good start I suppose.” Relics were often considered extremely valuable to those who believe in them. I could likely make a fair profit selling it back to the Temple of Parm. “What else?”

“Well,” Erin mused, “He recently acquired a very nice horse from a travelling alchemist?”

I laughed. Erin reddened and was about to retort but I waved her down.

“No, no. It’s just that I believe I know the alchemist – and the beast. All right… the horse, the relic and a bag of gold.” The thought of selling the Prince’s horse back to him at some future date pleased me greatly. “I’ll take the boots as well, I suppose. What are they supposed to do?”

“They’re Dancing Boots.”

“Ah. So completely useless then. It so happens I’m a wonderful dancer.”

“I’m not surprised,” said Erin.

I could have sworn I detected a hint of sarcasm in her voice, but I ignored it. I was really quite pleased. I had come out well and truly ahead it seemed. All this for simply returning a jewel to its owners! I had visions of simply striding up to the temple and tossing it to a guard then riding away on my princely stallion.

Oh perhaps it would be a bit more complicated than that, but how hard could it really be?

#

We kept moving all day, with only a brief stop to check on Erin’s wound and water our horses. We didn’t think the guild would pursue us far out of the city but better safe than sorry. As the afternoon began to wane we left the road and set up camp along a clear stream. The evening was warm and clear, a harbinger of the summer season just around the corner.

“Let’s have a look at your arm,” I said to Erin once I’d brushed down the horses. I’d grabbed some clean bandages and a cloth. She’d already laid a fire so we were set for the coming evening.

“It’s alright,” she said, but shucked off the jacket I’d loaned her all the same. Her shirt beneath was crusted brown but there was no evidence of new blood.

“Nonsense,” I said, “I’ve seen warriors lose their limbs to nicks worse than that.” That wasn’t exactly true, but it was a good excuse to get her shirt off.

“I suppose I have to change this anyway,” said Erin with a smirk, showing that she knew exactly what I was thinking. She unbuttoned the stained shirt and walked away from me, toward the stream. Wading in to her shins, the shirt came off and was thrown back at me. I let it fall and went to meet her in the water. She held out her arm.

“The wound first please, if you can pay attention long enough,” she said.

I ogled a bit of course, but eventually fumbled the old bandage off her arm and threw it back to the bank. The wound didn’t look too bad. I soaked the cloth and began cleaning it carefully.

That’s not wounded,” she said eventually.

“One can’t be too careful.”

“Hmm. I suppose not. Tell me, what were you doing in Uncle Red’s guildhall anyway?”

“Oh, didn’t I mention? Some of his minions tried to rob me.”

“You’re kidding?” she laughed, “I think that’s quite clean now, thank you. Perhaps a bandage?”

“Right. Actually they didn’t try. They did. Rob me, that is. I threw one out a window.”

“How diplomatic.”

“The other one got away though, so I lodged a protest. How’s that? You know I think I missed a spot here…”

“That’s fine. Yes, that spot is definitely in need of some attention as well. Yum. A protest? I don’t suppose that went over well?”

“They burned my boat.”

“Oh dear. Mmm. You know, you could do with a wash yourself.”

“Just what I was thinking. Give me a moment. There, now we match. So you see I went in for a little revenge.”

“How petty of you! I like that in a man. And look at all these scars… You know, our pants are getting all wet standing here in the stream like this.”

“Good point. Here let me help you… Ah! Alright then, you help me first. Holy mother of…!”

“Cleanliness, remember?”

“Oh yes. You know, there is one thing that puzzles me about the whole Uncle Red thing…”

“Mmm?”

“Why didn’t you just put the ruby back yourself? I mean, considering you stole it in the first place.”

Erin stiffened for an instant. There was a pregnant pause and I wondered for a moment how I could be such an idiot. Why couldn’t I have left that little question until later? It was obvious that she must have been the thief, but she must have had some reason for not telling me after all. Then she leaned against me and chuckled in a way that somehow sounded a little sad.

“But I already told you love… demons.”

#

I didn’t believe in demons - at least not the horned, pitchfork bearing variety that priests invoked to scare children. I’d met plenty of people that fit the description however, in deed if not appearance. To my mind, the world was full of horrors enough without needing mythical terrors to spice things up.

Erin though was speaking of demons of another kind. She deftly changed the subject but it was apparent that there was an undercurrent of emotion running through her. Being a man, and thus terminally insensitive to such things, I pestered her for details but was rebuffed at every turn.

We regained the road at midmorning. Erin was now wearing some of my spare clothes, which had struck me as incredibly arousing for some reason. It’d taken a couple of attempts for her to get fully dressed. Factor in a meal and breaking camp and the sun was well up when we resumed our journey. She eventually shared the tale of the theft over a long day’s travel.

Erin’s tale began with descriptions of the local religious factions. There were two: Parm, the priesthood of the tongue-less Hathalee, and Quat. Parm was your basic benevolent temple. It blessed the harvest, healed the sick, and looked out for the immortal souls of its flock.

Quat was something else altogether. In a word, Quat could be described as evil, though not overtly so. Truly evil organizations typically didn’t last too long as they are continually beset by rioting farmers, heroes bent on justice and wars of holy retribution. Of course all religions were best by those sorts of things at one time or another, but my point is that Quat wasn’t evil in the over the top, mad cackling, eating children kind of way. It blessed crops, healed the sick (though for a price), and dealt in souls just like any religion. What made it evil was that it also promoted intolerance, segregation, and the superiority of its adherents over the regular muck that was humanity. It justified this vision by presenting itself as a guardian between the planes of existence – a bastion of human will that held back untold horrors from reaching this world.

All of which was, of course, a convenient pretext for collecting onerous taxes, disdaining anyone not of their faith, and generally acting like arrogant bastards. People put up with it because… well you never know do you? Perhaps they were keeping their thumb in the demon hole, as it were.

In any case, this was only relevant because the Eye of Demon – the ruby that Erin had stolen – had come from their temple. She’d simply had enough of the Quat-ites and decided they needed a little lesson in humility. Thus she’d decided to deface their most holy icon – a huge, grotesque statue that stood in their main temple. The statue was quite famous due to its size and disagreeable appearance, but mostly for of the said eye: a ruby the size of a man’s fist.

Consider that for a moment. Close your hand and imagine it a multifaceted jewel of deepest red. Feel its weight; far heavier than it looks. See the light reflect and refract through its pristine surface. See the life that lies deep in the heart of every gem ripped from the earth’s womb and carved painstakingly into a facsimile of perfection. The size of a fist! Such a thing would haunt the dreams of even the most jaded of thieves.

Now, this was no simple theft. The order of Quat took its security precautions seriously. The temple was reputed to be a very tough nut indeed and there were several stories of thieves, drawn by the promise of the massive jewel, who had met very messy ends at the hands of Quat’s minions. I was very impressed that Erin had taken it on, let alone succeeded. Especially so since I had the impression that she, though seemingly a very capable and intelligent woman, was not the most experienced thief I had ever met.

Regardless, the entry did sound pretty harrowing and as I said, I was impressed. The really interesting bit occurred once she attained the statue chamber itself. She had climbed the monstrous statue in the dead of night and in complete silence. She had disabled every trap and avoided every pitfall along the ascent, of which there were many. After an excruciating, slow climb she finally attained the top of the idol and clung to its visage, face to face with the jewel itself. She spent another painstaking stretch carefully loosening the stone, prying the mortar and accumulated grit of centuries from around it. Eventually the last bit fell away and the jewel toppled slowly from its socket into her hand.

Then something felt suddenly… wrong.

Erin couldn’t describe it. She took long moments trying, then shaking her head and taking another tack. Eventually she shrugged and spit out her best explanation.

“The best I can say it… it felt like a sound. I know that doesn’t make sense. Like a waterfall perhaps. How you can feel the noise of the water. Only it was very far away.”

She’d clambered back down the statue and out of the main chamber in possession of the jewel. By the time she exited the idol chamber the sound had grown. What had been a rumbling sensation in her stomach had grown to something more tangible; an almost nauseous feeling. By the time she reached the exit of the temple itself it couldn’t be ignored. The sound pounded through her like a landslide. It wasn’t only her that could feel it either. The temple had awoken. She could hear shouts of anger and fear beginning to flow through the building; the patter of running feet and doors as they slammed open in alarm. Under and around it all the sound continued to grow until it became a rumble that physically shook the building. She ran. She admitted, haltingly, that she was afraid. Afraid of the unknown.

Afraid that she had opened the demon hole.

#

After two days on the road we’d both had enough of horseback. We reached a river town on the third day, sold the mounts and hired passage on a boat heading south. The next few days saw many miles slip by under a munificent late spring sun. We had little to do but lay on the deck and talk or head below decks and rock the boat. It was idyllic.

Erin’s story continued. She’d initially talked herself into thinking it was all her imagination. All the rumblings and feelings of terror were simply a coincidental earthquake, or some such thing. Then things began to get out of hand.

After a couple of days of uncanny silence from the temple of Quat the priests emerged in force. They scattered about the countryside, collecting their followers and taking their previously arrogant behaviour to new levels. Many believers were herded to the temple. Non-believers were beaten and berated should they voice any complaint or question. Everywhere the priests asked after the ruby and news of its theft quickly spread. Strangely, some of the priests did not return to the temple but rather pursued the jewel with a more humbled mean. They exuded a sense of terror and desperation that was somehow even worse than the hostility of their brethren. None offered any explanations.

The priests of Parm reacted to the news of the theft in a similarly frantic manner, though they too did not deign to explain why. They also began to search for the Eye and conflicts between the two organizations quickly escalated to violence. The local authorities got involved but the conflicts increased. Soon freelance bounty hunters showed up, under hire by one or more factions. Mysterious private interests were even said to be involved. The general population began to suffer of course, what with heavy handed tactics being employed by one and all. Things became bad very quickly as it seemed everyone was looking for the Eye.

Then the stories of demons surfaced.

Farmers began reporting supernatural creatures roaming their lands at night. Bounty hunters and soldiery bearing haunted looks reported run-ins with burned men who spit fire and shrugged off swords and arrows as though they were feathers and sticks. Crops were torched, and a brutal murder was attributed to them… people were terrified. It was this that had prompted Erin’s flight to see Redblade.

I managed to pose all sorts of questions of course. Why not put it the thing back herself? Why not just toss it anonymously on the steps?

Erin’s answers weren’t completely satisfactory. At first, she said, she believed the whole thing would blow over, then it became so dangerous that she feared reprisal from one faction or another should she be found out as the thief. She also wasn’t confident she could pull it off again. I didn’t buy much of it but decided not to push and eventually a somewhat more truthful answer surfaced.

She wasn’t convinced giving it back to Quat was the best idea.

“But that’s what you’re proposing I do?” I said in confusion.

“No, I’m asking you to put it back,” she replied, “I’m not sure it equates to the same thing.”

“You need to explain that.”

“The Quat priests… some of them are afraid and some seem… excited. The fearful ones want it back but the others… they’re more interested in ascertaining the fate of the Eye.”

“Hmm. I guess I see the difference, but why?”

She struggled with her answer. I could tell it was conjecture and emotion that was guiding her, but also that she was convinced of its efficacy.

“I think someone… something… is running things for Quat now,” she finally said, “And they don’t want the Eye put back.”

#

Let me repeat: I didn’t believe in demons.

That’s not to say I didn’t believe Erin. It seemed to me her intuition was likely correct. Someone had used the theft as a catalyst for a change in management. An ambitious cleric perhaps, making a play for power. The Eye was simply a symbol after all, though I well knew that such things could have immense power. The details were still fuzzy, but I was putting together a pretty good theory. I bet myself that whoever held the ruby would somehow wield great influence over the order of Quat.

I was right… and I was very, very wrong.

We disembarked a few hours journey from the city of Geshetta; our destination. It was a simple river port and the best we could purchase was a mule to carry our possessions. It was another beautiful day so we did not eschew the walk. I noted the climate was quite a bit warmer than Whiteport; an indication that we had travelled a goodly way south. We walked and talked easily, having become comfortable with each other’s company in a way that was surprisingly agreeable. Then, as we topped a low rise, we came into farmlands that lay outside the city.

The patchwork stretched for miles to either side of us but the sight that drew our eyes was a swatch of blackened earth that scored through a field in the near distance. Tendrils of pale smoke still rose from here and there along it. People milled about its edges, dragging what looked like carcasses into a pile. We wordlessly set out toward it.

The carcasses turned out to be cattle. The unmistakeable smell of cooked beef reached us long before we reached it and the mule needed a firm hand. As we approached the farmers halted their efforts and leaned on their tools to regard us. I examined their haggard faces then the scorched earth. The swath was ten paces wide and at least fifty long. The pile of carcasses held a half a dozen animals, with two more yet to be retrieved. Erin broached the silence.

“What happened?” she asked the group of farmers. Her face had paled as if she already knew the answer.

An older one spat. “Demons.”

“I left a fortnight past. There were rumours…”

“Rumours?” another farmer said in a tight voice, “Rumours no longer lass. Six farms given to the fire. And a dozen souls at the least. We all know of people who’ve seen ‘em themselves. They wander the city now it’s said; burned down the east gate four nights ago.”

“They burned the gate?” I asked in astonishment, “Surely there are guards? Soldiery?”

The old man fixed me with a cold eye. “Aye. And they’re stringin’ up the priests if they catch ‘em, though they mostly just sit inside the walls of late. The damned Quat’s don’t come out much anymore either, lest it’s in force or with a demon. Arrows just bounce off ‘em I heard. If they corner you, the priests’ll rake you over the coals; always the ‘where’s the damned Eye’. If they don’t like your answer the demon… well… twasn’t just cattle burned here. Young Teg Tallson was out with them. Guess they didn’t like his answers.”

“But… why the farms?” I asked.

“They ask everywhere stranger. Not just Quats either. Soldiers and bounty hunters too. We’re just in the way, as always.”

We offered condolences and our thanks then continued on. Erin explained that the temple of Quat was located outside the city, about an hour’s journey east. I looked that way but trees and hills hid any sign of it from my eyes.

I did however notice two more thin pillars of smoke rising into the clear sky.

#

Geshetta was a good sized city. Low walls surrounded it, undulating along the three low hills it was built on. The local stone was pale and the clay a deep rust, making for an exceptionally pretty aspect, at least from a distance. We approached the north gate, which was reassuringly intact, though closed. A makeshift gallows stood just outside; two bodies hung from it, sheathed in crows which scattered at our approach.

“Priests of Quat,” Erin said, wrinkling her nose in disgust. The robes seemed indistinguishable from any other weatherworn, tattered, brown garments but I took her word for it. It was the first thing she’d said since encountering the farmers.

The gate was guarded and the soldiers questioned us closely. Few, it seemed, were being admitted to the city at the moment and fewer allowed out. Erin convinced them she was a local and we were grudgingly let through; the gates opening only wide enough to allow us then shutting with a solid sound.

We quickly found ourselves in the daily market where I revelled in the symphony of an active city. It was like wine to my senses, for I was a creature of cities. The smell of produce, new leather and unwashed bodies; the cacophony of hawkers, children and bickering merchants; the glorious colours of silver baubles, bright surcoats and spices drying in the sun. All served to lift my spirits.

Erin too seemed somewhat revived and she led us with a confident step through the streets. One or two people called out to her on the way but she returned the greetings without stopping. We passed from the market area and the cobbled streets began to climb in gentle curves. Vines with red or yellow flowers seemed to grace every wall. Soon we turned and began to walk downhill. Another block and we were in a more industrial area. I noted signs for a smithy, a woodworker and an apothecary. Then we were entering a door beneath a sign advertising scribe services.

Inside the walls were covered in bookshelves. A large, high desk sat to one side where a wizened little man sat in the light from the paned window, busily scratching something onto a parchment with a long, feathered quill. He looked up as we entered and blinked watery eyes.

“Hello Alig,” said Erin with a little smile.

“Erin!” the man shrieked, and came running from behind the desk. He grabbed her in a bear hug and began babbling. “You… I can’t believe it… oh, your father will be… how on earth… we thought… oh my!”

“It’s all right Alig. I’m fine. Is my father here?”

“Oh yes, yes. Just. He was to leave today. Oh my! In the back dear, in the back!”

Alig let her go reluctantly and Erin quickly introduced me as Mr. White. Not too original I thought, but sensed the man was used to forgetting names quickly in any case. I followed Erin to a door in the rear of the shop and we passed through into a much larger room. This one was filled with shelves and tables covered in a riot of items. Rugs and tapestries stood rolled in a corner. Fine dishes and silver were piled in another. The shelves held shallow boxes of jewellery, expensive looking glass, and bags of indeterminate content. There was even a large sculpture of woman against one wall, with bolts of glittery fabric hung across its outstretched arm. It was a fence’s shop without a doubt.

A man stood at a table to one side of the room, a backpack, weatherworn travelling clothes, and a wicked looking set of daggers laid out in front of him. He turned as we entered and laid a hand on one of the blades, though he did not take it up. He was of medium height, bearded, and had blue eyes that measured what they saw in an instant. He had only a single arm.

It didn’t take much to ascertain who he was for, as soon as he saw Erin, he rushed across the room and pulled her against his chest as if he never intended to let go.

“Papa,” Erin sobbed.

#

“I received the ransom letter yesterday,” Erin’s father explained over an evening meal, “You for the Eye. I was leaving today.”

Donal Onearm, as he was called, was an ex-thief turned to fencing for obvious reasons. After the display of relief that I’d witnessed on our arrival, he had turned businesslike with a vengeance. He was civil but reserved, even to his daughter. There was something in his manner though that belied the heavy-handedness; a longing look whenever he looked at Erin, as if he wished for nothing more than to gather her to him again. There was obviously unresolved tension between the two.

The first subject of conversation was Erin’s captivity. She explained what had happened, albeit an edited version. There was no mention of her erstwhile uncle’s intimate attentions and I saw no reason to gainsay her. I did however add that she hadn’t left Redblade in the same condition she found him. Donal’s eyes flashed at that and he nodded in satisfaction. I found myself liking the man.

“I’m in your debt,” he said to me when the story was complete.

“Redding said: ‘There is no such thing. Only what a man can take for his own,’” I replied.

Onearm’s eyes narrowed. “I don’t believe that,” he said.

I smiled. “Neither do I. I’d rather believe that fortune smiled on us all. Erin is unharmed, Redding received a hard lesson, you are saved a journey, and I am gainfully employed. There is no debt.”

“About your… employment,” he said.

“Ask away,” I said, pouring myself a large glass of his rather good wine and leaning back in my chair. I was ready for my interview.

He sat back himself and regarded me for a moment then a little smile tugged at the corner of his mouth.

“Never mind,” he said, “I suspect you’re a liar of epic ability.”

I grinned and took a sip of wine.

“We can put it back Papa, I’m sure…” Erin said.

You’ll not be involved,” Onearm said with surprising vehemence, “You’ll tell him what you know and that will be that.” The man’s entire demeanour had changed. He looked at Erin with fierce eyes.

Erin reddened and began to retort then bit it back. She suddenly pushed herself away from the table and left the room with a stiff stride. I remained silent, sipping quietly at my wine.

“I usually work alone,” I said, breaching the silence, “As I’m sure you remember, it’s often the best way.”

“Yes,” Onearm said gruffly. He reached for his wine and took a solid slug. It seemed to calm him. “I suspect you’ll want to hear the situation.”

I wasn’t completely sure which situation he was referring to – his daughter or the Eye – but I nodded. I quickly related to him what I knew, including Erin’s suspicions about a new leadership of Quat that didn’t want the Eye put back.

“She’s always been quick to grasp the sense of things and I can’t say I disagree with her. I was of a mind to toss the thing into the temple and run once things went bad, but she convinced me otherwise. Turns out she was right.

First you’ll need to know something about Quat. It’s a reasonably ancient order, as such things go. Lots of secrecy and midnight rites, that sort of thing. They’ve never been too popular really, on account most of them are bastards, but a couple of years ago they started conducting their ancient rites in the nude. Did wonders for their membership. Anyway, there’s dozens of them running around now looking for the Eye; only some are pretty fanatical and some are sort of… terrified. Both kinds are being beaten or lynched whenever a mob gets hold of them, but their persistence is troubling to say the least. Course there’s also the demons.” He noted my raised eyebrow. “We’ll get to them.

There’s also the other priesthood. Parm. They’ve been rivals of Quat for centuries and are looking for the Eye themselves, though I’ve my suspicions about their motives. I know the high priest. Oh, they’re likely to be looking to do the right thing but they’re not above getting a little something out it themselves, if you know what I mean. They’re being tight lipped about it at any rate. Still, they can generally be considered the good guys.

Finally, there’s a scattering of bounty hunters in town. Most of them turned up based on the stories of trouble brewing here. Mercenaries. Some are hired out to Quat, some to Parm, some to both. Don’t expect they’ll give you any trouble, but it pays to be prepared.

As for the Eye itself, well, I mentioned I knew the high priest of Parm. Like I said, he’s been pretty tight lipped but I got him drunk and pried the story from him. The Eye is a keystone.”

“Keystone?” I said, “Like in an arch? What was it holding up?’

“Not ‘up’,” he said with eyes locked on mine, “In.”

#

So, despite my cynical beliefs, or non-belief rather, it seemed the demons were real. The Eye of the Demon was the cork in some sort of supernatural bottle set up centuries ago by the priests of Quat. The high priest of Parm had been vague on the history behind it but the gist was that the demons had been summoned centuries ago for some purpose or other then, once their job had been done, the summoner had a bit of trouble sending them back. Things had gotten pretty exciting for a while until some bright spark had figured out how to send them packing. They hadn’t been sent back to wherever they came from however; rather they’d been pushed into a kind of temporal prison where they had languished ever since.

The upshot was that I simply needed to plug the hole again. Only there was a catch. Several of them in fact.

Firstly, getting back into a place after a theft is extremely difficult. People are always doubly on guard, security measures are increased, etc. (which, if you think about it is pretty ridiculous. Shutting the door after the horse is gone and all that. I mean, what kind of idiot would break into a place he’d just robbed? My own case notwithstanding, of course)

Secondly, the Quat-ites didn’t want it put back, the Parm-ites wanted it for ostensibly benevolent purposes, and bounty hunters were scattered about who no doubt would like to see what it would fetch on the open market. I could expect all sorts of people with different ideas as to what to do with the Eye. Probably, these alternate views would be proposed at the end of a sword.

Thirdly of course were these so-called demons.

All right, I was still a little sceptical. There seemed to be plenty of anecdotal evidence regarding fire-spewing hellspawn, but I still hadn’t met anyone who’d actually seen these things. I was willing to accept that something supernatural had occurred here, but I was trying to stay open minded about it. I received a colourful description from Onearm however, courtesy of his high priest friend who’d never seen them either. There were four of them. They were venerated by Quat, but great pains were taken to ensure they stayed in their prison. Quat-ites were evil but not stupid it seemed. They were not all powerful, omniscient beings but sounded extremely nasty just the same: taller than all but the largest of men, burned skin, bad teeth and, oh yes, could cause things to burst into flame upon command.

“I would suggest you go and see the high priest of Parm yourself,” Onearm suggested, “They’re the closest thing to allies we have.”

“Do they know you have it?”

“No. No one does.”

“Good thing the theft was kept in the family, eh?” I ventured.

“She’s not a thief,” Onearm said, his voice suddenly like ice, “She plays at it because I did. Because she thinks it’s romantic. Only it’s not. It’s hard and cruel and corrupt. She’s a foolish girl who’s gotten herself, and everyone else, in a lot of trouble; who’s gotten good people killed. I’ll ask you to dissuade her from any other notion.”

He turned and left without another word, leaving me to wonder on the nature of demons.

#

Erin’s demons. I tracked her down in a local pub and got the story; a pretty easy job since she was halfway through her fourth pint.

It wasn’t a pleasant tale. Her father was an ex-thief of course, but surprisingly so was her mother. They’d retired, had a child and looked forward to a comfortable life spending their ill-gotten nest egg. Unfortunately, they were tracked down by some young nobles who took violent exception to some past transgression. Donal gained his nickname and spent three years in a dank cell for knifing the son of a minor lord. His wife, Erin’s mother, was killed. Erin herself was raised by a cousin until Onearm was out of jail and back on his feet.

I could understand Onearm’s reservations about Erin’s chosen career.

Erin however did not. She barely remembered her mother and, although sympathetic to her father’s pain, wasn’t about to sacrifice her life for ghosts and fears. She would rather have tracked the bastards down and evened the score, though she was barely ten when she learned the whole story. The argument raged for years. Donal went to great lengths to guide his daughter onto a different path. She was educated and encouraged to appreciate art and finer things. Erin however had different ideas. She stole out of the house and practiced her family trade in secret, but her father was a thief and not easily fooled. She was lectured, pleaded with, locked away for days at a time and even beaten once or twice. No matter. She kept at it and gained admirable skills, though her father and she still clashed. The theft of the Eye came after a particularly intense argument; a childish attempt to impress the one man who refused to accept her choice.

When the chaos erupted Erin went to her father to confess. Then someone was murdered and Erin believed she was responsible. Her father did not gainsay her. The guilt was unbearable and she finally proposed that she put the Eye back. Onearm was apoplectic. After much argument they agreed that the plan was sound but that someone else would do it. Someone experienced. Since Donal Onearm was no longer capable himself, he turned to an ex-partner; a man he hadn’t seen in twenty years, but one whom he knew had the skill and whom he thought owed him a favour. Erin insisted she be the one to carry the request – she needed to play some part in order to assuage her guilt.

Unfortunately a man’s character can change in twenty years.

“So now you know,” Erin said quietly, a tear hanging in her eye, “You know it all. I’m not a thief, I’m a murderess. My selfish whim has caused nothing but death and destruction. A dozen deaths lie on my soul! My father protects me but even he thinks it, I know.”

“I’d rather think the people doing the violence should take some responsibility, don’t you?”

“Don’t try to absolve me! It was my actions that began this! Mine!”

“Well, that’s true,” I said, and she looked at me as though I’d slapped her, “But if you’d known your actions were to cause all this I suspect you wouldn’t have done it. Why, I once stole a bracelet from a woman. A noblewoman. The next day her husband noticed it missing and accused her of giving it to a young bard whom he suspected she had taken as a lover. The woman was thrown out on the street and the bard arrested. That bard was supposed to entertain a great lord that very evening, who was heading into battle the next day. As he didn’t show, a far inferior singer was pressed into service and the lord took to heavy drinking rather than listening. He got very drunk and was soundly thrashed on the field of battle the next day. As a result, the city was invaded and the woman’s husband rounded up along with the great lord and all the other nobles and paraded naked through the streets. Eventually, when the invaders left, the lord was stripped of all his titles and the husband was forced to find a job as a carpenter, since his house had been burnt to the ground. Now, I ask you, was any of that my fault?”

Erin could not help but laugh. “And the woman? What happened to her?”

“Why, she became one of the most famous prostitutes in Blackport. As rich as any lord and living a life of ease.”

“You’re an inveterate liar.”

“It’s a true story, I swear!”

“Nevertheless, there is some little wisdom in your words,” Erin said, sadness once again suffusing her voice, “What has happened, has happened and I will have to bear it, but not all of it. Things will be put right. You will succeed, I know it.”

“Don’t you mean ‘we’,” I said with a grin.

“What?” scoffed Erin, “We? You don’t mean for me to accompany you? You heard my father!”

“Aye, but he’s your father after all, not mine, so I’ll invite who I like. Your choice of course. A good man, your father, but he suffers from much the same malady as his daughter. Whereas you blame this circumstance on yourself, he blames his past horrors on our profession.”

“So you hold to no responsibility then? You’re morally separated from your actions?”

“Responsibility? Yes, I’ll take my share. But responsibility isn’t the same as guilt. No doubt thieves inhabit some grey moral ground, but if we can’t hold to that distinction then we’re in the wrong profession.”

Erin chewed on this for a moment. “So that is your creed is it?” she finally said, “The consequences of my actions are not mine?”

“Well, I don’t steal from children either. At least not very often.”

“Well good. I don’t think I could live with that.” She nodded as if affirming a decision, rose, and waved me out of my seat, throwing a few coins on the table in the process. “What do we do first?”

“Well, I’d suggest getting drunk but you seem to have handled that part. How about we visit the High Priest of Parm?”

“Uncle Boodles? All right, let’s go.” Erin said and led the way out of the pub.

“Not another uncle!”

“It’s all right,” she said, throwing me a much healthier looking smile, “This one’s crazy.”

#

“Well, I suppose that’s about right,” said High Priest Boodin when I’d finished my recitation of the facts as I knew them, “Though how Donal came across this information is questionable.”

“He said he got you drunk,” I said helpfully.

“Pish! Unthinkable young man! He was obviously having a joke at your expense. I’m a holy man after all! Holy, holy, roly poly! Hah! Would like a sweet dear?”

Boodin was a tall, gangly man with a beard that looked to be as old as he was. He wasn’t exactly crazy, but he did seem perpetually distracted and slipped into nonsensical rhymes or bits of songs at odd times. He also doted on Erin.

“No thank you uncle. We need to know whatever else you can tell us about the Eye.”

“Are you sure? You’re looking awfully thin you know. I could probably get the cook to make us some soup. I think we had soup last night. Wasn’t very good though. The cook is blind you know.”

“No, thank you.”

“Ah well, that’s probably best. The Eye you say? Now what on earth do you want to know about that for? Everyone else is running around after the blasted thing. Run, run round the raspberry bush. Thought you’d have more sense.”

“Well, um…”

“Tell me,” I interrupted, “I’ve heard that your order is one of the groups looking for the thing. What interest does Parm have in the Eye?”

“What? Why… why… the good of the city of course. Can’t have Hahzak and his kin running around again, can we? Setting everything on fire? Very uncomfortable.”

“Hahzak?” I said.

“Did I say Hahzak? I suppose I did. One of the demons you see. Nasty fellow.”

“You speak as if you know him uncle,” Erin said.

“Know? Know? Crow, blow, hoe! No, of course not. I’ve read quite a bit about him though, things being what they are. We’ll find the thing yet then put them back where they belong. Quat won’t be crowing this time!”

I had a suspicion. It was a bad habit I had, thinking the worst of people until proven otherwise. Not a particularly endearing trait I admit, and all the worse for being so often proved right. In this case I suspected that Boodin knew far more than he was telling. Why would Parm have recorded the demon’s names? How would they even know them? There was only one answer really.

“Parm set the demons free in the first place, didn’t they?” I asked.

“What?” cried Erin, looking confused.

“What?” cried Boodin, looking fearful.

“So that’s why you’re after it,” I said, “You’re responsible for them.”

“No, no! You’re deranged. Debauched. Disturbed. How could you know that!

I turned to Erin and explained. “Onearm had his suspicions about Boodles here too. He thought Parm had something more behind their desire for the Eye than just good works. The fact that Parm has the demon names means they must have been closely involved back when they were running around in the first place. I’m guessing Quat didn’t summon them at all, did they Boodles? Some ambitious Parm-ite called them out, didn’t he?”

“Oh dear, oh dear! This isn’t good! I shall have to, to… STRIKE YOU DOWN WITH DIVINE FORCE!”

Boodin raised his thin arms threateningly. Erin and I looked at each other then Erin put her hands on her hips and turned to the old man with a stern look.

“Uncle!” Erin said, “You stop that right now!”

“What? Oh dear. I’m sorry Erry,” Boodin lowered his arms and looked sheepish, “It’s just… well... that’s a rather large secret. Our shame, you see. A shame, blame, game. Not sure how this agitator figured it out.” He sent a searching look my way.

I shrugged. “I think the worst of everyone.”

“Do you? How useful. Well, it’s true I suppose. It was the high priest Kopp you see. He called them forth. He had only the best intentions in mind of course…”

“Probably wanted them to stir up a little trouble then send them back and look the hero,” I suggested.

Will you stop that! ” Boodin cried, “Have you been in our library?”

“Sorry.”

“Well, to make a long, boring story slightly less so… Kopp called them forth for very good reasons but found when he went to send them back that he, well, couldn’t. Try and try until you die. Things got out of hand in a very bad way, much like now I suppose. Then some upstart from Quat comes along with a banishing ritual and sends them to a little extra-planar prison and takes all the credit. They never knew for sure it was Kopp than instigated it, but they suspected. Never let the man live it down. They built that cursed statue for the keystone and held an annual celebration round it to commemorate their great victory. Rubbed our noses in it for decades. Over time they actually began to venerate the thing. King, ring, sing. They worship the demons now as sort of patrons of their order. Not far from the truth I suppose. That little bit of cleverness really put Quat on the map. Anyway, with the demons now free again it’s only a matter of time before the dirty laundry is aired, so to speak. We need to put them back! For the good of the city of course, but if we could just sweep this little history lesson under the rug, well… you’re not going to tell anyone are you?”

“Probably not,” I said, “But of course we’d expect your help in return.”

“Help? Whelp? Kelp? Help for what you exasperating man?”

“Why putting the Eye back of course.”

Boodin swooned. Erin leapt to his side and he leaned on her, then his eyes went wide. “Who is this man Erin? How is it he has the Eye?”

“Um,” Erin coughed, “Actually uncle… he doesn’t. I have it.”

I had to rush over to assist Erin to hold the old man up.

“Oh dear,” he muttered when his eyes regained focus, “I need a drink. Your father will be… oh, I see. Oh! Oh. Oh, oh,oh. Oh my. What is it you want?”

“Yes, that’s a good question,” Erin said, looking at me questioningly, “What can uncle do for us?”

“Well,” I said, patting the old man on his back as he took his own weight again, “I thought, for starters, immunity to fire might come in very handy.”

#

The temple of Quat stood beside a little rushing river, narrow but deep. A retaining wall had been built to shore up the bank on that side. A few cultivated fields surrounded it to the north and west with a copse of dark green trees crowding close on the east. The temple itself was made of the local pale stone and was quite large, with a low wall encircling the grounds and a squat tower on the river side, flush against the retaining wall. A single set of large, iron bound doors gave entrance through the north side of the wall.

We chose the river side. Scaling the wall was more than difficult. Not only did it look a virtually impossible, sheer climb, a slip would send us crashing to the ground in a very final way. On the other hand, no one would expect it.

Near the top of the wall I realized Erin was very talented. Specifically, the realization struck when she reached down to help me up over the parapet. I didn’t think the grin was necessary though.

“Try and keep up,” she whispered.

“I’m carrying all the heavy stuff,” I protested, wishing I didn’t sound quite so out of breath.

She just grinned and led the way to the trap door that was the only visible entrance. It was barred from the inside of course and I recouped some dignity when she looked at me and shrugged. I took out a long, flexible saw from my backpack and slipped it through the door crack. I patiently tested until I determined that it was just a rope latch. Quick work. We pulled back the door in only a few minutes, only to find that some clever Quat-ite had removed the stairs.

We could see them, propped against a wall to one side. The chamber beneath us was large and virtually empty otherwise. I tied off my rope to a merlon and Erin fed it down. We clambered inside and padded to the only door. It was locked, this time with a keyed mechanism, and Erin took care of it. Again I was impressed. Her technique was a little clumsy but she was quick and had a good feel. Stairs next. Two floors and we were on the main level. Only a few scattered lanterns lit the halls and we moved in near darkness, our dark clothing making us nothing more than shadows.

Erin led the way confidently. Though she’d entered a different way last time she had the layout in her head. We ran into only one wandering guard - yawning acolyte carrying a lantern on a pole who was easily avoided – but every door was locked. Some were trapped as well, and not just with mundane mechanisms. We ran into several that gave a definite sense of something else. Something unnatural. I spent many long, tense moments working over the first of these and eventually found a way to bypass it, however afterward I was sweating worse than after we’d climbed the wall. The next two we simply went around, finding alternate routes. By the time we reached our destination the night was getting short.

Eventually we came through a side door to a wide hallway. In one direction were a set of plain doors. In the other were a larger set, ornately carved and iron bound – the entrance to the temple itself. A second acolyte was curled on the floor beside the doors, his lantern pole propped against the wall and illuminating the area. We could hear his soft snoring from where we stood.

Deciding not to disturb his slumber I crept past him and tried the door. It swung open a few inches on well oiled hinges and I waved Erin up. We slipped through and quietly shut the door behind us.

The temple room was huge. Three other sets of doors identical to the ones we had just passed led from it at the cardinal points. The stone tiled floor was smooth and polished and wide mouthed braziers lined the tapestry hung walls on all sides, though only a few smouldered fitfully at this hour. In the centre was the statue.

Erin’s description had not done it justice. It was hideous.

It stood almost two stories tall. A kneeling monstrosity, its arms splayed at its sides, palms outward. Its skin was covered in bulbous protrusions and it was observably male. The black stone seemed to flow in the dim light and I followed the seemingly viscous surface up to the face of a demon. The features were harsh, cruel and somehow anguished, as if contorted in rage or pain; its gaping mouth held a litter of sharp teeth. Its domed head was bare and it had two eyes but one was a brutal, star shaped scar and the other stared empty, devoid of its jewelled orb.

“You touched that?” I whispered.

“I wore gloves.”

I looked at her expectantly. From a belt pouch Erin extracted the item that I’d yet to see in an almost embarrassed manner. I could not suppress a gasp.

I had seen many a spectacular jewel in my time; I had held ancient devices and magical items in my hands without tremor or awe; I had wallowed in piles of gold that would make many a king jealous. But I had never seen anything like this. Imagine an orb the size of a large apple; faceted and shaped into a slightly elongated sphere. Imagine the deepest red; the colour of blood in moonlight. Imagine the life in its centre; a mysterious flickering that could not completely be attributed to the firelight. It was, in a word, extraordinary.

“You know…” I began.

“Don’t even think it,” Erin said with a hard look.

I swallowed and nodded. “Just a thought. You want to climb that thing or shall I.”

“I’ll do it.”

We went to the base of the statue and she set a hand on it then hesitated and turned to me.

“I couldn’t have gotten here again on my own,” she said simply.

“You’re welcome,” I smiled.

She slipped the Eye back into its pouch and I watched her begin to climb – a pleasing view considering my vantage point and her snug fitting clothing. She went carefully, but I was sure the previous traps she’d encountered would not have been replaced. There was nothing to protect after all. Sure enough, she reached the face of the demon without any problem. I watched in anticipation as she again removed the eye from its pouch and, clinging with one hand to that terrible visage, slipped it into the empty socket.

Nothing happened.

Erin looked down at me with a worried expression.

Then the hair on my neck suddenly rose.

“Get down!” I whispered as loudly as I dared, “Now!”

My short sword slipped from its sheath of its own accord. I stood in the shadow of the statue, tense and suddenly sweating. It felt as if the temperature in the room had suddenly risen. My eyes flickered to the nearest set of doors where I sensed something. I saw steam begin rise from their surface and heard the wood crack. Erin was halfway down the statue. Time seemed to crawl.

The braziers, even those which had been previously unlit, suddenly flamed into life. Tapestries smouldered then caught fire and the hall was suddenly bathed in red light. The doors we had used to enter were flung open and three acolytes came a step into the chamber, blocking the doorway and looking grim though they didn’t move any further into the room. My eyes returned to the door in front of me. Erin leapt the last of the distance and I yelled something at her about rushing the acolytes. I had to yell because a sound had risen; a terrible, pummelling sound that affected my gut rather than my ears and threatened to drive me to my knees. Before we could move the steaming doors in front of us burst open, fragments of heated wood flying from them in all directions.

Into the room strode a demon.

#

I was suddenly a believer.

It was at least three hands taller than me and looked vaguely like a man who’d been burned in pitch. Its skin was red and sickly grey, with protrusions like boils covering every inch of it. Its hands ended in wicked black talons and long as my hand but it carried no weapon, nor did it wear any clothing. For all its horrid appearance though it was its eyes that drew one’s gaze. They were like embers; black with constantly changing highlights of orange and yellow that stared unblinkingly at us. They imparted a sense of ageless purpose; a predatory aspect that would be alien in understanding to even the fiercest of men or beasts. Even so, it was obvious that there was intelligence behind them. It approached to within spear’s length of us it and stopped, appraising us with an inhuman regard.

It suddenly chuckled; a sound like gravel being raked by metal blades.

“So mortals,” it growled, “I take it you have no newborn’s tears?”

“Um, no,” I said, nonplussed. We were both crouched, vibrating with tension. My sword grip was slick in my hand and I could see Erin’s daggers trembling from the corner of my eye. A conversation was the last thing I’d expected.

“No fresh cut grass?” it asked, almost pleasantly - at least as pleasantly as something that sounded like that could.

“Noooo....”

“No virgin’s blessing?”

I glanced at Erin, “Definitely not.”

That earned me a withering look.

“And I suppose then,” the demon said, in voice as mesmerizing as flame, “As ill prepared as you are, you do not have in your possession the Rite of Banishment that has been preserved by the ancient priesthood of Quat lo these many centuries?” he grinned an awful, toothy grin, “That is, the scroll that describes the only possible way of returning us to our eternal prison? Oh wait,” he held out a claw-like hand and suddenly it was holding a ratty looking scroll, “But of course you don’t. Here it is.”

His eyes were hard black coals that glittered with amusement. Our eyes fixed on the scroll as it began to smoulder. Flame burst from its edges and in and instant he held a burning ball of ash. He dropped it to the floor and it scattered into grey dust then raised malice filled eyes back to us.

“That can’t be good,” Erin whispered.

Suddenly there was a commotion at the shattered doors. Another demon entered, this one much larger and, impossibly, uglier than the first. It stalked into the room like a predator into a cage full of sheep. Even the other demon tensed in its presence. As it approached I felt a sudden constriction around my heart. One of its eye’s was a star shaped scar; a match to the one on the statue.

“What is going on Damut?” it rumbled, “What are these slaves doing here?”

The demon Damut’s eyes narrowed viciously but he did not look around.

“Leave us Hahzak,” he growled, “Just some heroes.”

“The jewel!” the one called Hahzak crowed as it spotted the ruby sitting atop the statue, “Oh, how amusing!”

The tension in the room was unbearable. The two demon’s eyes did not meet but somehow it felt as if all their attention was tuned to the other. Something was going on that we had no inkling of. Our breath suddenly sounded thunderous.

“What do you intend with them?” Hahzak finally broke the silence.

Strangely, Damut looked up to the ruby before answering.

“I care not. They are yours.”

With that, Damut turned abruptly and stalked out of the chamber. The demon called Hahzak seemed to relax. He took a step back and grinned a truly awful grin. His black teeth seemed to smoulder; heat rose around him in waves. His eyes burned.

Then suddenly, so did we.

#

We burned. Our hair was gone in a flash. Flames licked our eyelids and burrowed into our ears. Our breath was sucked from our lungs and our clothing ignited and fell away in blackened clots. My sword glowed red, then yellow as the leather grip melted beneath my hand. We screamed.

And yet there was no pain.

It took a moment to realize that we were alive. Erin and I looked at each other with wide eyes. We were suddenly as naked as newborns but for the amulets that Boodin had given us prior to our excursion. Steam rose off us as mists off a river and piles of ash surrounded us, along with glowing bits of metal in the form of knives, buttons, and other accoutrements that would not burn - but the pale blue amulets remained unsullied.

Erin was the first to move, snatching her knives from the ground where she’d dropped them. They still glowed ruddy red but she grasped them without discomfort and looked up at Hahzak with an evil grin. I glanced at the sword still in my hand, which I had been too stupefied to drop. It too looked as though it had just emerged from a forge, but the metal felt cool in my hand. I too could not help a hard smile from coming to my face.

Hahzak snarled.

We charged him as one, three blades slashing at his leathery skin. His claws flashed out in return but we danced out of reach, turning him around and keeping him off balance with flurries of blows. My blade hit several times, only to be deflected harmlessly by skin as tough as armour. Erin jumped in and jabbed at his midsection but he moved like a snake and she hit only air. Gods he was fast! Then, as he ducked to avoid a sweep of my sword, one of Erin’s knives struck true. The point bit into his shoulder and black blood flew from the wound. Hahzak howled with rage. I took advantage and reversed my stroke, stepping in to stab at his back as he spun to face Erin. I felt the tip penetrate grudgingly, as if punching through thick leather. He jerked back towards me. I spun out of his reach and Erin was in again, low this time, stabbing at the backs of his legs.

Hahzak screamed.

With unnatural strength he leapt twisting into the air and was suddenly half way across the room from us. We started toward him with grim faces but he turned to us with flaming eyes. Tendrils of smoke rose from his wounds and his chest heaved in time with stentorian breaths. He spoke a word.

The air between us roiled. Flame came from nothingness and suddenly resolved into a blanket of yellow fire, speeding at us and enveloping us in the blink of an eye. We cowered.

It was an unthinking reaction, an inbred response that could not be controlled. In the instant of time it took for us to remember we couldn’t be hurt by the fire Hahzak was gone, running from the room through the doors of the chamber with inhuman speed.

Erin started after him with a snarl, but I called her back. Her eyes flashed and for a moment I thought she’d ignore me. Then the rage in her subsided and she nodded, straightening and relaxing her stance.

“Right,” she said, grasping my reservations immediately, “Four demons; two naked thieves. Let’s get out of here.”

We ran. The acolytes who blocked our way scattered, their eyes wide and filled with terror. As we retraced our steps at speed I spoke my thoughts aloud.

“Now we know how to kill them.”

“Do we?”

“It ran away didn’t it?”

Erin had to agree, but didn’t seem as confident as I was. I had felt the demon’s fear though. I saw its blood on my blade.

“We get as many of these amulets as we can get our hands on,” I said, “Put ‘em on a bunch of death-or-glory lunatics, bless their weapons, strip ‘em naked and send ‘em in. Your basic unholy, fire resistant, demon-killers.”

She looked at me with an expression that I decided to interpret as admiring astonishment.

Sounds of pursuit arose behind us and we held off speaking for a bit and concentrated on fleeing for our lives. We climbed the tower without issue, though a clamour of voices was rising behind us, and reached the rope. Lacking any sheath or belt, I dropped my sword. Erin passed me one of her knives and we each clamped one between our teeth as we clambered up it with me in the lead. Erin had a muffled comment about her view but otherwise we conserved our breath until we reached the roof. We sucked in the night air greedily and I pulled up the rope quickly before any of the pursuers came into sight. A decidedly demonic roar came from somewhere below.

“Alright, let’s call that plan A,” she said once she’d caught her breath, “But where are we going to find anyone stupid enough to volunteer?”

“Oh I don’t know,” I said, stepping to edge and looking down at the river swirling by a long way below us, “People will do some pretty stupid things, given enough incentive.”

I backed up a few steps and ran off the edge of roof, leaping outward as far as I could to ensure I would hit water instead of the stony bank. Erin was right behind me.

 

End of Part 2

 

Demon Eye - Part 2 © David Simpson (MacShimes)

Migrate Wizard: 
First Release: 
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