“Ah yes, house calls for exorcising lesser demons is a silver coin,” Freya informed the man in black.
He nodded and handed over the money.
Freya retrieved her old leather messenger bag and wooden staff leaning against her shop counter. She slipped a few bottles and a piece of bread into the bag.
“Lead the way!”
The man marched out of her shop, she followed close behind. The familiar chime of her shopkeeper’s bell muted as the door shut behind them. Freya paused to adjust her black cloak. By the time she looked up, the man was halfway down the street. Taking long strides, she rushed to catch up with him.
Freya glanced over her shoulder.
“Will you be in later today? My father’s knee is acting up again,” a young man called out as he set down a box of apples.
“Yes Allen, bring him by before supper. I’ll make him a compress and new talisman.”
Freya waved to the shopkeeper and focused on keeping up with her current client. The man in black led her through town and into the countryside.
The lazy country air tossed her long brown hair about and wafted up the smell of freshly turned soil. A few farmers greeted them once they saw her shaman’s staff. Freya reminisced how excited she used to be for a countryside exorcism, but now she regarded it as a simple exercise.
During her first exorcism, her heartbeat with a mix of panic and thrill. Her shaman master let her finish the exorcism since the demon was pitifully weak. Yet, the accomplishment filled her 11-year-old body with a rush of pride and elation. Now she could easily handle more dangerous demons, but her 24-year-old self couldn’t gather as much excitement.
Finally, they reached the man’s house. A simple white picket fence lined the property, and an old oak tree cast shade over most of the house.
“Small but quaint,” Freya said aloud.
The man looked at her.
“The demon is inside. If you don’t mind, I’d like to watch.”
“Alright, it shouldn’t be a problem as long as you stay back. Most demons that take up residence in a house will try to fight those trying to get rid of them, but not bystanders. You should be fine.”
Freya shifted her messenger bag and hefted her staff, “Okay, let’s see what we’re in for.”
She opened the door and peered inside. For a moment, Freya saw a white, undecorated interior space, but the next instant, a black haze materialized, filling the house.
“Get back!” Freya shouted, throwing out her arm to stop the man from entering the house.
This was no simple lesser demon hiding in a tea kettle. Digging out a bottle from her messenger bag, she lobbed it into the house. The glass shattered, spraying its contents. The demon let out a shrill screech.
Out of the black fog, a form emerged. Freya gaped at the ox-sized demon. It took the shape of a feral cat with exaggerated claws and ragged fur that resembled obsidian shards.
Growling, the demon slinked forward then charged out of the house. It lashed out a claw that Freya blocked with her staff. Her arms buckled, but she pressed back. The long claws dug into her staff, and waves of dark energy emanated out. She shivered.
The demon leaned in, knocking the staff out of her hands—Freya dove for it, dodging its next strike.
Rolling, the young shaman snatched up her staff and struck its side. Her hit bounced off harmlessly.
Stepping away, Freya took a shaky breath, trying to compose herself. The demon rounded to face her.
“Shit, how did it get so big?” the man grumbled behind her. “But this is a good opportunity.”
He rushed forward.
“Don’t be an idiot!” Freya reached out to grab him in vain. She tensed, preparing to see him lacerated to death.
But he easily sidestepped the demons' attacks. Snaking around the demon’s side with lightning speed, he stabbed behind its shoulder.
The demon shrieked and lashed back at the man.
He dodged again, rolling under the demon to stab a different spot, then retreated to safety. Freya watched, mouth agape.
She shook off the astonishment. Despite the creature’s injuries, it appeared more annoyed than mortally wounded. Freya took out another bottle and carefully aimed for one of its bigger stab wounds.
It turned towards Freya, a murderous look in its eyes. Forgetting about the man, it leaped at her. She rolled to the side and struck again with her staff, putting all her energy into the hit.
The demon prepared to hack at her again, but the man came up behind it and slashed at the wound with the potion mixture on it.
Lightning quick, the demon spun around and struck in retaliation. The man flew back several feet, blood splatter following him.
But the damage was done. The potion had soaked into the demon’s body. Its physical form weakened, the demon staggered.
Finally, it dissolved back into black mist and drifted away in the wind.
Freya hurried to the mysterious man. His sword lay at his side, and he clutched his stomach. Blood pooled beneath him from multiple lacerations. Even worse, his pelvis laid at an unnatural angle from his chest, and he was not moving his lower limbs.
“Fuck, it wasn’t supposed to go like this,” he said weakly.
Freya laid down her staff and knelt beside him. Yes, it wasn’t supposed to go like this. How did a demon of that size end up in a house? How did the man even manage to be in his house earlier this morning?
She fed him a healing tonic despite knowing it was a waste of difficult to gather herbs. He had saved her after all. Hopefully, the potion would soothe him a little.
Stifling the lump in her throat, she tried to think of some comforting words to ease the dying man.
Then he turned to smoke.
Freya tentatively reached a hand into the mist. Nothing. The black cloud thinned as wisps of smoke got carried off with the afternoon breeze—still nothing. The man had turned to smoke. Just like a demon.
She sat back on her heels.
“What is going on here?”
As the last tendril of the smoke cleared, she noticed something strange on the ground.
Freya stared down at the objects in front of her, even more confused.
In place of the man’s body, his black clothing sat neatly folded but still bloodied. His sword–which Freya thought had been by his side–laid on top of the clothes in its scabbard. Three large books, two apples, a small knife, water bottle, playing card, and a sack overflowing with gold coins also materialized in place of the man’s body.
Rubbing her eyes, she reached for her staff and used it to cautiously poke at one of the books. No illusion. She picked it up. The book had a simple cover design with a title consisting of odd foreign symbols. The inside pages were covered in more symbols of the same type.
Setting the book aside, she touched one of the apples. Again, it seemed real. The water bottle felt full, judging by its weight. Holding one of the gold coins close, they appeared authentic to Freya’s eye.
When she picked up the odd playing card, something filled her field of view. She jumped back, only to find her vision still obscured.
Words hung in the air against a slightly blurred background.
[Player Card Acquired]
[Welcome to the Game!]
[Please choose your character class]
As soon as Freya finished reading the message, the words disappeared. Images, along with smaller text replaced them.
Freya blinked in bewilderment. Images of people in odd styles of dress moved about in front of her.
“Are these people trapped here? Is this some enchantment?” Freya reached out to try to touch one of the people.
As her finger made contact, the other images vanished, and a wall of text appeared.
[Attaining knighthood allows one to build strength and endurance. Knights have a predisposition for wielding long swords and shields. They draw the attention of both friends and foes alike!]
[Do you wish to become a Knight?]
“What? I don’t want to become a knight. What is going on here?”
Freya attempted to move away from the text, but it followed her movements, staying the same distance in front of her. She looked down at the ground, searching for an enchantment stone.
Suddenly the text vanished.
Looking back up, she noticed something new in the top left corner of her vision.
[Lvl 13 Unclassified]
[200/200 HP] [100/100 MP]
[Choose a Class!]
The last line was written in red.