I stood shocked after hearing Lorelei’s voice. I’d walked right into an ambush, meant probably for both Seyari and me, alone. How did they know we’d come through here? How was Lorelei here?
“You are not in charge!” a deeper voice yelled.
I needed to move—now. I was in the open; a near cliff with ambushers on top on one side, and a ravine down to the river on the other.
Bolts of magic and magicked arrows flew by me, several holy. I wasn’t able to dodge all of them. An arrow caught me in the upper left arm and I felt the limb go dead.
The narrow path above the gorge didn’t afford me any cover. I looked up the steep hillside above me, and, with no other options, I clambered up it. Slick with rain, I was only able to keep my grip by my claws.
A shout of “Incoming!” was barely out of someone’s mouth when I reached the top. I ducked behind a large tree, away from a group of people I could see through the rain and dark, and ripped the arrow out. Just touching the shaft burned my hand and I dropped the enchanted arrow with a hiss.
I didn’t have much time to think. A bolt of lightning split the tree down the middle.
Why am I hesitating? They’re trying to kill me!
Hesitating, or debating? I darted behind a small ridge. I wasn’t sure I could take them. Yes I can.
I just don’t want to hurt Lorelei. Maybe there are others in the group who’ve been misled?
“Are you absolutely certain we can’t talk about this?” I shouted into the rain, knowing the answer.
“Do not let it inside your heads!” That same masculine voice from before.
Mordwell? I doubted it—the voice was too young.
I ducked out from the side of the small ridge and sprinted at my full speed toward where the spells originated, darting from side to side. The rain seemed to slow down.
I reached a man I didn’t recognize. So slow. I curled my claws into a fist and punched his shoulder, hard. I felt bone shatter and the man spun around, slamming toward the dirt.
I dashed away before he hit the ground. I dodged more incoming fire and overshot my second target. A pained scream went up from behind me.
Around me, in the darkness, I could see over a dozen figures, spread out. I didn’t feel anger from any of them. Any of them except one. Lorelei.
I didn’t see any that looked old enough to be Mordwell at first glance. I darted to my next target, a tall thin man. I threw a punch toward him and a wall of rock moved up barely in time to intercept.
My fist went through it.
Stone shattered, only slightly slowing my hit. My aim was off and I caught this man square in the chest. I heard a quick snap and a wet, unpleasant sound. He flew backwards and I turned again.
Another volley forced me to dodge back toward the ravine. The path below me was wide enough to stop me if I fell. Probably.
My dead arm started to tingle with feeling, but the wound throbbed.
I turned to my next would-be target and froze. “Lorelei?” My voice was small and vulnerable—not at all matching the demon of wrath that I was.
Lorelei seemed too shocked to respond.
The world started to speed up again.
“Lor!” I heard a deep, vaguely familiar voice.
I turned and saw Markus, in full armor, sprinting at me. I’d stalled too long—he was almost on me.
Then, the earth beneath me started to shift.
“Die, demon!” I heard the same unknown man’s voice call out. I felt his anger, raw and fresh.
Several things happened at once. A flash of light and bolts of lightning. Holy enchanted arrows. Half a dozen other types of magic.
I couldn’t dodge them all. I moved and realized Lorelei was still frozen behind me. I turned and grabbed her, shielding her as I tried to drop prone.
Pain exploded from everywhere as my body was torn into by magic and missile alike.
I never hit the ground. Earth and stone erupted from around me. Spikes shot up from the ground. One caught Lorelei in the side, and the rest speared through me.
Then, everything fell away.
Markus and his glowing sword never reached me, but I heard him shout after Lorelei as we fell. There was no path below. There was only a ruined hillside sliding into the water. I kept my hold on Lorelei as we fell, and tried to shield her with my body as we bounced over rocks and bits of trees. It only hurt when a blow drove one of the arrows embedded in my back deeper into me.
Why am I even saving Lorelei? Why do I care?
My mind flashed back to a night long past around the fire on my island. The two of us had talked about fruit and laughed at old stories.
We hit the water.
The freezing cold current immediately swept us away. The night’s rain had flooded the creek and the violent torrent battered me against rocks. I pushed some magic into heat against the water. I tried to keep Lorelei above the water and struggled to keep a hand over her side that the spike had ravaged. I won’t let you die. Not now.
I struggled and kicked as much as I could without hurting Lorelei more than she already was. The frigid cold of the water seeped into my bones and I had to use some of my mana to heat the both of us. I kept tumbling end over end and couldn’t right myself.
Strength wasn’t the issue. I just simply didn’t have enough grip and couldn’t dig my clawed feet into the rocks fast enough to stop us. I could still feel Lorelei breathing. Somehow, I’d kept her above water enough of the time, but I was starting to choke.
My hands and arms and chest burned from whatever magic she used to shield herself from all the blows I couldn’t block
Eventually, I found purchase on a solid rock and was able to grab and claw my way to the edge of the torrent. I dragged both of us onto the shore and set Lorelei down. I ripped my shirt and tried to wrap her bloody side. The gash was huge. Was Lorelei going to die?
The broken bits of arrow stuck in me still burned. Two of my arms weren’t responding properly, and I knew I had broken ribs that were in the process of mending themselves.
“Please don’t die!” I hacked the words out, my voice hoarse and panicked.
Lorelei coughed and winced. I saw blood spray from the wound. She’d lost almost all color from her face. Slowly, the area around the wound lit up with a light that burned my eyes. I watched the gash slowly pull itself closed under my improvised wrapping, Lorelei’s holy magic no doubt saving her life. I breathed a sigh of relief when her breathing evened out.
I sat down and took a minute to dig out the arrows still embedded in me. My pack was long gone, and so was my spear. My dress was gone, too. I looked up the river and at the ravine we’d fallen from. I had more mana left than I thought I would, but I had a lot of healing left to do. Idly, I started to steam the water off of me before I realized the rain was soaking me faster than I could dry myself.
I heard coughing. I looked over to Lorelei. She was awake and sitting up, but her face was pale.
“Are you okay?” I asked.
Lorelei continued to cough. I was about to walk over to her when she finally stopped. “I—I think I will be.” An awkward silence stretched out between us, kept at bay only by the roaring river beside us. “Why?”
I tilted my head at her. “Why what? Why save you?”
“Why—yeah. Why any of this?” Lorelei responded and tried to stand. I could feel her anger, but to me she just looked exhausted.
“I’m not evil, Lorelei. At least I don’t think I am.” I stood up shakily myself. “All I want to do is live my life.”
Both of us started to walk away from the still-rising river. Lorelei stumbled and I caught her.
“Bull—“ Lorelei coughed involuntarily. “—shit.”
I wrapped her arm around my lower shoulders. “I guess you’re not totally wrong. I came here with Seyari to kill Mordwell.”
Lorelei barked out a laugh then groaned in pain. “Of course! I knew y-you and Yothariel were evil.”
“You mean Seyari.” I frowned and corrected her. “What do you know about Mordwell?”
“He’s the High Inquisitor, and one of the few survivors of Yothariel’s massacre. He’s also helped to purge the Inquisition of corrupt elements many times.”
“What do you mean helped purge?” We started to climb the hillside. Lorelei refused to be carried, so I half-carried her up as we wound our way back and forth.
“He helped get rid of the demonic cult that had infiltrated the Inquisition years ago. He’s a hero,” Lorelei replied strongly, managing not to cough.
I pulled us into a shallow rocky cave out of the rain. Less a cave and more a glorified overhang, but Lorelei looked like her legs were about to give out. I wished I had food, but I could at least make a fire.
Then I realized what Lorelei had just said. “Wait. Where was this cult? When was this?”
“Oh? Do you want to find allies,” Lorelei coughed again. “I’m not telling you, Demon.”
“My name is Zarenna.” I leaned back against the cave wall. It was wet.
“That doesn’t matter. I’m not telling you.”
I glanced over at Lorelei and she had set her jaw, but her eyes were unsure. She hadn’t gotten any angrier either.
I shrugged. “Fine, let’s just rest a while.”
“I said I’m not—oh.” Lorelei frowned.
I stepped outside a moment and snapped a small tree off at the base. I broke it in half again and quickly stripped the sodden branches with my claws.
“I won’t be intimidated, demon.” Lorelei glared at me when I stepped back inside.
“I know.” I piled some rocks up into a circle and broke the wood into smaller pieces, drying it out with my magic. I turned to Lorelei. “I can dry you or your clothes out if you want me to.”
“I’ll stay wet.”
“Will you say no to a fire?” I piled the wet wood up inside the rocks.
Lorelei looked at the fire pit and stayed silent, staring away from me.
“I’ll take that as you being fine with a fire.” I conjured flames over my hands and started to dry the wood. After a silent minute, the wood was dry enough to light. I took some of the sticks, dried them, and lit our small fire.
While I worked, I dried the rock behind and under me. My wounds still hurt, but they were healing. Even the ones inflicted by holy magic were starting to close over.
“I’m sorry I don’t have anything to eat,” I said into the fire we were both staring at. “Pack got washed away.”
“Does Yoth-Seyari make you carry her food?”
“No, but I carry most of ours anyway,” I looked over and saw Lorelei’s confused expression. “I need to eat, too, you know.”
Silence stretched on with the crackling of fire and roaring of distant water. As Lorelei dried out, a slight dusting of color started to return to her cheeks. The bags under her eyes told a much different story. I imagined she was mana exhausted. Her wound had barely healed closed.
“Why are you going with that half-angel?” Lorelei said softly, as if afraid of my answer.
“Because I believe her side of the story. Because I want that demon cult dead and they’re tied to Mordwell.”
“I can’t change your mind on that, can I?”
“No, you can’t, Demon.”
“Zarenna.” I corrected.
“Zarenna,” Lorelei said in a resigned voice, “what are you going to do with me?”
I thought a moment. “I don’t want to hurt you or Markus—”
“You seemed to have no trouble killing us earlier!” Lorelei shouted, ending in a cough.
“You were all trying to kill me! And I tried to leave people alive. If I wanted you all dead, I would have burned you or used my claws or my spear.”
Lorelei managed to roll her eyes. “Sure, De-Zarenna.”
I smiled despite myself. “Thanks.”
“Thanks for using my name.”
Lorelei didn’t respond to that immediately and stared into the fire a long time. “Are you really a demon of wrath?”
“Yeah, I am.”
“Why are you different?”
“I’m a terrestrial demon. But there’s more to it than that—stuff I don’t understand. I want to find answers though. I’m also trying to focus my anger where it needs to go, and on people who deserve it.”
“Sure you are. What will you do when you find those ‘answers’?”
“I’ll move on and try to live a life Ab-I’ll be proud of.” I looked over to see if Lorelei had caught my slip-up.
Lorelei arched her eyebrow. “Ab?”
“An old friend.” I didn’t elaborate.
“No. And that’s all I’ll tell you.”
Lorelei hummed in dissatisfaction, but stayed quiet.
I broke the silence. “Do you want to sleep here, or do you want me to try to get you back to Markus and the others tonight?”
Lorelei looked over with narrowed eyes. “What are you planning to do with me?”
“I literally just asked you. I’m only planning to keep you safe.”
“If you go after Mordwell or the others, I’ll kill you.” Lorelei spoke confidently, but her shoulders drooped.
“I want to prove Seyari’s right, first.”
“So, you don’t believe her?”
I shook my head “I believe her. The problem is that no one else does.”
“Did she do anything do you?” Lorelei narrowed her eyes.
Lorelei’s question surprised me. I stuttered the start of my response. “Uh, no? Wait, yes: she opened up to me.”
“Then why isn’t she with you?”
I felt a pang of guilt. “Because I messed up.”
Lorelei shifted as she sat. “What do you mean?”
“I mean that I was worried and I knew Seyari was acting rashly, but now she thinks I don’t trust her.”
“So, you went your separate ways?”
“I hope not. She’s hurting and I want to help her, but I don’t want her to do something she’ll regret, or worse.”
“Then the half-angel is coming to kill Mordwell by herself?”
I jolted. Shit. I’d said too much. I shook my head. “I don’t know.”
Lorelei glared at me and I did my best to look certain. The red-haired woman didn’t let on if she knew or not.
Now I wasn’t sure if it was safe for me to take her back to the people she was with and slip away. I couldn’t exactly ask her to sit by while I beat everyone but Markus up.
“I want you to take me back to the others,” Lorelei said with a slight edge to her voice.
She turned to me. “You promised.”
Demons didn’t need to keep their promises. “I did.” I nodded anyway.
“Let’s go then!” Lorelei stood up quickly and wavered for a moment before finding her feet.
“Alright,” I replied. “I’ll get you close and then leave.”
Lorelei looked conflicted at that.
“I’m not giving you a choice about that part.” I replied sternly.
I scattered the fire and we left the cave back into the driving rain. The rest of the walk up the hillside drained the last of Lorelei’s energy, and she leaned on me while we walked back through the forest along the ridge above the narrow path.
Before we got to the ambush location, both of us saw a flash light up the night sky. Then another. And another. This was no late-season lightning. We starting sprinting through the driving rain. Rather, we started sprinting, then I picked a protesting Lorelei up into a princess carry so we could move faster.
There was only one reason that group would be fighting again tonight. Seyari.