Chapter 90: The Raid pt.1
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“Hey, Renna?” Taava whispered.


“Thanks again for, well, ya know.” The former assassin looked down at her feet. Clad all in black, the demure pose she’d adopted looked somehow wrong. “I really meant all the stuff I said, I just couldn’t…”

I smiled softly. “I already forgave you Taava; it’s alright.”

She looked up at me and I rubbed her hair before she could say anything else. She recoiled, but didn’t move completely away.

“If everyone’s ready then?” Fira asked the assembled.

I nodded along with the others.

Fira smiled grimly. “Good. Zarenna, you’re going first. I’d say don’t hold back, but we want some of the evidence intact. If Garvin’s doing what we think he might be, however, do whatever you can.”

The weight of the task ahead settled back onto me, and I forced myself up out of a slouch, keeping my face as neutral as possible. “Yes Ser.” We hadn’t told everyone of the demonic nature of our theory, but they did know the main base was dangerous and my group and I were going in first, with other teams waiting to follow.

“Good. Split into your assigned groups and let’s go. Remember the tide table.” Fira turned and walked out of the dimly-lit building.


I hadn’t ever wondered why the Mudrats took their name. Well, maybe a little bit of wonder at why someone thought it’d sound intimidating or strong. But the origin of their name was clear: rats and mud. Riverside had both in abundance, so I shouldn’t have been surprised when I found myself crouched down in a stone tunnel, wading through what I really, really hoped was just mud. Taava had called this place the Underwash. I found myself wishing the “wash” part was true: I’d spent the whole walk pinching my nose shut with one hand.

Even crouched, my horns occasionally scraped something off the ceiling. My spear was tied low on my back and stuck out behind me right alongside my tail. Needless to say, we moved single file: me in front, Taava behind me, Salvador behind her, and Seyari taking up the rear.

Small furry things skittered about in the darkness all around the four of us. I could see just fine, but the shadows cast from the narrow-beamed oil lantern I held gave the rats an unearthly quality, especially when the light caught a beady-eye or three in the darkness.

Somewhere, in another convergent tunnel, were Fira and their team. A group led by Officer Lorton that included Aretan and Nelys was going to the mint. Rodrik and his teams were headed for the mint as well, but also other locations all over Riverside and other parts of Lockmoth.

My tail swished nervously behind me, pulled just up out of the muck. I accidentally batted Taava in the face with the un-spiked tip for the third time and she grabbed the spade. I suppressed a hiss of surprise and she let go. Sorry! Nerves!

When we finally reached the end, I felt like celebrating.

The end in question was a bricked off side-passage a few steps up out of the muck. The tunnel we were in continued on, much smaller and mostly full of mud. The brickwork here was newer than the rest; the grime didn’t quite have the same decades-long buildup.

Our job was dangerous, simple, and terrifying: be loud, distracting, and deadly. I was to play the part, more or less, of a rogue demon loose in the base. I accepted the slightly nauseating sense of excited anticipation a part of me had at the thought of just letting loose.

I’d indulge, but I wouldn’t go too far. All that I was feeling was me, not some foreign entity or some beast inside I had to control. A part of me—one that I’d accepted these past few weeks—really did enjoy the more “normal” parts of being a wrath demon.

The difference was in purpose: my wrath was no tool of wanton destruction—it was honed and focused and could tell friend from foe.

“Are ya gonna break the wall down soon?” Taava whispered from behind me, yanking me out of the justifications I was weaving in my head. “‘Cause it stinks like shit, and I think the rats’re gonna start bitin’ soon.”

“Sorry,” I mumbled, setting the lantern down behind me on the small dry ledge.

“Don’t be ‘sorry,’ be smash-ey,” Taava complained with a hiss. She took a step back into the others.

This time I didn’t respond. Instead, I drew a two-armed punch back, almost gagged on the smell that flooded my unplugged nose, and barreled my bare fists into the wall.

I forgot how fragile most things were. Ever since the island, I’d gotten very used to walking on eggshells, so to speak. My fists went through brick the wall with a loud “boom,” punching a nearly person-sized hole in the wall. A hole I quickly made bigger by shouldering my way through and standing up to my full height, horns taking out cheap brick and scratching twin lines in the stone ceiling above.

The room inside was dimly lit by flickering oil lamps. Chairs around a table were kicked swiftly aside as their occupants stood up, reaching for their weapons. Cards flew off the table, scattering into the air. All four men, unwashed and afraid, stared at me wide-eyed. I didn’t need to start killing to get these goons to back down.

“Your boss,” I said, trying a diplomatic tack despite the situation. “Where is he?”

“W-who?” one of them stuttered defiantly.

“Garvin.” I took a step forward and activated my aura sight. Mundane, each of them—no more than a sliver of an aura apiece.

“B-big room at the end of the hall!” one of them blurted, pointing at the only intended door to the room.

“Thanks,” I responded automatically, then flashed a toothy smile. “You four going to surrender?”

Three nodded and dropped their weapons. A fourth tried to run, so I grabbed him and tossed him to the ground. Something cracked and he started screaming, “Demon! Demon!”

I heard movement from farther in the base. “You got this?” I turned just in time to see my friends subduing the group.

“Go on ahead,” Seyari said, “We’ll catch up.”

I turned again.

“And Zarenna,” Seyari said, using my full name, “don’t try to get people to surrender.” She pulled a shank out of her side and slashed it across the “surrendered” goon who’d just stuck her with it. “You can’t tell who’s just saying whatever you want out of fear.”

Next to her, Taava blocked a surprise swing from one of the other “surrendered” goons. The last guy tried to get up and run again, so I swept him with my tail, spikes crushing into him wetly. Taava got inside her attacker’s guard and slid a blade deep across his throat.

The last of the four looked at Salvador and the rest of us and put his hands up. “N-no funny business from me! I ain’t dyin’ over this, n-no matter what Garvin says.”

I stopped at the doorway, acutely aware of rushing footsteps on the other side.

“What did Garvin say?” Taava beat me to the question.

“H-he said something important was happenin’ tonight. That we’d need ta make sure he wasn’t interrupted and anyone caught slackin’d be—”

“That’s enough,” Taava hissed she looked up at me with burning eyes. “Where is he?”

The goon shivered. “Hall, left! D-down the hall to the left—the big door at the end.”

Taava nodded at me. I turned, and before the nearing footsteps could burst through the door, I went through it myself. Splinters and masonry showered around me as I slid into the hall outside. Immediately, blocked a stab with my buckler. A crossbow bolt bounced off my shoulder.

Several Mudrat members surrounded me. I slashed out with my claws and spun my tail around. Claw and spike found home and several hurt or dying Mudrats were sent stumbling or flying back. I threw a gout of fire down the right hallway, and in time with the screams, I charged through the Mudrats assembled in the left hallway.

Bones crunched against me, and another claw swipe took out a pair hiding in a doorway. With one of my lower arms, I blocked the blade of someone who’d gotten out of my way in time, and tore through their torso with the claws of that same side’s upper arm.

The hallway ahead of me turned a corner. I thundered around it, claws gouging into the metal of my boots and horns just scraping the ceiling. When I rounded the corner, I brought my bucklers up just in time to catch most of a volley of crossbow fire. The bolts pierced deep into the small shields, some going through.

One hit my in the shoulder and sunk in, finding a lucky gap through my chain shirt. Magic.

I breathed in, and exhaled a jet of flame down the hallway toward my assailants. White hot, crimson-tinged fire poured forth. My fire met a barrier of force. For a moment, the force magic held, and then my flames shattered it and burned through to the door at the end of the hall, immolating the people who stood in front of it.

Unlike the other doors, this one was solid stone—and it looked older as well. Not ornate or fancy-looking, but a solid construction nonetheless. I raced toward it, slashing into doorways I passed and sometimes finding flesh inside. Glancing over my shoulder, I saw Taava darting behind me, just around the corner.

I sped up and rammed the stone door, the stone’s faint magic flaring when I bounced off it. I tore the crossbow bolt that’d landed out of me and stared at the now-cracked stone door that dared to defy me.

I had an urge to headbutt it, but instead I lined up my shoulders again and rammed forward. Another crack resounded through the tunnels. The third time was the charm and I burst into the room.

The stone chamber had a high ceiling and other arched entranceways, long-since bricked off. There may have been something carved on the ceiling at some point, but it was faded with age and covered in soot from cheap oil. Oil lamps, instead of candles were strewn about, but I saw exsanguinated bodies and a sickening amount of blood. A massive ritual circle lay across the floor, much bigger than the one Erik had made. An intensely bright gathering of magic was coalescing in the center. What? How!?

A dark figure stood to one side; their focus broken.

“Garvin!” Taava shouted, dashing in next to me.

A well-dressed man with long, well-styled hair, Garvin I presumed, looked over at me. If he was surprised, he hid it, and the light of the oil lamps played shadows with the long scar that crossed his neck.

“Taava, my Raavian—” Garvin started to speak with a voice that dripped poisoned honey.

He continued, but I didn’t hear what was said. Without hesitation, I charged into the ritual circle to try to interrupt whatever he was doing. When I passed the edge of the ring, I felt something resist me for a moment.

Hardly stumbling, I ran into the center of the glyph and with blazing claws, scoured the center from the formation. The result was immediate: the magic gathering in the center rippled, shuddered, and then exploded.

The circle kept the blast contained, and I was slammed against a wall of force before the power of the blast pushed through and exploded outward, sending me crashing into the nearby stone wall. The magic formations that ringed the room were the only thing that kept me from going farther. I felt several bones break on impact, and my legs didn’t respond immediately when I tried to stand up. The pain should have been immense, but was instead dulled and distant.

Taava ran back in from the doorway over to Garvin who was stumbling upright while coughing. A shield of force around him protected him from her slashes as he stood up. Taava backed off to avoid a retaliatory strike, and stood defensive to one side.

In the place where the ritual circle was, the air was warping and twisting, visible even without my arua sight. Overlaid through the air, I could see shadows of a barren landscape veiled in red mist. Oh, fuck.

“What have you done!” Garvin roared, punctuating the statement with a wracking cough. “The containment formation’s gone and the ritual’s destabilized!”

Taava darted at him again, but had to retreat from a barrage of barely-visible spikes of force. The caster, Garvin, held out his hand and breathed heavily, sweat and soot and dried blood staining his brow. The force of the magical detonation had blown the contents of the room everywhere, splashing burned blood over everything. Taava threw something sharp that glinted in the crazed light of hundreds of dying candles, but it bounced off a shield of force that Garvin conjured.

I tried to move my legs again; they were responding now, but only just. I needed to move—I couldn’t help Taava from where I was. My magic was draining rapidly to fix me and I couldn’t be certain any fire I threw wouldn’t be splashed off Garvin’s shield onto Taava.

“Kill me now, my Raavian rose, and you won’t be able to close this tear,” Garvin said, forcing an admirable amount of calm into his voice.

“Fine,” Taava spat.

Garvin smiled victoriously. “Good, now do—”

I watched Taava move, again surprised at the speed of the mortal kazzel. Her twin daggers flashed magic. One impacted Garvin’s shield, but the other slid up through his guard, Taava’s arm bending backwards at the elbow, and up into this throat. Magic flared, but Taava’s tail caught the gang boss’s leg and tripped him up.

That moment of broken concentration was all Taava needed.

Using Garvin’s flickering shield as leverage, Taava drove the closer blade in hard, through Garvin’s shield of force and into his neck. With a sharp pop, Taava’s elbow bent back, and her blade exited Garvin’s throat, tearing a path right along his old scar, but much, much deeper. Fresh blood sprayed out over the pair, bright crimson against the dull reddish brown of Garvin’s victims.

“You—” Garvin gurgled. “I… wasn’t…” He tried to continue speaking as he shakily collapsed to the ground, hands over his throat and force magic trying to close his wound.

Taava didn’t give him a chance. She leapt on the dying man, slashing at his hands and his abdomen and his face, brutalizing him until the last of his magic snapped apart and a bloody, disfigured corpse sank to the ground. Shivering, she hissed and kicked the broken body.

I looked from her to the warping air at the ritual’s center and shakily stood up. That can’t be good. From out in the hallway, I heard the rapid thuds of two pairs of booted feet approaching—Seyari and Salvador I hoped.

Before they arrived, the air twisted with a loud snap and an acrid burning smell filled the air. Like old cloth ripping, the warped air pushed open. A disfigured limb longer than I was tall, and with far too many fingers, thrust its way into the room. Then another, and another, and another. Something was pulling its way through and it looked like it’d have a tough time standing up in the ten-meter-tall room.

“Seyari!” I shouted, hoping the approaching pair was backup. “Do you know how to close a hell portal? Because we really need to know, right now.”

From just outside the ruined room, Seyari screamed her reply. “FUCK!”

Well that escalated quickly...

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