The demon’s roar shattered the air, its hulking form far quicker than anything that large should be. With a huge, double-headed axe in a huge hand, it swung, blow barely missing Stathis, sending up a cloud of dirt and stones as it smashed the ground next to her, dirt bouncing off her armour. Archers up on the city wall loosed arrows, most bouncing off its enchanted blue flesh, even the few that penetrated not having any effect.
Semari charged in, quickly striking it with a succession of punches, without any impact, before it pushed her away with a kick of its own, even the slight force enough to send Semari back through the air. While it was busy with Semari, Stathis attacked, trying to slice through the skin, all her strength behind the attack barely leaving a scratch, a tiny spot of black ichor welling out of the wound. Then she was pushed onto the defensive, the haft of its giant axe swinging around, clipping her shield with enough force to send her sprawling backwards, barely staying upright.
‘Parth, try and bind it!’
An arrow shot out, surrounded by green energy. As it hit the demon, it erupted into thick vines, holding it in place, giving Stathis and Semari a chance to regain their footing and attack again, still unable to penetrate its defences.
A horn sounded from inside the walls, four armoured figures jumping over the wall, magical energy blossoming around them and cushioning their fall. An aggressive tune filled the air, a musician on the walls playing a violin, managing a strident, martial tune as he exhorted his comrades to greater efforts.
Their new allies charged straight in, taking advantage of the beast’s momentary bindings to attack, managing somewhat more success than Stathis had, actually inflicting a few minor wounds, making it bellow in pain as it broke through the vines with brute strength, before swinging the axe to create some space, taking the opportunity to retreat, running off into the surrounding wilderness with giant bounding leaps.
The immediate threat gone, Stathis had a moment to look at the newcomers – all wearing well-crafted armour, their tabards all bearing the same crest, a black spike against a silver background. Stathis groaned – the Order of the Ebon Lance. Although at least they’d been helpful for once, and in the daylight, no less.
Their leader leapt off the walls, making sure to spin impressively as he fell, before approaching. Unlike his companions, he was dressed to impress, all tight trousers and slightly open shirt, hair the sort of tousled mess that took hours of work in front of a mirror to achieve. To his credit, he wore it well, and was very easy on the eyes. He made a bow, looking over each of them in turn, Janaxia returning his look with interest, the most animated she’d been since losing her voice, although she still hung back, awkward and timid.
‘Greeting, brave adventurers! I must thank you for occupying that beast for long enough for us to arrive, even if we were unable to defeat it. It will be back some time later, I’m sure, should you care for a rematch. But it is always a pleasure to meet those brave enough to defend Redcastle in its time of need! But my manners are lacking - I am Lord Terinth Sur Perlain, Knight of the Ebon Lance.’
Despite herself, Stathis couldn’t help but smile at his charm. ‘I’m Stathis, this is Janaxia, Semari and Parth. It seems like the demons are worse than I’d heard.’ There was an indignant huff from Janaxia, prompting Stathis to correct herself. ‘Janaxia Uth Tremari, I mean.’ Another huff was probably because she’d either gotten it wrong, or cut something important off, but it that should cover the main points.
‘My honour to meet you all. Especially a noble daughter of the town, returned home in an hour of need! But, yes, the beasts have been getting worse recently. Nothing that cannot be handled, but rather troublesome, nevertheless. But there are more important things to worry about! Have you secured lodging yet? The town is rather full at the moment.’
Although he was talking to Stathis, he wasn’t shy about letting his eyes wander, hovering on Janaxia, even if she was dressed rather drably, her style having taken a hit since she had lost her voice. Semari didn’t seem to notice, instead eying up the wall for a moment, before running forward, leaping for it, somehow finding foot- and hand-holds on the sheer surface, making her way to the top and posing in a victory stance.
‘Yes, we’re staying at Janaxia’s place.’ Normally Janaxia would be proudly stepping forward to describe it, but she stayed back, eyes downcast, clearly not wanting to communicate without speech. ‘It’s up in the Old Quarter.’
His eyes lit up. ‘Ah, of course, only appropriate for a woman of rank and status! I’m throwing a small event in a few days, I’m sure you would wish to attend. I’ll have my man pass along the details. But until then, welcome to Redcastle!’ He made it sound as though it were his domain, but the gates obediently fell open, allowing them entrance.
‘Just a sec.’ Stathis walked back, picking up the rope still tied around the sword. With an audience watching, it felt even sillier, having to drag a sword along, but for the amount they could probably get for it, it would be worth it.
Once inside, it was the same steep, redstone streets she remembered, the buildings all of the same material, everyone going about their business, despite the demon that had just attacked. Merchants traded, servants worked, nobility gathered around in cafes to chat, flirt and idle away the time. Even the festival flags were flying, although limp with the lack of wind. Parth walked off, swiftly returning with a long wooden box, long enough for the sword to go into, even if it was awkward getting it in without touching it, a few children pointing and laughing until Semari chased them off with mock rage.
Terinth continued to talk, his chatter light and breezy, even managing to find time to talk with and compliment both Parth and Semari. Stathis didn’t catch the details, but Parth actually smiled, murmuring something back that made him burst into laughter. Once the sword was safely contained, then they moved off, winding through the steep streets, moving from the gate area into the richer areas. Everywhere the buildings were still of the same stone, but larger, the doors grander, rooftop gardens sending vines spilling down the walls, liveried servants going about bustling business.
As they walked on, Janaxia took the lead. Her family home had nothing to distinguish it from the neighbours, no malign symbols daubed onto the walls, no dark altar by the front door, not even a family crest on the door. Terinth took his leave, promising to return later, as Janaxia let them in. The sudden step into shade made Stathis shiver, an icy chill as she crossed the threshold.
Inside the place was all shabby, run-down gentility, ornamentation that might have been fashionable decades ago, but was now just dusty and faded, vaguely magical-looking knick-knacks, mostly of a mildly eldritch bent, but looking ornamental rather than used, everything dusty. She tried reaching out, sensing the aura of the area, staggering for a moment as she reeled under a sudden, overwhelming sense of coldness. It felt different than the normal, grating sense of wrongness that emanated from Janaxia, colder and older, if less dark. So, the place wasn’t just a normal summer house, because why would things ever be normal?
Janaxia ran her finger over a magic wand, black wood covered in vicious thorns, coming back with a thick coating of dust.
Why is this not clean!? Where are the servants?
The place did seem deserted, without any signs of life. Heading downwards, they found the kitchens and staff quarters – empty and deserted, without any food, everything dusty.
Frustration was growing on Janaxia’s face, a low, physic sense of malaise washing out, even without any words being broadcast. She turned to Stathis.
I have no idea how this has happened! For the house to be left in such a state is simply unforgiveable!
She was quite agitated, hair flicking like a guttering candle as Stathis tried to calm her down. ‘Don’t worry, I’m sure we can sort something out for food. And you can hire a few people can’t you?’
Parth, always sensitive to money matters, chipped in. ‘Family payment.’
I don’t see how this has happened!
She sounded quite distraught, apparently upset by the lack of maintenance performed on her family home. Maybe there was some political upset, or just no-one else cared.
Janaxia sighed. It has been a long day. I am going to rest, before trying to resolve this matter
She left, footsteps swallowed up in the stony silence of the house. Stathis, Semari and Parth looked between each other, before Semari began opening cupboards, happy to explore by herself. Stathis followed suit, leaving the kitchen and trying to work out what rooms the place had.