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Chapter 86

Page history last edited by Anonymoose 5 years, 11 months ago

A breeze from the cold night air chilled me to my core; it was like a bucket of ice water dumped over me. There was a ringing that lingered in my ears, but the clear air soothed my shot nerves. Without the background noise of a hundred conversations all at once in all directions I could now just barely hear myself think. But I wasn't thrilled about the destinations my train of thought wanted to drop me off at. Circumstances, however, were not going to tolerate me loitering at the station. Not with this train whistle screeching inside my ear.

 

Everything had been fine until I spotted those beady eyes draped in a white lab coat staring down at me. It brought about a phantom pain in my chest, the feeling of being caught in a vice. Claustrophobia and the feeling of cracking ribs caught me short of breath. That sea of people jostling about inside started to smother me and I felt as though I was drowning. A cascade of confusing and conflicting emotions led me into panic. This manor was safer than nearly anywhere else I could think of right now, but my instincts, carried on a gut feeling, cried in protest against my better judgement.

 

Vee was a dangerous man: what happened back in Domdracveria was proof enough of that. But he shouldn't be able to lift a finger at a time like this. But why would he? Why would he even bother? The man looked right at me. He had a disgusting grin on his face when he stared right at me. What was he thinking? What did he want? I had only meet him once before, but one of his creations nearly crushed the life out of me shortly after. The tingling sensation of that things heart in my hand which attacked my arm flared up again; probably a natural progression of the cold evening breeze...

 

I hoped.

 

Turning back around, I saw Rose had taken her place at the door to the balcony. People were still keeping clear, so I'd at the very least would not have to worry about anyone sneaking up from behind. She turned her head around and gave me a cheesy smile and a thumbs up. It was embarrassingly out-of-place, but even then no one at the party paid any attention. We were the elephant in the room that everyone was desperate to ignore. It'd keep us out of trouble, but it was also going to make it hard to strike up a conversation and land us a contract. I gave Rose a weak smile and a wave in return and with that she beamed brightly once more before turning around and resuming her watch.

 

Meanwhile, I fished out that small golden ankh from my pocket and turned it over and over on the palm of my hand. I held it up to my eye and peered through it at the twilight landscape. Below the manor were acres of vineyard. Countless flowering vines predicted a generous bunker crop come fall. The smells of dew and vineyard hit my nose at last and the greenery in the moon and starlight captivated me, calmed me. My heart rate settled back down, so now was the time to remember how this thing was supposed to work.

 

I think I was supposed to swipe my thumb across the spine of the ankh from the bottom of the loop to the base of the staff, but I couldn't remember if it mattered what side...

 

With the right touch the gold trinket glowed faintly and a dog whistle ring brought the device to life. The suddenness in which it came to life caused me to flinch and crane my neck back while I held it as far away in front of me as I could. The contraption gave me the impress that it just wasn't as stable as it looked. This thing filled me now with a whole other sense of unease. But it was a necessary tool, like nitroglycerine.

 

It pulsed once, twice, and on the third time it stabilized. Now there was a hum instead, a rhythmic pulse, a predictable harmonic sine wave. A high pitch voice was carried through the ether from the open loop of the ankh. An aggravating shrill static from the trinket lanced my eardrums, but there was a clear voice. It sounded very distant and quiet, but a girl's still manged to make it through.

 

     “We're sorry, the message you have tried to send could not be completed as cast. Please stop channeling and try-”

 

     “Ba'el, knock it off,” I said impatiently.

 

     “Relax,” Ba'el snide was thick on the other end. “If that thing in your hand hasn't exploded yet then everything is good.”

 

Now I flinched for real and held the gold ankh as far away from my face as I could.

 

     “Hey, stop moving that thing around so much! It's impossible to keep this connection as is.”

 

     “Excuse me for being worried when you say this thing could explode,” I hissed back after steeling my courage enough to bring the gold trinket back to my face.

 

     “Could? Nah. It will. If you don't stop waving that thing around like a conductor's baton.”

 

     “Is this really the best you could do?”

 

     “Hey! You try working with holy items when your whole repertoire is dark energy,” Ba'el's voice snapped on the other end of the line. “I think I did pretty good all things considered. Maybe next time you can give me something else with magical properties?”

 

I suppose I was the one that suggested this in the first place. Ba'el overheard me and with a bit of tinkering and magic manipulation, she had created this pair of cellphone like objects. Their range was limited, the connection was terrible and the minutes were garbage; but they worked.

 

It was the best Ba'el could manage. The only things in our collective possession that could carry the magical charge were these golden ankhs that belonged to Susan. She wasn't too happy to hand them over to Ba'el. I understood why, Ba'el had defiled them, so far as the priestess was concerned. But the benefit of being able to keep in touch over limited distances was reason enough to let the demon do it. The only problem was the natural incompatibility. Ba'el had a thick layer of sweat on her forehead the whole while she worked her magic.

 

It's like mixing a spark with promethian jelly. Useful when done right, real bad shit when it goes bad.

 

That's what I remember her saying. What she neglected to mention until now was that there was a literal risk of explosion. But there was still another thing I didn't understand.

 

     “Weren't these things burning you before, how did you-”

 

     “Fufufu~. No amount of magic can turn aside the iron claw of JUSTICE,” A second voice rang out.

 

And it did ring out. It was loud, proud and the feedback loop stabbed into my ears.

 

     “Stop shaking it, tits for brains!” Ba'el screamed.

 

Okay, now things are starting to make sense.

 

     “And stop holding it so high. Hey! I'm talking here!”

 

The demon's voice cried out loud then got quieter. She was jumping up and down right next to Chris. No doubt taking swipes at Chris' wing which was just out of reach.

 

     “Everything is safe and secure here, master!” Chris said happily.

 

I pictured her giving a salute while she said that and I almost saluted back into the 'phone' reflexively.

 

     “That's good to hear,” I replied. “But the situation has-”

 

Another crackle of static and distant shouting forced me to hold the ankh at arm's length.

 

     “I said hold it lower, idiot!” Ba'el's voice yelled through the static. “Laven, tell this flying cow here to-”

 

     “Stop pulling! Your recklessness is shaking it,” Chris bellowed out.

 

     The demon's retort was quick, “That's what I was saying!”

 

These two were not going to be of any help right now.

 

     “For the love of— Where's Susan?”

 

     Another bout of static and then Ba'el's strained voice came through, “Behind the bushes. Taking care of-”

 

     “AAAAAAH! Silence!” Shoshanah's voice screamed out from the background crackling of static.

 

Now everything makes perfect sense.

 

     “Aw, shut up!” I heard Ba'el yell back after covering the receiver with her paw. “You said watch this thing while you-”

 

     “Not a word!”

 

Shoshanah's barely audible scream still managed to squeeze in through the static and Ba'el's muffling.

 

     “What? Don't be so uptight. This is why you have to spend so long over there in the first place-”

 

Ping!

 

     “Zaph re ik cerserav!” Ba'el spat in an infernal tongue.

 

I've heard that sound before. That's the sound solid gold makes when it strikes bone.

 

     “What in the hells?”

 

     “I warned you,” I heard Susan growl, loud and clear.

 

     “Put on some damn pants, you bitch.”

 

     "Wha-” I could hear Susan's blush through the ether. “I am quite adequately dressed for the current occasion!”

 

     “Maybe I should put this thing on scrying?” Ba'el said in what I assumed was a threat.

 

     “You wouldn't,” the anubis replied.

 

     “Wouldn't I?” Ba'el said devilishly.

 

     “No, you would not. Because in its current form it would fail to assimilate the additional energies and detonate... You'd be closest to it.” Susan said as a matter of fact.

 

Ba'el swore under her breath.

 

     “A significant factor contributing to my agreement in allowing the desecration of these precious artifacts lay in the fact that I would have some manner of control over your shenanigans,” Susan said.

 

I could sense the bile rising in Susan's throat. Her temper which she was trying to keep a lid on and push back down was already simmering. The right push and she'd-

 

     “Well then,” Ba'el quipped as though her resentment was just a trick, “It's a good thing I took more and specialized it for-”

 

Another blast of static assaulted my ears. The sound of arguing and fighting blew away all traces of conversation. My arm was starting to hurt just as much for all the time I hold this thing away from my aching ears. It took some more time till the sound of arguing died down and another voice spoke up among the din of those two having another spat.

 

     “Master, I have liberated the phone,” Chris said proudly, loud and clear.

 

I breathed a sigh of relief.

 

     “But why call so early?.. Has something happened?” Chris voice perked up.

 

My relief was short lived.

 

     “On a wing and a prayer I will be at your side immediately! Through the sky, crashing through ceiling. Glass shattering and gasping onlookers. Quivering guards cower with stained glass raining down upon them. With a flip of my scarf and flourish of my wings I will-”

 

     “Chris,” I said, trying to get a word in edgewise to calm her down.

 

     “Merely say the word. It is but a simple flight to-”

 

     “Vee is back.”

 

It was that easy to have her stop. The mere mention of that name brought Chris' verbal diarrhea of heroics to a halt. An oppressive silence replaced her jovial tirade against what was previously unknown evils.

 

     “You are certain?”

 

Chris' voice rose a few octaves, the shock had caused her to break character.

 

     “With my own eyes... And he saw me.”

 

The look on Chris' face must have been something else, because it stopped Ba'el and Susan's argument below her to stop.

 

     “Whatever is the matter?” Susan asked.

 

     “Vee has revealed himself,” Chris spoke softly, as if the man would appear if you called for him to loudly.

 

Susan's slow gasp for air was picked up through the receiver, so I expected the expression on both their faces were about the same now. That only left one person out of the loop.

 

     “What the fuck is a V?” Ba'el asked.

 

We hadn't brought up the man by name in quite some time. It would only be natural that Ba'el would be confused... I was also regretting not watching my language around her.

 

     “We know little,” Susan explained, “but our knowledge of the man includes the undeniable fact that he is responsible for the iron golems.”

 

     “Living, breathing, all metal warriors,” Chris continued.

 

     “And most distressingly, manufactured on a massive scale,” Susan concluded.

 

     “And this is a big deal why?” Ba'el asked.

 

     “It's a big deal because the last time we saw him, the man made an army for a Prince to wage civil war with,” I said. “...And nearly killed Chris and I with a giant golem of his.”

 

     “No, you've still lost me,” Ba'el griped, “Golems are not that big of a deal. Sure, they take a lot of effort and sometimes can be unruly, but it's nothing that-”

 

     “With abyssal energy hearts,” I said, cutting her off. “Pure abyssal energy.”

 

Ba'el went quiet for a moment.

 

     “Shit. Really?.. How?”

 

There was an inflection of concern in her voice that I hadn't heard before. But her next question is what threw me off.

 

     “You know what? Never mind that right now... What do you want us to do about it?”

 

I wasn't sure how to answer that. Panic shook me up so much earlier, that I hadn't thought that far yet.

 

     “Well... I guess I freaked out. If Vee is here, then that means something is going down here. He doesn't strike me as the kind of guy who goes on vacation.”

 

     “That doesn't really-”

 

     “And he looked right at me. With this twisted grin on his face. He recognized me and picked me out from the crowd.”

 

     “And? Rose is there with you, right?”

 

She was. I looked over my shoulder again and saw her standing guard at the door. But she was accompanied by half a dozen young ladies. I couldn't hear what they were talking about, but I could glean some things from their body language. The women were guarded, but their curiosity had definitely eclipsed their discretion.

 

     "Yeah, she is. She's blocking the door out here to the balcony. Keeping some girls distracted.”

 

     “Then I don't expect this guy to start shit while she's there... And what would a bunch of girls want with her.” Ba'el asked.

 

     “From where they're gesturing... I think they're asking how Rose keeps her hair.”

 

     “Is she telling them with spit and a few brushes of her claws?”

 

Rose was looking uncomfortable at first, but she put on a smile while she patted the hair bun on the top of her head. The cautious and guarded smiles on the ladies melted into confusion and hidden disgust.

 

     “She is.”

 

     “Hahaha,” Ba'el broke out laughing, “That girl's honesty is a riot.”

 

     “Regardless,” Susan said, “We will now have to maintain a higher level of alertness. If not from the immediate threat of Vee himself, but by what his mere presence possibly foretells. But rest assured, Laven, we are hidden in the woods adjacent to the vineyards, no further than a league. Should trouble arise, merely smash that device upon the ground and we shall know danger has reared its head and befallen you.”

 

     “Right, well, I'll just have to do that then,” I said, trying to hide my nervousness.

 

There was still one thing nagging at me though...

 

     “Wait, where's Minte?”

 

She was a quiet girl, so I didn't expect her to speak up, but those three haven't so much as mentioned her.

 

     “Minte has not showed herself in camp since this late afternoon,” Susan said.

 

     “Didn't even show up for the soup I made,” Ba'el added, “And I watched. Made a game of it. But that girl didn't come.”

 

     “I sent her on a mission,” Chris said, voice still high, but back in character.

 

The wyvern's voice was heard loud and clear, but it took a few seconds for its meaning to process.

 

     “WHAT?” Ba'el and Susan screamed in unison.

 

     “The poor lass was restless, listless. She was worried, so I sent her on a mission,” Chris said with a bit of confusion in her voice.

 

The other two girls trying to jump down her throat over this was something the girl couldn't understand.

 

     “What mission?” Susan demanded to know.

 

     “To watch over Laven?” Chris answered with a question, as if it was the most natural thing in the world to have done.

 

I instinctively looked over my shoulder and all around. To the rooftops, over the balcony and in the trees of the backyard garden. A futile effort, if that girl didn't want to be seen, I wasn't going to see her no matter how hard or long I looked.

 

     “We agreed to send of Rose and Laven,” Susan's voice quivered with suppressed anger. “Why would you risk this operation by antagonizing the Count and his quests with a hidden assassin in-”

 

     “That's her job, ain't it?” Chris rebutted. “If there's anyone who can keep Laven safe and not be seen, it's her.”

 

     “She's got us there,” Ba'el agreed.

 

     “However-”

 

     “Let it go, Fido,” Ba'el sighed. “You're not reigning that mantis back in now.”

 

     “What did you call-”

 

     Ba'el continued without letting Fi- Susan snap back, “Besides, now we know there's a mad alchemist on the loose. One assassin up Laven's sleeve is a fair trade for this count making a war criminal, and affront to nature, his house guest.”

 

Shoshanah could argue with that. After thinking on it for a minute, the fact that Minte was somewhere in the shadows and just a hop, skip and jump away put me more at ease. Rose was unarmed, mostly, but Minte could no doubt cause enough damage if Rose and I were jumped. At least enough confusion for the three of us to make out getaway if this Count turned on us all of a sudden. At the very least a chance for a getaway.

 

     “This will require some more time at to proverbial drawing board,” Susan said. “Laven, you have been absent from the festivities for too long as is. It is time for you to return. But keep in mind what I said. Merely smash the artifact currently in your hand onto the ground.”

 

     “I'll know exactly where you are then,” Ba'el chimed.

 

The way she said that made me a bit uneasy, but the connection was suddenly cut. Whatever magic was maintaining the line between myself and those three had expired, run out of juice, or this damn thing had already broken. There wasn't anything more I could do, the only thing I had left was to go rescue Rose form that gaggle of girls and find some contract work with at least one of those stuffy nobles. I'd just have to ignore the creep with the power to build weapons of massive destruction staring at me intently for reasons unknown.

 

I wasn't a hundred percent ready, but I slipped the inert ankh back into my pocket and pushed myself away from the ledge. A simple about face was too much for me, but at least now I could keep my knees from shaking and my breathing from hyperventilating. I slipped back in behind Rose and the wash of warm air and noise struck me again.

 

     “Laven!” Rose said with a beaming smile on her face.

 

I gave the girls speaking to a quick glance. They stared back at me as though they were looking at something scandalous. Still, the expression on their faces, they were flushed red. The stereotype of the dangerous man fluttered through my mind, as ridiculous as that sounded. Even to me.

 

     “Excuse us, ladies,” I said while putting my arm around Rose to lead her away.

 

That left them all in a state of not being sure whether to squeal or report me to the local church authorities.

 

     “Laven?” Rose said, craning her neck to look back at me with a tinge of concern on her face.

 

     “We're being watched,” I said.

 

I'd have to be upfront and honest about the situation we were in. Keeping it to myself and being concerned about it would only worry Rose. I'd just have to trust she wouldn't do anything brash with what I'm about to tell her.

 

     “Vee is here.”

 

     “That iron guy?”

 

     “Shh, not so loud,” I hissed between my teeth.

 

We were walking through the crowds of guests who were more concerned with their own conversations, but I wasn't going to take any chances.

 

     “Yes. That guy who made all those golems back at Zern.”

 

     “I remember those, they put up good fights.”

 

There's that trigger word.

 

     “Well, if he's here, then that means something could be going down. We're going to have to keep a look out... Speaking of which, Minte is somewhere nearby too.”

 

     “You just noticed?” Rose asked so very innocently

 

My blood ran cold. I stopped pushing her along and froze on the spot. Rose broke free, turned around and looked at me with concern. I was afraid to ask, but I managed.

 

     “Where? How?”

 

     “It's hard, but you can get lucky. Sometimes I see her peek around a corner to steal a glance at you, but she's gone in the time it takes to blink.”

 

Okay, so it isn't as bad as I thought. If she knew that Minte was here, why wouldn't she... No, she just assumed I knew all along too. Perhaps it's because Rose knew that she was relaxed, all things considered.

 

     “Is that what you ran off for?” Rose asked me.

 

     “To call in that I spotted Vee? Yes, that's why. If he's here, then something is going on. He's not here on vacation, I'll assume that much.”

 

Rose raised her claws and was prepared to crack her knuckles in anticipating, but I grabbed hold of her arms and stopped her.

 

     “Now is not the time. We can't start a fight right now.”

 

She deflated like a balloon and her arms went limp in my grip.

 

     “Then what's the rush for?” Rose protested.

 

     “We gotta get clear of the party for a minute and figure out what we're gonna do next. Before-”

 

I noticed that I could hear those last few words of mine loud and clear. Luckily, no one around us were looking in our direction. Everyone was looking up at the second story balcony instead. My concern lay in getting out of here and somewhere that Rose and I could take a minute to regroup, maybe entice Minte out of hiding as well, but the crowd of people froze like statues and there wasn't any room to push through without drawing attention to the two of us. Over a hundred expectant eyes looked up with respect toward the man who had taken his place above his guests. A lone man with a bald head and dressed the part of both count and host.

 

The clothes he wore befit a kind more than some lowly count, but so did a bunch of merchants wandering about look just as fine as their blue blooded and silver spoon peers. This count was low in status, but high in wealth. That's what one look at the man told me. I had heard he was relatively young, but his features looked aged through stress. He was all smiles now though as he gave a polite and professional smile to all the bourgeois and aristocracy gathered below him.

 

The man of the hour was about to speak, but with Vee lurking free somewhere in house, I wasn't too excited to hear what he had to say.

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