A reluctant guardian, an old friend, and his birthtown, which was never his home.
You probably thought angels couldn't get drunk. They can. It is damned expensive for them to do so, but they certainly can. I am currently doing my best with a glass of whisky. Eric the barkeep knows me and the size of my wallet, but we go way back; he knows I'll pay eventually. My spear is resting, tip upwards, leaning on the counter next to me. I situated myself near the end of the bar behind one of the supporting pillars, trying to avoid attention. I knew this will be a long evening so I came prepared; my armour is already on.
The door creeks open and some of the patrons look up to see how comes in. I don't need to. I could recognize the clanking of his boots from a mile away.
"Hi Sif, can I get you anything?" Eric greets the newcomer, in his usual, stoic tone.
"Thank you Eric, no. You know I do not drink." He answers in his deep baritone.
"This ain't an inspection. Is it, Sif?" Eric's voice shows a bit of concern.
"Worry not friend. I am just here to talk to Ind."
"He's right there." Eric's voice is les tense now "His usual place."
"Thank you, Eric."
Sif starts walking towards me, clanking the whole way there and sits down next to me. He is wearing the plate of those precious Gilded Order knights. Even in armour and a greatsword on his back, he moves just as smoothly as any thief. The patrons give him a few glances, but not too much. A lot of strange people come through Eric's bar.
"You are in town again." Sif says to me.
"I am." I answer.
"You did not even come to visit."
"You found me anyways."
"I have told you time and again, that you are welcome in our house. You have not met Stella in years. You have not met Adrian even once."
"I will not enter that house again and you know that. I won't put myself under the scorn of your father's spirit."
That bastard brought me into this world. His son deserves no hatred for that, but I won't concern myself with any more of his legacy. Especially, if there's a chance of his soul lingering.
"Do as you will. Why are you in town?"
"Two reasons." Finally, we're talking business. "Maraken told me there'd be a smaller incursion here today. He sent me to stop it."
Sif's muscles tighten. That visibly disturbs him. Saracel's his town after all. "When will it happen? And where?"
"Maraken didn't know and I won't until they actually show up. We'll know when they are here. Sit down 'til then."
"Then we just sit and wait?" He guesses, exasperated.
"We do." I assure him.
"What is the other reason, then?"
"It's been a long time since Maraken's called me."
He looks down on my drink. "And you are drinking whisky."
"And I'm drinking whisky."
Sif sighs and turns to Eric. "Tell me please. How much is his tab this time?"
"Not too much, actually. That's his first." Eric reassures him. "But, you might want to talk to Clarence, on the other side of the street."
Sif turns to me. "Clarence? Courtier Clarence?"
I shrug looking into my drink. "Even an angel needs some company from time to time."
"First of all, you are an Aasimar, not an angel."
"Your father asked for an angel." I look him in the eye.
"But, we got you." He stares back.
I avert my eyes and look back to my drink on the verge of emptying. "Life disappoints us all."
"You should stop brooding. You have friends you know." I feel his eyes still on me. I ignore that last part. I have only one and he is currently scolding me to leave him alone.
"It does not matter. I will go talk to him. If you feel anything in the meantime, come over. Got it? We must respond immediately." He tells me.
"I do. I won't run away, don't w..." I stop talking.
My senses tell me of a portal opening a few squares from us. It leads to the Nine Hells. Several presences cross over. I feel my head starting to ache and anger stoking inside me.
"What is it, Ind?" He notices my expression. "Is... Is your whisky boiling?"
I stand up, knocking over the barstool and spilling my drink.
"They are here. Kellen's square. East side." I pick up my spear.
Sif's face hardens and he nods. "That is about ten minutes from here."
"Five if we run." I stalk by him. "Grab this." I toss a small loop towards him. "Maraken's updated the earring we used at Fort Menle. It goes on your ear; you don't have to stab yourself with this version." I go out the door.
He catches the small ring and loops it around the base of his left ear. "That is much more akin to what I like to hear." He grabs his shield and comes out after me. He shouts back to the barkeep. "I apologize Eric. I will get the tab another time."
I wait for a second until he gets out and I break off into a sprint. I run in the lead, as my senses inform me where to go. I look back for a moment and I see Sif on my heels. I still find it amazing that the man can maintain my pace in full plate. That's a Gilded Knight for you.
We enter the square a few minutes later, having weaved through the evening rush of the town. It's a circular place usually used to hold markets. We circle around to the east side.
"That alleyway over there, we have to go in there." I point at one of the side streets.
"You do not have to talk out loud you know." I hear his voice in the back of my mind, courtesy of Maraken's gadget.
"Ohh, right." I send him back. We turn into the alleyway. It forks into two others on the end.
"The left." I send him.
"We might have to approach slowly. Look."
I'm just about to ask him what he means when I see. A small creature is standing near the opening of the alleyway. About three feet tall, green and scaly, with a long tail and horns on his head, the small fiend probably fills the role of a sentry.
"It is a quasit. It seems to not have perceived us. If we pull back and wait for the opportune moment we might..."
I stop listening to him, as rage fills my mind. However small these creatures are, they are part of the reason I was called into this world. If not for them, their masters and the schemes they weave, the old Serf would not have bothered summoning me. I spin my spear and hurl it at the fiend. The weapon pierces it and pins it to the brick wall. It barely has time to croak before the spear's divine power explodes its body into a hundred motes of light.
"Or we could do it your way." Sif says, his amusement somehow seeping through the telepathic bond.
He steps next to me and extends his hand to the left. His right is already occupied by his sword. I never saw him wielding a shield.
There is a reason why most Gilded Knights don't carry those. With the Order's focus on knowledge and cross-religion unity, they have come up with a plethora of clever ways of applying their divine magic.
A chain of blinding, yellow radiance appears in his hands, coiling out from his open palm. Around three inches thick the chain looks like some simplistic flail. From experience I know it's much, much more.
"Let's do this." I tell him.
We step forward. My spear flies back to my hand, a useful feature of its enchantment. We enter the alleyway. The walls widen out to form a small, but spacious square, between the buildings. It is some thirty feet long, twenty wide and ends in a high brick wall, obstructing the sun from view. On the far end, we see two more quasits working some hellish ritual in great haste. In front of them is a humanoid figure, clad in crude armour, its face a twisted mess of scars and a gigantic mouth filled with rows of teeth. Its fists have been deformed into brutish gauntlets covered in a black stone-like substance and spikes. A glance tells me, his feet are the same.
"What kind of abomination is that?" I ask Sif.
"It is a Nalmonq. A captured spirit of a great warrior, twisted into a demon. Be wary, it is formidable at close range."
The creature stands there facing us, as its smaller companions work behind him. He crosses his arms before himself as if to show that he would not let us pass.
I reign in my fury and stop myself from doing something brash. The next moment a message comes from Sif. "Three."
"Creature, leave now, or be destroyed." He addresses the demon. At the same time I tell Sif through the earpiece. "Two."
As an answer, the creature spreads its mouth open, to form a terrible grin and makes a clicking sound as if tasting the air. The message is clear.
"One." We send the message at the same moment and leap forward.
We are lucky that the demons chose such a spacious alley, or we would be in trouble due to our long weapons. I make a quick thrust at the creature's left side, as Sif tries a stab at his head. Each of my strikes are backed by my anger.
The creature parries both with ease, using its arms and throwing sparks in the air. It answers with a sweeping kick, which we avoid without much trouble. There are advantages to using reach weapons after all.
Stepping to the left of the creature, I reverse my momentum and perform a cross stab, trying to hit it in the right shoulder, my sword just barely passing below Sif's. He brings the chain around and above his head to try to hit the creature's right shoulder, sweeping from above.
The demon showcases extraordinary speed and dexterity as it somehow succeeds in weaving between the two attacks. It answers by sinking its claws in the wall of the alleyway and throwing a head sized piece of rubble at me.
I sidestep it and ask Sif. "You didn't mention the superhuman strength." We take a step back to catch our breath. The creature stands resolute, without as much as drawing a laboured breath.
"I have assumed it has become the norm to you by now. But, I will tell you now that it also eats people. That is what the mouth is for." I notice that this psychic communication is much faster than speaking. All that information transferred to me in the space of a moment. Maraken outdid himself this time.
"You do know your demons." I tell him as we charge in again.
I perform three quick thrusts, to different parts of the body and Sif punctuates each with either a swing from his sword or a strike from his chain. We score a few minor hits. A strike of the chain leaves the side of the creature smouldering and I manage to knock him on the head once. We retreat for another breather. It shows next to no hint of the damage.
The portal, on which the two smaller fiends are working, is getting bigger by the second. It has grown to at least three and a half feet in circumference. My frustration with the situation mixes with my fury towards the fiends and I find myself enjoying this fight even less than I thought I would.
"We have to finish this quick, Sif. That portal doesn't look good." I tell him, exasperated.
"What will happen if they finish it?"
"Well without going into details, the bigger the portal, the bigger the bastard coming through. That's why they send the smaller ones through first. And that's why einr was such a pain is the ass."
"How'd did the fighter get through?" Sif inquires as we attack again, not achieving much.
"He is part human. Makes it easier to cross." I say, with some annoyance, as the fiend repels all our attacks."
"You do know your portals. We do as in Karakth?" He asks.
"Alright." I confirm and we go in for what we hope will be the final bout.
I spin my spear's tip upwards as if I wanted to strike from above, and Sif starts to spin the chain above his head.
The creature's eyes go back and forth between us, trying to calculate the trajectories of the attacks. Its hands move into a parrying stance, reminiscent of how our monks do it.
I suddenly slam the butt of my spear down into the ground and use it to launch myself into the air, constantly pushing on the ground. Sif alters the whip's swing to sweep low. It hits the shaft and suddenly gains speed as its anchor point and trajectory are altered.
The creature tries to shift its stance to accommodate the mad change in our movements, but it can't catch up. Its feet are swept from under him by the flail and he falls on his back. Before it could get its hands into position, I spin in the air, slamming my spear tip-first into its chest and pinning it to the ground.
I land next to the squirming monstrosity as it silently thrashes. Small fractures of radiance start to crawl along its body, from where my spear is impaling it. I watch with satisfaction, as they become more and more intertwined. Until finally, a few moments later, the creature explodes into splinters of light, which vanish shortly thereafter.
As this happens, Sif takes two long steps and obliterates the two quasits in a single sweep. The whip leaves sizzling burn marks on their backs and they go up in flames.
I pull out my spear from the ground and spin it in the air. "I'll close the portal then." I say and I thrust the spear towards the gaping hole in space in front of me. It's a good 5 feet across now.
Before my spear could enter it and start closing the gap, a red hand, covered in scales and claws, comes out of the portal and interposes the weapon. The tip pierces it causing a bleeding but it doesn't flinch, stopping the point a few inches short of entering the portal.
"Shit" I say out loud, before a similarly devilish-looking foot kicks me in the chest and launches me back some twenty feet through the alley. I bounce off a wall and lay on the ground, dazed and hurting.
In a few seconds, I manage to reorient myself and raise myself onto one knee. I look up and see Sif surrounded by several tiny demons. My dazed mind cannot comprehend the exact number, but they are swarming over him. But, good old Sif holds. He cuts down demon after demon and every swing of his chain obliterates several. His sword flashes with divine light as he fights and any injuries caused by the fiends are healed by his magic, before they could hamper him.
I've done my job, in leading him here; he'll take care of the rest.
As I'm about to slump back to the ground a huge silhouette appears above him. In my daze I forgot about the bastard who stopped my spear. With a sudden burst of adrenalin, I get up, still wobbly from the blow and start towards the fight.
It's too late. Sif is distracted by the quasits and shows his back to the new enemy, noticing its emerging form too late. He has time to put up his hands in defence but not more, as the creature's great hand swoops and slaps him through the air like a bug.
His sword clatters to the ground and his chain vanishes. My friend's unmoving body soars and slumps to the ground next to me. I freeze and just watch for a second. He must still be breathing.
I go to touch the veins on his neck to see, but my movements are slow. I fear too much what I'll feel. I near him with my hand, not daring to touch.
Suddenly, I realize where I am. Demons to my right, a dying friend to the left. My mind clears, my movements become quicker. I touch my friend, for a single second, channelling the innate healing magic of my legacy into him.
That would have to do for now. I turn to the demons.
They are advancing toward me, slow and cautious, eight small and one big. Their chief looks like a troll from one of the Nine Hells. Big, long limbs, thick red fur and bulging muscles. His brutish face wears a mocking grin. I call my spear back to my hand and step in between them and Sif. The anger filling me has nothing to do with Sif's father, or my birth, anymore.
I stare down the creatures, as I unleash my magic. I feel it invigorating me, making me stronger, faster, harder to hit. Golden flames race across my skin, leaving small scorches and radiating searing heat.
The monsters take a step back, surprised by the sudden change. I start running toward them. During my years of locating and closing portals, across the planes, I have come to learn to slip myself and my weapons through the layered fabric of the Multiverse. I toss my spear at the greater demon and as it leaves my hand it vanishes, slipping through the Ethereal plane, accelerating.
The fiend seems surprised, before the spear reappears, just centimetres in front of him, too close for him to react. The weapon pierces its hide, its ethereal quality bypassing the thick scales, without problem. I rip my daggers from their hilts and I too, slip through the planes.
I reappear a few feet forwards, surprising one of the quasits, by materialising inside its range. Before it could react I wound him once, twice. It just barely survives and swings its claws to counterattack. Before it could connect I port away once more. Its swing connects with the cobblestone and I reform behind another, sticking one of my daggers into its back. Before it could collapse, I'm back at the first. My kick sends it flying into a wall.
As it collapses I call my main weapon back to me. It rips itself from the big one's gut and flies into my hand. I reclaim it and assume a defensive stance.
"Impressive, son of Angels." The chief compliments me. "But you cannot stand against seven of us. You, you, you and you." He points at four of his lackeys. "Finish the knight; we'll take care of this one."
The four fiends rush me, obviously trying to get by me, using their numbers to confuse me. What they don't know is that I've spent my life defending narrow planar passages and portals. I am more than prepared for multiple foes trying to rush me at once.
I thrust the spear through one of them as it nears from the right, then I sweep the shaft around to hit one coming from the left. Both, fall over, the lattice work of my weapon's enchantment crawling along their skins.
A third one tries to slip between my legs, I interpose my spear's end with its body and it bounces off. I step on it to keep it in place. The last one jumps, transforming into a bat and tries to fly above me, but my remaining dagger pierces it mid-air. Its corpse flops to the ground and start melting away into ash. I stomp with all my weight and the quasit under my heel gives off a crunching sound before ceasing to move.
I kick his body to the side and assume my previous stance. I spare a mocking grin for the remaining ones, not unlike the one their boss showed me earlier.
"I see, then I have to take care of you first." The great one says.
"Come and try." I taunt it.
We charge at each other, it raising its hand, I holding my spear. Before we could connect I vanish and reappear behind him. I impale one of the remaining lesser demons and toss the spear, with the demon still on it through the other one's chest.
I immediately call back the spear to my hand and start running toward the portal.
"The portal. Defend it." The only remaining demon wallows. It realizes that it is alone and starts running for me. I thrust my spear into the portal, which starts to unravel at the edges and shrink.
The lumbering form of the demon nears me, as the portal becomes smaller and smaller. I see the cobblestones darken around me as its form blocks out the sun, enveloping me in its shadow. It takes its final step and plants its feet. There are still a few seconds left until I can seal the portal.
"You're finished now, mortal." It shouts in triumph, ready to bring its fist down onto me.
As it gains momentum, I look up at it. I'm still smiling.
Its eyes widen, but its swing has too much momentum to stop now. A chain of shimmering, radiant light coils around its throat jerking its torso backwards.
I turn back to the portal and redouble my efforts. Accompanied by sounds of choking, it closes within a few seconds. It leaves a slight sulphurous scent behind it, that is all too familiar to me.
I turn back to the demon squirming behind me. It's on his knees, with the chain around its throat. Where the shining metal touches its skin it boils and burns. I look it in the eye once more and stab it through the chest. It is dead within a minute.
I walk over to Sif. He is sitting upwards now, his left arm broken. I walk over to him and extend my hand. He takes it and I help him stand up.
"That was some demon, wasn't it?" I tell him.
"It was." He replied. "I have to admit I was not prepared that you would bring this much trouble to my town."
"Technically, trouble brought me" I tell him. But, he's right. Usually my assignments are tamer than this. I have to tell Maraken.
"True, enough." He admits. "I assume I will not be seeing you for a while?"
"I might take you up on your offer, this time."
"Just so we are clear, I did not offer to pay your tab, nor to buy you a drink. It is just my knightly duty to care for my fellow men."
"I'm not talking about the tab. I'd like to see Stella and the kids."