Chapter 126 Return
“Your votes have been received.” the voice from the shadows said, Baltimore not reacting while he sat on his desk, the office lit in a dim light. The paper with names and comments in front of him crumbling to dust.
“Good, leave then.” he said and got up. Opening the door the servant wasn’t surprised that the master of the house had known about his coming.
“My lord you have a visitor. I must apologize to have found it impossible to gather a name.” the servant said but Baltimore didn’t react, the apology simply a formality as few of his acquaintances would mention their name.
“Main hall?” he asked and the servant confirmed. An annoyed look came to his face as he walked through the decorated and beautiful mansion. The main hall was located in the east wing and big enough to host a whole kingdom’s nobility for dinner, not that that ever happens. Baltimore opened the door and stepped inside, finding a face that justified building the hall in exactly this way.
“Ah there you are. Beautiful place you have, I always forget.” the man said, clad in casual clothing made from expensive silk.
“Don’t flatter me Michael. Why are you here?” Baltimore asked, different thoughts and possibilities swirling in his mind as he waited for the man’s response. Michael wasn’t the kind of person to play the games of schemers so he was somewhat sure a fight wasn’t on the table this day.
“I’m here to talk, didn’t my attire suggest such a thing. You seem annoyed, is it so busy?” the man asked, his demeanor betraying the plain look of his face. Brown eyes and hair, were it not for his clothes and the aura of power combined with the question marks above his head Baltimore might’ve mistaken him for a mere peasant.
“It is indeed busy. Aren’t you as well, what with all the refugees and demons roaming around, I’m surprised you have time for such a thing. Or have you learned a cloning or illusion spell?” Baltimore asked, walking to the buffet that still held some food. He hadn’t eaten anything in at least two days and this talk was perfectly useless for him to fill that need in the meantime.
Michael laughed, Baltimore continuing his movement to grab a piece of bread and sausage with a fluid and trained motion, betraying the tension that was building up inside of him. “Oh yes, it’s very exciting isn’t it?” Michael said, a big smile on his face when Baltimore turned to him and started eating.
“People and demons get lost in the chaos and while the situation is terrific there’s less mouths to feed, less demons to kill. Everyone profits in the end don’t they?” the man said, causally sitting down on one of the chairs.
“Yes they do, some more than others.” Baltimore said “Now get to the point. I dread casual conversation.”
Michael sighed at that and got up again. “You’re so dreadfully boring old man. I truly am busy as are you but one must have one’s fun.” he said, his demeanor changing form the playful one to one much more serious, the smile leaving his face. “Your protégé has appeared. Maria Acantha has vanished with at least thirty dead in the hidden prison. This has happened weeks ago but you may want to move it if you want to stop the possible chaos to ensue.” he finished.
Baltimore damn near choked on his food as he processed the information. His eyes focused on the ground before him before going back to Michael. “Why tell me?” he asked but the man just shrugged and walked to the door.
“It’s in your hands now, the hounds have been sent.” he said and exited, leaving Baltimore standing there alone. He lifted his hands and looked at the food before he stuffed his face with it.
“That idiot of a brat...” he said but the grin on his face betrayed his words, his headache intensifying by the minute.
Edwin looked through the documents stored in the hidden vault behind the now bloodied painting, a soft gasp sounded from the room beyond, followed by the sound of something hitting the floor. A shiver ran down his back as he made himself concentrate on the documents again.
“Found anything?” Maria asked as she stepped into the room, her clothes clean and her expression neutral. Edwin locked eyes with her for a moment.
“Yes, finally something useful. They’ve expanded into whoring now as well and it seems they’re financing the production of enchanted weapons for Baralia.” he explained, handing over some of the documents.
“Treason then? Can we make a case with the empress?” the woman asked.
“You’ve not learned a lot about politics in your time as a prisoner.” Edwin said, regretting his words immediately. Every other man who said that would’ve been dead the moment his words had left his mouth but Maria simply stood there, her lips quivering before she turned around and left the room.
Edwin continued his work. They had limited time, soon the pattern would be uncovered and hunters would find them. At least so far their capabilities were grossly underestimated but he didn’t doubt the competence of his enemies, the elves and demons merely a small help in his endeavors. People and locations, finally he had found a lord stupid enough to document every unnecessary detail. He would’ve died either way but at least one of them had helped them out.
He gathered the necessary documents and stored them in Aliana’s ring he was wearing. “Come now.” he spoke to Maria who was waiting outside before the two jumped out an open window and into the dark city of Virilya, shrouded by the night. The capital was loud and busy that night, just as it always was. Approaching demons and the elvish attacks from weeks ago not on the thoughts of people dancing and drinking through the night. Edwin welcomed it, the city and its protectors less vigilant than in the places they had visited in the weeks before. The goal that seemed so unreachable for years was now closer than ever. He allowed himself to smile a little as he dashed towards their hideout, his childhood friend quietly following behind.
“That’s why you have to work on your attack and defense skills as well, I’ve explained that to you four times now Cless. Please try to understand.” Kyrian said, his food getting cold in front of him.
“But why do I have to fight monsters?” Cless asked again, causing the man more stress than facing several mind weavers at once. A sudden distortion in the midst of the living room made Kyrian jump up, all his metal spheres floating from his quiver as his helmet appeared, the man standing in front of Cless.
The girl already had her shield activated around her, gaining a smile from Kyrian who concentrated on the space anomaly before him. He could see glimpses of a place clad in metal, corpses of demons were visible before the anomaly vanished again. He was relaxing again when suddenly a fissure in space appeared and three figures fell out of it, his spikes of metal stopping shy of their bodies as he realized who it was.
The fissure vanished again, taking a piece of both the floor and ceiling with it. Two of the figures were still laying on the ground, both of them coughing.
“Fuck, my floor!” Ilea exclaimed before she puked right into the gap of missing wood. Trian managed to keep it together and simply kept laying on the ground.
“Ilea you’re back!” Kyrian exclaimed as Cless ran past him, stopping shy of reaching Ilea because of the smell of both blood and puke. “That demon is alive you know...” he finished, spikes of metal floating around the abominable creature.
Ilea slowly got up and motioned for him to calm down. “He’s not to kill, at least not yet. Helped us out in the demon realm, what a place. Well now we don’t have to ration food anymore! Can’t believe that stunt worked.” Ilea said, walked past Kyrian and sat down on the table before six steaming meals appeared before her. Kyrian knew he wouldn’t get much more out of the woman for a while so decided to go help his more reasonable team mate, whilst keeping an eye on the demon who was laying on the ground still as well.
“Trian, you’re back. What happened?” he asked but the man motioned with one finger in the air for him to shut up. He retched and then swallowed again.
“Ahh, better now. Ilea I want some of that food as well. Do you have something alcoholic to drink?” he completely ignored Kyrian and walked to the table as well.
“Not even you...” Kyrian said as he tensed up, watching the demon sit up.
“This is… this is AnothER ReALM!!” the voice boomed in his head as he registered it as an attack and moved to respond accordingly but the demon just touched the wooden ground. While Kyrian thought of the voice in his head as an attack it didn’t feel anything but happy to him, nearly hysterical even.
“What are you doing? Stop that!” he shouted at the demon licking and biting the wood on the floor. “Everyone’s ignoring me...” he simply said and walked to the table, defeated.
“Welcome to reality pal.” a voice yet unknown to him exclaimed as he looked around confused.
“Down here, Ilea’s belt.” he looked to find the sheathed dagger Ilea always carried around. “Yea right here, you’re dreaming right now. Wake up.” it said to him. Kyrian felt himself lose balance as he sat down on a chair and smacked his face, forgetting that he was still wearing a helmet. Removing it he just grabbed one of the dozens of plates of food before Ilea and started eating as well, forgetting himself in the pleasure of whatever godly meals she had gotten her hands onto.
“The demon’s not getting up.” Trian said, holding his stomach as he looked over to the still eating Ilea. “I think he’s hurt… I think I’m hurt.” he said, looking down on himself.
Ilea finished her plate and looked at him. “I’ve been healing you guys through the whole thing, even when we arrived.” she thought both of them were fine for now. Touching the man she found a bit of burn damage left, healing it in the next minute. She got up and walked to the demon before she also touched him.
“I’m glad you like the wood but calm the fuck down, you’re freaking everyone out.” she grabbed him and walked to the table while carrying and healing the monster. Cless made big eyes as she hid behind Kyrian. “Do you eat human food? Well let’s find out, come you’re in my house so eat.” she slid a plate in front of the demon who hesitantly touched it. The following scene was certainly unexpected when the demon shoveled some of it into his mouth, chewed for two seconds, froze and passed out on the table. Ilea checked him and found nothing wrong with his body.
“It’s not poison. Guess he was exhausted or it was just REALLY good.” she said and continued eating herself.
“Am I really dreaming?” Kyrian asked himself next to her.
“You’re not, that’s my stupid dagger Aki. Aki you know Kyrian, Kyrian, Aki.” she unsheathed the blade and put it next to the man who just looked at it.
“Booh!” the dagger exclaimed, Kyrian just getting up and walking to the door.
“I need some fresh air.” he said and exited.
“Hahahaaaa” Aki laughed as Cless took Kyrian’s place and looked at the dagger, taking it and turning it around. “Hey girl don’t do that, Ilea this child is handling dangerous weapons.” Cless apologized and just held the dagger normally.
“The only danger you pose is to everyone’s nerves.” Ilea said, taking Aki back from Cless nonetheless and putting him back into his sheath.
“He reminds me of someone.” Trian said, drinking from a cup of tea and looking away.
“Don’t you dare sparky.” Ilea simply said, done with eating as she made herself a tea as well. The mind weaver was still passed out on the table, drooling on the wood. She would have to get a wood mage to fix the damage. Perhaps she would leave it as well, as a reminder of their safe return. A smile formed on her lips as she thought of the books in the room upstairs.
“So you just let the man responsible for Ravenhall’s destruction and hundreds of thousands of human deaths go?” Kyrian asked, both hands on his forehead while he sat opposite Ilea and Trian. The demon was awake again and sat next to him, to neither of their pleasure.
“Well if you phrase it like that it doesn’t sound very good.” Ilea stated.
“We had no way of knowing if there was another way back. Even this one was more guessing than anything else. The elder somewhat knew his way around it seemed so catching him would’ve been difficult.” Trian explained.
“Or killing him, he had a counter for Trian’s main abilities and inside of his monster horde I don’t know how I would’ve fared.” Ilea said, getting a sigh from Kyrian.
“Well you’re here now and I doubt there’s an easy way to go back there. Let’s just hope he doesn’t somehow unleash all of the demons on us or does something else that would destroy Elos as we know it… not that he already did.” Kyrian said.
“I thought he destroyed Ravenhall, not all of Elos… and honestly he didn’t sound like he wanted this result in particular. Why would he lie to us in a situation like that?” Ilea asked.
“Yea let’s hope you’re right, you’re too trusting though Ilea.” Trian said.
“The demons have a way of using corpses to replicate so there’s a few hundred thousand demons running around the empire now. More in the making.” Kyrian said.
“We’ve got ourselves a zombie apocalypse. Great, let’s get to work then.” Ilea said and moved to get up.
“Wait up paladin Recking.” Trian said and held her back.
“Who’s paladin Recking?” Ilea asked in a confused manner as she sat down again.
“Doesn’t matter now. Kyrian I’m sure the empire knows what’s going on so cities are being closed down and adventurers are hunting down the demons. What’s the average level of corpses turned to demons?” he asked.
“Depends on the corpse I guess, I’ve seen anything from thirty to two hundred but the latter is very rare.” he answered.
“What about the rest of the Hand. You’ve survived so there must be more.” Trian asked.
“Yes, but I don’t know anything about it. I took care of Cless and hid out here while hunting demons anytime I could.” Kyrian explained. “Some of the Hand are still nearby, fighting demons as well. They’ve spread out and it’s been weeks so I think much of the empire is affected as of now.”
“That’s good then. If they spread out we can take care of them. I doubt a couple hundred thousand of the monsters working together could be stopped. Mind weaver do you think your kind could work together to control such a force?” Trian asked, shocking the demon who was focused on touching the wood of the table.
“Oh, no no. The small bond we share with each other holds only until we make it to another realm. There will be no alliance. The strongest mind weavers I’ve seen control several hundred spawn at once.” he answered Trian’s questions. Kyrian gave the demon a look, not used to the mind communication yet.
“Good, then we’ll assume there’s some that can control a couple thousand but likely not more and they probably work alone. You said Ravenhall is being held by one of them?” Trian asked.
“Yes, not sure if it’s only one but I saw it standing on the walls whenever I got close to the city.” Kyrian explained.
“Good, Ilea how many you think were in those fights we’ve had?” Trian looked to the woman.
“Couple hundred I think. They’re easy to deal with if you fly up to regain your breath.” she said.
“Well we can all fly and now Kyrian is here as well so a couple hundred more should be easy.” the noble said.
“Don’t you want to go back to your family, protect the city or something?” Ilea asked.
“They’re near the capital, I doubt a single demon will make it past the walls. And there’s a lot of them running around here. We know how to fight them so we can advance our skills here.” he said.
“You’re too focused on strength. We should look for Claire and Eve as well. If they made it out.” Kyrian said, the last sentence in a quiet tone. Ilea appeared behind him and smacked his back.
“I’m sure they did. We’ll look for them, starting with the ruins of Ravenhall.” she exclaimed, thinking of her friends and acquaintances dead. An ice cold fury rising inside of her that she had only known once. When Roland’s family was killed. Now though it was graspable compared to the confusion she had felt before. “Let’s go.”
“Ilea calm down, we’ve barely began planning. Claire would flip out if she saw this...” Trian said, shaking his head slowly. “Do you have paper and a pen, a map of the surrounding area would be good as well.” Ilea provided most of what he asked, as well as snacks and drinks.
“Let’s start then.” the noble said, sketching on the small part of one of the maps Ilea had gotten in the devastated city of Salia.