By the late afternoon, when Stathis awoke, barely refreshed by her sleep, the place was still in chaos. The scent of smoke and ash still hung in the air, the destruction visible from her window without even moving. There was a loud, insistent knocking at her door, as she stumbled to her feet, grabbing her sword just in case.
Misutira stood there, fist raised to strike the door again, last night’s disruption enough to have mussed even her normally immaculate appearance, although not enough for her to show any actual emotion. Behind her stood Carissia, wearing obviously enchanted robes, glowing with a pale blue protective light. Held in one hand was a wand, pale wood banded with silver and tipped with a gleaming sapphire, throbbing with barely contained energy.
Stathis resisted the urge to slam the door shut and go back to bed. What the hell was she doing here? And how had she gotten here? There’s no way she could have arrived normally; Janaxia would have heard through the rumour mill. Carissia sighed and shook her head, a look of disappointment on her face as she looked Stathis up and down. ‘Really, Stathis? Sleeping in? And so sloppily dressed as well!’
‘I was out all damn night killing demons and stopping this place getting destroyed! Anyway, what are you doing here?’
Behind her, the door to Janaxia’s room opened and Janaxia stepped out, bags under her eyes, wearing a frumpy dressing gown, her skin wan and pallid from the night’s exertions. She saw Carissia, squeaked and immediately ducked back into her room before the others saw her. A moment later, a sense of darkness and doom washed out, a growing sense of wrongness in the air, Carissia’s wand growing brighter. Stathis tried to ignore it, and the headache it bought, as she spoke to her sister.
‘Shouldn’t you be up at the castle or something? I’m sure there’s loads of people you can boss around up there.’
‘They have matters in hand, and are mustering in force already. I believe even the local master of the Knights of the Sun is present, although he looks to be in a sorry state. You really should have joined a better order, you know. Something with some actual influence, rather than a washed-up bunch of drunks.’
This was an old argument, and one that Stathis really couldn’t be bothered to have again. ‘I had my reasons. Anyway, what are you doing here? How are you even here?!’
They walked back down the hallway, with Misutira silently following a few steps behind. A cold and frozen aura of oblivion chilled Stathis to the soul, an eerie broken chorus of silent un-words making her head throb, even as the words themselves vanished from memory. A temple bell started to ring in protest, before abruptly stopping with a grinding metallic screech as the bell cracked. Even the usual dark aura of the house seemed to shudder from whatever the hell Janaxia was doing.
In the main hall, Semari was asleep, having managed to curl herself up to fit onto a chair, a blanket draped over her. Lady Kamarni was also present, slumbering in a rather more decorous position, wrapped in a fancier blanket, apparently having kept up with Semari, somehow. A circular pattern had burnt itself into the floor, the richly varnished wood now marred by ash, shaped into interlocking runes. Stathis winced at the damage. ‘A teleportation circle?’ She was thankful at least that the aim had been slightly off, and that she hadn’t been awoken by Carissia appearing in her room. ‘What’s the rush? And Janaxia probably won’t be happy about the scorch marks.’
‘With demons present, I must preserve my power, and not waste it on such petty repairs. Anyway, can you not sense the evil here?’ She gestured with the wand, now shining brightly, the silver banding hot enough to start scorching the wood. ‘Fortunately, I was in Sainted Hirata when the seers began to babble, and so was able to be swiftly transported here.’
Another wave of doom washed down from upstairs, dogs howling in the street, as smoke started to hiss out from the wand. Whatever Janaxia was doing was putting out a terrifying aura! Carissia slowly moved the wand around, looking as though she expected a demon to leap out at any moment, although admittedly with good reason. Then the sense of doom suddenly vanished, whatever Janaxia was doing now complete, the light of the wand dropping to a pale glow. Carissia gave it a shake, tapping it against a shelf in case it was broken.
‘So, you’re came all the way here just to help out? There’s a lot of wounded, they could probably do with some help.’
‘I’m sure the priests and clerics have that well in hand. No, I came here to loan you something that might help.’ Carissia smiled, reaching one hand into the deep sleeves of her robe.
‘Nope. No, never again. Whatever it is, I don’t want it.’ Carissia looked taken aback at the strength of Stathis’ words. ‘Every time you’ve leant me anything, it’s always been a nightmare. Remember when you leant me your comb?’
‘I don’t know what you mean. I seem to recall you got to travel, and meet some interesting and powerful people.’ Carissia’s expression was one of apparently genuine confusion.
‘I ended up in the Underworld! And getting out was really damn hard!’ She had to struggle not to shout.
Carissia shrugged as she responded. ‘Well, you really should know better than to eat the food of the dead.’
‘I was 10! You’re fortunate that Kamarisfrey is more reasonable than her husband, and helped me out.’
There was an over-dramatic gasp from above, as Janaxia made her entrance, accompanied by a slightly contained sense of broiling, cataclysmic doom. Whatever she had been doing had had an obvious effect, her appearance now perfect, face immaculate, no trace of tiredness, clothing sheathing her body and appropriate for a mildly scandalous party, all mesh and silks. The look of surprise on her face was dramatically exaggerated, as she toyed with a stray curl of hair.
As a small mercy, for once, Carissia was more interested in business than flirtation, although Stathis noticed her appreciative look trailing over Janaxia, even as she spoke with a serious tone. ‘The Casket of Zakran is broken, and will be a blight upon the world until it is sealed. To that end, all that is wicked must be cleansed, to enable it to be sealed once more. As a Priestess, it is my solemn and sworn duty to aid those that protect the peace of the world.’
Janaxia finished posing, looking slightly upset at not being immediately fawned over. She made a brief curtsey, clothing twisting and revealing as she moved, although at least this seemed to distract Carissia enough that she didn’t notice her wand’s glow strengthening. Janaxia’s speech was awkward, kept curt as she tried to hide her current disability.
‘A pleasure to meet you again, Lady Carissia.’ Janaxia curtseyed. You really should have told me Lady Carissia was coming
Janaxia shot Stathis an accusing glare, as though this was somehow planned.
‘Believe me, I didn’t know.’
‘Excuse me?’ Carissia was looking at her oddly, as Stathis realised that Janaxia’s mind-speech had been directed only at her.
‘Never mind. You were saying, Carissia?’
‘A pleasure to meet you again, Lady Uth Tremari. But, as I was saying, the old dears at the Sanctuary of Eternal Vision actually opened up their vaults, and gave me an item that might be of some help to you.’ From her sleeve, she produced a marble statue of a goat, the eyes tiny gems, hair a spray of golden wire, horns black stone, edged with red. Janaxia used this as an excuse to take Carissia’s arm, peering at the statue, as Stathis pointedly kept her own hands behind her back, just in case touching it triggered something.
‘What is it, and how is it going to be more trouble than it’s worth?’ From past experience, it was probably explosive, cursed or both.
‘This is the Goat of Ardwyad. It is a powerful ally against creatures of darkness, and has been kept by the Order for an eventuality such as this.’
‘It’s a bit small, isn’t it? What does it do?’ Stathis asked, still not touching it.
‘You really should have paid more attention to our tutors. It was this very creature that slew the Black Hound of Argwch, at the Battle of Greyhenge.’
Carissia put the statue down and backed off, Janaxia still pressed tightly against her, eyes already glazing slightly, before speaking a single word. There was a flash, the statue vanishing, replaced by a goat, its head coming up to Stathis’ shoulders, horns razor sharp, a fierce intelligence in its eyes, shaggy hide looking tough enough to turn blows. A rough scent, of rude animal vitality, filled the room, as its head swung from side to side.
It trotted across the room, hooves gouging chunks out of the floor as it approached the slumbering Semari. It stopped next to her, licking at her face, making her stir in her slumber, twitching, eyes fluttering open, giggling slightly from the sensation.
Then she woke up and yelled in panic, a fist lashing out and catching the goat across the face. The goat bleated in pain, rearing up to try and butting her back, knocking the chair over. The two immediately started fighting, hooves and horns against Semari’s fists.
‘Stathis! Demon goat! I need help!’
Stathis sighed. ‘Can you dismiss it? Before it wrecks anything?’
A particularly strong headbutt knocked Semari backwards, forcing her to roll underneath the creature as it tried to trample her, a sequence of strikes hammering into its underbelly, making it bleat in pain. Its head swung, eyes blazing, as it glared at Misutira, huffing angrily and readying itself to charge.
Carissia spoke another word, the goat abruptly vanishing, reverting into a statue. Semari kicked it, hard enough to stick into a wooden panel, vibrating as a horn embedded itself into the surface.
‘Semari, you OK?’ She was glancing around nervously, fists drawn up into a combat position, as though expecting goats to burst out and attack from an unexpected angle. ‘Relax, it was just a one-off.’ She turned back to Carissia. ‘So does it get super-angry at demons or is it just a useful distraction? It’s not the worst thing you’ve ever given me, but it does seem a bit limited. I’ll keep it in mind if any demon dogs show up. Is there anything useful you have? Healing potions, anything normal that won’t start fights with my party members?’
Carissia was at least polite enough, or distracted by Janaxia hanging off her arm, to not show too much upset at this. ‘It is a powerful artefact, I’m sure it will be useful.’
‘Great. I’ll bear that in mind. So, since you’re here, why don’t you tell me what’s going to happen? We’ve got several demons, someone’s summoning them, we’ve no idea who, so you’re going to go take a load of knights and parade around the wilderness, scare up some monsters, and hope to scare something out?’
‘You really should be less cynical, Stathis. For a sworn Knight, you should hold the capabilities of your brethren in higher esteem.’
‘If I want a lot of heavy cavalry on parade, I know where to go. At least it’ll keep them busy. Right, how about you head up to the castle and make sure everyone is busy doing something loud, flashy and that’s going to keep everyone busy and not terrorise the place too much, and let me know if anything is going to happen.’
‘If you were to announce yourself, this would be a lot easier.’
Janaxia, mercifully, was entirely absorbed in her blissed-out state, and didn’t notice, with an occasional leakage of mind-speak only adding to Stathis’ headache. ‘Been over that. Not happening. Semari, leave that thing alone, it can’t hurt you!’ Semari was poking the statue warily, clearly suspicious of another attack. ‘Thanks for the magical goat, let me know what they’re planning.’
‘I would also advise you to be careful, the seers were mumbling something about the Blade of Mourn, an artefact of the dawn times. It’s reputed to be cursed and prone to eating souls, so do watch out. It would be rather inconvenient if your spirit were to be devoured.’
‘I’ll be careful not to let that happen. Now, unless there’s anything else, don’t you have people to go and be charming at?’
It took quite some cajoling to pry Janaxia and Carissia apart, the affair devolving into goodbyes more appropriate for those that might never see each other again, but eventually the task was done, overly excessive fare-thee-wells and prayers uttered, and Carissia finally leaving.