Wood tore asunder, crashing to the stone behind Wurhi. The little thief gasped.
What in all hells was that?
Her nerves screamed.
While hidden in the lav, she had heard the doorkeeper’s bloody end. It had frozen her in place, yet set her thoughts racing with horrifying possibilities.
Had the Hawk come? Was it the Duke’s guard? Had they murdered the doorkeeper to gain entry? No, that made no sense. Why would either murder to gain the stone? For the former, it would cause unwanted attention; no master thief would be so clumsy. The latter would have wielded their authority, not the blade.
This must be something else.
Whatever it was - she needed to be far from it. The stairs. If she reached her comrades, she would be safe.
Stamping down fear, she had warily stolen toward the wine room.
She had hardly gained five paces before something had ripped open Paradise’s front door. Winter’s chill - like a demon’s breath - had roared into the passageway. Winter’s chill and something else. A thing alive, unnatural and immense - bearing the powerful musk of some wild creature. A creature that snuffled in the dark.
The rusty tang of blood filled her nostrils. A stink of raw flesh overcame the hallway.
Wurhi gagged. Her lamp’s light seemed as bright as noon, and she struggled to cover it with her hand. The flame stung her skin. Biting back an oath, the terrified thief drew palm to mouth and licked it.
She held her breath in dread.
It paused. The thing was close. Wurhi’s heartbeat filled her ears. The unseen creature’s breath rumbled too deep and coarse for the chest of any human.
The breaths ceased.
There was a moment of dead silence.
A monstrous howl filled the hall.
It reverberated off of every stone and struck in Wurhi a fear so primal that her knees nearly buckled. Her hair stiffened. Nerves and reflexes honed by years in the Zabyallan alleys - further sharpened by her recent encounters with the sorcerous - were all that kept her upright.
She whirled on her stalker and threw the lamp.
It lit the passage as it flew.
Now she screamed.
Never had she seen the like of the abomination before her - a beast at once lupine and human. It was an immensity - black-coated like a wild beast - and bearing thrice the bulk of a man. Even the towering Sengezian would have scarce reached its powerful shoulders.
At its back stalked more of the slavering beasts: titans in their own right. Their fangs and eyes shone with malice. Figures both black-robed and wolf-masked crowded the passage behind them, with bronze blades poised in their hands.
Blades that shone with blood.
The lamp shattered on the largest beast.
Oil and fire bathed it.
Flame roared. Burning hair’s stench filled the hall. The devil yowled.
Wurhi spun away, dashing down the hall at full speed. “Kyembe! Kyeeeembe!” she screamed as she never had. “Cristabel! Demons! Demooooons!”
Shouts and bestial growls followed her. The sharp click of claws drummed as they loped across stone. Scrambling from the dark hallway, she broke into the dimly lit wine room toward where she remembered the closest flight of stairs lay.
The chamber’s guards had risen, rushing for the doorway with bronze cudgels in hand. “You!” their leader cried, his face pale. “What’s-”
“Flee!” she screamed, not slowing a step. “Flee! Flee for your lives!”
The guardsmen looked to whence she came.
They saw what followed.
“What in the name of the after-world?” Thesiliea gasped, her red eyes turning to the door. “Do you hear…animals? And screaming?”
Kyembe lay frozen beneath her, his pointed ears hearing far more than hers. A familiar voice reached them, filling him with dread. “By the stars! Something’s attacking Wurhi!”
The mercenary cursed, scrambling off the wizard. He leapt to his feet.
“Did you hear Ippolyte too?” she asked, her voice tight.
“No. Not at all!”
Both shrugged on their tunics, responding with the efficiency of warriors long experienced with attacks during encampment.
“Our arms are locked way,” Thesiliea went to the fireplace, drawing a pair of brass pokers. “Here! This’ll have to do!” she tossed one to the Sengezian.
He caught it, giving it an exploratory swing. Unbalanced, but not the only weapon at his disposal. He glanced to his ring: its head consisting of a skull with jaws parted. The face of a horned woman emerged from between its teeth, bearing a heated beauty. Her eyes gleamed - at the ready to bring forth sorcerous wrath.
He made for the door at a run.
Thesiliea followed. “I need to check on Ippo-”
Bang! Bang! Bang!
“Thesi! Thesi!” Ippolyte’s voice sounded through the wood.
Before another knock could sound, Kyembe dragged the door open. The mercenary stood in the doorway; her face strained. She had also armed herself with a fireplace poker. “Where’s Thes-“
“Behind me! She will explain! Wurhi needs help!” he pushed past her into the hall and quickly fell into a sprint, his dark-elf eyes inherited from his mother’s people, cut through the low light.
The sound of chaos played mockingly in his ear.
He dreaded the sound of anguish from a familiar voice.
“By the gods!” a guardsman swore.
The pack of devils loped into the chamber, quickly spreading to cordon their prey. They moved as instinctual hunters. Individual. Yet one.
A screaming Wurhi crashed through the dimness. Her thrashing knocked over chairs hidden in shadow.
They fell in her wake. Her thoughts were bent to the stairs: if she made them, she’d make the hall. If she made the hall, she could reach Kyem-
The sound of rushing air and a musky miasma saved her.
Leaping forward, a monstrous grip swept the space she had occupied a heartbeat earlier. Her body crashed to the stone floor; its injured shoulder collided with a table leg. She shrieked as agony exploded through her, and only a measure of desperate will kept her from curling up in a ball. She crawled beneath the table, gritting her teeth.
Screams rose behind her.
The devils had leapt upon the guards. The stout defenders of Paradise brandished their cudgels with skill won from arduous careers, yet fared no better than children armed with twigs. Claws swept and jaws crushed as the demons savaged them to the ground. Their lantern shattered, the oil coming alight on the floor tiles. In the writhing illumination, the beasts crouched over mewling bodies, burying their snouts in steaming flesh and boiling entrails.
Human bone cracked.
A crimson pool met the flame. Rust tinged the air.
Wurhi’s stomach turned.
Claws pierced the wood above her head.
“Shiiit! Shiiit!” She scrambled away as flinders poured over her. Robed men flooded the wine room. In their midst rose the black-coated beast. Unnervingly, no burns marred its hide.
Rolling beneath the next table, the Zabyallan sought to lose the creatures in the darkness.
Yet, their snouts pointed to her like lodestones.
With a single claw, one of the creatures flipped the massive table. It crashed away in the shadows. She screamed and curled up as they surrounded her. The leader stalked forward; its bestial jaws parted.
“Wurhi! Shut your eyes!” a familiar voice shouted.
With a yelp, she squeezed them shut.
The world turned white through her lids.
Ash and heat followed.
- Ontario, Canada
I'd like to balance the scales.
Please note that if I review you, I tend to see the positives in any work and seek to encourage people. I tend to review quite high. That's okay, as this is an amateur writing website. I'm no expert, myself, after all.
I like a lot of things, and I try to see both the strengths and the potential in any work and talk about those.
After all, most of the time, writing is a gift.
And I am not one to spit on gifts.