"Something is really wrong here."
Talk about pointing out the blaringly obvious, mentally remarked Essyn, a thirty-year-old, light-haired, grey-eyed guardsman of the city of Ericlad in the mighty kingdom of Sedhalia, veteran of the Silver War and self-proclaimed best swordarm in the Lancepoint District. The room they were in stank of sulfur and of rotting flesh. The air was damp, and the atmosphere dark as the night. A dark red, dense liquid kept ceaselessly dripping from the bookshelves on the east wall. Essyn didn't have to think a lot before he knew what the liquid was.
The room was something of a chaos in itself. The aforementioned bookshelves looked as if they'd been ravaged by an explosion. By the north wall, sat - well, used to sit, now it just rested collapsed on the floor - a table cut in literal halves, apparently by a sword, though it was hard to tell. The door that they had broken when they barged into the room only helped to create an image of absolute chaos and desolation, accompanied whilst lying on the floor by endless amounts of various debris, the most peculiar being a teleportation stone cracked in half, endless amounts of ashes and a pornographic picture nigh burnt to cinders.
Essyn took one hard glance at the room and deduced that he was right in bringing the young mage along. Ulin, he was called, and hailed from some township somewhere in Cessellia named Yrnonn, although he had only the vaguest memories of his time back home. Taken in an early age to the boys' wizard academy in Alech, Taragardh, he never visited Yrnonn, nor Cessellia at all, again. Upon finishing his studies, he was dispatched to the city guard of Ericlad, who had requested, in their lack of a mage to help them out in certain cases - such as this one - help. The Cessellian took his time to arrive, spending much more than necessary - half a year as opposed to the usual two months max - in getting from Alech to Ericlad, but eventually he was there. Although he got a scolding from the captain, Marys Fithre, for taking so long, he managed to fit right in - the Cessellians and Sedhalians shared many things, among them, a language, with only slight differences between the two dialects. Besides Fithre, everyone liked the kid. But Fithre, he hardly liked anyone.
"What happened here, Ulin? Necromancy?"
"Could be," the boy nodded, his long black hair, almost the length of a girl's, shivering about as much as a naked man standing outside in the winter in the process. "The stench seems to indicate as much. And there's been that murder last week... Archchancellor Elmyth. Was a good man, loyal to the monarchy and strong opponent of legalizing necromancy. Could be his enemies decided he was such an opponent long enough."
"I don't see the connection here, Ulin," Essyn replied, going over to the bookshelves and taking a sample of some of the blood dripping from them into a small container.
"Neither do I. However... Elmyth gone, the rest of the Council of Archchancellors of the Sedhalian Order of Magi may want to annihilate any remaining resistance to those reforms. Magic is power. If you want to convince an influential mage to do something, show them power. The supporters of legalizing necromancy in Sedhalia will most likely try to put on a show of power, raise a few dead, in other words. Make those dead wreak havoc."
"This is why the kings keep them on a tight leash," Essyn hissed, nigh angry. "Damn mages, no offense..."
"To raise a body from the dead and use it as some slave... that's just whack... and disrespectful."
"Indeed. Some mages, however, don't see the logic behind it. Frankly, they don't see the power of death. They hardly imagine a power greater than magic, and have no respect for any such power. In this case, people in fact don't fear what they don't know."
Essyn sighed, slowly. "Back to the point, boy. That teleportation stone. No hope of tracing anything through it, am I right? It's broken. I know a few things from past cases concerning magic."
Ulin nodded, apologetically. "Yes, sorry to say. It lost any sort of magical potential when it was broken in half. Whoever opened a portal using it was particularly thorough in cleaning up his mess. However..."
The young mage bent down, took a little of the ash into his hand. Sniffed it.
"Strange odor, not even sulfur. Hold on a sec."
Ulin raised a hand and drew some sort of mark in the air, a beam of light tracing after his fingers. Essyn saw this once before. It was a high-level spell, meant for examination of traces of magic. However, this time, Ulin's reaction, his expression, the shock and the terror in it, gave off a completely different impression than ever before.
"What is it, son? Speak up!"
"Demon summoning," he spat, half-angry, half-scared.
"Demons. Or one, anyway. Hand me that blood you collected from the shelves, please."
Now, Essyn, although he did not want to admit it, was scared. Quietly, he, as he handed Ulin the container, said a prayer to Alyavarra, the Mother Goddess, and, after some consideration, added a few devotions to the old gods of Sedhalia and Cessellia, Mirus and Draythan, and all their kin. You couldn't ever trust just one religion to help you when demons were involved.
Ulin examined the blood with a few quick spells. They weren't as complex as the earlier one, and thus took a lot less time.
"It's the blood of some sort of lesser dragon. Most likely a wyvern, or a marsh serpent. Whatever the case, it seems to have been used in the ritual."
Essyn nodded. "Good, but how, exactly, does that help us?"
"It's usually used for the summoning of lesser demons, so it's not as bad as it could be. Higher demons need human or elven blood. For now, we're in a pretty optimistic situation."
"So we could have a succubus or an imp running around the city? That indeed sounds optimistic."
"I doubt it's that bad. Succubi are pretty common creatures in the wild, I don't see us panicking about them running around the city. And imps aren't prone to do much damage."
"Yeah," nodded Essyn, with a sarcastic little smile on his face, "sure, we don't panic about succubi in the wild. Maybe because they don't come hang around Ericlad's alleyways and trick old fools and young morons into thinking they're ordinary little whores before their throats are slit. Also maybe because succubi in the wild are, I know as much, quite different from succubi in the Upper Plane. Servants of dark spirits and mad gods. But remarkably like their sisters on this world when it comes to eating, and hunting, habits."
"I don't think it's that bad," Ulin expressed another of his doubts regarding the proportion of this catastrophe, "I mean, just think. That teleportation stone was cracked in half for a reason. Whoever's been toying around with demons here hasn't been overly too cautious when you think of it - they didn't clean up the ashes nor the blood, although they knew, I have no doubt, these things may lead whoever would find this place, alarmed by the inhabitants of the surrounding flats of the racket and the flashing lights and the flame that had no doubt occured when the demon was transferred to our world, they knew these things would lead that person to find out what they've been doing here. However, they've made sure they could not be traced nor followed by cracking the teleportation stone in half. You know how these things work, right?"
"You use magic to open a portal using that stone..."
"... as sort of a transmission device, yes. Teleportation stones are specifically designed to transmit a wizard's power to create a sort of warp in reality, that allows you to be teleported to a certain point in space and time. The warp is created for a specific period of time depending on the amount of the power of the spell. If the stone was not cracked, as you know yourself, with enough power we would be able to recreate the portal. It would be really upsetting to the mage behind this. We'd step right on him the moment he came out on the other side. But, as you've seen, the guy cracked the teleportation stone. He made sure he could not be followed, although he wasn't too bothered to hide what he was doing."
Essyn scratched his chin. "So you think this guy took that demon with him? We don't have to worry, at least for now, about it running around the city causing havoc and destruction?"
"Oh, we always have to worry about that. Now, except... we have a few leads. You should look into who this flat belongs to. I'll try examining the dust, the ash, and the blood - with further study and a few more thorough spells I think I might be able to track a vague trace of magic in the surroundings. Whatever the case, I think I'll stick around here for a while, collect things that can be used. I'd go to Fithre if I were you. I'd think he would want to hear about what's been going on here."
The guardsman nodded, slowly. Best leave the kid to his own devices: he was clearly more educated in dealing with demons than him. He'd just focus on throwing this summoner of theirs into a cell, as soon as it would be possible.
"Good. Let me know if you need any help. I'll see to Marys."
The sun still wasn't up, he noted as he went outside. In this desolate, dirty and downright "bad" district of Ericlad, the population was stuck in flats huddled together one upon another in a chaotic proof of how tight-packed the smallfolk could be if they really wanted to.
Essyn loved the slums. Although he came from a fairly well-off family, down in the Lancepoint District, where the scions of traders and craftsmen dwelt, here he felt truly at home, the very specific orchestra of the cityfolk attacking him from all directions, with an assembled multicultural choir of hundreds of cats mewing, dogs barking, beggars faking shrieks of agony as they faked falling on the ground and traders - usually drug dealers and whores - offering their wares rather loud.
He handed a few gold coins to the old man standing outside. "Thanks for reporting the mess, old man. The City Guard appreciates it."
He did not appreciate, however, Ericlad's new city law about how any man who reported a crime was to be rewarded for it. For all he knew, it served nothing, merely sent masses of people scrambling over reporting crimes they've overheard the occasional rumor about. And he hated the fact that the city took those rewards right out of the Guard's pay.
The headquarters of the City Guard was a semifortified house up on Felad Hill two streets away, rounded by a rather tall fence and equipped with its own ballista, set in the house's only tower. Such precautions were necessary when settling on the very edge of the slum district and having more than a few coppers in your pocket. The house also served as Fithre's winter home - his apartment down in the Lancepoint was a cold and edgy place during winter months, constantly windblown and freezing. Another constant denizen of the house was Lanhin, a guardsman that did not dare sleep at home for fear of his own wife. Essyn could hardly blame him. Lanhin's wife was a monster in a woman's skin, and Essyn knew that from the one single time he'd seen her, while visiting Lanhin at home when he was sick once.
Minutes later, he was at Felad Hill. Nodding to the guardsmen at the house's front gate, he went into the inner courtyard, past a couple of guardsmen brawling and three or four of them engaging in a mass swordfighting match with dulled blades. And then another couple making out, both of the guardsmen involved being, in fact, guardswomen.
He slammed the door to Fithre's office rather loudly, not even giving enough a damn about proper etiquette to knock. Marys Fithre, a middle-aged man whose hair had just begun to go gray, currently sitting in a chair behind a desk that can only be called a true desk with a lot of lenience, because it was, in reality, nothing more than a big slightly dirty lump of wood, glared rather coldly at Essyn.
"How're you doing, Captain?" the thirty-year-old guard shouted enthusiastically, grinning, knowing Fithre hated people being happy even more than he hated people to begin with.
"Terrible, because a certain Essyn of Ericlad just burst through the door into my office without even asking if he could do so."
"You told me to go check out the mess in Patriarchs' Street, Captain. I'm ready to report."
"I'm not," Fithre hissed. Only now Essyn noticed that he was bending over a map of the city, drawing something on it with a pencil. "While you were off, information came down from the City Council. And from the Count of Ericlad. And, to boot, from everyone else important in this city. We're going to have important guests in the city..."
"Since today, we already have," Essyn muttered under his nose.
"His Majesty, by the grace of the gods old and new, King Naldhyn I of Sedhalia, Lord of Saedhil and sovereign of the Silver Heights, is coming to visit the Count, and the magistrate. Nothing special of a visit in itself, but I've got the security of the whole city on my hands now."
"Like hell you do, Captain. Hand it over to the special forces and the King's Guard, this is no matter for us. We're responsible for the security of this city, not for that of the king---"
"Watch your tongue," Fithre, as he liked to do, hissed.
"Sure, I'll watch it. When the King's killed by a demon currently running loose somwhere in the city's vicinity, I'm just going to watch my tongue, like you tell me to. If somebody asks me if I knew anything about a lesser demon, I'm just going to let them know you told me to watch my tongue, Captain. We'll see how all of 'em react."
He was walking on lava. Not even water. Molten, hot lava. But there was no way to go but over it. Whatever the case, it worked. For just a second, Marys's expression changed to one of fear.
"A demon? What the hell are you talking about?"
"Some bastard let loose a demon in the city, that's what I'm saying, Captain. We've got Ulin's professional deduction - the havoc in Patriarchs' Street was caused by some idiot summoning a dark spirit from the Upper Plane. In plain Sedhalian, a demon, a scourge of gods old and new, and let's just see what their blessing to the king might do against one such---"
"Watch yourself, Ericlad..."
"I'm not Ericlad. Last time I checked, I'm not a city at all. You're lucky to have a proper surname, Captain, that someone can refer you to as and not feel funny. Me, I'm not so lucky. Point being, Captain, the mage who summoned the demon appears to have teleported away afterwards. Ulin's working to find out where."
Fithre laid back in his chair.
"This is apparently more serious than I thought."
"Well, whatever the case, we need to find this mage and this demon. Work with Ulin. He'll provide professional assistance, since this an obviously mage-requiring case, while you collect information. I'll tell Irthina to help you out, too - she's in charge of the Elmyth murder case. I have a feeling these two cases may be connected."
Essyn gulped down a piece of air that seemed to be stuck in his throat. He didn't know Irthina and didn't fancy getting to know her. He knew only a little of her - namely, that she was Fithre's fiancee, and Essyn had a pretty good image in his head of what she must've been to get into such an arrangement. A Fithre with a rack, pure and simple.
Essyn did the only thing he really could at this point. He saluted the captain and left.