Hunt - Chapter Twelve
~ 12 ~
18 Arodus, 4692 AR; Kenabres
18 Arodus, 4692 AR; Kenabres
Ever since they fell into the tunnels and caverns underneath Kenabres, Shayliss had done her best to make sure she did not think about what may have been happening within the city. It would have been a great distraction to the battles of life and death she had been a part of in the past three or four days. But, since they had left the maze and its horde of mongrelmen and cultists behind, she could not help but put the condition of the city in the forefront of her thoughts.
Had it managed to fight off the army of demons that descended and ascended upon it? Were the people even now working to rebuild their homes? When the group emerged from the tunnel, would they walk into the bright light of day and see that their fears were ungrounded?
Or, was the city gone? Wiped off the map with nothing but ash remaining? Were there no survivors, or only a few that could only pray that their deaths were quick? Would one of the strongest cities against the demonic nation still be standing, or fall like all of the others that tried to stand against it?
Shayliss did not want to find out which was true. Glancing at the other members of the groupâ€™s faces told her that they were having similar thoughts. Even Horgus remained quiet and contemplative as they hiked the last few feet toward the entrance of the tunnel. Red-orange light poured from the opening and did not allow any sight beyond it. The only way they would know for certain was to pass through the light onto the surface.
A sigh escaped Shaylissâ€™s lips, a bit shaky with exhaustion, pain, fear and anxiousness, â€œWe wonâ€™t do much just staring at it. Letâ€™s go. Mordria and Strune, up front.â€
The pair moved toward the front of the group and led them out into the open world.
The sunâ€™s light blinded Shayliss and it took a long time for her eyes to readjust. However, as they did, she could start getting information from her other senses.
First was the feeling of heat. It washed over her like a beachâ€™s surf and threatened to form sweat on her forehead. Her body was not sure of how to handle it after days within the relative cold of the tunnels and the sensation of it adjusting to the sudden change in temperature crawled up her spine and made her shudder. The only thing that could have been causing so much heat was fire. The city of Kenabres was on fire.
That assumption was reinforced when her nose picked up the strong stench of smoke. It billowed into her nostrils and seemed to push her skin outward. She had to cough to push it out which only let more in as she had to suck in air to breathe. The back and forth of air and smoke continued until she finally was able to control it. Her method of controlled breathing and holding her hand to her face was not perfect, but it was enough to reduce the need to cough.
When her eyes finally adjusted to the light, she could see that the city was still standing despite the pillars of smoke rising into the air. Cries and roars echoed into the black clouded sky and even though the light blinded her, Shayliss saw that the sun was not poking out of the mass of cloud and smoke. Flying within the darkness above were shapes of various demons and vultures circling the city and its districts, occasionally diving down to attack an unsuspecting form on the ground.
â€œItâ€™s chaos.â€ Strune muttered as she watched another flying shape dive and a very distant scream cried out, â€œBut, it seems like this is not the full demonic force. They left maybe a day ago, leaving stragglers to do as they pleased.â€
Anevia grunted in agreement.
â€œWe will have to move carefully through the city, then.â€ Shayliss said in a hushed tone. She had not purposefully spoken quietly but the scene in front of her seemed like quiet voices were necessary, â€œAnyone have any ideas?â€
Horgus was the first to speak, letting out an impatient growl, â€œOur contract still stands. You have to take me back home. And I demand that you do it first!â€
â€œI would like to visit the Blackwing Library.â€ Aravashnial said. His tone was as if he was hesitant and apologetic to say it, â€œI have friends there and want to make sure they are alright.â€
Anevia looked as if she wanted to say something, but stopped herself. She was afraid to say where she wanted to go, and Shayliss knew exactly why. So, she asked the woman, â€œDo you want to check up on your home?â€
Anevia only nodded, giving Shayliss a small and gracious smile.
â€œIf we pass my home,â€ Strune added, â€œI would like to look in as well. But we must also get a move on. If we just stand around we make easy targets of ourselves.â€
Shayliss agreed, â€œWhich is the closest stop from here?â€
Strune took a second to think, waving her hand in the air as if marking points on a map only she could see, â€œIf I am right, then it would be the Blackwing Library, about twenty blocks north east.â€
Shayliss nodded, â€œAlright. Letâ€™s move then. Weâ€™ll hit each spot as we head for any sign of people.â€
With that, she headed out, leading the group of tired and wounded people who were losing morale by the second into a city besieged by demons who were willing to â€™playâ€™.
Apparently, the demons were closer to the center of the city. On the way to the Blackwing Library, the group only ran into two different groups of enemies. One was a pair of cultists searching for another target. The other was a group of Dretches, humanoid demons built fat and strong. Large circular mouths with rings of sharp teeth hung constantly open and their green-blue skin looked like someone who died of frostbite. Both groups were easily dispatched, mostly because Shaylissâ€™s group had the advantage of surprise, and they continued forward.
With their speed, it took about half an hour to reach the Blackwing Library. There, they found an interesting site: the Library was the only one majorly damaged on the block.
A hole was formed on the front right corner of the building with stone and wood still falling down. Fire raged on the ceiling which threatened to send even more materials to the ground. The massive front double doors were bashed in as well as the frame around them. Crackling fire sounded from within and the building looked as if it was about to fall apart. Yet, the buildings around it were virtually untouched. There were some burn marks from the fire and some cracks from explosions. But other than that, they were still standing.
â€œWhy did the demons target this place?â€ Shayliss asked.
Strune stepped forward, â€œThe Blackwing Library is the most complete collection of demon-slaying books in the world. Orâ€¦ was.â€ She sighed, â€œItâ€™s not much of a surprise. Without this knowledge, we will be at an even greater disadvantage.â€
â€œShould we see about saving as many books as possible?â€
Strune shook her head, â€œNo. Itâ€™s too late at this point. We need to make sure no one is still alive in there then move on.â€
As they were talking in whispers, Aravashnial went abnormally silent. He could not see the building, but he looked on as if he could. The bandages around his eyes, which were bloody and dirty from their adventures underground, started wetting with tears. However, he stood tall, forcing himself not to curl in on himself.
â€œLetâ€™s do it.â€ Shayliss muttered after observing Aravashnialâ€™s reaction, â€œQuickly.â€
Strune agreed and turned to talk with the others. Before she could get a couple of steps, though, a shout came from within the library. Shaylissâ€™s body suddenly tensed, waiting for the arrow that would pierce her head. She still stood after a second, so she relaxed a bit and paid attention to the library. The shout came again and this time she was able to understand what the person was saying.
â€œWould you stack those damn books faster?â€
Another voice sounded from the library, but it was way too muffled for Shayliss to understand. She did understand, though, the loud smack that came right afterward.
â€œDonâ€™t talk back!â€ The first voice yelled again, â€œAnd move faster!â€
Shayliss heard enough. She waved the others to follow her and charged into the library. Strune was only one step behind her while the others had to work to catch up. The pair of them ran through the front doors and found a strange scene.
The bookshelves of the library had been blasted against the walls, most likely from the same attack that tore the hole in the ceiling. They were on fire, their contents slowly being taken up and burned to ash. Next to one of the bookshelves were four people of various races, all wearing blue robes, tied up and gagged. All of them turned to face Shayliss and she could clearly see the fear in their eyes. In the center of the library, now mostly bare from the attack, was a circle of books. In the center of the circle was another robed woman who was shakily stacking even more books on top.
At the outside ring of books were four men: three tieflings and a human. Brown hair spiked up like grass on the humanâ€™s head and even more hair flowed down his chin and around his mouth. His large forehead had splatters of blood as well as his shield, war mace, and shoulder plates. Under the blood were his flat eyebrows that seemed to express little and his brown eyes were careless and dull. Covering his body were silver plates with a gold trim and the shield on his back held the icon of Iomedae etched into it.
Seeing that, Strune grew furious. She started marching forward, drawing her blade as she barked in a voice that echoed throughout the library, briefly cutting out the sound of crackling fire, â€œCHALEB SAZOMAL!â€
The human turned his upper body to face the fiery woman while the tieflings rotated fully to hold up shortswords, their leather armor scratching slightly, â€œAh! Strune. It is so wonderful to see you.â€
â€œWhat in Iomedaeâ€™s name are you doing, Crusader?â€ Strune spat out the title like it was a worm in her mouth. She completely ignored the tieflings.
Chaleb gave her a large smile, â€œOh, just having a bit of fun! In our current state, we all need some entertainment, donâ€™t we?â€
The primal snarl that erupted from Struneâ€™s throat caused everyone but Chaleb to back up. Shayliss felt it like a heatwave, sending golden light radiating out in all directions from the winged woman. For a brief second, she looked like an angel of vengeance, ready to smite down all in her way.
â€œYou seem so angry.â€ Chaleb said like a father teasing a daughter, â€œYou should not be surprised by this. Havenâ€™t I always said that I fight for the winning team?â€ He stepped forward, holding his arms out as if to gesture at the world around him, â€œAnd I have found them.â€
â€œYou dare betray the men and women you fought beside?â€ Strune asked, â€œThe home that welcomed you with open arms?â€
Silence. Then Chaleb let out a small chuckle which quickly rose into a full belly laugh, â€œNieve. You donâ€™t get it do you? This is not a play! This is real life! You cannot just direct the world as you wish like a hero of legend! That is not how the world works!â€ With his smile, he unsnapped his mace and shield from their clips, â€œAnd I will show you why.â€
Strune gritted her teeth. Then her back straightened, â€œVery well. I call a Duel.â€
The man blinked at her, â€œYou would fight me one-on-one? I know you were a prodigy, but you were never able to beat me in training. What makes you think you can do it now?â€
â€œYou decline, then?â€
He shook his head, â€œOf course not. I will kill your arrogance as well as your body.â€
Without another word, they lifted their weapons and charged.