Sin - By Firebrand, Chapters 20

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Sin - By Firebrand, Chapters 20

Post  Firebrand on Fri Jun 08, 2012 9:44 am

A/N: For the best experience reading this chapter, I advise listening to In the Hall of the Mountain King.

Chapter 20

Sin crept through the halls of Masgard’s tower as silently as he could. Chifumi was sitting on his right shoulder, Illiya on his left. Ivan and Lisana had used a strange spell that made a green light appear on the west entrance of the tower, while he, Damin and Lisana’s demons had slipped in. A temporary invisibility charm had serviced to make the flying demons not notice them.

But the charm was already wearing off. Neither the sorceress or the wildmage could manage a powerful one on any of the parties, for the energy taken to hold the exit path open was immense.

“Which way should we go?” Sin hissed.

Illiya glanced at him like he was an idiot. “Upwards. Obviously.”

Sin rolled his eyes. “I meant where would the stairs be?”

Chifumi chewed her lip. “Uh… probably along one of the walls, so they go up the perimeter of the tower.”

“Good thinking, Fuzzball.”

Sin slid along the walls, barely daring to breathe as a demon that looked like a cross between an ox and a human trudged down an adjoining hallway. The creature didn’t seem to have very good eyesight, but it turned its nose up as if scenting something. Sin’s hand wrapped around his sword, but the demon moved on.

The young man hastened forward, creeping along until he found a staircase. He found the door locked, but Chifumi was already in motion. She scaled down his arm, a pair of small brass tongs in her hands. Ivan had found them in the cabin, probably used as toothpicks. Damin and Sin had sharpened them the night before, and now they served as ideal lock picks.

After a few seconds of tinkering, the little monkey let out a muffled squeak of triumph. The door swung open on oiled hinges, and Sin entered the staircase. He silently padded up the twisting ascent, pausing at each landing to watch for demonic guards. In the back of his mind, he wondered where Thalia, Anjaru, Damin and Kelrick were.

A muffled boom shook the tower. “They’re ahead of schedule!” Illiya squawked. “And they’re improvising!” The night before, Lisana had crafted fire spells into a few river stones, creating rudimentary amulets. These were to be used by Kelrick and Damin only after half an hour, after they had caused as much destruction as possible by their own means. The fact that they were using the amulets now meant something was wrong. Very, very wrong.

Sin ducked into the nearest landing, slipping easily into a hallway. It appeared that there was a pattern to the halls here, all of them looping around to form several concentric rings, with two long, perpendicular halls that bisected the circle. Several demon guards ran past down the main hall and into the stairway. Sin waited as the clamor died away before venturing out onto the stairs.

As they climbed, a human-like demon with twisting black tattoos ran into them. “Intruders!” he hissed. “If I destroy you, my master will be pleased!”

Without a second thought, Sin drew his sword. The steel seemed to glow in the dank light of the stairway, and the demon shrank back, the very presence of the blade making him visibly weak. “Back,” Sin ordered in the most commanding tone he could muster. “Or I’ll slice you to bits.”

The demon back away, further and further up the stairs. Finally, he opened his mouth on the next landing. “Intruders! Intruders! Help! Intru-”

Sin slashed upwards, making a shallow cut on the demon’s chest. The scream was immediately cut off, and the demon placed one tattooed hand on his bleeding chest. His breath came in short gasps, the iron poisoning seeping into his veins.

There was a commotion behind the wooden door, and Illiya cried out. “Run, boy! Run!”

He did not need to tell Sin twice. The young man sprinted up the rest of the stairs as fast as his legs could carry him. He held his sword aloft, and though demons emerged from the doorways to apprehend him, they shrank back from the steel. And if they didn’t, they became submissive when Sin lashed out at them.

They reached the top of the staircase, Sin completely out of breath. Chifumi fiddled with the lock on the door, and Sin hurriedly stepped through, relocked it, slid the bolt home, and barred it.

He turned to find himself in a gigantic chamber, with two cages suspended from the ceiling. A demon that was at least nine feet tall slumbered against one of the walls, snoring deeply. Even with the noise on the lower floors, he did not stir.

Illiya flapped into the air, and circled the cages. He drifted back down to the floor. “Mab and Anastasia. They’re both there! We need to get them down!”

Chifumi spied a lever attached to a pulley system. “Try that!” the monkey said. Sin complied, yanking back the lever and watching as the cages dropped like stones.

“You’ll kill them!” Illiya screeched.

Sin pulled the lever back, stopping the cages an instant before they crashed into the floor. Inside each was a woman. The first had her eyes wide with fright, and was not much older than Sin. The other was more composed, and her face held a cruel light. She sat well away from the iron bars.

“Open them!” Illiya hissed to Chifumi.

The monkey-like demon shook her head. “I can’t. Iron.”

“Illiya?” the demon woman hissed.

Illiya nodded. The demon shook her head. “You shouldn’t have done that.”

She pointed at the lever, and Sin noticed for the first time the runes carved into the wood. They pulsed brightly for an instant before letting loose a crystalline chime. The slumbering giant stirred, ad rubbed his eyes. “I smell the blood of a foolish one.” His voce was gravely, and made Sin wince. “I’ll grind his bones to make my bread! He’ll scream until he’ll wish he’s dead!”

The giant rose to his feet and hefted a club as large as a tree. In fact, it was a tree, uprooted from the Dark Forest. Sin glanced at Illiya. “Get out of here. Slip by through the window. Tell Lisana there’s been a…” He was cut off as the tower rocked again. “Complication.”

Illiya nodded and took off. He darted past the giant and dove out the window, disappearing from sight. Sin back up to the door, and heard demons pounding against it. He was trapped, at least until Damin and Kelrick brought the tower down around them. Then demons would be the least of his problems.

“Um… sir?” the young woman in the cage murmured. At first Sin didn’t hear, so she called again.

“Huh? What?”

“Look on Hakkon’s belt.” She pointed through the bars of her cage at the giant, whom Sin supposed was called Hakkon. On the giant’s belt was a tiny loop with keys on it. Mab smiled as she followed the girl’s finger.

“Listen, boy. If you can get me out of here, I’ll lend you a hand. If it weren’t for this damn iron, Masgard wouldn’t be around anymore.”

Sin nodded, a plan already forming in his head. Hakkon was stumbling towards him at a snail’s pace, shuffling despite his long stride. From the reek that permeated the room and the red rims around the giant’s eyes, Sin wagered a guess that Hakkon was either severely drunk or hung over. “All right, Fuzzball,” Sin whispered. “Here’s what we need to do. I’ll distract the giant, and you get the keys. You’re small enough, he may not even notice you.”

Chifumi nodded. “Got it. Don’t die. Have a strategy?”

“I don’t think I’ve had a strategy this entire journey. Luck?”

The monkey winked. “Best strategy there is. Let’s hope the Elements don’t let our luck run out.” Then, she darted off to one side of the room, staring intently at Hakkon, waiting for an opening.

Sin brandished his sword high above his head. “Hey! Ugly! Over here!”

Hakkon’s bleary eyes focused a little and he picked up his pace. Sin charged around the giant, standing across the room from Chifumi. “You want to catch me? You’ll have to be faster than that!”

Hakkon roared. “I’ll grind your bones…”

“To make your bread. We’ve been over this. You really must be as dumb as you look!”

Hakkon took a moment to process this as an insult. Then, he roared in anger and ran forward, his tree club scraping along the ground. Sin roared back and charged forward, his sword outstretched. All the other demons here had shrunken back from the steel. Maybe the same tactic would work here.

But with just a few feet to collision, Hakkon showed no signs of changing course. Sin dimly recalled some demons being immune to iron poisoning. Well, there was really only one way to find out for sure.

In a highly impractical maneuver Anjaru had taught him and Damin told him to never use under any circumstances, ever, Sin somersaulted under Hakkon’s club and drove his blade into the giant’s calf.

The huge demon grimaced and tried to swat at Sin, and the young man grabbed his sword, wrenching it free. He had missed Hakkon’s hamstrings and tendons, but if the demon was weak to iron, he would fall any second now, and Chifumi wouldn’t even need to get involved.

Hakkon shook out his leg and whirled on Sin. “That hurt!” the giant bellowed. His club came crashing down, and it took all of Sin’s reflexes to dodge, and even then, some of the branches scraped his arms. The young man’s mind raced, and he tried to figure out why the iron wasn’t working.

Maybe Hakkon was indeed immune, depriving Sin of a large advantage. Or maybe because Hakkon was so massive, the poison couldn’t spread fast enough. Either way…

“Hurry up with those keys, Fuzzball!”

A silver streak bounced past Sin and clawed up the fallen tree. It disappeared inside Hakkon’s giant linen shirt, and the giant immediately dropped his weapon and began slapping at the quick-moving bulge. “Get out! Get out! Get out!”

Chifumi leapt from the neckline of the shirt, and clambered up Hakkon’s face, before perching on his head for the briefest of moments. Hakkon then lifted a giant fist to try and crush the small monkey. He missed, instead hitting himself. Sin would have laughed if he weren’t so terrified.

Chifumi jumped down onto Hakkon’s shoulder, and then fell to his waist, using her nimble tail to balance herself. Hakkon completely ignored Sin as he tried to slap at the silver demon.

There was a brief clinking of metal, and then Chifumi shouted, “Catch!”

The brass keys sailed through the air, and Sin grabbed them. He turned quickly on his heel and sprinted to Mab’s cage. He fumbled with the lock for a few seconds, but the door swung open in the end. The demon strode out, looking completely composed. She took a deep breath and cracked her knuckles. “Get Anastasia. And then get down.”

Sin nodded, and felt Chifumi climbing up his back. She settled in on his shoulder as Sin reached Anastasia’s cage. Sin opened the lock faster this time, and helped the young woman down. “Mab says to get down.”

Anastasia nodded and crouched in a corner. Sin wrapped his hand tightly around his sword as he backed up against a wall. Mab sauntered out to Hakkon, the giant staring at her dumbly, then back at her cage, and back to her, as if trying to figure out how she had gotten out.

Then, he saw Sin, and the clinking brass keys in Chifumi’s paw. Hakkon let out an enraged roar before charging forward, his club raised. He moved faster now, his hangover wearing off.

“Stop,” Mab commanded, and the command rippled through the air. It was almost a tangible thing, and Hakkon had no choice but to obey. He went rigid, and Mab peered at her nails. “You betrayed Master Illiya. This is just orders, Hakkon. I never liked you to begin with, but don’t take it too personally.”

Mab waved her hand in a gesture of dismissal. A savage tempest ripped through the tower room, biting into Sin’s exposed skin. Chifumi bunched up, trying to conserve warmth. Mab floated in the air, hands outstretched. Sin was impressed.

Even Anjaru, the Air Master, couldn’t fly in his human form. This demon was truly powerful. Hakkon shrank back. “Mab, I’m sorry. I don’t want to die. Please, Mab! Please!”

Mab’s face betrayed no emotion. “Like I said, Hakkon. I’m under direct orders from Illiya. Before he was transformed, he ordered me to personally destroy any demon that betrayed him. I’m not thrilled about killing any of my own kind, especially under the orders of a sorcerer, but orders are orders.”

Sin couldn’t take it anymore. “Mab, stop! He surrendered! You don’t have to do this!”

“Of course I do. Orders.”

Sin had seen Kelrick, Anjaru and Thalia disobey Lisana’s commands before. But… were they even commands? Lisana made it clear that most of her orders were suggestions to her demons. And any time she had issued a direct command, the demons had obeyed it.

Mab moved her hands in a circle motion, and then shoved them outwards. A solid pillar of wind struck Hakkon, driving the giant back into the wall. Cracks broke out around his body, and Sin couldn’t help but wince. The huge demon groaned in pain.

“Mab… I’m sorry.”

The air demon merely shook her head, and closed a fist. The air around Hakkon seemed to grow denser, and his hands reached for his throat, as though choking. Sin realized with a start that Mab was stealing the air from his lungs.

The giant’s face grew red, then blue, then ghostly pale. “Stop it!” Sin cried. Mab’s concentration was shattered, and Hakkon slumped forward. His chest heaved, so he was breathing, but he wouldn’t be fighting any time soon.

The demon whirled on Sin. “Foolish boy! What have you done?”

“We have more pressing concerns than Illiya’s vengeance! We need to get out of this tower!”

“I’ll fly us out,” Mab said.

“Get Anastasia out first, with Chifumi. I need to meet up with the others, and make sure they get out.”

Chifumi shook her head. “No. I’m staying with you.”

“Fuzzball, you’re a messenger demon. So take a message. Tell Lisana that I’m fine as of now, and Hakkon’s been defeated.”

The monkey curled her lip, but went to Mab’s side. The demon helped Anastasia to her feet, and then turned into a gigantic swan, large enough for Anastasia to ride. The young woman glanced at Sin. “Are you sure you don’t want to come? Mab can carry you.”

“I have things that have to be done. Go.”

Mab nodded, and soared out the window. Sin turned and stalked to the door of the tower room. He threw back the bolt, and held his sword aloft. Strength surged through his limbs, even though he should have been exhausted. The few demons that stood outside cowered at the sight of his steel. “Get out of here,” Sin growled. “Or I’ll cut you down.”

Whatever orders the demons were operating under, their fear must have won out. They scampered away, disappearing down the stair. Satisfied, Sin stalked after them.

***

In the tower’s catacombs, Thalia and Anjaru picked their way over the bodies of the demons that stood in their path. “You can sense it, can’t you?” Anjaru murmured. “You were always keener on these kinds of things than I.”

Thalia nodded. “It’s close.”

A massive boom shook the ceiling. Anjaru glanced up. “They’ve started detonating ahead of schedule. This doesn’t bode well.” He adjusted his cloak about his shoulders and continued on. He glanced in a few of the cells that they passed. “Nothing here. I suppose our man Masgard doesn’t take many prisoners.”

Thalia slunk past, nodding. “There are many artifacts of power just ahead.” She led Anjaru around a corner, and when the hallway split, they turned left. Anjaru felt the magical power humming through the air in a way similar to how mortals felt humidity. It pressed against him and made his skin crawl.

“He must have quite the hoard.”

Thalia nodded. “Or just a few powerful trinkets.”

Three demons stood guard outside an unadorned steel gate. Thalia crafted an icicle dagger in her right hand, and made icy nails coat her left-hand fingers. Anjaru silently drew his rapier. “Do we fight to kill?” the Ice Maiden asked.

“No. We fight to question.”

The two strode confidently towards the three guard demons. One, who looked human except for two goat-like horns curling up out of his forehead, glanced up. “Oy! Who’re you? You’re not from around here!”

Anjaru’s rapier flashed, and he struck the ram demon with the side of the blade, making a red welt. Then, faster than the human eye could follow, he kneed the demon in the chest, and stepped back before the creature crashed to the ground.

The other two demons leapt into action, fire springing into the palms of one of them. He grinned as he spied Thalia’s icy weaponry. Thalia licked her lips and shook her head. “You’re like a candle next to Kelrick’s bonfire.”

“The Hellhound?” the fire demon cried, but Thalia had already scraped her claws across his face. Then, she kicked him in the groin and delivered a sharp elbow to his temple as he crumpled.

“Yes. My sparring partner. Who I never fail to beat.” Thalia raised an eyebrow and gave a haughty smile. The fire demon groaned and used one clawed hand to massage his aching head.

Anjaru placed the tip of his rapier under the throat of the last demon, a brawny fellow with black tattoos up and down his arms. “Is this Fenris Masgard’s treasury?”

“Y-Yes…”

“Are there talismans of great power behind this door?”

“I… I don’t know. I’ve never been in there myself.”

“Do you have the keys?”

“No. Master has the only key.”

“Open the door.”

“But I don’t have the keys.”

“You’re a strong one, aren’t you? Rip it off its hinges.”

“Master will punish me severely…”

Anjaru pressed the tip of his rapier into the demon’s throat. “Ah, but you’ll still be alive then, won’t you? Well, maybe. But with me… it’s guaranteed you won’t.”

The demon gulped, and nodded slowly. Anjaru moved the tip of his sword away just slightly. “Do not try anything. You have seen how fast my associate and I can move, yes?”

The demon nodded again, and grabbed the handle of the door. His muscles contorted as he drew on the strength of the earth. With a shriek, the door was wrenched from its hinges. As the earth demon set the door aside, Thalia slammed an ice-covered fist over his head. The demon dropped to the stone floor with a groan. A quick check revealed him to be unconscious.

“No witnesses,” Thalia replied to Anjaru’s quizzical glance.

The Air Master shifted his cloak around his shoulders and stepped into the vault. He surveyed the gold lying in heaps all around, the swords lined on the walls, and the rich armor on stands. Thalia hissed.

“Do not touch anything.”

Anjaru nodded. “Even I can sense that, Thalia. A unicorn horn would be easy to pick out amongst all these dark artifacts. But here… no, the ring is not here.”

He and Thalia stepped from the room, but the Air Master turned on his heel and drew a small bracelet from his cloak. He tossed the trinket, made of the fragments of rabbit bones, into the center of the room. It exploded with a rush of fire, a fire that greedily consumed the dark amulets Fenris Masgard had stockpiled. Behind them, someone clapped their hands.

“Bravo,” the mysterious figure said softly. “You seek to cripple me with this petty show of defiance?” There was a whispered incantation, and the fire vanished. The dark artifacts were unscathed.

Thalia slowly turned. “Masgard, I presume?”

The man who stood before them was very thin, and very pale. He wore a cloak around his bony shoulders, but that only made him appear smaller. The man nodded. “I wish I could say I was pleased to make your acquaintance.”

His hand moved beneath his cloak, and he drew out a wand carved of elm. On his finger glinted a golden ring with a sparkling diamond. “There!” Anjaru involuntarily gasped.

Masgard glanced down. “This? This is what you want? I’m afraid savage demons such as yourself would have no use for a silly ring.”

Thalia hissed. “We aren’t savage! We know full well what it is capable of!”

Anjaru shook his head. “Thalia… we fell into his trap.” The weight of the situation crashed down on the Ice Demon’s shoulders. Anjaru’s unintentional slip of the tongue could have been passed off merely as a demon’s greed for something shiny and expensive-looking. But Thalia’s remark that they knew its power told Masgard that they were no mere demons from the Dark Forest.

“You won’t get this ring,” Fenris growled. “But you will take me to your master, and I will learn what he plans to do with it.”

Anjaru silently processed this. Fenris Masgard knew they were working for a sorcerer, but he didn’t know who the sorcerer was. His wards had been breached, but he had not identified the one who had done it. His very use of the male pronoun confirmed this.

Anjaru’s sword flashed as it left its sheath. “If you won’t give us the ring, I’ll just have to cut your finger off.”

A sharp icicle appeared in Thalia’s hand. “Forget the finger. Go for the entire hand. Far easier, really.”

Masgard held up his wand, but his hand was shaking slightly. “Just try. I’ll destroy your minds.” The shadows seemed to congeal around him, angling so that they converged on his feet. So, he was an expert in shadow magic? Anjaru bit back a curse; Kelrick would have been useful here.

Thalia and Anjaru’s shadows seemed to step out of the ground, forming perfect doppelgangers of the two demons. With a wave of Fenris’s wand, the two shadowy constructs stepped forward and engaged them in combat.

Anjaru’s shadow carried a rapier much like the Air Master’s own. Thalia carried no weapons, so her shadow attacked her with nothing but her fists. Thalia dropped to the ground and rolled under the assault, jabbing an icicle spear through the shadow’s torso.

Anjaru dispatched his in a similar manner, slicing through it with his rapier. Even though the silver had no edge to speak of, the shadow dissipated into vapor.

As Thalia advanced, she realized that this weak attack had been a front, because Masgard shot two bolts of black lightning from his wand tip. With a wave of her hand, Thalia conjured a shield of ice in front of her, stopping the bolt, but splintering into hundreds of iridescent shards. Anjaru dove out of the way of his, and rolled along the ground. He came up with the tip of his sword at Masgard’s throat.
“Now,” he mouthed to Thalia, as the sorcerer blasted the Air Master with a repulsion spell. Anjaru tumbled through the air before shifting into his falcon form and stabilizing himself in the narrow space the hallway provided. He let his sword fall from his grasp.

Thalia had leapt into action immediately. She grabbed her companion’s rapier, and drove the point into the base of Masgard’s hand. The point emerged with a spray of blood on the other side. With a sharp twist and jerk, she severed the hand and snatched it as it fell.

Anjaru had returned to his human shape, and Thalia tossed him his bloody sword. Fenris Masgard knelt on the ground, clutching his stump of a hand. The shadows around him congealed again, he was preparing another spell.

“Should we kill him?” Thalia asked.

Anjaru shook his head. “We have what we came for. Let’s just get back outside. Damin and Kelrick will bring the tower down on his head soon anyway.”

The whole encounter had lasted less than two minutes.

The two demons sprinted up the winding stairs to the main floor, where Kelrick was throwing magical fire from his hands. Damin was fighting off attacking demons, keeping them at bay with iron. “We ran out of amulets!” he shouted. “Do you have the ring?”

Thalia nodded. “We have to go. Masgard is near.”

Kelrick sniffed the air. “What about Sin?"

“Will manage without us, I’m sure,” Anjaru replied shortly. “We must get this ring to the Winterholds. Perhaps then we can retrieve Master Sin.”

Everyone looked a little torn, but a crash behind them made the four spring into action. Masgard had crawled up from the dungeons, his wand aloft. “How dare you!” he shouted. “How dare you cut off my hand!”

Kelrick grimaced. “A little overkill, don’t you think?”

“Not really,” Thalia replied. “Run.”

And they did. They sprinted away, dodging the spells Fenris’s spells. His demons chased after them, and Kelrick conjured a giant wall of red and black fire that greedily ate away at the stone walls of the tower.

“Hellfire,” he gasped. “A little hard to use, but necessary. I don’t think I could do it again, though.”

Anjaru nodded silently, and cast one last glance at the stairs Sin had ascended. There was no sign of he young man. It was with heavy hearts that the company of four ran for the gap in the wall Kelrick had created. The air around it sparked with latent magic, a side effect of Lisana and Ivan’s counterspell.

Damin took a deep breath, and plunged into the cool morning air, the cries of angry demons just behind him.

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