After an evening of drinking and eating, we agreed to meet near the same tavern the next day at noon, and everyone parted their ways. I was going to be staying in the same tavern, but in reality, as soon as everyone left, I hit the streets under the cover of the night. Most big streets in the middle part of the city were lit by oil lamps and patrolled by armed guards. At least one guard in each squad carried some sort of magical torch that consisted of a wooden stick for a handle and a glowing ball floating slightly above the top end of it. It wasn’t holly light, nor was it very bright, so it didn’t prevent me from moving in the shadows, but I still avoided getting close to the guards. Even though shops were closed, a lot of people weren’t sleeping yet, with lights pouring from the windows of houses and noise flooding from numerous taverns. Some folks wandered the streets, but mostly the biggest ones.
Before exploring the slums as I intended, I wanted to see how hard it would be to get into the upper parts of the city. I reached the inner city wall and started moving along it. I chose a place less lit by street lights, waited for a moment when clouds covered the moons and slid up the wall in the shadow form. As I moved up, I concentrated on auras around me. There were guards occasionally patrolling the wall during the day, but less so at night. Probably, they weren’t expecting anyone to climb the wall. I got on top of it and looked at the central part of Arturel.
The center of the city looked very fancy. Houses were much bigger and almost all of them had a yard surrounded by a wall with smaller buildings built inside. What caught my attention were the two towers. Nearby they were even more remarkable. They were not only huge pillars of white marble, but they practically oozed magic. To my senses, it looked like both towers were covered from top to bottom in magical sigils glowing with power. I couldn’t ascertain what most of those sigils did, but some of them were certainly protective. After a moment, I realized that the stone itself also had a magical aura, albeit much dimmer than the intricate patterns etched on its surface. I was sure that sneaking near them would be a short trip back home, and I better come to check them out by more official means. I jumped down and moved towards the opposite wall.
I climbed one of the stairs and got to the wall separating two parts of the city. From here I slid down as a shadow and appeared in the less well-off part of Arturel. It was less lit and much less guarded, with lamp posts stationed on street crosses, but only a few of them burning, mostly on the main street from city gates to the city center. I moved in shadows, getting the feel of the nightlife in this city and trying to find the slums Arthur spoke of. Overall, it was calm until I found the tavern with a sign that said “Armed Python” with an equally ridiculous drawing on the sign of a python holding a sword in its tail. It was bustling with the sounds of people drinking and screaming obscenities at each other. In the back of the said tavern, by the sound of it, someone was getting mugged by a pair of armed thugs.
I continued further, getting deeper in, what I assumed, were the slums. I’ve seen many more empty houses in a different state of disrepair than before. Some people were mugged in the open on the street if you can call a dark night ‘open’. A group of people was fighting each other in one of the alleys, with a few already dead. One time I’ve seen a person getting arrested by the guards. I didn’t know what he did, but the arrest involved the guards beating him senseless and dragging him through the mud. But it looked like the guards did occasionally came through this part of the town to ‘preserve peace’.
What piqued my interest, though, was a magical aura moving through a dark alley. I followed the person in the shadows and wasn’t disappointed. I couldn’t see their face, but I did recognize a stereotypical cultist robe they wore, almost identical to the cultists I killed before. I stealthily followed them to one of the buildings that looked abandoned, but, compared to other abandoned buildings, windows in this one were boarded shut and probably draped from the inside to prevent peeking in. I felt multiple magical auras inside and wanted to know what they were planning. It’s never a fun time when a cult is involved. At least it’s not for me, some demons would be delighted to be summoned by a cult. They stopped near the door to the house and looked around. I’ve heard them mutter a spell, and for a moment I thought it was a detection spell and it would blow my cover, but they seemed to not get alerted and knocked on the door.
I didn’t want to miss anything, so I needed to react fast. If there was light in the house, it would’ve been hard for me to follow through the door, and if the house is protected from spying, I wouldn’t be able to hear anything from outside. Luckily, the house had a chimney I might be able to use. I jumped on the roof, not weighing anything as a shadow and not making any noise. From here I’ve heard the house door open, the cultist step inside and the door close. I drifted to the chimney and slid down almost to the bottom of it, but stayed inside. Flickering light, probably from torches, was reaching from the bottom, and I heard the chatter of different voices. It was good I didn’t move farther, because a familiar circle of an alarm spell was drawn on the bottom of the chimney. Those cultists weren’t dumb. I felt seven magical auras gathered in the house and could hear everything they say. It looked like I didn’t miss anything.
“Why did you ask us all to gather here, brother Viktor?” I’ve heard one of the cultists with a ringing and authoritarian female voice speaking. “It’s three days until the next new Toria.” Toria was the name of one of the three moons on this plane, by the way. Others being Rol and simply Luna, but that was irrelevant then.
“It is an urgent matter, sibling Arel.” A cultist with a deep male voice answered them. “I came from the guards. Some adventures killed the orcs we hired and released our sacrifices. I also got news from Flamehold, brother Reynold was killed and his sacrifices released four days ago.”
There was silence for a moment, then Arel replied. “These are disturbing news, indeed. The fact that we had two operations dismantled in such a short time might be a coincidence, but might be direct action against us and our plans. Sister Herra, do you know anything?”
“I don’t have any information about official operations related to our plans. My latest scrying yesterday didn’t reveal any malicious intent towards us either.” Another cultist replied.
After one more pause for the thinking, Arel, who I assumed was the head of this group, at least locally, continued. “We will proceed assuming that there is a force acting directly against us and our Lord. Sister Herra, we need you to do another scrying tonight, use your strongest crystal. Also, send the word to other groups, they need to be on alert. We will not hurry our plans just yet, it’s not the time to be hasty, but we need new sacrifices to replace the ones we lost. Brother Ford, compile the list of towns for the replacement and start working on two or three of them, preferably farthest away from Flamehold.”
“Yes, sibling Arel.”
“We will gather here as planned on the new Toria and see if we need to alter our plans further. For now, stay vigilant, increase usage of protective spells and check for tail regularly. Everyone is dismissed in the name of Lord Gornath!”
“In the name of Lord Gornath!” All cultists replied and started leaving the gathering one by one.
As they left, I stayed there in the chimney, thinking to myself ‘No, no, no. Hell fucking no!’ This was a complete disaster! I didn’t care what the cultists do in their spare time, but Gornath was one of the strongest Archfiends in Hell! If those fanatics were amassing sacrifices for anything related to him, that meant that the war from Hell soon might follow me to the mortal world. And I just started to enjoy it!
I hated the idea of getting into this, but bringing Hell up here would ruin all my plans, so I decided to at least arm myself with information. When all of the cultists left and I couldn’t feel any auras nearby, I flowed through the chimney to the room, avoiding disturbing the alarm spell. I appeared in a spacious room that looked barren besides a few stands for torches. All windows and doors were covered in different spell sigils, including more alarms. I looked around, mindful of any spells I might trigger, but the house was otherwise empty. I didn’t give up just yet and spread my shadows on the floor, trying to get in every nook and cranny. That helped me find a secret trapdoor in a corner. Despite being a literal shadow while in the darkness, I can’t move through very tight spaces, I need at least a centimeter gap to flow through. Which meant I needed to lift the door, potentially triggering whatever spell was guarding it. I weighted my chances: unless it was specifically enchanted against intruders like me, in the worst case I would trigger an alarm but would be able to escape unharmed. They already assumed someone was acting against them, so giving them proof wouldn’t change much.
I lifted the trapdoor slightly and peeked inside. No alarm set off, that was a relief. Without opening all the way, I slid inside. The room I got in reminded me of the basement of the first cultist I killed. There were sconces for torches, a few tables, multiple chains with manacles attached to walls and a huge magic circle in the center of the floor. All tables were empty, though, with no valuables or notes with secret plans. I inspected the circle on the floor. It was huge and complex, it wasn’t drawn, but was carved in the stone floor. It was a summoning circle made to summon a powerful being. Which being it summons depends on the ritual itself, but if I had to guess, I would say it could be used to summon someone like Gornath or his generals.
As I returned the way I came, rising the chimney like a stream of smoke, my senses were suddenly assaulted by enormous magical presence. I quickly turned to see the source of it and froze, half my shadow form still inside the chimney. On the roof of the house laid a young human-looking woman with pink hair, in a short white skirt and matching white blouse. She laid in a relaxed pose, her hand supporting her head, and looked at me with a look in her face somewhere between concerned and mischievous. She wasn’t all that she looked, the enormous magical presence flowed from her, concentrated in my direction. She had one of the strongest magical auras I’ve ever felt, on par with demon generals. All my instincts screamed to run from her, to hide and hope to never meet her again. My mind, on the other hand, understood the futility of this idea. She wasn’t just a magnitude stronger than me, she knew I could sense it and directed her magic towards me to flex, without any words explaining, that if she wanted, I’d be on my way back to Hell in an instant. After a moment, she stopped her assault, and her aura subsided to more bearable levels. She spoke to me.
“Tell me, what are you doing in my city?” Her tone was confident and a bit like a parent would ask something a child. I didn’t like to be spoken to in this way.
Her face shifted more to concern, and I hoped that I could properly read the emotions of such a powerful being. She stood up.
“I don’t like when questions are responded to with other questions. I like intrigue, but questions should be answered in the end. I’ll ask again: what are you doing in my city?”
There wasn’t much sense in continuing defying her, I shifted to give my shadows more humanoid appearance and sat on top of the chimney.
“Adventuring, I guess. I rescued a caravan from this city and now was looking for something interesting.”
“Did you find anything interesting yet?”
“Some cultists are probably trying to summon a demon lord right here in this house.”
“Is that so?” She asked and looked down, concentrating on something below, almost like she could see through the roof inside the house. “Looks like you’re right. I don’t think I can allow such disturbances in my city.”
“So, this is your city?”
“This is the city under my protection, which means it is my city, yes. Even if some disagree, that’s how it works for me. And I intend on protecting my precious library… I mean, my precious city. Demon lords wreak havoc wherever they go, and if humans die, they can’t write more books…” She looked very worried now. “Anyway, I will deal with the cultists.”
I nodded at her.
“That doesn’t solve the problem of a demon currently being in my city. What are you planning to do next?”
“I don’t know yet. I am bored and was looking for some entertainment… If I don’t need to worry about the cultists, I was planning to collect my reward and maybe join the adventurers’ guild. See what this world has fun to do…”
After mentioning the adventurers’ guild, the woman’s eyes became sparkly and her face lit with excitement. “A real-life adventure?” She instantly tried to switch to a more calm look. “You know I can’t trust a demon, what if you decide to drag people in Hell or whatnot. But I think we can work something interesting out…”
I started to worry. “What do you mean?”
The pink woman smirked mischievously and stretched her arm to the side. Her palm and then half of her arm turned to a semi-transparent goo the color of her hair. Then the goo started flowing down to the roof, more and more appeared out of her arm until it started to reform in a humanoid shape. In a few moments, details were added to the shape and it coalesced into another woman. They looked similar, with the same pink hair and the same height, but the new girl had a more smiley face and much more practical clothing you could see on an adventurer. She also had purple eyes, compared to pink ones of the original. Her magical aura was only the fraction of the original, still on levels of Arthur or Silai, but nowhere near the mysterious woman that claimed Arturel as hers. Original’s aura diminished slightly and it’s composition changed too like someone distilled one of the parts of a mixture. After a moment, the new woman started moving and cheerfully waved her hand.
“Tutru-rin~” She grinned widely. “I’m Rin, nice to meet you!” She stretched her hand to me.
I shook it. “Vivienne.”
“Rin will join you on your adventures.” The original woman spoke with a sly smirk. “And as you probably understand, you have no say in it, unless you want to go back to wherever you’ve come from.”
“We will be the best pair of adventurers!” Rin exclaimed and tried to hug me, but couldn’t grasp my shadows.
“Be sure to include her in e-everything.” The pink being stretched the word ‘everything’. “She is capable, don’t worry, she won’t slow you down. And if you need it, she can contact me. My word has weight in Arturel and outside. Have fun, write letters.”
Rin saluted to another woman.
“Wait. What’s your name at least?”
“Lilim. I’m sure we will meet again, see you.”
Lilim waved and turned away as two pairs of pink leathery wings sprouted from her back, and she flew up in the sky, towards the center of the city and one of the towers - Wyrm’s Library. Probably the magic I felt from the tower was what has hidden her from me before, or I have mistaken her magic for the tower’s magic. Either way, a powerful being bullied me to take with me one of her… spawns?
“What even are you?”
“A Rin!” She grinned at me.
Author’s note: Heya! Sorry for the big delays between the last few chapters. I needed to figure out where the story will go from there and had some trouble with finding words… If some word choices here sound weird, that’s probably because I spent some time looking for a better way to say what I wanted to say, but my vocabulary ran dry.
Anyway, I hope you enjoy the story so far, the new arc starts next chapter! But first, we will have a shopping episode… just kidding!