Despite all the siblings’ years of exploring the devastation from the Wyrd, they had never seen an entire village obliterated. The damage was thorough, and though Kaia knew the giant black ooze had been going straight for the demon the peasants stupidly kept in their church, it had a lot of collateral damage.
They hustled through the streets, bolting at times, jogging at others, pushing along the outskirts of the crowd forming, listening to the sudden surges of hostility as people began to realize what was happening, what their homes looked like, the possibility the thing might come back. The siblings ignored it, Kaia grabbing her brother’s gray tunic to keep up with him.
They aimed for their inn, and the girl had to wonder how Rasmus felt about fleeing the scene. He was prone to shame and the pale grimness on his face suggested a deep sorrow about their sudden escape, even if it had been his idea.
The door threw open easy enough. No one was inside. Everything sat in its place and there appeared to be absolutely no damage to the small, wooden floored kitchen. A table built for a large family, a tiny rectangle of embroidery on the wall, the home seemed a pleasant contrast to the destruction outside. The clay oven and series of barrels and jars beside it all sat uncracked and untouched. Rasmus stopped to be sure they were alone as his sister passed him, aiming for the basement.
“A black blob?” the man said, following his sister down the stairs. “Why did it come here?”
“Why did it leave at all?” Kaia said.
She skidded next to her sleeping mat, immediately hitting the dirt with a thud. Rasmus hesitated, searching the room.
“I’ve never heard of anything like it. When I helped carry the injured inside… His skin was burning off in layers.”
Kaia paused from rolling her mat, reading his expression. He walked over to his sack and picked it up.
“Why are you limping?”
“Because I don’t know how to waltz.”
“I don’t think it’s broken,” he said. “I can put weight on it fine.”
Shouting came from above. They looked to the ceiling.
“I guess the shock’s warn off.”
Her face went pale. “We need to leave now.”
Rasmus tried to search his sister for the truth. “You really released the demon, didn’t you?”
Her stomach bit her. She shrugged.
She shot up straight. “He left, didn’t he? He didn’t kill anyone, did he?”
A foreign burst of enraged screaming made it through the walls, muted but clear.
“Jam it all in,” he said. “Let’s go.”
“You’re the one who needs to get out of here!” But her face was serious and she didn’t move. Her brother searched about the room for logic. “You don’t care about getting arrested?”
“Exorcised,” she said calmly.
“Since when do you not run from pain?”
She studied him, a thousand thoughts crossing her mind. She held up her palms. “You’re right. Let’s go.”
They packed quickly. With only a few things and Kaia’s mat looking more like canvass wrapped around a dead cat, they were out of their room within minutes of entering. The siblings knew how to make a quick exit.
They walked up the steps carefully, scouting the kitchen for anyone who might have entered in the meanwhile. Still empty, they moved swiftly to the door. Rasmus opened it.
The Magistrate of the Vampire’s Guild, the leader of the best trained warriors, those who have authority of all that comes from the Wyrd, was standing there.
“You,” he said. “Come with me.”
Two of the Vampire Hunters had been grievously hurt. One died. Three locals followed suit. One house and a church had been fully demolished. And yet all their focus was on the escape of the rampant demon.
The crowd sat in a house around a table, each man cut up and grim, bleeding onto it as the homeowner stood to the side nervously. Just a poor, normal man, he seemed small and out of place amongst the crimson cloaks. No one bothered to notice him.
A few stood about, watching each other, the Magistrate sitting in thought.
“He escaped during the battle,” he said. “The ooze demolished a hole in the wall through which he fled.” He glanced to the hunter beside him for affirmation.
Kaia, down at the far side of the table, eyed her brother shifting uncomfortably next to her before her stare roamed towards a particular hunter across from them. She waited for the other shoe to drop. Kaia reached out and grasped Rasmus’s arm. Her brother shifted with a subtle side-eye.
“He saw me,” she whispered.
Rasmus jerked a look across the table then back.
The vampire hunter did not meet their eyes, but nodded to the Magistrate’s words.
“How did he get free of his chains?” another asked.
Kaia’s rescuer said nothing at first, his bright blue eyes on the table. But after a moment, he said, “I believe that the stone wall was connected to his manacles. When it crumbled, he could flee without them holding him down. But I am not completely positive. He may have had some other trickery to help him,” he said. “I believe this was his plan after all.”
Kaia suddenly became obsessed with her feet.
“So the silver is still attached to his wrists?”
“Yes. The bracers remain intact, to the extent of my knowledge. And he also has an injury in his chest. He removed the weapon, but it too was silver, therefore the wound should slow him, taking some time to heal.”
“That is good news,” the Magistrate nodded.
Rasmus tried to catch his sister’s eye, but she refused to look at anything more than her oversized boots.
“And what was the girl doing in the church? The villagers state they saw her and you enter into it.”
“Yes. I believe the girl was worried for the demon’s safety, but she was paralyzed by fear once she arrived.”
Kaia resisted the urge to see the Magistrate’s reaction.
Abruptly, Rasmus sat up. All eyes turned to him.
He stopped, startled, but continued. “Why are we
The Magistrate licked his lips, studying him. Finally, he leaned in and answered, “We have heard word of your exploits.”
Rasmus’s body overtly stiffened.
“We don’t hunt vampires,” he said.
No one stirred.
He glanced around to the scrapped and bruised faces then added, “And even if we did, now is not the time to determine if we should be punished or not. If you want to slap us with a fine, or even arrest us, you should wait until after the crisis here has been settled before you waste time trying to protect your guild from freelancers. It’s not—”
“Stop,” the Magistrate said. “This is not about your business. We are not concerned with your doings, nor is it something we’ve even looked at.” He paused. “For the time being. However, once this ‘crisis,’ as you’ve so put it, is finished, maybe it will be a problem we will want to examine. Unless, of course, you’ve proven to be amiable to the rules of the court and our cause.”
Rasmus watched the Magistrate’s expression then frowned. “You want our help?”
“An alleged demon has escaped free into the bounds of the Wyrd. This has not happened for the last hundred years.”
“To our knowledge,” Kaia muttered.
“Even so far away from civilization he can still commit very heavy crimes. We have no telling what a beast like can do. He must be captured before he can remove his bindings and be brought to his great power. If you are so experienced in this realm, we could use your help.”
He stopped short as a man signaled something to him. The Magistrate glanced over to the girl.
“Of course, your sister would have to agree. She was so very against us in the first place.”
Again she peered into the blue eyes of the hunter, but they stayed pointed down.
“We will find him,” she said. “I understand the danger. I understand his crime.”
They studied her.
“I didn’t understand the abrupt desire for immediate death penalty. I don’t feel it is deserved without evidence.”
“Evidence of what?” one asked pleasantly.
“Of being a demon
,” she spat.
The men laughed. She shrugged and sunk back down in her chair.
“So, are you hiring us?” Rasmus asked. “Recruiting? Or are you just seizing the necessities in time of crisis?”
The Magistrate smiled. “We don’t need
to pay you. But, we also would expect that your sorts are not the type to obey government command. If we tried to ‘seize’ your abilities, you would probably just run.”
“Do you really need our help?” Rasmus asked.
The hunter didn’t answer. “We are not allowed to hire women, and, of course, working with freelance is always looked down upon. Furthermore, I doubt my men would enjoy being forced to join with laymen. Morality would severely drop.”
“If the guild finds out about the demon escape, and he causes any great damage, the punishment will be severe. We must catch him before he can do anything.”
Rasmus gave a sadistic grin.
“Your sister has quite the rapport with him, and it’s hard to believe that her hand wasn’t somewhat involved in his escape. If she truly is enthralled, she will feel a pull towards him. If she isn’t, well, better two groups than one, no?”
“Especially an expendable one,” Rasmus agreed.
“We would like to make a proposal. If you find the demon and capture him, we will pay you for your time. If we find him first, however, we won’t.”
Rasmus paused, suspicious. “We’re not in need of money.”
Kaia sought his attention with a wide gaze. His eyes twitched as though he wanted to do the same, but he did not deviate.
“Ten thousand silver pieces?”
Kaia’s throat hurt.
“We are in the need of that kind of money,” she said.
“That’s what I thought.”
The Magistrate leaned back and smiled.