Once Mendhari and Iron Horse had gone to sleep, only the Red and the Green remained in the small room the two men were sharing at the refugee-stuffed inn at the edge of Vengrad. Iron Horse's snores and Mendhari's tossing could be heard through the left wall. The right produced intermittent sobs and sniffles. Their single candle was burning low and the stars provided no light. Only the sickly-green moon gave true illumination to the room through a tiny window.
Kinqueduran: After a while, the silence bothers K enough that he speaks up. "What caused the change in the moon, do you think?"
Kinqueduran gets the feeling that the worker's ghost still hangs about, but hesitates to return to its malevolent activities for fear of attracting the Envoy once more.
Anstice: "Vast amounts of essence... maybe Luna accepted an indecent proposal. Who knows?"
Anstice: "Perhaps. But if it was that simple, why bother?"
Kinqueduran: "Think about how unnerving it would be ... how much disturbance, ill will, and terror something as simple as a green moon could sow over a region."
Anstice: "Never underestimate the capacity of people to get used to anything."
Kinqueduran: "I tend to focus on not underestimating their capacity for overreaction."
Anstice: "Good point... Well, if the Realm blows up Creation, it's not like the demons will have anything to escape to."
Kinqueduran: "I'm more worried, presently, about the demons escaping and preventing the Realm from blowing up Creation. I'm sure there's a good side somewhere. Or maybe a slightly less bad side."
Anstice: "I have faith in your ability to solve any problem with gratuitous violence."
Kinqueduran: "I have other talents, too. None of them seem remotely relevant, of course...but I do have them."
Anstice: "Oh? Like what?"
Kinqueduran: "I used to write poetry."
Anstice: "Did someone force you to stop?"
Kinqueduran: "No, I just ended up occupied with other things."
Iron Horse: "... mrnin'."
Anstice: "No. Night."
Kinqueduran: "Very night."
Iron Horse: "m'up. Must be mornin'"
Kinqueduran: "Don't argue. It's night."
Anstice: "Unless the sun turned green and dim, too."
Kinqueduran: "...which, at this point, wouldn't surprise me."
Anstice: "Should we wake Mendhari to tell her?"
Kinqueduran: "No, she's pleasant right now."
Iron Horse: "... mmm... woke up too early? ... like back home, I guess..."
Anstice: "I would never have pictured you for an early riser."
Iron Horse: "... You never worked in a farm."
Anstice: "No. It's hard to farm tundra."
Kinqueduran: "Anstice, you're the puppet master, what's our next move?"
Anstice: "Sleep late. Keep Mendhari from smothering us with a pillow."
Kinqueduran: "A preemptive strike, then?"
Kinqueduran: "Good. I should probably study up a bit."
Iron Horse: "... mmm. I wish I could help."
Kinqueduran: "Don't worry, you can help."
Iron Horse: "Yeah?"
Kinqueduran: "I'm not sure how, yet."
Anstice: "By getting us to crystal early enough to talk to some important people?"
Anstice: "You'll also be useful in the Underways."
Iron Horse: "... I dunno. She seemed to be sleeping pretty well."
Anstice: "Mmmm... how does she do it? All of us are awake."
Iron Horse: "Dunno. Envy her though."
Anstice: "Maybe I'll ask later. I'm sure we could all use the sleep of the innocent."
Anstice: "Heh. Not so much when she is actively hating you?"
Anstice: "I'll be sure to convey your sentiment."
Kinqueduran: "I'd rather you didn't, she'd probably misread it and just be more of a bitch towards me."
Kinqueduran: "...that doesn't even make sense, Anstice."
Anstice and Iron Horse hear a sound in the silence that follows Kinqueduran's response. A muted thump and crash from outside in the square. A whiff of copper and tar reaches their noses, the smell of something unclean and out of place in this world. Moments later, they hear near-silent sobs and wet smacking noises. Kinqueduran mistakes them for sobs from the room next door.
Anstice: "Don't you smell that?"
Kinqueduran: "I'd say 'smell what?', but that would be silly."
Anstice: "There's a demon out there, and our vaunted demon slayer didn't notice. Great."
Kinqueduran: "Sometimes even chumps like you get lucky."
In the chill, green-lit night outside the inn, the source of the sounds becomes obvious. A single home has a light in the window, the glow a fire inside outlining a massive, indistinct shadow that is the undeniable source of the demonic smell. The fire inside throbs dangerously, likely an uncontrolled blaze waiting to burn down the home. A splatter of red mars the single small window of the house.
Kinqueduran: "I'd vote, but I expect that you two can guess."
Anstice: "Why not both? Split up."
Kinqueduran: "I'll take the front door. You two, move around the sides. I'll raise a ruckus, you two keep an eye on our quarry's reaction."
Kinqueduran: "I'm not a hunter."
The demon inside turns, its distorted form moving with dark blurs to face the window. Its growl rattles the window and another splatter of blood stains the window."
The door thunders to the floor inside, displaying the interior. Inside, a pair of young people lay on the ground. The man was probably a laborer, his torso is well-muscled and he wears his hair in the traditional short crop of a northern worker. Everything below his stomach is missing, however. The woman is worse off, only the left half of her torso remains, the head is flattened across the far left wall. The demon itself chews idly on the man's foot. It peers calmly at the three men outside. "I assume you are entering. Please do so before you attract much more attention."
Kinqueduran: "You're telling a man dressed in shiny red armor not to attract attention?"
The demon is a massive affair, the mal-formed body of a rhinoceros plated in dark chitin and oily blond-black hair surely weighs hundreds of bounds. From the pot-bellied body emerges a wiry human torso with mottled fins protruding from its back. The two sets of arms are overly muscled, making :the entire creature seem out of proportion to itself. It chews quietly.
Demon: "It may. But standing in the cold while this fire burns will cause more."
Kinqueduran: "I'm not good at conversation. Do you mind if we skip to the part where I stab you in the face?"
Demon: "I would have attracted attention in the common-house. The fire will consume their bodies. Regardless, I was hungry. The man had an impressive amount of meat on his bones and his marrow is most tasty."
Kinqueduran: "You do realize that there is an extraordinary likelihood that I will kill you after we talk, I trust?"
Demon: "I do not think so."
Kinqueduran: "Let's skip the bullshit. You want to talk, start talking."
Demon: "I believe you have been following the trail of the Algorans and have encountered other demons recently, correct?"
Kinqueduran: "You already know the answer to that."
Kinqueduran can tell from the short scream that accompanies the belch that the demon has devoured the souls of his victims and is storing them in its belly for some reason.
Demon: "Excuse my manners. I am not practiced in this. Regardless, this brings to my attention that certain…others may have contacted you. Offering help against my fellows. To take them up on their offer, on any offer, would be unwise. They are death itself, if you have not noticed."
Kinqueduran: "...the whole point of this charade was for you to ask us not to make an ally against you?"
Kinqueduran: "And they don't smell as bad. Anstice, can I stab this thing now?"
Anstice: "No. Let's see what else it has to offer."
Kinqueduran: "You're no fun."
Demon: "You simply accept the word of the dead? They have no interest in this world. They would see it destroyed by their beloved void. We would not. You could even become powerful in the world my great-grandsire envisions."
Kinqueduran: "Tell me something ... what do you offer us? Do you have a better offer?"
Demon: "Indeed. I offer you life. If you aid them, they will kill you to further their goals. But we will give you power and riches. And you will survive. Arrangements, bargains can be made. If you wish to learn more, I can arrange a meeting with my father."
Kinqueduran: "And what would be the cost of life in your deal? You would, what, run amok over the world? Eat whomever you please?"
Demon: "Eventually. In many years, centuries, millennia. But we wish to rule Creation. Not destroy it. And even those who warred against their rightful masters may find a place in the restored order of Creation."
Anstice: "See, here's what I don't get. They're not even the same things that lost. How can they be the rightful masters?"
Kinqueduran: "We will consider your offer. Today, you are not unmade."
Kinqueduran: "You will not finish your meal. Go now."
Kinqueduran: "Remove the half within and leave it."
Anstice: "It's quite possible. Do not get caught, do not leave a trace."
Breathing hard, K drops his spear and shield, staring down at the demon's corpse. The massive corpse steams in the chill night, not moving at all.
Anstice: "Well. That was interesting."
The ill-fleshed head stares blankly at Kin, its mouth open to display fragments of flesh and bone between its massive teeth.
Anstice: "We're going to have to split up now, you know."
Kinqueduran: "I agree, unfortunately. Who goes where?"
Anstice: "You and Iron horse to the Yozi. I and Mendhari to the Malfean. That way, each of us has an excellent chance of making it back to Ur.
Kinqueduran: "The only problem I see is that I am not exactly a paragon of negotiation, and I'm not sure Iron Horse will be able to compensate for that."
Iron Horse: "... didn't that one guy said we all needed to be there?"
Kinqueduran: "We all have to be at Ur, though they might give us a break if we leave behind dead members of our circle."
Anstice: "Maybe we should ask the Malfeans for that."
Iron Horse: "Come again?"
Anstice: "We still can. Given a little but of luck and essence."
Kinqueduran: "Do tell."
Anstice: "Path of Mercury."
Kinqueduran: "You know this path?"
Anstice: "I'm getting there. Should know it in time to walk it."
Kinqueduran: "I suppose that's a step towards victory. In the meanwhile, I guess I'll work on a few techniques."
Iron Horse: "... mmm... "
<Red Ice Logs|>