By morning, Lorelei’s tears were gone and her face had hardened into a grim visage. Riding her pegasus, with her hair flowing in the breeze behind her, Storm thought she looked like a Valkyrie from the old Viking legends.
A Valkyrie heading off to war, he corrected as he took in the set of her jaw. Whatever doubts and sorrows had wracked her the night before had been replaced by naked anger and fury at the man who had destroyed her family with lies and murder. It occurred to him, he might have to restrain her to keep her from killing Klah on sight. All the evidence so far pointed toward Klah but it wasn’t definitive and he wasn’t going to let her kill a man who still might be innocent.
A rumble of distant thunder interrupted him.
Ahead of them, a summer thunderstorm was approaching Nahor from the north. Every spring, cold air sweeping down from the Rampart Mountains would collide with warm air slowly moving up from the Azure Sea. The result was spectacular storms and torrential rains. It was one of the reasons Namak Lake was growing all the time. Some people were even starting to refer to it as Namak Sea because of its constantly increasing size.
The yearly rains fed swollen rivers that channeled all the runoff into the Bitstsah Swamp to the south. “Wet as Nahor,” referred to more than just the rising lake on the cities’ edge.
“We’re going to get wet,” Lorelei called to him across the sky between them.
He nodded. “Looks like it.” He scanned the lightning-shot clouds. It reminded him uncomfortably of the vision he’d had in the bear cave in Ingold when he received his healing powers. “I don’t want to get hit by lightning though.”
Lorelei nudged her mount closer so they wouldn’t have to yell. “They don’t seem concerned.” She indicated their pegasi.
Storm eyed them. It was true. They were flapping steadily ahead, ignoring the storm as if it was nothing. He leaned over and patted Specter on the neck. “How about it, boy? Are you good with all that up there?”
Specter snorted and kept on going as if to say, ‘Quit bothering me, I know what I’m doing.’
Storm sat back. “I don’t know much about pegasi except for what we’ve learned since we got them. Do you?”
She laughed. “Hardly. Our tribes ride horses, not pegasi.”
A faint misting of rain announced they’d reached the outer edges of the storm. Ahead, they could barely see Nahor through the driving rain.
Here it comes, Storm sighed to himself.
Sure enough, within minutes, pounding rain was stinging him all over. He was soaked in no time. To make matters worse, the winds picked up as well. He’d ridden in airplanes in stormy weather on Earth. That was bad enough, but here he was exposed to the open sky and it was a thousand times worse. Sudden updrafts and downdrafts threatened to throw him out of the saddle. He grabbed the saddle horn and straightened his legs in the stirrups to use tension to keep him in place. Glancing over at Lorelei, he saw she was doing the same thing but her eyes were wide with terror as her fear of heights returned in full force.
Maybe it was that terror, scanning for anything that would throw her off her mount or maybe it was her archer’s eyes, always looking to the horizon, but she spotted something in the distance. “What’s that?” she screamed over the noise, pointing.
Storm followed her finger. Ahead of them, rain was bouncing off of – nothing. There was nothing in the sky but the rain was still acting like it was hitting something and running off it, creating a blurry outline of something huge with wings.
He was nonplussed for a moment. What in the world?
Then his sense of danger screamed a warning at him and he banked hard to the left just as a spark erupted from the shapeless shape, crossed the sky in the blink of an eye, and exploded into a fireball where he’d been only an instant before.
Distantly he heard Lorelei scream and saw her slapping at her left arm where her sleeve was on fire.
He switched on his Sight and was staggered at what he saw.
Magic outlined a winged demon mounting up into the sky to fire magic down on them. All he could see was the magic that was making it invisible, but that was enough.
“Lorelei! Demon! Dive!” he bellowed. “Follow me!”
She was already diving, or rather her pegasus was. The equine flier could sense something terrible and evil attacking them and wanted no part of it. It was heading for cover on the ground as fast as it could.
His sense of danger screamed again and he banked hard as he put Specter into a steep dive. Another fireball exploded behind him, so close he felt the fiery heat even through the rain.
Launching a second attack seemed to have dissipated the demon’s invisibility shield and it came into view as it folded it’s wings to dive after him. It was similar to the demon they’d fought in Ingold in the same way people are all similar to each other, but it was different too, just as people were all different from each other. The coloring and features were unlike the first demon. There was something about the face through that tugged at his memory but he didn’t have time for it. He was too busy trying to survive.
The ground loomed up fast and he leaped from Specter’s back, rolling and sliding across the muddy ground as the demon swooped by, its talons brushing his hair as it barely missed.
He leaped to his feet, looking for Lorelei. He spotted her a block away, knocking an arrow in her bow. Like him, she was covered in mud from her abrupt landing. She saw him and he waved a hand over his head as he sprinted toward her. She nodded and fired over his head at the demon. He heard it roar with pain as her arrow struck true.
Warned by his sense of danger he dove for the ground, spinning around in midair to slash at the demon as it swooped on him again. He scored a direct hit on one heavy forearm. His sword caught in the bone and flesh just long enough to drag him half a dozen paces before the blade freed itself. The weight pulled the demon down and it crashed into the ground with a mighty crash, sending a wave of mud and water in every direction.
Lorelei planted two more arrows in it while it clambered to it’s feet. It roared with anger and prepared to unleash another spell on her. The momentary respite gave Storm a chance to seize a wing and pour deadly power into it. Bone shattered one after another like firecrackers as killing power tore through the wing.
The demon screeched in mortal agony. An arm spasmed out and backhanded Storm halfway down the block. He landed heavily, stunned from the impact.
In the distance he heard the demon roaring and thrashing around in pain. The sound of Lorelei’s bow came dimly through the pounding rain. He tried to sit up but his hand slipped and he fell back into the muddy water on the street.
Heal, heal, heal, he told himself but he couldn’t concentrate. His head felt like it was stuffed with cotton. His vision blurred and he could barely see as he tried a second time to lurch to his feet. Instead he tripped over his fallen sword and fell face first into the mud. Water got into his nose and he exploded upward, racked with coughs as he tried to clear his lungs.
His vision finally steadied and he looked down the street.
The demon was pursuing Lorelei around a corner. Her way was blocked by wagons and the only quick escape route she had was toward the city instead of away from it.
He lurched unsteadily to his feet, reeling like a drunkard.
“Heal, heal, heal,” he whispered ferociously to himself. It finally worked and his body relaxed as healing power swept away the pain and agony. His head cleared and he was himself again.
He scooped his sword out of the mud and sprinted down a street that paralleled the one Lorelei had taken. In the distance he could still hear the demon roaring and bellowing. Shouts and screams of terror appraised him of the fact their battle hadn’t gone unnoticed. He clenched his teeth and tried to run faster.
His street curved unexpectedly and ahead he saw a three-way intersection. Hoping the street it intersected was Lorelei’s, he put his head down, running for all he was worth through the clinging mud, praying he wouldn’t slip and fall.
He made it to the intersection just in time to nearly run into Lorelei.
Danger screamed in his head and without thinking he yelled, “Incoming!” and dove for her, driving them both into the mud. A fireball from the demon went off with a thunderous boom and blistering heat scorched both of them.
Lorelei screamed and he frantically sent healing power into her. The last of it he turned on himself. Both of them collapsed in relief for a moment before struggling to their feet. They stared in disbelief at the scene down the street where Lorelei had been a few moments before.
Armed men had poured out of a low stone building in response to the horrified screams echoing through the streets. They were valiant men, strong and fearless but without magic, their swords bounced off the demon as if they were made of straw.
Maddened by pain and rage, it turned and tore them to pieces, scattering blood and gore like a blender gone mad.
Storm shook his head. He grabbed Lorelei and pulled her away before the demon turned it’s attention back on them. “I don’t have any more power to heal or harm! We’ve got to get out of here!”
She nodded wordlessly and sprinted after him in the only direction that was open to them, deeper into the heart of the city.
“Where are our pegasi?” he panted as they ran. Rain splattered on his naked back. The demon’s fireball had destroyed his backpack and shirt before searing his back.
“I don’t know,” she puffed. “They disappeared when the demon attacked.”
Storm didn’t blame them. He wanted to disappear too.
An unworldly scream from the street behind them told them the demon had realized they’d escaped.
“He’s coming!” Lorelei told him in the greatest understatement of all time.
Storm shook his head but didn’t slow down. “He can’t track us. I’m invisible to their magic.”
She gestured at their muddy footprints in the street. “He doesn’t need magic.”
Storm ground his teeth. She was right. The demon could follow them as easily as a bloodhound.
He felt rather than heard the demon approaching and shoved Lorelei under a loose pile of logs. Mud squelched between their fingers as they huddled together hoping the demon didn’t see them as it flew overhead.
“It’s barely able to fly,” Lorelei observed, trying to keep her voice down. “What did you do to it?”
“I tried to kill it but it backhanded me before I could finish.”
The demon settled on a rooftop across the street. It peered this way and that trying to find them. “Come out, barbarian!” it roared in a grotesque voice. “It’s time to pay for what you stole from me on Mount Wainsford!”
Storm was thunderstruck. “Gerald was right! When giants die, they do turn into demons!”
Lorelei was a little slower on the uptake. “What?”
He pointed cautiously. “That’s the frost giant I killed on Mount Wainsford. Remember, I said I thought I saw it’s soul being dragged down to Hell?” She nodded faintly. “Somehow, when giants die –” a thought occurred to him “– when Nephilim die, their unclean souls can’t find rest and they turn into demons.”
The demon began throwing fireballs in every direction, trying to flush them out. Buildings exploded in flame one after another.
“Worry about that later,” Lorelei whispered frantically. “We’re about to get fried again!”
Storm gritted his teeth. “No we’re not. Get ready to run.”
He stood up and stretched out a hand. Speaking the command word Ralt had taught him, he unleashed a lightning bolt directly at the demon. It exploded against the demon’s unnaturally broad chest, knocking it over backwards.
He grabbed Lorelei’s hand and heaved her up from the sticky mud. They lurched down the street in the only direction where the surrounding buildings weren’t on fire, deeper into the city.
“Wait a minute,” she protested. “I recognize this street. It takes us toward a bunch of temples.”
He didn’t slow down or even pay attention to what she said. Whatever it was, it didn’t matter. “Unless we’ve become immune to fire in the last couple of minutes we don’t have anywhere else to go. Come on!”
The rain began to slacken a little bit, making it easier to see where they were going. It also made it easier for the demon to see them by climbing higher into the sky. It’s damaged wing made it’s progress unsteady but Storm could sense it was getting closer to discovering them with each passing moment.
They rounded a corner and burst into an immense plaza. Cobblestones paved the ground, creating gushing torrents of water that couldn’t seep into the ground. Scattered around the plaza were huge temples to all the gods of Gaia. It was like the temple district in Zered, but on a much grander scale.
Storm staggered to a halt after a dozen or so steps into the open. “The temple district?” he muttered in disbelief, realizing now what she’d said.
“One of them,” Lorelei agreed somberly, scanning the area. A few people were dashing from one place to another before the rain picked up again.
He cursed under his breath. “That’s right. They’ve got several of them.” He smacked his forehead with the palm of his hand. “I should have paid more attention to stuff like this over the years. Idiot!”
Lorelei caught his wrist. “You were focused on being a guardsman, not a city councilor.”
The demon’s scream of frustration from somewhere over the city reminded them they weren’t out of danger yet.
“A temple to the Lord of Light!” Storm exclaimed, pointing off to their right to the north.
Lorelei understood immediately it was the only place where they might find safety. She took off at a dead run beside Storm. They made it halfway there before a triumphant roar from the demon told them it had spotted them.
Storm risked a quick glance over his shoulder. The demon was high overhead, folding it’s wings to dive on them. He pulled Lorelei to a skidding stop on the rain slicked cobblestones. “Hit it!” he thundered. She didn’t bother answering, instead, knocking and loosing arrows at the approaching fiend as fast as she could.
Storm recalled his last remaining combat spell, one that unleashed a hail of magic darts. He waited a moment longer until the monster was within range then spoke the command for that spell. Streaks of bright light sprang like arrows from his outstretched fingertips to unerringly strike the beast overhead.
Between Lorelei’s arrows and his spell, the demon’s own spell that it was preparing to launch at them fizzled and failed. It pulled up with a bellow of pain, banking away from the deadly fire it was taking.
“There they are!”
Storm whipped around at the sound of the voice. Back toward the south, not far from where they’d entered the plaza, was a misshapen temple of Adrammelech. A priest leading a troop of warriors out the front gate was pointing at them. His warriors took up the cry and broke into a charge.
He and Lorelei wheeled back toward the temple of the Lord of Light.
The bellowing of the demon had brought curious priests to the windows, doors, and parapets of every temple ringing the immense plaza. Storm waved frantically at the priests in the windows of the Lord of Light’s temple. “Open up!” he bellowed, hoping they could get there in time. They couldn’t survive out here in the open much longer. Between the demon and Adrammelech’s warriors, they’d be cut to pieces.
Startled priests waved at them and pulled back to call to others inside.
Running as fast as they could through the renewing sheets of rain, Storm and Lorelei plunged headlong toward the temple. There was safety there only if they could make it in time and death if they didn’t.
They ran faster.