Friday, 9 October 2015
Chapter 3 - The Beginning
With the soft linger of blood in the air, the lantern light glistened against the radiance of the sapphire stone. Willow's gaze was locked deeply into the Mitran pendant she had lifted from Sir Balin’s corpse. As she listened to Thorn spell out their instructions for the coming months, her mind wandered upon his previous words. They would burn Talingarde to the ground. They would bring down the monarchy and wipe the Church of blessed Mitra from the land. As it should be, Asmodeus would once again be worshiped from every corner of the isle, statues and monuments to his greatness would be seen along every street. She would do this. She would be the harbinger of war, and be the herald that brought forth his glory.
Twelve weeks of training they had ahead of them. The cardinal planned to turn them from a bunch of rogue criminals into an efficient team worthy of his service. As the group filed out to rest up ready for the next day, Willow stayed behind. Thorn watched her curiously, and once the door had closed she looked up from the pendant into the cardinal’s eyes.
“Thank you," she said sincerely, "Thank you for this."
The cardinal smiled. He knew she was talking of vengeance.
“This is only the beginning, my dear.”
In the three months that passed, Willow was taught a few harsh and valuable lessons.
First, the cardinal was more than a worthy master. He was relentless. He was an amazing teacher, skilled in all aspects of war. He expected obedience and results, but in return gave invaluable advice and guidance. Second, Tiadora was a sadist. She delighted in the groups failure and injury. One afternoon, frustrated and infuriated by her laughter, Willow could contain her anger no longer.
Willow spat, “What in hell’s name are you?”
Tiadora gave her a wicked smile, “I'm a devil dear, and I'm here to do a devil’s work.”
Third and finally, Willow had found her calling. With each day that passed, she gained bruises, sprains and scars. She also gained confidence and strength in her will. The effect the cardinal had on her didn't lessen, but she did learn to control it. It was only an occasional wicked grin that set her body aflame. She learnt to continue without pause, giving no indication of the searing heat inside her. She trained in the arts of stealth. She was taught how to enter a room and draw her dagger without making a sound. She was taught the vital spots on the human body, where to strike to inflict the most damage and the quickest way to kill them. She was taught to dodge and weave, to simply not be where the target would strike.
Willow already had a talent for deception, the cardinal told her as much, but he had much to show her. He taught her to control her body language, to keep her voice level and to wear her disguise like a second skin. On his suggestion, Willow spent one evening dying her hair with carmine and lemon, for her black long locks were more than recognisable anywhere near Matharyn.
On the final evening of their three months, the cardinal hosted a grand banquet in their honour. The dining room was lit up with chandeliers, a quartet of slaves played smooth violins and the room-length dining table was lined with exquisite canapés and thick fine wine. Willow had dressed her hair in immaculate waves to the side, the candlelight shined through them, reflecting the copper tones. She slipped into a tight fitting black chiffon dress, thigh high, no sleeves and tulle flaring from the waist. Wearing a carmine of deep blood red upon her lips, she wore the perfect velvet shoes to match. She glided down the stairs and into the hall, tulle undulating in trail behind her. As she flowed across the room and lifted a wine from a tray, she could feel the cardinal’s intense heated gaze tracking her every movement. She exhaled gently and gracefully turned to face him. Meeting his eyes sent a wave of fire searing her from the inside out. She stared back at him, and as his gaze intensified and the burning flared below, her lips crept into a sinful grin.
“Care to dance, my lady?” Pellius offered, breaking into her inappropriate thoughts.
“I would be delighted to,” she replied, taking his arm and inclining her head to the cardinal.
Willow laughed as Pellius swayed and spun her around the room, following his lead in an elegant waltz. He was a fine dancer, controlled and dignified in his movements, classically trained in all forms of tradition noble dances. He was charming, a smooth talker with an alluring rasp to his deep baritone voice. They conversed easily, quite comfortable within each other’s company. Though she could not put her finger on it, there was something oddly familiar about him. She knew he had never been to the land of Talingarde before his fateful collision. Yet, as she looked up at him as he spun her around upon the dance floor, she felt the prickle of something meaningful. As he guided her into the final notes of the tuneful dance, she dismissed her strange suspicion and ended in a theatrical curtsey. He grinned to her as he bowed deeply in return.
After they had dined, wined and danced, the cardinal called them into his private side chamber. The fierce heat that radiated from him had Willow biting her lip in anticipation. As she stepped over the threshold, she was pleasantly surprised to feel right at home within the chamber. The inverted pentagram lining the floor, the walls laced with red and black ritual candles, the podium centre of the dais. The Monteguard’s housed a similar chamber in the hidden cellar of their Matharyn manor.
She took her place in the left point of the pentagram, as the others filled out the remaining four. A slave was lead into the centre and the cardinal took his place at the podium. As he began chanting, the candles flared. Willow could feel the ground heating up and the air thicken as he spoke. As his voice intensified, a crack emerged along the floor and the flicker of hellfire unfurled like tendrils from the void. Willow groaned as she was hit with a searing wave of blissful heat. As the crack widened in the floor and a rotten bleeding hand reached up; she felt her knees weaken as the burning scorched its way down her legs. A foul creature dragged itself out of the realms of hell, scarlet gore in a constant state of furious bleeding, the beast flicked its tail and screeched. The cardinal simply gestured to the slave. The beast let out a frightening wail and leapt on the sacrifice. It shredded the body to shreds of flesh and bone, devouring and consuming its turmoil. When there was nothing more left of the slave than a smear on the ground, the beast bowed it’s head and held out its wrist. The cardinal approached it with a bowl carved from a human skull, tearing through its hand with a shining ruby blade, filling the bowl with the crimson secretion. With a small hand gesture from the cardinal, a ripple went through the creature, before it vanished from sight. Even as the crevasse in the foundation of the manor sealed itself, the heat inside Willow remained. Thorn approached each of the bound one after another, using the bowl of blood to draw an inverted pentagram on their foreheads. As he completed the star on Willow, she felt the blaze rage through her limbs, burning and scorching its path. She could feel Asmodeus swarming through her veins. There was little she could do but bite down on her tongue to keep herself from whimpering aloud. The cardinal stood back and a strange look of accomplishment came over him.
“Now,” he said with great pride, “The Nessian Knot is forged.”
The five of them were ushered from the chamber, and given strict instructions to wait for their master’s summon. The servants still lingered with trays of wine and canapés, waiting patiently to be of need or use. The five of them sat within the parlour, relaxed and excited for their new days to come. It was not long before they were beckoned into Thorn’s office once more.
“Welcome, my children,” he said in a deep resonant voice, that had an almost inhuman quality to it, “Training is at an end. You have proven yourself worthy. Now, it is time for you to use that training and take on your first mission. Your mission is war, my children. You will bring war to Talingarde.”
The prior easy comfort that fell between the bound now chilled in a hush. It was not fear that stilled their movements and shortened their breath; it was anticipation and adour.
“You have two objectives,” he continued, “First, you will see a shipment of munitions delivered to a bugbear chieftain named Sakkarot Fire-Axe. He makes his camp on the northern coast of Lake Tarik beyond the Watch Wall. With this shipment, the Fire-Axe will have resources enough to unite the barbarous humanoid tribes of the north and light the fire of war. Sitting on the dock as we speak is the longship Frosthamar captained by Kargeld Odenkirk. Tomorrow when the ship is resupplied it will be your transport. The captain is a ruthless mercenary and not to be trusted. He knows nothing of the specifics of our mission and you should keep it that way. He knows he is smuggling cargo to the north beyond the Watch Wall. That is all he need know. Once the cargo is safely delivered, he will take you just south across the lake under cover of darkness and land you near the town of Aldencross. There our contract with Captain Odenkirk will be concluded. It is shame how greedy he has proven. I had hoped to let the captain serve me again but it seems he is too much of a liability. Kill him. Kill his crew. Burn his ship and leave no survivors. It is crucial that no one suspects our involvement and that loose ends are taken care of. Be sure to reclaim the coin I gave him. Best not to be wasteful. That done, you will begin your second task. We will do more still to aid our ally the Fire-axe. The bugbears are mighty warriors but poor siege engineers. You will infiltrate the tower Balentyne, keystone of the Watch Wall, kill its commander and open the gate for Sakkarot’s horde. Once the shaggy monstrosities pierce the Watch Wall, the bugbears will pillage and lay waste to the townships of the north and the local garrisons will have no choice but to meet the Fire-Axe in the open field. Sakkarot is the most brilliant, gifted and murderous bugbear of his generation. I expect these battles will go poorly for the knights and yeoman of fair Talingarde.”
All the while as he spoke, he showed no signs of irresolution nor uncertainty. Cardinal Thorn appeared as callous and earnest in his grand scheme as one could ever hope to be.
“Do all of this,” he said, “And then when your task is done, break this clay seal.”
He handed Willow a delicately carved clay seal adorned with a tangled knot of thorns surrounding the five pointed star of the Lord of the Nine.
“I will have more instructions then. Succeed, and I will see you rewarded handsomely. Fail or betray me, and you will pray for the comfort of Hell before I am done with you.”
He turned to gaze upon the stretch of marsh beyond the window.
“The mission you start upon today is a holy mission,” he said, in a quiet yet terrifying voice, “The people of Talingarde think they have seen the last of the mighty Asmodeus. Soon enough we will remind them that there is no escaping the grasp of Hell.”
Though his sight darkened and a wrathful look of fury threatening to swarm his control, he suddenly returned behind his large desk. He pulled the cork free from a bottle of heavy velvet burgundy wine, morning a glass for each of them first before pouring one for himself.
“Let us toast our success!” he emboldened, raising his glass high in the air, “TO WAR!”
By the dawn light as the sun began its upward march, they set sail aboard the Frost Hammer. Odenkirk was a gruff sailor, dirty dark hair, worn hide armour and a feral toothy grin. His teeth were stained a dark rotting brown, protruding from his gums in odd and sparse angles. Willow cringed every time he leant in to speak to her and she had to smell the wafting stench of his breath. It was late one night, as she slumbered upon the wooden deck, that she awoke to a hand grasping her thigh. Impulsively, she drew her dagger in the blink of an eye and held it firm to the captain’s throat.
“Remove your hand before you lose your head,” she warned viciously.
His breath heavy with whiskey, he panted and slowly withdrew, stumbling towards the other side of the ship. She watched his groggy form disappear behind the small cabin before she rolled over, pulling her coat tighter, keeping her dagger firm in hand until dawn.
After days at sea, the ship sailed passed the trading port of Daveryn, the gem of the western coast. It was the third largest city of Talingarde, and in her opinion, the far most boring. As the ship sailed towards the north, they spied a Talrien vessel in close pursuit. A single mast fully-rigged pinnace only thirty feet long, marked by what Willow recognized as the crest of Saint Martius.
Captain Kargeld grimly paired down their options, “She’s seen us, sure as damnation. And there is no way the Frosthamar will outrun her loaded like this. One look at our cargo and they’ll know us for exactly what we are – weapon smugglers.”
“Continue on course,” the old man said calmly, “When the hail us, follow slow the ship. We will deal with this.”
The newly bound used the magic of their circlets to disguise themselves as part of the ships crew, rough salt worn slacks and shirts, aiding to blend them in seamlessly. The old man formed his gear into a perfect mimic of the Alerion Knights armour, adorned by Sir Valin’s pendant, he looked every bit the stern faced knight. Willow held her dagger fast, hidden beneath the tattered fabric of her shirt, preparing to strike if the need arose.
“Stay your oars!” called the Mitran sergeant form afar, “Prepare to be boarded!”
The crew anxiously looked to one another, intimidated by the strange magic afoot, unsure of how their guests would manage the ruse.
“Halt!” called the old man commandingly, “Identify yourselves!”
As the vessel pulled along side of the Frosthamar, the sergeant eyed the Alerion Knight suspiciously.
“We are of the Blade of Saint Martius!” he replied, “Charged with the inspection of all passing ships. We have had no word of the Knights of Alerion in these parts.”
The old man sneered in response, “And are you usually privy to the missions of the order?”
“W-well,” the sergeant stammered, “Well, no. But-
“You will return to Daveryn at once!” commanded the old man, “I have no time to be interrupted, it is crucial I arrive at my destination on time!”
With sceptical eyes tracing over the shabby crew and the wooden crates of cargo, the sergeant frowned. Although he seemed to suspect something more was going on that he could surmise, he reluctantly accepted he was outranked. Hesitantly, he ordered his ship to return towards Daveryn. As they turned and they ship grew smaller from their sight, Willow hissed out the breath she’d been holding. She was impressed, she had not expected the old man’s ruse to be successful. She allowed her guise to dissipate, inclining her head to him.
The captain grunted from behind the ship’s wheel, “Don’t know how ya did that, but sure glad it worked…”
After two weeks of rough sailing along the turbulent coast of Talingarde’s eastern shores, the Frosthamar finally arrived at the ice-choked entrance to the River Taiga. Kargeld proved himself a worthy captain, nimbly sailing the heavily laden craft through fields of floating jagged ice. He barked orders in norspik, the language of the men of the north, and his sailors scrambled to comply. Again and again, he turned the boat at just the right moment to pass between the broken shards calved from ancient glaciers. Finally, after nerve-wracking hours coursing through the slender pass, the boat pushed through the dangerous headwaters of the Taiga into the clear water of the almost uncharted mighty river. Beyond, lay a land of savage wonders. The Taiga wound through a great northern forest that to the best of anyone’s knowledge had no name. After miles and miles of picturesque pine trees frosted with new fallen snow, the ship came to a great mountain range. The river flowed through a great rift in the mountains that looked as if some impossibly gargantuan primordial giant
smashed a pass through the grey slate. Although the turned for the south, leaving the frosted chill of the northern realms behind, it appeared to have no effect on lessening the intense cold that froze their bones. They were headed for the great interior sea of Talingarde – Lake Tarik. It was to the south of Tarik that the Watch Wall lay. And on the northern banks in a wide wooded valley was their destination – the camp of Sakkarot Fire-Axe.
As dusk loomed heavy upon the great expanse of open sky, the Frosthamar craned wide passed the jagged rocks, when slowly the sounds began. Devouring howls of beasts, screams that curdled blood, savage cries of barbaric horror. As the ship veered to the north-east, the fire littered canvas came into view. Thousands of bugbears were already assembled. Savage beasts clearly not welcoming or pleased to see outsiders, worse still, white fleshed humans. There were more than just feral hordes of bugbears amassing in the camp. Fur-clad goblins scampered here and there, laughing with frenetic glee. Grotesque hill giants gathered at the edges of the great procession. Snarling beasts of callous and ferocity prowled through the fire-laden swarm.
There was only one place to dock the boat – a crudely made pier that jutted into the river. Blocking their entrance into the camp, were four hulking bugbears. They watched the ships approach with foul hungry eyes.
“Keep your mouth’s shut,” Willow whispered harshly to the captain and his crew, “Let us handle it.”
“Right you are,” Kargeld nodded quietly.
As the Frosthamar pulled along the side of the dock, Willow prowled to the edge of the ship with a face of cold venom.
“Looks like dinners here,” grinned the largest of the bugbears.
“This one’s not got much meat on her,” scoffed one of the others, “Be a bit chewy for me.”
As the brutes chuckled in laughter, Willow and Pellius stepped on to the dock together, while she crossed her arms over her chest. Inside she was terrified, the idea of being simply a meal was enough to turn her stomach, but on the outside she kept her exterior cool and hard.
“Where is Sakkarot Fireaxe?!" she snarled viciously, "We are here to see him, and I have little time to waste speaking to you.”
The largest of the bugbears scoffed, his furred eyebrows lifting high.
“Huh,” he grunted, “Least my dinner’s got a bit a spice.”
Her eyebrow arched, as she deliberating pulled her blade slowly from it’s sheath. She never once looked away from his sight, her will warring with his, her threat clearly understood. The smaller bugbear frowned, grabbing one of the others by the ear, grumbling between eachother. In the corner of her vision, Willow saw a commotion coming from the back of the crowd that had gathered around them. When the largest bugbear looked to make a move towards her, Pellius stepped forward threateningly.
“You heard the lady,” he warned with utter malice, “Where is Sakkarot?”
Suddenly, the largest bugbear Willow had ever seen burst through the crowd, a great black-furred beast wielding a fearsome axe of flame. His namesake became immediately apparent.
“Who sent you?!” Sakkarot Fire-Axe demanded.
Willow smirked, inclining her head, “The master Thorn.”
At that answer, he smiled a toothy grin.
“Then you are welcome here!”
He turned to the somewhat stunned throng of bugbears who were getting ready to storm the boat and devour it’s occupants.
“These humans are my guests!” he growled, “I will deal with anyone
who harms them. They are our allies!”
He stopmed over to the boat and ripped open one of the crates revealing finely made axes with in. He tossed one to a nearby bugbear warrior who until now only had a crude club to wield.
“Behold!” he boomed, “They bring us steel! They bring us war!”
His proclamation earned a terrifying chorus of growls and cheers from the monstrous assembly. The boat was unloaded and Sakkarot’s lieutenants saw that each case was distributed among the throng of beasts. It was a rapid transformation that overcame the camp. Where once there were a thousand bugbear savages – now there was a thousand bugbear soldiers each with new weapons and shields adorned with the emblem of the fire axe.
“Tonight,” he called to his newly armed horde, “We feast!”
The night held a brutal, savage affair with bugbears fighting each other and all manner of
monsters in attendance. The bound were given postions of honour, as far as honorable went amongst the lawless brutes. They sat at Sakkarot’s table, and earned themselves a front row seat at the spectacle of savagery. The brutal festivities raged on, hunks of meat were hacked off the dire boar that was roasting on the spit, and the strange bugbear liquor flowed through the camp. Willow watched the feral celebrations in disgust; animals slaughtered for food, barely cooked, no preparation or cleanliness. Simply freshly dead animals on the fire, fur, feathers and all. She had no clue what the liquor was, and as she asked Sakkarot, the only answer she got was a laugh.
“Bugbear special,” he said with a grin.
She accepted a particularly burnt piece of meat, and the cleanest looking drinking horn she could find. The drink seared her tongue and after a only few swigs, it mattered not what the meat tasted of, as she could not taste a thing.
“You’re little,” grunted one of Sakkarot’s lieutenants to her, his face riddled with confusion, “How don’t you get eaten being so little?”
Willow had to concede his blatantly obvious observation, she was indeed very little in comparison to his size. Yet size and strength were not everything. Faster than the inebriated bugbear could react, she ripped her blade free and pressed it firmly into his throat.
“I am too quick,” she grinned.
The stunned brute blinked a few times, before bursting out into a hearty laugh. She sheathed her dagger and laughed before taking another hefty swig from her drink. She tried to keep pace with the men in their rapid procession of drinks, but her small slender frame could not handle it well. After countless horns of burning black-red drink, she stood and pulled free her daggers. It was with a drunken sway that she slinked over to Pellius.
“Spar with me?” she winked.
She tossed the second dagger to him and took up a defensive position. When he was ready she took off at a run. As she went to dive between his leads and through his wide stance, she came face first into his knee. She rolled over on the ground and laughed as she rubbed her face. With a chuckle, Pellius held out a hand for her. She grasped it and he hoisted her to her feet. As he went to push her back, Willow bent down grabbing his arm and pulling his shoulder, using his own weight to flip him over her back. She dropped him face up on the ground. The crowd of bugbears cheered in a song of feral growls and snarls.
“That is how it’s going to be?” he questioned slyly.
Willow giggled as he got to his feet, too distracted to notice him step in behind her and lift her weight easily. He flipped her over his shoulder and slammed her down into the table. Crudely made plates and drink containers went flying, flinging the food into the air and drinks sloshing across the ground. Their bestial audience cheered with approval. Even through her winded chest, she giggled uncontrollably. She only laughed harder when she saw the food her landing had splattered over his chest and face. He laughed with her, wiping his face with his sleeve before leaning down and placing a gentle kiss on her cheek. This, of course, earned them a mixture of crude catcalls and taunts.
After the revels had died down, Sakkarot called the group into his tent. Willow followed and took a seat on the pile of furs next to him. He spoke of war and battle, their plan of attack and what the group were required to do. He paused and looked around at each of them.
“I have to know,” he said seriously, “You are traitors to your own kind. You must know that. When Balentyne falls and my horde pours through its shattered gates, we will slaughter the Talireans by the thousands. Yet I see no regret in your eyes. Tell me, how can this be?”
Willow smiled and looked deep into his eyes, placing a hand on his forearm.
“Our ‘own people’ as you put it,” she said bitterly, “are led by a king who has become a puppet to Mitran fanatics. They wish to destroy any religion that does not bow to their pitiful sun god. They have wished to banish all trace of our Infernal Father from this land. They would slaughter us, they tried to, purely for our faith in him. Their charity is sickening. They tax those who have gained power for themselves and reward those who fall at the bottom of the food chain.”
Willow’s gaze grew intense, “They are pathetic, the weak rule the weak minded. We will show them strength and power, we will purge them from this land, true order will rule and true power will reign.”
He grunted and nodded, “You sound just like Thorn.”
Willow smiled, it was a sentiment she would find no fault in. Sakkarot glanced down at the brand on her wrist. When Willow noticed his gaze, she merely scoffed.
“Courtesy of our people.”
He pulled aside his great breast plate and revealed a large carved scar, in the shape of the five pointed star of Asmodeus seared into his chest.
“We all have our scars…”
He looked around at the five who sat with him.
“Tomorrow, you must depart this camp,” he said, “It will never be truly safe for you here. Over the next week, more tribes will rally to my banner. I will promise them blood and give them steel. Then at last I will be ready to march. A week after that – I will be poised to strike. I will move my horde to the valley just north of Balentyne. There we will wait for your signal. Fire this rocket into the air. Within the hour, we will attack. Make sure that the way is ready. After we gather, my horde will be idle and start to grow anxious. I can hold them together for another two weeks. After that, I expect desertions and squabbling. Get your
work done before then. You have one month to infiltrate and destroy Balentyne.”
Sakkarot handed them a single carefully wrapped signal rocket. Suddenly the bugbear warlord grew immensely serious and stern. He stares straight into Willow’s eyes.
“Can you do this? In one month can you break the Watch Wall?”
“We can,” she answered, “And we will.”
He grunts and nodded, “Thorn has faith in you. If you weren’t his best, he wouldn’t have sent you. Do this and your names will be legend. Now go. Hail Asmodeus!”
Their response came, in fierce and determined voice, “Hail Asmodeus!”
The plan was set. They had one month to infiltrate the Watchtower Balentyne, find and kill the Commander, take out the siege weapons on the roof, open the gates and set off the signal rocket. It was an arduous and dangerous mission, one that sounded a sure suicide. Yet, when Willow looked to the other members of the Nessian Knot, she saw the same passion and determination that she bore. Perhaps, all was not lost. Perhaps, they would be victorious. Either way, they would succeed or die trying.
Before they left by dawn’s light the following morning, Willow suggested to Grumblejack that perhaps he would have more fun crushing and smashing things with the bugbears. He considered it for a moment.
“Grumblejack does like smashing,” he grunted, “Grumblejack stay with bugbears.”
As they boarded the ship, Willow turned to Sakkarot, “Why do the bugbears want war?”
He gave her a toothy feral grin, “Little one, bugbears love nothing more than the hunt of the soft skin prey in the south.”
The captain and his crew were anxious and desperate to leave. As they sailed away from the dock, the captain spoke aloud to himself.
“Look in that one’s eyes. He's smart, always plotting. Bugbears should not be smart.”
It took most of the night and next day to travel down the coast to the outskirts of Aldencross. When the landing site was visible, Willow took her stance next to the captain. She continued mundane conversation until the old man stepped in behind the captain and everyone was in position. Willow withdrew the dagger from it’s sheath and in a breath drove it into the side of the captains’ neck. He turned just in time for her to miss his jugular. The old man drove his rapier deep into Kargeld’s back, piercing through his stomach. The captain spun around just as Willow dove behind him, he swung his great axe and cleaved it downwards, narrowly missing the old man. She sprang forward, fist in his hair, tearing his head back to bare his throat. She swiftly sliced through his neck, a cascade of crimson showering the dock. She grinned as she dropped his body and flipped up onto the railing deftly running along the edge. Sneaking behind the sailor locked in battle with Pellius, she winked at him before thrusting her dagger through the back of the sailors neck. It was not long before the last of the crew fell to the blades of the bound.
Working quickly, they stripped the crew and the ship of any valuables, before flooded the hull and slowly sinking the ship.
From the bowels of the vessel, Willow taken the wooden crate that had been marked as emergency rations. Six bottles of whiskey, a staple for every dire emergency. She handed a bottle to each of them, eyeing the old man warily before winking and tossing him one. As the strolled from the hidden wreckage, she pulled the cork free, and took a long swig from the dark burning liquid. If there was a positive to their swim ashore, it had at least washed away the majority of the blood.
They arrived in Aldencross just as dusk was falling. The found an Inn taking travellers, by the name of the Lord’s Dalliance. It wasn't much by the way off accommodation; but it had a bed to sleep, water to bathe and food to eat.
Her room window faced west, and as she stared into the blackness that was the night, she smiled. He was with her here as He was always. She lifted her hand and traced the inverted pentagram into the air.
As she closed her eyes she breathed deep and whispered, “Hail Asmodeus...”