Chapter 47

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         Rika twisted away from one blow, striking out with a fist before turning in time to catch another. Holding her arms crossed over her head, she was able to stop the arm that held a sword from cutting into her. But trapped in that pose, she watched as another soldier brought his blade up in preparation for a blow that would cut her from collarbone to navel. She could see the strike coming and there was nothing she could do to halt it.

            “Stop!”

            The shout echoed out, cutting through the sounds of battle and making everyone freeze in place, the sudden silence almost deafening in a way. The voice…Rika recognized Shetton’s voice, but it wasn’t filled with his usual amusement or boredom. There was something familiar about the tone, an emotion she knew well but couldn’t immediately name.

            The laughter began quietly, almost inaudible, before slowly growing in volume. Within a minute, it was replacing the echoes of Shetton’s shout with its own sound, filling the hill and valley below. Rika couldn’t help the shiver that ran through her body. The laughter didn’t sound natural. It was a sound so filled with dark emotions that she wasn’t sure it could even be called laughter.

            Suddenly Shetton was beside her, his eyes aimed towards the source of the sound, his face looking pinched, his eyes dimmer and wider than normal. “Idiot, idiot, idiot! He knows better than to try something like that. Bad enough he tried a summoning with a debt, but he had to try and call on him! He messed up the containment symbol so now Ishbak’s got control of his body. This…this is not going to end well for any of us. Ishbak hates summoned demons almost as much as he hates humans.”

            Rika stared at the demon, the emotion she saw in his face and heard in his voice finally clicking. It was fear. And if something had scared a demon, she was sure she didn’t want to meet- As Shetton’s words sank in, the soldiers surrounding her backing off now that a voice was coming from thin air, she looked at him with a colourless face. “Ahisu…Ahisu is possessed by a demon?”

            Shetton nodded, eyes still in the mage’s direction. “I tried to stop him. He wouldn’t listen. He was in too much of a hurry. I’ve told him time and time again, don’t summon unless you can take the time to draw the symbols right. All you need to do is mess one up and the demon will be able to break free. He’s normally so good about it, especially since he messed up half the symbols when he summoned me…”

            He trailed off as another voice, one that sounded superficially like Ahisu’s but too loud and too filled with emotions to be his, called out. “Mortals! Hear now the words of Ishbak. I have seen your kind since the dawn of your existence. You crawl across this world like a disease, slowly poisoning and destroying it. Rather than allow you to continue your slow decline into pestilence and death, I will see you all choke to death now, and allow the natural balance to return.”

            Screams started, only to be broken off into strangled noises that were somehow worse. In minutes, Rika could see where Ahisu stood, as half the soldiers between him and her collapsed, clutching at their throats. The demon laughed again, his arms raised to the sky. Rika felt herself go cold. The demon might be wearing Ahisu’s body, but the expression on the face alone, not mentioning the fact that Ahisu’s staff lay on the ground, told her that this wasn’t the mage she knew.

            She turned to Shetton “How do we stop it? There has to be a way to save Ahisu. There has to be!”

            The demon looked at her and shook his head. “The only way to stop Ishbak would be to kill his host. My master would have to die to be rid of him.”

            “No,” Rika whispered, feeling tears prick her eyes as she turned her gaze back to the mage’s body. “That can’t be the only way.”

            Two soldiers ran up, swords raised, clearly planning on killing the demon. The first screamed as he was lifted in the air, tiny cuts appearing all over him, each one dripping red. Every second, the cuts got deeper and his screams got louder.

            The other soldier got within range of the demon, but while laughing, Ishbak shoved his hand through the man’s neck, half severing the head. Rika struggled with her stomach as she watched the mutilated corpse drop. She looked back to Shetton, willing him to think of something they could do to save Ahisu, but the demon only stared blankly ahead, like he’d already given up.

            Nor was he the only one. All around, she saw weapons falling from fingers as a feeling of hopelessness swept through the assembled fighters. Another group was already falling, clutching at their throats and turning blue, like they couldn’t get any air. Some people had already broken and ran, racing down or up the hill, trying to escape the demon’s reach. The way he laughed as he watched them run made Rika think that Ishbak would target them next.

            Tears continued to well up in her eyes as Rika realized that this was the end. Ahisu would die, one way or the other, and she was likely to share that fate. She regretted not being able to say goodbye to Connor or Myra and that she’d brought her friends into this. With eyes that saw the world through a wavering veil of tears, she turned to Shetton. “Shay, will you tell Elthia and Damek that I’m sorry and thank you?”

            The demon looked at her, his face a mask of uncaring. “Alright mortal. We’re all going to die anyway.”

            Rika gave him a watery smile, rubbing some of the tears away as she set herself. If she and everyone around her were going to die, if these last few minutes were all she had, then there was only one thing she wanted to do before she went. She faced Ishbak squarely and took one last, deep breath.

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