Last time on Magic and Machines:
It was revealed that Hel was able to use Angel magic. A magic that is supposed to suck at the caster's life and the rest of the party doubts Hel would have sacrificed some of her life to help them. Hel gives them no extra information though and the party reach the mountain where the dragon is.
Hel escapes before they reach the dragon and with the stone being more dangerous the party have no choice but to ignore the thief and continue their journey. The slayer does her job and they successfully obtain the stone.
They had the stone and after a slow climb back down the mountain they got to their horses. Predictably, one was missing, which they expected. Hel was a thief after all. Unfortunately, this meant Ethel having to ride with Ash.
They rode off, back to the kingdom, their quest successful, though Ethel was still dreading having to break the news of Hel's escape and on that thought she looked back to the other criminal they had with them.
What was to become of Balaz Fai once this was all over?
He had done nothing but help them during the quest. His only crime was his ability to use magic and as much as Ethel disliked that she didn't really want to see him dead because of it.
"Fai." She addressed him.
"Humm." He looked at her curiously, stone clutched under his cloak.
"Why are you still in this country? Why didn't you escape before the outlawing took hold?" She asked.
Balaz was surprised by the question and shrugged, "It's my home. I mean, I'm glad my brothers aren't as stubborn as I am and got out but... I was training to be wizard of the royal court, even if my magic hadn't quite manifested yet. I don't know..."
The mage struggled, taking his eyes from Ethel to look forward and make an effort to gather his thoughts,
"I guess since I went under the radar for a while I thought I could help against the darkness that was starting to creep over the kingdom. Like I could forfil the role I was trained for just in secret. It's not the kingdom's fault that Taiken is an idiot and don't deserve to suffer for his bad decisions."
Ethel could only look more troubled. Maybe this was a ruse, maybe he was just trying to get on her good side to get out of punishment but...admittedly, it was working. Their journey wasn't over though, she had time to try and decide if she would speak up on behalf of Balaz Fai, she just had to keep a close eye on him.
The conversation turned quite again as they rode at a leisurely pace but the temperatures started to drop and the clouds started to turn dark.
They stopped their horses a moment because that happened far too fast. Moments after the clouds darkened rain started to beat down on them and before moving forward Ash looked at Balaz.
"What kind of magic is this?" She asked.
The mage didn't look worried though.
He sighed, "The flashy kind."
"Explain!?" Ethel barked at him.
"He's an ally. He just likes to make an entrance. It's fine." Balaz tried to reassure them but the two warriors still stayed on guard.
In a deafening clap of thunder and a blinding flash of light, lighting crashed in front of them. When the three got their vision back the clouds were starting to go back to normal and there were two forms where the lightning hit.
One was both familiar and entertaining. Hel's mask and hood had been pulled down and she sat cross-legged on the muddy ground with a sour look. Her arms were tied to her sides in a lightly glowing rope that they could follow to a man that held the other end.
He looked pretty normal. His build was quite skinny, he was clad in a navy blue suit with a powder blue shirt and a cravat. His hair was an unkept mess of messy brown but that was where the normalises ended.
His eyes weren’t human.
Black makeup made lines over his eyes like a jester from the circus and the blue of his eyes were just…odd. Pupils were supposed to be the darkest part of the eye but his were a sky blue, almost white. It was plain odd.
“Don't explain it to them, Bal. It ruins my fun.” He complained.
“Well, I could have said nothing and let them attack you once you appeared. You're choice.” Balaz pointed out.
“It's fine. I would have used this rat as a shield.” The man grinned evilly as he tugged on Hel's rope, rocking the thief.
"I hate you." She snapped.
"I know." The man chirped back, happily.
"And...who are you?" Ethel asked dismounting the horse and hovering her hand over her pistol.
"My name is Zeev, Zeev Odin." he introduced himself with a small bow and the manners made Ethel relax slightly.
"The successor." Balaz explained, jumping off his horse also, "Child of the angel that came to our aid so long ago."
"Huh." Ash looked impressed, "Explains things though," She looked him up and down, staying on her horse.
“Yep, an asshole. Hey asshole, you’ve found them now, can I go now?” Hel snapped at him, struggling a little in the ropes.
“No, you’re still important to our little story, deariy.” Zeev gave her a sweet smile that just seemed to enjoy her torment.
He wasn't the only one enjoying it.
“That's a good look for you thief.” Ethel smirked.
“I didn’t know you were into that, Speedy.” Hel glared right back.
“Soo….what's going on?” Ash brought things back to sanity.
“Even I’m not sure,” Balaz admitted, “We have the stone, Zeev. Once I get it back I plan on sealing it up. It should be fine after that, right?”
“I wish.” Zeev sighed.
“What do you mean?” Ethel gave him a dark look.
“Ezme’s on the move. Well-" he started but was stopped by an,
"Ezme?" Ash asked, raising her hand slightly like she was a school child,
"The demon whose power's are in that stone." Zeev explained.
She nodded, lowing her hand then he continued,
"She’s been on the move for a while, sturing up the kingdom’s underground, thieves, murderers, outcast magic users, people like her,” He pointed to Hel who just nodded then carried on, “She's planning to use them as an army, attack the main city and take back her stone.”
“Attack the capital?” Ethel looked alarmed, “When?”
“She looks to be ready soon. We hoped to have the stone sealed beforehand but…dragon.” Zeev and Balaz sighed at the same time.
“Yeah, that dragon ruined a lot of plans,” Hel sighed.
“You’re working with her?” Ash accused.
“Nope!” Hel chirped, “I was working for Bal-Bal, remember? That dragon got in the way and I still don’t have payment for stealing from the most guarded vault in the kingdom. So, my plans of learning some burny fire magic is on hold right now.”
“What did you want fire magic for?” Bal asked, curiously.
“None of your waxy bees,” the thief stated ending the interrogation, clearly still hiding things.
“Then we need to get back and get things ready.” Ethel stated, turning to Ash, "This is beyond what he sighed you for but would you be willing to help still?"
Ash nodded, "Can't have a demon ruining the kingdom when I'm someone who lives here."
“One minute." Balaz stopped them before Ethel could jump back on the horse with Ash.
"Doesn’t she know the stone is not in the city anymore? That it’s been taken out the kings vault? The demon should have felt it move. I’ve been shielding it now but it shouldn’t have been shielded when it was with Hel or the Dragon. I mean only…”
Then it occurred to him,
“Angel magic could do that, I know.” Zeev finished perplexed and unaware of Hel’s smirk, “And I don’t know of anyone who knows how to use it but her family.”
He gave a glance at Ethel who completely ignored him.
"'Tis a mystery." Hel thought she would add, pretending not to notice Balaz's eyes zero on her.
“You didn’t want her to find it?” He asked, Hel.
Zeev looked at him confused. He's eyes bounced between Hel and Balaz a few times before they settled on Balaz with a look of disbelief.
“Seriously?” Zeev questioned.
“Well....” Hel paused, her lips pushing left and right as she considered whether to say anything.
In that time Zeev's eyes moved back to her,
"But if she used it there would be a price and..." He froze, "Oh."
"Zeev?" Balaz asked him.
"You have a deal with her don't you? You've found the loophole." Zeev sighed, rubbing his temple with his free hand, "Of all people..."
“What loophole? I don’t know what you’re talking about?” Hel looked away convincing no one.
“What loophole?” Ethel asked, worried.
“Angel magic costs days of a person’s life to cast but it can be avoided if that person doesn’t have a limit to their life.” Zeev sighed not wanting to admit it.
“Like…immortality?” Ash said disbelieving.
“This is some cruel joke if you’re saying Hel Chizoba is immortal.” Ethel hissed.
“I think it’s a nice joke.” The thief chirped.
“Sadly, not a joke.” Zeev admitted reluctantly, “This…sorry excuse for a human made a deal with Ezme and, people who make deals with demons can’t die until their deal is finished.”
“What makes you think a fine upstanding member of society like myself would sully herself by consorting with demons?” Hel looked away defiantly, though she wouldn’t have even convinced a toddler with acting so over the top.
Zeev’s eye narrowed, “Your arm. That’s demon tracking magic. Magic so you could steal my book from the dragon who took it from me before I could find it!”
The half angel’s voice just kept getting angrier.
“A book of very important angel magic we’re going to need before the day is over.”
Out stretching his hand a small blue metal hand axe materialised into the air. He grabbed it with a sinister smile as he held the rope tight and stalked towards her,
“Now if you’d care to tell me where that book is I can cause you less pain.”
“I thought you were an angel, or something!?” Hel tried to worm out of the rope but couldn’t.
The axe was about to come down.
“Zeev!” Balaz snapped grabbing his arm.
The half angel gave the fire mage a glare, pushing against his grip.
“Hel, correct me if I’m wrong. But you made a deal with Ezme to get Zeev’s book for her right?” Balaz asked struggling but, just about, stopping the axe.
“Yep.” Hel answered quickly still struggling madly to try get out the way before the mages grip gave way.
“So, it’s in your interest that Ezme doesn’t get it because if she does your immortality will disappear.”
“And I’ll probably die with the amount I have abused the loophole, so yeah,” The thief admitted.
“So if we needed that book to stop Ezme, it’s in your interests to tell us where it is.”
There was a pause after that one. It wasn't logic she could fight. Ether she gave up the location to stop Ezme or let Zeev torture it out of her and considering she couldn't die he could almost literally do anything to her. Any reluctance she had was simply distrust of those around her and with how long that silence dragged out the lack of trust she showed was staggering.
She eventually sighed though,
“I hid it in Bal-bal’s library.”
“Seriously?” Balaz let the angel go and Zeev nearly fell over trying to stop himself from hurting the thief.
“You really do ruin my fun, Bal.” He sighed throwing the weapon over his shoulder for it to disappear into thin air.
“And I have never been so happy for fun ruining.” Hel sighed in relief.
“But seriously? In my library?” Balaz looked at her.
“Yeah. Where better than with a load of books?” She shrugged.
They couldn’t fault her logic.
“But Balaz’s library is a bit of a mess now.” Ash pointed out.
“And why do we even need this book?” Ethel questioned, “Shouldn't we be more worried about defending the capital?”
“It’s a book of angel magic. How this worm learned what she knows.” Zeev hissed at Hel then turned to Ethel with a simple smile again, “If things go south and Ezme gets her hands on the stone we’ll need it to re-seal her power.”
“Right.” Ethel nodded.
“Do you have a better idea of when Ezme will attack?” Ash turned to Hel as Ethel was thinking.
“Soon. Tomorrow maybe.” Hel shrugged, “I’ve been somewhat avoiding her since I went back on our deal so I only know what I know second hand.”
After that Ethel gave a heavy annoyed sigh.
“We’ll have to split up. Me and Ash will go back to the king and start rallying the knights and the capitals defences. You three,”
“You’re leaving me?” Hel said with a fake pout.
Ethel grinded her teeth ignoring her and continued, “Find the book and do what you can to get the stone sealed.”
“I thought you’d want me to seal it in the king’s vault?” Balaz tilted his head.
Ethel was not only letting Hel out of her site but letting the stone out of it too. As much as it showed she was a good knight, able to see when her orders need overlooking, he still had to admit it was surprising.
“Yes, but that’s where the demon thinks it is so that’s where we should make sure it isn’t.” Ethel reasoned bluntly.
“Can I be untied now?” Hel asked.
“That’s up to you two.” Ethel told them honestly, reluctantly getting back onto the horse, “Let’s go, Ash.”
“Right.” The dragon slayer nodded and the two women shared a horse galloped away.
Their horse disappeared into the forest and Bal and Zeev considered their options.
“Untying me...now?” Hel asked slowly.
“When we get back to my place.” Bal said then looked to Zeev who nodded.
“She’s riding with you though.” The half angel threw the mage the magic rope,
With a click of Zeev's fingers the horse Hel had left on appeared out on nowhere and he hopped on.
"Show off." Balaz sighed, helping the tied up Hel onto his house and securing her before getting on himself.
"Yep." Zeev smiled, "Now let's get going."
And with that they rode for the capital.
Thanks you for reading.
I know this section was a bit short in comparison to the last (which was so big I had to split it into two parts in Tapas lol).
I hope you enjoyed my baby boy Zeev. He is a character that you may or may not see appearing in other series in the future as I love him lots and lots.
Next time on Magic and Machines:
The final battle has begun. Ethel and Ash mobilise the troupes as Balaz, Hel and Zeev go for the book. The demon, weakened but still powerful finds them also and so starts a desperate battle to keep her from regaining her powers and ending the world.