Last time on Magic and Machines:
Hel had been brought back to the party by a half angel. Successor of the angel that dealt with the demon years ago. Though it's not so simple. Said demon was planning to steal her stone from the kings vault with an army for outcasts.
Ethel and Ash have gone to warn the kingdom, scramble the guard. Balaz, Zeev and Hel have gone after a book that will help the Successor deal with the demon should she get her power back.
The canopy of the forest opened up to…smoke.
Balaz, Zeev and Hel had been hoping for a blue sky but a dark tower of smoke was rising into the heavens and there was no arguing its origin.
“She started already?!” Zeev hissed not waiting for Balaz to have more of a reaction before kicking his horse into a gallop.
Hel half expected a remark about her somehow knowing it was going to happen and not telling them but there wasn’t. Balaz just hissed at the impatience of the half breed as he urged his horse to follow.
“You don’t think this is somehow my fault?” Hel muttered just loud enough for her fellow rider to hear.
Balaz paused before answering the strange question.
“No. Why would I?” was his simple answer and Hel couldn’t suppress a smile, not the forced, peppy childish smile she usually wore but one of genuine happiness.
“No reason.” The smile turned fake again and she cheered, “Let’s go stop a demon!”
Bal just laughed and they carried on their charge.
Battle had broken out in the streets. There was hardly any footpath left in the factory district when they returned and the three were forced to leave their horses behind.
After some nagging about wanting to be able to defend herself in a battle, Balaz untied Hel, though both kept a close eye on her. Even Balaz, though he trusted the thief's sense of self-preservation was enough to keep her on track.
Magic, swords, arrows, the three of them had to keep a tight formation to get through the streets together.
“Bal.” Zeev called out when the fire mage was struck with a ball of magic energy.
Another went for him as the mage was trying to get up and the half-angel darted over, cutting the lightning ball it two, leaving the two halves of glowing orange energy to fizzle out harmlessly in the air.
“You okay?” Zeev kept up guard as Balaz got up, patting himself down.
“Yeah…where’s-“ Balaz looked ready to panic, his eyes darted around for the item he couldn't feel in his cloak until Hel popped up,
“Here!” She held out the stone.
Balaz took it muttering a few words as Zeev gritted his teeth.
“Please tell me you didn’t just drop that?” He put his face in his hands.
“Sorry….” The fire mage said sheepishly.
“What?” Hel blinked.
“It’s been out of our protection. If Ezme is in the city she's close enough to be able to sense it for that moment and if she sensed it she'll know it's not in the vault.” Zeev explained.
“Meaning she’ll come here.” Balaz nodded,
“Meaning we need to move very, very quickly.” Hel nodded too and the three moved using a lot more brute force this time now they were in a rush.
They toasted, sliced and stabbed a path to Balaz’s mansion. A carpet of red blood and bodies up to the door.
Hel, the most speedy and agile was obviously the first one to get there, she shoved the door open and didn’t wait for the other two to catch up as she darted up the staircase to the floor which no longer had a roof. It took Zeev and Balaz a few precious seconds to get to where Hel had been and a few more to get up to the open air library.
“You’re a bit late to the party, Zeev.”
When they got through the door the saw Hel holding a large white leather-bound book to her chest and a certain someone stood over her.
It was a bit like Zeev, in that she looked mostly human. Her hair was white with odd strands of red. Her eyes were, oddly like the dragon’s has been, crimson with slits of night’s sky.
“Ezme!” Zeev darted at her and she leant back from his axe and got some distance between them.
Zeev took up a defensive position between the demon and the thief as Balaz ran to make it a wall of two.
“Finally.” Hel stood almost throwing the book at Zeev, “Here’s your book. Now, I don’t want to fight a demon so if it’s all the same to you I'm leaving.”
“Smart girl,” Zeev said glaring at his enemy who summoned herself a jagged and brutal looking sword.
Zeev let one of his axes disappear as he took the book from Hel.
“Good luck.” The thief nodded to them, "Don't die, okay Bal-Bal?"
She gave him a smile before running off, grabbing a discarded backpack on the way out.
Balaz’s eyes followed her.
Something didn’t add up with Hel leaving just now.
“Bal!” He heard Zeev call and a hand on his chest pushing him out the way of a jagged red sword.
The half-angel just about managed to get out the way himself and he roared at Balaz his blue eyes glowing with power.
“Get your head in the game!”
Balaz grit his teeth and nodded. It was frustrating but right now he didn’t have time to try figure out Hel’s actions. Right now there was a demon in front of him, looking right at him knowing already that he was the one holding her power in his pocket.
And despite this fact. Despite the fact her powers were sealed and she was left weakened. Weakened, did not mean weak.
She darted for him but her blade was blocked on the black tinted shield. The spell was better at blocking magical or elemental attacks so the physical sword peeked through it, stopped but only just.
“I’d say we could make a deal but I can smell it. Your not the type.” The demon mused as the shield cracked slightly, “You won’t give this up. Not even for your life.”
“You got that right.” Balaz agreed, making his shield disappear.
He darted away, the removal of what she had been pushing against forcing her into predictable movements. He thought it would be enough for him to at least getaway, get some distance. That she would have to recover from gravity before she could strike again but she carried on the swing and followed it thought.
The jagged blade ripped at the flesh in his side in an uneven and messy cut. Crimson poured from the wound but sadly his flesh wasn’t all that was cut. The bag that held the stone on his belt fell loose and the glass orb rolled across the floor.
The fire mage collapsed spitting blood and curses trying to crawl his way to the stone as the demon just smiled and went to walk over.
But before the stone could be hers Zeev darted over and picked it up.
“Hold on and I’ll heal you later Balaz.” He said looking at Ezme warily as her lips twitched.
She let out a laugh, “You won’t get a chance like that.”
In one hand Zeev carried the book, in the other, he carried the stone. There were no more hands left to attack or defend.
But then the thunderous sound of footsteps could vaguely be heard but Ezme ignored it and darted for Zeev. Zeev went to dodge but stopped when he saw the hammer raised behind the demon.
With attacks meant for some of the most powerful creatures in existence, the demon was hit with the full force of the Dragon Slayer’s hammer and was knocked through what was left was the library’s wall.
“Nice timing.” Zeev smiled.
“I-I disagree.” Bal struggled to let out his remark.
“Shit,” Ethel wasn’t far behind the dragon slayer, who’s eyes stayed on where the demon had crash landed.
“Hey, mini knight.” Zeev threw the stone Ethel’s way, “Think fast.”
“Hey, what?!” Luckily for Zeev, Ethel had fast reflexes dropping her sword as soon as she realised what had been thrown so she had a hand to grab it with.
“Where’s the thief?” She asked as she put away the stone and recovered her sword.
“Doesn't matter.” The half-angel replied, pulling open the book now both his hands were free.
Or at least…that’s what he wanted to do.
But the cover wouldn’t separate from the pages. Pages wouldn’t separate from each other. He pulled and pulled at it until he dropped it in the effort. Zeev glared at the discarded white cover and ground his teeth. He realised when he couldn’t open it but he didn’t want to believe he had been tricked so easily.
“A magical copy…” He growled putting a bit of magic into his shoe and stomping on the fake book.
It dissolved in the sparkling blue partials that floated momentarily before fading from existence completely.
“Hahahahahhaha” Ezme laughed, “Hel Chiboza has to be one of my favourite humans.”
“Shit.” Zeev growled.
He should have questioned it. Of course, Hel wouldn’t want to leave the book here, if Ezme got it she died. So in the small time she had, she made a magical copy and got out before anyone could notice.
While Zeev lamented, the demon darted for Ethel like a bullet but Ash got in the way and blocked the blade with her hammer. The Dragon Slayer and demon danced as Balaz struggled to stay conscious. He had watched the book slowly disappeared and he just smiled.
He had a hunch. A small hunch and he guessed this was going to be a nice little test to see how well he had gotten to know the untrusting and guarded Hel Chizoba.
“Ethel.” He called,
She heard his weak voice just about and thought was cautious of the fight came over to him.
“You okay?” She asked standing next to him not wanting to keep her eyes off the fight encase Ezme managed to break past or Ash needed help.
“Just bleeding, I’m fine,” Bal stated dryly and continued before Ethel could snap at him for being sarcastic, “Can I have a look at the stone?”
“You’re too weak.” She quickly dissmissd the request but Balaz insisted, holding out a hand,
“Just for a second.”
Ethel frowned disapprovingly but reasoned with herself that he must have his reasons. She handed him the stone and Balaz’s hand began to glow a slight red with magic. His fingers strained but soon the surface of stone cracked.
“What are you-“
Before Ethel could finish her sentence or even stop him, the stone broke.
And it dissolved. Sparkling blue partials that floated momentarily, before fading from existence, completely.
The knight stood frozen and when the demon saw it she froze too. But that led to a hammer in her face. The now pretty injured Ash looked back to see what had made the demon pause but all she saw were a few lingering blue sparkles.
“Hel made a fake stone too,” Balaz smirked.
He was beaming. Proud he'd not only figured out Hel’s plan but learned enough about her to figure it out in the first place.
“Then where is my power?!” Ezme roared.
“Likely as far away as Hel could carry it.” Balaz stated, weakly but confidently.
There were sounds of a raging battle outside but Balaz’s library was now still as it sunk in with them. The reason for the battle was never here in the first place.
“What now, Ezme? Your power is god knows where and your big invasion is all for nothing.” He gloated.
“And your invasion won’t last either. Not now there won’t be a full powered demon backing them up.” Ethel stated.
“It doesn’t need to.” The demon seemed to recover straightening herself, “If the stone is no longer here then the invasion is not needed either.”
Behind her, black energy began to gather and take form. The pitch black tendrils of energy intertwined into large bat-like wings.
“So, I will say my farewells.”
“Don’t you-!” Ash went to dart at her but the wind the demon’s wings summoned made her stop to gain her balance.
The demon shot up into the air shrugging off bullets from Ethel's flintlock pistol.
"Let her." Zeev interrupted Ethel.
"What?!" The knight glared.
"But what if she gets to Hel?" Ash asked sounding more concerned for the thief than the items she now carried.
Zeev looked incredibly annoyed but didn’t answer so Balaz did for him.
"Hel has managed to keep that book hidden from Ezme for quite a while now. She made sure to hide the stone's power when she took it out the king's vault to stop Ezme from knowing about it. She's managed to keep herself hidden from the kingdom since the magic outlawing." He took a deep breath to push away pain and Zeev remembered the fact he promised to heal him and went over to the mage as he smiled, "And she managed to pull one over on us. I know you won't like it but if anyone can keep that stone out of Ezme's hands it's her."
"Not to mention without that book there's not much I can do but keep Esme at bay. Even if we beat her I doubt we could hold her." Zeev added.
Ethel growled, "But I was supposed to take Hel Chiboza and the stone back to the king."
Ash frowned feeling somewhat sympathetic with Ethel. Failure was probably going to factor in how much she was going to get paid too.
"Aren't you annoyed about your book?" the dragon slayer turned to Zeev.
"Yes," He hissed but took a breath and calmed down as he hovered a hand over Bal's wounds, "But Balaz's right. She's the right kind of guardian for these things. It was supposed to be me but...and hey she's immortal so she's can look after it for eternity."
"A guardian thief?" Ethel just shook her head, "You're seriously letting her guard items that could topple this world."
"She's proven she can." Zeev sighed.
By the time they had realised the blue thief had escaped the city. The guards were starting to turn the tide of the battle.
As awkward as it was Zeev and Balaz were technically under arrest. The two were cautious of Ethel after Balaz had been healed but the knight sighed.
"Given what we have been through though..." Ethel looked away, "If you got away now because if the chaos I guess there would be nothing I can do."
Zeev sniggered, "I'm taking you up on that," Zeev started for the exit, "C'mon Bal."
He patted the newly healed Mage on the shoulder but Balaz didn't move. Zeev looked at him questioningly.
"I don't want to leave." Balaz stated, "If I did I would have a long time ago but the kingdom needs someone like me. Someone who can help with magical threats."
"They'll kill you," Zeev stated, plainly.
"Maybe." Balaz looked down, "But that doesn't change anything."
Ethel gritted her teeth, "I'll tell everything to the king. See what I can do." She tried to reasure him but the hurt in her eyes betrayed her.
She wasn't optemistic.
"Maybe you could come with me." Ash offered, "Slayers don't mind magic as much and you can still help the kingdom."
"Tempting," Balaz smiled for the kind offer, "But you guys travel all over the world. I want to stay here."
Ash tried to not look crushed as she nodded, "Then I respect your decision."
Zeev didn't. He glared at Balaz annoyed, "Didn't you hear what I said?"
Balaz laughed, "Yeah. I did. I'm not scared of that. What I'm scared of is the aftermath of all this. The magic that this kingdom is unequiped to deal with."
Zeev shook his head, he could see he was getting nowhere.
"Well, I'm not sitting around to watch you die. Good luck, Balaz." And with that, the half-breed disappeared out the door.
The day was won by the kingdom. The riots had started a loose moral after they realised the demonic back up they were promised wasn't coming.
Sadly though, Ethel had to arrest Balaz. He was taken before the king for a second time and the situation was explained. King Taiken's eyes were softer than before. He wasn't happy when he was told both Hel and the stone got away but... Balaz's situation made him pause.
"If this situation had taught me anything it is that...I may not have been dealing with the chaos that is magic correctly. I believed that, now that machines had been taking its place that it could be no longer needed, that I could remove the danger from the kingdom but my lack of understanding of the situation...the demon being able to amass such an army because of my iron fist. If your team had not have gone out. If Sir Argi and Prohito had not come back in time to scramble the troops we would have truly been taken by surprise. I can see a need to change my thinking, for the safety of my kingdom."
Balaz looked up surprised. He hadn't expected this. He had expected to have to fight his corner. Barely get out of an execution.
"Those arrested will be given the chance to community service re-building what was damaged and destroyed during the battle." Taiken continued, "You, Balaz Fai will be offered community service by my side, advising in magic threats to the kingdom."
Balaz shook his head in disbelief, "So the job I was meant to have just as a criminal."
Taiken nodded, "Yes. I am sorry for what happened to your family. I know this does not change anything and you have all rights to hate me but for the sake of the kingdom. Your magic knowledge is best spent here."
It was everything Balaz wanted. Granted he would have wanted it legally and minus being so close to the person who was responsible for his parent's deaths but it was what he needed to protect the kingdom.
He nodded, "I accept."
Balaz started his new life as the criminal magic adviser. He and Ethel saw eachother a lot around the palace. Ash, though thinking she would get paid less for the job having not brought back what she was supposed to got some extra danger pay for facing off against a demon and went back home. Hel was never heard from again...well other than the odd blue arrow and missing gold.
Thank you very much for reading all the way to the end of Magic and Machines. It's not a masterpiece by any means but it was fun to write and even if you smiled a little while reading then it's all worth it.
I have some plans for the future of this story but it's going to take some prep and I'll probably go about editing more closely before then too.
Feel free to comment and tell me what you think. Who was your fave?
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