Chapter 17 can be read below the cut.
It was the middle of February and it was raining. The Western District generally received more snow than rain during this time of year, but the temperature had been unseasonably warm for the past week. Evidently there was snow in the Northern and Northeastern Districts, but those districts were largely mountainous while the Western District was fairly flat.
Lillin opened the door of the cabin. She looked upward, not bothering to pull her hood over her head. A couple of raindrops landed on her face and eyelashes; she ignored them. “Yep, it’s still raining,” she said.
She looked back into the cabin. Mihtan and Juno sat on the couch; Juno leaning against the armrest with a small book in her hand, and Mihtan staring down at a steaming mug on the coffee table. Perturin Rytasha sat in an armchair with zer hands in zer lap.
Juno looked up and frowned. “Seriously?” she said.
“What a bummer,” Mihtan commented.
“UGH!” said Juno. “We’re not going to be able to do anything on this trip!”
Perturin frowned in confusion. “You’re saying you want to fight demons?” ze asked.
“No, I’m saying I’m bored and basically anything would be better than just sitting here doing nothing!” Juno snapped.
“But it’s good that nothing’s happening,” said Perturin. “It would be really bad if demons suddenly showed up and attacked. We aren’t prepared at all.”
“Who is this we?” said Juno. “I’m totally prepared!”
“Hey, you two shouldn’t fight about this,” said Mihtan.
Lillin shut the cabin door behind her and pulled up her hood, then walked over to the adjacent cabin. Daidlis was talking to Tjara about the rain, of all things.
Ren looked up at her from the couch nearest to the door. “Lillin, right?” she asked.
“Yeah,” she said
“Here to bring Daidlis back to your squad?” Ren asked.
“Yep,” said Lillin.
“I could take my squad around the forest to see what’s out there. It wouldn’t take very long,” said Daidlis.
“I’d rather not risk it when we’ve got such bad visibility,” responded Tjara.
“Professor Pevasha!” said Lillin.
Daidlis started. “Wha? Lillin? Do you need something?” he asked.
Lillin gestured toward the other cabin. “The others are getting antsy. I think they might start fighting,” she said.
Daidlis frowned. “Seriously? They should know better than that.”
“Fighting?” Kallinu questioned.
Daidlis brushed past Lillin. “I’ll go deal with it,” he said with a sigh. “Maybe I’ll take some of them out for a walk.”
He shut the door behind him, and everyone stared at it for a moment. Lillin stood there, fidgeting uncomfortable. “Um, I can I stay here for a little bit?” she asked.
“That’s acceptable,” said Tjara. “You can even stay if Professor Pevasha decides he wants to take you out on a hunting trip.”
“Can I go then? I’m bored,” said Kallinu.
Tjara glared. “You can go out once it stops raining,” she said.
Kallinu crossed zer arms and frowned. “But I’m so bored! We don’t even have board games in here or anything,” ze complained.
“That’s just a part of hunting,” said Tjara. “There is a lot of waiting involved.”
Kallinu threw zemself back against the couch with zer arms still crossed and a frown on zer face. Veitlen raised an eyebrow at zem. “She’s right. It really is a lot of waiting,” he said.
Kallinu regarded Veitlen with skepticism. “And how would ye know that, Veitlen? I thought ye’d never gone demon hunting before,” ze said.
Veitlen’s expression told Lillin that he’d revealed something he hadn’t meant to. “Uh,” he said.
“Go on, Tyvokala,” said Tjara. “I want to hear how much you already know.”
“Really?” Veitlen said sheepishly. He rubbed the back of his neck. “I went on two demon hunts when I was a kid. Both of them were unsuccessful. And by that I mean we didn’t even see any demons.” He looked up at Tjara. “That’s really it. I don’t know any more about how demon hunts go, unless you want me to regurgitate the stories my parents and neighbors told me.”
“No, that’s fine,” said Tjara.
“Are you from somewhere rural?” said Lillin.
“Yeah,” said Veitlen, still staring down at his knees. He suddenly looked up at her, frowning. “Wait, who are you?”
Everyone was staring at her now, and Lillin started feeling uncomfortable. “I’m Lillin Syvukala,” she said.
“Syvukala?” said Ren. “Are you from Syvukala?”
“Yes,” said Lillin. She noticed Ren grit her teeth.
“What’s so important about Syvukala?” Veitlen asked. Kallinu gasped. Tjara frowned, and Ren stared at him in shock.
“Fourteen years ago, a bunch of demons attacked a killed most people living there. I was one of the survivors,” said Lillin.
Veitlen tipped his head back, seemingly ignorant of everyone’s else reaction to his words. “Fourteen years ago. That explains why I didn’t know anything about it,” he said.
“Did you really not pay attention in your history classes, Tyvokala?” Tjara asked in bafflement.
“Not as much attention as I should have, I guess,” said Veitlen.
The door suddenly opened and Lillin jumped back from it. Daidlis stood outside with Juno behind him. “Hey,” he said. “We’re going for a walk. Anyone want to come with?”
Kallinu immediately jumped up, excited. “MEEEEE!” ze shouted.
“No,” said Tjara flatly.
Kallinu’s look of dejection was almost comical. “But why?” ze asked.
“It’s still raining,” answered Tjara.
“Not any more!” said Daidlis excitedly.
“So I can go with them, right?” said Kallinu.
“Somehow, I don’t think that’s the best idea,” said Tjara. She pointed with her hand at Veitlen. “Tyvokala and Ariana can go.”
“We’re going to patrol the area,” said Daidlis. “Hopefully, we won’t run into any demons. But keep your spirit weapons out just in case, alright?”
Veitlen, Ariana, Lillin, and a woman Veitlen recognized from his swordfighting class were the final choices to go out on patrol. Evidently Daidlis had tried to persuade the other two members of his squad to go out and they had refused, which is why Lillin had joined them despite not seeming very interested at first.
“Hey,” said Veitlen to the other woman. She looked at him sharply and narrowed her eyes. “I’ve seen you in our swordfighting class, but I never caught your name.”
“Juno Torressa,” said the woman. “You and Rhodynn definitely look familiar.”
“What’s your sword made out of?” Ariana asked from behind Veitlen.
“Morganite,” answered Juno. She twirled the fencing sabre. “What about you? Is that obsidian or something?”
“Carbonado,” said Ariana.
Juno raised an eyebrow. “You say that like I’m supposed to know what it is,” she said.
“Black diamond,” said Ariana.
“Diamond? Seriously? You have a diamond sword?” Juno exclaimed.
Ariana held out both the longsword and the parrying dagger. “Yeah, both of them,” she said.
Juno frowned. “Wait, what the fuck? Why do you have two?”
Veitlen backed up to let Ariana and Juno walk next to each other comfortably. The gaps between the trees were fairly narrow and two skinny people could barely walk side-by-side without bumping into each other. He found himself next to Lillin, who he glanced at once before looking forward again to try and overhear some of Juno and Ariana’s conversation.
“Can I ask you a question?” Lillin asked.
“You just did,” said Veitlen automatically.
Lillin made a grumpy expression and Veitlen smirked. “You know what I mean!” she said. “Where are you from? You have a weird accent.”
Veitlen frowned. “Excuse me? I worked hard to get rid of – what do you mean, weird?”
“You sound Northern, but really rural Northern,” said Lillin.
“That’s because I am,” said Veitlen. “Why are you even bringing this up? Are you being judgmental? Syvukala is even farther out from Tivadshy than where I come from. Your dialect is plenty far away from Standard Rennukat, you know.”
“I’m not being judgmental!” Lillin protests. “I’m just asking questions.”
“Well, you’d better stop, because I don’t like it,” said Veitlen.
Daidlis turned around to face the four of them. “Hey, are any of you paying attention to where we’re going or are you just talking?” he asked.
“You think I’m just talking!? I know how to multi-task!” Juno shot back.
Daidlis looked skeptical. “You better be serious. This is work. It’s not supposed to be fun,” he said.
“We’re not even trying to track down a demon. We’re just walking. You decided that,” said Juno.
“You can’t let your guard down because we aren’t tracking,” said Daidlis. “That’s how people get killed.”
“Is that how it is in the military?” Veitlen muttered under his breath.
“It’s how things are supposed to go,” said Daidlis loudly. Evidently Veitlen hadn’t been as quiet as he thought he was.
“You aren’t part of any hunting crews,” said Juno. “What do you know about any of this?”
Daidlis turned around completely to frown at Juno. “You know I had to go through the same thing you’re doing right now?” he said.
“You have light-type magic,” Juno pointed out.
“And we had also had to go on hunting trips when I was your age,” said Daidlis.
Out of the corner of his eye, Veitlen saw Lillin suddenly look to her left. He didn’t see anything where she was looking, so he turned his attention back to Daidlis.
“That got changed the year after my conscription ended,” Daidlis continued. “Good thing, too. We don’t need to send more people to hell than the absolute minimum.”
“But it’s just fine to send us to hell,” said Juno.
“It’s unfortunate, but that is the case,” said Daidlis.
Lillin held up her spear. It glinted in the meager light, and Veitlen realized it was red in color. He briefly wondered what it was made of.
“Lillin, what are you doing?” Daidlis asked.
Lillin pointed with her spear. “In the bushes-” she started.
A demon grabbed Daidlis’s ankle. He started, but seemed to recognize what was going on immediately. “DO YOUR BEST TO KILL IT! IGNORE ME IF YOU NEED TO!” he yelled.
“LET GO OF HIM!” Juno shouted.
The demon ignored her and dragged Daidlis to the ground roughly. It said something – Veitlen thought he recognized a word – and let go of Daidlis’s ankle. Juno and Ariana ran to opposite sides of the demon.
“I’ll make sure it can’t run back into the bushes!” said Juno.
Ariana looked back at Veitlen and Lillin. “You two stay there!” she said.
“Got it!” said Lillin. She looked incredibly determined.
“Okay,” said Veitlen. It seemed like he was the only one here who didn’t feel confident about what they were doing.
The demon slowly advanced toward Lillin and Veitlen. Lillin stepped in front of Veitlen, keeping her spear pointed toward the demon. It felt a little ridiculous to have such a small woman defending him, so Veitlen raised his sword. “Ari! Why aren’t you doing anything?” he called. “Juno, try to stab it or something!”
“Professor Pevasha! Are you okay?” Lillin asked.
Daidlis attempted to stand up, but stumbled. “I’m fine. Stop talking to me! Keep your attention on the demon, all of you!”
The demon suddenly ran forward and leaned into Lillin’s face. She backed up into Veitlen. He caught her expression – instead of looking determined, she now looked fairly frightened. The demon snarled something. This time, Veitlen didn’t think he recognized any words.
“Ari, please do something!” Veitlen shouted. He patted Lillin’s shoulder. “You might wanna do something too with that lance of yours.”
Ariana and Juno looked at each other, nodded, then ran forward and stabbed their swords toward the demon at the same time. The demon finally took its attention off of Veitlen and Lillin and turned toward the other two. This allowed Ariana and Juno to shove their swords into its chest and shoulder.
“VEITLEN! LILLIN! MOVE!” Ariana shouted.
Lillin lunged forward and shoved her spear into the demon’s mouth. Veitlen darted around her and slashed his sword over its eyes. The demon leaned forward and said something with the spear still in its mouth. Both of them froze, and the demon bit down on Lillin’s spear hard enough to shatter it. Lillin gasped and stumbled backward.
The demon reached forward and pushed Lillin to the ground. Before Veitlen could properly react, it grabbed his sword and yanked it out of his hand. Then he was on the ground next to Lillin – the demon must have pushed him down as well, but it had happened way too quickly for him to process it. His sabre was nowhere in sight.
“Juno, I need a little help here!” Ariana yelled.
“I am TRYING to get a good hit in!” Juno responded.
The demon stepped forward, dripping blood over Veitlen and Lillin. Veitlen reached for the bayonet in his belt. Lillin was still lying on the ground, holding onto the remnants of her spear. She was definitely disoriented.
Veitlen attempted to stand up. The demon kicked him back down and planted its foot on his chest. It leaned forward, and for a moment Veitlen thought his chest was going to cave in. But all the demon did was lean in close to his face, sniff him, and then say something. He didn’t recognize any of the words.
“HEY!” Ariana yelled. Veitlen saw her with her foot on the demon’s shoulder, holding her sword above its head. “DON’T IGNORE ME WHEN I’M TRYING TO KILL YOU!”
Ariana jammed her sword through the demon’s skull. It went in effortlessly; Veitlen wondered if that was because it was diamond or if it was just because it was a spirit weapon.
The demon slumped forward with Ariana still standing on top of it. Veitlen put his arms up against it in an attempt to stop the demon from crushing him and Lillin. “Ari, get off. You’re not helping,” he said.
Ariana stepped aside, and Veitlen finally managed to push the demon away from himself and Lillin. “Are you okay?” he asked.
Lillin still looked disoriented, and she was still clutching her broken lance. She blinked. “I think I’m okay,” she said absently.
“Are you sure?” Veitlen asked. “Is it the first time you broke your spirit weapon? It’s always disorienting at first, but then you get used to it and it’s basically just annoying-”
“I’m fine,” said Lillin. She sat up, and Veitlen saw that the faraway look on her face was gone.
Lillin got to her feet, still wobbling, and de-manifested her spirit weapon. Veitlen looked back at the demon. This one had also tried to talk to him. He didn’t know if he was glad or not that it didn’t speak Rennukat like the one that had talked to Nymue had.