But death never came.
Instead, something heavy slammed into the ground near Alessandra and blasted her about ten feet away from the creature. Landing hard on her back, Alessandra groaned and struggled to get up and open her eyes so she could figure out what was going on. Her side was still on fire and now her back ached from slamming against the pavement, but she felt very strongly that if she didn’t get up she would be in terrible danger.
Opening her eyes, she saw a figure standing between her and the monster. It was a woman, tall and powerfully built, with black skin and her hair done in a multitude of long braids that hung down to the small of her back. She was wearing some type of black, sleeveless bodysuit, trimmed in gold, and she held a long sword in her right hand. Her left hand was held out in front of her in a warding gesture, and the creature was staring at the woman and snarling.
Alessandra cried out a warning as the creature lunged at the woman, but before the sound had even passed her lips the woman was moving. Gripping the sword in both hands, she brought it up in a tight arc and slashed the monster across its face. Howling with rage and dripping with blood, the monster lunged again, and this time the woman dived to one side, slashing the sword across the monster’s side in the same way that Alessandra had slashed with her dagger, only this time a long, bloody wound appeared where the sword had been. The monster screeched in pain, but quickly lunged toward the woman a third time. The woman stood her ground and stabbed the monster right through its chest. As it hung, suspended from her sword, screaming impotently in her face, she reached up and grabbed its head with both hands. As she did so, the monster’s body contorted, and it screamed even louder, and then its body turned bright white, so bright it was as if every color imaginable were mixed together, and then it disappeared.
It took Alessandra a moment for her to realize that her mouth was hanging open and the woman was speaking to her. “I said, are you alright?” she asked impatiently. She had a deep voice that sounded as if it was used to giving commands and having them obeyed immediately.
“I…yes…but…what was that thing? Who are you?” Alessandra stammered.
“That,” the woman said grimly, “was a demon, a velonif to be exact, and I am Ilimay Ladron, Miskoval of the Order of Sunaru.” Even before Ilimay finished speaking, Alessandra’s jaw was hanging down again, and it took her a tremendous effort of will to pull herself together again.
“Well,” she said hesitantly, “I’m Alessandra, and…wow, I’m glad you were here.”
“It is no coincidence,” Ilimay said firmly. “As soon as we sensed a demonic incursion into the city, I was dispatched immediately to take care of it.”
“So…a demon, huh?” Alessandra asked, feeling strangely timid. “But…I thought the barrier was supposed to keep them out?”
“The barrier is failing,” Ilimay said with a frown. “It has served us well for a thousand years, but I’m afraid it will not serve us much longer.”
“Oh,” Alessandra said in a small voice.
“Yes,” Ilimay replied with an understanding smile. “Not very comforting, but I have no intention of lying to citizens. Dark days are coming, and everyone should be prepared as best they can.”
“I…well, what can I do?” Alessandra asked helplessly.
“Nothing, except for remain vigilant,” Ilimay said. “That may have been your first encounter with a demon, but I can’t guarantee that it will be your last. Stay aware, and keep out of dark places as much as possible.”
“I…um…I’ll do my best,” Alessandra said sheepishly. Ilimay gave her a knowing smile.
“I must return to the Avaroth,” she said. “You would do well to return to your home as soon as possible.”
“Yes, my Lady,” Alessandra said, bowing her head and remembering suddenly who she was dealing with. “I will do that.” Ilimay returned her bow with a slight nod, and then she vanished in a flash of green and purple light. It was so sudden that Alessandra almost wondered if it was a hallucination, but she knew that everything that had happened was too vivid to be a hallucination. She stood in the middle of the empty street for a moment, then she took one step back, then another, and then suddenly she turned around and bolted back to the slums as fast as she could go.
By the time Alessandra reached the clan house, she was out of breath, which hadn’t happened to her in several years. But it was a long way from Morkal District back to the Mekoval clan house, and Alessandra had ran the whole way, without slowing down at all. The clan house wasn’t safe, but it was home, and it was familiar, and if there was any place in Serotopolis that she could be reasonably sure she wasn’t going to get attacked by a demon, it was there.
The lookouts gave her questioning looks as she approached, no doubt wanting to know why she was so winded, but she shook her head as she passed and stumbled up the stairs into the house. She wasn’t running anymore, but she was still walking much faster than she normally would. Straight up the stairs she went, up to the Bezzum’s quarters. He was probably asleep by now, but she needed to tell him what had happened immediately. He probably wouldn’t believe her, but she needed to tell him anyway. She wasn’t sure she’d blame him if he didn’t. She wasn’t entirely sure that she believed herself.
Knocking on the door, she heard an angry voice yell, “What is it?”
“It’s Alessandra!” she yelled back. “I have an urgent report!” There was silence for a moment, and then Alessandra heard footsteps thumping toward the door, which opened suddenly. Bezzum was standing there, wearing nothing but shorts. Behind him stood Torea, wearing a thin sleep robe.
To be continued…