The DNA tracker sent us towards the edge of town, to where the smooth road turned into a rocky path. Boulders were scattered here and there, and the mountains were closing in on us again. It would've been impossible to find the girl in this mess and debris, except for the large and obviously unnatural hole in front of us that tunneled deep underground.
"I wonder where she is?" I ask Marx sarcastically, "I mean, she couldn't possibly be in that huge magical hole, can she?"
He looked slightly confused, "Are you getting a signal from it?"
Carissa scoffed, "Of course she's in the hole." She gave Marx a hard push towards it, "Start climbing down, I'll be right behind you."
I grinned at them as they slowly started to descend, searching for one handhold after another. They're fighters, after all, and they always do things the hard way.
I put my hands into the pocket of my jacket. More specifically, I put my hands into the pockets of my magical dragonskin jacket, and found exactly what I was looking for. Did Carissa really think I would carry around a DNA tracking machine just in case it would come in handy?
A spellcaster had charmed it to access any of the Guild's storerooms, especially mine. When I brought my hands out, I held a delicate golden feather in my palm. One of my own inventions.
I put it on my tongue and walked to the edge of the hole. "Why aren't you climbing yet?" Carissa shouted, her voice echoing a bit. As I waited for the Feather to melt and take effect, I took out a few glowing orbs out of my pocket as well.
Then I jumped off the edge, into the darkness.
"Lara!" Marx shouted, but instead of falling, I just slowly drifted downwards, carrying the lights with me.
"Nightshade, you idiot!" Carissa yelled, "You don't know how deep this hole is. You could've died."
"Aww, you do care." I grinned at her as I sank down towards her. As the orbs illuminated her face, I pulled another Feather out of my pockets and offered it to her. She scowled at me, and snatched it from my fingers. "We can't have the Guild's only alchemist die by jumping down a hole." I nudged one of the orbs towards her, and watched as she inspected the Feather carefully.
"If it doesn't work," I joke as I started to drift below her, towards Marx "I'll be there to catch you!"
Marx wasn't happy about going the easy way down. He was the Voracious Destroyer, after all, but he took the potion anyways. His mood completely changed when I gave him one of the orbs. "Fairy lights!" he exclaimed, carefully cupping it in his palms.
Now I could finally see the bottom of the tunnel, I shoved my hands against the wall the make myself sink faster. Behind me, I can hear the others following my lead.
Marx barreled past me, probably because he pushed away to strongly. I couldn't hold in a snicker as he landed with a huge thud. Carissa and I landed gently after him, and I helped him to his feet. Then I was finally able to survey our surroundings. A whole cavern had been carved out. More tunnels twisted around us, but when I turned towards one of them, the beeping of the DNA tracker became faster.
"This way," I pointed them in the right direction. Marx scouted ahead as Carissa brought up the rear. As we walked, the beeping became faster and faster, until it was almost an unending whine.
The sharp corners and twisting turns of the tunnel finally ended, and became wider. Marx ran ahead to make sure the coast was clear, and suddenly I caught the glimmer of a shield in front of him.
"Shield!" I almost screamed as Marx raced forward, "Marx, stop! There's a shield!" He came to a halt just before he crashed into it, and I went after him. Carissa followed, an angry expression back on her face.
"You need to watch where you're going!" She scolded him, "You almost died because you weren't careful enough. We don't know anything about this demon or this cave, and we need to stay alert at all times!"
"Well maybe if you didn't disrespect the lord so quickly, we could've gotten more information!"
As Carissa opened her mouth to retort, her hand inching towards her scythe, I stepped in. "If you two don't shut up, I'm going to sedate the both of you and drag you back to the guild."
Marx crossed his arms, "Okay, fine, I'll be more careful next time."
"Next time, I'm taking the lead." Carissa spat. "Now what?"
I realized that both of them were staring at me. "What? I don't know how to get through the shield."
An orange ball of energy started forming in Marx's hand.
"What are you doing? Do you want to bring down the whole mountain down on us?" Carissa was yelling again.
I pretended to wipe an drop of spit off my face. "Calm down! I was only joking. Of course I know how." Though Carissa's glare was enough for me to regret the jest.
I laughed nervously as I pulled another weapon out of my arsenal. The tiny bomb immediately attached itself to the shield, like metal to magnet. As it detonated, glowing runes scattered across the shield's surface, shattering it.
"Once again, Nightshade saves the day." I crowed in victory, watching what's left of the shield fizzle into nonexistence.
"Shut up." Carissa snapped.
I really hope she doesn't kill me.
The tunnel slowly expanded, and then opened up into a large cave. The sound of dripping water filled the silent darkness, and when I raised my orb, the light bounced off the web of shields that separated as from the huddled forms in the corner.
As I made the light grow brighter, I saw that it was a little girl, curled on the floor, with what's left of a stone angle next to her.
"Hello?" Marx yelled, and she woke up with a scream.
"Don't scare her!" I grabbed his arm. "Just help me get through these shields and keep her calm." I gave him and Carissa a handful of the shield breakers. I set the first one, trying to envision the most direct path to her.
The girl's voice rang out, loud and clear. "I can hear you," she said, her tone eerily adult-like. "I don't need to calm down."
There was something underneath her voice too. A second voice was there, dark and rasping. "What's your name?" I ask her, keeping my voice soft.
"Aya." For a moment, I heard a little girl, scared and lost, but then the other voice came back. "You need to go away. I'm dangerous."
"No you're not," Marx said cheerfully, "You're gifted! We can help you control your powers."
"No you can't!" she cried, "It's too powerful. Help- Leave this place, NOW- I'm scared, please-" her eyes widened as shield after shield shattered, "-make the voice- GO AWAY!"
Her shout sent a tremor through the ground, and a crack appeared beneath my feet. Another shield shattered in front of me, and girl started screaming, "Get away! I'm a monster! I'M A MONSTER!" her voice became deep and distorted, and when the last shield broke, I finally saw her.
The stone angel wasn't next to her. It was part of her, latching onto her skin like a leach. A broken stone wing was attached to her back, and almost her entire body was covered with scale-like pieces of the statue. A stone eye peered at them through dirty blond hair.
"It's possessed her!" Marx pulled out an amulet and brandished it towards her. "Begone, demon!" he yelled. The girl just laughed in that distorted voice, her shoulders spasming slightly.
"It's too strong for that," Carissa said, her voice uncharacteristically quiet, "We need a proper exorcism to get rid of it."
For once, I didn't have a fancy potion or bomb that can do that for us, but before I could say so, the demon spoke through the girl.
"Please don't kill me," the girl looked at us, her terrified expression frozen on her face as words poured out of her mouth, "I just wanted to be free."
"Then why is the town like this?" Marx demanded, "What are you trying to do?" He took a step closer to the girl's body, "Don't try to trick us this time!" He raised a glowing fist.
Carissa stood next to him, unmoving, as though she was just as frozen as the girl. She looked like she was deep in thought, and made no move to stop him.
"Stop that! We're supposed to help, not kill little girls" I said, grabbing his wrist, "Let me talk to her." I crouched down in front of the girl-demon.
"What happened? Answer Marx's questions," I asked.
Both of them started talking, "I was just practicing- my prison was broken- we were bound together, I don't know how- her magic's too powerful to control- I couldn't let my father see- not a demon- please- help us-"
"Okay, okay, calm down." I held my hands up, but only when Carissa touched them on the shoulder, they stopped. "What do you want us to do?"
"Separate us!" they both said.
"Our instructions were to defeat the demon, and bring back the girl." Carissa said the words almost mechanically, "We'll need to exorcise it out of her."
"But she's not a demon," I explain, exasperated, "She means no harm, we just need to separate their souls."
"The demon might be tricking us," she insists, clearly biased towards the girl, not caring at all about the non-demon.
"I'm telling the truth, I swear." they said desperately.
"I'm going to try separating them," I said, pulling a book out of my pocket, "Help me, Marx."
He looked at Carissa nervously, "I don't trust that Viola woman, and we all agreed on it. I trust what the girl says, and Lara too."
I was already drawing on the floor with chalk, making sure that everything was perfectly arranged, every rune completely accurate. The spell was for humans, but I hope that it could work for them too.
Carissa suddenly snatched the book from my hands. My hands fly into my pocket, and I was ready to sedate her.
"I have better handwriting," she grumbled, "Your's look like chicken scratch."
As she corrected the too-narrow runes I'd drawn on the stone, I looked up at Aya. Neither the girl nor the creature possessing her had said a word since we started the circle. "You guys okay?" I asked, and only received a frightened nod, "It's okay. The first time I experienced real magic was freaky too." Another nod.
"Finished," Carissa said, and Marx eagerly took the book from her extended hand.
"I can say the spell," he said, a smile back on his lips, "I'm really good at the pronunciation."
Apparently, I'm horrible at pronunciation, because I couldn't understand a single word he says. I prefer using my magic without words, pouring it into my chemicals and ingredients and making explosions out of them. I didn't like rules and rituals.
Light wrapped around Aya and the remainders of the statue, and I turned my head away so that I wouldn't be blinded. Gibberish continued to flow out of Marx's mouth, as I watched the rest of the cave flooded by light. Then the darkness snapped back into place, like someone had turned off a switch. Even the fairy lights went out.
When I took out a few more out of my pocket, I saw a shivering girl, and a pile of dust. "Where is she?" I ask. Then I felt a breeze that shouldn't exist so deep underground, sweeping away the grains of stone that once held the not-demon.
"Free," Aya said. Her eyes were bright, and she seemed normal again, though still frightened and cold. Marx immediately went and wrapped his cloak around her. Carissa looked relieved, and was awkwardly standing to the side, unsure of what she could do for the girl.
"Come on," I said, holding out my hand to her, "It's time we got out of this stupid cave."
Her laughter echoed through the tunnels, filling them with warmth.