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Chapter 2.10: The Siren Toll.

“Even Caminus and Yishu, vast as it may be, has a space limit. Not for the countless normies perhaps, but most certainly for those powerful creatures that fight for control of entire species and their souls the way kings might fight over land and throne. It is not uncommon for Demonic Aristocrats to duel with champions of the gods, be they angel or dragon. And the prize can range anywhere from an entire religion, to the singular soul of a quality mortal.

Yet some entities are more ambitious and capable than others. As eager as I will always be to emphasize the greatness of my draconic brethren, some have lost perspective. The Golden Dragon Emperors have decided to turn their considerable powers toward improving the mortal condition, and what’s worse, they are succeeding. Which makes both fragile gods and demonic princes quake in jealous fear. While those beyond both, undermine all…


It lay before him: A spiral of smoke and amethyst light caressed within. Abram stared up with a mute expression, hidden behind his armor and helm. He walked towards the display, the ground he walked on, obscured by metal...by blades. Clattering beneath his armored feet were swords, maces, axes, and many other implements of war. And yet none came close to cutting or tripping him. He walked on, toward the light wrapped in smoke.

“Is this a dream? A hallucination?”

He marched on, pushed forward not by his absent will, but pulled onward by some familiar instinct. And it was familiar. A mother’s song, a father’s call, the beat of his own heart...a beat more sonorous than all of these, and yet like them. It tugged on him, bidding him come to the source...and that was a mistake.

As Abram realized as he flexed his hand. “You’ll have to do better than that, whoever you are.”

He thrust his hand forward and the blades and bludgeons and even shields piled about him surged to and surrounded the misty light. The flying armory ran counter to the current of the smoke, siphoning it from its place until it disappeared. Only the light remained, and a woman within.

She smiled at him, her full yet painted lips both inviting and condescending. “My prodigal messiah.”

The woman raised a manicured hand and brushed a strand of long raven hair away from her royal colored eyes. She descended to earth, carried by six angel’s wings of amethyst light that wrapped around her gold and black trimmed gown, and cast a shadow over her bare and unblemished feet. The amethyst light shone on her dark skin, lighter than Miranda’s had been, yet somehow possessed of that same unearthly smoothness and beauty.

The smile shortened into a warmer, more innocent shape. “You seem to have found your way.”

Abram brought his many implements of war to his side, not so much to threaten the creature before him as to bring himself some measure of security.

He did not move an inch though, and he did nothing to disguise the hatred in his voice. “Varschina.”

The woman in front of him bowed her head, in a genuine seeming appreciation. “I am happy to be recognized. Especially by one so distanced from me.”

“I see. Are you here to collect?”

Varschina placed a hand to her chest, looking almost offended. “No my sweet prodigal. I am here to congratulate you. You have mastered your element. I had always thought the Demons of the Forge to be the most dangerous of your number.”

Abram blinked. “Our number?”

“Oh yes, you...devolved creatures. You see I am fortunate enough to still carry the visage and spark of Paradise, hollowed though it might be. You “demons” are merely the corrupted derivatives of that. The split pieces of my sundered brethren given form. Surely you knew that?”

“I knew there was a difference between the common demon and a true fallen angel. I had not thought the difference to be so pronounced...why are you telling me this?”

Varschina kept the obliging smile, motioning gently with her hands. “I would gain nothing from your ignorance. Though as for why the Forge has its treasured uses, that is something you will have to discover yourself. ”

The Fallen angel looked about as if calculating some unseen measure. “Your mind is an intricate one. Even though you try to keep it locked and concealed, I can see some echoes of its structure. Tell me, when will you inform your friends that you have released Echo’s spirit and taken his powers for your own?”

“After I awaken.”

A dangerous spark came into the Fallen Angel’s eyes. “You say that as if it were a certainty.”

“Because it is.”

The Silvered Fiend and the Fallen Angel stared at one another for a long silent moment. Her smile was gone, replaced by a mute and discerning expression, while Abram remained unreadable behind his helm. Finally, Varschina inclined her head in a bow of respect and flew towards an amethyst light that had appeared in the ceiling of Abram’s mindscape.

Abram looked up at her expectantly. “No final threats or condescending well-wishes?”

Varschina didn’t even turn or delay her course. “I only wished a closer look at you, and you will soon have enough threats I think.”

“What did she come for?”

She vanished into that light and then so did it. Abram did not delay, not even looking at the vast armory around him or contemplating the now buzzing maw of his mind, he closed his eyes and then opened them. He found himself staring at the open sky of Leo while sitting in a meditative trance.

Before him stretched the same river, with the great city of Ulq in the distance and the sun rising behind it. The ruins of the arcane gate sat a short distance behind him.

As his awareness returned, he felt a warm sensation on his right hand. His first instinct was to turn with a blade in hand, then he took a breath, and closed his hand softly around the sensation’s source. He leaned his head back and felt Evangeline’s hair caress his neck, still feeling her warmth in his hand. While he had been meditating, Evangeline must have fallen asleep, her back to his.

She yawned as the sun’s first rays came into her eyes. “Whose watch is it? Or are we done with that?”

“It’s morning Evangeline, and time to move I think.”

Evangeline reached a hand up to brush his face, but Abram only saw her hand brush up against the cold metal of his helm.

She dropped her hand, making no secret about her disappointment. “You’re not going to keep it on every night are you?”

“Don’t like it?”

She turned embracing him, letting her chin and hair rest on his broad shoulders while her arms and fell across his chest. “If you want someone with a metal fetish, you better look elsewhere.”


Evangeline let go of him and slapped him on the side of the helm, playful offense in her voice. “You ass.”

Abram turned back and tried to take her hands in his, though she kept pulling them back with a playful smile on her face. Finally, he stopped and looked at her patiently. Still smiling, Evangeline presented her hands in a showy ladylike fashion, and Abram took them in his.

“I have everything I need, right in hand. But...”

“I know, we still have work to do, our own skins to save, and so on.”

His eyes filled with some contentment. “Just so.”

She looked down at his heavy armored hands, wondering on how strangely light their grip on her’s were. “Do you like this? These moments we have in between chaos and demons and all the rest?”

Abram inclined his head, somewhat surprised. “More than anything.”

“Me too.”

Abram held her for a moment longer, before standing and helping Evangeline up with a gentle hand. He released her and looked at his surroundings. First at the river, which split into three routes. The north leading to Ulq, The west leading back from where he had come, and the east leading into the Empire of Taiyang.

He kept his gaze focused on that route. “Have your scouts found anything?”

“The Hellhounds I released smelled gunpowder coming from the direction of Taiyang. A little obvious I know, but that’s all I was able to get.”

A disappointed grunt came from Abram’s helm. “So we still don’t know if they’re coming from the river of just next to it?”

“Could be a dual crossing. Even if they had a marching force, they’d have to cross the river to get to Ulq.”

“True, are your hellhounds still active?”

“Yeah, I’m receiving their aura.”

“Give them a command, please.”

Evangeline paused, wondering at his intention. But obliged him all the same.


Her brow furrowed into focus, and then into worry. “I can’t get them to respond.”

Abram drew his Mors Deus and conjured his Black Blades. “That’s because the Taiyang have dispersed them and replicated their aura. And are most likely using your latent connection to track our position.”

Evangeline put her defenses up, just in time to conjure a wall of hellfire that blocked and melted the bolts of ice that had been thrown at them. As the steam filled the air, Abram raised the falchion, and a great howling noise came from the cruel blade.

At this abhorrent crescendo, shadows peeled off from beneath trees and stones and amalgamated into quasi-humanoid shapes. Their assemblage was quick, and no sooner were they completed then they pounced upon the trees and even reflections in air. But that is all they did, restrain. The trees buckled with ease, and the air twisted into cloth and leather.

These were not cold air and stained wood, but men and women concealed by a spell and now revealed with the eyes of the undead. Not that a demon’s eyes couldn’t see through their mundane cloaks.

Abram looked among them. They were all masked, dressed in plain robes that had the sheen of Xiao spider silk. Their clothing pulsed with the Kanji of the elements that these mages practiced, in this case, wood and air. And now that they, the weavers of this stealth spell were gone, the water mages, dressed in silver as opposed to a predictable blue, came into view.

Abram plunged his sword into the ground and leaned on it a little. “Your spells are efficient, you’re approach could use some work though.”

As he was about to continue, a brief sensation strummed across his spine and through his entire body, screaming at him to go on the defensive. He obeyed it and brought his Black Blades into a whirl while bending down into a defensive crouch. To his immense surprise, two helmeted and masked figures in red and gold armor brought fine curved blades at differing angles to attack him. Once he had blocked them, he looked at Evangeline, who was safe behind another thin sheet of hellish energy.

She wasn’t exactly happy about the situation. “I’m gonna melt this whole plateau. Unless someone can give me a reason not to.”

A confident voice rang out from the woods. “How about: you’re standing on the same plateau.”

Abram kept his blades up but shifted his glance in the direction of the voice, which spoke in the tongue of Taiyang.

It had come from a man, a very young human man, covered head to toe in gaudy golden armor with dragon head pauldrons and even a shaped helm and gauntlets. He had crimson silk weave between his armor plates decorated in similar Kanji to those of the mages and even a long and impractical cape to boot. Despite this grand display, he had the soft features of an inexperienced and pampered nobleman, though he walked with some measure of training.

Abram was not impressed and did not hide the contempt in his voice, as he spoke in the newcomer’s language. “To which noble scion am I speaking?”

“That is imperial scion to you.”

“Ah, a son of the golden dragon emperor.”

The prince smiled and lifted his chin proudly. “You are blessed to be in the presence of Sun Taiyang, seventh prince of the Empire.”

Evangeline rolled her eyes. “Abram, you think he’ll bleed lotus pedals if we poke him?”

Prince Sun seemed taken aback, and even responded in the common tongue. “Pardon, lovely creature, but are you referring to me?”

“You’re the only perfumed tu-”

Abram cut Evangeline off. “These are our partners Evangeline.”

The Prince once again flashed a smile and continued in Leonic common “Is that so, Silvered Fiend? Because last I was told, Kiernan expected to kill you, my contingent of Imperial Seers told me that the Knights of the Imperial Flame turned on each other as they were beset by a demonic legion. One that they summoned, and hoped to conceal from us.

Abram gritted his teeth and considered his options. The Imperial Mages were pinned down, and he could always summon more of his psychic spirits. The prince did not concern him, but the army at his back did. And then there were the red-clad soldiers at his flanks.

They were of the order of the Tengu: Elite soldiers from the isolated island province of Fuji, which lay off the coast of the greater empire. One look at their movements and the inhuman focus in their eyes convinced Abram that a straight sword match was out of the question.

So he gathered energy into his Mors Deus for an assault and kept the Prince talking. “Tell me, your highness, did you have spies within the knights or are you just that paranoid?”

“I prefer the term cautious. And you have not been subtle. Our scouts found signs of battle. What interests me is how you sustained so few casualties.”

Abram smiled beneath his helmet but kept his tone even. “Oh? How do you mean?”

“You have soldiers guarding the arcane gate, and more coming from beyond. I suppose they are tired though, given the slight pace at which they emerge.”

“You might be right.”

Prince Liu’s expression changed from condescending to bemused. “Might be? What other possibility is there?”

“None I could explain in so few words.”

Abram felt the buildup in the Mors Deus and fought every instinct to bring it to bear. Instead, he prepared to send his Black Blades toward the Tengu and then summon his reinforcements, though it would divert from the operation of gathering the residual energy of his deceased comrades, and even the desperate of finding even one survivor.

With that drive, Abram prepared a new set of questions. “So what does your Majesty intend for us?”

“My father would certainly enjoy the head of a true Demon Knight displayed in the imperial lounge. And I could use the practice.”

“So that famous Taiyang enlightenment will not be shared with us I assume?”

The Prince’s face twisted into fury and his voice roared forth. “The enlightenment of Taiyang is reserved for those deserving it. You, spawn of the Beyond, are no such creature.”

“I couldn’t agree more.”

Abram changed his tactics and made a grand sweeping motion with his Mors Deus, and at the same time flurried his Black Blades towards the Tengu. They had been expecting him to do so, but the use of the Mors Deus in combat dissuaded them from continuing the assault, so they fell back.

With that done, Abram gripped his sword in both hands and summoned forth more of his indentured spirits. This time they manifested in the sky, clad in demon forged armor and wielding all manner of cruel lances and axes in their gauntleted hands. As they prepared to descend upon the Imperial entourage, whose prince now had his sword drawn and whose eyes flashed with golden light, another voice pierced through the action.

“Before you teach the young prince a well-deserved, and permanent lesson-”

Abram heard the voice and found it strangely familiar. His demon eyes followed it to its source. An elder elvish gentleman, also a clear native of Taiyang, walked from behind Prince Sun. He wore no helm, and his graying black hair was cropped into a short tail. His beard hugged his chin, and his broad shoulders bore a suit of spell woven armor that had no decoration or elaborate marks. Except for his gauntlets. They were of a magic laden material and somehow wrapped seamlessly around every finger while still bending with each flex.

The old man kept a serious expression, and a casual tone. “-we ought to amend our situation.”

Abram looked around and saw an immediate change in the stance of both the Tengu and the Imperial Mages. Even the captured mages seemed more relaxed and at ease in the presence of this newcomer. As if they knew the situation would be resolved in their favor.

Abram had no intention of contradicting them but knew he had to keep up an impression. “You see that I have an army?”

The general nodded. “Indeed, and an impressive one at that.”

“Then you acknowledge that we can fulfill our contract?”

Evangeline, who had been building up Hellfire in her hands, finally stepped out from the field she had built. It was a test, and when no one came out to attack her, she quashed the flames in hand and breathed deeply.

The old man looked at his soldiers and nodded. “Our terms can still be met.”

Prince Sun’s face contorted into a mix of shock and petulance. “They have threatened a member of the Imperial Blood.”

The General kept a cool gaze. “Only after you provoked them.”

“They should have knelt the moment I stepped into their worthless sight.”

The old man looked toward Abram, using his hands to emphasize his apology. “You must forgive my godson. His father has sent him with me in the hopes that he will learn temperance and wisdom...I seem to be failing at that.”

Sensing that the tables had turned in his favor, Abram adopted a friendlier tone. “We have an accord than?”

“Indeed, Silvered Fiend.”

Abram took a final look at the Tengu. Once he saw the aggression leave their stance, he sheathed his sword, and so did they. He then bowed to them in the Taiyang fashion, and they responded in kind, not missing a beat.

The old man smiled at this. “You are not native to the west.”

“What gave it away? Aside from my surname, I suppose.”

The old man’s answer was quick and unshackled by pretension. “You lack a sense of entitlement, and are possessed of some courtesy.”

Abram’s voice remained respectful, but he deduced that this general would be more impressed with a respectfully delivered and contrary opinion, than with simple agreement. “That is an acquired trait, as opposed to a born one.”

“Of course.”

Abram took another look at the Tengu. One was a woman, the other a man. Their species was hidden behind their helms, but they were of comparable height and build. They also seemed to be studying him just as intently, only to march off to the old man’s side when they realized their study had been discovered.

When they had, and once his summoned spirits released the last of the Imperial Mages, Abram gave the old man a closer look. “You are Shen of the Iron Palm.”

“That is one of the names I have, yes.”

Abram’s widened in curiosity. “We’ve met before I think.”

“You were only three at the time, and your sister not quite born yet. I’m surprised you recognize me. Then again, who can judge the mind of a demon? I mean that in a complimentary sense.”

Prince Sun bowed quickly, his expression one of barely contained rage. “If you will excuse me honored general, I must inspect the troops.”

He left with that, his garish cape billowing behind him. General Shen looked at him with a disappointed expression before turning back to Abram with an embarrassed smile.

“He almost crippled my daughter during a training exercise, not that she let that stand.”

Abram gave an approving laugh. “She sounds formidable if she gave a prince of the dragon blood pause.”

“She’s just now squared off against a demon.”

Abram looked at the female Tengu. “Is that so?”

She looked at General Shen, who nodded. She then removed her helmet. A large scar streaked across her otherwise normal if solid and gritty features. She also had strange emerald eyes that probed all they saw and were possessed by a lingering sadness.

The woman’s expression remained neutral, as she spoke in her native Taiyang. “It was an honor to cross swords with you, Sir Abram. My sword brother agrees as well.”

The male Tengu kept his helmet on but held his hands up in a thankful bow. Abram once again responded in kind. “I am glad we didn’t fight longer, otherwise I’d be a Diced Fiend.”

Evangeline shook her head and smiled, getting the joke but not finding it all that funny. Both of the Tengu and General Shen laughed though. Then the old man gestured towards the greater Taiyang host. “Will you join us in the camp with the rest of your forces? It will be good for the troops to eat and drink with their allies.”

“Of course General, I will send word at once.”

Abram nodded at one of the armored spirits, and they all flew in the direction of the arcane gate. With a welcoming gesture from General Shen, Abram followed his new hosts into the heart of their army. And what an army it was. Amidst the pavilions and palisades were: disciplined pike and swordsmen clad in spell-steel armor of the Taiyang heartland, fully suited Cataphracts from the deserts of Chu, Light horsemen and archers from the steppes, mages of the elemental and spirit schools from all across the empire, a full company of Tengu swords masters and their students, and of course the engineers. Men and women manning all species of cannon, and all manner of siege engines.

Even Abram, though he had looked into the eyes of a fallen angel just recently, wondered at the army before him. It was good that this was but an expeditionary force. His chances of success were slim enough and would have dropped quickly if this had been a full invasion force. Evangeline for one was completely amazed, though upon seeing the magic capabilities of the Imperial Mages, even their masters, flashed a confident smile.

“You guys are in lockstep about everything aren’t you?”

Shen’s daughter glanced over at her, speaking in common. “Meaning?”

“You have masters and students, but no real artists in your magicians.”

The swordswoman considered this, not seeming to be insulted. General Shen, still smiling in his inviting manner, bowed yet again. “In this current force, this is true. We would not wish to put our true prodigies at risk for such a trivial operation. Which I suppose is why they sent an old man like myself to...attend to the prince’s temper.”

Abram tilted his head, curious. “It is his Majesty who leads the expedition then?”

“Indeed Sir Abram, I am here only in an ancillary capacity.”

Abram nodded, deciding not to broach the matter any further. “So, what is your command general?”

“My command?”

Abram kept his tone crisp and efficient, walking purposefully to evoke thoughts of goal orientation. “Indeed. We are but here to fulfill a contract, and will do so to the letter. Once we are instructed on our course.”

They walked on, but General Shen seemed to be considering something, while his daughter studied Abram intently, her gaze shifting from predation to caution and back again.

Finally, Shen took a breath, before speaking plainly. “For now, assemble your forces. We shall discuss the deeper plans once we’ve consolidated.”

“Of course, sir.”

Shen kept his smile. “You are much like your father and mother.”

“I wouldn’t know much about that sir, my sister and I were taken by the order when we were young. Even the memories I mentioned before, of you, are jumbled at best.”

“So I have gathered. We will discuss them over a drink perhaps, your father is a great man, demon or no.”

Abram was genuinely stopped in his thoughts. But managed to speak, and to keep the trembling out of his voice. “Is, sir?”

Shen stopped, and so did the others. “You didn’t know? Your mother is alive and healthy as well, they are the forge masters of the Imperial Seat.”

Abram was truly speechless, and Evangeline had a full smile on her lips, though her eyes carried a different weight. “We could go and see them, Abram. After...well everything.”

Abram nodded, collecting himself.

General Shen stooped up slightly and patted him on the shoulder. “Don’t worry my boy, we’ll have time to explain everything soon. Rest for now.”

General Shen pointed out a pavilion that Abram and Evangeline could stay in, just as the armored spirits that were Abram’s new Knights of the Imperial Flame marched into camp. Several of them walked up to Abram, and he mentally communicated orders for them to report to different officers in the camp and coordinate with the different units in the Taiyang army. Once that was done and he and Evangeline were left in the middle of the bustling camp, they left into the pavilion, which was empty except for some base furnishings.

Not quite knowing what to do, Evangeline looked about the surroundings. “Well it’s a few steps up from the open road. I guess that-”

“I thought they were dead...”


Panic started to enter his voice. “They’re alive. My parents are alive and I nearly killed their daughter...killed my sister...And after this....”

He was in some strange space between fury and sadness now. He took off his helm, tossed it to the ground with shaking hands, and fell to the floor. He leaned against the base of the bed, breathing heavily and looking towards nothing in particular.

“I have a family...I tried to kill that family. And for what? A revenge scheme that’s only killed more families? I don’t know why this is even bothering me. I’ve always blocked it out but now...now I know the real cost to it. What the hell am I going to do…”

Evangeline knelt by Abram and took his hand in hers. “You know, I was traded to the order. My mother was...well a whore, and one of her clients was a Knight of the Imperial Flame. She told him to take me in and his price was her...whenever he wanted and for free. Guess it worked out cause, here we are.”

Abram looked at her, his senses coming back to him. “I am sorry that happened to you.”

“I wish other people were. But I was so scared when I was brought to Adder’s Fall, and I hated how everyone called me a demon because of my eyes, and sad because of the people who’d hurt me. And then you came. You looked me over with your own strange eyes, and you protected me for whatever reason.”

Abram looked at her, a neutral look in his eyes. “It seemed the right thing to do.”

Evangeline smiled weakly and sat down by him. She still held his hand, even as she rested her head on his shoulder. “That’s why I’m here though. It wasn’t because you liked me, or wanted anything. You just thought it was right, and did it.”

“You wanted to know what type of person you are? You’re the type of person who looked at the things he wanted, at the things that drove so much of your life, and had the strength to change. Do you know how many people can’t do that? I don’t. Cause there’s too many of them to count.”

Abram brought an arm around her shoulder, bringing her closer. “You’re too good to me.”

“Maybe. But if I wasn’t, I’d never catch up to what you’ve given me.”

He tightened his arm around her, brought her closer to him. They embraced, as a tear trickled down his face.

“I love you.”

“I love you too.”

And among the trample of armored feet, hooves, and spiked wheels, they sat there with each other. At peace, and waiting for whatever might happen next.

End of Part 2

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