July 5th, 1949 • Erumut
Falient was rolling a smooth pebble back and forth between his hands. He was slouched at the stone table next to his father, listening to the Demon Epro and his allies bicker about when to make their move on a group of troublesome Luminari. Tiermond made Falient accompany him on all matters of business, saying he needed to learn how to make a living for himself, but more often than not, Falient was bored out of his mind.
He had tromped up the stairs to the meeting room, complaining of a stone stuck in his shoe, but Tiermond wouldn’t let him stop to get it out. When he finally sank into the chair next to his father, the boy pulled off his shoe and dumped out the pebble. Since then, it had been his only form of entertainment. The Demons had been arguing for well over an hour; no one seemed to even notice Falient was at the table, following the motion of the little brown pebble with glazed eyes.
“We need to move,” insisted Epro. “The big one’s been scouting us, and he’s got all manner of weaponry we can’t match. We need to strike them before they come to us.”
“It’s never a good idea to go after the Roses,” growled Thykos from beside Tiermond. “You’d be better off moving and staying away from their attention.”
“You are as weak as cat shit,” spat another Demon.
Thykos hissed at him.
“I can handle one of them,” Epro said, “Cansora can handle another, but there’s still two others. I brought you lot here to make a plan, not cower with your tails between your legs.”
“There will be fine spoils when we take their estates,” Cansora added. “Dryshank says the big one has labs full of weapons and materials we could use.”
Tiermond nodded in acknowledgement. “Saw them myself,” he confirmed. “He’s got cannons the size of your front gates. We’d just need to make them compatible with Dark ammo.”
There was a general growl of both approval and apprehension. Almost in echo, there was a distant boom in the castle. For a moment, the Demons seemed to think one of them had made the sound, but then it came again. Falient sat up a bit, palming the pebble.
“What treachery is this?” snarled Thykos.
Epro rose and went to the door, pulling it open. The hallway outside was quiet. The Demon looked in either direction, and yelled for one of the Serpents at the end of the corridor. There was a pause, then a sudden shriek, and Epro scrambled. The Demon shoved the door closed, but didn’t have time to drop the bar into place before the entire doorway exploded inward.
Falient dove under the table as the fireball engulfed the two officers nearest the door. He could hear Epro howling as the flames lapped at his face. The boy peered between the chair legs to see an enormous Luminor– easily six and a half feet, and broad as a mountain– push through the wreckage of the door. It was the one Tiermond had been watching: Garth. The Luminor silenced Epro’s cries with a single hit from his massive hammer, and Falient started as the Demon’s brains splattered across the floor. He clutched the pebble in his hand as if clinging to it would somehow render him invisible.
The room erupted into chaos. Falient felt something grab his ankle, and he struggled, but Tiermond started hauling him out from under the table anyway.
“Move, boy!” snapped the Sinvator. “We’ve got to get out of here, or–”
Tiermond was blown off his feet by another explosion and sent sprawling. Falient scrambled back under the table, hearing the roars and shrieks of the other Demons and Runners in the room. He crawled further under, watching the scene unfold. Garth’s hammer smashed the life out of two other Demons, shattering bones, and sending black blood spraying. No one seemed to get close to him. Cansora fired off a bolt of purple lightning, but Garth ducked it, pulling a thick-barreled gun from behind his back. Her head was gone before she had a chance to take another shot at him.
Falient could feel his heart pounding in his chest, and thought sure if it were quiet, the Luminor would have been able to hear it. He rubbed his thumb in frantic circles over the pebble, trying to keep himself from screaming and bolting for the door.
The Runners were shrieking. One managed to scramble out the ruined door and go tearing down the hallway. Thykos tried to follow, but Garth flung his hammer after the Demon. The mass of steel collided with the Demon’s back, and he seemed to shatter like glass into ashes. Garth raised his hand, and the hammer flew back into his grip just in time for him to bring it down on the unfortunate Demon clawing his arm. Falient flinched at the blow, and looked over his shoulder. He could see his father’s boots in the corner, the last pair of legs still standing.
“You should have kept better company, Viatrian.”
Falient almost yelped at the thunder of the Luminor’s gun, but he bit his lip so hard he drew blood, and swallowed any sound. Tiermond hit the floor, collapsing on his side, the entire front of his chest open and bloody. The boy’s face blanched with terror. He clenched the pebble until his nails started biting into his palm. Tiermond spotted him under the table, but said nothing. Falient stared, watching the life disappear from his father, until he was a matching corpse in the carnage.
The sound of Garth’s heavy steps shook Falient out of his stupor. The boy looked back to see the Luminor leaving the room, and heard the sound of his gun again as he fired at things in the hallway. He disappeared down the corridor like a walking inferno, dealing death with every step.
For a long time, Falient couldn’t move. He was rooted under the table. He worked the pebble in his trembling hands, hearing his breath shake. The floor under him shook, and he heard a crash that sounded like part of the roof collapsing not far from the meeting room. He knew he needed to get out.
Mustering his nerve, he slid from under the table. The boy crawled over to his fallen father. Tiermond’s hazel eyes still stared, glassy and lifeless, at the place he’d been under the table. Falient extended a hand to close them, but stopped, fingers trembling, unable to touch him. He looked over the body and reached for the belt, unbuckling the holster. He fumbled with the worn leather, cinching it around his own waist. It was too big for him, so he could only tie it in a knot. He reached for the pistol, which had fallen from his father’s hand, and tucked it back in the holster. He looked back at Tiermond’s face, but said no word of goodbye. There was no time for sentiment, and Tiermond had never cared for him anyway.
Falient got to his feet and crept to the hole in the wall where the door used to be, and peered around the wreckage, down the blazing hallway. The roof had indeed fallen down to the right. Left was the only way clear to him. He would have to hope for the best. Steeling himself, the boy took off at a run, fleeing the room alone, in hopes of finding his way out before the whole place fell to Luminari fire.