Emilia told her everything. About the demon, the Pillar of Lust and the effect it had on the town – some kind of spell that the demon had cast over everyone. About Victorie and Karis, the apparent alliance between two wings of a rebellion neither of them had heard of before. And about the coming doom, of Mesogrin inevitably arriving to wipe out the entire town.
They had both heard of towns being purged, both by the cults and by Mesogrin. Everyone always assumed they were tall tales told to incite hatred against humanity’s saviours. Mesogrin was their saviour, the shining city behind the walls that looked out for them all. None of that had changed for her, she believed in the ideal, in the goodness of the rest of what Mesogrin gave humanity. Shelter, protection, comfort, food and water and technology. Traders might transport that to Battery Point but there was no way to argue that it wasn’t made by Mesogrin. All of it.
She had seen the water the town filters could produce, it wasn’t until Emilia arrived that anyone could get them working well enough to make the water that came out of the reservoir clear. All through her childhood she had drunk water from cans imported from Mesogrin.
It wasn’t until Emilia arrived that any of the townspeople had even seen autoarm that worked. They had simply salvaged it for parts, unable to get it back up and running. It wasn’t that the town wasn’t smart enough to work it out, it was that something that Mesogrin had couldn’t be taught – well at least until Emilia managed to prove them wrong. Using the wrong type of metal or filtering water through sand is better than using cloth.
When the plague first struck the town, it had been Mesogrin that helped them. That had been the first time that she had ever encountered one of those machines, an emissary. It had helped her father and when he was too far gone, it helped him die without pain.
Then Emilia came and helped her realise what it had done.
Now there was Anna, and there was demons and Mesogrin was coming to erase them all. Standing at the balcony, looking out at the darkness beyond the Battery, Emilia wrapped an arm around her shoulders and drew her into a hug.
“It’ll be alright.”
They are a hammer, not a scalpel. They had told her years ago, when they had told her about their own tragedies with Mesogrin. Sitting in the shop, afternoon, hot and sweaty, fixing a… machine, for a client just to pay a few bills. Emilia stood behind the counter.
“In terms of awakenings to how the world works,” their timid voice barely used to carry across the room, “it was pretty brutal.”
They had known each other for years, they seemed nice and she felt a bit sorry for them. They were some kind of genius when it came to machinery but they didn’t have any friends and it was kind of sad.
“When I was real young. My mother uh, disappeared. She was an explorer, they call themselves surveyors I think? She um, one day just stopped sending letters. She used this old machine we had, so we could write each other. We weren’t real close though, not like mother and daughter, kind of more like long distance friends.”
They couldn’t look her in the eye as they spoke, ever, “I lived with family friends. I never knew my father, she told me that he was nice but she didn’t really love him much. I liked my family though, they helped me learn engineering and sent me to the university to learn it properly.”
They scoffed at the idea of the university, one of the first times she had noticed them slipped her by at first, “I was gone for a few years, I visited when I could and helped them out. Then my mother disappeared, I started failing. Then my family stopped sending me letters, so I left the university and went home.”
They looked up at her briefly, then let their glance dart back to the machine in their hands, they were trembling, “They are a hammer…”
“The machines,” rage welled in their voice, “they burned the city to the ground, no-one was alive. The streets were filled with half-charred bodies… people I had known. The only one they didn’t burn was the one body they came for – a demon.”
She was stunned silent, at the time it had troubled her, at the time it had made her question a lot about her life and reinforced some nasty thoughts she had about the Mesogrini.
“They annihilated an entire town to kill a single demon. They are a hammer, not a scalpel.”
But it had been years since that conversation, Rachael had learned a lot more about the world while her desire to travel and see it grew.
She knew however, innocent lives would be lost if she convinced Emilia to leave.
“If you work on a way to defeat whatever Mesogrin sends at us,” she looked up at Emilia, the sparks in their eyes flickered on, “that would give me time to find out who the demon is, right?”
“Defeat an army…” Emilia’s mind raced off.
“If anyone could do it, it’d be an engineer.”
Emilia’s embrace loosened as they thought, “That’s not a bad idea, I wonder if they’d follow the same principle as with the reclaimers. I should talk to Karis about this.”
“Go, find her and ask her, I’ll go see if anything in town is weird, right? I’m looking for weird people… which might be a little hard in this town. I’ll see what Victorie needs me to to.”
Emilia kissed her forehead, “Thanks. Let’s go deal with this then.”
She smiled, and thought about it on the way down the stairs. They parted ways in the street, and disappeared around separate corners. People made their way along about their days as if nothing had happened.
It was a strange feeling, being the only sane one in a crowd, to just say to someone – ‘We need to fix the world’ and then getting right to it. It felt like she needed more preparation for this but, there was nothing she could do to ready herself for such a monumental task.
Looking around town, watching the people in the town square. How did she even begin?
From what she had learned, they hid as someone new. She assumed it was because they couldn’t mimic someone? Maybe Victorie would have a better idea as to why. Secondly, she knew that they gravitated to a job to do with their way. Or so her books had told her. So, a demon of lust would steer towards prostitution? That would be a challenge, the festivals always brought people into town and should she worry about the Lost God’s concubines or just unaffiliates? Was there some kind of magic that prevented this thing.
For the first time since Victorie was elected, the front doors of the manor were locked.
She knocked, and for the longest time there was no response. So she hammered the door, so hard it drew attention from passers-by. Still nothing, so she headed to the kitchen to find it opening. There was a line and a lot of tired looking people. Passing through she found the inner door locked as well.
Her first instinct was that Victorie wasn’t here. Then again.
Heading back outside she found her scaffolding still set up and waiting for her to finish some day. They had decorated it for the festival with cloth to hide it away. She was actually meant to have it done by the end of the week.
A crazy plan involving climbing to a window and making her way in formulated itself in her head but ultimately she went back to the door and knocked again. The door creaked open and Anna peered out at her.
“Quickly. Come inside.”
Anna pulled her inside and locked the door behind her.
“What are you doing here?”
“Victorie invited me in,” Anna gestured towards the stairs, “I was talking to her about what I know about the demons. She is getting tea.”
“Oh,” she followed Anna up the stairs and along the halls to the private library where they sat her down at a small table.
“So what do you know about the demons?”
“Quite a lot, I saw them when they first appeared.”
“Alright,” she conceded, “How do I work out who is a demon?”
“That is not something I know, they did not hide when I was first awake.”
She smiled sorrowfully, “How are you coping with that?”
“I am fine,” Anna sat down at the table, “I had imagined losing Lady Amber, would be harder than it is, but you and Emilia have both been very comforting. I am glad I met you both.”
“Again, it’s alright you don’t need to keep saying that.”
“I feel as though I do, I never had friends or siblings, I don’t know how to… The Creator didn’t teach me how to interact with people other than herself, because she was so busy with her work.”
“Well welcome to being a human, it’s awkward and upsetting, you’ll constantly feel sick and exhilarated and then you’ll meet someone who beats even that and just makes you comfortable.”
“Like a lover?”
“Like a little sister,” she smiled, “love’s something else entirely. I advise falling into it at least once, but twice is a little much.”
The sudden appearance and clatter of plates startled them both. Victorie arrived, a soft smile and bright eyes.
“Sorry to interrupt.”
“It’s alright,” she blushed, “perfect timing. Emilia told me everything, I already know how I can help.”
“I hope it includes finishing the mural,” Victorie began pouring the chilled tea for the three of them.
“Uh, no, it didn’t but-”
“Not to upset anyone, I’d love to hear what you want to help with but it will look awfully suspicious if you don’t finish the mural before the festival ends and you’re off running around doing whatever else.”
She hadn’t thought of it that way, “Right.”
“I’m sure Anna can help, the important thing is we don’t want to raise any suspicions that any of us knows what’s happening. We need to be discreet.”
“Well, I was planning on asking people about… I, um…”
“No,” Victorie pushed the teas to them and took a seat at the small table, “you’re right, someone needs to ask about town and weed them out. I think you might be one of the best actually. Go around asking for subjects to sketch, draw, say it’s a personal project, you’re looking for inspiration, whatever it is you artists do.”
“I, can do that, yeah.”
“I guess once you have done the mural hopefully I’ll have the test ready.”
Anna sipped their tea, trying to act like Victorie with their perfect posture and refined wrist.
Rachael had lived in the gutter with Emilia for too long for that, “The test? As in a test to prove someone is a demon?”
“It’s deceptively simple. I just need their blood, not much. Then I can cast a spell and the blood reacts. It’s also extremely potent against living demons, but it takes a lot of preparation.”
“How much do you know about magic?”
“The magic you’re talking about, nothing really.”
“Oh, of course-” Victorie nearly bit their own tongue in half.
“I’m sorry, I totally forgot.”
Anna looked at Victorie with confusion, then turned to look at Rachael as she screwed up her nose. She told them, “I’m what you call touched, which is kind of offensive I guess. Uh, a touched person is usually someone with some kind of magic ability but it’s never anything good. Maybe you can work out what number a dice is going to roll before you roll it, or you can do what I do. My amazing ability is I can turn water into paint, and paint into water.”
She blushed, “As long as it’s water based paint.”
Anna grinned, “I like your magic. In my first awake… my first life? People had become too powerful, the magic they used corrupted them. That is why the demons came.”
“And that is why the demons stripped magic from the world,” Victorie added, “or so most people thought. It’s one thing to do parlour tricks, it’s another entirely to bend reality like the demonic magics can.”
“And I am a parlour magician,” she demonstrated, tapping her finger into her tea.
The tea itself seemed to sink away and the water turned bright purple, it was paint. Then she stuck her finger in again and pulled the colour of it. The tea swirled back into place.
“Well I think that is pretty amazing,” Anna said staring at the cup.
She reached over to rough up their hair, “Thanks kid. Now if only I could use my powers for good.”
Anna looked up at her, “I may have an idea. Magic is not a hard thing to do, but it is not easy either. You are required to paint sigils and collect reagents and combine the latent energies of the different planes.”
“Yes,” Victorie cut back in, “For the spell, I need a sigil drawn in chalk. I have chalk. Then I will need the blood, which I do not have. And lastly, I need sarric acid.”
“That’s all. The hard part is the sigil really, it takes a lot time to draw and make sure it is right. And the sigil is one use only, you have to pour the acid and the blood mix onto the sigil.”
“And that tells you if they’re a demon?”
Victorie nodded, “As easy as that.”
Anna sipped their tea as if with two hands, “I like this drink.”