Cold Night

In the slums of Risanta there exists a clairvoyant with perfect consistency, every single prophecy she had ever given did not come to pass. Once she was a grifter who cold read her clients in order to tell them what they wanted to know, she was cursed when she conned the wrong person. In the local area she was considered a novelty at best, a laughing stock at worst, but some had figured out the trick to finding out what they wanted to know. Tonight the thief known as the Frostwolf (by fewer than she would like) was going to ask the clairvoyant if she would get caught stealing from the extravagant manor of the Rhilin family.

Parting the curtain, its dense beads blocking vision into the room, Dena entered the room to find the clairvoyant with her eyes half closed in a mystic pose. The room smelt of incense, decorations adorning the walls to give the impression of someone who had immersed themselves in the artform. At the sound of the beads moving the mystic lifted her head slightly and smiled, eyes still closed as if she was reading the room with her second sight.

"Welcome weary traveller, please, take a seat by my table and I will uncloud the misty vision of the future as you desire," came the words, soft but with the force of someone in control of the situation.

"You can drop the act Marina, it's just me," Dena replied as she dropped into the seat across from the soothsayer.

The atmosphere immediately changed, as Marina opened her eyes and relaxed her posture, letting out a sigh of relief.

"Thank Korik, you know I don't half get sick of all the punters, but I guess it's a living," Marina responded, putting her feet up on the table and almost pushing off the ornamental crystal ball sitting in the middle. "So whatcha here for Dena?"

Dena grinned. "You know me, it's a job. The Rhillin family have something I wouldn't mind getting my hands on"

Marina sat up, sliding her feet off the table. "The Rhilin family? Come on Dena, that's not worth it. They have nothing worth getting caught for, and they are so paranoid about getting robbed they have their own personal man at arms. What could be worth it, are you looking for some blackmail material about those interesting parties they throw in their basement?

"Well, usually you would be right. That tight ass group has all their assets tied up in workhouses and shopfronts, but I heard from the underground network that they have something hidden in that house that will be worth the trip," Dena replied, savouring the look in her friend's eyes.

"...don't leave me hanging," Marina said, sparkling with curiosity.

Dena looked at her nails nonchalantly. "Oh you know, the crucible of Fenrei."

Marina leaned forward, eyes wide. "The actual crucible? The one they found in ruins out in the hills of Lanria? The legendary object that the god Fenrei supposably used to banish demons in a drunken rage?!"

"That's what I heard, last seen in the grand cathedral of Fenrei before it went missing during that breakin last year. Soon to be mine," Dena grinned.

Marina held the stare for a moment, before sitting back in her chair. Her eyes dropped to the table, opening her mouth as if to say something but closing it after reconsidering. A moment passed.

"You know Horchant is still after you after that last robbery, and the Rhilin family aren't an easy mark. They are probably going to report this the second you steal it, and then the Light Watch are going to be all over you more so than usual."

Dena smirked, unperturbed by the comment. "I don't think so. Stealing from thieves is almost foolproof, they can't exactly go to the watch and claim their stolen property is gone. As far as I'm concerned they have entered the game and they better be ready to play. Plus, I always have old frosty here," she said trailing her hand across the tattoo on her forearm, which shimmered in response.

"I know you are probably going to be safe, I just worry," Marina admitted.

They both sat in silence for a moment, Dena worried her bravado was worrying her friend and not knowing how to reassure her.

Marina eventually broke the silence with some advice, "You should go talk to a guy I heard of, Miles. He's got a place just outside the University, religious scholar type but he's got this hankering for supposed religious artifacts. He's a bit shady but even if he doesn't want it he's going to be able to point you in the right direction."

Dena nodded, smiling at her friend. "Don't worry Marina, I got this."

"I don't doubt it," she replied. "Well, go on, you came here for a reason. Ask the question."

Standing up melodramatically, Dena raised one hand in front of her face, fingers splayed. Eyes closed she cried out, "Oh noble Soothsayer, I have but one wish this night. Please tell me, will I fulfill my duty as the Frostwolf, the greatest thief in the city and get my hands on the crucible of Fenrei currently trapped in the grasp of the Rhilin family tonight?"

Marina's eyes began to glow, the whites racing across the iris and pupils like clouds across the sky before a storm. Her body lifted, floating just above the chair she had been sitting on. She spoke but one word in a monotone voice, "No".

As if a spell had broken she dropped back into the chair, the colour washing back into her eyes. "You know you don't have to make a big show of it, I can't help the way my curse reacts to the questions," she said, pouting.

"I know, but what good is it if I can't put on a show," Dena said with a laugh, rising to her feet. "Thanks for the confirmation, looks like this will be an easy one."

"Just be careful Dena."

"You know me Marina, I'll be as careful as can be. What good is a thief that gets caught after all?" and with that she left.

Marina sat in her chair, room now empty, fidgeting. Something was off about this question, there was a tangible nature to the answer she gave, something that she could almost taste. Not really believing, she said a quick prayer to Korrik, the raven god of clockwork and secrets that he would protect Dena during this heist.

The streets around Marina's place of business were quiet, but heading towards the university the signs of the city's nightlife was evident. Taverns and other late night entertainment knew the life of the facility and students, and was more than happy to cater to them, light spilling out onto the cobblestone from their doors. All this Dena saw from the rooftops, her outfit too much of a giveaway of her chosen profession to risk walking through the busier parts of town.

She shivered in her leathers, the wolf pelt around her neck serving not only as her namesake, but also as her only source of warmth. It was a cold night, but she preferred it that way, the outsider bound to her arm working better on nights like this. The entity was an incredibly malevolent being, a being some might call an elemental, attuned and trapped by the tattoo that sat there after some quick thinking trickery. That part of her body was always cold, regardless of how warm it was, and it served as a constant reminder of the threat she would face if it escaped.

She continued over the rooftops, stepping lightly to avoid any accidents. It wasn't long until she spied the open window of Mile's room, situated above a tavern that almost grew off the walls of the university. Carefully avoiding being seen, she moved to the side of the window and took a deep breath before checking over her outfit, making sure every fold sat right and the bandoliers were at most aesthetic height.

Reaching into a pouch strung across her body she withdrew a large leaf, almost colourless as if made of ice. She held it up against her chest and crushed it in her fist, the sharp edges of it shattering and melting. There was the sound like rapidly freezing water and the smell of a fresh winter morning, the kind of smell that burnt a little in your nose, and she was gone.

After moving her arms to check she was invisible, she peaked in through the window and saw Miles seated at his desk absorbed in his work. The room looked clear, a wide open floor with bookshelves covering the walls. Climbing in through the window, she moved to behind him where she silently exhaled, breaking the glamour and revealing herself.

"Greetings scholar, it is I, the Frostwolf, queen of the thieves," she said theatrically, holding her pose to make the best entrance.

There was a twitch from the man in front of her, a simple moment and it was gone. "Who? Sorry, if you are a performer the tavern is downstairs," came the reply from the scholar, not bothering to turn to see her.

Dena sagged, puffing her cheeks in annoyance. "Marina sent me", she said, trying to hide the embarrassment at the failure of her dramatic entrance. A soft titter erupted next to her ear, echoing like the wind, and she knew her captive elemental had noted the failure even if the scholar hadn't.

"Hrm," Miles casually turned his head to eye her, the action coming just a moment after Dena recovered her posture. He was younger than she expected, his eyes peeking out from under his mop of hair the colour of faded wood. He was hunched over slightly, fingertips stained with hours of inking that also showed on his well worn clothing. "What can I help you with Miss.."

"Frostwolf, the Frostwolf. Surely you have heard the name?" she replied, standing up a bit straighter, doing her best to emanate self confidence.

There was a sparkle in his eye, and was that the hint of a smile? Dena couldn't say for sure but she got the impression she was being played. "Can't say I have, but I don't really pay attention to the local goings on," he said with apparent disinterest.

"Well, I have something you would be interested in. Marina said you have a unique fascination in old religious relics, it just so happens that at the end of my night I'll have a particularly special one in my hands." She paused for effect, pulling a dagger from her belt.

His eyes flashed with curiosity, but he was quick to hide it. "Oh? I guess I may be interested," came the words, tinged with need.

"The crucible of Fenrei, do you know the one?" she asked nonchalantly as she used her dagger to clean her nails.

Miles stood from his chair and casually moved over to a shelf, pulling out a book and flicking through it quickly. After finding his page he stared intensely, taking in the details before replying.

"You are of course talking about the relic that was found recently near Lanria right? From friends I know that got a chance to look at it, it was indeed said to be the real thing. In fact if it was back with the authorities I might have had a chance to see it myself," He looked up from the page to stare Dena dead in the eyes. "You know the story I presume?"

"Something about Fenrei using it to banish a bunch of demons from a worshippers house," she replied, waving her hand in a round about fashion.

"Not exactly, for one the original texts had long since eroded, but notes from the time showing scholars debating the translation of the word banish. One particular scholar of the time, Sharmousse, claims that it comes from the Lanrian root word of... " he trailed off, noticing Dena's evident boredom.

"Sorry, I got caught up in myself there," he said. "The story as it is commonly known is about a zealot of Fenrei whose house was plagued by a legion of demons. As you well know, Fenrei is a god of hedonism, and these demons were proving a point by torturing his followers. There's one story that states they focused on destroying anything that brought them joy."

He waved his hand, clearing his thoughts as he continued, "But the details aren't important. Fenrei turned up in a blinding golden glow bearing this crucible and in a drunk rage he… banished the demons for lack of a clearer word. There were rumours that the relic still held his residual power, he left it to the family and told them to keep it safe from harm or the results could be catastrophic."

"Great story scholar, really great. But what I want to know is, are you buying?" she replied with a yawn.

"How quickly do you need it off your hands, do you have it now? If you can give me an hour or two I can… pilfer some cash from the university," he said nervously as he turned a page in his book.

"Not exactly, I'll have it soon. I do need to know is this going to be an above board pilfering? I need to know what the chance is of me getting back and you not having the cash."

"Oh it should be fine, I'm on retainer there and there is a stipend for purchasing equipment. Worst comes to worst I'm sure the church will pay handsomely to get this back. Will 700 gold do?"

Her mind raced, she didn't expect to have been offered such an amount immediately but she had a feeling that he was hiding how much he desired the purchase. "Seems a little low."

"Yes of course I'll have 1,000 gold here in a couple of hours. Thank you for this opportunity Miss Frostwolf," he said a little faster than he needed to.

Dena nodded and went to leave.

"Oh and Miss Frostwolf, do be careful with it. As much as a lot of these items are nothing more than curiosities, some do have legitimate power."

"Yes of course. It was a pleasure scholar."

Dena sat on a rooftop across from the Rhilin house, peeking out from behind a chimney stack. The tattoo on her forearm glittered slightly as it picked up light, fog seeming to rise from it in what a casual observer would swear must be a trick of the light. A voice that no one else could hear spoke to her, the words seemingly forming in her mind in the tone of a strict mother.

I can't believe you crushed the whole leaf of the Erstwhile bush, the other one you have is the last one I could get my hands on. I told you how rare those were.

"Yeah, well partial invisibility is one thing but I have to keep my image, that would have been one hell of an introduction," Dena replied.

It went so well too, the scholar was definitely in awe of your entrance.

"Is that sarcasm I hear? I didn't think your kind was capable of that."

We are capable of many things, as you well know. What is your plan going forward, did you gather any information when you… what do you call it? 'Cased the joint' earlier?

"They have a full retinue of the usual staff, cleaners, cooks and the like but they are usually busy with the requirements of the house. They have a man at arms but he's a former thug who decided to retire into a simple job and has gotten lax. Should be an easy heist."

Why do you persist in this thievery child, small trinkets and small ideas. Come to my plane, we can end this bargain and you can walk away with whatever you need. Is it the thrill you chase? The Notoriety? I can give you the power to walk on the winter winds, pass through cracks in doors, all you need to do is agree this is a worthy end to our bargain so I can be free of you.

"Nuh uh Frosty, I know how much you would love to no longer be under strict requirements not to harm me. This bargain is the only thing keeping me off your list right now, a series of small repayments will do just fine for now."

You know very well my name is Iss. I do not like this other thing you call me.

"No denying your intentions?" Dena sighed, "We both know you can't lie so you might as well have just said it."

The outsider hissed in her ear.

What is the plan?

"Well I still have the disguise kit you gave me.."

It's called a glamour, child.

"Glamour, disguise, it all ends up with the same result doesn't it? I can use that in an emergency. I figure the crucible is probably hidden upstairs in the master study being a relic and all," she continued, eyes focused on the building ahead of her. "I'll scale the building and enter through the window up there."

And if it isn't there?

She frowned. "If it isn't there I guess I'll have to think a bit harder about where they might keep things they are worried about keeping a secret."

Just… be careful with my gifts. These aren't endless throwaway tools for you to abuse, at one point you are going to need something and it won't be mine to give.

"Why of course frosty," she said mockingly. "I wouldn't dream of doing otherwise."

Dena went over her pockets and bandoliers, checking them to make sure that everything was secure and within easy reach. Once she was sure everything was ok she swung down from the roof top and began to approach the house, sticking to the shadows and staying out of line of sight as much as she could on approach.

As she got closer she began to hear the sounds of a party within the house. Strange, she could have sworn her information had been on the ball, they should have been out at some big soiree during the evening.

That is unless they were back already.

She used a hedge to hide herself as she approached, the light from the ground floor windows spilling across the manor grounds. Before long she was up against the building, pushing herself flat to hide from sightlines. Sliding along beneath the bottom of the window she pulled out a small mirror, one of the few things she carried that wasn't a gift from her captor. Holding the mirror up and tilting it just right, she was greeted by the sight of a party well underway. She Frowned, while she cast the reflection across the crowd until she spotted the sign she was afraid off, a couple already disrobing in the corner.

"God fucking damnit, just my luck chosing the evening that things got too heated and the party came back here," she said to herself under her breath. The Rhilin family were known to have a quite voracious sexual appetite and had fashioned their basement to their unique needs. It wasn't uncommon that the inner circle of parties they attended retired back to this manor to finish off the rest of the night, hell they even had members of staff to service such an event.

Dena retreated to the other side of the building, trying to get as much distance from the populated section of the house as possible to minimise the chance of being overheard. Carefully, she pulled a pair of gloves off her belt, dark stitched material that emanated a touch of cold from the palm. After slipping them on she positioned herself under the wall and placed one palm against the building. Exerting a thread of will, small tendrils of ice grew out from where she touched, filling the uneven gaps in the brickwork and fastening her hands to the wall. After checking her hand was secure, she began to climb.

She scaled the wall effortlessly, this was her standard fair for getting access to buildings and it was a well practiced skill. The exercise finally warmed her muscles up and the chill of the night was banished from her body, leaving her limber and ready to go. Just as she was getting into the swing of it, a light flicked on in a room next to her followed by the giggle of an eager woman. She pressed herself flat against the building, not daring to move.

Straining her ears she could hear the creak of a sofa or bed, as well as the grunts of a man enjoying himself. After giving them a minute to settle into each other she continued to move up the building, finally letting out a breath she hadn't realised she had been holding. On reaching the third floor she checked the window, and comparing what she saw with her memorised notes of the layout, moved along the building till she found herself outside the study.

"Ok Dena, time to make some money," she said to herself as she slipped a thin blade between the window and frame, jimmying the latch. Quietly pulling back on the knife to open the window she slipped into the room, closed the window behind her, and took stock.

The study was a rich affair, trophies from hunts taking a prominent position on the far end of the room so the master could look at them while he sat at his desk. The centre of the room was dedicated to a sitting area in a semi circle around a fireplace, under the trophies. Closest to her however, was the desk which Dena had been looking for, surely he would want his precious relic within reach while he worked.

But the relic wasn't there.

It wasn't in the cabinets either, it wasn't on the bookshelves and it wasn't in the lockbox she found hidden under the desk. After thoroughly exhausting the obvious places it could be hiding, Dena got a little desperate. She pulled on books to see if there was anything hidden behind them, checked behind paintings on the wall and left the place a mess in her efforts. She even considered lighting the candles to give herself more light to work with when there was a soft metal on metal noise from the door.

She had been so involved in the search that she was caught flat footed as the door cracked open, the light of a lantern spilling into the room. She saw the serving man at the same time he saw her and for a moment they both sat there frozen, both processing what they were seeing, but she moved first.

Feeling a desperate need to throw off the interloper, she reached into her bandolier grabbing the first thing her hand felt. In a frantic movement she flicked out her hand in the serving man's direction as his mouth opened to yell out for help. Her eyes settled on the object as it was in the air, realising what she had thrown with regret as what looked like a clod of frozen dirt flew towards the serving man.

The clod hit him in the torso and stuck there as the scent of frozen forests, old giant trees covered by the sharp nose biting smell of frost, washed through the room as he dropped his lantern. He looked in horror, raising his arms to his face as if it would protect him, as the frost spread from the contact point and within seconds he was frozen solid. There was a moment of silence before a small thud as the soil broke off from the body and hit the ground, beginning to spread its frost across the ground. Dena rushed over to pick it up before it could spread too far, and eyed the body.

"This is much worse than I expected it to be. Is he… is he dead?" she asked as she looked into the frozen eyes of the serving man.

There was an icy breeze in the room as her tattoo spilled cold out into the room, and the response came.

Not exactly… dead. You hit him with elemental permafrost, think of him more suspended for now. When you asked for something that could freeze troublesome locks for you to break I didn't expect it to be used on a person. You got lucky this time.

"Will he get better?" she said, a tinge of concern evident in her voice.

Well he won't get better by himself, but any source of heat will slowly defrost him.

Dena reached out to feel the frozen surface of the man, and the icy statue tipped slightly, threatening to tumble.

Don't let him fall. If he breaks it will take an enchanter of formidable prowess to put him back together.

Dena quickly steadied the man, and after a moment's thought, dragged the body into the room, wincing at the heavy noise of it scrapping on the wood and praying that the party would cover the noise. She settled him down, on his side, in the middle of the sitting area, hoping that it would be obvious for someone to find before long. After pausing for a second, she brought the lantern over and placed it next to the body hoping the candle's heat would eventually defrost him. She looked around the room again and coming up short, she sat down in a chair to think through what to do next.

So, the relic wasn't where she thought it would be, and this didn't leave her with many options considering the party raging downstairs. Hopefully, it was still upstairs, but where could it be? Considering it was a relic that was used to banish demons, you probably wouldn't want to sleep near it which ruled out the bedrooms. Wait a second, object of power?


Yes Child, came the whispered response, tense with anticipation.

"Can you… see where it is? Can you sense power?"

I can sense power, but I cannot sense anything from here. I would have to be physically in your plane, and I don't think you want me to do that.

Dena shuddered, remembering stories of power hungry mages pulling elementals into the world in an effort to gain more power, causing devastation. As far as she remembered it had never happened in Risanta, but Teldir had almost been destroyed when an earth elemental had been pulled through in the capital. The shockwaves had taken down the city walls and there were still holes in the earth the city had resorted to building bridges across to keep life moving.

"No, I don't think I want that. Do you have something I could use to see that power for myself," she queried.

Yes… I think I have something that could work. Do I have your permission to open a door?

Dena paused, this was always the part that worried her the most. "You do."

The air in front of her seemed to freeze, like frost spreading like across a window, before cracks spiderwebbed across the space. The very fabric that spreads around Dena's world and holds it safe began to fall away, breaking off from the cracks and soundlessly disappearing before hitting the ground. Through those gaps she could see the image of her captive standing on the other side, looking like a person made of ice.

That is to say, she didn't look like anyone in particular. She looked like an almost artificial idea of a person, as if she was a blend of what the world considered to be normal, a melting pot of cultural norms. Her eyes held no emotion, her mouth did not curve or show personality, it was there because people had mouths and for no other reason. Wordlessly the elemental held out one hand, offering what looked like a shard of glass until the object sat half in the elemental plane and half in Dena's world.

Dena reached out, and the moment she touched the shard she felt the touch of the plane spread through her core, something she had grown used to. She was afraid this was doing something to her, changing her, but Iss was suspiciously silent whenever she asked. This gift was needed though, and she would take it, she could worry about the costs when she was home and safe as she always did. As the shard was pulled back into her world the crack in reality grew over, and the frost departed, leaving her back in the semi-lit room with the lantern throwing the little light it did through the frost covering the serving man.

She pulled herself together before asking, "What is this, what do I do with it?"

It's a shard of ice from the cave of truthful reflections. If you look through it you should be able to make out what you are looking for.

Dena brought it up to her eye, and through it things seemed… subtly different. The trophies seemed a little shabbier, a little more decayed. When she looked closer she realised she could see stray puddles of blood under them. The chair behind the master's desk was much more extravagant, in fact it looked like a throne. Casting her eye this way over the room everything was a little different, but what she was looking for wasn't obvious.

"Iss, I can't see it."

Perhaps child, it isn't on this floor.

She looked down, and instantly she could see a sickly green glow from below her. It was hard to tell depth through the shard, but at a guess it was most likely in the basement.

Her eyes widened, "Of course, it's probably hidden somewhere down there in the more… risque sections of the house. But… that also poses more problems. I'm going to have to get down there soon, before the party moves in."

Without waiting for a reply she reached into her back pouch, pulling out a delicate mask and placing it on her face. Instantly a freezing fog spilled out from the edges, covering her head and body before settling into a diaphanous gown and long blonde hair, hiding her own black locks. A moment later she felt the mask shift on her face, and pulling out her mirror she marvelled at the experience of looking out from someone else's face.

The glamour is complete, I suggest you don't keep that mask on for longer than you need to.

Dena felt the cold seeping into her skin, slowly becoming uncomfortable, she knew from experience this would get worse. Everytime she had used this before she did not risk letting it go on for too long, the disguise frayed quickly and the end state felt awfully close to hypothermia. Quickly moving to the door she cast her eyes over the room, stopping on the frozen serving man for a second, before closing the door and headed downstairs.

Initially Dena's biggest worry was getting down to the ground floor without being spotted, but as she approached the stairs she realised she had nothing to fear. The party was in full swing and it was getting on in the evening, some members of the party were in quite a state of inebriation which took the full attention of the manor's staff. A particularly loose girl was obsessed with a lifelike statue of a cat near the front door, plying it with food and pushing what it ignored into its brass mouth. Maids and housemen were in a practiced state of emergency control, wheeling guests back into the main room, distracting them with shiny things and encouraging them to dance as much as possible. Watching them for a moment to take in the details, Dena slouched a little, loosened her movement, let her eyes glaze over a little and joined in.

As she was working her way through the crowd she heard a knock on the door, and a moment of hesitation flooded her mind.

Look I know we're close right now, she thought, but a smart thief is one that doesn't rush and makes sure there's nothing nasty waiting behind her.

She sloshily worked her way back to the doorway of the room, falling against it as if she had lost her balance, eyeing the doorway. From her semi-closed eyes she spied the member of the light watch that had been hunting her for weeks, Horchant. He was holding up that sketch of her in a questioning manner to the butler who had stepped away from his busy duty to answer the door.

"Shit, ok, Iss can you hear what he is saying?" she mumbled under her breath.

A chill breath of air picked up, motes of ice like the wind on a morning after snow drifted towards the doorway and hung there, suspended in the air, before gently falling back towards her.

He says he has a tip from a scholar friend of his that you would be here. He's asking if she has seen you here tonight. The butler has offered him the chance to take a look around.

"Shit shit shit"

Calm child, you are under my glamour, there is no chance of him recognising you. You said the relic was in a hidden part of the house, surely once you reach that area you will be safe.

Dena took a deep breath, centering herself. "Yes, you're right, I can do this," she muttered before straightening up and stumbled back into the thick of the party. The glamour was beginning to freeze, the icy grip of the enchant felt like it was seeping into her heart. Not wanting to push it much longer Dena lurched her way through the inebriated guests.

There was an art to acting intoxicated in this way, too much of a stumble gave it away, you had to move as if you were doing your best but your aim was off. Hands reaching out to steady your movement had to come close to knocking glasses off tables but not quite get that far. Eyes needed to be unfocused and glazed but pull into focus as if it was taking a supreme amount of effort. This was an art that Dena had practiced too often, easy marks at bars were always happy to try and pull a fast one on a woman who couldn't bring her faculties to bear and were usually surprised to find their purse gone after.

She wormed her way through the crowd in this manner, pushing towards the back of the room before passing through the serving room, tables full of small pastries and amber filled glasses. Her goal was almost in sight, the stairs to the basement she knew from local rumour should be just beyond, within the start of the servants quarters. Her eyes glanced down to her feet during one stumble and she realised with a start the gossamer dress was beginning to dissolve, the hem was slowly breaking into lacey snow. With one final fake misstep she was up against the door of the servant's quarters and after quickly glancing around the room to make sure no one was watching, she slipped inside.

As soon as the door clicked closed behind her the raucous sound of the party dimmed to a more acceptable level. Desperately wanting to take the glamour off she checked the first door and found a well lit set of stairs leading down. She slid inside, closed it and took off the mask. The dress instantly dissolved around her, leaving a pile of soft snow at the top of the stairs and her teeth almost chattering.

Warming her hands around a lantern set into the wall, she asked, "Iss, is this going to… disappear quickly?"

In a couple of minutes, 5 at most. There shouldn't be much of a trace soon.

Dena nodded, heading down the stairs before passing through an open door and reaching a large open room with interesting furniture. Eyes wide with wonder she wandered around the room, taking in the sights, running her hands over the strange X shaped cross with the wood worn to a polish at points where skin would have rubbed against it, feeling the hefts of chains and trying to figure out what all this was used for. In a corner sat a large dresser, and not able to hold back her curiosity she swung the dark wooden doors open revealing rows of different sized objects. All of the objects were close to the same shape, tapered tips leading to a bulbous form that tapered in before flaring out again to a near flat base.

Wow, this top row of metal ones with… is that a real ruby? she thought to herself.

Shaking her head to clear these thoughts, she glanced around the room with a more investigative eye. The relic wasn't in sight, and there wasn't an obvious place where it could be hidden with the only container in the room without open bars being the cupboard. Going into a pocket she pulled out the shard of ice and looked through it, finding the glow behind the big wooden cross she had noticed earlier. Up closer the glow had a different feel to it, instead of looking magical and mystical the glow moved almost gelatinous as if the light was sluggish and sick. Frowning, she quietly slid the furniture back from the wall where it stood and looked over the wall.

At first, it looked like a normal brick wall. There was, however, a single brick where the mortar around it didn't look like it was adhering to the brick in the same way it was the others around it. Touching it gently revealed a little give, she gave it push and a section of the wall swung open to reveal the Rhillin family's secrets.

An unorganised collection sat before her, piles of paper with no instantly discernable content, metal implements of dubious means and in the middle of it all with some of the clutter pushed away to make space sat the crucible, looking upsettingly plain for the amount of money it was worth. She picked it up, marveling at the way it felt so light, as if age had made it somehow less and more at the same time, precious but delicate. She was so absorbed in the thrill of getting her hands on her treasure that the rough hand coming down on her shoulder and causing spinning her on her heels knocked the relic clear from her grasp.

"I finally fucking caught you, you've been making me work for it you little bitch," Horchant said. His eyes were hungry only for her, missing the crucible as it fell behind him, part of it chipping off as it hit the ground and rolling back to the feet of the man at arms that had led him down. "Your little ice magic tricks are easy to pick up when you know what to look for, you didn't think I would spot the frost in the air as I was at the door? You left a trail all the way here."

Dena struggled under his hand, she kicked out at his ribs but he barely let out a breath as she connected, his thick body tough from working the streets for years. Her eyes caught movement behind him, the chalice was bleeding out a dull sickly green liquid from where it had cracked, pooling in the cracks of the brick work. As she watched, the liquid moved as if it had a mind of its own, heading towards the man at arm's shoes as he watched the scene in front of him obliviously.

Horchant reached to his belt, pulling out a pair of cuffs as he laughed gleefully, but the sound of a man choking caused him to pause. Looking over his shoulder he saw the man at arms prone on the ground, the green liquid forcing his mouth open, crawling in. The hired help thrashed in the puddle, coughing, trying to free himself as the last of the goo entered his mouth. Keeping one hand on Dena, Horchant leant forward, brow furrowed at the sight he beheld as the man at arms went dead still.

There was a moment of silence, before the seemingly unconscious body of the man at arms began to glow and slowly rise from the ground, held aloft by an unseen force. He unfolded until he was floating hunched over, legs hanging loose above the ground. There was an invisible explosion of malice that rocked Dena and Horchant as it washed over them, showing them visions of impending violence. The watchman dropped Dena, the primal parts of his brain overridden by an evolutionary response to a threat.

"Finally. I'm free," came a deep, gravelling voice from the mouth of the man at arms. "It's been so long since I have known anything but that cursed chalice". His eyes flicked up to the two in front of him, and his mouth curled into a cruel smile. "And look at this gift left to me, two opponents who have no choice but to turn to the greater threat. Do you wish to play?"

The possessed man drifted back to the ground, gently landing before slowly striding towards the two.

"I can't believe… the crucible was meant to contain the demon wasn't it?" Dena asked, backing up to keep her distance.

Horchant, backing up alongside her, stared at her. "This is a demon?"

What you are looking at is a fear demon child, employed to create and feed off fear. It will only get stronger and faster the more it feeds.

Horchant dashed forward, pulling a short sword from his belt and aiming a vicious blow to the midsection of the demon. As the sword swung in for the blow it began to decay rapidly, rust spreading across the surface before it shattered on the side of the demon. The watchman stumbled back, staring at the broken hilt of his sword, eyes wide with fear as his jaw trembled. The demon stood up from its hunch, eyes becoming clearer as the violent aura intensified.

"Fuck this for a laugh, I'm out," Horchant muttered before making a break for the door. Dena instantly launched into a run herself, reaching out to Horchant and grabbing onto the tail of his jacket. Stumbling slightly, he pulled the jacket from her hand and pushed her back to the ground. As she stared at him from her prone position he slipped out the door, slamming it behind him. She could hear him on the other side of the door, breathing heavily and she feared he was bracing it from the other side.

"Iss… give me a hand with this one would you?" she asked under her breath.

It seems this bargain would be one worthy of my release wouldn't you agree? The demon sat there, growing as the events transpired, watching her talk to herself with unmasked curiosity and hunger in its eyes.

"Look now is not the time for this talk, is there some kind of weakness I can abuse?" she begged the elemental.

As far as I am concerned, this information is worth a lot right now. We make the bargain to free me or you get nothing.

Dena cursed, of course Iss would take this moment to stand her ground. Desperately she flung a dagger at the demon, only to be blinded by a red flash as it reached the creature and turned to dust. The air was thick with the malevolent energy surrounding it, almost solid around the demon. With a cry she rushed forward towards her foe, spinning as she got close and delivering what should have been a devastating kick to the back of the knee. It blurred, moving at speeds she could barely comprehend and caught her foot just before it landed, blinding pain stopping her as it impacted the dark energies swirling around the demon. She looked up to see its cruel grin as a backhand threw her back against the wall, her body crumpling as she impacted, the breath knocked out from her.

Scrambling back into the corner, she searched her bags for something that could help. Throwing the only thing that had any chance, the elemental permafrost, only saw it melt in the air before it could reach the creature. In a move of desperation she pulled out the shard of ice, peering at the demon through it. Surrounding the man at arms was a miasma, a sickly cloud that was tied back to the goblet at its feet, the movement in the air as if the relic was feeding the possession.

"You're done little thief," the demon said, grinning at her panic. "I wonder how much fun I can have with you? Maybe we can see how much damage that little body can take, do you think you could live through someone pulling your arms from your body?"

Dena stood up, and keeping her back to the wall began to circle her foe, keeping her distance. "What makes you think you are going to get your hands on me, demon?" she retorted.

"It's just you and me here little one," it replied. "Sooner or later you are going to get worn out, but I just keep going."

"You think I don't have something else up my sleeve," she said, the corner of her mouth twitching into a smile. "You feed off fear do you not?"

The demon's lips curved in a cruel smile.

"Well," she reached into a pouch and pulled out a small vial. "I can't do anything about that quivering asshole who is barring me from getting out, but I can do something about myself."

She raised the vial to her lips and drank deeply of the potent liquor she had in case she needed to dull the wits of a member of staff. She felt the warmth spread through her, banishing the chill and making her feel a bit lighter. Looking up she smiled, feeling a little calmer as she saw the aura shrink around the demon snarling at her.

With a bit of giddiness, Dena stared at the scene in front of her and an idea began to form. "Hey Iss, I want to make the bargain. You have my permission."

The demon roared in anger as the air behind Dena began to frost over. It lurched forward towards her, now moving at near mortal speeds. Dena launched into a sprint forward herself, and as they closed the distance she threw out a leg, going into a slide.

The demon reacted faster than she expected, driving a fist down towards her. Dena was prepared, and twisted causing its aim to be off. Instead of driving into her gut it clipped the side of her head, her vision going white for a second as the momentum carried her to the crucible.

Dena's hand curled around the base of the crucible, almost recoiling from the unexpected pulsating feel of the object as if it was alive. Quickly getting to her feet she looked up to see the demon was now standing directly in between her and the tear in reality.

The creature rushed towards her, arm back ready to slug her as she leaped into the air. With all of her strength she threw the crucible towards the portal as the demon's fist connected with her stomach, throwing her back against the wall as the crucible sailed through the portal.

Lying in a crumpled mess, she fought to get her breath back as she uttered the words, "I… rescind… my… permission."

Twin screams filled the room. Iss raging on the other side of the portal, cheated, while the demon roared as its connection to its host faltered with the portal sealing. The man at arm's body collapsed to the ground as the portal winked out, and there was finally silence.

Dena pulled herself to her feet with a wince. She chuckled, breaking into a cough as the pain washed over her. "Gotcha."

Horchant leant against the door, desperately trying to make out what was happening in the now silent room. He hesitated, debating what to do before swallowing his fear and opening the door. Shock lit up his face as he found the room empty but for the unconscious man at arms. He stepped into the room, eyes scanning the room for his captor till it settled on the cabinet, which now sported a torn piece of wolf pelt with what looked like a knife made of ice stabbed through it, a calling card that frustrated him every time he saw it.

He turned as he felt a disturbance in the air, as if something unseen was passing him by, and reached out to find no purchase.

"Fucking bitch get back here!" he screamed in frustration, swiping the air to try and find her, but the door at the top of the stairs opened and closed as the invisible form of Dena passed through. She was gone.

Dena sat in the chair in Marina's back room, leathers pulled back, as Marina looked over the bruises that were blossoming on her side. Marina tutting over the damage taken during the adventure, feeling the area to make sure nothing was broken.

"You were lucky to be able to limp your way back here, you got banged up pretty good tonight," she commented, gently touching Dena's ribs as Dena winced in pain. "Is your outsider still talking to you after the stunt you pulled?"

I am not happy with you, before you reply, child.

"She's upset, but she'll get over it," Dena replied, covering herself back up.

"And you didn't even get out with any loot, what a waste of a trip." Marina sat back in her chair, frowning in sympathy with Dena's evening.

"I wouldn't say I got out with nothing," Dena pulled a metal object from one of her pouches, set with a large ruby, a smug grin on her face. Marina stared at it for a second, before rocking back and howling with laughter. Wiping the tears from her eyes she placed a bottle and two cups on the table and the two toasted to small victories.