At that moment the doors to the main house opened. An infuriated Dr. Maladar burst into the hall followed by a few servants.

“Mr. Branner! Do you mind explaining what this street rat is doing in my house?!”

I see I touched a nerve. Seems to be a good moment to put on my own facade. Let’s see if the doctor can pierce it this time.

“I told you to just call me Branner. And if you could explain the issue using a more civilized tone, I would appreciate it.”

My posture straight, my gaze fighting the owner of the house, I stand defiantly in front of the doctor. He was understandably upset, but I needed this boy’s help.

Mister Branner, this young man has been more than a nuisance to my estate.” He came to a stop a few paces from where I stood with my new assistant.

“He has forced his way onto the premises without permission, stolen my property, caused untold destruction in the area and from what I’ve been told, directly assaulted your persons! How can you expect me to let such a boy free reign in my home?”

“That’s simple. I don’t.”

Con looks uneasy during all this. More than uneasy. This poor child. I’ve had to take away his strength, put him through the awkward position of walking among the people he has become so used to seeing as enemies, and now he must endure the rage of Doctor Maladar himself. This will not stand.

“Doctor, this boy can provide valuable insight into this investigation. He has many talents like the ones which enabled him to evade capture by your men for so long. And regardless of his past, he has been officially hired on as my assistant. If you wish to keep my services, you will accept that he will come along.”

“Yeah! Accept that!” Well, Con was looking a bit less sheepish. Funny boy.

“You are trying my patience, Branner. What gives you the right to talk to me in such a tone while you are a guest in my house?” His steely gaze was still in full force, but I have a hunch there isn’t much backing it up. Time for a gamble.

“Simple. You mentioned yourself that there have been plenty to try their hand at solving your particularly dangerous quandary. I am the first to prove there’s more to my words than just air. I am the expert on these types of events. You called for me. And while you’ve done much to hide your own feelings on the matter, you truly believe I am the first person you’ve brought here with a chance of helping you. So let me help you.”

I don’t believe it. The doctor backed down. His stare broke and he glanced sideways momentarily. Alright, I have the edge now. Time to bring it back. I turn to Con, who is looking ecstatic.

“But, as I said, I don’t expect you to trust him. Measures have been taken to ensure he won’t step out of line. In addition, he will only go where I go, sleep in my room and if you do find him away from me, you may feel free to escort him off the premises, never to be allowed back.”

The boy’s face went from joy to horror in an instant.

“Branner! That ain’t fair!”

“Oh really now? And what did you plan on doing that would take you away from my side, Con?” I glare at him. He should know better than to complain. True, I don’t like the idea of holding this boy’s own sense of normalcy over his head, but I have no choice.

Making peace between warring parties is always more difficult than starting the war. Sometimes it takes peace offerings. Sometimes it takes threats. And sometimes it completely fails and you’re forced to run from an angry tribe while they burn your formerly favorite coat.

Con just looked a bit upset. I will make it up to him. Someway. I really do feel bad about this, but I’m afraid I don’t have the luxury of playing nice in this situation. I turn my attention back to the doctor. His eyes have the similar sense of betrayal that Con’s had. Stay strong. I can’t let their emotions jeopardize the safety of everyone else. Show of force.

“Now, Doctor Maladar, if you’re quite through, I will need to examine your library. The room where Mr. Patrik was held. The one with the flying books.” I shoot a glance over at Con. His eyes light up. Now he knows what I meant.

“Branner, if you really expect me to-“

The doctor is interrupted by the sound of rushing wind and the whole hall goes dim for a mere second. It appeared as if a large shadow passed by, outside the windows. Everyone in the area is struck with silence. We all turn and looked where it came from, but whatever is was, it is gone.

“AHHHHHHHHHHH!” a housemaid screams out.

Well, that didn’t last long.

One of the men at the doctor’s side went to go comfort her. I look around. The beasts were gaining in strength, but they still can’t leave the house. That shadow wasn’t coming from outside, blocking the sun. They are creatures of darkness, possibly lacking a full physical form.

But their power radiates that darkness, like a reverse light. So the being must be on the other-

“Branner, now’s not a good time be in here.”

I turn back to Con. His eyes are filled with absolute fear. He is staring at the ceiling on the opposite wall where the shadow was only moments before. One of the demons was in the room with us. I now knew where it was. Everyone in the house was counting on me to do something.

I just wish I knew what.

Doctor Maladar turns and sees me looking the opposite way.

“Branner… what are you-“

“Doctor, I need you to get everyone out of here right now.”

“Of course, but-“

“NOW!”

I turn behind me.

“Con, tell me if it moves.”

“Oh it’s movin’ Branner. Right for the door!”

No time. I need to react. I reach into my pocket and grab the octagonal talisman from before. Pointing it at the door, I begin the chant.

“The darkness prevails.

Exposed to the-“

“Look out, Branner!” Con screams. I hesitate.

The unseen creature knocked me down. The talisman flies out of my hand. Curses. At least the demon is out of the way.

“Now, Doctor! Get them out!”

“Above you!” I quickly roll to the side just in time to see a huge crack appear in the floor. Con is proving helpful.

I look to the door to see the last of Maladar’s people leave. The demon tried to crush me. He’s favoring physical attacks. The conjuring magic he used before must take time. And to affect the physical world without being fully summoned takes concentration. Those are my only saving graces.

At the very least, this limits the damage he does. Well, to an extent. I need a distrac-

“BRANNER! Would ya unseal my power already?”

Oh right. Con. At least this doesn’t require a chant. I extend my hand and focus on the ring. I feel it click and a rush of smoke flows from the ring over the boy’s body. As it settles, Con falls to his knees. He looks up, a sparkle in those violet eyes of his. A grin comes across his face. He stands up and tosses his wild hair behind him.

“Hey there, ugly! Ya mind taking a break to let me whoop yer ass?” He jumps and catches on to the invisible beast.

He starts flailing around as the demon tries to shake him off. Now’s my chance. I run and grab the talisman off the floor. I point it up at the monster, trying to aim without hitting Con. With his half-demon physiology, the blast would be painful. And assuming it hits only him, that would leave me alone to face an opponent I can’t see.

“Con! Try to hold him in one spot!”

The boy is thrown from the beast. He goes flying against a wall and is left embedded in it.

“…sure thing… just let me try askin’ nicely…”

“Do what you can. Tell me when he’s between me and you.”

I point the disc at the wall and restart my chant.

“The darkness prevails.

Exposed to the light

falls before the veil

and bends…”

As I prepare my spell, Con pries himself out of the wall and falls to the ground. He looks up, sees something and jumps out of the way. A loud crash is heard as the windows around the wall shatter. The boy disappears as he turns into that energy form from earlier. He reappears on other side of his opponent and changes back and climbs up the side of the creature.

Con starts flailing back and forth through mid-air again.

“Alright Branner! In about two seconds here, you’re gonna get your shot. Better make it count.”

I aim for Con and try to keep the energy in the talisman held back. Con is trying to hit something on top of the demon. I can’t tell what, but-

Con’s hand squishes into the creature’s head, yellow liquid squirting out.

Oh. He was aiming for an eye. The creature roars in agony as he throws Con off again. The wound gives me something to aim for.

“Now, Branner!”

Right.

“…its MIGHT!”

I release the pent-up energy right at the floating wound. The beam slams into the invisible beast. The hit sends a shudder of energy throughout the creature, outlining it. The demon is a half humanoid, half serpent. The upper body has four arms and the head and back are covered in spikes. He’s a large beast, easily taking up most of the height of this massive entry hall.

Our opponent lets out another massive roar and vanishes. I can only guess he changed into a similar wisp form as Con. He’ll go somewhere secluded to lick his wounds. Meanwhile, we need to do the same. More importantly, we need to find the altar where the summoning ritual was performed.

“Con, are you alright?”
“Yeah, I think. Is the room spinning for you too?”

“Let’s say yes. I’ll have someone bring you water. When you’re ready, we need to investigate those flying books. As a matter of fact, we need to look into most of the occurrences that happened upstairs. I think they were caused by the other demon.”
“Going from one to the next? You want I should fight the next one blind-folded?”