Chapter 7 | Suit of Armor

Akra’s throaty roar cut through the silence, and Liam dashed up the stairs.

Something in the darkness attempted to lance her with a spear. It dodged forward, the point heading toward her breastplate. Akra deflected it with ease, tossing up her shield, and the spear didn’t leave so much as a dent. She gracefully switched arms, knocking away the spear, and pushing her sword into whatever fought in the darkness. Liam heard it clamber backward.

The firelight just barely reached the second floor, and when Liam’s eyes adjusted, the enemy fighting Akra appeared to be — a suit of armor?

He couldn’t see a face or body within it; it simply moved like one would if they were wearing it, agile but slightly laborious. He unsheathed his sword. This was the type of combat he was trained to do, a simple battle of sword upon shield, and he knew how to penetrate armor, how to target weak spots: neck, arms, groin. Of course, he wasn’t sure if those weak spots existed if no body existed, but how different could it be?

Liam heard the party gather behind him on the lower stairs. He glanced over his shoulder, and saw Ruh Ruh gripping his axe.

Liam lunged at the suit with his sword, but it caught nothing but darkness. He felt a small presence beside him.

“I’ve seen tin chamber pots more frightening than you!” Hoben shouted at the enemy, his lute in his hands. Liam looked down at him, incredulous. Did the halfling think that was helpful?

But to Liam’s surprise, the suit stumbled as if it had been hit.

Liam sensed its defeat was imminent. From the back, Phaedrus and Amira readied their bows, the ranger nocking a feathered arrow and the warlock fitting a bolt between the risers. Amira was faster, but the bolt simply clanged against the armor and fell to the ground. Phaedrus was more effective; an arrow arced over their heads, puncturing the suit square in the chest, and it crumpled to the ground. Liam saw now that the visored helm was shaped like a wolf’s head.

Akra looked pleased by this encounter, casually brushing a cobweb off her chainmail. “Shall we proceed?” she asked.

When they had first met in the outskirts of the village, swords in hand, Liam wasn’t sure if Akra’s flitting attention span after battle was normal, but her nonchalance at their first enemy encounter confirmed that was quite par for the dragonborn.

Was she trustworthy?

Liam had no reason yet to doubt her, but that attitude had worked against him before. He thought of Iliyana with a pang. What he liked about Akra was that she was easy to be around — she said what she meant, she didn’t overthink situations, and she was bold and unafraid, ready to awaken any threats and deal with them swiftly. If she was hiding something sinister, he couldn’t tell, because she wore her expressions and thoughts openly on her face. He appreciated that. It wasn’t hard to be good, and simple. People made life too complicated.

People like Amira, and Phaedrus, who looked at everything with keen eyes, scrutinizing every detail as if the world existed to trick them.

Akra lit the oil lanterns. Liam felt a cold draft coming from the delta of the next staircase leading to the third floor. The light revealed another portrait hung in this hall, and its models looked familiar: Rose and Thorn were depicted in the painting, and behind them stood two adults whom Liam guessed were their parents. The whole picture was rather dour. The father held a swaddled infant, and the mother looked down at it with scorn. What kind of woman looks at a baby like that?

That’s what they were here for — what he was here for. A child needed his protection. He wanted to find that baby, and get out of this dreary house, and find some semblance of warmth again.

They proceeded collectively to the third floor.

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