“Do you hear that skittering sound again?” Maya asked, tugging lightly on the goggles resting on her brown leather mask. She still kept close to China so she wasn’t crushed by the gravity spell surrounding them. It had been an hour since they had started searching for a nasty intruder at the old Belvedere Hotel but there was nothing but skittering noises so far. This was not the usual hunt an Ishim faced these days. Normally the supernatural creatures leapt out and attacked pretty quickly so it was strange to have to try and follow their prey through the hotel like they had so far.
“The ballroom this time.” China whispered from behind that perfect porcelain mask. “At least there’s open ground there. Less chance of it getting away this time. Let’s go.”
China turned with a flip of her long gray hair and walked confidently but carefully toward the ballroom which forced Maya to stick close once again. They were surrounded by a chorus of creaking floor boards which was completely unnerving. Maya looked to her right and watched a spindly dining room chair get crushed under the weight of the spell. She felt confident that the gravity spell China was conjuring would protect them from physical attack by slowing or smooshing their attacker. At least, that was the theory.
If the spell covered physical threats, Maya carried various totems and charms that protected her from magical attacks. She had no idea what the great China Gray was relying on but the woman seemed confident so it was hard to be too concerned for her. Maya was still having a hard time figuring out China’s age with all of the contradictory evidence. Gray possesed confidence and wisdom like an elder and she was taller. However, she also lacked patience and moved far too easily for an elder. After all, most elders were too heavily injured to move like they used to.
They rounded the corner and pulled open the big double doors under the plaque that said this was the ballroom. They pushed open a second set of double doors just a few feet inside. The ballroom must have been really spectacular in its day. There was plenty of intricately carved woodwork still on the walls and empty bronze rods where drapes must have hung. A lot of the tarnished brass light fixtures were still there but a lot of them were dangling off the walls by thick wires.
Maya swung her torch around and focused the beam of light with a force of will. There were a few ruined chairs that were quickly flattened around them along with some partially collapsed tables. She thought she saw something twinkle on the floor so she focused the light there next to investigate. She gasped and clutched her torch tighter and she could almost feel China tense up next to her even though the other woman was silent.
There on the floor, draped over a shattered chandelier, there was a dragon the size of a Clydesdale. It was dead and there could be no doubt. There was a cut the length of Maya’s forearm in its neck and two clean puncture wounds in its torso. It had definitely breathed its last breath ass it was statue still with one wine-colored eye open and unfocused. pointing vaguely torward the ceiling.
“Did somebody complete the job for us?” Maya asked, the thought of an elder not taking them seriously brought on a hot flush of anger that she knew turned her skin reddish pink. Thankfully, her face was covered by the mask.
“It looks that way, doesn’t it?” China responded bitterly. Her voice was filled with annoyance once again but this time Maya felt she wasn’t the cause. For once, she felt more kinship with this stiff, by-the-book woman. She also guessed that she was not an elder because this absolutely did not happen to elders.
Suddenly, a blood red symbol flared to life on the wall where somebody had carved it through the wallpaper and into the wood beyond. Maya didn’t recognize the symbol but while they were staring, blood red words ignited above it.
‘The Ishim Will Die’ They said.
Maya and China looked at each other. “What does that-” Maya started but did not finish her sentence. Dozens of brown, shiny beetles the size of small puppies exploded from every vent in the room. They surrounded by nasty little insects that let out horrible shrieking noises like crickets from Hell. Maya raised her torch and once again she was interrupted as China already had something in mind.
It was one of those series of moments that slows down so that you can see every detail. The beetles leapt at them as one, brandishing pincers as sharp as daggers. China yelled out what sounded like “Unleash!” and a bright flash of light spread from the epicenter of the gravity spell they were standing in. In an instant Maya felt forces push her and China up off the ground. Around them it was if a giant mallet slammed down into the floor, wooden floor planks and beetles and everything went flying. Then China went limp and Maya reached out for her as they started to tumble into the darkness of the basement.