The next time FG would awaken, he found himself within a pleasant little orchard off the beaten path. Jon and Felicia watched over him, one worried with the eyes of a big sister, the other stern and mostly indifferent. The raptor felt a stiffness in his limbs, as well as a pain in his left arm starting to dull away along with some soreness in the chest.
"The demon possessed you," said Jon Talbain, "we managed to subdue it with holy water, but unfortunately we had to leave town quickly. Your demon claimed a victim."
"Wh-wha?! Oh...g-goddamnit no...p-please, tell me it wasn't a kid!"
"No, a middle-aged woman."
He almost wanted to say "thank god", but realised that would have been insensitive to the victim and kept his mouth shut. Feeling already horrible, he tried to check his surroundings more, finding themselves still in the countryside.
"Where are we now?"
"Not too far from Amiens," said Felicia, "We kinda headed a li'l bit west cuz Johnny made a decision along the way."
"I have decided to come with you," said Jon. "After seeing your demon first-hand I feel I should make you my responsibility until we find the Red Arremer."
"R-really?" said James. "But...what about your...other thing?"
"It can wait, you are in more need of help."
"I-i don't need...help...um...no I...thank you."
His instinct to refuse help for sake of pride tried to come up, but was quelled by his weakening spirit, allowing humility to seep into his heart. He gently got up, smiling at his two companions as they travelled towards Rouen.
The walk was far and arduous through twisting country roads, and they dared not approach any travellers for fear of being spotted and hunted down. The majority of travellers were all superstitious sorts, gypsies and religious zealots who both disliked non-humans for similar reasons. One carriage that was more willing to help however, were a group of friendly zombies who offered them a ride halfway.
With such travelling aid, they reached Rouen within a matter of hours, and quickly began to scour the area for any clues pertaining to the Red Arremer. The zombies who escorted them there sadly offered little information regarding such, as the raptor, the catgirl and the werewolf made their rounds. Rouen was a city filled with ancient history, even James could feel the blood of the Normans seeping within the town streets, as well as that of Joan of Arc who had been executed here.
James could not help but wonder how much of his world's history paralleled with that of his own, back in the days when mankind ruled the earth as the only sentient species. He heard bits and pieces of the old world's history, but very little knowledge remained in his mind. It was a beautiful city nevertheless, gothic architecture and an overhanging aura of age that only some European cities could possess.
It was nearing the twilight hour when they had arrived, and thankfully they would not have any reason to stay within the city and risk another sudden departure in the dead of night, when Felicia discovered something. Using her Roman Catholic knowledge from the church orphanage, she managed to find some glaring details from some rather frightened young nuns within the city's cathedral.
From what she could gather with all the French she could muster in her tongue, there had been sightings of a red demon with wings as black as night, who enjoyed sitting upon the church parapets masking himself as a gargoyle. Sometimes he would just sit and wait for hours never moving. Other times he would fly around the area scaring the local nuns and putting the fear of demonkind within them. There were even some rumours of him molesting the girls.
The only other thing he did was to "collect" items of religious importance, which somehow always disappeared after he was seen in the area. But when the moment came to ask in what direction he headed for, the nuns would fall silent, unable to give an answer by not seeing where he would go. It was only by sheer luck they could find out that the demon was usually sighted coming and going from the southeast town of Vernon, after a helpful visiting Parisian noted such a sight. With some research at the local library, Jon found their most likely destination.
"There is only one castle in the area of Vernon. Le Chateau des Tourelles. A ruined castle from the 12th century, ransacked by Richard the Lionheart where it has remained in preservation for the past 800 years."
"Sounds like a perfect demon hideout to me," said FG. "Let's go."
"Before we do, are you sure you wish to face this Firebrand?"
"I got nothing else man, I need to make him tell me what the hell this demon is inside of me, even if I have to fight him for it!"
"Which you probably will have to."
"Don' worry FG!" piped up Felicia as she noogied him, "We're behind ya one-hundred-percent!"
"Really? I mean...you sure you wanna do this, this doesn't involve you two."
"I been with ya too long to stop now, I mean come on I flew over here with ya! I gotta see this to the end now!"
"And I would rather deal with this demon first-hand," said Talbain, "instead of allowing it to roam the countryside to claim more victims. The first step in controlling one's darkness is to understand one's true nature."
He wasn't sure if it was the arduous experiences he had in his adventure, or if it was the demon inside of him. But James now accepted their help without the slightest hint of frustration towards them. He almost felt like a load to them, dragged along with them as his humility grew. But he tried to toughen up, knowing that a solution was close at hand as they made their way towards Vernon.
A bus took them there swiftly in no time for the three to stop off at the outskirts, heading towards the ruined chateau. Sitting peacefully within a small residential district of Vernon, the castle had been preserved as a tourist spot. Night time however had closed it off to the public, the white faded fortress aged like a spinster's wedding dress. Four turrets firmly ensconced themselves against the main building, each one at least 65 feet tall.
In truth, FG had expected a far more resplendent abode for a demon of legend to reside within, not a humble-looking ruined Norman fortress. Nevertheless, it was the only place within the area that was just right for a devil to use, and they made their way inside. The castle's preservation sadly included its ransacking by the English, for little within was of any importance or interest to any of them. For now, they just wanted to find Firebrand.
The castle interior was not particularly complex for its design, good enough for them to start exploring within its ancient walls. Old casted walls of an off-white, fading to a yellowing grey all around them. Only emptiness remained within. There was no sorrow within the many footsteps or winding turret stairs. No joy laid within expanded rooms where men had once tread back and forth.
James wondered if they had faced demons that far back into the past of this world. How old was Firebrand truly? How long did demons even live for? He was getting more questions before even finding his single answer, and quite frankly he was getting rather pissed off at it. After what felt like an hour and a half of exploring each and every single room of the ruined fortress, they stood upon the parapets to rest.
"Nothing here," said FG. "Place is completely abandoned, no way is he here."
"I must agree," said Jon, "there are no remains of him here, yet there does lie the scent of demonkind here."
"So? Demons maybe squatted here, nobody's gonna tell 'em to leave until they wanna right? He's not here, god DAMMIT."
"Calm down James."
"I'm trying dammit, I just...I want to find him, and shove him up against the wall, punch his smug fucking face in and tell him 'WHAT IS THIS THING INSIDE ME, TELL ME NOW', and just...try and get a sense of what the hell's going on with me."
"...do you detect a strange...aura here?"
"Some sort of...weight, here."
The werewolf cautiously investigated one particular turret with Felicia, the aura apparently something only the two of them could sense. James was perplexed, not feeling anything from it as they spoke more.
"Yeaaah I do! It's like some kinda gravity-thingy, yanno, all heavy an' pullin' ya in!"
"It must be a beacon point for some sort of portal. I wonder where it is...or what it might even be."
"Wouldn't you like to know?"
The deep voice that came from the shadows startled James, shakily bringing out his scissors. It was him. He definitely knew that voice from anywhere. Jon and Felicia kept their guard up as the voice continued.
"I wouldn't do that if I were you boy."
"SHUT UP! Come out an' face us, NOW! I been lookin' for you for a looooong time, FIREBRAND!"
"It's good to see that I put you down in the right city to come find me. And here I almost thought you gave up and let yourself die."
A deep chuckle came from the night, the three keeping themselves on alert.
"I heard what happened in Arras. Tut tut tut, you naughty little thing."
"Oh sure, fuckin' insult me from the shadows, come out and fight me or I'll burn this whole fucking castle!"
"Ohhh wonderful, the English ruin this place once more. How quaint, I do love re-enactments."
"We have come to learn more about your kind," said Jon calmly. "Our companion here has suffered a grievous curse, and we must learn of its origins."
"I know why you came here. I've known all along, waiting to have this youth come to me to see if he was worthy of being saved. I suppose he is, if he managed to even come across the sea on his own."
"I got here cuz of my friends," retorted FG, "something YOU don't have!"
"Hah...I have friends, just not here. Why don't we just move to somewhere else more fitting for our stage, shall we?"
At the sudden click of the demon's fingers from the darkness, the turret that Jon and Felicia had been examining suddenly caved in. But not in a physical way with showering bricks and mortar, instead its very presence in reality caved in. The perception of the turret to them seemed to bend and distort with a grand vacuum-like portal, big enough to swallow all three of them before they had a chance to yell out.
Pulled hard within the dimensional abscess, James was feeling a sense of deja vu, but minus the cold heavy sleep that normally came to him in such situations. They were soon deposited outside a much larger keep, circular like a gigantic rook chess piece at a height of 72 feet. They were still in the city of Vernon, despite the unusually absent area they now stood within, devoid of homes and stores. Standing upon the very top of the tower, gazing down upon them, was the Red Arremer among Red Arremers himself.
"COME TO ME LITTLE DEMON!" roared Firebrand. "IF YOU TRULY DESERVE TO UNDERSTAND YOUR DARKNESS, THEN YOU SHALL SUCCEED!"
Disappearing into the keep unseen, they were soon given a large winding staircase that grew out of the very stone itself. It wrapped around the very tower itself, an igneous python melding itself into proper stone steps.
"Be careful," was Jon's only warning, "even if he truly desires to meet us, he will not make this easy."
They nodded firmly before heading up the stairway, the raptor running ahead with furious desperation to end this as soon as humanly possible. Felicia sprinted with Jon behind her, the two of them running on all four feet to quickly catch up to James. When they were high enough around 20 feet, the building started to shake with a trembling fury. Keeping their balance, they climbed ever upwards without delay. Then the tower exploded right in front of their faces.
The newly-made stairway shattered with an explosion of ancient bricks from the wall beside it. An unseen force had blasted from inside the tower itself, making the three almost fall but remain undaunted as they leapt across the newly-made chasm. They knew that Firebrand was going to give them a challenge, when the wall exploded once again with a furious shattering of brick-breaking furore.
This time it was hard enough to make the stairway itself fall away from the tower itself, causing the three of them to hang in midair upon an uncertain rocky precipice. Stones floated heavily by the dark magical power that had ejected them from their place, briefly hanging before falling to the ground below. Felicia had no problem leaping between them and back onto the remaining steps. Neither did the heavier Jon Talbain. But James had to get inventive.
Feeling the howling wind from the uncertain potential fall he would soon take, he readily leapt from the crumbling spiral of stone steps and leapt forwards back to the tower with a roar, scissors out before impaling them grievously into the keep. It was enough for him to gain leverage as he swiftly scrabbled back up and ran behind his allies. The Red Arremer was not yet done however with his little game.
Another violent tremble heralded their next obstacle in the form of a violent howling wind that suddenly came from below. A large cyclone the size of two cars had arrived to further impede their progress, wielding huge chunks of the tower's shed pieces of mortar. It soon came closer, almost as if it were alive with a vengeance upon them when it began to hurl rocks violently towards them.
Felicia dodged as best as she could, her feline reflexes absolutely vital to her remaining unharmed. Talbain's strength made quick work of any mineral missiles with a good furious punch or two of any brick that dared come near him. James fought back with his own power of wind, blasting back with as much resistance as he could muster against the medium-sized tornado. It was enough to throw the rocks off course, even if one did almost smash into his shoulder and send pieces of brickwall all over his back like shrapnel.
When its ammunition had been depleted, they ran further upwards, hoping to evade any further obstacles until reaching the very top. But Firebrand was not done yet. He stood within the abandoned keep, wielding his dark elemental magic to punch out two more holes in the walls around him straight towards his assailants. James was unlucky enough to get struck in the side with some scattershot of rocks, nearly falling off but regaining his balance before his allies had a chance to save him.
Undaunted, he roared as he ran further upwards, finally reaching the top and seeing the only way inside the keep from where he stood. A single thick trapdoor, taunting him with its closed presence. He didn't even wait for his friends to catch up before he ran towards it and leapt from above, slamming his scissors down into the aged thickened wood and shattering it in two.
He landed upon a table, smashing it in turn as a cloud of dust appeared all around him. He looked around himself quickly, scissors still out and ready to face any foe who came near. Turning to the north, he saw his target at last, sitting upon a rather resplendent red throne with thick velour upholstery. His thick red hands merely tented their fingers, shaking his head very slightly as Jon and Felicia soon came down.
The area around them was somewhat spartan. Torches circled around the top walls, making sure everything was well-lit with only the barest corners left in darkness. The throne was the most lit, with some smaller areas for sleep and such in the form of a rather luxuriant bed of cushions. The table's food was now scattered all over the floor, fruit and bread with some slabs of meat to offer a sturdy meal had FG not made such a brash entrance.
"You are a terrible guest," said the Red Arremer as his magic slowly repaired the walls around them.
"And YOU are a cockteasing asshole!" roared FG, pointing with his bladed tips.
"Didn't your mother ever tell you not to run with scissors? Stupid fool."
"You call the guy who managed to get to the top of your fucking tower stupid?!"
"No, I call the one who first started a fight with me in a cemetery stupid."
Jon's firm utterance stopped James' anger enough to let him cool down, letting the werewolf approach with practiced diplomacy.
"What is this place?"
"The Tour des Archives on the Rue Potard. I merely took you just across the river to have someplace closer to...home."
"I see...I expected a castle for you."
"I have lived long enough to have SOME standards of humility." He looked towards FG smugly as he said this. "It helps to not alert other potential foes to your presence if you do not choose an extravagant home. I tired of such riches long ago."
"Indeed. We have arrived as you expected, and we have evaded your traps. You know why we are here."
"Of course I do, but I don't like giving it to weak fools like him. I want to see him fight."
"Why do you insist on testing what little patience he has?"
"There are two ways to truly see the nature of others. Through a battle of words, or a battle of steel."
"...very well. But we are involved too."
"Me and my friend, we are assisting James in any matter...including battle."
"Hmph...very well. Let him fight first...for two minutes. Then you two can join us. If any of you can knock me down onto the floor...then we can talk."
Firebrand slowly got up from his throne, crossing his arms with a wide stance. Despite his nakedness, his body appeared to be of reptilian nature with nothing showing downstairs. His radiant devil musk was enough to confirm his masculinity. Talbain already stepped forwards, with James struggling not to just run straight towards his newest opponent. Felicia kept at the back for any surprises that might come.
Despite this, James strided ahead of Jon and quickened his pace, ready to meet the Red Arremer toe to toe. Firebrand walked towards him in turn, grinning his wicked sharp demon teeth, which only further incensed the raptor's fury. He brought his scissors down low to his side and soon ran forwards with a screaming charge. Firebrand expected such, and merely sidestepped in order to punch the raptor's side.
He stumbled, grunting from the demon's blow before moving his rear foot back and swinging around to lash out a mighty swing, spinning with his own momentum to try and hit Firebrand both high and low. A simple scar went across red flesh, straight along the arm which was merely annoying before he grabbed the scissors properly to gutpunch FG. This time however, the raptor anticipated it, pulling furiously away to try and unbalance his foe.
It did not work, the demon stronger than him who instead pulled him close and kept the scissors tight in a single handgrip to prevent FG from thrusting. The raptor blasted an arc of fire from his hands, channelling through the scissors straight into Firebrand's face. He was surprised by the blast, making him drop the scissors and hastily shield his face, giving FG enough time to thrust into the stomach.
Even if he knew it didn't work as well before, he wanted to wound the winged creature somehow, sliding out quickly before hurriedly sidestepping around to go for the sides. Firebrand had anticipated this the moment he felt the steel leave his gut, as painful as a punch to the stomach for him, and spung around fast with wings out to smack FG hard to the floor.
The raptor quickly got up despite feeling rather dizzy, shaking his head clear in time to receive a solid punch to the snout from the Arremer. He countered with a slashing haymaker, followed by his scissors in his other hand swinging open to cut across the face successfully. A little blood did not bother Firebrand who tried to punch FG once more, only to hit the air when the raptor used his haymaker swing to spin away out of reach, before blasting several fire balls in a furious suppressing fire tactic.
Firebrand quickly shielded his body with his wing, chuckling at such impertinence before swinging his wing out in a powerful sweep, causing a blast of wind to knock James back. He didn't expect such a force and fell to the floor rolling, the demon cackling at the battle as he raised two fingers towards Jon.
"GYAAAA HA-HA-HA-HA-HAAAAA! TWO MINUTES! LET THE BATTLE TRULY BEGIN!"
The werewolf had been waiting for his chance, using the time he'd spent waiting to gauge the Red Arremer's moves. Charging forwards in a four-legged run, Talbain swung out into a full-blown flying kick, blocked by the Arremer's wing just as he expected. He kicked off of Firebrand's wing shield in order to backflip straight into the air and send down a mighty axe kick from above, slamming his heel down hard.
Firebrand dodged to the side, ready to punch Talbain hard, but the werewolf's reflexes were far more honed with experience and without a long blade to hinder him. He quickly leaned to the side of the punch, grabbing the wrist with one hand and punching the muscle brutally with the other. Firebrand felt a mere sting until it was followed by a mighty elbow to the chin, making him stumble back slightly.
Felicia had been waiting for her chance, seeing the opportunity in the temporarily-dulled state of the winged demon before rushing to his side for a slash-attack. Firebrand recovered quicker than expected, and grabbed Felicia's outstretched arm before moving away to knee her in the stomach and swing her towards the wall. She shakily grabbed the wall and bounced right back off like a spring with a furious kick towards Firebrand, smacking him straight in the jaw.
Rubbing his face slightly, he launched forwards with wings open to slam his fist into the feline's face, but she quickly dodged low and kicked upwards to hit him in his wounded gut. It was enough to make him falter, but only just as he brought down both hands with a mighty hammerfist straight on top of Felicia, knocking her to the ground. James however launched straight in to defend her, leaping forwards with a brutal swing of his scissors to slash across the hardened wings. A glancing blow due to their surprising toughness, but a blow nevertheless.
The Red Arremer soon switched up tactics, slamming James up into the air before firing a small volley of fireballs, most of which the raptor blocked with his scissors before landing with minor burns. Felicia tried to kick out the demon's legs, but he responded by kicking her brutally across the room into a stumbling roll, inciting FG's rage further as he charged. Firebrand charged in turn, but this time with an unusual gait, scraping his feet across the ground as if they roaring boulders, leaving a small wake of turned-up rock behind him. James did not like this, and swerved to his left at the last moment to avoid the bullrush, slamming the flat side of his scissors straight into the back of the Arremer's head. He stumbled forwards a little, but not losing his balance.
Jon Talbain took this opportunity to charge forwards with a powerful assault, covering himself within a blazing soulful fire by his pure will. The huge fireball not even Firebrand could see in his moment of dullness, taking the blow hard as he was slammed against the wall hard enough to crack the rock. He snarled with a gleeful grin, revelling in the fresh wounds made upon him.
He flapped open his wings and swooped up high above, reaching the ceiling before he swooped down low, feetclaws out and ready to slash. James remembered how he handled this before, blasting out a single strong fireball as well as a water-whipping attack to really throw him off. Firebrand was having none of it, flapping his wings powerfully before him in mid-swoop to create a small but furious tornado that sucked up FG's elementals. Felicia however recovered good enough to leap off the wall and pounce hard on top of the Red Arremer, like a cat would pounce a bird.
Slashing furiously at his back, she managed to score a good few wounds on him before he kicked her off hard and tried to swing a haymaker, missing his mark to receive a slash to the face and a gutblow in turn. Jon joined in, readily launching forwards with a brutal shouldercharge just before the demon could hit her, following up with a lightning-fast series of karate kicks.
The raking claws from the thick soled feet of the werewolf did not discern the Red Arremer any further when he swiftly dodged after the first few kicks in order to punch Talbain brutally in the back of his head, knocking him away into a stumble before he chased after for a kidney blow. Jon however had been a fighter too long to allow that to happen, quickly turning with a ferocious roundhouse kick that burned with violent flames, smashing straight across Firebrand's jaw. The red demon soon fell to the floor, wings splayed out, knowing they had won.
He lied there for a while, breathing softly. A smile grew on his lips unseen.
"Hm hm hm hm ha ha ha...not bad."
He swiftly recovered with a powerful sweep of his wings, quickly returning to his feet with the grace of an angel, his feet softly touching the floor one after the other. The three fighters braced themselves for another assault.
"Why so serious dear warriors? You knocked me down, you won! Did you expect me to not obey that rule?"
"Yes." said all three in unison.
"...hah...hhhhahahahhaha, ha ha ha ha ha, GYAAA-HA-HA-HA-HA-HAAAAAA!"
The demon suddenly went into a fit of laughter, his maniacal cackle ringing out across the French night sky as he wiped a tear from his eye.
"Ohhhhh so good to see demons still do not trust each other, it warms my heart!"
"You uphold your condition then?" said Jon firmly. "You will assist us in the nature of the demon of our friend?"
"Even demons know when to uphold a promise...especially after such a good fight. You two are marvellous warriors...the cursed one though...needs a little work."
"Yeah yeah I'm not experienced whatever," said James disdainfully, "now tell me about this fucking thing inside me already!"
"Very well, let me entertain your impatience."
The Red Arremer clicked his clawed fingers, suddenly trapping James within a dark magical aura that soon almost completely consumed his vision.