Ioannes groaned and carefully pushed himself back up onto his feet. He grabbed at his chest and winced when it protested at his every movements. Firing wasn’t going to be easy like this. Something to worry about later.

His rifle!

The wandering gunsmith remembered then, as he’d been forced off the demon his rifle tumbled after him. Its golden barrel flipped end-over-end, and when Ioannes hit the serpent’s back he’d lost sight of it.

Frantic eyes scanned around him, seeing only demons at first -- the velen-faced demon disappearing and reappearing amid the gargoyles, taunting Ioannes -- but then he saw it. Lying some twenty feet away, hiding behind another protrusion just so that the wanderer could have missed it had dull gold metal not reflected his own aura.

Ioannes started forward in a painful sort of hobble, still clutching at his chest and gritting his teeth as he moved. His eyes darted up and around to the demon-clouded skies, searching now for that devil-winged velen.

He almost wanted to call it a spurii-demon, but the spurii were so different from this thing. Comparing a spurii to these things… it was insulting to the half-breeds. Spurii weren’t nightmarish creations, dragged from the deepest parts of Infernalis to make a mockery of reality.

He wasn’t far from his auritium rifle now, and there was no sight of the demon. Strangely, none of the others had tried to attack him either.

Which worried him.

The demons hadn’t disregarded him before, back when they fought in Terminus. If anything his light had been a signal for them. They’d been unrelenting then. So why weren’t they attacking now? Distantly he heard the occasional bark of a gun in the distance, accompanied soon after by the zipping buzz of a bullet somewhere overhead. Maybe they were why.

He thought about how they’d reacted when he had first surrounded himself with his aura. There was something that unsettled Ioannes about it. The awe, the disbelief. As if it truly had inspired in them all a flame of hope. What would happen if he failed here? Would that flame be smothered? Would the men and women throw themselves at the demons without abandon?

Closing the gap on his rifle, the wanderer knew better. No. They’d keep fighting. These were not fickle people who would simply give up. But he couldn’t be the thing that let their momentum fail or falter. He had to press on for them.

Easing himself down, Ioannes picked up his rifle before rising and turning back around. His smokey-blue eyes measuring the distance to the snake’s head where the archmagi waited.

Now he just had to hope the serpent didn’t dive under the water again, or that there weren’t demons hiding behind the protrusions waiting to pounce.

Gripping his rifle in one hand, his chest in the other, Ioannes set his jaw and headed for the archmagi.

[2953]