The common room was crowded. A handful of guards were rolling dice at a corner table, and seemed totally engrossed in their game; but most of the guards were talking. They stood together, or huddled over tables, conversing, commenting, or arguing. The air was warm from all those bodies, far warmer than the early spring evening outside, and the din was overwhelming. Miledha stopped just inside the door, feeling as if she'd walked into an invisible wall of noise, heat, and crowd.
One of the guards caught sight of her and waved, so Miledha picked her way carefully over. The doorway to the sleeping-rooms was just beyond the wide wooden bench where the guard was sitting, so Miledha would have had to pass that way in any case; she might as well stop and greet the woman. It was Ishua, a broad-shouldered guard, both taller and a bit older than Miledha, the same one who had stopped to thank her for healing her lover. Which meant that the woman Ishua had her arm so carefully around...
"You must be Diessa," Miledha said, raising her voice in order to be heard. Diessa had a narrow face and a prominent chin, attractive though not conventionally pretty, and a broad-shouldered, wiry build. One of her arms rested in a sling; seeing that, Miledha added: "I remember you now -- the elbow."
"Sha Miledha," Diessa said. "It's good to meet you."
"Elbow?" asked Ishua, leaning in with a grin.
Miledha glanced at the larger woman. "We were more than a little busy," she explained. "I wasn't looking at faces -- only wounds."
One of the other guards -- heavyset, male, with hair tightly curled against his skull -- touched her shoulder and pushed a chair over; Miledha nodded gratefully and sat, and the man turned back to the conversation at his table.
"What did you think of the flaming horse?" asked Ishua.
"I don't know," admitted Miledha. "I never learned conjuration -- of any sort. Dame Naggia said it was too dangerous."
"The Order would agree with her on that," said Diessa. Her voice was smoother than Ishua's, and a little higher; something about it made Miledha wonder if she sang. "They use it themselves, of course, but part of their charter is to hunt down diabolists and rogue conjurers."
"Yes," Miledha said slowly. Now that Diessa mentioned it, she remembered the story: the Order had been established after one of the first mortal kingdoms was betrayed by a diabolist and usurped by a flight of demons. "Serendom, wasn't it?"
"What happened?" asked Ishua.
Diessa looked at her, but Miledha didn't remember much of the details; so she nodded for Diessa to continue.
"One of the king's advisors was diabolist named Nerrila. She tricked a conjurer named Bristell into summoning her master, a demon named Raijth, and then set it loose. Raijth used the conjurer to open the way for the rest of its wing, from its most trusted lieutenants to its lowliest troops. Then they overran the palace, killed the king and most of the court, and took over the kingdom..."
Ishua's eyes widened as she made the connection with the stories she knew: "...which became the Demon Kingdom of Raijth. Five hundred years of fear and horror. Those stories, I remember."
"The reality may actually have been worse than the stories make it sound," said Diessa. "Still... that age has passed, and the Seven send it doesn't come again."
Miledha nodded at that. She remembered more of the story, now. The demon kingdom had lasted until one of the human kings, Lidon, had brought the Great Spear against it. It had been a terrible battle, with weeks of desperate fighting followed by months of tracking and destroying the last of the demons. The demon Raijth was trapped in the palace and finally fell to the Great Spear; that was what decided the battle. "Let's hope the Order knows what it's about," she said.