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The Agas Saga

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yay! i'm so happy the site is back up. in case anyone is confused, i used to be kazaana, but i've become extremely lazy of late, so i've decided to go with kaz. :)

i've also been extremely busy, so to anyone who was reading this before, i'm afraid i haven't got anything new since before the site went down. but if you care to start rereading...good luck with that. hehehe...

okay, enough gab. XD

 

 

The Agas Saga

 

 

Chapter 1 - The Dreamer and the Dark Lord

 

How did this happen? How did I end up here?...Where did I go wrong?...

I remember now. But it wasn’t my fault. Well, not entirely...

The Dark Lord, Ahriman, had finally found a way to escape the Demon Realm. He brought me, his most trusted assistant, with him, with the promise that the other Daevas would be freed as well. Not long after our arrival in the human world, he decided that there was a certain priestess that needed eliminating. Not just any priestess, either: this one was the Druid of Dreams. This would be no small feat, let me tell you. But I did it: I found the Dream World and took her from it. She put up quite a fight—-almost got away, too. She eluded me only briefly, and I found her again at the peak of the highest mountain.

“There’s nowhere else to run, priestess,” I told her, blasting her with a fireball.

She said nothing, but conjured a Lightning Storm, which I narrowly avoided.

“Who...What are you?” she mumbled. I could see she was weakening. I suppose I shouldn’t have let my guard down so easily...but they say hindsight is 20/20.

“Some knew me as the daeva Agas, priestess,” I told her.

She gasped. “Agas is sealed in the Demon Realm, as are all of the daevas! You cannot be him!”

I laughed at her ignorance. “You are mistaken priestess. Our master has set us free, we have come home.”

“Your master?” she said faintly.

“Ahriman,” I said with a sneer.

The priestess was shocked. She swayed weakly on the spot, and backed away, edging closer to the edge of the precipice. “That is not possible!” she whimpered. “He was defeated long ago! I defeated him!”

“You do not know how wrong you are,” I replied. I took aim with one final fire blast, and she neither defended nor dodged it; she collapsed on the spot. “Good night, priestess,” I said with satisfaction as she lay there, limp and motionless. I wasted no time in returning to the Dark Lord; this proved, of course, to be my most fatal mistake. If only I had stayed a while longer, to be sure the deed was done...

 

Once I had arrived back in Ahriman’s lair, he was eager to hear of my deed. I stood before his throne and bowed.

“Where is the priestess, demon?” he asked me.

“She is dead, sire.” It was difficult to keep from smiling.

Ahriman rose from his throne, his face contorted with rage. “You lie!” he growled. “I see her in my dreams!”

But it couldn’t be...I knew it couldn’t. “B-but sire,” I stammered, taken aback, “I struck her down!”

“Fool!” he roared. He resumed his seat, and his expression softened a bit. After a long, very tense pause, he said, “Perhaps it is for the best. I have changed my mind. I would prefer her to live.”

“To live?” I repeated. “My lord, allow me to return and find the Dreamer. I shall not fail you again. The priestess shall die!”

“No, no,” he insisted, waving a dismissing hand at my suggestion. “The priestess, while meddlesome, shall not trouble me again.”

“I do not understand, sire.”

“Death is but a swift escape,” he replied. “I want the priestess to suffer. A slave...a slave suffers a lifetime...” He was now clearly talking more to himself than to me, so I thought I should bring him back to the present.

“So...you shall have her enslaved, sire?” I asked slowly. “But how?”

“I have a new servant who wishes to become a daeva; he knows the land where the priestess has fled to.”

Then came my second mistake. I knew deep down that this was a bad idea, without even having met this “new servant” Ahriman mentioned. And I knew that if he would just allow me to kill the priestess, we would be spared a great deal of trouble. But I also knew that Ahriman would have his way, regardless of what warnings I gave him. So, instead of voicing my true opinions, I said, “He wishes to be one of us, sire?...He...must be dark, indeed.”

“Dameon, show yourself,” said Ahriman. Through a door in the east wall of the chamber entered a young man dressed in priest’s robes, and not just any priest...

“A sun priest!” I hissed, stepping back away from the man as he approached the throne.

“Better,” Ahriman said. “A druid. The Sun Guardian.”

I could see what was happening. The Dark Lord had clearly lost his mind. “Better?!” I shouted, looking wildly back and forth between Ahriman and the sun priest. “How can this be better?! Are you not afraid that he will destroy us??”

The young man called Dameon shook his head slowly, fixing a blank space before him with a determined stare. “The sun god has betrayed me,” he said quietly. “I work against him now.” He looked up at me, and then at Ahriman. “I know a slave trader who will find the priestess a harsh master. My mother will get what she deserves!”

Ahriman laughed, but I could not. A sun priest, the Sun Guardian, wanted to become a daeva? He was a mere boy. He wouldn’t even be able to handle the transformation, let alone the responsibilities that came with being a daeva. Ahriman dismissed him, and once he was gone, I tried to persuade Ahriman that he was making a mistake in trusting this sun priest. I had seen these things go awry before. But the Dark Lord’s will was his own, and he wouldn’t hear of it. It just didn’t make any sense—-we’d be far better off if the priestess was dead, I could feel it. But once again, my opinions didn’t matter, not when Ahriman was in one of his “maim and torture” moods. So I waited, but I always made sure to keep an eye on this boy, this Dameon...something told me he would be the ruin of us all....

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Chapter 2 - Ahriman’s Orders

 

My most important task, aside from keeping a close watch on the sun priest, was to find a way to open the portal to the Demon Realm. It was not easy. Ahriman had taken advantage of a brief absence by the Druid of Strength, in whose temple stood the only doorway between the demon and human worlds. Now the Druid was ever vigilant, and had surrounded herself with dragons to protect herself and her temple from the likes of...well, me.

As Ahriman had been quick to point out, a demon could not open the door to the Demon Realm; this could only be done by a druid, or a very powerful sorcerer. Since Ahriman had once been a sorcerer, and spent many, many years exploring the Dark Arts, he knew the way to open the door; a feat which few others could accomplish. Now, however, the task of reopening the portal—-since of course the druid had closed it again—-fell to me; and the best, and perhaps only, way I knew to open it was to force the druid to do it for me.

She wasn’t called the Druid of Strength for nothing. I did not come out of the fight unscathed, I must admit, and she was little worse for it. I...(ahem)...find neither the need nor desire to discuss the details; a daeva nearly bested by a druid does not make for an interesting story. Suffice it to say that, in the end, it took a combination of deception, brute strength, and my best confusion spell to fool her into unlocking the portal. I could only imagine how furious the druid must be when she realized what had happened...it was rather amusing to picture it.

Once I had opened the portal and located the other daevas, I hurried back to Ahriman’s lair to announce their impending arrival. I stopped just outside the door when I heard voices inside; apparently Dameon was already there.

“What news have you, sun priest?” came Ahriman’s voice.

“None good, sire,” the voice of Dameon replied. “The slave trader—-captured the wrong woman...a girl actually...” He trailed off. Then, more forcefully, he added, “He paid dearly for his mistake, I made sure of that.”

“And why would the fool make such a mistake?” said Ahriman, in the slightly-amused voice that I always knew to come before a violent tirade.

“The priestess gave her guardian ring to a girl,” Dameon, obviously sensing his danger, explained quickly. “A priestess never removes her guardian ring, not for anything. We...could not have guessed that this one would.”

Ahriman was silent for a moment. “Interesting...Why would a priestess do such a thing?”

“I do not know, sire. But I do think it ironic that the woman would give her most valued possession to a peasant. Should I send assassins to dispose of the girl?” I found it interesting the way he described the priestess; he had mentioned, at our first meeting, that she was his mother, yet he spoke of her as though she was a complete stranger. Perhaps, I thought vaguely, he was darker than I had given him credit for.

I entered the chamber, and found Ahriman now standing from his throne, quivering with anger, and Dameon cowering slightly before him. “Do you dare to tell me to waste resources on a girl of no importance??” he roared. “Find the priestess and kill her! No more mistakes!”

Dameon opened and closed his mouth several times, but no sound came out. Finally I cleared my throat, and they both looked at me.

“Sire, the demon portal has been opened,” I addressed Ahriman. “The daevas are arriving as we speak.”

Ahriman regained his composure and sat down again. “Excellent,” he said calmly, readjusting his robes. “Has Indra passed through the portal yet?”

“I am here, sire,” said a soft, evil voice from behind me. Indra came gliding past me and went to stand before Ahriman. She glared at Dameon in something close to dismay. She looked up at Ahriman briefly, and then shot a look at me, clearly wondering what madness had taken the Dark Lord. I merely shrugged. Slowly she turned back to Ahriman, and regained her senses.

“It feels good to be on the other side,” she continued in her soft voice. “So much destruction to spread in so little time...What need have you of me, my lord?”

“You have the gift of Sight,” Ahriman addressed her. “Tell me, who is this girl the sun priest speaks of? Can you read her part in the apocalypse?”

Indra, looking slightly more comfortable with Dameon now—-which I could only assume meant that she thought Dameon was merely a messenger—-turned to him. “Who is this girl you speak of, sun priest?” I rolled my eyes; the conversation was becoming a bit redundant, as often happened when Indra and Ahriman got together. She continued, “What more can you give me?”

Dameon, still timid after arousing Ahriman’s wrath, said, “Her-her name is Rhen. A slave trader gave me a lock of her hair.” He held out his hand. “Will-will this help your reading?”

“Give me her hair,” Indra replied, snatching something small and pale purple from Dameon’s hand. She began to rub it between her fingers, and now I could see that it was a thick lock of hair. She gazed at it intently for several minutes, narrowing her eyes and muttering to herself. Suddenly a complete change came over her: her eyes flashed red, and her normally ice blue skin turned stark white. She hissed.

“What do you see, demon?” Ahriman cried desperately, jumping to his feet again. “Tell me!

Indra looked up at him slowly, her eyes still red, and said, in a much deeper, more deadly voice than was normal for her, “She will destroy you.”

Ahriman’s eyes were wide, and his mouth was gaping. He now looked the way Dameon had earlier. Indra turned to me again, her eyes their normal color again, and raised her eyebrows. I shrugged again. Finally Ahriman got a hold of himself and sat down.

“Then she dies,” he said tonelessly.

Indra looked back at him. “But if you destroy her, so shall we all be destroyed.”

Now I began to wonder if Indra had lost her mind as well. So, apparently, did the Dark Lord. “No more riddles, demon!” he spat. “How do we survive?”

She glared at Dameon again, as though he was something repulsive, like a butterfly. “The sun priest is the key. The sun priest must turn her to our ways...She must become...one of us.”

Ahriman looked at me. I shook my head with slow determination; this was, by far, the worst idea I had ever heard. I was about to tell him so, but he looked back at Indra. “So be it.”

It was at that moment that the other daevas began to file into the room, forming a wide circle around us. I stepped back to stand among them. Aesma, who stood to my right, said, “We have all arrived, sire,” in his deep, booming voice that would shake the very earth beneath your feet.

The Dark Lord looked around, as though he hadn’t noticed their arrival. He was obviously still preoccupied with Indra’s vision. “Excellent. Now that you are all here, it is time for you to destroy the isles.”

“Sire, I would like to make a recommendation,” Dameon said, more boldly than before.

I and the other daevas stared. The others began exchanging bemused looks; I merely shut my eyes and shook my head. It just didn’t matter what I thought.

Ahriman looked at him curiously. “Speak, sun priest!”

Dameon, aware that all eyes were now on him, and that most were none too friendly, cleared his throat, and said in a small voice, “Attack the druids. Take their shrines.”

“The human is...right,” Indra sighed grudgingly. “The druids are inherent to our destruction. We should eliminate them first.”

“It shall be done,” said the Dark Lord, nodding. “But do not destroy them...yet. Take their souls. Then, when we have taken over the world, we can enslave them. Release your darkness upon the foreign lands, my children! Show this paltry world the power of the daevas!”

The daevas yelled and roared. I still could not shake the feeling that there was something very wrong with all of this. Ahriman gestured for silence, and began at once to dole out orders.

“Nanghaithya!” he shouted.

Nanghaithya, to my left, looked surprised that he had been called upon first. He nodded and said, “My lord?”

“You shall go to Land’s End, to the shrine of Vohu Manah.”

“Of course, my lord,” Nanghaithya replied, and he vanished in a cloud of smoke and fire.

“Zarich! You will take the soul of Rashnu, in the town of Ghed’ahre.” Zarich rumbled something inaudible in response, and then he too was gone.

“Tawrich! To the Western Isle, where dwells Armaiti.” Tawrich nodded slowly, his bony face betraying no reaction, before he disappeared.

“Aesma! Take Vata’s soul!” Aesma laughed thunderously, saying, “Yes, my lord!” and charging through the wall without so much as scratching it.

“Indra! Go to the Moon Temple! Daena will be waiting for you...” Indra laughed and nodded, saying, “As you wish, sire.” She spun around and was gone in a whirl of wind and mist.

“Saurva!” he shouted. Saurva bowed low, and said “My lord,” in a dramatic sort of way. He was always such a...anyway, Ahriman sucked it all up, like he always did, and said, “You will go to the Stronghold Temple, for Eithera’s soul.”

I was stunned. Surely he couldn’t be serious? Was I not the one who had just wrested control of the demon portal from her? Why was he sending Saurva of all daevas? That self-serving, egomaniacal, sycophantic...oh, of course. That was why. I glared angrily at Saurva, who shot me a smug, superior look, before he snapped his fingers and vanished.

“And you,” Ahriman said, glaring at me with a malicious grin on his face. “You shall go to the Temple of Dreams.”

“What??” I said, thunderstruck. “But—-the Druid—-she’s not even there! What would be the use of me going there??”

He raised his eyebrows. “Are you questioning the will of the Dark Lord Ahriman?”

“Of course not,” I muttered. “My lord.”

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Chapter 3 - The Chosen One

 

Ahriman nodded. “While it is true that the Dreamer’s soul is not...available to us, she is possessed of another treasure, which is kept inside her shrine.”

“My lord?”

“A Dreamer’s Tear,” he continued. “It is used to create a bridge by which Vata, the Druid of Time, may enter or leave his temple. He will be trapped inside it without the Tear. That is why I need you, Agas, to guard it.”

“I see.” I had a fleeting urge to point out that if Vata had no soul, he wouldn’t be able to leave his temple anyway, but I quickly stifled it. But it was simply useless for me to go to the Dream World. Dameon was still standing there, looking highly uncomfortable. I decided to make him even more so by speaking to Ahriman in Demon, so that Dameon could not understand. “But sire, there must be a better way for you to make use of my skills...” I cast around for something, anything that would save me from going to that wretched place. “What about the Elves, sire? Shouldn’t something be done about them?”

For a moment, he seemed to be considering this. It was no secret that the Elves were the only beings we could not abide. Theirs was a wise and ancient race, and in their day they were more powerful than any other beings, even the strongest demons. But over the years their number had diminished, along with their power. There was now only one place in all the isles where Elves still dwelt: the city of Ylisfar, hidden deep within an ancient wood.

“The Elves...” Ahriman said thoughtfully, also speaking in Demon. Then he smirked. “The Elves,” he continued, scoffing. “Demons cannot enter the realm of the Elves. Or had you forgotten?”

“No, my lord. But I could muster an army of orcs and goblin, and send them to destroy the city, as before–-”

”I have heard enough,” he interrupted me. “The Elves are a dying race. Do you think I fear them? I do not. They have not the strength to stand against the power of Ahriman. And I suspect, Agas, that you have other reasons for wanting to go to that place.” He raised his eyebrows knowingly.

I did something then that I had only ever done one other time: I looked away from him. To look away from the Dark Lord was to admit submission and defeat; yet in this case, he had stirred a memory that I had hoped not to revisit...not in his presence, anyway. After all these years, I had assumed he had forgotten all that, but I could see now that this was not the case, and that he would always use it against me.

In the end, I had no choice but to do as the Dark Lord commanded. Besides, I knew the real reason he was sending me to the Dreamland. He had made light of it in the beginning, but I knew he was still furious that the Dream priestess was alive. If only I had waited a few more minutes...but, what’s done is done, as they say. I wasn’t about to swallow that cock-and-bull story about a “Dreamer’s Tear”, but I knew better than to go against Ahriman’s wishes; so back to the Dreamland I went.

There was always something slightly creepy about the Dreamland, and by demon standards, that’s saying a lot. It wasn’t the perpetual night; on the contrary, I rather prefered it. The purple grass and pink trees, however, I could have done without. And the creatures that dwelt there—-the shivens, enormous sea green birds that howled and shrieked endlessly, and the dream witches, who followed you everywhere you went, moaning and wailing—-were enough to make even a demon mad. And even killing them didn’t make a difference; it seemed that for every one I destroyed, two would take its place. Fortunately they wouldn’t enter the temple, so at least, though I did hear the shrieking and wailing occasionally, I didn’t have to deal with them too terribly often.

When I arrived at the temple, the first thing I did was conduct a thorough search. Just because the druid wasn’t there didn’t mean there wasn’t some sort of protection in place. There was nothing really unusual there, except a small chest, in which I found a large orb filled with a glowing blue liquid. Huh. So Ahriman wasn’t lying; there really was a “Dreamer’s Tear” after all. Not that it mattered. By now the druids were frozen solid, and my demon brethren had possession of their souls. All I had to do now was sit around and wait.

And wait I did. For ages and ages, I sat in that hideous crystal shrine, hating it more and more with each passing day. Every once in a while I ventured out into the Dreamland, always carrying the Tear with me, lest I be accused of losing that, too. But those annoying birds—-if I was being punished, then apparently the Dark Lord was VERY upset with me.

The worst part was not knowing what was happening in the rest of the world. Had the other daevas been successful in stealing the druids’ souls? And what of the girl, the one who would supposedly be our downfall? Indra had said she’d have to be turned to our ways, and Dameon was supposed to be in charge of that. Why was it taking so long? Unless...perhaps, I thought, Ahriman really was angry with me, and had decided to leave me in the Dreamland as my sentence for failing him. Wouldn’t that just have been great...had that been the case, he would have been SO sorry...

It turned out not to be the case, however, as I finally found out. One night (or day; it was hard to tell in that place), I noticed that the creatures of the Dreamland seemed to be overexcited, much more so than usual. I stowed the Dreamer’s Tear in its chest, and went to the window. It wasn’t long before I heard voices outside the temple, drawing nearer and nearer. One sounded very familiar.

“This must be it,” said the voice of a young female. “The Dream Temple.”

“Indeed it is,” said the familiar voice. I quickly realized to whom it belonged; it was Dameon, the sun priest who had claimed to want to be a daeva. I decided to listen to more before I acted. “I have not been here in a long time,” he continued with a sigh. “I do hope it has not been damaged in any way.”

I slapped myself in the forehead. “You fool!” I said to myself. All that time I was there, and never thought to destroy the temple. It was just as well; at least it had kept out the shivens.

“Well, let’s go get this over with,” came the voice of another young male. I wondered how many there were. Then I realized that I didn’t care, because I would destroy them all anyway.

They continued to talk, and I heard more voices, but I quickly became bored and left the window. I leaned against a supporting column near the center of the shrine and stared at the ceiling. I could have gone out and taken them by surprise, but where was the fun in that? I knew they would come to me anyway. Finally the murmuring outside subsided, and many footsteps began to draw nearer.

As they began to file into the temple, I had to admit there were more than I had expected. There of course was the Chosen One, Rhen, the sword singer with the purple hair. Standing beside her was Dameon. There was also a green-haired boy in blue sorcerer’s robes, wielding a purple-orbed staff, a paladin of the king of the Western Isle, and a filthy pirate with a patch over one eye. Behind them came a vampress, cold white skin, fiery red hair and eyes—-the closest thing to a demon that was allowed to dwell in the human world—-and a strong blonde southern woman bearing the tattoos of a demon summoner.

The girl Rhen shot a nervous look at Dameon, who nodded. She looked back at me and drew her sword. “We’ve come to destroy you, demon!” she shouted, though her voice shook slightly.

I shook my head slowly. “You’ve only come to die,” I said.

Dameon stepped forward. “You are the one responsible for my mother’s demise!”

“Am I?” I said. “Because I was under the impression that the responsible party in that case...was you.”

The sword singer turned to him. “What is he talking about, Dameon?”

“I...I don’t know,” Dameon replied, but he was watching me the whole time.

“Wondering if I would give you away, were you?” I said with a wicked smile. I nodded at him. “I recognize you, sun priest. Whose side are you on?”

He said nothing. The others stared. The paladin shouted, “Enough of this!” He drew his sword and held it out in front of him. I raised my eyebrows.

“DEEEEAAAAATH!!” he yelled as he charged forward, ignoring the others’ pleas for him to stop.

“As you wish,” I said with a grin, and cast the Soul Song spell. He stopped immediately, and crumpled to the floor in a heap, drooling and twitching. In my hand I now held a small, transparent, floating orb.

“Galahad!” screamed Rhen.

“What did you do to him??” cried the demon summoner.

“I took his soul,” I said casually, indicating the floating orb. “And now...” I closed my hand around the orb and crushed it. It vanished in a cloud of smoke. The paladin stopped moving.

The women screamed. The sorcerer turned his head, his face a sickly green color.

Dameon glared at me. “You will pay for that, demon!”

I laughed coldly. “I always suspected your intentions. Prepare to be destroyed.”

Rhen held out her sword in front of her, and I drew mine. She rushed at me and yelled, “Bull Storm!” A flash like purple lightning leapt from her sword and hit my right arm, knocking the sword from my hand. “Nice,” I said with a nod. “But not enough. Motion Freeze.” She stopped where she stood, unable to move. The sorcerer shouted, “Plague!” displaying that he was, in fact, a necromancer. Nothing happened. Apparently he was not aware that demons, like Elves and vampires, are not susceptible to illness or old age.

“Is this all you have?” I wondered. “Time Storm!” The entire temple filled with a blinding white light. When it subsided, nearly the entire enemy party began to age very rapidly; they were all hunched and elderly within a few seconds. The vampire, the only one not affected by my spell, was too distracted to attack me, and rushed to Dameon’s side and whispered something to him.

“Sanctify!” Dameon croaked, leaning heavily on his staff. My spell lost its effect, and they were all back to normal. The necromancer then quickly conjured a tornado, and sent everyone, including myself, flying through the air in different directions. When the wind had died down, the vampire and the pirate, who were nearest me when we all landed, rushed forward at the same time. I did not have time to reach my sword, and both their weapons pierced me, one in the stomach, and one in my already injured right arm.

“No...” I heard myself say. I knew it immediately: I had been stabbed with Elven rapiers. Searing, white-hot pain spread through my arm and abdomen. Those cursed Elves, I thought vaguely. There was a lot of movement around me; my enemies appeared to be confused. I tried to get to my feet, but failed. “Reality Shift,” I muttered, but I knew it was too late. The pain increased; my vision grew hazy, my hearing was all but gone. A figure that may have been the demon summoner came and stood before me. I heard her speak some words in Demon, as if from a spell, but the only words I could understand were “Demon Realm”. My eyes went dark, and I knew no more.

 

And now, here I am at last. When I awoke, the pain was gone, but I was in an all-too familiar place. I was sent back to the Demon Realm by those wretched children and the treacherous sun priest. And I must remain here in this prison, unless I am called forth by that Veldtonian witch to serve her purposes. Not quite the way I had hoped for it to end...but at least I am not alone...

 

 

******

 

 

that's all i've got time for, for now...but hey, it's something, right? :D

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Kaz! You're back!

 

guess who (finally) finished Fellowship of the Ring...wonderful, aren't i? XD XD XD

 

i have to repost mine too... *sigh* a hundred and fifty-six pages later...oh well, there are a lot of little edits...some new stuff...well, actually i've gotten basically a whole new sentence... XD

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tei: nice to see you! and in regards to FotR, it's about time!

 

cherrywine: nice to see you, too! and i just finished reading what you've posted so, and thought the same thing. :)

 

you know, i've probably never mentioned this, but if you noticed that the end of chapter three was in the present tense, it's because i originally intended this to be a short story. (150+ pages later...i'll wait for the laughter to die down.) and i was too lazy to fixth it. just a little trivia for you. ;)

 

back to the story.

 

 

Chapter 4 - Gathering and Collusion

 

Indeed, when I arrived in the demon realm, I found a most bewildering sight: my brethren had all been sent there as well. Nanghaithya, Zarich, Saurva, Indra, and Tawrich were already there, looking shocked and mutinous.

“What is this?” I demanded. “What has happened to you all? Why are you not in the human world?”

“The same reason you are not, I daresay,” Saurva said sulkily.

“The sun priest,” Zarich rumbled slowly.

“He betrayed us all!” Indra hissed. “He travels with the girl! And a demon summoner! She has made us all her slaves!”

“Of that much I am aware,” I interrupted.

Nanghaithya was shaking his head. “The girl is very powerful. Much more so than we had imagined. And the sun priest is making no strides to turn her to our ways.”

“It was folly to take him on!” Indra shrieked. “He is weak! He cannot complete this task!”

“I have told Ahriman this from the beginning,” I said firmly. “I knew immediately that this boy was nothing more than an angry child, in way over his head. I told Ahriman that the priestess should be killed immediately, by any means necessary. But Ahriman refused to listen. He must always have his way; even if he is wrong, he is right.”

“The task of destroying the priestess was appointed to you,” Saurva said smugly.

I rounded on him. “I realize that I failed,” I said through gritted teeth. “But I offered to return immediately and finish the job. Ahriman decided he did not want her dead. That is not my mistake.” I paused, and looked around. “Where is Aesma?”

“Still on the surface,” Nanghaithya answered.

“That bodes well, I should think,” Zarich said.

Indra spat. “I hate this accursed place! I want to go to the surface! I need to destroy things that are living, things that are green...” She was pacing furiously, wringing her hands and breathing in short, angry gasps.”If I ever return to that world, I shall tear that girl limb from limb! I shall break the sun priest! I shall—-”

”That will do, Indra,” Nanghaithya said quietly, holding up his hand to stop her ranting. Then he turned to me. “They will go after Aesma next. He has Vata’s soul. They are seeking to restore the druids and...” He waved his hand vaguely over the assembled daevas.

“He is the only one left who has a druid’s soul,” Zarich pointed out.

“That’s right,” Saurva added, giving me quite the superior look. “Because of course...”

I approached him menacingly, stopping inches from him. He cowered slightly, since I towered over him. “One more word,” I breathed, gritting my teeth. “Just one.” He said nothing further, so I backed away and turned to face the others.

“Aesma will not fail,” I said, trying to convince myself as well. “They will not be able to stop him. He will destroy the girl, and set us free. And then...I shall find the sun priest, and kill him myself.”

Having said my piece, I fell silent, as did the other demons. And so we waited: Indra, pacing angrily and muttering to herself; Saurva, sulking as usual; Tawrich, swinging his scimitar back and forth, back and forth; Zarich and Nanghaithya, deep in conversation; and myself, pondering a way to escape the Demon Realm without Ahriman’s help, and deciding the most effective and painful method of destroying that traitorous Sun Priest. Time passes differently in the Demon Realm than it does in the human world—-there are no days and nights, weeks and months, there is just before, now, and after. Finally our bitter routines were disrupted by a crash like thunder and a bright light, and Aesma stood in its wake, seething like the sea in a violent storm.

“NO!” His voice came like a volcano erupting, deep and rolling. His nostrils were flaring, and his eyes were popping, giving him the appearance of an insane minotaur. He looked around at all of us, who were staring at him silently, afraid to go near him in this state.

“NO!” he yelled again. “This will not stand! The Sun Priest—-the Sun Priest shall PERISH! I will not abide this!”

“Easy, old friend,” I said. I had approached him during his rant, and gripped his arm bracingly. He looked down at me, as though he had just realized I was there, and I continued, “We have all fallen victim to the Sun Guardian’s treachery, as you can well see. But the blame does not fall solely upon Dameon.”

He looked at me curiously. “The girl? Oh, she shall pay...”

“Indeed she shall,” I said, “but I was not referring to her.”

He narrowed his eyes, as though trying to read my thoughts. Finally he whispered, “Ahriman.”

I nodded slowly. “I suspect, then, that it has not escaped your notice.”

“He insisted upon recruiting the Sun Priest,” Aesma replied. “He put more faith in a druid than in his own kind.” He then turned to Indra, who was standing stock-still and staring with wide, terrified eyes. “It was you who told Ahriman that he needed the Sun Priest for his plan.”

“It-it was in the prophecy!” Indra sputtered. “The brat would have destroyed us all!”

“This is little better,” said Zarich, now slowly coming toward us and glaring at Indra. “We are here because of that girl and the Sun Priest—-and you sent him straight to her.”

“But...the prophecy...” Indra mumbled weakly.

“Has a prophecy never been wrong?” I said. “Can not the future be changed?”

Nanghaithya now approached, stepping between us and Indra. “Please...let us not point fingers. While it is true that the prophecy could have been wrong, Indra acted in what I am sure she believed to be our best interests. Besides, fighting amongst ourselves will not release us from this wretched place.”

I sighed heavily, because, of course, he was right. He was always right. “Very well. I suppose we do need to work together in this. And I believe that we must act as soon as possible. We can no longer rely on Ahriman.”

“Where is Saurva?” Aesma wondered suddenly. “Why have I not heard his mouth yet?”

“I am here,” Saurva said disdainfully. “I was just wondering how you all think we can escape this realm without the Dark Lord’s help.”

“That is why we all need to work together,” I said, fighting back the urge to cave his head in.

“Ahriman was not always a demon,” said Tawrich. This was his usual way: he would stay completely out of the conversation in the beginning, and then three-quarters of the way through he would come out with something seemingly—-though not necessarily—-irrelevant. We all turned to face him, and it was hard to decipher the expression on his skeletal face. “Have you all forgotten? He was a human once, transformed into a demon by—-”

”Us,” Zarich finished for him, comprehension dawning on him.

Saurva shrugged. “What has that to do with out current situation?”

But I could see immediately where Tawrich was going, and so could Nanghaithya, as was evidenced by his nodding. “I believe what Tawrich is implying,” I continued, “is that since we are the ones who made Ahriman, we—-”

”Do not need him,” Aesma concluded. “At all.”

Indra, who had been silent up to this point, began shaking her head. “Of course. How could we have forgotten? Why have we been following him for so long?”

I thought I had an answer to that. “He was an emperor as a human, and a powerful sorcerer—-an Elite Mage—-besides. Over time, he has been able to control our minds; I begin to recall it all now. His power must be weakening...” I finished thoughtfully. The more I thought about it, the more I began to wonder how long we had been under Ahriman’s command, and what it had taken for all of us, suddenly, to be all but free of it. It occurred to me, amid my ponderings, that the other daevas were buzzing excitedly, like a swarm of angry bees.

“We should be rid of Ahriman,” Zarich was saying. “We have no use for him.”

“But how can we do it?” Indra replied. She sounded apprehensive. “After all this time...”

“Time is irrelevant,” Aesma thundered. “We are daevas. What is time to us?”

“The fact remains, however,” Nanghaithya said sagely, “that Ahriman is in the human world, and we are trapped here.”

“The Demon Summoner,” Tawrich said. He added nothing further.

“That contemptible witch!” Indra spat. “She is the one who trapped us here!”

But once again, I was beginning to see Tawrich’s wisdom. “And she can also release us. All she has to do is summon us, and we can return to the human world.”

“Under her control,” Saurva pointed out.

“Not if we keep our heads,” I returned. “We have managed to fight off Ahriman’s control; what match will a demon summoner be for us?”

“Then we must wait for the Demon Summoner,” Zarich said with finality.

Nanghaithya nodded, looking around at all of us. “There may be other ways...but that is the fastest route.” We all fell silent after this, thinking, for a very long while. It was Indra who spoke first.

“And how are we to make the witch summon us to the surface?” she asked.

As though in answer to the question, I suddenly felt a sharp pain through my head, which consumed all my thought. I pressed my fingers to my temples, but the pain was mind-numbing. My sight grew foggy, and my ears began to deceive me. I could hear a woman’s voice, from somewhere far away, calling my name over and over. My head was swimming, my ears were ringing, and the other daevas were swimming in and out of focus. The woman kept calling, and it was getting louder and clearer, but at the same time deeper and more forceful. I looked around, and Aesma, or what looked like Aesma, was standing before me, gripping my shoulders and shaking me very hard.

“Agas! Agas!” he shouted. I looked up at him, just barely aware of what was happening, and he said, “Keep your head.”

I nodded. He let go of me, and I dropped to my knees, no longer able to fight the power that was overcoming me. There was a bright flash of light, and then, nothing.

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Chapter 5 - The Summoner’s Spell

 

I opened my eyes and looked around. The pain was gone, but I was no longer in the Demon Realm. I was back in Ahriman’s labyrinthine castle, which was strangely quiet. Before me stood the tattooed blond woman who had sealed me in the Demon Realm. Evidently, I had been summoned.

“Where is Ahriman?” she demanded. “Speak, demon!”

Under her spell, I could hear her voice in my head, commanding me to answer her question. And I would have, had the voice of Aesma not come to me from some dark recess of my mind: Keep your head. After a furious fight between the two, Aesma, fortunately, came out on top, and I grinned maliciously at the woman. “Now, why should I tell you that?”

She was lost for words. Apparently this had never happened to her before. Finally she said, in a slightly higher voice than I had heard before, “Because I command it! You are under my spell!”

“No, summoner, I am not. And I sincerely doubt that there is anything you can do at this point to reverse that.”

“Impossible!” she cried hysterically. “This cannot be!...I...I...Yes. All right.” She seemed to have calmed down a bit. “Then I shall return you to the Demon Realm.”

So she did recognize her advantage after all. “Very well, I concede. I shall tell you where Ahriman is...if you will do something for me.”

“You ask me to bargain with a demon?” she chuckled. “Why in the world would I do that?”

“Because I know this castle, and you don’t. You could wander these dungeons for eternity and never come close to finding the Dark Lord. I can give you the answers you seek.”

“Or,” she said slowly, “I can send you back to the Demon Realm and summon another of Ahriman’s minions.”

I laughed. “Which will get you nowhere. They will not tell you anything. If you do not strike a deal with me, then you shall have none.”

She seemed torn, but finally asked, “And what would you request of me?”

“The Sun Priest,” I said simply.

“Dameon?...But why?”

“We have our reasons. Summon the other daevas. We will show you to Ahriman’s lair, and even help you defeat him...and in return, you give us the Sun Priest. That is all we ask.”

She was silent for a long time. I folded my arms and leaned against the wall. “Do you deny that you have questioned the boy’s...devotion to your cause?” A pained look crossed her face, and I could tell that I had struck a little too close to the mark. “I understand,” I continued. “A decent human being couldn’t possibly do what I’ve asked...but think on this: a decent human being also wouldn’t have delivered his so-called friends into the hands of the enemy.”

After a few moments, the red-haired vampire who had been traveling with the party appeared, and asked, “Elini, where have you been?” Then she turned, and bared her fangs and hissed at the sight of me. She glanced at her companion. “What is happening here?” she asked coldly.

“Tei’jal,” the woman called Elini said quickly, turning away from me. “Where are the others?”

“They are in the next corridor,” the vampire Tei’jal replied, still eyeing me suspiciously. “Is there a problem?”

“No,” Elini said, though her voice was filled with doubt. “Come, I must speak with you.” She shot a look back at me and said, “Do not move from that spot.”

I waited silently while the two women spoke in low, urgent whispers out of my earshot. It amused me, the indecisiveness of humans. As I stood looking around at the pale stone walls, it struck me how different the castle dungeons looked when they were empty of the foul creatures Ahriman had usually kept there...I began to wonder where they had all gone, when the women returned, looking pale and grave. Well, more so the demon summoner. The vampire was already—-well, you know.

“I remember you,” Tei’jal said slowly. I raised my eyebrows lazily; as if I really cared what she remembered. “You had words with Dameon when we met you in the Dreamland. We wondered how you knew him, but he would not elaborate.”

“Are you...going somewhere with this?” I said.

She folded her arms and surveyed me with narrowed eyes. “You are awfully bold. I thought so before as well.”

I rolled my eyes. “Do we have an accord or not?” I asked of Elini. “The longer you wait, the less chance you have of finding, let alone destroying, Ahriman.”

She sighed. “This goes against my better judgement, and I am certain I shall regret it later on, but it seems we have no choice. I will summon the other daevas. You will fight Ahriman with us, and then...you...may...take the Sun Priest.” She then looked hopelessly to Tei’jal, who nodded very slowly. She looked back at me and added, “But I shall summon no one until you have led us to the chamber of Ahriman.”

“As you wish,” I replied. “This way.”

I began to lead them down the passage, back the way from which the vampire had come. We turned the corner, and at the end of the corridor stood two more members of their party, the pirate and the necromancer. Dameon and the girl were nowhere to be seen.

“Say nothing of our—-accord to the others,” Elini whispered hurriedly as we approached the end of the corridor. “As far as they are concerned, you are under my command, at least until we find Ahriman. Do this, or the other daevas remain in the Demon Realm.”

I could have protested here, pointing out that because I was already on the surface, it was only a matter of time before I could return my brethren as well. I even, technically, could have taken Dameon back with me and killed all the others. Only two things made me hold my tongue: the first, that the summoner did, in fact, have the power to send me back to the Demon Realm before my task was accomplished; the second, that I simply could not deprive my demon brothers of the opportunity to...heh heh...“see” the Dark Lord once again.

The one-eyed pirate and the green-haired necromancer were looking at us very curiously indeed. The necromancer gripped his staff tightly.

“Something seems amiss here,” the pirate said, turning to the necromancer. “Don’t you think?”

“He is one of the daevas,” the boy replied, glaring at me, and then at Elini. “I thought they were destroyed.”

“Of course not,” she snapped impatiently. “They are sealed in the Demon Realm. If I destroyed them I would not be able to summon them.”

“And you’ve, ah...got a leash on him, have you, love?” the pirate asked.

“He is under my spell, if that’s what you mean, John,” she answered, and he said nothing further.

The boy, however, still did not seem convinced. “What exactly do we need him for?”

“He knows where to find Ahriman, of course,” said Tei’jal.

“I see,” he said, glaring at me hatefully. “And this demon is just going to take us to Ahriman, no questions asked? Are we to believe that there are no strings attached? That he won’t attack us the moment we let our guard down?”

“Very well. Then fend for yourself, boy.” I turned to Elini. “Summoner, return me to the Demon Realm.”

“I will do no such thing,” she said angrily. “Lars,” she addressed the young necromancer, “I summoned Agas here. He is under my spell. He will take us to Ahriman, because I have commanded it.”

I fought back a laugh, and the necromancer Lars said, “Very well,” though not very convincingly.

“Where are Rhen and Dameon?” Tei’jal asked.

“Not sure,” the pirate John said. “We haven’t seen them since we split up.”

I suppressed the desire to laugh out loud; had they actually separated to search the castle? It was ludicrous. Perhaps they wanted to die. I will never understand humans, I thought, shaking my head.

Apparently my amusement showed on my face, because Elini was glaring at me. “What?” she whispered angrily.

“The pirate says you ‘split up’,” I replied, keeping my voice low. “What possessed you do that?”

Her expression was a combination of anxiety and irritation. “To find Ahriman, of course. Why—-why would you ask that?”

Her question was answered by a loud hissing noise coming from either end of the corridor. Four of Ahriman’s wyverns, enormous steel gray snakes with red wings and long, venomous fangs, were approaching us, two from each side. The party immediately went on the defensive, casting spells or stabbing at the beasts; but wyverns do not go down easily. I stood back for a while and watched with amusement, until Elini rounded on me.

Help us,” she hissed.

“Why?” I retorted, fighting to keep a straight face. “These creatures have done nothing to me.”

She was not amused. “Help us or no deal.”

I sighed. “Very well.” I cast Motion Freeze on the nearest wyvern, who stopped moving long enough for Tei’jal to cut off its head with her rapier. Elini was attempting to slay its partner with a goblin hide whip; I shook my head and performed Soul Song, and the wyvern fell over dead instantly. Many beasts, like wyverns, do not have a strong enough soul to have it stolen and still live; it is merely the basic idea of a soul, and if it is taken, the creature cannot survive.

The men were not faring so well. Lars was casting random natural spells, to little if any effect, and John was swinging his rapier randomly at anything that moved. I went over and told them to stand back, and as the wyverns lunged at me I shouted, “Time Storm!” Their flesh wrinkled and cracked, and fell from their skeletons like parchment.

“Wind and lightning have little effect on wyverns,” I told the boy. “Their hides are too thick, like dragons’. Time-altering spells work best.”

He muttered something that sounded like “Whatever,” and Elini said hurriedly, “Okay, let’s find the others before something else happens.”

I led through group through the passage after passage, trying neither to speak nor to answer their questions if I could help it. After a while, something occurred to me, and I beckoned Elini forward so I could speak to her without the others hearing.

“You have not denied that you’ve suspected the sun priest before,” I said in a low voice, “yet you allowed him to take the girl out of your sight. Any particular reason?”

“The sword singer is more than capable of defending herself,” she said quietly, glancing at the others behind her. “He has no hope of overpowering her.”

“Physically, perhaps,” I replied. The boy did have a rather mean look about him. “But it was never his intent to attack her at all.” She was looking completely non-plussed, so I continued, “His purpose is to bring her before the Dark Lord, and convince her to become a demon.”

Now she looked as though she had been mortally wounded. “We must find them. Now.”

We continued in the direction of Ahriman’s chamber, and it wasn’t long before a piercing scream rang throughout the corridors. Lars hurried forward, running in the direction from which the scream had come, and soon enough we found the remainder of their party. Dameon and the sword singer were surrounded by myr-wyverns, larger and stronger than the normal kind, mud-brown with wings and horns of a venomous green. Lars shouted, “Rhen!” and then dashed off into the fray, followed closely by a rapier-swinging John. Elini called them back hopelessly, and then darted forward as well. I turned to Tei’jal.

“Your humans are awfully rash, aren’t they?” I said. She rolled her eyes.

We managed to subdue the half-dozen myr-wyverns crowding the hallway, and I had to admit that Nanghaithya had been right (again): the sword singer was stronger than we had expected. Not that it mattered, of course...

“Rhen, are you all right?” Dameon asked her in what sounded like a genuinely worried voice.

“I’m fine,” she replied breathlessly. Then she blushed and grinned at him. “Thank you.”

Elini looked at me nervously. Tei’jal rolled her eyes again.

Lars stormed past the entire group and said, “Let’s go!” through gritted teeth.

“If you already know the way, necromancer,” I called after him, “you might have mentioned it before I was summoned and my peace disturbed.”

He stopped and spun around, but said nothing. Dameon and the girl Rhen were both staring apprehensively at me now. I smirked.

“Elini...” Rhen said slowly, looking from me to the demon summoner, “what...?”

“Agas is going to take us to Ahriman,” Elini told her, with the air of someone trying not to wake a sleeping dragon.

“Oh,” said Rhen. Then she looked at Dameon, who was still staring and refused to speak.

“Follow me, humans. Vampires,” I added, nodding at Tei’jal. They began following me down the corridor, until I heard Elini’s voice behind me say, “Dameon. Are you coming or not?”

I turned, and saw that Dameon was standing just where he had been, glaring after me in a strange mix of fear and anger.

“Is there something wrong, sun priest?” I said, unable to contain a grin, at which Elini shot me a dirty look.

“N-no,” he stammered, clearly aware that the others were staring at him. “N-nothing. I’m-I’m coming.”

This is going to be interesting, I thought. Very interesting...

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Ahh, I'm glad you're reposting this! I think I missed out on quite a bit before the site went down, so now I'll get to catch up a bit here. Yay for daeva interactions... they're so much fun. :D

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Chapter 6 - The Dark Lord’s Mistake

 

We had no further interruptions of which to speak in our journey through the dungeons. The entire party seemed to be taken by a tense, waiting silence, which was rather a relief. When we finally came to the door to the familiar chamber in which Ahriman held his court, which was flanked by black marble gargoyles on either side, we found that the entrance was blocked. The creature standing before the door was mostly humanoid in appearance, except that she had deep purple skin; long, violent fuschia hair; poisonous blue eyes; and a pair of large, greenish-black wings sprouting from her shoulders. She wore a long, flowing black dress and an expression of smug defiance.

“Who is she?” whispered Rhen.

“She is called Uzga,” I said. “The Angel of Nightmares.”

The others began to draw their weapons, but I raised my hand to halt them. “No weapons. I shall handle this.” Without looking back at them, I approached Uzga and inclined my head slightly.

When Uzga spoke, it was in Demon; she had always thought humans beneath her, and had never bothered to learn their language. “Agas,” she said, her lips curling into a wicked smirk. “I thought this scum—-” She waved her hand vaguely at the party behind me. “—-had destroyed you.”

“As you can see, your source of information has proven unreliable,” I retorted. “I was delayed, but clearly not destroyed.”

She was still glaring at me contemptuously. “The Dark Lord is not at all pleased with you, Agas. You or any of the daevas. Letting them defeat you...no, not pleased at all.”

“And so he’s set you to guard the door so the scum can’t get at him?” I said with an incredulous smile. “Another brilliant plan.”

“How dare you speak of the Dark Lord that way!” she shrieked, dropping all pretense of her haughty insolence. “He shall take over the human world, and those of us who have succeeded in our tasks shall be rewarded beyond all! He will triumph!”

“I can assure you, Uzga, he will not.”

She looked appalled. It took her several moments to decide how to respond. Then she looked about her, as though afraid someone would overhear, and whispered, “How will you do it?”

“Never you mind,” I replied. “Take the other Angels that this lot haven’t destroyed, return to the Demon Realm, and await further instruction. Trust me,” I added, seeing the crestfallen look on her face, “this will not be in vain. Allow the humans to pass. The daevas shall handle it from there.”

She nodded, cast another haughty look at the humans, and stalked off down the corridor. The party behind me stared after her, dumbfounded. I approached the door and pulled it open. “I give you,” I addressed the humans, bending in a mock bow, “the chamber of Lord Ahriman.”

They looked at each other apprehensively. Finally Dameon, turning to Rhen, spoke, in a quavering voice. “Are you ready to do this, Rhen?”

“No,” she said at once. “But do I have a choice?”

He hesitated. “No.”

She steeled herself, and entered the chamber. The others followed one by one, all except the demon summoner, who I held behind.

“I suppose you wish me to summon the other daevas?” she asked sourly.

“Unless you wish to suffer a painful and well-deserved death,” I returned. She started, and I said, “First, however, summon Nanghaithya. I wish to speak to him before the others arrive.”

She seemed to have great difficulty deciding if this was a wise decision. Finally, having no alternative, she did as I asked. When Nanghaithya appeared in a blinding flash of light, he shook his head vigorously, blinking in the bright light, and said wearily, “What is this?”

I took him by the shoulders and shook him slightly, and he seemed to come around, and to recognize me. “Agas?”

“Yes,” I said in Demon. “We are outside Ahriman’s chamber. The humans are about to challenge him, so we haven’t much time.”

He shook his head again. “Of course.”

I quickly told him of the plan I had devised. He added a few of his own ideas, and the moment we had settled upon it, I turned to Elini. “We enter the chamber, and then, you will summon the other daevas. If you fail to do this, you shall sincerely regret it.”

She nodded jerkily, and the three of us entered Ahriman’s chamber. The Dark Lord was seated upon his throne, laughing, while Rhen was shouting something incoherent but no doubt stupidly heroic at him. He did not seem to notice that Nanghaithya and I were there.

“Come to me, sun priest,” Ahriman said. Dameon hesitated, while the others stared at him.

“What does he mean, Dameon?” Rhen asked shakily.

Dameon looked around wildly, as though hoping someone would make the decision for him. I laughed quietly, but Nanghaithya, reminding me of our plan, nudged me. I sighed and stepped forward.

“What’s wrong, Dameon?” I drawled. “Have you lost your nerve?”

Everyone in the room turned to me, as though in utter shock that I was there. Ahriman’s reaction was most interesting, however; he looked as though he was surprised, and rather unnerved, to see me.

“Agas!” he laughed, almost nervously, “I had been told you were...destroyed. How...happy I am to see that you are not.”

“Indeed,” I said incredulously. Nanghaithya appeared at my side, and I turned to him. “The Dark Lord claims he is happy to see me.”

“So I hear,” Nanghaithya said sardonically. “Yet I see that my presence is not as much of a comfort to him.”

“Nanghaithya! Then you have not been destroyed, either!” Ahriman’s tone was unctuous and slightly disconcerted. “My daevas have returned to my side!” He glared at the humans in what he clearly thought triumph. “Now you see that you do not stand a chance against the Dark Lord Ahriman. Death shall find you swiftly, but not before pain and suffering do.”

“Just a moment, my lord,” I interjected. I shot a glance at Nanghaithya, who retreated into the corner with Elini, before I continued. “Nanghaithya and I would very much like to know what it is you intend us to do at this juncture. And I don’t believe we are the only ones.”

Ahriman looked slightly non-plussed, but the question he was about to raise was answered when the entire room flashed with bright light, and the other daevas began to appear, one by one. Once the other daevas were all assembled, we approached the throne as one, and it was immediately apparent that I had not to tell the others of the arrangement, because they were ready and willing to comply.

“What is this?” Ahriman asked in a shrill voice. “Why are you not destroying the humans?! I am your master!”

Indra shook her head slowly. “No longer,” she said dangerously.

“Mutiny! Treason!” Ahriman shrieked in an uncharacteristically high voice. He rounded on the humans and shouted, “Annihilate!” and there was a tremendous explosion that sent them flying in all directions.

“Why take out your frustrations on them, my lord?” boomed Aesma derisively. “It is we with whom you ought to be concerned.”

Ahriman looked wildly from angry face to angry face, and finally began, “Annihil—-!” a second time, but Zarich yelled, “Shock!” before the word was out of the Dark Lord’s mouth. Ahriman froze momentarily. Tawrich hurried forward and slashed at Ahriman with his long, curved sword, leaving a bloody gash across the latter’s chest. Zarich’s spell wore off, and Ahriman lost no time in retaliating.

“Absolute Zero!” he screamed, and Tawrich, who was nearest him, was encased in a thick capsule of ice. Almost immediately, he shouted “Gate Extura!” at Nanghaithya, who blocked the spell, but was thrown backward at least fifteen feet.

“Charm!” Nanghaithya shouted breathlessly. Ahriman reeled, his eyes rolling back in his head, and began to stagger around drunkenly.

Aesma took advantage at once. He grabbed the disoriented Ahriman by the shoulders and lifted him several feet off the ground. “I will break him!” Aesma bellowed, and lifted Ahriman over his head.

Before Aesma could act, however, Ahriman came to and murmured, “Assassinate.” Blood began to flow from deep wounds in Aesma’s chest; it was as though he had been slashed with an unseen sword. Aesma dropped Ahriman at his feet and staggered backward.

“Healing Extora!” said a voice from somewhere behind me. I spun around, and the necromancer Lars was on his feet, not far from us, pointing his staff at Aesma. The wounds began to heal themselves.

The scene was frozen for a minute. None of the daevas moved. Finally the boy said, “Just finish him!” and dropped to his knees.

“Absolute Zero!” said someone else, and Lars was frozen, just like Tawrich. Ahriman had evidently regained his composure. Saurva hollered, “Scorch!” and the room was filled with a blazing fire. Tawrich and Lars were freed from their icy prisons, and Ahriman’s robes were burning. As he danced around to extinguish the blaze, an arrow came whistling overhead and caught him in the right shoulder. Tei’jal was now on her feet, a crossbow at the ready. Ahriman said, “Gate Ex—-” but I interrupted him with, “Reality Shift!”

A pained expression came over his face. His body began to bend and stretch and twist in many different directions. He howled in anguish, but still managed to cast “Scorch Exora” and engulf us in a wild fire far more deadly than Saurva’s had been. Lars cast “Tsunami,” and a tidal force wave swept through the chamber and doused the fire.

My spell lost its effect, but Ahriman lay on the floor, motionless except for the rapid rising and falling of his chest as he gasped for breath. I went and stood over him, Aesma and Nanghaithya joining me on either side.

“Here lies the great Ahriman,” I said with a smirk, and Aesma and Nanghaithya chuckled appreciatively. “All your lies, your deceit, your poisoning of our minds...this is where they’ve got you.”

“If only you’d not been so greedy...” Nanghaithya added, as Indra joined us on the opposite side of Ahriman’s limp form.

Ahriman looked up at us feebly. His eyes rested upon me, and a look of pure loathing spread across his face. He mumbled something inaudible.

At once, I felt a searing, mind-numbing pain. It felt as though someone had driven a fiery blade into my chest and dragged it from one side to the other. I immediately sank to my knees.

Several things happened at that moment. Aesma dragged Ahriman to his feet and began to shake him, very hard. Nanghaithya called for the necromancer, who ran forward and performed his healing spell. Indra, it seemed, tears in her eyes, had finally had enough.

She rose into the air, her arms outstretched, her eyes white and blazing, her hair and dress billowing about her as though she was caught in a gale. She screamed, a long, piercing scream that drowned out all other sound. The earth began to tremble, and a blinding white light radiated from Indra, enveloping her entire body, so that she looked like a star that was about to explode. She held up her hands in front of her, and the light found its way there, concentrating entirely within her hands; but far from diffusing, the light became brighter and brighter, until it became unbearable even to look at it. Aesma threw Ahriman to the floor and backed away. Indra thrust her hands forward, and the ball of light found Ahriman.

The force with which Ahriman was hit sent Nanghaithya, Lars, and I, who were nearest, backward several feet. Ahriman’s entire body was consumed with Indra’s Fury. We couldn’t even see what was happening to him. I glanced up at Indra, who was still hovering above us, her eyes still blazing. It was moments like this when I felt that Indra was, by far, the most terrifying creature I had ever known.

As suddenly as it had begun, the Fury was over. Indra dropped gently to the ground, breathing hard and glaring at Ahriman. The light was gone, and now we could see Ahriman’s body, which was blackened as though he had been burned. He was shivering uncontrollably, and did not seem to be able to make any sound, be it fear or pain or anger, at all. He was not dead, but he was close.

I stood up slowly, aided by Nanghaithya, and turned to Rhen, who was sitting far back against the wall, a trickle of blood running down the side of her face. Evidently Ahriman’s first spell had taken a toll on her. Dameon was kneeling beside her, looking fearful; he appeared to be unharmed.

“Up you get, sword singer,” Nanghaithya said. Dameon helped the girl to her feet, and she made her way toward us, shaking slightly.

“He is not dead,” she said quietly, a trace amount of question in her tone.

“No,” I replied. “Not yet. You are the one who must do it. Finish him now.”

Still shaking, Rhen drew a sword she had not yet used from a sheath strapped tightly to her back. The sword was larger than most, shining a bright silver, with a dull blue-black light glinting about its edges. There were Elvish characters etched all along the blade. The hilt was black, in the shape of two intertwined serpents with rubies for eyes, and also was carved with Elvish letters. One of the daevas behind me drew an audible breath.

“The Sword of Shadows,” Saurva whispered.

It was taking every ounce of resolve I had not to do the thing I—-and, I knew, the other daevas—-desired to do when the sword was drawn. Aesma drew nearer, but Nanghaithya held him back. Rhen looked around anxiously, clutching the sword as though it were the only torch in otherwise pitch-darkness.

“Do it, girl,” Aesma said impatiently.

Rhen approached Ahriman, lying on the floor, utterly defenseless, and stopped. She stared down at him for a long while.

“What are you waiting for?” Aesma demanded. “Finish him!”

“Perhaps,” Nanghaithya offered, “the child is feeling pity.”

“Pity?” I repeated, looking at Rhen, who refused to look up. “Pity is for the weak. Did Ahriman show pity to your people? To your mother?” At these words Rhen turned to me, glaring at me through angry tears. “He killed her himself, took great pleasure in it, as I understand it. Is this not why you came all this way, to destroy Ahriman? He is weakened, but it will not last forever. Do it now.”

There was a question on her lips, but she did not ask it. She turned back to Ahriman, raised the Sword of Shadows over him, and shrieked, “Die, demon!” before she plunged the sword deep into his chest.

Ahriman writhed and screamed, blood pouring from the deep wound the sword had left. His flesh began to melt away, until he was a mere skeleton; and then this too began to melt. Soon he was nothing more than a small, defeated heap of bloodstained sorcerer’s robes. The entire chamber was silent.

 

******

 

i think i'll stop here for now. next are the other daevas' stories, and i'd like to get them all up at once.

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snowfire: i'm glad to see you're reading it again! :) and i'm almost glad we have to repost; makes it easier to catch up on the other stories i was reading.

 

dark-witch: thanks! it just gets better from here. :D

 

daeva_agas: i missed you too. XD XD and as far as the History: don't worry, i haven't forgotten. it'll be up soon.

 

all: in case you've forgotten (or are reading this for the first time), the next six chapters go off on a slight tangent. they're the stories of the other six daevas, told from each of their POV's, from the time they leave the demon realm until they're defeated by those miserable heroes. :evil:

 

 

NANGHAITHYA’S STORY

 

“Nanghaithya!” Ahriman shouted. I couldn’t believe he had called upon me first. I was never counted among the Dark Lord’s “favorites,” like Saurva, nor among the strongest, like Aesma. I was not a natural leader, like Agas, nor was I as valuable to Ahriman as Indra, with her power of foresight. The other daevas often said that I was smartest; but intelligence never acquired the results that Lord Ahriman desired; thus, to him, I was usually an afterthought.

I nodded. “My lord?” I said with uncertainty.

“You shall go to Land’s End, to the shrine of Vohu Manah,” Ahriman ordered.

“Of course, my lord,” I replied, and, after a brief pause in which I looked at the other daevas and waited to see if there was more, took my leave.

When I arrived at my destination, I found a land filled with pale green grass, flowering trees and bushes, and clear waterfalls. Ravwyrns—-large, brightly colored birds with an eerie, haunting call—-flew gracefully overhead. An earth elemental, which I could best describe as the very earth itself shaped into human form, sat beneath a nearby tree, staring at me unconcernedly. I shuddered. But, I supposed there were worse places in the world.

I crossed a small bridge, and walked a little way through the hills, and there, nestled at the base of the mountains, was Land’s End Temple. It was a rather unassuming building, made of pale, sand-colored stone. I had to wonder at how little protection there seemed to be surrounding the temple; but then, I supposed the druids thought themselves safe. We, after all, were sealed in the Demon Realm.

The inside of the temple looked very much like the outside, rather unremarkable, save for a large fountain in the center. Atop a pedestal in the center of the fountain sat a human skull. I thought it strange for a druid to have such a thing, but it was not for me to press the issue at the time. I found the druid seated by a large sunlit window, playing a large golden harp. I rolled my eyes.

“Soul Song,” I said once I had come within full view of the druid. He looked around and gasped, but could do nothing further. As a human, he would have slid out of his chair and collapsed to the floor, motionless; but druids’ souls are...different from those of humans. Without his soul, Vohu Manah froze completely, resembling a lifelike statue of himself, the look of surprise still on his face.

“That was almost too easy,” I muttered. I approached Vohu Manah, wondering if I shouldn’t have given him a clear shot at me before I took his soul. It would have been sporting, I thought. But then, what did I care? Humans may hold fair play in high regard, but that is one of their weaknesses. Fair play, pity, love...these were the things that would ultimately spell the end for the human world.

I did not linger in the shrine very long. The sunlight and serenity were nearly unbearable. In any event, my mission was not to wait around in the temple; my mission was to take Vohu Manah’s soul and hide it from the world, in case the “Chosen One” was alerted to her destiny and chose to come looking for it.

I wandered Land’s End for quite some time, seeking a place where I might hide the druid’s soul, a place that was not so pastoral. As I wound my way between the hills, I could not shake the feeling that this plan of Ahriman’s—-enslaving the druids rather than killing them—- would be the thing that would bring us all to ruin. And the sun priest...it was inevitable that he would betray us. I also knew that I was not the only one who could see this; Agas and Indra, at least, had given the impression that this was all against their better judgement. But of course, Ahriman’s will would be done, whatever the consequences.

Eventually, I came to a narrow opening in a valley near the foot of the mountains. The only way through was past a large, snarling, vicious-looking dog. I cast my Charm spell, and at once the dog rolled over on the ground and fell into a deep sleep.

“Whatever is through here must be very valuable indeed,” I said sarcastically. I stepped over the mutt and passed into the valley, and found that all that was there was a large vegetable garden, being tended by an elderly woman.

The woman must have heard me coming, because before I spoke she stood up, brushed dirt off her apron, and said, “Welcome to my enchanted garden—-”

”Enchanted garden,” I repeated disdainfully. The woman’s expression immediately went from warm and kindly to angry and fearful. “Well, this is no good,” I continued, speaking mainly to myself.

“Clear off,” the woman said firmly.

I smiled. “I beg your pardon?”

“Clear off!” she repeated. “Your kind isn’ welcome here!”

“My ‘kind’? And what kind is that?”

I could tell I was infuriating her; it was rather amusing. “You’re a demon, ain’t’cha? We don’t want no demons ‘round here!”

I looked around. The woman was quite alone, apart from her sleeping dog and a rather homely scarecrow that stood in the middle of the vegetable patch. “I see. Well, I would hate to anger the...um...other...villagers?...”

She turned red; evidently I had called her bluff. “Clear off!” she said again.

I approached her, and her reckless bravery left her at once. “I should kill you,” I said in a dangerously quiet voice. “But as hateful as you have proven yourself, I may be able to use that to my advantage. If a purple-haired child comes this way, you may tell her you have seen me. And tell her that if she should seek me out, she shall meet her death.”

I turned swiftly and left, back the way I had come, and sought a more sheltered place, where I might find a reprieve from the sun and the fresh air that were beginning to cause a violent, throbbing pain in my head. Finally, after what seemed like many hours of aimless wandering, I found a cave opening in the side of one of the many mountains that surrounded Land’s End. I entered, and found an unusual sight.

There was a set of broad, shallow steps immediately inside the cave’s entrance. I climbed, and at the top there was a narrow bank of stone along a wide stream of swiftly running water. At the center of the bank was a stone pedestal, bearing a plaque which read, “For what you seek, this offer meet: worthy for the gods.” On the opposite side of the river, at the far left, was a waterfall, and on the far right was an entrance that continued further into the mountain. Directly across from me, beside the opposite bank of the river, sat a small rowboat.

“I see,” I said aloud. “Place an offering to the gods on the pedestal, and the boat will come to the bank so I can cross to the other side. Or...”

I took a few steps back, and leapt lightly across the stream. I supposed a human could not have accomplished such a feat, hence the rowboat. I straightened my robes and entered the passageway into the mountain.

What I found beyond, to my surprise, was that I was not inside the mountain after all, but within a vast valley surrounded by impassible mountains. In the center of the valley was a high, solitary peak, an island in a sea of barren, craggy lands and crawling creatures.

“Mount Orion,” I murmured, as soon as I realized what I had found. “Just as good a place as any, I suppose.”

I surveyed the landscape, and found to my dismay that there was really no easy way of reaching the peak of Mount Orion. It appeared the only way to get there was through a series of winding caves that led through and even under the mountains. I sighed heavily.

The creatures of the mountains did not seem to agree with my presence there; indeed, most of them, such as the bright green ravwyrn kings and fiery red fire griffins, avoided me at all costs. I wound my way through cave after cave, beneath waterfalls and over narrow rocky bridges, and eventually came to a cave with a small sign outside of it. The sign, written in a very untidy scrawl with what appeared to be blood, read, “Rach narch bargh!!” I shrugged and entered the cave, and found it to be the lair of an enormous, filthy ogre.

The creature looked at me, bleary-eyed, brandished a large club, and bellowed, “Reth g’nar tor vahk!” I did not respond. Speaking the language of the lesser evil creatures of the world was more Agas’s forte; he had a certain rapport with them that I, and most of the other daevas, did not. Instead, I cast my Charm spell, and as the ogre blinked at me stupidly, I ordered it to kill any humans that it might come across. I wasn’t sure it entirely understood my instructions, but it didn’t concern me much at the time.

My quest for the summit of Mount Orion was becoming increasingly tedious and wearisome. I had to marvel at how the priestesses of Mysten Far managed to find their way there to pray, and not give up on the journey. When I reached the hundredth or so cave, I found a low rocky shelf, upon which I sat, seriously considering whether I should just toss Vohu Manah’s soul over the edge of the mountain and leave it at that.

“You are going the right way,” said a soft, misty sort of voice. A cave spirit, a creature that looked like a human female with golden hair and a long, flowing golden gown and which reminded me vaguely of Indra, was gliding noiselessly toward me.

“And how would you know that?” I asked wearily.

“You are one of the daevas,” she replied. I did not bother to ask how she knew it. “I can only guess you seek Mount Orion. Daevas do not wander these caves aimlessly.”

“And you know the way to Mount Orion?” I wondered cautiously.

She stared at me with an odd expression that I could not read. Then she smiled. “Do you not trust me?”

“Not entirely,” I answered. “But if this is a trap, I will destroy you.”

She smiled again. “Agreed. Follow me, my lord.”

She led me through the cave, in and out of passages, speaking very little but looking back at me a great deal. Finally, she stopped at a cave’s entrance that looked exactly the same as all the others.

“Through here,” she said, smiling her enigmatic smile again, “you will find a narrow, winding stair. At the top, there is a narrow opening, through which you will find the peak of Mount Orion. But be warned: evil creatures dwell up there.”

I had to laugh. “No more evil than I.”

I ascended the stair, and after what seemed an extremely long time, I came to a small stone platform and a narrow fissure in the rock. I stepped through, and found that the spirit had not led me astray: here was the summit of Mount Orion. The evil creatures she had spoken of were nothing more than fire griffins and ravwyrn kings. As difficult as it had been to get here, I had to imagine that if the Chosen One decided to seek me out, she would give up far sooner than I nearly had.

I waited for a long time for any sign that Ahriman’s plan had been successful, that the sun priest had found the girl and was leading her to the Dark Lord. To pass the time, I amused myself by Charming the griffins and ravwyrns and making them fight each other; but even this became rather tedious, and I began to wish I had brought something more substantial with me to do.

Days and nights passed—-how many, I cannot recall—-and at long last I had a break in my routine. A party of humans had somehow reached the summit of Mount Orion, looking weary and battle-stained. The group consisted of a demon summoner from Veldt, a green-haired boy dressed in necromancer’s robes, and the Chosen One, a purple-haired sword singer, fresh from the academy. The sun priest was nowhere to be seen.

“The Chosen One,” I drawled, “my, my. Made it here all by yourselves, did you? I’m mildly impressed. Is this all of you, then?”

The sword singer looked at her two companions, and then turned to me, glaring at me in what she clearly thought a menacing fashion. “Are you the demon who stole Vohu Manah’s soul?” she demanded.

“I suppose if you knew you wouldn’t speak to me that way,” I replied. “I am the daeva Nanghaithya.”

She pointed her sword at me. “Give us the druid’s soul or prepare to die!”

“You are confused, sword singer,” I said. “It is I who shall see you perish before you leave this mountain. Ahriman will reward me well for your death.” Of course, I knew he wouldn’t; but the sound of the Dark Lord’s name rattled them all a bit. They all immediately went on the defensive. The necromancer opened his mouth to cast a spell, but I said, “Silence Extora!” and he lost his voice, as did the two women.

“Looks like magic won’t save you now, doesn’t it?” I laughed. The girl swung her sword violently in my direction, and I shouted, “Burn!” She dropped her sword and covered her face with her hands, both of which were charred and blackened, giving off smoke and a faint smell of burning flesh. The necromancer leapt forward and swung his staff at me. I cast “Thunderstorm,” and thick, swirling gray clouds formed over their heads, striking them with lightning and pelting them with sheets of rain. The three retreated.

“What’s wrong?” I asked with an evil grin. “This wasn’t what you were expecting? Perhaps you ought to have stayed at school and trained a bit more, little girl.”

“Ravwyrn!” a voice shouted. The summoner had gotten back her voice, and summoned a flock of those hideous birds down upon me, quicker than I was able to respond. I endured several moments of scratching, pecking, and clawing before I was able to shout, “Tornado!” and blow the creatures off the mountaintop and into the valley below.

“Very nice,” I said, slightly breathless, “but not enough. Fireball!” I said, at the same moment the necromancer shouted, “Soul Song!” My spell struck the demon summoner, and while the Chosen One attended to her burning friend, the necromancer gaped at me; his spell had had no effect.

“Silly boy,” I sneered. “Had you forgotten already? I am a demon. I have no soul.”

“Lars, do something!” the girl yelled. The boy turned and fled to the aid of his companions, and she stood up, her hands, arms, and face still black, and threatened me again with her sword.

“Weevil!” I shouted, but half a second after, the girl hollered, “Trinity Fury!” and Lars, the necromancer, bellowed “Sacrifice!”

A blast of golden light shot from the girl’s sword directly at me, and a bright green light came from the necromancer’s staff. Both spells hit me at once, to the effect that I was thrown to the ground, my senses reeling. I tried to stand, but my head was spinning, and I could just barely make out the shape of the Chosen One, who appeared to be dancing wildly; apparently my weevils had found her. I shook my head vigorously, but I could not regain a clear vision of anything. Finally another blurry shape approached me, reeking of burnt hair and flesh, and began to speak words that I couldn’t quite make out. My vision and hearing left me altogether, and everything went black...

...When I awoke, I was no longer on the summit of Mount Orion. I was back in the Demon Realm, far from the surface world and the other daevas. The lesser demons that still dwelt there wandered along on their way, too fearful or insolent to approach me.

“That girl,” I said aloud, feeling still the exhaustion from the spells. “She is far more powerful than the Dark Lord knows. Ahriman will be furious with me, as usual.” I sighed. “I hope the other daevas are more successful than I.”

And so I waited, alone in the Demon Realm, hoping for any news that Ahriman had taken the human world. And had I known what a long, dreadful wait I would have before I finally did have any news at all, I’d have thought to bring a deck of cards.

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ZARICH’S STORY

 

“Zarich!” said Ahriman. “You will take the soul of Rashnu, in the town of Ghed’ahre.”

Thank you,” I muttered, and I hoped that no one heard me. I couldn’t believe my luck; after Nanghaithya had been sent to Land’s End, I was waiting to be sent to an equally horrid place, like Aveyond. I left immediately, so the Dark Lord couldn’t change his mind.

Ghed’ahre was situated in the Halloween Hills on the Eastern Isle, not far, as it turned out, from Land’s End. Halloween Hills, however, was the one inhabitable place in all the Isles. It was eternally night, the rivers flowed with either blood or swamp ooze, and normal humans would not go there, if they could help it. Witches ruled the town that was fittingly named New Witchwood to the east, and to the northwest was my destination, Ghed’ahre: the only village in all the Arishta Isles that was inhabited entirely by vampires.

When I arrived, the town was quiet. The only vampire I saw, whose hair was as white as his skin and who was wearing an elaborate black suit, stared at me for a while, but did not speak to me. I was about to ask him where I might find the Dark Temple, when my attention was diverted by a second, red-haired vampire approaching, pointing a crossbow at me.

“What do you intend to do with that?” I had to ask.

“What business does a daeva have in Ghed’ahre?” she returned, her red eyes flashing dangerously. “I thought you were all sealed in the Demon Realm.”

“You thought incorrectly,” I told her. “And my business is my own. Now put that away before you hurt someone.”

The vampire laughed. “You are afraid of a crossbow?”

“No,” I said defensively. Afraid...what honestly would I have to be afraid of? Of course, said a voice in the back of my mind, you did come here on Ahriman’s orders...so perhaps you do have something to be afraid of...I shook my head vigorously to silence the voice, and glared at the insolent vampire. “Stay out of my way,” I growled, and I turned to go.

“If you have come to harm Rashnu, you shall sorely regret it!” she hollered after me.

“I’ll bet,” I muttered. I expected her to follow, but she didn’t. This struck me as odd, but I didn’t give it much thought afterward.

Perhaps the girl had known that I was going the wrong way; because after a long time wandering the town, I still had no luck finding the temple. “Who hides a temple?!” I muttered angrily to myself at last. I recalled the words the vampire had spoken, how she had said I’d “sorely regret it” if I harmed the druid. I supposed the vampires were highly protective of Rashnu, and I had to wonder if humans held their druids in such high regard.

“Okay, let me think. If I was hiding someone important from someone like me...where would I hide him?...Where would a demon looking for someone in a vampire town not think to look?...Oh, of course!”

I headed immediately for the cathedral near the entrance to the village. It seemed so obvious now; why hadn’t I thought of it hours ago and saved my self so much aggravation? I was furious with myself; but at least I had shaken off that meddlesome woman, in any case.

The cathedral was really a vast, empty hall, with large, intricately carved pillars, a high vaulted ceiling, and a checkered stone floor. The only decorations inside were large suits of armor and an enormous, ominous-looking organ adorned with a wide assortment of human skulls. A hallway led off the main hall to both the left and right of the entrance. The atmosphere was dank and a bit chilly. If I hadn’t been so preoccupied, I might have found it downright comfortable.

But I was becoming anxious. It had been a very long time, and I still hadn’t even found the druid, let alone taken his soul and hidden it. I had wasted so much time...what if the Dark Lord found out that I still hadn’t succeeded? See? that voice came back, you are afraid of something after all...I shook my head again, and set off down the corridor to my right.

And finally, miraculously, I had found it: at the end of the hall, behind an otherwise unassuming wooden door, was a vast room lined with ruby-eyed stone dragons, with a large black marble altar at its head. I had found the temple at last. There was only one problem.

“Where’s the bloody druid?!?” I shouted in frustration. This was just my luck: to spend hours looking for the temple, and finally find it, only to discover that the druid isn’t there. I threw my staff against the wall, growling. I paced angrily for several moment. Then I stopped, picked up my staff, shut the door, and found a seat atop one of the dragon statues near the door. I knew he’d have to come back sometime; and when he did, I’d be waiting for him.

 

How long I waited, I don’t know. But eventually, the door opened, and Rashnu entered. I tensed for the briefest moment, wondering if the vampire woman I had met had alerted him to my presence. He shut the door and moved swiftly across the floor, taking no notice of me. I relaxed a bit, then hopped lightly from the statue and approached him from behind. As I moved closer, he must have sensed my presence, because he spun around and stared at me in shock.

“Zarich!” he gasped.

“Surprised to see me, Rashnu?” I drawled. “Don’t worry, I haven’t come to kill you. All I want is your soul.”

He began to say something; but, fearing it was a spell, I quickly shouted, “Soul Song!” Rashnu froze immediately; and with soul in tow, I left without hesitation, to seek a place to hide it.

In the main room of the cathedral, I found that I was no longer alone. A small boy now stood near the entrance, looking at me curiously.

“Out of my way, brat,” I said gruffly.

“If you are seeking a place to hide something, you might try the crypt beneath the cathedral,” he said softly, and vanished down the hall to the left of the entrance.

The boy’s message was rather unnerving. It was as though he knew exactly what I had just done, and what I was about to do. But I didn’t have time to ponder it; I had already wasted too much time. I quickly transported myself several floors below, and found a dark, winding passage, crawling with zombies, spiders, and bats. It was absolutely perfect. I wound my way through the labyrinthine crypts, passing many deadly traps along the way: giant rolling boulders, spikes in the floor, pits that disappeared and reappeared. Even if anyone did come looking for me, they would never make it through this deadly maze.

I reached the lowest level of the crypts, and found, oddly enough, a large and rather comfortable-looking parlor, with an ornate fireplace in one wall. Beyond this was a long corridor, ending in a smaller room, hidden by a pair of long, green velvet curtains. I wasn’t sure what purpose any of it served, but it didn’t really matter. It was a hiding place, and a rather good one, I thought.

Unfortunately, I was mistaken.

I stayed there, waiting for any sort of sign from the Dark Lord that the plan was progressing, and it wasn’t long before I received one; but not the kind of sign for which I had been looking. It arrived in the form of a young sword singer, the fabled “Chosen One”, and two companions. The necromancer was not much older than the girl, nor more experienced; the demon summoner was only a bit more troubling. What I found most disconcerting was the fact that the sun priest, the one who was supposed to be turning the girl to our ways, was not among them.

“Demon!” the sword singer shouted, pointing at me what appeared to be one of the legendary Swords of Power. “Hand over the soul of the druid Rashnu!”

I considered them for a while. “Or?” I replied with a smirk.

“Broken Bridge!” she hollered, and as she swung her sword toward me, streak of blue light shot from it, narrowly missing my left arm.

“I see...Well, then. Lightning Strike!” I threw a bolt of lightning at her, and she was thrown backward, hitting the wall behind her and landing flat on her back on the floor. The demon summoner hurried to her side, and the necromancer pointed his staff at me and yelled, “Wind Whip!”

His spell had a similar effect: a strong gust of wind blew me back toward the opposite wall, though not with the force my spell had done. “You graduated too early. Your souls are mine!” I said darkly, just before I cast my Weevil spell. The room became so filled with insects that the floor and walls appeared to be moving. I couldn’t help laughing at the scrambling, cringing humans before me. This was the Chosen One? Pathetic.

“Tornado!” said the voice of the necromancer from beneath a heap of brown beetles. The weevils were swept from the room by a small funnel cloud, and then a second voice called, “Succubus!”

A pack of silver-haired creatures, half-human female and half-giant snake, slithered into the room and charged at me, hissing and snapping their sharp teeth. Even in the Demon Realm they were a nuisance; and now, with so many of them in such a small space, it was all I could do to keep them at bay. “Mudslide!” I bellowed, and the beasts were buried beneath a wave of mud and stones.

But it was too late. Just before I managed to cast the spell, the necromancer shouted, “Lightning Strike!” and the sword singer came at me, saying, “Song of Madness!” A shower of lightning, the likes of which I had never seen before, surrounded me, and the bolts struck me from every side, like a thousand fiery daggers. I couldn’t even speak to cast a spell. I saw the demon summoner move toward me. She spoke in what I recognized as Demon, though I could not make out the words. Then suddenly, the light vanished, as did everything around me.

When I was aware of my surroundings again, I discovered that the summoner had sent me back to the Demon Realm, the very last place I wanted to be. The bigger surprise, however, was that I was not the first to arrive.

“Nanghaithya!” I said, taken aback at the sight of him, sitting on a low stone wall, watching a pair of imps wrestling on the ground.

“They found you, too, then,” he replied, taking his eyes off the imps, who immediately collapsed to the ground, exhausted. Evidently he had Charmed them to fight each other. He sighed. “It is as I feared.”

“That girl is powerful,” I said, shaking my head as I took a seat beside him. “The necromancer, too. I don’t think the Dark Lord was counting on it.”

“I know he wasn’t,” Nanghaithya said bitterly. After a slight pause, he asked, “Zarich, was the sun priest with them?”

“No, he wasn’t,” I replied, “and I thought that very strange...Why hasn’t he made any effort even to find her?”

Nanghaithya shook his head, his brow furrowed. “It troubles me, as well. I know Agas did not trust the boy from the beginning, and I fear that he was right not to.”

We were silent for a while. Then finally I asked, “So what do we do now?”

“I suppose all we can do now,” he answered, “is wait...”

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TAWRICH’S STORY

 

“Tawrich!” Ahriman shouted. I turned to him slowly, and he continued, “To the Western Isle, where dwells Armaiti.” I nodded, finding words unnecessary, and went on my way.

The Western Isle was large and rather diverse, home to the wealthiest and the poorest of people, to orcs and goblins, to thieves and nobles, and to the Elves. My business, of course, was with none of them, but with the Druid of Agriculture, who dwelt in the Green Rock Temple in the Highlands of the isle.

The temple was a bit on the primitive side, made of rough, dark brown stone, with vines creeping all around the outside. Within was very much the same, but with many potted plants about the walls. The druid was tending a window garden at the rear of the temple, his back to me.

“Druid Armaiti,” I announced, deciding that I would very much like to see his expression when he saw me. Armaiti spun around, dropped his watering can with a loud clatter, and gasped, “Oh my!”

“I have come for your soul,” I told him. “Do not bother to resist.”

He remained where he stood, apparently panic-stricken. “Soul Song,” I said. It was odd indeed; I had his soul, but his expression and position did not change in the slightest. I left the shrine, and decided to seek a place far away where I might place the soul for safekeeping, as Ahriman had intended.

I traveled south, bearing west, and soon found an entrance to a small cave. Outside a wooden sign was stuck in the ground, bearing the words, “GO AWAY!!!” It seemed rather presumptuous for whoever dwelt inside to think anyone might be looking for such an unassuming place, let alone think to enter it. Still, I had a soul to dispose of, and the sooner, the better.

Inside the tiny cave I found a rather surprising sight: a small battalion of squirrels, all dressed in full combat gear, gathered around a large table. The apparent leader was speaking in a squeaky yet commanding voice.

“Now, General Binx,” he was saying as I entered, “you shall take your forces north, and-—DEMON!”

Evidently, my presence had been noticed. The squirrels began to scramble, and the commander was shouting orders at them. I weighed my options briefly, decided that killing them would be a complete waste of time, and turned and left, still able to hear their high-pitched yelling outside the cave.

I continued south, as far as I could, and then ventured east for some way. Eventually, I came to a small cottage settled at the base of the surrounding mountains. It was surrounded by a large amount of fence, and within this an elderly man and a scrawny tabby cat were puttering around an old stone well. Behind the house was a narrow entrance into the mountains. I swept through the gate into the man’s yard, but before I could get by him, he yelled in surprise, grabbed the cat by the scruff of its neck, and hurried toward a second gate, one which lead precisely to my destination.

“Wait! I’m not ready! I’m not ready!” he whimpered desperately, cowering and clutching the cat, as I approached him.

“Ready for what?” I asked him.

He looked up at me curiously. The feline was scratching his face in an effort to escape his grasp. “Ain’t you the Grim Reaper?”

“Do I look—-obviously, I do,” I muttered. “No, sir, I am not the ‘Grim Reaper’. I am a demon. A daeva, to be precise.”

“Oh.” The man was rather nonplussed. The cat wriggled free of its master’s grip, and darted off under the fence and into a thicket of trees nearby. The old man regained his composure and squared his shoulders. “Now listen here, demon! You get off’a my property! And keep away from my Zini!”

“And what is a Zini?” I asked wearily.

“My cat!” he shouted. “You just leave her alone!”

I shook my head and moved closer to the man, who cowered in terror. “Sir, I assure you, there is nothing in this world in which I am less interested than your mangy feline. I wish to gain entrance to the mountains, and you will deter intruders. If you do not stand aside and do as I ask, you will wish that I was the Grim Reaper.”

“The—-I—-you—-oh-okay.” Still quaking, he stepped away from the gate. Once I had passed through, he slammed it shut and locked it. I turned, but he had already disappeared into his cottage.

The cave beneath the mountain turned out to be a vast series of dank, musty caverns. The walls were of a dark, wet brownish stone, and the floor was slick and muddy. There were dirty streams running throughout the caves, and more than once I had to wade through murky waters. It was rather like being in a sewer system beneath a large city; it was just the kind of place I preferred.

I ended my journey in a large cave, the only exit being the way through which I had entered. Large holes of unfathomable depth pitted the floor. It was a fine place to keep residence, in case the human girl Indra had mention decided to seek the soul I had taken.

How long I was there, I do not know. I have existed for a very long time, longer even than any of the other daevas; thus time is rather irrelevant as far as I am concerned. But the time eventually came when my peace was disturbed by a party of unruly humans, led by the sword singing Chosen One. Behind her were a tall, blonde demon summoner, a red-haired vampress, and two boys: a necromancer, and the sun priest who, Ahriman had assured us, would turn the sword singer to the Dark Side.

“Give us the soul of the druid, demon!” the girl said in a bossy sort of way.

I looked around at them. Among them, the sun priest alone looked apprehensive. And well he should, I thought, if he thinks of fighting against me.

“Your death awaits...” I told the girl, who quailed slightly, but remained where she stood. As the others gathered around her, I said, “Blight!” My spell hit the sword singer and the demon summoner. Both women dropped their weapons and stared in horror at their arms, and then at each other. Their skin began to turn a muddy brown color, toughening and cracking like leather. As the others scrambled to their aid, the large patches of leathery skin started to flake and peel, rather like burnt paper. The flesh beneath was raw and red, and shining with a clear, pus-like substance. I stood back and watched as the women howled in pain, and the men cast various healing spells which, due to their casters’ states of panic, were not very effective. The vampire watched them blankly for a moment, and then, in one fluid motion, she turned her crossbow on me and fired an arrow, which struck my left shoulder.

I was stunned briefly; I had assumed she would panic like the rest. She moved to fire another shot, but I quickly cried, “Poison!” For a moment, the spell didn’t seem to have any effect. Then suddenly, her white skin took on a sickly green shade, and she began to retch convulsively. The Chosen One, who had begun to recover, shrieked and pointed at the vampire, who was on her knees, shaking and perspiring. The Sun Priest fled to her side and attempted to force her to swallow some dried tea leaves, just as she retched again, soaking his robes with a thin, dark reddish liquid.

The necromancer raced toward me, shouting, “Burn!” The spell seared across my arms and chest, taking my breath momentarily. He opened his mouth to cast another spell, but I managed, “Plague!” before he could.

The effect was instantaneous. The boy’s skin turned red, and large boils covered in a thick white crust began to erupt all over his arms, neck, and face. He started coughing, more and more violently, until each cough produced a large amount of thick, dark blood. His skin then gradually turned black, beginning at the spots beneath the boils and spreading outward. When the boils began to burst, they secreted a thick yellow-green substance which coated everything directly around him, including the other members of the party. He dropped to his knees, moaning in agony and coughing fitfully.

“Dameon!” screamed the sword singer in terror. The sun priest leapt to his feet and, after a split second of what appeared to be indecision, he raced over to the necromancer.

By this time the two women I had Blighted had recovered, and were rushing at me, brandishing their weapons afresh. I shouted, “Scourge!” and their weapons were dropped again, as multiple deep, raw red and shining whip marks appeared across their arms.

“Silence!” hollered the sun priest. I was caught off-guard, and the spell had worked. Deprived of the use of my dark magic, I drew my scimitar and prepared for physical combat.

The sword singer had her sword again, and she was positively quivering and weeping with fury. I raised my sword, but she was quicker. “Flame Melody!” she screamed, and the force and fury with which she struck sent a violent purple flame from her sword, which enveloped me in a fiery cone. Amid the scorching flames and near-blindness, I heard a second, deeper female voice speaking. Without warning, I had the sensation of being pulled forcefully, as if from the very earth itself. The light died, the flame extinguished, and a moment later I found myself returned to the Demon Realm. I was mildly surprised to see that Nanghaithya and Zarich had preceded me.

“No!” Zarich groaned when he saw me. “Not you as well, Tawrich!”

“Alas,” I sighed. “I aroused the ire of the Chosen One. She can be quite deadly when provoked.”

“Indeed,” said Nanghaithya darkly. “We too have felt the sting of the wretched girl’s sword magic. I do hope you left a lasting impression, however.”

“Please tell us you Plagued at least one of them?” Zarich said, an expression of rapturous disappointment on his face, as though wishing he had been there to see it.

I nodded. “The necromancer.”

Zarich groaned again, and Nanghaithya said, “I must say, Tawrich, I have always admired your work.”

I nodded appreciatively. “Tell me, though: how did the sun priest behave when you saw him?”

They looked at each other in a bemused sort of way. “The sun priest was not with them,” Nanghaithya told me. “Only the Chosen One, the necromancer, and a demon summoner.”

“I see,” I replied thoughtfully. I had to wonder why the boy had waited so long to seek out the girl; clearly the others wondered it, too. “The sun priest is with the party now, and a red-haired vampress with a crossbow, as well.”

Zarich growled angrily. “I should have guessed! She delayed me in Ghed’ahre when I went for Rashnu’s soul. I should have killed her when I had the chance!” He threw his staff forcefully to the ground, nearly shattering the orb, and striking an imp who lay spread-eagled at his feet.

“Easy, Zarich,” said Nanghaithya warningly. “Tawrich, how did the sun priest behave?”

“Rather shiftily,” I told him. “He seemed extremely nervous, though not in the same way as he was before the Dark Lord.”

“Hmm. I can’t help but wonder who the sun priest intends to betray in the end.”

“I’ll have his head!” Zarich interjected.

“Of course you will,” Nanghaithya told him soothingly. “If only he would hurry and complete the task to which he has been set...but I daresay the other daevas will have less trouble. At least, that is my hope.”

I noted that his expression did not match the tone in his voice, and I said, “I wonder...”

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INDRA’S STORY

 

“Indra!” Ahriman addressed me. “Go to the Moon Temple! Daena will be waiting for you...”

I had to laugh at this. Daena was the druid of Wisdom, and she, like I, had the gift of Foresight; thus I was fairly certain that she would indeed be waiting. “As you wish, sire,” I replied, shot a mistrustful look at the sun priest, and took my leave.

The Moon Temple was hidden in the frozen Northern Kingdom, surrounded by snowy mountains, and reached only by a series of winding, icy tunnels beneath the palace of the Snow Queen. The palace itself was rather secluded as well, but fortunately, I had been there more than once, and had no trouble finding it.

Normally, the only time the Queen spent there was when she was fighting with her husband. This, however, as I found to my annoyance, was the case when I arrived in her throne room.

“What are you doing here?” she demanded, rising from her throne in a menacing fashion. “How does a demon dare to enter my palace?”

“I have been here before, in case you’d forgotten,” I returned with a smirk. “My business is not now, nor has it ever been, with you.”

She glared at me through narrowed eyes. “On your way, then. I am in no mood to deal with the likes of you.” She sat down huffily and turned away.

“Mind your temper, your highness,” I said as I left the room.

I was glad that she had been in such a sour mood; on the other occasions I had been in her presence, she had put up quite a vigorous fight, and I was in no mood at present to deal with her, either. I hurried to the basement, to the door behind which lay the passages to the temple. As I wound my way through the frosty corridors, I began to wonder how the other daevas were faring, and if the brat was anywhere near to becoming as powerful as she could be.

When at last I entered the pearly-white temple, which contained a large pool of crystal clear water and various pedestals laden with flowers of blue and violet, I found Daena seated beside one of the many large mullioned windows, gazing out at the swirling clouds that were veiling the full moon.

“Hello, Indra,” she said in her soft, misty voice without looking at me. “You are later than I expected.”

“The Queen delayed me,” I replied. “I assume you know why I am here.”

She finally turned to face me. “Do what you must,” she said softly. “I shall not resist.”

“How very like you.”

“You know this is useless. I know you have seen it.”

“Humor me,” I returned coldly.

She smiled sadly. “He will betray you, just as he will betray the girl. They will destroy you all. Ahriman will take him for his pet, and the world will fall into darkness, unfit for human and demon. None shall be left alive.”

I rolled my eyes and shook my head slowly. Of course I had seen it; but how does one tell the Dark Lord that he has lost his mind? My intent had been, from the beginning, to do my very best to find the girl and kill her myself, but how was I to do that when I was sent on this ludicrous errand?

“You needn’t feel guilty, Indra,” Daena said when I didn’t respond.

“Guilty?” I laughed. “You can’t honestly think I’d feel guilty...that I even know how to feel guilt. I am a demon.” She remained silent, but continued to look at me with her penetrating stare. I sighed. “I have not come here to kill you, Daena. I am—-” I couldn’t help laughing again. “—-borrowing your soul.”

“Are those your orders...or is it what you wish?” she asked me.

I glared at her; I knew very well what she was getting at, and I did not appreciate it. “My orders alone. The Dark Lord commanded me to take your soul, so that is what I will do. Had I my own way, I would not trouble myself to keep you alive.”

She smiled, and it was apparent that she did not believe me. “Father would have been proud of you.”

“Soul Song!” I said angrily. She became motionless, that awful smile still on her lips. I fled from the temple and into the caves without another look back.

I was so angry that I ran for a long time, not thinking about where I was going, and it was not until I found myself at a dead end that I realized that I had gotten myself lost in the vast, frozen mountain passages. Even more furious at this fact, I stopped and threw myself to the floor, sitting cross-legged against the cold stone wall, my elbows on my knees and my hands under my chin. I sat like this, fuming, for some time, not caring that giant, canary-yellow birdlike creatures were forming a wide circle around me. The creatures, known as silvens, stared at me curiously, but did not come any nearer than ten feet. By the time I had finally calmed down, I heard a loud crash from just outside the cave in which I sat. The silvens shrieked and tottered away toward the sound.

I looked up, and found that the silvens were now surrounding the strangest assortment of humans I had ever seen. There was a skinny, green-haired boy dressed in necromancer’s robes and carrying an orb staff; a tall, tan woman with blonde hair and bearing the tattoos of a demon summoner; a vampress with fiery red hair and eyes; a paladin from the Western Isle in full battle armor; the violet-haired Chosen One brandishing a Sword of Power; and the sun priest who had sworn allegiance to the Dark Lord.

As the party began to fight off the silvens, I rose to my feet and watched with my arms folded. The sword singer was indeed powerful, more so than I had hoped she would be. The necromancer was, too, for his part. The paladin was yelling and swinging his silver sword at everything in his path. And the vampire—-curse her—-was wielding an Elven rapier. The demon summoner and the sun priest, however, were standing at the back of the group and doing relatively little.

Once they had destroyed all the silvens, the necromancer caught sight of me and pointed me out to the others. I have to say, they did look determined.

“Return the druid’s soul, demon!” commanded the sword singer.

“I’m sorry,” I replied calmly, “but I thought I heard you give me an order. But that couldn’t possibly be right.”

“Give us the soul,” added the demon summoner, “and we shall not destroy you.”

I narrowed my eyes. “How dare you address me, witch,” I shot at her. “There is a reason demon summoners are in such short supply, in case you hadn’t noticed.” She said no more, but a look of humiliation appeared on her face. I turned back to the girl. “I see you also have a sun priest in your employ. Have a good feeling about him, do you?”

The boy shifted uneasily. The Chosen One spared him the briefest glance before pointing her weapon at me and saying, “We want the soul. I will not ask again.”

“You humans need to learn manners,” I said coldly. “In any case, I’ve been waiting to destroy you. Ice Storm!”

A vast, dark cloud appeared over the heads of the party, and they were pelted with large, jagged bits of ice. A fierce wind whipped about them, forcing most of them to cower against its strength. A male voice said, “Sunshine!” and bright light shone through the cloud, reducing it and the storm to nothing. The sword singer whispered, “Thank you, Dameon,” and the sun priest nodded.

“I see,” I said, my eyes directly on the sun priest Dameon. “So that is how it is to be. Absolute Zero!”

Dameon immediately became encased in ice. I laughed; he looked like a very lifelike ice sculpture of himself. The paladin and the vampire charged at me, and I shouted, “Wind Whip!” and they were blown back toward the opposite wall.

The demon summoner then began to mutter some words while the others regained their composure; the language she spoke sounded like Demon, but it was too quiet to understand. There was a bright flash of light which consumed the entire chamber, and when it faded, Nanghaithya stood before her, blinking and shaking his head. The rest of the party displayed varying degrees of surprise; the paladin looked absolutely appalled, while the vampire appeared mildly interested. The summoner spoke to Nanghaithya, though I still could not hear, and then he approached me, an incredulous look on his face.

“Indra,” he said with a slight bow of his head.

“I...I don’t understand,” I replied in Demon. “What’s happening?”

He looked back at the summoner, and then turned to me. “They defeated us,” he told me hopelessly, also speaking in Demon. “Zarich, Tawrich, and I. We’ve been sealed in the Demon Realm. Now, evidently, we can be summoned to do her bidding.” He rolled his eyes.

I tilted my head curiously. “And...what is her bidding?”

He laughed. “She’s commanded me to destroy you.”

I raised my eyebrows. “I see. And...you do realize what will happen if you attempt such a thing?”

He laughed heartily again. The summoner shouted, “Nanghaithya!” He turned, and there was a half-scolding, half-impatient look on her face. He sighed.

“I suppose I should make it look convincing, then,” he groaned. “Weevil!” he shouted then, and thrust his left hand toward me. Then, very quickly and jerkily, his arm “somehow” found its way around his right shoulder, and aimed at the party behind him. “Oops!” he said loudly, and the Chosen One and her companions were inundated with large, nasty insects. He winked at me, and then the demon summoner sent him away with extreme haste.

Once the necromancer had managed to relieve the party of weevils, and I had managed to stop laughing, I said, “So...using another daeva against me...did you really think that was a good idea, little witch?”

She narrowed her eyes, but did not answer. She was about to speak, but I said, “Frostbite!” She shivered, and large areas of her arms, neck, and face began to turn deep purple and swollen, and small bleeding blisters appeared in spots. She dropped to the floor, unable to control the shaking. At that moment, the necromancer ran forward and shouted, “Fireball!” at the same time that Dameon, now unfrozen, yelled, “Sunshine!” and the sword singer cried, “Melody of the Sun!” The effect was a white-hot ball of light that struck me directly in the stomach. It felt as though my insides had exploded. I was thrown back against the wall, and I could not move for the pain for several moments. I was unaware of what was happening around me, until the demon summoner, having had my spell removed, drew near me and said something I could not understand. The pain had become too much, and I slipped into unconsciousness.

 

“Indra!” a voice was saying from somewhere above me. “Indra, are you all right? Can you hear me?”

I opened my eyes, and slowly took in my surroundings. I was in the Demon Realm once again, surrounded by Nanghaithya, Zarich, and Tawrich. I could still feel a slight pain in my abdomen.

“Are you all right, Indra?” Nanghaithya asked again. I nodded, and he continued with a sigh, “I had hoped the same fate would not befall you as did us.”

“The sun priest,” I said groggily. “He used a sun spell against me. And the sword singer is—-”

”More powerful than we had guessed she would be,” Zarich finished for me.

I nodded, and Tawrich said, “The sun priest is the one who troubles me, though. I thought he was to turn the girl to our ways?”

I said nothing. Daena had been right, as I knew she would be; he was going to betray us. I just hoped that the others who remained on the surface would be able to stop them...

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SAURVA’S STORY

 

“Saurva!” Ahriman called as he turned to me. I bowed low, and said, “My lord,” in a dramatic sort of way, because I knew that was exactly what the Dark Lord was expecting. He simply loved the fact that I showed him such respect and admiration; certain other daevas had never quite gotten a knack for it like I had. Ahriman grinned and nodded, saying, “You will go to the Stronghold Temple, for Eithera’s soul.”

It could not have worked out better. Agas, of course, was the one who had first subdued the Druid of Strength in order to make her open the demon portal; and certainly he had expected to be sent back there. And I knew, if there was anyone he did not want to go in his stead, it was myself. I couldn’t help smiling. As if to complete the perfect moment, Agas glared at me with barely-quelled rage, and I left before I burst out laughing.

Perhaps I shouldn’t have gotten so much amusement out of the situation. The Southern Isle was, after all, home to some of the deadliest beasts and strongest humans in all of Arishta, and I did not much fancy a battle before I found the druid. But that Agas...just because he was more powerful and stronger and had a more commanding presence...why did that make him better than me? Well, the Dark Lord no longer saw it that way; I had seen to that long ago...

The barren desert that covered most of the Southern Kingdom was eerily quiet when I arrived. Normally, hyenas and giant scorpions could be found scavenging among the sun-bleached bones that littered the landscape; but now, there were no signs of life at all. The weather was rather drier and hotter than usual, which probably explained the absence of creatures, and for which I was rather thankful.

The first real trouble I had was just outside the entrance to the Demon Caves. I ran into a green-haired man dressed in the garb of a royal warrior from the city of Veldt. He eyed me suspiciously, then drew a long scimitar from his belt and pointed it at me.

“What business have you here, demon?” he asked belligerently.

I was really not looking for a fight at this point, so I did what I do best: talked my way out of it. “Forgive me, my lord,” I said with a slight bow of my head. “I did not mean to trespass. I was simply seeking the Demon Caves. I never expected to run across someone of such obviously noble stature.”

He seemed torn between anger and confusion; anger won out in the end. “I am Ugart, husband to the Queen, and I am the strongest man in this kingdom. A demon has no business here, and I am prepared to fight you to the death!”

“My pardon, your highness,” I said with another bow. “I have no desire to fight. I seek refuge from the heat, and the only place for a lowly demon like myself to do so is yonder.” I waved my hand toward the entrance to the cave. “Grant me passage, my lord, and you shall not hear from me again.”

His eyebrows furrowed, but otherwise he did not move. After several minutes, he finally stood back and said, “You mark my words, demon: if I so much as catch scent of you again, I shall have your head before you know I am coming.”

“Of course, my lord.”

He nodded with finality, and then swept off toward the city. I rolled my eyes and sighed. I was fairly certain that I could have destroyed him handily, but it was best not to arouse suspicion at this stage by killing the queen’s husband.

I made my way through the Demon Caves with little resistance. Many dragons lurked in these hollow chambers, and I had a certain rapport with them that the other daevas, even “the Great Agas”, did not. The Stronghold Temple, a fortress of stone set atop a great pyramid and guarded by dragons, was hidden deep within the caves, and was not reached easily. I managed it, though, and found the druid within, pacing the floor and muttering to herself.

“...How I can have let that happen...” she was saying as I entered the shrine. “...If I ever see that daeva again...oh, he will pay. He will pay dearly—-” She stopped, having noticed my presence, and her fury increased.

“Eithera,” I said suavely with a small nod.

“Daeva!” she shouted. “How dare another of you enter my temple! I shall kill you with my bare hands!” And with that, she flew at me, arms outstretched.

A blind panic took me; I had not expected this at all. I knew what I had to do, but I had completely forgotten how to do it. “Soul Song!” I bellowed finally, with the druid mere inches from tearing me apart. She stopped dead, frozen in that bizarre stance, and I breathed again. One thing was clear: I needed to put as much distance between that druid and her soul as was possible.

The first level of the Demon Caves looked very much as caves should look; but as one ventured further down, one found what looked more like an ancient underground castle, complete with battlements, stone courtyards, and flowing rivers of molten lava. Here the dragons were less numerous, but larger and more dangerous. They did not trouble me, of course; many already knew me, and those that didn’t merely asked where I was going and then continued on their way. When I spoke of my errand, I was pointed in many directions, though none of the locations referred to me offered quite the level of security I had hoped to find.

“Through there,” a large red dragon said to me at one point, speaking his own dialect and indicating a narrow doorway behind him, “something strange lies. I am not certain what it is or what it does, but I’m sure a daeva might find it useful.”

“What makes you so sure?” I asked him in Dragon.

He shook his head. “There is a strange aura around it. Something powerful.” He then took his leave, and I ventured through the arched doorway.

Inside was a very small room, with nothing of note save a small brass oil lamp on the floor. I picked it up and examined it. It was battered and tarnished in places, and could have used a good polishing. It was rather warm to the touch, as though it had been used recently. I opened it, but found nothing inside.

“Hmm,” I said aloud. I had heard tales of the djinn, but I had always believed them to be just that and nothing more. Still, supposing that nothing was beyond the realm of possibility, I shrugged and rubbed the lamp.

At once, a thin vapor began to issue from the spout, gradually increasing until it became a thick golden cloud filling nearly the entire room. Then the smoke cleared, and a large, dark-skinned bald man appeared, hovering over me. He could have been a human from this southern isle, from his manner of dress and speech, if not for the fact that there was a trail of golden vapor where his legs should have been.

“Master,” he said in a deep, commanding voice with a bow of his head. “I thank you for freeing me from—-wait. You are a demon!”

“Excellent observation,” I returned. “Nonetheless, I am now your master. I ask only for a place to hide an item...which...now that I think on it...” It was perfect, really. Who would think to look inside a lamp for a daeva? “I wish you to grant me entrance into your lamp.”

He was clearly outraged. “I—-what?! No! You cannot be—-that is—-why should I?”

“Because I have wished it,” I said. “You have no choice.”

“Very well,” he growled. Within moments, I had the sensation of being squeezed into a very tight space, and then brief darkness. When it ended, I was standing beside the djinn, who now had legs, in the middle of a vast, dark desert. In the distance, there was an enormous palace, reminiscent of the one in Veldt, but much larger and more ornate.

“There you are,” he grunted. “If you have any other need of my service, please hesitate to ask.”

As he stalked off into the “night”, as it were, I called after him, “As a matter of fact, I do have need.”

He rounded on me, his eyes blazing. “Be advised, demon,” he said through gritted teeth, “that the very moment another rubs this lamp, you cease to be my master. And then...you shall feel my wrath.”

“I don’t doubt it,” I said smoothly. I could tell that this creature was a force to be reckoned with, and it would be foolish to try to fight it while I was still inside its home. “I do not wish to make you my enemy. I hardly wish to be a burden upon you. The trouble is, I have something very important, something that others will want to steal from me. And I merely need a place in which to hide it. Allow me access to your grand palace; you shall hardly notice my presence.”

He stared long and hard at me, but what his thoughts were I could not tell. Finally he said, “Important, eh?...Well, I suppose you are still my...master...” He sighed heavily. “This way.” Relieved that my ruse had worked, I followed along in the djinn’s wake as he tramped off toward the palace.

Quite apart from the size and strength of it, the palace was heavily guarded by fiercesome creatures as well: large, bull-like myrs, who vaguely reminded me of Aesma; feisty little asps, humanoid female creatures whose hair, skin, and clothing were a violent shade of pink; and enormous lightning-blue dragons, the likes of which I had never seen before. All these beasts watched with malice and contempt as I passed by them, clearly wondering why a demon had invaded their domicile.

There were many corridors and rooms, winding inside and outside of the palace, each as resplendent as the last. Were this palace not inside a lamp, it might have been quite inhabitable. The djinn led me to a large drawing room, which was set quite apart from most of the rest of the palace, reached by a single long, winding corridor.

“I would...appreciate it...if you would remain here while you have need of refuge,” he said, evidently trying to keep his anger to a bare minimum. I was reminded strongly of Agas, and I quickly stifled a laugh at the djinn’s expense.

The rest of the time I spent there was mildly entertaining. Every so often, I would request something of the djinn, just enough to irk him, but not enough to incite his wrath. I would also wander the corridors, learning the ways of the beasts therein, and building up a bit of a rapport with them. I did not know what had prompted me to do this; something, somewhere in the recesses of my mind told me that despite the fact that I was inside the lamp, I should still protect myself.

It was lucky that I did this, too, because there came a time when the djinn found me lurking in a corridor well beyond the drawing room to which he had assigned me and announced, “It’s over, demon.”

“What is over?” I asked.

“I have a new master,” he said with a smirk, “and so it is time for you to go. One way or another.” He cracked his knuckles menacingly.

“You would not dare to attack a daeva...would you, now?”

“A—-a daeva?” he sputtered, taken aback. “You are a—-of course you are. Why have you not made mention of this until now?” he wondered suspiciously.

I grinned maliciously. “I should not have needed to; it should have been glaringly apparent. You have spent too long in this lamp, my friend. Now, I obviously know naught about this new ‘master’ of yours, but I highly doubt he is more powerful than I.”

“There are several, actually,” he said. “And...as a matter of fact...their wish was to find...you.”

Could it be? Was the prophecy actually being fulfilled? I could not imagine how the Chosen One could possibly have found me, save by a lucky chance. Perhaps that was all this was. “Right, then. But as they have wished to find me, then you shall have to bring them here.”

He opened his mouth to argue, but apparently could find no hole in my logic. “Very well,” he groaned, gritting his teeth. He vanished in a cloud of smoke, and I returned to my drawing room, knowing full well that once the girl and her companions, however numerous they might be, were inside the lamp, the djinn’s guardians would take care of them for me.

It was quite a long time before discovered that I had been mistaken. The Chosen One, a scrawny teenaged sword singer, and five companions had gotten past all the beasts I had counted as reliable, and were now filing into the room as though they belonged there. What surprised me most was the caliber of fighter with which the girl had chosen to ally herself: a necromancer, barely older than she was; a vampire, looking around with a bored expression on her face; a paladin, who clearly had no couth whatever; a severe-looking demon summoner; and the Sun Guardian, who was clearly not doing as Ahriman had ordered and turning the girl to our side. I sized up my opponents, and decided that I would not be able to talk my way out of this one.

“I’ve been waiting for you,” I drawled.

“We’ve come—-oh,” the Chosen One said. Evidently she had had a speech prepared. “Well, then you know why we’re here. So hand over the soul.”

“Fresh from the academy, and already doling out orders? Didn’t they teach you manners at that school?”

She was not to be daunted. “Just give us the soul, and we won’t destroy you.”

“So you actually think you’re going to defeat me?” I asked incredulously.

The Chosen One glared at me. “We don’t think, we know.”

I smirked. “I don’t think you know, either.” I sighed. “I had hoped it wouldn’t come to this, that perhaps we could have reached some sort of agreement. But I can see there is no talking to you. Scorch!”

At once, the entire chamber was filled with a blazing fire. The humans yelped and danced around wildly, which was highly amusing. Someone, presumably the necromancer, yelled, “Thunderstorm!” The ceiling became obscured by dark clouds, and a heavy, drenching rain began to fall, extinguishing the blaze. The paladin ran at me, holding his sword aloft. “Implode!” I shouted; but before my spell reached him, the demon summoner shrieked, “Imp!” A swarm of small green imps appeared out of the air, took the brunt of my spell, and each of their bodies collapsed upon itself, until they were a lifeless mass of scaly green flesh.

I began to cast another spell, when I was suddenly struck in my right arm by an arrow. Before I recognized the source of the attack, another came sailing toward me, grazing my left leg. The vampire, I finally saw, had a crossbow, and was preparing to fire it a third time. “Bomb!” I said. She leapt back out of the way, but the crossbow flew out of her hands with the force of the explosion.

“Siren Call!” the sword singer yelled, swinging her sword furiously. I stepped out of the way and said, “Thermal Storm!”

The temperature in the room began to climb, higher and higher, and the atmosphere took on a thick, oily haze. One by one the Chosen One’s party dropped to the floor, overcome by the smothering heat. The air was shimmering with pure, excruciating heat, and none of the “heroes,” such as they were, were on their feet. Believing them defeated, I let down my guard; this proved to be a fatal mistake.

I approached the sword singer, who lay gasping on the floor like a fish removed from water, and said, “My way would have been easier, you know. Instead, you suffer.”

At that moment, I felt a searing pain in my left leg. I looked down, and found that the vampire had crawled over while my attention was diverted and sliced me with an Elven rapier. I dropped to my knees as the pain spread like poison.

“You...talk too much,” the vampire murmured, still struggling for breath.

With what appeared to be every ounce of strength she had left, the sword singer pulled herself to her knees, pointed her sword at me, and muttered, “Ogre...Dance!”

My injury would not allow me to dodge the attack. A narrow beam of fiery red light shot from her sword, directly at my chest. I could no longer draw breath without considerable pain. I fell to the ground, my head swimming. There was slow movement and drowsy muttering around me, but I could neither see nor hear anything clearly. And quite suddenly, the world went dark.

When the light returned, I found myself transported back to the Demon Realm, though I had no recollection of how it could have happened. But I had not been the first to return.

“Saurva!” Zarich shouted. He, Nanghaithya, Tawrich, and Indra were standing in a circle in the broken stone courtyard in which I now found myself. The others looked up when Zarich shouted, and they approached me with disappointed, though not surprised, looks upon their faces.

“What’s happened here?” I asked the group at large. “Why are we in the Demon Realm?”

Indra looked at me curiously. “Do you not know?”

“I—-well—-the Chosen One—-”

”We have all...‘met’ the Chosen One,” Tawrich said, thankfully sparing me my explanation. “And the demon summoner with whom she travels.”

“And for some reason, the summoner has decided to seal us here instead of destroying us outright,” Zarich added.

“Apparently she thinks we will do her bidding,” Indra concluded.

“Not a bright idea on her part, was it?” Nanghaithya said slyly with a glance at Indra, who grinned.

I was relieved that I hadn’t been the only—-and more so that I hadn’t been the first—- daeva to have been defeated by the Chosen One. But something still troubled me.

“But...is this all of us?” I wondered. “Here in the Demon Realm, I mean?”

Nanghaithya nodded slowly. “Aesma and Agas remain on the surface.”

“Of course,” I muttered bitterly. He’d beaten me once again; what a surprise.

Indra gazed off into the distance, a misty look in her eyes. She sighed. Then, almost at once, her demeanor changed. Her eyes became sharp and focused, her brows furrowed, and she turned on her heel and began to pace about the courtyard, muttering angrily.

“This will not be good,” Tawrich said darkly.

He was right. We had all seen Indra this way before; it wouldn’t be long before she would fly into a rage, and then, no one would be safe.

“No news from the Dark Lord?” I asked Nanghaithya quietly.

“None,” he replied curtly. “Is the sun priest still with them?”

“Yes. And he does not appear too terribly concerned with completing his task.”

Zarich grunted and cracked his knuckles. “He will pay...”

“He won’t be the only one,” I said, watching Indra’s furious pacing, my mind no longer on the sun priest.

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AESMA’S STORY

 

“Aesma!” Ahriman said. “Take Vata’s soul!” I laughed; I’d had a feeling he’d send me after the old man. “Yes, my lord!” I replied. I charged through the wall, because I personally feel that if you’re going to make an exit, you might as well do it right, and traveled at once to Aveyond.

Surrounded by impassable mountains, an island of springtime in the sea of frozen tundra that made up the Northern Kingdom, Aveyond was one of the “prettier” places in Arishta. It was this fact that made this an ideal destination for someone with as much murder in his blood as I had. There were so many beautiful things to destroy, it was hard to know where to begin...until I remembered, of course, that I had more pressing matters to which to attend. As I passed through Aveyond, I tore up a few trees, drained a pond, and promised myself that I would stop in the bini village on the way back; the Memory Caverns were my destination that day.

These were little less “pleasant”, as it were, than the surface. The walls were of a smooth white stone, the streams and pools were filled with a sweet-smelling pinkish water, and the most frightening things to be found were toads and magic mushrooms. Oh, the things that I could do with this place, I thought as I careened through the tunnels, seeking the temple of the one humans called “Father Time”.

I came at length to a cave with no outlet. Much of the floor was taken up by a wide pool of pink water, which was filled by a waterfall in the back wall, issuing from the ceiling. The fragrance of the water was overpowering. I sighed.

“I miss the smell of blood,” I said aloud. “When the world is ours, this place shall be the first to go.” And with that, I waded across the pool and crashed through the waterfall and into the chamber beyond.

It was a very large chamber, and if one didn’t know better, one might have thought there was no cave at all. There was soft green grass carpeting the floor, and so many trees that the walls were obscured from sight. A clear running stream cut across my path. The floor was dotted with flowers and mushrooms, some of which appeared to have windows and doors, and everything seemed to be coated in a sparkling dust. The only way out of this place, save through the waterfall, was a narrow opening at the back of the chamber, which led down another long corridor. I suppressed the urge to conjure a fireball.

Some insect buzzed by my ear as I began to cross the room; I swatted it away, and heard a high-pitched squealing, followed by more buzzing, and then a tiny, presumably angry voice said, “Begone, demon! You are not welcome here!”

It was some moments before I was able to locate the source of the voice: a minuscule, winged boy dressed in the attire of a human prince. His arms were folded across his chest, and he appeared to be scowling.

I looked at him incredulously, speechless for a moment. He couldn’t possibly be serious? They are not worth your time, Aesma, I told myself, eager though I was to annihilate the lot of them. And there were a lot of them, hovering before me like angry wasps, as though they thought that by their sheer number I might find them intimidating. I batted the fairy prince away and muttered, “Earthquake.” The chamber began to tremble violently, the fairies shrieked and scattered, and I continued through to the narrow passageway beyond.

At the end of the long corridor, through a narrow archway, there was a narrow platform of rock, overlooking a wide, bottomless gorge. On the other side of the chasm sat the ancient stone Temple of Time, with no visible way to reach it. Beside me on the platform was a stone obelisk with a round indentation near the top, and which bore the words, “Rainbow Bridge”.

“Rainbow Bridge,” I sneered derisively. I looked out over the gorge and said, “Winds of Hell!”

A fierce wind, both biting cold and suffocatingly hot at once, rose up from the gorge, whipping through the enormous cavern and shaking the very foundations of the earth. The air currents created by my spell allowed me to walk across the chasm to the shrine; it was like walking on invisible, springy turf. No one else could have done so, of course; even the other daevas would have had a terrible time of it. Perhaps another reason Ahriman had sent me here.

The Time Temple, whose walls were lined with many bookshelves and all manner of time pieces, from the grandest grandfather clock to the smallest of pocketwatches, was one of the oldest buildings in all the human world. And it certainly gave that appearance, too; it looked as if one good shake would collapse it into rubble. I sighed. Again, not why I was there.

Vata, a stooped old man with long silver hair and beard, was seated in a large cushioned armchair near a brightly burning fireplace, examining a large golden hourglass. With the racket I made upon entering, the old man had to have heard me; but he did not look up, or make any sign that he knew I was there.

“Vata, do you no longer welcome visitors?” I said, loudly and sarcastically.

He looked up slowly, squinting his bespectacled eyes at me. “Oh, Aesma,” he replied in a croaky voice. “I was distracted. But I thought you all were sealed in the Demon Realm by the druids?”

“Are you not one of them?” I asked incredulously. “In any case, we are not sealed in there any longer, as you can plainly see. But I am not here to mince words, old man.”

“One of them? Oh, I suppose.” Was the Druid of Time actually stalling for it? “But I was not present when the portal was sealed. Not my place, you know. Not anyone’s place, really.”

I growled in irritation. “Enough! I’m here for your soul, not to reminisce!”

He shook his head and sighed. “I remember when you were just a young demon. You didn’t even dream of becoming a daeva. And look at you now. Look at all of you.” He sniffed. “Time does slip by, doesn’t it?”

“Soul Song!” I shouted. His soul now in my hands, Vata sat rooted to his chair, that hatefully calm expression on his wizened old face. He was never even the least bit frightened. He was always acting like some human’s kindly old grandfather; it was infuriating.

I left the temple the way I had come. The fairies were still recovering from the earthquake, which gave me a little chuckle. When I finally arrived back on the surface, I decided to skip the bini town and head for another place I had been longing to see: the kingdom of Thais.

At one time it had been the greatest and most beautiful of all the kingdoms of Arishta. It was prosperous and green, and its people were healthy and happy. It was an excellent place to unleash ruin and terror...or, it would have been. But Ahriman had been to this kingdom before. He had had a particular vendetta against its king and queen, just as he had with the Dreamer. And believe you me, it showed.

The green that had once ruled this land had been replaced by a dreary gray. There was not a tree nor a blade of grass to be seen. Red wolves and rogues—-sword-toting, half-man, half-wolf creatures—-roved the barren lands, through which a bitter wind was blowing. It was a little disappointing, really, not to have anything to destroy; but I had to admit, the Dark Lord hadn’t missed a detail.

“Well,” I sighed, “since I’m here...” I still had a soul of which to rid myself, and I knew that the Dark Caverns outside the stone walls of the city were the best place to do that. They wound endlessly beneath the city, darker and darker as one went further down. Lizard men and giant winged snakes were present in mass quantities, though as they were rather frightened of me, they did not make for very good company. I found a large cave spotted with dank pools of dreary water, and decided to wait there for news of success of Ahriman’s plans.

What I received instead, after quite a while of waiting, was a visit from a tiny little sword singer and a motley crew of would-be heroes, including a feeble-looking necromancer, a demon summoner, a pirate, a vampress, and that miserable sun priest, who was looking a bit on the apprehensive side. I was surprised that they had gotten past all those wicked creatures, but it didn’t really matter, because that just left more fun for me.

I took my advantage immediately. The other daevas were often surprised by my speed, especially “for a big guy,” as they often said. I ran circles around the party, striking them physically rather than throwing spells at them, and their confusion showed as they kept falling to the ground with various injuries, unable to see the source.

“The demon is moving to fast!” the necromancer hollered at last after I lifted the pirate bodily and flung him against a wall. “We need something to slow it down!”

“Let’s use the magic clock we got from the top of the beanstalk!” replied the sword singer, just as I shoved the necromancer to the ground and stomped on his stomach.

Magic clock? Beanstalk? What in the name of Darkness is she talking about? I thought. I found out soon enough, as she managed to pull from her backpack a large golden clock and toss it to the ground in front of me. The effect was instantaneous; suddenly, and for some wild reason, my speed was taken from me. I felt as though I was moving through water. I roared in frustration.

“Give-give us the s-soul of Vata, demon!” the sword singer stammered, pointing what appeared to be a sword of power at me.

“Curious,” I said. “Are you afraid of me, child?”

“No!” she returned hotly. “You-you’re...bigger than the other daevas.”

“Rhen,” said the necromancer warningly, having nearly recovering from my last attack.

She nodded and seemed to regain her senses. “But it doesn’t matter! If you don’t hand it over, we will destroy you!”

I laughed, and shook my head. “I eat you now.”

“Weevil!” shouted the necromancer. A swarm of the insects flew into the room, straight toward me. I laughed loudly, took a deep breath, and blew the creatures away and toward the humans, who scrambled madly.

“Is that the best you have?” I said. “Earthquake!”

The floor trembled, the walls shook, and the humans, unable to remain standing, were thwarted. For a moment.

“Invigorate!” the sun priest called. The humans got up at once, no longer affected by the violent shaking of the earth. I glared at him.

“I should have seen it all along,” I said to him. “Agas was right about you. It’s a very good thing you found me...now I can destroy you. Annihilate!”

An enormous explosion nearly tore apart the entire chamber, blasting the humans toward the walls and ceiling. The blast did not kill them, however; they were obviously stronger than I had given them credit for. The vampire drew a crossbow at fired a few shots at me from the floor, but I dodged them easily. The necromancer croaked, “Lightning Strike!” and bolt of lightning shot through my chest. A bit on the painful side, but not terribly effective.

“Why do you keep trying?” I asked them. “You have no hope of surviving. Tsunami!”

A tidal force wave crashed into the room, sweeping the still-recovering humans against the back wall and filling all space within the chamber. As I stood waiting for them to drown, I caught sight of a dark figure swimming rapidly toward me. I turned to strike it, but the human had already stabbed me through the stomach with something extremely painful. As the pain spread outward, I lost my hold on my spell; the water drained from the chamber, and I saw the pirate lying on the ground near me, an Elven rapier clutched in his hand. I should have realized pirates could swim.

“S-silence!” the sun priest faltered. and my speech was taken from me. Reeling though my senses were from the pain inflicted by the Elvish blade, I grabbed the sun priest by the front of his robes and began to shake him violently.

“Fate Twist!” the sword singer gasped. I turned briefly, and a jagged beam of blue light struck my already injured stomach. I dropped the sun priest, and staggered toward the sword singer, intent on destroying her once and for all, despite that fact that my insides were on fire. As she cowered on the floor, I heard a deep female voice from somewhere to my right, speaking in what sounded like Demon. I looked over, my head spinning, and just caught sight of the demon summoner, when the world began to whirl about me and then fade into nothing.

When it all came back, I was startled to find that I was now in the Demon Realm, far from the humans and from my task. Even worse, I found that the other daevas had preceded me. “NO!” I bellowed furiously. The daevas remained where they stood. “NO!” I yelled again. “This will not stand! The Sun Priest—-the Sun Priest shall PERISH! I will not abide this!”

“Easy, old friend,” said a voice. I looked down and saw Agas beside me, gripping my arm bracingly. This is the end, I thought briefly. All the daevas were back in the Demon Realm, the one place we had hoped never to see again. But someone would pay...in fact, there were many who would pay...

 

******

 

next chapter goes back to the main story. and i think that's all for now. staring at a computer screen for 9 hours at work and then coming home and doing it is so NOT a good idea...:roll:

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kaz, didn't we establish that a long time ago...? i seem to recall you saying that before...

 

PS: nice signiture XD

 

so how long are we going to have to wait for a new chapter? meaning, how long after you catch up? XD

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i finished the part told by Agas, and tomorrow i will read the other parts! they really are great and i'm glad you're reposting them!! it's so long though! couldn't you have put a little space in between them?! no, i'm kidding, i'll just finish it later!

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Wheee!! You're back! Sorry, I wasn't going to comment until an update but everyone else did. lol :)

 

I'm glad you came back, I probably wouldn't have if you and Cherry didn't come back! lol

 

Anyhoo, glad it's back! :)

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tei: how long will you have to wait?...slightly longer than i will. haven't i mentioned that agas isn't speaking to me at the moment? XD

 

princessfurball: you think THIS is long? aww, man, are YOU in for it. :lol: but thanks!

 

daeva_agas: yeah, i'm partial to the daevas' stories too. :)

 

dis: if you had waited for an update...you would have been waiting a LOOOONG time. and i'm glad you and cherry came back too. i kept looking for your story...

 

 

okay, maybe another chapter or two...

(back to the main story, btw)

 

 

Chapter 7 - The Accord

 

There was silence for quite some time, and no one moved. Finally Tawrich, who had the uncanny ability to break even the most uncomfortable silence, said, “And so passes Ahriman.”

At once, the daevas and humans alike began to stir, checking each other to make sure there were no serious injuries and such. Zarich and Saurva attended to Indra, who was still shaking with residual rage. Aesma began speaking rapidly to Tawrich. Nanghaithya kept shooting furtive, highly interested glances at Tei’jal, who returned them with relish. Dameon was attending to the pirate John, who had been unconscious nearly the entire time, and Elini, who was sporting a wide gash across her forehead and burns on her arms.

“Rhen?” Lars said, approaching her timidly. She remained rooted to the spot where she stood, staring down at Ahriman’s vacant robes, the Sword of Shadows held loosely at her side. “Rhen, are you all right?”

“I feel so...guilty,” she said after a long pause. “He was just lying there...he...he looked like an old man...just a scared old man...”

“Part of his charm,” I said wryly. I turned to Nanghaithya, who nodded, and then to the place where Dameon sat with the pirate and the summoner. Elini caught my eye, waved Dameon off, and rose to her feet.

“Demon summoner,” I said, “I believe we had an accord.”

The other humans looked at her, bewildered. Tei’jal looked away. Elini took a deep breath, released it, and said, “That—-that we did.” She looked sadly down at Dameon.

Dameon stood up quickly, but said nothing. I had never seen anyone look more frightened.

“Accord?” said John groggily, raising himself up on his elbow. “You made a deal with this demon?”

“I—-” Elini began, but she faltered, throwing her injured arms up in defeat.

“I don’t understand,” Rhen said slowly. “I though the daevas were under your spell, Elini. Why would you need to have an agreement with them?”

“The daevas...are...not...under my spell,” Elini finished with difficulty. “I cannot explain why, but...I no longer...command them.”

The other humans immediately went on the defensive. John leapt to his feet and drew his rapier, and Rhen turned the Sword of Shadows on me. Aesma laughed heartily.

“Put it away, little girl,” I told the sword singer. “While it is true that the summoner does not have command over us, she is also the only reason we are here at all.”

Nanghaithya nodded. “It is her summoning spell that brought us to your world from the Demon Realm, and it is the only thing holding us here at the present.”

“And once the spell is reversed,” Tawrich added, “we shall return from whence we came.”

“But she will not do that,” I said, turning to Elini again, “until she has met the terms of our agreement.”

“And what if she refuses?” Lars burst out angrily.

“None of you wants to know what happens then,” I replied. I gave him an evil smile. “You were right not to trust me, necromancer.”

“What are you talking about? What are you planning to do?” Rhen asked.

“Just do it,” Elini muttered furiously. “Just take him and go.”

“Take him?” Rhen interjected. “Take who? Elini? Take who?

“Who would like to go and collect our prize?” I asked loudly. Aesma darted forward at once, grinning wickedly. He grabbed Dameon, who was very pale and shaking, by the shoulders and lifted him off the ground. “The time has come,” Aesma told him. Dameon struggled, while Aesma laughed at him, and then—-

“NO!”

But it was not Dameon who had shouted. It was Rhen. She was pointing the Sword of Shadows at me again, shivering with rage. “You cannot have him! We will destroy you all before you take him!”

“Oh, we will, will we?” I looked around at the rest of her party, and she followed suit. Elini dropped her gaze to the floor and said nothing. Tei’jal looked away, shaking her head slowly. John gave her a sheepish half-grin and shrugged, saying, “Pirate.” Rhen turned to the boy beside her and gave him a pleading look.

“What would you have me do, Rhen?” he asked miserably, after a rather long pause. “Even with that sword, the two of us can’t take on all seven daevas at once.”

The look she gave him then made him quail; for the briefest moment she looked like Indra had not long before. She turned back to me. “Then I shall take you all on myself. And I shall start with you.”

“Ice Storm!” Indra shouted, at the same time that Zarich yelled, “Weevil!” The effect was very interesting. Thick, jagged bits of ice began to pelt the girl from above her head, and upon making contact, they melted into large, brownish insects which swarmed at her feet. She dropped to her knees and put her arms over her head, screaming. Lars conjured a windstorm, which swept the offending icy beetles away, and dropped down beside Rhen. She was still grasping the sword.

“You should have listened to the boy,” said Zarich. “Do not be foolish.”

Rhen slowly rose to her feet again, her eyes glistening. “You can’t have him,” she murmured. “I won’t let you take him.”

“You are aware that he was working for Ahriman the entire time, aren’t you?” I asked her. “He did not accompany you on this journey to keep you safe or help you destroy the Dark Lord. He had to make sure you got this far, so that he could convince you to turn to our ways.”

“I don’t believe you.” Every syllable dripped with hatred.

“Then don’t. But I saw it with my own eyes. He asked Ahriman to make him a daeva. He wanted revenge on his wretched mother. And you were the key to all of it.”

I don’t believe you!” she screamed, swinging her sword violently at me. I cast Motion Freeze, and she stopped, the sword above her head, her face twisted with fury.

“Now you will listen,” I said calmly. “I would first like you to realize that none of your friends seem surprised by anything that I have said. Do you think it possible, therefore, that perhaps the sun priest is not what he appears? I would also like to point out that if it were not for the daevas, you would not have been able to find and destroy Ahriman, and so quite apart from our accord, I should like you to show us a little respect.

“Now, as agreed, we shall return to the Demon Realm, and we will take with us what is owed, and you may go about your business as you see fit. I am going to release you, and you will calmly put away the sword.”

I lifted the spell, and Rhen let her arms fall to her sides. Silent tears began to pour down her cheeks. “Don’t take him,” she pleaded. “I—-I don’t care if he’s done wrong...I...I love him.”

Lars dropped his staff to the floor with a loud clatter. Aesma actually dropped Dameon and wheeled around, staring incredulously at the back of Rhen’s head. Dameon whispered, “Rhen—-” but Aesma shoved him to the floor before he could say another word. The other daevas, varying degrees of surprise or amusement present on their faces, said nothing.

“I see,” I replied. “And I suppose that, by saying this, you thought you would appeal to our better natures and we might relent? You forget with whom you are dealing, sword singer. We are daevas. Daevas do not feel love. Why then should we be concerned with your pitiable human emotions?”

Rhen looked around at the other daevas’ faces, perhaps hoping that one might show signs of pity. Indra’s left eye was twitching, and Aesma was still looking incredulous, but all other faces were stony. She looked back at me and whispered, “Please.”

“Well, what say you, daevas?” I announced. “The girl seems to think that because she loves him, we should forget our agreement and leave the sun priest with her. How do you feel about that?”

There was a stunned silence, and finally Saurva said, “You are joking, Agas.”

I turned around and raised an eyebrow; as though he’d needed to ask.

Aesma grabbed Dameon again, threw him over his shoulder, and said, “Return us to the Demon Realm, summoner.”

Elini said nothing; she looked as though she was going to be ill. She nodded curtly, invoked the counterspell that would release us from her, and in a flash of bright light and a whirl of color and sound, we were sent from the human world, and the Demon Realm swam into view.

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Chapter 8 - The Decision

 

Demons, despite what humans might think of them, for the most part have lived in similar fashion to the race of men. The Demon Realm has always been filled with large cities; towering stone fortresses; vast dark mountains; rivers and seas of molten lava, blood, or black water; even small villages where lesser demons resided in ruined stone cottages. At the center was Grazadh-Uguzg, the capital city, if you will, of all the Demon Realm.

It was here, in the citadel where Ahriman once resided before he escaped to the surface, where we decided to hold court for the time being. The exterior gave the impression of a castle in ruin: broken battlements, crumbling towers, and wrought iron gates that hung hazardously from their hinges. It gave no indication of what was on the inside.

The walls of the interior were of a shiny obsidian, and the floors a jet black marble. There were smooth, shiny black columns carved in intricate patterns of various foul beasts and birds, all laid with bloodred Demonish letters. The entrance hall was wide and empty, save for doorways set at intervals along the walls, and a wide curving staircase on either side. Two large ornate doors of ebony and iron were set in the back wall.

“Before we do anything else,” Aesma announced, “we’ll have to find a place for this one.” He raised his fist, in which he held the sun priest by the back of his robes, and lifted the boy several feet in the air.

“True,” I said thoughtfully. At that moment, the front doors burst open, and in came Uzga, the look on her face unreadable. She looked around at us, and glared at the sun priest. Then she fixed me with a determined stare.

“Is it true?” she asked me. “I have heard a rumor. The Dark Lord—-”

”Is no more,” I finished for her. Her presence suddenly gave me an idea, and before she could reply, I said, “Aesma, let me have the sun priest. Uzga, come with me.”

Aesma let go of Dameon’s robes and pushed him forward. I took hold of the boy’s arm and dragged him off through a doorway on the left, Uzga following bewilderedly after us. After some time of roaming through dark, winding passages and down endless flights of stairs, Uzga finally said, “Where in Darkness’ name are you taking me?”

I stopped moments later, and her question was answered. We had ended at an iron door at the end of a long corridor. She looked at Dameon, and then at me, and her expression made me think that she might slap me.

“You cannot think-—” she began in a dangerous voice.

“No, Uzga, I am not asking you to do it,” I said. “How quickly can you have one of your Angels here?”

She pursed her lips. “Reezna!” she shouted, and within seconds, an Angel of Death appeared at her side, her cobalt skin, royal blue hair, and dark brown wings only the slightest of contrasts to Uzga’s appearance. “My lady. My lord,” the angel said with a nod at Uzga and then at me. “What is it you require of me?”

I opened the iron door and led the three of them inside. The passage beyond was dank, narrow, and completely dark. I waved my hand, bringing to life a few torches set in brackets along the left wall. The right wall was occupied by a number of small, dark cells with thick iron bars. The floor of each cell was littered with bones, but none were occupied by anything living. I chose a cell about halfway down the corridor, opened the heavy gate, and pushed Dameon inside. After the gate was closed and sealed, I said to Reezna, “I need you to watch the prisoner. Make sure he doesn’t do anything stupid, like try to escape, or hurt himself.”

Reezna took a long look at Dameon, and a wicked smile broke across her face. “He’s cute, for a human.”

I laughed, and Uzga rolled her eyes impatiently. I turned to Dameon, who looked thoroughly non-plussed. “Are you not going to kill me?” he asked.

I raised an eyebrow. “What makes you say that?”

“You called me ‘prisoner’,” he answered. “And you said something about me escaping.”

I was taken aback. The boy understood Demon after all, however little it was. “Very well. You are here to wait until your fate is decided. Were it up to me alone, I would have destroyed you long ago. But that is not how we do things. Oh, and you might want to be careful; Reezna here has taken a fancy to you.”

Reezna winked at him as he turned to her, his eyes wide. He backed slowly away from the bars.

As Uzga and I left the dungeon, she stopped me outside the iron door. “So,” she said seductively, batting her eyelashes and running her finger down my chest, “the Dark Lord’s demise...means that the daevas are in charge again...”

Heel, Uzga,” I said, pushing her off of me. “There is still much to do. But once our plans have succeeded, you may have your choice of daevas.” I turned to go, and then stopped and looked at her again. “Except me. I am spoken for.”

“Oh, you’re no fun,” she pouted as she followed me back through the castle basement to the upper floors. “Hmm. Perhaps Nanghaithya would be more willing...”

Somehow, I didn’t think so. “I am not discussing this with you. When we get upstairs, you may take your leave. We do not wish to be disturbed.”

When we arrived at the now vacant entrance hall, Uzga departed, and I entered the throne room through the doors at the back of the hall. Through these doors was a vast chamber. The floor, walls, and ceiling were black marble, ornately carved and overlaid with more Demonish characters. The columns in here were a bloodred marble, and along the walls were dark, ancient tapestries depicting the daevas of old slaying and torturing humans. At the back of the room was a low marble dais, with a large, elaborate throne of dark red velvet and tarnished gold. In the very center, beneath an iron chandelier filled with black candles, was a long, polished ebony table, with matching chairs all around it. The other daevas were already within. Zarich, who had apparently never noticed the tapestries before, was investigating them with interest.

“This one is of my father,” he said aloud, indicating a wall hanging that showed a severe-looking demon using a lightning spell to electrocute half a dozen cringing humans.

“Your father was a daeva?” Indra asked curiously, now also peering at the tapestry.

He looked at her. “Yours wasn’t?”

“Most of our...parents...weren’t,” said Saurva, who was sitting at the table wearing a bored expression.

Tawrich nodded. “Just your father, Zarich...and Zurvan.”

“Who’s—-?” Zarich began, directing his eyes to where Tawrich was pointing.

A little further down from the tapestry of Zarich’s father was one featuring a large and rather wolfish demon standing atop a mound of human bones. The humans shown on the tapestry that were still living either were cowering in fear, or their bodies were being twisted and contorted in improbable ways. Zarich and Indra both moved closer, and Indra said quietly, “Then this is Zurvan?”

“One of the greatest and most powerful daevas who ever lived,” Tawrich said, “present company excluded, of course. I remember him well.” Then, surprisingly, he turned to me. “He would have been very proud of you.”

“I doubt it,” I muttered, looking away from him and at Zarich and Indra, who were both looking at me curiously. “Yes, Zurvan was my father,” I told them grudgingly.

“I remember him, too,” Aesma said. “Second best Reality Shift I’ve ever seen.” He nodded at me.

I chuckled. “I’m not sure you mean that, Aesma, but I appreciate it all the same.”

Tell me we aren’t here to discuss our family histories,” Saurva said in his familiarly snotty way.

I gritted my teeth. “You’re right, Saurva. Congratulations.” He sneered at me, and I said, “Daevas, if you will...”

We all took seats at the table, with Tawrich at the head in his place of respect, and Nanghaithya, who had been strangely quiet, opposite him. I sat to Tawrich’s left.

“We have many things to discuss,” said Tawrich. “But first, we have a decision to make. What is to be done with the sun priest?”

“Death,” said Aesma immediately from directly across the table. “Slow, painful death.”

“Here, here,” Zarich agreed, from Nanghaithya’s right.

“I’m for that,” I added.

“Well I don’t know that I am,” drawled Saurva. “We should not be so quick to deal out death in judgement.”

“Oh, please,” I shot at him. “You only don’t want to kill him because I do.”

“No, I think Saurva is right,” replied Indra, who was seated beside me. “Besides, I think there are far worse things we could do to him than kill him.”

“That is true,” Nanghaithya said. “To destroy someone does not necessarily mean to take his life.”

After a brief silence, Tawrich said, “So this is where it stands. Three for the death of the sun priest, and three against.” He paused. “This is my vote. We shall not kill the sun priest.” Zarich groaned, and Aesma and I looked at each other, disappointed. Tawrich continued, “Instead, I think we should give him what he asked for.”

The rest of us looked around at each other, puzzled. Surely Tawrich couldn’t want to send him back to the surface world? And then I realized, Dameon had never asked to be sent back...

“Make him a daeva?” Nanghaithya said incredulously.

“But...the years of training...” Saurva said with a hint of whining in his voice.

“He is not worthy,” Indra spat, folding her arms. “He is not even a demon.”

But I was beginning to understand Tawrich’s reasoning. “Of course. He would have to become a demon first...”

“The transformation alone would destroy him!” Aesma said happily.

May destroy him,” Tawrich corrected. “And if it doesn’t, he will become a half breed: half-demon, half-druid.”

“Half-druid...” Nanghaithya said pensively, but he did not finish his thought.

“I still do not think that makes him worthy of becoming a daeva,” Indra sulked.

“No, it doesn’t,” I agreed. “He shall have to perform all the tests that we did when we became daevas.” Indra looked at me and smiled wickedly. She brightened up considerably after this.

“Very well,” said Tawrich. “If we are all agreed...” He scanned the table once to make sure there was no dissension. “...then that is to be the sun priest’s fate. He shall become a demon, as he desired to when Ahriman was in power.”

We decided afterward to leave the more important matters for another time to discuss, after we had gotten some much needed rest. That, and some of us thought it a good idea to leave Dameon in the dungeon a while longer.

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Chapter 9 - The Fate of the Sun Priest

 

It was quiet when I returned to the throne room; at first, I thought I was the only one who had arrived. As I ventured nearer the table, I noticed Nanghaithya seated in his chair at the end of it, deep in thought. It appeared as though he had never left.

“I’ve only just arrived,” he told me, as though reading my thought.

I took Zarich’s empty seat. “You’re quieter than usual. Is something troubling you?”

“Hmm? Oh. No. Nothing.” He certainly was distracted by something.

“I’ll bet.” I sighed and I shook my head. “Damn redheads.” He looked up at me curiously, as though determined not to understand, but I was quick to note the faintest trace of a guilty smile on his face. “By the way, might I enquire as to why you didn’t want to destroy the sun priest?”

“It is as I said, to destroy someone does not necessarily mean to take his life.”

“While that is true, I have a feeling that there is more to it than that.” I gave him a stern look. “Do not have pity on him, Nanghaithya.”

“No,” he said slowly. “Not pity. But he is a boy. Young. Foolish.”

“I have been saying this from the beginning,” I replied. “He is in over his head, and Ahriman should never have agreed to let him join us.”

“There are a lot of things Ahriman shouldn’t have done,” Nanghaithya agreed.

“Yes, well...be that as it may, the boy betrayed us. On my own, I would have killed him the moment we returned to the Demon Realm. He is a traitor, and a traitor deserves death.”

“You must have a rather loose definition of ‘traitor’, Agas,” said a sneering voice from behind me. I rolled my eyes and gritted my teeth.

“Saurva,” I said as he entered the room. “I was wondering why the room suddenly stank of cowardice and obsequity.”

An ugly look crossed his face, but he recovered quickly. “Tell me, Agas, how are your Elvish wounds healing?”

I grabbed Saurva by the front of his collar and shoved him against a column. “My fondest wish, Saurva, is to snap those horns off your head and shove them down your throat...but at this point, that would be counter-productive.”

“Release me!” Saurva hissed.

“Gentlemen,” Nanghaithya said loudly, pulling me away from Saurva. “That will do. Saurva, where are the others?”

“On their way,” Saurva sighed in a flustered voice, straightening his shirt. “Tawrich is bringing the prisoner.”

One by one the other daevas arrived. While we waited for Tawrich, we moved the table and arranged the chairs in a semicircle in the center of the room. Saurva made a fiery ring on the floor before our chairs. We all sat down, with Aesma in the middle. It had been decided that Aesma would be our spokesdemon, as he was the most intimidating. I took the seat to his left. At last Tawrich came, with a fearful, cowering Dameon in tow. “Stand here,” he told the boy, indicating the ring in the center of the room, and then took the empty seat on Aesma’s other side.

“So,” Aesma said from his seat at the center to the fidgeting child in the priest’s robes. “Dameon Maurva. Guardian of the Sun. Only son of the Dreamer.” It was very hard to keep from laughing. Aesma sounded so serious as he spoke, but I knew him better than that. “You are to be judged. Do you wish to know what has been decided? What fate awaits you?”

Dameon looked panic-stricken at the panel of jurors before him and nodded, trembling.

“Very well,” Aesma continued in his almost-too-serious-not-to-be-mocking tone. “It has been decided—-by a very slim margin, might I add—-that you shall not be put to death.”

Dameon fidgeted slightly, but said nothing. He looked as though he wasn’t sure whether or not this was a good thing. Aesma continued, “Would you like to know, then, what your fate shall be?” Dameon took a deep breath, stood up a little straighter, and nodded curtly, as though whatever his fate would be, he was prepared to accept it.

Aesma glanced at Tawrich, and then turned to Dameon. “We have decided, not only to spare your life, but to give you your wish. You beseeched the Dark Lord to make you a daeva. We are going to grant your request.”

The proud stoicism on Dameon’s face quickly changed to utter shock. He stared at Aesma, dumbstruck, for a long while, and then slowly looked to the rest of us, perhaps to make sure he hadn’t misheard. No one spoke. He looked at Aesma again, and some of the shock seemed to wear off.

“Now, be advised, sun priest,” Nanghaithya said, and we all looked at him, “that this is a highly serious matter. First and foremost, you shall have to become a demon. There is a lengthy, complicated, and, as I understand it, painful transformation you must undergo. Be further aware that as we daevas are all pure-blood demons, we have only ever performed this transformation on one other human, and if it is not done perfectly, it can go horribly wrong.”

Dameon swallowed hard, but still said nothing.

“In addition,” I continued, and he turned his head quickly toward me, “becoming a daeva is no small feat. There are many difficult tasks you must accomplish and tests you must pass before you are even considered for daeva status. Even the strongest of demons have not come away unscathed.” I glanced sideways at Aesma to make sure he didn’t protest; it was very well known that Aesma had had nearly no trouble with any of the tests set to him.

“That said,” Aesma concluded, “we should like you to realize that while we have decided not to sentence you to death, it is highly probable that you will not survive these tasks anyway.”

A strange light came into Dameon’s eyes. He no longer had the pitiful look of a frightened little boy, but rather the determined one of a young soldier who had something to prove. Finally he spoke. “I understand. May I ask one thing?”

“Certainly,” Aesma replied, a touch of laughter in his reply.

Dameon cleared his throat. “I realize that this will be difficult, and that you do not expect me to survive, but...what happens if I do? If I succeed, I mean.”

“Then...you become a daeva,” Aesma said slowly, looking to Tawrich and I on either side of him with a look of bemusement.

“I think I understand,” I said. “He thinks that even if he does manage to prove himself worthy of daeva status, we will kill him anyway. But we will not, sun priest. If you pass the tests, you have earned the title.”

He nodded, and all traces of the apprehensive child disappeared. The young man who stood before us now was fearless, determined, and impatient to show what he was capable of. I could see that the others had noticed it, too. “So...” he said at last, “when do we begin?”

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