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The Agas Saga

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sorry folks, it's going to be a few chapters before there's another fight scene. try to bear with me. :)

 

(and cherry, stop saying such bad things about agas. XD XD)

 

 

Chapter 16 - Long Live the King

 

When I returned to Sedona several hours later, I found that I would not be disappointed. Turog’s men had every last human in custody, tying them together in long lines, like slaves being brought to auction. Many of the humans cowered or looked away as I passed, but a few of the bolder men or soldiers glared at me, as though hoping a menacing look might stop my heart.

“Be aware,” I told one who had actually fought his captors to get at me, “that the only reason any of you pathetic mortals are still breathing right now is that I have commanded it. My troops would like nothing more than to burn the lot of you alive. Do not make me grant them their wish.” The human dropped back into line, and the others around him withdrew from him as though he had the Plague.

Once I reached the palace of the king, I was greeted by Turog at the front gate. “The king...‘awaits’ you, my lord,” he said, and he led me through the gates. The stone corridor beyond was lined in tapestries, most of which were shredded, and iron chandeliers that were burning as though they were made of straw. Orcs and goblins were beating palace guards into submission or chaining them together. The two large doors to the throne room at the end of the hall were closed, but they were scorched and stained with blood, and the corpses of two paladins lay discarded off to the sides.

“They preferred death to allowing us inside,” Turog said, indicating the bodies. “Many of the king’s men were this foolish.”

The scene inside spoke for itself. Much of the gray marble of the walls and floor was cracked and charred; the stained glass windows were lying in shards scattered all over the floor; the ornate rug, tapestries and plants adorning the chamber were, for the most part, completely destroyed. At least a dozen palace guards were lying dead at various points around the room, most of them surrounding the stone dais where the king’s throne was situated. Large pools of blood had formed around the bodies, reflecting pristinely the destruction of the room. Four orcs stood around the throne, and bound to it was the king himself, a middle-aged, bearded man in an elaborate red velvet robe. It was hard to read his expression; it was something of a cross between fury, fear, confusion, and resignation. He gathered the courage to be the one to speak first.

“What is this?” he demanded of me. “Who are you, and why has this—-rabble invaded my castle?”

I smiled and shook my head. “It is true what they say. The more power a human gains, the more ignorant he becomes. I am Agas, and this...rabble, did you call them? They are now in charge of your kingdom.”

“Agas!” he gasped. “But you—-you are a daeva! The druids sealed you in the Demon Realm!”

“Yes, yes, I remember that part,” I said dismissively. “Honestly, have you not left the throne since you took it? The Sword of Shadows—-you are familiar with that?” He nodded. “It is no more,” I continued. “Destroyed. And the Demon Portal is open.”

Shock and horror crept across his face. “But...but...how...” he gibbered.

At that moment, a sallow-skinned goblin entered the throne room carrying a small green imp. The imp was clawing at the goblin’s arm, trying to get free.

“He says he has a message for you, my lord,” the goblin said, throwing the imp to the floor at my feet. Imps, though completely useless otherwise, had an excellent memory and a powerful Relocation spell, and thus were good for delivering messages at need. I knew this one had to be from one of the other daevas.

Gaakh matum gimb lat dumularz!” the imp snarled at the goblin. Then he turned and bowed to me, and said, rather sycophantically, “The Lord Tawrich has requested me to tell the Lord Agas that the Daevas have returned to the surface, and a Council is in order.”

I sighed resignedly, knowing exactly what that meant. “He never lets me have any fun,” I said to myself. Then I addressed the imp, “Where are they now?”

“They have gathered at the palace of the queen of Veldt,” he said solemnly. “Well, the former queen of Veldt.”

“Very good. You are dismissed.” The imp bowed low again, then muttered something, and the right arm of the goblin who had brought him in immediately burst into flame. The goblin jumped up and down, waving his arm furiously, and the imp vanished.

“There. You see?” I told the goblin as the orcs surrounding the king howled with laughter. “Never assume you have your enemy at a disadvantage until he is defeated.” The goblin dropped to the floor and rolled in a pool of blood to extinguish the flame, and Turog said to me, “I take it you are leaving, my lord?”

“So it would seem,” I said. “But first...your majesty,” I sneered at the forlorn king, “let us discuss your new living arrangements.”

“Then...you are not going to kill me?” he whimpered.

“Not yet,” I said. “Death without suffering is hardly worth the effort. The company you see before you shall be escorting you to the dungeons, until I have decided what to do with you. I think it is high time for the King to spend some quality time in his own prison.”

 

I Relocated to the Southern Isle, where fire damage was far more prominent than anything else, and where hordes of dragons of all shapes and sizes soared overhead, shrieking joyously. The city of Veldt looked as though it had been settled beneath an active volcano: the white stone buildings had turned completely black, there were fires burning and small rivers of molten lava flowing everywhere, and ash was falling from the sky like a flurry of snow. The palace was as ravaged on the outside as the rest of the city, but inside, one might have thought that the humans still held rule, if not for the blue dragon standing just inside the entrance.

“My lord,” he said in a deep, gravelly voice, bowing his head. “The other daevas have been awaiting your arrival. This way, if you please.”

He led me down a corridor to the right of the entryway, through a room containing a large, ornate fountain, and into a long room with a high vaulted ceiling and wide pillars of white and multi-colored stone. In the center of the room was a long table, and the other daevas were seated around it, with Tawrich once again at the head, and Saurva to his left. Saurva wore his familiar superior expression, as though he had usurped me by taking the seat that was normally mine. I rolled my eyes and took the empty chair at the end of the table, opposite Tawrich.

“Nice of you to join us,” Saurva muttered.

“That will do, Saurva,” Tawrich said before I could reply. “Agas, once again you proven your unrivaled mastery of the art of warfare.”

“Indeed,” Aesma agreed. “The orcs of the Eastern Isle needed very little direction; it was as though you had already been there. How do you manage to be in so many places at once?”

I shrugged. “I have had a great deal of practice. Besides, this is the one we all have been waiting for; failure was not an option. Though, I have not yet been to the Northern Kingdom...”

“No need,” Aesma said. “I sent some troops there. The dwarves had already fled into the mountains, and the humans surrendered without a fight.”

“Outstanding. And I see, Saurva, that you were beyond successful with the Dragons.”

Saurva glared at me coldly, and said nothing. He hated when I complimented him; it gave him nothing about which to be bitter. I smirked and rolled my eyes again.

“Of course, none of this would have been possible without Nanghaithya,” Tawrich continued.

“Yes, brilliant acting, by the way,” I said to Nanghaithya.

“Acting?” he repeated innocently.

“Ha, ha,” said Indra. “Pretending not to know what Baalak was doing.”

He grinned. “Well...I do like to keep my audience in suspense.”

“You taught him well,” Tawrich concluded.

“Where is he, anyway?” I asked after a quick look around the room.

“With the Dragons,” Saurva said lazily. “Since he is not yet a daeva, we decided he need not be present. Is...that all right with you, Agas?”

I shook my head in mild disbelief. “You will never change, will you, Saurva?”

“The reason for this council,” Tawrich said in an attempt to stem the argument, “is to discuss our next move.”

“The humans are beaten, but not wholly defeated,” I pointed out, “not yet. We shall need to step in and prevent them from regaining any strength. In other words, we shall need to take over the rule of the Isles.”

Tawrich nodded, and the others began to murmur in agreement. “Excellent proposal. Now...the kingdoms are nicely segregated, so it should be fairly easy to divide rule amongst us,” Tawrich said after some thought. “There are the four main Isles, Thais, and Mysten Far.”

“And the Dreamland,” Saurva added with a nasty look in my direction.

“Yes, and that,” said Tawrich. “We should discuss who will take which kingdom, but first there is the matter of Baalak. If he is still to become a daeva, he will require extensive training before his trials. It would probably be best if we each took a turn at it. Who will take the first stage of Baalak’s apprenticeship?”

“I nominate Saurva,” I said immediately.

“Second,” Aesma said before Saurva could open his mouth.

“Third,” said Zarich, clearly looking for anyone except himself to take the “first shift”.

“I’m in favor as well,” added Nanghaithya, almost apologetically.

Saurva was seething. “A plague of sunshine and fairies upon you all,” he said darkly.

“Done,” said Tawrich finally, ignoring Saurva’s last comment. “And now to the kingdoms.”

“If I may, Tawrich,” I put in. He conceded the floor to me, and I said, “Let us all bear in mind before we begin, that this will not be an easy task. It must be made perfectly clear to the humans that insurgence will not be tolerated, and that if things are not done as we command them, the penalties shall be swift and severe. They cannot be allowed to think there is hope in our downfall. Their wills must be broken.”

“Easier done than said, my friend,” Aesma said with an evil grin.

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Ouch! The kingdoms are in danger , but Aveyond? ,

 

Oh ?! at least the only place left is the Veniara isles , maybe there are some resistance there , Who knows?.

 

I think this is what kingdoms will take.(I hope so)

 

Veldarah, Ghalarah , Lands End , Mt.orion for Nanghaithya.

 

Wildwoods , Ghed'are , Witchwood , Halloween Hills for Zarich.

 

Highlands , Lowlands , Dirkon and Sedona for Tawrich.

 

Ice Caverns , Thornkeep , Northern Kingdom just for Indra.

 

Lampland , Teacup Town , Veldt and Ahriman's Lair

for Saurva

 

Ylisfar , Oldwoods , Rootwell and Dreamland for Agas

 

Blasted Lands , Dark caverns , Mysten Far and Thais for Aesma.

 

Aveyond and Veniara islands for human and oracle.

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Actually....oh wait, it does not appear you ahve read this story before. never mind, i'll shut up.

 

but i'll give you a hint: Nanghaithya is, more or less, ruler of all of the eastern isle. this includes the Halloween Hills.

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bryan: you've put a lot of thought into this, haven't you? awesome! you're right on some of them; but you'll find out shortly. after this next chapter.

 

tei: hey! stop giving out spoilers for me! :lol: j/k. nice to see you've decided to rejoin us, though. ;)

 

another 'hero' chapter follows.

 

Tei’jal stood at the edge fo the forest, just inside the city limits of Ghed’ahre, watching, as though waiting for something, or for someone. Rashnu, having just returned from the uplands, paused on his way to his shrine and approached her.

“Is something bothering you, my child?” he asked her.

She didn’t answer right away; it was difficult to put everything into words. Finally she looked at him.

“Is it true that the Sun Priest Dameon is the one who shattered the Sword of Shadows?” she asked.

“Indeed it is,” he sighed. “The world is in quite a state.”

“So why have the demons not come here?”

“Well...I don’t suppose there’s much for them to do, is there?” he said with a grin.

She laughed. “I know that the daevas have returned to the surface as well. Surely many more demons have followed. Are...are they going to kill the humans?”

He looked at her knowingly. “You are concerned for your friends, I take it? My answer is no, I do not believe they will kill the humans. That is what Ahriman wanted.”

“But...how do you know it is not what they want as well? The daeva Aesma came through the Eastern Isle with thousands of orcs and other fell beasts—-once again avoiding us, I noticed. What could be their purpose?”

“Domination,” he said after some thought. “The Daevas are...well, let’s call them a higher class of being than regular demons. Sort of the difference between humans and, say, orcs. As such, the daevas do not wish to live in a world devoid of human life, but rather one where humans are subservient to them. Demons have existed far longer than humans have; in fact, they once lived on the surface. When the first humans came, they drove the demons into the mountains and underground, and eventually back into the Demon Realm. Demons have a great deal of animosity toward humans because of this, and that is primarily why they are so dangerous.”

“So it is basically humans’ fault that demons want to destroy them?”

“In a manner of speaking. Demons are, by nature, dark and evil, and they could never really coexist with humans who are trying so desperately to prove that they are not.”

Tei’jal stood in thought for a long while, gazing into the darkness of the forest before them. Finally she said, “Halloween Hills is safe, then.”

“I would imagine so,” said Rashnu quietly.

“Do you think they will ever come here?” she wondered. “The Daevas, I mean.”

“Come here?” he repeated. “I’m not sure...I mean, I sup––” He stopped, noticing a strange expression on her face. “You want them to come here, don’t you?”

“No,” she said immediately, looking away from him. Even in the dark he detected the slight pale pink tinge that appeared in her cheeks. He smiled his knowing smile again, and she repeated, more firmly, “No. I just...was...curious. About—-about the druids.”

“The druids?”

“Yes,” she went on, grateful that he allowed her to change the subject. “The druids, by all rights, were the ones who could have stopped the daevas, had Dameon not destroyed the Sword and released the demons. Do you not fear that the daevas will kill the druids?”

“No,” he answered. “If they are not going to kill the humans, then they will not kill us. They may take our souls again...or enslave us...but it would do them no good, really, to kill us, because then we could not serve their purposes, which I am certain they have.” He smiled and touched her chin. “You needn’t worry about me, Tei’jal. The daevas are not going to come after me. Unless, of course, you decide to invite them along...”

She blushed much more furiously this time, but she was grateful for his comforting words. She looked around at the village, thinking of her vampire kin. “The demons won’t come here because they consider us dark and evil as well.”

“I suppose,” he said with a shrug. “Vampires, too, have been persecuted by humans since they first discovered your existence. Kindred spirits, you might say. You are lucky to be a vampire, child.”

She raised an eyebrow. “Well I know that. I just hope the daevas feel the same way.”

“Any one in particular?” he asked slyly.

Finally she grinned. “If there was, you don’t really suppose I’d tell you, do you?”

He sighed. “Just...not Saurva. He’s an insufferable snob. And Aesma...can be a bit overbearing. And Indra, of course—-”

She laughed loudly. “You aren’t leaving me many options, you know.”

He winked, and the two walked back to the cathedral. Within moments of their arrival, a vampire in an elaborate ball gown flew in and told Rashnu breathlessly, “One of the daevas is on his way here to see you, Rashnu.”

He nodded, and as she left, he turned to Tei’jal. “Seems you get your wish after all.” She was about to retaliate, but he stopped her. “I’d like you to stay out of sight. For the time being.”

She nodded reluctantly, and retreated to a corner near the entrance. At that moment, the daeva Nanghaithya, who she recognized immediately, appeared in the doorway. Tei’jal watched silently from the corner as the tall, handsome demon swept into the cathedral and approached Rashnu.

“Nanghaithya,” Rashnu said stiffly with a slight bow of his head.

“Rashnu,” Nanghaithya replied, also nodding. He scanned the room briefly, but did not notice the vampire in the corner. “I like what you...haven’t done with the place.”

“I do my part,” Rashnu said. “Dare I ask to what I owe the pleasure?”

“The resistance has ended,” Nanghaithya told him, looking over the room a little more closely this time. “The reign of men is over. It is a shame you are missing it.”

“I’m afraid I do not deem the destruction of the human world cause for celebration,” Rashnu returned.

“Not destruction, Rashnu,” Nanghaithya corrected. “Say rather...submission. The humans are no good to us dead, and what would be the point of destroying the world after what we went through to get it back? In any event, I’ve come to tell you that the daevas have divided the kingdoms amongst themselves.”

“And you’ve chosen the Eastern Isle?” Rashnu guessed. Nanghaithya nodded, and Rashnu asked nonchalantly, “And what is the daevas’ decision regarding the druids?”

“None yet,” Nanghaithya answered. He smiled almost wickedly. “You are not worried for your safety already, are you, Rashnu?”

He turned to leave, looking around the large room one last time, this time catching sight of Tei’jal. He stared at her for several moments. She could feel the color rising in her cheeks as she stared back at him. Finally he tore his eyes away and left without another look back. Slowly, Tei’jal left her corner to join Rashnu.

“And that,” he said with a sigh, “was the least arrogant of the daevas.” Then he looked at her, and immediately understood. “Oh. I see.”

“I’ve—-I’ve met him before,” she said defensively, feeling quite an irrational anger at the way he was grinning at her. “I just––I was just—-stop doing that!” And she stormed out of the cathedral, slamming the door behind her.

Rashnu shook his head. “Kids.”

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Chapter 17 - Saurva the Sneak

 

The Oldwoods were always so quiet. But it was not the kind of heavy silence that means someone is lying in wait to attack; that would have been far better. This quiet was thick with serenity, and was much more unnerving.

Why do I come here? I thought hopelessly as I wound my way through the trees. It was not long before I began to hear two clear female voices, speaking in the Elvish tongue. I stopped to listen.

“I sense an evil presence nearby,” said one.

There was a pause, and a second voice said, “As do I.” There again was silence, and the second Elf hissed, “Go.”

“My lady, I cannot leave you!” the first Elf replied in a worried tone.

“You are in far more danger than I,” said the second.

“Then...you know this creature?”

“I do.” They were barely speaking above a whisper. “Go back to the city. I shall handle it.”

There was another pause, the second woman said, “Go!” and then came the sound of someone retreating through the trees. I waited a moment, and then came into view of the Elf who had stayed behind. She had long, dark reddish hair and clear blue eyes, and was dressed in traveling garb. She carried no weapon.

“Now, was that really wise, princess?” I drawled in Elvish when she caught sight of me. “Sending away the only person who knows of your whereabouts, with an ‘evil presence’ loose in your forest?”

“Do you think I could not have a host of Elves come to my aid at the merest hint of trouble, demon?” she returned acidly.

“I see you do not recognize your peril,” I said darkly, “once again.”

Peril, is it?” Quicker than the eye could see, she drew a long knife hidden beneath her cloak and held it to my throat. I didn’t move. She drew nearer, until she was mere inches from me, and then released the knife and threw her arms around my neck. I put my arms around her waist, and she whispered, “I am far more deadly than you know.”

I smiled. “Indeed. I fear I may be the one in peril.”

She laughed, and kissed me softly. We stood silent in each other’s arms for a few moments, until something made us both back away quickly.

“There is someone else here,” she said quietly.

“Then you sensed it, as well?” I asked. I could feel anger tightening my chest; it was definitely a demon’s presence I had sensed, and I had a fairly good idea of who it might be.

She shook her head. “I heard it.” She nodded over my shoulder.

“Go,” I told her at once. “Now.”

“But what if it is—-”

”It isn’t,” I interrupted. “It is a demon. Go.”

She smiled sadly. “Our times together are becoming so short.”

Too short,” I replied before she hurried off into the forest. I spun around and moved in the direction from which the demon’s aura was emanating. It wasn’t long before my suspicions were confirmed, and my fury increased drastically.

“Saurva,” I said through gritted teeth to the demon leaning against a beech tree, grinning at me in a way that suggested that he had just received the royal crown.

“Agas,” he said with a nod, still grinning. “Fancy meeting you here.”

“How long have you been following me?” I asked irritably.

“Long enough,” he replied lazily, examining his fingernails as though they were far more interesting than the conversation was. “Won’t the Dark Lord love—-”

”You have no idea—-” I interjected.

“I think,” he stopped me loudly, “that I have a very good idea. And I do not see how I can possibly keep this sort of information from Lord Ahriman.”

I sighed in frustration. “What do you want, Saurva?”

“Want?” he repeated. “Can you be attempting to buy my silence, Agas?”

“No. I simply wish to know why you insist on being this way. So I’ll ask again: what do you want?”

“Your head,” he said, and his irritation finally began to show. “But for now, I shall settle for this.”

As he turned his back on me and stalked away, I called, “My head? How original.” He stopped and looked back, and I continued, “For centuries I have been hearing about how much you should like to see me destroyed. Well, here we are: you and me and no one else. You want my head? Take it. I’ll even give you a clear shot.”

His eyes narrowed, and turned on his heel and walked away again. “What is the problem, Saurva?” I shouted after him. “Why can you not face me like a man?”

He did not stop or turn, but quickened his pace until he was out of sight. I sighed. I knew he would reach the Demon Realm first, and that I would have to give Ahriman a very good explanation of what Saurva was about to tell him...

“Is there a problem, Agas?” said a sneering voice. I shook my head, and saw Saurva watching me from across the table, looking rather less smug than he had on that day many years before, when he had discovered me in the company of an Elf. And even though it was a distant memory now, I could not help feeling wrath every time I was reminded of it.

The council had ended rather quickly after the discussion of the division of the kingdoms, as no two of the daevas were really interested in the same place. Indra, who had always has a fondness for the ice and snow, chose the Northern Kingdom, though she refused to set foot anywhere near Aveyond. Likewise, Saurva preferred the sweltering heat and the company of dragons, and so decided to stay on the Southern Isle. Tawrich, sensing that no one else wanted to, and expressing a desire for some much needed peace and quiet, said that he would take over the Dreamland for the time being; though where he expected to find peace and quiet there, I will never understand. Nanghaithya had opted for the Eastern Empire, and Aesma Thais, leaving Mysten Far to Zarich, since I had settled on the Western Isle, which I had chosen because I preferred the moderate climate, and it put me as far from Mysten Far and the Dreamland as demonly possible. Plus, of course, the king of Sedona and I had some unfinished business to which to attend.

The other daevas had already departed for their new “homes”, with the exception of Tawrich and I, and of course Saurva, who would be remaining in the palace of Veldt. I pondered a witty rejoinder to Saurva’s snide question, but thought better of it and instead spoke to Tawrich.

“How long do you think you will stay in the Dreamland?” I asked him.

He shrugged. “I do not suppose there is much for me to do there. Locate the Nightmares and release them...eventually I shall return to the waking world.” He sighed. “But I am old. I do not feel the need nor the desire to rule any kingdoms of my own. General chaos and despair would suit me fine.”

“You are more than welcome to return here, Tawrich,” Saurva said, a hint of his old servility present in his tone.

Tawrich and I both looked at Saurva condescendingly, but we did not comment. I turned back to Tawrich and said, “There is always Aveyond to destroy.”

“Yes...but I think perhaps Aesma might like that opportunity at some point,” he chuckled. He was silent for a moment, and then he said, “The centuries of waiting and planning have finally paid off. You have done well, Agas. And you, Saurva.”

Saurva thanked him bitterly; it had almost sounded as though Tawrich had only addressed him because he was in the room. I nodded my thanks and said, “It is not over yet, though. We still have a long way to go.” There was a pause, and then I asked, “You won’t have any trouble getting into the Dreamland?” Of the daevas, he and I were the only ones who had ever been to that place, and his last trip was several millenia before; and it was not an easy place to get to.

“I do not think so,” Tawrich replied. Then he added with a grin, “But if I do, I will know to whom to turn.”

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yay, the rashnu chapter ^^

 

*is drawing a blank* has the chapter where vohu manah disappears been posted yet?

 

i love that chapter. I would quote all of it, but that would be beside the point.

 

yeah, i'm still lurking. waiting for a new chapter. like, actually new.

 

i need to post my chapters too...i've been really bad about that lately...

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not yet, tei...keep lurking...;)

 

 

Chapter 18 - Insolence

 

Sedona was one of the worst human cities in the entire world. There was excess of everything, and the people flaunted it as though it was their birthright. Worse still was the attitude that everything and everyone outside of their fair city was beneath them, even other humans. It was the same pompous air that Saurva always displayed, though at least Saurva was not completely useless. Human aristocrats complained much more than I had ever thought it was possible to do. On more than one occasion, I entertained the idea of razing the entire city to the ground and starting over.

The people of Sedona were not very receptive to the policies that the orcs enforced over the next few weeks. For some reason, the humans did not like the idea of being told what to do, or of seeing their works destroyed, or of living in constant fear. I often reminded them that their ancestors had treated demons exactly the same way, before finally driving them all back to the Demon Realm and sealing them inside; but as it turned out, humans only wanted to hear history that put them in a good light.

Still, I had to admit that it was highly amusing to see, not only how miserable, but how lost and unnerved the people were without their creature comforts. The orcs, and the demons that had decided to remain, destroyed many of the human dwellings in and around Sedona; and with the “aid” of the humans had begun to build crude housing for the latter to live in, deprived of the vanities of a spoiled, sheltered life which they had come to expect.

What surprised me most, however, was that there were humans who were actually enjoying the misery of the wealthy, despite the ruin and chaos that was happening around them. These were criminals, mostly: thieves and pirates; but also some of the poorer humans, mainly from the villages south of Sedona. In these destitute, poverty-stricken towns, there was not much for the orcs to which to lay waste, and the people’s spirits had already been broken by their living conditions and the prejudices of the Sedonians, and so there really was not much need to rule them with an iron fist, as it were. Oddly enough, they welcomed the change of not having other humans look down on them, and though the lands were becoming increasingly less habitable for humans, these were willing to adapt. This was much to the chagrin of the orcs, who after many attempts at making these humans suffer, finally had to accept that these people were not suffering any more than they had been before we had taken the kingdom.

Of course, there would still be foolish people who would try to fight against the new regime. I always liked to hear the tales of how a former paladin tried to take on half a dozen armed goblins single-handedly using a broomstick, or of the nobleman who escaped his captor, swam half a mile out to sea, and climbed aboard a rescue ship, only to discover that it was a pirate ship that was returning to Sedona, not leaving it. Even more, I liked to see the fools in person, so I might hear the explanation for their colossal stupidity.

There was one day when a pair of my soldiers brought to me a young man from the city, who looked as though he had come off far the worse in a fist fight. One of the goblins told me that the boy was trying to get into the palace.

“And why,” I addressed the young man, whose face was vaguely familiar, “would you attempt such a thing?”

He did not answer at first. The goblin on his right jabbed him in the ribs with the blunt end of his spear.

“You need to be destroyed,” the boy muttered belligerently.

“And you are the one to do it, I take it?” I said with a smile. “Very good. You have spirit, boy.” I stopped smiling and added, “I hate spirit. You look familiar. Why is that?”

He looked away and said nothing, and after a moment I realized that he was the man who had tried to get at me just after we had taken the city.

“I remember now,” I told him. “You have stood up to me before.” I looked him over again and reasoned, “You are not from Sedona, nor from one of the poorer villages to the south. And you do not appear to be from one of the other kingdoms. Am I to understand that there are villages in the Highlands?”

He did not answer. The goblin jabbed him again, much harder this time. He mumbled something briefly, but would say no more.

“He says there is one, my lord,” said the goblin on the boy’s left.

I nodded slowly. “What is your name, boy?”

After a pause and another jab, he muttered furiously, “Danny.”

“Danny,” I repeated. I flashed him an evil smile. “I purpose to remember that.”

 

No sooner had I sent Danny from the Highlands to the dungeons, than I received an even more unwelcome visitor.

“Saurva,” I groaned as he swept into the throne room like an overlarge bird of prey, a sullen-looking Baalak slouching along in his wake.

“Our training is through,” Saurva said curtly.

“It’s been a month,” I returned. “He must be supremely talented.” Saurva narrowed his eyes, but said nothing. I looked at Baalak, and he rolled his eyes. “So you have decided that now it is my turn?” I asked Saurva. “I wonder if I was your first choice?...”

“Best of luck to you,” he replied sardonically, and did not trouble himself to leave the throne room before he vanished out of sight. I sighed, and shook my head.

“That is what I have had to put up with for the past month,” Baalak said, in a tone that indicated that there were far worse things he wished to say.

“And I for the past three thousand years,” I said. “So what have you learned thus far? I mean, besides the fact that Saurva is...well—-” I waved my hand vaguely at the spot where Saurva had been standing. “-—that.”

He shook his head. “Relatively little,” he confessed. “He taught me a few simple spells, or so he called them, but I was not...very...adept at them,” he finished lamely.

“That is probably because the spells are simple for him,” I told him. “He tends to forget that there was a time when he required this training as well.”

“Is it really...very difficult to become a daeva?” he asked quickly, as though it took a lot of courage for him to ask it.

I nodded. “Indeed it is. But that is only part of the reason you need to be trained. I assume that Saurva did not explain any of this to you?” He shook his head again. “Of course he didn’t. Thagkil!” I shouted. An orc came into the room, bowing, and I said, “Bring Baalak a chair. One that is not on fire, preferably.”

The orc left, and returned almost at once with a chair that was slightly charred, but still in one piece and fairly sturdy-looking. When he left, Baalak took a seat. “Does—-does this mean you’re going to explain it to me?” he asked tentatively.

“Someone’s got to,” I said. “All demons—-even half-demons—-are predisposed to magic. There are those, of course, who never learn how to use it, either through lack of training, skill, or desire; for the most part, however, demons learn to use magic more or less before they learn anything else.

“All demons are not given to the same types of magic, either. There are spells that some are particularly gifted at, which others simply cannot master. Take the daevas. Saurva, as you no doubt learned, has a gift for fire spells, whereas Indra specializes in ice spells; and neither is very adept at the other’s magic. The reason you need this training, besides in preparation for your trials, is to determine to which types of spells you are best suited.

“Obviously you have a gift for light magic; in and of itself, not much use to a demon. But perhaps with the right training, it could be altered to your advantage.”

“So...the spells that Saurva taught me...since I did not...pick them up...That means I am not predisposed to fire magic,” he reasoned.

“So it would seem,” I replied. “Of course, that could also have been the teacher.”

He nodded with a slight smile. “So, I think I can hazard a guess that you can teach me time-altering spells?”

“Memories coming back to you?” I said, a bit surprised that he recalled it. “Yes. But unlike Saurva, I will not tell you that they are easy. Time magic is one of the more difficult types to master. It probably would have made more sense for Saurva to send you to someone else first, but...I don’t suppose it matters now.”

“So, um...when can we start?” he asked, almost eagerly.

“Soon. First, I’ve just thought of something I’d like you to do for me. There is an insolent young man in the dungeons, goes by the name Danny. He’s been rather a nuisance, and I’d like to know why; but he is very stubborn. Since he will think you are still the sun priest, perhaps he will trust you enough to give you some better information than could be beaten out of him.”

He nodded again. “I will see what I can find out.”

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stop saying such bad things about my characters, cherry. :lol:

 

hero-ish chapter; and by hero-ish i mean not the main storyline. this is dameon/baalak's color.

 

 

Danny didn’t know how long he sat in the dungeons beneath the palace of Sedona. He did know that it couldn’t have been very long when he saw a strange sight: a sun priest slowly making his way down the long, dank corridor toward his cell. When the sun priest reached Danny’s cell, he stopped, looked at him closely, and said, “You are Danny?”

“Y—-es,” Danny replied cautiously. He quickly recognized the man on the other side of the bars as the sun priest who had been in his dear friend Rhen’s party when she rescued him from the vampire in Ghed’ahre. He had so many questions forming in his head, and decided to ask first the one giving him the most pause, “You are a sun priest, are you not? How did you get into the castle with no trouble?”

The sun priest sighed heavily. “You do not...want to know that,” he said, looking both resigned and troubled. “I must ask, though, what possessed you to try it. Do you have any idea how dangerous these demons are?”

Danny didn’t answer; of course he knew it was foolish, and he had expected the daeva Agas to kill him on the spot. Though, he wasn’t sure if he should be relieved that he was imprisoned instead. Finally he said, “But the demons can’t just–-just take over our world. And no one else will stand up to them.”

“That is because they know what will happen if they try,” said the sun priest rationally. “I suspect there is much that you do not understand about warfare.”

Danny was silent again. “Well...you are a sun priest. Can you not do anything?”

“I am one sun priest. I cannot take on the might of seven daevas on my own.”

“What of the druids, then?”

The sun priest shook his head. “They are scattered. Many are prisoners in their own temples.” He took a deep breath, and released it audibly.

“Then...there is no hope,” Danny said quietly.

“I do not know what hope there is,” said the sun priest, “but I think I can assure you that it does not lie with me.”

He turned to go, and Danny said, “Wait—-um, Sun Priest—-”

The man stopped and turned back to him. “Dameon.”

“Dameon,” Danny repeated. “We have met before.”

“I did think you looked familiar,” Dameon said thoughtfully.

“In Ghed’ahre,” Danny reminded him. “You were traveling with a girl...Rhen...”

Dameon thought for a moment, then said, “Ah, yes. The sword singer. Are you a friend of hers?”

“We grew up together, in the same village,” Danny told him. “Can you tell me, is—-is she all right?”

Dameon shook his head. “I’m afraid we parted company shortly before the Sword of Shadows was broken. I am sorry. I myself have been concerned about her.”

“She should never have left Clearwater,” Danny muttered.

“I don’t know about that,” said Dameon. “Things would be a lot worse if she hadn’t.”

“Worse than this?

Dameon nodded. “Rhen destroyed a very powerful demon called Ahriman. His sole purpose was to destroy the world of men and everything in it. At least now, humans have been allowed to live.”

“Are you saying that we should be grateful––”

”Not grateful, necessarily. Just aware, of how much worse things could be.” He sighed again. “You do not belong in here. I will see if I can get you released. Only––try not to do anything...”

“Foolish,” Danny finished. “Dameon––um, thank you.”

Dameon smiled, but as he set off once again down the corridor, Danny thought, What good will it do, really?...

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OK, OK. Dameon/Balaak is such a sneak! (there are you happy ;) )

 

“I’m afraid we parted company shortly before the Sword of Shadows was broken."

 

:lol: Ah, isn't the passive voice useful?

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indeed it is, cherry. ;)

 

 

Lars had to admit, after a month of searching Aveyond and the Southern Isle for Dameon, that he was relieved that Rhen had finally listened to reason. As soon as the two had discovered that Dameon had been the one who had destroyed the Sword of Shadows and released thousands of angry demons into the world, Rhen had insisted that they go and find him, convinced that the daevas were controlling the sun priest. Lars tried to explain to her that even if that were the case (which he sincerely doubted, though this he did not tell her), then Dameon had already served their purposes, and they had most likely done away with him. Rhen had not given up hope, however, and was still determined to find Dameon, knowing that if they could just find him, they could release him from the daevas’ clutches.

But after four long weeks, Rhen had to concede that Dameon was not in the Northern or Southern Kingdom—-at least, no place that a pair of teenage magic wielders dared to look in these dangerous times. She had decided then to return home, to the village of Clearwater on the Western Isle, to make sure that her adoptive parents were still safe, and then, grudgingly, to travel on to Thais, where she knew she belonged. She had assumed Lars would go home to Ghalarah to his mother’s home; instead, he told her that he did not want her to go by herself, and that he could visit his mother on the way to Thais. She still did not question his intentions, glad of his company in her long, lonely journeys.

They found much of the lands of the Western Kingdom in very poor shape, burned and ravaged, demons and other foul beasts roaming the countryside attacking anything that moved. Even much of the Highlands, in which Clearwater was nestled, was a ruined mess. They had relatively little trouble defeating the monsters impeding their journey, however; and when they reached the village, which was rather well hidden, they were surprised and relieved to see that very little damage had been done.

Another thing for which Lars found himself grateful was the fact that Rhen seeing that her parents and old friends were okay had driven from her mind, seemingly, any further thoughts of looking for Dameon. Her parents had been so relieved and happy that she was alive and unharmed that they insisted she and Lars stay with them for as long as they liked.

“It is very fortunate that the demons have passed by your town,” Lars remarked at supper on the first evening after he and Rhen had arrived. “I mean, for the most part, anyway.”

“We do have some fortune there,” Rhen’s father agreed. “Clearwater has long been a place hidden away from the world. In truth, that’s why I chose it in which to raise you, Rhen. Your parents wanted to keep you well-hidden from Ahriman and his demons.”

“Not his demons, as it turns out,” Rhen muttered. “And it sounds so strange to hear you say ‘your parents’...I mean, you’re my parents.”

A tear welled in her mother’s eye. “Of course we are, dear. And you will always be our little girl.”

“Ma...” Rhen groaned, and a flush appeared in her cheeks. She shot a glance at Lars, who did not seem at all bothered by her mother’s affection for her daughter; and truthfully, Rhen didn’t know why she would—-or should—-be embarrassed by it. She stared at her plate and said nothing more for the rest of the meal, lost in her own thoughts.

That night, after Rhen’s parents had gone to sleep, and Lars was preparing to do the same on the couch in the sitting room, Rhen decided to ask him the question that had been gnawing at her since they had arrived.

“Lars, you said how ‘fortunate’ it was that the demons hadn’t found Clearwater,” she began.

“And...isn’t it?” he wondered.

“Well, yes, of course. But...it’s just...Do you get the feeling that maybe...maybe it isn’t as safe here as everyone thinks it is?”

He sighed. “Well, to be honest, Rhen...yes. I think, eventually, the demons will find this place. I mean, it is really only a matter of time until they take everything. I remember reading in some history book that demons lived on the surface thousands of years ago. Seems like they want to...you know, ‘take it back’.”

“I’m worried,” she said with a nervous glance at her parents’ bedroom door. “Not just Ma and Pa; everyone. I haven’t seen Danny since we got here.”

“Danny...wasn’t he the one we had to rescue from that vampire?” Lars asked with a slight twinge of jealousy.

“Yes, that’s him. He was never really the adventurous type. I expected him to have come home by now.”

“Wait...we saw him in Sedona, didn’t we?”

“Yes,” she said with a pained expression, “and that is what worries me.” She began pacing the floor, playing anxiously with her Pendragon sigma ring, which she had begun to wear all the time now, afraid she might lose it if she didn’t. “I can only pray the rumors are not true, but...you have heard them, too. A bloodbath before the city gates. A thousand paladins dead in a single battle. The city in ruins.”

“Danny was not a paladin,” Lars offered, neither hoping nor caring to make her feel better about it.

“That’s not the point, Lars,” she said hotly.

“Then what is, Rhen?” he retorted, his anger rising as well. “Look, I am sorry for the loss of your friend—-if loss it may be—-but I will simply not risk both our lives to enter a warzone seeking a person who is most likely already dead.”

She glared at him furiously. “You’ll never change, will you, Lars?” she said maliciously before storming out of the room and slamming her bedroom door.

“No,” he said heavily to himself, “and neither will you.”

 

The next morning, Rhen’s and Lars’s tempers had both been for the most part cooled, though neither had forgotten the argument, and they were unnecessarily polite to one another for some time. Rhen’s parents assumed the two had had some sort of “lovers’ quarrel,” and did not make reference to their unusual behavior.

Just before noon, Rhen decided to go into the village to visit with some of her old friends, while Lars went to the town’s herbalist to replenish some of their depleted stores. After an hour or so apart, Lars hoped that Rhen would have regained her senses and would be ready soon to return to Thais. When he found her again, it was near the edge of town, and she was looking pensive and a bit troubled. He assumed she was still thinking about that foolish boy in Sedona, and he sighed resignedly.

“Rhen, I’m really sorry about last night,” he began, but she shook her head.

“Something is wrong,” she said quietly. “I can’t explain what, but...do you—-do you feel the earth trembling?”

At first, he thought she was trying to get back at him for being mean to her; then, quite suddenly, he began to notice the slightest of tremors beneath his feet. “That does not bode well,” he said.

She beckoned to him to follow her, and the two entered the dark caves that were the only passageway between Clearwater and the rest of the Highlands. Once they had passed through and come out into the peaceful wood that covered much of the Highlands, they immediately saw the reason for the earth shaking: orcs, two hundred at least, in full battle armor, were steadily approaching from the valley below them. Rhen gasped.

“They’ve found it,” Lars whispered. “Come, we have to warn the villagers.”

They hurried back through the cave, and while Lars raced around knocking on doors and warning the inhabitants to hide, Rhen hurried home and burst through the front door, startling her parents.

“What’s wrong, Rhen, dear?” her mother asked anxiously.

“No time,” she replied breathlessly, rummaging in her backpack for a large green stone. She held the stone out to her father, whose eyes were wide.

“What’s happening?” he asked her sharply.

“Orcs,” Rhen told him. “About two hundred. They’re coming this way. Take the stone—-find King Devin—-my father—-whatever.”

“I don’t...understand...” her mother said bewilderedly. “You’re going to Thais.”

“No, you are,” Rhen retorted. “I will be right behind you.”

“No,” her father said in that same stern tone. “You need to return to Thais. You are far more important than we are. Take it and go. Now.”

“I will!” Rhen hollered. “But I am not going to let those foul creatures kill everyone in town, especially you!” She pushed the stone into his hand, then took her mother’s hand and placed it on his shoulder. “Tell the king I am on my way!”

“We are not going to Thais—-” her father began, but the stone was activated, and he and his wife vanished. Rhen breathed a sigh of relief, then ran back outside to find Lars running toward her from the opposite side of town.

“Everyone’s—-been warned,” he panted. “They’re all—-hidden—-Where—-are—-your—- parents?”

“Gone,” she said. “I sent them to Thais.”

He nodded, unable to speak for lack of breath. They stood silent for a few minutes, while Lars’s breathing began to slow, and watched the place where they knew the army would be crashing through at any time. Finally Rhen said, “We cannot take them all.”

“I know,” said Lars. “Rhen, there is something I need to tell you.”

“What is it?” she asked curiously; but she never found out what he needed to say, because a thunderous crash rent the silence as ten-score orcs began rampaging into the village. They spotted the two teenagers, ready to fight, and a few orcs laughed loudly.

“Ready?” Lars said to Rhen.

“As I’ll ever be,” she replied, raising the Sword of Might. “Trinity Fury!” A bright golden light leapt from the sword, sending a violent shock through a dozen orcs at the front. They collapsed to the ground, twitching.

“Tornado!” Lars shouted immediately after this. A large black funnel cloud descended from the sky, right into the center of the tightly-knit enemy battalion. Orcs were sent flying in all directions, many over the edges of the high plateau upon which Clearwater was situated. Once the wind died down, the troops broke ranks and rushed at Rhen and Lars in full force.

“Draw them away from the houses!” Rhen yelled as a wave of orcs rushed in, threatening to crush her by their mere numbers. She turned to run, and Lars followed suit, attempting to lead the orcs to the edge of the town, where they could do the least damage. Rhen alternated between slicing off the heads or appendages of anything that got near her, and using her “Mountain Yawn” spell, which enveloped the enemies nearest her in a bloodred light and then exploded, send body parts flying over the heads of those behind them. Lars conjured two more tornadoes, and then a tsunami; the latter spell, however, was a bit more than he was used to, and knocked the wind out of him. Rhen fought her way over to him, but more and more orcs were closing in, and soon she could no longer see him, nor could she defend herself or her town against the enemy that was quickly overpowering her.

“Lars!” she shrieked, hoping he would respond to the sound of her voice; but she received no answer. As she mindlessly swung her sword at the monsters with one hand, she pulled off her backpack with the other and pulled it open with her teeth. She finally found Lars, lying on the ground unconscious and in danger of being trampled. She linked her sword arm around his, reached into her bag, and laid her hand on a large stone of pale green jade. As darkness began to close in around them, she shouted hopelessly, “Wherever this goes!” and then she knew no more.

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Chapter 19 - Sun and Shadow

 

“Sun Fury!”

I stood and waited for Baalak’s spell to take effect; he seemed to be concentrating very hard. Nothing happened. He grunted in frustration, and I sighed.

“Am I to understand that the Guardian of the Sun does not know how to use Sun Fury?” I said in disbelief.

“Well, I hadn’t been the Guardian for very long,” he replied sourly.

“Do you know any offensive spells?”

He shrugged sheepishly. “I have never really had to use offensive magic before.”

I sighed again. “Very well. Perhaps handing you off to Saurva first was not the best idea after all. What he should have done, after discovering that you didn’t know any offensive spells—-”

“He never asked,” Baalak said.

“Once again, I am surprised beyond words,” I replied sarcastically. “Had he asked, he should have taught you a few simple spells that all, or nearly all, demons know. Shock, for instance.”

We spent the next half-hour or so on the Shock spell; he picked it up with relative ease, and much more quickly than I had expected. It is not the most powerful of spells—-even human sorcerers’ apprentices can do it—-but if the former sun priest could call upon the power of the Sun when casting it, it could give him an advantage that no demon I had even known had been given. When I explained this to him, he seemed doubtful.

“But I couldn’t master Sun Fury,” he said, almost miserably. “I don’t know that I can—-”

”Mastery is irrelevant,” I stopped him, waving a dismissive hand. “I have seen you use Light magic since you became a demon, and you can still use it. You need to concentrate. Try it now.”

He shut his eyes tight, and clenched his fists, as though summoning a great deal of strength. Finally he shouted, “Solar Shock!” The thick gray clouds, ever-present in the sky since the destruction of the Sword of Shadows, parted briefly, and a narrow beam of yellow sunlight shot from the sky and struck my right shoulder. It was mildly painful, like the sting from an overlarge hornet, but not nearly as powerful as I knew it could be. There was mild confusion on his face, as though he wasn’t sure whether he should be relieved that it had worked, or nervous about my reaction.

“Not bad,” I said. “Your aim is a bit off, though. But I suppose it is something to work with. Let’s go again.”

Just before Baalak performed the spell a second time, however, Gubash hurried toward us into the courtyard in which we were practicing, looking slightly put-out.

“My lord,” he breathed, “news from the Highlands.”

“Speak,” I said at once.

“They found the village,” he continued. “A dozen humans at best. Hardly worth the effort.”

“And yet an effort it was, evidently,” I said shrewdly. “What happened?”

“A sword singer, and a sorcerer. They were waiting for the troops we sent. We lost a fair few—-”

”Let me get this straight,” I interrupted, and Gubash cringed. “Two hundred fully-armed orcs went to an unprotected village in the middle of nowhere, and were nearly defeated by two magic-wielding humans?”

“They were very powerful,” Gubash replied, “or so I am told.”

“Where are they now?” I sighed.

“We, uh...we don’t know, my lord. They vanished—-”

”Let them get away, as well,” I said, nodding. “Fantastic. Who led them?”

“My-my lord?”

“The troops,” I demanded. “Who led the troops?”

“Thagkil,” he replied. “But he did not return with the others.”

“And well it is for him that he didn’t. Be on the lookout for the humans.” As Gubash took his leave, I told Baalak, “Well done on that, by the way.”

He nodded. “I do remember the boy Danny saying something about ‘our world’, presumably meaning the humans’ world. Do humans honestly think that this is ‘their’ world, that it is a prize to be claimed?”

“They do indeed,” I said. “The world, however, belongs to no one. It is inhabited by lesser creatures, who fight amongst themselves to gain control over one another. Now, let’s try it again.”

 

Over the next six months or so, Baalak made a great deal of progress with the few simple spells I taught him. It occurred to me that Light magic might be that to which he was best suited; but I also thought it wise to attempt to teach him Time magic before I sent him on his way. Fragments of memory seemed to be coming back to him as well, mainly of significant events in his human life. Of his relationships with people, however, he remembered only what we had told him; he knew, for instance, that the Dreamer was his mother, but he retained no emotional connection to her, neither good nor bad. At least, that was the impression he gave.

Once I determined that Baalak was decidedly not possessed of a knack for Time magic, I brought him to Nanghaithya, who I thought would probably be the most accommodating. I was not disappointed, either; though truth be told, he was a bit reluctant at first.

“Are you certain you wouldn’t rather take him to Tawrich first?” he asked me after I had explained everything Baalak and I had worked on for the past half-year.

“Tawrich?” I repeated questioningly. “Disease-bearing spells are nearly as difficult as—-if not even more so than--time-altering ones. Why would I take him there first?” He shrugged and looked away, and I realized then why he was so uncomfortable. “Oh...I understand. I assure you, Nanghaithya, Baalak has no attachment whatever to his human companions. I should be very surprised if he even recognized any of them by sight. And incidentally, if you are concerned about what she will think—-”

”Very well,” he interrupted me. “He can stay. And...incidentally...been back to the Oldwoods yet?” he added with raised eyebrows.

“Well-played,” I returned with a grin. “I haven’t, actually.”

“Well, if you do return, I do hope that you shall not require a Shadow this time,” he laughed.

I did have to laugh too as I thought about it; in fact, even at the time, it was almost amusing...

 

I had arrived at Ahriman’s citadel, all those years before, not long after Saurva had, though it was just long enough. In the entrance hall, I ran into Nanghaithya, who wore a rather puzzled expression.

“The Dark Lord wishes to see you,” he told me. “But it appears you already knew that.”

I nodded, not entirely certain how to respond, as I was preoccupied with the inevitable explanation Ahriman would require of me. Beyond the ebony doors, I found Ahriman seated upon the throne, as usual, and Saurva standing off to his right, a look of triumph on his face.

“Agas,” Ahriman drawled. “You have come just in time. Where have you been?”

“On my way here, my lord,” I said.

He smirked. “I shall ignore your cheek for now,” he said haughtily, which was generally the way he said everything. “Right now there are more pressing matters to discuss. Saurva has told me a very interesting tale about you.”

“Has he?” I replied, trying my best not to look any way but politely surprised.

“Indeed. He said that he found you in the Oldwoods, in the company, no less, of an Elf. An Elf,” he repeated more forcefully. Saurva swelled proudly, and Ahriman said, “Would you care to deny this, Agas?”

“No, my lord,” I said, at which Saurva grinned so broadly that I would swear his head was in danger of splitting along the seam of his mouth.

My response had taken Ahriman by surprise, but he recovered quickly. “I see. Then before I destroy you for this abominable act of treason, would you care to explain yourself?”

“If you wish,” I said casually, and the smile on Saurva’s face faltered. “But I should first like to point out that if Saurva saw all that he claims to have seen, then perhaps we would not have need for this conversation.” Ahriman glanced at Saurva, whose wide smile vanished, and then looked back at me as I continued. “I was indeed in the company of an Elf. During a battle years ago, she had chosen not to kill me, though she could have. I used this lapse in her judgement to gain her trust, and since then, I have discovered many things about the Elves that will put them at a remarkable disadvantage when we take back the world. My lord.”

A heavy silence followed. Ahriman peered at me through narrowed eyes, as though attempting to read my thoughts. Saurva puffed up indignantly.

“He is lying, my lord!” he hissed.

“That,” I directed at Saurva, “or you are looking for an explanation as to why you would run around telling tales before you have your facts straight.”

“Why have you not mentioned this to me before?” Ahriman asked me, his eyes still narrowed.

“I did not want to risk you or the other daevas entering the realm of the Elves’ knowledge,” I explained, “in case I failed.”

There was another silence, and finally Ahriman said, “I will accept this explanation. Saurva, henceforth you will only report these things to me once you have confirmed the entire story. You are dismissed.”

“I—-but—-my lord—-” Saurva floundered.

Dismissed,” Ahriman repeated, and Saurva stormed out with the most evil glare at me that I had ever received. Once he had departed, Ahriman said, “I will take you on your word this time, Agas. But be warned: I do not tolerate anything less than solid, unwavering loyalty.”

When I left the throne room, I found Nanghaithya just outside the doors, looking even more perplexed than he had when I’d left him.

“Saurva just raged through here as though you’d taken away all his toys,” he said. He often compared Saurva to a spoiled toddler. “What did you do?”

“Beat him at his own game,” I told him; but before I could elaborate, an imp appeared before us and said gruffly, “The Dark Lord Ahriman requests the presence of Nanghaithya. At once.”

Nanghaithya entered the throne room, extremely warily, and the imp disappeared. After a few moments, a harried-looking Indra entered the citadel and approached me in an aggressive fashion.

“Tell me it isn’t true,” she said in the soft, deadly voice I knew so well.

“It isn’t true,” I repeated.

She punched me hard in the shoulder and said angrily, “An Elf? Of all the—-I cannot—-I mean—Hell’s Fury, Agas, why, of all the creatures in creation, would you—-”

She stopped as the throne room doors opened and Nanghaithya emerged shaking his head, his eyes wide. Indra glared at me, then turned on her heel and left the way she had come. Nanghaithya looked at me.

Women,” I said. “What’s happened to you?”

“What have you done?” he asked, slowly shaking his head in apparent disbelief.

I sighed. “What haven’t I done lately?”

“The Dark Lord...has asked me...ordered me, really...to...but it’s ludicrous...”

It was moments like this when I wanted to throttle him. “To what? Eliminate me? Bring him my head?”

“Keep an eye on you,” he finished at last. “I am to keep close to you, and report back to him any ‘errant behavior’ you might display.”

He was right; it was ludicrous. “I see. And he’s chosen you because...?”

“He considers me an ‘impartial observer’.”

We looked at each other for a long time. Then, at the same moment, we burst out laughing.

“Well, I suppose he’s just confirmed how much attention he pays you, Nanghaithya,” I said, still chuckling.

“I am beginning to think ‘impartial observer’ actually translates to ‘this task is far too menial for anyone but you,’” he agreed with a grin.

“Consider yourself fortunate that he does not recognize your sizeable talents,” I told him. “You might end up like me.”

“Darkness forfend,” he replied. “I think, for now, I prefer to be a Shadow.”

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thanks! :) agas is such a wiseguy, isn't he? XD

 

 

Chapter 20 - Insight

 

After Baalak’s departure, I turned my attention back to the matters of ruling the Western Isle. As it turned out, the citizens of Sedona were making no effort to adjust to their new way of life, and many were still “bucking the system,” as it were. Skirmishes began to break out at the walls of the city, which were crumbling and weak after the Battle, where paladins were attempting to sneak the townspeople out of the city. In addition, there were an alarming number of “rogue” demons, who had decided that they could do a far better job of running things than I, and began to take certain matters into their own hands (or claws, as the case may be), to disastrous results. Consequently, I had to make my presence felt quite often and rather forcefully.

One other minor inconvenience was the fact that the sword singer and the sorcerer who had attempted to defend the village of Clearwater had still not been found. I believed these two to be the Chosen One and the necromancer boy; and while I knew that they posed no threat, there was something gnawing at the back of my mind, some unexplainable annoyance that the girl’s part in this tale was not yet ended. But, as I could not find any grounds for it, I did my best to dismiss it.

One day, after a brief riot following a very poorly-planned escape attempt by five paladins and a score of civilians, I received even more disturbing news.

“Why is it,” I asked the group at large, who were surrounded by goblins and a few night orcs, “that you continue to resist? The world does not belong to you—-”

”It will,” one of the humans muttered. He was quickly hushed by the others, but it was, of course, too late. I approached the young man, and the other humans moved as far away from him as my soldiers would allow.

“Care to elaborate, before I crush you into dust?” I said evenly.

The man looked to his companions, who averted their eyes as though he were something indecent, and then looked up at me defiantly and announced, “The Druids will destroy you. They have the strength and the power to defeat you. And you can do nothing about it.”

I raised my eyebrows. “I quiver with fear,” I said lazily, and ordered a pair of goblins to escort the young man to the palace dungeons, in a distant cell from that of Danny from the Highlands.

As the remainder of the escapees were herded back into the city, I pondered what the boy had said, and decided that perhaps he had a point. Even without their sun priest, the druids still had great power, and if left unchecked, they might get it into their heads that they could overthrow the daevas and restore mankind to a power and status that it did not deserve. I summoned imps at once to send to the other daevas, requesting a council to be held at Thais, since it was the only kingdom that housed no druids.

I arrived in Thais within an hour. As I made my way to the city gates, I was attacked from behind by a powerful fire spell. Thinking it was Saurva––again––I turned around and prepared a cutting remark, only to find that it was Eithera, the Druid of Strength, whose spell had hit me. I cast Soul Song without even thinking, but she dodged it and conjured a tremendous earthquake. I cast Motion Freeze; again she blocked the spell, and then shouted, “Annihilate!” A thunderous explosion ensued, but I quickly said, “Time Reverse!” and the blast was reduced to nothing before it reached me. I then drew my sword, and she drew hers. She leapt forward and swung at me, but missed; I raised my sword to strike, but she cast her fire spell again before my blow landed, and I was knocked to the ground. She lunged forward again, sword raised, and I yelled, “Motion Freeze!” She stopped moving, glaring at me furiously.

I stood up, resheathed my sword, and dusted myself off. “Not that I don’t know why you are here,” I said nonchalantly, “but one thing does concern me, and that is how you knew where to find me. But I suppose I can get my answers in there.” I waved my hand at the gates to the city. “So my apologies. Enjoy your solitude.”

I entered the city, which was amazingly desolate—-I made a mental note to praise Aesma for his work—-and proceeded to the palace, the main entrance of which was guarded by a pair of rogues, wolfish creatures who walked on their hind legs and carried long steel rapiers. I was led down a vast, ruined hallway to an enormous throne room of cracked gray marble, shattered windows, and a long woven rug that was scorched and slightly smoking. In the center was a large round table of polished wood, which bore wide gashes across its top. There were eight chairs around it, and half of them were currently occupied.

“Nice of you to join us,” Saurva muttered hotly, “considering you are the one who called this council.” He looked as though he had just come from a terrific battle: there were bruises, scratches, and burns all over his face and arms.

“‘Nice of you to join us,’” I repeated. “I didn’t realize that was the way we begin all of our meetings now. What’s happened to you?”

He didn’t answer. Finally Zarich said, “Eithera.”

“She ambushed me!” Saurva interjected defensively. “Just as I was leaving my palace. I swear, she must wait for me out there—-”

”So that is how she knew,” I said, mostly to myself. The others looked at me curiously, and I said, “She attacked me, as well. Just outside the city walls.”

My city walls?!” Aesma shouted angrily, standing up and knocking his chair backward. “I think not.”

He made to leave, but Tawrich stopped him. “Later, Aesma. That is the purpose of this council.”

Aesma sat back down, still fuming, and I said, “And Eithera’s presence here had just decided my vote.”

“You aren’t voting already,” said a voice from the doorway. Indra entered the room and sat beside me, saying, rather testily, “We always wait for you.”

“We are waiting for all the daevas to arrive,” said Tawrich with a sigh. “Nothing has been decided.”

At that moment, Nanghaithya, who was the last to arrive, entered the room, with Baalak following closely behind him. They sat in the last two empty seats, and I said, “You all know why I called this council. The druids have always been a cause for concern. Now they are venturing out of their temples—-”

”I wondered why there was a lifelike statue of Eithera outside the city,” Nanghaithya said. “Your doing?”

I nodded. “I believe it is time to decide their fates.”

“Hence the reason you are here, Baalak,” Tawrich said. “What do you remember of your life as a druid?”

Baalak was silent for a few minutes. “Well, I do know that divided, the druids are powerful; but united, they are nigh invincible. I...I am afraid I don’t recall exactly, but there are ancient spells, I believe, that if the druids perform together, can make great things happen. It’s—-it’s all become very confused, though.” He looked down and said no more.

“Then separating them should be enough,” said Indra. “Eithera has always been rather a ‘rogue druid’, but for the most part, the others have kept to their temples and done no harm. We ought to leave well-enough alone.”

“I disagree,” Saurva countered, and for once, I actually agreed with him. “Eithera is an example of what the druids are capable of. If we let them slide now, we will be far worse off down the road.”

“Second,” said Zarich. “If one alone can catch two daevas off their guard, imagine what would happen if they managed to get together, as Baalak has suggested.”

Aesma stood up. “If you all will excuse me, I am going to go and destroy her now.”

Tawrich and Zarich pulled Aesma back into his seat, and Tawrich put in, “While I agree, Indra, that the druids have done us no harm as yet, and at this point are probably not a threat, there is always the chance that they can become one.”

“The druids could very well be our end,” Zarich said. “Why should we not want to get rid of them?”

“I just do not think we should be so rash,” Indra retorted.

“The druids need to be destroyed,” said Saurva shortly.

I watched Indra closely. She glared at Saurva with glassy, narrowed eyes. She didn’t respond immediately, but I could tell that there was something she was fighting not to say. She stood up. “Fine. Do whatever you like.” And she fled from the room without a look back.

Tawrich sighed. “Would someone like to go and collect her so that we may finish this?”

Saurva made to go after her, but I pushed him back into his seat. “Haven’t you done enough?” I said coldly, and I got up and followed Indra out of the room.

I found her seated on a stone bench about halfway down the outer corridor, her head bowed and her hands folded in her lap. She did not look up when I approached.

“May I?” I asked. She slid down a bit, and I took a seat beside her. After a long silence, I said, “The others are right, you know.”

“Others?” she said, almost bitterly.

“Zarich. Tawrich. Even––” I groaned. “—-Saurva. The druids are, as you said yourself, inherent to our destruction. Why are you being so obstructive?”

“Why should I have to answer to you?” she said angrily.

“Give me a reason,” I returned. “Give me a reason not to destroy anyone.”

“As if it would even matter,” she muttered.

“Who are you protecting, Indra?” I demanded.

She glared at me, furious tears beginning to well in her eyes. “No one worse than you are. Do not think I don’t know.”

I shut my eyes, fighting back the retort that was trying to escape. “This is not about me,” I said evenly. She didn’t respond, and after a while it occurred to me, “It’s Daena, isn’t it?”

It seemed I had finally solved it, because silent tears streamed down her face, and she whimpered, “She—she is my sister.”

My insides went cold. Well, colder. “I see. And you’re ashamed of her, are you?”

She looked up at me, her eyes wide, obviously realizing she has stirred an unwelcome memory. “No, I—-I didn’t mean—-yes,” she blurted out. “A druid? My sister? It’s hardly the same—-” She stopped, dropped her gaze to the ground, and added quietly, “I’m sorry.”

I sighed. “What puzzles me, is how a demon even became a druid.”

Half-demon,” she corrected. “And I’ve told you, the druids cannot sense a demonic aura. They can only tell by sight.”

She had mentioned this before, but it wasn’t until then that I recalled, as though out of the distant past, when I had first gone to slay the Dreamer, on Ahriman’s orders. Even she had not known who—-or what—-I was until I had told her. I chuckled at my arrogant mistake, and Indra looked at me, puzzled. “Nevermind,” I said. “But how did you know she was your sister?”

She took a deep, steadying breath. “My father was Aka Manah.”

“I remember him,” I said. He had never exactly been the most noted of demons in terms of power, but he, like myself and my mother before me, was one of the rare demons with an entirely human appearance.

She nodded. “He was not the most powerful of demons. My mother was much more dangerous. He should have realized it.” She sighed. “My father liked to travel to the surface. He had...an affinity for...human women. And of course—-” She shot a sideways glance at me. “—-the humans did not realize he was...So they did not trouble him. It was not until one of his...One of these...women...bore him a child. A daughter.”

“Daena.”

“He fled the surface after he discovered her. But by then, it was too late. My mother knew.” She smiled. “She was very territorial, my mother. When she confronted him, he denied it, of course. She flew into a jealous rage and killed him on the spot.”

“I had wondered what had happened to him,” I said.

“I was quite young,” she continued. “And from then on, Mother tried very hard to convince me that men were treacherous, foul, and useless.”

“Why would you need convincing? I would think that the fact that we are all those things would be enough.”

She laughed. “One good thing came out of it, though. Mother also fought desperately to make sure I became a daeva. She pushed me hard, but it was her sole determination that I would be the only female daeva. The first,” she added proudly.

“Well, it would have been foolish for us not to make you a daeva,” I told her. “But that still doesn’t answer how you knew Daena was your sister.”

“Perhaps ‘sole determination’ was not the proper term,” she replied, a slight flush in her cheeks now. “Mother also had one other mission: to find the woman who had destroyed her faith in her lover, and in men altogether. She often told me about how she would go to the surface to seek the woman and her child; but it was much more difficult for her, since she looked very distinctly Demon. She did find out where the woman lived, in the village of Thornkeep on the Northern Isle. Whether she ever met her, I did not find out.

“During one of her journeys into the human world, she was discovered by a group of paladins. They captured and killed her. She never got to see me become a daeva.

“I am not sure why, but I felt compelled to complete my mother’s mission. After I became a daeva, I went to Thornkeep––disguised, of course; I learned from Mother’s mistake—-to find the woman who had torn my family apart. She had long since died, but the child, the one my father had sired, still lived. She had grown into renown for being an extremely skilled healer in the village; and the real reason I knew she had to be the one was that they said she possessed the gift of Sight, like our grandmother had.”

“Must have been quite a surprise meeting you,” I said.

“Indeed. Of course, my father had left her mother cold, and the woman never knew about my mother or me. Daena knew her father was a demon, but her mother had told her never to tell anyone. She was wise, kind, and gentle; she said she had wanted to put behind her the demon side of her. It was revolting.”

“So she was not a druid when you met her?”

“Not yet,” she told me. “But the pitiful humans were so impressed by her skills that they just had to make her a druid. They never knew she was half-demon.”

I hesitated, unsure if I should ask the question that had formed in my mind. She looked at me.

“You are wondering why I did not kill her then,” she finished. She shook her head. “I do not know. Perhaps—-perhaps I was fighting my mother’s disposition. She was always too rash. So many things didn’t need to happen.”

“Is everything all right out here?” said a voice from the doorway. Nanghaithya had appeared, a vaguely concerned look on his face.

“Fine,” Indra told him. Then she looked at me, imploring me not to tell him what she had told me. I considered her silent request for a moment.

“Um, listen,” Nanghaithya said, dropping his voice and looking around nervously, “about...about the druids...”

“Agas,” Indra whispered pleadingly.

“What about them?” I asked Nanghaithya.

“Well, it’s...” He sighed, throwing his arms up as though in defeat. “Tei’jal has requested that we not destroy them. At least...not Rashnu.” The look he gave me then was a definite dare to laugh.

“Well, by all means, whatever the vampire wants, the vampire gets,” I said sardonically with a wink at Indra. “Has she any other ridiculous demands?”

Nanghaithya glared at me. “If I didn’t know you better, I would kill you for that.”

“And I am exceedingly grateful that you know me better,” I replied. “As far as the druids go...I suppose we proceed on a case-by-case basis, then?”

“Acceptable,” Indra said simply, but the look on her face was one of relief and gratitude.

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off-the-main-storyline chapter. druids this time. (here it is, tei. ;) )

 

 

The wind blew fiercely from the east as Vohu Manah made his way through the treacherous Wildwoods toward Halloween Hills. Of course, all the lands were treacherous at this point; even though the daevas had decided not to kill the druids, Vohu Manah knew that the risk he was taking now could very well mean his demise. He drew his hood closer about his face and pressed on, through the darkness of the Woods to the deeper darkness that housed the city of Ghed’ahre.

He remained as inconspicuous as possible as he entered the village and proceeded to the cathedral, to the shrine of the druid Rashnu, hoping he would not run across a demon, or worse, the daeva who ruled the Eastern Empire, and had taken to prowling around the vampires’ village. Within the Dark Temple, he thankfully found Rashnu, who was rather surprised to see him.

“You’ve made a dangerous journey,” Rashnu told him. “What’s brought you this way?”

“It is over,” Vohu Manah sighed. “There is no point in my continuing.”

“You cannot mean—-”

”I am stepping down,” Vohu Manah stopped him. “There is no need for a Druid of Music in this world. And Rashnu, before you protest, I have thought long and hard about this. The daevas clearly see us as a threat—-though I cannot see why at this point—-and I am tired of living in fear for my life. You are the Druid of Darkness; you are safe.”

“Well, there may be more to do with it than that,” Rashnu muttered. “But if you step down, you lose all your powers...you become mortal.”

Vohu Manah shrugged. “I was mortal before. And what do I need my powers for, anyway? Armaiti has said he was going to do it, as well.”

“And what has become of him?” asked Rashnu.

“I...have not heard from him in a while,” Vohu Manah replied uncomfortably. “But Rashnu, the daevas are not threatened by regular humans, and so are not killing them. If I become one, I will no longer be considered ‘a threat,’ if, indeed, I was ever considered one.”

Rashnu sighed heavily. He thought Vohu Manah was taking the daevas’ decision rather badly; but he also could see that the other had made up his mind, and that there was to be no changing it. “If you are certain...”

Rashnu summoned the Oracle, who neither druid had seen since the destruction of the Sword of Shadows. Though immortal, the Oracle’s careworn features and the deep lines in her wrinkled face made her look vastly more ancient than either of them had remembered. She sighed heavily, and though she knew Rashnu had summoned her, she did not look surprised to see Vohu Manah there as well.

“Rashnu. Vohu Manah,” she croaked with a nod at each of them. She surveyed them both with her hawk-like eyes, and finally said to Vohu Manah, with another deep sigh, “You have decided to step down as well.”

The two druids looked at each other briefly; it still amazed them that she always knew. “I have,” said Vohu Manah. “I believe—-”

”No need for an explanation,” said the Oracle, but there was a shade of disappointment in her tone. “You are not the first druid I have visited.” He was about to inquire further, but she would not allow it. “Are you quite certain that you have thought this through? That you see no other alternative?”

Vohu Manah looked from her to Rashnu uncertainly. Rashnu said, “We have discussed it. I would like to say, however, that I still think you ought to give it more time, Vohu Manah.”

Vohu Manah was silent. When he spoke, it was with a heavy heart. “I appreciate your confidence, Rashnu. But I have given all the time that I find myself capable.” He turned to the Oracle. “I would like to relinquish my powers, and be the Druid of Music no more.”

“Very well,” she replied. “While I am disappointed, I respect your decision.” She invoked the spell over the druid, and when she was through, she said, “Vohu Manah, you have returned the powers once given to you. You have surrendered your immortality. You are a mortal man. Go and live in peace, however you see fit.”

Then, with a small nod at Rashnu, she took her leave. Vohu Manah examined his hands for a while, as though expecting them to have changed. “It is done,” he said with finality.

Rashnu sighed. “Where will you go?”

Vohu Manah shrugged. “I think the Wildwoods. Or perhaps I can return to Land’s End. I just need to find a place I can be away from...demons. Except I shall have to pay a visit to Nanghaithya, I suppose...To make sure he knows...”

“Do you wish me to accompany you?” Rashnu asked him.

“I don’t suppose it is necessary. Though, I understand you have a...vested interest...”

Rashnu laughed. “Yes, perhaps I ought to pay him a visit as well.”

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Chapter 21 - Changes

 

I had promised Indra that I would not tell the others what she had told me, and I was good to my word. When they asked what had changed my mind, I told them that I would rather keep the druids prisoners in their shrines and watch them suffer. Nanghaithya and Indra, of course, agreed; Zarich said that if I was not worried, then he was not worried; and Saurva was visibly delighted that he and I were once again on opposing sides. Aesma was crestfallen, poor devil. Tawrich agreed that the druids could be kept alive as well, but I could tell that he did not believe my reasoning, and so I left before he could question me on it.

Over the months that followed, Baalak continued his training with each of the daevas in turn. His stay with Nanghaithya turned out to be the longest, after mine; Tawrich said he could tell immediately that his spells were far too difficult for the boy, though he did teach him some basic swordfighting (a skill I had not even considered him suited to). The others, I gathered, had neither the patience nor the desire to teach Baalak much of anything. I tried pointing out to Indra that she had voted in favor of letting him live in the first place, to which her response was an angry hiss.

There came a day, some months after our council, when I received a most unexpected visitor. Gubash came to me in the throne room, where I was drawing up plans to reinforce the city walls, with a most peculiar expression on his already twisted face.

“There is a...” He shook his head. “A druid has come, requesting to see you, my lord.”

“Indeed,” I replied, mildly surprised myself. “Show the druid in, then.”

Gubash left, and the druid Armaiti returned in his place. There was a look of resolve on his face that I remembered having seen once before, on another druid. There was something different about him, though; usually with magic wielders, one could sense some sort of aura emanating from them, but it was not so with Armaiti–-at least, not any longer. We nodded at each other in greeting, and I asked him, “What brings you by, Armaiti?”

He took a deep breath. “I suppose I shall get right to the point. I have stepped down.”

“Meaning...?”

“I am no longer a druid,” he continued. “The Oracle has stripped me of my duties, and my powers. There is no use for a Druid of Agriculture in a world that has none.”

“And...so what is your purpose for coming here?”

If I was beginning to annoy him, it was difficult to tell. “Simply to ask that I am allowed to live out my remaining years as a regular, mortal human in peace. There is no harm I can do, Agas.”

“I see.” I supposed it should not have surprised me. Armaiti was meek and timid. In truth, I had never considered him a threat at all; my, and the other daevas’, only concern was the druids combining their powers to use against us. Of course, there was no reason to explain any of this, especially since he was no longer a druid. “Well, Armaiti, I will not judge the rationality of your decision. I have told you that the druids were not in danger.”

“I know what you told me,” he replied a bit snappishly. “Forgive me if I cannot take the word of a daeva at face value.”

I refrained from laughing, but it was difficult. “Very well, Armaiti. Go and do whatever it is you’ve decided is best. I shall see to it that while you are in Sedona, you shall not be accosted. But know this: once you leave the city gates, I will not be responsible for what happens to you.”

He nodded curtly, but apparently had no more to add. I shouted for Gubash, and when he entered the room, I said, “Armaiti shall require an escort. He is to leave the city unharmed.”

“My—-my lord?” Gubash said with uncertainty, eyeing the former druid suspiciously.

“I believe you have understood me,” I said. “See to it that no harm comes to this man while he is in this city. And instruct your men that they are not to trouble him once he has left it, either.”

With an almost imperceptible—-and by imperceptible, I mean glaringly obvious—-look of contempt at the druid, Gubash bowed to me and beckoned for Armaiti to follow him. At the door, Armaiti turned back to me and opened his mouth to speak, but either could not decide which of the thousand hateful things he wanted to say to me, or thought better of it, because he quickly turned and left the room without another word.

“Well,” I said to myself, “not wholly unexpected. But it is far easier this way.”

 

As it happened, Armaiti would not be the last to surrender his druid powers. Not long after Armaiti had been to see me, I learned from Nanghaithya that Vohu Manah had done the very same thing. Of the eight druids, five now remained, and two of these had been vouched for by other daevas. Vata had never given us or any other demons any trouble; being, probably, the oldest living being on earth, he had seen many things come to pass, and had never interfered with any of them. He was very like Death: he came at need, did only what was required of him, and left all other matters to those with whom the matters were concerned.

There were still, however, two druids who had not been accounted for, one of whom had proven herself an immediate threat. The trouble was that neither Eithera nor Talia the Dreamer had been seen for many months, and if any humans did know where they were, they were doing a very good job of hiding it.

Still, it was only a matter of time before the “loose cannon” Eithera showed herself again. She would have to recognize her disadvantage sooner or later. And I knew that, while I had failed once at destroying the dream priestess, I now had a weapon to use against her, far more powerful than any magic could be.

So while I waited for the rogue druids to present themselves, I turned my attention to the only other thing that was a cause for concern: Ylisfar. I had not been to the Oldwoods for quite some time, but I was fairly certain that nothing had changed. My only hope was that I was correct, and that certain lapses in my judgement had not allowed the Elves to regain any semblance of the power they had once had, the power that could mean ruin for the world we had worked so hard to make our home once more.

I remembered the last time I had been to the Oldwoods, centuries earlier, some time after Ahriman had set Nanghaithya the ever-daunting task of being my Shadow. I had not trusted Saurva or Ahriman enough to return to the Oldwoods for a long time, but I also knew that I must return, if only to finish what I had started. Nanghaithya told me that he had become “temporarily deaf and blind” before I went to find Liya. When I did meet her, she smiled broadly, but there was a great sadness in her eyes, and I wondered if she knew why I was there. I kissed her, and for a long time I didn’t want to let her go. When I was finally able to, she looked up at me and said, “I have missed you.”

“And I you,” I replied. The look in her eyes made it nearly impossible to say what I needed to say, so for the moment, I said nothing.

She seemed to understand, however, because she prompted me with, “You have not been in some time.”

“He knows,” I said with some difficulty. “And...” I chuckled. “He is not happy.”

“I daresay he wouldn’t be,” she said, laughing herself. She touched my cheek and said, “How I wish you could be free of him.”

I looked away, thinking how it was not that simple, and knowing that I could never really make her understand. Finally I said, without looking at her, “I have to go.”

She drew a deep breath and released it audibly. “I thought you might. Still, I shall not give up hope, though it may be all that I have left.”

I looked at her again and couldn’t help smiling. “You Elves and your hope.”

We kissed one last time, and I bid her farewell, though she said it was only “for now.” As I wandered back through the woods in search of Nanghaithya, I was greeted by the aura of another demon, one that I was quite certain had not been there before, if indeed the demon had ever been in the Oldwoods at all.

I soon found the demon in the place where I had separated from Nanghaithya, and even with the advance warning, I was still terribly surprised to see her there.

“What are you doing here, Indra?” I asked her warily. “Where is Nanghaithya?”

“I have decided to relieve him for a while,” she said evenly. After a slight pause, she took on an unconvincingly casual tone when she asked, “So...is it done?”

“Is what done?” I wondered.

She glared at me, losing even the pretense of collectedness she had tried to display. “I know why you are here. Still protecting...her. I sincerely hope it has all been worth it.”

She spun around and stalked off through the trees, and I hurried after her. Once I had caught her up, I said, “Why are you so offended by all of this, Indra? It does not, nor has it ever, concerned you!”

“Doesn’t it?” she said in a low, dangerous voice.

I thought for several moments before I replied, “Does it?”

She laughed coldly. “You really don’t know, do you?”

“If I did, the need for this entire conversation would have decreased dramatically, wouldn’t it?” I retorted.

She looked long and hard at me. Then she sighed, and her malice gave way to something like defeat. “It doesn’t matter,” she said quietly.

“Obviously, it does,” I said.

She shook her head. “No, Agas. It is far too late, anyway.” She walked away, and stopped about ten feet from me. She turned her head slightly and whispered, “Tye-melánye, Agas.”

It was several seconds before I registered what she had said, and she was already walking away again. “What—-what did you say?” I asked her retreating form.

She stopped and half-turned again, and I could see a trace of a smirk on her face. “Have you never heard it before?”

“I have,” I returned. “But I was not aware you spoke the Elvish tongue.”

She turned to go, but not before she said softly, “Evidently, there are many things about me of which you are not aware, Agas.”

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You know, kaz, even Indra is being sweet now. :lol:

 

*CherryWine flees*

 

...

 

*CherryWine cautiously peers back in...*

 

Oh yeah, and Eithera! :evil: Yay! I love Eithera.

 

*CherryWine flees again*

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Eithera? *remembers comic* Ahahahahahahaha!!!!! :lol:

 

Nah, my Eithera isn't the one we're talking about here :evil:

 

We're getting closer, yay!!! Speaking of which, Kaz, why did you choose Agas in the first place instead of Zarich or Nanghaithya or even Ahriman? :evil:

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cherry: you do realize that i'm taking the beating for all this 'sweet' and 'cute' stuff, right?... XD and i don't know if i'd pledge my allegiance to eithera just yet...oh. maybe i shouldn't have said that. ;)

 

daeva_agas: i think i chose him in part because of the in-game dialogue between him and dameon. he was the only one who made mention of the fact that they'd met before; why didn't any of the other daevas? weird.

and i didn't choose ahriman because, well, he's kind of a dork. XD

 

phoenixalia: thanks! :)

 

 

i remember some people not liking this chapter before...so, talia fans, beware. :evil:

 

 

Chapter 22 - What Dreams May Come

 

It had been little more than two years since Ahriman’s demise, when Tawrich finally decided that the Dreamland was no longer suited to his tastes. He had collected Baalak from Zarich, who was last to train the boy, and the two came to the Western Isle, where Tawrich told me he had some news that might be of interest to me.

“Dream World not all it’s cracked up to be, Tawrich, old friend?” I asked him after he announced his decision to leave it.

“It is certainly not as I remembered it,” he replied, shaking his head. “Even with the Nightmares about...It is a wonder you kept your sanity.”

“Provided I did keep it,” I said with a grin. “So what will you do now?”

He sighed. “I think, for the time being, I shall become a nomad, until I find a place that suits me.”

“And the Dreamland?”

“I have offered it to Zarich,” he said. “It seemed like the natural choice. And he has done a fine job of ruining Mysten Far. Which brings me to the primary reason for my visit. When I left the Dream World, Zarich gave me a very interesting piece of information. It seems he has located the Dreamer.”

“Has he?” I said. I had to admit that I was curious, as it had been such a long time since anyone had been able to place the priestess.

He nodded. “It is rather ironic, too. It seems the priestesses of Mysten Far were ‘hiding’ her, as it were. They’d done a very good job of it, at that; apparently she’d gone about in a disguise the whole time. It wasn’t until Baalak began training with Zarich that she made her presence known.”

“Ah...of course. So what has he done with her?”

“He is holding her in the priestess temple. He keeps a Silence spell upon her so that she may not flee. But he insisted that you be the one to...‘deal with her.’”

“Outstanding,” I said. I turned to the silent Baalak, who looked as though something was giving him a fair amount of pain. “You are awfully quiet, Baalak.”

“The Dreamer is my mother,” he said slowly, as though confirming it. “Why...why can I only remember bits and pieces...only the bad things? Surely all my memories of her cannot be bad.”

“Surely they are not,” said Tawrich. “But we did tell you at the beginning that you may retain no recollection of your human life. You have remembered far more than I, at least, would have expected.”

“Also, oftentimes, our worst memories are the ones that tend to stand out most vividly,” I added. “Well, Tawrich, I think I should like to take care of this business with the priestess as soon as possible. Would you care to accompany me?”

Tawrich nodded, and Baalak said, “And...what shall I do?”

“You shall come along, as well,” I said. “Indeed, I’d hate to make the trip without you.”

 

When we arrived in the barren, rotten wasteland that was Mysten Far, Zarich chuckled with glee. “I cannot believe she has been here all this time,” he said. “I’ve been such an idiot!”

“Well, to be fair, you’ve had other things to worry about,” Tawrich said.

“Yes, think nothing of it,” I added. “So where can we find her?”

Zarich led us through the smoke-damaged marble halls of the large temple where the priestesses of Mysten Far resided. Every priestess we passed wore the same downtrodden expression; they reminded me of the poorer people of the Western Isle, before I had taken it over. At the end of a long, empty hallway was a closed door of scorched ivory.

“She is in there,” Zarich told us. “I’ve put an enchantment on the room so she could not escape it; the spell of Silence was exhausting.”

I nodded in thanks, and as Zarich headed back down the hall, Tawrich said to me, “We’ll wait out here, then?”

“For now,” I answered. “But do not wander far.”

I pushed open the door, and found the priestess Talia sitting on the floor beside a large window, gazing out blankly at the ruined landscape. Her robes were smeared with dirt and mud, and torn in many places. Her hair was still violently red, but it now looked more like a mass of tangled weeds than anything else. She did not appear to have noticed my entrance, so I said, “I wondered where you’d got to.”

She turned around, and leapt to her feet at the sight of me. “You!” she gasped.

I grinned evilly. “Remember me, do you, priestess?”

“Light—-” she began, but I was faster.

“Motion Freeze!” I said. She froze, her mouth half open, and stared at me helplessly.

“I made a mistake before, priestess,” I said, walking a slow circle around her. “I admit it. You went down so quickly...I should have realized the job was not done. You are stronger than I gave you credit for.” I stopped and faced her, and there was unabashed terror in her eyes. It was magnificent. “I do not make the same mistake twice, priestess,” I said quietly. “However, since I now have your undivided attention, there is someone I’d like you to meet.”

I went to the door, and called out to Tawrich, “Bring Baalak in here.”

Fear switched to confusion, and then rapidly to utter astonishment in the priestess’s eyes as Baalak entered the room, looking at her with complete indifference.

“I see you recognize him,” I said to her. “I thought you might.” I turned to Baalak. “Do you know this woman?”

He looked from me to the priestess, his eyes narrowing. After a long silence, he slowly nodded his head. “Hello, Mother,” he said icily.

A tear ran down the priestess’s cheek. I stifled a laugh. “How very sad,” I said, shaking my head. “The boy doesn’t look very happy to see you, does he? Quite a shame.”

“I don’t see why I should be,” Baalak replied, looking at her as though trying to remember something. I decided to release the Motion Freeze spell, because I knew the scene would be much more entertaining if she could move; and sure enough, the priestess immediately collapsed to her knees, sobbing.

“Dameon,” she whispered breathlessly. “My son...I thought...I thought you were...”

His eyes became mere slits. “You thought I was what? Dead? Clearly I am not.”

“What...what’s happened to you?” she whimpered. Then she glared at me. “What have you done to my son?”

“The daevas have done nothing to me, Mother,” he said coldly. It was a bald-faced lie, of course, but it seemed his anger had far outweighed any “good” memories that may have come back to him. “I have chosen my own destiny.”

“But...Dameon...the Sword of Shadows...” She was barely speaking above a whisper.

“Yes, it was I who shattered it,” he replied in a would-be casual tone.

I could not resist adding, “After he became a demon.”

“No!” the priestess wailed. “No! Not my son!”

“Does this not please you?” I asked her, no longer able to hide a wicked grin. “You should be proud of your little boy. Much of this would not have been possible without him.”

His mother howled with misery. She fell to the floor, sobbing into her arms, muttering, “My son...my baby...my poor baby...”

“Agas,” said a low voice from behind us. Tawrich stood in the doorway, surveying the scene.

I sighed, knowing that a scolding was coming. “I already know what you would say, Tawrich,” I said.

“Then do it,” was all he added.

“Baalak,” I said to the boy, “while it would be most fitting to have to finish this...” The priestess sat up immediately, horror and agony all over her tearstained face. “...I’m afraid I simply cannot allow it. Go with Tawrich.” I grinned malevolently. “Your mother and I have a score to settle.”

As Baalak left the room with Tawrich, the priestess said miserably, “A score? You tried to destroy me. I hardly had you at a disadvantage.”

“Not true,” I retorted. “I would not have suffered nearly as much had you been a good little priestess and died like you were supposed to do.”

She rose shakily to her feet. “Torn—-” she began, but once again, I was faster. “Time Reverse,” I said, and she closed her mouth and went down to the floor again.

“It’s over, priestess,” I told her. “You have outlived your usefulness. Accept defeat.”

“Wait,” she pleaded. “My son...you called him something...’Baalak’...why?”

“It is an old Demon word meaning ‘half-breed’,” I said with a smirk. “It is the name we gave him when he became a demon.”

She began to cry again. “Your quarrel was with me...why did you do this to my son?”

Was it possible that she didn’t know what he had done? “This had nothing to do with you, priestess. The boy betrayed us. He betrayed you, as well.”

“That is a lie!” she wailed.

“I was there, priestess,” I told her, so forcefully that she closed her mouth and stared, wide-eyed and trembling. “He was angry with you. He came to Ahriman and asked to become a daeva. He sent a slave trader after you. He delivered the young sword singer right into Ahriman’s hands, and had he not gotten cold feet at the last moment, the girl would have perished then and there, as would all of humanity.”

“No...” She was crying harder than ever. “Dameon...why?...”

“I would hate for you to go to your grave with misconceptions about your dear son,” I said. “He became what he is because it is what he chose.” I smirked. “You raised him well, priestess.”

She gave me a withering look. I waited. She said nothing more; I had broken her spirit, to the point where she would not even try to defend herself. Not as much fun as a real fight would have been, but her misery and suffering more than made up for that. And yet...something in the hollow, defeated look in her eyes as she stared blankly at the floor stayed my hand. She was broken, utterly destroyed; did I even need to bother disposing of her? And then I remembered what Ahriman had put me through when I hadn’t done it the first time, and the chain of events that the miserable woman had set into motion.

“Soul Song.” She stiffened, a lifelike statue of a broken, desperate priestess on her knees, amid a mass of tattered white robes. I left the room and shut the door.

 

I caught up with Tawrich and Baalak halfway down the otherwise empty corridor outside the room and stopped them.

“You do have an awful lot of anger towards your mother, don’t you?” I asked Baalak.

He sighed, and shook his head slowly, though more in disappointment than in disagreement. “I still can remember very little.”

“It is probably best, anyway,” Tawrich told him. Then he turned to me. “Is it done?”

“Almost,” I said. I held out my hand, upon which floated a small orb of light and mist. I looked at Baalak. “Do you know what this is?”

“It’s a soul,” he replied.

I nodded. “It belongs to the priestess...your mother. You remember why you became a demon, do you not? Or rather, why you wanted to become one?”

He nodded slowly. “She killed my father,” he said quietly. “I wanted her to suffer. I appealed to the Dark Lord Ahriman, because I knew he wanted the same thing.”

Tawrich and I looked at each other and chuckled at this, because it reminded us just how unhinged Ahriman had become in his final days. “I must say, I was rather impressed with your performance in there,” I told Baalak, indicating the room behind us, while Tawrich nodded. “This was a big step for you.”

“I...don’t understand.”

“It was a test,” I said. “I thought it was time to see how far you had come. You have passed.”

Tawrich nodded again, and said, “With flying colors.”

“A—-a test?” Baalak still didn’t seem to understand.

“We wished to make certain that you have truly become a demon,” Tawrich said.

“Had you retained any sort of emotional attachment, you would have quailed, at the very least, when I showed you your mother’s soul. As far as I can see, you have turned aside from the life you knew as a human. Dameon the Sun Priest is dead.”

“Dameon,” he said, as though the word left a foul taste in his mouth. “Yes. He is dead.”

“I think it is time,” Tawrich said.

“Time for what?” Baalak wondered.

“It is graduation day, Baalak,” I told him. “We shall have to convene with the other daevas, of course, but I feel you have earned the right to attempt the trials.”

“Necessary to become a daeva,” added Tawrich. “And I agree.”

“Really?” Baalak said excitedly.

“Also,” I said, “I think it is time for a new name.”

“‘Baalak’ no longer seems to suit you,” said Tawrich.

He laughed. “Well, technically, it does, but I do appreciate it very much. So by what name shall I go now?”

There was a pause. “You decide,” I offered.

“I think...Hajetus,” he said at last.

“Very good,” I said. “And now...” I handed the silvery orb of a priestess’s soul to Baalak––or, rather, Hajetus. He gave me a bemused look.

“Why—-why are you giving me this?” he asked.

“Because I have no use for it,” I said with a shrug. “And I’m certain there will come a time when you shall have many questions for your mother. Though,” I added with a smirk, “let’s try to save those questions for a century or two.”

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druids! XD

i'd like some feedback on this one, though. i've changed this ever so slightly, and i'd like to know: what sort of sense do you get of the 'relationship' as it were between daena and eithera? just curious.

 

 

Daena sat gazing out her window, attempting to wish away the clouds that now shadowed the moon. She had not left her temple in quite some time, and her Sight had not been what it used to be; and not knowing her own fate was beginning to eat away at her. She looked up quickly when she heard footsteps outside her temple. She honestly hadn’t been expecting anyone to come, which was a rare occurrence for her. She rose from her chair and slowly went to the door, preparing herself for whatever was coming.

She was relieved to see that the person who had come was her old friend Rashnu, who she had not seen in quite some time. She bade him enter and said, “I wondered if I’d ever see anyone else again.”

“Then...you did not know I was coming?” he asked.

Daena sighed. “I am afraid my Sight has all but left me,” she said sadly. “It has been awfully difficult going day to day, wondering what is going to happen to me, and to my friends.”

“You are having doubts about the daevas’ decision,” he said knowingly.

“Some news has reached my ears,” she replied with melancholy. “Dameon becoming a demon...Armaiti and Vohu Manah stepping down...and now Talia...” She shook her head. “Where will it end?”

“Vohu Manah and Armaiti made that decision themselves,” Rashnu said. “And...well, no one could have predicted Dameon’s fate.” She shot him a pained look, and he hurriedly changed tack. “You know...I cannot believe I am about to say this, but...in Agas’s defense, he is the one who ‘swayed the vote,’ as it were, in the daevas’ decision regarding the druids. According to Nanghaithya, anyway.”

She sighed and nodded. “Indra said the same thing. She said we owed our lives to Agas. Of course, I do believe her opinion may be biased...”

“The Dreamer does live still,” Rashnu pointed out.

She looked away, thinking of a response to this, when the door to the shrine flew open, and Eithera entered without announcing herself and scanned the room quickly for the druid. When she spotted the two of them in chairs near the windows, she sighed with relief.

“Thank heavens I have found you,” she addressed them as she approached. They both noted that she looked as though she had been through a terrible ordeal. “The world is in utter chaos!”

“Yes, we had noticed, Eithera,” Rashnu replied.

“What’s happened to you?” Daena asked her blankly, only the barest trace of concern in her voice.

Eithera’s eyes narrowed slightly, and she waved off the question. “Never mind that. Druids are—pardon the expression—-dropping like flies. We need to stop the daevas. At my last count, there are still four of us left. It may be a long shot, but I think we have the power to—-”

Rashnu raised his hand to stop her. “Eithera, while I admire your determination, the daevas are far more powerful than I think you have accounted for.”

“Eight druids did not have the power to stop them,” Daena added. “What can four do?”

Eithera looked wildly back and forth between the two of them. “You cannot be serious. You—-you’re just...giving up?”

“They could have killed us all,” said Rashnu reasonably. “Yet they chose to kill none of us. Does that tell you nothing?”

“It tells me,” Eithera replied through gritted teeth, “that they have made a terrible mistake, and that they shall pay dearly for it. This world...it is wrong! The demons need to be sent back to where they belong! Do neither of you agree?” Daena and Rashnu looked at each other, but did not respond. Eithera groaned in frustration. “Very well. Where is Vata?”

“In his temple, I expect,” Rashnu told her. “You know how he is. He has been using the ‘Dreamer’s Tear’ excuse for centuries.”

“Can’t be bothered,” Eithera muttered. “I will not let this stand. I am going to take down the daevas, single-handedly, if need be.” She turned to go, but Rashnu stopped her.

“I am afraid I cannot let you do that,” he said resignedly. “There is at least one daeva who I must vouch for. It seems...” He laughed, and shook his head. “It seems my daughter has taken an interest in Nanghaithya.”

“And I, as well, must speak on behalf of one of them,” said Daena, though it seemed to give her a bit of difficulty to say it. “Indra...Indra is...my sister.”

Eithera looked from Rashnu to Daena incredulously, then folded her arms. “I see. Anyone else?”

The two looked at each other again. “Well, I suppose Agas,” said Rashnu thoughtfully, and Daena nodded. “And, of course, Dameon...as I understand it, they purpose to make him a daeva as well.”

Eithera glared at them. “Ludicrous. Utterly ridiculous. I suppose I see now where your loyalties lie. Good day to you, then.” She left the temple, slamming the door shut behind her. Rashnu sighed.

“They are going to destroy her,” Daena said tonelessly.

Rashnu shrugged. “She is never to be daunted. I sincerely hope she does not run across any of them.”

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Hmmm... not sure. Daena seems curiously detatched about Eithera, so it must mean something is up. But I'm notoriously bad about picking up on those kind of clues :lol:

 

At any rate, I remember what your Eithera was up to. She had a big influence on my Eithera -- although it works out in different ways, I suppose. ;)

 

And I guess you'll just have to stop making your daevas so sweet and cute if you want to stop getting in touble with them. :laughing: Just kidding. They're all terrible horrible mean brutes. (There! Does that help?) Well Dameon certainly was in that chapter. I'm not the biggest Talia fan in the world, but I definitely feel sorry for her in that chapter.

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@Cherry: :D <---About the daevas being "so sweet and cute."

~

Hmm...but I wonder what you're hinting about their 'relationship', kaz. :roll: Well, I couldn't detected anything that would link them in anyway, except for them being druids. Though, for Daena I don't understand why she would back up Indra so much. I know that they're sisters but still, the druid has responibilities. Then again, they're all cowards, I guess, except for Eithera. :evil: I do love Eithera, though. She's more druid than any of them. :blink:

 

Ask for Talia---> :cry:

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Talia? Ha!!! I wish she was dead before she even met Rhen!!

 

*thinks* Oh wait, that meant Ahriman would rule the world. That's not nice.

 

About the daevas being sweet and cute... They aren't being sweet and cute (though I would love them to :D). Even if they are, why shouldn't they? :evil:

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cherry: thanks. very helpful. that's all i'll say for now. ;)

 

dis: hey, it isn't like they killed her, right? XD and as for daena and indra...well, you're reading 'from the beginning' too, right? maybe you'll get some hints there...eventually...

 

daeva_agas: it would also mean that 'aveyond' never happened. probably. :lol:

 

 

Chapter 23 - History Lessons

 

The daevas called another council, this time to determine Hajetus’s readiness to attempt the trials necessary to become a daeva. We decided to hold it in Mysten Far, since three of us were already there; and while we waited for the others to arrive, Hajetus told me, “There is something I’ve been meaning to ask you.”

“Ask away,” I said.

“Well...it’s just that...In the beginning, I seem to recall that you were...um...highly motivated to eliminate me, where some of the other daevas were...well, not. But now it seems that of all the daevas, you have been the most...determined to see me succeed. Might I ask the reason behind that? Or have I misinterpreted the situation entirely?” he added quickly.

I had to admit that the question had caught me off-guard, and so it was several moments before I was able to reply. “I suppose you remind me of myself in a way. Believe it or not, I had a very similar...difficulty to yours with my parents.”

“Really?” It sounded a combination of curiosity and disbelief.

“You’ve said that your mother killed your father. It was the reason you wanted to become a daeva, was it not?” He nodded slowly, and I continued, “My father killed my mother; I was even younger than you were. Though, I doubt the circumstances were the same.”

“I have never really gotten a clear answer,” he said uncertainly. “I think she believed she was acting in humanity’s best interests. My father was, she said, working closely with Ahriman.”

“Was he, now?” I said in mild surprise. I supposed it began to make more sense, Ahriman’s taking on the young sun priest; perhaps Ahriman had thought the boy would complete his father’s work, whatever that may have been. It still baffled me, though, why Ahriman would put such trust in a druid. “Interesting. Hold onto that soul, Hajetus; I think I’d like to hear that tale as well.”

He grinned, and then said, “I cannot imagine that the same happened between your parents.”

“Ah, that it didn’t. Actually, what happened between my parents was—-well, I suppose, me.

“My father, you see, was an Elite Demon, one of the very last. Elite Demons were vastly stronger and more powerful than normal demons, and as such, many felt that rule was owed to them. Eventually each sought complete control of all things, and they began destroying each other. But I digress.

“My father, who was called Zurvan, was of the opinion—-like most Elite Demons—-that all creatures who were not Elite Demons were beneath him, particularly humans. He hated all things remotely human, anything that even suggested humanity. And then, curiously, he met my mother.”

“She was not a human, was she?”

“No. But she was a rare kind of demon: one with an entirely human appearance.”

“I suppose that explains...” He trailed off, clearly knowing he needn’t finish the thought.

“Well, that does not come down to parentage, necessarily. Neither of Nanghaithya’s parents looked entirely human. But again, I digress. For whatever reason, my father evidently took a great deal of interest in my mother. You can assume the rest. But then I was born, with no resemblance to him whatever—-in terms of his demonish appearance, that is. And for some reason, he took this as a personal insult, and immediately despised me.

“Throughout my childhood, my father was...unkind to me. He usually tried to avoid my mother seeing it, because when she caught him at it, she would intervene, and take the brunt of his fury. She, unfortunately, was not strong to begin with, and his continued attacks made her weaker and weaker, which only incensed his anger at me, which continued the cycle. And then, one day, when I was twelve years old, she caught him using one of his more powerful spells on me, and stepped between us. She could not sustain the damage.”

“Oh, my,” said Hajetus. “Surely this showed your father the futility of his rage against you?”

“On the contrary,” I told him. “It was my fault Mother had died. The spell had been meant for me; she never should have gotten in the way. That was the day my father discovered that I had learned the Reality Shift spell, which was one of his favorites to use on me. Of course, mine was not nearly as powerful as his; but it was, apparently, good enough for him to put aside his loathing and begin ‘training’ me, as he called it, to become a daeva, like he was. Had I not tried to kill him, I daresay he would have left me then and there to fend for myself, if not destroyed me.”

Hajetus was silent for a few moments. “I had noticed that you have never spoken favorably of your father, when you spoke of him at all,” he said at last. “But I had no idea...may I ask what happened to him?”

“He died—-” I began, but at that point Saurva and Indra arrived—-together, by the looks of it—-and our discussion was cut short. I raised my eyebrows at Indra, who kept shooting embarrassed glances from me to Saurva and back again.

“I only met him outside,” she muttered as she took the seat beside me. “Stop giving me that look.”

“What look?” I asked innocently, though it was very difficult to keep from laughing out loud. She glared at me, but said nothing further. Aesma, and then Nanghaithya, arrived shortly thereafter, and Tawrich and Zarich, who had been absent during Hajetus’s and my conversation, returned from wherever they had gone. Tawrich confirmed the purpose of the council, and explained our reasoning behind it. As usual, Saurva was the first to voice his opinion.

“I do not see how any of this is relevant,” he said. “What makes any of you think a mere two years is enough training?”

“First of all, seeing as how you gave him no training whatever, your opinion in that matter should count for naught,” I shot back. “And second, your precious Ahriman was willing to make him a daeva. Does that not aid you in your decision?” He muttered something about the Dark Lord not understanding, but did not say more.

“I, for one, am all for letting—-Hajetus, was it?—-begin the trials,” Aesma put in. “The sooner, the better.”

I had to laugh at this; the only reason Aesma agreed was, of course, because he assumed Hajetus was not ready, and the trials would destroy him. But something told me not to count the boy out yet, though I did not bother telling Aesma this.

“Yes, why not?” said Nanghaithya. “What is the worst that can happen, he fails?”

“He succeeds,” Indra muttered. “That would be worst.”

“My, but we’re hateful today, aren’t we?” I said sardonically.

“It appears we have only two dissensions,” Tawrich said. “If this is the case, then we begin the trials. Hajetus, you have been trained, and the responsibilities of a daeva have been explained to you. Is there anything you would like to add at this point?”

“Nothing,” Hajetus replied. “Except...well, I have been thinking much about this, and there is something I should like to know...regarding Ahriman.” He paused. Then he said, almost delicately, “You have said before that Ahriman was not always a demon. I cannot help but wonder...how he came to...er...such...power.”

Indra glared at him, and Aesma made a move as if to lunge at him, but I said, “No, I think it is a fair question. I’ll allow it.”

“As will I,” Tawrich agreed.

Nanghaithya nodded as well. “Two and a half thousand years ago, an emperor ruled over all the human world. This was when the lands were still united, not divided by oceans. He ruled over all the kingdoms, most of which you have probably never even heard of. During his time as ruler, he was a terrible despot: tyrannical, probably insane, and hideously evil. His chief policies of rule were pain, torture, and death. The human world had never before suffered so greatly, and has not since the end of his rule.

“But this emperor—-who, you may have guessed by now, was Ahriman—-was not given to rule. He was not a king, nor the son of one. He was not even a noble. He was a commoner, the son of a merchant, who exhibited tremendous magical powers at an early age. He studied sorcery, eventually becoming an Elite Mage. He was, arguably, the greatest sorcerer the human world has ever known.

“It was through the use of these skills that he gained control of the kingdoms, poisoning the minds of their monarchs, slowly taking over the thrones. The transition was seamless. Before the people realized it, they were united in fear under the rule of the most powerful and terrible human who had ever lived. And he lived an extraordinarily long life, even for a sorcerer. He was so feared that none of his subjects would even get near enough to try to assassinate him. Still, he was a mere human, of the race of men, and all Men must die.

“As he lay on his death bed, he called upon a demon summoner—-who were not so rare as they are now. The summoner called us to the dying man’s bedside. Ahriman beseeched us—-”

Begged us, more like,” Aesma threw in.

Begged us,” Nanghaithya continued, “to make him a demon. He claimed to be afraid of death. We, of course, had seen what he had done, and what he was capable of doing, and so it seemed...not without the realm of possibility that he might make an acceptable demon.”

“He was practically one already,” I added.

“We performed the spell on him that we did on you, Hajetus; and, as in your case, he became a half-demon, but retained his human appearance. Though in his case, he was already so foul and evil that the spell could not change him.

“For years, he ‘laid low,’ if you will, never so much as making his presence known. Then, eventually, he came to us, asking to learn new spells, et cetera. The more time we spent around him, we would discover, the worse off we became. He was not, nor would he be, nearly as powerful as any of us. But there were two things in his favor. His skills as an Elite Mage were one factor. The other was the fact that some of us were relatively ‘newer’ daevas, having been at if for only a few hundred years.”

I involuntarily glanced over at Saurva, Indra, and Zarich, all of whom wore the expressions of children who had just been scolded. “Of course,” I added, “that does not excuse the rest of us, who certainly should have known better.” The three of them glanced up at me, and even Saurva looked appreciative.

“Yes, duly noted, Agas,” Nanghaithya replied dismissively, though I thought his ears went slightly pink. “In any case, he began to do to us what he had done to the kings and emperors of the human world. He poisoned our minds, and over time, made us believe that we were inferior to him. Eventually he ruled the Demon Realm, just as he had the human world.

“Demon summoners were becoming a dying breed, and the early druids began destroying or sealing all the portals between the human and demon worlds. When the last one was sealed, we were trapped. Then, some years before you were born, a foolish prince and sorcerer decided to ‘raise’ Ahriman from ‘the dead’. He did not know that Ahriman had never died. In using a spell to raise the dead in the summoning of a demon, he allowed Ahriman to leave the Demon Realm and take over his body. Having had a taste of the surface after so long, he decided he wished to rule it once more. Your mother and the sword singer’s parents robbed him of that opportunity by banishing him once again to the Demon Realm.

“Little did they know what they had done, however; they assumed Ahriman destroyed. When he returned, he gathered us together and told us of his plan to rule the human world. He destroyed much of the world as it was once known, rending the land into disparate islands.”

“His primary goal for returning to the surface, at first, was to destroy those who had defeated him,” I said then, thinking Nanghaithya needed a break. “His superior sorcerer’s skills allowed him to open the only Demon Portal in existence at the time—-something that only a druid could do otherwise. Citing a bizarre desire to remain inconspicuous, he only brought me with him to the surface that time. He sent me to destroy your mother—-the one who had defeated him. But we all know how that turned out.” I shot a meaningful look at Saurva, who turned his head, annoyed. Evidently I had robbed him of the pleasure of insulting me by doing it myself.

“But...if Ahriman—-forgive the term—-had control over you for so long, what was it that finally released you?” Hajetus wondered.

“Well, oddly enough, it was you,” Nanghaithya told him. “In a manner of speaking. When you, as Dameon the Sun Priest, and your human companions returned us to the Demon Realm, Ahriman’s spells on us began to dissipate.”

“As Nanghaithya has said: the further away from him we were, the better for us,” Tawrich said.

“Which proves,” Aesma concluded, “that some humans can be just as treacherous as—-if not more so than—-even the foulest demons.”

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