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Zavier’s Revulsion

November 25, 2014

It was the blood on his blades that decided him. Cool and ghostly, their edges were forged of ice taken from the Lich King’s throne and annealed with the ghosts of fallen enemies to enchant them to ignore matter and bite deep into the flesh and spirit of his victims. More than that, he had placed runes of power on them that linked them to his mind and soul and at the same time empowered them fully.

They were mighty weapons no doubt, just as he was a mighty champion of the Horde. Nonetheless, it should not have been so easy.

These were orcs, true orcs untouched by the fel blood of Mannoroth. They exulted in their strength and claimed to be greater than all others. Their weakness disgusted him.

His blades and magic carved easily though their flesh, the magical corruption that he brought with him turning the water in their blood to ice and their wounds blue and rotten. It was glorious; their pain and anguish coursed through him and he drank it in with their life-force even as his own wounds closed with magical speed. They could not stand against him, instead they fell like weeds before a farmer’s scythe and Zavier threw his head back and bellowed his joy.

It was glorious but it should not have been so easy.

Contempt filled the ancient spirit even as memories of life on a world both like and unlike this one welled up within him. Memories both his and others for he had long since lost track of all his incarnations over the years. Every body he had worn came with its dusting of special times and Zavier had strong recollections of childhood joys and traumas from many upbringings. By now he could not remember which had been the first he had experienced. Still his memories of Draenor were among the strongest he possessed. Hunting with his brother Zavhrok, his initiation as a shaman, the burning blood of Mannoroth, his death and rebirth as one of Gul’dan’s champions, even the shame of being caught by the Lich King’s will and forced into servitude as casually as he himself could call the dead to his own service.

These were real to him. He was sure they were his start. But then so were his memories of a wizard’s study and the fear he had felt when caught in the study of forbidden lore. Only the invasion of monstrous beings from another world had saved him from execution and even then he had died at the hands of one of those monsters. Only his fledgling studies had allowed him to shape one desperate spell. As these memories stirred as well, he wondered if it had worked. Or maybe it was those deeply buried memories of an elven forest and a life of centuries of contemplation whilst tending of the world around him before an untimely death at the hands of a Satyr that was real. He had died defending his woods and sometimes he still missed them. No, that life was unlikely to be his origin. Even in the midst of carnage, Zavier’s mind thought with a cool clarity that paid little attention to the blows he gave and took. No, those memories were so faint as to be almost beyond recall. He remembered wearing the body of a night elf at least once and they must have carried over from then.

Not that all elves were weak, he knew. He thought of his colleague Simeon; his body was well muscled but still frail seeming compared to that of an Orc. Nonetheless, between the mighty enchantments that were laid into his arms and armour, and the innate power that he could call upon, the elf was nearly a match for Zavier himself even in raw strength. More Zavier knew that raw strength was the least important weapon in many ways. Physical strength had its uses but the orcs he was cutting down were strong and the Gronn they had tamed were stronger.

Strength was about both power and the will to focus it precisely. That was what Zavier knew, Simeon knew and Garrosh had failed to understand. The former Warchief had understood the need for power but not for inner discipline. He had achieved that power; torn it from those who would not employ it and Zavier had admired that about him. That admiration was why Zavier had largely stood aside from that fight. He might have protected his position in case the Warchief fell by secretly serving in the Darkspear Rebellion (and on a personal level, the agonies of the Kor’kron had tasted especially sweet). But despite that flaw in Garrosh, he had been on the brink of understanding something important. Certainly, he had been a better Warchief for Zavier than any other. Garrosh had not had any real understanding of the subtler magics and he had seen the Death Knight purely as an Orc who was welcome in his Horde. Zavier had never feared for his own safety when Garrosh had run the Horde. Unfortunately, despite his power Garrosh had failed to understand strength. He had thought in terms of military discipline but not self-discipline so, standing at the apex of the Horde, he had assumed he could do as he wished. Garrosh had had undeniable power but he had failed to control and focus it to serve his ends and so he had fallen.

Much like these weaklings, he thought disgustedly as he gestured and drew a fleeing Orc back towards his blades on a leash of crackling energy. They were useless, incompetent, unworthy of bearing the name orc. They had little power and their self-discipline was pitiful. They relied on numbers, on dragging down their enemy like a pack of dogs rather than a warrior’s proud challenge to single combat. Of course, he admitted to himself as a better aimed than normal blade split his armour, numbers were an effective tactic. Nonetheless less, for him it was just more life force to draw on to keep himself going. He cut down his attackers with a blur of ghostly blades, freezing their blood in patterned ribbons that solidified in mid-air under the influence of his power and the icy air of Frostridge.

Each death invigorated him and fed his blood lust. He howled with joy as they died and his bloodlust rose until it was overwhelming. Drunk on their pain and agony, he lashed out and more died. The Death Knight cut his way through Frostridge, working his way deep into the ranks of the Iron Horde leaving his supporters and troops lagging far behind. Slowly, his wounds mounted even as the corpses of his enemies grew into a rampart around him. Zavier gestured briefly; the bodies exploded to let him at his foes and he hurled freezing air at the Iron Horde orcs even as his swords worked in short brutal cuts to hack them down as fast as they could reach him. His laughter split the air and his dark magic froze their bones. The Orc revelled in the death, drank in their pain and kept going. None could stand against him and for once the icy intellect that kept his bloodlust in check was overwhelmed by the ecstasy of the massacre that he had embarked on.

An arrow caught him in the leg then another. Swords split his armour and razed his flesh. The arrows flew out and flesh boiled as it regrew. Then the cannons roared and Zavier drew hard upon his magic to shield himself from the huge iron ball that should have cut him in two. The orc death knight perished with a grin on his face, a spell on his lips and his blades buried in his foes. When the Iron Horde pushed aside the mounds of bodies, all that was left was bleached bones; all else was blasted clean by the magic he had released with his bodies death.

The Iron Orcs howled their triumph, ignoring the losses they had taken to take down the Death Knight and the Shadowmoon shaman scrambled forwards to destroy the mighty spirit.

****

It, however, was long gone, raging at itself. The icy intellect of the necromancer, separated from its raging stolen flesh, had no intention of remaining in reach of those who might be able to affect him. He had been enslaved by the Lich King once when vulnerable in this state and knew his own weaknesses in this form as well as he knew those of others.

A hundred corpses had lain ready for his possession in various states of disrepair. He had not taken any of them for his own. Animating one and mending it sufficiently to his purposes would not have caused him any difficulty in the slightest; life and death were old and familiar friends. He would have risen like the dead calling the weapons and armour he had bound to his soul itself to him and dealt death to the jackals of the Shadowmoon. Another hundred would have fallen before they took him down and not even the Iron Horde could keep that up for as long as he could keep taking bodies.

But he had decided otherwise for it should not have been so easy.

Partly it was contempt that drove him. Even beneath the bloodlust, he had had that feeling. It had taken more than a hundred orcs to pull him down like mice nibbling an ancient tree. If that was what orcs truly were, if that was their nature when no fel magic drove them, then their weakness was beneath contempt. Zavier had embraced the power of death and doubted he could remember a single spell to summon or bind a demon, let alone the name of one. But he had never specifically despised fel energy. But it should be a tool and not a crutch. Judging by these ‘pure’ orcs, it was obvious that even now, the fel power that had run through Orcs granted them strength as much as it scarred their bodies. But that implied something else about the Orcs of Azeroth; that while the fel energy might not control them they were obviously not in control of it for Zavier had not realised it while embodied.

That was bad. Zavier had no compunction about using demonic energy but he had a strong objection to allowing it near him unfettered or controlled. If he did not control it then it had the chance to control him.

Further, he thought icily. It already had done so, at least to some extent. Lost in bloodlust, he had failed to realise when the time had come to retreat and had lost a perfectly serviceable body as a result. The body had not just touched him with his memories, a weakness he knew and disliked but had accepted as the price of power, it had caught him up and overwhelmed him with its own fel influence. That was unacceptable.

The body of one of the Orcs of Draenor would not have that disadvantage but he had seen himself that they were too weak without the demonic energy to be worth his time. He would not expose himself again to an Azerothian Orc until he had learned to detect and master it. So he needed a different body for now; one of a race without those particular flaws. Which race was the question, Zavier had memories of the Alliance and their weak willed view of the world was off-putting, he would have to be far more circumspect in his actions than even in Vol’jin’s Horde. Besides, his Alliances and resources were in the Horde. For one thing, he hardly thought the Alliance likely to simply hand him a stronghold and army to use as he wished.

With Vol’jin as Warchief, it might be sensible to become a troll. But the Shadow Hunter had worryingly strong connections to his own Gods and Zavier had felt their connection to death too often to doubt it. He did not want the fierce Shadow Hunter on his trail for daring to disturb trollish flesh. Tauren were strong but their consciences were hard to reason with (and their vegetarianism especially so) and Goblins were too weak despite their lack of scruples; Zavier had vivid memories of the times he had worn the bodies of each and neither had been enjoyable.

The Sin’dorei though had promise he reflected. On the negative side they had dabbled with fel energy as much or more than the Orcs but on the other side, they had controlled it and the discipline they had had to learn in recent years to quell their addiction to arcane energies had impressed him. Their ability to seize and control power was greater even than his and the various magics they wielded so effortlessly might be a useful set to look at adding to his repertoire. As for their physical strength, it might not be the same as an Orc’s but despite their seeming frailty; Zavier had developed too much respect for Daierusse, before her ‘death’, and Simeon to believe them actually fragile. Best of all, despite their arcane insight, they were far less expert in the ways of the spirit and even if they objected to his actions, they were unlikely to notice them.

Yes, with the Orcs apparently compromised by the Legion. A Blood Elf seemed the best answer to Zavier. Now he had only to locate one before the end of his spell, and resulting dissolution of the spirit). But they had entered Draenor with a small army and many of those were dead. Indeed, the wandering spirit of a Blood Elf seemed to be nearby. From what Zavier could tell, it was attempting to work out on the fly the spells that Zavier had spent years to master and return itself into its own body. It appeared that the soul of the unfortunate had been displaced by a Shadowmoon Voidspeaker who was attempting to summon some denizen of the dark to takes it a place, presumably to create a spy.

Perfect, Zavier would even be able to say truthfully if questioned that he was protecting the Horde through his actions. He ruthlessly swept aside the frantic elven spirit and twisted his own soul into the convolutions of the orc’s spell while his spiritual fingers inscribed a delicate tracery of runes on the dark power trying to bind him to service. This should be highly entertaining.

It certainly had been entertaining, the blood elven Death Knight later reflected as he walked through the gates of his stronghold, enjoying the dropped jaws of his troops as he demonstrated precisely who he was. The orc’s face when his supposed puppet had casually shattered the magical and physical shackles that bound him and ripped his life force free had been priceless. Of course he had shattered the wrists of the body he wore in the process but that was a minor price to pay for such entertainment and the he had stolen enough of the Voidspeaker’s life to fix such minor injuries and more.

Zavier wondered if the blood elf spirit was likely to have learnt quickly enough to have taken the Voidspeaker’s body which had been very definitely available. Unlikely he decided and that was fine with him. After all, he wouldn’t want some insane Orc coming after him asking for his body back.

Faitha’s Promotion

November 18, 2014

Faitha’s Promotion

“Congratulations, Commander.”

The druid looked at Khadgar with mild disbelief. She might have only been a druid for mere decades but before that she had been a Sentinel for decades and she knew all about the honour of command. It was one she would certainly not have wished on the birds let alone herself. She had been a ranger and had left partly due to the fact that she was naturally something of a loner.

Neither a leader nor a follower be; that had been her motto for years now. A pride member; yes, she was happy to be part of a community of equals. Even to follow the instructions of someone who she trusted to know more than her. But she had always reserved the right in her own mind to leave and become a lone wolf. Indeed she had done so on several occasions when she had not been convinced of the need; she had accepted King Varian’s request that she go in search of his son and then let him go his own way, believing the boy needed to learn to grow on his own. She had refused to take part in the battles in Pandaria, being firmly of the view that the Pandaren were quite capable of protecting their own land. In fact she had returned to Hyjal and began the long and weary work of helping to heal the land of the damage caused by Deathwing’s madness rather than assisting the Alliance’s expansionism into Pandaria. Only Garrosh’s madness and the realisation that her own inaction had perhaps exacerbated the situation rather than containing it had caused her to lay down those responsibilities and join in the siege of Orgrimmar.

This request from the Archmage would end that. If she accepted, she would be the pride alpha and it would be for her to keep her followers alive.

She had looked forward to returning to Hyjal but then the Iron Horde had invaded. She owed Khadgar from years back when he had made her welcome in Shattrath so when the Archmage had urgently asked for her help she had responded. Seeing the war-machines the Orcs were bringing into Azeroth and remembering the devastation that Orcs had brought to the forests in Ashenvale and Azhara, it had been absolutely within her duties for the Cenarion Circle and as an Ancient of the Council of Treants to join in the destruction of the portal. It was not as if she was unable to return here even with the portal down. Her connection to Azeroth was quite strong enough for her to return to Moonglade even through the oddities of space and time that separated her from her birth world.

But others could not. Khadgar himself was worn down by the vast magics he had expended to save them. Few of the Alliance would be willing to entrust themselves to the leadership of the Orc who used to be known as Thrall and realistically, there was no one else of the right stature to gather the rag tag survivors of the army who had pushed the Orcish invaders back and held them while she, Khadgar worked to destroy the others. Perhaps the Vindicator but the yearning on his face as he saw Karabor was plain and Faitha knew that while he would do his best for them, his heart was more torn than her own. He saw before him a home he had thought lost forever and he yearned to walk its streets again.

She saw the entreaty in Khadgar’s eyes and those of those members of the Alliance around her. They knew her. They trusted her. Despite her self-image as a loner, to them she was the Druid who had explored the depths of Karazhan, who had saved the world at Hyjal and fought the trolls in Zul Aman. She had braved Naxxramas and Ulduar and fought at their sides holding the lines in the depths of the Firelands. She had returned to the Alliance and seen Garrosh fall. She saw herself reflected in their eyes as one of the few who could keep them alive and despaired because she could not destroy the fragile hope that was all they still had left.

These people needed her as much or more than the lands of Hyjal. They were as much her charge as any of the other beasts or plants of Azeroth. More, here they were interlopers. If she led them, then she could both protect them and help them hold against those who would destroy them but also she could try to make sure they touched the world as lightly as possible, guide them to balance and working with the land rather than leaving it a gutted wreck as the Horde and Alliance conflict had Pandaria. Faitha had seen the shattered corpse of this land before. She had fought the void and taint that had been everywhere and she could not let it happen again if she had any chance of stopping it.

She looked into Khadgar’s ice blue eyes and allowed a smile to cross her lips even as she slipped fully back into the world and out of the only semi-tangible form of starlight that she had taken to weave her magics most effectively.

“Thank you, Archmage.” The druid said softly in a cool soprano voice and only she knew how little she wanted to take on the burden he had offered. After all, what she wanted did not matter compared to what was best for the land and its inhabitants.

Yuletide 2014: Dear Santa…

October 22, 2014

Dear Santa,

 

I come to write this and it’s surprisingly hard. I want to say: “Wow! You’re writing something just for me! Write anything!”

So if you wanted, you could just stop reading this and go and write – but if you do want a little more in the way of suggestions, feel free to read on!

When I read I mostly enjoy the people. The world and indeed the plot I mostly tend to think of as, well, a setting for the gems that are the characters.

I’m not especially fond of sex for the sake of sex; but anything that feels true to the character is fine – and I do mean anything.

 

Valdemar Series – Mercedes Lackey: Kantor

Mercedes Lackey is probably my favourite author, even if I wouldn’t say she was the best writer in the world! Why? Because her characters are real people. They screw up, and when they do, they suffer the consequences. Bad things happen to them, and when they do, they affect the character!

Valdemar, of course, has the Companions. I admit – at least half of why I love the books is a wistful wish that in another world some other me heard bells one day and…

Kantor is a really interesting character. The way he Chooses Alberich is morally dubious and it’s one of the few times we see a Companion make that class of mistake.Also, he’s not Grove-Born, but he’s different. I’d love to see more of him, possibly when he’s younger, or if Alberich is not around.

 

Starfire Series – Various Authors: Uaaria’salath-ahn

I think the thing I love most about this series is the ways in which the different species we encounter interact with each other. I especially like the fact that the way one species thinks about issues isn’t always at all comprehensible to another; they aren’t humans with fur.

The drive of most of the protagonists to do what they believe is right no matter what and the comfortably stereotypical self-serving politicians help, of course, and I also like the cool space battles (yay, strikefighters!)!

Uaaria is a fascinating character; in a fundamentally still patriarchal and misogynistic culture, she’s chosen a military career – but clearly not because she’s seeking glory, because she’s a spook. Why is she there? What’s led to her choices? Something exploring her interactions with other Orions – whether in the choices she makes that take her to where she is, or in what happens to her after the Bahgs when things are returning to normal – would be really interesting.

 

Old Man’s War (series) – John Scalzi: Jane Sagan

I’ve only read the first two books – but don’t worry about spoilers for the later ones!

I found it hard to articulate why I chose this. I think the answer is that the characters all have to explore both what makes someone human, and what makes them them. The Ghost Brigades, indeed, have never had a ‘human’ life, their bodies are not, in fact, human…

The way Jane deals with learning about the person that she was made from makes her a particularly endearing character to me. There’s plenty of later-Jane to come, but I’d love anything about Jane before she meets John!

 

All of that, though, is entirely optional, and only there to hopefully be slightly helpful if you want it. Mainly, I’d like to reiterate what I said at the start:

“Wow! You’re writing something just for me! Write anything!”

 

The Shadowlover

Like a Bat out of Hell (part 4)

July 9, 2014

Brightsong was deaf and dumb now, his mind whispering incantations and prayers that he could not speak and perhaps never would again. Only the dreadful pressure to check if that was the case told him that he had not yet failed his lady.

Either of them.

****

“I don’t understand.”

“How can a half-elven ranger hope to throw bolts of magical force?”

The half-elf pondered for a moment only before her mind, far more agile than her body even in this form, caught up.

The gnome hurled energy at the imp and blasted it to shreds. “A warlock needs neither bow nor arrow”, she half-exulted, half-mourned as her next blast caught another and hurled it across the sky.

None of these minor devils came within arms reach of the warlock who channelled the powers of hell with growing assurance and authority.

“Hurry child!”

She grimaced. Despite the ease with which she had stopped the band of imps, she knew she was no match for more powerful devils. And if she ran as a ranger, she would be seen and slowed by the combat. What she really needed, was not to be noticed.

Concentrating now on stealth and not speed, she found herself lightening and becoming more refined. An eager, almost cruel light entered her eyes even as horns and a tail sprouted. Soon a Tiefling girl, perhaps the descendent of long ago cambions brought to the Hells by their parents, slipped into the shadows and began to work her way onwards.

It was not exactly quick but it was sure. Twice weariness forced the young Tiefling to find a nest and take a snatched and fearful rest. But she made it to the ruined castle and slipped in.

The portal was not, precisely, difficult to locate. A wide glowing purple circle of tangible light, seemingly unsupported by anything.

No the problem was, as her sponsor had so helpfully hinted, that it appeared to be in the favoured room of a vast devil. An arch devil in fact, if he had not been lying and looking at the beast, she did not think he had been.

She wished he had.

Senuchs was huge and repulsive but to the young rogue’s fear-widened eyes, an impregnable barrier. He lay, scaled and fat enshrouded muscle and bones rolling onto the floor, on a bed of skulls and bones mounded up like a dragon’s hoard. Every so often he threw a blast of corrosive magic at one of the huge pile of corpses lying around which scoured away stone and flesh but seemed to ignore bones. Soon after, the more complete
sets of bones would get up and join the serried ranks of skeletons that were everywhere. Other, more shattered ones continued to lie still, apparently unharmed by whatever magic the devil was using.

‘Great,” she thought to herself sardonically, “all I need to do is not have any skin or muscle.’ She paused in mid-mutter. ‘Or is it?’ She mused, serpentine eyes narrowing in thought.

****

“Don’t you want to know how your little protege is doing?” The thought was inesacapable but Brightsong did not answer it.

Unfortunately he did hear it and, as he had always known, that was enough. Because, of course, he did want to know and the word “yes” was in his mind.

****

The rogue darted from shadow to shadow, desperately hoping that her skills would be enough to keep her alive for long enough to reach her objective.

The arch devil watched with some amusement through slitted, serpentine eyes. Every so often he spat magic near enough to her for her to be nearly caught but was careful not to actually hit her. This promised to be amusing .

****

“You do? Then I had better go and check on her.”

Brightsong sagged wearily and looked at the empty summoning circle.

“I am sorry, My Lady, I tried.”

A comforting radiance fell upon him and his long nose shone in the moonlight as his Lady healed his mind and spirit and moved his body to where she needed it.

****

The rogue reached the shadow of the dragon’s skull she had seen and cowered within it, trying to pluck up the courage to make the final dash. The portal was only yards away but there was no more cover. She had to hope that the ancient bone would shelter her.

But there was no point in being a rogue now. Stealth and skill would be no help and with this thought, and growing confidence in her abilities, the frame of the young girl thickened and strengthened into that of a muscled half-orc who lifted the skull with a shrill bellow of exhilarated fear and anger and ran towards the glowing blue oval of the portal home.

The arch devil bellowed melodramatically and a huge glob of viscous slime soared towards Shadefire and spattered off the skull. With triumph, she realised that although drops had seeped through, spattering and paining her, she was still alive. Her improvised shield had held.

Another blast and another yard gained. There were only feet to go now, the huge and ancient skull seemed to be growing heavier by the second but she would make it.

Then as she tensed to jump, the skull crumbled violently into a spray of razor sharp, stinging fragments that cut and pained her and the half-orc found herself unable to move.

“Did you really think I only had one type of magic available to me?”

The arch devil’s voice was a deep rumble that vibrated unpleasantly in Shadefire’s head. But that was nothing compared to the despair she felt at how close she had been and how useless being mere inches was when a paralysis spell held her immobile.

The arch devil laughed in pleasure when he felt her despair and drank it in. It was a heady enough draught that he even look the effort to heave himself from his comfortable bed of bones and pat the little barbarian’s head. “It was a good attempt,” he said consolingly and laughed again at the wash of emotion this elicited.

“It was indeed.” A silky voice agreed and if Shadefire had not been so terrified, she might have been amused by lurching fear of the arch devil as he swing round, power boiling around him as he looked for whoever had managed to enter his lair undetected.

It was not a difficult feat though; the Lord of Evil was not trying to conceal himself as he leaned against the pillar, his ruby rod held negligently in his hand.

“Lord Asmodeus.” The ancient devil gasped. “What…”

“What am I doing here?” The God of Evil inquired theatrically. “I am protecting my investment.”

“What?! She is yours? Lord, she does not bear your mark.”

The silvery voice spoke urgently. “Quickly child, take your first form.”

“Really?” Asmodeus’ beautiful voice sounded intrigued? “Did you look?”

“Of course!” Senuchs said defensively but his voice trailed away as the little gnome shook off his paralysis and he saw the unmistakable mark of a pact with Asmodeus himself upon her.

“She is my Warlock and I have plans for her.”

“Lord, I did not know.”

“Do you really think that is an acceptable excuse?” The Lord of Evil sounded amused. “None may lay a hand on what is mine withing the Hells. You know the law. Now feel the punishment.”

The rod moved slightly and hellfire leapt from it.

“No!!” A shield of corruption encompassed the fire and swept it back towards Asmodeus but powerful as he was, the ancient arch devil, who had been cast down once by The Lord of a Evil before that being had even been a god, was no match for the other.

“Now child!”

The voice was like a scalpel, cutting through the webs of fear and despair that held the young gnome despite the removal of the magic binding her.

“Selune aid me!” She screamed and leapt for the glow of the portal. Light enveloped her and she stumbled into the ancient, undead ridden ruins of Harlanthoon Keep and the soothing arms of Brightsong.

****

When the two gnomes reached Silverymoon finally, Brightsong found a note within his summoning circle. In elegant calligraphyinscribed with elven blood on gnomish skin, it ran “Your protege is safe. Since you never set a price for this information, I’ll do so myself.”

The High Priest and Archmage looked at the note and shuddered, then set it aside, what mattered was that the Chosen of Selune was no longer in hell. Compared to that, all else was immaterial.

Like a Bat out of Hell (part 3)

January 10, 2014

“She did what!?”

The Worshipful and Revered Brightsong, High Priest of Selune, Master Illusionist, Master Harper and many more titles to boot, was normally seen as a cherubic and kindly gnome whose affability was only barely exceeded by his vast power. At this moment, he did not look it and the teenage human shrank back despite being nearly a foot and a half taller than the diminutive high priest. “It wasn’t my fault!”

“Then whose was it?” The gnome growled dangerously. The boy’s mouth worked feebly and the gnome sighed in exasperation. “That doesn’t matter. What happened? Tell me again and use short words!”

Jimmy looked at him hopelessly and began to repeat the story. He only hoped that his mother would rescue him but judging by the set of her lips, she was more likely to suggest some horrendous punishment to the priest.

***

“So, we are agreed then? You will renounce Selune and be my warlock but in exchange I will help you leave here and not require any specific service from you although I am free to watch and come to you with later proposals?”

“No way! I never said I’d renounce my goddess.”

“But darling girl, of course you have to if you want to be my warlock. I can’t share you know.”

“No, you never said that.”

“Oh very well.” The devil said with annoyance. “No conversion necessary. But you must agree never to be anyone else’s warlock then!”

“Ok.” The young gnome said bravely. It wasn’t that she wanted to do this. But she did not really see any choice and she had already agreed that it was better than the alternatives.

***

“Lady, I have failed you and your chosen one. I pray for your forgiveness and the light of your knowledge. What has become of her and how may I recall her to us.”

As his divinations proceeded, Brightsong’s face went whiter than his hair.

***

The devil’s eyes flashed with cruel fire and suddenly the young gnome felt those flames catch her soul and brand it forever. It was not precisely agony, more a deep knowledge of spiritual degradation that was in its own way worse.

The gnome clung to the caveats that she had made, the hope that she would survive, the desperate prayer to her goddess for forgiveness but somehow she knew that it would not be enough, that she had made an irreversible step towards darkness that she would never be able to renege on without greater penalty.

Even as she struggled to recover her mental balance, the image of the devil tormenting her disappeared again and the hellcat that had been slinking around in fear of his presence leapt.

This time, however, the cat faced, not a wizard’s apprentice with no spells but a fully pledged and packed warlock who met the hellspawn’s charge with a scream of frustration and a dark bolt of dark fire, seemingly drawn from shadow as much as fire. The hellcat screamed and ran, its tail smouldering, pursued by more of the hellish blasts as the gnome poured her rage and hatred out at it.

Once it was out of sight, the young and pretty gnome looked at her hands, devoid of any trace of the energy they had just channeled and wept bitter tears.

****

It is not easy fora priest of a goddess of light and goodness to contact the lower planes. Not that Brightsong was using clerical magic. Instead, he was weaving arcane ritual magic and hoping it would not go wrong.

It wasn’t that he was a poor ritualist. In fact he was probably a more powerful wizard than he was a cleric. But he specialised in illusions and devils, unfortunately, were notoriously hard to fool with these.

So conjuration it was. Lady Selune had blessed him with every protective spell he had asked for and these warded him now, shimmering fields of glowing moonlight that would protect him from every energy and attacking spell he could think of.

Still, he feared what he was about to do. For the one that he proposed to summon was as much a God as his own lady was and that was not something any sane person would do.

****

“So, you seem better prepared to face the world now.”

The gnome looked up from her spot blackened hands and scowled.

“You promised to let me out.”

“No, my dear girl, I promised to help you.” He purred. “And I shall. There is an exit from here that will take you straight back to that dreary little plane you call home. It is about a hundred miles north of here. You cannot miss it, it lies in a ruined fort where the archdevil Senuchs lives.” He smiled with cruel mirth. “There, isn’t that helpful.”

Even as the gnome opened her lips to retort, arcane chains of bright blue limned in silver moonlight enveloped the gloating devil. His eyes opened wide but before he could say anything, the bonds flashed and he and they were gone.

The Gnome looked at the space wide-eyed. Then silver tones rang in her head, “Quickly child. You must get to the portal before Brightsong loses control of him.”

“Lady?” She gasped.

“Yes but hurry. I cannot do much to assist you here without causing all kinds of trouble. Enhancing slightly the gifts you already have for the duration is about it. Run, child.”

Run she did, not thinking of the hundred miles that she had to cover, just responding to the urgency in the Goddess’ voice. So focused was she that she barely noticed when the change came upon her and her limbs lengthened into a half-elven form, lithe, dexterous and enduring.

Still it was not exactly something she could completely ignore, but despite her urgent questions there was no further answer from Selune.

***

Brightsong was faltering. Sweat ran down his balding forehead and beaded in his beard, which was no longer well-groomed. He had blinded himself, deafened himself, distracted himself in every way he could imagine but the temptation to pay attention to the god in the summoning circle was overwhelming.

He knew it would be a mistake, that the only thing allowing him to maintain the spells he had woven was his refusal to acknowledge what he had done.

The trouble was, it was like not thinking of pink elephants. Not concentrating on something was something, not noticing it was harder.

Still, he was a master illusionist and a high priest of Selune and he would not fail her. From somewhere the venerable gnome found a reserve of strength. He might not succeed but he would hold to the promise he had made his Lady and do his best to give his poor, misplaced apprentice the chance to escape.

He only hoped it would be enough.

****

She was still a half-elven ranger, running flat out through the sulfurous fumes of hell when she saw them, terrifying demons floating on bat-like wings through the turbulent skies.

Instinctively she crouched down and tried to hide, skills at stealth she had never before had coming to the forefront of her mind. In the shelter of a sharp-edged stone pillar, she cowered, fearing to move and wishing she had a weapon.

“You must move, child.”

She shook in miserable terror. “But, they will see me.”

“Trust in yourself. You have the capacity to do this.”

The half-elf shivered and moved; slowly, tentatively, stealthily. Sheltering in shadows and fogs, she slipped onwards but to no avail. One of the imps saw her and swooped with a scream of glee.

She ducked, grabbing a sharp stone and throwing it hard and accurately at the base of the imp’s spine. It equalled and fell but there were more of them coming and stones would not be enough. She wished for a bow and vowed never to fail to have one by her again.

Then she cursed to herself, how could she have forgotten the pact she had sworn. She concentrated on summoning the hellish energy se had wielded so devastatingly before. It was not there. She could not feel the pact that had seared its mark so conclusively on her soul.

“Silly child,” spoke the voice, breaking into her amazement, “it was a different you that swore that oath.”

Like a Bat out of Hell (part 2)

December 19, 2013

The gnome who wanted to be Brightfire coughed frantically to clear her throat of the choking smoke that had enveloped her and waved her hands in passes that she really wished were mystic enough to summon wind.

Then she sat up in bed screaming until her mind cleared: she was not Brightfire. She never would be.

Lying back against the pillows, she allowed a single tear to trickle down her cheek as she remembered.

***

She had coughed frantically on the smoke, her eyes tearing over and her lungs wracked by caustic fumes. As a result, when she could finally see again, her startlement to find herself looking at cracked, rough basalt rather than cobbles.

“What… Where… How…” She exclaimed feebly, looking up finally as she came back to her knees.

A low chuckle was all that answered her. When she saw its owner, the gnomes eyes went wide.

He was a handsome devil, she would give him that. Almost like a gnome except for the red wings, the small horns and the eyes that had little flames dancing in them. He lounged on a rocky spur, the flames of hell his back drop and toyed with a foot long sceptre that appeared carved from a single ruby.

He also wore a simple crown made of gold, rubies and fire. She noted abstractedly.

But mostly what she noted was the fact that he was a devil. And that the backdrop wasn’t a quiet residential street but a curtain of steam, smoke and lava.

In short, she was in hell. Or a reasonable facsimile of it.

The devil’s chuckle turned into a broad grin that split his handsome face with predatory fangs.

“I’ll give you one answer for free.” He noted dryly. “But that was three questions and the other two will cost you. Do you really want that?”

Young as she was, the Gnome was not stupid and she shook her head quickly.

The devil sighed theatrically, “In that case, which do you want answered.”

Her mind raced. “How can I get home?”

He chuckled again. “I don’t think that was the question you were asking.”

“It might have been,” she replied pertly despite her fear. “It starts right.”

“So it does. Very well. You can get home with my help.”

“I meant safely.” She snapped.

“Manners, manners.” He chided gently, waving a puff of scalding smoke over her. “Besides, surely my old friend taught you to be clear when bargaining with fiends.”

“Your old friend?”

“Your former master, a certain Brightsong.”

“That’s a lie. Master Brightsong would never deal with beings like you.”

“Oh? Then why are you here?” He asked mildly. The little gnome set her lips firmly and he laughed again. “Well no matter. But to return to what your previous comment. I can transport you back perfectly safely so even if you had taken sensible precautions the answer would be the same.”

“Oh.”

“So, you had your freebie. What now?”

“Nothing,” she said stoutly. “I’m perfectly fine here. I have no intention of selling you my soul.”

“Darling girl, I have no desire for your soul. I am sure it would be nauseatingly sweet and horribly difficult to hold on to.”

He sounded sincere, horribly so and she was tempted to believe him. But while her master had not wasted much time in instruction in the wiles of fiends, he had been clear that they should never be believed. She shook her head.

“Well, then I don’t have much to offer you do I. So you might as well leave me alone and let me be.”

“Really?” The chuckle was back in his tone and then he was gone. She peered around cautiously and with rather more than a little terror. All was silent, which made her feel not the slightest bit better.

Finally, she remembered to rise fully and planted her legs sturdily behind her. Not that she saw any hope beyond her master rescuing her before she died. If even he were capable of that.

A blur of motion to the side caught her attention and she spun, catching her foot and stumbling again. Her clumsiness was lucky for her though as the claws of the spined, flame shrouded, leonine thing that had pounced on her, caught and shredded her dress not her flesh.

She screamed, already off balance and knew that she was dead. Then He was there again, catching the thing by the tail and throwing it twenty feet into a stone pillar where it twitched once and was still.

“Are you sure you want me to leave you alone?” He inquired wryly. She could only sob, trying to still her racing heart and cursing her reaction.

Still, when he made as if to disappear again, the word “Stop!” was dragged from her. He paused with raised eyebrow. “Why did you save me?” She asked with what composure she could muster.

“I said I did not want your soul. I never said there was nothing I wanted that you had.” He responded with a grin.

She blinked at him and found herself near to responding before she kicked herself mentally. He was handsome true, and just the right height her worser self insisted on reminding her, but she was fairly sure that flirting with a devil was a bad idea. Even if her lessons had never actually covered that one. Still, that rogue part of her mind noted, it had been a very long time since she had had anyone noticing her. Silverymoon had a fairly large Gnomish population all things considered, but her studies had not exactly been conducive to social events and all the othe acolytes and apprentices in the temple were of human or elven origins.

As a result, her “no” was nearly as gruff as it was curt, busy as she was stamping on this inexplicable attraction. He seemed to pay no mind.

He laughed again, “You misunderstand. If you want me in your bed then it will be for you to ask not the other way round.” Her eyes went round with outrage but, before her indignant protests could find vent, he had continued. “No, what I had in mind was simply an exchange of favours. I send you back and, in exchange, when I want something you can do for me, you will do it.”

“Really?” She asked disdainfully, her indignation subsumed by his apparent assumption of her stupidity, “so you do me one favour that is clearly defined and easy for you to do and in exchange you get an open ended ability to ask me to do something. I think not.”

“What would you suggest then?” He asked affably.

“If, and this is only hypothetical,” she added hastily, “IF I was to accept it, it would be only in exchange for a similarly well defined favour.”

“My darling girl, what on earth could you offer at this stage of life?”

“That’s not my problem, I’ve stated what I want.”

“You have to be reasonable though. Otherwise the fun goes out of this.”

She shivered as she perceived the threat behind the light words.

“Well, you can’t expect me to accept something so open-ended.”

“Some conditions might be reasonable.” He conceded.

“Like.”

“Oh, the favour cannot involve genocide or the destruction of the world. How would that suit?”

She gaped at him in sheer disbelief. “Well that would be a start but I’d have said no harm to anyone or anything.”

“Be serious. How could I possibly predict if there was going to be harm. That would be ludicrous.” He paused. “How about something totally different.”

“Such as?”

He grinned at her tone; it was clear that she was hooked and had completely forgotten the theoretical nature of the discussion. “Well, perhaps an ongoing arrangement with this thrown in as a signing on bonus.”

“You have got to be kidding! What could possibly make me want an ongoing arrangement with you?”

The devil smiled cheerfully and settled down to bargaining.

Like a Bat out of Hell (part 1)

December 15, 2013

Shadefire had never intended to be a warlock. As a young apprentice in Silverymoon, She had heard of them of course, dangerous mages who sold their souls in exchange for deadly power. But she had wanted to be a wizard. Like all Gnomes, she had something of a knack for illusion and had apprenticed herself to one of the most revered gnomes in the city, High Priest of Selune and Master Illusionist, the Worshipful and Revered Brightsong. She had even chosen the mage name she would take when she finished her apprenticeship; in honour of her master, and to celebrate the mastery she fully intended to possess of illusions of flame, she would be Brightfire.

But it had all gone so horribly wrong since those bright, happy days she thought broodingly.

That day still had the feeling of a nightmare, possibly because it followed her in dreams so often.

***

The young apprentice skipped along the street, swinging the basket of spell components merrily. It was a sunny day and she was feeling happy. For the first time in her apprenticeship, she thought she was near to mastering her first spell. There had been definite light flickering around the edges of her fingers that morning.

She wondered what her master was planning on casting. He had looked tired and grim, for the last two days, unlike his normal cheerful self entirely. Even his congratulations, though heartfelt, that morning had seemed undercut by some worry. Still, she thought, there was no point in her getting bothered by it. Anything that was capable of causing even mild nuisance to her awesomely capable teacher was not something for a gnome unable to cast a cantrip to concern herself about.

But she had nearly cast one, she reminded herself, and once she had managed to master one then others should be much easier. She have a happy skip at the thought and it was then that disaster struck.

“Watch out, miss!”

As she came down, her foot landed on a small ball, that had come cannoning from the small group of human children playing at the side of the street, and the gnome went tumbling, her basket shooting up into the air, tossing expensive and rare spell components and potions around with gay abandon. She only had time for one cough.

The young boy who had shouted the warning stared in astonishment at the sudden cloud of purple smoke and green lightning that had enveloped the apprentice wizard. He heard something that might have been a scream or a cough and then the smoke cleared again with magical speed. A basket and small litter of glass was lying on the floor, but there was no sign of any gnome.

Jimmy Yolland looked at his friends wide-eyed. “Oops.”

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