Demonbane Ltd presents
An Ah! Megami-sama fan fiction story
Disclaimer: Oh, My Goddess © Fujishima Kosuke, Kodansha, TBS and KSS films; AnimEigo, Studio Proteus, and Dark Horse Comics.
Part Two: Demon's Diary
Journal Entry the First
I'm in Hell. Literally.
Or in the Hells, to be more exact and use the term that's appropriate.
I have no idea how long it's been. Time seems… irrelevant… somewhat at least. That first day, or whatever the time had been… there is no night or day on some Planes of the Hells… when I had first become aware of my position seems to be months past.
I survive. Or at least I think I do.
But for the full account, I'd have to look back. Far back, to that exact day. I still remember the pain, the fear, and the humiliation of being chastised by my… Mistress. But more than that, I recall my anger, my hopeless rage of the eyeblink. I recall it with such clarity…
…but that is the point of this, actually.
The day I arrived.
Sybilla, my Mistress, herded me towards the city in the distance. I thanked whoever for the fact that my shoes still held, and were fairly sturdy. As far as I could see the bone-sand extended…
…it was the Abyssal Plane. Not to be confused with the Abyss itself. But later on that.
The city was like none other I had seen before, or imagined before. Though now that I think of it, had I not been in such pain and so afraid at the time, I'd have been expecting it something like it, but even my mind couldn't come up with this on its own.
It was bone. Bone gates, bone towers and buildings. Skullkeep was the common name, though it had another one. That one though, I couldn't speak even if I wanted to. My jaw construction was wrong, and I was a few dozen vocal chords short.
Still, I hardly paid attention. Whenever I did, the Demoness who'd apparently become my 'keeper' decided to let me taste a little more pain. Or that's what I'd thought it was she was doing to me, at the time.
I found out different later. Much later. She left me, locked up in a small chamber without windows, without anything but a door… not even a drain. And when the door closed…
…again, I'd lost track of time. It was as if it didn't exist. But I think I was there about a week… maybe more… maybe less. Total solitude, total isolation…
…there was no food, no water. Not even a hole in the floor, or a grating.
For the first few hours the stench was overwhelming, and then I stopped caring. It wasn't even the fact that it made me retch after the first quarter hour. Something worse, far worse, was happening.
Yes, I was a recluse. Ironically, the thing that hurt close to worse was the lack of companionship, of interaction. Then the lack of freedom, of space. Then the lack of light. Then my mind started to get imaginative…
…it wasn't pretty, what went on in there. It started with hallucinations, at least I think that's what they were, and when it was close to the end I felt my mind warp, go back onto itself, fold…
Something got through to me though. After whoever knows how long. Something that started me on the path I walk today, and showed me at least in part what they meant to do with me.
I don't really know the trigger, but as I laid there, against a bone wall, the air heavy with the stench of my body's wastes, and the nearly downed out odor of fear-sweat something in me… broke.
I remember a line from a game I'd played on occasion, that sums up what happened oddly appropriately.
'I take all my pain, all my humiliation, and crush them in my hand. And when I open the palm I hold a diamond. My diamond is my rage. I have diamonds in my eyes.'
Or something like that.
Whatever it was that had broken, I let it. I reveled in it. The tide of pure, unhalted emotion took me and surged into my limbs. I felt fear being taken away, replaced by anger. Hate. A shard of pure, ice-hot emotion that went as far beyond anger, as far beyond regret, and as far beyond mindnumbing fear that it seemed to be a wholly new sort of sensation on its own.
The next thing I knew, I stood in the middle of a corridor, the bone chamber behind me shattered. I was clean, if bleeding from my knuckles, my face locked into a snarling grimace. The mirrored wall before me was ignored, until my eyes settled on my forehead. As the influx of strength left my limbs and I fell to the darkness of unconsciousness once more, I found myself at odds.
One side was feverish, hoping that the image I'd seen had been a result of overtime work put in by my exhausted imagination.
The other hoped that it wasn't.
It was the first thing I did after waking up, this time on a cot in a moderately sized chamber, to seek out the mirror in the chamber's bathroom.
I hadn't imagined it.
There was an elaborate web of black lines running across the sides of my face, the ends of some looking like they were about to plunge into my eye sockets. I'd have noted the other changes, but that one was enough to entrance me…
…the meaning of Sybilla's words came crashing back then, finally making some sense…
a chance to make a difference.
Not the sort of chance I'd hoped for, though.
Sybilla arrived minutes later, to find me staring into the mirror and oblivious to everything else…
The pain hadn't diminished, I could somehow tell, but I didn't seem to feel it in quite the same way anymore. Still, it was about as far from "enjoyable" as anything I could think of could be. I think my shoulder would have shattered before… I did whatever I had done back in the cell… but this time it merely bruised it as I was slammed into the wall.
The Demoness, I quickly learned… since pain can be a powerful incentive… didn't take being ignored very well at all.
The next hour was very informative, since it was when she told me what was happening. What I was becoming. Not a soul lost to the Hells. No. A fully fledged member of the ranks of its denizens.
It was not a happy prospect for me, but I kept that to myself. Whatever else, I feared her. I had actually felt her strike, lash out at me with her… well, her will I think… and there had been squat I could do about it.
There was no denying it though. I wasn't really human anymore. I was a Demon.
Well, a Fledge at least. A Demon-in-training.
Never rains. Never fuckin' rains.
I have to go right now. I'll continue this account later.
Journal Entry the Second
The training. Or however they call it. No, not fun at all. Fun. I think I've forgotten what that is. Or I needed to, so that I wouldn't twist the concept in my mind.
Stygia, one of the most unforgiving Planes of the Hells. It's a barren, frozen wasteland inhabited by things that make the great predators of Earth look like harmless kittens. Most of them, at least.
There had been no warning, no announcement. Just a wave of the hand, and I was sprawled face first in knee-deep snow, hail sharp as glass shards biting into my back as the wind howled all around. I reacted, letting some of my anger slip and push outwards… doing absolutely nothing in the process. With the strength I could muster after the painful landing, I pulled myself into the wind shadow of a small rise… trying to get as much of my body shielded from the shards as possible. It didn't even occur to me to see what I was really hiding behind. I saw only a rise covered in snow.
When my hands brushed against it, some of the cover fall away, revealing a face locked in a rictus of pain and frozen stiff.
Yes. Stygia is a tough place.
I hid as best I could, but it was far from enough. My hands were tingling, cold and numbing slowly. I felt the blood frozen on my back and shoulders, where the shards had cut me as they fell.
The strength I felt shortly after waking ebbed after what felt like eons of waiting for the storm to pass, flagging and nearly failing. I couldn't feel my right hand anymore, and I was fairly sure my toes would say bye-bye after this. If not my entire feet. Then I felt it, close to me.
A beat. Not that of a heart, but a pulse of power. It took me a minute to identify it for what it was. It was so much like the one that I felt sputtering in the depths of my chest. Life. For a moment, I could feel it, and knew that it was life. My life. Not the pulse of the body, no. That no longer ruled over my existence.
I knew what I had to do, and the realization would have chilled me to the bone… if I hadn't been chilled to the bone already. Desperate and not wanting to die, I did what now seems natural, but what had then been something I would never have done otherwise. My left hand was pressed against the frozen body, feeling for the life within it…
… and I reached out with my own, overwhelming the severely weakened spirit of my target, shredding it as I grasped the life force and pulled it into my own.
It was a Demon, I knew, but right there and then I'd not really have cared if things were different… I would have done it anyway. Because as much as it hurt, I wanted, no needed to live. To survive.
That was the first time I took a life.
And when I woke, shifting the covering of snow from me and standing up under a clear if icy sky I saw absolutely nothing wrong with it. I wasn't ashamed, wasn't mortified… I just was.
It was justification enough.
But this did little to help me with my problem of the moment. That being the fact that I knew nothing of where I was, what to expect, or where in the Nine Hells and Thirteen Heavens I was to go.
Finally, I decided upon a random direction, for the simple reason that the hills on the horizon seemed closest in that direction.
I trudged onward, shivering from the cold but not freezing, really. The clothes I'd been given, a rough cloth pair of pants and equally rough tunic, weren't enough isolation for that, I could tell. Or rather, wouldn't have been enough for me before.
Now I felt chilly, even mildly cold, but not… well, not really that cold. I could stand it. And I could tell it was more than ten degrees below freezing.
I'm afraid of change, even if I can see the necessity in it. And this situation… it forced me to confront the changes that had been wrought upon myself. Involuntarily, I smirked.
Well, that was one way to finally gain depth perception. Maybe they ought to advertise? Hear ye, hear ye, join the forces of Darkness and get sight correction, free! Our exclusive package includes a full fitness program while-U-wait, plus the addition of several unlisted but very nifty extras…
ugh. I can't believe I went into that spiel.
But it was true. I felt good. No, I felt better. If it had been any other situation, under any other circumstances, I would have been overjoyed. As it was?
"At first I was afraid, I was petrified!"
I was also out of my freakin' mind, yelling out "I Will Survive" as loudly as I could… I learned shortly afterwards that this was not the best course of action. Actually, it was fairly much the worst thing one could have done. I did mention the predators, didn't I?
I spent a long time there, learning. And again, when I realized things were happening to me it was already too late. And again, something broke, and I let it. For what seemed like months… and it was possible that they really were months… I lived there. Stygia was neither a friendly place, nor a welcoming one, but I adapted. Thought had no place there, really, and I don't really recall "thinking" much over the period that followed. I lived on instinct.
Not the one I'd had for my entire previous life though.
This was different. I didn't see just with my eyes. I didn't hear just with my ears. I didn't prey on meat. I didn't even consider it after a while, even though my stomach hadn't been filled in some time. I stalked Frost Giants, snow bears, hunted down stealthy Whitestalkers and deadly Winterbeasts. The first time nearly cost me my life, the Giant noticing my presence and managing to knock me to the ground with a mighty heave before I could as much as act. Then I abandoned thought altogether, in favor of action.
I fed on them afterwards, taking their lives slowly, draining their "beats", their vitality to leave only husks… sometimes less than that.
I was alone again, but the sky above, the snowy landscape… they were far better than the bone prison, though in some ways actually worse at the same time. And I don't know what I would have become if not for, ironically, a beast of Stygia.
An Ice Cat. I had seen them before, but never had I gone after one for some reason. Maybe it was because I still held some fondness for cats. Maybe because I could, somehow even in the thoughtless state, appreciate the grace and swift deadliness of them.
But the truth was that I had become lonely, so lonely even the most primitive instinct could recognize it. I had never been much of a pack animal, so it must have gotten pretty bad somewhere along the line.
The Ice Cat had taken note of my presence before, but usually ignored it. Not so this time. I approached, in full view in with deliberation. The beast looked at me for a moment, without the slightest glimmer of interest, and went back to its slumber. Why it didn't decide to simply make another meal of me I'll never know, but I was still there the next day, and the next. And finally, when it went to hunt, so did I.
I don't think the Cat was intelligent enough to understand the concept of loneliness, but apparently in some vague way it did just that.
Friendship? No. That wasn't it. A partnership for ease of the hunt. A sharing of loneliness. I think I intrigued it just a bit.
Then, one day, I woke up in the same room I had when I got out of the bone prison. Before I knew it, I was crouching on the ground beside the bed, snarling and sniffing the air, trying to come to terms with the alien smells and the stuffy heat. The garments I had been clad in felt uncomfortable. I felt trapped, unable to…
… and then it slipped away from my mind like a wraith, leaving my wits back about me and its presence taking residence in the depths of my thoughts.
I had survived my excursion to Stygia.
Journal Entry the Third
The Hells are called thus for a reason. And I'm not referring to the common misconception that they're solely the den of infernal beings and the damned souls that are snatched from the world of man. There are as many and varied creatures in the various Hells as there are on the Earthplane, perhaps more.
But I refer to the simple fact that it's Hells, not Hell. Plural rather than singular. There are nine main Hells, that is, the one that are inhabited by the peoples commonly known as Demons. And then there is the Abyss, of course, bit that's another story altogether. Let's just say that whatever dwells in its depths there is frightening enough that even Lords quake at its presence. The fringes, I'm told, are actually habitable. It's more a rift that crosses the main nine and several minor ones as well, nearly reaching the Earthrealm. Some say that when it finally reaches there will be the time Armageddon finally comes calling.
The Abyssal Plane, perhaps most predominantly influenced with the null-energy that the Abyss emits. Svartalfheim, a dark place of caverns and terror. Jotunheim, mountainous land of Giants. Stygia, the Ice Plane. Aeryn, where storm reign supreme, and lightning shakes the skies. The one known simply as the Blight, a swamp of decay and entropy. Obsidian, where the Lords crafted their strongholds and thus placed their seats of power. Maelstrom, the Sea Hell.
And then there's Muspelheim. The pit of Fire. The place I've only now returned from.
Immediately after my return from Stygia, with but half a day of rest, I was sent there. To be honed, as I was later told, though I'd gotten to that conclusion on my own somewhat earlier.
And there really wasn't any better way to put it.
The first thing that struck me upon arrival… that is, upon being unceremoniously dumped into a portal, head first, and nearly breaking my neck before managing to adequately break the fall… was the heat.
While not as intense as to be impossible, it was oppressive. It was literally everywhere, and for a few moments there I had the impression that even my lungs had started to sweat because of the hot air. It was as trying as Stygia, in a way, but where Stygia was mostly a barren wasteland devoid of any more prevalent settlements, Muspelheim is…
…some would call it a giant entertainment center, others a huge arena. Both groups would be right.
For an instant my instincts overwhelmed me, being thrust into unfamiliar and obviously hostile environment, and I lashed out without even thinking about the action.
Next thing I knew I was snarling, struggling to get away from a scaly beast roughly half again my size and weight.
"Save your spirits, freshie. You'll need them in the arena."
That was when the fact that I would be part of that entertainment struck me.
And moments later the thing that struck me was my captor's hand, right on the back of my skull, and strongly enough to make me pass out.
I woke in the pens and later that day, I had to fight.
Pens are, perhaps, a bit harsh. They were chambers with around twenty five square meters of floor space, a bed, a toilet… and that's about it. Cells would be more accurate, actually. They kept all of the ones who were to fight in the arena in there, though occupancy varied at times.
On the first day; well I would say day if any measure of the sort would apply to Muspelheim. On the first day the pecking order had to be established. Or at least shown to what newcomers had been brought it. The arenas of Muspelheim were never really dormant, and the demand for fresh meat was overwhelming. Not that fights until death were commonplace, certainly not amongst already established Demons or even involving them… and they sometimes cursed the Doublet System for denying them the pleasure. The more savage ones did at least.
Days before I had been running through frozen wastelands with only prey on my mind. So when I was confined in that hot, dry place and confronted… My wits had taken a back seat, it looked like. At least when I regained my senses. And it had been the other who lost face as a result… also because I flash-froze half of it during the brawl that had resulted.
The word closest to being accurate for describing my state would have been "feral".
It would prove to be my undoing in the coming days.
It was not that I did not want to escape the tableau before me. It was that the situation was similar to that which I had been faced with on the Abyssal Plane and in Stygia.
Where would I go? Where the Demons did not reign there was only viciousness and killing intent.
So I went into the arena. Not that I had been given much of a choice regarding the matter in the first place.
By that time… a day and a half since I had been sent there, by my best reckoning at least… I felt horribly. The oppressive heat was getting to me; the time in Stygia having gotten me used to conditions exactly the opposite.
My rational mind took a back seat once more, just as my opponent for the day charged. A gaunt, tallish creature with scaly skin and pure black eyes.
I woke to the sight of my cell's ceiling, not knowing what had happened aside from the incessant pain in my gut. How had I gotten there? My last memories had been of the arena and being attacked.
Like the ones I had from Stygia, these memories were just as disjointed. Images, like freeze frames in a still movie. By the end of it I knew I had lost, and rather badly as well. This was no beast I had faced, and I knew there and then that I would need to learn control if I were to survive my next "match". This time it had been a simple injury, and one apparently not fatal to Demonkind… though it had not been healed completely since I could still see the scar, a strip of a centimeter in width and five in length, directly underneath my sternum. The pain in my back told me that there was one matching it on the other side.
Next time I would likely not be quite as lucky.
So I learned. Even though it took me three days to fully recover, I used the time to get if not used to, then at least tolerant of the heat. And develop a disgust for the gunk they served as "food".
I found myself wanting for something to drain, some beast to steal the life from so that I would heal faster…
That was perhaps the first time I'd willingly and consciously desired to feed. Not just out of instinctual desire or need for survival.
I learned. It was that or to die, and I found myself adverse to the latter even in the last vestiges of my apathy. An apathy that was slowly turning into a mask of indifference, impulses and desires flaring underneath that surface with increasing strength ever since I'd given over to instinct that first time in the Stygian wastes.
I did not win, but that was not really what counted. I survived the next match. And the next. Fairly soon, through toil and practice, I discovered that the instincts… no, they hadn't diminished in force. It was my will that grew, subjugating them.
Then there were no more images. It is perhaps the worst, now that I think of it, about what's happened to me. My time in Stygia… I could deny, I could claim lack of memory and it would be partially true at least. I could say that I wasn't myself in those days of viciousness, but to tell the truth that was when I had been myself on the basest of levels. Now? Muspelheim stripped me of that illusion, and I can recall it with perfect clarity. One after another, the fights and the struggle… until one day I came out the victor, the foe slain on the hot sands of the arena floor. Not just slain, but almost literally torn apart.
Again… something broke within me that day.
And my next opponent was as I, Demonkind. And human-looking. What I'd faced before had not been. Demons are merely one of the various species of sentient, malevolent entities dwelling within the Hells. They just happen to be the dominant one, be it through ingenuity or inborn ferocity, or their potential.
This one was dusky skinned and dark haired, two trios of slashes that showed what he was… one above each eyebrow. And he held himself very much like a warrior, clad like a variation on the theme of "knight". Armored breastplate and shoulder guards, skullcap, gauntlets and boots. Armored gauntlets of black steel, with sharpened spikes over each of the knuckles.
Neither of us hesitated when the gates closed behind us to lock us in. He was fast, faster than I at any rate and that even with the armor he was wearing. It became clear why when a strike of his, going wide, still hurled my back several meters as a result. Air element. And there, in the heated bowels of the pit of Fire my own aptitude for my own elemental focus was greatly diminished.
I could have, perhaps, outlasted him had he not been so skilled. As things were, I saw that I would not be able to draw this encounter out. The knuckles of his gauntlets were stained with my blood already, from where he'd managed a glancing blow that tore four lines in my shoulder.
When he locked the short blade I'd been using in between two of the spikes on his knuckles and, with a simple twist, disarmed me was when I saw that I would have to be unorthodox to win.
"Unorthodox" can mean different things. A roundabout way of saying "stupid" if not successful. Or "inspired" if indeed crowned with victory.
It was one of the dumbest things I'd ever done, and not one I would ever hope to repeat in the future. As he lashed out towards me, I grabbed his fist. Impaling my hand on the knuckles. With all my remaining strength I pressed forward, deflecting his other hand as I closed, wrapping my hand around his neck and using what little of my own element I could in the conditions given.
I blacked out.
I was more than a little amazed when I awoke again, if only by the fact that I did at all. Ultimately, I had won. And I'd even retained use of my hand, after having it subjected to a few healing spells so that the tendons could grow together again faster.
Even as I reflect on it that day, I feel no guilt about my actions. No remorse. No regrets.
It was a month, and nearly twenty fights later, before I was once again yanked away to Skullkeep. Twenty fights, half of which I'd won, and all of which I'd worn a pair of spike-knuckled armored gauntlets for.
And with each I grew just a little more beyond the concept of "mercy".
Journal Entry the Fifth
I came back today, after longer than I'd care to consider, to Skullkeep. It has become, no, not home but a sort of safe haven. By now I have been to Muspelheim, Stygia, and now Svartalfheim. Three Planes of the nine Infernis that make the so called Nine Hells.
And the third of my so called lessons learned.
It was to the everpresent darkness that I was cast as my Mistress once again sent me from the relative comfort of the Abyssal Plane into another of the Nine.
The dark almost seemed to have a life of its own, assaulting my senses. Demons, Fledges included, have excellent night vision, but this was not merely darkness. It was a total absence of light.
So dark that even the gentle glow that appeared in the distance, some time after my arrival, could have just as well been a damn lighthouse. The pale skinned person above who's hand the glow hovered wasn't exactly the life of the party, but then again, he had something going for him since he didn't try to knock me around and take me wherever it was I was supposed to go by force.
Not that I'd been about to try. Doing that would have had the most likely consequence of leaving me, literally, alone in the dark. And last time I checked, my name was most definitely not Carnby.
As a consequence of such "restrain" I was directed and guided to the nearest settlement, which, if not for the lack of any spider motif, would have been well at home in any book dealing with the Underdark. Well, no, not really. A grand cavern illuminated by softly glowing spheres that flitted around, causing the shadows to dance and writhe as if alive. Dwellings carved into the rock face and the huge stalactites and stalagmites. And one mustn't forget the inhabitants.
Dark Elves are not Demons, some may become them. While they are haughty and arrogant, they are also very much focused on studies of their own, with little regard for the greater Infernis structure beyond that which is needed to get the other races to piss off. They are artisans, though their sense of aesthetics could be considered twisted. They are also smiths, perhaps the finest in the Hells, and masters of various schools of "magic". Their appearance was a little different than what I'd gotten used to in Stygia, Muspelheim and the Abyssal Plane. Oh, I'd seen elegance before in the Hells, just not such elegance. Pale skin that was nearly pearly white, fine ebony hair and a lithe figure… there were variations of course, but that was about what the average "Dark Elf" looked like.
But, as it looked, I had not been brought there to admire them. I'd been brought there to learn their magic.
Only as I was brought before one of their Academies did I learn that my Mistress had also become my sponsor in this. Apparently, she "looked after" her investments, and considered me one. Not as surprising as it should have been.
The so called "apprenticeship" was very… humbling, shall we say. Aside from being handed, as was the lot of newcomers, the most demeaning tasks, I also failed to make much headway into the realms of the arcane. You see, it's not difficult at all to shape and form you own energy into basic patterns, for Demons at least, but those are more innate abilities rather than any "real" magic. The art of truly manipulating energy… of gathering it within and storing it, of projecting it in complex patterns… on the other hand, I found was not something to be taken lightly at any time. And those who'd mastered it to any extent were justified in their arrogance.
They still pissed me off, however much respect I had for them.
In all actuality, Svartalfheim was a change from Stygia and Muspelheim in many more ways than only the teachings. Yes, one did not have to fight for one's life and health daily, but there were equally serious dangers there. Make no mistake.
The Academy, the one I had been brought to at least, was a social environment. Not one of my strong suites at all. I found myself occupying the familiar niche of recluse in the pecking order, and was somewhat comfortable with it.
Then I found something of the Arts that I was genuinely good at. Which drew attention and animosity. From the Elves, because the Art I proved to have an aptitude for was considered their domain. From the other Infernis because of that same reason, and out of jealousy born out of their inability to learn it.
My own difficulties with what was considered the "classical" forms of energy manipulation, and the more Demonic mystic arts were conveniently forgotten.
Still, I prevailed. In the following months I learned all I could of the art of crafting runes of power, warding circles, and wards. My inability to gather greater amounts of power not coming from my elemental focus, the hindrance that stopped me from learning more than simple cantrips and low powered spells was actually found to be an advantage. My body, whatever had been done with it, resisted any attempts to increase the limits of its power stores, so instead I took to trying to become as precise within those limits as I could. In the traditional arts, this would have hardly helped. In the Art of the Dark Elves… well, that was another story altogether.
Soon I was forced to learn another of the finer points of life there, namely watching my back. Information was the preferred currency, and another's research and achievements could just as easily find themselves providing credit for someone else. None batted an eye at that. And while I was never able to reach any higher competence in that particular field, it did instill in me the incentive to work on protective and anti-scrying wards.
I went to craft several items of power, not all that potent to be sure, but far from wasteful when it came to energy demands. I was allowed some grudging respect from the Runesmith that had been sent to teach me, though that only came after a long while.
In the interim, I had busied myself with two projects, each of which I spent as much time on as I could.
One of them was directly related to my training in the mystical arts. I was crafting something for my own use; or rather, improving upon something I already found would come to be very useful to me in the future.
The other was more taxing, but just as important. As often as I could I perused the libraries of the Academy, and sought to find out as much as I could about spells of binding, machinations of fate, and the so called Ultimate Force. It was arduous work, and unrewarding, but I held on. Even a dim hope that I could somehow…
…but I've written enough. Hiding this journal isn't easy at all, and I'm not sure about how safe it is in any case. For what it may be worth, I still hold some faint hope that…
Journal Entry the Thirteenth
They say that if you stare long enough into the Abyss, the Abyss may end up staring back. Such a colorful and altogether fitting turn of phrase.
What, I wonder would happen if one were to live in the Abyss?
No, not true. I don't wonder about that any longer. I had thought, often before, that I knew apathy. That I knew what it meant to be too indifferent to care. I did not.
Now I do.
Each time I am sent away, it is to learn something. And to be broken, if just a little. I can feel every single crack, but it doesn't really matter to me any longer.
Stygia had been instinct, a will to survive, and viciousness.
Muspelheim had been about controlling that, and no longer denying my own actions.
Svartalfheim had been deviousness, cunning beyond the animal. Greed, jealousy. And a longing for true power.
For the year I dwelled in a castle of purest gray stone, featureless walls and nearly nothing in the ways of companionship. J'nala, the Fiend. This was his home, his fortress, the place he studied the rift known as the Abyss and partook of its gifts.
My waking hours, because I could hardly call them days in a place that is darker even than Svartalfheim's caverns, were spent with him… a gray skinned husk of a being, with bony wings and wickedly sharp talons. Not his shape made me fear him, though. This was no Demon. Or rather, this had once been a Demon. Now? I dared not guess.
To him I was a clumsy little thing, but he had obligations. And would fulfill them. What sort of favor my Mistress had granted him upon a time, I will never guess. It must have been something, though.
J'nala is a connoisseur of suffering, torment, both physical and mental. But rather the latter. He is a soul taker, and deriver of power. It was this that he was to teach me.
"Power," he told me, in that raspy voice I'd grown to hate over time. "It is not merely life. Power can come from many things. It can come from around us, though not in this place, and from other sources without. It can come from emotions, and experience."
I learned. I learned how to coax the last remnants of life force from a being, to revel in its flow. I learned to harness emotions of others, and draw them to me. I learned of my emotional foci, the sources I could use to replenish my own reserves if I needed to.
There was something there, within me, screaming the first time I had been taken to one of J'nala's dungeons to watch the Fiend work. And when he'd stepped away, as if to give me the floor, it went silent. I did my teacher's bidding.
Soon, it was I who was assisting him, watching his actions closely. And then it was he who watched as I first started on a soul before me.
Not a good soul, not one that was totally corrupt either. A stray one, captured somewhere in the world of man… I dove into it, my senses lighting the way as I rifled through its emotions. Its memories. Found the point that would be most beneficial, and locked some away. And slowly, ever so slowly, let them loose again.
Every single action, every single moment of self-loathing, everything that at the moment of memory before the block the soul had considered despicable was repeated unto it, again and again…
The power collectors filled, harvesting the soul's fears, regrets and sorrows, transforming them into pure energy.
For a moment I shuddered as I realized that I had come to like it. The intoxicating feeling of emotions running rampant, the sensation of power searing its way through my body.
Journal Entry the Fifteenth
I can feel it. There's something coming. I was given a chance to make a difference, and I will. It doesn't matter how I do this, but that I do. That I leave a mark of my passing… or of my continuing. I am numb, as far as emotions go. More and more things seem mundane to me, and actions are merely the process of going through motions without any meaning behind it.
Somehow, I have found a stretch of guilt still within me. And I sink into indifference rather than give into the storm of anger and doubt, rather than to question my actions.
Question? Had there been anything else I could have done, in my apprenticeship with the torturer? I would lie were I to claim that I finished my time there without benefits to myself, without a better understanding of my own nature.
I am past justification at this point. I've moved towards acceptance. My nature… it's changed, and I can't deny it. But still… even in my indifference, I can feel a spark. A spark which grows weaker and weaker as it is denied nourishment, but remains. I allow myself a faint hope, that it may one day bloom… but I dare not hope for it too badly.
Today I return to Stygia. It looks like I'll finally get out from under the bitch's thumb again. I swear that the first thing I do after finally getting enough power will be to kill Sybilla.
Though I'll do it as quickly and painlessly as possible, since it is her who delivered unto me this destiny. I feel a bit of camaraderie with my… Mistress…
Doesn't mean I won't happily slice her from neck to crotch when the time comes. I still hate her.
And I can tell that it's going to end soon, this rushing from one task to another. This training. Maybe even after this next task.
why am I even writing this, anyway?
Honestly, I see no reason to go on. I read back to the first entry, and… Hells, was I that whiny back then? Oh, Fire's sake, pathetic.
I got better though.
This is likely the last entry… I suppose it's pointless anyway, since I'm going to throw you into the fire in a few, but what the hell.
Journal Entry the Sixteenth
My head hurts more than I ever imagined it could. Cost, I guess. It'll pass.
And now it's over, and I'm still alive. I suppose that counts for something.
For three months I'd roamed the Stygian wastes at the order of Sybilla, again my Mistress at the time.
A "misplaced" object of power was what had brought me back there again. Or rather, brought us.
The four of us. Myself, chosen because I'd spent time in Stygia and knew enough about it not to get killed. Megriffe, a talented practitioner of the Demonkind magics. Desti, Aeryn reared Sky Fiend. And Pauhr, the one who was supposed to track our goal down. Once upon a time, playing D&D, I'd put forth the suggestion of making a party of characters with the most "positive" alignment available being Chaotic Neutral. I think I've made my point about being careful what you wish for obvious by this time, no?
All of us Sybilla's underlings… be it temporary or permanent.
I had, in all honesty, not spent a second wondering about that. Hindsight, as they say, is always 20/20.
Stygia, though mostly unvisited and unsettled by the chief races of the Infernis, was not entirely without marks of civilization. Outposts littered the landscape's more accessible reaches, anchoring energy lines to Obsidian. And there was the occasional vault, holding one item or another that for some reason couldn't be trusted to the safeties of their master's home.
Of course even Lords could and did die, much less the more common rank members of Infernal hierarchy, and some vaults were left forgotten, the power within hidden from sight and mind but sought after all the more fervently.
It was not an easy trek, not the least of which could be attributed to the company.
All the budding animosity became secondary concern though, when we reached our goal. And were met there by four Demonkin exiting the vault Pauhr had led us to. There was really no question as to their goal, no chance of it being coincidence that they were there at this time. And no real option as to the way we could handle this.
Then they spotted us, and the world became a blur.
What I remember of the fight to follow is disjointed, images without sound, sound without image, shape without substance. In the end it was we who prevailed, though severely weakened. And we who finally took the item in question, or what Pauhr identified as such, into our possession.
It would be a difficult trek back for us, in our condition, but not impossible if remained careful…
Our problems turned out to be far more immediate in nature than that, though. Because instead of survival, now that we had the object of our Mistress' desire it became a matter of prestige.
And it was Pauhr who made the first, crippling move.
There are many sorts of natural talents among Demonkin, Fledges or full Demons no matter the original species. All demons are energy leeches, having the potential to draw power from another living being and use it to their own benefit. But then, there are also the true energy vampires among them. The ones who can fully utilize this ability common to all Demonkin to one degree or another. I myself was not one, though relatively talented in that area.
Pauhr was a master of doing so, which he proved as he whirred on Megriffe, grasping the somewhat tired mage by the shoulder… and moments later letting the husk fall to the ground, having breached his innate defenses against that sort of attack with contemptuous ease and drained him in the course of a few seconds.
Desti's comprehension came as mine did; her reaction was faster than my own though. Despite the fact that the battle had taken a lot out of her, the Sky Fiend's response came in the form of what had to be her most powerful spell. A blade of compressed air slashed through the space between her and Pauhr, scattering snow in its wake. Only to slam into one of Megriffe's energy shields, dissipating with the contact.
The truly talented leeches assimilated knowledge and skill as well, a fraction or sometimes the full extent, instead of just life force.
And with what he'd drawn from Megriffe, Pauhr now had power to burn.
I did the only thing I could think of, drawing a ward from within my vest and throwing it at him. It was a move of desperation, since I had used most of the things I could have tried normally in the prior battle. One of the drawbacks of the school of magic I practiced. I only hoped he would be too preoccupied to notice it.
A blast of pure kinetic force crashed into my chest, pushing me off my feet and sending me into the snow banks nearly twenty meters away. By the time I dug myself out, I saw Desti's form shriveling before my eyes as the Sky Fiend was drained. Pauhr's eyes literally glowed with power as he cast our second former companion into the snow. I sensed her lack of life force from where I was…
The last protection wards I had were cast down, into the white around me, laying themselves flat as they activated and formed a protective barrier. A barrier that was thrown down by pure power, a blast of unbridled energy that hadn't been set into a pattern but merely directed… only the gauntlets I wore kept me from being killed. They had been my first serious project in Svartalfheim, the trophies I'd taken from Muspelheim, infused with power little by little, engraved with runes that would channel energy into specific patterns. The blast crashed against their enchantments, its power being redirected by the runes, scattered… but far from harmlessly. My forearms were shot through with violent, burning pain as I was thrown off my feet again, to impact a stone with force enough to nearly break my back.
It was a wonder I did not black out when that happened.
Desti had been powerful. Megriffe more so. Pauhr did not need me anymore that one would need a 9V bulb with a halogen light already hooked up. He could afford to break me, and in my state, with my reserve of tricks nearly depleted I could hardly stand against him.
I couldn't move when he gathered power, no great amount this time, into a fairly complex pattern that I had seen Megriffe and a few other battle oriented mages use. An energy spear took shape in his hand, and he reared back…
The snow around him erupted, and for a few moments I could not recognize what I was seeing. It was as if a miniature blizzard had formed around him, tearing at his clothes… and soon being stained scarlet.
Then I saw what was happening. And cursed my inability to discreetly get away. Instead I focused on hiding what little magical energy I normally carried within me, as well as my life force.
My ward had not been meant to harm him, or to distract him. It was harmless, and as such disregarded by his defensive shield. I doubt he even noticed it. It was a marker, a rune one used in difficult conditions where one needed a bead on something or someone. It took his magical signature and projected it… in case of the one I'd sent, omni-directionally and with some augmentation. Primitive and instantly noticeable to anyone with some formal training.
Drawing a Snow Wight as a result.
They are the most dangerous beings in Stygia, and much as Pauhr himself they feed on mystical energies and life force. With mages as preferred prey.
It had been a one in a hundred chance that one would be close enough to notice the ward.
My gamble had paid off.
Now all I had to figure out was how to get out alive. Still, the situation was better than it had been a few minutes ago.
I thanked my "handicap", silently of course. The level of energy I could store was low enough at its high point to make hiding it easy. It's how I'd managed to evade Wights before.
It was only hours later that the Wight tired of its prey, leaving behind it no more than a pile of rags, and ice. They left no flesh, no bone. When Wights fed, they did so till the end. Not only vitality, not only the magic one carried, but the very substance of the cells was sucked dry, leaving behind nothing but ice.
I had not dared falling asleep, and was almost dead on my feet by that time, partly from stress and partly from exhaustion. After it had gone I made my way to the remains of Pauhr, and started rooting through the rags.
When my hands finally found the item we'd been sent to retrieve I was nearly ecstatic. Then I took a closer look. The stone was brittle, nearly crumbling, and what had once been a polished marble medallion inset with rubies was now nothing more than a chunk of lifeless sandstone. There was nothing there in ways of power, and the gems that had been set into its face had shattered.
The Wight had been thorough.
Oh, I so looked forward to explaining this one away.
Journal Entry the Seventeenth
My return from Stygia had been less than triumphant, but I'd survived and that had to count for something.
I'd made my way to report as soon as I got myself into a semblance of order.
Sybilla's reaction had been unexpected and oddly fitting at the same time. She was not nearly as angry at the loss of the medallion as I had expected her to be. She was, however, gloating about how she had managed to gain favor of one of the lesser Lords, because of a bet.
You see, there had been this little wager going on that I had not been privy to knowing about. Neither had any of the other three sent to Stygia been. Or the other four, for that matter.
Place a mediocre magical artifact in a vault somewhere. Send two "teams" of Fledges, each reared and sponsored by a different Master or Mistress, to retrieve it. If both survive, then the one with the item wins. If only one survives, the result is obvious. If only one Fledge survives…
…suddenly, I found myself not exactly lacking in prestige, if you know what I'm saying?
Bets like that were commonplace, and served as another sorting tool of course. After all, was one really ready to become a full Demon and handle whatever problems may arise if one didn't manage to pass such simple a test?
You know, there's a point at which lies just stop working against one. The abovementioned justification was so full of shit it stunk up the entire building.
So I returned to the Abyssal Plane, and Skullkeep. To the chamber that had become, in the interim between one task and another, something like home. And was informed it would be several days before I was called again.
I slept for half a week.
As expected, the summons reached me just as I was getting up from the semi-hibernation and wondering why my mouth tasted like someone had used the insides as the lining in a hiking boot. Yuck.
If it isn't one, thing it's another.
So, I pulled myself together, got myself somewhat presentable, and went to answer my Mistress' call.
Obsidian. I'd mentioned it before, but only in passing. There is, you see, far more to the Infernis than the Nine Hells and the Abyss. Just as there is more to the Celestis than the Thirteen Heavens. For them, it is Asgard. For us, Niflheim. One could say that they're… administrative. They make sure that things run smoothly. Basically, were this a company, then Niflheim would be where the management and high rankings sat. Likewise Asgard for the other side.
I can't speak for Seventh and the Heavens, but Obsidian is very unusual among the Hells. Where the other eight are natural Planes, Obsidian is an artificial construct. It floats in the Limbo, the Chaos between worlds, encased in a reality bubble kept up by its enchantments. A great city of black stone among a sea of chaos. This is where the Demon Lords have their keeps, and the power pulled by mana anchors set in the other Hells was pooled, to later be sent to Niflheim and Nidheg… the Demonic equivalent, or maybe offshoot, of Yggdrasil the World "Tree". Nidheg was what made registered Demons so much more powerful than Fledges, sharing that pooled power between them.
But in both cases there was a Plane that served as a seat of the de-facto power. The heavy hitters, if you will. The movers and shakers in one way or another. Where Niflheim and Asgard dealt with the outlines, with "politics" and policies, with goals and distribution, and activation of means, Obsidian and their Seventh Heaven were where they called first, respectively of course, if there was something to be dealt with regarding internal matters.
If nothing else, at least its location made for an interesting sky.
It was where Sybilla, Demoness First Class, Unlimited Category, had her home. She was no Lord (or Lady, if anyone here were to care about staying PC), but she was a First. And there was a certain way in which things were done, which included Firsts and Seconds being given residences in Obsidian or Niflheim (the latter was for the more important ones).
Though I was no habitual visitor within the walls of her comparatively… but only when compared to the other strongholds and domiciles… modest abode I knew my way around it. The enchantments on the gate, as well as the various guardians in the courtyard did not stop me as I entered.
There was an air about that was difficult for me to recognize, a bit oppressive and overwhelming at the same time. Like an increase of the discomfort I usually felt when facing my so called Mistress.
Not having survived some of the more elaborate schemes and plots in the academy by ignoring such warnings, I decided to err on the side of caution. Forgoing announcing myself, I wrapped the steel chain of a small amulet that I'd stashed in my tunic's pocket around my wrist, activating the runes etched within the rust-red iron with a small spark of energy.
And cautiously, I continued on.
Hild. I knew who she was, of course. I also think that they genuinely didn't know I was there at the time. Yes. Stygia is a dangerous place. Still, the so called Queen of Hell could have spotted me if I used only what I'd learned there. I wasn't.
I don't think that Sybilla was fully aware exactly what she had handed me, upon sending me to the academies of Svartalfheim. The Dark Elves' magic could be as powerful and elaborate as that of Demonkind, but required more preparation and was not in the slightest influenced by Nidheg once a practitioner received their License. With a line to Nidheg that was granted along with the License even a mediocre Fledge became exponentially more powerful… receiving an immense store of energy at his or her beck and call.
Wards, runes and the like, they didn't work like that.
"Always come prepared" took on a new meaning with this school of spellcraft. Runesmiths can't really do much by way of the so called "on the spot" workings. We need to actually etch the designs into physical form instead of, as normal mages would do, form a matrix for the magical energy with magical energy itself. Then again, they need to have power at hand and ready to be used almost immediately, or the matrix dissipates. We can take our time in infusing the pattern… set as it was… with power, and equip it with a trigger that will release it at a time of our choosing. My low energy stores were not as important as my skill at manipulating them was, and I was far from lacking the latter. It takes effort to bind power to a physical focus, even an easily accepted pattern. It was a far more efficient method for creating imbued items than any that the traditional schools could have come up with.
The medallion had been something I'd made back in Svartalfheim, and wasn't as much physically concealing as it masked energy signatures, both life force and mystical. True, something more would have made me more comfortable, but it worked. It was no SEP field, though. That one required too much effort, and was one of the spells that couldn't be duplicated by wards and set patterns, since the matrix of a SEP field shifted as the spell ran its course in accordance to the nature of the people it was affecting.
The aptitude for slinking around I'd gained in the icy wastes in conjunction with the masking effect of the medallion let me remain unnoticed as my Mistress and the Queen of Hell conversed. Which was fortunate, since it turned out that I became the object of their conversation at one point.
The snippets I managed to catch, however small, were still enough to make my head spin.
I left the estate, still under cover of the medallion's energy damping field, and only after several streets did I pause and dissipate the effect. The medallion crumbled, having been used to long for the physical form to exist without the power influx.
I was being kept, that much had been obvious to me from the start. That it had been planned before even my arguable "wish" had been made was new to me. I honestly hadn't considered it. Then again, I had no idea then about what I'd just managed to piece together.
The Doublet System. A way to regulate interference from both sides, in matters of the mortal realm. A way to prevent a world devastating conflict that could result in the End of All. A way to keep the status quo. And something from which I was exempt. Because there had been no records of me in the so called "registry" of the World Engine. No place for me. The wish had carved that for me… and provided my way to make a difference. Which was exactly what Sybilla and Hild had wanted. With my low power threshold I was fairly unobtrusive, would be thus even with a line to Nidheg to grant me more power when I got my License.
Was my aptitude for the Dark Elven Rune Magic a setup as well? I didn't know. I only knew that it fit in well with the grand scenario.
Yggdrasil would not see me, or at least not connect with me in the way it did with all things living. And it wouldn't assign a Double for me, as it would have done to another Demonkin getting authorized for Niflheim and eventually Midgard duty.
While this meant that I would be fair game for the Gods and various other Deikin it also meant that I would have to be found first.
I briefly regretted leaving when I had. I still didn't know what they wanted with me. Though I had a few ideas. A free agent could sow havoc with infinitely less trouble than one with a License, even if he or she couldn't use a lot of power and become obvious about the work being done. A free agent was expendable. A free agent could be replaced later…
Would Sybilla take others, from other worlds as well, if I proved to be successful in my assigned tasks if and when I get sent to Midgard? Would my successes warrant the expenditure of effort put into my training? What of eventual failures?
This was one equation I had no idea how to solve.
But as in all equations, there is some basic principle that lets you… simplify them. For one, you need to eliminate all the variables you can.
I leaned against a wall, taking a deep breath as the implications of that thought became clear to me. I could feel it… faint but definitely there. A warmth deep in my chest, a pinprick leftover of what I had once been.
For the first time in a long time I felt hope.
The spark flared and stopped flickering, burning steadily.
If I could pull this off… if I could put to use the things I was taught here, and succeed…
…I didn't want light. I had never wanted light. I had never wanted darkness either. But one rarely gets what one wants.
And the one time it had happened to me I was still living out the consequences of.
The thing I wanted most was simple and complicated at the same time.
That was when a repeat of the summons found me. Sybilla was getting impatient. I think I knew what she wanted of me this time, though.
To be continued.
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