Death of a Demon Lord

Date: 2/15/2014 at 4:29
From: Anonymous
To : Everyone
Subj: Death of a Demon Lord

In the temple, an army mustered.

Nikalo, Priest of the sect of Triumph, knelt in silent prayer to Tith-Onanka, the War God. Nearby, Moredhel officers strode through the lines of goblins and trolls, silencing with a glance the more rambunctious among them -- those who felt inclined to break ranks and threaten the Eledhel sentinels who stood in silent, stoic ranks not fifty feet distant.

Not far away, human soldiers checked their weapons, out of nervousness rather than need, and spoke quietly while they waited for the muster to complete. Even the usually boisterous dwarves were subdued, for all in the temple sensed that many would fall in the coming struggle.

The Demon Lord -- Gralob, as it was known -- had been tracked to its lair, and now the peoples of Triagia prepared to strike back at the cause of so much death and destruction. Rumors had spread that the mighty demon, always a threat, had grown even more in recent weeks, and some whispered that all hope of victory had long since passed. Still others whispered that the mighty dragons had roused from their aloof behavior, and that the mightiest among them, Rygathrantaniso, had pledged his aid in the battle.

Pug, the famed magician who had helped usher in the end of the Riftwar, had also made his presence known. A series of war councils between representatives from across the land had culminated here. The preparations were made, and shortly the battle was to be joined. Near the center of the temple, before the mystic pool that sent tendrils of fog throughout the temple, Pug conferred with Tomas, the half-Valheru Warleader of Elvandar, and with representatives from each of the military forces mustered to face the demon.

A short time later the assembled magicians opened a powerful rift, and the advance force resolutely walked through...

...and entered into a bitter, stinging cold. In the heart of the Kingdom, spring was upon the land, but here in the Ithilian Defile, deep among the Great Northern Mountains, winter never truly left; it only became less cold. Wind cut through the passes of the Defile. Before the force rose a sheer cliff; nearly two hundred feet high, the only passage possible was provided by the small nooks and indentations in the rock. Chosen for their skill, nerves, and discipline, the mixed company began a cautious ascent.

Once upon the summit, the company advanced and spread out before a massive cave. All were silent, and the wind howled. Even so, the sounds of the demon's breath carried through the frigid air. As a small force prepared to enter into the demon's lair, master demonologists carefully set to work, laying down complex wards that had taken weeks to prepare.

Tomas, Pug, and the assault force entered the fetid cave; as the demon recognized the threat, it spun in place. Leaning down to place its massive face at the height of its attackers, Gralob let out a deafening, challenging roar. Magicians began to incant spells and priests called down the fury of the Gods, as the swordsmen and soldiers fanned out, intent on distracting the demon until the wards at the mouth of the cave were prepared. Tomas strode forward, his golden armor serving as a beacon to the demon.

At the mouth of the cave, the sounds of battle -- screams, demonic roars, and occasionally a shouted order -- rose up from the cavern. As the last of the wards were placed, the demonologists fell back into the ranks of the remainder of the military force. The plateau was broad, but the drop into the Ithilian Defile meant certain death. If the demon did not fall prey to the wards -- or if it broke free of them -- many would likely meet their death at the bottom of the Defile.

A mental signal was passed, and those inside the cavern began a hasty retreat. At nearly the same time, a frustrated roar echoed up from the cavern, followed by a mighty crack, as rock spewed into the sky. Sensing -- or perhaps simply fearing -- the trap, the Demon Lord opted to create another exit. Its mighty wings, spanning over sixty feet, unfurled as the demon launched itself into the sky.

As Gralob began its ascent, a speck high in the sky rapidly resolved itself into the form of Rygathrantaniso, eldest of the golden dragons. Wings tucked and body rigid, Rygathrantaniso was a blur, as he unfurled his wings and brought his talons to bear the instant before impacting the demon. Gralob, caught unaware, was struck from behind. The impact triggered a shockwave of air that knocked many below to their knees; somewhere far to the north, a massive landslide could be heard and felt, but not seen. Gralob and the dragon were carried by the impact into jagged spires of rock of the Ithilian Defile, some distance to the north of the battle.

The majority of the survivors of the battle inside the cavern had managed to evacuate before the cave-in utterly swallowed the chamber. As they rejoined their companions, the Demon Lord and the golden dragon burst up from the Defile. The pair clashed, separated, and clashed once more, in a masterful display of aerial combat; their roars and the sounds of combat reverberated across the mountains. Gralob appeared to possess greater physical strength, and yet Rygathrantaniso's airborne agility was clearly far superior to the demon's.

As the combatants rose to a position far above those gathered before the demon's lair, Gralob swung a mighty blow toward Rygathrantaniso, timed to sever the demon's head as it charged in for another attack. With preternatural reflexes, the dragon changed course ever so slightly, bypassed the demon, and banked around to descend upon the demon's back. With an audible crack, the demon's wings were shattered, and the demon fell, utterly out of control.

As Rygathrantaniso bellowed out a victorious roar, Pug stepped forth from the army assembled below. With a quickly incanted spell, the plummeting demon's course changed ever so slightly, and rather than landing out of reach of the battle, the demon landed directly atop the prepared wards. The impact crushed the stone, forming a small crater, and once more those assembled were driven to their knees.

Tomas was among the first to recover, and with a gutteral battle cry, he led the charge against the Demon Lord. The ward flared to life, and the demon soon discovered that it was bound. Enraged, it set to with its mighty sword and sinuous whip. The screams of the dying carried across the battlefield.

Among the magicians, Pug directed mighty spells against the demon; intertwined arcs of energy illuminate the sky, and where they struck the demon, its flesh puckered and charred. As the battle raged, an Eledhel archer, entrusted with an enchantment labored over by the Spellweavers, took careful aim with his bow. For a long moment he waited for his opportunity, then let fly. The shaft flew true, and embedded itself in one of Gralob's seaping wounds before it was able to close. The tiny object lashed to the arrow buried itself deep in the demon's flesh, and for a time the demon was consumed with nothing more than the desire to be rid of the arrow. A sickening ivy began to spread from the wound, decimating the demon's shoulder.

Driven by uncommon courage -- or perhaps by fear of their masters that surpassed even that of the demon -- swarms of goblins broke from the host of the Dark Brotherhood. Many were swept away by the Demon's rage, but some survived long enough to clamber up the demon's limbs and strike viciously at the demon's flesh.

When the demon had rid itself of its attackers and the forces arrayed against it sought to regroup, Rygathrantaniso strafed the demon from above, bathing him in flame and turning him into a pyre.

And still the demon fought.

The dead littered the plateau, until bodies and gore made movement hazardous. Sword and whip, talon and teeth took their toll indiscriminately among the peoples of Triagia. As the demon raged, it strained against its wards, and they -- perhaps weakened by the demon's impact with the plateau -- seemed nearly at the point of breaking. It was at this point that a secondary set of wards flared to life, concentric with the first, and the demon stumbled back, its rage now tinged with more than a hint of fear.

A group of magicians near the rear of the battle finished a powerful incantation, and a beam of light rose up from the battlefield, pierced the heavens, and resolved into a shimmering barrier over the battlefield. As the magicians began an insistent, ominous incantation, Gralob seemed to begin to wither from within, as his very life force began to drain into the barrier.

Able to withstand the attacks of the demon like no other soldier upon the field, Tomas sought to draw the attention of the demon. Again and again he struck out, his sword a blur, leaving fearsome wounds upon the demon's hide. His growing fear driving out all but the most animalistic thoughts, the demon began to focus his fury entirely upon Tomas. Blows that would crush a normal mortal rained down upon the Warleader of Elvandar, only to be absorbed upon the golden shield of Ashen-Shugar.

As the incessant, multi-front assault began, finally, to take a noticeable toll upon the demon, a lone figure stepped into the arena of the battle. Cloaked from head to toe but plainly tall and lithe, the figure wielded a wicked athame as he incanted a powerful spell. As the battlefield began to swirl with a wholly new manner of demonic energy, the air behind the demon began to shimmer. Absorbed as they were with the battle, those engaged with the demon failed to take heed of the warlock.

As the incantation concluded, a portal to hell burst into existence directly behind Gralob and within the confines of the demonic wards that bound him. Weakened and driven by the fury of those assembled against him, the demon took a step back -- and through the rift to hell.

A demonic horde began to take shape through the portal, as demons near and far sensed the unchecked portal into the realm of Midkemia. Pug let up his assault and began and urgent spell; the portal quickly began to destabilize. The fury of the warriors before Gralob drove him further back and fully through the portal.

As the rift to hell began its final collapse, Gralob belatedly realized what had occurred. As the horde of demons swarmed toward the weakened demon lord and the portal to Midkemia, Gralob let out an anguished roar and, in a last assault, snapped his whip through the portal, where it coiled tightly around Tomas' legs.

Gralob heaved with all his might, and Tomas planted his feet upon the edge of the crater formed by Gralob's earlier fall, bracing against the demon's strength. For an instant, the demon lord and the human-Valheru appeared nearly motionless, and the whip seems ready to snap from the tension of their struggle. Tomas' sword arced through the air, to sever the whip, but before his stroke completed, the very ground beneath Tomas' feet crumbled from the stress. Lacking purchase, Tomas was pulled through the portal an instant before its complete closure.

Pug, regaining his focus after concluding his spell, quickly realized the fate of his childhood friend. Above the moans of the dying, a simple, anguished cry carried across the mountains.

Tomas rolled to his feet, sword and shield at the ready. He had been far from Elvandar, and had not battled for so long or with such intensity in years. The bloodlust was upon him, and but for a small portion of his conscious mind, he reveled in it, utterly and unabashedly. The demon lord had been withered by the battle, and now barely cleared twenty-five feet in height. Its wounds were closing slowly, and before the portal had opened, it had been trapped. Now, in hell, its wounds were closing even more slowly -- if at all -- and the demons that had been rushing for the portal were redirecting their focus onto the weakened demon lord -- and Tomas.

Instinctively and without turning, Tomas swung his shield arm in an arc that began above his head and ended low and behind his hip. His shield intercepted a demonic hound, mid-air; as the impact crushed its skull, Tomas struck out twice with his sword, cleaving an imp into two pieces and severing the wing from a flying demon that had risked diving to attack him.

Tomas quickly recovered and began to move away from the demon horde. He was fortunate in that most seemed fixated upon Gralob -- the demon lord was coated with smaller demons, and had fallen to its knees; its roars were no longer of a creature confident in its mastery over all it beheld, but were rather the piteous sounds of a beast facing imminent death.

Spying an outcropping of rock perhaps a half-mile distant, Tomas licked his lips in anticipation of the coming struggle. There were dozens of demons between him and what he hoped would be relative safety, or at least a defensible position. Tomas had the stamina to fight for days if necessary, but he stood little chance out here in the open.

Tomas briefly contemplated the possibility that Pug would not be able to locate him, then dismissed it. Pug would come, or Tomas would destroy as many demons as he could before his death. No other outcome was possible, and further thought was pointless.

The demon was over twice Tomas' height, and when it fell back, choking upon its own blood, the mass of demons behind it fell back as well. Seizing the brief opportunity, Tomas stepped back into the cave and struck up with his shield. The impact caused the rock to fracture and collapse; as Tomas retreated further into the cave, he reflected that at the very least, he had bought himself a few moments to catch his bearings.

Comfortable even in the dimmest light, Tomas strode comfortably into the depths of the cave. The sound of hissing and snapping carried over the bubbling of liquid magma, and Tomas sighed inwardly as he brought his sword and shield to the ready. He had hoped the cave was abandoned...

Pug raised his hands for silence. Many of the survivors of the battle against Gralob had journeyed with him, here to Sorcerer's Isle, to attempt to locate and retrieve Tomas. Even some of the Dark Brotherhood were here; while Pug was more than passingly suspicious, he had chosen to trust that their attempt to save their former enemy was born out of respect for his assistance in the battle, rather than through malicious intent.

The wards surrounding this glade on the isle were in place, and Pug was confident that even if anything slipped through from hell, it would not be able to escape onto Midkemia proper. There was no more time for preparations; Tomas' chances of survival diminished by the second.

The figure that had opened the portal to hell had vanished, but due in no small part to his expertise in rift magic, Pug had been able to inspect the remnants of his spell to determine where in Hell the portal had led. No doubt the considerable demon horde that had swept across the plains when the first portal had opened would still be in the area. Pug had resolved to draw the attention of the horde by maintaining the portal, and yet blocking entry to Midkemia with a comparatively mundane magical barrier.

The downside of his plan was that the spell would require all of his attention, and the search itself would be left to the ragged band of survivors assembled before him.

As silence fell across the company, Pug began to lay out his plan.

Tomas pushed himself wearily from his makeshift seat atop the piled demonic corpses. The sounds of rock shifting carried down the tunnel; it could only mean the way was open once more to the desolate plains where the portal had been opened. The cave where Tomas had taken refuge was a dead end -- or rather, the only exit was a likely suicidal leap into a chasm that had no obvious bottom. Tomas had overcome the brood of demons encamped in the tunnel, and had hoped to wait in the darkness until Pug could locate him. But if the demon horde had broken through the rubble, Tomas knew he would be overwhelmed in short order.

As a figure descended the tunnel and came into sight of Tomas, he visibly relaxed. This was a human, no doubt sent by Pug. As several others filtered down into the tunnel, Tomas spied Moredhel among them. Forcing himself to stand erect, Tomas sought to mask his exhaustion. The Moredhel may have come in an honorable attempt to assist him, but it was also possible that they had come to do him harm. Tomas was disinclined to test himself further this day.

As more warriors filtered into the cave, among them familiar faces of the Eledhel, Tomas felt his tension begin to leave him. Soon, he felt, he would be back in Elvandar and at the side of his beloved wife.

Pug set down his quill and rubbed his eyes. Weeks had passed since the destruction of the Demon Lord, and Pug felt the need to finish his notes on those events, haphazard as they were. Information that would eventually fade from his memory might prove crucial in later years -- to him or to one of his successors.

Granting himself a temporary reprieve, Pug allowed his mind to wander. His plan to rescue Tomas had worked. Several Moredhel had attempted to attack him, but not until all were safely through the portal and upon Sorcerer's Isle, where Pug had been on hand to quell a burgeoning battle. Tomas had slipped through a rift to Elvandar shortly thereafter, exhausted but otherwise well.

Of the demon lord's death, Pug was certain. Tomas had recounted its death, after falling through the portal, and as Pug had maintained the barrier before the portal, buying time for the rescue company, he had sensed no great Demon Lord in the immediate vicinity.

Tensions had flared almost immediately upon the news of the victory, and the various kingdoms of the realm were once more at each other's throat. Pug frowned as he reflected once more that it was best for him to stay away from such conflicts. Weightier matters called for his attention, even now.

And yet, one lingering mystery nagged at Pug's mind. Who had opened the rift to hell? Whoever it was had been a powerful warlock, certainly, and his motives were unclear. Pug felt uneasy with such a person running loose upon Midkemia.

Taking up his quill and resuming his work, Pug reflected that he was hardly the only one curious as to the warlock's identity. Once certain other matters were settled, Pug would look further into the subject of this warlock's identity, if indeed such was still necessary...

Reflexively, the warlock used a mental exercise to calm his rage. The news brought by the newcomer to the tavern was most unwelcome. Despite all odds, the half-Valheru had survived his journey to hell.

Used to living on the fringes of society, the warlock fumed that he had exposed himself -- and for nothing. He had expected to be hunted, but the situation was now much worse that he had thought. Simply lying low for a few years would no longer suffice.

Slowly, so as to avoid drawing undue attention, the warlock rose from his table near the corner of the tavern. He tossed a pair of silver coins onto the table, then turned to depart. His mind raced, for his plans, for all the care with which they had been laid, were as ash.

Penned by my hand on the 29th of Dzanin, in the year 56.