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Gems of Lore - Desdaemona Part 1

Hi all, with quarantine in my country I figured there was no better time to write some fan lore. I’ll try and post once a week-ish.

This is not intended to supersede the lore posted by IP2, but instead to complement it. If you find any discrepancies between my writing and that of IP2, you can chalk it down to mine happening in a parallel universe where things are slightly different :stuck_out_tongue:

Below is my first offering, a prologue to some other tales that I hope to tell. I’d love to hear any feedback.

Read Desdaemona Part 1 here

#PROLOGUE - THE BOARD OF GEMS#

She stepped gingerly out of the horse drawn cart, almost stumbling as her foot slipped on a cobble and her ankle buckled. Her companion had swiftly made his way to her side of the carriage, and with a strong arm steadied her before she fell.

“Thank you”, she murmured breathlessly, brushing herself down.

“You should have waited. You are still building your strength”, he replied, his voice rich and deep.

She dismissed his concern with a turn of her head, and shook her arm from his. Rearranging the cowl that drooped over her head to cover all her features, she strode across the pavement towards the small shop nestled in the terrace of buildings alongside which the cart had pulled up. Her companion fell in line half a step behind her, eyeing their surroundings. His overcloak did very little to hide the intimidating height and frame beneath. This was an unsavoury part of town rife with beggars and thieves, but any onlookers that might have been considering the possibility of relieving the inhabitants of the carriage of their possessions when it had drawn up were now shrinking away, attention pointedly focussing elsewhere.

The shop front, like most buildings in this part, had seen better days. A window with rusted iron bars, the interior too dark to see into from the outside. Spalling stonework, unpainted, unmaintained and uncared for. A tattered wooden sign barely still hanging, with whatever writing had once adorned it faded into illegibility. A door hanging poorly from the frame promised a constant draft inside.

The woman pushed the door open and stood into the doorway, peering into the gloom. A raspy old woman’s voice that sounded like its owner hadn’t spoken in some time greeted her from within, before bursting into a cough.

“Should I wait outside?”, the man asked.

The woman pondered a moment before the voice from the back of the shop piped up with “Bring the Archon too!”. The woman beckoned him in after her. He had to bend his head to fit through the doorway, and once inside made several attempts to close the door behind him, banging it against the crooked frame.

“Any more of that and you’ll break it!” snapped the voice of the inhabitant of the shop. “Leave it be. Come in and sit with me before you do any damage”.

Eyes adjusting to the darkness, they ventured to the back of the shop, past shelves containing dusty books, gaudy trinkets, and some rather disgusting looking things in jars to where an old lady sat on a cushion in front of a low, wide table. She motioned towards the cushions on the other side of the table, where her visitors sat down. She regarded them with beady eyes: one huge bulking man, one sleight woman.

The woman removed her hood and cleared her throat. She seemed slightly taken aback when the Hag did not react, but only for a flash. She was about to speak before the Hag interrupted her.

“Am I supposed to act surprised? Forgive me your highness, but the gems tell me all. I’ve known you would visit me today since before you were born.” She nodded towards the man. “And you, Archon. Not that you were born, eh?”

The woman - the Queen - rolled her eyes. “Of course you have. Now-”

The Hag interrupted her again.

”Now you were going to tell me that you don’t want any smoke and mirror rituals. Did you not notice that I have not offered you any tea? That I have not prepared any potions, have not presented any crystals, have not drawn any symbols? Have I even held out my palm for you to cross?

“I know you came to me because I have the true Sight, and that if you wanted magic tricks you would have remained in the high district. You come to me for a reading; I know. Believe it or not, I am as anxious as you are to get straight to the matter of the truth.”

She hacked a wet, chesty cough, snorted up phlegm, and swallowed.

“Very well. No introductions. No nonsense, no patter. Do you have any words before we proceed?”

The Queen opened her mouth as if to speak, then shut it firmly and shook her head.

“Excellent”, the Hag croaked. She drew a large velvet pouch from her side and with some effort, hefted it up onto the table with a dull clatter onto a shallow groove carved out to hold it. She placed two separate decks of cards on painted rectangles next to the bag. The middle of the table had a grid painted on it of eight rows and eight columns.

Noticing the Queen’s somewhat dubious expression, she made a gummy attempt at a smile, the result of which was somewhat frightening. “Somewhat rudimentary isn’t it? No doubt you are used to a more… sophisticated set up in the palace.”

The Queen frowned at the truth of the words. “I am. It’s been some time since I saw a board of gems.”

The hag grinned even wider. “Believe me when I say, child, that the simplest methods provide the straightest truths. Forget your crystal balls and fancy spells, the old ways are the best ways. Now, let’s begin”.

She reached into the pouch and withdrew her hand with a fistful of coloured stones, which she dumped into the middle of the grid. She closed her eyes and began to arrange the gems into each square of the grid, seemingly at random. The Queen and her companion watched, entranced by the dexterity of the movements which betrayed the fortune teller’s age.

“Many events across the world”, the hag crooned. “Everything is connected; one thing has led to another.” With a gem now occupying each of the 64 spaces in the grid, she opened her eyes and shuffled the deck of cards. Looking intently at the board in front of her, she started laying cards on the right side of the board, narrating as she went along. She drew first from one deck, cards with coloured images to match the colours of the gems in the grid, then from the second deck, cards with symbols, to make three fans of cards facing her visitors on the right hand side of the board as they looked at it.

“We begin in the past.
“Fire and Earth, the arcane Lava stone. Dragon: the flame wyrm.
“Air and Magic, the arcane Plains stone. Dragon: the poison wyrm.
“Fire and Wind, arcane Storm. Daemon: the corruptor.
“A tryst is made to usurp the kingdoms of man.”

She shuffled the cards again and began the same process, this time laying cards on the left side of the board.

“Water and Earth, arcane Shield. Human, the former knight commander.
“Fire and Fire, arcane Rage. Human, the unknown hero.
“One card, not arcane but runic: Nature. Goblin, inconsequential, common even, but the first of many troops impressed into service.”

She began matching the gems with quick movements, removing them and replacing them with new ones to tell the story. Each match of gems resulted in an action by one or the other of the players alongside the board. The two visitors watched, mesmerised, as she told the story of the battles that had taken place whilst swapping, removing, and adding gems to the board. After a short time, she gathered the cards belonging to the vanquished flame wyrm, holding them up.

“And so Sheggra was defeated at the Broken Spire, her heart carved out to provide an antidote to a most malignant curse.”

The Queen spoke. “Most impressive and well told. But we know of this tale already, all too well”. She fidgeted and looked mildly uncomfortable. “I fear we are wasting our time”.

The hag grinned again and the Queen had to fight down her repulsion at the expression. “To understand the future, we must start with the past. Bear with me”.

The hag gathered up the cards on the left hand side, shuffled them back into their decks, and continued to draw cards and match gems to tell the story. The corruptor, Moloch, defeated by the unknown hero and the blood drinker. The poison worm, Shadow, defeated by the unknown hero and the would-be knight.

The hag dealt several more piles of cards. “Orion, god of the plains. Carnex, the errant mechanoid. Abhorath, a god in infancy. The Crimson Bat, Prince of blood. The Silent One, stealer of voices. The Black Beast, devourer of souls. I won’t waste any more time playing it out. But do you see the connection?”

The Queen swallowed, and nodded. “The hero”.

“In each case, a hero emerges. In various forms or in a single form, depending on which stories you believe, but a hero emerges nonetheless”, the hag confirmed.

“OK”, the Queen agreed. “But what does this have to do with the-”

“What does this have to do with the future; what does this have to do with me”, the hag repeated in a mocking voice before bursting into a fit of coughs. The Queen watched, speechless, unaccustomed as she was to being interrupted or mocked. The man next to her growled ever so slightly, and the Queen placed a hand gently on his knee to indicate he should not allow his anger to bloom any further.

Coughing fit over, the hag wiped her mouth of spittle. “I’m getting to it, Your Highness, have patience and all will be revealed”. She turned her attention to the man. “And enough from you, Archon. Growl all you like, little pussy cat, but there’ll be no swords drawn in my house.”

The Archon simmered, radiating suppressed anger, but made no movement and did not speak.

“Now on with the reading”.

They returned their attention to the table, and the hag began to draw again, dealing to the right hand side of the board.

“Water and Fire, blood.” She paused, her hand hovering over the second deck, then returned to draw more cards from the first pile. “And fire and earth, lava. Daemon, knight aspected. I know not its name.”

The Queen and the Archon stared at the wide fan of cards in disbelief.

“Two arcane stones…” he sputtered. “That’s impossible”.

The hag shrugged. “Is it, though?”

The Queen held her hand in front of the Archon to silence him. “Let her continue”.

The Hag started dealing to the left hand side of the board.
“Nature and Water, Swamp. Human, knight aspected. Royalty; she lay in unnatural sickness while her kingdom was almost reduced to rubble, but she was fed Sheggra’s Heart and now her glory is restored and the vigor of her people along with it.”

She bowed her head. “That would be you, my dearest Queen, Ysabelle.”

Ysabelle somewhat resignedly nodded in return. The hag straightened and continued drawing cards.

“Fire and Water, Blood. Divine, knight aspected.”

She looked at the Archon. “Valor, Archon to Sword’s Edge. Knight prince of Gaard, hero to humans and slayer of daemons. And wielder of anger which he is unable to control”. She cackled at her own joke, whilst Valor did not respond.

She drew more cards. “The knights coronet. The Order of the Dragon. Ah - and the former knight commander appears too for the second time today!”

She set the cards aside and started matching gems.

“The unknown assailant is strong, but the slayer of daemons will of course meet any challenge. Ah - but he is vanquished!”

Valor stood up, his eyes raging. “Nonsense”, he asserted. He turned to the Queen. “My lady, this is ridiculous, absurd. No daemon will ever threaten this kingdom. This lady is merely trying to provoke me! I will have no more of this.”

The Hag’s eyes danced with mischief. “If you aren’t happy with my reading, take it up with the board”. She cacked again at her joke.

“Valor, please calm yourself”. Ysabelle turned to the Hag. “When you say ‘vanquished’…?”

The Hag cackled again. “Defeated, your highness. Dead.”

Valor could stand it no longer. He swept an arm across the table, scattering gems and cards everywhere. He turned to Ysabelle, her eyes furious, they locked gazes for a few moments. Once he could stand no more of the silent rebuke, he swept around and stormed out of the shop.

“Rude!”, the Hag called after him to which he waves a dismissive hand in a rude gesture over his shoulder.

After watching him go, Ysabelle returned her attention to the hag.

“Is this real? Will this happen? Can it be changed?”

“My dear”, the hag began. “In some ways, this has already happened. War is coming to Sword’s Edge, and you must be prepared.”

“Can we defeat it though? Whatever this new threat is? My people have already suffered so much.”

“I don’t know. I can set up another reading perhaps…”

Ysabelle screwed her eyes closed and pinched the top of her nose. “No more readings for now. If the future is bleak, I’d rather not know. We’ll make preparations. Thank you for your time.” She paused. “I do have one final question though. Why the history lesson?”

The Hag chuckled. “You don’t see the connection? Did I not say that everything is connected? That one event has led to another?”

Ysabelle was silent in thought.

The Hag eventually continued. “Balance is broken, balance is restored. Twas ever the way of things.”

“Escalation”, Ysabelle quietly offered.

The Hag nodded. “As one side gains power, others rise to meet it. The world is changing, Queen Ysabelle.”

Ysabelle leant over and dropped a heavy pouch of coins into the delighted Hag’s lap, and turned to leave the shop. A few steps away from the door, she stopped.

“You say this can’t be changed, but the Gods-”, she started over her shoulder.

“The Gods make a mockery of the chains of time, it’s true”, mused the hag. “But never rely on the Gods, Queen Ysabelle”.
Ysabelle sighed, and continued on out into the daylight of the street.

“War!”, called the Hag after her. “War is coming to Sword’s Edge!”

She watched the Queen disappear and waited until she heard the carriage wheels turn before she moved. She began picking up the cards and gems that Valor had scattered, leaving just the six cards belonging to the unknown threat left on the table. Water, Fire, Fire, Earth, Daemon, Knight. And froze. Her hands tremored. Involuntarily, she started quickly dealing more cards in three more sets below it, her hands moving so fast they were almost at a blur. She then dealt one final set on the other side of the empty board.

She regarded the cards in front of her almost in disbelief. The reading had not been finished. There were four of these daemons, each with the strange dual-stone characteristic, and just one would be able to rise to meet them. She looked up at the open door, and pondered whether she should warn the Queen. Then the Queen’s words echoed in her mind: I’d rather not know. She shrugged to herself, and reached into the bag for a handful of gems.

Read Desdaemona Part 1 here

13 Likes

This was a great read! I love your writing style.

2 Likes

@Whiskeyjack I don’t mean to diminish your work at all, but you do realize that Gems of War’s lore is just cheeky D&D, right?

I do indeed. I guess this is more fanfic than lore, but I’ll be damned if I call it fanfic and make myself look like I’m some kind of stan

5 Likes

Aw, you don’t look like a Stan :stuck_out_tongue:.

I could’ve sworn this was when they were going to make out.

1 Like

Thanks for sharing your story @Whiskeyjack! I truly enjoyed reading it. I loved the characterization and playful dialogue of the Hag. Also, I thought it was clever turning the GoW game itself into a meta divination tool within the story.

3 Likes

This was fantastic. They should let you write all the dialogue for the kingdom quests.

1 Like

Please note the following has some (censored) cursing, and some graphic descriptions of violence. Reader discretion is advised.

This is part one of a two or three part story, I haven’t decided yet. Will try and keep future parts a bit shorter too!

Read the Prologue here

I make no apology for the fact that the black liquid idea is ‘borrowed’ from one of the Malazan stories.

DESDAEMONA
Part One

Dessie squatted with her back against the upturned pew, crossbow clutched to her heaving chest.

“CROSSBOWS”, bellowed Captain Radcliffe.

She spun as she leapt up, taking a moment to track the monstrosity as it lurched between the three men that had surrounded it, and were attempting to pin it in position and prevent it from leaving the temple where they fought. Its four eyes glowed unnaturally from within it’s hard black armored skin. It didn’t appear to have a neck; its head began at the top of its chest and a huge mouth full of several rows of pointed teeth was set in the middle of where its chest would have been, had it been a human. Of course, had it been a human, it would also have not been ten feet tall. The disproportionality would have been offensive just to look at, even had it not been trying to kill everything within its reach.

Huge gauntletted hands with sharp claws were taking chunks out of the shields of Dessie’s comrades, the men doing everything they could to withstand the savage attacks, pressing it back wherever they could. Six large tentacles that looked to be formed of bone, black as the rest of the creature’s carapace, spread from the creatures back like contemptuous wings, stabbing over the creatures shoulder with the motion of a scorpion’s tail. The creature’s huge range had meant that so far the men had little chance to strike a blow, as it was all they could do to hold it in its position. Weapons bounced off its skin as though they were striking stone. It had been maybe a few hundred heartbeats since the daemon appeared, and so far no-one had managed to even scratch the wretched creature.

“Aim for the daemon’s maw”, Figgs said from beside her.

Daemon. Dessie had never seen one before, but that sounded right. Nothing like this would exist naturally anywhere in Krystera, she was sure of that.

“I can get its eye”, Dessie replied. She tracked the creature - the daemon - through the crossbow sight. She slowed her breathing and relaxed the muscles in her arms. The noises of the fight - the shouts of the men, the crash of claw on shield, the guttural howls of rage from the creature - quietened into background noise, and Dessie concentrated on the rhythmic drum of her own heartbeat pounding in her head.

“Negative Dessie, target too small. Aim for the maw”.

Dessie bit back her retort, re-settled and adjusted her aim. Figgs called ‘mark’ and she breathed in, then ‘fire’. They loosed simultaneously with exhaled breaths, then immediately dropped back down behind the pew to reload.

Captain Radcliffe ran over to their position, hopping and skipping over bodies that lay strewn across the floor; most barely moving, some faintly moaning, some weakly clawing at their mouths or eyes.

“Figgs, Dessie, I’m going in to help. Stay out of its range and keep firing. I’m not sure steel can hurt this thing so I need you to find a weakness.” He looked both of them in the eye. “We’ll hold it there, but I’m depending on you”.

“Captain”, Figgs had to raise his voice to be heard above the grunts, shouts, and guttural roars. “Perhaps a tactical retreat? Let Morthani take this temple, and anyone left in it.” He spat to one side to clear the Lady of Death’s name from his mouth.

“I would, but we don’t get paid if we don’t finish the job.” Radcliffe winked, sprung up, and was gone, bounding towards the fight happening at the other end of the temple with a rallying call.

Dessie peered back over the pew. The creature was still swinging between the men, slashing indiscriminately with its claws. She watched as Mikke and Captain Radcliffe tried to draw the creatures attention, which resulted in a huge blow from a claw that almost staggered Radcliffe as he held his shield with both hands to block it, but left the creature’s back open to Sunny who jumped in with a fierce low swing of his axe. The axe made contact with one of the creature’s legs and some hard material seemed to chip off, but the creature did not appear to be in any way wounded by the blow. It spun round to attack Sunny, who was forced to defend with his own shield.

I’ve got you, brother, Dessie thought whilst watching Sunny stand strong against the creature, using his shield to bash back the claws and his axe to parry the stabs of the tentacles. As the creature roared, she saw the crossbow bolts still lodged in its mouth.

“Figgs, those bolts hit home but aren’t doing nothing. The boys aren’t making any headway either. You heard Radcliffe. We’ve got to get a bolt in its head and the only way in is an eye”.

Figgs swore under his breath. “Even if you get the eye, Gaard only knows if it even has a brain. But alright lass, you go for it. I’ll keep hitting the maw and hopefully it’ll start bleeding.”

They fell into the familiar rhythm of ready, mark, fire as they fired salvos against the creature, Figgs peppering its maw with bolts and Dessie trying unsuccessfully to get a shot in its eye. She noticed from glances stolen in between reloads that Radcliffe was continuing to draw the creature’s attacks to allow Sunny to attack its back, but even after several rounds of this pattern the creature showed no sign of slowing.

Steadying herself, she lined up another shot at one of the creature’s eyes. She watched the bolt fly, almost in slow motion, before a twitch from the creature at the last possible moment meant that her bolt merely glanced off the creature’s skin. She swore, and sat down hard to reload once more.

“Where in the abyss did this thing come from?”, she asked Figgs.

“Never seen its like”, Figgs shrugged. “Abyss sounds about right though, lass. Heard of some mages making pacts with daemons to avenge them when they die, could be that. Heard of some can summon things like this. Could be the f****r just lived under the floorboards”. He made a warding gesture before finishing reloading his crossbow. “Evil, whatever it is”. They stood up to fire once more.


It wasn’t supposed to have been like this. Radcliffe and his crew of mercenaries had been hired for a job by the Lord Protector of Blackbridge as muscled back-up for a problem he’d been having in some nearby village within his jurisdiction. Blackbridge was a medium-sized, unremarkable town in an agricultural part of the Kingdom of Karkaroth, which existed mainly to provide a market to the small, unremarkable farms that surrounded it. When they’d entered the town to meet the Lord Protector , Dessie saw how the rest of her crew looked down on these folks as living small, unremarkable lives, but compared to where she and Sunny had grown up it was large and positively bustling.

The job itself was to have been a fairly simple one. A local cult that worshipped some kind of plague god had started causing some problems. Apparently, the cult had been going for some time but had recently gained in strength and number, and their ramshackle temple had been tacked on with more and more annexes and outbuildings as additional cultists moved in to dedicate their lives to its service. It wasn’t unusual to find cults like this in Karkaroth; unlike Whitehelm or Sword’s Edge, worship of most gods was tolerated here. Almost any town in this land would have any number of temples dedicated to fringe gods, and many cults began - and ended - here.

There had been some unsavoury incidents with this cult though, and as the followers had become more and more fanatic, the people had decided that enough was enough. The temple was responsible for an epidemic of drunkards, all addicted to a drink that the temple produced and sold. Those that drank it would stop caring about their families, their jobs, and eventually even themselves, and would do anything to get hold of the vile liquid and spend their lives in stupor. With petty crime on the rise, the people looked to their Lord Protector to act and he decided that the whole cult was to be kicked out of its temple and sent on its way. The town didn’t have enough guards to handle the crowd of fifty or so cultists if things went bad, so they looked to Radcliffe for extra protection and crowd control. Show up, flex some muscle and flash some steel, scare the cultists into leaving. Simple.

Dessie had started to get the chills as they marched to the temple, Radcliffe’s band along with a few of the townsguards. She was used to stares; it wasn’t every day that a heavily armored band marched through villages like these. But she noticed folk that stared at them with witless eyes and mouths stained black, open and gaping. She had seen them first in the poorer parts of Blackbridge, but as they marched she saw them too in fields and farmsteads along the way.

As they got closer to the temple, the number of people with black stained mouths grew higher and higher. A couple of carts laden with amphora drove past them from the direction they were heading, the drivers discourteously not tipping their hats.

When they came over a hill within half a bell’s walk to the temple, they all stopped short at the command to halt from Captain Radcliffe. The temple stood across a gentle valley from them, atop a hill. The land in between was farmland, but there were details that made the landscape markedly different from what anyone might expect.

The land was littered with scarecrows painted black, more than any farm could conceivably need and then more again. Every six feet or so, there was a scarecrow atop a pole with what looked to be pots beneath them. Not a bird was in sight. The ground was also covered in black patches, stains of the paint spreading like a sickness from beneath each scarecrow. As they all surveyed the scene, the Captain edged cautiously down the mound and into the field to inspect the nearest scarecrow more closely. “This is why I f****** hate Karkaroth”, Sunny remarked. The townsguards fidgeted.

Radcliffe gave the handsignal for them to join him. As they got closer, with dread it dawned upon them that the scarecrow was, in fact, a human being, and the paint was, in fact, not paint. Eyes and mouth oozed viscous black goo, with amphora at the base of the pole collecting it as it slowly ran down. Figgs made a warding symbol. One of the guards vomitted.

“Should we cut him down, Captain?” asked Mikke.

“Leave him”, the Captain replied. “We’re here to get rid of them, not save them.” He stabbed a finger towards the guards. “It was their job to protect them”.

He spat to one side, then strode on towards the temple, waving them to follow. “Stay alert”.

The mercenaries drew their weapons and immediately fell into a combat formation. Radcliffe at the head, Mikke and Sunny on either side of him forming an arrow head. Dessie and Figgs ranged, crossbows in hand, while Rish kept a rearguard. They proceeded like this towards the temple.

Any hope of a peaceful resolution was confounded by the fact that once they did start encountering the cultists, they found themselves being completely ignored. There was quite an operation underway amongst them to carry the full amphora back to a barn and set down fresh ones in their place, but not a single cultist would acknowledge them or even look them in the eye. Radcliffe took one by the shoulders and shook her, and her head flopped back and forth like a ragdoll. He grabbed her jaw and looked into the eyes, but the black stained mouth hung slack jawed and the woman made no sign that she understood a word he said. When he released her, she simply picked up the empty pots she had been carrying and continued her task as though nothing had happened.

Upon entering the temple through its large double barn doors, they located the priest immediately, standing as he was on a dais at the far end of the main part of the building. Many cultists were present, but again continued to ignore the mercenaries, barely moving. Some lounged on pews, others had slid to the floor where they remained. Others still stared at the wall, or simply lay prone. The priest was the only one that eyed them, and the only one whose mouth was not stained black. He wore a crown of bone, and a cloak that was pinned with an ornate bone epaulette that spread down to form a kind of armour on his upper arms. “He’s not even trying to look like he’s not evil”, Sunny murmered, while Figgs nodded sagely.

Radcliffe told the guards to wait by the doors, and approached the priest, the rest of his crew following cautiously. The priest laughed as he watched them approach, and unclipped his cloak. As it fell to the floor they saw he had two sets of arms. “Evil!”, Figgs whispered.

As Radcliffe and the smiling priest stood face to face, the priest opened his mouth to speak but never got the chance to. With a lightning fast move, Radcliffe drew his sword and swung a hard backswing, horizontally, taking the priest’s head clean off. The body fell to its knees, neck pumping black blood, and Radcliffe kicked the body hard in the chest to topple it where it lay sprawled across the middle of the dais. “Whatever you were going to say, not interested”. He spat on the body, and began wiping his blade clean. And that, as far as Dessie was concerned, should have been that.

A chorus of wailing filled the air, as the cultists began to become animated. As one, they rose from their positions and, hands covering their mouths, eyes wide with panic, they bolted. Some crashed into each other and fell, some ran into the walls or the pews. Some made it to the door and sprinted past the townsguards who watched them pass, unsure what to do other than gape, open-mouthed, in an ironic reversal of roles.

The priest’s body lay in a pool of black blood, and as the mercenaries moved their attention back to him they noticed movement.

“Is… is he melting?” Sunny asked.

“More like… sinking” replied Rish. He leant forward to peer at the body, which did not seem to be sinking into the middle of the dais. Dessie crouched down to look at where the small stage met the floor, but couldn’t see any kind of mechanism or trapdoor. It was as though the dais was sagging, the weight of the blood weighing it down like water on a skin.

“Back. I don’t like this”, growled Radcliffe.

They watched as the body slid out of view, and the blackness that it sank into began to swirl up from the dais. The darkness radiated, impossibly, and chaos appeared to swarm within it. The building started to tremor, then wobble, then shake, and cracks spread across the floor, outwards from the yawning black. A clawed hand thrust out from within, dug deep into the temple floor, and dragged up behind it the rest of the hulking daemonic creature.


Mikke had been caught by a claw, and lay on his back clutching his chest where the daemon’s talons had shredded his armour and left deep wounds of red ribbons. Rish had joined Radcliffe in the game of bait and counter, while Sunny still attempted to take a leg out when the opportunity presented. Dessie and Figgs’s fire had not managed to make any impact on the daemon.

For all their efforts, the men were tiring and the daemon was beginning to press them back towards the temple’s single exit. Dessie and Figgs had peppered the daemon with bolts, some of which had bounced off and some of which had stuck, but the creature continued to be relentless in its assault. Dessie wondered how it kept its energy up, its raw fury unabashed and indiscriminate.

“I’ve got to get closer, Figgs.”

“That’s a negative, lass. Keep your distance. You’re no use to us if you take one of those claws”.

“Morthani be damned. I’m not letting that thing get out of here.” She spat.

She ignored Figgs hissing at her as she crept forward, trying to stay out of the daemon’s attention. As Radcliffe once again stepped forward to draw the creature’s attack, she rushed to a position behind Sunny, sliding to the floor and resting her crossbow on a pew ready to take aim when the creature next turned. Sunny didn’t see her coming, and started at the noise.

“Dessie!”

“Turn round, you idiot!”, she snapped, but Sunny had let his concentration lapse. The creature had reared at the sound and Sunny still had his back to it. She watched as a bone spear from the daemon’s hideous wings pierced his chest below the clavicle, and then another stabbed through his abdomen, the tips protruding out through the front of his armour. She couldn’t move, frozen in horror at the brute power that had forced through the steel plate like a skewer through cooked meat. Sunny’s eyes were wide open, an expression of surprise on his face as he slowly looked down to the black bone spikes extending from his chest. The creature raised the hideous wings lifting Sunny off the floor, before a claw swung and Sunny’s body fell in two, a curtain of blood and bile descending between it.

Dessie felt rage swell up inside her as the creature stared at her with its four, pearly blue eyes, and began stepping towards her over what was left of Sunny. Radcliffe and Rish were furiously trying to cut the daemon down with all their might, but it didn’t even waver from the blows. Dessie heard shouting, but not the words. Biting down tears of grief and fury with a clenched jaw, she rose from her position, stepped up and over the pew, and advanced towards the creature, determined to get one good shot in before it took her.

The creature loomed over her, and Dessie didn’t have the time nor inclination to question why it hadn’t raised a claw to kill her yet. She lifted the crossbow up as the creature was almost on top of her, and shot. The bolt hit true. The daemon stopped, swayed, and fell backwards onto the dais from whence it had emerged, where it began slowly sinking into the black just as the priest’s body had.

Dessie didn’t hear what Radcliffe was trying to say to her. She shrugged off the hands that tried to squeeze her shoulder to comfort her, and knelt by the upper half of Sunny’s body to stroke his hair. Figgs was treating Mikke’s wound. The others gathered behind her, the victory marred.

Brave, strong Sunny, the brother that had always protected her. The one who’d looked out for her, who’d saved her from Father’s anger and ran away with her. Who’d worked to keep her safe and fed, and who’d taught her how to fire a bow. When he had been offered a place with Radcliffe’s company, he was firm he would only accept if she could join too. She had known he was only human, but she had never believed it. It had never occurred to her that he could come to any harm and that it would be her left, not him.

None of them noticed that as the creature was about to slide out of view, it reached out the giant fist nearest Dessie. Before anyone could do anything, it dragged her down into the blackness with it, the portal closing firmly behind them.


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Nice job on making Ancient Horror terrifying. Look forward to the next chapter to see what happens to poor Dessie.

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Has it been a month already? How remiss of me. This part is shorter, and it comes with a promise I won’t leave it so long for the next part! But as a result I am splitting the story between more posts. Thank you if you are still reading!

DESDAEMONA
Part Two

Dessie was falling through an endless void at a speed that terrified her. She couldn’t breathe, and the air around her that buffeted her was abrasive and hurt her exposed skin. Strange, colourful energy appeared, arced, and disappeared seemingly randomly in the distance, each flash bringing tumultuous peels of thunder. Her priority, however, was on the talon that still gripped her ankle. Drops of blood floated away from her body, not obeying the laws of Krystera as they spread out falling in different directions from her and the monstrosity that fell with her.

She had pulled her pigsticker from her boot and hacked desperately at the talon, and her endeavour was boosted as she felt its grip loosening. A few moments later, the grip relaxed and she watched as the daemon ceased moving, its body taking a different path to hers, drifting away before picking up speed and eventually before being swallowed by a bright flash of energy.

She smiled sadly to herself at the futility of it all. The creature had been already dead but hadn’t realised it yet, and had been hanging on to her with its last grasp. And now, before long, she would die from a lack of air, and her last act had been to waste energy trying to cut away the daemon’s dead hand, which she hadn’t even needed to do. None of it mattered. Like the creature, she was already dead. She pulled her arms alongside herself and straightened her body, and found she had angled herself head first in the direction she was falling. At least I die with some grace; diving not falling. Her eyes were closed tightly against the grit that assaulted her face. She lifted her arms and waited for death, warmed by the thought that she might see Sunny when she got there.

Her lungs had felt like they were bursting, but abruptly the feeling subsided. The pain from her skin and her ankle ebbed into dullness. Her closed eyes saw a growing vignette of darkness closing in on the patterns that the flashing energy left on her retina.

And then suddenly light, growing from the middle of her vision, light impossibly bright. She knew this was her final moment, her transition to whatever awaited souls after death. She hit the light; she felt it cleanse her, wash over her. She suddenly found she could breathe again, and she opened her eyes.

She had not expected this. She was no longer falling, she was floating slowly in nothingness as though she were submerged in a salt lake. She was quite sure that she was still in the same place, and that she had not in fact died. She looked around herself, trying to piece together what had happened, but all she could think was that she’d been struck by one of those arcs of colourful energy. She felt different. Strange thoughts entered her mind, confusing her in the same way that the memory of a dream can create a duality that confuses the memory of reality. She somehow knew that she was not in the abyss as she’d first though, but in the void of chaotic nascent energy that surrounds the realms of mortal existence.

She noticed other features here that she hadn’t seen before when she thought she was dying; fixed points of light in the far, far distance. And, like the stars in Krystera, she knew she could use them to orientate herself. She paddled with her arms and legs, setting herself moving again, but soon realised that just the force of will alone was enough to propel her. As the thoughts in her mind threatened to overwhelm her, she fought them back down. She headed, purely out of instinct, towards a single spot - one of those fixed points of light - that brought into her mind a word that made her choke back tears. That word was home.


She fell through the air briefly, flailing in an attempt to slow her fall before landing hard on a ground of soft, warm sand. Picking herself up, she squinted at the portal ten feet above her as it shimmered, spat, and then blinked out of existence. How the abyss did I do that?

Her jubilation at finding her feet on land was short lived as she examined her surroundings. The beach of jet black sand was lapped at by waves of a red sea beneath a uniformly grey sky. There were no celestial bodies, no sun or moon or stars. Her heart sank with the realisation: this is not Krystera. As she tried to orient herself, the feeling in her head from the alien thoughts returned to her. Waves of pressure made her head feel like it was going to explode, and the pain of it forced her to her hands and knees. She gripped handfuls of the black sand tightly, and when that didn’t help she beat her forehead with a fist, which didn’t help either. The pain reached her stomach and she retched.

She couldn’t understand what she was feeling. She knew this place, yet had clearly never been here in her life. Ever since she’d been hit by the energy in the void, she had found her head filled with knowledge and memories that weren’t hers. She felt like she was in someone else’s body. She grasped her head with her hands and clawed at her scalp, before sharply flinching from the sensation of firstly being surprised how much it hurt, and secondly from surprise at what she felt on her head. Something was stuck there, and despite tugging she couldn’t get it free.

A panic rose within her as she looked at her hands in front of her - looked at them closely - and noticed a different tone to the skin that she couldn’t attribute to the grey light of the sky. The familiar scars and moles were gone, and instead her skin was completely smooth and unblemished. Her nails were no longer bitten down to the skin but were long, sharp, and coloured a deep purple. The hair that dangled down from her head was white, not black. She reached up again, carefully this time, and from feeling it out was pretty sure she had grown horns. With shaking unsteadiness, she forced herself to the water’s edge and found her own reflection. A face of pale skin with bright white eyes. Horns that grew up, out and away from her head, curling behind and back forward to a sharp point like a ram’s horns. Pointed ears that jutted out from between a mane of thick, flowing white hair that curled slightly at the ends. Yet the face still looked a lot like hers, and she still wore her armour and carried her weapons. She crawled backwards from the red water for a few feet until the rising panic took her.

After several minutes of hyperventilating she uncurled from the foetal position she found herself in, sat up, and managed to somewhat compose her breathing again. She sat still, trying to make sense of her situation. The most reasonable explanation was that she was in someone else’s body, or perhaps she had somehow been combined with someone else. Someone with horns, with white hair, and nails sharp as a hawk’s talons. Someone with knowledge of how to escape the void and find this place. But, worse than the physical change, she now had a reason for the anguish in her head. Whoever this person was, they were still there. Well, time to say ‘hello’ I think. Never met a man - or woman - that I couldn’t charm

As she cautiously allowed the ‘other’ to share the space in her head, she began to hear other thoughts, but as she prodded and probed she recoiled from what she found. This other was a daemon that lived here, in this realm, this realm of daemons. She was serious, cruel and bloody minded. She hated humans, she hated Dessie, and she would not be charmed. Dessie tried to flee, tried to push the other away, but now the other had been given space to think, it wasn’t relinquishing it. The two of them were anathema. The mental battle was exhausting to Dessie and she sat slumped forward as it played out, and as the other grew stronger she started to hear its voice.

Get out of my head, daemon

“Get out of my body, human”

Gaard knows I would if I could. How am I even here?

There was silence while the other contemplated

“I can’t remember, but it matters not. You are not welcome, and I will purge you as I will purge all your kind. Your lives may be short, but I will still take pleasure in ending yours prematurely.”

Dessie decided to try a different tact, that of gathering information.

Who are you

The other mentally straightened. “I am Kel’Rath, daughter of Iat’Zalma, second blade of the Dark Mother.”

Dessie didn’t know what any of those words meant. I’m Dessie, from Karkaroth. I’m a mercenary with Radcliffe. The other didn’t respond. Erm… my parents were no-one, she offered.

The other suddenly laughed at her, a cruel cold laugh.

What?

“I’ve just remembered who you are. And your time is-”

What was that?!

They heard a noise that sounded like the high-pitched whine of a fly, and dropped the conversation as they realised a speck on the horizon was flying, haphazardly, but unmistakably straight towards them.

A quasit, mused Dessie. Someone knows we are here.

“My knowledge, not yours” hissed the other. “Stop stealing my thoughts”.

The small, pale green, humanoid-shaped winged daemon was rapidly approaching, and when it arrived they saw it was no taller than the length of their forearm. It regarded them, hovering for a moment at their eye level.

“Kel’Rath?”, it asked in a squeaky voice.

They nodded, Dessie deciding to go along with it for the time being.

“Ahem”, it cleared its throat. “A message from your mother. Message reads, you are back early. Return to me at once for orders. Message ends. I am to escort you to the city.”

Without waiting for them to respond, it turned and began to fly back in the direction from whence it came. They found themselves falling in step behind it. They walked this way for about half a bell, and all the while Dessie became more confused as to whose thoughts were hers and whose were Kel’Rath. And then, she abruptly stopped.

“Move”, ordered Kel’Rath. Dessie didn’t move. “Move!”

Dessie suddenly laughed, a shrill giggle that erupted from her and made her snort. The quasit paused, and turned round at the sound which was so ludicrously out of place in this realm.

“Why are you laughing?” asked Kel’Rath.

Because, said Dessie, I’ve just remembered who you are!

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