I guess I should start at the beginning. What passes for scholars in this miserable kingdom keep harping on me to write down my side of things, but writing is for suckers and seldom means anything in the long run anyway; people just ignore history, like know it alls at a party who you can't talk to... or go one step further and rewrite it when it suits them.
Much better just to enchant the book so it can't be burned and tells the story itself so it can't just be ignored. The extra effort would be worth it.
I stared at the thing, a large heavy tome with wooden covers banded in iron and filled with pages of tan paper so thick they barely bent. The entire thing was big enough to serve as a table; so large it wasn't going anywhere. Even if you could unlock the chain running through the pedestal it was set on.
My recent work on the inside cover glowed, beating the illumination provided by the crappy candles I'd been given. Save for the pedestal, the book, the small writing desk containing a quill pen, ink pot, and sand, and the chair I was currently plunked down in, they were the only things in the drafty room.
The so called scholars of course, monks of something-or-other, had locked the door to prevent me from having any fun. We had a love hate relationship; they loved to hate me. The feelings were mutual of course; given the chance I'd gladly murder them all. They were beyond useless; simpering fools who thought hiding behind books could save them.
Well I wasn't getting out of here or getting any rest until they got what they wanted. I was going to take them at their word though. You shouldn't ask for both sides or an unbiased account lest you get it. With a chant I began.
The world can go to hell in a hurry; we'd all learned that. The Catastrophe that blessed some of us had killed most of us and all but eliminated civilization. Overnight the comforts and amenities we had built like walls around us to keep out the harsh reality of survival were stripped away, and we had to relearn what survival of the fittest truly meant.
We did learn though - at least most of us.
"Give it up, Darnell! You can't win." I know, a bit cliche of me, but it was better than a full monologue revealing my plans and hopes for the future. I'd already done that joke.
Darnell Dodged my wave of fire and countered with a hammer of force that knocked me back but otherwise did nothing. "Don't call me Darnell, you villain! You don't know me!"
"Whatever, Darnell." Some ice kept him off me while I regained my balance - and then some more sent him hopping. I couldn't stop the grin; Darnell really should have known better than to challenge me.
He was the last; if he had simply retreated and hid in the hills at the border of his shitty fiefdom, I'd have let him live.
Darnell looked back at his own meager army; at his generals who were watching our duel. They didn't know? I almost felt sorry for the man. Then again he needed others to prop him up; I was alone on the field. My own much larger army waited at a nice safe distance to crush his.
Then he turned back and hissed, "My name is Darg!"
He drew his war hammer and I let him close; I locked him up with my sword and whispered. "That's not what your Mom says."
He screamed, neck veins bulging, and tried to overpower me just like he had several times before. I levered him into the dirt with a smile. He would never learn.
"For the record, I'm Samael. Pleased to meet you. Hail... and farewell."
I struck, but at the same time, so did those pesky generals. They struck as my back was turned, completely negating the truce. Where did they even get the power from? There we none of us among them; I had checked.
It wasn't enough, and I turned to tell them so with a blast of fire.
Which was my mistake, because the hammer Darnell wielded was enough when applied to the back of my head.
However, I was made of sterner stuff; I didn't even feel the pain. At least not at first; then some very charred generals made fewer by their own actions got involved. Death was only the beginning, however.
I could feel myself flow into the gem I'd crafted as a last resort.
A blue tint poured its way across my vision, and I found myself within a room. A library, or my library to be precise. Every book on shelves before me from fantastical classics to technical manuals, including the new works which illuminated the new powers, safe and sound within the gem. I had transferred them there after Darnell's brother Stan had tried to burn my library and all it contained.
I couldn't believe it; those shitty generals had actually dared raise their hands against me. Even worse, it had worked, though not quite as they intended.
But it was good enough; I could vaguely feel them working my body over as my senses faded. My other sense, my new sense of the living, getting sharper as a result even as the distortion sunk in. They would pay, and sooner than they thought.
Even though my hearing was distorted, I heard it well enough.
"What is this? Some sort of trap?" Darnell asked, his voice tinny and far away. I felt a source of life grow closer to my newly made home.
It was too early! Curse my desire to use a shiny gem rather than a plain stone! Vanity, thy name is Samael!
Maybe he would be too stupid to recognize it...
He wasn't. "Everyone back! It's a soul gem!
The two other living signatures started retreating... but they weren't my target. Their bodies were weak, almost guttering candles compared to the bonfire next to me. The gem wasn't ready yet, not fully, and I had almost no bearings at all... but it was now or never, so I struck.
For an instant and an eternity we waged war anew, our souls fighting for the dominion of one body. Flying at each other with reckless abandon and waging war as it should have been.
I came close; so very close. But the gem's charge ran out and I found myself slumped in one of my favorite chairs, as Darnell tried shattering my library; the repeated impacts doing nothing. My spellwork, my powers, were made of sterner stuff.
The regular smacks on the outside did make a good counterpoint to my cursing however; it was almost melodic. How dare that disgusting piece of lower life fight me off? I couldn't even take comfort in the fact that I'd managed to shorten his life by a few decades in the process. It was maddening!
Well, not much comfort anyway.
The impacts slowed, then stopped. It was almost perfect - sure he may haven fended me off the first time, but how long could he keep it up? Unless he had a seal, I could just take his body, or another's, and keep going until I killed him.
So of course he had one.
The seal he had was a powerful one too, I could feel it from here. It felt small... and familiar. I was betrayed!
Darnell got closer; close enough that his whispers carried to me. "Mara sends her regards."
That absolute bitch. Oh well, Darnell would learn what he cozied up to. And she would learn once I escaped.
The thought comforted me as the seal cut out the light. I sat down and picked a book at random; I had nothing but time now.
It could have been the first week, or it could have been the billionth week. I turned from my latest failure at trying to map my prison, exhausted. Every foray just outside the library was draining, and the seal still revealed no weaknesses. I had come close a few times, I knew it, but that bastard Darnell had refreshed the seal periodically; he wasn't very good at creating a seal, but even he could refresh and empower one.
I'd long since lost track of how many days it had been... but I wasn't a quitter; I'd have my vengeance. Right after I recovered.
Light. It had been so long! The seal was broken, the prison gone! I was free! I was... very weak. I could feel the life around me, but it was weak even though it was within my range, and I could barely marshal enough power for an attempt at a body.
I cast my bosom companion Wilson aside (he wasn't very chatty anyway, the bastard), and gathered my will.
No, something was wrong, the life signs around me weren't distant, they were weak; mere sparks in the darkness. As weak as they were however, I was weaker; I judged the power needed to take the nearest and strongest body, and found myself at a disadvantage.
The weakest body, the one farthest from my range, ended up rebuffing me easily. How long had I spent in this hell? I gathered myself for another try - and my hand dissolved into smoke. No; I refuse to think it had been too long! I was Samael, the greatest of my kind! I would prevail!
Then there was salvation; the second strongest light stepped close, grabbed my prison, and opened themselves completely to me. I could feel the surrender, the lowering of the walls, on purpose.
I didn't hesitate; I couldn't afford to.
There was light, and it was different that normal; it had... color? Yeah that was what it was called. Something else assaulted me - apparently the life around me forgot to bathe, but it was smell, after so long! A shift in weight and I wobbled, reaching my newfound hands out to steady myself on the white marble pedestal on which a wooden box dark with age rested. The gem, my prison, hit the floor with a loud tink.
My laughter sounded, high pitched to my ears. My hands were more than a little small. This body was in a dress, and smelled of perfume. I didn't care.
"Princess Grahf, are you alright? Did it work? Did you make contact?"
My new arm had been marked, a shallow cut in the milky skin welled blood. Blood which stained my former prison, shaped into writing. I turned to the speaker, and old man with long pepper gray hair and a beard, dressed in a rust colored robe and with a gold chain holding some sigil I did not recognize around his neck. It was clear he was speaking to me... or rather this body. Princess, huh?
He hadn't been speaking English, but even as weak as I was, I had certain gifts. I answered in kind.
"Oh yes, totally fine; I just stumbled from the stress. No contact was made." Technically it was true; the princess's soul and I had never met.
"You are not the Princess Grahf." He countered immediately, raising his hands.
As they started to glow I made the connection; this was the strongest soul in the room, the one I had wanted to take first and who had soundly rebuffed me. Had he not even noticed? Regardless, he was a credible threat.
I heard the tell-tale rasp of steel as the ones around me, guards in mail and plate, drew their swords.
"Now now now, boys... we don't want to harm the Princess, do we? She was nice enough to loan me this body, it would be a shame if something happened to it."
The armored figures settled their swords into a ring of steel around me. Okay then, it's not like I couldn't deal with them, even in my current state.
The one I couldn't deal with in my current state spoke again, his beard bristling. Actually moving to do it, too, which was kind of neat.
"Whom am I addressing?"
Names had power. "I am called Samael; and you are?"
He nodded to himself and muttered, "The name you gave matches the old records, and few know it. You must be genuine."
My newly acquired blood went cold. 'Old records'? Just how old were we talking, here? "And who are you, exactly?"
"I am Archmage Ferahn, court wizard of the Hammer empire and chief advisor to her highness, the Princess Almin Grahf, heir to the Hammer throne whose body you now hold."
That was some next level silliness. Why would they think of giving me their heir to the throne? "Didn't have a virgin to sacrifice?"
"On the contrary, Princess Grahf's body is chaste, per the conditions. The other condition was that only one of the blood could contact the great demon lord Samael; he would permit no others."
Did he really think that was how it worked? Judging from the earnest look he did. Just how long had I been imprisoned?
"One of the blood?"
Ferahn narrowed his eyes. "One of royal blood, and descendent of Darg Grahf the Magnificent himself. The Princess Grahf is the oldest of his direct line."
Oh hell, I think I'm going to be sick. I'm inside Darnell's kid? Worse, she's got to be eighteen judging by the rack.
"And where is old Darg? I'd really like to say hello." Right before I murder his kid in front of him for laughs.
"Dust these ages past. You have been entrapped in that prison gem many centuries, demon."
I knocked a sword and the man holding it out of my way, getting up close and personal. "How long?"
His grin was all teeth and no smile. "Some say a thousand years, and some say longer. Record keeping has ever been a problem in the empire... but as near as I can calculate, you have been entombed in this tower, with naught but the direct line of the Grahf to commune with, for three thousand years. Give or take a century or two."
Son of a...! It wasn't Darnell refreshing the seal around my soul gem, it was his weak-ass descendants! This Princess was dead the moment I got the chance... which would be after I found the rest of her family, and slaughtered them. No one of this poisonous line should live.
"I am... beyond annoyed. Commune you say? There was no communion from this, only imprisonment." I waved the gem at him to prove the point; it smacked him right on his huge nose, but he did nothing.
"The gem houses a soul. That is it's job. The one you call Darg perverted it's purpose. Currently, your Princess is inside of it."
I could tell he knew that much. "Perhaps we have made a mistake. We have long been told the legend of the great guardian demon Samael, who could be called upon by the royal family during times of great calamity. In truth however, there have been times when the eternal empire's history and lineage has become... complicated."
Well he sure knew how to lay it on thick. "Yeah, your legend probably got mixed up somewhere. I'm more likely to cause a calamity than avert one."
The swords closed in again; I didn't let it bother me. "Besides, from what I can tell I'm weak as a kitten; hell, you could take me, and maybe even that old geezer over there."
The man I'd pointed to, bald, white as a chicken's egg and wrinkled as a prune, dressed in robes far too rich for him and carrying a staff of office that he could barely lift, started in surprise at being singled out. Nevertheless, he had some power to him.
"I can assure you that while I or Archbistop Dunce could subdue you... we are among the absolute strongest in the empire for our fields of study, and you appear to have significant power to you. Power we could use to save the empire, should you prove willing."
Alright, what did I just hear? "Could you say that man's name again? Please?"
The poor guy looked confused. "The Archbistop Dunce the eleventh, chief holy authority of the realm and advisor to Princess Grahf."
Oh gods, by all the gods dark and unholy, I just couldn't keep it in. "Bwa ha ha ha ha! Oh my, that's just priceless! And there were ten others, you say?"
The Archmage shook me off his staff; I'd needed the support for all the thing didn't like me much. It had some power to it. I managed not to hit the floor, but it was a close thing.
"What amuses you so?"
"Sorry, sorry," I wiped the tears out of my eyes. "The man's name has meaning in my first language."
And of course the old guy had to take offense. "My name was given to the first Dunce thousands of years ago by the great Emporer Darg himself! It has been passed down among the rolls for longer than the empire has existed! Being considered qualified enough to take the name is a great honor! The greatest honor!"
I couldn't take anymore. "Stop, please! You're killing me here! Don't you like your Princess at all?!?"
Oh Darnell, you were the greatest of asses, the worst of scum, but you could craft a joke to last millenia. You will be missed... right up until I can dig you up, resurrect you, and then kill you myself.
Or even better, kill his descendents in front of him, and only then grant him the sweet release of death. I wanted to get the order right after all.
The 'Archbistop' did his best wrinkled tomato impression while the Archmage calmly waited for my laughter to die down.
"So, you mentioned a calamity? Must be dire if you're turning to me."
"An army besets our empire. A foul army of the most disgusting and aberrant creatures upon the Earth has risen up, and waged battle against the forces of humanity. The dark kingdom of Tarantla has swallowed up the free kingdoms of Aswer, Hilop, and Fulsway, as well as many others, and has marched upon us in endless numbers. Even now they gather outside the this city, the capitol of the empire, and prepare to lay siege. We humbly request to bargain for your aid."
Oh, this guy was good - he had done this before. But with who? As far as I knew I was the only one who had made my last resort. I mean, sure a few other people had known how... but I don't think anyone else had survived me long enough to make their own.
"You've done this before." I accused, mainly to see how he'd react.
"You are refreshingly perceptive," he replied. "I am an Archmage, studying magic and the creatures it spawns are among my many duties."
Interesting. I was a 'creature of magic' now? "You know of my problem now, then?"
I would need a body to do as he asked.
He nodded gravely. "We knew. The Princess has kindly offered to share hers until the crisis is passed; she was to tell you herself, but..."
"Yeah, no communion. Come, show me this army you fear."
I'll be darned if his way of talking wasn't infectious.
The walk was a short one; we were in the highest tower of a very large and very solidly built castle. The windows to the tower were stained glass, depicting images I wasn't familiar with - past the very solid iron bars. There was some distinct utility to it under all the marble sheathing, carvings, and sculptures on the path out from this very central tower leading to the outer towers and the wall. I recognized some of the old runes engraved into the stonework.
Then we reached the wall and I was treated to a sight.
There was a city beyond the walls, a large one. I spotted aquaducts, towers, and buildings up to four stories, most of which were stone. Everywhere were people in togas or robes, hurrying around and getting in each others way. The site reminded me of the depictions of an ancient city, now five thousand years dead. The city had it's own wall, almost as large as the castle's and not quite as well constructed.
Beyond that wall was where the past and present diverged.
The army was as endless as the Archmage had described, and filled with a dark rendition of Tolkien; there were orcs and goblins and giant lizards and tentacle monsters and dragons in the skies. Mutants all of course, the expression of things that were just beginning to exist when I strode the Earth.
They were all my people; they had to be.
But they were offensive to me. Looking at this great city, which obviously had a great nation backing it, I felt only rage. How dare they try to destroy what Darnell had built? That was my job!!!
"Alright, let's negotiate. What is the removal of this army worth to you?"
The archmage's reply was moronic: "So you can do it? I should warn you several mages and several of the wise are among their number. None as powerful as myself, but numerous."
Yeah, it wouldn't matter, if I could jump start my recovery; just being in a body and breathing air was doing wonders, but more was needed. But there were ways to do that.
"If you agree to my terms, I can have them dispersed by tomorrow."
Ah, again the move from silly to wary; this one was no fool. "And what are those terms, pray tell?"
Odd that he should use that turn of phrase; one I hadn't heard since my own childhood. Odd that something like that, out of all things, should survive.
"A body of course, for one. A body better than this one."
The old man shook his head immediately. "That will not be possible, for all that I wish to provide."
That was disappointing. No body, no miracle save. "And why not?"
"The ancient records are clear on one point, I'm afraid; only the noble blood is capable of communing with the demon. Even should commune mean... something else, the records are clear. Should you attempt this with another, you would fail."
Bull. "You don't know that for sure. Your records are wrong on more than one point; I proved that just minutes ago."
He bowed, ceding the point. "And yet, the body you inhabit was not the first you attempted to inhabit, is that not correct?"
Okay, so maybe he had noticed.
"I thought as much," he told me, as if my own expression had given the game away. Maybe it had, faces were not as easy as they used to be. "We can try things your way of course, with a willing volunteer, but I would not wish you to accuse us of playing false should it fail."
It made sense if true. It was almost a good way to handle the problem. If Darg's descendants were my only shot at life and freedom (assuming my own body was long since dust) then I'd be marginally less likely to kill them. Well, physically anyway.
"If we try it, and you don't play me false, that will do for step one. If it doesn't work, we will have to cross that bridge when we get to it."
I wasn't all that thrilled with this weak, soft body, for all that it was a body. I doubted anyone even took it seriously, really.
"For now, this body will do. My second demand is freedom."
"Out of the question," he replied immediately. "Your complete freedom would mean the death of us all."
"Well, not all of you. Some of you are beginning to grow on me." Just the royal family, the dunce, and all the random plebeians; I'd let the archmage live with it after all. Maybe he would even swear revenge, and become a rival; that would be more than a little cool.
"A day's freedom," the old guy countered while the Dunce sputtered.
"A week." I could learn much in a week, and gain more.
"Done." He held out his hand palm up, runes dancing in the air before it; a geas. One that would bind both parties. I pressed my palm to his as he respoke the terms, sealing the deal.
"I can't believe you would bargain with that... thing. No good can come from this!" The Dunce hollered.
"You're just mad I didn't look to you first," I told him, lunging back and wrapping my borrowed body all over him. "But you're too wimpy and weak to take charge."
This close, I could smell the sin on the man, just the faintest hint of it, like old moldy berries left to sweeten in the sun. He shrugged me off, but didn't deny the accusation; interesting. Even better, it looked like the archmage was paying attention too.
I turned to the army camped outside the city again, and sharpened my senses. "Quick then, to the walls. The natives look to be getting restless."
"Nevermind." Philistines. Not knowing the good jokes when they heard them. Come to think of it, they probably didn't know what a Philistine is.
The nearest outer wall was a fair hike; a bit over a full mile. However walking along the raised bridges and walls in the town proper it was a matter of minutes; much faster than if we had descended to street level and used those streets. The city was bustling - mostly in the 'Ah, we're all going to die!' way.
I could feel the fear, and smell it. I could almost walk on it alone, it was so thick.
This close, with the senses of this form fully enhanced and awakened (a trivial matter for one such as myself) I could make out every pore on the skins of the mutants before me. Well, the ones with skin at least. A few arrows flew my way and fell short.
Was I raising a skeptical eyebrow? I thought I was raising a skeptical eyebrow. I put a little power in my voice, the better to annoy you with my dear, and let them have it.
The response was immediate, and more annoying than my soft voice; I was right to put power into the stupid thing. Maybe I'd make the Empress here grow an Adam's apple for kicks. I watched a few more arrows sail my way; none were even close. Then came the lightning bolt and fireball, both blocked by the quick action of my new buddy.
"Have a care demon, that is our empress you risk."
I rolled my stolen eyes at him. "You asked me to handle it, I'm handling it." What kind of idiot did he take me for? The horrible crippling was set for later, when I wouldn't have to endure the pain.
I turned back to my now captive audience, and let my own power flow. It was still weakened greatly, but even an hour chained to a form in my home dimension had done wonders.
"Go. Home. I won't ask nicely again."
From the midst of the army one stepped up, clad in leather and steel. She wore her black hair short and bore two scars, one on her forehead and one on her cheek, both standing out proudly from dusky skin. She looked fit enough and strong enough to break the Dunce in half, and wore a sword that was more than half cleaver.
Her first mistake was all the steel, and no helmet. The second was a lack of non-conductive padding. Her third was being tall enough to stand out among those around her. I decided not to capitalize, yet.
"Who asks thus?" Her voice boomed, aided with power like mine. "You bear the face of the Empress of Hammers, yet you do not move as she does. You have power, but different than hers. Who are you?"
"I am Samael."
There was silence for a moment - and then the woman, as well as the army, erupted. Into laughter.
At ME?!? THEY DARE?!?
it as always been surprisingly easy to form a meteor in the upper atmosphere of our planet, just past the burny parts of the ozone layer, let it coalesce, and then fall upon the unwary, ruining their entire day with a terminal velocity surprise. It was so fun I kept doing it at one point, well past the point when people had developed counters for it.
So when I materialized the mountain over their heads, low and slow (so to speak) I honestly expected that my rage had led me to blow my one chance. Expending nearly all of my power on one trick that was easily countered by just about anyone.
They didn't counter it; instead they gaped as it started falling.
I might have overdone it; a rock that size was going to make a pretty good crater; some kilotons of force might be involved. Luckily I could hold it - for a time.
I made sure none of this was on my new face and my voice, annoying as it was, was rock steady. "Go home."
The woman scoffed. "A petty illusion, no more."
Yeah, right. I sent the stone down.
My new friend screamed "Are you insane?!?" and I felt him focus his own power in front of us. The Dunce was right behind him, to his credit.
Probably the only reason why the stone chips and dust washed over us and little else, though everyone else was knocked over by the impact. I rode it out, not being weak. The wall might be listing a little.
I made a pretty nice rock garden when I tried; the red among the shattered stone was beautiful. I wish I had a camera. Or that camera's still existed.
Wonder of wonders, the woman had survived somehow. She must have very good reflexes. She glared at me past her injuries.
"You disappoint me. Leave. Go home."
Another teleported into range. He was clearly a mutant, but a lesser example of the breed. The same dusky skin with white hair, the same armor scheme. He had a bow that looked like it might reach us, but it remained slung firmly on his back. One hand went under the woman's arm, propping her up, and the other went around her mouth, shutting her up. Guy knew how to do it.
"We will leave." His voice was just unfair. I almost killed him for it, but something about his appearance distracted me long enough for him to teleport them both out of sight. Something in the back of my mind...
He had been stronger. Not stronger than I was, or even my archmage friend who was even now glaring at me, but strong.
"I'm done with my end. Where's the beer?"
That was a nice shade of red on a face. "Are you insane?!?" he asked me again.
Maybe I broke him. "Yes? And? I held up my end of our bargain. Are you going to uphold your end or not?"
Watching the geas twist and kill him might be fun.
He stopped and took a deep breath. "If I had been unable to shield us from the effects of the skystone you conjured, if the Archbishop had not assisted me with his holy power, we would be dead. And not only would we be dead, but the walls would have fallen, and the demon army would have killed all in the city."
I shrugged. "They made me angry."
The Archmage sighed. "You expected them to simply leave because you asked?"
"In a word, yes," we demons knew each other after all. "Power talks. Even if they did not believe me, they should have known I was too much for them."
"About that... I thought you said you were weak, compared to your youth." Dunce half asked.
I showed the man teeth. "I am.I used something just about any of us would have been able to dispel with a simple thought. It seems the various races have lost much in the time I've been imprisoned."
The two shared a look. The swordsmen shared looks as well.
I couldn't resist. I batted my eyes at them all. "What, you can't all pull sky stones from your nethers?"
"And could you do it again, if you have to?"
The good Archmage was perceptive. "Yes."
Of course, doing that would kill my host as I used her life energy to power it, but omelette and eggs.
"Now, we're wasting my week. You, nearest beer?"
The swordsman I pointed to reeled as if I'd shot him and backed away, shaking his head rapidly enough to dislodge his helm.
"First we make sure the army leaves and that this is not a trick." The Archmage told me.
I could already see the outer elements of the army moving off. "Fine. Just bring the beer here then." I singled out the same guy, mainly because it was funny.
"Go get me some beer."
He backed up two steps and took off running.
He ran so hard the wall listed again. "Hmm, maybe we should set up camp elsewhere."
The Archmage glared.
"What? Build a proper wall and it won't fall over when someone chucks a rock at it."
He mouthed 'chuck a rock' before giving me a scathing impression. The dunce just looked lost; I guess that one didn't translate well.
"No, we stay right here. If the wall collapses we will be needed to seal the breach."
I could point out that my meteor was a rather amazing natural hazard to invasion at the moment, but I didn't bother. After all, it wasn't my neck on the line.
"Fine, but I need a lawn chair."
And of course I got stares. Philistines.
The dunce actually asked, surprisingly. "What exactly is a lawn chair?"
"A cheap lightweight chair made of fabric and wood or aluminum that folds up. It's useful for sitting at the beach while you drink beer."
"So... a camp chair?" One of the swordsmen asked.
"Sure, that'll work."
"Right, I know where to find some. I'll bring them."
I gave my new best friend as sunny a smile as I could manage. "Excellent."
It wouldn't do for their empress to sit on the wall itself after all. I settled for one of those crenel-things, waving my legs over the edge and trying to get an idea of when this pile of stones would give up the ghost.
"Would you move away from there?" The dunce asked, more than a little irritated judging from his voice.
"Just inspecting the damage, doing my civic duty, you know? Why, you nervous?"
"Yes, you should not be risking the body of our empress, or undressing her."
Well the dress had hiked up a bit. I hiked it up a bit more, and watched him go full tomato.
"You... insufferable...!" Hm, did he have a crush on the royal bod? Bad sin for a church man.
Well depending on the church; I mean he didn't look to go full Bacchus, but who could say? You couldn't judge a book by it's cover.
The sun felt nice; I leaned back on the stone, soaking it in. I was honestly a bit surprised it was still up there; thousands of years. You would think that someone would have destroyed the world by now.
My beer gopher returned, and he returned with one of those small kegs... a pony keg? It wasn't a six pack, but I guess it would do. He carefully filled a mug and held it out. And seemed surprised when he kept his hand.
The beer was maybe a six. Maybe a seven. I'd need to introduce these people to microbrews, judging from this they needed the advice badly.
What the hell was this, a wake? I was generous, especially if the beer was stolen.
"None of the rest of you are drinking."
"We are on duty, Demon."
I saluted the metal man who spoke. "Please, call me Samael or Sam. And this is a celebration; I just saved your city, the least you could do is actually celebrate."
"I'll celebrate when the enemy is vanquished and you are back in your prison, demon."
Oh ho, how bold. That was fine, I liked bold. I took another swig. "Well, I can see the army's backs from here."
He nodded. behind him one of the other soldiers was drawing closer to the keg, a mug in his hand. Had he had that mug on him? If so, my kind of guy.
"The job is not complete. They need to be scoured from our lands and the three kingdoms of man retaken." The man turned and glared at his buddy, who instantly stopped trying to get a drink and flowed into ramrod straight attention.
"Not my problem, really. And since you want to imprison me again, I doubt it will ever be."
Still, this kingdom or empire or whatever it was, it was mine to destroy.
"You have a point, demon."
"Please, Samael or Sam, keep calling me demon and you'll make me blush. Not to mention force your empress to look for a replacement. If you don't want to drink, you don't have to drink. But you WILL let others who want to drink do so."
He glared at me for a bit, I gazed mildly back, prepping the killing trick visibly. He cut a glance at the archmage, and I saw the old guy shake his head ever so slightly.
Then he stood aside with a growl. I let the trick drop. I really did feel fantastic right now.
It still took my new drinking buddies some time to gather their nerve and descend on the keg. More decided to go the dry route than I expected, but it didn't matter.
The guy getting the chair came huffing up; I suppose running in plate will do that to you. He had four chairs as it turned out, and I got the largest.
Good thing too, it looked to have the only one with a backrest that would actually work. He set it up in a hurry as I twirled off the crenel-thing and to him. I threw myself in it and leaned back to test it.
"Good chair. Get yourself a beer if you want, we're celebrating."
I turned to the Archmage. "Now. Get me some books. Preferably these histories you mentioned."
He lifted an eyebrow, but otherwise made no move.
"Surely you don't expect me to save your puny empire without knowing anything of it? Do I have to leave and find them on my own? I've fulfilled my end of the bargain you know, there's nothing keeping me here."
"You have not fulfilled it as of yet. The terms of the geas are explicit; the army must abandon their siege utterly."
"True, it hasn't gone off yet, but it will and you know as well as I our bargaining isn't done. You'll want my help for the rest."
There was no way the two geezers here could manage to clear the army or retake 'the kingdoms of man' on their own, even with an even twenty more of themselves that they clearly didn't have. Even if I'd just flattened a significant portion of the enemy army, there had been more than enough chumps dressed in bathrobes like theirs to give them a run for their money.
"You understand the situation correctly. However, your behavior will determine the outcome of any future deals between us."
I was perfectly fine bargaining a week per appearance; the army would be back soon enough I was sure. My own bargaining position was at least as strong as his.
"You want me to be effective, I need to know more; be thankful I'm asking for history and not your books of magic."
Not that I thought his magic or the laws behind it were worthy of study; he had been surprised by my meteor too. Reading whatever dusty yellowed tomes he no doubt had would probably make me weaker.
"I can still leave and simply ask around. I'm sure the good people of this fine city will be only too happy to give me whatever I ask for."
The old man gave in. "Fine. Roderick, go find Maf and have him fetch the abridged histories of the empire."
Gloomy sober guy, now known as Roderick, saluted and strode off. "Who is Maf?"
"My apprentice. The abridged histories should do for now. I have books which clarify certain eras should you wish, but the history of the Empire is a long one. Far too broad a subject to be covered in an afternoon."
I nodded and refilled my mug. "That's fine. I doubt I'll get through it in a week, but knowing how you got an army camped on your doorstep might help me beat it. Well, beat it in ways that don't involve mass burials. I really don't envy the detail you get down there to clean that mess up."
A few of the men drinking with me flinched.
It started to become obvious to even the least observant that the army beyond the walls was moving with haste. I started to hear some cheers mixed into the assorted sounds of terror below.
A thought occurred. "Got a question. How big an army do you guys have? The one out there seems fairly large, but this is a big empire with many people in it, right?"
The faces around me turned grim, and my drinking buddy responded. "Our army once stood hundreds of thousands strong. While no match for the demons in numbers, we boasted the best, most advanced army of the world. However the last Emperor, may he rest in peace, led several forays to help the other kingdoms once the demons invaded. Even with the extra men and best equipment, one by one the kingdoms fell; and we were alone and our army was a ghost of itself."
I saluted him with the beer. "Sucks to be you then. Glad to know I was the last resort."
I mean if they had come to me sooner... nah. I'm not kidding anyone, least of all myself. The only reason this city still stood was I wanted the honor of killing it myself and the 'demons' had pissed me off. I still had just under week to relax, chill a bit, and turn this place into a crater, piss on Darnell's grave, and call it a day.
I settled back in and watched an army rout itself. Maybe there would be good stuff down there, in all the crap they were leaving behind in their haste. I couldn't hurt anything to check. Heck, I'd probably be forced to.
I hadn't moved, and the men around me were just beginning to relax (which was the perfect time to strike if I wanted) when the amazing Maf arrived.
Amazing, because I didn't think geeks could exist in a time of swords and sorcery.
Maf didn't look a day over twelve even though he was big enough to be an adult, wore a dingy brown bathrobe that was a shade lighter than his roughly cut muddy brown hair, and had a gold symbol on a chain that an old rapper would envy. He wasn't wearing shoes, which seemed like a poor life choice, but who was I to judge?
He was also pulling a hand cart with squeaky wheels packed four feet high with books. Roderick was bringing up the rear, his hands empty.
"Here are the books you requested, master."
Then he caught sight of me, choked, and dove to his knees so fast he must have bruised them. "Empress, my apologies! I did not see you there!"
Now, I could read fast, but the sheer amount here, in dry history form? It would probably take me a year. "I thought you said only the abridged books."
The old Archmage picked the first book off the stack and tossed it to me. "I did, and these are the abridged edition. The History of the Hammer Empire."
Maf looked up, between his master and myself, then took in the rest of the atmosphere. "Why...? What...?"
I took pity on the poor idiot. "I'm not your Empress, kid. I'm a demon taking her body for a test drive. Grab a beer and enjoy the show."
The book was even worse than I thought; the only thing worse than dry was flowery, and even the foreword alone was chock full of it.
The kid stood up in a daze, and his eyes followed my pointing finger beyond the wall. He spotted the carnage first; his eyes rolled up in his head and he hit the stone walk nose first.
"I do not hold much hope for the lad," the Archmage admitted. "but his power is undeniable."
Yeah, this close, I could feel it. I guess in world where the Archmage and the Dunce were the heavies, the kid would grow to be something... if he grew up at all. Clearly not as strong as his mentor, but still someone who could get things done.
The book tossed my way was the last one in the series, penned by one Xerk, the chief historian of the Hammer Empire. I knew that because the Archmage was mentioned in the forward as a 'good friend'.
The first page chronicled the retreat of the grand Hammer army, following it's handy defeat at a Chaktimer pass. 'And the demons chased the remnants of the grand army, treading upon the corpses of the fallen as a carpet'. Ouch. Hmm, the introduction of a hero, the mighty warrior Cletus, who stood with ten thousand hand picked warriors, the cream of the army, and halted the demons for four days, dying to a man. Cletus, of all names. It hardly rings through the ages as a name of power - but I guess after this book it might.
According to the date, that was nearly forty years ago, and the Archmage's own mentor died there; interesting. Why did the demons wait so long? They abandoned their pursuit and headed back after killing Cletus. Xerk had an answer; they were 'consolidating their darkness, tearing apart the kingdom of Fulsamy with their grasping claws' and installing a puppet government beholden to 'Belal, the King of Darkness'.
Huh. No joke, capitals in and everything. It was kind of insulting really; no one remembered me, but this hack got a mention? There wasn't anyone I knew that would have taken that name, but the tone of this led me to believe that he was old. Scouring the older histories for his name would be something to do, if I cared.
Let's see, intrigue, assassination attempts, the Hammer Empire had much to answer for, justifications notwithstanding. For the good of humanity, huh? How had this Xerk even been allowed to write this? It was hardly flattering, and most emperors in history would put someone writing such a history to death.
Ah, the very next page. An attempt on the Emperor's life, half successful, left him crippled, so he had more important concerns' probably eating from a straw and trying not to shit himself.
The book slid from my hand. I blinked as the old man caught it. Why that...!
"You swore! I have a week!"
"And you shall have that week," He responded smoothly. "But when the Empress wills it, not simply as you please. Do you think me a fool?"
"I do now," I snarled back. "if you think to cheat me, I will end you!"
Despite my words I could not keep my hold; whatever he had done was effective. Every attempt to strengthen my hold weakened it, and soon I felt myself rushing back to my prison.
"I am sorry."
I turned. I hadn't sensed the new presence in my prison, and I wasn't sure why. It didn't matter, I wasn't under attack, but it was annoying.
Before me, a wispy and floaty immaterial thing, was the new Empress. I could feel both her power and presence, invigorating my own. I wasn't as bad off as I had been, but this near, I could sense the world beyond through our newly forged link. She was close, perhaps even wearing my prison on her person as a bauble, and I was once again gaining strength.
"You'll have to specify. What exactly are you sorry for?"
The so-called Empress fidgeted. It might even have been cute, were I not past such things.
"I am sorry for the actions of my subjects, and the Archmage. Demon or no, you should not have been treated so meanly after your actions."
Well on that we agreed. "Has he started dying yet?"
The Empress to be fidgeted a bit more before answering. "No, and until such time as he is incapable of living up to your bargain, he will not. I have warned him that such time is more near than he'd like, but that is not the matter which brought me here today."
Alright, since she wanted me to, I'd pretend not to know for her. Why not? "And what matter brought you here today?"
She seemed less at ease, if anything. She was actually wringing her hands! Even the spawn of Darnell should be made of sterner stuff than this; it was almost embarrassing.
"As you may know, the Hammer empire is still besieged and without support. The demon hordes have left the city for now, but they will not leave it forever, and the people without the city yet suffer a demonic yoke. I would like to negotiate for your help."
Time to crush her. "I couldn't possibly, since the only pact I've yet agreed upon hasn't been kept. Your own can hardly expect to give my word when they have such hard time keeping it themselves."
She stilled, and looked me in the 'eye': "I know, but we - I - cannot possibly accept the deal you've made as bargained before. There must be some laws regarding what you can do with my body before I shall allow you to use it. That is what we are here to discuss."
Interesting. "Even if your Archmage dies as a result?"
"Even so," she agreed without a single quaver.
"Alright then, what's your offer?" I could always say no and laugh as their world burned. I had a connection to the dear little girl here, and if I focused on strengthening it, I could perhaps look on through her eyes to watch the fireworks.
"That you have an escort while in my body, and you not attempt to leave them. That you not attempt to kill that escort, for any reason. That you listen to the escort's advice when it is offered, and lastly... thatyounothavecarnalrelationsinmybody."
I couldn't help the smirk. "What was that last condition? A little louder, please."
She didn't quite glare at me, but she looked like she was trying.; even in spirit, her cheeks pinked. "That you not have carnal relations in my body. I am the heir to the Hammer Empire, and any heirs of my own must be considered carefully."
I couldn't help myself. "Funny, I would have expected with all the danger besetting your lands, more little brats would be preferable."
"They must have the right blood. The Archmage believes that without these laws, he may find me at the docks in a week, the company of rough men. If he finds me at all."
Well at least she wasn't shy any more. "You know, it never really occurred to me."
It had of course, but no one needed to know that. It was more important that I seem the lesser of many evils, after all. Besides, I would have to experience all that first hand in order to see such a silly vengeance through, and having flabby illiterate drunkards grope me just did not appeal, no matter what meat-suit I wore. I was strictly a male demon, of course, but who could say what the future held?
"I could see agreeing to all those requests - if, of course, you're willing to agree to a few of mine. I am also delighted you feel that way. I cannot promise to agree beforehand of course, but I am at least as willing to listen as you."
"My freedom, first and foremost. If I defeat your enemies, I have nothing less than my own freedom from this prison, on your honor. Second, that I have the freedom to act in the mean time; I can hardly solve anything for you if I am locked up in your capital - I must be free to move, and defeat your enemies on the field of battle. And that if I must listen to your advisors, then they must listen to me; I know better than they how to act with my own power, after all."
The line was in the water, and the bobber was dipping.
"I see no problem with those terms, but I must confer with my advisors."
"Of course, tell the Archmage I said hi."
She got a puzzled look for a moment, before her forehead smoothed. "I shall."
Then she vanished. Nothing else to do but wait, now. I was tired of waiting.
Luckily I did not have to wait long.
Another timeless moment which could have been a mere second, or an eternity, and I was looking into her ghostly eyes again, watching as they became more firm.
"My advisors agree to those terms. They have set up a binding geas, and in mere moments the magic that binds you here will begin it's work."
She was so trusting. "Thank you, Empress, but know that my deal was with you, and you alone. A second geas governed by someone else will not be necessary. Our bargain will be sealed quite nicely with a handshake."
She pinked up nicely while I wondered what I was doing. Giving the blood of Darnell room to betray, even if she looked as if she would not dare, was just asking for it.
Still, she hesitated.
"Have no fear," I told here. "Anything we do will be just as binding. After all, unlike some, I keep my word once given."
I held my hand out. She took it, the naive thing. I was always going to keep my word, of course, but the contact, any contact between us, was soul to soul and strengthened our connection. Any connection to her, strengthened my connection to her body; enough agreements like this, and soon even the magics crudely forced on my prison wouldn't be able to keep me out.
Soon, even with the best help of her age, she wouldn't be able to keep me out. The only question was, did the best help of an earlier age leave her a nice, nasty surprise for me, just in case?
I was inclined to think no, since Darnell was stupid. Stupid and lazy, and entirely too willing to believe in his own skills. I'd have to look up how he met his end once I got out of here; it would no doubt make for interesting reading.
I'd have to look for the unofficial version, of course.
I wonder what the other kingdoms and empires of the world's libraries were like. From what I'd seen the Hammer empire was the largest and strongest at one point, but I'd be a fool to trust only one source for that, even in something as trivial; Rome had always considered itself the undisputed master of the world, after all.
And then I was out, blinking rapidly as my borrowed eyes adjusted to the dim light. Candles and torches, again, a ritual circle, a few other odds and ends - and my new old friends from last time, looking none the older or wiser. I think I even recognized a few of the soldiers ringing us, but with red shirts it was hard to tell.
"Oh hey, it's frumpy and pedo. How you both doing?"
"You are no doubt aware that your references and insults are long dead, yes?"
Oh, frumpy was spicy today. "That's perfectly alright, since I understand them. I'll even take the time to explain, if we have it. The army been back?"
The Archmage grimaced. "Not as such, but they ravage the countryside unopposed. It is hoped that you will assist us with such a small matter."
I held up a finger. "Sounds like a plan, I'd be only too happy to help... after I get my promised week, and we renegotiate our deal to include such."
A faint hint of outrage and resignation from within bauble around my borrowed neck.
"But the empress...!"
"Relax old man, you'll live longer. The Empress and I have come to a binding agreement, almost a bargain if you will," I loved the way pedo's face purpled at that word - "But some details still need to be thrashed out. Like, after I've helped you, and regained my freedom, whose body do I make off with? You certainly don't want me taking this one, do you?"
And now the so-called Archmage was choking, oh this was perfect.
"If it proves necessary, then a body can be created rather than sacrificed for your use," the Archmage told me. I wouldn't have thought he had it in him, honestly. "The Empress really offered you your freedom?"
"In return for taking care of a demon army, yes. You can ask her yourself, in a week. But I'm very hurt by your lack of trust."
The pedo started frothing at the mouth; evidently the pose and tears were a bit much for him. Good times.
He started trying to pull something out, fumbling in his robes, before two guards I would swear I knew stepped forward and grabbed his arms.
He actually thought he could do something to me; how utterly adorable.
"I am much stronger than a mere few days ago. You're free to try if you like, but if you get in the way of my bargain, I will end you. Just so you know."
He calmed himself with effort, and the Archmage stepped in to attempt to take my ire.
"There is no need for such threats or actions - at least not at this time. Demon, you admit your word binds you?"
"My word to the Empress binds me, yes." There was no need to admit it was binding only because I decided it so, mental handshake and all.
The runes around us flared to life and sizzled out just as fast. "You are telling the truth. For as long as the demons threaten us, you are our ally."
That was a more liberal interpretation than I would have given my words, but I could run with it. The runes flared again, in the same fashion. I closed and poked one before it vanished; hm, it was actually solid for a bit there.
"I did say that. Treat me right and I'll even give you some breathing room before I murder you all."
The runes flared again, and the Archmage seemed torn between wonder and cynical bemusement.
The pedo had to be restrained again. I wonder if I could make him have a heart attack or a stroke, just from words alone? It could be a good side project for me.
"If you truly mean us no harm, then the circle will not stop you," The Archmage told me.
Truly, he was almost a worthy adversary. It was a shame he was so... limited.
I stepped out of the circle at once. "I wouldn't say I meant no harm, after all, what's a mere soldier or subject or two?" Or maybe even three? I had to work off all this anger somewhere. "But I am your ally at the moment."
"We need all our soldiers and citizens to help repel hordes in our kingdom." The Archmage countered with more dry than a desert.
"Perhaps, but our bargain doesn't cover everything, and you know that most of all." There was no way he left all those loopholes unless it was a lure, or a sop to my ego, or both. A little misdirection of my own was called for; as long as he missed the most important one, I'd let him think what he liked.
"We might be willing to offer up sacrifices of our choosing, should it be required."
"...Feralln! WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!?" Dunce roared, almost breaking free of his handlers.
Interesting, I wouldn't have expected he had it in him. Nor would I have expected the swell in faintly unpleasant power that rose with his voice. He was putting out an almost serious amount of power. There was no way his end of this was scripted, but his part may have been, if the Archmage was the puppetmaster I gave him credit for being.
"What I must, old friend, what I must. The Empire has done as much before, and not just in past long gone." The Archmage replied, his tone full of grief and eyes downcast.
Well, that was enough of that. "Gentlemen! Why the somber tone? Today is a day of celebration! Or it will be, once we leave this dreary tower."
I recognized this tower, and the fact that my captors were still keeping me here, in what amounted to a heavily warded cell. Perhaps I should blow it up, just before the deadline for my switch, for the laughs.
The gem currently housing the Empress's soul was around my neck, after all. It would be safer there than anywhere else. even if this body died suddenly, I would be able to defend it.
The gem heated, warmth soaking into my newfound skin. How very peculiar.
Perhaps the Empress was able to communicate with me after all; something added by her, or just something of her?
The Dunce snarled. "I find little to celebrate here, demon."
I strolled up to him. "How about the fact that you aren't dead and your church scattered to the uncaring winds, these days past? The fact that there is a capital at all, and people left in it? I was rudely interrupted from my celebration, after all, so instead of having it in the heat of the moment, while dancing on the corpses of our fallen foe, I must instead make do."
I turned back to the Archmage. "I do so hope you managed the clean up without me; that many dead tend to stink, and if not properly treated they tend to rise at night, and then you've got hungry ghosts and vengeful dead, and..."
"We managed," The Archmage stated firmly, interrupting me. "A mass pyre, burial of what remained, with rites spoken and holy water applied to the earth afflicted."
Sounded like a rush job. I sniffed at him, as loudly as I was able. "I could have done better, you know."
"Of that I've no doubt." The Archmage admitted, falling into step with me as I led the way to the door.
I singled out one of the guards at the door. "You. Beer. Now, before I eat your soul."
He gulped and fled. They just didn't make minions like they used to.
The other one opened the already wide open door for me, and I thanked him.
"I wish I could state that I was surprised by your actions," The Archmage ground out with a dry tone. "But naught you do surprises me any more."
"Your words sound like a challenge, good sir, and I shall take them as such."
The Archmage took it in stride, literally, and I pretended not to hear the muttered curse, even if it was music to my ears.
Out on the familiar wall, the sun beat down, a disgustingly bright physical presence. It took my eyes a moment to adjust, and once they did I noticed a few new features.
For one, there were twice the number of guards occupying an already small space; all grim faced men which put our own escort of boys still smelling of milk and piss to shame. (Well, maybe it was just piss. And when I figured out which one wet himself, I would take steps - wonderful, bloody steps.)
The second new feature was what the guards were gathered around in a shield wall packed so tight I could not pass, with spears crossed. Some of the spears from those in back were not-quite pointed my way.
And there, almost completely hidden in the mass of steel, leather, and wood... was a little girl.
The little girl was dressed in purple, and had a purple cloak trimmed with silver sized perfectly for her very small frame. Her long black hair was braided and tied off with silver ribbon, and I'd have put her age at no better than twelve. She was very small, and so cute I felt a stab of physical pain. She also bore an expression of set steel and looked to be trying to bore holes into me with her eyes alone.
Oh, and of course, she had power. Wild, growing power. In years to come she would be a force to be reckoned with - if I let her live.
"And who is this little vision of... well, something. Loveliness, I suppose?"
"You are it. The demon." she replied, ignoring my question.
I parted the metal and leaned down beside her; her own troops, hard or not, were just as reluctant to use their weapons against me as my own honor guard.
"I am, in fact, the demon. And who might you be, little one? Small, fragile thing."
I sniffed her to help sell the illusion. Hm, some kind of flower or spice there, and she clearly bathed. The gem warmed against my skin once again. I wondered if it glowed when I did that; it seemed like it should.
Maybe a little nibble wouldn't hurt?
"I am Yerma, second in line to Hammer throne and acting Empress while you persist in my sister's body." She declared, and actually tried to push me away.
I let her, more out of amusement than anything else. She at least, had the guts to lay hands on me when none else here would. It was probably due to the delusion of the young, but I could work with that.
I stood back up. "Well, pleased to meet you, Empress. What brings you to this wind swept and soon to be demolished tower?"
She looked confused a moment, before forging boldly ahead. "I came to meet the demon assisting us in our current crisis, as well as to check the health of my sister's body."
The Archmage's reaction was less fun. "No randomly destroying the environs."
That was just unfair, and because I had a bridge to sell, I had to obey. There was no reason not to make it fun, however. "Not destroying, redecorating! There are easily hundreds of other things that can be constructed here that are much better than a drafty old prison, and girls love that sort of thing! Why, the little Empress here agrees with me, don't you?"
The girl looked from me, hands clasped and eyes appropriately dewey, to the Archmage who might have been carved from disapproving stone - and she chose the Archmage, the little traitor.
"I prefer the tower stand."
Well, time for the next step. "Fine then, boring people." I pointed back toward my guide. "You. Take me to beer, now."
He hadn't forgotten my earlier threat. "R-right. This way please, Demon."
"My name is Samael, and you may call me by it. What a polite meatbag you are."
The tiny morsel stamped her foot. "You'll have no beer, by order of the crown!"
The fool in front of me actually stopped.
That just would not do. "Silly little morsel, this deal has already been struck. Would you deny me my due, and breach our agreed upon pact? The consequences for your empire would be dire."
She chewed on my declaration and her bottom lip for a moment. "I can not, the consequences would indeed be dire. You may continue - however, you are not free to simply use my sister's body as you please! I shall accompany you with my men, and together we shall prevent any terrible excess."
Oh, dear sweet child, thank you for handing yourself over to me. I answered quickly, before the Archmage could weigh in.
"Then let us be about it, dear child! I will not be so crass as to withhold my wisdom and wit, and the more drinking partners, the merrier!"
Her eyes lit up to possibilities she had not considered; after all, she could just blame me. All according to plan.
Again, before the Archmage could fit a word in, She responded with an imperious nod; she was trying so hard.
"Indeed, let us meet over wine and discuss matters of import."
We both looked to our guide, who cringed, looking behind us, before starting off once more. "This way, Empress, Samael."
The little Empress was a major party pooper.
Only a single glass of wine, and no more. Only a single sweet cake, and no more. That was the extent of her partying. It's like someone had sucked all enjoyment from her at birth, leaving only a husk behind.
Her guards were even worse, just stone faced statues lining the walls. Even my own escorts got into the spirit after the first hour or two.
It was overall a distinctly unenjoyable party. It made me want to destroy something.
At least the books were good for a laugh. The history of the empire continued to get it wrong on all fronts, and I could tell they were revising even after I was sealed. The demons just springing to life? The founding of the kingdom of darkness a mere five years after? Even I knew it took decades to found a kingdom.
Not that I'd really had the chance, but that was part of the experience I could bring to bear. After all, if you tried to found a kingdom, just a little place of your own, there were always assholes just climbing out of the woodwork to piss you off and ruin everything.
But somehow, this Demon King Roberto managed to handle all that in five years, and solidify his borders in such a way that no one could contest them? I didn't believe it.
Hm, Roberto... didn't I know a Roberto, way back when...? Nah, couldn't be; that guy was a real tool. I doubted he could walk and chew gum at the same time, let alone lead a nation.
The early history of the Hammer empire read like a who's who of people who managed to escape my wrath. At least, if they were the same people who managed to flee screaming from me. The names were the same or close, at the very least.
Some of the other kingdoms and empires that cropped up like weeds in the same time had some familiar names attached as well. A shame about most of those not surviving; I'd have loved to take them apart myself. Maybe I could kill whoever was left and salt the earth. After all, weren't genetic tribes or whatever they were called a thing? Most people tended not to move unless forced, so a certain region should have a certain people in it. Something to deal with later; I was beginning to wonder if my to do list would ever shrink.
"What are you plotting?" The Archmage said, sitting down beside me and directing his stern gaze my way, as if to intimidate me.
"Just planning my week. It is best to know how the world has changed. What I don't know can bite your Empress on her pretty ass, after all."
The amulet heated quickly; it beat even the Archmage's scowl.
"Do tell. What information could you possibly need? You've already disposed of one army without hindrance."
"Well, who is still active, for one. For example, the demon king Roberto. Is he still alive? Who else is still alive? If Roberto is still around, then I might know what to expect. If he is not, what of his successor? Sure, I can handle trash, but there have to be more than just that out there, or a country would already have united the continent by now.
"The first demon king is not still alive; he was slain in combat after a century, during a war with the holy Kingdom of Hilop. His spawn, however, is. His name is not spoken in the empire, and it is unlikely you will discover it in those histories."
He just left it hanging like that; didn't tell me who it was. Must be a pretty cool name.
"Interesting. Do the other rulers have similar pedigrees?" It wasn't as if the Hammer Empire had much going on; the little girls were strong, but only in relation to the others I've seen. They wouldn't even be third tier back in my day. Heh, I sounded like an old fogey now.
"Some of them," the Archmage admitted. "But many of the oldest families have died out. Some do rise to fill the void, but humanity is currently in dark days."
Humanity was always in dark days, that was nothing new.
"Funny thing about humanity; they tend to survive the worst."
The Archmage looked at me, as if he knew. It was kind of adorable, and made me want to flay him somewhere sensitive. "I've not seen a time as rough as this, in all the histories."
I grinned at him; I wonder if I could make my teeth pointed; would that be against our agreement? Would the little Empress object, and did I care? "That's because your Empire was founded after such a time, and your Emporer was a dick who didn't like history or knowledge. Your great man burned many a book."
"He must have had a reason," the Archmage replied. Stubborn ass. "Emporer Darg would not have taken such a step lightly."
I laughed, as abrasively as I could. "Oh, the jokes you tell! the reason was he didn't want people to know others were smarter than he was, or how to do things for themselves. A stupid people is a controlled people. but you can believe as you like."
"The man is long dead; such ill words help no one."
Wrong again, old man. "They make me feel better - and he's not long dead to me. Maybe I'll raise him from the dead so I can kill him. I am currently unsatisfied."
"You can do such...?!?" The Archmage exclaimed, clearly against his will.
I just grinned and sipped my booze. Of course I could, if I wanted. It would take much out of me currently, but I could bring back whoever I wanted, as long as I had some kind of body part to forge the link with.
I already knew there were bones somewhere, if not in the state grave that was about a mile from here, then hidden away in a vault somewhere. I wonder if I could find some graves from before, and empty those too? It might be nice to talk to some real people, some people who knew what reality and earth actually was.
The Archmage composed himself, but the gleam of greed was clear in his eye. Of course, everyone had someone they wanted back, for one reason or another; I could guess who his would be. Judging by the warmth of the amulet, the little Empress could too. She might even agree.
Well, tough luck on that. They should have bargained better; if they saw the old Emporer again, it would be just before I turned him into a pile of goo and giblets.
Ah, this was good ale. I wanted rum, but the smaller Empress was adamant. Spiking her wine was a small step, perhaps even a petty one, but I had hope it would lead to great things.
If I could get her to dance on a table while singing as her own subjects looked on, that would be great. Unfortunately, she was proving stubborn; the only thing she was doing was watching the room, and myself in particular. It was kind of insulting, really; I wasn't going anywhere just yet.
"So, you have a map on you?"
The Archmage snapped his fingers, and a man in suit that looked remarkably like a butler approached, a large piece of vellum in his hands. "Now?"
I shrugged at him as disarmingly as I could. "I like to party while I work. Or party while I do anything else, truth told. Where is the army that vexes you so?"
That's right, point it out on the doll, where the demons touched you.
The Archmage didn't even wait for the butler to fully spread the map. His finger stabbed down, pinning the image to the table. "Here, just beyond Chaktimar pass. With smaller armies here, and here, to watch the approaches. From there they can stage raids into the surrounding countryside, killing and pillaging. Our army can no longer muster the strength to push them back."
"Sure it can; after all, you got me. In six days, I'll just walk up there and see for myself what's going on." Really, he had such little faith, even after seeing me in action. unless he was trying to goad me, which was pointless.
After all, I was already going to deal with things.
"The army of darkness will not be vanquished so easily. They have real power among their ranks."
Really? That was what you were going with? How cliche. "If it's power such as yours, I've no need to worry."
Ah, that glare, so wonderful.
"Don't be that way dear Ferahn! The truth should be no burden to the soul, but instead the wings by which we fly!"
"Strength or not, I can best you should I need," the Archmage gritted out past his teeth. "So might others; you take us lightly at your peril."
He was a hundred years too early to do anything alone, at least now. I was regaining my own power rapidly, body or not. But I would allow him to believe he could, if only to see him try later. His loss would be no skin from my nose, after all.
"If the army is filled with powers like yours, I might find it a little difficult to destroy it," I admitted. In much the same way a car might slow for a speed bump. "but I doubt I will encounter such, and therefore, will be so inconvenienced."
The Archmage sighed, and drained his mug almost absently. That was part of the plan, as his own drink was not ale, but something much stronger. Sometimes I was petty, but I want to see this worthy dance on a table while singing at the top of his lungs. If I could get the pedo and the child Empress to either side of him, my night would be set.
Hm, the army was well positioned; even split, if faced with an attack from any side, one of the wings could come to the aid of the other through internal lines within a day's march. Which would be far shorter than any of the wings could hold; if those gradation marks were correct, the there was only one good way to approach either side, and a small army could hold a larger for years if provisioned.
I was tempted to take a more personal look, but I didn't want to tip my hand just yet.
"Is there anything you cannot do, demon?" The Archmage asked.
He actually sounded peevish, which is a word I never thought I'd even think again. That stuff worked fast, note to self; make more.
I decided to answer him seriously. "Not really."
The Archmage grinned as he signaled for another mug of booze. "Then how did you lose?"
Really, old man? Really? Fine.
"I got careless; it happens. Care to try your luck? Maybe I'll underestimate you."
That seemed to sober him up quickly. "No, I would not."
I saluted him with my own drink as the butler refilled his. the movement hid the gesture with my other hand that changed the alcohol in his mug to the good stuff. He didn't notice.
"Any time you're ready, I'll be sure to set you straight. I'll respect you more if you call me out directly of course, but I can understand if you want to try something underhanded."
That got me a stare.
"What? You think perhaps I lie about who and what I am? I've no need to. I've never been the type to lead humanity to ruin; they do that just fine by themselves."
"And what would you do, left to your own devices then?" The archmage asked, eyes narrowed and beady.
I kicked the booze in his mug up another notch. "After I have my revenge on your emperor's line and the empire itself for my long imprisonment? Probably find a nice home somewhere and relax. Drink an ocean of liquor and eat the best foods."
The Archmage stared again, then took a long pull and coughed. He sent a glare the butlers direction, which the butler shrugged off, then he turned back to me.
"You mean that, don't you? You aren't lying."
What did I just say? "Of course I'm not lying."
"It's almost a shame then, that I cannot allow you the revenge you speak of."
I grinned at him. "You can certainly try to stop me. Won't end well for you, but you can try."
"You're enjoying this." He accused.
I shrugged at him. "Demon, remember? I can only be so nice."
He snorted laughter; hm, that stuff hit him quickly. A fact to remember for next time.
The pedo was loudly decrying our 'impurity and corruption'. At this farce of a party, no less. Now I really wanted to destroy something.
"What temple is he chief of? I'm sure he has one around here, doesn't he?"
The Archmage narrowed his eyes again. "He does. The glorious Church of the one true God."
So that jerk-bag was still around, huh? "Had a son, gave him up to absolve sins, yadda yadda yadda?"
"You've heard of him, I see."
Useless. I wonder how the old guy had any power at all, praying to something like that? Self delusion maybe? "We've met, after a fashion."
"You've met..." He clearly thought I meant in person, and just as clearly did not believe that. Good for him.
"Oh, not personally. I just know the diety by his works. That will just make what's about to happen more amusing."
"Why? What's about to happen?" My new friend asked, rightfully wary.
"Why, I'm about to be a little naughty, of course." I stood up; I'd actually have to get busy and work a little, but the payoff should be informative.
I got in front of one of my escorts. "Where is the Church?"
His eyes, the only visible feature past his helmet, shot right and left. I stepped in closer.
"Where is the Church?"
"What are you planning to do?" The Archmage asked.
I could hear the faint sigh of relief from the escort. That wouldn't do at all. "Why, I intend to ask for absolution of course. I have a great many sins after all."
And there was the piss again. Say a line, smile a little, and the soldiers around here all pissed themselves. Was it something in the water? Was I in danger from it?
"Perhaps you should cease striking fear into the hearts of those tasked to protect you," the Archmage admonished, wryly, even as he wrinkled his nose too.
"Why whatever do you mean? I was just asking and answering questions. My man here is going to answer a politely worded question, right? I mean, only a complete jerk would ignore a simple question, right?"
The guard pointed. "Out the door, head to your left, and turn right on Temple street."
I gave him a good pat on his armored cheek. "Thank you."
The Archmage fell into step beside me. "What are you planning?"
Sigh. "I told you. Did you think I lied, or that I ignored your question, right after I said all that to your extra? I meant exactly what I said."
A clatter announced all the extras falling into line, both those tasked to watch me, and those tasked to watch the little Empress. Which meant, she was probably behind me.
That was fine, it increased the likelihood of the pedo tagging along. I didn't bother turning around to look, regardless of what happened I had a mission. Or at the very least, something to do. Left, and the street emptied before me. Shutters and doors both banged shut, and those who weren't fast enough cowered in corners with wide eyes.
Weird, was this normal for these people? What a spineless country, if so. I guess if I had been through all that they had, and was as weak as they were, then I might cower like this when a ruler or third-rate spell thrower walked by.
The amulet around my neck warmed to almost burning, as if to refute my thoughts.
So this wasn't normal then? I thought, making it as loud as I could. It would not surprise me that the Empress could hear my thoughts - or rather I should say, it did not. she had been dropping hints that she could hear me all night, after all.
"What's up with these people?" I asked the Archmage stomping along beside me like a gorilla.
"What is up?" He shot back, his mouth tasting the words as if they were foreign.
Of course they were. "What is wrong with them? What is going on here? Why are they hiding?"
The Archmage looked right at me. "You of course. They know a deal with a demon has been made, and they know the Empress has made it. They know not the particulars, but they fear their earlier salvation will come at a cost which they will have to pay. They fear the Empress will seek victims to appease you."
They had no idea. I had no real use for these people, nor any need for their fear. "Foolish."
"Agreed, but not all the people know such subjects. You are not known by name to many, demon."
That would change. "But I am known by my deeds, am I not?"
"Oh, of that there can be no doubt. Your fight against the first Emporer, and the devastations and cruelties left in your wake, are well known to all peoples, even now."
That was good. Reputations had power, so it was good to know mine was still intact. Rekindling it would take almost no time at all.
A right, and there was temple street, in all its questionable glory. A street lined with actual temples to various gods, some of which I even recognized; hello, Buddha, nice to see you here.
None were so grand as what now lay in easy view. A church, complete with gothic and greco-roman accents and stained glass. Gargoyles squatted over pillars while frescos of people in simple robes did everyday activities beyond them.
All in all, it looked hideous. An affront to the senses in almost every way imaginable, and at best four stories tall, it dominated its surroundings. Not that the scale was a good thing, really. it just meant more building to suck.
There was even a fountain out front in a square, with running water from a roman looking statue, a woman holding a jar of water pouring it out into a pool. A woman who looked very familiar. The entire area had a faint, tongue on battery feel that I recognized.
Really, Darnell? A statue of her of all people, done roman style? She should be rolling in her grave, even now.
Really, these people should thank me; if the people Darnell had pissed off in life ever started roaming as ghosts, this entire city would be razed in a day. I'd do them at least one favor, and not say her name aloud. Drawing her here would do me no favors anyway.
"Well, I know how old that fountain is."
"The entire square was built after the founding of the empire, as with many of the temples. However the stones on all the square have been ensorcelled to resist age and damage. So how do you know?"
"Well, even without using my other senses, my eyes still work. The lady depicted is none other than your first Emporer's first love. A charming woman who was almost a saint - and who could not stand the man who couldn't take no for an answer. It was almost, well no it was, comical. She spurned him so many times I needed a leger to keep track of them all."
My amulet heated, a steady sort of warmth.
"You...! That... the identity of the Lady of the fountain has been debated for centuries. Some felt she did not exist at all, but was merely an ideal. To say such things...!"
Mary, if only you knew. "Why would I lie? And about something this simple, this meaningless, of all things? Your first emporer was hardly a paragon of virtue; you forget, I knew these people. The lady of the fountain, as you call her, would have removed your Emporer's balls with a spoon if she had not died beforehand. She could not stand the man - none of us could."
The Archmage went silent, chewing that over. Which was good because the pedo came in hot, right on cue.
"What do you intend, monster?"
"You're just in time. I feel a great urge to repent my sins and seek absolution. Could you perhaps help that endeavor?"
"The church is closed, monster. Our God would not wish to suffer your foul presence in any case. Begone from this place."
Closed? A church? "Are not the houses of the one true God open to all, at any hour? Has that changed since my imprisonment?"
The good Bishop grinned in unseemly glee. He really was drunk as a lord. "Indeed, many things have changed since you walked the earth, demon. But the doors of the church only swing open for humans, just as only those with souls and grace to save, can be saved."
"Well let's just test that theory, shall we?"
He raced to cut me off. "You shall not..."
"No, you shall not. Let the God you serve decide; trust in him."
I had him and he knew it. Without further ado I moved him aside and strode up the stairs of the eyesore.
There was a decent enough vantage here; the stairs made it possible for everyone in the square to see me, and there were many to behold my glory.
I turned to them; I always sucked at public speaking, but maybe this would go well. "I am Samael."
Good, the spell carried my voice throughout the entire city. "I am called a demon by you humans. I am also the demon which many of you fear - the demon listed in the pages of your earliest histories. I have made a deal with your Empress to save your pitiful lives."
I could hear the murmurs and gasps from here. This was good.
"Your compliance is not necessary, but it appreciated. Any insult to me is an insult to the Empress who cared for you, and any insult to the Empress will be met with both boredom and fire. You as a people will comply with my demands or you will burn."
My amulet heated instantly, and I felt a push. Fortunately it was a push easily resisted. No, not yet; you don't want to break your word, do you Grahf?
The amulet quieted. I guess what I had said could be taken as a threat, but it would merely be a consequence of me taking my ball and going home.
"I come here tonight to see if your God, the God most of you seem to worship, will approve this agreement between your Empress and I. That and to ask him a question, of course. Perhaps I will ask him to forgive my many sins."
I gave one of my best smiles - and the crowd, even my own party, shrank back from me. Only the littlest Empress stood firm, even as I heard her knees knock from here.
I turned back to the doors, and whatever spell (for I had cast none) over them broke. The pedo reacted first, storming the steps as I tried the door.
Huh, it really was locked. A good kick solved that problem, one of the Empress's finely shaped legs flicking out with my strength behind it - or perhaps half my strength. The doors, great iron banded oaken things, splintered inward, the shattered bar clattering loudly inside before crashing into something.
I ignored the poorly formed speech of the pedo and entered. "Yo, God! You in here?"
There was indeed something in here. Something past the feel of age and reverence that all places of hallowed ground seemed to pick up. Something past the history of the place.
A feeling of power itself, but not of provenance. Was it the age and collected belief housed in the structure itself, or was it something more?
It wasn't something I could tap, but it was here. My first steps inside were anti-climactic however. Not even a single iota of smoting. Or was it smiting?
The feeling of power was building - it was an almost ozone tang in the air. Lightning, huh?
"God, you got some answering to do. Why aren't you getting off your ass and saving these people?"
The crowd could still hear me. Many of them had to be wondering the same thing, just as before; they didn't know that God had a history of doing jack-all while civilizations burned.
"You... dare...!" The pedo sputtered, throwing out an accusatory finger.
Oh, the door's bar had impacted one of the ancient pews, splintering it. Whoops. Pews, confessionals, altar, cross with a dead guy on it beyond that, it was a recognizable church. there was no baptismal font, but with the fountain outside there probably didn't need to be. The scale was impressive, if falling a bit short of Notre Dame. I turned back to the Bishop, the lord of this particular castle. It was obvious, his scent was everywhere.
"I dare," I told him calmly. "And if he wants, he can get down off his cloud and do something about it. but he won't, because he's afraid of me."
The ozone smell increased, but no lightning shot my way. On the contrary, the power present got that much closer for me; I could almost reach out and touch it. Most curious, that. I looked to the pedo, who was halfway through his prayer asking God to smite me, and it wasn't going to him either, so where was he getting his?
I waited patiently, and eventually the spell hit. It was lightning, and it tasted more energetic than it was; either way, it fell well short of the power needed to hurt me, even as weak as I was.
"Is that your answer, God?" I asked calmly, still playing to the crowd as the old holy man began to realize just what he'd done.
He had just attacked the body of his Empress, after all, and put our pact in jeopardy. A headsman waited him, if I wanted it.
I didn't of course, but what I did have in mind was even better.
"God, is this your forgiveness of my sins? I've killed countless of your own, is this your answer for me?"
There was no answer, of course.
"Fine then. Here is mine."
A thought and flame rolled, a burst of my will released in an instant; the pews charred without a hint of flame, the altar was a roman candle, the cross shattered, and all the admittedly nice windows blew out. The walls themselves did not escape my wrath, as smoke seemed to form writing and sigils that might have been vaguely blasphemous adhering itself to the stone.
The structure would survive, so that was something, but it would be hard for them to hold services in here for some time.
The pedo was of course untouched. Well, except for that really nasty looking eye tick he seems to have picked up from somewhere. I gave him a pat on the cheek as I walked out, once again unscathed.