Stephan lurched from his bed, the screams still ringing in his ears. “I’m coming Ashona,” he shouted, trying to reassure her as be hurriedly donned his night robes. He stubbed his toe on the door separating their rooms in his eagerness to reach her, as the heavy wood swung inwards. He swore as hobbled to her side. The pain was intense, but he ignored it. Her screams were far more important. It didn’t help that the rooms were in pitch darkness. It was late, probably past midnight and he had been deep asleep when his subconscious picked up the sounds of screaming and even now his brain was partly fog filled from his own dreams. There was an air of unreality about the night. It was as though the world held its breath.
He reached her side. She was still screaming and thrashing in the tangled sheets. There were no coherent words, just the terrified cry of someone in the grip of a fearful nightmare.
“Hush,” he said, trying to calm her. He didn’t know what else to do. It would be forward to touch her but then her screams reached a crescendo and fearing for her he leant over, taking her in his arms. She came awake instantly.
“No! Don’t let them take me,” she cried out, still in the grip of her nightmare. She sobbed and Stephan held her tightly, swaying gently to and fro in an attempt to reassure her. “Hush. You are safe now. It’s a dream. It is over. You are safe.”
“Don’t let them take me,” she sobbed. Her tears soaked through his robes. He was shocked by the intensity of her appeal. Never had he heard such anguish. “Don’t let them take me,” she gasped, trying to draw breath. “They were ripping my soul from my body. The pain. Don’t let them harm me.”
“I’ll protect you,” Stephan swore, and he meant it too. Her sobs quietened although she gripped him fiercely. He had never been held by another human being so tightly before. She was trembling and crying now.
“What have I done,” Stephan moaned.
For a moment longer they were silent except for her tears. “I should never have started this experiment. I should never have suggested this. This is the worse nightmare you have had. Isn’t it?
He felt her relax a little. She nodded her head. He released her, letting her settle back onto the bed. “What happened?” he asked.
Her voice, raw with emotion, cracked as she spoke. “I was in a cave. It was awful. They surrounded me. I couldn’t escape...” Her words were rushed and he could hear the growing panic in her voice.
“Hush now,” Stephan said, holding her hand. He turned to a candle standing on a bed side table. He waved his hand, a finger drawing a rune in the air. A shape long learned by sorcerers to summon elementals. A flame elemental sprang into being at his summons and its flame spread to the candle before it disappeared in to the ether once more. Its task fulfilled.
“There. You can see now. You are safe,” he said.
She stared at the flame and he was shocked by her eyes. Normally so wide and trusting, screwed tight against an unseen fear. Her face was wet and gently he dried her tears with his sleeve. She wasn’t beautiful in an obvious way, but her eyes held him captivated. He could look into them all day. He brushed her hair from her face.
“Now, tell me what happened. If you are up to it?”
She looked haunted still.
“I was in a cave. Demons were all around me. They were ripping my soul from my body. They were feeding on my pain. Never have I had such a dreadful nightmare. It was so real. I felt that I was truly there, amongst them.”
“You are safe now. It was a dream. Nothing more. But we are a step close to finding the source of your dreams. This is the fifth night you have had them in this vicinity and this was by far the worse dream, so the source must be nearby.”
“Why?” she sobbed. “Why am I having such fearful nightmares?”
His heart went out to her. He stroked her hand, trying to comfort her. “Well, we have moved around the city and you have slept in several different locations.”
She smiled for the first time, wiping her tears away with the back of her hand, “And what will people think? The two of us, not even married, sleeping in different locations these last few weeks.”
He smiled reassuringly, “Who cares what anyone else thinks. You are all that matters and I want to see an end to these nightmares.”
“What is causing them though?” she wailed, clearly desperate to have them at an end.
“I don’t know,” he said lowering his gaze for a moment. Looking up at her again he said, “But I do know they are worse in this area of the city, and close to his laboratory.”
“Whose laboratory?” she asked and he sensed that she already knew.
“Lothanal,” he answered her in a whisper.
She looked at him, her shock engraved deep in her eyes. “But demons are not real,” she whispered back.
“Our history is steeped in demon tales. There must be some foundation in them.”
“But that makes my dreams all the more terrifying,” she gasped.
He stroked her hair. “Yes. Have you noticed the candle?” he asked and her eyes flashed to the flame.
“Blue,” she choked.
“Flames burn blue in the presence of demons. For a while I have suspected Lothanal and have had lanterns distributed around this area for several nights. At night they have often burned blue. Tomorrow we have plans to bring into fruition. It might be dangerous and I will need your help. That is, if you are able?”
Her nod was barely perceptible. “Stephan,” she said clasping his hand more firmly.
“Yes,” he answered, fearful of the intensity of her look.
“Something really dreadful is going to happen.”
“You are still fearful of your dreams. It will be dawn soon and then you will see that no night terrors threaten.”
She shook her head. “Stephan, don’t leave me.”
“I will have to leave, silly,” he said. “We daren’t leave these rooms together. I know I said I didn’t care earlier, but there is your reputation to think of.”
Her grip intensified. “Stephan. Don’t leave me. Please.”
Her eyes and her voice implored him with an intensity that shook him. “Don’t worry. I am not going to leave you,” he said smiling.
“Marry me,” she blurted.
“You daft thing,” he admonished. “You are terrified still. What sort of man would I be, taking advantage of you like this?”
“Please,” she implored, the flickering candle light reflected from the moistness of her eyes.
He knew this was a very serious request. After a moment silence he said, “Well. Normally it’s the man who asks, but on this occasion perhaps we can make an exception.”
Her face lit up and her oh so beautiful eyes sparkled with life. “You will?”
He nodded and then struggled for breath as she threw herself at him in a tight embrace.
Lothanal’s heart lurched and he nearly stumbled. Pain lanced through his feet and a numbing cold assailed him. He gaped around at the landscape, his eyes barely believing the view. Desolation. The whole landscape was bleak. Everywhere he gazed was faintly glowing green rocks. No life, nor any signs of life. Green was the colour Lothanal associated with demons, so his destination must have been correct, but the shock of actually standing in their world was nearly too much for him.
He had spied on this world and its denizens through his kara-stone before coming here. He knew it was dark and lifeless, but being here a crushing despair weighed him down and seemed to nail his feet to the ground. He felt like weeping, and for long moments he struggled to find an inner strength. The gamble would be worth it, he prayed. He must go on and face his demons. He had committed everything in coming here. The risks were huge and he was gambling it all; both his life and his soul.
He was at the pinnacle of his career. He had dared what no other sorcerer had before. If he succeeded in this task he would have power unlimited. He would be a force to be reckoned with and then he would show his people, the Eldic, what true power meant. His plans were huge. He would conquer a world. He would be an emperor and people would fawn at his feet for favours.
He looked around at the desolation and doubt assailed him. Where were they? Where were the demons? He pushed a rock with his toe and agony lanced through his foot, searing its way to his heart. He stifled a scream. The very contact with the ground sent shock waves through his body and touching the rock was no exception. The pain subsided and he realised that the rock was light as though all the life had been sucked from it.
A world of cinders and ash.
He looked up at the sky. Nothing but darkness and stars. No clouds and even the stars seemed dimmed as though seen through a fog. He glanced down at his hand and was shocked to see that the kara-stone was not there. His mind wailed in fear and a dreadful feeling scoured his guts. His lifeline home was gone.
He raised his hand to his face. Something white and translucent was within his palm, almost filling it. It was his kara-stone — or at least its ghostly shadow. His fingers curled around the translucent shape as though trying to protect it. The object, ghost as it was, gave him heart for he was relying on that to find his way home. Perhaps he, too, was like the kara-stone and was not really in their world. Perhaps he was here in spirit form only. A smile tugged at his lips but failed to reach his cold grey eyes, which for the moment seemed almost as lifeless as the world around him.
He had not realised that he would be afraid. That was an understatement. He was terrified. Bravely, he took a tentative step forward and again pain lanced through his leg. His mind screamed in pain. Undeterred he took more steps. He was naked and freezing. Walking failed to bring any warmth. He looked down at the shadow of his kara-stone and drew warmth from it. Warmth and hope. That was his way home and he prayed he did not lose it.
He walked a few hundred yards and then something brighter up ahead caught his attention. He squinted, trying to see it better. Against the dark outline of a hill, strewn with boulders at its base, a glow emanated from a cluster of objects that he couldn’t quite fathom. As he came closer the shape resolved into three creatures and his heart leapt to his mouth. More steps and the shapes coalesced into figures. They were static so he walked closer, his pace slowing as he considered flight for the first time. What would they do with him? They could take his soul and bind it to their world permanently. The next few steps were the hardest in his life.
Two were demons, that much was clear, but the third was a man and that sent shock and fear coursing through his soul. He stopped advancing, holding his breath. Had his people, the Eldric, travelled here before him? Two of the creatures were demons, there was no mistaking that. Tall, gangle creatures, long limbed, teeth and talons. One had a head akin to a wolf, but no flesh covered its gaping maw and rows of teeth seemed eager for his flesh. The other had arms like a spiders, jointed in three places and ending a vicious looking talons.
He had espied demons before, but there was a huge difference seeing them from afar in the comfort of his world, compared to standing beneath them. But a man? He paused, doubt eating at his mind like a cancer. This could be the end of his plans before they had even started. No one knew as much about the demon world as he. Of that he was certain. And yet someone else had dared to travel the ether to their world. If he, too, were an Eldric...
The creatures did not move. He took that as an omen and took a few more paces, ignoring the pain as much as he could. He saw then the man’s eyes. They were the only thing about him that seemed alien. Blood red, with an intensity that seemed to beckon him forward. He found that he had involuntarily taken a dozen more paces. He stopped himself, no more then ten or so paces from the unlikely trio. All their eyes were red and fastened upon him with an intensity that made him shiver. He was breakfast, lunch and dinner wrapped up in one package.
“Welcome,” the man offered, causing him to jump in shock. His mind was wandering and he tried to focus. “Welcome to our world.” His words seemed silk and honey. He was handsome in a way that was almost too painful to behold. He stood with his hands clasped behind his back in a manner that simply oozed confidence. It was as though Lothanal was an insect, or a worm beneath the boot of a superior being.
Lothanal glanced at the other two demons. He sensed their power, but could fathom nothing about this one. That frightened him. He felt in control if he could sense their power, but not knowing was unsettling. He surmised he was the most powerful, being able to take the guise of a man, but he seemed a void. There was no sense of power coming from him at all.
“I am here to negotiate a pact with your people,” Lothanal stated simply. “I seek the power that you command, in return I offer you souls; I am your ally. Soon the barriers separating the worlds will thin and your people will be able to cross to my world. I can help them to achieve this. Join me and our combined strength will dominate the land.” He had rehearsed this speech a thousand times, but what came next was a complete and utter surprise.
A voice boomed “We have seen enough.” He spun around; seeking the source of the voice, noticing the demons seemed equally alarmed. The voice was all around them and at once a blinding flash followed by deep sonorous boom followed, throwing him backwards with a force that sucked the very air from his lungs and a blow that knocked the senses from his very being.
Lothanal found himself lying face down on a very solid, but even floor; winded and in pain. His body felt bruised all over and his head rang like a bell, struck by a bronze hammer. He shook his head and coughed. Dust filled his throat so he coughed again. He looked around but his view blocked by his laboratory desks. About him, the floor was strewn with books and broken glass, from vessels flung from their shelves. His heart lurched. He was discovered. He tried to stand but the blast had robbed him of senses and he toppled back to the floor. It took him a moment to realise that the explosion had been real. The door to his laboratory had been blown off its hinges and dust hung thickly in the air, cloying at his throat.
The ringing in his ears was replaced by that of voices. He arose to his knees coughing as people flooded into his laboratory. How dare they, his mind raged. He stood, his hands about to trace a symbol in the air, a rune that would send flame to block the invaders path, but a sword point at his throat stilled his action and he froze as though a statue made of granite.
His eyes followed the swords blade to the fist enclosed hilt and then to the owner. A man stared into his eyes. The intent was obvious. Move and die. The man was a soldier. A helm partly concealed his eyes which sparkled with hatred. So close was he that Lothanal could almost taste the garlic on the other man’s breath.
Lothanal’s hand dropped to his side. His eyes flashed to the imp in the corner of the room and then to the milky white kara-stone on the bench, just as a hand encircled the stone, claiming it from him. He was livid and he felt the heat infuse his face. He looked at the soldier at the end of the sword and a smile tugged at the other man’s lips. “Try it,” he whispered.
Two people came forward, stepping over broken debris, before halting to one side of the soldiers. The first was tall, his robes marking him as a sorcerer. He looked frail and insignificant standing next to the soldiers. A woman joined him, standing by his side. She gathered her robes around her, untangling the hem from the broken objects about her feet. Her eyes came up to meet Lothanal’s; soft and doe like, they seemed to demand an explanation for his sojourn to the demon world. Her look suggested that she didn’t understand and that infuriated Lothanal. Why should she understand him? He was superior to them and certainly did not need to explain himself.
“How quaint! Lord Stephan and his crony Lady Ashona,” he smirked, with cold humourless eyes. He so wanted to present an air of unconcern, but inside he fairly fumed. Of all the people who might have discovered him Stephan was by far the worst and it galled him that he was the one to discover his foray into the demon world. Stephan stood facing him; his eyes accusing, his head tilted at a slight angle that his students knew so well. I am awaiting a response and I will stand here all day until I get it. Pompous man! Lothanal was shaking and he tried to still his hands, grasping them together in front of him. He found that he was wringing his hands together and he let them drop by his side.
He glanced at the woman. Ashona. Her eyes flashed between him and the imp in the corner. He had seen that look before on the creatures that he had killed. Fear. She was afraid of the imp that he had conjured. Her fear fuelled his anger. She was nothing; a mere slip of a girl who couldn’t even challenge an angry ant. His head was spinning with thoughts; his mind buzzing with anxiety. Why they were together he couldn’t fathom. They were chalk and cheese. How many others knew of his betrayal? For that is what they would consider it. A betrayal of their mundane and feeble existence.
“I should have known it would have been you two.” He followed her gaze to the imp. The soldiers kept glancing its way. It was the first time any of them had seen a creature such as this. Their noses wrinkled in distaste at the noxious odour in the air. Demons stank. That was a fact.
“Banish the demon,” Stephan demanded, his lips pulled back in a grimace.
“You do it, sorcerer,” Lothanal taunted and he saw the rage reflected in Stephan’s eyes.
The sword pricked his throat and Lothanal regretted his taunt. Its sharpness focussed his thoughts. He was reluctant to banish the imp. But it may have betrayed him. If it had then it could not be trusted. He cast the imp a look, suggesting a reckoning was due and, with a wave of his hand, he dismissed it. Immediately he felt the others relax.
White light from beyond the shattered door flooded the room. He glared at the mess the explosion had caused. How he hated these two meddlesome magic users. His emotions must have shown on his face, for Ashona took a step back as though afraid. He cast a withering glance in her direction, one that he hoped would promise future retribution. She stared back, small, dark-haired with round, liquid, deer-like eyes. By her side, Stephan took a step forward. He was the stronger of the two and always so self-righteous. Piety was ever a fault of the Eldric.
“You have betrayed your people,” Stephan announced, as though seeking to draw his anger away from Ashona. “Use of elementals is accepted. But demons? You go too far.”
Lothanal couldn’t help but retort, “How dare you lecture me! You have absolutely no idea of what you say. Elementals! Pah, they are for children. They are a puff of wind in the face of a hurricane; nothing, compared to the power of the demon world.”
Stephan’s face darkened and his eyes half closed. “You do not belong here. By your very actions, you are an outcast. Even your shaol betrays you.”
Lothanal sneered, although he had no idea what Stephan was referring to. He had never heard of a shaol before, but he refused to admit his ignorance. Let them think what they want. They could not imprison him. This was not the end.
“Take him to the dungeons,” Stephan commanded. The guards went to either side of him their swords poised in readiness.
Lothanal glanced around for his kara-stone, but it was nowhere to be seen. Someone had snatched it and its loss made him want to scream in anger. He closed his eyes, trying to calm himself. He would not see it again, and kara-stones were damned hard to find. He considered fighting his way clear, but then he smiled. His people, the Eldric, were soft. He would soon be free, although banishment was likely. He tried to lighten his mood. He had been thinking of leaving, in any event. The unexpected invasion of his privacy merely served to hasten his plans.
Walking from the room, he cast Ashona a scowl for good measure, causing her to recoil in obvious fright. Together, the armed procession took him to the dungeons and a fate that he was determined to control.
“Damn him,” Chanathan said. “What was he thinking?”
Ashona watched the other man pacing the room. She and Stephan were sitting in deep arm chairs. She felt unclean as though stained by a great evil. She had never reckoned on ever seeing a demon and the recent experience made her shudder.
“Unfortunately, he may have been watching the demon world for some time,” Stephan was saying.
“But why?” asked Chanathan. He stood by the window. It was dark outside and his reflection was trapped by the candlelight in the thick window pane. The image looked too ghostly after the recent events and Ashona found that she couldn’t still the wild beating of her heart.
“Power,” Ashona piped up. The other two turned to look at her and she felt uncomfortable under their scrutiny. “I could feel the power in the room even before we entered. The demon was a powerful creature, far more so than an elemental.”
“I’m not sure that was a demon,” Stephan ventured. “It was an imp, or so I think. Imps are a lesser demon.”
“An imp?,” Ashona said, her voice a high octave, signifying her shock. “But the power it exuded! If that was merely an imp then what must a demon be like? Of one thing I am certain, it hated us. It wanted nothing more than to kill us and steal our souls. Did you not feel that too, Stephan?”
Stephen shook his head. He looked bewildered. “I am amazed at your perception, but I felt none of that. However, there was no doubt that the imp was evil. That much I could tell, at least.”
“Why does he want power though? That doesn’t make sense. Elementals give us enough for our modest requirements. To go seeking more from demons is… It’s just crazy! Does he not know the danger he puts us all in? If he summoned one beyond his control the entire city would be in dire peril,” noted Chanathan.
“That’s the problem,” said Stephan. He doesn’t think. I’ve warned him often enough but he is drawn to that world like a lamb to its mother’s teat.”
“Then what should we do?” asked Chanathan. His hands were held forward as though imploring their help, his eyes bored into hers and Ashona was shocked by their intensity. Chanathan was normally so certain and resolute but now he exposed his uncertainty, opening himself up to their charity.
Ashona glanced at Stephan and he looked back at her and she could tell that he was taken aback by Chanathan’s lack of direction. Stephan’s jaw was set firmly as though he was holding back from replying. His eyes went back to Chanathan’s briefly before flashing back to Ashona’s. She had known him for many years, but this was the first time that she had ever seen him so clearly divided.
“He will be banished,” Stephan answered at last, spitting forth the words as though they defiled the very air. Ashona glanced at Stephan, her brow furrowed in response to his reply and then she understood his dilemma. He had wanted to suggest killing Lothanal. Her eyes widened and seeing her recognition of the truth Stephan’s gaze dropped to the carpet as though unable to meet hers.
Chanathan spun on his heel to face him. His lips were drawn back in a snarl and his face was mottled. “By the Kalanth! Is that it? With the power he could control and all we can think to do is to banish him. And what then? Wait for him to return…at the head of a demon army?”
“There is another option,” Ashona hesitated. “A rune,” she continued. “One of such complexity it will take at least a day to cast. Four times four, using each of the elementals: air, fire, land and water.”
“To what aim?” Chanathan demanded. He was a tall, slender man. His receding hair was grey at the temple and, at the moment, a frown furrowed his brow. In his presence Ashona was uncertain of herself for he was a close advisor to the king. It felt wrong to be giving him advice.
“To turn any spell Lothanal uses in upon itself,” she replied softly.
Chanathan sucked in a breath in disbelief and wonder. “Can it be done?”
“Yes,” Ashona said. “I think so.” She turned to Stephan who was staring back at her with a look of surprise on his face.
His eyes widened. “Of course!” he exclaimed. It’s brilliant.”
“You agree that it can be done?” Ashona asked hesitantly. She had been afraid to voice the option, not quite certain it could be achieved. She felt that it could be done, but hearing Stephan confirm it was encouraging.
“Yes, but you are correct. The spell is complex,” he said, carefully.
“See to it. His trial will be in two days time and if he is guilty we will then perform the spell,” Chanathan said.
“Come on Ash,” said Stephan. “We’d better get some sleep if we are to attempt this.” Together they departed, leaving Chanathan pacing the room. He was deeply troubled. That an Eldric Lord had fallen so far from grace was a bad omen.
“Wake up, Salar!”
Salar groaned, pulling his blanket over his head. “Go away,” he mumbled. “It’s far too early.” he tried to turn over, but with a wrench, the blanket was pulled down. For a moment there ensued a tug-of-war, but then, finally wide awake, Salar sat up, rubbing his eyes. He peered into the flickering flame of a candle held to close to his face. He screwed his eyes nearly shut against the offending light and his lips drew back, revealing the crookedness of his teeth which he normally tried so hard to hide. When talking to people, he tended to lower his head to hide his teeth’s unsightliness and as a result was often accused of mumbling.
“What on earth is going on, Forfar? This had better be important,” he warned.
Forfar stared back, a look of apprehension in his eyes. He, too, was an apprentice and both youths were in their fourth year of study. It was a relatively easy existence for the young men, with plenty of time reserved for study…or a lie in.
“It’s your master. He’s been arrested,” Forfar said, wasting no time and coming straight to the point.
That caught Salar’s attention. “What? How can that be? What is the charge?”
“Looking into the demon world.”
“Is that all?” the words were out before Salar realised what he had said. Forfar’s eyes narrowed and Salar knew that he had made a grave error. His lips jerked into an insincere smile. “I mean, we use elementals. How bad can it be just looking into their world?” As a matter of habit his hand went to his mouth to conceal his teeth, but then he realised the very act of hiding behind his hand made him look guilty. For a moment his had hovered in mid air before he finally dropped it to the sheets.
Forfar shook his head, his eyes never leaving Salar’s. “Be very careful what you say. Simply being his apprentice could implicate you in his crimes. At the moment, you don’t sound very innocent,” he warned. “Have you looked upon the demon world?” His face came closer as though seeking to draw the truth from him by his penetrating stare.
Salar shook his head, not able to trust his voice. “Why...” he croaked. Raising his voice, “Why would I want to do that?”
“Why indeed?” Forfar said, drawing back and frowning. An unpleasant cramp twisted Salar’s guts. Forfar could easily inform their masters of his inadvertent comment and then he too could face their ire. He imagined himself banished from the city and a shiver ran down his spine. “We Eldric have been in this land for two hundred years. We exiled ourselves from our own country for this very reason. Demons are evil and dealing with them can only lead to war. They demand souls,” he hissed. “There is no other bargaining tool. Would you damn someone to an eternity of agony in their world, and for what?”
“Of course not!” Salar snapped, dreading the moment when Forfar denounced him, but it did not come and he felt his muscles unknot as Forfar continued,.
“We are friends, you and I. Heed my advice. Distance yourself from Lothanal. Otherwise, you will share in his fate.”
Forfar’s penetrating stare shamed Salar, but he was not about to betray his master so easily. “What will happen to him?” he asked, softening his voice into what he hoped sounded like contrition.
“Today we will draw a rune that will turn any spell Lothanal might cast against himself. He will be utterly powerless, lest he destroy himself.”
Salar nodded. “I’ll dress and then join you.” His thoughts in turmoil he swept up a sock, but the shaking of his hands prevented him from putting it on. He dropped it, cursing softly and trying to still the beating of his heart as he gasped for breath that seemed to take an age to come.
Lothanal sat on a bench with his back to the wall. His buttocks were numb with the hardness of the bench. That they had not even afforded him a cushion rankled. Thoughts tumbled through his mind, all mixed up and making no sense. Other men in his predicament would have been bowed down by the dark, dank nature of the cell, but instead Lothanal’s thoughts were angry.
He was also afraid. He felt different. Wrong. Empty. He felt as though his soul was stripped from him. Had his soul returned to his body after the blast? With spells he could find out. He could also rectify the problem, but he would need his kara-stone for that. The additional power would be essential. He did not trust the power from the demons; not in this matter. He relaxed. His soul was safe for the moment. Provided that he didn’t die and he had no intention of dying. He would address the problem of his soul later.
A flicker of movement distracted him. A guard peered in, his face smug. “Stop that damn noise!” the guard shouted.
“What noise?” Lothanal asked, genuinely not knowing what the guard referred to.
“That infernal humming.” The guard continued to stare at him, locking eyes with Lothanal as though daring him to speak. Lothanal wanted to pummel that face. How dare he watch his confinement? He would show them. Then the guard was gone.
Lothanal cast his mind back to the recent events. He had learned a great deal about demons over the years. Much of it self taught, and not without danger. He had learned that elementals were spirits, or more correctly sprites born of this world. His people could summon them to perform small feats of magic. Lothanal thought back to the first time that he had summoned an imp.
It was several years ago. He was in his laboratory. In front of him a fire elemental danced in frenzy. It was so small. A tiny flame that spun hither in thither within the chalk rune he had drawn on the table-top.
An ancient text lay open on the table. He ran a finger along a line, his lips forming silent words. He traced a rune in the air, taking very great care that it was exact. He knew that he could summon an imp, using the elemental as a conduit.
There was no sound announcing the imp’s arrival. Fortunately for Lothanal it had been as shocked as he at its summons, its eyes screwed tightly shut at the glare in the room. It was summer and the sun shone brightly through the windows, causing small dust motes to shine brightly, dancing as though in time to the elemental.
Unhurriedly, Lothanal traced a spell of binding but before he completed the spell the imp screamed and launched itself at him. Its eyes, unused to the brightness must have caused it to misjudge the distance and Lothanal had rocked back on his chair, bringing the book up between them. Talons raked through the leather binding and frantically Lothanal screamed the remainder of the spell of confinement. The imp was brought up short. Its small wings beat at the air as it stared with deathly malevolence at his impudence for summoning it.
Lothanal’s heart was in his mouth. The imp’s scream had been ear-splitting and he had feared that someone may have heard. He watched the door, expecting it to open but nothing occurred and he breathed a sigh of relief. By his side the elemental expired, its death scream barely audible compared to the imp’s cry of pure hatred.
Lothanal had realised then just how ill prepared he had been. The text had warned that the summoning had to be perfect and that included confining the creature summoned.
For some while he had stared at the imp and it at him. He allowed it to sit, but it struggled constantly in an attempt to break free and he found that he had to balance its effort, expending more power the longer he confined it.
It was small and hairless, apart from a single main of green hair running down its back. Its skin was like that of a new born mouse. Its mouth was wide and filled with small, razor like teeth.
He was surprised after a while when the imp simply vanished and he realised that their time in his world was limited. Once gone the air felt cleaner and a shadow fell from his heart.
His thoughts returned to the present. He was angry still about losing his kara-stone. That had been a further requirement to send his soul to the demon world. He cursed again its loss. It had taken him years to gain one and then longer to fathom how to contact the demon world. He had spied upon it often enough, but the last step required a face to face meeting.
Had the imp betrayed him, he fumed. He dared not break out of his confinement if he didn’t trust it entirely. The risks were simply not worth it. He felt his temper growing in his breast. He realised that he was humming and a glance at the cell door showed the face of his jailer staring at him through narrowed eyes. Lothanal silenced himself and the guard disappeared from view.
This was intolerable. He had to know what was happening. Tracing a rune, he spoke softly, “Salar! Are you there?”
“Master, I can hear you,” came a faint reply.
“What’s happening? Will they banish me?”
“Certainly. But that is not the problem.”
“They are drawing a rune today that will prevent you casting spells. Supposedly, it will turn a spell in upon itself…”
“What! Can such a thing be done?” asked Lothanal.
“Stephan says so. He is in charge. Stop talking, I’m being watched,” came Salar’s whispered reply.
Lothanal felt the blood drain from his face and his heart laboured, so great was the shock. Gently, he rocked back and forth, sitting on his hands. He had been so certain he would be banished, nothing more. He must escape, he realised.
Rising, he went to his cell door, but the opening didn’t allow much of a view, so instead he was forced to listen. There were clear signs of people close by: muffled voices, footfalls followed by the scrape of a chair. He assumed there would be a sizable guard posted in the event of an attempted escape.
He must think. He threw himself onto the bench and almost immediately a thought occurred. It was brilliant. Tracing a rune he spoke again into the night, “Salar. Salar…”
With deft motion he drew the rune again, “Salar!”
“Speak swiftly, master,” whispered Salar.
“You must alter the rune in such a way as to be undetectable. Using a dead scanth, replace a dot anywhere in the rune with the insect.”
There was a moment’s pause. “A scanth?” came the stunned reply.
“Just do it!” hissed Lothanal. The link was severed. He felt it wink from existence.
Lothanal sat back. Salar had to complete the task. Otherwise, his spell casting days were over. The use of a scanth was masterful in its simplicity. A flaw in the rune was the main aim to defeating it, but the body of a dead insect was so much more useful. He could control that, especially with his links to the demons. Keep it simple, he always advised Salar. Never overcomplicate anything. That was the mistake his enemies were making. A complex rune was so much harder to achieve than putting him to death, and that’s what they should have done. It was what he would have done in their position.
The scanth, small, black and shiny, from a few paces away, would easily be mistaken for part of a rune. Or was he kidding himself? All that night, doubt gnawed at Lothanal and sleep was a long time in coming. Stephan’s comments that his shaol had betrayed him kept going through his mind. He was determined to find out what a shaol was.
Damn them all! He would survive!