“The Demon”

by Joe Helfrich


This story occurs just after the “Fall of the Forest” cycle.

Morgan bowed to the Lord of the Mountain. The mage did not acknowledge the bow, or even that the half-elven wizard was there. He simply stepped into the tower, smoking even more than usual, his robes singed rather than just flaming.

“The dragon has a case of indigestion,” he said in answer to Morgan’s unspoken question. Outside, the Shivan belched, and the resulting flame cloud set a large section of swamps to steaming.

Morgan arched an eyebrow. “Of course, my lord. If you will follow me, Canticle awaits above.” Morgan started up the stairway, coughing slightly as he moved past the still-smoldering Lord.

At the top of the Tower, Morgan knocked softly on Canticle’s door, and then pushed it open. “Canticle, your… friend… is here–”

Canticle turned away from his table, sighing. “What is it, Morgan? Oh. Yes, I had completely forgotten…”

“Strange, Necromancer, that you would do so, considering that it was you who summoned me.”

“Almost a moon ago, aye. You do take your time.” Canticle turned to the figure sitting across from him. “Well, demon, it appears we shall have to let this wait for another day.”

All things considered, the demon didn’t look very demonic. Its hair was a pale brown, his skin all but pure white. He wore a simple tunic and trousers. But for a slight sense of evil, and the unmistakable aura of the Otherworld that clung about him like a doak, there was nothing to identify him as anything different from dozens of other visitors to the tower. Nodding to Canticle, the demon stood.

“Very well, Mage. By your leave, I shall be going, then.”

Canticle smiled slightly. “It’s not quite that easy, Sheal.” The Necromancer drew himself up straighter in his chair, and his next words carried the tinge of high magic.

“Save for those compulsions which I have placed upon you, you are free, Sheal, until I call for you to appeal before me. Zhalgreth!”

The demon bowed, and disappeared in a puff of smoke.

“Well, you pompous fool, shall we get this over with?” Canticle gestured at the chair that Sheal had just vacated. The Lord of the Mountain walked in and glared at the chair, glancing suspiciously at Canticle.

“Is there anything else, Morgan?” Canticle asked, as the Lord began murmuring quietly.

“What? Oh, no. Nothing.” Morgan backed out of the room, closing the door behind him as the Lord of the Mountain completed his spell.

“I can’t believe you just wasted a blessing on a chair.” Canticle’s voice drifted through the door.

“What, do you expect me to fall for that trick?”

“WHAT trick…!”

But Morgan didn’t hear them. He heard very little of anything as he stumbled down the stairs to his room.

* * *

“Morgan.”

“Yes, Jessillia?”

Morgan stood, closing his book, as his betrothed, Jessillia Amer, walked into the small library. The two were staying with their friend Annalin, in the city of Jayemdae.

“Do you remember the conversation we had a few weeks ago. The day we saw the Black Unicorn?”

Morgan looked at Jess, trying to keep his face passive. He remembered the conversation all too well, and was disturbed that his lover had been dwelling on it so for the past few weeks. “Aye, I do,” he said cautiously. “Why do you ask?”

“I’d just been… thinking,” she said, dropping onto a long couch that sat against one wall of the room. Morgan sat beside her, wrapping one arm around her shoulders. “It’s just not fair, Morgan,” she murmured. “I love you more than my life, but I cannot stand the thought of growing old and leaving you.”

“And I don’t wish to lose you, love. But the simple fact is that we will both likely die before that becomes a problem. Mages are not known for their high survival rates, after all. And, with your father going to war soon, we shall both see battle.”

“You jest, my Lord Morgan. We shall live forever, you and I. We are undefeatable.” A slight smile played around her lips.

“Then why are you worried, Jess?”

Jessillia turned on the couch, nestling against Morgan. “You’re right, of course, and even if you weren’t, there’s little we could do about it…”

They sat together, in the quiet of the library. Suddenly, Jess turned to face him. “Morgan, if… something were to happen to me… if I were to die, and you thought that I could be returned to life somehow, would you do it?”

“Of course.”

“Swear it to me. Please.”

Hoping that this would settle the issue, Morgan cupped her hands in his. “I swear to you, Jessillia, by the love I hold for you, by the oaths which I exchanged with you at our betrothal, that I shall seek you beyond death, without regard to the risk to my own life, to release you from any magic, to restore you to a life improperly taken.”

“And I swear to you, Morgan, by the love that I hold for you, and by the oaths which I exchanged with you at our betrothal, that I shall seek you beyond death, without regard to the risk to my own life, to release you from any magic, to restore you to a life improperly taken.” Her voice was cool, and steady, and Morgan felt her aura settle as she took comfort in the oath. “Then so be it, my love.”

* * *

Morgan pushed his fear down, and tried to center himself. Raising a hand that only shook a little, he traced a glyph in the air before the door to Canticle’s study. Canticle had taught him the spell to open the wards in case of an emergency, and Morgan hoped that Canticle was sleeping deeply enough that he would not sense their lowering. The meeting with the Lord of the Mountain, and the subsequent duel, had been tiring, after all.

The door creaked open, and Morgan reached out to the objects in the room, one of them, he knew, must hold a bond with the demon… there. On the bookshelf behind the Necromancer’s desk. Morgan reached out and pulled the book down. “Thirty-eight Ways to Serve Larvae Flambé,” the spine declared. Ignoring the title, he probed the magic aura that filled the book. The magic was strong, bonding itself to the demon.

Not “the demon.” Sheal. He had a name now for his hate.

The spell had Canticle’s distinctive aura, that much was certain. But the spell was unlike any other that Morgan had ever encountered. Where other mages sought to control demons, this spell was little more than a set of compulsions. But it was enough. The basic bonds to Sheal’s essence were here. It would serve as a starting point. The demon would be mastered.

Morgan set the book on the floor, and reached within himself, bending the energies of the spell his Master had cast.

From the corner, four red dots stared intently.

* * *

“Jess?”

The other side of the bed was empty, and the room cold. The fire, which Morgan thought had been banked well enough to burn through the night, was dead.

“Shomech,” he muttered, waving his hand, and the fire sprang back to life, the small flame rapidly spreading through the charred wood that remained in the hearth. The fire was put out, Morgan thought. But why? Dropping another log on the fire, he turned to the door.

It was locked. And barred. From the outside.

There were simpler, quieter, nicer ways around the door. But somehow, Morgan knew he didn’t have the time. The ring on his finger flared, and blasted the heavy wood off of its hinges.

“Jess?!”

Morgan scanned the hallway. All the doors were closed, but under one, he could see a faint, reddish glow. The ring flared again, and the door crashed in.

“No. NO!”

Later, he would spend minutes, hours, even whole days going over these few precious seconds, trying to find a way to prevent what was happening. Sometimes, he would even find one.

But at the time, he could do nothing.

Jessillia was half turned to face him, her mouth frozen open in surprise. Around her, a protective circle flared… but its flames were red and black, not her normal blueish white. And before her… before her was a rent in space. And in the hole stood a tall, pale man. His brown hair was pulled back into a long ponytail. Around him flocked at least a dozen imps.

“Jess, what is going on?”

“Morgan, I… I didn’t mean for you–”

The demon flicked a finger, and Jessillia screamed, clutching her throat. “She has just completed a deal, mage, tying her life force to yours. It seems she wanted to take the phrase, ‘so long as you both shall live’ to new heights. There’s only one problem.”

“She forgot to make me promise not to kill her. And there are forces that will pay highly for your death, Guardian.” He turned his attention back to Jessilla. “So come, little one. And next time, leave the deals to someone with a bit more experience. Oh, I forgot,” he said, smiling. “There won’t be a next time.”

“No,” Jess croaked. The demon reached towards her, and she writhed in pain.

“NO!” In the days that followed, Morgan would never be sure if the cry had come from him, or from Jessillia. She was pouring her energy into the circle that surrounded her. She looked up at him, her gaze a silent plea. Without hesitation, he began channeling his energy to her, letting her feed it into the circle.

The flames around her flickered, and died.

The demon snarled. “You may have broken the contract, little one, but your soul is still mine to claim.” The demon stepped back as the rift closed around him. “I shall be watching you, Guardian.” The rift sealed, and the demon was gone.

Morgan knelt at his lover’s side. “Jessillia! What happened? What did you do?”

“A foolish thing, my love. I sought to keep us together, forever. Because we never would have died.” A slight smile crossed her face, the skin dried and cracked from the magical fire. “But I was wrong. I am dying. But at least my foolishness shall not cost you your life.”

Morgan started to chide her for her foolish words by flooding her with the life force of the forests, but he found he had no energy left to cast with.

“Nonsense, my love. I’ll call Annalin–”

“She would not be in time, Morgan. Nothing would. Do not leave me. Not now.”

“Jess, what did you do?”

“I was able to break the Contract. You are free from it, even if I am not.”

“I don’t understand. Why did you do this?”

Her eyes were no longer focused. She stared through him, her body going limp.

“…without regard to the risk to my own life, to release you from any magic, to restor you to a life improperly taken…”

It was several hours before anyone found him there, clutching the cold corpse in his arms.

* * *

Morgan opened his eyes. The basics of his spell were laid. The magics binding Sheal to the book would let him summon the demon, and control it.

Closing his eyes, he conjured a circle. Black and white flames fought in a thin line around him, and an eerie chant filled the room.

In the corner, the owners of the glowing red dots agreed that they had seen enough. One kept its silent vigil, while the other, chittering softly to itself, went to seek its master.

* * *

“What will you do now, Morgan?” Annalin looked at her old friend, but he wasn’t listening. “Morgan?” she asked, reaching out to touch his shoulder.

“What?” Morgan jerked back, pulling his hands off the smooth ebon wood of the coffin. “Oh. I’m sorry, Anna. I…. I’d wandered off.”

“I understand, Morgan.”

“I must take her home. Back to her father.”

Annalin nodded. “Do you want me to go with you?”

“No,” Morgan said. “You cannot leave Jayemdae, not with Zaladnae loose in the countryside again. Besides,” he said, “I must do this alone.”

“So be it, Morgan. You will let me help in the transport spell, at least.”

“Of course. I suppose we should get this over with. Would you like to…”

“No. I said my goodbyes to my cousin last night, old friend.” Anna grabbed Morgan by the shoulders and hugged him. “Don’t do anything foolish, elf. Promise me that.”

Morgan smiled slightly, pulling back from her embrace. “So much as my oaths allow, old friend.”

They moved apart then, Morgan standing at the head of the coffin, Annalin at its foot. The two closed their eyes, and wrenched at the fabric of space. When Annalin opened her eyes again, Morgan and the coffin were gone.”

“Keep yourself safe, Morgan. Please.”

* * *

Morgan halted his spell for a brief moment, gasping for breath, sweat pouring into his eyes. The book in front of him began to glow, and throb with an unearthly red color. His dry voice started the chant again. Within moments, a mist began to form over the book.

* * *

The gremlin scampered through the hallways of the tower, coming at last to Canticle’s door. The little creature pushed through the small opening at the bottom of the door and crawled into the large master bedroom. Climbing up the bedpost, it stepped gingerly onto the mattress and worked its way to the headboard. Perched there, it was safely out of the range of any flailing arms, should Canticle not take well to being awakened. Safe on its perch, the gremlin began a high-pitched wail.

Canticle stirred slightly. “Go away…” he mumbled.

The gremlin warbled the note slightly, drawing more response from the sleeping necromancer. “Damn that fiery fool, if he’s captured another gremlin–” Canticle sat up in the bed, then turned to face the gremlin. “Well, little one. What is your problem?”

The gremlin ceased its wailing, and chittered slightly to the mage. “You wake me up because Morgan’s sitting up late casting a spell? Off with you, im, before I send you to the Mountain Lord for such foolery.”

The gremlin ignored the threat, still talking.

“What?” Canticle said. “He’s where? You’re joking.” The necromancer started to settle back into his bed, pulling the covers up. But the gremlin’s last words caught his attention.

“HE’S DOING WHAT?!”

* * *

“What do you want, necromancer? Why have you summoned me in this–who in Heaven are you?”

Morgan stood, tension draining from his body. The difficult part was over. This, thought, was the dangerous part. “Have you forgotten me so soon, demon?”

“You do look familiar…” Sheal said, squinting. “AH! The Guardian!”

“Why do you call me that? My Uncle was the Guardian.”

“You mean you don’t know?” Sheal cackled at Morgan’s puzzled expression. “Priceless.”

“Enough of this, demon. You will release Jessillia Amer.”

“Who?”

“The woman whose soul you stole when last we met. The woman you tricked into giving up her soul so that you could kill me.”

“Oh, her!” Sheal scratched his chin, thinking. “I’d quite forgotten about her. Locked her up years ago. Her whining had gotten so annoying. ‘Dorgan, Dorgan, why hast thou forsaken me.’ No, that was some other chap entirely. Christ, what was his name–you! You were there!” Sheal snapped his fingers and pointed at the little gremlin in the corner. “What was that fellow’s name?”

The gremlin answered, and Sheal slapped himself on the forehead. “Of course, how silly of me. Wish we’d been able to hold onto that one longer. Three days wasn’t nearly enough time to–huhnk!”

Morgan tugged ever so slightly on the bonds that he had weaved about Sheal.. “Listen to me when I speak to you, demon. Or I shall not be so pleasant next time.”

“That wasn’t very nice of you, Guardian,” Sheal said through clenched teeth. “That wasn’t very nice at all.”

“I don’t care, Sheal. Now release her.”

The demon stared down at Morgan, considering the situation. “Very well. I shall release all hold I have on the soul of Jessillia Amer. But there is a price.”

“Name it. What do you want?”

“Why, your soul, of course. Don’t expect me to throw away a perfectly good soul without getting a replacement, do you?”

Morgan closed his eyes, the words he had uttered so long ago running through his mind… I shall seek you beyond death, without regard to the risk to my own life, to release you from any magic, to restore you to a life improperly taken.

“Very well, demon. I shall–”

Suddenly, the study door burst open, and Canticle stormed into the room. “Morgan! What in Urza’s name do you think you’re doing?”

“Morgan!” Sheal muttered. “Not Dorgan, Morgan!”

“Keeping an oath, Canticle. I would ask you not to interfere.”

“Sheal, if you take this man’s soul, our deal is forfeit. Know that.”

The demon frowned. “I was afraid you’d say that. You don’t know how much this one would be worth to me, Canty.”

“I do not care.”

Sheal sighed. “Oh well, Morgan. You heard the man. Nothing I can do at this point. He’s worth more to me in the long run, I’m afraid, than you are.”

“We had an agreement, demon! You must release her!”

“And you didn’t finish the contract before the Necromancer Egoitus here stormed in and made me revoke the offer. Sorry, lad. It’s not like I enjoy turning away souls, you know.”

“NO! I am too close to fail now!”

“Whose soul, Morgan?” Canticle asked. “What is this all about?”

“My betrothed, Jessillia!”

Love, Canticle thought. All because of love. Why am I not surprised?

Because not that long ago, you were ready to take the same risks, he reminded himself.

“Sheal. I ask you to release this woman. As… a favor… to me.”

That caught the demon’s attention, which had been wandering in the short time the two mages had been speaking. “A favor to you…” Sheal cocked his head, and his face took on a pained expression. “I cannot do as you ask, Canticle.”

“What?” Morgan gasped. “Why?!”

“Because he has no hold over her, Morgan.”

Morgan slumped to the floor, the magic circle and spell that bound Sheal fluttering out as he did. “But you said…”

“I said I would release all of my holds on her,” Sheal said, fading out as the spell failed. “I did not say I had any.”

“Then where is she? What has become of her?”

“That, Guardian, I will not tell you. Goodbye, Canty.” In a puff of smoke, he was gone.

The two mages, master and apprentice, did not move. The silence of the room was broken only by the soft sobs emanating from Morgan’s chest. Finally, Canticle stepped forward, and picked up the book, replacing it in its place on the bookshelf. He spoke without turning around, his voice cold.

“You should have come to me, Morgan. This betrayal of trust is inexcusable.”

“I understand. I shall be gone come morning.”

“I am tempted to let you do just that.” Canticle turned to face his apprentice. “But this damn fool stunt has brought you to the attention of forces you cannot understand, and cannot defend yourself again. You must learn how to deal with the threats you will face in the coming days. And you must learn how to do it properly, lest in the process you become the very thing the ELF so feared you were. And by the respect I hold for him, Morgan, I shall not allow that to happen!”

Morgan had not thought it possible, but he slumped even farther down. “Yes, Canticle. At what hour shall we begin–”

“WE BEGIN NOW! Return to your chamber and meditate on your folly until I summon you.” Canticle watched as the half-elven mage rose and opened the door.

Morgan bowed, fear, shame, and gratitude mixing on his face. “You are far kinder to me than I deserve, Master.” The door clicked shut.

“No doubt I am,” Canticle murmured. “A woman. I should have seen the signs, they were all there, but no…”