Thursday, February 7, 2019

The Accidental Warlock

This is a background piece for my upcoming #DnD character, assuming the game ever gets back off the ground...

Aristai Miseral looked up at the ten-foot-tall devil in front of him and said with a calmness that surprised even him: "I'm dead."

The room around them was frozen into stillness. Aristai could still see himself, bent over as he studied the pages of the ancient tome, the tongues of flame atop the room's candles and the fire in the hearth all turned to glowing crystal, the stars unflickering outside the wide windows. Only two things moved in this captured moment: the devil's mind, and his.

It was a magnificently crafted form, with red skin and neat black horns, black hair and a goatee, and startlingly human eyes in an inhumanly handsome face. The wings folded behind it were covered in black feathers, and the tail moved with graceful expressiveness. Its build was broad-shouldered, square and powerful, but otherwise human -- human enough to wear dark robes highlighted with traceries of gold and something that looked like spun rubies, and polished leather boots. Still, as beautiful and awful as it was, it was nothing compared to the glimpse Aristai had caught when it first looked at him from it unimaginably distant home. As strange and powerful as it might seem now, he knew that the devil had created this body when it stepped into this world, just as a human might pull on a suit of clothing before greeting a guest at the door.

What else did you expect? it asked, pushing the words into his mind without bothering to move its newly-shaped lips. You found the key to the Hellish Glyphs, and read from the Thrice-Dark Threnody. Did you think I would not notice? Did you think none of us would notice?

The devil's voice was the roar of flames and endless darkness, each word weighted with unimaginable agony, but the certainty of his death insulated Aristai from the fear that moved through his muscles in cold waves and raised all the hairs on his body. "I thought..." The young half-elf tried to swallow and found that he couldn't. "I thought it was a book of history."

The fiend froze, as still as the room around them.

Then it laughed, and the sound was the thundercrack of lightning, shivering through Aristai's body. Mortals! It started to reach for him, and Aristai saw the gleaming black claws that tipped its fingers. Then it stopped, and stepped to one side. Still, it was cleverly done.

Hope flared in Aristai's chest, though another part of him was certain this was just a trap to make his death sweeter for the devil. Somewhere in the back of his mind, yet another voice was still screaming at what he had seen before the fiend gave itself form. "I only wanted knowledge," he said.

The devil stepped closer.

One chance, mortal. You have have one chance. Swear yourself to my service, here and now, and I will let you live. Swear yourself to my service, and I will give you such knowledge as you never imagined possible.

Aristai didn't hesitate. It was a choice with only one possible answer: "I so swear. Let me serve you, and I am yours."

It is done.

A moment later he was back in his body, staring down at the explanation of the Great Consuming that had been nothing but a string of indecipherable runes for the endless, frustrating months of his studies. Then agony washed over him, as if his flesh burned all the way down to the bones.
He didn't know if he screamed, if he thrashed, if he fell. His vision was white agony, his hearing nothing but the endless roar of the devouring flames. He tumbled and turned, consumed by pain, until at last it gave way to darkness.

He blinked and looked around, aware that he was clutching the edge of the table and that the ancient tome that had been his obsession for the last eight months was gone. He did not know if he gripped the table because he had steadied himself against it, or if he had used it to pull himself upright. There was something wrong with his hand, his arm, his balance... his body.

His skin had turned a rich crimson in color, his fingernails black. He straightened, found his balance odd, and realized that he could feel something brushing against the back of his legs... and feel his legs with the tail that brushed against them. Cautiously, he rolled his shoulders and straightened his back, but he didn't seem to have wings. That was probably for the better; the tail was throwing him off more than enough already. If the fiend had given him wings, he probably would have needed to learn how to walk all over again. Cautiously, he touched his forehead and found the small, upturned, goatlike horns there.

It seemed the devil had remade him in the image of its chosen form, at least mostly. He doubted there was anything elvish left in his blood; he wasn't even sure there was anything human. At least he seemed to be close to his former size and build.

Then Tabratha opened the library door, saw him, and shrieked.

Aristai flung his hands up, but her eyes went past him to the fireplace. He turned, and saw the book atop the burning logs, already more than half-consumed by the flames.

The sight turned her fearful surprise to anger. "What did you do with Aristai?" she demanded.

He tried to answer, but his against his will his throat clenched and no words came out. You are finished here, said the voice of fire and darkness.

I am destroyed, he told it.

You are reborn. Go. Leave this place.

He took a step towards Tabratha, who was tall and pretty despite her purely human blood, but she stepped back and pulled the door closed. It probably didn't make any difference; he still couldn't speak. He had sworn himself to the fiend's service, and it still held his throat closed against the passage of words. He looked around the library one last time, seeing nothing worth taking with him, then stepped to the door that led out to the smooth stone of the veranda. A moment later he was over the carved stone railing and gone, vanished into the night.

He would need supplies, but he supposed he could steal those if he was careful. He would also need to remain unnoticed, and that would be far more difficult. Most vitally of all, he needed to find some way to be rid of this curse and restored to his former life. That, he suspected, would be the most difficult thing of all.

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