Prologue 2: The Hero
It took ten years to prepare her to lead the war. The nations spared no effort in raising her, arming her, and giving her the best of the best of what they could offer. Each nation and each territory of the Coalition sent their most powerful of warriors and magicians to teach her. Additionally they utilized all of their knowledge of magic to ensure that her power was sufficient, enchanting and weaving spells into her. After ten years of training she was a singularity of power, something that surely even the Demon Lord himself could not face. If the worm appeared again this time, it would surely be defeated in but a moment.
And so, it was with a massive army of more than ten thousand strong that the Hero left the Aerthian lands and entered the Corrupt Horror. She fought as though it came to her naturally as they reclaimed the lands that had been lost to the Demon Lord’s might. During none of the fights to the wall did any of the soldiers or magicians with her fall, and moral was high. Even when she faced massive monstrous beings that could have torn a fully armored man in half, she was able to defeat them with ease.
Once all of the land had been reclaimed but for the city at the very gate the first expedition had entered through, they surrounded the now fortresslike city. Giant walls of thorns and flesh had grown around it and swamplike pools lay beyond the walls. The pools themselves appeared to be acid and long tentacle-like appendages moved within. But, this was nothing to the Hero. With one attack she obliterated the very lands the swamp consisted of and the pools of acid evaporated as water thrown on a hot coal.
Even the living walls of thorns were nothing in the face of her power. Another single attack ripped a hole through them large enough for the army to pass through ten soldiers at a time and those on the edges were able to fend off any attacks from the now weakened walls. As the army entered the town various demonic Horrors attacked, but these things were not even a match for the common warrior, as though it were assumed that nothing could break through the defenses of the walls. The army fought through the city, most of which had been burned or was still on fire, until they reached the road that passed in front of the gate of the wall.
It was here that they ran into their first true challenge. A champion of sorts was waiting, guarding the gate from those who would pass through it. Assuring the Hero that they would be able to face this ‘champion’, a few warriors rushed towards it, but they were immediately brushed aside with such force that they were literally thrown from the city. For a moment chaos broke loose in the army as anyone who could attack from a distance did and those who could not began charging the champion.
With one word the Hero stopped them all. No, she would face the champion, she would defeat it and bring them passage through the gate. Drawing her sword she took her stance. The horrific champion looked at her, tilting what could only be assumed to be its head, and grinned. For a moment it vanished as it rushed her with speeds not seen in any of the Terrors before, but, as with everything else she had faced, the Hero didn’t flinch. With one swift attack, a slice up and to the right, she cut the champion in half just as it got close enough to strike at her. Its two halves continued moving until they fell to either side behind her.
The members of the army cheered. She truly was the Hero, the strongest Aerthian ever. Nothing could withstand her attacks, nothing… and then the gates burst open and that which was ‘worm’ in name only poured through. For the second time Aerthians tasted true fear as something with the length of a mountain and the width of the very city they stood within came rushing at them. Yet the Hero, taken aback for but a moment, stood her ground and raised the hilt of her sword over her head, the point towards the ground. Just as the worm’s mouth reached her it stopped as though it had hit an invisible field. The Hero had blocked a mountain, and she rapidly swung upward. A loud screeching sound, the sound of metal tearing, could be heard and most of the army covered their ears in pain, or fainted. Parts of the worm dropped from hundreds of feet in the air… but the worm was not dead.
Reeling back on itself, the worm continued to move, and it swung its front down upon the Hero. She reacted with a swing of her own, completely obliterating enough of its body to prevent any of the ten thousand around her from being crushed. Yet again reeling back the worm moved what remained of its front over the top of the wall, and started pulling the rest of its body with it.
For a moment the army let out a collective sigh, but the Hero held up her hand. Perhaps her training was simply that much better, or perhaps she had superhuman sense, but the Hero could sense something wasn’t right. The worm was up to something, and it would seriously hurt. The body was moving faster and faster through and over the wall, but the worm was not retreating, it was accelerating for another attack. Suddenly, and with a shockwave that ripped the roofs off of the remaining houses and extinguished the remaining fires, the tail emerged from the gate. The Hero swung her sword down in the direction opposite from the way the tail moved and a shockwave of equal force reached towards the tail just as it was about to reach her. The tail exploded in all directions, but managed to avoid seriously wounding any of those behind the Hero, and still she knew more was coming.
The sky had turned dark, yet it was still far too early for night. A massive shadow was looming from beyond the wall. Five times the width of the city and ten times the height of the wall, the shadow grew darker and darker. Those around the Hero looked around in confusion, but the Hero could sense the looming mass and anticipated the impending impact. From high in the sky, beyond the clouds, a massive streak of fire appeared around an even more massive body. The worm had burrowed so deep under ground, and come back up so quickly that it had ‘jumped’ into the sky. Now its body, truly the size of a mountain, was falling towards the city at an amazing speed.
All of those around her fell to their knees. Fighting a mountain with teeth was one thing… but how could anyone defend against a meteor the size of a city? Yet the hero was calm. She held her stance. She breathed in; she breathed out. Slowly she took a few steps forward and arked her sword behind her and at the ground. Carefully, slowly, she prepared her muscles and her energy. Slowly, she prepared her entire body. And with one word she attacked.
No one was entirely sure what happened. A flash of light, a loud bang, and then nothing. The worm flashed bright, its entire body light up much brighter than the flames caused by the friction of falling, and it simply broke apart. The fragments of its body either burned up or landed harmlessly around the walls of the city.
Once again, everyone cheered. A thunderous roar of cheering like nothing before. They had been spared the death anyone would have expected under the same circumstances. That night, after finding places to prepare food and sleep they held a feast in the Hero’s honor. But, after the party died down and all those not on guard duty had fallen asleep, the Hero collapsed in exhaustion.
True, she was the most powerful around. True she was a singularity of power and magic… but she was still mortal, and she only had so much she could do in so little time. Destroying the worm in a way that would save everyone had taken everything she had. She was completely exhausted, and it had been all she could do to not collapse in front of the army. But now, now she had to sleep...
“You have done well to make it this far.” A voice said. “You have done well to protect… or nearly protect all those around you. To have made it to my ‘castle’ with so few deaths, and to have enabled those who were wounded to retreat under every circumstance… you have done well.”
The hero’s eyes snapped open. She was standing at the end of a long carpet running down the center of an even longer hall with sets of pillars on either side to hold up the ceiling. The hall was probably twenty or thirty feet wide and easily a hundred yards long. On either side, between the pillars, were groups of Horrors of unspeakable natures. At the end of the hall, with a single horror on either side, sat a man in the most horrific and blood drenched armor the Hero could imagine.
“Tell me,” Said the man. “What should I call you? Hero?”
The Hero immediately drew her sword and pointed it at the Demon Lord. She was keenly aware of the guards that surrounded her. Although she was not quite sure how she had come to be here, she knew that through much hardship and many sacrifices, she had finally reached her destination and was able to face the vile evil of this world: the Demon Lord himself. She would not, she could not let the sacrifices of those she had fought alongside go in vain.
She remembered… She remembered that after nearly half of the army was forced to return home, some to infection and disease, some to poisons, some to the sheer horror that surrounded them, they had come across an army of beastmen. At first the two armies thought to face one another, but the Hero had realized at the same time as their leader that the beastmen army wasn’t there to attack them, no more than they were there to attack beastmen. She, as did the beastmen leader, calmed her army down and the two armies met, peacefully.
Apparently the beastmen had been suffering as much as the Aerthians. While originally a tribal people, the beastmen were similar to the animals they appeared to be and those of carnivorous nature had ‘cultivated’ those of herbivorous nature. This temporarily ended when the Demon Lord demanded tribute and sacrifices from the beastmen, as, rather than deal with fighting one another they had been forced to deal with the Demon Lord… As a result the carnivorous had learned to cultivate unintelligent animals instead of their herbivore counterparts.
Like the Aerthians, during the absence of the Demon Lord, they had rapidly expanded, which was partly why it had been so easy for the Aerthians to catch so many of them as slaves… this had, however, gone both ways. And when the Demon Lord reappeared they had been hit just as hard as the Aerthians, which brought them to much the same conclusion as the Aerthians. However, the leader of the beastmen did not have the same power as the Hero, so she, a female wolf-like person, decided to work under the Hero… so long as the Hero lead with the interests of both peoples in mind.
Much later, and after a second battle with another worm, more people had been forced to retreat. During their entire travels very, very few people had died. Most had met other fates, usually causing them to be forced to return ‘home.’ The very sanity of the lands they traveled was often called into question and it taxed everyone’s minds. The senses could rarely be trusted and the Grim Totems that had harassed the towns outside the walls, here, moved. Even those who had not fallen in battle began appearing as Grim Totems, their bodies mangled and their voices pleading for mercy or death. There was little surprise when another person could take no more and fell into insanity; this did, however, force more people to return as the insane could not return on their own.
It was here that the two armies met yet another army. An army of elementals, of whom the beastmen knew. Because of the interaction between the beastmen and Aerthians, the time spent bearing teeth between these two armies was far less, and the fact that the elementals seemed to be as intelligent as the Aerthians made things far simpler. Unlike the stories they had been told of mindless, soulless elemental that wander the lands, these people had history and culture.
Many of the elementals had suddenly spawned in this world, intelligent, but with no knowledge of where they came from or the world around them. Some of the elementals had met pleasantly and peacefully and the spread of culture, knowledge and goods began… but when opposing elements met through mutual friends or on journeys the meetings were far from pleasant. It would often go something like this: Beings of fire met beings of water. They attempted to greet one another and water began extinguishing fire, inadvertently and without understanding what was happening. Fire reacted as any living thing would when suddenly attacked and fought back, bringing harm to the humanoid being of plant that was traveling with the living water. War ensued.
When the Demon Lord appeared here, instead of the materialistic tribute demanded of the other peoples, parts of the elementals’ bodies were demanded, in addition to sacrifices and ‘living samples’. This, to the elementals, was like asking for something ranging from the obscene to the necrotic… an affront on their personage.
The elementals had a kind of dependency on one another. As in nature, the elementals interacted and modified one another, usually in beneficial ways. Water elementals would often gain impurities within themselves from the surrounding environment, and it was the interaction with plant elementals that would remove these impurities. Earth elementals had a similar relationship with the plant ones, as in the process of consuming earth they could ingest undesirable things.
Similar to the relationship between earth, water and plant elementals, fire, air and crystalline elementals had a purifying interaction. Air elementals could bring sustenance to fire elementals allowing them to burn brighter, while fire elementals would burn the impurities out of the air elementals. Similarly fire would help crystalline elementals grow, or even move if they got too cold. Air elementals could erode growths off of crystalline elementals.
Of course, not all interactions were beneficial, but the elementals had learned to avoid those harmful ones. Fire avoided touching plant directly, as did water with fire. Erosion, at least when gentle, was rarely a problem, so water and air rarely had to worry about interacting with earth or crystalline elementals. So long as the water elemental was very pure, electrical elementals did not need to worry about interacting with them, but they obviously could not interact directly with plant or crystalline elementals, particularly those made of metals.
While it had not always been so in the past, this exchange was always mutual and consensual. It was a trade of resources or unnecessary parts directly from one body to another. In many ways it was sacred to the elementals. So, unlike the Aerthian and beastmen systems of trade, to be told to give in this way was repulsive.
However, unlike the expansion and strife the beastmen and Aerthians experienced during the Demon Lord’s absence, the elementals had continued to prepare themselves. With the help of a being similar to an Aerthian, they constructed powerful weapons, and mastered deep magics. These magics had finally allowed mutual peace and harmony among all of the elementals, regardless of opposing type. When they learned that some of their people were being enslaved by similar magics, they had felt betrayed and became enraged.The one who had helped them earnestly apologized and suggested they finish their preparation to face the evil they sought to fight, as the origin of this magic was stolen from there, if not the Demon Lord himself, then from the land he cursed.
Thus the elementals finished their preparation and passed through the wall to take revenge for their stolen and enslaved brethren. However, unlike the Aerthians and beastmen, the Terrors had nearly no effect on the elementals. The only thing they had needed to fight against along the way were the worms and other beings found in the region. They always defeated the worms without many losses, and most of the other beings were similar in power or size. Therefore the size of the elemental army was much larger than the current beastmen and Aerthian alliance, and they were in far better spirits.
The Aerthians earnestly apologized for the elemental’s enslavement. They explained that they had been led to believe that the elementals were mindless beings that felt nothing. They also assured the elementals that once this war was over they would free any remaining elemental slaves. Accepting the their apologies, the elementals explained that some of their kind were without mind or feelings, and a dialog was opened between the two peoples. The Hero was fascinated to learn about these entirely foreign beings, and continued to listen to them and ask questions whenever they had the chance to talk.
With the presence of the elementals things should have become easier. As the elementals appeared to be immune to the terror of this land, everyone was able to move more freely and without worrying about what they saw or felt. In the event that someone was attacked by a horror, the elementals were almost always able to destroy it, and if they were not able to immediately brush it off, they managed to seal it away instead.
With such a large army the two final worms they fought fell almost as soon as they erupted from the ground. The gargantuan monsters began to simply avoid them, and even the Demon Lord’s armies themselves fled after fighting for a few minutes. Things should have been simple, and yet they were not. By the time she had found the demonic city containing the Demon Lord’s castle nearly all of the forces she had fought alongside were gone.
Even with the help of the elementals the insanity continued afflicting the Aerthians and beastmen until only a few remained. Once nearly all of the Aerthians and beastmen were gone the most of the elementals suddenly vanished. Those that remained reacted in horror beyond anything the Hero had witnessed before. The only information she could get before the final elemental fled into an approaching storm was something about being sealed and the soul being ripped asunder…
But now, now she was facing the cause of all of this. Now she was no more than a hundred yards from the Demon Lord himself.
“Yes, I am the Hero.” She replied. “And you are the Archenemy of all living things.”
“So, you are here to kill me, I assume?” The demon lord asked with a lazy tone.
“Of course!” The Hero yelled. “I will avenge all those who have fallen victim to you! I will avenge all those who went insane and had to retreat on the way to defeat you! I will avenge the world and finally bring it peace!”
“So… you are here to kill me… in that?” The Demon Lord asked, idly pointing an arched eyebrow at the Hero.
Suddenly taken aback the Hero looked down at her armor. “What of it?” She demanded.
The Hero’s armor was the best forged armor in the land. All of the experts had been brought together and given what ever resources they asked for to make her armor. There could be no question as to its quality.
“Hero! My dear Hero.” The Demon Lord replied. “That armor barely covers your breasts and arms. It leaves your midriff completely open to attack. That loincloth isn’t much more than a chastity belt, if not a torture device. Your arms and legs are either covered in cloth or not covered at all. And that thing on your head looks more like a queens crown from some fairy tale than a helmet. I simply cannot imagine that it provides you more protection than it arouses the men around you.”
Shocked at the Demon Lords words, the hero considered how she was dressed. She had protection for her heart and lungs. Her skull had protection. Any glancing blows to her waist would be easily deflected, and yet she still somehow felt... chilled.
“But! But, no! The best blacksmiths in the land. The best armorsmiths in the land had been hired just to make her armor. The armor she wore now. No expense, no effort had been spared to kill this evil. They had prepared her with all that they possibly could.” she thought.
“It is no matter. I can deflect any attack with my sword if my armor cannot stop it.” The Hero replied, just a little less sure of herself.
“While I would agree that you have proven that true,” the Demon Lord began. “Certainly, you entered the gate city with but two swings of that sword. Certainly, you defeated numerous worms, which even I had difficulty with on a number of occasions. Certainly you have managed to protect, nearly, everyone from physical harm yourself. That sword has seen better days, and I would not be surprised that, if you were to use it, it would be its final attack.”
Once again taken aback, the Hero looked at her weapon. It had become a little duller during her fights, but against the enemies she had fought, that was to be expected. It wasn’t like it was dented or fractured anywhere, just a little duller… No, she would prove him wrong. She hadn’t come here to talk anyway, but to end his reign of terror.
She adjusted her stance and raised her sword over her head. Now, for the first time since she had set out, she placed both hands on the sword. During her training she had been told that using both hands dramatically increased her power, more than doubling it… but she had never needed to do this as everything she had fought with fell before her in but a few swings. Even during practice she had overwhelmed the most talented and strongest of opponents. They had all surrendered within a few moments.
Focusing her entire being into her stance and through her sword she called all of her power to be focused from hilt to point. A light began radiating from the sword, almost like flames stretching outward. The light began to grow brighter as the flames extended further and began to dance and lick at the surrounding air as a maiden’s voice rang out in song. Her entire body began to emanate with heat, light and power, and a wind blew from her in all directions as the carpet under her feet singed.
Now, fully aflame with her energy radiating from her and her sword, she thrust the sword downward at the Demon Lord. Slightly bewildered that no one had moved to attack her this entire time, and writing it off to her speed, she released her attack; her final, most powerful attack, athe whom she must defeat…
And her sword shattered. Not even halfway through the ark of her attack the sword fractured and shattered. All of the energy she had focused into it released prematurely into the ceiling, but the majority of it still was directed at the Demon Lord. Even if he had been correct about the sword, her attack was still more than enough to completely eradicate the mountainous worms, the behemoth beasts, and the enormous birds of this land. Nothing had ever been able to withstand a lesser strike from her, and there was no way the Demon Lord could withstand her most powerful attack.
Yet, why wasn’t he moving? He was still sitting on his throne, lazily relaxing. Had he given up? Resigned himself to the rightful and just death that was coming to him? But… no one in the room had moved, or moved much, to escape her attack. Was no one here afraid of death? That couldn’t possibly be true. Even if these were the Demon Lord’s imperial guard, all life fears its own end. All living things try to survive. Even the monsterous things she had fought in these lands had tried to escape their ultimate demise when they realized they could not win. So why were these things so relaxed?
Then, without her even realizing it, the Demon Lord disappeared. The energy she had released faded as if being absorbed or moved far away, and she suddenly felt a stabbing pain pierce from her back straight through her heart. Looking down as the strength to stand began to leave her legs, she saw the front of a sword sticking out through her chestplate, her blood slowly flowing down it.
As the sword was casually withdrawn she coughed up blood. She had failed. She was going to die here having been able to do absolutely nothing. The Aerthian, beastmen and elemental people would still be tormented, or worse… had her actions enraged the Demon Lord to the point of initiating all out war upon her people? Was her death not only in vain but also the catalyst to her people’s own ultimate destruction. Rather than worry for herself, the Hero’s last thoughts in life were of those who had sent her here…
“That armor, that sword… It is almost as though you were gift wrapped and sent here to me on a platter. How kind of those you believed to be helping you. How kind of those you believed yourself to be fighting for… and how fitting an end to the Hero...” the Demon Lord’s voice became fainter as her consciousness began to fade...
“RELEASE!” A loud voice said from behind the hero.
Suddenly she was standing again. Her sword still broken, shattered into dust, but standing, alive, nonetheless. She felt a hand on her back and rapidly moved to look at who it was. The young woman squeaked, flinched away from her and and ran back to the group to the hero’s right. As she dashed away the Hero could have sworn she saw pink, human, flesh framed in large mouse-like ears, and a long mousy tail flowing from the red dress of the girl now hiding in the crowd of… they were no longer Horrors, but people… various people of both Aerthian, beastman and elemental descent.
And yet, there was something wrong with all of them. The beastmen looked far too Aerthian and the elementals did as well. Instead of being completely covered in coarse fur only some places were, such as the hands, feet, tail and ears. The elementals appeared almost human, but made of up what ever element they represented. Clothes fashioned from the same element also covered their now humanoid bodies. This was unlike anything the Hero had ever seen before, even within the two armies she had fought alongside.
“Welcome to the reality of your world.” The Demon Lord said. “These are descendants from the peoples you met on your way here. But not just of those peoples, they have Aerthian genetics in them as well.”
“I don’t understand.” The Hero replied meekly, turning to look at the Demon Lord.
She was almost relieved to see that his appearance had not changed in the least, but to his right stood a vampire woman, and to his left stood a succubus instead of the two Horrors she had seen before. The Demon Lord was clad in nearly pitch black armor, humanoid skulls and various other parts appeared to be protruding from it almost at random, creating a horrific appearance. From most of the parts something that looked like blood oozed and dripped. The armor, utterly impractical for fighting, almost had the appearance of the Grim Totems she had seen too often before.
“I don’t suspect you would.” The Demon Lord replied, standing up. “You, as with most of the Aerthians, have lived a far too sheltered life in your little kingdoms and nations.” As he spoke he began removing the armor. “You have been lied to by your rulers and by the many Churches in which you worship. They have led you to believe that anything ‘not like you’ is evil. Even those who should rightfully be considered human, or Aerthian are turned into monsters… all in the name of easily controlling the population and preventing you from asking questions about fighting those not ‘like’ you.”
The Demon Lord had finished removing the horrific armor and was now clad in long silvery white robes. Gloves of the same color and material could be seen protruding from the oversized sleeves and the Hero could also see the tips of shoes, again, of the same material, peaking out from underneath the curves of the robes as they rested on the floor. The man’s face was not all that horrific, dark brown hair, a long reddish brown beard, and a light brown mustache… it was almost as though every natural hair color was mixed, with dark brown, on his head. His eyes were a hazel color and his skin far paler than any she had ever seen.
“Who are you?” She asked.
“I am who you think I am.” He replied. “The Demon Lord.”
“You, you’re evil?” She stumbled. “You don’t…”
“What? I don’t appear to be evil enough?” He laughed. “Without that armor, I don’t suppose I do… but, then, perhaps the ‘Demon Lord’ isn’t what you think it is either?”
“I’m confused.” The Hero said simply, “What do you mean?”
“It certainly is true that I appear to be evil. I have cast a wide area spell to create the most horrific apparitions the viewer can imagine to prevent people from entering… or staying within my lands, at least without permission.” The Demon Lord replied. “I set up phantasms for those who are able to withstand the insanity spell to fight and lose against, and when they’ve lost I have them returned to beyond the wall.”
“Wait. What? Why?”
“Why? What purpose would killing them serve?” he asked.
“What purpose is there in letting them go?” she retorted.
“So that they can return to their families and finish their short, but happy lives.”
“Short?” The Hero nearly spat. “So you curse them?”
Looking offended the Demon Lord responded, “Certainly not.” Then he blinked and laughed. “Sorry, sorry. I have lived a very, very long time. The lives of nearly all those around me are… short. Depressingly so at times.”
Once again, “I don’t understand,” was all the Hero could manage.
The Demon Lord sighed. “That’s fine. I don’t expect you to completely understand immediately.” He paused. “Think of it this way. What I am doing is certainly for my own benefit, I won’t deny that. But I am not doing these things for the reasons you believe. That is all but an illusion, subterfuge; much to the same end as the lies you, and those like you, have been fed since you were young to keep you in line and prepare you to slaughter or enslave those that are not like you.”
Here he paused and turned to the crowd to the Hero’s left. “I am sure she is hungry and tired. Will someone bring us some food and something for her to be seated on?” … There was a shuffling noise as some people ran out of the room through exits not immediately visible as the Demon Lord continued, “In reality I am pulling people out of your regions and cultures who have found themselves in a situation beyond their control that is causing them to suffer. The so-called ‘tributes’ of produce and livestock are returned many times over as I... How should I put it… bless the land and animals to give more bountiful return. When an illness strikes a village, town or greater I request the immediate leader send me one of the ill… preferably the one least likely to survive… I find a cure for the illness and return the cure.”
Again he paused as someone had returned with food and drink, and another with a chair and small table. The Hero looked at both skeptically, she was in the house of the Demon Lord after all. What he was saying sounded well intentioned, but they could simply be pretty words to trick her. The food could be poisoned and the furniture cursed…
“Hero. My dear Hero.” The Demon Lord said seeing her hesitation. “If I had wished to kill you, I would not have made it an illusion. If I wished to put you under some sort of power to gain control of you I could have simply used the horror illusions as it is their primary function to temporarily hypnotize their victims into doing my bidding… which is usually to leave my lands. I have no need for petty tricks… not at this stage.”
Reluctantly, the Hero sat down and grabbed some of the food. There was bread, some greens and some sort of meat. For a moment she considered what kind of meat it could be but the Demon Lord laughed and assured her, “It isn’t human, or any Aerthian, beastman, elemental or demonoid. It is just a normal animal, one I received as tribute, no less.”
As she was quite hungry, supplies had been running very low as their supply chain was nearly nonexistent and no natural food could be found in the land, she decided to try and eat. Whether it was because of the rations she had been eating until now or not, the food was quite good. Even something as simple as it appeared to be. The liquid appeared to be alcohol, but nothing she had already encountered at inns or during her training. Water could be dangerous if not purified and purifying water was difficult, so light alcohol, which rarely went ‘bad’ was more common to drink than most other things.
“When I demanded a person or group as tribute it was almost always to get them out of a bad situation… such as slavery, or what may as well have been. The so-called ‘human sacrifices’ I demanded were never harmed, and, in fact have lead far better lives here than they would have otherwise.”
“If you are such a good person,” the Hero interrupted. “Then why all of the trickery? Why not just outright show what you really are? Why make everyone fear you to the extent of hating you?”
The Demon Lord laughed, far longer than the Hero would have expected. “Good questions, all good questions.” He replied. “Allow me to put it simply. There are three reasons for me to do what I am doing. First and foremost, the nations you came here to protect, that of the Aerthians, what do you think they would be doing right now if not for my threat?”
Surprised, and a little annoyed at having a question answered with a question, the Hero thought for a second. “Spreading their territory and leading peaceful lives.” she responded.
“Well, you are half right. I will give you that.” the Demon Lord walked back to his throne, which didn’t look nearly as impressive as it had before the horror illusion was released, and grabbed something. Turning around and walking back to the Hero, he revealed a set of maps. “This is a map of the Aerthian’s current territory.”
“I can see that.” She retorted.
“I suppose so, but can you see anything wrong with it?”
The Hero looked at the map closely. At first she couldn’t see anything ‘wrong,’ but as her eyes traced the border lines between the nations she realized something. “There are more than one line around the borders!”
“Exactly.” Replied the Demon Lord. “This map is created using the exact maps each nation has depicting their borders. I have estimated as closely as possible based upon these maps where the actual physical border for each nation is. If what they claim is correct then each nation is claiming a minimum of a mile, and sometimes nearly half of its neighbor's territory.”
“That’s absurd!” The Hero yelled. If this were true then either war was eminent or they were some sort of mistake.
“There is no mistake. While the maps each nation shows to its rivals has vastly more modestly drawn borders, the maps they use for themselves and through which they make their plans are all wildly exaggerated.” The Demon Lord said calmly. “And you are definitely correct about one thing. War is eminent. Without a constant threat bringing them all together, your peaceful nations would be at each other’s throats.”
“And you are that constant threat?” The Hero retorted skeptically.
“Exactly. When something bigger, more powerful than a group of people poses a threat to them, more often than not they will ignore their differences and past strife… up until the point where they have removed the threat. After that all hell breaks loose again and the wars for territory and resources spread like wildfire through tall, dry grass.”
She couldn’t believe it. This was insane. Was this man suggesting he was preventing fighting among her people? Was he implying that he was some benevolent overlord playing everyone as pawns? What did he get out of it? Grim satisfaction as people danced in the palms of his hands? Perhaps he didn’t kill people, which she had been given no evidence of. Perhaps he did provide some sort of ‘protection’ in return for his demands… Perhaps what he said was true, but wasn’t this worse than what he was pretending to-
“Ok, I’m going to cut you off there.” The Demon Lord interjected into the Hero’s thoughts. “While I am sure my actions do appear as though I am simply manipulating everyone, that itself is not my intention. I desire peace among the peoples, and within their worlds. Your fighting amongst yourselves and against those around me is making my work extremely difficult, and, to be honest, is painful for me as well.”
What? Wait, what? The Hero had noticed this a few times before, but now she was convinced.
“Yes, I can read your mind… or, in part your thoughts and in part your body language.” replied the Demon Lord. “You would be really bad at poker, or any gambling between two or more people.” Suddenly, he jumped as though something came to mind. “Oh, but I am only receiving the thoughts you are directing at me, your more personal or private thoughts I have no access to.”
The Demon Lord moved back and sat down on his ‘throne,’ in the process he kicked the armor he had first been wearing to once side. The Hero remembered that even after everything else changed the armor still remained the same. As the difference between it and everything else was confusing she thought she would ask, “Isn’t that your armor?”
“What, this pile of malice?” The Demon Lord replied, kicking the armor again. “Heaven’s no. I took this off of a malevolent tyrant about fifteen years ago.”
Fifteen years ago? That was a year before the Hero was born. It was merely four years before the Aerthians started working together to eliminate the Demon Lord. Wait, did he have something to do with that as well? No, he must have, didn’t he just imply -if not outright say- that he did. What happened fifteen years ago?
“Fifteen years ago… no, about forty-five years ago a cruel tyrant was born into one of the Aerthian kingdoms. As a child he tormented and killed what ever smaller animals he could get his hands on, until he grew bored of this and started trying to torment things bigger than him, such as his guards, servants and any slaves he could get bought for him.” The Demon Lord replied. “I tell you, it was one hell of a mess to clean up, and, unfortunately, he discovered me. After that he decided to work against me, I guess because he perceived my actions were meant to ruin his fun. Once he entered power over his nation he imposed horrible laws, had frequent showings of capital punishment, and was the prime transporter of slave labor in the Aerthian lands.”
The hero had no knowledge of this. No history was recorded of such a tyrant. If it was such a short time ago then surely she would have heard something about it. The torment and deaths of people wouldn’t simply vanish into nothing, the person she sat in front of was the perfect example of this. So how could what he was saying possibly be true?
“Furthermore, I’m not sure how, but he found the villages I created within my lands and started trying to extract my people for slavery. I probably should have dealt with him long before that, but it was the final straw.” The Demon Lord continued. “I prepared my own warriors, armed them with my own weapons and armors; far beyond what I had previously presented guards with, and we marched for his border. You likely know what came next. You have witnessed and fought against the effects I created along my path to his kingdom… but he put up a fight, like the cornered animal he was.”
“Using the military he could muster from the surrounding nations, many of which he had subdued by force or coercion, he attempted to fight back. I tried to spare as many of the troops he threw at me as I could… but some of them had gone mad, almost as much as he, and I was forced to put them down. When I finally managed to reach his borders he threw his own citizens at me. You’ve seen the Grim Totems… that was his idea… although they would rarely have survived longer than a few hours. What should have been a short military campaign turned into a war of attrition, my side trying desperately to save the wounded he threw at us, his side slowly running out of… munitions.
“When I finally reached his castle and his throne, do you know what he did?” the Demon Lord asked.
“I cannot imagine.” replied the Hero.
“You should be able to, you virtually lived it.” The Demon Lord replied. “The first half anyway. He welcomed me, ‘Hero’ with a cynical smile and had his own daughter, no older than five years of age, attempt to stab me through the back. I was so angry that I nearly obliterated the poor girl before I realized what I was doing. But, the bastard, he continued throwing family members at me… as though that would stop his ultimate fate. Some of his family, whether as insane as he or simply unable or unwilling to stop continued to fight me until I was forced to end their lives, but when I finally stopped everything he threw at me I walked up to him and…”
“You killed him.” the Hero said flatly..
“No. I view death as a release. While alive you can experience new things, whether good or bad. To kill someone is to cut this off from them, and someone I want to punish… I won’t let them die.” The Demon Lord replied. “No. All of the Horrors you have witnessed up to this point. All of the Terrors and most of the monsters are from his insanity. He still lives, locked deep within this building, sealed within a powerful magic that consumes his evil, purifying it into intentionless magics. But, while his body may be sealed, his mind is still active and I draw out the horrific insanities he produces and give them phantasmical form to ward off those who would try to enter my land. If exposed to it for too long… well, you have witnessed that more than enough yourself.”
“He is still alive?” the Hero asked. “You kept him alive? For what purpose?”
“Didn’t I just say? For the crimes he committed, not only to me and my people but to his own; his own family, I ensure he suffers a fate worse than death.” The Demon Lord replied. “Once I have burned the insanity from his soul, then, and only then will I let him die. In the meantime I will use his own horrific mind to ward off those who would become like him.”
“So, let me see if I understand you.” the Hero began. “Forty-five years ago a horrible tyrant was born in Aerth. When he started tormenting people you tried to stop him and he caught you. He came to power and the two of you started fighting, with you eventually winning?”
“That is roughly what I said, yes.”
“I don’t believe you!” the Hero exclaimed. “I would have heard something about it if what you say had happened!”
“Oh, so you are telling me that the people who wanted to use you to kill me told you everything about their history?” the Demon Lord retorted. “If you had been told that a thing had been the apex of evil for all of your life, and then you walked in to save your people from it, only to discover that it was your people tormenting that thing… would you still fight for your people? If those you perceived as ‘good’ were suddenly discovered to be more evil than those you perceived as ‘evil’ then what would you do?”
Aghast, the Hero stared at the Demon Lord. He had already implied that those who trained her, those who raised her… those she was fighting for, had lied to her, but to this extent? He was claiming that they were evil, more so than he made himself out to be. That was ridiculous. The people she was fighting for were good, righteous people. Even if they did lie to her they wouldn’t go so far as to change the truth that much.
“I know you want to believe in those who sent you here.” the Demon Lord said. “But there is something you should know. Ever since I brought you here I have been working at unravelling a number of spells placed upon you that are intended to fully activate the latent power hidden within you, should you fail to kill me, causing your body to detonate and annihilate not only those around you, but you as well. Those you believe in sent you here to die.”
“Absurd! There is no way what he was saying was true! The leaders of her people wouldn’t take such malicious measures. They wouldn’t plan to sacrifice her from the very beginning, they didn’t need to as they believed in her and her power! The Demon Lord had to be lying. He had to be telling her things to make her turn against her own people.” she thought, her mind whirling at the implications.
“Of course you don’t believe me. How could you?” the Demon Lord said, what sounded almost like pity in his voice. “You have been brainwashed by those you trust most so that you cannot do anything but fight against me. For now I have managed to bypass this conditioning so that we can talk; when you were released from the death illusion you were also released from the terror illusions hiding my people. However, if I don’t strip these curses from you quickly enough the spells hidden inside you will cause your power to will go out of control and you will destroy anything that gets in your way, be it friend or foe. I will NOT allow you to harm my people.”
No. NO! He had to be lying! These were just words to confuse her. She had relaxed up to this point, true, but that was because she could continue fighting at any time she wanted. Her sword… had already been broken. The best sword the Aerthians could forge had broken. Her armor, while it has been just an illusion, had provided no protection at all… Was what he was saying true?
A deep anger and hatred began welling up from within the Hero. She felt her body warming up until it was as though she were on fire. As she looked at her arms and hands she noticed that her power was releasing itself beyond her control. No, it wasn’t just that, more power than she had ever known she had was welling up within her. Very quickly, too quickly it was becoming painful. The hatred and anger, directed at the man in front of her, was blinding and she could feel her body beginning to move without her control.
She stood up, flamelike energy spewing out around her. The energy was so great that sparks were dancing from her to anything within range. She could see that her very skin was glowing brightly with the amount of energy being constantly released. This was bad. At this rate, if she continued to release this much energy constantly, she would die as her very soul was consumed and lost.
Glaring at the Demon Lord she raised both hands and lurched forward. Her actions were beyond her control and fear swept through her mind and down her body. She couldn’t stop. She was going to attack the Demon Lord and what was happening to her body was proof that she would explode with a force she had never heard of before. Nothing and no one would be able to escape the blast and the entire Wilds may be destroyed…
“Damn.” the Demon Lord muttered. “I wasn’t able to remove all of them quickly enough.”
He jumped up from the throne and ran to her. All she could think was ‘No, stop. If you come to me we will both die.’ but she couldn’t say a word.
As he reached her the Demon Lord placed one hand centered on her chest and the other centered on her forehead. The space around them distorted and the surroundings became blurred; she could only assume that some sort of barrier had been created. From both of the Demon Lord’s hands she felt a sensation enter her that was both warm and cool at the same time. The sensation rapidly emanated through her body and she could feel her energy beginning to calm down.
Unfortunately this was not the end as just as quickly as her energy began to calm down it flared up again. Now she could feel her flesh beginning to burn and peel away, like embers riding the heat currents over a winter's hearth. As the energy building within her began to exceed what she could physically withstand her bones fractured and cracked, and her blood began to boil. It hurt, it burned; it was far worse than anything she had ever experienced before, or could have even imagined. The pain was unbearable and she began to lose consciousness. This was the end of her… the end of everything.
“No. I will not allow you to sacrifice another.” said a voice. The Hero felt that she recognized the voice, but her memories were vague and fading away. “If I must consume and divert this energy to save her…” the voice trailed off as everything went dark.