The age of wizards and demons had passed centuries earlier, in the time of Middle Earth.
The demons had been banished and locked away deep in the earth, and there was no need for wizards now.
No one remembered anything important about that time as the centuries had rolled along. That time was spoken of now, as a kind of quaint mythology that might have been believed at one time, but no more.
Except… that time suddenly exploded again when the Naga miners, in their never-ending search for metals, had blundered into where the demons had been confined, deep beneath the mountains. They had accidentally released one of them before they could re-seal the chamber, trapping the other imps and demons, part in, and part out.
Which way it would go from there, no one knew.
With only limited freedom, the demons were confined, like the miners, unable to leave the mines.
Only the one complete demon could escape, but that was all that it would take. That one would soon be able to free the rest of them, but first, it had to learn of the outside world and what had changed in the eternity since its incarceration. Trapped as it still was in this husk of its former self, it needed to hunt, and to eat to regain its former strength, and to relearn of this world it now found itself in.
It would begin in that region where the Naga miners came from. Its presence and predations would soon have noticeable effects upon all who lived there, whether the Naga; the Luran (a tribe only of women), or the Harrif (a tribe only of men). It was just a matter of time. And not much time… just a few years.
It knew nothing of those tribes. Too much time had gone by. It needed to explore and relearn what it had forgotten.
The miners were trapped too, in an existence between life and death, waiting. Waiting either for death, or to be rescued.
Their plight would soon become known when they did not return home to their concerned families.
The search began within hours. Their wives and daughters searched deep into the mine for their men, not sure what to expect.
They may be trapped behind a rockfall or a flood had cut them off.
The mines had not changed in any way that they could see. There were neither rockfalls nor floods. Nor was there sign of any of their men.
The men had gone, and so too had their pack animals, but their tools, and the harness of those animals remained even where they must have been working. Food still lay on the tables, and the cooking fires had only recently died out.
There was no obvious trace of them, but it was clear that something unusual had happened to them.
The women returned home after days of searching the entire workings, seeing nothing out of place, except for the tools, deep within the mines, and which the miners would never have left where they were found.
In desperation, they consulted their records and the elders of their tribe who had recorded and archived their history. There was nothing written there about this. It had never happened before. Not in living memory. Not even in their recorded history.
With growing hopelessness, they appealed to their long-neglected gods, but got no answers there either.
They went back into the mines and searched deeper and farther.
Others, more in tune with that place, seemed to detect faint voices, and felt that they were being assailed by minor demons, trying to keep them out; to stop them from finding out too much, as those forces themselves, tried to complete their own liberation, but without success.
It soon became clear what had happened. A demon had broken free; the worst, and most powerful of them all, but the others were still partially confined.
There were few answers in their own records which went back many centuries.
The ancient book of Legends would tell them. No one had consulted that record within living memory, and they no longer believed in what it might tell them, except they had no choice, just like a drowning man will clutch at straws or a dying man will embrace beliefs that he had long ago discarded.
The ancient language was familiar to no one, but they struggled to untangle it, succeeding, slowly.
They soon deciphered what they needed most to know.
They learned that a demon had been released, but that it had lost its power. To survive as it was, and to leave the mines, it had been forced to take on a form from which all potential enemies would flee, as it slowly recovered.
It would take on the shape and manner of a bear; but not just any bear. Deprived for so long of light and nourishment, it had become an albino, sensitive to light, and with no protective hair or pigmentation. Those things would develop with time as it was able to become as it once had been. Until then, it needed to hide and to move only by night.
The Naga women learned that they needed outside help, and from a race called the Thorians.
They knew that name. They were a race of men; warriors renowned for their skill in hunting down and killing bears.
Their men had traded with them on the south side of the mountains, but they could not go through the mines as their men had done, to let them know of their need. The demons in the mines, seeing this new danger, had closed them out.
How could they summon that help, which lay beyond the mountains? And who, in that Thorian clan, could they call upon for help?
They eventually learned that there was such a being who existed and lived; a man, though he was not yet a man, but a Thorian boy. They would have to wait—and for as long as fifteen years—but they could try to learn who he was, if they could. He would also be called to find that bear for himself and kill it, if he could, when the moment was right.
They could not physically search beyond their own boundaries for themselves now, and into those realms they’d once traded with, having been denied the needed freedom to go where they needed to look. However, there were other entities, friendly to them, that could go beyond the mountains as they waited.
The birds, in their migrations, crossed them twice each year, but few outside of their community spoke the language of the birds or understood it anymore.
Nonetheless, a search would begin to find that one whom legend spoke of, who would eventually be able to free them from this curse when he learned of their plight.
The call went out, though without any certainty that anyone would hear it; or hearing it, would respond.
The demon knew what they intended. It would also search for this legendary figure that he was warned about, or it would wait, draw him in, and then kill him. It would then take this individual’s life-force, regain its former self and shape, then would be able to release its fellow demons; sealing the fate of the miners and putting an end to the rule of humans forever.
With each passing of the full moon the demon gained a little more substance, even as the Naga extended their specific search, but to no avail. They were blocked at every step and could learn nothing.
They would just have to wait.
Fifteen years might be cutting it close.
They were in a race against time, and against each other.