“Lower your sword, oh great hero.”
I felt my grip tightening around my blade as I stared at the black cloaked man in front of me with pure hatred. My parents, my village, my future… He was the one who had taken them from me, he had taken everything I had held dear. And now he’s holding my brother up by the throat and I’m still powerless to stop him… Damnit!
“What’s this? Did you not understand me? Here let me make this simpler for you…” The man’s hands writhed as demonic claws suddenly burst through to the surface, my heart stopped as bloody lines formed on my brother’s neck were the claws dug into his skin. “You will drop your weapon or I will be decapitating your brother right here and now as you watch. Either way I’ll be happy with the outcome really, so I’ll let you have ten seconds to decide. Ten. Nine. Eight…”
My hands trembled, my vision shook, and my thoughts screeched to a stop. Here in front of me was the man who had ruined my life, the demon lord it was my destiny to kill, but I couldn’t make a move. Even with all my strengths he had found my one weakness, the same weakness he had exploited every time I’d cornered him. I couldn’t stand to lose Alon like I did the others, I’d rather die.
“Five. Four. Three… Two…”
“Alright! You win…” I hung my head in shame as my trusty blade clattered to the floor. “Just… Just let him go.”
The man smiled as his face rippled like there were a thousand squirming worms underneath his skin. “Now why would I ever do that? Oh my poor, sweet, misguided hero… Did your god never tell you what sort of fate you were destined for?” His grip tightened around Alon’s neck and I saw the light leave my brother’s eyes. I prayed that my brother had only lost consciousness and that he wasn’t… I just couldn’t lose anyone else. “Mine did. Oh yes! Mal explained everything to me quite simply, she told me that by walking this path I’d be reviled. Hated, scorned, despised, and even hunted by people such as you and your now departed comrades until the day I die. Mal was very clear in that, she told me to abandon any hope I had for companionship or fame. That the best I could ever hope for on this path would be obedient fear and infamy... Tell me what did your god tell you? What did Rah tell the little girl to have her take up the dangerous and heavy burden of being a god chosen hero?”
I could feel my clenched fists trembling as the man paced before me swinging my limp brother in his hands as he spoke. I wanted to pick up my blade, cast my magic, and rescue my brother from his vile clutches. Perhaps if this was a year ago I would have tried doing just that, but now… I had lost too many of my companions because of that sort of recklessness to ever consider doing something like that again, not with my brother on the line this time.
“That wasn’t a rhetorical question girl.” Suddenly the man was right in front of me, his crimson eyes glowing with malice and staring deep into my own. “You’ll tell me what that hypocritical bitch calling herself the one true god promised you or this will be the last time you’ll see brother dearest alive again. In fact maybe I’ll send him back as an undead and have him try to kill you, that seemed to work well with that archer boy you were so fond of…”
I glared back at him matching the malice in his eyes with my own bottomless hatred. “Rah promised that if I chose to become her hero I would get to kill you.” I practically spat out the words as I matched the man’s gaze.
The man laughed as he suddenly appeared where he had been pacing before on the far side of the cavern once again. “Hahaha, that’s all? My, my… You really are an easy mark weren’t you? Mal had to offer me near infinite control over darkness and the infernal powers before I was willing to agree to her terms! The promise to kill me, hah! You heroes always seem to get bullshit like that! Are you all stupid or is that bitch Rah just holding out on you all?”
I subtly inched my foot closer to my blade, if I could just manage to get my boot under the blade unnoticed I could flip it back into my hands. Then it would only take a bright flash of my light magic to distract him and…
“Tsk-tsk, now Dawn that’s not very heroic of you… Really? Plotting a sneak attack? And worse yet you had the gall to think I wouldn’t notice? Me? I’m disappointed with you…” The man sneered at me as my foot froze suddenly and I realized I had already begun moving unconsciously. “I have an entire century of experience dealing with heroes, assassins, and all sorts of people employing any method you could ever think of to kill me. The fact that you thought that I, the greatest demon lord of the age, wouldn’t notice something so obvious… It’s just insulting…” The man smiled as a cruel sadistic light danced in his eyes. “And of course an insult like that deserves a suitable punishment. Oh, don’t worry! I’m not going to do anything to you directly, no that would be too easy…”
My blood ran cold and my body moved on instinct. Suddenly I found myself rushing forward with my blade in hand and a spell on my lips, as my mouth began to speak the familiar chant my mind started to judge what approach would be most effective to save my brother and kill the demonic monster in front of me. “By the grace of my light…”
“Malice rule: Appear.” His chant was too short, I didn’t even have time to speak a spell before a clear orb appeared in his free hand.
Stepping forward I shouted my spell as I slashed at the arm holding my little brother hostage. “…Shining radiance!” Even as my blade cut through empty shadows my body gave off an impossibly bright white aura that cast motes of shining brilliance all around me. Under the light of my magic the man was forced back and his body began to give of dense black smoke as he grimaced in pain.
“I see you’ve gotten faster, your magic has grown more potent as well… You might actually be a threat to me this time girl…”
I’ll need to be faster… I’ll have to stop trying to avoid cutting Alon, otherwise I’ll never land any sort of meaningful hit. He’ll be fine as long as he doesn’t die outright. Alon can be healed with the help of our light magic, but he needs to be rescued first… Looking up I prepared myself for another charge, but what I saw made me freeze and lose any thought of continuing my attacks. The monster was in his full demonic appearance and was holding the orb now fully black and radiating a feeling of malice and hate against my brother’s chest. Only one word repeated in my mind, a word that told me that once again I had failed and wasn’t strong enough to stop this monster from taking away someone important to me forever. It was a word filled with all my despair and hopelessness, a word that slipped out of my lips as I watched powerlessly. “No…”
“You know, at first I really was planning to turn your dear brother here into an undead… But well, what can I say? Plans change…” I watched in horror as the orb sunk into my brother’s chest, the demon’s words sounded resolutely in my mind as I watched Alon’s body begin to spasm and tremble. “So now you get to watch as everything that made your brother even remotely human gets stripped away as he becomes something new. I’m sure it won’t take too long, after all neither of you were fully human in the first place.”
As I watched my brother’s body shrunk in on itself. His legs, arms, and head were contorted and pulled into his chest. As his body escaped the man’s grasp my body moved on its own, in a blink I was beside the floating torso that used to be my Brother and attempting to pull it down from where it seemed fixed floating in midair. Alon… No!!! I can fix this! I just need to use healing spells, it hasn’t been that long yet so he can’t have truly died already!
Forgetting about the monster that caused this situation and instead choosing to focus all of my attention on mustering all of the mana I could within my body I began my focus chant. “By the grace of my light: Healing pulse!”
Nothing. Alon’s body was shrinking ever smaller by the moment and my spell hadn’t even halted the process for a moment. “By the grace of my light: Healing pulse… Healing pulse! Healing pulse! Healing pulse! Healing pulse! Healing pulse! Healing pulse! Healing… Gyek!”
My frantic casting was interrupted when I choked on the blood rising up my throat. Coughing and vomiting up enough blood to concern any caster with half a bit of sense I turned my bleary and fading vision back to where what was left of my brother hung in front of me. He was only a shrinking ball of flesh now and even what little of that flesh was disappearing before my eyes. I wasn’t sure when or how I had fallen to my knees but I didn’t have the power to move let alone get up and try to make direct contact with what was left of my brother, I wasn’t even sure I had the mana left for another spell. Casting another healing pulse could kill me in this condition.
“As always that was a commendable example of your disturbingly large mana pool, sadly healing magic isn’t going to do much for him. You can’t heal what isn’t wounded after all…”
I ignored the monster talking somewhere off to my left. Even as my vision tunneled and my consciousness faded in and out I began to chant. I wasn’t sure if I had any mana left and I wasn’t even sure if I could change things anymore even if I did, but still my heart screamed at me to save Alon at any cost so I opened mouth and began the chant. “By… the grace of my… light: Lesser… healing…” My vision cut out and my mind stopped all thought as the pain of mana depletion forced away what little consciousness kept me going.
My last sight was a tiny grey orb the size of a gem pulsing with black and white energy.
I looked down at the girl, she had fainted upright where she knelt from foolishly over using her mana. It was defiantly mind-down, she’d likely be dead to the world for at least the next day or two. It would normally take a caster about a week to recover from mind-down, especially a case as bad as this, but this half elf was about as far from normal as it was possible for a mortal to be. Her mana pool’s capacity may even be beginning to encroach on my own… It won’t be much longer now if I keep pushing her like this, maybe I should ease up and let things take their natural course from now on.
Shifting my attention from the half elf girl to the core I had acquired so painstakingly I couldn’t help but wince. “Such a waste…” I could’ve used a core like that for so many things, hell I could have converted it into my own kingdom core and started an entirely new empire to reclaim my diminishing territory. Instead it had been filled with dark mana, infernal taint, and all sorts of curses and negative feelings and was then used to trap a person and convert him into a dungeon. What exactly the point of that was I didn’t know, and I likely never would as trying to understand the workings of Mal was sheer madness. Instead like any sane being I simply followed the will of my goddess and didn’t try to discern her intentions, besides I was getting a pair of cursed eyes capable of inflecting excruciatingly unbearable pain on others at my will out of this latest favor for Mal so the loss of the core wouldn’t be too heavy.
Moving over and grasping the orb I could feel it’s intent trying to subtly worm its way into my mind, it didn’t even manage to touch on my first mental barrier before the attempt failed. I felt a dark smile grace my face as I could feel the orb radiating a mix of rage, confusion, fear, and hatred. Lots of hatred.
“What and angry hateful little thing you’ve become, I wonder how much of that is the half elf you were before, how much is your new nature and instincts, and how much is the dark malice I’ve stuffed that core full of…” I looked back at the girl with mind-down who was far to close and far too mentally defenseless right now to be anywhere near such a large collection of dark mana and infernal power, even if the source of that collection had once been her kin and the dark mana inside it was somewhat diluted by the sheer amount of light mana she had dumped into it just now. “I guess I shouldn’t wait, I can’t have it using these temporary powers from its birth to forcibly corrupt the girl… The first few days of a dungeon core’s birth are always the most dangerous in that regard after all, damn things always end up flailing and flexing their mana and abilities around randomly with all the control of a drunken infant. A suppose it should be fine to just send it somewhere randomly, after all its Mal’s problem now and I’m sure she can get it where she wants it to be somehow.”
Looking at the core I couldn’t help myself from a final bit of mockery, it was one of my truest pleasures after all. “Well then Alon, former member of humanity and final hero companion, I do hope you enjoy your inevitable descent into madness and cruelty as the powers I’ve filled the core with rewrite your very being into your new identity. Oh, and a bit of advice? Don’t bother fighting it, your new nature will win in the end anyway and what I stuffed in your core is just speeding up that natural process… By a few centuries! Heh… Hehahahaha!” As I let my cackling laughter come to an end I snapped the fingers of my free hand and caste my spell. “Lesser port” The ring on my finger serving as one of my many focuses began to shine with dark light and I watched the small infant dungeon core disappear.
Shaking my head at the surprisingly large depletion of my mana after the spell I began to wonder just how far the core ended up going. Well, it’s well and truly gone now… Still it’s a shame that such a large core orb was wasted to make such a tiny dungeon core. That core could have been used for near anything and now it’s a small, homicidal, sentient rock… I sighed and wiped at my face as I tried to force down my regret with the thoughts of what I’d be able to use my new pair of eyes for by this time tomorrow.
The groan that came from beside me shocked me out of my thoughts. Looking over I saw the half elf girl begin to move as if she was having a nightmare, something that shouldn’t be possible with a case of mind-down. My god… Recovering from such a severe case of mind-down this quickly… She really is a monster… I’ll say this for Mal, she sure picked one hell of a person to be her newest pawn. It’s almost an honor to have someone like her be my eventual executioner… Almost…
Turning away I let darkness cloak my entire body as I prepared for the long shadow walk back to my castle, I’d leave the hero to wake up from her mind-down her and grieve her loss. I was certain that after today she would be in the right sort of mindset, well that was if this latest loss didn’t break her mind completely. “Until we next meet girl…” As a curtain of darkness surged up before me and I stepped into it I gave a few words to the unconscious girl I was leaving behind. I had little doubt that the next time we met would be the day I would die, after all my promised century of free reign had ended two decades ago and Mal would be expecting to collect on my debt soon…
I looked down at the pendent resting in the satin case in awe. It was easily the most beautiful thing I ever saw, much prettier than all of the jewelry mommy wore. The gem was a small round orb of grey in many tones and all over it was speckled with the flecks of the deepest black and purest white I’d ever seen.
“Do you like it my Lady?”
Looking up I saw my maid, Ann, smiling down at me. She had been my playmate and care taker for as long as I could remember and I thought of her as an older sister, no matter how hard mommy and papa tried to convince me I shouldn’t.
“Yeah, it’s really pretty!” My eyes drifted back down to the amulet as my hand reached out to hold the wonderful present. I wanted to hold it, to feel the coolness of the stone resting in my hand.
“It’s a present from your mother, she said that any self-respecting noblewoman’s first piece of jewelry should always be her finest… Happy thirteenth birthday my Lady!”
I smiled. Normally I didn’t like it when Ann called me by anything other than my name, but today I was too happy to care. As my hand came into contact with the pretty stone of the amulet I felt a shock run through my body.
“Hate! Hate! Hate! Hate! Hate! Hate! Hate! Hate! Hate! Hate!”
I could hear it. Feel it with my head, resounding in my head stronger and louder than my own thoughts. It was angry, and it hated. It hated everything…
I looked down at my young mistress in concern as her innocent and gleeful smile froze on her face and her eyes lost their light. For a moment I considered calling out for assistance fearing my young mistress had suffered from some sudden spell of illness, but then she looked up.
Her smile was different somehow and her eyes had a strange alien cruelty in them I had never seen from my young mistress before. I actually felt afraid of Lady Lynn at that moment, but as quickly as the change had appeared it had vanished.
“Oh Ann, I love it!”
Trying my best to dispel my discomfort before my young charge could notice it I gave her a smile. “O… Oh, is that so? Here, I’ll help you put it on…”
“No!” My young mistress looked panicked for a moment as she clutched her new amulet close to her chest. “I mean… No, I can do it myself. I’m thirteen now, so I’m old enough to put on my own jewelry!”
She must be feeling a bit anxious about the ball later on. It is her first foray into noble society… “Very well my lady.”
As my young mistress clasped the amulet around her neck she smiled up at me. “Oh Ann, how many times must I tell you to just use my name when we’re alone.”
For a moment I just smiled at my kind young mistress, she was so unlike the many other nobles I had encountered in my life as a servant to the Trell house, but then I noticed something that stood out. Something that the young Lynn had never done ever before, and something that shocked me to my core. When we’re alone? But that would imply that…