Dawn Harshaw / Dream Magic: Awakenings / Chapter 15 - Demonology
Hunger for power is the most common reason for meddling with powerful forces. However, there are those who, either through curiosity or the push-and-pull of social forces, end up staring into the sun too long. The lucky ones get burned out, corrupted or possessed. The unlucky ones become religious fanatics. When looking into the abyss or the sun, use an adequate protective filter: a strong ego.
- Misuse of Force, Dreamer's Handbook
Eric sidestepped the fireball. It was poorly aimed, but the goblin shaman's tiptoeing annoyed him to no end. I'll wipe that toothless grin off your ugly mug.
This shaman wasn't as fierce as the goblin warriors were; no tenacity, no enjoyment of the battle. He just hobbled about, acting all smug, occasionally casting a flimsy fireball to provoke Eric.
He deserves no respect from me. Eric was tempted to cover the distance between them with a sprint and snap his neck. No spells, no blades - just to feel the neck bone of this puny creature crack in his hands. He wouldn't be able to stop me, not in time.
"Just a little more!"
The shaman had one reason - and one reason only - for acting smug: the massive demon he never ventured far from.
While Eric kept an eye on the shaman, Lucy and Rose were engaging the demon. They had a plan: first, Rose used an air containment spell. It looked like a large magic sphere around the demon, restricting some of its movements. Second came Lucy's water chains, their watery essence pressing into the spirit-body of the demon.
The demon wasn't a true demon in the hellfire-and-brimstone kind of way - it was a bear spirit, large and strong. It could have been even noble in its true shape, but its current form was leaking energy, and it raged with fiery madness at its surroundings as well as its own incompleteness.
It's torture, Eric realized. The goblin shaman is forcing an unnatural form on a semi-conscious force. Eric felt a little sorry for the bear-demon and despised the shaman even more. He wondered whether the shaman was intentionally malicious... Just petty and incompetent, Eric decided.
He saw other such demons on the battlefield, though none as big as this one. Was it a cultural thing? Torturing to compensate for size?
He recalled Lucy's explanation about how her water-chains worked; something about dispel magic and elemental neutralization. It wasn't very intuitive, but his role was clear: to fight fire with fire.
If timed right, a well-placed fireball would add more force and break the shaman's control. If timed wrong, the demon would assimilate his fire and become more powerful. Lucy and Rose's containment spells would break and they would have to start all over again.
Eric spent a few seconds concentrating on building up his fireball. Where to aim? The head? The torso? The fiery limbs trying to lash out? Aiming for center mass seemed best. Now, to find the right moment...
As he deliberated, his eyes registered movement from above. He lifted his head to look.
"Crows!" Eric yelled.
I look away for a moment and that's what I get. His fireball wasn't very good against a swarm of small targets, and he was strongly tempted to feed it to the shaman instead.
"They're mine!" Rose yelled back.
Rose's containment spell temporarily weakened as she dispatched a loose airball towards the pack of crows. The demon had a bit more freedom to rattle and steam the chains, but they did not break.
Eric concentrated on packing more power into the fireball. He glanced at one of the crows which fell nearby. Half-dead; a zombie bird. When the searing-steaming rattling subsided and Rose reassumed control... Now's the time! Eric let go and drove the fireball into the demon's center.
The demon grew in size. One by one, Lucy's water-chains snapped, and evaporated. The rotations of Rose's containment spell ground to a halt and vanished.
I timed it wrong...
Rose and Lucy hopped back, preparing for the demon's attack. Eric took a few steps back, and briefly looked at the goblin shaman - he wasn't acting smug anymore.
The bear-demon kept growing fast, and with a final roar, exploded. Chunks of the demon's spirit-energy flew everywhere.
Eric noticed he was holding back his breath, and exhaled. Relaxing his tense muscles, he allowed himself a smile.
What Eric didn't notice was a big chunk of the bear-demon's energy falling down from above and hitting him squarely in the head.
The moment of surprise was followed by a feeling not unlike being hit by a fireball. It was unpleasant, but Eric was somewhat used to it by now. The strangest part came a few seconds later: the fiery energy, instead of blasting away against his flesh, went through him.
It was like the flames at the attunement, but... different. Some of the energy was from his fireball, returning to him, but most of it was the bear-demon's own. It brought fleeting glimpses of understanding - of sadness, of being out of place, of being imprisoned and finally free. These glimpses perished fast, leaving behind only anger and power. Lots of anger and lots of power. It was like a hunger he never experienced before.
Eric looked at his hands. He had a crimson tan. His experience of the power was a kind of shortening between will and desire: Whatever I want, I can. Now. Directly.
He directed the anger towards the goblin shaman, who was stumbling backwards and making the gestures of a spell with his hands. I'll just crush him.
Silky-silvery energy threaded out of the goblin shaman's hands, and formed into three large wolves. There was elegance and speed to their movements, much in contrast with the shaman's own. Ahh, there's at least something you're good at!
"Leave these to me!" Eric roared, and ran ahead to make sure the wolves target him.
The spirit-wolves danced around him, circling, barking and biting the air in front of them with such speed that they reminded Eric of depictions of three-headed hellhounds.
Despite their obvious violent nature and menacing growls, these spirit-creatures were unlike the demonic bear and the zombie crows. Their shapes were strong and natural to them. The non-angry side of Eric could appreciate that, and even let off some of the disdain he felt towards the shaman.
The bigger, angrier side of Eric saw just one more obstacle to crush. He let his anger and fire concentrate in his right fist, until the top layer of his skin peeled off and his fist looked like the inside of a nasty fireball. The wolves were fast, but not as fast as Eric: he clobbered them one by one. The wolves' silky energy burned away like cobweb.
Again, his attention turned towards the shaman, who was exhausted and cowering. Eric walked dauntingly towards him, but he was stopped by a wet hand grabbing his arm.
"Stay calm." Lucy pressed a bubble of milky substance onto Eric's burning fist.
The liquid acquiesced his anger, and Eric noticed after how much it soothed the burnt and partly bleeding skin on his arm.
After a few breaths, he was his old self again. "Thanks! I needed that."
"Sure. Who gets to finish off the shaman? We have a little time before he manages to flee."
They looked at each other. Lucy and Rose were eager too - after all, they did the bulk of the work.
"Rock-paper-scissors?" Rose asked.
* * *
Master Joe was walking slowly across the field.
Behind him, the army from the Playground was venting jubilant cries; waiting for either a victory celebration or a final push to drive out the intruders.
Ahead of him stood the goblin war council - the strongest warriors and the most experienced shamans. They faced a difficult choice: surrender and go back through the portal, or play whatever trump cards they had left.
Eric took the large, cinema-style cup from Lucy. "Thanks! Where did you get these?"
"I don't reveal my sources."
While munching the popcorn, the three of them watched Master Joe's progress from atop of the hill. The view was clear and the air more vibrant than usual.
"Do you think there'll be a fight?"
"Nah, I don't think Master Joe will let it."
Master Joe stopped within shouting distance of the war council. The dozen or so bigshots all faced in his direction; so did their aides and apprentices standing behind them, as well as the guards protecting the flank. Except for the motionless golems in the vicinity of the portal, all eyes were on him.
Master Joe paused for dramatic effect and cleared his throat. Despite sitting on a faraway hill and chomping down food, Eric could hear the sound as if the sky had built-in loudspeakers.
The sound startled one of the aides, who made a fireball and aimed it at Master Joe. It missed, but not by much.
Master Joe slowly shifted his gaze to the spot of scorched grass where the fireball hit... and then at the shaman whose aide cast the spell.
The councilmembers stood transfixed for a few seconds, but then they too stared intently at that particular head shaman, who lifted his staff and whacked the aide so hard he fell to his knees.
Master Joe walked two steps closer and cleared his throat again.
"I am known as 'Joe' and this realm is my responsibility," his voice boomed. "Who speaks for the illustrious war council?"
One of the goblins stepped forward. He was less hunched and wore fewer trinkets on his body than the other shamans.
"I am Gorak, spokesman and current leader of the alliance of twelve tribes." Gorak spoke with the throaty, croaking sounds of his language, but Eric understood perfectly, even if the nuances of some of the words were different.
"To what do we owe the honor and displeasure of your attack?"
"Honor?" He spat. "There's no honor in what you humans do."
"You destroy and defile! Your violent and arrogant apathy corrupts everything around you. You turn into excrement whatever you touch!" Gorak's nostrils flared as he spoke. "So shortsighted... If you at least had the good measure to keep your shit to yourselves... but no, you have to poison everything! You don't even fight your nightmares; you cultivate them! The sewage of your dreams invades our realms and you ask why we fight?!"
Gorak lowered his arms. Dark-green patches appeared on the side of his face and the outburst left him short of breath.
"The bravery and veracity of goblin warriors is unquestionable, as is the intelligence of the mighty shaman who succeeded in opening this portal. Yet, do you hold the wisdom to distinguish between friend and foe? We are not your enemies. This is a realm where human children learn the self-discipline to battle nightmares. How would you react if someone attacked your young ones?"
"We can't let our tribes and realms be overrun by human hubris!" Gorak exploded, and it took him several seconds to calm down enough to continue. He clawed on his staff with one finger. "...why should we trust you?"
"Do you see here any of the nightmares that encroach on your realms? Haven't our children proven to you their courage in battle? Our causes align. Reach out to tribes beyond the twelve; we have good relations with many of them. I am known among them as 'crazy old human'; listen to their words if you don't trust mine."
It's a name, not just a description. Interesting. It sounded something like xernog, and Eric was pretty sure the term was a slur for 'human', but not without a degree of respect.
The goblin was taken aback and silent. "I have heard of Sern Bog. I thought he lived only in our legends."
There was a murmur after Gorak stepped back to discuss with the other elders. They didn't deliberate long.
"If you are who you say you are - and based on the performance of your troops, we are inclined to believe you - you and your envoys will be welcomed as guests in our homes. We expect your visit to be soon. Until the time we had the chance to hear your advice, we shall suspend the activities of the war council. We leave now."
Master Joe nodded.
Eric watched as the goblins retreated. The handlers led the golems through the portal first, who were followed by the war council, and the warriors standing guard marched through last.
"That's it? Wasn't much of a spectacle. We still have leftover popcorn," Eric said. I guess I hoped for a bit more action... but we had enough action for today.
"I'm almost sad to see them leave," Rose said.
Dawn Harshaw / Dream Magic: Awakenings / Chapter 15 - Demonology