Chapter One

True Plane

247th Rotation

6th Age of Erinyet

"No." The voice rang out cold, with no inflection. The little boy facing him stopped immediately, brushing a brown fringe out of his cobalt blue eyes. His face was built for mischief and laughter, but he was completely serious as he faced his teacher. "You placed your feet wrong. What have I told you? Balance, control, focus, speed, then power." The boy dropped his head, his eyes focusing on the ground, and said softly "Yes Tarrial. I am sorry." With a gruff nod, Tarrial motioned for the boy to continue.

It seemed no more than a few seconds later that his voice rang out again. "No." The boy's eyes were clearly frustrated, but he seemed to be biting back his comments. The demon stared down at the boy out of flat black eyes, eyes that seemed to swallow light rather than give back a reflection. "Like this." He said coldly, stepping onto the field. With a single, fluid step, he brought the staff whistling through the air in both hands, and then released one hand to pantomime a short jab. "If you have too much power," He said, pulling the staff back around one handed as he settled his grasp once more, "You cannot control the weapon with one hand."

The boy nodded, his face intent as he tried to copy the demon's smooth, flowing movements. "Better." There was no trace of praise or pleasure in that voice, but the boy glowed anyways as he moved through the rest of the form, the smile on his face lifting him from average to stunning. "Sujon!" A woman's voice rang from the front steps of the keep, and the boy looked up, his concentration broken and the staff dropping from his hands. He scrambled to pick up the staff, looking anxiously up at Tarrial's emotionless face. Tarrial however, merely nodded his head towards the keep, dismissing his student with one last word. "Focus."

Sujon nodded respectfully at Tarrial before turning and bounding up the stairs, knees and elbows flying, the unconscious grace of a child in his every step. Tarrial picked up the training tools and walked to the equipment shed, walking with the silent deadly prowl of a hunter, or an assassin. Not for the first time, the differences between the two made the older man at the window wonder again what he was doing. With one last, loving look at the energetic boy who complained loudly "Oh, do I have to?" When ordered to take a bath, he turned back to the table littered with prophecies and news of an evil that grew slowly in the far west.

Out in the courtyard, the equipment stored once more, Tarrial was following Sujon's path to the keep, but not for a bath. He had work yet to be done, and the Duke was no doubt waiting on him. Age set heavily on Tarrial's heart, if not on his face, and he sighed softly as he passed through the heavy doors to the Duke's private chambers. "The reports still speak of a growing evil?" Tarrial asked without preamble, his voice as cool as ever, but with the slightest tinge of respect to it. Tarrial had yet to see the human bemoan his fate or compromise his principles, and for that Tarrial gave him a slight grudging respect.

"Yes, I am afraid so. Please, sit, sit." The duke gestured to a chair, and Tarrial sat down, as always a little confused by the man. He knew of Tarrial demonic heritage, knew that Tarrial was a demon when so many others only whispered it in half disbelieving whispers, and yet he still treated his son's trainer as an equal and a friend. Tarrial found himself hoping that at least a little of the man before him found it's way into his child, and then remembered what the child was to become. No destroyer could have any good traits, especially not honor and courage.

"Here, look at this. I had hoped with your long memory you might see more about it than I do." The Duke looked at him, and his eyes were filled with weariness. "I am counting on you, my friend. You are my last hope to figuring this out." Tarrial took the drawing, and could not repress the slight shudder that ran through his lean frame. The half human, half reptile eyes, the scaly skin and feathered wings, the sense of decay and evil that hung over them were things that were not easy to forget. Even harder was the slimy feel of their minds crawling around in your head, the collective evil that so marked them. "They are not anything to concern yourself over Lord Eu'Lania. They are from a plane that has long been forbidden contact with the True Plane. They will never come to the Hub of Worlds."

"They have already come. They are the darkness, and they claim they are here to bring the greatest dark the planes have ever known." Tarrial swore, a blistering tribute to their lineage, collective brain power, gods, and the fools who once "blessed" the True Plane against them. It was long, creative, and fluent, but the most disturbing part was that it was delivered in that flat emotionless voice without a sign of needing to breathe, even as the eyes sparkled with anger and a trace of fear, not that anyone knew him well enough to see it.

"I take it this is worse than I thought?" The Duke inquired, his eyes filled with worry and unease. He had never heard Tarrial curse, and it both told him that Tarrial was worried and reminded him that he was indeed sitting across the table from a demon. Only a demon could have an imagination capable of coming up with some of those torments. Only a demon would live long enough to be able to actually carry out some of those torments.

"It could be the end of everything. Every Plane, every world, everything." Tarrial's voice was flat and steady as ever, and from that Delin Eu'Lania drew some measure of comfort as he thought crazily for a second but the world can't end, I haven't even given Sujon the keep, he hasn't gotten married or had children! He took a deep, steadying breath that shuddered more than he would have liked, and slowly collected himself. "What do we do?" He asked, once again the ruler that the keep had come to know.

The two men's heads bent together as they began planning an ultimately futile undertaking, a way to keep them safe and to keep the darkness back until things were ready, until Tarrial's job was done. As they plotted and schemed, far away in another part of the keep, a young boy played in his room, happily unaware of the importance he would have one day, instead whipping a very fake sword over his head and after an imaginary death blow, taking his bow and saying modestly "It was nothing. I owe it all to my teacher." And in the backgrounds, his imagination painted his father beaming with pride, his mother crying and calling out to him in joy, and his stern teacher, that he spent hours a day in practice with, smiling slightly before nodding at Sujon.

With those happy boyhood dreams, he worked himself to exhaustion, unconsciously using the moves and blocks, the counters and feints, even the devastating combinations that had been drilled into him by hours on the practice field. Even when he finally slept, the long hours on the field danced through his mind, as he used the moves over and over, in a tournament to find a champion, a hero, to save the world. It will be all to soon that his dreams become real, and he will know that blood is not that color, the color of fire and strawberries, but a deeper darker fluid that carries life and destiny in it's metallic pulses.

Far from the plotting men and the sleeping boy, the darkness grows, slowly, a cancer on the True Plane that spreads through all other planes, all other worlds, eating away at the one thing that holds them all together. It's a poisoned needle, driven deep into the heart of creation and eating away at the goodness and life that exists there.

The festering darkness seems to have a central form, a place where the darkness crawls into your mind, seeps over your skin, eats into your deepest dreams and turns them into mockeries and twisted evil desires. It centers around a statue, an idol of a woman, twisted in ways that the mind cannot quite see, but it recoils from all the same. It seems to be a place of worship, a center of the desires that motivate the creatures that gather round. Creatures is all they can be called, for the picture did no justice to the way they look.

They are things made to drive fear, disgust, and a strange crawling sort of pity into the hearts of who-ever sees them. These are creatures never meant to be seen, never meant to be known. These are what lurks in a child's night time fears, and an adults creeping dread. These are creatures of death, destruction, and they seem made to serve a warning to all that would travel the darker paths of humanity. These are the Forsaken, the Destroyers who committed such evils that they can never be forgiven or released, and they give their praise to the Dark Mother, greatest and most terrible of the first destroyers.

It was her who turned the destroyers on their dark path, and she who brings them back now. It was no wonder Tarrial had shivered, for she is the one who condemned all of their children, condemned them so no more should share the power they had. She had destroyed worlds beyond counting, and reveled in it. Now, she had devised a plan to finally try for the one world that she had always wanted but never been able to get to.

If the dark rituals that stain the ground and the corpses that litter the land speak of nothing else, they tell of her disregard for life, that she cares for one thing and one thing alone. True, she is not here, but these twisted monsters are but her playthings, and if they are here they are serving her will. One of them speaks, the guttural sounds seeming to have been born in an animal's throat, not something that once was human.

"We must find pure souls. She needs to feast from this world before we can bring her through. Go, find us the ones that will let the Dark Mother through. Hurry!" Several of the loathsome creatures hurry off, their thoughts skittering back and forth in wordless conversations that would tickle at the edges of a human mind, had there been any humans alive in the foul place to feel it. It was a sign of the power of the Forsaken who had spoken that he chose not to mingle his thoughts with the lesser ones. As they get fully out of reach, the Dark Mother's thoughts reach him, and he falls to his knees.

You are doing well, my friend. The words rang in his head, and he bowed his head humbly. I try only to be your hand, to reach for that which you need, my Lady. There was a ghostly sensation of a hand stroking the top of his scaled head, and he butted up into the touch, like a cat or a small lizard. Thank you, Dark Mother. The mental words rang with humility and love, even as the touch faded. He makes a small pitiful figure, and yet the love seems real enough, and that makes him more dangerous than a thousand who follow out of fear.

Far away, on another plane of existence, a beautiful woman smiles, and withdraws from the room that she uses to talk to her minions. The time will come, soon, and she will be ready for it. This time, the True Plane will be hers, and with it, all worlds will fall into her waiting hand. She smiles, and the smile is like insanity, like dreams of rivers of blood with bodies floating down them, like the cries of a million helpless people as they weep for mercy.

On the real world, a world not yet touched by her dark presence, night had fled and a bright sun makes the memories of the dark creatures and their wicked leader seem less horrible somehow. A tall man with silver-white skin is walking next to a small tousle-haired boy, and they seem to be talking. Finally, one voice rings out clear enough to be heard.

"We will have a new lesson today, along with the normal lessons." Tarrial said in a crisp voice, as he led Sujon down the path. Coming to a stop at an old clearing, he sat smoothly on the ground, his legs folded and looked at Sujon. "Sit. Now, what do you know about elemental magic?" Sujon sat, looking confused, and he shook his head. Tarrial waited, letting the boy collect his thoughts, knowing that the headshake had not been ignorance but something to buy him time.

"I know that it is something that we are forbidden from learning about. It's supposed to open the gateway to hell and let the monsters devour us all." Sujon said slowly, as if trying to recall half-forgotten pieces of lore and legend that are so unimportant to a young boy. "I know people that use it go crazy with the power, and they are all evil." Tarrial found that to be both fitting and worrisome. He had never met an elemental that was not evil, himself included. The boy before him though, while annoying at times, was not evil. Would the magic change him as well?

"It can make a person who is not careful go crazy with the power, yes. It can open a gateway to hell, and much, much more, but most do not have enough willpower and strength to do even a fraction of that. You have the inherent ability to use elemental magic, and now we have to see if I can teach you the discipline and composure you will need to master the magic. We will begin with something simple, something not all that much different than what we do on the field."

Tarrial's eyes bored into Sujon, and Sujon felt a faint flicker in a part of his mind he did not know existed. "Focus on the feeling. Join with it. Join with the earth and feel the molten rock deep in it flowing like blood in your veins." Tarrial's hand snapped out, and Sujon blocked the hand without looking. It had not been a real blow, Sujon realized, but it had been enough to break his concentration.

"Focus!" Tarrial snapped, and Sujon fixed his eyes back on his mentor. "How can I focus if you try to hit me?" Sujon asked, an honestly confused tone in his voice. "How do you focus on blocking me? How do you focus on moving and attacking at once? How do you focus on breathing when you are sleeping?" Sujon's brow furrowed as he thought about it for a while. Tarrial sat there silently, not moving. This was something that everyone had to figure out for themselves. Finally, his eyes cleared and he looked like he understood.

"I just have to keep trying, and doing it, until I can do it without trying, right?" Well, it was simplistic, and not the best understanding, but it would do for now. Maybe with time, he would realize that the point Tarrial was making is that he already knows how, he just has to train himself to do better. Instinct allows people to breath while sleeping, to move and attack, to block something that threatens them. "Close enough." Sujon's eyes focused back on his mentor, and Tarrial could feel him reaching within himself for that place his power came from, and sent a small pulse through it.

Sujon's eyes remained clear, but they didn't seem to be looking at Tarrial anymore, but through him. Tarrial feinted another slap, and halted his hand just shy of the boy's cheek. Good. At least he was starting to get in tune with his instincts, even if he was no closer to finding his power. In time, Sujon would not need to focus so intently, but for now, until he got familiar with his abilities, he would have to be nearly catatonic to even find his power. It was enough for now. He remembered all too well the exhaustion that came from these exercises, and the boy didn't have demonic resources to draw from. Just then, he felt the questing tendrils of the boy's mind touch something, and the sense of it nearly broke the demon's composure. He reached out and shook Sujon sharply while stopping the pulse he had been sending, a pulse that traced the magic, making it easier for Sujon to feel the magic in himself. Tarrial bit off a curse, and hurried the boy back to the castle, paying no attention to Sujon's weariness or his obvious distress. He didn't have time to even think about the boy, he had some business of his own to conduct. He had preparations to make, because he fully intended to talk to a certain seer about what the hell was going on. In short, he had to see a man about a monster.

Tarrial sat on the floor of the cottage alone, attempting to gain some form of control over his whirling mind. It had been long indeed since he had felt the odd pulses from anyone who could wield elemental magic, but not long enough for him to forget what it meant. Not even the ages that had come and gone since then could mask the foul taint of someone who could touch the spirit element, could hide the feel of the magic Tarrial had last felt when he was damned. Nothing, not even the lives of his fellow demons that were counting on him, were worth releasing another Spirit Destroyer on the world. He was a demon by creation, she had been a demon in her mind and soul. He would not do it, and even now he wondered why he had not simply ripped out the boy's throat when he felt it.

He stood up with a disgusted snort. He would be unable to reach his center for a while, and so he strode out to the training field, working out his frustrations in the familiar patterns. One of the guards approached him, asking "Why isn't the little one here? Not often we see you without him following at your heels." Tarrial turned and looked at the man, his inhumanly black eyes causing the poor guard to squirm under the flat gaze. "He was given the day off." Tarrial replied, thinking privately that soon he would be forced to again prove his demonic nature and take a young life. At least, he told himself, this time it will not be an innocent life, his power proves that. He thought that his reasoning would comfort him, but for some unknown reason, instead it only made him more confused.

He shrugged off the confusion and instead focused on what had to happen. The boy must be stopped, or he could destroy the True Plane, and all other worlds. He repeated this to himself as he went through the forms designed to clear his mind, the forms that would allow him to call upon the man who had given the task of teaching the boy to him. He had to tell the seer what the boy really was, had to prove to the man that Sujon was to dangerous to let live, much less train. That thought sent an odd pain through him, but he ignored it, focusing on how dangerous the little boy he saw every day on the field could be. As he tried to bolster himself to do what he had to do though, memories kept coming back to him. Stories of how hard it was to find the spirit element, and those that had been destroyed by finding it.

By the time Tarrial finished his exercises, he went to his small house without a care in the world, and fell asleep quickly. He would not admit, even to himself, that a part of the relief came from not having to kill Sujon at this time. On a far off world, the seer smiled and released his vision, a beaming kind of happiness radiating from him. "Fight it will all your will and all your spirit Tarrial, but what will be will be. The boy will become a Spirit Elemental, and you will care for him enough to protect him even then." A soft laugh comes from the man, and he walks into a bedroom off to the side, saying softly as he walked in "It is happening My Lady. He already cares for the boy, even if he does not know it."

In the chamber, the Dark Mother reclines in her bed and favors him with a graceful nod. "Good. The boy and my son must destroy each other. They are both powerful enough that they could, possibly, disturb my plans, and we can't have that, now can we?" She chuckles, and her appearance wavers, flowing between the beautiful and terrible form she is wearing to something darker and yet somehow more natural than the way she looks normally. "I will have to find a way to see when they destroy each other. I wish to see it, the demon who loves and the innocent child murderer in a clash to the death. How perfectly ironic, that together they could oppose me, but my own action will make them hate and kill each other." A wicked amusement filled her eyes, and she stood slowly. "Now, for the last touch, the part that will insure they destroy each other."