Copyrights belongs to Lady Adara
Demon Kingdom – Chapter 0 (aka Other side – intro)
The field instructors gave Lori a new mission: seek out and neutralize a former student of their own mage tower. She was one of the older students, and for some reason had gone rogue and left the tower almost a year ago, escaping their seekers until now. The field instructors believed that Lori would find her hiding in a certain area they had marked on her map.
Going rogue made her automatically a witch; she had no license to practice magic anywhere in the kingdom of Irrenia. She was a student of the blue mages, making it their job to hunt her down and deal with the problem in any way necessary, especially since she might have joined a known coven of witches slowly gaining power there. If Lori found her and needed to kill her, she had the tower’s permission, but alive would be more useful, as they might get information about that coven.
The field instructors didn’t tell her that outside help was forbidden, and she didn’t want to end up in a fight alone with one or more witches, so Lori sent word to Elayne and Ezri. She packed more stunning charms and a few firebolt charms in her backpack. She didn’t like the idea of killing one of their own, but if there was no other option left, then she would have to be prepared.
Lori fetched her horse from the stables and left the tower. She didn’t know that a pair of eyes were watching her closely. Margot smiled and watched Lori head out to meet her doom. The young woman had caused a lot of trouble for Margot when she managed to fight off those demons sent to fetch her from the library. The demon lord was displeased and Margot had paid dearly for the deal going sideways. Margot arranged for Lori to get the mission, and made sure that she went alone. The older instructor knew this ex-student well, and had even lured her out of the tower to become a witch, and then had fed her information about the tower’s efforts to hunt her down and how to evade their well-planned nets.
This time, Margot had sent information about the new “hunter”, and had even given charms that the witch should use to bring Lori down. Margot yearned for revenge on Lori for messing up her deal with the demon lord. If this trip went as planned, Lori would not come back. Margot moved away from the window and hoped that news of Lori’s death would soon arrive.
The older sorceress went back to her own laboratory chamber and continued making her own potions. From Lori’s soul she would gain more magical powers and shave many years back. Now she needed to make potion after potion while searching for a working serum to bring back her younger body. For years she was beautiful and wanted by many, but now fate had taken her beauty away, leaving only a fading body, and mediocre magical skills and knowledge. That younger sorceress had it all, and Margot was determined to capture her glory. Lori would pay for her doings and Margot would collect the prize. She couldn’t help grinning at this thought. She touched her own body, daydreaming of the beauty and firmness returning. Lori’s beauty and youth would soon be hers.
One day later, all three ladies were in the chapter house together. Lori showed the map and told her friends Elayne and Ezri about her mission. The trip would take a day or two with horses, but to find one person in that swamp was going to be tough. Elayne was worried about that coven. Lori had read that witches rarely gather in one place, to protect the rest if one was discovered. If they hit hard and fast enough, other witches would have no chance to assist. Lori also told them that she planned to take the rogue mage down alive and get her back to the tower to be dealt with properly.
Elayne didn’t believe that this rogue mage would be strong enough to evade the hunters alone, but that more likely someone was helping her from inside the tower. Lori agreed, and that was why she asked for help from her friends. She couldn’t know for sure who to trust in the tower until the witch was caught. If Lori could just get this witch back, they could dig that information from her mind. Mages had their own ways to pull the truth into the spotlight.
Ezri was less sure about the whole mission, but agreed to come with them and help Lori as needed. And in the best scenario, she might “find” something nice to sell along the way. They checked their gear, bought enough food for the trip and headed out from the old town.
On the way to the area marked on the map, they saw how resilient the farmers were in these parts. There were many dangers here, and while taxmen took their cut from almost everything, and roaming demons might destroy crops just for fun, these farmers kept trying and working hard every day. Elayne wondered if they were in the same situation she was. She had to do this; few others were able or willing. Someday all her hard work would pay off. She wasn’t killing demons just for fun; it was more for the safety of these farmers and their families. Nobles had enough money to pay their own safety and that money was created from the sweat of peasants.
Some farms were well maintained and they could see that a few farmers had tried to protect their buildings with barricades and small keeps. Those might work against smaller threats. To bigger demons, they were just piles of sticks and rocks. But if that gave them a small feeling of security, then Elayne was ok with it.
The weather turned cloudy, as if the whole region could sense where these three ladies were going. That night they picked an empty farmhouse they could easily defend. Better than a camp on open ground with too many directions from which to attack.
As they traveled closer to the swamp, farmlands were fewer. Some of them had been abandoned. The few travellers that they met on the road told of evil spirits. Demons and monsters wandered these lands, and the source of these vile creatures might be a coven. There were lots of warning signs against entry, but some travelers said that those who hid themselves within might be no threat to Elayne, Lori, and Ezri. The women seemed to be prepared well enough to meet the challenge.
The girls could see the thick swamp forest from a distance – an ominous warning to any traveling nearby of horrors unimagined, lying in wait. Few had entered and even fewer returned, and with the minds of madmen, rambling of terrors never before seen by human eyes. Nearly all of the poor unfortunate souls killed themselves or just wandered off, only to be found dead days later, twisted expressions of sheer horror frozen on their faces.
It wasn’t always like this; the old folks told tales of a happier time, a time when elves made a home there, practicing their own magic, living in peace and harmony with the world. Then something happened and a once beautiful green forest turned dark and gloomy, the swamp that it was now. Darkness had corrupted a once peaceful elven forest into this cold hostile piece of land.
Old wives whispered that all the people who met their end in the swamp were still there, hunting travelers and adventurers who now dared enter. Some even said that there were undead elves lurking deep under the dark swamp waters, waiting and watching for new victims. There were lots of legends on dead souls lingering in there, taking their original forms to lure the living to their watery graves, where undead hands would claw them ever deeper, and they would eat their fresh flesh. Lori was interested to know how these old wives knew all this, if they hadn’t seen it with their own eyes or had proof other than the ranting of people who had lost their minds. Those “undead hands” might have been just underwater tree roots. Still, Lori wasn’t keen to test her theory.
Ezri was first to say out loud, that at least she would be happy when she could leave this place after the job was done. Even if she could find some old elven town in there to loot, she didn’t care to risk ending up in a bottomless pit of dark swamp water. That fate did not appeal to Elayne or Lori either. They just needed to do this one task and then get out before these evil spirits, monsters, demons and any other nasty creatures found their trail.
The girls had to take an alternate route into the swamp. The road directly in was ruined completely by floods and no one had been interested in fixing it. No farmlands, no trade posts, no taverns; just old gloomy swamps. Not everyone returned mad; a few fur hunters still entered, while others might seek safer places to hunt pelts. But they didn’t need the road.
Their destination was near the edge of the swamp, but their horses were useless on the marshy ground, so they had to leave them and continue on foot. It was also a good way to move more silently. Ezri went in first. She was the smallest and could move silently even in the thick brush. They hoped to get the element of surprise on their side, so a fight would be short and favorable.
All their careful planning would soon prove of no use. Margot had given everything to her pupil; the witch knew their entire plan. Margot had revealed how to track down Lori and bring her to her knees with a special spell. Even though Lori just wanted to stun her and give her a fair trial, the witch feared that Margot would kill her before she could reveal the truth. She had to do what Margot sent her to do, and one more pupil in a grave would not matter.
From her old hut, she watched Lori and her friends get closer. It was time to reveal that Lori was the hunted one and set up to fall. Everything was ready. The former sorceress stepped outside to await her arrival. She knew that Lori would hesitate to use deadly force on one of her own, but the two other ladies with her were a different matter. Elayne, a young demon hunter and a knight of the realm, might have the guts to try to kill her. Ezri, a young half-elven thief, was only a threat if she could use her crossbow.
Moments later, Lori noticed the old witch’s hut and saw her target doing something in front of it. The sorceress started to suspect that everything felt too easy. Before Lori could warn her friends, the former blue mage turned witch activated her trap. Margot had designed it just for Lori and she had planned something really nasty. The first phase hit everyone who wasn’t carrying a special necklace and knocked them to the ground. The second phase inflicted terrible pain throughout the body.
That caused Lori to release the spell that she had kept on hold. She could not stop it nor aim it anywhere, as she couldn’t control her body, but it was an irony of fate that her spell hit one of the corner stones that kept the trap spell working. The simple stun spell wouldn’t destroy it nor stop it from working, but it made the delicate and multilayer spell go horribly wrong. While Lori, Elayne and Ezri were still shaking on the ground from shocks of pain, a rift between dimensions was violently pulled open. The rift caused fierce winds that started to pull items and persons into it, like a vacuum full of lighting strikes, huge teeth in a big cosmic mouth.
The witch felt the pull and grabbed onto the support pillars of her hut, hoping the rift would close up soon. It took hold of the unlucky trio instead. Elayne, Lori, and Ezri could do nothing to stop it as the first part of the spell rendered them helpless. One by one they were pulled into the other side, causing them to black out.
The witch saw all three ladies disappear into the rift, and for a moment the former sorceress feared that soon she would be next. Suddenly the rift closed and the corner stones that kept up the spell shattered to pieces. The witch couldn’t use those rocks again. She now had an even deeper fear of what kind of spells Margot could make and when she might turn against her. She was the one person who could take her revenge in large measure.
Elayne was first to wake up. The last thing she remembered was the ripping pain that made her scream louder than ever before, and then that terrifying rift. Where could it have sent them? The ground was dry and dusty, the grass yellow and dead, as if there hadn’t been rain for a long time. Near them were a few old houses in very bad shape. Wooden planks were grey and beaten up by sandstorms. The sky was grey here and the clouds promised no water.
Lori was next to wake up, and could remember no more than Elayne. She could find no landmarks or clues as to where they could be, but everything here felt different. Ezri woke up and claimed that her head hurt like hell, but she went quiet after looking the place over. Lori moved next to Ezri to take a look at her head. She found a nasty wound near the hairline on her neck. It wasn’t big, but it needed to be cleaned and taken care of or else she would get sick from infection.
No birds in the sky, no other animals or their tracks on the ground. And while Elayne was looking at the surroundings, she noticed a dust cloud moving on the horizon. There was someone moving there with horses. She started to jump up and down to get their attention.
Lori tried to clean Ezri’s wound as best she could and cover it with a clean rag to keep dirt out. Elayne was pleased to see the dust cloud change its route and head towards them. Elayne trusted that whoever they were, she could negotiate some kind of agreement and they could have a way out of here. It might have been unwise, but they were here without their gear, just their clothes and a few items in their pockets. No swords, no food, no water. The old houses offered no shelter, and Lori could not treat Ezri’s wound without decent herbs or tools. They needed to get out of here or they would certainly die in this god forsaken place.
Fate dealt even worse cards to them. Elayne got a better look at who was coming. At first she thought that they were riding horses, but they weren’t horses at all. Just huge lizards, and the riders were nonhuman. Elayne quickly shouted to Lori and Ezri that they should start running and try to escape. A poor idea, and Elayne knew it soon after the words left her lips. The lizards moved a lot faster than horses could and the riders grabbed ropes from their sides. Lori and Ezri tried to get themselves behind the old buildings, but they were too slow for the lizard riders. Within moments all three ladies were captured and bound.
The riders were seemingly of mixed races – orc, ogre, and some kind of demon. Maybe other races as well. The riders weren’t the only ones moving; large wagons arrived after them and stopped. Another rider came towards them and the first four seemed to fear this new one. Elayne looked at him. His face was covered with cloth. Dark armor plate was partly visible under a worn cloak. The first riders pulled the girls in line.
“Master… three human females… caught for your honor… new slaves for our master…”
Elayne was shocked even more. They’d ended up in hands of slavers. She assumed that their fate would be worse than death. Something snapped deep inside her and she managed to pull her hand out of a loop that was made negligently; she got her hands free and jumped onto the back of one rider. She directed a sharp hit from her elbow to his neck. Even though his neck was thick hide, Elayne’s fiery rage gave more force to the hit, and this unlucky rider dropped to his knees, stunned. Elayne went down along with him, pulled a black sawblade knife from his belt, and jumped off the rider’s back. She rolled onto the ground and into attack position, where she was going to attack the other three riders.
She jumped with a blade in her hand and rage in her heart. Unfortunately a whip caught her in midair and ripped her down mercilessly. The pain from the whip tore through her body and stripped away the strength gained from her rage. Elayne was writhing on the ground in pain when the other three riders pulled her back up and offered to cut her head off for their master. He was about to give the kill order, but then a sharp voice behind him stopped all the lizard riders in their tracks. Elayne was gasping for air and just waited for the final blow that would end her travel in the world of the living.
The new rider came closer and spoke directly to the “master”. The rider was slender and more feminine, her face likewise covered with cloth.
“That female can fight… You could use her rather than let those morons hack her into pieces of meat… Those meat pieces are good only for feeding the animals… but I can see that this… slave… has more value than she looks… she is a fighter… I haven’t seen that fire in these animal races’ eyes for a while, so… Think about it, husband… That animal can fight… and if I’m right… darker hair and that young one… would have other values too…”
The female voice was clearly taunting the master, and he was annoyed at the interruption, but her words were true. It would be too wasteful to kill her on the spot. And if she wasn’t worth the second chance she was given, death was easily arranged. The master grunted angrily and gave the order to drag them into wagons. Elayne was thankful to all the gods who spared her life. Still, she couldn’t escape without a scratch, as the rider she knocked down gave her a hard slap on her face as if thanking her for the humiliation in front of his master.
Elayne, Lori and Ezri were dragged toward a heavy barred door on the last wagon. The girls were pushed inside, where Elayne saw a few other humans and halfbreed humans. One detail was common to them all: they each had a slave collar around their neck. They looked like they hadn’t eaten well in ages and they wouldn’t even look the new ones in the eyes. Beaten until they broke, and in the hands of these nonhuman slavers. Elayne tried to ask where they were, but none of them answered. They were too afraid. They just kept quiet, hoping that they would be granted an extra piece of bread or something. Lori and Ezri were as shocked about this as Elayne, but there was nothing they could do now.
The wagons started moving again and picking up speed quickly, those huge lizards pulling with all their speed and strength. They were easily bigger than elephants and maybe the best thing in a wasteland like this. The lizard riders were taller than the average man and a bit heavier built, but that just made them better for combat. Elayne earned no friends among them today with her attack.
The slave master was taller than his riders and most certainly stronger. Elayne had time to think their situation through while moving towards their uncertain future. Towards slavery. When Elayne asked Lori about that spell that ruined the whole thing, the sorceress just had to shrug. It surprised her too. They had lost everything, and now they needed to find their way back home, but first they needed to survive and find out where in the hell they were.