Evil plans to destroy Etias. The king, known as the Reaper, must save the realms.
Disembodied voices of long-forgotten souls whispered through the fog that rose from the cracks in the acidic soil of the hardened earth. Heavy air hung still, not even the faintest rustle of a bird blown in the realm of death. The sky held its perpetual blackness, for the sunlight never beamed on these lands of Etias. Instead, a full, blackened moon forever loomed in the eternal night, cascading its evil ambiance over the always perished terrain.
Crumbling moss-laden marble pillars acted as wretched guards on either side of the cemetery gateway. Behind the eroded iron fencing stood rows of disheveled tombstones. The hand of time left no stone untouched, the names of those laid to rest long forsaken. In the cemetery's heart sat a captivating likeness of an angel. The endless seasons wore away at the rock of the sculpture's youth, leaving deep crevices in her form.
Despite her gentle countenance, something dark emanated from the bust. In the dim light provided by the onyx moon, the beams revealed her right hand not carved to represent flesh but of bone. The wings etched to protrude from the figure's back appeared rotted, torn, and bony. Blackened sockets filled the angel's skull. The longer one gazed at the carving, the more horrific it presented.
Before the statue kneeled a silver-haired woman, her heavy black cloak concealing her frame from view as she kept her head bent in reverence before the bust, never raising her gaze.
"I come with news, Madame," she said in the distinct daemon-tongue. Another person moved from behind the cracked marble, stepping forward into the dim light. It carried an enormous weapon in its left hand, a shaft that bore a long, slim, barbed blade composed of tachylyte on the top and bottom. Intricate rune patterns incised into either knife, the designs themselves omitting an eerie purplish glow.
The being bore a low cowl over its head, its face invisible by the shadow cast. The robes that draped over its skeletal frame outlined its emaciated form.
"Speak," the thing demanded.
"Uddris and the dragons have agreed to the alliance."
The creature approached the kneeling individual, gliding over the dirt as the mist swirled around its garments. "Rise."
The woman obeyed as she stood to attention towards her mistress. As she picked up her head, the moonlight gleamed on her face to display her solid silver eyes, and half shadowed features, appearing as though she wore a black mask on the upper part of her visage.
Faint heavy breathing, broken by slight groans caught their awareness as the scythed figure stepped back further in the shadows to stay out of sight. The silver-haired female turned around towards the source of the noise. Astiroth pushed his weakened body along the gravestones, stumbling past the stone protuberances. His eyes shifted to the shadowed woman as he staggered his way towards the cracked angel statue.
The female lifted a hand, a swirling black mist emanating between her fingers. "Halt! Who are you, and what is your business here?"
Astiroth flashed his devilish grin at the voice, the female bringing life to his wounded being. "I have come for the one they call Madame Medri. I seek an audience with her with a peace offering. Legend has it she lives by this sculpture."
He gestured behind the woman towards the decayed bust. The woman's strange bright eyes narrowed, not lowering her weapon hand. Though slight in build, it was evident by her gait she was a warrior.
"A lowlife dares to stroll into our territory and expect a greeting with open arms… do you take me for a fool?" she hesitated, her senses finding something compelling on his person. "You do not address my mistress until you present this item. What is this 'peace offering' that you speak? If this is a trick, I shall flay your flesh from your bones."
Astiroth's grin diminished as he glowered at her, unaccustomed to a woman speaking to him in such a manner. However, he did not argue the point, knowing he soon would die from the wound on his spine. He gritted his teeth as he waved his hand, vines climbing from the soil, resembling a massive pile of snakes intertwined. The creeping plants shifted to show the cover of the Tome of Kothar.
"I come with significant knowledge of the workings of the Reaper and his army. I can offer much to Madame Medri," he said before the book disappeared once more.
She observed his offering for a moment before turning her intense gaze on the man. "What do you hope to gain from providing such material?"
"Power..." Astiroth hissed before he collapsed to a knee, his legs no longer able to support his weight as the injury on his spine continued to rot. He snapped his head up, his raven hair matted to his face as he scowled at the woman. "If you continue to waste my time, this wound will kill me, and the tome shall be gone forever."
"Perhaps I should let you suffer longer," she said as she leaned more weight onto one leg, jutting out her hip as she sneered at him. "I love to watch a man grovel."
"Niaris," a voice sounded from behind the statue. The woman frowned as she peeked over her shoulder to see the dark-hooded figure still looming in the shadows. "Stop toying with the fool.”
Astiroth lifted his black eyes to peer at the being. He bent his head in respect, providing a view of his gruesome injury that traveled the length of his backbone. "I presume you are the one they call Madame Medri?"
The hooded entity raised a withered hand, pulling its cowl to display a thin white mane that tumbled along its back. Half of its lineaments held delicate, bow-shaped lips, silver skin, and other alluring components of a female gray elf. However, on the other side of its face, its flesh blackened and decayed. Without smiling, the creature's teeth and saprogenic gums discerned into a permanent grin. Gone was its eyes, leaving behind only two pinpoints of red glowing lights within the sockets.
"You presume correct. State your business before I slay you where you stand."
Excitement burned in Astiroth’s coal-black eyes, sensing the immense power from the being. He struggled to his feet, nodding towards the bundle of vines to his side that displayed the leather cover of the volume once again.
"I bring this offering to you as allegiance to your cause."
Madame Medri lifted her free hand, the book shifting to hover into her grasp. She opened the ancient text, skimming its words with her red eyes. "How did you get this?"
"I was a member of the Reaper's royal guard for years. I am knowledgeable on the ins and outs of his castle. I found the training provided to me was no longer useful, so I stole the tome to present to you. Although His Majesty did not leave me unscathed."
He shifted to display the decaying laceration on his vertebra. Madame Medri glanced up once and then back at the book, her bone finger running across the parchment.
"I understand you desire power. Do not be so foolish as to presume this contribution will be enough.”
Astiroth's face contorted into a toothy grin. "I shall serve you and do your bidding without question."
The tome closed shut with a loud bang as it disappeared in a burst of flames. The Madame lowered her hand by her side. "Niaris... heal him." She spun to leave but halted as she scanned over her shoulder. "But not entirely."
Astiroth's eyebrow raised, understanding her granting him to suffer as a method of control. Tremendous might seeped from this undead monster, and he dared not dispute her. Astiroth turned to Niaris, flashing her a cocky smirk as his eyes scanned her body once over before looking her in the face.
"You heard her."
The daemoness sneered at the man as she neared him. "One wrong move, and I'll kill you."
She walked behind him as her hands glowed with purple energy. She placed her palms against the wound, sending her healing magic into his flesh, the rotting skin returning to its natural gray hue. Though she restored the bones and the deep muscles, she allowed the injury to remain open. Astiroth rolled his shoulders as he straightened once more, his neck popping as he stretched his healed spine.
"What brought you to Madame Medri?" he asked as he rounded to face her.
The silver-haired woman scowled at him for his intrusive question. "She is the creator of myself and my sisters, the other Faceless Daemons. We are Elementals," Niaris said as she stepped around him towards the cracked angel figure.
Astiroth's eyebrow raised as he crossed his arms, following her to the sculpture. "So, there are others like you? Where are they?"
"Various locations throughout the realms. I am searching for one in particular," Niaris reached up to brush a growing vine from the arm of the statue. "Have you ever heard of a daemoness named Azara?"
Astiroth thought on the name for a moment before shaking his head. "No, I can't say I have." A sly gleam appeared in his eyes. "Does she need punishment?"
"Yes," Niaris turned to face him, her white gaze shining from the cast of the onyx moon above them. "She has been defiant against my mistress, and now she's been trying to influence the others to do the same. She has bared children against Madame Medri's ruling for us."
Astiroth stepped over to lean against the statue, his eyes never leaving her. "Why not just slay her and her young?"
Niaris gave him a pointed glance. "It is not that simple. We could murder the offspring, but not Azara. She is essential to my mistress's plans."
Astiroth moved before her, his tall form dwarfing the female. "Pray, do tell. I'm confident I can track them." He smirked, tilting his head in reflection. "Or we can force her out of hiding with someone dear to her?"
Niaris folded her arms over her chest as she lifted an eyebrow up at him. "She's stayed hidden for so long, it would be difficult to discern who she knows. Unless we can track her mate..."
"Do you know her mate's name or his potential whereabouts?"
Niaris rested a hand on her hip. "Etriz Arkan, a fire daemon in the south. He is as elusive, if not more so than Azara."
"Then maybe we give him a reason to show his face, a motivation to force him out of hiding?"
"It is rumored that he oversees a nearby town and views himself as their 'protector.' The pathetic humans believe him to be a god, though he is nothing of the sort. Attack the village... and he'll show himself," Niaris smiled at the thought. "More than likely, Azara will be in tow."
A twisted flicker of excitement lit in Astiroth's eyes, pushing his black hair out of his face. "I suppose I should visit this town of his. I must prove my worth to our mistress. Care to join me? I intend to make him, and those villagers, suffer."
Niaris pressed a delicate finger to her lips in reflection. "Very well, I will go. Just be sure the show is entertaining."
A wicked smile spread across her pale face. Unbeknownst of the pair, the cracked angel statue's eyes slowly turned a deep glowing red as it stared towards them.