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.
Crumbled, 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 concealed her frame from view as she kept her head bent in reverence before the bust, never raising her gaze.
"I come with news, Master," she said in the distinct daemon-tongue. Another person moved from behind the cracked marble, stepping forward into the dim light. The second being 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 robes that draped over its skeletal frame outlined its emaciated form. The being bore a low cowl over its head, its face invisible by the shadow cast.
"Speak," the thing demanded.
"Xarsunon and the dragons have agreed to the alliance."
The report gave the creature pause. It 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 master. 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.
"What are his contingencies, Niaris?" inquired the scythed creature, pacing through the dense gloom in reflection.
"He demands to be the General of the South and East."
The gaunt entity scoffed at the notion, waving a hand at the idea, "He is a fool to expect I will ever allow such authority."
"Then what shall I inform him, Master?"
The figure paused, moving a bony finger to its chin. It planned for a long moment before shifting to glance at the silver-haired female, though Niaris did not see the figure's eyes.
"... Tell him if he wants his position, it will be by my laws. If he intends to be in my troop, then particular conditions must be met."
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 course along the gravestones, his body weakened from the strike by the Reaper. Stumbling, his eyes shifted to Niaris as he forced his way through the graveyard.
The woman 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 sound, the female bringing life to his wounded being, "I have come for the one they call the Death Daemon. 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 clear by her gait she was a true warrior, not someone easily overpowered.
"A lowlife dares to stroll into my Master's 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 master until you present this item. I am the Death Daemon's ambassador. 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. 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 Exos.
"I come with significant knowledge of the workings of the Reaper and his army. I can offer much to the Death Daemon," he said before the book disappeared from sight once more.
Niaris observed his offering for a moment before turning her intense gaze on the man, "And 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 slash 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 the Reaper inflicted 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 playing with your food..." the creature said as it glided across the ground.
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 the Death Daemon?"
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. But on the other side of its face, its flesh had blackened and decayed. Without smiling, the creature's teeth and saprogenic gums were discernible in a permanent grin. Gone was its eyes, leaving behind only two pinpoints of red glowing lights within the sockets.
"You presume correctly. State your business before I slay you where you stand."
Astiroth could sense the power radiating from this rotted creature, excitement burning in his coal-black gaze. 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."
The Death Daemon 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. The king did not agree to my philosophies, so I used the young Prince Kyvan as leverage to demand the tome. It only furthered my opinion on the weakness of the Reaper, granting the life of an insignificant child to hold influence over him. Although, he did not leave me unscathed," He shifted to display the decaying laceration on his vertebra.
The Death Daemon glanced up once and then back at the book, her bone finger running across the parchment. She appeared unbothered by the man's tale, "I understand you desire strength. I can offer that to you... but do not be so foolish as to suppose that this contribution will be enough. It's a good start..." the creature chuckled. "But you have a long way to go."
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 Death Daemon 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. The might that seeped from this being was tremendous, and he dared not dispute her. He yearned for that power. He 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 stay open.
Astiroth rolled his shoulders as he stood straight once more, his neck popping as he stretched his healed spine.
"What brought you to the Death Daemon?" he asked as he rounded to face her.
The woman took a step backward as her hands dropped to her sides, her cloak covering her frame from view.
"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 said as she 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 our master, and now she's been trying to influence the others to do the same. She has bared children against the Death Daemon's laws for us Faceless Daemons."
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… my master prefers that. But we cannot destroy Azara. She is essential to our master's plans. She will realize we want to rid of her babies, so she has hidden them."
Astiroth moved before her, his tall form dwarfing the female, "Tell me what you know. I'm confident I can track them." He smirked, tilting his head in reflection. "Or we can force her out of hiding, perhaps 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..." Her voice trailed off as she pondered on that for a time.
"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. "And 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 master. 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. Underneath their feet, deep beneath the dead earth's surface by the base of the broken angel statue, came the boom of slow but rhythmic knocking.