He who fights with monsters need might take care lest he become a monster.
---Fredrick Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil
Phoenix sat in the pit, awaiting his next fight. Jell-O Man slid alongside him and gave him a hand full of coins. Phoenix checked their balance and pulled Jell-O Man aside.
"What gives? There should be another thousand kin here.
"Sorry Kid, but the bosses say you're getting too greedy."
"I won fair and spare!"
"I know. But they make the rules. Keep your nose clean and you'll pay off your debut in no time."
Jell-O Man patted his back with his tentacles and paused.
"Look kid I shouldn't be telling you but there are a bunch of Nekoshins here itching for a fight with ya `cause they lost a ton betting against you. I'd take a dive on this one."
"Thanks for the heads up but bet everything I've earned up to this point on me tonight," he said and tapped a large coin against the band on Jell-O Man's belt and watched as the amount drained to zero. He sighed then made his way to the arena.
His opponent was a six armed, seven foot tall Cyclops. Piece of cake, Phoenix thought until the band on his arm glowed red.
"Crap," he said and doubled over, and then straightened his back with a loud crack.
The Cyclops meanwhile jumped and did back flips. Phoenix's emerald eyes glowed as his rage washed over him. Those close by shuddered as they felt the wave of power building up. Jell-O Man stopped by to wish him luck but the neural coms were no uses due to all the interference.
The introductions over with, Phoenix kept his distance until he'd worked out the Cyclops's attack pattern: left jab, right cross, and then a plasma blast.
He dodged the next plasma blast and hurled a fireball at its eye. The Cyclops jumped out of the way and fired plasma bolts from its purple hands and skewered phoenix's right arm. The Nekoshins cheered but startled when his wound healed and the muscle bulged twice as big.
Phoenix chuckled then charged forward and sliced off the Cyclops's head. His victory dance was short lived when it sprouted two new heads.
He tried again and four new heads sprouts. Phoenix dodged the attacks best he could until he'd gathered enough energy and sent a wave of flames that engulfed the Cyclops.
The creature shrugged it off, charged forward, and then jumped into the air. Phoenix pursued it and blasted a lightning bolt through its chest. The Cyclops wasn't hurt and sent a plasma blast right at Phoenix, rendering his left arm a useless hunk of flesh. Between the gravity and his injuries he was toast if he didn't defeat the beast fast.
Phoenix concentrated and teleported inside the Cyclops and once there tore it apart. He emerged from its chest covered in blue blood, then passed out.
Even after the bosses' fee he'd won his freedom but what good would it do him once the fur balls got done with him. Jell-O Man could buy him some time, but how much he didn't know.
"Stupid Kid," he said, hoisted him on his back and hurried to secret him away.
Abaraxas excoriated Travis for once again failing to get the spell right. They'd gone over the procedure a hundred times by this point, but Travis still insisted on doing it his way.
"Must I drill into your skull and etch it on your brain? Every spell has three phases: the naming, the shaping, and evocation. It must happen in this order or your spells will continue to fail."
Travis's eyes narrowed to slits. "Tell me why and I'll try it your way."
"Because that's the way it's always been. You list your deeds then lay out what the spell does, and activate it."
"So phase one has no bearing on the spell work and phase two is like writing code. And phase three is like an execute command, so..." Travis trailed off and muttered to himself. He snapped out of it when Abaraxas shook him.
"I have a wager for you, Abe." Travis stippled his fingers and arched an eyebrow.
"If I can create a new spell using my way, allow me to take the Trial."
"Done, but when you fail no more back talk."
They shook on it and Travis slaved away. He muttering random words to himself and made notes. Abaraxas laughed at the boy's antics but grew tired as the weeks dragged on.
In response Travis smiled and said, "Bleed."
At once a thousand cuts appeared on Abe's body and then the skinned was pulled from his body by flaming hooks.
"Good job," Abe said then dropped to his knees before he righted himself. A snap of his fingers and his body was back to normal. He looked over the boy's notes and agreed to let him take the Trial.
Razor walkers were giant cave dwelling spiders, with metal legs that ended in serrated blades. Their silk was tougher than steel and the primary fabric used by the Djin. Their twelve inch fangs carried venom with hallucinogenic and paralytic properties. The next morning Travis was blindfolded and taken to the cave where they dwelled.
The skulls of lesser demons who failed the Trial littered the ground. Abe wished him luck and reminded Travis he had to make it all the way through the cave. And should he fail, and survive, he couldn't take the Trial again.
"Stop worrying. I'm ready," he said, sticking a rose in his pocket and then raced off.
"But you forgot your bracelet..." Abaraxas' voice trailed off. He pocketed the item and hoped Travis wouldn't need it.
"Sting!" Travis said and the Razor walkers in front of him were cut into a hundred pieces. He paused to catch his breath, the stench of rotten flesh hung in the air along with dust and mold spores. A cough attack racked him and he stumbled over a skeleton. The sound drew the spiders like a dinner bell and before he knew it they'd surrounded him.
He summoned the S-blade and made quick work of them until he saw the mother of all Razor walkers. Its black hair was streaked with grey and it was missing two legs. There was a mark burned into it forehand, and around its neck was a collar. The creature towered over him. Its fangs were two feet long and dripping with saliva.
"Sting," Travis said again and again but the spell had little effect on one so big. He tried Bleed, but it too failed him. He summoned the S-blade but even it was no match for the mammoth creature.
"Mmmm, dinner," it said and descended upon Travis.
He dove out of the way and retrieved the rose from his pocket. He channeled his essence into it and the plant changed into thorny lance. He charged forward but didn't expect the massive spider to react as fast as it did. It twisted at the last second and its fangs bit into Travis's stomach. But Travis had the last laugh as the lance pierced the spider through the eye. With the last of its energy the spider scooped him up and melded into the shadows.
As the poison coursed through Travis he hallucinated he was back in lab being experimented on. As they traveled his nightmare intensified and they began teleporting throughout Pandemonium at random.
As time wore on the cadaver King could no longer put off his fears. Abe scoured the cave but there was no sign of Travis. He sent scout outs to four corners of Rose, but they failed to find any trace of him either.
He knew the boy was trouble the moment he laid eyes on him, but what if Travis was right? If the Lords of Chaos found him all was lost. He sent scouts to Minerva, Necron, and left for Eris himself. It would be a long journey even by shadow meld, but he hopped his hunch was wrong for once.
Three demons cloaked in darkness gnashed away on bones when the spider appeared with Travis.
"Arachne, what happened?"
"Twas the boy my lords," she said and died. Balder approached with a knife and cut Travis from the silken cocoon. With a flick of his gnarled hand Travis was laid out before them. The other two licked their lips and hopped up and down. Balder waved his hand and the others settled down.
His gnarled hand shook as he pondered how to make the bastard pay. First he'd castrate the brat, rip out his toe nails, and then boil his flesh off. What was left he'd harvest for a spell in Arachne's honor. Balder drew back the rusty dagger and struck, but all he caught was air.
"What is the meaning of this?" he turned, eyes lit like coals and rounded on Loki.
"Do you not felt it, brother? This boy has been marked by the Old One."
Balder steadied his blade, waved his hand over the boy and gasped when he felt it. Loki clapped and danced a jig. Thor came to see for himself and stopped dead in his tracks. There was no mistaking it, he'd studied the image of the Vessel countless nights and prayed for the day he finally find it. He administered a potion to counteract Arachne's venom and as one they and the Acolytes of the Old One began cutting themselves and laughing. Throughout Eris a festival of carnage began.
Travis awoke and saw the twisted form of the triumvirate. Their skeletal hands stuck out from their hooded robed like withered branches on a tree. Their dead eyes stared at him through Masks of bone and flesh. Where their nose and ears once were only slits remained. The skin that was visible resembled patch work quilts, taunt and leathery. Bone poked through where the flesh had rotted away. The three hovered off the ground, black tentacles issuing from where their feet should have been.
Travis got up but his legs were like cement and he fell on his ass. Balder introduced himself and his brothers, and welcomed Travis to Eris. Loki offered him a drink, but he passed on it and began working the kinks out of his legs. They watched him in awe and disbelief that this average human was the one who they'd awaited for so long.
Thor suggested a test and the others agreed. They pulled Travis down into a pit and there on the floor was an altar of flesh and bone. They watched as the symbol etched on the altar glowed supernaturally white then a voice spoke:
"By evil's desire the vessel was sired and with evil's fire the vessel shall sire his heart's greatest desire."
Travis knew that voice all too well, but held his tongue. He would let them break the silence and go from there.
"The Old One has spoken. Praise be He and let us rejoice. The Vessel has come. Now let us learn him in the old ways."
"Yes," Loki and Thor said and showed Travis to the work table. Various human organs and bones lined the table and to the right was an athame which Balder picked up. He doused the blade in blood from a heart and then blew some of his essence on it. The blade glowed red then a white light encased it.
Balder drove the blade into his flesh, then gathered blood in his hand. The air became charged then a bolt of lightning shoot out from Balder encasing his body in an electrical storm.
"Cool," Travis said and watched as Balder taught him the finer points of blood magic.
Long ago before the old ways fell out of favor, there was great magic in knowing the secret name of thing. But the greatest of magic lie in offerings of flesh and blood. A drop of blood given willingly was more powerful than a thousand sacrifices.
Powerful spells they were, but with all magic came at a cost. Travis already experienced the fate of all those that over used blood magic, but there awaited a fate worse than the Strigori. The triumvirate only seemed sane. In truth they were soulless monsters who craved flesh and blood, and thrived on causing chaos. They were wont to take their blade to themselves in offerings to the Old One and as Travis learned more of their ways he found himself longing to join them, but fought back the urge. In three weeks he'd mastered all there was to learn about the old ways and a ceremony was to be held in his honor. But first Balder had to show him something.
Behind a tapestry of the Old One was an image craved on stone of Travis. He sat upon a throne of bones and in his right hand was the S-Blade. How could this be? Travis clinched his fists and waves of flames washed over his arms. Balder stepped backed and assessed the situation. Yes the boy was something special alright, but how to get him to consent to the Ritual of Awakening?
"My lord, calm yourself. I know of a ritual that will rid you of the Old One's presence. It requires some of your blood and you must drink some of ours."
"What do you get out of this and how do I know you're telling the truth?"
"Have I hid the truth from you in your time here?"
"Then why would I start now? The Vessel would be treated like a god, but as you have no desire why not let the burden pass to another?"
Travis thought it over but something didn't feel right. If it were that easy to remove Oblivion's influence why hadn't Abe done so? He tried reading Balder's mind, but all he got was the same tangle of psychotic fanaticism mixed with blood lust that was always present.
"What do I get out of the deal? Sacrificed to Oblivion or something worse you have in store for me?" Travis narrowed his eyes and formed a blade of flames.
"No my lord, you wouldn't experience any side effects, other than feeling a bit sleepy as the magic works its job. Soul magic is a tricky thing as you know."
"Fine, but if I don't like it you stop."
"As you wish, but first there is the matter of tonight's ceremony. You must choose a secret name that only we know. Balder called Loki and Thor and they retired to his chambers with Travis and began prepping him for the ceremony.
Travis's mask was fashioned from the remains of Arachne. The top half of her skull had been chopped of and the bone heated until it became pliable. They molded his face and used it to shape the bone. The result: Travis stared through the orbital sockets of Arachne's skull. The glow from his eyes washed over the bone making it appear to be engulfed in blood.
Balder stepped forward and revealed his secret name: The Voice of Darkness. Next was Thor: The Hand of Darkness. Last was Loki: The Heart of Darkness. Balder removed his mask and screamed, the sound scattered glass and when he turned to the wall it too was no match. Travis clapped and Balder gave a little bow.
Thor placed his right against the wall, and it rotted the wall to dust. Loki removed his mask and black smoked poured from his mouth. It took shape until a razor walker stood before them. A snap of his fingers and the beast changed into a skeletal dragon. Loki clapped his hands and the creature was no more.
"Now my lord what it your name?" they said in unison.
"Call me Scorpion, the Prince of Pain."
They watched as white tendril sprouted from him and then skewered everything in a ten foot radius. Not done Travis kicked up a tornado of flames around himself, and then a thousand flame blades shot out in every direction. The triumvirate formed a blood shield and weathered the onslaught until Travis felt they had enough.
Travis had his fill of souls and blood that night. Oh how delicious it all tasted, but part of him was disgusted with himself.
He quieted his mind and focused on the task at hand. He cut the glyphs into his arms as instructed, then slit the palm of his left hand and cupped the blood into the goblet along with the three's. He downed it all, then sat in the circle of entrails and waited. The three began to chant, the words a mish mosh of hisses and clicks.
At first he felt nothing but then his eyelids began to droop. He stifled a yawn, then felt the coldness begin to spread form his chest.
Oblivion take over him bit by bit and there was nothing he could do to stop it. Travis called forth his flames but they hand no effect. The three laughed and began hacking at themselves as they awaited the return of their master. He realized they'd tricked him and it was too late to stop the ritual.
Travis was so out of it he thought he heard Abe tell him to stay awake. His eyelids dropped, and then he felt the coldness of metal slip onto his wrist. At last he could think straight. Travis raised his defenses and pushed back the Old One's presence. Oblivion screeched to let him out ,but he held strong and banished him for another day.
"How dare you take what belongs to me!" Abe released his aura and the three skittered back. Balder fell to his knees and kissed Abe's feet, but he got a kick to the gut. The others tried to stop him when he made a move for Travis but a few flicks from Beautiful Sakaura and they backed off.
Travis slept for most of the journey home. Abe warned him that the wall between him and Oblivion was fragile. Should he lose control, it could break without warning. Travis looked down at the bracelet and noticed there was a hairline crack in the rune.
From then on each time he used his demonic abilities was a game of Russian roulette that pushed him closer to releasing Oblivion. He busied himself preparing for that day by creating new spells, attacks, and of course training.
One day he wondered where his aspect went he didn't need it. He summoned the S-blade and wrapped a string of energy around it, and then banished it. The string tugged him forward and he followed down a black tunnel. The gravity around him increased and when Travis felt as if he was about to pop, the tunnel ended and he was in a void. He turned and saw the S-blade floating in the air.
He explored the void trying to find a way out. When he was about to give up Travis saw the axe Power gave him in the distance. He focused and it came soaring through the air. Heavier than the S-blade it was forged in the shape of a great bird with wings fanned out. Without warning the axe disappeared. Travis sat on the cold ground and thought how to get out of this place. He thought about Abe and the next instance he was back at the Palace of Desire.
Over the next several days he experimented traveling to the void and found it could house anything he wished so long as he made a trip with it at least once. He was so lost in thoughts of the practical application of the void he missed what Abe said to him next.
"Boy I said prepare yourself for tomorrow. The Lords of Chaos have called a meeting of the demonic kingdoms to discuss you. Be on your best behavior."
"Got it, but if the shit hits the fan I won't be responsible for what happens."
"We'll cross that bridge if it comes. If the worst happens I want you to leave." Abe placed his hand on the boy's back. Travis flinched away.
"I can handle myself fine, thank you."
"Boy, remember you represent not just yourself, but the whole of Rose. I am your master and you will obey me. Is that clear?"
Travis's aura exploded forth.
"You've saved my ass and I'm thankfully, but no one tells me what to do. Out of respect for you and our friendship, I will acquiesce and pop out of there at the first sign of trouble." Travis genuflected to Abe and reined back his aura. Abe studied him a moment before he replied.
"Yes the country folk tell of how you pop out of nowhere and back again in a plume of flames. I do wish you wouldn't. They give me such a head ache."
"Deal, if you stop pestering me."
"Done. By the way, Demeter has been sniffing around for you."
"Remind me to eviscerate her."
Travis triple checked the wards on his room, then placed a plant guardian by the door just in case.
Abe laughed and retired to his chambers for the night. Thoughts of the meeting floated through his and once more he wished Travis had never graced his palace walls again. His treaty with the Lords of Chaos was tenuous at best and this could be the exact excuse Balder needed to start a full-fledged hot war. And what was up with the boy's insolence? Unbeknownst to Abe what Travis didn't say was how he planned to eliminate the Demon Lord once their goals unaligned.
In the middle of breakfast Abe interrupted Travis and deposited a scrawny boy with pointed ears in front of him. He was introduced as Tulip and told to makes sure Travis was presentable for the day's meeting. Lip, as he preferred to be called, took his measurements. Though he looked 14, Lip was over three hundred years old.
For the first time since Travis ran away he thought about his human family and the trouble that awaited him back home.
"I'm done," Lip said and with a snap of his fingers dressed him in a cream suite with matching hat and cane. Lip shook his head, snapped his fingers again and Travis was in a rainbow suit that shifted colors every time he turned his body. Lip gave him a critical look then whipped out a blue rose and put it into the lapel. He gave Travis a thumbs up and they walked along.
"So what's your story?"
"Is a wildling Master Travis. Mom be human, Dad a demon. Fucks if I knows who he bes. Came into me powers at 13. Chose to be a full demon and the rest's history."
"I take it you get crap for not being born a demon?"
"How'd ya be knowing that?"
Travis flashed him a wry smile.
"I know the look well."
Lip nodded and they walked on. It was still a few hours before the meeting so Travis changed into his every day cloak and got in a training session.
He raised his hand to the sky and a lightning bolt crashed down inches from him. He tried again and this time the bolt did as it was intended and Travis caught it. His every synapse was afire as he held the bolt. He concentrated and felt the energy course through him. He sensed it building up and shot the bolt back into the skies. Lightning rained down around him, and he threw his fists in the air and whooped. Abe watched on and clapped.
Travis nodded at him, changed back into his rainbow suit and they walked to the designated meeting area. When they gout to the meadow out the place Travis saw the triumvirate and glared at them. The representatives from Minerva wore long following robes and had long crystal staves, with various jewels in the center.
The Lords of Death sported armor made from bones and carried daggers on their belts. All of them were heavily scarred and looked as if they were on steroids.
Abe called the meeting to order and they began discussing old business which lasted a week and a day. Finally they got to news business and Balder took the floor.
"My dearest comrades, I bring before you a matter of grave urgency. Lord Abaraxas entered my domain and stole property from us. I beseech you compel him to return the boy and we will not make war against him."
Abe took the floor and stippled his fingers.
"Lord Balder is half right. The boy in question was found in my domain and I schooled him in our ways per the Law. He was going through the Ritual when he was stole away to Eris. So as you can see he belongs to me."
Travis glared at Abe.
I belong to no one!
He released his aura and the others took notice. The representative from Thoth chose then to speak up. She had long flowing purple hair and wore a gown of rubies and sapphires.
"I think the solution is simple. The boy has been schooled in the ways of Rose and Eris let him apprentice under Thoth and Necron then we can bring this discussion up again. Do I have a second?"
Lord Hades from Necron seconded the motion and it passed three to one. Travis learned all there was about wards, potions, creating homunculi and chimeras, and summoning lesser demons. The magic came to him with little effort once he understood the theory behind it, but consistency was always the issue. He could manifest an army of chimera one day but struggled with the most basic of wards the next.
Necron magic was the easiest to pick up being an offshoot of blood magic. Runes were etched into the user's skin to augment their abilities. Practitioners wore full body armor forged from the bones of their enemies and spells geared to dishing out the most damage in the shortest time.
Thoth magic however was the most difficult for him to perform. Yet it had a calming effect to it unlike the others. There was an elegant beauty to the spell work, but what he enjoyed the most were the mind games that went with it. While natural gifted from his battles against Oblivion, they taught him the finer points of guarding his mind.
No matter the system the cost was always the same. He grew tired of the constant battles with Oblivion and struck a deal. Once a moth they'd do battle and if Travis won he'd be left alone, but if he lost Oblivion would be let into his soul for a time. It was risky but thus far had worked and was better than depending on Abe's bracelet.
After what felt like several lifetimes his apprenticeship came to an end. When the meeting of the Demon Lords was called to order Travis stood dressed in his Necron armor over his rainbow suit. He was the first order of business. Each kingdom laid claim to him and they were locked in a stalemate.
"Let the boy cast the final vote."
Athena nodded her head at Abaraxas. And the others, save Balder, agreed with her. Travis steepled his fingers, and appraised each in turn. If he joined Eris it'd be that easier to take out Balder. Yet the Death Lords offered the raw power needed to crush Eris, and if not destroy Rose make it a nonentity. While he respected the finesse of the Thoth they were better suited as allies.
"I pledge fealty to Rose."
Lord Balder would not let this stand and challenged Abe to a duel. The others summoned their Aspects and released their Auras. The four way standoff lasted for what seemed like hours until Travis broke in.
"Toasty!" he said. Bolts of lightning hammered into Balder and knocked him out. The meeting descended into chaos as factions warred with each other. Travis called his S-blade but Abe stopped him.
"No, my friend. Leave before the wall between you and the Old One is breached."
"On three conditions: my debt is paid in full, the bracelet is mine, and if the Djin ever feed on children again I will crush you to dust."
"Done, now go!"
Travis closed his eyes and focused on Phoenix. The link was weak but enough for him to lock on.
And the plot thickens. Next time the boys meet up and sparks fly. Will they be able to work out their differences before the Nekoshins close in on them? Stay tuned for chapter fifteen. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. And remember to donate to nifty to keep this and other stories free for you to enjoy.