The Dark Messenger – Chapter 7

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A Too-Clever Demon, Part 1

In the Beginning

The demon Gizamos haunted the foot of South Betan when it was called Rek, one hundred years before the emergence of Monrath. The denizens of Tret, which would later be known as Garth, would tell stories of a demon that would emerge from below the mountain at night. Travellers would tell tales of flashing eyes in the dark and far off cries. People up the mountain and people nearby would warn strangers and outsiders not to linger near the foot of it. Many went missing.

Of course there were plenty who wanted to  dismiss this as the fantasies of overactive imaginations and boredom. ‘Maybe,’ wrote one academic, ‘this mirrors the case of the Brigar Bandits. For a time they evaded the king’s law by keeping their existence secret, instead telling stories of demons and witches that would kill rich travellers by night. The entire town of Brigar became so convinced this was the truth that even when the gang of men who were carrying out the robberies and killings were caught and put to trial, immediately ending the incidents that sparked the stories, they refused to believe it. Until the town was destroyed in the War of the East, the false version had become an accepted part of the town’s history.

‘Tret and the Brigar that believed in the gang of murderous devils and witches have much in common – both exist as little else except waypoints for travellers. There’s little remarkable historically, geographically or tactically about either places. Maybe it was the case that, the stories having become such an integral part of both place’s otherwise mundane identities, the people are unwilling to let go of such fanciful and darkly interesting ideas.’ Telthus Carmess, the academic in question, had never actually visited Tret when he had written that.

One night a man named Fer came into the town, shaking badly. He was a hunter in the local area, although he was known for being lazy and incompetent on the whole. After conning an ale or two out of everyone, they had managed to coax the reason for his distress out of him.

The Head of Tret’s Accountancy, a man whose name is lost to history, had never really been called up on situations of great need. He was not accustomed to making important decisions; with that in mind he did a remarkably good job. He sent a message, post haste, to the now-abandoned Eastern City of Toll and gathered a group of hunters to double check Fer’s story.

The second, and more reliable, account of what happened went like this: the hunters found their way to the foot of the mountain and tracked it until they found the small forested area south of a well-known hunting spot. They found the clearing in the woods, and the cave that led into the mountain. It looked like gaping mouth of a predator, waiting silently. With Fer’s story in mind, they reluctantly lit some torches and made their way inside.

Fer had claimed that he had his made his way into the cave seeking the cool, an escape from the scathing heat of the day’s uncannily hot sun. Inside the cave the air had been heavy and rank, which was weird. It was not a normal smell for a cave. Immediately, the party of hunters knew he was telling the truth. Their hearts sank, and they continued onwards.

The Ritual of Garth

At the foot of South Betan lay the comparatively bustling hive of Garth. Garth was a weird place, locals often said, producing fanatics and devouts. If it wasn’t beautiful, it was certainly striking: angels and cherubim and jinni gurned and grimaced from the sides of buildings, carved into the yellowing stone. They liked, rather unusually for the Kingdom, to decorate the outside of their buildings and leave the insides bare. Red was a colour of strength here, and blue a colour of temperance. Walking through the streets, you saw a lot more red draped walls than blue.

For a fortnight the small city became an irresistible magnet for not only the immediate area, but also the whole country. People would regularly make pilgrimages across the land to join in the ritual. It was not uncommon to pass travellers, bedecked in the garb of the Imprisoned Jinni, walking hunched down the path, as Opi and Mia did. They looked lonely and forlorn and self-absorbed, Mia thought.

‘You’ve heard of the ritual of Garth, right?’ asked Opi.

‘The city of the caged demon,’ said Mia.

‘It’s not really a city,’ said Opi, ‘and it’s jinni, not a demon. The people that make pilgrimages are desperate, rather than religious. People who don’t have any other option – or, really, feel like they have no other option. Only madmen and foreigners, they say.’

‘People,’ said Mia, ‘are too quick to just give up I think.’

‘Can be,’ said Opi, ‘anyway. Every year, for one week, the jinni Gizamos rises and will use it’s powers to grant one pilgrim a favour. I was thinking that since we’re kind of new to all this saving the world stuff, we might want to ask it the favour, ask him to point us in the direction of The Dark Messenger’s teacher. Can’t hurt can it?’

‘Are you sure we should tell anyone?’ asked Mia.

‘The alternative is what? We can’t do this alone Mia,’ Opi said. They rounded the peak, and Garth came into view. It was closer than she had thought, buried into the heel of the mountain. Mia fancied she could even see people moving around down there, through the yellow stone streets. Around it, there were tents and tents and tents. Opi had not, it seemed been joking about the amount of pilgrims. It was as if a river of brown cloth had surrounded Garth.

What Fer Found

Fer would not have stayed long in the cave, not with that smell, but something down the tunnel caught his eye. A glint. Like something precious.

‘I can’t see anything glinting,’ said one of the hunters sent to investigate, ‘he can’t have been telling the truth.’

‘We go on,’ said the party leader. His tone offered no patience for arguments.

The ring Fer had claimed to have found wasn’t there. That was no surprise. They continued onwards, down towards the cavern where Fer had hoped to find a treasure trove. One of the men cried out; he’d tread on something it was a severed arm. The men looked at it, and, again, protestations about turning around were floated. ‘This is proof enough that Fer was telling the truth.’

The party leader wasn’t convinced. They continued, until they hit the main cavern. It was filled with corpses. Some looked new, some looked old; there was bones and rotting meat and yet-to-rot meat. Travellers and locals, huddle together in a grisly display of murder. The men did not take time to look at the scene properly. Instead, their nerve broke and they ran.

When one of the King’s wizards arrived from Toll he frowned and nodded as he listened to the tale of the cave of corpses, mauled and burned in a way that no human could ever have achieved. This was, indisputably, the work of a demon. ‘Has anyone seen it?’ he asked. ‘What does it look like?’

Since its original appearance, accounts of its likeness had been reasonably consistent. A man covered in hair with large tusks. He was huge, bigger than a bear, and walked with a very human gait. He was clothed in armour, unlike any armour that the villagers had ever seen, and many of them has served in wars. It had a low, ground shaking voice which spoke in dead languages or nonsense. Where it’s eye should have been there was only light that, it was said, if you were to look into them you’d be looking straight into the land of the dead.

Next, the wizard asked for peace to prepare spells for three hours. He did not appear again from his room until sunrise and went straight to the hunters. ‘Take me,’ he said, ‘to the cave. This demon has troubled you for long enough.’

Powers

‘What can you do?’ asked Opi. ‘With your powers I mean.’ He stopped and cast around for a moment. Then left the road.

‘What?’ asked Mia. ‘Where are we going?’ He headed down a slope and into nearby foliage. A fox bolted from the bushes when they got nearby, out of the small formations of bushes and greenery. It was a contained iece of outgrowth, but tall enough to block them from sight.

‘This’ll do,’ said Opi. He pointed at a rock lying on the ground. ‘Can you lift that?’

‘What?’ said Mia. ‘You mean with my powers?’

‘Yes,’ said Opi, ‘I’ve not travelled much with magicians or wizards, but I feel like it would help if we knew what you could do in case we ran into trouble.’

Mia concentrated on the rock. How did this work? Nothing she had said yet did anything, so presumably she had to do something special. ‘Lift,’ she said, trying to be commanding.

The rock just sat there, looking as if it had not heard her. ‘Lift.’

‘Maybe try clearing your mind?’ said Opi. ‘I know that many magicians I have met talk about meditation being a big part of their craft.’

Mia stared daggers at him. He was always quick to tell people they were doing it wrong for a man that seemed to have no real skills himself.

‘Lift. Up. Float.’ She kicked the stone instead, and skimmed over the ground away.

‘Or that works,’ said Opi. ‘I guess it’s best you don’t use your powers anyway. Don’t want to draw attention to ourselves.’

‘Sorry,’ said Mia, feeling angry instead. Opi, she knew, was just trying to help, but his patronising attitude wasn’t exactly inspiring her.

‘So,’ said Mia uncertainly, on the way back to the road. She stopped walking.

‘Mmm?’ It took Opi a moment to look around and realise she had stopped. He shuffled around awkwardly, dragging an unwilling Brenda. Apparently being loaded with Mia’s luggage as well Opi’s had made the old donkey even more bad tempered. ‘What’s wrong Mia?’

‘I mean…’ Mia was finding it hard to look at him. ‘You only said you’d take me to the bottom of the mountain.’ They were at the bottom of the mountain now – how easy must life be down here? To always have flat land beneath your feet? Mia had taken a second just to enjoy it.

Opi laughed softly. ‘You want to go ask the demon yourself? Go explore the world alone.’

‘You’ve done enough already Opi, you’re an old man.’ Mia winced. ‘I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it like that, it’s just I feel bad relying on you. I’d rather not.’

‘Don’t be silly Mia,’ Opi said, shushing her with a dismissive gesture, ‘I’m not going anywhere until you’ve found others to help you.’

‘But…’

‘I’d like to reach Garth before the ritual starts,’ said Opi, ‘come on.’ Not waiting for her, he set off again. Mia felt resentfully glad.

The Saviour of Tret

There is a statue in Garth. There are many, actually: the moaning harpies and the strange man with a waistcoat and watch and there is the one in Grage Square of that general. There is one hidden in an alcove that used to be a village square of an old man in a pointy hat. That man is holding a box covered in symbols and you can’t see his face, as it is obscured by the brim of that hat. There’s an inscription: THE SAVIOUR OF TRET.

The group of hunters took the wizards, full of unwillingness, back to the cave. Most of them wanted to just forget about what they had seen: so far, the demon had rarely taken villagers and Tret survived, regardless. Why should they go looking for the demon who had, so far, caused not too much damage? They all knew, of course, that what they had seen would make it impossible for people to keep living in Tret, but many did not want to admit this.

The wizard gave them strict instructions. They were, under no circumstances, to enter the cave and follow him. They must wait outside, even if it seemed the battle was going badly or if they had some foolish idea of being a hero. They would only die and the wizard would regret this: now that he was here, nobody else need die. There was nothing any of them could do to stop the wizard.

So what, asked one of the men, do we do if you lose? The wizard just smiled and assured him that he would not lose. He never did.

So he disappeared into the cave and there was silence. The men looked at each other, worried. Even if the wizard had not issued his warnings they would have been reticent about following him into the cave, but no one wanted to just wait either.

It was not too long, although it felt longer, until the silence was broken. First came the visual cacophony of lights that spewed from the cave’s maw, then the moaning. It sounded some beast not of this world, they would tell people later, something horrifying and unimaginable. None of them at that moment believed that the wizard would come stumbling out, half an hour later, clutching a box in in both his hands.

‘I’ve got it,’ he told them, ‘I’ve captured your djinni.’

The demon – he claimed it was actually a djinni, a particular type of demon – was sealed rather than killed. He took it to the centre of the village and everyone gathered to see him. He climbed onto a podium that had been erected in the middle of the village square and talked to the quickly gathering crowds.

Those words are carved into the statue, below the words THE SAVIOUR OF TRET.

‘The Djinni will lie under the ground, and as long as it does it will remain sealed and bring luck to the town. But beware: just because it is sealed does not mean that it will remain so forever. It must never, ever be removed from where it lies.’

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All these thoughts...in my head! I need to get them out!

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