Unless I misremember, this was the first of the stories I wrote at FantasyBits, with the theme “Demons within” or something. It is meant to be a parody of some fantasy I read at the time (I forgot which), and should be read as such. As usual, some small edits in spelling, tense, word order and so on have been made, but it is otherwise as originally published on FantasyBits. I have added some footnotes when the story makes no sense…
It was, as it always is, dark in the tower.
The Magician had long waited for this moment when he, at last, held the Key to Ultimate Powers. Long had he searched and far away had he been in his search. He had seen the entire world and eventually found the Key in the Mountains of Uttermost Pain and Doom in the far west parts of the continent. It had surprised him how small it had been and how easy it had been to take it. Only one guard and he had been easily dealt with. The Magician chuckled.
It was a small bottle-shaped stone, lightly green, yet it illuminated the room with a faint blue light, nothing like the Magician had ever seen before. He was amazed. Many a great magician before him had yenned for it, many had gone on a quest for it and all had died in the process. But the Magician had succeeded. He smiled and picked it up.
Every time he touched it, he was puzzled by the coldness of it. It looked warm and pleasant with its blue light and, barely visible, the little corona of blue-green, pure magic around it, but the truth was of another character. It was ice cold, freezing a lesser man’s hands beyond healing. But the Magician was no lesser man.
He held it with grace and care, wielded it back and forth a few times and put it back. It filled him with a sense of power, a feeling that bordered to divinity and, far away, a hint of the Ultimate Powers it possessed. Soon, he would have broken down its final defences and begin his conquest of the world. He laughed maniacally and turned away from the Key.
The small room was crowded with bookcases and old maps covered most of the visible walls. He had lived in his tower for as long as he could remember, having only three servants, who were as conscious as zombies. They followed his every bidding blindly, spreading fear and respect throughout all land he could see through the chamber’s one, narrow window. Between his window and the horizon, nearly twenty small villages lay, as well as the town Sweet Peak. It was all his. He had them in his hand and would, once total supremacy had been established, become the capitol of his vast empire. He had it all planned, neatly written in notebooks and on maps. He knew every city, forest, mountain chain, and river by heart, and knew exactly where all the roads went.
He walked quietly over the thick, deep red carpet to the bookcase at the western wall. There was one bookcase for each direction and a few in between. They held all the knowledge in the world, gathered here by countless magicians since the dawn of time. They had all had the same goal, but only he, the Magician, had reached it.
The other ones had been fools, he thought and picked a book marked Gijoval’s Book of Unlocking. It was one of the more ancient books, filled from cover to cover with spells, notes and illustrations. Gijoval had been one of the three original magicians, ruling over the part of the continent known as Serdevenna. Of the three originals, only two had survived the first battle of magic, and only Gijoval still had his chamber occupied. It was the Magician himself who had got rid of the second school, Lestraphan’s, over sixty years before by sending a bolt of pure, unalloyed magic through the young magician’s head. He had died instantly, without any chance to defend himself.
Now, the Magician was the last magician in the world, and he loved it. No single man was any threat to him. He could, if he wanted to, destroy all the armies of the continent with this if he wanted to. And he wanted to.
He put the book on his desk an opened it. He turned a few pages and then he found it. The Eternal Spell of Magical Lock Openings. It was an old spell, having been erected and written down long before any now living man could remember. He read through it a few times, trying not too hard to learn it, for two reasons. The first was that he didn’t need to study hard anymore. When you reached a certain level of knowledge, the rest came naturally, like a snowball rolling down a slope.
The other reason was more severe. If you learned a spell of unlocking, there was always a risk that it would work the other way around and open your mind and spread your spirit to the five winds. Many a great wizard of the Castle of Magic had tried too hard to learn an unlocking spell and never been found again. At least not mentally.
At last, the Magician thought, the time has come. The final spell to unlock this artifact was in his mind. He could feel it, making his temples hurt. Magician turned to the Key. It glowed at him, making him want it even more than before. He picked it up, held it, ignoring the cold pain it caused him, and listened for the sound of horses running away (1). Soon, he heard them disappear into the forest and he smiled. It was time.
He began to summon the powerful demons that guarded the unlocking spell. Silently chanting under his breath, he could almost see the shapeless voids that hovered at the edge of awareness. He could feel the magic of hundreds of generations of magicians form under his fingernails, a warm feeling that made his ears ring.
The demons of the spell moved closer, took form and after a while, they entered his body. He could feel them move around inside his head, angrily looking for the spell. When they found it, they cried of joy. The Magician staggered in his effort to hold the rejoicing demons back inside till he needed them.
Lightning struck the tower. A magical discharge of this magnitude always attracted lightning.
The Magician slowly let the demons take control of more and more of his body. Small discharges of pure magic formed at the tip of his nose, his ears and his fingers.
The demons now had almost all of his body in their possession. The Magician didn’t like it, but it was the price he had to pay. He knew the demons expected to be given total control every time magic was used, but never once had he let them do it. He had seen hundreds, nay, thousand lesser magicians, conjurers, wizards and warlocks let the demons get to powerful, and it wasn’t a pretty sight. Torn apart alive was the result of too much trust in demons, and the Magician would have none of it.
He reached out for the Key, lifted it above his head and let the demons guide his tongue through the ancient and difficult phrases of the spell. Old, forgotten words momentarily formed in front of his eyes, only to disappear a tenth of a second later. He felt pain in his chest and eyes, and knew exactly that the opening phrases were over. Now began the real spell.
Glowing red from magic, the Magician stood in contrast to the Key in his hands. It seemed so small now, but then, all things did when you were possessed by demons. Possessed wasn’t the word really, he thought. Possession was a one-way thing in two ways. Once the possessing demon came in, there existed no way to make him leave and the possessed never ever gained something from the possession. This was more of a… loan.
The pain had reached his stomach and made his entrails twist. He knew this was because the demons were consuming the remnants of his dinner to gain more strength. He had had a sturdy meal, one of the most important preparations before summoning demons of this calibre. Once, in his youth, he had forgotten this and it was only because his master, Granhald the Eater, had been walking past that he hadn’t been devoured by the raging demons.
The spell began to form in front of his eyes. But something was disturbing him. Being a very powerful Magician, he could feel something bad approaching. And he was right; far away, a Knight came riding. He seemed to be in a hurry, and the Magician knew exactly why. He had, since the rider held a very special shield, recognised the Knight as the Guardian of the Key to Ultimate Power, the one he thought he had slain in the Mountains of Uttermost Pain and Doom. The Knight rode intently, ignoring the lightning that struck around him.
There was no way a magician could hurry the demons. They did it in their own pace and would rather rip the magician apart than hurry through a spell. The Magician felt panic approach. If the Knight kept up that speed, he would surely reach the chamber before the spellbinding was over. The Magician roamed around a bit in his skull, carefully suggesting to the demons that they ought to lock the tower.
Slowly, the demons gained insight in what could be happening, and even they, though being creatures of the dark, feared the option of their host dying while in a possession. The Magician could feel the magic slow down again, and some of the lesser demons began chanting more familiar spells. Soon, the tower was as secure as the demons could make it, and they all continued to unlock the Key.
The Magician sighed. He had, even if he was the single most powerful man on the continent, been afraid that the Knight might have interrupted the process. He had heard rumour about what happened if a host died while demons ruled his mind. Most had been exaggerated, but that didn’t make them sound better.
He relaxed and listened to the faint sound of the demons unlocking the Key to Ultimate Powers, hideous piercing voices at the edge of the audible. Sounds of ancient times when demons and creatures of magic ruled the continent, sounds of hymns and rites lost in history.
Then, a familiar sound was heard. It was the sound of an axe striking against a wooden door. It grew stronger and after a few minutes, the sound of an axe crushing the final parts of the door reached the Magician. He froze.
He could hear ironclad footfalls in the steps and they were getting closer. He tried to contact the demons again, but they wouldn’t listen. As far as they were concerned, the tower was as secure as it could be and if the Magician would like to secure it more, he’d have to summon more demons. Both the demons and the Magician knew this was impossible. Even the most powerful magicians in history couldn’t hold more than one kind of spell demons inside him at the same time (2).
Then, suddenly, there was a thud upon the door to the chamber. Then another, and the Magician slowly and with much effort began to move towards the easternmost bookcase.
He managed to push it before the door, but the demons were protesting. Greater things than redecorating was afoot as the demons began the last verse in their ancient hymn.
Then, the door was cleaved and the bookcase fell over, crushing many an ancient book of magic and sorcery. An ironclad hand reached inside, found the door handle and tried to open the door. When not succeeding, the hand disappeared again and thuds were heard afresh. Not before long, the door gave way to the Knight.
The Knight called for him, saying that he had better to return the Key before he would attack. The Magician replied negatively and the Knight charged.
The Demons were close to the end, but as the Magician now had to defend himself, they got less and less space to operate in. This made the unlocking process reduce speed and the demons clamoured. The Magician tried to ignore them as he ducked for a blow from the Knight’s silver sword.
The Knight turned around and picked a book from the floor. He heaved it towards the artifact in the Magician’s hand, but it missed. Instead it hit a chandelier behind him and made it fall over. The chandelier hit the floor with a crack and slowly, the wooden floorboards took fire. The Knight waited.
The Magician, having reconquered about half of his mind, began chanting a protective spell, one of the ones not involving demons. His tongue stumbled over the ancient rhymes and phrases, but every second the Knight didn’t attack, he came closer to the spell’s end. Then, the knight charged.
Swiftly he ran, his iron feet hammering on the floorboards. He wielded his sword and struck down upon the Magician’s shoulder. The Magician staggered, and fell. His shoulder hurt as the silver sword was pulled out. The spell had been interrupted and he had to start all over again. Inside, the Magician could hear the demons scream with rage. He knew, that if they had been battle demons, they would have released his mind and charged, but these were locksmiths. All they could do was to scream with rage and hope the threat would go away.
The Knight raised his sword again, ready to split the Magician’s head. The Magician’s mind rallied. There was no way he could stop the demons from continue unlocking the Key. All he could hope for was that he would defeat the Knight before they did. He began to summon another demon, taking the risk of being devoured or torn asunder by it. The rage of the demons were unmatched by any other creature known to mankind.
He kicked out and hit the hard armour covering the Knight’s groin. It seemed to have no effect on the Knight, but it made him stumble backwards, giving the Magician the opportunity to rise from the floor. His cloak, green and red as were the appropriate colours for a first rank magician, had taken fire and been torn when he fell. He unbuttoned it and threw it at his enemy. His head boiled with the rage of a dozen demons trying to manipulate a lock without a keyhole.
The Knight, blindfolded by the red and green cloak, reached out for the Magician, but he slipped away. The Knight shrugged off the cloak and, once more seeing the Magician, he charged.
This time, a wall of lightning halted the Knight’s progress. It was a fairly simple spell that the Magician always had known. It wasn’t exactly lightning as much as a wall of impenetrable fog, efficiently halting all that tried to pass (3). Except the Knight. With nearly inhuman stamina, the Knight slowly worked his way through the spell by just putting his left foot in front of his right, and with superhuman strength, he managed to raise his sword towards the Magician.
The demons now cried fully audibly, but the Knight paid them no heed. He continued to raise his sword and, when it reached its apogee, he began moving forth with new-found strength. He was only a few feet from the terrified magician when the demons that still worked on the lock reported in. It was open.
The Magician grinned. He grabbed the Key and pointed it towards the Knight. The Knight froze for a second, the continued his slow advance through the fog.
Being filled with magic he never would have dream of, the Magician burst into laughter. He released the Knight, having only half a foot left to go, from the fog prison and laughed. He felt powerful. The demons left his body but, curious as their kind is, stayed in the chamber. Strange things were afoot and they wouldn’t miss it for the world.
The Magician, being now the strongest man ever, turned to face the remaining demons. With a laugh, he extended a hand and sucked them in. The Knight could hear them cry as the Magician quickly absorbed them. It seemed to please him, and the Knight used this opportunity to strike for the Magician’s right hand, in which he held the Key. He hit and the Magician lost a hand, the ancient artifact falling to the ground.
Filled with rage, the Magician spun around and grabbed the silver sword. Mumbling strange words, the Magician began to smelt the sword, making the Knight’s eyes go wide with fear. He reached for his belt and grabbed a dagger. It was of lead, the only metal known to hinder magic. His screamed and placed the leaden dagger in the Magician’s unharmed shoulder.
The Magician screamed with pain. It was a terrifying scream, filled with anguish and despair. He turned to face his slayer, his eyes filled with rage. A bolt of pure, blue magic hit the Knight in the chest, but he only staggered. The Magician saw this with eyes red of hatred and threw another bolt, this one glowing red. The Knights armour melted under the enormous heat in the bolt and he let hear a cry of agony. Then he fell backwards.
The Magician, filled with new powers and driven by hate as well as torment, flung himself at the fallen man. The Knight responded with a metal boot in the Magician’s stomach, making him fly across the room and striking a bookcase. It fell over him, covering his lower body, yet leaving his hands and head fully operational.
The Knight fell upon him and grabbed the dagger. He twisted it and began pressing it towards the Magician’s throat. The Magician wasn’t late to respond, and grabbed the Knight’s throat with both his hands and tried to push him off. The only result was that the dagger was driven further into his flesh, and a bit closer to his heart. He cried a last time as the only metal that could hurt him reached his heart and punctured it. The fluids of life sparkled in the light of the fire as the Magician, though the most powerful ever, sank together.
The Knight arose. The Key to Ultimate Power lay beside the Magician, covered in blood. He picked it up, wiped it off on a piece of cloth and looked at it. The foolish Magician had tried to open it with demons, but not even the greatest demons of the inner circle of hell could open the final lock. There was only one key and it wasn’t a possession of men, demons or other lesser creatures.
He waited. The fire that had heated the chamber had died and the blood had dyed the carpet dark red, nearly black. He chanted a few verses to once again lock the Key and put it inside the remnants of his armour.
Outside, the rain had stopped and bird flew across the sky. He was struck by a feeling of happiness. Many times had he done this before, but never before had he felt like this. A chaffinch chirped in the bushed, seemingly untroubled by the enormous discharges of magic only minutes before. In a nearby field, a team of pigeons landed.
The sun was now shining and the Knight mounted his horse. He rode slowly, happily whistling. He and all others on the continent could now sleep in peace again. At least until next time, but the Knight held no worries for then. He knew, that on this world, magic, if ever so strong, would never defeat raw strength. In the end, the arcane learners would disappear and leave place for those who fought with their arms instead of their heads, those who guarded themselves near with iron and lead instead of far away with thin air and demons.
Many times, men had tried to gain the Ultimate Power, but none of them lived to tell what it was like. The Knight had often wondered. He alone knew the final key to unlock it, but he could never utter it.
He rode off.
(1) Whose horses are these? The zombie-like servants’?
(2) I have no idea how this could be true when just a few lines above the same demons that are doing the unlocking are securing the room. Perhaps the magician can only consciously control one kind of demons at a time, but these demons can act partly on their own, given a sufficient amount of energy?
(3) Is it or is it not lightning?