New Moon Rising – Preview
It was dark, and his mind was in a fog.
He could not say with any measure of confidence how long he remained in such a state before the chill of the stone beneath him began to permeate his awareness. That sensation was, somehow, not as it should be, though for no reason that he could name. Seeking to establish a frame of reference, he sought the missing inputs from his other senses, but they remained elusive. He drifted in and around such thoughts for an unknown time until, eventually, a new feeling forced its way into his consciousness: pain.
The sharpness of it brought focus, coalescing his sense of self. He had memory of neither what task he had been about nor why it was to be performed, but there had been an importance in its doing. His arms, if he had any, refused every instruction to alter his position, and so he set his attentions to resolving the darkness that enveloped him. After methodically discarding a number of less than satisfactory options, he concluded that his eyes were closed.
With care, Fellaxus willed them open.
The parting of his eyelids yielded only a blurry haze that solidified with agonizing slowness into shapes with which he was familiar: A vial bubbling softly as it steeped above a small flame. Shelves filled floor to ceiling with books and dusty tomes from every corner of the world. The ancient desk from which he fulfilled his duties as Grandmaster of the Conclave of Imaretii.
He looked for the summoning circle that should have contained the creature, but if one existed, its location lay beyond his view and his head seemed unwilling to turn in the needed direction. For a man whose daily life was dependent on being in absolute command of his faculties, his paralysis was… disconcerting.
The demon lowered its goat-like head and crossed the room in two giant strides, as if to gore him with the horns perched where its ears should have been, but it stopped a handspan short of a collision. Sulfur assaulted Fellaxus’ nose and terror squeezed his heart, even as his mind cataloged the tiny serrations on the edges of the creature’s broad, flat teeth. The hatred emanating from its horizontally pupiled eyes was palpable. The goat creature gave a snort, then turned and spoke over its shoulder in a deep, rumbling string of sounds that were so surprising to hear they almost failed to register as language.
It was then that Fellaxus deduced he was caught in a dream; demons could not speak.
The floor trembled from a series of jarring impacts, and the goat’s head was replaced by something completely different—and far worse. His entire field of view filled with a twisted visage of deep reds and mottled blacks, one dominated by rows of sharp teeth contorted in a wickedly eager grin. Fellaxus avoided the burning red eyes set above those teeth, focusing instead on the massive hooved foot planted next to his own, his left one, which was pointing in the wrong direction. With that realization came excruciating agony, shocking him sufficiently from his stupor to accept that this was no dream.
“Greetings, master of the tower,” the demon spoke in a thick, deep voice laced with sarcasm. “It is well that you still live. You have, after all, done so much, and your efforts deserve a suitable reward.”
His astonishment at the creature’s command of his language rendered him mute. He tried to muster a spell to force the creature away, but his broken body responded with no more than an impotent twitch.
“I know your name,” he mumbled. “You must obey.”
“Ah, the master wishes to command me.” The demon withdrew just enough to give a mocking bow. “That you and your predecessors believed such nonsense is a staggering ineptitude.”
Fellaxus could not grasp its meaning. Someone else should have heard this catastrophe. Had the alarms been triggered? A dim memory of protocols that should have been followed after such a breach wormed its way into his mind. Where was Verelli?
“Come,” the creature sneered, “we shall tell your world my name together.”
A giant, taloned hand seized Fellaxus, lifting him as easily as a child but far less gently. He dangled helplessly, consumed by blinding pain as his bones grated against each other in ways they were never meant to. Struggling to maintain consciousness, he was taken up the broad stone stairs to his workshop, or at least to where his workshop should have been. Instead of the spicy scent of reagents and the bitter aroma of potions, salty winds blew across his skin, unslowed by walls or roof. Such constructs were gone, and with them the observatory and indeed the entire top of his tower. With a cold chill of dismay, he realized that almost nothing remained of his life’s work—not the books, or experiments, or drawings—nothing.
The demon thrust Fellaxus aloft like a trophy, forcing upon him a view from one edge of the sky to the other. The rising sun burned angry and red through the ashen smoke which rose with it. Cool ocean breezes that had so often stimulated his thinking now carried aloft harsh screams and the scent of burning wood and flesh. Flashes of magic crackled amidst the flames, casting an otherworldly glow across the destruction being wrought upon the city of Tythir. Swarms of demons in every form imaginable draped the royal castle on the hill below, appearing like ants atop a disturbed nest. The people unlucky enough to reside within that fortress rushed about in terror. Some fought, most ran. Fellaxus’ analytical mind ascertained that either course of action was an equally hopeless endeavor. Even those ships in the harbor that had dropped sails and fled towards the safety of the open ocean managed only a futile dash before meeting their end. Papers floated down from his tower, fluttering like dried leaves blown from a tree.
So much knowledge lost.
From their perch high above this horrific vista, the demon threw back his head and smote his chest with a clenched fist, bellowing, “I am Sulfaxrhu!”
The roar of a thousand affirmations rose above the death of the city in answer. The demon spread its arms and wings wide, reveling in the exaltations, then drew Fellaxus close and whispered in his ear.
“You thought to use us, across the centuries, for your own petty goals and machinations.” Its grip tightened like bands of iron around his chest, forcing the breath painfully from his lungs. “Know, then, that you were the ones who have been servants, and this is your legacy.”
With that absolute failure forever burned into Fellaxus’ mind, Sulfaxrhu clenched his fist, wringing the last vestige of life from the once powerful mage like water from a sponge.