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The hobgoblin slave dug hard and fast. It may have been dark inside the cavern, but a rusty glow spread from a torch in the gateway, casting shadows of huge stalagmites and imagined beasts. The air was humid; a contrast to the blizzards of the frozen floors above, but the slave was numb to it. The soil was sticky as tar and heavy as stone, and had a mysterious manner of replenishing itself the more he dug, making progress painfully slow.
If the slave stopped working, he knew that he'd get the lash, but that wasn't the sole reason for his efforts. He felt something urging him downwards: a whisper, beckoning him. The whisper became a chant as he dug further. Escape, escape, escape...
"There! You! Work harder! Show your master that you've a backbone!" The slave's trance was interrupted by a rammernaut guard.
The slave paid little attention. The rammernauts were all lungs and bombast; a fleshy human. He had learned to ignore them and instead fear the necrolords, who had other uses for your crippled body. But now, with the necrolords tasked elsewhere, his only concern was to obey the whisper and to leave this place.
He chanced a look at his fellow slaves: a rabble of disgraced sagittares, forgotten warriors, and mages who'd failed their masters. None of them talked to the slave, not that he cared: he was a hobgoblin, and he preferred to be with his own kind, or no kind at all. His powers made him different; his ability to mould earth and stone by force of will was a potent one. It was one that he was careful to hide, for there were those who would not understand.
Heavy footsteps approached at a brisk pace, and all but the hobgoblin slave turned to look. As one, a swarm of bodies crashed into the cave like a tidal wave, breaking up the work. They were warriors mostly, wielding promethium weapons; elite troops from the dungeons above. Sagittares accompanied them, with giant bows made from the troublesome cave trees that curled around the rocks. Through the throng walked a hooded figure in blood-red robes, taking his place in the centre of the chamber with an air of great confidence.
The slave was the last to stop digging, giving up on his work for lack of room, rather than any desire to watch. Nevertheless, the cave was buzzing with chatter and energy. Everyone in the cave was now focused on the robed figure and it raised its hand to quieten its audience.
"It is time."
Despite being little more than a whisper, the words seemed to fill the minds of everyone watching.
Other beings filled what little space was left in the room. The slave recognised the floating, grotesque stalkers, with their unblinking eyeballs. He noted Haasghenahk among them, its long tongue wriggling. The overpowering stench of the stalkers was enough to cause even a hobgoblin to gag.
Despite the repugnance of the stalkers, the behemoths were more intimidating. These creatures outsized the stalkers, and they supported their gigantic mass on stout legs and sturdy feet. Their hides were as hard as rock and their skulls were powerful enough to break through walls. He had only seen them very briefly before, but he had overheard rumours of their ferocity from other slaves.
"I can feel the barriers separating this world from others thinning," the robed figure announced. "None of you are capable of guessing the implications of this, of course, so I'll make it clear."
The figure paused for a moment.
"Today, you will show your loyalty to me. Together, we're going to see what lies beyond the barriers of this world." A confused murmur rose from the crowd.
The air became noticeably drier and the cavern burst with heat like a lit stove. Dust fell from the ceiling, and the cave vibrated vigorously. The robed figure raised both his hands and gestured towards the centre of the cavern, where a black sphere materialised in the throng. The sphere flashed with different colours as the crowd backed away from it.
Currents of air in the cave began to ebb and flow, and the slave steadied himself against its pull. Even the stalkers and behemoths braced themselves. The growing orb flashed bright red, illuminating the chamber before thinning out into a flat oval and settling on a hue of deep purple. The tremors were almost deafening now, but they paled in comparison to the noise that followed them.
"Who dares trespass on the territories of Kal'Gerion?" boomed a deep, ungodly voice from the vortex. "Kal'Ger does not abide trespassers! Kal'Ger is the only one to trespass!"
The robed figure didn't reply.
"Insolence! Your world will be spat out and fed to demonspawn, maggots!"
With a flare of crimson light, the portal spewed forth its contents. Hundreds of winged creatures burst into the room, and the chamber was overrun with adversaries. The slave couldn't make their shape out in the commotion, until one gutted a magician slave next to him with its gigantic claws. The demon raised the carcass in the air and flung it aimlessly behind. Instinctively, the hobgoblin invoked a protection ward and ran into the melee, looking for a means of escape; to find the whisper and begin digging again.
Rammernauts were in a panic and fleeing in all directions. Demons snatched them in great talons, soaring into the air before impaling them on the hanging stalactites. Warriors desperately attempted to engage the adversaries but were cut down in bleeding dozens. The hobgoblin saw one warrior cleaved in two at the waist by a ferocious swipe from a larger beast, the man's arms twitching.
The sagittares fared a little better than their armoured counterparts. They had managed to fell a few with a rain of arrow-fire, but most of the portal fiends barrelled on regardless, crashing into their ranks. Behemoths attacked in packs of two or three, crushing bodies under gigantic, rock-like feet.
Lakhrahnaz, a stalker, froze demons from above so that a cluster of rammernauts could shatter them with hurled rocks. Haasghenahk squeezed the life out of some small, cackling enemies until their eyes bulged from their sockets. There must have been a hundred monsters or more in the room, half of them tearing about the cavern floor while others stalked their prey from above. There was no art to the fighting, just chaos and death.
The slave worked his way to the centre of the chamber, ducking and diving as creatures tumbled over his head. His lone contribution to the battle was to blast the chest of a demon, stunning it before a behemoth gobbled it whole. The behemoth would have devoured the slave too, had another, hulking demon not barrelled across and tossed the behemoth onto its back. The behemoth's legs wiggled in the air like a tortoise. "Look at your little dancing legs!" the demon bellowed, laughing, before pummelling the behemoth in its upturned belly. "Yk'Lagor has made you dance!"
The robed figure remained fixed in the centre of the cavern; the rock on which all of these waves were crashing. His hands were clasped in front of him, his head bowed as if in prayer. He did not seem to be distressed by the loss of slaves, beasts and warriors, nor did he seem satisfied with the casualties incurred by the demons.
The robed man called out, raising his head to address the vortex in front of him. "I have offered you playthings, toys for you to tussle with." There was a long pause. "But I sense that you have grown fat on easy victories. You hunger for a true war, something to truly test you.
"Witness what I am capable of. I am but one example of the power you may fight in this world. More are like me."
The robed figure burst into life. Extending his hands before him with pale, gaunt fingers outstretched, he seemed to push at large, invisible blocks about his person. As he pushed, the chamber rumbled, and fights halted.
From the east side of the room, where the last of the sagittares had put up a noble stand against the flying beasts, came a crack. The wall shattered and a neighbouring room plunged into the cavern; an avalanche of rock. It crushed everything beneath it, and the coffins and corpses that once filled the room were thrown wildly into the crowd.
The robed figure pulled another invisible block down from above his head. The flying demons looked up, too late, to see the ceiling and its stalactites racing towards them; the entire floor above crashing down. The figure placed a lone, unfaltering palm under that same invisible block, and the ceiling halted before it could crash into the heads of the standing throng. In one corner of the room, the ceiling ruptured, spilling ice and rock from the frozen floors.
The booming voice shuddered. "Impressive. You've a demon's tongue and a god's hand. I admire that".
The robed figure stood to his full height and dismissed the invisible blocks with an idle gesture. "Ally with me. Feel what it is to be unstoppable", he said.
A bleeding carcass tumbled onto the hobgoblin, forcing him to the floor; whether it was human, demon or something else, he did not know. He was beyond caring; he just wanted to dig down, find the source of the whisper and escape, escape, escape...
"My armies have fought for millennia. We have defeated all. Everyone. That is unstoppable", the demon's voice proudly announced. "Yet, I sense something in you. I feel that you can offer us worthy foes, foes whose power matches up to that of your own, and we could wage glorious war against them. But heed my words, magician: fail to deliver and you will make a powerful enemy today".
The portal buzzed with energy as a large red leg, then torso and head, pushed through the portal. The archdemon gripped the portal's sides, lightning crackling across its body, as it pulled itself into this world. At full height it dwarfed the other demons, its wings unfurling to make the difference more pronounced. "I am Kal'Ger, wizard. The world shudders at our meeting."
With the cavern dumbfounded, the slave picked himself up from the floor. The whisper returned to him, like a lost friend. Escape, escape, escape! Yes, he knew how to escape now. The slave dashed awkwardly towards the portal. With the commotion as his backdrop, the hobgoblin weaved his way to within feet of the vortex, and, before the robed figure or demon had a chance to stop him, he had hurled himself towards the portal.
Time seemed to slow down.
"Foolish creature!" The robed figure's voice echoed from behind the hobgoblin. Kal'Ger's demonic, scarlet hand flailed out to grab him, but his leap took him out of reach.
Time slowed down to a crawl.
With a gesture, the robed figure collapsed the portal. Before the sides could shutter closed, the hobgoblin passed through the portal and tumbled into the other realm. A wave of energy from the portal rolled him along an insufferably hot stone floor, stopping at the foot of a giant red structure. Lying on his back, the slave could feel his back cooking with the heat. The portal disappeared into nothingness.
You have done well. The whisper repeated in the hobgoblin geomancer's ears as he used the red structure to pull himself awkwardly from the floor. Stumbling back on weak legs, he stared about him. There was no mistaking where he was: Kal'Ger's throne room, empty of demons. To his back was the archdemon's throne; to his right a forge; great weapons arrayed on the walls.
In front of him was a spinning ball of demonic energy, crackling as electricity surged about it. The hobgoblin could feel his strength returning to him, simply by standing within its glow.
Now, complement your power.
Gra'magor, the hobgoblin, strode purposefully towards it.
Author: Michael Walker
Name Suggested By: King Muc
|Lores & Histories|