The Ordeal

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The following is a Dark Elven horror story involving an Ur-Daemon cult rumored to exist below the Southron Wastes.

Whether or not it ever happened is unknown, and it is best left way.

The Ordeal

In the wasteland there are wretched places which must not be known and have long been forgotten --- unspeakably old chasms of stone and warped imagination, the unholy memory of violence against nature itself --- haunted and cursed wounds in the heart of the world, fashioned of hatred and consecrated with dark power. Where the Old Ones sleep in the silent repose of their undying death --- dreaming their dreams of malice and joyful slaughter, of blissful agony and cruelty beyond hate --- the walls bleed with the shadows of their malevolence and ominous portent. The world is sundered to the horrors of the abyss in these netherworlds between worlds, the world of dreams to come, where nightmares become indistinguishable from the dreamlands.

The walls were a liminal window on the prison of the soul, somewhere deep in the caverns below the Southron Wastes. It was the suffocation of being devoured in the maw of some unimaginable beast, the shadows threatening to emerge from its gullet and swallowing him whole. The abyss stared into him as he stared into himself. The kind of oppression monsters subject only to themselves. This was an ordeal out of the aeons. The fate of all things rested on becoming what must come into being.

There in the high chamber of madness the infirmed dark elven warlock leaned on his scepter, struggling to keep himself from falling over. His head was tilted down toward the floor, the shadowy black hood all but obscuring his features, the once feared iron fist of the Ur-Daemon now all but crippled and hopelessly weak.

In the periphery of his vision was the strange claw-shaped table surrounding the throne of darkness, a heresy whose very existence was a vile insult to the gods that had stood for unknown ages. There sat a high council of dark elves in silent judgment. The synod had convened to witness the execution of the Dreadlord of the Cult of Kron'khaal. This was ordained by Fate. It was known with the inexorability of prophecy. Such was the destiny of all harbingers who had lived too long. It was only special as this was one of the anointed, the chosen few who are bound by blood to bring about the end of all things. Thousands of years turned upon such moments.

Further out were the courtiers and ill-humored jesters of the mock court, and behind him a vast audience of hideous travesties passing for life: sub-humans gibbering and crawling and writhing on the ceiling, humanoid hybrids of things that cannot truly exist, blinded aberrations of the breeding pits, iguanoids and scourgemages, twisted amalgams of flesh --- undoubtedly the indigestion of wasteworms risen and discarded by the Horned Cabal --- parasitic Collectors dredged from the surface, mutilated slaves bound in barbed chains, ebon-swirled primals and hell hounds, a horde of demonic too dangerous to summon walking and pulsating and undulating freely. It was a spectacle fit for a show trial.

The voice that excoriated the warlock from the throne was saturated with youthful timbre, the kind of hateful glee expressible only in the voice of Rhoska-Tor, and only possible with the sing-song chant of a dark elven child no more than a few decades old. It was as musical in its scorn as it was fragrant in contempt.

"How you have fallen since last we met," the child mocked the warlock with her half-forgotten memories, if she had ever possessed them at all, with disdain and the amusement of a sadist, "or did you fall from that mountain peak? Is that why you are so broken and pathetic, clinging to life, like some aging whore of Tamzyrr?"

The young girl stroked her fingers along the black scales and bones of the throne, the high seat of dragon ivory and less savory things that has awaited the rebirth of the Dark Lord for thousands of years. It was blasphemy for her or anyone else but the master to sit on the siege perilous. "Better to have been killed in the storms like myself than lose all of your power over the flows," she all but laughed at him, "perhaps you would have been the one blessed to reign in hell."

The warlock wryly rejoined, "By Koar's Light."

The ire of the synod to these blasphemies was muted only by the incoherent half-sounds of the court. One of the hooded figures unleashed a halo of sparks by striking a veil-iron orb on a zorchar sound block, inciting a slavering vathor to break free mauling a supplicant, who was in short order a warped vestige of himself.

"Would you care to retire to Tamzyrr? They are the ones wanting in an Empress."

The child queen scowled and waved her hand, with the warlock almost collapsing over his scepter in agony. "Where did that imperial grandeur of vision bring you when you thought we could breach the Drake's Shrine?" The girl wracked him with pain again. "The storms have made you helpless, old man. You are powerless."

The warlock exhaled slowly, his hand trembling slightly, leaning in on his scepter for support. He was meekly mumbling at this point, trying to explain himself. "The Vvrael would have taken it all. It was necessary, Terate was.." to which he was interrupted, "The 'Fallen One' himself saved the world. For love. Is that what we must expect from those who have lost their spines?" Cackling erupted from the cavern as the ill-fated supplicant had since found purpose as a fire whip. He grimaced and kept speaking, "The world is in chaos with the destruction of the Eye of the Drake. The time is upon us, we..."

"What have 'we' done, my liege?" the young girl asked. "The Dark Alliance was amok without any influence from 'ourselves.' Their high priests should have been chained to 'our' dais by iron collars. Yet you conspire with their thralls on works of vanity? The Eyes of Ith'can and Goseth. Where are they? Palestra. Luukosians."

"The Sheruvians have a transmogrification artifact from the Age of Darkness," the warlock rasped, "its power is ungodly, but it is a thing of the mind. It is a window on all of time and space, the Old Ones may be woken with it. The Ithzir of Kol'Tarsken made a cambion of a young boy, with the blood magic of the human Grishom Stone, with his aid I..."

"Humans? Sheruvians? Ithzir? The Dreadlord has become a beggar!" She shouted over him. "Those hairless apes and the liches have done more to eradicate this human empire in a few years than you have in centuries! The Empire. Your greatest failure of all. The Age of Chaos is now returning, but only as the natural order of things."

The warlock attempted to speak but was silenced. The child queen kept mocking: "'Blood magic'! Your time is over, Waylayer of the Kannalans. The havoc of the westerlands is spreading without any control, without any higher vision. Without purpose. Without will. The human cities are falling. The Elven monarchs are dying. The world is turning to ash without the guidance of our six-clawed hand. It is time for your rebirth so that the apocalypse may be assured with the vision of the next Dreadlord."

"If that is the will of the synod," the warlock spitefully retorted, "... so be it."

Twisted smiles crept up her face until she giggled. "Oh yes, you would like that, would you not?" With a gesture she splashed vitriol toward the warlock, which he blocked with his cloak. "The primordials are waking up of their own accord. The Old Ones will follow. What use do we have now for the old ways? What use do we have of Dreadlords? The Ageless need not be reborn any longer, we need only become one with the Abyss. The Siege of Maelshyve is mine, you old fool, and so is the glory."

The warlock thrust his arm toward her, shouting in exasperation, "No!"

Tendrils of blackest nether and void flowed out of her hand from the throne, engulfing him in shadow until he was not even visible. It was the rite of dark absolution that would annihilate his soul instead of ripping it out to the wasteland. "Xorus Kul'shin, the Shadow of Death," she laughed, "Last of the Dreadlords after all."

The young girl was still holding her hand out as stunned silence fell over the court. The warlock was still standing there with his scepter, not some eviscerated pile of ash on the ground. When he raised his head up his hood fell back. His eyes had become black voids burning with infernal balefire. The expressions of meekness, diffidence, and resentment had vanished. There was only the cold, visceral hatred of pure power, his back straightening and his scepter raising from the floor.

She screamed and lashed out with her witchcraft, but he merely stood there staring through her.

Nothing happened. None of it had happened. The walls were weeping tears of blood.

Suddenly the child was torn off the throne like a doll and slammed up against the wall, which began shrieking in some incomprehensible black speech, like the tormented wailing of banshees being ripped apart in a thousand hells. Her flesh was tearing open, raked with invisible claws. The hounds barked and howled. The sound of shattering bones echoed through the chamber. Her limbs broke into impossible shapes, her lungs suffocating her screams as her ribs gouged through her chest, twisting and melting like wax under intense heat.

Walking forward toward the throne of darkness, he pulled the severed head of a Vvrael witch from the folds of his robes, and raised it upwards by its hair. The young girl was violently flung up to the ceiling. Black rivulets of caustic slime streamed across her skin, her flesh bubbling and pustulating, her eyes blacking out as she stared in frozen horror. Vainly trying to express a last wicked curse at him, she could only gurgle, the bile of a viscous black ichor burning its way through her.

The warlock smirked with mocking contempt. "Silence."

With that the would be heir of Maelshyve burst into black flames, her head exploding with the black blood of the ancients. The spectral form of her soul was ripped out of her body, sucked into the severed head of the Vvrael witch, whose eyes turned ebon pitch and lips began mouthing impotently like a fish out of water. The wracked and mutilated corpse collapsed in on itself and fell onto the throne. The Dreadlord mounted the witches' skull on the pike of her spine and pillowed by the shards of what was her head.

"There was poetry in sending a Vvrael witch as the assassin, it was only poetic that I returned the favor."

"'Feed us, Terate', they said," he chuckled to himself, "'open the rift.' Devour all of the souls."

One of the cowled figures at the blackened table of woe and despair bellowed in a baritone voice: "Release her." The warlock started darkly snickering, then remarked with wondrous sincerity, "You heard her yourself, my old friends. I have no such power over the flows. It was stripped from me in the storms around the rift."

Another more high pitched voice rang out: "It is not your province to imprison the soul of an ageless."

Scoffing, Xorus spat back, "Release her yourself. What use is witchcraft on the Vvrael?"

Surrounding voices emerged in a broken cacophony, as if the source was out of joint with time itself. "The Old Ones have spoken, the prophecy is fulfilled. She shall sit on the Siege of Maelshyve until the return of the Dark Lord, and as her eyes rot from her head, she shall watch the world burn from the prison of mortality."

"Which would be better for you perched on that throne of the drakes..." the warlock whispered at the hollow, vacant expression of the witches' face, as he became lost in his own reflection in her glassy eyes, "... if all of this is nonsense and wanton abandon, mere sound and fury, the lies of our fraudulent ancestors, some long forgotten fever dream of idiots none of us can any longer remember, or if the Dark Lord herself truly will return from her exile in the Void?"

Turning toward the crowd of otherworldly beasts and demented half-things, he blithely addressed the council of utter madness and utmost heresy as he walked away. "I will conduct my own affairs with the worthless cults of the north, the humans and the scum and the fortune hunters and the anathema and the worshippers of the false idols and even their gods, and I will do so however I wish. I will not tolerate any more attempts to force my rebirth, much less the annihilation of our soul."

"The nightmares will once more sing and dance as the primordials soak the earth with tears of blood, and when I have awoken the Ur-Daemon from their terror slumber, we shall all once more become one with the ancients. The world will fall. The gods will be devoured. It is our destiny. It is the inexorability of history."

With that he vanished in a blur of shadows, and the wards on the court fell. The synod of depraved dark elven cultists watched with disgusting ecstasy as all were torn limb from limb in the carnage, and as all was lost to the demonic, so the black void of the abyss was reflected in the eyes of the witch queen. Forever.

See Also