Chapter 3: The Demon Sword
It hung from the ceiling like a bat made of shadows. A luminous design, like some kind of ancient lettering, was etched into the surface of the blade and the edges of the fang-like crossguard. The markings produced their own fiery green light, hideous and otherworldly. Unlike letters on a page, however, they shifted and moved across the void black surface of the sword, casting new shadows along the walls of the cave, but never changing the night-like darkness of the weapon's surface.
Step forward, champion, the voice commanded him as the green lights swirled into a green orb at the suspended weapon's pommel. Let me get a good look at you.
Two realizations hit Tris at once: the green lights were forming an eye...and the voice was coming from the sword itself. Tris inched forward without even thinking about it.
After a moment, the voice thundered angrily, A boy!? You're a child!
Tris was still stunned with disbelief, "Wha-what are you?"
It is bad enough that I am forced to serve a weak human. But a useless child!? What kind of cruel joke is this! The sword's light burned more fiercely upon seeing Tris. As it rambled on Tris was still trying to process what was happening.
The boy spoke audibly, "I must be dreaming." Tris began slapping his face and pinching himself.
The sword's voice rumbled impatiently, What do you think you are doing, fool?
"I am trying to wake myself up, I must've hit my head on a rock or something. None of this can be real."
Do not mistake my next statement as concern for your well-being, but inflicting pain upon yourself will do no good, you imbecile. And I assure you, your concept of reality is sorely misguided.
"But...you're a talking sword! Oh great, now I'm talking to the talking sword. I'm losing my mind."
Oh. I am far more than just a sword, child. I am a demon.
A fallen angel. A soldier of the forces of evil. A principality and power of this present darkness. This sword is but one form that I can take, and believe me, you should be grateful, for if you were to see my true form, you would tremble and bow before my greatness.
Tris was trembling now as he half-heartedly declared, "There's no such thing as demons."
The demon's voice roared in what could only be described as lion laughter, Stupid, ignorant human boy! Just because you can't always see something, doesn't make it unreal. Demons are everywhere, in every reality and every dimension, including the corporeal world you now inhabit. Chances are you've seen us before, but your mind conveniently ignored what you saw with your own eyes, justifying your vision to fit with your preconceived notions of what is real.
Tris was reminded of the creature that he followed into the woods and the hooded men with their terrifying powers.
The demon continued, Your first lesson is this: humankind has the uncanny ability to only see what it wants to see.
"Then why am I seeing you here?"
Because you just happen to be the first human to stumble upon my resting place in several eons. Which means that you and I are going to make a deal.
Hundreds of Faustian examples popped into Tris' head like literary popcorn, "You want my soul."
Your understanding is so pathetic. I have no interest in matters of your salvation or damnation. I am interested in one simple goal: revenge.
Tris became suddenly afraid, "Against who?"
Those who betrayed me: all of demonkind.
A demon, yes. But I no longer serve their interests. I left their ranks ages ago. Now I simply want to make them suffer.
"So where do I come in?" Tris inquired.
Well you see, the demon muttered with a tone somewhere between embarrassment and annoyance. I am, as you might say, stuck.
"Well that's obvious, Mr. Demon-excalibur," Tris joked. He had this bad habit of masking his feelings with poorly-timed humor. In truth, he was still terrified.
I mean to say, it is not only my current disposition that has rendered me useless, but also my state of being.
"I don't really follow..."
The demon sighed, impatiently. Let me explain. Demons are spiritual beings, we are tied to a completely different, albeit parallel, plane of existence. We can only manifest in the physical world in a handful of ways. Full, true manifestation requires complicated rituals directly tied to the level of power of the demon in question. Therefore, most demons prefer to use possession.
"Like the exorcist?"
The demon ignored him, Demons are capable of possessing a person, an object, or a natural element or force. Each comes with certain advantages or disadvantages. In my case, I was forced into possessing this sword, and my power has been bound to it ever since. As an object, I cannot act without a human to wield my power.
Precisely. So therein lies our proposed arrangement: I provide you with unimaginable power, and in return you use it to slay my enemies.
Tris' mind reeled with fantasies of being a mythic warrior with a magic sword. Slaying monsters and evils and saving the world. The temptation was sweet...too sweet.
"No!" Tris said. "This is crazy. I don't even believe any of this. None of this can possibly be real!"
Damn you, boy! The sword's fire surged. Your heart knows the truth. How hard is it to realize that the world you think you know is a lie, an illusion, a carefully constructed veil meant to blind you from the truth? The demons in your life want nothing more than your disbelief, they want you to think their existence is a joke. They want to freely speak their ideas into your head. Have you ever had thoughts in your head that seemed like they weren't your own? Have you ever felt a pull towards something you knew you shouldn't? Have you ever felt the impulse and deep longing to do something right or be something more be squashed by an overwhelming sense of your own insignificance?
The demon's words prodded at something deep within the boy.
I told you before: demons are everywhere. We are the fear lurking behind the shadows, the doubt that creeps beneath your ribs, the wind that distracts your eyes from your true purpose. We are beings that exist beyond your worldly perception, and we want nothing more than to keep you wrapped up in your own complacency and self-centeredness.
But I am offering you, Tristan Byron, a way out of your cage, and a chance to destroy your captors.
"How did you know--" Tris started, but was interrupted by a new sound that filled the cavernous hall.
Voices. Human voices.
The events that led him here suddenly returned to his consciousness. He was still being pursued by the weirdos in the woods.
"He's down here," the voices of his pursuers had entered the tunnel.
Tris heart began to pound. He could see no way out of this cave.
I can feel your fear, human, the demon's voice said. You are in danger. I am your only way out.
Tris acted fast and grabbed the demon sword by the hilt and tried to yank it out.
Not so fast, boy. You cannot take my power by force. You must accept my terms first.
Tris didn't know what to do. The voices were getting closer. He had seen what these men were capable of, they produced fire from thin air. There was no way that he could stand up to that kind of power.
He held a death grip on the hanging hilt of the sword. Surprisingly it was almost hot to the touch.
Will you pursue as relentlessly those who have pursued you? Will you slay the demons that get in our way?
"But, you said it yourself, you are evil!" Tris argued. "How can I possibly trust you?"
Evil I may be, but right now you don't have a choice. Accept me, or die.
Tris could hear the footsteps coming down the inclined slope of the tunnel that Tris had fallen down earlier. Time was running out.
Tris made his decision, "I accept!"
Swear your loyalty to my cause!
Green flames filled the chamber as the sword broke free from the ceiling. Heat and pain coursed through Tris' arms as the world went black.
The last thing Tris remembered were the words that filled his mind: My name is Darkness, and I am your sword.
The girl was surrounded by the night sky, suspended by some unseen force. She struggled to get free from her restraints, but as she moved, the sky began to part and form a door made out of light.
As the door opened, she felt a pull as she was drawn towards the heavenly door. Conflicting feelings of peace and terror clashed within her. As she breached the luminous threshold, a barrage of images flashed into her consciousness: a hideous black sword, a red orb, and a pillar of green fire.
Kate Lockhearte awoke with a start. As she opened her eyes, it seemed as if a white light was suddenly extinguished from the room, fading like blowing out a candle.
As the room darkened, she reasoned that the light was just part of her dream. She found her breath and sat up in her bed. She wasn't weary, as one usually is when they wake up in the middle of the night. Instead she just felt very thirsty.
She crawled out of her bed and flipped on the lamp by her nightstand. She briefly took in the room as it was filled by the soft light: pictures of her adventures with friends on the walls, snippets and pieces of her writing hanging from strands of twine, a small pile of dirty laundry forming a mound at the base of her hamper. She walked over to the long mirror hanging from her closet door.
Pretty, even without makeup. Hair was a mess though. Straight hair was easy to maintain, for sure, but became uncomfortably awkward as it tangled in sleep. At least when curly haired girls have a mess, it retains some of its volume. She instinctively ran her fingers through her hair, trying to tame the mess, before realizing it was irrelevant, given her likely attempts to return to sleep soon.
She quietly opened her door and snuck down the stairs in her pajama pants and a t-shirt. She quickly filled a glass with water from the fridge. She started to return up the stairs, when she caught a glimpse of the moonlight filtering in through the shades. She decided to peak outside and take in the night before returning to sleep, perhaps in search of inspiration, yet she wasn't fully aware of her motivations, given it was the middle of the night.
She stepped out onto her porch and immediately felt the chilly October air. The moon was a marvel though, raining its silver light down upon the world. She sat on the porch swing and looked out towards the mountain. She really was lucky to live so close to the woods, away from the lights of town where you could see the shapes of the stars so clearly. She loved looking out at the sky on nights like this, because the sky told so many stories. She would often comment about how the sky was one of the best storytellers.
Of course, her friends would laugh at her when she mentioned this. She learned to keep her creative musings to herself, for her teenage peers tended to be cruel towards such tendencies. She learned to adapt to the superficiality of her friends, but never felt that she could truly be herself around them.
But nights like tonight made her wildly and fully Kate.
She started to think about her dream. It was not the first time she had a dream like that. The sky door was a dream she had for as long as she could remember. Of course, it had been occurring more frequently recently. Growing up, she'd had the dream maybe a total of three times. Though, in the past year, she'd had the dream at least twice.
The other images were new though. The sword and fire behind the door were pretty terrifying.
An open door...a demon sword...
Good song lyrics, though. Usually she wrote about things that made her happy and peaceful, but something about the dream she just had was really clicking with her creative process:
An open door, a demon sword
The relic settles all the scores
It was probably garbage, something that those nerdy Dungeons and Dragons kids at school would recite at the lunch table. But she figured she would write it down, and see what she could do with it. She started to go inside to find a pen and paper.
Then she smelled smoke. She looked up toward the mountain and saw a plume of smoke rising from a rocky part of the mountain. And faint flashes of green light peeking out from the trees.
That was weird.
Drawn by inexorable curiosity, she stepped out onto the slick, cold grass to get a better look.
The Minister could sense immediately that the boy had escaped. His acolytes were closing in on the cornered human when suddenly he demonstrated a power that he did not possess before.
Not only that, but it was a power somehow familiar to the Minister.
The mission to awaken the Sigil was proving more troublesome than he'd hoped. He'd have to risk drawing attention to his efforts.
"Ifrit," the Minister spoke to the shadows behind him. A great horned demon appeared from the tree line. "Retrieve the Catalyst, I care not what state he is in as long as he's not dead. In fact, the more despairing the better."
With a roar, the monster burst into orange flames and tore into the forest like a fireball.
Tris awoke, standing in the woods. His whole body felt like pins and needles as sensation returned to his shaken nervous system.
What? Where? the boy wondered, before the night's events poured back into his conscious awareness.
He looked down at his hands. No demon sword.
Maybe it had all been a dream after all. Yeah. He'd fallen asleep on top of the mountain and-- well then how did he get all the way down here in the woods? He looked around, he seemed to be down near the base of the mountain now.
He looked up and saw the moon poking through the trees, now high in the sky. It must be pretty late now.
Oh no! Tris thought. Dad's gonna be so pissed!
Tris fumbled around for his phone when it suddenly seemed to vibrate in his pocket, as if on command.
He pulled open the screen and saw one text message from a contact labeled "Darkness."
It read three simple words: Not a dream.
Hello Tristan, the familiar demon's voice spoke. Tris felt his stomach sink. No return to normal after all.
Tris examined the phone. Yep, it definitely wasn't his old phone. This one was bigger, blacker, and had one of those green demon letters on the back. "Wait," Tris suddenly realized. "I thought you were a sword."
I can replicate and assume whatever form your conscious mind can create for me, the demon explained.
"You can shapeshift," Tris marveled. "A shapeshifting demon sword...So why are you a phone?"
That was the first object your consciousness imagined once you regained it. I believe you lost yours back in the cave.
"And why did I lose consciousness?"
I overestimated your ability to contain the full force of my power. Once the deal was struck, the magnitude of my essence temporarily overwhelmed your own. Your body is weak and frail and I likely damaged it.
Don't worry, I mended all immediate physical harm. You just may have lost a few years of your life span, that's all.
A small price to pay, quit complaining, human! I saved your life! I took control of your body and dispatched the men who pursuing you in the cave.
"Unbelievable..." Tris felt a little violated.
There is no reason to be upset, boy. In fact, you're beginning to irritate me.
"Look, Darkness, that's what you want me to call you right?" Tris said. "I didn't say that you could just drive my body around, that wasn't part of the deal!"
How do you know? Are you even completely sure what it is you agreed to? It would be wise to watch your tongue, boy. I'm more powerful than you can even imagine.
Tris gulped. He really didn't know what he'd gotten himself into.
"Hey," a soft, familiar voice suddenly said from the tree's behind him. Tris jumped and whipped around, the faint moonlight illuminating a person standing at the tree a few yards in front of him. He didn't even need a good look to know who it was, he'd watched and admired her for years now: Kate.
"Who are you talking to?" she said, a smile tugging at her face.
Tris started to panic, "Wha--my uhh--my phone!" His voice was a little louder than he intended. Dude, play it cool!
"Oh, right," Kate continued. "So, what are you doing in the woods outside my house?"
Oh this was just great. Just the perfect, exact way this night needed to go. Tris had never been more embarrassed and terrified in his life. The most exciting and dangerous thing that had ever happened in Tris' miserably average existence was turning out to be the biggest headache and the biggest nightmare of his life.
He managed to squeeze out one word: "Nothing."
"Nothing?" Kate said, suspiciously.
"I mean, uhh. I'm lost, I think."
"What's your name," the girl inquired. "You look familiar. I know you from school right?"
Would you like me to dispatch of the girl? Darkness offered.
"No!" Tris blurted.
"No?" Kate said.
"No, not you," Tris said, impatiently.
"Hey," Kate scoffed. "There is no need to be rude, you're the one trespassing on my family's property."
"I'm sorry," Tris started. "I've just had--"
"Well, who are you?" Kate prodded.
"Just gimme a sec!"
No sooner did Tris say these words when the woods behind them burst into flames.
Instinctively, Tris pushed Kate and said, "Run!" Her eyes widened as she saw the flames erupt from nowhere.
The pair began to run from the fire, when a blazing wall appeared between the two of them. Tris was cut off. Tris leapt back. He was surrounded by a ring of fire.
"Hey!" Kate yelled back at him. "Are you okay!?"
"Yeah," Tris lied. "I'll find a way around, you just get out of here!" This was not good. Tris didn't know what to do or where this was coming from. "Darkness, I thought you killed the cult guys who were chasing me."
I did, the demon insisted.
"How many did you kill?"
Two of them, they seemed taken off guard, and were easily destroyed.
"I was being chased by three of them."
A low growling from the flames to their rear. A shape began to appear from the midst of the conflagration. A long predatory face like a wolf or a bear, horns curved in a thick loop like a rams, eyes black like smoke, a body thick with corded muscle, and back-bent legs ending in wicked claws. Its skin was grey like ash. Fire poured from its back like a horse's mane and from between its hideous jaws like volcanic drool. It looked like a monster straight from hell itself.
"But none of them looked like that..."