The Nu-Mantia which is Liberté
By: Dark Knight Gafgar
Disclaimer: I own nothing that is not mine, and everything that IS mine. Capiche?
Prologue - A Summons
The desert was wailing.
The slaves huddled in their simple stone huts, clustered at the base of the great tower and at the edges of the vents to Below that surrounded it, trembling in confusion and fear. All around them, filtering down from the spire and echoing up from the tunnels emanated the sounds of anguish. It was like a great haunting, the very world itself seeking to frighten and terrify, calling forth in the innumerable voices of the lost and the damned.
The two disciples trembled and held each other close beneath the dune at the northern outskirts of the makeshift city, whispering softly to each other in the language of their ancestors and trying to block out the noise around them. A young shaven-headed slave boy walked up to the two rag-clothed girls quietly, unafraid and curious.
"Sisters?" he asked in the tongue of the northern men, the language of all slaves, "Why is the wind crying?"
"It is not the wind, child." the reply came from on high.
The disciples and the boy lifted their gazes, looking up at the figure of the Eldest of their race, sitting upon the top of the dune. An unnatural breeze that none of the other three would likely never feel blew her long and untamed golden hair back and forth behind her head, streams of sand swirling around her like - or, rather, with - the channeling of the old magicks. She was barefoot, clad only in a simple hooded cloak pulled tightly about her body, a pair of long strips of ragged cloth acting as a makeshift belt and blindfold.
The Eldest's eyes had been blue once, it was said, before the Masters had taken them.
None knew her true name, for she had not spoken it since long before any of their current generation were born. It was whispered that even the Masters - who by their very natures were prone to knowing all that could be known - did not truly know it, and that indeed none who had ever known it yet lived.
"Is it the earth that cries, sister?" the boy asked.
"No, child, it is not the earth."
"What is it that cries then, sister?"
The Eldest stared sightlessly up at the spires above them.
"It is the 'Masters', child." she said after a long moment, smiling. It was not a pleasant smile, and the disciples edged away from their teacher, though the boy merely looked on, still curious. "The Masters weep. It is a music I have not heard in a great many years, and I am glad that I now hear it once more. Yes, children," she 'looked' down at all three of them, "it is the sound of the Masters - mortal as any of us - in anguish that you hear now. Engrave it well within your memory. Why do the Masters do this, you would ask? I will answer:
"They weep from loss, young ones. They grieve. Their god has died, and they are in mourning."
Her words were even partly true.
In a dark, hellish land, two guards in armor the color of dried gore stood watch at the gate of an ominous fortress of iron and black stone. Tapping a foot impatiently and carressing the handle of a war axe on his hip, one guard turned toward the other and swore.
"This is boring as fuck."
The second guard made no response, continuing to stand quietly and grasping the hilt of his greatsword, thrust partway into the rocky ground before them. The first shifted restlessly from foot to foot, pauldrons rising and falling as he rotated his shoulders and clenched his hands into fists, muttering under his breath.
An infernal landscape surrounded them, with smoky, storming blood-red skies and rocky earth charred black with searing heat and fire. The mighty citadel they guarded rose up behind them, a massive and vaguely unsettling sprawl of walls and towers, all menacing with spikes, located atop a high peak rising from a lone island surrounded by a sea of fire. Below them lay a chaotic city sprawl, elaborate palaces of obsidian and gold sitting alongside crude stone huts, rough-hewn caves, and crumbling ancient ruins. Whole districts were aflame and ravaged by violence, blood flowing through the streets, the cries of the wounded and dying lifting up towards the two guards, who basked in it as if in ecstasy. The heat was stifling, and the air stank of brimstone, sulfur and ash that stung the eyes and scorched the throat.
Just another day in the Deadlands, realm of Mehrunes Dagon, the Prince of Destruction.
Azatot, Dracon, Dawnbringer and Caitiff of the Flesh Render clan, couldn't take it. It was a torture purer than any he had ever conceived alone in millenia of practice. His master - for now - was surely an artist when it came to agony. Standing high above, watching the war being fought below, safe and detached from it all...
And utterly unable to take part.
Honestly, Azatot would rather be back in the Forbidden Grotto - on the receiving end, even - than be stuck on guard duty like he was now.
"When I fought my way into the Dawnbringers I thought I'd be, you know, killing things. Shedding blood. Feasting on mortal souls. You know, our job. Not sitting around guarding the fucking palace!" Azatot turned and glared at his partner. "How the fuck do you stand this? Three weeks since 'Father' Dagon declared Dawn Breaking again, and the only things I've gotten to kill since the trials are my meals! I need something to murder and something to fuck, preferably at the same time! When are we going into action, dammit?!"
The other guard remained quiet, glancing briefly in Azatot's direction before returning his attention to the road before them. Azatot turned away with a snarl, a small cloud of steam spewing forth from the armored grille of the mouth of his helmet. "Fine, brood you little twat." he growled. "But, I mean, shit, anything would be better than this! I'd even be fine with a fucking summoning!"
The sorceress stood in the middle of a great triangular - if one ignored that the 'corners' were rounded and bulged inwards - courtyard, surrounded on all sides by high walls and overlooked by three grand towers, all made of smooth, seamless stone. The courtyard was grassy and devoid of all obstructions save a few tables and chairs arranged near the doorways set in the eastern and northern walls, and towards the center of it sat a large, slightly raised circle of dirt, carefully arranged into a perfectly flat plane and engraved with runic sigils.
Waiting before this circle, the young mage girl wiped a lock of her long hair out of her face and ignored the low sniggering behind her, where stood a large crowd of caped young mages and a menagerie of various creatures, from such mundane beasts as dogs and cats to more fanciful fire salamanders and griffons, and even a great white-and-blue-scaled dragon that lay quietly beside its master, eyes open and attentive as it curiously watched the proceedings. A man in blue robes standing beside the pink-haired girl at the summoning circle glanced pointedly at the crowd of students, who quickly quieted, then turned back to his student with a smile.
"Go ahead, Miss Valliere."
The diminutive young woman nodded, taking a deep breath and closing her eyes, then stepped into the summoning circle, raising her wand to incant.
"My name is Louise Francoise le Blanc de la Valliere. I call out to my servant - my glorious and powerful slave - who resides somewhere within this universe! Pentagon of the Five Elemental Powers, heed my summoning... and bring forth my familiar!"
There was a snap, the crackle of thunder, and then a pop and a sizzling noise as Azatot disappeared with an almost birdlike squawk and a flash of fiery orange light.
The second guard turned to silently regard the empty space where Azatot had stood a few moments prior, then turned back to his vigil, shrugging.
"...Serves ya right, ya bloody wanker."
Louise blinked her eyes open as a spark of bright light shot from the tip of her wand, circling about in the air as it floated first up, then slowly downwards, towards the center of the summoning circle.
That was new. But, compared to a random explosion, it was certainly not unwelcome. Knock on wood.
'Oh Founder, please don't explode.' she thought at the spark feverishly, hand tightening around her wand and a single bead of sweat dripping from her brow. 'Please don't explode please don't explode please don't explode...'
The spark ceased circling, floating down to about stomach height for an average adult man - or, in Louise's case, at roughly neck height - and igniting into an orb of fire that began to draw energy into itself with a low rumble.
'Pleasedontexplode pleasedontexplode pleasedontexplode...'
Two arcs of lightning spat briefly from the flame, scorching the ground below. The students gathered around the clearing began to back away - some had outright turned and begun running at full speed for the safety of the closest door - and even Professor Colbert had begun to edge closer to her, whispering what sounded like the incantation for a spell of warding, light from the fire glinting off his glasses.
Louise stood her ground, wand clenched tight in her hand. 'Pleasedontexplode PLEASEdontexplode PLEASEDONTEXPLODE-!'
The fireball suddenly surged outwards, expanding - but not, as feared, into an explosion. Instead it erupted into a fiery star, orange-and-red flames surrounding a white-hot core, the fury of its birth fusing the ground below it into blackened glass. A wave of heat stung at Louise's eyes, and she lifted her arm up in front of her face for protection, her cape billowing backwards in the searing wind. Two trickles of moisture leaked from her squinted eyes, and Louise wasn't sure whether it was a reaction to the heat or to her apparent success - and she didn't particularly care, either.
'I did it...' she thought, grinning despite the discomfort, 'I-I actually summoned something! It... it must be some sort of... fire elemental, or-'
And then a large armored form flew out of the flaming globe directly towards her.
It took less than a second for Azatot to realize he wasn't in Nu-Mantia anymore. Though given the sudden, jerking transition from mountaintop palace gate guard duty to flying down a flaming, curse-screaming tunnel at full speed towards a bright light, realizing that one had been summoned from Oblivion wasn't exactly a difficult puzzle to solve. Azatot howled in anger, then sighed.
"Fuck. I suppose this serves me right."
As the light drew closer, he grinned, tongue running across his lips beneath his helmet. "Well then, let's see if I can't at least turn this towards my advantage..."
And then he reached the end of the tunnel, suddenly finding himself flying forward into the mortal world. Azatot grunted and slammed his feet downwards into the ground, digging a long furrow into the soft, grassy soil as he bled off speed. 'Different.' he thought, finally coming to a crouching, hunched-forward halt, his armor steaming at the sudden coolness in the warm summer air. 'That's not normally how you appear after a summoning.'
And indeed it wasn't - by all rights every previous time he had been summoned to do the bidding of some scowling, generally-pudgy conjurer he'd merely landed lightly on his feet, as if from a fairly well-executed teleportation. Not fired through the air at full speed like a crossbow bolt.
'Someone screwed up,' he thought with a snarl, rising to his feet, 'and I think I know who it was-'
Azatot blinked twice. Then again, tilting his gaze back down. There, fallen nearly flat on her back before him, lay a tiny little human girl in an obvious mage's cloak, a delectably short black skirt, and a full head of long, silky hair that was such a bright shade of pink it made him want to claw someone else's eyes out.
Azatot stood slowly to his full height, staring incredulously down at the girl below him. Briefly he shifted his gaze up, staring around the clearing at the assembled open-mouthed human youths and wild assortment of creatures before him, then returned it to the pinkette at his feet, eyes narrowing.
Louise trembled as the creature turned its gaze back upon her.
It was a nightmare. A demonic terror, covered in spiky, asymmetrical armor the color of rotting flesh and dried blood, and smelling strongly of both. Patterns upon the armor suggested myriad strange shapes, and she wasn't sure whether or not the creature's chestplate bore a wailing human face or a series of mind-searing runes upon it - or both. Steam that smelled of sulfur billowed out from a grille in the creature's helmet, and its baleful glowing red eyes seemed to stare into the darkest depths of her soul.
"Mortal..." its voice rumbled, deep and echoing, "tell me: are you my summoner?"
Louise stared up at the demon before her, and could only offer a trembling, halting nod in response.
The demon stared down at her for a long moment... and then slumped with a sigh.