“What’s a hogdog?” Glyph asked in a hushed voice, getting to his feet.
Ishea was scrambling to pack everything up. “I am not sure how to describe them. Let us hope we do not see any.”
She jumped to her feet and rounded the corner of the rock. Glyph had to run in order to keep up with her. They made their way to the top of the giant column of stone, picking their route carefully. The raspy barking kept drawing closer and closer. After about twenty minutes of steady climbing, they slithered out onto the top of the rock on their bellies. Ishea lifted her finger to her lips to let Glyph know not to make a sound.
Lying there, Glyph began to wonder why they were hiding at all. Why not just waste these fuckers and be done with it? Ishea must have her reasons. It seemed like an eternity, listening to the weird braying cough of the hogdogs circling the base of the mountainous rock that they perched upon. Eventually the barking began to fade away toward the direction they had come.
Ishea sat up and tentatively glanced around at the surrounding area. “We should go now, in case they come back.” She said as she started easing her way back down the side of the cliff.
“Why didn’t we just obliterate them and get on with our lives?” Glyph finally said, half sarcastically.
“And wake up the countryside? We would have every sentinel in the area swarming us in a matter of minutes. I do not feel like fighting every step of the way to the portal, Glyph.” She replied tersely.
“Why are these demons after us anyway?”
“The Gods only know. I suspect that they are survivors from Drathus’s army, or pawns of whomever Drathus was working for. Either way, they hunt us, and I do not want to know what they will do if they find us.” She replied as they descended the mountainside.
“I thought Drathus was the Demon Lord. It was supposed to end with him, wasn’t it?” Glyph started to think out loud.
“Many of us believed that, but there is a whole world here, and there are worse things than a Demon Lord that live in it.”
“How do you know?” He questioned her.
“Demons live in a hierarchy; some of them are free agents, but most are part of a dictatorship, ruled by an Overlord. It is all based on power; the Overlord has several Demon Lords under him, and they have many Demons under them and so on. It is all in the book Verto gave me” Ishea informed him.
“Let me see it.” Glyph chimed.
“No.” Ishea stated firmly.
“Because it is evil, Glyph. I do not know what its power would do to you here, and I do not wish to find out. Now please stop asking for it, you are making me uneasy.” She answered coldly.
“Fine, whatever.” Glyph commented.
They reached the bottom, and struck out immediately across the brown sand. After an hour or so they took a short break in the shade of two house-sized boulders. Ishea opened a vial and drank half and handed the rest to Glyph.
“How much further do we have to go?” Glyph asked her.
“We are at least ten days travel from the portal.”
“That far? Why did you have to come this far to bring me back?” he questioned.
“I had to find a force-line intersection powerful enough to open a portal to your world. One that was not already inhabited by Demons.” She replied getting ready to move out again.
“Yes. Some worlds are more magical than others. They have lines of magical force that criss-cross the planet. The places these lines intersect are power-rich, and make using magic easier to perform with less effort. I needed to tap that power to bring you here.” Ishea told him.
“Why didn’t Drathus do that and kill me on Earth?”
Ishea looked surprised. “I realize it has been four years for you, but in case you forgot, Drathus did do something similar when he traced the magic from the King’s sword and sent Simeon to hunt you. I am mystified that you do not remember.” She said cynically.
Glyph shivered at the mention of Simeon’s name. He remembered the demon all too clearly. “But if you found me on Earth without tracing a magic sword why couldn’t Drathus do the same thing?” Glyph asked. He could tell she was still upset that Glyph believed she was a hallucination, and was determined not to be dragged into that argument again.
“If I had to guess, It was because Drathus did not have a Divinare Crystal.” She answered, eyeing him shrewdly. “Even though I could find your world, I would not have been able to locate you without it.” Ishea stood up and futilely dusted the sand from her pants.
“Hmm, learn something new every day.” Glyph said to himself as they began walking again.
They started up a long sand dune when an audible grunt made them stop in their tracks. Both of them stood frozen for several minutes, casting glances back and forth at one another. Slowly, they crept forward to the top of the dune, and as they poked their heads over the top they were only a few scant yards away from three hogdogs and their demon masters.
Glyph instinctively drew his sword, and Ishea did the same as the hogs turned to face them, scratched at the sand and began to bark. Time slowed as he looked down upon them. The word hog did not do these creatures justice. They appeared more like wild boars and were the size of pickup trucks. Their tusks were several feet long, with wide gaping maws filled with sharp teeth. Needle-like quills ran the length of their backs, and their hides hung like tiled shells. Thick iron chain leashes wrapped their necks, and the demons could barely control them.
“Fuck!” Glyph yelled at the sight of them charging toward him and Ishea.
Ishea made a quick gesture, there was a flash of blue light from her hand and a wave of invisible force barreled down the hill. The act set off a small sonic boom, the sound of which nearly toppled Glyph over. The intense wave hit the lead hound and picked it off the ground several feet and blew it back into its master, sending them sprawling through the sand. The other two buried their noses into the sand and deflected the remaining effect.
Glyph brought his sword around in an arc and raced toward the closest beast. As he ran he willed the sword to life, but nothing happened. He stopped and stared at his blade, but it was normal, no burning red-hot glow. It startled him for a second, and as the beast bore down on him he waved his hand to unleash a storm of sand into the creatures face, but again nothing happened. As he stared at his hand the thousand pound beast rushed in and bit into Glyph’s leg, its mouth engulfing the full length. He screamed as the hogdog lifted him into the air and started shaking its head back and forth. His knee popped, and slid out of its socket under the stress of the beast’s bite. Glyph thrust the sword hard into the side of its neck as he flailed about, but the blade only sank in a few inches.
Suddenly the beast released its hold, flinging him through the air. He caught a glimpse of Ishea creating a shield around herself, with the loud grind of her magic assaulting his ears moments before he slammed into the side of a nearby boulder and crashed into the sand. Glyph lifted his head and peered down at his leg in disbelief. It looked like he had been bitten by a large shark, as blood gushed from every puncture. Reaching out to the rock with his mind, he tried to send it flying into the hogdog that now raced after him with surprising speed. Still nothing happened. Try as he might he could not work his magic.
As he stared at the charging beast, Ishea’s form materialized in front of him, her back toward the demon and its pet.
“Shield!” She yelled, and the incandescent blue dome flashed blindingly as it surround them. The deafening sound of Ishea’s magic nearly burst his eardrums, an instant later the hogdog smashed headlong into the energy shield. Glyph watched as its enormous pig-like body slid up and over the top of the field. Its legs moved frantically as it scrambled off to one side.
“Glyph! You must use your magic!” Ishea screamed at him, placing her healing hands to his leg.
“I’ve tried! It won’t work!” Glyph yelled back at her, as the demons began to assault her protective dome with arcs of red lightning.
“It has to work! I can not hold this forever! I am starting to weaken! Concentrate!”
Glyph raised his hand again and concentrated, but nothing. The shield began to fade in places.
“I can’t!” He yelled again.
Ishea spun away from him, breaking her healing touch, and thrust both hands outward towards the assaulting demons. A wave of force knocked them slightly off balance, as the light of the dome blinked out. She turned and grabbed Glyph’s arm with one hand. He felt strange all over for a split second as a shimmering light enveloped them both. Then they were somewhere else. Ishea strained to pull him to his feet.
His leg was reset, and most of the bleeding had stopped. It hurt like hell, but he managed to stand and limped quickly behind her. Suddenly the hogs were upon them again, charging over a ridgeline about forty feet away. Glyph could tell Ishea was spent, as she stumbled forward. He tried in vain to use his magic again, but it was too late. As they rounded a small boulder, a weighted net was cast down upon them from somewhere above, forcing them both to the ground. There was the sound of beating wings, a quick flash of light, and both of them were knocked cold.
Glyph came to consciousness towards evening, judging by the setting suns. He surveyed his surroundings as best he could in the growing darkness, and quickly found his hands and feet had been bound. Ishea lay next to him still in a deep sleep. She was also bound and they were being transported in some sort of flatbed cart. Testing his bindings, he realized escape was improbable, so he stayed still and pretended to be asleep. Occasionally he would open his eyes and try to get a sense of where they were going, but not knowing the area, he found that to be useless as well. He guessed they had been out for several hours and concentrated on making out the details of the beast that pulled their small wagon. It looked like an ostrich, but the head was more serpent-like, its neck thick and scaly. They soon topped a hill and headed down into a valley. The sand had yielded to protruding rock here and their speed increased, whether from gravity or lack of the sands resistance he wasn’t sure. The cart turned hard as the path meandered in a switch-back fashion and Glyph could now see the faint flickering of lights from a small city near the bottom. He closed his eyes and listened to the strange hissing breaths of the odd beast pulling them along, and the creaking of the wheels on the hard stone.
It was odd to see a valley in the midst of this desert; he could barely make out the large hill on the other side. It reminded him of a giant crater, and at the center were the lights, growing larger as they descended. ‘That must be where we’re going’, he deduced, but why, and for what purpose? He assumed the demons would have just killed them both outright. Glyph shifted his upper body slightly as the cart jostled on the rough ground in an attempt to restore circulation to his numb arm. As the pins and needles of feeling returned he listened more intently and could make out the labored breathing of the hogdogs following behind, along with the heavy footfalls of their Demon masters. This was not going well, not at all.
He began to think about his magic, and wondered why it had not worked. What had gone wrong? He thought about attempting to use his power again, then realized if he succeeded the sound of it would alert his captors, and without Ishea, he would have little hope of escape. His ears still had a faint ringing from their battle earlier today, and he finally understood what Ishea had been trying to tell him about their magic.
Why was his mind creating this delusion? At first he thought it merely an escape from his prison in the asylum, but any freedom he received had been short lived. He didn’t know what he was supposed to do here. Like before, Ishea had all the answers. Now she was trying to save his life, and only knew what her book told her of this place. The answers he sought must lie in the book, and Ishea was either unwilling or unable to tell him. There must be something in those pages; perhaps Ishea just couldn’t recognize it. It didn’t really matter now anyway.
They finally reached the gate of the city; the huge stone walls were pitted and blackened in places as if it had been under siege many times. The gate itself was a huge stone slab that slid away at their approach.
Huge urns of flame burned to either side of the main entrance, and Glyph was forced to close his eyes to avoid detection. After they had gone on a few more yards, he peeked again and saw a large stable off to the side of the street, and saw some Grulls pulling the hogdogs off in that direction. The demon in charge of the stable shouted congratulations to his captors, and they continued on down the dark cobblestone streets. All the buildings they passed were stone; walls, roofs, everything. It only made sense, he surmised, considering the fire-rain.
Soon the cart was hauled before a huge temple-like building, with giant columns extending across the front. A wide row of stairs rose upward and narrowed towards the entrance. Glyph noted the life-like stone carvings of winged gargoyles which lined the top of the structure. There was no doubting the resemblance to the creatures that adorned the buttresses of many European castles.
“Grab the meat!” One of the demons commanded the other two.
Glyph felt the grasp of large demon hands around his middle, and was pulled from the cart like a sack of potatoes.
“Are we taking them to the Queen?” The sub-demon carrying Glyph asked.
“When she is ready. Until then the ghouls will take care of them.” The demon in charge answered him. The one that just hoisted Ishea onto his shoulder let out a long throaty chuckle. Instead of ascending the stairs, they were dragged off to the side of the temple. Here an ancient looking entrance revealed a set of steps leading downward. He was pulled across rough-cut rock bricks for several minutes until coming to an abrupt stop. The demon said a few words Glyph could not hear, and a slab of rock slid to one side uncovering the cell behind. Glyph and Ishea were tossed roughly into separate cells, and the flat stone slid shut behind them. There was no more light in the cell, so Glyph laid still and tried to listen, until eventually he succumbed to his exhaustion and fell asleep.
He awoke some time later to the muffled sound of Ishea’s screams. Glyph tried to jump to his feet, but was stopped by his bindings. He ended up rolling onto his back and tried to orient himself in the complete darkness that surrounded him.
The rock door suddenly slid back and the torchlight blinded him. Large fat leathery fingers snatched him up and with a grunt, heaved Glyph out into the hall. As he slid across the wide open area in the hall, he caught his first glimpse of his new friend. It was as wide as it was tall, with a large hairless head. Small beady eyes sunk deep under its sloping brow. The creature, for it was no man, wore only a leather loincloth, and a large cestus covered its right hand. There was no doubt, this had to be the ‘ghoul’ the demon had spoken of.
Glyph heard Ishea scream again and lifted his head to see another one of these ghouls strapping Ishea to a rock column some twenty feet away. Before he could turn back, he too was lifted and strapped to an iron ring protruding from a nearby column.
They both hung there several more minutes facing the stone. If he tried hard enough, he could barely see Ishea out of his peripheral vision. He strained as he saw her ghoul advance upon her, and with one quick swoop of its cestus, ripped Ishea’s tunic bare to her waist, leaving bloody cuts across her back. She cried out, and Glyph’s blood began to seethe. He felt his anger rising as he heard the strike of the whip and her subsequent scream of pain.
‘There must be some way out of here, something I can do, anything’ He thought wildly as Ishea let out another protracted scream of agony. His eyes darted from side to side frantically searching for a means of escape, and found nothing. ‘This is not happening, this can not be happening!’
Glyph changed his mind when his own smock was ripped from his back along with thin slices of his own flesh. He screamed, more in frustration than pain. The flogging began, and there was no more room for logical thought, only pain. He closed his eyes, and tried to steel himself against the searing bloody strikes of the whip upon his back, and worse, the sound of Ishea’s shrieks. Eventually, he succumbed to the torture and lost himself to unconsciousness.
Awaking sometime later, Glyph was once again lying in his tomb of a cell. He wondered how long he had been there, but had no sense of time. Glyph’s arm had gone numb under his own weight, and he attempted to roll onto his back. It was immediately apparent by the horrific agony he felt across his back, that moving was not possible. He thought of Ishea, and could only guess at what might have happened to her.
The door slid back again. This time he closed his eyes to feign sleep. It was one of the lesser demons who had put them in here. It picked him up and carried him to the far end of the large chamber. They ascended another long staircase, and when they reached the top, Glyph heard the demon who had been in charge of his capture.
“Bring them!” he growled.
Glyph tried to peek several times, but only caught glimpses of the smooth basalt block floor as the demon carried him onward. “We have captured the wizard and her companion, my Queen.” Glyph’s captor called out.
There was a long pause, then an echoing high voice said “Excellent work, Srokus. Place them on the hooks, and wake them.”
Glyph was dropped to the hard ground, felt cold steel slide between his bound arms and was hoisted into the air. Then he was hanging by silver metal shackles, spinning slightly. A quick flash of light made his eyes open. He found himself staring into Ishea’s open and alert eyes as she too hung from shackles a mere six feet away. She was stripped bare to her waist, and there was dirt and gravel stuck to the dried blood on her back. There was a profound sadness in the look she gave him, as if she had failed the world.
As he swung slowly away from her gaze, he saw what he could only guess was a female demon. She was seated on an ornamental metallic throne that resembled the gaping mouth of a serpent. She had large golden eyes, and angular cheekbones. Her skin was a copper color, and her long ebony hair crept around fine horns to flow down to an armored bodice that barely covered her breasts, and Glyph found her strangely beautiful. She wore a chain mail skirt and animal skin boots; her long pointed tail flicked back and forth playfully. He found himself becoming aroused by her appearance, and had to fight to keep from entertaining certain thoughts. Oddly, the attraction felt peculiar, and Glyph wondered if this effect was normal for female demons or if she was producing some magical enchantment that made him react this way.
“Bring the Seer!” She commanded, staring intently at her prisoners.
“My name is Cruix, Overlord of the Third Parcel.” The female demon stated. “You will address me as Queen.” A low murmur rumbled through the audience behind him, and was silenced by a quick snap of her tail. “I suppose I should be grateful to you for returning my property, though I doubt that was your purpose.” As she spoke, her arm lifted, and Ishea’s book appeared in her hand. “One of my most powerful tomes, lost to me for nearly forty years. I thought I might never look upon its pages again.” Her voice trailed off as she caressed the book with her hands like a beloved pet. She paused for a moment as if lost in thought, then returned her attention to Glyph and Ishea. “You have also brought me a gift.” She said, laying the book on her lap. She reached out into the air again, and the Divinare crystal appeared in her hand. “I have yet to ascertain what it is, but I am sure you will tell me…eventually.” She said, studying the crystal intently.
A stone panel on Glyph’s right opened, and a figure in a long, black, hooded robe stepped out. The Seer seemed to glide across the floor and stopped a few feet before the throne.
“Read them.” Cruix ordered, and the Seer glided over to Ishea. It extended a long black bony finger and touched Ishea’s forehead.
The Seer began to emit a strange humming sound, and began to speak in a high-pitched hiss. “Sorcerer. Healer. Seeker. She is known as Ishea, the Seventh of Remakor.” The Seer pulled its hand away, with an audible gasp, and then turned its head toward Cruix. “She is The Guide!” it said, spitting.
“And what of her companion?” Cruix demanded, her brow furrowing deeply.
The Seer glided forward once more and touched Glyph. The humming began again, only this time it began to tremble. Shrieking loudly, the hooded figure withdrew its hand and cowered back, covering its dark and hooded face.
Cruix glanced at the Seer in astonishment. “Speak!” She commanded of it.
“The Great One he is! Accursed and blessed!” The Seer screeched, writhing as if in pain. “The bringer of life and death!” It choked out, as the throne room burst into shouts and screams of terror and shock.
Cruix rose quickly from her seat. “Silence!” her voice boomed and a hush fell upon the room. She reached down and snatched the Seer up in one hand. “Are you certain?”
“It is he! It is he!” The Seer sobbed.
Cruix flung her crazed subject to the ground, and it scampered away.
Glyph looked over at Ishea, who appeared just as dumbfounded as he felt. They locked eyes, and he realized she didn’t know what they were talking about either. He glanced away, trying not to think about her bare-breasted form swinging back and forth.
Turning, Cruix cast Glyph an icy stare. “What is your purpose here?”
“Cut us down, and maybe I’ll tell you.” Glyph spoke with confidence, hoping he might have some sort of leverage to work with after that incident. Maybe he could talk his way out of this craziness.
Cruix sized him up shrewdly. Her eyes narrowed. “Free yourself…Great One.”
He flinched inwardly at the title; he had heard it before, a long time ago. “I would, but it is you who have put me here. I thought I would give you the chance to correct your mistake. Otherwise I might take offense and lay waste to your little city.” Glyph bluffed, hoping to strike a chord.
She began to laugh and, walking back to her throne, Cruix sat down. Glyph stole a glimpse of Ishea whose head hung low with her eyes shut.
“Very well.” Cruix said, and waved her hand. The shackles around Glyph’s hands snapped open and the bindings on his feet unraveled, letting him fall to the ground.
Glyph stood quickly, biting back the intense pain of the searing wounds across his back. “The woman as well.”
“No. I must have certain assurances first.” Cruix said calmly.
He didn’t like how this was playing out. Was she buying his ruse, or placating a fool? “What are we talking about here?” Glyph asked.
“I will allow you and your Guide to leave here, but first, I will need your pledge that you will not then destroy me, as you did my son…Drathus.” She replied, eyeing him astutely.
Fuck. Glyph thought. Fuck, fuck, fuck! How could this get any worse?
A few of the stones at Glyph’s feet slid back, and a pedestal slowly rose up from the floor. On it sat a large bronze bowl, with a sleek curved knife lying beside its base. The bowl was half filled with a clear liquid that looked like water.
“The pledge requires you to give me a blood sacrifice, and an oath of your allegiance to me.” Cruix stated, again eyeing Glyph like a piece of fresh meat.
Ishea began to struggle against her bonds. “No!” She shouted.
“Silence, wizard!” Cruix chastised Ishea, waving her hand. “Your magic is not accessible under those restraints. The harder you try, the tighter your bindings will become.”
Trying to shout her warning to Glyph, Ishea’s mouth opened, but nothing could come out.
What choice did he have? Glyph thought. Was she telling the truth? If she wasn’t, they would both be dead anyway, so what difference would it make? He pretended to think about his decision, trying to buy some more time. Obviously Ishea didn’t think it a wise choice. It was do or die time now, he thought. Cruix had called his bluff the moment she released him. He had to try his power now in order to save them both; it was their only chance.
Picking up the knife from the pedestal, he began to concentrate, gathering his will, trying to focus his thought. This time it would work; he was about to send this temple into orbit. The image formed in his mind, and Glyph jumped back and threw both arms into the air. He felt the stirring of power in his gut, and then…nothing. Maybe it was only indigestion.
“I am not sure what ails you, but you are pathetic. The reports I received had me believing the Great One had indeed returned, as foretold in our prophecies. How you defeated my son I shall never understand; you have no power. You are a weak, worthless excuse of a man, and you shall live the rest of your days as my slave. My Seer has never failed before in the accuracy of her readings, but now I have my doubts. It is for that reason and that reason alone I will still have my sacrifice. Spill thy blood for me!” Cruix ordered.
“Fuck off bitch! You can…” Was all Glyph managed to get out before he was slammed face first onto the hard stone block by Srokus. He felt the taste of blood in his mouth and swallowed hard. When he was pulled back to his feet he saw that Srokus’s henchman had a knife to Ishea’s throat.
“You will do as I say or I will kill her now.” Cruix spoke calmly “Which do you prefer?”
Srokus slapped the knife into Glyph’s hand, and the demon closed its fist around the back of his neck.
Glyph could feel the anger growing inside him. This isn’t a hallucination, he thought. Only an idiot would dream this kind of bullshit.
“Now!” Cruix demanded.
Glyph stretched his arm out over the bowl, and slowly placed the knife, blade side down, into his palm. The crushing pain around his neck reminded him to be quick about it. If he were to try anything stupid he would be dead in the next second, and something told him he was not yet ready to find out what would happen to him if he died here.
Gritting his teeth, he pulled the blade quickly across his hand, and dropped the knife to the floor. He stood there seething, staring into Cruix’s evil golden eyes with more contempt than he could have mustered for her son. Squeezing his hand into a fist, the blood dropped towards the urn, and a bright white flash lit the room at the instant it contacted the liquid in the bowl.
Suddenly Glyph felt as if his soul had caught fire, and he began to scream and writhe about. Srokus dropped Glyph to the floor, as he too shrieked in agony. The flesh of the demon’s hand melted into liquid, and poured off its bones.
Glyph dropped to his knees, a burning white-hot aura surrounding him. He saw Cruix leap from her throne in shock at the sight she beheld. He realized then that he could no longer breathe, and his screams abruptly stopped. Turning he saw Ishea’s eyes grow wide. The aura began to fade, replaced with a familiar darkness closing in around him. No, he thought. Not again, not again! The last thing he heard was Srokus howling at the site of the acid-bleached bones of his hand protruding from his forearm. Then all was darkness.