Malrinn’s Bargain: A Staring Contest With Shadow

Malrinn Tzull was an elf of singular purpose; fueled by one solitary desire that drove his ambitions. He did not desire the touch of a woman, or the love of a family. He did not desire hedonistic pursuits or wealth, excepting for one of the byproducts that wealth could grant… No, Malrinn had but one vice, and it harried him like an erinyes. Malrinn only cared for power.

It is often said that ‘one will seek voraciously what they have been previously denied.’ This could not be more true for Malrinn. He had spent a great deal of his long life without even the smallest semblance of power. Born last into a large family of mostly boys, he struggled. In addition to his station as youngest sibling, he was physically weaker than his brothers, and even a few of his sisters. Malrinn almost did not survive infancy, due to a heart defect, something extremely rare within the eleven race. Though he persisted to adolescence, his growth was stunted. He spent a good majority of his early life indoors, reading rather than learning to hunt or fight alongside his brothers.

His lack of bodily fortitude led to alienation by most of his peers, who preferred carousing and games of sport to bookish studies. Most days, he would become winded just carrying books up the stairs of the family home to his room where he hermited himself away, heart pounding in his chest as he’d dump his new selections beside his bed before collapsing onto it for a few minutes. This perpetual weakness made him bitter. And he vowed that one day he would be free of it, and prove to the world he was worthy to be a part of it and not a useless drain on resources.

He found the key to his pursuit among his constant stream of books. First with stories of magic and adventure, and then with more technical descriptions of the arcane arts. Eventually, he was able to attain books that could actually begin to teach him how to wield magic. They cost him all the money he had at the time, but the information was priceless to him. With a firm resolve, he began to study the arcane arts in secret, and over the years began to amass a portion of the power that he so desperately craved. He gained the ability to bolster his frail physique with magical strength, and he found that he no longer lost his breath simply moving about the house.

He grew in magical prowess and soon there was not much that his peers could do that he could not. As an adult, he had access to as much material wealth as he desired to conjure, and he lived a comfortable life because of it. Even still, he found himself unsatisfied. He wanted more from his life. So when he came upon a tome detailing the methods to contact dark beings, with power not of this world, he could not resist the temptation.

Malrinn’s face scrunched as he concentrated, dragging a piece of charcoal along the cold stone floor. It left a thick, black line in its wake, as he traced circular runes of ornate design on the surface of the stone. In his other hand, he held the tome, open to a page showing the runes he was now copying down. The book was old, ancient even; the pages dark and discolored with age, lit now by only flickering candlelight. The book’s spine was more of a suggestion now rather than any sort of substantial binding, and Malrinn had to keep the book carefully balanced to avoid spilling clumps of pages to the ground.

He finished his drawing and then took a small satchel from his side. Reaching in, he grabbed a copious handful of salt and began sprinkling it around the perimeter of the circle. Once he had completed the ring, he grabbed a bag of candles that had been lying just outside of the circle and began to place them at the intersections of the design, lighting them with another candle that had already been burning on the large wooden table off to the side of the room.

Slowly, methodically, he continued the ritual; as the dozen newly lit candles cast dancing shadows around the room. The dank cellar was lined with many large bookcases, which along with the table, were all piled high with books of every shape and size. The chamber was also littered with various odds and ends; a vial of liquid here, a dagger there, a small strong box, a variety of small and medium sized skulls which appeared to be animal in nature… Malrinn’s lair was his refuge, but it was also his hoard, a life collected in baubles and books.

Malrinn stood once again from his crouched position and surveyed his work. His eyes traced the designs on the floor, then in the book, and then back again. Satisfied, he carefully closed the tome, placing a black quill between the pages as he shut it to keep his place. He then set the book on the table, in an area that wasn’t part of the various piles. Reaching for a different book, he opened it to another marked set of pages and began to read from it.

The language was not his own and it had taken him a considerable amount of time to decipher and learn. But now, with practiced grace he began his recitation, softly at first. The longer he read, the louder he grew, until he was almost shouting. The air in the dark cellar began to stir, unnoticed at first by Malrinn, but as he read on it grew more and more violent. Eventually, it was howling, whipping his black hair wildly; rifling through the pages of books that lay open on the table, sending the odd loose paper pirouetting around the room.

Malrinn smiled an ominous, toothy smile, and could not help but laugh. It was a deep and sinister sound that held more malice than joy. His blood felt as if it was boiling within him and the skin on his face vibrated with flushed anticipation. He felt for a moment like his heart might burst, but the feeling quickly passed, only to be replaced by a sickening, heavy millstone of dread in his gut. This pure feeling of thick, otherworldly malice quelled his laughter even as it heralded the arrival of his intended guest.

The temperature in the room immediately dropped a noticeable degree, and dark black plumes of smoke began to pour from the candles on the floor, swirling in the wind like a dervish. Soon, the cloud began to coalesce; taking the shape of something vaguely elf-like, but not. A being made of entirely of shadow, with glowing red eyes like stoked coals suspended within the fog.

After the creature had taken its form, the wind began to abate. Soon a deathly stillness hung in the room, save for the twitching mass of shadow and smoke. It did not make a sound; it just loomed in the air with an intense and diabolical presence.

“Ehoten!” Malrinn said, breaking the silence. When he evoked the creature’s name, he swore it smiled, if a thing made of smoke could do such a thing.
“Ehoten, I am the one who summoned you. I entreat you! Grant me your power!”
The creature swelled, and spoke, not with audible words, but directly into Malrinn’s mind.

“What do you offer?” Its voice deep and raspy, seemed to vibrate Malrinn’s very skull. He fought not to wince. Each word was like a knife; like the worst headache he’d ever experienced. With each word Ehoten spoke, a penetrating and bitter cold raced down Malrinn’s spine, causing the hairs on the back of his neck to stand on end. He felt like every last bit of warmth in his body was being drained away. His stomach did somersaults as the dark figure continued its dialogue, it’s very presence polluting the area around it like a miasma that Malrinn felt threatened to choke him.
“What is worthy of my power?”

Malrinn pulled a bundle of tattered cloth from his cloak and unwrapped from within it a weapon; a dagger, three blades affixed to an obsidian hilt. It was not ornate, but it had a presence of its own, not too dissimilar from that of the shadow fiend he intended to offer it to. He let the cloth fall to the ground and held the menacing blade aloft.
“An artifact of great power, and that has drunk deep of the blood of countless lives.”

The shadowy creature let out a burbling, disquieting laugh, and it’s eyes began to glow with an even more intense light. Somehow the sound of the creature’s laughter made Malrinn even more uncomfortable than he already was in the thing’s presence, but he held his composure.
“How did one such as you come by this artifact?” Ehoten asked him.
“It was… difficult, but I have my ways.” Malrinn replied dryly, his face iron. He was so close to attaining his goal and had come too far to falter now. He would not be intimidated by Ehoten.

“I reject your offering,” it sneered, “It is not enough. What use do I have for a blade when I can kill hundreds with mere words? If I wished it, I could command you to tear your own heart out, and you would obey! I have broken those more powerful than you, elf-whelp!”
Malrinn stared daggers at Ehoten, and what little shock of his that remained since initially encountering the fiend was brushed aside by a searing anger.
“Don’t play coy!,” he spat, ignoring Ehoten’s threats and posturing, “Your deception is wasted on me, Shadow Demon! You know exactly what this is!”

Ehoten answered in wordless howling rage; his form swelling defiantly as the wind began to swirl in the room again. Malrinn held the blade firm in his hand and began to mutter an incantation under his breath. His pupils disappeared as his eyes began to glow with their own bluish light. The hand that held the blade began to spark with blue, crackling energy, and the strands of his hair began to repel one-another a little. Then, with just the smallest smirk, he released the arcane electricity he had collected directly into the blade.

The demon shuddered and let out a squeal of pain. The attack seemed to lessen the swelling of its form and it was plain to Malrinn that Ehoten had definitely felt the strike. Even still, the demon continued its tirade.
“You dare raise a hand against me!” Malrinn’s head began to pound even harder as the creatures voice grew louder inside his head. Unabated, he let loose another surge of electricity into the blade, and the shadow shrieked as his form continued to dwindle. It was now about the size it had been when he had first summoned it.

“I know you are bound to this blade!,” Malrinn shouted over the wind. “I also know you wish to be free of the link. I can’t imagine you enjoy anyone having sway over you like this…” He did not break his gaze with the demon, the motion of his hair and cloak in the wind a stark contrast to this unmoving demeanor. Again he began to prepare himself for another volley, fingers sparking blue at his whim. Rather than attack however, he held it at the ready for a moment, determined to win this battle of wills.

“Enough!” Ehoten called finally, his voice quieter now, but still raking across Malrinn’s mind. “You will relinquish the blade to me in exchange for a share of my power?”
“I will destroy the blade, and your link to it. And in exchange, you will imbue me with a portion of your power.” The being stayed silent for a moment, flickering. It seemed to weigh Malrinn’s proposal, though it was hard to read any emotion in its vaporous form.

“You have the means of destroying the artifact?” Its tone was skeptical. “Many have tried… And many have failed. Other’s still have been corrupted by its power. Many a noble man with ideas of felling kingdoms and tyrants have tried to keep it for themselves… You are the first I’ve encountered to possess the blade and be unsatisfied with the power it grants…”

Malrinn smiled a devilish smile. “Assassination is not my style… Neither are noble ideals…” He knew that he had won now, but continued with the obligatory question. “Do we have a deal then?”
“I accept,” Ehoten said after a moment. “When you do destroy the blade and free the part of me encased within, it will enter you instead of returning to me. This will grant you the power that you hunger for.”

And with that, the being was gone; instantaneously. As if it had never been there. The candles still burned, and the room looked exactly as it had moments before Malrinn had completed the ritual. He still held the blade in his hand, and for a moment he looked down at it, trying to judge if what had just taken place had actually happened, or had been in his mind.

He shook his head and steeled his expression, and began to make his preparations for the next step of his plan. He carried the blade up the stairway and out of the cellar where he had made his audience with the dark apparition. And made his way into the open living area of his home.

It was bleakly sparse. A single wooden chair next to a small table, which still held a few used silver dishes; bits of dry food caked onto most of them, with one set containing the remains of a more recent meal.

He moved over to the fireplace which was currently unlit but stacked with tinder. Without looking, he lit it magically with a flick of his finger. The fire roared and crackled to life. He sat in the chair, still holding the blade, and turned it over in his hand; deep in thought. As he moved his eyes back and forth over the blade, he considered the bargain he had struck. A difficult road lay ahead of him, he knew, but that had always been his lot. For once, this time, the destination was in sight.

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