Corruption of Azim
How Gaimon Joined Asmodeus
Asmodeus stretched luxuriously, feeling the thread of the sheets he lay on. He could hear his temporary lover scuffling about in the darkness the next room over. No doubt she was going through his things. Would be interesting to see how she felt about finding his spellbooks. Especially they one from Shok’ragal. He enjoyed her little games of seduction, but she was out of her league. She thought she was just playing and toying with some random wizard, a traveling student of magic home visiting his parents. Lost. Alone. Without direction or purpose.
He smiled to himself as he heard a curse word. No doubt his arcane lock was keeping her out of his chest. That was probably the best for her. No doubt she would be attempting to find what she could sell on the black market. He supposed his university spellbook would be worth some small amount of money. However, the second one, now that would be worth some coin—if those carrying it could weather the sick, cold feeling one . . . not of Shok’ragal’s acquaintance would feel.
Sighing to himself, Asmodeus wondered how long he would wait until revealing that he was neither asleep nor pleased she was going through his things. Her games and charms most likely would have served her well had he not known from the start what she was. It wasn’t until she climbed out of bed that he knew for sure her agenda. He vaguely wondered if she was going to try to kill him. No matter. He had seen her eyeing him the day before, and had prepared accordingly.
Suddenly he bolted upright. Asmodeus, came a voice into his head. Communication between planes was difficult, and he knew that was his one and only message that Shok’ragal wished to communicate. It looks like this woman would see his true colors earlier than expected.
He slipped from the bed and grabbed his robes from where he had hung them, throwing them over his head as he slammed the door open and moved towards the chair to his left. The Elven woman stood up, danger glinting in her eyes as she realized she had been caught. Quicker than he could follow, she darted for her weapons sitting on that chair a few feet away, her loose robe fluttering behind her. But he was already speaking the spidery language of magic in anticipation, moving to intercept her. She was fast, but he was prepared. By the time she reached her weapons and swung he was already on top of her, his spell complete.
The woman collapsed as he touched her, her weapons clattering to the floor. Without a moment’s hesitation he left her, moving to his chest, which sprang open at his touch. He moved aside his papers and spell components, finding at the bottom his spellbooks. His first one went unceremoniously on the table, and he pulled out the second one-the gift from Shok’ragal himself. A few muttered words released the lock and the belt holding the book shut retreated. The book’s cover came alive, the skin twisting and heaving. This must be some emergency thought Asmodeus as his spellbook cover coalesced into its final image and began to glow fiery red.
The face of Shok’ragal.
The wizard inclined his head. “You have need of my assistance?”
“I do, if you would. I have received word that your compatriots at the university of Aelhaim are closing in on Killashandra.” That stupid tiefling. Too flighty and unconcerned with such matters as staying out of sight, he sometimes wondered if breaking her out was worth it. “Several bounty hunters have been dispatched to find her in Evercrest. I would be ever grateful if you could assist her again.”
“Is that an order?” The wizard’s face darkened.
“Of course not. A request, from one friend to another. You know how fond I am of Shandra.”
“I will leave at once then.”
On the spellbook, the demon’s face smiled. “I would not have contacted you this way were it not an emergency.”
“I understand.” Asmodeus waved his hand and the spellbook rebound itself.
From the floor, Elandra watched the encounter, unable to move. It was unnerving how quickly the wizard had dispatched her. He had anticipated her movement, had already been casting his spell the moment he left the room, had caught her just at the right time. For the umpteenth time she tried to move her arms and legs, but they would not respond. No farmboy turned wizard, this one, as she had been expecting. He was intelligent, conniving, and very powerful, and now he had her paralyzed on the floor, and she had just hear him commune with some . . . thing.
Across, the room the wizard was putting the items back in his chest. That spellbook, the dark one, that must have been the reason she was so rattled just trying to open that chest. This was no ordinary wizard. This was a practitioner of the dark arts.
“What have you done to me?” she croaked. The wizard turned, almost startled. With a start she realized that he had forgotten her.
“I sapped your strength. The effects should wear off fully in a few hours, but even now you should begin to feel your strength returning a bit. I did enjoy our game of one-upmanship. A pity it was cut short, but I must be off. Who knows how it would have ended. You are most skilled in seduction.”
Her eyes widened briefly, and then she smiled. “And you are most skilled at playing a player.” He smiled back, taking the compliment for what it was worth.
“No hard feelings, but I must be off.” She weakly tried to stand up. “You should still rest for a few hours to regain the rest of your strength. But at least you’re not on the floor in just your . . .” he glanced her over, “robe.”
As she steadied herself on the chair he grabbed his boots and began to put them on.
“Good luck with your friend,” she said. He looked up.
“She is no friend of mine, but her master is.”
She looked at him quizzically. “Maybe I should stop seducing wizards.” He laughed.
“I doubt you will ever find one like me in many many years.”
“Just lucky today, I guess.”
“In many ways.” The way he said that sent a chill up her spine.
He threw his riding cloak on and stood to leave.
“Will we ever get to continue our game?” she asked, smiling at him. He pursed his lips.
“Is it still a game if both know they’re being played?”
“It could be a much more interesting game.”
“Then I hope it does someday.”
“What’s your name, my fellow-player? Your real name.”
“Farewell, Elandra. Until we meet again.” He grabbed his trunk and left. As she crawled into bed a few minutes later, she wasn’t sure whether or not she was shaking from excitement, finding such a “friend” or from fear that things could have gone very, very different tonight.
Killashandra was having a merry time, laughing and playing at the card tables with many of the men. Freed at last from the University of Aelhaim, where she had been studied as a part-demon oddity, she had been wandering from town to town, drinking, making merry, and gambling. A shrewd tiefling, her charms had served her well.
Currently she was sitting across from a merchant, playing cards with him and a local shopkeeper. She was reasonably confident that her charms had worked on the former, and he was both too drunk and too flustered by her actions to be much of a card player. Within another few minutes, she would finish cleaning him out, and then she would move on to another tavern. The night was young. The men were stupid. The world was finally treating her right.
Suddenly a thin arm appeared out of the crowd and grabbed her, jerking her upright. She found herself staring into the dark, glittering eyes of Asmodeus. His face was definitely unamused. He was such a serious one, despite her best efforts during their escape from the university to liven him up.
“Did you not think,” he hissed, “that you might want to lay low?” She smiled at him.
“I’m not stupid. I’ve been taking precautions.”
“Not enough. We need to leave. Now.” His tone left no room for argument, and he turned away and began to drag her with him.
“I’m in the middle of a game!” she said as she snatched her arm away. He whirled around to her, dark robes spinning. His mouth twitched.
“Your master called me specifically. I’m not about to incur his wrath because you were in the middle of a game. You’re in danger. We need to leave. Now.”
“Hey,” the merchant called. “The lady wants to stay.” The man stood, reaching down for a jeweled dagger at his side.
Asmodeus stared at him for a moment, cocking his head. Then he leaned closer to the table and spoke a single word quietly, just so the four of them could hear. The room seemed to grow cold and dark immediately around them, though if it was actually growing dark or if she just felt dark she was never clear. Even for Killashandra, familiar as she was with the Dark Speech, the sound was grating. She saw as Asmodeus paled just from having to speak it. Both the merchant and the shopkeeper backed away from the table, obviously unnerved. The wizard grabbed her again and began to leave again. This time, she offered no resistance, and the other players had not recovered by the time the two were out the door.
“My contacts at the university have informed me that the hunt for you is going well. A bounty hunter and a ranger have been on your trail for a month now, and your gallivanting around taverns stealing people’s money and seducing rich nobles and merchants is not helping!” The wizard, as usual, sounded exasperated. But simultaneously, if Shok’ragal had called him, and if Asmodeus felt the situation urgent enough to utter Dark Speech in public, the situation was clearly dire. They were on the road, having grabbed their horses and left immediately. One of the moons had just risen, spreading its pale red light over the road as they traveled away from Evercrest. The wizard had sent his raven familiar to look for others on the road. It was unlikely that there would be other travelers this time of night.
Eventually the raven alighted on Asmodeus’ shoulder. The two began to “talk,” though Shandra had no idea what they were saying. Asmodeus turned. “There appears to be a place in the woods a few miles distant that would be suitable for camping away from the road. We’ll stay there for the night.”
Asmodeus laid out his bedroll and, with a glance at the tiefling, was asleep instantly. Shandra covered herself in her blanket and laid her cloak on top. She sighed to herself. It was obvious the wizard was a little out of his element with this running and hiding. He had coldly left her on her own once breaking her out of the university and being introduced to her demon master, informing her that she was on her own and he had no desire to be traveling with a fugitive. He had given her a generous donation of coin to get her started in her new life, and had then vanished. He was a cold, calculating, unfeeling kind of person, more interested in his books and spells than anything else.
At least his raven familiar, Corbinian, had found a decent place to stay the night. The abandoned church was far off the beaten path and provided what amounted to some kind of cover. Of course, the raven had apparently been talking about the grove of trees behind the building, but Asmodeus had decided the building would be better.
Rain began to fall. She looked at her nice leather clothing. Even with the cover, it would be soaked by morning and she would be extremely uncomfortable. She sighed.
When Corbinian began to caw, Asmodeus immediately awoke. He heard scraping at the door to the abandoned church and was on his feet immediately. “Shandra!” he snapped. Despite their reservations about each other personally, they did make a decent team. Her quick thinking had helped them escape from the university as much as his well-thought out plans, and he did respect her for that. She was up in a moment, alert and ready even as he flexed his fingers in anticipation.
The door swung open, and a human ranger came in, followed by her dog, and then followed by a large, armored elf. The ranger had notched an arrow, and Asmodeus found it pointing right at the tiefling.
“Killashandra,” said the ranger, “you are to come with us.”
“What if I don’t want to?” the tiefling muttered, dropping into a crouch.
“What’s this about?” asked Asmodeus.
The ranger turned to stare at him. “This woman is an escaped prisoner of the university of Aelhaim.”
Asmodeus acted startled. At least the ranger was stupid. Good at tracking, but completely unaware that the two of them were more than just temporary traveling companions. He turned to look at Shandra, backing away from her, yet moving more to flank should they both attack. “What is she? What has she done?”
“That’s not your concern.”
“Does that mean you’re going to tie me up,” Shandra said. Now she was addressing the big elf, who had drawn his sword and was already a step or two closer to her than the ranger. She was standing more relaxed, one hip slightly out, a brilliant smile on her face, as if she had just met a handsome noble at a fancy party, not as if she were being captured in some decrepit old church dripping rainwater. She extended her hands forward, palms up and close together, and cocked her head. Her smile grew even bigger.
“I’d prefer you resist, personally,” the elf said. Asmodeus looked at his eyes. They were alight with a kind of glee, and he wasn’t even paying any attention to the wizard anymore. He was focused on Shandra. And he was licking his lips. Slightly, ever so slightly, his hand began to tremble.
“Gaimon! They want her alive if possible!” the ranger snapped. The elf stopped, and a look of severe disappointment flitted across his face.
He was a sadist.
Asmodeus smiled. This was going to go much better than expected.
“I have a better idea, Gaimon,” said Asmodeus. The elf turned to him. “The ranger and the tiefling are about the same size and shape, and fights can get so messy. How about you kill your friend and take her skull back to the university. No doubt it was Master Trotterun who hired you. The old man is blind as a bat, he won’t be able to tell.”
The elf’s sword dipped a little. Asmodeus continued. “All you really want is some violence, don’t you?” Magic fire crackled at the end of his fingertips. “If you fight the two of us, I guarantee that you will lose, and you will die.”
“I wouldn’t be so sure,” the Elf said, raising his sword defensively. He stepped in front of the ranger, and his face exuded that glee again.
Asmodeus shrugged. “Perhaps, perhaps not. But I can guarantee you that if you fight, you will at best go back to your life of waiting and hoping that the next job involves violence so you can sate your need.” Gaimon stared intently at Asmodeus. The wizard stared right back. “But I can guarantee that if you join with me, you will have more opportunities. I’m not exactly a nice person. Helping a tiefling escape from the university, running with her, consorting with her demon master . . .” He was running a risk, revealing so much. But if it didn’t work, they would fight anyway, and these two would lose, he had no doubt. But if he could turn the elf . . . “Gaimon!” the ranger snapped. She was rapidly losing control of the situation. She was beginning to panic. Perfect. “We need to get out of here, tell the others what’s going on.”
Asmodeus looked at her contemptuously. “How long have you spent with him tracking Killashandra, and you yet do not understand what drives him.” The wizard laughed, a shrill laugh that echoed through the abandoned church. “He won’t do the noble thing, he’s not even in it for the money,” he turned back to Gaimon, dismissing the ranger, “are you?”
The ranger raised her bow, aiming at Asmodeus. Shandra cocked one of her arms, ready to spring into action. But it was the elf that moved first. Swinging his great sword he whirled and turned on his companion. She ducked under his blow, dropping away and rolling up. She fired an arrow as her dog jumped on the elf. Gaimon swung a gauntled first and knocked the big canine flying as the arrow stuck into the chink of armor between his left arm and his chest. He cried out in pain. Shandra moved to help him, while Asmodeus raised his hands and fired a blast of magic at the dog, who with a yelp went flying until it crashed into a wall and collapsed, unmoving, to the floor.
Quick as she was, Gaimon managed to swing his two-handed sword and get in a glancing blow as the ranger tried to jump aside. That first blow was all it took to slow her down enough that his next attack struck home as she was feebly trying to draw her shortsword. She dropped like a stone.
“Excellent!” said Asmodeus. Shandra turned to him.
“What would you have done if he had not decided to attack his companion?”
“I would have killed them both,” the wizard said matter-of-fact. “But things worked out for the best.”
“I’m not sure I should have done that,” muttered the elf.
“But you feel better now, don’t you?” asked the wizard.
The elf looked at him, through his long hair. Then he nodded.
“Then all is well. Now, for the cover-up. We have to make it convincing for them to be thrown off the trail of Killashandra, forever.”
Gaimon limped into the University of Aelhaim grounds, his armor scorched and singed, his cloak with large streaks of ash on it. On his horse, he held a bag. He was quickly admitted to Master Trotterun’s offices, where he presented his grisly package—the skull of Killashandra, badly burned beyond recognition, and partially crushed.
“At least she won’t be causing any more troubles,” said the old wizard, as he paid the elf. “And I’m sorry to hear about your companion.”
“She was a decent fighter, but when the roof collapsed on us all in the fire, she didn’t make it. Still, without her tracking, we would never have found the tiefling.”
“Here’s some extra coin, go to a cleric and get yourself fixed up,” said the wizard, handing over a few more coins. “Thanks for coming as soon as you could.”
Fully healed up, his armor polished and refurbished, his greatsword strapped to his back, the Elf was an intimidating sight, but tonight was more about stealth. Glancing around, he slipped into a dark alley near the docks of the city, and found his two companions, Shandra wearing the white cloak of a cleric for disguise and Asmodeus a splotch of darkness behind some crates.
“Is it done?” the wizard whispered.
“And he believed you?”
“Blind as a bat, like you said. They won’t be coming after her anymore.” The elf paused. “Now what of me?”
The wizard shrugged. “You like violence, but running around under the auspices of the law will not sate your need. If you decide to stay with me, I can guarantee you more opportunities for violence. Furthermore, you will not need to worry about being caught. My responsibility will be to plan the when and where to execute violence. You need only go and do what I say and when I say it.”
“We won’t get caught?”
“There is always that danger, but I have prepared myself for that possibility. If we do get caught, it won’t be for long.”
“So if I stay with you, I get to kill things?”
“Yes. Without fear of repercussion or negative consequences. My job is to keep us safe while we go about our business. Yours will be to do more of my dirty work. A fighter would definitely find an outlet working for me.”
“No, not always. I cannot guarantee that you will always have an outlet. But you will find more than you currently have. And I will do my best to help you with opportunities.”
“That’s what friends do.”
“Are we friends then?”
“I’d like to think so. After all, I spared your life, and you got your bounty. We all benefitted from the events of the past few days.”
“Then I will join you.” The big elf held his hand out. “Welcome, Gaimon,” the wizard said as they clasped hands.
A few hours later, just outside the city, Shandra pulled alongside the wizard. “You are more cunning than I gave you credit for.”
“I try not to let it be known,” he said. “Makes my life more interesting if others think less of me.” They rode on for a few minutes. “Will you be staying on with us? We’re headed to the elven lands so I can study with some of their wizards.”
“I don’t think so. Not for now at least,” she gave him her dazzling smile. “But I will inform Shok’ragal of what happened, and if you need anything, ask me.”
“It’s what friends do.”
The two of them smiled at each other.