The cavates resonated with power. With his vision shifted to view the strands that he had woven, Garret Cain could clearly see the wavering, ethereal portion of reality that was trapped within the glowing blue cage of ley energy. The dissonant chanting had nearly reached a crescendo; the voices of the gathered wizards echoed off the chamber's walls like a sharp slate being drawn across a grind-wheel. Without shifting his perceptions back to the room around him, Cain extended his arms out and away from him in a stopping gesture. The chanting slowly died, voice by voice, until all that was left of the chant was a faint reverberating whisper. The lines of force remained. The gathered mages still held their attention on the pattern they had created and all of the necessary lines of force had been properly anchored by Cain. Now there came the final step: The Summoning.
Cain gathered his will once more and channeled flows of air through the crystal-topped staff that acted as his focus. With the dexterity of something often practiced he spun the ephemeral energy into a blade. Or rather, something that could be called a blade, for it lacked any sort of form that would be recognizable to anyone but a wizard seeing the astral outline of it. His surgical implement created thus, he extended his will to the cage and with another brief channeling, opened a small section of it and guided his tool through the gap. He paused for a moment, concentrating fiercely. This was it, the time of truth. His cut into the fabric of reality must be just so, or he would be forced to banish the summoning before the foreign essence of that other place could invade here and create a portalis, an uncontrolled gateway to another dimension. Such things could be closed, but that would require the intervention of...others that he didn't wish to be aware of his plans. No, this would have to be perfect, the first time, or all was lost. The heat in the room was sweltering now, but Garret Cain, lost in his examination of his work, hardly noticed. Large beads of perspiration rolled down his forehead and nose as he muttered in the tongues of magic. Slowly, ever so slowly, the blade of air touched the thin spot in the world. A mote of red appeared at its contact and as Cain drew the cutter down the crimson dot expanded to an oval slit. The red glow that leaked from it seemed to pulse and ooze, not like light, but like the vaporous blood of some dark fiend.
"There." thought the wizard. "Careful now. That's enough." With a slight flicking motion he banished the glowing knife of air and refocused his attention on both the gap he had created and the cage that held it in check. Once he had established a firm mental hold on his trap, he drew in a breath and spoke: "O, Yantris. O, Hevalis. By the pact arranged in the times Lost, by the powers granted those eons past to the line of Vae'Bebilis, I call upon one of the Old. He will serve me for I have learned his true name. Hear me well, masters of Discord and Naught. The power of your names compels you!"
Cain took another deep breath then spoke for the last time, "Come forth, Vxeylithis! Come forth Keeper of Secrets! Come forth ye Old! Your new master commands it!"
Silence hung in the air for almost a twenty count of seconds, then a great rush of wind burst through the hole to that other place. It sighed in a gust that reeked of burnt flesh, old ash and turned earth, like the breath of some monstrous beast. Then from within his mind came a rumbling voice. It had no tone, no presence, no feeling other than pure, unadulterated malice. However, the power of it filled his whole head and rattled his mind like an old wooden shed in an earthquake. It spoke only two words: I COME.
Garret Cain shook his head to clear it. His vision had been blurred slightly from the force of the creature's sending. He re-gathered his will and tightened his grip on the cage. Part of his mind began to panic. The sending had been so strong! Would he be able to contain a thing of such power? Even with the cage ward? He quickly quashed this anxiety with an iron mental fist. Of course he would. His sigils and traps were made for this. They would not fail him. Belief in defeat led to defeat, as his own master had often told him as an apprentice. He would not lose this fight.
He began to feel a rising power emanating from the rip in reality. The red mist pulsed brighter, as if in time to a heartbeat. A dull thumping, like the beating of wings in still, heavy air reverberated from the gash and the force of the noise caused Cain's ears to pop. He felt a warm trickle leak down his face and with a sniff and an impatient swipe of his hand smeared the blood that was running out of one nostril across his sweat-covered cheek. Cain hoped the other wizards held their places in the pattern and did not lose their nerve, but he dared not look around. His eyes remained intently on the tunnel of red light before him.
There was another great sighing gust of wind from the red, oozing gash, and then, as if it had taken on a life of its own, an eye materialized out of the mists, filling the entire opening. It was a huge glistening black orb that swirled like dark water beneath a layer of transparent glass. A pupil of sorts came into view. It consisted of three yellow motes in a triangle pattern. The formation of ochre spots moved about, examining the cage around the hole it gazed through then finally stopped and focused its attention on Cain.
Cain began to speak, but before his mouth had fully opened, he sensed a...presence inside his mind. At first it gave him the shuddering sensation of having his head uncomfortably squeezed, but then it suddenly felt as if clawed hands had driven themselves into the top of his skull and were prying it apart like a clamshell. He tried to scream, but his voice no longer served him. His eyes rolled back into his head, showing only the whites as a stuttering spray of saliva flew from his mouth. His focus clattered to the floor, the green crystal on top shattering against the hard stone.
The sending came to him again and it was as if hot irons were being driven into his soul: WEAK. FOOLISH.
One of the wizards near Cain made a motion as if to flee, but was suddenly stopped in mid-movement. His frozen pose looked something like a startled child about to ask a question.
Cain was helpless to resist. His mental hands let go of the cage of force without hesitation. The glowing blue lattice winked out and almost instantly, the tiny red slit opened into a raging rift, nearly three spans high. Where it touched the floor it radiated out like rippling, lava-filled cracks in the earth. A translucent, hulking shape began to form from the mists. It was tall, over fifteen feet; its amorphous head brushed the ceiling of the cavates. The cabal stood transfixed under its ebony stare.
Cain's mouth worked mechanically, uttered the incantation that would activate the demon's price, then fell silent again. The symbols that had been painted with human blood began to glow with a sickly orange light. Wisps of red and black drifted off them and trailed towards the body of the demon. The same orange glow began to surround the two wizards that had bled to create the symbols, and one of the pair, a sorceress named Ulitha, realized what was happening. She began to scream, followed by the hoarse cries of her fellow rune-artist. There was a foul sucking sound from the demon, as if trying to draw air through a reed and then the screams of both were cut off as their bodies exploded into a pulpy swirl of blood, ground bone, and trailing guts. Not a drop hit the floor. The liquefied bodies of the wizards flew towards the demon as the smoke had, funneling away into the middle of its cloudy form in a spiraling whirlpool of gore. The dry, empty robes of the hapless mages drifted to the floor where they had once stood. In their wake were the glowing orange outlines of two naked people that writhed and shrieked soundlessly.
The raw hunger in this command stabbed at Cain's mind like a dagger of fire. The silently screaming outlines of his former cabal-mates seemed to twist and distort, flowing towards the outstretched, hazy hands of the monster. After the last trace of orange light had vanished, the huge fists closed and then, as if a veil had been lifted, the true form of the beast could at last be seen.
It stood on a pair of heavily muscled legs that ended in large cloven hooves, like that of an ox. Each calf was easily the width of a small tree. Its torso was built like that of a giant, barrel-chested and rippling with powerful muscles beneath dark red-brown skin. Four arms sprouted from this form; each was as thick and powerful as the thing's legs and ended in surprisingly human-like hands, even if each digit was tipped with a wicked talon. The head was dog-like; a giant red-furred mastiff whose face seemed to be etched into a permanent snarl. And then there were its eyes, like malevolence made tangible, they glistened in their sockets with the unmistakable light of intelligence...and evil. The demon moved a step towards Cain. When he did so his form shimmered slightly and broke in places like a reflection across a cracked mirror, then became whole again.
JACIN'TRAL. MAN OF FLESH.
The thing's sending held a note of contempt that hammered at Cain's sanity like a foreman's mallet. He gurgled wordlessly and his arms twitched spasmodically. The demon regarded him for a moment and then another sending came to him. Not words like before, but an emotion. It felt like...annoyance. But even this mild intrusion, compared to the past few, caused agonizing pain throughout his body. With a snap of relieved tension, like a rope that had been pulled tight against his brain and then cut, Cain felt something release inside of him. A giant weight lifted off his chest and once again he could feel his own heartbeat. He could breath. He felt as if he could speak again if he wanted to, but with his body back under his own control, all he could manage was to slump to his knees on the floor and gasp for air like a fish out of water.
Now the demon spoke. Not into his mind as before, but from its own dog-like mouth. The words formed clearly and the dog's muzzle flowed in a manner that suggested the words were easy for the thing to speak despite its inhuman head.
"Jacin'Tral. Man of flesh. You have served me well, but you have more yet to do. I do not exist here fully. I can not. I will use your body. You will give it to me."
Cain stared up, unable to reply. This was not how it was supposed to happen! Served him? Insanity! He was supposed to be the master. He was...
The sending knocked Cain over as if he had been struck in the face. His back arched in pain as the burning aftermath of it seared his mind. Through watery eyes he saw the remaining members of his cabal cowering against the far walls of the cavates. None moved.
The demon spoke again. "I can see you mind, weakling. You are a fool's fool. Did you really expect to be able to match one of the Old in power? The Keeper of Secrets? In the eons of my existence I have battled forces far greater than the paltry resistance of your lone will."
Garret Cain gazed up in terror at the creature he had unleashed. His eyes pleaded with the demon.
"You are thinking of the power you were promised, yes?" the demon asked. It continued before Cain could answer, "That was not a lie. Power you shall have. While I inhabit your mortal form, you will be the most powerful being on this world. None will be able to stand against you."
"Ah, but I can sense your indignation." The demon made a noise that might have been a laugh, or a bark, or something in between. "But it would not be "your" power, you squeal. So short-sighted. So greedy and self-absorbed. Foolish manling, no power is ever truly your own. All power derives from another source. Just as I drew power from the souls you sacrificed to me, so do men draw power. They gather it from the food they eat, the magic they channel from other planes, the servants they command. Without an outside source of power, life can not exist. Control is what truly matters, Jacin'Tral. Control is what gives one command of power. You could not possible hope to control me, and so the power you sought could have never been yours by your own command. But if I am within you, that power will be a part of your being; a part of you."
The wizard then realized what the creature was saying. But no, even then he would not be in control. He would be a prisoner in his own mind, merely along for the journey and not even part of the caravan guard.
"Not quite." The demon corrected. "I will be merged with you. I have the greater force of will and so I will command, but you will not be a prisoner. Far from it. You will experience the power as I do. Feel it as I do. Be it as I am. We will be one, not separate. My time here grows short. Choose, manling. Accept me into you and be my vessel or die here like a worm without ever once tasting the power you sold your soul to achieve."
In that moment Cain realized he was done. There was no way out now. He had committed the moment he had spoken the demon's true name. He knew that now. No, he would not die here like a worm. He would merge with the demon. Become the monster. He would have his vengeance on those who mocked and tormented him. He would have the control he sought, even if it was only by proxy. He would.
The demon gave another of its bark-laughs. "A wise choice." It said simply. Then it tilted back its head and howled. The piercing sound echoed off the walls of the cavates and the room shook with its force. Half a dozen misty forms emerged from the rift that pulsed in the air behind the demon. They drew from an orange glow that surrounded the demon for a moment and began to take form as he had. Four were vaguely masculine in shape with broad chests, handsome features and short nubs of horns. The other two were seductively female, with perfect breasts and long dark manes of silken hair. All six sported bat-like wings on their backs. As they moved they rippled in the same disjointed fashion of the larger monster before Cain. Each approached one of the remaining six cabal members in the room. The four men and two women who made up the survivors of the summoning cringed away from the demon-spawn, but one-by-one they stopped moving away and stood or sat, transfixed by their new masters.
The demon now approached the wizard, but Cain did not flinch. No, the time for cowering had passed. His decision had been made.
His soul tore. Garret Cain was no more. Vxel Cain had arrived.