Tainted?

A Drowtales spinoff

By StormFox

Disclaimer: Authors everywhere, especially my betas, please forgive me for this, but I'm writing this as an experiment in writing OC inserts without becoming a (Marry Sue/Marty Stu). There will be several but the narrator is the main. The characters of Syphile and Ariel, along with Drowtale lore belong to Kern, kite, thalar and CO. Khul, Ragnar, miko, Joel and other OC's to me. I profit nothing from this and intend no disrespect. The story line and speculations on drowtale history are my own and should not be construed to be part of any of the official Drowtales universe. This tale is based off various fictions, none of which I own. For those who are new here the primary focus fiction represented here is Drowtales, a growing, yet obscure semi-original, seven year old, 22 chapter manga by Kern. This first chapter was also inspired in part by Eoin Colfers Book The Wish List.

Please keep in mind that this is fanfiction, not shared-world-fiction, things will be different, some of it is intentional, but much of the initial differances occur because I simply don't have the understanding to do it properly.

Summary: Syphile's life took a turn for the worse when she allowed herself to become 'tainted' so she could learn summoning, but what if during the ceremony… something went wrong? What if instead of a dying demon another soul took its place. Events couldn't have turned out that different, could they?

Prologue: Becoming

No matter who you are, no matter where you're from, no matter how lucky you've been in life, you should always be careful what you wish for.

That is the lesson I learned only recently; and much too late.

I'm not sure I should really be complaining about my situation though; my life was never really that exciting before I died. I moved around a lot, always the new kid, socially awkward, hyperactive and, I've always thought, slightly mad. My being a boy with long hair probably didn't help my situation any either. I went through life dreaming mostly, a C average bibliophile and martial arts geek. I had thought things would settle down and get better once I was off at college; you know, 4 years in one place, everyone is a new kid, geeks, freaks and weirdoes are everywhere rather than just here and there. I should have been right at home, and for the most part, I was.

It was in the middle of my fourth year that it happened. I was walking home from the midyear open, our colleges martial arts club tournament, my nose buried in my latest flavor of the week manga when I heard some chuckling around me. It wasn't entirely unusual, as I've been saying, not only am I in college, I'm weird. Naturally curious, I looked up to see who was laughing and what was amusing them. Apparently what was amusing them was me and that was the last thing I should have been doing.

"Hey dweeb," the one directly in front of me jeered. "What's a kung fu master doing with a girly comic book, huh?" The greasey youth asked, waving his arms around comicly as if he was in a B-class rippoff film.

"Well, I'm walking home bored and being accosted by a Neolithic eclipse apparently." I replied casually, raising an eyebrow at his antics. That turned out to be a bad idea, but what did I care at that moment? I was still warm from sparring at the tournament, and while I had never been very good, I had always been fast and I was a fair hand at deflection and evasion. It wasn't like I had never run into this situation before. They would taunt me, a few of them would toss trash my way, the leader would try to beat me to a pulp so I'd be easier to rob and he could look tough, I'd kick him around a little and they'd laugh at him and run off. It wasn't a routine, thankfully, but it had happened often enough in the past. This was Boston after all.

"So you think we're just a bunch of brainless bangers, huh, college boy?" The boy growled whipping out a knife. I sighed, never the smartest thing to do when surrounded by a group of sadistic morons.

"No, I do not believe you are 'brainless bangers', as you say. Everyone has a brain, even a paramecium. The biggest difference is the level of complexity.' 'Now kindly buzz off." Snatching back my book and trying to walk past him. I should have simply let myself be pounded on. Hah, I'd be that intelligent.

As I passed the boy he brought his knife up and then down in a ridiculously wide arc trying to stab me where my neck and shoulder met. As poorly done as his attack was, it should have been little surprise to the group that I caught the attack. I brought my arm up and around his in a wheeling grapple that ended up with his hand behind my back and my fist by his elbow. Jerking forward I pushed the offending arm into a position it was never meant to bend and there was a rather nasty popping sound followed by a scream. Releasing him, I spun around and kicked the arm of an oncoming gang member, knocking the pipe out of her hands and spinning her onto her knees, where my follow up side kick impacted with her head, knocking her out cold.

The battle probably would have continued from there if I had actually attacked the leader rather than the group hot head. As it turned out, the leader wasn't interested in me until I started resisting, it was supposed to be a quick easy ambush of a single geek on a dark campus walkway. When I started resisting the leader calmly pulled out a gun and shot me in the back.

I think he was aiming for my shoulder but the way I was moving the bullet hit me just above my right shoulder blade and continued straight in and past my heart.

Death is not kind; to anyone. When your blood is pumping and you're really scared or excited time quite often seems to slow down like a cheap Matrix rip off. You see, hear, feel and generally perceive everything on a massively increased scale even if what you perceive isn't strictly real. As my foot was about to connect with the girls head, and the leader pulled the trigger on his Glock 9mm automatic pistol, time slowed to a crawl.

It's kind of a funny feeling when your mind is moving faster than the bullet that's about to tear through you. The whole experience was all kinds of wrong on so many levels. I felt the shock run through each individual joint running up my body as my kick impacted against the girl's skull and then there was the odd twisting sensation from the bullet moving through me and finally lodging in my liver. And let's not forget the pain. No, we certainly must not forget the all encompassing pain as you get a new air vent drilled through you with a burning impact of 1200 fps lump of metal. But somehow it just wasn't quite important. 'Gods,' I thought pitying myself as I fell to the grounds limply, my shutting down to avoid the pain and ease my passing 'I'm not ready to die! There was so much left to do! If only I had had one last chance for a grand adventure that would have been swell……'

Some say that as you die you see a warm golden light calling you towards it; others maintain that there is only a rushing darkness as your senses slip away and you cease to exist. I don't know exactly what I expected but it wasn't quite what I got. As my spirit left my now limp body I felt a sort of dim awareness and a distinct impression of two things; yellow and downward motion.

Year 1082 of the moonless age; Orthorbbae Cavern; The Crescent; Syphile's diary.

Today was insane, the unrest in Chel'el'sussoloth is growing worse and the school has been flooded with members of the clans trying to hide and escape the riots and purges. I've never seen so much fear and distrust at one time. At least I'm back at school though; end of year break at the compound was nearly unbearable. Illharess is only just getting over the failure of the exorcism for her favorite daughter Laele'aell; it left her in a drunken stupor for nearly 3 years! Not I'm surprised considering how little is left of Laele's mind but I think it's the unrest and promise of a new war that's shaken Illharess out of it. I'm not sure whether that's a good or bad thing…

Syphile paused as a shout rang out in the courtyard. Dropping her quill she rushed over to the door and pressed her school amulet against it; sliding the back of the crystal against the door in a circle and murmuring the door became clear enough to look out. A woman bearing the colors of one of the larger merchant guilds was fighting with one of the school guards. 'Moron,' Syphile thought in disgust 'now you're going to get thrown outside the shields and where will you be then? Among the panicking murderous commoners or the Nidra'Chal?' sighing Syphile made a gesture and the door went opaque again.

"What was happening Syphile?" a voice on the far side of the room called out nervously. Syphile smiled at her roommate; Mal'ama Kal'Yantra was from a merchant clan of sorts. They were a small clan, even from the Sarghress standpoint, but they did possess their own formal military. They Kal'Yantra were a clan of deceptive strength and Syphile liked them. Due to their small mana auras they were often overlooked by the other clans but their golems, mechanical masterpieces of destruction, made them a force few wished to trouble unnecessarily.

"A refugee from one of the larger merchant clans seems to have picked a fight with one of the school guard. It should calm down soon. I just hope things settle before too long so it doesn't affect our classes to much." Syphile smiled and went back to her desk. She retrieved her quill and went back to writing.

at least she's given me permission to learn summoning! I can hardly wait till classes start, summoning is supposed to be one of the most difficult and prestigious forms of magic, only the golem lords can match an accomplished summoner in battle! I'd like to see those older girls mock me when I have a few dragons at my beck and call, hah! Mother, Illharess Quain'Tana wants me to learn a few canine summons though, as they're the clans signature animal. I suppose they won't be too bad, the mana-bearing wolves used by the clan as summons are quite large and they're supposed to be both intelligent and cunning as well… maybe I can find one of those red dogs with lots of tails that aunt Quill'Yate keeps going on about whenever she brings her raiders back to the compound. But those may just be Halmes myths; Quill'Yate has an unusual fascination with the legends of the goblin races…

Mal'ama got up having finished whatever it was she was working on at the moment and nudged Syphile before pointing at the time keeper and leaving.

I think it's about time to wrap up this entry and head to dinner. If I don't get there soon my friends might not save me a seat.

I have no idea how long the sensation lasted but when it finally stopped, I saw what seemed to be a series of pulsating cavernous tunnels. Each… tunnel… was a different color and a few of them seemed to bleed together in sets of two at the edges. 'Well, it's not exactly heaven, but it certainly isn't hell either.' I thought. 'Funny that I can still form coherent thoughts' I mused as I 'looked' at the golden misty sphere I now was. There was nothing really discernable about my new form beyond the fact that it matched the maelstrom of other similar spheres of energy moving around me. Again with the myriad of different colors… Most of the one surrounding me were golden as well, but every now and then one of a different color would pass near me and gravitate to its corresponding tunnel. What did the other colors mean? Did they relate to different personalities maybe? 'Gods I hope not, if they do, I really didn't have much of a life.'

Curiously I watched my own slow but steady progress through the maelstrom of souls as I was in execrably drawn out of the spiral in the direction of the gold tunnel. As I passed the red tunnel after my seventh outward spiral I noticed that while the red souls were indeed drawn to their own tunnel that's where their patterned movement stopped. Did they move of their own free will? During my eighth circuit, I studied each of the various tunnels I passed. Each of them seemed to have their own set of unique patterns, but after reaching their designated tunnel, each spirit seemed to make its way to the end of the tunnel. There, they would merge into a massive glowing white sphere with various energy patterns around them in colors corresponding to the color of the souls being drawn in. The red tunnel was different though. There was no cluster at the end of the tunnel; there were several massive shapes and many seemed more distinct than spheres but the red souls just seemed to move around aimlessly within their area, occasionally disappearing around their tunnels walls. That, more than anything, caught my attention.

As I began the ninth circuit in my spiral toward the cavern walls and ultimately to the golden tunnel I visualized the concept of closing one's eyes in order to concentrate on something. At first nothing really happened, just a slight pulse in my outer aura, but as I increased the level of my concentration, I began to slow down. Suddenly I stopped in front of the silver tunnel. Shocked, I abruptly lost my concentration and started moving with the other spirits again.

'I did it!' I thought elatedly 'I was able to stop and resist the current! Heh, heh, now to phase two. Holding still and lowering the effort to stay there.'

Syphile entered her room and collapsed at her desk wearily. She sighed and put her hands in her head glad that at least she was not one of the school guards. Things had not improved over the last few weeks, if anything they had gotten worse. There had been seven deaths in the school alone and as the number of refugees from the Nidra'Chal riots continued to increase and that was nothing to what was happening outside Orthorbbae in Chels main cavern. Pulling out her diary Syphile began to write.

It's been a month since school started and things are getting worse. Illharess Diva'Ratrika has finally tired of Chel tearing itself apart and the houses inability to deal with the Nirdra'Chal. She's sending out the entire weight of the Val'Sharen legion to deal with the problem. We're fairly isolated here in Orthorbbae cavern but from the news that's filtering in from the increasing number of noble clan refugees things aren't looking good. The Nidra'Chal may be small in number but if anything I've learned in class so far is worth it, demon summoning is a very dangerous art to face.

Suddenly there was a muffled distant sounding thump and the lights dimmed. Looking around Syphile felt a chill travel up her spine. The Nidra'Chal were making another attempt on the barriers. The caverns ancient defenses had easily decimated the last group that had tried to force their way in but a sense of unease still filled her. Closing her eyes Syphile raised her hand and focused on her aura. Drawing portions of her mana into three distinct points and shaping it she summoned a trio of fairies she had earned during class to act as lights. One more faerie than most of the other students. Syphile smiled to herself, it was an extravagant waste of mana but they comforted her as a reminder of her worth and she continued writing.

For one thing, only highly skilled priestesses and mages can see demons in their natural forms. As purely mana based creatures the can only take physical form if they possess a host and once they have the host rarely feels pain or fear. They're truly fearsome abominations and they give even the most skilled summoners problems at the best of times. Recently though there have been rumors filtering down from the upper forums that the tainting can make you immune to the demons parasitic qualities. The whole process is fascinating.

"Close it up Syphile and put your fairies away, It's almost time for evening classes." Mal'ama said in her quite way. Syphile nodded and turned back to her desk putting away the ink bottle.

I'd better go though, Summoning Professor Jaili'dro is not a patient woman. Sadistic is more like it.

This ghost cave, as I had come to call it, has no real concept of time so I'm not entirely sure how long I spent working on free and conscious movement but it felt like a matter of days before I was finally able to float about the central chamber with ease and at my own discretion. 'But what to do now,' I thought aimlessly. 'I'm no longer bound to end up in the golden tunnel unless I wish it and now that I've tackled conscious movement this place is relatively boring.' I mused. 'The red tunnel,' I thought. 'I wanted an adventure and it gave me ideas for this. Who's to say I couldn't learn anything else from it?'

Gliding over to the entrance to the red tunnel, I began to study it again. As I hovered there watching the comings, goings and interactions of the tunnels occupants, a quartet of red spirits, each smaller than myself, passed me moving from the central chamber into their designated tunnel. As they passed me I felt nauseous and dizzy and there was a tugging sensation as the closest of the four pulled a small amount of my aura into itself on its way past.

Frightened I moved quickly away from the red spirits and observed them as they entered their tunnel and faded into the swirling red depths. The one that had taken a piece of my aura had turned momentarily orange where our energies met and the color had spread across him before singing into his center where he faded back to crimson, slightly larger than when I had first noticed him. 'My next project' I pulsed angrily 'is to figure out how the bastard did that and then return in it in kind.'

There was a great celebration today in the main hall of the crescent. After 4 months of slaughter,r the Kyorl'Solenurn have ended the Nidra'Chals reign of terror. Fat lot there is to celebrate though; if the rumors are to be believed half of Chel is dead and much of the city lies in ruin. The clans have their little wars all of the time but no civilian has ever been caught in the crossfire before!

Syphile paused, frowning, and redipped her quill before continuing.

Ok, well maybe a few merchants who were to curious for their own good have been hit by stay mana arrows or shrapnel but nothing like this. Heinous savages the lot of them, I'm not sure what was worse; the stories of what the Nidra'Chal summoners did to the civilians when turning them into cannon fodder abominations or what the Koryl'Solnuren templar's are said to have done to stop the swarms. For a clan of Drowsuu priestesses and exorcists' to turn to using fire spells that would cover an entire city block, things must have been terrible out there.

I suppose Illharess is going to use what happened to the Val'Sharen to increase our clan's standin. With their armies slaughtered and their clan in disarray there's little to stop her from taking vast portions of Sharen territory for our own. Word on the Sharen is that four of Diva'Ratrikas five daughters are now tainted and the fifth, Sillice, is a traitor responsible for slaughtering the entire palace staff before her sisters arrived to stop her. Rumor says third daughter Sillice, the untainted one, is dead but I have my doubts. The eldest daughter Snadhya'Runes has taken over the crescent while second daughter heads the clan affairs and fifth daughter plays politician in her mother's place. The fourth daughter lost her bloodline to the Nidra'Chal fighting along Sillice in the war; little has been said about her today but there is a rumor that she disappeared soon after becoming tainted during one of the final battles.

On a more personal note, Snadhya'Runes our new headmistress has declared that all summoners must now become tainted to continue study as a measure to guard against possession by netherworld demons, as if enough of us weren't tainted already. Illharess is not going to like this. I'm set to undergo the ceremony and become tainted in a weeks' time. She'd probably see me as a failure if I quit though… such a pity - I find the whole thing intensely fascinating. It would likely be healthier if I didn't.

My task was complete; I could now play with and draw energy from other spirits. Strangely, I felt no elation at the thought. I could now strike back at the bastard who had robbed me but it just felt… wrong somehow… to take the essence of another's soul.

Perhaps it was a matter of perception though?

During my initial experiments along the cavern wall that divided the yellow souls from the blue I had found that other souls weren't the only thing one could draw strength from, the other spirits, of course, were the most obvious choice but the walls and even the void around me fairly burst with energy that could be gathered if one concentrated properly.

Based on my observations of the red spirits who were in the process of making their way to their tunnel the entire concept behind draining energy from another soul seemed to be pulling energy from a nearby victim into yourself. Armed with this concept the next logical step was to start concentrating on drawing my own aura into myself.

I had read hundreds of books and watched dozens of movies on popular magical theory before my death and a common theme in all of them was meditation. Calm your thoughts and feel for the energy. If you're having trouble, imagine the energy flowing all around you and try to pull the ripples into yourself. This one took even longer to start feeling any difference than movement had but after what felt like a day the void around me started to ripple and glow. First, a few wisps of white, then more and more until there was a corona of faint white energy appearing randomly around me but I still hadn't managed to pull more than a few wisps into myself.

'Damn spirit form.' I pulsed lightly to myself 'Everything I've ever read is based in large part on physical sensations. Or at least the concepts are explained by how things are supposed to feel as you do them.' Pulsing in irritation I began to draw the ambient energy in again. It was a little easier now and in surprise I lost my grip on the power and it faded back into my surroundings. 'Irritation,' I thought curiously 'or simply emotion itself?" Hell, how can I even feel emotion in this form?' As a mental image of myself snorting in derision passed through my mind the void before me rippled outward and I began to drift again to my surprise. 'Well, whatever works' I thought, amused.

'It's a good thing I'm not training to become a Jedi' I mused as I stretched my mind out again to pull more power into myself.

As time and trials went by I found that once I had learned to pull energy to myself it wasn't entirely necessary to consume it in order to use it. It could be pushed, pulled and wrapped around you much like a blanket or silly-putty. 'How very Avatar' I pulsed softly to myself. 'To think I'd been crafting real lessons on magic off of a cheesy kids cartoons is utterly ridiculous, but here I am aren't I?'

With a mental sigh, I brought my mind back to the present and "gazed" at the border before me where the void took on a distinctly reddish hew. The time had come, and the hunt was on.

I plunged into the barrier.

The old god Hathgrel'Dgen stirred as a faint ripple passed through the nether realms disturbing the inhabitants. Opening a massive scarlet eye he peered toward the source of the disturbance and growled; another foreign soul had pierced the veil and entered his domain of its own accord. This one seemed new somehow, it hadn't come from one of the tunnel walls like the rest but rather from the barrier between realms. It made little difference, it was here now and would not be leaving; not the way it came at least, not even he could cross the barrier into the nexus and he had been trying for countless eons.

'Pesky foreigners' he hissed rising and shaking a myriad of impotent lesser demons off his massive chintond hide, 'This one had better not be another elf, vile tasting cretins.'

The giant lobster like demon god scowled as he thought about the last time an elf had dared enter his domain, not only had her entry torn apart his plans for consuming the planet but it had taken nearly four centuries to subdue the soul and he still hadn't managed to figure out how to properly eat her. "Sour, slippery little shade," he groused remembering his last attempt. As it was he figured keeping her caged well in view of the pinhole portals her subjects insisted in continuing to open whilst she remained powerless to close them was a fitting enough punishment for causing him such a headache. At least until he figured out how to eat her… bloody hybrid aura. Mmm blood, it had been too long since he had had some real fresh blood, not since the murk-deep war on Jol'kien 5 had there been a portal large enough for him to pass through and take form.

Bringing his mind back to the present he entered the nether hub and cast forth his senses to find the interloper. Intent on finding the interloper he paid little attention to the more intelligent demons that populated the hub sparing only a glance at the bound form of the violet shade calling herself Sharress. His passage scattering the lesser demons he absentmindedly snapped up a few before his gaze fell on the intruder.

"Human…" he murmured watching the small golden form flickering in and out of focus as it battled a swiftly shrinking red specter. "Interesting." It had been nearly two millennia since he had tasted a human soul, they had largely stopped playing with the nether realms shortly after the old goat Mephisto met his defeat at the hands of one of their cleverer sorcerers.

It made no difference; he was going to eat this one anyway. As he lunged forward to consume them both there was a flash of an elven portal opening and both vanished, sucked into the vortex. Furious he shoved forth one of his smaller arms in an attempt to draw them back in before the pitiful hole closed but was unsuccessful. Roaring at his missed chance for a fresh meal Hathgrel'dgen spun around and sent a bolt of jagged dark red mana at the smug half-elven retch, trapped in her cage.

With a deep rumbling pulse he spoke to the writhing spirit. "Enough waiting Sharess, your world burns now."

Summoner Jali'dro grinned wickedly as she marched the class toward the ritual chamber. Her mistress would be pleased for today they would be tainting a clan heir. Well sort of, she smirked. With Laele'aell insane and her old friend Mel uncooperative and imprisoned, the Sarghress line of succession was rumored to be Quain'Tanas' head general and then Syphile, her prize summoning student.

She glanced down at the young darkling heir and smiled. It had been fascinating to watch over her class, the girl had a natural talent for summoning and was by far the furthest along of her non-tainted beginners. Even her tainted classmates were merely equal to the little wolf; it would be fascinating to see how she progressed after the ceremony.

Looking back up at the doors to the summoning chamber a frown suddenly crossed the instructors face. The year was almost over and she could have sworn that the girl had been scheduled for tainting months ago but something always seemed to come up. She'd suspected the girl of manipulating the situation to avoid the ceremony but she had never been able to find any evidence to support such a conclusion and had dismissed it many a time before but it somehow always struck her a suspicious. Looking down at the child you'd never suspect her of such misgivings… maybe she was just being paranoid? She had heard that it was one of the possible consequences of the tainting but up until now it just seemed to be rumor.

No matter, it was a thought for another time. "Mistress?" a voice called questioning. "Is something wrong?"

Glancing back at Syphiles bland questioning face Jali'dro smirked "Just an odd feeling, nothing more. Don't worry about it." Throwing open the doors she strode purposefully to the center of the summoning circle platform and whipped around to face the class who were glancing at her suddenly nervous at their teachers' apparent disquiet.

"Well? What are you waiting for? Assemble the crystal arrays; you know your assignments, get busy!"

Today was going to be special, she knew it.

As I plunged into the red tunnel the environment around me shifted suddenly. Behind me lay the chamber I had come from but I could no longer see the other tunnels. Shifting my gaze back to the original source of my discomfort I saw that what I had originally believed to be a single tunnel was now a vast chamber with its own myriad of tunnels branching off of it in far too many directions to possibly be held in a mere three dimensional space.

Some of the tunnels were strait while others curved around on themselves or branched out in several other directions giving the impression of a massive honeycomb. Within each tunnel swarmed beasts of all shapes, sizes and transparencies ranging from small translucent globes of energy to massive, very solid looking monsters of nightmare further down the tunnels. Fascinated by all of this it took me a while to notice that all movement in each of the tunnels had stopped and every last specter seemed to be staring at me.

Just as I noticed a pair of spirits who weren't they almost uniform red of the other beasts the stillness broke.

The entire area was immediate chaos. As most, if not all, of the spirits suddenly tried to rush me an ever increasing number broke off their charge to attack their neighbors, too distracted by the promise of fresh naive prey to pay the proper amount of attention to their mana hungry brothers- and sisters- in- arms. As the demons drew closer the chaos grew worse and I snapped out of my frozen shock to turn to the barrier between hub and nexus in an attempt to flee. It was not to be however, I had been having far too much good luck of late and Mr. Murphy, it seemed, had come to claim his due.

Panicking at my inability to return to whence I had come I stretched out wildly and grabbed at the void separating me from the fighting demons. Pulling it in frantically I put forth a sloppy effort to focus the red energy into a barrier between me and those who hadn't broken down into fighting just yet. As the seconds ticked by and the few unfettered demons pounded and clawed at the wall I had built it began to destabilize; first in little ripples disturbing the red mana that had oozed in to replace what I had taken and then wobbling and deforming at various points near the attacking demons.

Crack!

The larger of the undistracted demons, an almost opaque beast resembling a ring worm had chomped down on my shield and fractured it. Panicking once again I released my hold on the barrier and it exploded out ward in a massive ripple that scattered the first row of fighting spirits. The entire situation would have been hilarious in another context as in the far back of my mind it reminded me of the Greek tale about the dragons' teeth and the forming of Sparta. As it was I had little time for daydreaming I had no chance of escaping the way I had come and it had become apparent that my attempts at barriers wouldn't be of much use.

Pulling upon another of the ideas I had come up with and practiced I started pulling large sections of void together as best I could without touching the other spirits and condensed them like I had done for the barrier but this time instead of holding them for any period of time I released the stored mana in a series of miniature shockwaves that pushed a tunnel through the fighting spirits toward the strange ones at the entrance to one of the closer tunnels.

That turned out to not have been the best of ideas as I blasted my way through the fighting demons I gave many a target better than their own and came under attack once again not even halfway through the hole I had made in the swarm.

As the newly refocused demons closed in they began to try to feed off me as the first one I met had and I became nauseous once again. Holding myself as firm as I possibly could I tried to erect another smaller barrier around myself and by some accident used the mana in which I was floating as part of the construct. The feeling stopped, they were no longer draining me and my mind was clear but neither could I see. Not as such anyways, with the hasty creation of my improvised shield my field of vision had become limited to six points of red mana that extended out to a swirling red dome with utter blackness in between.

Screech!

Like nails on a chalkboard, or in this case teeth on a shield, the almost solid mana vibrated horridly as one of the demons resumed their attack on what they now assumed to be one of their neighbors. Loosening my grip on the shield I allowed some of the red void mana to touch me again in one quadrant and peered out of the void in that area. Most of the fighting had died down and many of the demons were darting around randomly, speeding one way and then hesitantly stopping only to rush off in another.

I sat there for a moment dumbfounded while the other demon attempted to chew away at the red sphere surrounding me. It took a long moment and a minor pang of exhaustion to shake me out of my surprise and notice that the barrier that had saved me was growing dangerously thin as the demon that resembled an angler fish attempted to gnaw away at its 'fellow'. Tentatively I reached out into the red void around me, being careful not to touch any of the nearby demons and drew in more of the red mana to reinforce my shield and replace what the fish creature had taken.

Allowing the red void to touch me again on all 8 fields I began to build up some excess mana near the fish demon in preparation to concuss it away. As I was ready to release the pent up energy I stopped momentarily, hesitating. What if the demons weren't all as dull witted as they seemed? Surely among the cattle there had to be a herder or two, would one of them recognize the technique again so soon after it was first used? I couldn't be the first to have come up with such a thing.

Refocusing the slab of built up mana into a rough cone shape I released it from the outer point inward blasting the glutton away from me almost as if I had shot it from a cannon. It seemed unharmed as it sped away; more is the pity, just stunned.

I probably would have hurt it if I'd used my own mana but I needed that to fight the thief.

Doing my best to hold the shield I turned in the direction that I 'felt' the missing piece of my aura. I'm not entirely sure how to describe it entirely but it's as if I could feel myself in another area. Discarding the notion and simply being thankful for my reprieve I set myself 'drifting' in the direction of the feeling.

As I neared the feeling the two oddly colored demons began to come into sharper focus. The first of the two to become really distinct was a massive purple octopus - like demon. Or maybe it was a spider, I really couldn't tell as the shape seemed to join with an indistinct humanoid figure. As I looked closer I saw what seemed to be a latticework of smaller, vaguely humanoid demons surrounding her connected by streams of brilliant crimson energy.

The whole situation was intriguing and I wished to study it closer but the feeling I was chasing wasn't coming from her, it was coming from the small red-orange demon near the tunnel wall to her upper right.

Reaching my destination I abruptly began to release the shield in a thick stream, slamming my opponent into the cavern wall. Rushing forward, my camouflage now gone, I latched onto the canine demon mentally and started trying to rip the piece of my aura out of it. My efforts also brought in much of the demons own mana staining mine a fiery orange. The mutt fought back and sank a set of ragged teeth into my aura and started jerking back and forth. Unable to spare excess attention for shielding or alternate attacks I pulsed forward, slamming the both of us into the wall as we continued to tussle, each trying to drain the other.

As we continued our struggle for dominance the other side of the hub rippled and a massive distorted crustacean burst out of one of the tunnels. As I began to gain the upper hand over my canine opponent I groaned internally and wondered if the situation could get any worse.

Never think such thoughts – they're dangerous.

As the massive demon surged forward to engulf us the wall before us seemed to crumble in upon itself and my demon was drawn into the vortex dragging me along with it.

Syphile sighed quietly as she went about her preparations for the ritual. Keeping her face carefully impassive she wondered if there had been anything she had missed, some opportunity she had overlooked that may have been useful for getting the ceremony postponed. Wracking her brain as she levitated another crystal into the main array, she grimaced slightly. There was nothing she could think of that would have worked, at least not without rousing suspicions.

It wasn't that she was adverse to the ceremony itself she reminded herself; a fair number of her friends were tainted and she was sure that none of them would look down on her going through with it or resisting but it was the uncertainty about her mothers' reaction that continued to give her pause. She couldn't remember Quain'Tana ever expressing direct displeasure against the tainted but a lot could change in nine months, especially during a war, and her reaction to Laele'aell becoming possessed was still sufficiently unsettling in her mind to make her worry.

"Syphile!" a voice like a whip sliced abruptly though her contemplations and Syphile looked sharply around to see her teacher looking at her expectantly. "Everything is ready, child." Professor Jali'Dro said calmly, "Take a seat in the circle. Here is your dagger."

Accepting the heavily runed knife, her neutral expression returned, Syphile turned and walked to the circle and stood in between the four floating crystals. Taking a deep breath she called upon her mana and focused it within the circle. Closing her eyes Syphile recited calmly. "*Guardians of the void, the circle is closed. A supplicant now offers herself for power. Bound by blood, formed of mana, let the way be open.*"

Gesturing with her free hand the mana Syphile had gathered began to swirl and turn violet. Pressing the dagger to her palm she drew a line of blood across it and focused her mind on calling a weak demon.

After a few moments of heavy focus the swirling mana turned red and flashed before abruptly flaring orange and collapsing. Syphile screamed.

This ends the Prologue: Becoming.

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