Prompt Submission for Ironage Media: The InstigatorM.C. Deltat
Magic was breaking. It was clear to Silv, who stood a top a tree, watching as causality itself fractured over Castle Moorne. Water from the ground percolated into the air as boulders perpetually orbited around the castle. The very air itself seemed to split, scaring the once placid landscape. And even worse, the creeping scars in the earth implied worsening effects. At first glance, the source wasn’t clear, but Silv knew that the blight was coming from the castle. Hence, the castle was her destination.
“FORWARD!” a voice screamed. “FEAR NOT DYING TO CHAOS; FEAR NOT SLAYING ENOUGH CHAOS!”
Evidently, Silv was not the only one aware of the problem. Although, as she watched the humans charge, she figured they probably had it harder. Thought the charge was the easist part of the battle, countless humans fell to the carnivorous environment. At their desitination, defending the castle, there stood beasts not just a representing cruel reflections of reality, but cruel reflections of monsters themselves. The skeletons had mutated into unmovable cocoons made of bones. The vampires, fallen to blood lust, abandoned all notions of personal safety to satify the thirst. Hydras had overgrown into a tumor of heads and necks splitting off from other heads and necks. And the Dragons found themselves perpetually on fire, locked into agony as their very bodies trapped themselves into a cycle of melt, regenerate, melt.
Charging into that, was the army of man. Silv expected they all knew that this attack was essentially a suicide pact. Yet, eyes forward and charge was all they could do for they knew no better. Still, their attack would allow Silv accomplish her goals. Her small furry body isn't always an advantage, but it definitely would be far easier to sneak in.
“Alright, time to work,” Silv mumbled. She flexed her wings, and began manipulating the ambient magic to camouflage herself. Then she adjusted her posture and leaped, flying through the air. For a moment, the breeze was enjoyable, but then the stray fire came. Not literally just fire, but arrows, bodies, and there was also some fire too. It was everywhere in the air, and yet none was explicitly aimed at her. “Running was probably safer,” Silv quickly decided as she quickly landed among the feet of another charging wave. Footsteps were preferable to fire after all.
Still, the cover wouldn't last for long. Much as the first wave, the second wave would meet opposition. Silv could almost appreciate these men who gallantly charging into death. No one would ever doubt their courage as they fought the broken shards of reality, but their doom was set in stone. Near the front line, Silv saw this fact. She watched as an entire platoon instantly disappeared into the many maws of a hydra. These men were dying by the score, and in painfully audible manners.
It would be enough though. Silv sprinted in-between the legs of defender and attacking, dodging between fallen weapons and limbs. Even the camouflage protecting her visually, a mere wayward twitch was that was needed to expose her; Lack of visual content didn’t prevent touch. You could only touch so many legs before a mage was called. Those were tertiary concerns however. The white hot dragon’s exhaust continuously roasting scores of men at once? That was primary. ‘Although…’ Silv found herself wondering, ‘Would dying to an accidental fireblast be less embarrassing than dying to a on-purpose fireblast?. She did her best to learn by doing. The question would solve itself once she crossed to the defender’s side.
She was close now, just barely at the frontline shieldwall Now she just had to find a way through that. Unbeknownst to her, the humans would provide the answer to that question themselves.
“Forward!” A voice yelled. “Provide cover for the heroes!”
Heroes? Silv’s ears perk up. Most times tended to use that title whenever someone slightly above average appeared; surviving a dozen fights near a backwater was usually enough. Despite the present danger of her situation,curiosity won out. For the briefest moment, her head pivoted towards prodigious chanting. At the source stood a trio of mortals: The first crew member was an ethereal looking elf mage dressed in a pure white dress; absolute pure white. There was not a single stain anywhere on her, even despite the absolute chaos of the battle. The second crew member was an absolute monster of a man, perhaps the largest mortal she had ever seen. Yet despite his stature, he was not dressed as a frontline warrior, but as an archer. To his credit though, he must have been the fast archer in all the lands, such was the speed at which arrows left his bow. And the final was a tall, if lacking man compared to the first, but he was completely outfitted in red armor.
Silv shook her head, refocusing. That trio looked imposing, and they ability to inspire maybe have been legitimate. Either way, her issue with the shieldwall had been completely solved. Upon seeing the heroes, ranks broken down and yet another charge into death occurred. Silv just ran alongside them, evading the wayward strikes of a Minotaur that had mutated into something… more, something far beyond the near-human origins of a Minotaur.
With the renewed fervor, Silv was able to peacefully run to the castle walls. The human’s projectiles were far less deadly, so dodging wasn’t longer required. As long as she avoided the odd zombie radiating rot, she was mostly fine. Although, out of nowhere, the feathers on her tail stiffened. On a hunch, she ran right up to a cocooned, pincushion skeleton, and then strafed to the left. From behind her, a humanoid leaped and impaled itself on the bony protrusions of the skeleton.
“Bloooood,” The vampire moaned.
Silv’s eyes narrowed as she inspected the creature. The vampire’s eyes, they were looking right at her. “They can see me!” She exclaimed. Maybe the blood lust allowed the vampire to see beyond simple sight?
“Bllooood!” more voices came.
Silv soon found more vampires charging her. “Shit.” She whined. Climbing the castle was out of the question. These leeches had to be dealt with. She quickly pivoted on the balls of her feet and ran. It was almost impossible to properly evade every ankle in the way at the speeds she was traveling, but happened to be an issue she didn’t share with the vampires. They merely crashed through everything in the way. Their lust for blood made them single minded; it was the prize and nothing else.
The situation almost called for drastic measures, but then a nearby fireblast gave Silv an idea. She could work with creatures without reason. Silv charged nearest emblazed drake, one currently immolating humans. Once close to its back, she turned around and waited. With her wingtips mere inches away from flames, she watched as the vampires grew closer. Their mouths leaked saliva as their bloodshot eyes focused only on her.
When they were a few steps away, Silv engaged her wings. The moment the vampires leaped, mouths ajar, she flapped as hard as she could. She flew right past them, tail barely evading a bite. The vampires meanwhile, had momentum slam them into the dragon’s backside. The resulting conflagration would have been the end, were it not for the vampires’ fangs getting stuck in the drake’s back.
With a cry of pain, the drake paused breathing fire to exhale a mighty shout of annoyance. It desperately tried to dislodge the vampires, but it's ever regenerating scales had already merged with the teeth. Without help, those fangs were never coming off. Upon realizing this, the drake resumed with the fire breath, only this time it was indiscriminate. The resulting flames torched human and monster alike, all equal for the first time today.
The other monsters took exception to the drake’s actions.
“In-fighting!” That familiar human general called out. “This is our time. Push!”
“You’re welcome.” Silv bit out. That sprint had been exhausting. There would certainly be consequences to this. Vampires hunting someone of her station? Unthinkable. Grumbling the entire way, Silv resumed her way to the castle. This time, no one interfered. Who could? The battle, once between two well defined factions, had dissolved into a free-for-all.
Far too exhausted to fly, Silv scaled the walls with her paws. Upon reaching the top, she ignored the obvious doors, instead looking for something her size. “Found it” She cheered, as she climbed into the castle’s air ventilation system. A humanoid would never fit, let alone be supported. Her tiny body though? It was a perfect. She leaped in and traveled the pipework into the castle. It wasn’t exciting, but rush from outside, boring was probably preferable to being eaten by a drake or something. Silv really felt like she was making progress, even doubling back to evade some very suspicious looking red ooze.
But came the sounds. First they were quiet, merely gentle creaks and hums in the air. Then it got louder. For Silv, loud wasn’t nearly as terrifying as close however. At first, she figured the vibrations were just echos from the battle outside. However, once she was physically vibrating in time to the pipes, she paused and turned. Magically empowered her eyesight, she squirted, and attempted to find the source. Within moments, she had an answer and it wasn’t good.
“Oh fuck!” She screamed, as she ran in the opposite direction. She had thought she evaded the red ooze, and at first, she had. What wasn't expected was that the ooze would follow her. Yet even fleeing wasn’t the simple action it should have been. She was intimately familiar with the vent network, but certain pathways were just plain missing. Multiple times, she had to take the long way around to maintain proper course, all the while, the ooze caught up. She wonder what was happening, but the answer soon appeared as she approached a fork in the vent. One of the paths literally closed itself! The stone making up the airway, straight up just moved itself to seal the left path. “What!” Silv gaped.
Her mind was in a storm, panic clouding her ability to think. However, exhaustion and the soon worked to clear it out. The answer came quickly. It wasn’t just magic outside that was broken, but inside too. It was morphing into the very stonework of the castle. And in a way, that made sense. Of course the blighted arcana would break the interior before perverting the exterior as well. Issue was, the blighted magic also seemed spiteful. Now that she had seen the stone adjusting itself, the shifts were no long subtle. Stone spikes launched at her, pits regularly opened under her feet, and bizarre stone blades kept trying to guillotine her. Her speed and nimbleness allowed her to avoid most it, but only just. Honestly, it was a little ridiculous how hard the castle was trying to kill her, and she had no idea where this hatred came from.
“Although… I can guess.” Silv thought in exhaustion. Her footsteps were getting sluggish as every dodge was executed slightly slower than the last. She wasn't close to the cause of the blighted magic, but it wouldn't matter if she died first. Making a quick decision, she jumped out of the first exit vent exit she saw, slamming through the metal grating. She made it, but impact cost her.
Silv screamed as the last few inches of her tail were ripped off by the self-sealing stonework. The pain was enough for her to loss control of the fall, at which point she just crashed into the ground. Silv didn't move for what felt like a long while, trapped between a cascade of exhaustion and pain. Vaguely, she was aware that she should fix her tail, but there was no strength to move an inch, let alone fix a tail. Instead, she stayed in place, chest heaving for air. It would be difficult to fix everything now, especially if she couldn’t move. In shame, Silv curled into herself, making a feathery ball. She remained that way for many heartbeats, until…
“Oh my!” A female screamed. “You are so cute.” Silv felt a hand petting her back, but she was still too exhausted to do anything about it. “Oh no, she’s hurt!” the voice cried out.
Immediately, Silv felt much better. Her exhaustion slowly withered away and the end of her tail returned. Looking up with renewed vigor, Silv resisted the urge to gasp. It was them, the three heroes! They had managed to get into the castle as well. The mortal assault must have succeeded. And the one petting here was that Elf in White. When she reached out to grab Silv, there was no resistance.
“It was foolish to waste a spell on such a creature.” The giant archer man said. “We are here for a higher cause. While it's regretful the animal is hurt, you may need the energy later” he watched as his compatriot cradled Silv as one may cradle a baby.
“Hush you,” She said as she cooed the winged ferret in her hands. “If I were to abandon one in need, even a beast, I would throw away my title as hero.”
The man reluctantly nodded to that, lacking the words to disagree.
“Be careful,” A man in red said. It seemed he wasn’t lost for words. “This whole castle is cloaked in lies and reality itself is warped; this ferret may be more than it seems” He paused staring at the animal, deeply considering her eyes. “It could be hellspawn.”
The mage in white glared at the man in red. “Really?” She rolled her eyes, holding Silv out. “Look at this adorable thing and see it again. Say it from the heart.”
Deciding that discretion was the better part of value, Silv decided tto debase herself here. She purred. Normally, she would never willingly do it, but by the lord she purred. The mage in white squealed in joy, bringing Silv back in. As soon as she was close enough, Silv then began nuzzling mage’s chin.
That did it.
“Commander,” The mage began, pausing as she looked between her two fellows. “Can I keep her?” She whimpered.
Evidently, the man in red was unable to resist her. “We should get moving.” As he turned around, if one tried really hard, you could just barely hear the words “Do as you wish”. If one didn’t hear him, you merely watched as he walked onward, deeper into the castle. Soon he was faithfully followed by his two allies and a newly acquired Silv.
Silv didn’t resist as she was carefully positioned around the Mage’s neck. It was embarrassing to be sure, but this was the best way to recover her strength, while being guarded by, presumably, the greatest heroes the mortals had to offer. At the very least, they certainly marched forward like they were. They didn't hesitate around corners, they opened every single door they found, and gleefully charged into every battle without consideration or plan. They clearly had a preconception on how a ‘hero’ should act: To never be cruel, never be cowardly, and never fail to be kind.
‘Well, except for the human sacrifices used to get in’ Silv considered. Still, these mortals did face every challenge that the castle threw at them, and they kept coming out on top. They slayed wolves overgrown with teeth, and chimeras trapped in a sort of perverse auto-reproduction, where their body parts shedded into new chimeras. Even that red ooze which had slowly chased Silv was burned to the last dram of slime. Frankly, despite the constant death defying stunts, Silv almost fell asleep over the Mage’s shoulders, content to be carried all the way to the central atrium, even as the castle resisted.
But then all forward momentum ceased. Knocked out of her stupor, Silv looked at the cause of heroes’ hesitation. It was a single long hallway made of obsidian. Her eyes narrowed; she knew what this was.
“This is it.” The man in red said. “This leads to the Demon King’s throne room.” He leaned forward, carefully inspected the area for obvious traps.
The giant archer meanwhile walked towards what appeared to be a board hanging next to the entrance. As he approached he casually thought out loud, “Really? Just a hallway? Seems far to easy considering everything else.”
“The whole castle is mutating. Maybe whatever trap was meant to be here, disappeared?” The man in red asked.
The mage shook her head, gently jostling Silv. “As if it would ever be that easy.” She replied. “Everything seems to have trended towards insanity, and that generally makes things more difficult.” Nodding her head, Silv found herself agreeing with that; Or maybe that was because the mage had begun absentmindedly petting her head.
“Ash.” The man in red eventually said. He knelt down inspecting the floor of the black hallway. “No idea about the source, but there is a lot of it.”
“Something appears to be written here.” The giant archer interrupted. He leaned in, and slowly began to read. “One must live as the phoenix does. The ashes of the fallen will create a safe path for those who come next.” The archer rubbed his chin in consideration. “I guess its a riddle.” He turned around. “What do you suppose it means?”
“Maybe it is encouragement?” The mage considered. “Like, you need to stomach the losses of your allies without losing the will to move forward? Brave fires of the Demon King?”
The man in red frowned. “Why would the Demon King have such a message in his own base? Who would it be for?” He asked. He considered the situation for a moment. “All our reports on the castle have been incorrect thus far, so I don't think we can consider prior adventurer experiences.”
“Then maybe it's a warning?” The archer asked. He pointed at the ash in the hallway. “Any who enter will die. Learn from those who came before and turn back; Value the life you have and do not fight.”
“That seems closer, but something is still missing.” the man in red considered. “Maybe its…” He started to think.
Silv leaped off the mage’s neck, interrupting the group's cadence. She dived into the obsidian hallway and began playing in the dust. The mage followed, reaching out to grab her, only for the man in red to harshly grab her hand. “What are you doing?” He let go of the mage’s hand upon seeing her glare yet he continued to physically block his friend from entering the hallway. “Don't step into the ash tunnel yet. We haven’t figured out the message yet.”
“And maybe there is no message.” The mage harshly replied. “Maybe the entire point is to keep invaders stalled in consideration, allowing more time for defenders to arrange a trap.” She stared directly into the man in red’s eyes. “Maybe we are playing directly into the Demon King’s hands?”
“She does have a point,” The giant archer admitted. “We are on a timer here. The chaos is expanding and we unfortunately don't have the time to hesitate.”
A stern face grew on the men in red’s face. He nodded. “Alright then. I’ve clearly been outvoted. Let’s go then.” He led the way in, walking right past Silv.
The Mage went back to picking up Silv, but the winged ferret kept evading the elf’s grasp. She tried to recapture the beast a few more times, but Silv refused to return.
“Aleria” The tall archer eventually said. “Leave the animal. She is probably just scared.” He pointed to the other end of the hallway. “The Demon King is that way. Why would she willingly head for a battle to the death?”
The mage resisted for a second, before a resolute look grew on her face. She knelt down and looked at Silv “I’ll be back for you” She promised.
Silv nodded and then watched as the trio of heroes slowly disappeared into the shadows of the hallway. Once they were gone, she pivoted as she heard a gentle creaking behind her; The entrance was sealing itself. With far heavier footsteps than expected, Silv slowly made her way back outside the hallway. Unlike all other cases in the castle, this stonework did not move quickly, so she wasn’t at risk of being late. Once she made it to the other side, she sat and watched as the obsidian door clicked closed.
Silv knew what camenext, and almost regretfully, she considered what those heroes were about to experience. First, the air would begin to grow thin, as each breath somehow seemed less than the last. That would feel strange for a moment, but most would just chalk it up to exhaustion or stress. Second, maybe for some support, they might lean up against the wall for a quick rest. Yet, as one tried to recover, with lungs still failing to take a satisfying breath, you would eventually notice something else: These walls seem to be getting hotter… burning hot. More than likely, the next step would be to closely examine the walls, maybe see if there was some strange magic afflicting the walls. There wasn’t but what one might notice instead would be the many scratches on the wall. A lot of deep scratches, even into the obsidian structure. Then, you would see a light in the distance. A light so bright, it might even be painful to look directly at. Immediately after, a wall of heat would smash into you, leading you to believe that the light wasn’t just a light, and worse, it was coming closer.
Then it depended. Some accepted their faith and fell to the ash covered grounds sobbing, others would try to run. Either way, finally, what came last were the screams. Hellflame burned hot and painfully. It burned so hot, in fact, not even magic could resist. Silv considered that might be the reason why the chaos afflicting the rest of the castle failed to change anything here; why all of this was still working exactly as designed.
The doors clicked open. “Oh” Silv muttered. “I guess it must be done.” She waited for the door to open completely before walking in. The ash was hot, but you couldn’t wait for it to cool down; that wasn't how the magic worked. You had to be in contact with it as you made your way across the tunnel.
She walked for a while, leaving tiny footsteps in the ash. It was uncomfortable, but she didn't think of the pain. Instead, she distracted herself by wondering if she would be able to tell where the trio of heroes fell. The answer of course was no, hellfire left nothing behind.
And she was correct. There was nothing but ash. Those heroes carrying the hopes of all mortals, men who had willingly sacrificed themselves to the cause, were no more than another drop in the sea. There would be nothing to give to relatives.
“What a rotten way to die,” Silv muttered as she walked into the throne room. It was grand, full of extravagant statues and mosaics. The walls were embossed with artwork and gold, indeed not a single inch of this chamber was untouched. At the back, there was the throne, the masterpiece of the hall. It reached the ceiling and was made entirely of precious metals. Quite frankly, it was likely worth more than most kingdoms.
However, there was something that distracted from the majesty of the throne room, an echo that didn’t quite belong. It was a moan, a deep one, that resonated with the open space. It appeared to be coming from the back, from behind the massive throne. Silv walked towards it, and as she did, the moaning slowly grew in clarity. It was more of a groan than a moan, one of pain - mild inconvenient pain.
Silv walked right up to the throne, going to its side, and found a hole. A hole that just happened to be the perfect size for Silv’s small ferret body. Without hesitation, Silv dived headfirst into the hole and ran down the small tunnel. The gasps of pain were beyond clear now.
“Silv! Where are you Silv. I need help.” A deep voice whined. It was almost comical to be honest, how pathetic the powerful sounding voice was. Silv meanwhile, just ran even faster. “Silv, I need help! Please Silv.” the voice continued whining.
“Oh, I am right here you big baby.” Silv said as she exited the tunnel. She was inside a large room, one with some giant sized tables and chairs, a massive bed, and a whole lot of trash littering the entire area. “Look at this mess.” She climbed up the table to get a better look at the bed. Once there, she was met with the Demon King himself, wearing a massive bear onesie, groaning as he shuddered on his bed. “You promised you would clean up this mess.”
Slowly, the Demon King rotated so as to face Silv. “Everything hurts Silv” The Demon King whined. “How was I supposed to do anything? Even moving is a chore.” He carefully reached out a hand to grab a mug of water from his nightstand. After drinking, he continued speaking. “Where have you been? You have been gone for so long. It’s been absolute agony.”
“Trying to get into this accursed castle. Your magic is leaking out and corrupting everything. You are going to have a lot of work to do once this is all over.” Silv glared. “And let me tell you, once everything is all resolved, we are going to have a conversation about your underlings not recognizing me. Even cursed as they were, they should have been able to recognize me as your head maid.”
The Demon King nodded. “Oh ya, definitely. Whatever you want.” he frantically agreed. “Were you able to find a cure?” he whispered.
“No, my Lord.” Silv scoffed. “As a matter of fact, I didn’t find a cure.” She turned her chin up. “Maybe you will finally learn your lesson that way. I always told you to stop eating adventures. You never know what horrible afflictions those dirty humans might have.”
The Demon King’s eyes started watering. “I can’t help it.” He whined. “They are so tasty Silv. They come here so often, tempting me with their supple flesh.”
“And now you have a cold.” Silv said. “And not just that. You are being a big baby about it.” She pointed someone vaguely away. “There is chaos outside all because you can’t handle a mild illness.”
“Stop teasing Silv.” He begged. “Don’t tell me that you came back just to mock me.”
Silv sighed. “I wasn't kidding.” She began collecting magical energy. “As it turns out, most medics don't spend a lot of time making medication for demons inflicted with human diseases.”
“So?” The Demon King asked. “I know my favorite maid wouldn’t leave me to suffer.”
“Don’t suck up. It’s beneath you.” Silv rolled her eyes. “But yes, I was able to find the next best thing.” She channeled the collected mana through her claw and slashed into the air. A void opened up. Silv reached in and pawed around. “You owe me for this my Lord. This wasn't easy to find.” Eventually, she grabbed it and pulled it out of the void.
It was a severed human head. And judging by its screaming, he was still alive. At least, it screamed until a gag appeared over its mouth.
“Hush,” Silv said. “I already have one massive baby here, I don’t need another.” She looked at the eyes, so full of fear. “Now, listen to me. I need you to cast wish and cure my Master over here. He is sick with the human disease known as a cold.” She leaned in close to the severed head, their foreheads touching. “Do you understand? Blink twice if you do.”
The severed head was almost vibrating, as his eyes constantly fluttered from the bedded Demon Lord and her. How it was doing that was far beyond her.
“Can he cure me Silv?” The Demon Lord asked.
“Hush.” Silv said. She didn’t like the priest’s hesitation. “Remember human, I can always go back for your wife and children.”
The severed head’s eyes grew wide and then a moment later, he blinked twice.
Silv nodded. Then she turned to her Master. “And you.” She pointed at the Demon Lord. “I need you to promise to never eat adventures again. Finding a priest that could cast wish was a massive pain in the neck. I do not need to be doing this again. You hear me?”
“Yes Silv” The Demon Lord obeyed. “Anything to get rid of this awful soreness and this awfully stuffy nose.” He sniffled. “I can't breathe properly, Silv. And my lips are so chapped.”
“Alright then.” Silv turned back to the head. She removed the gag and rested a paw on top of the head. “Cast wish Priest. Only wish. You get no further warning.”
Sweat beaded on the priest’s forehead as he began chanting.