Part One can be found here.Author’s Note
“Taste it,” said the demon. “Is power what you wish? All you have to do is reach out and take it.”
Croatius could feel the heat of the fel crystal from where he was, the potential of a forest fire contained in a small shard of green glass. It floated above the ritual circle in his study while the demon circled both him and it as a shadow swooping about the room.
These crystals were becoming more common in Silvermoon, passed out in the alleys among the lowliest beggers and through the magisters of the highest courts alike. They had been sent from Outland to help supplement the sin’dorei’s power, now that the Sunwell had been destroyed and all felt the drain of their race’s inherent addiction to magic.
That Croatius hadn’t been sent one directly tweaked his pride, but he had corrected that little oversight quickly. One of the other magisters had fallen to his addiction recently, and the scavengers of the high court had just barely begun to pick through his belongings when Croatius had arrived on the scene.
His arm still twinged from the burn they had given him, but he had managed to extract his just reward. He now held the powerful staff of the leader of the outlaw band in his hand, as he had reinforced the reputation that he was not to be messed with.
The floating fel crystal had been his other souveneir. Croatius knew the crystals were made by demons, but he hadn’t expected this one to react so strongly to his magic. He had barely time to draw the ritual circle to give himself some protection, before the crystal’s true owner had slipped into the room.
And then had begun offering him its service. Croatius knew better.
“You are so callow, demon.” Croatius turned as he spoke, to keep the demon in view. “Power? Really? How many others have you offered such a perverted gift? How many truly fell for such a gab? What relevance does being able to burn down cities or evisicerate my enemies with but a thought have in my daily life? You must think me some common thug.”
“Says the one who fought hard to obtain my power by slaying those who were unworthy of it,” said the demon. Its green eyes flickered, shadows of claws and teeth just barely to be made out on the wall behind it.
Croatius scoffed at it. “If not slain, the fallen magister would have proven a danger to the entire city. I was doing my duty.”
“Yet I notice you were not the one who struck the killing blow,” said the demon. “You only came after…to scrounge what you could of the high court’s leavings…”
Croatius’ cheeks burned, but he held his head high. “Your understanding of Silvermoon politics is poor, if you believe that a sin.”
“Perhapsss,” admitted the demon with a snarl and a hiss, “but my understanding of you is far greater. I know of you, Croatius Runefire. I know what you lack…”
“How…?” said Croatius, narrowing his eyes. “Not that it matters. Get back in your crystal, demon. I have other business with it than to banter with you.”
The demon’s face materialized in the shadow. It was smiling. “Consider for me, an instant. Would you have passed your test if you had had this gift of mine? Or even if you had not…you could have made it appear as so, with my help. You could force others into believing…into paying you what respect you deserve…proud son of Silvermoon.”
Croatius sneered. He knew the demon’s argument was ridiculous, yet it still touched a nerve in him–which was what the creature was attempting to do, after all. He steeled himself. “What is done is done, demon. I do not look back.”
“But you regret it anyway, don’t you? The loss of such a bright future?”
“We’re not having this conversation!”
“Not today, maybe, but what about tomorrow?” The demon swooped closer, and though Croatius slashed at it with a blade of light, it waved his magic away like it were mist. A bit of fear bubbled up in his throat. He shoved it down.
The demon was still speaking. “In three weeks? In three years…? Your Sunwell is gone, little elf. Even now your cheeks hollow, your mind and body grow feeble…your grasp on magic has become weak, as I just demonstrated…you must drink of more magic, or you will become one of the scorned…and then the high courts will pick from your bones, instead of the other way around.”
As if the demon had cast a spell on him, Croatius felt it keenly now, the gnawing hunger inside, the weakness in his limbs. His fingers closed on the magical gem crowning his new staff. Incensed as he was, he couldn’t argue with the demon’s logic. How long until he would be forced to suck this precious artifact dry? How long would that sustain him, and would he still have the power he needed to find more artifacts after that?
“You don’t need to use my magic,” said the demon, softly sibilant. “Though, of course, I believe you would squander its power if you did not. Ssstill… You only need to drink of it. The fel can nourish you. It must. You have scant other options, little elf.”
“We will find other options,” said Croatius.
“Will you?” The demon swooped around again and opened its mouth. Despite himself, Croatius looked up and into it with fascination. It was as if another world sat in the demon’s throat. He saw Silvermoon–what it was, and what it had once been, the images superimposed on top each other. He saw the other blood elves; he saw himself.
“What happens if you refuse the gift?” the demon asked. Though its lips moved, teeth closing down over the vision as it enunciated the words, Croatius could still see Silvermoon clearly. He saw his people turn on each other, scrapping for the last precious artifacts they desperately needed to keep themselves from succumbing to the mindless state of the Wretched. He saw the losers die or wither into husks of their former selves. He saw himself, leaping on another, cutting that elf’s throat with a curved knife like a lowly cur. Who was it he had killed? Was is Guaerelyn? Was it his father…?
The demon’s jaw closed with a snap, green drool hanging from its teeth. “You could find other sources of magic in time, I am sure,” it said coyly as it drew back again. “But will you find them quickly enough? You already failed one test of will, little elf, and that time it affected none but yourself. But who is to say you will not fail again? Who is to say what the consequences will be? Who will die…who could have lived if not for your own…hesssitance.”
It returned entirely to the shadows, coming to rest under the floating fel crystal. “I will leave this here,” it said. “It is a gift, and so it is given freely. I expect nothing of you, nor its return.”
Croatius looked up. He knew the demon knew he wanted nothing to do with the fel. He knew the demon also knew the demon was right. There were scant other options left to him…to his people.
Croatius looked back over his research strewn across the tabletop, the evidence of his search for just such options. The diagrams seemed so inadequate now, like a child’s scribblings. He knew deep inside there was nothing to be found.
Yet he also knew he had to try. For his own pride, if nothing else.
“If you say you will be gone, then be gone, demon! I’ve had enough of your babbling.”
The shadows stretched, giving the impression of a smiling mouth. “You know I will offer this same gift to others. If not you, then one of them. Perhaps those in the high court would serve me better… One way or another, Silvermoon will unite with the fel.”
“I said be gone!” Croatius drew on the power in the staff to cast a bolt of fire after the demon’s shadow.
And just like that, the demon was gone.
Croatius put his hand on his desk, steadying himself against a sudden weakness. And in realizing what he was doing, he angrily plucked the fel crystal from the air and threw it across the room. It’s inner green light went out and it fell to the floor. Croatius spat at it. He would not be weak. He turned to go back to his research.
Yet his gaze found itself being drawn to the fel crystal instead. He could still feel its power, even now that the demon was gone and the crystal was no longer activated. Like thirst, like hunger, it worried the edges of his mind like a hound.
He looked down at his diagrams again. He would play the part and act the scene by continuing his research…but that was all it was. An act. Sooner or later, he would have to draw on the fel crystal.
Croatius closed his eyes, and hoped he had will enough not to enjoy it when that time came.