By Anton Spletstoser
Hamadar awoke and found himself in the worst agony he had ever known. Hamadar fought through the pain. He had to focus. He had to find her. He looked around the burning room, the once white hot ritual circle cooling to a cold blue glow, she had vanished. If he didn’t find her, he could never forgive himself.
Hamadar had always been impatient. Maybe that was because his parents had always given him what he had wanted when he had wanted it, he was their only child after all. They were one of the wealthiest merchant families in Greyhawk. He had the latest fashions before they went to customers. He had the best books and tutors, well, the prettiest anyway. He evened dabbled in the martial arts and found he had a knack for crossbows, but blades were beyond him. Then he had decided to study the arcane arts of the wizards. His parents had sent him to the finest college of mages in Greyhawk. He had dreamed visions of wielding arcane energies and glorious adventures like the ones in his books. But the brutal truth of the matter had hit him hard. He was not cut out to be a wizard. The course of study wasn’t just challenging, for him it was like a trial sent by a god. A god that did not like him in the least.
The University of Magical Arts was an ancient institution, most of it had been here since before the Empire. The stones of the three-sided pyramid so infused with magic that they seemed they would stand forever. Dormitories, libraries, lecture halls, alchemy laboratories, teleportation circles, and ritual rooms, were all contained within the pyramid, there were no apparent entrances or exits. Most theorized that the university was somehow bigger on the inside than it was on the outside, but it was the University of Magical Arts after all. The grounds outside the pyramid were the pride of the city. The acres of gardens, groves, and orchards that surrounded the pyramid rivaled the best of the High Quarter or the Garden Quarter. Of course many of the plants here were magical in nature and meant to supply the alchemists and potion brewers with material components for their studies and projects. There were hundreds of students enrolled at the university, and up to a quarter of them were out of the city adventuring. The instructors were very keen on practical field experience being the cornerstone of a career as a successful wizard.
It was here that he met Isabeau Islabethella. She was an elf who had started studying at the same level as he and she was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen. She had long flowing autumn orange hair and green eyes. She was outgoing and made friends easily. The instructors considered her a prodigy bound to become an arch mage just like her father. She seemed to have a natural gift with the arcane powers they were studying. When he had met her, it felt like some sort of massive clockwork clicked inside him. He actually began attending lectures on time. He did not listen as attentively as he should have, but he was there. And she made the danger of accidently being lulled to sleep by the instructor mage’s monotone worth it. He began leaving her notes, he tried to tell her jokes, and he even attempted spells beyond his skill, just to get her attention or impress her. More often than not these attempts seem to bounce off of her like a dull arrow off of heavy plate armor. And often lead to a stern lecture from a senior student or worse, an instructor mage. Eventually he got her attention and she smiled at him one day, He felt hope flare in his chest like a sun rod. He had always thought, “She’ll come around eventually.”
For the next year they continued to grow closer. For that year Hamadar struggled with his studies, barely keeping up, surviving academically mostly through Isabeau’s tutoring. They took their meals together and studied together. They had begun to spend more time together outside of class and he felt he could finally ask her, so he did, “Would you like to go out to dinner or maybe the theatre sometime or something?” GODS!!!! Almost a year and that the best he could come up with??? Why couldn’t he think straight when he was around her?
Then she giggled. That probably hurt more than what followed, it was the sort of giggle that’s tinged with, “I cannot believe you actually thought you had a chance.”
She stated, rather matter-of-factly, ”I like you Hamadar, I really do, but I cannot be seen to be officially courting you. You are a great friend, and I enjoy your companionship, but your magical talent is still lacking. My father would never approve, for he sets very high standards for me, he is an arch mage after all. I am honor-bound to follow my father’s wishes. And besides…you are just a human, no offense.”
He felt like all of the planes of the metaverse had just collapsed into his heart with the greatest implosion since the dawn of reality. He was so stunned he didn’t know what to say, so he said nothing. He vaguely remembered turning away and walked in a daze about the university until he came to the library. That’s when he had heard the voice.
“Come to me… You can have power…be worthy…it’s easy…”, he heard a sensual female voice that seemed to be whispering in his ear. The problem was it was whispering from inside his head.
He moved around the library, following the voice. He felt it growing stronger in his head. Then he came to the restricted tomes section. It was a section of the library that only senior and very experienced mages could enter for arcane research. The students told stories of strange things happening in this part of the library. Even the torches here seemed dimmer than the others in the library. But one thing was certain, only authorized individuals went into it. This was almost guaranteed by the heavy iron door and the very capable lock that sealed it. Almost.
“How am I supposed to get through that?” He thought to himself.
“I can help you with that,” the voice responded. “Open your mind to me.”
“What do you mean open my mi..” he started, then suddenly his head with filled with dozens of arcane symbols. He felt like his head was spinning. The symbols were swirling around so fast he barely recognized them. They suddenly they seemed to sort themselves out and in his mind’s eye, he suddenly comprehended their meaning.
“Open lock,” he whispered, though the sounds that actually came out of his mouth sounded nothing like that at all. The locked suddenly clicked open.
Hamadar opened the door just wide enough to allow himself to slip in. Then he closed it as silently as he could. It actually felt colder here. He whispered, “Now what?”
“Find me,” replied the voice, it felt like it was coiling around his mind like a serpent.
He ran his fingers along the spines of the books, one by one his fingers slid from tome to tome. Then suddenly his finger felt a curious sensation, like being frozen and burned all at the same time. He tried to pull his finger away. Instead his hand came back holding the ancient tome. It was covered in dust, bound in a dark ox blood (he hoped) leather cover, bound in cold iron fittings, and etched in runes he had never seen before. He opened the large book and began to read a language he did not know.
A few weeks later, Hamadar walked up to Isabeau in the grand study hall. She saw him and approach and spoke first.
“I do like you Hamadar, I really do. And I am sorry if my response hurt you,” she said, “But I felt that it was better to give you the facts instead of building up false hope for you. My father will simply not approve of someone who wasn’t a first class mage.”
“That’s alright. He said, “I understand your position. So I’ve decided to throw myself into my studies. I managed to speak to the dean and he’s asked me to assist him with a special project. If I succeed, it should greatly improve my standing here. But I will need your help to do it.” He flashed his best smile.
“So, when you do require my assistance?” she asked.
“Tonight, at midnight,” he answered, “Something about planar alignment or balance. So just meet me in ritual room four.”
Hamadar arranged the candles and other spell components around the summoning circle. It consisted of three concentric circles, each filled with runes and wards of an arcane nature. It was almost ten feet across. He wanted this to be perfect, it had to be. Once this was done, things would be the way they were meant to be. He double-checked his runes and the book. This would change the way everyone looked at him.
Isabeau arrived at the ritual room a few minutes before midnight. She surveyed the circle, her face showed her curiosity.
“What sort of project were you doing for the dean?” she asked, suspicion in her voice.
“It’s just a minor summoning ritual, but we’re going to test some minor wards, shouldn’t be a problem. We’re just going to summon a minor elemental. The wards will hold.” He said, though he didn’t sound completely convinced.
“So, what do you need me to do?” she asked.
“Read this incantation,” He handed her a copy he had made of the passage from the tome. “Then when I signal you, you need to recite it.”
She looked over the incantation, “Hamadar, this looks like Abyssal, when did you learn to read that?”
“I told you, I’ve been applying myself.” He replied hurriedly.
He stood in the center of the circle and began to recite part of the incantation. The circles glowed and came to life. The runes and symbols started to dance and rotate around the circles’ edges. The light from the torches and ceremonial candles seemed to flicker and then the flames appeared to be sucked toward the center of the circle. He signaled Isabeau to begin reciting her passage. She hesitated, this did not feel right. The air began to feel heavier, the light in the room dimmed despite the torches and candles. He gestured at her again, this time more urgently, she began the recite the words. When she finished, it seemed like all sound in the room was being absorbed by the circle.
A portal to another plane began to open over Hamadar. It pulsed with dark energy. Purple lightning arced out from its edges and touched the candles set around the circle. Hamadar looked up into the portal, a crazed grin on his face. His stared glassy-eyed into the portal. His mouth moved but words did not come out. A clawed hand came through the portal, it stroked his cheek. Hamadar seemed to be lost in pleasure. A whirlwind seemed to be issuing from the portal and was whipping wildly around the room. The torches were blown out, the flame seemingly sucked from them, but it didn’t blow out the ceremonial candles.
Suddenly Isabeau realized what this was, and what the runes in Abyssal had meant. It was as if a veil had been lifted from her understanding. This was bad, this was very bad.
“Hamadar! You have to get out of the circle! You have to stop the ritual!” she yelled over the increasing wail coming from the portal.
He ignored her, he was enraptured by the thing he gazed upon through the portal. It was the most beautiful female he had ever seen. She looked elven, but a little taller, with skin that seemed to fluctuate between violet and red. Her hair was long, pitch black, and would have reached the small of her back if it didn’t seem to move of its own accord. Her body was lithe and athletic, it was easy to tell because she wore no clothes. He seemed to be listening to words only he could hear. He spread out his arms, as if to embrace the entity.
Isabeau leapt between Hamadar and the entity and pushed him out of the circle. The entity embraced her from behind and bent its head down to whisper in Isabeau’s ear. Its clawed hands tore through her robes and undergarments, and then they seemed to melt into her flesh. A searing heat was emanating from them. Their bodies were fusing together. Isabeau was screaming and it seemed to go on forever. There was a flash of purple light and the screaming was suddenly cut short. There was now only one figure standing in the circle. It was Isabeau, yet it was not Isabeau.
Hamadar struggled to sit up. He looked into the circle and saw Isabeau. But something was not right. The way she stood, the way she held her head, something was very wrong. Her skin and hair were beginning to change colors.
“Who are you?” he managed to get out.
“Why I’m your knew best friend, my dear Hamadar,” she replied. Her husky voice was silky smooth and sharp as a razor all at the same time.
“What do you mean by that,” he said, “You promised me power… and… and…”
“Love?” She finished for him. She continued, “Do you think I honestly was going to give you arcane power for ‘love’? Oh… you did, didn’t you??? My my my, you were desperate weren’t you. Isn’t that just the sweetest…and dumbest thing I’ve ever hear.”
She strolled out of the circle, flexing and stretching the arms and legs of her new body, as if getting used to the sensation again. She arched her back like a cat stretching and let out a throaty moan. Then she seemed to notice Hamadar again. She walked over to Hamadar and pulled his wizard robes off of him and wrapped them around herself. He tried to hide the blush on his face.
She looked at him coolly and said, “I really must thank you for your assistance. I never would have broken out of that astral prison without your help. Why is seems like ages since that mage and that group of uppity paladins locked me in there… What year is it anyway? Wait, do you still use the ‘common year’ calendar? ”
“It’s 1409 CY as the Nerathi figured it by the old calendar,” he managed to say.
Her brow furrowed in thought, then she looked at him, “My, my, almost one thousand years. That’s the trouble with astral prisons, very hard to figure out the passage of time. I can hardly control mortal like I used to from there. I needed as especially witless and weak-willed individual in the right emotional state to get any results. I’m so glad you happened along.”
“What do you mean by that?” he said, even in this situation he was a little taken aback.
“Well, see my little minion…Most students here are very intelligent and strong willed. You’re probably the first mortal to hear my voice in centuries. After that, the rest was easy,” she said icily.
“But your promises…” he blurted out.
“Oh yes, the promises. Well, when a goddess makes a promise, even a goddess of lies, mayhem, and discord, it’s a promise. Even WE abide by some rules, you know.” She walked around him, well, strutted was a more accurate description. She was really beginning to enjoy her new body.
“Let’s see,” she began, “You wanted power and revenge.”
“That’s not what I wanted!” he snapped, then admitted, ”Well, I did want power…”
“On the contrary my dear Hamadar, in your heart of hearts, you wanted revenge on Isabeau for the pain she caused you that day. And that is what we agreed to.” she chided him. She seemed to flow around the room now. She continued, “So you get power and revenge, and I get the body of the most gifted mage of your generation to start my big come-back, Lolth will be so surprised.”
She came up behind him, running her hands up his back, through his hair, down his face, and then down to his chest. One hand slid into his shirt and touched his chest. “Oooo, someone’s been exercising,” she cooed, then she laughed. That laugh froze the blood in his veins. He felt her nails scratch his skin slightly, not quite drawing blood, they began rapidly tracing a series of sigils on his chest. The sigils began to glow and he could feel the building heat. She bent her mouth to his ear, “This may hurt a bit.”
The blindingly intense sensation he experience at that moment was simultaneously the most pleasurable and agonizing thing he imagined he would ever experience in this lifetime. It overloaded every one of his senses. He was losing consciousness. She laughed again. He heard a blood curdling scream, then realized to his growing terror that it was him.
“By the way, my name is Emelilith,” she whispered in his ear, “I do hope you’re happy with our bargain. Oh, and she really did love you, you know.”
Hamadar passed out.
Hamadar awoke and found himself in the worst agony he had ever known. Hamadar fought through the pain. He had to focus. He had to find her. He looked around the burning room, the once white hot ritual circle had cooled to a cold blue glow, she had vanished. If he didn’t find her, he would never forgive himself.
He looked around the debris strewn around the room. He saw the ancient tome. He scrambled over to it and opened the covers, his heart sank. Many of the pages were destroyed, charred beyond all recognition. He frantically turned pages, searching the dark tome for something he could use. He heard the sound of approaching footsteps. He had to get out of here. They would throw him into the city dungeons for this. He had only seen enough in his short glance at the last undamaged pages of the tome to make sure of one thing. He had thirteen years, thirteen short years to correct the mistake he had made this night. With the tome in hand, he made it back to his room undiscovered. He packed a few belongings into his pack and a duffle. And with that, he left the University of Magical Arts and fled into the night. A storm was forming on the horizon.