The Covenant of Redemption

Submitted into Contest #215 in response to: Write a story about someone making a deal with the devil.... view prompt

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Fantasy Adventure Horror

The Blasphemer. A figure unfathomably grotesque, wreathed in an eldritch glow. Too many eyes, but not enough heads. Too many fingers, but not enough hands. A waking nightmare of elder corruption. It stalks the land, with only whispers and desolation left in its wake. Villages and towns, where only days before were full of life, are now devoid of all traces. Homes, store fronts, and farms are left rotted and defunct, as if the people who lived there not a fortnight before hadn’t existed for a decade.


The smell of sulfur and copper permeated the air, suffocating, like a heavy fog brought into Trainwin Harbor by the early fall wind, despite it being the dead of winter. Renald pulled off his silver helm, uncomfortably stifling in the unnatural vapor, and shifted anxiously in his half plate. Even his noble sensibility was suppressed by the cloying brimstone in the air.


Alandra’s lithe silhouette appeared a few feet away as she finished inspecting the red-charred remains of some sort of humanoid leaning against a shattered shopkeep’s window.


A voice deep and gruff, yet booming, shattered the eerie quiet of the street. “Well? What are we gonna do now?”


Alandra shot the diminutive stocky man a withering glare. Her voice was barely above a whisper, more akin to a hiss. “Handon, could you not do that, please?”


The blue-tattooed dwarf moved his weight from one armored foot to the other, passing his warhammer between hands. Seeing the dwarven warrior anxious made Renald feel a little better for his own disquiet.


Handon bristled at the tall, elven woman. “I don’t like this, I cann’ae see my hand in front of my face.”


“Where is Walleria?” Renald asked, causing the dwarf in front of him to jump. He apparently hadn’t noticed the paladin standing just a few feet behind.


Alandra waved her hand dismissively in the direction of the building across the street as she knelt back down over the remains. “You know how clerics of Aelin are. She’s probably blessing the dead or saying a prayer.”


The paladin nodded and left the dwarven warrior and elven ranger alone to bicker, as they were known to do. The bickering between the two could last for days. Renald had learned long ago that any intervention between the two was futile. He couldn’t remember any of their arguments yielding a victor, rather ending when another reason to quarrel presented itself, the topic of the previous disagreement all but forgotten.


He found Walleria in the crumbled structure of what may have been a family home. The cleric was staring down at the remains of a small family, red-charred as all the others they had found. Two large bodies were huddled together over the forms of two smaller figures. Parents, futilely protecting their children.


Bile rose quickly, the paladin having to swallow the nausea back lest the contents of his stomach desecrate the remnants of the small harbor town. Walleria, her small frame hunched over the family’s remains, stared unseeing, her eyes half-lidded. Even standing next to the small woman, Renald could hardly hear her whispered prayers. He waited patiently for her to finish.


“I know what you want to ask me.” Her words, usually soft and filled with kindness, were strained. “And I cannot give you the answer you desire.”


“People are going to keep dying unless we do something. Following in the aftermath, burying the dead, sending prayers to the gods, that is all well and good. Noble, even. But it changes nothing.”


The cleric sighed and stood to her full height, which only reached the paladin’s armored chest. She looked exhausted. They all were. Tired of chase, tired of the hopelessness. Silence drew out between them as they surveyed the destruction around them. The only sound breaking the unnerving quiet was the hum of the other two members of their party, still bickering, and the distant splash of waves breaking upon the docks. Finally, the small woman spoke.


“I just need more time.”


“Walleria, it’s been three years. Time is a commodity that is quickly running out, and if we don’t -”


“I will not act against my faith.” Her reply was sharp, taking Renald by surprise, only to be quickly replaced by fury.


“You think this is a request I make lightly?” He kept his own voice lowered, both out of respect for the recently deceased, as well as to keep his own anger in check. “This act alone will be the cause of my excommunication, earn divine disfavor from not only Aelin, but all deities, and not to mention damn my soul.”


“Then how can you make such a demand, knowing the consequences?”


“Because my soul is not worth the lives of thousands.” Renald could feel the heat of his anger creeping up his neck. To avoid any further argument, and perhaps saying something he might come to regret, he turned before Walleria could respond and marched away. His other companions had moved away from the destroyed buildings and were readying their horses. He avoided their questioning stares and instead mounted his destrier. Without another word, the rest of the party mounted, including the cleric, who had followed behind Renald, and made their way out of the town and along the coast.


For three years, the party had been hunting this abomination. Stemmed from the darkest depths of whatever hell it had crawled from, the demon was difficult to track. Despite the devastation it left in it’s wake, there was never a clear path or trail left behind. It just simply vanished. Days, even weeks – and on a few occasions, months – would pass before another destroyed settlement was found.


In an act of desperation, the four nations of the realm had come together to strike an accord. The Men of Telnora, the Dwarves of Echerspire, the Elven of Mironwood, and the Halflings of Davenshire.


Through a series of tests and championships, each race selected a hero of their peoples. By joining the different races together, each individual in the party would not only represent their homeland’s contribution to the pact but provide a unique talent to aid in the party’s quest. To hunt down and destroy the entity that had been released upon their realm, by any means necessary. Thus, the four were brought together.


Alandra, the Elven Ranger. Handon, the Dwarven Warrior. Renald, the Human Paladin. And Walleria, the Halfling Cleric. With differences ranging from speech, diet, and religion, the first few months of their fellowship were a challenge to not only decide upon a plan to defeat the demon, but how to complete their quest without destroying each other in the process.


Three years into their travels, they had learned to not only coexist, but depend on one another. Even Alandra and Handon, despite their constant quarreling, would stand back-to-back in conflict, should the need arise. However, they were still just as uncertain as to how they would destroy the demon as they were at the beginning. At least they had been, until their travels led them through a small town in the swamp that bordered the lands of halflings and dwarves.


Their discovery of the small village was complete happenstance, as their initial destination had been an informant in the dwarven city of Kallidor. What buildings had once existed were no more than husks of their former selves. Charred and decaying bodies littered the gravel roads between clusters of ruins. Sulfur and brimstone hung heavy in the thick, humid air. The Blasphemer had come through this village, leaving little to nothing in it’s wake.


During their usual inspection of the area for survivors – which there never were – or traces the demon may have left behind, Renald discovered a small temple. With what remained of the dissolving structure, the paladin found evidence of strange drawings and glyphs decorating nearly every surface still standing. None of the markings were recognizable to the paladin. They were, however, familiar to the cleric. As a woman of religion, Renald had been surprised to see her blatant disgust upon spying his discovery. Muttering her own prayers, she refused to move any closer to the temple’s ruins.


Two days of pestering the halfling woman revealed the source of her contempt.


“Malphion worshipers.” She spat the words as though they tasted foul. “They pray to the deities of the Abyssal Realms. What your people might call Hell.”


“They worship devils?” Walleria nodded, glaring at ground between her feet as though she could see through the surface to the offending realm itself.


The concept of devil worshipping was not unheard of to Renald. If this were the case, he found it odd that a people who revered the deity most likely responsible for The Blasphemer’s existence was not protected from its own ruination. Perhaps their prayers were what attracted the demon to such a remote location in the first place.


Despite the multitude of death and devastation the party came across during their hunt, the Malphion Temple dwelt at the forefront of Renald’s thoughts. Three years had passed, thousands of innocent lives had been lost, and they were no closer to stopping this madness than at the start. Perhaps what they needed was a deity of their own. Though if praying to the Gods was all it took to banish the demon, they would have done so years ago. Perhaps they were praying to the wrong gods.


Such thoughts were sacrilegious to the Paladin’s Code that Renald lived by. He dismissed the idea the moment it crossed his mind, though found himself revisiting the theory in the dark hours of the night, when he found no distraction from his travels or the bickering of his companions.


A month after the party’s travel through the swamp, he discussed his speculation with Walleria. Her immediate revulsion came at no shock. Her demand for him to never mention such heretical acts lest he threaten their accord, however, did surprise him. The cleric was a kind woman. She was quiet by nature, as most halflings were. To see such distain directed at himself left Renald reeling.


He never mentioned a word of the topic to her again. Until the group found themselves amidst the ruins of Trainwin Harbor. This time, he refused to let the subject lapse.


Silence coagulated around the quartet, each lost in their own thoughts as they set up camp for the night. Not a word had been uttered since they left the harbor. The wariness and soul deep exhaustion Renald felt was reflected in each of his comrades faces. He waited until they had all eaten and settled around what remained of their small cook-fire before clearing his throat. 


“I have…an idea.” Silence was his only response. He could feel the gaze of each of them upon him, one gaze especially burned through the top of his slightly bowed head. “This idea is… well… it is heresy at its most basic level, but it may be the only option we have.” He raised his head to look each of his companions in turn. “We cannot allow any more people to die because of our incompetence.”


Alandra and Handon met him with curious stares. Walleria sighed and stood, pacing to their tethered horses, and picking up a brush.


“What are ye goin on about?” Handon. Gruff and to the point as always.


“We’ve prayed to the Gods, and they are either not answering us, or are incapable of rendering aid. Perhaps we should try praying to a different deity.”


Elven eyebrows raised, dwarven eyes narrowed, and a halfling scoffed from where she stood brushing down her horse. “He wants to pray to Malphion.”


“Who is Malphion?” Renald opened his mouth to answer Alandra’s question. Handon beat him to it.


“You want to pray to a bloody devil? Are you insane, boy?”


“It may be our only choice. Do you have any other ideas? Because I would love to hear them.”


“And what makes you believe that this devil, this…Malphion, would help?” To her credit, Alandra sounded genuinely curious, rather than accusatory. “I may not be familiar with the gods of men, but devils are not known for answering prayers out of the kindness of their hearts.”


Renald took a deep, steadying breath. “Of course not. But they might be willing to make a trade. A deal, even.”


“And what could you offer a devil? It’s a bloody devil!” Handon scoffed and shook his head.


“My soul.”


Stunned silence settled over the campsite. Even Walleria had stopped brushing her horse, staring at Renald with wide eyes. He waited for someone to say something, anything. Instead, they all stared with combined expressions of fear and confusion.


“If this works, if Malphion will take my soul in exchange for the banishment of his demon, then I will happily make the exchange. What is one life, when faced with the possible annihilation of thousands? I intend to make this deal… with or without your consent. I will travel back to the Malphion Temple we found in the swamps first thing in the morning.”


Without another word, the paladin stood, retrieved his sword from beside his bedroll, and stalked into the night to take first watch.


****


Fog hung thick between the trees the following morning as Renald saddled his horse. He had yet to speak to any of his companions, though they each were up as well, readying their own mounts. It was better this way. He had never been one for goodbyes. Mounting his steed, he headed west.

The songs of morning birds cut through the thick fog, alongside the clopping of his steeds’ massive hooves. A minute later, the familiar sound of multiple hooves trampling through the thin foliage joined in. Behind his helm, Renald smiled as an elf, dwarf, and halfling fell in step behind him.


****


Hands on her hips, Alandra finally broke the silence and asked the same question that was on everyone’s mind. “What now?”


They stood at the base of the remains of Malphion’s Temple. The four exchanged unsure glances before settling on Walleria. Her face was sickly and pale, her hands wringing themselves before her. Noticing the attention, she shrugged.


“Similar to how you’d pray to any other deity, I suppose.”


No one moved, their attention returned again to the temple. Finally, Renald took the first step. He removed his armor, took one last deep breath, then stepped into the large circle etched into the floor and surrounded by strange glyphs. He stole one last glance at his companions – no, his friends – before closing his eyes.


“In the name of the Abyssal Plane, I invoke the deity Malphion. Hear my prayer.”


Frogs croaked. A bird called in the distance. A sawm of gnats buzzed annoyingly close. Renald resisted the urge to swat them away. The buzz of the swarm grew louder, unpleasant vibrations echoing down the paladin’s spine. Able to stand it no longer, he opened his eyes and slapped at the swarm hovering before him. Before his eyes, the swarm grew, became darker, and began to take shape. Long, pitch black arms ending with hooked fingers extended from the mob of insects, followed by a bare, featureless chest. Lastly, a massive, horned head formed. Eyes as red as glowing embers peered back out at the speechless group.


Renald’s first instinct was to recoil and draw his sword. He commanded his body to do so, but only found himself rooted to the spot. He was unsure whether it was his own fear or some other nefarious entity that held him in place. Eyes awash in the hues of fresh blood settled on the paladin. When the devil spoke, each member of the group flinched, for it was not the sound of a single voice that reached their ears, but the chorus of thousands. Men, women, and children alike spoke as one.


“As summoned, I have come. What reason would a pious soldier such as yourself have for this summons? You are not my child; your prayers are not mine to receive. Curiosity only is the reason for my compliance. Be it that your reasoning is warranted, and I may yet allow you to continue your meager existence.”


Renald’s breath caught as he opened his mouth to reply. How did one actually speak to a god? Or a devil? Should he bow and act reverent? The mere thought of showing supplication to this dark being caused his stomach to roil.


“Malphion, I come to you not as your child, but a child of this realm regardless. An entity is lose in our realm. A being not of our world, we cannot destroy it. It has claimed hundreds of innocent lives.”


The horned beast sneered in response. “I am aware of my creation’s behaviors.”


Renald bit his tongue to keep his face as expressionless as possible, a feat he was sure he was not accomplishing. “We beseech you to return this entity to your world, lest is deplete ours of life. I…” He swallowed back the bile threatening to rise. “I am willing to trade my soul in exchange for this service.”


Crimson orbs considered this, looking so deeply into Renald, he felt as though the entity could see directly into the soul he was offering, determining its value.


“You consider your single paltry soul enough compensation?” His heart dropped. He hadn’t considered the possibility of his offer being denied.


“Not just his soul.” Walleria stepped into the circle of the temple alongside him. Renald wanted to push her away but refrained. “Mine as well.”


“Aye.” Handon and Alandra stepped within the temple as well. The devil eyed them each in turn, as he had done with Renald. The few moments of contemplation that passed felt eternal to the quartet. At long last, the sneer on the deity’s features spread to a satisfied grin.


“It will be done, and shall your souls know no escape from this accord.”

September 13, 2023 04:21

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