The Devil You Know

Oh, goodness. We’ve done this song and dance before, haven’t we?

Silence, fey. Not…not now.

Water crashed through the open walls of the tower, spilling over the golden artefacts and upending tables. Damien tasted blood in amongst the salty brine, and realised – with eyes widening, as a metal-gloved hand fell limply across his chest – that it wasn’t his.

“Damien…”

He pulled himself around in the rising depths, every muscle in his body screaming, and held a hand either side of Janik’s head. The cleric weakly smiled, and Damien stifled a sharp inward breath as he noticed Janik’s legs drifting beneath his torso at odd angles, no strength in his arms.

“Are you alright?” Janik sputtered.

He has barely a few minutes.

Damien was hyperventilating.

“I…why…why did you do that?” He gestured up at the blood-stained pillar; the very same one that Janik had placed himself in front of when this place had impacted the ocean. Sparing Damien from a broken back.

The cleric managed a pained smile, blood dribbling from his mouth into the churning depths. “To save you.” He weakly laughed, his mirth quickly becoming a foamy cough. “You are…safe, aren’t you?”

Damien managed to smile as he cradled Janik’s head in his hand. “I’m safe. We’re all safe.”

Well…

Shut up, shut up, shut up. Damien produced a bottle from his side, uncorked it and held it to Janik’s lips. He sipped the thick red liquid, spilled drops hissing and sizzling at the blood in the water, and grimaced as the potion did its work. Damien’s head split again, his mind filled by a voice without breath like the crunch of boots on dry soil.

Minutes become hours. Not comfortable ones, but hours nonetheless.

With his free hand, Damien punched into the water. Are you going to help me?

I can but watch the game. It is you who must play.

Is that why you chopped off Squish’s arm?

There are rules. She overstepped the rules. Your dear Janik is playing within them. Badly.

“What do you want?” Damien was now mumbling out loud. Tears streaming down his face.

“What?” Janik weakly responded. “I…”

Damien’s eyes snapped open, a blistering, fiery red.

What do you want, Oberon?

The water was gone from around them. Only the twisting, gnarled bark of a clearing in a forest, and an old man with a cane and a smile.

Ah, look at this. True despair. I didn’t think we’d be having this conversation so soon after our last. If you are going to be unpredictable, at least try to-

“Please.” Damien’s head was buried in Janik’s unmoving, unfeeling chest. Janik’s eyes were rolled back in their sockets. “Please, save him. Take whatever you want, just…just save him. Put him back to how he was. No games. No tricks. No lies. Just…fix him.”

Oberon walked across the clearing to the two, and placed a hand tenderly on Damien’s shoulder.

You were there for me when I had lost everything. And I will be here now to stop you from reaching that point.

The white bone broke through his skin as it fell away like autumn leaves. His voice had become a booming, impossible eldritch rumble, the cries and screams of a world of verdant forest.

This. One. Time.

Damien looked to the twisted body of the Fey King.

“Thank you,” he said.

The deer skull rotated to face him with blaring, empty eye sockets.

Oh, goodness. We’ve done this song and dance before, haven’t we?

Silence, fey. Not…what?

Water crashed through the open walls of the tower, spilling over the golden artefacts and upending tables. Damien tasted blood in amongst the salty brine, and realised – with eyes widening, as a metal-gloved hand fell across his chest, grasping him tightly – that it was his.

He had bitten his tongue.

“Damien!”

He pulled himself around in the rising depths, every muscle in his body screaming, and held a hand either side of Janik’s head. The cleric smiled, and Damien exhaled a gasp of relief as he wrapped his arms around him, tears of joy streaming down his face. Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank-

Oh, you’re welcome, little one.

What did you take from me for this?

What makes you think I took anything of yours?

It’s your way, is it not?

Like I said. This one time.

I…you have my thanks, fey. Damien looked around to see the collapsing tower as the water continued to pile high. He turned to Janik. “Can you see Squish or Sam?”

“No,” said Janik, pushing against the water to stay afloat. “If we can get to stable ground, we have a better chance of seeing them.” He managed a small chuckle. “Thank you again for teaching me how to swim, by the way. Gond only knows where I’d be it wasn’t for you!”

Damien pursed his lips. Thankfully, any need for a response was mitigated by the low shaking of the tower as the water’s flow seemed to slow to a trickle. Before they could utter a word in this respite, however, a great explosion of magical energy tore through the tower’s stone as a hand made of coral erupted through the wall and dragged huge pieces of it away.

“Anyone in there?” A voice, magically boosted to astronomical levels, echoed through the tower as Damien and Janik hollered and waved their arms. “Oh! You’re lucky we found you when we did!”

The owner of the voice rose up on the coral hand, his hand waving in front of a glowing blue lantern. “Come on, hop on! I’ll get you to safety!”

Janik helped Damien up onto the hand. “There are others…”

“We’ll find them!” The goliath took each of their hands and, with a wave of his lantern, summoned blankets to go over the soaked adventurers, food and drink appearing in their hands. “Name’s Thogun. Pleasure to meet you.”

“I’m Janik, and this is Damien,” said the cleric. “The pleasure’s all…where is this place?”

As they were carried down and stepped from the hand to dry land, they looked up to see a skeletal heap of full and partial sailing boats, destroyed harbours and old, algae-soaked rigging. A line of black masts at least a mile long rose up at an angle, knitted together in herringbone fashion with a row of identical white ones that were attached to a similar-looking mountain of shipwrecks; and on each side, they blossomed like verdant ground into a towering cityscape of stone and metal buildings.

“This side is Jetsam,” said Thogun. “And the other town is Flotsam. If you stay, you’ll never find a happier pair o’ towns.”

Janik looked to Damien and smiled, popping his arm around the warlock. “Well,” he said, “I…can’t say I expected this today.”

Damien beamed back and nuzzled close to the cleric. “I’m just glad for today.”

Oh, I bet he is.

Oberon walked through grey stone corridors, his shadow flickering in the dim light of the Feywild’s bioluminescent auras. He approached a door held shut by twisted vines, and with a wave of his hand they pulled and wrenched apart, revealing the blackened, charred body of an archdemon, straining against his chains within a cavernous pit. Vines twisted and knotted around his form, reestablishing themselves as fast as they burned away.

Arcavius. How long has it been since last we spoke?

Time means naught to me, King of Nothing.

Arcavius spat into the pit, and grunted as a flower bloomed from one of his eye sockets, its sickly purple petals smoking and melting away as the demonic eye slitted back into place – before quivering and watering once again.

Yes, I suspect it doesn’t. But I have somewhat of a pressing issue, you see.

Oberon pulled a sword from thin air. It glimmered with a fractal sheen, flickering between all manner of colours – as if the blade was cutting itself out of thin air.

I want you to tell me what this is. And where you got it from.

Scared of it, old man?

Terrified. And I think you are, too.

Everyone should be. It and its seven siblings.

With this sword, I was able to resist the dagger, and punish the fool who threatened me with it. But it wasn’t…it did not talk to me.

Yes, You need to be sworn to them to use them properly.

Oh, I know. But I’m not about to make a deal with this…thing.

Coward. I was easily able to-

Which is why, when I made my latest deal with your brother, I did not take anything of his.

What?

I merely borrowed his brother.

Arcavius pulled and thrashed against the chains.

He had ties to you he didn’t even understand. And now they are mine. He won’t be missing them.

Oberon, please – please don’t-

Arcavius roared in pain as the sword illuminated in Oberon’s hands. The deer skull split from his head again, the illusion wavering. Only this time, the bone was a deep, sonorous black.

You are mine now, Arcavius. And you will do as I command.

The chains burst open, and the archdemon fell to his knees before Oberon.

You are the King of Everything and Nothing.

That’s right.

Oberon waved his hands, and the sword flew from the Fey King into Arcavius’ hands.

What shall we carve first, my little knife?

One to break the walls between us. Different houses, different games,
One to live in lives eternal. Many faces, many names,
One to ▰▰▰▰▰▰▰▰▰▰▰▰▰▰▰▰▰▰▰▰▰▰▰▰▰▰▰,
One to ▰▰▰▰▰▰▰▰▰▰▰▰▰▰▰▰▰▰▰▰▰▰▰▰▰▰▰,

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