Screams echoed throughout the cavernous hall. They bounced from wall to ceiling only to bring the tortured sound of fear back to the throat ripped raw from the savage cries. As they penetrated his foggy mind, the man stopped, gulping back further shrieks in a tear-soaked sob. He had begun the evening promising himself he wouldn't give in. He wouldn't lose to this thing, this uncivilized beast.
He had broken that promise as he had broken the seal on the box.
It sat in front of him, a small golden square heavily laden with rubies and that rarest of jewels; fire agate. An ancient seal had marred one side of the cube, its red waxy surface flaking and peeling but never breaking. There was power cast upon it; that he had seen as soon as the box came into his possession.
Another ramrod of pain shot through him, causing the man to collapse to his knees. He hadn't promised himself he wouldn't beg for his life; he had had no idea that he may need to. Now, as the full realisation of what he had released struck him, he found himself gabbling meaningless words and phrases of pleading.
The thing released him from its grasp. Its face, formless as a cloud of grey smoke, nonetheless looked thoughtful. Claws which had appeared as it needed them withdrew from its victims flesh.
It said something to the man. He nodded in agreement, eagerness to please overcoming all else. He had freed this creature. He could sense in its thoughts the destruction it planned. What it required of him was... everything. But the payment would be power beyond reckoning; power, and freedom from any and all pain.
All he had to do was let the creature in...
* * *
A wrinkle of unease ran through all assembled. The oval room was full; the first time such a thing had happened in a century or more. All had known something was happening, and all had wished to witness it.
Now, a hush ran through those gathered. Conversations which had been taking place in little more than whispers ceased, and all eyes were drawn to the device at the centre of the room. The benches set against the walls, tiered with the more elite seated at the bottom, were focussed towards what seemed a hole in the grey tiled floor.
The opening was oval, just like the room. Within it, blue and green pigments swirled and writhed, making up an image of the world below. As those seated around it concentrated, the image magnified, flying through the world until it showed one particular scene; a man, lying crumpled on his side in a hall made of brilliant white marble and decorated with the finest items of gold and silver. Behind him stood a throne. On the seat of the throne lay a small square box. In contradiction to this obvious sign of monarchy, there was no one else in the room. No one visible, at least. A presence seemed to look through the device at those watching. Even so diluted through the device, it struck terror into the hearts of those watching.
As the eye of the Watcher circled the room, a sigh ran through those gathered. The seal on the box was broken. Bits of red wax lay beside the box, melting and running together to look like streams of freshly spilled blood.
Not a word was spoken.
The man, a fair haired giant with hands the size of shovels, stood suddenly. Something seemed off about his movements. He seemed unused to using such a body, and every step seemed to be carefully thought out.
"So it begins again." With the voice, the Watcher suddenly withdrew, the invisible eye drawing away at a speed that would make all but the most hardy dizzy. All eyes, as one, turned to the figure who had spoken.
The figure was a woman; a tight, figure hugging dress left that in no doubt. She was pretty, but with a face too often deep in thought or frown to be considered more than that. On her brow sat a single white stone, held in place by a fine azure chain. The stone stood out against her dark hair.
"I should never underestimate the foolishness of man," she continued, stepping forward from her seat at the bottom of the tier. She looked around the room, her attention scanning every person present. Many wore stones similar to hers, though none had one of such a pure white. They watched her, respect obvious in their eyes. "And yet, every time, I do."
"We hope for more, but they do not change," a man spoke up.
"And so it begins again," the woman repeated. She frowned, her brow furrowing. "One had been freed, my friends. It will not be long before others are. And then... He will find his way to the surface.
"And once He is unbound, we will all suffer."
"We have goodness on our side," a dumpy, mousy-haired woman piped up. "We cannot lose."
"But we must fight!" The woman with the white stone clenched her fists, her expression turning to fury. "Every time, we are forced to fight. I say we do not wait for Him to be freed. Let us start the battle now!"
Whispers like the wind through the leaves ran around the room. This was an idea that had never before been mentioned.
"Begin the war against Him?" the man asked. His eyebrows had risen to such a height that they had all but disappeared under his hairline.
"Finish it," the woman corrected him. "This is not a new war, my friends. This is simply another battle. We have won many times before. But we have also lost. One loss is too many. So now, we attack before He is ready, and we win once and for all!"
There was a dead silence. The woman stared around the room, her eyes feverish with passion. She held one hand clenched in a fist.
"How?" a second man asked slowly. "How do we begin?"
"We follow the pattern; His pattern. And then we break it."
"How do we do that?"
The woman smiled thinly. She lowered her fist.
"We do the unexpected. We bring those between us into play. We give help to those who would be injured most. We get ourselves a champion."
"Such things have been done before."
"Then we get more than one! Ordinary people, friends. Not our followers, who are pledged to live holy lives of goodness." Her smile grew. "We find ones who can defeat Him and His servants. Ones which He would choose to serve Himself."
"People of such evil would never join us," one man complained.
"Ordinary people! Ones between the light and the dark." Slowly, she scanned the crowd again. Many of those looking back at her looked frightened, doubtful. But in many more she saw a spark of hope.
"A grey champion for the light."