The room stank of demons. Amongst the racks of odd shaped jars and shelves full of musty books, pale shafts of moonlight skittered through the dusty air, enveloping the room in an eerie luminescence. A vast vaulted ceiling arched gracefully across the great hall, supported by age-old granite and marble walls which glow dully in the moonlight. Chiselled into the marbled facades that surrounded the room’s centre, ancient mosaics depict battles fought long ago, reminders of victories and defeats in an age long past. There was an almost palpable melancholy in the air, as if the very stones themselves remember with regret all that has gone before, and await with trepidation dread deeds to come.
Across the intricately tiled floor, the soft footfalls of slippered feet echo almost imperceptibly in the cavernous interior of the old Kaldor’ei temple. The rustling of velvet robes and faint scent of exotic spices further announce the arrival of the Master of this Sanctum.
Soon it would begin.
Robed in the prescribed ceremonial chasuble, Eschaton intoned the first stanzas of the Rite of Cleansing, invoking the required powers to purge the room of any influences that might interrupt or otherwise upset what was about to be attempted. In his minds eye, Eschaton could see the weaves of etheric power echoing out from him, encasing the room in a protective shell. Glittering wards of force overlaid the ancient stonework, making the walls seem alive with writhing light. Standing perfectly still, he appraised the room before him, his every sense turned to the task of ensuring that the Cleansing had been a success. If the slightest unwanted influence remained when the Calling began, well, he had seen the results before firsthand of a failed Call, and had no desire to repeat the experience, especially when he was the Prime Celebrant.
Luckily, Eschaton could detect no trace of energy or influence that should not be there. He smiled briefly to himself; it was an ever-present source of both wonder and good fortune that the ancient Highborne had built such arcanely…aware… buildings. It was an even greater source of good fortune that he had stumbled across this nearly intact temple while scouring Azshara for some ancient Kaldor'ei writing alluded to in the Darkbinder's Arcanum.
The very name rang with the pride and terrible folly that had brought such destruction to Azeroth, it's green fields and moss covered ruins sang the same lonely song of bitterness and regret that Eschaton understood only too well. Yes, the Warlock thought, he felt very much at home here.
Taking precisely seven steps forward, the Warlock stepped into the first of two circles that were inscribed on the temple floor. The first one, the Circle of Protection was roughly ten feet in diameter, bounded by a ring of specially purified salt and inscribed in chalk with glyphs of warding designed to protect anyone who stood in the circle from the wrath of otherworldly beings. That is, of course, as long as the circle remained unbroken and the Celebrant remained completely within it’s protective sphere. The Powers of the Nether were very adept at luring Warlocks out of the circle, or tricking them into breaking the protective glyphs. It was just one of the many dangers that a practitioner of the Art had to navigate or face an unimaginable fate.
About ten feet or so due north of the first circle, the Grand Circle of Summoning lay at the very centre of the room. Precisely twenty one foot across it was a series of three concentric circles. The outermost circle was composed of long strips of goat skin, nailed into the floor. At each of the cardinal points of the circle a bronze brazier stood, each filled with the appropriate combination of herbs that would be used to cense and pacify the Presence that would soon inhabit the circle. Between the outermost and second circles, a thick layer of salt lay on the temple floor and between the second the innermost circles the tiny, intricate glyphs of the Greater Restraints were inscribed using the Warlock’s own blood. Finally, at the centre, the Grand Sigil of the Nether Prince that would be Called was carved into the ground, the grooves of this unholy sign filled with ground black basalt, as was prescribed in the Arcanum.
Eschaton glanced over the circles, making sure that there was nothing amiss. The slightest mistake or oversight here would ensure a quick and brutal end to his life, and this he could not permit as his Great Work was still ahead of him. Having satisfied himself that the circles were indeed correct, the Warlock turned his attention to his tools. At his left hand a small altar, covered in red satin, sat just inside the first circle. On it lay the Implements of Calling, a gold brazier filled with burning coals, a two foot long rod made of purest arcanite and a small ceremonial dagger, it’s blade inscribed with runes of compulsion that could be used to restrain an uncooperative demon. At his right hand, sitting upon it’s lectern lay Eschaton’s most prized possession. Bound in black leather and held tightly shut by ensorcelled locks that only the Warlock’s touch could unlock, the Book of Pacts was the beginning and end of the Warlock’s craft.
Eschaton traced his finger along the raised glyphs that were engraved into the leather, snapping the locks open. Within this tome were the written accounts of the pacts that the Warlock had made with the various Powers of the Nether. The Warlock leafed through the heavy pages. One bore the sigil of Nebrios the Empty with whom Eschaton had bargained with to gain control of Nebrios’s servants, the Voidwalkers. Another bore the sign of Til’hael the Temptress, Queen of the Succubi from whom Eschaton had extracted the secrets of the Corrupted Heart. On yet another page was the agreement that the Warlock had come to with Tyr’kr’thus, the corpulent Prince of Entropy, 2,000 years of life in exchange for certain… services on this mortal plane. But all of these pacts were only made possible by what was written in the Warlock’s own blood on the first page of the book. Here, in the terms laid out by ancient precedent was the Prime Pact, the infernal deal between Eschaton and Naz’thalak the Desolate, the Lord of Nothing, Third Duke of the Descending Hierarchy of Nathrezim.
Scanning through the exact terms of the pact, Eschaton reflected that he had not spoken to his prime demonic sponsor in some time. Calling one of the Greater Powers was always hugely risky since almost all ordinary requests (if anything a Warlock does can be said to be ordinary) could be accomplished by lesser beings. But the task at hand required the presence of one of the true Princes of the Nether, so the risk must be taken.
Speaking a single word, the Warlock picked up the ceremonial rod and plunged it into the golden brazier on the altar beside him. Immediately the four braziers at the outside of the Grand Circle burst into flame, sending the pungent smell of burnt Sungrass and Purple Lotus into the air. Stirring the coals, Eschaton began to recite the Cant of Calling, his voice echoing across the vaulted temple interior. Ancient words of power fell from his lips, passing through the barriers of the mortal plane and echoing into the vast nothingness of the Twisting Nether. Three times the Warlock recited the Cants while the air in the Temple grew thick with the nauseating stench of brimstone. From the centre of the Grand Circle a wind arose, at first nothing more than a gentle breeze, but gathering in force until it seemed that a hurricane raged through the room. Above the monstrous noise, grimly stirring the fires in the brazier while bracing himself against the growing tempest, Eschaton roared the Cant of Compulsion, commanding the raging presence to constrain itself. Then, just as the Warlock thought he might loose his footing and get blown out of the circle, the noise abated, and Eschaton felt the unmistakable brooding presence of a Power materialise in the Grand Circle before him.
Eschaton clutched the ritual rod and peered through the haze of smoke, burning herbs and rising heat that now emanated from the centre of the Grand Circle. At the circle’s centre stood a figure. It appeared to be humanoid, expect for two large horns that curled out from It’s forehead and swept back over the tall domed head, and a tail that swung idly from side to side as if to indicate that It was supremely bored with what was happening. It’s skin was a pale purple and It’s features flawless, expect for eyes that were pits of blackest ebony. But it was the expression on It’s face that struck Eschaton to the core of his being. For the beautiful, flawless face of the demon was frozen in an expression of despair too absolute for further grief.
Slowly, the demon opened It’s mouth and spoke. It’s voice, languid and deep seemed to be coming from far far away.
‘Why dost thou disturb my reverie ? Cans’t ye leave me to mine grief ? Does’t thou wish’t to torment me more ? Speak, so I mayst return to mine comforting Void’
‘Silence’, Eschaton shouted, brandishing the rod at the apparition, ‘You are bound and summoned by the ancient pacts that hold all that is together. Perform the duty I require of you and I shall release you. Fail and I shall leave you here, bound for eternity in this hated world of light’.
The apparition let forth a keening wail, waves of hatred washed like water over the Warlock, but he stood firm. Eschaton carefully set down the ritual rod and picked up the dagger, holding it over the brazier of burning coals.
‘Test not my patience, you will submit and perform the task required. By your Name I command you’ At that, the apparition let out another keening cry but then lapsed into what in a mortal would be called a sullen silence. After a while it spoke again
‘I amst bound to thee as thee are bound to me. Ask thy favour and it shall be done, though thou shalt regret thine impertinence in time’
Eschaton was silent for a moment, replacing the dagger on the altar.
‘There is a mystery here, a being whose providence is unknown to me. I must know if this being is an obstacle to the Great Work that I have undertaken. That cannot be permitted.’
The apparition appeared to consider this before answering;
‘There ist none that mayst challenge the Work thou hast undertaken Warlock, none whom are so mighty as to challenge thou…’
‘Flatter me not!’ Eschaton shouted as he raised the rod once again, ‘You will answer truthfully or taste the rod.’
The demon seemed to pause, as if considering.
‘Very well, if thou providest me with a thing that is infused with the essence of this being, I shall discover it’s providence and makest thou aware of it’s nature’
Eschaton pulled from his robes a small container and threw it at the apparition, which extended it’s mouth in an impossible way and swallowed the container whole.
‘Thou mayst call again me in three moons time, and I wilst have thine answer, though thou mayst not like the price’.
Eschaton waved a dismissive hand ‘Enough empty threats, I am not marked for you. You will obey the Pacts or suffer the consequences. Now begone.’ The Warlock raised the rod one final time and began the Rite of Dismissal. There was a thunderous noise as the space inside the Grand Circle seemed to implode upon itself, and suddenly the demon was gone.
Leaning heavily on the lectern beside him, Eschaton let out a long drawn out sigh.
The question was asked, now all he could do was wait.
[Three days later....]
The demon stood in the centre of the room, languidly stretching It's impossibly perfect body. It's movements reminded Eschaton of a coiled viper, appearing to be be relaxed but ready to strike in a moment at the first sign of weakness or opportunity. The haunted face rolled from side to side as if searching for something that was just beyond It's ability to see, and all the while the forked tail twitched, seemingly idly, but, Eschaton knew, secretly probing the defenses of the Grand Circle in which It was imprisoned.
The Warlock watched the bound apparition with impassive eyes. In as so far as it could be said that Eschaton was capable now of feeling anything other than grim determination, the Warlock realised that in some small way he felt...sorry...for the demon. It was, after all, a creature bound to an unimaginable existence. An entity whose very nature was to deceive and corrupt, utterly incapable of ever becoming more, or less than what it always had been, a child born of the eternal horror of the Twisting Nether.
Brushing off these thoughts (for pity for a demon was surely the most dangerous of all sentiments), Eschaton addressed the apparition ;
'The alloted time has passed. Fulfil your part of our agreement. What is the nature of this being ? What have you seen in the timeless corridors of the Nether ? Speak, or be bound here forever'
The being known as the Lord of Nothing became suddenly perfectly still, regarding the Warlock with those infinitely black pits that passed for eyes.
'Thou keepst interesting company Warlock. This being is known to us. A mighty destiny hast been written in the Book of Fate for he whom we knowst as the Exile. Thou must be cautious, lest ye be caught in the swirling tides of fate that dost surround him.'
Eschaton waved an impatient hand.
'But the Work ? Does he endanger the Work ?'
The demon paused, and for just a fraction of a second Eschaton swore he saw a flicker of a smile pass across the grief stricken face.
'Nay. Thou art the Agent of Armageddon. Let that be written before all that is goeth into everlasting Fire.'