A number of unfortunate situations can be attributed to a failure in communication. For example, linguistic barriers between Dol elves and their dwarven neighbors created confusion that led to the Orichalcum Wars which lasted for many centuries. Personal barriers can also result in poor communication, such as when a very literal person asks an irate person for directions, and spends six days sailing up the Yores River and rediscovering the ancient art of necromancy.
Regional differences can be troublesome, too. On Solkin, the term “demon” is colloquially used to describe a magical construct of dark origin, though such creatures are technically called something fancy like Eldritch Bioconstruct or Necrohomunculi. Demons as they are often perceived – evil monsters from some hellish dimension that eat children and raze villages – are only works of fiction. Certainly no arcane manuscript, such as the one from which Teyla Eastwind learned a summoning ritual, would ever use the term.
In Skymoore, however, demons are what the people call primals. Primals are entities composed of raw emotions which can be given physical form by means of summoning them into the material world. Primals usually look like a malformed version of a naturally-existing creature (like, say, a gorilla) composed of some kind of organic material which does not normally compose naturally-existing creatures (lava, for example).
And so, because language is a fluid and changing thing rather than a factual one, Donovan and Teyla had a communication failure resulting from regional and linguistic differences. Donovan was technically correct when he said that there was no such thing as a demon, because the types of creatures he was thinking of were fictitious. But the creatures Teyla was referring to – primals – are in fact very real and very dangerous. So they are both correct.
Language is fascinating!
Lying on his back in Ingrid Nittlepick’s old warehouse, Donovan Allman was not amused by this misunderstanding. He was mostly in pain, and alarmed.
The not-gorilla spoke. “A cult,” it said. “Who among you leads?” The primal spoke Common, but its voice and accent were so low and gravely that it took a few moments to parse what it was saying.
Nobody said anything. Most of the dozen cultists who had assembled were unconscious or buried under boxes. The other few were fleeing out the back door. Donovan stood.
“That would be me.”
“Why summon me?” The primal’s magma skin was almost too bright to look upon, and if one could get past that they were rewarded with a disturbing visage. Its eyes were three green stones with pupils that cast red light, flecks of fire fell from its nostrils when it breathed, bubbles of magma grew and popped like fiery boils, and its teeth were an uneven mess of sharpened stone.
“It was a mistake,” Donovan said. “I was teaching my…students. I was teaching them the art of summoning when the ritual unexpectedly completed. I would be happy to send you back.”
The primal laughed a dry laugh that sounded like the grinding of stone. “You summon me. You feed me.”
Oh no. “What do you eat? We have plenty of wood and steel here.” Not people. Not people.
“Bah. Disappointing.” The primal reached down with all four of its arms and scooped up the candles at its feet. It shoved them into its mouth and swallowed without chewing. There was a bubbling sound within. “More.”
“More what? Wax?”
The primal turned and ran through the new hole in the front of the warehouse. The edges caught fire as the creature’s skin brushed against it.
Donovan’s mind raced. There were many ways to subdue a primal, but he didn’t know how to do any of them in Skymoore. With its fiery form, he supposed he could lead it into a lake. But no, this would be best handled the old fashioned way.
“Tabitha,” Donovan said as he helped the half-dryad out from beneath a stack of imperfect ironing boards. “Help me find a weapon.” Primals couldn’t be killed, but he could destroy its form enough that it would return to its home plane.
She shook her head. “Ingrid doesn’t make weapons.”
Donovan kicked over a box of silverware in frustration. “Get everyone out of here,” he said, pointing to the slowly spreading fire. “I have to go stop that thing.”
“How are you going to do that?”
“I’m not sure.”
“Oh. Good. Good luck.”
He was going to need it.
Hega Perdugal took her evenings out where she could. When she wasn’t organizing and running aftermaj drills or working as a consultant for the Department of Subpublic Affairs, she was volunteering in the kitchen at the Windomere Orphanage or maintaining her outer-body through exercise (both at home and in the Mish Mash fighting rings) and her inner-body through reading.
But tonight the dwarf made time for herself to visit the Soless district, a region of dance halls, parlors, and pubs which came to life when the sun went down. She was sitting at an outdoor bar while a very brassy band marched by, followed by a dancing line of brightly-dressed young folk.
Derrock, a bulbous brown bartender with stones growing from his shoulders, elbows, and spine, nodded to the dancers as he poured Hega a Cockathrice. “I ‘member we used to do that,” he said. “Fun.”
Hega downed her drink in a single swig. “But who has the energy?” she asked. “Besides, it’s enough to be near it. Makes me feel younger.” Derrock nodded. “Nostalgia’s a fine drug, ain’t it?” The bartender just watched the dancing line, which stretched down the street and around corners into alleys and doorways like the ever-shifting walls of a beautiful maze. “Another. Make it a…Magmartini? You got the Al’s Chemy guy naming your drinks these days?”
“You gon’ criticize and you ain’t even tipped me yet?” Hega tossed a silvered feather on the table. Derrock promptly snatched it up and ate it. “Better. So why ain’t I seen you around?”
“Last year’s been busy. Last month’s been busier. I’m keeping my hand full.” Derrock snorted politely. That’s why they were friends: Derrock always pretended her one-arm jokes were funny.
“Not with your friend tonight?” asked Delia Findlesmith, Derrock’s only employee, as she served Hega her drink. “The shopkeep?” Hega raised her eyebrow. “I saw you at the Mile High a few times. Looked like you were dating.”
“It’s impolite to pry,” Hega said. “Don’t you have any respect for your elders?”
“We’re probably the same age.” Right. Elves.
Just then the muffled sounds of shouts made themselves heard over the music permeating the district. Then the shouts gave way to screams. Then the trickling line of dancers became a flood of chaos and confusion as people ran from something nobody could quite identity.
“Where are you going?” Delia shouted over the panic, but Hega was already gone.
The town guard was ushering people away from the Soless district en masse, refusing any and all questions regarding what exactly they were running from. Hega didn’t have to ask, however, as the rampaging gorilla with magma for skin spoke for itself. In its wake, the beast left a trail of debris and flame where there once were trees, benches, and homes.
Guardsmen shot the beast with arrows and slings, but it was undeterred. The wood only caught fire, and guardsmen were swatted aside with little consideration as the primal continued through the streets. Every few moments it paused and sniffed. It was looking for something.
Hega’s mind raced.
“Where are you going?” Delia asked. The elf was standing right behind Hega, looking down at her. A quick glance revealed Derrock was nowhere to be found – swept up in the current of pandemonium, most like.
“Why aren’t you running with the others?”
Delia titled her head. “You’re the aftermaj coordinator. I thought you would know the best route.”
Hega turned toward Delia, hands on her hips. “Well follow the guards. I’m not trying to escape, I’m trying to-”
Delia gasped and pointed. The primal was bounding toward them. Hega reached down for a shard of glass from a café window that had been shattered in the chaos. It was tiny, it was thin, it hurt to hold, but it was all she had.
Hega made herself as imposing as possible standing before an elf that dwarfed her, but the primal paid her little mind. As she stabbed toward it, an enormous hand slammed into her side, winding her and knocking her down. The magma felt like thick pudding. It was warm to the touch, but not as hot as it looked. But the beast was powerful, and the dwarf saw stars as she tried to collect herself.
Delia’s calm composure broke and she yelped as the primal shoved into her, knocking the young woman onto her back. Through sobbing breaths, she began muttering something in elvish and a purple, triangular stone she wore around her neck began to glow. Its warmth soothed her. She closed her eyes and tried to ignore the creature standing over her as she finished the spell.
The primal reached down, tore the necklace from her throat, and ate it. Delia shrieked and tried to stand, but the beast had one of her legs pinned. Hega collected herself and looked about for a weapon, and nearly settled for one of the flaming spears embedded in the primal, when something metallic zipped through the air and collided with the primal’s head.
It was a fork.
More confused than hurt, the primal stepped off Delia and turned to face its new attacker. At the end of the street, standing in the remains of a burning dance hall, was the cloaked form of Donovan Allman. “There’s more where that came from,” he threatened with almost laughable confidence. He drew a kitchen knife from beneath his cloak and ran toward the creature.
“Donovan, what are you doing?” Hega shouted.
“Destroying its physical form!” Donovan replied.
“You again?” the primal asked. “Feed me or leave me be.”
“How about some steel?” Donovan replied, leaping a considerable height toward the beast and preparing to drive the knife through one of its stone eyes. To Hega’s amazement, the cutlery found purchase and cracked the stone. But to her dismay, the primal quickly seized Donovan by the throat.
“Leave. Me. Be,” it said, holding Donovan up above its head. His cloak caught fire. An orange light shone beneath the primal’s eyes and the fire quickened, lighting his entire upper body aflame. He was tossed aside like a doll.
The primal sniffed the air again, and wandered back the way it had come. The guards just gaped at it as it left.
“Help me put him out,” Hega said to Delia, who was taking deep, gasping breaths.
“I.” Gasping breath. “Can’t.” Gasping breath. “Necklace…granted magic.”
Hega huffed and yanked a curtain from a shattered window. “I meant like this.” They quickly beat out and smothered the flames. Donovan’s shirt and cloak were practically ash and his stubble was singed, but his skin was somehow largely untouched. He was also unconscious.
“Magic fire,” Delia said.
“Magic man,” Hega suggested. “Did you see that jump? Donovan, wake up.” She slapped him across the face once. Then again. He caught her hand and held it there for a moment. It was very warm. Hega almost smiled.
“Thalia…” he muttered. Hega frowned. “Thalialdera…”
“Hega,” she corrected. “Are you okay? What’s Thalialdera?”
“It’s elvish,” Delia said. “Thali, al, Dera. Angel of Dera.”
“It’s gibberish,” Donovan corrected, pulling himself upright. “My head…where is it?”
“It’s gone. It ate my necklace, and now it’s gone. It was priceless. Its magic has been in my family for…ever.”
Donovan managed a sympathetic look.
“Primals appear in aftermaj incidents very rarely,” Hega said. “We have an unbinding circle in the agriculture district.”
Donovan raised an eyebrow. “You have an unbinding circle here? Aren’t you people…skittish…when it comes to magic?”
Delia crossed her arms. “Some are. We aren’t all Brother Graugh, if that’s what you mean. Nestor’s not the only magic user in Skymoore.”
“But an unbinding circle, that’s…”
“We commissioned it,” Hega said. “Now come on before that thing hurts anyone else.” She added, a bit louder: “Sol knows the guard won’t do anything about it.”
“How do we get it to the circle?” Delia asked. “It’s very single-minded.”
“It wants food,” Donovan said. “Those candles…your necklace…oh no. Oh no. No, no, no.”
Delia cocked her head. “Spit it out,” Hega said.
“It eats magical items,” Donovan said.
Delia stared for a moment, and then it hit her. “Oh my.”
Hega burst into laughter