Chapter 38: Xuzl

The room was small, no more than twelve feet across, with a desk, a rug, and a bed. On a chair opposite the door was the artifact, covered with a black cloth. Loral's eyes never left the object as he closed and bolted the door. Loral couldn't help but wonder if it was the last time he would ever see the outside world again.

With a small knife, Loral carved runes of protection into the wood of the door and into the supporting beams. He used the dust of crushed peridots and globes of summoned water to make a shimmering paste that he filled into the carved runes. A prayer to his goddess and a wave of his hand made the runes shine with an internal light. Loral prayed again, this time surrounding his body with a magical shell of protection from both physical, mental, and elemental attacks. He did not know what he might face in this encounter, it was best to be prepared. With his protection spells in place, Loral was ready.

Loral pulled back the cloth and revealed the circular shield. It appeared dull and scarred from thousands of battles. It was an artifact of the Plane of Fire, a shield that held magical powers beyond the understanding of mortals. It had been forged before the existence of man or elf, a weapon of power in a war long past. There was something deeper, however. During its last battle the shield had captured a piece of the spirit it once protected. Loral closed his eyes and began to speak.

"Awaken, Xuzl." Loral felt a flash of heat as the shield came alive. Loral imagined the shield expanding into a gateway, its oily surface appearing as a black liquid. A red claw extended out. A blast of hot sulphuric air blew Loral's hair back. He could feel the beast enter the room, over two thousand pounds of muscled hatred and fire.

Loral heard the thud of Xuzl's hoof hitting the wooden floor. He felt the mass of the beast all around him. The floor seemed to sink under the demon's weight. Loral heard leather wings unfold around him, filling the entire room. He could smell the beast's burning breath beating down on him. Through his closed eye lids he could see the burning green eyes of Solusek's guardian. In a basement of a bar in Felwithe Loral sat in front of one of the most dangerous creatures ever to step foot upon Norrath.

Xuzl's voice boomed. "At last we speak, elf. I wondered when this moment would occur." Xuzl laughed, a sound mixed of screaming children and steel scratching on stone. Loral could feel Xuzl's mind probing into Loral's, seeking control.

"Stand down, Xuzl." Loral spoke, putting as much strength into his voice as he could. "I know what you are and I have seen your powers before. You shall not have control over me." Loral held his hand up revealing the black oval scar on his palm - a scar it the shape of an eye. "I have been possessed before, demon. I have tasted the breath of evil from my own mouth and I shall not taste it again."

Xuzl considered the scar for a moment. "A beast of Innoruuk gave you this," the demon spoke with a voice both deep and gratingly sharp. "The Prince of Hate never had much patience. Your resistance to me is no concern. In time, priest, you will feel the strength I can give to you and perhaps you will see things differently."

"Perhaps I should toss you into the pits of Lavastorm."

Xuzl laughed. "Perhaps some red-skinned goblin would find me there. Perhaps his mind would not be as strong as your own and perhaps I would be released faster than I thought." Loral felt his heart sink at the demon's logic.

"I am a patient one, priest." Xuzl continued, "I have many powers to give and many tales to tell. I will not lie to you as Innoruuk's fiend did. It is far more entertaining to watch you burn by your own twisted truth."

"And what truth is that?"

"The truth that you do more to damage your world than you do to protect it. Do you think you've saved Norrath by killing Fennin Ro? Do you think no one will take the throne? Can you not see the great imbalance you have created? The Planes are a scale, pasty elf, and you just took all of the weight off of one side. It is only a matter of time before the world crumbles around you." Again came the steel-scraping laugh.

"I have tasted the blood of your grandfather, elf." Xuzl's heat grew as he spoke. "I heard him scream out to a goddess that would not listen when I ripped him in half and crushed his skull in my teeth. A thousand of your kind I have killed, but your own self destruction may be the most entertaining death I have seen."

"Perhaps, demon. But for now you will serve the will of Tunare. You will serve as my hand, as I serve as hers. And when your time of service is up, I will return you to your fiery pits with the other vermin that infest your world."

Loral opened his eyes. The room felt no different than it had when he first entered. The demon was gone. The scarred shield sat quietly across from him. Loral picked it up and slipped it onto his arm, feeling its warmth.

Loral considered the danger of such an item. To have the voice of one so versed in the ways of the outer planes was a benefit beyond measure, even if the voice was so foul as Xuzl's. If the will of Tunare is served and the protection of the elves is sound, the methods may not be questioned. It would not be the first time Loral had fought next to the hand of darkness in order to serve the greater good and it would not be the last.

Loral climbed up the steps of the bar's basement and into the city of Felwithe. The demon sat comfortably on his arm.