The Demon Awakens by R. A. Salvatore


Prelude

 

  The demon dactyl came awake. It didn't seem such a momentous thing, just a gradual stirring in a deep cave in a far, empty mountain. An unnoticed event, seen by none save the cave worms and those few insomniacs among the bevy of weary bats hanging from the high ceiling.

  But the demon spirit had awakened, had come back from its long dormancy into the statuelike form it had left behind after its last visit to the world called Corona. The tangible, corporeal body felt good to the wandering spirit. The dactyl could feel its blood, hot blood, coursing through its wings and mighty legs, could feel the twitching of its mighty muscles. Its eyes flickered open but" saw only blackness, for the form, left standing in magical stasis in the deep cave, head bowed and wings wrapped tightly about its torso, had been covered by magma. Most of the fiery stuff of that time long past had bubbled and flowed away from the cavern, but enough had remained to harden about the dactyl's corporeal form. The spirit had come back to Corona encased in obsidian!

  The demon spirit fell deep within itself, summoned its powers, both physical and magical. By sheer will and brute strength, the dactyl flexed its wings. A thin crack ran down the center of the obsidian sarcophagus. The dactyl flexed again and the crack widened, and then, with a sudden powerful burst, the beast blew apart the obsidian, stretched its great wings out to the side, clawed tips grasping and rending the air. The dactyl threw back its head and opened wide its mouth, screeching for the sheer joy of the return, for the thoughts of the chaos it would bring again to the quiet human kingdoms of Corona.

  Its torso resembled that of a tall, slender man, shaped and lined by corded strands of taut muscle and sporting a pair of tremendous batlike wings, twenty feet across when fully extended and with strength enough to lift a full- grown bull in swift flight. Its head, too, was somewhat human, except more angular, with a narrow jaw and pointed chin. The dactyl's ears were pointed as well, poking up about the demon creature's thin tuft of black hair. Neither did that hair hide the creature's horns, thumb sized and curling in toward each other at the top of the demon's brow.

  The texture of its skin was rough and thick, an armored hide, reddish in hue and shiny, as if lit by its own inner glow. Shining, too, were the demon's eyes, pools of liquid black at most times, but shifting to fiery red orbs, living flames, when the demon was agitated, a glow of absolute hatred.

  The creature flexed and stretched, extended its wings to their full glory, reached and clawed at the air with its humanlike arms. The demon extended its fingernails, transformed them into hooked claws, and grew its teeth-two pointed canines extending down over its bottom lip. Every part of the demon was a weapon, devastating and deadly. And undeniably powerful though this monster appeared, this demon's real strength lay in its mind and its purpose, the tempter of souls, the twister of hearts, the maker of lies. Theologians of Corona argued over whether the demon dactyl was the source or the result of evil. Did the dactyl bring the weakness, the immorality, to humanity? Was the dactyl the source of the deadly sins, or did it manifest itself and walk the world when those sins had festered to the point of eruption?

  For the demonic creature in the cave, such questions hardly mattered. How long had it been? the dactyl wondered. How many decades, even centuries, had passed since its last visit to Corona?

  The creature remembered that long-ago time now, savored the thoughts of the streaming blood as army after army had joined in delicious, desperate battle. It cursed aloud the name of Terranen Dinoniel, who had rallied the humans and the elves, chasing the dactyl's armies back to the base of this mountain, Aida. Dinoniel himself had come into this cave after the beast, had skewered the dactyl. . .

  The black-winged demon looked down at a darker red tear marring its otherwise smooth hide. With a sickening crackle of bone, the creature's head rotated completely around and bowed, examining the second imperfection of its form, a scarred lump under its lower left shoulder blade. Those two scars were perfectly aligned with the dactyl's heart, and thus, with that one desperate thrust, Dinoniel had defeated the demon's corporeal body. Yet even in its death throes, the dactyl had won the day, using its willpower to bring up the magma from the bowels of Aida. Dinoniel and much of his army had been consumed and destroyed, but the dactyl. . .

  The dactyl was eternal. Dinoniel was gone, a distant memory, but the demon spirit had returned and the physical wounds had healed. "What man, what elf, will take Dinoniel's place?" the demon asked aloud in its hollow, resonating voice, always seeming on the edge of a thunderous roar. A cloud of bats shuddered to life at the unexpected noise and flew off down one of the tunnels formed when the lava had flowed from this spot. The dactyl cackled, thinking itself grand to be able to send such creatures -- any creatures! --scurrying with a mere sound. And what resolve might the humans and the elves -- if the elves were still about, for even in Dinoniel's day they had been on the wane- muster this time?

  Its thoughts turned from its enemies to those it would summon as minions. What creatures could the dactyl gather this time to wage its war? The wicked goblins certainly, so full of anger and greed, so delighting in murder and war. The fomorian giants of the mountains, few in number but each with the strength of a dozen men and a hide too thick and tough for a dagger to puncture. And the powries, yes, the powries, the cunning, warlike dwarves of the Julianthes, the Weathered Isles, who hated the humans above all others. Centuries before, powries had dominated the seas in their solid, squat barrelboats, whose hulls Were made of tougher stuff than the larger ships of the humans, as the diminutive powries were made of tougher stuff than the larger humans.

  A line of drool hung low from the dactyl's mouth as it considered its former and future allies, its army of woe. It would bring them into its fold, tribe by tribe, race by race, growing as the night grows when the sun touches the western horizon. The twilight of Corona was at hand.

  The dactyl came awake.
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