The stench of blood was just short of unbearable, even from the army's rear, the Disciple decided. He was struggling to maintain his concentration. He could lose it to a moment of fright as a knight appeared to have broken his side's line, or to being startled by the sudden shrill cry of a man dying – and, of course, on any battlefield, arrows would take far more than his concentration if he got careless.
I should've been an interrogator or a spy, he thought as he refocused himself.
"Forge of magic, grant me a shield," he commanded calmly, holding up a hand covered in a black draken-obsidian gauntlet. A million needles of light in as many colors shone from his hand, making him the target of every archer the opposing force could muster. The light began curving in on itself, doubling infinitely inwards and back and in again, eventually forming a sphere of light around the hand. As the first volley of arrows began to descend, the light burst outward and reshaped itself into a shimmering wall in front of him. One by one, arrows hit it and disintegrated.
He was now free to set up a real spell. His cloak, a generic black cloak of the kind worn by all Disciples of the Four Dark Orders of the mighty Necroguild (that is, a comfortable but altogether far-too-hot cloak with so many pockets the tailors almost qualified as engineers), produced three collapsible braziers from the left sleeve. He expanded each one to its assembled state in turn. The first two he placed about four feet apart, by the edges of the magic wall; the other was placed directly behind him. Nothing left to do now but channel timeless evils and beings only described as crimes against the gods.
Thousands of men from each side clashed in the middle of the enormous field, and those were just the front lines. Hundreds of soldiers clustered around each of dozens of banners. Swords and axes ripped through flesh and armor alike, while the huddled fools at their flags were targeted by archers.
The Disciple was a veteran of many battles – rare for someone who regularly used blood magic and summoned demons. However, there was one spell he never tired of. First, he summoned a knife to his hand from one of the many, many thought-controlled pockets woven into the cloak. He deftly drew the sleeve of his cloak back, opened the specially added hatch he called a Bleeder, and ran the draken-obsidian knife edge along the skin, making a perfect smooth cut parallel to hundreds of other perfect smooth cut's scars.
"Blood and mana of the First Order, grant me Power!" that set the clock ticking; now he just had to finish the summoning before the demon got bored and ripped his soul from his body. The knife flew back into the pocket, and another released a bag of a powder worth more than his weight in platinum. He allowed himself a short glance over his shoulder, just enough to confirm the unnaturally red flame burning in the brazier behind him. He dropped the bag to the ground in a relatively unceremonious matter and repeated the words he had to say mentally.
"By the offering of dragon's-heart powder in the name of the Silencers, the Second Order, I summon the Fear!" The right hand brazier exploded into a green flame, and the powder disappeared. This time the pocket dropped out an upper-middle-quality Focusing Gem, carefully crafted to allow trapping of raw mana, the pre-twisted essence of black magic. It held a dull grayish-black sheen in the hot afternoon sun, mostly from the contained magic power (and a few human souls. The demons liked that).
Almost done, he thought. What he didn't think about was the infinitely painful death that awaited him if he at any point had even a slight error.
"Crystalline Cage of Magic, offered in the name of the Third Order, the Black Mages, I summon the Decay!" he yelled, growing frenzied. A black flame engulfed the entire left brazier. He realized for a moment that the flames gave off no smoke, then continued, ignoring the fact. He reached into the face-obscuring hood of the cloak for the necklace he always wore. He doubted it held any power, but he held it tight every time he summoned, regardless of the fact. His black boot's tip scratched a quick design into the ground. Done!
"Bring forth the beast!" he roared. Thick plumes of smoke began ascending from each of the flames.
"The Black God has accepted your request for power. Be careful what you wish for," a deep and hollow voice declared. Silence fell over the battlefield, perhaps as the soldiers realized what was happening, or maybe just in the Disciple's mind.
Then came the rumbling.
The chasm grew from one corner of the field to the other, diagonally. The Disciple couldn't tell if it extended out of the perfect box-shape of the field and into the trees or not, but frankly, he didn't care. He wasn't paid to spare the environment, he was paid to ensure his side would win.
He was not paid to care about the hundreds of men who fell into the glowing red canyon because they couldn't scramble to safety in time, nor was he paid to care about the panicking fools who were dragged into the chasm by the enormous red hand reaching out of it. He was, however, obligated to care for the beast that climbed out afterwards, if only because he had summoned it.
It stood unimaginably tall, hideous from head to hooves. The head was greenish-skinned, with hollow, soulless eyes (luckily, this one had only two of them) and black tattoo-like markings of geometric shapes, with the left side of the beast's head symmetrical to the right. As if that wasn't bad enough, it had giant yellow tusks and a multi-colored Mohawk. The skin at the base of the neck was ragged and torn, as if the face were a damaged mask – or decaying. The torso was mostly humanoid with red skin. The right arm's elbow melted into a lizard-like scaled area, ending in two thrashing tentacles, and the left arm was normal, though the Disciple wondered at what point the intricately designed gauntlet had been added, since that was clearly the hand that had dragged the men in.
The legs had two joints, the first sending the leg back, the second putting it forward again, with the hoof at the bottom. A forked tail ending in two points sprouted from just above where the legs split.
From that point on, the battle was far more bloody smashing and far less fair fighting. The Disciple estimated that the demon had smashed about twelve times as many enemies as it had allies – not a ratio for a rampaging demon of that size.
Once the battle was over, however, the commander was not so pleased.
"Mister Julien K., you were not paid to kill my men!" he had yelled.
"I wasn't paid not to, either," Julien replied simply.
"You're never supposed to kill your own men!"
"You bought yourself victory. You never bought your soldiers' lives." The commander stared at Julien in a manner that implied imminent injury, but he then considered that if he drew blood, Julien would promptly use it to kill him mercilessly. Blood mages were not to be trifled with. "If you wanted your soldiers to live, we offered that to you for an extra four hundred of those wonderful gold coins you saw fit to give The Guild in exchange for a military success." The commander appeared to be about to say something, but Julien cut him off by adding, "and if you didn't want an impassible pit through the field, that would've cost you the two hundred coin No Environmental Damage condition."
"It was easily in your power to avoid all of that!"
"Well, yes, but The Guild considers its ruthlessness to be its pride and joy. Let it never be said we were merciful when someone didn't pay us a pretty coin or two… hundred… for it." Julien smirked.
"You got some nerve called your Necroguild The Guild. The Central City has a dozen guilds that'd help us win for the same amount, without the ally-killing or the fucking pit in the fucking ground!" the commander yelled, losing his cool and attacking the only opening he had.
"My good sir, the Necroguild is the only guild that has been able to maintain itself against the forces of the Fighters', Mages', Alchemists', Engineers', and Summoners' Guilds, along with the Royal Army, in addition to the lesser lords and such of the Royal Army, and with support from the Healers' Guild, all at the same time. We are the only guild big enough to claim four orders within our ranks, the only guild brave enough to deal with demons, and the only guild that has survived from its creation to the present day without being destroyed and reborn, and it is the third oldest of all the guilds of the Centrifuge!" The Centrifuge was a derisive name for the Central City, spun as it was by the scheming of the lords of the court and the machinations of the guilds, mostly the ones he had named and the Necroguild. The only accomplishment the Necroguild had to its name that was minor was that it was not the "Necromancers' Guild" or some stupid shit like that. They were simply the Necroguild. The also had the accomplishment of owing nothing to any Great House or even the Royals. None of the scheming lords and ladies liked that.
Julien had once been part of Great House. He had been a fourth child, the third son, three years separated from his sister, seven years from the heir to their house. Julien strongly suspected he had gotten all of his brother's brains, or that they had at the least been divided between his sister and him, because self-important Mister Heir of the Fucking Great House, Look At Me I'm So Special, most certainly did not have his own brain, nor did the second-in-line.
His sister and his father had been the only ones in the house who had respected him. Julien had one sickness after another for most of his early years; the Necroguild eventually approached, promising power and an end to the constant sickness. Big Mister Heir had sold him away without consulting their father, for the reason that he would strictly forbid it.
Nobody had respected him when he came back, black-clad and pale as death.
That had changed when he killed a man for asking if he was still sick and laughing. Julien had looked at him coldly, then slid a knife along his arm and pointed at the man, who had choked almost immediately. Nobody was sure if he had actually cast a spell, or made the man panic so much he choked himself or had a heart failure, but from that day forward, nobody made fun of him to his face.
The next day, when a servant boy (a certain fool who had said things about Julien while across the castle from him) turned up dead with blood all over his chamber, nobody made fun of him behind his back, either.
Julien had left soon after for Necroguild contract work, but he guessed the people at Greenrock Lake had never quite forgiven the reddening of their rocks. It was fine by him, they could rot for all he cared. He never even spent his between-assignment time there any more. He simply relaxed at the guild. He and his sister had once been close; now she was as distant as his ancestral home. The Guild was his home now, the Necroguild men and women his siblings, and Guildmaster Raynos his father – almost, at least. He'd never quite liked the idea of the people he worked with being related in any way but work.
After considering that he'd most likely used up his welcome with the whole "demon eating your comrades" thing, he decided he'd best be off. A flick of the knife in the Bleeder and a hand to the ground, and the message was away, a streak of red light surging across the ground. Somewhere in the path, at least one superstitious fool, possibly several, would be scared shitless at the wave of harmless crimson carrying his message to the Guild's Hall. They would be prepared for his return to the Guild.