Fire is by far the most unruly of elements. As earth sits, and water flows, and the wind blows, fire refuses to be controlled. It refuses to be predicted. As though it, unique among the forces of nature, stands above the rules of matter and substance, for it, fire, needs nothing. Yet it, fire, is the one element that cannot stand alone. It consumes the earth and the air for it’s very sustenance. It is the prime parasite, the first creation to abuse its brothers. Micah was old now: very old. In his youth he had wielded the magic of fire, as well as blades of steel. He had been oblivious to the terrible destructive power of each in its own right, and of the harm both would deal in his lifetime.
In a clearing in a forest that many inhabitants of Sarin had forgotten in their lust for wealth and power, Micah sat now, old and frail compared to what he had once been, and he watched the fire consume the air and the earth of the clearing. He was grateful for the fire, because it kept his bones warm enough so that they did not ache, but now, for perhaps the first time in his long life, Micah appreciated the fire’s cost. He would have to remember to speak to his pupils on the subject.
A single snapping branch beyond the clearing roused Micah from his meditation, and the small silver hairs on the back of Micah’s neck rustled. Someone was attempting a cloaking spell in the clearing. Micah knew a trick that would take care of that. He opened his eyes and looked down at his wrinkled hand. What a mighty hand it had once been, now it was withered and scarred. He reached into the deepest depths of his soul, where the Aether stirred within him still, and he plunged the withered hand into the fire, and the fire changed from red to blue, and it bent to the will of the master. It flew in the direction of the foreign magic, and Micah watched with an amused grin as the fire rose and wrapped around him, reaching toward the invisible foe behind him.
Blue flames licked around Micah as he spun around to see who had approached him. He was startled to see that his fire had stopped short of the mark. Standing in a circle of scorched grass was an elf, holding a parchment scroll. Behind the pale greenish skin and shockingly white hair, though, Micah knew that anything could be lurking. The cloaking magic was still active. Someone had chosen to present themself as an elf, and was expending a lot of Aether in their effort to hide the spell.
“That was a rather neat trick,” the elf remarked. The voice sounded amused, but it wasn’t quite right. Elves were rare in this part of the continent, but Micah was one of the few from these parts who had dealt with them. He knew what an elven accent sounded like, and what he was listening to was almost a decent counterfeit.
“So is that,” the old warrior goaded, pointing at the man before him as he spoke “when I cloak myself, I always have trouble with the lips not matching my speech, but yours look almost natural.”
The elf laughed heartily, “Who said I was under a cloaking spell?”
“I did,” Micah grunted, “What do you want?”
“I have come on behalf of the royal family to invite you to a tournament of the mightiest warriors in Sarin. It is to be called the Aetherstorm, and its champion will surely be remembered in the minstrels’ songs for centuries to come,” the elf seemed to smirk a little. Micah wondered whether that was a deliberate piece of the illusion, or if this messenger had betrayed a bit of his true self through the mask. “What say you, warrior? Will you prove your mettle, or have you passed your prime?”
Micah chuckled at the insolence, “I say this… You are no elf, and there are few other races that can wield Aether as well as you have here. Show yourself, demon.”
The voice laughed again, this time wickedly, but the elf’s face was not laughing. Slowly, like a mirage forming on the horizon, the face melted away to reveal the unmistakable countenance of a demon. He could almost have passed for human, but his pale face was too perfect, and both eyes were blood red.
“I warned my superiors that we should only approach young, stupid warriors,” the demon shook its head.
“What were your intentions?” Micah interrogated, already drawing Aether up within himself to prepare an attack. There were few mortals who had killed demons in combat, and fewer still who had survived their injuries for more than a day after. Micah was one of the latter, but he had been younger then, mightier, and foolhardy enough to dismiss the danger he was in. Now, he had all of the fear born of wisdom.
The demon smiled. “Old man, you should not worry yourself with such matters… You will not live long enough to be troubled by the things we have in store.” The grass stirred as both Micah and his adversary began to pull the Aether up from their core to their skin.
Micah moved first, murmuring phrases few remembered in this part of Sarin. His voice dripped with spiritual power as the air began to bend to his will. The demon began to speak also, but his voice was terse, and his phrases rang with the perverse origin of their power.
Magic comes from speech, empowered by the energy in the deepest depths of the caster’s soul, or Aether. There are countless languages with the capacity to give form to that energy. Most of them have been forgotten by history. The most infamous, and secret, of those languages is known as Solael, the power language preferred by the demons. Most power languages are beautiful and at times hypnotic in their own right, but Solael is grotesque.
A flash of blinding light filled the clearing as Micah’s spell began first. The air itself seemed to burn from the energy leaving him, and the grass between him and his enemy dried to a crisp instantly. The light reached the demon, and enveloped him. It was a powerful attack, and a desperate one. Micah knew that his endurance stood no chance compared to the younger, more powerful being, so he had no choice but to end this battle quickly.
Slowly, painfully, the light faded, and to the horror of one of the oldest and most storied warriors in human history, the demon still stood, slouching a bit, perhaps, but otherwise unharmed. He was still muttering the sickening syllables of his native tongue, weaving a counter-attack out of the still charged air. The puffy clouds overhead began to thicken and darken, drawn together by the wicked magic. The clouds continued to assemble in a mass over Micah, and they seemed somehow to be glowing red from within their grey depths. The old man gathered what energy he had left to form a shield against the attack to come. As soon as he had begun to form the defensive spell, black fire began to fall from the sky. Micah spent all of the energy he had to shield himself from the burning rain. He was exhausted, but safe, under his canopy of blue light. When he finally released his shield, he looked for the demon, but couldn’t see him.
Before Micah found his adversary, the demon’s blade found his back. As he died, he could just make out the demon’s scroll, discarded, beside him. “Come and prove yourself,” it said, “join the Aetherstorm.”