Cirroar, the capital of Sarin, has been home to the Elven royal family since the Demons fell. It is constructed in the shape of a spiral, extending out from the palace. Under the palace, in a chamber nestled at the absolute center of the city, is the Aetheroot, the artifact whose power banished the demons from the natural plane.
In that chamber stood Maronir, the prince of Sarin, and heir apparent to the throne. He stared at what would be an unassuming piece of wood, if it weren’t glowing pale blue, dying the chamber in the light of its aura. No one knew how old it was. Some theorized it had been planted even before the foundations of the world, and that it was the source of all life. Soon, Maronir would inherit access to its might. It was his birthright as a descendant of Mar’Or, the man who made the covenant with the Aetheroot all those centuries ago. Many men of all races envied Maronir for this privilege, but as he stood there, bathed in its majestic light, all Maronir could think was how eagerly he would dispense with it if only he could.
“Your Highness,” a voice roused Maronir from his self-pity. It was Scora, his bodyguard. Maronir dismissed the burly elf’s bow absent-mindedly, still fixated on the cruel burden of the Aetheroot’s power on his bloodline. “Your father has requested your presence in the throne room.”
“Of course,” Maronir muttered. What more fitting way to end his visit with the Aetheroot than to see what it had done to his family first hand. As he took his leave of the chamber he stopped to take one last look at the ancient wood, growing up from mid-air into the ceiling, leading to the throne room, where his father waited.
Maronir and Scora climbed an ornate staircase up one level of the palace, hardly noticing the gold and jewels embedded in the walls at infinite expense to whatever ancient carpenter had built the palace. Maronir resolved himself to check the archives for the name of the man. It was not fitting, he thought, that the craftsmen be forgotten while their tribute to his family live on.
Scora stopped outside the massive gilded doors at the head of the staircase. He was one of the few commoners who were allowed in the Aetheroot’s chamber, but only royals were allowed in the throne room. It was the last guard in place to ensure no one discovered the secret cost of the Aetheroot, and no one learned the price Maronir’s family paid for their power.
The doors glided open before Maronir, and as he entered the massive dome under which the throne room sat, a familiar sight greeted him. Lined up along the left side of the room, extending away from the entrance were 7 thrones, with what appeared to be exquisite wooden statues seated in them. To a commoner, these would appear to be statues of the kings of Sarin beginning with Mar’Or. Maronir knew better, however. As he looked at the images of his forefathers, some sitting peacefully, others seemingly in the act of rising from their seat and shouting, he knew that these men were still very much alive, but transfixed in an eternal prison by the power of the Aetheroot. That was the price of its magic, the cost of ridding the world of demonic rule. The seventh throne was vacant, waiting for him to take his place in this glorious prison. An eight would spring up from the ground as soon as Maronir produced an heir, and in the sixth throne, sat his father, who was from the waist down, completely changed from flesh to wood. It had been months since he had been able to leave the throne room, and over a week since he was able to stand. His face looked pained, but he swore to Maronir that the process did not hurt. Maronir did not believe him.
“You summoned me, father,” the prince managed. The combined auras of the royal line and the Aetheroot itself gave the room a noxious green light, and in it, his father looked pallid and frail. It would not be long before the king’s body was completely transfigured. He would be, by all common measure, dead, but he would live on inside the husk that had once been his body. Once the transformation was complete, the power would transfer to Maronir, and soon after that, his own change would begin. The more power a king used, the faster he was changed. It was said that when Mar’Or banished Sybilis, he was transfigured instantly, and brought here by his son, who now sat beside him. Some of the latter kings ruled in peace for hundreds of years before their change began, but Maronir had seen in his brief fifty years of life that it was the anticipation that was the hardest. The working, and the ruling, and the waiting for the day, when suddenly you were rooted where you stood, and needed to quickly break free and hide yourself away on your throne, lest the commoners discover your fate and inadvertently disturb the covenant out of pity for you.
The covenant was clear. If the Aetheroot did not have its tribute, the power would withdraw, and everything that had been built with it would be destroyed, including the barrier that separated the demon king, Sybilis, from this world.
The King spoke in gasps, “There have been whispers of a tournament organized by the royal family; they are calling it the Aetherstorm.” His strength was being sapped by the transformation. He could hardly breathe anymore. The cursed wood was beginning to take his lungs.
“Tournament? Of what sort?” Maronir wondered, “I’ve not been informed of any tournament.”
The king sighed patiently, and spoke in gasps “We have not organized any, my son. Of that I am certain. It seems someone is staging a brawl and trying to give it credibility by using our names. Our men captured one of the ones circulating invitations to the tournament, and are holding him. He was cloaked as an elf, but by the feel of his aura, I would say he is actually a demon. He is being held in the dungeon. I would like you to go interrogate him and try to see what mischief the demons are up to. There is little I can do from here, but soon enough you will have the might required to put a stop to their endeavors.”
“Yes, father. I will go right away,” Maronir said. He bowed and began to exit. As soon as he was nearing the door, his father let out a groan. The transformation was quite painful indeed. Maronir allowed his father to believe that he had not heard it, and made haste to the dungeon.
Maronir and Scora entered the dungeon to find an elf chained to the floor in the midst of being flogged by the interrogator. The man stopped in mid stroke and dropped his flail in his haste to bow to the prince. His victim laughed heartily at his tormentor’s show of reverence, and was punished for the insolence promptly.
Maronir had stopped briefly to arm himself before entering the dungeon, and he rested his hand on the pommel of his dagger as the creature before him was brought to submission. His father had been right, as always. This did appear to be an elf, but it stank of the wickedness of demonic magic.
“Show yourself, demon,” Maronir commanded, “your pitiful mask is of now value here.”
The creature laughed again, and its face contorted into a sick caricature of Maronir, before melting away into the familiar pale countenance of a demon.
“What is the purpose of this… Aetherstorm you have arranged?” Maronir asked. The demon turned its head to one side and regarded him with a look of curiosity,
“Is it true,” the demon hissed, “that rather than face the might of Sybilis on your own, you instead allow a silly old tree to seal you -” the demon stopped mid sentence as Maronir hurled his dagger at it. The blade buried itself two-inches deep in the stone behind where the demon’s head had been, but the demon was gone, and a plume of black smoke billowed in his place.
“Damn it all,” Maronir bellowed, “Don’t breathe it in!”
He and his subjects quickly covered their mouths and turned away from the cloud. Then, a voice came from the cloud, saying, “I could have escaped from your buffoon anytime I wished, prince, but I stayed because my mission was not to invite just anyone to the Aetherstorm, but you yourself. If you really believe the elves have the right to protect Sarin from us, then you have a chance to do so without the help of your little tree.” Once it had finished, the cloud seeped through the walls of the dungeon and was gone. A scroll sat where the demon had been, bearing instructions to reach the Aetherstorm.