Xyphren, his appearance much improved from the gruesome face he presented to the mortal realms, took his ease on his home plane of existence, one far different than mortals supposed it to be, lost in thought. After reporting back to Niran and showing him on a map where Storm and his companions had been overtaken by the avalanche he’d been curtly dismissed. The human would marshal his army to conduct a search of the area. The demon wasn’t needed for that.
It was just as well. He needed time to think.
During the brief moment he’d been in Storm’s mind during the fight over the soul box he’d caught a confirming glimpse he was indeed from Earth, adopted by the mighty barbarian Bear Clan, and was a Ghibbore. Ghibbores were oddities for the most part, unusual only in the random gifts which accompanied their status. But, a Ghibbore from Elder Earth, a young fighter whose mind carried the patina of mature age was something else entirely. Visitors from Elder Earth were rare but when they appeared they invariably disrupted the normal order of things. Given their unique position, they could hardly do otherwise. But this one set his teeth on edge.
Xyphren was the offspring of Zavebel, one of the Fallen Benei Ha´Elohim, and a human woman. The human didn’t matter; she’d died giving him life. At birth, he’d been one of the most powerful of the Nephilim, of the tribe of the Rephaim. He’d grown to over twenty-four cubits tall, with wisdom and power the others could only marvel at. Then mortal treachery during the Chaos Wars struck him and his spirit had fallen into the unseen world of the spirit where it had taken on the physical form he now possessed. In all the many thousands of years of Xyphren’s life as a giant, and now as a demon, Storm was the strangest person in his long experience. The why of it eluded him though. It wasn’t any touch from the Fallen such as his accursed sire, and he knew from bitter familiarity their presence left a foul stench. There was no such aura around Storm, yet something troubled him, made him nervous. It was an irksome sensation.
The Ghibbore wasn’t the only thing troubling Xyphren though. The axe the dwarf carried was obviously a powerful artifact. Just as obviously it was not created by the Fallen nor did it carry the smell of wizards. Dwarven craftsmen had once created such, but not since the First Age. How had the dwarf come by it? And what were the chances of him and Storm meeting by chance?
Xyphren snorted disdainfully; zero, that’s what. Coincidences were for the mortals. He knew better.
Artifacts could be created in secret, but once they appeared in the mortal realms they quickly made their presence known. This one had not. How strange. During the fight, the dwarf used it only as an ordinary weapon to protect the girl. It was ridiculous. One girl more or less in the world meant nothing. Why use an artifact for such a pointless task? Xyphren growled in frustration. There was no rhyme or reason to it.
There was also the matter of the Biqah archer. She’d been able to strike him without mystical weapons. Magic stood out as clearly to him as sunlight did to mortals. There was no power in any of her weapons or any hint of the Fallen on her, so how had she managed it? For that matter how had Storm done it? The only one of the bunch who was normal was the wizard.
Xyphren paused suddenly, remembering a half-forgotten whiff of elvish coming from the wizard during the fight. The elven folk had no power to cast a wizard’s spells even to the seventh generation – they had their own inborn enchantments – so how could this one? He cursed darkly at yet another unanswerable puzzle, snarling his frustration and confusion.
Three of them? Not to mention the dwarf and his accursed axe.
Four of the strangest companions he’d seen in ages, all headed for a showdown with Niran over a mere slip of a girl!
Xyphren shook his fearsome head in vexation. Was it possible there was more to Niran’s plot than there appeared? What was so important about a simple plan of conquest that Someone (he refused to even think the Name) would bestir Himself to such efforts to bring them together to oppose it? Why take such a round-about path when there were so many simpler methods available?
Once again he found himself snarling in confusion. It didn’t make any sense. The more he struggled with it the darker his thoughts became. Something was wrong here. Something was dreadfully wrong. He felt a growing sense of unease as he contemplated the mass of contradictions, and although he didn’t want to admit it, a touch of genuine fear.