During the course of his reign, King Ulrick had amassed an impressive personal library of books and scrolls covering a wide range of topics. There were tomes on the myths and legends of far-off lands, biographies of great men and women, philosophical tracts, and practical books on architecture and engineering. In the years since her father’s death, Jenevieve had found great solace in these books, which allowed her a chance to escape the pressures of day to day life as the ruler of a dying kingdom.
Tonight, however, she had not come seeking distraction.
She went to the shelf dedicated to military history, and started scanning the titles imprinted on the spines. After a few minutes of searching, her arms were laden with several thick volumes pertaining to siege warfare. She started to carry these back to the table where she planned to peruse them by candlelight, but stopped.
Something had caught her eye.
It was a slim volume, barely more than a pamphlet, sticking out from one of the lower shelves. It seemed strange that she should never have noticed it there before. Curious, she placed her load onto the floor and went to inspect this strange little book that seemed to be shouting for her attention.
No sooner had Jenevieve slipped it from the shelf than a feeling of deep unease came over her. The book was far too heavy for its size, and the cover was fashioned from a strange variety of leather that was far too pale and smooth to have come from a cow. There was no title on the front, merely an image of an inhuman skull adorned with a pair of curving horns.
For a moment, she considered placing the little book back where she had found it. There was something about it that filled her with a sense of foreboding and lifted the fine hairs at the back of her neck.
A sound from the other side of the room made her yelp with terror. Dropping the book, she thrust to her feet and turned in the direction of the sound.
Nothing was there.
It must have just been the old timbers creaking as the temperature changed. Jenevieve suddenly felt very foolish. Here she was, a grown woman, jumping at shadows like a frightened child. And to think, she was supposed to lead her people through a siege from an invading army of Khoroth barbarians.
She looked at the small leather bound book where it had fallen on the floor. The image of the horned skull looked up at her in the candlelight, but now it was just an image, and the book was just a book. It held no special power and instilled no sense of otherworldly fear.
Still, Jenevieve was curious.
She stooped, picked up the small book, and carried it to the table to have a look at it. As she sat down, she told herself she would only read it for a minute or two, then she would give her attention to the far more important books on siege tactics.
Before she had finished the first page, the sick fearful feeling had returned to her stomach.
The pages were filled with text, handwritten in ink the color of rust. The language used was the High Speech, but an extremely archaic dialect which contained many words that even Jenevieve, despite her extensive education, could not translate. Nevertheless, she was able to parse enough of the text to understand its subject matter: the summoning and binding of demonic spirits.
Jenevieve’s blood ran cold. What was a book such as this doing in her father’s study? She’d heard the rumors, of course, of her father’s involvement in the dark arts, but she had always dismissed that as nonsense spread by his enemies. It couldn’t really be true.
Of course not. He had probably acquired this book as a curio, nothing more. Besides, there was no such thing as black magick, and demons were merely creatures of legend, literary devices used by the Church to educate simple-minded folk about the dangers of sin and the evils of excess.
Jenevieve kept reading, her eyes racing over the pages until they burned from the strain. As she ventured deeper into the book, images appeared, strange arcane sigils and diagrams of sacred circles of containment used to confine and summoned spirits.
As Jenevieve turned the next to last page, her heart stopped.
There before her, scrawled on the paper in that same ruddy brown ink, was a remarkably lifelike depiction of a horned demon. The drawing was so realistic, it almost seemed as if the creature’s eyes actually glistened in the light of Jenevieve’s candle. Its powerful arms and tapered torso were lined with corded muscle. Between its legs hung an obscene depiction of the masculine organ, absurdly outsized. Jenevieve shuddered with repulsion. At least she told herself that was what she was feeling, though the sudden warmth between her thighs suggested otherwise.
Beneath the image was written a single word:
V A R G A N A X