Vernach, Embodiment of Despair
Plane of Ilos
Kingdom of Irelia
City of Riven
“So this is what I see my kingdom reduced to…” wallowed a man dressed in regal, extravagant robes. He stood hunched over a long and well adorned table where a tattered map of his dying kingdom lay covered with all sorts of small statuettes and other markings.
He traced the route the last of his army had taken with an old, frail finger. When he reached the end of it, the City of Riven, he tapped it twice. It was the worst place to be backed off to. It was a coastal town built right above an enormous and jagged cliff, with only one road leading into it. He had been backed off to a place from where he would not be able to escape. Being built onto a cliff, the city was naturally too high up to have a harbor on it. So the harbor was built further south, where the land smoothed out and the jagged rocks made way to a beach. That harbor had been secured, and most likely destroyed, by now.
He was trapped in his own fortress, and with the river that fed his town and his crops having seemingly evaporated and turned into nothing but a muddy trail, there wasn’t much longer before he’d starve or die from thirst. He was already rationing his supplies, and his army was already fighting on a half empty stomach - something all generals fear.
His hand slammed the little wooden figures on the map in a way that was more a show of tiresome frustration than that of anger. They represented the siege Riven was under. Behind them there was a line running from the distance right through Riven’s grassland territories and farms, but it had been burned off. And the way the burn seemed to perfectly trace the path of the river, it was obvious it had been intentional. A rude marking of the dry river; once thriving with clean water, now a murky swamp. Yet another hell sent blessing in this time of need.
What kind of curse was he under?
“To have my army - the greatest in the land - be defeated by mere barbarians and their shamans…”
The man slammed down on the table with force.
“This is where your pride lead you.”
It was a different voice, much more calm and collected. It came from the shadow off in the corner of the stone room and echoed through all the walls. It taunted him, as it had done for about a month.
“You’re back, demon.”
“I have a name, you know…”
From those shadows stepped a threatening figure. A demon clad in leather, with stony red skin streaked with fluorescent blue, walking with a strangely human posture. Unlike the other man, who had definitely seen better days, this creature was at complete ease. At times, it even seemed like he was smiling, despite being trapped in the same stone city as the other man. Despite being just as much a victim of the siege as the king he shared a room with.
He was definitely smiling.
“You held most of the continent - and all of its most valuable resources. You waged war on the small nations that only through some miracle were able to resist your superior armies, your advanced magics and your exquisite weaponry as you hoarded all the good this land had to offer… Yet you still lost all of it at the hands of a group of ragtag marauders.”
The demon stopped just beside the king.
“Where is your arrogant pride now?”
He strained his gaze from the king and inspected the map he had before him.
“I can offer you a way out.”
The demon’s voice became more serious, matching the grave tone of the king’s.
“I know of your terms, demon, and my will remains the same.”
The demon seemed disappointed, but one look at his face revealed a growing grin.
“There it is.”
“My pride, you mean?” pondered the king.
The two now faced each other, a hard determination present on the king’s face. Vernach had to admit the king had guts. Very few could stand in his shoes and still give that fervent, defying stare at him. Heck, very few people could handle staring at him at all.
“You know my terms: I can defeat your enemies, rebuild your kingdom and guarantee a cultural, economical and scientific golden age the likes of which this plane has never seen. I will protect you and your kingdom - including your lineage - for a thousand years, and guarantee long term prosperity for all.”
‘Awfully noble for a demon,’ thought the king. He’d heard this offer a hundred times and never even once has he believed it.
“In exchange, you want my throne.”
“No!”he interrupted. “Nothing like that! You and your ilk can keep your throne and your petty politics… All I want is your allegiance. The ownership of your kingdom, of its king and of its every inhabitant… as well as their worship. Simple, really.”
“How is owning my kingdom different than owning my throne?”
Vernach rubbed his bumpy forehead. Royalty so rarely had the knowledge to understand his plans and his words without him carefully choosing them.
“Irelia will have its king, and that will not be me. But Irelia’s king WILL be my vassal, as will its people. I will not slaughter them, I will not make them slaves for hoards of demons…” Vernach cleared out, avoiding an unneeded torrent of questions and accusations. “I will make your kingdom become greater than it has been ever before.”
“And just how can such a thing be done as easily as you describe?”
The king was becoming angry: he felt insulted. And truly, he was. If ushering in a golden age was such an easy task, then the fact that he hadn’t meant he was an incompetent ruler, pure and simply.
“Oh, it can. I’ve seen it done countless times. How, you ask? Well, take my deal, and you will see for yourself…”
Doubt began creeping in the ruler’s mind… He knew full well it was only a matter of time before he and his remaining forces were wiped out or starved. There was nothing he could do; the last three attempts to stop the siege ended in four of his battalions being wiped out in two hours, a third of those forces being instantly killed as they crossed the city gate. Just as the barbarians had defeated his forces, they had also killed and ransacked every other tribe in the continent. They were complete monsters, defeating them would be doing the impossible.
Vernach could not defeat them. He was but a demon: strong, most likely, but not enough to defeat an army of thousands of men. Perhaps… this was the perfect test of his skills. After all, if he could defeat an unbeatable army, he could surely bring together a kingdom, like he’d been boasting.
“Kill them. Kill them all. If you do, I’ll accept your deal. But…”
The king turned to face the demon and was not surprised to see him boasting the biggest smile he’d ever seen, which was saying something.
“If you don’t completely annihilate every single one of those damned monsters, there is no deal. Understood?”
Instantly, the room got darker and chillier. Vernach became clouded by thick black smoke, yet light shone from his eyes and mouth, creating an orange smirking face in the midst of the smoke.
“How I’ve waited to hear that.”
Two giant bat like wings protruded from the smoke just as it expanded to occupy the entire room. When the darkness cleared, Vernach was no longer there.
A burly, hairy man sat down on the head of his bed. He was completely naked and held two equally naked wenches under each of his big arms. The bed was covered with empty flasks of wine and beverage, and a naked young man, passed out under them.
The bigger male was laughing ecstatically, obviously inebriated and completely satisfied. He knew his army was just as pleased as he was. In each tent there was an orgy, a drunken brawl, or a despicable combination of both. The man knew his tribe had reached the epitome of perfection, and were playing the role their gods meant for all humans to play. They were enjoying life and all of its gifts to the fullest, not wasting a moment to be merry or an opportunity to prove their strength. They were gods among men as far as they were concerned.
But the man’s dream was about to become his nightmare. The smell of sweat and drink in the tent was replaced with a smell of putrid bodies. Both the wenches and the naked man on the bed had their flesh rot away before the bloodchief’s very eyes.
Confused and, for once in his life, scared, the man jumped from his bed and ran out of his tent, his nakedness forgotten.
What he saw in the camp was even worse. The air was black with the poisonous smoke escaping from the rotting corpses of his soldiers, which coated the blackened soil from one end of his camp to the other. His soldier’s tents were burning and their smoke completely blocked out the sky, where no moon and no stars shone.
It was the chief’s bellowing scream that broke the trance. He woke up in his bed, alone and sweating, covered in nothing but those same old flasks from his dream. No wenches, but no dead bodies either. It was all just a dream… Outside, the sounds of drunken orgies and their screams of pleasure still echoed through the camp, just as he wanted. Even if the sounds seemed a bit… different, than before.
He covered his shame with a robe made of bear hide and walked outside to check on his army and put his paranoia to rest. But, with each step he took, he noticed the smell was not that of sweat and merriment, but of blood and death. And the screams were not of pleasure… but of pain and pure agony.
And as he walked outside, the bloodchief saw the same bloody painting he’d dreamt of. That of dead soldiers, rotting corpses and the kind of chaos he wished to avoid. Death was everywhere. The same burning tents pushed out the same black smoke and it still covered the sky… but the moon was still visible. The smoke seemed to actively avoid it and formed a circle around it, simultaneously drawing the gaze of anyone who dared stray their sight from the chaos on the ground to look at the night sky, just as the bloodchief did.
What he saw made no sense, yet it explained everything. Right in the center of the moon floated a figure, stillessly. A demonic form of a beast with gigantic wings, monstrous horns and terrifyingly long limbs which ended in horrible crooked claws. The demon floated surrounded by a black fluid substance, somewhere between smoke and gel, the same substance that coated the ground and killed his soldiers.
Vernach channeled the mana from the swamp he’d dried up himself to rot away all the thousands of barbarians he’d trapped in the dreams and illusions he’d created. Using the blue mana from the sea, he’d trapped each and every one of the barbarians inside their own personal nightmare and fed on their despair. He’d grown stronger after each person whose mind and soul he’d devoured, harvesting enough power from the death of one, to kill another two… successfully starting off a chain reaction which lead to the deaths of the entire opposing army in minutes at virtually no effort. Hell, he’d walk out of there with his belly full.
First task, accomplished.
The king fell down on his throne, exhausted from the blood ritual he’d just gone through. The sigil on his chamber’s floor slowly faded away, making way for an empty, silent room.
Vernach, back in his humanoid form, analyzed the map one last time.
“How do you propose we unite back my kingdom, stronger than ever, then?”
Vernach gave one long smile before speaking.
“Simple. The barbarians tore down all the other tribes, raped the woman and killed the man. Just like they’ve done to all of your cities but this one. The next step is simple: we integrate those tribes back into our kingdom, and start the rebuilding process from our borders in, instead of just attempting to rebuild an old empire from a single, starving city.”
“The tribes hate us as much as we hate them, they’ll never agree to that. This was your ingenious plan?”
“Are all humans on Irelia as proud and foolish as you? I don’t mean you absorb them into your kingdom and make them your slaves or labourers. You will dispatch your soldier to those tribes, and make a new kingdom from them and this city. The woman left in the tribes are pregnant and defenseless, they need men to sustain them and soldiers to defend them. Your army will provide both. You will give the tribes equal rights you would give to any other citizen, and I mean it. They will be seen as equal to the Irelians you ruled before, nothing more, nothing less.”
Vernach paused for a moment. When the idea sank in and he cleared all the king’s objections, he continued.
“Your old citizens will be indoctrinated to believe that this was the result of camaraderie forged from fighting the same enemy: your people and theirs have become brothers in arms, and previous war propaganda will be replaced with new one about unity, cooperation and acceptance. This includes new books, romances and plays. You must do everything you can to change your culture so there are as few uprisings and revolts as you can, and so there is no xenophobia amongst your - our - vassals. Many a kingdom have been torn this way, and the only thing I can’t fight is infighting.
“You will then focus each tribe and each remaining city and use the best out of every resource available. Towns that lack mines can become famous trading outposts, and towns that lack roads can develop libraries and academies… I will leave you many an aid and check on you every other year, but my instructions are clear. Lastly, I will leave you this…”
Vernach waved his hand and made a book appear from the aether on the king’s lap.
“That is a detailed guide on what you are to do in the next ten years. Don’t worry, its connected to my psyche and is imprinted with my very personality. The later pages are yet blank, but their writing will appear once the time is right. It is still too soon to faithfully predict what you should do in detail six years from now, anyway… But the book will accommodate everything.”
The king was agasp. The detail of the actions described in the first pages of the book… it was perfectly clear that the demon had been planning this for years, if not decades.
“By the way, the river’s water should return in just a few days. Tell your farmers to get ready to return to their crops.”
Vernach felt it again… That pull. That want to seek out whatever was calling him. But the call was getting weaker and weaker… He suspected it was nothing but the echo of a scream by him unanswered. He’d taken too long sorting things out, it was time to investigate.
Before the king could stand up and say his piece, Vernach breached the door between worlds. He said his goodbyes, said he was “always watching” and simply vanished from Ilos, seeking out the source of the call.
(OTT: This is merely Vernach's introductory post. Next post, I'll have Vernach reach Dominaria, only being locked out of it. However, the dragons said the block was weak and that "they could planeswalk away anyway if they tried hard enough" so I'll try to get away with Vernach using his Dimir magic to pry through the blocking and see everything that happened thus far. Next post should also have Gib's and yuu's reactions, which I didn't include here due to size and time constraints.)