The last remnants of an ancient advanced race, the Clan of the Seven Stars, are returning at long last to their lost homeworld, Midkemia—not as friends, but as would-be conquerors. Led by the conjurer Laromendis, they are fleeing the relentless demon hordes that are sweeping through their galaxy and destroying the elves' vast empire planet by planet. Only by escaping to Midkemia and brutally overtaking the war-weary world can the last remnants of a mighty civilization hope to survive . . . if the Dread Legion does not pursue them through the rift.
The magician Pug, Midkemia's brave and constant defender, is all too familiar with the Demon King Maarg and his minions and their foul capacity for savagery and horror, and he recognizes the even graver threat that is following on the heels of the elven invasion. The onslaught to come will dwarf every dire catastrophe his imperiled world has previously withstood, and there is no magical champion in all of Midkemia powerful enough to prevent it. Only one path remains for Pug and Midkemia's clandestine protectors, the Conclave of Shadows: forging an alliance of formidable magical talents, from the demon-dealing warlock Amirantha, brother of Pug's hated foe, and the demon-taming cleric Sandreena, to the elven Queen Miranda, to the warrior Tomas. However, uniting enemies and bitter, vengeful former lovers will be no easy task, and even together they may ultimately be unable to turn the death tide. But a failure to do so will most certainly ensure Midkemia's doom.
The demon howled its outrage.
Amirantha, Warlock of the Satumbria, reeled back from the explosion of mystic energies unexpectedly hurled at him. Had his protective wards not been firmly established, he would have instantly died; the demon was powerful enough to send sufficient force through the barrier to slam the magic-user hard against the cave wall behind him. The blow he took on the back of the head was going to raise a nasty bump in quick order.
Demons always brought with them a large amount of mystic energies, enough to destroy any unprepared mortal standing nearby as they entered this plane of reality. It was one of the reasons for erecting wards, beyond merely confining the demon to a specific location. This one had arrived with a much more impressive explosion than the Warlock anticipated, and that surprised him.
Amirantha incanted a single word, a collection of otherwise meaningless syllables that together formed a key, a word of power that activated a much more complicated enchantment. It was a trick taught him years before, which often had been the difference between effective control of a summoned demon or dismemberment at his hands. This word strengthened the ward spell that confined the creature.
Amirantha regained his feet as the demon continued to howl at discovering himself summoned to this realm and confined. Experience had taught the Warlock that demons rarely objected to being summoned, as they found this world easily plundered. They just hated being confined and controlled. It was the one thing that made Amirantha's chosen area of study problematic: that which he studied kept trying to kill him.
Amirantha took a deep breath to calm himself and studied the enraged conjuration. The demon was not one he recognized; this was obviously a battle demon of some sort. Amirantha knew more, perhaps, than any man living on Midkemia about demons and their nature, but he knew only a tenth of what he wished to know. This particular one was new to him—though he conceded he hardly had an exhaustive knowledge of every demon in the Fifth Circle. He recognized the basic type: massive upper torso, roughly human in build, with a bull's head, or at least something that resembled a bovine. Long horns arched down and forward, giving weight to the Minotaurlike appearance. Absently, while beginning to conjure a spell designed to immobilize the demon, Amirantha wondered if such a monster had been the basis for the ancient myth of the Minotaur.
The legs were, if anything, goatlike, and there anything remotely familiar about the creature ended. The eyes burned like hot coals, and the body was covered in something like black fur up to the waist, though it was not wool, hair, or fur as Amirantha recognized such. The upper body was black leather, but slicker, shinier, as if leather had been tanned, dyed, and polished, and his horns were blood-red. Amirantha also observed from the howls shaking the cave that the demon's disposition was getting nastier by the second.
More to the point, the demon looked on the verge of rending his way through wards that should be impenetrable. Amirantha knew better than to ever place too much stock in the word "should" when a demon was involved.
He finished strengthening his spell of confinement and saw the demon step back a moment, shudder, then return to his attempt to rend the wards, accompanying his effort with an even louder bellow.
Amirantha's eyes widened slightly, his only outward concession to surprise. The demon just shrugged off a spell designed to immobilize any conjured entity. Or at least Amirantha's idea of "any" until this very moment.
Looking at the railing demon, Amirantha, Warlock of the Satumbria, stroked his chin whiskers as he considered what he observed. A vain man by any measure, he affected purple robes with silver needlework at the collar and sleeves and had his servant trim his beard and hair weekly, knowing exactly how it should look each time. His receding hairline had caused him to let his dark hair fall to his shoulders, and his dark brows and pointed chin beard gave him a look to match his calling in life: a summoner of demons. Or at least look the part to those who were willing to pay gold for the summoning or banishment of demons.
He muttered a very reliable invocation and watched. The demon should have instantly knelt before his master in abject obedience, but he could sense the summoned creature's rage growing at the command. Amirantha sighed in a mixture of frustration and confusion, and wondered what he had conjured this time.
Ignoring the ringing in his ears, the Warlock reached into a large belt pouch. He had personally sewn this pouch years ago, patiently weaving magic into the threads as he labored under the supervision of a master artificer named Leychona, in the great City of the Serpent River, his one and only attempt at fabricating magic cloth. He had been pleased with the results, this confining bag that let him gather together many stones of power without disastrous consequences. He was especially proud of the needlework, but found the entire process so tedious and exasperating he now paid artificers and tailors to fashion what he needed in exchange for his own skills or his gold.
His finger rubbed lightly against a series of embroidered knots inside, which indicated each pocket he had fashioned. He found the one he sought in less time than it took to think on it and withdrew a stone prepared against a time such as this. Holding it aloft, he incanted a spell that drew power stored in the stone and he directed it to the hastily reinforced barrier. He felt, almost physically, the shock reverberating through the ward as the demon hurled himself against the mystic defense.
Then the creature paused, looking at the space in the air where the barrier stood, as if he could see it, and pulled back his massive right fist. He unleashed a blow that might shatter a bull-hide shield, and Amirantha could swear he felt the shock from it travel through the air to strike him. At least that's what he told himself when he flinched.