[Almost all of the standalone stories from my upcoming novel, “I Despise Your Prophecy”, are going on my Patreon. This is a rare story that’s going in both places, because I feel it fits here well.]
Demons were fond of The Dark Lord for many reasons. Some were caused by the White Wizards themselves, though (as usual) they neither knew, nor seemed to care.
If one had really studied one’s usage of extraordinary weapons in times of war (“Death at the Speed of Magic”, by Watt and Evans, was widely acknowledge as the right source to read for this purpose, or—for the slightly ‘busier’, ie, lazier spellcasters, it was more ‘the sort of book to leave hanging around your home’—you’d know something important:
It is, in fact, incredibly difficult to enchant a sword. This is at least partly because a wise swordmaker creates blades out of iron, instead of, say, pastrami. And iron (as with its descendant and refinement, steel) is notoriously hard to enchant. There’s a reason you hang up an iron horseshoe for good luck, and that’s because the horseshoe lobby is incredibly powerful and has gained control of your local legislature, but on a sidenote, it also keeps away Faeries. (You can also propitiate Faeries with gifts of whiskey; but if it’s a choice between angry Faeries or more alcohol, the correct answer is “Both, please.”)
So while enchanted swords play a huge role in most sagas, it is vitally important that “Saga” is a synonym for “Things which aren’t necessarily lies, but which probably were commissioned by kings and chieftains who had the ability to shower you with either wealth, or flaming tar, depending on how much they enjoyed the work.” It’s also worth noting that such people do not always care more about historical accuracy than they do about a ripping good yarn and the occasional complement”, and if you add to that the part where the Sagas generally had to fit into some sort of complex rhyming and/or metric scheme, you begin to see why, once in a while, they’re not always ‘depictions of literal truth’ so much as ‘the never-ending search for positive adjectives to describe the royal family’.
(On the other hand, those who say that sagas are ‘just poetry’ while books of history are ‘the historical record’ either don’t know quite how many things influence what makes up ‘history’, or don’t realize that how a civilization creates art can be just as helpful as, say, how it attempts to represent its reality.)
We’d all like our heroes to be waving sorcerous pointy things; there is a certain romance in overcoming whatever obstacles lie between one’s hero and the hero’s preferred methodology for rendering the opposition permanently inert. It’s just that magic cannot do everything, and getting spells to enter implements is nontrivial. If the object is poorly-made, a significant enchantment might be too much for the thing to contain, and the instrument might explode. And if the thing is well-forged, then it might throw off any witchery, or simply become worse for it. You can’t always create something better by combining two objects of value; ask any princeling whose jewel-studded dagger was just a little slower than someone’s humble but very rapid dirk.
The life of someone carrying a misenchanted sword is usually neither boring, nor terribly prolonged.
In the case of magical slicing tools, there’s a certain loophole:
Runeswords, now, those are easy. Not easy like pleasant; not easy like just anyone could do it, but easy enough that less than 50% who attempt it die, and that ain’t bad. There is a Dread Ritual, sure, and some lives are often lost; but it would be more dangerous to send spellcrafters out into the wild without dread rituals; you need to thin down they’re ranks, White Wizards are the cockroaches of the apartment building that is your average fantasy world.
There are glyphs, passed down from Master to Master (or, sometimes, from Master to Fool; magic degrades….)
…and those glyphs invite the thing In.
They are ancient markings, before humans had letters, before we had hieroglyphs, before we had speech. Even sages will seldom read them aloud, and most simply don’t know what they mean.
Translated literally, it’s “ALL YOU CAN EAT BUFFET HERE”.
…but that’s seldom mentioned to the lucky Chosen One who’ll wield the thing.
(Hymnia had seemed bothered by her cleaver’s almost-in-tune humming. Susane had simply screamed over it. Drina, who stayed not long, seemed to have put actual stoppers in her ears; not a good survival tactic.)
Given such an attractive value proposition, plus a great deal of the blood of someone you really didn’t need around anyway, it’s not hard to entice a demon into the blade. There it lodges itself, moaning softly, waiting for the howls of war where it can drink blood and souls.
(It doesn’t have a mouth, but no-one has gotten up the courage to ask one of these things just how, precisely, it “drinks”.)
And you have a vast, dark, demoniac Runesword.
Yes, it’ll eat your damn soul. It’ll eat any soul it gets its hands on. We never claimed it was bright. Or that it had hands, actually.
It’s too powerful, too addictive to give up, feeding you vitality as it drains the spiritual essence out of the beings you face. But now that the demon’s inside. Nobody can make the thing shut up.
It is the Ultimate Weapon, and one of your first lessons in how frequently we misapply the term “ultimate”. You ought to say “Quintessential”, instead; you’ll sound more interesting, you’ll be simultaneously more and less accurate depending on how you see semantics, and you won’t sound like you’re hocking Solstice gifts.
This is an ugly truth: It’s often hard to summon a demon, especially one that won’t simply possess you and ride your body until someone fills it full of crossbow bolts from a very, very wise distance.
Or, better put: It’s easy to summon a Demon, but very hard to arrange things so that anyone but the Demon is happy thereafter.
But if you lock it into a sword—
Demons read the same cheap, hack-and-slash fantasy stories that you do. That I do, for that matter. They all want terribly cool names (and they fail, fail, fail.)
They promise you that you will be invincible, but suffer a tragic fate: the demon lusts, most of all, for the souls of those who love you.
That’s not untrue. But there’s another important factor, and I’d like to say I learned it through hours of study and scholarly meditation, but really, just like everything else, I tried this once, and really messed it up:
Demons claim they are eternally hungry for souls. But Hell is full, your center of astral projection just isn’t that interesting, and, let’s face it, most souls these days are primarily artificial sweeteners and preservatives.
Runeswords start out looking like game-changingly powerful items.
But then they get very bloated, psychically speaking. Your average White Wizard will know this; but when do they tell you anything
I make sure that, by the time they get to me, they’re so sated they can barely move.
You’ve heard a certain prince of a long-dead Dragon kingdom feels some complicated love-hate relationship with the blade, which gives him power but makes him dependent on it.
That’s the happy version of the story, the kind we tell children and, to be perfectly honest, most heroes ARE children who happen to be way into their forties or older. They never do grow up, and for them, that’s not a blessing.
The truth is?
A demon can only eat so much. That’s intentional, one presumes. They live, after all, in a place full of potential victims, id est, each other. Giving them infinite hunger would be like dropping a bunch of piranha in a tank and then walking away for a month; you’d end up with one or two very overfed piranha and a very, very messy tank.
By the time those swords have sliced through a sufficient number of guardians and wandering patrols and monsters and (sometimes) completely innocent bystanders to get to me, they been ridden hard and put away bloody; they’re bloated, and they just want to take a nap and watch idiots do stupid things via a widescreen scrying box.
They ain’t got much left to pierce my magical protections.
Magic puts stresses on anything physical through which it throws. It’s a good idea for a mage to eat well, rest well, exercise, and make frequent attempts to steal the Peaches of Immortality and other potions and foods of the Gods.
Keepers of Runeswords often don’t want to touch the damn things, much less perform extra maintenance, and really, there’s not much they can do; the parts which were originally of this plane begin to fade out and what’s left is usually held together by the Demon itself who is, as I’ve mentioned before, not exactly in good shape by the time it nears me, and that’s before Alice’s wards get to work on it.
Alice is an accomplished swordswoman in her own right; not the finest in the land, but usually better than those who are sent against her. And it’s not her major defense.
But people do love symbols; and once you’ve grown accustomed to relying on a sorcerous artifact for your protection, seeing it fall to pieces is highly, highly demoralizing.
Sucks for the Chosen One.
You live and learn; or, in the case of the Chosen One, you apparently die, and nobody seems to learn from it.
Which is why Alice is still alive, of course.
My name is Jeff Mach (“Dark Lord” is optional) and I build communities, put on events, and make stories come into being. I also tweet a lot over @darklordjournal.