The chiprel named Beebo had barely survived the battle between Maliken and the Sins. His time tethered to that seething brute Wrath by the power of the Grimoire seemed like a fever dream in which he became a different animal, unable to control his behavior.
But it was worth it. It let him feel the power of the book. He had followed that feeling of power to the dark storage room, risking capture or worse from the inhabitants of Hell’s Keep, and found the tome on the floor next to an empty sandstone sarcophagus. He strapped the Grimoire to his back and peeked into the corridor just as Maliken stormed around the far corner. Beebo scurried beneath a pile of monk’s robes stained with crusted blood.
Maliken began tossing items across the room. “Damned book! Where are you hiding?”
The chiprel slipped through the door as sandstone crashed behind him. He retraced his steps upward to the cavernous Ancient Cathedral and hopped through a shattered window into the twisting alleyways.
Beebo’s nose wrinkled from the sulphur and grime in the air. Against every instinct, he hurried toward a plume of red smoke drifting above the decrepit structures near the Cathedral. He peered over a tumbled stone wall and found a queue of Hellbourne warriors restless to enter a burning portal. The chiprel caught glimpses of trees and grass on the other side—the Forest of Caldavar called to him.
Beebo darted between boots and hooves and planted spears and dove through the portal, emerging through a Hellbourne Shrine deep within Caldavar. A battle raged around him—the Legion forces were assailing the Hellbourne towers, screams of pain and victory commingling.
Beebo scurried into the underbrush. The Grimoire shifted on his back and nearly fell into a murky puddle. The chiprel did his best to secure it as he ran—these pages were priceless, a compilation of wisdom older than the Lost Civilization. The book could bring an end to the destruction of Newerth. In the meantime, the magic within would protect Beebo and his kind from the chaos…
Beebo was near collapse when he staggered into the area northwest of Watchtower known as Headless Hills, named for the flat-topped hummocks that rose between steep, dense gullies. There were patches of grass and soil missing from the hills, exposing the man-made stone and steel structures beneath—remnants of the Lost Civilization that went deep below the surface of Newerth.
Beebo found the square hole he was looking for and lurched through, the Grimoire finally slipping from his back. The exhausted chiprel didn’t bother to replace it. He dragged the thick book across the tiled floor to another hole, and another, further into the bowels of the building that had once towered above the landscape. His eyes adjusted to the darkness as he entered a cavernous space made of glass and steel. He navigated between strange machines, their motionless parts covered by inches of dust until he found the room he needed. It was in the center of the space, a cube of glass left untouched by the ravages of time. Beebo searched for the loose pane and passed through, tugging the Grimoire to him before replacing the heavy glass.
He didn’t smell the other creature until it was too late. Beebo whirled and saw the dark hairy form standing over him, an odd-shaped club in its hand. With his last scrap of strength Beebo lifted the Grimoire above his head. The club hammered into the book and drove the chiprel to his knees.
“Stop!” Beebo called. “I am no threat!”
“Liar!” the beast growled, and clubbed the Grimoire again.
Beebo flashed on the book torn to pieces, pages shredded under this assault, its secrets lost forever. He dropped the Grimoire and showed his face to the attacker, who brought the club down a third time. The strike cut aside at the last moment. The club brushed the end of Beebo’s whiskers and crashed into a steel cart piled with odd tools, making a terrible racket.
When the noise died, the beast still loomed over Beebo, breath rasping through its teeth. “You are a chiprel.”
Beebo wasn’t sure if this was good or bad, but it was true. “Yes.”
After a moment, the beast said, “Then I owe you an apology, for you are no liar, and no threat.”
He set the club on a human-sized chair with wheels on the bottom and a cracked leather seat. As he turned away Beebo caught his profile: thick shoulders, large teeth, a cat-like face and claws. Beebo felt a chill. This creature needed no club to finish him off—the felynx of Newerth had dined on chiprels for centuries.
Beebo risked conversation, hoping the words wouldn’t be his last. “What is your name, felynx?”
“I am called Loofy, though I have not heard it spoken in many moons. And you can relax; I haven’t eaten in just as long, and I don’t intend to.”
Beebo said, “Why do you not eat? Why do you spend any time in this cold place, so far from the sunlight?”
“Because of what walks up there. Ruthless daemons, armored and armed with unnatural spells and weapons. This place is quiet, at least, and none of them will gain nourishment from my body when I finally die. It’s the only victory I hope to have.”
Beebo placed a paw on the Grimoire. “Would you like to hear another option?”
Loofy watched over Beebo’s shoulder as the chiprel turned the heavy pages. The words were gibberish to both of them until Beebo found an entry written in the old tongue of the Elementals, symbols describing an ancient magic that allowed the animals to walk among humans and share their knowledge.
Beebo marked the page and continued through the Grimoire, pausing on large sketches showing incredible winged contraptions, vicious-looking weapons made for human hands, and blocky fortresses coated with what appeared to be lightning. As he neared the end of the Grimoire, Beebo felt a sinking in his belly. It would not offer the full help he needed. Then he turned another page and saw the diagrams, the illustrated steps, and he turned and kissed Loofy on the nose, laughing with joy.
“This will make us strong?” Loofy said. “It will give us power?”
Beebo said, “You are already strong, my friend. Strength is good, but we can’t hope to match the Hellbourne in that realm. Man and beast try as much, and look where it’s gotten them. No, we must take another path. A combination of brains and brawn.”
Loofy studied the pages for a moment, then realized what the drawings showed. “And I am to be the brawn?”
Beebo heard the concern in the felynx’s voice. “I believe device this will keep you from feeling any fear. You’ll never again need to cower in these tombs of what used to be.”
“It will make me a warrior? It will let me kill daemons?”
“If you wish,” Beebo said. “Is that what you’d like?”
Loofy flexed his claws. “I would. Very much.”
Beebo nodded and returned to the marked spell of the Elementals. If he was going to build the device, he’d first need some enhancements to himself.
As Beebo rose to his full height—several feet taller than he’d been moments before—he experienced a moment of vertigo and had to brace himself against the leather chair, which rolled away and spilled Loofy’s club onto the floor. Beebo picked it up and knew its name: Pistol. He also knew Loofy had held it incorrectly, by the barrel rather than the grip. Beebo let it rest in his palm and slipped his finger over the trigger. He’d seen devices like it carried into battle by the Legion and Hellbourne, but they had simply been loud chunks of metal that spewed destruction. Now, because of the Grimoire’s spell, his brain understood the engineering and application of the firearm—and saw how it could be improved upon.
His expanded mind also came with an unexpected side effect: modesty. He found a metal wardrobe with clothes hanging within, sealed in plastic bags with anti-biohazard symbols printed in red. Beebo dressed in pants and shoes, the fabric oddly comforting, then added a white lab coat to cover his torso and provide pockets for his new pistol and tools. After a moment of consideration, he donned a pair of safety glasses and turned to face Loofy. The felynx’s eyes were wary in the darkness.
“Relax friend,” Beebo said. “You’re safe, I haven’t gone full human. Are you still eager to destroy daemons?”
Loofy said, “Will it hurt?”
“This device? Not at all. I can’t say as much about the daemons, if you let them get close enough.”
“I won’t,” Loofy said. “Let us begin.”
Beebo found a measuring tape in a desk drawer, wrapped it around Loofy’s head and made note of the number. It was the first of many.
Finished, Beebo stepped back and admired his work. He’d raided nearly every workbench and cabinet in the laboratory to construct the helmet Loofy wore, and had to venture into the dark corners of the cavernous space to glean the parts for the remote control. Now he tested it, moving Loofy forward, back, left, right, and tried to make him reach out but pushed the button too hard; Loofy slashed at the metal wardrobe and left the doors shredded.
Beebo made a mental note about that button: Hellbourne Only. He removed the helmet. Loofy blinked a few times and looked around the dark lab.
“How do you feel?” Beebo said.
“Fine. Calm. How did I do?”
“You performed excellently, my friend.”
Loofy smiled. “We are ready?”
“Nearly. I can’t in good conscience go into battle with you as my only weapon. Nothing against you, of course—I just want to be able to help you when I can, and protect you if necessary. We are a team.”
Beebo leaned over the workbench and stripped the pistol down to its frame. He poached items from the lab equipment and carefully assembled them into an entirely new weapon, one that, if his calculations were correct, would cause quite a stir on the battlefield. He pointed it at a desk.
“Cover your ears,” he told Loofy. After a moment he let the gun drop. “I’d best wait until we return to the surface—we can’t kill many daemons with this entire building lying on top of us, can we? Now follow me, dear Loofy. Just one more thing and we’ll be fully ready.”
Beebo led the way out of the glass laboratory into the black, cavernous space. His chiprel’s eyes still pierced the darkness, retracing his steps through the thick dust.
“Here we go,” he said, brushing the thick accumulation from a machine that towered over he and Loofy both.
Loofy held his new helmet against his furry chest. “What is it?”
“It used to be a tool for manual labor, allowing humans to carry heavy crates and equipment through this warehouse. Now it will be my suit of armor, powered by mechanical muscles that do not tire. I told you, my friend—we are a team. Now please, lift me aboard, and we’ll make our way to Newerth and her battlefields. They will never be the same.”