Envy’s wandering thoughts snapped back to the present. He looked behind him at Jeraziah admiring himself in his shining shield and smiled. As Frederick, he had free reign of the castle and quickly ushered the dignitaries, generals and other guests from the cathedral halls. With four of his brethren awakened, his power was growing even stronger. The Grimoire of Sin felt lighter in his hands as he left the tower and headed through the marble gates.
Envy looked around at the men and beasts that wandered the streets of the city. How long would it take for the corruption to take hold in them as it had their leaders? How will the common man react when he sees that his idols have once again failed him? How good will it feel to see them all in utter ruin and chaos, beneath the heel of vice and indulgence?
The Grimoire hummed with power in his hands. He could feel it literally reaching back out to him and pulling him away again. This time the call was leading him away from the city– back toward the barracks and the gateway arches where he had corrupted Hammerstorm. Much like hellpits of the Daemon armada, the Legion used these arches to quickly move small groups of warriors to hotspots where they could empower themselves for battle. They were not effective for transporting armies but, for groups of three to five warriors, the magic could reach nearly halfway around the world to places like Grimm’s Crossing, the Forests of Caldevar, Darkwood Vale, or even the infamous Death’s Cradle.
Envy entered the archway and it filled with the faint blue glow of mana as it charged for transport. He felt the tingling sensation over the skin of his host body as he discorporated in the City of Iron and rematerialized leagues away. He oriented himself quickly and found himself in a Legion camp in Death’s Cradle. The guards standing nearby nodded familiarly toward him and he strode away from the camp, back toward the familiar lands controlled by the Hellbourne. He dashed through the paths in the trees and found his way back into the blighted lands. The Grimoire had led him to the aftermath of a great battle. Bodies of both Legion and Hellbourne warriors lay on both sides of the river and he saw a shadowy form lingering near the fallen soldiers. The Grimoire hummed with power again as Envy moved closer.
Soulstealer sensed the demon within the body of the human walking towards him. Possession was not unknown to him, but it made harvesting the souls of the victims much more difficult. He felt the struggling spirit fading within the human and wanted it for his own.
“Leave that body for me to drain, demon, for I have claimed this battlefield as my own and all of its soldiers belong to me,” Said Soulstealer. “This is as it was commanded long ago and this is how it must be!”
“You dare to command me? I am no mere demon, Soulstealer. I once was Parasite, but I am now Envy, bearer of the Grimoire, and most powerful of the embodiments of Sin. And you are merely the cleanup crew on the battlefield, taking the remnants of the fallen as your own. While there are many things I covet, you and your bloody bag of souls is not… and never will be counted among them.”
And with that Envy exploded from the body of Frederick, shattering his human shell in an indignant fury.
“You self-righteous fool. I feel the Grimoire calling to me… perhaps it desires a new bearer?” said Soulstealer. “That poor fool you just destroyed gave me enough power now to do this…”
A great demonic claw reached out from the earth at the same moment as a torrent of souls poured from Soulstealer’s bag and smashed into Envy. The Sin was unprepared for such an assault and was momentarily slowed by the attack. Soulstealer seized the opportunity and was able to reach out and snatch the Grimoire from Envy’s clawed hand.
As soon as the Grimoire touched his spectral hands, the creature known as Soulstealer began a transformation of both body and spirit. His mind fell back to the time before he was the taker of souls… to a life forgotten so many eons ago. The creature that is now Soulstealer was not always a demon. Long ago, he was a mortal, and that mortal spark was what the Grimoire sought out and reawakened.
There, next to him, stood the great Chieftain of the Pollywog people– adorned in his finery and fattened by the best insects and grubs the swamp had to offer. How much he secretly loathed him.
To the others in the antechamber, it must have seemed that he had everything that one could desire. The priest was adorned in gold trinkets and gemstones, his totems were of the finest make, his seven wives were reputed to only be less beautiful than those of the Chieftain himself, but all of that was never enough. This was the day that he would change all of that. This was the day that he would take what was rightfully his. The Priest had gathered up the second largest collection of gold and jewelry, the second largest home was his, the second biggest group of bodyguards, and the second most powerful magicks all belonged to him. Such was the role that the second born played. Always his fat brother had been the chosen one…no longer would that be the case. The Priest longed for the wealth, status and power that his brother the Chieftain held, and that power would soon be his.
The festivities began in earnest and a plethora of dishes were unveiled to the guests in the chamber. As they dined and drank, they did not notice the darkness among them. Deep shadows holding ancient powers were gathering at the edge of the chamber, waiting to be called. A gong sounded and the Priest stood before the assembled guests to speak.
“Friends, family, and guests. We are gathered here to feast in celebration of another year of my brother’s rule!” There were raucous croaks, ribbits and shouts from the guests and the Chieftain himself added, “Without your wise counsel, this could not be so!”
The Priest moved next to his brother, “How right you are. I am honored to be here by your side brother. And to finally take all of that which has been denied me!”
With that, the priest drew a large dagger from his vest and plunged it into the neck of the Chieftain. His soldiers moved to quickly cut down those loyal to his brother and the celebration of his brother’s birth quickly became the celebration of his brother’s demise. The shadows grew in strength with each death in the room and within minutes of his brother’s death, a shadowy form stood in front of the Priest.
“Why are you here?” demanded the Priest. “I have just begun to take that which is mine!”
The shadow spoke in a sweet whisper, “The bargain was only that you would have your brother’s things, the bargain was not that you would keep them. Now, it is time for you to fulfill your task for us… for the rest of eternity. This is as it was written… this is as it will be commanded.”
“NO! THAT IS NOT THE BARGAIN!” The Priest tried to flee from the room, but each way he turned the path was blocked by a great demonic claw. He turned and struck at the shadow stuff before him with his staff, but it passed harmlessly through the creature. The shadows crept around the terrified amphibian and began to consume him. His gold and jewelry fell to the ground and the sounds echoed through the still room. Moments later, the priest was gone and the creature that would be called Soulstealer stood in his place.
The shadow demon held a bloody sack out to the creature. “In life, you coveted all material things. Now, in eternal unlife, you shall covet the immaterial. Souls will be forever more your currency. Collect them where men fall and use them as you wish, but know this… you will never collect enough to keep you happy. You shall always thirst for more, for your thirst for power will never be quenched in life or in death. Your greed knows no bounds and this is the choice you have made.”
The creature grabbed the sack. If it could not have what men had, then it would be happy to take away the last bit of hope that might remain from them. And the Soulstealer was born.
Soulstealer snapped back from his reverie and felt strangely cold. It was a sensation that he remembered, but had not experienced in a very long time. He looked down and saw that he was standing in a shallow pool.
STANDING? How was that possible? He looked in the water and saw a familiar visage staring back at him. He was restored to his former glory! His material body had been granted back by the Grimoire and he felt more powerful than ever before. He raised both of his hands aloft and one.. two… three mighty demon hands erupted from the ground nearby. Apparently his powers were all still here as well, but altered slightly. He felt that the souls no longer were his only source of power as the Grimoire had changed him in more than a physical fashion. No matter, he would be happy to go back and collect all the things taken from him all those years ago. Now nothing possessed by anyone was safe, for Greed was able to take all of their belongings and once he was through with them, he could claim their very souls!
In his excitement he had forgotten about the Grimoire. He looked around to find where he may have dropped it during the confusion and saw Envy staring at him from a few meters away. The demon smiled at the bejeweled amphibian.
“I know the power of the Grimoire is one that many wish to bear, but it is mine brother and you would do well to remember that. I will forgive your assault this time, but know that you are now linked to me. Such an attack would be unwise to say the least. Go now and spread your taint. When the last of our brethren has been found, you will know where to find us.”
“One day that Grimoire will be mine, face hugger. You would do well to remember THAT. Just ask my last brother how well keeping things from me turned out for him.”
And with that, the Pollywog turned Demon turned Sin leapt into the air and soared away in search of the things he desired. A great golden grin that rivaled Envy’s spread across his face and he gazed into the gems in his gauntlets. Within, he saw a faint movement and recognized it as a soul trapped inside. This new form was even better than he thought…
“That was unexpected,” mused Envy. He felt his power increase again as Greed was unleashed in the world. “When I find my last vessel, will there be anyone that I cannot have? I wonder.”
Just then, the Grimoire hummed with power again and Envy knew it had found the last of his candidates.