The Harvest of Souls
The clerics stood in the perimeter of the stone circle, looking at the man tied to the oaken wheel in the center. The man, a leather tanner from a village some fifty miles away, had just passed out from fright, and now he hung limply on the huge wheel. The oak wheel sat in the center of a summoning circle that had seen use by generations of the cult's followers. The cult worshiped now one demon lord, now another, but the basic functions of worship remained the same no matter the demon lord involved: sacrifice weaker humans by calling demons to rip their souls from their bodies. As the chanting began anew, the victim awoke in time to feel a wrenching in his soul as a foul . . . thing . . . took form before him.
Deep in the wilderness, a cult of demon worshipers founded a stone circle in which to practice their horrific rites. These rites always included summoning demons and bribing them with the souls of mortals. The stone circle was about 40 feet in radius and marked by stone blocks that weighed 20 tons each. They were intricately carved in Abyssal with names and prayers to various demons. As the power balance in the Abyss changed, so did the demon to whom the cult paid homage. Prayers written on the stones were never erased, and they became a kind of historical record of the practices of the cult. The stones also were imbued with magical power and served as the marker for a permanent summoning circle. The center of this area held a huge wheel made of oak, on which victims would be strapped. The cult originally used an altar, but one of the demon lords communicated that it preferred the victims to be upright. The wheel was surrounded by a magic circle that trapped the summoned demons. Thus, if the cult merely wanted to gift their master, they could summon a demon that could take the victim's soul and then depart when the summoning spell ended. The cult members would remain relatively safe.
These practices went on for centuries, since they were far from civilization and their predation on the surrounding towns was sparse enough that no one really caught on to the real reason for people occasionally disappearing. These ongoing practices caused a lasting evil effect in the area (see page 35 of the Book of Vile Darkness). Also centuries of using magic that opened a gate to the Abyss eventually weakened the fabric of reality there. The cult members noticed that they could summon demons far more easily and began to plan attacks on the nearby civilizations. Any summoning or calling spells with the evil designator cast here are more powerful. The spell's caster level increases by +2; this bonus also applies to any level check the caster must make to overcome the subject's spell resistance (if any). In addition, any saving throw or check the summoned creature makes to avoid the spell or resist following the caster's orders suffers a -2 penalty.
However, the cultists never realized their ambition. A paladin of Heironeous tracked one of the cult's victims back to the stone circle and brought a small army to deal with these vile people once and for all. The members were slaughtered while crying to their demonic masters, and the demons never responded. The cultists' bodies were left to the animals after being blessed, and they eventually rotted away or were consumed. The paladin and his army pulled down most of the stones and broke them apart and scattered the pieces. Only a few were left standing, and these were defaced with holy symbols. The great wheel was burned and its ashes buried. Rejoicing, the good people left the area. Within two generations it was forgotten. Time and the elements wore down the standing stones so that the writing was barely visible. The magic circle broke and eventually wore away. The bones of the cultists lay scattered among the wilds near the site.
Recently, the site has become the center of an even more horrific activity. The repeated spells weakened reality, or planar boundaries, in that place, and created a close link to a place within the Abyss. Demons could peer through the boundary and see the area, but they could not cross over by themselves. So, they required a little help.
A group of adventurers camped in the center of the old site, right where the great wheel used to stand. During the night, demons prowled on their side, and one of them tried to reach the one on guard. It was rewarded with the soul of the poor adventurer. When the others awoke, more demons reached through, and one of the demons discovered that it could move into the empty body. Soon the four adventurers had demons in their bodies, and their souls were given to more powerful demons.
Up to six times a day, the demons can create an effect similar to the trap the soul spell, cast at 20th level. If a victim fails his save against the effect, his soul leaves his body and goes to the Abyss, where it exists as a visible, but disembodied spirit. It is the same size as the original creature. It is incorporeal, but visible, and has no attack abilities, hit points, or ability scores. It cannot be damaged if attacked. It flits aimlessly about.
Unlike a regular trap the soul spell, the victim's body remains behind as a mindless automaton. So long as a soulless body remains in range of the spell, a demon can occupy the body. The effect is similar to a magic jar spell, except that the soulless body gets no save. The demon occupying the body retains its own supernatural and spell-like abilities, its base attack bonus and base saving throws, which are modified by the new bodies' physical ability scores (Strength, Dexterity, and Constitution). The demon retains its own mentality and mental ability scores (Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma), and its own Hit Dice (though the body's Constitution score determines its hit points). The demon has the physical qualities of stolen body; these include natural size, mundane movement capabilities (such as burrowing, climbing, walking, swimming, and flight with wings, to a maximum speed of 120 feet for flying or 60 feet for nonflying movement), natural armor bonus, natural weapons (such as claws, bite, and so on), racial skill bonuses, racial bonus feats, and any gross physical qualities (presence or absence of wings, number of extremities, and so forth). They cannot depart the body except at the ritual site, where the demon can return to the Abyss. The demon can also return physically to the Abyss via magical means. If killed while within the stolen body, the demon dies.
The demons began a cult of their own and began attracting people to the site (or kidnapping them). People brought to the site had their souls taken, and demons occupied their bodies. The cult grew. Now it seeks to replace persons of importance in nearby towns and cities with demons occupying their bodies, so that the demons can consolidate their power on the mortal world and feed their hunger for souls.
Souls can be rescued and returned to their bodies, but only at great effort. The soul must be found in the Abyss (as a disembodied spirit) and brought back to the place in the Abyss that joins with the ritual site. Then a limited wish, wish, or miracle spell is needed to reunite the two parts.
Coming in Part 4 of Demons
Breeding fiends with ordinary creatures is always a cause for ruin, and this is especially true when the creations become their own species of evil.
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