A dark ritual goes awry and now the great Spirit of the Dark walks the earth once more. His power is great, and he seeks only one thing: Vengeance upon the one who imprisoned him centuries ago.
The young acolyte bowed deeply, his enveloping robe concealing his facial features. Luther was the youngest of the Circle, a homeless boy of fifteen that Brother Wu had recruited off the street. The rest of them were middle-aged conjurers and decrepit old men.
"Everything is ready, Master Chun. We await only your command."
"Then let's get started, shall we? I'd say we've waited long enough for this day. No reason to put it off any longer."
He raised his hood and turned to join the others. They stood within the crumbling ruins of an ancient Temple. Something bad had happened here a long time ago. They weren't certain what, but whatever it was had saturated the ruins with enough negative energy to make it the ideal location for this ritual.
A circle of ten candles sat in the darkened chamber, forming a perfect decagon. At each side of the shape, a hooded figure stood. Circlemaster Chun took his place on the nearest side, and inhaled deeply.
"Great Beast of the Dark, we call you to our presence tonight. In my right hand I hold your sigil; in my left I hold a mote of your essence. You cannot deny my call! Come!"
The sigil was a replication; the original had been lost in ages past. It was the shape that mattered, though, not the stonework itself. The mote of essence had been considerably harder to obtain. It had required breaking into several highly secured archives and museams, and they probably would never have found it if one of them hadn't thought to check under "Mystical Curiosities" at the Ba Sing Se Museam of Archeology. The fools had never realized what they'd had in their possession.
With a shout, Chun hurled both items into the center of the circle. Dust arose where they had fallen, and-just for a moment-Chun thought he saw the flickering of a dark shape, lurking at the circle's center.
"We have drawn your circle in the blood of innocents! We have made your sign with the entrails of birds! You must answer us! Come!"
The circle was difficult to see in the dim candlelight, but it was there. No doubt the parents of the nearby town were furiously beating the woods now, searching for the children they had used. Not that they would ever find them. The sign was at the center of the circle, completely invisible in the gloom.
"I call you with a bone that I pulled from the earth. I bind you with the ashes of a dead man. I summon you with graveyard soil and dirt. You cannot ignore my call! Come!"
Now Chun could feel more than see an indistinct figure crouching at the circle's center. He could feel it staring at him. I know you, it seemed to say, now, what will you do next?
Swallowing nervously, Chun gestured for Luther to step forward. The boy had been told he had a special part to play in this ceremony. He had the incantation memorized, he knew exactly what the say and he had even practiced getting the right inflections on the words. The boy had worked so hard for this. It was too bad he would never get to speak his part.
As Brother Luther walked past him and cleared his throat, Chun pulled a dagger from his sleeve and thrust it into Luther's back, directly into the heart. The boy's eyes widened in shock for a moment, then went dead as Chun withdrew the blade and Luther's body fell towards the ground. As one, the other Brothers began chanting quietly in arcane languages, their voices twining together to form a pulsing, churning sea of sound. Chun straightened, returned the dagger to its place, and addressed the Spirit once more.
"I call you with betrayal. I bind you with blood. I summon you with a face! Your ritual is complete! The price has been offered! You must come to us! You cannot deny us! Come!"
The chanting crescendoed, reaching new heights of intensity and sound, and then ceased suddenly. All eyes were on the center of the circle, where the dust was beginning to fade, and in its place was a coiled, bulky figure...
The sound of soft chuckling wafted out from the center of the circle, and then all the candles snuffed out, and darkness enveloped them.
A few moments later, the screaming started.
In the beginning, they were Ten.
The Creator pulled them from the formless mass and one by one gave them shape and form. In those days, the world was without form and substance, and was a morass of chaos and darkness. They were at first frightened by their surroundings(for they were newly formed and not yet named, and so were as children), and cried out and clung to each other, but the Creator bent over them as a father will bend over his children, and told them not to be afraid, for the formlessness held nothing that could harm them. Its voice was soothing and calming, and the young ones who heard it were silent and felt no more fear. Then the Creator told them to watch it about its labor, and it turned away from them.
The sound began at the back of its throat and rippled outwards until it seemed that even the chaos that surrounded them danced and jumped in harmony with it's song. Such a song had never before been heard, and never again shall be heard, until the End of All Things when the Creator will return to see the end of what it created.
The Creator took a handful of the chaos that surrounded them, and began spreading it across the ground. As it did, he sang to it, telling it of its form and shape, and the purpose it served. And as it spread it, it took form and hardened, and when it was finished the chaos they stood on was replaced with solid earth.
It took another handful of the chaos, and began pouring it out across the land. It sang to it of flowing, of pushing and pulling, of waves and tides and of wetness. And when it was done pouring the formless substance out, the chaos had formed itself into the great ocean.
The Creator took another handful of the dark stuff, and sang to it of flying, of breath, of life and of song. When he was done, the threw it away, scattering it, and it became the air.
Then it took some more of the formlessness, and sang to it of life, of pulse, and of movement as he molded it. When he opened his hands, the Creator was holding a small plant. It took another handful of the formlessness and repeated this, over and over, with more and more complex creatures, until at last the world was populated by all manner of plant and animal.
Then the Creator took what little remained of the formlessness, and locked it away in a glass sphere until it was needed. And so the creation of what would later be named the World of Spirits was complete.
His task finished, the Creator turned to face the Ten beings it had first created/, /and bent down over them once more. It asked them if they had watched and seen what it had done, and each of the Ten gave a swift nod. The Creator smiled widely, and told them to go out into the world it had created, and live within it, and each was to learn one thing. If they needed the Creator, they were to but cry out its name-and they were told its name, although it has long since been lost in the passing of time-and it would be at their side, ready to help. In one year they were to return to the Creator, and show it what they had learned.
When one year had passed, they returned, and presented themselves before the Creator one by one. The first came forward with a grceful stride, and when asked to demonstrate what she had learned, she raised one hand and pushed aside a great body of water. The Creator was pleased, and named her La. It granted her the title of Great Spirit of the Ocean, and gave her dominion over the waters of the world, and charged her with keeping them in their proper channels. La bowed deeply and returned to the others.
The second to approach did so with wide, confidant steps, and when asked to demonstrate what he had learned, extended a fist and pulled out of the earth a perfect statue of himself. The Creator was pleased, and named him Gan, and granted him the title of Great Spirit of the Earth. He was given dominion over all forms of earth, and charged with maintaining the great expanses of solid ground.
The third to approach came forward with an arrogant swagger, and when asked to show what he had learned, he formed a great mass of flames and sent them spinning in a beautiful fashion. The Creator was pleased, and named him Ashin, Great Spirit of Flame. He was given power and authority over all that burned, and was tasked with providing renewal and warmth across the length and breadth of the land. He returned to his brothers and sisters in the same manner he had left them.
The fourth to approach did not simply walk forward, but instead came forward with a series of flips and acrobatics. When asked to demonstrate what she had learned, she grinned and gestured towards the plants and animals that surrounded them, and the vines grew and extended, and the birds flew about in perfect formation, and the animals came forward and prostrated themselves before the Creator. The Creator was pleased, and named her Tysha, and gave her the title Great Spirit of the Wild. To her was given the task of keeping in balance the cycle of predator and prey, and ensuring that the creatures of this new world would keep the natural order. She returned to her brothers and sister with another series of acrobatics, and sat to play with her sister La, for though they were older now, they were still but children.
The fifth to approach did so with stately steps, his head held high. When he was asked to show what he had learned, he took from the ground a dying flower, and breathed life back into it. The Creator was pleased, named him Ilza, and gave to him the title of Great Spirit of the Sun. He was given dominion over half of the sky, and was charged with showering heat and light upon the world below.
The sixth to approach did so with a gay, playful step, and when asked to demonstrate what she had learned, she raised one hand with a dramatic flair and pulled a large body of water towards herself. The Creator was pleased, and named her Tui, the Great Spirit of the Moon. It set her in command of the sky's other half, and charged her with providing light while Ilza slept, and of helping La keep the oceans in balance.
The seventh approached with a walk so graceful that her feet seemed to never touch the ground. When asked to demonstrate what she had learned, she created great gusts of wind and formed cyclones. The creator was pleased, and named her Basha, Great Spirit of Air. He charged her with maintaining the great network of air currents, and gave her dominion over all that wafted through the sky.
When the eighth was asked to demonstrate what he had learned, he began reciting the names and lifecycles of various species of plants and animals. The others mocked him, saying he had done it wrong, but the Creator chastised them sharply. That sort of knowledge is as important as anything they had learned, he said. And with that, he named the eighth one Wan Shi Tong, Great Spirit of Knowledge. He was charged with keeping a record of all that occured, and of collecting and guarding a great Library of all knowledge.
That left only two who ahd yet to be named, the oldest and the youngest of the Spirits. The oldest approached first, and demonstrated proficiency in all the things that the other Spirits had shown. Although he could not make fire that burned at hot as Ashin, nor control the water as well as Tui and La, he could do what they all could, if not as well. The creator was very pleased with him, and named him Arventi, Great Spirit of Light and Preservation. He was charged with keeping the Balance between his brothers and sisters, so that no one of them could gain dominence over the others. In order that he could fulfill his function, the Creator infused him with a tiny fraction of its own essence. Of the total of the Creator's power, it was an almost immeasurably small amount, but it was enough to amplify his power tenfold.
And then the youngest spirit came forward and demonstrated his talent. The Creator named him Shinbei, the Great Spirit of Darkness and Destruction, and gave him the most important task of all.
"Oh, well done, gentlemen. You were very close. Only one tiny mistake, and that's quite understandable given that the ritual hasn't been performed in hundreds of years. You called and summoned me perfectly, but you were supposed to bind me with his flesh, not his blood."
Koh's chitinous legs clicked across the stone floor as he slowly circled the room. His insectile body wormed across the ground, between candles and bodies.
"Still, I suppose I should be grateful to you all. Ah, this is just perfect. My brothers and sisters are idle, resting in physical forms. They probably don't even know that I'm back. This is just the right time for my return. There's so much to do; kingdoms to topple, rulers to corrupt, armies to destroy. But first...vengeance. Thank you, gentlemen, for the body...and for the meal."
Koh turned and left, his legs chittering across the stone, leaving behind ten men futiley clutching at the blank slate their face used to occupy.