Dagon Gunthersson, captain of the demonic forces of the Third Ring, conqueror of the Plains of Ghouls; slayer of Khalieg the Dragon, son of Gunther The Nightmare, and heir to the Glowing Deeps, was on his knees.
His jagged breaths could hardly be heard over the infernal clamor of the battle. His forces had been sent to ward off a company of catholic exorcists in Erehwon, no man’s land. The rift between worlds, where demons barely stayed and only powerful humans could enter.
Human invaders were rare, but he had dealt with them in the past. Hardly a challenge for his formidable battalion.
This was exactly why Dagon could not understand the reason behind this massacre. Of the couple hundred elite demon warriors he took with him, none stood. His wounded, exhausted body threatened to collapse any minute. Right in front of him, a pair of pitch-black eyes stared straight at him, lifeless.
Carrion was dead. His second in command, his right hand. His friend. After a long, excruciating clash with an unknown, powerful enemy, he had fallen to his blade. His severed head now lay on the barren soil of Erehwon.
Dagon lifted his gaze, clouded by the blood pouring from a deep cut under his right horn. He sensed his enemies closing in on him.
And for the first time, he saw them. They had killed every exorcist, but the true enemy now stood before Dagon. He let out a pained chuckle, devoid of any kind of feeling but contempt. Dark ashes fluttered around in the breeze, while an eerie silence fell on the battlefield, over the mutilated bodies of his demons. No human could do this. For the first time in millennia, angels had found their way into the hidden frontier. And it took only twelve of their filthy kind to wipe his glorious battalion into oblivion.
The twelve surrounded him, spreading their wings while staring down with emotionless eyes. If they hated him as much as he hated them, they wouldn’t show.
Dagon sneered, and through jagged breaths, he raised his head to look at them. “Didn’t mamma tell you not to play with your food?”
His voice came out rough, and the pain on his chest—from where blood gushed and his ribs were broken—made him wince. But even then, he managed to spit at their feet and reward them with his most disrespectful smirk. He was not some puny devil, to go down in fear and submission.
“How did you get here? The rift has been closed and hidden for centuries.” Their presence was unexpected and suspicious.
The angel leading the others gave him a lopsided smile. “Dead things do not get to ask questions.” In a blink of an eye, the angel raised a shining sword in the air, aiming to strike and end him.
But there was still life in Dagon’s body. He was of noble blood, a lord among demons. He would not fall to the likes of them without spilling their blood first.
Drawing strength, he parried the blow, pushing forward to destabilize the angel while scattering the others. He let out a boisterous roar and thrust forward with precise, potent attacks. The angel started to lose ground, as Dagon’s assault became frantic, hardly giving him time to counteract. Numbness took over his fingers, but the strength behind his arm was fueled by anger.
He had been deceived. There was no way in Hell these angels had found the rift on their own. His soldiers’ blood tainted the hands of a traitor. The least he could do to avenge them was to take one of those wretched self-righteous bastards with him.
Kicking his stomach, Dagon sent the angel sprawling to the ground. His golden locks drenched in sweat, stuck to his forehead as his breath quickened. For the first time, the angel’s eyes locked on him, betraying his fear. He had found his match.
Staring at him on the ground, Dagon paused to let out a deranged laugh. “You don’t fucking kill my people and expect to leave with perfect hair.” Boiling in anger, his body ached to humiliate and torture the angel, but the others were not about to sit and wait through the killing.
Dagon sensed them closing in on him, eleven against one. Damn cowards! He wouldn’t fall before claiming his revenge. He gathered his energy and shaped a blazing whip from an ember burning close by, lashing it at the angels, hitting their faces and bodies.No time to relish in their screams and cries. Dagon jumped in the air, brandishing his sword, and plunged it in one strike into the angel’s chest.
His opponent froze, eyes wide in disbelief while a desperate gasp left his lips. Dagon forced the blade to pierce deeper and turned it in his hands, shaking under the rush of energy hate gave him. The sickening sound of torn flesh was a small consolation.
The angel fell and Dagon stood motionless, waiting for his death, as the others charged once more.
He closed his eyes, exhausted.
A life of fighting and killing, of pain and the never-ending search for glory, was coming to an end. Oddly enough, he felt relieved. In his final moments, he thought of his father, on how he was never enough of a soldier, enough of a demon for him. How he was always a mediocre son to his eyes. “At least I won’t disappoint you anymore, father...”
His voice trailed off when he felt the wind shifting behind him, and the blades rising. He lifted his arms to his sides, dropping his sword and taking a deep breath.
Before the sharp blades cut through him, a strong pull on his chest lifted him off the ground and the world around him turned into a blur. The wind blasted in his ears while his stomach churned from the whirlwind.
Startled as he was, Dagon knew exactly where he was heading. After long, agonizing minutes, his body slammed against cold, hard stones, shaking his head from the daze before realizing he was back home. The courtyard of his family fortress, the Glowing Deeps. He also noticed he was not alone.
Threatening spears surrounded him, his father’s guard had him pinned on the ground. Among them, the tall, menacing figure of the man who had raised him, stared at him in anger. Dagon had grown used to this look since it seemed to be ingrained in his father’s face ever since he was born. But he was also exhausted. Only the rhythmic movement of his chest, taking in long, agonizing breaths showed Dagon how much energy his father had spent summoning him.
“Dagon,” he grunted.
“Father...” Dagon struggled to stand up, only to be seized by two guards. “So glad to see you gave a shit about me since I was about to be pierced by angels.”
“Stop your blabbering! I summoned you here because of your crimes!”
Dagon frowned at him. His father was livid. “What crimes... are you talking about?” His father had never used his ability to save him from harm before. It was powerful magic, but it took its toll. Something else must have happened to force him to use so much energy.
“I’m not in the mood for your games, you runt! You have put the honorable name of this family to shame for the last time. You are disgraceful! To abandon your soldiers, leaving them to die by the hand of exorcists is the ultimate shame!”
He was making no sense, but there was no doubt his father believed in what he was saying. The veins in his head were bulging and his bright, red eyes, so much like his, were flaming.
“Father... I didn’t—” A strong fist silenced him with a blow. He spat blood on the stones, hurt but mostly pissed. This was so like his father, never one to listen. But the crimes he was being accused of were a lie. “I did not abandon my people!” He tried to get closer, but the guards held him. And he was still badly wounded. “We received insufficient information, we were supposed to fight human exorcists, not angels!”
His father scoffed. “Lie all you want, boy. I already heard the truth from your commander.”
“What...?” How could that be possible? The battle wasn’t even over when his father summoned him. Commander Ghalore couldn’t have reached the battlefield and made an assessment before meeting with him.
The demon in question chose that precise moment to make his appearance. From the shadows, he emerged with short, hesitant steps and a tormented glint in his eyes. But this sorrow was as nothing Dagon had ever seen. Ghalore was not hurting because of him. He didn’t pity him. The deep, all-consuming sadness in his eyes was distant, foreign. And when a sickening smile twisted his lips, Dagon knew his commander was as insane as he always suspected.
Dagon never fully trusted Ghalore, but he was his superior. He followed orders without question, whether he liked them or not. Whether they made sense or not.
He watched as his commander joined his father, his ebony skin shining under the fading light and the burning torches. Dagon studied him, trying to understand the reasons behind his lies. Because this was not a mistake. He was deliberately lying.
“Tsk, tsk... what a shame. It’s never a pleasurable day when you have to execute a traitor.” Dagon remained silent. “And you showed so much promise, dear boy. I simply cannot understand your cowardice. How unfortunate for your family, to have their line ended in such a disgraceful manner.”
His words dripped venom, his nasty smirk showing rows of sharp teeth, while his blackened tongue licked his lips with pleasure. The pity was gone as if it was never there. He wasn’t even trying to hide his hostility, but his father seemed blind to it. “I will take him now, Gunther, no need for you to suffer his presence no more. We will execute him and toss his body into the Eternal Fire.”
“Why did you lie to me, Ghalore? Why did my men have to die? Was it you who betrayed us to the angels?!”
For a second, a dangerous look crossed Ghalore’s face, but he controlled this situation. He had fed his father lies, and Dagon already was a failure in his eyes. No help would come from his father, so Ghalore had but to tighten the noose. “Don’t test my patience, boy. I might decide to torture you before ending your life.”
“No...” His father had remained silent since Ghalore’s arrival, but he now spoke in a low, pained voice. “You will not kill him.” A speck of hope found its way into Dagon, watching the impassible face of the man he had failed to make proud all his life.
His father turned to his guard, taking a blade from him, before turning to his only son. His face looked carved in stone. “I will deliver this punishment. It is my responsibility.”
Dagon watched, astonished, the crowd parting before him, the sinister smile on Ghalore’s face, and the shining blade that came to collect his life. The guards pushed him to his knees, helpless.
There was no reason to fight anymore. His hardened heart had been broken since he was but a child, and one more disfavor from his father wouldn’t kill him. He almost chuckled. I guess it will.
No way to cheat death twice on the same day. He closed his eyes, yearning for the final rest. He had nothing, he loved nothing. Perhaps it was better this way.
There was a reverent silence in the courtyard, as his father raised his sword to cut off his head. He bowed, the will to fight completely gone. And as the sword began to fall, he felt it.
For the bloody second time on the same day. The strong pull of a foreign force, tugging his chest and taking him away with astounding speed. He heard the yelling of the guards before losing all sense of space and time.
He was traveling far, a lot farther than he had ever been before. But the world was a blur around him, his body shaking and twirling by the force of the wind against him. Dagon broke through dirt and rocks, the sharp edges lacerated his skin. When the stinging pain of broken ribs made him scream, his mouth filled with dirt, suffocating him.
After what felt like an eternity, he fell once more against a sturdy floor. Only this time, it was covered by a dusty rug.
Pain consumed him, pinning him down. He remained immobile, trying to avoid further damage. As long as he could tell, he was alone, and there was nothing familiar about the dark and grimy corridor he was in.
He coughed, flinching at the sensation of broken bones all over.
It would take weeks to recover, but he first needed to make sure he would have the time and a safe place to rest.
A frightened little voice interrupted his schemes. “I-I’m so... so sorry, my lord!”
Dagon looked around, failing to see the owner of that pitiful voice. “Show yourself!” he growled. He was not in the mood for more menaces.
From the shadows of the corridor, a pathetic creature emerged. A shaky, weak gargoyle. A lesser demon, dressed in rags and with a sickly look, stared at him in utter terror. “I d-do... do not mean any... disrespect, my lord!” He shivered under Dagon’s severe look. “I brought you here because I sensed you needed help! I didn’t know who you were!”
Dagon managed to sit, grunting, and aching everywhere. The demon moved towards him, seeing his discomfort, but as soon as Dagon pinned him with a stare, he recoiled.
“I’m sorry! I... I can help you, even if I’m not worthy of being close to you, you need to heal, and I can... can help you, my lord!”
Slowly, his senses came back to him. They seemed to be in an old, abandoned house, and he could feel the presence of demons, hundreds, hiding in the dark. He turned to the one closest to him. “You said you brought me here. How?”
The creature smiled sheepishly. “It’s my power, sir. The only magic I’m good at. I sense when demons are about to be unjustly executed, and I extract them!” His voice raised into a cheerful squeal. He was obviously very proud of his ability. And it was truly remarkable. A sickly looking gargoyle with the same power as his father. This fellow looked about to collapse of exhaustion.
But his words made Dagon squint. “Extract them?”
“Yes! I bring them here, to our sanctuary! We are safe here. Hidden and protected. Human’s don’t come close anymore.”
Unjustly executed. Ha! So at least this creep thinks I’m innocent. He thought.
“Wait... what do you mean... humans don’t come...?”
The little demon seemed to shrink a little. “Well... you see, in Hell... we could be easily found... so...”
Dagon was beginning to lose his patience. “So?!”
He flinched. “Ah! Well... I bring you here! Where we are safe and far away...”
Dagon almost dreaded his next words.
“The... human world.”