“Protect Aidan, Hailey, and Tiff!” I ordered my three fellow Nephilim, taking the situation into my own hands as the Hellbeasts leapt at us, their eyes glowing with a feral hunger. Instantly Nathan, Soren, and Lydia moved to obey my command; I had not been speaking as their friend in that moment. I had been using the authority vested in me since my birth, speaking as a Firstborn Nephilim, and what I said when using this power they legally had to obey. Even if they didn’t, I wouldn’t have minded; I wasn’t too up myself with enforcing punishment for those who didn’t listen to my commands. But thankfully they still did; I guessed it was because of the situation we were currently in. And that was the only reason I ordered them around in the first place.
Honed claws and sharp teeth ripped and tore at our skin and clothes, and we struggled to defend ourselves. We were using all the Light Magic in our repertoire as it was effective against the beasts, but Diablo was disadvantaged in that area. He possessed no Light Magic; being a Demon, the only thing he had was Dark Magic, which did very little to harm Hellbeasts. That did not stop him from trying to defend himself against the great winged beasts, however, and black blood dripped in heavy droplets from gashes on his arms and upper torso as he continued to battle.
“Diablo!” I called as I telekinetically threw one of the Hellbeasts into a nearby tree, causing it to yelp and slump to the ground. “We’re going to have to subdue them all at once, or we’re not going to win! There’s way too many of them!”
The Demon man looked at me as I spoke, simultaneously grabbing the throat of one of the wolf-like beasts and slamming it into the ground. As its backbone snapped the creature gave a sharp yelp, before its body was tossed away. “A good suggestion!” he called back to me, whipping around and summoning a pitch-black broadsword to his hand, using it to slice a leaping Hellbeast clean in two. “Think up a spell!” He slashed at another beast, although this one strafed to the side and leapt forward, biting down hard on his arm. His response was to crush its skull with his mind, shaking it off and leaping forward to meet another one head on.
“I have one!” I replied, summoning a weapon made of Light Magic to my hand and skewering the breast of a beast that snarled and jumped at me, swiping at me with its claws. “But it’s a Dark Magic spell, and I don’t have enough to fully do it! If I used it alone I’d only be able to sedate half of these damn mongrels!”
Diablo nodded. “What incantation do you have in mind?!” he asked, swinging the sword at yet another Hellbeast that came too close. Out of the corner of my eye I saw the other Nephilim doing as we were, moving the two Halflings and Tiff out of harm’s way whenever the beasts got too near to them. “It better not be too complex! We’re fighting a losing battle here!”
“I gathered!” I retorted, running over to him – putting a barrier up as one of the beasts leapt at me – before whispering the incantation into his ear. He looked at me after mulling it over and nodded briskly. Then we both started chanting. I kept my barrier up, spreading it around our small group as we moved close to them. The Hellbeasts tried vainly to get at us, to slice us to ribbons with their razor-sharp talons, but to no avail; they failed to consistently strike my barrier in one place, allowing me to ensure the defence held.
As the last word of the incantation left our lips, a strange heaviness descended upon us before pulsing outwards. The Hellbeasts immediately dropped to the ground, their eyes glazing over as they hit the dirt with dull thuds.
Silence fell as we turned our attention to Ryval, who looked like she’d just been slapped in the face with a fish. Unfortunately, her surprise didn’t seem to last long; she soon began to laugh, and in confusion I grimaced, watching as she loftily flicked her fringe from her face and said, “I expected you to come, although I certainly didn’t fathom you would do that. Did you enjoy the little welcoming committee I set up for you?”
“Not particularly,” I snapped, in no mood for her games. In my periphery I could see Diablo attending to Aidan’s shoulder, and he seemed very worried about Aidan’s health. This was a little confusing, but I didn’t bring attention to it as I bared my teeth at the rogue Demon. “Now, you better tell us what you’re doing here; those Hellbeasts weren’t originally meant to attack us, I know that much.”
Ryval chuckled, shaking her head. “Oh, no, I better not!” she crooned cheerfully, continuing to toy with us. “After all, where oh where would the fun be in that?” She shrugged nonchalantly, before flicking her wrist. Flames began to lick at her feet, indicating she was about to teleport. That meant we had very precious few seconds to react, but just before we did…
A flash of golden light pierced her shoulder from behind, and an unholy screech burst forth from her throat. Black blood began dribbling out of the wound, and she gingerly put a hand to it, hissing as the tips of her fingers brushed along the edge of the golden blade, before she whipped around to face her attackers.
As we followed her gaze we laid eyes on a pair of Nephilim. They were almost identical, save for gender, body shape and hair length; they were even wearing the same dark grey travelling cloaks, akin to those Nephilim had worn in the days before Humanity had even been a thought in the Creator’s mind. They both had pale skin, deep blue eyes, black hair… They were the exact same height, too, and held three throwing knives made of golden Light Magic in each hand as they serenely stared Ryval down.
The Demon woman grimaced a little, stepping back. “You caught me unaware, children,” she hummed quietly, her eyes smouldering angrily.
“We know,” they said at the same time, their voices having a melodic tone to them, although the female’s voice was a soprano and the male’s a baritone. “Now you better leave. Immediately.” They continued to speak in unison, which was a little disconcerting. “Or we will do much more than throw knives of Light at you.”
On cue, the female threw one of the blades. Ryval sidestepped it, then spoke rapidly in the Demon tongue, biting her lip a little in frustration as emerald green fire engulfed her. The same flames enswathed the Hellbeasts, and Diablo quickly pulled us all closer together as they burned and flickered dangerously, extinguishing only when Ryval and her ‘pets’ were gone.
“Damn it!” Nathan snarled, balling his fists as his weapon vanished. “We could have stopped her!”
“No, you could not have,” the male newcomer grumbled. “That green fire she used would have seared the flesh from your bones within seconds.” The knives in both their hands vanished as he and his sister approached. They both had expressions of extreme apprehension on their faces. “Now please leave and cease following us, or the consequences will be dire.”
We were all taken aback by the tone of voice he had inflected. “Wow, harsh,” Tiff whispered, shrinking back as the female Nephilim shot her a fiery glare. “Eep...”
Diablo growled furiously and stepped forward. “Now, that’s very rude of you. Not only did you just disrespect a Firstborn of your species,” he snapped, gesturing at me, “But you should not speak to your family in that way; did Mephisto not teach you any better?” He crossed his arms, finally shedding his Human disguise; his spines, as they appeared, almost stabbed Tiff and Lydia in the face, which alarmed them enough to stumble backwards.
The Nephilim pair’s eyes widened in alarm, and the female pursed her lips sadly. “Uncle Diablo... We… We did not recognise you.” She looked back at us, frowning a little, before looking back at the Demon man. “We’re sorry… Had we known—”
He waved his hand dismissively, interrupting her. “It’s obsolete now,” he replied. “What have you been doing? It’s been a long time since we’ve heard from you.” He frowned at them. “More specifically, what are you doing here, in this Human town? You two are hardly particular towards Humanity.”
The male Nephilim grimaced a little. “We have been seeking whomever has been massacring the Human species.” He crossed his arms underneath his cloak, staring at us with steely eyes. “We believe it to be Ryval. Are you attempting to get in our way?”
I stepped forward, narrowing my eyes. “Our group is actually tasked with hunting down Ryval and stopping her from massacring the Humans before it’s too late,” I said, keeping my voice calm and even.
This seemed to surprise the twins even more; they shared a very wide-eyed look. “So,” the female Nephilim said softly, after silently communicating with her brother, “Why are you now conversing with us...? Should you not be following Ryval?”
“Actually,” I replied, “We were requested to speak with you. It’s about your father, Mephisto.” I crossed my arms over my chest as a slightly cold wind blew. “We need his help, and to get that help, we need you to come back to Hell with us. Ryval’s hunting you to kill you, and the Sage is worried.”
They were silent, for a time, sharing a look. Their facial expressions conveyed the message that they were once again telepathically talking to each other, but their conversation was brief before they finally returned their attention to us. The female was grimacing a little more than her brother as she said, “Admittedly, we are both surprised to hear that our father agreed to help you. We both know quite well that his assistance is always invaluable, and since you require it… we shall agree to your terms, and return to Hell with you.”
Diablo clapped his hands together, exclaiming, “Excellent!” before hastily opening a portal. “We best go soon. Mephisto is not a Demon that should be kept waiting for long… I am sure, as his children, you two would know that?” He raised an eyebrow at the twins, a light smile on his face.
They both nodded, returning the smile and walking towards the portal. The female entered the portal with no hesitation, but the male stopped and whispered something in the Demon tongue to Diablo. The Demon warrior frowned, shaking his head, and the Nephilim man grimaced before nodding and heading after his sister. Diablo made us walk through next, with Nathan and Soren staying beside Aidan as they followed us ladies. The spear in Aidan’s shoulder had been reduced to nothing but particles, thanks to a dispelling incantation Diablo had used, but judging from how Aidan’s face was scrunched up it was still agonising.
The portal had been opened right in Mephisto’s domain, directly outside the main doors. We carefully entered the large palace once Diablo had stepped through and closed the portal, and made our way through the twisting expanse of corridors. The journey to the bone doors of Mephisto’s ‘study’ was filled with uncomfortable silence, and I couldn’t help but move protectively closer to Tiff as she made a small sound of discomfort.
The moment we got to the aforementioned doors, we saw Mephisto waiting for us in front of them; apparently him being outside the study was quiet the rarity, going off of the surprised sound Diablo made... although that sound admittedly could have been made in relation to the very strange, shadowy Demon standing beside the Sage.
The figure was definitely one of the stranger Demons I had ever seen. He resembled a wax figure rather than a living being; his skin was almost completely colourless. Jet-black runes and designs were tattooed all over his body, excepting his neck and facial area. His deep black hair was tied back into a long ponytail extending to the middle of his back, and his eyes were an orange colour that was simultaneously chilling and fiery.
I nudged Diablo. “Hey,” I whispered, noticing he seemed more than just a little stunned. “Diablo... are you alright?”
He nodded a little, snapping out of whatever trance he’d been in. “Yes, I’m alright. Just… surprised.” He frowned and ran a hand through his short dark locks. “Let me just explain my shock by saying this: if seeing the Demon Sage outside of his study is a rarity, then seeing his companion at any point in time is even rarer.”
Upon hearing Diablo’s voice, both the Sage and the shadowy Demon turned around, and the stranger clicked his tongue. “Diablo. I was not aware you had returned.”
“Nor was I aware of your own return,” came the red-skinned Demon’s reply. “It’s good to see you again after so long.”
The shadowy Demon’s lips tugged up at the corners, but he spoke no more as I asked, “Who is this?”
“A Demon Assassin,” Diablo said, as if that was supposed to ring a bell in our minds. Once he saw the bemused expressions on our faces, he explained, “This is Mephisto’s and my brother, Baal. He’s rarely not on assignments, so seeing him here is a pretty abnormal thing.” He looked at Baal, who gave a slight nod, as if giving him some sort of permission. “Demon Assassins are rare members of our community, and are often given tasks that normal Demons cannot be trusted to do. Baal was part of a small group that was tracking Ryval, but since your group’s taken over, the Assassins have been given a much-needed break from duty.”
“A break that I will spending here,” Baal interrupted, “While you get the Demon Council in order.” He looked directly at our red-skinned companion as he spoke, his voice composed and poised.
Diablo frowned a little at this. “Have they still not elected a new Archdemon...?”
The other Demons shook their heads, and Mephisto floated forward. “No, they’ve not. Although they have settled on a candidate… even if he’s not aware of his status as a nominee.”
“Who is it?” Diablo asked, confused, after a brief silence.
The pointed look he received gave him his answer, and he blinked rapidly in shock as Baal said, “You are the most suited for the position, Not only are you one of our finest warriors, you are also very intelligent, both qualities looked for in Archdemon candidates.” He walked over and put a hand on his younger brother’s shoulder, causing the red Demon to grimace nervously. “You are well-suited for the position. You captain our armies, after all; you already know how to lead.”
Diablo bit his lip, then shook his head rapidly, clearly not wanting to have this conversation. So he changed it. “Mephisto, we found your children and bought them back with us.”
The Sage blinked at this abrupt change in topic, just as the two Nephilim stepped forward. A radiant smile sprung onto his face as he floated over and delicately hugged them both, kissing their cheeks before releasing them, backing off, and saying, “Lilith, Lucion, I am relieved to see you both safe and well!”
I watched the pair closely. They were both smiling as Lilith, “It’s good to see you again, Father,” in a tender yet semi-formal way. “You look… well.”
“Oh tish-tosh,” was Mephisto’s reply. “I already know I look terrible. You needn’t sugar-coat your thoughts, if you are doing so for the sole sake of making me feel better.” He waved his hand at her, just as Lucion chuckled a little. He then turned to us and smiled. “I owe you my thanks, I truly do, for bringing my offspring back to me. As promised,” he said, seeming light-hearted now, “I will aid you in your search for Ryval. I assume she fled during your most recent encounter with her?”
“Using green flame,” Hailey said softly, reaching up and putting her hand over the eye covered by her fringe. “If that helps…”
“It does.” Mephisto pushed open the bone doors of his and floated inside. We filed in after him, frowning in anxiety and anticipation. Tiff remained closest to the door, and I stayed with her, not particular about going too close.
We watched as he floated over to his mirror, remaining dead silent as he began to chant something. It was a different incantation than the one he’d used the first time, but it still sent shivers down my spine as I watched, carefully taking Tiff’s hand and giving a comforting squeeze. The mirror began to glow with ominous light as the room darkened and the temperature dropped, and I had to repress the urge to leave as Mephisto’s chant continued. The Sage shut his deep blue eyes as his palms began to radiate a deep blue luminescence, the mirror’s glow strengthening with each passing second.
After what seemed to be an eternity but was only a few minutes, the room lit up again, the illumination from Mephisto’s palms and the mirror fading away. His hands fell to his side. For another tense minute more, his eyes remained closed, but when he finally opened them he said in the gravest of tones, “You must go to Heaven immediately.”
I blinked. “Why?” I couldn’t hide my alarm from my voice.
He looked at me over his shoulder, eyes dark with worry. “A great disaster is about to occur. I cannot tell you much, but I can impart that it involves Ryval and the Archangel Eryn.”
My eyes widened, and the group and I shared a look. Those words were quite alarming to hear, especially considering Ryval’s previous siege on the holy realm, and I couldn’t help but fear for not only Eryn, but the entirety of Heaven. “Come here, Aidan.” Mephisto’s voice snapped me from my reverie, and I shook my head briskly before looking over at the Halfling in question. “You must be at your best if you are to aid your fellows.”
Aidan frowned, but stepped forward, wincing as his shoulder pulled. Once he was close enough, Mephisto laid his hands over the injury, and murmured something; in front of our very eyes, the wound began to close up, and within minutes the only mark left was a light pink, star-shaped scar. I couldn’t help but gape; I had never seen Dark Magic that healed, although I had to admit to myself that there was capacity for it to exist.
Aidan blinked in surprise, but nodded as Mephisto’s hands fell. “Thank you,” he said softly, returning to our sides as a portal was pulled open for us in the next instance.
“There,” Mephisto mused, floating beside it. “This shall take you back to Earth. Unfortunately that’s about as much as I can do; I cannot open a portal directly to Heaven. I apologise. You must understand why.”
“All is well, Mephisto,” Lydia replied, pulling out the crystal sphere we’d received from the Archangel herself and showing it to him. “We have this. We can get ourselves there from Earth, if need be.”
Mephisto nodded, but spoke no more as Diablo said, “I wish you luck.”
“Thanks,” I said quietly, smiling ruefully at the Demon as he nodded. “We’ll need it.”
“Wait, you’re not coming?” Aidan asked instead of thanking him, blinking.
He gave an apologetic smile. “No. I can’t.” He picked at his fingernails a little bit. “Unless it’s official business, no Demon can lawfully enter Heaven, just like the opposite is true.” He crossed his arms and heaved a sigh. “Otherwise, I would definitely come and lend my assistance.”
“You can’t anyway,” Baal muttered. “You have to talk to the Council, Mr. Possible Archdemon.”
At this, Diablo made a face, but said nothing more about it as our group finally stepped towards the portal. The three Demons and two Nephilim watched us go, expressions of worry on each of their faces as one by one we vanished into the portal. I paused as I went to go through, turning to those we were leaving behind and saying, “We will stop Ryval. She cannot be allowed to keep doing this.”
Mephisto blinked. “Interesting words, Firstborn, all things considering.” His voice was soft and quite sad as he spoke. He knew.
“It has to be done,” I murmured, turning my head away before entering the blazing opening in the fabric of space.
Once we had emerged on the other side, the portal spiralled and shrunk until it had closed, looking like it had never been there in the first place. I said nothing to the others as they looked at me; panic had bloomed in my chest, and I could see from the expressions of the others that they felt the same way I did.
Lydia held the crystal out, worriedly, and we all reached out and touched it, closing our eyes as the air seemed to rush around us. I felt like I was floating, but at the same time, like I was still on the ground. A ring of golden light surrounded us – I could see it through my eyelids, it was so bright – and only when it vanished did we open our eyes… and a gasp of absolute horror left my lips as I saw the destruction that had already been wrought.
We had gotten to Heaven far too late.