Horror raced through me as I stared numbly at the destroyed gravestone. The flowers we had laid down were crushed by the rubble of the small headstone, and I swallowed as Tyrus gave a sadistic laugh, knowing the exact effect his action had on us.
“N-No...,” Soren whispered, trembling with anger and shock. “How could you...?”
“It’s to try and get us to realise how utterly futile and hopeless our actions are,” I interrupted, silencing Soren.
“Very smart, Sai.” Tyrus’s eyes glittered with a malevolence that caused a shiver to run up my spine. “Now. I came here to retrieve something, and I will have it.” He turned his gaze to my Human friend, and Tiff shrank back, eyes widening and body shaking.
“Oh hell no,” I hissed, stepping in front of her, summoning a blade to my hand. It was made of both Light and Dark Magic, meaning it was more powerful against other Nephilim, and I would need that if I was to defeat another Firstborn in battle.
Tyrus leapt forward abruptly, eyes gleaming with dark delight, heading directly towards Tiff and Magically enhancing his speed to get past me. I wasn’t about to let that happen though, so I moved just quickly managing to intercept Tyrus. Yet I must have telegraphed my movement, for he saw it coming. Landing on the ground, he met my eyes and took control of my body before I could prevent it, then laughed and psychically tossed me to the side; I slammed into a tree, cried out, and slumped to the ground in a daze. Attempting to struggle to my feet was useless; my back spiked with pain each time I tried to get up. I was winded on top of that, struggling for air, but I still managed to look up as Tyrus stalked towards my friend, having every intention of taking her back with him and placing upon her the punishment I had been supposed to take.
“Tiff...!” I croaked, unable to raise my voice too much, unable to move or even use my powers to stop the other Firstborn from getting closer to my terrified, defenceless friend. “Run...!”
“Back off from her!” I heard Aidan yell just as Tiff whimpered and went to back off. I watched as a sharp, spinning disc of Dark Magic suddenly struck Tyrus’ cheek, cutting it open and causing him to hiss in pained alarm. Blood trickled from the wound, and the Firstborn stopped dead in his tracks before carefully reaching up and touching it, eyes filled with confusion and shock. Those emotions were soon replaced by hot fury, and he turned his head slowly to look at Aidan, eyes narrowing.
“You dare to stand in my way, half-breed?!” he scathingly snarled, before attempting to psychically restrain the Halfling and turn his mind to mush. Only... it didn’t work. Aidan began to grin weirdly at the Firstborn, twitching a little bit and seeming a little insane. I frowned slightly as I struggled to get up once more, watching anxiously. What was happening...?
Tiff ran over to me, kneeling down and aiding me so I could sit up. The others backed off as I righted myself a bit, with Nathan keeping Hailey hidden behind him, and I stared with a dry mouth as I felt a strong Demonic aura settle over the area. Cringing when I noticed Aidan’s eyes were bright yellow, I could only watch as Aidan began to take slow, deliberate steps towards Tyrus, whose eyes widened with an emotion I couldn’t quite determine. It wasn’t quite terror, but it wasn’t completely shock. The closest thing it seemed to be was awe of a morbid sort, and even then…
I’d heard, once, that a Halfling’s hidden power was incredible. But I’d never believed I would see it.
Aidan began to laugh in a twisted, terrifying way, before abruptly summoning skeletal and shadowy beings from a place unknown. The ground around him began to crack with ominous, reddish chasms, spreading around Tyrus and the rest of us, never actually spreading underneath our feet.
I could only watch in terror as Aidan suddenly lunged towards Tyrus, who had no chance of dodging. Aidan’s fingernails were claw-like now, and they tore through the Firstborn’s clothes and flesh as if they were little more than warm butter. Huge, red, bloody open wounds appeared on Tyrus’ arms and chest, tendrils of smoke curling up from them, and my eyes widened in absolute alarm as I saw this happen. If that was a residual Demon Magic that emerged only when Aidan was like… this… I sure didn’t want to be attacked by him.
Tyrus’ screams rang in my ears as we all watched, not saying a word; I could sense that everyone was too shocked to speak. Tyrus was desperately trying to defend himself, but no matter how much he tried, he couldn’t stop Aidan’s claws from shredding his arms, chest, shoulders and face. I actually felt infinitesimally sorry for my fellow Firstborn, but I wasn’t going to assist him. He’d wronged me by trying to kill my best friend and working with my traitorous, murderous mother.
Aidan’s assault never eased up. It was like the Halfling never ran out of energy, because he kept ripping at Tyrus, who begged and pleaded for a mercy that he would never receive solely because Aidan didn’t seem to be able to hear his words. He kept ripping and tearing, his claws suddenly slicing at Tyrus’ eyes and cutting deeply. Tyrus howled with agony as he stumbled back, clutching his blinded eyes, leaving him open and vulnerable. And Aidan took advantage of this. He leapt towards Tyrus’ torso, suddenly grabbing his collarbone before forcing his hand through the Firstborn’s stomach, piercing the skin and forcing through the muscles as if they were nothing. He then raked that all away, seemingly eager to get through to his innards. Blood, scraps of flesh, and chunks of meat were being scattered everywhere by this point, and I felt sick to my very stomach as our Halfling friend began to disembowel the screeching and squirming Tyrus.
“My God...,” Tiff whispered, looking a little green as she watched Aidan fling Tyrus’ intestines to the side and perform the same action on his heart. Shattering the sternum and the surrounding ribs, Aidan tore through his chest, and yanked the beating organ right out, grinning madly and crushing it in his hand, seeming to marvel as more red coated his hands and wrists, and sprayed on his face.
Tyrus’ screams – which had become garbled and choked as blood filled his throat and lungs – soon died off as Aidan, panting and breathing heavily, backed away from his mangled body before it collapsed to the ground, eyes glazed and lacklustre. It was only now that I managed to get to my feet, albeit slowly, but I felt like I was fighting paralysis as I did so. My body felt heavy, and I was trembling with a shock that I’d never felt before. Only two Firstborn had been left in existence for a long while now, and I’d just watched one of them die.
For a few tense moments, Aidan heaved for breath. Then his claws began to retract and soon returned to normal fingernails, and the oppressive air of the area melted away as his eyes returned to their normal dark blue. Those dark eyes then rolled back into his head, and his knees buckled underneath him as he crumpled.
Nathan darted over and caught Aidan before the Halfling hit the ground, grunting as he gently set him down. “Damn it,” he muttered as we all walked over, Tiff and I trembling, the others very quiet and most likely traumatised. “We need to get him to Diablo right away.”
“Why?” I asked, bemused, as Nathan carefully examined Aidan, looking worried for the Halfling. “Why do we need to see Diablo specifically?”
He looked up at me and went to speak, only to realise something and stop himself, instead opting to say, “Aidan’s Demonic side is taking over his mind and body with each use, worsening the longer he stays in his Demon-esque state. Diablo, as the Archdemon, would know the best way to slow the process.” There was still something he was hiding from me; his words had truth to them, but I was able to determine that they were also a curtain for a much larger truth. Yet I didn’t inquire as he shook his head, returning his attention to Aidan only to pick him up and start tugging the young man’s hoodie off. I wanted to ask what he was doing, but my question died on my tongue as Nathan finally exposed the tattered remains of the shirt underneath.
The back and shoulders of the cloth had been torn to shreds almost as badly as Tyrus had been, revealing the skin underneath. And what had ripped the shirt apart? Dark red scales that covered his shoulders, upper back, and upper arms. My eyes almost boggled out of my head, and I heard Tiff whisper, “Holy shit dude...”
“It’s getting worse,” Lydia mused, kneeling down beside Aidan as Nathan set him back down. She looked quietly back at Tiff and I as Soren and Hailey stepped over to us, their faces dark with anxiety. Then she sighed and looked back at Nathan. “We need to get him to Hell immediately.”
Tiff swallowed. “How bad will Aidan get if we don’t...?” She didn’t finish her sentence, but she didn’t need to. We all knew what she was asking.
“He’ll turn into an uncontrolled version of his father,” was the only answer Tiff got, and it was incredibly cryptic. Neither of us knew who his father was, and if he was as strong as the others were implying, I didn’t want to meet him. Yet, upon a small check, I realised the others knew Aidan’s father’s identity and didn’t seem troubled, soothing some of the worries that had sprung into my heart..
“Okay,” I asked then, frowning. “How are we going to get to Hell?”
Lydia frowned. “I recall an old spell my sister and I learned from our father, many years ago before his death. It’s supposed to teleport us to a destination that we’ve already been to before. Thing is, we all have to think about where we need to go.”
“Easy enough,” Nathan grumbled. “We’re all aware where we need to go.” He picked Aidan up carefully. “Lydia, do not hesitate. We will all think of going to the Council Dome?” He looked at the rest of us as he spoke, and the others nodded, with me nodding last.
“Y’know,” Tiff whispered to me as Lydia began to carefully chant the spell, which I recognised to be an ancient Nephilim one, “I always say ‘go to Hell’ as an insult.” She giggled a little. “I didn’t actually think I’d ever, y’know, go to Hell.”
I chuckled despite the dreariness of the situation, but said nothing as a circle of orange light surrounded us. Ancient Nephilim runes dotted the circle, and the glowing ring spun slowly around us as I closed our eyes and turned my thoughts towards the dome that was to be our destination. I knew the workings of this spell; we wouldn’t feel as if we were moving, so when I opened my eyes, I wasn’t really surprised to see myself surrounded by rough maroon and dark grey stone. The heat of the realm fell upon me heavily, and I huffed a little as I began to sweat.
“What’s going on?” I heard Soren ask then, and I looked over to see what appeared to be hundreds of Demons mulling in front of the Council dome. “There’s a lot of Demons here... How in the world are we supposed to find Diablo?”
“You’re not,” came a voice from behind us, and we turned in mild surprise. “One of his brethren – or perhaps three – will find you instead.” Baal had walked up to us, his eyes calm and almost bored. Behind him were Mephisto’s Nephilim children, wearing their trademark dark cloaks. “I would inquire as to your presence here, but seeing Aidan,” he mused, looking at the poor Halfling, “I no longer feel the need to ask.”
“Is Diablo able to be seen?” Nathan asked, frowning as he looked back and observed the crowds. “Or...?”
“Unfortunately,” Lilith said, stepping forward, “The election is currently taking place. You’ll have to wait until after it is over before you can exchange words with Uncle.” She crossed her arms, looking over at her twin brother. “He and his opponent are preparing to give their speeches soon.”
“So there are two eligible candidates for the position of Archdemon?” Lydia asked, her voice tinged with worry. “Knowing some of the Demons in Hell... that bodes quite ill...”
“Oh, no, all is well,” Baal replied, shrugging nonchalantly. “Diablo has already won.”
“Don’t jinx him,” Lucion lightly chastised, earning him a sour look. “While I’m confident Uncle Diablo is going to do very well in this election process – he is charismatic and has already rallied support without even trying – his victory isn’t exactly set in stone.” He crossed his heavily muscled arms over his chest and looked at Baal, who looked rather unamused. “What say you now, Uncle?”
“I say we go and watch the elections,” was his reply. “After all...” He looked towards Aidan. “Some of us don’t have much choice if we want to survive.” He then chuckled, but it was a dry, almost humourless, laugh. “Just a warning: the elections can get a little violent, as the candidates’ supporters do fight over which candidate they believe to be better,” he said, shrugging, worry beginning to spring into his voice. Maybe he was concerned for our wellbeing while we were here…
I pulled a face. “If we didn’t have to talk to Diablo, I would decline.” I shuddered. “Just as long as the violence will be controlled...”
“Oh, it will. There’ll be Assassins everywhere, including me; we’re sort of like a specialised police force around here,” Baal replied as the doors of the dome swung open. “Now, let us head in.”
I nodded, following the masses and my friends inside. Nathan was careful to keep Aidan close to his person, occasionally looking worriedly down at him. The Halfling was breathing slightly raggedly, which was something to fret about. We couldn’t really focus on that, though, as we were bustled into the massive election chamber, which wasn’t too far from the office of the Archdemon according to Baal.
I spotted Diablo close to the podiums as I entered, standing alongside his opponent, who Baal mentioned was not worth naming or even listening to. I could see why. Said opponent was ignoring the questions Hell’s citizens were asking him, clearly only in this election for the position of power being offered. But Diablo was acting much differently.
I couldn’t help but smile as I watched him. He was interacting with everyone who asked him questions and, utilising my enhanced hearing, I listened closely to what he was saying. He was discussing what the citizens would like to be changed, and I thought that was sweet of him; it meant he was truly dedicated to the leadership of Hell being the proper way.
This made my thoughts turn to an event of my past. The last time the Nephilim Council’s leader – a Firstborn, as was custom – had been assassinated, the remaining three Firstborn – Vera, myself and Tyrus – had convened and discussed who would be best to lead. I had been recommended by the rest of the Council and by Vera to lead, as I had been best suited for it. Yet I’d declined, solely for the fact I hadn’t felt ready. Vera had declined as well, but only because she was unfit for it, being my mentor and needing to direct her duties to me. That had left Tyrus, who had been forced to take up the mantle and accept the duty of leader of the Nephilim.
I was now definitely regretting not taking leadership when it had been offered to me. It would have potentially allowed me to stop Ryval before she even thought about what she was attempting to do. This depressing thought made me sigh morosely, but I pushed it to the back of my mind.
More people entered the room, chattering loudly, and I blinked as they pushed past me, giving me strange looks. I blushed a little as I realised I’d stopped right in the middle of the walkway, and hurriedly sat down alongside my companions, watching as the rest of the civilians took their seats. The two candidates had taken their places behind their podiums in the centre of the room, and the doors swung closed with a loud boom. This sound forced silence to fall upon everyone, and I watched curiously as an announcer stepped forward and cleared her throat. She informed us that Diablo’s opponent would be first to give his speech, and Diablo would go a few minutes after him, before stepping back and letting the candidates do what they needed to.
I was glad I didn’t recall the name of Diablo’s opponent, because his speech was bland, flat, and utterly boring. I found myself zoning in and out of concentration, and I heard Tiff groan quietly as the speech went on, and on, and on again, seeming to never end.
Finally, though, the competitor’s speech came to an end, and I had never been more relieved in my expansive lifespan.
Diablo cleared his throat, then, and I looked over at him. “My fellow Demons,” he began, somehow managing to affect the atmosphere and immediate enrapture everyone in the room, inclusive of myself, with those starting words. “I needn’t explain to any of you what I am doing behind this podium. You are all too aware of the purpose of my speech; I am running for the position of Archdemon.” He leaned forward on the podium, having a relaxed yet charismatic air. “It has been a very strenuous time for all of Hell. With the late Lord Kruan’s recent assassination at the hands of a rogue Demon, we require someone who can restore stability to the chaos that Hell has been thrown into.” He stood straight and walked out from behind the podium, all eyes following him as he stopped at the very front of the small stage both podiums were positioned on. “The Archdemon is supposed to lead their people fairly and justly. They’re supposed to ensure that their society is one in which all residents are equal, and they are supposed to build it up to a greater thing.” He looked at all of us, eyes lingering on my group and me for a few seconds longer than on anyone else. “Now. I can only say that I will try and do these things. I cannot promise that I will be able to do them, because only a fool would promise to achieve all that. And I am aware that I can only do so much.”
Baal smiled a little. “Good speech, my brother, good speech,” he murmured as the hype and buzz of the room began to increase. I had to agree with him; this was an excellent speech, and Diablo’s natural charisma aided his influence on the present population.
Diablo, having paused a little, sucked in air. “But there are a few things I vow I will do.” He looked at everyone, his yellow eyes powerful and confident as he spoke. “First: I will do all in my power to try and lead our society to new heights. Second: I promise to listen to the people of Hell, to meet their needs and demands.” His voice rose to a rallying shout as he spoke, keeping every single person – Human, Halfling, Demon and Nephilim alike – in the room enthralled. “And finally: I vow, with every fibre of my being, to be the Archdemon Hell deserves!” As he finished his speech with a low bow and those final words, cheers exploded around us, and the room boomed with the thunderous sound of thousands clapping simultaneously.
I had to admit: I wanted to put a vote in, yet I couldn’t. In a Demon election, one had to be classified as a full-blooded Demon to be able to vote, and since my blood was only half Demonic… I could only sit there and smile at our red-skinned friend as the crowd roared their support. Diablo’s opponent rushed off into the crowds, knowing he had lost this battle, although he was largely ignored. Only I watched him leave; the others kept their focus on Diablo.
Finally, the crowds began to disperse, to put their votes in and return to whatever they had been doing before the election. Baal stood and started walking down to the ballot boxes to put his vote in as well, only to pause as Lilith said, “Remember to put Father’s vote in as well, Uncle.”
The Demon Assassin nodded, pursing his lips into a light smile. “I know, Lilith.” He looked at us as I raised my eyebrow at him, wanting an explanation for exactly why the Sage was absent. I’d expected him to be here, even as a late attendee. But he hadn’t shown up at all. “Mephisto didn’t want to attend.” He shook his head, exasperated or maybe even annoyed at his older brother. “Said something about being reluctant to attend in person, and crowds being irritating. I swear that Demon has agoraphobia.” He then walked off, following the masses, and I looked at my fellows quietly.
“We should attempt to find Diablo,” Nathan said lowly, looking at Aidan, seeming more anxious than before. Something must have happened during the speeches, something that only Nathan had been attuned to, because a swift garner at the faces of the others told me that they were alarmed by Nathan’s worry.
“Hey!” we heard a voice call to us, and we all looked over as Diablo strode over, expression a wide grin. “I thought I—Oh no.” He hurried over as he saw Aidan limply laying in Nathan’s arms, his smile melting away as he touched Aidan’s clammy forehead. “When did this happen?!”
“Just before we came here,” Nathan explained, keeping his voice down. “He used his powers to kill Tyrus of the Firstborn.”
Diablo grimaced, deliberating before looking up at the Nephilim man. “Meet me at my home. The twins will guide you there.” He looked worriedly at the aforementioned Nephilim pair, and they nodded to affirm they would. “Thank you.” He looked back at us. “I have something to attend to, but I vow to be as fast as I can.”
We nodded silently, fretting, and watched as he hurried off. I couldn’t help but feel a lump form in my throat as Lucion said, “Please follow us,” before turning and striding briskly out of the chamber, walking abreast of his sister. We followed closely, not wanting to get lost in the twisting corridors of the building. Then we exited the building, and looked around at the seemingly-identical-no-matter-where-you-looked landscape of Hell before continuing to follow the twins.
Our trip was short, but agonisingly silent. There was a fear pressing down on my shoulders, and I felt immensely relieved once we stumbled upon the red Demon’s abode. It was small and quaint, but then again, only Diablo resided there.
Lilith pushed open the door, and frowned as soon as she became aware of what she’d so easily been able to do. “Why doesn’t he lock his abode up?” she muttered, stepping inside and holding the door for us. “That seems like a foolish move...”
“You’re not asking the real question, though. Who would be stupid enough to rob Uncle?” Lucion inquired, humour colouring his voice as he followed her in. “You know it as well as I do; he’s terrifying when enraged.” He stepped out of our way as we all walked inside and headed to the sitting room, soon sitting down and making ourselves comfortable (or as comfortable as possible). Any attempts at conversation felt flat within a few exchanged sentences, and I didn’t even try to converse because I didn’t have much to say, so the others eventually stopped talking altogether, focusing our attention on Aidan.
Diablo joined us about a half hour later, looking a little bit flustered and disgruntled. Yet he didn’t explain what had required his attention, instead hurrying over to Aidan – who’d been laid up on the couch – and carefully beginning to examine him. Nobody spoke, and the cloying air of the room was beginning to smother me, so I looked around in an attempt to distract myself. I laid eyes on a small photo sitting on the nearby coffee table made of maroon stone, and blinked at the mundaneness of it. The frame was one that you would find in a two dollar store, all sparkly and pretty and extremely out-of-place in this realm; it was more something I would have found in Tiff’s bedroom back at her house.
I peered closer at it. There was a very Human-looking Diablo – a disguise built from Magic – standing alongside a beautiful Human woman. In the woman’s arms was a swaddled, sleeping baby who reminded me startlingly of the unconscious Halfling we were so worried for. I couldn’t fathom why; the baby in the picture was a newborn…
“Tiff,” I whispered after a few more moments of examination, nudging her. “Look at that photo and tell me that isn’t Aidan.”
She did so, and her eyes widened after she scrutinised it. “Holy crapbaskets... That is definitely Aidan... even if he looks like a mutant potato in that photo.” She looked at Diablo briefly before turning her gaze back to me. “Does Diablo know his mother?”
I shrugged, but Diablo must have heard her, for he said, “She’s my mate,” before I could get a word in.
“Mate?” Tiff asked, blinking a little, missing what I instantly picked up.
He nodded. “Yes, my lifelong partner. Demons take on one mate for their entire lives. You would call her my spouse, I guess. We had a single child, and a few months later, she was killed in a car accident.”
I felt my heart clench in my chest. His explanation gave reason as to why he didn’t like riding in a car... and it also made more comprehension fall over me. “Aidan’s your son.”
He nodded. “Correct.”
This news was simultaneously utterly baffling and completely unsurprising to me. Of course, the others remained stoic; they would have known. They’d been with him for some time. And really, it wasn’t too much of a shock to me, meeting Aidan’s Demon father. I’d just never expected it to be Diablo, of all the Demons in Hell.
Diablo’s face then twisted into a grimace, snapping me from my train of thought. “Unfortunately, I’m hardly able to do anything about Aidan’s current condition, and may not be able to save him from his ultimate fate.”
Terror shot through me, but it was Soren who asked, “Why not?” in a half-panicked voice
With bated breath we watched Diablo stand, his face set into a deep, morose moue. “Because,” he said lowly, miserably, “The progression of Aidan’s Demon side is much too rapid for me to control anymore.” He looked at us. “Aidan will, unfortunately… very soon lose his mind.”