Aidan sighed softly as he checked Lazarus’ temperature for what had to be the millionth time. We were all sitting in the hallway, waiting with bated breath for the Demon to awaken, but it had been almost four hours with not even a twitch. We’d cleaned his wounds - thank the Creator for the medical expertise Lydia had under her belt - and made sure he was still breathing normally, as well as checking that he wasn’t seriously hurt. Luckily, his wounds were only ones of the flesh, the worst of them a slightly deeper gash on his side. They had looked much worse when we’d first found him, that was for sure.
Lazarus finally began to stir. Relief flooded into me when his eyes fluttered open, and he groaned lowly. We all slowly leaned over him, although we did allow him some room in case he was dazed and believed us to be threats. I, for one, didn’t feel like getting punched in the face. Demons could hit hard.
“Ow...,” Lazarus moaned as he tentatively sat up, holding his head, his eyes dull and glazed over. He blinked rapidly, trying to focus on us, and we waited silently as he readjusted to his surroundings. Finally, once he had somewhat focused, he looked towards the red Demon and mumbled, “Diablo, is that you?”
Diablo chuckled as he shifted so he was beside the injured man. “Yes, Lazarus, it is I.” His face twisted into a frown. “Can you tell us what happened?” he asked carefully, supporting the other Demon as Lazarus groaned again. “Or are you still too dazed to recall the events that lead to your injuries?”
Lazarus blinked a few more times, and I wondered if he was going to be able to tell us. But he managed to say, “I... I don’t know what... exactly happened... but...” He looked around, and his eyes widened. “The Angels! Someone attacked me, and took the two Angels that I was preparing to return to Heaven!” He tried to stand, but we all carefully put our hands on his shoulders and kept him down, to ensure that he didn’t harm himself further.
“Why would someone attack you and take the Angels?” Diablo’s confusion was obvious; he clearly didn’t think anyone would do that. No Demon would dare, not with the treaty in place. Well... most Demons wouldn’t. There was one who would, and as I thought of this, I angrily grimaced, causing Tiff to gently touch my shoulder in order to try and calm me.
“While we mayn’t know the reason behind the attack,” Hailey suddenly said, her voice sounding wiser than her years, “I have some idea on who orchestrated it.” She reached up and covered the eye hidden underneath her fringe for some reason. “In our hearts, we all know who is behind this.”
Those of us who had come to Hell grew very dark in expression. I clenched my hands, and Tiff’s hand fell from my shoulder as Diablo and Lazarus shared bemused expressions, wondering why we were all so angry all of a sudden.
Hailey sighed softly. “The one behind this attack is the very same Demon who murdered Kruan.” She looked up at us all, her hand falling limply to her side, her visible eye serene and confident. “They would want leverage against the Angels, to ensure that they did not interfere with their plans.” Those words struck my heart like a shard of ice, and I growled silently.
Diablo frowned. “I believe - I feel in my cold, blackened heart - you are correct... but I still don’t know who could have possibly murdered Lord Kruan.” He stood, staying close to Lazarus, who was still weak and in shock.. “You didn’t get to tell me.” He looked at all of us, eyes settling particularly on me. “Who do you believe to be the perpetrator, of both this event and Lord Kruan’s murder?”
I sighed softly. “We believe it to be Ryval.” I delivered that line without a beat, although my confidence wobbled when Diablo sighed.
“Of course it’s her. The one you came to speak to Lord Kruan about,” he said, sounding morose... but not too shocked. “She’s a troublesome one. But I… I never thought she would be behind this. I suppose I should’ve.” He looked at Lazarus, who looked distressed. “Did you ever believe she would pull a stunt like this after her daughter’s death? You’re her brother, after all… You would have an insight into the inner workings of her mind.”
“Wait,” I blurted out, interrupting the pair, “Lazarus and Ryval are brother and sister?!”
Lazarus heaved a sigh and nodded. “Yes... but we could not be more different. She has always been somewhat disloyal to the Archdemon.” He looked at Diablo. “Nevertheless, if she is who murdered the Archdemon, she must be stopped.”
Diablo agreed, and slowly helped Lazarus to his feet, keeping an arm looped around his chest and under his arms to ensure he didn’t all over. “First, however, we must track her,” he said simply. “She is no longer located in Hell, of that I’m certain; it would be much too risky.” He crossed his arms, once he was certain that Lazarus was capable of keeping himself upright. “There is, thankfully, someone we can go to for help.”
Lazarus seemed to grow a little nervous. “Diablo, I don’t mean to question your judgement, but...” He bit his lip. “He’s been in isolation for so long, and refused to come back to take leadership when we discovered Lord Kruan was deceased... You really believe he’s willing to see anyone?” He rubbed his arms and shifted nervously on his feet.
Diablo nodded. “Of course! Tis I, his little brother!” he declared, grinning from ear to ear. His face became deadly serious in the next second. “Besides, if the treaty is broken...” He shook his head slowly. “Mephisto will try to prevent that at any cost. It would be detrimental to his children.” He looked at us. “The Demon Sage - my brother, Mephisto - is excellent at tracking Demons down. If there’s anyone who can help you find Ryval, it’s him.”
I nodded. “Then let’s go. We have no time to waste.”
Diablo nodded and began to incant something... only to be interrupted by the clearing of a throat.
We all turned to see Yahn standing at the hallway’s entrance, her eyes calm and shining in the dim light. She appeared to be here on business, and we all frowned as she said, “The Council has summoned you all for an important discussion; put your idea to see the Sage on hold, please, and follow me.” She turned briskly on her heel and started heading back to the Council chamber, her head held high and her body held in a confident way. We all just followed silently, with Tiff anxiously twirling part of her hair and Diablo grumbling unintelligibly under his breath, and I frowned at both as we got to the large door. Without even warning the other Councillors that she was entering, she pushed the door open and stepped inside.
The Council had obviously been having an argument; the other Councillors had twisted expressions of rage and disgust. They all fell dead silent as we entered, though, and watched us as we stopped in the centre of the room. The silence was almost smothering. Iris whimpered as she moved closer to Soren, who gently put his arm around her shoulder to soothe her as Yahn took her place.
“What is the meaning of this?” Diablo’s tone was merely questioning, not angry or judgemental as he spoke. “What is so important that it requires our immediate attention?”
“Diablo, you are he who leads us in our time of need,” Yahn said, her voice very official. “You, ultimately, decide what must be done.” She stood. “Ryval is a dire threat to Humans, Nephilim, Angels and Demons alike.” She shook her head, her dark eyes glowing. “Thus, we of the Demon Council are debating whether or not it would be suitable to send our Demon forces after her.”
“No!” I cried before Diablo even had a chance to open his mouth. Immediately all attention was directed to me; I flinched a little before clearing my throat and repeating myself in a much calmer voice. “No. That won’t do.”
“Do explain why,” one of the other Councillors said, eyeing me with cold, callous, slightly angry eyes.
I grimaced at that, then stared directly at him and said, “If you send Demons after Ryval, you are risking all Human life. It’s most likely that she’s hiding on Earth.” I let this sink in, and only received confused looks in response, so I huffed and continued. “If the Humans are harmed by either Angels or Demons, the Heaven-Hell Treaty that has been in place for so many millions of years will be rendered void. Excepting rogues, of course.”
Dead silence filled the room as all the Councillors shared looks... except for Yahn. It was like she’d known that we would do something like this, and she nodded in approval as she met my eyes. Then, simply for effect, she held her head loftily and asked, “What, Sai of the Firstborn, do you suggest we do instead?”
“Send us,” I said immediately. “Send my group and me. We’re not bound by the treaty.”
Again, silence permeated the room, and I waited anxiously for the Council’s decision. They mulled it over in the Demon tongue, quite possibly to hide their personal opinions on the matter, to which Aidan chuckled a little. I’d forgotten he could understand it, but couldn’t actually ask what was being said without them knowing he was eavesdropping..
Diablo suddenly stepped forward, his yellow eyes gleaming. “Council!” They turned their attention to him, and I abruptly felt very small in comparison to the red Demon; he was displaying an aura that demanded respect and attention. It was like he had been suited to be the next Archdemon since his birth. Or creation, whichever was the most applicable. “The last thing we all need is for the Heaven-Hell Treaty to be broken; that will be disastrous for not only all of Demonkind, but all of Angelkind, Humankind, and Nephilimkind alike! We have lived in peace for many millions of years; we cannot descend back into chaos now! Even the worst Archdemon, the most violent, understood the importance of the treaty after what happened to the Nephilim!”
Lazarus stepped forward next. “Like Diablo said, the Heaven-Hell Treaty was put in place after the Nephilim Massacre to ensure that such a thing never happened again! Do you want an event like that to occur again?” He looked at the Councillors with slightly hard eyes. “Please, my fellows, you must heed our words! If not mine, then our acting Archdemon’s!”
Yahn – who had sat back down to observe – rose again, twiddling the end of her long braid. “I believe that Diablo, who leads us in Lord Kruan’s place, has spoken. We will not do anything that could potentially endanger the treaty. Instead, the Firstborn and her group will deal with the situation,” She said, looking at her fellow Councillors. “Are there any objections?”
Her reply was dead silence, and after a few tense seconds Yahn looked back at us and nodded briskly. We all returned the gesture before we were dismissed, and we left the room. Personally, I was relieved; we had both managed to get the Demons to see reason and to let us deal with Ryval. That ensured the survival of the Human race and prevented the Heaven-Hell Treaty from being broken. If the treaty was broken, it would mean all-out war between Angels and Demons, and a war like that would definitely spread to Earth.
We walked in silence for a short time before Diablo said, “I still think it would be wise for us to go visit Mephisto. Like I said earlier, he excels at tracking Demons, which would be great beneficial to your mission.”
Nathan nodded. “It would,” he said, looking at Lydia. “You are both the leader of our group—” he paused and looked at me “—and one of the last Firstborn. You two make the call.”
Lydia and I shared a look before Lydia said, “This is a personal matter for you, Sai. I’ll leave it up to you to make the decision: will we see Mephisto or not?”
Everyone turned their gazes to me, and I sighed softly before nodding. We had no hope of tracking Ryval down on our own, and I was well aware of that fact. Any and all help would be much appreciated.
Diablo grinned before starting to chant something, summoning some sort of strange, glowing orb to his palm that was then flung forth, slamming into the wall and tearing open a shimmering portal. He turned to us afterwards, gesturing at it and smiling. “Step in. Don’t worry; it’s just a straight walk through.”
“It looks like something straight out of Stargate,” I mused, earning myself dry and bemused stares. “What?”
“Just go, nerd,” Tiff joked, pushing me in, and I laughed as everyone followed. My laughter fell flat as we exited and I saw where we had ended up; we were standing a small island of black stone, floating high above a lake of bubbling magma. I made a slight noise of horror. Now I understood the portal; there was no way we could have gotten here using our feet.
Only when the portal closed did I notice everyone but Lazarus had entered, and I frowned before asking where he was.
“Lazarus says that the Demon Sage disturbs him... I wonder why,” Lydia said, shrugging and shaking her head. She looked back at Diablo. “Is the Sage—”
“Creepy? No,” he replied. “Well… not to me.” He shrugged nonchalantly as he walked past us all, heading towards a rather intimidating-looking building made of rough black rock and bones. Without the bones the place would have looked a lot less morbid. I found myself shivering, and I couldn’t help but notice how tense and terrified Hailey was. Nathan frowned at her, before gently putting an arm around her shoulder, pulling her close. She hid into his side as we all followed Diablo carefully, not sure what to expect as we neared the palace of morbidity.
The large stone door that served as the entrance creaked loudly as it slowly swung open, and I swallowed as Tiff whimpered. “This place freaks me out,” she whispered to me as we cautiously stepped into the pitch black corridor. There were absolutely no lights, but when we took a step a few torches on the walls burst into flames. The flames were not orange or yellow, however; they were a strange dark green colour, and I shuddered yet again before leading my group after Diablo, who seemed... perfectly at home. I could almost describe his mood as cheerful. We walked until we stopped at a door constructed entirely of bones, or more specifically the skeletons of about twenty people sans heads. The creepiest thing about it was the singular grinning skull right in the centre, painted with red swirling designs. Upon seeing it, Hailey hid into Nathan more as Diablo knocked.
“Enter!” a voice commanded, and we all stiffened as Diablo pushed lightly on the door. It slowly swung open, revealing... a man. He was clothed in a robe and floating just above the ground, with long black hair and horns that were pressed flat to his skull, curving backwards before curling forwards so that they seemed to frame his ears. His back was facing us but I was still able to see that his skin was a light grey in colour... and he appeared to have one too many pairs of arms.
As we stepped inside, the Demon looked up from whatever he was leaning over and turned to us, raising an eyebrow. His deep blue eyes looked sunken and tired, and there were lines set deep into his face. Yet simultaneously he looked full of fire and energy, and I found myself wanting to shrink away under the harsh glare he gave us.
“Diablo.” His voice was soft, yet full of ancient power. He looked at the red-skinned Demon coldly; Diablo didn’t flinch under the gaze. “What is it you seek from me?” He crossed the upper pair of arms, the lower pair held calmly by his sides. “You know that I refuse to return until I find my children. If your mission is to bring me back, then you are wasting your time in being here.” He turned his back and leaned back over the object from before; I noticed it was a perfectly smooth, flat mirror.
“Mephisto,” Diablo said, walking over and gently touching the floating Demon’s lower left arm. “That’s not why we came. This group is seeking to eliminate Ryval. And they are in need of your skills.”
He stiffened a little before once again turning to us all. “Is that so?” he questioned, frowning. “Why?”
We carefully explained what had happened, leaving no detail out no matter how small. Mephisto listened carefully, not interrupting us, and remained silent after we’d quietened. He even turned his back, deliberating, crossing his lower set of arms and gripping his chin with the right hand of his upper pair. His back of his remaining hand was pressed against his hip, and his eyes were dark with thought.
After what seemed like an eternity he turned back to us, and nodded slowly and purposefully. “The events you describe... They are dire. I shall help you.” He turned back to the mirror then and chanted something in an ancient Demon tongue that made even Aidan shiver. The mirror shone brightly before images flashed on it, images that we couldn’t see properly. Diablo offhandedly mentioned that only Mephisto could see them properly, and frowned as he watched.
Mephisto suddenly turned back to us, his eyes dark and filled with apprehension. “You must go,” he said quickly. “Ryval has prisoners, including the two Angels you mentioned.” He waved his upper left hand at the wall, and a swirling, flaming portal opened. “Before war breaks out... step through the portal. May Mortem guide you on your path.”
“Thank you,” I whispered, knowing that a Demon saying what Mephisto just had was equivalent to the Humans’ ‘Godspeed’. Thus, I took it as a blessing, and judging from the expressions of the others I knew I wasn’t the only one. So, with that, all of us save Diablo and Mephisto ran through the portal, not knowing what to expect on the other side.