Chapter 1: Epilogue of Peace
How many apocalypses would it take to make a world stop giving a damn? For those who lived in the realms of Halcyon, the answer would be six.
The 20th apocalypse began on an autumn night in 2015, somewhere moonlight could not reach.
Within a poorly lit room that seemingly expanded nonstop, four demon hunters, cloaked in hooded robes, were waiting for their leader- the Singulus Digiti known as Primitos. Their eyes were fixed on the centuries-old round table , their patience tested- a test introduced innumerably thanks to his habitual tardiness.
"He died, didn't he?" asked Tetrax, adjusting her mask.
"Highly unlikely. Still, I'm beginning to favor that scenario." Trexon replied with the voice of a hungry wolf.
"Please inform me why he's our leader again." Tetrax added, sighing.
"He was the first to have been chosen, and he can, arguably, easily kick our butts."
"Yet he still cannot be punctual for once. If the matter he mentioned is that important, surely it would be sensible to arrive on time?"
"No use complaining now. We know too well that old habits die hard. For the time being, let's just wait, and think of something...not him." Deuza said, his fingers tapping the table.
The room fell back to silence, once that was even graver and more solemn than before. Each individual in the room sank deeply into their own world. Thoughts of doubt and anxiety, of fear and betrayal harmonized with each other perfectly, ready to morph into an overflow of chaos.
For centuries, generations of the Singulus Digiti Order had protected the realm of Halcyons, albeit in secret. The tradition of secrecy had never been broken, for a reason unknown. It was this tradition that smeared the reputation of the order, causing most of the hunters to isolate and resent it, considering it an apathetical group full of condescending elitists. The truth: the order reveled in secrecy, looking upon itself as a hound lurking the abyss, not a peacock sitting on a throne. Primitos, Deuza, Trexon, Tetrax and Pentos were the names of the hounds, created partly for the purpose of masquerading the true names.
The creaking door pulverized the mass of thoughts, winning the attention of every person at the place. They all turned their heads to look at their leader, who was standing in quite comfort, his hand folded.
"Isn't it so nice to get together once in a while?" His voice, modulated, yet musical, as if moonlight was singing.
The leader's ice-breaking question was met with an universal cold-shoulder treatment. He had expected this, but he knew the piece of information he was about to disclose would offset the negativity surging within his peers. With that in mind, he gracefully found his way to his rightful seat- the center of the round table.
"Primitos, your unpunctuality will be discussed much later. Setting aside our exasperation of immense proportion, all of us here are longing to hear the news which incites from your part so great an eagerness. Please make it quick, to compensate for the precious time you have laid waste."
"Thank for the quick opening speech, Deuza. Now, as you wish, I will get to the point: Our greatest enemy- demon lord Samundo- has returned."
None of the hunters shuddered, or even moved an inch of muscle.
" What a surprise. Should we buy him a welcome-back-for-the-who-the-heck-knows-how-many-time cake? This is your precious piece of information?" Trexon rested his head on his hand.
" I'm with Trexon. I mean, come on, the great demon lord comes back to destroy the world, can your news be original for once? And here I am, expecting you've confirmed the existence of Hexa, or at least announce that you're going to resign. Now that would have been of prime importance. And of immeasurable joy too. The latter news that is."
"Sharp tongue as always, Tetrax. However, I have a reason to believe that this time is going to be much different. Samundo is planning something big. Very big. If we underestimate him, the price to pay will be of unthinkable scale."
"Last time he was here, one-fifth of China was obliterated. The time before that, Alaska nearly sank. This time, it is going to be the world, isn't it? Again, what a surprise." Trexon slouched on the table.
"Yes, it is going to be the world. And more than that, every realm within our scope of knowledge is now also at stake. Not only Earth, but every layer of existence surrounding it will vanish, if Samundo succeeds."
"Wow, that's frightening, but still not a surprise. We all know that destruction is in his blood, and the extent of that destruction is hardly ever beyond imagination. Even if Samundo plans to destroy the whole Solar System, I will not bat an eye."
Others nodded at Trexon. Time after time, Samundo's return birthed new waves of doomsayers and new ways to end all realms on Earth, each time more or less creative than the previous. Halcyon ( or as some would prefer, Halcyons) - an amalgamation of hundreds of different realms-suffered the most. Since the day demons' presence were made known, it had always been considered The Great Wall, the shield that stood between Samundo's army and almost everything else. Hunters along with other species had done a good job protecting the shield. Time after time, they unfailingly vanquished Samundo. There was simply no reason to believe this time would be any "different".
"How can you be so sure of this... difference?" Deuza asked, his fingers pressing against one another.
"I have a credible source of information. It was about 3 days ago when the message reached me. The messenger informed me of Samundo's scheme. He's looking for two ancient artifacts: The Pillars of Light and The Key of Darkness. I know it sounds stupid, but hey, before this, he has never sought to use something rather than his overwhelming army to kill all of us. This time he's serious."
The others seriously doubted Primitos' statement.
"Does anyone besides us know of this?" Tetrax asked.
"The Council; M.O.M too. Their intelligence bureaus work with greater efficiency than ours." Primitos leaned back."They have become quite bored of Samundo. He's still the greatest threat, but to them it's rather ridiculous that someone returns from oblivion for the 20th freaking time. Rumor has it that the last time he got banished, people actually waved at him saying that next time they would prepare a cake."
"So... what will we do to give him a warm welcome then? Not baking a cake, obviously."
"Nothing. I just want to warn you. It's not like we can just charge at him. None of the demon hunters will support us; they favor the Council. Besides, the nineteen times before it was not us who vanquished him, but someone, or something else."
Tetrax and Trexon sighed simultaneously. The two did not hide their bitterness: the supposed strongest demon hunters could not lay a finger on Samundo even once. Always, the hidden heroes killed the demon then vanished. Still, since the heroes did not step forward to take the credit, most hunters assumed the Singulus Digiti defeated the Demon Lord. The order did not bother rectifying the lie: it needed whatever scraps of respects it could garner from the Hunter community.
"What a waste of time. Even without your warning, we could have heard it from somewhere else later. This kind of news spreads far and wide, you know?" Tetrax said.
"I'm aware, but the Elder insisted on making me summon all of you. He said that he wanted to be sure."
"Of what?" Deuza raised his voice.
"What does that even mean?"
Primitos shrugged off the question. He clapped his hands. "That's it. Dismiss!"
"All that trouble, all that waiting for this 10-minute get-together. Next time I shall send a cake in my place. I bet you all: Samundo's 20th birthday will be just like the others." Trexon said, storming towards the exit.
"Pentos, the meeting is over. You can leave now," said Primitos to the only figure in the room yet to utter a word.
The figure did not move an inch, nor did it display any kind of reaction. The hunters felt a chill spreading throughout their bodies.
Deuza cautiously approached his comrade, one hand on his gun. He touched Pentos's shoulder, shaking it slightly.
The body fell to the ground lifelessly. The sound of cracking bones made the hunters cringe. The cloak came off, revealing a face with mouth wide open, decayed teeth, skin peeled off, and two empty holes where Pentos's eyes once were.
"Now that's a surprise." Trexon slowly shook his head.
The others glared at him.
"We are the only one who know of the time and place of the meeting, right?" Tetrax asked
"Well, yes, I guess." Primitos answered, aware of the implication of his answer.
The four stared at each other. That moment, a paroxysm of fear, doubt, and grief surged within each of them, distorting the ambience, converging with each other in a chaotic order.
"So this is why he wants to be sure of us." Tetrax said in a dead voice.
"Before someone in this room tries to pull a Sherlock Holmes on us all, let's be serious now: which one of you thickhead killed him?"