Chapter 1: Before the Skull Throne
Thirty-six hours after capturing of Hannibal, Selina, and the council of Cushar in his elaborate trap at the city of Cush, Hades boldly strode into the throne room of the Black Fortress with the feline Xenian at his side. Kronos led the way. They approached and Kronos bowed. Hades bowed slightly as did the Xenian. The Emperor looked upon them with disdain, expecting bad news. He rose from his throne and walked to edge of the dais, saying, “Rise and report.” He immediately noticed the wide grin on Hades’ face, which he interpreted as good news.
“Your majesty, I have a gift for you,” Hades cackled. Then he called out, “Bring them in.” To the Emperor’s surprise and utter delight, the guards brought in Hannibal and Selina, heavily chained hand and foot with chains encircling their chests pinning their arms at their sides while securing their hands behind their backs. The guards pushed them roughly before the Emperor as Hades announced, “As agreed: Beowulf and his feline partner, alive and intact.”
The Emperor’s eyes sparkled with glee as he walked down the stairs to the main floor. Stopping in front of Hades, he put his hand on his shoulder, saying, “Well done; very well done indeed, Lord Hades. You’ve managed to capture them when no one else has. You shall be richly rewarded.”
Once brought before the Emperor, the guards forced Hannibal and Selina to their knees. “It was so easy,” Hades replied with a cackle. “All you needed was the right bait. Their goodness and compassion for these rebellious maggots was their undoing. They fell right into my trap. However, you should know Beowulf’s reputation is well deserved. They took down single-handedly almost one hundred soldiers. The cat removed the head of your best gladiator in the initial fray before he could react and Beowulf generated an elemental firewall that incinerated fifty of your soldiers in one shot. They also have accessed the ancient machinery, coming by means of a portal generator. I saw the portal myself.”
“Is that so?” the Emperor returned mildly as he walked to the two, not concerned in the least about the information. “Let them stand,” he ordered the guards, who heaved Hannibal and Selina to their feet.
Hannibal looked up into the face of the Emperor and instantly saw the Black Prince. “The Black Prince, I presume,” he said coldly.
The Emperor glared at Hannibal as the guard struck him viciously, shouting, “No one speaks to the Emperor without permission, outlander!”
The Emperor turned his glare on the guard, hissing, “It’s no point in pummeling him senseless. You’re wasting your time. Trust me. I know.” Then he leaned down and looked Hannibal square in the face, saying with a wicked smile, “Finally, we meet again face to face after all these millennia, Beowulf. You have been a thorn in my side for a very long time. These pestilent insects look to you as a savior. Now we shall see who the savior is and who need the saving.”
“I’m no savior,” Hannibal retorted bluntly. “I’m just a man caught up in something much bigger than he is. I didn’t ask for this position. It was thrust upon me, but I can tell you this with certainty. Your days are quickly coming to an end. You’ll never extinguish the light completely, nor get your hands on those people.”
The Emperor’s face soured and he hissed venomously, “On the contrary, it’s your days that are coming to an end, maggot. With you out of the way, there will be nothing to stop me. You will die, as will all of your friends. When my army wipes the rabble from the face of Arionath, you’ll be alone and I’ll rise from this grave and retake that which is rightfully mine.”
Hannibal began laughing the Emperor to scorn, infuriating him. After laughing, Hannibal declared with great authority, “The world is not yours, nor is the galaxy, or the universe, you stupid prick. They belong to the great Ancient of Day alone. You may kill me, even my wife, and my friends. Granted, you have the power to do that. But as long as there’s one person on the face of the Earth or one soul in the entire universe who doesn’t bow to you, you lose.” Selina watched with growing worry as Hannibal fearlessly provoked the Emperor to wrath.
The Emperor’s face contorted with rage, taking on more of the Black Prince’s features. He smashed the back of his hand into the side of Hannibal’s head, sending him sprawling across the floor nearly thirty feet. “Arrogant pestilent maggot; you dare speak to me like that! I am eternal; a god incarnate on this miserable mud ball of a planet!” the Emperor roared furiously. “Worlds without end have fallen to me. I am the ultimate incarnation of the deepest Darkness of the Abyss and Chaos in this and every universe. No one speaks to me like that, ever.”
Selina flinched, calling out to Hannibal as the Emperor slugged him. Hannibal rolled on his side, shaking his head, which bled from a nasty gash where the Emperor’s ring hit him. “Only in your own fucking demented mind, Black Prince,” Hannibal returned forcefully, “You’re no different from all the other bullies I have encountered in my short lifespan: always using brute force to make people submit. It’s a sign of weakness and you know it.”
The Emperor rushed forward, grabbed Hannibal by the chains encircling his chest, and picked him completely up off the floor, bringing him face to face. The Emperor snarled, the visage of the Black Prince becoming more and more pronounced in his face. “Weakness; I have no weakness, arrogant little flea! Do you think your pathetic idiot god can save you here? Not likely,” he hissed venomously. “This is my domain, not His.”
“Look at him, Selina. He’s afraid because he knows his time is short. Can’t you feel it?” Hannibal called out, seeing and sensing the Emperor’s fear that he hid with his anger.
“Yes, I can,” Selina replied, only to be pummeled into silence by the guards.
The Emperor snorted and looked deep into Hannibal’s eyes, trying to intimidate him, saying maliciously, “No one is coming for you; not your friends, and certainly not your pathetic imbecilic idiot god! Neither He nor your friends will save you. You are mine, FOREVER!” He found the more he tried to intimidate Hannibal, the stronger Hannibal’s faith and resolve became.
“May be,” Hannibal admitted coolly with great confidence. “He may not save us from your hand. That’s up to Him. But there’s one thing that you can be sure of. We will not bow or submit. You can kill us. That’s given, but our souls are eternal and in His mighty hand so you can’t touch them. Therefore, kill us if you dare. Make martyrs out of us. The whole cavern knows we’re here and if you martyr us, we’ll become more powerful than you can even imagine.”
“They will die too,” the Emperor hissed venomously, “All of them. I’ll kill every last pestilent human parasite on this pathetic little mud ball of a planet if I have to in order to have what was promised me. You stupid humans are nothing to but an infestation of vermin waiting to be exterminated on a planet that never belonged to you. We were here first. What do you say to that, you pestilent maggot?”
Hannibal looked fearlessly into the face of the enraged Emperor, which astounded everyone present, including Hades. The feline Xenian watched the whole episode with great interest and fascination, raising an eyebrow. “You can try, you goddamned fiend,” Hannibal retorted with growing fury. “But the Lord will not let you get away with it. Your time runs out. Lucifer is coming and the Lord is coming to remove him as well. So where does that leave you? You’re still number two, which means you will be the second one cast in the Lake of Fire. Are you ready to feel the burn, you shit-faced demon fuck? The Lord is already forging the burning chains that will bind you and your boss for all eternity. You can’t escape your fate no more than I can, as much as I would like to. We’re both going to die, but after I die, I will live on in the Kingdom of my God while you burn forever chained in the center of the Lake of Fire. So, in the end, I win and you lose, you foul festering piece of demon filth!”
The Emperor bellowed like a crazed beast and cast him fifty feet across the throne room against the wall, knocking him out cold. Selina flinched and called out in concern to him, only to be beaten again into silence. “Get that pestilent maggot out of my sight! Let’s see how he likes a taste of the Arena!” the Emperor bellowed. The guards quickly picked up Hannibal and started to take him away when the Emperor added, “Wait; I have a better idea. Take him to the labs. I have a special fate in mind for this rebellious human shit. He’ll rue the day he defied and insulted me in my own house!”
“As you command, my Lord Emperor,” the guard captain answered quickly. Then to his men, he said, “Bring him.” The captain led his men out as they carried Hannibal’s unconscious form.
The Emperor then turned his attention to Selina. His anger boiled like a pot of hot tar on a fire. He looked her over evilly and liked what he saw. His anger slowly ebbed as he grabbed her roughly by the chin. She growled and tried to bite him, which amused him. “It’s been over twelve thousand cycles since we have had your kind in our lands. You’re very beautiful and I expect, very dangerous as well, my dear,” he declared with an evil grin.
“You’re sure right about that, beast! Unchain me and find out how dangerous I am. I’ll tear you head off and rip your guts out for treating Hannibal like that!” Selina growled venomously, showing her righteous fury.
The Emperor laughed and said, “I’m sure you would, my dear. But you’ll soon learn some respect for me. You’re now mine.” Turning to the remaining guards who held her, he ordered, “Take her to the Harem and chain her carefully. Also, make sure she has something fitting to wear. I may have a use for her later.” Selina growled as the guards knocked her unconscious and dragged away.
Turning to Hades, he said, “You’ve done very well, Lord Hades. You can have anything you want. Just name it.”
Hades bowed slightly and said, “Your majesty is most generous, but I still have work to do. His friends are still out there as are the other rebels. What do you mean to do to him in the labs?”
A wicked smile crossed the Emperor’s lips. “Oh, you’ll see, Lord Hades. I’m sure you’ll find it very gratifying too. By time I’m done with him, Beowulf will be stripped of everything he has and humiliated beyond his capacity to resist, or he’ll be dead,” he declared.
“And how will you perform this feat?” Hades asked. “Beowulf has a mind of the first order and a will to match otherwise he would not have risen to the 7th level. It’ll take more than just plain torture to break his mind and spirit.”
“And it’ll be more than just plain torture,” the Emperor stated. “I will rob him of the very source of his power, and he’ll know what it is like to become a sacrificial vessel of the very power he refused to participate in.”
A huge smile crept over Hades’ face. “Ahh, excellent; you mean to make him into one of your toys, don’t you?” Hades queried with delight.
The Emperor nodded, saying, “Among other things; I will rip his mind from his body and place it into one of my toys and he will experience tortures that no man could ever comprehend. I’ll personally teach him the folly of his treason and rebellion against the Dark Powers he turned against. If he manages to survive the games I have planned for him, he’ll fight in the Arena as a shattered shell of a soul who has no chance against my power. When his mind, body, and spirit lay shattered at my feet in the Arena unable to resist me, he’ll die slowly in the acid vats as I let it slowly melt his body away while he still breathes. Is that good enough for you?”
“A truly fitting punishment for such a traitor, my Lord Emperor,” Hades crowed. “I could not have come up with a better fate myself. But what happens, if by some strange quirk of fate, he survives your games and the Arena? It would give me no greater pleasure than to burn him to ashes myself.”
“I’ll tell you what,” the Emperor said, seeing Hades’ lust for Hannibal’s death at his own hand. “Should that maggot somehow survive everything I throw at him, I’ll give you the honor of sending him to his fate in Oblivion. Does that suit you?”
“Your majesty is most generous,” Hades stated, “...and I would love nothing more than to either burn him to ashes or slowly lower him into the acid vats with my own hands, but that’s only if time permits. I still have rebels to crush in your name. Oh, I have another present for you before I forget: the sword he wielded during his capture.” Hades unbuckled the sword from his waist and handed it to the Emperor.
The Emperor examined the sword for a moment, pulling it from the scabbard, saying, “This is truly a great gift, Hades. I haven’t seen this blade in almost thirteen thousand cycles. This was the first blade I ever wielded as Emperor. It was lost to me when we were buried here by the Calamity. As a gesture of gratitude for your success in the live, intact capture of Beowulf, you keep the sword. It will enhance your power.” He handed it back to Hades, who accepted it with a bow and a thank you. “Come. Let’s show Beowulf who is the master here,” he ordered, leading Hades away.