“If you are to betray me,” The HellHunter warned the demoness, “kill me quickly, or you shall suffer the same.”
The Forsaken Temple was eventually found in a distant marsh far from the empire’s borders, even after so many shamans insisted it resided beyond the mortal plane. Upon the wide, unwalled bed of bones were statues of kneeling gargoyles, spewing sulfuric wind from their maniacally grinning mouths, seated upon columns gouged with the claw marks of the damned. A series of archways jutting out of the putrid swampland stew resembled the ribbed remains from some ancient leviathan. A slit of setting sun peeked through clusters of rotting trees in the distance, hanging in perpetual dusk. The Demono Wrathos manifested itself when the HellHunter beckoned its name, and a fierce battle commenced.
A steel sword was driven upwards into the demon’s throat by relentless hands, shredding through the larynx with the sound of a slow, snapping tree branch. It staggered back, yanking the hilt from the HellHunter’s grasp as shock overwhelmed its ferocity, and oily fluid began to pool along the lids of its eyes and dribble from its nostrils. The monster’s mouth opened wide in a gesture that seemed reflexive, gurgling a blood-choked roar before its wobbling knees collapsed. Heavy stone armor cracked against the skeletal floor beneath it, clattering with the spasms of quietus, until it became as lifeless as the beast it failed to protect. A large silver medallion with strange markings was the trophy he sought, and the battered warrior snatched it from the demon’s bulging neck with an exhale of triumph.
The medallion was pocketed before the HellHunter gazed upon the slain Demono Wrathos with a wave of consummate relief, his breaths still heavy with exhaustion. Its massive frame had to be twenty lengths or taller, with an ox-like face and searing red eyes that glowed inexorably, even in death. The audience of taunting demon soldiers had disappeared, apparently swept away by the winds of defeat. Were they truly there? he thought as he unsheathed his sword and shouted his battle cry. The Forsaken Temple was fraught with lies for the eyes and ears of intruders, but its guardian was now slain, apparently taking its powers of deceit along with it.
His fatal strike was admittedly lucky, but expected all the same; seven other demon lords were felled in necessary triumphs to set the current stage of battle. Ultimate victory was proving itself a natural consequence of the HellHunter’s momentum, it seemed. He had carved through hordes of hellions and rejected the temptations of euphoric delights offered from a plane of pleasure too incomprehensible for mortal minds, if he would only forfeit his quest. And now, the final Hellgate beckoned, promised by ancient prophesy to surrender its cursed seal before the gathering of the eight pendants, somewhere on the edge of the Great Earth.
Silence had settled like dust around the HellHunter until it was abruptly broken. “Mine kill was stolen,” came the snarl of a voice through the thickening black of the temple’s shadows. The warrior tensed and turned his head towards the growl, eyes widened with a peculiar blend of concern and relief. Despite the familiarity, the warrior was never truly comfortable with the demoness…
The black seemed to peel away from a woman as she stepped forward, glowing a fluorescent violet from her face and striking, amethyst eyes. Two small horns jutted from top of her brow, curtained by raven-feathered hair that blended like mist into the darkness around it. An elegant drape of skin just below her chin suggested a well-nourished regality, punctuated by a crown of thorns above her head, floating like a halo. Her leather armor was the color of dried blood and hugged tightly against her skin, with prominent straps around her gloves, boots, neckline, and midsection. A metallic plate on her chest flaunted the symbol of the Cross’ed; both holy and unholy with its pair of crosspieces. Her left wrist revealed the tattooed insignia of a demon huntress to those few in the world who recognized it.
Shiva’ra eyes glared their blame towards the HellHunter, who carried the mortal name of Charles Morschew. He was tall, somewhere between six and seven lengths, his olive skin rugged and calloused from countless battles and wounds. The look in his charcoal eyes wavered between fierce determination and thoughtful observance, as if his enduring battle against evil had split his demeanor into two distinct halves. He was the chosen paladin of a warrior tribe long thought extinct, trained by the Golden Knight’s Order and tutored in alchemy. His armor was the color of scuffed silver, with flaking green and red stripes boasting the empire’s royal colors. His face was almost handsome, with a number of scars traveling along his squared jawline, and one across his right eye pulling into his dark, wavy hair.
“I beg your pardon, Shiva’ra the Betrayer,” Charles lifted from his lips, his forehead dipping almost reverently. “My convictions gave way to impatience, and I’ve robbed you of what was rightfully yours.”
Shiva’ra the Betrayer. The demoness didn’t mind the title, and in fact insisted upon it. She made no secret of the contempt she held towards her brethren, declaring it to the HellHunter who felt the tip of her blade against his neck before their uneasy allegiance. Demons had relinquished their might amidst mortal indulgences, she observed wearily… making them weak, conquerable, and subject to the whims of fate. Looking upon it now, her concern might as well have been prophesy, as only the Christ of Demons remained of the demon lords that once reigned upon the Great Earth.
“Indeed you did,” Shiva’ra stoutly accused, but her voice had softened. Charles presented the medallion as consolation, dangling it from his forefinger before clenching it into his palm. He tried a smile towards his companion, earning none in return, before noticing something strange upon his fingertips… the sight of charred flesh, crawling and consuming his skin. He violently shook his hand to no avail and the look of panic began to seep into his eyes.
Shiva’ra approached Charles to address the creeping plague, taking his hand into hers to study it. After a moment her voice became motherly, almost a coo. “Charles,” she explained with concern. “You’ve been cursed. Let me see if I can—”
The sudden swipe of an enormous arm sent Charles careening towards a grinning gargoyle, gouging his arm with a stone claw before he tumbled into a heap. The Demono Wrathos had somehow risen from its resting place, wrenching the instrument of death from its neck before a thunderous roar shook the temple’s foundation with horrifying resonance. Shiva’ra had already engaged the risen demon lord with her dagger, and the medallion was just out of reach from Charles’ trembling hand before his mind was swallowed by blackness.
There were dreams, of course, full of wonder and meaning. Visions of what has been and could be, glimpses of lives lived and yet to come…
Charlemagne’s pulse rifle was slung over his left shoulder as he stood resolutely on a slanted concrete slab. Sheila’s head was buried into his chest, and he felt the wetness of tears through his black siphon battlesuit. His right hand wore the glove that was generating the energy field around them, criss-crossing lines of bright cyan much like an electric net, ballooned into a protective sphere. Charlemagne’s vivid green eyes observed the bursts of orange and black through the vivid blue mesh, and warm reflections flashed against his placid face.
“Easy, easy,” he whispered in an effort to console the frightened young woman leaning against him. “We’re protected here, we’re fine.”
He had found Shiela in a building long abandoned within Zone 27, and had little time to explain that the evols were coming,… coming fast, those damned souls that had been subjected to the Liquid Evolution. Floating naked through the air like flesh-colored silhouettes, no discernable features on their hellish blank faces, their digits fused together into large, useless nubs… Their attacks came from their minds, as frightening as the prospect was. Spontaneous explosions spurred on with a thought that leveled cities from above with horrifying efficiency… traveling like massive fiery centipedes across streets and corridors… burning fiercely for hours or even days.
Sheila and Charlemagne were caught in one of those attacks, and Charlemagne had activated his pulse shield just in time… for what? The evols would most certainly conduct a grid search after their initial attack, and there were not many places to hide in the rubble that stretched for miles around them. He could maybe take one head on, if he was lucky and his aim was true… but there were at least five roaming around, as detected by his perimeter scanner. He wasn’t sure what to do, and his platoon wasn’t responding to his beacon… perhaps they were conducting their own defensive maneuvers, or perhaps they were simply wiped out.
The situation seemed bleak, but Charlemagne wouldn’t tell Sheila that, at least not yet…
Charles awoke, but his eyes did not open, a warrior’s habit trained into him as a young boy. Crickets and frogs sang a night’s chorus around him with chattery chirps and swollen hiccups, and he felt the warmth of flame from a campfire nearby. As his senses collected further from the depths of sleep, he took notice of his left arm in a sling and the feeling of hay on his back, his armor absent while he lay upon the musty dampness of earth. His good hand fidgeted with the remnants of his dream, and for the briefest moment a trail of cyan energy pulsed from its fingertips.
Through the floating, glowing embers a pair of watchful eyes could be seen, the color of sparkling amethyst. Charles couldn’t help but stir at the stare he somehow felt through his still-groggy mind.
“You’re finally awake,” Shiva’ra stated flatly.
“Yes indeed,” Charles acknowledged with a dusty throat. “What a wonder that I’m still alive.”
“I killed it, once and for all,” Shiva’ra declared to quell the question yet to be asked. And don’t you ever steal another kill from me again, came the unspoken words alongside her tone. The sound of a jangle settled Charles’ mind about the medallion as well.
“Very good, very good. We have what we need for the final battle ahead. Thank you for your help, Shiva’ra, and for the lovely campfire.”
A wordless welcome filled the embered air between them before Shiva’ra spoke again. “A cleric came and went while you were asleep to rid you of your curse. I managed to set your arm as well… hopefully the cleric’s blessing speeds it along.” Her mention of it seemed to activate Charles’ mind to the pain and swelling, and his shoulder twitched with a deep, dull ache.
“A cleric and demoness with peace between them?” Charles mused aloud. “What a sight that would have been. A pity I missed it.”
Shiva’ra snorted with a sort of shallow contempt. Her lips readied a retort before being interrupted by another thought from the wounded warrior.
“Our crusade is almost complete, dear huntress. We’ve earned together a lifetime’s worth of rest, have we not?”
The remark evidently stirred something within Shiva’ra, prompting her to stand from her seat and move towards the HellHunter, his body exposed and vulnerable, wearing a peasant’s plaincloth. She kneeled to straddle him with knees and palms in hay and dirt, rocking a bit on his loins in an effort to rouse him, but only earned a grimace.
“Easy, easy…” Charles winced alongside a jagged smile, winking one eye open upon the demoness pressing her claim upon his lap. “Your warmth is always appreciated, but my body still aches, so it does.”
Shiva’ra curled her own soft, curious smile. Easy, easy. Charles seemed to always pull odd new expressions from his dreams, a phenomenon of which she had long grown accustomed.
“What say will happen after our task is done?” Shiva’ra posed with a sing-songiness to her voice, equally innocent and sultry. “How shall we live?”
Charles seemed to muse on the on the hopeful eventuality for a long moment. “I suppose our duties would shift towards rekindling the Great Earth with children,” he offered with a slight shrug of his shoulders.
“Children!” Shiva’ra sounded genuinely excited and flattered at the proposition, almost squealing. Her rocking thighs were less provocative now and more mindful of Charles’ ailing soreness.
The heart in Charles’ chest thumped its own cautious longing at the prospect. Shiva’ra really was quite beautiful, horns and all, a fact he often blotted from his own eyes out of necessity. Perhaps his seed wouldn’t or couldn’t take within her womb; he was a mere mortal courting an otherworldly demoness, after all. But Shiva’ra’s enthusiasm to try was enough to add another fiery incentive to the drive already branded onto his soul by oath and fate.
“First thing’s first,” Charles proclaimed, pulling another of those peculiar phrases from some forgotten time. “The Christ of Demons.”
Shira’na’s amethyst eyes flared at the name said aloud, her body stiffening. “The Christ of Demons,” she whispered back.