“I know what you did.”
In a labyrinth of dark stone halls studded by crystal ribs fused with igneous ceilings, a pair of horned things stand opposite each other. One ash-grey with a sweep of orange hair and blood-red fire, the other bronze, glittering, covered in slit-orifices with serrated chitin-bands on her neck and limbs. That second one is myself.
This is the sort of place where someone must seek you to find you. An essence-trace. As to why she wants me in particular… I’m sure I’ll find out shortly.
Saelvurs despise cliches. So legendary is our hatred of the expected that we’re known to prefer utter incomprehensibility, mangled sound-gestalts of tortured evasion, to simply saying what we mean. But like any graesh-maiden of my generation–those that yet remain–I’ve learned to go with the flow. Sometimes.
Thus, the words that fall from my seven-cleft lips are familiar ones. “You’ll need to be more specific. We’ve done a lot.”
“You killed the woman I love!”
I tilt my head, morphing an aquamarine eye larger.
“Do you think this is a joke?!” she snarls, stoking her fires, baring her fangs.
“You would prefer I take it seriously?” Break the seal. The deep unbound, the font ever-flowing, the nova from the umbra springing. I am beyond my form, immensity encompassing the trivial pinpoint where two meet, and the tiny guttering ember below is like the last flicker of a burning ship sinking into the infinite blackness of a far ocean. I am the endless periphery, the sweep of shining nebulae, the abyss beyond all.
With distant eyes I look inward on the tiny tableau, and see how petty it is. What a waste of time. What right has this insect to rage at eternity made manifest?
This isn’t a fun way to see things, so I collapse back into myself, putting the enormity of my full power once more to rest. Her widened eyes relax as the pressure of my full presence fades away.
“Do you seriously think you can scare me?” she snarls.
“Sure.” I shrug, “if I drove mutation into you, if I taught you to fear. But I don’t think you’d back down if I did. You’re a demon too, aren’t you? To kneel is death. If it’s death either way, we die standing.”
She lunges, claws raking at my cheek with a scald of hateful heat. “Don’t talk like we’re the same!” I sway aside, long saber manifesting at my right hip. She gathers herself. Watches me with raging fury bottled up behind her eyes.
My left hand settles to the softly-squirming flesh of the much-loved grip, bronze touching snowy furls. Lilac plasma streams along the bronze guard, a spiral twisting into a disk that expands out to a winged crossguard. A surcoat of violet living skin phases onto my body, needles within piercing my skin and tapping my nerves in a chorus of sweetest pleasure-pain. “Before I draw your blood, tell me: which battle spawned you, wraith of spite?”
The words tremble on her lips, at the brink of becoming heard. I’ve heard them many times. She would tell me to speak like a normal person, I am sure, if she had not by now realized I’ll just answer that’s what I’m doing–I’m talking like any everyday normal Carag person.
A contradiction in terms, of course, but so is telling the Carag to speak “normally.” Nothing about my people has been normal for a very long time.
“The burning of Heaven,” she growls. “You had to know that.”
Metalloid whispers, black lightning blossoming from the seam between my sword’s hilt and its scabbard as I ease it free. “I did not. I could not. Whoever I slew… wait…” I peer closer. Yes. I have seen them before, those five jagged horns, the broken stub of a sixth. I have eaten memories of her red lips parted in ecstasy, relived the scent of her cum, the softness of her voice drunk with lust and love.
One lip’s corner-cleft squelches from the crease of a twisted smile, violet blood trickling down my cheek as the Savor overtakes me. “Oh. Now I understand. One of the angels I killed that day… she was yours.” A low chuckle rumbles up my throat, blasting black fire in sequence from the chasms marching up my neck. “Scorn and death, girl! You’ve some gall to rage at me. For two thousand Earthly years, Kataessam’s lapdogs made war against all demonkind. If you were to tumble one, you should’ve known–“
I anticipate her screaming rush and step neatly aside, snapping free the rest of Voidvesper’s shining edge to deal her a burning slice across the belly.
“–that a demon would kill her one day,” I finish, pirouetting to face her and lifting my beloved blade to my lips. My tongues creep out, dripping green glows, and lick her blood. Tasting grief and grief’s visions, hazy fractals of a face and form she’ll never touch again. “Is that it? She was supposed to be safe to love, protected by a god you did not believe anyone could ever defeat?”
Her eyes widen, and her talons dig briefly into her palms, and she says nothing.
The Anshalgat Tchaelnathati have given ourselves to the Abyss. I wish to go beyond condemning anyone for what they desire, what they are, even when what they are causes strain, discomfort, danger for me. I want to free myself to relish all the infinities of being. But here, now, I am a veteran of the Onslaught Guard and the Thnaktian Pangalactic War, and I cannot deny the surge of loathing that ripples through me.
“How dare you…” Bioluminescent trickles seep faster from my maw, laced now with black fire. “You would condemn me? You, who opened your heart and shared your lust with a servant of the God We Knew?” Black fangs clash. “You want to fight a Carag soldier, you’ll get your damned wish.”
She has the grace to avert her eyes, at least. “We don’t choose who we fall in love with.”
“Hmph.” My nova burns purple upon my horns, spilling plasma-tides down my shoulders to raise molten slag from the ruined flooring. “I respect that.”
Before the echoes of my voice fade, I summon a salvo from the guns in my private armory. Space-distorting spirals and glassy trails crack past with force enough to stir my surcoat’s hem.
She surges her fires and jets aside. I stretch out my soul to tap my trace essences coating every bullet, and entangle them with the lingering energies left in their wakes–wakes which she, quite helpfully, just scattered to a random array. The volley reemerges from as many directions as there are projectiles, puncturing the younger demon’s form into a paint-splatter of outsized exit wounds. She recombines, reeling, snapping back together as though wrought of elastic.
Fighting Carag means there’s no leeway for getting stunned. I instantiate in perfect striking range and Voidvesper sings with a thunderclap hum. It shears a brilliant arc out of her. In that instant I pour all my venomous thoughts into the grip and down the blade, and again, and again, reinstantiating from one strike to the next to avoid wasting time on follow-through and setup for the next blow.
Every cut distorts her, form warping to fit the carnage I rip into her self-image. On a thrust to her heart, I juxtapose the image of her reclining on her lover’s radiant breast against that of a killing field littered by broken demons, their forms steaming and rotten from the blows of a sanctified sword. A sanctified sword shining painfully bright, held fast in the same strong silver fingers that slip between her legs later that night….
She shrieks, bubbling into a horrid gestalt of feathers and shining eyes and haloes and horns piercing skin, grafting to bones beneath, infernal fires and divine light boiling each other to sickly hues.
Good effect on target? Then I will push my advantage.
We repeat variations on that theme ad nauseum. Her volition’s weak. Her techniques are predictable. Her rage is unfocused, and quickly lost to the agony I forge in her heart. I enjoy myself in a lazy way, much like I do when I’m edging but lack any influence tasty enough to push me into cumming. It’s fun to play with my power and my sword. Still… I can’t deny it feels hollow when I’m so superior to my enemy.
I’m reminded of Gentle Entropy cackling over comms during the final push at Karzhorag. “Void’s laments, look at ’em all!” she crowed. “Damn me to Hell, it’s like machinegunning toddlers!”
And then she laughed relentlessly right to the end of the battle. The Fall seldom begins gracefully. We each have our share of such embarrassing moments. But Entropy has grown artful in her vileness, as I have grown artful, as we all have grown artful.
With a final uppercut and blooming of my psyche against the ashen one’s, I entangle us and pull us together through the all-fabric to a courtyard where dark pulsating veins grow out of crumbling marble, where ever-shifting shadows and ever-changing shapes slowly consume the remnants of high white walls, golden plating, and stained-glass galleries.
Voidvesper’s point comes to a rest against her throat. “You know where we are.”
She struggles to speak, split in half and dismembered by my final onslaught. She’s not regenerating anymore. I take the time to study her, curious how her form responds to the brink of death. Every demon meets it a little differently. When I hit my limit, the wounded areas crystallize first. Soft areas becoming purple geodes, muscle and plating becoming amber crystals. When it’s really bad, when I’m all but blacked out, I start to fuse into the matter around me.
There are hundreds of me merged with haunted battlefields throughout Thnakt.
This one’s fires pour out, flickering frail like candle-flames in a winter wind, and decay into thick clots of ash crumbling to the riven marble between her torso and her legs. Coils push out and break apart, guts failing to form. Threads that should become sinew disintegrate to dust.
“It’s…” She retches, turning her head aside. I drop to one knee beside her, and sheathe Voidvesper before she can think of levitating herself into its point. I turn her on her side and massage her limbless form until she heaves up the worst of the ashes. The perverse intimacy of it stirs familiar yearnings, my womanhood swelling up beneath my armor.
Well now… perhaps I have gained something from all this.
” …it’s where you killed ‘stel,” she murmurs.
“The very same.” I am not quite so callous as to manifest the shapes moving in my mind, or to voice my thoughts of our encounter. I could not rightly call it a duel, anymore than I could this.
“How’d she die…?” She retches again. I ease her lips open with one hand, scooping ashes out with the other.
“Would you like me to patch your essence?” I ask. “It’ll keep you comfortable until you’ve rested enough to heal again.”
“I don’t want your help, Carag,” she spits. Then, the creases ease from her lovely profile. “Do you have a name?”
“I do not. Most of my people do not.” I shrug for the sake of my own emotions, for her back is still turned to me. “We know each other by feeling, by the shapes of our forms, the sounds we make, the way we move, by scent. All these are so much truer and deeper than a chance clatter of syllables.”
I rise, flanged knuckles piercing my chin. “Do you really want to know? I doubt you’ll like it.”
Long silence. Slow black undulations break through the white shell of another tower, writhing their way upward.
“Give it to me the simplest that you can,” she mutters at last.
“Very well.” I pace, slow, considering the surroundings. I make sure that my younger kindred isn’t looking toward me. Then I let my mind’s eye manifest shadow-shapes around me, mapped by memory to the gashes in this wall, to this crumbling crater: a great form of eight wings, many eyes, a swirling sphere of blades all moving far too slow to catch the smaller blur puncturing her from this side and from that. Finally, the smaller figure distorts into a ball of cleaving crescents and blasts through from one side to the other. The angel’s phantom hovers for a heartbeat, then collapses.
“It was quick.” I come to a halt. “She did not beg. I did not taunt or toy with her. She died thinking of you. I know because, as planned in advance, I ate every aura she left behind.”
“You could’ve left me something,” the youngling whimpers. “Anything.”
“As she and her god could’ve done the same for untold billions of our kindred since long before either of us manifested from the great void,” I answer. Then, softening. “But… she was the one you loved. This loss is your loss. I do understand that. I am not… I cannot be utterly hardened against it. I know, for I have tried.”
“Yeah.” She flexes fingers that, knuckle by knuckle, begin to coalesce from the heap of ashes she’s grown. “I guess even your people can’t be that numb.”
“Do you think we wound up here by choice?” I ask, sauntering around to confront her. Again, she avoids my eyes. “We just mind our own business, chasing what gives us joy, and gods decide out of nowhere that they should try to enslave or kill us for it. That’s why we fought the Pangalactic War. And it’s why we assaulted Heaven that day.”
I breathe out, gouts of black fire venting from my neck. “Our sister, Kairliina Saelvur, was reading a human text called Paradise Lost, and making light of it on an Earthly social media site. It was an idle amusement, harming nothing except a fool god’s ego. Kataessam immediately sent angels to attack her, then came after her personally, while sending others to Machrae Diir seeking to threaten her young daughter.”
I cannot help but laugh, though half-despairing, for even now it’s such an outrageously childish reason to set such ruinous events in motion. This? This was the true nature of the enemy who hunted and terrified demonkind for thousands of years?
“That…” I continue, a little breathless with the staggering stupidity of it all, “that is the level of pettiness we faced. After fighting off the God who had tormented her since childhood, battling him to a standstill in an astral duel, Kairliina appealed to the Assembly of the Greater Communes for aid. She was exhausted from many other trials. She knew she could not win a committed battle, that Kataessam only fled because he was unused to facing someone close to his own strength. We agreed that his actions constituted an act of war in themselves, and a dangerous precedent for further aggression against the Carag.”
I take a knee, looming over her sullen form. “If the Carag often seem numb, well… it’s because, if we felt the full emotions a demon must feel at such infantile events as these, we’d do nothing but rage and burn until there was nothing left.” I am the sleeping immensity all around, the infinite periphery.
I remember the present, and continue. “Suffice to say that Paradise Lost turned out to contain just the clue we needed to launch a lightning strike on Heaven from the inside, isolating Kataessam from his archangels. We killed him first, threw his angels into confusion and madness with psychic backlash, then slaughtered our way down the hierarchy until no servants of note remained. The great irony of it all?”
I spread my hands and shrug. “It was a clue Kairliina only gleaned because she was bewildered to be attacked over something so trivial, and, being a mature demon who understands the care our power calls for, she assumed there must be some secret the god of her childhood wished to hide from her. She went looking, she found it, and presented it to High Command. We used it. But Kataessam himself did not realize it was there, hidden in those old pages. He acted purely out of rage that our sister mocked a work created to glorify him. His arrogance created the weakness, his arrogance led us to find it, and his arrogance caused the slaughter of all the angels his arrogance created.”
I rise. “So, there. Now you know the story as we understand it. You’ll tell me that I’m lying, I suppose. It’s just Carag propaganda, and all tha–“
“Enough.” She hugs herself. Her tail writhes, severed stump slowly lengthening. “You’ve made your point, alright? It was a doomed romance, I should’ve known what I was getting into, and ‘stel’s death was a consequence of the same factors that gave her life. A spat between higher powers. I get that.” She shifts, flopping her reformed hips around to turn her back on me again. Her voice emerges lower, raspy. “It doesn’t make me hurt any less.”
“No. I suppose it would not.” I stand at ease, sensing she has more to say.
“Send me to the void,” she mutters. “That’s how you Carag like to put it, right? Send me to the void, to be with her in oblivion.”
I consider. “I witness your desire to die. I refuse.” I reach into the memories I’ve gleaned and manifest bolts of silk, a weave of molten glass. Embodiments of love lost. I bind her remaining wounds with them, gathering ashes into the rough shapes of her legs. “After all this, I would find it unbearably boring to end your life.”
“You…!” she snarls, reaching to rip the bandages open.
I seize her hands, and hold her until she ceases thrashing. “If you’re so ready to end, then why are you regenerating?” I ease her fingers to her breast. “If you want to kill me so badly, well… I must confess, I haven’t known what to do with myself since the War’s end. So keep trying, and if you like I shall teach you how to phase-duel, and perhaps one day you’ll be strong enough you might just pull it off.”
She glares at me. “Mere minutes ago, you were monologuing at me about how my pain was inevitable and I deserved everything I got. Now you’re offering me some fucked-up form of affection to keep me around because it’d be boring if I die?”
I shrug. “It’s how I treat myself.”
She glowers. “You’re an insane moron.”
I grin. “Then it should be easy to get the better of me.”
I am rewarded for this with the longest sigh I have heard in a long, long time. “Fucking Anshalgat… fine. Help me up and let’s start walking. If I listen to you talk much longer, I’ll turn insane too.”
I give her my hand, and I am not so insanely moronic as to mention that what she said is precisely what I’m planning on.
~And the mythos forever unfolds~