Tantarous, lesser demon and denizen of the Northern Demesne of Pandemonium, tore breathlessly down the empty hall. What had been a place as familiar as the back of his hand seemed to transform into a terrible, enclosing maze. The rough rock walls seemed suddenly sharp and jagged. The stone floor, polished smooth by the feet of hellions over the millennia, reflected his terrified expression.
He turned the corner and found the door to a storage closet. The demon opened the door and hid inside.
He stood there in the pitch black, panting. Seconds passed. Then minutes. Nobody opened the door, and from the sound, nobody had passed by, either. Gradually, his breath and heartbeat slowed. He was safe.
He sighed. It was fine. He was fine. Everything was fine. He would have to leave the closet eventually, but hopefully by then--
"Hi there," said a voice behind him.
Tantarous flailed in the darkness, searching frantically for the door handle. A bout of hellfire streaked past him just as he was nearing it and melted the metal of the handle. So strong was the heat that even the stone around the door warped and cracked.
"I'm sorry!" Tantarous said, turning towards where the fire had come from. The glow of the molten rock did nothing to abate the darkness. "I'll cut it off with the mortal--"
"Too late," came the voice from the shadows.
Tantarous summoned his own hellfire into his fists. It wasn't as hot as the the stuff that had just been thrown at him, but it was bright and it clung to his hands like gloves.
"Then fight me!" he shouted into the darkness.
"Rather not," said a figure materializing behind him in the space between his back and the door. Before Tantarous could react, the figure had stuck a dagger hilt-deep in his back. From the place where the dagger struck, veins of red light began spreading out in angular, blocky patterns, as though traveling through an invisible maze on the demon's skin. "I'd rather you just die immediately," the figure continued.
Tantarous gasped and gurgled and fell forward, clutching ineffectively at the place where the tip of the blade stuck out of his front.
Then it was dark again.
* * * * *
Genowrath watched the other demon-- what was his name? Tantalas? Tantaross? Whatever-- die. It didn't take long, thanks to the magic inside the dagger, but it was still time wasting.
When the other demon was well and truly dead, Genowrath pulled the blade out of its back and wiped it on the demon's own fur. Then, he tucked the knife into his belt, shoved the corpse out of the way with a strong kick, and blasted the door open with a powerful burst of hellfire. The door exploded outward in a storm of molten-hot metal and super-heated fragments of stone.
Genowrath stood in the doorway and looked idly at his hand. He was pretty certain he hadn't been able to do that sort of explody-thing before. This struck him as something he probably should've been more curious about, but he had Stuff to do. So instead of wondering about it, he hurried down the maze of halls.
The dagger was new. He'd inherited it-- sort of.
After he'd killed Hebdekios, and after he'd figured out the gist of his Plan, Genowrath had gone to Hebdekios' room to conduct the time-honored tradition of looting the dead guy's stuff. Most of it was gone already-- other demons had seen Hebdekios die, and all the big ticket items had been harvested, but Genowrath knew that someone like Hebdekios, someone who'd shot up the demonic corporate ladder so fast, who had amassed so much power in so little time, must have had something nasty up his sleeve. And anyone with half a brain wouldn't leave that useful, nasty whatever-it-was just lying around in the open for scavenger-minded demons to find.
So he'd looked. He'd used precious time tearing apart what was left of Hebdekios' life, breaking open the backs of furniture and looking for secret doors in the walls. And there, under the bed and beneath a large stone slab-- identical to the rest of Hebdekios' flooring-- he'd found it: a safe. One made from cold iron and completely magic proof.
It had taken him ages to pull the thing out of the floor, and longer still to get it open, but he'd managed, and inside it were two items worth finding. The first was a makeshift bandolier filled with tiny glass beakers, which were in turn filled with an unassuming clear liquid. The second was the dagger.
The dagger was old, even by hellion standards. The blade was plain and flat. The hilt was black and made out of a solid material not unlike glass and not unlike rock and not unlike wood. There was nothing notable at all about it until there was something you wanted to kill. Then, as had happened with Tantarous, the dagger came to life.
Genowrath had experimented with it, killing rats and frogs and roaches with varying levels of intensity coming from the dagger. It wasn't until he'd killed the first demon after Hebdekios to try and deal with Dave, some schmuck imp named Argouan, that the dagger had come to life, spilling the red light and making the red patterns. Genowrath had no idea what it was actually doing, but it made murder easier than just using his claws and teeth alone, so he'd kept it up.
The beakers, he'd been horrified to find, were full of holy water.
He didn't know how Hebdekios got it. He didn't know what he'd intended to do with it. He didn't want to know. Holy water was acid. Holy water was poison. Holy water would wipe a weaker demon out with just a drop. Holy water was dangerous.
So he'd carefully replaced the cap on the beakers and stowed it all in his closet, wrapped inside of a bag inside of another bag inside of a steel box. He had no idea of how to dispose of it, and who knew, maybe it would come in handy.
The day of Tantarous' murder, nobody stopped him on the way back to the dorm. Nobody ever really noticed Genowrath. He'd gotten a little attention after killing Hebdekios in the commissary, but when it became clear that he wasn't really interested in talking, and wasn't really interesting otherwise, other demons went back to ignoring him. He was just a lesser demon, after all. Barely a rank above an imp. Just one more distorted face in the howling mass.
That was fine by Genowrath. It gave him time for more important things.
He threw open the room to the dorm and let out a breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding. Home again.
The dorm had changed a bit in the past few weeks.
The scratch marks he'd made in the wall were still there, as were the charred spots from when he'd set some of his furniture on fire. The desk he'd torched had been replaced with another, bigger one that was built to be in the corner. On the desk were several mirrors.
Genowrath dropped himself into the comfy chair set up in front of the desk, rested his elbows on the desk and his head in his hands, and watched the mirrors.
The mirrors were eclectic in style and make; Genowrath had picked them up in different places and borrowed them from different neighbors. The only mirrors alike were the two black rimmed ones in the middle of the desk's corner. Despite their different looks, all the mirrors were humming with the same quiet power. All were enchanted with the strongest scrying spells Genowrath could manage. A few of the smaller mirrors showed parts of Hell. Genowrath's doorway, the commissary, the staff lounges, the fiery pits of torment, the outer gates to the city of Pandemonium, the storage closet-- other places around the joint that a demon would reasonably hide if, for example, they knew a murderous knife-wielding demon was after them. Pandemonium was built like an anthill. While there were a few palaces belonging to the Generals that opened to what passed for a sky in the abyss, the bulk of it was underground in enormous caverns and rat mazes of halls.
Four of the mirrors, the two bigger ones standing in the middle and the smaller ones around them, were showing a human.
The human was plain looking, as far as humans go. Average height, average face, average number of limbs. The only thing visually interesting about him was what he was doing and where; sitting in a circle of candles, decked out in a black robe Genowrath knew for a fact was just a bathrobe he'd dyed, waving a censer and chanting his heart out. The human was waiting for Tantarous to show up. It wasn't going to happen.
Hi Dave, Genowrath thought, tapping the glass image of Dave's chest. Why do you keep trying?
But he knew David wouldn't ever stop trying. His perseverance, his ambition, they were part of what made him him, and Genowrath wouldn't change that for anything.
So he'd had to come up with the Plan. It was a simple solution, stupidly so, probably undeserving of the capital P. If Dave wasn't going to stop trying to make contact with other demons, then the only way to stop Dave from signing on with another demon was to kill any demons who were dumb enough to agree to work with him. Tantarous had been the eighth one David had tried making a pact with in the month since they'd cut it off, and the third one Genowrath had had to dispatch in the past two weeks. It was starting to look like people down here we're finally getting the message.
He monitored the mirrors closely. Technically, he really only needed one mirror to keep an eye on David, but he liked being able to see with different angles.
Someone stepped into the doorway of Genowath's room.
"Yeah, Charamas?" Genowrath said without turning around.
"You've, uh. Been lookin' at those mirrors for a while now."
"Yup," said Genowrath, eyes still glued to the mirrors.
"It's just, uh. You know. You should probably, like, spend this time getting more contracts? Damning human souls for the, y'know, pleasure of our dark lord? You've just been, like, just watching that one human who dumped you. It's totally unhealthy, bro."
"He didn't dump me, Charamas."
"It's just a separation. Eventually, he's going to realize nobody else will work with him, and then he'll change his mind."
"Is that what you're up to?" said Charamas. "You, like, killed a dude because you want to impress your ex-warlock?"
Eight dudes, thought Genowrath. Charamas-- like everybody-- knew about Hebdekios, but not about any of the others.
"This isn't about impressing anyone. It's about making a point."
"Dude," said Charamas, shaking his head.
Charamas sighed. "Like, bro. You're my bro, dude, but like you might wanna let this one go."
"You don't know what you're talking about, Charamas," Genowrath said. "You'll see. He's going to come crawling back. It'll be beautiful."
Charamas sighed. "Yeah, dude. Whatever you say. I'm gonna be next door if you need anything, 'kay?"
Charamas left, and Genowrath was alone with the mirrors. Behind the glass, Dave was still chanting.
* * * * *
The mirrors were quiet for the next week or so.
Dave was still trying to make Faustian pacts, but no demons were taking them. Word was getting around that bad things tended to happen to demons who took up with David and, to Genowrath's surprise, nobody was telling David why they were turning him down. It didn't even occur to Genowrath that that could've been a problem.
He smiled as he watched David pore over his tomes of infernal summonings and rituals, readying potions and candles and blood only to have whatever imp he'd summoned turn him down. He was so determined. He looked so tired.
What are you even doing, Dave? He thought. You know I'm right here.
Was it pride? Was David so proud that he'd rather waste hours and hours summoning up rejection after rejection rather than ask Genowrath for help again?
Genowrath grinned. Probably.
Then one day, after catching a rare few hours of sleep, Genowrath went to the mirrors and found Dave in the middle of a summoning.
But something was wrong with the scene. Dave wasn't using the little summoning circle he'd made in the kitchen. He was out in the garage. Sometime during the night, he'd moved his car somewhere in order use up the majority of the garage's floorspace for the circle. The entire room was filled with candles-- including the fancy black ones Dave had got on sale and never used. Even the circle itself was different; it had double, no triple, the normal amount of runes and sigils. Even through the mirror, Genowrath could feel it emanating powerful containment magic.
What? he thought. He sat forward in the chair, as if being closer to the mirror would help him see through the smoke better. What would Dave be trying to summon that would need a circle that strong--
The smoke cleared. His jaw dropped.
In front of Dave stood a towering figure bathed in white light. The figure wore billowing white robes and had silver hair that went nearly down to its back. The figure's arms were crossed in front of its chest, and on his back were two ash-gray bird wings. The figure was beautiful. The figure was powerful. You wouldn't even notice its horns unless you were looking.
An Archdemon? Genowrath thought. He collapsed into his seat. How the heaven did Dave contact an Archdemon? Dave was hardly a powerhouse of magical ability. There was no way he could have enough pull to summon an Archdemon and convince it he was worth working with.
Yet there they were. Dave said something. The Archdemon appeared to think about it. Then, it smiled. It held out its hand for a handshake outside of the circle. Dave's eyes widened as he realized the implications. Then, he looked back up to the still-smiling Archdemon.
Dave shook his hand.
Genowrath watched as David happily chattered to the Archdemon, showing it some maps or diagrams or something.
Then Dave said something and the Archdemon laughed.
Then it said something and Dave laughed.
There was the sound of broken glass, and a sudden sharp pain in his hand. Genowrath looked down and saw that he'd been squeezing one of the smaller mirrors without realizing it, and had broken it in his hand. He took a deep breath.
The plan was still the same. Nothing had changed.
He'd have to kill the Archdemon.
* * * * *
In the beginning, there had been only the Father and the light, which had been part of the Father until He decided otherwise.
The light was the first thing Genowrath could remember. He had a different name then, but he'd long since forgotten what it was. But there was light and fire, and he was made from the light, and there was Father who had made the light, and the brothers and sisters who hadn't been brothers and sisters then, as there was none of that kind of differentiation yet, who were also made of the light. Everything, Genowrath could remember, was going swimmingly.
Then Dad had to bring home the new babies, and it all went to pot. It was bad enough that the new kids were basically hairless and helpless dirt monkeys-- that would've been tolerable, maybe endearing in a way. But then Dad had gone and given them their own light inside their meat husks. A light that was better than the one Genowrath and the others had been made of, a light that came straight from their Father's essence and let them choose whether or not they wanted to listen to Him. Not just once or twice, but all the time. Dad had given the weird and ugly dirt children spirits, and souls, and free will.
And, to top it all off, Genowrath and the others were expected to babysit. Dad was ineffable, omnipotent, and omniscient, but he wanted the older ones to spend all day chasing the younger ones around and making sure they didn't accidentally wipe themselves out. He wanted them to bend over backwards for them. He wanted them to bow.
What followed was referred to in hushed tones as The Great Disagreement.
It didn't end well.
They fell. Hard. Bodies of light and spirit shattered on the ground of what would become known as Hell, a place of darkness away from Father-- but not really, because of course He was everywhere-- but they could not feel his presence and they could not see his light. Their own lights grew dim and dull.
In the mud, down in the deepest and darkest crevasse in the pit, smoldering and writhing in pain and humiliation, Lucifer looked up to the sky and cursed his Father's name. He vowed to hurt Him in the only way he could think; by hurting His newest children. He would remove as much of the soul-light as possible, to attempt diminish his Father by hoarding away the spirits of his favored children in the Hell He had turned away from.
In the gaping chasm of the void, with a gesture and a word, Lucifer raised the red stone city of Pandemonium, and is spread like cancer across the abyss, causing corrupted existence where Nothing had been. When Lucifer had raised the infernal city of Pandemonium by the power of his will and a stroke of his arm, he also raised his fellow fallen brothers and sisters. Formless, aimless, broken fragments of light revived into grotesque shades of their former selves, mere phantoms compared to what they had been. But they were alive, they were aware, and they were sufficient for his purpose.
Some who were raised became strong, and they were called Greater Demons and Fiends. Some were stronger still and called Archdemons. The strongest of the Archdemons were those who had been strongest before the Fall, and the most loyal to Lucifer. These seven strongest were granted the title of General and were each given a demesne to manage in his name.
Most who were raised were weak. Whatever power their original forms had had was gone or severely limited. These were the imps, the common demon, the smaller fiends, whose only hope to grow and become strong was to have power granted to them by those with more strength.
That was where Genowrath fell on the scale. That was where Charamas and Hebdekios and Tantarous and hundreds upon hundreds of others were at; squabbling, seducing, murdering, corrupting in the name of Satan in the hopes that he or one of his Generals would bless them with a fraction of the power they once knew. To that end they collected souls via corruption, pacts, and subterfuge. Every soul gathered was given to their General, who then gave it to their Lord, all in the vain hope that after enough souls were gathered, they might earn scraps of what was left of their former glory.
That had been Genowrath's world until he met Dave.
* * * * *
It took Genowrath three days of cajoling, bribing, threatening, and asking nicely to learn the name of the Archdemon who'd recently made a Faustian pact with a lower-class human warlock. This, to Genowrath, seemed like a red flag. Archdemons were akin to celebrities; there weren't a lot of them and the ones around tended to make waves. An Archdemon taking a pact wasn't the biggest news unless the person they'd taken on was noteworthy, but it was still something people kept track of.
The Archdemon's name was Maquasuel.
He was on the third tier of the lowerarchy as one of the Archdemons working under the 6th of the Seven Generals, General Shemsiel. There was no indication that he was of any particular importance to Shemsiel. In fact, there wasn't much indication at all of what he did. The other Archdemons were shrouded in rumors and gossip, but nobody seemed to know much about Maquasuel.
This also struck Genowrath as a red flag. No Archdemon worked at the side of a General and remained unnoticed unless they wanted to be unnoticed. He wondered what Maquasuel's deal was, then he remembered the look on Dave's face when the two had been laughing and decided it didn't matter.
But how was he going to do it?
How was he going to get close enough to an Archdemon to stab it? Would the knife even work on one of them?
He paced the room. He flopped onto the bed and tossed and turned, then got up to pace some more. A thought was beginning to form, but it was sketchy. Still, it was all he had. He tried to think, but found the room too stuffy. With an agitated sigh, he left and went next door to Charamas' dorm.
Charamas's setup was different that Genowrath's. The rooms were essentially identical in layout, but the furniture was different. There was a short table in the corner, a mini fridge with protein powders and a blender on top of it, a meticulously made bed in the other corner, and the rest of the room was devoted to assorted workout devices Genowrath didn't know the names of. There were racks of dumbbells, most of which appeared to weigh more than Genowrath's entire body, machines for lifting or pushing or something, and a treadmill.
Charamas was sitting on a padded bench and pumping iron when Genowrath walked in.
"Sup, bro?" Charamas looked up long enough to flash him a smile before returning focus to the task at hand.
"I think you're right."
"The whole Dave thing." Genowrath sighed and plopped into the seat of some kind of weight machine that exercised pectorals. "I need a change of pace. No more dirtside jobs. Something down here."
Charmaras put down the weights. "Aw, bro. I know you took it hard. But, like, you don't have to give up Earth-duty just because, y'know, you're feeling down."
"No, no. I just need a break from humans, you know?" He sighed again. "I just want something where I don't have to think so hard. Maybe I'll go ask to work in the cafeteria."
"Bro. . ." Charamas said sadly.
"There any openings in the servitor gig?" Genowrath said.
"You're still a servitor, right? Get to run errands for the elite and whatnot?"
"Oh. Yeah. You wanna job?"
"I'd appreciate it. I want something where someone will just boss me around and I don't have to make choices."
"Dude!" said Charamas, his face lighting up. "That's, like, exactly my job!"
"No way!" said Genowrath feigning surprise. "Can we trade?"
"Yeah. Tell you what; you go out and corrupt a few souls, and I'll cover your shift. You work for the Archdemon Araquiel right?"
"I mean, technically yeah." Charamas scratched his head. "I totally saw him in the hallway once when I was running errands for Screwtape. He told me to get out of his way." Charamas beamed. "It was awesome."
"Sounds awesome," Genowrath said. "So you're saying it's not uncommon for a servitor to be hanging around an Archdemon's quarters."
"I guess? Like, if you get lucky enough to get chosen to run some errands for them. Do you want to see an Archdemon?"
"They're so cool," Genowrath said, letting his voice ooze with enthusiasm.
"I know, right?!" said Charamas. "Especially the ones who kept their wings! Oh man, one time, I saw the back of a General's head. I turned the corner and saw him. I think it was General Cambriel. He had bat wings! Four of them, like the old days. It was so cool. And I heard from Tankaras that a few of them still have their old swords. Like the old school swords! Tankaras said that General Aramos kept his in the armory for a while. They actually got to see it!"
"Dude!" said Genowrath.
"Dude!" said Charamas.
"I wanna see a General. I only ever see them at, like. Announcements and stuff. Never out in the wild. Let me cover for you!"
"Aw man, I dunno. Like, you'd have to be pretty lucky to see them. I barely ever see them, and I'm running errands all the time."
"Come on, bro," said Genowrath. "I just want a shot to get my mind off stuff, you know?"
Charamas nodded in an appreciative way. "Yeah, bro. I get you. Sure. You can totally cover for me tomorrow."
"Haha, no problem. Just report to old man Screwtape first thing and let him know. Like, I don't think they'd notice? It's all kinda disorganized, but still, y'know? I don't want, like, the first time they actually really need me for something important to happen and then like I'm not there."
"Will do, dude! Thanks so much, man."
"Ha! No problem bro! Wanna hang here and work out? Nothin' like lifting to keep your mind off gross depressing shit, dude!"
"Heh, thanks bro. I think I'm gonna go get some grub. You want anything from the commissary?"
"Nah, man. I already had a mess of carbs earlier. Thanks, though!"
Genowrath waved goodbye and left Charamas to his lifting. That was, he thought, a lot easier than he'd expected.
* * * * *
Things had changed when Genowrath met Dave.
Dave had been small. That had thrown Genowrath off. The only ones who'd ever summoned him before were miserly old warlocks and cutthroat sorcerers, all well established in their art and field who saw Genowrath as nothing more than another tool. He could count on his fingers the number of times he'd been summoned individually, rather than as part of a pack of enslaved spirits, and still have a few fingers left over. As below, so above: Genowrath was nothing.
But Dave hadn't seen him that way at all.
Dave had been frightened. Dave had begged for help-- not demanded or bargained or ordered or threatened, but begged, as if Genowrath was some great power. As if he were a Greater Fiend or Archdemon or even a General. And instead of eating the boy, Genowrath had taken the flattery and done the simple service that had been asked of him; he'd killed David's stepfather.
It had been a simple thing. The man was a drunk and clumsy when sober, in no shape at all to beat anything except a frightened child. Genowrath had followed David, hidden invisible in the boy's shadow, and when the two had entered the apartment, the stepfather had immediately set about ranting and raging at Dave for tracking in mud. Genowrath had hung back and watched the man get progressively more and more angry, more and more threatening, until he'd started hurting the boy.
Genowrath had witnessed atrocities far worse. He had helped commit atrocities far worse. But this time was different. David thought Genowrath was powerful. David thought Genowrath was the biggest, strongest being in the world. Dave had begged and flattered and prayed to Genowrath like a god, and Genowrath had liked the feeling. Now some grotesque meat-monkey was laying hands on the first creature since the Fall that considered Genowrath worth anything at all.
Even then, Genowrath would later reflect, he hadn't liked people touching his Dave.
It happened fast in a blur of claws and teeth and blood. Then the man was dead at his feet and Dave had wrapped his arms around Genowrath, weeping his thanks.
It was no trouble, he'd told the boy. Disposing of humans was an easy task for a powerful demon such as himself. In fact, he'd gone on, if a certain little human wanted to be powerful as well, learn a little magic, it wouldn't be out of the realm of possibility for Genowrath to teach him the way.
And Dave had asked, what would he have to do?
And Genowrath had grinned and told him it wouldn't cost much.
* * * * *
Genowrath didn't report for duty the next day. He borrowed Charamas' uniform-- which was at least two sizes too big for him, then grabbed a broom and dustpan-on-a-stick from the storage closet where he'd killed Tantarous. Beneath the uniform, he had the dagger strapped to his waist and the bandolier of holy water double sealed in a pouch on his belt.
With that, the disguise was complete. He went to the palace where Maquasuel was supposed to be.
The Outer Palaces of the Generals spired off into the abyss, but they still had their bases in Pandemonium proper and were accessible through the normal mess of underground roads. Maquasuel worked for Shemsiel, who was the 6th in rank of the seven generals. Unlike Maquasuel who wasn't even shrouded in mystery (as that would require more people being curious about him), Shemsiel was a fairly well-known quantity. He controlled the Northern Gate of Pandemonium and specialized in sun magic. Though he was the 6th in line of the Seven generals, his palace was the 3rd tallest, falling behind the Generals Kochab and Yeqon whose towers were dead-even in height, and Lucifer's himself. Shemsiel, like most of the Generals, spent his days holed up in the top of his tower, doing. . . General-type things. He wouldn't be a problem unless Maquasuel was literally talking to him when Genowrath made his assassination attempt.
Genowrath approached the entrance to Shemsiel's palace and was stopped by the greater Demon at the door.
"Reasons for your visit?" the Greater Demon said with a barely stifled yawn. Genowrath could make out lamprey-like rows of jagged teeth going down his throat.
Genowrath tugged on his uniform. "Servitor. Here to serve."
The Greater Demon blinked at him with three scaly eyes. "Didn't know we'd hired anyone from the lower quarter."
Genowrath shrugged, like he didn't care. "I just goes where theys tells me to."
"I hear you," said the Greater Demon. For a second, Genowrath was terrified he was going to search him for weapons, or ask for some kind of proper paperwork, but instead he pressed a button on the wall, and the enormous doors behind him opened. "Go on in. Meet Almarou in the main hall, he'll give you your assignment."
"Will do," Genowrath said, sliding past.
"To the left," the Greater Demon said.
"Got it," said Genowrath.
The doors fell shut behind him with a solid thunk.
He dumped the broom and pan and went right.
The first thing that struck Genowrath about the palace was how damn fancy it was.
The palace was opulent. It was luxurious. It was extravagant. Genowrath passed room after room, hall after hall, lost in the sheer, dazzling shininess of everything. Shemsiel was the master of solar magic, and every room reflected that with bright gold, yellow, red, and orange. Every bare wall, every floor and ceiling tile were carved or crafted, engraved or inlaid with patterns or jewels mimicking the sun and stars. The ceiling was even spelled to shimmer and sway, as though the sun patterns above were actually burning. The place was packed with equally ornate furniture that was made from the wood of long-extinct trees and gleamed in the light. They didn't look like they were built, they looked like they had been grown elegantly out of the floor in swirling, sifting flourishes that made rococo furniture look plain. There were no empty surfaces. Every table, every shelf, every mantle had something to look at on it. Embroidered cloth and meticulously woven lace. Polished statuettes, glass baubles, shining gems, tiny pots filled with who even knew.
His hands itched. He wanted to steal something, just to show that he'd really been in the home of a General. Something he could show Charamas. Something he could give to Dave. But he stopped himself. That wasn't why he was there.
What hit Genowrath almost as much as the sheer utter extravagance of the decor was how empty the place was. In the lower city, there were always other demons around. To get from one place to another, you had to bob and weave through crowds and hope you didn't step on anyone's tail. Here, not only were the hallways bigger across than his entire dorm, but they were blissfully empty.
He stopped for a moment and just listened.
It was silent. Beautifully silent. He wondered if this was because so few people worked here, or if the palace was so large that everyone was really that spread out.
Eventually, he found the kitchen three times the size of Dave's entire apartment. A ten-foot-tall dragon-like Fiend in an apron yelled at him to make himself useful, and it was all Genowrath could do to tell them that it was his first day, and that Maquasuel had sent him for refreshments.
"Only I don't know what he normally drinks, and he was in the hall when he told me, so I don't even know where he wants it delivered!" Genowrath rubbed his face anxiously. "It's my first time serving an Archdemon," he said. "I don't want to mess it up!"
The Fiend was in a sour mood, but deemed Genowrath pathetic and non-threatening enough to be pitied.
"Lemon water," the Fiend said. "The guy's a complete ascetic when it comes to drink. Here. . . " The Fiend reached into some cupboards far far above Genowrath's head and pulled down a silver-looking tray. It searched some other cupboards, all equally high up, and brought down a pitcher, some cups, and tiny glass trays. The Fiend instructed Genowrath to dig some fresh lemons out of a lower cupboard, and had him slice the lemons into thin circular slices while the Fiend filled the pitcher with clear water from the filter. The work was oddly meticulous: every item on the tray had to be put just so, and Genowrath didn't know if it was because of Maquasuel's sensibilities or those of the Fiend.
Then the Fiend gave him a long set of directions that Genowrath was certain he'd never remember, but he thanked the Fiend all the same and took the tray. The second he was back in the uncanny empty hallway, he took one of the holy water vials out of his pouch and dumped it into the water pitcher.
The kitchen Fiend's directions led him to a long and winding staircase that went up through several open floors before merging into some kind of tower. The stairs spiraled up alongside the bricked wall, and after climbing for what felt like ages, Genowrath realized that this must be one of the spires above Pandemonium. His heart beat faster. He was probably higher up now than he'd ever been before.
At the top of the stairs, there was a small gated platform and a single, solitary door.
He stopped at the door and took a deep breath. Depending on what happened next, he might have to stab an Archdemon. He felt the knife at his belt pressing against his side. It felt unnaturally warm. He hoped that was a good sign.
He opened the door.
The air was quiet in the study, even more so than the rest of the palace, and it smelled like wood polish and old paper. The silence felt heavy, like a blanket covering everything inside the room. Maquasuel's study was more subdued than the rest of the palace that Genowrath had seen. The ceiling was high-- at least a good twenty feet up-- and the floor was simple hardwood with no patterns, and the area rug in the center of the room was a dusty red color. The furniture still looked to be high quality, but it wasn't the mess of swirly flourishes like the other stuff was. There was a desk in the center of the room and some tables off to the side. There were a few display cases full of whatever-it-was, and a few potted plants that looked like they were from Earth's prehistoric time. But all that, Genowrath noticed as an afterthought with some small, ever-vigilant part of his mind. What really grabbed his focus was the window. Floor-to-ceiling bookshelves covered every available wall in the study except for a section directly across from the entrance. There, between the shelves was a massive, circular and slightly bulbous window looking out over the city.
For a moment, Genowrath forgot where he was, and why he was there. He stared at the window and moved forward without even thinking.
Outside was the Abyss. The nothing where he and his hundreds of Fallen siblings had landed in the dark. A semi-tangible, almost physical nothingness that enveloped the entirety of the universe. It was void. It was absence. It was there and it wasn't, because there was no there for it to be.
Below the Abyss, or rather, cutting into it, was Pandemonium, looking like a termite mound dotted with lights. Branching up out of the mound were other towers, taller towers, some that were part of the Solar Palace, some that were in other, farther parts of Pandemonium and belonged to other Generals and Archdemons. The sight took his breath away.
"Impressive, isn't it?" said a voice behind him.
Reality returned with a jolt, and Genowrath stammered, "I've never seen it from above before."
He turned and saw the Archdemon from the mirror.
Maquasuel was even taller than he'd imagined, standing at a good seven feet. His wings were folded snugly against his back, and his clothes had changed from white robes to more austere, scholarly looking blue and gray ones. He stood by a table by the wall, his back turned to Genowrath. he appeared to be poring over what looked like old parchments full of diagrams. Genowrath wondered briefly if they were the ones Dave had given him, and if so, if he should take them after Maquasuel was dead. If they were Dave's papers, he figured, then they basically belonged to him too.
Quietly, Genowrath placed the tray on the proper desk in the center of the room. He moved slightly, readying to take out the dagger.
"Servitor," said Maquasuel without turning around. "Stay a moment."
Genowrath froze. Should he run up and stab Maquasuel while his back was turned? Should he run away? That would be suspicious, and he wanted him to drink the water if he couldn't be killed directly.
"Yes, sir?" he said.
"Tell me what you think of these," Maquasuel said, gesturing to the diagrams.
Genowrath crept forward and looked. "They look like diagrams, sir."
"Indeed. I am working with a mortal who is interested in many grandiose and impractical things, not the least of which is time travel."
Time travel? Genowrath remembered Dave getting into that after movie night once. They'd gone on a binge and watched Edge of Tomorrow, Back to the Future one and two, Looper, and then tried to watch Primer. Dave had drunkenly decreed that it was all bullshit and that he was sure magic could make it way simpler than science could. They'd spent the rest of the night coming up with plans on what they'd do when they went back in time before passing out on the couch.
Genowrath had assumed the thought of time travel had vanished when the hangover kicked in. Apparently, Dave was still into it.
Maquasuel was looking at him, waiting for a response.
"I wasn't aware that Archdemons such as yourself bothered with making pacts with mortals," said Genowrath. "He must be a wizard of some standing."
Maquasuel chuckled. "No, actually. He's a half-rate warlock at best. Tell me, have you heard about the sudden run of deaths in the lower city?"
Now that was a subject change.
"For the first time since the schism of the Grigori, there has been a string of murders in Pandemonium. A single demon killing others of his kind. My Lord Shemsiel has asked me to see to the matter." He glided across the room to look out the window.
"Oh," Genowrath said.
Maquasuel still did not look at him. "We know that all those who have died had recently taken on a contract with this particular human. I suspected at first that it might have been harvesting our brethren for some magical gain, but no. Nor does the human have any guardians of note-- no powerful wizard or members of our opposite order. And so we must assume it is another entity with a connection to the human. The demon Hebdekios was quite promising, Genowrath."
"My lord Shemsiel was pleased by the number of souls he had gathered of late for our Lord. There were talks of him being given greater status in recognition of his work." Maquasuel turned towards Genowrath and seemed to become even larger. He radiated quiet power and self assurance.
"Why are you telling me this?" Genowrath said, afraid of the answer.
"Because I know you killed Hebdekios. I understand you were the one who killed him in the commissary. Everyone does. But I also know that you've killed Marannas. Ziggurath. Locheva. Tantarous." His face split into a smile. "I was wondering why so many lesser demons were turning up dead as of late. The occasional murder isn't unheard of-- it's practically to be expected. But so many? And not in a matter of decades or centuries, but a matter of days?"
"It is interesting," he went on. "Despite the ravages we gladly inflict upon humanity, we have never had a sincere murderer among our own. There has never been a demon in Hell who explicitly targets other demons. We have never had our own serial killer." He tilted his head, as if that would help him examine Genowrath more clearly. "What I want to know is why."
"That was my mortal," Genowrath said. "They were touching my stuff."
Maquasuel said nothing. He appeared to be waiting.
"What?" Genowrath said.
"Things would be easier if you were to tell me the truth."
"That is the truth," Genowrath said.
"I expect my lord Shemsiel will want to interrogate you himself if you don't cooperate," Maquasuel said.
"I told you!"
"And that is your only reason?" he said. "That is the only motive you had for murdering several of your brothers?"
"Yes!" Genowrath said, feeling utterly lost. Confessing hadn't been in his plan, much less arguing about his confession. "Why else would I kill them?"
"You must have known," Maquasuel said. "It's impossible that you not notice. Haven't you felt yourself growing in power? Haven't you felt stronger as of late? Haven't you felt more assured of yourself?"
"You are a low demon, barely above an imp in status, yet you've managed to murder your way through over half a dozen demons of greater standing than your own. Not far greater, true, but you've succeeded nevertheless. Didn't you wonder how?"
Genowrath was silent. He had just figured it was the knife doing all of the work for him. . .
"Rather than wait for a General to grant you the essence of our power, you have been taking it forcibly from other hellions. This ambition, while commendable, cannot be permitted for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the inevitable chaos that would erupt once demonkind learned they do not require our Lord's blessing to achieve power."
"But I don't want power!" Genowrath blurted.
For the first time, Maquasuel looked genuinely confused. "Excuse me?"
"I don't care," Genowrath said. "I didn't kill them to-- to take their essence or whatever. I killed them because they were going to take Dave!"
Maquasuel opened his mouth, but he was too stunned to speak. After a moment he managed, "That is a lie so grotesquely implausible, I feel insulted that you would dare speak it to me."
"It's true! I didn't know about the essence thing until just now! I just want Dave! That's all I want."
Maquasuel shook his head. "No. No. If that is true, then you need to be disposed of. Such a corruption among our own cannot be tolerated lest it spread."
Maquasuel's wings opened slightly, and he put his hands to his chest. Genowrath was confused for a moment, then saw that Maquasuel was pulling something out of his chest. In one fluid motion, the Archdemon had pulled a sword out from where his heart should've been. There was no wound or hole anywhere Genowrath could see, he had just pulled it out of nowhere.
The sword was bright and clean and looked like it had never been used, but the way Maquasuel held it told him it had most likely seen a lot of use.
"Goodbye, Genowrath," Maquasuel said. With speed unfitting of someone so large, the Archdemon blurred forward and slashed at Genowrath from above. Without thinking, Genowrath found himself parrying the strike with the dagger, which had found its way into his hand. He didn't know how, nor did he know how he managed to hold back Maquasuel's blade. There was the clang of metal against metal, and for a split second, Genowrath could swear he saw Maquasuel's eyes widen, reflecting the red light of the dagger. Then the Archdemon drew back, only to quickly slash again. Again, Genowrath defended against the blow, but this time he lost his balance and fell to the floor.
Maquasuel brought the sword down again and again, but Genowrath crawled beneath a table and ran to the other side of the room, trying to put as much distance and furniture between them both as possible. He grabbed chairs from the desk by the wall and threw them to the ground, then toppled over the desk, too.
"Stop wasting my time," Maquasuel snarled, leaping over the table and chairs with a beat of his wings. He landed directly in front of Genowrath, who screamed and barreled past him, just narrowly evading the Archdemon's blade. He slid under the center table and came out the other side.
"Stop," Maquasuel said, striding towards him. His face was contorted in rage. "This had gone on long enough."
Genowrath looked down and saw the silverish tray.
In front of him, across the table, Maquasuel was making like to jump over again.
Genowrath grabbed the pitcher and backed away.
Maquasuel flew over his head and landed behind him, sword arm up.
Genowrath closed his eyes and tossed the contents of the pitcher at him.
Maquasuel screamed and dropped immediately. Genowrath screamed, too. He hurled the pitcher away and clambered over the table to the other side of the room, away from where the holy water had splashed. He hid in the far end of the room, behind the furniture he'd toppled before, and waited. He couldn't see Maquasuel die, but the sound of it filled his ears.
Screams stopped being screams before long. They turned into gurgling, squelching moans and coughs. There was the sound of flailing, of things being knocked down, as though Maquasuel had tried to pick himself up with the bookshelves or table, only to have it fall on him. There might have been weeping.
And then it was silent.
The stink of burning flesh hung in the air.
Shakily, Genowrath got to his feet and went to inspect his work.
Maquasuel's corpse was on the floor. It looked badly burned and partially melted in some places, as if someone had poured boiling acid on him. Out of his reach, thrown in his death throes, was the sword.
Heart pounding, feeling both numb and afraid at once, Genowrath picked it up. He half expected it to bite him in revenge, but it didn't. If anything, the sword felt right. There was old magic tied in the sword, ancient magic from the days of the War. He'd beaten its master, technically, so it belonged to him.
Genowrath waited. He waited for someone to burst through the doors and kill him for the murder of an Archdemon. He waited for Maquasuel to get back up and laugh at him for falling for such an obvious trick. He waited for Lucifer to pop out of the shadows and rip out his heart.
But nothing happened.
With deep, shuddering breaths and care not to step in the holy water patches on the carpet, Genowrath began looking around the room.
There was tradition, after all, and it was time to loot through the dead guy's stuff.
* * * * *
Dave tried to summon Maquasuel the next day.
"Hey, Dave," Genowrath said, appearing in a small puff of smoke. He gave a little wave and peered around the joint. They were in the garage again.
"Genowrath?" said Dave. "What are you doing here? I'm waiting for--"
"Maquasuel, yeah. Unfortunately--"
"He's run out on me too?" Dave said bitterly.
"Bad month," Dave said. He scowled. "How is it you're turning out to be the most reliable demon in Hell? You couldn't even go get the TV remote without griping."
Genowrath shrugged and smiled. "Yeah, funny how that works out, huh? Do you miss me yet?"
Dave snorted. "Only when I want someone to not do their share of the laundry."
"Sorry. Sorry." Dave rubbed his temples. "It's just been really weird, you know? I feel like a pariah. Nobody wants to talk to me."
"Ha! I feel you, man. Demons are assholes."
"It's not even just demons," said Dave. "People at work are giving me the stink eye, too. I think I showed up with blood on my shirt after a ritual, and now they think I'm like a Satanist or something."
"Well, I mean, technically--"
Dave glowered. "Don't you start."
"Alright, alright. But I hear you. It sounds like things are weird and a little shitty for the both of us. You wanna like, I dunno, catch a movie tonight?"
"I hear the new Star Wars one is out."
"Geno. . ."
"I'm not saying do ritual or magic shit. I'm just asking if you wanna hang out like we used to. Just us, a movie, and a boatload of popcorn."
Dave ran his hand through his hair. "That actually does sound really cool right now. . . " He sighed. "No, sorry. I can't."
Don't push it. Don't push it. Don't push it--
"Why not?" Genowrath blurted out. "It's not like you're doing anything tonight."
"You don't know that," said Dave.
"Well if Maquasuel's not showing up then it kinda stands to reason--"
"I could have other plans."
Shut up! Genowrath thought to himself.
"Yeah right!" Genowrath said to Dave. "Why are you even lying about this?"
"I'm not lying! You don't know what I'm doing. Why are you so interested, huh? What do you care?"
"Because you're a shitty liar! I've heard about you, Dave. Everybody's talking about you downstairs. Nobody down below wants to work with you. You're jinxed. They say you're a shitty wizard whose desperate for any kind of attention."
David's face burned red. "Hey, shut up!"
"You've hit up half the imps in Hell and none of them will give you the time of day. Face it, Dave. I'm the best you're going to get. Maquasuel took you on as a fucking joke."
"I said shut up!"
He couldn't. "You're a loser, Dave. Absolutely pathetic. That's what he said to me. He said you were a half-rate warlock with delusions of grandeur--"
"Shut up!" David roared. He made a throwing motion with his arm and an invisible, electric force blasted across the room and straight into Genowrath's chest.
The spell was strong enough to send him flying into the wall and leave him twitching and spasming in pain on the floor.
"Shut up, Genowrath!" Dave shouted. His eyes burned with anger, literally glowing. It was the angriest Genowrath had ever seen him.
"You don't know what you're talking about!" Dave said. "You wouldn't know actual power if it came up behind you and bit you in the ass!"
This was all wrong.
"If I'm such a shitty wizard, whose fault is it? Did you forget who it was who taught me? You're the loser here, Genowrath! You're weak. You're a half-step above an imp and that's all you're ever going to be because you're a lazy piece of shit!"
We were supposed to go to the movies.
"Fuck you, Dave!" he hollered. "Fuck you straight to Hell!"
"You first!" Dave hollered back. He made a quick gesture and Genowrath found his tether to Earth severed in two.
He was back in his dorm.
"Dammit!" he howled.
In the mirrors, Dave stood panting in front of the circle, apparently tired from the magic he'd done. Impulse told Genowrath to smash all the little Daves in the mirrors, but he stopped himself. Instead he flopped onto bed, hugged his pillows to his head, and screamed.
"Dammit David! We were supposed to go to the movies, you fucking prick! Why didn't you just say yes? Why didn't I shut up? Why are we so fucking stupid?"
"Dude!" said Charamas, bursting into the room. "Dude!"
"What? Genowrath screamed.
"Whoa. Dude. Bad time?"
"Oh. But, like, you got this message earlier! You were out, so I said I'd, like, give it to you?"
"I don't care!"
Why, why, why hadn't he just shut up? Don't feel like the movies? It's okay, Dave! Take your time. I'll be here if you need me. Would that have been so hard? AUGH!
Genowrath flopped in bed, wrapping himself into a cocoon of frustration with the blankets.
He was trash. Dave was trash. Everything was trash.
"Dude, I think it's important! Dude!"
Charamas was especially trash.
"Dude!" He felt Charamas nudged the blanket cocoon. "Dude, really! I think it'll cheer you up!"
"What is it?" Genowrath said, no longer screaming. A heavy weight settled on his chest. There was no way Dave would come back, now.
"I dunno!" said Charamas cheerfully. "But it was delivered by an Archdemon's personal assistant!"
Genowrath shot up in bed. "What?"
He tried to stand and toppled over, his feet bound by the twisted blankets. "What's it say?" he said from the floor. "Open it!"
"Duuude," said Charamas, running his hand over the envelope. "It's got a special seal on it and everything. Like, legit, they used wax and an old-school seal. Oh man, even the paper smells fancy!"
Genowrath literally tore himself out of the blankets, his claws leaving them in tatters. "Give it to me!"
He snatched it out of Charamas' hands and, with shaking hands, removed the wax seal.
To the Lower City denizen Genowrath,
West Gate Infernal Dormitory, South Pandemonium
Your presence is requested at the Shadow Palace in the upper city at your earliest convenience to discuss your recent activities in the Lower City and in the Solar Palace of Shemsiel.
I look forward seeing you.
Do not leave the city.
"Bro," said Charamas. "You okay?"
"Hey, Charamas?" Genowrath said. It felt like his voice had come from someplace far far away.
"Yeah? Dude, what's up? You're all shakey."
"If a General says he wants to talk to you at 'your earliest convenience' what do you think that means?"
Charamas' eyes widened. He grabbed Genowrath by the shoulders and hustled him out of the room and shoved him into the hallway.
"Go!" he shouted. "Run! Get over there as fast as you can! Good luck, dude!"