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Deus ex Demonica

by Thomas James Donoghue 11 months ago in Fantasy · updated 8 months ago
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One of humanity's last protectors falls victim to a cruel trap and betrays his duty. Visions of power worm their way into his mind, seducing him, making him a puppet of the ancient enemy.

Deus ex Demonica
Photo by Piermanuele Sberni on Unsplash

Creatures of flesh, bone, and weakness are rent under the wake of his blade. An ocean of lesser demons chatter and claws in all directions, ripping into each other in their frantic hunger for his life. Their tide blots out the sky, screaming out from the dark they cast. He grips the haft of his glaive and sunders their twisted forms. Their dark spirits evaporate, and the vessels of flesh they have twisted for violence melt to a putrid sludge, unstable without ill will to drive them. His breath is laboured, but only for an instant. He casts the gore from his weapon and sets forth anew.

***

Lucius walks to the last bastion of humanity, the city of Crucible. Visions play through his mind, seeping into him while he explored a ruin from the last war. The souls of the long-forgotten dead haunted the grounds, but there was something more. The crumbling ashes of a structure hanging in the air of the visions, but the facade is blurred and abstract. Something about it calls to him. As he draws closer to his home, the pit in his heart dissipates slowly. The burning and broken bodies begging him to bear witness felt less visceral with each footfall.

Lucius reaches The Barrier that protects Crucible from the outside world, and is purified as he passes through the shimmering divide. No demonic filth could pass through its brilliant surface and those foolish few that attempted paid with limbs or their wretched lives.

A hum rises in his ears as the light envelopes him. The blood staining his armour hisses away in thin plumes like incense, his chainmail's bent and broken rungs are mended. The dents and gouges in his form-fitting plates are repaired. The scratches to the pure black finish are undone, restoring the perfect mirrored sheen.

The most serene sensation comes as the splits in his skin knit back together as if he had never been marked. Lucius was brought back to perfection, all transgressions undone. Yet, the weight of the visions remained.

He crosses the plains and forests on the outskirts of human territory until he reaches The Cauldron, a high fortress wall built as the final line of defence should the Barrier ever fail. The aroma of pine in the wind and birds' songs through the trees are welcome.

The citizens greet Lucius joyously as he enters Crucible. Deep bows split the crowd as he passes. The citizens truly loved him and all The Chosen, never hesitating to display their reverence. The Chosen watch over all humanity, protecting against the horrors that lay beyond The Dominion. All manner of Demon, mutant, and fiend skulk beyond The Barrier, eking out a brutal survival. Lucius smiles at the citizens placidly and continues along his path.

Upon reaching the center of Crucible he ascends the steps to The Ark, the residence and observatory of The Chosen. The Ark sits atop The Core, a perfect black stone dome, the final resting place for the Old Ones' spirits. Their essence is held within to shore up The Barrier, ensuring humanity's tranquillity.

As Lucius steps into The Ark, he is greeted by his fellow Chosen: Elysia, Asgar, Valten, Cassandra, and Xavier. Each holds unique powers granted to them through the grace of The Old Ones. Each had displayed remarkable heroism and selflessness, offering up their lives in exchange for the protection of humanity.

Lucius removes his helmet and places it on the sturdy wood of the war table with a subtle metalic clank. He removes his gloves and places them beside it, dragging his fingers through his hair, trying to compose his thoughts.

The other Chosen turn to their brother as a hush falls over the room.

Lucius lifts his eyes from the floor as he feels their curious looks settling on him. "I've come across something deeply concerning in The Wastes. When I walked through the rubble of a ruined fortress, visions flashed into my mind. I could hardly piece them together from their ferocity, but as I brought them into focus, I could feel the pain and anguish of the lost still lingering in the open grave before me."

The Chosen all stand, startled by Lucius' report. He can not meet their eyes. Visions are not uncommon for the Chosen, they often enter transcendental meditations to seek wisdom, but Lucius had never spoken in such a way. His voice holds its strength, but a wavering catches their ears in his pause.

Lucius continues, "In this vision, a dark cloud poured forth over the ramparts, seeping through the cracks in the stone, thick, inky, and pulsing with bolts of dark energy. It swept the battlefield and desolated everything in its path. Reducing stone to dust and warriors to puddles of gore and melted armour." Lucius surprises himself with his own words. Only in this utterance could he form a clear picture of the pain grasping at his heart. "A terrible power was cast on that day, and yet it still lingers." Lucius drags his gaze across the eyes of The Chosen, their faces stunned in contemplation.

Lucius swallows hard as the pit in his stomach returns. "A Black Heart still beats."

The Chosen twist in place, looking to each other for the one who would speak first. Xavier lays both palms on the table and leans in, "Brother, this is astonishing! If you have found a Black Heart, we can finally turn the tide in the world beyond The Barrier."

Lucius's fists tighten, and he speaks with the utmost certainty. "A Black Heart is there! I feel it. I could not crystallize the vision until now, but I know it now as I speak these words. I… We can end this."

The Chosen begin to split off from the war table frantically, discussing tact and theory on the possibility of a major offensive against the Demons.

The Black Hearts were fabled war engines of the ancient Demon armies. Rifts in reality that could cause destruction at scales unfathomable by mortal minds. Records of their banishment existed, however. Ancient warriors in the company of The Old Ones would steal their hearts and strike right into their center, halting their dark tide, never to be seen again. An ultimate sacrifice, one life offered to save countless behind them.

"There is one more thing," chimes Elysia as the Chosen settled to their tasks. "You must not attack that fortress alone. If the heart lingers there, even but a remnant, it will be heavily guarded by curses and other demonic trappings."

Lucius cocks his brow and scowls at her words but catches himself quickly.

Xavier echoes her sentiment, "Yes, brother, please, it will take all of our might to end the Demons once and for all, don't get carried away. We would be lost without you."

"We would never dream of doubting your skill, brother. You are the greatest fighter of all of us." Valten had caught Lucius' dismay. "Your face gives you away as always… We must have a clear understanding of this power if we seek to extinguish it permanently. If we lost you to its darkness, we would have no hope."

Lucius puts on a counterfeit smile and swallows his pride. He thinks to himself, "How can they doubt me? They know nothing of the enemy. They read their books and muse on ancient stories. I have lived in the dark realm. I have crushed The Demon's twisted skulls with my bare hands. I am the one who knows the stench of their blood and the pain of their cruelty."

He snaps back from from his acidic thoughts, "Thank you, brothers, sisters, I shall hasten to my preparations. I take your wisdom with me always."

Lucius turns from the Chosen, collecting his helmet as he walks away, dropping his smile to the anger in his heart. He feels distrust, like spiders eyes, staring at him from all directions.

He is alone, treading through the sea of bodies as he leaves Crucible for The Barrier. He wonders why he is the one to walk the funeral path. To him, the citizens seem like skeletons, lining the road he walks to hell.

He both loves and resents The Chosen. They are his family, but also his masters. He was more powerful than any of them, but he still took their orders. Such was their hierarchy, which he was bound to follow. They trusted him with great power, but he wanted more, and taking it for himself would be unforgivable.

Destroying the heart would make him the greatest hero in generations. But in doing so, The Chosen's trust in him would be broken, and he would become an exile. Such a thing had never been thought of, a member of the Chosen leaving their charge.

Lucius passes through The Barrier and stands in the hellscape beyond. This was his natural home. He felt a warmth that he could never enjoy in Crucible. In this nightmare realm, he was his own master. He could do whatever he wished and go wherever he pleased. The tops of mountains, the bottoms of a canyons, no place was forbidden. But his freedom had a limit. He still had the wishes of The Chosen to follow. Even in his sanctuary, they still controlled him.

Lucius marches, glaive slung over his shoulder, heading towards the ruins that first incited his visions. As he walks, he ruminates on the images; those of death, demons crossing the plains, great doors being flung open, and the horde pouring forth.

He reaches the ruins and stops at the center of the blasted city square. The visions flash vividly into his mind, invading his psyche when he turns his gaze northward. His sight is completely taken over. The only thing he can focus on is a single faceless entity, standing in the same square. The vision expands and the being sets forth, cutting down the horde of Demons with a mighty sword. Nothing could stand against him. The entity stands over his victory, his sword gleaming with power, absorbing the souls of the fallen and growing in brilliance. Lucius is instantly obsessed with this power. The vision shows the warrior walking far beyond the horizon to a plateau. In the valley below stands a citadel. Dark energy thrums from it like a heartbeat.

Lucius breaks from his trance, twitching, falling to his knees. He regains composure after several deep breaths and rises to his feet, taking the first step toward his destiny.

Lucius speaks aloud to himself. "I can end this. I will find that sword, hold it, make it my own... I will cut out the Black Heart and reclaim this realm."

The thrum from his vision resonates through the air. Its waves crash down upon him with greater and greater weight as he draws closer to its source. He follows the landmarks from the visions, sprinting with all the speed he can muster.

He reaches the plateau, following the figure's path exactly. He looks down into the chasm. He can see it, The Citadel.

His boots crack the stone beneath his feet as he lands, leaping from the cliff into the courtyard before the gates. Just as the vision showed him, the massive doors open, and the horde pours forth. Thousands of horrific walking blights charge him, screaming and flailing their vicious limbs.

Lucius steps forward and begins to set his pace. He meets the horde with his weapon raised and fire in his heart. The corpses break against his might, and Lucius pushes toward the fortress doors.

He slaughters the horde with wide arcing blows, and as the blood falls, several greater demons are revealed, blocking his path. They stand five times his height and bare their fangs, scowling down on him with malice. A smirk crosses Lucius' stoic face. He strides up to the first Demon like a flash of lightning, stepping around its flailing until just the right moment. He separates the first greater Demon's head from its neck, sending a shower of blood through the air as the gargantuan body falls.

The others charge. Lucius trips the first to strike using the back of his glaive, sending it tumbling into the dirt. He spins back, leaping with a clenched fist and drives his armoured knuckles through the front of its skull. He rips his arm from the Demon's shattered face and shakes the blood from his gauntlet. Lucius lifts the sword formerly held by the fallen greater Demon and hurls it at the next lumbering monster. The blade pierces its abdomen, and the Demon doubles over, clawing at its own flesh until it too collapses and expires. The final Demon stops in its tracks, baffled by the slaughter of its kind. Lucius throws his glaive like a javelin, piercing the Demon's heart in an explosion of gore, sending it sailing clear through to stick in the wood of the citadel door.

Lucius pulls his blood-soaked weapon from the splintered wood and proceeds to kick the doors back open, knocking them from their hinges.

As the dust clears, Lucius notices his next test standing on a landing atop a jagged set of stairs. Demonic champions. Sadistic warriors clad in bronze armour, wielding flaming weapons. They stare down at Lucius with a burning hatred. Below the champions are cackling fire pits, casting eerie flickering shadows up the walls like faces, watching, awaiting the slaughter.

The champions descend the stairs slowly, each holding a different weapon with a different style to guard against. Lucius was ready. They beat their chests and roar in a vain attempt to intimidate. Lucius is unimpressed and takes position in the centre of the room, allowing the Demons to surround him.

The first champion charges and swings its burning sword. Lucius raises his arm, parrying the attack into the ground and throwing the Demon back into the wall with a kick to the chest. The following two begin their charge. Lucius swings low on the first, knocking it to the floor. As he rises, he strikes out with the pommel of his glaive, shattering the second's jaw and neck.

The remaining demons charge him all at once. Lucius shows his mastery by disarming them one after the other and eviscerating them with each other's weapons. Like broken barrels of wine, their blood stains the floor.

Lucius hears the clanking of armour against armour. He looks to the top of the stairs, and the Warlord stands, clapping mockingly. His armour was dark steel, not bronze, with large ornate plates instead of simple ring and scale. A real challenge, perhaps? The Demon warlord jumps down to the floor, crushing the tiles beneath and raises his writhing flame-drenched maul. They both circled the room for a short while, staring each other down.

Lucius bounds across the hall, swinging hard for the Demon's head. To his surprise, the Demon does not fall dead. The blow is blocked, and the Warlord stands firm. Lucius backs off to strike again. The Demon catches the shaft of Lucius's glaive, extending a snake-like tongue to drink the gore from its edge. Then, fist still wrapped around the glave's haft, the Warlord spits on the ground at Lucius' feet. In a broken and almost unintelligible voice, it mocks Lucius' effort.

Lucius chuckles and breaks the Demon's grip on his weapon, retreating with a flip and handspring. He leaps back and spins through the air magnificently, landing in a low stance, calling the Demon to attack. The Warlord slams its maul on the ground, sending shrapnel into the air in a vulgar display of power. He charges, picking up pace, and swings his flaming weapon. Lucius ducks under the Demon's attack and strikes out with a punch, aiming for the Demon's twisted face. The Demon catches his fist in its disfigured hand. The Warlord pushes Lucius back and swings again. Lucius blocks the blow, and the maul hits the floor with tremendous strength casting flames and shards of stone into the air.

Lucius steps deftly, planting his glaive and twisting around it. He uses it for leverage to push off and boot the Demon with a double kick. First in the ribs and then the mouth, sending gnarled teeth and blood spewing from its maw. The Warlord stumbles back, and Lucius seizes his opportunity.

He severs the Demon's arm at the elbow. The flaming maul falls to the ground with a resonant clang and burns out in a burst of embers. The Demon screams in agony, clutching at its bleeding stump. Lucius then halves him at the waist with a single, armour-shattering, flesh-rending, bone-cleaving slash.

Lucius looks down on the writhing body with pity as it gurgles and spits up blood, expiring. This was a true warrior, the first being to match his combat intuition and might. What a tragedy to destroy one possessing such prowess.

Lucius ascends the staircase at the perimeter of the hall. The walls were a mix of stone, metal, and living flesh. They contract like muscles as he walks past them. Some sections look back at him with eyes protruding from the seams. Was this place a structure or yet another demonic creature? Lucius walks through the doors at the top of the stairs, expecting to see a twisted throne room, the seat of The Black Heart, but there is nothing. Only a pit sinking endlessly. Lucius peers over the ragged edge. His eyes could only make out a faint glow, but in his heart, he knew his destiny was but a step away.

Lucius leaps down into the darkness. A miasma of lost souls howls all around him as he falls. He lands softly, unsure of what lays below his feet. The sword's glow is faint through the mist, but its power is palpable. He pushes the fog out of the way, revealing a red glow through the choking haze. He stands before the half-buried blade and reaches out to draw it, but it will not budge. Lucius musters all of his strength, straining every muscle, but the sword refuses to move.

He slumps over the hilt, defeated. At that moment, a figure appears in the fog, coming together as wisps of light to form a man. It is the faceless warrior from the visions, the true master of this blade. The ghostly figure approaches quickly without motion.

The figure places its incorporeal hands on the relic sword and begins to speak. "Welcome, Lucius. I'm glad you have followed my call. I fell here many years ago and planted my sword, never to be moved again. My spirit is trapped in this nightmare, my soul bound to my sword. If you can shepherd my spirit from this place to somewhere I can finally rest, then my sword's power will be yours."

Lucius had faced his ultimate challenge to reach this moment. Limitless power was at his fingertips. He would be a fool to refuse this noble ghost's offer.

"Simply close your eyes and focus on an empty part of your mind." Explains the faceless knight.

Lucius clears his mind and he feels himself slip into a waking trance. The disembodied spirit places its hands on his shoulder, and he drops his glaive falling limp on his feet.

The spirit chuckles in a gravelly voice, very different from before. "So bold, so brave, so foolish... You will be my greatest weapon." As the ghost's voice deepens, its form begins to change.

Lucius is consumed with panic, paralysis grips him tigtly. He can only watch as the figure that lured him morphs into a monstrous twisted form. The armour that was once blue plates under a white robe now melts into a boney exoskeleton shrouded by black wings. The hand on Lucius' shoulder was no longer a mailed gauntlet but a boney claw with talons digging through his plate and deep into his flesh. The shroud was lifted, and the true face of evil was revealed. Piercing yellow eyes set in a boney skinless face stare directly into Lucius' soul.

"I am the master of the world beyond your Barrier. I have seen you enter my domain time and time again. I have heard your thoughts and listened well. Your lust for power made you the perfect host. Strong, quick, and one of The Chosen no less. You shall be my mortal vessel. Through you, I will wreak my vengeance." The entity speaks directly into Lucius' mind.

The Dark Lord's claws tear into Lucius's flesh, forcing him to scream in agony. The miasma pours into his open mouth, attaching itself to his pain. The mist around the sword dissipates and channels into the blade. Lucius's blood runs black under his skin, and his eyes shine red with pain and anger.

As he is forced to swallow the last of the dark fog Lucius is released from his paralysis, falling to his knees, drawing ragged breath.

"What have I done?!" He screams to himself.

"You have fulfilled you destiny. Now, rise!" growls The Dark Lord from inside Lucius's head.

Lucius stands shakily on his feet and begins to walk towards the sword under The Dark Lords will. "You will not control me. My life is my own, and if you do not give it back, I will take it."

Lucius attempts to reach for his glaive. He must use it to end his life and The Dark Lord with him.

"You shall do nothing of the sort." Lucius' hands halt abruptly, then turn back at him, wrapping around his throat, strangling him.

"I own you. This is everything you've ever wanted. The power to bring about the end of the world... Now, enough foolishness, you and I have a civilization to destroy." The Dark Lord releases Lucius from his own grip and commands him to stand.

"No, I won't, I can't. My brothers and sisters will stop you, even if it means killing me." Lucius' voice begins to weaken.

"I will grant you all of the power you sought with such determination. The power to break free of them. You will bear witness to their end." Lucius grips The Dark Lord's sword. The energy of pure evil snaking through him allows his hand to draw it from the ground. He holds the blade up to his face. Tortured effigies writhe below the black crystal surface.

"These are all the souls I have claimed. Soon, your brothers, your sisters, the souls of every citizen of Crucible will be held within this sword. All their power will become mine. If you look closely you can see your own face as well, just a reflection for now, but soon your soul will make its home in my sword."

Lucius walks unwillingly towards the weathered wall of the pit. A spiral staircase grows like hydra teeth, jagged and cracked, from the walls. He ascends them slowly, trying to fight back against the will of his unwelcome guest. Every attempt is useless, all of his strength has been sapped.

"Accepting your fate will lessen your suffering. You may even know my ecstasy if you align to our new path fully. You have been beckoning me with every prideful thought and greedy dream since you first stepped out into my domain. By the time we reach The Cauldron I will know every secret of The Chosen, every weakness and flaw."

The pain was immeasurable as The Dark Lord pulled his strings like a puppet master and forced Lucius to dance the baroque tune of his evil will. All Lucius could do was watch as his body stumbles out of the pit and across the valley. On the horizon is a pillar of light, The Barrier.

A solitary tear rolls down Lucius' face, his mind wrought with fear as the Dark Lord's influence poisones every corner of his psyche. Behind the eyes of this once proud warrior, an ocean was falling, washing away everything he once was.

Fantasy

About the author

Thomas James Donoghue

Fiction writer currently working on my graphic novel: The Weeping Woman & The Wild One.

This story and others still to come are part of the world I am creating: Aleph-Null.

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