Story:Holy Opposites Chapter 4
Normally, the castle and fortress in Nessus was full of quiet weeping. Despair hardens souls, but Asmodeus, the God of Sin and the absolute evil of the Nine Hells, was a master of finding ever more subtle and delightful ways to induce despair in the damned. He was an artist, in truth, and losing his grace in the downfall from the Astral Plane, so many millions of years ago, had not lessened his cleverness.
At that moment, he was trying out a new toy. His devouring of Azuth in the aftermath of the destruction of Dwemerhardt had been a fortuitous chance indeed, and a bonus opportunity of the Spellplague. He, alone of the Devil Archbarons, had seen it coming, and had been prepared, to his daughter’s discontent and Mephistopheles’ rage. He had seized on the power of a god, made himself greater for it, and ended the Blood War himself, earning a place in the halls of the True Pantheon for his trouble.
He had to be wary, of course. He was the only devil to rise to godhood in untold millennia, since the Time of the Rauth at least, and more than a few demons had managed it first, like that indolent cur Orcus. His power was immense, to be certain, but it was not uncontested, and if Belial or another Archbaron sensed weakness, he could lose it all.
He deemed it unlikely as he mused over his work that day. He was standing at the back of a line of several devils in his service, staring over their heads as a swirling cloud of black, magical fog rushed in and out of the spectral bodies of forty women, standing like mannequins on the table before him. This was the culmination of his project, to undo the egregious error in judgment his former Succubae had committed.
His bloodied lip twisted. What fools those sluts had been, he thought bitterly. The Succubae, his loyal slaves, had turned on him when he had plunged the Blood Rift and the Abyss beyond it into the Elemental Chaos after eating that fool Azuth. Why? He had not ascertained, nor had they bothered to tell him. It took a colossal effort to turn oneself against one’s own inherent nature, as they had, shifting themselves onto the path of true Chaos instead of the absolute Law he embraced. How had they all found the strength, he had wondered. How and where had they found the raw, galling NERVE to turn on him like that?
“Master Asmodeus?” the devil at the front of the line asked nervously. “Are you alright, sir?”
Asmodeus blinked himself back to attention. “I am,” he said coldly. The fog had slipped slightly too far away from the bodies as he had been distracted by his hate. The shifting red clouds outside his window matched his temper, and they stilled when his focus returned. “Are we yet arrived at the time to begin the final touches?”
“I believe we have, sir,” the cowled devil said. “Shall we?”
Zariel and Dispater watched from the shadows behind him. Neither would admit it, but both of those devils were a bit anxious. Both were ungodly, non-deifacted, and so could never even attempt alone what Asmodeus was doing here with their help – creating a wholly new form of life. Replacing the Succubae with even more powerful versions of themselves, with all the powers of seduction and soul-harvesting the old had possessed and none of the weaknesses, was a monumental task. For the three of them to attempt it, in the face of their rivalries and mutual hatreds, was immense in its own right.
To succeed as they were about to… that beggared belief. Yet here they were, just as Asmodeus had promised. Forty women, slowly assembling at the molecular level, being bound to their law and their desires for power, and ready to serve their new masters. Each would have thirteen, and one would serve as their new Queen, the Succubus Liege Lady, who would sit at the feet of the Throne of Ruby itself, and attend to Asmodeus’ court.
“Such a thing, this,” a devil in the corner audience whispered. He leaned forward, his hands itching in anticipation. “My lordship Asmodeus is as good as his word…”
Asmodeus luxuriated in a roll of his eyes. Of course he was as good as his word.
The women on the table began to spin on their vertical axes, rotating for the inspection of the line of devils that faced them in a row. Each craned their necks to watch as the channels of blood carved into the floor of the laboratory tower of Malsheem, Asmodeus’ home citadel, flooded with new offering. The blood was human, elf, dwarf, goblin, all the races which could sin, and Asmodeus had collected it personally from the weeping stock in his basement. Some was his own, too, the blood of the mighty angel he had once been, before pride had blinded him, and he had fallen from Celestia to his current exile. His wounds never closed. He hated how the blood built up and had to be discarded, but he had always kept some, ready to use in experiments. Not where the lesser devils could see him, of course. He had to maintain security, after all.
The blood enriched as it passed beside the feet of the devils. Each poured a bit of magic into the blood as it flowed. The Erinyes gave their deep, powerful lust, which they had once used to rule the Succubae when they were still devils themselves. The Erinyes had been the coven-mistresses of the Succubae once, and they would be again.
The Barbazu gave strength, the Advespa gave speed. These devils would be no mere whores, but mighty warriors, each capable of manually extracting souls they could not pleasurably seduce. Behind them all stood Asmodeus, mightiest of Devils, and their God besides, drawing on the power of the other two Archbarons, and driving it through the blood beneath them.
The blood was boiling by the time it reached the end of the little trenches. The mist rose from it and coalesced into muscle, skin, bone, fat, hair, the fibers and components of a woman, and took form within the twirling bodies. The bodies froze and dropped to the floor in heaps when the black fog and the blood mist interacted, and Asmodeus grinned. It was working.
Save one. He spotted one body flinch when it should not have, and frowned. What was that? An error? He did not make errors.
The movement stopped, and then all forty bodies rose. Each woman was different-looking in the fiendish eyes of the assembled audience, but to a mortal’s sight, each would have seemed identical.
The mist vanished. The fog disappeared. As one, the forty High Succubae opened their eyes and shifted their position to sit on their heels.
“Success,” a devil in the line said wearily.
Every head turned to face the ranks of sitting women, including me. I was turning my head in confusion, though. I couldn’t tell what was happening.
“You!” an urbane but fiery voice bellowed. I looked up in fear as a huge man in red, far larger than I, drove his foot into my bare stomach. I doubled over, but he grabbed my long hair and yanked, lifting me up into the air. I screamed in pain and fear, swatting at his hands. “What are you?” he demanded, in a voice like liquid hate.
“I-I don’t know!” I wailed, trying to stay still. Moving too much pulled at my hair. “Where am I?”
The huge red man’s eyes flew wide open, and he threw me against the window, which cracked. I fell to the ground with a crunch in my chest, and a jab of white-hot pain. I looked up and screamed again – the red man was surrounded by dozens of horrid monsters! Lumpen, skinny, bulging with muscle, they grouped around the red man with looks of terror and disgust on their hideous faces.
“You, reject, you have a soul! How do you have a soul?” the red man demanded, looming over me.
It all came crashing in. The magic bound into my brain unspooled, dumping thousands of years of lore into my head. I swooned and collapsed back onto the window, which cracked my rib further. Names, wars, places, dates, it all rushed into my mind. In an instant, I was fully aware, and fully terrified. I was in the pit of Hell, the deepest ring of Nessus, in the fortress of Asmodeus himself, and I was born to rape and defile.
“Because you’re not as smart as you think,” I growled, determined to get one jab of spite in at the monster who had created me without even asking first.
He roared in anger and kicked, and I blacked out as his boot drove me through the window, into the turmoil of the river Styx below.
I looked up from the desk in the Paladin Axiopistos’s office as I recounted the tale. I felt tears gather in my eyes as I recounted the horror of my existence, of being rejected by even the Archdevil himself, and being murdered mere seconds after creation.
“Except you didn’t really die, did you, dear?” the old friar asked kindly.
Kindness. That was so alien to my devil’s mindset that I hadn’t even known what it was when first I saw it expressed, by myself, no less. “No, sir,” I said softly. I flicked my shoulder-length hair out of my eyes and looked up at Axiopistos. His young, angelic face looked back, impassive, and as distracted as I was, I had to appreciate that. He wasn’t judging me in a way I could see, and he was actually very handsome. I had to ignore that, though. I am a devil of illicit sex, and my impulse to act on the beauty of others is inherently wrong.
“No, first I suffered.”
I awoke screaming. The pain in my chest, the awful agony of the boiling blood of Styx on my bare skin, the feeling of falling, it was too much to bear. I forced my eyes open and saw how I was tumbling down away from the Hells, towards something worse. I was adrift in the Astral Sea, the endless and infinitesimal nothing between realms.
I don’t know why my journey didn’t end there. I shouldn’t have been able to survive in the Sea, but I did. Maybe my fear and confusion kept me alive. Maybe I survived on pure hate. Maybe somebody good and kind was watching me, and breathed air into my lungs, warmth into my flesh, and hope into my heart. All I know is that I was in incredible pain.
I tumbled through the Astral nothingness, through a whorl of light and sound, and then fell more, slower, into the Elemental Chaos. I blacked out as the pain grew to be too much, which probably saved my life as I fell through the territories of the daemons and the Baernaloths. I drifted through currents of astral blood, through the Rift, and into the Abyss, still unconscious.
Once I was through the Rift, though, I still don’t remember. Logically, it should not be possible that I fell through over four hundred layers of the Abyss so quickly, without waking up, and without trying to navigate. Maybe somebody was helping me; maybe Pale Night thought I would be good food. Either way, I ended up half-dead, in total agony, covered in reeking blood, and alone on the shores of the moldering forest of Androlynne. I swept ashore, curled up in a ball, barely alive. Eventually, I mustered the strength to crawl inland, under tree cover, so that passing demons wouldn’t spot me. I don’t know how long I managed to go, but I eventually blacked out again. When I came to, my legs felt a bit stronger, so I could stand, but all I saw was a battlefield. Angels and other celestials, Noble Eladrin and the like, were clashing with distant demons in huge blasts of light and sound.
I don’t know what I expected to find. I struggled through the rotting trees, looking for anything that could show me the way. The way to what? There’s no way out of the Abyss except back into the river, and that lets out in a place so horrible that even Asmodeus and Orcus fear it. I walked for maybe a few hundred feet, and then I found somebody even more pathetic than me.
I stumbled over a root and nearly fell on a child. I stared through the pain and saw an Eladrin child there, a boy, naked and horribly beaten. He was obviously paralyzed by the jagged shard of rock in his neck, he was emaciated, and judging by the burns on his chest, he had been set on fire.
Here, I saw something so heartbreakingly helpless, even I had to do something. I tried to sit down next to him, to try to comfort him, and he just started mouthing ‘no.’ As if I could make things worse.
I looked up at the two Ryairans sitting beside me, and while Axiopistos was still unreadable, Dreblin was obviously unhappy to hear this. Still, the Chosen wasn’t staring at my ears or skin now, so I figured that was progress. He was leaning back in his chair, arms crossed, looking up at the ceiling, though clearly still listening. I pressed on.
I tried not to frighten the boy, but I knew then where I was. I was in Androlynne, the depths of Pale Night’s realm. I wanted to speak to the child, to let him know that I wouldn’t hurt him, but what was the point? He was trapped in the Abyss. So was I. I had a soul, so did he, so maybe if we both died, we could go to Kelemvor and he would… do what? Judge us? I was inherent sin, he was a mind-broken child. What judgment could he make?
My introspection broke with a wall of fire. I screamed and fell as a Balor the size of a house landed beside the child, leering at us both, with whip in hand. It lurched towards us when a shadow appeared on the ground behind it. A Planetar, easily the size of the demon, landed a flying kick on the demon and sent it sprawling. The tree I was beside crumbled, pelting the child and me with wood, and the two mighty beings wrestled for their blades. The Balor breathed fire on the angel, but the angel was stronger, and managed to force the stream to shut with an elbow strike. I saw my chance – to what, I did not and do not know – and screamed again as the Balor rolled between the angel and me.
The angel took its chance as the Balor spun around to silence me, driving its hand into the demon’s chest hard enough to crack metal. The Balor stumbled towards me, bellowing in rage. The noise turned into a strange hiss as a gleaming sword made of ice appeared in its chest and made its way down to its crotch. It stumbled again, falling to its knees, nearly crushing the child. It looked down and started to breathe fire again, in one last act of cruelty, but the angel drove its foot down on the Balor’s heel and dug both hands into the monster’s burning flesh. It simply ripped the creature in half, its head lolling impotently on one shred of neck, and the demon exploded in fire. I tumbled away, badly scorched, as did the child, who was clearly on the verge of death now.
I expected to die there, on that spot of soggy Abyss dirt, with only a dying youth and an angel for company. The Planetar loomed over us both, but reached for the child first. It rested its hand on the child’s head and set it to sleep, before turning to me and speaking.
I struggled to answer. “I… I think… I’m… a succubus, but…”
The angel crouched, still looming over me. The fires had died out on my skin, and I looked up into its divine, radiant eyes of glowing lavender light. “What will you do to me?” I asked. The pain seemed to fade, just standing near this divine creature.
“I felt…” I trailed off, struggling to recall the sensation of lying before heaven manifest.
“Clean,” Axiopistos said quietly. “You felt clean.”
I looked over. He was staring intently now, his fingers laced together before his mouth. He was resting his elbows on the desk, leaning forward. I shrank from his scrutiny. “Yes, sir,” I said quietly. Had I offended?
“Please continue,” he said in the same tone.
The angel looked down at me, at the child, at the fiery remains of the demon, at the slowly growing fire in the surrounding trees.
I screwed my eyes shut. “I… was cast out of the laboratory of Asmodeus… the Lord of-”
The angel’s voice was sharp. I nearly heaved at the sound of disapproval and cold hate in its voice. “P-please… I don’t… I don’t know what to do,” I whimpered.
I hesitated. I had no idea. “Perhaps… a few days?”
“Maybe,” I said weakly. My vision was swimming. “I… he…” All went black.
Safely in Axiopistos’ office, I rose to my feet and walked into the darkest corner of the room. I rested my hand on the painted stone wall and looked down at the floor as I remembered the shuddering terror of my time in the Abyss. Dreblin shifted uncomfortably in the silence, but the Chosen did not. He rose to his feet, and, perhaps sensing my distress, he walked up behind me, though he made no move to touch me. He held a few paces back, trying not to loom over me.
I nodded. “I… I don’t know what he did to me, but when I came too, I was healed. I was sitting in a pool of radiant, steaming water.”
“In the Arbor?” Axiopistos asked.
“Well, no… not yet,” I said. “That was later. I went to Arvandor first.”
He frowned. “The elf afterlife?”
“Where am I?” I asked nobody. There were no people here that I could see, not anywhere. I was up to my waist in warm, fragrant water. I was sitting on the bare stone of a shallow pool, perhaps fifteen feet across. I felt curiously small in this place, like a child in their parents’ wardrobe. I was leaning back against soft moss, covering more stone. I tested it with my fingers – it was deep enough to act as a cushion. “This… isn’t the Abyss,” I noted aloud. “At least I hope not.”
“Why not?” a voice asked from behind me. It was a Noble Eladrin, I knew from my magic memory, a potent celestial, and a distant relative of the Eladrin more normally encountered in the Prime and the Feywild. He also looked strong enough to break me with one hand.
“I… well, if it were this nice, there’d be no reason to be good in life,” I quipped. I hesitated as soon as I said it. “I… I don’t know where I learned that joke.”
The Noble Eladrin stared me down for a moment before moving around the pool from me and sitting down, cross-legged, staring at me through the steam. “A powerful angel brought you here, Succubus. Why?”
I grimaced. “I have no idea, sir.”
“Well… I feel like you outrank me here,” I said defensively.
He nodded. “Indeed. The angel dropped you in the water. It’s a healing pool, you know. Planeswalkers come here sometimes, just to enjoy themselves, and as long as they behave themselves and don’t bother the petitioners, we let them rest here.”
I splashed a bit of water on my bare arms and managed a tiny smile. “It feels good.”
The Noble Eladrin cocked his head. “You are unashamed to be naked.”
“Why wouldn’t I be?” I snapped. I was feeling suddenly very angry. “Nobody’s offered me any clothes! And I’m bathing!”
The celestial fey nodded as if I had confirmed something. “Clearly, you are no mere Succubus.”
I blinked, quite taken aback. “What?”
“Your rage. A demonic Succubus, or a devil defector, would not have been so angry. Nor would they feel it to be of importance only when invoked.” He gestured broadly at my bare body. “A succubus would have run for its life, facing me. At least tried to seduce me. You have done neither.”
I said nothing. There was nothing to say.
The Noble Eladrin looked at me a bit longer before finally smiling. “The angel said you were a strange one. What do you think of this place?”
I looked around. The mossy ground was at eye level as far as I could see, but it climbed up behind the trees into massive, looming mountains. Clear blue sky rolled away in all directions, and if I squinted, I could just make out a gigantic castle, far away in the sky, hanging on a cloud. “Well… it’s gorgeous.”
“Would you like to be in a place like this someday?” the unnamed Eladrin asked.
“I’d like to just stay,” I admitted. Now my anger was completely gone. What was this? “Why?”
“Because you are a strange one, as my friend said,” he said. He pointed at my heart. “You have a soul, child, a potent and pure one. Where did you get it?”
I shrugged unhappily. “I… I mean, I woke up with one.” My fists clenched underwater. “Asmodeus saw it and threw me out a window.”
“Ah.” The Eladrin cocked his head again, processing that. “Then you are… what, his daughter?”
“His experiment,” I said bitterly. “He built me to be the first of the High Succubae.” Memories rushed by, and I ground my palms into my eyes. The water felt good on my face, at least. “He gave me a soul without meaning to, I guess. I don’t know, he tried to kill me. Why are you asking me all this?”
“Because I need to decide whether to kill you,” he said simply. My stomach clenched. Before I could say a word, though, he continued. “The boy you helped save is on the long, slow road to recovery, if you’re curious.”
I shook my head. “Can I see him?”
“I want…” I paused. Why did I want to see him? “I… actually, I don’t want to see him at all. Why would I? And he was so scared of me.”
The Eladrin stood. “Rest, child. Heal, swim, be calm. Just don’t leave. I will return with judgment.”
I scowled. “That’s my fate? I sprawl about in a magic bathtub, waiting for somebody who won’t tell me his name to finish his coffee and decide whether or not to murder me?”
He spun on his heel. His face was like ice. I recoiled inside, but externally, I didn’t move. “Yes, devil-child, that is your fate,” he said coldly. “Do not attempt to leave. Enjoy my hospitality. I will not be long.” He vanished.
I stared at the spot where he had stood, before slapping both hands down on the water, sending a splash up against my bare chest. “Fuck that!” I growled. I started to rise when he was suddenly back.
I started. “That was fast.”
“A conference was not needed,” he said. “This is not the place for you.”
I stood up and planted my hands on my hips, staring up at him as he loomed over me. “So I’m leaving now?” I asked flatly.
“You are. There is another who has taken an interest in you,” the Noble Eladrin said.
I just stared at him in silence, before I flicked my hair over my shoulders. “Well, who wouldn’t?” I said airily, cocking my hips. I figured I might as well highlight the absurdity of it all.
The Eladrin just stared, before the faintest smile touched his lips. “Right.” He gestured behind me, and I turned to see a portal appear above the water. “Step through, devil-girl, and face your final choice.”
“I did, of course,” I said. I had taken my seat again. “It was the Arbor.”
“What was he asking you all that for?” the friar asked. I opened my mouth, but Axiopistos got there first.
“He was determining how much will and self-control she had,” the Aasimar said.
We both turned to look. He was pouring himself a glass of water from a metal pitcher in the corner. “The questions about her nudity were to establish if she wanted to change her appearance to her advantage. The questions about her soul were to establish if her recollection of her creation was being related truthfully. Leaving her alone was a test, to establish whether she would try to escape. Staring her down was to try to determine her confidence, and asking her if she liked to come back to Arvandor was to establish both whether she liked being in a good-aligned afterlife…”
“And to see if I would take the usual fiendish temptress route of using the question to try to establish rapport with him,” I finished. He smiled at me, and I finally relaxed. “How did you know all that?”
“I have an investigative mind, Cavria,” Axiopistos said.
“It’s true. Nobody keeps secrets from my friend Axio,” Dreblin chuckled.
Axiopistos acknowledged the compliment and passed me a glass to ease my talking. I accepted gratefully and took a sip. Nice and cold.
“I would further venture that your acknowledging that you shouldn’t go near the boy helped out your appearance in his eyes. Cracking a joke didn’t hurt either,” Axiopistos said.
“Especially a joke about my appearance,” I quipped feebly. Dreblin didn’t laugh, but Axiopistos did. I decided I liked his laugh.
“So what happened next?”
|The tale of the Holy Opposites ||
|Arc 1: | Prologue | Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5 |
Chapter 6 | Chapter 7 | Chapter 8 | Chapter 9 | Chapter 10
|Arc 2: | Chapter 11 | Chapter 12 | Chapter 13 | Chapter 14 | Chapter 15 |
Chapter 16 | Chapter 17 | Chapter 18 | Chapter 19 | Chapter 20
Chapter 21 | Chapter 22 | Chapter 23 | Chapter 24 | Chapter 25
|Arc 3: | Chapter 26 | Chapter 27 | Chapter 28 | Chapter 29 | Chapter 30|
|Arc 4: | Chapter 31 | Chapter 32 | Chapter 33 | Chapter 34 | Chapter 35 |
Chapter 36 | Chapter 37 | Chapter 38 | Chapter 39 | Glossary