The Humbled FiendThe last known, living demon sat demure and silent in its web of chains. Though sexless, this fiend took on a female humanoid shape eons ago and was now incapable of any other form. Its long, gaunt face was unsettling; with black, bug-like eyes unnaturally large and protruding aggressively from their sockets, its mouth lined with fangs and so wide that it could be said to have no cheeks. Protruding from its crown were thick knobby horns so subtle that they could be covered with the matted, black locks that grew sparsely atop its red scalp. Up and down the evil creature’s gangly arms and wings, there clasped manacles that kept its extremities fixed firmly to the stone floor so standing was impossible. As it should be.
The creature’s true name was unpronounceable by mortal tongue and likely to induce madness if known. It made sure to inform its master of this truth whereupon he named it “Adelphus.” It grew to like the name. A humble name. Fitting for its new life.
The plodding of leather boots echoed in the chamber and light began to trickle in from the hall beyond. As the door creaked open, the soft glow burst into the room and Adelphus could see its master. It decided to try something new and greet the master with a warm smile.
The grizzled, middle-aged dwarf set his candle down on the table and picked up a quill. He jotted some notes and spoke without pulling his eyes away from his writing: “Should we have company, Adelphus, it would be courteous if you didn’t grimace like that.”
The demon’s heart sank with this failure and it quickly replaced the attempted smile with the customary sinister glower.
The master stood for a moment, stroking his beard thoughtfully. His wide nostrils flared a few times before he snapped his notebook shut and turned to the demon, stating: “We should unshackle your left arm, Adelphus.”
The fiend shook its head and protested ardently: “Master, thou knowest well that my freedom is thy peril.”
“We have to see how your injury is healing,” he admonished.
“Perhaps,” Adelphus persisted, “t'would be better if I healed not at all.”
“Are you still feigning guilt for your last outburst?”
“Nay, master. Not guilt but prudence compels my tongue. I can no more promise thy safety than I can feel guilt.”
“Do you believe that you don’t have a choice in the matter?” the master probed rhetorically.
“I have a ‘choice’ in a great many things, master,” Adelphus delivered the word “choice” almost sarcastically, “but I still have needs.”
A pregnant pause saturated the dim light of the room. Only the distant dripping of water cut the silence. After an eternal moment, the dwarf clomped his thick, leather boots across the room and delivered a swift backhand to Adelphus' face.
“You will cooperate, demon!”
Immediately, Adelphus began to whimper “Yes, master! Of course!”
Another blow to the back of its head and the master yelled again “And you will behave!”
The demon’s eyes were fixed on the floor as it pulled its left arm. The attached chains rattled until falling away from the lock that bound them to the floor.
The master pulled a key ring from his pocket and sorted through its attachments with a series of clinks before taking one and snapping the lock free, pulling it with a metallic screech from the tightly wound chains. Then, standing a safe distance off, he took the demon’s fully-extended hand, placed a monocle over his right eye, and began to unwrap a series of sticky bandages.
Adelphus watched the master’s hands gingerly unravel the black gauze that was white only days ago. It was curious that this mortal took such care for the arm that lashed out at him and tried to tear out his jugular. He couldn’t have forgotten but his behavior suggested he might have. Either he’d forgotten or he was simply stupid because he tempted fate just as before. Yet Adelphus couldn’t muster the will to betray his trust. Not yet.
“It’s been weeks now,” the master murmured as he held the candle up to the puss-coated arm. “You normally heal much faster than this.”
“Does it matter, master?”
The dwarf blinked and looked Adelphus in the eye, unable to understand what game it was playing with that question.
“Don’t I deserve suffering for what I did to thee?”
The master scoffed. “I survived the Fiend War, Adelphus. I fought demons far more powerful than you. It’ll take more than a succubus' temper tantrum to do me in.”
Although it was proven that Adelphus could not give a warm smile, it had millennia of practice at the sinister grin. Such a grin radiated from the fiend as it reflected on the many stronger demons it had slain in its time – not by strength but by conniving.
The master’s next question shocked the grin right off of Adelphus' face: “Would it help you heal faster if I let you hunt?”
The raging elation within never made it out with the dissonant plea: “Oh, no, master! This is a woeful idea.”
The master raised his voice again “You did not answer the question!”
Adelphus shook its head. “Can my indulgence hasten my health? I think not.”
The master scrutinized Adelphus' face for a moment before turning back to its arm. As he looked, he gasped and the monocle popped from his eye. Shock quickly turned to anger and he immediately scowled at Adelphus who was grinning sardonically. He glanced back down at the arm which was now fully healed and showed none of the signs of infection it had just moments ago.
For this deception, Adelphus would once again be punished but it was entirely worth it to see the astonishment on his face.
The CultFor seventy years, the world had universally agreed on only one thing: that demons were not to be dealt with. Very few remained after the Fiend War but every time one was encountered, any attempt at diplomacy was frustrated by the creature’s very nature: truces always betrayed, vulnerabilities always exploited, lives always lost. The most progressive and compassionate souls of the world were either tortured to death or forced to admit that bigotry against devils was the only sensible choice.
But to Kate, the reason nobody was able to get along with fiends was because they were unwilling to commit fully to speaking their language. She was quite certain that if given a chance, she could make peace with a being that had never known peace. She only had to extend the olive branch and prove her commitment to the cause.
As far as she was concerned, the world couldn’t afford to go on like this; having to hunt down and destroy demons — possibly forever — was costing too much time, money, and far too many lives. Each one growing more and more expensive. Every time they killed a demon, its successor would be all the more desperate, ruthless and deceitful and would inflict more damage than the last. At this rate, the next fiend the world discovered may destroy an entire city – maybe more. Something had to be done and Kate was just the person to do it.
She checked the mirror one last time. The porcelain mask on her face had an inhuman visage painted on it with ghastly wide eyes and a gaping mouth that conveyed something like horror. The black collar of the dress reached to her ears to emphasize this unsettling “face.” The front of the dress sat narrowly open, revealing a v-shaped strip of skin from her neck to navel which was mirrored again in a long slit down the front of the skirt.
Satisfied with what she saw, Kate left the bed chamber and entered the hall where her acolytes were busily chanting. The volume had grown in the past few hours so the clack of her stiletto heels could not be heard as she walked to the altar at the far end of the ritual room where she knelt and began to sway with the rhythmic chanting.
Before long, she produced a dagger and proceeded to run its tip down the length of her wrists, letting red droplets spill on the onyx surface of the altar. The swaying never ceased as she began chanting her descant against the hum of the acolytes.
Standing in the rafters above them, there lurked an unseen creature with black eyes glistening in the torch light, clinging to the beams with all limbs – including a tattered set of wings. When the noise had reached what sounded like a climax, this monster hurled an egg shell at the altar and the chemicals placed within that shell did their work; bursting into a pillar of smoke. The fiend leaped from the ceiling onto the stone surface and when the smoke cleared, the cult members saw someone – or something – standing before them.
To some, there appeared the hulking frame of an adolescent devil – the kind most fought during the Fiend War. To most of the men as well as to Kate, the demon’s aura had taken hold of their minds and they beheld a voluptuous woman in whatever provocative attire they could ask of an underworld temptress.
At the sight of this newcomer, many of the acolytes fell, shrieking to the stone floor — some frothing at the mouth and convulsing as their eyes rolled around in all directions. Some soiled themselves and others couldn’t help but hide or leap with elation.
Kate stepped forward and asked “Who are you?”
The “woman” warned: “Thy mind would crumble under the weight of my name,” before informing: “Mortals call me ‘Adelphus.’”
“Adelphus.” Kate smiled invisibly under her mask. “Nice dress.”
At first, the demon was confused until it realized that this mortal had probably imagined Adelphus as wearing her same outfit. Indeed, Kate saw before her a woman who looked very much like herself, adorned in the same dress but this one a glistening white to contrast her own black attire.
“Why hast thou summoned me, mortal?”
“I wish to be friends.”
To all eyes in the room, whatever form of Adelphus they saw, the demon had a puzzled look on its face.
“I want to live in a world where demons and mortals don’t have to fight. People cling to old ways as if the Fiend War had never ended. I would like to work with you to change peoples' minds. To help them advance into a better future.”
“Why believest thou that I could live in this, thy ‘better future?’”
“I believe that everyone can.”
Adelphus stepped down from the pedestal and glowered. Kate stood stiffly and struggled to keep her composure as this very attractive woman drew in almost as if to kiss her mask, and probed along her neck and shoulders with face and hands but never quite touching her skin.
“And why thinkest thou that I want this future?”
Kate shivered for a moment but forced herself still. She couldn’t afford to offend the demon. She would let it do whatever it wanted to prove that she had no prejudice against anybody. “I–” she gulped, “I think that you can be convinced that equality is better for everyone.”
“Equality,” Adelphus began then paused to brush “her” tongue under the porcelain mask, narrowly missing the woman’s chin – “is a figment of mortal imagination.”
“I d–” still unsettled by the demon’s actions, she had to force the word: “disagree.”
“What would I have to gain from ‘equality,’ mortal?”
“A society that’s better for everyone.”
“I don’t want it better for thee.”
Kate’s protest was cut off by Adelphus' sultry whispering “I am a being of hate, mortal. I would rather harm myself to agonize thee than gain anything at all by thy benefit.”
“You don’t have to think that way.” Kate’s stammering was suddenly replaced with a helpless swoon. Somehow, she began to tingle anxiously, awaiting the demon’s touch.
Adelphus traced its claw down Kate’s chin, down her neck, and stopped at her sternum before saying “But I do think this way.”
Then without warning, rammed that claw into the Priestess’s chest and used it to swing her overhead and smash her skull like a hammer into the altar; sending liquids and viscera splattering in all directions.
Several cultists ran screaming while others stood still, gazing in horror at what they’d seen. The thing that amused Adelphus was that if these people had any clue how to summon a demon and if they’d actually succeeded in summoning any other demon, the final result would not have been any different.
Adelphus took its free hand and rammed it into Kate’s chest then used its foot to oppose the pulling of both hands. They tore free from the woman’s body with a jagged rib held in each one, sending Kate’s organs gushing onto the altar.
Many more cultists fled in terror. Per instructions, Adelphus let them escape to tell the story of the terrible fate that befalls people who, in their hubris, think they can seduce a demon to do good.
Those susceptible to the succubus' allure remained transfixed on the horrific sight before them; disgusted at themselves for feeling aroused in this grizzly situation. They patiently waited while Adelphus approached and stabbed them one by one. Each felt a bit of relief when their turn came to be impaled with Kate’s disembodied bone so their nightmarish enticement could fade with their lives.
It was a pity to kill them so quickly but there wasn’t enough time to savor their suffering. The authorities were sure to arrive soon so Adelphus had to survive on mere shock and horror for now.
One man remained and he stood still and silent in the pool of carnage. He locked eyes with Adelphus. At first, he seemed thoroughly seduced by the fiend’s aura and ready to couple right there in the sloshing guts on the floor. After a moment’s reflection, Adelphus realized that the aura had ceased many seconds ago. His expression was not lustful but more curious. This mortal could see Adelphus' true form.
He spoke with confidence and even tranquility: “Now that you’ve proven your point, would you like to hear what we have to say?”
This confused Adelphus. Mortals don’t normally respond to this much violence with anything but disgust and awe. The man was obviously committed to his cause and that commanded a modicum of respect.
While Adelphus contemplated the next move, the doors to the chamber burst open and a lone dwarf stormed in. Hoping it wouldn’t look rehearsed, Adelphus feigned surprise as the master snapped chains around its neck and jerked its head to the floor. He pressed a boot into the demon’s throat and hissed “Stay where you are, vile one.”
Soon after him, there rushed a pair of humans clad in the livery of the Ironlight Martial Society. As instructed, Adelphus again employed the special skill of a succubus and the entering militia men saw the dwarf standing with his foot on the throat of a beautiful woman. The ruse was difficult for a demon as starved as Adelphus but appeared sufficient enough to make them gawk.
The master called out as he ground his boot heel into Adelphus' neck: “Don’t mind the succubus, boys. If you give it a chance, it will tear your guts out and wear your entrails as jewelry.”
Adelphus smiled at the master’s ability to deceive without ever lying.
Inwardly annoyed that they hadn’t left, the Master added: “The Sultanate should be coming soon. They ought to help immolate this fiend.” Then, wryly, he said “Unless you’d like to help dispose of it.”
The militia men didn’t want to face the wrath of a living demon and were confident the dwarf had everything under control. They arrested the cultist whose scrutinizing gaze was still fixed on Adelphus. No doubt he wondered how a creature as powerful as Adelphus could be subdued by this solitary dwarf. Realization was ablaze in his eyes as he now began to suspect the truth. Adelphus smiled as it occurred to him that nobody would believe him if he said that the dwarf and the succubus were working together.
He hadn’t the wherewithall to do more than stare as the militia men explained the charge of “Infernal Behavior,” bound his hands, and escorted him out of the building.
“Master,” Adelphus choked under his boot, “won’t the militia try to confirm my death?”
“Probably,” he mused as he lifted his foot off of the fiend’s throat, “I think I can convince them you’re dead.”
“Very cunning, master. Thou art not so different from myself.”
The master snorted. “Maybe. After all, I managed to tempt you into doing something good.”
“Indeed,” Adelphus grinned again in the only way it knew how, “just as I have tempted thee into letting me live.”