Cloudhawk brought Haborym back to the city. Their clash had only lasted a few minutes.
All the demons who had been milling around rushed to action when space spat them out. They drew their weapons and gathered round, ready to attack. But Haborym warned them off with a motion of his hand. He knew how strong Cloudhawk was. The Fifth Seal was impressed and subdued.
No one – besides the late Demon King – had such superb command over spatial power. Cloudhawk also showed strength in other domains, which he wielded as deftly as though they were part of him. And after all that Haborym still sensed that this human was holding back. In a contest of life and death he would be even more lethal. It was only a guess, but the Elder wondered if even the Second and Third Seals could win in a contest against this man.
Haborym had said it himself. Demons respected strength!
This human had proved himself stronger than the Fifth Seal. He wore the former King’s armor, wielded power greater than his predecessor, and had the Grand Elder’s support. Cloudhawk had the rite to stand before them, to walk among the demons.
“I will advise all the Elders to call a meeting.” Haborym fixed Cloudhawk with a sidelong stare. “Whether you find acceptance among the Seals is up to you. Please, come with me.”
In the center of the Gehennan continent, in the heart of its lone city, a tower pierced the heavens.
It was several hundred meters in diameter and thousands of meters tall. Dozens of vines wrapped around it from base to crown, each one pulsing with light. The towering structure was like a dark living thing, the home of all the demons here in Gehenna. It was called the Tower of Babel.
In the age of the previous Demon King, when Demonic society was at its peak, their population numbered nearly sixty thousand. The Great War wiped out two thirds of them, and since then their species had been in a state of steady decline. No more than twenty thousand now remained. Many hundreds of years had passed since the last demon was born.
But discounting their species because of this would be foolish. Gods and demons had infinite life spans and vigorous innate power. Were all of Babel’s inhabitants to go to war, they could raze whole civilizations. Any singular creature was capable of flattening mountains, and their mightiest could boil whole seas. They were a race to be feared.
Cloudhawk was here to call upon this small army, With their support he would finally have the strength they needed to battle the forces of Sumeru. Humans were bold, but against the might of the gods and their weapons they were vulnerable. If the demons could be counted on to strengthen their front lines, it would go a long way toward protecting their future.
Cloudhawk entered the Tower of Babel. Like the Temples of the gods, this structure was made with odd technology that made its interior far larger than the outside would imply. Every floor was as large as a city. Here where the demons lived, all manner of wonders had been created.
As he made his way through, Cloudhawk witnessed demons carving images into hillsides. Many were done already, rising up hundreds of meters or more. Peering closer he saw that all displayed incredible detail, flawless works of art.
Other demons were bending the soil to their whim, etching beautiful pictures in the earth. Everything was their canvas, anything was their paintbrush. Art was everywhere he looked, and not just art but music and poetry too. Gentle notes intermingled with muttered conversations about ancient prose. Mutual respect and admiration was given for all examples of self-expression.
While demons did not need to eat or drink, that didn’t stop several from also mastering the culinary arts as well.
Here in Gehenna demons were called ‘Venerated’ by the other races. It wasn’t just because they lived long lives and wielded great power, but also because it seemed that every demon was also an accomplished artist. They were also fonts of knowledge, having accumulated much experience after so many years. Every demon was a repository of legends and stories.
To the humans of earth, demons were synonymous with death and destruction. If only they could see this spectacle, they wouldn’t be able to grasp it.
Grand Elder Legion had returned! A new Demon King has appeared! Cloudhawk didn’t have time to explore Babel and the world around it. News of his arrival had spread quickly and scores of curious demons gathered round to see for themselves.
Generations had passed with no leader. Every demon had been waiting for this day, the day their king returned. Was it not for this moment that Gehenna had lain in wait? But there was also some trepidation among some. What did it mean that the King was back? How would their lives change?
Before long, Cloudhawk was presented before the Elders. The Council of Seals was the highest authority among demons. During the height of their reign there were hundreds of seats. Now all that remained were forty-eight. Their leadership was composed of their top ten, which was reduced to six: Grand Elder Legion, Second Seal Crokel, Third Seal Korath, Fifth Seal Haborym, Ninth Seal Dumah, and Tenth Seal Belial.
The Grand Elder and Tenth Seal had reemerged after a thousand years. Thus for the last millennia there were only four Elders leading their kin in hiding. Decline of the demonic race was evident by the erosion of their leaders.
Several dozen Elders had convened in a meeting hall. Something about their presence alone inspired fear. Lesser men would quickly give in to the terror and lose their minds. After all, these creatures were living nightmares.
Among these Elders, the weakest could match a Supreme blow for blow. Furthermore, their race was cunning and inexplicable. This made them considerably more dangerous.
“Grand Elder Legion has been missing for more than one thousand years, only to show himself before us now to reveal the rise of a new King. Is this meant to be some ruse? A joke you play on old colleagues?”
Within the palatial meeting hall each of the demon elders stood upon a floating dais. The one speaking floated highest, the Elder of the Second Seal Crokel. Unlike the rest of his kin, Crokel’s form was an every-changing mass of fluid. A column of dark mercury with a pair of crimson eyes.
To be named Second Seal, this creature was by no means a being to trifle with. His power was equivalent to the greatest of Sumeru’s generals. Based on his words and tone, the Elder was displeased with Legions actions. In the first moments of this meaning there was clear disdain both for Cloudhawk and the Grand Elder.
This was inevitable and expected, and not just because Cloudhawk was human.
For a thousand years the Demon King had been absent. Legion had vanished. As Second Seal Crokel had been forced to rise to the occasion. But he was not strong enough to command supplication on his own. With the support of the Third Seal, they had managed to maintain solidarity among their kin.
In their system of ranking, Crokel had seniority above all others. That is, until the Great Elder’s return, with a new King in tow. Their sudden arrival affected him most dramatically. For a creature used to the feel of power over the last thousand years, this change was bitter and acute. Dominion, once acquired, was hard to quit.
It was as true for demons as it was for men. But things were different for gods.
The divine were loyal and selfless, sacrificing themselves for the collective without hesitation. In their society the individual could at any time be given up for the good of all – something rare in lesser species where fear and selfishness were wide-spread.
Such was the strength of intelligent creatures, but also their weakness.
Legion’s response was delivered in even tones. “It was the former King’s final wish that I should find and guide his successor. Although the new King has come from human stock, in inheriting the power of his forebear Cloudhawk had obtained the strength to lead our people. Our new King has more power and potential than he who came before. If you do not trust my words, ask the Fifth Seal.”
Haborym had no choice but to nod his head in agreement. There was no denying that this human wielded incredible strength.
Legion went on. “For a thousand years Gehenna has hidden in the shadows, waiting for this exact moment. For the day their King returned. It is time now for our people to leave Gehenna and fight to regain the pride that was stolen from us.”
“Suppose what you are saying is true and this human is our King. What makes you think we will prevail against the gods where we failed before?”
This time it was the Third Seal who spoke. Korath’s most defining feature was his one eye with a multitude of pupils Each one was said to command terrible magic. “Two thirds of our race is gone, compared to when we were at our peak. Meanwhile the gods have had one thousand years to bolster their strength. A millennia ago we were not strong enough to stop them, what makes you think we can stop them now?”
“Our Elder of the Third Seal speaks true.” The Ninth Elder, Dumah, agreed. “There is no hunger to fight the gods among our kin. Further discussion is necessary if we are to consider sending our forces against Sumeru.”
Hearing this, Tenth Seal Belial nodded in agreement. In his eyes it was foolish to court war with the gods. The earliest demons were gods coaxed away by the former Demon King. Their small group of defectors were strong, but greatly inferior in regards to technology. When the indomitable Demon King went to war with the equally unyielding God King, it was the demons who lost all their greatest. Really, how were they ever supposed to recover from such a calamity?
Demons were a race of personal ideas and individuality. Belial was not alone in his determinations.
Humans had many stories of heroes who rose up to fight against impossible odds. There were multitudes willing to die for others, for glory, for riches, for rights – for all manner of ridiculous things. Mankind did not fear death in the same way demons did, because to man death was inevitable. A lifetime was limited, gone in the blink of an eye.
Demons, on the other hand, were not doomed in the same way.
They lived lives that stretched into infinity. With the potential to exist for tens of thousands of years, they had more to lose than humans did. Their crippling fear of death had been suppressed with the Demon King’s force of personality, but those times were gone.
After so long many of the demons had adapted to a quiet life, a life of peace. Cloudhawk had seen it walking to this meeting. Gehenna was not large, but it was enough.
As for the lack of any new demons? So be it, at least they wouldn’t die.
Even Abaddon was stunned by how different his kin had become. The Gehenna he left centuries ago was not like this. Their ideas of slithering in the dark had taken hold in his absence and grown strong. The thirst for a new King to lead them was diminished. The desire to punish the gods and carve out a place in the cosmos was a distant dream. For these reasons, not all were eager to welcome the Demon King’s return.
2. What an interesting detail. It makes me think of Gabriel, whose ‘demonic’ alter ego was also very artistic. Also, Legion’s love for books and poetry is revealed to be a quality of his species and not just a personal quirk.
3. Crokel was chosen because in christian demonology he is a demon associated with water and illusion, who plagues men with sores and death. In Chinese his name is Huan E, ‘illusory and unsettling.’ Crokel fits the bill.