First Hell of Baator, Avernus.
A nightmare trod across the barren land that was littered with shattered rocks. Its blazing hooves left a deep imprint wherever it stepped.
*Boom!* A meteorite crashed into the ground, leaving a large pit. However, the horse nimbly avoided it.
This nightmare had a human on its back, the very act of taming a beast such as it indicating that this was no average person. That simple line of reasoning had saved Leylin from many problems.
The roads in this area were filled with regular souls, and even petitioners. It told Leylin that his destination was near.
Lawful evil humans from the prime material plane, if they prayed to devils, had a very high chance of entering Baator after they died. Their souls would morph, making them petitioners or even lesser devils. Some devils liked contorting these souls into grotesque forms, expressing a form of aesthetic view like they were ornaments. These creatures had rather appalled Leylin at first, but after seeing a few of them he came to ignore it.
He stopped the nightmare in front of a soul. This one had pale skin, with twisted eyes and a nose. It seemed to be suffering, but still looked at Leylin with vigour. This was the reverence it had when looking at a powerful devil.
“What’s your name? Do you remember your past?” Leylin noticed that this soul was rather plump, and the originally lavish robes indicated that he’d led a rather good life back in the prime material plane.
“Lucas… Or something else, who knows… Poor me has to arrive at the Bronze Citadel in three blood days, or my owner will not forgive me…” the soul lamented, “I was just a small merchant from the north in my previous life. I even prayed piously to the Goddess of Wealth…”
Leylin rolled his eyes inwardly. It was extremely common for merchants to turn to Waukeen. Even normal worshippers, as long as they didn’t commit heinous crimes in their pasts, would likely be redeemed and sent to her divine kingdom. As for Lucas, he was either lying, or pretending to be a worshipper; hence his current predicament.
This very exchange showed that these souls had learnt the trademark of the devils, of pretense and deceit.
“Bronze Citadel? That’s my destination as well.” Beelzebub’s memories said the Bronze Citadel was the core of Avernus. It was constructed boorishly, built to be an inflexible structure. The many devils in it were always prepared for war, and since they were often under siege it was expanded and repaired constantly.
“Alright then, esteemed lord, do you need a map or a guide? With the magnanimity of someone at your level, you won’t refuse a reward, will you?” The eyes of the soul spun quickly. Even with a contorted face its intelligence and greed were apparent.
“Or perhaps… a small trade?” Lucas’s thumb and index finger grinded against each other, giving off a very wretched look.
“As expected, you really are suited to hell. Filled with greed as you are, why didn’t you enter Minauros immediately upon death?” A pillar of evil light rose up from Leylin’s body, and the surroundings were dyed crimson. Everything came to a standstill, and even the meteors crashing down from the sky were stopped in mid-air.
This was a Devil Aura. It was one of Beelzebub’s powers that had been devoured by Leylin, finally revitalised and emerging from a corner of his soul.
The A.I. Chip provided data on the ability.
[Devil Aura: Passive domain. Restricted to powerful devils, it allows the user to naturally impose fear upon others. Any lesser devils in the vicinity are put under control, confusion, and fear. Note: The aura attracts the hostility of other powerful devils. If the controlled devil already has an owner, a negotiation will be held.]
“This light that belongs only to pure evil… You… are you a pit fiend?” Lucas’ body collapsed helplessly to the ground, his eyes radiating fear, “Master… Lucas’ master!”
‘As expected, Devil Aura works differently in hell. It can’t vanquish the devil in sight immediately.’ Leylin shook his head.
As Lucas wailed for help, a contractual force arose from his body. It finally formed the figure of a night hag wearing a pointed hat.
“Jiejie… Ancient and powerful devil, has my slave offended you?” The night hag’s voice sounded coarser than an owl’s chirps, making one shudder in fear.
These night hags often appeared in Baator and the abyss during transaction, acting as merchants. Collecting souls was their favourite pastime. Although what had appeared was just a phantom, it still showed strength greater than that of a rank 15 wizard.
The night hag could not see through Leylin at all. Although he seemed to just be an evil human, the Devil Aura and his alignment could not be faked. Thus, she assumed the he was a powerful devil who’d assumed human form. Leylin’s divine force masked his identity anyway, and coupled with his own evil alignment even an Archdevil wouldn’t be able to unmask him.
“Indeed. He seems to be a little out of it, with his intelligence corrupted by greed. He actually wanted to strike a deal with me,” Leylin shook his head, “Couldn’t even understand the underlying traits of a trade. No wonder he’s just a normal soul, unable to even turn into a lesser devil…”
“Jiejie… I do hope to be someone worthy of a trade with your distinguished self… As the price for offending you, I can sell him to you for a contract, the price being one regular soul…”
The night hag looked at Leylin, but was regrettably declined, “How foolish do you think I am, to trade for this fellow using a soul…” He pointed nonchalantly at Lucas who was shuddering in fear. “It’s obvious that you cheated him, or used some kind of underhanded means to nullify the original contract with his owner…”
“What a pity…” The night hag did not show the slightest form of repentance. Just like Leylin said, the soul was something she’d picked up along the way, not worth much.
“You can deal with Lucas any way you like; just remember to repay me later.” The phantom flickered, and was about to vanish.
“Wait!” Leylin said just then, holding the night hag back. “I’m not very interested in this soul, but there is something you own that I’d very much like…”
Leylin continued, “I’m a traveller from Dis. Much of the information regarding Avernus is now out of date, so I need the freshest information about this place. I also need information about the Blood War, and detailed maps… You’ll be very satisfied with my price.”
“Jiejie… I do like generous customers!” The night hag cackled like an owl, “Ever since your lord disappeared, a lot of devils from Dis have been coming here…”
The night hag handed the information over to Leylin, even adding some details regarding Dis as if by accident. To be privy to such information, the being had to be both strong and been a resident for a long time.
However, Leylin had Beelzebub’s own memories. He knew the lands like the back of his palm, so the deceit and trickery planted within didn’t affect him at all.
“Hehe… Okay then, powerful traveller from Dis. I need three regular souls, or something similar in exchange.” A green parchment floated beside the night hag. A phosphoric glow surrounded it, giving it a mysterious vibe.
‘A spatial spell? Baator seems to have some good stuff.’ Leylin’s eyes flashed, and three slumbering souls appeared beside him.
“This…” The night hag gave off a fervent gaze, as if seeing good liquor. She stepped forward immediately, and continued to give her approval.
“Jiejie! Very powerful souls, indeed. It’s a pity that they’re branded by gods. That’s a huge problem, I want at least five of them to make up for the defect.”
“Are you kidding me?” Leylin said indifferently, and his Devil Aura grew even more intense as it pushed the night hag away.
“The souls of pious worshippers are pure and powerful. Furthermore, the gods that they pray to are now dead, so there won't be any consequences. These souls are worth at least two to three times a regular one, and I’m already offering you three. Your greed knows no bounds, Mammon would likely be a better lord for you to serve.”
The night hag wasn’t embarrassed at all once exposed. It was the most basic nature of a devil to haggle. She agreed to the trade in the end, but Leylin refused to sign any form of contract with her. Devils were experts at deceiving people through contracts, and Leylin was not in the mood to engage in wordplay with a night hag.
“Jiejie… We shall meet again, generous guest…” The night hag vanished into thin air, along with Lucas. Having borne the cost of the teleportation, he was sucked dry and had his body crushed by the void.
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