Chapter 1: Devil’s Desire
Dialadir looked out the window and upon the ancient Hellian landscape that he called home. He had to admit, it was rather peaceful, living in the shadows of what had once been the mighty capital city. The cobbled grey stones cast off the reflection of the dim light that overhung the grey clouds. The ancient ruins, long since destroyed and in desolation now lay alongside more modern buildings, where the rest of his kind went to and fro. Ancient temples loomed over the simple structure buildings that he and his species had built for themselves, as a reminder of the past… The bloodied, scarred past.
They were one of the many races that dwelled in the ancient remains of Old Hell. For humanity, they knew them from a myriad of names: Ogres, Orcs, Giants, Oni… Large towering humanoids with the strength of a hundred men, and the liver to survive a hundred drinks, they were feared and respected even among their demonic neighbors. They told no lies, for they honored the truth above all else, even above a good drink, and a better fight. They knew themselves as the Galtor, but the others in Hell called them the Oni, after mankind’s superstition of them.
At one point, they had lived far and wide across the Underworld, from the darkest corners of the abyss, to the thriving capital of Makai. Many of them, like their fellow creatures, even lived on the surface world alongside mankind. They traded for wealth, for information, and for mutual benefit. It was a time of peace, of prosperity for all races.
And then, came the wars, both above and below. Mankind and the dragons above struggled over control of the surface, and all others were caught in the crossfire. Many, including the Oni, were forced to flee below the surface to survive, while others stayed above to fight for the thrill of the battle, only to lose their lives in the long struggle ahead. At the same time, the underworld itself entered a vicious, bloody cycle of death and destruction as the war for the empty Throne of Hell emerged. With the mysterious vanishing of Lord Lucifer, the very maker of Hell, countless demons, spirits, monsters, and ghouls struggled to gain supremacy over the very throne, to become the most powerful entities in the Underworld. Chaos and despair spread like wildfire, consuming all in their path. For three million years, the wars raged on, and the Oni fled into the darkest depths of the Underworld, into the long destroyed remains of Old Hell, to sit out and wait the endless chaos.
The war on the surface ended first. The dragon lords that once ruled half the world were no more, and with them, vanished most of the life that once lived upon the surface. Mankind had emerged the winner, after being driven to near extinction, but it had come at a most gruesome cost… The very gods that had kept the world in balance were worn thin by calamity after calamity, and in the end, those that survived cut all ties off with the earth to preserve themselves, leaving the planet a dying world on the edge of life. The Oni shied away from this desolate landscape, and found it worse than where they already dwelled .
The war below raged on. Those who claimed the throne only found themselves disposed of and replaced by another within days, weeks, or months. Stability was a forgotten hope for those who survived in the ancient demonic city. Warriors great and mighty rose from the depths, or came from above to claim it for themselves, but none could hold onto it for long. There was always someone greater in the shadows, someone who waited for the right moment to plunge the deadly knife into the back of the current ruler. Until twenty years ago, when at long last, the deadly chain was broke. A ruler stepped forth, and toppled the tyrant who had seized the throne time and time again. Now this new ruler, cold in heart and cruel in mind, ruled the great Underworld with an iron fist, but knew that trouble was on the horizon. For during the final hours of the war, an Oni warrior had cursed the ruler out with an omen before he died by their hands. “When the twin horned child of white seizes the throne from the Frozen Lord, then all of the Underworld shall thrive in peace.”
That was what Dialadir repeated to himself as he sat upon the chair in his living room. The terrible events rang through the grizzled Oni general’s mind, again and again, like an endless chorus that refused to silence itself. He shook his head, trying to stop it, but it persisted on, refusing to leave, refusing to be silenced.
“Dialadir, is something the matter?” The voice of his wife finally stopped the cycle of events. He turned, and saw her standing by the doorway, a hand placed on the side of the wooden frame. She was short for her kind, only standing in at a mere five and a half feet in height, and as Dialadir stood up, she only came to his chest, yet she still bore the classic marks of her species despite her more human appearance. A thin red horn jutted from her forehead, over two feet in length, and her hair was short and blonde against her tanned, trimmed body and neck. “You look troubled, like something is agitating you. Is it… about our child?”
Dialadir nodded. He was a standard specimen of his kind, a far more rugged, monstrous entity to his wife, Charin. He was to her what a caveman was to a modern human being, yet was dressed in the same modern style of jeans and a red robe. His eyes were thick and heavy, and the horn from his head twisted upward like a narwhals, twice as long as his wife’s. Each arm was thick and hard with muscles, muscles that could break rock between them. “I wish it was not the case.” The old general sighed. “It is just… I remember my brother’s words from that day, twenty years ago. I saw him pay the price for trying to take the throne for himself. And now, our kind, our city suffers because of him.”
“Don’t say such words of your brother.” Charin silenced him with a finger over his lips. “He had every right to say them to our current ruler, who holds no honor herself. She does not deserve the throne, not after the trickery and deceit she pulled to obtain it. She is a coward, a thief who refuses to play by the rules of war and hides behind those stronger than her to accomplish what she desires. Such a person is unfit to take the throne or to even contend for it and should be cursed to the end of days.”
Dialadir couldn’t help but nod. Everything his wife said was true, and he couldn’t deny it. But he didn’t want to think on that right now, not on the current state of Hell, not of the leadership that was now in charge, not on any of it, but that which worried him the most. “How are the twins doing? Still asleep?” He asked.
Charin nodded, a thin smile etched on her otherwise stoic face. “They are enjoying their rest together. I need my own rest… but I know I can’t keep my eyes off them, not when they are so dependent on me, so helpless as the babies they are...” She stopped, then looked over at Dialadir with a stern look. “We’re running out of medicine for them… Could you head out and get some tomorrow?”
“Of course I can.” He said. Ever since the twins had been born a few weeks ago, they had been ill. Vomiting, rashes, ruined diapers, the sickness simply had never ended. Thankfully, some of the neighbors had been kind enough to hand them over herbal medication to handle the symptoms, but as it was, they had no idea what was causing it. “I’ll go right now and get some medicine for them.” He turned, and began to walk out the door. “It won’t take long. I should be back in half an-“
A loud sound, a sort of knocking noise, rang from the front of the house. Both Charin and Dialadir turned to face it, their eyes narrowed. No one visited at this hour, not so late at night. With a look over at her, Charin nodded, and Dialadir went toward the oaken door, before opening it.
“Why, hello to you this fine night hour.” A voice hissed from below. Dialadir shifted his gaze down, and his face twisted into one of disgust. Standing a head below him was a hooded figure, one with a long narrow head with a tapering crest at the end. A clawed wing unfurled from under the robes, holding an ink stained feather, while the other wing, olive green in color and covered in scales, clenched a notebook of sorts. He was half a head taller than his wife, yet still quite shorter than Dialadir was. The crested head looked up, revealing a mouth filled with sharpened teeth, twisted in a smile few would truth. “I am great to see that the man of the house is here. It’ll make things so much simpler.”
“Let me guess, you are here for the annual census of our people? Here to see how many are in this house?” Dialadir glared at him, holding back the temptation to strike the winged cretin where he stood. Every year he came, examining all the Oni in the city and seeing just how many were there. He claimed it was just for representation, but everyone knew the truth. He looked past the demon, and could see that his neighbors, his fellow Oni, were also watching, many holding themselves back from attacking the fiend as well, their muscles twitching and strained as they could only watch. If only they could be rid of this pest once and for all… but as it stood, he was the public mouth of the Ruler of Hell in these areas. Were something to happen to him, they would all suffer far worse, and as it stood, they didn’t stand a chance against what would be brought against them.
“Ah, but of course.” The winged demon said in what seemed to be genuine honesty. “You know how it is. Lord Persephone is interested in seeing how many reside within the lands she rules, so she sends me around to see how many are around… So tell me, do you have any new additions to the household? My nose picks up some new scents inside, some that weren’t there last year. New flowers, maybe, or a new pet?”
“We have… a new pair of twins.” Dialadir bluntly said. There was no use lying to him, even if it weren’t against the nature of his kind. Each and every time they had insisted there were no new arrivals the previous year, he would inspect the place regardless, usually with someone else beside him. It was odd, however, that this time there was no one alongside the winged creature. Something wasn’t right, something he wasn’t seeing… “They are both sick right now, and are resting, so if you would come by another time-“
“I am afraid that is not acceptable.” The demon pushed past the Oni, making his way into the house. “I must come back to the palace to report, and then I will be busy until the next year. I am very interested in seeing these twins, however. I, Karzahni, will not take no for an answer, for I must see all new developments, and take note, for Lord Persephone wants to know everything. Is that not acceptable, for your ruler to know of what occurs down here at this time?” Karzahni let a thin smile spread as he shifted the robes around as we walked down the hallway, thin serpentine tail sliding behind him on the Hellian wood. “Besides, I love seeing babies, especially twins. Just the cutest things around.”
Dialadir held back the urge to grab the gremlin and break his neck then and there. He would have, had he not heard the wood above his head creak and groan. Each house built by an Oni was nearly identical to one another, two stories in height, with the second floor being used for storage. For them, the storage room in their house was empty, bar a few useless trinkets that lay flat on the ground, unable to move. The fact he could hear footsteps above him, meant there was someone up there, and seeing as he could see his wife across from him, her eyes also trained above, everything clicked into place. The other person was already inside, ready to make a move if necessary. That was the only possible explanation that came to both Oni’s minds.
If the intruder were a weak one, they could easily handle both Karzahni and it… but there lay the problem. They knew not who or what the intruder was above them, or worse, how powerful it was. All the cards were in Karzahni’s hands, and they knew not what those cards were. All they could do now was go along with what he said, or else risk losing everything. “Okay them. Charin, show him where the twins are sleeping.”
“Okay.” His wife said, before turning and leading Karzahni down the hall. Each step seemed to drag for both her and Dialadir, time itself slowing down to a crawl. Their hearts ached from what they were doing, but each time they thought of trying to do something, to go against what they were doing, all they needed was the groaning echoes of the footsteps above, following their path , to get them to think otherwise. “But, please be quiet. I don’t want to wake up the babies.”
“Oh, don’t you worry.” Karzahni whispered, a grin barely visible on his toothy maw. “I won’t do anything to them. Just have a look, take down notes, and be on my way. That is how my business is done. I don’t like getting physical, especially with such honest and truthful people as yourselves.”
They both ignored the lies he spoke, until after rounding a corner, came to a closed door. Charin grabbed the door knob, and slowly opened it. Inside was a room where a sole candle glowed, casting a dim, ghastly light upon the room. Toys of various sorts, mostly balls and animals lay around the floor, and in the middle of the room was a crib, with a blanket draped over the middle. The blanket was rising, then falling, at a rhythm identical to a heartbeat. “Here they are. As you can see, they are fast asleep like we said.”
“I can tell.” Karzahni said, voice low and nearly silent as he took a sniff of the air, before clutching his nose. “You are right as well. They are sick. I will make my business here quick and fast. May I take a glimpse at them? It is all I wish to do.”
Dialadir looked at Charin. Charin looked back at Dialadir, then over at the crib. Neither wanted to take off the bedsheet. They knew what would happen if they did so. “We can’t. They are resting and tired. If we take off the bedsheet now, they will wake up screaming, and it will take hours to get them back to sleep. It is not worth it. Just take our word for it, and please leave so we can get back to our routine.” Charin asked, voice tired and wearing thin of Karzahni’s presence.
The tone was not missed by the demon. “I cannot, nor will I. It is by law of her highness that things go this way, and I shall look at these twins wherever you insist or not.” He snapped. He moved like a blur, one moment at the doorway, the next beside the crib, and with a single swipe of the claws, snatched the blanket up and threw it aside. “There, now was that too hard? The blanket is removed, and they are still asle-“ He cut himself off as his eyes drifted down toward the crib, before the irises began to widen.
There, sound asleep and cuddled up to one another, were two baby Oni, both girls by the scent of things. They were slightly larger than human babies of the same age, over a foot in height, and plump as well. Their skin was white as snow, their hair that was already beginning to grow from their scalps of the same color. But it was the horns that caught Karzahni’s attention.
Most Oni by nature had only one horn, a single structure made of cartilage and hardened bone that grew out of the skull. No two Oni shared the same kind of horn, with them ranging from spiraling tusks to short blunt stubs, to only a mere bump on the head to signal that there would be a horn there. Sometimes the horn was on the front of the head, other times it was on the side. But on these two babies, was a first for him. They both wielded two horns, mere blunt protrusions from the skull.
“You have seen our children up close and personal.” Dialadir said, voice barely holding back the anger in his heart as he grabbed Karzahni and pulled him away. “You have seen what you have wanted, now we ask that you leave.”
“Oh, I will. I will leave now.” Karzahni said, eyes darting from the parents to the children. “But, you see. This is quite the unusual occurrence. Twin horned, white bodied Oni. It’s a special occurrence. An event none would ever think possible. So I am afraid I have one final request to ask of both of you.” He said as he began to walk away, body now in the doorway.”
“And what is it? What else do you want from us? You have come in uninvited, and nearly awoken the children! What else is there for you to do here?” Charin growled, fist clenched tight. She knew in her gut what he was about to say…
“That is simple, my dear. You see, Lord Persephone has issued a new rule.” Karzahni said as he twisted back around. His red eyes leered out at both Oni, and he turned his head into a sneering grin. “All Oni children that are white bodied with twin horns are to be brought to her, alive or dead. No exceptions. Your twins are coming with me, wherever you like it or not.”