1.02: 998 Down…

It had been months since the Claws of Norr and the destruction of the deluded demon Sourak. Yet still Nemesis was collecting souls for her master, she was just returning from a target that hid in the midst of the ‘Torturous Wood’, a vast expanse of dead, groaning trees that blanketed much of demon Lord Fnorgruth’s minute territory.

As Nemesis approached her master’s citadel she felt the dull ache of her wounds, this last foe was the strongest yet, and it showed. Nemesis’ normally unblemished face was scuffed  and even had a cut on her right cheek that slowly trickled with blood, her hood was dirty and slightly torn.

The massive, armoured figure of Nemesis, which usually strode through Neroth’s courtyards with confidence now ponderously limped by the gibbets and moaning prisoners. Nemesis pushed open the courtyard gates and stepped into her lord’s lair, the silence of its ghastly halls broken only by the mistimed steps of the staggering Hound as she struggled to her master’s sanctum to tell him the deed was done.

The black doors of Neroth’s study were pushed open and Nemesis walked through, she presented herself well, masking the various pains that flooded her body before her master.

Neroth sat behind a solid, black altar looking desk, he was surrounded by floating tomes and a low class of whispering demons wrapped in robes that carried scrolls and books from Neroth’s bountiful study shelves.

The demon lord beckoned Nemesis towards him, reclining slightly in his ebony seat as she hobbled forward.

“Is Ysrix destroyed?” Neroth asked, making an arch with his fingers and awaiting an answer.

“Yes lord, he is no more,” Nemesis replied, raising her left gauntlet, wordlessly offering him the soul she had captured.

“Good, consume him, let his power bolster your own, you have two more souls to claim before you have completed your work and you will need all the strength you can muster,” Neroth said with a grim chuckle.

Nemesis bowed her head to her master in thanks before speaking again.

“I am ready to receive my next target my lord, but might I be permitted to rest? The last battle was… trying,” Nemesis asked, feeling the blood that had seeped from the small wound on her face drying on her cheek.

“I would suggest you do, your targets will take even more to defeat than Ysrix,” Neroth explained, gesturing for one of his small, floating, robed imps to bring the vast book of those who owe him a debt of souls before him.

After a few moments three impish scribes drifted out from the shadows, struggling to carry the immense book.

Neroth flicked through the ancient pages of the tome until he found the demons he had in mind and as before he plucked the names from the page.

Nemesis walked up before her lord and took the burning names, placing them within her own small hip-holstered tome of targets and debtors.

“These two are particularly elusive, finding them will take cunning, and time,” Neroth continued, “but until they are dealt with or you are dead, do not dare return.”

Nemesis bowed her head once again, this time in supplication.

“You may go,” Neroth ordered.

Nemesis backed away a few steps before leaving the dark chamber of her lord, all she could think of was the rest she desperately needed as she walked down the snaking halls of black stone.

Neroth’s hound had not felt this drained and battered since her first days and assignments in the burning hells, when she was first given a blade and thrown into a pit in the depths of her master’s dungeons with a hungry Korlac hound.

As she fought with the lithe, demonic hound Nemesis swore she would do whatever it took to survive here, she promised herself that she would collect one thousand debts, or the souls of debtors to finally be free of Neroth and the dark abyss she had been sold into.

Nemesis thought to herself, she continued to hobble down a cold, hellish basalt corridor that seemed to stretch on forever, however, as she walked absent-mindedly a figure also approached her, coming from the dungeons that all slaves of Neroth rested in.

As the two drew closer it was clear the approaching demon was Locar. Locar grinned slightly, seeing the woman he hated so much in such a dishevelled state.

“It is a shame that whatever did that to you was not strong enough to end your miserable life, something I would be glad to help you with!” Locar roared at the blithely passing Nemesis, who seemed not to notice Locar at first or take heed of his derisive bellowing.

The demon lashed out with one large, muscular arm, smashing Nemesis into the nearby wall.

Nemesis fell to her right knee but the demon’s hand quickly grasped at her throat and lifted her, squeezing as he did. When Nemesis was about chest height with the immense demon he slammed her against the wall again and held her there, smiling as he continued to tighten his grip around the neck of the so-called Hound of Neroth.

“You insipid mortal, I should break your scrawny, human neck right now, tear that armour from your body and return it to Lord Neroth,” Locar blasted as he continued to hold Nemesis still.

“Then do it…” Nemesis replied in a hoarse, uncomfortable tone.

Locar squeezed harder, delighting in Nemesis’ struggle for each breath, but the more and more he contemplated ending her life the more he knew that he could not, for whatever reason Neroth had invested a lot of time and effort in this human worm, showering her with gifts older than a thousand fleeting human lifetimes.

Locar knew if he killed Neroth’s favourite then the punishment he would receive would be a fate far worse than what Nemesis would have endured at his hands.

Locar took a brief look around the hall at all the bleached, hollow demon skulls that lined the walls, their eyes lit by the grim, torturous fire within, that would be his fate for all eternity if he harmed Neroth’s prize hound.

“Are… you afraid?” Nemesis croaked with a confident smirk, she knew exactly what thoughts danced around the demon’s tiny mind.

Locar tightened his grip again as rage boiled up inside of him.

“Human filth!” The immense demon screamed, pulling his free arm back and then sending it thundering into the impervious, black stone of Neroth’s fortress in frustration.

“Locar, you’re a toothless dog; all bark, no bite,” Nemesis said, grasping part of the large demon’s wrist and tightening her own grip.

Locar winced as Nemesis’ impossibly strong grip tightened further.

“You are a mere human; you are nothing to me!” Locar extolled, smashing Nemesis into the wall again but yet her grip only tightened again.

Nemesis tore the demon’s spiny hand from her neck and threw it aside, collapsing again to one knee.

“It would seem even in this state I’m a match for you,” Nemesis boasted.

Locar’s rage grew exponentially in an instant, he would have loved nothing more than to tear Nemesis’ smug head from her weak human body, were it not for fear of his master’s retribution.

“Were it not for our Lord’s misguided favouritism of you, you would already be dead!” Locar growled, trying his best to hold back his fury.

“As you say, demon,” Nemesis retorted coldly, with disdain thick in her voice as she got to her feet and began to walk off, deeper into the corridor and Neroth’s palace so that she could rest.

As Nemesis descended into the depths of Neroth’s dungeons she passed dozens of torture chambers, where bulky, brutish Slorak demons inflicted incalculable agonies upon those demons unfortunate and foolish enough to displease the demon lord in his sanctum above.

Nemesis’ cell door closed with a heavy, whining clank. The debt-hunter sat on what passed for her bed and thought for a moment before laying down and attempting to sleep.

Ever since she could remember sleep did not come easy to Nemesis in the depths of hell, it had gotten easier this last year but her slumber was still often invaded by nightmares that the soul collector could not fully recall upon waking, this time was no different.

Nemesis opened her eyes, she was on a cold, black flagstone floor. Nemesis pulled herself up, as she looked down she saw that she was not wearing the armour given to her by lord Neroth, instead she wore a black tank top and a pair of battered dark blue jeans with slightly worn and torn knees.

“Where am I?” Nemesis asked the darkness before her.

There was no answer. After a few moments of silence Nemesis looked around and saw a closed, wrought iron door. Light from beyond crept through the gaps between the heavy, metal slab and the frame.

Though the light was an eerie green, Nemesis felt compelled to go towards it, rather than stay in the dank darkness of the black stone cell she found herself in.

With each step Nemesis took came a new, sudden freezing sensation as her warm, unclothed feet pressed against the icy floor.

Quickly Nemesis came before the door and reached out to it, pawing at the iron ineffectually.

“How do I open this door?” She thought before the door opened by itself, the metal groaning fiercely as it did. When the door was finally, fully open Nemesis stood, bathed in the cold green light from the next chamber.

The light came from a seething river of energy at the room’s heart that seemed to surge upwardly from a large, circular pit in the floor of the chamber to a similar opening directly above.

Nemesis was oddly awe struck, mesmerised somehow by the torrent of emerald energy that raged before her. She began to approach the lip of the pit, tentatively at first until she reached about half way, then with more confidence. As she drew closer to this typhoon of power Nemesis felt the air grow colder and a strangely familiar force push against her, resisting her advance.

For minutes Nemesis did nothing but gaze into the swirling energy, transfixed by it, yet all the while she had to fight an unseen force that continued to push down on her.

Nemesis heard the footsteps of another in the room, yet she could not tear her gaze away from the vortex of power that had beguiled her. The steps were heavy, they were followed by familiar sound of metal armour plates crashing gently against each other.

The footsteps continued until a tall, imposing figure stood next to Nemesis as she continued to stare into the swirling maelstrom of jade energy.

“Astonishing, is it not?” The figure asked, its voice was deep and powerful, it sounded like it would belong to a monster of considerable size, strength and intelligence. Nemesis wished to look away and see who, or what stood beside her, but yet she still could not bring herself to look away.

Though Nemesis tried to reply the only sound she could muster was a slight hoarse whine.

“All of this, it is yours,” the voice spoke again, its powerful, thundering voice seeming to shake the chamber, “yet you cannot use it.”

The figure took a step forward, it was Nemesis’ armour, gifted to her by Neroth. The armour reached out and immersed its demon-steel arm in the swirling green energy, as it did the thin, channel like depressions in the armour and the spaces between armour pieces began to glow a light but intense red until they looked like a vast network of veins upon the armour and even upon the blade of Nemesis’ familiar demonic blade the suit had sheathed on its back.

“All that soul essence and I alone feast upon it,” the voice said again, looking back at Nemesis who still stood in equal parts awe and fear of what she saw before her.

“What do you mean?” Nemesis asked, her voice was usually soft and timid as she looked into the black shadow of her armour’s hood, unsure whether anything was wearing that armour at all.

“Let me guide you, let me unlock the doors that keep you from what is rightfully yours,” the voice of the armour spoke, removing its arm from the channel of power.

“Rightfully mine? What are you talking about?” Nemesis asked the looming tower of demonic steel that stood before her.

“I haven’t the time for explanations!” The voice growled, a slight metallic reverberation beginning to creep into its already unsettling voice, “Loosen my bonds and see what power I can help you unlock!”

Nemesis stood for a moment in thought, but as she looked up to reply she found the room now changed. Instead of a suit of talking armour Nemesis saw a new sight in front of her, a massive demon that smouldered with unnatural heat. The beast’s flesh was a deep crimson, if it was flesh at all, the more Nemesis looked at it the more it seemed the demon was wearing a suit of armour that merged with its own diabolic form.

Each of the monster’s limbs, neck and waist were bound by thick, black metal chains that bore demonic runes that burnt eternally, their magic giving the chains their true strength.

“What are you!?” Nemesis asked, startled by what she could now see.

“I am the demon that can unlock your vast power,” the chained beast replied with a smirk.

Nemesis looked uneasily over the bound demon, its words and promises enticed her, perhaps more than they should have, after all she was only a scant two debt-collections away from freedom, yet still the promise of power was one she found sorely tempting.

Nemesis took a step towards the imprisoned demon, “what power can you offer me?” She asked.

“Only what you already possess but cannot reach, for now,” said the demon, now with a broad, carnivorous smile on its face, it was confident that it had fully ensnared the hound of Neroth.

“What do I have to do to claim that power?” Nemesis asked.

“Swing your demonic blade and sever these chains,” the demon replied.

Suddenly Nemesis found herself encased in her armour, her hood drawn over her head and her large, demonic blade in hand.

“Set me free and I will help you, I will unlock your full potential!” The demon bellowed, seemingly shaking the chamber as it did.

Nemesis’ heart pounded and her thoughts were only of amassing greater strength and crushing others beneath her heel, she stepped forward and lifted the immense demon-blade above her head, ready to bring it down and destroy the chains that bound the demon in place.

“Stop!” Exclaimed a new, much softer voice coming from behind.

Nemesis lowered her sword and looked around, what she saw was a small human girl with black hair in a white with pink polka-dot nighty.

“Who are you?” Nemesis asked the little girl, her voice having returned to the cold, powerful voice synonymous with the hound of Neroth.

“You must not free that beast!” The girl exclaimed, “if you do you will lose so much more than you know.”

“Do not listen to her, she would have you stay as you are; weak and ignorant, free me and I will bring you power and the knowledge to destroy, to conquer!” The demon spoke in reply to the little girl, hoping to once again sway Nemesis who stood between them.

“You’ll be free soon, if you let this monster make you un-whole those you left will never accept you back,” the little girl said, as she spoke a pair of faded shadowy figures stood besides her, one was the silhouette of a grown woman, the other was a child a little bigger than the small, black haired girl.

Nemesis eyes, usually jet black began to dilute with colour, clearing up like a heavy mist to reveal the deep, green eyes beneath.

Nemesis rushed over to the shadowy images of those she left behind when she came to hell, she felt how deep her connection to them both was, yet she did not remember who they were or what they looked like.

“They wait for you, they scour the world for you even now. If you let the demon take more of you away than it already has you will never be able to return to them,” the girl explained softly.

Nemesis’ eyes were wet with nascent tears, “very well,” Nemesis said to the little girl.

The girl smiled and nodded at Nemesis as the rest of the room, chained demon included began to fade away, leaving only Nemesis and the images of those she was taken from.

Some hours later Nemesis woke, her brow cold and clammy.

The soul-collector sat up on her small bed and wiped her forehead, recollecting the dream she had just woken from. Surprisingly this time she remembered all of it, the chained demon with a red, imposing form that looked as if he wore Nemesis’ very own armour beneath his skin. Nemesis remembered his black fangs and turned down black bull-like horns. She also remembered the little, familiar girl in her night gown and the shadowy figures of two Nemesis knew she dearly loved but was taken from when she was consigned to the oblivion of hell.

Nemesis stood from her crude bed of hay and dirty rags and opened the cruel, wailing door of her cell before beginning to trudge out of Neroth’s citadel to find the pair of demons she had been bidden to destroy.

Little did Nemesis know, as she left Neroth’s black palace that she was being watched by Neroth himself and Lord Arathar.

The two lords, one a prime evil stood about in Neroth’s black study, viewing the soul-hunter through a magical globe of energy that hovered in mid-air.

“Do you really think this will be enough?” Arathar asked in his normal, calm and polite tone.

“Yes, I sent her after the Lylus sisters,” Neroth replied.

Arathar looked over at his fellow lord, slightly concerned.

“Are you sure this human can handle them?” Arathar asked.

“She won’t be able to handle them without help from Abaddon, he has been strengthening his own grip around the girl, but he is of little consequence,” Neroth admitted.

“Do you think it wise to allow Abaddon to be released?” Arathar questioned.

“Do you have such little faith in my plans lord Arathar? For Nemesis to become the weapon I need her to be her power cannot be partitioned the way it is and Abaddon will aid us in unlocking Nemesis’ vast soul essence, for his own ends of course. But he will be easily dealt with, besides releasing Abaddon will ravage the woman, leaving little of her precious humanity remaining,” Neroth explained, “and, if all else fails I still have one final move to make that will ensure her continuing servitude.”

“Then all is going according to plan,” lord Arathar responded with a slight, but fake smile adorning his lips.

Nemesis searched the depths of hell for the the Lylus sisters for over a month until she picked up on their trail.

Nemesis had been brought to the vast demon city of Black Scar, named for its location, the great demonic city sat in a vast black rend in the barren wastelands of hell. Black stone buildings crawled up the dark stone fissure like vines, with the floor of the gorge also covered in buildings, the streets in-between filled with a multitude of demon life that looked almost like ants to Nemesis at this distance.

As Nemesis approached the entrance to the great lower city of Black Scar, a large demon steel gate that stood hundreds of feet tall, reaching from one side of the enormous wound-like gorge to the other. Neroth’s soul-hunter remembered what she had read about her current targets in her grim tome, which, when given the name of a demon in Neroth’s vast volumes gifted her all the information on their past she could possibly want.

The pair were notorious demon mercenaries that had killed several demons already indebted to lord Neroth, which is how they incurred their own debt, at least, in the eyes of the demon lord.

One of the sister’s, renown for her incredible strength and endurance was called Sacaya, while the other, known for her blinding speed and tactical decision making was called Alythess. They both liked watching and betting on illegal blood sports and according to Nemesis’ information, that was precisely what they were doing in the Black Scar.

The Black Scar fighting rings were one of the more famous… illicit institutions in hell, they were fully backed by the prime evil, Lord Ozmorath who claimed control over these lands, yet, because they forced beings from a thousand different worlds to fight to the death something called The Eternal Accord disallowed them.

Nemesis did not care however, she was focused on her task, but the hound of Neroth had begun to make a name for herself down in the depths of hell, the human bounty collector of the Demon Lord himself. If she wanted the element of surprise Nemesis would have to change her form.

Nemesis continued to walk towards the black iron gate of Black Scar, muttering some kind of incantation as she went.

With an explosion of black smoke Nemesis emerged not as a huge, demon-steel clad warrior, but as a small, hunched over, cloaked impish shaman carrying a gnarled, trinket adorned staff that ended in an old, slightly rusty sickle blade.

Nemesis had only used this transformation magic a handful of times before, though it severely constrained her and constantly taxed her mind and body it was a useful tool for infiltration. The soul-collector had arranged to meet a few demons here in Black Scar, hopefully they would lead her to the underground fighting arenas this city was so infamous for.

Nemesis in her new form hobbled forward until she stood directly in the shadow of Black Scar’s gate, unlike The Claws of Norr this city’s gate was open, although there were still large, powerful looking demons standing guard, making sure no one who wasn’t supposed to get in did.

The transformed soul-collector merged with the mass of demons that funnelled into the large, black city, making it passed the entrance without issue.

Nemesis walked the entire length of the city in the next day, going from one shady, back alley dealing to the next until she was finally led to the battle arena where the Lylus sister’s supposedly frequent when in the city. She had travelled and met with others under the pretence that she represented a demon lord who wished to hire them.

Her journey was not over however, Nemesis still had to negotiate several flights of spiralling stairs as she descended deeper and deeper into the belly of Black Scar.

Eventually the soul-hunter in her frail, conjured form came to another iron door, it was large, well, large enough to allow many different shapes and sizes of demons to pass through it. Nemesis looked about herself, the corridor was too quiet, if there was some illegal pit fighting going on here, but, with a reasonable amount of confidence that she could deal with any ambush set on the other side of this door Nemesis reached out with her current form’s weedy, red arm and pushed the door open.

As the heavy door opened a wave of until now unheard sound burst outwards, filling the hallway and stairwell Nemesis had just travelled down. Nemesis walked in through the door and immediately joined the vast, heaving crowd that surrounded a great caged pit in the centre of the room.

“Some kind of noise cancelling spell to avoid detection? A smart move,” Nemesis thought to herself as she began to push through the multitude of demons, many with betting slips in hand, baying for the blood of one or another of the fighters.

For some minutes Nemesis continued to weave her way through the tightly packed crowd, all the while keeping a look out for anyone who looked like one of the Lylus sisters. In her continued search Nemesis fought her way closer to the pit, she saw a huge, muscular blonde man wearing a wolf-pelt loin cloth and a few other pieces of simple leather armour standing over the decapitated remains of another fighter, one that seemed like a demon.

Nemesis continued to scan the room from her new location, on the opposite side of the large, circular room she saw a less crowded area with tables and at one of them was a pair of female demons, one sitting the other standing who looked near identical, aside from their colour, which was consistent with the description of the sisters from Nemesis’ tome.

A large, fat demon barged passed Nemesis on his way by, causing her to stagger back a step and lose sight of her quarry for a moment. When Nemesis’ view was once again clear the standing sister was nowhere to be seen.

The soul-collector looked about the room for a moment before she felt the tip of a blade at her back.

“Did you really think we wouldn’t notice you dear?” Asked a soothingly seductive voice.

“What, what do you mean!?” Nemesis replied, trying to appear as weak and clueless as her current form suggested, although she was surprised she was noticed so quickly.

“While it isn’t uncommon for others to eye up my sister and me, those others don’t tend to be debt collectors working for a powerful demon lord,” said the sweet, alluring voice.

“Debt collector? I am simple,” Nemesis began to splutter in her feeble impish form, but as she spoke she was quickly cut off.

“We see you for what you really are sweetheart, your illusion is far too weak to fool the likes of us,” the demon explained.

“Very well, you know why I’m here, why don’t we get down to business?” Nemesis asked, quickly turning about and cancelling her illusion, but as she turned the sister was already gone and all the demons for some meters were focused on her.

Nemesis checked around herself before looking back to the small, secluded area where the other sister sat and sure enough the sister who had vanished was there, speaking softly into her reclining sibling’s ear.

“Was that an illusion too, or is she just really THAT fast?” Nemesis thought to herself.

The second sister stood from her chair and clapped her hands together with such force that the room seemed to shake.

After a few moments a deathly silence fell over the arena.

“Get out, all of you,” Sacaya ordered.

There was a few moments of chattering as the crowd of demons muttered to each other, but the room quickly began to clear, leaving only Sacaya, Alythess, Nemesis and the remaining bloodied fighter and the conquered corpse of his foe left in the pit.

“We owe Neroth no debt,” Sacaya shouted.

Nemesis looked the pair of sisters up and down as she considered her reply, both looked almost exactly the same despite having completely different specialised skills. Both were around six foot four inches tall, both wore little more than a demon-steel bustier, a somewhat generous demon steel thong and what seemed like thigh high leather boots with cruel spikes on the toes.

Sacaya’s skin was red and her sister’s a a deep yellow, both had two down-turned horns atop their heads and flowing, shoulder length hair, although Sacaya’s was noticeable more unkempt.

“By his reckoning you do, and in the end that is all that matters,” Nemesis finally replied as she drew her immense demon-blade.

The sisters laughed together and both smiled slyly. Alythess drew her blades, smooth, lustrous bony scythes that grew from her forearms until they were longer than the length of her lower arms. Sacaya likewise readied her weapons, but hers were merely growths of ridged bone on her fingers and hands used, primarily to increase her already formidable striking strength.

“Are you ready sister?” Asked Alythess to Sacaya.

“Of course,” came a swift reply.

“Then we better not keep Neroth’s servant waiting,” Alythess said with a slight smile to her crimson sister before disappearing in a blur of motion.

Nemesis was taken aback by the speed of the demon’s movement, but hastily she brought her sword to her side to guard against the attack that was sure to come.

Blade met blade with a vicious clang but Alythess’ assault did not end, she struck again as she zoomed passed Nemesis, spinning about and striking out with her other arm-blade.

Nemesis staggered back and desperately brought her sword to defend her again.

Alythess smirked as her momentum carried her some feet away, she had now judged Nemesis’ speed and found it lacking.

As soon as her hooved feet touched down on the ground Alythess pushed off, flinging herself back at Nemesis with such blinding speed that the soul-collector could not defend against it.

Sparks flew as Alythess zipped by, her arm blades striking across Nemesis’ chest up by her right shoulder.

Nemesis was left relatively unharmed by the attack, but it had broken through her guard and caused her to stagger back.

As Nemesis tried to regain her composure she saw the other sister, Sacaya quickly closing in, her fist already in motion, but thanks to Alythess’ last attack Nemesis could do nothing to defend against this next blow.

Sacaya lashed out, striking Nemesis in the gut with such force that the ground beneath the pair shattered.

Nemesis flew backwards like a bullet, crashing into the wall of the pit fighting arena.

Neroth’s Hound struggled to her feet as the two sisters rejoined each other, Alythess supporting herself on her sister’s strong shoulders.

Nemesis looked at the pair, a small stream of blood trickling slowly down her hooded forehead.

“Alythess is far faster than me, and Sacaya is stronger, I don’t know how I’m going to manage this, but I MUST find a way, and soon,” Nemesis told herself sternly as she looked up at the demon sisters, who seemed poised and ready to make their next attack.

Previous Story: 1.01: The Collector of Souls               Next Story: 1.03: Pushed to the Edge

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