Nemesis walked into Neroth’s sanctum, it was as unwelcoming and ominous as it was when she first set foot into it, with its all black stone walls, braziers filled with tortured soul-fire and the tall chair of her lord, with fingers of bone curling around the middle of the height of the chair’s back, closing in on the demon lord like an incomplete rib cage.
Kneeling some feet before the black altar which Neroth sat behind Nemesis raised her gauntlet, gorged with the souls of the Lylus sisters.
“The Lylus sisters met with their end my lord,” Nemesis said coldly.
“Excellent,” Neroth replied, gesturing towards Nemesis to draw the two bulbous souls out from her mawed gauntlet, “these two have cut down more than a dozen hunters like yourself from more than five different demon lords, to think that you, a human were the one to bring them down.”
Nemesis continued to kneel silently as her master spoke.
“You have done well, beyond what many thought possible… now, rise Nemesis, you still have one more debt to collect for me and this one will be quite different from the others,” Neroth started to explain, gesturing for Nemesis to stand up.
Nemesis stood with an inquisitive look on her face.
“Not all who owe me souls are demons, as you know. I have lent souls to creatures from more then a hundred different worlds. This last debt is owed by a human, I shall take you to them so that you might collect it for me,” Neroth said with a certain grim enjoyment.
“Yes my lord, when would you wish me to depart?” Nemesis asked.
“Oh, I shall be going too, this human is a rather… special case, we shall go soon, as we speak my slaves are readying the minor ritual required for our travel, it would not be needed if it were just me, but you have not learnt how to cross the realms under your own power,” Neroth explained, closing an open book with a single graceful looking gesture.
“As you wish,” Nemesis said submissively.
Just then the large, black doors of Neroth’s chamber opened with a slight, albeit muted whine and a small, robed demon slunk into the room.
The demon looked at the floor at all times as it approached Neroth, stopping just behind Nemesis and kneeling before speaking.
“The ritual is ready master,” the demon chattered somewhat nervously.
“Excellent, it seems your returning here was fortuitously timed Nemesis, we shall go at once,” Neroth said, but in such a way that Nemesis knew it was an order.
The demon lord stood from his chair and ethereally floated across the black stone floor to Nemesis and the small, impish demon.
The trio left Neroth’s sanctum and began to traverse a series of hallways and corridors that Nemesis had never travelled down before.
As Nemesis walked down the snaking passages of Neroth’s dark palace she reflected quietly on the prospect of returning to earth, both for this one, final collection and when she was finally free.
It was somehow quite surreal and at the same time a little amusing. Nemesis was sure she wanted to return to earth, a world that had long since begun to fade into memory, she didn’t know what ties bound her to human world, constantly tugging at her, telling her to return with all due haste. All the soul-collector had were vague notions of a pair, one a child the other an adult woman, they were all she had to cling to, a light in the proverbial darkness leading her home.
Soon Nemesis was brought before another large, black arched door, flanked on either side by large, muscular Khorthak demons holding large and vicious halberd like pole-axes, standing to attention for their passing master.
The large demons opened the doors for their master and those that followed, revealing a room Nemesis had never seen, it seemed to be an impossible tower like room that seemed to stretch up for miles. The walls were lined with bookshelves filled to breaking with innumerable tomes.
Demonic servants similar to the imp like beast that had told Nemesis and Neroth of the ritual’s completion as well as black robed, gaunt demonic chroniclers who poured over tomes of some forbidden knowledge or another seemed to float freely about tower, held aloft and propelled by their own magics, no doubt.
However as Nemesis took more steps into the room her attention was drawn to the centre, to a large, hexagonal plinth at the heart of room, upon it a coruscating portal framed within what seemed to be grasping claws of black lacquered stone.
Nemesis gave pause before the plinth and the portal, if she was asked to describe it Nemesis would have said the portal looked like a literal tear in the fabric of hell, a constantly fluctuating, almost fluid wound in reality.
Nemesis would have thought that after the many and varied denizens of hell, like the Glutton, a massive, bloated demon of incredible size and girth, with sometimes a dozen hungry, drooling mouths scattered about their form, or a Velkhashi Hydra, a beast that lives by consuming the souls of others, each time it feasts another head grows from its body. The face gifted to this new appendage was the one that belonged to the freshly consumed soul. Yet, even having seen creatures that would strike pure terror in the hearts of the every man and woman of earth and Nemesis looked upon this portal with a sense of unnatural fear.
Neroth sensed the unease of Nemesis who trailed some paces behind, he was slightly surprised, he thought she would have long shed such petty fears, but humans were so isolated and unaware of the greater workings of existence that magic such as this filled them with a deep, primal fear, a fear of the unknown.
Nemesis felt Neroth’s sinister gaze upon her. Quickly she shook off her feelings of unease and approached closer to her master’s side and the rippling portal.
“I trust you are ready Nemesis?” Neroth asked, expecting a swift response.
“Yes my lord,” Nemesis replied, all the while she continued to eye the portal with her empty, black eyes.
“Then step through and await me on the other side,” Neroth commanded.
“Yes master,” Nemesis responded.
Nemesis approached the portal, she saw a distorted image of some car park or warehouse on earth. Gingerly the soul-collector stepped forward and into the portal.
Despite Nemesis going through the portal before her lord it was Neroth who materialised first.
Before the demon lord stood a small, quivering human, his face streaked with dirt and tears.
“L-lord Neroth,” the man spluttered, falling to his knees.
Neroth laughed to himself, “Arthur, few beings other than the demon lords of hell themselves have had the dubious pleasure of meeting me three times.”
“Y-yes, I know why I was brought here,” Arthur said, shivering in a state of dread, “m-my debt is due, please give me more time. I can get you what I owe! Please spare me once more!”
Just then and with a terrible, fiery crash Nemesis appeared, knelt down beside her liege, her armour glowing faintly from the heat.
“Stand Nemesis,” Neroth said coldly, looking down at the grovelling human with uncaring, demonic eyes, “Arthur, meet your executioner, one of the people you condemned to oblivion to save your own miserable existence.”
Nemesis stood to her full height and looked down at the man before her, there was something oddly familiar about him, though she was not sure what.
“D-Dannie? Is that you?” Arthur asked, hoping to look under the armour clad warrior’s hood.
Nemesis began to draw her sword, unable to shake the feeling that she knew this person somehow.
“Please Dannie, don’t kill me!” Arthur continued to grovel.
Neroth felt Nemesis searching her faded memory for this man and for his plans to succeed she needed to remember her brother, remember what he had done and discover what he had done since Nemesis’ descent into hell.
The demon lord raised one hand behind Nemesis’ head, magical light and energy dancing around his skeletal fingers all the while. With an effortless incantation the energy leapt from Neroth’s fingertips to the back of Nemesis’ hood.
Nemesis flinched and fell forward to one knee, dropping her great demonic blade beside her as scores of memories flashed before her eyes.
Suddenly Nemesis remembered the events that took place days before she was taken to hell.
It was some Saturday evening, the sky was a beautiful range of oranges and deep yellows and Dannie found herself under the front end of her pick-up truck, she was covered in streaks of oil and grease, tightening some nut with a slightly dirtied spanner.
Another woman, carrying what seemed to be a cup or mug walked out of a nearby house, she walked some way towards the large vehicle and set the mug down on a nearby toolbox.
The woman was an attractive blonde with hair that reached as low down as the middle of her upper back. The woman’s figure was shapely, aided further by the close fitting blouse and jeans that she wore.
“Honey, your coffee is on your toolbox,” the lady shouted, but only loud enough to make sure Dannie heard.
“Thank you,” came a reply from under the bonnet of the truck.
The woman smiled at the car and Dannie’s visible legs before walking back inside, although as she did she saw a young man approaching from across the street, he looked dirty and dishevelled, with worn and torn jeans whose colour, that was surely once a deep blue had all but faded, a ragged backpack with only one of the shoulder straps still fully attached and a greasy looking mop of dark brown hair.
As the young man continued to approach the blonde woman walked back down the wooden steps of her home’s front porch.
“Can we help you?” The blonde woman asked the scruffy man who now stood at the end of Dannie and the blonde woman’s driveway.
“I-i’m looking for my sister, Dannie,” the man spluttered nervously.
As soon as Dannie heard the voice of the speaking man she scrambled out from under the car.
“Arthur!” Dannie exclaimed as she stood back up, she had not seen her brother in years. Dannie swiftly approached her brother, wiping her oil stained hands on a rag as she did, “how’ve you been? It’s been what? Two years, at least.”
Although Dannie was pleased to see her brother she was also slightly wary. Her brother only usually appeared when he needed something, when he was in over his head and needed help.
“Something like that I think,” Arthur answered back sheepishly.
The blonde woman who stood beside Dannie cleared her throat with a muffled cough, wishing to remind Dannie that she was still there.
Dannie smiled to herself as she heard her partner’s not entirely subtle prompt.
“Hey, Arthur, this is my partner, Laura,” Dannie said with a smile, gesturing slightly towards her girlfriend.
“Oh, nice to meet you,” Arthur said to Laura.
“Likewise, I’m just going in Dan, someone has to start dinner or Sarah will be late to bed, does your brother want to stay for dinner?” Laura asked.
“N-,” Dannie began to answer but her brother quickly cut her off.
“Yes, I’d love to,” Arthur hastily blurted.
“Okay, no problem, I’ll see you both inside, oh and if I see a single oil stain on our sofa again, or a greasy hand-print on the wall, or anything there’ll be trouble, okay?” Laura said half sternly, half jokingly.
“Yes ma’am,” Dannie replied as Laura went back inside the pair’s home.
Dannie turned back to her brother with a more serious expression on her face.
“I’ll have to go have a shower and change, we’ll talk about why ever you’ve come here after Sarah has gone to bed,” Dannie said, her voice serious and unyielding.
“Sure thing sis,” Arthur replied awkwardly with a half worried smile.
“You better go inside, I’ll be along soon,” Dannie said more softly to her brother.
Arthur nodded as he looked at his sister’s slightly disappointed eyes, she knew him all to well. The pair diverged, with Dannie heading back to her car to pick up her tools and Arthur heading into his big sister’s house.
A couple of hours later Dannie, Laura, Laura’s daughter Sarah and Arthur had just finished a rather tense and stifling dinner. Dannie was walking clockwise around the table, collecting plates and cutlery as she went.
Sarah looked uncomfortably at her birth-mother, even she could feel the tension between her other mother and her brother.
Laura looked over at a clock hung up on a terracotta coloured wall, it was about twenty to nine. It was time, Laura thought to take her daughter up to get ready for bed so Dannie and her brother could talk.
“Come on Sarah, it’s time we got you to bed,” Laura said with a warm smile towards her daughter.
Usually Sarah would object, ask for desert or just try to prolong her time downstairs, but this time she just nodded sweetly before hefting herself down from her seat.
The small girl rushed to her mother’s side before being led off upstairs to brush her teeth and get changed into her pyjamas.
As the pair travelled up the stairs Dannie knew more and more certainly that she would have to ask her brother what was wrong and why he came here, as he never came to visit her for no reason, he always dragged her into his problems, into the proverbial hole he had dug for himself.
“So, what is it?” Dannie said, setting down the stack of dirty plates, holding in a deep breath, waiting for her brother to answer.
“What is what?” Arthur said with a half joking smile.
Dannie turned about with a slightly angered expression on her face.
“Don’t joke with me, not now. You only show up when you’re in trouble, so what is it this time?” Dannie snapped.
Arthur began to laugh, but quickly his laughing died down as he continued to look into his sister’s intense eyes.
“Okay, okay… truth is I’m in deep with the wrong people,” Arthur admitted, no longer able to meet his sister’s disproving gaze.
Dannie clenched her fists, resisting the urge to shout and scream at her brother, “you mean you’re in debt again? How much this time?”
“Thirty thousand dollars, near enough,” Arthur said somewhat sheepishly, knowing that Dannie would erupt when she heard just how much he owed.
Laura was helping Sarah brush her teeth when she heard shouting from downstairs, she could hear it was all Dannie, it seemed that Arthur must have brought a pretty big problem with him.
Sarah turned her small, blonde haired head and looked up at her birth-mother, “mummy, why is Dannie so mad?”
“Her brother just brought her some bad news is all, try not to worry about it, she’ll be okay,” Laura replied as she continued to help her daughter brush.
“Here, rinse your mouth out with this water and then we’ll go get you changed,” Laura said with a fake smile painted on her face, all the time fretting about what trouble Dannie’s brother was in and how Dannie would get dragged into it.
After Sarah was done Laura led her to her room, the shouting continuing all the while. Laura got her daughter dressed for bed and tucked securely under her covers, reassuring her that Dannie would be okay.
Laura left her daughter’s room, faintly illuminated by the night light that was beside Sarah’s bed. She rushed downstairs, where Dannie was continuing to bellow at her brother.
An hour or so later Dannie and Laura stood together in the kitchen, talking while Arthur slept on the sofa in the main living room of the house, tired from his long, exhaustive journey, as well as the verbal beating his sister had given him.
“Can we really afford to help him?” Laura asked Dannie, although she was fairly sure of Dannie’s answer.
“We’re going to have to, I promised Dad I’d look after him,” Dannie replied sorrowfully.
“Can you get thirty thousand dollars by tomorrow morning?” Laura asked, concerned.
“No, I think I can get about eleven or twelve I think, if I talk to these loan sharks maybe I can get them to agree to some kind of payment plan or something, if I take a reasonable chunk of their money down with me,” Dannie explained in response.
“Do have that just stashed under our mattress or something?” Laura asked with a half smile, somewhat surprised that Dannie thought she could amass that much cash in such a short time.
“No, nothing like that, some people owe me favours, good people, they won’t really want to help but I’m sure they will, I’ll pay them all back soon after, but it’ll go a good way to ease the burden… I’ll have to leave the house at something like four a.m. though,” Dannie continued to explain.
“That’s okay, whatever you need to do baby,” Laura said supportively, kissing her partner on the forehead and wrapping her arms around her.
Dannie was woken at four in the morning by her obnoxious, blaring alarm, she threw her arm at it, smashing it completely with her unusual strength.
“Not another one,” Laura remarked wearily with a sigh directed at her waking girlfriend.
Dannie did not reply, instead she just got up, stepping on several pieces of broken plastic as she walked over to the nearby dresser where she found some clothes to wear, a simple, black tank top and a dark blue pair of jeans with worn and slightly frayed knees that she often wore when doing various menial chores.
“I’ll be back soon babe,” Dannie said, clambering onto the bed and kissing Laura’s warm alluring lips before bounding off of the bed and soon after that out of the house, her brother in tow to hopefully raise the funds Dannie had suggested that she could to Laura and to settle Arthur’s debt problems.
For some hours the drive was silent, Arthur no doubt feeling the palpable anger and disappointment radiating from his big sister. Several times Dannie stopped off around town to talk to people she knew and worked with, or for, sometimes she left with a small brown paper packet, sometimes she returned to her brother and her truck empty handed.
At around ten a.m. Dannie and her brother pulled up to an ancient looking, slightly dilapidated and abandoned church, this was the place Arthur was meant to meet the loan sharks he owed, this was his last chance he told his sister, else the next time the shark’s heavies met up with him it wouldn’t be his money they were after.
Her brother got out of the car and moments later Dannie did likewise, holding a featureless brown paper bundle in hand. The pair walked through the ruined arch of the church.
The inside of the old chapel was no better, there was rubble strewn about the floor illuminated by shafts of light coming from the broken roof. As Dannie looked around she saw obvious signs that squatters and drugs users had been here at some point, perhaps they still were.
Warily the pair pressed on until they were in the church proper, instead of the vestries or antechambers. Dannie thought that in its prime this church would have been an impressive, almost imposing sight, but with its roof peppered with holes and many of the pews in ruin, with syringes and a multitude of discarded food wrappers, packets and drink cans it looked rather sorrowful.
“Hello?” Dannie shouted, waiting for some kind of response or to see someone somewhere in the building other than them.
Arthur slunk back slightly behind his sister.
After a few moments with no reply Dannie spoke loudly again, her words carrying through the entirety of the forgotten church, “I’m here with my brother, Arthur. We have some of your money, if you want to come out we can discuss a way for me to pay you all of what my brother owes.”
Again there was no answer, no movement from deeper inside the church. Cautiously Dannie moved further towards the back of the church, towards the pulpit.
“Hello?” Dannie loudly asked again as she slowly walked on, at all times checking around her for signs of anyone else.
As the young woman went as far back as she could she looked around one final time, still seeing no sign of anyone else. Dannie turned to her brother who nervously hid in the crookedly arranged pews.
“We’ll wait around for a little, they could just be late?” Dannie said, wondering to herself.
As Dannie finished speaking there was a sudden rush of cold air and a sudden forceful detonation that sent her crashing into the first rank of pews.
“Arthur, you’re here, good… I thought you might try to evade me again,” came a chilling, rasping voice that spoke with an underlying malice.
“O-of course not lord Neroth, I-I came to repay you,” Arthur said sycophantically.
“You have two hundred impure souls?” Neroth asked as Dannie clambered from the wooden wreckage of the old bench.
Dannie turned and beheld, for the first time the form of Neroth, a giant, withered looking wraith that floated ominously above the floor.
Neroth’s gaze was immediately drawn to the woman, she was something special indeed.
Dannie was frozen in fear before the towering monster, she hadn’t been this scared in perhaps her whole life.
“Arthur, what is that thing!?” Dannie exclaimed, still paralysed with fear.
“H-he is lord Neroth, a demon lord of hell, he is who I owe the debt to,” Arthur explained, his tone had changed to an almost predatory and confident one as he spoke to his sister.
“You owe this… thing thirty thousand dollars!?” Dannie shouted back, barely able to comprehend the situation she now found herself in.
“He owes me two hundred impure souls,” Neroth stepped in to reply, “he failed to repay in time and now I am here to claim his own, worthless soul.”
“Stay away from my brother you monster!” Dannie exclaimed, trying to rush to her brother’s side but still being unable to do so.
“Wait a moment Neroth, I have a proposition, take my sister’s soul in place of mine,” Arthur said, begging at Neroth’s feet, or where his feet would be if he had any.
“What!?” Dannie shouted.
Neroth began to laugh, his demonic cackling chilling all who could hear it to the bone.
“Such sweet treachery, you lured your own kin to me so that I might take them, instead of you?” Neroth said, delighting in Arthur’s callousness and disregard for his sister.
Neroth then looked like he was considering the traitorous human’s offer, occasionally glancing back at the transfixed girl with great interest.
“Yes,” Neroth growled, “consider your debt paid human.”
Arthur rose from his feet as Neroth approached Dannie, his black shadow looming over the girl, sapping all sense of hope from her.
Neroth grasped her neck with his long, withered, almost bone-like fingers and with a wave of his free hand opened a fiery portal, dragging Dannie through it and passing through it himself.
Nemesis got back to her feet and looked down, angrily at her brother who wept before her.
“Those memories stirring in your mind are not the extent of Arthur’s treachery Nemesis, there is so much more…” Neroth said, delighting in the emotional anguish of both is servant and the whimpering human before him.
“Please, Dannie don’t listen, I’m you’re little bro, please don’t kill me, please!” Arthur said, supplicating himself before lord Neroth and his sister.
Neroth began to speak again, “Barely a year after he sold you to me for his own, worthless life Arthur came to me again and asked for more souls, this time eight hundred, a considerable sum for a human like him, another year later and he still couldn’t pay up but this time he had brought me two others for me to take instead of him, he convinced them that he had finally found you. I believe one of them was called Laura and the other, Sarah.”
Nemesis had an image of both flash before her eyes, a single, tear forming in one of her cold, black eyes.
There was an explosion of rage and power, the air in the room became heavy, so much so that Arthur could not stand and could barely breath. Nemesis grasped her blade like never before, she stepped forward and grabbed her brother’s tiny throat in her massive, armoured hand.
As Nemesis looked deeply at her brother she wallowed in her blazing hatred of him that raged like an inferno, she wanted to end him and she could, all it would take was a little more force to snap his neck like a twig, yet she stopped herself.
Neroth was as close to joyful as he perhaps had ever been, if Nemesis ended her brother’s life she would surely give up what remained of her shredded humanity and he could claim her for eternity as his soldier and instrument. Neroth had already planned that if she sought to save her brother again he would offer her a similar deal as before, but instead of one thousand debts collected she would become his forever, but feeling the pure, near demonic hatred that gushed out of Nemesis that wasn’t likely.
Nemesis drew her brother closer until his face was barely an inch away from her own.
Nemesis spoke once more to her choking brother, anger and hatred thick in her voice, “You gave my love’s soul and her daughter to Neroth to save your own worthless existence!? You deserve so much worse than death.”
Neroth’s tautly pulled flesh creaked as his lips formed into a cruel smile as he watched Nemesis give herself to him, body and soul.