Elise watched in horror as demons poured out of the dark mountain more like a flood than like an army, hiding on the Darkstone itself with her sister and her captors. Demons were coming back into the world again… and it was all her fault. The moment she had held the sword and thought about opening the gate, it had cracked open immediately… Esperiel’s seal breaking as easily as a dropped plate. The barrier on the other side had already shattered… her own lock had been the final seal keeping the demons out.
And she had broken it, to save her sister.
“Would you look at that,” Karsus said with a smile. “Our order has a purpose again.”
She glared over at him. “You’re insane. This is actually something you wanted.”
“Of course it is,” he said as he watched the parade of demons as the swiftly spread out into the world. “Tell me, Elise… have you ever heard the story of Pandora and her box?”
“No. What difference does a story make?” Elise demanded.
“Once, long ago, the gods locked away every evil of the world. Formed a ‘perfect’ world, free of sin, free of pain, free of despair, with all of the evil sealed away in one prison. And the world would remain that way, as long as the human who lived in it willed it. The box was passed down from one guardian to the next, to the next, no one daring to see what was inside the prison. What the gods had locked away from them. They just kept blindly living their lives.”
Elise watched as the demonic procession slowly stopped… only occasional flits of shadow emerging to fly out into the air. “Seems logical to me,” she said.
“That’s because you lack imagination,” Karsus said smugly. “What the gods considered bad for mankind wasn’t all bad. Ambition. Change. Discontent. The world sat still for thousands of years, not changing in the slightest, because humans lived their lives like the walking dead. Never taking any kind of action that carried a risk, to themselves or even of just failure. Generation after generation passed like that, wasted generations of mankind, until a woman named Pandora became the guardian of that prison.”
Elise saw three figures walk out on the plane below her, and felt her blood freeze. She didn’t recognize any of them, of course… no dipiction of any of the demonic leaders had been saved… but she could sense the power, and evil, radiating off of them. The Dawnsteel blade, taken from her hands but still somehow attuned to her, seemed to vibration intensely as their mere presence in the world.
“Pandora wasn’t afraid of the gods warnings. She had seen millions of lives wasted, gone from Fertility to Passage to Death without ever having truly lived… and she knew that nothing inside the box could be worse than that. And so she opened it.” He laughed. “The gods had spoken truly. Evil flooded into the world. Destruction and anarchy and chaos… but with it, change and progress. Lives meant something. And the gods must have known that someday, the box must be opened… because along with all the darkness, they had included a gift. Do you know what the final thing to come out of the box was, Elise?”
When she just looked at him, unspeaking, he smiled and turned his gaze back down the mountain… at the crawling figure emerging from the Darkstone. “Hope,” he said with a chuckle. “They gave us back Hope. The Order of Flame is reborn today,” Karsus said as he began walking down the mountain, towards the distant form of Esperiel.
Esper felt half alive as she crawled over rocks and sparse ground, escaping out into the world. She wasn’t the beautiful creature she had entered as. It wasn’t that she wasn’t lovely anymore, because she still was – it was more that she was haggard, cum covered, exhausted woman that seemed to have no life left in her. Esperiel’s beauty had always been best seen in motion. That was what was gone. Only the faint traces of her former beauty, the static loveliness beneath the cum and bruises, remained. She wore no armor, carried no weapons… even if her arm still had the strength to wield one, it was long shattered. She had tried to talk, but her legs were pathetic and unsteady after an eternity of not being put to use… she had fallen only a few steps in, forcing her to crawl like an animal.
Esper felt like her world was spinning. Like she had nothing left but hatred and despair and pain. And she crawled out of the Darkstone, the only thing keeping her from utter despair was the hate… the desire to destroy the demons who had done this to her… holding onto a tiny shred of her old passion, even if she had none of her Hope for her continued life.
Millions of billions of years, and she had nothing to sustain her. Everything she had valued had been stripped away and destroyed. There was nothing left but hatred. If she let go of that, there would be nothing left but the despair that Zaasteroth seemed to want to pack her with.
“What. The fuck.”
Esperiel winced pathetically at the angry masculine voice. She turned to see a group of armored soldiers… soldiers wearing her emblem!… approaching her. “What the hell is this… thing…” he said with fury in his voice. “I go looking for the patron of our order, and I find… this?” He looked over his shoulder at… at a demon. A naked succubus that Esperiel couldn’t quite make out. “What happened to her? This is what we were trying to bring back? This worthless cumdoll?”
“It appears so, Lord Karsus,” she said softly. “Not much of her left after the demons finished with her, is there?”
Karuss sighed in disgust. “No, I guess not.”
Esper, suddenly afraid of these men, tried to continue crawling past them, but Karsus reached down and casually grabbed her by the neck, dragging her across the ground towards his fellows. The moment he touched her, she came. Esper let out an ecstatic cry as she felt the weight of his disgust for her wash over her, making her shudder and fall onto her belly and breasts as her legs gave out. Karsus, noticing this, sighed in abject disgust. “What a whore,” he mocked. “Well, I’ve been waiting this long to meet the bitch,” he said as he undid his pants and freed his cock, already standing hard as he looked at the crawling, debased Archon. “Might as well get some use out of her. Bitch has some nice tits.” He slapped them with his hands, and she gasped in pleasure each time he made contact with her. “What a cock hungry slut. Are all Archons like this?”
“They are after Zaasteroth finishes with them,” the succubus said. There was an odd tone to her voice… after billions of years of torment, it was hard for her to recognize what might have been pity in the woman’s voice. It was probably just more mockery, but something about that voice, that tone… it made her want to weep. Like she was being thrown a lifeline, somehow, by a demon… and she just needed to reach out and grab it but she had no idea how.
“Then he did a good job with this one,” Karsus said as he settled in behind her, keeping his head on her neck.
Esper was having trouble breathing… a common enough problem for the last billion years. “Please…” she managed to whisper.
Karsus sneered. “You don’t have to beg, Esperiel. I’ll give you all the cock you could want.” Then he was inside her, impaling her pussy… the first cock every to be there besides Zaasteroth’s. She shuddered at the sensation of his hatred and collapsed back to the ground pathetically as what little breath she had managed to get was stolen away again. He hated her… she could sense that clearly, due to the curse that Leshara had put on her. She wanted to explode into orgas at his slightest touch. It shouldn’t have bothered her so much… she had been raped trillions of time by now. What difference did one more make? But it did… it was supposed to be over. She had escaped. She was supposed to be free.
“Still fucking tight,” he growled as he fucked her savagely, at last driving her into another agonizing orgasm despite her best efforts. “I guess they didn’t fuck you as much as it looks like they did.” She wanted to break down into sobbing laughter at that. Her body was still pristine, still able to bring pleasure to her rapists, no matter how defiled and used up she felt. It was like they had taken away every part of her identity and body that she valued, and left only the parts that they could use… the parts that she didn’t care about, and that should have been the first to break. It felt like a hideously ironic trade to her.
Then the other soldiers, knights of her own order, fell on her. Raped in her pussy. Raped in her ass. Raped in her throat. Raped between her cum-slick breasts. Demon raped piece of trash… that was all she was. All she would ever be. Esper felt her holes gripping the human’s invading cocks as tight as they could, despite the extra pain this caused. After years of being trained in how to be raped, in trying to make her cycles as quick as possible, she didn’t even think about it anymore… any man who stuck his dick in her would be treated to holes better trained that any whore on any world. Her cunt and asshole would suck on any dick as early as her mouth did.
It wasn’t supposed to be like this. She had done what she had bargained. She had disgraced herself, acted like a whore, let the demons pillage and rape her over and over and over again so that she could at last be free… and it had cost her everything. Her pride, her wings, her skills… her self. It was supposed to be over. She was free, among those that she had helped, those she had tried to protect from the demon… and she was a helpless fucktoy in their grip again, being raped over and over again. Esper tried to remember what she had been like. Had she ever really soared through the skies on wings of flame? Had she ever fought back an army, all but single-handedly… bringing death to the enemies of Stasis? She couldn’t remember… it felt like a dream. She couldn’t see herself as that woman anymore. All she could imagine was a wingless, cum-soaked whore, on all fours on the filthy ground, feeling Void yanking at her soul like it was trying to rip it out of her body… a new agony that was impossible to ignore now that she could feel it had always been there.
She was a whore. That was what they had turned her into. That’s what she would always be.
The last shred of herself crumbled, and Esper gave into despair fully.
Esper found herself on a featureless, pristine plane of light, stretching on for eternity. It burned her eyes. Once, she could vaguely remember, this place had seemed beautiful to her. A place of perfect, pristine order, of unchanging, brilliant light and beauty. Now it seemed… cold. And sterile. And lonely. She felt out of place here… another sign of how thoroughly Zaasteroth had destroyed her.
A man stood before her. Locleos looked like an old man… old enough that he even looked old. His face was creased with thousands of lines, worn into his skin over unquestionable aeons. From what she understood, all the incarnations had been born at the beginning of time, but not all at the same time… Locleos had been born first, into a perfectly still universe. It had taken amounts of time that had made her ordeal seem short before Fertility, the next to arrive, had been born. The passage of those timeless aeons was obvious to look at him… even his immortal face had been marked by them. His form was lean and ancient, but his body was like tightly wound rope – strong in its shrunken state.
Her Father look at her with dismay. Then he gestured, and she felt the ragged stumps of her wings begin to itch… beginning to grow back. “Why have you failed me, daughter?” he asked. “Zaasteroth is free once again. You were to contain him. I fear his actions will bring ruin to us all.”
Esper wanted to beg for forgiveness. She was filled with shame for disappointing him, for failure to meet his standards, the purpose for which she was created – but what came out was something she hadn’t planned. “Is it true?”
She hadn’t meant to say the words. Certainly Locleos hadn’t expected to hear them. “What?” he asked.
Esper wanted to swallow her tongue to avoid speaking. To bow her head and pray for forgiveness.
“Is it true?” she asked. “He told me… he told… Is that why Becoming betrayed us?” The words left Esper in a rush. “Is that why they are fighting us? IS IT TRUE?”
Locleos, her Father, look at her with firm eyes. “No,” he said, with all the firmness of Stasis itself… an immovable truth, an solid, unchanging fact.
“Liar…” she whispered, horror dawning as she felt another tattered piece of her soul die and fall off her broken whole. “Liar liar liar liar liar…”
Esper didn’t feel it when the men stopped using her. She only became aware of herself laying on the ground, unmoving, as Karsus walked back over to the succubus. “I’ll take your deal,” he said.
“Deal?” she asked. Her voice wasn’t smooth or soft now, Esper noticed. She sounded… angry. Disgusted.
“I want to to be bonded to you,” he said. “To take life as a demonic vessel, like you offered Bren.”
And the succubus laughed. “Oh ‘Master,’” she said with a sneer in her words. “What ever made you think I would bond myself to a worthless parasite like you?” She crossed her arms over her bare breasts as she taunted him. “I offered that deal to one I respected. I only offered it to you when I knew you wouldn’t take it. You aren’t a thousandth of the man he was.”
Karsus growled. “You forget your pl-” Then his words abruptly froze as he gasped in breath. Something about her gaze made him back up a few steps, rapidly.
“Take care, mortal…” she said, voice cold as ice. “I’m only as tame as I want to be… and only for those I wish to serve. If you want to be someone’s vassal, I’d suggest speaking with Omodomos or Agatharon. One of them would be thrilled to make your theirs, I suspect. But you… you disgust me to even look upon. Leave… while I’m still prepared to let you.”
Esper forced herself to look up as Karsus continued backing away with his other knights, eventually turning and running towards the retreating forms of the other demon lords. Forced herself to really, really look at the succubus. Her face… that voice… the scars… impossible. Impossible! “R-Reshael?”
The succubus turned to meet her gaze and smiled at her. “Hello, sister,” the former Archon of Justice said as she knelt down. “What did master do to you,” she said, her voice sad. “You were supposed to become a sister of mine again… turn you into one like me. Instead, he made you… something else, hasn’t he?”
Esper couldn’t process that, she couldn’t… couldn’t. “You… you’re dead!” she gasped out. “Zaasteroth killed you!”
“Is that was Stasis says?” she said with a small grin. “I guess he doesn’t want anyone knowing the truth. He seldom does, after all… Master rarely kills, especially if he doesn’t need to. You, better than anyone, should know the truth sister. He changes.”
“I can… I can set you free of him, Reshael!” Esper promised foolishly. She wasn’t even sure if she could help herself, but here she was, promising to help the demon. “I can see you restored.”
“I’m sure Father would be more than happy to take me back,” the Archon of Honor said, “if I were willing to forget all I had learned and return to being his slave. He would make of me what I once was… and the me that exists now would be gone. How would that be difference that choosing suicide? How would that be better than what you fear Zaasteroth did to me?” She chuckled. “No, sister… I am what I want to be. What I need to be. I am fighting on the right side, now… are you certain you can say the same?” She gave another sad smile. “And my name is Kiana.”
Kiana. The succubus who had helped infiltrate a dozen worlds. Who had been fighting for Becoming for more than a century… since mere years after Reshiel had “died.” “Please sister…” Esper begged. “Come with me…”
“No,” she said softly. “You come with me.”
“I can’t…” she whispered.
Kiana nodded and stood. “When you can, you need only ask for me, sister. I will never forget you. And I’m sorry you needed to learn the truth, the same way I did… but a lie, no matter how sweet, is still a lie.” And the woman got up and strode away into the fading light of sunset, leaving Esper behind… feeling utterly and completely betrayed and alone.
Zaasteroth felt no urge to rejoined Omodomos or Agatharon. Now that they were free, they would no doubt be gathering their armies again. Perhaps they would stay on Mundas, perhaps they would go elsewhere… their obligation to him filled with the fall of Esperiel. He no longer cared. They were nearly worthless to him. Just two more demons that had almost completely forgotten their purpose. The shard of Destruction was a seductive one… especially in War. Sometimes, he wondered if his father had understood the danger of what he was doing in making their conflict with the other Incarnations an open one. The war made giving into the urge to simply destroy all too easy…
But Zaasteroth couldn’t let himself be so seduced. To lose himself would be the end. He would hold on… until he was no longer needed. However long that took.
He felt Kiana’s presence before he saw her… felt her approach, felt her joy at being in his presence again… saw her horror and terror as she realized that something was wrong. She rushed over to the incubus where he lay on the ground, too weak to move. “Master!” she called out, aghast as she cradled his head, lifting him up from the stone and laying him in her lap. “You feel… so weak! What happened?”
He chuckled. “It was quite a strain,” he admitted. “I don’t feel quite like myself.” Zaasteroth could feel the horror rolling off of Kiana in waves… she was distressed by the very idea of the incubus brought so low. “I take it your mission was a success?”
Kiana seemed distracted by his state, but she still tried to answer. “Mostly,” she said sadly.
“Bren,” she said simply. “I couldn’t… I couldn’t save him, Master. He wouldn’t take the deal… he didn’t think it was right to take a demon’s deal to live forever, even after he accepted that he had been lied to about us. I should have made him. He’s gone now… and Passage took him a century ago.” She shook her head. “He deserved better.”
He tilted his head to kiss her. “You are such a romantic,” he teased gently, without conviction, and she sobbed out a single bark of laughter. “Still convinced?”
“If anything, more so that ever,” she said, nodding softly. “People like Bren deserve a better fate that the gods have made for them.”
They sat there in silence for long minutes, the weakened Zaasteroth laying helplessly against his lover. “You could destroy me, you know,” he said softly. “You could obliterate me in a mere second. Your father would bless you for it. He would give you anything you could possibly want, and I wouldn’t be able to lift a hand to stop you.”
The very idea of that seemed to horrify her even more. “Why would I do that, Master?” she gasped out.
“Maybe because I raped you?” he said, closing his eyes. “Destroyed everything you used to be and turned you into…” he gestured vaguely. “This.”
“I prefer being this way,” she said, confused. “It’s important! We’re doing what has to be done!”
“You prefer being this way because I prefer you being this way,” Zaasteroth corrected. “It’s an important difference. You can’t really decide what you want, because I made you… I made all the decisions for how you would see the world, how you would be, so how could you possibly act in any way I didn’t want you to… at least until you encounter something that surprises even me?”
Kiana shrugged, as though it were the least important thing in the world. “Doesn’t matter. I wouldn’t destroy you.”
“I know,” he said softly. “And that’s the problem. You should want to. Esperiel would, even now, if she saw me like this.” He looked up at Kiana and smiled. “I did too good of a job with you. There’s not enough left. I went too far… but breaking one of you free of Locleos’ control without shattering you entirely is… tricky. It took a few tries to get right… you were strong enough to take it, but I screwed up with you. Sariel was too weak… she shattered rather than last. An artist can make nothing with the appropriate clay… we needed someone as strong as her to survive the experience. Even then, it isn’t without a cost.”
Kiana looked up and down the form of the weakened Incubus again. “What did you do to her, Master? What could have reduced you like this?”
He smiled broadly. “I gave her my shards,” he said smugly. “As much of them as I could spare.”
She looked at him as if he’d just said he had dragged the moons out of the sky and given them to Esperiel. In fact, that would have been CONSIDERABLY easier. “You did WHAT? That’s… that’s…”
“Insane?” he laughed. “Tell me about it. It took everything I had to keep of the illusion of being invincible for this long. It’s going to take me years to recover… maybe a century.”
“For the love of the four originators,” she cursed, “Master… why?”
“She needs to be able to make her own choices,” he said. “She knows the truth now… and if she’s as truly good as you believe she is, hopefully she will choose to help us on her own. I know you don’t see why it matters,” he continued, cutting her off with a finger to her lips. “But it does. A demon can’t do it… she wouldn’t have the touch of Void anymore. Even you lost yours when I transformed you.” He sighed and closed his eyes again. “We’re running out of time, Kiana,” he whispered. “We’re losing ourselves. There are barely any of us left that can remember our purpose. When we’re gone… I think that will be it.”
Kiana was silent for a long minute. “Is it going to work, Master?” she whispered.
Zaasteroth didn’t answer. He didn’t need to. They both knew he didn’t know.