We Fight as Champions
with demons was, in most cases, an ill-advised choice. There's the obvious issues of . You make a deal for a sudden windfall, but that comes from a family member's life insurance. People think that's only the realm of genies, but the demonic among us are more than willing to take advantage when given the chance. But that isn't the most common. Demons are more of a tit-for-tat folk. They want something for whatever they give you. , when you don't deliver, that ends quite badly for you. What I'm saying is to read the fine print before you screw yourself over.
", by signing this contract you hereby swear to claim victory in Valor's Reach in my name, by my command, by the end of the month." voice came out in these warped tones, pitch shifting randomly and at varying intervals. Hooked nails that curved like crescent moons dug into his stone desk, the surface marked with tallies representing his clientele. "In doing so you will receive -"
"- amnesty for my people in the eyes of the , yes. In that scenario, you will send your own army of demons against them." I spoke with a similar warble, though one more out of fear than demonic vocal chords. I'd punch his smug face if he wasn't my only hope. had declared war on my people. We need an army, he needs a favor. "And if I am to fail, you will claim me for eternal servitude in your horde, blah blah blah. and ceaseless war. I get the picture. Do we have a deal?"
Vilis has a devilish smile, though he would assuredly hate my conflation of devil and demon. He's a demon of . Most of his kind were haphazard sin seekers, only wishing to inflict the most amount of harm in as little time as possible. But the Broker of Blood was much more of a "quality over quantity" fellow. If someone fulfilled his request, he'd certainly grant them whatever they requested. Fail, though, and all of the malice he held towards mortals would be directed towards you. This made him an incredibly risky choice to bargain with, but if you wanted something big, your best bet was with him.
A snap of his fingers and it's done. It's funny how demons work. You deal with something all your life, or something comes along and everything you knew. A person starts to see this thing as almost insurmountable. As if nothing but years of labor and trials could fix it. Then a divine being comes along, snaps their fingers, and ! It doesn't even draw sweat for them to do it. And then they want payment.
"It's signed into the fabric of the plane itself now. You've got one month to claim the title. Do that, and your people are to go about their lives. Think you can do it, dear?"
"I kind of have to, right?" I shrug. He's not really granting me wiggle room. It's this or being by demons. "I'll be back in a month with the trophy."
"Well, first, they don't hand out trophies anymore, not since flattened hers. Second, you have to meet your partner."
"I know who my partner is. I'm going to select one of the other ." My wings instinctively form a shroud around me. I've seen this all-too proud grin on demons like him before. The I-Know-Something-You-Don't look of superiority that churns the stomach. "What's your play?"
"Ah, you forget that you promised to compete in my name and by my command. Sounds like I get to choose your partner if I so choose." Vilis begins to conjure this of black smoke. It grows into a beastly shape, one with that swing outwards, dropping to the floor in a pool of necrotic energy. "Meet . A new demon of my own creation, and your partner."
His eyes a piercing red, parting the veil of black mist that makes up his form. Talons already stained with scraping across the brimstone floors. With each breath, the demon's form seems to sink into our reality. He goes from ephemeral terror to something real, something to be truly feared. One look into this creature's eyes and I know he only desires .
Vilis chuckles. "I look forward to seeing you two work together."
The whole situation would be less frustrating if he wasn't so damn smug about it. So proud of his creation. Any with a pension for the macabre can slap some black mana together and call it a day. Sticking me with his made-to-order creation felt like his idea of a . Maybe it was. Demons never were very funny.
Krav is a few feet taller than me with a wingspan to match. We're sitting in my quarters, just . He's been uncomfortably silent, just kind of sulking in the dark corners. A few of my tomes have some whispers about , but most of them are debunked. Still blows my mind that some so-called scholars believe in , as if the study into the fifth circle didn't totally rebuke-
"What are we to do?" Krav speaks. His voice seems to sneak out, as if the words are digging into his throat and crawling out of his maw. "I was made with a purpose, but seemed to forget to enlighten me as to what it was."
I have to gather my bearings. The Angels of the discuss demons quite liberally. We have contingencies for when they attack, wards in place to deter ambient dark magic, all the works. But it's just now that I realize I've never had a regular conversation with a demon other than Vilis. Angelfolk aren't often placed into where such interactions could occur.
"Well, that's a question that requires a lot of context that you're not going to get today," I say, slamming the tome shut.
"You were placed as my equal, yet you will not tell me what we must do together?" Krav's brow furrows. "This is not a suitable arrangement. I require a goal to pursue."
"I'll give you the logline then. In a few days there's a tournament that we'll compete in. Together. As a team. We win and we get to go our separate ways." I snap my fingers and point down the bridge of his nose. "And ! It's strictly nonlethal."
I can see him rolling the around his infernal brain. For a second, it looks like he'll argue, but he surprises me. "What are the circumstances if we were to lose?"
"Both of us are damned to the abyss."
"So, let's not lose."
"Why undertake such a task? What reward could be worth ?"
I consider how much of my hand I can play. The demonic oaf seems clueless enough. But best not to anger him. " are under attack. By the Shadow's General. So, you know. Things are tense."
Krav nods and looks out the window. Kylem is bustling below us, the world shuffling about on a constant boil. My people are waiting for me. "Do you believe Vilis your people, Regna?"
"I mean, I sort of have to, right? I had to make a deal to save them."
"If you had to do it, was it a ?"
I laugh. He's an oaf, but smart. A smart oaf.
"You are quiet, Regna." He says calmly, yet it has the air of a question.
"I'm not quiet, I'm composed."
Composed. Composed is the only way I keep myself from destroying every evil-doer on this plane. Composure is what keeps me, and everyone else, safe.
Krav nods. "Let us hope that composure holds, then."
It's weeks later, and I find myself roaming the halls. Training with Krav has been fascinating. From every angle of study, he appears to have been constructed with prowess. Quite a specimen, able to lift massive weights and wield the most ludicrous assortment of weaponry. But it seems he was not instilled with any technical or combat knowledge. It would have been so simple for Vilis to place an old general's within, but that would make things far, far too easy.
After a long while of explaining elementary tactics, I choose to treat myself to a short break, though not without purpose. Just beneath the arena, through a set of labyrinthine hallways, lies the . Anyone who's ever won a tournament gets their likeness as a gaudy bronze statue. Not exactly my idea of a reward, but to each their own. I'll settle for the safety of my people.
There's a row of young upstart champions from years past, all of them with the same cocky pose. They all have this look of unearned confidence. They bang up a couple random warriors fighting for their lives, now they're glory. It's sickening.
"Gods, what a loathsome lot. I'd almost be sad to see you them." To my left, Vilis. Whether he snuck in without me noticing or apparated in, I can't say. "I still want you to win, though. For both our sakes."
For a moment, I consider conjuring a weapon to defend myself. But I know demonlords. If I armed myself, that would only invite him to strike me down quicker. And best not to anger the demon with my family's well-being in his hands. It would be his that could fend off the enemies of my home.
He speaks again. "What odds am I looking at, Regna? Because if you're going to lose, we should both prepare for that reality now."
Can't hurt to . "Were you always in the arms business, Vilis? What brought you into the demon versus demon industry?"
For the first time I seem to catch him thinking. "Some might call it . I think of it as a proclivity for profits."
"Is that how you justify it to yourself? Refusing to save some innocent people from attack? It's ."
Another pause. He clicks a forked tongue. "Oh. Oh you haven't put it together. That's..." The demon a laugh between breaths. "That's beautiful."
"What are you talking about?"
"It doesn't seem odd to you that when a horde of demons attacked your home, a demon offered his support? Who do you think the Shadow's General is?"
The bastard. Energy starts to coalesce in my hands. A divine light, pent-up anger against every warmonger, every demon, every single bottom-feeder who hurts the defenseless, all of it fits in my hand.
"Save the energy for the fight. For your family's sake." And Vilis is gone. As quickly as he came.
The sun is hot in the . Nobody ever taught me how much armor traps heat. It's an absolute furnace. Krav stands to my right, milling over our notes of battle strategies. They're fine-tuned, based on the finest champions I could access in the public archives.
"Rules of engagement are simple, Krav. "Battle Royale"-style. Knock everyone out. And most importantly, we can't let each other go down."
He nods. "This is so structured. No for the passions of battle, I see."
"Passion is for the unprepared. Now get ready."
As if on cue, a horn blares and the stomping of metal boots fills the arena. It has . A good handful of duos, each one brandishing a sword or spell. We're spat out into a flurry of combat. Before either of us can pick a target, a whizzes past my neck, crashing into the wall behind me. An looks to be the culprit, crimson hair reflecting sunlight into my eyes. Their partner extends a hand for seemingly no reason, until the mace starts hurtling into their hand. A simple retrieval spell, a .
Krav extends a hand. "Do not think, Regna! Act!" He catches the mace and hurls it into the ground. A flurry of spells begin to bombard us, fireballs turning the sand below to glass. The azra motions to their partner again, pointing at another duo in the distance. A bolt of necrotic energy is hurtling towards them. It looks like enough to knock them out. But perhaps more than that. I've seen this type of magic before, when it attacked my village.
That spell will certainly
. I'm angel, a protector. But there's no contingency for this. No plan to stop a killer. And if they die, that means I'm that much closer to protection from Vilis. Like it or not, that demon controls just about everything on this plane, defying him is -
Krav leaps in front of the spell and takes it with his chest. Veins turning bright red, he clutches his throat. is clearly trying to pull him under. The dark forces that Vilis sculpted him with are coming undone. If there ever was a time to, best do it now.
Maybe rage isn't always violence. Rage in the form of healing, rage in the form of a pursuit of peace. A world where we don't have to constantly pursue safety, where we can live. My hands touch Krav and somehow, by some miracle, I from him. I've spent so many years holding in this magic. I've fought against lowly soldiers, the type of people under the command of the true vile ones. Perhaps it was time for a change.
"You ready for something we haven't planned for?" I ask my demonic companion.
"At last. Yes." Krav shakes off the necrotic magic. "I'm forged out of mana that desires absolution. Let us seize it. ."
Another warrior seems to prepare to strike at us. Krav lifts his hand, not in order to fight, but to pacify. ", correct?"
Krav pulls me onto his back and we take to the skies. I hold on for dear life as his wings stir up a boisterous fury of wind. on the ground as competitors fire upon us. I know where Krav is headed. He glides down past the seats, into the luxury seats.
I meet the gaze of Vilis, my divine weapon ready.
"For the people of Kylem. The common people."
Krav and I don't know if we can defeat him. Frankly, it's foolish to think we could. But to live without taking up arms, turning on our brethren for another day of our own survival, that's the true injustice. If we fall, we'll fall fighting for a world better than any arena. No matter what, we will fight as .