Hey, I do a bunch of world building and homebrew for the campaign I run for my friends, and I figured I'd share it if anyone wants to use it.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- The Undercity? Yeah, it’s dangerous! You’ve got the redcap goblins, they aren’t much a danger by themselves, but they’ll give ya a hell of a time if a group gets you alone don’t you know? The Coldwrought clan moved down there some decades ago of course, and then… well, I don’t believe it myself of course, but they say stone giants still wander around down there. Gives me the shivers! -Elsta Barrlow
The Undercity of Kol Taram is a city that was never meant to be: it exists in a massive drainage system built to protect Kol Taram above from spring melts from the nearby River of Colors. Across the Fallen Bridge on the other side of the cavernous drain channel, stone giants live a secluded life. The Coldwrought Crime Clan rules the Undercity with an iron fist, based out of their hotel/dungeon “The Dark Hive.”
Woven between these dangers (and so many more) there are, of course, wonderous things, too: Yawmbo, the bugbear keeper of The Dark Hive, can acquire near anything you need; Cadence Clearwater, the skinny, high-strung tiefling can craft a specialized tattoo that allows anyone to summon a familiar; within the simple lean-to that Kev the Kenku has an assortment of interesting items plucked from the streets, amongst them the odd thing of interest. The Undercity Always Flows
Many have tried to map The Undercity, but nobody has yet succeeded. Due to the violent, and untrusting nature of many of the denizens, The Undercity is constantly tearing areas down, and building anew. A night doesn’t pass without at least two incidents of arson, and any especially loud squabbles that border on riots result in the stone giants across the Broken Bridge lobbing boulders amongst the city which also result in frequent “re-zonings.”
The best way to orient yourself to The Undercity are to look for the towering, 10-story high pillars that serve as both buildings and anchors to a fluid city.
- The Glowing Pillar
- A Pillar of the People
- The Goblin Gables
- The Statuary
- The Dark Hive Pillar
- The Pillar of Stairs
While there are many other structures outside of these super-structures built to support the weight of a mountain, most major buildings congregate around them. The Ring of Rejects
The Undercity was not meant to be inhabited, but once The Squall began to rage, and a permanent winter has set in, there is no chance that the River of Colors will flood. Those not of dwarven descent often found that Kol Taram was a place they could never thrive, and many found their ways, by exile or by choice, to this so-called sixth ring, the Ring of Rejects. The Broken Bridge
The only support structure to have ever fallen within the drainage system has left a massive, 100’ wide bridge of uneven and broken stones across the 120’ deep drainage ditch. Across it lives, hidden by piled boulders, a small hermitage of stone giants… or so the legend goes. The Broken Bridge is said to be their method of assault, should the violence in The Undercity ever spill over. Refugees of Kol Taram
After Kienscale was awoken, and Kol Taram sacked, many of the citizens who knew of the Undercity and the methods to reach it, left the city through this dangerous route. Some lost their lives, most their possessions, and few chose to stay. Those few form around The Glowing Pillar, the mages of The Bearded Consortium dispelling whatever errant arcana had caused the faint light to radiate out from it, allowing the displaced dwarves to fashion out a makeshift fortress. There, elements of The Stoneguard gather, training the remaining citizens and gathering allies to eventually take back their city. Controlled Anarchy
There are no set laws in The Undercity, save the unspoken, universal threat of the stone giants that might again assault the city should it grow too riotous. The Stoneguard keep order around the areas of The Glowing Pillar, and The Coldwrought Clan has enforcers keeping the money flowing and outside influences in check. The Goblin Gabbles is thoroughly ridden with goblins, who obey their own laws, a strange and violent pecking order that keeps their infighting at a steady level, and their threat to the city as a whole limited. A Dark City
The Undercity features prominently races with darkvision, so aside from The Glowing Pillar and the Pillar of Stairs, there are not frequent sources of light. Those that do dot the inns, streets, and doorways of homes tend to be gas lamps turned to their lowest setting, or sweet, earthy Smolderwart, a pale white moss that burns for hours with a faint light and fragrant smoke. Guide to the Undercity I lived in the Ring of Copper once, you know? Me, a fat greenskinned goblin! No matter how good I became as a smith, it became obvious I’d never be more than skilled labor. So I moved, moved to the Undercity. Every day, death lurks, maybe not nearby, but around every corner you smell him: a feral, red cap’s knife or maybe one of the Lumare’s creepy hands around your neck; but when nobody pretends to like you, it’s a lot easier down here to know who to trust. -Miggblin, owner of Miggblin’s Custom Bladework.
The danger of The Undercity, especially to humans and the aarakocra, cannot be understated. That said, outside the Coldwrought Clan, deception is not often practiced: this is a place where the sword will often prevail over the pen. The Natives
The Ring of Stone is already within the realm of The Underdark, and The Undercity serves as a place for its citizens and those from the service to mingle. These places were not always occupied by sentient races: before Kol Taram came to be, the cavernous dark was occupied by hideous creatures dreamed into existence by a beholder in the Second Age. Thriving amongst the dark and deadly hellscape of this underdark were the Lumare, grey-skinned humanoids, more spindly than graceful, with unnaturally flexible joints which cause them to have a strange, exaggerated gait, and the ability to easily scale the stony walls of the underdark. Nearly wiped out by dragons, and again when The Undercity boomed into existence after the defeat of the Parroa Rebellion, they hold a place of awe and respect, even amongst the rabble of The Undercity. They are said to be able to read minds, and know your actions before you do.
The rest of the creatures that belong to The Old Ones are less beloved, and wandering too far into the dark nooks of the city may find you face to face with them: Wandering Old Ones
Dreamcrawler: Crawling along the walls, ceilings, and under bridges, these hands with bony, exposed, skeletal tips for scratching. (CR ½)
Fearwalker: Eyeless, bipedal humanoids with long, hooked ears, exaggerated mouths, and a taste for fear. They stalk the frightened, lost souls that wander into their domains. (CR 3)
Shadowstare: A flat creature of shadow that clings to a wall or under a shelf, though when it’s one massive eye opens it can be as dangerous as any beholder’s gaze. (CR: 5)
Zombie Beholder: (CR: 5) Spellcasting Services
There are not many spellcasters in The Undercity, as the red cap goblins have a superstitious fear of magic, and they tend to target magic-users with more murderous intent than others. As such, there are no established spellcrafting services. The Bearded Consortium has powerful mages, but they are geared toward returning Kol Taram to its former standing; the Purple Terror who lurks in the city above keeps them wary. Living and Lifestyles in The Undercity
‘Poverty’ is an easy term to toss around within the Undercity: many of the abodes are squalid, temporary structures of pitiful design. This can be deceiving, however, as The Undercities denizens are loath to show off anything of value. These items, beautiful or rare or expensive, are carried on one’s person, or hidden carefully away. As such, it is hard to determine a person’s real wealth. Education and Learning
Due to the transient nature of The Undercities populace, traditional schools aren’t common. The Undercity is no place for children. Within the Kol Taram garrison, safe in the halls of the Glowing Pillar, dwarvish children resume lessons under the direction of Headmaster Heurd Rocknose. There are rumors of a Lumare training ground somewhere deeper within The Underdark called The Alabaster Terrace, where the Lumare hone their unique abilities, though none have seen it. Most who call themselves “lifers” who were born and raised in The Undercity take on apprenticeships. Shopping
There are no markets or centers of commerce, though what stores do exist tend to cluster close to, or within, the massive pillars that support the cavernous roof of the space The Undercity occupies. The Washed Market outside of The Dark Hive may be the only exception: under careful watch of Coldwrought enforcers, an open-air black market, a warren of tables, takes place on every Wednesday. Nothing living is to be sold but narcotics, stolen jewelry, historical artifacts, unsavory meats, and dark secrets can be found. While outright violence is not tolerated, the Coldwrought Clan does not concern itself with petty theft, and will take no action against thievery. Tax Day
There is not a tradition of open celebration of holidays within The Undercity. The only “special” day is Tax Day, which can happen at strange intervals but usually once or twice a month. On this day, Couldwrought enforcers spread across the Undercity in groups, beating up locals who cannot pay for their “taxes.” Sports and Games
The Undercity does attract it’s fair share of gamblers and unsavory types that are happy to make a quick copper at another’s expense. The Dark Hive features poker tables, Bluffer’s Cup, and for those with the pieces, a private Gragram room. Gragram
An ancient dwarvish game that requires pieces scattered across the northern parts of Dominion, lost with the falls of two of the original citadels. Those who can find pieces will bet on fighting them with others; the pieces are enchanted, and can do harm only to each other; the pieces rebuild themselves after one day. Bluffer’s Cup
Each player has three tiles: the shield, the sword, and the hand. It is a rocks, paper, scissors with betting and deception involved. The Square of Might
Operated by The Coldwrought Clan, The Square of Might is a small fighting arena with two tiers of seatings. Fights may be arranged, with the loser being paid, the winner being paid more, and the house taking most. Fights are not typically to the death, but True Boughts are fought to the death. People of Prominence
There is no recognized government, or set of laws outside of the unspoken ones that seem universal within the Undercity. Instead, there are people of prominence whose spheres of influence have shaped the behaviors of those around them. d6 Person
- A bugbear with oiled and styled hair brushed back across the fine black vest he wears over a brown-furred torso, Yawmbo speaks little, but is surprisingly intelligent. He works as a broker, and can obtain most things for players, in return for them completing tasks for the Coldwrought Clan, though this is never explicitly stated.
2 Chief Schneek
- At 24, Schneek is ancient by goblin standards. He is blind now, but could once read the fortune of the Undercity using rat bones. He despises magic users, such as The Hidden Hag, who he blames for taking his site. His eyes are made of stone.
3 High Mage Wucrut Coalbeard
- 322, Wucrut is a chauvinist, old-guard High Mage who resents the introduction of women to the Bearded Consortium. He is a powerful evocation mage, and proved himself in the Battle of Skaar against the Fire Giant Legion.
4 The Hidden Hag
- Deep within The Statuary Pillar, amongst its hallways of petrified humanoids, shifting living statues, resides a pale, veiled woman known as The Hidden Hag. None have seen her face, though rumors speak of looking upon her resulting in the many statues around her abode. She keeps to herself, but hers is the only pillar with a good radius of emptiness around it.
5 The Stalker
- The lone Lumare who makes permanent residence behind The Stalker’s Perch. He is quiet, speaks few words, but communicates mostly through his eyes. His insight is unparalleled, and he hunts down those who would cause particular trouble in the streets of The Undercity.
6 Dorgram Coldwrought, Patriarch of the Coldwrought Clan
- The most dangerous man in The Undercity, Dorgram Coldwrought is 121, and has been groomed from birth to run the Coldwrought Clan. He is merciless, speaks slowly, but his words have great gravity. He always wears dull navy gloves with gold cappings around the knuckles, and around one eye is heavily tattooed to make it appear as if the flesh is peeling away to reveal bone. Holy Places
The Undercity is a place that slows for freedom of worship, and nowhere is that more obvious than the Madruuc Lambus
, undercommon for “Market of Gods.” Dug into the ground itself, a cave-like series of shafts and small caverns dedicated to the many gods that others worship. Less crime happens here, as those who defile a chamber of a deity are likely to find trouble with their followers.
Within the boundaries of The Glowing Pillar and Fort Taram that has risen up to house the dwarven refugees of Kol Taram, there is a simple stone church known as “Last Hearth,” a simple place to keep the flame of the Dawnfather’s Horizon Cathedral burning while the city is under siege.
Just outside of the city, in a cave that requires spider climb to access, there is a large altar designated for Lolth, and many drow slip away in secret to worship here. A City of Factions
The huge, 100’ wide pillars that support the weight of Mount Taram above this system of gargantuan drains generally form the center points for factions, though not always. To call any of these groups outside of The Coldwrought Clan and the Red Cap Goblins organized is a stretch, but each of these groups has the resources, manpower, or prestige to lay claim to at least a small slice of The Undercity. The Shadow Scavs
The Undercity was born of need; those who could never find a place amongst the elitist dwarves above, moved to a place where they could rise up as high as any other. Many did not wish to move below, however, bought south the help of those in dark places to get materials restricted to them. These people came to be known as The Shadow Scavengers, or Shadowscavs for short.
They are a motley group of thieves, smugglers, and fences with the occasional use of Autis, a warforged enforcer usually hidden beneath a large jacket and hat, to protect magical items. Their symbol is a pair of crossed, upside down pickaxes. Ally Benefits:
- Material costs for smithing-related projects are reduced by 15%
- You may purchase the Rat Tunnels map from any Shadowscav leader for 10gp Stoneguard
A small contingent of Stoneguard, the law keeping force and military of Kol Taram above, escorted refugees down to the Undercity. They currently man Fort Taram, the Gateway Garrison, and a small defensive position outside of The Pillar of Stairs to safeguard against any scouts from the invasion above.
They are hardy warriors, with stone-coated half-plate and either two-handed mauls or one-handed war-hammers and shields. Their leader is The Stonewarden, Vaddarus, a younger male dwarf who always plays it safe. Ally Benefits:
- You may be accompanied by a Stoneguard about the boundaries of the Undercity if you wish. They will provide you with some protection from the Red Cap goblins and various other entities.
- Access to the Stoneguard Armory, which sells basic armor and weapons at 10% off the base market price. The Coldwrought Clan
Of all the factions in the Undercity, The Couldwrought Clan is the most powerful and the most dangerous. The actual family members of the Coldwrought Clan number maybe two dozen, but they employ countless other dwarves, goblins, kenku, drow, and anyone else willing to back their clan up for the price of a little gold.
Led by Dorgram Coldwrought, the family patriarch, they grow wealth with hidden desires to take back the citadel above that cast them down. Ally Benifts:
- You can hire a Coldwrought Enforcer at the price of 5gp a day.
- You may stay at The Dark Hive free of charge, with one fine meal per day included. The Bearded Consortium
Once one of the two primary powers within Kol Taram, The Bearded Consortium has stood for 500 years as a men-only convocation of powerful magic users, primarily wizards. They are powerful evocation magic users, but have flaunted more political power than actual magic in recent centuries.
In a large upset of tradition, with the fall of Kol Taram, Zelga Stonestaf, a female dwarf, has been made a full member. In this time of desperation, many welcome to powerful, blunt woman who wears a porcelain mask. Ally Benefits:
- -10% to all components needed for a spell tagged as evocation.
- Access to the Consortium Militia armory, where scrolls of spell levels 1-3 can be purchased, at the DMs discretion. The Six Great Pillars
As said before, the easiest way to break up the ever-shifting mass of humanoids that make up The Undercity is by the most proximate Great Pillar to their location.
The pillars themselves have been carved and built into over time, with the Goblin Gabbles being the most haphazardly worked and porous-looking, and the Pillar of Stairs being the most well-kept. It’s difficult to break down the pillar neighborhoods in terms of economic lines, but those who live within The Dark Hive tend to be very wealthy; those who live around the People’s Pillar count themselves as the most squalid in an already poor town. Getting Around
While The Undercity is not massive in terms of it’s horizontal footprint, many of the pillars have carved stairs, and ascend stories into the dark with warrens, housing, and even small shops for those who know where to look. While it takes no more than two hours to walk from end-to-end, climbing to the top of The People’s Pillar may take nearly a day for those unfamiliar. As a general rule of thumb:
Statuary Pillar Locations Place Description
- It takes approximately 30 minutes to walk from one pillar’s neighborhood to the next.
- Climbing a Pillar takes approximately 15 minutes a story once it’s familiar to a traveler.
A church-like building of old casketwood, and fenced in areas of earth where the dead are interred. The Stoneyard is a gravesite that is backset by the Statuary, and even features statues scavenged from within the Statuary pillar itself. Part of the trio of reputedly haunted buildings that make up Quarry Row.
The Gentle Repose
At one time, The Repose was a beautiful structure, built to house the noble Clan Grandcrest who all succumbed to madness. The one beautiful, Victorian-style home has now been transformed into a hotel, of sorts, though ghosts can frequently be seen walking through walls to different rooms. Goblin Gables Locations
Every Wednesday, Deek, a meek, skittish goblin, will bring a wheelbarrow-sized cart of belongings stolen by the Red Cap goblins to the Dark Market, but those in the know will tell you that Deek lives under the Goblin Gables. He even deals directly with the Shadowscavs. Pillar of the People Locations Place Description
One of the few edible things deep underground that grow readily are blood worms, each about four inches long and the width of a middle finger. They are protein rich and taste very iron-heavy. They are grown in troughs, and eat both dead organic matter and rust.
A large tent, similar to a circus tent, though its slowly become a more permanent fixture in The People’s Pillar neighborhood. It is a field hospital, with a limited supply of medicine and an even more limited number of people trained in the healing arts.
The earthy, deep pits of thermally heated mud. For an added fee, they can even properly wash after. The Glowing Pillar Locations Place Description
The single forge now operates on behalf of the Taram Resistance. It expands slowly but surely, all the wire pumping out armor and weapons night and day.
Kevin is a kenku who has set up a tent on the outskirts of The Glowing Pillar neighborhood. Most of what he has is junk, but now and then, he seems to come by a treasure or two.
A general store that sells damaged and broken goods well below market price.
A large, three layer deep quarry for mining grey granite for bricks.
The Bleedin’ Stout
Named for its signature drink, The Bleedin’ Stout is a traditional dwarvish drinking hall, with a large chandelier, and features a sort of bloodworm pasta with a red pepper sauce that burns the iron flavor right out.
The Training Yard
Amidst the buildings of Fort Taram, there is a large stone courtyard dedicated to 24-hour combat exercises. The Dark Hive Locations Place Description
The Dark Hive
The Dark Hive itself is one party casino, one part sprawling hotel/dungeon that houses The Coldwrought Clan’s interests. On the fifth story of the tower is the Coldwrought Apartments, where the crime family lives, and deals with their top clients.
The Dark Market
Under careful watch from the Coldwrought enforcers, every Wednesday sees a large
Square of Might
To the west of the pillar proper, perhaps ten minutes walk, is a large, iron cube. There are vents on the top, which allow steam from the gathered crowd to escape. Within, there are seats for roughly 60 people, and a raised marble square where organized fights take place.
The Gourmand’s Kitchen
This small, eight-seat establishment operates within Coldwrought territory, and provides one meal a week, every Friday Night. It is highly exclusive, and few know what occurs within these walls… there are rumors that many of the items on the menu are harvested from the streets of The Undercity and beyond...
Further, due to the nature of The Undercity (violent and volatile) many shops rise and fall quickly, or change locations. The following merchants may be located anywhere within The Undercity, or not at all, at the DM’s discretion. d6 Merchant
1 The Shoddy Scholar
- A small shop filled with second-hand books piled on every available surface. Run by the deep gnome Gildroby Middleweasle who knows exactly where every title is, and exactly what's in stock. Specializes in fiction.
2 Feathered Lands
- A tiny store, with a single drafting table, a desk, and a few shelves of rolled up, large, scrolls. Mi-Zhan, a middle-aged drow woman shaved bald, though constantly fussing with her head, can create and provide maps of Underdark locations.
3 Hchvat Marganum
- Infernal for “Blown Glass”, Hchvat Marganum is just that: a glass blower. Owned by the tiefling Partillin, proud and sarcastic, it can produce glass of master quality.
4 Liquid Courage
- A medium-sized Inn of a poor quality. Ownership frequently changes (at least once a week), resulting in odd, mis-matched decor.
5 The All Sleeper’s Domain
- A medium-sized tent with comfortable pillows piled throughout. 10gp will get you a pleasant dose of Dreamer’s Stick, a minty, chewy reed that can induce a hallucinatory dream state. Many can’t quite remember where they’ve left all their things when they leave.
6 Cadence’s Tattoo Parlor
- Always moving, the rapid-speaking, stream-of-consciousness speaking tiefling, Cadence Clearwater runs a tattoo parlor wherever somebody can track her down. She specializes in a tattoo that can summon a semi-spectral familiar (1,000gp, plus the ashes of 10gp worth of incense, herbs, and charcoal.) once per day. Dungeons of The Undercity
The Undercity, by its very nature, might be considered a dungeon, depending on your disposition and willingness to overlook rampant violence. However, there are areas in both the developed pillar communities and the surrounding caverns that present particularly perilous settings. The Statuary
Though the hag who is rumored to wander the halls of the pillar known as The Statuary has expressed nothing more than a desire to be left alone, the statues that dot the hallways, rooftop, and even surrounding The Statuary itself, were all adventurers, criminals, or sight-seekers who ignored her wishes and sought the various treasures said to remain from the Drow military outfit that used to inhabit the tower. The pillar itself was designed to be defended, with a pair of staircases twisting around each other through the center, visible to each level that passes. Not all statues remain still, either; gargoyles, mimics, and ropers all take residence here. Stone Giant Settlement
Behind large piles of stones that obscure the settlement proper from the other side of the Broken Bridge, are massive steps that lead to a sunken-in portion of earth, hiding the true height of the giant’s large community-structure: similar to a pyramid, though each brick features fine linework to give the entire thing the appearance of being made my miniature stones. Within lives a small community of stone giants, who call themselves Draj-Larc, “The Dark Dwellers” in giantese. They live a quiet, secluded life, and seek to elevate their home to even finer heights, the leader chosen every 500 days by who has provided the most improvement to their lair. The Dark Hive
An appropriate name for a complex, five-story-high maze of apartments, functional rooms, workshops, and storage areas. The Coldwrought Clan runs the entire structure, though as it expands ever-upward, even they don’t know the true extent of the pillar’s workings anymore. Many of those missing from the uneven streets of The Undercity still live (in the better scenarios) within The Dark Hive. Past the first level, which is largely a dark, smokey casino, intruders will be met with fierce resistance from the Coldwrought Clan and those in their employ. The complex nature of The Dark Hive does carry with it one advantage: There are no means to sound an effective alarm outside of a very localized area.
Author note: The Cryopod to Hell is a Reddit-exclusive story with over three years of editing and refining. As of this post, the total rewrite is 206 parts long and 868,000+ words. For more information, check out the link below: What is the Cryopod to Hell? Official Discord Server. Support me on Patreon! Every dollar helps, and you get access to lots of art and other cool stuff! Want to read the whole story without waiting? Click here. It's free! I will be reposting the full story on HFY until I've caught up with the current timeline. During that period, I will update the reposted parts to edit them more cohesively, as well. Once I catch up, new parts will be posted on HFY and RedditSerials, alongside my main subreddit as they become available. Thank you for reading, and enjoy. submitted by
................................... (Previous Part) (Part 001)
The sound of shifting rocks and dirt greets my ears as I enter the mind of someone familiar. Pitch-black darkness surrounds me. Whump. Whump.
I take one step forward whenever the ground rumbles in front of me. Something bumps against my right arm, but Nerissa, my current host, ignores it.
The succubus fans herself as she stumbles along in the darkness. "Phew... Artorias, it's getting hot down here. Can we go up for air?"
Artorias's reply comes after a short pause. He shoves another load of earth ahead of us. "No. We're not out of the angel's territory yet."
"How much... much further is it?" Nerissa asks. "I hate the heat."
Artorias practically growls out his reply. "Well, summon some ice and cool yourself off. We have at least a few more miles to go."
"I can't. My body is too hot for that."
"I don't know what to tell you. If we go up, the angels will spot us. We'll end up mincemeat on the carving block. You know how good their vision is."
I loll my head forward in frustration. "Yeah. I know. Agares, how are you holding up?"
The demon to my right grunts. "I'm fine. The heat doesn't bother me. It's the cold I hate."
"Hah... guess we're opposites, huh?"
"Something like that."
After a moment, Artorias resumes punching the dirt away. We continue traveling forward at an agonizingly slow pace as Nerissa mops sweat from her forehead.
Agares nudges me. He keeps his voice low. "If you're tired, you can ride the sled. There's some room left."
"N-no. I'm fine. I just... I need some air. I wouldn't want to burden you like that."
I can barely make out Agares waving his hand dismissively. "Eh, suit yourself. How are your ribs holding up?"
"Still feels like a cave bear mauled me. Michael certainly didn't... didn't pull any punches."
Agares nods. "Sorry to hear that."
Minutes pass. We all continue walking in silence. I glance back at the ice-sled and frown. "Agares, I think it's starting to melt."
"Yup. It's getting harder 'n harder to pull every second."
"I can't make any more ice unless we surface. If it breaks down..."
Artorias continues punching the air to create our tunnel, but he tilts his head back. "If that happens, then we'll leave them behind. Once we make it to the Lair, we can send someone back to pick them up."
"What? No! We can't- ah... can't do that..." Nerissa gets a little too excited, sending a sharp stinging pain through her chest.
"Well, I cannot dig and carry our injured at the same time. You can't lift anything right now, either. Agares only has two arms. We don't have many options-"
Panic creeps into Nerissa's voice. "What? Is something wrong?!"
"No. We've already arrived. I misjudged the distance to the Lair. I didn't realize it extended this far south."
With one last punch, Artorias shoves more dirt aside, and flickering torchlight floods the darkness, illuminating the three of us, along with the sled full of unconscious demons.
Blissfully cool air rushes into the tunnel. Nerissa gasps and stumbles forward, savoring the sensation of the breeze against her skin.
Seconds later, half a dozen demons appear at the opening. The battered and beaten survivors that managed to escape Heaven glance at us curiously before lightbulbs appear above their heads.
"Oy, ain't that Agares? And Satan's lady, too?"
"Artorias! Welcome back!"
"Whose bodies are on the ice thingy?"
Questions barrage us. Artorias pushes the nosy demons aside. "Out of the way. We've got injured here. Agares and Nerissa faced off against two Archangels and nearly died. Belial, Lucifer, Bael, and Diablo are in bad shape, too. They all need healing."
Agares rubs his head. "Don't worry about me. I'm fine. Treat the others first."
We step into the underground tunnels of the Demon Lair and arrive amid mostly dead space. Where before there were dozens of demons meandering in the halls, only the five or so that greeted us are here, now.
I look left and right. "Where... where is everyone?"
A young, scraggly-looking demon flicks his eyes up and down my cut-apart body. "Nyek! Big meeting at Death's Head to see who'll be the new boss! Satan's dead, so someone else has to lead!"
The young demon looks away from me and turns his attention to Artorias. "Where've you been, bro?! I killed like, ten angels all by myself! You should've seen it! I was all, 'wham, pow, koochaw!' And the angels were like, 'no, no, don't hurt us, please!' It was sick!"
Artorias blinks. He nods at the younger demon. "Yes, I'm sure you did a good job, Barbatos."
"I did, I did! I kicked all their asses!"
A large, obsidian-skinned beside Barbatos whacks him over the head. "Silence. All you did was cry and plead for mercy. If any angels perished, they did so out of embarrassment."
Barbatos rubs his head. "Y-you don't even know, Smealum! You weren't there at all!"
"Enough," Artorias says, cutting both of them off. "Barbatos. Show everyone to Hellga's healing chambers. Help Belial first. Once she's fixed up, she can heal the others."
Artorias turns to Agares and me. "As for you two, head to Death's Head after Hellga does her thing. I'll tell everyone at the meeting to wait until you arrive."
Nerissa raises her hand hesitantly. "Uh, um... Smealum? Satan... is it true... is he dead? Is there a chance he survived the battle?"
Before the dark-skinned demon can reply, Barbatos jumps in. "No way! That idiot got offed by Raphael! He went down like a total chump! Raphael sucked 'im into this weird portal and came back a minute later, barely injured. Satan got his ass handed-"
Artorias swings his arm out and backhands his brother, knocking the annoying little grunt on his ass. "Barbatos! Keep your trap shut. I won't listen to any insults regarding our former leader."
Barbatos glares at his older brother. "Hey! What's the big idea?! You can't tell me what to do!"
"I can and I will, as your older brother." Artorias crosses his arms. "Got something to say about it?"
Barbatos starts to retort, but he keeps his tongue in check. "Tch. Whatever." He turns to scowl at Agares and me. "Come on, then! I ain't got all day!"
Sighing, I shrug at Agares as the little whiney brat turns and stomps away. "It's not like we don't know where to find Hellga..."
Artorias turns to walk in the opposite direction from Barbatos. "Apologies for my brother's words. He can be... difficult. I'll see you all in a bit."
I nod. "Thank you, Artorias. We wouldn't have made it without you."
The muscular demon commander pauses for a moment before heading away. "My condolences for your loss."
I merely nod and turn away, offering no reply.
Nerissa's gaze shifts inward. Satan... what will we do without you?
A gorgeous demoness with long black hair and slinky, cat-like legs kneels beside Belial, dabbing ointment all over her body. "Oh, my. This seductress took quite the beating! How about you, Nerissa? Are you doing alright?"
I nod. "Yes. My ribs are killing me... but I'll survive."
"Not if those get infected, you won't. Those bones are poking through your skin!"
The demoness barely wears anything. She isn't a succubus, but she has curves in all the right places. Barbatos and Agares' eyes follow her ass as she struts from one side of Belial to the other, bending down occasionally to rub healing solution on her broken body. Her leopard-print lingerie seems wildly inappropriate for a place of healing, but demons have a very different culture compared to humanity.
Agares slurps some drool from his mouth. "Damn, Hellga. You're a sight for sore eyes. Almost makes getting my ass beat by Michael worth all the trouble."
Hellga turns and winks at him, flashing a cheery smile in the process. "Oh, Agares! You're such a sweetheart!"
The lizard-demon blushes. He turns away, unable to meet her gaze.
Barbatos, on the other hand, grins like a lovestruck idiot. "I bet there ain't anyone sexier than you, Hellga! What's a guy gotta do to get you in the Relief Chambers, eh?"
"My chastity is what makes me beautiful, boys! You can look, but if you touch, I'll have to break all your bones! And after that, I'll heal you and break them again! Hahaha!"
Hellga resumes her doctoring of Belial's wounds. After a moment, she furrows her brow. "Okay, that's about it. Now to wake her up."
Lucifer, still unconscious, lies a few feet away from Belial. Diablo and Bael, likewise, can barely take shallow breaths. Their bodies, weak from a hundred years of torture, hardly give them enough energy to breathe.
Hellga presses her index and middle finger against Belial's forehead. Frowning, she closes her eyes for a moment to transfer mana to the unconscious succubus.
Belial jerks awake with a start. "Haah... haah..."
Her breathing comes in uneven spurts for a moment before leveling out.
"Wh-what happened? Where am I- ahh... ch-chest hurts... my legs, too."
Hellga leans back and flashes a pleasant smile. "I gave you some mana. Heal yourself if you can. After that, you've other wounded to heal in the tertiary chambers."
Belial shakily raises her hand. "Okay. Just... just give me a moment."
A minute later, she motions with her hand. Her internal organs rapidly heal, along with her battered bones and skin. Soon, the succubus leans forward and sighs. "Whew. Devils. I need to sleep for a week. I've never felt so tired in my life."
"Definitely. But first, you're going to help me. Up and at 'em!" Hellga grabs Belial and yanks her to her feet. "Here, have some more mana. Heal Lucifer, and then we'll continue to the other survivors."
Belial blinks. Her eyes widen. "Ah! That's right! What happened after Michael-"
"You'll see for yourself, in due time," Agares says, holding his palm up. He sighs and scratches his head. "Satan died. That's all we know so far. Those of us that are left are going to have a meeting in a little bit. The sooner you get everyone healed, the sooner we can sort out what's happened."
A sense of gloom descends upon us. Belial walks over to me. "Are you doing okay, Nerissa? I know you and Satan were..."
Nerissa turns away. "I'm fine. We.. we were only together for... a little while."
My words ring hollow. Belial crosses her arms. "Mmm. If you say so, we'll talk later, okay?"
Belial leans forward and winces as she examines the cuts and bruises covering my body. "Walking around naked with these wounds is going to lead to an infection."
I shake my head. "My body hurts too much to... to wear anything. The last thing I want is clothing ag- against my skin."
Belial nods. She quickly weaves magical signs, mumbles something under her breath, and presses her palm against my shoulder.
The pain that hits me a moment later makes me pass out for a few moments. I wake up on the ground, writhing and whimpering as my ribs suck back inside my chest. My skin rapidly repairs itself, and within a minute, I can only shudder at the phantom pain coursing through me.
"Nnn... it's true what they say about your healing being worse than the injuries."
Belial tosses some bearskin clothing over to me. "Sorry. I tried not to make it hurt too badly."
After gathering her strength, Nerissa pulls herself up and gets dressed. While she slips into underwear and clothes, I find myself wondering why it is she's so comfortable standing naked and getting dressed around other demons. I'd feel weird if people saw me in the nude. She doesn't seem to care at all and has no inhibitions whatsoever. It's strange.
Again, it's probably demon culture, but I can't help thinking there might be more to it than that. Maybe I'm just a prude.
Nerissa fluffs her blue hair and sits on a cot, rubbing her hands together while Belial heals Lucifer and the others.
Eventually, Belial finishes. Lucifer rises and dusts herself off.
One quick chat later, and Lucifer nods.
"So that's what happened. I can only hope Valac survived his battle against the Archangels. His power dwarfs Satan's. If he leads demonkind, I believe we will soundly crush the angels."
Nerissa scoffs. "You think Valac has something Satan doesn't? Please.
I appreciate Valac saving some of our people, but Satan gave his life to save Diablo and Bael. That's what makes him a true leader."
Lucifer groans. "Or a moron. We lost how
many grunts trying to save two captured weaklings?"
The four-breasted demoness violently gestures toward Diablo and Bael lying side-by-side in adjacent cots. "Look what we have to show for it! Thousands dead, and these two saved! Wow, Satan was such
a military genius!"
Agares clears his throat. "Ahem. Let me butt in. Satan wasn't just trying to save Deebs and Bael. We also went there to try and kill a few angels, and to see how we compared to them. That's why a few hundred of us stayed behind, just in case the angels annihilated our attack force. The broodmothers would allow us to birth more demons over time."
Lucifer rolls her eyes. "A test. Of course. You'd believe anything our beloved
leader said. Oh, well. When Valac arrives, he'll bolster our forces. I can only pray he's smarter than the gobbler of meat we had before. Tch. What idiot would think facing an Archangel one-on-one was a good idea?"
Nerissa bows her head. Her cheeks flush red as images of Michael's emotionless face appear in her memories.
"Y-yeah. Probably not the best idea someone could come up with."
Belial leaves us as she heads off to heal the other demons.
"I'll finish as quickly as possible. Just give me a few minutes."
Footsteps echo down the hallways as several hundred demons march behind me. Agares, Belial, and Lucifer take the lead, and I follow them. All the demons Belial healed are in good spirits, which is remarkable considering the devastating losses they've suffered.
Barbatos chitters to another young demon. "Chee! My brother thinks he's big stuff, always going on about the rules and how important they are. Can you believe that? It's like we're livin' with the bloody chickens all over again."
The other demon raises an eyebrow. "But... weren't you born after
"I lived there in spirit!"
Nerissa ignores him. Soon, the corridor begins to expand. We arrive at a massive underground room the size of a small stadium. Two thousand demons plunk on the floor in the middle and along the walls, each chattering to their neighbors about this and that.
Artorias stands at the entrance. He turns to look at us as we arrive. "Ah. There you are. Took you long enough."
Belial sighs. "Sorry. Healing two hundred demons with our remaining mana reserves took a while. It will be a while before I can heal again. I hope the angels don't discover us now, or we'll be goners."
Artorias nods. "Well, as long as you guys can talk, that will be satisfactory. I think this is everyone. We can begin the meeting."
Artorias's expression darkens. He gestures for Agares and Lucifer to follow him. The three of them head off toward the front of the room.
I sit down beside Belial and some other demons. We watch as Artorias claps his hands together.
"Everyone. I know you've heard the rumors floating around. Grigori did his best and held open the portal to the very end... but, unfortunately..."
Nerissa frowns. She turns to Barbatos. "Rumors?"
The young demon shrugs. "Dunno."
Artorias sighs. "...Valac perished. Camael and the Valkyries attacked him with their full might and scorched him with divine flames. There's no easy way to say it... so, there it is. He's dead."
Nerissa's jaw drops. The entire room erupts into frantic whispering as demons nudge each other, asking if they've heard the news or not.
"Quiet, please. Quiet." Artorias holds up his hand to silence the room. "The long and short of it is that with Satan and Valac gone, we need new leaders. I don't think anyone can argue that they were by far the strongest out of all of us... but we can't dwell on the past."
Artorias rests both of his hands on Agares and Lucifer's shoulders. "Lucifer created the Broodmothers. Her combat skills are excellent. Agares, too, is an excellent fighter. Both of them have the vision necessary to lead us-"
A voice cackles around the room, interrupting Artorias's speech. Above us, a specter materializes in midair. Valac hovers and laughs wildly.
"Listen to Artorias, telling such a lie! Only a fool would think this king could die!"
Valac sweeps his arms outward, as if to call forth our gazes.
"How quickly rumors spread of my defeat, but in the end, the angels fell for my deceit."
Lucifer stares up at Valac. "What are you on about? What deceit? What happened to you?"
Valac lowers himself to the ground. He towers above all the other demons, like a living wall of bone.
The Reaper stabs a finger at Lucifer. "Silence, wench! Your performance against Michael was lame! Three against one, but you lost in shame! Against you, the Archangel's blade did maim, but it was our honor which Agares reclaimed!"
Agares quickly shakes his head. "Err, no- I didn't do all that much..."
Valac raises a finger to silence him. "Now, now Agares, there's no need to protest. From a distance, I witnessed your combat prowess. You stood your ground against the legendary Michael, then followed with a duel against his brother, Gabriel. All of that, and you fought alone, while these defeated women lay prone."
Agares bows his head. "W-well, I mean... I kinda, just..."
Lucifer scowls at Valac. "Hold on a moment. I thought we were working together. Where do you get off insulting me like that? Michael was unstoppable! It was hardly a fair fight!"
Valac chuckles. "Oh, what's that? Unstoppable, you say? Without any effort, I could keep them at bay. Admit it, Lucifer, you're weak like an ant. I thought you'd be useful, but your strength is scant."
Lucifer clenches her hands into fists. "Valac, you... bastard. After everything I've done for you, you're going to sit there and pretend you succeeded without my help?!"
The demoness's third eye begins to glow. Valac holds up his hand. "Careful, now, there's no need to get cranky. Don't do anything brash; you wouldn't like me when I'm angry."
Lucifer's eye shifts to red. A moment later, a shockwave shoots out and slams against Valac's body. The Grim Reaper flies backward, and several demons barely get out of the way in time as he hits the wall with a terrific CRASH
! Lucifer starts to motion with her hands to summon a magic spell, but she pauses and frowns. Valac's body goes limp as he falls from the wall and slaps to the floor.
Just like when the angels 'killed' him in Heaven, the Reaper's bones seem to evaporate, leaving his rags to flop in a pile.
"What? I killed him?" Lucifer's jaw slackens as she stares at his dead body in surprise.
A moment later, the air beside Lucifer shifts. Valac appears and swings his fist out. "SURPRISE!" Wham!
He pounds the side of her head with terrific force, sending the demoness flying. Lucifer rockets to the side and tumbles into the crowd of onlookers. Her body becomes a fleshy projectile, battering dozens of demons aside. Yelps of shock go through the mob.
A moment later, the room goes dead silent as everyone gazes at Lucifer's unconscious form.
"You are weak, as I stated before! There's nothing worse than a mouthy little whore."
"Lucifer!" Agares jumps into action and runs over to her. He quickly pulls her out of the crowd and checks to see if she's breathing. After a moment, the reptile-demon scowls at Valac. "What's wrong with you?! You nearly killed her!"
Valac crosses his two lower arms. "She attacked me first, and I countered in self-defense. To blame me for her weakness would make no sense. Ah, well, women can't help being dense, but perhaps I can offer some recompense?"
The Reaper holds up his top-left arm. With a quick flourish, he summons his lantern. A moment later, he vanishes in a puff of smoke and reappears beside Agares. Before the young demon can protest, Valac shoves him aside and reaches his skeletal hand out. Valac grabs Lucifer's face, and goes silent.
Agares stares wide-eyed as Lucifer's body twitches. Despite being unconscious, she writhes for a moment, then suddenly awakens and begins thrashing like an enraged octopus.
"Mgm!! Mmm!" She grabs Valac's arm and tries to yank it off her face, but the Reaper slams her head against the ground. He pets her hair with another hand, sending shivers down my spine.
Only when the Reaper nods and finishes his magic does he release her and pull away. Lucifer gasps and slumps to the side. She claws at her neck, as if trying to tear something out of her throat.
"Ah... ahh! What- what did you do?! There's something... something inside me!"
Valac chuckles. "Hehe. Satan's magic is gone, and now I've set you free. Well? Aren't you going to thank me?"
Nerissa shifts uncomfortably. Valac must have done to Lucifer what he did to me. He grabbed me by the face and... put something in my body. It felt like... like a worm.
Lucifer shudders to her feet. The demoness eyes Valac warily. "Why would I thank you? You've done nothing for me."
Valac places his lower palms against each other and fans his upper arms outward. "Ah, but you are wrong, for I have given you a gift. Take a look inside yourself; for your powers, I did lift."
The demoness stares at him for several seconds. When she doesn't immediately praise him, Valac launches a fist at her face. Startled, Lucifer jerks to the side, avoiding his fist with impressive speed. Valac continues swinging at her, using all four of his arms, but her body moves far faster than before, to the point that I have trouble following her actions.
Up, down, left, right. Lucifer moves astoundingly fast, avoiding all of Valac's punches. Valac finally stops, and she retreats several steps, gasping for breath the whole time.
"Haah, haah! What happened? I... I dodged before I even saw you move!"
Valac wraps his hands behind his back. Satisfied with the looks of astonishment from the demons filling the chamber, he spins on his heel and struts away from Lucifer.
"Listen carefully, you little feeders. There's no need to gawk and stare. Accept me as your leader, and with you, my power, I will share. While Lucifer's increase has proven quite ample, she has had but a meager sample. Countless souls are mine to grant, but more will come once Satan's post I supplant."
Artorias, having watched Valac's rampage the whole time, raises his hand. "A question, Valac. What are these 'souls' you speak of?"
Valac tilts his head back. "Oh, you don't know? I thought you were bright. Souls are the essence of every being; that which gives them might. To wretched demons like us, creatures of the night, souls are the gifts that keep on giving; our eternal light."
Artorias purses his lips. "So, you're saying souls are inside of everyone? They make us stronger?"
Valac nods. "Indeed, how sad I am that you do not know. Were Satan a better leader, upon you this knowledge he might have bestowed."
Artorias narrows his eyes. "Satan knew of that which you speak? He knew about these... these souls
"Indeed. Satan was a soul manipulator, just as I. He kept his powers a secret, and left you all to die. After all you'd been through, he showed you no respect. A pathetic excuse for a demon; what more could you expect?"
Barbatos jumps up beside me. "Holy crap! I want souls! Where can I get some souls?!"
Valac's cheerful tone hardens. "Silence, you insipid little shit. Speak only when spoken to, or your lip I'll split. Times have changed. Satan is your leader no more. I am your King now; many changes I have in store."
Slowly, Valac begins pacing back and forth. "No longer will demons regard one another as equals. Such lies will poison us and prove to be lethal. Satan was a caring demon, one who took too many risks. With him gone, our evolutions must become brisk. Sit back and listen; take my knowledge to heart. My conquests will soon be yours, but only after my wisdom, I impart."
Valac begins weaving a series of words together, describing his recent triumphs. He goes into exhaustive detail about the thousands of Titans he's killed, and how they fear him at every turn. His rhyming grates on my mind the longer he speaks, but as long as I'm in Nerissa's body, I can't protest.
Finally, the Grim Reaper stops. He rests a hand on Artorias's shoulder and gazes out at the crowd.
The room is so silent that I could hear a pin drop.
Nerissa raises her hand.
"I have one. If you're so strong and so far above the rest of us... if the Titans fear you and you held your own against the Archangels... then what purpose do we serve? Can't you kill all of the Titans and Angels by yourself?"
Her question hangs in the air for several long seconds, like a rotting apple moments before it falls off a branch.
Valac rubs his hands together. The movement seems unusual, given what little I know about him. He looks nervous, almost as if he isn't sure how to respond.
The moment passes. Valac rises to his full height and cackles. "Nyehehe! I don't, foolish little girl! Listen to you, pretending you're a pearl! I could chew up every demon and spit them in the dirt, but I'm offering you all a chance for your powers to exert. A war is coming, one I'd sooner not avert. We'll draw a line in the sand, and our dominance, assert
Cheers ring out in the hall. Nearly all the demons in the room yell wildly and clap their hands, excited at Valac's tales of dominance and power. Several of them eye Lucifer, imagining how strong they'll be when they join Valac's side.
Nerissa doesn't clap. She crosses her arms and frowns as Valac turns away. He's lying. Satan told me about Valac. He's a self-serving demon, one who doesn't give the damnedest about others of his kind. Satan cared about all of us. That's why he sent my sisters and me to rescue Diablo and Bael. Valac would never do such a thing.
As the cheers ring out, Valac raises a hand.
"Quiet. I have one last thing to say. It regards our future, and how our fortunes could decay."
The applause dies down. Most of the onlookers lean forward and listen intently for Valac to deliver some bad news.
"Fate, unyielding, is the cruelest mistress. Her ways are filled with death and distress. Some of you may look ahead with a hunch or a guess, but I see perfectly our path to progress."
"I have foreseen that a threat will soon arise — a Titan, unlike any other, with rage burning in his eyes. His power, terrifying, has the potential to dwarf even mine. We must all work together to eradicate his bloodline."
Artorias frowns. "How do you know this specter of tomorrow will be a Titan? Furthermore, why not kill him now if you know who he is?"
Valac shakes his head. "The rivers of time branch out in all directions. His face hides among a thousand others to evade detection. Seeing the future is not an exact science. It resists my gaze and offers endless defiance. If his face I could see, I would kill him in an instant while cackling with glee."
Satisfied, Artorias nods. "I understand. I think everyone here has made it known who they want to rule demonkind. I don't know if you'll be better than Satan... but it's clear you have experience dealing with Titans."
Lucifer shivers. "I don't trust him, even if he did give me a little boost. Nobody hits me and gets away with it."
Nerissa jumps to her feet. We pump our fist boldly. "Yeah! I don't trust you either, Valac! You're hiding something from us!"
"Nerissa!" Belial hisses at me from below, but I ignore her.
Valac's head turns from left to right as he evaluates Lucifer and me both.
"Watch your mouths when you talk to your king. Anger me, and I'll make both of you dance on my string."
Valac seethes for a moment before turning to Agares. The reptile-demon stands a few feet to Lucifer's right and grows visibly uncomfortable when Valac's gaze sets on him.
"You there, Agares the Brave. I haven't forgotten you, nor the lives you've saved. Your battle against Michael left me impressed; A mighty warrior like you deserves only the best. Your reward is near; come close and kneel. Your body will strengthen, and your skin will steel."
"I... I haven't really, uhm..."
Agares glances at me. Guilt washes over his face, as if to say, I don't deserve special treatment.
However, he loses his nerve. Swallowing, he kneels before Valac and flinches as the Reaper reaches toward him.
Instead of violently grabbing Agares' face, Valac merely rests his hand on the demon's scalp. Agares winces after a moment as one of Valac's worms enters his mind, but he utters no audible complaint.
When Agares stands, Valac claps his hands together. "There it is, your powers have awakened. Make sure that during battle, you remain unshaken."
"Y-yeah," Agares mutters. He shuffles backward as Valac beckons to the crowd.
"Let's get a move on; I haven't got all day! Once everyone is empowered, we've Titans to slay!"
The room explodes with two thousand cheers. "Yeah!"
All the while, Nerissa watches disapprovingly. Dammit. I wish Satan was here. With Valac leading us, I see only misfortune and loss in our future. Next Part
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