The Amphitheater of Tranios, Underneath the City of Dis, Hell
It had once been a gigantic volcanic bubble, a chamber filled with lava from the vents underneath. Then, during the great eruption that had created the Hell Pit super-caldera, the bubble had vented to the outside and the magma had drained away. All that had been left was this great cavern buried deep in the super-volcano mount, its vents long sealed by the action of time and rock. Above it, hundreds of feet of solid rock, far below it, the lava still roiled and grumbled but never tried to make its way to the surface for another devastating eruption. Would it do so one day? Nobody knew but everybody present in the great chamber did understand it was much safer to be down here than on the surface where the human aircraft prowled overhead.
The demons didn’t know the term ‘air supremacy’, not the ones here anyway. They understood the concept though, they were in process of being given a post-graduate education in it. It meant they couldn’t move without being bombed. Yes, down here in the great volcanic bubble was much safer.
Or, to be more precise, the risks were ones they well understood. Most of them centered around the huge red figure at the end of the hall, sitting on a throne hurriedly carved from the volcanic rock. The throne was rough, unpolished and simple, a spectacle far removed from the ornate structure now laying crushed to powder in the ruins of Satan’s palace. If Satan lost his temper, even the Greater Demons here could die. On the other hand, being seen on the surface meant they would die. Could beat would.
“Your Majesty, I have to report that the city is completely isolated from the rest of hell. The humans control all the access points and their troops increase in number every day. Their artillery has already started firing on the walls of Dis.”
Satan listened to the report quietly. Those in the chamber noted this, Satan had changed, dramatically so. The destruction of his palace, his near-death at the hands of human aircraft, his life on the run from the humans who made no secret of their intense desire to kill him. “The walls are standing?”
“Yes Your Majesty. Even the human artillery cannot penetrate them.” That was hardly surprising, the walls were 200 feet high and more than 100 thick, made of the hardest volcanic rock that could be found in Hell. In truth, the walls of Dis were an architectural marvel than made the Great Wall of China seem inconsequential. “But they are battering them with their guns. And slowly the walls crumble at the points they have chosen. One day, the walls will fall. And then we will see them attack. When we do we cannot stop them, our best troops lie dead at the Phlegethon River. My own troops, the last of our trained professionals, hold the city walls but they do so as lightly as dust falling on a glass sheet. Every day their number gets fewer as the humans pick them off, one by one.”
“Sire, there is another problem. The humans have seized the Plateau of Minos. Minos is dead, the work force exterminated. The humans redirect their dead to their own camps in Hell. Since the assault, not one dead human has been received by the Lords of Hell.”
“Then kill the humans and take the Plateau back.” Satan’s scream was an echo of the Lordly Demon he had once been.
“We have tried Your Majesty.” Dagon spoke quietly, soothingly. The time was not quite right yet. The hopelessness of the situation had to be made clear to all so that when he made his move, he would have the support of all here. Quietly he wondered how many of the surviving Greater Demons, the Dukes of Hell, Deumos had recruited to their cause. And what she had promised them. “We launched an assault with harpies and the few Wyverns we have left. The attack failed, the human aircraft wiped out the formations and the few that got through were destroyed by the garrison the humans left on the Plateau. We lost much and gained nothing.” And that, Dagon thought, is the story of this war.
“The supplies of new human life-energy have also stopped; all we have are the supplies from those already in the pit. Those grow fewer every day, the loss is slow but it never stops. Humans now dominate large areas of the pit and as they take over each new area they remove their dead from it and send them out. Our troops in the pit are defecting to the humans in ever-greater numbers and they help the humans recover their dead. Already, armies that are part-human, part-demon are forming. Demons armed with human weapons and taught to fight in the human manner. The forces that remain loyal to you cannot stand against that combination.”
A shudder ran around the room. Humans and human weapons were bad enough but demons with human weapons and human war-fighting methods? It was worse than a nightmare.
“Even Dis itself is not secure. The orcs are rising. Many areas of the city are such that a single demon cannot walk alone. Those that try are found beaten to death in the alleys. Even broad daylight is no defense, many of those who died, did so in the full light of day. Your Majesty, we have lost the war. It is time we sued for peace.”
“This will not be!” Satan’s demented scream rang around the chamber, echoing off the roof so that it seemed like a great choir was raging at the security report. “Belial burned their cities, we will burn more. It is your cowardice Dagon that is costing us this war.” Satan summoned himself to swat Dagon, to reduce him to pulp on the floor. Before he could do so, Deumos’s voice cut across his scream.
“Dagon speaks the truth. We must sue for peace. Terms have been discussed with the humans, we demanded a third of their dead for our energy. They said they would make their response clear to us and they have. By seizing the Plateau of Minos, they have shown us they will comply with our demand. They have taken all their dead so they can give us the third they demand.”
Deumos looked around, in this confined space, her miasma was effective and people were listening to her. She had spent her time well, bringing Duke after Duke into her web, each with the promise that, once Satan was deposed, they would be the one she supported for his successor. They would fight over the succession and she could step forward as the compromise candidate that nobody really liked but one that was better than interminable fighting. And a Succubus could reign in Hell at last. She glanced around, looking at the painfully-thinned ranks of Dukes. What was left of Hell, anyway. Then she became aware of a tickling sensation in her mind. She sensed it, it was Lugasharmansaka trying to make contact. Not now child, affairs of state are in progress.
Dagon still stood, defying Satan’s wrath. “Sire, if you cannot make peace with the humans to save what is left, then you must stand aside and let those of us who can rule!”
There was a gasp, of shock, horror and fear. The idea of a direct challenge to Satan was unimaginable to those not already in the plot. Even Satan was momentarily taken aback by the challenge.
Watching in the audience, Deumos felt the tickle in her mind again. I said, not now she thought irritably. Then the tickle changed to cold, lifeless, impersonal fingers that sank deep into her mind and took hold, twisting her brain around as they established a grip that even her powers were helpless to break. There was a shadow of Lugasharmanaska in the fingers but only that. As if she was steering the power that held Deumos’s brain captive. She howled with the pain, saw her vision blurring and saw the black ellipse of a portal forming.
Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland.
“We’re through.” General Schatten’s cry of triumph overwhelmed the rumble of the diesels in the four large trucks far behind him. They looked like fuel bowsers with the great cylinders on their backs but they weren’t. Anyway, all the real fuel bowsers were in Iraq, supplying the armored forces in Hell. In front of him, a black ellipse was forming, poised between the antennas that directed their effort. Off to one side, Lugasharmanaska was writhing on a couch, whimpering, mucus pouring from her nose and mixing with drool from her mouth.
“Hang on, we’re getting there.” James Randi looked at the succubus on the couch, she was certainly proving her new loyalty the hard way. She was in agony and would stay that way until the other side of the portal was secure enough to get a sensitive through and punch a gate from that side back to here. He shook his head quietly to himself, when he had been asked to use his foundations expertise in exposing fraudulent psychics, he’d had no idea it would lead to this.
Behind him the trucks gunned their engines and the great cylinders on their backs started to rise, elevating until they were at a 35 degree angle. Their crews were already lifting metal screens over the glass in the truck cabs. Behind them. In the control cabin, the launch crews were already waiting for the final order.
“Fire Missile One.” The button was pressed, the booster rockets fired and the missile left its launch tube, slowly at first but with increasing speed. Then the turbojet on the Progress anti-ship missile cut in and the missile arched upwards towards the gate that was almost five miles away. In the control cabin, the operator acquired it with his command guidance system and steered it for the very center of the black ellipse. He had little time but he managed it and the missile flew straight through the gate, parallel to the ground.
The Amphitheater of Tranios, Underneath the City of Dis, Hell
The great green monster flew through the gate, its roaring flames filling the chamber with smoke and heat. A few feet from the gate, Deumos felt the blast from the engines shriveling her skin, burning her with an agony that made the pain in her head seem inconsequential. She was blinded by the blast so she didn’t see what the missile did next nor did she see the fine fiber-optic wires it was trailing behind it.
Satan saw it and he saw that the missile was coming straight at him. He tried to summon up the magic needed to throw the missile away. It just needed a second or so to summon up the power but that was time he just didn’t have.
The Progress missile was doing more than 600 miles per hour when it hit Satan in the chest. The kinetic energy of the blow alone was enough to send Satan reeling backwards but that was inconsequential. The missile also had a 3,300 pound explosive warhead that was configured as a shaped charge. Normally it had a copper lining but this one had been modified with an iron liner and sintered iron powder in the cavity. One thing hadn’t changed; the warhead on Progress was behind the main fuel tank and that tank was filled to capacity with jet engine fuel.
The explosion as the warhead went off was powerful enough to bring rocks down from the ceiling and enough even to roil the lava far below. It blasted a mixture of iron plasma, powdered iron and blazing jet fuel deep into Satan’s chest, leaving him blasted burned and poisoned. The great figure, its chest ripped open and splayed apart staggered backwards, slumping down to the floor to sprawl out in a pool of boiling purple blood. Incredibly, the body was already beginning to repair itself when a second missile erupted through the portal.
The operator had done a fine job with the first missile, he’d hit a small moving target with a weapon never designed for the task and which had been hastily modified. The second shot was much easier. Satan’s body was almost still and the few twitches it made didn’t affect the firing solution. The second Progress missile plowed straight into Satan’s head, vaporizing it completely. The great body gave one more jerk and was still. Satan was dead.
As the echoes following the scream of the missiles and the terrible blasts, a great silence fell on the Amphitheater of Tranios. It was interrupted by only the falling of the rocks shaken loose from the roof and the whimpering of those burned by the blast of the missile engines. Shock paralyzed and silenced every demon present, even those in the plot to remove Satan from power had never contemplated this. Dagon was first to recover his senses although his head felt stuffed with mud and neither his eyes nor his ears were working right.
“By right of succession I clai…..” He got no further for another roar filled the chamber, this time one which too many demons knew all too well. The roar of human diesel engines.
A strange vehicle emerged from the portal, one with tracks like the tanks but with high sides and an open back. Actually, it had been built as a carrier for Lance missiles but that weapon had been declared obsolete and the M667 carriers built for it had been in storage for years. Then, they’d been found and it had been realized they made perfect armored carriers for Abigor’s troops. In it were sitting figures, large ones and definitely not human despite their similar equipment. More vehicles followed the first, one occupied by a single very large figure that the Dukes recognized instantly. Despite his human-design (if greatly enlarged) battledress helmet and body armor, the figure was known to them all. It was Abigor, commander of the Free Hell Army.
In the background, unnoticed, a Humvee skidded through the portal and a single small figure climbed out, awkwardly and unsteadily. kitten was still recovering from her surgery and was technically unfit for duty but this operation had needed the best sensitive DIMO(N) had and she was it. So, for the first time, kitten was standing in the hell her visions had warned her of so often and now she was instrumental in destroying it.
“OK Luga, I’ve got the portal. I’m punching it through from this side.”
Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland.
The portal shivered slightly then enlarged. Punched through from Hell-side it was much more stable than before. It would have to be, in addition to Abigor’s armored personnel carriers, an entire Marine battalion task group was ready to roll in. The two companies of tanks and a company of infantry in AAV-7s would be the punch backing up Abigor.
Over by the gate, Luga was being disconnected from the equipment that created and amplified the portal. She was so gray that she seemed almost white and was too weak to stand. Medics surrounded her, working to help her recover from the tremendous strain she had been other. Quietly, General Schatten made his way over to the scene.
“Luga, we pulled it off. Thank’s to you. Keeping a gate like that open so long, that was gallantry above and beyond the call of duty. I’ll see to it that you get recognized for what you have done today. Now rest.”
The Amphitheater of Tranios, Underneath the City of Dis, Hell
Abigor glanced down at the badly-burned Deumos as his armored carrier passed. She had been quite incredibly stupid, she had been so sure that the humans could only agree to her demands, she’d failed to see the emphatic refusal that the attack on the Plateau of Minos had been. Then he transferred his attention to Dagon who was standing with his mouth hanging open, his claim for power cut off mid-sentence. His APC mounted the steps that led to the throne Satan had occupied and stopped, just a few feet from the cooling corpse of Hell’s last ruler. The noise of diesels was deafening as the coup forces moved in. Around the perimeter of the amphitheater, humans and their tanks were beginning to form up, their weapons covering the assembled crowd. Abigor noticed, with some grim amusement that they looked at his troops with amazement but they watched the humans with fear.
When the roar quieted down, Abigor picked up his rifle, a conversion of a British 30mm Rarden gun, and stalked over to the platform that overlooked the crowd. Dagon was still standing there. “You were saying Dagon?”
Dagon looked at the humans and their tanks that had forced their way into the great amphitheater. An amphitheater that, despite its size, was getting crowded. He shook his head, he knew a losing battle when he saw one and this was one.
Abigor nodded and raised his voice. “Satan is dead. Humans killed him with their weapons. With their weapons, not with magic for magic and superstition is powerless in the face of human science. We are powerless in the face of human engineering. They have won this war and nothing we say or do can change that. Hell is changed forever and nothing we can do will change that either. The humans have told me they wish me to be the new leader in Hell, answerable only to them. I have agreed. If you do not like the idea of me as your leader, don’t tell me.” Abigor gestured at the Marines and their vehicles. “TELL THEM!”
There was silence once again as the echoes of Abigor’s shout faded away. Then, around the great hall, figures started to sink to their knees. Dagon looked around and followed suite, a move that caused the rest to follow him. Around the room, the chant grew, faint at first but growing louder and more certain. “Ab-ig-or. AB-IG-OR, AB-IG-OR
Abigor let the chant carry on for a minute or two and then silenced it with a chop of his hand. The fact it was the hand holding his rifle was a mere coincidence. “For my first official command.” He waved at the ruined body of Satan. “Somebody, clear away that trash.”
Nations do not survive by setting examples for others
Nations survive by making examples of others