AN: Just a note, like the Astral Plane, the Underworld won't become a central focus for the story. It's here primarily for me to expand the world which my story is set in, no more, no less. Now, something else, my pace should pick up starting next week, as I'll have a lot more free time then. However, once this chapter is put up, I'm going to try and see if I can squeeze another chapter or two from that story. Please enjoy the story, and for those who want more, there's a forum link on my profile that will take you to where discussions go down and omakes are much appreciated.
Beta'd by: The trollingSnarkLord
Chapter 22 - The Underworld
Two sets of eyes narrowed in challenge.
Two people slid into combat ready stances.
Two weapons, pole-arms, were gripped tightly in hands.
A small noise, a signal, started things off.
Fate dashed forwards as fast as she could, easily dodging Harry's initial salvo of curses and hexes, the head of Bardiche glowing yellow as she charged it full of her magic. Another movement had her behind Harry, just as she released a crescent arc of lightning at his back.
She didn't wait for it to hit though. One lesson she'd learnt when fighting Harry was to not stop until you knew he was down, and another was to strike fast. If she took the time to charge up a more powerful attack, Harry would also have time to erect a defence, or relocate somewhere else, wasting the mana she'd put into the attack.
She continued to rapidly dash around him, her use of sonic move leaving after images behind as she launched a barrage of magical attacks at her current sparring partner. This wouldn't put him down though, yet Fate didn't know what sort of defence he'd have called up to counter her.
Would he go for the brute force option that Nanoha favoured and use a shield spell, matching her strength with his own? Would he have used a transmutation and raised the ground and hardened it to form a barrier between them? Would he have used some other exotic technique that would allow him to do something, such as conduct her lightning-based attack into the earth?
Once the area had cleared slightly, the air having been filled with dust and dirt during Fate's offensive, Fate immediately went on guard. Harry was not even where he'd stood before, meaning he'd left a static defence behind to take the beating while he high-tailed it out of there.
This was where Harry was most dangerous, when he had the opportunity to lay traps and plan ways to attack. As good a fighter as Harry was, and he was good, he was more of a tactician than Fate was, she'd freely admit that, and he was better than both Nanoha and Hayate as well.
"Expelliarmus!" A voice called out, and Fate threw herself backwards to avoid the spell approaching her.
However, it seemed Harry had already stuck her feet to the floor when she'd been glancing around, resulting in her pulling a move that looked like something Michael Jackson would be jealous of with how far she leaned, before catapulting herself back upwards, and towards Harry.
She saw his eyes widen slightly as she took a step, showing that her feet were no longer stuck to the floor, and that surprise allowed her to get in close with her current sparring partner.
Fate absolutely dominated Harry in close-quarters. In fact, up close and personal is what Fate specialised in, and with the training she'd done ever since the Jewel Seed incident, there were very few who could compare, even with her being as young as she was.
"Boost Up: Speed." Harry's device spoke aloud, just as he became faster simply to try and match up his opponent. Even with that speed boost though, he was barely keeping Fate from winning. Dodging backwards, he stomped hard on the ground, a half dozen golems rising around the pair of them, each hefting a massive two-handed blade as long as a grown man, and as broad as one too.
One was instantly disposed of when an electrified fist ploughed through its chest, causing it to fall apart. Another one took an enhanced kick to the abdomen, while a third one was taken care of with a single-handed swing of Bardiche. Still, as fast as Fate was, they were too close for her to get rid of all of them so easily.
She flashed away from the middle of the group, a small yellow orb being left in her place.
Harry was the only one to get away fast enough to avoid the blast, but he was still blinded by the flash of light it emitted.
He sighed after that. "Okay, you win this one."
Opening his eyes and blinking away the spots, Harry could only just see Fate lowering her device from his throat, a victorious smile on her face.
"You've got to tell me though, how did you escape my sticky area trap?" He asked curiously, earning a slight blush from Fate, who heard the intended praise behind his words.
"Ah, it was quite simple actually." Fate replied, removing a bracer from her arm. Harry had seen the new addition to her barrier jacket, but hadn't thought much of it, simply expecting it to be a form of light armour she could wear without inhibiting movement. It seems, though, that there was more to it than that.
"I hid my wand in here." Fate explained, revealing said magical focus. "Since it was in contact with my skin, I could cast spells with it. The other part was practising the 'Finite Incantatum' spell constantly, until I got it to the point I didn't need either the incantation or the wand movements."
"Nice." Harry commented. "An effective counter, not just to my tactics, but any non-lethal debilitating spell cast against you. I'll have to look up some spells that aren't easily so countered now, or ones that react badly to a general dismissal at least."
"I still won this time." Fate replied, a small but noticeable edge of competitiveness creeping into her eyes.
"You beat me, yes." Harry easily admitted. "However, don't expect the same tactic to work against me twice. Fool me once, and all of that."
"Still won." Fate impishly repeated, before her expression faded into a smile. "Now, we've both got breakfast to get to, and I would like to get a shower as well. Spars with you are far more physically taxing than spars with Nanoha or Hayate, even if I don't use as much of my mana as I do during spars with the others."
Harry snorted. "That's because we have very different fighting styles." He shook his head, before a frown crossed his face. "By the way… I'm thinking of heading to the Underworld tonight, if you still want to come with me. I've read everything I can about the place, what I found in the Black Library, and I've had clones hunting all through Knockturn Alley as well. I'm as prepared as I'll ever be, so if I'm going, it might as well be soon."
Fate thought about it for a moment. "I'll come with you, definitely, but I'm still not sure about contracting with demons myself, is that okay?"
"Fine by me." Harry replied. "I know that I do things and take risks that others wouldn't, I'm not going to force my choices on you."
Fate simply shook her head as the two of them went off to prepare for the day.
Nothing particularly special happened that day at Hogwarts. In fact, it was a completely average day, as mundane as it ever got at Hogwarts. Madam Pomfrey in the Hospital Wing only got a single 'patient' all day, a girl who had gotten her first period and freaked out at the sight of blood. Professor Snape only had two cauldrons catastrophically fail in his lessons, neither one of them resulting in anything more serious than coughing and spluttering as the ones leaning over the cauldrons got a faceful of some unpleasant smell or other.
After the evening meal, however, Fate headed out of the castle and onto the grounds. The castle doors wouldn't be locked for another three hours, and curfew wasn't for another hour after that, so she and Harry had plenty of time to do what they were going to do.
She briefly considered asking Hayate or Nanoha if they would like to join them as well, but decided against it. Nanoha seemed very happy with her housemates, and it was very unusual to see her without half a dozen or more Hufflepuffs surrounding her. Hayate, while not quite as much of a social butterfly as Nanoha, did seem to be really happy with all of her new friends.
It made Fate wonder what the difference was between her and them. While she was polite and friendly herself, Fate preferred the company of a smaller group of close friends rather than a larger and louder group, and could quite happily curl up with a good book to read if the mood took her.
She supposed that was one thing she and Harry had in common.
Speaking of said necromancer, she caught sight of him down by the lake, not far from the edge of the forest. With him was all three of his familiars, and Fate paused as she took in the sight of them. It was quite clear that Isis and Loki had been working hard at training, as while they were definitely not bulging with muscles, they were more toned, made clear with Isis who wore such revealing clothing. They also held themselves differently, not tense, but definitely ready to respond and alert.
"Hey, Fate, you ready?" Isis asked, grinning at the blonde girl.
"I think so." Fate replied. "I don't know exactly what I'm going to face there, but I'm confident enough in my own abilities to handle at least some of the weaker demons we're likely to face."
Harry chuckled. "We'll be avoiding the haunts of the named demons, definitely, so we shouldn't come across anything out of our league. We shouldn't encounter much more than imps, gargoyles, or nightmares, a chupacabra or two at worst."
"None of that meant anything to me, Harry." Fate shook her head.
"Imps are small, have sharp claws, but are more of a nuisance than anything else." Harry began to list off the creatures he'd mentioned. "Gargoyles are larger, tougher, but slower, and still not much of a challenge. Nightmares are physically weak, but can induce fear in those who are 'weak of heart and mind', as the book put it. Chupacabras resemble dinosaurs in body, but with more human-like heads, and mouths full of sharp teeth. They are fast and aggressive, but not beyond our ability to handle."
"Are we looking for anything in particular?" Fate asked. "I mean, none of those demons sound particularly… useful to you."
"That's because I'm not looking for them, they were just examples of demons we might come across." Harry responded. "I'm actually hoping to come across a pack or two of hell hounds. Like their mundane counterparts, they're considered to be excellent at tracking and hunting, and because they have senses ordinary dogs don't, I'm kind of hoping they might be able to help hunt down horcruxes. Even if they can't, it never hurts to have them available if I ever need them."
"I see." Fate murmured as she processed the information. "I think I'm ready to set off now."
"Right then, let's go." Harry said, before transfiguring a pebble into a dagger and slicing his own hand open.
Fate looked on in slight disbelief as Harry clenched his fist and began to mutter some form of incantation with his eyes closed. The blood that was slowly dripping from his hand began to turn black, and ripples started to become visible in the drops.
With a harsh cry, Harry opened his palm, splattering the ground with his now black blood, and the next thing Fate knew was blackness. She blinked, yet nothing changed. She couldn't feel the ground beneath her feet any longer, she couldn't feel the cool breeze on her skin, she couldn't hear anything, see anything, smell anything. She was experienceing full sensory deprivation.
She began to panic.
Feeling the ground beneath her feet, and hearing her own rapid breathing, Fate began to calm down. As short as it had been, that had been the scariest thing that she'd ever experienced. For goodness sake, she hadn't been able to feel her own body, hadn't even been able to bend her elbow and touch her own face with her own hand. There'd just been… nothing.
Getting herself under control, Fate looked up to see what the Underworld looked like, and couldn't help but be… disapointed.
It didn't look like a Christian hell of fire and torture or anything like that. Instead, it looked rather bland. Looking down, she saw she was stood on pale grey sand, and some distance away there appeared to be piles of darker grey rocks. Further away than that, there appeared to be some hill sized grey rocks.
Looking up, she saw a dark sky, with no stars, which seemed to contain floating masses of rock, like the one she must be stood on. The smallest of the ones she could see looked to be about half the size of a football field, while some of the larger ones she could make out might be the size of a large city. She couldn't tell exactly how big they were, but those were her best guesses.
"This is the Underworld?" Fate asked. "It's less impressive than I was expecting." She admitted.
"This is considered the 'outer edge' of the Underworld, I think." Harry replied. "Further in, where things are more stable, there's country sized chunks of land with plenty more on them than a couple of rocks. However, I don't think we want to risk going there right now, let's see if we can't find any demons hereabouts."
Fate kept her eyes peeled as she followed Harry and his familiars through the eerily silent and monochrome Underworld.
Of course, her traitorous mind refused to keep silent. She kept having random thoughts pop up, questions such as 'how were they breathing and could hear things when they were apparently in a vacuum – she wondered this when she noticed the complete lack of wind and air – or how did gravity work when there was no actual planet beneath her feet – and she wasn't using magic to simulate gravity either.
Also, how had Harry decided on which direction to head in?
Back at Hogwarts, Fate and Harry's disappearance hadn't gone unnoticed, but let's ignore the rumours beginning to spring up about those two for the moment. Instead, let's see those 'left behind', Nanoha Takamachi and Hayate Yagami.
Both of them had noticed that Harry and Fate had seemingly disappeared together, and neither really knew what the two of them were doing together. Nanoha was a little bit depressed about that. She'd seen Fate hang around the edges of the 'cliques' at Hogwarts, not really part of any of them, like Harry wasn't, and she worried a lot about her friends. She wished she could make them be more friendly with people, but she couldn't go around forcing them to play together like little children.
Maybe she could actually. Aside from Quidditch – which Nanoha personally thought was awesome! - there had to be some sort of team sport that witches and wizards could play together. She'd tried looking a few up, but hadn't had any success so for. They seemed to limit themselves to quidditch, or quodpot in some places, and duelling for 'physical' activity, and chess, gobstones, or card games for the rest of the time.
Still, there had to be something. Even when the muggle world was in the era the wizarding world appeared to be stuck in, they'd had loads of different games they could play. Board games alone came in so many different varieties, and then there were things children played together, and more. All of that was done without magic, so surely with magic there should be even more, right?
All she had to do was find them, and if they still didn't exist? Well, she could get creative herself if she had to!
Hayate wasn't as much of a worrier as Nanoha was. She didn't think that much of Fate and Harry disappearing like they did, as she could clearly see that neither of them were really big on the whole socialising thing. Both of them still spent time with herself and the others, and Zafira was still being targeted by rabbit themed pranks.
Instead, Hayate had Signum, Vita, and Shamal on her mind. Oh, she was in contact with them through the long range communicator function of their devices, it was just a bit odd for her, as she had gotten used to having them be right there with her.
Shamal, having already gotten her general healing license, was now working towards her military one. Apparently, despite being one of the foremost healers known in history, you still needed to go through the modern applications and courses for such things.
Vita and Signum had it easier, both of them having gone straight into the TSAB without much of an issue. Hayate was happy for them, that things were going so well, but she was also… a bit displeased that all they seemed to do was fight. She knew that she would more than likely be the same once she properly joined the TSAB, but it felt like a statement, that all they knew was how to fight.
A bit critical of her really, but even so, she couldn't see any of them, her knights, her closest friends, and Harry's group, ever really favouring a particularly 'civilian' lifestyle. Nanoha was basically cut out for law enforcement, and while Fate could be described as diplomatic, she could certainly fight when it came to it, and Harry himself was a strange hybrid of researcher and mercenary if one thought about it.
Still, even if she wasn't as worried as Nanoha was, she wondered where they were and what they were doing regardless.
Right at that moment, Fate was having rather dark thoughts regarding the first demons she'd ever encountered.
Not ten minutes after they'd arrived in the Underworld, they'd been set upon by… things. She didn't know where they'd come from, but then again, it didn't seem like distance meant much in the Underworld. A rock that she could barely see in the distance would trip her up not a second later, while another that she could almost reach out and touch didn't seem to ever get any closer. It was maddening!
Anyway, back those 'things' that had attacked them. They had been roughly a foot and a half tall, generally humanoid, though with proportionally smaller heads, possessed wings, and came in a range of colours, from brown and grey, to black and purple. They also had rather sharp claws and shrieked like a pig having its throat slashed with a rusty and serrated knife.
These were imps, and they attacked, not individually, not even as a group, but as a cloud of annoying bugs that almost caused your ears to bleed.
They were at least easy to take care of though. Heck, a single blasting curse from Harry had a dozen of them falling out of the air, and both of them knew far stronger spells than that.
Still, the number of imps that attacked them easily numbered in the hundreds, or quite possibly the low thousands. For every cluster of imps that 'died', a half dozen more took their place, and these imps showed neither fear nor apprehension, attacking constantly and in spite of the massive losses they suffered.
As the last of them fell out of the air, Fate looked down, only to see them crumble and become like the grey sand underfoot.
"Harry." She said slowly. "This… this isn't sand, is it?" She asked.
"It is and it isn't." Harry replied. "In the Underworld, there is only energy and matter, all is one and the same. This grey 'sand' is the same as the flesh of demons, and the wood of any trees that exist here. There was a bit of a poem in of the books I found, if I remember right it went like this:
What is sand and stone, is flesh, blood, and bone.
What is water and earth, is wood, metal, and stone.
What is the essence, is the warmth, the light, and life.
What is the love, is also hate, loathing, and strife.
"What this means is that, rather than a periodic table of elements like our world has, everything here is essentially formed out of a single element, though it is very malleable. The other half of the poem, I think, means that energy works differently here. All of those imps we just 'killed', simply returned to being the 'idea' of imps, and will eventually reform from the grey sand around us, or maybe several imps worth of essence will come together and form something else." Harry shrugged at that.
"That doesn't make any sense, none of this world does!" Fate groaned, feeling a headache coming.
Harry snorted. "This is a 'lower' world, things like physics have a weaker grasp here, so strength is determined by raw power and force of will. The 'higher' worlds have tighter rules, where strength is determined by one's ability to work with and around said rules. 'Logic' doesn't really work here, and it becomes a far more complex thing in the realms above ours."
"Something else you read?" Fate asked.
Harry nodded in confirmation, and said as much, though he also commented on the extreme rarity on anything regarding the Celestial Realm and those above that.
Fate was about to ask more about the Celestial Realm - were there equivalents of angels and gods there? - but something else caught her attention. There was no source of light in the Underworld, yet they could still see clearly. However, one thing that was missing was shadows, and she had just noticed a rock that had a shadow.
"Harry, what's that?" Fate asked quietly, indicating the shadow.
"One of two things. Either it's a Navrak, also called 'shadow demons', or it's a Hell Hound, what I came here to find." Harry told her. "Let's find out which. Stay back with the others, okay?"
Fate looked curious about that, but remained in place as Harry took several steps forward, casting a sonorous charm on his throat as he did so, and then let out an absolute monstrous roar.
"What is he doing?" Fate hissed. "He'll draw every demon from miles around with that noise!"
"No demon will come near here because of that." Loki retorted. "That… was a challenge."
Another blood-curdling howl echoed across the barren desert.
"A challenge that's just been answered." Bast added on.
"Wait, why is Harry changing his device's form?" Fate asked, as she saw his usually halberd formed device shift into liquid metal, before flowing over his arms and legs, taking the form of simple metal gauntlets and boots.
"If Harry wants to fully win over the pack, he must prove himself strong enough to command their respect." Isis stated. "A weapon, especially a long one, gives him far greater reach than he would naturally have. Fighting with his fists however, even if they are armoured, removes that advantage."
"How many hell hounds are there in a pack?" Fate asked nervously, as she saw several more shadows converge on the first one she had caught sight of.
Loki reached inside his coat and withdrew a small notebook. After flicking through it for a moment, he answered the blonde girl. "According to the books Harry found, a hell hound pack is usually no less than five, and rarely more than two dozen."
Fate looked away from Loki to focus on Harry, who was, for his part, managing to hold his own against the hell hounds. They weren't literally shadows, but they could travel through 'the darkness that is their lair', and they could attack him from all angles when they emerged from their shadows.
He ducked under one of them, throwing a punch into its gut as it went over his head. Twisting, he dodged one that had come from his side. A third one that had come from behind caught him and raked its claws down his back. Thankfully, his Combat Equipment managed to keep Harry's flesh from being lacerated.
Dodging between two hounds, Harry span on one foot, his body falling into a fighting stance. It was lower to the ground than a regular stance was, with him almost crouched on the ground. He had one arm in front of him, ready to defend, and the other to his right, ready to strike.
Kicking off hard from the ground, he rolled to the left, before throwing a punch right in the face of a hell hound, and then using the momentum from the demon to spin around and throw a kick to the neck area of another hound, throwing it away from himself.
Harry gasped as his left arm flared with pain. He'd missed one hell hound which now had its jaws around his left arm and had partially crushed his magically reinforced gauntlet with the strength of its bite. Throwing a quick jab at it to dislodge the hell hound, Harry backed away to check the damage he'd taken.
Fate gasped when she heard the Hell Hounds jaws close around Harry's arm. The raw strength needed to do that was unbelievable! Devices, all ones meant for military or law enforcement purposes at least – which Harry's was – were made of a hyper-dense alloy that could take immense amounts of purely physical damage and shrug it off, and even magical damage was blunted.
These Hell Hounds were, for lack of a better term, wild beasts, and they had the power to crush a device like a tin can? That was really, really scary, and not something she was likely to share with anyone else. She did not want anyone to get it into their head to summon a horde of these creatures and set them loose on somewhere like Mid-Childa.
The casualties if someone were to do that didn't bear thinking about.
To distract herself, Fate focused on the Hell Hounds themselves. When she'd first heard the term 'hell hound', she'd been expecting a large, solidly built dog, something along the lines of a Doberman, a Mastiff, or maybe even a Labrador. However, the Hell Hounds that Harry was currently fighting looked more like Greyhounds.
Granted, they didn't look exactly like Greyhounds, but they had the same general body shape. On top of that, instead of hair, they were scaled, and their prehensile tails appeared to have a stinger in the end. Their heads were also slightly reptilian in shape too.
She watched anxiously as Harry fought the pack of Hell Hounds, and judging by how Loki, Isis, and Bast were shifting from foot to foot, she wasn't the only one who wanted to jump in there and give him a hand. Why was he even fighting with a handicap to begin with? He was one where there were at least five of them. He wasn't using any of his magic. Heck, he wasn't even using a weapon. How was this a fair fight?
A yell drew her attention as she saw Harry almost snap a demon's back over his knee before kicking it away. This time, however, rather than getting back up, the Hell Hound shuffled off to one side and laid down to watch its fellows continue the fight while it nursed its rapidly healing injuries.
Soon after, a second Hell Hound was out of the fight, followed by a third, and then a fourth. At this point, however, Harry was beginning to tire, and he wasn't dodging as easily as he was previously, resulting in him getting a set of shallow cuts across his face that began to bleed.
Two Hell Hounds tried to co-ordinate an attack on Harry from opposite sides. One of them went high, the other low, a classical tactic that the entire pack had been using to wear him down the entire fight. However, the thing about using a successful tactic repeatedly is that it gets predictable.
Jumping up, Harry twisted his body so he was above both of the Hell Hounds, before he slammed his heel down, smashing one demon into another, assisted by his own body weight. Yelps from the dogs told everyone that the Hell Hounds had been hurt by the manoeuvre, but still they got to their feet, as did Harry.
Before the fight could continue, however, one of the dogs let out a strange hissing bark, before looking around at the other Hell Hounds and making the noise again. The dogs that had given up fighting immediately responded with the same noise, but one of the ones who had yet to go down and stay out growled lowly at the first one.
What must have been some form of discussion began, though argument might be a better term, between the two. While Fate doubted it was as sophisticated as human languages were, it nevertheless seemed to get the point across, because after several minutes of back and forth, the rebellious hound chimed in with the same noise the others had made.
Harry sighed, his knees folding beneath him and sweat beading down his body. He gingerly reached up to touch the marks on his face and hissed at feeling the pain it caused. Damn, the wounds had been caused by Ira, Demonic Power, and would undoubtedly be a bitch to heal due to the corrosive nature of Ira. Still, it could be done, and if he could convince Fawkes to shed a few tears for him, he could come out of this without even any scarring.
On his knees, Harry removed the gauntlet-formed device from his left arm, taking a look at the purple and black bruising of his arm, and after quickly checking it for any particularly urgent injuries, presented it to the Hell Hounds. After a moment, the first one to surrender, and coincidentally the oldest, padded forward.
Opening its jaws, though not to full width, it bit down on Harry's arm. In response, Harry used magic to give himself a claw in place of a right hand and slashed at the hounds leg. Neither moved while the demon's mouth filled with Harry's blood, and Harry's clawed hand filled with its blood.
Once the hound appeared satisfied, and had let go of his arm, Harry brought his clawful of demon blood to his mouth and drank it down. He quivered and shook as the substance rolled over his tongue and down his throat. Coincidentally, it didn't taste as bad as he expected, though it did taste very 'heavy' and earthy.
"Loki, my bag please." Harry said, and was immediately rewarded with his raven companion handing it to him.
From within, he withdrew eight large slabs of greenish, unhealthy looking meat, before tossing them, one by one, to each of the Hell Hounds, who ripped into them with gleeful abandon.
"What are those?" Fate mumbled. "They don't look like normal bits of meat."
"They're dragon steaks." Harry told her. "Pretty expensive, but if it helps then it helps."
Harry got shakily to his feet, before glancing at Fate. "Now, do you want to go home, or do you want to try and find yourself a pack of Hell Hounds?" He asked.
Fate glanced at Harry's arm, where she could see a stylised claw emblem beginning to appear, and then to his completely bedraggled and beat up appearance.
Looking at the demons happily munching on a dragon's flesh, and the blood dripping from Harry's body, she made her decision.
Approaching Hogwarts castle, completely dishevelled, Harry and Fate made their way back. Both of them were sweaty, tired, hurt, and hungry right then. They didn't know what the matter truly was, but both of them had felt it was quite the experience going to the Underworld, and they felt… lighter because of it, like something they'd been obsessing over had suddenly become clear to them.
Of course, they probably should have known their introspection wouldn't have lasted when they made it back to the castle, only to come face to face with Filch the Caretaker looking spectacularly happy.
"Well, well, two students out of bed, and in such a state too." He cackled gleefully. "Oh, you'll be punished for this no doubt, and so late out as well. I'm sure someone will have some questions for you two."
Realising how dark it was, Harry thought they should probably have kept a better eye on the time too.