Alright, next chapter is up after an inexcusably long break. Turning away from the Titans and their newest house-guest, it's time to meet a few new faces in the struggle against Trigon. They're not from the Titans' world, but they're also not OC's. To find out who they are, you'll have to read further...
Chapter 10- The Hunt is On
Go, horse these traitors on your fiery backs,
And mount aloft with them as high as heaven:
Thence pitch them headlong to the lowest hell.
Yet, stay: the world shall see their misery,
And hell shall after plague their treachery.
Christopher Marlowe- Doctor Faustus
In the deepest cellar of the earth, where the heat and pressure are too severe for any living creature to endure, was an object. Older than civilization, older than humanity, older even than the very world in which it rested.
In the simplest of terms, it was a gate. Impossibly large, hewn from unbreakable stone, it lay dark and silent beneath the earth. Its face was covered in eldritch carvings and horrific images, and a dire warning was displayed across the arch. It was many things: a passageway between worlds, a welcoming entrance and an inescapable barrier. To billions, it was the ultimate destroyer of hope. Put bluntly, the gate to Hell was easily one of the top five places in the universe to avoid at all costs.
It was through this gate that Trigon set into motion his plans for conquest, and it was here that he made his first mistake. For in his haste to escape to the living world, he was unaware that his departure was observed.
This observer was the gatekeeper of the underworld, as terrible and frightening to demons as demons are to mortal men. It was human-shaped, but twisted and distorted. Its form was shrouded in darkness, blacker than night, as though it was a void that absorbed and consumed all light around it. It seemed to move and shudder like ripples on water, and occasionally the shadows would recede, and horrible features would be revealed for but an instant. Its power was unmatched, and it was known as Death.
As Trigon's spirit passed through the swells of Chaos and into the physical realm, a second being approached the gates, though this one came as living flesh instead of formless ghost. Cloaked and hooded, it drew closer, unafraid of the specter it would have to face. Turning his eyes from the world of men, Death placed himself in the figure's path.
"This gate admits only the dead, they who are rightfully damned. You do not await punishment, nor will the tail of Minos decree your sentence." He paused, and the darkness pulled back to reveal a slavering mouth lined with fangs. "Away with you, unless it is everlasting pain that you seek."
The words seemed to echo through the still air, and the black void around Death swelled and grew with his wrath. A hand went to a sheath with practiced ease, and he withdrew a dark and wicked spear from the blackness around him. It was carved in the likeness of a spinal column, and the needle-sharp tip glistened with poison. Hefting the dart, he leveled its point at the intruder, who halted his progress just outside the weapon's range.
The cloak was thrown aside, revealing the man beneath. A stark contrast to the ominous and faceless Death, he was youthful and handsome, with an air of great confidence, despite the oppressive surroundings. He was clad in brightly gleaming armor, and a massive war-hammer was slung across his back. Raising his hands in a gesture of supplication, he took a cautious step forwards.
"Peace, gatekeeper," he said, his eyes shifting from the guard to his weapon. "I have not come to lift arms against you. I seek your wisdom, should you hearken for but a moment."
There was a shift in the blackness, and a battered, grinning skull leered back at him. The spear was lifted, though Death still kept it in a ready grip.
"You need not appeal to my vanity, Mulciber. Ask of me what you will, and I will impart what knowledge I possess."
Mulciber nodded. "A prisoner of the inferno has escaped, fleeing to the human world. I wish to know whither it has gone."
A dry, rasping laugh burst from the shadowy form. "Know this: there are but three who have bodily passed these gates, and it was I who granted them safe passage. First was the adversary himself, in the dawning of time. Next came the son of the Almighty, harrowing this place in his ascent. Last was a living man, a Florentine, who entered and departed by different means. No others have escaped my vigil."
"You lie! I watched your gaze turn to follow its progress as I approached! It was a demon, and it has already reached the mortal sphere," Mulciber snarled, reaching forward as if to strike. His hand passed into the roiling darkness, and he drew back with a cry, nursing his skin as though it had been burned.
"Do not think to cross me again; I have stood against those far more powerful than you." Before Mulciber could reply, he continued. "The spirit whom I watched is but a harmless essence, futilely seeking escape. It will be forced back, as it has returned countless times in the past, and as all others have before it."
"Not this one."
A tense silence followed, and when Death finally spoke, it was in a dark and deadly whisper.
His confidence eroding, Mulciber answered. "The demon is Trigon, who has tried and failed many times to return to the living world. Now, he plans to inhabit a human vessel and use his half-human daughter as a portal. This will enable him to slip past your guard, to remove his physical form from Hell. By standing idly by, you have allowed him to escape."
"WHAT!" Death bellowed in fury, and Hell itself seemed to tremble. The darkness around him was blasted away, revealing his true shape. Mulciber cried out in terror, slamming shut his eyes and throwing his arms in front of his face to try and ward away the ghastly image. Fingers dug into his neck, and his entire body was gripped with a biting cold that burned worse than fire.
"…please…" he whimpered, fighting away the nausea as the chill continued to seep into him. "… we… still stop him… if… tell us where…"
Death paused, his grip slackening by a degree. "You seek to work against Trigon," he asked, and two sickly yellow eyes opened in the shadows of his face. "You wish to foil his plot?"
"Yes, I swear it! On my honor, we will not allow Trigon to escape to Earth!"
Death's head tilted to the side, as close to a look of contemplation as a faceless being could achieve. Dropping Mulciber to the ground, he allowed him a few minutes to gasp for breath and regain feeling in his frozen limbs.
"Very well," he said at last. "I will agree to your request, and provide you with a portion of my sight, that you might locate Trigon's essence. However, I will bestow this gift upon only one of your group, and it shall not be you."
As Mulciber shakily rose to his feet, Death turned and gave a quick wave of his hand. Behind them, the massive gates swung inward, closing with a deafening slam.
"Come, I will take you to my allies," Mulciber offered, making sure to stay several paces ahead of his companion. "The sooner we locate Trigon, the sooner we can drag him back where he belongs."
Death nodded. "Indeed. But do not lose sight of your task. You are to use this gift to defeat Trigon, to return him to his place of punishment. If you renege on your promise, if you break my trust, I will know. And you will learn of the consequences that come from cheating Death."
Death withdrew his hands and stepped back, allowing the body to slump lifelessly to the ground. With a last look at the limp figure, he turned to the remainder of the group.
"It is done. He is now capable of looking across the gulf between worlds; to track the coward to the mortal he intends to possess, and to infiltrate the demon's own mind. I can do no more. The rest is in your hands."
Turning away, he began the long trek back to the gate, and those behind him let out a collective breath of relief.
"I hate that guy."
Mulciber chuckled and rubbed his throat. "Be thankful he did not grab you by the throat and sear you with frost. You've nothing to complain about."
"Yes, yes, you're quite the martyr. Now that he's served his purpose, shall we begin?"
"I suppose," Mulciber cast an annoyed look at the prone figure at their feet. "Wake him, would you?"
"Calcabrina… WAKE UP," one yelled, giving the body a brutal kick in the ribs. The previously unconscious individual gave a pained screech and sat upright, before his gaze fell onto his awakener.
"Morning Ciriatto! What'd I miss," he asked cheerfully, failing to notice the looks of anger and annoyance from his nine compatriots.
"Man, it was crazy," he continued obliviously. "I had this weird dream about a black shadowy thing that came up and gave me some eyeball powers, and you were there, and you were there, and you were…"
"Enough!" Ciriatto snarled. "It was not a dream, you imbecile. You were given Death's sight so that we might complete our mission!"
"Mission," he asked in a bewildered tone. "What mission?"
Mulciber decided to intervene before the others accidentally killed their most essential member. "Rubicante," he ordered. "Help this fool remember his task. He'll need to begin watching for Trigon immediately if we're to act."
The two departed, although to be accurate it was Rubicante who departed, dragging Calcabrina behind him. Mulciber turned his attention back to the rest of the group.
"You will all have vital roles to play in this plan. Once Calcabrina has made contact with Trigon's mind, he will alter Trigon's link with the host, allowing you to enter as well. From there, he and Rubicante will sustain the link while Libicocco, Cagnazzo and Graffiacane sever the links to the other servants. Scarmiglione," he motioned to his second-in-command, "will determine which servant is in the closest proximity to Trigon's host. After severing the connection, he will then pose as Trigon and provide the servant with false instructions and commands."
As the group nodded their assent, he turned his attention to the remaining three. "Once we have determined the host's location, you will direct our contacts to the area to begin planting the artifacts. It must be done quickly, so that the servant and Trigon will not suspect our trap."
"Sir," Alichino inquired. "If the infiltration of Trigon's mind is the forefront of our plan, why is that fool Calcabrina entrusted with its completion?"
Mulciber sighed. "Death is paranoid and untrusting. He no doubt bestowed Calcabrina with his power because the simpleton lacks the cunning to misuse it."
The group broke apart, milling around Calcabrina as he searched for Trigon. It was nearly time for Mulciber to depart. The sound of approaching footsteps caught his attention, and he was pleased to see the last two members of his group approaching, their weapons dripping with blood.
"It is done then," he asked, motioning towards their stained hands.
Barbariccia nodded. "The traitor is dealt with; he will provide no more interference."
"Then the last obstacle to our success is gone. We are ready to begin." Casting his gaze to the side, he noted with satisfaction that Calcabrina's body had again fallen limp, a sign that his astral self was in pursuit of Trigon's own.
"Remember, my friends. This is our greatest hour, our moment of triumph! Trigon has set himself against humanity with trickery and deceit! You are bound by duty to counter this fraud! We will not allow Trigon to succeed!" He raised his fist into the air, and the group responded with an echoing cheer.
"Bored, bored, bored," Calcabrina muttered, sweeping his gaze over the planet's surface. "I can see the whole planet, I can see across the universe even, and I'm stuck watching the stupid world spin around until Trigon decides to make a move."
His irritated mumblings continued for several minutes, as Mulciber finished briefing the rest of the group, as Rubicante continued watching him with the usual mixture of scorn and boredom, until he was all but praying for something to happen. Luckily, he didn't have long to wait.
It was a tiny flash of light, a sudden feeling of evil and hatred, and the tantalizing aroma of sulfur and rotting flesh.
"Bingo," he said with a grin.
There was a tiny sense of disorientation as Trigon's essence shone as a bright pinpoint of light. His gaze followed, drawing closer to the planet until the demon's aura came into view, conversing with a young, green human.
In truth, he would have preferred to act long before this, but the situation was delicate, and Trigon could not be approached until his essence was forced to take physical shape.
Time to go to work.
He felt his spirit pulling away from his body, being drawn through rock and air and space until he was approaching the planet, then the coast of a continent, an island, a tower, until at last he was watching as Trigon effervesced into smoke. The demon's own mind was still guarded, and so he entered the boy's without hesitation.
It was a strange experience, entering the mind of another. For a moment he was passing over a lush jungle, and then sprawling grassland. From what he knew of the planet, it would seem that this was the boy's mindscape, no doubt taking the form of the location to which it was most attached.
It was certainly a change of scenery for him, and he indulged himself with admiring the sights for a short time. Snow-capped mountains, a glistening ocean, massive forests… a crater filled with tar?
He paused in midair, looking down at the unseemly blot in the landscape. No, not tar, he decided, but darkness, as though all the light was being drawn in. A minute passed, and the crater widened by a fraction, devouring the landscape an inch at a time.
He crossed his arms over his chest and grinned. "Well, that's not TOO terribly conspicuous. Why not add a giant sign, or ominous bolts of lightning? Too gaudy?"
As if on cue, the crater widened further, and red sparks of energy flashed through the blackness, causing him to chuckle weakly.
"Spoke too soon, I see."
Shaking his head, he leapt into the pool, wondering just what type of horrific scene awaited him. This was the mind of a demon lord, after all. He could only imagine what type of hellish landscape he'd encounter.
In the end, he found himself staring blankly into empty darkness, his mouth hanging open in shock.
"IS THIS A JOKE," he roared into the void. "No pits of lava, no mountains of corpses, not even a giant statue of yourself?"
He wasn't expecting a reply; in truth he would have been more unsettled if he'd received one. Resigning himself to an extremely dull visit, he turned on his heel and examined the gateway between Trigon's mind and the boy's.
A massive, ragged hole in the blackness, it looked less like a portal and more like Trigon had simply punched his way into the other mind.
"You sure aren't very creative, are you?" He stepped up to the portal, taking a final glance at the verdant world beyond.
"Okay," he muttered, placing a finger to his temple. "Before we get this thing oriented correctly, better find his escape route." A burst of concentration, a sharp mental push, and the portal shimmered and pulsed. The boy's mindscape vanished, replaced by a jagged wasteland of rocks and lava.
"There, see? That's what you ought to do with this place! How can you let it look all empty like this when you've got a guest visiting?"
His rant continued as he tampered with the portal, tearing it away from the current exit point and rapidly cycling between locations.
"Let's see, don't want to go there. That's a definite no. No, nope, don't think so. Hmm, that's tempting. Would be pretty funny to just drop you into Acheron. Hey! Cerberus sure has gotten fat!"
The image in the portal froze, the view overlooking a rocky cliff side above a river of pitch.
"And we've arrived! Make sure your tray tables and seat backs are upright and locked! Total fare including a tip for the handsome driver will come to-"
He let out a surprised yelp and turned back to the portal, waving at the glowering face peering in at him.
"Hey bro! Did you miss me?"
His brother responded with an extremely dry look. "No, but after hearing your voice, I find myself yearning for the silence that fell in your absence."
"You know, you really need to learn how to put some emotion into your words. I can't tell if you're being sarcastic, or actually insulting me! Couldn't you at least raise your voice now and then?"
Rubicante paused, his gaze flicking to the side as he considered something just out of view. "Your physical body is easily within reach," he commented. "Continue with your prattling and I will gladly shove you off the edge."
Calcabrina laughed nervously, understanding that it would be in his best interests to shut up and get to work. "Point taken, is everyone else ready to take this guy down?"
The others crowded around the portal. "We have been waiting for you to begin."
"Right, right." Giving them a wary glance, he placed his hands against the portal's edge. Clenching his jaw, he focused on the tear beneath his palms, willing it to bend and change to his will. Reconstructing a mindscape was a difficult task, and Rubicante's unblinking stare was doing little to aid in his concentration.
"Uh, could you maybe stop staring at me? It's creeping me out."
"I am observing your facial expressions. They are becoming quite distorted." A thoughtful look settled over his face. "I believe I am finding them humorous."
Resisting the urge to reach through and punch his brother in the face, Calcabrina continued warping the portal. It slowly widened, changing from a rounded tear into a large, even square. With the shape in place, he shoved his palms into the side, holding the portal steady. On the opposite side, Rubicante did the same.
"Door's open boys," he called. With Scarmiglione in the lead, the others leapt through.
"You three," he ordered. "Begin destroying the links. We can't allow Trigon to maintain contact with any being aside from this boy. If he can call for help, or warn his followers of our plans, everything will be ruined. I will scout ahead, and find the ideal servant for us to manipulate. Make haste; we need to destroy the connections and Trigon's escape portal by the time he has possessed the host!"
As Scarmiglione raced away, Cagnazzo took the lead. He certainly wouldn't have much difficulty searching. After all, Trigon's head was empty enough that the mental bridges would be easy to spot.
As if answering his very thoughts, a brightly shining light caught his attention, and he approached to see that it was a glowing strand of energy. There was no beginning or end, it simply stretched out forever. To the sides, above and below, more lines stretched out at various angles: the links between Trigon and his servants.
Cagnazzo laughed and turned to his friends. "Now, remember to be as careful as possible. We don't want to leave anything intact!
There was the briefest of shudders, and a phantom pain cut through his skull. Cagnazzo found himself grinning in satisfaction. That particular connection had been one of the oldest; gaining in strength as it endured through millennia. Severing it had been particularly satisfying.
Below him, Scarmiglione dove inwards, the broken strands of magic falling alongside him before they vanished into the darkness. The air was still, the darkness absolute, and he idly wondered just how long he'd been sifting through this void.
'Absolutely absurd,' he muttered to himself. 'To think that the fool's mind is so blank and empty, it's unfathomable!'
A wry smile flitted across his features. "What was that joke, again? Ah yes, all that's missing is a sign that reads 'Space for Rent."
Indulging in a short chuckle, his thoughts again soured as he continued to fall. Skulking about in Trigon's cavernous head was far from appealing, and they were quickly running out of time. He had to choose a link, and fast.
A group of lights below him signaled the presence of another series of links. He smashed into the web, tearing and ripping out every strand he could reach. The psionic backlash was crippling, the demon's servants falling into comas or suffering brain-death, others instantly dying of cerebral edemas as Trigon's rebounding energy pummeled their bodies.
It was in the midst of this destruction that he found it. As his hand tightened around a strand, he realized that not only was this servant of the same race as Trigon's host, but he dwelt in close proximity. Intrigued, Scarmiglione pressed the strand against his forehead, absorbing the memories, actions, conversations that this servant had gained since linking his mind with Trigon's.
"Slade," he murmured, coming across the servant's name. Yes, he would do perfectly. Once the information had been gleaned, his grip once again tightened on the thread, preparing to break it as gently as possible, and minimize the damage that Slade would endure. It would benefit them little if their unknowing traitor was killed preemptively.
A light tremor sped through the cord, and the strand glowed brighter as he moved to rip it away. Words and thoughts raced through his head, and he realized in horror that the two were attempting to converse.
"Hey guys!" Calcabrina's voice rang out from above. "Whatever it is you're doing, knock it off! Trigon's getting suspicious out there!"
Scarmiglione froze, not even daring to remove his hands from the thread. He hoped that Trigon was too occupied to take notice of the damage they had wrought, hoped that Slade could still communicate effectively enough to set the demon's mind at ease.
"Damn, damn, damn! He's gonna kill him! The kid he was gonna possess, he's getting ready to blow him apart!"
On the verge of panic, Scarmiglione grasped the strand as tightly as possible, holding the tattered ends together. Without any better idea, he bit deep into the strand, cutting off Trigon's essence and bridging his own with Slade.
Dropping the severed end, he placed the remaining cord against his temple and focused his thoughts towards Trigon.
"Master," He inquired in his best approximation of Slade's voice. To his relief, the simple word seemed to calm the demon, and Calcabrina reported that the boy was no longer in danger. Dropping the end, he rejoined his comrades at the gate.
"Have all the remaining links been cut?"
Libicocco nodded. "We made certain that all were destroyed. This gate is now his only escape, and his last means of communication.
Scarmiglione nodded. "Very well, let us cross back over and collapse it."
"Slave, hear me. You are to proceed as you have been ordered. You know your tasks, and you know where and when they are to be carried out. We will not speak for some time, but you will fulfill your purpose regardless."
He wanted to laugh as Trigon's voice was swallowed up by the darkness. If only the demon knew that he had played right into their hands. Stepping back through the portal, he watched as Calcabrina and Rubicante each placed their hands on an opposing side. As they began to concentrate, the portal shuddered, its edges bulging and fraying. With one last groan of effort, the two brothers crushed the portal at its center, and the gateway vanished into thin air.
"Can it be re-opened?"
"By us? Easily. By him…" Rubicante smiled. "Never."
Trigon was now trapped in a mortal body, separated from his followers, and completely vulnerable. All they had to do now was wait.
This chapter was probably one of the most difficult of any I've written, simply because it was a struggle to decide how much should be explained. It's difficult to try and maintain a sense of suspense and uncertainty, where the reader isn't entirely sure of a character's motivations or background. On the one hand, if you give too much, you can end up ruining the surprise and inadvertently reveal the entire thing to the audience. Conversely, if you give away too little, you wind up with a completely obscure and confusing cluster**** of a situation, where the reader is left hopelessly confused, and your delusions of grandeur wind up stabbing you in the back.
Hopefully I was able to find a middle ground. I had little choice but to introduce Mulciber and his gang at this point, as their sabotage against Trigon had already been mentioned in the previous chapter, but I found it difficult to decide how much of them should be revealed, and how much left to speculation/imagination for the time being. Hopefully everyone has been able to make sense of this particular tangent, and to anyone who is confused, I can only apologize and promise that all will be revealed in time.
Thanks for reading, and let me know what you think.