[UPDATED - ASCENSION!] Blackdirge's "Metamorphosis - From Dretch to Demon Lord"

Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
For those who are impatient, I'm feeling generous. This is chapter one of The Tides of Chaos.

This is unedited. Please be aware that the editor has the manuscript; this is not the final draft.

The Tides of Chaos: Chapter One


[imager]http://www.enworld.org/enpublishing/ch1.jpg[/imager]Hedrenatherax brooded silently upon his throne, staggered beneath the relentless weight of his rule. The fledgling demon lord was not new to the political maneuverings and power struggles of the Abyss; he had tasted some small portion of demonic politics as a balor. But nothing compared to the sheer madness of trying to control an entire plane, or fend off rival demon lords who smelled an easy conquest.

Unlike Pyrak, whom Hedrenatherax had replaced, he had no interest in the eternal conflict with the devils, and was concerned only with expanding his control and territory in the Abyss.

Hedrenatherax’s ascension had brought him great power, but in turn it had brought the great crushing weight of responsibility. He was faced with unenviable task of maintaining and ruling a state made up of the multiverse’s most chaotic and insubordinate creatures – his demons.

In the few short years of his reign, Hedrenatherax had already slain nearly a dozen would be assassins, all eager to usurp his power – just as he had usurped Pyrak’s. Despite his brutal extermination of the old regime, Pyrak still had his supporters. Even in death it seemed Pyrak could engender more loyalty than Hedrenatherax, a fact that enraged the new demon lord to no end.

Hedrenatherax understood how to instill terror and obtain the obedience of his demons through sheer brutality, but he could not understand how Pyrak had earned the level of respect that his underlings had shown him. They had wanted to serve him; it was inconceivable that a demon would do anything that did not result in immediate personal gain, which included saving its own skin. Hedrenatherax simply could not grasp the concept of a demon lord treating his subjects with anything but the contempt they deserved, they existed to serve him, nothing more, and if they did not serve they were destroyed. This was the Abyss as he understood it. Might makes right. Period. Those that had power strove to preserve it, those without strove to attain it.

Hedrenatherax glanced down the empty hall that housed his throne; it was the direct antithesis of Pyrak’s throne room, lacking the subtle airy grace of the deposed demon lord’s abode. Hedrenatherax had brought Pyrak’s floating citadel crashing down into the windswept plains of Vrack shortly after claiming assuming power. Now, the citadel was little more than a shattered ruin, scoured by the howling winds, and serving as a lair for hordes of lesser demons.

Hedrenatherax had built an abode more to his liking many miles from Pyrak’s ruined fortress, a high walled keep of black stone, squat and imposing, as ugly and sinister as its occupant.

Hedrenatherax’s throne room was a place of iron and stone, octagonal in shape and surrounded with braziers that burned with eerie green flames. A foul smelling smoke suffused the room, adding to the already thick gloom that seemed to hang menacingly in every corner.

The demon lord’s throne rested in the flickering shadows cast by the guttering flames of the braziers. It was a simple iron seat, gargantuan in proportion, without adornment or grace. Above this gargoyle-like seat of power, the mummified corpse of Pyrak hung like a grotesque puppet, nailed to the wall with mithral spikes hammered in at the wrists, ankles, throat, and stomach. Beside this ghoulish display of Hedrenatherax’s gloating, hung the great black sword Fiendbleeder, naked and gleaming in the guttering ephemeral light. These macabre trophies had been erected as the finishing touch to Hedrenatherax’s citadel, which he called Hedraxus, and would remain as long as he held power.

The day that he had slain Pyrak had been a jubilant one for Hedrenatherax, and his dreams of conquest had not waned. His ability to achieve those dreams had, however, fallen well short of his intended mark. He had done everything he thought necessary to cement his power, seeking out the threats to his rule with a brutal tenacity. His first piece of business had been at Gemnez Drak, where he sought the troublesome damned petitioner that had been a thorn in his side from the moment he had plucked it from Abrigor. Unfortunately, the bothersome petitioner had turned out to be far more trouble than it was worth.

A bizarre anomaly that Hedrenatherax did not pretend to understand, this petitioner had retained all of its former power as a mortal archmage. In addition, it had learned to absorb the life essence of demons, thereby affecting its own transformation into an abyssal creature. The petitioner had managed to escape Gemnez Drak, dealing Hedrenatherax a humiliating defeat in the process, and forcing the balor to hunt it down, an ordeal that had resulted in yet another painful confrontation. Hedrenatherax had at last recaptured the strange petitioner and returned it to Gemnez Drak, where the great devil Gemnez had sought to divine the secrets of the former archmage’s bizarre existence.

Hedrenatherax had stormed into Gemnez Drak a few days after his ascension seeking the faithless petitioner, which called itself Hazergal. It had recently assumed the shape of a babau, and the newly risen demon lord had demanded that every babau within Gemnez Drak present itself before him. Gemnez had made all of that unnecessary.

Hedrenatherax had been surprised and pleased that the once arrogant devil had sought to serve his new master by delivering Hazergal immediately upon his arrival. Gemnez had bound Hazergal with a soul shackle, a device created by the night hags that rendered advanced mental functions impossible, in addition to causing catatonic paralysis. Hedrenatherax had torn the babau that was Hazergal to pieces, devouring each ichor soaked chunk with great satisfaction, reveling in the knowledge that his burgeoning empire would be free of such meddling influences.

Hedrenatherax had inherited from Pyrak dominion over an entire plane, one of the myriad levels of the Abyss. Pyrak had called his demesne “Vrack”, an Abyssal word meaning simply “flat”. This, the plain most assuredly was, a wind-scorched desolation, broken only by looming mountains to the south. Hedrenatherax had also inherited the plane’s demonic population, which owed him fealty at least in name if not in deed.

It was the plight of the new demon lord to rally his demonic vassals to his side, forge them into a cohesive army, and protect himself from the predations of more established demon lords. Hedrenatherax had been able to convince many demons to serve him, mainly through promises of glory, or outright threats. The only demons that had refused to join the new demon lord’s cause had been Pyrak’s wing of elite vrocks, a deadly and experienced group called the Dreadwings. Although this small army of elite demons had not aided their former master during Hedrenatherax’s usurpation, they showed their loyalty to Pyrak posthumously by defecting to the service of another demon lord following Hedrenatherax’s ascension.

Pazuzu had been more than happy to accept the Dreadwings into his service, a fact that angered Hedrenatherax to no end. He could do nothing to prevent the Dreadwings from defecting, and was forced to sit idly by while their treason strengthened one of his many rivals.

Hedrenatherax had an army, but it was composed of lesser demons, and completely fractured and leaderless. The new demon lord had no generals, no loyal right hand to enact his will, no one to rally his forces when the need arose. He had attempted to promote a few of the more promising demons from the rank and file, including a rather thick headed nalfashnee and a marilith whose hunger for power rivaled that of Hedrenatherax himself. He had slain the nalfashnee, a great frothing idiot named Shuurka, in a fit of rage after the ape-like demon had suffered a number of colossal defeats along the border between Hedrenatherax’s plane and that belonging to Orcus.

The ancient demon prince had been slowly pushing an army of undead into the planes of Vrack, heedless of Hedrenatherax’s dominion, brazenly testing the fortitude and patience of his newest rival. At his master’s command, Shuurka had sent a large force of babau into Orcus’ domain after driving off the expeditionary force of undead. The babau had been slaughtered by a larger force of Orcus’ demons, waiting just beyond the boundary to his domain. Shuurka had fallen for this ploy not once, but three times. Each time returning to Hedraxus with a thousand or more fewer demons than he had left with. After his third defeat Hedrenatherax had split Shuurka in half with one massive cut of his scythe arm, cutting the demon off in mid-sentence as he attempted to explain how he had been duped yet again.

The marilith Hedrenatherax had wooed to his side, turned out to be no better than Shuurka. Lyskaja was a competent military leader, and had even managed to keep Orcus’ undead on his side of the border. Unfortunately, her success in this matter had immediately gone to her head, leaving her with the unrealistic viewpoint that she, not Hedrenatherax, should rule the planes of Vrack.

Lyskaja had attacked Hedrenatherax in his throne room, foolishly thinking herself his equal. She had died upon the barbed end of Dreadskewer, the awful spear that had slain Pyrak. Hedrenatherax had retained the weapon and often wielded is as a symbol of his authority. Dreadskewer had been forged by the Infernals to slay demons, and its very touch was painful to demon-kind, a trait that Hedrenatherax circumvented by use of a glove sewn from the hide of a barbazu devil.

After Lyskaja, Hedrenatherax had decided that his rule would be one of his own devising; he could not trust any of the demons that inhabited his domain to do anything but attempt to usurp him. Pressure was the overriding theme of his ascension, pressure to rule, pressure to rally his demons. For if he did not, there were literally dozens of other demon lords who would gladly swoop in and crush him.

Orcus and Azazel were Hedrenatherax’s most immediate concerns. He had already fought a number of skirmishes with the demon prince of undead, and for now that was all Orcus seemed willing to do. But Hedrenatherax had no doubt that the ram headed fiend was simply testing his defenses, biding his time for a more direct assault. Azazel on the other hand, was far subtler in his advances. The charismatic demon lord had sent a number of delegations to Hedraxus, proposing all manner of alliances, all of which had Hedrenatherax serving as a subordinate vassal. Hedrenatherax had sent the demons in each of these delegations back to their lord – in pieces.

The list of challenges and difficulties facing Hedrenatherax’s rule was growing daily, while the sum of his advantages remained stalled at two. His main asset was the vast spawning pit of Gemnez Drak, where he, unlike many demon lords, could create armies of lesser demons. This required the use of vast quantities of larva, the pathetic worm-like creatures created from the souls of the damned.

Larva were expensive and could only be obtained from the enigmatic night hags, who kept the secret of their creation from the demon lords of the Abyss and the archdevils of Infernium. Hedrenatherax had nearly drained his coffers buying up all the larva he could, and had managed to create a staggering force of lesser demons, literally millions of dretch, manes, and babau. But even in these great numbers, lesser demons would fall like wheat to a scythe to a determined force of greater fiends, and the ranks of Hedrenatherax’s army were woefully short of the mightiest of demon-kind. Still, his army had managed to hold off a number of minor incursions from Orcus, winning battles of attrition against the demon prince’s undead.

The second bright spot, on what would otherwise be a very dim situation, was that Hedrenatherax had managed to forge a single alliance with another demon lord. Mastiphal was not the most powerful of abyssal rulers, but he did lay claim to an entire plane, and had ruled for countless millennia. The patron of the hyena-like gnolls, Mastiphal commanded a respectable force of the fiendish dog-men, as well as a host of demons and other infernal creatures. He was also served by a vast horde of ghouls and ghasts, as that particular form of undead considered the demon lord to be their benefactor upon the prime material plane.

Mastiphal had approached Hedrenatherax soon after his ascension, wishing to forge an alliance and combine their resources to repel attacks from other demon lords, as well as conquer more territory. To date the demon lords had done nothing more than hold onto their territory, as Mastiphal’s alliance with Hedrenatherax had brought the ire of other, previously unconcerned, demon lords down upon them both. Now, the hounds were closing in for the kill, and both Mastiphal and Hedrenatherax stood to lose their domains to more powerful abyssal rulers.

All of this weighed heavy upon the horned brow of Hedrenatherax as he sat slumped in his throne, his left hand idly fingering the shaft of Dreadskewer, which lay across his lap. He awaited more bad news from the lips of Gemnez, the rogue devil that had once served Pyrak. As master of Gemnez Drak, Gemnez oversaw the spawning pits and the creation of Hedrenatherax’s army; he was due to give a progress report today. Hedrenatherax hardly trusted the arrogant devil, but knew that he was far too valuable a recourse to cast aside.

Hedrenatherax stared down the length of his empty throne room, listening for the telltale pounding of Gemnez’s massive tread, and wondered how he had failed so spectacularly. He had power, he had an army, he even had an entire plane, but his ascension had been nothing like the raw and brutal dreams he had entertained as a balor. His status as a demon lord had become more a burden than anything else, but despite this, he would rather be destroyed than be anything less than what he was.

Hedrenatherax cast a look back over his shoulder, at the withered corpse of Pyrak, and muttered, “How did you do it, you feathered bastard? How did you keep it all together?”

Regardless of who had emerged the victor in their final confrontation, Hedrenatherax could not deny that Pyrak had ruled his domain in splendid fashion. He held other demon lords at bay with paltry ease, using the incomprehensible weapon of diplomacy rather than violence to preserve his rule. Although, Pyrak’s battle prowess had certainly not gone unnoticed by any would-be enemies.

Not once could Hedrenatherax remember a single incursion into Pyrak’s domain, not even the likes of Orcus or Azazel had dared challenge the mighty vrock. In addition, Pyrak had managed to win almost unimaginable victories in Infernium, destroying great armies of devils and even slaying an archdevil. But that last trick sealed your fate. Didn’t it, Pyrak? Hedrenatherax thought as he stroked the lusterless gray metal of Dreadskewer. It was true that Pyrak’s victory over Beyemon had weakened him, and the trophy he had brought back to the Abyss, the great devil’s spear, had been the very instrument of his destruction.

Hedrenatherax grinned wide, exposing more of his jutting, yellowed tusks. The thought of Pyrak – pierced and dying on the floor of his own throne room – always brought a faint whiff of the ecstasy he had felt on the day when his dreams, however unlikely, had been realized. The smile faded from Hedrenatherax’s horrendous features as quickly as it had come, snatched from his face by the empty reality of the present. If he did not divine a way to strengthen his domain, then he would join Pyrak as a grim trophy, nailed to the walls of another demon lord’s throne room.

The room suddenly resounded with the dull thud of a heavy fist pounding upon the room’s only door. Hedrenatherax looked up from the dire melancholy that was slowly consuming him and barked, “Come!”

The great iron door swung open to emit the ponderous from of Gemnez. The sight of the rogue horned devil always churned Hedrenatherax’s stomach, and his disdain for the bloated fiend was impossible to hide. “I hope you have brought me better news than I have had of late, toad. My patience for ill tidings has grown thin.” Hedrenatherax spat as Gemnez neared the throne.

Gemnez dropped to a knee before his master; an act that Hedrenatherax knew wounded the devil’s pride each time he did it. Gemnez had always been Hedrenatherax’s superior, in both mind and body, easily defeating the former balor in their two confrontations. But now things were different, Hedrenatherax’s ascension to demon lord had sharpened his mind, and greatly increased his physical prowess. No longer did the subtleties of Gemnez’s clever barbs elude him, nor did he fear the infernal for his size and skill at arms. Gemnez had accepted this subordinate role with no complaint, a fact that only sharpened the edge of Hedrenatherax’s suspicion.

“I fear that we are running out of larva, my lord. The spawning pits will run dry in a few days.” Gemnez said after rising to meet the steel gaze of his liege.

Hedrenatherax said nothing, regarding Gemnez with a cool malevolent glare. Gemnez, as if sensing the rage building within the demon lord, quickly addressed the bad news he had laid at his lord’s feet. “But, my lord, if I may offer some council in this matter.”

“Oh, yes, fat one, please enlighten me with your wisdom,” Hedrenatherax grated through clenched teeth, his gloved left hand tightening on the shaft of Dreadskewer.

Gemnez smiled, spreading his fat, crimson stained lips across his wide reptilian face. “My lord flatters me with his generosity,” the devil said, knowing that he could occasionally indulge in a bit of sarcasm and not be skewered for it. “I have recently heard that the plane of Gehenna is about to erupt in civil war, and that it would be a most opportune time to strike up alliances with certain involved parties.”

“How have you come to know this, Gemnez? And more to the point, how does this concern me or your inability to provide me with new demons?” Hedrenatherax asked, his patience already wearing thin.

“My lord, I have an extensive network of spies and informants placed across the multiverse, which supply me with all manner of interesting tidbits that I, of course, pass on to you.”

“Yes, I’m sure that you do.” Hedrenatherax said, making no attempt to hide his disbelief. “But you still have not explained how a civil war in Gehenna benefits me.”

“Yes, my lord, of course.” Gemnez purred. “Have you heard the tale of Yaghur Hod?”

“The prisoner of Elysium?” Hedrenatherax replied. Of course, it is a commonly known legend.”

The tale of Yaghur Hod was an ancient one, and one that had been told and retold so many times that many doubted its validity. The legend stated that Yaghur Hod had been the first of the Archodaemons, the grand ruler of the mercenary breed of fiends, and had held power in a time long before the rise of devil and demon. Some even said that Yaghur Hod’s reign predated the rise of chaos and law.

A unique creature of singular power, Yaghur Hod had commanded an army of his brethren that was said to be without number. In this ancient time beyond mortal reckoning, he had waged war not on his fellow fiends, but on the vaunted planes of Elysium, wherein dwell the purest of all celestials. Yaghur Hod had eventually been defeated by the mighty leonal, Auraliach, who in single combat, had struck down the Archodaemon, and imprisoned him for all eternity on the second layer of Elysium.

“Well, he has been freed.” Gemnez said.

“The prisoner of Elysium, freed?” Hedrenatherax exclaimed. “How did this happen?” It was such an incredulous event, for Yaghur Hod was imprisoned where no fiend could travel. And even if that were possible, it would take an army like no other to storm the gates of Elysium.

“It is unknown, but his freedom is a fact, and he is most eager to reclaim his title and power from the current Archodaemon,” Gemnez said, smiling, the fiendish gleam of a well laid plan burning in his beady reptilian eyes. “I am sure that he would be most receptive to the aid of a mighty demon lord, and would be more than grateful if such aid would help him win back his kingdom.”

Hedrenatherax had to admit the idea had merit. He had used daemonic mercenaries in the past, and although their loyalty was often dubious in the extreme, they could be potent allies. If Yaghur Hod were to become Archodaemon once again, then he would command the allegiance of every daemon and could command an army that was beyond counting. “Can you contact Yaghur Hod, toad? Or are you merely suggesting this plan of action to cover for you failure at the spawning pit?”

“My lord, you wound me,” Gemnez said, pretending to be insulted by Hedrenatherax’s obvious suspicion. “I would not bring before my lord anything that would not ultimately serve him, and in this matter I assure you that I can deliver.”

“Very well, fat one. I will meet with Yaghur Hod and discuss a union of our two forces.” Hedrenatherax delivered his edict with stoic calm, but inside he was near bursting with relief and joy. With Yaghur Hod as an ally he could repulse his demonic rivals and perhaps even wage a war of conquest upon them.

“Then I shall make haste to Gemnez Drak and arrange it.” Gemnez said with a bow. “I hope I have pleased my lord.”

“Hah!” Hedrenatherax snorted. “Pleased me?! Well, toad, I have decided not to kill you, if that answers your question.”

“It is enough, my liege,” Gemnez said, smiling broadly. “I will take my leave.”

“Yes, get out of my sight before I change my min,.” Hedrenatherax said, pointing Dreadskewer towards the door to the throne room.

After Gemnez left, Hedrenatherax rose from his throne and turned to look at the corpse of Pyrak hanging above his seat of power. “Well, Pyrak, it seems that you shall hold your place of honor for a while longer,” he said, drinking in the view of his defeated enemy, and letting his unbridled dreams of conquest wash over him like a sea of blood.
 

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BLACKDIRGE

Adventurer
Morrus said:
For those who are impatient, I'm feeling generous. This is chapter one of The Tides of Chaos.

Also, if you check the original story hour thread, I've been posting tidbits from the upcoming books. I posted the stat block for one of the big bads in book three just a couple of days ago.

BD
 
Last edited:

Stegger

First Post
I am terribly sorry to hear about the editors misfortune. Some things are much more important than a book!

But thank you for the updates, both of you.
 


Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
Here's the cover art for The Tides of Chaos:

MetaFinal2.jpg
 



Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
Final covers ahoy!
 

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poilbrun

First Post
The cover is great!

As an aside, just a quick question: will there again be two versions of the pdf?

Keep up the good work!
 

Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
poilbrun said:
As an aside, just a quick question: will there again be two versions of the pdf?

Yup. As before, regular novel-size first, deluxe letter-size (with the art and stats) later.
 

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