Smengal, Plague Angel of Ruin, led his forces deeper into the network of interconnecting caverns that spread deep below the palace.
It had been two days since the Aerial Palace of Ecstasy had drifted into his territory. They had rapidly struck out against the invaders, and while the bulk of his army attacked the as of yet unprepared forces of Ecstasy, he and two more of his fellow Lords had circled high above.
When the depraved Queen of Ecstasy emerged from the palace and began her assault, the Lords of Ruin barrelled towards their target - their ragged flesh slapping softly against them and their dark plumage whispering of death in the wind. Three monstrous scythes struck simultaneously against her, cleaving devastating wounds into her flesh. The severed arm of the Queen twitched on the ground, still clinging to its sword. On her right side, where the arm had been cleaved free, her two massive claws dangled unnaturally against her, crushed to a pulp from the force of the blow. A deep wound stretched across the side of her face, down her body, and terminated at her hip. The Queen’s blood, a vibrant purple, pumped out in arterial sprays. Somehow she had still slain one of his brothers - using the momentum of his descent against him - splitting him nearly in half.
Her disfigured face smiled at him, filled with rapture.
How he hated those touched by Ecstasy. This was a hatred borne from envy and jealousy. They had everything that his kind lacked. Where those born of Ruin experienced a life of eternal suffering, her kind knew only bliss. The followers of Ruin were equally impervious to the effects of pain as this Queen, but it wasn’t because they didn’t feel it - they felt it in full. For Smengal and his kin, their entire lives were torture, the loss of a limb was just another note in the symphony of agony that was their existance. In contrast, for the Queen of Ecstasy, the mortal wounds seemed to be a joyous occasion. Her death was filled with the same wonder and pleasure that she had known her entire life.
He lashed out at her again, and somehow even in her death throes she was able to turn the blow. Her strength was immense, and he was knocked off balance. He flung himself backwards, sprawling across the ground, and barely escaping the reach of her talons. His brother seized the opportunity to plunge his Scythe deep into her back, rending asunder her heart and lungs.
By the time Smengal had regained his footing, his brother was already perched on the Queen’s corpse, feasting upon her. The hunger burned inside Smengal. He craved to taste that flesh, to eat and eat and eat. He was ravenous. Always so empty. He wondered if this would be the meal to finally satiate his brother’s appetite. He was frozen for a second, wild fantasies of striking his brother down, and eating both him and the Queen nearly swept him away.
But that was not the way of Ruin. Unlike the fops of Ecstasy who seemingly acted upon whatever whim took their fancy, his suffering had forged an unbending will. All the Followers of Ruin were beholden to the same rules, to the same code, and despite their hunger they upheld that code with dogged determination. To feast upon one of their own was forbidden by the Great Mother. Her word was law, and despite his unholy cravings and his desire to please her, to gain a measure of her approval, was the most powerful compulsion of them all.
His brother had landed the killing blow, and so the feast was rightfully his. Already the forces of Ecstasy were scattering and in full retreat. His brother’s most favoured followers were surrounding the Queen, peeling flesh from her severed arm, or lapping at the blood that covered the ground.
Smengal waved his forces onwards into the Palace. They would pursue their foe and glut themselves on their corpses.
The Children of Ecstasy were as wheat before his scythe. His bulk dwarfed them, and he swatted them aside as a child would knock away a toy that is no longer of interest. He was covered in hundreds of scratches from their serrated claws, but none had landed a significant blow against him. They were fleeing now, somehow still appearing to be joyous as they did so - almost dancing from the battlefield.
He had pursued them deep below the palace into a warren of caverns, some so large that he could easily fly a hundred feet into the air before reaching the ceiling. Now they faced a wall of solid rock that blocked their pathway. At least fifty feet high and twice as wide, it was carved into exquisite frescos, each one detailing scenes of debauchery and violence in equal measure. He recognized the story, a familiar tale of mortals who worshiped a great Ytarii Queen - mixing their bloodlines with hers - and producing a generation of half bloods who conquered first a nation, and then a world. It was a thing of beauty, and he desired it and resented it in equal measure. Procreation is something forever denied to the Ytarii of Ruin, and how that curse plagued his Great Mother, leaving her forever trapped in grief. Long had she brought forth her children, each a hideous mockery of her beauty and grace, each a disappointment like Smengal himself. She had been denied the gift of true procreation, and instead was forced to consume flesh and creational energy - breaking it down, reshaping it and regurgitating it into a tortured mockery of life. This was how all the followers of Ruin had been “born” and even now a convoy of filth would be departing for the Great Mother’s cavern, prisoners caged, her tithe from every battle.
Massive pillars supported the wall, and while it was immense, it had clearly been built for its beauty - not to stop an invasion. Chains were brought forth and looped around the columns, thousands of Children of Ruin and their Atriarch commanders pulled on them. Inch by inch the pillars gave way, and as they did, the wall collapsed. The sound in the caverns was thunderous, and for several minutes Smengal was sure that they had made a fatal error, and instead of bringing down a wall they had instead collapsed the entire cavern onto their own heads.
A quiet settled then, and the air filled with dust from the settling rubble. The scale of the collapse had shocked even him, and it was as if they had all sucked in their breath and were holding it in anticipation of being buried alive.
In the silence her laughter seemed incredibly loud. A rich, sultry sound, but tinged darkly with the notes of madness. The forces of Ruin stood frozen in shock as rubble exploded outwards followed by a rapidly moving form, golden skin gleaming intensely and then fading almost to black in the dim lights of the cavern.
Massive scything talons uncoiled from around her body explosively, sending the lesser Ytarii of Ruin - Atriarchs and Children alike - flying away in bloody pieces. Then she was moving upward effortlessly - seemingly lighter than air - and disappeared into the darkness above. Her laughter was quieter and more sinister now. It echoed from the stalactites and drifted down as she skittered across the ceiling. Her form was completely shrouded in darkness.
Smengal inhaled a ragged gurgling breath. The shriek he unleashed pierced the air like a banshee’s wail, drowning out the laughter. His forces rallied to him. In their hunger for the flesh of their foes they had pushed too far, too quickly. He recognized the creature that had broken their advance immediately. Nephila, a vile outcast of the realm of Ecstasy - one of the Primal Ytarii.
He had already slain the Queen of this Aerial Palace, and this Primal should be an easy target in comparison. However, killing the Queen had involved a measure of surprise and with the combined strength of his fellow Lords. Now the forces of ruin were scattered throughout the palace, many injured and dead. Fighting one of the Primals here - in what appeared to be its lair, or perhaps its prison - was not without risk.
The forces of Ecstasy had continued their retreat and were nowhere to be seen. But he could sense that Nephila was still lurking above them. He was filled with unease at the situation, but to fall back from one foe… it would be a sign of weakness, and weakness amongst his kin was a death sentence..
At his signal, several Sphincts pulled their putrid bodies out of the tunnel and into the cavern, their hideous forms leaving trails of neurotoxic slime from their many orifices.
“Volley,” he croaked at them, and pointed towards the ceiling with his scythe. The bodies of the sphincts undulated in peristaltic waves and with a wet sounding explosion, shards of half digested bone covered in bacteria and feces were launched towards the ceiling. They seemed to pour out of the beasts like a geyser composed entirely of darkness. “Volley,” he croaked again, his voice going from a wet gurgle to dry rasp. He watched the bone shards disappear into the darkness - a wide swath that could not possibly be avoided. Smengal’s fanged mouth spread into something approximating a smile, the usual emotions associated with such an expression completely lacking - replaced instead with anticipation and ravenous hunger. He could almost taste her flesh. The shards impacted the darkened ceiling above and rained back down onto the ground. He waited for the Spider’s body to follow.
“Oh dear. I think you missed,” her voice sent chills down Smengal’ spine. Not of fear, the followers of Ruin were nearly incapable of such an emotion, but of desire, of jealousy, of hunger. It was a voice of beauty and mirth. It was filled with pleasure and joy. Things that he had never felt - things that were beyond him - but things that he craved with every fiber of his being. He knew he must have her. That he must consume every part of her. His vision narrowed as the hunger swept him away. He would crack open her carapace and slurp out the delicate meat beneath. A part of him knew that nothing could satiate his desire, but always the hope remained. A hope that her flesh would be the key to finding satisfaction at last.
“Unleash,” he screeched at the Sphincts. His own voice repugnant and repellent to his ears after hearing the delicate tones of Nephila. The Beasts shuddered in agony, their tortured forms pushed to their limits, as waves of filth shot towards the ceiling. They were firing blind, but the sheer volume of foul smelling waste and razor sharp bone should allow for no escape.
Pirouetting through the air, the Nephila was like a tornado of claws and blades. She parted the filth before her with her blade as though it was water. While most of the shards were diverted, Smengal could see that some were still striking home, piercing her golden skin, leaving shimmering purple jewels of blood dripping from the wounds. Smengal saw the Primal shudder as if in pleasure, her mouth opening and her own mandibles extending in excitement - the bone shards striking her more of a stimulant than a hindrance. The Sphincts were powerless against her in such close quarters. Their bodies flailed madly, attempting to catch her in their massive jaws. Silvery blades lashed out, severing appendages and splitting open their bloated bodies to spill whatever passed for internal organs across the ground. The groans and wails they unleashed in death were even more pathetic than the ones they had emitted in life. Their bodies continued to flop on the ground for several minutes after they had been slain.
With another shriek, Smengal charged towards the Spider Demon, his followers at his side, rank upon rank of the Children of ruin. An overwhelming legion. It would certainly be a costly victory , but even a being such as her could not possibly stand against such a force. Glory, and more importantly, the feast, would be his.
Nephila felt even more euphoric than usual. Viscera coated her talons and dripped onto her skin in a most enchanting way. She laughed watching the clumsy charge of the pathetic followers of Ruin. They brayed like deranged cattle, running like puppets with their strings cut, flopping about madly. It was the most entertainment she had had since she was sequestered into this cavern for her supposed crimes. Laws, morals, boundaries… such petty things should not interfere in the pursuit of pleasure. She became even more amused as the trap doors in the floor of the cavern opened and her devoted Children emerged into the midst of the rabble.
The expression on the face of the foul Plague Angel was priceless. Too late he had realized his mistake and tried to pull his forces back. Nephila , moved towards him languidly. Her movements were flowing and beautiful even as she decapitated and dismembered those who stood between them. Her eyes never left his face, watching the panic and desperation grow as she cut her way towards him, her progress measured in blood and gore. The Plague Angel turned away from her then - attempting to wing away - but Nephila launched herself forward, her speed surprising even to herself. This one was not going to escape her. He had, after all, traveled so far and made such an effort to visit her.
Serrated claws impaled Smengal through his back and wings. He blinked in surprise, and tried to swing his scythe awkwardly towards his frustratingly quick opponent. Her sword flicked across his wrist, severing the tendons and letting the scythe clatter to the ground in a cloud of rust. He was propelled forward, helpless, pinned against the wall of the cavern. She shoved him against the wall of the cavern, the barbed edges of her carapace tearing into his skin in juxtaposition to the soft swell of her breasts pushing against his back. Smengal struggled against her frantically and with futility. She in turn ground against him, forcing him harder against the wall, his resistance exciting her. She leaned in, forcing her head to the side of Smengal’s face, her breathing hot and hard against his neck. He felt something then, he wasn’t sure what, but he wondered if it had been a fleeting moment of pleasure, or maybe just a rush of hunger at having his prey so close.
Nephila whispered to him, her voice as rich as honey, glistening with promise and sweet to his ears. It was mocking and filled with the pleasure denied thim. “How kind of you to set me free. For a fly to hunt a spider in her own web? Oh, you have provided some wonderful entertainment, and I am so looking forward to our remaining time together.”
“Utris Balch,” Smengal swore at her in low Yitarii, “I shall strip the flesh from your bones, and feast upon you while you beg for mercy. You are nothing more than a delicacy. Your only purpose to satiate my hunger. I will crack open your claws, and suck out the meat while you watch,” his voice cracked as he spoke and he sounded more desperate than threatening to his ears. He coughed up something wet, blood most likely, trying to spit it at her in defiance.
“Oh a feast you say,” her voice was a deranged purr. Nephila could barely contain herself. His struggles were thrilling her, driving her to a near frenzy, she crushed him flat against the wall, her mandibles quivering in excitement, “A little fly, trapped in my web, you do look so tasty.”
Smengal screeched. He was no stranger to pain, but the damage she was inflicting dismayed even him. Her jaws were clamped over the left side of his face, crushing bone, and tearing flesh. A mandible pierced his eye and he felt it pop, jelly running down his cheek as his vision went abruptly dark on that side. He couldn’t see her any longer, but he could certainly feel as the ligaments in his cheek were torn free, he could hear as she slurped on them, much as he had promised he would do to her. Then his entire jaw was in her mandibles now. He felt the bone snap as she tore into him, half his face being pulled away as she let him fall to the ground. His wings tore on her talons as he fell, nothing but bloody stumps of shattered bone remaining of his once menacing plumage. Smengal collapsed backwards staring up at Nephalia. Watching as she spat his jawbone onto the ground, her smile mocking, his dark blood flowing down her chin. His one good eye flicked upwards, meeting her stare, and he laughed.
Nephila grinned at the pathetic, broken thing cowering before her. It was staring up at her making the strangest noises. Blubbering and begging for its life no doubt. She wondered how much more she could tear the Plague Angel apart before it would eventually die. The followers of Ruin were notoriously resilient, and she hoped that she could at least remove its limbs before it bled out.
She took a step forward and then abruptly stopped. Something was wrong. Her face was tingling, and then it was stinging as hundreds of sores began to form across her mouth. She locked eyes on the Plague Angel again, and realized that he wasn’t blubbering at all - those pathetic gurgles emanating from him were laughter. Too late she realized her folly. Just as the creature before her had - in his desire for glory - foolishly charged into her trap, she too had allowed herself to become carried away in the moment. The name Plague Angel was not given to these beasts without reason - their flesh and blood carried with it virulent diseases that could incapacitate lesser foes with only their presence. She had of course not been affected by his general miasma, her enhanced constitution leaving her unaffected -but it was another matter entirely to take a bite out the filthy thing’s flesh.
Smengal felt about as close to pleasure as was possible for a Yhtarii of Ruin. A dark humor filled him with nihilistic mirth. The type of laughter that had no joy or pleasure, but only a grim acceptance of the futility of it all. The laughter of the mad perhaps. Truly this was a most divine comedy after all. Two beings so opposite, and yet bound together in a saga of greed and self destruction. Nephila’s grin was rapidly turning to surprise, and then regret. Her face was a mass of lesions, and her eyes were wide with the rapture that her kind always felt instead of pain. Any other creature, even some of his own kind, would be dead already, but somehow her enhanced physiology was fighting the disease even as it was consuming her flesh. He watched as trickles of purple blood ran from her nose, ears, and eyes… the infection having spread through the sinuses, and presumably towards her brain.
Nephalia was on her knees, her hands clawing at her face, talons ripping lines into her cheeks. It was glorious! She had never felt anything such as this before! It was like every nerve in her body was singing, each one alert, alive. It was such an overwhelming pleasure that she couldn’t move. And then something changed.
As the infection spread the part of her that fed the euphoria died suddenly. She had heard of such things… most notorious was the council of Queens who had been marked - some said cursed - by their god. Each of them had been branded, not just on their skin, but deep in their minds, losing the blessing of eternal Ecstasy. Theirs’ was the punishment and burden of leadership, and in their struggle to regain the pleasure that the rest of their kin was eternally blessed with, the Council of Queens provided the Yhtarii of Ecstasy direction and purpose. It was a terrible fate indeed.
Nephila’s scream shook the cavern, shocking the rest of the combatants to stillness. Again and again she screamed, thrashing about madly before lurching to her feet and sprinting deeper into the depths of the Aerial Palace, her horrified cries echoing back to her shocked followers. They too broke away from the combat, their surprise turning to fascination and titillation as their lithe forms streamed after her, eager for a new and novel experience.
Smengal was still giggling madly to himself as his followers gathered around him and began to drag his broken body back through the labyrinth-like tunnels that they had descended to reach the Spider Demon’s lair. The Palace was vibrating with energy. He knew that soon it would break away from where it had made landfall in his territory, and would begin to drift seemingly at random across the shattered plains.
This wasn’t the end though. They were bound now, he could feel it. He felt like he could sense the Spider Demon, somewhere in the darkness, screaming. Nephila , her name came to him unbidden. How he hungered for her, and if she somehow survived he doubted that she would forget him anytime soon. Perhaps she was able to sense him, as much as he could her. He laughed to himself - perhaps this was love, or maybe it was loathing. Such a thin line between them. Obsession maybe? But isn’t love just mutual obsession? One thing he knew for certain was that they would meet again…