Capitol City was a sprawling Mecca of affluence located in the Province of Gehenna. Deep in the land mass known as the Provinces of Hell, it was carefully designed to disguise its real purpose. I guess if you have to live in a prison, the pain of dissolution seems easier if it’s built to look like a palace. The Dark Lord, regal of stance, stood on a second story balcony overlooking the gardens that had been planted in what was to be his statement of royalty; his denial of imprisonment. He also denies aging as well because I first met him an eon ago, and he still looks as youthful as he did then. He was small compared to most of his men, but his six foot frame, long dark brown hair and piercing green eyes had commanded them since the incept of his army. Never a day went by that he didn't think about the Holy War, and how badly it had ended for not just him, but all of his followers as well. This was just the latest trek down memory lane and it threatened to alter his mood. He shook it off and forced himself to keep his thoughts to the here and now. Today was a big day for him, monumental in fact, because his scientists were about to change the environment allowing him to leave his dreadful prison and re-enter the common world called Earth.
The Dark Lord had read their procedures through and believed the plan would work. The plan was actually quite simple. Large canisters of chemicals and rare crystals would be flown to the very edge of the atmosphere by flocks of the giant Roc birds, and emptied above the clouds. As the mixture fell back to the ground, the clouds would seed a torrent of water that would ultimately wash away the barrier that held him here. The River Styx and the wall of energy couldn't be powerful enough to hold back a tidal wave of that magnitude. When the waters receded, he would build bridges to cross what once was the equivalent of the prison door. The thought was very satisfying to him and his mood returned to normal or at least normal for him. The extreme loss of life during the deluge wouldn't bother him in the slightest. He would be safe in a specially built tower which had been erected on the right wing of the palace. It wasn't as if this society would lose anything substantial; the citizens were a primitive group of people who thrived only due to his generosity. He had plans for changing that, but for the moment it would have to wait. If he had nothing else, he had time. The Dark Lord's wife, Kathra, was already there waiting for him. She carried what he hoped would be his son, and the planned birth was also happening later the same day. He was well aware of the potential problems surrounding the birth, and had taken as many precautions as possible. The Dark Lord was of demon descent, a created being, while his wife was of Denizen origins. That probably doesn't mean much on Earth, but here on the Provinces it's known as a death sentence. No one could remember the last time a denizen carried a child to full term and lived through it once impregnated by a demon. The problem was painfully obvious. There were no female demons, and their need to propagate was overwhelming. It never ended well, but the Dark Lord was determined to save the baby by performing a C-section prior to the birth, killing its host. It had been tried before but under less than sterile conditions, and always ended with the loss of both lives. This time the conditions were considerably better. Cleanliness was paramount and a real physician would be on hand. The emphasis would be on the child, and as harsh as that might seem, Kathra knew and understood. The Dark Lord would miss her briefly, but he knew the full legacy of his life would be passed to the child. The mother would only know servitude, pain, and ultimately death.
He considered this a necessary evil if there was to be a long term extended Empire on both sides of the River Styx. Kathra would be remembered with a portrait hung in the main foyer of the palace. She thought it to be an honor, but the Dark Lord only did it to appease the child in later years. No one spoke of the half breed about to be born in fear of their master's reprisal. He had issues with the Denizens, but realized that without them there would be no children at all. He hated that worse. Convincing himself that the demon genetic code was strong enough to overtake the other, consoled him and comforted the inner strife about who and what the child would become. All the rest of his son's life would boil down to training and modified behavior that he thought was inevitable with constant intervention. The boy would be the first locally born Dark Lord ever. According to history, only certain families rose to become Lords, and of those, all were male and had been genetically produced - test tube babies, if you will. They were never supposed to interact with a populace unless it was to destroy them. The scientists had badly underestimated their new creations, and had subsequently lost control over them. In the end, the demons were overwhelmed by the sheer bulk of their creator's army and sentenced to eternity on the Provinces of Hell. The other species living there were no match for the demons, and a hierarchy formed with the demons overlording the others. The Dark Lord felt that it was only a matter of time before he discovered a way to break out of the prison forever. He didn't particularly hate Earth; it was simply the closest and most convenient area to conquer. They had yet to move into a technological age, so it made things like genocide somewhat more practical. They had virtually no way to halt his war machine, or much knowledge of the demon's existence, just myth and rumors of a force greater than their own. His previous experience told him that Humans weren't strong enough to produce demon offspring, so their use to his race was nonexistent except as a food source.
All the rest of the creations were considered merely demonic and lived only to serve the Lords. There were nine Classes of these demons, rated exclusively by the number designations One through Nine. The first three Classes - Ones, Twos and Threes, were the Scouts and Spies, and were smaller than the others and less powerful. The second set of Classes - Fours, Fives and Sixes, were considered Soldiers and constituted the bulk of the Dark Lord's Army. The last and final set of three were of a higher echelon and considered Officers, subordinate only to the Dark Lord himself - the dreaded Sevens, Eights and Nines. They were the fastest, the largest, and certainly the most powerful. I've always wondered why the architects of the demonic beings didn't kill them when they had the chance. They instead chose to imprison them on the Provinces. Perhaps the original loss of control had intrigued them in some way, or they didn't have the means by which to end their lives. We may never know, but one thing is certain. It's imperative to keep them secure on the far side of the River Styx. If set free, it would likely mean the death of everything else. The Creators built the river and engineered the energy barrier which surrounds it. Within a few weeks their presence was removed from the Provinces, and they were never seen again. The Dark Lord felt deep within his being, that the Creators had left strong in the knowledge that the demons were effectively trapped forever, and that the need for jailors was simply not an issue. The Dark Lord lived to prove them wrong. Today would be no different, just personally more productive. One last look at the gardens and The Dark Lord turned away. It would be a shame to lose the landscaping, but when the water dried up, they could and would replant. He made his way to a spiral staircase that led to a second story door. Opening it took only a moment and he stepped inside. The interior of the opening showed that the door was, in actuality, a hatch that would be sealed from entry once the locking wheel was turned. The Dark Lord pushed firmly on the iron mechanism with one hand, and spun the locking wheel with the other. The interior of the tower had the appearance of a stone cellar, with shelves, boxes, and bottles of what looked like wine. A ladder in the center of the room disappeared into the next floor up; complete with yet another hatch that could seal the cellar off from the floors above. The Dark Lord quickly climbed the ladder, closed the hatch, and spun the wheel. He repeated this procedure a total of four more times, although the ladders starting with the third floor were located along the outside walls, each further along the wall than the last.
The top floor was the operating room and had several large windows equidistant, affording a panoramic view of the countryside. He had been reassured the water wouldn't rise to this height, but would provide him an excellent view of the carnage it produced. His top Officers were now located on the roof of the palace, and the rest had been sent into the mountains to ride out the grand adventure. Three demons in lab coats turned to face the Dark Lord as he cleared the top of the ladder. Two of them were Class Sevens and subordinate to the third, which was a Class Nine named Cystic. The two Sevens were never called by name, and when spoken to it was by their rank of Centurion. Cystic, on the other hand, was a long time friend to the Dark Lord and trusted more than most. He had on many occasions after combat, dealt with the wounded and discovered his talent for keeping the soldiers alive. He stood eight foot three inches, was extremely dark, and sported a set of wings that were larger than most men. In contrast, he was also the most gentle of his kind, and truly wanted nothing more than see an end to war. The Dark Lord was unaware of this side to Cystic's character; a deeply held secret that once found out would end the demon’s career. Even today he could show no mercy to Kathra, and it took everything he had not to break down. Kathra was lying underneath a sheet on an operating table, and glanced over to the Dark Lord as he entered. She immediately looked away and tried not to let him see her pain. The Dark Lord strode across the room like a man on a mission until he stood before Cystic. "Are we ready to proceed?" Cystic glanced over to his medical implements, verifying that all were lined up and clean. "We can begin any time now." The Dark Lord placed his hands on his hips and sighed deeply. "Well then, what in Gehenna are you waiting for?" Cystic bowed at his command and turned, signaling to the other two demons to hold the woman down. The Dark Lord ambled slowly over to the closest window and peered up to the sky. In the distance he could see the giant Roc Birds flying up and away from the palace. It wouldn't be much longer now, and with any luck, the child would come into the world at the same time as the deluge.
Kathra screamed out and one of the two Class Sevens placed a hand over her mouth. The initial incision had been made without anesthetic per the Dark Lord's instructions, and her pain was excruciating. Cystic appeared worried, the Class Sevens looked frightened, and the Dark Lord acted annoyed. Moments later, Cystic handed the child over to his superior who held it out at arm's length, examining it as if he couldn't believe his eyes. "Can no one do what is instructed of them? This is a female!" With no prelude, he tossed the baby over the operating table and Cystic deftly snagged her out of the air one handed. The Dark Lord sauntered over to the table and glanced down at Kathra. "Will she live?" Cystic sadly shook his head, and one of the Class Sevens pulled the sheet up to cover her face. "The trauma was just too great. She has passed. The child still breathes, and is unblemished." The Dark Lord turned his head to look at Cystic and the baby. "Well, at least someone managed to do their job. Watch over her until the sky cleansing is finished. We'll keep her as long as she lives." Cystic nodded and wrapped the baby in a blanket, trying not to fuss over her too much until his superior left. "What shall you call her, Sire?" The Dark Lord thought for a moment; he hadn't considered a female's name until now. "I will call her Katherine." The first sign that something cataclysmic was occurring came as a scratching noise high above the clouds. The volume began building and in moments was audible to the demonic ear. The Dark Lord spun toward the window and shouted something, but no one heard him. In the turbulence leading to that moment, the noise had escalated to an ear piercing volume and continued as if it would never stop. Somehow in the escalation it ceased to scratch at the sky and exploded, but not like any detonation he had ever witnessed. Within seconds the fire cloud expanded to the horizon in every direction.
An inverted mushroom of soot and ash blossomed out, driving down toward the ground at supersonic speed. It seemed to be everywhere at once. Cystic dropped to his knees and wrapped his wings around both himself and Katherine, only a heartbeat before the blast hit the tower. The Dark Lord dropped to the floor and rolled into the wall as the leading edge of the mushroom slammed into the structure, and the two Class Sevens threw themselves down to cover him. Cystic felt objects slam into his wings, ricocheting off and around him like a hail storm, but he dug in and never moved. Katherine, eyes closed, was perfectly still and never uttered a sound. Cystic was saved by the operating table which tipped over and acted as a shield. The two Class Sevens lasted just long enough for the cloud to pass around and through the tower. It flayed the skin off their bodies as if it was putty, leaving their outer sides virtually gone. They died almost instantly leaving the Dark Lord unharmed. Crawling out from under the two Class Sevens left him covered in ichor and in shock. Slowly he gazed out through where the window used to be. Nothing but a gaping hole remained. The demon's blood, or ichor, dripped from his face but he didn't notice. The sky was on fire. It had become a roiling mass of flames that randomly moved across where clouds once floated. He wondered if this was what the end of the world looked like, and decided he didn't care. The temperature was stifling and the air felt thin. Cystic stood in one fluid motion and turned to face the Dark Lord. "What just happened, Lord?" The sound of rocks shifting overtook the room, first a few fragments dropping from what was left of the roof. Then without warning, the entire section over their heads started to slide toward the outer side of the tower. Cystic instantly dropped to one knee, covering Katherine with his wings once again, but the Dark Lord stood unmoving and didn't look up. The top of the tower slid at a thirty degree angle, stopping at about the halfway mark, tilted dizzyingly, and fell over the side. The Dark Lord kept staring at the sky as the tower's roof tumbled toward the ground. He was mesmerized by the boiling mass that would blot out the stars. He finally turned to Cystic, fright visible on his face.
"What have we done? This isn't what they promised. I should kill the scientists with my bare hands." Cystic regained his feet, peered out the opposite side of the tower, and pointed in the direction of the palace. "I don't think that will be necessary, My Lord. They were perched on the roof of the palace which now seems to be missing." The Dark Lord limped over to stand next to his General, aka Chief Physician, and gazed at the top of the palace which now consisted of most of the first four floors, the fifth being completely gone. "Those were most of the men I could trust. The scientists as well. How dare they die just as their grand experiment fails . . . and get me a towel!" The Lord cried. Cystic opened his wings and gazed upon the infant in his hand. He marveled at how calm she was, and especially how quiet. A quick glance told him that Kathra was no longer in the room, having been burned as the pyroclastic density current or cloud passed through the tower enclosure. Almost everything not protected had been incinerated when the mixture or tephra impacted with the structure. The operating table that had shielded Cystic was still glowing orange. The roof had been left mostly intact while the wall had suffered the brunt of the impact, and ultimately caused the top of the tower to cave in toward the side. It was amazing that any of it survived at all. Cystic concluded that the tower might not continue to stand and suddenly felt the need to get out. "Sire, we should vacate this structure immediately. I'm not totally sure what's keeping it up at this point, and I don't think we should press our luck any further." The Dark Lord glanced down as if he could see through the floor, and nodded his head. "I'll go first, you bring the child." He didn't even look back as he limped toward the ladder. Positioning himself on the first rung, he slid to the next level. Cystic followed and noticed his Lord working his way down the next ladder without taking pause to find out if Cystic needed help. The tower shook momentarily and then settled with only a minor amount of dust drifting down. The two demons quickened their pace as the building gave indications it wouldn't be standing much longer.
Another shock swept through the structure as they made their exit, and without warning the whole building collapsed to the ground. Dust billowed everywhere as the two sprinted toward the front gardens. Katherine giggled and Cystic glanced down, realizing it was the running that made her happy. It was the first sound she'd made from the moment of birth till now. A symptom she would display for several years to come. She was fearless, and that was a quality she would display throughout her life. The whole palace shook for a moment and the two demons got eye contact, but after a few breathless seconds, the seismic activity stopped and the ground grew silent. That was when they both saw what was left of the front gardens. Several acres of freshly planted flowers, in a multitude of colors - ferns, bushes, and trees were all wiped away and replaced with a layer of what appeared to be rock, was now where it had been. The explosion had made the entire area a desolate, burned out wasteland. It was like this everywhere. Not just in Gehenna, although the effect was strongest at the epicenter which was Capitol City. The farther you traveled out in any direction, the less damage had been done, but the carnage was by far worse than what the Dark Lord and Cystic could see from their vantage point. Over the next few weeks, The Dark Lord's Gehenna troops began making their way back home. Their encampment in the mountains had been just far enough out to lessen the impact. But they'd still lost almost a third of the demons bivouacked there. His troops in the outlying Provinces had not had enough time to travel the distance, and since they had no means of remote communications, he was left wondering if there'd been any survivors or not. The main floor of the palace was announced to be stable by the Dark Lord's new engineers, and he occupied himself with the procurement of food from every Province that still had any. Everything was rationed and used sparingly by everyone except the Dark Lord. He continued as if the supplies were endless, although he took to eating by himself. Construction on the top four floors was slow and arduous, but constant. It was as if the Dark Lord was attempting to wipe away everything that had happened.
A Denizen woman named Mira was enlisted for the well being of Katherine. Originally a poor woman, she learned to rule the palace in the name of Katherine, with a firm but fair hand. She had the favor of the Dark Lord, but only because she knew how to make more out of less. Mira had a stocky, five foot nine inch frame and a shock of frizzy, brown hair that hung out and down slightly past her shoulders. She was not a beautiful woman, but everyone agreed that her demeanor and winning smile made up for any other lack she might have. She was instantly enamored with Katherine, and the child thought of her as mom. As a result, Katherine wanted for nothing, but was for the most part ignored by her father. She wouldn't notice that until much later. After three months, the sky continued to burn, but the static electricity had reduced its fervor to intermittent bursts that usually fell short of hitting the ground. The temperature stabilized at roughly twenty degrees warmer than before, and never changed. Whatever seasonal differences they had experienced were left in the wake of the burning sky. The environment was a constant one hundred degrees everywhere in Gehenna, hotter in other Provinces, with a complete lack of rain and surface moisture. The air was thin even at the ground level and smelled of ozone, its primary ingredient. The term "Provinces of Hell" had taken on a new meaning, one that would be carried on through the next generations as the population began to rebound. At the six month anniversary of the burning sky, the last of the Dark Lord's troops marched back into Gehenna. His losses had reached a staggering fifty percent. A few days later, the Denizen residents made an astounding discovery about water, and the Dark Lord issued a proclamation for every citizen to follow suit. Each plot of land was to be dug by his troops until as many places close to the water table could be found. It was discovered that although the explosion had dried the surface beyond recognition, there were still areas within striking distance that began to show moisture. Within days, Gehenna had dozens of working wells and the rationing of water was a thing of the past.
Even the Dark Lord couldn't overlook the need for importing food from the outlying Provinces, so he sent troops in every direction to determine how the Denizens of the remaining six Provinces could reach the still existing water table. For the first time since their initial arrival, the demons were working with the Denizen race rather than treating them as slaves. That would change, of course, as soon as the food began to flow back into Gehenna. Until then, the demons supplied the Denizens with everything they needed to once again become productive. The math was simple. Crops couldn't grow without irrigation and the demons couldn't survive without food. So, for the time being they all had to work together. The alternative was the extinction of both species. A surprising number of lower life forms had managed to survive the initial blast, and evolution being what it was, caused them to mutate. Almost all the surviving animals that weren't omnivores already became such, due to the lack of vegetation available. Most of them became lethal as well. No one in Capitol City predicted the outcome. The scavengers were the first to arrive at the populated centers, but they constituted only a fraction of what was to come. Packs of dog- like creatures began encroaching in the outer reaches of the city, and the local dwellers that didn't pay attention became part of the food chain. The citizens fought back, and protein returned to their dinner plates for the first time in months. The Dark Lord's source for meat never diminished. Shortly after his meat supplies ran out, only days after the disaster, his Denizen staff began to disappear. His official response claimed they were abandoning him and running away like the cowards they were. They made it no further than his dinner table, and worse, he developed a taste for it that lasted long after the cessation of food shortages. They were, as he put it, just another lower life form. A fact his daughter wouldn't learn for several years. The greatest success story turned out to be the insects. Most of the varying species were burrowers, and within their ranks most burrowed deep. Once the initial disaster had passed they came up, and like every other species, discovered a lack of the critical ingredients for survival. The majority died off quickly, but the hardier of each species became cannibalistic which extended their lives long enough to range further in the field.
Little did anyone suspect that it would be the death of the insects that would revitalize the soil. What the Denizens and the demons saw was the overwhelming deluge of insect life as it waved repeatedly through the city like plagues of locusts. They attempted to devour everything in their path. When it was over, the ground was inches thick with expired bugs of every kind imaginable, and hundreds of citizens dead. The insects decomposed quickly as a result of the heat, until the streets ran thick with their fluid. The runoff made it to the fields as it was swept by workers, over and over again, away from where people walked. The results were almost instantaneous, and didn't go unnoticed. Plant growth was almost immediate. So much death produces illness, and that was the last wave of destruction to descend upon the city. The bodies were collected in carts and driven to the west, out of the city to a place called Alberra. Large pits were dug, the corpses tossed in, and set ablaze. Dirt was poured in after the fires went out, and another series of pits was then excavated to start the process anew. Time moved slowly and the land eventually showed signs of recovery. Plans were made starting a fortnight before the one year anniversary of the burning sky. The Dark Lord's first-born daughter would celebrate her birthday with a gala event at the palace.