His stride was swift and fierce down the corridors of this alien facility, more akin to the loping of a beast than the tread of a man. He was in a hurry, the enemy had already made themselves a foothold, time, as ever, did not make itself a friend. Yet his mind struggled to keep pace with his body. His thoughts were cavernous and burning, as if trying to fill the gaps of silence with the distant echo of loud noise and heat.

Here was the dread harbinger of his past in vile preeminence, come to haunt him once more. He could feel the age-old temptation return to him as he traversed the empty, blood-soaked corridors and silent rooms echoing with the ghosts of ancient memories, the whisper of doubt that coiled around the decayed remainder of his burned soul, susurrating treacherous proclamations heralding the futility of his purpose. There was nothing here that he had not seen before from a thousand fates of a thousand worlds, from the greatest of stellar empires, to the humblest of feudal societies.

The greatest of technological achievements and the hardest of wills were as but dust upon ashen wind. Unchecked vanity had proven to be the bloody, violent death of countless civilizations, and he suspected that the one he had awoken to would soon travel down a path much like their predecessors.

The lack of corpses to be found, and the increasing number of possessed he encountered in the search for his relics, told him much about this incursion, and it seemed as if his hated foe had done well for themselves in his absence. They had struck hard, and fast, as was customary for their wretched kind.

If he did not act quickly, there would little left of this imprudent species for him to save.

They would not be the first.

He was an avenger more than protector, and he had slain many of the creatures of doom in the ashen wastes of fallen civilizations, leaving the demons destitute and broken amid the corpses of their victims. He had long shaken petty thoughts of valor and heroics, such had no place in this war. The unchained predator had replaced such notions with hatred and fury, a far more effective driving force to stem this demonic tide. These beasts were driven by such emotions, and could only be met in kind.

The Slayer entered one of the many corridors of this complex, what was now more a tomb than what had no doubt been some banal research facility. And he was greeted, not soon after, by a long-limbed creature that appeared in a flash of unholy fire, a gangly, bow-legged beast of tallowed hide and red eyes. It was the bottom rung, a footnote, the dreg of demonic society that scavenged the fire blasted hellscape of the lower plains. It was less a soldier of the damned and far more accurately, fodder for its vast legions.

He gave little thought to the whelp's existence, even as more of its kind flashed into this reality, providing in itself information. If even the whelplings of the demonic hordes could phase between the realms, then this invasion was well under way. Dark was the hour, and he suspected that once more he would adopt the persona of the avenging angel. These sour and impure beasts hooted and hollered in the barking and crude utterance of their twisted tongue, conjuring spheres of crackling hell energy in their veined palms as they hurled hellish curses and insults upon him.

These cravens were disregarded as unworthy of his attention as he considered a length of piping at the wall to his side. And it was, with a long-suffering sigh, that he grasped the cylinder firmly and leveraged it from its mounting with the hiss of sputtering gas. He gave the length of metal a heft and judged its solidity and span as merely adequate.

It would work for imps, but he trusted it with little else.

A flaring ball of fire sailed across the hall with the intent to set him alight. The Slayer scoffed at the insult, batting the orb back across and into the face of its thrower. The demon squealed at the impact, clawing at the scorching ruin of its warped features. So weak they were, so pitiful, that their own energies could undo their makings. His first real battle against the damned on this plane would be a farce, an insult. But one that would brief.

With steady stride he advanced upon the cohorts of the dying beast.

The demons must have grown bold in his exile if they thought that a pack of imps would be more than a fleeting irritant on his path of vengeance. It appeared as if they had forgotten their fear of him, and the baselessness of their temerity filled him with inarticulate rage.

That… was a mistake.

The Slayer, pipe brandished high to deliver retribution, and a hand wrapped crushingly around the throat of a gasping demon, prepared to rectify this impertinent oversight.

It was time he forced them to remember the monster they had created.

"Do… do you think we finally lost that big bastard." Falco wheezed as he dropped roughly against the wall of some nameless hallway deep in the nightmarish depths of this… nightmare. He couldn't really think of a better word to describe this terrifying experience.

The bird looked to the vulpine for an answer, a rare occasion, but this time Falco decided to make an exception. Batshit insane times called for batshit insane exemptions. And this shit was definitely bats.

"Well I don't hear it anymore so… I think so?" The vulpine broached tentatively as he leaned against a nearby information kiosk, slicking back his sweat soaked mane with a breathless sigh. When they'd finally stopped running, they found themselves in a small foyer jointing the administration block with the research labs. As far as the mapping software indicated, they were actually quite close to their objective, and hopefully Krystal as well.

A fortune spent on these suits, and all it could tell him was that she was still alive. It was a frustration that exasperated his already strained mind, but he was grateful even for such a small comfort given the hellish turn things have taken.

Wherever she was she was alright, physically at least, and he had to be enough for him. For now, he had his own problems to worry about, and being dead wouldn't help the poor vixen anymore than it would him.

Too tired for words and numbed by the relentless horrors they continued to face, he simply gestured for Falco and Miyu to follow him deeper into the belly of this monstrous beast, to whatever other horrors awaited them further within.

And, with sighs and low curses, they did.

XX-XX-XX

The demonic infestation was… superfluous.

The slayer, languid with remorseless apathy, regarded the mewling imp clawing at the floor as it struggled in vain to escape his wrath, its legs a crushed ruin of twisted flesh and shattered bone. The beast lay in the brutalized remains of its companions, climbing over the mutilated bodies of the fallen without care or thought, anything to escape the ruthless executioner that had torn his way through their numbers without impediment or mercy. It howled as it gouged through ruptured organs and shattered bone, quibbling pedantically, perchance pleas of mercy or whimpering insults. Inconsequential. He cared not for the nattering of low vermin.

The slayer followed after the cowering demon at a sedate pace born from eons of focused rage. Time had not dulled his desire for bloodshed, honing instead his intense hatred into the greatest tool of his arsenal, the only weapon that would not rust nor break, nor become barren. It was his curse, and his salvation, the fuel that stoked his fire and the agony that scoured peace from the hell blasted ruin of his mindscape.

The warrior of damnation, fecund with rage, wreathed in the draperies of flesh and blood, grasped the neck of the quavering demon and ripped it from the ground. The creature let out a screeching mewl, silenced by the sharpened incisors that sunk into the corrupt flesh of its gullet. He bit down, hard, teeth like swords cutting through meat with effortless ease, felt the gushing rush of hot vitae splash against his throat, bitter with the taste of ash and empowered by the argent energy that flowed through his prey's blackened veins. He seized that source of corrupted energy and through the occult of ancient pact forged in eons, claimed it as his own.

The imp, its base form less than the filth it suckled from the carcasses of greater beasts, offered only a whisper of power which he readily devoured. The Slayer clenched his teeth and tugged, ripping flesh and tearing tendon with savage exultation. The lesser demon shuddered and seized in its death throes, bathing him in a shower of putrid blood. His naked skin, tanned by the demonic glower of corrupt stars and darkened now by crimson fluid, absorbed the burning splatter of his offering

A loud crash resounded in the hall, the corpse of his most recent victim collapsing to the ground in a spurting heap. The Slayer, whom allowed himself a moment's supplication to ponder the initiation of his next crusade against the legions of hell, drew in the pitiable power he had taken from the meager saturation of argent in the blood of the imp. In so he felt an echo, like the sonorous murmur of a conjoined soul. He was called, summoned, by that which had been taken. The beckoning was spoken, but not heard, visible, but not seen, illuminate, but lost in darkness. It was familiar, ancient and powerful, the guiding hand of a relic crafted in the twilight of the first age, an edifice of war that could not be disputed.

The wraith of the Praetor demanded his subservience.

And he would oblige.

The Slayer grinned, the expression touched by the ghost of cruelty and painted in the blood of the damned.

First, his sanctified armaments, and then… then he would make them suffer.

Yet, as he prepared to move, he was stopped.

Something echoed down the halls, nothing like the howls of the damned or the screams of their victims. The sound shrugged his bloodlust aside, abated and abetted by its peculiarity. He focused, centering on the noise, curious, if not all together interested. The spirit of the Praetor called his name, but curiosity was a sentiment rarely experienced, and worth, if only for that reason, to be indulged.

Thus, The Slayer retrieved his brutish weapon, the length of iron malformed but serviceable, and went forth to investigate. Perhaps it might lead to something he had not been a part to for some time.

The slayer would not mind a little adventure.

XX-XX-XX

Krystal was terrified.

Something that was altogether nothing new given the spiral of insanity that fell upon her. Perhaps only in that her terror was now played through a more physical intermediary than the more psychological construct. The vixen yelped, sliding gracelessly through a doorway on her ass, as a flaming ball whizzed inches above her head. The projectile splashed against the wall in front of her, bursting into a shower of cinders that hissed and popped as it cored through the metal. She tried not to think, in her desperate flight, of what that might have done to her hide.

She dared not glance back at her pursuer, the creature hounding her with such speed and insistence that it was all she could do to stay a step ahead of its pursuit, close enough that she could hear the beast snicker at her plight, and she threw herself forward once more as a whoosh of sound informed her that it was readying for another try.

She scrambled onwards much like her feral ancestors, before crawling from her hands and knees into a slightly more refined sprint, wincing at each impact on her swollen ankle and hardly noticing the blood she scrabbled through but for the fact it made her grip slick and slippery.

She cursed, lowly and out of breath, at her own stupidity.

The impish creature had surprised her, popping out of a vent and jolting her so hard she'd fumbled her weapon, and in her haste, she'd left it behind, too cowed by the sudden appearance of the murderous creature to dare waste a moment. If there was ever a worse way to die, she was not sure she'd seen it, but she was confident that given time, she'd find it.

The vixen cut a hard right at the next intersecting path in this maze of corridors almost in a four-legged sprint, moving so fast that she leaned into the turn like a car on a racetrack. Grabbing the edge of the turn she pushed past it with all her strength catapulting forward and hopefully putting a little more distance between herself and her purser. Unfortunately, at such pace she did not notice the hulking figure impeding her escape and could only utter a startled bark as her head slammed into something that felt more like a warship's bulkhead than flesh.

Her neck creaked ominously and her whole body rippled at the impact, imitating quite well the accordion Peppy so often liked to play. Once more her jaw snapped shut painfully and her forehead pressed against something hot and… wet. The vixen rebounded hard, landing roughly on her back, a whine leaking from her bruised body. She lay there only for a moment, on the floor of the blood-soaked hallway, before reality came rushing back in a tide of panic and pain.

Krystal tossed her gaze upwards with a whipcrack, terror stricken and frozen to the ground. She looked to the demonic creature that had blocked her way, trapping her to face a death unlike her worst nightmares. And her jaw dropped in awe.

And then, soon quickly, in something else.

The being towered over her, a burnished bronze mountain of solid muscle.

And it was… naked.

XX-XX-XX

He was close to the source of his fascination, ten of corridors searched and scoured, a legion dead and devoured, a wasteland left in the wake of his dauntless advance, barely an impediment on his pursuit of this newest enticement. The Enemy swelled in number. Possessed, fodder to slow him, armed with tooth and claw and native weapons, imps that howled and flung flaming argent like primitive animals playing in their own excrement.

All died in agony. He cut, bludgeoned, smashed, and crushed a relentless onslaught through their endless number. They were not silent in their deaths, their presence snuffed in a twisted symphony of mewling wails and agonized howls, echoed and warped by these expansive corridors. The creatures of hell could feel pain, and that was the only solace of his existence.

Inside the ribcage of a screeching imp, he closed his fist. The beast's heart squelched, exuding from between his fingertips, and its corpse floundered and twitched like a puppet possessed, as if dancing for his amusement. He left it cast off and discarded, barely a thought to another life taken as he continued. These mewling whelps were underserving of his attention.

Discarding the remnant, he struck swiftly, flattening the skull of what had once been a security officer of this facility, the beast gargling on its mashed brains, vomiting a slurry of fluid from its ruined throat as it collapsed. He took the stun device it had released, and jabbed the sputtering electrical head into the eye of another. It floundered, surging with electricity that burned through its mutilated corpse before it fell, a smoking hunk of wasted flesh.

The corridor was silent, scoured of demonic presence, and he pressed forward swiftly over the carrion of the fallen. The sounds he pursed were louder, and all the more curious for it. He could hear now, the spatter of incoherent echoes… a voice, sporadic and… feminine. It was not the voice of a demon, but something more peculiar. A denizen of this realm, a living one, and wasn't that a curious thing. It was rare to encounter a native of the plane during a planar invasion, often they were eradicated, outstripped by the demons they had incidentally brough to their reality.

His curiosity burning with greater ferocity he could only do what he thought next, and moved with greater speed. His enemies were cast aside quickly, his new interest absolving his usual desire to play with his adversaries, and he smote them with swift wroth and ruin. Soon he was alone, and moving at a speed that was inhuman.

The slayer slowed, the voice now close enough to be around the intersecting corridor, a breathless mutter and gasp of abject terror, a familiar noise for a native. He stood, prepared, waiting, for the inevitable conflict. His knuckles tightened into a fist, ready to dole a vicious haymaker to the beast that was undoubtedly pursuing. He could hear its cackle and was unsurprised. Imps were natural born cowards. They fought only in great numbers, or when the sadism in their blood ran higher than the infantile nature of their reasoning.

He caught his first sight of the planar native when it crashed around the corner and slammed into his abdomen with enough force for him to utter a sigh. The creature folded; the sight comical as it flopped to the ground lifelessly. The slayer eyed the being only for a moment, a strange thing, more animal than he was used to, but not the oddest sight for a warrior that had seen all that the planes of Hell could offer. He wondered, if it was so weak as to be killed at such an impact, but watched silently as it recuperated and stared up at him. And he found its eyes quite familiar, it was a look shared by those rare souls he had crossed paths.

It was awe… and fear.

The slayer passed the startled creature, and when the pursuing imp crossed the bend, he shattered its skull. The demon collapsed like a string-less marionette, its body juddering and jerking as it struggled to realize its sudden and explosive death. He ignored it, already looking towards the mortal cowering on the floor. His powerful sense of distaste warred with the shriveled husk of his pity, an emotional gland long since dried and shrunken. The natives of these realms if not always similar in figure, were often equally alike in their cowardice and submission, servile creatures that fled far more often than they fought, and rather forge pacts with demons than die in battle like their betters.

The specimen sprawled before him while bestial in shape, was not demonic in form. If not a warrior, then at least not a demon worshiper. For that at least, he stayed his hand. Death, while a release from the madness, was not his duty to extoll. Even so, there was no place for planar survivors in this war, and he doubted it'd survive much longer.

A pity, but not his.

The Slayer, his rampage halted for a moment, looked down the hall he had come from, listening to the sound of the call. He had found his curiosity, entertained his whimsy, but it was time to again face reality. It was time he donned the Praetor. He pressed forward, eager to shift away from the indignity of his meager weapons and acquire those more appropriate for his task.

"Nuak... fcoujo"

It was a new sound that stopped his departure, a sound with a softness he had not heard in…. ages, at the least, not since… different times. He turned back, curiosity tickling the corners of his focused mind, to the planar native, the animalistic creature struggling to stand, favoring a leg and bleeding heavily from its bottom lip. Yet regardless it stood, quivering if unbowed. Its eyes bored into him, wide and bright and shinning with an emerald green that awoke images of far off places of things that did not exist in the fire swept realms of his recent and long etched past.

"Ted'k coulo mo ucedo."

He watched as sounds poured from its maw, numbed by its injury but nonetheless soft and imploring, bearing much to his interest, vocal enunciation that was… not unfamiliar. It took a step forward, lurching and leaning heavily on its wound, and its intent was clear despite his inability, or unwillingness, to comprehend the language.

For once, in several ages of war and bloodshed, he was taken aback. It… wished to come with him? That was… unprecedented. The Slayer, for the first time in his existence since he took up arms against the hordes, was well and truly baffled. He could not even fathom the thoughts to articulate his bewilderment. The sheer inconceivability of the notion that this thing wished to follow him on his path of bloodshed was, simply put, beyond his reckoning. He had faced towering war beasts and the corrupt spawn of a fallen friend, but this was unexpected.

"A ted'k nudk ke tao." It uttered meekly, taking another step until it was within arm's reach, vulnerable to his rage, if he so chose. And he felt the permanence of his grimace soften into a scowl.

He could not begin to fathom what it was trying to say to him, and he could not deny his curiosity was rearing its ponderous head once more. This was a first, and he did not have firsts all too often in his existence. But he could not afford to be distracted. For every moment he wasted the demons cemented their hold on this plane of reality. This would only slow him down, keep him from his goals.

With that thought ushering him onward, The Slayer shifted away and moved forward, though not quite as fast as he once had.


AN: A small offering from me, readers. It's probably (definitely) shorter than what you all would like, but I felt this a perfect way to round out a chapter. Not much to say really, just been stewing in isolation, slowly drifting into madness, no big d. Though I do miss when the world used to make sense, this whole virus thing has certainly changed a lot. But no one comes to FF to talk about Real World shit, so I hope this teaser chapter is able to distract you all at least for a little while.

Oh, also, pretty soon I'll probably be adding a new work to my archive, not a story, but a storehouse for plot bunnies I've been conceiving in my idle days, ideas for stories I might want to write later or like the idea of. It won't be a traditional work but I'd like if some of you took the time to stop by and leave some of your opinions when I post it up, on which story idea you like more or just general thoughts. It'd be interesting I think, and provide some entertainment between posts of my actual stories, and hey, maybe if an idea is popular enough I'll phase it into something real.

Anyways, I hate droning on so I'll stop.

Drake