Perhaps I have made a mistake in engaging both my mightiest and most hated foe at the same time. Sythiese is not a fool to be trifled with - and Fudge Dredd's hatred of me by this point is surely...intense.
A kernel of doubt lingers within my being. Icy fingers of - I use this word far too often - trepidation. I am on the cusp of either annihlation or total victory.
Fudge Dredd continues his attempted purges of my vault's coffers. This time he is met with some actual success.
Surprising, to say the least. I do not believe that this breakthrough will even remotely cover the costs of his numerous failed attempts, however.
Two official vendettas. The first with Fudge Dredd, to be settled on the field of battle. The second with Sythiese, to be settled in the Arena. Haagenti has already departed, taking his bloodied axe with him. Whether he goes to his death or a moment of glory is no longer my concern. Haagenti's survival is now his responsibility alone.
The table is set for conflict.
Eligos is now mine. Larence and the Understairs Man are sending champions to the Arena. Sythiese challenges the Understairs Man. The eighth Conclave token is drawn. Storm clouds are gathering. Now it is a matter of positioning the lightning rods...
Fudge Dredd's slaves are nearly upon the Wood of the Suicides. The Combat Vessels are in place...but I feel it is time to test my prowess once more.
Will it be as last time? Will the name Jon Irenicus again be synonymous with unjustifiable arrogance and catastrophic failure? Or, finally, will my name be treated with the respect and awe befitting a Prince of Hell?
As before, Haagenti was led up a bloodied staircase into the waiting area known as "the pit." Haagenti preferred to simply call it "the waiting place" whenever he deigned to speak at all. In front of him lay a wrought iron gate, rusted with the blood of previous champions. Through the gaps in the gate he could see the Arena, some of the crowd, and (just barely) a hint of movement through the opposite "pit."
Haagenti snorted and hefted his axe. Life and death never particularly concerned him - he was very much convinced of his own natural superiority when it came to staying alive - but something bothered him. He vaguely recalled past memories and conversations about Barbatos - something something, troop movements, babble babble, ferocious fighter - and something else. Something about politics. Who was Sythiese?
As Haagenti's brain began to overheat with the effort of recollection, he heard the crowd's roar and the announcer's howl. The gates lowered with a rusted scream and Haagenti charged into the light, bellowing.
Elsewhere, Irenicus finished preparations. The runes had been set, the blood had been spilled, and the pylons burned with unholy hellfire.
"Primitive. Limiting." Irenicus' fingers were stained with all manner of chemicals and fluids. He knelt in the center of the Pentagram and tried to recall the words of the ritual. The pylons burned as Irenicus' breath began to slow. His fingers traced invisible lines through the air - seemingly independent of any thought or motive. His lips moved, though no sound emerged. Leagues away, storm clouds began to gather.
Haagenti faced his foe, his forearm raced in defense. Barbatos cocked his head and grinned at him, revealing needly teeth. He carried no weapon - the massive spikes covering his body were weapons enough.
No words were exchanged, no taunts. The two simply circled each other, tensed and ready to draw blood for masters they could not remember the name of.
Without warning, Haagenti lept forward with speed unexpected for a beast of his size. Barbatos crouched, blocking his face with his armored forearm, and Haagenti's axe came crashing down. A reverberating clang sounded through the Stadium as Barbatos fell backwards, a massive chip in his forearm. He examined his arm momentarily and grunted, surprised. Haagenti bellowed and pressed the advantage - charging his stunned foe. The crowd roared as the two clashed in the sand.
Leagues away, Irenicus had retreated deep inside his own mind. There were no words, no readily interpretable thoughts - there were only images and emotion. Irenicus' face contorted as, far away, he caught a glimpse of Fudge Dredd's forces. Legions of peons, advancing on his
territory. Far to the back of their ranks, hauled by combat engineers, was the Hellfire Ballista.
A field marshall at the head of the army stopped and pointed. Storm clouds. Flashes of lightning. Dark magic is afoot. Push on in the name of Fudge Dredd! To victory and spoils!
"You will have nothing but ashes."
Haagenti and Barbatos had both flown into their own private frenzies. Haagenti slashed and hacked with his axe as he was alternatively parried and dodged by the smaller Barbatos. Haagenti's fist momentarily collided with his opponent's face, sending him reeling. Through the haze of red, Haagenti was vaguely aware of sensation in his hand. He continued to charge anyway, failing to even notice as the cuts began stacking up on his body - as his arms and torso became a lattice of lacerations.
They burned. All of them. The clouds had gathered, hellfire and lightning struck without warning or hesitation. Soldiers fled or hid as their commanders screamed at them to hold their ground - seconds before being struck down themselves. Demons were roasted alive in their armor. The Hellfire Ballista - abandoned and unguarded - steamed and hissed as it conducted the intense heat through itself, finally culminating in a shudder as the bolts popped out of their resting places and the great machine was undone. Unthinking brutality destroyed by a higher intelligence.
Leagues away, Irenicus' face contorted as he sought out his enemies. Again and again he struck, melting flesh from bone before turning bone to dust.
Screams echoed throughout the Infernal Plains - before falling into complete silence.
Barbatos lashed out with his full fury. Knocking aside Haagenti's axe with a tremendous blow, he dug his foot long bladed elbow into the great beast's stomach. A hush fell over the audience as Haagenti looked down and saw his smaller opponent entrenched in his guts. Haagenti snorted, barely audible. Barbatos twisted as far as he was able, digging into the wound. Ponderously, Haagenti reached down, wrapping his massive fingers around Barbato's blade. With a wrench, he snapped it, leaving the blade embedded in his stomach. Barbatos screamed in pain and fell backwards as Haagenti descended upon him. Ignoring the wound, Haagenti proceeded to beat Barbatos to death was his bare hands. Pinning his spiked form with his unprotected knees, Haagenti rained blow after blow upon Barbatos' face, rendering both his hands and his opponent's visage utterly unrecognizable.
Finally Barbatos lay still. Haagenti was barely aware of the crowd's screams. Cradling his stomach wound, he stood. He then violently ripped out the blade and pinned Barbatos to the floor with it, leaving his corpse nailed to the center of the Arena. Spitting a massive gob of blood on to the sand, Haagenti began the long journey back home.
Far away, within Irenicus' Stronghold, a simple ritual had been completed. Irenicus rose from his kneeling position - close to spent, but not quite. It was only when he began the incantations again and once more envisioned the Infernal Plains upon which his opponents marched that he realized what destruction he had wrought.
There was only stillness on the scorched plains. They had been annihilated to the last man.
Now they may truly realize the full scope of my abilities. Such is my strength that just one of my rituals can reduce their armies to cinders.
Haagenti's performance was likewise impressive.
There is little to be said. Just as my conflict with The Understairs Man became an unmitigated disaster, so has this been a complete success. Sythiese has been humiliated. Fudge Dredd...has been undone.
Is this all you can conjure up, fools? Is Understairs Man to be the sole opposition on my path to the Throne of Hell?
Interestingly, the above statement appears even more correct given recent events.
Temeluchas...undone by Abraxas? Interesting. It seems that Haagenti is not uncontested in the Arena. Larence can expect to hear from me very soon.
A twist of the knife in each of their wounds.
There. Larence and Sythiese shall receive no mercy from me. Until they should find some way to stop me, I will hound them until the end of days. Their suffering shall only strengthen me.
As for Fudge Dredd...he lies broken. He bought an additional legion from the bazaar. I cannot recall their names. Weak, though. Undeniably weak. The Vendetta continues though he has no real troops left to wage it with.
This is it. This is where it begins. I shall eclipse my foes and take the Throne which is rightfully mine. These peons are only the first to fall.
By the time I am done with this contest, no one will dare to recall my failures.