Even though barely a week had passed since Erhat Varen first set foot in the Corone capital, the demon emissary already arrived to the conclusion that he hated Radasanth. He had seen the festering corruption of upworlders before, the weaknesses of which they reeked like rotten cabbages, but never had the stench of it been as strong as in this place where so many roads and races intersect. Here, in the heart of the Commercial District, every vice was on offer and every virtue was for sale.
Here the aged corpulent bags of coin strutted about with powdered gold-digging floozies, smirking and gooddaying their equals while silently judging the rest, wallowing in the sense of self-importance like sows in manure. They were the true ruling class of this world, these bankers and moneylenders and investors and royal heirs, these parasites that fed on human misery, growing stronger even as the host died. Greed and backstabbing propelled them to the top of the food chain, and once their reign began there was little anyone could do to topple them. They held all the cards, pulled all the strings, played the tune everyone danced to.
The most ardent amongst these dancers were the politicians, of course, the chameleons of this sick jungle. Armed with a sharp suit, a faux smile and lies spewing from their never-resting mouths, they promised everything and achieved nothing. All their prattling, their philandering, their continuous presence in every crucial aspect of the society was the stone that was rapidly pulling everything underwater.
The rest of the rank and file followed, lawyers, clerks, peacekeepers, leeches feeding on leeches. Were there good people amongst them? Certainly. There was healthy flesh on a gangrenous limb as well, but that didn't mean you didn't have to cut it off if you didn't want to die a slow and painful death. And that was precisely what was happening to not just Radasanth, but Corone as a whole, perhaps even the entire world of Althanas. The content few sat upon their thrones of gold like fat cats, resting on the backs of those that got crushed beneath them. It was the natural order of this world, where a piece of precious metal or even paper held dominion over true might.
This discord in values was such an affront to Erhat Varen that he struggled to hide disgust as he watched over the main square of the Commercial District. Leaning on the ornate stone fence of the second story balcony of a restaurant that charged outrageous amounts for ridiculously small servings of food, he let his eyes pass over the midday rush below. To a common observer he was naught more than another patron, an average looking man of middle age, perhaps a bit underdressed for the establishment and the surrounding pampered men tipping their tiny cups and ostentatious hats at each other, celebrating another day of being kings and queens of their own little worlds. His suit was plain and spotless and three seasons out of fashion, and his hair was short and graying and almost scandalously bereft of any oils. And unlike the perfumed sweaty bodies that covered the top floor of the restaurant, there was no scent around the man save the faintest notion of brimstone, as if someone just lit a match in the vicinity.
When a voluptuous woman approached him from behind, he neither started nor turned. Instead he merely asked: “I trust everything is in place, Zhen?”
His second in command bowed her head noticeably, sending a couple of stray golden locks swaying in front of her face. She had chosen a curvy shell for this mission, her flesh plump and soft where these people usually liked a little give, and toned and taut where they didn't. Erhat had initially thought that it would attract too much attention, what with all the cleavage and skin showing in her tight black dress, but these people had apparently become callous even to their own ideas of beauty, spending a mere wanton glance or two before their limited attention turned elsewhere.
“As you ordered,” Zhen said, her voice chirpy and mellow and nothing like it actually was when she was rid of her glamour. But then none of them were their true selves on this day. The mission required infiltration and subterfuge, and none of the demonkin could've done it without putting on what Zenh picturesquely described as an “upworlder suit”, even though it was actually no more than a powerful illusion. People usually saw what they wanted to see; all you needed to do is give their brain a magical nudge in the right direction. The sorcerers that had been dispatched on the mission with Erhat and Zhen had provided just that, packing a whole lot of their magic into a pair of red iron bracelets that clung to their wrists like shackles.
“The resistance will be strong. This district is crawling with the Imperial forces,” she added, indirectly reminding Erhat that the Commercial District still wasn't her choice of target. He didn't mind the second guessing. Soldiers who mindlessly obeyed were a dime a dozen in Tar'shak, unlike those who actually used that which was between their horns. “We might perish.”
Erhat responded with a smirk. “Wouldn't be the first time.”
In all truth, he knew their destruction was a definite possibility. If there was one area that the Empire protected other than the main Palace, it was the place where their shiny baubles had been squirreled away. And that was exactly why it had to be the Commercial District. If one wanted to make a statement, a show of power – and that had been the mandate he had been given – it had to be something that mattered, something that sent ripples when it was stricken. The story of today would echo in palaces and wine holes alike, spreading dread and superstition.
And then there was a personal stake Erhat had in this. Because he personally wanted to see a lot of these people burn.
“It is time. Send the word.”
It started as a buzz of immense magnitude, like the world's largest bassoon playing the world's lowest note. It's place of origin was indeterminable, it's power growing until it shook the folks' teeth in their socket and made them cover their ears in vain. People ran, people fell, people screamed, looking to the sky, to the ground, to the gods that weren't there. There was a pressure in the air that seemed to grow until the point where it felt like it could crush a human skull. Even Erhat found himself clenching his teeth and squinting his eyes.
And then, when it seemed like the sound had been going for an eternity, rolling thunder echoed through the district as a pillar of blackness surged from the center of the square. This mobile darkness struck an invisible ceiling some fifty paces above, then shot in all directions, an antithesis of an explosion with tendrils that started to blot out the sun. It took less than a minute for it to enclose the entire center of the district, engulfing it in near perfect darkness. Though Erhat didn't generally think much of magic – at best of time it was useful and at worst a major pain in the tail – he thought the barrier quite magnificent. It was akin to a mousetrap that allowed people to pass from without, yet refused to let them do the same from within unless they were in possession of powerful dispelling magic.
Up on the balcony of the restaurant, with the cacophony of patrons devolving into a shrieking, crying mess, Erhat's eyes blazed red and his smirk stretched into a genuine smile. When he turned, Zenh's eyes looked back with the same vibrant ferocity. Their plan was unraveling as intended. Their squad of magicians had accessed the sewers days ago, positioning themselves in crucial positions. The strongest few brought up and maintained the inky dome from beneath the streets. The suicidal rest had other duties.
“Let us give them some light,” he said to his malevolent companion. Moments later the first of the several sturdy stone buildings that housed all the things that these people held so valuable burst into flame, infernal orange tongues lapping out of every door and window, returning some illumination to an otherwise black world. The sorcerers had done their jobs admirably. Maniacal though they might've been – and you had to be a little bit crazy to sacrifice your body to the inferno in order to create an explosion big enough to scorch a building – they seemed to have followed orders. Judging by the erupting flames, their essences were already on their way back to their home realm of Tar'shak.
With the light came the reveal of Erhat's and Zanh's true forms. Their enchanted manacles were off, smoldering at their feet. Time for disguises was over; time for mayhem had come.
“Clean this mess up,” Erhat commanded with a nod towards the panicking crowd still in the restaurant, his voice a barely discernible guttural growl. Behind him, second explosion added its voice to the chaos, then a third, each one bringing a shade more of the blazing amber light into the world until all was red and yellow and the shadows danced their manic dances on every wall. “Then depart. This is not your test.”
And with that said, Erhat turned back to the square below, now almost completely beset on all sides with burning buildings, his hulking demonic form looming and waiting for some who would do more than just madly dash around and bang their hands on the barrier.