|CONTENT WARNING: The following chapter contains descriptions of acts of hatred which you may (and, frankly, should) find disturbing.|
Food was optional for Red Vex. When she wasn't feeding on the immortal souls of her victims, she preferred her food struggling and screaming. Still, the more she acted like a human being, the less her allies would think of her as a demon. That suited her purposes very well, so she joined them. It had been centuries since the last time she had eaten fruit, she mused, trying a strawberry.
She took a moment to consider her allies' perceptions of her. Dolt would slay her at the earliest opportunity. Griswold was much of the same opinion, but was starting to have some ambivalent feelings. Solo, a professional observer, seemed content to wait and see what reaction Red Vex's behavior merited. She knew that the truth could be as powerful as any lie, if told at the right time. She wondered what would happen if she painted some shades of gray into their vision of a black-hearted demon.
"Y'seem amused," Griswold observed watching Red Vex pondering a slice of star melon.
"I think this used to be my favorite," she said, "when I was mortal." She looked at Griswold. "You look surprised. I didn't always have wings and horns." She cupped her breasts. "I think these were smaller too. Anyway, I was as human as any of you."
"But you turned to evil," said Dolt.
Solo had been observing Red Vex intently in order to remember every nuance of the story she was about to tell. So, even though it lasted a mere fraction of a second, she saw the expression of rage and pain that crossed Red Vex's face at Dolt's blunt accusation. Red Vex smiled at Dolt. "Dolt, you are an ignoramus."
Dolt just grunted and nodded, not knowing the meaning of 'ignoramus,' and not really caring.
"What do you know of the Prime Evils?" asked Red Vex.
"There are three of them," answered Griswold recalling decades-ago Sunday school lessons. "Baal, Diablo and Mephisto." He crossed himself.
"Hatred is greedy. It consumes everything and, in doing so, makes more Hatred. It doesn't matter whether you hate a deed or a person or an institution or a country. Mephisto thrives on it all."
"Actually, there were, and are, more," said Red Vex (Solo made a mental note to do some research if she ever got to a library.), "But the three you mentioned are the Lord of Destruction, the Lord of Terror, and the Lord of Hatred. They've been the most active in a conflict that the Horadrim call the Sin War. Of the three of them, Mephisto is by far the worst, and I'm not saying that just because I'm a creature of Mephisto either. Figure it this way: Destruction happens every day. Things get destroyed; it's a part of the nature of the universe. And Terror; every creature that lives knows fear, otherwise, it doesn't live long. But Hatred is the deadliest, most corrupting force that will ever touch your life. Hatred is greedy. It consumes everything and, in doing so, makes more Hatred. It doesn't matter whether you hate a deed or a person or an institution or a country. Mephisto thrives on it all."
Red Vex took a moment to study Griswold's face before continuing. Satisfied with what she saw, she said, "When a woman is killed in hatred - and far too many are - and if her heart, in turn, is filled with hate, sometimes it attracts the attention of the Lord of Hatred."
The Hell Spawn paused thoughtfully. There were a number of ways to go from here. Starting out with Mephisto probably wasn't the best one. Even she didn't like to think about the Lord of Hatred when she could avoid it. Being summoned into Diablo's service had almost been a relief. "I guess I should start out by telling you that Black Jade isn't really my sister," said Red Vex. "Our relationship has always been much more complex than that."
She turned the remainder of the star melon over in her hands. "I remember summertime, when the star melon flowers were in bloom," she said. "There are a lot of things that I don't remember anymore, but I do remember those melon fields in bloom. It must have been three or four centuries ago now.
"When I was mortal," continued Red Vex, "My father ruled a small kingdom and the surrounding countryside. The name of the kingdom has long since been forgotten and the farmlands have turned to forest, but at the time, it was as nice a life as a mortal could ask for. Then, one year, a pestilence swept across the land. Hundreds died before it ran its course and, once all the bodies were burned, I was suddenly lord of the manor. I was, I think, sixteen years old.
"I had fully expected to be married off as a matter of political convenience," said Red Vex. "I wasn't prepared to rule but, as the only surviving member of my family, I had no choice. I would have been completely lost if it hadn't been for Black Jade. She was the daughter of the largest landholder under my father. Like me, she had lost her family to the plague and found herself in charge. She came to beg the aid of the king on behalf of the farmers who worked her land but found a girl her own age with absolutely no clue what to do.
"Black Jade was one of those people who had to have a plan for every eventuality," explained Red Vex. "On top of that, her ideas were never anything less than brilliant. I had the resources of the manor and a knack for getting people to do what I wanted them to. Together, we were a magnificent team.
"Within a month, we had salvaged enough of the harvest to get everyone through the winter." Red Vex stood and began pacing around the table as she spoke. "It was a mild winter. That was both good and bad. Good because it gave people still weak from the plague a chance to recover, but bad because it meant that the vermin who carried it would survive too. We put the people to work on two tasks over the winter: Exterminating the plague carriers and improving sanitary conditions in the town.
"By spring, our kingdom was thriving while our neighbors were still recovering," said Red Vex. "By summer, we were anticipating a record harvest even though we'd lost a quarter of our population to the plague."
Red Vex paused and looked across the cavern at the cattle grazing on the hillsides. "I've forgotten many things over the course of my long existence: My name, Black Jade's name, the name of our kingdom, the faces of my parents. But I'll never forget the first night of summer that year. The star melon fields were in full bloom and a warm breeze carried their fragrance into the manor. That was the night Black Jade came to my chambers.
"Actually, she was in my bedchambers on a pretty regular basis," explained Red Vex. "She did her best thinking at night, so she'd always be showing up at my bedroom door with an idea for a new project or plans for an improved irrigation system or something. That night though, the only plans she had were for me. From that night on, she had to do more of her planning during the daytime.
"Our subjects were mostly farmers and craftspeople. They were pragmatists who didn't complain about taking orders from a pair of teenaged girls as long as we produced results. At least, that's what we thought. Maybe if we'd known better, we would have kept a lower profile or been more patient in pushing through our reforms. But we were young. We saw all the possibilities and none of the dangers. We thought we were making the kingdom a better place for everyone by giving the farmers more rights in their dealings with landholders, or by permitting girls to seek apprenticeships in any field they chose."
"The Sunday after I made my decree about women owning property, the Church denounced it as against God and Nature. They claimed that it would force mothers away from their children and promote witchcraft."
Red Vex gave a weary sigh, perhaps for her long-lost innocence. "I think the last straw was when I decreed that any woman could be a landholder, and that if she married or remarried, the land would remain in her name, not become her husband's property. Since the plague, about half of our active landholders were women anyway. Black Jade and I figured we might as well make it official. We didn't think anyone would really care. That was probably the worst error in judgment since Izual said, 'I think we can take 'em.'
"At that point, we had been running the kingdom for three, nearly four years. We thought all was well and that we were loved and respected by the people. And maybe we were, but the Church and the old landholders had another opinion. The Sunday after I made my decree about women owning property, the Church denounced it as against God and Nature. They claimed that it would force mothers away from their children and promote witchcraft.
"We were naïve enough to be amazed at how quickly things spun out of control," said Red Vex. "We were accused of being soft on witchcraft and, by the end, accused of practicing it ourselves. The fact that Black Jade and I had been too innocent to make a secret of our love for each other didn't help matters either. By autumn people were being beaten or raped for supporting us. Girls who had started apprenticeships were driven back to their homes only to be rejected. Even the powerful landholders who lent us their support started having mysterious fires and accidents. The ones who suffered the most were those men who shared their love with other men and women who shared their love with other women. A mere allegation was enough to result in a beaten body turning up in a ditch somewhere."
"We had a small, loyal army and tried to maintain law and order," said Red Vex, "But many of our soldiers were blackmailed into leaving our service for the sake of their families. Some of them just disappeared. We never learned whether they fled, defected or were taken and killed.
"It was on the last night of autumn that a mob led by Church officials dragged us out of bed to the temple. They carried us to the basement, stripped us and tied us to racks, making sure we could see each other. Everyone else in the room wore hoods to hide their faces. The high priest read the charges against us: Witchcraft, Crimes Against the Natural Order, Crimes Against God. He announced to his congregation that it was their duty to cleanse our souls. But first, they were going to cure us of our unnatural love for one another."
Red Vex's voice had lost all tone. It was like listening to an echo, thought Solo. What Red Vex went on to describe was inhuman, even by demonic standards.
"By the end of the second day," continued Red Vex, "I was begging them to do whatever they wanted to Black Jade if they'd only let me go. Black Jade didn't hear. She was too busy offering them my life if they'd only stop hurting her.
"I told him that if it took all eternity, I'd find some way, do anything it took, to make him and all his brethren pay for what they'd done."
"When the high priest took his final turn at me at the end of the third day, he whispered in my ear to renounce my ways and give my soul to his Lord. I was very weak. I hadn't had any food or water, and I was bleeding pretty badly inside. Plus, someone had bitten off the tip of my tongue somewhere along the line. I had just enough strength to respond: I told him that if it took all eternity, I'd find some way, do anything it took, to make him and all his brethren pay for what they'd done.
"I don't know if he heard what he wanted to hear, or I'd said what he wanted me to say. He took off his hood and blessed me. Then he actually smiled at me. Then he cut my throat. Across the room another priest was doing the same to Black Jade."
Red Vex paused and studied her audience. Solo was pale and tears streamed down her face. Griswold looked outraged and was trembling. Dolt merely sat motionless, looking grim.
"What they did to us," said Red Vex, "is not the sort of thing that you do to another human being unless your heart is filled with Hate. And your heart doesn't get that full of hate unless, whether you know it or not, whether you admit it or not, you've given your soul to the Lord of Hatred. I think they all knew. No one there could have been so deluded as to think that their actions were to save our souls or to protect their community or family values.
"We awoke in Hell, in the Court of Mephisto. There were hundreds of other girls and women with us, and we watched as Mephisto spoke privately with each one. At the end of each interview, the women would either evaporate in flashes of white light, or be led through a great red door at the end of the chamber.
"When our turn came to speak with Mephisto, we both told the Lord of Hatred of our hatred of the men who tortured and killed us. He offered us a chance to act on that hatred and we took it. A pair of Magma Lords led us through the red door and into an initiation that made what we'd just been through look like a lover's caress. It was meant to rid us of every last trace of human compassion. When it was finally over, new demonic bodies were created to house our souls and we were sent back to the world of mortals as Hell Spawn."
"Did you find the men who killed you and make them pay?" asked Dolt.
"Each and every one of them," replied Red Vex.
"Then perhaps there is justice in Hell after all," said Griswold.
Red Vex frowned at him. "Haven't you been listening? This wasn't about justice. It wasn't even about revenge. It was about Hatred. We wanted to find the men who tortured and killed us and make them suffer as much as possible, and by any means necessary. I'll give you an example: We abducted the high priest who killed Black Jade. We tied him up and drove him into Lust Frenzy for three solid days and nights. Then we turned him loose in a nearby convent. When the townsfolk caught him in the act, they cut him to pieces. Slowly."
"It still sounds like a fitting end," commented Dolt.
"The number of innocents who suffered as a result of our actions is beyond counting and, even centuries later, that number continues to climb as parents pass their hatred on to their children."
"Perhaps, but what of the nuns in the convent? They suffered greatly at his hands before he was stopped," said Red Vex. "That's the difference between vengeance and hatred. Hatred simply doesn't care. If making one of our tormentors suffer required killing his family, then that's what we did. We rarely killed anyone with our own hands though. We used Lust Frenzy and guile to incite acts of betrayal and brutality. Those acts bred hatred of their own. Within a year, the crops and town had burned to the ground, and what was left of the kingdom was at war with three neighboring kingdoms. There's nothing like a good war to create hatred. Mephisto was pleased. The number of innocents who suffered as a result of our actions is beyond counting and, even centuries later, that number continues to climb as parents pass their hatred on to their children."
Solo had been listening without commenting. Somehow, she had to make sure she survived to retell the Hell Spawn's tale. Whether it was true or not, its lessons were too valuable to be lost. She actually considered using Adria's Horadrim Portal right then, but one thing bothered her. Why was Red Vex telling them this? "Your story has the air of a confession," she said. "Do you seek redemption?"
Red Vex shook her head. "Everything I do is for Hatred."
"What of your desire to find Black Jade? Your love for her has transcended death and damnation."
"You still don't get it," said Red Vex. "Black Jade and I are bound to one another for all eternity. She is a vital part of me and I am a vital part of her. I cannot bear to be away from her. I think I would die without her."
"But ye just said everything you do is fer hatred," said Griswold.
"It is," said Red Vex, "and I hate Black Jade. My hatred of her gives my existence meaning. I don't know what I'd do if someone else succeeded in killing her. I know she feels the same way about me. Mephisto turns all love into hatred."
"Mephisto sounds like a demon in desperate need of slaying," said Dolt thumbing the blade of his axe and drawing blood. He cursed and stuck the bleeding digit in his mouth.
Red Vex smiled. "Let me know when you're ready to go on that quest. I'll help. I hate Mephisto too. All of Mephisto's servants hate him, and he hates us. He expects nothing less. Hate," she shrugged, "is a funny emotion."
"Funny like a gouged out eye," muttered Griswold. "Ye've been with Black Jade all this time and yet ye've never succeeded in killing one another."
"The Lord of Hatred is not without a sense of humor," said Red Vex. "He made Black Jade and me vulnerable to each other's Lust Frenzy pheromones. Whenever we fight, they kick in and we wind up..." She paused, searching for the correct term. 'Making love' would have been exactly the wrong description. 'Having sex' still generally described an activity involving people who were fond of one another on some level. Even 'fucking each other's brains out' indicated something that could be thought of as fun. 'Rape' would probably have been the most accurate word, except for the fact that there's no such thing as a mutual rape. She gave up. "...and we wind up not fighting. Usually for hours, sometimes for days. Afterwards, when we're both spent and exhausted, we just hate each other all the more.
"Like I said, hate is a funny thing," concluded the Hell Spawn.
There was nothing left to say. No one seemed interested in eating anymore.