On the edges of Pentagram City, in the year of 1933 AD, a lone figure strolled. His form was human-like at first glance, but if one dared to look for longer than a mere second, they’d see much more. His legs were equine in shape, though his torso was human. His head was also inhuman—it was that of a unicorn. His skin and fur were pristine white—a stark contrast to his surroundings—and his mane was like a fluffy, pastel rainbow cloud. The horn on his head was pitch black. His attire seemed thrown-together, a mix of formal and casual wear, almost every piece sporting a patch of some sort. All in all, he looked like an anthropomorphic unicorn hobo.
The walking contradiction bore a large sack upon his shoulders, tied with golden string. And strewn about his person were several trumpets, all made of various metals. The largest one, made of glittering silver, was in his right hand, which looked normal enough. His left hand—which was more of a hoof mitten—swung as he walked.
The unicorn man strolled calmly through the woods at the far Eastern edge of Pentagram City. Beyond these woods was the fiery ether, and beyond that was oblivion. He liked coming here. It was a nice change of pace compared to the rest of Hell. Nice and relatively quiet, save for a few moans from a lone suicide willow. It was a great place to practice!
Before he could attempt to blow his horn, the sound of tearing flesh caught his attention. His ears flicked forward and he moved closer to the sound. Beyond a few trees, inside a small clearing, he got a better view of what was happening.
A demon was devouring another demon. Not an uncommon sight, though he was a bit surprised to see that the predator was ironically a common prey animal!
The one eating was male, and had pale grey skin, at least where it wasn’t covered by blood red fur. His lower half seemed to be faun-like, and he sported shaggy red locks that melded perfectly into black-tipped deer ears. Large black antlers, spiraling out into at least fourteen points, adorned his head like a crown. His eyes were dark red, with the irises replaced by some sort of sundial-looking circles that rotated wildly. His impossibly sharp, yellow teeth were stained with blood and gore.
The unicorn man could not tell what the dead demon had been, but it didn’t really matter. They were food now, sustenance for this obviously-powerful mortal soul.
Oh yes, that was a mortal soul. No fallen angel looked like that. The unicorn would know; he was a fallen angel himself!
He cleared his throat loudly. The deer demon snapped his head up. The circles—dials? –rotated around and around yet seemed locked on to the unicorn demon. A bloody grin spread across the deer’s face.
“Good evening,” the unicorn greeted calmly. “The name’s Amduscias! Might I have the pleasure of knowing yours?”
The deer tilted his head, grin still present. Then, he tore into the demon below him, pointedly ignoring Amduscias. As powerful as he was, the deer could probably sense that Amduscias was his better. It was best to keep a distance from one’s superior if one didn’t want to pick a fight.
The unicorn shrugged. “Ah well,” he sighed. He respected the deer’s wishes and walked away. Making new friends was sort of his thing. He wasn’t really interested in the larger politics of Hell, so finding others to converse with was kind of fun.
Amduscias rose the silver trumpet to his lips and began to toot out something. To the common listener, it sounded very strange, almost like random doots and noises. Most of the ancient demons and souls hated these noises. They called them too random and hellish even for Hell’s standards.
The tearing of flesh behind him immediately ceased. An odd hum rose into the air, warbled and low. Amduscias had never heard it before. He paused in his playing and turned back to the deer demon.
The deer was standing now, fully upright and very interested in Amduscias. His eyes were no longer dial-like but just bright red irises floating in darker red sclerae. The carcass had been abandoned. It seemed the strange noise was coming from him.
Amduscias smiled. “Hello again. Care for a concert?” He tooted a few notes out, interested to see how his new audience would react.
The deer perked up again. The noise cut off and restarted, changing pitch at random intervals. All the while, the bloody grin was still plastered to the deer’s face.
Suddenly, music erupted from the deer’s countenance. It was wild, funky, and completely different to the music Amduscias was used to hearing. It made his hooved feet twitch and tap. He could hear trumpets blaring, trombones sliding, clarinets singing! Was that a piano riff? The staccato and flow of each note seemed random at first, but Amduscias could tell it was actually following a specific rhythm. Trip-o-lets, he remembered. Not a new idea but new enough to him.
Oh, the heavens were singing in this strange new form of music! And it was all emanating from this lovely deer! There were no instruments to be seen, only heard. This was a magical trait Amduscias also shared!
“Marvelous!” he cried happily, clapping his mismatched hands together. “Simply marvelous, my friend! What is that music?”
The deer opened his mouth, but only more of the thrumming noise—which sounded more like heavy rainfall against a tin roof—came out. The music cut off sharply, and the deer looked embarrassed. He still smiled, but his ears and tail betrayed his true feelings.
“Oh dear,” Amduscias lamented. “Can’t actually speak? Must have been quite the talker in life, eh?”
More noise and sharp cut offs.
The unicorn held up a hand. “Hold on, let me see…” He reached into his pack, trumpets bumping loudly against one another as he did so. “Sometimes, one only needs a little focus,” he muttered. “Something to anchor whatever it is they lost. A few of my fallen fellows also had trouble with their voices at first and let me tell you, it took ages for them to figure this trick out—ah!”
He finally pulled out a large red stone. Its shine was ruby-like, but it was actually a Hellstone. “Hellstones like these,” he explained, holding it up for the deer to see, “can help a soul channel their lost voice. They’re rare—as rare as you demons without voices—but work indefinitely. You can smith it into whatever you like: a necklace, a ring, perhaps make it the head of a staff or cane—it’s all up to the bearer. Try it out!”
He tossed the stone to the deer, who caught it with only a little fumble. Amduscias inwardly joked that the deer should feel lucky to have all of his fingers down here. It had taken the unicorn a few years to master having one hand with normal fingers and one hand shaped like a fucking mitten.
The deer scrutinized the stone, but one ear was turned towards Amduscias. The unicorn stood motionless.
“I know you’re powerful,” Amduscias said. “Try and connect your power with that stone. Link it to you, feel it become part of you, like a third arm…or maybe a new tongue?”
A bit of red magic began to rise up from the deer. Strange symbols floated through the air and the tinny rain noise returned in earnest. Amduscias flattened his ears as the noise started to crescendo to levels even he could barely stand. The eyes of the deer were once again spinning dials, and strangely there was a sort of sharp overlay to them—to his whole form, really. Amduscias, once again, had no idea what any of it was. It looked like red, blue, and grey squares popping into, out of, and around the general shape of his form.
And then, just when the noise reached an almost murderous fortissimo, all went silent.
The deer demon’s eyes returned to normal. The aura and the tinny noise went away. He still held the jewel in his bloody hands.
“Well?” Amduscias asked. “May I have the pleasure of knowing your name now, friend?”
The deer coughed and cleared his throat. The odd noise was still present, which made Amduscias think the connection had failed.
“…est..ng…” the deer tried. “…tes…testing. Testing! Hello, hello! Yes, hello!” His grin grew. “The name’s Alastor! What a relief to finally get that introduction out!”
Alastor’s voice was still laden with the tinny rain noise, yet he seemed unconcerned. Amduscias returned the grin and bowed. “Then let me start again. I am Amduscias, a Duke here in Hell. It’s quite the pleasure to meet you, Alastor!”
The deer bowed back. “Likewise, my friend! Oh, it feels so good to have my voice back again! I’d thought it forever lost to a specific frequency, forbidden for me to tap into.”
“Your voice still carries that strange noise,” the unicorn informed him. “Perhaps you should meditate a little more?”
“Oh, no no no! This is the voice I’m most comfortable with, a voice the masses will recognize within seconds! If the radio tin is not present, then it’s not ol’ Alastor speaking!”
Amduscias tilted his head. “Ray-dee-oh? I’ve not heard that word before.”
“Then, my friend, you are missing out!” Alastor chuckled. “A radio is what we use to listen to the news, music, and sports over long distances! Why, someone from the bayou could listen to the jazz cats playin’ in New Orleans if they possessed one!”
“And that’s what you were doing just there?” the unicorn inquired. “Using a Ray-doh?”
“In life, I was a radio host, bringing entertainment to even the most down-trodden lives. I announced, I arranged the music, I did it all for the sake of entertainment!” He twirled in place, his little hooves clipping like tap shoes.
“You mentioned jazz? What is that?”
The music returned. The swing beat made Alastor swing his hips and hum along. Amduscias bobbed his head, then began to play along on his trumpet. It was awkward at first, but he soon realized this ‘jazz’ was reliant on improvisation and rewarded playing off the sheet. He blasted out a beautiful new melody, dancing and jumping in tandem with Alastor. Out of the corner of his eye he caught sight of a few shadow creatures joining in. Not other demons, just lower spirits.
The song ended, and the two demons stood side by side, grinning wickedly. Amduscias burst into laughter. “Ah, it’s been an eternity since I met a mortal soul who possessed my taste in music! This jazz is what the universe has been missing all along! If only it had been invented centuries ago!”
Amduscias took Alastor’s hand and shook it vigorously. “Thank you for introducing me to this wonderful music!”
Alastor’s grin tightened. Amduscias caught the reluctance and let go. Apparently this demon didn’t like to be touched, which was fine by him.
“So, Alastor,” the unicorn started. “Now that you have your voice again, any plans for the future? You don’t seem the type to just kill strangers and eat them willy-nilly.” His eyes began to glow. “No, you seem like a man with a plan.”
Alastor lightly juggled the Hellstone. “Speaking of my voice, what’s your price for it? No one just gives a man power without a caveat.”
“Clever man. However, in this case, you’ve more than given me what I want.” He blasted a few notes. “Consider us purely friends at this point! Now, about your future?”
“I’m a simple man,” Alastor said after giving what Amduscias said some thought. “I desire the ability to broadcast! I need a tower to do that, but I also need real estate! And to get that, I imagine I’ll need to take down someone.”
Amduscias nodded. “Let me tell you right now that I have no territory. I am a Duke, which makes me an Overlord. However, I choose not to own territory. I go where my feet take me, so my territory is just a five-foot radius! I’m afraid taking me down won’t earn anyone anything except my trumpets.”
Alastor waved a hand. “I have no interest in taking the life of a friend—especially one that has done me no wrong. But I could use some…suggestions.”
“You want me to lead you to an Overlord with prime real estate?”
The only answer he got was a bloody yellow grin.
Amduscias chuckled. “As it just so happens, I do know a pompous Overlord who needs to disappear. I’ll even take you right to him—but for this, I require a deal.”
Alastor’s radio noise rose in volume, but the unicorn ignored it. “You said you want to broadcast? Well, that means you’ll be entertaining masses. I’d love to play for those masses. Not all the time, no! That would be dreadfully boring. But I would still love to play on your Ray-dee-oh show every now and again.”
Alastor’s shark grin softened. “You don’t kill listeners with your trumpets, do you?”
“My friend, if I did, you would have been dead long before you got your voice back.”
“And that’s all you’d want from me?” the deer continued. “The ability to play whenever you like on my show?”
“And to traverse your future territory as I please,” Amduscias added. “I mean, I could travel it regardless, but I prefer to have permission.”
Alastor put a finger to his chin. After a few moments, he shrugged. “I see no reason to deny you these requests. Shall we make it a deal?”
He held out his clawed hand. It was covered in drying blood. Amduscias shook it earnestly, smiling at the surge of green magic rising around their joined hands. The same strange symbols floated nearby. Amduscias allowed a little of his own magic to flow through the air as well, pink aura flaring.
“Then we are in agreement,” he finally said. “Now, follow me.”
Amduscias led Alastor to a large hill not too far from where they met. Atop the hill was a giant striped tent, surrounded by demons in various stages of carnie costumes. A few beast cages dotted the immediate area next to the tent. Each one contained one or two sobbing souls. The free-roaming demons pointedly ignored their pleas.
Amduscias walked up the path without care. The lower demons bowed out of his way. Some of the bigger ones tensed and found somewhere else to be. One attempted to lure Alastor away, but before Amduscias could do something, Alastor’s radio static aura sent the demon to its knees. No one else attempted to come near.
The unicorn demon approached the entrance to the tent and held the flap open for Alastor to walk through.
A gigantic bulldog demon blocked their way. “No ticket, no show,” he growled at Alastor. “Buzz off, doe-boy.”
Alastor’s aura flared, his smile sharpening. Amduscias held up a hand to stop him, then snapped two fingers together. The trees in the area bent and swayed, and a loud random screeching filled the air. The bulldog whimpered, ears drooping.
“L-Lord Amduscias,” he whined submissively. “Didn’t m-mean no disrespect, sir.”
“Alastor is with me,” Amduscias said, voice dripping with venom. “You would do well to show him respect.”
“Yes sir.” The lowly demon stepped to the side. “The show’s already begun, m’lord. Enjoy.”
Amduscias and Alastor made their way into the crowd surrounding the single ring in the dark tent. Whatever act that had been performing was no longer there. The only one in the ring was a scaly, two-faced demon, cleaning up some gold pieces on the ground and placing them in a fake dragon’s egg.
As soon as they sat down, the lower demons in the immediate vicinity scooted away. Amduscias was used to this, but he figured perhaps it might be off-putting to Alastor. He glanced over.
He needn’t have worried.
Alastor looked positively gleeful at the amount of fear the others had of him. In fact, he seemed to enjoy it, much like a Fallen might. Amduscias wondered what his friend had done while living. He was always curious to know just how far a human would go, what sort of motives they had for their actions, if they regretted it once they dropped into Hell. He was especially curious when these mortal souls came down and immediately adapted, almost as if they had always been there.
The lights dimmed, causing Amduscias and Alastor to look to the ring. A rosy glow lit up one half of the ring while a spotlight illuminated a lone figure on the other side. In the pink area was a woman, bare-breasted, kneeling with her back to the audience and held down by a few clownish imps. The figure in the spotlight looked like a hobo clown, his outfit torn and shabby, his makeup painting his face in a permanent crying frown. However, he had a giddy smirk that defiantly showed through the sad façade.
Then, in a deep voice, he began to sing.
“Let me tell you a tale for a penny,
One that you cannot hear anywhere else
Not anywhere else.”
Amduscias sighed. Oh, it was this act. The Dog and Her Reflection, the fable recounting how the greed of a dog cost her more than just the pennies in her mouth.
As the hobo sang of the dog, how he would continue the story for a penny, the woman—a thief, Amduscias assumed—was whipped mercilessly by an imp in a top hat. With each crack of the whip, the audience cheered and brayed. Most participated in the hobo’s song, interjecting with Arfs and Bads.
Amduscias noticed that Alastor had mixed reactions. Though he seemed interested enough in the song, the torture of the soul was where his expression soured into boredom. His smile never left, though he clearly didn’t care for the act.
The next act was given no announcement. When the first woman was pulled out of the ring, her back a bloody mess, the hobo had bowed out of the light. In his place, a Greaser demon with a plastic pompadour led a beautiful girl into the ring. She looked nervous, and rightfully so; she was the next soul to be tortured.
The Greaser began singing to the pretty girl, asking her to trust him as he locked her onto a giant spinning dart board. Once she was secured, he began throwing knives at her. Each one barely missed on purpose, causing the girl to slowly exhale in relief.
Again, Amduscias had seen this before. And again, his companion seemed about as excited as a toddler in a library. The act was interesting, sure, but not very…fulfilling. Nor was it entertaining, contrary to the cheers of the crowd.
The unicorn already missed the jazz session from earlier. Now that had been exciting.
The girl was impaled at the end of the song. The crowd went wild. She didn’t even get taken down from the wheel as a painted doll demoness—another Fallen with whom Amduscias was only slightly acquainted—suddenly appeared in the ring. The doll, whose face was half cracked, began to sing. She serenaded the audience with a tale of a scorpion persuading a frog to carry him across a river, and of him ultimately killing her with a prick of his tail—and drowning himself in the process.
The song got more of a reaction out of Alastor than the doll. He bobbed his head a few times, and Amduscias had to admit at least this part of the act was decent. The undeniable beauty of the damaged doll aside, her voice was near angelic, and he sorely wished he’d heard her sing when she had been in Heaven. She might have brought him to his knees.
The song ended with the doll calling a toast. She strutted over to the soul on the wheel and kissed her cheek. Amduscias knew the girl would recover. They always did, just in time to be put in another act. Over and over and over, until the souls were thrown out during an Extermination. Though the acts were tired, the tortured souls were almost always fresh.
The spotlight lit up in red. In a burst of smoke the ringmaster appeared. He was a great horned demon, reminiscent of a tall Imp, yet his aura and very presence suggested he was far more powerful than the lowest citizens in Hell. His long coat was more akin to a rich man’s housecoat, and his face was painted white with heavy black makeup over his eyes that trailed down in matching tear tracks.
“That’s Zduni,” Amduscias whispered in Alastor’s ear. “He’s the Overlord here.”
“Ladies and gentlemen,” Zduni announced. “Thank you for coming to the show! Our final act of the night will be the Sheep in Wolfish Clothes!”
The demonic crowd cheered. Amduscias clapped along, albeit in a disinterested way, as the Overlord began his own song of an evil-looking sheep being accepted into the arms of a prim and proper flock. Amduscias tried not to tap his foot impatiently, instead opting to glance at his new friend’s reaction to the Overlord.
Alastor was sitting stock-still. The deer’s eyes had become dials again, but his static was not present.
Zduni paused in his singing, and the band accompanying him also stopped. The ground began to tremble, and soon everyone in the stands were knocked off balance, even Amduscias. Zduni himself was thrown onto his ass. The clownish Overlord cursed and spat.
The quakes got more powerful, and Amduscias realized something was rising from the ground outside. How did he know that? He could see the shadows of great steel foundations ascending like great mountains.
Alastor disappeared into his own shadow, which then quickly flowed into the ring as smoothly as liquid. When he reappeared under the spotlight, he was standing tall and proud. He held the Hellstone up to his mouth and cleared his throat.
“GOOD EVENING, HELL!” Alastor called enthusiastically. “This is your host, Alastor, speaking! Welcome to the first radio show Hell has ever had! I’ve taken the liberty of starting up all the radios littering Hell so everyone can tune in!”
“What is the meaning of this?” Zduni demanded. Flames erupted from his hands, heading for the deer.
Alastor dodged them effortlessly. “For my very first broadcast, I’ve decided to have a very special guest. Everyone, you’ve all just heard Overlord Zduni! Give him a round of applause!”
The sound of fake applause filled the tent, yet none of the lower demons were clapping. Zduni looked confused.
“If any of you are young souls like me,” Alastor continued. “Then you’ll know that broadcasts are usually of the news, music, and the like. However, I think to honor the true spirit of Hell, I should make this radio show something truly special. So, without further ado…”
He snapped his fingers. The tent convulsed. Tentacles erupted from the ground beneath the stands, grabbing lower demons left and right. Amduscias was soon assaulted by the sounds of screams and tearing flesh. None of the tentacles touched him, much less came near him.
Alastor stepped closer to Zduni. As he did so, he described the carnage in excruciating detail. All the while, his grin grew sharper, his eyes—still dials—glowed brighter, and his horns extended out into at least 14 points.
“But I’m sure you’re all wondering about my special guest and his role in all of this. Go on, Zduni, take your bow! Give your biggest audience ever one last note!”
The Overlord screeched in anger, charging at the deer. Alastor’s form exploded into something inhuman, something resembling a giant skeletal stag covered in blood. The noises emanating from his form were nightmarish versions of the jazz he’d played for Amduscias mere hours before. Zduni’s angry screech soon turned into an agonized shriek as black tentacles—straight from the bloody form of Alastor—wrapped around him and began vertically ripping him in half.
Alastor’s gaze slid over to Amduscias. The unicorn smiled, sensing this was an unplanned but certainly not unwelcome cue. He popped up his silver horn and began blasting out a harmony to the jazz in the air. His loud trumpeting created feedback across Hell, and he could practically hear ears bleeding. He and Alastor continued their performance without a care.
The broadcast would not end for at least 10 minutes. By that time, the entire circus had been murdered and devoured, all on the air. Some of the tortured souls managed to escape, but Alastor snapped his twisted fingers only once and the escapees bloated and twisted and became entirely new creatures. They resembled straw dolls with buttons for eyes and stitched on smiles. Sewing pins stuck out of their bodies. They giggled and laughed as the demons and imps who had tortured them for entertainment were now the tortured entertainment themselves.
And then, the broadcast came to a close. Alastor turned back into his lithe little form and said, “It’s been a blast, dear listeners! But don’t fret—this was only the first broadcast! Now that I’ve carved a little bit of territory out for myself, I plan to give you all more entertainment! Stay tuned for more, and never forget: You’re never fully dressed without a smile!”
The entire area was decimated, the circus tent nothing but rags hanging from their poles. The straw dolls danced around Alastor and Amduscias. Some of them pretended to play one bones as if they were trumpets, dooting playfully.
Amduscias chuckled. “My, what a fun enterprise! I daresay I could get used to this!”
“I’m glad you liked it! Once I get my main station set up, I will be able to venture out and broadcast more and more. If you ever feel like joining in, by all means please let me know!”
The unicorn glanced up. High above them was a gigantic tower of steel beams and thorns. A big red light winked in and out at the top. It was a clear symbol of power—a marker for a powerful demon’s territory.
A new Overlord had just manifested, and he was ready to turn Hell—and its collective frown—upside down.