Mel’or Pulbasur spat into the fire pit at the centre of his tiny hovel. The flame flared a sickly green for a moment before returning to a dull orange. The fire crackled angrily and a small lick of flame reached out towards Mel’or, brushing his hand with its heat and causing the imp to yell in surprise.
“This,” Mel’or pointing an accusing finger at the fire pit. “This is what I have to deal with, Taan.”
Taan was a demon, one of many low-ranking functionaries that inhabited the lower plane. He sat on the floor opposite Mel’or and nodded respectfully. “I understand your frustration, King.” Taan said, addressing the imp. “But I do not see how I can help you.”
Taan disliked visiting the hovels. As a demon, he lived within the Walled City and rarely set foot outside its border. The imp infested slums that bordered the massive city did not interest him, and he found the creatures that lived there repulsive.
The self-proclaimed ‘King of Imps’ was a regular annoyance for the lesser demon. Not a day would pass without some demand or complaint from the vile creature, and many of the lower ranks agreed that assassination should be the correct course of action.
But the Great House would not allow it. Despite murder being the primary form of conflict settlement within the Lower Plane, it insisted that the imps must be treated fairly. Nobody dared to speak it, but the rumour that the Great House worried about an imp rebellion only caused more frustration within the denizens of the Lower Plane.
“I’ll tell you how you can help me,” Mel’or leaned forward on his haunches. “Come closer, Taan. I must whisper this.”
Taan resisted a sigh and did as instructed—the smell of the imp was disgusting.
“I must become a demon,” whispered the King of Imps.
“Excuse me?” coughed Taan.
“I have no power here, Taan,” Mel’or whined. “You’ve seen what it’s like, the rabble rule themselves. How can I become more powerful? I must have the might of a demon!”
Taan regarded the imp thoughtfully. It was true—they were indeed pathetic creatures. On average, an imp would stand at only four feet in height—barely reaching the waist of the more powerful demons. Imps also liked to cultivate many boils and pustules. Using them as a way of distinguishing social standing within the hovels. The more discoloured and disgusting imps considered themselves more powerful than the whelps that served them.
The King of Imps was different, though. His skin was devoid of any such blemishes. Instead, the King’s skin was a mess of ugly scars and welts—the result of the barbaric removal of the imp’s cysts during his ascension to the throne. Taan shuddered with revulsion. The imps truly were the most unsavoury denizens of the Lower Planes, but they still served a purpose.
“Your Majesty,” Taan said—it never hurt to flatter the foolish creature. “Why would you want to lower your standing to that of a mere demon? Surely you know we hold little power within the plane?”
“I don’t care about your power down here,” exclaimed the imp. “I want to have your ability to affect the Upper Plane. I want to terrorise the humans!”
“Why would you want that?” Taan asked.
“Don’t you understand?” Mel’or pointed a thin finger at the demon. “I thought you were smarter than this, Taan. Perhaps I was wrong to seek your help.”
“Not at all,” smiled Taan. “What you seek may be possible. I just want to know your reasons.”
Mel’or stood, his face flaring with anger. The imp squared his misshapen body and advanced on Taan. Even at his full height, the King of Imps still only came to eye level with the seated demon. “You demand to know my reasons?” Mel’or bellowed. “How dare you!”
Taan calmly wiped the flecks of spit from his face and accepted it as part of the sacrifice he made for his enjoyment of tormenting the creature.
The stifled sound of a barely restrained cough interrupted them. Mel’or turned and glared at the closed door. “Get in here,” he demanded.
Taan watched as the door slowly opened to reveal a young imp. Its face showed only a few red boils, giving it an inferior status amongst the other imps.
The young imp stumbled as an unseen hand thrust it into the hovel. It stood next to the fire pit, fear etched on its ugly face.
“Beggin’ your forgives, King,” the imp squeaked.
Without a word, Mel’or reached out and grabbed the smaller imp, dragging it towards him. The young imp squealed as Mel’or bit into its neck, ripping a chunk of putrid flesh from the body.
“The next imp I catch outside my door,” the King yelled as he chewed. “Will be flayed before they are eaten!”
Taan sat patiently as Mel’or ate his impromptu meal. Imps, he decided, were too repulsive—even for the Lower Plane.
“Now,” said Mel’or between bites. “Tell me what I must do to have power over the world above.”
“There is a way,” Taan said. “But it will be difficult.”
“Taan, I will not accept excuses. No longer shall I stand by and watch as the demons meddle with the humans and have their fun, while they leave imps with nothing but the power to irritate.” He threw an uneaten leg against the wall. “To irritate!” He howled.
“Irritation is a powerful-“
“Do not insult me, demon!” Mel’or slammed his frail fist into the floor. “I cannot irritate humans into nuclear annihilation. I cannot irritate nations into carrying out acts of brutality. Give me the power to spread chaos, demon. Give me the might to destroy humanity. I must have this. I must be the most powerful imp king that has ever ruled this plane!”
Taan tugged thoughtfully at his beard. “If I do this for you,” Taan spoke softly, a sly smile spreading on his lips. “If I make you a demon, what will you give me in return?”
Mel’or sat back on his haunches, looking thoughtful. Taan knew it was common knowledge in the Lower Planes that you simply did not make deals with demons. But the imp’s desperation was so thick, Taan could smell it over the stench of the hovel.
Finally, the imp sat forward—a look of determination on its disgusting face. “I will bring you riches from the humans,” he said.
“What can you possibly bring me I cannot already get for myself?” Taan sighed.
The Imp King nodded, as if expecting the offer to be refused. His face contorted with concentration once more, and Taan waited patiently.
“If you give me the power, I will destroy a nation for you, Taan. Millions will die in war. Disease will and famine will run rampant among the humans.” The imp gave Taan a solemn look. “Convert me into a demon and I promise you this.”
Taan rubbed his chin and considered the offer. In any other circumstances, it would have been an enticing proposition. At this moment, however, it served a more basic purpose.
“I agree to this, King of Imps,” Taan said. He paused for a moment and gave the imp a thoughtful look. “You know, you can’t rule the imps as a demon. The Great House will not allow it. We shall have to do something about that.”
Panic crossed the imp’s blotchy face. “No, Taan, that won’t do! I must still be King. Please, you must be able to do something?”
The demon nodded. “I believe there is something I can do,” he said. “But it will take a great commitment from you.”
Mel’or squirmed with barely contained excitement. “I accept.”
“Good,” Taan said. “Gather your people, King of Imps. You have a legacy to forge.”
The heaving mass of imps filled the air with the stench of rot. Small fights broke out within the crowd as lesser imps jostled their more senior kin. The head of one unfortunate victim landed at the feet of Mel’or Pulbasur, who sat on a small throne made from old cloth and dried flesh.
Taan looked into the crowd from his position next to the King. The smell that hung in the air did little to sour his good mood. A hush slowly descended as Mel’or raised a hand. He pushed himself up from the throne and stood before the gathering.
“My loyal subjects, I have gathered you here with great news. To reward your loyal devotion to me, I will give each of you the gift of power. After a millennium of inferiority, they will finally give the imps the status they deserve.” He gestured towards Taan. “This demon has agreed to my demands of equality. He has relented to my command, and I have bound him into an agreement that even he cannot break.”
Taan stepped to the front of the stage as Mel’or waved him forward. The crowd seemed to hold its breath.
“It is true, my friends,” Taan addressed the imps. “Today, King Mel’or has commanded me to accept the imps into the fellowship of the demon-kin with all the power and tradition that comes with the title of demon. I name each of you before me as Lesser Demons.” Cheers erupted from the crowd, and Taan grinned. He held up a hand. “Of course, an imp cannot rule a demon,” he said and turned to face Mel’or, who beamed a wide smile back at the demon. “Therefore, I name your king, Mel’or the Greater Demon.”
The King stepped forward into the cheering adulation of the crowd, his squat figure barely reaching Taan’s waist.
“From this day,” Mel’or beamed. “We are no longer imps. We are part of the family of demons. We now take part in their customs, traditions, and power!”
The crowd cheered as Mel’or finished speaking. Taan turned towards the King, still smiling. “I hope you enjoy this tradition in particular,” he said.
The knife appeared in Taan’s hand without warning, and the King grunted as the blade thrust into his chest. Silence descended on the gathering as Mel’or fell to the floor of the dais.
Taan addressed the stunned crowd. “Kneel before your king, filth.”
The Great House would not permit the assassination of the Imp King, but they had said nothing about assassinating a Demon King.