Mount Triglav gives an earth-rumbling heave before the world falls silent. There is no light here. There is no life. It is Walpurgisnacht—a night the pagans once celebrated with bonfires and dancing.
Thunder breaks the silence and in the following stillness there begins a gentle shutter through the earth, the air, a shimmering of heat waves. The heat waves bend and fold in special displacement as one by one the demons come. The shapes and sizes are infinite, this one with a cleft pallet, that one with a leather hide, another with a featureless face, clawed, beaked, razor-toothed, scarred, smooth, beautiful, wretched, they come in all forms. And they are all weak.
Deep inside Mount Triglav, an energy comes alive—noises pour forth, screams of rage and frustrated keening. The demons take a collective breath. The mountain peak wavers and broadens. It bends forward. The keening crescendos, then stops. A bloated silence consumes the world. The demons stretch necks against the air, scratch feet against the ground, curl themselves small, and hold themselves tight and not a sound breaks that heavy silent barrier. The world is deaf.
Panic creeps up spines, grips hearts, and whispers deep, deep in the mind.
A wing splits from the mountain peak. Another. A body rises up, undulating snake-like to free itself. Chernabog is free. His body shutters, then stills.
A tide is rising in him, the force so swollen it must be released. His mouth is barely open before the sound begins spilling out—a sound that ruptures eardrums for miles. Blood begins to seep from the demons’ ears. The demons nearest the mountain are crushed under the weight of that enraged sound. Chernabog raises his arms, beckons with long, claw-tipped fingers and the demons come. Up the mountain they stumble, crawl, maimed by deafness and bone-shattering pressure and moved by Chernabog’s will.
This is Walpurgisnacht now. None danced willingly.
Chernabog calls the fire imps. They slither and crackle in his palm. They dance naked before his dispassionate gaze. He forces them into new shapes—pig and wolf and goat—and a hint of something like satisfaction crosses his face. He moves his free hand above and over the misshapen imps and they bend and writhe unnaturally, unable to do anything else. The great demon turns his hand this way and that, watching the imps scramble along his hand, clawing for purchase at his fingers. The humiliation doesn’t last long. With a hard flick of the wrist, Chernabog dislodges the imps into the core of Mount Triglav.
Chernabog looks down on his minions, watches them cower. His lip curls back, sneering, disgusted. He sweeps a hand forward, beckoning. His harpies descend. He looks on as the harpies grab at the little demons and then soar back into the air, higher and higher. They let go. Little demons producing little, distorted screams.
Chernabog sits back, wings hitching close to his body as his shoulders sag. He waves a hand and the demons fight amongst themselves. He stares blindly at the little fighting demons. He senses his brother. Chernabog clenches his fists as the muscles in his neck and shoulders tighten. One fist relaxes enough for the claw of his forefinger to scratch at the pad of his thumb. Little circles full of angry, nervous energy. Chernabog closes his eyes and waits.
Even through the relative safety of his closed lids, Chernabog can see the brightness as his brother approaches. Belobog. As bright as shiny as a goddamn beacon. The little demons cower from the light. Chernabog grunts.
“Brother,” Belobog says, his voice surrounding Chernabog as completely as the light.
“You came early,” Chernabog says, his voice rubbing like stones, an almost petulant quality to the words.
“I’m always angry,” Chernabog tries to snap, but his tone is anguished, the words drawn out in a painful moan.
“Perhaps change is in order,” Belobog says gently.
Chernabog’s surprise almost has his eyes snapping open, but he squeezes the lids harder, white spots dancing behind his eyes with the effort.
“What does that mean, brother?”
When Belobog is hesitant to answer, Chernabog stiffens, face contorting between a scowl and frown. Chernabog can feel the light fading, drawing in around its source.
“Open your eyes,” Belobog says. His voice is coaxing. Chernabog obeys, warily parting his lids until he is squinting at his brother. That he has obeyed Belobog angers him, as everything in this world angers him. A strangled sob passes Chernabog’s throat. Belobog pulls his light in tighter, mistaking the source of his brother’s pain.
“What do you want?” Chernabog growls.
“To offer you peace.”
Chernabog laughs, the sound a rolling thunder causing rocks to slide down the mountain. But there is fear in that laugh. The only peace is in death.
“You’ve come to kill me,” Chernabog says.
“No, brother. I’ve come to free you.”