The small frame of an imp darted over rocks and rubble, its clawed feet scrapped on the stones beneath them. Its small wings twitched with excitement as they reached the peak of the mound they were climbing. Their feet slipped as the peak of the rubble slid away from under their feet; quickly, they caught themselves and jumped back behind the rubble. They heard voices from the other side and the sound of distant footsteps staying distant. They crawled on their scaly belly until they could peer over the top of the scrag, hoping the misshaped stones would hide the horns on the top of his head. His three-clawed hands gingerly gripped onto nearby stones to help balance as he peered down at two humans searching through the rubble.
The two humans looked under every large chunk of stone and building that they could lift, sifting through all containers and making sure to explore even the smallest of crevasses.
“Maybe when Anodyne came through, he cooked everything.”
“Don’t be stupid; this wasn’t a dream purge; someone just pissed him off. If there is anything of value in this shit little town, we will find it.”
The imp smirked as they watched the humans narrowly missing the items of value that lay on the ground.
“Stupid humans have terrible eyes; I am going to name you Gargantua.” He muttered as he looked at the larger of the two men below. “And you… Nose.” He said about the other, his eyes affixed on a prominent nose occupying a heavy portion of the man’s face.
The imp jumped up and announced himself to the humans with a bold stature and what he perceived to be a deep and thunderous voice.
“I am Tenner, I am the leader of a mighty imp clan; I can lead you to riches if you promise to share.”
The two men winced at the shrill voice of Tenner before looking to one another. Turning back, they threw what was in hand at him.
“Get out of here, don’t need the bad luck of an imp around here.” Nose yelled with a small hint of fear trailing at the back of his throat.
“Yeah, no one wants any of your kind around. You never actually abide by your contracts; you just find the loopholes and fuck off with everything you can.” Gargantuan added.
Tenner dodged the thrown stones with ease before stretching out his little wings. He used them to help with jumping higher and slowing fall rates, and he dexterously made his way down the rubble. The two men groaned and started to move away from the imp.
“Get back, you little rat.” Nose cried out with another stone in hand.
“Come, friend, I just want to help.” Tenner said as they pulled an item of value from the rubble.
“Bullshit, no one does anything for free; why even bother with such a terrible lie?” Gargantuan snarled at Tenner.
His face of disdain fell away as he watched Tenner pull up a small metal container no larger than a mug. All the markings had been scratched off, and the housing was dented. Nose ran over to Tenner as fast as his poor choice of footing would allow him, nearly falling many times. He eventually reached Tenner and snatched the container from Tenner’s hands.
“Oh, this is the good shit.” He said, practically salivating as he read what was left of the label on the bottom. “It comes from Vents.”
Gargantuan recoiled. “You are a fucking addict; no sane person actually thinks that Vents is anything more than rat soup. Even the assholes out here would know that.” He said, kicking a mutilated corpse that lay at his feet. “But the poor bastards probably can’t get the Runners to deliver good emotional drugs out this far. It would cost too much.”
Nose looked away from Gargantuan and sheltered the container in his hands, pulling it close to his body.
“What do you want, imp, and be specific.” He said, pointing down at the imp. “I don’t want no bullshit contract.”
“Come on, don’t be an idiot. No one wins out on deals with imps unless you have up street smarts.”
“I got up street smarts.” Nose protested.
“Upstreet? You barely have gutter smarts, you fucking tweaked-out addict.”
“Ignore him. What do you want, and what can your round bulgy eyes see?”
The imp hummed, looking over the two of the men.
“Do not include me in this; this is his deal.” Gargantuan stated as he saw Tenner sizing him up.
“Well, for you. I would do it for a hole.”
Nose rolled his eyes from side to side as he tried to think. Gargantuan rubbed his temples before going back to sifting through the rubble.
“I am going to be over here if you come back alive.” He said, wandering away from Nose and Tenner.
“What kind of hole?” Nose paused. “What size of the hole?” Smirking to himself as if he had just outplayed the imp.
“The hole needs to be one meter wide and three meters deep. Before you ask, I need it just over there in that small clearing.”
Nose wandered over the rubble, slipping on every slop that wasn’t course enough to create a decent friction. He finally found himself standing in the clearing. Grabbing handfuls of the dirt, then across the rubble to the intact spade that was sitting there. He looked back to Tenner with an inquisitive look.
“I put that there, but I am too small to use it.” Tenner stated, correcting Nose’s look to one of satisfaction.
“In return for this hole, what do I get?”
“You get everything I find in that time, but I get to keep one item at the end. Because I will be doing all the real work.”
Nose looked at the small container in his hand, then back to the shovel.
“I think that, maybe. Yes. I’ll do it. Deal.”
“Good luck, dead man.” Gargantuan shouted sarcastically as he picked something from the rubble and pocketed it.
“Oh, give it up, you can put whatever trash you want in your pocket, but I will leave here with the best stuff.”
“Come on, it is literally getting you to dig your own grave.”
“Who needs a three-meter grave? Last time I checked, two was more than enough for a proper burial. Not that I would even need to be buried there are so many corpses around anyway.”
Gargantuan dusted his hands towards his nose and continued with his own work. Nose lifted the two fingers next to his pinkie finger and cursed at Gargantuan.
“Alright, imp, I dig; you dig through trash and get me those gold nuggets.” Nose said eagerly.
Tenner bowed slightly and smiled. “As it is in our contract.” He said with as much boyish charm as he could muster.
Tenner dug through the slate and trash to pluck what few gems they could. Small trinkets of precious metals, electrical components, and mechanical fittings. All things that would sell fine on any market Hollow had to offer.
“Come on, Imp. This is a big hole; you better turn over more than that.” Nose said after digging halfway through his charge.
Sweat had no time to bead on his brow. Instead, it poured down the channels of his thick eyebrows and down the ridge of his nose. Forming a steady drip at the tip that would often drip down onto his lips.
“The deal was I search, you dig. Not my fault if I don’t find anything you want.”
“Just look elsewhere, fucking spread out. You have probably picked this area clean. But don’t fucking run because I will get you.” Nose struck the ground again with the spade. “You know what, go search by him, rub it in his face every time you find something he missed.”
Tenner bowed again and ran off to search near Gargantuan, who, upon seeing Tenner wander over, sat down hard on a fallen support beam.
“So, what is it imp? There is always something with you lot, you scheming bastards.”
“No scheme, I just need a hole.”
“Right, a hole, a very large hole, in the middle of a town that just got destroyed by Anodyne. Any reason for that?”
“The Holites here wouldn’t let me do it when it was a town, so this is my opportunity.”
Gargantuan shifted his sitting position and started to play with a snapped beam of rebar, smacking a nearby piece of dirt with it as he spoke.
“The only reasons I can think of for someone wanting a hole are to bury something or to un-bury something.”
“What about a pool?”
“Or for a pool.”
“How about a basement?” Tenner added plainly.
“Yeah, well, you ain’t building a luxury resort or a home, so what is it?”
“What is what?” The imp asked, looking up with an exaggerated face of confusion put on for show.
“Digging up or burying?”
The imp grinned slyly and whispered with a crackle in his throat.
Gargantuan looked down, puzzled, his brow furrowed, and he mouthed his thoughts before rolling his eyes and groaning.
“I will never understand you a lot. Too smart for me.”
“Then why bother asking? Why waste my time with answers if you are not going to understand them?”
Gargantuan juggled his grip on the rebar and looked intently at the back of Tenner’s head. He raised the tip into view and switched his focus between the two.
“One little whack, and I would be done with this.” Gargantuan whispered.
“Yes? What now, large man?”
Gargantuan dropped the rebar and stood up.
“Nothing; I am done here. Nothing of value.”
“What about this?” Tenner said with glee.
Gargantuan turned to see a large stone in both the imp’s clawed hands. On it was a symbol that gave off a faint glow. Pulsing like a heartbeat, it drew him in.
“Hand it over, imp.” He said with a growl.
“No, belongs to Nose. No deal was made with you.”
“Whatever, that works. I will still get my hands on that; you do understand that, right? Whatever he owns, I own.”
“What if he never owns it?”
Gargantuan muttered under his breath and looked over to Nose to see the dirt fly out of the hole, followed by a cheer.
“I have done it, three meters by one meter. Pay up, imp.”
Before either of the two above ground could do anything, there was an echoing collapse. Stone cracking on stone and dirt filling all the cracks as Nose fell even deeper into the planet. Gargantuan stayed where he was side-eyeing the imp.
“Behold the nest I made. Now given a whole town to rule over. You humans may not know how to live with the nightmares that plague the surface, but we are exceptional. We can even…”
Gargantuan snatched the stone from Tenner and sprinted in the opposite direction as the swarm of imps climbed out of the hole. The sounds of Nose’s screams soon fell silent as the next wave came out, covered in his blood.
“Come now Gargantuan. That is no way to treat your hosts. Let us teach you some real manners.” Imp king Tenner screamed as his horde ran after Gargantuan.
Their much smaller and nimble bodies allowed them to bounce off each piece of debris as if it were a trampoline. Those with wings were able to glide short distances and hop even higher than the others. All of them spread out over the ruined town as Gargantuan ran in silent determination.
He knew the chance for death was real and that he needed to keep a cool head if he was to make it out alive. So, he took each step and each bound as it came. Putting all his focus into where he was stepping, he made sure that he was moving in the most efficient way possible. But despite his best efforts, the imps were still gaining on him; no matter how well he stepped, the imps were able to be twice as fast on the uneven ground. He fought through the urge to vomit as his body tried explaining that he was too hungry to run anymore. His legs started to feel as if they were jelly right as the ground shook and toppled him to the ground. Looking up, an enormous spider-like a hand reached out of the ground and placed its fingertips through the rubble, and dug them into the dirt.
The hole grew larger as a colossal creature of black chitinous plating and demon-green eyes that littered the face and chest of the nightmare emerged. The only sound it made was the sound of its hard armor scraping against itself, creating a deafening screech that could be heard kilometers away.
Gargantuan felt smaller than he ever had and took the only option he saw available. He dove head first into the cave that the nightmare had emerged from. As the creature stood, it collapsed more of the cave until Gargantuan was left in darkness that felt thick and pressuring. He stuck his hand into his pocket and pulled the small stone from it, its soft glow barely enough to illuminate the stone itself, but it would have to do.