A loud gasp signalled the violent awakening, opening wide his aching eyes by adrenaline alone. Immediately he found himself indoors looking at a ceiling above, but as soon as his eyes turned elsewhere, he found her. Victoria, standing cross-armed gazing at him in wonder. A primal fear took over from all he experienced, letting out a scream as his body entered such strong fight-or-flight behavior forcing him to back off, throwing off the blanket covering him to then fall to the ground as he passed the border of the bed. Adrenaline intoxicating him to the point of feeling no pain nor tiredness, he kept backing off with another shout till he struck the corner of the room, to grow silent as he gripped his chest where his heart beat over and over in ferocious strength.
“Indrick! What-” She exclaimed, attempting to rush to his side only for Geoffrey to halt her with a grip on her arm.
“Damn,” said Sigismund, “what did you do to the boy?”
“Huh?” Asked Victoria, turning her head to where Sigismund sat, for Indrick to follow her eyes and find Sigismund hunched over, chair’s back aiming forward for him to rest his crossed arms against its back. “Like I’d do anything to him.”
With the room silent save for his erratic panting, Indrick glanced about. A room for one, pristine clean. A bed, most of the blankets now lying on the floor. Around the bed had remained Victoria, Geoffrey, and Sigismund, and through the door which opened at that moment peeked Maverick and Reynauld. Though cleaner today, her uniform’s missing sleeve gave away what had happened, leading to a sigh in relief escaping him as he lowered his head.
But as he attempted to make his way back to the bed, his body now devoid of adrenaline failed him. Almost all functions rapidly shut down, leaving him to fall to the ground with a lengthy, painful grunt, unable to even slow down his fall. Reynauld and Maverick crossed the door inside in quick fashion, marching to his side and gently picking him up before carrying him to the bed once more, body almost numb in its entirety like a corpse.
“What happened to you, just now?” Asked Victoria, walking closer till she remained by his side.
“Nightmare.” He sighed, voice losing its strength to turn into pained exhalations.
“Must’ve been an awful nightmare.”
Another exhalation followed as he moved his arm to rest on his face, covering his eyes from the scorching light. They burned with ever greater force, feeling not only like needles punctured against them but as if a massive force threatened to crush them; an awful toll from the adrenaline, which made him open them so wide after just waking up in such deplorable state. And yet, the pain seemed irrelevant in comparison to his whole body; splitting headache, burning body, pain turning into numbness, feeling his heart beating in his head threatening to blow it up, his muscles aching even if he made no effort to move them. Certainly felt like he was at death’s door, all manners of pain to their greatest extent in that very moment. Lord knows if he’d ache further in other parts of his body, perhaps stomachache too if he could feel his belly at all.
Then, he felt Victoria gently moving his arm aside, before she rested her palm on his forehead; his eyes felt too heavy to open them, and the light hitting his eyelids felt so strong that he squinted his eyes even further.
“You’re boiling…” She said in disbelief, taking off her palm and leaving his arm as it was.
“I was wondering when a fever would hit.” Said Sigismund. “Running in the rain for so long does no one any good.”
“How long do you think it’ll take him to recover?” She asked.
“A month, if it doesn’t send him to Dirk.”
“Dying…” Muttered Indrick.
Pained over seeing him in such state, she quietly sighed to herself. Then, she turned to Sigismund once more.
“What about you and the others?” She asked.
“A week. Pure luck that demonic metal doesn’t like leaving a mark.”
Her eyes fell on him once more. Plain clothes now, with his armor removed. He couldn’t take even a mere shower or for his clothes to be washed, stripped of his equipment and laid to rest in as much comfort as could be provided for him. Not like the paladins’ paranoia would have allowed any such thing in the middle of a demon realm if she ever suggested it. Miserable conditions compared to her, who had the basic luxury of a quick bath after waking up from a sleep which felt more like knocking oneself out, with the dust and soot slapped out of her clothes. So too did she partly heal her wounds with her own abilities, leaving them as just scarred tissue.
“I can help him recover.” She said, only to receive the silent glares of all present in the room.
“You understand why we’re going to say no.” Said Geoffrey.
“I know. I can assure you, he won’t turn into an incubus.”
“How come? You’d be showering him with demonic energy, no?”
“And with the same ease I can remove it.”
A pause followed, before Geoffrey and Sigismund exchanged a glance at each other.
“If she wanted to do something to him, she had more than enough opportunities to do so already.” Said Reynauld.
“Fine.” Answered Sigismund, standing up with great effort. “Indrick decides. At least he woke up.”
With slow steps reflecting a hint of aching, he made his way to the door. Geoffrey, once leaning against the wall, took off and followed, and upon crossing the door, Maverick and Reynauld followed suit. The last one to leave then closed the door, leaving Indrick and Victoria on their own. In the following silence, she slowly turned her eyes towards him once more, seeing his chest puff in and out with each gasp-like pained breathing.
“Indrick.” She softly called.
“I heard.” He said, words lining up with his exhalations. “What will you do?”
“Infuse you with demonic energy–“
Like a spasm, Indrick’s body flinched as he raised his arm ever so slightly, to stare at her with wide open eyes of terror and dread. Then, an annoyed sigh escaped him as he closed his eyes. Inevitably, Victoria fell silent in shock and wonder.
“…I didn’t think you’d react that badly.” She said.
“No, no. I just… Hah… It was just the nightmare.”
“Was it that bad?”
“Nyarlathotep threw it at me.”
A pause, Victoria left morbidly curious. Glancing aside, she found and pulled the chair Sigismund had sat on, to leave it by the bed before she herself sat down.
“What was it about?” She asked.
Rather than an answer, Indrick remained wordless, breathing, collecting his thoughts as she waited.
“…Nyarlathotep sent me back, a month before Makillae.” He said. “I thought it was real. I ran to warn you, but… I messed up. I ended up making you determined to end the war and finish Nostrum as quickly as you could, and you locked me up in a dungeon to remove me from the war. You promised to not turn me into an incubus until Nostrum was gone, but that just meant you flooded me with demonic energy. I… I even saw you saying Nostrum was gone, with a dozen rosarii in your hands. The nightmare ended on the last day, when you returned afflicted.”
Hardly able to picture it, yet still believing it within the realm of possibilities back then, she couldn’t help but bring a hand to her mouth.
“You were frightening.” He said. “Far more than I ever imagined you’d be. I suppose… I suppose you can take it as a compliment. You’d need to be, with what we’re up against.”
Afflicted. It rang in her head, pounding on and on with how she had once accepted her demise just yesterday, had Marius not shown up. Though all she could do was imagine herself as one, Indrick had seen it first-hand. With Nyarlathotep involved, she could not tell if it had truly been a nightmare for him, though with how he called it such, perhaps it’d be best to just consider it one. Enough dangers to one’s sanity existed already.
“How were you going to heal me?” He asked, returning her to reality from spacing out.
“I would infuse you with demonic energy and leave you just on the border of incubizing. The demonic energy itself would start healing you, but before it starts altering you into an incubus, I would remove it.”
Doubt befell him immediately upon the idea. Zero chance of agreement from any of The Order should anyone hear it. Yet, for all the default paranoia within him surfacing as reflex, he couldn’t help but reminisce of all days past. Of yesterday, in particular:
‘If that’s what he desires, then so be it! That is the Indrick I know, and nobody will take him from me!’
If it was the Victoria he knew in the first day, with what he knew of her in the same day, he’d have doubted immediately. But now, it seemed as if all had turned upside down. Though he’d have looked for any pitiful excuse to trust monsters back in the day to find none, now he looked for any reason to not trust her. Too much she had done, sometimes with no reason at all, and true enough she had followed him out of Acerrae with zero reason. In the search for any reasons to not trust her, he found himself empty-handed.
How times had changed.
Upon hearing the words, she wanted to be surprised, but found herself without such reaction. That a paladin would trust her in such heretical methods, but one part of her had grown familiar in the level of trust he had for her. Rather than surprise, a warmth sensation flooded her heart, as if it was a sign that she had finally redeemed herself of the sins from days past.
“I’ll need to take off your clothes.”
“…What.” He asked in monotony, surprised enough to loop around the surprise spectrum into a complete dull demeanor, staring with half-closed eyes.
“I can’t risk the demonic energy latching onto your clothes. They’ll work like a sponge, making it more difficult than necessary for me to keep you human.”
“Are you… Are you sure about this?”
“I should be asking you that.”
He blinked blankly a few times.
“Alright.” He sighed. “I can barely feel anything that isn’t pain. You’ll have to help me out.”
“Fine, fine.” She answered with a chuckle, standing up as Indrick sat up with most of his remaining strength.
Yet, as she began unbuttoning his shirt, the true reality of the situation fell mercilessly on her. Frozen in place, fingers on a button, eye twitching as her smile stood in place, only now did she notice how she had set herself up in a situation allowing, or better said demanding her to leave his body exposed to her in all its glory. Gulping down her sudden anxiety, she made herself continue, unbuttoning on and on till she took the shirt itself off, leaving his torso exposed with his rosarius in place. The same blushing she had in that old farmhouse when he arrived all of a sudden to take the bottle off her, she now sported, if not even greater still.
“I’m keeping my underwear on, though.” He said, taking off his rosarius and lying down once more.
And like that, he let himself fall immobile. As if resigning himself to the wolves, or the one wolf, he left his muscles to rest, seeing Victoria so eagerly do what would pain him to do. Almost too eagerly, in fact. Though expressionless, he could swear he saw her face slightly red as she took off his trousers, to neatly fold them and leave them by the chair with the shirt. Then, she marched up to the head of the bed, and with a hand hovering close to him in preparation, both couldn’t help but lock eyes.
“Ready?” She asked.
Leaving his body, spirit, and mind in the lilim’s trust, he closed his eyes.
Though deep down fearful of any undesirable sensations, as horrifying as his days in the dungeon were, he felt nothing he’d describe as magic. Rather, what he first felt instead was her touch on his head, as simple and mundane as it was. Yet, it strangely felt so blissful, so calming, to feel her soft palms so gracefully pass over his skin, a warmth like none other. With the soothing touch of her fingers, he felt his splitting headache slowly yet steadily fade away, negativity erasing without even the fear of losing his mind to the sensation flooding him, for his trust on the lilim warded off any skepticism. Sliding over his forehead, over his cheeks, around his neck, ruffling his hair, wherever he felt her graceful movements, the pain both mental and physical expired.
Then, he felt her hands reaching lower, massaging his shoulders and arms. The burning muscular ache which drowned out all sensations, made worse thousandfold with any movement, found itself no match against her slow and methodical approach. Even as she reached his hands he found himself able to feel them once more, able to move his fingers without anything to impede him like exhaustion or pain.
As her hands moved on to her chest, however, a certain thought made itself apparent, one he would’ve wished to avoid in the situation. From his clavicle down to his pecs, it only intensified further, though by no means did it drown out what almost-miracle she carried out. His heart and lung received what respite they so desperately required, with his heart no longer paining him with each beat, nor his chest threatening to cave in with each breath. But as she massaged down to his belly, the earlier sensation only worsened. Only thing he could pray to himself is for the lilim not to notice too much.
But as she reached down to his hips, she noticed all too well, even stopping momentarily in her actions. He still had his eyes closed, thus he did not notice Victoria instead staring with eyes wide open, jaw shaking, seeing the all too natural reaction a man would have upon a full body massage, below the singular piece of clothing he had refused to take off. Her face had turned scarlet red, putting to shame any and all semblances of blushing to date, feeling herself almost hypnotized by the sight. Almost thankful that he had not taken his underwear off, she couldn’t help but wonder if she’d have lost her mind otherwise, succumbing to the desire and curiosity to at the very least poke it, whatever mess it may lead to. Breathing already erratic and tail twirling about, she mustered all her strength and gulped, to force herself to continue healing him, as much as she could not unglue her eyes.
And so it continued, feeling the hundred thousand needling piercing into his flesh dissipating as she massaged with her hands. All the way from the top to the bottom, feeling his body now renewed, as if he had carried out no physical effort at all. His body as it had been since before the war had started; perhaps a tiny bit stronger with the muscular buildup of such gruelling war-time exercise against the afflicted.
“Done.” She exhaled, for him to open his eyes and find her straightening up and drying the sweat off her brow with a pass of her hand.
Curious, he raised his arms and looked at his palms. Once more he could move them without any difficulty. Even in sitting upright he found no hardship, a testament to the effectiveness of her actions.
“Was it really that taxing on you?” He asked, noticing her sweating and lightly panting.
“E-Eh?” She asked, as if his question had interrupted her from spacing out, snapping her head towards him. “Y-Yeah. Yeah, it was that. Don’t worry about it.”
Placing his feet on the ground and standing up, he found himself in complete balance and control, without the need for even a minute to recover and adapt. After putting his rosarius back on his neck, one by one he took his clothes and put them on, along with his shoes he found arranged by the bed.
“Say.” He said. Upon his words, Victoria turned around, having reached for the cap she had left on a shelf since before he had woken up.
“Thanks for everything.”
Left unreactive for a second, soon she let out a chuckle. “Anytime.”
Indrick then marched to the door, followed by Victoria who, upon both crossing the door to the outside, closed it behind her. Past a living room they marched out the house, to find himself in the villa. A guest house, with the paladins awaiting outside along with Valerian and the two dullahan officers. Yet, he couldn’t help but raise his hand to hold his head, feeling the same uncomfortable sensation that had surfaced with the lilim’s thorough massage.
Blueballing, some called it.
“Feeling better?” Asked Geoffrey, arriving to him as the others gathered. “The demonic energy didn’t get to you, did it?”
“No, I’m fine.” He answered.
But as Indrick spoke on with the others, Victoria departed elsewhere. A few steps away she found Lord General Marius talking with his wife, and approached him.
“Lord General.” She greeted.
“Forgive my curiosity,” he said, “but did the paladins really leave one of their own in private with a lilim…?”
“Yes. Long story. I need to talk with you about our next movement.”
“You have my full attention.”
“I want both our armies to march south.”
Staring without change of expression, soon Marius raised an eyebrow and crossed his arms in stupefaction. Charlotte beside him shared his confusion, bringing one hand to her waist and the other to scratch her head.
“Reason being…?” He asked.
“I want to see what I can find.” Answered Victoria. “It doesn’t make sense that the traitors withdrew, and even less sense that they assaulted without their million cultists. They had no reason to leave, and they might’ve even been able to drive off your army after a lengthy battle with how any they lose is bound to return eventually.”
“We’d be sacrificing time and manpower in a search south that we could be using to fortify this city, however.”
“Yes, though I’m sure that if the traitors had really wanted to conquer this city, they’d have done so already. Not to mention, waiting here would result in us either facing another traitor attack and inevitably falling, or just waiting till we get bored and march south to figure things out anyways.”
“And leave these people alone on their own?”
“The cultists already converted an innumerable amount of people, I don’t imagine they’d put just a few more that high in their list of priorities. If anything, they’d want us.”
“And you want us to walk straight to them to make their job easier?”
“That’s the thing, Lord General. They had innumerable opportunities to get me, the paladins, and even you and your army yesterday. Doesn’t make sense that they’d go through so much waste of effort and time when they could’ve very well turned Nostrum, Variland, and all the bordering nations into cultists by now if they tried a little bit harder. We may not be dealing with forces seeking our destruction, but instead with forces seeing us as rats they couldn’t care much about, at least other than the individual traitors themselves.”
An exasperated sigh escaped his nose as he lowered his gaze to the ground, thinking for a moment.
“I’ll need to have scouts spread out everywhere.” He said, raising his head once more. “What about your army? Will they be alright with marching out? It looks like they’ve gone through too much already.”
“I know.” She answered almost in a sigh, furrowing her brows in sorrow. “Though, perhaps they’ve seen so much that this will feel like nothing.”
“Very well. I’ll get everyone ready.”
“I don’t want to ask more of you after what everyone has gone through,” she said, hands together behind her as she spoke in the presence of Lily, Rose, Valerian, Indrick, and Sigismund, “but I have to. We’ll march south to see what we find, to see if we can make some sense as to what drove them to leave and why the cultists were not with them.”
A pained sigh escaped Rose, bringing her hand to her head.
“I’m not counting on a fight.” Continued Victoria. “I’m not going south to fight anything, and if worse came to worst, the Demon Army will do most of the heavy lifting. I want to know if I can count on you all in this.”
“The people here will go nuts if there’s nobody for them.” Said Valerian. “It’s not just a question on morality, they’ll feel exposed and might grow… restless.”
“Ideas?” She asked.
“As much as I’d want to go with you, I believe it best if I stay here with a sizable number of dullahans to keep the people calm. Ideally, those who don’t want to go south will stay with me. I don’t imagine them being a fighting forced to be reckoned with, so you won’t be losing much.”
“Right. Lily, Rose, think you can go through the dullahans and figure who wants to stay and who wants to go?”
“Sure.” Answered Lily. With a shrug, Rose showed her acknowledgment.
“What about the paladins?” Asked Victoria, turning to Indrick and Sigismund. “I don’t want to overtax them with how badly they need rest, so it’s up to them to stay or go.”
“As long as I get the chance to see Nostrum again, I’ll go.” Answered Sigismund. “You can count on everyone else feeling the same. Staying in a demon realm is… not something they’d be keen on.”
“Alright. If nobody has anything else to ask, then I want us all ready to march out within the hour.”
“Understood.” Saluted Lily and Rose before setting off. With conflicting allegiance, Indrick and Sigismund marched off to the others with a chat growing between the two.
“Don’t get killed. Or worse.” Said Valerian. In response, Victoria chuckled.
Though his body had recovered, certainly enough his armor had not. There he marched with the others on horse, having donned his armor with all its wear and tear, with all its holes on its back; a certain irony befell on him, to only have his armor pierced on its back like a coward despite all he had done. Funnily enough, he had also gained them against a particular foe, shooting him in the back like the traitors they were. At least, he figured, he had the luxury of thinking it through in such surprisingly calm march into afflicted territory.
Still, he returned south with more than he had left with: Hanging by his waist, he carried the infernal book. For the time being he found it unreactive, doing nothing a book wouldn’t do. With how Nyarlathotep had given it to him, to get rid of it would seem folly; indeed it was, having accidentally forgotten it back in the villa only to then find it clinging to his waist. To get rid of it would prove impossible, perhaps for the best if others poor souls were to find it.
Too calm. Not a single cultist nor traitor had shown up. Desolate and silent, all kept had quiet upon the unexpected greeting or lack thereof. Paranoia over a potential ambush, wonder over the desolation, a myriad of reasons for none to say much.
Until, Fellsreach lied within sight in the horizon.
“Lord General,” greeted a dullahan on horse, of the scouts belonging to the Demon Lord’s army rather than Varilandian, “we searched thoroughly through the city as you requested. It’s… empty. We found no signs of anything that’d point to activity after the day the lilim and the paladins departed. Not even looting.”
Marius couldn’t unglue his eyes from the city; nor could Indrick and Victoria, seeing it over the horizon as if taunting them for their confusion.
“Indrick.” Called Marius. “You said the cultists all seemed to converge on Acerrae that one day, right?”
“Yes.” He answered. “They could’ve crossed this distance a hundred times over by now, though.”
“Do you know if there’s anything down south that’d interest them?”
“Don’t think so, no. We’re all only human.”
“I dread to think they went after my sisters.” Said Victoria. “Many are more powerful than me by far, and Lord knows they’re easier targets now that I’ve gotten used to fighting the cult.”
“Then we better find out which direction they went to. News may arrive too late to them, but I don’t want it eating away at my conscience.”
At the center of the room where the Master-Commander, the Lord General, and the Lord Inquisitor stood, remained a sword over a cloth on top of a table. All three stared on, the only ones in the room with the noises muffled afar from their makeshift headquarters a room away. All, now in Makillae.
“According to what you’ve said, you and the paladin stole it from a dullahan,” said the Lord Inquisitor, “but so far every weapon of the afflicted has disappeared with them. Arrows, swords… What happened with this one?”
“I won’t pretend to understand a thing about this mess.” Answered the Lord General.
“If they used it to convert people,” said the Master-Commander, “then I’m sure it’s not an issue of being imbued with the affliction to weakly to disappear with them. It’s not ceremonial, it’s not special, it should be the exact same as the others, and yet… something keeps it here. As much as I don’t want to imagine Nyarlathotep wanting us to keep it, I can’t discard the possibility.”
After a second of silence, the Lord Inquisitor stepped forward and took hold of the sword, raising it to him and inspecting the blade with his other hand. A completely normal sword to the untrained eye.
“An injury from this will spread the affliction, correct?” He asked.
“And some have found themselves… resistant to the affliction, like the paladins. Perhaps there may be a use for this.”
“Someone such as yourself, finding use in a cursed artifact?”
“How dreadful the situation must be.”
“Master-Commander!” Shouted a voice afar, muffled by the closed door. Upon turning, the three found the door swinging open as a squire stormed in, saluting upon reaching Vandire. “An army just exited the Varilandian Demon Realm and is heading straight towards us. They’re too far for us to decipher anything about them.”
“Twenty paladins and a lilim make for no army,” remarked Jeremiah to Vandire, “even with what few recruits Valerian might’ve gotten in the meantime.”
A pause, in which Vandire collected his thought. “You may finally have the chance to see the affliction up close, Lord Inquisitor.” He said, marching out with Jeremiah and Frigeridus soon following behind.
Out of the room, then out of the building into the soldier-filled streets, with all soldiers rushing as quickly as the could one way to the other. With calm steps the three followed the tide, aiming for the same place most rushed to: The top of the wall to the north. Through the street, into the wall’s tower, up the staircase, and finally up high where all could be seen, they all reached the parapet of the wall, the battlements, all flooded with crossbowmen and dullahan archers to capacity.
The army afar lay within sight. Too big for comfort, its destination undeniable. Too far away to pick up any individual details, left as a collection of humanoid figures marching their way.
As they moved closer, their banners came to view in detail. There Vandire and Jeremiah narrowed their eyes, to spot a few of them carrying the heraldry of Variland. Still, the others carried another, one they couldn’t tell which until it drew ever closer: the Demon Army itself, heraldry of the territory under the Demon Lord’s direct governance. Neither grew a smile at their arrival, stuck in the middle of a potential meeting between the Welsplians headed by a Lord Inquisitor and the Demon Army headed by a Lord General, both arriving for the war against not the affliction, but against each other.
There the two saw Victoria and the paladins marching at the front, along with an armored man and a demon they could assume the leading figures.
“Do you see dark circles under anyone’s eyes?” Asked Vandire, but Jeremiah did not answer, instead he kept his eyes narrowed with a hint of fear in his heart.
The army then slowly halted, though still a small detachment advanced. The paladins and Victoria, along with the general and a sizable escort, galloping forward towards Makillae.
“They look like they want to talk.” Said Vandire, attempting to proc a reaction out of the Lord Inquisitor. To recklessly order the gate be opened with a man such as himself beside him, and a full Welsplian army within arm’s reach seemed suicide.
“Don’t keep them waiting.” Answered Frigeridus, turning about to descend. With a raised eyebrow, Vandire exchanged a quick glance with Jeremiah.
“…Open the gate!” He ordered, before he and Jeremiah turned to follow Frigeridus.
The whirring mechanisms of the gate rang out in their deep, muffled action. Following the same as before made in reverse, the three marched down the staircases, out of the tower, into the street, and then marched to the gate itself now fully opened. As they arrived to its side, they saw the horses marching in, men in worn out armor advancing first, with the lilim among them. At the moment of entry, however, the lilim and the Lord General couldn’t help but lock eyes, staring at each other in a pause that felt as if time had stopped, seeing how neither sported those dreadful dark circles under their eyes.
“Jeremiah…!” She gasped with a smile from ear to ear, jumping down her horse as quickly as she could and running up to him, to hug him as hard as her strength allowed. “I thought I lost you for good!” She exclaimed, beginning to laugh in joy as did Jeremiah in turn, returning the hug.
At the same time, Indrick and Vandire found each other, for Indrick to jump down his horse in front of him and take off his helmet before saluting. Once more they found no signs of the affliction on the other, staring at each other with a disciplined and stern expression, before the two began chuckling.
“Old man,” laughed Indrick, before the two stepped to each other and hugged to pat the other in the back, “do you have a guardian angel or something?”
But through what silence had grown from Varilandians and Nostrians, soon a cheer began to develop, growing louder and wilder till the two armies celebrated the safety of those who arrived. As few as they were, the paladins couldn’t help but indulge in so much attention, joy overtaking them over seeing those they had assumed long gone once more.
“Lord General.” Greeted the Lord Inquisitor in a dead-calm voice, silencing the happiness of the two generals, the paladins, and the lilim who all turned to see him marching up to the general of the Demon Army. What cheering once was, now died in its entirety. As much as the Lord Inquisitor had remained calm and stern throughout the exchange, so too did the Welsplians who had arrived to escort him in the presence of eternal foes to The Order.
“Lord Inquisitor.” Greeted back the Lord General of the Demon Army, both arriving to stand in front of each other. Spontaneously all but their escorts had stepped aside, leaving the two leading figures to face each other with their own few soldiers to stand behind them, staring at the opposing side like undisturbed pieces in a game of chess. “I’ve found a few Nostrians making a last stand in the capital of Variland.” He said, crossing his arms. “Varilandians were fighting with them, not against. Was Nostrum not at war with them?”
“And I’ve found a few Varilandians making a last stand with Nostrians, in Acerrae.” He answered.
“I’m guessing Nostrum is not the culprit for all of Variland south of the capital being depopulated, then.”
“Nor Variland the culprit for the same, all around Acerrae to here.”
“The cultists are gone?” Asked Vandire.
“There isn’t a single living soul from here to the capital.” Answered Marius, glancing towards him in his answer before returning to Frigeridus. “Judging by his surprise, they haven’t seen them crossing through these lands either, so they must’ve banished back into the ether… Though as much as I’m concerned about this new faction which has appeared, it’s only an interruption to what Nostrum started. They’ve committed one of the worst crimes against the Demon Lord, to attempt to kill one of her daughters. It can’t be forgiven so easily.”
A great silence followed, both Lord General and Lord Inquisitor staring each other down as their escorts grew restless. The Wesplians gripped their spears tighter, and the dullahans fidgeted their fingers ready to unsheath their swords at a moment’s notice.
“Master-Commander. Lady of Variland.” Broke the silence Frigeridus, turning his head towards them. “This concerns you two. Step forward.”
Vandire and Victoria glanced at each other, before stepping closer to the Lord Inquisitor and the Lord General, arriving to form a semi circle with the four now present.
“Master-Commander, I will ask you a few questions. You will answer as truthfully as you can. Clear?”
“Clear.” Answered Vandire.
“Your report detailed that you were the one who gave the order to eliminate the lilim, or at least the attempt to do so.”
“Yes, I gave the order.”
“In this new circumstance where this cultist threat revealed itself, would you order it again?”
“No, I would not.”
“Present your reasoning.”
“It’d be a waste of time and resources, and the loss of a potential aid against the affliction as Variland has proven itself to be. The reasons we fought Variland and all monsters are too long-term to be of importance compared to this short-term threat, assuming Variland does not make any attempt to spread the demonic energy into Nostrum in the meantime.”
“Lady of Variland.” He called, turning his head to her who blinked in anxiety at his undivided attention upon her. “What I’ve asked of the Master-Commander, I ask of you.”
“Very well.” She answered.
“According to Lord General Jeremiah’s report, you’ve taken steps to ensure Nostrum is eliminated as a threat. Up to his death, this has involved attempts at talks all the way to military response. According to Master-Commander Vandire’s report, you’ve been successful in taking over this city in the past, thus its abandonment. Had things developed further without the intervention of this affliction, would you have aimed to turn Nostrum into a demon realm?”
“Yes. My goal was to remove Nostrum as a threat through any means necessary.”
“In this new circumstance, would you aim to turn Nostrum into a demon realm?”
“No, I would not.”
“Same as Vandire has detailed. Waste of time and effort, and the loss of a potential aid against the affliction.”
“What about the attempt on your life and the attacks on your soil? Would you still seek some manner of truce with Nostrum despite it all?”
Silent momentarily, her gaze lowered as she thought it through and through. Soon, she took a deep breath as she found her answer.
“Yes.” She said. “I’m confident that what Nostrum and the paladins have done so far make up for it thousandfold.”
Rather than to ask further, Frigeridus slowly turned his head to the Lord General in front of him. “The highest authorities of Nostrum and Variland seem to agree that a truce is in order.”
“As much as I’d hope to see this come to fruition,” said Marius, “I don’t imagine this truce between Man and Monster echoing well throughout The Order.”
“By the Grand Master of The Order’s decree, my authority as Lord Inquisitor is only second to his own. Whoever defies my words will answer to him, or to the sword.”
“Can I trust that this truce won’t be over as soon as it’s convenient to break it, then? I’m talking with a man of The Order, after all.”
“There are two possibilities to this threat: That it’s either a recent occurrence never before seen even since the dawn of this world, or that it has been so efficient and thorough that not a single soul remained to spread record or rumor of this affliction, and Nostrum and Variland have been the first survivors in all of history. I don’t know why it suddenly left, but I won’t pretend that it won’t return again in some other far away lands. Nostrum and Variland already have some manner of experience in fighting against them, as little as it may be. I’m sure you can guess where I’m going with this.”
“I can imagine.” He answered, letting his arms down. “I will support this truce, then. The Demon Lord has given me the authority to do as I see fit here in this war, and I can only assume it extends to this conclusion, so none will change it as far as I’m concerned, but I’ll still need some manner of guarantee that hostilities won’t return between the two when it turns convenient for either side. And I mean actions, not mere words.”
“So be it.” He said, soon to turn his head towards Vandire. “I trust you’ll be able to think of something.”
“I will.” Answered Vandire. “I may have a rough idea already, though by no means am I eager to see it done.”
“As long as it’s done.” He said, to return his gaze to Marius. “Since this threat concerns you and the Demon Lord, I’ll give you a copy of Vandire’s and Jeremiah’s reports once the scribes are done. A sign of good faith, if you will. The Order isn’t keen on sharing what it knows with monsters in the first place.”
“I understand.” Answered Marius. “I can’t trust that the cultists won’t return all of a sudden, so I’ll remain in Variland till things ease down and wait for those reports. Your army will do the same in Nostrum, I take it.”
“For the time being.” He answered, to then take a few steps and leave his arm extended towards him, inviting a handshake. “Have we reached an agreement?”
Glancing at his palm for a second, Marius gave it some thought before he took his own few steps forward. “We have.” He said, giving a firm handshake.
“It’s… over?” Asked Jeremiah in disbelief, seeing the Lord Inquisitor and Lord General once more step back from each other. “The war is over? For good?”
“Only the one between Nostrum and Variland.” Answered Frigeridus, turning to the others. “The cultists were led by the one who called herself Nyarlathotep, or the ‘Crawling Chaos’. From now on, everything pertaining to her and these cultists will be known as ‘Chaos’, and those entities like Nyarlathotep and any who may come from the same place to be known as Daemons of Chaos. I want everything that happened within Nostrum and Variland involving Chaos to be kept in absolute secrecy for as long as possible; I don’t expect news or even mere rumors to not get out, but none of us want to find out what panic and terror will tear through the land if everyone suddenly learns of this.”
The day arrived when no clouds remained in the sky, seeing from her villa a sunny day like those of old. Cross-armed in relaxation as if hugging herself, she stood outside with head pointed up high to the sky, watching on and on a sight she had once believed would never arrive. With effort required she could remember well the old perpetual darkness, the storm clouds and violent hurricanes, the apocalyptic lighting illuminating it all despite no sunrays. Closing her eyes, she could almost feel the chilling cold, the rain falling almost sideways, the deafening howl of the wind. And yet, as she opened them once more and saw the calm skies, it didn’t grow her a smile, even if victory had been signalled by the brightness; rather, her victory rested purely on the culprits of such weather leaving of their own accord, almost on a whim.
In her silence, she heard the footsteps approaching. Without changing her posture nor focus, she patiently waited till they arrived to her side.
“It must be too nice of a day after what you’ve gotten used to.” Greeted Vandire’s voice, arriving to so too look at the sky with his hands together behind him.
“I wonder if those days will return, one day.” She remarked, slow as if it were a sigh.
“Perhaps. Nostrum and Variland had been cursed to have difficult days one way or the other, regardless of Chaos. At least now, we’re not killing each other.”
Without words to add from both, they grew quiet enough to find not even a breeze to blow. The birds chirped lightly afar, and no cacophonies and screams of fear and rage existed to drown out the immediate vicinity; the light chatter from Nostrians and Varilandians further within the villa could be heard, even from the end overlooking the open-air theater. A peace and tranquility evoking a surreal feeling, so different from days ago.
“Do you have feelings for Indrick?”
At Vandire’s question, Victoria raised an eyebrow and turned her head slightly towards him. He, on the other hand, remained staring high.
“What brings up the topic?” She asked.
“I want you to marry him.”
Quietness. Opening her eyes wide, she stood petrified, lightly blushing as she gazed without any other visible reaction.
“It may be the guarantee Nostrum and Variland need to not be at odds with each other,” continued Vandire, “with the condition that Indrick remains human.”
“If Nostrum starts pushing its boundaries of the deal, Indrick would be at risk. If Variland starts pushing its boundaries, either Indrick will be there to attempt to control the situation, or be turned into an incubus like a martyr to signal the truce broken.”
“So… It’d be a political marriage?”
Still as surprised as she was upon hearing the first words, she lowered her head forward without idea of what to think.
“All the political marriages I heard about involved heirs, or close.” She said. “I’m… I’m not going to deny that I have feelings for him, but I’d have figured you’d send an heir or something for this kind of thing.”
Furrowing his brows, Vandire turned his head towards her. “You don’t know?”
“Indrick is my son. Indrick Castellan.”
In absolute shock, she snapped her head towards him enough for her hair to flow with such sudden movement, staring at him in undeniable surprise.
“Wait,” she soon realized, “if you’re basically the King of Nostrum with another name, doesn’t that… Doesn’t that make Indrick a prince?”
Raising an eyebrow, Vandire remained in silence for a second. “Yes, that would make him a prince. Is something the issue?”
Unable to control herself, blushing furiously past any degree deemed sensible, she brought her hands to her cheeks and stared aside, jaw almost shaking as it lay slightly open. Wishing to give an answer in reassurance, it only came out as stutters and gibberish, focus failing her in formulating a proper response. She could not think of anything to say, mind dedicated entirely to the thought that she’d be marrying a prince, something she had once deemed childish and straight out of a fairy tale.
A fairy tale.
‘Do your best, and your love will come true. Make your lands the best in this world, and no doubt will a great man arrive to marry you.’
Realization upon realization fell upon her, leaving her to barely control a shiver of joy and stupefaction, stutter and gibberish lowering in noise yet increasing in pitch and speed almost enough to make her squeal in glee, grasping her cheeks as if her head would fly off at any second should she not control herself. The fairy tale had been true, caring not whether it had been accidental or not, a coincidence or otherwise.
Too out of hand. She’d lose herself at any second, and needed to control herself. Closing her eyes, she mustered all her available strength and took a great, deep breath, aiming to recover her composure. In control, she returned to her earlier posture of crossed arms, with her relatively calm, even if forced, gaze returning to Vandire.
“I wasn’t aware.” She said. “I’m just surprised, it’s all.”
“Perhaps he’s not been too eager to let others know in the midst of doomsday.” He said, returning his gaze high. “Not to mention, Nostrum doesn’t count on heirs as much as other kingdoms do, since there’s a slightly lower… expected survival rate. If he survives till then, he’d turn into Master-Commander of Nostrum, but it’s not counted on as the heir’s primary duty is to be a paladin with the luxury of training from birth, as he skips the adult selection process entirely. It’s why he put himself in so much danger despite it all. Because of that system, I’m the first Castellan to be Master-Commander, as my predecessor’s heir had been sent to Lescatie with an obvious result.”
She couldn’t help but think it over and over, in the ensuing silence. A marriage between the heir of Nostrum and the Lady of Variland, straight out of a fairy tale for both good and bad. Much as she felt it blissful, so too did it bring to her mind what others would imagine of it, most of all in The Order.
“Is the Lord Inquisitor fine with it?” She asked.
“He gave his approval, believe it or not. He recommended to keep it a quiet event with a select few if you want to go through with a ceremony. He didn’t feel the need to explain why.”
“I can imagine.”
As her joyful surprise lowered to controllable levels, the thought had arrived to her mind. It felt almost too good to be true. As if she was stuck in a dream. Certainly felt like one, if the cult had disappeared into the ether for no reason, without even tearing through other lands on their way out. The elves to the west, the centaurs to the east, none with signs of devastation, not even a mere skirmish with the unnameables.
“Say,” she began, thought arriving to her almost by chance, “what about Indrick’s mother? Your wife. Ever since the first day, I don’t think I’ve heard of her.”
“That may be because she passed away a long while ago. I don’t know if it was before you even fully settled in Variland.”
“Would it be out of place to ask about her?”
“No.” He said, before pausing to collect his thoughts. “She was a loving wife, a caring mother, and yet, the most anti-monster person in all of Nostrum. Whereas I was apathetic about monsters if I could get away with it, she hated them with a passion enough to straight up block out their existence from her mind in the same manner. She had a hobby of collecting coins, not for the wealth but just to have a collection from all over the world, from the time of the Old Age to those of the present day. As was our luck, one day one coin arrived from a place none knew. It was drenched in demonic energy, with none of us knowing till it was too late.”
In his little moment of silence, he took off his crown and combed his hair back, keeping his hand on his hair while staring into the void. Pained, perhaps, if Victoria could gauge his emotions from his expressionless face.
“I had every priest and chaplain attempt to purge the demonic energy from her.” He continued, putting his crown back and joining his hands behind him again. “It all failed. It had entrenched itself in her. I kept hope that I’d find some manner of cure, days passing with all treatment available to at least stall its inevitable effect, but one day… I found her barricaded in a room. I knew too well what her thoughts were. I swung an axe on and on against the door, tearing it down to then continue against the furniture she had put against it, but once I got into the room, I found that I was too late. I found her with her blood spilled from her wrists, lifeless, and beside her I found a note. ‘Forgive me, for letting you see me like this.'”
Little she could do other than to remain in silent in sympathy, unknowing what to answer with. Perhaps it truly was the best response she could think of, leaving the birds to chirp on their own. At least, until hurried footsteps broke the silence towards them, for the two to turn their heads and find Jeremiah arriving in a rush with a smile on his face.
“Vandire, you may want to see this.” He said, such impatience that he had already begun walking backwards where he came from. “You should hurry, it won’t stay there for long!” He finished, to turn around and run back.
A glance to Victoria revealed her equal wonder, before curious he marched in quick fashion with the lilim further into the villa, right towards the eastern entrance.
Upon arrival the two spotted the paladins, a few dullahans, Jeremiah, and a certain guest immediately covering her face by pulling down her hood and looking aside, holding her staff.
“Vandire, I’d like to introduce you to the necromancer who helped me and Dirk down there.” Said Jeremiah, extending an open palm pointing towards the guest. “You may know her already.”
“I… I don’t know what you’re talking about…” Said the necromancer, taking a step back as if threatening to break away at any second, not shooting a glance at the Master-Commander.
“I don’t know of any necromancer.” Said Vandire arriving to Jeremiah and the guest. “I barely knew of any monsters before this mess.”
“Oh, I’m sure you do.”
“I-I’m in a hurry.” Said the necromancer, stressed and anxious tone undeniable.
“No you’re not.” Answered Jeremiah in an almost taunting manner.
But as much as Vandire looked, he could not recognize her. There was just nothing to look at other than her fashion sense from another world, as it all obscured much of her added to her unwillingness to be seen, revealing little of her skin denoting undeath; extremely shy, perhaps, for reasons beyond him. Still, after a second of confusion and skepticism, he extended his hand for a handshake.
“If you helped Dirk and Jeremiah,” said Vandire with a step closer, “then I owe you a favor. I am Master-Commander Vandire Castellan. May I know your name?”
“I-It can’t wait, I’ll come back for you another day!” She said at Jeremiah, just as she turned about and broke into a mad run. Calm and swiftly, as if expecting it all too well, Jeremiah gestured with his hand. The dullahans immediately intercepted her path and captured her. “No!” Shouted the necromancer, gaining the stupefied looks of most around, trying to break free with all her might for naught. “Not like this! Let me go!”
Rather than to ask the obvious question, Vandire shot at Jeremiah a confused expression instead. Jeremiah merely returned a carefree shrug, before stepping forward towards where the necromancer remained captured, Vandire following close.
“Necromancer Cyrene.” Called Jeremiah, serving to immediately petrify not only the necromancer, but the Master-Commander himself whose eyes had shot wide open.
“Cy…rene…?” Asked Vandire, unwilling to believe what little hope had cemented itself in his heart. Taking slow steps forward, he saw the dullahans letting go for the necromancer to slowly turn to him with her head still down, hood obscuring her face to him, till both remained in front of each other surrounded by those who kept dead silent.
Then, she slowly raised her hand and moved back her hood.
Though many stood wondering, Vandire came to remember her features. Her graying hair and bluish-silverish skin stood like a mere palette swap of the woman he remembered all too well despite so many endless years of missing her, recognizing her eyes as tears ran down her sorrowful expression.
“I didn’t want you to see me like this…” She sobbed, leaving her staff to rest against herself to extend one arm, and with the other to pull back her sleeve. Stitches on her wrist, all too familiar from that one fateful day. Unable to believe his eyes, Vandire remained petrified, able to do little else but stare. “To have you see me as a monster…”
Immediately he stepped forward, lunging with an embrace which shocked her immobile, leaving her staff to fall to the ground and her arms to go limp.
“Do you know how much I missed you…?” He whispered, all strength dedicated to her and not letting go.
Her wide open eyes soon narrowed as a her expression contorted in a mixture of sorrow and joy, sob threatening to come out, gritting her teeth with such flurry of emotions flooding in. She then raised her arms and returned the embrace, gripping against his back with just as much passion, closing her eyes and sniffing as she returned the embrace.
“Forgive me…” She sobbed. “Forgive me… Had it not been for that one coin…”
“We’re past the point where we have the luxury of caring.” He said, voice wavering in equal manner. “About that, or you being a monster.”
“I don’t care. I have you with me again.”
Soon they let go, Vandire half-ashamed of letting himself be seen with tears running down his cheeks, raising his hand to clean them off. At the same time, a loud thud could be heard, for Cyrene and Vandire to turn and find Maverick having slapped Indrick’s back hard enough for him to stumble forward. Seeing the paladin stare at the necromancer without idea of how to react, Vandire took a few steps back, inviting Indrick to step forward towards her as he did.
“…Indrick?” Asked Cyrene, teary-eyed as she was.
“How much you’ve grown… I’ve heard Dirk saying so many things about you.” She sniffed, raising her sleeve to dry off her tears. “I hope you can forgive me, for falling to the demonic energy so long ago…”
“I don’t think he remembers much about you.” Sighed Vandire. “He wasn’t even a little boy… You’ve got much to make up for.”
Furrowing her brows in sorrow and anxiety, she could do little but lower her head to look at her palms; dead giveaway of her status as abhuman, as monster. Thoughts filled her of what aberration she was, to have abandoned a paladin son and what saccharine faint dream it’d be to make amends, but soon she lowered her hand once more to glance at Indrick in front of her, to exhale in exasperation from her nose.
“I have no excuse.” She told Vandire. “I can’t leave for good again just to feel better about myself, much less now. Regardless of Dirk’s plans, I can’t run away.”
“That’s my girl!” Vandire exclaimed in joy, lunging and embracing her once more with strength unbelievable, lifting her off the floor. Her face immediately contorted, not in pain she had long been unable to feel, but in absolute terror that he’d break her ribs and rupture her organs with such bear hug. Much as she tried to escape, Vandire’s lock turned inescapable. “That’s the Cyrene I know! You didn’t change a bit!”
Jeremiah then stepped back from the exchange, arriving to Victoria who stared with an eyebrow raised through it all, barely able to comprehend what had transpired before her eyes.
“That’s… Indrick’s mother?” She asked.
“I only found out when Vandire gave me her name in Acerrae. Aren’t family reunions lovely?”
“Well, I promised to myself and to Cyrene that I’d return once you’re safe. With Nostrum in as good terms as they’re gonna get with you, and with a Lord Inquisitor and a Lord General backing you up, this is as safe as you’re gonna get. Vandire may have had his wife return to him, but I gotta return to mine.”
“You’re leaving?” She asked, turning her head towards him only for him to take off her cap and ruffle her hair.
“I’ll visit every now and then,” he said, returning the cap, “but only if you defend Variland well enough for me to have anything to visit at all.”
With her cap in her hands, she stared on without expression before growing a proud smile, putting her cap back on her head, horns aligning with the emblem of Variland at the front. “That, I can promise.”
He returned a chuckle, before turning to those ahead once more, stepping forward and extending his arms to the side.
“We’ll have a feast in celebration!” He exclaimed for all to hear. “Everyone is invited!”
All eyes fell on him, silent at first yet soon turning into an all-out cheer, all sharing joyous hearts and minds no matter Order or Monster. A cacophony opposite to the screams of rage and pain from days ago, like a fitting end to their woes, as temporary as it may be.
And as all cheered, a certain set of footsteps approached Jeremiah, arriving to his side. Turning his head, he found the Lord Inquisitor himself, rosarius in hand to find it glinting white in such proximity to the lilim.
“Does the invitation also extend to me?” He asked, tucking his rosarius back into his clothes. “I won’t lie, I’m starving, and so is Marius back there.”
“Without a doubt.” He smiled.
Regaining her mind after a night’s sleep, Victoria slowly came to her senses anew. Strangely so, however, feeling how she lied not on her comfortable bed she remembered falling onto, but on some manner of cold, hard surface. Not lying either, but instead, sitting. A sensation of cloth on her body greeted her, unlike that of her blankets pressed against her but instead, as she found out, her uniform own which she woke up in. Rubbing her eyes in confusion to find the cloth of her gloves, she soon slowly opened her eyes.
Dust, floating in the air giving it such stench. Mist, fog, gathered by the floor reaching just up to her chest as she sat. A cavernous place, devoid of any details other than the tower in front of her.
The tower she recalled Indrick tearing down, once.
The sound of pages turning caught her attention, turning her gaze to the side to find a familiar woman sitting next to her, with the infernal book in her hands.
“You thought it to be too good to be true. To be a dream.” Said the Crawling Chaos, eyes not turning from her book. “Beware…”
A loud gasp escaped her, not within the cavern but in her own bed, shooting upright and nearly throwing the blanket aside as heavy panting set in. Shooting glances in all directions she found herself back in her bedroom in the dead of the night, right where she remembered last. A dream. A nightmare, rather.
Rubbing her eyes to get rid of the remnant of her sleepiness, she looked around. No matter how much she looked, she could find nothing to confirm whether all had truly happened: the room had faced no difference between the time before she met Indrick, and the time she saw Vandire and Cyrene reuniting. Her fright from the nightmare did not subside, escalating rather, making her remove the blanket and jump off the bed, to run to the door and swing it open.
A little candle stood lit by the desk, the one Indrick sat at in plain clothes. The great noise caught his attention, making him turn his head towards her only to snap it away in the opposite direction, averting his gaze.
“What…” She panted. “What day is it?”
“It’s the night after Nostrum worked out the truce with Variland.” Answered Indrick in calm fashion. “Jeremiah had arranged a feast to celebrate, and will depart tomorrow.”
A pause followed where she allowed his words to sink in, before a heavy sigh in relief escaped her as she let her shoulders drop. Rather than to march back into her bedroom, she stepped further into the room and marched to the couch opposite to where the desk stood, letting herself fall on it.
“Did Nyarlathotep send you back?” He asked.
“I was under Acerrae, for a second…”
“Dreadful. Welcome back.”
Curious, she glanced silent at him, to find him with ink and quill, writing on and on.
“What are you doing?” She asked, curiosity too great.
“Writing to Dirk, before Jeremiah leaves.” He answered. “Also, you may want to dress up if you don’t plan on going back to sleep.”
Left in confusion, she looked down forgetting what she even had on, to find only her loose shirt buttoned on one single place and her panties. Embarrassment striking full force in an instant, she gasped before bringing her hands to cover herself, before her composure returned enough for her to stare aside in thought.
“If…” She said, finding difficulty in her words. “If we’re going to be husband and wife, we shouldn’t be strangers to each other’s body…”
Though immobile at first, Indrick slowly turned his head; as much as Victoria felt an embarrassment nearly overtaking her and making her cover herself further, she steeled herself and remained as she was, staring aside. Then, she felt his piercing gaze, seeing her in nothing but a loose shirt and panties; had to be her turn now, if she had already seen him wearing even less. She knew it too well, how his eyes had become fixated on her body.
“Are you going to just stay there and watch?” She asked in such low tone, attempting to make up for what nervousness the situation had left her with. “Come sit with me.”
Left to only blink for a few seconds, Indrick then stood up from his chair and made his way to her. Those few seconds of footsteps to echo within the house left her to ponder, to wonder as to why she still reacted like a child despite everything she had gone through. War, suffering, destruction, demons of dimensions afar, Order and Monster working together, mass hysteria, she had seen it all and still her heart beat harder and harder to have someone see her like this. A paradox for what she was, to have accrued so much experience in matters not inherent to a lilim, and yet still remain a kissless virgin afraid of piercing glares.
Indrick then sat down, next to her. With neither knowing what to do or what to think, an awkward silence engulfed the room in its merciless embrace.
“Are you alright with the marriage?” She asked.
But for those few fateful seconds, no response arrived. No surprise, with how his thoughts lay scattered.
“I feared it was your charm working on me, back then. How it’s said to get people… hypnotized.” He answered. “But then, when the cultists wounded me, the voices told me something.”
In his pause, he turned his eyes to her, prompting her to do the same in curiosity, both locking eyes with each other.
“It wasn’t the charm.” He continued. “It wasn’t the demonic energy making me fall for you. From the bottom of my heart, upon the first day… I fell in love with you, and not a single day passed where that changed.”
Her eyes widened, nervousness erased completely as a warm sensation flooded her heart, leaving her to focus solely on him rather than any thoughts or fears which had plagued her mind.
“My duties prevented me from doing anything with you,” he said, “and even the affliction taunted me on and on that I could never be with you, but now? That my duty allows me to?” At that moment, his hands met hers, embracing them ever so gently and raising them up, to remained between each other. “Victoria, I loved you since the first day I saw you, and I still love you to this day. I want you to marry me, and I’ll not rest till the day you say yes arrives.”
Though quiet and expressionless, her breathing became quicker as did the beats in her heart, unable to tell how a tear had snuck out of her eyes. Overwhelmed by his words, soon more snuck out as her lips grew into an uncontainable smile, cheeks raising with so honest a joy, words she had wished to hear since the very first day.
“…Yes!” She exclaimed, letting go and throwing herself on him, embracing him as tight as she could and toppling him to remain on top against the couch. “Yes, yes!” She cried, nuzzling against him as if proving true the notion that none would take him from her, making him laugh lightly as he returned the embrace. Then, she lifted herself up by the arms against the couch, staring at him to find him smiling and teary-eyed as her, no doubt for the same reason. “Indrick…”
“Remember back then, when we promised that the first to fall would have a day with the other?”
“Ah, I fell first, didn’t I?”
“Can I ask for something, now?”
“When you came for me in that cavern under Acerrae, you said something to me. A few words, I remember. You know the ones. I… I want you to repeat them to me.”
A quiet chuckle escaped him, remembering well.
“…If I was tasked with finding you, and all motivation and willpower to do so was lost, I’d still do it nonetheless, whether an apocalypse stands in my way, demons from beyond this plane of existence, or us being paladin and lilim.”
Upon hearing them, she could barely contain a sob in such overwhelming joy; and to contain herself, she could not anymore, and so slowly lowered herself to him. Looking at each other with the eyes not of enemies, not of acquaintances, but of lovers, she closed in until, just as the candle’s light snuffed out, their lips came in contact with each other. Under the darkness of the night where they could no longer see, they left their tongues to dance with one another, and their hands to wander over their significant other’s skin as if the touch became their way to see the other so thoroughly.
The light of dawn snuck through the window Frigeridus sat by, granting him enough illumination to both read and write without the aid of the candle still lit. Figuring as much, he licked his fingers and pinched the end of the candle, snuffing out the flame.
‘It was not a matter of if, but of when.’
Such were the words burning onto the paper, an act caused by none. Like magic, the words appeared on their own with a trail of smoke as they formed, slow and methodical as if someone wrote them.
‘Even back then in Lescatie when we met, I mentioned their eventual arrival. For decades I have prepared, and I consider myself successful in that regard. As successful as one can be against a single Chaos God, at least.’
With a minute of silence in his room, Frigeridus thought of a response. Clear of mind, he brought his quill to the paper.
‘I presume it heavily involved Nostrum and Variland.’ He wrote.
‘Yes.’ The words burnt themselves into existence, below his own. ‘A great many factors converging left the two nations among of the best candidates, factors of which many were caused by my influence.’
‘Even the lilim?’
‘Why else would anyone send an introverted child to ruins beside an Order nation with an eternal grudge against those who ruined Old Variland? Their war was inevitable the moment she took a liking to those lands and made them her home.’
‘Even the war was part of your plans? The lilim had nearly been killed on the first day. Hard to picture her as your plan against the Chaos Gods since the start.’
‘You only need to look at the result to see what I was going for. Order and Monster would wage war upon each other, with my own daughter at the helm of her nation in arms. I judged it well enough that this new threat would arrive to interrupt them, to have them work together and forge an unbreakable bond between the two. I also judged it well that the Chaos God, seeing us as mere rats, would grow bored towards the end of the conflict and leave the two be. What remained was two nations torn apart wishing to no longer fight each other, but to prepare for the chance that the threat would return, having just barely survived it after casting away all hope of victory.’
‘I feel I’m missing something. What required that war with The Order? Or The Order’s involvement at all?’
‘Because it is The Order who has the greatest, and perhaps only chance against Chaos. Their dark mindset centered on duty through hopelessness is the one single trait that can withstand against the mental tortures Chaos may present, and though Victoria has been successful in fending off against Nyarlathotep and her newfound cultists, it was only because of lessons learned from those to the south. Sounds poetic, doesn’t it? That the solution to Chaos is Order.’
‘Is Victoria the only lilim involved in this?’
‘Will it be enough against this foe?’
‘If it’s not, nothing will be. She will muster ever greater forces to seek Chaos throughout my realms wherever and whenever it may appear, and so too will Nostrum muster their own to chase it throughout your lands. Lilims can’t be everywhere at once, and all of my daughters already have a role in my plans. Victoria’s will be to deal with this threat, which is merely one of many. To other threats both within and without, all my daughters aid me in their own ways as they always did, whether knowing or not.’
Sinking in his chair to give himself the luxury of a few seconds in thought, staring aimlessly ahead, he soon left the quill on the ink bottle and took the folder of Vandire’s report. Shuffling through, he soon found the page he looked for and began reading a part in particular. Then, remembering yet another detail, he flipped a few pages to find the paragraphs and read once more. After a minute, he closed the folder and left it where it was, to pick the quill once more.
‘The paladin who has been close to Victoria has been given this Chaos God’s book,” he wrote, “saying it’s intended for ‘the lilim’. It specifically says it’s not Victoria, and Nyarlathotep didn’t say who.’
‘Ah. She must know, then. The lilim it may be intended to does not yet exist. The paladin and Victoria will eventually have a child, and that child will be born with what Nyarlathotep did to their psyches, as if it was an inheritable trauma. With how she’d be born the worldview rather than have her previous one shattered, I’m sure the daughter may be a great boon to the effort against Chaos.’
‘A daughter?’ He wrote, quick and messy as if his surprise could not be contained. ‘You’re throwing me a mess to deal with. A Nostrian King-to-be and a Varilandian Queen having a lilim daughter will be a nightmare to justify. The Order will go absolutely nuts, even if we disregard how that lilim will potentially become the heir of both Nostrum and Variland!’
‘I don’t imagine her taking over in any foreseeable future, at least within a relevant timeframe. The paladin will remain human, but Victoria will still lengthen his lifespan through demonic energy. In a sense, even if the current Master-Commander were to perish, a human will still be at the helm of Nostrum for a long, long while.’
‘The paladin won’t be a human at that point, he’d be an incubus.’
‘Do we really want to begin discussions on the definitions of human and incubus? He’ll remain as human as he is with lifespan to match a lilim’s. Consider it still human, consider it incubization, it matters not, it’s up to Victoria to see how human she can keep him while still keeping him alive in the long term, enough for Nostrum to remain part of The Order under his leadership.’
‘I am not too overjoyed about the mess I’m in for, when that happens. Rather, perhaps I should stall those thoughts till the time itself comes. Either way, another paladin mentioned something that may be related to what Nyarlathotep did to Victoria. He said that he found the rosarius picking up a different type of demonic energy from her. Rather than glowing a warm orange light like before, instead it glinted pure white. I had the chance to confirm this myself.’
‘Do the men of The Order believe demonic energy to be uniform wherever it’s present?’
‘Is it not? Other than the obvious differences that lead a woman to be turned into the various different monster races.’
‘That which a great monster emanates is different to one another, Lord Inquisitor. The demonic energy of a corruptor is different from that of a brawler, which is different from that of a looter, so on and so on with as many as there are personalities and demeanors. Victoria’s demonic energy has changed, from that of a simple lilim minding her business to something else. I’m sure your reports must have a sign as to what its newfound quality is centered around.’
‘The same paladin noticing the glint apparently saw the lilim bringing a dullahan to her feet, even though the dullahan had been wounded by the affliction. Till then, it was believed to be impossible save for extremely rare circumstances, with only one other particular dullahan pulling through in the entire conflict.’
‘There you have it. Against the eternal void of Chaos, her aura has adapted against, centered around The Order’s idea of duty despite hopelessness, and so too does it affect those around her, just like how demonic energy affects those humans it finds. She will need it. Monsters do not have what grants The Order the strength it needs against Chaos. For that, Victoria will be their guidance. She will bring Order, where there is Chaos.’
“Darling~” Called a voice, just as a certain smell of smoke appeared within the room.
“Ah!” He exclaimed with a smile, turning his head to see Louise holding a box in her hands, opened at the top to reveal so many books. “You found them! Can you leave them over there?”
“Anything~” She answered, leaving the box beside the desk before bowing to kiss him on the cheek, with Frigeridus receiving it with a smile. “Be back soon~” She said, before disappearing in a cloud of smoke.
Then, a thought crossed his mind. A thought only someone such as the one he spoke with could answer.
‘The current Chief God despises you.’ He wrote. ‘Your goal of keeping The Order around conflicts with how its God is set against you.’
‘There is a war in Heaven, Lord Inquisitor. Chief Gods of all metric vie for power, perhaps with far less mercy than the old Demon Lords did. Still, I have remained in contact with one in particular. Charming fellow, she is. She feels the same way about Order and Monster keeping their distance, and though we disagree in almost too many things, those are irrelevant details. If she were to win, perhaps Order and Monster could finally have their chance of living in peace without fear of bloodshed, but it may be centuries if not millennia before it happens. I have her to owe for sharing a few details about these Chaos Gods, things I’d not know otherwise. Who knows what the Original Chief God intended with their creation, or where She is now…’
‘You’ he paused, almost believing he had read wrong, ‘made deals with a Chief God already?’
‘Nothing is beyond my consideration. Life is a war where all factions have a chance win no matter how little, and I need all chances I can get to secure a future we can all prosper in. After all, my words back then in Lescatie to you still ring true to this day: All’s fair in love and war.’