It was the perfect storm. It was the kind of storm that rolled along the countryside looking for dramatic enough moments to pierce the air with lightning strikes. The rain poured down across the landscape in sheets that threatened to flood the entire plain. It was all so very… wrong. Today wasn’t supposed to be like that. It was supposed to be a bright day, with warm rays of the sun and white fluffy clouds. Lysella grumbled as she trudged onward through the mud and muck, cursing the weather. Storm or not, today was going to be a very important day.
She clutched her sodden cloak about herself, cursing the cold. Lilims weren’t supposed to get cold. Then again, she wasn’t very much of a lilim. She would have never admitted it, but Lysella was a lilim in the same way that a house cat was a lion, which much to the same effect. One look told you that there was some distant relationship to the wild, untamed beast of legend. That same look then told you that the creature in front of you was more suited to an affectionate head pat and perhaps a saucer of milk. It also told you that the most threat they posed would probably be a couple of light scratches.
All of the legends say that the lilim, daughters of the Demon Lord herself, were the most powerful of monsters. That their very passing spelled the downfall of kingdoms, and that their beauty was enough to drive a man to devote themselves to her with one look. Lysella never placed much stock in those legends, for she was a small, waifish figure who, if not for her horns and hair, might actually have been mistaken for a stable boy. Not to mention she seemed to suffer from chronic cottonmouth whenever a boy tried to talk to her. She would have been barely able to ask for a glass of water, let alone undying allegiance.
Still, she found comfort in that she was doing something important as she trudged through the slush and sleet. The weather was above freezing, but not by much. Behind her, strode Sir Brown.
Bearington T. Brown, Esquire, was… well, he was a bear. Big, furry, and dragging along a covered wooden cart. He was also Lysella’s closest friend and constant companion. Most people saw Sir Brown before they saw Lysella, for while the lilim was small, Sir Brown was easily two meters tall when walking on all fours, as he usually did, his hulking frame dragged the cart against the wind and rain with hardly a notice.
Sir Brown owed his size and his long life to the demonic energy that had seeped into his very being, the cold didn’t bother him any more than the weight of the cart. While Lysella cursed the storm, wondering if it was the work of a nearby Ryu or perhaps a flock of Thunderbirds, Sir Brown was casually thinking about honey. It was the activity to which Sir Brown spent most of his mental energy, that is when not occupied with being patted either on the head or his ample stomach.
“I wish this rain would let up…” said Lysella.
“Rowr.” answered Sir Brown, who had found that was generally the appropriate response whenever someone finished speaking to him.
Lysella certainly thought so, since she reached over and rubbed the big bear’s neck affectionately. He rowled again with what Lysella took as an affectionate nuzzle, but was actually Sir Brown’s marked interest in the pack on her back. Sir Brown was eternally convinced that if anyone carried a pack, it contained food. Regardless of the actual contents, Sir Brown was of the opinion that if you couldn’t find food in someone’s pack, you simply weren’t trying hard enough. “Do you think we’re doing the right thing?” Lysella asked, looking toward the castle.
The landscape flashed white as lightning illuminated the area. The castle’s parapets loomed in the distance, standing silent and black, like shadow sentinels watching the grassy plain. Lysella suddenly had the feeling that she was being watched, looking at the towers. It was a very easy feeling to have, given she and Sir Brown were the only things taller than blades of grass for a few miles around. A couple of miles to her right was Lake Belfry, and to her left lie the trees of the Demonswood. Behind her was the Demonic Border to her sister’s lands, and to her front was Hell’s End Castle.
King Lucious Tiberius, known as The Mad King, had commissioned Hell’s End Castle and through a brutal labor policy, the keep was erected in only four years time. It was named Hell’s End because King Tiberius seemed determined to stem the corruption seeping in from the Border. He vowed that monsters would not gain any more un-corrupted ground. The Mad King was well known for being ruthlessly single-minded, especially on the subject of corruption.
Lysella’s sister, ruler of the bordering Demon Realm, had decided that the Mad King was growing to be too much of a threat, and had ordered her forces to amass at the Border. Unbeknownst to the humans, the woods around the Border were starting to grow thick with monsters. Lysella had been present at the meeting. Arabella had gathered the nobles of her Realm, and ordered the decree: Anyone able and willing to help was to report to the outskirts of Vendal, The Kingdom of Mad Tiberius. Arabella had also decreed that any monster that participated in eliminating the threat, would be able to keep anything they caught.
Lysella had seen the effect as word spread of Arabella’s decree. Monsters from all over the land came reporting to the outskirts, eager to be the first among the assembled army. Eager for a shot at the choicest men. It was all so very wrong.
Lysella had protested, of course. She’d insisted that peace was a preferable option, but Arabella would hear none of it. Tiberius and his Kingdom were a threat, an Order presence too close the the demon border. Arabella said that many monsters could die of Tiberius pressed into the Demonic Forest, and stood to lose too much ground if he put the forest to the torch.
Arabella had decided that the Kingdom of Vendal would be made part of the Love’s-Faire Demon Realm. The men would be taken as husbands, the women would join her ranks of happy monsters, and Hell’s End Keep would be razed to the ground. She’d said that the castle was ugly, and that the land would be of much better use if it was made into a nice waterfront getaway for all her monsters to enjoy the waters of Lake Batty.
Monsters generally referred to Lake Belfry as Lake Batty, on account of it technically being under the jurisdiction of The Mad King, a figurehead who monsters could always find amusement in poking fun at.
“Rowr.” Sir Brown’s answer came, bringing Lysella’s musings back to the present. The castle still loomed ahead of them, daring her to come close. The little lilim hugged Sir Brown’s shaggy neck, partly because he was the only warm thing around, despite the chill of the wind and rains. “You’re right.” said Lysella, which was proof enough that she did not, in fact, speak bear.
Lysella and Sir Brown made their way toward the first gate into Hell’s End Keep. Two guards barred her way. They crossed their spears and one held up a hand. “Advance no further, demon.” came the hollowed sound of a voice inside the helmet.
The guards wore full armor, and bore shields depicting the crest of Vendal, or at least the crest that The Mad King had adopted for his Kingdom. The old crest was a swooping owl with blades for wings, chosen by the first King of Vendal so that his descendants would always rule with wisdom, but also the strength to cut deep when necessary. Instead, now the castle flew a banner consisting of a field of fire, and in the center, one broken demon’s horn, blackened with soot.
“I-I’m just here to talk to the King.” Lysella said, her confidence faltering. “I even brought gifts…” she said, turning back to her cart. The guards were tense as she pulled back the rain covering, but seemed to relax when they saw the cargo. It was a colorful display of demonic lamp flowers, carefully arranged. Among them were also small gifts of gold and silver trinkets. The smell of the flowers hit the guards at the same time the smell of the food did. Breads baked with demonic spices, cakes and cookies made with holstaur milk. Candied fruit and succulent meats carved from the massive demonic animals hunted in Love’s-Faire. It all formed a bright, colorful, and mouthwatering display.
The guards relaxed, leaning toward the cart a little as if subconsciously trying to get closer in order to smell the delicious aromas. Lysella smiled and selected an unassuming bottle of wine from the display. She gave a light smile as she walked over, a slight bounce in her step, and offered the bottle to the guards, “You boys look thirsty.” she said, her voice soft and sweet. She opened the bottle, wearing her brightest smile, and allowed the heavy, fruity scent of the liquid to wash over the guardsmen. It seemed to cause them to relax even more. One of the guards let his grip relax too much and his spear slipped, he caught it, and tried in vain to convince himself he was looking at a deceitful demon.
Lysella, for her complete lack of sex appeal befitting a daughter of the demon lord, looked completely harmless. For once, it worked in her favor as the guards figured that the most threatening thing in front of them was the bear, and opted to accept the delicious-smelling drink from the little lilim. They were thirsty, after all.
The guards gave quiet little cheers before tipping the bottle back, careful not to be too loud to attract undue attention. Lysella, still smiling widely, started to lead Sir Brown into the castle proper. The rightmost guard moved to block her path, “Whoa there, little one, where are you going?”
Lysella looked at him curiously, her smile fading a bit. “To see the King, of course. These are his gifts.”
The guard looked down at her and shook his head. “The King wouldn’t want to see any demon, especially a soggy little one like you.”
Lysella looked the guard over. He was young, though only a little. His boyish features were hardening into the face of a man, the slight shadowy stubble marked his age, but he held his military bearing. The other guard had a younger face, and a softer expression. “Soggy she may be, but you wouldn’t want the King accusing us of turning away gifts for him… you know how he gets in his moods…” The other guard seemed to give this some thought, and shrugged. “But she’s a demon,” said the youngest knight, “do you want to be minus a head because you let a demon into the castle?”
“No, but I don’t want to be minus a head when he asks what she wanted, and we don’t have an answer.” the older one said, snatching the bottle from his companion. “Tell you what, you escort her to the Throne Room and say you apprehended her. Then he can do whatever he wants.” Both guardsmen looked at Lysella, who had been watching them both. They looked again at each other, “Me?” said the younger one, “Why me?” The older one took another drink from the bottle. “Because I’m in charge.” he said.
The younger one looked about to protest, but hung his head defeatedly. Without another word, the older guard started drinking modest gulps of wine. The younger guardsman seemed to grumble a bit, before he turned to Lysella, “This way…” he said, leading her in. Lysella nodded and followed along, Sir Brown in tow. The lilim followed the younger guardsman until she was lead into a vast marble antechamber. Columns flanked her sides, with armored guards holding weapons at the ready. She walked along the red carpet, dripping wet and Sir Brown leaving muddy pawprints.
“What is the meaning of this?” came a low, throaty voice. King Tiberius hunched on the edge of his chair, his head cocked severely to one side with one eye closed, and a pained expression on his face that read ‘this had better be good’. He wore armor, too. Lysella drank in the sight and noticed everyone in the antechamber was outfitted for battle. The guards, the king, and even the men who seemed to be his advisors. All present were donned in full battle gear, and dozens of eyes glared daggers at Lysella, the demon who wandered into their midst.
“Demon approached the gate, your grace.” said the young guard as he stopped and saluted before the raised dais where the throne sat. Tiberius glared down at Lysella with one eye, his expression tense and she could see he was shaking. She couldn’t help but shake a bit herself, she could feel the burning behind his eyes. “I apprehended it and brought it before you, sire.” the guardsman continued.
Lysella could tell a lot about a person from their eyes, and she stood horrified and transfixed by the gaze of The Mad King. His expression was cold, but burned with a hatred she’d never seen before. A chill that went straight through the depths of cold, and came out the other side blazing hot. Looking into Tiberius’ eyes was like watching an icicle catch fire, it went against everything she knew to be true. Lysella was a firm believer that humans were good at their core, only often misguided. However, the gaze of King Luscious alone threatened to snuff out the light in her idealistic notions and leave her lost in the resulting black pit.
“Why didn’t you kill it?” came the voice of the king, a voice to match his eyes. It was slow, and jagged. The guard faltered visibly, “She asked to speak to you directly, and we thought it prudent that her fate be yours alone to decide.” he said in a voice that sounded as if were about to crack, but did not dare show weakness.
“You have acted calculatedly and wisely,” the king said, and the young guard relaxed. “However,” the King continued, “You brought demonic filth into the very core of Hell’s End. For this, you will be flogged.”
The King made a gesture, and the guard started to protest. More guards came and seized the young man who pleaded desperately. As his voice welled up in panicked cries, The King’s head twitched. Tiberius held up a hand. “Silence!” he snapped. The young guard immediately fell quiet. The King rubbed his temples as if to chase away some pain, then spoke again. “I know this does not seem fair, but let this be a lesson.”
The King looked around to the assembled subjects, then pointed at Lysella. “Dealing with demons only brings pain!” He gestured around again, bidding all to look at the young guard. “This soldier did his duty, yet the mere presence of the demon has led him to martial punishment! Do you see!?” he bellowed, standing from his seat and wincing again. He stumbled, clutching at his head again, but recovered. “Look upon the ruin that has been wrought simply by the presence of the demonic filth!” the King’s yelling devolved into demented shrieks. “Any dealings with demons leads humanity to destruction!”
Lysella grew confused, she could not follow the king’s logic at all. She stood, soaked and visibly shaking from the cold and perhaps more than a bit of fear. She stood there dripping, and in the icy stares of the assembly she felt she might freeze to the spot. Her arms were crossed over her chest as she hugged herself tightly. Sir Brown bristled restlessly, letting out a low growl. The King drew a long silver sword. Lysella looked at the countless prayers and Order runes etched onto the blade. It was a weapon for killing demons.
To her surprise, the King stabbed the point down onto the carpet, and instead used the sword as leverage to gently lower himself back into the throne. He grunted, holding his head again. He managed to shoot a glare at Lysella. “So what does that smirking whore want?”
Lysella swallowed, her voice shaking a bit. “I-I assume you mean my sister, honorable King. B-but I assure you that I am not-”
“Speak to me of honor again and I will have your t-” snapped the King icily before he winced, his sword clattering to the ground as he clutched his head. “Graaaah…” he growled, his eyes shut tight, his face a mask of pain. “Ugh,” he said when he finally relaxed, “The very footsteps of demon filth on my hallowed grounds pains me to no end…”
“Then let me rectify this situation for you, your majesty.” said a silver knight to the King’s right side, who stepped forward and drew his sword. Lysella took an involuntary step backward, but she found her words of protest dried in her throat before she could say anything. She stood there, her mouth shaping words that would not leave her lips. The king leaned forward and pick his sword back up. He glared at her and spoke again, his words dripping with bile and venom, “Stand down, Erimer. I am not finished with it…”
The King continued to glare into Lysella’s eyes, “Now, you will tell me why that scum-sucking she-devil sent some soggy little demon before me, and you will do it without sullying the names of things like honor. Besmirch not that which we humans hold dear by allowing the names to pass your wretched lips. For what could a demon know of honor?”
Lysella swallowed down her words of protest that were gaining strength behind her tongue before they could spill forth unbidden. “King Tiberius, I am Lysella, Daughter of the Demon Lord and Sister to Arabella, Ruler of the Love’s-Faire Demon Realm. I come seeking a way to resolve the border conflict between Love’s-Faire and The Kingdom of Vendal. I assure you that I only wish for a peaceful solution, and I bring a tribute of the finest-” Lysella was cut short by Tiberius raising a hand.
“You’re telling me…” the King said at length, “That you are a lilim? You are a daughter of the Demon Lord?” Lysella drew herself up to her full height. She knew she didn’t look very impressive, but it didn’t hurt to try. Normally a lilim’s beauty would have spoken for itself, but it seems that Lysella was in the shallow end of the demon genetics, having taken more after her father. She almost looked plainly human, if not for the telltale horns and the silvery hair. She nodded. “That is correct, King Tiberius.”
There was a moment of silence that seemed to Lysella like an eternity, lost in the cold, blue void of the Mad King’s stare that made her feel as if she were drifting through the depths of space. Then, his expression cracked into a smile. It was unlike anything Lysella had ever seen. Normally, the hard features of a stern face melted and softened when it smiled. King Tiberius’, didn’t. His face moved as if against his will, his cracked lips parting like shattering glaciers to reveal the yellowed teeth behind it. For all of her life, Lysella knew smiles to show compassion and understanding. The smile of King Tiberius, showed teeth.
After the smile came a laugh. A dry, withered, and strangled thing that held no humor, only the memory of humor. It was like a lemon rind left after all the juice was squeezed out. Sour, and biting. King Tiberius laughed his mirthless laugh until his entourage felt comfortable enough to laugh with him. The only one not in on the joke, was Lysella. “Is this what passes for demonic royalty?” Tiberius said, still grinning and slightly out of breath. “My my, it’s a wonder we’ve had so much trouble with the demons at our border if the Demon Lord is squeaking out runts like this.” Lysella tried to protest, but suddenly felt very self-conscious. In a way, the King was right. She was small, she was wet, and her clothes were built for travel, choosing function over fashion. She cut quite the pathetic figure, dripping wet as she was, her hair matted to her head. Her eyes fell to stare at her muddy shoes. It was all because of the synthetic, she told herself. One did not become a beautiful and powerful lilim by drinking synthetic spirit energy.
Lysella believed in love more than she believed in gods, which was quite a feat considering she knew all about the Chief God considering her mother and father fought the thing. Sure, it was long ago, but she knew for a fact that gods were real, and yet still chose to place her faith in love. Her mother blamed all the books Lysella spent her time buried in. Knights and princesses and true love and all that. Her parents had thought books harmless, even if they gave Lysella strange ideas. It had only ever been a problem the day Lysella vowed to drink nothing but synthetic spirit energy, saying that she should only know the taste of her husband. It was a romantic ideal, but this was the result. A soggy lilim who looked more human than most humans, dripping on the cobblestones.
“I-I have brought gifts-” Lysella tried to continue, but was quickly cut off again. “SILENCE.” roared the King, rising to his feet again as his voice echoed through the hall. “You make a mockery of honor, and then you make a mockery of me. Amalric, show this demon whore what we make of her offering.”
“With pleasure, my King.” said a man in loose-fitting red robes that had been standing off to the right side of the King’s dais. He stepped forward, and slung his hands out as if casually tossing a scrap of food to a dog. The air flashed and flames shot forward, hitting Lysella’s cart and causing the entire thing to ignite. “No!” she yelled, darting forward to unhitch Sir Brown from the flaming cart. Sir Brown, for his part, merely looked curiously back and forth.
“Seize her.” the King said almost disinterestedly. The guards came forward and grabbed Lysella by the arms. She thrashed in their grip, trying to get at the flaming cart and her animal companion. “Someone do remove that thing before the smoke irritates my eyes.” the King said, ignoring the struggling lilim.
“Yes, your majesty.” answered the red mage again. The man raised his hands and the air hummed with the buildup of magic energy. He made a sweeping gesture and a blue portal appeared behind the burning cart. Then, the mage traced several complicated patterns in the air with blue light. The sigil hung suspended before he touched the center, and a wave of distortion in the air shot forward and impacted the flaming cart and bear. Seeing Lysella manhandled seemed to be met with disapproval from Sir Brown, who had begun moving forward toward his friend, heedless of the flaming cart he still dragged. The spell hit Sir Brown broadside, and sent the bear hurtling into the cart with enough force to pick it up, and send both bear and cart smashing through the blue portal he had just opened. Sir brown disappeared with the fiery cart, and the portal faded out, its magic dispersing into the atmosphere.
Lysella’s screams were the only thing that sounded in the room before the King gestured and the guard clamped a hand over her mouth. “Take that thing away from the castle,” Tiberius said, his free hand holding his head again. “Then kill it.” Tiberius turned and started to walk away from the throne. Several aides rushed off with him. “I don’t want its blood fouling my land…” Lysella heard the King say before she was dragged off bodily.
She didn’t even resist, she had no will to. It wasn’t supposed to happen like this. Love was supposed to be a more powerful force than hate. She was supposed to show everyone that. She’d show her sister that peace and love were the superior way, not conquering the kingdom with force. King Tiberius was supposed to accept her offering, not set it on fire. Lysella was walked off back out into the rain, which fell on her cheeks. She felt like crying, but no tears came, just a sense that she had been foolish. Maybe the world didn’t work like it did in stories, and maybe, just maybe some humans had no love in them. There certain hadn’t been any in the King’s eyes. She felt lost, her mind wandering inside a maze of itself as the guards dragged her limp body out into the mud of the flatlands, and into the dark of the treeline.
Lysella’s wandering mind quickly found its way out of the maze of shattered dreams when she felt herself being thrown to the ground. She looked up as if seeing the guards for the first time, and her eyes were drawn to the shine of silver through the moonlight. Her thoughts were that even out here, in the dark of night and the chill of the storm, that razor edge still looked warmer than the depths of King Tiberius’ eyes. She wondered if her body would be sent back to her sister. Maybe just her head. Would the necromancers raise her as a dullahan? Or would her story just be some warning for others not to be stupid and get their head full of silly ideas. “Oh, don’t say things like that. Remember what happened to poor Lysella.” they’d say. Maybe the purists would use her as an argument against synthetic spirit energy, “Oh, you don’t want to drink synthetic. Remember what happened to poor Lysella? Now, just go ahead and pick the one you think is most handsome.” And that was it. Poor Lysella. Poor, stupid, foolish, air-headed Lysella. That’s what she would be known as. Her memory, her epitaph. Poor, poor Lysella.
The guard raised the moonlit sword above his head, with what was an almost apologetic look. A look that said, ‘There’s no fun in doing this for me you seem like a nice girl but if I don’t then it’s my head and sorry but I just don’t know you like that.’ With a look like that, Lysella almost couldn’t blame him.
“Hold just one second.” came a voice. All three in the field looked over and saw a red-cloaked figure walking toward them. “The King wants me to ensure her blood doesn’t salt the field.”
“Of course, sir.” said the guard with his sword raised, who lowered it and backed away. The red figure drew closer and stood between the guards. “I will ensure you both get commended for the, uh… proper execution of a demon.”
“Yes, sir. Thank you, sir.” said the second guard.
The red cloak strode forward, and stood over the figure of Lysella on her knees. She was clutching at her chest, feeling the chill more than ever. She wore a confused look on her face as she looked up. She saw the man reach into his robe, and her eyes went wide as he removed something that also glinted in the moonlight.
It was quick, the man in the robe swung the dagger in a wide arc that caught both guards across the neck. It was easier than the mage would have guessed. Guards were taught to stand upright, chin raised, and eyes forward at attention. Amalric was pleased to find that this did the job of ensuring the soldiers looked nice and sharp, but left their necks completely exposed. His flourished motion completed the spin and when he was finished, Lysella saw him stow the bloody dagger within the folds of his robe once more.
The guards clutched at their throats as bright red blood spilled forth down their chainmail. They seemed to mirror each other as they fell to their knees, looking up at Amalric’s back, then to each other in horror, then slumped forward making what Lysella could only describe as horrid gurgling noises.
Lysella looked up, expecting to be next for the dagger’s bite, but found only a grinning smile in the hood of the red robe. This smile was full of warmth, but the wrong kind of warmth. Rather than the warmth of a cozy fire, the smile in the depths of the hood radiated with the warmth of a red-hot torture implement, heated to induce maximum pain. It unnerved the little lilim, and Lysella could only look up and ask, “W-Why?”
The hooded grin looked down at her, “A man has his reasons.”
“W-What?” Lysella asked, feeling stupid. It was just one of those things that humans did, and as a half-human, Lysella fell prey to that terminal curiosity that makes a person look up at someone who has decided not to kill them and ask, “Why?”
The hooded grin fished around in his pocket, pulled out a saturated cigarette, and with a blatant disregard for physics, lit it with his bare hands. “Time, little demon, is like a river.” he said, to which Lysella thought answered absolutely nothing. “If you’re a rock, the river wins. It’ll grind you down and carry you off bit by bit until you’re nothing but sand strewn across a few leagues at the bottom of the ocean.”
The red hood took a deep drag of his cigarette, and exhaled a long plume of smoke that the rain made short work of. The smell of acrid tobacco washed over Lysella, who sat still in the mud, looking up. “But if you’re a leaf,” the man continued, “It carries you off with it, like a chariot driven by fate itself.”
The man turned, taking his cigarette with him. He strode back in the direction of the castle. “I wonder which one you will be, little demon… Oh, and by the way.” the man turned back. Lysella could see nothing of the mage but the cherry light within a dark silhouette. “Do try and remember that I just saved your life, hm?”
Lysella looked puzzled, “W-What?” she called after him, unable to quell her human heritage quite yet. The man shook his head, “Nevermind. But you’ll probably want to go take care of that.”
Lysella was a slow learner.
The man pointed behind her, and she turned. Off in the distance, was a pillar of light coming from deep in the forest. It wasn’t a shining light, like sun rays. No, this was a red light, a hot light. And it seemed to be growing bigger. “You might want to take care of that.” said the mage just before he moved out of earshot. “I didn’t kill your friend, after all.”
It slowly dawned on Lysella. Sir Brown was a demonic bear. A very old, very demonic bear. Demonic versions of animals were just animals that had absorbed enough demonic energy to gain demonic traits. Sir Brown had lived a long life, and gathered a lot of demon energy. Lysella looked, and the red light seemed to be the light of a fire, and from this far off, a really big fire.
Sir Brown was angry. Very angry indeed. Lysella wasted no time in picking herself off, and tearing into the forest.