Sojourn’s End, Chapter 4; Hard Questions Uneasy Answers

Sojourn’s End, Chapter 4; Hard Questions Uneasy Answers

“I would offer a Truth Discernment Spell from both of us, but that would require my letting you out of your temporary prison, and I’m not ready for that. Yet.” The Great Maou stated with finality.

I could not blame her, I would not have been so eager to let me out either. But then, something occurred to me. It would require me to give up an old secret, but what did I have to lose?
Not much, as we were at a stalemate after all. But if she were in fact telling the truth (such a novelty!), we both had so much to possibly gain.

I whispered, “There may be an alternative.”

With a tilt of her horns, I notice then that I had her full attention.

“My Covenant Artifact, do you still have it available?” I asked. She nodded with a frown.

‘I will have to tread carefully,’ I thought to myself as I continued, “Obviously, you do not have a set of instructions for it.” I sighed, this path scared me, it is not in my nature to give up a secret, any secret, to a potential enemy. But I could see no alternative, short of fighting my way out. ‘Too many variables. (5)’ Quintus reminded.
 “If you would please, retrieve it.” She looked at me for a long while, her eyes narrowed with suspicion. I could not blame her, honestly. I did take advantage of her trust. Despite her appearance as a Succubus/Demon, I got the impression that she was a Lady who didn’t give it out lightly.

After a few seconds she shifted her weight enough to retrieve my Artifact out of a pouch from somewhere on her person, keeping it in her left hand.  Shifting her spade ended tail underneath her, she settled back into a comfortable lotus position facing me.

 “Hold it up as if to command me.” She did so, holding it lightly like she had when she had commanded me to take my true form. It was then, that I finally noticed her scent. I could smell the basic demon scent of brimstone, and her personal smell: Vanilla with a hint of lavender. Also, I scented the telltales which indicated stress, fatigue, and a hunger which she had been ignoring.

“Yes, like that.” I commented. It was then, that I realized that I was now the closest to my Artifact, since that day I had handed that part of me over to the Chaos Lord, Paimon.
Right then, I so very desperately wanted to snatch it back, despite knowing that I could not. Still, I ached to regain that which I had lost, my innocence first and foremost.

Sighing inwardly, “You will have to state: Interrogation.” I noted that she was staring at both me and my Artifact with intensity. “Doing that, will activate my Artifact’s own Truth Discernment.” She continued to look at me as if to gauge the truthfulness of my words. Which, was no small irony.

After a bit, she concentrated on it and spoke quietly, “Interrogation.” She held her attention on it for a moment longer and then looked at me quizzically.

I continued, “It can now be used to detect Equivocations. From me at least,” I added.

“To begin, my name is Annwyfn Arawn.”  She glanced at the Artifact once..

“I am angry with you for Summoning me”, She continued to stare at me.

“I am a Teapot.” She flinched slightly, startled, as she glanced down at my Artifact then back up at me. I couldn’t help but smile at her consternation. I did not know what my Artifact holder ever felt when I lied, but it always got their attention.

She returned my smile and replied, “Interesting. But it doesn’t allow you to discern my truthfulness. I am most certainly not going to hand it over to you.”

“That would not be advisable anyways.” I countered. She looked at me in confusion. The prevention of manumission through theft had been accounted for in its spell-construction. I had learned that, the hard and rather painful way.

 “Not precisely possible.” I sighed, ‘In for a gram, in for a Kilo.’ I said to myself. “What its creator was never aware of, and I never let any of the other holders of it know- is that the Truth Discernment”’ I steeled myself, “Works both ways.”

“What?” The Great Maou said surprised enough to drop the Artifact. It clattered upon the stone floor. My heart lurched, yearning for its return.

“Give me a number of standard things you would normally say in a conversation, and I will tell if it is the truth or a lie, Great Maou.” I looked down at my Artifact, “In the Interrogation mode, of course.” ‘Will this Demon make herself vulnerable?’ I thought to myself.

She picked it up and reactivated it, then she continued to look at me for a long moment. Finally, she seemed to come to a decision, then stated “I am a Succubus.” I felt my Covenant Mark tingle in response. ‘Fascinating, she did!’

“Truth, But, that is obvious.” She smiled, she appeared to get a mischievous gleam in her eyes as she looked away for a second, then turned them back to look me square in the eye. I then noticed then, that her Irises were an almost electric blue. The kind of blue to get lost in.

 “My enemies are indeed desperate.” My covenant Mark tingled again.

“Truth.”

“I am a Teapot.” I felt my Covenant Mark burn as if a red hot iron had touched it. I kept my smile on my face with no small amount of effort.

“Lie, but an obvious lie. Try again with something not obvious.”

She thought for a second then said, “I do not love my Husband.” Again my Mark burned. But this, THIS, surprised me the utmost! 

“Lie. But what do Demons know of love?” I demanded in consternation.

“More than you might know, Arawn. It appears that is a great deal you do not know about us.” She smirked.

“There is certainly a great deal I would rather have not ever known about Demons, Great Maou.” I replied with a heartfelt bitterness that was palpable enough to show on my face.

“Then let the interview commence, Arawn.”- she replied somberly.

“Question for Question.”- I demanded. “You First.”

“Very well, Arawn. What are you? Annwyfn or Human?”

“That’s two questions. But I will answer both anyways.” I grimaced at her momentarily, then I continued, “I am Annwyfn, that is to say, an enhanced Human. I was created to be a Servitor of Law, much as the same intent the Lords of Chaos demonstrated when they created their own Servitors: the Shoggoth.” My answer didn’t seem to palpably change her mien.

 “My turn, did you speak the truth when you said you cannot send me back to my world?”

The Great Maou looked at me sadly, “Yes.” TRUTH

 ‘FAEX! It’s Goodbye Forever Odinne.’ I thought to myself sorrowfully, as I felt the truth of her words. Somehow, I managed to fight off the tears that threatened to overwhelm me.

“Perhaps I could send you to place a nearby? You could make your..”

“NEVERMIND!” I replied quickly. “It is what it is. Your question?” I asked in an attempt to change the subject. Even if I had accepted, it would be months, years perhaps, before I could retrace my way to Odinne and her world proper. That world had proven strenuous to enter upon my chance discovery of it. I had hoped that such difficultly in access, would work to my favor, guarding against another Summoning. Obviously, it had not.

The Great Maou, (thankfully) chose to change her line of query.
“Earlier you said you were created. Does that mean you were not … ‘born’?”

‘Thank you,’ I thought to myself. “I was born in the concept of being a creation yes. But I also know that is not what you mean.”

 I leaned back to one side. “I am assuming that you mean ‘born’ as in the ‘old fashioned way’: carried inside a woman for several months?”

She nodded.

“Then no,” I mused half to myself, “I was not ‘born’ in that manner. I think I can guess what your next question will be. So, to save time, I will answer it as well. I was ‘born’ fairly much as you see me now; fully functional as an adult, physically at least.” Looking up I noticed that my answer seemed to have left her outraged.

“Then you never had a mother or a father? Someone to cling to, or care for you as you matured?” she asked incredulous.

“I was already grown up physically.” I said defensively, feeling a bit insulted. “My designers felt that there was no need for parental units since we came out as fully grown. I think what you are about to ask next is: came out of what?”

The Great Maou nodded shakily.

“For lack of a better term, an Alembic.”

She rose to her knees and shouted, “YOU WERE BORN OUT OF A BOTTLE?!”

“What is wrong with such?” I asked, surprised at her question and her anger. “It is no different than what is done with Homunculi, and I know full well that Demons create those. Besides, it is not like Demons give birth themselves!”, I shouted back, but not as loudly.

Slowly, the Great Maou got ahold of her outrage as she sat back down. After a minute she replied in an even voice.
“Little do you know indeed, Arawn. But we demons do give birth to children, our own children.” That revelation left me dumbfounded.

“Since when?!” I demanded warily.

“Since forever,” she replied quietly.

“But so many Demons are corrupted Humans! Why even go that route of changing Humans into Demons? Or either.”
I wanted to dismiss this- this outrageousness, as yet another lie. Yet I could not. My Covenant Mark continued to tingle, giving weight to her words.

“Who can say why it is, Arawn? It has always been this way, ever since the Creator, the Original Chief God, made it so,” she said patiently.

My mind was awhirl with the implications of it all! I had to move, to get away! I feared what the inevitable conclusion was and would be. Getting up I sought the far end of the circle away from her. I didn’t want any witnesses to what this truth would reveal in me. I just stared out into the distance of this – whatever this place was, unseeing.

‘Have I been so full of hatred of Demons that I willfully blinded myself? Could Demons truly be capable of Innocence?’ I thought to myself, the implications were staggering, frightening even.

 “Arawn,” she said, “What is wrong?” I looked up at the sound of her voice nearby. She’d come around the Protection circle to see me. I wanted to hurl an accusation of her wishing to gloat over my predicament, but I could detect not so much as a hint of it.

“I guess,” I began as I blinked away a set of tears I had not noticed, “that what is wrong, is what I assumed to be the answer to a question that I and my fellow Annwyfn knew. Or, it seems now, what we thought we knew.”

“And that is?” she asked.

I looked straight at her, ”Could a Demon be Innocent?”.

She looked down to the ground and smiled a mirthless smile. “So, you have always assumed that it was a philosophical question, one with no answer?”

“Something akin to that,” I whispered. “But, instead more akin to a rhetorical answer: Of course not!”

“And why would that make you cry now?” she asked gently.

“Because of how many Innocent Demons I may have killed during my existence.” I replied with a shudder. “I confess a difficulty in reconciling the two notions.”

While the Great Maou looked down at the Artifact she held in her hand, I was being overwhelmed by my memories of the campaigns that I had fought both willingly and unwillingly under orders from the Chaos Lords. I thought of all of the Demonic communities that I had wiped from existence. If the Great Maou’s words were true, then that meant that I was a far bigger monster than any of her subjects. They had the excuse of being what they were. I had none other than my own willful ignorance!

I mourned because I realized then that somewhere along the way in my zeal in to fight monsters, I became one!   

I needed to change the subject to get my mind away from that chilling thought.  Looking around the pentacle, I espied the metal bowl of poppets. Somehow it had emerged from the recent strife untouched. Striding over to it, I picked the bowl up and examined its contents, Quintus scanned them for me automatically.

‘No sign of active enchantments. They appear to be confectionaries of some sort: they are high in Glucose and Sucrose, a gelling agent- apparently bovine in nature, with several fruit like flavorings and preservatives. Harmless. (5)’

I thanked him silently. I had to admit that they did smell nice, if not a bit overly sweet. I held the bowl out to Her and asked, “What are these?” I noticed my voice trembling. She looked concerned, but did not comment about that.

“They are something called, ‘Jelly-Babies’,” She replied, “Belphegor was of the opinion that they could be considered as a ‘peace offering’ to you.”

“Any idea why would she think that?”

‘According to her source of information concerning you; That you are supposedly fond of them.”

“An interesting notion. I cannot say for sure, but I believe that I have never…wait!” I replied, tapping a finger on my head. “I HAVE encountered these things before.” 

“How so?” she asked.

“I think I can understand the mistake. These ‘Jelly Babies’. “ I paused to look down at the bowl, “are favored by another semi-Immortal entity with a dubious past and motivations.” I looked up at her and smiled. “By an amazing coincidence, I traveled with him for a short while during the Last Great Time War. I guess I should be honored by the confusion.” I chuckled at the unexpected compliment, and picked one of the ‘Jelly Babies’ and put it into my mouth. Chewing it, I noticed that it was sweet, and had the flavor of a fruit I had not encountered before. Its taste brought back the memories of those years I had traveled with that scoundrel.

Suddenly, I noticed that there was also an odd tang to it. I became aware of an urge- no. A desire, for something. I felt that whatever it was, I just NEEDED to have it, no matter the cost. Alarmed, I looked towards the Great Maou and spoke.

“This is odd.” I said with a frown as I continued to chew.

“What is odd? The Great Maou asked.

“I find myself with a sudden craving…..for….” My eyes widened in alarm as I realized what my almost overwhelming need was for: “Goat Milk!” I then proceeded to spit out the rather thoroughly chewed confection and every last trace of its flavoring in my Saliva that I could manage to find.

Quintus! (1)’ I mentally yelled. ‘I have no explanations Primus! Examining the bolus now…what the?!  HOLY SHIT! (5)

‘Language! (1)’ I admonished.

‘You’re hardly one to judge Primus, as you’re always cursing in our Creator’s Language! The masticated bolus is showing definitive signs of enchantment! I am flummoxed as to why now! (5)’ he replied.

Out loud, to the Great Maou, “I examined the candies for spells and cantrips. I found NOTHING.” I noticed then, that she was pinching the bridge of her nose with her eyes closed.

“Belphegor.” She said then, softly. “The bowl. Does it have any markings on it?” she asked. I proceeded to examine its surface.

“Several. Is there anything in particular I should be looking for?”

“Look for a Bull with wings.” I continued. Ah! There it was.

“Wait, yes there is such, it is on the bottom.”

“I thought so. It is a Borgia bowl. The contents of such bowls will appear as being untampered with, and they are. But as soon as some of the contents of the bowl is lifted up and away from the bowl, the rim will cast an enchantment upon the item removed.”

“Fiendish!” I replied, half in anger, and more than a little impressed. Thankfully the desire for goat milk was fading.

“Thank you.” She said smiling. did I detect a hint of pride?

“Your invention I presume?”

“Yes, it has proven useful to me as a Succubus.”

“I presume there is a way to prevent the enchantment?” I asked, dryly.

“Indeed, ensure the item makes contact with the rim on its way out. Doing so, will negate the spell.”

“I guess that that would one-way to prevent, ‘a taste of one’s own medicine’.”

“Quite. But it is also helpful in the avoidance of too much weight gain. For optimal results, one should take only one piece at a time, regardless.”

“And since males are the in the habit of grabbing sweets by the handful….” I smiled in reply, she returned it. ‘Ingenious!’  I thought to myself in admiration. I could not help but admire such craftiness. Then a thought struck me.

“Wait! Are you telling me that Belphegor’s motivation was to seduce me?” I asked, shuddering at the thought. The Great Maou kept her smile and nodded.

‘Aaaaahhhh! (1,2,3,4,5)’ my not brothers and I thought-screamed in unison. “She is sexually immature, why would she desire such?”

“She is older than she appears. She has chosen to appear immature as part of her religion.” She replied amusedly.

“But she’s not a Succubus! She’s a …whatever she is!” I said shaking my hand in consternation to emphasize my point.

“A Baphomet.” My train of thought- was derailed by that reply.

“Wait, what? A? A Bapho….’A’….’Baphomet’?” ‘Oh, Great Maker! Did Lord Baphomet manage to succeed in her plans?’ I thought to myself in horror.

One of the Chaos Lord I’d been Summoned by, long ago, was Lord Baphomet. I would guess that He/She/It, was either the originator of the Belphegor-brand of Demon, if not the inspiration. Either way, it explained Belphegor’s temperament to a large extent. Lord Baphomet, despite being a Goat-Headed Hermaphrodite, was obsessed with sexual reproduction to a degree that made even ‘main-stream’ Demons blanche, at least back then. A Summoning by her turned out to be a different sort of ordeal.

“You make it sound as if there is more than one!” I half yelled. “Are there more, and are they all like her in temperament?”

“Yes and No,” she replied. I let out a sigh of relief. She continued, “She is relatively subdued. Which is why I kept her nearby for necessary tasks.” She giggled. (!!!!)

“Are you telling me that these, how many Baphomets there are, are EVEN WORSE when it comes to forcible sexual encounters?” I asked in mounting horror.

A thought/conference began to form in my mind. ‘Epiphany- “Where The Chaos Lord shambles, Its Minions Follow.’ (5).  Quintus quoted from a tome of Chaos Lore. I was thought-speechless.
Secundus continued, ‘It is more than just a pithy saying Primus.  What it means is that the Minions of each Chaos Lord tend to be reflections of what their Lord is like. If the Chaos Lord is a rampaging Hell-beast that likes to rip the heads off of people and defecate down their necks. Then every one of said Demon’s minions will, to one degree or another, be and do the same. Now, since the current Chaos Lord is a Succubus…’ (2)

He trailed off. He didn’t need to explain any further, the facts spoke for themselves.

I noticed then that the Great Maou had been silently watching me the entire time of my introspection. She probably knew what my next question would be.

I swallowed against a dry mouth, “It is not just the Baphomet, is it?” My voice trembled in shock.

She just shook her head slightly. I could see the torchlight sparkle off of her horns when she did.

“Every-one-of-your-Demons.” I stated quietly, enunciating every word.

“And Monsters.” She added quietly.

My blood pressure jumped. ‘Monsters,’ I thought to myself, I mentally ran down the tally how many species that I’d encountered over the years. It was a large number. Not to mention that so many of them were, how to put it? Less than desirable sexually, both in appearance and mannerisms.

Clearly Primus, we have a lot to learn of this new order of Demons and Monsters. (5)’ Quintus added dryly.
Tertius decided to interject, ‘Keep in mind Primus, that even if we did manage to fight our way out of these Protection Circles, we would still have to face whoever and whatever may be in our way afterwards, here in the heart of her Realm, surrounded by who knows how many sexually rampaging Sex-Demons and Monsters. I would recommend that we instead focus our efforts on finding a mutually beneficial arrangement with this Demon Over-Lord. (3)’

‘A valid point. (1)’ I conceded.

 “If you are ever out and about in the Demon Realms,” she smiled, “You should keep in mind that anything you eat, or eat from, has been designed to seduce you.”

“Wait! If I am ever out and about? I take it that you intend to free me eventually?” I asked, hope rising within me.

“I’d prefer sooner, rather than later.” The Great Maou sighed, “You are a dangerous man, Arawn. I’m not going to let you near my subjects without some kind of assurance from you that I can trust.” She stated quietly, as her eyes began to smolder.

“Assurance for what?”

“That you will not harm them, I want that ‘incident’ with Belphegor to be your last!” She half-yelled, her eyes flaring red with anger, and her wings fully extended.

“I apologize, Great Maou, for my actions. But if the circumstances were reversed, what would you have done?” I said quietly.

“I WOULD NOT HAVE KILLED!” she shouted loud enough to echo in this stone chamber. She closed her eyes and turned away to calm herself. I chose to remain silent.

Then the realization of her words struck me to my core. My Covenant Mark, tingled with the truth: A demon, unwilling to kill! My entire paradigm was shifting uncontrollably! Just then, Secundus added snarkily: ‘Chaotically? (2)’
I was all set to reprimand him for his cheek, but then I realized what he had really meant. Demons are beings of Chaos, and Chaos…is change. Why did these Demons change? This Great Maou was the answer. Looking back at her, I saw then, that she’d calmed down enough that her eye coloration had returned to Electric Blue.

I weighed my words carefully, then spoke. “It would appear that the Demons of today, are not the same Demons I encountered Millenia ago.” I sighed heavily, “I have much that needs to change.”

“Now we begin your interview in earnest.” She continued, her voice akin to steel wrapped in silk, “Annwyfn Arawn, What, do you want?”

“Want?” At first, I thought that she was trying to make a deal. But then, she had my Artifact, she didn’t need to make a deal. No, she wanted an honest answer. I thought about her question and treated it as such. It didn’t take me long, as it has been something that I have been brooding about for a long time.

I looked at her in her eyes, “Redemption.”  She tilted her head when I answered, her face a mask.

She answered me with another question. “Annwyfn Arawn, What, do you value?” This too took some thought, a bit longer to mull over. Considering all that I have encountered in my lifetime, it was difficult to find the best word I could come up with. Finally, I had my answer.

“Opportunity.”

“Annwyfn Arawn, What, has your life been like before now?” I did not expect that question! Biting my lip while I thought about it, I needed now to be honest with myself (selves) if I were to be honest with Her. This answer took the longest to accept.

“Fearful.”  Her mask was gone now, it was her turn to think. I could see then why she was called the “Great” Maou. Between her words and this situation, I had been forced to face myself in ways I had not done, in well, eras. I could only guess how she inspired her own peoples (demons?).

“Why?”

“Why what?”

“Why do you give those answers?”

“I …” I began to answer. She interrupted.

“Keep your answer concise.” She demanded. I complied.

Slowly I began, “I value Opportunity, not just for myself, but for others. Law is supposed to Protect the weak. Inevitably, it is corrupted to Protect the Strong. Chaos gives opportunity to the unprotected weak.” I looked to her, she seemed to be satisfied with that.

“My life has been Fearful, because ever since the last I was here, I have been deathly afraid of being summoned back.” I admitted to her. “That when I was back, the torture would continue.” That seemed to phase her, as she looked at me with incredulity.

“I want Redemption, because, a long time ago a world died due to my actions.” She looked at for a very long while and then said to me two words.

“Tell me.”

My ancient pain forced itself to the forefront of my thoughts, “When I realized just how fully the Lords of Law had punished me. I desired Revenge.” I said quietly. “I sought out the Lord of Chaos at the time, Over-Lord Paimon.”

“That name is also inscribed on your Artifact.” She stated this, not asking. I nodded.

“The Covenant that we forged between the two of us, ended up aiding him immensely. So much so, that he nearly achieved a Great Victory over Law. Great enough to have upset the balance between Law and Chaos for, well,” I sighed looking up at her, “possibly forever.” She remained silent, drinking in all my words.

“The Lords of Law became desperate. So much so, that they decided to use an obscene Artifact to counter. Their use of it pushed Chaos back.” I closed my eyes.  “But, at the cost, of a World and its inhabitants.”

 I couldn’t open my eyes then. I forced myself to view again in my mind’s eye the sight of what became of that world.

 “Ever since, just about every Chaos Lord that Summoned me, sought to recreate Paimon’s near Victory. I endeavored to redeem myself, by sabotaging their efforts. Until finally, the Demon Lord Orcus, caught on.”

“What did he do, Arawn?”

“He interrogated me, then he tortured me.  Endlessly.” I heard her gasp then. Which made me look up finally. I met her glance only briefly. But I could see no judgment. I did not know then, if such made me feel better or not.

“How long?”

“Days…? Months…? Years? I cannot recall precisely. Interestingly enough, it was one of the Order who freed me.” I smiled a sad smile. “Though there was a kindness displayed by one Demon.” That memory brought forth a smile of warmth, as I recollected her daring, her charity. It was then, that I wondered what had become of her. Whatever had, I hoped that it was good.

“I’m sorry that you had to go through that Arawn, you must not have been powerful enough to battle him then.” I looked at her then and shook my head.

“On the contrary Great Maou. Even then, I was powerful enough then to have fought my way out.”

“Then, why didn’t you?” She asked, appalled. “Why did you willingly endure such torture?”

“Why?” I asked her with a short laugh, “Because I deserved it.” She was speechless. I could not blame her.

“Yes, I deserved it. Because of what I did to that world, and to those MILLIONS who paid the price for my hubris. I felt that I would let …Fate? …Destiny?….Karma?….. decide when I had paid enough for my crimes. Apparently, it did by way of that Hero.”

“Then why do you seek Redemption?” An age-old emptiness washed over me.

“Even though I felt that my punishment was payment for the pain that I had caused, I still needed to work on the interest, if you would. So I did.”

“What did you do?” She asked with a warm look.

“I fought, I learned, I traveled.” I cast my eyes up to the ceiling in recollection. “Wherever I went, I fought against Law when it had chosen to allow innocents to die for no good reason. I willingly fought alongside, and for, Chaos whenever the opportunity presented itself.” I smiled at her then. She looked at me quizzically.

“I would’ve thought that you’d have avoided Chaos after all that happened to you?”

“I chose to serve those Chaos Lords, who had the best interests of innocents in mind. In all my travels I learned long ago that not all of Chaos is evil, nor is Law always good.”

She looked at me for a long moment, and then she asked. ”Tell me Arawn, in your words, of the Eternal Cycle?”

“The Eternal Cycle?” I pondered. “That would be two factions forever at odds, inexorable in their determination to battle each other: Law versus Chaos, Light versus Dark, Good versus Evil, Repub…”

She interrupted, “Human versus Monster?”

I shrugged. “Yes, Human versus Monster.” She smiled a half smile then, with a hint of mischief in her eyes. My attention that had started to waver, no more.

“Here, it has been war between Human and Monster, since the world’s birth.” She began.

I interrupted, “Let me guess, Humans gain prominence, Monsters grow in power to counter till Humans are nearly gone. Humans gain power to eliminate most of the Monsters, which eventually allows Humans to gain prominence.”

“Correct. Now what if I were to tell you, I found a way to break that Eternal Cycle.” She smiled wistfully, “Would you be intrigued as to how?”

“Yes.” I stated instantly, “I would be VERY intrigued.” I sat up and leaned over to hear her, as close to the protection circle as I dared.

“My Goal is simple: Combine Humans and Monsters into one race. That, Arawn, is My War.”

I sat back stunned! The implications were staggering! Yet, I could see the allure of it. Combine Humans with non-humans and what do you end up with? No more of one side gaining ground at the expense of the other, because, there would be no other side.

“Yes, I am most intrigued Great Maou. But how?” I said, shaking my head. “How do you manage to convince even a handful of one or the other to ‘cross the divide’?”

“The answer Arawn, is that you’ve already seen a demonstration of one of our methods.” She said cryptically.

“What do you mean? I’ve seen no….” then I went dumb as it struck me. I HAD seen a demonstration, and it had repelled me.

“Belphegor.” I said quietly, then I looked to her. “She wasn’t just interested in sex, she was interested in acquiring me as, a mate?”

“More than likely, yes.”

“Regardless of my desires concerning such?”

“The Males of any specie often need to be reminded of their roles, Arawn. Otherwise there would be far fewer children in existence.” She pointed out with a smirk.

I wanted to argue against such a self-serving conclusion, then I remembered Odinne. She had taken the initiative several times. If it had been left to me to decide, I would never have allowed our relationship to proceed as far as it had. What the Great Maou said, had merit.

“But why did she…” I was about to ask, ‘choose me?’ But I already knew the answer: Mate-minded females had always sought the best they could find. ‘Putting on airs Primus? (3)’, The Great Maou seemingly divined my thoughts.

“Choose you?” she grinned. “You are a powerful Sorcerer Arawn. More powerful than she, apparently. The children from such a union would be more powerful still.”

“But what about the Male Baphomet?” I asked, “Surely they would be of a differing opinion?”

What she said next, surprised me even more.

“There aren’t any.” She said with finality. “In fact, there are no male demons or monsters with the exception of Incubi.”

“No males other than Incubi?” I asked incredulous, “Then how do …,Wait! Belphegor wanted me for a mate. Therefore, they must acquire Human Males to be their mates. All of them. Demon or Monster?”

“Correct.” She said quietly. “Human males are converted into the ideal Incubus mate of each specie, whether it be Demon or Monster.”

“So, you’re saying that if Belphegor had succeeded in subduing me, then I would not have been turned into a Male Baphomet, but into an Incubus?”
‘Some might say, that Secundus is already half way there! (5)’,
 ‘Hey! (2)’

“Correct, more or less. But you would be transformed into an Incubus ideal for a Baphomet. If another Demon or Monster managed to claim you, over time, you would become their ideal Incubus.”
I had more questions concerning such, but I decided to ask them later.

“This lack of males for everyone, I take it was by design?” I asked rhetorically. She nodded. “Thus, you have transformed every last one of your subjects, into an active participant of your Grand Design. Regardless of their wishes.”

“Every Leader, has to make hard decisions Arawn.” She looked to me with a pained expression. “This was mine. It was either do this, or face another genocide.” She sighed, “Which, would you have chosen?”

“The less lethal option.” I conceded.

We were silent for a while. I in my thoughts. Her in her patience.

Finally, “Your enemies, what are they called?”

“The Order. They consider themselves the defenders of Humanity.”

 “Law,” I sighed. “I assume that they feel that they are ‘last line of defense against the forces of evil?” The look on her face gave me the answer.

“So, if I were to throw in my lot with yours, I would be fighting against Law. I admit that, and that alone, is enough to motivate me.” I sighed heavily.  “But if I did so, Great Maou, not only would I have to fight the enemy at my front, but also the enemy at my back.”

“Enemy at your back…?” She asked quizzically.

“I would prefer my choice of mate to be one of mutual agreement. As opposed to my waking up in the morning, and finding out I am a married man.”

When she laughed, it was akin to the sound of silver bells tinkling. “There are ways to motivate mate-minded Monsters, into leaving you alone Arawn. Otherwise these societies of mine would have been thrown into anarchy long ago.”

“I am inclined to ‘throw in my lot with yours’. But I have many more questions for you and yours, as I am sure you do for me.”

She nodded.

“So, am I given the option of joining now?”

“Yes, but there are some things I would need from you.”

“Such as?”

“Assurances that I can trust, that you will not be a threat to me or mine.”

We were both silent for a time. A thought of my own came to me, and as I ruminated over it, a smile spread across my face- it was so simple! The Great Maou noticed, but before she could inquire, I spoke.

“Great Maou, this Protection Circle around me, where is it?” she looked at me oddly.

“It is located within my castle, here in the realm known as Royal Makai.”

Your castle, therefore your home?” I asked. She nodded again, eyes narrowing.

“Then since I was Summoned here, would that not technically mean, that I am ….your Guest?” I grinned.

“Yes, I suppose.” She answered with a questioning look.

“Then, Oh Great Maou, as YOUR Guest, I pledge to abide by whatever Laws of Hospitality are in force, here in your home, and I will abide by whatever strictures you deem necessary to insure you, and yours’, safety.”

She stood up in surprise at my audacity, gaping. ”The Laws of Hospitality! You’re agreeing to abide by them?”

“Yes.” My reply seemed to be just what she was looking for. I saw a look of relief grow across her face. Even the Jester herself would be bound to obey those Laws.

She spoke after a moments hesitation, “I deem it necessary that you will not raise your hand to, or cause harm or violence towards any of my subjects or those I designate as necessary to be your handler, or your guard.” She said, setting the terms.

“May I defend myself, if attacked?” I countered.

“Yes, but I would require an investigation afterwards, with no resisting arrest on your part.” She warned.

Her terms were harsh, but fair. I could abide by such.

“I agree to the terms of Hospitality as you have laid out. So Mote It Be.” I said, completing the terms.

“So Mote it Be” she said, in finality.

And with that, I began my journey of discovery.

With only the slightest care, she undid the spells that maintained all of the remaining protection circles.

Quintus was able to detect their cessation, and I knew that I was free to do as I wished, (within reason). I then noticed that the Great Maou looking at me nervously. It was the moment of Truth, I could act like a gentleman, or I could be myself.

I smiled my thanks. Then I sprang to my feet as I flung up my hands up and out yelling: “Boo!”

She jerked back in surprise, and nearly blasted me on the spot with something akin to a bolt spell. Luckily, she caught the smile on my face before she had released it. She was most vexed.

“You live life dangerously, Annwyfn Arawn.” She said with a scowl.

“You are not the first to have made that observation.” I grinned back.
‘A minor payback, for my slumber disturbed. (1)’.
My not-brothers heartily agreed.

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After that, the Great Maou summoned a pair of guards from outside the chamber. She informed me that she had specifically chosen them because they were of the kind of Monster-Girl or Mamono (her words) who would not seek to make me into a mate, unless I demonstrated a proficiency in sword play first. I assured her that I had no intention of doing so. After introducing me to the guards the Great Maou, took her leave, promising to meet with me later.

My two guards, were both reptilian in appearance. Nova, the senior, was a “Salamander’ and red in appearance. Philomena, the junior, was a ‘Lizardman’ and was green. Both were extraordinarily healthy-looking specimens of well-muscled femininity. I could not help but admire the seamlessness between their human traits and their reptilian ones. They both had tails, though Nova’s had a perpetual fire burning on her tail tip. Such would be an asset for seeing in the dark I suppose.

Their armor of choice was akin the Great Maou’s: functional yet minimal, akin to lingerie. I confess a curiosity to find out if any of these ‘Mamono chose to dress conservatively. I decided to not have Quintus scan them, as such could be considered a breach of my Hospitality Oath.

Their mien was professional, yet condescending. Before escorting me to my apartment, they chose to give me a ‘demonstration’ of their fighting ability-with each other; ostensibly for the purpose of letting me know what to expect should I desire to escape.

 Between the two of them and their obvious martial errors, both Tertius, and I were tempted to ‘put them into their place’, as it were.
I was about to do so, until Quintus pointed out that such provocation on their part, may well have been their intention. Restraining myself, suddenly became easier.

After several minutes, they tired of their sport and both aimed annoyed looks in my direction. Then then sheathed their swords and demanded that I stay between them as they lead me out and up to my destination. Almost the entire trip from my Summoning area to my readied apartment, was in silence despite the many questions I directed towards them. We encountered no one else the entire trip.

After several flights of stairs upwards, and several turns here and there, I was led down a stone hall way with several matching wooden doors on one side, to a particular door and told to go in. Before I entered, I was admonished to not open any windows or doors until told otherwise. After I went in, Nova slammed the door shut behind her, she seemed rather furious that I did not make an escape attempt.

The apartment was both utilitarian and luxurious in nature. Luxurious in that there was an oversized four poster bed complete with a canopy

‘It could easily sleep ten people. (5)’ Quintus observed.

‘Or twenty people, if they were good friends! (4)’ Quartus snarked.

‘Or more, if sleep was not their intention! (2)’ Secundus joined in.

It was utilitarian in that the bookshelves were empty, there was only a side table next to the door, the kitchenette had no cooking instruments, and there was only a commode and bath in the bathing room. No other pieces of furniture, no table, no wardrobe, nor chairs or something as simple as a footstool. I couldn’t even get the lamplight to rise in illumination beyond- ‘ambient’. The apartment had hardwood floors and walls; such flagrant use of organic materials would have been scandalous on the world of the Authority.

It was almost as if the entire point behind the apartment was the bed and the bed alone. Upon closer inspection, I discovered that the bedposts had tie down points imbedded in each. There were drawers under the mattress, but they were filled with a variety of items: bottles of water-based ‘personal’ lubricant, undersized whips and flogs, bundled silken ropes, and other items that I did not care to describe, despite Secundus’ volunteering to help in their identification. The bed sheets appeared to be silk, of a kind I have not encountered before.

‘What in the Creator’s Name have I been drawn into?’ I wondered with no small amount of trepidation.

I decided then, that admonition or no, I needed to get some fresh air. I had noted what appeared to be a door at the far end of the apartment, facing away from the entrance. Striding over to it, I was able to figure out the locking mechanism in short order. I then pulled it open and stepped out. As I expected, it was indeed a balcony with metal railings. The next thing I noticed was a rather large feathered Avian asleep on one of the rails on the other end of the landing. It appeared to be significantly larger than a human child, and had large talons gripping the railing, but beyond that, I could not tell anymore as it had a wing covering its head.

Looking out beyond the railing I noted several odd things. It was night time, with an overcast cloudy sky. Off to the right and high in the sky was a blood-red crescent moon. The size of the moon seemed impossibly large. If this were a normal world, the Tidal Forces alone, should have torn this world apart.
Now never mind that the edifice that I was in appeared to be a castle made of stone, its ramparts rose to levels impossible for the laws of physics to compensate for. I estimated that my apartment was near the fiftieth floor.

Panning my view around, I could see an immense city surrounding the castle. Despite the gloom, I could see the lights of streets and buildings, winding off to the horizons.

And the air. If I thought that the air where I was summoned was cloying, it paled in comparison to this! That sense that the air was attempting to worm its way into me, was now amplified tenfold. Never mind the scent overload! No relief for me was to be found out here! As I turned to go back in, I inadvertently struck my knee on the railing. Suppressing a curse, I noted that the railing made a sound loud enough to awaken the avian.

I was stunned by what I saw, I expected to see a feathered avian head with a beak, but no, the head of woman popped up instead! She appeared to have a roundish face with an almost childlike cast to her expressive eyes. Those eyes were half opened with drowsiness. She then stretched her wings, and gave them a few flaps, before letting out a large yawn.

 I managed to observe that her naked body appeared to be human. Below mid-thigh she was decidedly avian with Anisodactyl taloned feet. Below her shoulders her arms grew into feathered wings with Hoatzin-like claws.

 Another Monster Girl!
I just stood in amazement, admiring the seamless joining of her human and Avian characteristics. Oh how I wished I had a scanning device, then!

She didn’t notice me at first, since she was still waking up. Then, I became cognizant of her nodding her head upwards as if she were smelling something. Sniffing something, as if to get her bearings, she turned her head until she caught sight of me.
She then froze and did a long blink. I was still there after the blink, and that was when a smile of surprise and excitement, grew upon her face.

Tilting her head, she said, “Hello. Who are you?” Before I could reply she continued, “My name is Vasi. What’s your name?”

When she spoke the second time, she slowly moved one of her bird like legs down from the rail and placed her weight upon it.

Again, before I could reply, she continued, “I didn’t know anyone was living here. Do you live here now?” She lowered her other foot down onto the balcony and turned herself to face me.

This gave me an opportunity to see her full on. She definitely had a roundish face, underneath a head full of feathery like hair. Also, she had plenty more rounds on the rest of her rather fetching human-like body. Her hair color matched her wing feathers (auburn), and she looked noticeably larger, once she was off of that rail.

She continued to chatter on, “You’re obviously living here alone. Just like me. We seem to have something in common, don’t we?” She took a long slow step towards me, as if she were pacing me. It was then I realized my situation: Large, naked bird-woman approaching. I decided at that point, to start stepping towards the open door. She caught my movement with her eyes and noticed then the open door as well. For a brief moment, we stared into each other’s eyes, and that was when I became aware, that her smile of excitement had morphed into a predatory leer.
“Human males are converted into the ideal Incubus mate of each specie. (5)’ Quintus quoted. ‘Faex!’ I muttered to myself.

Simultaneously, we launched ourselves towards my open doorway. Barely, just barely, I was able to get in before she arrived, she was so fast!
But not fast enough to close the door on her. The one thing she did do in my favor, was her spreading her wings as she rushed towards me. If she had not done so, she may well have made it in before I could have gotten a grip on the door.

As it was, I did manage to close the door partially, but not so far as to keep her from sticking in a wing and a taloned foot. During all this, she was chattering away.

“Oh no need to be rude! Let Me In! I promise I won’t bite you! Well not much at any rate, or very often! Oh, my goodness that is a rather nice place you have there! It would make for an excellent nesting spot don’t you think? I think so!” And so on.

All the while, I was attempting to push her out and shut the door, while she was doing the opposite, and I was losing ground!

‘Quartus! (1)’ I thought yelled. ‘Ready! (4)’ he replied instantly. With that, I gave up my attempting to close the door, and instead let her push it open. This gave her a momentary pause of triumph, which left her open for me to give her a two-handed Force-Push, courtesy of Quartus’ Psionics.

But I remembered to crouch low, to ensure that she didn’t impact the railing on her way back out. (Technically not an attack on her part!) With a loud ‘AWK!” she was pushed out of my apartment, and a good twenty meters out into the night air.

She recovered quicker than I thought possible. Barely had I stood up before I saw her flapping furiously to plunge back towards me, just as determined as ever. Luckily, Quartus had summoned enough energy for a second blast, so I used that, to close and brace the door. Barely had the door slammed shut, before I felt an immense impact upon it from the outside. Immediately, I heard her scratching at, and repeatedly shoving herself at the door in an effort to get back in. Even though I had full confidence in Quartus’ psi, I still put my body and shoulder to the door to barricade it.

It seemed like forever, but was probably only a few minutes, but she eventually let up. I waited a few more seconds before daring to step back. It was then I noticed that my heart rate had tripled, and my breathing was rapid.

‘Sounds like a Fight or Flight response there, Primus! (5)’ Quintus quipped at me. I  gave him a mental-glare in return.

I just about jumped out of my skin, when I heard a knocking at the apartment entrance door. ‘Who could this be?’ I wondered. ‘Surely not the bird-woman already?’ Cautiously opening the door, I was not-relieved to see that it was not the bird-woman I had just evicted.

No, it was someone much worse.

It was Belphegor.

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