Sojourn’s End Chapter 3, A Test of Wills

Sojourn’s End Chapter 3, A Test of Wills

“Goodbye Odinne.” I whisper; anguish threatens to overwhelm me as I step towards the Gateway.
 ‘Odinne Elqenna.’, the first woman in a long time, to want me for me. Not because she knew I had access to Powers, nor because I had saved her life one too many times. No, she had simply wanted the man she thought I was. The man I wish I could have been for her. The man I once was, millenia ago, before I was cursed with immortality.

It was but a single step to the Gateway, that portal from here to there; there being the world in which My Summoner-this Chaos Lord dwelt. But time stretched out as I lifted my foot to begin my involuntary Final Journey of departure that would rip me away from my Odinne, possibly for forever. It was a single step that would span untold light years and who knows how many Brane-layers of distance.

‘Perhaps my departure from this world will be better for her.’ I say to myself as my foot nears the apex of its ascent. ‘Undoubtedly, Odinne will have wanted children.’ Progeny being what most, but not all, women’s goals tended to focus upon. I had known ahead of time that I could not give them to her, much as I would otherwise.

I remembered then, in that moment, all the other mortal women I selfishly allowed myself to love during my endless years. I mentally winced as I recalled the countless tears they had shed when they realized that their wombs would not quicken with my seed.
I recalled also, their matchless anger directed towards me when I finally confessed to them my sin of omission: That I had known before I met them they could not, would not, bear me the children they craved so much.
Grimacing outwardly, I could still feel the collective poundings of of their fists upon my person, as they screamed at me in righteous fury at my thoughtlessness.

Immortals are a rare breed, Immortal women even more so; and a single Immortal woman inclined to a (very) long term relationship? I would have had a greater chance of locating a singular definition of love. My immortality had been forced upon me, and thus I did not have the ‘natural’ (?) inclinations of one born to it. Instead, I had the inherent nature of a Mortal with all of the needs that came with same: companionship, camaraderie, love, and yes: sex.
 So every few decades of my existence, I allowed my self-deception to run rampant enough into thinking that I am just as mortal as everyone else.

A part of me was aware that my foot had reached its apex, and now was in its final descent to make contact with the Gateway’s surface that would trigger the transition.

‘Ten, twenty, thirty, years?’  I thought. The humans of the world of the Authority were long lived by human standards. But even they aged. I could not. ‘How many years before she noticed I did not age? How long before her love becomes tinged with resentment? How long before that love transforms into hatred because she thought I had withheld the secret of personal immortality; in addition to the immortality that children would have given her?  How many women have I buried without so much as a single blood descendent to mourn their passing?’

Too many.

‘Better now that I spare her those inevitable anguishes.’,

‘Odinne will mourn me for a while, yes. But then she will find another, any other person would be more worthy of her than I. Perhaps she will notice Eskanu, my trusted lieutenant who was as loyal to me as I was to her.’ I tell myself all of this in an effort to ward off my inevitable sense of loss.

Then, at that moment, my foot makes contact with the Gateway, and my mind is ripped apart.

It has been said that Hell Hath No Fury like a Woman Scorned. Instantaneous travel of any sort has always treated me like I was its Divorced Ex.
It did not matter if it was either a simple Castling between the ends of a room or a transition between Universes. The results were always the same: a state of extreme discomfort and disorientation that lasted well beyond the journey. It had been this way for me since the day of my creation.

It had always been one of my greatest concerns when I was being summoned. Such transfers inevitably left me in a degraded physical and mental state upon my arrival. It would leave me ripe for abuse by the receiving party, in this case: a Demon of Chaos. Even in my semi self-imposed exile, I had learned of the imprisonment of the Chaos Lords. They had standards, few as they were. Their minions, the Demons, had fewer still. If I were to survive the next hour of the current Demonic Standards, I hoped that this transition might leave me relatively functional at my destination.

This transition takes only seconds as counted by my heartbeats. But to my mind it lasts far longer. Words fail in their inability to describe the journey adequately. For how can one describe the taste of a color? Or the smell of an echo? The human mind is not capable of interpreting the sensory inputs of interplanar travel- but it will try nonetheless. My mind is no different.

It is with this prolonged assault upon my senses that I am startled by the sudden feel of cold stone blocks underneath my bare feet. I stumble upon them and fall into a crouch, my senses reeling from the passage. My vertigo makes the room feel as if I were standing on an inclined carousel.

Automatically, I try to take stock of my situation by breathing deeply through my nose to pick up the smell of anyone or anything nearby. I am rewarded by the distinctive scent of three individuals close by. Beyond that, I could scent nothing more about them at that time. This small victory allows me a glimmer of hope.

Slowly, breath by breath, my other senses begin to reassert themselves: I note that the gravity of this world is slightly higher; approximately five percent more than the Authority’s. I had become used to dealing with the gravitational gradients of multiple worlds when I had commanded a spaceship. Compensating for such differentials is second nature to me now.

But this atmosphere? It was odd to say the least. I had gone from the cool winter air of the world of the Authority, and was thrust into this sauna-world where the air felt stagnant and heavy. It was as if it was laden with a higher percentile of carbon dioxide. Yet from what I could tell at this early stage- it was no different than the previous world’s CO2 level. Subjectively, I had the sensation that the air itself was attempting to worm itself into me.

I needed help: ‘QUINTUS! (1)’ I mind-shouted. ‘STATUS? (1)’, no answer was forthcoming from him.
I then mind-called out to the rest of my not-brothers: ‘SECUNDUS! TERTIUS! QUARTUS! ANYONE? (1)’, but due to the lack of returns to my entreaties, I could only conclude that they had been hit harder by the transition than I was. Luckily, I had not been attacked yet, so there was that bit of hope. There were many options I could have chosen, but I chose the path of patience.

Finally, after several additional breaths, I heard a familiar mental voice that brought me a measure of reassurance, ‘P-P-Primus? (5)’ it stuttered. ‘Quintus! Status!?(1)’ I demanded of him.

‘Primus….’ he began, ‘I do not know if I can… (5)’.

‘Quintus!’ I interrupted, ‘We have been summoned into the clutches of a Demon Lord and I have no idea of who or what we face! I need something! ANYTHING! You can give me in an effort to survive the next few minutes! (1)’. I detested the necessity of being that harsh in the treatment of myself, my not-brother, but the situation was dire and my fear was threatening to overwhelm me.

‘All…all..alright.’ Quintus mentally mumbled the best he could. ‘When you are ready, examine and I will give you what I can. (5)’ Quintus answered back in spurts of mind speech.

(My Brothers/Myself. A Long story short:  they are more than just multiple personalities of me. Their existence permits me to compartmentalize the memories and information of countless lifetimes. Additionally, they allow me to do multiple tasks simultaneously. I Primus, remain in control of them all. Well, for the most part.)

Just then, before I raise my head to examine these others around me, in this wherever I was, I am finally able to identify this atmosphere’s active constituent that makes me uncomfortable: Sex Pheromones, a huge amount, and from numerous species. I choose to store this anachronistic information away for later use.

I then open my eyes and take in what surrounds me on the floor. The area in which I am crouching is illuminated by flame light- and something else. What, I cannot say at this time. As I expected, I am in the center of a summoning pentacle ringed with five black candles: the standard containment for potentially dangerous summoned entities.  There is a metal bowl within arms-reach, it appears to be filled with multicolored objects of a vaguely humanoid form, ‘Poppets?’ I wonder. They appear to be inert, so I ignore them.

The pentacle is half carved/half painted into the stone blocks of the floor upon which I continue to crouch. The opening of my eyes threatens to overwhelm me with vertigo, yet I can feel even that starting to rapidly fade along with its concurrent nausea. I dare to raise my head slightly and look around at my surroundings.

I see immediately around me not one, not two, but three protection circles! I do not recognize the sigils but I recognize their intent., ‘Someone prepared for Leviathan, I should take that as a compliment.’

‘The protection circles are blocking my attempts to scan the surroundings, only passive interpretations are available. (5)’ Quintus injected.

Peering still further out, I see the three individuals- all humanoid. I examine them in turn and await Quintus’ appraisal. Seconds pass. It was not like him to take this long. ‘Quintus!(1)’ I demanded mentally. There was no reply after several more seconds. Did he fall asleep?
Finally, I whisper out loud, fiercely, “QUINTUS!”
Finally I receive his report:

 ‘#1 Humanoid (Male), Armed (Sword), Armored (Leather-Magical), Mana (High), Magic (Unidentifiable), Aura (Corrupted Human/Incubus), Location (330×10), Stance (Passive), Facing (Towards). (5)’

‘#2 Humanoid (Female), Armed (Covenant Artifact-Left Hand), Armored (Silver Metal/Lingerie-Magical), Mana (Extreme), Magic (Unidentifiable), Aura (Demon/Succubus), Location (360×11), Stance (Semi-Hostile), Facing (Towards). (5)’

‘#3, Humanoid (Female/Child), Armed (War Scythe/Magical), Armored (Minimal/Animal Parts), Mana (Immense), Magic (Unidentifiable), Aura (Demon/Caprine/Unknown), Location (045×9), Stance (Passive), Facing (Towards). End of Line (5)’

 ‘It’s good to have you back, Quintus. (1)’ I say in thanks for his efforts.

‘It is good to be back, Primus.’ He replies, ‘Status report, Secundus: Conscious, but dry retching. Tertius: Unconscious, but showing signs of coming around. Quartus: Awake and nearly ready. (5)’

‘Understood, keep me apprised. (1)’ I command.

‘Acknowledged, out. (5)’

That was the analytic report. What I (Primus) saw: A tall swarthy man to my left with his arms crossed in front of him. His stance indicates to me that he is a Warrior ready for battle at a moment’s notice. He glowers unblinking at me with suspicion. He is dressed as plainly as only a fighter can be: a doublet/cuirass covered in runes, with a sword on his hip.

To his left stands a woman. Ah, but what a woman! A woman of Regality and Un-Earthly beauty. Hers is the kind of beauty that brings a pain to what is left of my soul, the kind of women that I would never have the chance to enjoy. A soul-devouring Succubus- to be sure, if the half open wings that just peeked out from behind her, along with the spade ended tail she held rigidly underneath, be any indication. Her hair is a crown of platinum, that is marred only by a pair of horns that project forward, along with some odd items (barrettes?) (Hair clips?) that float centimeters away from her skull, yet they match her movements as she moves her head – judging me. By the torchlight shining off of her horns, I could see that they were well polished and they were the same color as her manicured fingernails. She wears a curious combination of silver armor/lingerie that tantalizes me.  She holds my long unseen Covenant Artifact in her left hand up in front of her, almost as if it were a shield to be used against me. Her countenance is guarded, yet speculative.

To her left stands upright, a child (?) who appears to be a miscegenation of human and goat. Her caprine appearance alone decidedly marks her as a creature of Chaos. She too has Platinum hair, its beauty is interrupted by a pair of decidedly goat-like horns curling up and back from the top of her head. Goat-like ears puff outwards from the sides of her head in a manner I would have called cute, if it were anyone else.  Her dress is minimal, and decidedly libertine in nature. If she were an adult such an outfit would have turned my head, instead, I find her and her fashion sense revolting.
 It doesn’t help her appearance that in place of hands and feet, she has paws and hooves. She holds an ornate War Scythe that is adorned with a glowing sphere that is not attached to it, yet it remains hovering next to the blade. While she shifts her weight around I can hear the sound of her hooves scraping stone. She looks at me with a mixture of triumph and an unholy lust; a lust inappropriate on one so child-like. She is repellant.

Suddenly, my attention is directed back to the Succubus when, “Annwyfn Arawn, I command thee to take thy True Form!” the Succubus deigns to speak loudly and firmly, holding up my Covenant Artifact high so that I could see. I recognize the voice of this “Great” Maou. She looks straight on at me with a stern expression as my Artifact flares with its Characteristic un-light at the sound of her adjuration. Along came the feel of the inherent compulsion of her command. I barely contain my mirth as I turn and match her gaze, astonished at her lack of knowledge concerning me. ‘You have no idea who or what I am about’. I speak silently, as a feral smile stretches across my face, ‘How adorable! Give me an excuse to tear you apart Demon!’.

This ‘Great Maou’ looks at me, fully expectant that I will comply with her foolish demand. Yet, as I continue to stand unmoving, looking at her defiantly, I can see a shadow of a doubt begin to form on her lovely countenance. This doubt of hers rapidly turns to anger as she once again lifts my Artifact and speaks even louder as she tries again, “I command thee to take thy True Form, Annwyfn Arawn!”, as before, my Artifact flares with its un-light.
Instead of replying, I choose to just stand there staring at my Summoner and revel in her ever-increasing discomfort. I decided that if I had chosen to answer her in any form, it might have resulted in her quickly grasping the truth of the situation. After all, why would I want to correct my enemy when they are making a mistake?

Just then, ‘Primus! Quartus is ready! Psi is available at your command. Tertius is nearly ready, Secundus is still unavailable. (5)’, Quintus reports.

With my lack of a discernable reaction she spares a quick glance to the goat-girl as if seeking her guidance. A quick turn of my eyes rewards me with a gleeful sight: The Goat Girl quickly hiding her own look of doubt and uncertainty.

I was tempted again to speak, but I was certain I would lose whatever temporary advantage I had. No, restraint was the best course of action since I needed to buy time until I was at full capacity.

‘Primus! Tertius is aboard, full access to Mana is now available! (5)’. I silently thank Quintus for this good news.

Then I notice the Great Maou closing her eyes and her lips move as if she is invoking something. With no small amount of trepidation, I sense magical energy begin to flow, but it is a kind I am not familiar with, so I prepare myself for whatever happens next.

Instead of an attack or a confinement spell, this Great Maou’s eyes spring open and catches me in her gaze once more. She fixes me with a steel eyed look and shouts in a way that I feel more than I hear: “ANNWYFN ARAWN, I COMMAND THEE TO TAKE THY TRUE FORM!” I can hear the echo of frustration in her voice bouncing off of the unseen walls around us as she angrily shakes in emphasis to her words.

 ‘A Test of Wills, eh? Then so be it!’, this time I decide to play along with her foolishness. I mimic a stagger, and reel about as if I am fighting her demand. I steal a quick glance at her and I note the triumphant look on her face that had replaced the previous one of frustration. I then crouch down upon my knees, holding my hands to my head as if I were in agony and then utter some fake moans. Another quick glance and I note the Great Maou grinning triumphantly, her wings fully extended.

What little amusement her spectacle engenders in me evaporates as the last of my not-brothers announces the end of his tardiness, ‘BY XIOM! WOULD YOU LOOK AT THE SIZE OF THE MAMMARY GLANDS ON THAT BEAUTY! (2)’.

 I freeze then as I do the mental equivalent of rolling my eyes. ‘How nice of you to join in Secundus. (1)’.

Secundus, my oldest ‘not-brother’ and repository of nearly all of my magical knowledge, and unfortunately, every one of my libidinous urges as well. Many were the times I wished I could have been freed of his/my puerile behaviors.

‘I heard that! (2)’ he replies sullenly. My theatrical inclinations evaporate as a result of Secundus’ childishness.

I rapidly return to a standing position and face the Succubus head on as I present to her a single finger in the Multiversal sign of Defiance. This catches her off-guard, so much so that she walks back a step wings drooping, a look of incredulity on her face.

My peripheral vision shows me that the Goat-Girl looks askance as well by my effrontery. I hear her say “Mistress?”, as she turns to look to this “Great Maou” for guidance.
This, for some reason, makes me smile gleefully. ‘Keep them flustered and they will make mistakes,’ I quoted from a Strategy book I had read somewhere.

‘Book of Armaments, Chapter 8, Verse 2. (4)’ Quartus injects unhelpfully.

The third demon across the arcs of the protection circles, had adopted a passive role: hands on his hips studying me with his lips pursed, eyes narrowed in concentration. He was not being actively hostile towards me so I turned my attention elsewhere.
The Succubus looks bewildered, her eyes darting over me as if she expected me to explode. The She-Goat retreats a hoof or two, which makes me slightly less uncomfortable. The greater her distance from me, the better I feel.

‘Secundus. The protection circles, do you recognize the sigils? (1)’ I demanded. ‘No, but they do look familiar. I will need time to consult my notes. (2)’ ‘Understood. (1)’ I reply.

My temporary advantage ends when the lone male breaks in, “Wait!” he says with a clap of his hands, this garners him the attention of everyone in the vicinity, myself included. He then points at me with an open hand, “He isn’t disobeying you my wife! This IS his true form!”

I look towards him and grudgingly reward his deductive skills with a half-smile and a single nod of respect. He returns the nod, then his own eyes open with the realization of his own mistake. The blood drains out of his face as he looks toward his wife- this Great Maou who now frowns fiercely at him.  

‘If He is the Husband, and She is the Wife, then that must make the She-Goat….their progeny?!’ I turn my head and stare at the Caprine like child in revulsion. ‘Eeeewwww! (2,3,4,5)’ my not-brothers reply in agreement to my own unspoken disgust. (I did not care to speculate upon how goat genetics managed to get into that mix.)
 
The She-goat seems to comprehend my collective dislike of her when she returns my gaze. Her own face screws into a frown as she sticks her tongue out at me disrespectfully. For some reason, this childish action of hers improves my mood.

“Belphegor!”, the Succubus speaks for once not commanding me to do the impossible, instead her attention is directed towards the She-Goat, “Appraise Him!”

The goat-girl nods her head and says in reply, “Yes, Milady!” She then turns and starts to walk towards me, carrying her oversized War Scythe as if it were nothing more than a baton. She approaches the outermost protection circle and then steps over it as if it wasn’t there. To my amazement, the circle does not impede her progress in the slightest.

In reaction, I place my hand towards where the inner surface of the pentacle should be; instantly I feel some small resistance akin to an invisible wall. The more I press against it the more it resists, and the more it hurts. The She-Goat observes my actions and smirks at me as she steps over the second circle, still approaching.

My hackles rise as I comprehend my situation: ‘I am confined. I HATE being confined!’, my control over my emotions begins to falter as that child-thing approaches me relentlessly. I find myself involuntarily stepping backwards in consternation.
Observing my action, she smiles lewdly, enjoying my discomfort.  She seems to deliberately stomp her hooves louder as she steps ever closer. My smile has long vanished, replaced with a snarl.

The closer she gets, the more my attention is drawn to her finer details. I can see that she has but three fingers along with a thumb on each of her oversized hands/paws? Lace garter stockings combined with a strip of a halter that just barely covers her nipples. On an adult female, such accoutrements would have intrigued me. But I find it beyond revolting on this mockery of a woman.
Finally, she stops just outside the innermost circle. She continues looking over my near naked form as if I am slab of meat, her pupils lingering over select portions of my anatomy. Her mouth opens and I see her tongue blep out for several seconds as her gaze fixates on my loincloth. Bile rises in my throat in response.

Her gaze tells me that I am nothing more than a commodity to her. I sense that she would not hesitate for an instant to turn me into a plaything if given half a chance. I knew then without knowing that she was the cause of my current situation. That Succubus and her husband were just pawns of hers. This “Belphegor” was my greater enemy

At that moment, I felt my back press up against a barrier. A quick glance tells me the truth of the situation, I had continued to back away from Belphegor until I was on the far side of the pentacle away from her. I had nowhere left to go. But I was hardly helpless.

Belphegor revels in my discomfort for a moment longer and then brings her Scythe around to bear. She points the blade end at me and mutters an incantation. My first reaction to this is to immediately raise up my right hand and fire off a Blast-Punch. Too late I hear a mental shout, ‘Primus NO! (2)’, before I realize my mistake.

I duck down to avoid the inevitable ricochet my foolishness created. Somehow, I manage to dodge the dozen or so deflections within the confined pentacle-space until my Blast-Punch expels enough energy on the invisible barrier to dissipate itself naturally. Somehow, I emerge unscathed, physically at least.

I raise my head to see the she-goat laughing at me. For some reason my eyes fixate on a snaggle-tooth on the upper left side of her mouth. I also notice her canines are rather pronounced. After getting control of herself she continues with her spell, though not without a sizable smirk on her face. Her eyes are directed towards me as my face burns with humiliation.

I sense a flow of eldritch energy nearby, so I switch to Second Sight. What it reveals to me is astounding! I can see her War Scythe outlined with a nimbus of dark energy, its spectrum shining forth in wavelengths I do not recall having seen before. Ribbons of dark energy have sprouted from the stationary sphere at the bladed end and they are directed towards me. I see my own aura radiating my unique color signature outwards, and the goat’s dark ribbons appear to be absorbing it all greedily. I have to switch back to normal sight within a short time, as even I cannot abide such an overwhelming cavalcade of colors and magics that permeates this room. Many unusual things occurred there, and recently. The colors and configurations of those events confuse me, leaving me even more discomfited.

I blink away the sight and I see that the She-goat has finished her spell. She’s looking at me in surprise, her mouth wide open as if in shock. The Succubus has also noticed her reaction and is walking rapidly towards us both. “Belphegor!”, she shouts, “Report!”

Blinking, Belphegor shakes herself, then turns to look at her approaching mistress. “He’s human! He’s JUST a human!”, to which the Succubus stops and looks at me in shock as well.

Stung by this inadequate appraisal, I rise to my full height angrily. Then the she-goat turns to her scythe and focuses on something unseen. What she sees makes her smile in a way that sends shivers up my spine. She continues with her report to her mistress, who had chosen to stop next to her, “But he has the Essence of many! He has reserves of Essence equal to four or five high level sorcerers, all of it untapped and untainted!”

What she says next makes my blood chill and my guts clench. “I want it.” she says quietly as she ends the sentence with her mouth agape, saliva already starting to overflow her mouth in a waterfall. I notice then that her pupils are dilating something fierce, her face flushes, reminiscent of sexual excitement. She raises a paw, palm facing me, and then clenches it. Suddenly I feel magical binds wrapping around my body, pinning my arms to my chest; Belphegor grins at me in triumph.

But I am no hedge wizard, easily subdued by a paltry cantrip. Without Secundus’ help I quickly recall an unbinding spell from my own memory and mentally vocalize it, ‘Solvite’, quick as a wink the magical binds that had pinned me flare and dissipate.

Both Belphegor and the Great Maou flinch in surprise. Her face screwing in frustration Belphegor shouts, “Impossible!” I see her already preparing another spell.

‘It is time to turn the tables,’ I say to myself, and with that, I activate my Blast-Punch. But this time I modify it into a static bubble around my right fist. Which I then shape into a Tulwar Force-Blade. Barely has it formed before the She-Goat’s next binding attempt starts to envelop me. With a sharp exclamation, I easily cut through the invisible-to-human-sight ropes, and they too flare visibly into nothingness.

Without waiting for her next move, I then lower myself into a fighting stance and swing my Force-Blade overhand at the pentacle barrier and am rewarded with an audible clang. With no small amount of satisfaction, I notice that where I had struck the invisible barrier, there now stood a semi-visible crack floating in mid-air.

I hesitate for only a second before pressing my advantage. Using a Force-Blade as a mystical cudgel lacked style, but at that moment I did not care for convention. One! Two! Three!, in rapid succession I connect with the ever widening crack.

Out of the corner of my eye, I notice the Fighter/Husband has approached with his sword drawn. I give a him a quick nod and a non-verbal promise before returning to my task at hand.

Suddenly, I feel the effects of another spell cast upon me! It did not come from Belphegor and as I turn I see that the Succubus had crept around behind me while my attention had been distracted by her husband! I had forgotten the First Cardinal Rule of Demons: Never Turn Your Back on One!

 This spell was unlike anything I have ever encountered before! Instead of a physical or mental attack, instead I found myself in a rare state of mind: Sexual Excitement! I am unused to such a tsunami of lustfulness. It was as if the stale Pheromones in the room had suddenly became fiercely potent!
By reflex I drop my Force-Blade which dissipates itself unnoticed into nothingness. I find myself thinking of past women I had both loved and desired. I remember the thrills and joys of the flesh that I had denied myself for so long. I had done so in an effort to avoid giving The Authority any purchase in which to attack my character. It had taken an iron will on my part to diplomatically refuse Odinne’s rare yet persistent advances.

As I reminisced of my days past, I felt my eyes close leadenly. Once again, I could feel the silky smoothness of my beloved’s skin underneath my fingertips as I embraced her from behind. Her raven dark hair flitted in the wind that flowed around us in that hilltop gazebo of her realm. Her hair tickles my nose as one of my hands cups a breast with just a small amount of firmness springing back from my finger pressure.
Her breast’s hardened nipple presses itself into my palm as if to penetrate me in return for my irrumation of her. My lips graze along her neck and shoulders, occasionally sucking at her alabastrine skin in ways that elicits husky growl/moans from her. While my other hand holds her chin in place, I could feel her tongue extend itself outwards and wrap around one of my fingers. She then draws it into her warm and welcoming mouth, sucking gently while holding it firmly in place with her teeth.

I breathe deeply of my beloved’s scent. Her muskiness: the scent of anise that always accompanied my treasured Xiom wherever she walked, or lay.

‘Anise?… Xiom?’ My reverie stops in a sudden realization.

“XIOM IS DEAD!” I shouted aloud as my eyes snapped open as I recognize my vulnerability in a trice. I notice then that my manhood is turgid to the point of being able to cleave Lonsdaleite.

My rage begins to smolder as I realize what this fiendish attack was. My anger grows in force to match my embarrassment at being caught out so easily. My usual checks and balances that I maintain to avoid damaging innocents, crumbles, and I compel forth a huge amount of ambient Earth-Magic that I channel into my Blast-Punch. I then direct it out towards the crack of the Pentacle barrier in one large burst.

Immediately I am thrown back by the backlash of expended power, but I grin at the sight of the pentacle barrier wavering and finally melting away in an ever-expanding circle.
This expelling of mana was massive and I should have felt dissipated, yet I still felt energized. I then step over the remnants of the pentacle barrier and walk over to the first protection circle. I feel more than adequate for the task of freeing myself now.

Then- “Annwyfn Arawn, I command thee to cease thine assaults!”, it is the Great Maou. She has decided to show some of that authority of hers. I turn and face her head on, ready to rip her apart for her temerity! She summoned me! Now I am ready to make her regret that choice!

“Speak Summoner! Why have you ripped me from my home?”, I shout angrily to this ‘Great’ Maou, who was now standing safely across the first protection circle with her Husband on one side of her and the she-goat on the other. I observe that the she-goat is whispering something into her Mistress’ ear.

Ignoring my demand, the Succubus looks at nothing as she nods her head to her child’s advice. She then focuses on me as she straightens up. With a frown on her face, she walks around the outside of the first circle and raises up the hand that is still holding my Covenant Artifact.

“Annwyfn Arawn, I command thee to surrender thy shield!”, she says with a frown, her eyes drilling into mine.

“What? No! I refuse!”, I reply in shock. Yet I could feel my arms reaching up involuntarily to comply with her order. I try to fight it for as long as I can, but it takes only moments for me to comply. My arms are shaking as I battle myself to hold it out to her a few seconds later.

“Now, place your shield on the ground next to the circle.”- she demands. I do nothing as I grimace at her in defiance. She looks confused.

Then, “You must command him in all things using the Artifact milady.”, explains her Husband.  I direct a murderous glare at him. ‘Bastardis!’ I react automatically.

The Great Maou smile her thanks to her husband, she then turns and faces me, “Annwyfn Arawn, I command thee to place your shield on the ground next to the circle!”

I try to fight that as well. But no matter what I do my body acts of its own accord, and does what she demands. I stand up with a frown as I know what she will demand next.

Sure enough, “Annwyfn Arawn, I command thee to kick your shield across the circle’s border!” I somehow manage to resist her for several seconds, but inevitably my body does what she wants. She leaves nothing to chance, damn her!
Suddenly I realize. ‘It made it across the protection circle unhindered. I wonder why?’ An idea begins to form in my head. ‘Brothers? (1)’.  ‘On it! (5)’ came the reply.

I watched unhappily as the she-goat clip-clopped her way over and picked up my shield with a triumphant grin. Her smile falters momentarily as she feels the shield’s inherent coldness spread into her paws. Holding it away from herself, she approaches as closely to me as she dared. Her face is mere centimeters away from mine when she speaks, “Now we have your source of power Arawn!”

Defiantly I blow out a force of breath directed at her.  Half a second later I am rewarded with the sight of her hair swinging in response. It takes all of my remaining resolve to not show so much as a glimmer of the happiness that zephyr gives me. Belphegor gives me an annoyed look in response.

Quintus, does Secundus have anything? (1)’.

 ‘Yes, he reports that he cannot eliminate the sigils, but he can modify them. (5)’

“Now that we have your source of power Arawn,” Belphegor says confidently, “You will be easier to manage.” Outwardly I glare at Belphegor, but continue my internal dialogue.

‘Modify, how? (1)’. Quintus explains and I smile (mentally) at my luck. ‘Quartus, prepare a low power psi-tendril! (1)’ he complies silently.

Just then, Belphegor works a spell of fire over one of her fingers and tries to scratch my shield with it. “NO!” I shout as I hit the barrier between us with a fist. “If you harm that, I will eliminate you from existence!” I threaten her with a shout.

‘Primus! Ward yourself! (5)’, came my backup. I slowly calm myself down in response. Belphegor merely stops what she is doing for an instant. Then with a smile and not looking at me she resumes her vandalization of Xiom’s Gift.

“No.” I say meekly. “Please!” This time I am not acting. Foolishly I look towards the Great Maou for a hope of mercy. I reach out to her in supplication. Additionaly I extend my psi-tendril out into the space between her and me. She doesn’t appear to notice it.

“Why?”, she demands. I flick my psi-tendril across her body and I can feel the level of her energies almost dissipate it. If she feels it touching her, she gives no sign.

“Because it is all I have left…” I reply, trailing off. I extend my psi-tendril even further out until I feel it encounter something. It is something small and movable. I latch onto it eagerly.

“Of?” she demands, her face a steel mask.

I meet her gaze momentarily, and lick my lips. I breathe for a couple of breaths and then I whisper truthfully, “of HER.” The Great Maou holds my gaze for a couple of seconds and then, strangely, her face softens for a moment. She then turns her head and says to her goat-child, “Stand down Belphegor. Harm his shield no more.” During all this, my hand had remained extended. Finally, as I drop my hand, I also mentally pull at the movable item that is some distance away. I feel it jerk, and I notice near the wall’s base an ewer move a few centimeters towards me. But one else in the room does.

My testing completed, I issue the commands, ‘Secundus! Prepare your modification spells! Quartus! Prepare a Telekinetic-Pull! Tertius! I want a combination Jump and Concussive Blast! (1)’, I receive replies of acknowledgement from all three in short order.

Belphegor pretends to comply with her mother’s order. Then in defiance of us both, her finger flame flares till it covers her entire paw. She then grips an edge of my shield with that paw, then she somehow manages to bend a crease into it!

My anger at this point is not in the least feigned. I growl/scream at her in righteous fury, as the Great Maou directs a pretend look of outrage at her daughter and opens her mouth as if to reprove her. Any regret at my duplicity vanishes. I knew then what I must do. So, I move to do it.

The Fighter, unnoticed by me until now, had been keeping a silent mien while observing the proceedings. He suddenly shouts, “WARE!” as I went into action.

I Jump vertically into the air, collecting as many air molecules as I could with a Tertius force-grab. I reach the apex and begin my descent rapidly.
Holding onto the invisible ball of super-compressed air, I force it and my doubled fists grasping it, to make first contact with the ground.
As I expect, the voluminous ‘snap’ of the Concussive-Blast expands swiftly in a ring, knocking everyone and everything surrounding away from its epicenter: Me.
It may have been collected by magic, but the force of the air’s expansion was natural and thus uninhibited by the still intact protection circles.

All three demons are caught off-guard and knocked over and outwards. How could any of them have expected such an attack? I was greatly satisfied as I momentarily glimpsed their looks of surprise at my handiwork, they are all thrown clear out of the outermost circle.  

I extend my left hand to reach out with my Telekinetic-Pull and I locate the object of my desire. A tilt of my head indicates that Belphegor has continued to cling to my shield as if it were a lifeline.

Fool!’ I think to myself. I firmly grip my intended target mentally, and yank it towards me; it rotates satisfyingly as it approaches.

 Deftly, I catch Belphegor’s War Scythe.

I look over at her and she stares at me in profound astonishment. She just ‘knew’ that my shield was my source of power. Now she knew that she had gambled wrong. Anger erupts across her face.

“The tables are now turned, Nanny-Goat!” I shout at her. Her reply is most gratifying, “NO! MINE!” she screams as she runs back towards me, tossing my shield aside in her single-minded fury.
Her mother stops her just in time from crossing over the first protection circle. I keep an eye out for the Fighter, but he appears to be more interested in protecting his wife’s back than he is in helping his daughter.

Belphegor remains shaking in fury on the safe side on the first circle, so I will have to lure her across. To that end, I summon up Metal Magic and grasp the blade of her war scythe with my right hand, and I proceed to give it fair game. “Harm My Shield, I Harm Your Scythe!” I yell to her.

In reply Belphegor summons up a fireball of some sort and directs towards me. Idly, I block it with her Scythe. I am gratified by this outcome, but still nervous as I see her Scythe absorb the bulk of the blast but leaves me mildly scorched. I then stick my tongue out at her, and resume the bending of her blade.

During all of this the Great Maou, for some reason, is directing all of her attention to her child. “Stand Down Belphegor!”, she shouts while ignoring me. Her voice is shaking with a high level of anger and frustration as she screams. It was then I notice that she still holds my Artifact in her left hand, which is pointing in my general direction. Barely had I noticed that when I heard her scream, “Belphegor STAND DOWN or you shall be PUNISH…” a cold chill came over me as I felt the Artifact activate.

Knowingly or Not, The Great Maou had activated my Covenant Artifact’s Punishment Mode. Time slows to a crawl as I beheld that which I feared so greatly occurring: Un-light shooting forth from the Artifact towards me like Black Lightning. It impacts me and I scream in a level of agony that I had not felt since I was in Orcus’ clutches.

My existence becomes a sea of pain. All my senses are converted into a paroxysm of torture. Anyone else subjected to such would have been knocked into unconsciousness within short order. I, on the other hand, cannot be forced unconscious, thanks be to my Cursing. Thus, I get to enjoy my torment for an eternity of minutes.

Eventually, the pain subsides and then ceases. After a bit of time, I open my tear-filled eyes and look around me. I had collapsed onto the floor and I could see Belphegor’s War Scythe lying on the floor of the stone chamber nearby. Its blade tip had somehow been broken off during the interim. Shaking on the floor, I notice that the Great Maou’s attention has diverted her attention to me. I note also that she has the acting skills of a Master Thespian as she pretends to look stricken at my predicament. She then turns her attention to the Artifact she held atop her open palm.

Undoubtedly, she is thinking of a way to increase its power and pain infliction levels. I was lucky that she had only used its first level setting this time around. Any higher and I would not have recovered for hours.

Since her attention was so focused on her new toy, she does not notice Belphegor approaching her. With a snarl, Belphegor snatches the Artifact away from her mother and runs towards me brandishing it in my direction. She ignores the outraged cries of her Mistress as she approaches my position.

Just outside the first protection circle she stops and attempts to invoke it. “Annwyfn Arawn, I command thee to surrender yourself to me!” To which I gave out a weak laugh and spat at her, “Fool of a Nanny-Goat! Only a Lord of Chaos can invoke that! You are nothing!”

In reply, she just turns and looks speculatively at her Mother for a second or three, she then throws my Artifact down upon the ground as if in disgust. With her teeth visibly clenched and her eyes glowing red in anger, she turns back to me and lopes her way over to her now broken scythe.

At this point, I need to catch my breath. So, I lower my guard and divert my attention in an effort to regain my wind.  Dimly I am aware of her hooves rapidly approaching and then stopping. Suddenly, pain fills me once more as something long and narrow strikes me forcefully upon my back.

Like a fool, I push myself up and over to see what is happening. I am answered with the War Scythe hitting me strongly across my chest and I feel something snap within me:  my sternum. Somehow, I manage to dodge the next few blows and I notice then that despite her size, Belphegor has a vicious swing as she forces her broken scythe at me again and again without tiring, screaming invectives at me all the while.

I smile then at the circumstances. Despite the tender ministrations of Maou the Great and Terrible, I had managed to lure the Belphegor not-child within the confines of the first Protection circle. I then avoid the next swing of the war scythe and implement Secundus’ modification spell with a blaze of energy dissipating from my hands as it commences.

Belphegor laughs at me then and says, “You failed, human! I am unharmed by your attempt!” I just look back at her and return a shorter laugh, the sternum paining me too much to do more.

“Did I Nanny-Goat?” I say as I stagger to my feet. She is unnerved at my sudden bravado, so she steps back in consternation. I take a step forward, readying a Blast-Punch, and hold it back long enough for my hand to ache with its unreleased energies, I allow just enough for some of it to drip out of my hand like an overly full tankard of ale. I then toy with her as I shamble over to her, shooting one minor spurt in her direction after another, most of them she deflects with her now broken scythe, some she misses- which end up searing her fur in spots, leaving behind a disagreeable scent.

Finally, she gives up and then turns and runs away, but not for long.  Because she suddenly impacts the inner surface of the Modified protection circle. Dropping her scythe, she lands upon her fundament. She returns to her knees quickly and reaches out a paw which is stopped at the border.

 This is the field modification that Secundus had conjured up in short order: Nothing hostile or beneficent can cross that barrier. She then gives out a small cry of horror as she realizes her predicament. Out of the depths of my memories I recall the circumstances in which I found myself in a similar situation. Only this time I was in power. My left hand finds and then picks up the broken tip of her war scythe.

“I am just a human, Belphegor?” I demand of her, “I Am MORE Human than HUMAN! I AM ANNWYFN!” I scream as I lunge at her. She attempts to flee somewhere-anywhere. She manages to shoot off a minor pulse of light that scorches my chest. I ignore it and its pain, as I continue my pursuit of the now very much afraid demon.
Outside the barrier I can see the Great Maou casting some kind of spell that splashes futilely against the outside of the barrier wall. Her Fighter/Husband also attacks the barrier with his sword- to no effect.

I do not run, for I do not need to. All I have to do is follow the sound of her whimpering to find her. The sound of her breathing catches as I hear her drag the remnants of her War Scythe somewhere behind me. I turn around and face her, eager to see what she will conjure up in her desperation. A rictus plays out across my face as I savor this moment of vengeance against my tormentor, this moment that had been coming for far too long!

She mutters a quick spell and a nimbus of red energy spews forth from her paws. I knock it aside easily with my buckler spell as I step forward.
She chants another spell, and a silver lance springs out of nowhere and impales me through my right chest. She smiles hopefully at the sight. I stop, look down at the lance and grasp it firmly with my free hand. I speak a syllable of dispellation and the lance vanishes without a trace- leaving behind an open wound that bleeds freely.  Her smile vanishes just as quickly, as I step forward.
In desperation she swings her War Scythe at me, which I catch in one hand and jerk it out of her grasp, the remnants of its blade leaving a sizable gouge in my shoulder when I do. I then toss the scythe aside behind me, as I step forward.

I say nothing to her as I am now close enough to loom over her. My rictus is gone as I frown down at her. I am beyond anger, I can only feel a coldness akin to the chill of the Abyss. From nowhere she produces a knife and plunges it into my belly. I ignore it and its pain as well. She tries to pull it out, but to no effect. I can see that she is crying now, so I reach out with my free hand and grasp her firmly by her neck. I raise my hand with the broken blade tip and notice then that it had cut deep into my flesh, yet I had not felt it in the least. Instead, I just clench it tighter. She is mewling now, her arms clutching piteously at my arm, her legs kicking at me with unnoticed impacts. A momentary sense of déjà vu washes over me, but I push it aside.

For some reason, I look up then and I see the Great Maou standing behind her still beyond the circle, she is screaming something at me and has raised my Covenant Artifact in an attempt to get me to do something. But I doubt that even it could penetrate Secundus’ modifications. I then notice her Husband/Fighter do something odd: he is looking towards his queen, and has placed his hand over the Artifact and shakes his head, saying, “Trust Him.”

I look back down at Belphegor and put the blade tip to her throat to ready myself to impale it in her. “Trust Him,” I hear him speak again. I reach the blade back, my fist touching my cheek.

“Arawn.” The Succubus speaks urgently yet softly, “I ask that you do not kill Belphegor.” I tense my muscles to begin the plunge of my knife. “Please.”

I freeze.

My eyes wander up to where the Great Maou is looking at me in consternation. She is holding out towards me my Covenant Artifact on top of her palm. She then turns her hand over letting it fall to the ground. Where it fell, she then kicks it far away from her. My eyes follow its path. She says again, “Please.”

Please?

 No demon has ever uttered that word to me. ‘Trap! (2)’, ‘Trick! (3)’, ‘Trap! (4)’, my not-brothers scream at me. ‘What if it is not? (5)’, Quintus asks.

I hesitate, and then I remember that Déjà vu feeling again. I recall then the situation that triggered it, from a time long ago: a lesser Succubus mewling and pleading for her life as she is choked by a bastard of a Hero before my sight. Long moments pass as I replay the tableau over and over. I look over again at Belphegor, her goat like visage still repels me, yet I also see her as a child. A child-like entity with an immense power yes, a precocious Hell-beast perhaps, but none the less she must have been someone else’s little girl once. This stirs another unbidden memory of tiny hands in my hair.

‘What have I become?’ I ask myself in horror.

I move to relax my hand and let it fall away from Belphegor’s throat. But then I feel Secundus take control. ‘NO! You fool! (2)’ he screams at me mentally, ‘Kill her! Do not let them win, it is a trick! You cannot trust a Demon! (2)’.

“Let go Secundus!” I say audibly. “LET GO! I am the one in charge!” Secundus does not reply verbally, instead I can feel him trying to force my blade hand. A battle for control ensues. All of the Demons in front of me are looking at me incredulously, wondering what is going on in front of them, Belphegor being the most attentive of them all.

 I thought that I could merely maintain the stalemate between Secundus and I as we wrestle for control of my hands. Then I hear Belphegor’s breathing stop as Secundus clenches ever harder at her throat!

I have to do something and quickly! I order him one last time but he ignores me. Finally, I make my choice. I scream loud and long, and I plunge the Blade Tip into flesh.

My flesh.

It is centered upon the Covenant Mark of my right forearm. The pain of such pierces my mind and makes Secundus hesitate, but still he refuses to relinquish!

I continue pressing the blade tip further and further still! The pain of its penetration doubling! Tripling! I continue to push until I can see the tip’s end poking out the other side of my arm. It is now completely through my arm between the radius and ulna bones. “LET GO SECUNDUS!” I scream at him. ‘NEVER! (2)’ he screams back.

I have no choice. I change my grasp on the blade firmly and begin to push it down towards my wrist.
The agony is almost overwhelming in its intensity! Yet Secundus fights me every centimeter of the way, refusing to give in until the last. Then, finally, my goal is achieved: I manage to sever the radial nerve. My hand jerks and twitches, then it goes numb. Finally I am able to let go of Belphegor, who now drops down to the floor breathing great gouts of breath, gasping and choking as she props herself on her paws and knees.

I stumble back and fall to the ground, blood pouring freely from my large wound. I have only minutes before I bleed out entirely. Just then. Secundus dispels his modification and Belphegor is able to crawl out of the circle. I lean back and find that it still works for me as I finish sliding down to the ground, clenching my eyes shut in pain.

Breathing raggedly, I start to get dizzy from blood loss. “Arawn?” I hear a voice call. Opening my eyes, I see that the Succubus has approached me in mock concern. “Let me help you.” She whispers, almost earnestly enough to convince me that she actually might.

Instead I just stare at her, saliva pouring out of my mouth as I start to feel my other wounds and their collective pain starting to overwhelm me. She makes to reach towards my arm and I jerk it away. Some memories can never be forgotten or forgiven, this place in particular.

In defiance of her mockery, I grab the wrist of my now useless arm with my other hand, and lift the blade’s broken end towards my mouth.

 I grasp the blade firmly with my teeth and I give a long slow push with my useful hand against my arm. Slowly and painfully the blade frees itself from my arm.

Looking over at this Great Maou, I decide I should give her accolades. Her acting skills are top notch. She has even managed to force some human like tears to her eyes, along with that stricken look of hers; I could almost believe she was genuinely concerned! I should have taken the time to learn where Demons take their acting lessons when I had had the chance. I could have been immortalized as an actor instead.

But I cannot believe her. She is a Demon, and I have millenia of experience dealing with them.

I searched then for the blade that Belphegor had put into me. I notice then, that at some unknown time, it had fallen unnoticed out of me, allowing some of my intestine to follow.

My search complete, I then began a spell I had not used in a long time: Chaos Healing Magic. The Irony of the situation is not lost upon me. The last time it had been used on me, was here in this very realm thousands of years ago! It is the very magic that I had sold myself into the Covenant for, thousands of years previous to then.

I almost laugh as I complete my spell. But I am interrupted by the inevitable agony Chaos Magic induces in me. Much as I would deny it, I am still a creature of Law, the antithesis of Chaos.  As before, I cannot be driven into unconsciousness, instead I get to enjoy the endless waves of pain as my body arches, then convulses as it knits itself back together whole. Even when the process completes and I need it no longer, the Chaos magic continues to permeate my body as if to spite me. Slowly, inevitably, it evaporates painfully from me like a puddle of water in the hot sun.

Utterly exhausted, I can only watch and pant as I observe the Great Maou speaking to both Belphegor and her Husband/Fighter a short distance away. They appear to be arguing with her over some trifle. Probably a debate over which torture method to use first on me. I do not care anymore either way. They then all move off somewhere out of my view. I could fall asleep, but I would prefer to be awake when my hosts begin their entertainment of torture. . It made sense that this whole operation was a family affair. There was just the three. No guards, no backups. No one extra who would report to an enemy, political or otherwise, if this scheme turned out a failure.

I allow myself to lie on the cold floor to await my doom. Looking out and around I can see many things that had gone unnoticed previously. That the room around me seems to have the accoutrements of a dungeon, yet there something was off about it:
There appeared to be many torture instruments missing from the ensemble. True, there were many stacked up neatly up against the wall. But they were all padded with cushions or had some sort of carpeting attached. My tired mind could not make sense of these anachronisms.

Turning my head, I noticed another odd thing: mirrors. There were mirrors on the ceiling! Looking around, I could see that the entire ceiling was covered with them!  ‘Who puts mirrors on the ceiling of a Dungeon?’ I asked of no one.

I noticed then the Great Maou returning. She approached where I lay and sat down lotus position as close as she dared. For some unknown reason, the Protection Circle was still functional.

‘What do they have to fear from me now?’

After a few seconds, the Succubus tilts her head at me and says softly, “Who are you Annwyfn Arawn?”

‘Is she serious?’ In between pants I answer, “I am Annwyfn, former Servitor to the self-styled Lords of the “Upper” Worlds.”

A look of annoyance passes over her features, “That’s not what I asked”, she half-growls.

Confused, I reply, “I do not understand the question.”

She narrowed her eyes and pursed her lips, looking at me as if in speculation. Finally, “Very well then, I know that you are an Annwyfn. But do you not also have a name in addition to it?”

Slowly, my breathing was returning to normal as I tapped into the background Earth Magic to recharge my stamina. Looking back up at her with slightly less tiredness, I replied as in an even a voice I could manage, “Arawn. My name is Arawn. As well you know, after all- you Summoned me.” To that, she closes her eyes as if I angered her.

I certainly hope I did.’ I think bitterly. But after a moment or three she reopens her eyes and held mine with her gaze.

“I want to know who YOU are, Arawn. Not just what you are, but WHO.”, she speaks in a patient tone.

“Why do you care? Is this supposed to be some sort of…interview?” I demand, incredulous.

“Of a sorts, yes.”

Enraged by this answer, I (barely) get to my feet and use the invisible barrier of the first protection circle as a prop to maintain my balance, despite it biting itself into my skin in reaction.
“You tear me away from my home! You force me away from the life I made! You plop me down into your realm and subject me to various demands and attempts to subdue me; all just to INTERVIEW me?” I demand angrily. I could feel some of my saliva making its way past my lips, but I do not care.

She accepts my vitriol, and opens her mouth as if to reply, but keeps it open for a second more as if her reply got stuck. Instead she breathes in her nose while closing both her mouth and her eyes, then sighs deeply. Returning her gaze to me she replied, “Yes.”

I turn and hobble away from her in disgust. But I could not go far. I was still confined after all.

Facing away from her with my arms crossed, my anger keeping me upright despite my fatigue, I asked, “Why?”

“Because I needed a servi…”She starts.

“NO!” I shouted while turning back towards her. I returned her steely gaze. “Why did you summon ME? Surely you have other Servitors to call upon? But why me, why my Artifact?”, I queried raising my hands in frustration.  I watch her for several seconds as she thought about her answer. I notice then that she had adopted a very human trait: biting her lower lip while thinking. If it were not for her wings, horns, and tail, I would almost have called the action cute.  But I knew better than to point it out to one such as she.

Exhausted, I sit down, rather hard I am afraid. I notice then that the bowl of multi-colored poppets has remained strangely unaffected by the events of the last half an hour. I pull it nearer me.

Finally, I hear her reply, “Desperation.” I stop what I am doing and look up at her again. Now she has my full attention. ‘A demon who admits to being vulnerable? What game is she playing?’ I say silently. ‘Very well, I shall play along with her game.’

“Desperation?” I ask, “What would drive a Demon-Lord to Desperation? Wait!” I smile over to her before she could reply. “Let me guess! You’re losing the war.” ‘There is ALWAYS a war when a demon is involved.’ I think uncharitably (and unfairly).

Just then I notice the rather sizable canyon her silver-metal lingerie top makes in her cleavage. It holds my attention, but only for a second. (Secundus on the other hand is mesmerized.)

She gives me a small smile that somehow makes her somewhat attractive to me. “No. Actually we’re winning.”

Her reply makes me lose my cadence and steals my thunder, despite it confirming what her motivations are. ‘She just wants another pawn to sacrifice in her game of Dragon Chess.’  “Then what do you want with me?”, I speak aloud.

“The Desperation isn’t mine. What concerns me is the desperation of my enemies. They’re losing, and they know it. Answer me this Arawn,” She said, still sitting on the floor across from me, “I’ve seen your desperation here, now, when you thought you were helpless. What did you do?” she demands of me with an arched brow.

Tugging at what was left of my Warrior’s Braid (it had been shredded in my melee), I say quietly, “I became creative.”

“And so have they. I need your help.” My head jerks up to meet her gaze.

“HELP?!” I demanded, “You want my help, why could you not simply have sent out a call instead of,..of,”, I trail off, knowing the answer already.

“Would you have come if I’d called? Assuming that such was even possible?”, she demanded with an imperious glare. I look away.

“No. I would not have, not willingly.” I whisper. I was silent for several seconds, as well as she.

Finally, I returned. “I am here, now. You have my Artifact, you can command me to do anything and I will have to obey. But know you this, “Great Maou,”, I point a finger in her face (or I tried to, I blunt my finger on the barrier), “if you have me try to hurt an innocent, then I will fight you!” She accepts my diatribe with aplomb. I continue, attempting to get a rise out of her, “You may command me to try, but, I will undermine you, I will sabotage you, I will seek out your enemies and sabotage your every effort. You wanted to know who I am Oh Great Maou? This is who I am, someone who WILL NOT HARM AN INNOCENT!”

I expect her to be outraged, if not indignant, at my open rebelliousness. But she is not. Instead she seems almost – dare I say it? Pleasantly surprised.

What she does then, shocks me to my core.

She smiles.

Not a Tiger’s Smile, nor a ‘Promise of Vengeance-Smile’, no. She smiles a smile, almost, of relief. For long seconds I just sit there, looking back at her with suspicion.

Finally, she says (still smiling), “Then I made the right choice in Summoning you.”

“WHAT! Am I supposed to believe that a Chaos Demon doesn’t wish to harm innocents in war? I was schooled millennia ago by one of your Predecessors concerning innocents! ‘Innocents die in war! That is what happens in war! Whether the War is started by Law or Chaos, Good or Evil, Light or Darkness!” I yell aping Orcus’ speech pattern, as I get to my feet faster than before. “Since WHEN do Demons care about Innocents?” I scoff.

“What must I say to convince you of my True Intentions Arawn?” she almost-pleads. ‘Why should she care if I believe her or not?’, I ponder.

I take a chance, “Send me back, Great Maou.” I go down to one knee in supplication, my desperation is not an act at this point. “Send me back to my home that you ripped me from. Demonstrate to me your good intentions!”

She then looks sadly at me, even her wings are drooping. “I’m sorry. I cannot.”

My face freezes. “You cannot?” I demand coldly, “Or you will not?”

“I cannot. True I have the power to do so, but I simply don’t know where your world lies in relation to mine.” She says softly. “Would you have me send you to an almost-world?”

“No,” I say, closing my eyes, ending my statement with a mutter under my breath, “Faex!”

 I had to give her this; the Demons of old would not have been so honest in such dealings. They would have promised me anything, knowing full well they could not deliver, if it meant they got what they wanted from me.

“We need to talk, Arawn. Truthfully with each other as best we might. But that is a problem. I would offer a Truth Discernment Spell from both of us,” she continued, “but that would require my letting you out of your temporary prison, and I’m not ready for that. Yet.”

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 whisper, “There may be an alternative.”

I notice then that I had her full attention.

 

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