The drums beat a heavy time. The fires burned bright. The music trumpeted loud, filling the air with intoxicating mirth. Monsters and their husbands danced around the fire, while those in the shadows engaged in more intimate games. The Love’s Faire demon realm was in full swing.
Sitting on the highest, most decorative chair, was a woman in a festive black dress, cut so revealing it almost didn’t even count as clothing so much as twine. She sat with her goblet full of Demon Realm Wine. Her silver hair flipped wildly about herself as she rocked with laughter from the festivities.
Arabella, the Lilim of Love’s Faire, laughed and joked with her council, watching the dancers below. “What a splendid way to start the new year, don’t you think?” asked the manticore sitting to Arabella’s right. “Have the astrologers thought as what year this is going to be?”
“Year of the Harpy, I think.” answered the ryu to Arabella’s left. “Of course, that might just be them speculating on the mating season ending so soon.”
“Figures, spring is coming up within a few months and the harpies are getting even more antsy than usual.” said Arabella.
“Well,” spoke the manticore, “the single ones are. The mating season draws to a close and they grow restless. They fear not finding a mate this year. Especially the older ones that have seen a few seasons.”
Arabella thought for a moment. “Hmmm…” the lilim’s gaze wandered over to the sparring pits. All monsters were welcome to celebrate in their own way, which undoubtedly led to a sparring pit. You couldn’t get salamanders, ogres, dwarves, and pretty much every combative monster type in one place without fights breaking out. Luckily, most of them took it in good fun and thus turned to the sparring Pits to beat each other senseless and show off in front of prospective males.
Arabella’s eyes fell on the current combatant, a white-haired lizardgirl fencing a red oni. Midori, captain of the Night’s Guard. The small lizard danced about, battering the brawler oni with her demonic silver rapier.
“Tell me, Serana.” the lilim asked aloud, still staring at the sparring pit. “Has Midori found a husband yet?”
“I don’t think she has, my Lady.” answered the echidna sitting down from her. “You know how those lizards can be. All fight and no play.”
Arabella took another sip of wine, venturing into deep thought. She put her glass on the table and signaled for a servant to come refill it. “Have Midori take as many single harpies as we can find, and tell them to go to Kinjiru’s Crossing.” Serana nodded. “As you will, my lady.”
“Tell them to let no human pass through the Crossing. And take as many arachne that want to go, too.” said the lilim, smiling over her up at the agile figure of the Night’s Guard Captain. This was promising, she thought to herself.
Kinjiru’s Crossing was a large stone bridge crossing a vast, deep chasm. Legends say that the chasm was gouged into the earth by the fire of a mighty dragon fighting one of humanity’s first heroes. Regardless of the legends, the Crossing was a popular toll road into the Lestrathian Empire. Most merchants opted to pay the toll rather than take the weeks-long detour, and the Empire profited immensely.
The Love’s Faire demon realm was on the opposite side of the Crossing, though the Empire never did seem to mind demonic commerce. Emperor Lestrath was more that open to demons in his realm, provided they brought gold and trade to pump into his economy. Lestrath was on friendly terms with the Demon Realm at its border. It was this that caused the human guards of the Crossing were quite surprised when a detachment of demons arrived on their doorstep and seized control of the bridge.
They came silent as shadows. The spiders were commanded to weave webs under the bridge while Midori had the lookouts carried off by harpies, to prevent them from raising an alarm. Once everything was ready, she dismounted her demonic horse, and strolled out in full view of the single barricade, sword at the ready.
Midori, the platinum-haired lizard of Arabella’s Night’s Guard. Her hair was cropped short under her white cavalier hat. It almost drooped over her eyes, a striking blue. The red accent of the Love’s Faire crest, two hearts tied together with ribbons, stood proud on her tabard. She also wore long white fencer’s gloves, and sturdy red boots.
The humans came out of their positions, succumbing to curiosity. Normally, demons passing through meant gifts, and often times more. The appearance of a single lizard girl did not stir them into action, as the sight of demons was pretty common place along the toll road. “Halt, lady.” the leader said. Midori assumed this was the leader since the man bore the only helm adorned with a feather. She obliged, stopping short of the entrance to the barricade. “Are you all right?” asked the captain. “What business have you?”
Midori drew her sword in one fluid motion, the demonic silver gleaming in the moonlight. She pointed it at the captain, “By order of Lady Arabella, Ruler of Love’s Faire, you are hereby ordered to surrender this post.” The captain backed up a pace, no demon had ever drawn a weapon at the Empire. “But we have never had quarrel with Love’s Faire. What is the meaning of this?”
“It is not my place to interpret the will of my leige. Order your men to stand down in the name of Arabella.” answered Midori. The captain steeled himself, “I will not bow to the words of some demon wench. Men, arrest her!”
Four guards advanced from their positions at the barricade, and four were carried off by the harpies in waiting. They swooped down as silent wisps, and in the next instant, the men were being carried off into the dark of the night. Their cries rallied the rest of the outpost. The Captain turned to the rest of his men. “Send riders to the Emperor! Love’s Faire has betrayed us!” he barked.
More men clamored onto the backs of horses and tore down the Crossing at breakneck speed. Midori pointed her sword, “After them!” she cried. “Let none escape to send word to the Empire!” Shadows swooped overhead as more harpies took flight. The arachne crawled up from under the bridge, seizing men and dragging them back over the edge into the embrace of their webs.
The battle lasted mere moments. The outriders were pulled off of their horses and taken to the trees. Soldiers were dragged off of the bridge into the arms of the arachne. Midori fought the captain, clashing steel on silver as she battled him to the edge of the Crossing. A swift kick sent the poor Captain over the edge. His screams echoed off of the stone cavern before she saw a harpy swoop low to snatch him out of the air. He, too, was carried off and disappeared into the canopy. Several more knights met this fate before the battle was over.
Midori sheathed her rapier, the cries of the captured men turned into moans of lust as the monsters that managed to capture a man wasted no time in acquainting themselves with their new husbands.
The lizard girl huffed out a sigh, as the unlucky monstergirls slowly meandered back to her side. They ventured into the barricade, some of them in hopes of finding a heavy sleeper or two. Midori, however, beelined for the kitchen and rummaged around for a drink. She wandered over to sit in the former Captain’s chair, and sat down to wait.
The song of steel rang out, preceding the cries of more men that were sent over the edge into the waiting arms of the monsters below. “Sir.” said Captain Farrow, “That’s over a dozen knights we’ve sent.” Captain Farrow stood in full armor, his helm at his side. On the finest looking warhorse the Empire had ever seen, sat Commander Auren. “Are you telling me that a dozen of our finest soldiers can’t handle a single demon?” he said incredulously.
“She, ah… does have skill.” voiced the frail-looking youth in a blue robe adorned with silver stars. “Sir,” started the Commander, addressing the youth before he was cut off by a voice yelling from the bridge. “Is there no man who can stand before me!?” yelled the lizard in white. Commander Auren pulled a face, the aged lines on his face evident. “Sir,” he said again, “We are due back at the Capitol within the week. We cannot afford these delays.”
“I think we can afford to keep supplying the Demon Realm with men even less.” voiced the youth. “Yes. Sir.” said Auren, his mouth tight and his expression cold. Auren was the sort of man who did not appreciate babysitting, which was exactly what he called his duty to the youth.
Rigel Surr, was the Royal Librarian, or had been ever since the death of his master. A minor noble in any respect, but the Emperor was fond of books. It was often said that the Emperor preferred the company of books to people, a fact which Rigel could certainly respect. He felt very much the same way.
“We can’t just keep throwing men at her, that won’t work.” Rigel continued. “And we can’t go around, right?” Commander Auren shook his head, “No, sir.” The librarian sighed deeply, slumping his shoulders. “Of course something like this happens. Why couldn’t this just have been a normal, quiet trip? It’s my fault, you know.” he said, “I should have known no good happens when I leave the library.”
As a minor noble, Rigel was often sent on small diplomatic missions that the Emperor didn’t really want to go to. The Librarian was returning from a trip to attend the Elven Nation’s Princess’ birthday. Rigel had been unused to the attention, and was glad it was over. Being a human, the pure elves enjoyed their giggles and snide comments. Rigel did his best to ignore them, which only caused them to try harder.
First the cutting humor of elves and now a demonic lizard beating up his guards. Rigel lamented again as he heaved himself off of his horse with great effort. It wasn’t that he was exactly weak, or rather, weak for a person who spent all his time cooped up with books, but he did generally try to avoid effort in general.
The Librarian moved away from his horse, gesturing for his men to stand back. They did so uneasily, not too eager to let their charge venture so close to the demonic adversary. Midori looked at the approaching man curiously. A thin, wiry youth. Surely no warrior. “Come to challenge Captain Midori, have you?” she called out to him. “Brave, but foolish.”
Rigel looked at the lizard girl as one might look at a strange species of rare bug. “So…” he said, unsure of exactly what to say. He was never good at talking to women. “You’re guarding the bridge, huh?”
Midori looked at Rigel much the same way, then nodded. Her expression grew stern, wary of any trickery. “Yes. By order of Lady Arabella, no human may pass.”
“Uh-huh.” nodded, Rigel. “None at all? Not even a little bit?”
Midori steeled her gaze again, not entirely sure what to make of this boy. “No. None at all.”
“Well, we need to cross to get back home. Can we please do that?”
Midori shook her head, “Not unless you can best me in single combat!” she declared.
“Uh-huh. And that’s the only way? Where are we supposed to go if you won’t let us cross?” asked Rigel.
“I don’t know. Somewhere else!” Midori said, unused to so much talking. She wished he would just attack. He looked like a spellcaster, she could handle those.
“But you’ll let us pass if someone beats you?” he asked again.
Midori glared, brandishing her rapier and causing Rigel’s guards to advance a few paces. “Yes! Now either ready yourself or go away! You talk too much!”
Rigel threw his hands up and backed away. “I’m not ready… I’ll fight you, but I need a day, all right?”
Midori looked at him suspiciously. “It doesn’t count if you set up traps or anything! Not that you could, because we control the bridge. We fight on the bridge!”
Rigel nodded. “All right, all right. I’m just tired from traveling all day. It wouldn’t really count as beating me if I’m tired, right? I mean, I’m sure you’re tired too from beating so many guys. We should both be at full strength if it’s gonna be a proper fight, right?”
The lizard girl eyed him over, mulling his words in her head. “I could beat you even after beating so many of your people!” she declared defiantly, “But rest for as long as you need. It will make no difference.”
Rigel bowed to Midori with a smile, “Then I will meet you in battle tomorrow, milady. Fare well, all right?” The lizardgirl flushed. She had never had a man bow to her before, and she would have never admit it, but she rather liked the feeling. “Just because you’re nice to me doesn’t mean I’ll go easy on you! Those kinds of tactics won’t work!”
Rigel nodded as he rose, “Of course, Lady Lizard. Until tomorrow then.” he said, turning to take his leave. He was a few paces away until he heard her call after him, “Um, my name’s Midori, all right?” He turned back with a smile, nodding with a wave. “Of course, Lady Midori. So sorry.”
“That… that’s all right.” Midori said, her voice too low for him to hear. She shook her head fiercely, willing herself to stop blushing. Sure, he was nice, but he definitely wasn’t stronger than her! Sure, he was cute in a frail sort of way, but lizardwomen needed someone strong! Only strong males could bear strong children, and even if he was cute, it would never happen with a guy like him. Not him, she thought.
Rigel moved back toward his horse, and gestured to Farrow. “Captain, set up my tent. We’ll camp by the road tonight.”
“Sir?” the captain asked.
“It’s still a few hours before dusk.” said Auren. “We should move on. We could make good time along the detour if we set out now.”
“Nah, just make camp.” said Rigel offhandedly, not really paying attention. “And, I need a sword.” he added as an afterthought. Auren looked at him as if he had grown a second head. “Surely you don’t intend to actually go through with this.” the Commander asked. Rigel shrugged, “I do, why?”
“Sir, with all due respect, I can’t allow you to risk-”
“You will allow whatever I command.” said Rigel irritatedly, growing impatient. “Or shall I inform the Emperor that his soldiers grow insubordinate?” Aruen glowered at the Librarian, “No, sir.” he said with as much contempt as he could hide, before unbelting his sword and throwing it at Rigel’s feet. He trotted his horse off back to the rest of the men. “We camp here!” he shouted, as if it were his decree. Rigel paid him no mind.
The evenings passed as the humans milled about. Auren received several notifications of scouts sent to forage for food being abducted, and placed a limit on how far from the camp they could wander. Too many men had been lost already. The Librarian disappeared into his tent with Auren’s sword, and did not come out. Not even when mealtime came around did Rigel venture forth from his tent. The only evidence that he had not been taken by the monsters was the constant muttering that could be heard if one ventured close to his tent.
Auren got little sleep. He was a soldier in the middle of a warzone as far as he was concerned, and kept the watch alert.
Midori, however, knew full well that she had the strength to overtake the human camp and abduct them all. Still, she couldn’t help but wonder if that silly mage was really going to meet her in battle. She was excited to see what morning would bring, and stayed her hand, much to the disappointment of her eager harpies and arachnes. She prepared for the coming battle, and slept restlessly.
The sun rose to find the human camp relatively unmolested, and Auren thanked the Chief God that they had not been taken in the night. Rigel poked his head out of his tent with a yawn. “Dawn already? Aww…” he said in that tone of his that made Auren grind his teeth. Rigel came out of his tent proper, the sword strapped awkwardly inside his robe. Pitiful, thought the Commander. A wet behind the ears scholar playing at soldier.
“You cannot mean to go through with this.” asked the Commander sourly. “Sorry, Sir, but I forbid it.” he said, stepping in front of the Librarian. “Don’t be silly.” said the Librarian, who breezed passed the Commander as if he were made of wind, leaving Auren off balance. Auren quickly righted himself, looking after the fading figure of Rigel. “How in the hells did he do that?” he wondered out loud. He never before had seen the youth move so gracefully. “Magic.” he spat.
Midori blinked as Rigel approached the bridge. She had seen him bowl right through the big guy in the armor, and blinked as if trying to ensure she really just seen that. She shook her head furiously, and steeled herself. She held her rapier at the ready as Rigel drew close. “I don’t know what trick you’re trying to pull, but you better know it won’t work on me!” she said confidently.
“Really? I thought it would.” said Rigel with a smile, rubbing the back of his neck innocently. Midori glared, “You can’t trick me like that, mage! I’m Captain of Arabella’s Night’s Guard. Even a spellcaster is no use against my blade!” she declared defiantly.
Rigel held his smile. “Oh? How terrible for me, then.” he said calmly. Then he yawned. He didn’t mean to, it just sort of crept up on him. He hadn’t slept well the day prior. Midori glared, fighting back a yawn herself. “Don’t mock me, spellcaster! Here, to start us off, why don’t you do hit me with your strongest attack. That way we can end this quickly!”
The Librarian shrugged. “Uhh, alright. If you say so.” Midori grinned at him confidently, “You can start, I won’t attack until you do. Give me your strongest spell, even if it has a long cast time!” Rigel shrugged again, “Heh, okay then. If that’s what you want…”
The air suddenly crackled with energy as Rigel closed his eyes, and magic began pouring out of him. The humans gasped in surprise as purple charges of energy started arcing away from the Librarian. The scholar held up a hand, and the energy concentrated into his outstretched palm. “I invoke the secrets of powers long forgotten, awaken your minds and heed my command…” the Librarian chanted, energy coalescing around him. He pointed at the lizard girl, and opened his eyes. “Imperial Flare!” he shouted, and all of the concentrated energy shot from him like a dart. It seemed to explode into a dozen tiny fragments that rained down around Midori like falling stars. The lizard girl was obscured with dust and debris from the abused bridge.
The humans behind him cheered. Captain Farrow looked to Commander Auren, “Uhh, did you know he could do that, sir?” he asked. Auren’s agape mouth couldn’t form words.
The cheering turned out to be premature, as a girlish laugh rang out from the dust cloud. A smirking harpy sent a gust of wind down the bridge, clearing the debris away. Midori stood confident, leaning on her rapier, giggling heartily. “Was that really your best?” she asked smugly.
Rigel shrugged. “Right now, yeah.” he said. Midori shook her head, “Tsk tsk tsk. Sorry, but it’s not good enough. I’ll give you the chance to surrender now. If you do, I’ll let you choose which girl gets to take you home~” the lizardgirl cooed. Rigel shrugged again. “Really?”
The Librarian strode forward, to the anguished cries of the humans. “Don’t do it, sir! You can beat her!” the men yelled in protest. Rigel walked calmly down the length of the bridge toward Midori, shaking his head as he tried to stifle another yawn. He stopped when he stood before the smirking lizardgirl. “So, uhh… how did you survive that without a scratch?” Rigel asked, looking at the deep scores he had blasted out of the rock of the large stone bridge.
Midori giggled, “I know spellcasters are strongest when they’re full of energy.” she said with a bit of pride, “Most demons know magic, and I know a lot of protection spells to counter them.”
Rigel nodded, looking thoughtful. “And what schools of magic did you counter?” Midiori grinned wide, “All of them!”
“Impressive.” he said, reaching into his cloak. Midori was too busy gloating to notice, “You know, you’re the first human I’ve seen who ever had a bit of sense. Why fight it, you know? It’s so much easier to just accept it, right? Come on, I’ve got plenty of nice girls to show y-”
Rigel hefted the sword, still in its scabbard, and brought it out, swinging wide to land a square blow right on the lizardgirl’s flat stomach. She looked almost betrayed before the force of the blow send her skidding over the stones to land in a crumpled heap at the other side of the bridge.
Ever the fighter, Midori quickly rose to her feet, gripping her rapier. “That was a low blow!” she said, tearing at frightening speeds back down the bridge. Rigel gave a half-hearted sort of laugh, “Yeah, kinda.”
His nonchalant manner only served to anger Midori. She had been a fool to let her guard down, but she had never expected this weakling to be so strong. How was he so strong!? One blow sent her flying!
She closed the distance at a sprint, and lunged at the Librarian’s heart with her demonic silver blade. She would end it quickly. Or at least, she would have had he not breezed out of the way, light as a cat on his feet. She made a few more lunges and swipes, each one deftly avoided by Rigel.
Midori grew more and more frustrated as she missed blow after blow. only after one of her most complicated swordplay techniques sent Rigel dancing away to gain some distance from her weapon, did she finally stop to glare at him full of rage. Her teeth ground against each other as she spoke with a clenched jaw, “You. Explain. How!?”
Rigel just rubbed the back of his neck with his free hand, giving that aloof smile that was so charming. No, not charming. Where had that thought come from? It was annoying! Yeah, that’s what it was! Annoying human!
“Well, I figured you’d not think I was much of a swordsman. So I kind of tricked you. You spent all your night preparing to fight a spellcaster, right? Well, I never intended to fight like that!” he said with a lighthearted laugh, not taking the battle seriously at all. Midori glared even harder.
Midori rushed forward again, but her rapier was met with his sword, a sword still in its scabbard. Midori couldn’t figure why, but Rigel knew of demonic silver, and couldn’t bring himself to fight with a lethal weapon against a nonlethal one. Even he believed in fighting with honor.
The Librarian met the Lizargirl blow for blow, though he was mostly on the defensive. As augmented as he was with as many magical protections and enhancements as he could cast within a day, he knew that absorbing hits from the demonic silver blade would end poorly for him. Even protected as he was, too many hits would drain his spirit energy and leave him vulnerable.
For his part, every attack was parried expertly by Midori. Unfortunately, magical augmentations did not improve his skill with a sword enough to matter against a seasoned combatant like Midori. The battle waged until the sun was high, and Rigel’s breath began to come slower.
Midori grinned as she noticed his parries became labored, his attacks more harried. “Your magical protections can only last you so long, human.” she said in a voice sweetly antagonistic. “Once they wear off, you’re mine, you know!”
Rigel backpedaled away from another lunge of Midori’s, narrowly avoiding being skewered on it. “Yeah… I know…” he said between breaths. “Unfortunately, this battle won’t last that long.” The Librarian lowered his sword, which put Midori on her guard. “What are you talking about?” she said, then grinned again, “Had enough? Going to surrender now?” she teased. ‘
“Nah,” Rigel laughed again, “I’m just not used to moving around this much. Even my magically enhanced stamina can’t take much more. I’m just not a fighter.” Midori laughed mockingly back at him, “Well, anyone could see that. So if you’ll just surrender-”
“Wait, let me finish.” said Rigel, his aloof smile curling into a wry grin. “What I am is the Royal Tactician.” he said, “My strategies have won the Empire many battles against its enemies, and this time is no different!” Midori eyed him suspiciously. “What are you on about?” she demanded.
Rigel opened his robe, and aside from the ample view of his underwear, Midori noticed a large gem around his neck, brimming with energy. Before she could react, or perhaps because she spent a split second too long eyeing the male’s half-naked form, Rigel gripped the gem. “Distortion Wave!”
Then, the Librarian exploded. Unleashing all of the stored spirit energy in the magic gem, a giant pulse of magic energy surged outward, blowing the lizard girl off of the edge of the bridge. She didn’t fall far before she was caught by an arachne’s web, but she lay there dazed as Rigel moved back towards his men. “Did anyone by chance make breakfast?” he asked.
Rigel’s procession made good time back toward the Capitol, their spirits high and mirthful. “So how did you… do all that, anyway?” asked Captain Farrow. Commander Auren had retreated to the back of the party, still working out what he’d just seen. “Well,” the Librarian said with a mouthful of pear, “The gem was my old Master’s. He gave it to me after he died. I spent all night channeling magic into it. Well, all the night I wasn’t performing the enhancement rituals, heh. After that it was just a matter of getting her into the right position…”
“Where did you even learn all that?” the Captain asked. Rigel shrugged, “When you spend all day reading magic books, you pick up things.” he said with a laugh, taking another bite of his pear. “Same thing with strategies. You’d be surprised how much you can learn by reading about history, you know…”
Midori came to her senses a while later, and by the time she clamored back onto the bridge, Rigel and his guards were long gone. She took a long, silent look down the pathway toward the capitol. He had beaten her.
That scrawny human had beaten her.
She glared down the path, sheathing her sword. There was only one thing left to do in her mind, and she would do it, come hell or high water. She gave a whistle, calling her demonic horse from out of the treeline. She hopped into the saddle, and took off down the path toward Lestrath’s Capitol.
Arabella and her council laughed at the scene that played out on the scrying crystal. “Well, that was certainly unexpected.” she said with a sip from her cup. “I can say I’m impressed with the little noble.”
“Emperor Lestrath is going to be upset once he learns you attacked his outpost.” voiced the manticore.
Arabella waved dismissively, “I’ll tell him it was just a big joke and give him a heap of gold. He’ll forgive me.”
“And if Midori is successful in devoting herself to this Rigel, you’ll have a woman inside Lestrath’s court. How devious~” voiced the ryu.
“I know, right?” said Arabella, succumbing to a bit of vanity, “The seeds have been planted, girls. Give it a couple of decades and Lestrath will be a fully brimming Demon Realm. To us!” she said, raising her glass.
The monsters raised their glass, and toasted their demonic wine. The year was certainly promising to be a good one.