Paved With Good Intentions Chapter 9


~Regrouping~

Sigrdrífa didn’t stick around after Caitlin’s sudden disappearance in a literal cloud of smoke. On the contrary she pulled him under her arm and flew away at top speed. Being up so high and going so fast with a silent and probably, definitely, angry Valkyrie was the most terrifying experience of his young life. When the two landed Jacob had to rest himself against a tree to catch his breath while fighting down the urge to dry heave.

By the time he was done with that he was tossed a cloak. Having somehow gotten rid of her wings, weapon and armor the now humanized Valkyrie adorned a similar cloak as a disguise. After conjuring up a rucksack through magic they continued on foot with their ultimate destination being a town called Freyburg.

He knew of the town, having looked at the map of Wenia and its territories as part of his studies in the past. There wasn’t anything particularly special about the place however in this instance it made for a pretty special place considering it was a few days travel from Everguard by carriage. Jacob didn’t know what was more surprising, the fact that Riseth was able to use her magic to teleport him over such a distance (barring the hours of travel by carriage) or that Sigrdrífa managed to traverse such a distance in a matter of hours without teleporting.

‘Is that why she seems tired?’

Jacob was observant enough to notice that much, especially when she was keeping herself close to him. Or more likely she was keeping him close to her. The two arrived just after sunset where they were allowed inside after a bit of monetary persuasion on the disguised Valkyrie’s part. He was surprised she didn’t reveal her true identity since it would have made getting inside easier and in all honesty she seemed like the type to do such a thing.

Afterwards they ventured to an inn where Sigrdrífa got them a single room under the guise of being relatives. The room itself was a small one, containing two beds on opposite ends, a window in the middle that shone moonlight into the room, a chest under it for storing things and a shelf above each bed with lamps above them.

“Light the lamps” Sigrdrífa ordered while handing him a tinderbox.

As he got to doing that he couldn’t help but sneak glances over at the Valkyrie who cut a very different picture without her wings. She pressed a hand to the door and after intoning some words that he could not understand he saw a golden glow pass from her hand to the door and for a brief moment he was treated to sight of golden runes spreading across the room itself before disappearing.

“Jacob.”

The boy jumped at her voice. In the small and relatively quiet space of the room Sigrdrífa’s voice was loud without even being so but it was the proximity that got to him. Turning away from the already fading rune he found that the Valkyrie was now standing relatively close to him. She had also unveiled her wings in his moment of distraction, something he cursed himself for.

“The runes you just saw are part of a magical enchantment” she explained “it allows me to sense all within this room and any who approaches, no one is allowed in or out of this room without my consent and should they try they will incur penalties.”

Jacob swallowed at the intense look she gave him and he could read between the lines of that very obvious statement.

“You aren’t going anywhere. Don’t try to escape. If you do I will know and there will be consequences.”

“Finish lighting the lamps and sit down.”

While he lit the lamps Sigrdrífa stood by the window peering outside. Within moments Jacob was finished, seated and awaiting her judgment with all the anxiety of a man waiting for his turn at the gallows. After a few more moments he heard more than he saw Sigrdrífa move since he kept his head down like the admonished child that he was.

“Jacob.”

Tensing lightly he looked up to meet her eyes and only regretted it a little. The Valkyrie was just as stern faced as she always was but there was something softer in her eyes. He didn’t know how he knew that but it just felt that way to him.

“I would first like to offer my apologies.”

“Huh?”

That was not what he was expecting.

“These past few days I should have been preparing you for the journey ahead instead of keeping my distance. If I had kept a closer eye on you then those monsters would have not been able to get to you in the first place. I have failed you for reasons unbecoming of your mentor and a celestial servant of Erestia and for that I am sorry!”

Jacob kept quiet, not just because he didn’t know what to say but also of his opinion on that what if scenario where she actually did the things she thought she should have. In all honesty he preferred things as they were right now since he was not in the state of mind to deal with Sigrdrífa in his life after that first encounter. Also the time spent away from her was time he spent reconciling with his parents and accepting his new lot in life even if it was still a work-in-process.

And if he hadn’t been taken by those four then he would forever wonder about Eveleena and the nature of his relationship with her. There was also the added benefit of getting a truthful(?) account of the history and current nature of the ‘monsters’ humans have been fighting against. So while it may not have been the ‘right’ thing to do Jacob actually appreciated the Valkyrie’s lack of attention towards him.

“Now with that out of the way” she took a seat on the bed opposite of him and gave him a piercing look “I need to know how you ended up in their clutches. What did they do with you and most importantly” her gaze hardened further “why are you sympathetic towards them.”

Jacob hesitated ‘should I tell her?’

The question gave him pause but in the end he decided to give her the facts of the incident while withholding his personal opinions. Starting with their names he went on to tell her about his wanderings in the market, of how Caitlin used an illusion of Evelyn to lure him into an alley and Riseth teleported them outside of Everguard. He gave brief introductions to Roselyn and Ysmeina as well as the reason for why they abducted him. He told her of their travel by carriage and the words exchange within that was Riseth’s explanation of the history of monsters, Lilith and Mamono.

Sigrdrífa listened to him silently throughout his explanation. Her hardened eyes near unblinking and never straying from his face. By the end of the explanation hers was a look of intense contemplation, one that continued for moments even after he had finished his peace. When she finally broke the silence it was with a question asked in a surprisingly calm tone.

“What do you think of all this?”

“What do I…think?” he reiterated slowly.

That was the one thing he dreaded her asking.

“Yes, your opinion is what matters here Jacob. You can speak freely. I won’t admonish you for it.”

He wasn’t so sure about that. Knowing from history just how a difference of opinion can have a major effect on people’s lives. Regardless he had no choice now, lying was never an option and his attempt at deflection failed. No it was more to say that it never stood a chance in the first place.

“I think they are telling the truth” he admitted “those women were not the monsters I grew up hearing about.”

“Is that why you argued for the life of that Succubus?”

He nodded stiffly with a resolute expression “yes.”

“Your empathy is wasted on her.”

“They did not mean me any harm and treated me well” he paused licking his dry lips “and I feel the same is true for Evelyn.”

That got a reaction, a scowl and a tightening of her gripped hands however she kept silent urging him to continue.

“I don’t know why she targeted me but she has been nothing to me but a good friend for all the time I have known her.”

“…is that all?”

He pursed his lips “I believe they were telling the truth but at the same time it feels like they left things out.”

He learned from his mother that truth is a malleable concept. History is decided by the victor in wars and was often used to paint a situation in whatever way they liked. Even if they were nice and harmless to him Jacob was never going to take their word for it regardless. Being critical of their words made him pick up on the inconsistencies as well.

“They say that the only reason why there is a war right now is because of the Goddess Erestia.”

There was also the Order’s fanaticism but it hinted at the same issue. Without the Goddess there wouldn’t be a war but what does that even mean?

“You are correct” Sigrdrífa interrupted his thoughts “on both accounts. They were telling the truth to a certain extent. Lilith did change everything and without the Goddess there would not be a war. Now what that actually means is that there would be no defense against the monsters for their attempts at pacifying the other races and effectively conquering the world.”

“What Lilith did to the monsters of old has more insidious implications than what can be discerned at first glance. Yes monsters are no longer grotesque in appearance, savage in mentality or destructive in instinct but in exchange for their forms becoming more appealing to mortal sensibilities they gained a penchant for rationality and are now far more cunning than ever.”

“These ‘Mamono’ use their new forms, rationality and cunning to manipulate mortal empathy and gain their sympathy. Worse they use this in conjunction with dark sorcery to corrupt mortal minds to their way of thinking unknowingly. For the last thousand years Lilith and her ilk have spun a narrative for the later generation that they are the ones being oppressed, that Lady Erestia and the Holy Order are oppressors and that they are the only ones who can free humanity from their ‘tyranny’.”

‘What?’

That can’t be real…can it?

“At present the current generation of ‘Mamono’ believe themselves to be liberators, freedom fighters or even ‘heroes’ of their own tales. As I have come to understand it, the situation is not made better by the fact that some humans in high positions, especially those affiliated with the Order, are every bit the incompetent, arrogant and self centered oppressors they are being propagated as.”

“But regardless of this fact and regardless of what they might think Mamono are not heroes and their brand of salvation will result in the dooming of your immortal soul. Most mortals don’t think of life beyond the one they currently have and they especially don’t take into account their own souls when they accept the riches, worldly pleasures and corruption from these creatures.”

Sigrdrífa briefly closed her eyes “whatever pain and suffering you may experience in this life know that there is a life after death and the gates of Heaven are open to all of Erestia’s true followers” when her eyes open they glimmered an almost ethereal gold “that is why whatever troubles may come, whatever negative opinion you may have of the Order, the church or even myself Jacob I implore you to not fall to their temptations.”

Jacob felt something washing over him. It caused his posture to go rigid and his eyes to widen in shock. His mind was distant but he felt himself nod at her words for which he received a nod in return before the Valkyrie stood up. Both the light in her eyes and her wings disappeared as if they were both just an illusion.

“I will procure some food, stay here.”

Wordlessly nodding again he watched as she left the room before falling back onto the bed proper.

“I don’t know if I can take anymore of this.”

He really wished this stuff was as simple as people made it out be.

~O~

“Am I dead?”

Those were the first words uttered by Riseth after she became conscious.

“If you are then the afterlife sucks” was the dry reply.

The Witch turned her head to the side to find Roselyn huddled in the far corner a good distance from the bonfire.

“Not impre-ow” trying to sit up Riseth had to lie back down as her chest flared up in pain “yep, still alive.”

“Don’t move” Caitlin’s voice piped up as she came into view.

“Caitlin.”

“You took a direct hit from the Valkyrie’s holy weapon.”

“Feels like it” the diminutive Witch grumbled “how are we alive right now?”

“We were rescued” Caitlin supplied before pointing to the mouth of the cave where two familiar figures stood conversing.

One of them was Ysmeina however the other was another Mamono whose appearance saw her as hailing from the eastern lands. She was tall, full figured and dressed in a tight purple bodysuit with chainmail armor woven into the fabric and a mask covering her mouth. Her ears were pointed much like a Succubi’s and she possessed a tail though hers was thinner, more sinuous and ended in a sharp metallic arrowhead tip. Her waist length black hair was tied in a high ponytail and thick bangs covered her left eye.

“Sayuri?” she whispered “when did she get here?”

“Apparently lady Sarsea sent her to find us” Roselyn supplied.

“After confirming Lady Eveleena’s survival” Caitlin added.

The injured Witch felt a weight lift off her conscious at the news of her mistress’ survival. Not that she truly doubted it but seeing as how her assailant was without injury or malady it posed the question of just how bad Eveleena had been beaten. The question in itself would never have been something Riseth thought she would consider given just how strong Eveleena was but having seen the Valkyrie in action she could believe that her mistress lost to the heavenly warrior.

As galling as it was to admit.

Armored footsteps brought the Witch out of her thoughts as Ysmeina approached. The Knight’s armor had cuts and dents all over it however the most prominent deformation was the neck area used to fasten her head to her body.

“I am glad to see you awaken Riseth.”

“Awake and wanting answers” looking around she found someone missing “I see the boy’s not here.”

The Dullahan frowned “yes, the Valkyrie has taken Jacob.”

“Taken?”

Not killed?

Riseth was under the impression that the Valkyrie was after Jacob because of his importance to Eveleena. It is fairly well known that targeting a Demon’s contractor is one of the most effective methods of damaging them.

The Dullahan nodded to her question “it seems Jacob’s importance is no longer just to lady Eveleena.”

“What does that mean?”

That’s when Caitlin took over “when we were hiding Jacob told me the real reason why Sigrdrífa, the Valkyrie” she added at the confused look “was there and unknowingly revealed how she was able to find us despite our best efforts at concealment. The Valkyrie was apparently charged by Erestia herself to train him to become a Hero.”

Riseth’s mouth dropped however she wasn’t the only one surprised by this turn of events.

“Wait, what!?” Roselyn shot to her feet.

The more Riseth thought about it the more it started to make sense “no wonder she was so pissed off.”

Angel types are always pissy in general when dealing with anything outside their purview of ‘self righteousness’ but this Valkyrie was particularly murderous.

‘I guess kidnapping her charge would do that.’

“Shit” the Witch groaned.

Messing with a Valkyrie’s charge was the equivalent of messing with a Demon’s contractor and there is not a single person in this room who doesn’t know the consequences of doing the latter. It’s a quick way to get yourself killed or worse depending on the severity of the offenders meddling or the Demon in question. They, known servants of Demon nobility, kidnapped a Valkyrie’s charge after said Valkyrie defeated their mistress who was much more powerful than them.

“How are we even still alive right now?” Roselyn wondered aloud.

‘Dumb luck and an honest to Dark God miracle’ Riseth wanted to say.

“The Valkyrie was more concerned with retrieving the boy than fighting us” Ysmeina supplied.

“Jacob he…” Caitlin trailed off as her words caught everyone’s attention “when the Valkyrie caught up to us she would have killed me had Jacob not intervened.”

No one knew what to say to that except for Roselyn who gave an empathic “huh, well good for him.”

Riseth groaned “no it’s not good. It’s not good at all.”

“Why not?”

“He showed empathy to a mamono in front of one of Erestia’s Valkyries” Ysmeina explained.

“Oh?” the Dhampir soon gained a look of understanding “ooh” then dawning horror “shit.”

“Yeah, shit” Riseth agreed.

Sympathizing with Erestia’s enemy is not conducive to being a Valkyrie’s charge. Mamono sympathizers are no better than Mamono in the eyes of the Order let alone Erestia’s servants and entire settlements have been wiped out in officially sanctioned ‘purges’ because they harbored or hold positive sentiments towards mamono. With Jacob being her charge they weren’t sure what the Valkyrie’s reaction to his showing mamono anything but utter contempt or fear would be.

“So what do we do?” Roselyn asked the all important question “I mean, we are getting him back right?”

Caitlin winced “can we do anything?”

“Well let’s see here” Riseth began “the four of us got all our collective asses kicked despite having the advantage in numbers. I lost my staff so I can’t cast my more powerful spells. Ysmeina lost her mana so she’s even weaker than Roselyn right now.”

“Hey!”

Ignoring the Dhampir’s outrage the Witch continued “and say we even manage to get the guy. We wouldn’t get far when she finds out he’s missing, that Valkyrie managed to find us even with a day head start and the best concealment wards I could conjure up.”

Her words were harsh but truthful and they all knew it.

“Well what about her?” Roselyn gestured to the Kunoichi who has been silently observing the proceedings.

With all eyes now on her Sayuri finally deigned to speak “I am not a match for the Valkyrie” she stated softly yet firmly “and if her method of detecting the boy are similar to how lady Sarsea detects her husband then she would be able pierce through all my concealment techniques.”

It was undisputable fact and one that Roselyn just could not accept lying down “so that’s it then? We’re running away with our tail between our legs?”

“Better than dying” Riseth grumbled not feeling any better about the situation.

“Who’s going to tell Lady Eveleena the bad news?”

The loss was a bitter tonic to swallow yes but not as bitter as knowing that they lost someone who was of great importance to their mistress.

“Not it” Riseth waved off.

“I will” Ysmeina spoke “I was the one who pushed to retrieve him in the first place, the burden of informing Lady Eveleena of his…recruitment into the Order falls to me.”

Another lull of depressing silence before Roselyn asked “so, now what?”

To that the Dullahan turned to the Kunoichi who handed something to the Witch.

Roselyn blinked “is that what I think it is?”

Riseth grasped the offered object looking it over before confirming “yep” she looked at the Kunoichi “Lady Sarsea gave this to you?”

She nodded in the affirmative “to ensure our safe and prompt return.”

Everyone looked to the object in a brief bout of silence before it was broken by Caitlin.

“The matriarch is not going to like this.”

The object in question was a return stone a relic that enables individuals and groups to be instantly teleported to predetermined destinations. The relic itself was made from a rare synthesized magical ore. Return Stones are not uncommon however their quality depends on a number of factors. For instance the one currently held by Riseth was given to Sarsea by her mother the Astaroth matriarch and was thus naturally one of highest quality.

What this entails was that this return stone contains an array of powerful runes and enchantments that can only be implemented by special master enchanters of the highest skill. Among these enchantments are redundancies to ensure only the matriarch’s daughters or those whom they have given permission to can use it. This return stone once activated can teleport the user or group from virtually anywhere in the world to the Astaroth manor in Qliphoth, Arsgoetia.

The key to its amazing ability of teleporting users across entire continents without killing them through mana exhaustion is that this stone can absorb and retain the requisite mana thanks to the use of a certain magical ore that is both rare and very expensive. How expensive? Expensive enough that the Astaroth matriarch only had a few made and deigned to only give them to her daughters under strict guidelines for their use. For Sarsea to give it to her subordinate to use at her discretion is a great risk that will not go unanswered.

At the same time at least two of Eveleena’s servants couldn’t help but feel salty at its appearance.

“Really wish you showed up earlier, we could have used this” the Witch mumbled whilst looking over the stone.

The Kunoichi didn’t really react to the Witch’s words save to ask “are you able to activate it?”

After fiddling with it for a bit Riseth gave her answer “no, Lady Sarsea never gave me permission.”

Owing to its custom creation it can only be activated a certain way by certain individuals. After all should it somehow leave the hands of the original owner it wouldn’t do for anyone to have direct access to the Astaroth ancestral castle.

The Dullahan glanced at the Kunoichi “what are you thinking?”

“That boy, he is Eveleena-sama’s intended contractor?”

“Yes” Ysmeina paused “you wanted to stay behind.”

The Kunoichi nodded.

Riseth tossed the relic back to the Kunoichi “well not that we don’t appreciate the attempt but-”

“If anyone should stay behind it should be me” Caitlin interrupted gaining the attention of everyone present

The Witch gave her a once over her eyes lingering on her bandaged thigh “are you sure you’re up for that?”

“I am not so injured that I cannot use magic and so long as I keep my distance I am certain I will not be noticed.”

The Dullahan frowned in silent contemplation causing the Succubus to continue.

“One of us needs to stay behind for when you return with reinforcements.”

Because there is no way Eveleena would stand for her intended contractor to be stolen by the Holy Order.

In the end Ysmeina could only agree with this line of thinking “very well then.”

“I should stay behind too” Roselyn suggested,

“No” at least three people in the cave spoke out at once though it could be four depending on how good one’s hearing is.

In any case Roselyn was far from cowed by the rejection “hey, I can be sneaky when I want to plus I’m practically human so I can blend into any settlements.”

“I can give five reasons off the top of my head why that’s a bad idea” Riseth commented.

“Your presence could hinder Caitlin’s reconnaissance.”

“It would be best if I did this alone Rose” the Succubus added.

Sayuri only shook her head at the Dhampir.

“I’m not dead weight god dammit!” she slammed a fist into the cave wall, breaking stone with a resounding CRACK.

Riseth went to make a comment however a glare from Ysmeina held her tongue. With that the Dullahan ordered the Dhampir to follow her outside the cave. The cold air hit Roselyn more since she was technically only half undead as opposed to fully undead.

“You’re frustrated” the Dullahan observed.

“What gave it away?” she replied sarcastically.

“Don’t interrupt me again” Ysmeina’s flat tone did not change but the Dhampir stiffened all the same.

Even without the majority of her strength Roselyn knew all too well that the knight was not one to be trifled with.

“You are feeling frustrated at your lack of impact in the battle against the Valkyrie. Because of this and your wounded pride you are making irrational decisions.”

Roselyn’s fists clenched.

“Your presence will not aid Caitlin with her reconnaissance.”

In fact it would most likely hinder her since the Valkyrie will be on alert for any of their mana signatures and unlike the Succubus the Dhampir could not hide her presence from detection spells. Riseth lost her staff so she could not even create an enchantment for the Dhampir strong enough to have a similar effect to Caitlin’s skill. Not that Riseth could do this even with her staff.

Roselyn knew all this and in the end she was rational enough to not let her pride get in the way of what was truly important here.

“Fine” she gritted out.

“Then we will speak no more of this.”

The ultimate goal was to ensure Eveleena’s satisfaction and Roselyn would truly be damned if she let her personal issues get in the way of that.

~To Be Continued~

Up To Four Advance Chapters available on my Patreon at: www.Patreon.com/Streggaeworks

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