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Chapter 5-11

Page history last edited by Anonymoose 9 years, 8 months ago

It was cramped, it was damp, it was an overall terrible place to be; but in comparison to the alternative, my spirits were relatively high. A few wooden panels along the walls and a couple planks dividing up the hole in the earth which once served as a mine foreman's office made it at least a bit homely. I was standing there in that lonely secluded room which was so far away from everything, a place deep within an ancient labyrinth a good kilometer beneath the surface. Above was a rabid coven of witches hell bent on dominating the local area through magic trickery on an apocalyptic scale. What lay below... I didn't want to think about that actually.

 

A lone oil lamp hissed, and a tiny wisp of flame danced within it. Shadows from the light crawled over the debris, and the faintest tendrils of heat clawed weakly at its surroundings. I could hardly feel a thing. My body was still incredibly numb ever since being dunked and tossed about in that freezing reservoir. My clothes were still clinging to my skin, and my core temperature was dropping. It took some time till my brain was jilted enough that I even thought about dealing with that little problem. Just a minor issue which could cripple and kill me with the onset of pneumonia. I decided I would just blame it on the witches and the fear of my body being crushed either by impact at high speeds or a giant's fist.

 

When I snapped back to reality at last I realized I had to get changed. For starters, I risked getting ill and that would be fatal given where I was, who was following... and maybe who I was with... More importantly, wearing this shitty dress for any longer than I absolutely had to was something I was not going to stand for. I stood up, grabbed hold of it by the fabric on my upper back and pulled the soggy mess off over my head. My shorts and underwear were still soaked, but it was a start at-

 

I heard a sharp whistle, a wolf call. My heart sunk, and my body tensed up.

 

     “Oh my~” Ba'el playfully cooed behind me.

 

I turned my head slowly, and there she was. She was still sitting on the opposite side of the table, unmoved. I looked down, bare chested, and back at her. Without a word I looked away and went to turning the room upside down for something dry.

 

     “Oh, come on now,” she teased. “Don't be that way.”

 

I thrust my finger accusingly in her direction, desperate to divert the conversation.

 

     “Just-” I stuttered. “-Just find me something dry. I'm not as fortunate you to get away with wearing metal bits for clothing that don't get wet.”

 

She waved her hand dismissively. Ba'el wasn't even for a second considering buying what I was pushing.

 

     “Relax. Don't strain yourself. Go nude; see if I care. You don't have anything I haven't seen before.”

 

My flushed red face was just a social reflex.

 

     “No, I don't think-”

 

She interrupted me, “What? You think I'm scared of sharing the room with a big bad naked man?”

 

She was barely able to hold herself from breaking out into uproarious laughter. Until her face went deadly serious; her green eyes smoldered and burned with killing intent, and a powerful soul crushing aura radiated off of her.

 

     “That is... unless... you did plan on attacking me.”

 

I wasn't sure if the sensation of the earth rumbling was real or imagined. It felt as though there was an icy hand wrapped around my heart that was squeezing tighter and tighter. The faster my heart thumped, the stronger the grip got.

 

     “pft-” Her face contorted, and a snort escaped her lips.

 

A few thousand kilos of pressure per square centimeter evaporated immediately.

 

     “Ah ha ha ha ha!” She laughed, rocking back and forth on her chair while pointing back at me.

 

I fidgeted on the spot, turned my head away in disgust, defeat, and went back to salvaging whatever rags I could find to wipe myself dry. She knew full well how the power dynamics work here. A bit of fun at my expense when my mind was already on the breaking point and was just starting to settle back down. She could lift boulders with ease that could crush me to death if they were so much as dropped on top of me. If there was anyone who was in danger here, it was me. This wasn't a time to be embarrassed and self conscious; it was a time to keep my flight instinct at the ready.

 

My efforts were finally rewarded when I found not just some old wiping rags caked with decades old grease but some leftover clothes which must have belonged to some miner from long ago. I ducked behind one of the wooden partitions and removed the rest of my soggy wet clothing. My lukewarm hands felt like they were burning hot when I touched my frigid skin. I wanted to just focus on drying myself off with the black stained and grimy rags, but I had to toss my gaze back over my shoulder now and then. Ba'el's silence unnerved me.

 

What a crock of shit. Now I'm suddenly terrified of a little girl and what she's capable of. If you told anyone about this scenario out of context, I'd be a laughingstock.... At least the clothes fit, somewhat. Whoever wore them last had a girth, and I had to really tighten it and hold it in place around my waist with an extra strip of cloth tied in a sash. The sleeves on the shirt were also really loose; it was a couple sizes too big and wearing it made me feel like some kind of lame hipster... Still, it was better than the dress. I'll just take improvements in my luck when I can get them.

 

I begrudgingly came out of hiding after taking a deep breath to calm my nerves. As I left the protective shield of wood behind—that which blotted out mischievous glances—I saw the demon sitting down at the table. She was calm as could be almost somber, actually. There was no sneering demon but a little girl with a one liter glass bottle with a clear liquid inside. She must have found it somewhere while I was changing... Wait, don't tell me that's what I think it-

 

Ba'el lifted the bottom of the bottle to the sky and downed three quick glugs with ease. With a bang she slammed its bottom back down onto the table. A long exhale came from her nose, and then her eyes turned slowly back toward me. She pushed the bottle lightly, and it slid across the wooden surface and stopped just short of toppling over the edge. She nudged me on with her eyes, and I felt it would be bad manners to deny her. I took one careful whiff of the contents, and I started to have second doubts. It didn't have any smell at all. Still, the prying and expecting eyes of the little demon made me think I might as well-

 

My body spat out what little I tried to sip immediately. The second it hit my lips and tongue, before it even hit my throat; my body convulsed, and my self preservation system kicked in automatically. I coughed, heaved, spat and a spray of clear liquid erupted from my mouth. This wasn't a spirit; it was moonshine. It was more suited to cleaning out engines than it was to drink safely. Any living thing that touched it would die. Once again, Ba'el couldn't contain her laughter.

 

     “So the big bad man can't hold it in?” She cried merrily, wiping away tears of laughter.

 

I wiped my arm across my mouth and stood there shell shocked for a moment. I shook my head and clawed my finger nails against my tongue to get the fatal aftertaste off my taste buds before they died for good. Not an ounce of composure was left in my body to snap back at her.

 

     “If you are not going for round two, hand it over.”

 

There was a pang in my conscious, and it wasn't one based on reason. She was clearly a monstrous creature yet appeared little more than a child. Ba'el held her paw out, waiting for me to return the bottle. There was a war between two feelings in my mind. She looked like a minor. I couldn't get over that. Not being suckered into buying booze for rebellious children with puppy dog eyes must have been beaten into me pretty good. She wasn't one though, was she? I knew that. That had to be the case, but I couldn't get the thought out of my head. I eventually relented and slapped the glass back into the palm of her hand. She took another quick full mouth full and downed it without even flinching before setting it gently back down on the table.

 

     “I can't get sloshed, not like you humans can... But-”

 

Her eyes twitched as if a rogue thought had shaken the girl to her core. She rolled her eyes downward and to the side. They focused on something faraway, far beyond our current surrounds. Far back into what I assumed was the past.

 

     “But the taste is-” She paused for a moment while her eyes seemed to search for the right word to settle her feelings. “Nostalgic.”

 

Ba'el ruffled her paws through her hair violently to shoo away the rogue thoughts and regain the cocky composure she had just a moment ago.

 

     “I haven't had the chance for a good stiff drink in forty years. I was asleep for a long time before that, so you could say I haven't had a chance to wet my whistle for almost a thousand years now,” She said, then let out a weak chortle. “I hear you humans drink to forget, well, all it does for me is make me remember.”

 

     “What are you trying to remember?” I asked.

 

     “A lot of things,” She replied. “Things I'd rather stay forgotten. But now is the time to own up to my mistakes. I've run away from them for long enough.”

 

     “About The Crone, I take it?”

 

     “Yeah. Mostly about that.”

 

We stewed in silence after that. She sat at the table; her index claw clinging to the mouth of the bottle. It rotated around on the edge of the glass bottom; the remaining half of its contents swished about inside. I stood up on the opposite side of the table, still tense, and my body language no doubt overtly defensive. There was no help from my end to push this along, so I swallowed my doubts. I pulled the chair out—which had been set aside for me—then pulled myself in closer. Ba'el's eyes looked back up from the floor and onto me when I did so.

 

     I pressed her onward, “You said there was something I had to know, that's what you said, right? About what the deal was between you and The Crone, correct?”

 

     She smiled again after a long drought. Her voice became evermore chipper again, “You got a mission, so do I. We probably want different things out of it, but we can work together to get the same end result.”

 

     “You want to be left alone.”

 

     “That's right,” Ba'el nodded. “So long as The Crone keeps doing what's she's been doing, I'll never get that wish of mine. And so long as she's doing what she has been doing, you'll never finish that little crusade of yours.”

 

     “I'm not doing something so noble as a crusade,” I said.

 

She shoved her finger in my face accusingly, “Careful when you put noble and crusade like that in the same sentence. You're talking with a demon here. I've lost good friends that way.”

 

Her eyes were smoldering.

 

     “Friends? I find that hard to believe.”

 

The barb came out of my mouth before I had a chance to censor it. Ba'el stared at me, smiled weakly and lifted the bottle off the table.

 

     She brought it to her lips and, just before drowning herself with its content, let her words slip from the corner of her mouth, “Ain't that the truth?”

 

After puffing her cheeks out with another mouthful, she brought it back down with a loud thud on top of the poor rickety table. Her voice became hollow as before, but this time she kept her eyes on me and didn't look away.

 

     “Let's just say the one time I tried to fix that... It all went to hell.”

 

     “Literally?” I asked.

 

     “I wish,” Ba'el chuckled weakly.

 

Silence once again descended around the table. Shadows played games with the light, so I couldn't tell if the darkened expression on her face was real or just illusionary.

 

     “Listen here now, Laven,” She finally blurted out, banishing the silence. “Before I go on- I don't know how much you really know about demons, so I'm going to let you in on something you're not going to read about in any book. At least not a book written by any human who wouldn't afterward end up getting burned at the stake for writing it.”

 

She held up her three fingers.

 

     “There are three things to know about demons,” she said while folding back her first ring/pinky finger. “Demons honor their oaths. Demons are bound to their contracts...”

 

She held her last finger up for a bit. The dramatic pause was palpable, and she was forcing it a bit now.

 

     “Demons always... always... place their desires above all else.”

 

Ba'el's eyes flickered with light and a bit of fire when she said it. The air froze, as if the natural world itself was scared of what the demon had just said. That might have just been my mind playing tricks because she reclined on the back legs of her chair and balanced there with her hands resting on the back of her head. She looked as relaxed as could be.

 

     “That's everything you need to know. Everything after that is just politics and diplomacy.”

 

     “And that's the tricky part, isn't it?” I said. “Words can have double meanings. Contracts can have loopholes, and both can be open to interpretation... If that's what you desire out of them.”

 

Ba'el's eyes, which had wandered upward toward the ceiling, slowly rolled back down and stared back at me. A toothy grin spread ear to ear across her face.

 

     I continued with what I expected she wanted to hear, “Semantics, right?”

 

She laughed. Her cloven hooves kicked off the floor, and she rocked back but in perfect balance. Ba'el couldn't contain her joyous laughter while her chair was ready to break or tip backwards completely and send her flying to the floor. Instead, the chair's front legs slammed back down on the ground, her open palms slammed against the surface of the table and she leaped out of her chair to rest on her hands and knees on the table in front of me. Her face stopped just short of my own, a pair of burning green eyes with goat-like rectangular black pupils glared at me point blank.

 

     “Exactly!”

 

I leaned backward in my own chair in reflex so that her forehead, or horns, didn't crack my skull open should they have been on a path to collide. My chair almost tipped over, and I had to flail my arms and legs to stop that from happening. Her tail swished in the air behind her excitedly. When she regained her composure, she scurried backward and dropped her butt back onto the chair on the other side of the table.

 

     “That saves me so~ much time if I don't have to explain something that simple to you.”

 

     As I brought my chair back down, I decided to keep the pace going and ask, “And this matters because?-”

 

     “Because? Because The Crone is the result of a desire of mine.”

 

It was only now that I noticed something odd about her choice of words.

 

     “You seem to know that witch from long ago. She couldn't have always been called The Crone... Has she?”

 

Ba'el took another swig while I talked.

 

     “Nope,” she said, with her mouth full and muffled by the bottle

 

No?

 

     “What do you mean, 'nope'?”

 

She pulled the bottle away just long enough to answer clearly this time, “Don't remember. It's a common problem, actually.”

 

Common? Memory loss? That's- I could feel my own heart sunk. Memory loss... common? Really

 

Even the carefree Ba'el picked up on something. The expression on my face must have said it all. Perhaps my eyes had widened along with my shortness of breath. She placed the bottle more carefully on the table so it wouldn't make any sudden loud noises.

 

     “What?” She asked me, more confused than concerned.

 

     “Forgetting... H-how much did you forget?”

 

     “For a time... everything,” She replied.

 

So my situation wasn't unique. If it was a common phenomenon, then there had to be a reason behind it. If there was a reason behind it, then maybe there was something behind-

 

     “Laven,” She said sternly.

 

I caught on just then that my eyes were darting wildly inside my head. My composure had completely evaporated for an instant. There were beads of sweat on my forehead.

 

     “There's something your not telling me,” She said accusingly. “I just told you some pretty heavy shit, so cough it up.”

 

I took some deep breaths to get myself back under control, then I locked eyes with the demon's and met her dead serious expression.

 

     “Nothing.”

 

Ba'el stood up, her chair was sent flying backward across the room and crashed against the wall. Her head didn't hover that high above the table without, and she started to walk around it toward me.

 

     “That's not the answer I want to hear. What are you hiding, little man?”

 

I'm dead. That was the thought that went through my mind when I saw her pissed off expression.

 

     “Nothing! I don't remember anything either!” I screamed back.

 

She was already half way around the table when she stopped. Her angry expression gave way to surprise and then disbelief. She cocked one eyebrow and stared at me dubiously.

 

     “You heard what The Crone said about me, right? That's all I know too. One day, about two months ago, I just woke up in some northern forest. I don't remember anything before that!”

 

     “Two months?” She said, asking for confirmation.

 

     “Yes. About that...” I replied weakly. “Y-you're saying you have the same problem, right? Then when did-”

 

     “Ten years.”

 

My heart thumped. Loud.

 

     “W-what?”

 

     “Ten years, Laven. I didn't remember anything for ten years after I woke up.”

 

My heart thumped again... A whole decade? Ten years to get my memories back? That would be ten years of my life's prime, gone. I don't have time for-

 

     “At least not vividly,” Ba'el continued; her words smashed my train of thought. “Even I remember having dreams and nightmares every so often... Even on the first night. Seeing places, people, things... All of them nonsensical, not always in order. Sometimes overlaid and on top of one another in a big heap... But they were there. And I eventually realized they were all real. Maybe it was just I couldn't pretend they were not real after a time. It just clicked into place once day... Real things that happened somewhere at some point in the past... The worst part is that they all happened to me... Or because of me... So, do you remember those dreams, Laven”

 

Dreams? Nightmares? I noticed Ba'el's mood became increasingly somber the longer she talked about these things she claimed to have been seeing every few nights without understanding what they were... Maybe it was more correct to say she tried not to understand them?

 

     I didn't answer right away, but when it looked like she was ready to keep trotting toward me again in order to throttle me, I blurted out, “No. Not at all.”

 

     “Nothing?” She asked, not believing me.

 

     “No! Nothing at all!” I yelled back, becoming defensive on reflex.

 

Ba'el studied me carefully with her eyes. She didn't seem to sense I was lying. I wasn't lying. I'm sure I would remember and certainly never forget any dream or nightmare if it gave me any hint at all to where I came from or why I was here. She turned her back, trotted away and returned with the chair she had thrown away. She placed it to the left of me, where she had just stormed towards me and stopped a moment ago. Her butt dropped back down into the seat, and the wooden legs groaned as she pulled herself back underneath the table.

 

     “That doesn't sound like any ordinary amnesia I know of,” Ba'el said. “Not the ordinary amnesia.”

 

Her eyes narrowed as she studied me again. She was looking for any sign that I was pulling her leg.

 

     “That kind of total memory blackout... I've only seen that happen to monsters.”

 

My heart sunk.

 

     “And you aren't that,” She said assuredly. “No, definitely not... Not even an alp after the kind of stunt you pulled.”

 

She cracked a smile. I felt a little relief that we hadn't gone so far into dire straights.

 

     “Then why are those blackouts in memories happening in the first place?” I asked.

 

     “Because the old world is dying, Laven.” Ba'el said, matter-of-factly. “The history of this world is split into eras. We're on the cusp of an old one. We're living during the time when it becomes another.”

 

     “I don't follow.”

 

     “Come on now, Laven,” Ba'el said, rolling her eyes. “You got all the facts you need to put it all together. Monsters are more human now than they have ever been. One demoness got her claws on something. Something big that changed the rules of the game. It could have been used to start round two of the Great Extinction War, but it was used to do something different. Something unthinkable that has shaken this world to its core.”

 

Great Extinction War? Does that involve The Battle of Celreulian I remember hearing all the other girls talk about?

 

     “It doesn't take a genius to put one and one together. This new Demon Lord, Master of Monsters, is forcing man and monster together. I'm not sure if the answer is two, positive, negative, something bigger or smaller that comes out the other end... But it's happening. Unless something changes, the last forty years have told me one thing: it can't be stopped.”

 

I was speechless. I didn't know what to think. If it was something unthinkable to me, then it was indeed something pretty damn serious that got messed with. The demon continued.

 

     “Humans have been spreading out and reclaiming lands they lost in the last war a thousand years ago. Lands all sorts of people had to flee or be butchered in so long ago. They were taking them back with no problems for centuries. Then the new Demon Lord's guerrilla war began and, after only a few decades, ended suddenly—even I don't know why—but not before it left pockets of monsters behind. Demon realms where monsters roam, live free and breed with the men they capture, romance and seduce. Humanity wasn't deterred for long. It knew it had to expand or die, so it did just that. Continuing expanding. They dare not flirt with the demon realms. Those places pulse with magic energies which can have an insidious effect on the minds and bodies of men and women. They are filling the spaces in-between. That means the growth and migration of humans is constrained... Controlled. Guided... It's like the channels of water, the irrigation in The Marches; water flowing through pre-dug ditches. No matter how fast that water flows, or how free it thinks it is to do so; it can't escape those paths dug for it. Humans are going to fall into that same trap. It's inevitable.”

 

Ba'el's face glowed with a sinister delight while she talked. She must think the scenario was so perfect, so deliciously full of tragedy and hubris. For a demon such as her, it must be just what the doctor ordered.

 

     I was still skeptical, so I kept on her, “You sound pretty fired up over it. Aren't you supposed to be retired? Where are you going with this?”

 

     “Think Laven. All of this has happened over the last century and a half. Do you believe that there exists no monster older than that? You've traveled quite a bit in such a short time; no doubt you've seen a lot of things. Tell me, have you seen the genocidal, vicious monsters of old that I remember? No, you haven't. Their minds have been altered. The rage, bloodlust and hunger that consumed them has been replaced with another kind of emotion, another kind of lust and hunger. Of course their memories from those times would be taken from them. It would torture them if they weren't. They've been twisted. I don't think they've been twisted for the worse, but they have been changed and not always willingly. But the power of the new Demon Lord cannot be denied. She has become something even greater than the Demon Warlord who led the Great Extinction War... She has become like a god. A god who dares call herself by the same name as the mother of all demons... Lilith... No one knows exactly who she was before. I've only been able to hear bits of information here and there over the years, but the part of the story that always repeats is that she was a nobody. This new demon lord was just a lowly succubus from a far flung, dank and forgotten corner of all the hells. I do not know the details, nor have I ever seen her or felt her presence, but she is someone who somehow gained a power beyond the imagination of the warring demon princes who were left alive in the aftermath of the last Demon Lord's death a thousand years ago. The crown they all fought for—which would decide the next demon lord—was taken out from under them. It happened faster than any of them could process. A meager succubus broke their backs, broke their pride, broke their minds. She reshaped their souls and turned those terrible demons with faces, maws, horns, muscles and forms which could crush an ordinary man's soul into dust with ease into what she was. It wasn't long till their line of thinking matched her own. The lesser demons could not hope to resist. They soon followed their masters, and old hells died. The Demon Lord, Master of Monsters, soon spread her will on the monsters, and the terrible beasts and savage demihumans of old, died... Possibly forever.”

 

Ba'el leaned toward me, her elbow on the table, her mouth approaching closer to my ear. She whispered softly into it while I sat there overwhelmed by her story.

 

     “...And I'm glad.”

 

     “Do you have a choice?” I asked with a shaky voice and trembling lip.

 

     “I don't have that many memories before I woke up. Those that I have are like reading chapters and excepts from a book about me that I did not write. I only know they are mine because the facts all line up, and I can't deny it with reason. I can only accept it... Hey, tell me, Laven. What did you know about demons before?”

 

I wasn't sure if that was a rhetorical question; one that I was allowed to get right or wrong, and she'd go on, or one I absolutely needed to answer correctly. My mind wandered back to what Shoshanah had lectured about days earlier.

 

     “S-something about taking men's souls,” I replied after a long pause.

 

     “That's right,” Ba'el replied. “That's how it was before. Souls were the ultimate renewable energy source. Heavy souls sink down into hell and fall like rain drops on those living there. More falls the lower you go. Demons fight and rip each other apart to feed on them and torture them. When they have had everything that made them heavy beaten out of them, they rise back up. Then they are reborn, and it probably happens to them again after only a century, usually far sooner than that. Fighting other demons for table scraps isn't the only way though. Making deals and contracts with mortals in exchange for their souls was popular. Offering services, gifts, wishes, magic in return. When they die, their soul is yours to twist for nourishment like water from a wet rag. When it's dry, and whatever person that soul used to be has been obliterated, it returns to the cycle of life. That's how demons lived for countless eons.”

 

     “How you lived?” I asked, while my own hand was starting to shake a little.

 

     “Yes. I specialized in gifting magic power in exchange for the souls and loyalty of humans... It is from the meddling of my kind, the baphomet; one of the seventy-two families of demons, that witches are born. I was a Duke of my own realm. I was summoned and wandered the world to grow my followers. I would then wring their souls to sustain myself and grow even more powerful... But... You could also say I was a hermit. I had other desires and interests.”

 

These were dangerous and frightening things I heard from this little demon girl. My heart had been beating fast, and I was on a primal level terrified for my own safety. But her sudden change in expression... It unnerved me. I felt a pang of sympathy for a moment. Her expression seemed pained.

 

     “So you wanted to know who and what The Crone is? Who she was? Well, here's you answer: she was an experiment of mine. She was just a girl, a lonely girl with circumstances I don't even remember. Unlike many other demons, who simply take, often without thought or care, I spent time with humans. I tried to understand them, study them. I had to. If I wanted to know what they wanted and spot who was willing to make a deal with their soul for power; I had to understand them. If I didn't, I would starve. Some upstart would come for my life and land when I was weak. They'd kill me, but the stronger I got, the hungrier I got... I noticed something though. I noticed humans also had hunger and interests, but they would set them aside. They would help one another, give up and risk each other for others. You would never see a demon help another. Altruism does not further one's own desires, so it never happens. I saw it often with humans though. Of course they were violent, of course they were capable of evil but they were not ruled by their desires. They broke their oaths, and they tried to betray their contracts all the time. Demons can do none of those things... Perhaps I wanted to know what that felt like, just once. So I took a human, a lonely girl, and gave her so much power, power enough to be a demon in her own right.”

 

Now Ba'els lip started to twitch.

 

     “It was good, for a time. I began to wonder if this kind of bond we shared was what I had seen humans share while I had watched them from the shadows for generations. She lived far longer than the other witches I had created. The time for me to harvest her soul never came. I believed I had stumbled upon creating something remarkable. She didn't seem like she would ever die. I'm sure as she withered and grew older, she was not what you would consider beautiful, but she persisted, and I was never far away. Her life required that she must sacrifice others, and that number grew as the decades went on. That was when I realized I had made a mistake. I had created something not human but not quite demon either. She hungered; she was greedy, possessive, demanding. I came to realize she had lost everything that I thought I had seen in humans... Then the Great Extinction War came. I had witnessed Demon Lords rise and fall before. I am one of the few last forth generation of demons. It was just before my time when the original families still wandered the plains of all the hells. But never had I seen a bigger and more vicious army of demons and monsters be gathered together for one purpose. It wreaked havoc on the world... Ulrik'el'Shemsalar... that was his name. At least that's what you can pronounce in mortal tongue. You'll never see that name in any of your human books... He was different. He was powerful, too powerful. His words were commands. When he said to lay waste to the world of men... I could not ignore the clarion call. All the witches I had raised, I sent them to war. They were discovered and burned. I savagely created more, by force if I had to. I killed and raped my way through the world of men along with so many other demons. It was as if my mind had been forced to the back, and a primal beast, a dog, had been put in control. I could do nothing but bark whenever Ulrik'el'Shemsalar demanded. But he was eventually defeated like all the others were. When he was, the monsters scattered; the demons who survived fled back to the hellish plains. They soon began to fight one another to see who would become the next Demon Lord. A cycle they could not escape. I was lucky enough to be one of the few remaining nobles, but I could not understand why I was the only one to feel horrified and violated at what happened... I could not afford to ask questions though. I would no doubt be a target or spurred onward by others to take my claim... I refused... I... Don't want to... to talk about those times...”

 

Ba'el's expression seemed much like my own a few moments ago. She was deeply troubled by the thoughts and memories bouncing around inside that little head of hers. She hastily reached for the bottle of moonshine. She titled her head back and let the rest of the contents of the bottle slide down her throat. She nearly coughed when she looked back down and slammed the bottle back on the table. She did it so hard; cracks in the bottle nearly spread far enough to shatter it completely. A rough cough erupted from her mouth for a moment; but even then, she didn't seem tipsy or flushed at all. Whatever was in there, probably pure proof alcohol fermented and aged for decades, didn't affect her at all.

 

She wished it would.

 

     “So I turned my back on it all. I didn't want to go through that again. As far as demons go, I wasn't so violent by nature. Sure, hundreds... thousands of humans... I brought them into my Sabbath; I filled their short lives with magic and wonder. Yes, I tricked them, manipulated their feelings and made them drunk with desire with pleasure, then I took my reward, their souls, when they died. That's just what demons did. But never.... never before did I do anything like that accursed Demon Lord forced me to do... Forced me to do it with a smile with a feeling of twisted joy in my heart. I'd rather not feel like that ever again. So I left. I found a place to hide and sleep while a civil war raged all around me. I slept for nearly a thousand years. I don't know why I woke up forty years ago, but when I did wake up, when my memories finally returned to me... I slowly pieced together what had happened. What had happened to me, the changes that happened to the world... to demon-kind... to monster-kind... My heart felt at ease, different, changed, but I wasn't troubled by that. Not like how it was before... What troubled me were the memories, the dreams and nightmares. I've learned to live with those; it wasn't easy, but I did it... Now I have one last nightmare left... I'm just an old relic from an obsolete era, but something I made... Someone I made... Is going to wreak havoc. I have hope for this world now. This new world doesn't deserve the fate The Crone will let loose upon it. I have to end it. The Crone must be stopped. When I saw her, listened to her, I saw that she hasn't accepted this new world. I have to stop her. Then... That is when the shadows of the past which I helped create can be put to rest... Then I peacefully put myself to rest.”

 

Ba'el's small and flat chest heaved up and down. She had finally knocked the wind out of herself. Her breathing was raspy, but she was unable to cure that since she had emptied that one bottle in a single go. She looked back down at the table, pulling her eyes away from me at last. I could still see the green orbs in my mind's eye. They had been so bright they were now burned into it. She appeared dejected, troubled.

 

     “Why do I still remember it now? Why couldn't I forget it all like everyone else!?”

 

Once again, there was nothing but silence. I languished there on my seat and tried to make sense of it all. Do demons cry? Can they? I imagine if she could, she would right now. Maybe I'm just projecting too much of myself onto her. Perhaps she already has and no longer has any tears to shed after all these years. Ba'el has spent the last few decades trying to forget. Is that why she hid herself away in the abbey and tried to be someone else?

 

     “Why would you tell me all that?” I asked, genuinely lost.

 

     Ba'el sighed, “Dammit. Now I went too far. Even you're worried now...” She admonished herself, but that didn't stop her from answering, “Those are just thoughts and feelings I've kept locked up inside for decades now. They were just waiting for the first chance they got to spill out in front of someone who would listen and not try to put my head on a pike for revealing who I actually am... Think of it as a confession.”

 

     “And how am I supposed to help you stop The Crone? If you can't do it yourself, why do you need my help? What difference would whatever I can do make?”

 

     “You already are. Since her witches have yet to find us, you've done the first part brilliantly by just sitting there with that stupid look on your face. When it comes time to stop her ritual, just interfere and ruin enough of her circles while I keep her and the cronies busy. Kick some of their lines in the dirt or something. If your unique ability to mess with magic is worth anything, it will screw with it enough to shut the whole thing down.”

 

     “You're going to take them on all alone?”

 

     “Yeah, that's right.”

 

     “That's insane.”

 

     She sat back upright in her chair and threw me an annoyed looked, “I don't want to hear that from the suicidal man who wandered into a den of witches, alone, with nothing but a dress on.”

 

     I shook my head, “Not alone. I got backup coming.”

 

     Ba'el tilted her head, stared at me and mumbled, “...What?”

 

     “I'm the bait. Even The Crone knew it when she brought up my friends earlier. I don't think there's anything she can do to prepare for that storm. She has to be rushing to get everything in order now... She must have wanted me caught and dealt with above everything else. We're not the only ones on the defensive and a tight schedule. Wherever they took us, they'll follow and track me down. When they catch up, we'll tear this place apart... If they can find me...”

 

The demon held her chin in her claw and went deep into thought.

 

     “T-that is if they can follow us here. I'm not sure what kind of trail they-”

 

     “I left one...” She said under her breath. “A big one.”

 

Now it was my turn to raise an eyebrow.

 

     “What? When?”

 

     “You didn't notice? Did you really believe after everything you've seen tonight, that they would have noticed you and brought you along on purpose?” She thrust her thumb into her chest for dramatic effect as she declared,I brought you here. It was me all along.”

 

Wait... The green. The green pentagrams before we fell through the floor. The odd green space I fell through from the abbey. That was her all along.

 

     “I wasn't subtle about it at all,” She said with a grin.

 

If that's true, then that means the other will- Hold up! I stood up suddenly from my chair, and it fell over, toppling over with a crash. I thrust my finger accusingly at her.

 

     “Wait! If that's true... When you fell in after me on top of my-!”

 

She shrugged her shoulders and raised her paws into the air. The demon had a clever little smirk on her face that she was trying to suppress too. I glared back at her while I ground my teeth together. I had to look away before my anger boiled over.

 

     “Make sure you don't blow something,” she taunted. “We got time till The Crone makes her next move. Your friends got until tomorrow night to show up, or we're going in regardless. Until then... There is one more thing you must help me with.”

 

'Must?'

 

     I was a bit worried by the tone and choice of words, so I asked, “What are you-?”

 

I didn't really need to ask. She had already bounced back from her melancholy. It was as if she hadn't hit a low point at all in the past thirty minutes. She had also bounced and scooted her chair closer to where I had been sitting down before. I didn't even notice it because she did it so gradually, but she was sitting right beside me, looking up now. Looking up with a... seductive look on her face. I felt my heart skip a beat.

 

     “Did you forget? We still need to make preparations. I'll need your help to get ready for when I face off with The Crone. You're not going to just ignore your responsibility are you? I had to use up the last bit of magic I kept hidden for forty years to save you life... She's had a lot more time and freedom to acquire... reserves than I have. I won't even stand a chance unless I catch up.”

 

Every corner of my mind quietly screamed inside. A hundred different voices throwing their arms up in a panic for a countless number of different reasons.

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