“First thing’s first. Show me your wrists.” The general said. The pathetic excuse for a shinta was sitting across the table from Irios with a smug grin, as if the demon lord wouldn’t tear his soul from his body and use him like a puppet.
When the time was right.
Irios put his wrists on display on the table in front of him, showing the wriggling ball of fear that the slave magic keeping him under control hadn’t faded in the slightest. That was to be expected. The symbol on his wrists faded not when the magic did, but when Irios began to push against it. The spell hung by a thread. He could snap it like a dry twig and reach across the table and tear the shinta’s lungs out.
But he didn’t.
Three thousand years ago, the last Archmage remaining involved in Irios’s slavery had passed away. After millenia of slowly pretending to come around, ‘falling in love’ with an easily influenced corio woman the Inner Spheres had obviously put there as bait, the watchfulness around him had gradually fallen, until there was only one tired shinta reviewing his slave seal, like a common prisoner.
“Looks good.” Kenra said, turning Irios’ hands over and studying the seals front to back before collapsing back into his seat. “We’re going to get final numbers soon, but what was your impression of the humans in battle?”
“Awful.” Irios responded without delay. He had mastered a state of instant compliance burying an ocean of rage. “Their physical abilities are near worthless. They are slightly below average at teamwork, the apostle of Kolath notwithstanding. The only thing they seemed to excel at was construction and crafting. Manual labor and the like. The fire woman did alright. They struck me as being most similar to dwarves, albeit with a more timid temperament.”
“And it appears you managed to cross a few of the more troublesome humans off the list.” Kenra said, flipping open a notebook containing the names of every human Apostle that had been summoned to his base. Irios had long since grown numb to the Inner sphere’s efforts to neuter the planets they took under their wing. Rampant corruption was just another fact of life here.
“I didn’t see a purple corpse in the courtyard, so I assume The Beladia worshipper hid in a closet somewhere.”
“He definitely took part. Trees sprung out of nowhere to block the tunnel, and someone created a poisonous smoke that filled the underground, driving every breathing creature in there mad with fright. The siege wurm nearly tore apart the entire dungeon, it did more damage to us than them.”
“Interesting.” Kenra said, dabbing his pen in the inkwell and making a note beside an entry in his notebook labelled Garth Daniels. Beside the name were a few notes already. Telekinesis, fire. Shows higher proficiency for magic than expected. Restricted spells? Cut off legal routes.
“Now about your request to see Eriela,” Kenra said, underlining one of his notes and glancing back up.
Here comes the dance. Step, one, two three, step.
“Is she here? Can I see her?” Irios said with centuries of cultivated desperation. Living creatures believed that other things were inherently like them, at least a little bit. Irios’s body had a penis, so it must follow that he was attracted to the other sex of his previous race. That he wanted companionship. They refused to believe that he was so utterly alien, with his handsome face and calm demeanor. Surely a flicker of corio must still beat beneath his chest.
It was laughable, this dance he performed with his captors. Step, one, two, three, step.
“It wasn’t in the budget to bring her to this layer.”
And twirl, acting outraged.
“Damn it all! She’s the only reason I tolerate your presence! You can’t keep doing this to us!”
“Now calm down. A handful of us generals understand how important it is to keep you happy, so we pooled our resources and pulled some strings. We can arrange a night of unsupervised access at the end of each of your missions, as long as you both submit to a search and scan afterwards.”
And bend, and dip.
Irios sighed in faux relief. Now did he sell the general with his concern for Eriela, or his desire to monopolize her? Let’s go with the nobler of the two, it may be stupid, and less realistic, but somehow it sells better.
“I just need to know she’s safe.” Irios said, giving the table in front of him a thousand-yard stare.
I haven’t danced like this since before I became a kipling.
“She is, and you’ll see for yourself tonight. Afterwards, we’ve got another assignment for you on the other side of the world. We’re putting together a list of humans that stand to cause the most disruption of Mythic Cores. Mr. Daniels is right at the top of that list, and we want all of them gone. Can I count on you?”
“You should know by now that I care nothing for them.” Irios said. The first honest truth he’d given the general. He’d long since identified the construct in his mind that forced him to tell the truth and disabled it. It had been true, but misleading. He’d be just as happy to let them live if it furthered his goal.
His goal. What is my goal? Irios’s brows furrowed for a moment.
“Irios?” Kenra asked.
I am Irios Obenya, a demon lord of the third rank, and my goal is…
I will wait and obey until the moment comes.
What is the moment?
The moment I can accomplish my goal.
What is my goal?
I will wait and obey-
Circular logic detected. Irios thought with a tiny smirk. The most sure sign of a physic construct interfering with his mind. The seal was weakening, all he would have to do was wait-
Irios ruthlessly slashed through the thoughts designed to delay and control him, to keep him stupid.
Irios found the tiny fleck of camouflaged mana buried in his mind, and tore it apart.
Ah, that’s better. Now, what was I waiting for?
For the first time in eight thousand years, the seals on his wrist flickered and faded. No, it was not another illusion. He’d finally found his way out of the maze they’d placed inside his own mind.
Irios looked up at Kenra. The General must have seen something in his eyes, because he reached for the hilt of his blade, but Irios was faster. The demon lord leaned over the table and jammed a single sharp black nail into Kenra’s cheek.
The general gasped and froze as foreign mana began to circulate through his body. Kenra began to convulse in place as Irios withdrew his claw, blood and black ichor seeping from the tiny wound.
“I’ve had my fair share of experience with mind magic over the last few thousand years, general, and you’ll be happy to know that is not what is happening here.” Irios said, wiping his claw off on a rag from his pocket as Kenra sank back into his chair.
“I’m not interested in torture or repaying you for the countless humiliations visited on me by yourself and your predecessors, and so you get to die.”
Kenra stared at him, his eyes bloodshot, mouth frothing as his teeth chattered.
“But I do need your body to continue making reports and covering my activities. I can’t have the entire Inner Spheres hunting me just yet, so I’m replacing you with someone a bit more sympathetic to my cause.”
Kenra’s eyes widened further and he collapsed to the table, drool spilling out from his lips. Irios’ Senses made out the man’s soul leaving his body by the nearly imperceptible twitch of the surrounding mana as it moved past.
Irios knew spells that could capture and torment souls indefinitely, but what was the point? Dead was dead. The general no longer a problem, and besides, he had given his word.
That was one of the few things Irios had retained from his previous life. He considered himself to have a sense of honor. Sure, it had got him captured, but he had also outlived all of his peers in captivity, so Irios saw no reason not to continue. Irios believed there was a power in honor that went beyond whether or not people trusted or feared you.
Irios watched the portal to the Abyss open, a tiny pinhole in reality. A tiny ribbon of black mana boiled out of it, wriggling like a living thing. It tested the air for a few seconds before homing in on Kenra’s body, digging into the base of the man’s neck like a parasitic worm.
When the last of the black worm had disappeared, Kenra sat up suddenly, sucking in a deep breath.
“Welcome to the two thousand eight hundred and fifty ninth layer of The Spheres, my friend.” Irios said, leaning forward and running his thumb along Kenra’s cheek. The puncture wound disappeared at Irios’ touch.
“Thank you master.” Kenra said.
“Call me Irios. Your name is Kenra. Search your body’s memories, I want you to fit in indefinitely starting tonight.”
The spirit paused for a moment, reading the memories of its host. Its posture slowly relaxed, becoming more Kenra-like. “Should I send the corio woman in, Irios? She’s just down the hall.”
Irios rolled his eyes. Of course she was. Make a big production out of how difficult it was to bring her there to keep scarcity up, but always keep her on hand in case they needed a hostage or a treat.
“Might as well. I gave her my word I’d love and protect her until I died, and there’s always a use for a talented enchanter.” Irios reached up and plucked the carved Mythic core from between his horns, inspecting the Mythic core reinforcing the seal on his wrists.
With the seal gone, the magic preventing him from removing the core had failed as well, allowing him to finally get a good look at it. The spellwork was amateurish compared to the prison they had constructed for his mind, merely maintaining and providing power to the original spell. There was something familiar about it, though.
“Before you go, Did Kenra have a ledger of the outstanding apostles from the other hemisphere as well?”
“He did not, Irios.”
“Well, get one. Tell them you want to test a theory,” Irios said, thumbing through the general’s notebook. One thing that Irios had noticed over the last few Dungeon Rushes, The most powerful apostles often had equally powerful kipling with the same name on the other hemisphere.
Case in point, Irios had to kill his Corio self in battle seven thousand eight hundred years ago. That had been difficult.
What Irios was looking through right now was a Recruiting Book, essentially.
“Garth Daniels…a little too cunning for his own good, apparently. His kipling will probably stab me in the back. Kill it. Leanne O’malley, desires strength and control over her own fate and others… might try to seize power… little too small to survive the beginning. kill. Ah! Loyal, strong…this Erik fellow probably has a good doppleganger.” Irios added a note to the page, and circled Erik’s home country.
After a few minutes of browsing, Kenra opened the door, allowing a beautiful, willowy corio woman to enter. Her horns had an exotic twist to them, and her dark blue skin was lovely. She entered with a warm smile, but the moment she saw the gem no longer floating between his horns, her eyes flickered to his wrists, which were missing the sealing tattoos. She froze.
“Erelia, my dear!” Irios said with a grin as she entered. “Did you make this?” he pulled the enchanted Mythic Core out of his pocket and held it to the light between his thumb and forefinger.