Meanwhile, in the other Hemisphere, on a tiny blue planet, Irios was recruiting. It was Earth, but not the Earth that Garth knows.
“What do you think, Erelia?” Irios asked, ducking underneath the massive kipling’s feral swipe, being sure to tilt his horns out of the way. “How does getting away from it all and having the opportunity to research kipling in the field differ?”
Erik roared. The kipling was a pale seven foot tall juggernaut with no clothes, swinging at Irios with his blackened claws. Their battle was tearing up the forest surrounding Erik’s idyllic cabin.
The lovely corio woman looked up from her notebook, her deep blue skin a shade paler with fright.
“Aside from the abject terror, It’s been very informative.”
“There aren’t many-“ Irios let out a grunt of effort as he grabbed Erik’s massive wrist and flipped him over his shoulder, dropping the snarling beast to the ground.
“Scholars of Kipling behavior.”
There was no discernable difference between the hemispheres, the dirt was still dirt, the sun was the same shade, but the people were wildly different. An ancient, powerful magic designed to give everyone a fighting chance split the realities and forced the spirit of the kipling to pick one of the two bodies, rendering the other immune by some unfathomable logic. Reality double jeapordy. This Erik was the unlucky of the two.
Well, luck was relative, and if they were still standing a thousand years after the fall of the Spheres, then it would be the other way around.
Erik leapt to his feet with a savage snarl and bloodshot eyes. The first person to enter his vision was Erelia. He leaped toward her, mouth wide open, shark teeth bared.
Erelia yelped and fell off her log, notebook tumbling to the ground as she scooted backward. Erik’s flight was arrested mid-leap as Irios caught his ankle and slammed him back down to the ground.
“So I imagine it was no accident you ‘fell in love’ with me, eh?” he said, kicking the feral kipling in the face for daring to attack her.
“…no.” she said.
“Well, the good news is I still love you, at least until I figure out where you hid the construct in my mind, you sneaky woman. In the meantime, I’ve got a question for you.”
“Can you tell me why this man,” Irios said, lifting the panting, bloodied kipling off the ground and wrapping an arm around his neck. “Ate his own family?” he pointed at the abandoned cabin to illustrate his point.
“The kipling experience a gradual restoration of their memories and minds as they age and become more powerful.”
“Ja, I know this.” The woman was very good at stating the obvious. Irios had gone through the same thing.
“My guess is that while his memories and reasoning were quite dim, he mistook love for hunger and ate them.” Erelia said, coming to stand and brushing dead leaves and sticks off her pert rear.
“You think?” Irios said, glancing at Erik’s head tucked underneath his arm, scratching and clawing to be free. He glanced over at the shredded bones of children in the idyllic log cabin in the middle of the beautiful forest.
“So it’s not a sign of disloyalty?”
“Far from it. Kipling normally do not kill each other, this is a sign he can feel emotion far sooner than otherwise indicated.”
“Interesting, could you toss me the Heartstones my dear?”
Erelia picked up the fist-sized bag of stones and threw them to Irios. They landed in his palm with the glass clack of marbles hitting each other.
One of the benefits of being such an old kipling, the average observer couldn’t tell the difference between him and a normal corio, aside from being a single shade paler than he should have been. There were plenty of actual corio paler than him, so nobody gave him a second glance when he went to buy refined heartstones.
“Now, my friend, I need you to wake up and start grieving.” Irios said, pulling out a beautiful rich purple stone, perfectly clear and spherical. The best remedy for a mindless Kipling was a huge dose of Intelligence and Memory, according to Erelia.
Erelia was the foremost researcher in the field of Kipling biology, behavior, magic, mind control, practically anything she could get her hands on, which he supposed included him as a case study. The woman must so grateful to him for getting her out of those stuffy labs.
Irios hadn’t tried to recruit other Kipling or speed their growth before he was captured so many years ago, so he deferred to her greater experience in this matter.
And if she lied to him he would kill- spank her vigorously.
Irios rolled his eyes at the unintended thought. Something was interrupting his thoughts, very unsubtly deflecting him away from outright harming her. He didn’t really care as long as he got what he wanted from her, though.
“Now, open up.” Irios said, prying open Erik’s jaw with his bare fingers and forcing the brilliant purple stone a bit smaller than his fist down the man’s throat.
Erik’s eyes went wide as the stone obstructed his breathing, then swallowed.
Irios let him go and stood back, watching the kipling cautiously.
Erik laid on his back, moaning. Irios watched as the man’s expression became less feral, his eyes more calm, taking in the world around him with consideration rather than rabid anger. His jaws shrank, and his claws receded just a tiny bit, but Irios was able to notice.
“Oh, is his Memory allowing him to regain his physical form?” he asked.
“I always thought that might be the case!” Erelia exclaimed, picking up her notebook and coming closer, peering into Erik’s confused eyed. “But they never let me forcefully evolve a kipling into a demon. Told me it was too dangerous.”
“It is.” Irios said, tugging the woman back by her collar as Erik took a swipe at her. She dropped her notebook and fell into the dirt again, watching the demon with wide eyes.
“He’s not going to be as friendly as me right away, my dear.” Irios said, glancing over at the wide-eyed researcher.
“I got carried away.” She said, turning a beautiful shade of purple.
“It happens to the best of us.” He returned his gaze to Erik. “Hello, Erik? Are you in there?”
“UUhh” Erik groaned, raising his clawed hands to his face. “What, what is happening?”
“Oh, good, you can talk.” Irios said. The woman knew her stuff. It had taken Irios quite a long time to form words.
“I am your doctor. Swallow this.” Irios said, taking out another purple gemstone. Erik took the Heartstone and the clarity in his eyes returned, and he looked around, his eyes gradually widening.
“Where is my wife, and Magdelena? Aarne?”
“Sorry to say you ate them. Do you not remember?” Irios carefully watched the man’s face as he gradually came to the realization that the pale, hairless monsters he’d consumed in his madness had indeed been his wife, Magdelena and Aarne.
“What…I…” Erik’s eyes went wide, and he flipped over and began violently convulsing and vomiting into the forest floor.
“Ah, there we go,” Irios said, standing back as the huge man began to thrash against the forest floor. It might take him a moment to be fully cognizant again, but the remorse was an excellent sign. Irios would have to watch him to make sure he didn’t try to commit suicide, though.
“This is fascinating.” Erelia said, taking notes. “Do you know what’s going on?”
“Mostly he’s just mad with grief, I suppose, but some part of him is wrestling with The Call.”
“I don’t know what else to call it. We don’t have an actual name for it. It’s our instinct. The siren’s song that lures us to spread our race across the myriad realities. It’s barely a whisper for me now, as old and impotent as I’ve become, but Erik must be struggling with the urge to mindlessly eat people and propagate dungeons.”
“You see,” Irios said, tugging Erelia backward by her waist as the human turned into a ball of thrashing claws.
“At first The Call feels like an enormous wedge driven into your mind, stretching your thoughts tight against the inside of your skull most uncomfortably. And when you first realize it’s there, you begin to pick at it.”
“Fascinating.” She said, making notes. Irios deflected a rock big enough to turn her head into jelly, but she took no notice of it. One of the things he found so endearing about the slender corio woman.
“When you do begin to pick at it, your thoughts form swirls and eddies around the wedge, unable to maintain a flow. You realize this is happening, but your thoughts of removing the foreign matter in your mind are cut short, scattered to the wind. And each time you pick at this spike in your mind, a bit of it is washed away, mixing with your own natural thoughts, until eventually, what was always there, and what is Kipling are indistinguishable.”
“Is it possible to remove or replicate this spike?” she asked. “Is it anything like the mental constructs that were used on you?”
Don’t remind me of those eight thousand years of slavery, woman, I’ll tickle you until you can’t breathe! Irios bit down a surge of irritation.
“They are wildly different. The Call feels like a sandstone monolith that gradually mixes with the mind, while the magic of the Inner Spheres creates inflexible little glass knots that direct thought like an aqueduct channels water. Easily broken if found. The call dyes you. Becomes you. And you could spend a lifetime trying to remove it with little success.”
Erik began slamming his claws into the ground with a shout, as if he could murder the very Earth that had created him. It was good he was a fighter, since he would have been taken over by The Call already were he not. Everyone on the little black notebook in his pocket was a fighter, and represented a substantial prize if he could win them over before the Inner Spheres knew what was going on.
A Demon Lord was a priceless ally.
Erelia looked up at him, her large eyes unmindful of the wailing man in the distance. “How about eight thousand years? Is that long enough to shed the control of The Call?”
“As I said, it’s barely a whisper anymore.”
“So why are you still trying to destroy the Inner Spheres?” She asked, before paling and looking away.
Irios put a hand around her waist and brought her close, enjoying the feel of her stiffening against his chest. He knew some small part of her was wondering if he was finally going to kill her.
“Why, because they are evil, my dear,” he said in faux outrage before he put a finger under her chin and tilted her lips up to meet his. Irios was spurred on by the way she relaxed into his arms and returned his kiss, molding her body around him as he molded her will around his own.
It was only honorable to return her insidious control over him in kind.