“No. Not a chance. Don’t even think about it,” the dark elven barman scolded.
It turned out the Nedrithel didn’t approve of Patricia’s plan to refine molten silver inside his tavern. The elven man just snapped his fingers and pointed to the door. Patricia dejectedly dragged her feet outside, shoulders slumped like a scolded child.
“Told ya he wouldn’t let you,” Tanya said, with a grin.
“He usually lets me get away with worse. I didn’t think he’d suddenly grow a spine,” Patricia replied.
“Yeah, I think his opinion changed when you-know-who murdered an inquisitor and brought the town guard into his little criminal haven.”
Patricia looked dejected, turning the corner and wandering into an alley near the tavern, “I was out shopping. That wasn’t even my fault!”
“You sorta vouched for them,” Tanya said, hesitantly. “I mean, thanks and shit, it really helped us out, but trusting Lily to behave herself wasn’t the wisest idea.”
Patricia settled herself down, cross legged on the cobblestone. The alley was deserted, and the stone out here was fireproof enough. She’d just need to be careful about lighting the nearby buildings on fire.
“Yeah, I should have really known better. To be honest, I let my guard down around her,” Patricia admitted. “I know demons. Lily doesn’t act like one. Demons are single minded, ruthless and cruel. They don’t explore, they’re not curious, and they don’t hesitate to act on their sadistic urges. Lily acts more like a mortal, like one of us.”
Patricia absentmindedly cast Demonskin on herself. A faint tingle spread across her skin. Despite the name, it had nothing to do with actual demonic magic. It was an old fire resistance spell invented by the demon-friendly dark elves of old. She opened her purse and picked a few silver coins out, the cleanest ones she could find, and tossed them into a clay mug she ‘borrowed’ from the tavern on her way outside.
Patricia placed a hand on the cobblestone, channeling a flameless heat to dry the ground around her. She took out her little silk pouch, laid out the crystal shards, and carefully assembled the crystal into its original shape, laying out the pieces in the correct orientation.
“Stand back, Tanya.”
Patricia placed the clay mug on the ground and held a hand over the top. She waited for Tanya to move back a few feet before she unleashed her magic. A roar of blue flame erupted from her palm and swirled around inside the pint.
She had to control the temperature perfectly, heating slowly to keep the heat even throughout the metal. The silver coins started to soften. She was aiming for a specific temperature. She only wanted to melt the silver, not the impurities inside.
Patricia stopped and lifted her hand away. Inside the mug was a puddle of molten silver, with a film of lumpy crud floating on the surface. Rolling up her sleeve, she reached into the molten metal with her bare fingers, lifted the slag out, and flicked it against the cobblestone where it hissed violently.
Tanya looked on in horror, “That doesn’t hurt?”
“Nope, it just feels a bit warm. I’m under the effects of a minor heat immunity spell. One of the first things you learn as a Pyromancer is how not to get burned. We wouldn’t survive practicing our spells otherwise. I’ve blown myself up with experimental spells more times than I can count.”
Patricia grabbed a piece of gemstone, and gently heated it. When it was the same temperature as the molten metal, she scooped up a finger full of pure silver and slathered it along the surface of the fracture. She then took a second piece of heated gemstone and squished it up against the first. She continued piecing the crystal together. It was like building a cobblestone wall, with the shards as the stones, and the silver as the mortar.
The cerulean diamond was once a perfect icosahedron, a round shape with twenty identically sized triangular facets. The result of Patricia’s attempted fix was an irregular, poorly aligned, mess with smears of gooey molten silver squishing out between the cracks. In other words, she basically ruined her diamond. But there was still another step to the process.
Patricia placed the makeshift silver crucible to the side and held the gem in her hand, focusing on it intensely. From her hand, she let a gentle blue flame swirl around the gem, keeping the stone warm, and the silver soft.
She then focused on channeling her mana through the gemstone, like she would for a normal spell focus. It wasn’t easy. The distorted shape caused the mana to scatter and reflect off the outer surface. What mana made it inside felt heavy and restricted. The gemstone resisted her efforts to flow mana through it. This was basically the opposite of what a focus was supposed to do. Straining her mental muscles, she forced the mana through the diamond anyway. Slowly, the resistance inside the gemstone grew weaker, and the weak mana flow turned into a cascading river.
As the mana cycled through the crystal, the misaligned shards twisted themselves into the position of least magical resistance. The changes to the alignment were subtle, hard to see with the naked eye, but the effect on the mana flow was huge. Maintaining her mana flow, Patricia reached with her other hand, and used her fingertips to wipe away the excess silver, creating a nice smooth edge along the gemstone’s seams.
The swirling blue flame grew smaller. Patricia began the gradual cooling process, taking care not to cool too quickly and crack open the seams again. She maintained the mana flow the entire time, careful not to let the pieces slip out of alignment as they cooled.
Nearly an hour later, she was finished. The repaired and cooled mana focusing gem was glittering in her hand. Tanya was sitting cross legged in front of her, watching. She sipped at her pint of ale. She’d gotten up, returned to the tavern, and grabbed a drink for herself partway through the cooling process.
“Whew…” Patricia sighed.
“Shiny,” Tanya commented, taking another sip from her pint.
The repaired diamond was… a functional spell focus. It was certainly better than a glass bead or anything else she’d be able to buy in town. But compared to what it once was… it felt weaker, fuzzier, muddier. It was still powerful, but the feeling of channeling mana through it was like staring at the world through a piece of distorted foggy glass instead of a perfect lens.
It was shiny though. The gem was a beautiful translucent blue, paler than sapphire, but darker than aquamarine. Thin veins of silver glittered between the cracks like bolts of lightning, reflecting light, causing the gem to sparkle.
Patricia tucked the gem back into its silk pouch and stood up. “Let’s go put this in my staff.”
The elf kicked the cracked, silver coated, clay mug off to the side. Picking flakes of hardened silver metal out from under her nails, she walked back around the corner to the tavern.
Once the elf and the human returned to their room, Patricia took her staff out from under her bed. Tanya laid on her own bed and watched the slotting process. It was relatively simple. Patricia channeled a small amount of mana into the empty staff and willed it to open. The adamantine tendrils at the head of the staff bloomed like a flower, and Patricia placed the gem in the center. The tendrils moved back into position, folding over the gemstone enclosing it in a protective cage and automatically aligning it with the rest of the staff.
The powerful and feared Cerulean Witch held her staff in front of her, struck a dramatic pose and wove a small spell so that lightning crackled between her fingertips. “Aah, that’s better.”
“What does that even do?” Tanya asked, suddenly.
“What do you mean?” Patricia let her spell fade away and looked at the thuggish woman quizzically.
“You could shoot lightning and stuff before, without it. Why do you need a staff? Seems like it would just be cumbersome and get in the way while walking around.”
“It’s a spell focus.”
“Yeah, that doesn’t mean anything to me.”
Patricia rolled her eyes. “Why do you need a sword? Why not always fight with your fists?”
“Uuh, swords have longer reach and hit harder?” Tanya answered.
“Yeah, it improves your attack, lets you do things you couldn’t with your bare hands. It’s same idea here. The staff makes my spells have more punch and use less mana. That’s the gist of it anyway.”
Patricia raised a finger, entering lecture mode. “What it actually does is stabilize the spells I cast. Without a focus, I have to basically wrestle the spell into behaving itself. Using a staff, the spell becomes self-stabilizing within a certain mana use threshold. Good focuses, like this diamond have larger regions of stability, letting the staff stabilize more powerful spells. With the extra mental power freed up, I can focus on the spell shape precisely, wasting less mana and improving efficiency. For high mana cost spells, the focus is not enough to keep them stable on its own, but it still makes it easier for me to keep control of it and prevent it from reaching the threshold of instability. There are some spells I simply can’t cast without a focus.”
Tanya scratched her head, “I think I understood most of that. Instability is bad, right.”
“Boom.” Patricia replied, spreading her fingers out, miming an explosion.
The conversation fell silent. Patricia proudly gazed at her staff, twisting it around in her hand, watching the gemstone sparkle. The gem was broken and imperfect now, just like her, but thanks to the silver, it was still beautiful in its own unique way. It was a comforting thought.
“So uuh… what now?” Tanya interrupted Patricia, knocking her out of her trance. “Break the princess out of the castle? or should we go beat up some of those Children of Whatsit that claimed to be responsible for blowing up your house.”
Patricia sat down on the bed across from Tanya, gently laying her staff across her lap. “Children of Kair Tarost.”
“I told Amelia this, but I doubt those guys are actually responsible for that. The spell that blew up the mansion was too powerful. There aren’t many mages capable of doing that, certainly none that would join up with those idiots.”
“Who are these guys anyway?”
“A dark elven rebel group. Their goal is the creation of their own dark elven nation here in the Western Reaches. It’s not a bad goal, we’re treated like shit inside the human dominated Aldmerian Empire, and our fair skinned surface dwelling cousins, the high elves, are even worse neighbours. The problem is, this group also wants us to go back to our old ways, building a society on the backs of enslaved demons. These are young elves, too young to know how stupid of an idea that would be. None of them experienced the horror of a demon invasion firsthand.”
“Right… So what’s the fuck is Kair Tarost then? Some sort of dark elven thing?”
“You mean you don’t know?” Patricia asked, astonished.
Tanya shook her head, “I grew up in a shitty little town, with a shitty little uncle that would never waste his drinking money on books. The only useful thing I learned from him was how to hide bruises. Assume I don’t know anything.”
“It’s the capital city of the former dark elven empire. Our empire once controlled the entire cavern network beneath the Wyrmspine mountains. We were so large and powerful, that the dwarves payed us tribute to keep their mines and cities safe from us. Kair Tarost was the center of a spider’s web of tunnels, the midpoint of the cavern network, the hub of our civilization, a glorious underground metropolis that once held close to a million dark elven citizens. Half of the entire dark elven empire lived in that city. It was where I grew up and lived, before the rift was opened.”
“Wow, you’re old. When did all that Rift and Crusade shit happen again? It’s gotta be more than a hundred years ago right? You do not look your age.”
“It was just over two hundred years ago actually,” Patricia replied.
“How old are you exactly?”
“It’s rude to ask a lady her age,” the dark elf replied.
“So?” Tanya shrugged. “You think I give a fuck about being rude? Just tell me you cocktease!”
Patricia paused for a second, smiling wryly at Tanya. Finally, she replied, “352 years old.”
“Shit!” Tanya said. “I’m twenty-fucking-two. You look younger than me, and you’re like… more than ten times my age.”
“I guess you haven’t met that many elves?” Patricia laughed smugly. “To be honest, I’d actually be considered old, even amongst elven kind. We can live up to a thousand years, but we rarely have the chance to die of old age. Accidental death, magical creature attacks, and combat with the other sapient races were our number one killers. Before the rift opened, the average age of a dark elf was about two hundred. Now, of course, the average dark elf is even younger. Ned’s only about fifty, for example.”
“So what exactly was this Rift? All I know is it had something to do with demons.”
“Well you’re right about that,” said Patricia. “The short version is that a bunch of reckless, overly ambitious, dark elves opened a gateway to the Abyss and the demons gained control of it.”
“And the long version?” Tanya asked.
Patricia returned to lecture mode, pacing around as she spoke, “Normally, demons can only enter our world through a summoning ritual. There are hundreds of ritual variants but they all basically work the same way. The summoned demons appear to be flesh and blood, but in reality, they’re more of a living projection into our world. Their souls stay behind in the Abyss while their minds travel to the mortal plane. It makes them functionally immortal, if they die here then they just go back to the Abyss until summoned again. This projection method also makes them vulnerable to banishment and demon control spells that target the transplanar link between body and soul. They’re fairly simple spells to cast, and advanced variants can be cast over wide areas making them a very effective countermeasure against lesser demons.
“The aforementioned overly ambitious elves used knowledge they gained from the Black Book of Domination and devised a new summoning ritual to fix that issue. It would open a temporary gateway into the Abyss and bring the entire demon to the mortal plane, soul and all. They’d be permanently killable, but they’d also be stronger than normal, and immune to that little banishment weakness. Well, to make a long story short, the spell worked, and when the gate opened, Lightbringer, Demon Lord of Pride, stuck his metaphorical foot in the door. The rift remained open, and thousands of demons poured out.
“The rift opened right in the middle of Kair Tarost. My people were overwhelmed, many tried to flee. Our main access to the surface was through the Dwarven cities, but the dwarves collapsed the tunnels to save themselves, trapping the fleeing elves while the demons came from behind. There were other, less travelled, paths to the surface. Elves that had the luck, or foresight to flee through those paths survived. Out of a population of two million elves spread across the empire, only eleven thousand of us reached the surface.”
“Fuck,” whispered Tanya. “Which one was it for you? Luck, or foresight?”
“Hah!” Patricia let out a sardonic half chuckle. “Neither. I didn’t escape.”
Tanya looked, quite understandably confused.
“The humans quickly sealed the remaining paths to the surface, and organized themselves for a counter attack to stem the demonic tide. A year later, after much preparation, the Crusade, an army of a hundred thousand of the most elite humans, high elves, orcs and beastmen on the continent went underground through an entrance now known as the Hellmouth. They found me and three other unlucky souls inside a torture pit about halfway between Kair Tarost and the surface. The demons had been healing my body after every ‘play session’, but my mind was in pretty bad shape by that point. I don’t remember too much about what happened after. All I know is that I found my staff somehow, and was brought to the surface to recover. The Crusade eventually reached Kair Tarost, and not a single one of them made it back to the surface after me. They somehow closed the rift, but even now, the tunnels are swarming with leftover unbound demons.”
Tanya stayed silent for a bit, before quietly speaking. “You were tortured? For a year? That’s fucked up… Really fucked up.”
“You have no idea,” Patricia agreed.
“Need a hug?” The vulgar girl asked, without any hint of her usual cavalier attitude. She had an unusually sympathetic look on her face.
Patricia raised a hand, about to refuse, but then she just shrugged. Tanya came over and sat next to her on the bed, reaching her arms around in a hug. Patricia relaxed, releasing the tension in her shoulders she didn’t know she had. Even two hundred years later, she wasn’t completely over it. Yeah, Tanya was right, she needed a hug.
A gentle sound rang out across the former village of Roseglen. A horrifying monster was roused from her slumber. The nightmare of nightmares sat up and stretched out her horrible flesh-rending claws. She opened her man eating jaws wide, letting out a yawn.
Lily got up and brushed the flakey ashes and soot off her body. She stretched her sore muscles, letting out a little groan. She ate a lot, and there was more to the demon flesh than sheer volume. The little demons were much weaker than the succubus but added together they had quite a bit of magical essence overall. And then there was the greater demon… Wow! First of all, disgusting… Extra disgusting. The amount of essence inside that body though…
Tanya described how humans got aching muscles after working out. Lily never had sore muscles before, but she suspected this was something similar. She probably gained a lot of new density in a short time from all that eating earlier.
The town square was deserted, but she heard humans in the distance, along with a strange noise. It was a quiet repeating tone, somewhat like the ‘piano’ she poked at in the Montagne house. The humans left the hell knight’s armour behind, along with his sword. She saw scraping marks on the cobblestone, where someone tried, and failed, to lift the sword.
Lily walked up to the sword, carefully wrapping her claws around the grip. The grip was thicker than normal, built for the massive hell knight’s equally massive hand. It was better than the skinny human grips, but it still wasn’t quite right for her claws. Her first two knuckles were like those of a human, a little thicker than theirs, but still soft and flexible. After her third knuckle, her fingertips turned into hard pointed claws, and stretched out for 5 or 6 inches. She could at least grip this handle firmly without stabbing herself in the palm, but her claw tips had to rest against her wrist.
She casually lifted the sword off the ground with one hand, holding it with the same ease that Tanya held her wooden practice sword. She gave it a swing, just for fun. It made a low, thrumming, woosh sound as it pushed through the air.
The sword was taller than her. If she placed the tip in the ground near her toes, her head only reached as high as the guard. The blade itself was dull and chipped, but it was probably heavy enough that sharpness didn’t really matter. The sword wasn’t actually black, it was covered in a thick oily soot. When she scraped the blade with her claw tip, she revealed a shiny, silvery metal underneath, similar to steel in appearance. The metal tarnished before her eyes, slowly turning dark again. After a few seconds the shiny scratch was gone, returned to its original sooty blackness. Weird.
A quick scratch revealed that the armour was made of the same stuff. Out of curiosity, she pressed a claw against the thick chestplate, using the amount of strength she’d usually need to poke through steel armour. Nothing, barely even a scratch. She pushed harder, the metal started to deform, and the tip of her claw poked through, forming a tiny hole. She leaned forward, and used all her strength, gripping the plate with her other claw to keep it steady. With a metallic creaking noise, cracks formed on the edge of the hole she poked, and the metal bent inwards forming a cross shaped tear. Finally, the metal yielded, and she managed to pierce through.
Well that was interesting. Assuming she was back to her old density now, she’d be able to tear through steel plate quite easily, but not this stuff. This plate was probably three times as thick as normal human armour, but she was pretty sure this strange metal was also much stronger than normal steel.
Lily left the armour where it was, it was too cumbersome to bother carrying around and it wouldn’t fit her or anybody she cared about. She hefted the giant sword up and rested it on her shoulder. This sword was a new toy until she got bored of it.
The demon left the cobblestone town square, and wandered along the dirt path, looking at the burned out houses as she passed. She decided to look for the source of the strange sound that woke her up. Eric’s scent trail led this way too.
As she got closer, the faint sound got clearer. After turning a corner, Lily saw the humans congregating around a heavy wagon, laden with all sorts of… human things. Food, clothes, tools, and other boring stuff were piled high on the wagon. Instead of horses, a single gigantic forest drake was hitched up, ready to pull.
The sound was coming from Eric. He had a strange device laid across his lap, and he was adjusting wooden pegs near the tip while plucking the strings. Seemingly content with the adjustments, Eric rested his one hand on the neck of his device, and brushed his fingertips across the strings, creating a complex pattern of tones. It was… pleasant. Lily was overcome with curiosity. Not wanting to scare the humans too much, Lily gently laid the sword on the dirt and crept closer.
Lily walked directly towards Eric, ignoring the nervous humans that suddenly froze and went silent as she passed. She was fixated on the bard, and the strange tones he was producing. Much to her annoyance, Eric stopped making sounds and froze too when he noticed Lily walking towards him.
“Was that music?” The demon asked.
“Uuh… that was just a warm up,” Eric stammered. “Just making sure it was in tune.”
“Oh,” Lily said, letting her disappointment show. She was hoping to hear music.
Eric flinched, afraid that Lily might attack him perhaps?
Lily rolled her eyes, raised her claws in a placating gesture, and took a step back, out of swiping distance. “I’m not going to harm you.”
Eric looked a bit less nervous but still didn’t look entirely convinced. “Uh… want me to play something?”
“Play?” Lily asked, somewhat confused.
“Music?” Eric said uncertainly.
Lily nodded and smiled.
Eric took a deep breath, closed his eyes, and let his tension melt away. His fingers played across the strings, producing a cascade of musical tones. It was strange and amazing, completely outside of Lily’s experience. The sounds carried the rhythm and sophistication of expert combat. Eric was fighting both sides of a battle between his fingers. Lily sat down cross-legged, closed her eyes, and listened.
Soon enough, Lily stopped focusing on the complexity, and technicality of the music, and found herself lost in the sound. The soft tones of the lute were peaceful, relaxed. The wrath, the lust, the gluttony, all melted away. She was content, happy just to sit here and listen. Nothing else mattered.
The cascade of individual notes almost felt like they had some meaning behind them. There were no words to this song, no literal meaning behind it, but together, the notes conveyed emotion. This was a… sad song. As Lily listened, she began to feel the sadness too.
Sadness… This is what humans experienced when loved ones were taken away from them. She’d been told this but had always struggled to understand when it meant exactly. This was not a song of wrath, or revenge like she expected. This song was content simply to feel and accept the loss. Sadness was a painful emotion, and humans felt this way when their friends and family died.
So… this was why Amelia was so adamant about Lily not killing anyone.
When the song ended a thoroughly relaxed Lily opened her eyes again, looking up at the bard. He was looking back at her nervously, waiting to see her reaction.
“Beautiful,” she said quietly. “That was music?”
Eric nodded sheepishly.
“You must play more for me.” Lily said. It wasn’t a request.
“Uuh Miss Demon…” a quiet voice interrupted from behind.
Lily looked over her shoulder and saw Boy, with his sister Milly huddling behind him. They survived apparently.
“I wanted to thank you… for saving us,” the boy gave the demon a nervous smile.
What was the polite thing to say again? Oh right. “You’re welcome,” the demon replied.
Nearly all the survivors were nervously watching the exchange. At Lily’s polite words, they all stopped holding their breaths. Driven by some incomprehensible feeling of gratitude, one by one, each of them came to thank the demon for her help. None of them seemed truly relaxed around her. Likely this was meant as a strategy. They were probably just trying to get on Lily’s good side so she didn’t decide to attack them.
The last person to come up and thank her was a young woman, still brused and scratched up from the night before, who introduced herself as Rose. She was the most terrified of all the villagers. “Th-thank y-you,” she squeaked.
“You’re welcome,” the demon replied for what felt like the sixtieth time. Hmm… this one was almost the same size as Amelia.
“I’m going to pick you up,” Lily said, standing up.
“W-what?” The nervous girl started trembling and took a step back.
Lily took a step forward. Rose tucked her head down, closed her eyes, and brought her arms up to protect her head. The humans let out another collective gasp and Lily scooped up the terrified girl in a princess carry.
The trembling girl kept her eyes closed, and remained completely rigid, covering her face with her arms. Hmm… wow she felt light. Lily bent her knees into a squat and slowly straightened back up. Very light. The trembling girl squeaked when Lily did a few short hops into the air. Yes, there was still a small noticeable difference…
The shivering creature in Lily’s arms whimpered helplessly, and Lily finally let her back down. The girl scurried off to hide behind the other humans. Lily ignored the mutterings of confusion from the nearby humans, lost in her thoughts about weight ratios and differences.
“Eleven Roses,” Lily concluded out loud. Assuming one Rose was roughly equal to one Amelia. She was much stronger and heavier than she’d ever been before. Before killing Candy, she’d been around seven Amelias, and after, she was closer to five. Now, she was eleven.
Finally noticing the terror and confusion in her audience, Lily explained, “I wanted to feel how heavy she was.”
The humans’ expressions did not change. They still didn’t understand. “I weigh eleven Roses.”
Most of the humans remained confused. Rose herself had a whispered conversation with an older man near the back of the crowd. After a few more seconds, he spoke up. “twelve hundred pounds?” He asked, incredulous.
Lily shrugged. She knew humans measured weight in pounds. Patricia said that elves used a unit called the kilogram that was based on the weight of water. Patricia was very adamant that the elven way was better. Lily thought they both missed the point. She wanted to know how heavy she was compared to another person. That’s what mattered during battle, after all.
Lily faced Eric and sat down in front of him. “Another song,” she said firmly. The bard began to play.
Two hours later, it was mid-afternoon, and the caravan was packed. Not wanting to spend another night in the destroyed village, the humans decided to leave and get as far as they could before the sun went down. Their destination was Befield.
Some of the humans were alarmed when Lily picked up the massive demonic greatsword and followed along with the caravan. She could tell they weren’t comfortable with her presence, but she wasn’t done with Eric or his music. The humans didn’t try to stop her. None of them were brave enough to risk insulting her.