It was a difficult journey to Eretia mountains. Everything was easy while they were on the main road, but once they left the last settlement, trekking through the wilderness, craggy or overgrown with vegetation, Yovan would often find himself out of breath. For Halia, the rocky landscape was as comfortable as a straight road. Her goat legs would manage to find the perfect route through bumps and jagged surfaces. Her smell also seemed to scare off dangerous animals. So at least Yovan could sleep without worrying that something will eat him in his sleep. But Halia was another pest in itself. Every time he woke up, he would find her playing with his morning wood. Which seemed great the first few seconds of waking, until he would remember that she was a succubus and would probably kill him once she had some fun. Maybe the killing was also part of the fun for her. The fact that some small fragment of him lusted after her, just added to the sense of horror she usually evoked. Still, he tried to explain to her to back off, but the concept of personal space was indecipherable to her. It was like explaining color to a blind person. For her, bodies were there to give pleasure, and any time that wasn't utilized was a blasphemy. If the body was a temple, Halia was its high priestess.
"You should exercise mooore. I was very disappointed with your butt."
"I am not interested in impressing you with my but. Please, stop talking about it."
"It's just too soft. It doesn't seem like one adventurer would have, more like someone who sits on it the whole day."
"Can we just focus on the quest? I have one week left to finish it or I'll die."
"Uuuuu, doesn't living so close to death excite you?"
"No! Of course not, what is wrong with you? Can't you focus for one second? We need to find a mage and merge souls after this, and we still haven't found the damn dragon."
Yovan stopped and grabbed a nearby tree to hold on to. Panic overwhelmed him every time he mentioned merging his soul with the dragon's. But more depressingly, that was the best imaginable outcome in his current situation. It's not something a normal person would aspire to achieve. On the plus side, the tree's root provided a solid chair.
"Listen, Yovan. We already know he's somewhere around here. It's a big dragon, we'll see him flying sooner or later."
"If he didn't go to sleep. Dragons sleep for weeks, even months…"
"I'm suuuure if we stay positive, luck will be on our side."
"Fuck my life when finding an ancient dragon is considered lucky."
Was he always this pessimistic? Yovan couldn't remember. Everything seemed a blur these few days. He never expected much from life, and only took the minimum he needed to survive, so that made it hard for him to get disappointed. Maybe a true hero would rise up to the occasion and make everything better. Instead of inspiration, this train of thought just drove him more bitter by the second. Everyone thinks they would be great, but when trouble comes rampaging towards them, they would crack like a fallen vase. Not before he was fully immersed in the unfairness of the world, a hot presence encroached on his skin. Halia's hand caressed his thigh, and like dew on a leaf, whispered into his ear.
"Well, if you've given up, and these are indeed your last days, maybe we could find some alternative way to spend them together."
"Ok, I've found my motivation."
Hunter, or in this case the prey, jumped to his feet, pulling the map out of his bag.
"Dragons love elevated places. There are a couple of peaks that we should definitely check out. But first, we should check Turonats castle. It's near a cliff, on the other side of that mountain to the north, and was abandoned two years ago. It's also a good location for the dragon's lair. What do you think?"
"Hmmmm, sure. Castles make it easier for dragons to hide their treasure. I wouldn't be surprised if that greedy snake made it its home."
"You don't like dragons? I thought as creatures of fire, demons, and dragons would get along."
"I don't like greed. It is the opposite of love. We should all share and enjoy love in our life. Taking everything for yourself and hoarding it is the worst thing I can imagine. I could torture endlessly that kind of people. Break their backs slowly, so they couldn't run away. Burn their skin to a crisp and then slowly peel it off. And then I would nibble the tender, juicy meat underneath while they watch in absolute terror."
Yovan's eyes widened as Halia got more invested in her explanation. He'll have to remember to share his food with her next time.
"It's nice that you have other interests besides sex. At least."
It was difficult to stay on the right path in the dense, mountain forest. Yovan got a few scratches on his face when Halia pulled a branch to pass through and then released it, not thinking of her companion behind. After a couple of hours, when the sun was at its peak, they emerged in a clearing. They were at the base of the mountain, and up in the distance, a foggy visage of castle walls and towers mocked the ants underneath.
"I muuust commend your sense of direction. Just where we wanted to be."
"Yes, and take a look down there."
Below the cliff, carcasses of different animals laid all around. They were burned and severely deformed with huge bite marks and cuts by seemingly massive claws.
"Seee, I told you if we think positively everything will turn out fine."
Yovan raised his head up, eyeing the fortress high up in the sky. The climb was rocky, steep, and dangerous. They won't reach it easily.
"I'm not so sure yet. It is still really high, we will need the whole day to climb up. I doubt we can do it even by next morning…"
"You underestimate me, human. My legs were made for this."
"Sure, you can do it, but what am I going to do?"
"Don't worrrrry, I'll carry you on my back. We'll be there in a jiffy."
There was nothing that he could say. They needed time. Yovan bit on his tongue and breathed out some air and his will to argue.
"You really want to strip me of my dignity."
"Ohh, not ju-"
"Don't say it!"
Halia closed her mouth, blinked several times with a small grin on her face. Then she turned and gestured to Yovan to hop on. He put his hands around her shoulders and jumped up, so she could grab his legs.
"Uhm, Halia. Could you stop wiggling your tail please?"
"No, not possible. Now hold on."
With the tenacity of an unleashed dog, Halia rushed up the slope. Balancing perfectly on the steep, uneven surface. Yovan closed his eyes and started praying.
The sun was just settling beyond the horizon when they reached the castle entrance. Halia was slightly panting, so they made a short break for her to catch her breath. Yovan took a stroll around the castle wall to stretch his legs and to see if he could gather anything useful. Walls were still in shape, but the door was completely in tatters. It seems Sonblast didn't care much for the protection of the walls. And why should he? If someone was strong enough to challenge him, some door wouldn't make a difference. Inside of the castle was completely silent, hopefully, he was still there. If he was asleep that would be amazing. Could he pull this off though? He took out the stone for the demon summoning. It was the size of his palm, flat, and perfectly round. He squeezed it tight. Maybe if all goes well, he could collect that huge reward that was promised to him. Yovan didn't care that much for power, but if it was gold, he could retire somewhere safe and spend the remainder of his days far away from danger as possible. Sad laughter broke away from his mouth. He was just deluding himself.
"We should summon Adramalech right now. Better to go inside with full strength."
His companion was eager to start it seems.
"Is that his name?"
"Yes, you can call him Adri as well. His name is much too long."
"Let's just start on it."
"Ok, you take the bottom, I prefer the top."
Yovan laid down the stone on his palms, while Halia covered it with hers. He focused on his hands, controlling the flow of magic through him. Slowly sparks started to form. The heat from Halia's side penetrated his skin, and he strengthened his spell, engendering combustion. Two waves of flame met around the stone, circling, penetrating each other, building upon the other.
"Can you keep up?", asked Halia.
"Sure, no problem."
Stone started vibrating heavily, and they both removed their hold over it. A molten red rock appeared before them. From it, two massive, crooked horns appeared. The rock split into five fragments, with each one changing their shape and size. Red, muscular body soon formed, while arms and legs grew with each flame from it. Wings unfurled in a cacophony of light. And with the light gone, an emotionless head appeared. His nose seemed like the front of it was completely cut off. And finally, his yellow eyes opened and took a careful look at his surroundings. Yovan was overwhelmed by the brutality of the magic that surged forward. The demon from the city had just a fraction of this power. Halia skipped up and down, clapping her hands in delight.
"Haliacarnix why have thee summoned me?"
"Hi Adri, good to see you. We are on a quest for Lord N00bpwn3r. And we need your help."
"My eyes deceiveth me nevermore, that human there, friend or foe?"
"Friend!", said Yovan, "Friend, dear demon. We need your help like we need a… lemon?"
"Doth that human mock my speech? If so, I shall make him my bitch."
"Nah, he's just a liiiitle nervous. We're here to defeat Sonblast the dragon. He's somewhere in the castle."
"Ah, Sonblast. His might and arrogance are not lacking. I will gladly give him a whacking."
"But one more thing. Our friend here, Yovan, is veeeery important. So be extra careful to protect him. Lord's orders and stuff. Ok?"
"Very well. Even though it brings me sorrow, that human will live to see tomorrow."
Yovan finally exhaled. The exchange was… surprising, to say the least. Were all demons eccentric like these two? Yovan decided not to use some harsher words to describe them, in case Adramalech could read his mind. He should definitely try not to antagonize the archdemon. He turned away from them towards the entrance.
"Let's move in. Hopefully, we'll take out the bastard before he notices us."
They sneaked around, checking everywhere for Sonblast. Unfortunately, Adramalech's feet burned the grass with his every step, so they weren't as stealthy as he hoped they would be. Castle looked worse from the inside. There were burn marks everywhere, patching the gray stone with coal-black. A dragon definitely lived here recently. When they reached the barracks' practice range, a crunching sound reached their ears. Yovan stopped his companions and peeked behind the corner. A ten-meter tall, black dragon appeared. He had spikes on top of a head, regalia of a powerful beast. His scales flowed seamlessly one onto another, creating an illusion of a gleaming, plate armor. The dragon was munching on some unfortunate animal and seemed completely consumed by the task. Halia's and Adramalech's searing heat flowed right behind Yovan's back.
"Listen, Yovan," Halia whispered, "we will take it from here. You just stay safe and if anything unexpected happens, just run away. Ok?"
Yovan nodded slightly. His face was expressionless, but inside he was jubilant to sit this one through. He knew his limits, and a fight between archdemons and a dragon wasn't somewhere he could prove himself useful. Adramalech, on the other hand, just walked in front of the dragon with his arms spread wide.
"Sonblast, my friend. I came to give your story the end."
The dragon was stupefied by the sudden entrance. He dropped his lunch and backed away a couple of steps.
"What the… You stupid demons really need to know your place. I'll rip your flesh into pieces and destroy your souls."
"I think you're just a scaaaaared, overgrown snake. Now, die!"
And with that, Halia conjured a dark purple spear of energy and hurled it at Sonblast. The dragon dodged to the side, the missile just grazing him. He propelled to his back legs and released a molten flame all around him. Yovan moved behind his cover, but the flames still made a few burns on his cheeks. When he looked again, he saw that demons were unharmed. Adramalech was balancing several black spheres in the air. He threw them at the dragon. In mid-air they exploded into a greasy web, attaching themselves and holding the dragon in place. Halia immediately followed with another dark energy spear. This one hit hard, damaging a few scales of the immaculate looking protection. Sonblast roared with rage. He released another flame, destroying the web that held him in place. In an instant, he charged the recuperating Halia. But Adramalech wouldn't allow that. He put himself in front of her and stopped the dragon's onslaught with his hands.
"Already you are outmatched and out of breath. Surrender, and we will grant you a painless death."
Sonblast snapped his tongue. He lifted the demon and threw him at the walls. Adramalech crashed into it, making a deep dent. Halia leaped behind a cart and cast a fireball but Sonblast created a magical shield and blocked it. He created several bolts of light and threw a barrage where Halia was hiding. They destroyed the cart with a loud explosion, but Halia threw herself to the side, escaping in time. Sonblast focused the succubus. He made a round motion with his hands, preparing a molten ball while she was busy evading his last attack. As he was ready to cast, a green energy blast pierced his arm. Sonblast shrieked with pain. Adramalech proceeded with another blast, while Halia supported with a shockwave of fire. Pincered by two attacks, Sonblast tried to create two shields, but the less powerful version was only strong enough to stop Halia's attack. Adramalech's pierced his defenses and made another cut through his scales. The dragon grew desperate. He released another flame wave, but just like the last time, it didn't hurt the demons. Soon it became obvious that wasn't the point of the attack. Once fire dissipated they saw Sonblast flying, trying to escape.
"Oh, no you won't," said Halia and cast a lightning spell.
It hit Sonblast's right wing. He lost balance as the wing spasmed and crashed in the center of the castle. He pulled himself up and noticed Yovan. He raged at the sight of another opponent.
"You! You must be the warlock who summoned those wretches. If I kill you they'll return to hell with you."
"No, no, no. You've got it all wrong!"
But his pleas fell on deaf ears as Sonblast was already rushing towards him. Yovan ran into the barracks and dashed towards the stairs. Hoping to lose the dragon inside. Sonblast rammed through the wall. The whole construction shook as bricks and stone flew everywhere. He followed Yovan right behind, trashing everything in his path. The young hunter ran up the stairs, searching desperately for sanctuary. But there was nowhere to hide. With only seconds left, he charged the window and jumped with his whole length through it. A moment later, the window and the wall erupted as Sonblast's determination couldn't be stopped by any object. Yovan saw the large maw open, trying to swallow him whole. He panicked. Flailed his arms and legs. Screamed at the jaw. Nothing smart came to him as his brain failed him. A touch outside of the dragon's reach, Adramalech tackled the dragon, putting some distance between Yovan and them.
"Leave the human alone, or I will make you moan."
"Stop rhyming you annoying moron."
Yovan fell, but the soft landing surprised him. Halia caught him in her arms.
"I wouldn't have been hurt from this height."
Halia shrugged her shoulders jovially.
"Neeever take chances. Now let's get back to business."
In front of them, two behemoths still fought, grappled, tried to pin each other down, but neither gave an inch. Then they both pulled back their right arms and started preparing a spell. On top of Sonblast's palm, a molten sphere appeared again, while Adramalech chose a ball of dark energy. Halia saw an opening. Without hesitation, she conjured her spear again and cast it at the dragon. Both Adramalech and Sonblast finished their spells and slammed each other with it in melee range. At that moment, Halia's spear pierced through the dragon's chest and rammed into both molten and dark energy sphere, destabilizing all three. The ground shook. The energy of all three spells spun uncontrollably, creating a flaming vortex. Both Adramalech and Sonblast screamed as the vortex sucked them in. Yovan and Halia both stood shocked, dazed by the unstable spell. Yovan quickly came to. He threw himself at Halia, bringing both of them to the ground.
"Shut your eyes."
The explosion shook them to the core, while high-pitched sound reverberated through their ears. Even though Yovan closed his eyes the hardest he could, the explosion still lightened the insides of his eyelids. He bit his teeth and embraced Halia as he prepared for the worst. The worst never came. The shaking stopped and the sound dissipated. Yovan opened his left eye. Everything was calm. Just two giant bodies lied motionless in front of him. Yovan and Halia rushed to see what happened. The bizarre sight wasn't something Yovan expected. Adramalech and Sonblast were dead. But their bodies were intertwined, fused, pieced so much together, that Yovan couldn't be sure where Adramalech's body began and where Sonblast's ended. Sonblast's wing was in the middle of Adramalech's chest, while Adramalech's leg was on top of Sonblast's head… Every piece was somewhere it shouldn't have been. A mentally unstable artist couldn't have imagined such a scene in his worst nightmare. Halia dropped onto her knees in front of her friend's body.
She held her head in her hands, weeping silently. Yovan was taken aback by it. He never thought demons could experience such emotions. Guess losing a friend would be a hard hit for anyone. Yovan extended his arm to pat Halia on the back when she hopped up with a big smile on her face.
"Now, we only need to do the ritual for extracting Sonblast's soul."
Yovan was once again left stunned by Halia.
"Were you and Adramalech close?"
"Yes, we were very close."
"Doesn't seem like it to me."
Succubus gave him a puzzling look and then her face brightened up with delight once more.
"Aaah, demons process grief muuuuch faster than humans. That over there was like a year worth of grieving for humans."
Yovan shrugged at this information. Not like how demons process emotions will in any way be useful. He went outside the castle for his bag and returned with an empty flask.
"Hopefully this will do the trick."
"Yeees, that will be perfect storage for the dragon's soul"
They both looked at the merged body of a dragon and a demon.
"What… How are we going to do it?"
"Weeell, we just perform it over the dragon's chest. That's where the soul is stored."
"I mean, it's all mushed together. Are you sure this will work."
"Of courrrse, you can trust me. We demons know our souls."
Yovan wasn't convinced but saw no alternative. He sat on the ground and opened the flask, holding it in front of him. Halia stood between him and the part of the mutilated body that seemed like Sonblast's chest. She closed her eyes and her whole figure started glowing bright red. She repeated an incantation in what Yovan assumed was some demonic language, saying it louder with every repetition. The body started twitching uncontrollably. A purple mist rose from it, changing directions and form, like an otter. Halia wouldn't allow it to escape. With one swift motion, she transferred the soul to the flask and sealed it in. On cue, Yovan closed it, trapping the soul inside. They had it. Yovan looked at the amorphous gas inside. His lips moved in a smile. Then he laughed. He laughed hard, like a madman whose deceit finally passed.
"I've never seen you lauuugh before. You should do it more often."
"I can't believe we did it. It's so surreal."
"This is only half of the task."
"I know, but still. I was sure I was going to die here. I guess my luck finally changed for the better."
Yovan put the flask in a metal container and packed everything in his bag. They needed to go immediately. Finding a mage to perform the ritual might prove troublesome. At least now he had a reason to be optimistic. If everything goes like today, he may even look at early retirement from the reward he is going to get for this quest. He just needed to hold on.
"I owe your tail a lot of kisses."