12. Two of Us
I returned to the scene where I had left Haec behind, fleeing to save my own life from the [Djinn]. The magical ash on the ground was still there, but it was vanishing— the magic holding it together diffusing back to the surroundings. My footsteps dispersed what was left of the ashes as I stepped to the small pool of black liquid at the base of the hill.
There was a trail here; the wound I had left on the Greater Demon, while not severe, drew enough blood to leave a path to follow. So I followed it, distributing my Stat and Skill Points as I did.
[Available Stat Points: 5]
[Available Skill Points: 3]
[Basic Fire Creation] - Lvl. 5
[Double Step] - Lvl. 5
[Fire Strike] - Lvl. 10 (Maxed)
[Fire Blast] - Lvl. 4
[Passive - General Tool Proficiency] - Lvl. 2
[Unused Skill Slot] x2
I thought about it, just barely. I had been as fast as the [Djinn] was— or maybe even slightly slower— before I raised my [Agility] as I fled. But I spent everything I had on it, and while I was probably faster now, it couldn’t hurt to raise it even more. So I spent another 2 Stat Points on it.
[Strength] was useless here. And so was [Endurance]. That left [Vitality] and [Wisdom]. Which would I spend more on?
[Vitality] seemed tempting— I was fain to raise it after having nearly died just earlier. But then I wouldn’t be able to harm the [Djinn]. And I did have a way to harm him.
[Basic Fire Creation].
It was a taxing Skill. And I couldn’t conjure up as large of a flame as I was able to with even [Basic Fire Conjuration]. Yet it could hurt the Greater Demon, even if slightly. With that in mind, I decided: I added all of my Skill Points to [Basic Fire Creation] and 2 Stat Points to my [Wisdom], leaving the last Stat Point to [Vitality].
Satisfied, I glanced back up at the terrain around me, still following the trail of blood the [Djinn] had left behind. It was more difficult to track now. But I was getting close.
Now Entering [Demon King’s Domain].
I continued my run even with the notification in my head, not even pausing slightly as the words settled in and phased out. And finally, I arrived.
The trail of blood led to an opening on the side of the hill. I stopped right outside of it, staring into the illuminated cavern; crystals of light hung on the side of the white walls, shining as bright as a fire. Taking one last look around to ensure the same trail I had been following led me into the cave, I entered it.
Now Entering [Lair: Lucerna’s Lamp].
This place was… a lair? I eyed the side of the seemingly natural walls dubiously; it definitely seemed to be smoothed out— but refined, not made. The [Djinn]— was his name Lucerna?— had appropriated this place as his own. I thought for a moment to ask him how he did that, but dismissed it quickly.
No, I told myself, materializing a small spike made of fire. All that matters now is I get Haec out of here.
Maybe we could have our own lair to ourselves in the future. But that wasn’t important at the moment. I could not lose focus. And I was glad I didn’t.
My ears perked up as I heard a distant voice echoing from the end of the tunnel. I tensed, backing up thinking that Lucerna had found me out. But then I realized he was not calling me out— he was talking to someone.
I hugged the side of the wall and crept up slowly to the end of the tunnel before it expanded into a large cave chamber. I stopped as I saw a large shadow moving just ahead of me. The shadow stopped as a booming voice spoke out.
“Yes, yes. This is certainly a weapon fitting a Greater Demon such as I. Smaller than I’m used to, but its advantages— it is terrific.”
There was a pause— a moment of silence. Then a second, more familiar voice came.
“...Salvos told me it was a ‘Medium Grade Weapon’. Doesn’t sound too ‘terrific’ to me.”
Haec. I tried to peer over the corner— to get a glance of my companion. But I moved back as the large shadow of the [Djinn] moved.
“Hrmph, perhaps to a simpleminded fool such as you.”
Lucerna harrumphed as he moved further away from me, his shadow disappearing towards the end of the cave chamber. I edged closer as he continued.
“Tell me, [Fiend]. When you pick up a rock and identify it, does it tell you the Grade of the rock? Or does it simply describe it as it is— a rock?”
I peeked over the corner and caught a glimpse of my companion, confined inside of a structure of bars made of… metal. It was a cage— a cell to hold him in. While the [Djinn]’s back was turned, I waved at my companion, getting his attention. Haec’s eyes widened as he saw me.
“No response? Maybe I’ve overestimated even your intelligence. It is expected for a newborn to be ignorant, but as undiscerning as you?”
I backed up as Lucerna dropped something heavy loudly onto the ground. He turned back to Haec, strutting up to the cage.
“Think, [Fiend]. A rock can be used as a weapon, yet it has no Grade. No— only a weapon crafted with at least a modicum of skill and mastery would be qualified as a Low Grade Weapon. A simple mass produced sword by a low leveled [Blacksmith] wouldn’t ever get a Grade.”
My companion just stared up at the Greater Demon, staying silent. Lucerna scoffed, stepping back and away from him.
“My Burning Mace has been a useful weapon. A rather powerful weapon for being Low Grade. But even compared to this—”
The [Djinn] held up the Spear of Flames, admiring it against a crystal of light.
“To think someone was capable of magically creating such a weapon. It will last till the end of the Desolation, even as it degrades to below a Low Grade Weapon by then. Is it… is it perhaps the work of an Archdemon?”
He mused to himself before shaking his head. As he did this, I finally stepped into the room and ducked behind the cover of some tall rocks.
I poked my head out briefly, getting a full view of the room for once. There was a stack of cages to the right of the room, closest to me and where Haec was being held in. To the left was where Lucerna was standing, by a large table of stone with a pile of objects strewn all over. There were clumps of small items made of gold and silver; weapons of various shapes and sizes; and… other cloth things that seemed similar to what he wore— clothes?
I ducked my head back down as the [Djinn] looked back down. I kept my head low as I slowly edged around the side to more rocks, getting close to my companion. As I did, I caught a glimpse of what was at the end of the room. There was something drawn onto the ground. A black kind of ink forming a circle with symbols within— was it blood? I couldn’t really tell. But it was there.
Haec turned to me as I stopped a few rocks away from him. I gestured at him to remain quiet as the [Djinn] walked to the end of the room. There was something on the bars of his cage— something that I could tell was preventing him from just swinging it open. I gave him a look and he pointed towards a ringed object with a glistening object on it. It was a key.
I could sense the mana emanating off it. There was something about it that made it magical. And so was there something that made the cage magical. Well, there were a lot of magical things in the room, like the circle that was on the ground. But it was my companion’s insistent nodding that made me decide that the key was necessary to open the cage.
I started to the left side of the room, still keeping low and hoping that Lucerna didn’t see me. The Greater Demon was now standing over the circle, inspecting the symbols on it. The ringed object around his neck suddenly glowed. He nodded to himself.
“Well then, let’s see what contract there is for me.”
Lucerna tapped on the object and it stopped glowing. Suddenly, the circle flashed. I felt an immense amount of mana— more than I had ever felt before— tear into the ground. Then the symbols on it shift. It spun faster and faster, the circle seemingly sinking into the ground, until finally it stopped. The circle vanished, and in its place was suddenly an image.
The [Djinn] looked down at the image and I could almost hear him frown.
“What’s this? This is the contract that I had been offered? The sacrifice that I had come back here for? Ridiculous.”
I had just reached the table and was about to grab the key when he whirled around. I caught myself, ducking back into cover just time.
“Do they really believe that such a sacrifice is worthy of me. A Greater Demon? As if being a virgin makes a woman give any more experience or mana. No— I require more. A family, at least. And even that is an offering to a Lesser Demon. Or perhaps if she were higher leveled. But alas, it was a waste of time to come here. Come, [Fiend]. You get to meet your King sooner than expected.”
I panicked as I realized the [Djinn] was heading for the key. What do I do? He could discover me. And even if he didn’t discover me, he was going to just grab Haec and leave once again. Did I attack him once he let my companion go? I didn’t think things would go differently from last time if it came down to that. Luckily for me, I didn’t need to do anything as my companion spoke out, stopping him in his tracks.
“What are you going to do to me?”
The Greater Demon paused, just before the table. Then he turned around and started back in the direction of the cage. Haec must have realized my dilemma and was trying to distract him. This was my chance!
I got up and quickly grabbed the key before disappearing back behind the rocks as Lucerna stopped right in front of the cage.
“What am I going to do to you? Are you not listening, fool? I will take you to our King. And when you meet him, make sure that you’ve learned your lesson and address him with respect. King Regnorex is sure to reward me if I bring back even a single Lesser Demon— but if you prove your worthlessness by insulting him? You will be killed on the spot, and I shall be punished too.”
My companion didn’t respond immediately, which seemed to anger the [Djinn]. The Greater Demon banged once on the cage, rocking it and knocking the stack of cages behind him onto the ground.
“Do you understand? Or will I have to make you understand again?”
Lucerna left my companion and went back to the stone table. The moment he did, I leapt out from behind the rocks and started to fumble at the rocks with the key. I nodded at Haec to not say a word as I tried to get him out, as the Greater Demon was angrily muttering to himself.
“Now where did I leave it? I know I left it here somewhere—”
The key turned and the door swung open. But before that could happen— as I unlocked the cage— there was a sound. A sound that alerted the [Djinn]. He whirled around as I yelled.
I threw the flame spike I had on my hand at Lucerna, aiming for his eyes. I wasn’t sure how, but I somehow knew how to throw it in a way that made it dart through the air faster than even I could move. He blinked then reached up to cover his face. But he was too slow. He screamed in pain as the small spike pierced into his eye.
Haec burst out of the cage behind me, sprinting as fast as he could for the tunnel that would lead to the exit. He had a brief head start, but even then I caught up to him quickly enough. I grabbed him by the hand and pulled him as I ran ahead, trying to make him go faster.
A ball of ash flew over our heads, exploding right before the tunnel. I stopped just in time to avoid the impact of the blast. Even if I had healed somewhat, that would have still killed me. Before I could try to continue past the cloud of smoldering ash left behind from the attack, a large mace came crashing between me and my companion.
I rolled to the side, picking myself up as fast as I could while Haec rubbed at his bloodied arms.
The Greater Demon grabbed his stone table, lifting the entire thing with everything still on it, and flung it at me.
“You dare come to my lair and attack me? I will make you pay!”
He backed up and almost stumbled onto the image on the ground. The [Djinn] caught himself and I narrowed my eyes. But before I could do anything, the table crashed to the side of me, just barely missing me.
He wasn’t able to see well— I had blinded him in one eye. If we wanted to escape… I spun to my companion.
“Go! I’ll catch up to you!”
Haec stopped himself. He eyed me hesitantly, but eventually nodded. He ran for the door as the [Djinn] raced to stop him. I flung another two more fire spikes at the Greater Demon, stopping him as he successfully blocked his face this time.
Lucerna angrily turned his gaze to me. His one remaining eye was bulging with hatred, almost as if it was about to explode. He brought his spear to the ground, sending a line of burning smoke at me. I jumped over it, landing amongst the scattered pile of cages.
The Greater Demon sent more balls of ash at me, but I weaved between the cages. The accumulation of ash formed a light haze where I was. I grinned as my plan began to work.
“Where are you?!”
He bellowed, stopping after he sent one last ball of ash. It exploded, but this time, not anywhere close to me. I lowered my body behind some rocks, away from the cages. He wasn’t able to see me anymore, his vision too obscured by his own ash.
I saw Haec begin to turn the corner, finally reaching the tunnel. Lucerna’s gaze snapped to this and I threw a fire spike at him. The Greater Demon jumped back, having anticipated this. Then I leapt out of my cover, running across the room to my companion’s side—
The [Djinn] grinned.
Smoke burst out in all directions around him. I was thrown back as the hot smoke burned my skin. I screamed as I felt the scalding heat exacerbate the wounds I had previously suffered. I collapsed to the ground, my vision a blur and ears ringing.
I thought I heard Haec call out to me, but everything was spinning. I struggled to get to my feet but a shadow loomed over me. I looked up and saw Lucerna raising my spear at me.
I saw the ash appear and begin to form a ball. My eyes widened and I almost went straight to what my instinct told me to do. [Double Step]! Get out of the way— no, I wouldn’t be able to get far enough to avoid the impact. The blast would still reach me. And if it didn’t kill me right off, whatever came next from him would.
There was a scream from behind me. My companion was shouting and running to help me. But he would be too slow. There was nothing I could do. I would die here. At least, that was what I thought until I looked between the [Djinn]’s legs.
Behind him was the image on the ground. The circle that became a hole. It was the reason he had come back here— except he didn’t think it was worth coming back over now. And when he almost fell into it, he panicked, even for just a moment.
I glanced back up at Lucerna, the ball of ash finally finished forming. Then back at my companion who was still halfway to me. Then I made my decision.
I pushed myself off the ground, charging forward at the Greater Demon. I struck him across the chest with all my shoulder, throwing my entire body behind it together with my increased speed. The [Djinn] went staggering back, losing his balance as I pushed him with what little strength I had.
There was a forced exhale as his ball of ash launched to the ceiling of the cave. He stumbled as he tried to regain his footing on the edge of the circle— and I ran into him once again, this time unaided by Skill. He slipped— and fell into the hole on the floor.
I wasn’t sure if it would work. I had no idea what it would do. But as the Greater Demon went falling into the hole, the image vanished and was replaced by a void of darkness. The ring around his neck flashed as he screamed at me.
I tried to back up— to get away from the hole before it would consume me too. But suddenly a hand grabbed me by the leg. I looked down, and to my horror, I saw Lucerna clutching at my leg.
He was pulling me with him. I tried to claw at the ground— stop myself from falling with him. But he was bigger than me. He was heavier than me. And he dragged me with him.
I went falling through the hole too. I tried to claw the Greater Demon’s hands off me, but he was laughing— cackling like crazy. [Fire Strike]! [Fire Strike]! [Fire Strike]! Eventually, he lost his grip. Then from the top of the hole, I heard a voice.
“Salvos grab my hand!”
I glanced up and saw Haec reaching for me. I tried to swim out of the darkness— out of the black ocean that was closing in on me. My companion reached out for me and I reached for him—
And the circle closed.
Everything went black. There was no more light. I felt like I was being born once again, stuck in an infinite void. I tried to break out of it. I swung my arms, scratching at the surface, but nothing broke. Nothing except for the silence in my head.
Now Leaving [Lair: Lucerna’s Lamp].
Now Leaving [Demon King’s Domain].
Now Leaving [Nexeus: Netherworld].
After those words came, there was nothing for a moment. Just a moment.
Then I heard a crack.
Now Entering [Nexeus: Mortal Realm].
I suddenly found myself on solid ground, bent over on my hands and knees. I was staring at a circle on the floor— a black circle with some red liquid spilling by my claws. I glanced up at the [Cultist] who was spreading his arms wide in a declaration.
“Oh mighty Lucerna! Greater Demon of the Netherworld! You’ve accepted this offering, and now we implore you—”
The man paused. He looked down at me, then looked past me. He blinked.
“Wait, why are there two of you?”
“Did we just get two for the price of one? Awesome!”