Mistpire was a relatively small province, at least compared to the other provinces I had been in before. That was likely because Shedos itself wasn’t a large country. Even Nixa was larger than Shedos. And I considered Nixa to be quite small.
But that wasn’t really the case, since Nixa was actually a big country. Apparently it was bigger than most countries in the Eastern Kingdoms. It was just smaller than the Sunmere Republic or the Vaun Qieur Empire. Which probably explained my skewed perspective.
Regardless, Mistpire was where the supposed Followers of the Demon King operated. I decided on going after them instead of the Netherworld’s Communion due to their differing activity levels. Sure, as Matthew said, both had been idle as of late. But the Netherworld’s Communion had almost completely ceased all their activities, whereas the Followers of the Demon King have apparently been moving members across the border to Elutra.
We landed in the middle of a forest, just before a small farming town. I settled Saffron down beside me as my wings receded, and the flame disguising it dissipated. I glanced up at the sun’s position in the sky.
“We still have a few hours until sunset. Think we’ll be able to find their hideout before then?”
“I’m not sure if it’ll be that easy.”
Saffron pursed her lips.
“[Cultists] are elusive. Their cults are slippery, hard to pin down. Larger ones like the Followers of the Demon King may be easier to locate due to the size and scale of their operations, but it won’t take just a day to find them, Salvos. We’ll be here searching for days. Maybe even weeks.”
I tilted my head to the side as I trudged over the cobbled road. Saffron followed behind me, still wearing her school uniform— which, in hindsight, I should’ve asked her to change out of. I spotted travelers— [Farmers] on wagons— rolling down our way.
I waved a hand, calling out.
“Hey! You there!”
The [Farmer] eyed us, then he grinned as he pulled his wagon to a stop.
“Yes? How may I help you pretty young ladies? And a student from Mavos Academy too— my, am I lucky today.”
“Yep. Can you tell us if you know anything about the Followers of the Demon King? It’s a cult. They worship Demons. And we’re here to beat them up!”
I pumped a fist, and he paused. His face scrunched up as he turned away from us.
“T-t-the Followers of the Demon King? I-I-I h-have never heard of ‘em in my life.”
“Are you sure? They’re supposedly well-known around here.”
He snapped, before tugging on his horses. With a scowl, he continued on past us.
“Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a delivery to make.”
Saffron crossed her arms. She sighed, shaking her head.
“It’s not going to be that simple, Salvos.”
I shrugged as more travelers came down the road.
“Let’s try again!”
She raised her hand, and I ran forward. I gestured to her to come after me.
The Vampire took a step forward, unthinking. Then she hesitated. She had been about to run after me as per usual. But she must’ve remembered that I was a Demon, which made her demeanor change once more.
So close. I drew my lips into a thin line, even as I continued running up to the oncoming travelers. We were almost back to normal. This just meant— proved— that we could be friends again. The only thing stopping her was… well, her stubbornness.
Which meant a lot, coming from me.
I continued to ask the next few travelers I saw coming from the town about any possible cults in the area. Most of them brushed me off— quite rudely, at that— before hurrying on. It was obvious that some of them knew what I was talking about. A few of them could’ve been annoyed, thinking that I was trying to incite something. But at least half of those I spoke to were at least vaguely aware of the Followers of the Demon King.
The fact that they refused to share anything, even for money, annoyed me.
Saffron followed slowly behind me as I aired my complaints about them.
“Come on! Can’t they see that we’re high-leveled? I mean, sure, I’m not showing my real level right now, but I don’t want to give up the element of surprise, you know? When we show up to those [Cultists]’ stupid Lair— can they even have Lairs?— they’ll think we’re just a couple of Gold Rank chumps, and boom!”
I made a punching motion.
“I’ll kill all of them!”
The Vampire averted her gaze, even as I cheerfully talked about killing her mortal enemies, slaughtering all of them off the face of the world. For whatever reason, that made her more uncomfortable. I wanted to sigh. Nothing I was doing was working. Why were Humans so annoyingly complicated. This sucked.
We walked in silence, passing by the next few travelers without stopping them. It was getting late. The sky was now tinted orange, and there were fewer passersby than before. I was thinking of maybe using my tracking Skills to somehow find the cult, when Saffron finally spoke up.
“I… think you shouldn’t hide your levels, Salvos.”
I blinked, more surprised by the fact that she was talking than her suggestion.
“Because you’re a Diamond Rank.”
She wanted to leave it at that, but I cocked my head, clearly confused. She explained after a moment of hesitation.
“Maybe your name isn’t famous here in the rural outskirts of Shedos, but anyone can recognize that a Diamond Rank adventurer is someone you can trust. Right now, we just look like a couple of naive students trying to get ourselves killed.”
I tapped a finger on my chin. That made sense. But revealing that I was over Level 100 would mean that the [Cultists] would already be wary of me. I wanted to see the shocked look on their faces when they realized I wasn’t just an ordinary Level 36 [Mage]. Unless—
I grinned, turning to face Saffron.
“I have an idea.”
Her eyes widened as I explained the idea. She was vehemently against it, but I was already determined to see it through. I took off my jacket, handing it over to her, and she reluctantly wore it over her uniform.
“Alright, now let’s find some [Cultists]!”
Night fell, and Saffron walked through the empty streets of Farnsworth on her own. She stood next to a burning lamp, keeping herself warm even in the cold of the night. Shivering, she adjusted the blue jacket she had been given, and glanced around.
The work day was over. Most of the villagers of Farnsworth were returning to their homes from the fields. They laughed and they exchanged jokes as Saffron heard their rumblings grow closer. It’s time… She wasn’t looking forward to it, but she knew it was probably going to work.
Taking a step forward, she spoke out to draw their attention.
“Excuse me! Apologies, I am but a weary traveler, looking for a place to stay. I do not have silver to spare, and I am hungry.”
The [Farmers] paused. One of them snickered and elbowed another. Saffron’s actions drew not just the working men, but some of the women from their homes out.
“Oh, that poor thing…”
“She’s so young and pretty…”
“Jason, we should—”
There was now a small crowd. It was perfect. Saffron played her part, and she was waiting for Salvos to act next. With a deep breath, she tried to stall for time.
“Could any of you kind individuals please spare me some of your kindness and—”
And a shadow descended from the sky. A horrible monster crashed between Saffron and the [Farmers] of Farnsworth. Its back creaked as it straightened. It craned its neck, turning its head that bore the skull of an animal around, taking in the town.
It was like an amalgamation of the world’s most horrible monsters turned into one creature. Multiple limbs protruding from its side, each of them long and spindly, clawing the earth. There weren’t even an equal number of arms on each side of its body. Four of its arms dug into the soil, while its fifth and last arm was raised over its head, like some sort of antennae. Bone-like wings protruded from its back, slowly folding back into its back, cracking like thunder with each bending motion.
Its golden, glowing eyes stared deep into Saffron, and she screamed. The crowd exploded into shouts of terror. The men reached for weapons, while the women ran back into their homes. Children cried at the sight of the monster— no, it wasn’t a monster. It was a Demon.
Saffron dropped to her knees at the sight of the Demon. It grabbed her before she could move, picking her up and holding a claw to her face as she squirmed and gasped. Someone screamed for Saffron to be freed, but the Demon didn’t let go.
This had been part of the plan— the act Saffron had carried out so far. She knew who the Demon was. It was Salvos. Yet, Saffron’s reaction was no longer part of the act. Is she going to kill— She felt genuine fear here.
That was, until she heard it speak.
“I am… um… the Terror of Shedos! Yes! I am an Archdemon, sent here from Elutra! I, um, uh, erm, bear a message from your great King! Bring me to your cult, Humans! Or I will raze this town to ashes and kill everyone here, starting with her!”
Saffron paused. She couldn’t suppress her words as she stared at Salvos, whispering.
“Seriously? You didn’t practice any lines at all before doing this?”
“I wasn’t ready! You’re the one who started before I even transformed! Anyway, it’s working, see?”
A man— Saffron recognized him as the one who was snickering earlier— put down his weapons, bowing almost reverently at Salvos.
“Please... I can help you. I know where they are. Just spare us. I have a family...”
Salvos stomped forward, still carrying Saffron threateningly, but the young noble was more at ease now. The Demon leaned forward, baring her teeth.
“I told you that plan will work.”
Salvos grinned as she flew over the canopy of trees, headed for a distant mountaintop. The [Farmer] had directed them to Sherfil Peak, a small, inconspicuous hill at the base of a mountain range that carried over into Elutra.
This was where the Followers of the Demon King were purportedly located. Saffron believed it— cults like these often hid in mountain caverns, clearing out Lairs or Dungeons, appropriating them for their own use.
Saffron sighed, her breath caught in the wind even as Salvos flew at a slower pace for her sake.
“I knew that it’d work. It was just…”
The Vampire clung onto the back of the Demon as they began their descent. Now was the next part of the plan. The part which, for whatever reason, Saffron was dreading.
They were going to enter the den of a cult.
She had been raised all of her life as a Vampire— as a burgeoning Demon Hunter. And one of her jobs would be to face [Cultists] for their vile acts. Yet, she had never actually been to a cult before. Father had never allowed her to accompany him or his thralls. Even though she had always been eager, she was now overcome with a nervous fear.
“...maybe we should turn back.”
Her voice came out soft, almost inaudible to her own ears. Still, Salvos heard it.
“Why? We’re already here.”
There was a caldera at the very top of the mountain. Inside of it, Saffron saw dozens and dozens of figures moving about. All dressed in the eerie robes [Cultists] often bore.
“If we go back, how else am I going to prove myself to you?”
They began their descent, and Saffron grew more and more nervous. She opened her mouth.
It doesn’t matter anymore— But the words didn’t come out of her mouth. Truth be told, Salvos had done more than enough to prove herself to Saffron. It wasn’t any rationale or logic that kept Saffron afraid of the Demon.
It was just how Saffron was raised. It… pained her to admit it, but Salvos might’ve truly been good. Or at least, not a servant of Regnorex like Saffron had thought. Unfortunately, the young noble couldn’t blurt it out. Not in time.
The [Cultists] gathered around in a circle as Salvos landed, and a man strode forward.
“Greetings, oh powerful Archdemon, great [Cambion] of the Netherworld. I am Mikel, leader of this cult. To what may we, the Followers of the Demon King, owe the pleasure?”
They weren’t exactly at ease around Salvos. She was an Archdemon they couldn’t exactly control, but they weren’t just going to anger her by attacking her.
“I am Sal— Salfos.”
Salvos stuttered as she came up with her fake name. Saffron almost wanted to bury her head in her hands when she heard it. Seriously? That’s the best you could come up with? The [Cultists], however, remained ignorant of this. Salvos continued.
“And I have come from your allies in Elutra, with this sacrifice of a powerful [Mage] as a gift, and a message from the Demon King himself.”
“Our allies in Elutra?”
He ran a hand through his beard. Well, it was more of a stubble. Someone— a [Cultist] in the back— muttered to himself.
“So those idiots from the Inoria Empire are finally returning the favor, huh?”
“Shut up, imbecile.”
Mikel glared back at him. He shrugged.
“What? They just kept on making demands from us. I never thought they’d actually do anything to help— urk!”
He dropped dead as Mikel lowered a hand. Blood pooled out from the hole in his chest as those around him stumbled back, and the cult leader hurriedly bowed down to Salvos.
“I apologize for my minion’s idiotic ramblings. We mean no offense, and we gratefully accept this sacrifice of yours. We have been, ah, running low on resources.”
He glanced over at the heavy metal door to the side, and Saffron’s eyes widened as she spotted the blood smeared and stained along the outside walls. Her stomach lurched, right before she was placed on the ground.
“Of course. Here you go!”
Saffron tried to get up to her feet, but Mikel grabbed her by the arm. She tried to pull away, however he yanked her closer. Saffron was too overcome with fear and disgust to even think about using magic. Her knees were too weak. Her hands were shaking and numb.
“A beautiful sacrifice. It would be a waste if she were killed right away.”
Mikel raised Saffron’s chin as she glared up at him. He bent over, a smug look on his face. She spat at him, and his face contorted.
He slapped her across the cheek as she reeled back. Dusting his hands, he walked around Saffron, still inspecting her. He spoke casually as Saffron cursed.
“I am twice your level, woman. You best behave or your death will be, ah, painful.”
She remembered her training. Magic coalesced at her fingertips. A fire began to form, right before he struck her once again. He pinned her down to the ground, smirking, looking up at Salvos.
“Pathetic. And, ah, what is the message?”
Salvos blinked, then tilted her head back as if recalling something.
“The message is simple—”
She bared her teeth.
And she bit Mikel’s head off.