255. Interlude - Saffron's Scripture
The night was cold and dark. A small flickering flame gave warmth to a young noble-woman as she trudged her way through the forest. Her feet sank with each step. The ground grew murky as though she’d entered a swamp. She raised one of her legs, seeing the brown staining the bottom of her boots.
“We’re getting close.”
Saffron Merryster spoke as she pressed on. The three figures following her nodded.
The ball of fire hovered over her hand, expanding slowly to light up the path. They finally made their way out of the dank forest, and a tall castle unveiled itself standing atop a hill. It had high stone walls with crenellations lining its towers; there was a thin layer of moss and vines creeping over the gray bricks of the fortress, typically a sign of age and neglect, but here it meant something else.
“Is this it?”
Behind her, her brother, Feirdun Merryster asked. He was the second oldest of the Merryster brothers— three years younger than Cinne Merryster, and nearly half a decade older than Saffron herself.
“That’s right, you’ve never been here before, have you?”
The third figure turned to Feirdun, curious. Mons Merryster, the eldest daughter and second child of the Merryster Family, peered at her younger brother. She had short black hair that matched their Mother’s, with a calm and inquisitive personality that was closer to their Father’s.
“Norweed Keep. Estate of the illustrious Norwood Family. When Saffron was little, I used to bring her to visit every summer. It’s a shame that you and Gannon’s betrothal never went through.”
A small, almost nostalgic smile crept its way across her face. Saffron shook her head and flicked back her pink hair.
“Perhaps if you had not taught me how to defy Father by marrying a commoner, I’d be engaged with Gannon today. Anyway, that is not why we’re here.”
“Yes, we’re here to warn them, aren’t we?”
Mons tapped a light finger against her chin. Saffron started towards the castle.
“Come on. Let us not waste anymore time.”
Her two siblings exchanged a glance.
“I’ve forgotten how serious she often was.”
“Well, you miss a lot when you’re gone.”
Feirdun replied, rolling his eyes. Mons clicked her tongue but didn’t retort. They followed after Saffron as the fourth figure slowly trailed behind. They reached the entrance of the castle, and Saffron raised her magical flame. A guard appeared atop the wall and shouted.
“Halt! Who goes there!”
Saffron produced a crest and held it next to her fire.
“I am Saffron Merryster of the Merryster Dukedom, and these are my siblings. We are here to speak with senator Gannon Norwood.”
The guard’s eyes flickered— some sort of Skill that helped his vision.
“We’ll inform— wait…”
His eyes widened as he stared at something past Saffron.
“What… is that?”
She glanced back at the fourth figure and sighed.
Standing there with her arms crossed was Salvos. Or rather, a kind of duplicate of Salvos. One made entirely of gentle gold flames that glowed softly in the night. She’d been accompanying Saffron for the past few weeks and guarding her, so her presence completely slipped the young noble-woman’s mind.
“It’s a monster! Raise the al—”
“Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait!”
Saffron yelled, waving her arms at the guards. Her screams drew their attention enough for them to hesitate, and she quickly spoke out.
“She’s not dangerous! I mean— she won’t harm you as long as you don’t harm her. Isn’t that right, Salvos?”
She quickly turned to the Salvos clone, expecting a nod of assurance. Her eyes twitched when she saw the clone was already creating a Primordial Bow.
“It’s going to attack us!”
The guards scrambled for the walls’ enchantments. Saffron tensed as the Salvos clone continued drawing her bow. But a cool voice cut through the chaos.
“Let me handle this, sister.”
Mons stepped forward and cleared her throat.
“[I Believe There’s Been a Misunderstanding].”
The effects of a Skill instantly gripped Saffron. She watched as the guards slowed in their movements. A haggler’s Skill. One unbefitting a noble like her, but one she had anyway.
Its effects were like a mix of mind and sound magic. For whatever reason, her voice was louder and more imposing than anyone else around. The way her words inflected made her more persuasive— or at least, it made them more amenable to hear her out.
“That is not a monster. It is a summon. Our summon. So, there is no need to cause a panic.”
They paused. They exchanged uneasy glances with each other. However, before they could come to a decision, another voice spoke out.
“Hm, yes, I do believe there’s no need to waste my spells.”
A woman dressed in plants walked past the guards and leant on the battlements. She peered down at Saffron, smiling.
“It has been a while, little Saffron, little Mons. It is a pleasure to see you again.”
The young noble-woman blinked.
[Druid - Lvl. 134]
Zin Norwood, former matriarch of the Norwood Family, sat before Saffron, Mons, and Feirdun in a room covered in plants. The [Druid] raised a porcelain glass as a tree branch poured some herbal tea for her.
“So, children of the Merryster Family, what brings you here?”
“You know why we’re here. It’s about the situation in Nixa.”
Saffron replied as she sipped from her own cup of tea.
“Ah, of course. Although, now that Nixa has been burnt to the ground, I’d say that it’s a situation for all of the Human lands to deal with.”
Zin smiled and lowered her glass. Saffron’s lips twisted.
“This isn’t a light matter, lady Zin.”
“Please, little Saffron. I’m not a lady. Just call me aunt Zin.”
That was right— all the major Vampire families were nobility, except for the Norwood Family. They had been, once, years ago. But they gave up our Ducal privileges for political power when Shedos transitioned to a republic.
“After all, I am simply the mother of a senator.”
“Where is senator Gannon Norwood, anyway?”
Feirdun asked, glancing around.
“My son is currently at the Capital, attending to matters related to the Primeval Demon— after all, Shedos does not want to be the next to fall.”
Saffron gritted her teeth. It was so ridiculous. The countries of the Human lands should be working together, but instead, here they were, devising plans to protect themselves. The only foolproof plan to ensure that’d happen would be to assail and defeat the Primeval Demon together.
The same thing had been happening with the Vampire Families. It was a folly of everyone involved. They all wanted to save themselves, so they neglected others. But in doing so, they doomed themselves. Because only by working together could they bring down the Primeval Demon.
Zin tilted her head as Saffron balled her hands into tight fists. The [Druid] spoke softly.
“I see that you’re upset about the turn of events. And I know things are dire right now, but there is always hope. Your father surviving the attack on Nightsveil is proof of that.”
Her words were meant to be reassuring. However, it only made Saffron even more upset. After all, Father wouldn’t be alive right now if not for Salvos.
Saffron’s eyes flickered to the side. The Salvos clone was stalking a fly as it buzzed its way over the flowers growing on the wall. She snatched it up to bite it, only to deflate when she realized she had no mouth.
“I am thankful that my family managed to escape the destruction of Nixa mostly unscathed. However, I fear that the same fate could befall the other Vampire Families. And that is why I’m here.”
The young noble-woman stood up, speaking as Zin raised a curious brow.
“Father and Cinne are currently visiting the Veridian Family to deliver the same message. To warn you that the Primeval Demon will come after your families, just like it did ours.”
And that made the [Druid] freeze. She stared at Saffron, her expression unchanging, even though the silence was telling. The young noble-woman continued.
“It is targeting your family, just like it targeted ours. We have something it wants—”
“The treasures of Alexander.”
Zin spoke over her.
“That’s right. I… how did you know that?”
Saffron paused, and Zin snapped a finger. One of the guards standing by shuffled out of the room.
“You haven’t told me, little Saffron, little Mons, who exactly is this friend of yours?”
The [Druid]’s relaxed in her seat as she waited for the guard to return. Mons simply smiled.
“I haven’t had much time to get to know her, either. But Saffron says she’s a friend. I believe her name is… Salver?”
The Salvos clone’s head snapped up as she raised an arm. She looked like she was trying to protest, but no words came out. Saffron sighed, massaging her temples.
“Her name is Salvos. She’s the one who helped save Father during Nightsveil’s fall. But this isn’t really her— it’s a Skill she has.”
“Interesting. So, this is the famed Liberator of the Plaguelands. Even for a… projection? A manifestation? I can tell that she’s quite powerful.”
Saffron watched as the Salvos clone lit up, beaming even with no face.
“She’s not that strong.”
Feirdun crossed his arms, grumbling. Apparently, he had some history with Salvos. He wouldn’t say what it was, but Mother had explained what happened to Saffron. Apparently, when Salvos visited the Merryster manor around half a year ago, she easily defeated Feirdun in battle.
Zin chuckled, and Mons turned to her with an intrigued look.
“You’ve heard of her, Ms Zin?”
“Come on now, I said to call me aunt Zin. And yes, I have. A student of Mavos Academy’s prestigious School of Aspiring Elites, and one of the three adventurers to destroy the Lich of the Plaguelands.”
“That’s impressive. I’m surprised my dear sister managed to befriend someone so important. But careful, Saffron.”
Mons’ eyes glinted as she faced the young noble-woman.
“Your Lady is showing.”
Saffron glared back.
“Salvos is a close friend of mine. I met her before she even gained the level of notoriety she has today. I’m not using her for anything.”
The Salvos clone cocked her head, clearly confused, and Saffron scowled.
“Whatever, that doesn’t matter right now— Ms Zin, how exactly did you know that the Primeval Demon is going after Alexander’s treasures?”
“Well, beyond simply surmising from the context clues you’ve given me. I’ve also made… my own discoveries.”
Zin spoke as a rapping resounded from the doorway. The Merryster siblings and the Salvos clone glanced over at the sound. The guard returned, dragging with him a heavy sack to Zin’s side. She dismissed him and got to her feet.
Saffron had an inkling of what was inside the sack before Zin even opened it. But she leaned over, anyway, intently watching as the [Druid] used a vine to untie it. A body flopped out— a corpse. Mons blinked, and Feridun stood up with wide eyes.
“It seems that this is a coordinated effort.”
Zin spoke simply. Saffron pursed her lips.
“An Archdemon. One that had made an attempt on my life a week ago. It was after the Greaves of Alexander.”
The body hadn’t even begun to rot despite being a week old. It was a Demon with beastial qualities. It almost looked like a giant dog, except with six legs instead of just four.
The young noble-woman turned to Feirdun, tapping a finger on her chin.
“A week ago. That’s when the Primeval Demon destroyed Nightsveil.”
“And an Archdemon too— it had to have been a coordinated effort.”
Feirdun completed the thought for her. The four Vampires gave each other uneasy looks. They’d thought that the only threat they had to be wary of was the Primeval Demon. That had been a big enough problem on its own. But now, the realization sank in that that wouldn’t be all they had to deal with.
Other Demons would come for their lives. They’d come for the treasures of Alexander, just as Belzu was doing.
“Regnorex is at the gates.”
Saffron closed her eyes, whispering. Zin shook her head and placed a hand on Saffron’s shoulder.
“I’m sorry, little Saffron. You’re wrong.”
She stepped over the corpse of the Archdemon and tied it back into the sack. A guard hauled it away as her brows arched darkly over her face.
“Regnorex is already here.”