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The capital came into view as Harold’s horse crested one last hill. He was still exhausted but no longer at risk of passing out from it. The night of rest in the town of Greg had given him just enough energy to make this journey. While Captain Wallace had helped him send scouts back to the mage’s college, he needed to personally report to the king and the royal advisors. This was not going to be a pleasant meeting. Especially considering that he would immediately report directly to the Warden after.

A column of 10 guards accompanied him. The captain had insisted that Harold get to the capital as safely and quickly as possible. The horses given to them expedited the trip, turning it from a four-day trip to only two days. Behind the armored figures rode what remained of his college. It was a much smaller group than the one that had fled the castle. Many resigned from their positions out of sheer fear or trauma at what they had seen. Some returned to their original homes, either to retire or to live a quieter life. Almost everyone seemed to be tying up loose ends and moving their loved ones as far away as possible.

Harold’s group approached the towering outer walls of the capital, entering its shadow well before reaching the gate. They were massive, towering at least 20 stories tall, many times taller than any other town or city Harold had seen. Even more impressive was that these walls were almost as thick as they were tall. The tunnel through the wall to the inner gate took nearly five minutes to ride through.

This city was unique not only in its size but also in that it was one of the few structures that remained intact from before The Intervention. Only a few relics and landmarks had survived that cataclysm. Most of the structures that had were strong beyond what anyone had figured out how to recreate. But the knowledge and craftsmanship that had gone into its construction were lost to time now, meaning it could only be imperfectly maintained by its current inhabitants. It would never shine as it must once have. However, that didn’t mean they couldn’t try.

Harold emerged from the tunnel, squinting, into a cobbled street, bustling with activity. Along the edges of the street, many merchants were hawking their wares. Behind them were more established shops with proper signs. People flowed around, going in and out of the stores. The hawkers were mostly ignored, but they did steady business with the less affluent. Many figures had the uniform of the king’s army, forest green with a white feather emblem on the chest and shoulder. All around were barracks of rough-hewn lumber, and other temporary structures were thrown up for mustering soldiers. It seemed like the troops had been gathered here for the coming war based on the sheer number that Harold counted.

His honor guard cleared the way up the streets, escorting the party towards the main cobbled road leading from the gate to the palace. Once they made it a little deeper into the city, it seemed less crowded than he would expect for a city of 3 million people. Hawkers and merchants lining the streets gave way to shoddy housing, then more wealthy neighborhoods. The closer to the main palace they got, the more evidence of pre-Intervention architecture he saw. Wealthy noble houses, a massive stone amphitheater twice the height of the walls, and even the palace itself, were a stark departure from most modern constructions.

On the way through the city, Harold rehearsed his report to the king and the Warden. He'd have to report that the project was a failure and the king’s army would not receive the aid they hoped for from the college. He also had to report that they had unleashed some unknown powerful demon in a distant rural part of his kingdom. Then he had to tell the Warden that the lieutenant’s containment might be compromised.

This would not be a fun day.

----

Bee was relatively young and had not been introduced to much of the crass, expletive, and generally colorful language that many adults were familiar with. That was not to say that she had no knowledge of such words and phrases - her vocabulary was limited and underdeveloped. Despite this, the present situation found her calling upon that vocabulary to its fullest extent.

The subject of her ire was a demon. A frozen one, larger than her family's home. It was proportioned like a man but with huge, oddly curving horns on top of its head. The horns tapered to sharp points in different directions. Muscles stood out all over its body. However, they were slightly wrong. They were not always in the place they should be for a human.

The demon sat motionless in the center of a massive room. Its arms were stretched out, head tilted upwards, screaming a challenge into the sky. Bee felt tiny compared to the scope of it, like a speck of dust falling into an endless black void as everything grew around her.

The demon was a nightmare. A literal nightmare. The one that Bee had seen in dreams as a child. The nightmares were so bad they caused her to seek out her mom in the middle of the night many times. In fact, she had seen images and drawings of this exact demon before. It was when she was little, in the mythologies her mother had read to her. That was Nazareth’gak. One of the 13 lieutenant demons was said to have roamed the world before The Intervention. Subordinate to the primordial demon of pain and torment. Myths of him had been passed down for thousands of years to scare children into behaving: “If you don’t listen, Nazareth’gak will come and stick you on his horns.”

The myths said that the demons terrorized humanity in their own uniquely cruel ways until the gods struck them down. When each one was defeated, the gods left behind a statue of its last moments to remind humanity. They also left behind a promise that as long as humanity did not forget the gods and their mercy, they would be safe from a tragedy like The Intervention happening again. Most of what they knew about it was just a few ancient carvings and stories passed down, and many people treated even those as legends now. But this didn’t feel like a legend to Bee.

For one thing, this wasn’t a statue. She could see sourceless flames licking up and down the arms of the demon, and the detail was far too fine. Why anyone would make such a well-crafted statue of a terror like Nazareth’gak was beyond her. There was also a sense of pressure coming from the thing. It reminded her of how she initially felt around Void. Finally, there were the whispers. It was subtle, but Bee felt she could almost hear something speaking to her the longer she stood there. She couldn’t hear what it was saying; she pulled herself back from listening too hard out of fear.

That this was real was tripping her up. Legends said it would run around the battle, impaling human bodies on its horns as it hunted. They acted like some gory helmet. They were kept alive so the demon could feed off of their pain. When it needed a weapon, it would grab a leg of a human on its horn, ripping it off and swinging it down. If she looked closer, she probably would see the barbs that ran along all sides of the horns.

The ramblings went on and started to become more coherent. Bee was just glad she hadn’t passed out yet. Forcing the whispers down, she took a breath to steady her racing heart. It took a few minutes for Bee to process this. Once she had recovered herself and managed to stop swearing, she could take in the rest of the room. It appeared that this demon was still chained and in a cage, dormant. Even if it was starting to wake, it wouldn’t be able to move for months, at least according to what she’d learned. Then it would be free. There was nothing to stop it. The cage wouldn’t help. Cages like that were not really for containing the demon but rather for keeping people out and away from them. But that should not have been the only defense. She scanned the smooth, slightly sloped obsidian floor. There should have been tons of circles drawn around this based on the space available. Those circles were no longer there.

How was this here? Why was this here? No one had seen any of the “statues” the stories spoke of. That's what made so many people think they were just myths and legends. Did that mean the other 12 were also out there somewhere? Bee froze, shuddering at the thought, trying not to hyperventilate at the sheer scale of the problem in front of her. Eventually, she tore her eyes away to look down at Void.

“How do you fit into this?” She asked, not expecting an answer. She did not get one. Void was strong, but Nazareth’gak was a kind of strong that few things were anymore. She didn’t know how her master would fare against such a thing. Though if Void had released him, perhaps it was confident?

Apparently, not only was Nazareth’gak real, but his location was also a well-kept secret. The mage’s college must have known about this. Likely they were the ones tending to it, keeping their promises to the gods.

This knowledge fit right into a gap that she hadn’t even noticed in her understanding of the world. It made a lot more sense why there was a castle in the middle of nowhere. This castle was massive, larger than most towns. Yet it had no other civilization anywhere close to it. Typically, a whole city would have grown around a building like this. Maybe the mages kept people away?

Bee tried to set aside all of the new questions she had. Void was showing this to her for a reason. Clearly, it was the one who wiped away all of the protections. But there seemed to be another reason for that rather than just chaos. Bee just needed to figure out what it was. To do that, she needed more information. When Bee thought about needing more information, she cursed herself, this time softly and under her breath. Yeah, she had totally forgotten about her first skill. She only got it a couple days ago. She's only used it once, then, she hadn't thought of it again. She needed to use it to power up her ability. It would naturally gain functionality from just her leveling up, but that would only work partially. The more she used it, the better it would get.

Bee walked forward hesitantly. It was a struggle to keep on her feet walking on this obsidian. It was slippery, and her feet constantly threatened to fly out from underneath her. The other permanent summoning rooms she visited had grooves etched in the stone for the containment circles to be placed in with absolute precision. Here it seemed that that was not the case, and she wondered why.

When she got in range, she activated her scan ability. She didn’t want to be this close to the nightmare before her. But it was a good chance for her to gain experience. She needed to remember to use it every chance she got. Plus, it would help her confirm whether this really was a statue.

Name:

Nazareth’gak

Type:

Lieutenant Demon

Level:

above

???

Aside from confirming that her worst nightmares had come to life and would imminently destroy everything she knew and loved, it wasn't very useful. The only additional information she got was whether it was higher or lower level than her. This was higher, obviously. It was a long way to go before she got detailed information. She tried scanning it again to see if this use had pushed the ability up but did not get any more results. She would return every time her scan grew stronger to get as much information as possible. Maybe she could get an idea of how much time she had to find a solution.

Bee started kicking herself for not having scanned any lesser demons she had encountered. Having only ever used it twice was not doing her skill any favors, especially with Void’s apparent interference with its results. She needed to go scan the dormant water and earth demons as well. She also needed to level up. It's too bad she hadn't got any experience when Void was out hunting. Probably because she wasn't involved in the fight at all. If she could get that final level to get a class. Then depending on the class, she might earn experience without fighting. That would really be a blessing.

---

I watched as Beatrice approached the statue. She was getting the wrong message from this. There wasn’t much cleaning to do in this room. Mostly I just wanted to show her its beauty of it. I don't know why she was so fascinated with the ugly statue.

At first, I thought she was as overwhelmed as I had been. Then came a long tirade of oddly phrased and put-together profanity. I scrubbed it from my memory banks since it made me feel dirty, even hearing it. Things like this were not what I would expect from a small human. At least I had never heard them say such things before. I mean... It was an appropriate response to this level of beauty sometimes. However, when she entered the room, I noticed that she completely ignored the floor. The beautiful obsidian was only given a cursory glance as she almost slipped down its gentle slope.

She asked me what I had to do with this. I wasn’t sure how to respond. I couldn’t take any credit, honestly. All I did was reveal the beauty underneath the mess.

Nearing the statue, Beatrice narrowed her eyes and focused on it for a moment. Then she just came and walked back towards me, looking at me as if we were moving on to the next thing. I sighed inwardly. After her lack of admiration for the rug, I had suspected this. I had even prepared for it. But it was still a disappointment. Beatrice really had no eye for art.

I was sad, but this was not entirely unprecedented. Many people have no appreciation for the finer things in life. I suppose I could forgive her. Maybe with enough good influence, she can realize why these things are so important. Besides, she did appear to appreciate the colorful blocks, if in a strange way. Perhaps she just needed a bit more guidance or exposure to real beauty. I’d have to think about how to best go about this.

This completed my lesson plan for the day. Now there was just one more thing I needed to do; go clean the large room. Well, if Beatrice was done appreciating the majesty of the best room in the castle, I supposed we could clean up the demon brake fluid that had gotten sprayed everywhere. It would be a good opportunity to observe how she dealt with liquid.

Once Beatrice was ready to go, I started to lead the way out of the room. From her continual muttering, I worried that my good example wouldn’t be enough. Maybe you couldn’t teach good taste. I could still try though. I began making mental notes of what other examples of fine craftsmanship might catch her eye.

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