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The only one whom I actually allowed to have my work on his website is Armaell who invested the time to compile them into pdf.
“What’s normal? What’s sane? Well, the stuff which is done by the majority of people is normal and sane. Doesn’t matter if they are assisting murder and child labour. Doesn’t matter if they have no clue what they are voting for. The majority says so, the majority is right.”
- The Journey to the Afterlife
***Kingdom Newerth, Capital City***
“Nononono! You are doing it wrong! This exercise is about meditation. You have to let go of your other senses and feel the magic. I'll hit everyone who thinks that he can solve this test by closing his eyes and sleeping for an hour or two. You have to actively feel the magic, eyes closed and ears muffled,” I lecture my students, not giving a shit about being nice. The classroom is perfectly silent, but I can still hear that some students are trying to bide their time with more interesting things.
Like talking to each other, or exchanging paper messages.
They have to learn to rely on their ability to sense and manipulate mana. It should be particularly easy right now. The entire school-ground is empty of power. Yggdrasil didn't only suck the mana out of the portal, but the network also took any residual magic. The mana has yet to flow in from the surrounding area. That makes this sort of training easier than it would be normally.
“You can do it. Just concentrate on the people around you. This place is almost empty of residual mana. It would be hard to spot a small candle in a room which is lit by daylight, right? Guess what, right now it's dark outside and the lights are off. You should be able to see the candle right away. Rely on your mana sense.” I take a look at the watch which is hanging above the classroom's entrance. Clapping my hands, I end the lesson. “But I am afraid that our time is up. I expect that all of you train this in your free time. It's important to be as skilful as possible at sensing mana.”
The students grumble and start packing their things. They clearly didn't like the new training. It's something that's being taught to children. I nonetheless forced them to hone their skills in this area. Since I became their teacher, I noticed that a high percentage of this class is lacking the skill to sense small amounts of magic. That directly results in mistakes when handling complicated spells.
You can't manipulate a spider's web with a club.
The only student who stays behind is Adea. She is holding her bag in front of her chest and looks at me in dismay. “You aren't angry. Are you?”
I raise both eyebrows in surprise. “Why should I be angry?”
Adea shrugs her shoulders. “Just because I let so much slip in front of Marcus and Caden. About our relationship and the wishes... and all that.”
I twirl my hair around my index finger, studying her. “Don't worry about it. Our relationship was an open secret from the beginning. If anything, then I am the one who should apologize. You surely went up a few steps on the king's radar because of your involvement in a spell which was able to close a portal.”
Adea sighs and pulls out one of the chairs to sit down. “Yeah, but the one you should be careful of is Marcus. After yesterday's report, he searched me out to ask a few questions about your previous life.”
I draw in a deep breath and exhale. “Not surprising. What did you say?”
Adea tilts her head. “I tried to keep it vague. Just that we belonged to the same pantheon aeons ago and that you adore me, while I can hardly remember anything about our relationship. Only that I was something like a guardian to you.”
I laugh. “Oh, aunty. There would have been no need. I am not trying to hide my past. Though it’s best not to boast about it. Mom and Dad would be angry.”
Now it's Adea's turn to look surprised. “So I was right that your parents are still around? It struck me as strange that you were reincarnated without them. I remembered a lot since the last attack, including your soulbond. I wonder why you are hiding them. Are we still on the same side, Seria?”
I close my eyes and sigh. This is the conversation I avoided so far. “Of course we are. But you also have some loyalties which I don't have. If you are suspecting that I am not telling you everything, then you are right.”
Adea's expression turns clearly worried, so I hurry to continue. “You are the Immortal Empress somewhere deep down inside. You seek peace and are fiercely loyal to those who you regard as yours. I sincerely hope that it won't happen, but if I tell you everything right now, it might put you into a conflict of loyalties. Do you still want to know?”
The girl squints her eyes at me and suddenly there is something old and wise in her eyes. “So your parents are still around. Are they in conflict with this kingdom?”
“No.” Not yet.
“So you are here as a spy. Surprising. There must be some extraordinary circumstances behind it.” Adea fumbles with her fingers, looking down at the floor.
I attempt to speak, but Adea cuts me off by raising her hand.
“It's fine. I don't need to know more. People with our life experience tend to change slowly over time, but they mostly stay the same. From what I remember by now, I knew you for a very long time. You aren't a person who is out to do evil because of some petty reason. Everything you did for me and my new mother was good. I am not back to my old self, but you've been helping to correct that. So I'll trust your judgement for now.” She drops her hand again, allowing me to talk.
A grin spreads on my face. “That's so shrewd of you.”
Adea furrows her forehead. “What do you mean? Don't confuse me.”
I step closer and poke her with a finger. “You said that I don't do evil things without a reason. You didn't say that I am not capable of doing evil.”
Adea purses her lips. “Seria, you are, in body and soul, the daughter of a mad scientist and an evil witch. Your father is chaos and magic personified, while your mother is a zealous fanatic who craves order. And I saw your father's true face, once. You are the spawn of the devil, no matter the mask you wear.”
I straighten my back. “My father's true face? What do you mean? And I am not a bad person, just one who gets things done.”
A mad laugh escapes Adea's lips and it takes a few moments until she calms down. “Good and evil, white and black. Those are just things we make up for our own convenience. Don't be troubled when someone attaches those labels to you. I meant that you fit as his daughter. What I tried to say was this. I... experienced... your father when someone stepped on his trigger and it wasn't nice. Your Mom and I huddled in a corner until it was over and then we vowed to never talk about it.”
Adea's eyes wander off to something only she can see, but only for a moment. “Let's just say that you definitely adopted a part of his personality. I am not sure if it's because of what you experienced in the meantime, or because the soulbond is doing something to the three of you.”
I snort. “Now you are over-dramatizing things. Let's just say that I am fine with being the monster in a good horror movie.”
She laughs, but this time it's a heartfelt, warm laughter. “You are certainly right. Being the monster isn't bad. The monster doesn't have to fear being eaten. Just being slain by the hero in the end.”
I snort and gesture for Adea to move on. “Those are the bad monsters. I am one of the things which can only be locked away at most.”
“You certainly don't lack confidence.” Adea gets up and heads out of the classroom. I follow her onto the corridor, where we run right into Marcus.
I put on my best smile. “Hi! Didn't see you since yesterday! Did Trebor spill any additional information?”
Marcus purses his lips, but says nothing. Then his gaze turns to Adea, sending her a silent message.
Adea gets the message and bows to us. “I'll bunk and bide my time at the shop. Have a nice day, you two.”
My attention returns to Marcus as Adea hurries down the corridor. “So what's so important that Adea can't hear it?”
Marcus takes my hand and guides me slowly away from the other people who are roaming the corridor. When we are outside the building, he finally decides to talk. “Ah, nothing that interesting. I just thought it might be better for her to concentrate on her training. That much power has to be brought under control. The sooner, the better.”
“Okay?” I punch my palm with my fist. “So how went the interrogation? Do we know who needs a beating? I am eager to bring them down for what they did to the school.” My eyes turn involuntarily to the damaged buildings and the crushed administrative section. I was about to get my own office there. Not that it would have meant much, but my own office is my own office. Such things have meaning.
“We are hunting for everyone who was associated with Trebor, but they went into hiding, which probably had to be expected. At least we confiscated their properties and destroyed the magical cornerstones there,” Marcus explains.
Now, if that isn't a surprise. “Who in this day and age would use cornerstones to summon a portal? The magic formation is unstable on such a large scale. And the method is old… and by old I mean antiquated.”
Marcus nods. “But it’s cheap and did the job. That's why we see it as proof that they were working in direct consent with the spirits. Trebor was very helpful when my father threatened to give him to you. He may think that he was working for some political faction of this country, but that's idiotic. The cornerstones must have been able to stabilize the portal for not much more than a few seconds. That would be too short for anyone to home in on the signal. The spirits must have known where and when the portal opens.”
The corner of my mouth twitches upwards. “I can have Trebor?”
The expression of my friend turns icy. “No. He talked, so you can't have him. You can exercise your skills on his family head, Braun. Once we find him.”
Judging by Marcus's voice, he doesn't know where to find this Braun. “But you know where he is?”
He shrugs. “Not yet, but soon enough. I have a lead to investigate, so you can go home for today.”
As he turns around, I grab his arm to stop him. “One moment! Not so fast, sir. I thought we are a team by now. We investigate together.”
His expression turns troubled and I catch him avoiding my eyes. “I don't think you should follow me on this one. The person who I need to question runs a rather dubious enterprise and I am not certain that we should be seen there... together.”
I put on my best ice queen expression and stare at him. “What are you hiding from me?”
He glares at me. “Not much more than you. It's not like you are forthcoming either. Why do you pull this act on me when I want to keep one of my secrets, Seria? Are you the only one who is allowed to have them?”
My expression falters. Somehow I knew that this would happen sooner or later. But right now? “Which secret are you talking about?”
He crosses his arms in front of his chest. “How about starting with an easy one. What's that appearance and disappearance skill of yours? At the battle you materialized out of thin air. There wasn't even a trace of mana and I followed your trail several times, just to have it vanish as if you deleted your existence.”
That's easy to answer. “It's called flash step. A physical movement skill which uses only inner mana manipulation. It relies on moving the air around your skin to avoid friction. Of course it has drawbacks compared to teleportation, like limited range, and line of sight is required. It's good to get rid of stalkers. Like you.” I couldn't help myself. I had to add that last one, though it probably wasn't smart to say that.
Marcus clenches his teeth, but keeps his cool. “Okay. That’s neat. Next one. Who are your parents?”
The silence stretches out for several moments as I try to find out why he decided to ask that one. Did Adea give him a hint when he talked to her? If so, it must have been an accident. The other question is which name I should give to him. It’s not like Mom and Dad are going by only one alias.
“It seems like this is a rather complicated question for you. I’ll make it easier, before you try to tell me that you don’t know your parents. I am interested in your parents during the time when you knew Adea. She said that you were part of their pantheon. That was quite unique during the time of the old multiverse. Tell me about it.” Marcus looks down on me, tight lipped and angry.
Are we having our first fight? If so, I wonder who will win? “That’s exciting,” I mutter.
He raises a hand to his ear. “What did you say?”
“It’s probably better if we talk about this somewhere private. How about your car? We can drive to wherever you have to go to get the information about Trebor’s friends.” I gesture towards the university’s car park.
Marcus starts walking and I follow him. But what leaves his mouth isn’t satisfying at all. “I can take you home. But you won’t accompany me to my informant.”
“Then we won’t talk about my old life and I’ll simply follow you. It’s that simple,” I answer, startling him.
He turns around. “You can’t!”
“I can and I will. Do you really think that I need a car if it weren’t for altruistic reasons? I have enough power to teleport right out of this kingdom and to the next neighbour if I want to. Could probably do it all day long if I had a good reason.” It isn’t a threat. I am simply stating the facts. Who needs a car? I am only using them when I don’t know where exactly I have to go. The one I bought would collect dust if Jimmy didn’t use it regularly.
Marcus turns around and almost runs to his car. Oh, shit! I just insulted the only object he deems as holy! Today I am really showing myself from my worst side. “Wait! Are you running away? Why is it so important that I don’t meet this information source of yours?”
He reaches his car and enters it on the driver’s side, so I flash step towards it and get inside as if it’s the most natural thing to do.
He looks at me as if I just pissed on the engine bonnet. “I didn’t say that you could come.”
“Too bad. You made this too interesting. I am coming. And my parents back when I knew Adea were Ascathon and Celestial, the founders of the Ascended. Dad was called the Bright One, though he always hated that title.”
Marcus's eyes wander up and down my body. “You are Sera, the executioner?”
I smile and wriggle my fingers at him. “Oh, so some remember those old stories. I am honoured. Do you now understand why I don’t want to talk about it? The Ascended Ones made a lot of enemies back then. And this new version of the multiverse allows everyone to remember.”
Marcus purses his lips. “I can’t imagine you purging entire solar systems just because your parents told you to do so.”
I spread my fingers and smile. “My parents and I weren’t evil. We just brought peace to the multiverse. Before we knocked down everyone else from their high horses, it was an endless chain of war and blood feuds. And guess what, right after our rule ended, everything returned to its previous state.”
Marcus furrows his forehead. “I still can’t take you on this trip. The place which I have to visit isn’t where a woman like you should go.”
I snort and raise my chin. “Say that again? Either you take me with you, or you can kiss my ass goodbye. I don’t want to waste my time with a man who doesn’t respect me.”
His eyes widen and he curses. Then he starts the car and ignores me for the rest of the trip. It’s somehow bugging me that he is trying to shield me from something. In the end he is the one who breaks the silence upon reaching a parking lot which isn’t far from the city centre. “I just want you to know that I normally don’t visit such parties. I am just going there because it’s the only way to catch my informant.”
“Now you are starting to frighten me. What’s the big secret? Are they making blood sacrifices there? You could have said so sooner, I don’t want to dirty my clothes.” I get out of the car and follow him to the entrance of a big warehouse where a woman with some documents is waiting.
He looks back, straight into my eyes. “Just believe me when I say that this isn’t my preferred locality. I visited this place only twice, and that was before I met you.”
Gods! What’s going on?
I decide to say nothing and follow him to the waiting woman. Upon reaching her, Marcus pulls two big bills from his jacket, enough money to eat three times in a very good restaurant. “We want to join the party.”
The woman takes the money and bows. “I assume you know the rules?” She hands Marcus one of the documents and he signs with his name.
“I do. She is new.” Marcus gestures to me.
I get my own document and make sure that it isn’t a magical contract, then I sign it while I read the purely legal crapshit which is written there. There aren’t many rules, but there are a few which are troubling. “Make sure to use protection. Don’t force anyone against his will. Always follow the orders of the security staff. Don’t hurt anyone who doesn’t beg for it. Stay safe! Have fun!”
“What’s this place?” I follow Marcus through the veiled entrance and into another world.
We are in a disco bar with people who most definitely seek more than dance, drugs and music. The stage is filled with naked women and men who are having their fun with each other, or with the dancing poles. Several people are just talking with each other, but just as many are in various stages of performing ‘the deed’ with each other.
And most of them forgot the clothes… I like this place!
“It’s an orgy.” I turn to look at Marcus, who seems to be quite embarrassed. “That’s all? I thought you were going to take me to a place where they eat souls… or something like that. It’s just a swinger club!” Okay, a very free spirited swinger club. My eyes stay stuck on a girl who is expertly circling her perfect hips on top of a guy who looks like he is in heaven. With such a performance I am getting thoughts about trying my own gender for once.
I blink and turn towards Marcus. He is at a door which leads deeper into the club. Apparently there is more than this first level. I follow him, circling around a woman in a very revealing maid outfit. She is carrying free drinks and toys for various pleasures, so I help myself to something that looks and smells like alcohol.
Sadly it’s not.
“Don’t pull such a face. This place doesn’t serve alcohol,” Marcus reprimands me when I reach him.
“Why not? It would be perfect if I had a good drink,” I mumble.
This causes Marcus to miss a step and he almost trips. “Some parts of this club wouldn’t work out when the minds of the customers are impaired.” He leads me through various rooms of sin and lust. Seems like every room has its own theme. There is the smell of sex and perfume in the air. Not being able to help myself, I feel a fire burning inside me. My body definitely wants to get in on some action.
Marcus walks around two girls and a man who are shamelessly rutting with each other and we enter an area which seems to belong to the hardcore section. The various equipments are of the painful sort. Yep, almost feels as if I am at home in my father’s dungeon.
Marcus turns around and points at a corner in the room. “You can wait there. My friend isn’t exactly a friend of women and the next area is exclusive for men. Just say no if anyone gets annoying. You’ve read the rules.”
I furrow my forehead and nod. Marcus looks at me for several moments as if he is trying to make up his mind. Then he turns around and leaves the big room through a door with a sign for males above it. Next to it is another door with the symbol for females, so I suppose that there are exclusive areas for both genders?
“Seems like your man abandoned you?” A strong male voice startles me and I feel my butt being spanked by a strong, hard hand. Thinking of blood and murder, I turn around. The man in front of me isn’t bad looking, but I simply don’t like his dark olive, Italian skin tone. There is a metal collar around his neck with a short chain attached to it.
He bends over me, as if to intimidate me. “If you want me to, I can lend a strong, guiding hand, lovely.”
That’s it. “I am not ‘lovely’. And you either put a lot of distance between us, or I’ll introduce you to a world of pain!”
Suddenly he falls to his knees and offers me the chain of his collar. Something strange flashes in his eyes. “I am unworthy. To make a mistake as not to recognize my mistress! Do whatever you want to me, punish me!”
Okay? I survey the room and notice the attention of several other people who stopped their S&M practices to watch the exchange. This part of the club is definitely for the weirdos. I’ve to do something. And he spanked me.
“You want pain?”
I take the chain and yank, pulling him over to one of the human-sized crosses. There I use the provided shackles to chain him with his back to the room. I do so slowly, just to give him ample time to object. “So you are really a scum-bag who gets off on things like this?”
“Yes, mistress! Tighter!” he answers with a deep, aroused voice.
“I think they are tight enough.” I run a finger across his back, trailing a rune to ensure that he isn’t able to cheat. Then I turn around and single out a man who is toying with a whip in his hand, a woman is hugging his knees. The pair looks like a master and his dog.
I approach him and point at the whip. It’s well made and out of black leather. Definitely not one of the cheap tools. “Could you lend me that for a while? I am new and I forgot to bring my own toys. I promise it won’t take long.”
His eyes wander to the man who spanked me and he grins, offering me the hilt. “Only as long as you give us a good show.” Then he whispers, “You know that he is normally a S? I guess your looks scrambled his brain and he is trying to get close to you.”
Grinning, I lick my lips and inspect the whip. It’s soft. That only happens to leather if it’s used often. “I’ll do my worst to educate him.”
Cracking the whip in the air, I approach the guy who dared to touch my butt. It’s a loud, resounding crack and the guy at the cross looks for the first time as if he is doubting his decision. “Let’s see how much you can take. Though I personally think that you are a wimp who can’t take a good spanking! Didn’t take me seriously?”
Cracking the whip, I pull a first, fine trail across his back, just not enough to draw blood. Over the next minutes, I slowly increase the speed and intensity. I take my time to enjoy my revenge, always giving him enough time to recover. If I go too hard on him he might call it quits before I am done. The fool clearly struggles to stop himself from crying out. I am almost sure that he will give in any second, when someone taps my back.
Turning around, I look at Marcus. He is looking down on me with a raised eyebrow and I notice that a huge crowd gathered to watch my work.
“I give up! Red, Safeword! Just stop! Can’t take any more!” the piece of trash calls out.
That’s when everyone starts cheering and clapping. The watchers clearly enjoyed the show.
Marcus’s eyes wander to the man and back to me. “So you are skilled in that area? Care to explain why you drew a heart around the S&M on his back?”
I throw the whip back to the man who lend it to me and he catches it, saluting me. Then I turn to look at the piece of art which I drew with the whip. Fine, almost knife-like cuts write S&M on the idiot’s back. Around it is a big heart with rose petals.
Twiddling my fingers, I decide to let Marcus in on my thoughts. “Isn’t it obvious? It means Seria&Marcus. Sometimes you are really slow.”
Marcus inspects the man’s back as a woman in a dominatrix outfit unshackles the nameless idiot. There is clear surprise in his face.
“A normal person would have used a tree...”