Nao stretched and yawned lazily as he watched the great twelve trees of Azurvale slowly drift away. The morning sun was trying its best to peek through the spotty cloud cover, allowing a few stray rays of sunlight to fall upon the Endeavor’s deck. The airship had been repaired sooner than expected following the damage it suffered in the Gilded Hand’s raid on the elven capital. This allowed the Hero of Magic and his companion to leave slightly ahead of schedule, which the learned wolfkin was frankly glad to take advantage of.
Frankly speaking, he was not a fan of the Republic. Not because of any societal or political reasons, but purely because it was too damn cold. As someone raised in the city-state of Emerald - also known as The Jewel of the Pearly Dunes - he was used to sweltering heat, hot winds and a blazing sun. Though his magic helped him deal with the sudden and drastic change in climate, it was merely a stopgap measure. He honestly had no idea how Keira could deal with that horrific cold so easily.
When his thoughts drifted to his new friend and fellow Hero, Nao couldn’t help but feel a bit sad. She had abruptly disappeared following that field test of her Divine item, and hadn’t been seen since. She didn’t even come to see him off. Her girlfriend mentioned something about an urgent Quest from her patron deity regarding the truth behind Keira’s parents, so her abrupt departure couldn’t be helped. The redheaded catgirl was supposed to have been orphaned at a young age, so it was only natural she’d want to investigate. Nao briefly contemplated asking the LIAR about them, but decided this matter was too personal for him to interfere.
A pair of purple arms suddenly wrapped around Nao’s shoulders while he was leaning on the edge of the flying ship’s railing and idly scanning the ground underneath. He then felt two extremely soft humps against his back, and a hot breath on his neck.
“Whatcha doing out here in the cold all by yourself, cutie? Why don’t you come back inside so we can swap body heat?”
“I’ll pass thanks,” he replied with annoyance in his voice. “And I thought I asked you not to speak to me like that.”
“You did, but you didn’t order me,” was the coy reply.
“I’m really not in the mood for your antics right now, Shion. Go away before I have to dismiss you by force.”
“Aww… That’s too bad… Well, if you ever want big sister to teach you some more hip magic, you’ll know where to find me.”
The succubus, whose full name was Shionunsiansial Drianthannuu, peeled herself off of Nao as slowly and sensually as she could. The beastkin heard her high-heeled footsteps back away, but he couldn’t help but look over his shoulder at her. The demoness was a shapely beauty with a plump behind and thick thighs, while her breasts were so large he could clearly see them poking out from either side of her narrow back. It was the standard affair for succubi though, as were the leathery bat-like wings and slender tail. Her dark purple leather outfit - which consisted of thigh-high boots, revealing bikini bottom, cleavage-amplifying mini-corset and bracers - was also par for the course.
Sensing her master’s gaze upon her back, the woman turned her head to smile suggestively at him over her bare shoulders. Her face was as beautiful as one might expect, with glowing blue eyes, long full snow-white hair and black horns that poked out of the sides of her head and curved forward and upward. What set her aside from most other succubi were her feline features, namely the triangular ears poking out of her hair, the distinctly catlike irises and the fuzzy nature of her tail. She flexed said agile appendage and sensually coiled it around her thigh, subtly drawing Nao’s eyes to her nether region before she disappeared through a nearby door.
Demons, like most living things, were shaped by their environment and lineage. In her case, Shion was spawned from the lewd and improper thoughts of beastkin whose objects of desire were outside their reach - be it due to physical distance or societal ranks. That was why she had those catgirl-ish features, and also why she was born as a Violet Succubus, as evidenced by her skin tone.
This subcategory of sinful seductresses had a natural predisposition towards spatial manipulation magic, as evidenced by their Void Slip Skill. It was a racial ability that allowed them to instantly fade out of existence, rendering them immobile, invulnerable and invisible for a few seconds. Shion herself was also a Wizard with centuries of experience bending the fabric of space to her will. In some ways, one could say she was the perfect research assistant for Nao, which was no mere coincidence given the circumstances under which she was contracted.
However, the succubus’s magical talents were not why the Hero of Magic contracted her. They were a nice surprise, yes, but the main reason why he hired her was to help cope with his fear of women. Keira’s attempts of curing him of that condition had given him the idea that, if he were to face his fears and insecurities on a daily basis, he would be able to overcome them on his own. Incidentally, the catgirl was also the one who convinced him he should make better use of his ability to contract additional familiars.
It was this line of thinking that led him to bonding with a succubus. Shion was exactly the type of predatory salacious strumpet that gave him the most trouble, which made her an ideal social sparring partner. That was also why he had allowed her to roam the ship freely, within certain restrictions, of course. Nao was the only one she was allowed to interact and flirt with, all with the goal of helping him learn to deal with aggressive women.
Admittedly this training plan did not originally involve bedroom relations, but things had escalated a lot quicker than Nao intended. Just that idle mention of ‘hip magic’ was enough to stir some rather vivid memories. The experience had been so mind-blowing that he found himself thinking back on it quite often, especially at times like these when he wasn’t keeping himself busy with something. Frankly speaking, Keira was right to be mad at him for allowing that to happen, as it was the perfect chance for Shion to suck the life out of him. Yet despite understanding all that, Nao did not regret what had happened, even in the slightest.
“Damn it all, it’s all her fault,” he cursed under his breath. “How can one woman be so damn pretty?”
Though Nao wasn’t aware of it, his comment had been overheard by a certain pair of voyeurs.
“Which one do you think he’s talking about, Twitchy?”
“Honestly, I’m not too sure myself. Both of those kids are good at toying with innocent hearts like his.”
Lunar, the Goddess of Magic and Learning, and Gizelle, the God of Rock-Paper-Scissors, were currently observing the young Hero from the Aether. Unlike the last time these two deities got together, they weren’t in Philippe’s divine area, but in Lunar’s. It had the appearance of a massive library with no end in sight, just rows upon rows upon rows of shelves filled with books. There was probably a ceiling to be seen, but the oil lamps scattered around the place did not cast enough light to illuminate the darkness overhead.
The Goddess of Magic was in her usual appearance - that of a wrinkled old granny wearing a robe that appeared to have been sewn out of a star-filled night sky. She was currently laying down with her back against the fluffy checkered carpet. Miguel was lying next to her, currently appearing as a vaguely humanoid shaped pile of pencils, inkwells, quills, stationery, and other writing implements. They were looking up at a massive floating wooden frame, which was currently relaying images and sounds of Nao in real time.
“And you’re absolutely sure that harlot won’t kill the boy?” Lunar asked.
“She’s no more likely to do that now than the last nineteen times you asked me.”
“Well, maybe I’d stop asking if you told me why you were so damned sure of it.”
“Can’t you just take my word for it? I was right about Boxxy, wasn’t I?”
Indeed, the main reason why Lunar had let her current Hero meet with a murderous shapeshifter with that much blood on its hands was because of Kyle’s reassurances. The deity had a firm grasp on Boxxy’s pragmatic personality and knew the monster would recognize the benefits of getting into Nao’s good graces. It would surely do so as Keira, who had a thoughtful, cheerful and down-to-earth personality that could make friends with anyone. Even if she was a fictional character, she would undoubtedly prove to be a good influence on the wolfkin shut-in.
And in the end, Makansapalapalous had been correct on all accounts. Nao’s various encounters with Keira had turned him into a better man. One that was willing to engage with others rather than crawling inside his shell like some sort of misanthrope. Without that unwitting intervention, Nao would have surely isolated himself from society in the years and decades to come. It was actually quite common to hear stories of some genius locking themselves away in a tower somewhere so they could focus on their research.
And while such individuals could learn much about their chosen field, it would be pointless without someone to inherit their work. The act of accumulating knowledge was an inherently cooperative process. No matter how gifted any single person was, they were all born not knowing a single thing about the world they lived in. The preservation of knowledge from previous generations was paramount to the continued existence of civilization. The ability to use the wisdom of one’s peers and ancestors as a foundation to reach new heights was a major part of what separated the enlightened from the monsters. Even the term ‘enlightened’ was named after this trait.
However, none of that would be possible if the greatest mind of a generation were to selfishly hoard their discoveries. The great elven sage Tol-Saroth was a prime example of that. He had created many wonders during his lifetime, but the discoveries he used to fashion them had disappeared with his death. If he had been less secretive about his work, or at the very least did not allow himself to get dragged into the war, then a lot more of his legacy would have survived.
But now, only fragments of his brilliant mind remained. It saddened Lunar greatly, knowing that so much knowledge had been lost due to the pettiness of mortals with too much power and not enough foresight. She wanted to avoid that sort of scenario repeating itself, which was why she disapproved of her Heroes shutting themselves off from the rest of the world or using their gifts for completely selfish gains.
Lunar was therefore quite happy with how things turned out with Nao’s visit. The young wolfkin now understood the value of collaboration with another, as evidenced by how he was able to create his first Artifact. Short lived as it may have been, it was a monumental personal achievement that also taught him that talent must be tempered by wisdom and patience. And with him learning to get over his fear of women, he was far less likely to become some mad hermit with no morals. Admittedly there was a chance entering a romantic relationship would distract him from his studies, but Lunar preferred that to the alternative.
Long story short, the Goddess of Magic and Learning greatly appreciated Twitchy’s Hero pushing him in what she considered to be the right direction. It also saved him from being attacked by those despicable Gilded Hand people. Boxxy’s motives may have been rotten and self-serving, but Lunar truly had no reason to complain about its actions.
However, this and that were different.
“Look Twitchy, I was willing to give that monster of yours a pass because I’ve seen how crafty it can be. To say that it’s a fast learner would be like saying the sky is sort of blue, and I can respect that. But I know what demons are like. Their immortality makes them feel like they can get away with anything. They respect neither life nor authority, so unless you can give me a solid reason why that succubus should stay, then I’m going to have to step in and make Nao terminate that contract for his own good.”
“Alright, fiiiiine,” groaned Charlie, throwing his pencils in the air. “The reason I know that succubus won’t kill him was because I had a hand in setting her up to be his familiar.”
“Wait, you did? I thought you hated doing that sort of thing since it made things boring.”
“Yeah, I do. But this doesn’t concern just me. You came to me for reassurance that no harm would come to your Hero if he should visit mine. And me, being a good friend, did my part to make sure that that didn’t happen.”
Vincent’s words sounded benevolent enough, but Lunar had known this capricious deity far too long to take anything he said at face value.
“Did your part… how?”
“Ah. Well you see, I have a list of, shall we say, promising individuals I keep track of. Deviants, oddballs, lunatics, that sort of thing. And that lovely creature I had Nao bonded with is on it. Here, give me a sec.”
Blurplenurple snapped his notepads, causing a deck of cards to appear above him. He reached up with his cardboard knives and began flipping through its bricks.
“Let’s see… Ah, here we are! Shionunsiansial Drianthannuu. Noted for having an unnatural obsession with innocent young boys who are woefully inexperienced with women. She likes embarrassing, humiliating and toying with them for her own enjoyment. She’s also especially partial to beastkin, likely due to her being born of their desires. Point is, Nao is completely her type.”
“And… that’s supposed to make me feel relieved?”
“It should, when you consider it’s exceedingly rare to find those qualities amongst Warlocks, especially the ones that would contract a succubus. So, when Shion somehow lands a gig with a suitable man, she takes great care not to suck them completely dry. Hard for her to get her kicks from a corpse, after all.”
“But wait, there’s more! Shion has also been trying really hard to Rank Up over the past few hundred years, and she knows for a fact Nao has discovered a method to make that happen. Well, the entire Beyond likely know that since they saw his pet gazer on the Boxxy Show, but that’s besides the point. Given her personality, it’s pretty much certain she will be trying to use him both to satisfy her twisted desires and to ascend to a higher state of being. Two very good reasons to not only not kill your Hero, but also look out for him outside her contractual obligations. And as time goes on… who knows?”
“Wait, did you just play matchmaker between a demon and a Hero?”
“Might’ve. A little bit.”
“Yeah but why though?”
“I was curious,” the God of Instability shrugged. “Call it an experiment in demon psychology.”
Witnessing Xera’s infatuation with Boxxy made Rico wonder if such a relationship between mortal and immortal could be replicated. The shapeshifter had conquered her nonexistent heart by catering to her carnal cravings. And Nao was uniquely qualified to satisfy both Shion’s kink and her desire for power, so the ingredients were certainly there.
“Heh. An experiment, huh?” Lunar chuckled. “Think it’ll work out? No, don’t tell, me, there’s a ‘non-zero chance’ of that happening, right?”
“Better than that, I’d say. I mean just look at what’s going on over there in the doorway.”
Billy pointed towards the screen, which was still showing Nao staring at the horizon, struggling to hide an erection that refused to go away. The doorway he was talking about was the entrance to the passenger cabins further behind him, the same one the succubus had gone through after their earlier greeting. Curious as to what exactly her fellow deity was talking about, Lunar manipulated the viewpoint, moving it closer to the spot in question.
Though the solid wooden door appeared to be closed at first glance, a closer inspection revealed it was actually ever so slightly ajar. More than that, a bright blue feline eye was seen peeking through it, its gaze locked firmly onto Nao’s back. It was clearly Shion, and she was obviously up to something, but Lunar couldn’t tell what since this method of observation was limited to her Hero’s immediate vicinity.
Overcome with curiosity, the Goddess used a tiny bit of her divine power to see what was going on on the other side of the door. It was only then that she realized the succubus in question was breathing heavily while expertly rubbing the damp area between her legs with one hand and fondling her breast with the other. She even let out a low moan when a passing crewmember asked Nao how he was doing, but the Hero was too embarrassed by his lack of boner control to respond properly.
“Yup,” Joshua confirmed.
“Alright, think I’ve seen enough.”
“I haven’t. It’s not every day you see a succubus pleasuring herself.”
“Too bad. This is my realm, and what I say goes.”
Lunar cut off the lewd broadcast and rose to her feet, with her guest following suit.
“Well, guess I should be leaving. Thanks for having me over, Looney.”
“I should be the one thanking you for everything you did and didn’t do to Nao. I may be doting a bit too much on him, but he’s a really good kid.”
“That’s perfectly fine, I think. Heroes are the only ones we get to dote on. Just so long as we don’t overdo it like a certain blonde moron.”
“You’re still salty about Teresa pulling a fast one on you?”
“Just a little. It’s only now that Boxxy’s going to clean up the last of the mess.”
“You think Axel will be fine with that?”
“What do you mean?”
“Wasn’t one of his angels part of that Gilded Hand bunch? He probably won’t care for losing her, especially to Boxxy.”
“Maybe, but I honestly don’t give a crap. That stick-in-the-mud can send his Hero after mine for all I care.”
The God of War and Combat and the God of Randomness and Soup were not on the best of terms, to say the least. A more accurate way of putting it would be that they outright hated each other’s guts. The former despised monsters with his entire being while the latter kept using them as followers and Heroes without reservations. One valued solid strategy, discipline and honor while the other thrived on the confusion caused by unexpected occurrences.
But the biggest problem Robert had with Axel was that he was extremely strait-laced and by the book, which made him entirely too predictable. That was how Josuke knew for a fact the God of War wouldn’t actually interfere with another deity’s Hero. Mostly because of the guy’s personality. The pantheon had a silent agreement amongst themselves to never intentionally sabotage or eliminate each other’s representatives, and Axel’s sense of duty and honor would not allow him to violate it. Well, he theoretically could, but the odds of him doing that were so astronomically low that it would still be a ‘win’ for the God of Inevitability.
And if there was one thing Axel hated more than monsters, it was losing to a clown like Claude.
“He and I are like arrows and eyeballs, we just don’t mix,” said the Goddess of Luck. “And I doubt that will ever change. I can’t just get along with everyone like you do, Looney.”
“I wouldn’t say I ‘get along with everyone’ though,” Lunar crossed her arms. “Zephyra is always butting heads with me over magical devastation of the ecosystem and whatnot. That nasty stuff you released over Monotal isn’t helping things either.”
“Yeah, but she still listens to you. And unless I miss my guess, you’ve helped pretty much all of the others with their Divine item projects.”
“Well yeah, but that’s standard practice, isn’t it?”
“Sure, but you’re the only one who’s had a finger in all of them. The only one who’s ever asked me to help with theirs is you, and I know for a fact it wasn’t by choice.”
“You may have been the only one capable of pulling it off, but you still did an outstanding job on it. My only complaint is that you talked me into giving it a name with an ironic acronym.”
“I’d say it’s your own fault for not recognizing it as such until it was too late to change it.”
The Librarium Infinitus Arcana Refactorium was not, in fact, a repository of all of the world’s knowledge. Not even the Gods themselves were omniscient, so it was ludicrous to think a book would be, especially not when they were the ones who made it. The LIAR’s actual function was to use a type of scrying magic to look up the answers for questions, or ‘queries,’ on the spot. Rather than the world’s most extensive library, it was more accurate to think of it as the world’s most efficient detective.
It was an ability that was made possible thanks to Wertham, as gathering and analyzing information was his specialty. One had to consider a nearly incalculable amount of variables in order to read the flows of chaos, and Miguel was really good with numbers. He could easily do what the LIAR did in 99% of cases, though that did require him to expend some of his rather limited divine power. The devotion of an entire realm of demons and a handful of mortal weirdos was more than enough to sustain his low-key activities, but outright miracles took a lot out of him. Just arranging a face-to-face meeting with Boxxy, for example, took a good few decades’ worth of faith juice out of him.
That was why the LIAR had to demand ‘payment’ in order to perform its function. Something had to be given if it was to be able to pull the right strings to dredge up the information requested. It was the same with his own Divine-ranked bauble, the Atlas of Dreams. He probably could’ve forged that thing entirely on his own, but he needed Lunar’s power in order to bring it into existence. Her absolute dominion over the laws of magic was a big help too. Without her, there was a chance that pink gem might’ve just detonated on the spot just like Boxxy initially feared it would. It was certainly a possibility, given the deity’s track record.
“Huh. Hey, Twitchy?”
“What became of your original Divine item? You know, the one that had something to do with… cutlery, I think?”
“Oh? Oh yeah, that old thing! Dunno, I mostly gave up on it when the Atlas was made. Now that I think about it, I sent one of my more, uh, zealous followers to find the pieces of it awhile back.”
“Why are you saying ‘zealous’ like it’s a bad thing?”
“Because the guy was insufferable. I’d get like fifty prayers a day asking me for guidance or whatever. Over super trivial stuff, too! Like what he wanted to eat for breakfast, or whether he should wipe his ass or not! I mean come on!”
It was inevitable that a follower selection process that relied almost entirely on random occurrences would occasionally produce certain undesirables like that.
“So what, you sent him on a mission to recover your old relic because you wanted him to shut up?”
“Yup! Told him he was only to contact me if he finished the Quest I gave him, that it was a test of his faith and devotion. Naturally I gave him no information to go on other than the name of the parts, so he’ll be searching for ‘em for a long, long time. It was a bit of a dick move, but it certainly did the trick of getting his junk off my prayer feed.”
Usain was the type of deity that paid attention to every single prayer, offering and wish his followers gave. His fellow gods used aggregators or played favorites with their Priests, Paladins and Monks, but the God of Uncertainty wasn’t like that. He treated those messages like an information feed, so having one guy cluttering it up with useless trivia was less than ideal.
“What if he actually succeeds though?” Lunar pointed out.
“To be fair, if he manages to pull it off, then for better or for worse he’d have earned my attention.”
“Yeah, but that’s if he does it by himself. The faithful have a chance to flock around their Hero, and yours has become rather famous of late. Won’t this zealot you were talking about seek yours out?”
“Huh. I never considered that.”
“Oh? Getting negligent in your old age, are you?”
“Har, har, har. No, I actually sent him off years ago, back when I wasn’t even considering making a Hero. I had put that event so completely out of my mind that I only remembered it when you brought that matter up. But now that you did… Hmm…”
Terrence closed his pens and started running the numbers. The odds of that noisy fellow approaching the active Hero of Chaos with a plea for help was extremely likely. There was also no way Boxxy would pass up the opportunity to snag another Divine item for its collection. The biggest problem, however, was the fact that even if they were technically decommissioned, the pieces of the set were still designed to draw the Hero of Chaos towards them. It was sort of the opposite effect of the homing function the Atlas of Dreams used. Depowered and unreliable as it was, it would surely aid said Hero if it started actively searching for them.
“This is bad,” he declared with a worried tone.
“They’re gonna find all the bits, aren’t they?”
“Yeah. It’s far more likely than not.”
“What are you gonna do about it?”
“I honestly don’t know. That thing had some… pretty horrific properties. Especially for a Divine item. The last thing I want is for Boxxy to find it, because it will definitely try to use it.”
“You could ask the box not to look for it.”
“That’s only going to make it want the thing more, though. Trust me, it’ll only provoke its curiosity.”
“I suppose explaining the situation is out of the question?”
“Telling my Hero of my dark past would kind of defeat the purpose of not wanting it to find out about it, so no.”
The two Gods crossed their arms and racked their brains, but couldn’t find a good solution to the problem.
“I’d say you’re in a pickle, Twitchy. Either you compromise your beliefs or you have to let things play out, then deal with the fallout.”
“Grnnn, guess I’ll have to go with the latter. At least it’ll be quite a while before any of that happens. It’ll give a chance for Boxxy to grow older, wiser, and more mature. Hopefully that will be enough.”
“So you’re just going to hope it will realize it shouldn’t be playing with suspicious relics of a bygone age?”
“No,” said Gilbert, shaking his inkwell. “I’m going to hope it will be able to forgive me.”