“We’re almost there, everyone!” the stagecoach driver yelled to his passengers. “Might want to get your things in order!”
Though the man did his best to sound chipper, he couldn’t help but let his unease show in his voice. This had been without a doubt one of the weirdest jobs he had ever taken, and he was looking forward to finishing it and getting out of here as quickly as possible. Even if this was far from his first time ferrying people across the Empire’s border or visiting this place in particular, there were certain things the simple man just couldn’t ignore.
One of these was the accursed castle that he was currently stopping next to. Known as Fort Aynor, it was a place with a shady history, and that was putting it lightly. Having once been the property of the infamous Order of the Black Wand, the old fortress’s spires gave off a creepy and foreboding feeling, almost as if it was cursed. A notion that was only amplified by the knowledge that it was the site of a gruesome massacre that claimed the lives of hundreds of Taboo holders just two years prior. Though it was assumed it was just the Hero of Death ‘cleaning house,’ the event remained shrouded in mystery and didn’t exactly contribute to the location’s terrible reputation.
Yet the Imperial Inquisition did not seem bothered by dark rumors in the slightest. When the Order of the Black Wand fell apart following the aforementioned massacre, this creepy castle has fallen into the hands of Teresa’s faithful. And then, rather than tear it down like any reasonable human being would, they actually moved in. Not only that, but they even made it their headquarters, the seat of the Grand Inquisitor himself. Fort Aynor was apparently in a ‘logistically convenient location,’ but such trivialities went above the heads of simple men like Michael the stagecoach. From his perspective, he could not fathom how or why anyone would willingly live in a place with such a gloomy atmosphere and troubled history.
Yet as creepy as this place was, the thing that made this particular trip truly bizarre were Michael’s passengers.
“Oh, we got here rather fast, didn’t we? Nice work, Mikey!”
“Ugh, such a dreadful place. I will never understand why humans like these drafty-looking castles so much.”
“This coming from someone that lives in a treehouse hundreds of meters up in the air?”
Transporting a beastkin Hero, her lesbian elven lover, a civilized mithril golem, a sentient bracelet and a living jewelry box all the way to an Inquisition stronghold was not something he was entirely prepared for. He wouldn’t have even taken the job if he knew all the details in advance, but he ended up making a rookie mistake. Beautiful elven girls were a weakness of his, and he couldn’t say no to the platinum-blonde hottie in the pure white dress. By the time he realized what sort of ridiculous menagerie he was going to be ferrying around it was already way too late to back out without getting punished by his guild. Agreements were signed and money had changed hands, after all. To make matters worse, the woman in question turned out to be both spoken for and not a fan of men.
Thankfully the deal was for a one-way trip, which meant that he wouldn’t have to worry about this crazy bunch for much longer.
“Will you ladies be needing anything else?” he asked once everyone had safely gotten off.
“No, we’re good,” Keira responded, much to the man’s relief. “Just need to offload our stuff and you can be on your way.”
A few minutes later, Michael was already speeding off in the direction he came from, counting his lucky stars the trip had ended without anything ridiculous going down. The Inquisition sentries had spotted the group disembarking at the end of the short path that connected the fort’s main gate to the highway, so it was only natural they’d send someone to investigate. A lot of someones, actually, judging by the twenty or so armed guards approaching Keira and the others. The one in charge of this contingent was easy enough to spot, as he was the soldier with the fanciest hat and was walking front and center in front of his subordinates.
“Who goes there?” the man in charge called out to them.
“Keira Morgana, Hero of Chaos,” the redhead curtly answered. “I’m here on behalf of your boss.”
She then showed the soldier a palm-sized circular medal engraved with the image of an eye surrounded by various religious icons pertaining to Teresa’s faith. A few of the grunts let out surprised gasps and murmurs when they recognized the Grand Inquisitor’s seal of authority, but their commanding officer silenced them with a glare over his shoulder.
“Of course, we’ve been expecting you.”
“Indeed. Our resident cardinal received an oracle from Lady Teresa, saying you would be arriving soon.”
“Ah. I see,” the catgirl nodded. “What happens now, then?”
“Now I must ask you to follow me inside, madam. You lot - help these fine ladies with their luggage! They are honored guests of the Inquisition, so I won’t tolerate any slack or lip!”
The soldiers then escorted their visitors to the gate and, after the customary Appraisal check, allowed them to pass through the gatehouse. The fort’s courtyard seemed to be brimming with activity as new and veteran recruits alike practiced formations, performed drills and knelt in circles as they joined in collective prayer. A few glanced at the strangers passing by, but nobody skipped a beat in performing their duties. It was actually rather impressive how disciplined and serious everyone was, especially when considering their top brass were currently across the ocean.
“Yaaay! You’re heeeere!”
Which was why the sight of a blonde girl rushing to meet them with a big goofy smile on her face felt so oddly surreal.
“Hey, there! I’m Maddie!” she introduced herself. “You must be cousin Keira!”
“Cousin?!” the three guests exclaimed in unison.
“Hm? Was I wrong?”
“Well, my name is Keira, but we’re definitely not related!”
That was an understatement to understate all understatements.
To begin with, this strange girl was clearly not a beastkin. She looked markedly human, maybe around sixteen to seventeen years old. She had fair skin, straight golden blonde hair that fell down her back all the way to her waist, and her beautiful face and bubbly attitude gave her a lot of charm. She wore a long vibrant green skirt, a plain leather corset and a white short sleeved shirt that was so unbuttoned one would clearly see both the valley of her cleavage and the total lack of a bra. She was also fifteen to twenty centimeters shorter than the beastkin’s height of one-eighty-ish. Visually the only parts of her that seemed even remotely similar to Keira were the relative proportions of her hips, waist and bust.
However, though she looked mostly normal, there were two aspects of her that were clearly inhuman. The first was the color of her irises, which were bright green and glowed with a piercing inner light. The second was the ribbed, pointed and bone-like horn that erupted from the top of her forehead, just below the hairline. Both of these features were strikingly fiend-like, which left no doubt in Boxxy’s mind that this was one of the three daughters sired by its multi-limbed familiar.
Unfortunately, this deduction did little to explain where that ‘cousin’ comment came from.
“Oh, I didn’t mean that literally, silly!” Maddie said with a big grin. “It’s just that, since I figured you were kinda like my mom’s brother’s adopted daughter, then we’re basically cousins!”
“Mom’s brother’s what-now?” Rowana asked with a profoundly confused expression.
“Now, now, she’s just a bit mixed up,” Keira stepped forward. “Maddie, was it? Why don’t we go over there for a bit so we can have a nice long chat. Clear up misunderstandings and whatnot.”
She grabbed the ditzy blonde by the arm and ushered her towards the nearest building. Thankfully the girl agreed to come along without raising a fuss, though the same could not be said of Keira’s betrothed.
“Sweetie? Where are you going?” the elf called out to her.
“Hero business, honey! Nothing to worry about! You there - tin face! Do me a favor and get my friends someplace where they can rest, would you?”
“… Understood. Our visitors’ hall is right this way, miss.”
The officer in charge of the welcoming party obviously disliked being called ‘tin face,’ but face-concealing headgear aside, anyone who bore the seal of the Grand Inquisitor was automatically his superior officer. It was a symbol of authority far above his station, so he was duty bound to consider those words an order. Plus, he was one of the few people here that knew what Maddie and her sisters truly were, so he understood why some discretion was necessary. He therefore did not let out a single peep of complaint as he escorted Rowana, Fizzy and the pet mimics to the guest room.
Meanwhile, Keira took the liberty to drag Maddie into an out-of-the-way corner, then shoved her against the wall and grabbed her by the collar.
“Now listen here, cupcake,” the catgirl growled at her at point-blank range. “My girlfriend has no idea about your freaky lineage, and I want to make sure it stays that way. As far as she’s concerned, you’re just a regular girl with a few unfortunate deformities. I don’t care who your mama is, you say anything about gods or demons around her and I will rip your fucking tongue out and shove it down your throat. You understand me?!”
The flabbergasted woman could do little but look up at the taller redhead with tears welling up in her eyes, her lips quivering as her throat failed to make a sound.
“I said,” Keira snarled. “Do! I! Make! My! Self! Clear?!”
However, someone butted in before the customary frantic nodding or terrified ‘yes, ma’am’ could be conveyed.
“Get off Maddie, ya creep!”
The catgirl glared over her shoulder at the interloper, a muscle-bound woman that, frankly speaking, looked like a humanized version of Kora. It was painfully obvious she was also one of the archfiend’s offspring, and not just because of her looks, but also her attitude. She put one hand on Keira’s shoulder and was about to take a swing with her other, only to suddenly find herself looking down at the grassy dirt.
She had barely even gotten a chance to grasp what position she was in before her face slammed against the ground. She tried to get up right away, but Keira climbed on top of her, held her hands behind her waist and pressed her face into the dirt with her foot, giving her no recourse but to stay down.
“Great, another one,” the catgirl grumbled, then shot a glare towards the second blonde-haired stranger at the scene. “And I take it you must be triplet number three?”
“Indeed I am,” she answered coldly. “Now could I ask you to release Robin? I know she’s an impulsive idiot, but there’s surely no need for violence.”
“Sure there is!” the one on the ground complained. “I just need to use more of it! Just- Get off of me, ora!”
Yet as much as she struggled, the one called Robin could not hope to throw Keira off no matter how much her legs flailed. That wasn’t because Boxxy was using its full strength to keep her pinned, either. Despite appearances, this musclehead was completely outclassed by the Facade’s supposed Attributes and Skills in every aspect, except maybe girth and cockyness.
“Oh, heavens, that was exciting!” Madeline suddenly exclaimed while clutching her chest. “I’ve never been threatened like that before! I think I almost peed myself a little! And the way you spun Robin around like it was nothing, it was incredible!”
“What the- Wasn’t she trying to do weird things to you?”
“Don’t be silly, cousin Keira was simply clearing up a misunderstanding!”
It was only when she heard the name of the one pinning her to the ground that Robin finally settled down.
“I… I see, so that’s what it was,” she blurted out awkwardly. “I’m sorry for losing my temper, now can you get the fu- I mean, could you please get off me?”
“Alright, but try anything funny and you’ll be eating a second helping of dirt.”
It took a few minutes and a bit of apologizing, but the four of them finally managed to calm down enough to discuss things like rational adults. The most level-headed of the triplets led them inside the main keep and into a more private space, away from prying eyes and ears. The room she arrived at seemed to be their sleeping quarters, as the personal effects strewn about looked far too civilian for this to be a soldier’s bedroom. Well, apart from the bulky suit of armor in the corner, which seemed to be Robin’s judging by the size of it.
The three blonde-haired women lined up in the middle of the room and stood in front of Keira.
“Right, I suppose self-introductions are well overdue,” the one on the far right stated. “My name is Lydia. I am an apprentice Priestess, and the one burdened with keeping these two in line.”
As one might expect, she was almost identical to Maddie in terms of looks. ‘Almost’ being the operative word there, as Lydia seemed to suffer from a severe case of ‘resting bitch face.’ She also wore her golden hair in a tidy ponytail tied off with a red string as opposed to Maddie’s long and straight style. Another difference was that, while Lydia also had a horn jutting out of her skull, hers was coming out of the left side of her head, just above the ear. Clothing wise she was wearing a shoulderless royal blue robe with a gold trim and a near-black sleeveless undershirt that concealed anything even remotely resembling cleavage.
“I apologize again on behalf of my sisters,” she bowed her head in a graceful manner. “They’ve always been rather… excitable, and news of your arrival has not helped them settle down.”
“Aww, loosen up, sis,” Maddie chirped. “We were just having a bit of fun.”
She threw her left hand around her stern sister’s waist, pulling her closer in a manner that was not very sisterly.
“Watch it, Madeline,” Lydia coldly warned her. “You’re invading my personal space. Also, you’re the one that needs to straighten up the most. All you do is goof off and play with that lute of yours. At least Robin makes an effort to keep up with her training and studies.”
“Yeah, fat load of good that did me,” the third one grumbled. “I got thrown about like a sack of potatoes out there.”
The last of the siblings was the one that stood out the most. Though she had the same basic facial structure and her skin, hair and eye colors were just like her sisters’, that was where the similarities ended. As the one who seemed to have inherited the most of her demonic parent’s traits, she was ripped almost literally like a fiend, which made her noticeably taller and wider than the others. She even wore her waist-long blonde hair in the same wild and untamed style as Kora.
Her outfit was also the most unrefined and masculine of the bunch. She had a short-sleeved crop-top shirt that showed off her well-defined abs and rippling biceps and a pair of plain brown trousers held in place by an equally unremarkable belt. She had her fists and forearms wrapped in off-white bandages, suggesting that Kora’s love of punching things was also something she inherited. On the whole, while Maddie looked like a frisky tavern girl and Lydia gave off the feeling of a strict older and uptight sister, it was impossible to describe Robin as anything other than a thug. A pretty one, but a thug nonetheless.
As for her horn, it was on the right side of her head, directly opposite of where Lydia’s was on hers.
“Wait, hold on a second,” Keira mumbled while looking at all three bony appendages in turn. “Your said your names were Lydia, Madeline and Robin, yeah?”
“Indeed,” the first of those confirmed.
“And… who was it that gave you those?”
“Uncle Sigmund, of course!” the middle one happily revealed.
“Huh. Did he ever say why he chose those ones in particular?”
“Dunno,” the muscular sister shrugged. “Never really thought about it.”
“Why do you ask?” Lydia inquired. “Is there something wrong with our names?”
“Well… I just couldn’t help but notice something.”
Keira held a hand up to the left side of her scalp in what seemed like a mockery of the trio’s horns.
She then moved it to the middle of her forehead.
Then finally mirrored the initial gesture with her right hand.
She then repeated the sequence two more times, though that did not seem to dispel the combined look of confusion on the girls’ faces.
“I’m afraid I don’t follow.”
“Hehe, you look pretty cute when you do that.”
“I don’t get what you’re talking about, either, but I have been told I’m a bit thick.”
“You know what, nevermind,” the catgirl gave up. “It’s probably just a coincidence. More importantly, I want to compare notes. Lydia, you seem the least stupid of the bunch, so can you tell me what you three know of your own circumstances?”
The girl in question let out a deep sigh before she addressed that bluntly stated question.
“We are nephilim, born from the union between Teresa, the Goddess of Truth and Justice, and the demon called Koralenteprix Caothox- Cathod- Damnit, I swear I had her name down!”
“Right, apologies. But yes, fact of the matter is, our mother is a Goddess, our father is a demoness, and our great-great-great-grandfather is your patron.”
“And does that lineage give you any special powers or divine gifts I need to keep in mind?”
“Surprisingly, no. Apparently mother’s divinity and father’s demonhood canceled each other out, or so we’ve been told.”
In other words, despite their fantastical heritage, the nephilim did not seem to have a predisposition towards being good or evil, just like the other enlightened races.
“We did get a bunch of blessings from some of the other Gods, though,” Madeline interjected. “Nyrie’s was how we managed to grow up so fast.”
The grace of the Goddess of Fertility had made both their minds and bodies to undergo accelerated development, allowing them to become fully fledged adults in as little as two years. They could also read, write, do basic arithmetic and had a wealth of general knowledge thanks to Lunar’s boon. The problem was that they had grown under the watchful eye of Sigmund Law and lacked anything that could be considered real world experience. Which was where the Hero of Chaos came in. It was Boxxy’s job to teach them the harsh realities of what awaited them outside their gilded cage, and prepare them for the hardships the first of the nephilim would surely face.
“Wait, aren’t you girls forgetting about that dreaming thing?” Robin reminded the others. “I’m pretty sure that counts as a ‘special power.’”
“Dreaming thing? What are you talking about?” Keira asked for clarification.
“Well, sometimes we get these lucid dreams where we float through this place called the Beyond.”
“Wait, wait, wait, you can visit the Beyond?!”
Boxxy accidentally let its surprise slip through its Facade, but it was something anyone who knew even the slightest thing about demons would be shocked about.
“It is… difficult to describe,” Lydia took over. “However, we are not really ‘visiting’ so much as ‘peeking in,’ though the demons seem to be able to sense our presence, and often converse with us.”
“Yeah! We even got to see daddy a few times!” Madeline declared joyfully. “Can’t wait to meet her in person! She said you could make that happen, so I’ve been totally excited ever since I heard you were dropping by!”
Boxxy internally cursed that loudmouthed fiend. According to Adrian, these three had no idea who the Hero of Chaos truly was. If they did, there was no way any of these whelps would be able to converse with its Facade so casually. Not to mention Teresa would likely have a lot of explaining to do. Long story short, it was better for literally everyone involved if this secret was kept. Which was why that blockhead saying such unnecessary things through some cross-dimensional dream link needed to come to an immediate stop.
The shapeshifter would send Benjamin a strongly worded message later, right now she had a situation to handle.
“I’m not sure about that,” it feigned ignorance. “What does this ‘daddy’ of yours even look like?”
“Big. Strong. Three horns, kinda like ours combined,” Robin said while gesturing at her head.
“She’s going to need more than that, you dolt,” Lydia reprimanded her. “Our… father… is a fiend. A female one with six arms, red skin and bright green hair and eyes.”
“Oh. Ohhh. Alright, yeah, I think I can arrange something once we get you three to Azurvale. That aside, I have one more question. Arguably the most important one. What is it you three hope to accomplish with your lives? I know it may be sudden, but-”
“I wanna bash bad guys!” Robin declared with a fierce grin. “I wanna smash their faces in to avenge all the pain they caused innocent bystanders! Y’know, just like uncle Sigmund does!”
“I don’t wanna fight at all, to be honest,” Madeline declared with a pout. “I want to be a Bard and inspire people with my songs. I want to create, not destroy.”
“I want to have babies,” Lydia casually proclaimed. “Lots and lots of babies. Roughly five hundred and seventeen, to be precise.”
The other two rolled their eyes and groaned with an air of ‘here we go again’ about them, though Keira was left just plain confused.
“Don’t give me that look. We are the first of our kind. It is our duty to procreate as much as possible for the sake of the nephilim race. And since these two are doing everything they can to run away from that responsibility, then it falls to me.”
“No, I get that, but why that oddly specific number?”
“Oh, I read a study that said five hundred and twenty was the minimum number of people necessary to secure a stable and diverse population.”
“You do know its physically impossible for three women to birth that many children in their lifetime, right?”
“Divine blessings, remember? I estimate our bodies can go from conception to childbirth in as little as two months. Frankly speaking we should all be heavy with our third babies by now, but Sigmund refuses to breed with us for some unknown reason.”
“Lydia, the guy raised us,” Robin pointed out. “He’s been more of a dad to us than our actual father.”
“Then why did he have to order all of the men stationed here to never lay a hand on us?” Lydia retorted. “Look, Keira, bottom line is, I’m counting on you to find a suitable mate for all of us. Somebody with a strong body, sharp wits, noble spirit and a kind heart.”
“You know, sis, you don’t need some big burly man,” Madeline cooed as she pulled Lydia closer. “You could always let me try to put a bun in that oven of yours.”
“Madeline, we’ve been over this. You lack the equipment to do so. We all do.”
“So? We’re, like, the products of a miracle. Who says a second one can’t happen if we do it hard enough?”
“Nature does, you dimwit. Keira, talk some sense into her, will you?”
However, ‘Keira’ was currently out of it for the moment as Boxxy was busy lamenting its terrible luck. Just once it wanted to meet a person that wasn’t obsessed with their genitals. Granted, it was almost inevitable one of these three would have inherited Arms’s perverse side, but it had kind of hoped it wouldn’t be the case. At the very least incestious desires were easier to cover up than literal murderfucking, but it still hated that it had to deal with this for the umpteenth time. Thankfully Jen’s libido - if she ever even had it - had dried up long ago, otherwise it was extremely likely she would’ve turned into another pervert the shapeshifter had to keep happy.
And it was at that point in time, in a room with one sister trying to seduce another while the third glared at them with a look of utter disgust, that Boxxy realized something.
It was supposed to check on how that griffin-harpy hybrid was doing four days ago.