“Oh, me, oh ,my,” Lucius mumbled to himself. “I see, so that’s how things are.”
The old demon released the nephilim triplets from the fluffy embrace of his tails, allowing them to collapse in a small heap in the back of the wooden cart. Whatever he did while rooting around in their heads must’ve taken its toll, as they showed no signs of waking up. He stood up and casually waved his cane around, prompting a column of white sand to rise from the ground. It assumed the shape of a giant hand that grabbed hold of Kora and Boxxy’s magical coffin and gently unloaded it from the vehicle. Once both he and the object were safely on the ground, he turned to face Xera with a business-like smile.
“Your master is a clever little box, isn’t it?” he remarked.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” she asked while crossing her hands.
“It managed to piece together that what is happening to your fiend-friend is not, in fact, caused by the Demonbane curse.”
“Are you sure you haven’t gone senile, old man?”
“Quite sure, yes,” he grinned a little wider. “Now, you and your spidery friend over there are obviously ignorant on the matter, so allow me to impart some knowledge on you. However, I must insist on a bit of privacy first.”
Lucius took a deep breath and stabbed the bottom of his cane into the sand beneath his feet. The luxurious palace-like building in the background dissolved into a multi-colored mass of sand that began spinning around him and his ‘guests,’ creating a swirling dome of prismatic dust. It blocked out the countless flickering stars overhead, replacing them with a crude imitation of a blue sky complete with blurry white clouds and a fake sun to provide light.
This trick’s purpose was, as Lucious implied, to obfuscate their presence from all prying eyes and ears, especially those belonging to the Goddess of Chance. Having met with Boxxy and its crew a few times over the past two years, he was well aware that Nicholas liked to broadcast its adventures for all the Beyond to see. Which, given the sensitive nature of the information he was about to divulge, was simply bad for business. Admittedly the djinn’s guests had yet to pay for his services, but he would simply bill their boss afterwards.
“Very good!” he cheerfully declared. “Now, to clarify on my earlier point. You see, the Demonbane hex does not simply destroy demons.”
Yet more sand swirled around him, clumping together into the shape of a miniature six-armed fiend just above his open palm.
“It unravels the bonds that hold together the lump of thoughts, emotions, grievances and resentment that we call a soul.”
He smacked the mini-fiend with his cane, causing the sand to explode and disperse into a small cloud.
“Lesser demons are incapable of pulling themselves back together, as it were, and would simply dissolve into the Beyond’s background noise. But a Ranker is made of sterner stuff. For those of us who have ascended past the state we are born in, we would not be faced with oblivion, but a downgrade.”
The floating dust particles then began to reassemble back into a mockery of Kora’s form, only this time it was missing a pair of arms.
“Yet that is not the fate that awaits that girl over there. Rather than being reduced to a simpler iteration of herself, she is instead facing total collapse.”
The fiend-shaped lump then crumbled into a pile of sand that fell on his palm and slipped between his fingers as it rejoined the rest of the Pearly Dunes.
“So then… something else happened besides the Demonbane exposure?” Xera asked.
“Tktktktkt,” Drea chittered as she revealed herself. “Those guys were using a lot of strange magic. Maybe that was responsible?”
“Not quite,” Lucious rebuked her. “Looking into the memories of those three whelps has allowed me to pinpoint the cause. Observe.”
The sands of the desert began swirling and forming together in accordance to his will yet again, only this time the scale was much bigger. Rather than a miniature demon or a fake mansion, what they formed instead was an entire street, complete with people, fences, lamp posts and houses. Xera and Drea had some difficulty recognizing the place, at least until they saw sandy duplicates of the nephilim sisters.
It was at that point they realized this was a reconstruction of the scene where Boxxy found Kora. It then became apparent that ‘reenactment’ was a far more apt description, as the imitation triplets began moving. Robin was leading the other two, obviously trying to cover them with her wider frame. A cultist bearing a creepy-looking hammer then appeared out of a corner. He raised his weapon and prepared to take a swing at them while screaming some garbled nonsense that vaguely sounded like ‘For the Mistress!’
“Oi! Don’t you dare touch my kids, you worthless sack of shit!”
Kora’s massive body then appeared from behind the triplets’ backs, punching the cultist in the face so hard that he crashed into the building across the street.
“D-dad?” Robin mumbled as she stared up at the fiend’s back. “Is that you?”
“Heya, kiddos,” she winked at them over her shoulder.
“Father!” Lydia gasped.
“Daddy!” Madeline cheered.
“Sorry I let you out of my sight,” Kora added as she turned to face a group of cultists in front of her. “It won’t happen again.”
She then proceeded to beautifully pummel the humans into the ground over and over. Her experience acting as Boxxy’s meat shield was showing, as she expertly protected the girls while simultaneously dealing with the rabble. The first assailant then reappeared, swinging his cursed hammer straight into her left guard. The demon blocked it, but the arm she used to do so crumpled like paper as she screamed out in agony.
“Suffer, heathen!” the man gloated when he saw her reaction.
“No, you!” Kora retorted.
She then tried to boot him in the face, but her kick lost all power when her opponent parried it with the handle of his hammer. What followed was a brief exchange of blows between the two of them. However, Kora was obviously on the losing end. Having lost the element of surprise and with the cultist constantly regenerating, she was not able to force him back like she had initially. The Demonbane weapon, on the other hand, repeatedly broke through her defences no matter how hard she tried to block it. It would not have been as big of an issue if she dodged out of the way, but that would mean giving the bastard a free shot at her daughters.
The triplets, on the other hand, were mostly powerless. Robin, who was unarmed, and Madeline, who was not a fighter, could only stare with bated breath. Lydia tried to use her Priest magic to restore Kora’s vitality, but it was clearly not enough. They couldn’t just run away, either, as those damned cultists kept coming at them while Kora was busy with the hammer wielder. They had to be close enough to her so that she could swat the hooded creeps away at a moment’s notice, but that only opened her up to taking more hits from the Demonbane.
It didn’t take long for the archfiend’s strength to finally give out. A nasty blow to her knee had broken it completely, forcing her to stumble and fall to the other. Three of her arms had suffered multiple fractures and dangled uselessly from her shoulders while a fourth was already disintegrating from the fist up. Her opponent smirked under his hood and brought down his weapon upon her head, which she just barely managed to catch by grabbing both sides of its head with her two remaining arms. The cultist struggled to liberate his weapon, but the archfiend’s grasp proved to be far too solid for him to do that despite her gritting her teeth from the pain.
“Why must you stand in my way!?” the man howled at her in frustration. “You’re just a heartless demon! The lives of those three abominations should mean nothing to you!”
“Abominations?” Kora growled, her anger surging forth like a raging rapid. “You dare say that about my kids? My kids?! They’re worth a hundred million of you pathetic fucks!”
Surging forward with newfound strength, the demon finally wrestled the hammer from the man’s hands. Now disarmed, the cultist had no way of stopping Kora as she began to viciously pummel him into the ground with his own weapon.
“Fucking! Worthless! Piece! Of! Shit!” she enunciated between each strike. “You dare! My kids! They’re mine! Mine I say! You can’t! Have them!”
She tenderized him over and over and over until he was left as a literal bloody smear against the cracked pavement. She had crushed him so utterly that even his supercharged vitality could not keep up with the demand.
“As for your stupid-ass toy!” she howled. “It will never hurt what is mine ever again!”
The archfiend then let go of the weapon, making it momentarily float in place before gravity could pull it to the ground.
Kora then struck the item’s business end from the left and right with her fists, from below with her knee, and from above with her forehead. The simultaneous attack proved too much for the hammer to withstand, causing it to shatter and explode into dozens of fragments, many of which embedded themselves in the fiend’s body. Kora then stumbled backwards and began to fall.
It was at this moment that the sand-fueled theatrical presentation came to an abrupt halt.
“Did you see it?” Lucius asked the other two demons.
“All I saw was an idiot doing something unnecessary,” Xera sighed.
“S-same here, tktktktk…” Drea mumbled while twiddling her claws.
“Exactly!” the old fox exclaimed, his smile so wide it made his face seem broken. “An archfiend risking her immortal existence to protect a mortal of her own volition!”
“Isn’t that just, like, parental instincts?” the ex-succubus pointed out. “She’s a moron so I can see her falling for such-”
“Nonsense!” he interrupted her. “Demons don’t have such trifling drives! Or do you believe your own mother would ever stick her neck out for you like that?”
“Ugh…” she groaned. “No, I sincerely doubt she would ever do that.”
“But then… why did Koralentrepix, tktktktkt, do that?”
“Ah-hah! That is the question, isn’t it? Shall I give you the answer?”
“Stop speaking in riddles, you old fart,” Xera chided him. “We are short on time as it is.”
“That may be so, but nobody said you can’t fill that time with a bit of flair, no?” he smiled dismissively at her. “But, very well. Observe.”
He clapped his hands, causing the scene to rewind back to the point where Kora was on her knees and had just grabbed the cursed weapon.
“Now, pay attention to the archfiend’s head.”
The events began to play out the same way, albeit at only a quarter of their original speed. With Lucius’s direction, both Xera and Drea were able to grasp what he was getting at. As Kora was pummeling her victim into soup, one of her horns fell out of her skull. It didn’t break or snap off, it just detached itself as if it were the most natural thing in the world. Her other two horns followed suit shortly afterwards, with the final one falling off just before she smashed the weapon into pieces.
“She shed her horns?” Xera couldn’t help but question aloud. “Can… Can demons even do that?”
“It is exceptionally rare, but it has been known to happen,” the older djinn confirmed. “In fact, I personally went through much the same thing.”
“And what happened then?”
“I graduated from being an ifrit driven by nothing but blind rage and malice into an entirely new type of demonic being. I no longer craved mindless destruction and senseless murder and instead sought an existence filled with leisure and entertainment. As you yourself have surely noticed, at our core us djinns are not creatures of conflict, but selfish pleasure seekers. We each have our own desires since we carry many sins within us, as do all rational and sentient demons. However, what defines us is not a fiend’s wrath, a succubus’s lust or a stalker’s gluttony, but sloth.”
Now that she thought back on it, Xera realized that description fit her perfectly. Whereas before she actively sought to spread malicious misinformation and devious deception, she now wanted nothing more than to be ravaged day and night by her Master. These desires were undeniably lustful in nature, but they ultimately boiled down to her wallowing in depravity and self-indulgence. One could argue that all demons were like this, but none hoped to match djinns in this regard.
And as the first of his kind, Lucius was as close to the living embodiment of sloth as one could hope to find. Though he seemed perky and energetic on the surface, that was only because this wasn’t his real body. It was merely a construct of sand, cloth and magic that he puppeteered remotely while his true self lazed around beneath the sand. It allowed him to put in effort without actually moving, which he would not hesitate to do for the right price. After all, Lucius was the type of guy that would work fervently all day if it meant he wouldn’t have to lift a finger for a week afterwards. He was also rather unique among demons in that he was the only one of them capable of falling asleep instantly and at will, and did so with frightening frequency. Angelina herself had recognized Lucius as being worthy of becoming the Overlord of Sloth, but the djinn turned the deity down every time she tried to talk him into it.
Being offered an Overlord position was great and all, but it sounded like a lot of work with no vacation days.
“So… Kora’s turning into a djinn like me?” Xera asked.
“Not by a long shot. I’m afraid the Demonbane aggravated her ‘reorientation,’ which is why she’s currently falling apart at the seams. It also probably has something to do with the forced Rank Up she went through.”
“Wait, how did you find out about that?”
“It’s obvious. There’s no other way she could become an archfiend at her age. And since she’s a Ranker, it’s impossible for her to make the transition into a different type of demon on her own. She’s already ‘locked in,’ as it were.”
Then again, her soul would’ve likely already been extinguished if she took that many Demonbane hits as a basic fiend, but that was besides the point.
“On her own?” Drea repeated Lucius’s words. “Does that mean that, tktktkktkt, you can help her?”
“Not quite,” he replied. “Her… motivations are far too different from my own. It was not sloth that caused her to put herself in this position. It was love.”
Xera and Drea stared at Lucius with expressions so full of doubt and disbelief that it made them look like they’d just been told Boxxy was secretly a vegetarian.
“Hahahaha! The look on your faces!” the old fox laughed merrily.
“Can you take this seriously?!” Xera demanded.
“I could,” he smirked at her. “I won’t. But I could. Back on topic, though, while your younger coworker may care for those children, it’s only because she sees them as her possessions. Things, not people. In other words, it would appear the fiend has succumbed to the allure of greed.”
All three demons turned their heads to stare at the frozen hylt creeper who was doubtlessly responsible for teaching her such things. It certainly made sense considering the distinctly un-fiend-like things she’d been doing over the past few years. That collection of hers was the biggest offender by far. It was so obvious in retrospect that Xera and Drea couldn’t help but wonder how come they didn’t notice this sooner.
“So we need to help her, tktktktkt, embrace these new desires, yes?” the stalker hazarded a guess.
“Quite so,” Lucius confirmed. “However, how you will manage to do that before her soul completely unravels is something you need to figure out for yourselves.”
Xera crossed her arms and closed her eyes as she fell into thought. One obvious solution was to have Boxxy somehow impart its endless thirst for shinies onto the red-skinned simpleton. It was clearly the shapeshifter’s influence that led her down this path, so it was only obvious it had to be the one to guide her to the end of it. But, as Lucius stated, they didn’t have nearly enough time to do that before the fiend bit the big one. Sending Kora back to the Beyond was probably not an option either. Even if that somehow stabilized or stalled the collapse of her soul, there was nobody there who could possibly understand, let alone nourish that desire of hers.
After all, there was no such thing as a ‘greed demon.’
A thought that made the slutty djinn realize just how impossible her task truly was. Creating a new species of demon from scratch was something not even the Progenitor himself seemed capable of, nor was he willing to step in and lend his aid even if he was. Xera had already tried to reach out to him through Demons ‘R’ Us while traversing the desert, but her requests for divine intervention were firmly declined each time that she did. Part of her wanted to try negotiating with Teresa instead seeing as how the father of her children was in danger, but she would likely respond in a similar fashion.
Not to mention that the ex-succubus would rather spend three millennia as a celibate nun than ask that hypocritical thunder-cunt for help.
“Say, Xera?” Drea’s voice whispered inside her head.
“You know, that lich that Pamela sent Boxxy after in order to make it a Hero? Her nickname was ‘Nasty,’ I believe?”
“Oh, right. Her.”
Xera considered that woman to be such a trivial and pathetic existence that she had completely forgotten about her in a matter of weeks. Everything about that lich was so infuriating that the demoness saw no value in holding onto that memory. Even if her assistance at the time had been rather valuable, none of it meant anything considering the way she tried to betray-
Xera couldn’t help but exclaim aloud when she realized what Drea was hinting at.
“Gold piece for your thoughts?” Lucius spoke to her in that infuriatingly jovial tone of his.
“Do you know anything about demonic possession?” she urgently asked.
“I have… dabbled in it, yes.”
Though the ancient demon’s words were true, they were also a colossal understatement. Unlike Xera, who was a mirage djinn capable of conjuring illusions at will, Lucius was a hermit djinn. His subspecies had an innate racial Skill that allowed them to anchor themselves to the physical realm by inhabiting a mortal vessel. In this one’s case, he had a profound preference for a species of monstrous sand foxes called kitsune, whose innate predisposition towards light and flame magic suited his personality. He liked them so much that he even went out of his way to create an entire bloodline of the creatures who carried and passed on with his demonic essence. This allowed him to not only easily transfer his consciousness from one host to the next, but he could also leave the Beyond under his own volition.
He hated having to do that second thing though, mostly because of the effort involved.
“Can you force Kora’s soul into Boxxy’s body?” Xera asked hopefully.
“At least not until the ice dissipates,” he added, much to Xera’s relief. “Even then it will be difficult if your Master resists the ritual. Which I suspect it will, given the invasive nature of the union.”
“… Union, you say?”
The two djinns then spent the next hour or so discussing the ex-succubus’s plan. Drea, on the other hand, was left to her own devices as she silently watched over her frozen master and colleague. Her claws gently scraped against the magical ice, her mandibles chittering quietly as all eight of her eyes stared at the two of them. Her gaze would occasionally switch to behold the still unconscious triplets before wandering back to Boxxy and Kora.
However, she didn’t seem to be worried or confused. As a matter of fact, her demeanor ever since last night’s events had been surprisingly calm and collected considering what was at stake. This was not because she didn’t care about her Master’s or her colleague’s well being. It was because she was busy analyzing her memories from last night’s attack and trying to determine where and how she could find this ‘Mistress.’ Getting emotional about it would only cloud her judgement, not to mention detract from the satisfaction she would feel from exacting bloody vengeance upon those responsible.
One could say that the tundra webstalker was, at that point in time, the living embodiment of the notion that revenge was a dish best served cold.