The Demon Lord’s castle was situated halfway up a volcanic peak hugging the southern edge of the Burning Range, on a ledge which jutted out from the mountain’s steep slope. Off the cliff’s edge and far below in the foothills sprawled a city hewn of obsidian and shale, its prickly skyline defined by countless sparkling gothic spires. This was Yandar, capital of the Demon Realm and home to some million souls.
In the grey twilight of early morning, the city glowed with every rainbow color as if lit by huge, invisible searchlights. As the White Moon crested over the horizon and the first rays of dayshine seared across the sky, the nocturnal city lights faded and obsidian black came to dominate the city’s palette instead, bejeweled with varicolored stained glass reflecting the light of dawn.
On a balcony of the Demon Lord’s castle which overlooked Yandar, two figures stood in the shadow of a doorway and watched in awe as the city glimmered in the morning light. One of the figures, the shorter of the two, was covered completely in a swirling black hooded cloak fringed with red lace. The other, a ten foot tall gargoyle woman, stood in front of the smaller figure as if to shield her from the greater world.
“Safety check!” Rylmedy said suddenly and anxiously, looking down at Frane.
Frane sighed dramatically. This was the third time Rylmedy had asked this morning. “Cloak, check. Three protective amulets, check. Ten healing potions, check,” replied Frane, digging through her pockets as she spoke.
“What about moonscreen?” Rylmedy fretted.
Frane rolled her eyes. “I don’t think that would work in my case.” Moonscreen was meant to prevent a tan, not safeguard vampires from burning to ash.
Rylmedy conceded the point begrudgingly. “Hmm, probably not. Okay, you’ve double and triple-checked everything?”
“Yes, Ryl. I checked EVERYTHING,” said with half-frustrated glower. While it warmed her heart that Rylmedy was so protective of her, too much repetition of a good thing was souring her mood. Familiarity breeds contempt and all that.
The anxious gargoyle wrung her hands together, before begrudgingly giving her permission. “Alright, let’s go.”
“YEAH!” Frane said with far more enthusiasm. “Today’s the day we explore Yandar!”
The two looked on the glittering city beneath with anticipation, then stepped out into the daylight. Frane’s protections proved adequate, and despite a strong discomfort at being bathed in the White Moon’s bright light, she felt no pain and suffered no damage.
Rylmedy, on the other hand, froze in place as if paralyzed. As Frane stared at her confusedly, her entire body transformed into stone.
“Oh. Whoops,” Frane said, scratching her head awkwardly. The two girls had been so completely obsessed with protecting the newborn vampire Frane from daylight, they forgot gargoyles were vulnerable as well…
Deeper in the castle, in one of the many combat arenas, a series of cacophonous booms rang out, bouncing off the room’s maroon-tinged shields and echoing back inwards, causing the air to visibly distort with their intensity.
Two figures flitted about the room, occasionally hovering in place for a half-second to fire off bolts of magical energy. Very few of these bolts struck true, usually blasting into the room’s shields and dispersing. The entire spectacle resembled two angry hummingbirds doing battle with lasers inside a tinted glass aquarium.
One particular magical blast found its target, and the unfortunate combatant sailed backwards head-over-tail and slammed into the wall-shield. Magimagnetic energy arced through her body, briefly illuminating her skeleton, before she slouched to the ground, insensate. The victorious combatant landed before her slumped body, standing over it triumphantly for a moment before offering a hand to help the loser up.
“You’re getting better at movement,” Metokai said as Nyze rose up, dazed.
Nyze shook her head out a few times to clear her thoughts and drive away the dizziness. “Ugh, am I? I still feel so slow compared to you.”
“Even before your transformation you were slower, serpent. Don’t take it personally, I’m just a supremely powerful combatant,” Metokai, ever braggadocious, folded her arms over her chest and cackled proudly.
Nyze grinned, not terribly bothered by the little baphomet’s open demonstration of pride. She’d learned very quickly that demons tended to have outsized, overtly honest personalities, and she found it refreshing compared to the institutionalized deception and snide insinuations that defined human social interactions. Not to mention, the daily arena battles she’d been having with her newfound rival were incredibly fun and stimulating for her. She’d never been able to find many worthy opponents in Saimonica, so she was enjoying every second she death-danced with Metokai. “So what does that make this? Three for me, five for you?”
Metokai counted on her fingers before responding. “Correct, serpent. Including our first battle, of course. Would you care to try me again, or do you need a healing mage?”
Nyze shrugged as she glanced at a chronometer on the wall, absentmindedly tapping her finger on her thigh. “I’m fine, honestly. But I do have an appointment to keep, so we’ll have to continue another time.”
“Appointment?” Metokai asked curiously.
“Yup!” Nyze hooked Metokai and reeled her in. “Psytalla’s gonna show me Yandar today. We’re having our very first date!”
Metokai’s jaw immediately lost a battle with gravity, impacting the floor. “D-D-DATE? DID YOU SAY DATE?!”
Nyze mostly suppressed a shit-eating grin and nodded. “Yup. So I gotta go shower and get changed. Catch you later, Metokai?”
She turned and slithered towards the arena’s exist. Behind her, she heard a staccato click-clacking as tiny baphomet legs worked to keep up with her.
From afar, Yandar looked like a jewel-encrusted city-cathedral, imposing, spectacular and a bit sterile. As one entered the city, however, signs of life and vigor became apparent. Many of the gothic statues of gargoyles, chimeras and fallen angels were painted in vividly lifelike colors, to the point where an actual live demon perching among them might easily blend in. Works of public art covered every wall, from elaborate psychedelic graffiti to massive murals which illustrated grand historical battles. Banners, tapestries and flags hung from every building, and oftentimes from ropes run between them. The entire affair was a subduction zone between the ordered imposition of the obsidian architecture and the chaos of the art that adorned them.
Demons of all shapes and sizes walked, trotted, slithered, hovered or soared through the wide streets. The tallest were the giants, who each stood between forty and fifty feet and caused the ground to shake with each step they took. The smallest were the fairies, two inches tall and flitting about on dragonfly wings. In between those two extremes of size were pedestrians of every species: centaurs, scylla, elves, beastkin, slimes, skeletons, zombies, and even a few members of Gary’s species. By far the most common demon on the streets were the same as Psytalla, with ashen blue skin, black horns and spaded, thin prehensile tails.
Normally, Nyze would have been gawking at all this in the most clichéd of touristy fashion. However, her eyes were pulled in one very PARTICULAR sight. She couldn’t help focusing on it, despite the wonders that surrounded her. Her gaze was locked on her girlfriend, the Demon Lord.
Psytalla, who usually dressed in plate armor or simple workout gear, was poured into a little black dress that exposed a whole, WHOLE lot. Hugging her every curve, it extended from mid-bust to upper thigh and was sleeveless and backless. That meant that Psytalla’s muscled arms and long, toned legs were on full display, the latter enhanced by a pair of shiny black high heels. Walking in heels was something Nyze had never been able to master back when she was human, but Psytalla made it look easy.
As Psytalla stood there, legs slightly apart, hip cocked to the side and left hand on her waist, her mouth said something. Nyze didn’t catch it, focused as she was on those long, long legs. She shook her head to clear it and asked, “Sorry, what was that?”
Psytalla chortled. “I asked if you were paying attention. I was just pointing out the green banners on the building to our left indicate it’s the official embassy of the Screaming Forest, but you seemed distracted.”
“Uh, right, I… sorry, uh… I…” Nyze blubbered uselessly.
“Goodness, serpent. You are exuding incalculable levels of disaster lesbian energy right now,” Metokai said, tutting disapprovingly as her white moondress ruffled a bit in the breeze.
Nyze shook herself from her trance, and turned her gaze turned to the tiny baphomet who stood next to the Demon Lord. She summoned up ostensible indignation. “Wow, rude! Also, why are you tagging along again?”
“I’m your chaperone! I’m here to make sure you don’t get up to any illicit hanky panky with the Demon Lord!” Metokai responded sourly.
“…Did she just say ‘hanky panky?’” Nyze said disbelievingly.
“She did. ‘Hanky panky.’ I heard it.” Psytalla responded, chortling again.
Nyze whistled. “So the glowering High General of the Demon Army has a puritanical grandmotherly side too, huh?”
“Now who’s being rude, serpent?” Metokai growled. “I’ll have you know I’m only 345! By demonic reckoning I’m still a young adult!”
“Still older than my grandma,” Nyze shot back, unable to suppress a smile.
“…And older than me…” Psytalla muttered under her breath, unheard by the other two. She raised her voice, imparting it with just the slightest tinge of Demon Lord authority. “Come on, you two. Let’s keep touring the city, okay?” She strode forward with deliberate speed, hips swinging side-to-side as she walked. The hem of her dress flared up a bit with each step, and Nyze swore she saw a hint of Psytalla’s toned butt peek out from underneath.
As they followed along, Nyze noticed the Metokai’s gaze was also drawn to Psytalla’s legs. The baphomet was better at hiding this, and Nyze chuckled quietly. Perhaps she still had a thing or two to learn from her elder.
The demons, as beings who rejected the Gods and their divine moon magic, were labelled as irredeemably evil in a great many holy texts that mankind revered. The demons, in turn, thought this was hilarious and decided to lean HARD into the whole ‘evil’ thing. For that reason, their primarily legislative body which advised the Demon Lord was known as the Evil Council. Many of their lesser governmental institutions also included ‘evil’ in the name, such as the Evil Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, the Evil Ministry of Economic Security, the Evil Postal Service and the Evil National Endowment for the Arts.
The Evil Council consisted of over two thousand members, two from each demonic race. Their headquarters and forum was a massive dome-shaped structure in the center of Yandar, the appropriately named Evil Coliseum. However, since the Evil Council was not continually in session, the Coliseum played host to many other events which drew large audiences.
Tonight’s event was professional wrestling, a full slate of matches featuring giants, trolls and ogres. This was the final destination of Nyze, Psytalla and Plus One’s date. Before the evening of carnage commenced, however, the three went out for dinner at a restaurant adjacent to the Coliseum.
“Seriously though, serpent, are you going to keep calling me ‘Plus One’ the entire night?!” Metokai complained as the girls took their seats in a corner booth. Owing to her large snake tail, Nyze had one side of the table all to herself, which meant she wasn’t able to snuggle up with Psytalla; this situation annoyed her ever so slightly.
“That’s what you are, though! Our Plus One, tagging along! Besides, you always call me ‘serpent’ so where’s the harm in a retaliatory nickname?” Nyze teased.
Metokai glowered, but sidled up a bit closer to the Demon Lord’s side, her expression shifting into a thin smile. Nyze watched her jealously. Psytalla seemed oblivious to their romantic bickering.
Just then, a waiter approached the table and broke the tension. He was a ratatoskr beastkin, humanoid except for the large striped squirrel’s tail that protruded from his behind and twin squirrel’s ears peeking out from his brownish hair; because of his animal ears, he lacked the pointed elvish ears that demons usually possessed. He spoke in a high, chittering tone as his gaze snapped between the three girls. “Evening, Psytalla, Metokai. And someone new? Welcome to Toing’s, the restaurant which bears my name. I’m Marcell Toing.”
“Evening Marcell,” Psytalla responded casually. Nyze had ceased to be surprised by how everyone in the Demon Realm addressed Psytalla with great familiarity, generally dispensing with any sort of formality or official title. Metokai was the only exception, but her reasons for doing so were complicated. “The lovely lamia is my girlfriend, Nyze.”
“Oho? Has someone finally locked our flighty Demon Lord down?” Marcell responded, studying Nyze with a sly smile. “Congratulations to you two.”
Psytalla frowned a bit at the phrase ‘flighty’ but kept her objections to herself, not wanting to have that particular conversation at the moment. Marcell mercifully kept talking.
“Well, Nyze, I can assure you the food at Toing’s is the most delicious you’ll find anywhere in Yandar. I use only the freshest ingredients! We have cuisine to suit every palate!”
Unfamiliar as Nyze was with demonic cuisine, she let Psytalla handle the ordering. She wound up with a stewed vegetable dish of some sort called ‘Ta-Toing,’ with a meat-and-cheese salad on the side.
As the throuple dug in, they began to discuss their day-long tour of the city. “So, what do you think of Yandar, Nyze?” Psytalla asked.
Nyze politely chewed and swallowed before answering. “It’s a lovely city! There’s so much life here… all the public art, the live band performances in the streets, diverse demons of every shape and size… it reminds me of the vibrancy of Arcryid’s Central District, except a lot more wild and free.”
Psytalla nodded satisfactorily. “I’m glad you think so. I’ve worked hard over the last century and a half to build this city up.”
Metokai jumped in with a further explanation. “Generally, the capital city changes every time there’s a new Demon Lord. In Psytalla’s case, she’s an ashen demon from the Burning Range, so she decided to establish her hometown as the new capital. That’s why Yandar’s seen such explosive growth in the last 150 years.”
Nyze nodded, wondering privately about the wisdom of changing a nation’s capital city so frequently. Still, whatever Yandar had looked like before, it was suitably impressive now. That seemed to give Psytalla great beaming pleasure, and Nyze enjoyed basking in its glow.
Suddenly, Psytalla’s expression became serious. “This city, and all those beyond… everything you see around you… and the hundreds of other demonic cities, villages, towns and wildlands beyond this... that’s what I’m trying to protect. That’s the reason I decided to go to war.”
Nyze bit her lip. It was her attack on the Demon Lord that incited this incident in the first place; prior to that, the two sides had been stalemated for nearly two centuries, with little more than the occasional skirmish and saber-rattling. But now that the Hero had staged a direct attack on the ruler of demonkind, humanity had made its aggressive posture clear and the militant demons were preparing their overwhelming response. It didn’t really matter that three of the Hero’s party defected, since the original transgression still stood.
“You’re still sure there’s no way to avoid this?” Nyze muttered, her tone twisted with guilt and sadness.
Metokai responded in her usual matter-of-fact manner, which Nyze found oddly comforting. “Of course not, serpent. If Psytalla failed to respond to the Hero’s attack in kind, the other demons would see her as weak and she’d be challenged for her role as Demon Lord time and again. And when she fell, the NEXT Demon Lord would launch the war anyway. By taking the initiative, she’s making sure the war proceeds on her terms.”
Psytalla spoke next, her tone gentle. “If it’s any comfort, Nyze, it’s not my intention to go to war against the people of Saimonica themselves. My only target is the corrupt church that stands at the nation’s head. This will not be a total war, nor one of annihilation. However, anyone who stands against me WILL be destroyed.”
The room seemed to darken a bit as she made that final threat, as if the words themselves dimmed the candles and magelight. Nyze swallowed, remembering just how powerful the being that sat before her truly was.
“I know,” Nyze said quietly. “I do feel like I share the blame for the situation becoming this bad. I was in the party that attacked your castle in the first place.”
“That assessment is correct,” Metokai said. Nyze’s eyes widened in surprise at the baphomet’s frank response, and Psytalla looked a bit uncomfortable. “By a similar token, I also bear responsibility for failing to stop you from reaching the Demon Lord in the first place. And Psytalla as well, for not anticipating tensions inflaming to this degree and organizing her castle’s defense better.”
Nyze and Psytalla looked at each other, both frowning. “That’s Metokai for you,” Psytalla said gingerly. “She never holds anything back, especially when it comes to tactical assessments.”
“Harsh but fair, eh?”
Suddenly, Metokai slapped her hand down on the table, drawing the two’s gaze back to her again. “I wasn’t finished,” she scowled. “If we’re playing the blame game, let’s dig all the way to the root. The ultimate responsibility for this lies with the Thirteen Gods, who ordered humanity to exterminate demonkind in the first place and empowered the Heros to that effect. Their agents on the mortal plane, the Church which rules Saimonica, also shares a large portion of that blame.”
Psytalla jumped on that conversation point eagerly. “And since we’re not in a position to slay any Gods, we go after the Church instead. It’s become readily apparent we can no longer coexist in segregated peace.”
Metokai nodded. “So don’t feel too guilty about your role in this, serpent. You were a pawn in the Gods’ game, manipulated by the Church. Instead, resolve what you’ll do going forwards so this doesn’t happen again.”
Nyze studied Metokai’s face intently, drinking in the baphomet’s scowl. What this little gremlin trying to cheer her up, in a brutally direct fashion? Yes, Nyze thought she was. Despite herself, Nyze cracked a small smile.
Metokai tilted her head, scowl deepening. “Have I said something amusing, serpent?”
Nyze shook her head. “No, I was just appreciating your kindness.” That remark earned a smile from Psytalla as well.
“My KINDNESS? Whatever are you talking about?” Metokai half-growled.
Nyze waved her hand dismissively. “Don’t worry about it.”
“Don’t WORRY ABOUT IT?! You’re the one who brought it up in the first place, serpent!” Metokai leaned forwards and narrowed her eyes, and Pstyalla stifled a full-on chortle.
“Anyway,” Nyze said, moving the conversation along, “as for what I’ll do going forwards… well. I’m going to war with all of you, obviously. The sooner we skewer the Supreme Breeder, the better.”
Metokai still looked a bit troubled and muttered something under her breath. Psytalla tapped her chin thoughtfully. “Even if that means you’ll be fighting against humans, Nyze? Even if you have to kill people you used to know?”
“Obviously I would prefer to avoid that, but… if it comes down to it, I will without hesitation.” Nyze responded, balling her hands into fists beneath the table.
“May I ask why?” Psytalla pressed.
Nyze was silent for a very long time, her eyes flitting around the room. The murmur of demonic conversation from adjacent tables was the only sound. Then, she took a deep breath and said, “Everyone I’ve met here is so happy. From the inhabitants of the castle to the citizens in the streets, everyone is expressing themselves honestly and openly. The art on the walls of the city, for example? And the public music performances? The Church would never allow that kind of thing in Arcryid’s Central District. And that’s not even getting into their criminalization of things like homosexuality.
“I want… I want everyone in the human lands to be just as happy and free as we demons are now. I want them to be free of the Church’s yoke, free to express themselves and love who they love and be who they are without fear of reprisal. If that is the end result of this war, I will gladly give my last drop of blood to see it done.”
Psytalla nodded as Nyze spoke, and Metokai begrudgingly leaned back into her chair, her expression softening. “That’s a good resolve you have, serpent. Do your best to not forget it.”
Nyze chuckled dryly. “I will. And on the plus side, I might get the chance to kill Diarn. Wouldn’t THAT be poetic?”
“Assuming he’s not already dead,” Psytalla replied. “For that matter, how would he continue a martial career with his divine blessing stripped?”
Nyze made a sour face. “He’s like a cockroach; he doesn’t die. The lout probably decided to retire. Taking it easy in that big comfy mansion of his, collecting the Church’s pension. Living the easy, lazy life.”
The three girls chucked at that thought, a nice lighthearted bookend to a rather grim conversation, and continued to eat their dinners.
“SHIT! FUCK, SHIT, FUCK, SHIIIIIIIIIT!” Diarn swore loudly, earning glares from other pedestrians in the Outer District. He rapidly patted down his robes, searching desperately.
His coin purse was gone. The very same coin purse which held the thousand large gold the Church had given him as severance pay, in the form of ten platinum coins. Diarn had it when he departed the inn this morning; however, with his complete lack of street smarts, he fastened it to his belt in plain view instead of hiding it in a pocket, and a cutpurse relieved him of it only a block away from the inn. Diarn hadn’t even realized it happened at the time, and now he suddenly found himself without a single copper to his name.
Diarn smacked his palm against his head repeatedly. How was he going to afford his inn room now? They’d kick him out if he didn’t pay for the night. For that matter, how was he going to afford food?
The seating in the Evil Coliseum was simple stadium-style benches surrounding the central ring, which finally allowed Nyze to snuggle up to Psytalla’s side. The Demon Lord relished the warmth of her girlfriend, although she was somewhat perplexed why Metokai was snuggling equally close on her other side. Still, it was nice to be pressed between two girls, especially for a rampant lesbian like her, so she didn’t think too hard about it.
Ogres generally stood about half the height of giants, and trolls about ten feet shorter than that. For this reason, each giant combatant was opposed by three or four trolls or ogres to make the matches fair. It turned out the demonic definition of ‘wrestling’ was rather loose, and the only rules were ‘no weapons or magic.’ Aside from that everything was game, and the event resembled a cross between a street brawl and demolition derby.
Nyze quickly got behind a green-skinned lady giant named Evoka the Crushinator, a heavily muscled brawler who won every one of her fights handily. She fought with unhinged brutality, grinning all the while as she tore her opponents limb from limb. Nyze felt a kinship with her bloodthirsty attitude.
“You like Evoka?” Psytalla said, laughing. “She’s actually another one of my generals, same as Metokai, although a step below her in rank.”
“Whoa, really?” Nyze said, stars in her eyes.
Psytalla nodded, grinning. “Should I introduce you later?”
“Oh, PLEASE! I kinda wanna meet her… and fight her too! As long as I’m allowed to use magic, ahem.” She knew perfectly well she couldn’t win against the kaiju-sized woman unarmed.
Metokai rolled her eyes. “If you can’t beat ME consistently, serpent, you’ll never be able to match her. Trust me.”
“Then I’ll just keep getting stronger until I can!” Nyze resolved, thumping her chest.
“Now that’s a properly demonic attitude, serpent. Commendable,” Metokai responded, nodding like a pleased parent.
Nyze and Metokai traded barbs with Psytalla grinning in the crossfire for a few more minutes before the Demon Lord excused herself to use the little demon’s room. As soon as she was gone, Metokai leaned over to Nyze.
“You did this on purpose, didn’t you?”
“Hmm?” Nyze looked down at the baphomet, coiling the length of her tail around her a bit. “Did what?”
“Mentioned this date at the end of our morning battle. Egged me on so I’d insist on coming along with you two.” Metokai said quietly.
Nyze burst into a wide grin. “Oh, well. Yes, I did. I know you’re not the type to ask directly to come along, with your angry and prideful personality, so I decided to provoke you a bit.”
Metokai ground her teeth together, more frustrated at herself than Nyze. “May I ask why? Usually one doesn’t invite a rival in love along on a date.”
Nyze shrugged. “Because I felt like it? What you said when we first met isn’t wrong, Metokai. I did just kinda waltz in here and woo Psytalla. I figure I owe you the courtesy of a fair shot as well. That is, if you can work up the mettle to be more direct. Subtlety doesn’t get through Psytalla’s thick skull.” She stuck out her tongue teasingly.
“That is… surprisingly sporting of you, serpent,” Metokai said, surprise evident in her tone.
“It just seems like the properly demonic way to do things. Love and war are basically the same thing. Isn't that right, Plus One?”
The two rivals stared at each other for a long moment, feeling a mutual bond of respect grow even deeper. They had their hooks in each other deep, and neither was willing to give an inch.
The entire Coliseum shuddered from shockwaves as the green giant wrestler pounded her fists into the skulls of her opponents.
By the time Frane dragged Rylmedy back inside, into the safety of shadow, the White Moon was almost setting. The process had taken so long for two reasons: one, the shifting daylight kept pushing the shadows back, leaving Ryl marooned even deeper in the brightness, and second, ten feet of solid stone gargoyle was HEAVY. Even Frane’s enhanced vampire strength struggled to move her statuesque girlfriend a few inches at a time; Frane was a caster after all, not a frontline fighter. She had entertained the idea of asking another demon for help, but she figured that would embarrass them both.
As soon as Ryl was fully in shadow, she sprang to life again. “Huh? I’m inside? What…”
Frane collapsed to the floor, exhausted. “The daylight petrified you. You spent the entire day frozen as stone.”
“OH! Shit.” Ryl cursed. “I remember reading about gargoyles doing that somewhere… a long time ago. I guess it slipped my mind.”
Frane stared at the ceiling. “Guess that makes us BOTH vulnerable to daylight, then.”
Ryl loomed over her, a sympathetic expression her face. “Th-Thank you for pulling me back inside, I guess. So much for our big date day, huh?”
They stared at each other for a long while. Then Frane slowly got back up to her feet.
“Gary’s bar?” she asked.
Ryl nodded. “Gary’s bar.”
They took each other’s hands and walked deeper into the castle.