The Demon Lord, feared warmaster who stood triumphant over a thousand demon species and absolute ruler of one-third of the world, was not particularly good at saying goodbyes… especially if those goodbyes were directed at close friends or loved ones. Such occasions brought back too many bad memories, flashbacks to… well, perhaps that’s a discussion best left for another time. The point is, while Nyze exchanged heartfelt hugs with Frane and Rylmedy, who had come to see her off on her grand journey back into Saimonica, Psytalla just kind of awkwardly stood off to the side next to Rixu and Valex and examined the stonework in the castle’s teleportation nexus with great interest.
“It’s fascinating, isn’t it?” Psytalla said to her two impromptu companions, who gaped at her. “The skulls in this room were carved by famed orc artisan Mrgraps Grrgle, whose style is defined by brutalist interpretations of hyper-reality.”
Rixu rolled his eyes. “Oh, for fuck’s sake. With all due respect, Demon Lord, please go say goodbye to your girlfriend.”
“Give her a hug too,” Valex added, half-smiling. “Maybe a smooch if you’re feeling adventurous.”
“But, I…” Psytalla began to protest, until Rixu gave her a shove towards Nyze. Now, there is no way a mere human’s shove could have possibly moved the Demon Lord a single inch, but she allowed herself to be moved by it, as was properly sporting.
As Psytalla approached the trio, she began to overhear their conversation; Rylmedy was presently bawling and begging Nyze to make sure she came home safe, whereas Frane was silently nodding along with the unique awkwardness of an asocial person confronted by sudden public displays of raw emotion.
“And promise me you’ll write, okay?” Rylmedy wailed. The sight of a ten-foot-tall muscular gargoyle crying profusely would have seemed strange to a human observer, less so to a demon one.
“…There’s no postal service from Saimonica to the Demon Realm…” Frane pointed out gently.
“The ACT of writing is important, though!” Rylmedy argued. “Otherwise they’ll forget about us!”
“I… I’m not going to forget…” Nyze tried to interject, only to be drowned out by another bout of wailing.
Psytalla waited for a lull in the conversation while fidgeting awkwardly, but she didn’t have to wait long.
“Hey there, Psy!” Nyze exclaimed, using the arrival of her girlfriend as an excuse to extricate herself from Rylmedy’s intensity. She swiveled around effortlessly to catch the Demon Lord in a surprise side-hug, and Psytalla marveled at just how well she’d adapted to slithering instead of walking. An outside observer might think she’d been a lamia her whole life.
Psytalla leaned into the hug, her own arms snaking around her snake girlfriend. “Hey,” she responded, and Nyze shuddered as the Demon Lord’s skin contact caused her bassy voice to resonate through Nyze’s chest.
A bleary-eyed Rylmedy and a sharp-eyed Frane smiled as they watched the two get lovey-dovey. Psytalla leaned into the hug and sighed.
“Please,” she whispered into Nyze’s ear, “stay safe. If anything happened to you, I… I…”
Nyze interrupted before Psytalla’s catastrophizing spun out of control; she’d had enough of that already with Rylmedy. “Don’t worry, Psy. I will. I’ll come back to you, I promise.”
Psytalla nodded, lips pressed firmly together. “Good. If you break a promise to the Demon Lord, there will be consequences.”
“I wouldn’t dare,” Nyze replied, planting a smooch on Psytalla’s cheek.
Just then, Metokai entered the room with her usual staccato click-clacking, and looked around with her hands on her hips. “Ah, you two have reached the hugging stage. Are we ready to depart, then?”
Nyze and Psytalla stared at her for a moment, astonished at the forthrightness of the little baphomet, and Frane’s giggle cut through the awkwardness like a fire-sword through satyr butter. Psytalla, slowly cracking a smile, un-entwined herself from Nyze and strode over to Metokai. The baphomet looked up with wide eyes.
Psytalla swept Metokai up into a big bear hug, with the baphomet’s hooves dangling almost two feet off the ground because of the height difference between them.
“Uh…” Metokai said, blushing bright red.
“I want you to come back to me safe as well, Metokai,” Psytalla said softly.
“O-Of course I will! Th-There is no human army alive that could stop me from returning to your side!” Metokai stammered.
“Good.” Psytalla placed her lips right next to one of Metokai’s ears and whispered, “And we have a lot to talk about when you return, my precious little baphomet.”
Metokai’s words stopped working, and she just emitted little squeaking sounds. Frane, Rylmedy and Nyze all watched her with lopsided, knowing smiles. Off to the side, Rixu let out a prolonged sigh.
“Something bothering you, Rixu?” Valex asked.
“No, I’m just astounded, is all. The levels of gay energy in this room right now are off the charts,” Rixu replied wearily.
“…Gay energy?” Valex asked, tilting her head.
Rixu nodded, folding his arms. “Yeah. You’ve got the vampire/gargoyle lesbian couple, the baphomet/lamia/Demon Lord lesbian throuple...”
“Wait, wait.” Valex interrupted. “The heck is a ‘throuple?’”
“It’s like a couple, except with three people instead of two,” Rixu replied matter-of-factly.
“Huh. I’ve never… people can DO that?!” Valex said, eyes widening.
Rixu turned to look at her piteously. “Of course they can, you poor sheltered little fox.”
Valex scratched one of her fox ears as her tail swished back and forth slowly. “Wow. That’s… wow…” Suddenly a look of realization crossed her face, and she balled up her fists and glared at Rixu. “Hey! Don’t call me sheltered! I’ve got loads of worldly experience!”
Rixu smirked. “Riiiiiiiiight.”
The hugging and crying and blushing lasted for fifteen minutes longer before Nyze and Metokai reluctantly pulled themselves away from the Demon Lord and departed, Valex and Rixu trailing behind. Parting is such sweet sorrow, but the ‘sweet’ portion of it convinced Rixu he was about to die of a sugar overdose.
Teleportation was a mildly unpleasant experience, a bit like squirting too much toothpaste out of the tube and spilling it on your shirt while bicycling down a rocky hill with one flat tire. In other words, not the worst or most painful thing, but still weird and annoying. Of course, since it was also the fastest and safest way to travel, so everyone became accustomed the weirdness.
When Nyze, Metokai, Rixu and Valex stepped into the pitch-black teleportation spell circle at the Demon Lord’s castle, they were deconstructed molecule by molecule and their mass shunted into an artificial wormhole that passed through the ghost dimension and into hammerspace, where it bounced around off a precisely calculated set of spacetime eddies for a timeless interval before warping back through the ghost dimension and into sidereality. When they re-materialized, they found themselves standing in the charmingly named Demon Army Border Outpost 282-BZ-84, nestled in the foothills on the north side of the Burning Range.
They were greeted by an entirely too enthusiastic harpy soldier, who was clearly delighted to have visitors; any deviation from his usual boring routine was most welcome for the poor fellow. “Hello there, High General Metokai and companions! I welcome you to Outpost 282-BZ-84, or as we like to call it, ‘Beez!’”
Metokai blinked precisely thirty-seven times, shook her head to clear it, then clamped her mouth shut, plugged her nose with her fingers and exhaled, causing her cheeks to puff up. The harpy guard just started at her, his smile faltering.
“Sorry,” Metokai said after a moment. “Had to pop my ears. Teleport-lag is a bitch, especially over these distances. Give me a moment.” She slapped her cheeks and blinked seven more times for good measure, then straightened her posture and raised her hand in greeting. “Alright, I’m good now. You’re Lieutenant Zilv, right?”
Zilv gasped, clutching the clawed tips of his wings to his chest. “You know who I am! I’m honored someone as prestigious as yourself remembers an insignificant soldier like-”
“Cut out the brown-nosing before I smack you, Lieutenant,” Metokai responded curtly. Zilv stared at her, unsure what to say.
“Oy!” Nyze exclaimed. She had just finished popping her own ears and slithered forwards to join the baphomet. “We talked about this! Be nice, Metokai!”
“Urgh.” She plastered on a fake smile and turned back to Zilv, fluttering her eyelashes and speaking in a singsong voice one octave higher than usual. “Thank you for your hospitality, Lieutenant. Your service is a credit to the Demon Lord, tee-hee!”
“…You know what, never mind,” Nyze said, retching. “Cheerfully sweet Metokai is too creepy.”
“Be careful what you wish for,” Metokai replied in her normal voice, grinning triumphantly.
Zilv, not sure what to make of this odd display, just stared slack-jawed. Nyze chucked and patted him on the shoulder. “Don’t be too put out by us. We’re a bunch of weirdoes.”
“Uh, sure. I…” he trailed off.
“Ugh,” Rixu grumbled. “I can’t get one of my ears to pop. Does anyone have something long and pointy?”
“Don’t go sticking random objects in your ears, Rixu!” Valex lectured, her index finger prodding his chest. “You’ll damage your eardrums! Just let the pressure equalize on its own!”
“Okay, MOM,” Rixu responded, one of his eyes twitching.
“I am old enough to be your mom, so best to heed my advice,” Valex said smugly.
Rixu chuckled. “You look like a teenager, though.”
Valex’s cheeks dusted pink as her tail began to wag, and she pressed her hands to her heart. “R-Really? Do I look that young? They say demons live much longer…”
“Oy, hop to,” Metokai interrupted. “If you two are done popping your ears, let’s hit the road. We’re burning moonlight, and we need to cross the Anti-Demon Wall before making camp for the night.”
“I’m ready! I didn’t need to pop my ears at all!” Valex said happily, flicking her ears back and forth.
“Really?” Rixu mumbled as he whacked the side of his skull, trying to get his clogged ear to clear. “That’s unfair. You have, like, the biggest ears out of anyone here!”
“Nyeh,” Valex responded eloquently, sticking out her tongue.
The travelling party stepped out of the outpost, still bantering, while Zilv stared at them in bewilderment and began to think maybe boredom wasn’t such a bad thing after all.
The serpenthedes, which had been sent ahead the day prior, were grazing in a grass field near the outpost. Nyze, Valex and Rixu all mounted their beasts expertly, then looked down at Metokai, who was regarding her half-sized thede suspiciously.
“Something wrong, Metokai?” Nyze asked in that too-sweet falsetto that held an undercurrent of mocking.
“No,” she scowled, “I’ve just never ridden one of these things before.”
“Need me to give you a hand up?” Nyze asked.
Metokai tutted. “What, because I’m short? Don’t be silly, serpent.” She leapt up gracefully, eight feet into the air, did a cartwheel, and alighted gently on the thede’s back. The creature cooed softly and nuzzled her with its leftmost head. “My, these things are gentle, aren’t they?”
“Most of the time,” Rixu said, smoothly steering his thede alongside Metokai’s. “Much like humans, they tend to return kindness with kindness, and hostility with…”
“Kicking,” Nyze interjected sourly, shooing away a painful memory. “Lots and lots of kicking.”
Metokai scratched her thede’s left head and grinned. “Is that what happened to your face, serpent?”
“Wow, really?” Nyze replied, frowning. “A face joke? Kinda immature, don’t you think?”
“Just bringing my level of humor down to yours.” Metokai replied breezily.
“…Are you two gonna be like this the ENTIRE trip?” Rixu asked warily.
““YES,”” Nyze and Metokai responded in perfect unison, and Rixu began to wonder if he’d packed enough headache medicine in his storage dimension.
Valex stifled a giggle. “You know, Metokai, at first I thought you were just a grumpy little workoholic gremlin, but Nyze really brings out all your facets… the best and worst ones equally.”
“EXCUSE ME? GREMLIN?” Metokai yelped angrily.
“Ohohoho, I’ve finally found a good nickname for you, gremlin!” Nyze chortled uproariously.
“Shut up, serpent,” Metokai cleverly replied.
Rixu rolled his eyes. “I understand where you’re coming from, Valex, but it seems like they just antagonize each other constantly. I wouldn’t call that bringing out the best in each other.”
“Nah,” Valex replied firmly. “People don’t trade barbs like that unless they’re very good friends, trust me. And sometimes, you’d be surprised what lies underneath the surface if you just do a little digging, as I recently learned myself. Sometimes, all someone needs is a chance to shine!”
Rixu pinched the bridge of his nose. “Valex, with respect, we’re WAY too early in this journey for casual philosophizing. Save the deep stuff for, like, a warm campfire meal a week in, okay?”
“Yeah, yeah, okay,” Valex giggled. “You’re such a stick in the mud, Rixu, I swear. Lighten up!”
“I’M A…” Rixu took a few deep breaths, and counted ten blue objects. “Okay, okay. I am calm. I can get through this. Just gotta deal with being surrounded by three manic, hyperactive girls with terrible senses of humor. No problem. Why did I volunteer for this again?”
As Rixu bemoaned his lot in life, all four of them brought their thedes to a leisurely trot and headed in the direction of the Anti-Demon Wall, hurrying to cross the border before the White Moon slipped below the horizon.
When Tessaria finally woke up at her usual time of ‘a few hours after moonset’ and stumbled out of her room into the Coterie’s small kitchen for a glass of water, she was greeted by the rather unusual sight of Diarn, clad in an apron, sizzling something over the stove.
“Diarn?” she said sleepily, rubbing her eyes.
“Ah!” he exclaimed, turning around and smiling. “Good morning, Tess. Or, good evening, I guess?”
“What are you doing?” she asked as she fumbled around the cupboard for a clean glass.
“Making breakfast. Or dinner? Dinner-breakfast!” he said while cracking an egg over the skillet.
“Riiiiiiiight.” Tess lumbered over to the icebox, grabbed a pitcher of cold water and poured herself a glass. After downing it in a single gulp, she let out a loud gasp and a delighted little squeal. “Ahh, that’s much better.”
She turned to see Diarn staring at her, blinking. “Was the water THAT good?!” he asked, scratching his head awkwardly.
“I was thirsty as fuck, so yes. By the way, Diarn…”
“You got any coffee?”
“Diarn made this?” Velour said, poking at the fluffy scrambled eggs and hash browns with a fork.
“MMMPH, MMPH MMRGHMPH,” Tessaria replied.
Vel sighed. “Chew and swallow before talking, Tess. For gods’ sake, have some table manners. You’re not a demon.”
Tess complied, washing her food down with a gulp of coffee, then stuck out her tongue. “Nyeh, who cares? But to answer your original question, yes. I awoke to find him cooking up a storm in the kitchen. Dressed in an apron, even. He looked positively domestic.”
“Huh.” Vel gingerly brought his fork up to this mouth and took a bite of eggs. His eyes widened and he chewed. “They’re good. Did he put pepper in here?”
“Red pepper, I think. The kid’s got cooking talent, I’ll give him that… at least for making eggs.” Tess shoveled another oversized bite into her mouth.
“Why is he cooking for us, though?” Vel said, frowning.
There was a few seconds of silence, with Vel and Tess exchanging a meaningful glance, before she responded. “I think he’s scared.”
“Scared? Of what?”
“Of winding out back on the street. He’s recovered enough to walk around now, so maybe he’s afraid we’ll kick him out.”
“I would NEVER-” Vel began to protest, before clamping his mouth shut as Diarn walked into the room holding a fresh pot of coffee.
“How is everything?” he asked in a peppy, slightly quivering voice.
“It’s fucking delicious.” Tess responded instantly, holding her mug out. Diarn obligingly filled it with more coffee.
“Yes, Diarn. It’s extremely good. Thanks for cooking for us,” Vel added, refusing an offer of more coffee with a wave of his hand.
“O-Of course! Let me know if you need anything else!” Diarn turned to head back into the kitchen, accidentally bumping into the doorpost as he went. Vel and Tess watched him, wide-eyed.
“See what I mean? Dude’s got issues,” Tess said a moment after he vanished. “He’s been through some shit, ya know? Probably afraid of abandonment.”
“So he’s trying to stay on our good side, eh?” Vel mused. “Well, what do you think? Should we hire him?”
Tess froze, fork halfway to her mouth. “HIRE him? As a worker?”
Vel chuckled, a jolly sound that came from deep in his chest. “I mean, he’s certainly handsome enough. Clients will line up for a pretty boy like that, especially ones from the Church.”
Tess rolled her eyes. It was an open secret among sex workers that High Breeders and the like were quite fond of buying male prostitutes, despite their organization’s condemnation of homosexuality. What happened in the Outer District stayed in the Outer District.
Still, Tess found the proposition ridiculous. “Vel, you can’t go making the gods-damned Hero into a gigolo. People would recognize him. You don’t wanna attract that kind attention.”
Vel shrugged. “I mean, a little makeup, a new haircut, he’ll be fine. Eye shadow can work wonders, ya know.” He pointed to his own smoky shade, which emphasized his grey-green eyes brilliantly.
Tess blinked her own bright violet eyes, which were outlined by sparkling green eye shadow. “Ugh. Can’t you just pay him to, like, cook and clean the bedsheets or something? Make him our little man-maid?”
“Hmm, maybe.” The conversation lulled, and they went back to eating their eggs.
After a few minutes, Tess sat back in her chair and rubbed her belly. “Damn, those eggs were really fucking delicious.”
Vel nodded. “That they were.”