Lilith was eating lunch on one of her rest days when Judy came to her, looking grim. “Mai’s on the move.” She said flatly. “She made sure to sanitize the meeting room where she gave instructions, so I couldn’t get details, but her whole compound, minus the monsters, are forming into five or six person groups for something.”
I was watching. Nuwa chimed in. She’s sending them out to the frontier towns. They’re scouting for vulnerable people to kidnap so Mai can begin mass acquisition of new flock members.
Lilith frowned. “Alright, Judy, make sure to get as good a mental image as possible of the people in the flock. Make a magic picture or something so we know. Nuwa, do we know how they’re teleporting in?”
They’re sending them to several different, somewhat remote, places on Earth, then they’ll travel to big cities manually, after which they’re going to use the portals to head to the frontier towns without drawing too much attention.
Do we know where they’re arriving? Eve asked. Their senses had been hooked up again a few days back, so Eve had been listening to their conversation while she was out adventuring with Anna and Jameson.
They didn’t specify, and Mai and Errus are making a point to not be in the same room as the circles so I can’t tell from that. If Judy can get pictures, we should be able to tell, but they’ll have moved on by then. Nuwa replied.
“Better than nothing.” Lilith said. “I should be able to head off at least one or two groups that way, and we can put them in a holding cell in the dungeon. Nuwa, you have a place, right?”
Yes. I had Kali get a demi-plane, and I put a sub-dungeon there specifically to hold people. That way, even if Mai has some sort of tracking on them, they’re only going to be finding a random demi-plane, not the main dungeon.
“Excellent work. Judy, how long do you expect we have before they arrive?”
“Half an hour. It looks like they’re trying to synchronize things so that they all leave at once.”
Eve, can you be back by then? Lilith asked. Even if you have to abandon Anna and Jameson, do it. Preferably you’d have them back so they can help, but if not then that’s fine too.
Yeah, we’re just going at things slow so as not to come back suspiciously fast. We can pop back in for an hour or two then head out and go fast once we get back.
“Perfect. Eve will take one group, I’ll take another, Anna, Jameson, and Alex a third, my parents a fourth. Judy, you watch the flock and make sure nothing unexpected happens, and Nuwa will watch Mai and Errus to make sure they don’t show up in person. If they do, we’ll have whatever group they’re going to bail. Mae, go spread the word.”
“And the kids?” Judy prompted.
“Are going to stay here. They’re not tough enough for this.” Lilith said firmly.
It took around ten minutes to get everyone assembled, and a further five to explain the situation. While they waited for Mai’s flock to be ready, Lilith drew a bunch of incomplete circles on the ground, missing only the bits that would dictate where the destination was.
Finally, after another agonizing twenty minutes, it was go time. Lilith completed the circles to cut off the groups Judy recommended, and their impromptu operation commenced. Lilith sent the others on their way, while Lilith herself was sent to a patch of the German countryside.
From there, she expanded the her range of senses until she locked onto the group she was after. There wasn’t really much in this area, so it didn’t take long and she was able to catch up with them quickly.
She used a combination of Arbiter’s Aura and Horrid Fascination to mostly disable the group of people, leaving them woozy and stumbling about. From there, all she had to do was hit them with an optimized sleep spell Mae had cooked up while Lilith was out.
One was, surprisingly, still standing, so she just knocked him out physically. Once they were all unconscious, she was able to follow Nuwa’s instructions to send them to the holding area. Eve finished her group off at about the same time, and they both asked Judy for new targets. Judy gave them a couple, but before they could finish their teleports, Nuwa gave them an alarmed message.
Mai and Errus are both heading out! She yelled. Scratch those teleports, I’m pretty sure they’re going for the others!
She didn’t have to say any more. Eve, you take care of your party, I’ll take care of our parents.
While they redid their circles, Lilith asked after the status of the others. What are things like on your ends? If they’re not looking good, then bail now!
If we have a minute or two more then we’ll have things done here. Mike told her. Any chance you could hold them off for a bit?
They’ve arrived! Mai to Eve’s group and Errus to our parent’s! Nuwa warned, Errus just activated Absent Alarm, too!
We’re done! Alex proclaimed. Warping out now!
But it was too late to stop Eve from teleporting to their location, and as her party warped away, she dropped down and Mai’s attention was focused all on her. Eve barely had any time to get her bearings before there was a swarm of magic bearing down on her location.
She tried to fire off her own spells in return, but halfway through their trajectory they reversed direction, coming back for Eve. I’m activating Absent Alarm! She warned, No one be shocked when I disappear!
Without waiting for a response, she activated the Skill, and the magic that was homing in on her stopped tracking her movements. I’m going to give fighting her a shot, test the waters. Eve told everyone. I’ll bail when things go south.
Lilith’s tore her attention away from Eve as Errus sped past her. Fortunately for Lilith, Errus likewise wasn’t able to sense the cannon shot she sent his way, and he was blown off of his trajectory by the surprise attack.
Errus stopped for a moment, frowned, activated some sort of Skill, then continued on his way. While Lilith lined up another shot, she had Mae look into his Skills so she could find one to steal.
This shot he tanked, but whatever Skill Mae stole made him hesitate again. Bail! Lilith instructed the group. He’s faster than me and he’s started ignoring my shots!
But we’re so close! Siph protested. They were, too – most of the group was incapacitated, and there were only a couple of holdouts before everything was taken care of.
So is he! Out! Lilith said. Her parents grumbled, but eventually warped out.
Instead of stopping, Errus sped up, scooping up the unconscious members of the flock, grabbed the arms of the two who were awake, and then teleported out.
Eve wasn’t holding up much better on her end. Mai had switched to bombarding the immediate area with wide-range attacks. They were weak compared to the focused bolts she had thrown out when she could see Eve, but they hit such an enormous area that it didn’t even matter. Eve was hitting Mai with attacks of her own, but every time she broke the shields Mai put up, she got in a hit or two and then the shields were back.
It was clear that Mai was coming out on top of the exchange, so Eve also chose to bail and leave Mai to her own devices. She could have brought the sword Elenoa had forged, but Mai was taking care to stay mobile, and, like Errus, she was faster than Eve was. That meant that she couldn’t catch Mai to use the sword.
That being said, there was still time left on Absent Alarm, so Lilith had herself and Eve wear it out catching a couple more groups each. Unfortunately, that still left at least ten or twenty more. And, if Lilith wanted to keep this thing under wraps, she wouldn’t be able to just waltz into a city and abduct all the members of Mai’s flock. Going public would prompt Mai into doing the same, and that was something Lilith wasn’t ready for yet.
Not only would it cause mass panic among the populace, Lilith simply didn’t have the firepower to handle it. So, it was best to let Mai believe everything was going to according to her plan.
And, for the time being, everything was going according to her plan. Lilith didn’t anticipate that state of things lasting for long, though; the members of the flock they detained were, perhaps, more key than Mai imagined they were.
“Emily, you’re looking for ways to detect Mai’s flock, right?” Lilith asked once Absent Alarm wore off. She could have done it while Absent Alarm was still going but running a meeting over telepathy wasn’t something she was really interested in when she could just wait another minute or two and do it “in-person”.
“That is correct, mistress.” Emily replied. “Am I to assume you’ve given me liberty to test on the prisoners?”
Lilith nodded. “Yes. In addition, Mae will be assisting you, and you’re to make it your top priority to figure out a way to find out who’s been brainwashed. Keep learning from Kali, but don’t do your leveling. We can make up lost experience later.”
Emily smiled. “It would be my pleasure.”
“Nuwa, I need you to ramp up your observation of Mai. Whenever possible, I want you to be looking at her. We can hopefully glean more about who’s been captured and how her ability works by doing so. If you get tired, let the rest of us know and we’ll take over for you until you’re ready again.”
I was planning on doing that anyway. Nuwa confirmed.
“Judy, in your free time help Emily and Mae. Ideally by the time they’ve got something we’ll have a version we can cast via your swarm. That should let us do mass searches without causing panic.”
“Understood.” Judy replied.
“Eve, Anna, Jameson, I need you to start being as vigilant as possible. In that time, you’re taking it easy, I want you to be mobile, going on a patrol of the area so we can hopefully catch at least one or two kidnapping attempts. Also keep an eye out for the political landscape in town. I’m assuming Judy will be doing that as well, but more perspectives never hurt, and you can probably get some information she can’t if you’re sneaky about it.”
“Got it.” Eve said.
“Mama, I need you to get grandma and grandpa and bring them here. Not only for their safety, but to increase the number of people we can deploy if things get hairy. The rest of you, except for Raphi, I want to be prepared to scramble at any time, so keep training.”
Raphi frowned. “What’s my place in this, then?”
Lilith did some quick thinking and came up with a passable job. “Logistics and supervision. I need you to take over all of Emily’s maid duties, and I also need you to be in charge of making sure everyone’s doing alright. If it looks like someone’s pushing themself too hard then I need you to tell me. If there’s some inefficiency in how things are working, I need you to tell me. Basically, you’re the one in charge of making sure we can get our jobs done right.”
Raphi lit up, seemingly not noticing that her position was made up on the fly. “Can do!”
“Right. Any questions?” Lilith waited, and when no one spoke up, she dismissed them all to their various duties. “Mae, what’d you steal from Errus?”
Let me show you.
It was just something to slow him down, so I’m afraid it’s not the thing that would directly benefit us the most. Mae said apologetically. I assumed you would prefer to reduce the risk to the others rather than boosting our strength as much as possible.
“You assumed correctly.” Lilith confirmed. “We can grab stuff like that later, it’s not worth risking hurting people we love for. I’m going to go pick the brains of our mentors, you go help Emily, alright?”
So, Lilith made her way to the training dimension, activated the obelisk, and waited for her tutors.
“Ah, Lilith.” Raphael said. “How are you feeling?”
“Fine now, I’m sorry for not coming in sooner, I’ve had a bit of a rough awakening.”
Tiamat gave her a worried smile. “So we’ve noticed. If you would like, we could give a few pointers. I’ve had a fight or two with Errus in my day, and I’m sure the others have some useful advice.”
“I had a rather brief clash with Mai once or twice.” Raphael said.
“As have I.” Artemis added.
“I studied the both of them rather extensively.” Solomon said. “I would be happy to share my results, although if Kali doesn’t let me talk about what I found after I died then most of what I can tell you will already know from the books Emily found.”
“Alright, I can handle that. Nuwa, will you take care of convincing Kali to let that slide?” Nuwa was listening in on this conversation too; Lilith had been proud to find that, during her long sleep, Mae had figured out a way to get a decent amount of the dungeon’s extra senses to her humanoid bodies, and Nuwa was able to get a reasonable analogue of the humanoid bodies’ senses to her body. The main failing was that Mae wasn’t able to get Nuwa’s full dungeon-sight to humanoid bodies, and that the humanoid body sense to dungeon body sense conversion wasn’t perfect, but Nuwa had assured her that, aside from a couple of small idiosyncrasies, it was unnoticeable.
Got it. Mai and Errus aren’t doing too much right now, so I should be able to spare enough of my attention to do that.
“Right. Arthur, Lancelot, you two have any experience with them?”
“Loaded question.” Arthur said darkly. “She nearly usurped me, and were it not for Errus’s interference, she would have succeeded. The country was a wreck for decades and I was still weeding out her plants by the time the war came about.”
“She’s a real piece of work.” Lancelot agreed. “She likes to pretend she knows what she’s doing when it comes to ruling, but I’m positive that her policies would quickly lead any group of appreciable size to ruin.”
“And I can almost guarantee that the world would stagnate under her leadership.” Kali said, coming in through the portal. “But before you all go any further, I need to have a word with your teachers about what’s acceptable to talk about and what’s not.” She squeezed Lilith’s shoulders gently and leaned in to give her a peck on the cheek. “Mind stepping out for a bit? I need a bit of privacy.”
Lilith turned back and pulled Kali in for another kiss, this time on the lips. “Sure. Just come get me when you’re done, OK?”
Lilith left so that Kali could have her girlfriend-teacher conference, teleporting back to the kitchen. She had been interrupted in the middle of lunch, and she figured that, if she wasn’t doing anything else, finishing that off was just as viable an option as any. Mai might have made a move, but all that meant was that it was Lilith’s turn now, and Mai had a much more limited view of the board than she thought she did.