“Alright, they’re all yours. Thanks for waiting.” Kali told Lilith, grabbing her hand and giving it a squeeze. “I’ve been as lenient as I can without making things too easy for you. I know I’ve said this before, but I’m only doing this because I believe in you and want you to grow. I’m not just making it hard on you for the sake of it.” She gave Lilith a quick kiss. “Alright, I’ll leave you to it.”
Lilith smiled, squeezing Kali’s hand back. “Thanks. Love you.” She slipped her hand out of Kali’s and went back into the training dimension where her teachers were waiting for her.
Though they mostly looked grim, there was an air of hope to them. Solomon in particular was smiling mischievously, not looking worried in the least. “Good news.” She said. “We’ve been given a pretty liberal restriction. Basically, we just can’t tell you who’s been compromised by Mai or what her exact plans are. Other than that, we’ve got free reign to help however we wish.”
Lilith smiled. “That’s good to hear. What have you got for me?”
Arthur frowned. “The biggest tip Lancelot and I have is to not let her find any way into your power structure, but you seem to have that covered. Still, if there’s any doubt whatsoever, quarantine the person. It’s just not worth the risk.”
“But that rigid control she has is also her weakness, I think.” Lancelot added. “Once you take care of her, then the rest of her flock isn’t an issue, they can be dealt with at your leisure. Even better, if you’re able to somehow force Mai to rescind her orders, then the problem is immediately and totally dealt with.”
“More importantly, I can share all my findings with you.” Solomon interrupted. “And I have quite a few.” She chanted a quick spell and a small notebook fell into her hands, which she flipped open. “Right. So, I can’t tell for sure without being able to be there in person to analyze the magic, but I’m decently confident that she has no range on her conversion. She’s got to be touching whoever she wants to convert.
“I’ve never seen her do any sort of ranged conversion in the time I’ve been watching her, and I’ve been watching her for quite a while. But she seems to have taken this into account and given herself lots of ways to extend her reach. For most people, it takes less than a second to be fully converted, so she’ll just tag them and it’s over.
“Errus excluded, the longest I’ve seen anyone hold out was around ten seconds. For Errus, she had to jump through a bunch of hoops to shut down his defenses, and then, from what I could tell, she used some sort of Skill that sacrificed her own defenses to massively boost the efficacy of her conversion Skill. The prep took a few weeks, but when it came time to actually do it, Errus only lasted a couple of seconds. He turned into a child both physically and mentally, after which she re-raised him, bringing him around to her own point of view.”
Lilith frowned. “Nasty stuff. What measures would you take to prevent that?”
Solomon shrugged. “Don’t let her touch you, really. Not unless you’re someone with crazy resistances or are a Perfect Chimera or something. I mean, it can’t do anything to you, but the others aren’t so lucky.”
“Don’t let her know you’re immune.” Artemis chimed in. “Surprise is a good tool for you.”
An idea hit Lilith, and she gave Solomon a thoughtful look. “You said she lowered her own defenses during Errus’s conversion, right? Which kind of defenses?”
“Mental and physical both.”
“How did Errus gain his defenses back? Did he have to do it over time, or did she just immediately give them back once he was converted?”
“It was immediately.” Solomon confirmed. “Are you thinking about reflecting her spell back on her? I’m not sure that’s the greatest idea. She’s able to convert magic to her side too, as Eve’s fight showed. I’m not sure why she can do that at a distance, but I’m sure we’ll find out sooner or later. What I’m getting at is that reflection spells probably won’t work.”
Lilith flashed her a smile. “And there’s the beauty of it. It’s not a spell. It’s eldritch in origin, while Mai’s Skill should only be able to affect magic. As long as I can output more Mana than her, I can beat her. I just have to get her thinking she’s in a situation where she can use it on me.”
Solomon thought that over. “You’re…right, I think. I’ll have to check to be sure.”
Lilith turned to Raphael, Oberon, and Tiamat. “Do you three have any ideas about how to trick her into thinking that she’ll be able to? Preferably a way that doesn’t involve sending over the spare avatar and letting her tinker on it for a few weeks.”
“U-um, you could…maybe hide your Skills from her? Some of them but not all of them. Enough to make her think it’ll work.” Oberon suggested. “I don’t know how you’d make that look natural, though, it’s not my specialty.”
Lilith gave him an understanding smile. “Of course, that’s plenty. I’m sure Solomon, as the academic here, would be able to come up with something.”
“Sure can.” Solomon replied. “I enjoy that kind of mental exercise.”
“Right.” Tiamat said. “We just need to lure her into a confrontation. Should be easy if you run into her, as she thinks there’s nothing you can do to stop her in a fight. Problem is getting her to come out now that her people are in position.”
“Seems simple enough.” Lilith replied. “Just get them out of position. Problem solved.”
“You still have to find them.” Raphael warned. “Do you have an idea?”
Lilith nodded. “I’m going to establish a semi-permanent dungeon in this plane. And, given everyone’s been cleared to help if they don’t directly reveal who’s been compromised, that means it’s totally fine to have Solomon help our research time, right?”
Solomon grinned. “Sure is.”
“Good. Do you have any way to change your appearance up? I don’t want Mai to realize something’s going on on the off chance she can both see through her flock and knows what you look like.”
“Yeah, that’s pretty easy.”
“Perfect. The rest of you are more than welcome to help, so long as you change your appearances as well.”
“Are you sure you should be using that much Worship?” Tiamat asked.
“It’s fine so long as only one or two of you are out at a time.” Lilith said. “My income’s gone up a fair bit these past few years. But, before I go get that set up, I’d like to hear every detail you remember about each of your fights with Mai and Errus. And, Solomon, if you could compile your notes on the two of them and give them to me to look over later, that would be great.”
By the time Lilith finished with her teachers, Siph had gotten Tiamat and Kirdin to come to the dungeon.
“Hi, dear.” Tiamat said. “We haven’t talked in a while, how have you been?”
“Good, Grandma.” Lilith replied. “How about yourself?”
“I’ve been great!” She said happily. “I’ve gotten to meet all sorts of new people, and it’s been a really new experience! It’s nice to have people not constantly living in fear of you because you’re stronger than them. Society’s really evolved since we lost contact.”
“And you, Grandpa?”
“Fine, I guess.” Kirdin replied. “It hasn’t been all bad.”
“Says the man who spends most of his day in front of the television.” Tiamat teased.
“Hey, I still get us our food!” Kirdin protested. “I make sure to finish my work first, and it’s better than just sleeping all day.”
Lilith smiled. “Well, it’s nice to hear that you two have been doing well. Sorry about forcing this on you, I just couldn’t risk anything happening.”
Tiamat patted Lilith’s arm. “I understand, dear. Are you sure you don’t want to check over us first and make sure nothing’s happened?”
“It’s fine, Grandma. Judy’s kept an eye on you with her swarm, so I know you’re clean. And I know Mai didn’t get at you before because you would have been in her compound, so I’m not worried. Still, if it makes you feel any better, I can keep you out of any vital meetings until we properly develop a way to test for infection.”
“That would be for the best.” Tiamat replied. “I don’t want us to draw any suspicion whatsoever, and it’s not too important if you just tell me what to do. You all are smart; you can figure out what to do without the two of us old-timers.”
“I appreciate the thought, Grandma.” Lilith said. “Do you feel the same, Grandpa?”
“I suppose. Well, I’m going to the training rooms, you two can catch up or whatever.” Kirdin split off from Tiamat and went towards the teleports. “I’ll see you two later.”
“That’s fine, honey.” Tiamat said, then turned back to Lilith. “I must say, though. I was rather shocked when Siph told me the news about you. I…met the you from before once or twice. I never would have imagined you were her reincarnation.”
Lilith scratched the back of her neck. “It was news to me too. Um…how was I?”
“I didn’t have any long interactions with her, but she was...nice. Definitely didn’t deserve the reputation she got. She certainly wasn’t a killer flirt or anything like that. She definitely seemed like she could turn the flirt switch on if she wanted to, but also like she knew better.”
“That’s…good to hear, I think. I’ll be honest, I’m not totally sure how to feel about having a past life like that. It’s something that I think a lot of people would really like to hear, that they used to be someone important, but…it’s also baggage in a way. Like…now if people know I have to worry about what they thought of the other me. That’s mostly not an issue because just my family and people who generally liked the other me know, but…” She trailed off.
Tiamat gave her a conciliatory pat on the shoulder. “You grew up with the other you portrayed as the bad guy a lot of the time, right?”
Lilith nodded. “And here I am, using her name and face…I have to wonder if any gripes people have with the other me don’t apply to the current me. People are saying I’m mostly the same, so…”
“There’s nothing wrong with that, dear. Anyone in any sort of spotlight will receive negative press. It’s just the nature of the world. What the old you was like doesn’t matter. It’s only what you do now that counts, OK? Don’t worry about it.” Tiamat leaned in to give Lilith a hug. “As far as I’m concerned, you’re doing a great job.”
Lilith smiled, returning the hug. “Thanks, Grandma.”
Alex was in her room preparing for bed when she heard a knock. “Come in!”
The door opened, and Raphi walked in, then carefully shut the door behind her. “Um, mom, I think we need to talk.”
Alex frowned, then sat down on the bed and patted the spot next to her. “What is it, sweetie?”
Raphi sat down. “It’s about you. Um…”
Alex waited patiently, even as a knot formed in her stomach.
“Well, I’ve been watching you carefully ever since Lilith woke up.” Raphi said slowly. “I…think it’s time you start making moves.”
Alex stared at her daughter blankly for a moment before recovering. “What makes you say that?” She said as neutrally as she could.
“Um…Well, you just don’t seem as…lively as you have been. Like you’re holding yourself back. I think you should stop ignoring your feelings. I feel like you’re just scared to say how you feel, just like I was with grandma before everyone helped me. I think that even if it doesn’t work out, you’ll feel better.”
“But, it’s so soon after she woke up again, I really don’t feel like it’s the right time for it.” Alex protested. “We should just wait a year or two for her to settle down and get comfortable.”
Raphi shook her head. “That’s an excuse, mom. You and I both know that Lilith’s doing perfectly fine, better than ever, even. She’s fully synched up with the Parallel’s memories by now, and there have been no bad signs that I could see. At the very least, go get Kali’s blessing or something. It worries me to see you down like this.”
Alex sighed. “Alright, sweetie. I’ll do it tomorrow morning, alright? It’s too late to do it tonight.”
Raphi nodded. “That’s good, mom.” She leaned in, giving Alex a kiss on the cheek. “Love you.”
Alex smiled, rustling up Raphi’s hair. “Love you too. Now go to bed, alright?”
“Yes, mom.” Raphi said, getting up and leaving the room.
Alex collapsed backwards onto the bed. Raphi had been right, she was scared. She had never had time for a serious relationship before, and she was afraid of what might happen. She had been on a few dates before, but not in ages. She just…didn’t want to get rejected. That was normal, right?
The rest of her bedtime prep was spent worrying, but nonetheless she was able to get to sleep relatively quickly.
The next day after breakfast, she made her way to Kali’s room. After knocking and being admitted, she nervously began to speak. “Um, I…don’t really know how to say this, but…I’m pretty sure I’m in love with Lilith.”
Kali smiled. “I know. I suppose this means you’re finally going to do something about it?”
Alex twirled her tail in her fingers. “Yeah, um…I just wanted to make sure everything was fine with you before I did anything. I mean, it’d be rude to just go for it without you knowing or anything.”
Kali laughed. “That’s true. I’m not opposed to the idea, but there are some conditions to it. The first is, of course, that Lilith is also fine with having the relationship expand to include you. If she’s not amenable to ceasing monogamy, then I’m not going to support you either. The second is that you and I have to go on some dates and get to know each other better. If the two of us don’t click, then it’s not happening. It’s not good if we’re both dating Lilith but don’t like each other. That’ll only end badly for all of us.”
Alex nodded. “Yeah, I’m fine with that.”
Kali smiled once again. “Alright, I’m calling in Lilith now, we’re going to talk, OK?”
Alex stiffened. “Uh, we’re not…going to wait?”
“There’s no point putting it off. You’ll feel way better once you just get it over with, and it’ll go smoother if I’m there too.” Kali replied. “No backing down now, I’ve already called her over.”
Alex looked around nervously, but Kali just guided her to a seat and sat her down. “She’ll be here in a minute or two, K? I’m going to go grab drinks for us, you want anything?”
“Um, just water I guess.” Alex replied.
Kali left and returned a short time later with a glass of water and two cans of soda. She gave the water to Alex and cracked open a soda for herself, sitting in a chair next to Alex.
Lilith came in less than a minute later. As she came through the door, Kali threw her the soda, and Lilith caught it. “What’s up?” Lilith asked.
Kali nudged Alex. “Your turn.” She said.
Alex put down her glass of water and hesitantly stood up. “Um…I wanted to ask you out on a date.” She said, blushing furiously. “I made sure Kali was fine with it, so I just…I dunno. Just figured I’d better come out and say it instead of letting it stew. Not asking you to break off your relationship with Kali,” she added hurriedly. “Just…in addition.”
Lilith thought about that for a while. “I suppose I’m amenable, provided you’re willing to meet a few conditions. First, if at any point Kali becomes uncomfortable with this, or if you don’t like her, we stop. No matter what the two of us might feel, it’s just not healthy to be in a three-person relationship if we all don’t love each other. The other is that you have to go on a date with Kali alone, and that you go on a date with all three of us there.”
Alex couldn’t help but laugh.
“What?” Lilith asked curiously. “Did I say something funny?”
Alex shook her head. “No, it’s just that Kali said basically the same thing. I thought it was sort of funny.”
Lilith smiled. “Well, I think that just means we both have our priorities straight. Does this Saturday work for you?”
Alex swallowed, then nodded. “Yeah, it works.”
“Then it’s a date!” Lilith proclaimed. “I’ll leave you to plan it out, I have to get back to work now. Feel free to ask Kali for tips if you want.” Lilith winked, and walked out.
Kali smirked. “That wasn’t too bad, was it?”
Alex hesitantly shook her head. “I suppose not.”
“Good. Now, here’s the first thing you should know…”