We’re going to have to postpone the date. Nuwa told Lilith the next day. Mai’s got a plan brewing, and she’s planning to launch it Saturday. Fortunately, she’s not aware that reading minds over scrying is a thing, so I was able to listen in. She apparently has had a couple of Council members under her control for a while, namely Enna and Baern.
And, now that the members that are replacing Elenoa and Kali are officially sworn in and her infiltration of the cities is underway, she’s planning to come in and take over the Council in one fell swoop, with no one being the wiser.
Lilith frowned, firing a shot from her arm cannon, and killing a monster that just spawned in. Red, I’m leaving early. I have some problems to take care of.
Your dungeon is under attack? Can watch your defense?
No, it’s not my dungeon. Lilith told Red. Even if it was, I wouldn’t let you watch. I’ve already told you that it’s dangerous to reveal all your secrets.
Could restrict your access to monsters.
Lilith glared at the wall. I could decide to stop helping you and start hunting for your core. I’m always in need of another core or two.
Need me for levels. Can’t afford to lose me.
I can find another dungeon and just use wild monsters for the month or so I really need it. You’re not irreplaceable, Red. I can find other options, you can’t find another life. Don’t think you can threaten me.
There was a long pause before Red replied.
Understood. Will not ask again.
If you would like to have one of my monsters become your Dungeon Master, I would be willing to show you and help you even more. Lilith offered. Think about it.
There was yet another long pause.
Will consider it.
With that, Lilith teleported out of the dungeon and back to her own. She immediately began to make her way towards the teleporter to the dungeon outpost on the training plane, while giving instructions along the way. Nuwa, I need you to focus the dungeon on producing Mana in a form we can take out at a moment’s notice. I don’t care the method or how efficient the conversion is, we just need a big lump we can take out all at once if we want to reflect Mai’s attack.
At the research outpost she found Judy, Emily, Solomon, and Mae all busily analyzing one of Mai’s flock. The flock member was trapped in their own room, separated from the four by a one way mirror that had been treated with a combination of dungeon tech and eldritch knowledge to let it be one way for magic as well; people outside could probe in, but no one from inside could probe out.
“How much progress have you all made?” Lilith asked.
“Quite a bit, actually.” Solomon said. “I’m expecting to have a preliminary detector up tonight, and one we can cast via Judy’s swarm by morning.”
Lilith nodded. “Good, we need it. Mai’s going to be making a big move on Saturday, and I want her to feel as pressured as possible by then. Once you’re finished here, I want Judy to find as many flock members as she can, Mae and Solomon to puzzle out an ability list that’ll make me look as attractive a target as possible, and Emily to take a nap.”
“Hey!” Emily protested. “I’ve helped with the spell too, I can help make sure everything goes well with Judy.”
Lilith raised an eyebrow, taking in the bags under the girl’s eyes and her overall disheveled appearance. “Those three are past the point of requiring sleep to function. You’re not. You’re free to finish up the spell with them, but I fully expect you to get at least ten hours of sleep after. You look like you didn’t get nearly enough last night.”
Emily looked like she was going to complain some more, but a huge yawn stopped her.
“That’s what I thought.” Lilith shot a glance at the adults. “If you three feel she’s pushing herself too hard, force her to take a break.”
Yes, mistress. Mae replied.
“Alright. Judy, when you find someone, teleport them away if they’re somewhere the disappearance won’t be noticed, otherwise notify me and I’ll determine who’s a priority target.”
Judy nodded. “Will do.”
Lilith left them to it, moving out to the general-use part of the training dimension while she contacted Eve. Eve, Nuwa’s told you the news, right?
Yeah. Eve replied. What do you want us to do?
I need you all to take a half-week break and do your training here. Eve, I know you’ve worked a bit with Elenoa’s sword, but I need you to take this time to familiarize yourself with it more. Yeah, it’s not the most comfortable to wield, but we need every edge we can get for this fight.
Yeah, I was thinking it’d be something like that. We’ll pack up and be back in about an hour.
Good. See you then. Lilith turned her attention away from Eve, summoning her tutors. “I trust you all know why I called you here?” She asked.
“Sure do.” Tiamat said, smacking a fist into her palm. “We’ll get you ready in no time.”
“Excellent. We don’t have much time anyway, so that fits the schedule.”
“Right.” Arthur said. “Those of you with experience fighting Mai, group up with me and Lancelot. If you’ve got experience with Errus, form another group. Those with both…pick one, I guess. We’ll figure it out.”
Mai growled in frustration, slamming a fist down on her table. Somehow, in less than a week of having prisoners, Lilith had managed to figure out how to detect members of her flock. In the short time Judy was a member of her flock, she had assured Mai that Kali gave no unfair insider information to Lilith, even when attempts were directly made on her life, and Kali had left her be for millennia, so she was inclined to think that wasn’t the case. She couldn’t outright dismiss it, but it was unlikely.
But she also highly doubted Lilith had the expertise necessary to discover a loophole herself. The last person who had even been close had been Solomon herself, and Mai had made sure she was taken care of in a discrete manner. Then again…Lilith had somehow taken out Errus in their little confrontation over Judy. Likely through use of that sword her flock had been talking so much about.
Still, she was confident that, despite her tricks, she simply couldn’t win out over the raw firepower Mai had, so long as Mai acted fast enough to prevent her from getting stronger. Fortunately, all she really had to do was take over the Council to deal the finishing blow, and that would be done within the day. Even she didn’t have a method to remove her control, having decided that it was pointless to look for one, and the entire Council couldn’t disappear without causing a mass panic, so she would be firmly entrenched in the politics of this new world.
She let out a deep breath, calming herself. The girl was a temporary problem and would see things her way soon enough. Mai would likely have to deal with Kali after that, but she seemed incredibly reluctant to do anything without someone to do it for her, and she couldn’t whip up another powerful person fast enough to stop what Mai was planning.
After Lilith would, of course, be the other Perfect Chimeras. The five of them together would be an unstoppable force, and her long-held dreams would finally come to fruition.
But she was getting ahead of herself. She had to see tomorrow through first. Or…perhaps not. It would have been convenient to wait until the Council was meeting anyway, but that wasn’t strictly necessary, now that she was thinking about it.
She sent out a mental message, her last safe avenue of communication now that Lilith was always watching her. Errus, what are you doing?
I’m just preparing, mother. Why do you ask?
We’re moving up the plan to tonight. Have Enna call an emergency meeting of the Council, will you?
At once, mother.
Might as well get it over with. No use procrastinating, right?
Lilith groaned. Of course Mai’s plan had been moved to the middle of the night. Fortunately, it wasn’t a complete blindside like Mai had been hoping, so she had her own time to prepare while the Council got ready for their emergency meeting.
Eve was woken and was getting ready to safely wield the sword. That mostly meant lots of clothing to prevent accidentally touching it in any way, but between getting in the spare avatar to prevent being seen as herself and making sure her covering was complete, that still took a fair amount of time.
Nuwa was working on activating their Mana source, a sort of…furnace that was able to burn Mana-laden substances, providing them with a blast of quick Mana at the expense of being much, much more inefficient than processing whatever was burned in a more normal fashion.
She had basically set up a huge funnel below their main Mana Battery lake, and she would flood a bunch of these ‘furnaces’ with Mana Battery. It was hideously wasteful (only getting less than 1/100th of the actual Mana contained therein), but they couldn’t really afford to care about it, not when they had tens of millions of Mana stored up.
And, finally, Mae was making the modifications to their Status that she and Solomon had decided would make them look best. Or worst, or…whatever it was. So, when Eve was ready, she teleported them inside of the Council building. Yamato had been kind enough to give her the code to thwart the building’s anti-teleportation barrier after the incident with Elenoa, so it wasn’t difficult to get in. Baern and Enna were already inside, though Mai and Errus were still at their home base. The Council seemed to just be waiting on Gabriel to begin the meeting, so Lilith and Eve found a good hiding spot, tucked themselves away, and waited for Mai to spring her trap.
Predictably, it happened only a short time after Gabriel showed up. Enna had begun the meeting when Mai and Errus suddenly materialized behind her. “Hello everyone!” Mai said warmly. “It’s been a loooooong time since I’ve seen some of you people. I’ve come to inform you that you have the great honor of bettering the world in a real way by joining my flock.”
She smirked as some of the Council members started casting magic. “Oh, come now, surely you can’t have forgotten that magic is useless around me, right? It’s pointless to resist, so just stop and accept your fate like good kids, kay? I do so hate to damage my children, but your brother Errus doesn’t have the same hang-ups I do, and he’s always been a little…rebellious.”
Lilith and Eve chose this moment to make their entrance, Eve going straight for Errus with the sword while Lilith fired shots at Mai.
“Oh, there you are darlings.” Mai said calmly. Errus was deftly dodging each of Eve’s strikes and occasionally counterattacking with a quick but powerful spell. “I was wondering when you’d show up.”
“This ends here, Mai.” Lilith said, playing up her body language as best as possible to convince Mai she was being serious. “I’m going to take you out here and now. I wanted to be discreet about it, but if you’re going to expose yourself in front of world leaders like this, then so am I.”
Mai laughed. “So dramatic. Please, child, you and I both know that you’re not a match for me.”
“That’s what you think.” Lilith snarled, stacking gun Skills and firing off a few of her biggest shots in rapid successions. It took a large chunk out of her Stamina, but Lilith wasn’t worried about running out. She was aiming to run out.
The Councilors were working to escape, but it wasn’t looking good. Enna was easily the best combatant among them, having remained semi-active in the military while defending Haven, and the exit was between them, Mai, and Errus, so Lilith didn’t really think they would be able to do much.
And, slowly but surely, Errus was whittling Eve down. He almost looked like he was toying with her, always one step ahead, always just barely too fast to be hit.
But neither of those were particularly consequential. Eve wasn’t going to be able to beat Errus on her own and defeating both Errus and Mai was next to an impossibility. What was important here was the performance. Eve just had to last long enough for Lilith to convince Mai that Mai could convert Lilith on the spot.
There was a gut-wrenching feeling that Lilith instinctively identified as Mai trying to steal one of her Skills with Envious Elevation. Lilith chose to let it happen; she’d be getting it back soon enough, and it made selling the act to Mai that much easier. “What did you do?!” She shouted. “That was mine!”
Mai laughed. “Was, dear. It’s not yours anymore. That being said, you’re really trying your heart out, aren’t you? I can appreciate the drive behind it, but I can’t say it’s a particularly intelligent choice. Oh well, I’ll make sure to raise you better this time around.”
She fired off a couple of powerful blasts of magic, which Lilith chose to let hit. They hurt, hurt bad, and immobilized her, but it was necessary if she wanted to make Mai let her guard down.
And let her guard down she did. She strode towards Lilith, placing a hand on her forehead and beginning to chant an incantation.
Nuwa began dumping as much Mana Battery into her furnaces as possible, and Lilith stored every last ounce of it in herself, as well as Mana received from both Eve and Mae. The sheer amount of Mana she was storing made her feel like her entire body was pulling itself apart at the seams, ready to burst at a moment’s notice, but she kept herself together until Mai finished her chant, practically glowing as she shouted the final piece. “Infantile Regression!”
And, as Mai did, Lilith let the hundreds of thousands of Mana she was storing out into a single, reflective use of Zoan’s Barrier. There was a blinding burst of light as an uncountable number of strange, impossible-looking shapes blinked into existence, each glowing fiercely with Mana.
A sudden rush of sensation hit Lilith. Fatigue, pain, and something…else that she couldn’t quite place. It was all slamming into her like the waters of a flood, and, like a flood carrying away debris, her consciousness went with it.
“-m.” Lilith caught the end of an unfamiliar voice’s sentence as she woke.
Lilith groaned, blinking as her vision came back into focus. Someone was shaking her, someone small.
“Mom, are you awake?” The voice asked.
Lilith waved away the windows that were completely covering her vision. There hadn’t even been a sliver of free space from the sheer amount and size of them.
In front of her, there was a small girl, roughly six to seven years old. She…looked like a miniature Lilith. Long black hair, blue eyes, angel wings and a devil tail.
The girl lit up in a smile when she saw Lilith looking at her, then she rushed in to give Lilith a hug. “Yay! You’re up!”
“Mai?” Lilith asked hesitantly.
Mai nodded vigorously. “Yup! Thanks, mom! I don’t remember things the best, but I was being a bad girl and you stopped me, right?”
“Yeah, um, you look…different.”
Mai beamed. “I wanted to match with you!”
Well, the plan had worked, it seemed. Lilith sat up, looking around her. She was lying on a bed, and Eve was lying on one next to her, though she didn’t seem to be awake quite yet.
Even more strangely, there was another girl that looked nearly identical to Mai standing beside Eve.
“That’s Aria! I wanted a twin, so I fixed her up like you fixed me up!” Mai said proudly.
“Um…” Aria said meekly. “I don’t think they know me as Aria.”
“Oh, right!” Mai said cheerily. “She was that grumpy old guy, Errus.”
“Did you…‘fix’ anyone else?” Lilith asked, a pit growing in her stomach.
“Of course!” Mai beamed. “Just…not as much. I only want one twin, so everyone else is just sort of like an older sibling. Come on, let’s wake mommy up, then we’ll go say hi! They’ve been waiting!”
“Mommy? Oh, Eve. Um, right, sure.” She gently nudged Eve awake. “Time to get up.”
She was greeted by some grumbling from Eve. On the other side of the bed, Aria wasn’t saying anything, and her expression didn’t change, but her tail had begun wagging furiously. It honestly looked kind of silly, given that it wasn’t a tail particularly well-suited for wagging, but she was trying her hardest to make it work.
Eve yawned hugely, sitting up. “What happened?” She opened her eyes, looked around the room, then at Lilith. “Um…”
Lilith shared her memories of the past minute or so with Eve.
“Oh. Um, hi?”
“I’m sorry, mommy.” Aria said sadly. “I shouldn’t have hurt you. I tried fixing you, are you still hurting?”
Eve, taking aback, shook her head. “No?”
Aria smiled slightly, her expression changing for the first time since Lilith had woken up. “Good.”
Lilith cleared her throat, still somewhat bewildered by the road Mai had taken things while she was out. “Let’s go say hi, I guess.”
“Yes, mom!” Mai cheered.
“Yes, mom.” Aria echoed.
Lilith and Eve shared a look. The plan had worked, but…what had happened while they were out? Hopefully it was nothing too crazy, and nothing irreversible if it was, but there was only one way to find out.