Fortunately, it looked like Mai didn’t do anything too crazy. The Council members were, at the least, their correct ages. “How are you all?” Lilith asked tentatively.
“Excellent, mother.” Tunem replied.
“Don’t call me that.” Lilith said flatly.
“What would you like us to call you, then?” He asked.
“High Arbiter, Lilith, whatever. Just not mother or anything like that.” She replied. “What happened while I was out?”
“Our little sister here showed us the way.” Yamato informed her. “We were panicking, so she calmed us.”
Lilith sighed. “Mai, from now on no showing people the way or fixing them or whatever you want to call it without asking me first.”
“Yes, mom.” Mai said obediently.
“Um…can we still call you mom?” Aria asked shyly.
Lilith thought that over for a moment. The girls were…well, they looked and acted like children. It wasn’t nearly as weird feeling as having grown adults call her that. “Yeah, that’s fine.”
Aria smiled. “Thanks.”
Lilith turned back to the Council. “You all are to keep running things as you did before, alright? Not so much as a hint of what’s gone down tonight is to get out.”
“Understood.” The Council members chorused.
“You all are dismissed, then. Go back to whatever you were doing before.” Lilith instructed.
The Council members meandered out, leaving just the Perfect Chimeras in the room.
“Is it alright to just…leave them like that?” Eve asked.
“I don’t see why not.” Lilith replied. “It’s not like we’re going to be constantly giving them orders or trying to rule via proxy. Having total control could come in handy down the line. The more important question is what we’re going to do with these two.” She said, motioning at Mai and Aria.
“Um, if…it’s alright with you, mom, we want in on your Skill.” Aria mumbled. “The family one.”
Mai and Aria are requesting access to Familial Bond as daughters of Lilith Clements. Accept?
Lilith mulled that one over for a bit. She had been planning to raise Mai at least a little, but this would be a hard commitment to raising them both until they were actually of age.
Everyone, thoughts? Lilith asked her Parallels.
Well, this will almost guarantee they won’t end up trying to betray us or something, even more than Mai’s magic already has. Nuwa said.
It seems most efficient to me. Mae concurred.
I…guess it’s fine. We can manage. Eve admitted. Nuwa, everyone at home is watching somehow, right? What do they think?
Yeah, Kali’s helping them scry us through the building’s wards. Um…seems like they’re generally alright with it. There’s a bit of trepidation, but everyone agrees their threat is mostly mitigated now that we’ve got all of their Skills too. And Kali’s saying that, even after their mental reset wears off a few decades down the line, they won’t bear any ill will towards us if we treat them right. She also says that she thinks we’ll be able to rehabilitate them. Mai was able to convert Errus to her side when he was one of her staunchest opponents, so…
Lilith nodded. “Alright, I got permission from the rest of the family, they say you two are allowed in.”
Lilith officially let them into the Skill, and the girls’ faces broke into smiles, Mai’s huge and Aria’s slight. “Thanks, mom, I love you!” Mai said, giving Lilith a big hug.
There was a brief moment of dissonance as Lilith began to feel things she had never felt before. A sort of…protectiveness, an intense love, and a deep-seated conviction that these two little kids were the cutest things in existence all wrapped up into one.
Lilith picked Mai up. “Love you too, sweetie.”
Aria looked away shyly. “Um…”
Eve picked her up. “You too, munchkin.”
“Alright, we’re going to take you two home, and then we’re going to talk a bit about things, OK?”
Mai hugged Lilith even tighter, nodding happily. “Mhm.”
They teleported back into the dungeon and made their way to where everyone was waiting. “Hey everyone, we’re back. Um, plus two I guess.”
Mai waved. “Hi, um…” She squirmed around until Lilith let her down and ran over to Judy. “Aunt Judy, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have tried to take you away from your family like I did. Will you forgive me?”
Judy nodded. “So long as you never do it again.”
“I won’t.” Mai promised.
“Mai, Aria, over here!” Jessica called. “Come say hi to your grandparents!”
Mai happily walked the few steps over, but Aria buried her face in Eve’s chest. Eve put her down and gently shooed her towards her new grandparents. But, as she was hesitantly moving over, she was intercepted by Tiamat and Kirdin, who scooped her up and began doting on her.
While they got to know each other more, Lilith talked with the other people living in the dungeon.
Alex was eying the children warily. “I can’t help but feel a sense of dissonance about this whole thing.” She admitted. “Knowing who they are, and that they were in the middle of trying to take over the world not an hour ago really ruins things.”
Lilith shrugged. “Call it a combination of karmic justice and a rehabilitation program. It’ll take some time for everyone else to get used to it, but it’s for the best.”
“If you say so.” Alex replied. “But I’m going to keep an eye on them just in case.”
Lilith nodded. “That’s reasonable. Emily, Raphi, would you mind watching them if I’m busy? I imagine Nuwa will be able to take care of them most of the time, but if all four of us happen to be doing something and they need help, I would appreciate it if you could take care of it.”
“Of course, mistress.” Emily replied.
Raphi smiled hugely. “I’d be happy to!”
Lilith turned back to Alex. “That aside…do you want to have your dad deprogrammed? I’m more than willing to have him be the only one on the Council not compromised if it makes you feel more comfortable.”
Alex frowned. “I…don’t know. Give me a couple hours to think on it.”
“Just let me know.” Lilith said. “Kali, would you be willing to do the actual work of removing the control? I mean, I’m sure we can figure something out with Mai’s help if you think that’d be better, but this just seems fastest.”
“Yeah, it’s not a problem.” Kali confirmed. “I can leave him none the wiser for the whole ordeal.”
“Alright.” Alex said. “I’ll decide before morning.”
“Don’t feel rushed.” Lilith soothed. “It’s not something you have to decide right away. Give it some more time, it’s a big thing to just decide all of a sudden. And honestly, I really don’t care what you pick. In the long run, it doesn’t really matter that much.”
“So…what now?” Anna asked hesitantly. “What do we do with Mai’s flock?”
Lilith shrugged. “Just going to have them live however they want. I’ll work up some backstory in case they meet people they knew from before they vanished, but otherwise I think it’s high time they were put back in charge of their lives.”
“Not going to deprogram them?” Jameson asked.
“No point, really. I really don’t want the whole Mai thing getting out, and if we wanted to completely wipe their minds, the flock’s been gone for so long that finding any sort of reasonable excuse for themselves or others would be nearly impossible. I’m not planning on making any use of them, so it’s just really not worth the effort to undo Mai’s control.”
“I guess.” Jameson admitted. “I just feel bad for them, you know?”
Lilith nodded. “Yeah, it’s a bad situation, and I don’t think there are any good options. I think this is the easiest for everyone involved. Maybe we’ll re-evaluate it in the future, I’m not sure.”
“Mom!” Mai called, running back over to Lilith. “Where are we going to sleep? Can we have a bunk bed?”
“Yeah, we can get you two a bunk bed, no problem.” Lilith replied, picking her daughter up. “I think we should come back to this in the morning. It’s late, and it’s probably best that we make decisions with clearer heads.”
“Are you sure?” Alex said, raising an eyebrow.
“Yeah. This all can wait until morning, it’s not going anywhere.”
“Alright, if you insist.”
I’ve got a bed for them, they’re sleeping in the room next to Lilith’s, the one that used to be Carmen’s. Nuwa said.
Eve was already on her way back with a relieved-looking Aria. “Yeah, I’m tired. It’s been a long few hours. I’ll take these two to bed, get changed back to my regular body, then head to bed.”
“That’s not your normal body, mom?” Aria asked curiously. “What is, then?”
“I’ll show you two in the morning.” Eve said. “For now, we really need to get you to bed.”
Lilith let Mai down, and gently pushed her towards Eve. “Go with your mom.”
“Yes, mommy!” Mai ran to Eve and Aria, grabbing Eve’s hand and letting herself be led away.
“Alright, everyone meet back here at noon.” Lilith instructed. “We can have a better discussion then.”
After everyone acknowledged that, Lilith bade them good night, then left to go help Eve.
Mistress, I believe we should introduce them to Nuwa and I. Mae said as they walked. I’m not sure they know about us.
“Oh, right. Girls, did Judy tell you about Nuwa and Mae?”
“Yup!” Mai said cheerfully. “Mama and I have matching names and that makes me happy!”
“And mother’s the one making our bunk beds, right?” Aria asked.
That’s right. Nuwa replied. I’m always listening, so just give me a shout if you need anything.
And I’m always with your mom. Mae confirmed. I don’t talk much, but I’m always willing to talk with you two if you want, just let me know.
The next morning, a couple of hours before everyone was due to gather, Lilith and Eve went to go question their daughters. She gently opened the door to their room, then called out to them. “You two, it’s time to get up.” She said, watching as the lumps under the covers began to stir.
Mai sat up, yawning. “Good morning, mom, what time is it?”
“Just after ten.” Lilith replied.
Mai hopped down from the top bunk, gave Lilith a hug, then froze when she saw Eve. “Who are you?” She asked, frowning. “I didn’t see you last night. Are you one of mom’s friends?”
“You’d think a kid would recognize her own mother, but I suppose I’ll let it slide in this case. I do look quite different, after all.” Eve replied dryly, giving a slight smile.
“Mommy?!” Mai shouted, causing Aria to bolt upright.
“What’s going on?” Aria asked blearily, rubbing her eyes.
Mai pointed wildly at Eve. “That’s mommy’s actual body!”
Aria frowned. “I thought you were a grown-up, mommy.”
“I am, I just chose to look like a kid, so people underestimate me.” Eve said defensively. “I was just in our spare body because I was out in public. People aren’t supposed to know about me yet.”
“Why?” Aria asked. “Everyone knew about Carmen.”
“I’ll explain later.” Eve said, waving a hand. “We need to talk to you two for a bit, OK?”
“OK.” Mai said, sitting down on Aria’s bed. “What do you need?”
“What happened to all the other people you ‘fixed’?” Lilith asked. “What are they doing right now?”
“Oh, them. I made sure they knew you’re the mom now, and I’m just their little sister. Then I just had them go back to what they were doing. Not like…the kidnapping stuff, just the living in the frontier towns and stuff.” Mai said. “Do you want anything with them?”
Lilith shook her head. “No, just make sure they all know not to call me mother, you sister, or talk about the flock or anything where anyone can hear them. Then, just let them live however they want, no obligations or anything.”
Mai nodded. “OK, mom.”
Lilith hesitated a bit before asking her next question, trying to figure out the best way to phrase it. “How much do you…remember? From before?”
Mai frowned. “I remember the important stuff, but it’s all really fuzzy. I…think it’ll become clearer when I grow up some more, but I’m not sure. I don’t…know if I want to, though. I did bad things, and I don’t want to have to remember those.”
Eve sighed. “It’s important to remember the bad things you did, otherwise you can’t make up for them or learn from your mistakes. Yes, you did a lot of bad things, but there’s always a chance for redemption. You’ve got the potential to do a lot of good, so just make sure you listen to what we tell you so you can be as good as possible when you grow up, OK?”
“I understand. I’ll be a good girl from now on.” Mai said.
“Aria, are you the same way?” Lilith asked.
“Um…yeah. Is it alright that I was an old man before?” She asked. “I…don’t know, I just…don’t want to make anyone feel weird or anything.”
Lilith smiled. “Of course it’s OK. I can look at turning you back into a boy now if you want.”
Aria shrunk back a little. “No, I don’t…I’d rather stay like this for now, mom. Maybe in a couple of years, but not now.”
“Alright, that’s perfectly fine. Now, why don’t we get you two some breakfast, and then we’ll take you around to meet everyone. Sound good?”
The kids voiced their assent, so Lilith and Eve took them to the kitchen, where Emily and Raphi were in the process of making breakfast. “Hey you two, I want to officially introduce you to Mai and Aria. We said hi briefly last night, but I figured it wouldn’t hurt to go around individually and get everyone acquainted.”
Emily gave a curtsy. “It’s nice to meet you two. My name is Emily, and Raphi and I will be taking care of you two when your mother is busy. Feel free to ask us if you need anything.”
“I’m Raphi, pleased to meet you!” Raphi said, flipping the bacon she was frying. “Like Emily said, we’re gonna help watch you two, so really, don’t be afraid to talk to us.”
“I’m Mai and this is Aria!” Mai said happily.
Aria was doing her best to hide behind her sister but peeked her head out and gave a shy wave regardless.
“Um…do you two mind if I call you big sis Emily and big sis Raphi?” Mai asked hopefully.
“Whatever you wish.” Emily replied.
“I…um, yeah, go ahead.” Raphi replied awkwardly. There was a strange…hesitation about the way she did, and Lilith resolved to talk with her about it when the kids weren’t around.
But that was for later. For now, Lilith helped the kids get some food, and people slowly began to trickle into the dining area while they wait.
The rest of the morning went pretty well. Lilith got the kids introduced to all of the dungeon’s permanent residents, and then held the meeting. Not much of note happened during the meeting; it was mostly just confirming that what they were thinking the previous night was the course of action they wanted to take.
Alex decided to hold off on making a decision about her father for about a week, and the date would come after she had done so. She wanted a clearer head before trying any romance, something Lilith approved of wholeheartedly.
And…that was everything, really. For the first time in a while, there was no threat hanging over her head, no pressing thing to take care of. There was the whole Queen of Monsters thing they would be implementing soon, especially now that they had access to Mai’s army of monsters, but that wasn’t life or death and wouldn’t be for another couple of months. So, Lilith mentally sat back and prepared for a well-deserved break.