Alex struggled with herself in her room for a while. It had become something of a routine for the last few days, as she tried to figure out what to do about her father. It was something that she was finding herself paralyzed about. She couldn’t just…ask him for his opinion, because his opinion would be biased. And…she hadn’t yet figured out how she felt about it, either. One the one hand, his day to day life wouldn’t be affected, and she could help ensure it would only be used for benign purposes, but on the other…well, was it right when she was so personally involved?
Would her father’s opinions of her actions be tainted by his opinions on Lilith? If that wasn’t the case now, would it be the case if she and Lilith became romantically involved? Was it right to just leave him like that, completely willing to do whatever Lilith wanted without any question just because she asked?
But…would it be worse to potentially ruin everything? Having her dad be the only one on the Council not compromised could lead to an information leak, and if it came out that Lilith secretly had control over the Council…everything would crumble.
And so, she grappled with herself, trying to figure out what was right. There wasn’t really a good answer, and it was driving her up the wall.
Eventually, she picked up her phone and opened her contacts. She wasn’t going to make any progress whatsoever going at it like she had been, she needed to talk to someone else, probably multiple other people.
Her first ask was Vithi. She had come back to visit the dungeon a couple of days prior, and as a result had been caught up to speed on everything. Though the two hadn’t started off on the best foot, they had reached something of an understanding in the past few years. Vithi might be confrontational at times, but her judgement was generally sound.
She called the number, and fortunately Vithi picked up. After some small talk, Alex launched into the reason she had called. “Hey,” She began, “I want your advice on what I should do with my dad. I haven’t been able to decide one way or the other, so I wanted to go get others’ opinions on it.”
Vithi paused. “If it were me, I would prefer to be put back to how I was before, and I think most people would. What’s the hang-up?”
Alex gave her a quick rundown of her thought processes.
“I see the issue, but I still think it’s best to put him back. I don’t really agree with leaving everyone under Lilith’s control anyway, but I didn’t think it was worth making any more of a fuss over than people already had. Still, we’ve got the opportunity to get one person out, so why not?”
“Mind explaining why you don’t agree with that? I want to hear your perspective.”
“I just feel like no one should be forced into servitude, no matter how light the servitude or whether or not they’re willing after the fact. Even if it’s for “the greater good”, whatever that is, I think the ends don’t justify the means.”
“But you’re fine with the whole Queen of Monsters deal? The ends justify the means in that case?” Alex asked, frowning.
Vithi stopped for a moment. “I…don’t know. I wasn’t thinking about it like that. I’ll…need some time to think about it.”
Alex nodded. “I’ll leave you to it, then. Thanks.”
“Yeah, any time.” Vithi replied distractedly.
Alex hung up, then got off her bed and started to make her way through the dungeon. Next on her list of people to talk to was Judy. The woman was level-headed to a fault and Alex had come to trust her judgement in most situations during the time they had been living together.
Fortunately, Judy was going to stay in the dungeon for the time being. She was often out and about, laying groundwork where her swarm couldn’t, but given everything that was going on she had decided that it was best to remain close to everyone until things had settled down. So, she found Judy and explained everything to her.
Judy thought about it for a long moment before responding. “It is a security risk, yes, but I think that’s not something that should be the deciding factor. We have the means to take care of it if it becomes a problem, and it’s not like he’ll know for sure it’s Lilith that’s in charge, he could think it’s Mai.
“But I think it’s a matter of emotions. Do you feel that it’s going to negatively impact your dad’s life? Is it wrong to allow something like that to slide? Is it right to give your dad special treatment because he’s your dad? I don’t necessarily think it’s wrong to treat family different like that, but I think that’s something you have to decide for yourself.”
“I…don’t know. Every time I think about this I just…go in circles. I think I’ve decided, but then I get cold feet and I go the other way and immediately get cold feet again and…well, now I’m here.”
Judy frowned. “Do you spend more time leaning one way? No, don’t tell me which one. Are you wanting yourself to lean more one way?”
Alex hesitated, then nodded.
“It kind of sounds to me like you’ve already decided and don’t want to admit it.” Judy said, patting Alex on the shoulder. “At this point I don’t think you’re going to get any more decided, just pick whatever side you’re leaning towards and go with it. If you end up regretting it afterwards, we can fix it.”
“I…yeah, you’re right.” Alex said. “Thanks, Judy.”
“Any time.” Judy replied. “Need anything else?”
Alex shook her head. “No, I think that’s it. Um…I’m going to leave him as is, I think. I don’t know if what we gain is worth what we potentially lose.”
Judy smiled. “I’m glad you’ve decided. Go let Lilith know then get some rest, alright?”
Alex smiled shakily back. “Alright.”
Alex fidgeted nervously. It was a few days later, and it was finally time for her date with Lilith. Her plan wasn’t anything special, just dinner and then bowling, but it was still enough to make her nervous.
Fortunately, Kali had been rather kind and had given her quite a few pointers in regard to Lilith’s preferences, and Alex had adjusted things accordingly. She had even opted to wear a skirt, something that she didn’t do often, just to further appeal to Lilith.
A knock at the door caused her to jump, ears and tail sticking straight up. “Come in!” She called.
Lilith stepped into the room, and Alex was surprised to see she was also wearing a skirt. She…didn’t think she’d seen Lilith in anything other than shorts or pants before. Lilith watched Alex’s face, smirking as she saw the expression of surprise Alex was wearing. “I’m pretty used to it thanks to Eve, and it’s not like I’m trying to hold on to my masculinity anymore, so I figured it’d be funny to surprise you.” She explained. “So, what’s up first?”
“Uh, it depends. How hungry are you?” Alex asked.
“I could go for some food.”
“Alright, we’ll grab some food, then. Um…are you gonna transform yourself to look different or are we going while everyone can recognize you or…?”
“Kali taught me a neat little spell to help keep people from recognizing us unless they know us personally. We’ll be fine.” Lilith replied, smiling faintly. “Where are we eating?”
“Well, there’s this nice little café called Mia’s in your hometown, I figured we could eat there.” Alex replied.
“Oh, Mia’s. Yeah, that sounds good. I can take us right out front if you’d like.”
“Yeah, let’s do that.”
Lilith extended a hand, already drawing a circle on the floor with some appendages. Alex took it, and they were soon off, the world around them going blurry before coalescing to the sidewalk out front of Mia’s. There were some curious glances from passerby, but magical transportation had become relatively common on Earth in the time since the Shift, so people quickly stopped staring.
It was a Thursday night, so they ended up being seated in only a couple of minutes. No one seemed to bat an eye at the two being non-human, not even something like a curious child staring, which Alex could only assume was an effect of the spell Lilith was using.
The dinner itself was nice. They mostly just chatted over the food, as there wasn’t really a need to get to know each other that much better, seeing as how they’d been living in the same place for a few years now, but they traded stories from their childhood that they hadn’t told each other before, something which Alex found herself enjoying quite a bit.
They paid for dinner and began to walk to the bowling alley. Alex had purposefully chosen a restaurant close to the alley, so they didn’t have far to go. They kept up their conversation through the rest of their walk and their wait at the bowling alley, but things took a turn as they were moving to their lane.
“Hey, Lucas!” A girl shouted from behind them. “It’s been forever, how have you–” The girl stopped mid-sentence, sliding to a halt behind them. “What? You’re not…I could have sworn…” She paled as she noticed who she was talking to. “O-oh, um, m-miss High Arbiter, I…s-sorry, I t-thought you were s-someone else.” She stammered.
Lilith smiled. “Hey, Sarah. Good to see you again. Don’t worry, you have the right person.”
Lilith nodded. “I think most people forget I used to be a guy. I have on a spell that prevents me from being recognized except by people who know me, and a side effect is that people recognize me as…well, how they knew me.” She waved her hand and Sarah blinked, then focused in on Alex.
“Oh, I…didn’t see you there. Um, I’m Sarah, nice to meet you?” Sarah said.
“I’m Alex, nice to meet you too.” Alex replied, sticking out her hand.
Sarah shook it. “So…what are you two doing here?”
“We’re having a date.” Lilith said nonchalantly. “You?”
“Just practicing for the league. Um…I’ll…leave you two to it, I guess.”
Lilith looked to Alex, who nodded. “Are you sure you don’t want to stay and catch up a bit? Maybe play a game or two with us? We’ve got plenty of time, so you won’t be intruding or anything.”
“Sure…I guess.” Sarah replied.
Lilith flashed her a smile. “Perfect, I’ll go take care of it with the staff. We’re on lane nine.” Without waiting for a response, she walked off to the counter, leaving Alex and Sarah alone.
Alex scratched the base of her ears. “So…how do you two know each other?” She asked as they walked towards the lane.
“School. We were both in honors classes, and Anna and I became good friends, so we ended up hanging out from time to time. Uh, do you know Anna?”
Alex nodded. “Yeah, she and Jameson are living with us, actually.”
Sarah raised an eyebrow. “Who’s us?”
“Lot of people. Mostly Lilith’s relatives or other people close to her, we had to hunker down while Elenoa was targeting us. Anna and Jameson moved in after they got married, since they needed a place to stay and we have more than enough room.”
“If you don’t mind me asking, where are you all located? I haven’t seen any of them around in a while, so I was sort of wondering what had happened.”
“Pocket dimension.” Alex replied. “Just for security’s sake.”
“Oh…cool, I guess.”
Their conversation stopped for a bit, but it wasn’t silent, at least not for Alex.
Hey, mind if I let Mae help me here? I want to show off a little. Lilith asked. The tacit agreement around the dungeon was that having Mae’s help in games like pool or bowling where being able to calculate angles and power with the speed and precision of a computer was cheating, so Lilith generally didn’t.
Yeah, go ahead. Alex told her.
Perfect, thanks! I’ll be over there in half a minute.
“Lilith says she’ll be here in half a minute.” Alex relayed.
“How…Wait, telepathy, right?”
“Yeah, she’s got a connection to everyone living with her, so we have easy contact if it becomes necessary. We usually prefer face-to-face talking, though. Just feels…better.”
“I can see that.” Sarah replied. They took a seat at their lane, and Sarah opened a bag she had been carrying, taking out a ball and a pair of shoes.
“I’m going to go pick out a ball, be back in a minute.” Alex said, walking over to the racks of balls. She hefted a few before realizing that they were all a bit light; she had been doing enough training that the differences between each were negligible to her.
She just picked the heaviest there, since she wasn’t sure what difference it would make. By the time she got back, Lilith was back as well, also holding one of the heaviest balls. She appeared to be in the middle of some conversation that Alex didn’t quite have the context for.
“Look, I’m telling you, I could crush one of these like a grape, magic or no.” Lilith said, hefting the ball. “I’m way stronger than I used to be.”
Sarah was looking skeptically at her. “You’ll have to forgive me if I’m skeptical. I seem to recall you struggling to lift those balls before, and I find it hard to believe you would gain that much strength from a race change.”
“Believe it.” Alex said. “Trust me, she could probably crush a car like it was nothing, the ball isn’t an issue, Perfect Chimeras are nuts like that.”
Sarah just raised an eyebrow.
“Fine, fine, I’ll show you.” She tossed the ball into the air and it disappeared mid-flight. After a couple of seconds, two identical balls appeared above her, which she caught in each hand. She placed one on the ball holder and handed the other to Sarah. “Alright, you can agree that’s the same weight and composition of a normal sixteen-pound ball, right?”
“Yeah, seems right to me.” Sarah replied.
Lilith took the ball back and clapped her hands while holding the ball, flattening it between them. “Simple as that.”
Sarah stared at the pancaked ball. “I…yikes. That’s really something.”
Lilith smirked. “Tell me about it. It’s kinda hard to get used to at times, but I can’t deny its handiness.”
They chatted a bit more, and then got into the game, and Alex found herself almost more entertained by Sarah’s growing bafflement than the game itself. Sarah was pretty good, ending up with a 189 (Alex only got a 94), but it was nothing compared to the perfect 300 that Lilith ended up with.
Sarah watched the victory animation on the monitor, dumbfounded. “How…?”
“Honestly, it was pretty close to cheating.” Lilith admitted. “I have something vaguely like an aim assist, I was just trying to show off. We can go again without it if you would like, you’ll beat the pants off of me.”
“I’m pretty sure an aim assist is cheating.” Sarah pointed out, stifling a laugh.
“Yes and no.” Alex replied. “It’s a lot more complicated than just “aim assist”, and I think that were judges to pour over it, they would call it fair game. Probably. Can’t really say more for security reasons, but it’s more…a built-in thing.”
“I normally don’t use it, it’s just not fun for anyone involved. It’s more for fighting and this is a side-effect. But…seriously, wanna go again, but for real?”
They did, and this time the results were much different. Neither Alex nor Lilith broke one hundred, while Sarah managed to get over two hundred.
“See, told you you’d destroy me.” Lilith laughed. “Looks like you still got it.”
“I’ll be honest, I’m pretty glad I was able to beat you. Shows that at least something hasn’t changed, you know? Uh, anyway, I’m going to go head off and practice on my own now, I’ll let the both of you have some alone time.”
“Sure thing!” Lilith said. “Before you go, though, do you still have my number?”
“Um, let me check…” Sarah looked through her phone for a bit, then read off a number. “That still it?”
“Yeah, that’s still it. Let me know if you need anything, or just want to chat and hang out. I’d love to show you around my place when you have the time.”
“Yeah, sure, I guess. Uh…See you later, then.”
“Later!” Lilith replied, waving.
They bowled for another couple of hours, talking and laughing and just generally…having a good time. Once they were done, they headed back to the dungeon, where they said their “goodbyes”.
“I had a lot of fun tonight.” Alex said.
“Yeah, me too. Honestly, I’m down to do this again, even enter into a relationship if it keeps being this good. You’ll just…need to have Kali feel the same, as I mentioned before.” Lilith replied awkwardly, rubbing her neck. “So, uh, go talk with her, set up a date, I guess?”
Alex smiled, inwardly pumping her fist. “Yeah, I’ll do that tomorrow. Um…night.”
“Night.” Lilith replied.
And so, Alex went to bed, filled with hopes for the future and more than a little giddy excitement, a crush of three years finally starting to come to fulfillment.