Following the two-sided retreat, Kanae commanded Zadris to stay put with 2000 in order to fortify the southern border against any more attempts at an invasion. However, that might be moot at this point. If the Empire of Ortesia had portals raised across the Commonwealth, they wouldn't need to punch through the border. From now on, the attacks might come from anywhere.
As they approached Ehmvier, smoke rose from the western entrance. The worst case scenario flashed in Kanae's mind.
"An attack?" Esta squinted ahead.
"Not on my watch! Advance!" Kanae ordered her remaining forces.
Upon arriving, there was no battle to be fought. One had ended instead. A large section of the wall had collapsed. Rubble and bodies littered the charred ground. The injured were being carried into the city by harpies and succubi on stretchers.
Gretchen stood in the middle of the battlefied cloaked in full armor from Holy Armament. When she saw them coming back, relief washed over her sweat-drenched face.
"Gretchen, what happened? Are the kids alrlight?" Kanae asked, dismounting from Titan but still unsteady from her own battle and romp.
"Suvee and Kanade are fine. We were attacked by dragoons. They hit fast. Faster than we had time to react…" Gretchen explained breathlessly.
"Was my mother among them?" Esta asked, eyes going wide.
"The Rook was not." She shook her head. "I saw instead male drakeling who had a striking resemblance to you."
"Darren…" She growled past clenched teeth with a tense look Kanae hadn't seen since they encountered Avaline.
If Kanae recalled correctly, Esta had spoken about how drakeling siblings in Rotandrix were pitted against each other in combat to establish a pecking order. The brother of their family had defeated her.
"One more thing, Queen Kanae. The commander of your forces, the orc Manabe, he was seriously wounded in the attack. Pitifully, I might add." Gretchen frowned.
"You could have at least lied so he wouldn't feel so bad later… Thanks. I'll go check on him later." Kanae proceeded to give new orders to her people.
Repair the damaged wall. Increase the number of scouts to find pockets of Ortesian forces and their portals. Send letters to villages and cities no matter their size about, informing them of what happened in battle against the Knight of Gold. There was so much work to be done that Kanae wasn't afforded a moment's of rest even after coming home.
Minestra retired to her demon encampment to lick her wounds sustained from Gold. Edina needed to begin raising a new death knight after Gold disintegrated one of her only five. It was dark by the time Kanae neared the last her duties.
"As for rations and food supplies," Parn began after clearing his throat, "thanks in large part to a combination of Fingercrab fertilizers, dryad growth magic, and halting trade going out of the Commonwealth, we're able to sustain the whole of your standing army. My only worry is how long the war will last and if the empire starts attacking farmlands. I'm thinking we should send infantry out to places that produce the largest yield of crops."
"Do it. Have Manabe figure out who we can spare and send out. Our only advantage against the Ortesians is having the home turf. Them being an ocean away means their resources are limited," Kanae said.
Everyone in the throne room shifted awkwardly.
"Manabe is injured," Esta leaned in to whisper.
Kanae put a hand to her face and sighed. She had forgotten. This day felt like it would never end.
"I'll do it!" Minestra stepped up to the plate. "I'm accustomed to managing and moving entire armies across a continent."
"Letting a demon command Commonwealth forces?"
Voices of opposition rose from the crowd of the Commonwealth's influential, people who had made a name for themselves in the sphere of military, politics, and merchantile trade. Kanae didn't personally know them.
"As allies under the Demon Three's Alliance, I'll allow it." Kanae was able to silence them nonetheless.
There were too many people to meet. But as a country grows, it sometimes even leaves its leader behind. All they had going for them was a stake in the Commonwealth coming out victorious against the empire.
"Thank you, Demon Queen! Of course, I'm going to need help from someone familiar with the lay of the land. Oh, Knight of Silver! You can tell me all about Kanae while we plot military strategems, my friend." Minestra threw an arm around Esta's neck and waist in an overly buddy-buddy manner.
"I take issue with you calling me friend. However, I will not shy away from speaking about my master," Esta said on the way out of the throne room with Minestra.
"Wait, take it seriously!" Kanae retorted before they were gone.
With the final issue resolved, the assembly adjourned and everyone went their separate ways. Kanae visited the church where the injured were being tended to. There were a lot more people than usual, their heads down and in prayer and—
"Yes, yes, yes! Ahhh! You're so much rougher!"
"I'm being shipped off across the Commonwealth to fight the empire. This might be the last time I ever see you again, Sister!"
"I'll pray for your safety! I'll— aaahhh!"
The Sisters of Sin sure had their work cut out for them. All of the confession boxes were occupied and creaking. A few men seated in the pews were being sucked off by succubus clergy as they prayed.
"People seek comfort wherever they can find it in time of war," Lilith said on her way up the aisle.
"I think pleasure is the more appropriate word here. I don't blame them though. When was the last time I prayed?" Kanae thought back and had a hard time remembering.
"You should try now, Mistress! While the gods rarely intervene, we are blessed that they would lend an ear. Even to us succubus," she explained.
Kanae turned her attention to a statue of the Supreme One at the front. His was among The Many. After all, the Eminence of Sin wasn't a religion that scorned other gods. They welcomed it. They merely worshipped the freedom of sexual liberation.
"First Sister, will you pray with me?" a young human woman asked Lilith.
"Of course, my little lamb. Right this way." Lilith smiled.
They went to take a seat and prayed— Well, the congregant did. Lilith positioned herself between the woman's legs and began eating her pussy.
Kanae put a hand to her face and bemoaned the 'traditions' that her church had come up with. She took Lilith's words to heart and sat down in front most pew. Prayer, huh? The gods were always silent back on Earth. Here, they listened.
"You probably did a lot of praying, didn't you?" Kanae asked, gazing up to the statue of the demigoddess Arenade. "You're probably up there now. We might never be able to talk, but— huh? Talk…" Her eyes scanned the many people whose heads were down and in prayer. "That's it!"
Prayer. Why didn't she think of it before?
Kanae clasped both hands and shut her eyes. Years had gone by since she last prayed. If Arenade was a demigoddess again, maybe they could talk. She could ask her for guidance and… and…
If only Arenade would just answer. Please answer. Please answer. Kanae wanted to hear her voice again so badly. Unfortunately, she heard onlly silence.
"Would you keep it down? You're praying so loudly, and I have a whole queue of people who need actual guidance!" a woman's voice bellowed in the darkness.
Kanae opened her eyes in tears. It was the heavenly, gilded office that she had met Arenade in all those years ago. She spun around hoping to find the high elf at her desk. Instead, Threcia was in the middle of rummaging through Arenade's paperwork-ridden table and cabinets.
"Threcia! Is Arenade here?" Kanae asked desperately.
"Sorry, kiddo. Arenade isn't around. Last I checked, she died with the Ring of Destined Matrimony on. I don't think it's your time yet, right? I can't very well move you guys onto the next life together unless you bit the dust, too." Threcia glanced up and adjusted a comically small monocle over her left eye.
"No…" She deflated. "I'm sorry for barging in. I thought I could talk to her again…"
"You miss her?" The salamander demigoddess stopped fumbling with the stacks of paper.
Kanae nodded. Very much. So much that it still hurt to think about. A sharp pain pinched her chest every time.
"Uhm… Wait a sec. If Arenade isn't back to being a demigoddess, does that mean she died for real?" Kanae braced herself for an answer she didn't want to hear.
"The paperwork for Arenade's soul is stuck in limbo. She's neither dead nor alive," Threcia said.
"What do you… mean?" She blinked.
"It means Arenadae's soul is clinging to life. Do I have to spell it out, you dense succubus? She wants to stay with you!"
Extreme joy welled up in Kanae's chest. She almost fainted, but her hands found purchase on the desk.
"But how?" Kanae asked.
"Someone must have sanctified Arenade. Extreme kind of magic though. Those sort of rituals can keep someone's body fresh for centuries if they kept at it. Them high elves do it all the time to consecrate places into holy grounds— eeeerrrrrr! Ooops. Haha! Said too much. I almost lost my godhood spilling. Whew! Forget you heard anything." Threcia tugged on her collar, looking left and right.
"I might have a way. The high elves have it. I just need to steal it. Is it possible? Tell me it's possible!" She reached across the desk to grab Threcia's hands.
The demigoddess lowered her voice to a whisper. "Kuh… I'll do this solid for you because Arenade's my favorite brat, but the Supreme One absolutely cannot know. She can be resurrected with the right tool, yes. If the high elves have what I think they have, then it's a one-time use. Sounds like they want to bring someone back to life, too."
Kanae thanked Threcia profusely. Tears streamed down her cheeks. The demigoddess awkwardly scooted a tissue box across the desk.
"You don't know how much this means to me. Seriously. Thank you." Kanae smiled.
"Ah, don't sweat it! I've been secretly rooting for the two of you. Mainly because it's funny seeing Arenade get up in all sorts of hijinks thanks to you. You're a fun watch, too. Some of us up here take bets on what crazy thing ends up porking you next! Hah!" Threcia laughed so hard she started squawking.
"You've been WATCHING ME?!"
A strong yank dragged Kanae back into the real world. She was inside the Eminence of Sin church again. However, she filled with greater hope than a few minutes ago. Bringing Arenade back was a real possibility now that Kanae had confirmation it could be done. This wasn't a pipedream.
"Crap. I almost forgot what I came here to do." Kanae headed into the infirmary hall in search of her friend. She bumped into a kind sister who was more than happy to show her the way.
Takumi and Ichi were already there, sitting by their unconscious friend's bedside. Many beds were occupied by injured soldiers, likely from those hurt by Rotandrix dragoons.
"How's Manabe holding up?" Kanae asked.
"Well, a cute succubus said his injuries are healed up. They think a hard hit must've shaken his noggin. Going to need to rest on that. But Manabe's always had a hard head! He's going to be fine!" Ichi insisted grunting hopefully as a minotaur would.
"This war stuff… It's really happening, huh?" Takumi asked, gulping hard at the gravity of their situation.
Kanae nodded wordlessly.
Her goblin-turned friend continued, "Feels like just yesterday we were having group sex with you, now you're Queen of the whole country and I have a baby on the way."
"Wait, what?!" Ichi and Kanae gaped.
"Ahah… After years of pestering Ingrid, she finally accepted my marriage proposal. Still hates my guts though, even though she's due in six months. Before coming to this world, I never expected to find my calling or a girlfriend. I like it here. I don't regret becoming a goblin either. That's why, Kanae… Please. It's selfish of me even though Manabe got badly hurt and I'm not the one fighting, but please protect the Commonwealth," Takumi pleaded earnestly.
"You can bet on it! This is our home. I'm going to make the empire pay. You hear me, Manabe? Just rest for now. You can think about war again once you're all better. Leave it to me for now, and—"
The bedsheet around Manabe's groin pitched a tent.
"We'll leave you to it, Kanae!" Takumi hopped off his seat and made for the door.
"Take care of Manabe, and good luck in the war!" Ichi added.
"Hey, I was about to give a heartfelt speech! Ugh… This is your fault." Kanae groaned and glared at Manabe's big erection interrupting her.
She called for a Sister of Sin to take care of it instead and went in search of Claudia next. The succubus was put in a separate room for herself. Two of her succubus guards were standing guard, but they stepped aside to let Kanae through.
Inside, three high elven captives, two men and a woman, were kneeling on a spiked mat. They were blindfolded and gagged. Small clamps with weights were attached to their nipples. Claudia sat up in bed with bandages wrapped around her head. During the fight against Gold, she got her left horn chipped pretty bad. Now it just looked uneven.
"Doctors said I shouldn't swing my pain-dealing arm until tomorrow. I have to settle on watching them squirm in pain. This is fine, too. They sing to me in whimpers and cries. It's quite therapeutic. Wanna join me?" Claudia smirked.
"Do you know how hard it is to fight together if you charge out on your own?" Kanae sighed, reminding her of that last reckless charge.
"Mmm. But it hurt so good~" she squealed.
Kanae stood there, arms folded.
"What? Not funny? Oh, alright. Labelly and Amby would've handled themselves better… I lost my cool. I saw blood and went for. That cattle in armor knew something. I just needed to put the squeeze on her, but she made me ache instead. I'll try not to be reckless next time." Claudia shrugged, but Kanae knew better than to believe her.
"Gold told me something about Alicia and the high elves you're looking for," Kanae said.
The Mistress of Pain's eyes snapped open. She jumped out of bed, but just as quickly keeled over. Kanae caught her before she hurt herself.
"Tell me! What do you know? What did that bitch say?" Claudia asked, squeezing her shoulders.
Kanae helped Claudia back to bed and recounted what Gold had told her. A twinge of rage flitted in the succubus' eyes, then confusion.
"That's all Gold said. I'm sorry there isn't more," Kanae concluded.
"You're certain? I just don't understand. For what reason would Alicia ally with high elves? I… I have much to think about, alone. But worry not. I shall be battlle-ready in the morning! Together, we shall find brand new ways to hurt those who hurt us. Thank you, Kanae. It may not have been the answer I was looking for, but you have given me more than what the past 150 years of mulling couldn't." Claudia pulled Kanae into a warm embrace, one that she needed very much and filled a hundred year long emptiness.
"No problem. If you need anything, let me or the Sisters of Sin know," she said.
"Oh, I have all that I need here. Thank you very much." Her lips peeled back gazing upon the high elven captives.
Kanae left Claudia to her fun and returned to the castle at last after a long day. There was still one last thing to take care of. An unprecedented move that might better or worsen their chances in this war. However, the smell of smoke gave her pause at the foyer. She followed the scent to the kitchens, where the cooks were peering around the corner rather than working.
"What's going on? Is something burning?" Kanae asked.
"No, my queen! It's Lapis. She is… She's trying to cook," one of them answered reluctantly.
When Kanae came around the corner, the kitchen ceiling was filled with smoke. Lapis was happily laying plates out.
"Lapis, what are you doing?!" Kanae gasped.
"Hey, Kanae! I'm baking a cake! You want some?" Lapis reached into the oven that was spewing thick smoke and pulled out out something black in a tray.
"That's not a cake. That's charcoal! Follow me. We have something to do. Kitchen staff, clean this up!" She grabbed Lapis' hand and pulled her down the corridor.
"Ehhh! But I haven't tasted it yet!" The automaton pouted.
They descended into the dungeons. Deep moans and sounds of squelching echoed down the halls. Kanae opened the iron gates into Saint Priest Lanil Hammerthorn's cell.
"Huh? What's happening? We banging?" Chappy woke up and flipped his pages while letting out a deep yawn.
"No, but I am freeing Lani. Lapis, stand next to the moaning maiden," Kanae said.
"Yes, ma'am!" Lapis skipped over and prepared herself.
Kanae unlocked the latches and threw the metal coffin open. Fleshy tendrils cracked and snapped as Lani fell out of it. She hit the ground, covered in sticky juices and twitching.
"Releasing me… will be the biggest mistake of your life… Amethyst… Prepare yourself for… uu… for you will answer to Aidenhall…" Lani rose unsteadily to her feet.
"Lani, baby! I'm surprised you aren't mindbroken after all that time in there. I expected nothing less!" Chappy immediately sprouted many tentacles to molest Lani with.
"Ahhh! Chappy, wait! Mmm… your tentacles feel so nice compared to that thing I was in— er, I mean not here… not yet! Can it wait until after we— aahhh! Oooh, my… after we… take down Amethyst?" she pleaded but quickly falling to the pleasure.
"Lani." Kanae kneeled down to face her. "I know I have a lot of explaining to do and don't deserve it, but I need your help. The Empire of Ortesia is here. They brought Gold with them, and she's a lot stronger than any of us expected. Moreover, the Viviren Family will be transporting their armies into the country through portals. I want to resurrect someone I love very dearly, and they have the means to do it. I'm begging you to lend me your strength!"
Lani and Chappy traded looks.
"Kanae… look at me," Lani said.
Kanae did, then a foot clobbered her face.
"You trapped me in that thing for months. You went and allied with demons and enemy succubi. I'm so angry with you! Why should I help you at all! You took advantage of my kindness!" Lani pouted.
"Lani, calm down! Knowing Kanae, she probably likes getting stepped on! At least here the succubus out," Chappy insisted, and the blows eventually stopped.
"Thanks, Chappy…" Kanae rubbed the side of her cheek. "I want your help, because there might be a greater threat than just the Empire of Ortesia, or the Commonwealth allying with Radevic's enemies. There's a good chance devils are involved, and the Ortesian forces are being influenced by one, Varren the Prideful."
Lani's gaze tightened on Kanae, as if discerning for any lies or attempts to mislead. Of course, she found none because Kanae was telling nothing but the truth.
"If d-devils are involved, then the world is in big trouble. Big trouble," Lani repeated the second time with more emphasis.
"Please, Lani. Will you help me?" Kanae extended the Saint Priest a hand.
"I'll help on the condition you turn yourself in after all this is done," she said.
Kanae amost curled her fingers but remained steadfast. Lani searched her eyes for resolve, then clasped her hand. They shook on it.
"Fine," Kanae agreed.
A Saint Priest as powerful as the warlock Lanil Hammerthorn and Chappy, her living grimoire, was going to be a big asset.
"Whew. All's well that ends well, right? Now, who wants to go upstairs and have cake?" Lapis asked eagerly.
"I could go for some cake!" Lani's floppy ears perked up.
"A-Actually, Lapis. How about we start over from scratch? We can make it together!" Kanae suggested, not wanting to fall victim to eating charcoal.