After returning to Ehmvier, Kanae sent a fleet of couriers across the Commonwealth to inform Queen-Mother Zariah and Demon Lord Charron's forces about Ortesia's goals. The resurrection of Saint Rue, or Duke Ruedegard Ducante, founder of Radevic. Depriving them of the One-Eyed Cross didn't seem to impede their plans. If anything, the Knight of Gold only appeared to be peeved at the matter.
Repelling Ortesia from the Commonwealth might very well hinge on taking the ankh from them. Although… there was no certainty that they would leave if their plan to resurrect Saint Rue was foilled.
What was so great about a dead duke anyway? Ortesia was winning with just Gold, Avaline, and Darren stirring up fights already. Could this just be a pride thing?
"Kanae Toyomi!" Claudia kicked open the door into the bathing chamber.
A few servants hesitated to stop the Mistress of Pain as she cruised in while Kanae was soaking in the hot waters.
"Do you mind? I'm trying to have a moment of reflection in here!" Kanae exclaimed.
"We're sorry, Queen Kanae! She wanted to meet with you and wouldn't stop no matter what!" a servant cried.
Kanae waved them off. They bowed and shut the door on the way out.
"What a wonderful getaway you have underneath the castle," Claudia said, stripping off pieces of her equipment and descending into the waters. "I was looking all over for you and even asked the servants. It took until I charmed them that they finally confessed your whereabouts."
"I'm glad you like it. Arenade was very particular about building this place. You should have seen how angry she got when the smallest thing was out of place. Like the statues had to be made of whitestone," Kanae explained.
"Mmm. This Arenade is smart. Whitestone, for all its beauty, easily leeches minerals in the presence of temperate waters. It is harmless, I assure you. Their circulation acts as a light abrasive material that contributes to smoother skin. Where we lived deep underground, there were entire caverns of flooded whitestone. They do make for some lovely baths!" She scooped a handful of water to pour over herself.
Very briefly, Kanae saw Arenade in Claudia's place as she washed off in the water. One blink, the sight was gone.
"Sooo, you're not here to just bathe with me… are you?" Kanae asked.
"Ah, yes! I'm fit to fight again. My whip yearns to paint asses purple and paddle aches conduct a chorus of agony. That knight isn't getting through my defenses next time!" Claudia grinned, flexing her arms in every manner possible to show off.
"Er…" She hesitated to break the news. "Next time might not be any time soon…"
The Queen-Mother succubus grabbed Kanae by the shoulders, eyes snapped open and nails digging into her skin.
"I must have my rematch! To be bested by cattle… I can't stand for it. How would you like it if livestock pummeled you into unconsciousness?" Claudia yelled.
"Y-You mean like dragons, gorags, and languisteeds?" Kanae shrunk under her piercing gaze.
"I forget you and Hildy are alike in that regard…" She sighed and backed away into the water. "Why not? It sounds like there will be plenty of fighting that demands my expertise!"
"Well, for one… don't discount there won't be a lot of fighting here. They might send people to steal back the One-Eyed Cross. Zariah got her wish of a big chunk of Commonwealth land from me. Doubt she wants hellfire destroying it."
Claudia scoffed. She had a uncharacteristic lack of concern about what her mother wanted now.
They bathed for a few more minutes before finally leaving, then went up to join the others in the war room. Esta, Minestra, Lani, and Parn surrounded a worn map of the Commonwealth. Small statues represented the major players of the war, and tiny stone markers denoted on-going battles across the country. A lot of information was still unaccounted for, but scouts were hard at work on that.
"Damn it, Estaline!" Minestra slammed two fists onto the table. "Can't you get it through your thick reptilian skull that your mother's blockade will keep us from sending or receiving reinforcements this way? The whole point is to separate us. The Demon Three's Alliance might as well be moot."
"Master believes the key to ending the Ortesian invasion is preventing Saint Rue's resurrection. We have identified the win condition. The only thing left to do is to enact it," Esta said unflinchingly in the face of a bigger, stronger herzulith.
"Ah~ Ah~ Are we fighting? Shouldn't we be allies?" Claudia put an arm around both of them.
"Don't touch me," they said at the same time.
Claudia put her hands up and stepped back.
"Hey," she whispered to Kanae. "You're alliance is falling apart. Isn't this where step in and beat some sense into them? Want me to do it?"
"I think you're trying to exacerbate the problem… Alright, everyone. Each of you have two sentences max to sum up the most important thing to report to me. Keep it concise," Kanae said.
Minestra started first. "The Rook of Rotandrix set up a blockade on the Imperial Span where the road forks to Talahurah and Highgreen. This has effectively cut off all three of your major cities from each other."
"Lilith's Sisters in Black have liberated villages in the more rural parts of southern Commonwealth, but Ortesian forces are persistent. We'll lose precious farmlands if this continues," Parn explained.
"Silver and I are in agreement that Gold comes first, then we can deal with the rest. It's obvious these attacks and the Rook's blockade are meant to distract us," Lani said with Esta nodding beside her.
When Kanae shot a look to Claudia for any input, she shrugged.
"I feel the same way. The longer we delay, the more we risk them finding the crypt of Saint Rue. I still don't know why they want to bring him back, but it can't be good. Which is why I'm going to lead a strike team consisting of harpies, succubi, Edina, and Lani to Windy Bog," Kanae concluded.
The other three who were left out erupted in protests.
"Let me go with you, Master! I can ride on Edina's dragon!" Esta insisted.
"This has to be left to those who can fly and fight in the air— and before Claudia complains!" Kanae was faster on the uptake before she could complain. "Only a succubus can really more succubus, so Claudia will stay to help and take command of the Sisters of Sin. Figure out a way to break Avaline's blockade and defend the rural country while I'm gone."
Numerous footfalls drew everyone's attention to the corridor. Perfect timing. Castle guards had brought an old foe out of retirement per Kanae's orders.
"Where have you been hiding this delicious, broken morsel?" Claudia licked her lips.
"The Black Harpy of Talahurah. Formerly." Kanae smirked.
Talon's tyrannical reign as chieftain of Talahurah damaged a lot of relations with and between beastman factions. Some of that were still felt today after almost six years. In order to remedy that, Kanae had sent her new enslaved thrall across the northern border between the Commonwealth and Artaggon to… mend those relationships. Mainly by forcing her to become a sex slave to beastman leaders for a few years before tossing her into prison.
She was still the same arrogant harpy from back then. However, her appearance had taken a little inspiration. She was mostly naked. The only garments on her were leather bracers, ankle guards, and a collar with a hook to leash on. There were piercings on both nipples. Hundreds of tally marks, smudged and fresh, tatted up the length of her right thigh.
"Long time no see, Talon. How are you holding up?" Kanae asked, stroking the head of her harpy pet.
"I couldn't be happier serving my queen!" Talon panted leaning into Kanae's touch.
Cum dripped from the harpy's crotch. She was probably in the middle of being fucked when the guards went to fetch her.
"That's a good girl! I think you've been fucked enough for now. I need you for something other than being a glorified pocket pussy. It's time to put your warmongering to use. Are you itching to use those claws again?" Kanae asked.
"Point me in a direction." Talon straightened her back and stretched her massive wingspan. "Tell me if ya want 'em dead, wishing they were dead, or afraid to be dead. I'll tear their throats out all the same."
Where they needed to go was Windy Bog far west in the Commonwealth. The land there was flooded with water due to being so close to the coast and having a low sea elevation. It was actually a very inhospitable place, though a few beastman communities have popped up over the years in an attempt to tame the environment.
The last Kanae time had gone there was three years ago with hopes of establishing a port. Unfortunately, she and Arenade learned the hard way why no one has tried. Locals called it Shard Coast, because the coral beds were like shards of glass that sliced through the underside of ships. It was a graveyard of sunk vessels down there.
However, that proved to be one of the Commonwealth's few advantage over Ortesia. Had it not been for the treacherous shore, Ortesia's invasion force would have established a major stronghold there to receive direct help from the empire.
Everyone went their separate ways after the meeting ended. Kanae headed to Rosaline's atelier to check on how Aisha was doing. She didn't expect to run into Mitty, but there the goblin was with a woven basket of herbs at the front door.
"Mitty? What are you doing here?" Kanae asked.
"Eh? Oh, Kanae! Rosaline and Aisha put a quest to the adventurers hall about acquiring them some alchemy reagents. I accepted it a while back and brought them the stuff, but…" Mitty cast an uneasy glance at the door.
Glasses shattered. Something heavy, like a sack of potatoes, thrashed around inside. Rosaline and Aisha could be heard shouting. Suddenly, Kanae wasn't sure she wanted to go in either…
"Oh, god. Here goes nothing." Kanae opened the door and—
"GRAB THAT THING!" two voices shouted.
Kanae barely had time to react. She only saw flying in a crash course to her face, then it was lights out. Pain. It felt like a professional baseball pitcher headshot her with a fastball.
"Ow…" Kanae squealed from the ground and saw dicks instead of stars.
"Kanae! Are you okay? Do you need to drain me to heal?" Mitty orbitted around her worriedly.
"No, I'm fine. Only lost some brain cells is all. What the hell was that just now?!" She sat up and rubbed her forehead.
The atelier was a mess. Aisha was wrangling what looked llike a ball of steel. Meanwhile, Rosaline fetched a burlap bag for the hobgoblin woman to put it inside. Although captured inside, the creature continued to flail around.
"That, my sex demon friend, was an armoredillo!" Rosaline answered.
"An armor— what?" Kanae thought she heard wrong.
"An armoredillo," Aisha repeated. "Damn things curl up into a nigh-impenetrable steel ball when threatened. An adventurer delivered it to us earlier in a wooden cage! Can you believe that shit? Soon as we brought it inside, the fucker broke out and started wrecking the place."
Since Kanae and Mitty were already there, they offered the two a hand with cleaning up the place. The armoredillo did a lot of damage, but Rosaline wasn't as bothered as Aisha. It turned out that the ball of steel was an important alchemical reagent for a new concoction they had came up. Kanae couldn't imagine how almost destroying the atelier made it any at all worth it.
"Ah, ha! Here it is. A steel skin elixir!" Rosaline held up the small vial of silvery liquid that looked like metal in the form of water.
"Oh!" Mitty humored her by offering an applause.
"So… What's it do?" Kanae asked.
"Why, exactly what the name suggests. It takes the properties of an armoredillo's resilient back plate and transfers it to the imbiber. Behold." She repeatedly dipped her long, serpentine tongue into the vial.
Everyone waited patiently. They waited longer than expected until Aisha realized that Rosaline was frozen solid. Solid steel.
"You stupid garden snake. You forgot essence of earth, didn't you?" Aisha groaned.
"Maybe… This is amazing… I cannot move… but… I'm… I'm invincible!" Rosaline exclaimed stiflly.
"Well, Aisha? How's working for Rosaline?" Kanae asked, stifling a laugh as she went around collecting ingredients to brew a fix.
"For? You mean with. I might as well be supervising her with all these amateur mistakes she keeps making! Gods. Every day it's another problem. Oops, ingested an expensive ingredient. Misplaced those experimental antidotes on the for-sale section. Aisha, have you seen my beakers? I'm apalled this alchemist hasn't perished from her own experiments yet!" She bottled a potion up and fed it directly to Rosaline's mouth.
Soon, the eccentric lamia alchemist was able to move again.
"But we have so much fun and learn so much, Aisha! I try to teach her that the only way to learn from your mistakes is to make them. She isn't a very good student about that." Rosaline tagged the tip of her tail.
"Until one mistake proves deadly!" Aisha retorted.
All Kanae could think was thank GOD Mikki got enrolled to Aidenhall.
"By the way, Kanae! We've been making headway on creating a potion to counteract the effects of the anti-succubus magic potions," Rosaline said.
"You did?!" Kanae gasped.
"No, we haven't. Don't you dare give her hope. It's all experimental just like that steel skin elixir!" Aisha exclaimed.
"I-I still want to hear it. This can be big game changer. Tell me you have something!" she implored them.
Although Rosaline flashed a smile, Aisha let out an exasperated sigh.
"You must know the saying, the dose makes the poison? This is true of potions and elixirs. We are all essentially imbibing some poison with every health draught we take. It is negligible because the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks. Drink enough healing potions in one sitting, and you can become very sick. So, back to the saying. The dose makes the poison. If every potion and elixir contains an amount of poison, then it reasons that an antidote exists to neutralize the effects. Just like the steel skin potion—"
"Experimental steel skin potion," Aisha corrected her.
"Yes, yes! Experimental. There is an antidote for it as well. We need only concern ourselves with the matter of combining the right ingredients. I have devised a concoction that very briefly nullifies the anti-succubus magic potion. Its effects return a second later. I need another ingredient to extend the effects— something called Dragon's Tongue, a very rare weed that only grows in a Rift. I would like you to find this for me. Once found, we can use an apparatus to duplicate it and perhaps… mass produce it," Rosaline explained.
"The question is," Kanae began with a click of her tongue, "where will we find a Rift on such short notice? Especially when I'll be leaving for Windy Bog soon…"