When morning light pulled across the horizon, the Depraved Monastery was still standing. It didn't seem like Gold or the Ortesian forces had attacked. None of the Sisters of Sin who were on lookout last night reported anything suspicious either. That was fine. Kanae was going to take every advantage she could get in this war.
They couldn't afford to stay another minute longer though. Their fortune wouldn't last forever. After a night-long orgy in celebration over triumphing over Gold and stealing the ankh, Kanae was ready to return to Ehmvier.
"I gotta say, Kanae. You're more enthusiastic than a bar fight with that dick of yours! Wheeeew. You can conduct a chorus if you were trying. Hells, my cunt is still aching from last night!" Labelle stretched both arms over her head as they emerged from the dormitory.
"But I didn't even get a single point of experience…" Kanae frowned.
"S-Sorry…" Lani sulked behind them.
It wasn't her fault, not exactly anyway. But the fault did lie in the living grimoire. Chappy, who always wanted to be involved in Lani's sex life, by the simple reason of just participating in the orgy, was able to sap most transfers of energy. Mana and experience, to be exact. That gluttonous appetite took from Kanae all that she could have gained from Labelle, and vice versa for the Mistress of Debauchery from her.
"Awww, don't fret. We had fun! See all of your eyes roll back, twitching like crazy, and screaming so loud that you echoed was proof enough that you enjoyed it," Chappy said, who came out as the biggest winner.
"Hm…" Kanae stared at the living grimoire so suspiciously, his pages began to wrinkle. "Where does all that energy even go? You're a devil. You don't seem inherently evil like Hax'gorah, but I highly doubt you're good either. And Lani, is the Grand Eye really okay with you walking around with Chappy?"
"You're right. I'm not gooooood. I won't open the door for a granny. I could care less about a kid with a scraped knee. All that matters to me is that I get to gorge myself and fuck this breedable, little hare." He caressed Lani's butt with a tentacle, causing her to shiver. "As for the magic I eat? Beats me."
From the corners of Kanae's eyes, Labelle made a disbelieving face.
"Part of the reason I'm a Saint Priest is so the Grand Eye and others can keep an eye on Chappy. Our… arrangement works out most of the time! My colleagues haven't even figured out that Chappy teases me during meetings," Lani explained as though this were something to be proud of.
There's no way they don't know… Kanae thought.
However, letting Chappy into the romp last night wasn't just for sex. Kanae had made a gamble and lost. The living grimoire's pages didn't contain any information pertaining to the ankh. Or maybe they just didn't turn enough pages. All they knew was that Ortesia wanted to use it to resurrect Saint Rue, known to them as Ruedegard Ducante. Going by the logic of their intentions, it should also be able to resurrect Arenade. In the meantime, Kanae could only hope.
Talon and Edina were in the main worship hall. The flock of a hundred succubus who resided in the Depraved Monastery had gathered to await orders.
"As much as I don't want to give ground to the Ortesian forces, the monastery wasn't exactly built to withstand a siege. We're abandoning it. All succubus, take a prisoner for emergency ration and leave the rest to travel light. You'll be flying to join the Queen-Mother and answer to her until the end of the war." Kanae's news drew mixed responses from the succubi, but they inevitably agreed and descended to the dungeons.
"Big Bird and I are headed to the Hellfire Badlands, yeah?" Labelle propped an elbow on Talon's shoulder only to get shaken off.
"Meet up with Lord Charron or Lady first. They can get you into Artaggon. Last I remember, they're in Highgreen. Arenade's body is in Capillis City, guarded by high elves called the Lights of Capillis. If you mention her sacrifice to save Wendy and the city, and they should understand what it means. Please. Please. I'm trusting you with this. She's the love of my life," Kanae said, struggling to hand over the ankh.
"If the bitch gets outta line, I'll fuck her up and bring it the rest of the way," Talon assured her.
"I got it already!" She dropped a hand atop Kanae's own and grinned. "We'll get your prized cattle home. I better get something nice out of all this trouble though."
The two of them walked out of the monastery bickering back and forth before flying off. Kanae fought the urge to go with them. Her wings and legs were restless. But Arenade would never forgive her if the Commonwealth fell to the empire. She had to stay and protect it, which meant leaving the one thing that could ressurrect Arenade in the hands of others.
"Alright, then. Is it time to blow this joint?" Edina asked.
Kanae nodded, and her friend the necromancer summoned a horde of undead all over the monastery. A surprise for when the Ortesian forces inevitably come this way. The rest of them began their long journey back to Ehmvier. Though fortunately, it wouldn't be as long as the one Labelle and Talon had to make.
It was an early afternoon when they finally returned to the capital of the Commonwealth. The climate had gotten cold enough that a thin blanket of snow peeled across the country's landscape. There were patches of white outside the city, and it occurred to Kanae that this might be the first year her kids couldn't freely play outside. Guards stood on watch rather than children frolicking in the snow.
"Nothing beats being home!" Edina exclaimed. "If you need me, I'll be fine-tuning Cantu. I learned a new skill called Corpsestitch Manipulation after that last battle. It lets me retrofit body parts on my undead to grant them strength and skills from the original organism."
Kanae and Lani shuddered.
"Is that sort of profane necromancy… legal here?" Lani grimaced.
"I'm the high-fucking-priestess of the Eminence of Sin and a founder of the Commonwealth. It's legal now!" Edina called forth a dracolich to ferry her home.
When Lani shot Kanae a worried look, she simply shrugged.
"I'd rather not come between a necromancer and her necromancy the same way you wouldn't an archwizard and her explosions," Kanae said.
"I suppose this isn't Radevic. I shouldn't expect the same laws. What now, Amethyst? Are you going to tell your children the good news?" Lani asked.
She shook her head. "If Labelle and Talon fail or the ankh doesn't work, I don't want to accidentally give them hope…"
Lani grabbed both of Kanae's hands and looked her in the eyes. The Saint Priest wore a smile as one befitting a kind member of a clerical order of knights.
"You've been fighting for so long. It's okay to let yourself hope again! Queen-regent Arenade will return, and we'll repel Ortesia together!" Lani asserted with conviction.
Feeling invigorated again, Kanae squeezed Lani's hands in return and thanked her. She was right. Now was the time to ride the wave of victory. They went their separate ways with the warlock needing privacy to discover more about the One-Eyed Cross from Chappy. Upon returning to the castle, a guard informed Kanae that her kids were around back with Gretchen and Esta.
On a little clearing, Suvee and Kanade were training with practice swords on wooden dummies. Esta coached the two, but not with the same sterness shown to infantry recruits. Gretchen observed from the side but mainly kept an protective eye on them. They saw Kanae coming and waved, but neither of the kids ran to her like usual. Instead, their energy was focused entirely on beating the crap out of the dummies.
"Mom, look." Kanade beckoned her to pay attention. The wooden sword glowed with golden energies that she recognized right away as a Smite. Her daughter thrusted the point into the dummy's chest, blasting it with divine magic and breaking the entire thing off the post.
"Wow, Kanade! Looks like training with Aunt Esta is paying off." Kanae applauded.
"Both of them have been very eager to learn. Suvee especially pushes herself extra hard. I await the our children fight beside each other with great impatience," Esta said.
"I'll catch up to Kanade yet, Mom!" Suvee pumped her fists.
"I know you will. You two are strongest when you're together." She patted both of them on the head.
Although Kanade and Suvee would be overjoyed to hear about Arenade's potential resurrection, Kanae ultimately decided against telling them. For now, at least. She asked to speak with Gretchen inside. Telling Esta would have to come later, because taking her away too would drawn suspicions from the kids.
"We managed to steal the ankh from Gold," Kanae said.
"That's good!" Gretchen's eyes snapped open.
"I've sent Labelle and Talon to bring it to Arenade in Hellfire Badlands."
"That's… troubling," she added uneasily.
Kanae had considered it, but Edina's strength was better served here where the war raged on. Her possessing the Pillar of the Damned, though Hax'gorah was silent now, wouldn't sit well with the Lights of Capillis either.
"We're just going to have to hope they pull through. There's something else I want to ask you though. Figured you're the best person to ask as a high elf. When we attacked Gold, I caught a glimpse of a massive— I mean, GIGANTIC fleet of ships. Do you know anything about them?" Kanae inquired.
"Fleet…" Gretchen winced with apparent recognition, but recalling it seemed to bother her. "Did they bear the symbol of two thin hooks facing away from each other?"
"Yeah, like an anchor!"
Gretchen searched the kitchen and signalled one of the cooks. She snatched a notepad and pencil from his person, then sketched out the exact symbol Kanae remembered.
"This is the crest of House DeSalle. They are Ortesia's imperial navy, and one of four families informally regarded as the High Houses. Stormcloud being among them. I happen to be… betrothed to their eldest son Errenard DeSalle…" Gretchen almost gagged saying the name.
"Ehhh? You had a fiance!" Kanae exclaimed in genuine surprise.
"Is it so shocking that one of my stature is bespoken to a man of equal or higher station? Well, it matters not. I lost everything when Ortesia exiled me. My bethrothal to Errenard was only one of politics anyway. I faithfully serve you now."
"Is that Enthrall speaking or are you saying that?" she asked.
"Well." The former archbishop cracked a smile. "There's only one way to find out."
High elves were the living incarnations of pride and arrogance. Kanae could only count on less than one hand how many had changed for the better on their own, and they were Arenade and Runald. Sure, not all high elves were the same. A few loyally served as knights in Aidenhall. The problem was that the vast majority were self-serving and held only themselves in high regard. Even Ambrosia and Kanade, born with mixed high elven and succubus blood, were unable to escape their haughty natures either.
Kanae led Gretchen upstairs to the war room, where the map of the Commonwealth had been left to collect dust. Some pieces were missing and others moved since she left for the Windy Bog.
"Maybe we can jog some more memories." Kanae pointed to the area north east of Ehmvier where the sunken temple rested in its watery grave. "We found out that Gold's goal is to resurrect a man named Ruedegard Ducante. I was wondering why their movements in the Commonwealth is so strange and spread out. It's not to whittle us down. It's to search for Saint Rue's tomb and bring him back to life. I've taken enough spunk into my gut to know when something's fishy, and my gut is telling me that's what Ortesia's been looking for. I'm hoping you can fill in some blanks for me."
"I'm sorry, I wish I knew anything. I don't. That Saint Rue is a man named Ruedegard Ducante is new to me, but I'm not surprised. There are secrets only the higher houses are privy to. The empire originally sent me to Radevic to vie for the mantle of Grand Eye. That was the extent of my purpose," Gretchen said.
"We're still at a loss, huh…"
"Hmmm. Before I left for Radevic, Errenard mentioned something that I merely passed off as blowing hot air. The usual high elven musings. That my duty was the first block to building the 'Great Holy Empire of Ortesia' or something to the effect," she explained.
Yep. That sounded like an Ortesian lord alright.
"Alright. How about a more pressing threat? By a stroke of luck, Shard Coast is keeping Ortesia from bearing down on us with the full might of their navy. If they manage to move on us, how screwed is the Commonwealth?" Kanae asked.
"How screwed are you whenever you're in Titan's stable?" Gretchen quipped back.
She shivered in a mixture of confused fear and pleasure. "Th… Thoroughly… Okay, I get your point. Two members of the High Houses are out for us, including the Rook of Rotandrix and her son, Darren. I thought the Demon Three's Alliance would help unite us against them. It feels like we're eggs, and all I did was gather us into one basket for Ortesia… I need to get Rosaline those Dragon's Tongues…"
Time to pay Rosaline and Aisha a visit.
While Gretchen returned to supervise the children, Kanae went to the lamia alchemist's atelier. Fortunately, there were no explosions this time around, no one was coughing their lungs out, and a certain serpent wasn't tasting some alchemical reagents. In fact, she almost wished they were doing just that.
When Kanae arrived, both Rosaline and Aisha were slumped against the counter, passing a hookah. Fragrant fumes filled the entire atelier and made it hard to see.
"What are you two doing now…" Kanae groaned.
"Oh. Hey, Kanae…" Aisha was extremely, uncharacteristically smiley. "We discovered that a flower called bamboweed releases soothing chemicals when burned. You want to try it?"
"If only Arenade was here to Detoxify you two… Weren't you supposed to be researching anti-anti-succubus magic potions?" she asked.
"Relax, Kanae! That's what this smoke is for. Breathe it in. Take a load off. We can't make progress without the final ingredient. I put up a bounty notice at the adventurers hall. Ten-thousand gold and a lifetime discount to my atelier to the first person that finds a Rift. Until then, come here and help my apprentice count how many scales are on my body… we lost count a few times already," Rosaline said as she teetered from side to side, high out of her mind.
Kanae didn't have time for this. If there were people searching for Rifts, then fine. She would put her efforts elsewhere in the meantime. That sunken temple still needed investigating. After snatching a few water breathing potions, she flew to Edina's house.
"Put your shoes back on, Edina. We're going on an adventure!" Kanae threw open the door and froze. "What in Frankenstein are you doing?!"
"Ooh… Oh! I can feel your hands… You're a genius!" Cantu moaned as Edina fixing a throbbing dick of some undiscernable monster onto his death knight body.
"Yo, Kanae. I'm about to try this dick I sewed on with Corpsestitch. Cantu says he has feeling in it! If this thing stays hard, my undead army can actually fuck those elves. That'll show 'em! Muwahahahahaha!" Edina cackled.
Kanae put a hand to her face. She couldn't tell anymore if Edina becoming a succubus again as a necromancer was a good idea or not.