2-12 Gods and Life
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Stahlia Ten Years Old, Eighth Month of 947

The world went dark as I screamed. I scrambled backward and away from whatever the entity was. This time, it allowed me to get away. Fuck! Why did I come out here alone!? I scrambled backward, desperately trying to find the door. I didn’t know of any healing spells that would be able to restore something as complicated as my eyes but based on the fading pain, they had probably been gouged out.

I blinked. The pain is… fading? I paused and reached a hand up, touching my face. It did not feel wet, nor could I smell the iron stench of blood. I glanced down at my hand. It was blurry, but I could see it. Slowly, the image came back into focus. What’s more, it was bright. My hand seemed to be emitting a faint glow. Periodically, it would pulse brighter. It took me a moment to realize that it was pulsing in time with my heartbeat.

I looked up and saw that the plants in the garden all seemed to be glowing, and all of them pulsing in a rhythm, though slower than my own pulsation. Standing in near the middle of the garden, was a tall figure wearing a black robe. The figure was the only thing in the garden not glowing, though over where its heart should be was a sphere of light with a black core. It reminded me a bit of a solar eclipse. On its head, it was wearing a sort of wide-brimmed flat-top hat. Peaking out from under the hat was the beak of a crow. My mind flashed back to the statues that adorned the central temple. This figure was a spitting image of one of them. If that was his identity, then this would be the second god I met face to face.

“…m-Mortis…?” My voice was trembling more than I would have liked, and my knees were shaking making it impossible for me to stand up. It was like there was a cold wind blowing out from the figure, one that pierced my heart and invoked a sense of deep terror. I took a deep breath and sent the mental command to Cold Hearted. Turning off fear was risky, the lack of proper risk assessment could screw me, but when I was being crippled by it the risk was worth it.

“Good. You can finally see me. I’ve been waiting for you to figure it out all day.” Excuse me? God of death? Aren’t you here to like, kill me? and where's Jacqueline, Sana, Sarala, or anyone? I screamed several minutes ago...

“Yes, I can see you now. What are you after?” Whether I liked it or not, now that I no longer was afraid, there was now some irritation slipping into my voice.

“Mind your tongue. A backbone is good, but I am still a god.”

Well, aren’t you all high and mighty? “Sure, you’re a god. What do you want with me, that the god of death would take the time to come to such a small village? Did you do something to my friends? And while we’re at it, what did you do to me?” Mostly I’m just worried if this is permanent or not… everything glowing could be a serious detriment.

Mortis sighed and crossed his arms. Shaking his head, he glared at me. “So impatient. If I answer those questions will you be quiet and listen?”

I remained silent and folded my arms, before giving a quick nod.

“Good. As for what I want from you, mostly just to see the newest player with my own eyes. As for what I did to you, I gave you eyes that can see life. Something you could have gotten on your own, but it would have inconvenienced me to have to wait for you to figure it out. I did nothing to your friends. If you are asking why they did not come to your aid after you screamed, well. I am the god who hold authority over death. I simply bade the sound to die before it reached them.”

He killed sound? Is that metaphorical, or did he literally kill a physical phenomenon that wasn't alive in the first place? And what's this about giving me "eyes"? I frowned and covertly opened my menu, which caused Mortis to shoot me a questioning look. Wait, can he see my menu? In any case, I didn’t have any new talents or skills that I could see. “So, Deus Ex Machina, what exactly are these eyes? I don’t have any new skills or talents.”

Mortis palmed his forehead. “I thought you said you would listen quietly… but still, your authority is over the system…? Antenora didn’t tell me that… As for your snarky nicknames, knock it off. I am the god who reigns over death. I may not be allowed to kill you, but there is no rule that says I can’t kill you.”

All I could do was blink confusedly. “You can’t kill me, but there isn’t a rule that says you can’t kill me”…? What does that even mean…? Still, that was a big piece of information I had just gotten, about him not being allowed to kill me. I should disable Cold Hearted now. Not being afraid is making me a bit of a bitch, and now that I know he isn’t going to kill me, my rational mind should be able to overcome any lingering fear.

I switched off my skill, and the subtext of what he had said was immediately super obvious. Right, just because you aren’t allowed to do something doesn’t mean you can’t do it. Missing one emotion really skews my perception. I need to make sure to be more respectful, he is a god. thankfully, I was no longer paralyzed by fear, though I was still incredibly uneasy due to the aura he seemed to be emitting constantly. “Well, if these “eyes that can see life” aren’t a skill… what exactly did you do, Lord Mortis?”

Mortis nodded, my change in tone had definitely improved his mood. “Good, glad to see you have some instinctive desire for self-preservation. I’m not sure what you mean? You were already using Blood Magic as if it were natural, I just tweaked your mana a little bit and added the Divine Element. Can we please move on to the topic at hand?”

I hastily checked my mana flow. I see, so I needed to add a bit of the Divine Element aspect in order to produce this effect… I didn’t think I was able to add aspects to my mana while it was still inside my body, let alone Divine Element… Considering this outright violates the fourth law... I wonder what other applications this might have? I’ll need to experiment. “I see… thank you for answering my questions, Lord Mortis.” I gave a respectful curtsy. Now, why are you here?

“Good. Now, as for why I am here. Like I said before, I mostly just wanted to see the new player Antenora was speaking so highly of. I could have easily sent one of my familiars to guide you instead.” I raised an eyebrow, but otherwise held my tongue; I didn’t want to risk offending him again.

“As you are no doubt aware, I am the eleventh god, the one who reigns over death. It is my duty to collect the souls of the deceased in this world and ferry them into the cycle. There is a problem in this area, however. The deceased men from this village, their souls… are being stolen!” From the dramatic flair of his voice, I could tell that he considered this to be a bombshell statement.

I mean, that’s bad I guess… but what are you wanting me to do about it? I nodded. “Right, I can see where souls being stolen would be a bad thing… but what do you want me to do? You’re a god are you not?” Mortis nodded.

“Precisely. I am a god, and that is why my hands are tied; the twelve are fairly restricted when it comes to our actions outside of our duties. As such, we move through champions. At present you are the only champion able to act freely. I asked Antenora if I could borrow you.”

Champion? “Borrow” me? It sounded like I had missed something rather important when I had my face-to-face with Antenora. “Umm, pardon my interruption… I do not recall becoming a 'champion', let alone the possession of Antenora… …and, wouldn’t giving me eyes that can 'see life' violate some sort of restriction?”

Mortis looked at me, cocking his head a bit. If I could see his eyes, I imagine they would have been curious. “Were you unaware? When you acquired the [Blessing of Winter], you became Winter’s champion in the great game. Autumn’s champion is presently indisposed, and neither the Spring nor Summer champions have been selected yet. Thus, I asked to borrow you to deal with this issue, since the game hasn’t started yet. Obviously, it does not, else I would not have done so.”

Perhaps he read the surprise from my silence because after a moment he continued. “…You received an explanation of this, did you not?” I shook my head.

“No, Lady Antenora told me that my allegiance didn’t matter in the end.”

“…The goddess of traitors, plots, and deceit told you she was giving you an incredible power, for naught, and you believed her?”

I could hear the disappointment laden in his voice, but all I could do was meekly nod my head. I actually did believe her… looking back at it now it makes sense that I wasn’t being told everything… Why was I so blind? Just because I wanted the power to help me get back Rosial? Or was there another reason? I was getting the feeling that I was wrapped up in something a lot bigger than just destroying Drakas.

“Right… seeing as I am completely ignorant, Lord Mortis, would you be willing to give me some of the information I am lacking? What exactly is a champion, how can I opt out, and what is the 'great game'?"

Mortis let out an audible sigh. “I suppose I can do that, it does tie into what I need you to do after all. The champions are those selected to represent the gods in the great game, which is what we call the war between the races and the Hell Kings. You cannot opt-out, the only way for your position to pass on to another is for you to die.” I scowled.

Sounds like I got saddled with something incredibly annoying. All I want to do is save my sister, not fight as the champion in some sort of holy war. “…You said you need me to do something because Autumn’s champion is indisposed… But the four factions are at odds with each other, are they not? Why would I help the Autumn faction if I am supposed to be the champion of winter?”

Mortis shook his head. “We might have our disagreements, but when it comes to the great game we set those aside. If the nine kings were to win, we would lose our authority; that which enables us to govern this world as its gods.” Everyone’s out to protect themselves, got it.

“…what is it you want me to do…” Mortis nodded.

“Simple, kill the Succubus that is infesting this village, before it gathers enough souls to advent Second Seat, Queen of Lust Asmodea.” Based on his tone, you would think he had just told me to head down to the supermarket and grab a jug of milk.

Ex-fucking-cuse me? “Second Seat, Queen of Lust Asmodea”? Advent? The consequence for failure is the advent of one of the Hell Kings!? After a minute, Mortis started reaching out to poke my cheek. I took a quick step back and managed to recompose myself. “I-isn’t it just a bit early for the hell kings to be coming back? It’s only nine-forty-seven right now. If the history I know is correct, shouldn’t it be closer to the year one thousand before this all starts happening?”

Mortis shook his head. “No, why would we start selecting champions if they would be over fifty before the game started? The game begins in three years. We are currently in the pregame; by stopping Asmodea’s advent we can deprive the hell kings of one of their pieces.”

I feel like I’m getting a headache… “Right, let me see if I understand this all correctly. The nine kings are fighting against the twelve gods, but you lot are not allowed to fight yourselves, so you wage a proxy war using four mortals. Against what is essentially a deific entity. I was more or less conscripted to be one of those four, and if I fail at what was supposed to be in essence, a school trip, another king will manifest back into the mortal world? Am I getting everything correct?”

Mortis nodded, causing me to start vigorously rubbing my temples. “Incidentally, there are already four kings who walk this world. The Third Seat, King of Gluttony Beelzebub and the Fourth Seat, Queen of Envy Leviathan have both advented. The Fifth Seat, King of Wrath Satan and the Throneless King, Belphagor of Sloth both survived the previous game.”

Now I actually have a headache. So there are already four hell kings doing who knows what in the mortal world, two of them have been here for a thousand years or more already. Mortis nodded. “It seems you understand the gravity of the situation, I shall take my leave then. A final word of advice; do not use the divine element too much, that headache you are currently experiencing is likely a result of using too much of it in one go.” With that, he turned and walked into the air, seeming to fade out of existence.

I hurriedly cut off my mana flow to my eyes, and the throbbing that had formed in my head abated somewhat. Right, of course, there would be consequences to using divinity in a mortal body… but don’t I have an “authority”? isn’t that the power of gods? At least based on what Mortis was saying earlier. I haven’t ever gotten a headache or anything from using my menu or buying skills. Other than that one time I got a fever… I sighed tiredly. The sun was just starting to peek up above the horizon, I had been out in the garden for almost two hours. I should go back to sleep for a little bit at least. Apparently, we have a demon to find, and there’s a time limit.

★★★★★★

Staring at myself in the mirror, I traced a series of lines across my chest. Upon waking up, I had been surprisingly refreshed, despite the events of the early morning. While waiting for Jacqueline to prepare my clothes, I decided to try experimenting with giving an elemental aspect to mana while keeping it inside my body. I was leery of using any of the four basic elements without preparing safety measures first; the last thing I needed to do was immolate myself, so I settled for the Divine Element.

My headache had cleared up after getting a goodnight’s sleep, and I was very curious about the specifics of what I could see. Besides, rather than experimenting with a new ability, I would rather spend time learning the limits of the one I already knew about.

As I traced over the lines of pulsating light, I kept a count and confirmed what I had noticed the other day; that the lines seemed to match my heartbeat. In the mirror, I could see Jacqueline busying herself behind me. She was also covered in lines of glowing light, but hers seemed to be significantly brighter than mine. If my lines were a candle flame, then she was a torch.

I blinked and my vision went blurry. It was much harder than I had thought to keep the divine element in tune with my mana; if I did anything more than move my hands a bit, I would lose focus and my mana would lose the imbued aspect. There’s no way I can fight with this, but it certainly works for gathering some basic information. I refocused my mana and re-applied the aspect.

Next, I carefully and meticulously started applying my enhancements to my arms. It was a real struggle to maintain both a strengthening enhancement and a mana aspect separately and at the same time. As I added mana to my arms, I noted the light increasing in intensity. That confirms what I suspected, “Life” is “Mana”, so is mana like someone’s lifeforce? Still, it meant that as long as I had the opportunity, I could use these eyes to get a rough estimate of someone’s strength.

My hands paused just above my heart. Within that knot of light, I could vaguely make out two spots that were much brighter than their surroundings. One of them, the brighter one, was a similar color to the rest of the light that suffused my body, very nearly white. The other knot was dimmer but still noticeable, a sort of icy blue. If I looked very carefully, I could just make out a third spot, this one was more like a void than light though, a single pinprick that was devoid of any light. These must be the “suns” that crone as rambling on about. But could you really call that dark spot a sun? And I didn’t see any “sun” on Mortis… not that I looked very closely.

I felt a tap on my shoulder and lost focus on my mana, the light instantly vanishing from my sight. Spinning around I saw Jacqueline, who was holding my clothes for the day.

“My lady, it takes time. You will fill out eventually.”

I felt my face start emitting a glow of a different color. Of course Jacqueline would make that assumption; from her point of view, I had been cupping my chest while staring at a mirror with a thoughtful look on my face. I shook my head rapidly from side to side. “No, that’s not it. I was just thinking of something!” Jacqueline nodded, adopting a very serious expression. Now she’s fucking with me. God damnit… I decided that it was in my best interest to simply ignore my vassal for the time being, and I meekly held out my arms so she could begin dressing me.

I arrived in the courtyard where we were set to have breakfast before returning to the search. Of course, I now knew what we were looking for, but I had no easy way to provide that information. I most certainly couldn’t say I had a nighttime rendezvous with the god of death. I also need to find an opportunity where I can focus for a few moments and take a peek at Dominic with my… divine eyes, yea, until someone tells me the actual name for this ability, that’s what I’ll call them.

I took a seat at a smaller table alongside Dominic and Asten. It was par for the course, but we three had our own table. “Stahlia, how was the night?”

I briefly froze at Dominic’s question, wondering how he had known something had happened until I realized he was just asking what could be considered a very normal question. We were in an unfamiliar place that had people going missing repeatedly after all. I put on a smile and answered him amicably.

“My night was peaceful, all things considered. How did you sleep, Dominic?”

He nodded. “Mine was likewise peaceful. I had half expected whatever this thing is to come after me or Asten, but it seems that whatever it is, is not hungry at the moment.”

I frowned and tilted my head. “Hungry? How can you be sure that the victims are being eaten?” Dominic furrowed his brows.

“Isn’t it obvious? All the victims are men or boys, across an age range possessing high vitality. We are dealing with a Succubus for sure.” Internally I did a small triumphant fist pump. Good! That takes care of how to get everybody on the right track, now I can just go with what Dominic says and pretend I’m supporting my fiancé! Externally I affected a quizzical expression.

“A demon? Are you sure?”

Dominic nodded. “Yes, I am fairly certain. There is the way Lady Sana was acting yesterday as well; individuals attuned to the gods tend to react poorly in the presence of the enemies of said gods.”

I mean, I’m pretty sure she was reacting to the presence of a god, not a demon, but if it helps get us on the right track, let’s roll with it. Who knows, that might actually be true as well. I nodded. “I see, in that case, we should figure out a plan of action using that as a starting point. It is my understanding that Demons of Lust like Succubi have a way of charming men to do their bidding.”

I thought my suggestion was prudent and assumed it would get the ball rolling on a plan, but Dominic and Asten seemed to be of a different opinion. Asten looked at me incredulously while Dominic shook his head and spoke up. “No, this is what the knights are for, at this point, we can leave it to them.” I was speechless.

Do you even hear yourself? “We can leave it to them.”? That isn’t a flag at all. As I was trying to come up with a retort, Albert came up to our table. Evidently, he was psychic because he completely read my train of thought and cut me off before I could retort. “Lords Dominic and Asten are correct, Lady Stahlia. My knights and I are more than capable of dealing with one Succubus. All of us have the equipment to protect ourselves from such manipulative methods, and for added safety in the event that it is a particularly strong specimen, we operate in pairs. Should one be charmed, the other will be able to use a recovery item.”

Yep. One of those groups will be gone by the end of the day. Maybe if this was just a run-of-the-mill succubus then that plan might work, but according to Mortis, it’s about to advent the Queen of Lust. “If you say so then I will trust your men’s expertise, Commander Albert.” There’s no way they will listen to what I have to say, not unless I reveal the source of my information, which I can’t do. I’ll have to find a way to deal with this myself.

Dominic gave a head bow to Albert, and the latter made his way back to the table with the knights. He came over specifically to dissuade me from acting on my own, didn’t he. Our food was brought over as I was thinking. While Jacqueline was getting mine plated, I took the opportunity to check out Dominic. Focusing inwards, I brought up my mana and pushed it into my eyes, then meticulously applied the Divine Element aspect to it. When I opened my eyes, I was met by a world of color. The trees, grass, bushes. Birds, a rabbit, the knights, Sana, Sarala, Jacqueline, and other people. It was dazzling.

I felt my control slipping and sucked in my breath. Focus. I hope it’s only the Divine Element that is so difficult to apply internally. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be able to use this at all. No! Stop wandering and focus! The world of light came back. Glancing around at the people, I noted how everyone seemed to have a different color; Sana was a sort of gold, while Sarala was icy blue, like my “star” except it was her natural color. Jacqueline was a dark purple, and Albert was ironically a soft pink. I wonder if this is somehow indicative of their affinities?

I turned my attention to Dominic, who was sitting next to me, and immediately wanted to throw up. His color was pus yellow, and whereas everyone else’s light was pulsing rhythmically, his seemed to bubble and ooze as it flowed through him. What’s more, his pattern was completely different. Whereas mine and everyone else’s seemed to follow the circulatory system, Dominic’s was different. If I had to place it, it seemed like it was simply flowing freely how it pleased, like mucous dripping down from a sick person’s nose.

I fought back the urge to gag and looked more closely at Dominic’s sickening mana. If I were to see tiny wiggling maggots in his light, I wouldn’t be surprised, it’s that gross. Like flu mucous or thick diarrhea. Though I was leery of staring and being found out, I quickly focused in on his heart. There doesn’t seem to be any “stars”, so if my working theory is correct, Dominic doesn’t have anything from one of the twelve. Though other than my authority and my blessing, I have no idea what my third star is meant to be.

Having confirmed that he at least wasn’t one of the champions, and didn’t have something like my Custom Class, I next gave his whole body a once over, searching for any indication of a skill he kept active. I was now reasonably certain that what had scared that crone was merely the passive disgustingness of his mana, but I reasoned I may as well check for my earlier hypothesis anyways if only to cover all my bases.

Just because I was wrong about mana being “clear” when you aren’t doing anything doesn’t mean I was wrong about him having any skills in use, and I already confirmed with the crone that skills can change how mana is perceived. Honestly, I almost hope this color and texture is the result of skills he’s using… it would frankly be pitiful if this was just his natural state.

As I ran my eyes quickly over him, I almost missed it. It was incredibly faint, but he would periodically emit a “pulse” of mana from his eyes. Contrary to the general ooziness of his regular mana, the pulse was in time with what I assumed was his heartbeat, though if it was, then it was a little bit fast.

These pulses were possibly even more revolting than his normal mana; where that had a consistency like snot and the color of pus, these pulses were gaseous and vomit green. It reminded me a bit of the cartoon representation of fart gas.

Following the nearly invisible shockwave of mana as it traveled through the air, I observed it pass over some of the knights, who were within his line of sight. The pulse seemingly passed right through them without doing anything, and I almost breathed a sigh of relief, until I saw the table with Sana and Sarala. When the wave of gassy mana passed over them, I saw their light flicker, and some of the gassy aura seemed to suck into them, mixing with their regular mana. I let out a small gasp.

“Stahlia, is something the matter?” His voice caused me to jump a bit, and I lost my focus. As the world of light faded, I turned to Dominic.

“No, I was simply thinking how good it is that we have such brave and talented knights with us.” What the hell? It had no effect on the knights, but that mana definitely did something to Sarala and Sana. The question is, what exactly did it do?

Dominic gave me a long look, then shrugged and picked up his utensils. I struggled to keep a straight face, barely succeeding, and picked up my own utensils to begin eating. Think! It didn’t work on the knights, but it did work on my friends… The knights are adults, my friends are pubescent girls like me. Age and Gender are the main differences… no, there’s also level. Those knights are at a higher level than the three of us. Damnit! If Jacqueline had been in his line of sight, I would have been able to rule out level as a possible reason.

For better or worse, I didn’t have enough information at the moment to make a full deduction, the best I could come up with was mere speculation, at least until I had the opportunity to examine the phenomenon in more detail. Though that would involve me having to stare at Dominic again… It was then that I felt a warm smile on my back. I turned around to catch sight of Jacqueline, who had definitely seen me studying Dominic’s profile so intently just a moment ago. That’s it. Just kill me.

We finished our meal, and it came time to determine what we should all be doing. Of course, I wanted to go out into the forest and hunt down the succubus, but there was no way Dominic and Asten would agree to that. I think I’ll have to wait until this evening, and go out with just me and Jacqueline… hopefully, none of the knights fall victim, but with the way things are going… I can’t help but worry.

In the end, it was determined that Dominic and his retinue would patrol the perimeter of the village, in such a way as to be seen by the villagers. Asten and his would move along the road, and my own would remain in the village. The cited reason for this was that My party consisted entirely of supports, which was fair. Sana was a healer and Sarala was a mage. I was nominally a battlemage, having both sword and magic talents. The fact that Jacqueline and I could both serve as front liners was of course not public knowledge. Actually, thinking about it, my group is the only one that’s actually well balanced… The knights are all brawlers, maybe a handful of basic chants, Dominic and Asten both don’t use magic at all, and they don’t have a single dedicated caster in their party. I’m also the only one who brought a dedicated healer…

The party compositions of my colleagues aside, this division of labor actually worked out for me. If Jacqueline and I were going to go out tonight in secret, then a position where the two of us could take it somewhat easy during the day was much appreciated. Ideally, Sana would simply be doing more of what she did yesterday, and we would more or less watch over her while she was doing that.

So how did it end up like this…? I had thought it would be easy, just stand watch while one of my friends gave moral and religious support. Yet I wound up being thrust into a crisis, directing a mob of three to five-year-old girls as they ran around the edges of the forest and the fields collecting grasses and various other items at my behest.

Everything had started normally. Sana had taken up a position near the village center, and mothers began dropping of children before heading out into the fields. Even though most of their men were missing, and in all likelihood, dead life went on. If nobody tended the village’s fields then the people would starve.

Sana had made for a convenient and trustworthy babysitter; despite being an outsider, she was still a religious figure, as well as a member of the group that had come to help with the problem. So I was idly passing the day along, observing as Sana told stories about the twelve and Sarala used a few simple spells to amuse the children, when a girl a bit older than the children we were babysitting came running into our midst with a panicked look on her face.

The roughly seven-year-old arrived in the village center and looked around before locking eyes on Sana and running up to her. Exclaiming through her tears “Please! You have to help my mother!”

What’s this now? Sana glanced over at me, and when I nodded, she started wiping the girl’s tears. “Now now, it’s ok. What’s the matter with your mother?”

After a few minutes of sniffling, the girl had been calmed enough to somewhat explain what was happening. “Her… She’s pregnant… She says… mom says the baby is coming!” Ah, and all the village women have gone out into the field since the men are missing… and nobody thought to stay behind for the pregnant woman!? I stood up from where I had been sitting off to the side. I’m not going to let a little girl lose her sibling if I can help it.

“Sana, go with her and do what you can. Sarala, watch over the kids that are too young to help. Jacqueline, go to our carriage and collect my equipment. After you have delivered it to the pregnant woman’s house, go help Sarala.” I got a nod from Sana and Jacqueline, while Sarala hesitated for a moment before nodding.

“Stil! Go into the forest, I want Jesper Root, and Poppy if you can find it.” My Hawri gave a keening bark and dashed off. With his [Keen Senses], he should be able to find what I wanted in short order.

“If you’ve had your dedication then come with me out to the forest edge, there’s some other plants we need.” Unfortunately, the village didn’t have a dedicated apothecary or alchemists. In that Regard, Ris village had actually been quite lucky. In most cases, villages would rely on home remedies. There was a chance I could find what I needed by searching houses, but it would likely be faster to employ mass child labor and get it myself. Other than the items that were potentially toxic like Poppy, or grew too deep in the forest, like Jesper Root.

I clapped my hands, and after a moment, about twenty kids between the ages of three and five stood up and came over to me. I led my youth troupe out of the village and to the edge of the forest. Giving them a warning about not leaving my sight, I then described the half dozen plants I wanted and sent them off. Thankfully, gathering was one of the things that children this young would tend to help out with, so they knew of four of the plants I wanted already.

As I was overseeing the children, I caught sight of my hound running out of the forest towards me. Clutched in his beak, Stil was carrying a Jesper Root and a sprig of Poppy. I held out my hand and received the items, carefully putting them away in a bag Jacqueline had given me before departing to attend her assignment. Checking the contents of the bag, plus what the children were now bringing me, I determined that I had enough material. Clapping my hands, I announced to the children that we were returning to the village.

When I got my posse back to the village square, I handed them off to Sarala and Jacqueline. Jacqueline gave me directions to the pregnant woman’s house, and I told Stil to stay and watch over everyone with Jacqueline and Sarala; we were being used as more or less babysitters by the villagers, so I didn’t want to take away any more people than I had to, and Stil wouldn’t be needed to help deliver a baby. Jacqueline would be extremely helpful, but I would rather she stays with the kids in case something goes wrong that Sarala can’t deal with… besides, having an adult over there can’t be the wrong decision.

I arrived at the woman’s home, where I found Sana sitting on a bed next to a clearly pregnant woman, holding her hand and praying. Sitting fretfully near the foot of the bed was the same seven-year-old from earlier. I can tell that she’s pregnant, but her belly seems a bit small… I’ll bet that it’s premature birth. That would explain why none of the other village women stayed in case she went into labor; they weren’t expecting her to go into labor yet.

“Alright, what is your name?” I approached the seven-year-old after setting down my bag on the table.

The girl looked up at me, the corners of her eyes were still a bit teary and her lip was quivering but otherwise, she seemed to be holding together if only barely. “Li-Lisa…”

I nodded. “Alright then Lilisa, can you do me a favor? I need a big pot of water, it might be heavy so use this jug and make multiple trips.” I indicated a pot that was sitting near the firepit, as well as a jug I spotted on a low shelf.

The girl looked between the two objects and me, before clenching her fists. “Y-you promise you can help my mother?”

Oof. That’s heavy… I mean, I can’t be 100% sure but… “I promise, now go.” Even if this was a promise I couldn’t really know for sure if I could keep, even if I knew I was raising a flag, I decided I would still say those words. To hell with flags, gods and demons, games and champions and whatever. I’ll make my own fate, starting with saving this mother and her baby.

The girl set her teeth and gave a sharp nod before grabbing the jug and running towards the door, pausing for just a moment, she called back “My name is Lisa, not Lilisa!”.

“Sana. When you finish your prayer, finely chop this and this. Mix them with this, and then grind this.” I set out the Jesper Root and Poppy, followed by Black Juniper and White Puff Mushrooms. The first three ingredients would be boiled into a beverage. When drunk it induced a high that, while not as effective as a whiff of my ether, would suffice as a pain killer on short notice. The Puff Mushrooms were super absorbent, and had a built-in antiseptic effect that emerged as they dried; I intended to pack dust made from grinding them up into the woman’s vaginal cavity after the delivery.

Sana looked over the four items I had put on the table with wide eyes. “We really are doing this, aren’t we?” I could only nod.

While Sana was finishing up her prayer, I took the remaining items I had had the children gather and began preparing them. These ingredients needed some more advanced techniques to get right, and while Sana had learned how to do all of these techniques during our temple schooling, I still had a lot more practice than her. I worked quickly, and by the time Sana had finished her last verse, I was just about finished.

Lisa had filled about half of the pot I indicated with water, she was really pushing herself to fill the jug so quickly. As she arrived and dumped the jug out into the pot, she paused and glanced around the room.

“Uhm…”

I nodded without looking up. “Stahlia.”

“Right, Miss Stahlia, should I start the fire? Doesn’t the water need to be hot…? That’s what the village ladies said when Kars was born last spring…”

Ah yea, I should probably take care of that, if only to set her mind at ease so she doesn’t make a mistake from being overly worried. Without looking up from the herb I was pulverizing into a paste, I pointed a finger at the pot. “Oh Fire, # desire a ######### heat. ######## this water with your ######. Burn #### ####### in your ###### #######! [#### Water]” I felt a wave of drowsiness that quickly abated as my spell sucked out roughly a fifth of my mana. The water in the pot immediately heated to the point of boiling, and Lisa blinked several times before smiling and darting out of the building again.

The spell had a short incantation all things considered, but it was extremely expensive to cast. As far as I could tell, it used mana as a vector to add energy to the targeted volume of water. The amount of mana depended heavily on the initial temperature, as well as the quantity of water to be boiled. It also only worked on water. I tried it on a goblin once, but nothing happened.

Finishing up my pounding, I collected some of the prepared herbs and dumped them into the pot of boiling water. I didn’t have time to brew anything extremely complicated, but what I had applied to the water just now would give it various qualities to ease the birthing process. I portioned some of the water into a separate container from the pot, then started a fire with [Ignition], so that the water remaining in the pot would continue to boil even as Lisa added more well-water to it.

Right, that takes care of that. Once Sana finishes preparing her herbs I just need to mix them with some mana-infused water and set the mushrooms near the fire to evaporate the moisture. Next… I glanced at the bed the woman was lying in. I’ll need some sort of stirrups, otherwise, this will get really complicated.

This whole time, the woman had been doing breathing exercises, watching me work without comment. Well, for whatever reason she seems to trust me at least. Either that or this is a really bad birth and she’s actually super out of it in pain right now… No. Happy thoughts. “Excuse me miss, I need to set up something to hold up your legs… would you happen to know where the village midwife keeps that?”

The woman sucked in her breath, then shook her head. After squinting her eyes and wincing. She managed to grunt out a word between clenched teeth. “Rope.” while flicking her eyes up towards the home’s exposed main roof beam. Oh great. Seems like she’s still present, but is in too much pain to protest the fact that her midwives are a pair of ten-year-olds. So it’s a difficult birth after all. I searched through the house and quickly found a long rope.

I never thought I would be in a position of tying up a young woman… Carefully so as not to strain her, I  looped the rope around her legs and managed to toss it over the ceiling beam. Tying it off, I now had her legs in the correct position. I checked her, but it didn’t look like the baby was coming soon, so when Sana finished her task, I gave her a cloth and told her to start wiping the woman’s forehead.

Once I finished preparing the painkiller, I set it aside; It would only be useful after delivery, or if for some reason I had to do a c-section. If I gave it to her now, there was a chance she wouldn’t be able to feel her contractions anymore. Now we wait.

A few hours later, around three pm, the woman gave a much louder cry than she had been. I moved over and checked her again. Her Cervix was extremely dilated, and I could see what I thought might be the baby’s head. Right, it’s time. I clapped my cheeks with my palms and nodded at Lisa and Sana.

“Lisa, hold her hand and help her breathe as I showed you. Sana, make sure to keep wiping her head and give another prayer just to be safe. Miss, it’s coming now so I need you to start pushing along with your contractions.” At my words, everyone sprang into action. Sana gave a tired nod; she had been praying a lot over the past hours and was mentally exhausted. Lisa was clearly worried but was doing her best to stay strong. The woman gritted her teeth and nodded.

I moved down into a position where I could observe the birth and help if needed, making a concerted effort not to throw up as I did so. This all settles it. There is no way in hell I am going to get pregnant at any point, for any reason. This whole situation is awful and completely disgusting. I swallowed down my bile, while listening to Lisa giving a count for the mother.

Before long, the baby’s head was visibly poking past the cervix, stretching it out to a diameter that caused me to wince and cross my legs in sympathy. After another minute, enough of the head was through that I was able to reach inside and guide it. Taking care not to pull, that would damage the baby, I held its head up as the woman continued to push. I hadn’t seen very many babies in either of my lives, and other than Rosial I had never helped in delivery before, but this baby seemed small to me. It’s definitely a premature birth.

After another ten minutes, roughly, the baby was fully out and in my arms. I guess it’s sort of cute… or it would be if it wasn’t covered in blood, and hadn’t just ruined my dress. I held the baby and waited for him to start crying. After a few moments, there was a sharp wail coming from the newborn. I took the towel Sana passed to me and wiped the baby off, which did indeed remarkedly improve its cuteness, and passed him to his mother.

As I took a moment to breathe easy and compose myself, I surreptitiously engaged my divine eyes and observed the infant’s lifeforce. It was a pleasant shade of forest green, a little dimmer than Lisa’s but that was to be expected; I could expect a seven-year-old would have leveled up at least once. Thankfully there didn’t seem to be any problems with the child’s physiology or mana, at least none that I could observe with just idle observation.

Now that the child was out, the placenta passed easily enough around an hour later. As we were tidying up, some of the midwives came over in a hurry, but I was too exhausted to pay much attention to what they were saying. I can just review the memories later. As it turned out, they were largely praising me and Sana for reacting so quickly, while the rest were apologizing for placing us in that position.

I looked up and checked the sun. It’s about five pm now. I should rest for a few hours before going out tonight. Even if I’m exhausted, I can’t give this Succubus any more time to finish its mission. With Jacqueline and Stil alongside me, we should be able to manage, even if there is a bit of risk. I informed Dominic and Asten, who had recently returned, what had happened before excusing myself from our evening meal.

Jacqueline woke me up at nine pm after everyone else had gone to bed. As she was dressing me, she gave me a quick recap of what had happened after I went to bed early. Much to my chagrin, but not to my surprise, one pair of the knights had not returned.


Fourth Law of Magic

The process by which a spell is formed follows three distinct steps, in order they are: Formulation, wherein the concept of the spell is formed, either by chant or talent. Expulsion, wherein mana is allocated towards the process and expelled from the body. Manifestation, wherein the expelled mana is given an elemental aspect and shaped into the phenomenon.

Well the poll was a bit of a blow out... I'm calling it a few hours early and setting up a commission for an art of Jacqueline. A surprising number of people voted for Stil as well, so he will probably be next month's character. For January, the character will be Jacqueline. As far as inserts go, I am planning to do George getting killed in 1-3, and Stahlia Fireballing the Orc in 1-15 Epilogue/2-1 Arrival.

Like I said in the announcement chapter, going forward, I want to do one character piece a month. To avoid confusion, these aren't character arts where it's just the character in a generic pose on a white background. These are going to be more or less actual scenes but done as full color. Jacqueline's will show her just prior to fucking up some poor fool.

The inserts, I will be doing at least one a month. Starting from the beginning of the series and working forward. When I do more than one, the second insert of the month will be from a more recent chapter. This way we will eventually catch up, at which point scenes will be released organically as the relevant chapters come out (on the off chance that a given month doesn't have any inserts, I'll do an extra character piece).

In case anyone was curious, the fact that Pet wasn't on the poll was intentional. I already know when I am going to have one made for her, I plan on having it made and releasing it alongside a future chapter.

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