2-13 Demons and Death
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Right, so the first part of this chapter might be a bit confusing... I'm trying a thing where the time is jumping between present and flashback every couple paragraphs...

Geoff, Eighteen Years Old, Eighth Month of 947

“Damnit, Clyde!” I ran. Gods curse me but I ran. It was supposed to be an easy mission, escort a trio of noble children from the Special Student program, deal with whatever threat was plaguing Ang Village and come back. Nobody said anything about having to deal with a fucking Original Sin! Why didn’t the church say anything!?

One of the nobles had deduced that we were likely dealing with a succubus, a deduction that our commander agreed with. We took appropriate countermeasures and set out. If it had been a Tempter or even a mid ranked Demon Noble then we would have been able to deal with it. Demons of Lust were not a major threat if you could counter their innate charm abilities. But an Original Sin was different.

Other than the Hell Kings themselves, the Original Sins were said to be the oldest Demons, the oldest ones hailed from the time of creation and constituted the original followers of the Nine. If a Sin is here… then it can only mean that the nine are returning… I have to warn the captain!

“Eheheh!” A childish voice rang out through the trees behind me, and I felt my stomach drop. Spinning around with a desperate scream, I thrust out with my sword. I was rewarded with a sensation of tearing flesh and a soft scream. It sounded more aroused than pained.

“Now now, when I said I wanted your sword, that isn’t what I meant…”

I released the sword and spun on my heel. “[#### ####]” With my wind enchantment I kicked off the ground, going as fast as I could. Trees were blurring past me at an incredible rate, but as fast as I was moving, I couldn’t shake the sense of dread that was following me.

Clyde… I felt bad for abandoning him, but somebody had to tell the commander about this threat. We had been taken by surprise around noon. Deep in the forest, I had been talking to Clyde to pass the time while we searched when out of nowhere he had fallen silent. When I had looked back at him, my partner was staring glassy-eyed and slack-jawed at a tree in the distance. Following his gaze, I had seen the figure of a young girl.

As I ran, I slammed into a tree after failing to take a turn properly due to my speed. I sat up and rubbed my head, looking behind me. She’s gone… I got away… I slowly rose to my feet and turned in the direction of the village. Floating in the air ahead of me was a young girl with black wings and a crimson heart-tipped tail.

“Aww, did you get all tuckered out? Don’t worry, I know how to revive a man.” The devil licked her lips suggestively. I cried out in despair and turned to run back the way I had come. I have to get away! I can’t die here! I promised I would come back…

The girl had approached my partner, even as I tried to use the anti-charm item on him. Reaching out with a single finger, she traced Clyde’s jawline, causing a tremor to run through his body. “Good boy, now knock out your friend and bring him with us.” Before I could react, Clyde had landed a heavy punch onto my helmet, the impact knocking me out instantly.

When I had woken up, I was in a cave, most likely deep in the forest. I could hear a sensual moaning coming from the next chamber. Clyde’s armor was in a pile nearby. Damnit! I don’t have long, once she’s finished with him, she’ll be able to charm me as well! I got up as silently as I could and made to leave. Unfortunately, the only exit to the chamber I was in would take me through the room that was presently occupied.

As I ran I would occasionally hear a giggle or catch a glimpse of my pursuer, forcing me to change course. Damnit! She’s herding me like a fucking sheep! Indeed, I was being guided back towards the cave. Before long, it came into sight and I collapsed from exhaustion. I saw the succubus alight on a nearby rock, but I didn’t have the energy to run anymore.

I took a moment to clear my lungs, breathing in and out deeply. Then, I took a deep breath and held it before entering the next room. I was greeted by the sight of the nubile succubus riding Clyde. My partner was already starting to show signs of Drain Syndrome. It was too late for him. I said a silent prayer for his soul in my head and thanked him for giving me the chance to get away with his sacrifice.

I made it as far as the entrance to the next room before I was brought to a halt by the sound of a shrill feminine scream of ecstasy. A breathy voice called out. “You…hah… you know you can’t…hah… can’t escape…hah… right?”

Well, she knows I’m here. “I can and I will foul demon. I do not know how you managed to defeat our preparations, but know that you will never succeed!”

The air was still for a moment before sickening laughter echoed around the room.

“EhHaHAHA! Prep…hah…rations? You two …hah… made those? I’m sorry, I didn’t even notice.”

I felt my face pale. Surely our magic tools would have had at least some effect, she had immediately drained Clyde after capturing us… which meant it had taken her some effort to charm him… right?

“You don’t even know do you? What you’ve stepped into?” Her voice had dropped low and was uncomfortably close to my ear. When did she move!?

Perking back up, she cheerfully announced, “Let me introduce myself then! I’m Sitri, Fifth of the Sins of Lust! Now, come Geoff, and surrender your sword!”

Sitri!? The Fifth of the Sins of Lust!? You mean, One of the Original Sins!? With a wail of despair, I took off running, her voice echoing behind me.

“A chase? I love tag!”

As I lay exhausted, the devil approached me and straddled across my chest. “That was fun! Are you looking forward to the next part as much as I am?” I groaned and screwed my eyes shut as the sounds of my armor being literally ripped to pieces filled my ears. Clara! Mother! Forgive Me!

Stahlia, Ten Years Old, Eighth Month of 947

I dressed simply, for once not in a dress but in some light armor. I donned a black cloak that should help me blend into the darkness as we slipped out. Lastly, I accepted the dagger Jacqueline offered me. It was one of her Magic Daggers coated in Grave Oil, taking care not to touch anywhere near the blade, I attached the sheathed weapon alongside my own dagger. While my own would suffice for most things, it would likely be insufficient against a demon, hence Jacqueline loaning me one of hers.

Together we stealthily slipped out of the room, leaving behind Sana and Sarala. Stil had been let out earlier that night, Jacqueline having given some excuse or other to the remaining knights, so he was waiting for us near the gate. We stole quickly through the streets. Unlike sneaking out of Ris, getting out of Ang was shockingly easy. This was in part due to the lack of guards, but the village itself was also much smaller. We arrived at the gate and I gave a low whistle masked to sound like a random bird call.

Stil came bounding over from where he had been laying down to wait, and I reached up to unlatch the gate. As my hand reached the lock, a distressingly familiar voice caused me to freeze.

“Going somewhere, Stahlia?”

I spun around and was greeted by the sight of Dominic, standing in full kit as if he was preparing to go out somewhere. No, I imagine that’s exactly what he’s preparing for. A little ways behind him stood Asten, likewise dressed to go out. I groaned to myself.

“What are the two of you doing here?”

Dominic smirked. “We could ask the same of you now, could we not?” To my surprise, it was Jacqueline who answered my question.

“Lord Dominic instructed me that “Stahlia is very likely to want to go out and deal with the problem on her own, if she does please do inform me.” Lord Dominic and Lord Asten agree with you that this is an issue that cannot wait for the kingdom to send reinforcements, they wish to help us.”

Excuse me!? Why the hell would you tell him that!? If they’re with us, we won’t be able to fight at full strength, besides the fact that they’re men and our enemy is a fucking sex demon! What the hell Jacqueline? I was understandably, a bit stunned by this seeming betrayal, so when Dominic held out his hand with a confident smirk on his face I reacted on autopilot and accepted it.

Dominic led me out of the village and into the forest, with Jacqueline and Asten following close behind. Stil seemed to sense something was wrong, so instead of running ahead to scout like he usually would have, he stuck close to us. Why would she do this? There has to be a reason… I watched Jacqueline out of the corner of my eye while otherwise keeping my gaze fixed ahead.

She looks… pleased with herself? As if she’s done something good. Indeed, Jacqueline was wearing a warm expression as she kept one eye fixed on me walking hand in hand with Dominic. Something must have happened to her- That’s it. It’s that disgusting mana he emits, it has to be. I didn’t have the mental leeway to examine him with my divine eyes at the moment, but if my guess was correct, Dominic’s Skill must have something to do with influencing women.

That would explain why it only affected Sana and Sarala but passed the knights by completely. If I’m right about this, it probably causes women to be bent in favor of him. That would explain why Jacqueline always seems to like seeing us together, why Edith was so quick to turn me over at the social when he asked her to, why Sana seemed so taken in by him back at Ris village, and why… and why I didn’t notice anything was wrong with Rosial!

I felt my head going white with anger and I instinctively clenched my hands into fists. Dominic gave a tug at our joined hands in response.

“Stahlia, is something the matter? The forest might be a bit scary at night, but I promise I will keep you safe.”

With a start, I killed my anger. Getting angry won’t help things here. I need to keep calm it’s true that Dominic’s skill might be responsible for me not noticing Rosial… but it’s also possible it isn’t something he can control or is even aware of. It could very well function like my [Finesse Fighting] or [Blue Blooded] where it’s just a passive effect.

“No, nothing is the matter Dominic, I just thought of something irrelevant to the task at hand is all.” Thanks to having killed my anger, I was able to keep a steady voice. Still, I need to think of a countermeasure I can apply to my friends and allies. Depending on how strong the influence is, who knows what he could accidentally learn about me by saying the wrong thing to the right person. Jacqueline very well may have let out some big secrets with what she did tonight.

We traveled about an hour deeper into the forest, walking in silence. It wasn’t like I would be able to separate from them without raising suspicions, I would simply have to deal with what happened and do my best to avoid tipping my hand in a visible way. This went from hard mode to fucking Dark Souls. After some distance, Asten raised his hand signaling for us to stop.

When we came to a halt, he waved his hand towards a tree just ahead of us. Smearing the tree trunk was a patch of blood, and there were signs of someone or something having fallen near the base of the tree. In a whisper, I gave Stil an instruction.

“Stil, is it human?” My Hawri sidled up to the tree and sniffed at the blood before letting out a low keen to indicate an affirmative.

Dominic and Asten nodded at each other before Asten moved forward and inspected the impressions in the soil at the base of the tree. “based on the depth, I would say it was probably an adult male, likely wearing something heavy. It could be a knight in armor.”

I nodded and gave Stil another order. “Stil, Track.” I received another “affirmative” and Stil darted off ahead of us. Nodding to Dominic, Asten, and Jacqueline, we started moving again, this time following Stil. As we moved through the forest, we kept coming across traces of a lone male running, desperately running.

Assuming that the man is in fact a knight, how bad must the demon be to have caused him to flee in such abject terror? As we walked, I saw a flash of movement in the darkness, a little ways away from us. I squeezed Dominic’s hand to get his attention and flicked my eyes in the direction of the movement.

Dominic nodded and released my hand. Taking a step away from me, we began to naturally spread out, pretending to be inspecting various things, as though we had lost the trail and needed to find it again. All the while, we were slowly encircling the spot where I had seen something. Before long, we had the area surrounded.

In one motion, I drew my own dagger and lunged towards a dark shadow. With a gurgle, it fell forward and rolled out into the moonlight. I inspected my kill, while retrieving my dagger from the back of the dead goblin. Damn, I mean I know it wasn’t going to be that easy, but a goblin? Really? I quickly cleaned my blade and sheathed it, before returning to the trail.

When our group reconvened, Asten was giving me a conflicted look. For her part, Jacqueline was ambivalent. Dominic didn’t seem overly put off, though he did raise an eyebrow. I shook my head before quickly apologizing for the false alarm. “Sorry, I saw something moving but I guess it was not our objective.”

Asten nodded slowly before answering. “…Right, well it is good that you called it out though… we would not want to miss something because one of us was worried about jumping at shadows…” I should just ignore his reaction and let him form his own conclusions. If I’m going to worry about him getting put out by me killing a goblin, then I won’t be able to get anything done tonight.

We started moving again. After about half an hour of following Stil, he stopped and tilted his head in a direction just off the trail. It was his way of indicating he had found something important. I closed my eyes and focused on my sense of hearing and smell. I could hear the sound of wind rustling the trees, a branch cracking under the foot of some far-off creature, and the rustling of metal from the direction Stil was indicating.

A quick look confirmed that the other three had noticed the same thing; each of them had adopted a low stance and were making ready with their weapons. The four of us spread out a bit, while Stil came up to my side so we could work off each other. Collectively, we crept along until we were on the edge of a clearing. Peering into it, I could see a pile of shredded metal, cloth, and leather.

A little ways away from it was a single naked emaciated corpse of a male, probably one of our missing knights. What I couldn’t see, was the source of the rustling noise. It was clearly coming from that pile of what I can only assume is armor scraps… seriously, how strong is this demon if it was able to just shred armor like that…? A dozen feet to my right, I caught Dominic making a hand signal that indicated he was going to advance into the clearing.

Right, not like you being the one to go in is the smartest thing… Ideally, it would be either me or Jacqueline since we can’t be charmed. I signed back my understanding, then motioned to Jacqueline to cover him while I slipped along the side towards Asten. My plan was to put one female with each male, in case our target tried anything. I arrived next to Asten just as Dominic and Jacqueline were reaching the corpse.

Dominic raised a hand and gave a thumbs-up, indicating he had positively identified the body as belonging to one of our missing knights. That’s one, so where’s the other? My eyes fell on a looming black hole on the far side of the clearing. A cave. Knowing the trope, the demon will be in there. It seemed Dominic agreed with my silent conjecture, as I saw him pointing at the cave and waving for Asten and myself to come over. Asten signed back a positive answer, and the two of us stood up before creeping forward.

We arrived near the entrance alongside Dominic and Jacqueline. I took the lead in approaching the cave. Peering into the cave I was unable to really make out any details in the gloom; the contrast between the dark interior and the moonlight was too intense. Night vision. I should get night vision at some point. I added the ability to the list of things I thought I needed, before taking a step forward.

Clutching my dagger in one hand, I kept my free hand on the hilt of Jacqueline’s loaned dagger. The air emanating from the cave felt heavy, and I was filled with a sense of cold foreboding. Unbidden, the beaked mask of Mortis I had seen the previous night flashed through my thoughts. If we go in there, one of us is going to die. I didn’t know how I knew, but I just had a strong feeling that only death awaited our group if we entered that cave.

I fell backward as my legs betrayed me; despite being mentally willing to enter the cave, for some reason, my legs would not comply. Before I could hit the ground though, I was caught.

“Whew, glad I was able to catch you, would be a shame if someone as pretty as you got hurt!”

The voice was female and much higher than Jacqueline’s. I felt my stomach jump into my mouth and in one motion drew Jacqueline’s loaned dagger and spun on the spot, slashing with the momentum of my turn. I was met with the sight of a young girl, probably fourteen to fifteen years old by appearances, though given what she was her physical appearance was no indication of her true age. She was standing about four meters back away from me where she had landed, idly twirling a finger through her hair. She was wearing a sort of tube top and a miniskirt, so even if she hadn’t just cleared such a distance in a single leap there would have been plenty to get suspicious over.

“Wow! I get that you’re grateful for me saving you from injury and all that, but I only accept blades from men, sorry!” she giggled as she jumped back away from me.

Looking past her, I could see Asten and Dominic collapsed on the ground, with Jacqueline standing over them brandishing a raised fist. Evidently, they had been charmed and she had knocked them out. Stil was standing still, his eyes locked on the succubus, and his feathers raised. He wasn’t attacking though, even though it should be obvious from the situation that she was hostile to us.

If I had to guess, he’s sensing the gap between his mana and hers. If I had the leeway to look, I imagine she would be as bright as the sun relative to everyone else I’ve seen so far. Still, mana isn’t everything. If I can just cut her with the Grave Oil that should do it. I adopted a stance that would allow me the most flexibility of action and held up Jacqueline’s dagger in a loose guard. Stil picked up on what I was doing and started to slowly circle her. Jacqueline lowered her fist and surreptitiously drew her own oiled dagger while moving so as to position herself in the bitch’s blind spot.

The succubus was entirely nonchalant throughout all of our maneuverings as if to say that no matter what we tried she would be just fine. That’s alright though, overconfidence leads to mistakes. Jacqueline and I aren’t warriors, we’re assassins. A beat. I enhanced my legs and right arm, flinging my dagger at her. Kicking off the ground I moved towards her in a straight line.

As I had learned the hard way so many months ago, moving predictably against an opponent of equal or superior skill was a good way to wind up beaten. But this wasn’t a one versus one. The instant I moved, I sent Stil a mental image over our thought connection and he sprang into action. Jacqueline reacted to my movements and threw her own dagger while drawing a spare in the same motion, and launching herself towards the succubus.

As the three of us barreled towards her from three different directions, coupled with the added threat of two flying blades, I pumped mana into my brain. This was a Blood Magic technique I had picked with the assistance of Kell and Gustav over the past few months. By looping mana through my synapses, I could slow my perception of time by a factor of three. Theoretically, I could go slower, but I had found that my reaction speed couldn’t keep up with more.

Besides that, I could only maintain this enhancement for a minute at best before running out of mana; enhancing neurons took a lot more mana than enhancing muscle tissue. An order of magnitude more. I also couldn’t turn the enhancements off and on mid-action to conserve resources like I could with my muscles, turning it off meant that my perception would go back to normal.

The ability had a lot of drawbacks, but while using it I had, for a brief few weeks, been able to consistently beat Jacqueline in sparring, despite her level advantage and greater experience. Of course, she quickly devised a way to turn the tables on me, and I was down to only winning one in every five matches. It was more or less my current ultimate form, my pinnacle.

Watching the succubus with time moving slow, I saw her smile. In the next instant, just before the daggers would have reached her, she darted out her hand towards the first before stopping abruptly. She narrowed her eyes at the blade, then very meticulously brushed the handle, tweaking its trajectory, merely guiding it around her, where it would eventually hit a tree. The second one she grabbed from the air outright and flung towards Jacqueline.

She noticed the oil. In that brief half… no, a quarter of a second she recognized the danger touching the blade would pose and changed her course of action to avoid it. Indeed, I had thrown my dagger at her with the expectation that she would do something absurd like catch it from mid-air. My hope was for the highly destructive Grave Oil to wind up afflicting her person when she did so.

The returned projectile caused Jacqueline to have to twist herself in midair, killing her forward momentum. Frankly, it was miraculous she was able to react at all. Seeing as I was now down my support, I kicked down into the ground ahead of me hard, forcing my momentum to die off. The shockwave of my feet digging into the dirt rattled my joints and I had to briefly redirect mana into my ankles to enhance their durability lest they be shattered.

This had the knockdown effect of stopping my bullet time for a second. In that mere second, I lost track of the Succubus entirely. When I caught sight of her again, she was holding Jacqueline by the throat. Stil was chewing on her elbow, but she was utterly ignoring him. Looking closer, it appeared that every wound he was inflicting healed almost instantly. Fuck! Stil is male! She’s drawing energy to heal straight out of his own saliva! I whistled Stil off and he let go immediately before backing off with his feathers up threateningly.

“Grave Oil. I wasn’t expecting you to actually have something that could have hurt me. I’ll have to take out my frustrations on something.” Her tone was utterly devoid of its earlier playfulness. She’s fucking pissed. I forced myself to stand. I didn’t typically use such a high degree of enhancement while practicing, and I was suffering for it now, my legs felt like they had been dipped into frying oil. I grit my teeth, not from the intense pain but to stop them from chattering in fear.

“L-let her go.” To punctuate my sentence, I drew my own dagger. This one wasn’t coated in Grave Oil, but as I drew it I used a bit of Blood Magic to create a few drops of water with which I coated the blade. Hopefully I can bluff well enough to get her to at least let Jacqueline go. Once she’s free she’ll do something! She has to.. or else…

The succubus eyed me, or more specifically, the dagger I was holding. “Let her go? Or what? You’ll kill me with that butter knife? You wouldn’t even be able to touch me. I can smell your mana dwindling, if I had to guess you could maybe move like you did earlier for ten more seconds, tops? Blood Magic might be special to you humans now, but to Originals like myself, we can remember a time when it was the standard.”

So she recognized what I was doing… That isn’t surprising, but “Original”? The hell does she mean by that? How long ago are we talking? The only thing I could think of with my available knowledge was the creation story I had been told at my dedication, specifically about the Hell Kings rebelling against the Goddess of Light and God of Darkness. Still, I have to try. If I do nothing she’ll just kill her and then me.

I pumped mana into my legs. After a moment of consideration, I decided not to enter bullet time. I likely wouldn’t be able to react fast enough even in that state, so I would be better served by extending the duration of my other enhancements. I sprung forward, keeping my eyes fixed on her throat.

The succubus sighed, and moved her hand into a position to catch me as I entered her reach. Just as I was about to enter her sphere of influence, I gave a shout. “[Light #####]” releasing my chant-held flashbang spell. This consumed the rest of my dwindling mana, and I felt the strength leave my legs. The succubus gave a startled cry and shifted her arm to block out the light, thus swinging Jacqueline’s body into my reach.

Perfect, I leave the rest to you! I joined my arms to get as much strength as I could and swung my arms down at the Succubus’ wrist, where her hand connected to her forearm. I was met with a satisfying feeling of flesh tearing as my blade passed through, severing the appendage. Good that I missed the bone, but this is really going to hurt… Indeed, without mana, I had no way of arresting my flight.

I slammed into the ground and bounced into a tumble, rolling ahead over heels while I tucked my head into my chest and covered it with my arms. Finally, I came to a halt thanks to a large, round, and bark-covered brake. I lay there dazed, mentally taking stock of the various pain signals coming from all over my body. I can taste iron, my leg muscles are probably shredded, and I don’t think my elbow normally bends in that direction. When the adrenaline wears off I’ll probably go into shock. Still, it could have been much worse.

I tried standing and winced as my core gave out. Right, I’ll settle for rolling over. That didn’t go much better, but I was able to get into a position where I could see Jacqueline. She was in recovery but was slowly standing up. The Succubus was a little bit away from her, staring in disbelief at her bloody stump. Jacqueline hurry! I wasn’t able to move my mouth to speak, so I settled for a mental shout.

As I watched, cheering Jacqueline on mentally, the succubus straightened her back. “Right. I’m done playing.” She vanished, before appearing behind Jacqueline and dropping an elbow onto the back of her neck. Vanishing again, she appeared right in front of me. I felt a sharp pain in my side and found myself once again airborne.

Crashing down in the middle of the clearing, I coughed, and a large amount of blood spewed out of my mouth. I think that kick just broke two or three of my ribs. My head had landed at an angle where I could see the succubus standing on one leg, her other raised in the air from the follow-through of launching me. Stil reacted by lunging at her but she merely flicked him away, and he slumped to the ground unconscious or dead; I couldn't tell. She walked over so as to be standing over me. My head adrenaline was starting to wear off, so I was finding it much harder to ignore the burning pain in my various broken bones and other injuries.

As I was forced to look up at her, I was overcome with fear in addition to the pain. Her face was cold as she looked down at me like some kind of insect she wanted nothing more than to crush. Right, so far I’m disabling Anger. Let’s do fear too if only to deny her the satisfaction. Since I’m not a dude anymore, she won’t be able to take my soul. I need to remember to file a formal complaint with that douchebag Mortis when he comes to grab me. I switched off my fear, and felt my face relax somewhat. My injuries still hurt, but as the sensation pain was tied to fear I was more able to cope. It wasn’t perfect, but I could sort of accept the pain now, and then somewhat ignore it.

When my face slackened, the Succubus tensed up and, though I didn’t believe it was possible, her glare deepened. “Hiding your fear won’t save you from my anger.” She raised up one of her feet before bringing it down on my knee, shattering the joint. I winced as the new source of pain came in, but quickly categorized it under “things to be ignored” and gave the succubus a defiant smirk.

“Black would have been sexier than none.” She stared at me dumbfounded for a moment, then slammed her foot down on my other knee. In response, I spat out blood at her. “You can’t break me.”

I meant this comment to goad her into killing me sooner so as to deprive her of any pleasure she might have gotten, but it caused her to narrow her eyes. “No you’re wrong. He only told me I couldn’t kill or defile you. You or the boy. Everyone else is fair game.”

I had a really bad feeling about the way she phrased that last bit. “Clearly, you have a great deal of resilience to physical pain. Let’s play a game shall we?” She started walking leisurely towards Jacqueline. I wasn’t fast enough to stop my eyes from widening, and the succubus noticed this, breaking out into a smirk. Bending over, she leisurely picked up Jacqueline and tossed her over closer to me. Close enough that I could have been able to touch her if I had the energy to move my arms.

Disappearing from my view, the succubus soon returned, holding one of the Grave Oil daggers. “I wonder what will happen if I rub this on her fingertips? How far up her arm will it eat? Will she wake up?”

Fucking damnit! Of course, if hurting me doesn’t work she’ll go for one of my friends or allies. She probably picked Jacqueline because she plans to use Asten and Dominic to recover energy and heal her hand later. Well one of them, she can’t hurt “the boy” so one of them is off-limits. Still, there was one way I could get out of this, and that was, sickeningly, to take away the succubus’ fun here as well.

I’m sorry Jacqueline. I activated [Cold Hearted] for the third time, disabling Empathy. “Based on the amount of oil we used, probably up to her elbow? Maybe a little bit higher. Of course, if you cut instead of rubbed it would take the whole arm.” The succubus smirked.

“Your bluff won’t help, I saw your face when I suggested the game.” I forced my shoulders up a minute amount. I wasn’t physically able to shrug at the moment, but she was smart so I’m sure she would figure ut what I was implying.

“Try me. I’ll bet my life that it eats no further than her collar bone if you stab below the wrist. If it eats further then I’ll willingly comply with whatever the person who ordered you not to kill me wants. If I’m right then you have to leave me and Jacqueline alone. Whichever of the two boys you aren’t allowed to fuck as well I guess. You can have the other one.” There’s no way I’m wrong about the Grave Oil’s effectiveness, this gets most of us out of here mostly intact. We can get back and let the kingdom know one of the “Original” demons is here, whatever that means… I’ll have to take a demonology class or something.

The succubus gave me a hard stare, before giggling and returning to her previous, childish, attitude. “Great! Am-az-ing! So you’re Winter’s pet this session! That explains it. Winter is always the funniest to play with! I’ll take you up on that bet… if you seal it with a pact.”

Pact magic was similar to slave contract magic. The only real difference was that there was no master-slave dynamic involved, and both parties had to willingly consent to the formation of the pact or the spell wouldn’t trigger. In effect, it would compel members of the pact to adhere to the tenets in it, much like how a slave would be compelled to follow their master’s orders. Well, that’s better than I would have hoped for. This guarantees she will let the three of us go without going back on her word. Idly I noted how sick I was going to feel when I turned empathy back on, given that I was essentially selling Asten’s soul to a literal devil.

“I’m willing to back up the bet with a pact, but I don’t know the spell.” The Succubus shook her head.

“Were you paying attention to what I said earlier? When I was your age, Blood Magic was the standard.” She gripped my head and hauled me up to her eye level, then with a smirk, she puckered her lips and kissed me. In my surprise, I made the mistake of opening my mouth, a fact which was instantly taken advantage of. I felt a strange tingling spread out from my mouth. It was pleasant, sort of like popping a mint. It left me wanting more.

After a moment, a burning sensation entered my head, as memories of a discussion I didn’t remember having entered my mind. Next, I was assaulted by an itching sensation all over my body, and the sharp pain of bones popping back into place and fusing. In only a few seconds, the majority of my injuries had healed completely. Sitri pulled away, and I was left gasping for breath. I patted myself down, checking that my injuries were healed, then held out my hand towards Sitri. “Thank you, I’ll do it now.”

Sitri nodded and passed me the dagger. I walked over to Jacqueline and knelt by her left arm. She’s right-handed, so the left arm would be the best pick. Without hesitating, I took the dagger in hand, then brought it down on her palm. Immediately, the Grave Oil began to cause the limb to decay. In her unconsciousness, I observed Jacqueline’s face twist in pain.

During the instant of establishing the pact, Sitri and I had held a conversation via our mana connection, it was during this conversation that I had learned her name and we had hashed out the particulars of the contract. Namely, that the bet was over how much of Jacqueline’s arm would be consumed by the Grave Oil. I would be considered the winner if it was less than her collar bone, Sitri would win if it was past that. Upon my win, Jacqueline, Dominic, and I would be free to go, but Asten would remain as “compensation” for the damage we had done to Sitri.

If Sitri won then the lives of Jacqueline and Asten would be forfeit, Dominic would be free to go, and my pact with Sitri would convert into a slave contract. As an extra clause, Sitri offered to use restoration magic on me. In exchange, I would be required to administer Jacqueline’s wound myself. After considering the task of getting two badly injured bodies, mine and Jacqueline’s, out of the forest I determined it was an acceptable measure. Jacqueline would be losing an arm either way, so I may as well make the situation following as easy for us as possible.

After the oil had eaten its way halfway up her wrist, Jacqueline’s eyes flashed open and she let out a scream of pain. Even for someone with as high a pain tolerance as her, having a part of your body rot to nothingness was more than she could seem to bear. By the time it had gotten to her bicep, Jacqueline was delirious. Her eyes had rolled back into her skull and she was vaguely mumbling to herself. After the oil had eaten up to her shoulder without showing any signs of slowing, I was beginning to get worried I had miscalculated.

However, it thankfully began to slow. Eventually, the rot stopped while there was still an inch left of her armpit. In place of the rotting, she was now gushing blood from the stump of her left arm. Since she was already in shock from the previous pain, there was little chance she would notice a little more.

“Oh Fire, Grant ## # ###### ###### from your #######. Let Your heat ###### my ####### from this ###### ##### and let your ####### be known! [Flame Dagger]” I quickly chanted out a spell and used the resulting flickering orange blade to cauterize her wound. Sitri inspected the remnants of her arm before smirking.

“Well then Stahlia, as per our agreement, you are free to go. With this, I have enough souls so I will be taking my leave. Keep the hand; you can use it to prove my existence. I’ll just grow another one.” Sitri stretched, then walked over to Asten and slung him over her shoulder. Considering her slight build, it was a strange sight to behold.

After making sure she was really gone, I checked on Jacqueline and Dominic. Dominic was still out cold, but it seemed he had transitioned from induced unconsciousness to sleep. I considered taking advantage of the situation and appraising him, but my mana was still recovering and I didn’t want to risk him waking up before Jacqueline and I managed to get the story straight. I gave him a good kick to the head to ensure he stayed asleep and moved on to check Jacqueline.

My vassal was also in a state of unconsciousness, and I could see her eyes flicking around under her eyelids, and her breathing was erratic. I took out a rejuvenation potion and a numbing agent from my bag and poured it down her throat while pinching off her nose and tilting her head to trigger her to swallow. Stil nudged at my hand. He had apparently awoken at some point. His hindleg had a limp, and several of his feathers around his right side were damaged but he was otherwise miraculously unharmed. I whistled to him, and told him to grab Dominic, before downing a mana recovery potion and engaging enough enhancements so that I could shoulder Jacqueline.

We took off running, moving generally away from the clearing in no particular direction until the sky was gray. My plan was to tell Dominic that the Demon was much stronger than we had thought; he had been charmed almost immediately. Jacqueline had lost an arm protecting me, and Asten had essentially ordered us to run while he distracted it to buy time. Of course, I needed Jacqueline to wake up before then so I could set the story straight.

Arriving in a clearing a good distance away from the one where we had fought, I had Stil drop Dominic and then arranged him with his back against a tree. I set Jacqueline down a bit away from him and arranged her in an upright position. I could have used some of the smelling salts in my bag to get her awake right now, but it would be better for her health if I let her wake up naturally, as long as she didn’t take too long.

I sat down, and seeing me adopting a resting position, Stil collapsed and began panting. Ah yea, he was probably getting really tired as well. I suppose now is a good time as any to do this. I canceled [Cold Hearted] on my Anger, Fear, and then Empathy. Immediately I was attacked by a wave of nausea, unlike anything I had experienced before. I fell over onto my side, shaking in mental agony as I struggled to come to terms with what I had done.

I killed him! I literally signed the death warrant of an innocent man! No, not just a death warrant. Mortis said that souls were being stolen from the cycle. I erased his existence! I wretched though, as I had not eaten anything for some time, nothing came up. I lay there shivering for some time, thinking about Asten and cursing myself, until I heard a rustling from nearby.

“Lady.. Lady Stahlia? Are you hurt?” Looking behind me, I saw Jacqueline reaching towards me with her arm, and though she had evident lingering pain expressed on her face, it was being overwritten with concern. Concern for me. Even though I was the one who had sacrificed her and Asten. I burst into tears at the sight. Between the dry heaving, the crying, and Jacqueline urging me to explain what happened, something broke inside me. I get it now. She knew this would happen the moment she figured out I was winter’s… She knew what I would be forced to do in order to live with myself…

[Cold Hearted], Disable my Remorse. Like a switch, Asten's death and Jacqueline's arm, they didn't bother me anymore. I still felt bad of course, I was able to empathize, but the overwhelming sense of guilt that had been making me ill vanished.

Next chapter will be the conclusion of the Ang village mini sub-arc.

I'm also cutting the next sub arc (it's getting repurposed, and the events that would have been in it will still happen... just later.) This means that Arc 2 is actually ending about eight chapters earlier than I originally planned. Rosial's PoV chapter will be on wednesday, followed by Arc 2 Epilogue on friday.

Sana's PoV chapter will be moved back into Arc 3.

Ang village wound up being much higher tension than I originally intended, and the planned final sub-arc was even higher tension, so I'm just shuffling things around so as to be able to break up that stress.

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