My thoughts stopped. In that instant, I recognized the Sovereign of Lust’s face. Shift the skin tone to pink, add some horns and a tail, and you’d get Lillith, the Sovereign of Lust, in all her demonic glory. What the heck is she doing here!?
“It’s awfully cold out here, Zarenna.” She smiled with faux-innocence. “Could I come inside, please? I brought your favorite tea cakes!” She gestured to a small basket she carried.
I hesitated for a moment, then pulled the door open. “It’s my Aunt Lilly!” I shouted back to the rest of the room. Only Seyari knew shat that meant, and I could only imagine the look on her face.
“Do you have anything to drink, dear? It was a long journey made quickly and I’m afraid I’m parched.” Lilly wiped off her shoes and strode inside, then leaned in and whispered, “good job last week, by the way. My agents in the city told me what happened.”
I nodded numbly. “I can, uh, fix up another pot of tea for you?”
“That’d be lovely! May I go meet your friends?”
It felt like she was about to lean up and pinch my cheek.
“Aunt Lillith,” Seyari stated coldly from the doorway to the living room. “How kind of you to visit.”
“Seyari, dear! You’re looking lovely.”
Seyari could hardly protest as now, with the others watching, Lilly rushed in and gave her a tight hug. Before I could sneak away, she turned and gave me one as well.
“Are you going to introduce me, Zarenna?” Lilly asked, looking at me with puppy-dog eyes.
You barely look older than me!
“Everyone.” I cleared my throat to buy time. “This is my, uh, Aunt Lilly. She’s quite nice, but also quite the gossip.”
“Oh you!” Lilly waved her hands. “Don’t stop everything on my account. I only came by for a cup of tea and to say hi.”
I spend a moment introducing Lilly to my friends. Salvador and Taava were suspicious, clearly, but everyone else took it in stride. If I stayed, I worried I’d need to field questions about exactly how my completely human aunt from before I died and became a demon showed up to this party unannounced.
“I’ll get the tea started for you Aunt Lilly,” I volunteered before anyone could drag me into a conversation I couldn’t explain. Quickly, I left for the kitchen.
“Oh, let me help!” Lilly followed after me. “I know it’s petty, but there’s a very particular way I like my tea.”
Sure there is.
Seyari shot me a worried look, but I gave her a clear-eyed nod and she turned back to the others with a sigh, starting up another story to help the party resume.
“You’re not just here for a visit, Lilly,” I accused once we were back in the kitchen.
“Aww, can’t I just visit my favorite demon?”
“What about Mereneth?” I grabbed the tea kettle and started to heat it.
“She’s nice, but you’re special.” Lilly leaned against the counter, setting her basket down. “The gift you received earlier was to show you I was watching out for you.”
“Keeping an eye on me, you mean.” I resisted the urge to hand her a boiling kettle and instead ducked back into the sitting room with it and a couple tea cakes in hand. The pot was out here, and I wanted another cup myself.
“May I have a slice of cake?” Lilly replied, still back in the kitchen and likely having found the last quarter of Drin’s cake.
“Was your messenger a demon?” I asked quietly as I poured the tea, knowing she could hear me a room away.
Of course, she pretended she hadn’t heard me. “Is that a yes, dear?”
I gritted my teeth. Lilly had shown me nothing but kindness, and had helped me immensely, but right now she was putting me on edge. Tonight was supposed to be a night with no worries.
I replied as kindly as I could. “It’s a yes, Aunt Lilly. You can have a big slice if you want.” Drin had already given us any leftovers from the cake. A sort of housewarming present, even if Seyari and I wouldn’t be living here.
Lillith soon returned with a slice of cake on a plate. She helped herself to fixing her tea just right and plopped down onto the couch with a contented sigh. “I’m super happy for you, Zarenna! You’ve done something I thought impossible—people are letting you comingle with them openly. I’m not even going to rain on your parade by doubting the longevity of such an arrangement. I think it has a chance to work, if I’m being honest.”
I felt myself relax a little. I knew she had something big to say later, but her words right now felt genuine. Seyari, who had been hovering just around the corner of the door, must have felt so too, because I heard a faint sigh before she retreated and left the two of us alone.
For a few minutes, we conversed quietly about mundane topics, listening to the murmurs of soft conversation in the other room, and of the ticking of the standing clock in the corner, wound just this morning for the first time in years.
When Lilly took her plate back into the kitchen, she bade me join her. We paused a moment to chat with Drin and Tren as the former led the latter out to the garden. Drin had challenged Tren to a one versus one croquet game after the victory he narrowly eked out earlier in the day. When they disappeared out into the twilight outside, Lilly set her plate in the sink and smiled warmly at me.
A slight veil of her magic surrounded us like a bubble. It felt different from Seyari’s, but I could guess the purpose. This must be kept secret.
“Have you noticed anything odd recently, Zarenna, in terms of demonic activity?”
“Besides me?” I joked.
Lilly giggled and poked my nose. “Yes. Besides you, silly!”
I didn’t have to deliberate long before I decided to tell her. “We noticed another Sovereign’s mark on both a group of Raavian assassins sent after Taava and on a farm kid from a town nearby who was taught how to summon a greater demon. Also, a gang boss—”
“Garvin, yes I know,” Lilly interrupted.
“Could you describe the symbol?” Lilly asked. “The gem specifically.”
I nodded. “The gem is shaped like a triangle. I have no idea what color it is.”
Lilly frowned. “A trilliant cut then. Are you sure?”
I nodded, then a pang of worry shot through me. “Could, uh, could I see your symbol and gem?”
Lilly jolted out of her thoughts. “Ah, yes. I must look quite suspicious right now. Of course you can.” She pulled up her skirt and I couldn’t help but notice the bulge in her stockings, but my eyes were drawn to the symbol hidden under her garter belt right above her underwear.
The gem was bright pink and very clearly cut into a faceted heart shape. Face now flushed crimson, I averted my gaze and Lilly, business-like, put everything back into place. “As you can see,” she said crisply, “it is most definitely not my symbol.”
I almost sagged with relief.
“But while I did need to, unfortunately, show you that, I also wanted to inform you of what my own agents have found.”
“What is it?”
“Avarice. The Sovereign of Avarice’s symbol was the one Garvin used.”
“Then is Avarice behind all of this? What’s their name?”
“Styrix,” Lilly replied.
“So Styrix is behind all of this?”
Lilly shook her head. “No. His gem is turquoise and round cut. So it can’t be Avarice. And it’s neither of us: your gem is, well, more green than red if I’m being honest, and is a cushion cut. And you’ve seen mine. Even without color, the cut of our culprit is different.”
The gem we’d found certainly wasn’t round, and I believed Lilly since I saw no reason for her to lie. “So whose is it then? Conceit?”
“Nope! Utraxia’s is a marquise cut. Are you certain about what you’ve seen?”
“I can go get it,” I volunteered.
I hadn’t left the room when I bumped into Seyari carrying the dagger and sketch. “I’m joining the conversation,” was all she said.
We returned together and, with a shrug, Lilly resumed, giving a rundown of the stones to Seyari. Looking at the gem we uncovered, the Sovereign of Lust frowned deeply and rubbed her forehead. “I don’t know whose this is. It isn’t Ov, which is good, but that means it must be the sixth Sovereign.”
“Did you say it might be Envy?” Seyari asked, surprising me with her memory.
“I did, yes.”
I thought about the incidents so far. Assassins and envy could make sense. The incident on my first mission with the Gelles Company though? All envy. And Garvin was clearly avarice.
“Does this mean Envy and Styrix, the Sovereign of Avarice are behind all this?” I asked.
“Probably,” Lilly swore. “I hope they’re not working together—that’d mean a whole bunch of trouble for us both. Damn, and here I was thinking I had the only alliance.”
“What could they want?” Seyari asked.
Lilly shrugged. “It’s Avarice and maybe Envy. What do you think they’d want?”
Seyari grumbled, but asked again. “Okay, sure, but what are they going to do about it?”
“More of this probably,” Lilly replied, seeming actually nervous. “We just have to hope Utraxia stays neutral and this doesn’t escalate. Because she’s not going to side with me. And Ov won’t take a side.”
“Shit,” I swore. “Okay, if things get bad, how long do we have until we’re in trouble. And are we talking demonic armies?”
Lilly took a moment to think. “Unless I’m wrong, and I hope I’m not, we have a few years. This stuff speaks of testing the waters. Of seeing how the Church of Dhias and other, more noteworthy factions respond.”
“More noteworthy?” I raised an eyebrow.
“You haven’t been to Aloria or Daram, dear,” Lilly lectured. “Before it fell to civil war, Raavia too was a bastion of knowledge against demonic incursion. The Church of Dhias is fledgling in comparison and crippled by its own bureaucracy and corruption.”
Seyari gave Lilly an approving glance.
Lillith pulled Seyari into a surprise side hug. “Hate me less now, miss Angel of Wrath?”
Seyari pushed the Sovereign of Lust away. “A little.”
“Angel of Wrath?” I asked, almost wanting to ask Seyari for permission to call her that.
“Yes!” Lilly exclaimed. “Angel.” She pointed at Seyari. “Of Wrath.” She pointed at me. “She’s yours and you’re hers!”
“Oh!” I slapped a fist into my palm. “I get it!”
“Don’t you dare,” Seyari growled.
My sharp smile only widened. “Is it that bad of a title, or do you only dislike it because Lilly came up with it.”
“Hmmph.” Seyari turned her nose up at me.
So it’s the latter.
“Is there anything we can do with this information right now?” Seyari continued, trying to wrangle to conversation back to the topic it’d been on.
“Nope!” Lilly beamed. “Just keep doing what you’re doing. Gain power and influence and maybe some subordinates in addition to all your friends.” She put a finger to her chin. “Oh, you could also give people demonic contracts, but the church probably wouldn’t like that.”
“Demonic contracts?” I asked.
Lilly cocked her head to one side. “Didn’t I explain that to you back on Sandmeadow?”
I shook my head “Did you? I certainly don’t remember it.”
Seyari got herself comfortable leaning on a counter, grabbed a teacake, and started to explain. “Lilly knows more, unfortunately, but you basically give a portion of your power to someone—it could also be temporary, or you could corrupt them with demonic mana and transform them.”
“Like the strange traits Erik had back on the first company mission?”
“Yeah, like that. I think I also told you a story from my past where someone was corrupted by an artifact.”
“That sort of thing isn’t really a contract.” Lilly interjected. “That’s just demonic corruption. In your case, Zarenna, I—”
“I am not going to do that.” I crossed all four of my arms and leaned next to Seyari wrapping my tail protectively around her. “Ever.”
“Well, I can’t say it doesn’t have benefits and with a guiding hand you might be able to…” Lilly smiled slyly.
“Lilly,” Seyari warned.
The Sovereign of Lust put up her hands in mock surrender. “Oh, okay, fine. Anyway, proper contracts use your Name, if you have one. You can do it without, but it’ll be limited. And, verbal contracts are a bit finicky—I’d recommend a ritual to nail down specifics.”
“Why finicky?” I asked.
“Zarenna, you’re not thinking of—”
Lilly headed off our argument with an explanation. “Verbal contracts blur the line between what’s literally said and the intent behind it. Rituals are always literal. And if the contract’s broken, you’ll get your power back. Contracts don’t also have to corrupt people—in your case, that is. Since you’re a terrestrial demon, you don’t take in that much demonic mana anyway, so it’s quite possible to avoid doing anything to severe.”
“Would it be reversible?”
“Depends on a lot of factors including if the contract is broken or completed, duration, where you are in the world, et cetera.”
“Why would I ever want to do this, besides giving someone power?”
“Demonic regeneration is a good thing to have for fragile humans.” Lilly spoke candidly, and I was certain that, this time, her words were an answer, not a threat.
“Let me know if I’ve got this right.” I cupped a hand under my chin. “So I could make a contract to save someone and they might get a little demon-ey in exchange?”
Immediately my mind flashed back to Lorelei’s death. Would she have accepted? Would it have been a kindness or a cruelty? After all, Markus was already dead and his killer was my lover. And it would go against every ideal Lorelei held dear…
My distress must’ve been visible, because I felt Seyari’s hand wrap around mine.
“Don’t hold onto the past, dear.” Lilly leaned in to whisper softly, “It’ll drag you down with it.”
I thought of Seyari and the weight she’d carried. I thought of what Nelys had told me of Aretan’s history not an hour ago. Of Salvador’s difficult position, of Nelys’s mysterious background and of Taava’s deep regret.
“Yeah,” I replied. “Yeah it will.”
“Great!” Lilly clapped me on the shoulder. “Sorry for being a downer, but we needed to have this talk.”
“How did you even get here so fast?” Seyari asked.
Lilly just laughed. “Dearie, I’m an old, powerful demon who can fly and use magic to remain unseen. How do you think I did it?”
“Oh. That makes sense. Say ‘hi’ to Isidore when you get home for me, Lilly.” I smiled and pulled her into a hug. “You’re sometimes cryptic, always irreverent, but I think I might consider you a friend.”
To my surprise, my comment hit Lilly hard and she stiffened before she hugged me back. When we parted, her eyes were wet.
“Done having your moment?” Seyari’s tone had less bite than before, but she forced herself to frown nonetheless.
Lilly bopped her on the nose faster than she could react, and then turned calmly to leave while Seyari fumed quietly. I let the Sovereign of Lust back out the front door, and when she left, I felt my shoulders relax.
“What’d ya talk about?” Taava popped in from the darts room. “We all wanna know.”
“I’ll tell you later.” I smiled tiredly. “Let’s just go back to the party.”
The atmosphere took some time (and some alcohol) to get going again. Drin and Tren returned after what must have been a long ‘croquet match.’ Tren’s hair was mussed up and he wore a big, dopey smile. Drin was blushing, but looked immensely happy. I noted some leaves stuck in interesting places in their clothing and I imagined they had fun in the garden. For the rest of the party, they stuck close together.
We all drifted between the kitchen, sitting room, and living room where we played games and shared stories until late in the night. The upstairs was even toured, although it was much less furnished than downstairs. I couldn’t get drunk, but I was able to relax around my friends. Seyari likewise stayed mostly sober, but that may have been by choice.
Eventually, after midnight, we turned in. Everyone was either too lovestruck or too drunk to head home, so Seyari and I prepared beds. I was glad this house had four bedrooms upstairs, and I moved a bed for Nelys into Salvador and Taava’s room so Inva could sleep alone. I was surprised the paladin stayed over, but she was completely sloshed. To our amusement, Drin and Tren were suddenly fine sharing a room. They really must have hit it off to move so quickly.
Then again, Seyari and I had more pressing matters when we originally got together.
Well, I'm glad that Lilly is still on our side, I actually quite like her
motherf*cker has a womb tattoo, classic
Lilly is a gem.
“Oh!” I slapped a fist into my palm. “I get it!”
Lol I love it