Book 1: Rise of the Fake Demon Lord – Chapter 15: The Shrinking Cage
844 6 30
X
Reading Options
Font Size
A- 15px A+
Width
Reset
X
Table of Contents
Loading... please wait.

Blond hair fluttered at each twist its owner executed. The series of steps bypassed a large single handed sword that drove itself into the ground next to the woman. Capitalizing on the missed swing, the woman flipped backwards once to take a distance from the man who attacked her. The two participants stared each other down inside the flattened arena. Surrounding the edge of the dirt field were a series of benches filled with other students. Eyes from the crowd traced the blond woman's movements with a keen interest. Her elegant movements drew both cheers and enamored sighs from the other students and yet the woman herself was focused on the man retrieving his two hander.

Her eyes focused on the flexing muscles that gripped the two hander with ease and pulled it from the ground as if it were a feather. Though she dodged the previous strike, it'd be more accurate to say she was forced to dodge it. Her lungs pumped the frigid air as they tried to sustain her excessive movements and her heart pulsed in equal effort. The brawny man flexed his muscles and laid his sword against his forearm with it aimed at her. Once his stance was prepped, the two waited only a moment before kicking off to charge at each other for the tenth time.

As he closed the distance, the man swung his broadsword in a wide arc hoping to connect with the torso of his opponent. Expecting the brazen move, Allison pulled her dagger from its sheath and engaged the edge of the broadsword. Her strength was meager compared to the bulky man in mid swing but it was nothing new to her. Dagger and broadsword collided with the obvious winner forcing the dagger back into the woman. The man began to smile at the sight of his victory until he noticed the trajectory of his blade had changed by the slightest margins. Unwilling to allow the opportunity she created go to waste, Allison allowed her legs to be torn from the ground, flipped her upper body across the top of the blade and allowed it to pass below her.

The dagger in her hands shattered midway into the deflection forcing her to use a makeshift weapon instead. The rotation of her body completed after she landed on her feet and using the short moment of time when the broadsword was still completing its swing, she kicked off the ground. Those who watched the fight play out could only exclaim in excitement at the unexpected reversal. With a pair of fingertips to his neck, the man dropped his sword in surrender.

"That's the fight! Break it up! Allison Walker is the victor!", a referee who was judging the fight from the sideline ended the fight officially.

Allison took a step back from the man and fell to the ground landing on her butt. From the crowd, a young man with brown skin rushed to her side. Though he didn't speak a word, Allison caressed his cheek with a smile to reassure him.

"I'm fine Sahib, calm down. You're up next. Are you prepared?"

Though the young man remained silent, Allison could tell from his brown eyes he was determined. She held her hand out with an expectant face towards the young man. Realizing her intent, he reached out and pulled her to her feet. She brushed herself off then offered a shallow kiss on the young man's forehead before wishing him luck.

"Good luck, Sahib. Show them your skill!"

Only an innocent nod was returned to her. Leaving her behind, the young man closed the distance to the center of the arena. Unable to see his opponent, he took the time to start stretching and warming his muscles up. Allison walked off the stage and up to a large man who held a flattened board with paper stacked onto it. His elongated ears revealed his Elven descent and yet on her approach, the man only looked at her with indifference. She continued to approach him and with a smile, checked her status.

"How did I do, instructor? Do you think I can start taking Quests now?"

"Mmm. It's unbelievable how talented you are at your age. Are you sure you didn't train under anyone before this?"

Her eyes drifted to the arena where Sahib's opponent had finally lined up at. She replied even though her attention was now focused on the fight.

"Of course not. Sahib and I both only recently learned to fight. The beasts in Lore Forest provided enough practice for us. If anything, I'd say we both know what it's like to fight someone incomprehensibly stronger than ourselves. That experience alone made us grow quick."

"Incomprehensibly stronger... Ah well, such a fight would certainly speed your growth up if you managed to survive it. How'd you survive anyhow?"

"Ah... Hahahahaha... We were let go...", she replied with a rather weak and sarcastic laugh.

Noticing the expression across her face, the instructor chose to ignore the comment altogether.

"You passed. Honestly, though, it'd be best if you continued the rest of the course. Although your fighting and survival skills seem top notch, the other teachers mentioned how ignorant you are on the culture, plants and animals native to Klasika. It's our policy not to ask too many questions of Adventurer candidates, but you really should learn some of the basic knowledge so others don't take advantage of you later on. With your bow skills, you're practically guaranteed to be invited into a rank C or D group. Adding your dagger skills in for self defense, it wouldn't surprise me if you catch the eyes of a B rank team."

"What about Sahib?"

"He has... different issues."

The two watched the fight play out between the young brown skinned boy and a thin female pantherian across from him. They both held twin daggers as their weapon of choice and yet Sahib appeared unable to take advantage in their fight. Despite the poor aggressive performance though, the referee had yet to call the fight. The two initiated strikes against each other and defend in turn yet somehow the Pantherian woman became further and further agitated.

From her position, Allison could easily guess why and their instruction must have as well. He continued his earlier statement.

"That boy tends to play around too much in the fight. He only returns an attack when attacked and I can't feel the slightest hint of blood lust from him."

She knew where the teacher was coming from, but she also knew he treated Sahib as if he were a normal 15 year old. The softest smile she could manage cross her face during her response.

"That'd make sense. I doubt he even knows what blood lust is yet, after all... If my opinion means anything to you, I know he is able to take down beasts in Lore Forest by himself. Without a sense of danger or obvious enemy, Sahib can't seem to get serious."

"Oh? Then how would he fair against her if he got serious?"

Allison observed the fight and watched as Sahib returned every strike the young Pantherian drove towards him with ease. He measured each strike and returned it with a near perfect force neutralizing it every time. The frustration appearing across the Pantherian's face was both obvious and understandable to those watching. So far, there had yet to be a victor against Sahib. Every single spar he fought up to that resulted in a tie and the current fight didn't appear to be a standout.

"The fight would have ended in the first strike probably. He hasn't even used half his speed yet."

The teacher released a sigh with his eyes remained on the fight. The Pantherian fighting Sahib showed clear signs of Jaguar and Leopard mix in her thin fur. When talking speed, normally the Human being pitted against her should have been the pitiable one.

"You both get passing marks. There's not much we can do for you here other than act as a normal school. Well, I'll always welcome you as a sparring partner for the other students to help them improve."

"There's no problem with that. I want to get stronger as well. Both Sahib and I will act as sparring partners until we learn more about Klasika. This course has been pretty helpful so far already. I don't want to quit it halfway in."

"I'm glad to hear that. I'll help you advertise yourself on graduation next month as well. I'm sure you'll end up in a good group."

"I'd appreciate that."

"Oh, you came from Lore forest right? Have you heard the rumors about Profectus City?"

"Profectus...? No. What's happening there?"

"They say the war with the Demons is heating up. Apparently a female Fairy stepped in and single handedly took down one of the Demon Generals."

"A... Female Fairy... you say?"

[So much for staying under the radar... What's that woman thinking!?]

"Yeah, sounds crazy right? It's the first Female Fairy to appear in public since nearly two centuries ago. Anyhow, I only brought it up as an example of why I think you should get what you can from this course. Excelling only in combat wont be enough for the near future."

"I'll take that to heart."

"Good."

Clangs sounded through the courtyard followed by the collapsed form of a Pantherian. As if to signify his loss as well, Sahib knelt to the ground forcing the referee to call a tie, continuing his streak further.

***

Early morning sunlight reflected off the steel plating of a mature woman kneeling beside a corpse. Her deep violet hair that peaked from her visor complemented the lighter purple eyes hidden beneath her full helmet. Etched against her polished armor was an upside down crescent moon with two inverted crescents having one above and one below it. Screams of pain resounded from around her as she and her kin killed the beasts passing through Lore forest. She arced her blade just above the ground forcing the crimson blood covering it to paint the ground around her. Footsteps of a smaller beast attempting to escape drew her blood lust and she kicked off the ground in chase.

As she chased her fleeing prey, the tip of her blade tore two other beasts who attempted to block her path in half. She halted her steps only for a second to avoid the initial spray of blood before continuing her pursuit. Unwilling to steal kills from her fellow Knights, she weaved through the pack fighting around her and rushed to close the distance. The last thing she wanted was to allow the beast to escape into Lore Forest.

She neared her target close enough to feel the shallow breaths of fog exhaled from it brush against her face. Its pupils contracted when her visage appeared beside it yet there was nothing it could do in its youth. The woman swung her blade severing the two of the four limbs off the beast. Left without a means to run, the creature tumbled to the ground and rolled across the few rocks protruding from it.

The beast screamed in pain, its eyes leaking from the pain. The woman approached the fallen creature with clear intent and yet it failed to notice her approach. A final swing of her sword decapitated the beast with a spray of blood. Eager to collect a token from the creature to turn in later, the woman retrieved the loose head by the tip of an ear and arced her sword once more severing the head from the ear. She raised a damp bag from her side and dropped the ear into before returning to her group. As her teachings taught her, she left the corpse mostly intact on site for other beasts residing in Lore Forest to consume.

Emerging from the dense segment of forest she dove into while chasing the smaller beast, her violet eyes danced with a surreal joy after catching the aftermath of their ambush. The site was littered with body parts and organs laying about. The pools of blood forming in divots along the ground released a fragrant iron scent that pleased her senses. She moved to group back up with her colleagues who were gathered around what she assumed was the final beast of the group.

"Oh, Silvi! Did you catch it?", her leader asked her with a playful tone after noticing her arrival.

"Yes! Two of the older ones got in my way and slowed me down... *sigh* I've still got a lot to learn. So? What's happening here?"

"Ah, it's the last survivor. Kelly and Dean were arguing over who it belongs to."

The older man removed his steel full helmet and placed it on the ground next to him. He took the opportunity to both point to a pair of bickering Knights in the distance with swords drawn against each other. His short blond hair returned to its natural positioning after he ran his hands through it. Though the cold weather helped, their full plate armor retained heat incredibly well and his face was drenched in sweat from the combat earlier.

Following his lead, Silvi removed her helmet as well then stood to her leader's side. Her sights matched his and the pair maintained their gaze on the two Knights dueling in the distance. Each skillfully evaded or blocked the other's strike and both repeatedly failed to counter the other. The fight itself lacked any excitement as it appeared to Silvi like two puppets fighting a choreographed battle. Rather, her attention instead went to the maimed beast the two Knights were fighting over.

After catching her gaze, the leader of the group only laughed with a soft tone.

"Go ahead. It'd be a good lesson to those two anyhow."

"It's my pleasure."

Silvi unsheathed her blade and walked up to the creature writhing in pain. Its tendons were cut behind the knees and its organs were starting to slip from a gash in its side yet the beast's eyes were brilliant. It was clear to her the beast had yet to give up and was determined to survive no matter what. That desperate desire she felt radiating from it drew a smile across her face and she raised her sword. At the sight, the beast panicked and screamed its final howl.

"Sto-"

***

The land appeared dead, killed through decades of desertification and denied the sweet relief of water due to thick mountain ridges surrounding the region. Aligned center of the desert stood Relictus' capital Sacramentum. Though a desert in every imaginable way, Sacramentum represented the culmination of Relictus and its efforts in magic research.

Arakis Nul Dieth was known famously for stealing the title of Demon Lord from its previous holder and converting the once war addicted species into something civilized. Through his leadership, Relictus was reborn from a warring Nation into one that surpassed every other Nation in the world in nearly every major field.

Exemplifying its status as the world leader in magical research and materials science, Sacramentum was created to showcase cutting edge magics and develop future warriors far stronger than ever existed in its past. Floating above the city were a series of rings designed to focus mana from the surrounding region into its boundary. The high density mana stimulated the rate Demons living within reproduced and delivered a potent mana boost to the resulting children born.

Rather than walls to protect its borders, strange glyphs melted into the sand along the circumference of the nearly 240 square kilometers city emitted an eerie red hue. Designed to combat natural threats in the desert, the glyphs in the sand consumed a small portion of the dense mana in the air to establish a semi-permeable membrane barrier. Only Demons of a certain caliber were allowed through the membrane. Those too weak were rejected by the barrier and refused entrance. By this mechanism, the residents of Sacramentum were by far the most powerful Demons in Relictus.

Housed between those rings, white buildings, octagonally shaped, proudly jutted from the barren land. Stalls crowded the busy markets that lined various roads. Each stall was covered with magnificently bright cloths and acted as a lure, showcasing the wares found inside the main building attached to the stalls. A female dancer, dressed in loose white garb performed with four arms juggling daggers and her four olive eyes tracked each blade near the center of a festive road. Children with Demon blood coursing their veins played games of tag within the maze of buildings.

News of the war had spread through the Demon Nation kicking off festivals in celebration. Unlike one would imagine, the colorful feasts and excited nature had little to do with the war itself and more to do with their beloved Demon Lord. Mysteriously, despite the many accomplishments Demon Lord Dieth achieved and his status being one that's worshiped within Relictus, he eventually lost interest in leading the nation and favored a laissez faire approach. Though no one knew why he became less active, those who inevitably challenged him for his title lost their lives proving the man had grown anything but weak time and time again.

Time passed as time does and yet the people of Relictus continued to worship their disinterested leader though he slowly became a target of pity for the common citizens. Many wondered if he had burnt himself out, or perhaps the genius Demon had finally given up whatever he was originally pursuing. The pitiful rumors that spread through Relictus were blown away in an instant with the recent news though. From the words of a close minister to their Lord, distribution of the Demon Lord's motivation suddenly returning spread like fire.

Despite the many festivals kicking off through the nation, a young man stumbled just outside the perimeter of Sacramentum. The cruel sun beat down atop his body, its malevolent eye unblinking, and the sky its co-conspirator with not even the wisp of cloud to soften the harsh rays. His every step was heavy, sinking into the searing sand, and the air was thick and hazy. Salty sweat rolled off the man's bloodied forehead, stinging his eyes in its travel. What remained of his clothes were overwhelmingly hot and sticky. The stiff dry desert breeze tossed sand across his face, pelting his eyes and exposed wounds. His hair, thick with a mixture of salt, blood and grime, remained stiff in face of the wind. His chapped lips were torn, but his weakened body was unable to even bleed and seal the wound leaving the gash exposed to the environment.

Surviving entirely through sheer motivation, the man pressed on with every step knowing his goal was right in front of him. He crossed the dividing line of natural sand onto compressed concrete that formed a path into Sacramentum. The solid footing sped his hobble into a slow shuffle and he advanced to the perimeter of the city. The long journey had drained him of nearly his entire mana supply and his injuries prevented him from properly kneading mana from the natural environment. He placed his hand against the city border and felt the barrier grant him access, slipping his limb through its boundary. On contact with the inner region, he felt the dense mana supply readily available and start kneading it before he even hit the ground.

A patrolling Demon saw the man collapse to the ground and rushed to his side. Closing the distance to the stranger, he gained a better view of the man and panicked.

"G-G-G-G-General Zannon! What happened to you?!"

Though he was kneading mana as fast as his weakened body was able, General Zannon couldn't feel his body regaining any strength. Mustering what remained of his energy and will, he ordered the guard in slow gasps.

"I... Must... Report... Take... Me... Castle..."

"Y-Yes, Sir!"

The Demon pulled the General onto his shoulder with little effort and took off for the castle. While he was carried, General Zannon struggled to knead enough mana together for even basic magics. His attempt at invoking reinforcement magic across his body failed every time he attempted it and by the time they arrived nearly twenty minutes later at the castle entrance, he had long since given up. From within his body, he could feel his life force disappearing at a constant rate.

Knowing his time was limited, he forced the guard carrying him to enter the inner chambers of the castle breaking protocol in favor of expediting his report. The guard kicked open a central door and barged through it catching the attention of every chamberlain in the room. His sudden burst only surprised them for a moment though as they recovered the instant their eyes laid onto the wounded General. Without General Zannon even ordering it, the chamberlains moved to assemble the required courtiers and deliver an initial report to the Demon Lord. The guard respectfully eased his body onto a bench and watched over him.

Despite his failing health, General Zannon knew he couldn't speed the situation up any further. The time required to gather the courtiers dragged on and General Zannon chose to use the time and focus his mana on his diaphragm. He failed to invoke full body reinforcement, but somehow managed to reinforce the organs required to speak. The fading sensation of pain from his chest was replaced by the ever encroaching numbness of his limbs. Sweat that rolled into his eye no longer stung and his body no longer felt overheated.

The lack of reactions from his body confirmed what he already suspected and testing the waters of his body with the excessive preparatory time, he estimated three more days would have been his limit if he had kept walking. The strange thought of thanking the guard who found him crossed his mind, but the man had disappeared some point after dropping him off. Sudden realization of his state hit General Zannon once more and he realized his mental faculties were starting to decay as well. His limp body conformed further into the bench and he focused entirely on remaining lucid. Wooden doors with engraved runes creaked open and brought the General back to reality.

Two guards, one he recognized as the man who brought him to the castle and the other a stranger exited the doors and moved to help the General to his feet.

"Demon Lord Arakis Nul Dieth is ready to see you. Please follow me.", declared a chamberlain who stood beside the open doors.

Hardly able to muster excess strength to reply, the General only motioned and sounded a grunt to the guards assisting him to start moving. He limped while using the two's assistance into the main throne room where nearly fifty courtiers stood to the side of the main path and twenty chamberlains stood at the level just below the Demon Lord. Through his glazed vision, he saw the expressions of those who looked upon his condition. His body had long gone numb and in his single minded effort to return, he hadn't seen the external damage to his body. He ignored the calculating gazes and forced his attention to the man sitting on his throne nearly twenty steps in front of him.

The guards dropped to their knees bringing the General with them and paid their respects to the Demon Lord. Summoning what little strength he had left, Zannon struggled to balance on his knee alone. He paid his respects as a General always should.

"My Lord. This General Zannon Aggar, fourth seat of power, has returned to his Master."

Weakness from his damaged organs were entirely ignored as he pushed the reinforcement magic to its limits. Demon Lord Dieth quietly observed his bowing subject with eyes of great interest. The green, brown, and silver color of his eyes fought for dominance as if to reveal his inner thoughts. His serpentine pupils narrowed after confirming the General's wounds.

"Tell me General Zannon, how did you fail? I want to hear everything."

"Yes, my Lord."

General Zannon recapped his entire encounter with Profectus City from start to finish. Though he couldn't see it through his glazed eyes, the moment he mentioned the appearance of the female Fairy, excitement emanated from his Lord. The Demon Lord allowed the entire story to be told without a single interruption. His eager eyes consumed the fight and situation through his imagination. He internally measured the caliber of the one called Empress. After General Zannon completed his story, he paused for a moment before starting once more.

"My Lord, I am duty bound to pass a message along from the female Fairy."

"Oh? The Empress has a message for me? Say it."

"Empress Lapis Lazuli Fardom has placed Profectus City under her domain."

"Just that?"

"Yes, my Lord."

"Do you have the desire to fight once more?"

"I do, but this body is at its limit."

"Are you willing to abandon that body for something more... suitable?"

"If it allows me a rematch, I am willing."

"Fantastic. Take him to the lab. I'll perform the transfer myself. Stabilize him until I arrive."

The Demon Lord's deep voice echoed through the room. The commanded courtiers rushed to General Zannon's side, grabbing him and dragging him through a series of doors. Despite knowing what's in store for him, General Zannon held a firm smile plastered across his face. He imagined the rematch that his Lord was so kindly gifting him and couldn't help but feel an overwhelming bliss. Arakis Nul Dieth watched his half dead General was dragged through the doors. His expression remained excited, but his attention returned to those still in the throne room.

"Hear my orders. Notify Generals Larkis and Elkune. They're to prepare for a hunt. They'll be joining me as escorts to Profectus City. We're going to take a look at this Fairy. Leave the army. If Zannon couldn't overwhelm her, there's no need to waste our soldiers."

"Yes, my Lord!"

Loud replies echoed in unison at his orders and the courtiers hurried to leave the throne room. Staying behind, the chamberlains all held surprised expressions. Unable to help himself, the Demon Lord stood from his throne and laughed as he advanced down the steps.

"Why the faces? Is it so unexpected?"

"M-My Lord... Why must you personally expose yourself to danger?", a courageous chamberlain spoke up.

The odd question halted the Demon Lord mid step as he thought about it. He brought his hand to his chest and focused on the sensation that coursed through it before responding.

"I've been searching for something since a long time ago. I once gave up thinking I'd never find it, but then one day, I miraculously felt it resonate with me. To find it I was willing to put an end to this playful war and search for it... But... It seems I might have found it. This rush flowing through me... I can't hold it back. It sends shivers down my spine. You can't expect me to sit back."

He resumed his advance down the stairs and through the pair of doors General Zannon was dragged through. His smile, also, plastered across his face.

***

Traveling through Lore Forest, Kelvin and his team skidded to a stop after breaking through a brush patch. The team spread out taking defensive positions beside each other as they surveyed the scene. Gouged ground and old blood stained the otherwise flat arena around them. Their eyes all seemed to lock onto a rotting pile of corpses at the same time. Stacked along the far edge of the arena laid nearly forty creatures stripped of their skin.

Kelvin approached the pile with a cloth over his mouth. The pungent odor and degree of muscle falling off the corpses suggested the time of death extended up to a month ago. He couldn't judge accurately thanks to the recent snow fall and cold weather, yet the full exposure of the beasts' innards acted to accelerate the decomposition process. His inability to narrow the time of death down to a more accurate range made him nervous. The beasts were all considered rank A or B in strength. Even the minor C ranked bats mixed in were considered troublesome due to their ability to fly and swarm.

"How's it look boss?"

"Gruesome... They're all wolves, bears and bats. Looks like someone skinned them after they died, but left most of the muscle and organs behind."

"What about the subjugation proofs?"

"Untouched..."

"Woh. You telling me someone butchered them things for sport?"

"Or something like that. Zeena, these wolves..."

"Yeah, it's strange."

"What's strange about the wolves?", Silas questioned their odd mood.

George followed up to answer his friend.

"They're the apex predator in Lore Forest. It'd be almost impossible to gather such a large pack together and kill them. The moment they realized the enemy was too strong, they would have fled. The fact such a number of them are here means either they failed in their escape or were unable to escape after trying."

"Both of those sound equally terrifying.", Silas quipped back.

Kelvin finished his examination and pushed his team on. They were making good time and nearing their next destination.

***

"Zirco!"

A large mass landed in front of Lapis, who restored her Fairy appearance, with its wings cushioning the fall in the last second.

"This one response to Master."

Lapis looked at the Demon with disgust reflected in her countenance. She avoided him whenever she could and typically left his management to Hiiro, but due to recent events, she felt she needed some time apart from him and so passed her order along in person.

"I want you to observe the remaining council members. I suspect they will begin scheming soon. I do not believe Aria will be able to control such a guileful group. Report both to Ruby and Hiiro your observations every night. We are going to move to the next phase of the plan."

"This one understands."

His massive wings exploded against the ground, forcing his body to the air. Lapis watched his figure arc through the sky and land atop the cliff. She returned her gaze to the abode centered in the lake and moved her attention inward. The first stage of the house had finally completed and with it, the underground tunnel leading to her facility North West of her position. The foundation of the building had also solidified and with it, the worry of potential collapse disappeared.

Within her mind, she designed the next stage of the abode. Unlike its initial plan, she filled out the upper floors and added rooms to the outside of the adobe. She redesigned the first floor to be rather large, expanding the circumference of the house by nearly forty meters. She elevated the walls further as well allowing a high ceiling and dividing the new open space into large rooms with a series of smaller rooms lining the border of the wall.

She had long prepared herself for the next stage and so drew from her pocket a small glowing orb. Small puffs of mana fell from the orb, slipping between her fingers as she held it in front of her eyes. Her focus shifted to the orb's contents which caused a small glyph inside it to shatter. The orb fractured with condensed mana expelling itself with a hiss through the cracks. Lapis hurried to control the kneaded mana and bring it under her control once more.

A final puff of mana fell from the orb when a confident smile stretched across her face. Her success in storing the mana externally allowed her to exceed her internal capacity and even bypass the kneading stage of invoking magic. The clear pride in her research results leaked through her, yet she held her elation down to focus on the task at hand. She consumed the kneaded mana back into her system, but instead of storing it within herself, she redirected it into the mental schematic created earlier. Her mind watched as the mana expanded to fill the entire design and with a semi-crazed look in her eyes, she invoked the magic.

Thirty concentric rings scribed with mysterious glyphs exploded from her as the center. They emitted a blue hue as they dropped to the ground, etching their very existence into the granite flooring. Despite the vast mana dumped into the rings, they were far smaller than her initial construction magic. She saw the failings of her previous magic and refined it, expelling the inefficient pieces and reconstructing sections with her facility as a reference.

Her end result was a construction magic that appeared like a gelatinous blob spread thin. It seeped from the edge of the rings, clumping together and in a controlled fashion, moved towards the abode as if it had a will of its own. She watched for nearly two hours as the blob dissolved sections of the house only to materialize sections elsewhere. The blob continued its work diligently and Lapis felt confident enough to leave it unattended.

Hiiro who just happened to return to the basin saw the house being consumed by a massive blue blob. Initially, he suspected it an attack and prepared himself for attack, but hesitated after his vision caught a particular fairy smiling. It was obvious from the cocky smile spread across her face who was responsible for the creature like thing, but his curiosity prevented him from interrupting her fun. His eyes quickly turned from curiosity to fascination as he gained understanding on what the strange mass was doing. Though caught up in the sight, he noticed Lapis take off from the site and fly North West. He suspected her destination and moved to meet her at the site.

Lapis covered the distance to her facility at a casual pace. She was in no rush and her plans were moving along perfectly fine. She recalled her dream while traveling and the smile that once occupied her face turned sour. Despite her wishes, her past appeared to be something that haunted her. She accelerated her flight further as if to escape the memory itself until she found herself before the entrance of her facility.

Wings adapted to flight plummeted to the ground as if in denial landing her at the edge of the entrance. She expelled a minor burst of mana and focused the hazy fog into her hang before pressing it against the ground. Obsidian fangs that sealed the entrance retracted from the center exposing a deep shaft. The sight of her creation functioning properly brought a smile to her face once more albeit smaller than before. She proceeded down the shaft hopping from step to step to cover nearly ten meters at a time.

Hiiro finally reached the site he found Lapis at before and slid to a halt to catch his breath. Despite his efforts, the Fairy left him in her dust entirely and he was forced to work from memory to find the location. He glanced down the shaft and sighed once internally before proceeding down the spiral stair case that lined the shaft wall. As he descended the stairs, he could hear Lapis conversing with someone. After nearly thirty minutes constant descent, he finally stepped onto the main floor of the facility. He observed the surrounding glyph that emitted a blueish tinged light and the floor that was covered in a series of esoteric inscriptions.

Unable to hear Lapis any longer, he moved to the center of the shaft where an orb rested in the ground. Its glowing surface reflected his visage across its surface, and after approaching it, reacted to his presence by rising into the air. He watched as the orb, which jiggled at its own movement, moved to chest height only to remain still as if waiting for his orders. Unable to understand the item, he directed his attention to the surroundings. From his position at the center of the room, he was able to make out three large tunnels carved into the walls. Each tunnel appeared to extend in completely different directions.

Hiiro looked to the pinhole sky he could still see far above him and determined North from the direction of the clouds. Returning his attention to the tunnels, he noted the Northern, Southern and South Eastern entrances. Despite his curiosity, he felt exploring the unknown would only bring his further trouble and so instead focused his senses to find the perpetrator who should be within one of the tunnels. A dull hum reached his ears drowning out what hints might have reached him otherwise. He remembered the training Lapis put him through and invoked a reinforcement magic solely on his ears. The dull hum became a grinding sound and its origins distinctly from the Northern tunnel. He dispatched himself from the center of the room and moved along into the Northern entrance allowing the orb to sink back into its hole.

Lapis exuded great effort in taking mental notes of the scene before her. The previous humanoid creations she started manufacturing prior to leaving the facility last time were finally completed. Her control system was capable of manufacturing whatever plans she provided it, but it was unable to invoke magic itself. Though she was researching it, she felt her preliminary results were lacking at best. Her construction magic worked fine, but she had to apply a manipulation type magic to the humanoid golems herself limiting the potential of her system. Despite the setback, she refused to give up on her idea and instead ordered the golems constructed to start mining granite from the mountains North of Profectus. To help cover her actions, she chose to excavate from the inside out first. The golems extended mana into their hands, reshaping the otherwise smooth round tips into a flattened sharp blade that seemed to slide through the rock like butter.

The golems themselves were constructed from a material similar to stone, but that also held the properties of cloth. Their exteriors flexed when needed and the glowing orb attached to the nape of their neck revealed their power source. Lapis had kneaded an extreme amount of mana over time to create the orbs as a fuel source for her creations. Each golem held a single orb which was capable of powering it for, she estimated, nearly six weeks at a time. They weren't efficient, but considering she only spent six days to compress the kneaded mana into ten orbs, she felt the trade off was worth it. Each golem cut into the wall extracting a large cube from its mass and dragging it to the center of the room. The stack of ten cubes high exceeded fifty meters with their five cubic meter length dimensions. As she took notes on the performance of her golems, her sensitive ears twitched at the sound of footsteps.

Hiiro exited the tunnel and his eyes opened wide at the cubic pyramid centered in the underground cavern. Despite its massive dimensions, he was able to make out its structure of smaller cubes and immediately connected them to the deal Topazia made. He couldn't help but be impressed at the sight and let a small chuckle escape his mouth. From the other side of the pyramid, a soft voice resounded making its owner's presence known.

"What do you think, Hiiro? Is it not impressive?"

"Ah, it's damn impressive. I knew you were up to something, but I didn't expect you to be building a secret base underground."

"It is necessary for the future, after all."

Hiiro walked around the perimeter of the stones stacked up until he found the culprit sitting atop one of them. He close the distance further while dividing his attention between her and the machinations excavating the far wall. As he closed the final distance between them, he remembered her vulnerable figure that fell asleep against his side previously. Eyes that knew what had to be asked locked onto the stiff faced woman who appeared to avoid looking at him. He knew she had been avoiding him since that night and now was the perfect opportunity to clear the air.

"Lapis-"

"Do you remember what I told you about my parents?", she interrupted him while still avoiding his gaze. His gaze focused on her deflection, but he chose to play along.

"I do.", he responded, but her expectant eyes fell on him forcing him to expound.

"If I recall, you described them as ruthless, cruel, and a fan of cursing their own child."

"Haha... I did say something along those lines... I called them my parents, but the truth is I doubt they were related to me."

Her tone dropped its unease and he watched her eyes focus onto something less concrete than the drones in front of them. The pale blueish light that casted a deep shadow across her face only accentuated her somber expression. The dull reflections of the orbs across her eyes sharpened as she furthered her internal perception. As if she divested her emotions from the subject, Lapis continued.

"My earliest memories always starts at the same time, in the same location, under the same circumstances. A defenseless child drugged and captured only to be delivered to the hands of a devil. That devil controlled what use to be the Demon Nation and held a variety of unpleasant hobbies. Of the many, one in particular revolved around research into the powers of a particular child. This child held a special mix of blood that increased her mana capacity dramatically.

In order to solve the mystery of the bloods involved, the devil acted as mother and father to the child. It repeatedly investigated the child in a diverse series of experiments. At first, it started with blood tests, hair samples, saliva, and mana pressure tests. The devil's research never progressed though. Rather, the devil itself seemed to slowly lose its mind further. After realizing the child's blood was not the only factor in her dramatic strength, it devil probed further. It explored the child's mental state and used tricks to draw further power from it.

Day by day, the tricks became harder for the child to realize. They explored deeper than the child was aware. They occurred more frequently and perhaps most cruelly, they altered the child herself. Important memories of her original parents were replaced with the face of the devil. Childhood friends became a blur, replaced with toys and solitude. One day, the child realized her memories conflicted with each other. The wonderful mother who once took care of her had become a monster who abused her. The devil who stabbed her, pulled her hair, and drained her mana started appearing gentle in her eyes. Her cage that barely allowed her room to even sleep grew comfortable and normal.

The child somehow realized the discrepancy and reflected on the experiments she originally hated. Her realization though, was not the results of her own efforts. She instead heard a whisper within her mind guide her through each alteration. The voice was calm and patient with the girl, ensuring every ounce of evidence presented to the child was basic enough for the fettered mind to comprehend. The voice drew forth every experiment the girl started recalling with happiness and shattered the illusion with truth. As her world fell apart and she realized just how broken she had become, the child suddenly felt her world closing in on her and the strain forced her to black out."

"Lapis...", Hiiro couldn't help but mutter her name in the dim light. As if to ignore him, she continued.

"The child grew over the years in that environment. Six years of memories were replaced with fake equivalents with the hope of making the child more obedient to the devil. Every night during the six years, the child reflected against her will with the voice shattering her fake happiness until one day, the child forgot who she was. Unable to trust her memories, the child abandoned the her up to that point. Her broken sense of self was barely managing to retain her sanity and the voice which had performed its best effort to preserve what sense of self she had left became desperate. That voice concluded the child was on her last ropes and demanded the child take action. The girl was unable to trust her own memories, but had grown to trust the voice and so she followed its advice.

That fateful day, the devil removed the child from her cage for another session of experiments, but the child fought back in earnest. She bit the devil in a futile attempt to escape. Infuriated by the sudden lapse in progress it had worked so hard for, the devil injured the child, snapping her wings in the process. It threw the injured child back into her cage without healing her wings. The intense pain strengthened the voice within and by the next morning, the child's sense of self grew even more fragile having forgotten portions of her memories that once seemed real to her.

The devil returned, but its frustration intensified, as if it had fallen into madness. The child was yanked from her cage, tearing what little bone that healed free once again. Despite the child's cries of pain, the devil reached for one of the broken wings and tore it off. With her wing torn from her body, the child's fragile ego snapped. That ego that finally gave up disconnected itself from reality wishing only to disappear. Understanding the emotions flowing through the girl, the voice within hesitantly consumed the fragile personality that sustained her up to that point, and the girl died. The voice, having destroyed the host out of pity, fell into silence, choosing to observe the situation from within the girl. Without realizing what had happened, the devil gripped the child's other wing and tore it from her body as well before being satisfied and throwing the child back into the cage. As she bled from her wounds, the husk of the child laid motionless within the cage."

"Lapis...stop. You don't need to talk about this.", Hiiro spoke up to prevent the woman's expression from darkening further. He could tell from experience she was suffering from something akin to post traumatic stress and yet the young Fairy continued despite his efforts, determined to deliver her story.

"That motionless husk had given up on life and was waiting for death to consume her, but fate held something else in story for her. The next morning, another child was thrown into the cage beside her who held ashen colored hair and eyes. The child was about her age and appeared to struggle against the devil, but in the end, was powerless and used in experiments for that day in replace of the girl. Time passed and by the time night fell, the ashen child was returned to her cage battered and bruised.

Rather than sleep and accept the situation, that child instead worried about the injured child. Despite the long period of rest, the child's wings were still bleeding from where they were torn. The child herself was pale from blood loss and her will clearly broken, yet the ashen child still chose to help her. Acting through the bars that separated the two cages, that ashen child invoked healing magic at great effort on the injured child. She repeatedly reassured the child she would be okay and that things would get better. Despite being only two years older, that ashen child commanded more bravery than the girl had shown during her entire captivity. The voice observed that ashen child for a long period of time until it chose to fight for life once more.

It recognized the effort the ashen child put in and chose to rebuild the broken personality of the child. It took what fragments of the mind it could find and pieced the persona back together, but found that the majority had long since vanished. It felt the will of the ashen child and pursued the restoration choosing to supplement the missing persona with pieces of itself. By the time the ashen child ran out of mana and was about to collapse from the fatigue, the newly created persona took hold and awoke..."

"Fucking hell, Lapis..."

He watched her dismal appearance and a few of the mysteries that had surrounded her cleared. Unable to come up with anything he thought would be a proper response, he chose instead to move closer. He hopped onto the stone cube she used as a seat and dropped to a sitting position beside her. Though she remained fixated on the far wall as if too nervous to see his reaction, she felt her body pulled close to his and her head laid against his shoulder. She could hear his soft breaths and felt the sensation of a wide hand caress her head.

"I am no pet, you know?"

"Shut up and accept a little good will for once why don't you?"

"You will spoil me."

"It's fine for now. Did you make those?", Hiiro diverted the topic to the golems methodically dismantling the wall of the cavern.

A smile crept across her face at his obvious attempt to divert the topic.

"That was clumsy... Well, yes. I did. They will mine the stone Topazia promised in her deal."

"What is your real plan? You couldn't expect me to not pick up on your behavior, could you?", he responded while ignoring her call out of the awkward transition he forced.

"I imagine not at this point, though I would rather trade."

"Trade?"

"I know almost nothing about you other than you are an elder revitalized."

"Well... It'd be unfair after what you just told me I guess. Are you sure you want to hear though? It's not exactly cheerful."

"Are you really saying that at this point.", she coldly replied stating the obvious rather than expecting and answer.

"Hahaha! I guess not... Well then, where should I start?"

30