Book 1: Rise of the Fake Demon Lord – Chapter 19: The Mark of an Era 3
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Though it took a while to both bury their parents and properly report the situation to Countess Sugimoto and her Knights, I left North of Profectus City with the children in tow. Their sorrow was still fresh, yet it seemed the knowledge that their parent's murderers were killed seemed to bring them an odd serenity. They both laid, cuddled together with their tails intertwined beside me on the wagon. Our current destination was my home. I was certain Hiiro already knew of the appointments considering Ruby moved to pass the information along.

All that was left was to handle the initial training for the children and hand them off to my alter ego. Well, that and... My eyes drifted to the covered wagon and my thoughts to the contents that lie within. I came across good material for experimenting with, so I had to make free time for that research as well. Our transit did not take long as we buried Shino and Maria's parents in the Northern forest anyhow. Part of my promise to the two was that they could visit the grave whenever they had free time after all.

The two children looked upon my home as if it were a palace, well... At this stage, it might be similar. Although I call it my home, in truth it is the facility I have been building in conjunction with my other site. It doubles as home for Hiiro and I, but its sheer size puts the word 'home' to shame. Its peak reaches over the top of the cliffs now and its base covers almost sixty percent of the standing lake. Hiiro and my room reside on the top most floor where the structure tapers off at.

I directed the golems pulling the wagon over one of the many spiraling paths that reached across the crystalline lake. Maria watched over her brother as he peeked over the side of the wagon, his reflection in the lake looking right back at him. Surprising myself even, the sporadic wags of his tail evoked the shallowest of smiles across my otherwise stoic face. It seemed to be a good idea to properly bury their parents and provide a traditional send off.

Our arrival at the base of the massive obsidian structure drew the attention of both siblings. My shallow smile reached deeper at their genuine awe in face of my efforts. We traveled the inner ring and pulled into a garage like entrance where a series of desks lined the far wall. The mostly empty structure resembled a larger version of the Adventurers Guild I saw in Profectus City. I used their counter system as a base where an attendant could receive and issue quests at.

"Shino, this is where you will be working at. The one who will instruct you will arrive soon. I expect great things from you as well Maria. Your job will be far more important since you will be setting the pace for your coworkers in the future."

"I understand." "Yes!"

The two responses only confirmed my inner estimates on how best to utilize the siblings. After reading the rites for their parents during burial, even the younger brother Shino finally started talking to me. It is a shame that I will have to start over from scratch after changing to my alter ego.

"Now then. Both of you, please wait here while I contact Empress Fardom. I do not intend to come back today, but I will drop by from time to time to check up on you and make sure Empress Fardom is holding to her contract with you."

I guided the two across the room to a table with stools surrounding it before leaving them alone in the room. Killing time on another floor, I discussed with Zirco his future duties with the two children. Our discussion lasted no more than five minutes as it was just refreshing what was already planned out before and ensuring I had not left anything out. I restored my appearance and took on my role at Empress Fardom, the female Fairy. Moving down the stairs, I felt somewhat nervous at the inbound interaction. I never was good with handling children in my previous world and found less reasons for me to be any better in this one.

As one would expect of a Pantherian's heightened senses, the siblings were standing next to one another at attention the moment I broke from the hallway. They both seemed nervous to me. In fact, the youngest Shino, is visibly shaking. Their tails were frozen stiff, sticking straight out from their back side and their ears seemed not to know what to do with themselves as they twitched madly after catching sight of me. I placed a smile across my figure and gave the two children a light bow to help ease the mood.

"Good afternoon Maria and Shino Hearns. I am Lapis Lazuli Fardom. You will often hear others refer to me as Empress, but do not mind such a title. While you work here, it is fine to call me Lapis as I will call you by Shino and Maria. Although I will be employing you, I do not expect perfection from you. I expect each of you to make mistakes and grow into your roles, so do not be too nervous. Lady Topazia has already left for her next job, so Sir Zirco will take over instructing you. Zirco, if you will."

The large Demon beside me expanded his wings while introducing himself scaring the two children pale. I hit him across the back of his head and scolded him while he repeatedly apologized to me. After the children appeared to relax a little at the display, Zirco started his introduction over once more. As I watched the kids and him exchange their greetings, I smiled inwardly that the plan to disarm the children from their fear of him went smoothly. Zirco moved to start touring the facility and showing them to their rooms so I interjected to give my farewells.

"Zirco, Lady Topazia informed me there are people wishing to meet with me. I will be back in a few days, please inform Hiiro of my situation if he arrives before I return. I sent him quite far away after all. I doubt he will return any time soon."

"This one understands and will comply."

"I see. Shino. Maria. Please relax and think of this as your home and work place from now on. I will see you in a few days. Please try to learn everything you can as your duties will begin in a few weeks."

"Yes, Lapis." "Yes sister Lapis."

I froze on the spot at the unexpected sweet words. Flattery? At this age? This will not do...The young Shino smiled brightly at me as if he knew his own actions. This boy...He will become a deviant in the future I am convinced. I returned the smile without revealing my inner thoughts and moved to exit the building. Spreading my wings, I threw them against the air in a single, powerful stroke and took to the air.

As one would expect, locomotion via air expedites travel time in a near exponential fashion. What took just over a day of travel in the wagon was covered by my wings in a little under an hour. Before long, Profectus City was in my sights. Part of my regrets not exchanging where to meet along with the time, but common sense would dictate the main Council building and so I angled my wings to adjust my destination.

While landing on the steps, I forced my wings into a final swing to kill my falling momentum. The building looked as it always did and so I moved to open the large doors. I had visited so many times now as either Topazia or Empress Fardom that my legs carried me through the halls on pure instinct alone. The guards thats once looked stressed had noticeably relaxed. Was it due to the cleanup of corruption that happened a few days ago? Speaking of, I had noticed during flight that there were an unusual amount of workers repairing the Northern most rampart. Aria sure works quick...My choice of investing in her was not wrong after all.

The idle thoughts distracted me long enough for a large double panel door to encroach on my vision. The two guards standing by it recognized me and with a nod of my head, they pulled in tandem the two doors apart allowing me to walk through. In the main chamber, I found Ruby standing at the top of the stairs next to an empty chair. I never did inform them of a specific time after all...Ruby bowed her head to me and left the room to gather the various representatives.

I didn't have to wait long for her to return with Countess Sugimoto in tow. Her expression seemed to transmit how troubled she was by the request put out to me, but she seemed unwilling to admit it directly to me instead choosing to engage in introduction.

"Empress Fardom, thank you for responding to the request. There are two groups that would like to meet with you today. One is an Ambassador from Azmodius and the other being team Satyr."

"Lady Topazia filled me in on team Satyr, who might the Ambassador be though?"

"Perhaps it's best for the man himself to introduce himself to you...Please enter."

She raised her voice signaling both the guards and the guest waiting outside the room. My eyes were naturally drawn to the splitting doors but to my surprise, rather than walking out to greet me, an older Fairy remained stuck in place with a knee on the ground. His actions seemed strange, but after recalling the abnormal reaction of other Fairies in Profectus, I called out to him instead.

"Sir Ambassador, I am unaccustomed to the traditional Fairy customs and courtesies. May I ask you to treat me like any other for our meeting? I am afraid I do not know how to respond to you in this state."

He seemed to hesitate, but finally stood to his feet and worked his way over towards me. I was not sure why, but he looked as if he was struggling to maintain a massive weight above his head. Was he ill?

"Do you feel ill, Sir?"

"N-No, Empress Fardom. Thank you for your concern. My name is Firo Labanza. As Countess Sugimoto eluded to, I'm an Ambassador of Azmodius."

"Forgive me for reaching this early, but I am a busy woman, Ambassador Labanza. Pray tell what business you have with me?"

His complexion seemed to worsen for some reason. My suspicion grew at his uncanny behavior and so I kneaded a small amount of mana and started invoking analytical and survey magics onto the site. I read into the situation while he delivered his lines.

"Y-yes. Queen Dazzlevine has shown an interest in you as one of the only other female Fairies to exist in the modern age. Her Highness is currently on her way to Profectus City to meet you in person. I've come before her to deliver a gift of sorts."

Saying so, he held out his hand. Laying upon his palm was a seed. I did not reach for it. The degree of mana contained within that seed was absolutely enormous. I felt sirens reverberating from my instincts not to touch the item and so I chose to question the man instead.

"Ambassador Labanza. What is this?"

"As I mentioned, it is a gift from Queen Dazzlevine."

"Does your Queen intend to assassinate me?"

"What?"

His expression looked genuine. Did he not know the contents of the seed he held? My analysis magic was going haywire as it unpackaged the compressed information inside the mana seed. My otherwise blue irises began to glow red from the abundant information being deciphered. Perhaps he noticed my eyes, but the invisible weight that rested on him seemed to become denser. I could not understand his intent, but I unpackaged enough of the seed that my wariness dropped a little. What a woman, this Queen Dazzlevine was. I felt like I would enjoy meeting her. To prepare such an item for me showed her clear expectations for me. A smile crossed my face and I accepted her challenge.

"Ambassador Labanza, do you know what this seed is? More specifically, do you know what it contains?"

"No. I am only here to deliver it and pass word."

"I see...Your Queen is quite capricious. Either that, or she intend to test me. This seed will only react to a particular type of mana signature and it will forcefully teleport the owner to a predetermined location."

"What?!"

"Let me ask you further, Ambassador Labanza. Is Queen Dazzlevine capable of teleporting long distances?"

"Yes. She is."

"Did she perhaps attempt it nearly two months ago?"

"Yes...Impossible...Did you prevent it?"

"No. A childhood friend of mine learned how to cancel teleportations as I played around with her too much. However, I have felt repeated attempts over the days ever since that happened. I had chosen to seal the space around Profectus to prevent teleportations since I was unsure if it was an enemy or ally attempting to come through. This seed though would bypass such protections and as such, I will not accept it for now. Please forgive my rudeness."

Was he stunned that I found out? No, he seemed truly confused. Well, despite his situation, I had no intention of calling forth a creature capable of both long range teleportation and compression mana to such a degree while embedding a magic inside it. I felt as if I were the pot calling the kettle black, but one could never be too cautious. Even if I were to accept the seed itself, the man who calls himself Ambassador was suspicious as well. Certainly, my attention was focused on the seed, but that did not mean I ignored my surroundings. I managed to catch what pressure was affecting the man.

Spun throughout the castle were a series of thin mana threads. Like a spider weaving a web, the intricate strands extended almost everywhere and acted as sensory devices. That being the case...This man severely underestimated me. He must be feeling the burden of the mana leaking out from me right now. Under standard conditions, he would not be affected, but due to the sensors laying everywhere, it seemed it is pressuring him. Should I call him out? No. Ruby must have noticed as well. Considering the Countess' attitude, Ruby must have informed her and cleared the webs out from the important locations already. In that case... An evil smile cross my face as I fixated my gaze on the man. I infused mana into my crimson wings and emitted it into the environment. The man's complexion paled within the next heartbeat.

"Ambassador Labanza. It is rude to spy on friendly nations. It is far worse to spy on me. If you do not want to be mentally crushed, I suggest you dismantle your magic. If you do not, do not expect me to be kind."

I pushed more mana into the atmosphere. As its density increased, shimmers of blue and teal started appearing at random within the chamber. I felt the fear in the man grow as he my intentions dawned on him and the sudden shattering of a magic followed soon after. Although it looked like the pressure lifted from him, his pale complexion remained. Such a thing could not be helped though as I did just threaten to ruin him mentally. He seemed to back off, but the silence that permeated through the air was enough to put off even myself and so I moved the meeting along.

"Ambassador Labanza, as your Queen is traveling to Profectus, I will meet her upon arrival. Please keep this seed safe and return it to her Highness. She will have far more use for it than I. Countess Sugimoto, it would appear Ambassador Labanza and I no longer have business. Please allow him to return to his accommodations. I would like to move these meets along, please."

Why is her face twisted like that? Ah...I forgot to remove the excessive mana from the environment. Certainly, at this density, even a normal Human would be bothered by it. I kneaded the mana from the environment and consumed it at a controlled pace. As it disappeared, the miniature auroras faded away as well. I ignored Ambassador Labanza's shocked expression and allowed my eyes to linger on the Countess. She must have accepted the meeting for what it was as she moved along quite speedily.

"Ambassador Labanza, please leave the hall. I will have a guard escort you out."

The Fairy left with a Knight wrapped around his arm. I somehow felt like I hurt him, but could not figure out how. The doors closed behind the exiting pair and Countess Sugimoto called for the next group. I was not sure what to think about the previous man, but I had to remain cautious against this next group. They watched me alter my form just after arriving in this world, after all. From the same set of doors Ambassador Labanza arrived through initially walked a group of four familiar individuals.

I could sense their cautious gazes on me and I am sure they felt mine on them as well. I headed the conversation off first with a request. Depending on what they wished to discuss, dangerous information could be leaked. I doubt they discussed it with Countess Sugimoto over dinner previously judging by her familiar interactions with me, but I could not allow certain details to leak until my plan was in play and so I moved.

"Countess Sugimoto. May I ask for a private room with this group?"

She seemed surprised by my request. As one would expect, asking for the mediator to leave the room of which two high profile members are meeting under their supervision might be a bit much... Despite my inner worries though, she seemed to acquiesce in ease.

"Very well then, Ruby will show you to a private room. I've matters to attend to and will not show you out on completion. Enjoy your discussion. It was good seeing you again Empress Fardom. Please have drinks with me sometime in the near future."

"I will, thank you."

Our group followed behind Ruby through the inner castle until we stopped before a heavy wooden door at the end of a hall. It seemed situated in the corner of the building where there was excessive material lining the room. Had it been built for talks such as this in mind? Ruby pulled the heavy door open and gestured out group in. After we entered, she left parting words before closing the door and leaving.

We were now alone in the room and the silence was deafening. I moved to the center table and pulled a chair from it before opening the talks.

"I suppose before we begin, I would like to thank you for the information you provided me when we last met. Due to that, I was able to plan out my next steps with efficiency. Now then, how might I interest you?"

Were they surprised that I remembered them? Their leader moved to sit down in a chair across from me while the Elf and Pantherian picks chairs on either side of him. My gazed locked onto the final Human standing, but his gestures seemed to suggest he would prefer standing so I let it go. As my eyes fell back on the Human sitting across form me, he finally opened dialogs.

"What are you?"

"Straight to the main topic, is it? Hehehe!", I could not help but retort at the frank question.

"We all saw you transform into a Fairy, so I'm certain you're not that. We've done research on our side and can't seem to find anything related to you."

"Well, that is not true, now is it?", My eyes drifted to the Elf who maintained a fixed glare on me since the start.

Despite my inability to read minds, I could always feel what type of gaze was directed at me. Hostility was the simplest to recognize followed by curiosity and jealousy, but what I felt from her was something absent of most emotion, observance. Did this woman know something about me?

"We know of historical documents that talk about beings of great power in the past, but they're spoken of only as legends."

"And so I must be one of these legends. Or so that logic follows, I assume?"

"It's a working theory."

"It is injudicious at best and ludicrous at worst. Allow me to clear the air, I am not one of your legends. I do not come from your history books. I am...a traveler of sorts. If you ask me 'what are you' then I am unable to answer. After all, you have no words to describe what I am in your language yet. I am not a Fairy, nor am I a Demon. I belong not to the Pantherians nor the Elves or Humans. As you can tell, I am also a far cry from any Elemental, though I feel an affinity towards them somehow. In the end, what I am has no bearing on either of our future actions. What else would you like to know?"

What a bitter expression that is. I did not mean to insult them, but they treated me as I were some legendary being. How else was I suppose to react? From my side, the Elf started.

"What magic did you use when you fought the Demons?"

"I do not have a good answer for you. It was certainly magic, but it has no name. I built it on the spot for that purpose after all. If I had to give it a type though, it would fall under emission and substitution type magics I believe. I have not studied the magic texts of your people though, so I do not know how you broadly categorize magics."

"What are your future plans?", their leader jumped in just as I went silent.

"That is for me to know, and for you to find out. I try not to be a tease, but your question is far too broad for me to accurately answer. If you ask me and I answer for five minutes from now, will you accept such an answer? How about two days from now? Well, if you mean in general and long term, I plan on relaxing and traveling at my own pace. There is plenty in this world to research, after all."

Did that trigger something? The moment I mentioned research, I saw their faces tighten. Is it controlled by a religious organization or restricted to certain professions? I have been here for months and I still know far too little. The human standing behind the group seemed to want to ask a question and so my gaze focused onto him.

"Do we need to be wary of you? When we first met, you froze us in our spots through pressure of presence alone. Should we be worried about your actions?"

"Would you believe my answer to that? I would not. Well, regardless of if you believe it or not...Hmmm...Yes, it is nearing time anyhow. You should fear me. In fact, you should desire to erase my existence from this planet if you know what is good for you."

They must not have expected my answer considering their paling complexions, but I had to push this through. My plan kicks off weeks from now and the world should have already noticed my movements, even if they have not connected it to me as an individual yet. The Pantherian raised his voice against the prevailing silence.

"I can't for the life of me see you as something evil. Why should we fear you to the point of killing you? Are you a threat to us?"

"In short, yes. I am a wicked being. My mere existence will be a threat to you in the future. We may lounge around and exchange pleasantries as we are now, but make no mistake, I am something that will harm you in the coming future."

I started releasing mana into the atmosphere through my wings as I did previously. I increased my presence through sheer force of will as well. Their group felt it the instant I started as my will transmitted through the excess mana in the air. I had to drive home a point during this encounter. These were the perfect couriers for my message. I increased the mana output further until sweat began rolling down their faces. With my presence heightened, I laid a final opinion onto the group.

"This world suffers from a plethora of problems which conspire to corrupt you of your reason and steal you of your common sense. Of course by you in this case, I refer not to you as an individual nor as a group or team or nation, but as a world. You see, you have found yourselves in an unknown situation and in such situations, it is common for your focus and vision to narrow; your thoughts grow dull and you make the wrong decisions. In response to my observance of such a situation, I have chosen to end that ignorant obedience to narrow thoughts."

I observed their reactions with care. I needed to ensure there was a clear enemy in their mind. Though I doubted the future would become muddy after I took action, this was a fine back up plan if anything went wrong. If I assumed everything went to plan, then this would only support the future narrative.

"Sir Belmore, was it? As I said earlier, I am a wicked being. Something evil and dangerous from your perspective. I have every intention of reworking the national borders of this world. I will do so with great aggression and I will be merciless while performing...Your face says you have a question. Please ask."

"I agree with George when he said it's hard to believe someone so evil would sit in front of us and declare they're evil so intently. You said our focus and vision is narrow, can you provide me an example of that?"

As I thought, this man is more pragmatic than emotional...

"While not the worst, I believe the most recognizable issue is this meaningless war you have been fighting for the past six hundred years. May I ask your thoughts on it?"

"The Demons continually desire more land and repeatedly attempt to conquer the lands. The treaty established between the five nations directs them to remain peaceful towards each other and assist defending Profectus City."

"That is a textbook answer, Sir Belmore. I asked you of your thoughts, not to regurgitate political nonsense."

Did that strike a nerve? What a prideful man, his face twitched at my retort but he seemed to recollect his thoughts before continuing.

"I feel it's an artificial war."

"Oh? Please furnish me with details."

I had not expected this man to encapsulate my thoughts in such a short sentence. My opinion of him grew by leaps. He seemed to hesitate but continued speaking after a short silence.

"When I was active as a Knight, we often received detailed reports about the battles between Profectus and the Demons. After reading them, I couldn't help but think the Demons continuously held back on each attack. They never made a move to overrun Profectus City even though they obviously have excess firepower. In fact, until this most recent attack, I had a thought that Profectus City was somehow in communication with the Demons and continuing an artificial war in order to take advantage of the assistance from the home nations."

"Wow...You have great insight, Sir Belmore. Please accept my sincerest apologies for my short sighted remark earlier. Your comment reflects my initial observation perfectly. If we continue with the thought this is an excessive war, tell me your opinion on the latest assault."

The pressure in the room must have started encroaching on his mentality. He struggled to remain composed behind his stoic expression as the increasing beads of sweat belied his facade. Despite the internal and external struggle, he remained calm and continued his answer.

"I'm not longer working as an active Knight, but from what I heard, Profectus was near helpless until you arrived..."

"Continue."

"I can only think of four conclusions. I believe the deal behind the scenes fell through and the Demons retaliated at which point you just happened to arrive on time. If not that, then you negotiated a deal with the Demons that was more beneficial and incited their actions."

"And the last two?"

"Your arrival changed something with the Demons or, as unlikely as it probably is, the Demons finally chose to get serious for a entirely unrelated reasons."

"I really am amazed at how your mind works...", I muttered under my breath in surprise.

His assumptions mirrored both my own thoughts and Hiiro's. Could I convert this man to an ally? No. It is too soon to judge such a thing. Unlike Aria, I do not have a grasp on his movements nor his allegiances. His motivations are also unclear for the moment. Should I probe him? I lowered the mana pressure in the room somewhat to a point where the group would still feel pressure, but would not be overwhelmed.

Just as he surmised, there was something artificial about the war with the Demons. Upon my arrival in Profectus, I measured first hand the power of the Demon General and observed the defensive power of Profectus. Speaking by the facts, Profectus City would not last long if the Demons turned serious. Suspecting a hidden deal, I had Zirco investigate the leaders of Profectus City as well as their motivations and yet I found no connections to the Demons. Such an absent agreement marked off the idea of mutual non-aggression from my list of suspicions.

Further, I befriended Aria and discovered her personality was righteous and her followers seemed to trail her thoughts as well eliminating any potential motivation to drag the war into attrition. Included in the motivations and personalities were the dwindling resources and general support from Profectus City's supporting nations. In short, neither Profectus City as a whole nor its residents held motivation for a mutual agreement with the Demons.

This Kelvin Belmore figure did not have access to that knowledge, but would eventually eliminate it after residing in this city for any period of time. If he will find out about it soon anyways...

"The Demons do not have a deal with Profectus City or any other backing nation as far as I can tell. This is also not a random assault for, as you put it, 'entirely unrelated reasons.' While I admit information provided by me should be scrutinized, feel free to know that I also do not have any deal with the Demons."

"If I believe you then...your arrival changed something with the Demons?"

I only smiled in response. Judging from his reaction, he must have started considering alternatives. Should I drop him another hint? No, it is too soon...Perhaps something as leverage for the future, then? As I predicted the potential futures from my action, my smile grew larger.

"Sir Belmore, before I defeated the enemy General, I sent him back to his Master with a message."

"!!"

"Are you surprised I could communicate with them? Well, they speak the same language as you. Your expression elucidates that negotiations were never attempted. Six hundred years and not a soul has tried to communicate with the Demons?...", I could not help but exhale strongly at the end of my question.

Six hundred years of war and not a single attempt to establish contact... This only confirms my thoughts further. This war is certainly artificial, but not due to treaties, back room deals, or clever machinations. Rather, it is more plausible this world is being held in balance through a central figure for some reason. That being the case, I must have stirred them into action by now. I doubt they can ignore my existence now that their closed system was punctured. I should expect excessive retaliation after the announcement...

Breaking the silence from the side, the Elven woman raised her voice.

"If you caused something to happen...could you revert it back?"

"Impossible."

"Eh?", she released such an uncouth noise at my immediate reply.

"It is impossible. I do not know what I changed, but I have already taken irreversible actions. I declared to the Demon General that Profectus City was under my protective domain. If you were trying to grasp something you wanted and a third, unknown, unexpected, party emerged to steal it from under your nose, how would you feel?"

I made sure to direct her gaze with my own to the Kelvin Belmore man in front of me. Perhaps understanding my intent, she flushed crimson but responded despite her condition.

"I can't believe you! Why did you do something so aggressive!?"

"I share the same opinion as that young man. This world is stuck in an eternal artificial war. Such a thing disrupts my desires for the future, so I moved to destroy it."

My eyes remained on Kelvin Belmore as I answered her question. Is he able to read between the lines? As if deciphering my intentions, I saw his eyes widen in surprise. Seeing the expressive release, my own face turned crescent in relief. I narrowed my eyes and emitted an explosive amount of mana into the atmosphere to prevent him from confirming anything. The members at the table fell to their seats and ground unable to withstand the pressure.

"Let us end our conversation here. I suggest you remain in town. There is an exciting event coming up soon that will change the world. I suggest you witness it from the front row seats."

I expended even more mana until there was sufficient amount to invoke a long range teleportation. I kneaded the inane mana in and instant dropping the temperature in the room below zero and lowered the pressure enough to sheer the door off its hinges from the explosive change. I invoked the teleportation magic leaving the group behind.

***

I reached for my head as I looked around at the rest of my team. That insane woman nearly knocked me unconscious through mana pressure alone, but those complaints of mine were drowned out after my thoughts revisited our conversation. Though I didn't have a chance to confirm it, I was certain from her smirking face that she realized I stumbled across her intents. Once again...What an insane woman. I lifted my heavy body from the stool and offered a hand to Silas who seemed to be stunned still on the ground.

"Are you alright?"

"Y-Yeah. Just a bit light headed."

"Zeena, George, how about you two?"

Zeena's expression didn't look too bad, unexpectedly. While the rest of us had pale complexions, she seemed to have a warm pink mantled to her cheeks. Her groans affirmed she was good to go, but George appeared to take the brunt of the mana. Unlike the rest of us, Pantherians had a bad affinity with magic in general so his body must have felt the worst in our group after being soaked in the inane quantities of raw mana the woman dispersed.

"Hey, Kelvin...What are we supposed to report back with?"

"I don't intend to report back yet. That woman...She is planning on becoming a martyr."

"I didn't get that feeling from her, though...", Silas countered my assertion with a rather relaxed tone.

"No...She is planning something similar to that. I imagine it goes further than that considering she tested me."

"So did you pass the test?", George recovered enough to mumble out.

"I don't know. If I'm right though, she is going to be known world wide soon. She focused our attention on the war in particular, but said there were many issues early in. Considering that, I think her first move is to somehow affect the state of the war."

"Is that even possible?", Zeena seemed to ask in doubt, but I saw through her eyes the fear of belief in her own question.

"It's easily possible. I can think of a few ways to affect it with that degree of power. I doubt she showed even a fraction of her total power just now. Seriously, what an insane woman...If I had to say, the easiest way to change the state of war would be to wipe Profectus City off the face of the continent. If she abandoned it after, the nations would be forced to re-establish Profectus and it would ignite an active war against the Demons but...I don't believe that's her plan. She focused too much on convincing us she was a critical enemy."

"Yeah, she called herself a wicked being after all. I can't remember the last time I even heard something called wicked.", Silas seemed to poke at her odd speech patterns, but his attempt to lighten the mood slid by without results.

I continued speaking my thoughts while walking across the room to the wrecked door.

"If changing the state of the war is her objective there are a few ways to go about it. She revealed her attempt to contact the Demons and she established mostly friendly relations with Profectus City. I can't imagine her acting as an intermediary, so I don't think she intends to advocate peace between the two sides but...I can't help but think back to a few reports Lenard showed me."

"Talking bout the caves sprouting up everywhere?"

I brushed my hand across the shattered remnants of the door, there were clear indicators the door was weakened before it was destroyed. Pressure alone wouldn't have damaged the door to this degree. She must have provided a show as a form of intimidation. The shattering door served as a showmanship of her power then? No, the reports suggest her personality wouldn't persist with needless actions. In which case, this door is also a hint? That pressure drop wasn't enough to hurt us, nor was the temperature so this door should have been fine if left alone... I continued my conversation responding back to Silas who read the reports with me.

"Yeah. Those started randomly popping up across Klasika, but there were sporadic reports about those appearing in Azmodius and Naoki as well. If we assume they are appearing in the Demons' territory, Gilphriya and Kanthu, then there must be a purpose behind them. I have a feeling she is related to them, but the investigations haven't yielded any useful information yet. Aside from a heightened concentration of mana at each site, the caves themselves take on different appearances. Without further information though, it's hard to say. Now then...What should our next action be?"

"For now, can we return to the Inn? I feel like I need a bath after that."

"Yeah...Let's go team."

I left the shattered door behind with the encounter replaying in my mind. Somehow, I had the feeling I was still being tested.

***

"Oi! Ya see anything in there?"

"Naw man. It's just flat ground around here... Wait a sec."

"What's up, found something?"

"Yeah, the ground gave out a bit. Gimmie the shovel."

The farmer exited out of the cave and removed a shovel from his wagon. Rushing back to the cave entrance, he tossed the shovel into the darkness.

"I threw it in near the center!"

"Yeah, yeah. Found it. Hold on a bit, the ground is getting looser."

"Hoho! I tell ya, we gonna find treasure!"

"Yeah, I don't see it, but-"

Interrupting the man's words dust billowed from the cave entrance. Shouts from the man assumed place of the momentary silence and yet the farmer refused to enter the cave to help from fear. It took only seconds for the scream to die out before the huffing of his friend closed in. Catching sight of his face, the farmer wielded a smile at his friend's safety that shattered as soon as it appeared. Behind his friend, a large creature with joints affixed to stone lumbered along only a few steps from his friend as if chasing him.

The farmers eyes widened and his fear suspended him in place. Without a care for his friend, the man ran past the farmer as the behemoth continued to trudge out the cavern entrance. The dust that once covered its frame cleared from the natural breeze leaving behind a hulking creature made of stone and crystal. The creature ignored the frozen man and changed its trajectory to the nearest city. Every lurch performed during its clumsy walk reverberated through the ground.

As the creature gained distance from the farmer, he fell to his knees from relief while shaking and closed his eyes to help calm down. Though the creature was far now, the thuds against the ground didn't seem to fade. He cautiously opened his eyes only to see the sight of six further creatures of similar build exiting the cave. At the towering monstrosities that moved beyond his position, the man fainted. His last visions included the creature departing in different directions, all carrying a massive crystalline orb on their back.

 

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