”How’s the situation back in the city.” The old man asked. He had given Dee a rare day off to rest. He and Razark were sitting around a small table drinking tee. They had decisions to make.
Razark looked at the old man with some curiosity. Usually the old fart showed no interest in anything outside the temple. “It feels like the calm before a big storm. The order is preparing for war, on which side I’m not sure. The grandmaster is keeping his cards close to chest on this one. The empire is just about ready to blow up and the vultures are circling.”
The old man mulled the news for a bit. “I heard the grandmaster’s family is big in Spring court. One would think they’d side with the Seelie of Summer court.”
“You’re making a lot of assumptions, many of which I’m starting to doubt. I think there’s more to this coming civil war than meets the eye.” Razark said, thoughtfully rubbing his chin.
Politics were not the old man’s forte. “Explain. From the outside it seems pretty clear to me. I’m working on old information though.” Many of the order’s scouts came here to train and in return kept the old man updated. Usually they didn’t get much personal tutelage from the old man, but any training they did get was very effective for their growth.
“Well the first problem is that the Unseelie of the Winter court are fractured. The refusal of the heir apparent to take on the Authority has divided them. Many see it as selfishness on her part, especially when combines with her refusing the marriage. The Authority is not just about the power that comes with it, it’s also a powerful symbol for the empire. That the heir is planning to throw that away sits badly with many. There are also those that want to take advantage of the situation by elevating their own daughters to the position.” Razark explained.
“If they are so divided, then why are the other courts having so much trouble? Shouldn’t they be able to impose their will on the divided Winter court?” The old man asked.
“While the Winter court is divided internally, externally they are still showing a united front due to their joint agenda of changing the isolationist position of the empire. To top things off, many in Spring court are coming around to this position, and I’m not entirely sure where the grandmaster’s family falls in this. I’m guessing he personally agrees with the Winter court considering his position, but that’s just him.” Razark tapped his chin in thought. He didn’t like acting using guesswork as basis.
“And the Autumn court?” The old man prodded.
“That’s another problem. Usually their military strength would weigh on things heavily, but they can’t afford to get mired in internal trouble. That’s where the vultures I mentioned before come in. The forces outside the empire are getting wise to the internal troubles and they’re flexing their muscles. The Autumn court is in a fully prepared for war already. There’s a catch though. If the external threats don’t materialize, they will still be ready for war, and they will have a big advantage over the other courts. The Autumn court has always attracted the most warlike clans in the empire, so they are militarily the strongest. Only the Winter court could rival them, and they might decide not to if it seems armies are their best solution for resolving all this.” Razark knew that armies usually held only limited sway within the politics of the courts, as the courts didn’t bow down to military might and there were other considerations. That was only true so long as the whole thing didn’t devolve into a full blown civil war though.
“And I’m guessing the Spring and Autumn courts are both also considering the possibility of gaining a bigger say in things if things go belly up for the Sidhe?” The old man rhetorically asked.
“Of course, and this might be the perfect opportunity. However, there’s something else at work. The movements of the courts don’t make sense with just the normal considerations. They are playing some other game I’m not even aware about.” Razark voiced his doubts.
“And will you be dragged in?” The old man asked.
“That depends on how heavily the grandmaster intends to involve us in the whole affair. I’m still one of the Blades though, even if reluctantly. The possibility exists. And the girl? Will she be ready if things go to shit?” Razark had kept up on Dee’s training, but his attention had been elsewhere lately.
The old man thought for a while. “At the moment? No. If you give me a few years, then yes. Shorter if you stick around to help.”
“You know how busy I am.” Razark pointed out.
“Are you though? Most of the things you’re doing could be handled by your underlings. Even those Blades that came from the scouts would do your job for you if you just asked. Know what I think? I think you’re just avoiding the girl. You don’t want to get too attached.” The old man shook his head in disappointment.
Razark growled. “And you know exactly why that is.”
“I know. But you can’t go the rest of your life avoiding attachments. Besides, it’s not like your situation has improved with that avoidance. You’re just treading water to avoid drowning, but you’re not making any effort to swim to safety. She could be your chance. But that would require taking a risk. You don’t do risks like that anymore.” The old man was clearly scolding Razark. He knew this would make the idiot disciple defensive, but this had to be resolved.
He gave a mirthless chuckle. “You’ve got high expectations for her.”
“Don’t you? Isn’t that why you brought her here? Don’t think I didn’t notice. You’re just getting cold feet now that it’s time to actually throw yourself into it. It’s like you’ve got a phobia against getting close to someone.” The old man was still harsh, but his tone was softening just a tad.
“Tell me. Help me convince myself.” Razark asked in almost a pleading tone. His resistance was crumbling but he had trouble taking the last step to acceptance. He had known it would come to this, but the mental block he had imposed on himself was too strong.
The old man laughed. “You really did give me a gem to polish. The ability of psions is just stupid. Who goes from barely being able to fight me to having their own almost perfect unarmed combat style and the ability to kick me around when I’m not using my ki in less than a year? I had her learn so many unarmed combat styles as almost a joke. I didn’t think she’d actually do it. If she had the same amount of power as we do, she’d kick both of our asses and look good while doing it. I guarantee that when you start her armed training, she’ll have your number in less than a year. In two, we’ll have the meanest non-immortal in the entirety of Pantheon on our hands, and not by a short margin either. And she’s still class six psion for fuck’s sake! Imagine when she actually hits the higher ranks.”
Razark frowned a bit. “She’s still class six? With her previous growth rate I would’ve pegged her to hit class seven by now.”
“I think she’s not far, but there’s something you might not have realized. Psions grow their strength a bit different. Her natural growth has already ended and she hasn’t really had much change for meditation while under my tender care. I think she’s also the type who gains a lot from the death of her enemies, and she hasn’t killed anything for almost a year. Throw her in a situation with people dying around her and I’m pretty sure she’ll hit class seven almost immediately. I’m thinking of sending her to hunt in the wilderness soon.” The old man had observed Dee closely this year and had figured some things out.
Razark nodded as the information agreed with his earlier information. “Fine. I already chose this path when I took her in. I just need to go with that judgement. I’ll stay. You’re right. It’s time to swim. I’ve been stuck in place for too long already. Whether this will work out or not, the time has come to at least try.
The old man grinned. “There may yet be hope for you, idiot disciple.”
Dee had been surprised by her sudden day off, but she would most certainly take advantage. First thing on the agenda was to seek out Nessera and squeeze out all the information the succubus had. The two had had some chances to talk while Dee was recovering, but not enough to really get into it. Dee had given the succubus some instructions on what to do and Nessera had complied almost happily. It seemed the succubus was not-so-secretly fond of being ordered around.
‘But why am I enjoying it just as much?’ Dee thought in confusion. She liked the authority. More than she should.
“So how has your stay at the mountain been?” Dee asked. She wasn’t actually sure what the succubus did here all this time.
“Good sides and bad sides. I’ve actually learned quite a bit here. While the masters of the mountain aren’t big on illusions, they’re great at countering them, so I’ve learned a lot about dealing with the counters. I also don’t have any aspirations to become a magical warrior, but the training has been useful. Being able to defend yourself is always a nice skill to have. The time has been productive, and a year is nothing for a succubus. What I’m less fond of is the fact that the trainees and students are all resisting my advances. The masters even toss me out of the door if I try anything on them. I haven’t gotten laid for a whole year, and for one of my kind that is problematic.” Nessera had a rather adorable pout.
“You’ll survive.” Dee said rather unsympathetically. She herself had her own problems with not being able to kill anything. The old bastard had also forced her into using that weird draconic power a few times before he noticed it had adverse effects on Dee’s psyche. That had made her ravenously hungry and no amount of food satisfied that hunger. “What did you find out about the race of the old bastard and Razark?”
“Meanie. Well they really are from the same race, and they’re called the Alpyrans. Apparently they are in a similar situation to us as they are collateral damage of the stupid purge of the angels.”
“They’re demons?” Dee asked surprised. She didn’t get that vibe from the old man.
“No, I said they were collateral damage remember. The Alpyrans are, or were at least, a relatively common race outside Pantheon once upon a time. Their antlers and horns make them look a little demonic, and their race tends to be notoriously quick-tempered so they got lumped in with the demons when the purge came. Their neighbors were not fond of them it seems. They have a pretty strict code of honor, but it tends to be a bit on the dark side. Due to their hot blooded nature any country formed by the Alpyrans usually got into conflict with its surroundings. You insult one of them and a whole lot of them come crashing on your head.
“That’s another thing. The buggers have a fiery temper and they tend to be opportunistic, but they are very loyal to their kin. That extends to members of other races that they’ve accepted as kin by the way. They strive to come on top in any deal, much like gnomes and dwarves, and they tend to be cunning negotiators. They don’t mind working for the common good, but only so far as that common good doesn’t take long enough for them to get bored or come at too high a price. They tend to go their own way whenever they feel it’s necessary.” Nessera explained.
“Well that explains why they would get caught up in things. I knew the angels weren’t too particular in whom they purged, but it’s always nasty to see. So that their past. How’s their current situation?” Dee asked.
“Well, pretty ok all things considered. Although they are very kin centric, they aren’t big on making communities with just their own kind. The race as a whole is pretty intelligent so they saw the signs early. Most of them fled to Pantheon before the purge hit too badly and they are one of the more common races in certain parts of the two cities. They tend to favor the Night city though. They’re spread out and their race is fairly thriving. Since they can also procreate with other races pretty freely, the result mostly being more Alpyrans, they’re pretty well covered on that front as well. They also tend to be aesthetically pleasing to most races and are unafraid to show it, so that helps. They’re pretty nomadic as well from what I gathered.” Nessera actually quite liked the Alpyrans. They sounded like a fun bunch.
“Humm. You managed to gather more info than I thought.” Dee said rather pleased.
“Well, while the students won’t hop in the sack with me, they aren’t immune to my charms. They can enjoy some flirting every now and then, and they tend to be rather loose lipped while flirting. I just wish they would put their lips to better use.” Nessera rubbed her hand on her crotch meaningfully.
“I really don’t need to know.” Dee commented with a shake of her head. “Anyway, I think it’s about time we talked about the reason you were dragged along here in the first place.”
“Ah yes, you wanted to know about the hells, correct? You do seem a bit too young to have seen them yourself. How old are you anyway?” Nessera asked with some curiosity. Dee was something of an enigma to her. On one hand the girl was far from being small. In fact she towered above the much smaller succubus. That also excited Nessera for many reasons. There were a lot of tall demonic races though so that was a bad indication of age. Dee also had a very mature feel to her, seemingly beyond her years. Yet in some things she was very innocent.
“I’m going to hit eighteen soon-ish. Why?” Dee asked with a frown.
“Just curious. I would say that according to some standards you were becoming an adult, but I’m not sure what race you are so that might or might not apply. Anyway. You’re a bit too young to have seen the fall of the hells then. What do you want to know?” Nessera was both surprised by Dee’s age, and at the same time she was not surprised at all.
“Starts with the basics. Assume I know nothing.” Dee replied curtly.
“The basics then. So you’ve probably heard that there were thirteen of the hells. What’s less known is the fact that the number was not constant and was somewhat in flux. Each hell was led by and controlled by a Demon Lord. The title is somewhat superfluous, as all of them were not even demons. It’s simply something the other races called beings of their power, and the name stuck. It became something of a badge of honor, I suppose. Many demons competed for the position. In fact the hells were in a constant state of war internally and with each other. It’s simply something in our nature as beings that seek change. Anyway, it was said that if the hells ever truly united then the forces of Paradisia would have no chance to oppose the might of the hells. Not that such an alliance ever came to pass or would have held for long.
“The number of hells was dependent on the number of Demon Lords powerful enough to create and hold them. Think immortals at rank twelve or above. Sometimes a Demon Lord and their hell would lose too much power and the hell would collapse. The demons within would flee to another hell or into other worlds before that happened though. The size and relative position of the hell within their little hierarchy was dependent on the aggregate power of all the being calling the place home. The biggest and oldest hells had power that equaled five or six of the smaller hells.” Nessera had a vacant look as she recalled things from her memory.
“Were there further differences between the hells? And what about the Fallen?” Dee asked eagerly.
“Ah right, I seem to recall you had an angel form of sorts and the black wing would signal your status as a Fallen. Well, the hells were usually gathered around a certain idea. It can be a little hard to explain, but I’ll try. The mortals liked to say we were divided by sins. That’s not exactly right but not wrong either. The sins were not the point, it just so happened that the ideas behind the sins were powerful enough to divide us. For instance, Succubi were mostly residing in the sixth hell that was dedicated to hedonism and lust. So demons that gravitated towards those ideas would often reside in the sixth hell. There were others like the second hell dedicated to war and bloodlust, which the mortals falsely named Wrath and so on. Not all of the hells were as strongly themed, as they were based on the ideas of their Demon Lord. Some Demon Lords weren’t big on such themes.
“As for the Fallen, they were always something of a weird addition to the hells. They weren’t demons really, but they were natural allies. They controlled the first hell simply because their power was so great, but they weren’t actually big on the hells in general. As a result they didn’t spend much time there. They were the one race that came off the best when the hells collapsed. The problem is that they were also the ones that the angels most wanted to kill off. The purge was mostly aimed at them, although the angels claimed otherwise. I honestly don’t know what happened to them afterwards. I fled pretty quickly as I was just a tiny demon at the time. I haven’t heard much news, but then again I wouldn’t. Neither the angels nor the Fallen would advertise their situation.” Nessera gave a small chuckle.
“I would guess there are some of them in hiding.” Dee mused.
“That seems logical. Plus the angels don’t like to advertise it but the Fallen were once part of them. It’s not like there won’t be any new Fallen. I heard all the Fallen were part of the angels but a schism of sorts happened. I guess some of them went on the side of darkness and chaos. They’re still not separate races or anything, although their offspring sticks with the parent’s alignment from what I heard.”
Dee was lost in thought for a while. “Are you planning on leaving this place once the year is up?” She suddenly asked.
“Why? I mean I’m learning quite a lot here, but I’m getting way too horny. I’d hump a tree at this point. So I suppose yes. Still. Why?” Nessera asked narrowing her eyes.
“Well, I’d like for you to find some information for me. I would prefer you would keep your ear to the ground so to speak. I’d like more information on the Fallen especially, if you can manage it.” Dee said.
“Well then. Now we come to the point. What’s in it for me? This whole dance we’ve had has been fun, but I’m not your underling per se. I’m not just going to get into trouble for nothing.” Nessera played her hand. Now was the best chance to get something out of this.
“I can pay. I’ve heard you’ve run into money troubles before.” Dee jangled her money pouch. She still remembered why the succubus had gotten into trouble.
“That’s nice and all, but as it happens your master Razark also compensated me monetarily, and fairly well at that. Also, while I do miss my more luxurious lifestyle, this year has actually been good for me on that front, helping me to avoid such trouble in the future.” Nessera’s smile widened. No, there was something else she was after.
“Well you seem to have something in mind. Spit it out.” Dee prompted.
“As it happens I quite enjoyed the spanking you gave me earlier. Like I said, I’m almost prepared to hump a tree at this point. It occurs to me I may not have to. I’d like you to repeat your performance, and then I’d like you to finish what we started back then. I know you lack experience in this field. There’s a lot you could learn from a succubus. You could think of it as another part of your training.” Nessera knew she had the edge now, and she added a small bit that she knew would appeal to Dee.
Dee’s eyebrow shot up. The succubus’ idea wasn’t entirely without merit. Dee seemed to be something of a late bloomer when it came to things sexual. She was only just waking up to such things, but she knew quite a bit more from other sources. She also recognized that a succubus really could show her a trick or two, and while her interest in the field was still just starting, having such skills could be useful in the future. Nessera was also a pleasant enough looking partner and brought out some things in Dee that she hadn’t felt before. This idea merited some thought…