The answer comes instantly, without a shred of hesitation.
And for some reason, these idiots seem shocked by my decision.
I mean, there was really no way I would have agreed to such an unreasonable request, now, was there? That should have been obvious.
“M–May I ask the reason for your refusal, Lady Akasha?” Salem asks, tripping a little over his own words.
That would be ‘reasons’. Plural. Because I can think of many of them.
I’m glad I read up on human anatomy and life cycles, though, or I wouldn’t have really known how to answer. I guess Sanae could have made the decision in my place, in that case.
Reason 1. I’m physically incapable of reproducing. At the very least, I’m physically incapable of reproducing the way humans do, by way of sexual intercourse with a male of my species; there might be other ways of which I’m not aware. Apparently, from what Salem said, all devils are supposed to be sterile, but in my case, I’m not sure ‘sterile’ would be the appropriate word. In my case, it’s not simply that the organs necessary for reproduction fail to work properly. It’s that they’re not there at all. A womb, for example; I lost such a thing during my transformation into a demon, when all my internal organs shifted and changed and mutated. From the outside, I suppose my reproductive system looks perfectly normal – and would feel perfectly normal to someone attempting to copulate with me – but really, it serves little purpose other than decoration, at this point. It might be correct to qualify it as vestigial.
Reason 2. Even if these devils appear to have found a way to fix reason number one – which I doubt would work on me – there is no way I would subject myself to some sort of experimental medical procedure. I’ve struggled for 300 years to temper and refine this body of mine into a serviceable weapon; I have absolutely no intention of leaving it in some stranger’s hands to do with as they see fit. That’s just too much of a risk.
Reason 3. Even if I did accept the devils’ dubious treatment against sterility, and it did somehow work as advertised, there is still the problem of my body’s rather aggressive defensive mechanisms. Any foreign element that cannot be converted into blood-qi is summarily destroyed after only a few moments. A fetus trying to grow within me would most likely be construed as an invading parasite and thus exterminated.
Reason 4. As I said, I know how human-style reproduction works. And that rhino is just way too huge. It’d never fit inside me.
Reason 5. If all of the above were resolved and I was successfully impregnated, I’d still be stuck in the body of a little kid. Furthermore, my growth rate seems somewhat different from that of a baseline human child. While my proportions are closer to an adult’s than my age – apparent age – would suggest, I’m also slightly smaller overall than a regular 12-year-old. Disregarding the size of my breasts or the curve of my hips, my body size is more like a 9- or 10-year-old’s. Which I suspect would pose some very real problems, if I were to ever try and give birth.
Reason 6. Salem’s claimed motivation to select me as the mother is to transmit my talent to the child I would produce. Which is ridiculous. If they’re looking for such a thing as ‘talent’, they should try somewhere else. Or are they laboring under the misconception that I reached my current level in a measly 30 years, like the rhino over there? No. I have no particular gift in cultivation. The only reason I’m strong is because I spent 300 years fighting one monster after another. Anyone would become strong in such a situation – that, or die, I guess.
Reason 7. I have frankly no reason to help the devils. Certainly, they politely answered my questions, earlier, but that’s not nearly enough to inspire the sort of gratitude I would need to accede to their request. In the end, what fate ultimately befalls the devils and apostles is irrelevant to me.
Reason 8. Human pregnancies last 9 months. If demon pregnancies are anything like them, I can’t afford to waste that much time. I need to look for Nerys and kill that ‘God-Emperor’ fellow – confirming he’s actually my enemy would be good, too; Salem’s information might not be entirely reliable.
I can’t think of a ninth reason.
But eight of them should already be more than enough.
That would be a lot to explain, though.
Let’s try to shorten it down to a few words for Salem and the others.
[…Because I don’t want to.]
This time, when Grigori slams his fist down on the table, it shatters completely, one of the legs rolling to a stop against the wall. I actually had to dodge a piece of flying wooden shrapnel. I wonder if I should consider this an attack?
“Do you think we’re playing around, brat? Do you think this is a game? The survival of our entire species beyond slavery is at stake here!” he shouts at me, rising to his feet, the crown of his head almost brushing against the ceiling. “How about you start taking this seriously?!”
His eyes start burning bright red, and qi pressure that I’m sure the others in the room must find intensely uncomfortable seeps out from his body.
It doesn’t affect me, though.
This is a clear sign of hostility, but this time, Salem doesn’t rein him in. Instead, he is still staring at me, looking greatly conflicted. The other devils too are watching Grigori’s attempt to coerce me. But apart from Sekka, they all look much less conflicted than Salem. If a fight actually starts, I know on which side of the battle they will stand – not that they’ll be able to change its outcome.
If it does turn to violence, none of them will stay standing very long.
“Then are you saying you don’t care what happens to your own species?” Grigori continues his interrogation, still shouting at the top of his lungs. I’m starting to envy Finram for his decision to remain outside; his eardrums are safe. “Are you saying you’re simply going to watch all of us die or be enslaved?”
“Are you saying… What?”
Apparently, Grigori wasn’t expecting for me to answer. I think I read about this, somewhere. Rhetorical questions. I’m still not sure how to differentiate between those and regular questions, though, so I hope he’ll forgive me for interrupting him. In any case, as I transmitted my words to everyone in the room, all of them have heard me. If the atmosphere had become tense because of my earlier rejection, then now, it is downright glacial.
“What did you just say?” Grigori growls with his low, rumbling voice.
That’s what I just said.
Gigori takes a step toward me, walking menacingly along the table. “You…”
“Grigori, wait!” Salem suddenly calls out. Without waiting for the rhino’s reaction, he turns back toward me. “Lady Akasha, please. If you require payment, I’m sure there are many things we could do for you. Strength of arms isn’t the only resource we have at our disposal. Whatever you need, we should definitely be able to help you get it.”
That might actually be true. If they have a decent intelligence organization working for them, they may be able to help me find Nerys.
But… these devils have explicitly admitted that they’re terrible at keeping themselves under control, and that they don’t even try to, when they meet any other species than their own. I’m already worried about myself hurting Nerys if I meet her before finding a way to neutralize some of my more violent instincts. I don’t want an entire army of things even worse than I am posing that exact same danger to her. That would be worse than useless.
In the end, I don’t trust anybody to find Nerys but myself.
This answer doesn’t please my audience any more than before. The smell of impending violence hangs in the air, and I wonder if I’m really going to have to kill them all. I don’t think I would mind that terribly.
“AAAAAAAAAH! YOU! YOU WILL DIE FOR THIS! YOU WILL ALL DIE FOR THIS!”
After a scream of utter rage, Finram’s magic-enhanced, crazed voice suddenly rings out like thunder. I hurriedly flatten my ears against my skull. This was so loud I’m pretty sure that everyone within 20 kilometers must have heard him. He’s giving the lie to my comment about eardrums.
Just what on earth happened to make him so angry?
Does it have something to do with Lilly?
I guess I should go take a look.
Without any sign of acknowledgment toward the devils in the room, I stand up from my seat, stepping around the remains of the destroyed table, and head for the door Salem led me through earlier.
However, before I can reach it, Grigori’s bulk steps in front of it, blocking my way. His eyes are glowing like embers in the gloom as he looks down on me from his tall frame. “Where do you think you’re going?”
Which is a really stupid question, I have to say. He should be able to guess without my input.
My steps don’t falter in the least, despite his obstruction and the clear threat in his voice. When I’m within a meter of him, it looks like the devils weren’t joking when they said they lose control when excited, because Grigori suddenly decides the smart thing to do at this moment is to attack me.
“Grigori, wait! Stop!”
Salem’s voice has no effect, and Grigori commits to the blow.
Well, I guess this is it, then.
His two huge hands, each as big as my entire torso, sweep toward me as an animalistic growl bubbles up his throat, his teeth showing in a hate-filled snarl. The strength in those arms is undeniable. Truly. He could most probably give a good fight to Finram or to Shen Lei.
But it’s still woefully insufficient.
If we’re talking brute strength, Haris, the huge god from Fushia City, was better, even on par with me.
As for this arrogant little devil child…
He doesn’t understand.
He doesn’t understand how I’ve lived my life up until now.
He doesn’t understand that, even though I’ve made some efforts to restrain myself since I arrived in this place, I’m having some real trouble seeing him and his little friends as anything other than food, by now.
When Grigori’s fingertips are about to touch me, when I hear the devils behind me scrambling out of their seats too, I duck under the sweep aimed at my face, my motion so fast and abrupt I probably all but disappeared from their lines of sight from one instant to the next.
A negligible fraction of a second later, the sound of my adamantine fist smashing into Grigori’s chest shakes the whole building, and his large frame blows through the door behind him, and the walls, until he disappears behind curtains of crashing rubble. Most of the room around me has been turned to wood shavings under the shockwave of my blow.
I lightly land from the jump I needed to make to reach the height of Grigori’s chest, then simply direct my steps through the hallway toward the building’s front door, licking Grigori’s blood off my fingers and ignoring the stunned devils behind me. None of them follow me.
Well, I doubt Grigori would die so easily, but he should be knocked out for a short while. I’ll just put him down for good later.
Right now, I want to see what’s got Finram so riled up.
boom! bang! booooom!
Sounds of battle reach me from the street we walked through when we entered the village, and when I exit the building and take a look around, I see that my ears didn’t mislead me. Enormous tree roots are waving in the air, trying to catch and crush a flying devil, who looks slightly distressed but still manages to dodge every attack by the narrowest of margins each and every time, dancing through the sky. His task is helped by the clearly erratic control of the magic imbued in the tree roots. The person using them definitely isn’t at his best, right now.
I spread out my senses and follow the trail of qi to the top of the house on the opposite side of the street.
Finram should be there.
Since the house itself still looks relatively whole and sound – contrary to all the others around it, which are only rubble – I risk it and make the jump, leaping over the street and landing on the edge of the rooftop in a single bound.
As expected, I find Finram kneeling here, with a small bundle in his arms. Drops of red blood are steadily dripping from the cloth wrapped around the bundle, a widening pool already forming under Finram’s feet. Finram himself seems wholly focused on the flying devil and doesn’t appear to have noticed my presence at all. His cheeks are streaked with tears and his mouth twisted in an insane rictus.
Without caring about all the magic he’s throwing around, I approach him and take a look at the thing he’s carrying.
Lilly’s pale, bloodied face greets me, her eyes closed, her eyelids fluttering as if attempting – and just barely failing – to open. She looks in pretty bad shape, but she’s still breathing. Her heartbeat does seem to be weakening at a noticeable rate, though, so she probably won’t stay that way for much longer. And something else feels wrong, too, although what it is doesn’t hit me until after a few seconds.
But then, I realize that all her limbs have been removed.
That’s why she looks so small in Finram’s arms.
That must hurt. A lot.
A few things have happened to my own limbs, over the years, and it was never pleasant, but even I never ended up in quite such a pitiful state as this. I wonder why the devils didn’t kill her. What’s the point in just cutting off her arms and legs? Did that serve a purpose of some sort?
As a few strands of my soul force examine Lilly’s condition in more detail, I suddenly hear Salem’s voice pop up from right behind me.
“Lady Akasha,” he says, “please reconsider. Grigori was too rash to recognize the difference between the two of you, but I’m sure we can come to an understanding.”
His words don’t really register, though, so surprised am I that I didn’t even notice him approach me. Does he have some sort of stealth magic? Restraining any outward display of my shock – a predator does not show weakness in front of prey – I slowly look over my shoulder. Not just Salem is here. All the other devils – except Grigori himself, of course – are standing right there behind me, on the rooftop.
…When did they get here?
I didn’t notice.
I must have been too focused on inspecting Lilly’s injuries.
Dangerous, that. I must be more careful in the future.
[…Why are you laughing?]
<You. Not. Honest.>
[…Honest about what?]
What on earth is this dumbass spider saying, now?
I disregard both Sanae’s and Salem’s different breeds of nonsense and reach out for Finram’s shoulder in order to stop him from his ridiculous display of magic. He’s still expending absurd amounts of qi to very little effect, only scoring a glancing blow on the flying devil every now and then, not even managing to bring him down from the sky. If he’d fought that badly against Keller on the train, back then, he would have been killed instantly.
However, it seems I made a mistake, and approaching him wasn’t the right thing to do at the moment.
When the very tips of my fingers are about to touch his body, he suddenly flinches heavily and finally seems to notice my presence on the roof, along with that of the other devils who followed after me. A burning glare turns in my direction, and all of a sudden, the tree roots flailing ineffectually around the flying devil stop.
And then, they turn to me.
They slither through the air like snakes, turning and twisting, their pointed tips and thorns angling in my direction.
But if they couldn’t even injure the flying devil, these roots are obviously no threat to me. It only takes an instant for me to dodge around them and slip through them, and for Finram to be laid on his back on the rooftop, one of my feet pressing down on his throat. The impact of my kick – if it can be called as such, considering Finram isn’t spread out in pieces over the entire village, right now – was enough to make him lose his grip on Lilly, so I decided to catch her and carry her myself, since it seemed she would die instantly if she fell down along with him.
Seeing Lilly’s broken body held against my chest apparently seems to infuriate Finram even further, and he starts struggling and thrashing and lashing out at me like a madman, screaming and cursing and frothing at the mouth. However, it seems that, by now, he’s completely lost control of his magic. The tree roots are waving crazily through the air, smashing into buildings, ploughing deep trenches in the streets. They don’t worry me, though, since they’re so big they displace enough air for me to perfectly feel out their trajectories, even without actually seeing them. Even if they happened to target me, avoiding them would be a trivial matter.
Still, this brat should calm down a little.
I slightly increase the amount of weight I put on my foot – I still obviously restrain myself; Finram is quite young and doesn’t seem to have practiced much body strengthening, so he should at most be twice as strong as a normal human and probably wouldn’t do so well with my full weight resting on his throat – until he starts making small strangled sounds and his struggles diminish in intensity.
Still, he continues staring at me with hatred, his gaze unflinching.
I don’t really care, though. He can stare all he wants.
The flying devil, freed from the tree roots’ attacks, chooses this moment to land amidst the group, taking a few running steps on the rooftop before finally coming to a halt.
He looks jovially at everyone, apparently failing to notice the still strained atmosphere among the devils – although it lightened somewhat after they witnessed me mistreating Finram like this. “Thanks for that,” he says to me with a bright smile. “That bastard got a bit uppity when I returned the hostage. Hahaha! You sure got him good, though. You really are as strong as Salem said you would be.”
I glance at the new arrival out of the corner of my eye. His eyes are slanted, his teeth sharp and triangular, and he has tiny white feathers growing out of his skin. He looks like he’d be really soft to the touch.
Glancing back and forth between me and Salem’s group of devils, he continues. “Are you guys still negotiating?” He winks at me. “You playing hard to get? Hahaha!” As he laughs, his gaze trails down to Lilly, still held in my arms, her blood staining the apron of my maid uniform deep red. “Anyway, do you think I could have that back? I’m not done with…”
His nonsense is abruptly interrupted when my left arm whips through the air, leaving a sonic boom in its wake. In the flicker it takes for it to reach its intended destination, it extends and sharpens, and before anyone here can react, it pierces straight through this obnoxious flying man’s head, brain matter and bone fragments exploding out the back of his skull and showering the rooftop behind him.
Salem and his devils gasp at the sight of their ally, speared at the end of my unnaturally long arm, and this time, all of them let out some actual bloodlust in my direction.
“Lady Akasha,” Salem says from behind me, his voice now cold and biting, “there are too few of us left for us to engage in factional strife. We have to live in peace with each other. We have more than enough enemies already.”
‘We’… is it?
In response to Salem’s protest, I simply turn to the flying devil’s corpse, still hanging off the ice spear that is my left hand, and open my mouth. Since he’s already died and his consciousness has dispersed, it’s trivial for my telekinesis to directly seep inside his body and take control of his blood. His skin starts twisting and distorting, as if snakes or worms are squirming within his flesh, and after a few moments, it directly ruptures, and jets of blood accurately fly into my mouth, like an airborne river. At the same time, cracking and snapping sounds start coming from the devil’s already mangled head, and soon, a dantian bursts out of his skull, joining the river’s flow and disappearing into my mouth.
Once I have consumed all of the flying devil’s blood, my left arm returns to its normal form, and the corpse, now little more than a desiccated husk, falls and slips off the edge of the rooftop.
It had been some time since my last meal. I’m used to the constant hunger, after all these years of being a demon, but it’s still better when I can find a meal to alleviate it, if only for a short while.
I glance over my shoulder to a line of horrified faces.
Why are they so shocked by such a little thing? Aren’t they devils? The terrifying, cruel creatures everyone seems to fear?
Sekka is the one to break the silence. “You… You ate him. You actually ate him.” Her face twists in disgust. She looks like she’s going to throw up. “You’re a cannibal! You’re a monster!”
Is it only now that they’ve realized that?
No wonder they’re losing their little war and are forced to come and beg me for aid. It’s about time for those children to realize that only the monsters survive, in this world. The weak will invariably end up as food for the strong.
Complaining about it will not bring about anything good.
Asking the monsters for aid will be even worse.
The only possible escape is to become one of the monsters.
It’s not complicated, really.
I assume Salem is going to plea, once more, but I don’t want to listen to him any longer. I throw a backhanded punch behind me. It doesn’t seem to hit anything in particular, but the air around my knuckles twists and warps, and an instant later, a wall of solid wind crashes against the five devils. They’re all blown off the roof and down the street, as if struck by a battering ram. Alicia is particularly unlucky and actually collides with the wall of the building where we had our earlier meeting, hard enough to collapse it over herself.
I can’t help but frown inwardly as I look at my own fist. While I did somewhat achieve what I wanted, the strain on my soul was much too great, and the power too underwhelming. That strike should have turned my targets into blood mist. After two months, the cracks caused by the demon-sealing stone have mostly healed, but it looks like I need to be in absolutely perfect condition to use this particular telekinesis technique as freely as I want. As it is, I should probably refrain.
Well, at least, I got myself a bit of room to think in peace. The devils should need a minute or two before standing back up.
I glance down at Lilly. Judging by what I can hear from within her body, she’s going to die in a few seconds. A minute, at most. Her heart is about to stop. I think she didn’t enjoy the residual impacts from the few attacks I performed. I tried to dampen them as much as possible, but I suppose, being held in my arms like this, she must have suffered at least some measure of backlash.
What? Oh. Oops.
I quickly raise my foot a little to prevent him from asphyxiating. His face looks a bit blue, and his eyes a bit unfocused, but he’s still alive. He takes in a deep breath of the air stinking of the death and blood of Dorn, then starts coughing hoarsely, his hands rising to his throat to assuage the pain.
ba-bump, ba-bump, ba…bump…
My eyes flick back to Lilly as the last beats of her life resound in my ears.
This makes me a bit uncomfortable, somehow. I wonder why?
Should I just…?
No, but this was a gift for Nerys.
Still, I have two of them. And I should be able to produce more, if I find the correct ingredients. I have the formula.
Though I’m not sure those ingredients can even be found on Caldera. And what if Nerys needs the two of them, somehow?
Actually, it might be fine to just…
<Enough. Choose. Now.>
Sighing inwardly, a perfectly white pill, without any sort of markings or decorations, appears in the air next to me, held aloft by telekinesis. With the hand not supporting her back, I gently open Lilly’s mouth, and the white pill floats inside and down her throat.
Through my contact with Lilly, it becomes immediately obvious when the pill starts to take effect. An inexhaustible, humongous amount of qi suddenly starts flowing within her small body. However, it is so controlled and gentle that, if I wasn’t directly touching her and looking for it inside her, I wouldn’t notice anything’s happening at all. Yet, there is now so much qi within her that it’s a wonder her whole body doesn’t just disintegrate on the spot. Even the strands of my soul force I had inserted into Lilly to check her precise state all dissipate instantaneously under that powerful force, like small wisps of fog in the face of a gigantic tornado.
Fortunately, I don’t need soul force to hear her strengthened heartbeat and her evened breathing. Nor do I need them to see the growth of her new limbs, fresh bone and muscle and flesh coiling around each other as they burst out of the stumps.
Worthy of its name and reputation.
Rebirth pills are rather precious, even on the Godrealm. They basically give their owner a second life, should they need it, after all, along with a gigantic boost to their cultivation. Indeed, when so much qi courses through one’s body, it would be strange if one didn’t absorb at least some part of it for oneself, whether one wants to or not. Of course, since Lilly is basically a common mortal – and unconscious – most of that qi is going to be wasted and lost, but she should still see some very noticeable improvement. I don’t know very much about ranks, but I wouldn’t be surprised if she finds herself having leaped over half a dozen of them at once, when she next wakes up.
Well, all that’s got nothing to do with me.
Except that I’m a bit jealous.
I wish those things worked on me, too, to regrow my arm and my eye. That would be nice. I’ve learned to cope with the loss of them rather well, I think, but still.
I’m about to start insulting Sanae, as she rightfully deserves, when a powerful qi fluctuation – ‘powerful’ as in ‘superior to mine’, this time, rather than simply ‘powerful for a puny mortal I can still crush with little effort‘ – suddenly rears up from somewhere beyond the village’s boundary, directly behind me.
I don’t flinch or freeze or anything of the sort. I react as I trained myself to and try to evade.
But the energy I sense approaches me fast.
Much, much too fast.
I don’t even have time to turn around and see the form it takes, exactly.
For the first time in a while – since the frog godbeast, I believe – Sanae sounds a little hurried.
Unfortunately, however, I can’t follow her advice.
I barely manage to push Lilly away from me, launching her into Finram’s chest as he’s still struggling out of the daze I dumped him into by almost choking him to death, before something containing a stifling amount of qi slams into me. I try to twist out of the projectile’s way – I’m assuming it’s a projectile of some sort – but that only means it hits my ribs instead of my spine.
Before the thought can even form inside my mind to wonder what’s going to happen next, the projectile violently discharges all the energy it contains.
That is to say, it explodes.
In a remarkably efficient and optimized way, my brain takes the time to note.
Nothing around me is destroyed. The tiles of the rooftop tremble a bit, but no great scene of destruction happens. There is no flash of flame or anything of the sort. Only a shockwave of concussive force pinpointed at me.
An extremely powerful shockwave.
As quickly and abruptly as a whip crack, and with a sound remarkably similar to it, as well, I disappear from the spot in which I was standing a moment earlier, leaving behind only a mist of black blood floating in the air there.
I feel myself fly, the world around me blurring with the speed. Impacts shake my body as I bounce uncontrollably on the ground again and again, like a thrown stone skipping over the surface of a lake. I blow craters into the earth with each step, great swathes of dirt and soil flung up into the sky. I slam into boulders and trees along the way, reducing them to little more than pebbles and wood chips.
By the time my momentum expends itself and I finally stop moving, buried halfway up a steep hill whose top crumbles into a vast landslide under the earthquake of my arrival, my consciousness is so fuzzy I can barely even wonder about who just performed such an adept sneak attack upon me.