Bonus Chapter 3 – The Infernal Educator

Tokru 10th, 2924

The Demon Lord Oglizu IV is killed in battle against the Chosen Hero, Cyril Corner of Rosiava, on the fields of Naloriva.

At the same time, within the town of Gravelane, Inrapaba, the third son of the Samore family is born to Marwen and Dorothea Samore. He is named Hans, after his grandfather, who died in service to the Demon Lord. This event is not yet significant to history.

Jubi 27th, 2931

Hans Samore, at six years old, meets and befriends Florent Linsal, a nineteen year old college student at the nearby Losgrum Institute of the Infernal Arts and Mystic Sciences and a childhood friend of Hans’s oldest brother, Ludo.

Linsal had been studying to become an instructor, and liked kids. As such, he encouraged the quiet, well-read boy to study further and explore the true mysteries of the world they lived in. Twelve years later, Linsal would kill seventeen people of varying races and rob numerous graveyards in several attempts to form a unique type of “flesh golem” at the behest of an unknown sponsor. He was caught, convicted, and executed by the Fevokin Clan of Olafiba.

This event was not relevant to Hans, who spent his youth studying, learning, and speaking with the other scholars of the Institute. From them, he gained a love of learning, and a dream of teaching like those proud professors who lectured in their great halls.

This decided his eventual fate.

Ludo Samore would inherit his parent’s pottery shop, and live a calm, peaceful life. Kurt Samore would join the Land Guard of Inrapaba, take a severe amount of bribes, and inadvertently drown himself when a drunken, miss-timed step sent him into a canal within the city of Lordsgrave. 

And Hans Samore would become a warlock. While teaching was most certainly his deepest passion–a dream he wanted to pursue more than anything–he discovered what he would pursue as his central discipline within a far more beautiful place.

The Written World–crafted by scribes and scholars and formed into those grand bastions of knowledge known as libraries–drew him in as the sun above draws flowers birthed by its light. And it was there, within the pages of some great tomes, Hans found that he quite adored demons.

Neroh 20th, 2942

Hans Samore officially enters the university portion of the Logrum Institute as the first semester of the year begins. 

He promptly entered into the field of “Demonic Studies”, majoring in both Infernal Magics and Education, and began his higher education career without hesitation after many years of learning at a variety of libraries and the lower levels of the Institute. He met many people there, friends and acquaintances; some he kept, some he lost, many he was glad to know, and none he truly hated.

There were a few he didn’t like, certainly, and there were others he liked a great deal. Elizabeth Maribelle Tealmarn–Eliza or Liza to her friends, never Lizzy or Elly unless one wanted to get stabbed with a foreleg–of the Starshire Coterie was one individual who fit in both categories, albeit at separate times. 

She also happened to be a vibrant blue and white-flecked aranae, much to Hans’s immediate fascination, which she promptly found annoying, and that was how he wound up being stabbed on his second day of university. A good start, all things considered, and the two of them quickly became something of academic rivals, though they did gradually drift apart for some time.

Hans wanted to be an educator, and Eliza wanted to be an arcanist; the two had overlapping interests, but not fully concurrent ones, so he eventually did have to say goodbye to his friend as the focuses of their courses changed. That, and Eliza decided to join up with the Demon Lord Fearon, who wasn’t a particularly impressive lord and barely lasted two years before being challenged by a rival by the name of Orast, who lasted a good deal longer.

Not that such matters mattered in the slightest to Hans, who was occupied with other matters of greater importance, at least to himself. Namely, he had obtained his first teaching job.

Pibri 27th, 2947

On this date, three years into his job educating a number of adolescents at the Fierview Academy, Hans Samore lost his right arm.

The entire right arm. All the way up to his shoulder.

Suffice to say, that was rather inconvenient.

Certainly, he would later refer to this incident as an “unfortunate poultry accident” in good humor, but at the moment, there was a great deal more screaming of curses at the typhonic cockatrice that had quite literally ripped his arm straight from its socket in a messy spray of gore and gulped it down like an owl would a rat. 

It certainly didn’t help that the beast had caught him off guard when some students came running through the campus halls. Three of his students had apparently thought they could take down the terrifying cockatrice through their combined might, confident and self-assured in that foolish way many teenagers could be. They were very wrong, and the trio learned that lesson well. 

Thankfully, Hans was able to keep it from being a fatal lesson, though if there was one thing he regretted about that day, it would be that he was unable to finish the beast himself. Blood loss along with severe pain tends to prevent one from focusing long enough to cast spells, as he would learn that day. Equally thankfully, he managed to defend himself long enough for his fellow teachers to save him.

If there was any form of short term benefit, he would have said it would be that he was able to catch up in his reading while he recovered. That, and cockatrice organs did make for good materials…

However, for Hans, life would never be the same. He had to take some time off teaching to recover, and he had to get used to only using his left arm. The phantom pain was also certainly a pain to deal with. 

However, he did find one method that would change his life, also ensuring that it would never be the same, but in a more positive manner.

Ondru 3rd, 2947

Contracting with a demon was certainly a tricky thing to do. While some people might assume that a demonic contract would always be with an Ouzan, otherwise known as a Demon God, that was rarely the case, and it certainly wouldn’t work well in his case. As much as he adored the demonic, he knew his desires would not be fulfilled if he tried to beg the gods for relief.

Why, who would give someone like him godly power simply because his wanted arm back? It was still a shame though, he would have loved a meeting with the Ouza, though that most likely would have ended with his death for calling upon one for something so petty. The Ouza were amazing, wondrous deities, but that did not make them nice.

As such, he did the next best thing: summon an Acedian. 

It was a logical move. He certainly wasn’t the first person to make an arm out of a demonic entity–really, the natural metaphysical nature of demons and how they could be subjugated made them extremely useful entities for creating any sort of weapon or artifact–and he wasn’t seeking a great power or strength from the deal. He just wanted a new arm. So why not go for the laziest variant of demon out there?

And so, after several months of studying and preparation, he called forth the demon Ko. She was a half-ethereal being, her blue skin phasing between flesh and water, with long, drooping, royal blue hair that looked as though it had never been cut, flowing down her body like the loose fabrics draped over her.

And thankfully, it appeared she was willing–speak, trade–to negotiate. All things considered, he was quite lucky. Acedians were, of course, incredibly lazy beings, it came with their nature, but their dispositions could vary. While one would regard a summoning as a slight diversion, something to go along with to get through it easier, a different one would have tried to lop off his head if he hadn’t put down a containment seal on the circle. Sometimes laziness meant laxness, other times it meant hostility towards those that would ask for any type of effort.

Ko was the former, and at the cost of his eye–easy trade, nothing to worry, good value–he formed a contract with her, and he was able to regain his arm. Or, to be more accurate, he gained a new arm, which came with its own set of problems. 

It was certainly odd; with just a thought he could reform his arm at any time–albeit one made of cloth–and yet it took more than a thought to master. Simply growing accustomed to writing with that arm took months, a good deal of which was spent gaining enough control to not snap what he held. Legibility, on the other hand, took much longer, not helped by his sharp decrease in depth perception. 

He would never fully regain the ability to feel with that arm. It would always feel dulled at best, as though he was gripping objects through a thick glove. 

His contract with Ko did allow him full use of his arm, and a guarantee that she would never try taking control of it at any inopportune times, though it did come with the further cost of her running commentary in the back of his head. She did tend to sleep a great deal, so it wasn’t too constant, but she had a surprising energy for complaining when he went for more strenuous activities.

Ah well, such was life. Of more concern, though less immediate to him than his physical issues, was the worsening situation in the Dark Lands. Fearon was not dead yet and was stubbornly clinging to what territories he had claimed in the swamplands, while Orast had gained a great deal of power up in Olafiba, which put Inrapaba straight in the middle of an increasingly aggressive and personal war to become the “True Demon Lord”. 

It was a fascinating conflict and certainly an interesting time to live it, but Hans did not want to get involved in any of it, so he came to the conclusion that a sabbatical was in order. He’d lost a great deal, and learned just how little he knew. Not merely about fighting and killing, but about the world. About expecting how strange and sudden the world could be.

So off he went to new lands.

Ecta 4th, 2955

Pianaro de Liorzula was a lovely city situated in the “Third Country” of the Sun Lands, the northwestern portion of the southernmost continent, dominated by rivers, canals, and great lakes. As such, it was a naturally humid and often sweltering portion of the vast continent, though one wouldn’t think that if they lived in Pianaro.

Unlike a majority of the hot and sunny Sun Lands–something of a redundancy there–Pianaro was a surprisingly temperate location, located, as it was, on one of the many lakes dotting Liorzula. An odd place for the grand mix of library and dungeon known as the Paper Church, certainly, but one that seemed to work well for it.

Hans certainly didn’t mind the intriguing change of scenery. The way sunlanders would raise the very earth up from the bottom of lakes to form their cities right on a source of freshwater was quite inspired. He’d seen more than his fair share of ramshackle docktowns back along Inrapaba’s marshes and Ostrotoba’s swamps, so to see such grand stone structures–mostly composed of lighter, white stones decorated with indigo and violet paints and patterns–rise out of the waters like cresting whales frozen in place was inspiring, in a way.

Though, supposedly, the “Written Church” had not been built on a lake. Rather, the lake came to it, according to legend. Supposedly, some followers of one of those Rakuli Elders–the “divine” or “angelic” counterpart to the Ouzan Ancients–had declared the Ouzan Church to be blasphemous and heretical, and did what most zealous sects were want to do; namely, they attempted to destroy it, and failed miserably. No fire could catch on the pale stones of the palatial church–each bearing inscriptions and writings from perhaps thousands of scholars–and the stones would not obey the fools’ demands to sink it into the earth.

As such, the zealots decided to drown the demonic library, and, as such stories often went, wound up ending their own lives in the folly. Sources argued on whether the zealots had unleashed the demonic guardians of the church, who then drove them mad, or if they drowned in their attempt to sink the structure, but regardless, they were said to have died gruesomely, so all’s well that ended–

“Hans, we have a guest,” Bishop Hashid spoke, interrupting his musings and drawing Hans’s attention away from the tomes he’d been cataloguing into the Church’s libraries. A number of demonic ones, newly recovered from one of the sunken pyramids, though they were copies rather than the originals, which needed to be kept– “Hans.”

Hans blinked at the marid. “Er, yes?”

“We have a guest from the Dark Lands. I want you to show her around. You need some time out of this backroom, you know?” He smiled, the action shifting the blue markings drifting down his dark, bearded face.

“Ah. Of course, sir.”

He sighed. “You don’t need to call me sir.”

“Er, yes, sir.”

Bishop Hashid just sighed again, then walked on out, folding his hands into his white, word-covered robes. A second later–well, a few seconds…maybe a minute or two–Hans got up from his desk and headed through the vast shelves to the main foyer of the Church, which was as lovely as ever. 

Brilliant white lanterns illuminated the mosaic floors, which had four “paths” snaking out from the main doorway and leading into the four primary sections of the library: one on the left, one on the right–which Hans was coming from–and two directly across from the entrance, one with a staircase leading upwards and the other going down. There was also a central desk–manned by acolytes of the church–and in front of said desk was a rather fascinating individual:

An arachne, clad in a deep indigo, high collar dress that was laced in and button with a number of sapphires–the cold-associated gems certainly explained how she appeared to be fine wearing such thick garments in the heat of the Sun Lands–and matched by a wide-brimmed hat that covered her otherwise shaved head. Further of interest was her rather unique skin tone, compared to most arachne, which featured a primarily blue chitin flecked with white spots, almost like freckles–

“Hans?” Oh. 

“…Eliza?”

“…” Elizabeth Tealmarn eyed him for a moment, all eight of her upper pupils examining his form. “…You look dehydrated.”

He was missing an arm and an eye, and yet that was what she chose to notice. Odd. “I have been busy. Water would ruin the books.”

“Good to hear you’re still an idiot.” She sighed, then seemed to brighten and smiled. “Well, I suppose this is fortuitous regardless. Now I don’t need to force pleasantries with someone I don’t know.” 

“Does that mean it won’t be forced with me?”

“Oh gods no, why would I be pleasant with you?” 

Hans chuckled. “It’s good to see you too, Lizzy.”

Oh, he actually dodged the stab that time. Wonderful! Though he didn’t dodge her leg smacking against him. Less wonderful. 

Anyhow, as it turns out, once it became clear the–now deceased–Demon Lord Fearon was going to lose, Eliza metaphorically jumped ship, leaving his forces behind and making her way to the Sun Lands to lay low for some time. The Demon Lord Orast was rather annoyed at her, after all, and the remnants of Fearon’s forces weren’t happy either, so a trip to another continent seemed quite warranted. And it appeared that she wished to spend her time there studying, hence why she came to Scripture’s church. 

And so, it came as no surprise that Hans was tasked with being her guide while there. The church was rather protective of its books, and–regardless of who they may be–all guests needed someone to keep an eye on them to ensure nothing was damaged or taken. Thankfully, it appeared that Eliza did not abruptly gain a hatred for the written word since they last met, and she was even able to use her multiple sets of eyes to quickly transcribe whatever caught her interest onto any paper she brought with her, her lower ones constantly reading, while her upper ones stayed trained on what she was writing. 

A handy talent, and one he honestly wanted, but likely could not obtain due to actually having one less eye than the average human. And he could not replace it due to the deal he made. And adding more eyes would likely involve some intense bodily modifications so–Yes, bad idea, dropping that idea.

However, her talent did mean that her time at the church wasn’t particularly long, and she would soon come to part with the church. Although she wouldn’t be going alone. 

Hans enjoyed the church, certainly, and he greatly enjoyed reading the tomes available to him, but he wanted more experiences from life, and Eliza did insist on having him come along with her. Not because she didn’t have anyone around and was feeling lonely, but because he could be useful, “for a cripple”.

Suffice to say, he enjoyed showing off his demonic arm when the first occasion came, though it did result in her deciding he could carry her bags after all, so there were gains and losses there. More losses, particularly when Ko awoke and started complaining in his mind–what, no, book place comfy, good place, go back–about leaving the comforts of the library. 

Ah well. Such was life.

Neroh 5th, 2967-

“HANS! GET UP HERE ALREADY!”

Hans sighed, and closed his book as he got out of his bunk, ignoring the mutterings–irritating arachnid, make her quiet, easy to kill–of his demonic partner in his brain.

“We won’t be killing Eliza, I’m very fond of her,” he replied as he made his way up on deck, where the storm clouds overhead roiled and the seas toiled.

“You’re damn right you won’t be killing me,” Eliza snapped, frowning at him first, then at his arm, “Is it talking again?”

“She is, yes.”

“She, yes, right. No matter, we’re here.” She turned, her arms crossed over her chest as she looked over the side–portside, if he remembered his nautical terms correctly–towards the heavily forested shoreline of Ostrotoba.

“Ah, the Swamplands. As beautifully dreary as they’ve ever been,” he commented, smiling. Really, the land there was more mud and water than actual soil, but still the trees persisted. Stubborn plants, as befitting a very stubbornly untamed land.

“We both come from Inrapaba. Do we have any right to be calling anywhere in the world ‘dreary’?”

“You forget, but I grew up on the eastern side. Mine hometown was a snowy wonderland, though I doubt it compared to the Starshire caverns, Lady Tealmarn.”

Eliza did not huff, as that would not be polite. She did, however, shoot him a glare. “…Our privileged upbringings do not decrease the dreariness of the rest of those sodden marshlands we’re forced to call home.”

“By dint of some borders established long ago, quite.” He grinned up at her. “Is that a sense of awareness, mine lady? Our travels certainly have been good for you.”

“I can and will throw you overboard.”

“I have a water demon for an arm.” Wash spider, sea take. “She can swim, Ko.” Fehhhh…

“Do you even realize how eerie it is when you do that?”

“I realize, and I find it fun.”

“Hmph.”

And so, Hans Samore returned to the Dark Lands. It wouldn’t be the last time, certainly, but it was good to be home. Well, on his home continent.

He did visit many of his old haunts–his family’s pottery shop was doing well, and Fierview Academy was undergoing some much needed reconstruction after a series of unfortunate conflagrations–and yet, his wanderlust remained, despite Ko’s frequent, if half-hearted and somewhat sleepy, protests; as such, the siren song of adventure–nooooooo…–called!

And he did have a great many adventures, most of which did not involve an immediate threat of death. Not all though, and those ones did tend to stick in his mind, for obvious reasons.

One even involved sirens! Fascinating beings, really, if very odd; they were somewhat like a mix of harpies and mermaids, with forms consisting of folkish upper bodies covered in fish-like scales, feathers in place of body hair, avian wings in place of arms–noticeably mimicking the wings of seabirds, specifically–and piscine lower halves. It was certainly strange to see them move, and they had the most delightful of singing voices, though the hypnotic quality of said voices was an issue, as was that particular tribe’s penchant for robbing and murdering their unwary victims.

Thankfully, with Ko’s help–hey hey hey hey, ignore noise, focus–he was able to remain unaffected on his own journey to their small island off the coast of Skiritaba, even if it was only because the demon only acted once it seemed like he would die. 

Despite the fact that his initial meeting with them had gone rather poorly, a part of him was hoping to meet more people of their species. Hypnosis was a rather rare art, so for an entire species to be able to innately use it was fascinating. Unfortunately, it appeared the majority of their race lived within the Dusk Lands, likely being a native race to the mysterious sub-continent, so his chances of encountering a peaceful tribe were rather slim.

Especially considering how every expedition to those lands failed miserably. The deep, dark, nearly black fog covering that entire region of the sea meant anyone entering would either find themselves lost until they successfully left the fog at another end, or they would simply never come out. Supposedly, the fog could tell if one’s intentions were peaceful or malicious, and those with evil intentions would never leave…

But no matter on that. Hans had other things to focus on, and while he often spent his time in the Dark Lands as a tutor and educator–primarily for the families of nobilities though he did spend a number of years traveling from various academies and institutes to provide an education in the demonic arts to a broader audience–he’d often spend a great deal of time on expeditions as well. 

Really, throughout the majority of the 60s and entirety of the 70s, he was traveling around the Dark Lands and its various regions, studying the cultures and offering his own learnings to those interested. He even published a multitude of books focused on demonology and the infernal arts. 

Granted, that did bring him some unwanted attention from those seeking power. For some reason, a number of idiots seemed to believe his fascination with the demonic meant he would be interested in joining their efforts in whatever false rhetoric they felt like spouting at the moment. Ridiculous excuses for their violence would always spill from their lips so readily–declarations of vengeance against the cruel Light Land kingdoms, pledges to overthrow the “tyrannical” Rakuli, promises to promote some sort of “natural” rights, etcetera–and Hans had no patience for any of them.

Certainly, an evil soul that was honest about their evil wasn’t any better than one that pretended they were working for a greater good, but the insistence that they were working for higher purposes grated. It was like they thought he was stupid.

Though, perhaps he was? In the 80s, as the first successful Demon Lord in some time began to rise–some idiot called Irascagan with more power than sense and a disturbing lust for blood–he’d decided to travel back to the Sun Lands once more, to study those lands again and avoid the conflicts, which he successfully did for a number of years. Yet for all his vaunted intelligence, he really didn’t see it coming when, on an expedition to the South Pole, a member of his own research team went mad and butchered every single person there on the 5th of Ondru, 2989.

Aside from Hans–and Ko–of course.

Suffice to say, Hans decided it was best to stay at his own home continent after that one. The South was just too heated–booooo…–for him. Really, the fact that the South Pole was a burning land of eternal Summer should’ve clued him into its volatility…

Besides, he had other things to do. He was in his sixties by that point, and relaxing for a few years sounded like a good plan. Eliza had her own Conservatory set up for some time, with an apparent focus on cataloguing and preserving various specimens of monstrous species from around the world, and while he did enjoy his time with her–though she could be rather obtuse at times–he still wanted to travel, and if there was one thing the lightlanders were good for, it was ridding the Dark Lands of annoyingly violent leaders.

So he traveled once more, with some slight idea in mind of perhaps, maybe, finding an apprentice. He’d had students, certainly, a great many students he adored a great deal, but he’d never taken on a singular pupil directly into his tutelage to pass on every detail he had of his craft and knowledge. 

It wasn’t an immediate concern to him; he certainly had no fear for his own mortality, but still, there was that thought, sitting in the back of his mind. 

Suffice to say, he didn’t think he’d find a shockingly good candidate so abruptly on a small trip to Fallrein, on one warm summer evening.

Seta 12th, 2997

“So, was there a particular reason you chose mine hotel room to burgle, young one?” Hans asked the youth once he had them properly restrained at the room’s tea table. Conjured crimson chains–layered multiple times because the youth had an intriguing talent for dispelling magic–kept them secured to one chair as Hans sat in the other, pouring tea for them both.

“…” The youth simply glared at him, their bright, vivid emerald green eyes narrowed in anger beneath their fiery, orange bangs and the dark hood they wore, yet there was no hint of shame. 

“You noticed the enchantments and wards I had set, I’m sure,” he continued as he added and stirred some honey into his cup, “Eyes are windows to the soul, and yours shine with infernal magic. You had to have noticed, yes?”

“…Of course I did,” the youth replied, shifting only slightly in their restraints. Perhaps testing how tightly they fit? Not that it mattered, the chains were being maintained by Hans’s will and would tighten or loosen at his discretion. “Someone with so many protections would have to be rich. That makes them worth robbing.”

Hans couldn’t help chuckling at their reply. “True, quite true, unless they happened to be impoverished but skilled.”

“Then they wouldn’t be staying in a hotel. They’d make their own place.” Surly, but a good answer.

“You do make a good point, young…?”

Lady.” She scowled deeper then, showing her very white teeth, which were quite unlikely to be seen in a presumably homeless thief.

“Oh ho? Lady is an interesting choice of words. Are you not a common woman then?”

The girl stiffened, then glared right at him. “Fuck you!”

Hans did his best to keep himself form smiling there as her voice cracked. Decades of experience–and a simple understanding of people–informed him that teenagers were not happy to be condescended to and if he gave the young lady the impression that he did not take her seriously, she was bound to react poorly. “I beg for forgiveness, young lady. How may I offer my aid?”

Her anger flickered out, a candle snuffed with a confused frown. “…What? Aid?”

“Of course. I am a tutor of nobility, you see, and a young lady in obvious trouble does naturally prompt mineself to take action. So, would you like for me to purchase a room for you here?”

“…No. I don’t need charity.”

Hans raised an eyebrow and made a very deliberate point to look over the dark, stained and torn cloak and equally patchy pants she was wearing. And… “Are you using stones for shoes?”

“…I-It’s easier. Rock magic makes it…Sh-Shut up.”

Letting out a sigh, Hans brought his hand up, and with a flick of his wrist, her rock shoes fell apart. 

“H-Hey! What the fuck was that for!?” she exclaimed as she tried to move away. 

“Oh my, my apologies, it now appears as if I owe you one.” 

“W-Wha–Fuck you!” 

Hans remained quiet and kept a neutral face as he took in the blisters and bloodstains covering the young lady’s feet. It took a great deal of effort to avoid sighing.

“Well, since we are at a hotel, I shall be going to get something to eat. I hope that would make up for mine accident?”

“What? Why would that make up for anything?”

“Oh? I had assumed a meal would, at the very least, make up for mine accident, but if you believe I owe more, I would certainly wish to repay you promptly.”

“…U-Uh…W-Wait, you meant…You’re giving me a meal?” Oh, the hope she tried to hide there nearly broke the old man’s heart. He wouldn’t show that though. 

“A meal, and a room, if you want. I owe you, and debts need to be repaid.” Hans smiled. “And no, this is not something you will ever need to ‘pay me back’ for. This is mine repayment to you. That is the terms of our agreement, and will be the end of any interactions between us, if that is what you wish.”

The girl visibly swallowed, her nervousness obvious, and yet, she took a chance. “Th-Those…Those shoes were, uh…p-pretty important to me. So…w-with the sentimental value, a-and all…” She was tense, wary of pushing too far and upsetting him.

But Hans was a patient man, and he had interacted with many children in his long life. So he smiled again. “Then yes, I do believe I owe you a great deal more, in that regard. So it is mine solemn promise to you, young lady, that I, Hans Samore, shall repay mine debt to you in full.”

Despite his promise, it took a great deal of time for that wariness to fade. The young lady was a cautious person, one who only told him her name was Miriam–though she stated a preference for shortening said to “Mira”–after he’d fully paid for both her meals and room. Still, he was glad to have met her, and would have been satisfied with leaving her a new pair of traveling boots and a coinpurse of gold to fully repay his “debt”.

Then he noticed she was following him.

Now that was quite different. 

He even took some rather sudden turns and yet she never strayed far from him.  

No matter though. If she just so happened to be going on the same path as him, who was he to stop her? Besides, having another companion after so long would be fun as well–no, she’s loud…–even if Ko didn’t like her at first. 

As such, when next he sat, he invited Mira over to his table within the city’s park, itself a leftover from the defeat of a long dead Demon Lord. She went stiff at that moment, then walked out from the shrubbery she had been using for cover with the bearing of one embodying grace–ratty, weird–and dignity. And so, they talked some more.

It appeared as if she had been traveling by herself for some time before they had met, and as someone with Hans’ nature that simply wouldn’t do. First things first: making sure she was properly clothed instead of the rags she had. Of course, she wouldn’t allow him to buy clothes for her, but if he just so happened to walk into a tailor’s shop and spent enough time there that she started looking at some clothes–plus some sly handing over of some coin for a worker to go over and help her out–then soon enough, she had new clothing. 

Though it did take a bit of trial and error since she didn’t seem to care for the dresses first offered, and insisted she changed clothes by herself, without the attendant’s aid. 

She really did seem to want to be self-sufficient, and did take great care in keeping track of her things; she even noticed when he attempted to slip in some more coins in her bag due to her habit of constantly counting them whenever they rested. But if he had her act as an assistant of sorts, well, getting paid was only natural. 

Though, she wouldn’t be that for long.

Neroh 9th, 2998

He hadn’t known her for long, but Mira had become quite the fixture in his life. She even proved to actually be quite the helpful assistant once he gave her the chance. However, what he found most astounding was how eagerly she seemed to soak in knowledge of the arcane. So, today would mark the day he took on his own apprentice; provided she agreed to being his apprentice, that is. 

However, two things happened first; the first being him being interrupted before he could ask by an annoying person by the name of Count Gideon Montgomery Opalcreek. A rather unsavory vampiric noble who frequently demanded his fealty. Frequently, because Hans had no intention of joining the pompous count’s retinue, regardless of what he offered. 

Certainly, Opalcreek had a reputation for being an arcanist and researcher of the infernal–hence the iratan bodyguard he had at his side and his interest in Hans–but he also had a reputation for being an eccentric madman who had likely breached numerous ethical standards in his pursuit of whatever. Hence Hans’s refusal.

“Why must you reject my sincere offers? Haven’t I been more than generous?” A pompous, platinum-blonde man dressed in a white, pearl-lined coat and matching pants, along with a fuschia waistcoat and white ascot, Opalcreek spoke with an amused condescension, as though Hans was merely being silly for failing to accept his “generosity”. “Or perhaps there is something you wish for that I haven’t offered?” 

“Not at all. I simply do not wish to be in the service of anyone at this point in mine life,” Hans replied with a smile of his own. Polite, though not especially genuine. 

In hindsight, it was easy to see how much his reply angered the noble, and yet, Hans wouldn’t realize his mistake until it was too late. 

The count’s white face barely moved, his pale lips still curled in that same, false smile. “You honestly can’t expect me to accept an answer like th-”

“Hey! He already told you no, so just fuck off!” Mira snapped, glaring up at the noble in a moment of obvious frustration 

The second thing he failed to expect to happen was Mira so readily leaping to his defense. Opalcreek had been pestering him, certainly, and he did interrupt the special lunch Hans had planned, but still, he didn’t think she would speak up so vehemently. It made him smile in the moment, so he didn’t even think to reprimand her.

“…”

“What? You got noth-” For the rest of his life, Hans would curse himself for not acting sooner. Mira, who had pushed herself to her feet in that moment of fury, fell straight to the ground, clutching the ruin that was once her shoulder as she cried out in pure pain, a heartrending shriek echoing out as Opalcreek tossed away the torn arm he held so casually.

“Now then, with that ann-” To this day, Hans had no idea what Ko did to the bastard, but in the next moment, Opalcreek was gone, and Hans’s arm was settling back into place as he knelt by Mira’s side, whispering assurances and knitting her flesh together with a push of magic. Something to stop the bleeding, though gods knew it would only make things worse later on.

There was another noise, a faint roar of rage as the crimson-armored devil finally spurred into action, and, in an instant–protect–Hans had a pulsing, fiery gem clutched in his hand. 

“Thank you for your contribution, I will make good use of you,” he muttered to it, his mind already racing as he stood with Mira in his arms, hurrying from the restaurant with only the slightest glance toward the coughing, gagging vampire writhing on the ground, trying to pull the shattered remains of restaurant wall from his punctured torso. 

Shame the wood missed his heart. Hans would’ve liked a confirmation on that old legend.

Life had a proclivity for cruel consequences though, and while Hans would have liked to keep Mira safe in a hospital for her recovery, apparently there were consequences to “assaulting a count”. And no, it did not help Hans’s case that the count assaulted his student first. Really, it just showed his “motive” to whatever court decided to put that bounty out on him.

Not that Hans ever bothered to defend himself in a court. He had no expectations of justice there–wealth and nobility tended to get its way, and Opalcreek had scores of both–so staying at a friend’s place sounded like a far better idea. Particularly when that friend was set up in the Swamplands, quite far from any Inrapaban jurisdiction.

Neroh 21st, 2998

“Must you take up an entire desk?” Eliza groused as she walked back into her–well, perhaps “their” would be more appropriate at this juncture?–starry-ceilinged office, “And no, it’s not yours. You didn’t pay for any of this, and you’re mooching off of me.”

Very well, still her office–with, as stated previously, a rather beautiful ceiling that mimicked a starry sky and a number of other such lovely, celestial artworks along its walls–then. “I do recall you owe me far more than I owe you, Lizzy-Ah, no stabbing, Ko might hit back.”

Would.” Oh, an actual vocalization. That was rare. Ko tended to have Hans speak for her. Or just played music to set the mood instead of speaking. He certainly did enjoy that trait of hers; it added to the atmosphere when he traveled.

“Hmph.” Eliza lowered her foreleg back to the floor. “What are you busy with anyhow?”

“Arm ideas.”

She blinked, then leaned over his shoulder at the rough sketches he’d made. “Hm. Why can’t you simply do the same thing you did with your…’Ko’, but for this Mira girl?”

“Mine trade with Ko was an informed decision I made as an adult. Mira is barely fourteen. I am well aware of her capabilities as an elemental mage. The demonic arts, however, are a field requiring many years of study, and I intend on repairing mine mistake as soon as possible.”

“It wasn’t your mistake. Put the blame where it belongs.”

He gave her a frown. “Where would that be?”

She raised a set of eyebrows in reply. “With the Count you decided to throw through a wall, making both yourself and your little student fugitives.”

“True!” Hans brightened and grinned. “I really should have killed him when I had mine chance!”

“You should have, yes, though I imagine word still would have spread of your transgression.”

“Perhaps, perhaps not, though-” Hans paused and glanced over at the black oak door as someone knocked.

“Well?” Hm? Eliza was staring at him-

“I am sitting. You are standing. You are also closer.”

Eliza frowned, then glanced back at the door with her upper eyes. The lower were reserved for glaring at him, as usual. “It’s open.”

And the door creaked open as Mira peeked in, her eyes still somewhat sunken and the empty left sleeve of her jacket–which she was wearing over a black dress Eliza had bought for her–pinned up against its shoulder. “You two arguing again?”

“What? Of course not. What do you want, child?” Eliza demanded.

“Hello Mira. Do you need anything?” Hans asked.

Mira shrugged–she winced there at the gesture, maybe still in some pain… “There’s a lady asking for you, Lady Tealmarn.”

“Ugh, fantastic…what kind of lady? Swampfolk? Anuran? Incubus?”

“Uh, no-Wait, Incubus?”

“A type of Luxurian demon, embodying and characterized by sexual dominance, in contrast to succubi and in comparison to concubi,” Hans elaborated, “Though there’s some discussion on whether they represent dominance or simply masculinity.”

“Succubi then, it doesn’t matter. There’s a bloody coven of the harlots living out in the swamps by Smaltrist,” Eliza added, scowling, “Preaching about the inevitable return of their grand ‘Lust Lord’, always knocking on doors and offering pamphlets.” She hissed the word as though it was a grievous insult.

“…Y-Yeah, um…no? It’s a human lady. Sorta pretty? Um, tall, and brown-skinned.”

“Oh, Valondrac then.” Hm? Well that was an unusually positive reaction. Eliza was actually smiling. As for that name…

“Would that be the ‘Arch-Countess’?” Hans asked with a glance towards Eliza. He’d heard rumors, certainly, of a quite ambitious–lord-like–Countess rising up in Blekhon and making a number of moves to expand her influence outward. Alliances, other nobles swearing fealty, activities in Olafiba, Brunzaba, Skiritaba…

“The very same, though the proper title here, as she so uses, is Marquess. One few have used in recent centuries, but a valid one.” Eliza was smirking now; likely enjoying having information that Hans did not. She could be quite amusingly petty at times.

“Huh. Fascinating…And how would you know her?”

“How wouldn’t I? You realize she moves in quite similar circles. More so than the average ‘count’ as well, as she actually deigns to speak to those of a far more productive mindset than those useless old bats hoarding their wealth and scurrying into the dark the second any danger appears.”

…Hans decided he really shouldn’t comment on the nobility of the Dark Lands and their tendency to “scurry” whenever a new Demon Lord declared themself. Particularly since the more arachnoid nobility weren’t exactly ones to fight against rising powers. More likely to join them, really. “So you’ve met her directly?”

“Of course I have, I mentioned her by name and knew precisely what she looked like. Inference is a skill you sorely need to learn, Hans.”

“Ah yes, mine apologies.” He smiled and stood. “Shall we go meet with your new friend then?”

“She’s not a friend, she’s an acquaintance, it takes a great deal more than being a person of interest to me to garner my friendship. Now, come along, old friend.” Hans blinked. Well, that was a very rare display of affection- “That means now.” And she was already leaving, very well then.

So Eliza led Hans and Mira to her parlor, where the most fascinating person Hans had ever met was reclining in one of the large, plush cushions Lizzy had in place of actual furniture. Granted, “actual” furniture was not made for an individual with the lower half of an arachnid, so her choice in furniture was apt for her needs. 

Oh, and there was a second, also rather interesting person there; a blonde, orcish woman, who was outright lying on top of another cushion, her hands folded on her belly as she audibly snored, likely fast asleep and earning a poorly hidden giggle from Mira.

“My apologies for my companion, she insisted on taking full watch last night, and fell asleep as soon as she laid down,” the other woman explained. She was dark-skinned, black-haired, and yellow-eyed, clad in black robes lined with red, her hands gloved in matching colors. Furthermore, she appeared…mostly human.  Her ears had points, that much was clear, so perhaps an elvish or cambionic ancestry?

“You need not apologize, Marquess Valondrac. My cushions are indisputably comfortable.” An odd thing to brag about, but Eliza was nothing if not proud of her…accomplishments?

“They really are,” Mira agreed, promptly going to the nearest one and flopping into it, earning a frown from Eliza.

“That was not permission.” Mira didn’t move. After a second, Liza sighed and just sat on a cushion of her own, her legs curling into the plush as she made herself comfortable. “My apologies, Marquess. My friend’s apprentice is young and ridiculous.”

“Hkh yh tuh.”

Valondrac’s lips twitched, then she shrugged, smiling. “It’s no problem. Oh, though, weird thing, apparently it’s supposed to be ‘Marchioness’. Feminine version or something.”

“…What? But Marquess already sounds feminine.”

“Yeah, I don’t know. Jonathan has books about the subject and they don’t explain anything. Apparently an old alternative was marquisess, but everyone agreed that sounded stupid and tried to change it.”

“…” Eliza sighed. “Is this a vampire thing? It’s a vampire thing, isn’t it.”

Valondrac shrugged. “Possibly. The lightlanders supposedly used to have titles like Landgrave and Margrave before transferring to their current Baron-Earl-Duke system, so perhaps we stole it?” Hm. That may be something to research–boring, bad idea–Ah, definitely something to research then–noooo…

“Ugh. So many damn titles. Why not just use Lord, or Lady? Or president.”

“Well they’re not merchant guilds, so-Ah, wait, sorry to interrupt, but I actually do have a point to being here today.”

“Ah, of course you do, no one ever just wants to talk. What is it?”

“It’s not a request for you, Lady Tealmarn, unless you’ve rethought my offer?”

Eliza paused, then sighed and rolled her eyes. It was quite the sight, all of them turning at once. “No. I already did the ‘demon general’ thing once, I’m not interested in trying again.”

“That’s still a shame, but I appreciate your candor.” Then Valondrac turned her gaze towards Hans–Ah, so that’s where this was going. “Professor Samore, it’s nice to meet you.”

He smiled politely, largely because she actually bothered to use his title. “It is nice to meet you too, Marchioness Valondrac. However, I am not interested in becoming your general either.”

She pouted. “You could at least hear out my offer first.”

Hans shrugged, then climbed onto and sat cross-legged on the cushion across from Valondrac. “I could. I doubt you will say anything I have not heard from other aspiring Demon Lords. Your current title is a curiosity though.”

“I have three Ouzan patrons.” What. what.

“…Pardon?”

“If you want, you are in trouble with Count Opalcreek, after all.”

Hans blinked at the non-sequitur. “…I…Mine apologies, but I don’t understand.”

“I have the ability to pardon you, if you so desire. Count Opalcreek, the spineless psychopath, pledged his loyalty to me when I made it clear I wouldn’t be content with the bats scurrying into their hidden caves while I seized power.” She grinned. “He wronged you and yours. Would you like to be there when I make him pay for it?”

“…” Almost involuntarily, Hans felt his eyes go to Mira, who had turned and was staring at Valondrac now. 

“…” Mira glanced at him, a question in her eyes, and Hans…gave her a slight nod. “…You’re that asshole’s boss?”

“I’m his superior, yes. I’m sorry he hurt you.” Valondrac suddenly stood from her cushion, and…and bowed. She bowed to Mira. A noblewoman, higher in rank than a vampiric count, apparently to the point that the undead beings that ruled Inrapaba swore fealty to her, who had the audacious claim to have three Ouzan patrons, actually was bowing to a thirteen-year-old girl scarcely higher than a commoner. That…didn’t happen. “He will suffer for it. You have my solemn oath on that matter.”

“…A-Ah…th-thanks?” Mira was blushing. That…huh.

“No problem!” And then Valondrac straightened, a grin on her face as she looked at Hans again. “So, my offer is simple. I’m not a Demon Lord yet, but I fully intend to be, as is obvious. To facilitate my actual success instead of going the way of some idiot warlord, I’m going to be conquering the entire Dark Land continent. I would like your help with that, in exchange for pay, legal protections, and access to whatever demonic lore you need for your studies, Professor Samore.”

“…” That…well…what? “…Why?”

It was in her smile, then and there, that Hans found true conviction. “Because I am going to rule the world.”

“…” She’s crazy.

She was. She most certainly was. But…But? There was certainly something about it. Something that made him almost believe her. Dumb. Be skeptic. Think. Right. 

Right, that was necessary. “I admit mine interest, Marchioness. However, could you prove the truth of your claim? A showing that you are, indeed, the power you profess to be?”

“Of course! Ah, Lady Tealmarn, may I use your floor?” 

“No, you may not. We have a room for spellcasting that doesn’t have a nice carpet.”

“Aw, but it will only take a second! Please? Wouldn’t you rather get it out of the way now instead of having to move around?”

“No, of course not, and there is nothing you can say that would convince me.”

And with a two hundred platinum “donation” to the Conservatory, Valondrac proved Eliza a liar. And then she proved Hans a fool because mother of all devils, she summoned the daughter of Rot right into Eliza’s parlor room.

“Hey Labatu! Thanks for coming so quickly!”

“Ah, no trouble Claire. And thank you for hosting me, Lady Tealmarn.” The easily 8ft tall demoness bowed politely to Eliza, her white leather-gloved hands placed over the lap of her long, white skirt. She looked a great deal like some type of hunter, with a hooded white coat strapped with bandoliers of knives, similar sheathes at her waist, and a white, long-beaked bird mask covering her face. Her very presence was making Hans feel like he had to cough, and Ko was shrinking back in his mind from the pressure she exuded. That, and the singularly unpleasant reek of burnt wax emanating from her body.

Put simply…it was one of the most impressive displays of strength Hans had ever witnessed. And it made him want to be better, to work again and get closer to attaining that level of absolute power

“Now, do you have any suggestions for who I should bring in for Marrow and Drought? Do you have any cousins?” Eh?

“Hmm…No, not that I recall, though Mother does tend to keep things from me…I suppose Auberich would be around my level?” …the Blood King? What?

“Oh, that’ll work! Thanks Labby!” Wait, what, why was their already a runic circle forming, was she actually-

“Ah, Marchioness!” Hans tried to grin as he stepped in front of her, his arms outstretched as though he’d somehow block her from bringing one of the most powerful demons in the 7th Circle into Estus. “Your display was sufficient to convince me! I thank you for such a showing, and would like to request that you do not summon a demon quite literally known as The Painbringer.”

“Oh, alright.” She let her hand drop, then frowned. “Is that really what he’s called? That’s a terrible name.”

“…Well, he brings pain, Marchioness. So I believe most demons consider it apt.”

“Sure, but what does ‘bring pain’ really mean? It’s not a solid thing you can carry. ‘Paincauser’ would be more accurate.”

“…” Hans glanced at Eliza, who just smirked back at him. “…I suppose that is more accurate, yes. Nevertheless.” He placed his mortal hand over his heart, then kneeled to his new liege. “I pledge my loyalty to you, Marchioness Valondrac. You have proven…fascinating, and I endeavor to aid you in your goals.” Then he raised his eyes. “I would ask though, that you do allow me to finish Mira’s apprenticeship first. Mine responsibilities lie with her, foremost.” 

“Certainly. Though I do hope you two come to visit soon.” Her grin widened into something deeply malicious. “I would like you to see when I strip Opalcreek of every title and land he once held.”

“I would enjoy that, mine lady.” And, in a moment of rather ugly satisfaction, Hans was quite certain he meant every word.

And, as for Ko…She felt a strange stirring in her muted mind. Was she…happy? Odd. Very odd.

But as her partner kneeled before his future Empress, a mouth formed and spread into a wide, giddy smile beneath the eye on his shoulder. “Make it painful.”

And the empress answered her too as the onlookers gawked and her partner chuckled. “Of course I will.”

Heh. What a lovely world to live in~.

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