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Real Life on the Seventh Floor

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🔥 𝑅𝑒𝒶𝓁 𝓁𝒾𝒻𝑒 𝑜𝓃 𝓉𝒽𝑒 𝓈𝑒𝓋𝑒𝓃𝓉𝒽 𝒻𝓁𝑜𝑜𝓇 🔥

𝒞𝒽𝒶𝓅𝓉𝑒𝓇 𝑜𝓃𝑒


 

   You frowned inwardly as you floated across the landscape of the seventh floor, the chunks of rock and streams of lava of no consequence to you.  The air was heavy with the scent of sulfur and earth, and occasionally a flurry of ash flew by, but your dreary surroundings were not what was causing you to frown.  Not by a long shot.

  This scene was, on the contrary, comforting to you.  This was your last chance to see it in this way. The end had come, and in the final minutes of the world, this was where you chose to be.

  Perhaps you were being slightly over dramatic.  It’s not like the real world were ending.  Your life wasn’t over, you would continue on.  But with this, all of this ending...

  As you touched your now solid feet to the ground, having reached your destination, you reached over and put your hand on a marble pillar, appreciating the craftsmanship for one final time as you passed by.  With all this ending, you did feel like part of your soul was being ripped away with it.

  A jangling noise filled the air with each step, courtesy of the numerous anklets you wore over your bare feet.  It echoed through the ruins you walked through, and the sound raised your spirits a bit as you thought over the shape you had lovingly formed over the years.

  You had chosen the form of a djinn, a blue-skinned spirit that specialized in magic.  With a body that could change from solid matter to a opaque mist and six upper limbs (two wings and four arms) with four horns sprouting from your head, two of which arched backwards like the horns of a ram, it felt odd to say that you looked very much like your regular human self, but you did.  Especially when comparing to the other members of your guild. Your form was very humanoid, and you had spent hours grumbling over the character creator options, trying to shape your most humanoid features to be true to life. You were pleased with the results, and it was only after your friends pointed out that they could now probably recognize you on the street that you had taken to wearing a mask so other players outside your guild could never say the same.

  Now, finally arriving at your goal, you reached a hand up and moved that mask away from your face.  The obstruction it caused your vision was minimal, but you didn’t want to miss one inch of this last view.

  The burning temple was made to be beautiful, yes, but only in a way that was haunting and broken.  It didn’t hold the quiet awe of the sky of the sixth floor, or the intricately lined up symmetry of the ninth floor.  It was messy in a purposeful way, and you loved that. One thing here, however, was beautiful without the mess.

  If the face of your avatar could change, it would have broken into a smile at the sight.  Truth be told, your avatar was always smiling, the mischievous smirk of a wish-granting trickster, but that didn’t stop your posture from conveying the change, hands rising and back pulling straight.  There he was, the last piece you needed, the one you had saved to be the crowning moment in your work.

  Demiurge.

  You had fawned over him from the moment Ulbert had told you his idea for the NPC.  Of course, you never told Ulbert that; while he loved his creation, Demiurge to him was the embodiment of all he found to be evil.  It would have made for some awkward situations if you had told him you found the devil to be more than just “badass”.

  Tapping the air, you pulled up his info sheet, scrolling through it fondly before tapping again just to the side.  Another menu appeared, one you had crafted into the game yourself, having found a beta version online someone else had been trying to develop.  It was what you had used over the past month on so many other areas and NPCs, and you were quite proud of it.  Placing a finger on a button, you had it run an update check as you looked back at the red-suited devil in front of you.

  It was a shame.  You didn’t want to leave.  You didn’t want this place to leave you .  The work you had put forth here in Yggdrasil in your spare time was the best you could manage to alleviate that, using this tool to copy the base information of your favorite locations and characters.  Which, to be fair, was a lot. It had taken you forever to get to this point, but here you were at last, with just enough time left on the clock to take a facade of your favorite NPC back home with you to load up to some VR goggles and sigh about the good old days, talking into space with him at your side as you had grown accustomed to doing.

  Your tool’s menu dinged, and you glanced over.  One new update?  Something had changed in what you had already downloaded?  You shrugged; Momonga was here as well, probably in the throne room where the update had come from. You felt a twinge of guilt at not being there with him, but you knew that he probably wanted these last few moments to himself as much as you did. The two of you had been dear friends, but not as close as some other members had been.  You knew you wanted to each have your own final experience here.  Speaking of which… you glanced at the time in your menu display.  Five minutes left before midnight.  Plenty of time.

  You clicked on a button and dragged it from your menu to Demiurge’s profile, dropping it over it and letting the tool begin it’s work.  Yesterday you had copied the temple, and now it should take less than a minute to make a copy of Ulbert’s NPC. Less than a minute… leaving plenty of time.  Sadly you looked over at the devil. Sure. “Plenty”.

  “Well… this is it, I guess,” you said quietly.  His face was just as unresponsive as yours. “Yggdrasil is done. I guess I need to focus on real life now. But, I’ll tell you a secret.”  You leaned in, as though it were actually a secret. “I really would rather not.” You sighed. “Well! At least you don’t have to listen to me yap at you constantly.  I’m sure I get pretty annoying. I wouldn’t be surprised if—”

  Your words got cut off by a beep.  Already? You went to check the menu.  The download was supposed to be fast, but—

  Oh no.

  Something was wrong.

  “No, nonono not now,” you hissed, panic gripping your heart as you looked over the menu.  “Fatal error” messages flooded your view, and you clicked and dropped furiously, trying to figure out what had happened.  You opened the source code, scanning along for the problem but finding nothing.  It had been working fine for a month!  What could have possibly changed now, what could have— you glanced at the time—

  One minute left.

  Frantically, you raced through the tool, comparing it against the profile you were copying; you were still in the dark, you didn’t understand how or why this could be happening— one warning box stood out from the rest— why was it trying to copy your item box?!  The data must have gotten mixed up— did that even make sense?!—

  Fifteen seconds.

  There was no time.  No time for anything.

  Why, oh why did you think this would be a good idea??

  Your favorite.  The one creation you hadn’t wanted to lose, the reason you’d been documenting Nazarick in the first place, and this was how it was going to end?

  You couldn’t help yourself.  You felt what was like an echo of the tears on your real life skin as you looked at him, then decided to throw propriety and the fact that this wasn’t your own NPC to the wind and threw your arms around him, all four of them with wings overlaying, and your body shook with the tears your avatar couldn’t show.

  “I’m so sorry,” you sobbed.  “I shouldn’t have waited.  I wish I could take you with me.”

  You felt his arms come around your own, holding you close as you shook.  The tears were hot on your cheeks, soaking into the fabric of his suit.

  “And I as well,” you heard him croon quietly.

  You sighed, the validated sadness replacing your panic—

  Which jumped right back up to ten as you froze.  NPCs didn’t hug back.  NPCs didn’t talk.

  Gasping, you leapt backwards, and he released you immediately.  He was looking at you with not a small amount of confusion, and you saw his attention flick back and forth from you to his surroundings.

  He was moving.  Demiurge was moving, his face was portraying emotions—

  And you no longer had four arms.  Your feet didn’t jangle as you stepped back.  And—

  You were in your apartment.

  Demiurge was alive.  And in your apartment.

  “...Heh.  Heh-heh.  Huh.”  The strangled laugh came forth involuntarily from your throat.  Demiurge looked at you, a very concerned frown on his face.

  “My… my Lady, what—”  He dropped to a knee.  “Forgive me.  I’m not… quite certain what is happening… It is… still you, isn’t it, Lady Zoba?”  His tail whipped around to the side of him, just missing knocking into your coffee table, his gaze trained on the carpeted floor.

  “Z-Zoba…  Yeah, yeah that’s me,” you squeaked.  “Zoba the Four-Horned Djinn.  Yup.  And… This is my apartment.  My home.  With… with you in it.”

  Demiurge shuddered.  “The home of a Supreme Being…  My intrusion is unworthy!”  His bow dropped even lower, but you heard tension in his voice.  “Your words have brought me to you, I have no doubt!  But nevertheless, I am undeserving of such an honor.  Therefore, I will take whatever punishment you bestow upon me, but-- forgive me… Lady Zoba… why have you brought me here?  Am I…”  He risked a glance up.  “Am I to serve you personally?”

  Oh, geez.  Oh, heavens above and hell below.

  That was the final straw.  Without another word, you turned on your heel and ‘nope’d right out of there.

  “M-my Lady?”

  “Yup just a sec I just gotta go in here and take a second I just uh yeah I’ve got--  hhhhhhhhhh--”  You shut the bedroom door behind you.  “Huuuuuuuuuuuuuuu--”  You clumsily sat down on the edge of your bed.

  What the actual hell.  Demiurge.  In your living room.  In your tiny two-bedroom apartment, in the real world.  IRL Demiurge.  Full on tail, pointy ears, everything.

  What had happened.

  You put a hand to your face and realized you were still wearing your gaming headpiece.  It was a beta test gamewear you had received anonymously in the mail, and it sat over your head and had two sensors that rested on your temples.  Normally it would transmit your mind into the game.  However now as your felt the two pieces, you realized they were hot to the touch, and as you pulled the headpiece off, you twinged in pain.  Heat from the tarnished-looking sensors had burned your head, and you felt the dewiness of raw skin as you touched your fingers lightly to the contact points.  Feeling the new sensitivity, you gasped.

  “My Lady?!”  You heard the voice from beyond the door.  Suddenly it burst open, and you squealed as Demiurge once again entered your field of vision.  Thank goodness you’d just cleaned up in here a bit; the mortification of the demon seeing your room in it’s typical messy state would have been enough to throw you over the edge.  “I heard a cry! Are you alright? Please, how may I ease your pain?!” He saw the injuries on your head, your hand still near one point, and the headpiece in your opposite hand.

  He did a quick risk analysis.

  Deciding your well-being was more important than your possible displeasure, he acted without asking for permission; inquiries were obviously getting him nowhere anyways.  With one stride he was next to you, and dropped once again to a knee.  Removing the headpiece from your hand and tossing it behind you onto the bed, he placed gloved fingertips over the side of your head.  “My skill is limited,” he admitted as a green glow began to light from his palm, “but I do have the required ability to repair this damage.”

  Before you could protest, a surge of energy filled you.  It was like you had just woken from a full night’s sleep, drank an energy drink with no bad aftertaste, and just walked out of the doctor’s office with a clean bill of health.  Alongside this feeling of new life, your head felt a bit lighter, as though you had spun in too many circles a bit too quickly, and dizziness tilted your vision ever so slightly.  Your eyes opened wide, and you took in a sudden deep breath. The points on your head no longer stung, and as you looked at Demiurge, you could tell he was pleased with his work.

  “Yes, much better.  How are you feeling, Lady Zoba?”

  You gulped.  His hand hadn’t moved from your head, and his face was very close to yours.  You looked down. He had knelt quite near you, and your right knee was so very, very close to touching his inner thigh…

  “Great,” you squeaked.  He smiled, and opened his mouth to say something more, but your mouth kept moving.  “Mira.”

  He paused, unsure what to make of your statement.

  “Mira,” you repeated.  “That’s-- Zoba’s the name I use in Yggdrasil, Mira is my real name.  I’m-- you can call me Mira.”

  He took in a sharp breath.  You saw his lips frame the word, but as he went to speak it aloud--  “M-my Lady, I have done nothing to deserve this honor. I--”

  “Wait, don’t— Please.  Please stop.”  It was too much.  You were so overwhelmed, but at your sharp words, he cowered backwards, sliding away from you and lowering his gaze to the floor once again.  He was silent, a look of stern shame on his face. Aw, crap, now you’d just made it worse. You put your face in your hands and took a deep breath before trying again.

  “Look.  I’m going to try and explain what’s inside my head right now, and I really, really need you to just… listen.  Until I get it all out there.”

  He remained still, other than his tail whipping back slightly at the end.

  “Ok.  First of all… I need you to know that I am absolutely terrified right now.  I don’t understand what just happened. I really would like to say that I did this, or that I did it on purpose, but I-- And honestly, I’m scared to tell you this because you’re kind of terrifying to admit this to with how powerful you are and how you feel about humans like me--”

  You saw him wince as though you had struck him, and you quickly backpedaled.

  “I don’t mean that-- I’m not saying you’ve done anything wrong, I just--  I didn’t bring you here, Demiurge.  I mean, if I could have done this, I would have!  I absolutely-- But…”  You groaned.  “Ok… I’m… just a regular human.  I’m not… I’m not the person you think I am, I’m not really a powerful djinn, that’s just an avatar I built up for myself.  I’m just me.  No special powers, nothing.”  Your words had grown quiet.  “I’m not someone to treat like this.  And honestly, it’s kinda too much anyways?  I-- I’d rather just… be on the level with you.  If… if you want to.”  You looked at him nervously.  His breathing had quickened, but still he didn’t move.  “--Oh!  Right, um, that’s it.  That’s all, I think.”

  The silence lasted a few moments longer before Demiurge took a deep breath.  “My Lady,” he began, obviously choosing his words carefully.  “This news is… unexpected.  But more importantly, obviously distressing to you.  I feel the first matter I should address is in regards to myself.  You say you are human, and I would address that further, but before I do, let me assure you; if you attribute yourself to this race, know that I would never bring you or those important to you harm.  Further, if this is who you are, then my ideas are what is incorrect, and I will work diligently to correct myself on the matter.  Secondly, I cannot imagine treating you as less than what you are; a Supreme Being, a creator of the highest degree, and whether by your design or not, my means of conveyance to your realm.  You are not nothing.”  He spit the last words as though they were painful.  “You are everything.  And, third.  On the matter of your humanity and lack of power, I must humbly disagree.”

  You made a small whine, about to argue at least on that point, but he pushed forward.  “The spell I used just now was not a simple healing spell; my own MP was not depleted by it.  The spell is called Devil’s Deal, and it allows me to use the energy of a creature other than myself to heal.  Lady Zo--... Lady Mira…”  He spoke your name slowly, with reverence.  “The MP I used was your own.  And while it is not, admittedly, as it was in Yggdrasil, it is not in short supply.”  He turned his head up to you.

  “You are truly a powerful being.  And I do pledge myself anew to serve you, Lady Mira.”

 


 

 

 

Chapter Text

🔥 𝑅𝑒𝒶𝓁 𝓁𝒾𝒻𝑒 𝑜𝓃 𝓉𝒽𝑒 𝓈𝑒𝓋𝑒𝓃𝓉𝒽 𝒻𝓁𝑜𝑜𝓇 🔥

𝒞𝒽𝒶𝓅𝓉𝑒𝓇 𝓉𝓌𝑜


  “Mira. ...Mira.   Mira!”

  You jolted awake, pen flying out of your hand and smacking against your monitor only to bounce back into your face.  “Carnation Printing and Mailing, how can I—!  Uh— I mean… ”

  Your coworker Luna sniggered and you groaned, hunching your shoulders as you glanced around to see who else witnessed your outburst.

  “Don’t worry,” Luna giggled, “There’s pretty much no one here.”

  She was right; in fact, she was the only person you could see in the office. The two of you worked in an old run-down print shop that was currently in its slowest season of the year.  She was a sales assistant, and was usually the one to come in on days when no one else bothered, if only to sit around and accrue work hours. You were still pretty new to the company, working at the front desk. Your job involved answering phones, filing folders, greeting clients, delivering work orders through the office, and occasionally running through the system to make sure dates, quantities, and prices matched up.  It was simple busy work at the best of times, and at the worst, there was far too little of it to keep you busy.

  But, you’d picked it up as a part-time job to help you grow into the new area you’d just moved into.  After being left a hefty sum and an owned apartment by a dying distant relative, you’d taken the opportunity life threw at you and headed out to the city, picking up the first decently paying job you found to make some friends and get to know the area.

  Which ended up being this job.  In a dying company. Ok, “dying” might have been a little harsh… but as you looked around the empty office, it was hard to deny.

  “Geez, did you get any sleep last night?” Luna teased.  “Or did you… finally meet someone in the city?” She waggled her eyebrows.

  “Uh—n-no!  I mean, yeah, I got some sleep!  ...A little.” You thought back on the long night of trying to persuade Demiurge to rest.  After he spoke, it was obvious that what had happened to him had worn him out just as much as you. He refused to take your bed until you straight up ordered him; you were too frazzled to sleep, the couch was comfortable, and you did not want to have to sneak past him in the morning when you went in to work. You had almost considered calling in sick, but…

  You were too much of a coward. You just needed some time to process all of this.

  “Oh!  Just a little, hmm?  So what’s his name?” Luna grinned wickedly at you, her eyebrows now bobbing up and down comically as her red locks trailed into her face, head tilting forward.

  “There’s— there’s no one!  There’s…” A red suit popped into your head, and you pushed the thought back out.

  She looked at you seriously.  “Don’t try to deny it. You have a man on your mind.  I know these things. I always know.

  You squirmed. “Ok. There’s kind of a guy.”

  She clapped her hands in victory.

  “But nothing happened!!  Nothing, and don’t go around saying otherwise!  And it’s not even like— it wasn’t a date, it was just like, we got— stuck in a situation together, and I’m still trying to sort it out.  It’s complicated.”

  “Well then, go uncomplicated it.”

  You chuckled at the suggestion, then realized she was serious.

  “What, like now??  It’s hardly noon!”

  “Girl, look around you.  Is there anything happening here that you need to be asleep at your desk for?  No. So go! Go text him, meet up for lunch or something. Just make it casual.”

  You smiled nervously.  “Aren’t relationship gurus supposed to tell you to wait to text the person?”

  “I’m not a relationship guru, I’m just good at knowing stuff.  Besides, whoever tells you to put off something important to you is an idiot.  But also don’t freak him out. But don’t be shy! What are you still doing here, go already, I’ll clock you out when I leave!”  She was walking towards her desk as she called advice back to you.

  “Uh— But—”  You had a lot of objections.  But she was right; even half asleep, you’d already finished all your work for the day, and it sounded like the few other people who had been working in the back had left for home as well.

  And you really probably should check on the demon you left in your room.

 


 

  Just put the key in the hole, you thought. Just… put it in the keyhole and turn.

  The door to your apartment had never felt so ominous. There were two options awaiting you inside: One, you were crazy, had an insane dream last night, and really should get out more often.

  Two: there was a red-suited demon waiting in your room.

  Three, he realized you were just a stupid human and had already flown the coop to start his plans of world domination, but you were just going to focus on the first two options for now.

  Summoning up your courage and thinking “what would Magnus Burnsides do,” you unlocked the door and rushed in.

  And there he stood.  Hand over his heart, head bowed, book in other hand.  Obviously having heard you coming as you oscillated behind the door and waited for you.

  “Lady Mira,” he said happily, “it is magnificent to have you return so soon!”

  At least he’d read the note you left.

  Not ready to confront him again this morning, you’d scrawled out a hasty note and slipped it under your bedroom door, one that told him to feel free to read your books or make himself some food, whatever he needed, and that you would be back after five.  You wondered suddenly if he had worn the sweats you’d put out for him to sleep in last night; either way, he was in his suit, as pristine as ever. As you looked around, you blushed. It seemed he’d also tidied a bit. Not so much that it felt invasive, but definitely enough to make you feel self-conscious about the disorganization that occurred in your daily life.

  “Heyyyyy…”  You waved awkwardly.  “So, uh… how was your day?”  Trying not to feel so stiff, you went to put your purse on its hook behind the door, then started wiggling your arm out of your jacket sleeve. It slipped off your shoulders and was suddenly on it’s hook.  Demiurge had taken the liberty of assisting you. It would have been nice if it wasn’t… well, what it was.

  “If I am honest, a bit empty without you here, my Lady,” he crooned.  An electric shock zipped down your spine; he was right next to your ear.  Oh geez, did he even know how smooth and deep and rough his voice was? It was an unfair advantage, one of many he had over you.

  Oh no.  Oh no— what did he know about those advantages?!

  He remembered you from Yggdrasil, he remembered the form and abilities you’d had… did he remember other things? Like the hours you’d spent talking to him?!  Like the time you said—

  “Sorry about that,” you sputtered, “I didn’t mean to leave you alone, but you… would stick out a bit from everyone else.”

  “No, forgive me!”  He retreated, and you felt an unexpected jolt of disappointment as he moved away from you.  Falling to a knee, he scoffed at himself. “What a selfish statement. I exist to serve you, not to seek anything from you.”

  You stifled a groan. If you were gonna get any relief from this over the top treatment without feeling guilty, you had to figure out a way to get him out of the house.  Maybe a breath of fresh air and a view of the world outside would calm his need to be so subservient towards you, or at least consider your pleas to tone down the constant bowing.

  “What I wouldn’t give for a Ring of Infiltration right now,” you moaned.  That would make things so much simpler. You had loved using that ring at your lower levels; when you found yourself alone and outnumbered in a tough battle, all you had to do was escape the enemy’s sight, slip it on and bam! you were one of the crowd, or at least one of whatever the majority species of that crowd happened to be.

  “My Lady, a splendid idea!  I do believe you possess such an item.  It is in your item box, is it not?” His ears pointed back, and something about the simplicity of the statement brought the ridiculousness of the situation into clear view for you.

  “Yeah.  My item box.  Back in Yggdrasil.  Back where I was ‘Lady Zoba,’ Demiurge.  Not here, not where I’m just Mira.” You turned around, running a hand over your face.  “Not here where I’m human, where—no matter what you say about MP—I absolutely do not have magic powers.  Or an item box! I can’t just concentrate on a Ring of Infiltration and say ‘bippity-boppity-boo’,” you threw a hand up next to your head to imitate the classic fairy godmother action, “access my item box, and suddenly have a Ring of Infiltration!  I am not what you think I am, I’m just— just…”

  As you had pulled your hand back down with a little twist, something small and cold came into contact with your pointer finger and thumb.

  No.

  You looked over.  A plain silver band with a small “x” engraved into it was shining in your grasp.

  Yup.

  “What… just… happened?”  As you looked at the item in your hand, you heard Demiurge take a careful breath.  “No—no, no wait.” You held up a hand to him, “this proves nothing, this… oh man. This is kinda proof… isn’t it?”

  “I am at a loss for why you continue to deny it, Lady Mira.”

  You looked at the demon with a flicking silver tail, squinted crystalline eyes, pointed ears, and magical healing powers, who told you he’d used your magic powers to heal you, standing in your front room.

  “I’ll admit… I’m starting to get your point of view.”

  The silver tail whipped excitedly.  “That is wonderful to hear! It has pained me to hear you speak of yourself so simply, my Lady.”  He gestured excitedly to the book he had been reading; it was your old anatomy textbook. “I have been examining the biological structure of humans in your realm, and it is very similar to what I already understand of the species.  With some practice, it shouldn’t be an issue to use your magic--”

  “Woah, there is… a lot in that statement right there.”  You anxiously eyed the book, looking at the section where his finger was holding his place.  What section was that? You wracked your brain, trying to remember what was in that spot from when you took the class, but no luck.  You just hoped it was how eyeballs worked or something equally innocuous. “I don’t think I’m ready for that… I just barely started accepting this whole thing.”  You pulled at your skirt, and suddenly longed for the casual comfort of your jeans. “Have you had lunch yet?”

  “I-- no.”

  “Ok.  Here, you… you put this on.”  You handed him the Ring of Infiltration, which he took from you like a fragile jewel.  “Let’s hope it actually works. I’m gonna go change, and then we’ll go out. You’ve had a win today, Demiurge.  It’s my turn to bring you more towards my way of thinking.”

  You could tell he wanted to protest as you walked past him, but of course he didn’t.  Walking into your bedroom and closing the door behind you, you gave a silent scream.

  You could access your inventory?!  What in the world happened last night?!

  Hesitantly, you put your hand up in the air and channeled “fairy godmother” again as best you could, focusing on another item you were positive you’d had before the game had ended, after you’d given most of your gear to Momonga already.  You thought you felt a tingle, and focused hard on a single healing potion, picturing it in your mind… and twisted your hand downward.

  Nope.  Nothing.

  You stifled a yawn, pushing the issue from your mind as you began to change.  Whatever it was that had happened, it was obviously unpredictable. Picking out a t-shirt and sliding it over your head, you wondered if it was possible that one day you’d be walking down the street and suddenly sprout wings, an extra set of arms, and horns.  Hopefully not. Things were already complicated enough.

  Suddenly you heard a bark of pain from the next room, followed swiftly by the sound of something hitting the floor.  Speaking of unpredictable--

  You rushed to your door and threw it open, seeing Demiurge on the ground, rising to his knees.  “I’m perfectly alright, Lady Mira,” he immediately said, though an idiot could see that wasn’t true.  The worry must have been obvious on your face as you dropped down to him, his frame shaking. You put your hands on his back as his ears shrunk, and his tail, which was curled in agony, rusted away.

  It was over before you could say a word, and he took deep, shaky breaths.  Your eyes were wide.

  “I am… so sorry.  I would never have--”

  “It is as you requested my Lady.”  He took a steadying breath, rising to place his hands solidly on his knees.  “This was necessary, and I am perfectly alright, you have my word. Otherwise, I would have stood out, as you so wisely have pointed out, and likely brought you undue trouble.  That I could abide even less than not being able to accompany you.” He looked at you, and you had to catch your breath.

  The irises of his new eyes were so bright that they were almost white rather than blue, but they were indeed unmistakably crystal blue. They shone with his intellect, studying you intently to see if you did indeed believe him as he nodded to reaffirm that he was just fine.

  “Demiurge, you are gonna draw attention no matter what…”

  “M-my Lady?”  Was he blushing?

  Were you blushing?!

  Woman up.  He had just gone through a painful transformation to please you.  Say something encouraging.

  “Y-you… are a very handsome person, and... ”  Your hand was still on his back. You awkwardly gave it a pat. He was no longer shaking, now much calmer and his breathing back under control.  “Yeah. Handsome people get noticed. And the red outfit, that’ll do it too.”

  “I expect you speak from experience, Lady Mira.”

  You couldn’t hold back the laugh.  “Well, that’s kind but-- I mean it.  You’ve got some good looks.” Oh man, you were so awkward.  Your brain was coming up blank in the “how to compliment pretty people” department.

  “My Lady, I would not lie to you.  Being a Supreme Being does not change the fact… your beauty is unmistakable.”  Demiurge started to bow his head to you, but quickly looked back into your eyes with a suddenly halted expression, then off to the side.  “Ah… as is, as you’ve stated, the color red.”

  Red?  But, you had put on a blue t-shirt and jeans.

  Demiurge gestured toward your collarbone, and you were suddenly aware that there was a slight breeze around your midriff…  You looked down. Because your shirt had been bunched up. Over your bra.

  You gave a slight “eep” as in one swift motion you pulled the blue fabric down, and your brain filled with the memory of the bra you had been wearing for the past thirty-six hours.  Red, lacy, push-up, black straps. Yeah… yeah, that would catch attention.

  Well.  At least Demiurge was gentlemanly about it.  And hey, now your face matched your bra. You tried changing the subject.

  “I, uh, was thinking we should get you something less… ‘red’ while we’re out.  There’s a thrift store the same direction as the cafe down the street--”

  “Excellent.  Yes.” You saw his mind begin spinning as he grasped onto the new subject as well, a smile breaking onto his face as some sort of plot began to form that you weren’t sure you even wanted to try and guess at while you were so tired.  “A splendid plan, Lady Mira.”

  You winced.  “One other thing, while we’re out, maybe drop the honorific.”

  “...My Lady?”

  “Yeah,” you said, mistaking his question of clarification as a direct clarification itself, and answering him despite your misunderstanding.  He paused and pursed his lips, watching as you stood up.

  “You can’t be suggesting I call you simply by your name alone.  It isn’t my place! How could I--”

  “Demiurge.”  You sighed, grabbing his hand.  He gasped as you held his hand in your two, pulling him up to his feet to stand before you.  “Don’t make me order you.”

 


 

 

Chapter Text

🔥 𝑅𝑒𝒶𝓁 𝓁𝒾𝒻𝑒 𝑜𝓃 𝓉𝒽𝑒 𝓈𝑒𝓋𝑒𝓃𝓉𝒽 𝒻𝓁𝑜𝑜𝓇 🔥

𝒞𝒽𝒶𝓅𝓉𝑒𝓇 𝓉𝒽𝓇𝑒𝑒


 

  He must have been unbearably bored all day, because you could feel him buzzing with excitement, his voice growing more enthusiastic at each turn in the conversation only to have him curb himself again whenever a space came where he would normally say “my Lady.”  He was leaving the space empty, which you could tell was taking a great deal of self-control, but he apparently wasn’t quite ready to speak your name alone either.

  He was entertained by the fact that you lived on the seventh floor, and said as much as he commented politely on the odd decor of the old halls of your building as you rode the elevator down.  It was an older but restored building, not made like the newer space-efficient and profit-maximizing units most people your age lived in. You defended it from his unspoken criticism by saying that you liked spaces with a bit of history and imperfect character, and that gave them a value all their own.  He nodded as though he had just been gifted knowledge of an ancient secret.

  You only had to ask him once to stop walking behind you and be at your side instead.  After that, he kept pace with you while you walked down the road, keeping an inconspicuous eye on your surroundings.  He grew quieter once outside, the unusual view of a city street seeming to take up all his attention. It was, you of course knew, very different from Yggdrasil with the cars, the stores, but most of all, the thing you wanted him to see: the people.

  People just like you, bustling about the street, talking on phones, shopping for various things.  It wasn’t too busy; the last bit of the lunch rush was ending, and most people were off the streets and back at work or home, but there were still enough pedestrians that the sidewalk didn’t feel empty.  A man passed texting on his phone, a mother and son compared purchases, a woman and a man had a loud passive-aggressive argument.

  This was good, you thought to yourself, noticing that he was observing them all through his silence.  Show him some everyday interactions to let him know this was your life, to understand how alien his treatment of you felt.

  This was a good idea, right?...

  What if he came to see you as too plain?  Your heart twisted as the idea of him taking off crossed your mind again.  Something was now different about you with the whole inventory thing and possibly some MP, sure, but you knew that you were still just a regular person, one of billions, and plenty of them had plenty over you.  All the people you had passed had taken notice of the two of you, particularly the brightly dressed man who looked like he had gotten separated from his k-pop group with his tailored red suit, unusual frames, and multiple ear piercings.  An attractive woman you passed had stared unabashedly, giving her lower lip a slight bite as she walked by him. Suddenly you wished you were both back up in your apartment, him reading your books as you worked on your laptop, or even you awkwardly trying to persuade him to relax as he worked to impress you.

  But you were on a mission, and whatever happened next, it felt wrong to keep him cooped up like a pet.  You tried not to think about how to handle leaving for work tomorrow as you stopped walking, having arrived at the café.

  “Well, this is it,” you said, tilting your head to the side and indicating the small hipster-ish locale. It was a simply decorated counter service spot, but you loved the free WiFi and good people-watching it provided with the large glass windows all along the front.

  Demiurge took one look and dropped a hand on your shoulder.  “No.” He maneuvered you to turn around, ready to cross the street.

  You were dumbfounded.  Did he just… tell you no??

  “Excuse me??” you said incredulously.  “Wh— you don’t like it?...”

  “It isn’t suited for you,” he stated, guiding you into the street as a break in cars appeared.  “I counted three roaches at the edges of the building and one at the door, and while I am not experienced in the culinary arts, the fact that the man behind the counter just sent a flurry of dandruff into a salad doesn’t seem encouraging.”  He switched to your other side, and you realized he was shielding you from any unexpected traffic as you crossed the road. “This establishment seems more appropriate.”

  You stepped back onto the sidewalk and looked up at the black and gold sign above you, the cursive letters declaring it’s luxurious status for all to see.  The doors below were equally impressive, looking like modern antiques with ornate gold metal framed around glass, through which you could see a man in a suit standing at a thin podium, awaiting patrons.  You had never even paid attention to this place; it was too fancy for you to find a reason to even consider trying it out.

  “D-Demiurge, I’m pretty sure you need a reservation here,” you pleaded.

  “Ha.  I’ll see what I can do, m--”  He almost slipped up. You looked at him, ready to use the mistake as a distraction in conversation to turn him away from the gold doors, but he seemed determined, strolling beyond the glass before you could say another word, leaving you to chase after him.

  The man at the podium glanced up, and Demiurge smiled.

  “Good afternoon.  Table for two.”

  “Party name?”

  “I’m sure we don’t need one,” he replied smoothly.

  Oh, dear.  This was where you got scoffed at, and walked back out onto the street embarrassed.  Hopefully.  If Demiurge didn’t react too horribly to his “Lady” being denied something.

 As you waited for the snobby eye-roll, the man instead blinked several times, as though the thought of not needing a reservation hadn’t occurred to him before.  “Of course sir. Right this way.”

  Your jaw fell open as you looked at Demiurge, and he couldn’t have been more pleased with your expression.  He bowed slightly and gestured for you to follow after the host before him, and you said a very quiet, “How??” as you passed by.

  He had an ability that allowed him to control weaker characters, you knew that.  But he was human at the moment, and that was definitely not a human ability he had just used.  Was something wrong with the Ring of Infiltration? You felt yourself wanting to turn around and eye him over just to be sure it was still working as it should, but you walked behind the host as calmly as you could, only turning to look him over as you reached the table.  As the host pulled your seat out for you (oh geez, you were wearing jeans and a t-shirt in a fancy restaurant), you glanced at the smug non-demon.

  His blue eyes were watching the other man’s handling of your chair carefully, and while you saw a twitch of disapproval in his smile as the man pushed your chair in for you a little too quickly, you didn’t spot the sharp incisors he’d had before donning the ring.  There was no tail swinging behind him, and his hair covered the tips of his ears rather than them following the flow of the black backwards.

  He didn’t seem uncomfortable in his new form, you thought as he took his own seat opposite you.  And while you didn’t have any objections to it either… you did find yourself looking for those other features.

  A waiter was immediately at your table, placing waters in front of you and repeating the specials for the day in a rote but upbeat manner.  You were unsure what to order, so Demiurge questioned the waiter a bit longer about the dishes until you had an idea as to what piqued your interest.  He then ordered the steak. You ordered a fancy pasta dish.

  “So… You just used an ability.  Right? That is what just happened, right?”

  Demiurge nodded.  “Yes, of course. It seems that no one I’ve yet to encounter is even remotely close to my level.”

  “But you’re wearing the Ring of Infiltration.  And the ring changes you to the race of the majority around you.”

  He smirked, and you felt like you’d just fallen into a trap.  “Precisely so. And when I equipped the ring, the only being nearby was you, La--”  He almost slipped up again, but continued on. “You are human, admittedly. But there is also apparently a bit of arbitration allowed you in that definition.  Thus, an amount has been allowed me as well. Several of my abilities feel to be unaffected, or merely dampened, as my Command Mantra is.”

  His smirk was so smug.  You wanted to roll your eyes at his inflating ego. He was looking at you so intently you were beginning to feel self conscious again, and you could tell he wanted some sort of acknowledgment of his brilliance.

  “Oh.  Well ok then.”

  He frowned slightly at your denial of vocal praise, a bit of a pout forming.  It was a little funny; he’d gotten everything he wanted today, from getting you to admit there might be something special about you, to sitting at this very table.  It was about time he felt a bit of disappointment. You tried to hide a smirk, but it escaped and he spotted it, cocking his head to the side like a curious puppy.

  “No, I’m sorry, it’s… it’s ingenious.  I don’t understand how you understand so much.”

  “It’s a simple matter to deduce facts when one carefully observes the world around them,” he said, the smile returning as he conversationally waved the precious compliment away.  “Thank you, m--”

  There it was again.  It was silent for a moment, and you saw his eyes narrow at his inability to keep the honorific away as you had requested, a small sigh escaping his lips.  You bit the side of your tongue.

  “You know… I’ve heard before that when you’re trying to kick a habit, cold turkey isn’t very effective.  It works better when you… replace it with something?” You put a hand around your water glass, pretending to be interested in the way the condensation let your fingers glide across it, leaving streaks of clear on the foggy exterior.  You didn’t want to be pushy; it was obvious he was trying. But it was your name; surely it couldn’t be that bad? Did he not really want to be closer to you, in a less formal, more friendly way?

  He saw the apprehension on your face at the suggestion, and misguessed what it meant.  “I’m not sure that… I am worthy of such a thing. My existence is thanks to you, and it would be incredibly selfish to assume anything more than that.”

  You felt your heart drop.  He didn’t want that, then. “I-- I get it.  No problem.” You gave a fake laugh, pretending to put the matter behind you.  “You could always call me by my last name, then. That’s acceptable for acquaintances to do here, and… I mean, I would prefer it over ‘Lady’.”

  He blinked and reassessed your reaction, noticing the sudden slump in your shoulders rather than the more relaxed posture he had expected at such a statement.  He was about to say more, but your food arrived, and instead he watched you intently as the plates were placed in front of you both, mind whirring away. You were suddenly a lot less hungry than you thought you’d been, and remembered how you had only hours ago fallen asleep at work…

  “I do deeply hope to be more than a common acquaintance with you… Mira.”

  Your heart leapt right back up into your chest.

  You looked up at him.  He was sitting up straight, only the slightest hint of panic in the mask of calm he wore as he awaited your response.

  “Good.  That’s-- that’s great to hear, Demiurge.”

  Relief broke over the table, and it seemed as though a tension that had sat between you since he first arrived had finally begun to crack.  Like ice over a lake encountering the early spring sun, there seemed to be hope that this could grow into something other than what it now was.  You lifted your fork, appetite back, and smiled at the handsome devil as you both dug in.

 


 

 

  “I mean, it’s the right size, sure, but-- is it you?”

  Demiurge stood just outside the changing room, arms splayed out to display the outfit he wore:  Heavy blue jeans with a green polo shirt and white tennis shoes. He shrugged slightly, tilting his head to the side.

  “I am sufficiently satisfied with it.”

  You squinted your eyes.  “...Show me the tags.”

  After enjoying your meal, the waiter had come by and dropped off your check.  Demiurge had smoothly picked it up and offered it back to him, and this time you could hear the slight echo in his voice as he activated his Command Mantra to inform the waiter there was no need to pay the tab.  You had reacted quickly, snatching the bill away before the waiter could take it.

  “No, hold on— we are not doing that, this is fine.  We are paying this.”

  “I am the one who insisted that you—”

  “Yes, and now I’m insisting on paying for this.  And leaving a nice tip. It’s fine, really,” you said, scribbling numbers into the blank spaces quickly and placing your card inside the little book.

  He had been quite ruffled at your insistence, and afterwards had zero qualms about finding clothing at a second-hand store.  Now you were beginning to suspect why. Sure enough, the clothes he had put on were the cheapest out of everything you had thrown into the dressing room for him, and you scolded him and sent him back in, telling him in the least order-y way you could think of to try on what he liked most instead of worrying about your available funds.  You were fine to splurge a little; you’d just had a rich distant relative leave you a small fortune along with a rent-free apartment, after all. If you couldn’t spend it on second-hand clothes for a demon you somehow accidentally brought to life, what could you spend it on?

  The next outfit was, to say the least, much better.  As he walked out, a bit more reluctantly, you felt your heart speed up.  Maroon colored denim pants, black and white suede shoes, and a fitted black button-up shirt that made you wonder what poor soul had thrown it out.

  You heard a quiet whistle from over by the rack where the thrift store worker was pretending to sort through clothes.  Yeah, you seconded that.

  Demiurge bowed his head to you.  “Forgive my earlier attempt; I should have considered that my position is next to you, and as such I shouldn’t hesitate from a proper appearance.  It cannot possibly raise value to you, but is this more appropriate to grace your side?”

  A quiet “daaaaaaamn boy” sounded from the clothing rack.

  Again, seconded.

  “Y-yeah, it’s great.”  You cleared your throat and tried to will the color from your face.  “Is there anything else you liked?”

  “A few things,” he nodded.  A smile began to light his face at seeing your expression.  “Possibly enough for a temporary wardrobe, as was your goal.  Would you like to view them as well?”

  Suddenly the thrift store worker was at your side.  “I can help with sizes.” She was holding three shirts, two jackets, and a pair of pants, and looking at you as though you held the very power to grant wishes in your hands.

  A Demiurge fashion show was suddenly under way.

  The leather jacket was an instant yes.  The long sleeved red v-neck was as well, with a casual grey blazer accompanying it.  Dark blue jeans had been an obvious staple choice, and you were surprised when, at the employee’s suggestion, faded light blue jeans with a cream sweater got your approval.  Several outfits went by with various results, and it started to feel like an enjoyable cheesy 90s montage, and the clothes at some point seemed to all blur together like a kaleidoscope of fabric.  However, at the end, one outfit stood out from the rest in your mind.

  You had been unconvinced when the employee emerged from the back room with the blue suit, and despite it fitting well, something about it just felt wrong.  Then he looked up from the suit to you, and you realized why she’d pulled it out.

  The blue was much darker, but the tone matched his eyes so well that they popped out at you from behind his round frames.  You heard the employee, who had taken to sitting next to you on the second-hand couch placed outside the changing rooms, murmur in approval.

  “It’s cliche, but that does really accentuates your eyes,” she chirped, then turning to you, “Don’t you think?”

  It did.  But… You looked at the blue, and all the hours you had relaxed and chatted at him in Nazarick flooded your mind.  The glow of the flames and lava from outside his abode, the heat of the air… His intelligent smirk as he stood in his red suit, ears long and eyes crystal and silver tail behind him.  You remembered the day Ulbert had finally stood back, declared him finished and magnificent, exactly what he had hoped to make Demiurge to be. Guilt inexplicably flooded through you.

  Demiurge was looking himself over in the mirror, and opened his mouth to speak, but you did first.

  “Not the blue.”

  The employee looked uncomfortably at you, and you registered the monotone drop in your voice and how suddenly it had come on.

  “I mean-- just that, he’s got a suit already, we don’t need another one right now.”  You smiled at her, shrugging to try and bring back the casual lightness. “It’s a great suit, but I think we’ve got enough.”

  She nodded with the same attitude, but the moment was now over.  She stood and took the items you had both decided to get, saying something about getting started on ringing you up.  As she left, Demiurge cleared his throat and spoke up.

  “I don’t mean to question your insight, but it might be a prudent choice to purchase the suit as well; I will need something appropriate to wear when accompanying you tomorrow.”

  “Tomorrow?”

  “At your place of employment.”

  Oh, this poor devil.  You rubbed your eyes.

  “Demiurge… you can’t come with me to work.”

  If he’d had a tail… you could practically sense the phantom limb flicking as he blinked.  “I am to remain at your home?”

  Now you were feeling guilty.  You squirmed. “It’s my job, Demiurge, I can’t just invite someone to chill at my desk with me all day!  It’s unprofessional.”

  “A simple remedy, then; I aquire employment alongside you.”  He was frowning, pushing his glasses up the bridge of his nose.

  “They’re not hiring for anything.  And before you say that’s not a problem, please don’t try to Command Mantra your way into a position; I’m pretty sure having to pay one more paycheck would put the place under.”

  “Hmm.”  The wheels were once again spinning in his head.  “I see. I understand the dilemma completely.”

  “Y-you do?”

  “Yes.  I am attempting to go about this the wrong way.  Thank you for your guidance.” He nodded and ran a hand through his hair, flashing you a grin.  “Perhaps I could at least have permission to leave your home while you are away? For a few necessary errands, of course.”

  This was definitely a trap.

  “Sure,” you said, like an idiot.  But really, he was an adult.  And he’d handled socializing really well so far, you reasoned.

  It would be fine!

  ...Probably.

 


 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

🔥 𝑅𝑒𝒶𝓁 𝓁𝒾𝒻𝑒 𝑜𝓃 𝓉𝒽𝑒 𝓈𝑒𝓋𝑒𝓃𝓉𝒽 𝒻𝓁𝑜𝑜𝓇 🔥

𝒞𝒽𝒶𝓅𝓉𝑒𝓇 𝒻𝑜𝓊𝓇


 

  Demiurge had changed into the maroon pants and black shirt ensemble to travel back to the apartment in, handing the blue suit to the thrift store employee with a smile and a few words.  You paid for the clothes and he insisted on carrying all the bags back for you. You would have objected more, but he just made it look so dang… easy. Like they weighed nothing at all, and weren’t bulky and awkward to carry.  As you walked, you noticed more stares from passing pedestrians of all kinds, and you hoped that giving in and letting him explore the neighborhood a bit in the day wouldn’t come back to bite you in the butt too hard. He was too smart to get into too much trouble, right?

  You saw a group of teenagers whispering as they walked in the opposite direction pointing indiscreetly at Demiurge and you.  One was doing a very bad job of taking a sneaky video. You wouldn’t be shocked if they thought Demiurge was some kind of celebrity.  Your mind flashed back to the woman who had bit her lip while passing him. Maybe you should be more worried about other people than him.

 “Almost every human has one of those rectangular devices; they seem to have many different functions.”

  Oh, wait; you were going to have to introduce him to your technology, weren’t you?  You hadn’t thought of that. Well, no time like the present.

  “Yeah, I’ve got one too.”  You pulled it out from your pocket, and after a moment of deliberation, unlocked it and handed it over to him.  “It’s mostly used for communication, but you can also look up information, play games, record moments, listen to music… all kinds of stuff.”

  He spoke almost to himself, intrigued by the phone.  “Interesting… An adaptation for the lack of magical capacity.”

  Huh.  You’d never looked at technology that way.  But it sort of was, wasn’t it? Humans had always dreamed of doing things beyond their natural abilities, of pushing the limits of what was possible.  Speaking to a person on the other side of the world was its own form of magic, wasn’t it? And to have access to almost all of human knowledge at your literal fingertips was nothing short of miraculous.

  You weren’t sure if he’d picked it all up from watching others on the street play on their phones or if he was just that good at guessing the intuitive interface, but he didn’t need a single word of explanation as to how it worked.  Every once in a while you’d hear a pleased “hmm” from him or a “ding” from the phone, but he seemed completely engrossed. At one point you looked over and he had opened a game about raising fish to battle in jumping competitions, and he seemed utterly baffled by it.

  It was freakin’ adorable.

  He was still exploring when you reached the doors of your building, but put it aside as someone called out your name.

  “Mira!  How are you?”

  You turned, and a huge square man in a blue jiu-jitsu gi nodded at you.  Demiurge made a sound under his breath and clasped his hands behind his back with sharp eyes as the man approached.

  “Cole!  Wow, good to see you!  I’m impressed you recognized me.”  Be friendly, show he’s ok, you told yourself, thinking of how Demiurge seemed to suddenly be hovering very close to your side.  To be fair, the newcomer did have a wrapped spear in his hand, which you supposed counted as justification for a little caution.  “We’ve only met the once, like… has it been two weeks ago, now?”

  “Almost three,” the tall man said, punching his code into the keypad by the building doors and pushing them open for you.  “You had that moment with the spider.”

  “Ugh.  That’s right, you saved it and me.”  You remembered, vividly.  While walking through the lobby, a spider had dropped from a web directly in front of your face, and as you screamed, he’d come to the rescue.  Catching the creepy crawly in an empty coffee mug, he released it outside and came back to introduce himself. He was the first neighbor you’d met.

  “How are you settling in?” he asked as you entered the building, Demiurge close behind.

  “Pretty well!  I love this old place.”

  “The rest of us feel that way too,” he agreed, stepping inside as well.  “We should really make an opportunity for you to meet the other tenants at some point.  Speaking of which,” Cole turned his attention pointedly to the man at your side and smiled, but something was missing in the grin.  “Please to meet you…?”

  “Demiurge,” you offered, then suddenly wondered if you should have given him an alias.  It was a weird name, right? Maybe you should have said it was Devin or Damien or Dorrian or something like that.  Too late now. “He’s a friend.”

  “A pleasure,” Demiurge said far too smoothly, accepting the hand Cole offered and returning his smile along with a piercing gaze.

  “Is this a quick visit, or should I be expecting to see you around?”  The handshake hadn’t ended, nor had it ever really shook.

  “I expect you’ll be seeing me, even with how infrequently it sounds that may be.”

  “I’ve been out of town for competitions.  Martial arts stuff. I’ll be around much more often now, though.”  He pointed upwards with his left hand, still not releasing the handshake.  “Fifth floor, two below Mira.”

  At last he let go.  He turned to you, smile somehow more full as he did, and you felt like you’d just completely missed an entire conversation.

  “I should get your number, so we can set something up.  We all like to do get-togethers around here when we can.”

  “Y-yeah, sure.”

  You told him your number as you all walked over to the elevator.  You almost invited him along for the ride up, but remembered from the first time you met him that he preferred the stairs “for the exercise” they provided.  For half a moment you considered taking the stairs as well, but you were just so tired. It was seven whole flights, after all.

  “Got it,” he said, tapping out a quick text.  “You’ll hear from me soon about a get-together!”

  “Thanks,” you returned.  “See you later, then!”

  He hit ‘send’ and nodded his head to you, turning to go to the staircase--

  A ‘ding’ sounded off.

  Cole’s large form froze, then his head whipped around, looking at Demiurge.  A huge smirk broke out across the demon’s face. Pulling the hand holding your phone out from behind his back, he held it between two fingers, a thumb, and his palm, leaving the other two fingers free to tap off of his forehead, giving a parting salute to Cole just as the elevator doors slid closed.

  Demiurge handed the phone to you without even looking at it.  “It’s good to know others that are capable of protecting you see your obvious value as well,” he purred.

  You raised your eyebrows at him and looked at the text.

  “Cole Kytens, 5th floor.  Here if you need help with anything at all.  You call, I’ll be there” it read.  It seemed oddly phrased for a basic hello.

  The lightbulb flicked on.

  “Wait… that whole thing was--  Oh.” It had been the classic protective big brother routine.  Duh.

  “I expect we’ll be meeting the other tenants soon, if they truly are as close knit as he made them seem.  I wonder if…”

  Demiurge seemed tentative, almost excited.  Which was strange. Cole had just been trying to intimidate him.  Logically, shouldn’t Demiurge be adverse to or at least annoyed by the idea of meeting more of them?

  “Wonder if what?”

  He hesitated, then said, “It is rather interesting that you have a blue-donned, insect-preserving, warrior-inclined neighbor residing on the fifth floor, don’t you agree?  It makes me wonder what the other tenants will be like.”

 You frowned, looking back down at your phone with a shrug.

  Three seconds passed.

  You gasped.  “OH!!” You looked at Demiurge, who was smirking at your sudden outburst with tender joy.  You broke into a smile as well and said the name as though it were a fond memory. “He’s just like Cocytus!”

 


 

 

 The joy at the coincidence of your fifth-floor neighbor bearing resemblance to Demiurge’s fellow guardian energized you only momentarily; as soon as you walked back into the apartment, you remembered how exhausted you were. As Demiurge set the bags on your coffee table, you felt the need to sleep dragging you to your bed, as though a bungee cord looped around your mind was being pulled tighter and tighter.  Demiurge noticed it too.

  He saw you hide a yawn as you almost tripped over your own feet as you went to look through the bags, and did a risk analysis such as he had done when he first arrived.  Having come to a similar conclusion, he reached down and swept you into his arms in one swift movement, eliciting a gasp of surprise from you. One arm behind your back, the other under your knees, he chided himself as much as you.

  “You haven’t had enough rest!  Forgive me for not realizing your need sooner.”

  “Hey— I can take care of myself, Demiurge, I’m ok—”

  He didn’t pause as he used his shoulder to push open your bedroom door, but did take half a beat to plan his words.  “I exist to serve you. I beg you not to deny yourself of such basic needs; if my presence is in any way hindering your ability to look after them, allow me some solace in seeing to them as well.”

  “No, you’re not hindering anything!  You’ve been nothing but helpful—” It was hard to argue when you were stifling another yawn.  He set you down in the bed, the blanket somehow not under you but pulled aside, ready to be thrown over you.  Oh wow, your bed felt so nice, sleep sounded so good…

  Demiurge placed something at your side and turned to go, and you blinked in confusion at the fabric heap, calling out to him, words slurred with sleep.

  “Um, Demiurge, wait, these were for you.”

  He turned back around and cocked an eyebrow. You were sitting up, holding out to him the bundle he had placed at your side: the grey sweatpants and t-shirt you had laid out for him the night before.

  “But, y-you know,” you stuttered at his reaction, “you don’t need to, I just thought it’d be more comfortable to sleep in—” you blinked heavily, sleep dragging down your eyelids.

  He didn’t try to argue with you; instead he gently took the bundle and muttered, “Of course.  How could I have expected anything less.” Then he stood, saying, “Please, Mira, rest,” and left.

  His words were a bit confusing, but you attributed that to your tiredness. You hardly even remembered laying back down before falling asleep.

 


 

 

Chapter Text

 🔥 𝑅𝑒𝒶𝓁 𝓁𝒾𝒻𝑒 𝑜𝓃 𝓉𝒽𝑒 𝓈𝑒𝓋𝑒𝓃𝓉𝒽 𝒻𝓁𝑜𝑜𝓇 🔥

𝒞𝒽𝒶𝓅𝓉𝑒𝓇 𝒻𝒾𝓋𝑒


 

  “...And then there’s Blazing Dawn’s request for assistance with her armor upgrade materials!  I mean, that’s gonna be an extra two hours, at least. I think my day off is booked.”

  The voice was blurred by static, but as you strained your hearing it began to waver into focus, allowing you to see a bluish figure laugh nervously.

  “You could just tell someone no,” another voice offered, blinking in fuzzily beside the blue. “This is why we have a guild, to spread out the responsibilities of what we require for leveling up and stuff.”  You squinted, trying to see the new figure; it was dark with an upper center of white… it looked like—

  Momonga!  As you recognized your guild leader, he snapped into focus.  The skeletal overlord lich was always telling you to slow down, that you were going to run yourself ragged in this game and not have the energy for the real world.  You, of course, constantly ignored that advice. How could you not put so much of your time and effort into Ainz Ooal Gown? You wanted to do all you could to enjoy your time here, and make sure everyone else was able to do the same.

  Wait.   You wanted.  The blue figure was…

  You turned to it, and the sight shocked you with its abrupt clarity.

  Lady Zoba stood tall, two arms folded, one on a protruding hip, and the last pushing a lock of mist-like hair behind her ear. Her blue mask covered her face, accenting gold chain mail over blue and white clothing with its own golden details.  She was full of feminine curves, unintimidating battle-wise despite her height of six feet, but the smirk her mask bore gave the uneasy impression that that was exactly what she wanted you to think.

  Her sigh was sad, and she looked deflated as Momonga’s words settled in.

  “So many have left, lately,” you heard your voice say behind the mask.  Was that your voice? Something was different about it… it echoed backwards as though the sound were pulled into the air from another place.  She/you shook her head. “Is there anyone else who can tell them yes?”

  “Please.”  The sound was hardly a whisper.  It didn’t come from the figures in front of you.  You whipped around to find the speaker, eyes searching through darkness, but you saw nothing.

  “Help me get this one quest finished…”

  “—I only need an hour of help. Then I’ll be done and I can enjoy the game more—”

  “I am so excited about the raid boss this weekend! I’ve been working to get off early so I can join in, you’ll be there, right?”

  “You seriously are just gifting this to me? Wow, now all I need to complete the set is…”

  There were more of them, you could hear them all moving away from you, fading through the black.  You tried to chase after them, but every step seemed to make the ground slip beneath your feet. You turned back to the two figures, ready to beg for help, but they were gone, and the voices were still fading—were they ever actually here?...

  You felt cold, smothered by an icy blanket of empty air, and the weight of it was terrifying.  You could see no one, but you knew they could see you, all of them scoffing, rolling their eyes, shaking their heads in borderline pity.  They looked down to you, standing on a tiny little stage you hadn’t even realized you had walked onto, and then a collective hand pulled a plug and you fell through the floor, into a pile of dolls—you were a doll—you had always been a prop, and not even a good one—why weren’t you at least a good one—

  An arm reached under your knees.  You felt a second support your weight behind your back.  You were lifted upwards, away from the pile of dolls, and the rest of it—all of it—was just gone.  As though someone had flicked off a switch. It was starkly silent.

  “You are not nothing,” you heard the figure holding you say.  “You are everything.”

 


 

  Daylight blinded your suddenly open eyes.

  A dream.  It had been just a dream.

  You didn’t move, feeling your racing heartbeat witness to your body that it was awake.  Wow, that had been… definitely one of your more vivid dreams. You tried to hold onto the earlier parts, but as you grasped at it, holding as still under the sheets as you could and willing your mind to see back into that space, the images and sounds lost their shape like a wax figure over a flame, pooling down into an overall feeling you couldn’t quite place.

  There was a noise outside your door, and you jumped.  The reality of your current situation came flooding back to you, and you looked towards where the noise had come from. Was Demiurge already up?  You left for work usually pretty early in the morning, but you wouldn’t put it past him to already—

  Work.

  Throwing your blankets to the side, your eyes searched wildly for your alarm clock.  Had you really slept away the whole evening? The whole morning?!

  The numbers on the clock made you panic more (how could it possibly be after eleven?!), tumbling from your bed to a knee and a foot, scrambling up to your door.  As you threw it open, Demiurge came to your side from seemingly nowhere.

  “I am so late,” you gushed, “I’m in so much trouble—”

  “There is no—”

  “Where’s my keys, I have got to go— what did I do with my phone?!”

  Demiurge placed your smartphone in one of your outstretched hands.  Then he held said hand in place, forcing you to freeze for a moment.

  “A woman named Luna called; you are not required at your place of employment today.”

  You were still reeling.  “What… Luna?”

  Absorbing the information, you paused, looking at him.  He had on the sweats and t-shirt you had re-offered him last night, you realized.  The sweats looked comfortably loose on him, but the shirt was almost too tight in a way that drew your eyes to where his muscles became apparent.  The shirt you had given him was a bit of merch from a video game you loved, white with a black logo of a three-pointed crown with a curly heart below it.  He wasn’t wearing the ring, tail raised just off the floor behind him and eyes mostly closed so that you could hardly see their crystal form. Had you slept through him removing it?  Had it been as painful as when he put it on? Your panic shifted to worry, running through you as you looked him over, but he responded before you could address it.

  “Indeed.  There are some changes occurring, and it has been requested for employees to stay home until further notice.”

  “...You… spoke to Luna?”

  “Yes.  She also requested that I tell you to ‘uncomplicated it’.”  He seemed to have more to say on that subject, tail flicking, but left it as it was, turning his attention back to the kitchen counter and releasing your hand.  “She also had some interesting and rather forceful suggestions for me, which I hope prove useful,” he said with a smirk.

  You looked at the counter. There was a paper bag from that one bagel place you liked, along with a somehow still steaming cup of coffee.  There were also a few other bags.

  He handed you the coffee cup, which bore the name “Damierge” on the side with a little heart above the “i”.

  “How did you…”

  “It’s been a fruitful morning,” he replied to the incomplete question.  His tail whipped behind him, and you realized how much more easily you could decipher his temperament with it.  It rocked back and forth lazily behind him after the abrupt movement, falling quickly into an unconscious pattern.  He seemed to be in a good mood. “Rest assured that my purchases are not unaccounted for; I have… convinced those merchants to keep a temporary tab open for me.”

  You took the cup and sipped experimentally.  It was your regular; did he ask the bartsia, had she really remembered your order?  No, Luna must have told him. It was his poorly spelled name on the cup after all, not yours… with the little heart over the “i”… pretty sure “Mira” never got a little heart over it…

  “Thank you, for all of this.”  You took another sip, quelling down feelings you didn’t really feel like addressing.  “It all went good? You were ok?”

  “Of course; I do my best to err on the side of caution when dealing with unknowns.  Everything went according to plan.”

   —“...everything.”—

  The word lit up in your mind, the moment it was spoken in your dream suddenly remembered.  You held the cup close to your face, as though the scent could help clear out at least a few of the thoughts that were competing for top attention.  You had a feeling that was going to be your new normal for a while.

  You took a breath, focusing on one thought at a time.  “Ok… first of all, I see you’re not wearing the ring.”

  His tail froze.  “Would you prefer me to wear it?”

  “No no, it’s fine!  I mean, in the apartment where nobody’s gonna see, take whatever form you want, of course!  I was more wondering if it was an issue for you.  Like, if it’s uncomfortable to wear, or if taking it on and off is… y’know, too much.”  You regretted the last two words as soon as you spoke them. They might seriously alter the level of honesty you were hoping to get. “Because if it’s a bother, we can figure something else out!”  Nope, that probably didn’t save it.

  Demiurge smirked at you, ears drawing backwards.  “It is a temporary inconvenience at most. When I first donned the ring yesterday, the change took me by surprise.  I expected a much more superficial alteration. It is a simpler matter to bear now that I am aware of how it functions.”

  He saw your unconvinced frown, and added, “Alteration of one’s bodily structure by it’s nature carries its share of pain, but I am not unaccustomed form-shifting.  In Nazarick, I have often shifted to my fiendish form. Please, don’t let such a simple matter trouble you.”

  You lifted your eyebrows.  “I watched your tail rust away.”

  He just shrugged.

  You almost wanted to press him further, but he had a point; you remembered he had three forms with various abilities attributed to them.  Shifting into another was probably just another tuesday to him. You set the matter aside with a grumble and moved on to the next thought.

  “Did Luna give any details about why no one’s going in to work?  Is something wrong?”

  Demiurge turned back to the bags on the counter, and you had the distinct feeling he was once again picking his words.  “You have nothing to fear from the changes taking place. The conversation did not rest long on those matters, and she seemed quite unconcerned.”

  Did you even wanna ask?...

  “So… what exactly did she suggest you do?”

  “...To be blunt, she suggested I sleep with you.”

  You should not have asked.  You saw your life flash before your eyes as Demiurge continued, still digging through a bag on the counter.

  “She assumed such a thing had already taken place.  I of course immediately reprimanded her for her crassness.  No one speaks of my Lady so coarsely.” He was so caught up in indignation in his retelling, he hadn’t even noticed his usage of “my Lady”.  To be fair, neither did you. “She quickly switched to directing me to morning purchases after that. And suggested this.” He held up the item he had been digging for, a smartphone similar to yours.  “Texting seems to be primarily used for entertainment rather than efficiency, despite what she says,” he mumbled.

  A message popped up on the screen as he held it, and you clearly saw the words “lol is she still asleep??  send me a pic of her drooling or something” appear.

  “...I’m gonna kill her,” you said, voice completely steady.

  Demiurge cocked his head, tail raising.  “Hm.  Very well, as you desire.  How may I assist you?”

  You walked over, took the phone, and sent a message back: a single picture of your angrily glaring face.  “Figuratively. I’m going to figuratively kill her,” you clarified as you typed furiously.

  “Are you kidding me????

  “LOL

  You probably should have been more concerned that Demiurge immediately jumped on board with you on the murder train than texting your meddling coworker, you realized.  Turning your attention to him and handing his new phone back, you looked at the devil you had unleashed on the streets.

  “Demiurge… killing here is not like it was in Yggdrasil.  There’s no resurrection magic for people here. And it’s...”  You paused, unsure how to approach the subject of the wrongness of murder in an NPC that had been made with no such scruples.  “...it’s very much against most people’s moral compasses.  Against mine.  It’s... it's unacceptable.”

  Demiurge bowed his head and held up a hand.  “I understand the fragile nature of the beings residing in this realm, I have made sure to acquaint myself with such facts.  Which is why your declaration came as such a shock to me. It seemed to clash rather directly with your karmic level and predispositions.  Your reaffirmation on those facts is understood and appreciated. Our… differences on this matter are not lost on me.”

  His voice had grown dispirited as he spoke the last sentence.  Your mind flashed back to the guilt you had felt at the thrift store; this was not who he was made to be.  But… you couldn’t just let him…

  “We should talk about those differences,” you said, wincing.  “I think we need to--”

  Was that a knock at the door?

  You furrowed your brow in confusion.  Who would be knocking on your door at eleven thirty on a weekday?

  Demiurge nodded as you looked back to him, his tail uncurling slightly from it’s tense coil as he side-stepped further into the kitchen to be out of the line of sight of the entrance to your apartment.  He grabbed the Ring of Infiltration off the counter and you looked over anxiously as he held it, losing sight around the corner as you hurried to answer the door.

  There was another knock, and as you opened it, your grumble at their impatience changed to a gasp.

  The woman standing before you was gorgeous.  No ifs, ands, or buts, just plain incredible.  She was taller than you, with black hair that flowed down along the back of her suit jacket.  Her height was accentuated by black stilettos, which in turn drew attention to the pencil skirt that just covered the tops of her knees.  Her face was set in a practiced flawless smile.

  “You must be Mira,” she said warmly.  Her voice was simultaneously commanding and sweet.  “So good to meet you. I’m Alanna Bordeaux, your neighbor a few floors up.  Put on some shoes; I’m taking you out to lunch.”

  “Wh--I’m sorry, but I’ve got someone over--”

  “I’m aware.  I spoke to Cole.”  She invited herself in, glancing around to grab your keys off their hook by the door and to scootch a pair of shoes you kept near the entryway over to your feet.  “Let’s get some real food in you.” She eyed your hands, and you realized you were still holding the coffee cup.

  “Mira--”  You heard Demiurge’s voice from around the corner, the sound a little forced and sharp.  You were really starting to regret accessing that ring.

  Alanna saw your worried expression and it caused her to hurry you faster, her eyes narrowing in a protective glare.  “Girl’s lunch,” she called out, “Don’t wait up,” and scootched you out the door much like she’d scootched your shoes to you.  The door shut swiftly and in one movement she locked it and pocketed your keys with a satisfied sigh.

  “Come along,” she hummed.  “The car is waiting.”

  You looked between her and the door, torn.  But in the end, she did have your keys.

  “I’ll be back soon,” you called through the door, holding your warm coffee awkwardly.  “It’s fine, I promise!” Then you dashed after the tall woman, Demiurge’s observation of your other neighbor coming to your mind, along with his musings on what the rest of your neighbors may be like.

  You were pretty sure you had a lunch date with Albedo.

 


 

 

 

Chapter Text

🔥 𝑅𝑒𝒶𝓁 𝓁𝒾𝒻𝑒 𝑜𝓃 𝓉𝒽𝑒 𝓈𝑒𝓋𝑒𝓃𝓉𝒽 𝒻𝓁𝑜𝑜𝓇 🔥

𝒞𝒽𝒶𝓅𝓉𝑒𝓇 𝓈𝒾𝓍


 

  You were absolutely positive you stank.

  You had to.  When was the last time you’d showered?  How long had you been wearing this bra??  Here you were, at a nice establishment with a properly dressed woman, in your slept-in clothes… hadn’t you just worn these same jeans and t-shirt to a restaurant against your will?  Wasn’t once enough? Beyond that, you hadn’t put on (or taken off) any makeup or even combed your hair, and the shoes she had nudged towards you had been your house shoes, two fuzzy white yeti-faced slippers which were quickly becoming dirtied in the world outside your apartment.

  To conclude, you were not equipped to be out in public at the moment.  Yet Albedo (oops, you meant Alanna) didn’t seem to notice, or was too polite to say anything.  She had taken a phone call as you took the elevator down and got in a waiting car, and made one more as you drove to your destination.  They were both chock full of business terms and numbers, and you were certain it was all far over your head. Finally, you had been seated at an outdoor table at an uppity cafe and Alanna put down the phone and picked up a menu.

  “Two of the daily specials, and tell the chef Alanna Bordeaux says hello,” she said to the waiter, her smile glittering as her eyes asserted swift and simple dominance.  The waiter nodded and zoomed off to comply. Alanna turned those eyes to you.

  “So, you’re the new resident of the seventh floor,” she began.  “Cole tells me you moved in a while ago. Are you liking it so far?”

  “It’s great,” you said, trying not to fidget in your seat.  “I love how central it is to everything. And, you all seem like great neighbors.  Cole has been really welcoming,” you offered. The whole situation felt as though it should be uncomfortable, yet somehow her smile and attention made you feel as though everything were fine, as though nothing about this were unusual or unexpected.  Which, in and of itself, made you circle right back to worrying about what you had just gotten yourself into. She’d managed to get you out of your apartment and into a car with her before you’d known her all of five minutes, and the whole time an alarm was blaring in the back of your head that you were an absolute idiot for doing this.  Yet, she’d been nothing but kind, obviously thinking she was doing good by getting you out of the apartment for a checkup-chat.

  “He has a reputation for that around the building,” she laughed.  “He always makes sure to seek out the newcomers and help them feel at home.  Often, people come to the city with no family nearby, so it’s reassuring to know you can lean on a neighbor.”

  You hummed in agreement.  “Yeah, I can see that. That’s me; I don’t really know too many people here yet.  I, uh, really appreciate you taking the time to get to know me. You seem like you have a busy schedule.”  You glanced at her phone as it buzzed with a notification. She turned it over and focused solely on you, and after a momentary confidence boost at the importance she gave your conversation, a thought popped in from the back of your head, from the same place that had tried to convince you not to follow her at all; her phone must go off all the time.  Had she placed it in such a way that she could show off putting it aside for you? You wouldn’t put it past her; everything she had done thus far seemed to be with purpose, moving her towards her goals. Every flick of her hand was made to be effective in one way or another.

  Damn, she was clever.  It was intimidating.

  “Oh, please, don’t worry about that, I’m just so happy I caught you!  I am sorry to pull you away from your guest.” Her smile pulled a little higher.  “Remind me who that was again?... Cole did mention it, but the details have slipped my mind.”

  Slipped her mind?  Sure, like you bought that for half a second.  You knew this was what she wanted to talk about, but she had brought it around in such a way that you now needed to describe to her just who Demiurge was, and it would be easy to dig for further details.  You felt like you’d been caught at school with a contraband puppy in your jacket.

  “Just a friend.  He’s staying with me for a while,” you began, trying not to pin yourself down with details.

  “It’s very kind of you to let him stay.  Have you known each other long?”

  “We, uh, we’ve run in the same circle of people for a while, a few years now.  But this is the first time we’ve really spent together one-on-one.” You were starting to sweat.  You definitely could not keep this up. “It’s nice, he’s been great. An ideal houseguest.”

  “How fun!  Have any plans for the day?  If he’s just around for a visit you’ll want to get some sight-seeing in!”

  “It’s probably gonna be more of an extended stay,” you admitted.  “He’s considering moving here, and…” So many lies, so much to keep track of-- abort, abort-- “h-hey, what did you say you did again?”  You leaned on the table, unable to contain your nervous fidgeting any longer as you set the coffee cup you were somehow still holding next to your plate.  “Those phone calls sounded pretty impressive; you must be a big wig somewhere!”

  She let out a halted sigh, but smiled nonetheless.  “I’m in upper management at an asset management firm: Bazar Peak.  It keeps me on my toes,” she admitted with a happy grin, probably the most honest you’d seen on her so far.  “It’s a very fulfilling job! Plenty of paperwork alongside overseeing the daily company needs, but it’s a large corporation, so most of that is delegating work to others and receiving reports from the different branches.  Every once in a while seeing to new assets, that sort of thing. And I get to work alongside the best of the best. That is the most exciting part for me, personally.” Her eyes were dreamy now.

  There it was; your ticket far away from the topic of Demiurge.  “Oh, seriously? Like who?”

  She glanced at you momentarily, and you were worried that she was going to correct your conversation’s course back to her original intent of grilling you on Demiurge, but if she saw what you were doing, she didn’t care enough to avoid the topic change.

  “The CEO is a perfect example.  He thinks of the company as a family while also making sure each part is operating at top performance.  The company’s official business plan is laid out in detail for only the next five or so years, with basic bullet points further out, but I am positive he has incredibly detailed plans for the next twenty years at least.  It’s incredible; he’ll make a small move, place a small investment, and in no time at all it’s a valuable asset to the company, and we’re in the perfect position to take full advantage. And he takes the time to make sure every employee knows they’re valued.  Exactly what you’d want in a leader. I’ve yet to find an area he can’t excel in. In fact, just the other day--”

  Alanna gushed for another good five minutes about her boss, and you made every effort to keep her going.  Not that she needed any help. Her attitude had shifted almost scarily quickly when she’d begun to talk about him, as though the principal who had been interrogating you on your contraband puppy had suddenly transformed into a sappy schoolgirl herself.  It couldn’t last forever, though, and the interruption came as your food arrived.

  “Thank you,” she said to the waiter, the practiced smile gracing her face again for a moment.  She noticed your coffee cup, now very cold, and picked it up to hand to the waiter. “Oh, here, let’s get this out of the way--”

  She froze.  The smile on her face stayed unchanged, but something in her expression shifted from dreamy to dangerous.  You realized she was reading the misspelled name with the little heart over and over. A flame lit behind her eyes.

  “Your friend… his name wouldn’t happen to be…”

  “Demiurge.”

  You hadn’t said that.  A voice behind you, smooth and level, had.

  A figure walked up to your table and swept over a nearby unoccupied chair in a sleek, cocky movement.  He sat in a dignified but relaxed posture, slightly closer to you than Alanna. Blue eyes accentuated a blue suit, and as gloved hands fell to rest in his lap, Demiurge looked you over.  Confident you seemed well other than the shock you were displaying, he turned his gaze over to Alanna, his smile as false as hers.

  “How wonderful to see you again so soon, Miss Bordeaux.”

 


 

  You threw another handful of cold water at your face and opened your eyes to the mirror in the overly nice bathroom.  Staring at your reflection and wiping off the excess water, you pursed your lips into a tired smile as though finding comradery with the woman looking back at you.  This was really your life. This was really something that was happening to you.

  You’d ducked out of the tense and thinly veiled conversation quickly with the reliably classic excuse of a bathroom break, leaving the two to their biting comments.  You had no clue what was going on. Demiurge had only been out for a few hours this morning, why were they talking like they were lifetime rivals? How had Demiurge gotten out of the apartment, and how had he found you, and gotten here so quickly?  And was that the suit from the thrift shop?!

  Apparently, you had seriously underestimated how much trouble Demiurge could get himself into with just a few free hours and the vague guidance of a meddling Luna.

  You thought back on the odd quips they had thrown at each other, Demiurge beginning the conversation with a glance at the plate the waiter had placed in front of you as he took his seat.  He had commented lightly on it, asking what it was, and you responded that you weren’t sure; Alanna had ordered for you.

  “Is that so? How very efficient of her,” he replied, turning his gaze to her with honeyed sarcasm.  She had bristled, returning with the comment that efficiency had its advantages. She then said she would offer to order one for him, but since he was so efficient at making himself at home, it wouldn’t surprise her to find that he already had an order placed in the kitchen.

  He laughed.  “I appreciate the compliment!  But I’m one step ahead of that; I’ve already had my fill today.”

  The smiles they shot across the table felt like two samurai waiting with swords drawn, each evaluating their opponent as the fight played out preemptively in their minds.

  Alanna’s eyebrows suddenly raised in surprise, and Demiurge’s smile flickered.  Back straightening higher in an apparent victory you didn’t understand, she drew a breath and turned glinting eyes to you.

  Before she could get a word out, you excused yourself.  Whatever had just happened, it had directed her to you, and you had enough going on at the moment without being in the middle of… whatever this was.

  Now, in the restroom, you groaned and stared at your reflection.

  “You have your keys,” (Alanna had returned them in the car while she was on the phone), “Just grab an Uber and go home.  You seriously need a shower, and some real shoes,” you told the messy woman in the mirror. But as she looked back at you, worry spelled out across her forehead, you knew you wouldn’t.  Instead, you took a deep breath, gave yourself a “you got this” nod, and went back into the fray.

  As you exited to the outdoor area, you saw them just as you had left them, exchanging seemingly polite conversation through gritted smiles.  The sight of them at odds triggered something in you.

  Alanna had come to your rescue when she thought you might be in trouble; it was obvious Cole had asked her to see if you were really ok, woman to woman.  And despite her very busy schedule, she had made time to take a shot in the dark and try to catch you at home, to whisk you off to a nice place during her lunch hour.  Demiurge had somehow gotten dressed, out of the locked apartment (you really hoped nothing was too broken), and across town in little more than the time it had taken you to drive here, all because you had been whisked away so abruptly, and if his actions thus far were any indicator, he was anxious about your safety.  They were two very caring people, both harboring good intentions towards you, and here they sat against each other. You imagined Demiurge alongside Albedo back in Nazarick, remembering how their roles had complimented each other, how surely if they’d had the life there he’d gained here, they would have been friends and close allies…

  You cleared your throat and marched over to the table.

  Alanna saw you approaching first and turned to greet you.  “Mira, we were just talking about—”

  “Look, you’re both really good at the whole subtlety thing, but I think there’s a misconception or two that’s getting lost between the lines somewhere, so I’m gonna just say a few thing to make sure we’re all on the same page,” you blurted, ignoring your nerves.  “Alanna, my situation with Demiurge is great. It’s more than great, he’s been nothing but helpful to me since he arrived, and I’m very lucky to have him here. He’s overly good to me, and I’m so happy I’ve got him nearby. And I am happy to help him with anything he needs.”  Alanna blinked, processing your words in the abrupt change of tone in the conversation. “Demiurge—” You turned to him, and realized his face was bright red. You ignored that like you ignored the way your heart seemed to be clenched in an anxious grip. “—Alanna took time out of her day to meet me and bring me out to lunch when she got a whiff of an idea that a neighbor might need help, and I don’t understand how you guys know each other, but we didn’t before this, and that sense of community duty for someone you don’t even know is rare and admirable.  If you care enough to come all the way out here, you should thank her for caring, too.”

  Your words hung in the air, and the grip on your heart at last released as it began to run a million miles a second.  Demiurge shifted in his seat and turned a bowed head to Alanna.

  “Of course, you’re right.  Miss Bordeaux, you have my thanks.  Forgive me for any misunderstanding in your intent towards Mira.”

  Alanna folded her fingers together on the table, shaken out of her practiced expressions and blushing in embarrassment as she glanced over at you.  “Mira’s giving me too much credit; I do care about the tenants in the building, but I should have taken time off to make sure things were really alright. Trying to… ‘efficiently’ fit it into my day isn’t the most caring way to go about it, is it?”  She gave an ashamed smile in apology. “And I should really say that I’m sorry as well. It’s been an interesting morning, but… business should stay business.” She nodded, starting to collect herself again.

  Looks like it was back to your turn to be confused.  “...Business?”

  Alanna rolled her eyes and grinned at Demiurge, raising her eyebrows.  “This man somehow impressed the CEO enough this morning to get hired on as a consultant.”

  “...I’m sorry, what?”

  “I simply noted areas that could be better streamlined.  And suggested a few business opportunities.” Demiurge waved his hand in the air.  “It’s nothing an observant third party wouldn’t have mused on.”

  “But it is my job,” Alanna pressed as you stood hunched off to the side, actually physically raising your hands to the sides of your head in a clear “are you kidding me right now” motion.  “And I got a bit overly defensive when the suggestion that I wasn’t doing it as efficiently as I could came up.”

  Ah, so that was why that was the word of the day.

  “Becoming entrenched in the day-to-day can be an enveloping task; I was surprised to notice on the files I received that you oversee so much on your own.  It’s quite impressive. It’s understandable now how my approach may have seemed to undermined you in your position.  That was never my intent.  I promise to address my thoughts on your hard work the next time I speak with your CEO.”

  The smiles on their faces had softened from polite grimaces to be intellectual and content.  Your goal had been undeniably achieved.

  You decided that was enough for now, and sat down to focus on your awaiting plate of food instead of the fact that Demiurge had a job (really, though, how??) while the two chatted about business terms and financial strategies and numbers.  Mocking your own increasingly common state of confusion, you prodded the back of your hand with the tines of your fork and saw little dots from the points fade away. Yup; you were awake. Life was getting crazier and crazier by the minute.

  You looked at the two beings sitting with you, one a familiar face on a new friend, and the other someone you felt you’d known at a distance for years and had finally met.  Days ago, you’d thought you were going to lose all of that familiarity.  They laughed at a joke that was way over your head (“Well, it is accrual world after all”) and you couldn’t help but smile as well.  It might be kind of crazy, but...

  This was a life you could get used to.

 


 

 

Chapter Text

🔥 𝑅𝑒𝒶𝓁 𝓁𝒾𝒻𝑒 𝑜𝓃 𝓉𝒽𝑒 𝓈𝑒𝓋𝑒𝓃𝓉𝒽 𝒻𝓁𝑜𝑜𝓇 🔥

𝕔𝕙𝕒𝕡𝕥𝕖𝕣 𝕤𝕖𝕧𝕖𝕟


 

  You closed your eyes.  The energy was all around you, he’d said.  It flowed through you. Magic resided in your very veins, and you only needed to call upon it, focusing on drawing it forward, out of your center and to your hands…

  “Spirit Bolt!”

  ...nothing.

  You dropped your hands and whined as Demiurge frowned contemplatively beside you.  You had been at this for over an hour, and all you had managed to do was start to doubt the validity of your magical abilities once again.

  “Maybe we should take a loss on this today,” you tried again.  “I really don’t think I’m going to get anywhere any time soon.”  You sighed. “I’m just not feeling the ‘energy around me’ like you said.”

  “No, the issue cannot be you,” he muttered, half to himself.  “If there is a problem, it’s with my teaching. I have not given you proper instruction.”

  You looked away from the can you had placed on your coffee table for target practice and up to him and grumbled at him.  He hadn’t changed from his human form, eyes boring into the can as he raised a hand to his chin. He hadn’t changed out of the blue suit either, having corralled you into attempting to use magic the moment you both had returned to the apartment from what in the end was a very pleasant lunch with Alanna.  She had given you her number and suggested you come by the office sometime (with an oddly knowing look at Demiurge) and said goodbye. You were relieved when you got back to the apartment; nothing had been broken by Demiurge’s mad dash after you, but he did apologize for leaving a window open behind him, as he parkoured across the rooftops  (because of course he’d parkoured across rooftops in a business suit, whyever would that be odd or scarily impressive) to reach the blinking dot on the locator app he’d downloaded to both your phones, showing where you’d gone.

  The man was too smart for his own good, and you’d seriously considered deleting the app from yours, but didn’t quite have the heart as you realized how much he had panicked to catch up to you.  You’d leave it, for now. Without it, he likely would have quickly resorted to more desperate measures to achieve his goals. The city probably wouldn’t have been able to handle a desperate Demiurge.

  He began to open his mouth to speak, but then frowned harder.

  “What?” you pressed.

  “Nothing, only a foolish idea.”

  “What?  Tell me.”  If you got him to admit that the only options left to try were bad ones, maybe you could get him to drop it altogether for a while.  It was kind of a mean thing to do, backing him into a corner, but dang it, you were done with feeling like the lamest jedi ever, waving your hands around at an unmoving soda can.

  He gritted his teeth, but felt compelled to obey the phrase, as it was worded so adjacent to a command, and that was rare for you.  “...The ring.” He dropped the hand on his chin to his other, fingers touching the silver band hidden under his glove. “If the bounds of your racial limitations were loosened, it may be easier to access and utilize your magic as a starting point, to springboard you into more regular use.”

  ...Well, damn, that was actually a pretty good idea.

  “Forgive me.  It was a brash and unacceptable thought.”

  You furrowed your brow.  Unacceptable? “You… don’t think we should try it?”

  He was silent for a moment.  “I don’t mean to discredit you in any way, but I loathe the idea of you undertaking a transformation and the discomfort it could cause you.”

  “I could handle it,” you tried to counter, completely unsure if you could handle it.

  Your mind took up the thought and rolled it over.  If you donned the ring with only Demiurge nearby… what would happen?  Would it really work on you? And if it did, would you find yourself in your old familiar avatar’s shape, become the alluring trickster Zoba?  Was your alter ego not lost to you forever?

  Besides all that, you thought back on Demiurge’s first transformation, how it had driven him to the ground, and how the one this morning had come on so strongly as to allow him to miss your departure altogether.  He had told you it was nothing to worry about, yet here he was saying he didn’t mean to “discredit you” while emphasizing the pain it carried. You were asking him to take on that pain as a new constant in his life.  Didn’t cops who carried tasers have to get tased to know how it felt? Wasn’t it only fair you try on the ring as well, to understand?

  You took a deep breath and steeled yourself, and Demiurge must have seen what was coming.  He spoke first.

  “Perhaps you are right; no good comes of pushing oneself too far.  We should break and return to this another time.”

  He couldn’t look at you as he said it.  His avoidant eyes made your stomach churn with guilt over your failure and simultaneously sent a jolt of anger down your spine.  You didn’t like the insinuation that you couldn’t be there for him because of your shortcomings.

  “Fine. You know what,” you huffed as you stormed away, headed for the bathroom door.  “Forget it then. It’s past time for a shower anyway.”

  “O-of course, Lady Mira.”

  Ouch, that stung.  He’d used “Lady” again.  You felt your shoulders hunch as you ducked inside.

  Reaching past the shower curtain, you fiddled with the handle to turn the tap on, then divert the water from the faucet to the shower head.  Not only had Demiurge implied you were a helpless human who couldn’t handle the tasks you dolled out to others, by agreeing that a shower was an obvious need he’d basically told you that yes, you did in fact stink.  You felt a pit grow in your chest as you turned the handle for the hot water. Staring sullenly into it until you were sure it was steamingly warm, you sighed and went back to the door. You’d need some fresh clothes if you were going to stave off your smell.

  You looked back into the front room as you stepped out of the bathroom and saw Demiurge hadn’t moved from his position. He stood still, head bowed and hand over his heart.  “My Lady, I—”

  “No, it’s ok, don’t worry about it,” you rushed, looking away.  You had wasted so much of his time already; he’d done an incredible amount in the little time you’d slept this morning, and now in an hour with you, he’d accomplished nothing.  “It’s ok, go ahead and do your thing.”

  You ducked into the bedroom and pulled yourself over to your closet.  Everything looked awful and uncomfortable. You almost wished you had your sweats.  The selfish thought made you feel worse. And that brought back the feelings of anger.

  Why shouldn’t you try the ring?  Saying you couldn’t handle it was not protective, it was rude.  Was he just worried about getting caught in a lie? Because if that was the case, you could figure out something else.  Maybe he had a helpful spell you were unaware of, or perhaps you could try again to access your item box and find something better.

  And what if you did try it, and it was fine? What if you returned to your other self?  You held a hand in front of you and remembered what it had looked like there: the blue tinge of your skin, the way your steps chimed with anklets of bells, the comfortable warmth of wings on your back.  As you thought of it, you had to admit that it would be much more intense than Demiurge’s transformation. You would be sprouting wings and an extra set of arms, as well as your body gaining the ability to become an incorporeal mist.  Not to mention the whole four horns thing.

  But if there was a chance at it, would you take that pain?  To become the “Supreme Being” that Demiurge must be disappointed in you for not being, would you risk being literally torn apart?

  You wrinkled your lips, sadness returning.  It didn’t matter, if he wouldn’t even let you try it.  Perhaps the possible disappointment was exactly why he wouldn’t.  Sighing, you grabbed an outfit and new underwear at random and walked back out of your room.

  You couldn’t even bring yourself to look into the front room, shame hanging around your head like an overly large and gloomy beach hat, obscuring your vision of all but the floor at your feet.  Instead you opened the bathroom door and slipped quickly into the steam-filled air.

  A shower would be nice, you reassured yourself, tossing your fresh clothes towards the counter and stripping off your shirt.  Everything always felt better when you were clean. Who knew, maybe magic casting would even feel possible after a good scrub.  You shook your pants and underwear off from around your ankles and looked up to evaluate your expression in the mirror—

  And there, behind you, looking forward at you through the mirror…

  Demiurge was in the shower.

  Naked in the shower.

   You were naked.  You had just stripped right in front of him.

  You slowly raised your arms over your breasts.

  He was looking at you with wide eyes, jaw tight.  He swallowed, then opened his mouth. “My Lady… I didn’t expect—”

  “W-what, um, what are you doing.”  You were frozen, too shocked to do more than glance away from his eyes for just a moment in search of a towel— why didn’t you hang up a fresh towel—

  He blinked.  “Taking a shower.  As you ordered.”

  What?! You hadn’t— oh.  Oh, maybe… you hadn’t been super clear.

  “Wow. Yeah, that’s uh,” there, there was a towel!   Right there next to Demiurge’s neatly folded clothes.  How completely embarrassing; now you were also stealing his towel.  You grabbed for it and nodded, “that’s my bad, I should—”

  His expression changed as you grabbed his towel, and he bowed his head.  “As you wish, I shall leave at once.” He started to pull aside the curtain and you could see more of his upper body behind you in the mirror.  Abs lined him up and down, the muscles that had been hiding under the t-shirt this morning all laid out on display and coming at you.

  “NO no, that’s ok, stay right where you are.  I’m going, I’ll go.” You would leave, it was no big deal. You would gladly wait another twenty minutes to escape your embarrassment.

  That plan immediately failed.

  You tripped on your bra. Your bra.  The red monstrosity that had already caused you enough embarrassment. You let out a high pitched “eep”, stuck between holding the towel and halting your fall and escaping, and suddenly there was a sharp pain in your head and you heard a cry and Demiurge was barking your name and he was holding you up.  Specks of light flicked around your vision, blocking your view of his beautiful face. Oh, man, (hot naked man to be specific) you were an idiot and his arms were so solid--

  “I’m fine,” was the last thing you said before you blacked out.

 

Chapter Text

🔥 𝑅𝑒𝒶𝓁 𝓁𝒾𝒻𝑒 𝑜𝓃 𝓉𝒽𝑒 𝓈𝑒𝓋𝑒𝓃𝓉𝒽 𝒻𝓁𝑜𝑜𝓇 🔥

𝒸𝒽𝒶𝓅𝓉𝑒𝓇 𝑒𝒾𝑔𝒽𝓉


 

  You felt nothing, just empty stillness, a blank that was tangible only as an absence. Then in an instant, it was as though that stillness pounced, becoming a film clinging to your torso and limbs.  Something was straining to force you through it, smothering you against its tensing rubbery surface as the pressure increased by the second. You wanted to struggle against it, but there was no give in the surface to allow your body to comply with your brain's bleary commands.  Your lungs began to sting.

  “...Damn it,” you heard.  The stillness was giving way to flecks of consciousness, confusing and unwelcome, but the force released from against your chest.  You felt air fill your lungs, wonderful air, but suddenly the feeling of suffocation was back, enveloping you, forcing that blessed air from you and pressing even harder—

  “Damn it!!”  The pressure once again released and your eyes burst open, your diaphragm contracting in a stuttered attempt to refill your lungs.  Something sharp was pinching inside your head, between your temples and the back of your skull, and your eyes snapped shut again against the pain.

  “My lady!—”  Demiurge was lifting you off the ground, the towel you had grabbed being tossed around you as he did.  Why were you on the ground again?... You wrinkled your nose, opening your eyes for a moment to look at him, but that little bit of light felt like a laser aimed directly back to the spot in your head that was rattling with high-pitched desperation against your skull.  It was fading away, shrinking as you took deep breaths, but it still ached.

  “Hmmm?”  You frowned at the title and the pain.  Demiurge was carrying you out of the bathroom, you realized.  The memory of what had just happened came back to you, and your breathing quickened once again as your hands tried in vain to pull the towel more firmly for a bit better coverage.  His arms and shoulders against you were still wet, you realized, and it was impossible to tell if the warmth of them came from the hot water he had scorched under or his skin itself.  He’d taken you to your bed, and as he sat you down over the covers you shivered, the relative cold of the blanket a stark difference from his warmth. It didn’t escape his notice, and he hesitated only momentarily before sitting next to you and wrapping an arm around your back, your head nestled in close to his neck and his thigh pressed up next to yours.

  Holy crap, was he still naked, and now cuddling with you?!  The pain in your head was still pressing against the back of your eyes, but it felt like an inconsequential detail at the moment.  There were much more urgent matters at hand. Besides, your internal screaming at naked Demiurge was drowning out the pain anyway.

  “My Lady, please, how are you feeling?”  He sounded desperate, and the hand that wasn’t around your back ever so gently raised your chin as your eyes carefully opened.  He stared at each in turn, examining the size of your pupils against each other. Seeming satisfied, he moved that hand to join the other behind you, feeling along the back of your head for anything out of the ordinary.  The move angled your neck back down, your gaze moving into his lap--

  Oh thank god, he’d grabbed a towel for himself too.

  This was the second time in almost as many days that you’d found yourself sitting on your bed, attended to by Demiurge.  You remembered how last time you had felt lightheaded from the fact that your knee was near his thigh, and now here you were, staring into his crotch, both wearing towels.

   Third time’s the charm, a little voice in the back of your head piped up that you immediately punted right back to wherever it came from.

  “I’m ok, I-I think,” you said as his hand finished it’s search, finding nothing.  “I was just clumsy, you don’t need to worry.”

  Demiurge growled.  “I allowed you to be injured.  What worse shame is there for the guardian of a Supreme Being?  And then, my failure to-- Lady Mira, there is another issue. As you fell unconscious, I attempted to use Devil’s Deal to evade whatever damage there might have been.  It would appear… your store of MP is not accessible to me.  Something has halted your magic's flow, and blocked off it's use.”

  “Mmm.”  Your gaze hadn’t moved much, only slightly raised to his lower abs.  Then his words registered and you shook off your haze. “Wait-- that’s what that was?  That force?”

  “Force?”

  “Yeah, like something was trying to press me through a barrier.  It was--” On second thought, maybe you shouldn’t go into detail as to how it felt.  The point of pain was still barely present as a dull reminder in your skull of the sensation of suffocating in a way that was more than just losing oxygen.  He’d been trying to help, and saying how terrifying it had been might come across as very ungrateful for his care. “Thank you, Demiurge, please don’t feel like you failed me.  Seriously, I’m the one who walked in on you.”  You blushed at the truth; you'd not even been brave enough to glance in the front room and see he was no longer there.

  “I implore you, I cannot--”  You felt him shudder, and instinctively you leaned in closer to him, a hand reaching out to hang from his bicep that was draped over your back, which was still warming you like a heated blanket.  “--I cannot bear such shame. If my fellow guardians knew, they would be rightfully disgusted I allowed harm to come to our Four-Horned Lady of Desires. Don’t forgive this so easily.”

  Four-Horned what now?  That was a name you’d never heard before.  Wait… no, you’d heard it once.  Peroroncino had made a crude joke about your avatar’s curvaceous figure, loudly remarking on what he’d desire from your wish-granting racial class if given the chance.  You’d rolled your eyes as that was only par for the course when it came to him, while his sister knocked him on the head for the comment.

  Had the NPCs heard the title back then?  You wouldn’t be surprised to find that the bird-like player had spoken it many other times outside your presence, wouldn’t have been shocked if it could have been within earshot of an NPC.  That possibility for the origin of the title brought up a whole slew of questions you had been ignoring. So, you let that thought fly on by and focused on the more immediate issue.

  “What am I supposed to do, if not forgive you?  There’s nothing to for--”

  “A punishment.”  His eyes were dead serious as they looked not into yours, but below, towards your lips or perhaps your neck.  “Allow me to atone for my mistakes. It is an affront for me to even ask for such a thing, but-- please, I beg of you.  There is no one to take my place, and--” He shuddered again, his eyes shutting tight against a fearful thought that once again pervaded his mind.  “I cannot expect to serve as such an unworthy vessel.”

  You didn’t understand.  No one to take his place?  You wracked your brain, trying to makes sense of what he was saying, to understand where his words were coming from.  Back in Yggdrasil, the floor guardians had been made as defenses for your guild’s home base, each protecting their assigned area from player invaders looking to overtake the fortress.  They stood to prevent the final battle, player versus player as the guild would have gathered at the tenth level to fend off their intruders from raiding the treasury. Looking at it that way, Demiurge’s need to serve you made much more sense.  He was placing his perceived failure in light of what was expected of him there, and in Nazarick he had been expected to sacrifice his very life before a scratch fell on you. The rest of Nazarick had seen to your avatar’s other needs, ones on a perpendicular need from his duties, such as maintenance or taking over timed tasks.  Here, he was trying to take on the role of all of Nazarick to serve you, acting as butler, consultant, defender, healer, and more.

  “I will accept whatever you deem needful,” he added at your hesitation.  “I would send myself to the afterlife in a stream of torturous pain, if you so desire.  I would remove myself from your sight, or pluck out my own eyes as prizes for you. My tail as your scarf, my teeth as a necklace, nothing is too great a punishment for you to--”

  “Nnnno -- Demiurge,” you pulled back, sitting up straighter and taking your hand off his arm to cup his face in your hands, forcing him to look at you and stop averting his gaze.  “I don’t want that, I would never want-- you to be in pain?  No.  Don’t ever wish that.”

  He looked stoically forward to you, understanding your directive in forcing him to return your gaze but unwilling to show any more of his weakness, proving his dedication to his zealous statement without questioning your order.  A jolt ran between you in that gaze and his look momentarily softened, and you suddenly wanted to see his eyes, his real eyes, looking back at you…

  “But I am making you wear the ring.  I’m still frustrated about that.  You wear that to be by my side, and I don’t even fully understand what it does to you.”

  He knew where you were going with this.  The gears began spinning wildly behind his unchanged expression, but you both knew; after begging for you to pick a demand of him, he couldn’t deny you what you wanted.

  “I see.  So, in failing to protect you from pain, I must watch you partake in it.  A fitting punishment, my Lady.”

  The idea was already taking hold in your mind, and his last two words pulled you out from your thoughts.  You shook your head and sighed, dropping your hands from his cheeks.  “I’m never gonna fully cure you of that honorific, am I?”

  “Forgive--”

  “You know what, if it means that much to you, it’s ok.  Just not so much when we’re out and about, deal?”

  He nodded, seemingly too focused on the issue of the ring to press the other issue again.  His right hand was curled into a fist, ring trapped on his second to last finger as it sat on his thigh.  You glanced down at it, hating the fact that you were basically forcing him to let you try this.  But also, you felt a little flicker in your chest.  A growing spark of hope.  Would your coloring change, your arms split?  Would you feel wings sprout from your back?

  “...We’ll do it tomorrow,” you said into the silence.

  He stole another glance into your eyes, saw the glimmer there.  He shoved his trepidations aside.  They held no weight any longer.

  “Yes, my Lady.”

 

Chapter Text

🔥 𝑅𝑒𝒶𝓁 𝓁𝒾𝒻𝑒 𝑜𝓃 𝓉𝒽𝑒 𝓈𝑒𝓋𝑒𝓃𝓉𝒽 𝒻𝓁𝑜𝑜𝓇 🔥

𝒸𝒽𝒶𝓅𝓉𝑒𝓇 𝓃𝒾𝓃𝑒


 

  “soooooo he’s staying with you??

 

  “Yeah, he doesn’t have another place to go at the moment

 

  “pfff sure, that’s the sole reason he’s sleeping on YOUR couch

 

  You rolled your eyes, holding your glowing phone over your face as you wiggled further into the covers.  You’d texted Luna to see if she knew what was going on at work, and she said things were still getting worked “through a process”.  But, she assured you that even though most people weren’t getting called in tomorrow, you had been asked to come in. Her unwillingness to release any of the gossip was so unlike her, it shrouded the whole thing in a greater mystery.  You’d been deeply intrigued. So, you’d been tolerating her questions to see if you could get any more details from her, even though it was creeping into the early morning hours.

 

  “He’s on my couch because I’m the only person he knows in the city!  That is it. We’re friends.

 

  “um sure

  yknow, i do have his number.  i could just

  ask him~

 

  “Luna, Don’t You Dare

 

  “lol did you or did you not tell me you liked this guy??

 

  “It is SO much more complicated than that.

  Are you texting him??

  LUNA SERIOUSLY DO NOT

 

  “he says he wants ur babies

 

  You dropped your phone on your face.

 

  “lol jk i didn’t

 

  “YOU GAVE ME A HEART ATTACK

 

  “the good kind, right?  >w<

 

  You whined and rubbed where your phone had squished your nose.  Luna having access to talk directly to Demiurge was like being in a room where a giant spider had just slipped out of your sight.  You knew it was lurking, but who knew when or where it would pop up again.

 

  “seriously tho i am telling you.  it’s like a zero risk bet. he mentioned you like 50 times when i met him

 

  “...Wait

  You met him?  Like in person??

 

  “oh

  oops, that might be part of the thing i’m not supposed to talk about

 

  You glanced at your bedroom door, dots beginning to connect in your head.

 

  “Ok, don’t tell me if I’m right, just tell me if I’m way off base.  Here’s what I know:

  1, Demiurge is working as a consultant to an asset firm that seems like it’s HUGE

  2, He was out the morning that work sent everyone home

  3, You met him, and know what’s going on.

  So...

  Demiurge got someone to buy out my work, didn’t he?

 

  There was a pause.

 

  “...kinda?

  ur not mad, right?

  that man can obviously handle himself, but i’d feel bad if i like spoiled a surprise or made you upset with him for some reason

  i mean let’s be real, we all knew that place had zero life left in it anyway

 

  Holy cow.

  You thought back to the thrift shop, when Demiurge thanked you for “your guidance” after telling him he couldn’t work alongside you at Carnation, and his abrupt change of tune once he realized the bigger issue of the state of the company.  He hadn’t brought the issue up again once. And now, all of the odd looks Alanna gave you after she realized you were connected to him seemed to stand out in your memory.

 

  “mira?  u ok? ...are you actually mad?

 

  You huffed out a sigh, pulling at the corners of your eyes with one hand.

 

  “No I’m good.  Just confused as to what’s going on I guess

 

  “well hold on for a bit longer, enjoy the time off!  trust me girl, good things are coming

   ur gonna wanna come tomorrow. i’ll be there too!”

 

  “...I’ll be there, I promise. Gnight”

 

  “night!!

   hey you still up??

   wait my bad see you tomorrow!”

 

  “Wait what??  You had better not be texting Demiurge.

   Luna

   LUNA

   I SWEAR LUNA.

   YOU HAD BETTER BE ON TIME TOMORROW”

 


 

  She wasn’t.

  Twenty minutes after she’d told you to arrive, Luna walked up to you, bleary-eyed and smiling with two cups of coffee and her key to the building.  You took the one she offered you and narrowed your eyes.

  “I am not sated.”

  “Yeah, I figured not, but it’s a good start, right?”  She shrugged nonchalantly, not seeming too worried about your mood.

  You sipped your coffee and glared as she unlocked the door.

  It wasn’t odd to be in the building when it was so empty, but typically there were signs of life that weren’t currently present; the whirr of machinery, a stack of waiting paperwork on your desk, the smell of someone’s breakfast.  Today, the stark silence felt deafening. Walking past the empty desks, you had a sudden flashback to when you were a kid, walking through a mortuary to tag along as a casket was picked out for a deceased relative. The eerie emptiness of the padded satin interiors haunting your nightmares for weeks.  You wondered what would happen to these desks, just as you had wondered back then what would fill those empty spaces.

  Luna turned back to you and smiled, oblivious to your dark thoughts, and knocked on a closed door.  A muffled voice returned, and she turned the handle.

  There was one person inside.  And you were shocked to see her.

  “Alb-- Alanna?!”

  Dressed in an immaculate black business suit with a skirt, hair pulled into a sleek bun, Alanna sat behind your boss’s old desk, papers strewn across it’s surface.  She glanced up and beamed upon seeing you, setting down the invoice she had been comparing against the computer screen.

  “Mira!  I am so happy you’ve agreed to do this.”  She gestured to the papers, and you recognized work orders from three different sales reps as you tried to pull yourself out of your confusion.  Really, you shouldn’t be surprised; she’d told you this was something she did in her job occasionally. Her statement was a bit odd, though; what exactly did she think you’d agreed to do?  “I’m having trouble consolidating all the information here. The system is… unique.”

  Luna raised her eyebrows at you and laughed.  “Of course you two know each other. Well, then my job here is done.”

  “Wait-- Luna, we’re not even done talking about-- Luna-- ”  You groaned as she skipped off down the hall, ignoring you with a carefree happiness.  You turned back to Alanna. “It’s…. it’s good to see you! But, I’ll be honest, I really don’t think I understand what I’m doing here.”

  “No one’s explained anything to you?”  She frowned, glancing unamused at the piles of paperwork.

  “...No, not really.”

  Alanna stifled a sigh and gestured to the chair in front of the desk, putting on her practiced smile.  “Carnation Printing and Mailing has been acquired by Bazar Peak, and we need to know the state of the business.  Looking through the paperwork, it’s obvious to me that when it hits your desk, things are a mess. But by the time you’re finished and they’re stored away, things make sense again.  I need a bit of that magic from you to sort all this out. And… we’ll see what happens from there.”

  You took your seat as she explained, flattered by the compliment and unsure what to make of the information.  “Hold on… what’s happening to the company? Is it staying in business?”

  She tilted her head, smile unchanged.  “Well, not exactly. Everything is going to be repurposed.  We have a specialist coming in from another city to either use the machines to expand current investments or to sell them off.  Carnation is going to change quite a bit, which is why I am very hopeful you’ll be willing to assist me in the transition. You seem to understand how the system here worked so well.”

  She was pressing again, seeming desperate to get your help.  Something about this felt off. Where was the old owner? Why wasn’t he helping with the process at all?  Why didn’t Alanna ask the sales reps for their information, rather than gather it all herself?

  You looked across the desk, wondering just what Demiurge had done.  When you’d woken up this morning he had already headed out the door, leaving you a note (next to a glass of orange juice and a danish) that said he was available via his phone for any reason, and that he would see you when you returned from work.  A twinge of guilt arose in your chest as you remembered your plans this evening, how you were going to try the ring, and how opposed he was to the idea. But the guilt only gave rebirth to another emotion; frustration. You just wanted to feel some stability.  Some sense of control over your life. Like when you’d been a creator in Yggdrasil, back in the glory days. Creating all of Nazarick…

  You had been so powerful as Lady Zoba.  You’d been everything Mira wanted to be.

  “Are you saying I do or don’t have a job?”

  Alanna blinked, the smile on her face faltering.  Her expression in reaction to your change of tone seemed familiar for a moment, then--

 “Well, that depends!  Right now, this would be temp work, at your same rate of pay.  We can see after that. I’d of course love to have you on board, and we can come back to it when--”

  “I want a job, Alanna.  If you want me to work alongside you helpfully, or at all, I need to know I’m secure with you.  I want an increase in pay, good insurance, the works.” Something was bubbling in your chest, like tar warming up over magma, as your steady and cool tone drove forth from you.  You felt as though you’d stepped out of yourself, a memory of Lady Zoba critiquing the stats of the NPC Guardian Overseer shrouding your thinking, like a robe you’d slipped into.  You’d been over her then, offered assistance in the making of her. Albedo was smart and powerful, yes. But the Four-Horned Djinn knew too well how to use her tricks to her advantage.  You picked up a folder.

  “This is for Robert’s client.  He always makes sure they see only what is needful for them to see on the paperwork they get, and they’re fine with that.  So you won’t have any information as to vendors used or employee work completed in here, you’ll need to check the backlogs and go through the invoice system.  Sylvia, on the other hand,” You picked up another file, “puts all the information the warehouse workers need right on the front of the work order. Oftentimes you’ll see two sheets stapled to the front; the first isn’t important once the work in the back room is completed, but don’t tear it off, because it could still allude to where missing information is, such as her vendors or contacts.  Also, in the network, you’ll find her invoice and account numbers under the “notes” tab half the time rather than input into the data tables. And Jared…heh...” You dropped both files and stood, pointing your finger onto a third file as you leaned over the desk. “Jared gets complicated.”

  Alanna’s smile was plastered tightly to her face, and you could see a fire behind her eyes.  Whether it was anger at the complete lack of organization in her task or if she was appalled at your admittedly rude forcefulness, you couldn’t tell.

  Oddly enough, you didn’t care.

  “Do I have a job… or not, Alanna?”

  You stared each other down for a moment, until the fire in her eyes cooled.  Her grin widened, and she looked approvingly as you stood over her.

  “I’ll have the contract emailed to you before lunch.”

 


 

 

Chapter Text

🔥 𝑅𝑒𝒶𝓁 𝓁𝒾𝒻𝑒 𝑜𝓃 𝓉𝒽𝑒 𝓈𝑒𝓋𝑒𝓃𝓉𝒽 𝒻𝓁𝑜𝑜𝓇 🔥

𝒸𝒽𝒶𝓅𝓉𝑒𝓇 𝓉𝑒𝓃


 

  The day flew by.  You’d never had so much fun doing paperwork; it was frustrating, yes, unorganized, sure, the most convoluted version of hide-and-seek you’d ever played, absolutely, but you’d be damned if you weren’t proving your salt in the process.  Alanna seemed thoroughly impressed.  You’d texted Luna to try and shame her for ditching you, but since you were riding a high you also mentioned the contract and the new job.  You were curious to see if she’d mention anything similar, since she seemed to be in on the whole operation already.  Maybe you’d be working together again.

  Instead, you received a text from Demiurge.

 

  “I have received word of your offer of employment; congratulations.  I am pleased to see Alanna recognize your intrinsic value.  However, I would humbly ask that you refrain from putting your signature to anything until I have the opportunity to examine the contract.  The thought of Alanna incorporating any sort of loophole against you is both abhorrent and unfortunately very likely, and I would be pleased to have the opportunity of assisting in safeguarding against such.”

 

  This felt like proof; he was absolutely involved in all this.  Something you’d have to talk with him about later.  And of course, you should have guessed that he’d be protective about this, but he might have a point.  Another set of eyes, particularly ones that were as keen as his, wouldn’t be unwelcome.  You read the text over a few times, letting yourself smirk at the peculiar wordiness of it.  It was like Mr. Darcy had gotten his hands on a cell phone.

  ...Was this how he’d been texting Luna?  You tried to imagine the conversations between them, the two opposite tones clashing comically.  Or, was it possible he was only this formal with you? Maybe he wasn’t so stiff and uptight with her.  Maybe he said things like ”how’s your day?” or “gotta go, ttyl” or “saw a snail today, effervescent”.  Ok, probably not the last one, but…  The idea that he could be that way with someone else and not with you felt as awkward in your chest as his formal wording did in a text.

  You shook the uncomfortable feeling off and swiped to open your tracking app Demiurge had downloaded to connect your phones.  Looked like he was back at the apartment at the moment. Alanna had told you to finish up one last pile before heading out; she had other places to be for the rest of the day, and didn’t want you to be here too late by yourself.  So, although you’d just eaten lunch a mere hour before, you printed out a copy of the contract that had been sent to you and headed back home, anxious for the evening ahead and all that it held.

  You were going to try the ring.  In a few hours, you could be… you again.  The other you.  The version of you that you’d worked so hard to create, that you’d put years of your life into the creation of.

  Those had been long years.  After moving out on your own, you’d almost immediately started playing the game that none of your other friends had heard of, on a beta-gaming set you couldn’t find any trace of otherwise existing.  You’d thought at first that the whole thing was an elaborate prank, some youtuber maybe placing fake tech on people’s doorsteps, but everything was too intricate for you to believe that for long. Yggdrasil, the free-range creation, the other people playing, were far too intricate.  Something about it felt… special. Made you feel special.  You couldn’t find anything on the internet about the game, despite its apparent popularity.  And after a few months of trying to interact with other players, you quickly learned to keep your personal life to yourself.  Your reality in terms of hardship seemed to hardly compare to any of theirs. They spoke like the world was ending, had already ended, like civilization were just existing in entropy, and you were still going home on the weekends to do laundry at your parent’s house while raiding their pantry.  Thank heavens when the guild offered to let you join, they didn’t pry too much more than, “Are you a contributing member of society? Do you have a full-time job?” You loved being there, and would have hated to get in the middle of the kinds of confrontations Touch Me and Ulbert always seemed to be having, especially when you didn’t quite understand why they were so vehement about the state of the world, and people living in domes, and—

  Those friends had left long ago, you reminded yourself.  You wouldn’t try and force a connection with someone again. You’d tried a few times in your early days, once getting the email of a close friend from a forum in the game before she deleted her player account, but when you’d tried to contact her through it, you received message after message telling you the address didn’t exist.  After one more failed attempt and an ensuing fight with a friend who thought you were just lying about the whole issue, you’d kept most facts of your real life to yourself, secretly nervous that you were just doing something wrong, or that perhaps you couldn’t be considered a “real” friend to anyone in the guild, and you could only ever hope to be an in-game helper, just another pro—

 Your mind flashed back to the sensation of falling through the trap door of a small stage and you felt the lack of gravity as though it physically could tug at your lungs.  You pushed the thought from your mind.

  But, now that you were thinking about it… should you try and contact someone?  At least Momonga. He’d been there the final night, and even if you were never that close, you were still friends, and he was still your Guildmaster.  And maybe something had happened to him, too.

  You were pondering the nerve-wracking issue of not only how to contact him, but if you even should open that can of worms, when you approached your building and punched in your passcode, pushing the door open.

  There inside, on the far end of the lobby, stood Demiurge.  He was speaking with a young woman dressed in a tight purple dress, black fur coat, and pink bow choker necklace, her platinum hair pulled up into a high ponytail.  As you appeared, she looked from Demiurge over to you, and the up-and-down she gave you was… thorough. Her eyes sparkled, but her grin was mischievous as she locked eyes with you, arms folding across her chest.

  Demiurge said a quick word and held up a hand, then strode across the room to meet you.

  “Mira.  You’re quite earlier than I expected.”  There was something in his tone… not anger, not panic, but there was a tension there you couldn’t quite place.

  “Yeah, I brought home the contract from Alanna.  Who’re you talking to?” The woman who seemed to be perhaps eighteen or nineteen hadn’t stopped looking at you, her delight seeming to only increase as you glanced back over.

  “She owns the first few floors of the building. But she was just on her way out.”

  You absorbed that information, then snapped your head back over to her.  She was a bit older, sure, but still short, spunky, and with the purple dress and the ponytail, not to mention the look she’d given you earlier—

  She waggled her fingers at you, grinning with human but still shining teeth.

  You looked back to Demiurge, the stars practically visible in your eyes.  “Shalltear?!”

  Demiurge was frowning. “It may be best to—”

  You were already gone.

  “Hi, it is so nice to meet you, my name is Mira, I live on the seventh floor, I heard you own the first three, is that right?”

  She watched you as you spoke, her smug gaze moving from your lips to your cheeks to your eyes as you approached her.  She giggled; it trilled lightly, just as you would have imagined Shalltear’s laugh to sound. She put a hand to her cheek, dropping her head towards it.

  “Well aren’t you just adorable!  Lovely to meet you, Mira,” she cooed, and you caught a coy glance behind you towards Demiurge as she said your name.  “Yes, I do.  I myself live on the third floor, so if you ever need anything at all, you know just where to find me.  Or, if you’d just like to say hello.”

  If it wasn’t Shalltear, you would probably have been a bit thrown off by the fact that someone so much shorter and younger than you was calling you “adorable”.  But, it was Shalltear.

  “Charlotte,” she said.  “Really, a pleasure.”  Oh, right; not actually Shalltear.  Her eyes narrowed and she leaned in, as though to make her next statement more private.  “I would love to be friends.”

  “Yes, me too! I would love—”

  Hands dropped on your shoulders and you felt yourself being steered away.  “We should be going,” Demiurge said, the words ringing with a staccato warning.  He pressed a button to call the elevator down to you.  “We’ll speak more of this later, Charlotte.”

  “Oh, of course,” she said as you looked up at Demiurge with a confused pout.  He led you inside the elevator and pressed the “close doors” button so hard you half expected it to shatter.  “I wouldn’t miss it. See you around, Mira.” Charlotte’s sing-song-y tone was punctuated by her sharp smile once again as the doors clunked shut.  Still pouting, you turned to Demiurge.

  “What’s wrong?  It’s Shalltear! Isn’t that a good thing?”

  He was still frowning, the odd tone you’d heard in his voice before mimicked by the lines pervading his forehead.

  “Charlotte is very much like the creation of Lord Peroroncino, but she is not the same.  And I would certainly not attribute her to the same level of trust as I would a guardian of Nazarick.”  He pushed his glasses more securely onto his nose, and you suddenly wondered if he actually needed them, or if they were merely an accessory for aesthetic.  “Forgive me for ending your exchange so abruptly, but I do not feel… comfortable with her enthusiasm towards you.”

  The doors opened, and you fiddled with your keys in your pocket as you walked forward, your face flushing as you remembered the up-and-down look.  “...Yeah? What, uh… what do you mean?”

  He looked at you and blinked, as though having glanced out the window of his train of thought to see you on another track, headed in a wildly different direction.  “—I.  Would like… to simply request that you allow me to test her motives before pursuing any sort of relation with her.”

  Oh.  He hadn’t been talking about the look she gave you, then.  You felt your blush deepen as you wondered what he could be referring to, if not that.  You mulled the interaction with Charlotte over in your head. Ok, maybe there were things that normally you would have been a little disconcerted by, in a normal circumstance.  Maybe you were a little over enthusiastic.

  With a sigh, you jiggled your key into the lock.  “Remind me to give you the spare,” you said offhandedly to Demiurge before pushing the door open.  “Ok.  Fine, I will avoid Charlotte until we know her a bit better.  You’re probably right.”

  “You have my gratitude,” he said, and with it was a release of tension you hadn’t noticed in his shoulders.  “Now, then; as to this contra—”  Demiurge had moved to sit down at your couch only to stand back up as you started dragging your coffee table out of the center of the room.  “...My Lady, might I do that for you?”

  You paused and glanced up at him, hearing the real question in his voice.  “Gonna need some space,” you beamed.  “I’m gonna get a bit bigger, right?”

  His returning tension was palpable.  “Yes. Of course… I was rather hoping we could attend to business first, my Lady.  To get everything needful set aside before our other plans.”

  You looked down at your hands and could practically see the blue, covered in gold rings, and pulled again on the coffee table.  “Exactly why I’m moving this aside,” you joked.  The reasons for his stalling were present in your mind, sure, but they were pushed into the corner by the other pressing factors you had running around in your noggin.  Mostly, you were excited at the possibility of what you were about to do. But also, you were still frustrated with Demiurge, and didn’t want to have to address that fact to either yourself or to him before trying on the Ring of Infiltration.  Not only had he just pulled you away from Charlotte like a child, he had interfered with your work without so much as consulting you. You knew that if you began to show your frustration he would grovel, and you didn’t want repentant Demiurge. You needed attentive, confident Demiurge, to be able to feed off that energy to get you through the pain that you knew was going to be horrible.

  He leaned over and lightly slid the table the rest of the way to the wall, and you hopped out of the way as he did.  His lips were pulled tight, holding back his words as he stood straight, waiting silently for your next move.  You looked to the ring, just a glance.  Subserviently, he immediately knelt and held the hand up to you, head bowed to the ground.

  “It is yours to do with as you wish, Lady Mira.  As am I.”

  The move combined with the solemn words sent a chill down your spine.  Something about this whole thing felt… wrong, suddenly. Selfish, somehow, and reckless.  Like walking across a stone bridge despite the sound of rocks cracking.

  But…

  You reached forward, putting your fingers on the ring as your other hand steadied his palm.  “You ready?”

  “For anything you ask of me.”  He nodded.

  Ignoring the darkening aura hanging in the room, you slipped the ring off.

  Demiurge didn’t make a sound, but he did flinch, perhaps as a result of your gasp as you grasped his hand tighter, watching as his spine compressed, at last pressing forth from the bottom of his shirt as a steel tail sprang to life.  His ears twitched as they lengthened, head dipping downward as his eyes underwent the extreme process.

  A mere thirty seconds, and it was over.  You didn’t release his hand, and he was gripping yours back.  You heard his breath, ragged, as his head drooped lower, tail wrapped close to a leg.  He didn’t move, and neither did you for a moment.

  Thirty seconds.  You could do that.  Only thirty seconds. Just half a minute, no more.  It was possible. It couldn’t be worse than breaking a leg, or hours of childbirth, or passing a kidney stone, and people did that stuff every day.  Three sets of ten seconds. Just three sets of ten.

  You looked at the ring in your hand.  The simple silver band fit well over Demiurge’s finger, but you would need to place it perhaps on your pointer finger to get it to stay on.

  As you looked, Demiurge stood.  Your fingers shifted to interlock, and you hitched a breath as neither of you let go.  Gaze faltering slightly away from the ring, you felt him next to you, saw at your feet as his tail moved protectively to circle you.

  “At first, your mind will likely tell you that what you are experiencing is something to fear, and attempt to reject the change.  Rebuff the instinct. In order to allow your body the simplest procedure, you must embrace the transformation as your own shape.  Accept the shift itself as a reality of your being.”  His voice was lower and quieter than usual, and you felt so much more in his words than the gentle instructions.  His fingers dared to curl around your own, and you let your thumb trace across the back of his hand, head turning so as to catch more of his voice in your ears to gain comfort from his sound.

  He hated this idea.  Yet he was supporting you exactly how you needed it.

  The dark aura loomed in again on your moment of light.

  You nodded curtly, and took in a sharp breath, releasing your hand from his and holding your pointer finger out.  He readjusted, standing squarely in front of you, tail still partially around you.

  “Ok… here goes nothin’,” you said almost at a whisper, and put on the ring.

 

  ... Fire.

  For a solid half a second you felt no change, and then fire.  You gasped and it streamed into your lungs, shooting out to connect with the burst of lava that had shot forth from your pointer finger down your arm, streaking across your body and burrowing into every cell in every limb, as though each millimeter of you were being picked over by unseen fire ants, each strand of your DNA unzipped and examined by the merciless insects.

  Then there was a pressing behind your eyes, and you shut them tightly as you whimpered.  Demiurge was saying something, holding you up around the waist, and you remembered that he had said not to reject the change, but to accept it as you.  Forcing another breath into your lungs, you opened your eyes again and felt a searing pain as a pressure released from your head, two points at your temples growing oddly heavy and pulling your head forward.  You righted your neck, turning to see him at your side, his crystal vision intensely focused on your eyes, still speaking something to you that you assumed was meant to be soothing--

  You felt your back convulse, something inside trying to escape, to break it’s confinement--

  Your hands moved to your face as you felt the heat in them, searing down along the bone, but your face--

  The space behind your eyes was too small.  Your jaw ached from the rattling in your skull, and you tried to stop your mind from fighting the adjustments your bones were making around it--

  The pressure in your spine released, and a foreign something tried to push Demiurge out of the way as you were panicked by the strange new sensation of life--

  You twisted to Demiurge and grabbed at his shoulders, straining for support as you tried to breath through the remaining twinges.  The fire in your veins wasn’t gone; rather, your body had accepted it, taken the flames into your being, weaved them through your veins, and now only the pain was fading out.  Everything else was solidifying, and you gulped in huge breaths of air with meek wheezes as you blinked tears from your eyes.

  It was nearly over.  Only a few moments and you were finished.  You had made it.  A surge of excited adrenaline ran through you and you looked up from Demiurge’s chest to your arms--

  ...They didn’t seem to have changed.  Your regular hue remained, no blue tinge to be found.  But the ring sat on your finger, you had felt the change…

  Confused, despair threatening to grip your heart, you looked at Demiurge for answers.  Something grasped anxiously around your ankle as you realized; he had stopped talking nearly halfway through your transformation.  Now, he stared at you, eyes wide and mouth agape enough that you could see his pointed incisors glint from behind his lips. You had never seen him succumb to such a state of astonishment… then you realized you were seeing him… differently.  Blinking, you saw that in his crystalline eyes, you could make out dozens of refractions, images laid across his sight.  All of them you.

  You and your red, ruby eyes.

 


 

 

Chapter Text

🔥 𝑅𝑒𝒶𝓁 𝓁𝒾𝒻𝑒 𝑜𝓃 𝓉𝒽𝑒 𝓈𝑒𝓋𝑒𝓃𝓉𝒽 𝒻𝓁𝑜𝑜𝓇 🔥

𝒸𝒽𝒶𝓅𝓉𝑒𝓇 𝑒𝓁𝑒𝓋𝑒𝓃


 

   You were beautiful.

  You had always been beautiful, but this was in a way he had never expected.  If this was his punishment, he couldn’t imagine what sort of gift you would bestow upon him if you ever saw fit to reward his efforts.  He had expected you to grow a tail, to develop refracted eyes, to see your teeth sharpen, but…

  Your tail was a darkened grey, thin in comparison to his own until it’s end, where it curved like the head of a cobra, needles inching down the center of it’s concave side to create a deadly pocket.  The spikes were extended in your unease, tips threatening outward, their length doubling the depth they resided in and curving to follow the direction of your tail’s end.

  Your head had sprouted short horns, only two, but still more than what he had predicted.  Delicate and short, they curled from your temples slightly to the sides, then back up again. The beginnings of them blended as one with your skin, while the ends were a charred grey-black, the color draining down their length like an ombré smoke trail.

  Your fingers dug into his shoulders, new claws slightly extended to grasp him more securely.  His instinct was to flex his deltoids to shield from their sharpness but he resisted, accepting the pain you put to him with a repentant gratitude.  But, also aiding in that relaxation, he was amply distracted from the sensation by another, very prominent new feature.

  Your eyes.  Red, glittering, wide.  They pierced into his, deeper than any eyes ever had, and he felt sinful as he gazed back, reprobatedly allowing himself to fall into their echo.  The crimson hue engulfed him, pressing upon him their symbolism: nobility, purity… and…

  “Demiurge?”  Your tone was raised an octave higher than normal, and his tail automatically curled a bit closer around you both as apprehension sounded from you.

  “...Huuuu…”

  Words were failing him.  He tried to pull himself together; from your distress, something was wrong.

  He dragged his eyes from yours and looked you over again.  You looked healthy, no malformations visible, but your breathing was quick and your clawed fingertips were only digging deeper.  Could there be an issue occurring internally?  Perhaps your stilled reserves of magic were battling against the nature of your devilish form?

  “My Lady, are you alright?”  Forcing himself to respond, he let his first concern glide from his mouth.

  He saw your expression turn blank, then something like shame dared to cross your face.  “I need to see,” you said at almost a whisper.

  You pulled away, releasing your grip on his shoulders, and he immediately mourned the loss of your hand on him as you reached your pocket for your phone.  There was a rip, and he glanced down as you swore under your breath.  Claws still extended, you had cut into the pocket of your jeans, your phone almost falling out to the ground.  Hand shaking, you tried again to retrieve it, but your claws were still sharp and clumsy—

  You swore again as blood stained the fabric, wincing and dropping the phone altogether.  Demiurge cradled an arm tighter around you instinctively as the other pressed against your injury.  He could heal it—

  But the last time he had attempted to heal you…

  He remembered your arching back as you’d awoken and gasped for air, fear in your eyes.  He wouldn’t risk that now, not until he was sure your magic was once again unbridled.

  Instead he kept pressure over the long cut, dropping his other arm down past your waist to scoop you up and carry you into the bathroom.  The last time you’d been injured had caused him to prepare thoroughly in case of some other misfortune, and he knew there were bandages sufficient for such a cut under the sink.

  You swore again, a touch of anger in your voice, and he looked at you curiously.  It was unusual for you to react with such malice and not simply allow the moment of frustration to pass.  As he set you down on the bathroom counter and went to retrieve the bandage, he asked again.

  “My Lady, please, is something distressing you?”

  You were silent.  He stood, bandages in hand.  You were staring into the mirror, hand on a horn.

  “What the hell was I thinking,” you said with a hiss.  Then you barked a laugh.  You turned to him.  “...I thought I was gonna be her again.  I actually thought—”  Your eyelids squinted around the rubies and you bit your lip in a smile.  Tears were welling up.

  The lightbulb flicked on.

  That’s what you had wanted, why you had pushed this with such a drive.  Of course you had hoped to return to the glorious form you held in Yggdrasil; you had told him yourself that you had created it and cherished it.  He had not been enough to return you to that form. Only to this devilish sight, an altered copy of himself.

  He wanted to profess his failure and ask forgiveness, but there was a matter more pressing to him; your injury. However, to properly dress it, he would need to reach it unencumbered by your dress slacks… and he remembered clearly your shyness the other day at your nakedness.

  With these two obstacles he hesitated, glancing from your eyes to your cut, unsure whether to grovel, attend to your injury, wipe away your tears, or ask permission to remove your clothes.  Luckily, you seemed to perceive his dilemma, and chuckled with your oddly increased emotion.

  “Right.  Um… maybe you could help me with…?” You gestured with your still sharp claws to your zipper and sat up straight, making it easier to access.  Relieved, he nodded and got to work.

  Here was a moment he had never dared imagine.  To attend to a Supreme Being in their own home was one thing.  To have that Supreme Being be you, in the form of a devil, and to have that service include your undressing…  His silver tongue was an asset he relied on readily, but at the moment he didn’t dare to trust his words to not betray his thoughts.  He pulled the fabric down over your hips, and you shifted your weight off your buttocks to your hands to allow for them to more easily slip down to your thighs.  His fingers dragged along your skin, catching lightly on the edge of your underwear.

  He was so far beneath this.

  Here you sat, blood on your skin and tears in your eyes, and you were allowing him to remove your clothes, to grace his fingers along your flesh yet again.  Your tail twitched as his hands continued along your thighs, spasming, and he glanced up at your face, concerned he had caused you pain as he moved the clump of fabric past your cut.

  Instead of pain, he saw your eyes wide and attentive, the side of your lip held tight by a new incisor.  Your eyes moved from looking back at him to his lips, then down to his chest.

  “Demiurge…”  Your eyes didn’t return upward, instead looking at the curve of his collarbone under his shirt.  “As… as a human, do you… notice a difference in your… self-restraint?”

  Funny.  Your gaze along with that question made him want to throw self-restraint to the wind and rip his shirt right off.  Instead, he took a steadying breath and turned on the water, using it to clean your wound.

  “The nature of devils is less restricted than that of humans, to be sure, my Lady.  Whereas in my natural form I see no moral obstacle to acting on my more carnal instincts, I feel a barrier in place when I equip your ring, which I concede is a great help in walking among humans.  The sins considered to be damning to humans are seen as a part of living to devils, and we are unashamed in partaking, whether it be gluttony, envy, anger, pride… lust. For example, my more violent impulses are quelled enough as to be placed in the back of my mind with the ring.  As a devil, those desires, whatever form they may take… are much easier to access.” He applied some ointment, then unfurled the bandage. His hand touched your inner thigh, helping to raise your leg so as to wrap the bandage around, and he felt his heart beat harder against his chest as he did.  Could you possibly be implying what he thought you were implying? The idea was ludicrous, surely. It was presumptuous. But, at the same time…

  He remembered well guarding the seventh floor of Nazarick, but the most memorable days of them all were the ones in which you visited him.  Your blue among the fiery red and heavy grey was a stark contrast that stood out to him in a symbolic separation each time you graced his presence.

  And there was one day that stood out amidst the rest.  The first day he had seen your face.

  You had your mask equipped every other time he had encountered you, to the point where he didn’t even consider what might lie beneath it.  Several of the Supreme Beings wore masks of one kind or another, after all, so it wasn’t a strange concept to accept the mask itself as a part of you.  But on this day, you had been musing on the research you had completed for a fellow guild member, something to do with a sacred event called “Valentines Day”, where rare items would become accessible, and you had worked diligently to prepare yourself and your fellow to venture forth on a hunt for one such possession called “Cupid’s Kiss.”  He didn’t quite understand why Lord Peroroncino was so keen on gaining it, but you apparently did, and thought the goal silly. Nevertheless, true to the always kind wish-granter he knew you to be, you were assisting your fellow Supreme Being despite your personal opinions.

  “You don’t really need the emote,” you had said.  “I mean, I get it, emotes are cool, and with Yggdrasil’s rating it’s hard to find romantic and sensual loopholes like this one, but… I could blow a kiss without it. I mean, I’m sure I could.”  You’d grown silent for a moment, then looked long and hard at him. “I could probably do it,” you mumbled, walking up to him with hesitant steps until you stood directly in front of him. He had felt his chest seize up; were you looking to him for assistance? In this matter??

  Then you had reached up and unequipped your mask.

  He held his breath.  You gazed at him with features he had never considered to exist, and the revelation of you before him almost sent him to his knees.  Delicate shapes made up your nose and eyes, lips blossoming below with a deep blushed blue, the increased color also flushed through your cheeks.  Eyes white and shining, a light blue circle was the only guide as to the direction of your sight, lining the space around where another species might have had an iris.  Your face did not change, a mischievous smirk grinning at him as you carefully brought two fingers up to your poised mouth. Placing the pair against your lips, you turned them around and placed them against his own.

  A kiss.  You had just granted him a kiss.

  You stared at him for a few moments more, and he felt as though he could live forever in that silence.  Then you quickly stepped back and re-equipped your mask.

  “We could probably get two,” you had muttered, turning and walking out of the temple to go meet your fellow Supreme Being.  “The drop rates aren’t great, but maybe we could find two… I might not mind…”

  He had spent the rest of the day in an absolute haze, spawning minions just to spar and blow off some steam.

  And now, so much later, with so much more between you, he stood having removed your pants, holding your thigh, as you stared at his chest with the passionate red eyes of an unrestrained devil.

  He was undeserving.  But he knew his creator had made him well, and despite what he may or may not feel he deserved, he was here to serve you.  He considered himself lucky to even be under your gaze, and pleased to serve however you desired.

  You slowly moved your eyes back up to meet his.  “So… if I tell you I want the truth…”

  “I would never deny it to you, Lady Mira.  Whatever your wish, all you require is but to ask it of me.”

  That answer elicited two responses.  Your tail once again curled along its length, flicking out at the end, but also a look of frustration came across your face, fading out as you took in a breath.

  “If I wanted to kiss you—if I wanted you to kiss me... would you be alright with that?”

  His tail whipped similarly to yours.  “M-most assuredly.”

  You nodded, and this time as you took a breath, you held it for a few moments before releasing your next words.  “And, for you… would lust be the motivator behind that kiss?”

  “Not alone,” he said. He eyes were rushing into yours again.  “Not lust alone.”

  He wasn’t sure what more you were looking for in your question.  His declared devotion?  A more emotion-ruled encounter? Perhaps even a way to sate your human side, which you knew you would eventually return to?  Surely you couldn’t be asking for his sake. Perhaps you were still mourning the loss of your form as Lady Zoba, the wound opened anew by this shift, and you were craving some form of comfort.  Perhaps you needed him to reign you in, to help confine your new, unrestrained freedom so that you would not regret your actions later.  Perhaps he was failing you in that regard rather than the other possible avenue, of following the breadcrumbs you were so blatantly dropping for him.

   Regardless, he had spoken the truth, just as you had asked him to do.  For him, this was so much more than a base desire.

  You flexed your fingertips against the countertop, claws not clicking against its surface with the same noise they had been.  He didn’t look away to see if he was correct in thinking they had at last begun to retract. “Good,” you said.

  He felt adrenaline in every corner of his body.  He shouldn’t do this. He should not do this.  He wanted to feel you embrace him so badly, and you were perhaps merely overwhelmed at the circumstances—

   You were looking at him expectantly.  He shivered.

   “Mira… would you permit—”

  “Yes,” you breathed, and dove forward into him.

 


 

 

Chapter Text

🔥 𝑅𝑒𝒶𝓁 𝓁𝒾𝒻𝑒 𝑜𝓃 𝓉𝒽𝑒 𝓈𝑒𝓋𝑒𝓃𝓉𝒽 𝒻𝓁𝑜𝑜𝓇 🔥

𝒸𝒽𝒶𝓅𝓉𝑒𝓇 𝓉𝓌𝑒𝓁𝓋𝑒


 

  The bleakness of the seventh floor had always been comforting to you.

  The others had their unique charm.  But something about the way the smoke twisted through the air, unsubstantial shadows cast across the scenery by their shape against the flames that created them, combined with the landscape that was both empty of vitality and filled with the rubble of it, tugged at your imagination.  Sure, you enjoyed lounging in the breezy forests under the starry lights created by Blue Sky, and you’d been known to make a simple snowman or two outside the home of Cocytus, but while you loved the diversity of creations found in Nazarick, something continually had drawn you back to that dark rocky expanse.  The sounds of the lava inching along with no drive but it’s own, the smell of raging new beginnings crafted in flames, the broken reminders of life long lost in the past… it all felt so much more serene to you than others seemed to perceive it as. It was a place for contemplation and inner musings, and the fact that not many others took the time to traverse it made it that much more valuable to you.

 Of course, over time, that solitude had begun to allude too mockingly of the place you felt you held within the guild.  It felt strongly of the loneliness, the separation you didn’t discourage between you and the friendship others seemed to so easily form.  You were like this landscape to them; useful in your place, but easily ignored and forgotten without a need. And like the lava shifting down it’s course, you would not go out of your way to try and change that, even though it burned inside you.

  So you had sought company.  An NPC felt an ironically appropriate choice, and a safe one at that, so you easily and naturally began to make Demiurge's reliable presence diluted with your own.  Over time, talking to him felt natural, and while you still couldn’t quite bring yourself to speak too freely of your life outside Yggdrasil, the sounding board was comforting, however silent it may be.  The stories you told were often repeated over and over, practicing until you were happy with how they sounded on your lips. You droned on about moral dilemmas, filling in after empty pauses in your contemplations as though responding to the way you supposed the negative five-hundred karma NPC might react to your thoughts.  You used him as your devil’s advocate, so to speak, and sometimes ended up agreeing with your perceived companion, sometimes not. Occasionally you wondered at yourself. This was probably an unhealthy way to go about filling your emotional needs, but… you never spoke that thought out loud. Apparently you were in too deep; you didn’t want to risk hurting the feelings of an inanimate being by speaking that particular worry in front of him.  It was like a child and their favorite stuffed animal, and you weren’t quite prepared to force yourself to grow out of your own imagination. And if it was helping you feel balanced, maybe it wasn’t such a bad thing in the end. A relationship with ones and zeroes couldn’t hurt anyone, after all, and it was nice to know that unlike if you had chosen to complain to a fellow guild member, you hadn’t imposed yourself onto the devil.

  You hadn’t, had you?

  ...Had you, in the end?

  Hadn’t you torn him away from his home?  Taken him from a silent, gentle ending to this place so ill-suited to him?  To a world in which he could never truly be himself?

  Hadn’t you placed enough of your burdens on his shoulders without further complicating things?

  You stood in the elevator of your apartment building with him, pausing in running your hands through your hair one final time as you looked over to him.  He himself was straightening his blue suit coat, eyeing the lines of his clothes to see them lay just as he pleased them to.

  You were both human again, and you felt apprehension as you immediately longed to return to your more guiltless state, watching his clawless hands adjust the fabric.

  The rush of freedom you had felt in that form… it had been overwhelming.  You had been able to act on desires you hadn’t even allowed yourself to consider before that moment.  (Well, ok, some of them you’d considered once or twice, but that was beside the point.)  You had been so grateful for the honesty Demiurge gave when you had asked him about his desires concerning you, but now that you were human again and your passion was back in check, you couldn’t help but feel the same dismissal you had felt when Luna had texted you about Demiurge being into you.  It could so easily be interpreted as just the fact that he saw you as something you weren’t.

  You watched as his hand ran over the front of his shirt one last time, remembering mere minutes ago when your hand had done the same, pressing lightly into his skin as his did the same to yours.  His hand stopped halfway down his abs and pulled slightly to the side, and you glanced up to see that he had noticed your gaze and was grinning at you. You blushed.

  “So, uh, this guy we’re going to see.  You said you’ve been working with him on something?”

  “No need to be shy, my Lady.  Though I will say, it is rather a delightful expression on you.”  You blushed harder at his tease, rolling your eyes.

  “What I’m trying to do is focus on the matter at hand.”

  “If you would prefer us to leave the papers with him and return downstairs, I could retrieve them later.  Then... I instead could be your matter at hand.”

  “Wh—!  Dem—!” Wow, just an hour or two of devilish intimacy and he sure was pulling out all the stops, wasn’t he?  When you’d wished for a more relaxed Demiurge, this hadn’t been quite what you’d expected from the change.

  His grin grew wider as you covered your mouth with a hand, his blue eyes not leaving you as you pretended not to laugh.  “To answer your question, yes. I discovered him on my second night here, after venturing a guess at his location and usefulness. He should have my materials prepared for me, actually.  This visit will benefit us two-fold.”

  You lowered your hand.  “Your materials?”

  “Indeed.  After a bit of research, I realized documentation would be key to securing an identity capable of an overarching influence.”

  “...Overarching?”

  He turned to you, a question to your question visible as he cocked his head.

  “You seem to be… very connected.  Super fast. Like you have some big plan you’re working on.”

  “I do,” he replied simply.

  You waited for more. He didn’t offer it.  “Should I be… worried at all about any of this?”

  “Not in the slightest!  Every action I take has your happiness and safety planted as its core.”

  “Including how vague you’re suddenly being?” you said, only a half-tease.

  The elevator chimed, and Demiurge held out an arm as he gestured for you to exit the sliding doors before him.  You noticed his lack of a reply.

  So instead you asked another question.  “You said you met this guy at night, but… I thought you went out that morning.  Did you sleep alright?” What if the couch was less comfortable than you thought it to be? He was taller than you.  You’d never seen him laying on it… was it too short for him? You should probably set up a spare bed in your second room, move some of your stuff out of the way—

  “My Lady, I have had no need of sleep.”  He looked at you as he knocked on the door.  “With the Ring of Sustenance provided me by your fellow Supreme Beings, my needs are placed as they should be:  Inconsequential next to yours.” A panel slid aside next to the door to reveal a keypad, and Demiurge typed in a series of numbers.

  ...What.

  He’d been awake every night?!  And apparently wandering around, meeting people, possibly enacting “big plans”...

  “But— didn’t you sleep that first night? You seemed exhausted.”

  “I am still a bit shamed in my reaction, allowing it to affect my usefulness. I could only protest so much against my need to meditate on my circumstance. But it was merely a meditation.”

  “What about when we went to lunch?  Do you need to eat? What about—”

  “My participation in such activities has been for the pleasure of your company,” he reassured you, pushing the door open as the keypad lit up green and once again gesturing for you to enter first.

  Just walking into someone else’s apartment felt rude, but you were certain Demiurge wouldn’t be offering for you to enter first if he wasn’t confident in the move, so you slid inside, wondering how you could have possibly forgotten about the equipment given to the various floor guardians and trying to remember what else Demiurge had been given.  As you looked up at him, you glanced to his left ear. Ulbert had cleverly redesigned Demiurge’s Ring of Sustenance, you remembered now. Instead of simply making it unviewable as others had done, he altered the appearance and placed it as an earring. Your mind mulled over the sight of the other silver adornments as you turned back to the clean, museum-like hall you were walking into; had Ulbert added the others to fill in the look? Or did they all serve a purpose as well?  You wished you’d paid more attention to such details. It had never occurred to you before that you’d care so much about NPC items.

  You flexed your empty fingers.  Maybe you should work harder to access your item box.

  “Yo Mira!  How’s it going?”

  Hold on.  That sounded like…

  “Luna??”  You pulled yourself out of your thoughts and looked up at a screen on the other side of the large entry hall.  There she was, smirking at you.

  “What’s up girl?”  She waved.

  You walked hesitantly up to the screen, noticing the camera embedded into it.  “What… what are you doing video chatting with me in some random person’s apartment? Wait— do you live here??”

  “What, me?  Nah,” she wrinkled her nose, sniggering at the idea.  “Only someone truly stupendous could live here. Someone skilled enough to do everything he does!  A master of the arts—”

  Demiurge sighed.  “Ah. Mr. Darsteller.  We are quite impressed, but we do have matters to see to.”

  Luna frowned, then grinned sheepishly.  “Well, I do like to keep clients smiling,” she said in a voice that suddenly wasn’t hers.  “Especially with such an alluring guest alongside them~! Welcome, Fräulein, please, this way,” and Luna gestured to the right side of the screen towards a closed door.

  Hold on—was this just a fake image of Luna?!  Demiurge had called the speaker “Mr.”, and the voice was now much more masculine.  How did this guy have such a detailed model of Luna? It was so lifelike, you’d immediately assumed it’s validity rather than doubt it.  You looked with raised eyebrows toward Demiurge. He nodded with a pursed smile, but this time, he went first through the doorway.

  As you entered behind him, the room became much darker.  The hum of circuitry and clacking of a keyboard tickled your ears, the air smelling ionized from the subtle buzz. It felt somehow complimentary to the wide hallway you had just left, with it’s glass-cased displays of eclectic but valuable looking items.  You recognized the same attention to detail here, the same effortless organization utilized along rows of colorful wires and shelves of electronic gadgetry.

  “I would appreciate if we can move this business along,” Demiurge said.  “Your assistance is appreciated, but unless you have the required experience with this document, I can solve the issue alone.”

  “I have seen enough of Alanna’s subtleties to pluck her tricks from the mire!”  It was the voice the image of Luna had spoken with, laced so lightly with an accent that you couldn’t quite tell where it belonged.  Demiurge folded an arm behind his back as the other held out your contract. A figure sprang up from a swivel chair to accept the sheets of paper.  “Her payment clauses tend to have a few impish loopholes slipped in, but since she knows you are involved, my bet is with the more elusive ‘hereunder’ mixed into the assemblage!”

  The man who took the papers towered tall as he shot up from his low chair, energy crackling off him like lightning in a heat storm.  His limbs gave the impression of being the cause of his height, extending themselves without care into the free space around him, but his yellow button up shirt could just have easily been the source of his visual volume.  Even in the low light of the whirring room, the shirt shone as though it were attempting to prove itself as a sun, and his smile mimicked the endeavor.

  “Ah, but first, Fräulein, welcome to my home!  It is so good to have company!  And when that company is a blossoming treat such as yourself, the pleasure is surely all mi—”

  “I am a guest to Mira, to be accurate,” Demiurge cut in coldly.  “She is the respectable owner of the seventh floor, and we are housing together by virtue of her graciousness.  I would suggest that you look to those attributes when referring to her, Mr. Darsteller.”  He put a little emphasis on the descriptor to your ownership, and you shot him a look of gratitude.  You didn’t dislike this odd man in and of himself; he seemed quirky and full of life, and you had the distinct impression he truly was attempting to be welcoming.  But you were still a little hesitant with the whole fake Luna, and the immediate likening of you to a flower and something to be eaten were not appreciated.

  There was something so familiar about him, though…

  “J-ja, but of course!  Vergeben sie mir, I meant no disrespect.  I am merely over-excited to have visitors in my treasure box.”  He gestured lovingly to the items around the room, and you were struck once again at the clean-lined organization of it all.  “It is not often I have guests present in person!”

  Treasure box.

  The tenth floor.

   The treasury guardian!

  The tall pale man removed the dark grey top hat he wore to reveal a polished bald head, placing the accessory over his heart next to a red tie with a gold clip as he tilted his head in a bow, the contract flapping noisily in the air as his other hand swung outward.  “In the interest of such politeness, allow me to introduce myself, Meine Dame: Pan Darsteller, matrix maker, coding aficionado, purveyor of rare items, dealer of imaginary realities, and financial magician! Otherwise known as—”

  Demiurge grinned at you as you interrupted, drinking in the delight in your eyes.

  “Pandora’s Actor!”

 


 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

🔥 𝑅𝑒𝒶𝓁 𝓁𝒾𝒻𝑒 𝑜𝓃 𝓉𝒽𝑒 𝓈𝑒𝓋𝑒𝓃𝓉𝒽 𝒻𝓁𝑜𝑜𝓇 🔥

𝒸𝒽𝒶𝓅𝓉𝑒𝓇 𝓉𝒽𝒾𝓇𝓉𝑒𝑒𝓃


 

  That meeting had… been very different from what you’d expected.

  When Demiurge had said there was someone who could assist in thoroughly picking apart the contract, you’d assumed he was going to take you to a severely strict and humorless being, and upon entering the pristine apartment, your expectations hadn’t been changed.  The well-catalogued collection of items had convinced you that this was the home of an austere businessman, someone with whom you were honestly expecting to socially hide behind Demiurge to be able to converse with.  Instead, you had the pleasure to meet a man who had reminded you more and more of Momonga’s eccentric NPC with every passing moment.

  To be honest, he also reminded you just a touch of the man himself.

  You were sitting back in the apartment, Demiurge telling you yet again the points of the contract that you should make the most fuss about.  You nodded, absentmindedly playing with the spot on your finger where a ring had earlier sat, the digit oddly thin-feeling without it’s bulk.

  “I promise, I’ll bring up the payment clause,” you reassured him, then teased, “if I can find it.”  Pan’s help had led to several notes written across the page in overzealously looped handwriting, and alongside Demiurge’s medieval-esque waves of sharp letters, it had rendered the document nearly illegible.  They’d gone perhaps a bit overboard in their quest to get you the best deal possible.

  Your nose wrinkled in both embarrassment and amusement as you remembered calling him Pandora’s Actor.  He’d frozen in his bow, then looked up at you quizzically.

   “—Ah…well... I was going to say, my online moniker is Pet3rPan.  But! I may have to steal that one away from you for a new introduction when I reveal my GAN incorporating prototypes… Wunderbar!  Jaja, magnificent—” His face slowly morphed into a smile as he mused, and sliding into his chair, he turned around and typed furiously into a keyboard.  While leaving one hand to continue the work, he turned back around to carry on talking about the contract’s most likely points of interest, raising it to read while the other hand clacked without missing a beat.  The madman was doing three things at once, and it obviously was no big deal to him. It certainly made for a good addition to your impression of him, supporting the apparel of his apartment in it’s systematic intricacy beyond the smooth surface of it’s entryway.

  You’d mostly let him and Demiurge hash it out, only butting in to bring the escalation of their fervent discussion back to what you considered to be realistic expectations.  You did want to actually have a job, after all, and working with Alanna did seem like it could be fun after the few hours you’d spent in tandem. As long as you didn’t tick her off by ripping into her contract tomorrow in her office, in front of her boss.

  Demiurge hummed a note in his throat, and you watched as he rose the marred contract back up to his eyes.  You could see him plotting something behind those spectacles...

  “Perhaps I will come in with you,” he said.  “After all, I did make a promise to Alanna in regards to my next discussion with Mr. Angah.”

  You sighed.  “I don’t— Hold on…”  You looked at Demiurge, eyebrows raising.  “... What is the CEO’s name?!”

  “Mr. Angah.  Quite a wise and unhesitating man, in an enigmatic sense.  He--”

  “Mister… Angah??  Mister Angah?”

  Demiurge furrowed his brow and let the contract droop, almost pouting as he looked to you.  “My Lady…?”

  “You’re telling me the person directing Alanna, the man you’ve placed yourself in a position to assist, is named… Mister Angah??”

  Demiurge’s expression remained unchanged for a moment.  Then the color drained from his face.

  “M-my Lady— You’re not saying— He couldn’t truly be—”

  “I don’t know!  But it definitely sounds like the same kind of situation as Cole and Charlotte and Alanna—and Pan!”  Your hand raised to your head, fingers combing into your hair. You weren’t sure how to feel about this.  When it was just the guardians that lived around you, the situation was fun, even heartwarming in a way to you that was both comforting and thrilling.  But adding your guild leader to the mix? That was a little much.

  You and Momonga had been friends, but you wouldn’t have considered the two of you to be close.  When everyone else had faded out, when Nazarick had been empty of every member but the two of you, you’d still kept your distance.  It was mostly a distance imposed by you, not him; even at that point, even when the end of Yggdrasil loomed, you still couldn’t let go of your fear of getting close to someone in the game again.  He had tried to coax you into a greater friendship, but you recognized the friendships he was yearning to restore through you and was terrified you’d never be enough to replace them. So instead of attempting to form something new, you’d retreated from the shadow of the old.  Momonga had respected that, even if he was saddened by it, and by the time you’d realized how silly you were being by shunning your last remaining guildmate, it felt too late to make an attempt.

  If this was really a Momonga double… or (dare you imagine it) Momonga himself… How would he react to you?  How were you going to react to seeing him?...

  Demiurge dropped the contract to your coffee table, hand pressing it down into the wood.  “This is completely wrong,” he murmured. Then, louder, “Forgive me, Lady Mira! My perceptions of the proper course for these negotiations are heinously flawed!  I must reevaluate this completely…”

  You blinked at him.  “Um… what exactly do you mean?”  You thought the revisions were well thought out!  Sure, over the top, but you were satisfied with how fair each side seemed to be.  You were going to leave a few demands out, of course, but… did the idea that Mr. Angah was Momonga shake Demiurge as much as it did you?

  “When I first arrived here in your home, you imparted to me knowledge on the value a human life can hold.  You are all the proof I could ever desire for such a thing, but— I have obviously not given this treasure the importance it deserves.  To think I almost—! Forgive me. I understand the true mistake I have made. You are divinely generous, and I must take that into account in these preparations.”

  “Oh!  Yeah, yes, I agree!”  He wanted to be a little more fair in his evaluation of the contract?  That sounded great! Maybe you wouldn’t need to worry about leaving out some parts after all.

  “I will rework these notes accordingly,” he said, already immersed back into the words.  “This time, I pledge myself to you, I will find a solution that is acceptable.”

  “Ok, but I—… thanks, that’s really thoughtful of you.”  You didn’t want to ask him to do that sort of work, but it had quickly become clear to you how much better he and Pan could wrap their heads around the convoluted intricacies in a legal document than you could.  If all he was doing was stripping away some alterations, it shouldn’t be a problem.

  He grinned, then fell silent, one hand moving to press finger tips against his temple while the other held the papers back up to his vision.

  ...Why did you get the feeling this was going to take longer than you expected?

  You looked him over, his blue suit shaped around him like a second skin, sleek over the solid form beneath.  Those shoulders, so reassured in their relaxation, had been tense beneath your hands hours ago. They’d been warm under your fingers… You looked to his hand holding the contract, the shine glinting off the polished Ring of Infiltration a laughably dull flash in comparison to the burn his eyes had placed in yours...

  Oof.  Were you just going to be continually thirsting over this man from now on?

  Yeah, like you hadn’t been thirsting before, you thought to yourself.

  Still, this was feeling unbearable to just watch him work.  You needed something to occupy your time, preferably that was productive.  You could occupy yourself in the kitchen; mixing up a batch of cookie dough or preparing a stir fry were always reliable to recenter your mind and calm your nerves.  But you knew that you’d just run out of chocolate chips, and the last of the oil had been used up a few days back. And the thought of facing Momonga tomorrow had stolen away any appetite you might have had.

  You had an idea, but…

  “Demiurge?”

  “Yes, my Lady?”

  “We didn’t practice magic.”

  The papers folded down, revealing a smirk directed to you.  “No, we did not.”

  “But um… if I try again, I can see me having the same distractions as before.”

  His grin was wide, incisors showing.  “Indeed?”

  You turned your face to the ceiling, trying to get away from the temptation to grin alongside him.  “I was thinking… While you work on that, I could… It might be easier for me to concentrate on trying again without the racial drives.  Y’know, maybe… maybe another form?”

  He didn’t respond, and you risked a glance back down at him.  His face had fallen blank. The mischievous grin had fled without leaving a trace, and you worried you’d asked too much.

  Demiurge’s fiend form was a look far less humanoid than his devilish shape, and the restructuring it would take to reflect the froggy visage would be far more intense.  You had been prepared to change into a being with nearly triple the amount of limbs before, though; this was no greater a risk to you than that had been.

  And you really wanted to make some sort of improvement.  Feel useful in some sort of way, in the way that he’d already gone above and beyond for you. Trying to head off the argument, you took a deep breath.

  “I need to learn, Demiurge.  Let me do something useful. Besides, isn’t it pretty important to figure out what’s—”

  “My Lady... I will not attempt to dissuade you again.  You’ve made yourself clear in your desire to pursue this, and while I am torn by the means, it would truly be a great relief to me for you to reclaim some of the defenses that are rightfully owed you.”  As he spoke, he set the papers down yet again and removed his ring with only the slightest sigh. Moments later, there sat the devil in blue. Then, after undoing his first few buttons, in a much more natural and fluid transformation, a green pallor swept over his skin.

  “I am pleased to assist you, however you may have me do so.”

  The mouth speaking those words was wide, revealing teeth sharp as razors peeking out of the maw between each syllable.  Large red eyes blinked at you, comically having outgrown the spectacles still resting on a nearly nonexistent nose. He rose from his seat, offering you a clawed hand to rise from your seat as well.

  You had seen this form before, in Yggdrasil. Ulbert had noticed your interest in his creation after it’s completion and, opening a conversation with you that had led you both up to the seventh floor, shown off a bit of what he was capable of.  When he had displayed the demon’s fiend form, your interest had been further piqued. It didn’t have the same suaveness the devil held, but it was visually well-designed, captivating to view in it’s strangeness.

  But never had you seen the amphibious fiend with this life. Never had you watched the black irises turn to focus on you, seen the slight ruffling of his whey-colored throat as a small satisfied rumble escaped him at your attentive observance.  You’d honestly expected this form to aid in getting your mind out of the gutter and allowing you to focus on other things, and while it didn’t do for you quite what his regular form did, the thought that crossed your mind as you took his hand, big eyes blinking at you once again and chest puffing out, surprised you.

   “Oh wow, that is so stinkin’ cute.”

  Knowing the intelligence sitting between those green pointed ears only elevated the effect, and you couldn’t help but break into a smile as he pulled you up to your feet.  Eyeing the color accenting his green down from the lower half of his lips, you reached a hand up to your own face, the backs of your knuckles brushing your jawline as fingers felt the side of your neck.  Rather than anxiousness at the idea of mimicking his texture, you found yourself wondering what differences would stand out between you. This time, the thirty seconds felt like no more than a temporary obstacle to finding out.

  You looked at the ring offered in his hand, then up to him.  “Any more advice?”

  He bowed his head slightly farther into his chest.  “I may be repetitive in this offering, but: Do not concern yourself with anything beyond your own form.  Only call upon your mind to remember to breathe; focus on that constant and let the rest become inconsequential.  The moment will pass, and I will hold you steady despite your fluctuations.”

  “Breathe,” you reassured him, nodding to show you took his words to heart.  You knew the chance to speak a word of instruction to you had calmed his nerves last time, giving him a sense of control over the situation when he was aware he had none, and wanted him to feel secure once again.  Smiling, you held out your free hand, center finger extended slightly above the other digits. “Care to do the honors?” You squeezed his other hand, prepared to keep your grip on him tight.

  Understanding, he closed his eyes and slowly opened them, as though performing an alternate action to a nod.

  “As you wish, my Lady.”

 


 

 

Chapter Text

🔥 𝑅𝑒𝒶𝓁 𝓁𝒾𝒻𝑒 𝑜𝓃 𝓉𝒽𝑒 𝓈𝑒𝓋𝑒𝓃𝓉𝒽 𝒻𝓁𝑜𝑜𝓇 🔥

𝒸𝒽𝒶𝓅𝓉𝑒𝓇 𝒻𝑜𝓊𝓇𝓉𝑒𝑒𝓃


 

  The transformation had felt surprisingly similar to the one you tried your hand at hours ago, with a few key differences:  Flames didn’t sear through your veins, but a thick, mucus-y feeling had expanded around your bones, clenching them to absorb all the sinew and blood your body held. It was more like suffocating in a swamp than enduring a volcano’s fire.

  But the thirty seconds did indeed end, and true to his word Demiurge had held you upright.  His first words were once again to ask how you were feeling, and after staring at your new claws, you stuttered out a laugh.

  How ironic.  Now that you knew you would never see Zoba’s shape in the mirror again, you were staring at azure limbs, brightly colored fingers flexing at your whim.

  “A little blue,” you quipped.  The words were odd to form, your mouth seeming to over exaggerate itself as you spoke.  The statement was mostly a joke, but of course Demiurge understood the unspoken meaning and bent his head, looking at you over his spectacles.  You blinked and smiled as though to brush the more serious interpretation away; you weren’t going to dwell on it. You really didn’t want to reopen the wound.  Instead you cocked your head at your blue and then his green questioningly.

  “Dendrobates Fiend; quite the rare variety, my Lady,” he answered.  “As is to be expected of my Supreme Being. The ability ‘Poison Touch’ in this species has the unique added amusement of altering the coloring of one’s target for a space of time; luckily I am immune to such an effect.”  The rumbling of his throat occurred again, and you suddenly wondered if that was a croak or a chuckle. Curious, you attempted it yourself, and a much less refined sound came out. It was like a child gurgling a glass of water, and Demiurge quietly sounded out again, the rumble shortened to be more like an entertained bark.  It was a chuckle then, you decided, grinning in mild embarrassment.

  “Is this form sufficient to your wishes, my Lady?” Demiurge asked.

  You nodded.  “I can work with this,” you reassured him, turning your head to find the empty can you had determined yesterday to be your target practice.  It had been moved to the bookshelf by the coffee table, and gently removing yourself from his arms, you went to place it once again on the wooden surface when Demiurge suddenly spoke up.

  “I have given the matter a bit of thought,” he said in a voice not unlike when he had first asked your permission to wander outside the apartment two days ago, “and I believe there may be a more effective way to reach your abilities. If you would permit me.”

  You hesitated.  You’d begun to learn that Demiurge’s trickery extended easily to you, as long as he believed it to be for your good.  But he would never cause you harm or risk your well being. You were certain. “Ok… what did you have in mind?”

  “You do possess the spell Mend, correct, my Lady?”

  “...Yes, theoretically…”

  “Indulge me for a moment.  Close your eyes, and envision the process of casting Mend in Yggdrasil.”

  You squinted at him, but did as he asked.  The process there was very different than what it would be like to actually cast it, surely; there, it had been a series of commands, no reaching into the “energy around you” required.  Nevertheless, you did as was requested and ran over the prompts in your mind.

  It had been a long time since you had cast Mend.  It was a first level spell, and one hardly used in the game even then.  It was considered a redundancy since there were other ways to recraft items, and most things that could be fixed in such a manner were low level vanity items that were easily replaced.  Choosing the spell was considered a waste of an opportunity at a point where one might be better served by an offensive spell, when a player was new and still trying to survive basic enemies as well as (in your case as a “grotesque” type character) other players.  But the idea of battle had never appealed to you. Yggdrasil had been to you a place of discovery and creation, and to instead preserve the works of your fellows was much more important to you. So, you chose Mend as a beginning spell. The choice to do so set you on a track not often taken in the game; one of unbalanced support in favor of your own defence or attack power.  You did eventually acquire ways to defend yourself, as well as weapons that allowed you to be effective in ridding your path of enemies, but above all else, you were a buff to your allies, a wish-granting boon ready to equip laughably unfair advantages. And that began with the singular decision to choose Mend when others scoffed.

  As the thoughts passed through your mind you smiled, the memory of the first time you fixed a stanger’s club amidst a touchy battle and seeing their shocked gratitude warming your heart.  It would have been so easy to be antagonistic like so many others in the game and simply give up on being kind, but that wasn’t what it was about to you. Without the chance to aid others, you wouldn’t have found such a joy in the world of Yggdrasil for so many years.

  “Do you recall clearly the means by which you did so?” Demiurge asked, causing you to open your eyes.  He was standing before you, but seemed to have grabbed the jacket to his red suit. It was draped over one arm, and he seemed overly calm.

  “I remember how I did it there, yes.”

  “It is an odd spell for one to possess, my Lady.”

  You blinked.  Had he known what you were thinking about?  Perhaps your minds had simply concluded to follow a similar path.  Could you really be so in sync?  “Yeah… not many people chose to learn it.”

  “And yet, you did.”  He looked to the jacket, caressing the pinstripes.  “...This suit was made for me by my creator. I consider it to be one of my greatest possession.”  He lifted it, and as the fabric rose, your heart sank. There, hanging diagonally from the back, was a clean slash almost from hem to sleeve, leaving a large gash of material to curl and swing in your shock.

  “Demiurge, what-- I am so sorry,” you gasped.  “What happened?”

  He held it out, and you stuck out your arms to take it.  “I understand if the reversal of this damage is too great to ask of you,” he only replied, “but I believe it is not.  The fault is none but my own; would you aid me, Mira?”

  The calmness hummed in his voice, and you wondered if it was for your benefit in the upsetting circumstance or if it was for his own stability in the face of such a misfortune.  Either way, it didn’t stop the aching in your heart. There was so little of Yggdrasil left. This suit to you was such a large part of your memories there, of the comfort and rejuvenation of your time on the seventh floor.  And with as much as it meant to you, the value to Demiurge had to be a hundred times greater. It was his suit. It was iconically him, and beyond that, as he had stated, was designed by Ulbert to be a grand part of the devil’s presentation.  That knowledge combined with the plea of the frog-faced fiend made the feeling in your heart too much to bear.

  “I--I don’t know--I… ”  You looked up at him. His face was calm, his expression accepting of whatever answer you gave him.

  How could you do nothing?

  Placing one hand under the tear and one above, you closed your eyes.  Mend was a simple spell. Unlike Spirit Bolt, which had the ability to knock your opponents back and temporarily freeze their MP, Mend used so little of your magic that you would have practically regenerated it’s full usage before the spell was done, if you had done it at your higher levels.  It shouldn’t be an issue. And this couldn’t be allowed to go unfixed. Eyes closed, you imagined Demiurge unable to wear his beloved red again. You had to fix this.

  Something shone in the corner of your mind as you once again imagined your menu for spells in Yggdrasil.  Like a spider sensing a twinge in its web, you focused to the silvery string. It felt familiar somehow, and curiously you tested it with a little pull.  Something larger lurched towards you, and your mind braced for an impact, but instead it was as though a candle had been lit, and a corner of you was awaking at the light.

  The ache in your heart tilted forward.  Like a watering can angled just enough to rain it’s contents forth, you felt a tingling flow through your chest.  Fingertips warming, you opened your eyes to find the fabric beneath your palm writhing, thread after thread finding it’s broken twin and retwining together once again.

  “Ohmigosh, Demiurge, it’s-- I’m doing it,” you breathed, straightening your elbows to hold the fabric right up next to him, as though he couldn’t see it from the six inches farther away it had been.  The yellow glow faded from your hands as the jacket became whole again, the rip banished clear down to the hemline until it disappeared. “It’s-- Here, is it good? Is it all fixed?”

  He took the jacket from your outstretched hands and, without checking it over, tossed it lightly to the chair behind you.  You started to turn after it, confused by the suddenly lack of disinterest in the sentimental garment, then looked back to him.

  “I was correct,” he said quietly.

  “...About what?”

  “My Lady.  You are wise beyond my ability.  Your skill and knowledge of the arcane as well as your understanding of desires as to the subjects and equals around you in Nazarick are beyond what a legend would require of any figure.  However, despite this array of stunning comprehension at your disposal, there is something I have the utmost desperation to bring you to understand. I am unsure of what success I can possibly have in so sacred a task, but I must attempt it.”  At this, he stepped in closer. His hands raised to cup your jawline, clawtips just circling around the bottoms of your ears. You felt your breath increase through your trepidation, the movement comforting as he tilted your head to see more clearly into his eyes.  “To retrieve that jacket, I would slaughter a thousand armies. I would allow myself to endure any number of torments. It is a connection to my Lord, and I would sacrifice greatly for that. Mira, you are my Lady.  Do you not understand what it means to me for your happiness and proper treatment to be of the highest quality?  For your safety to be assured? Do you truly not understand the value you possess? The worth one would put on your soul… It is unimaginable.”

  He was driving the words into your ears with fervor, volume steadily rising to an unhesitating rumble, and you could feel the slight echo of his Command Mantra as he attempted to emphasize his depth of assurity.

  “I don’t… What does that have to do with…”

  He lowered his hands to your shoulders, thumbs unintentionally finding a fit in the shape of your collarbone.  “I have only begun to understand your nature here in your native realm, but I… paid detailed attention to your doings as the Lady Zoba of Nazarick.  All the denizens of the tomb were aware of your zealous drive to assist your fellow Supreme Beings, even at your own detriment, and I myself witnessed that kindness extended to even the lowest of Nazarick’s inhabitants.  We assumed this was due to your nature as a wish-granter. Now, with the blessing of bearing witness to your greater self… I am realizing that cause-and-effect was reversed.” He removed his hands, one arm folding behind his back while the other offered his next words before him.  “Your magic was not hindered by any outside force, my Lady. It’s usage was simply viewed as contradictory to your nature.”

  “My nature?”

  “You did not wish to help yourself.”

  Oh.

  When you had practiced Spirit Bolt, it had been about how you were failing to measure up to your other self in Demiurge’s eyes, and your own desire to reach what you thought you weren’t worthy of.  You hadn’t thought about your achievement being something he was striving to reach alongside you.

  And after Demiurge had explained to you how Devil’s Deal worked, you on some level had recognized the same sensation when he’d tried to use it to revive you after your fall.  You had been overall embarrassed, ashamed such a need even existed. You hadn’t wanted him to put forth such an effort just to aid you after such a clumsy mistake.

  You had been trying to find your value in the increase you gave others, but apparently to Demiurge, it was something you’d never been lacking.  And in resistance to that idea, you had hindered your own ability to be helpful.

  The concept was hard to keep hold of, but you were beginning to understand.

  “...You cut the jacket on purpose, didn’t you?”

  “Yes, my Lady.”

  “Will I never be able to guess what you’ll do next?”

  He grinned, the edges of his upturned mouth comically distant on his oversized jaw.  “It is in my nature, my dear Lady Mira, to utilize everything in my arsenal to your benefit, and that includes my wardrobe.  That my next actions will be in your service is a fact you may always rely upon.”

  Large eyes echoed the slow blink his sent to you, and you felt a rumbling in your throat at his words.  “Well then. Guess I’ll just have to learn how to rely on you as I learn a new way for someone to value me.”

  His shoulders straightened, and you could feel the joy exude from him.  This was what he had wanted; for you to at least begin to understand his view of you and what your relationship meant to him. And perhaps, in return, he was beginning to recognize everything you would do for him.

  “Let’s try another one,” you said.

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 🔥 𝑅𝑒𝒶𝓁 𝓁𝒾𝒻𝑒 𝑜𝓃 𝓉𝒽𝑒 𝓈𝑒𝓋𝑒𝓃𝓉𝒽 𝒻𝓁𝑜𝑜𝓇 🔥

𝒸𝒽𝒶𝓅𝓉𝑒𝓇 𝒻𝒾𝒻𝓉𝑒𝑒𝓃


 

  You were still a little shaky on your spells, but you had managed to recover a few low level ones.  You achieved Light, Bunny Tail, Camouflage, and Guidance with a bit of practice, and continued to practice Mend and Light as Demiurge returned to working on your contract. The spells entranced you, and even as you repeated them over and over, tearing papers and at one point even dropping plates to cast Light on the broken bits and Mend them all back together, you didn’t grow tired of feeling the rush of magic through your chest.

  At last Demiurge repeated his request that you cease your experimenting and retire to bed; it was already into the early hours of morning, and soon the sun would grace the horizon.  He had completed his evaluation of the papers and had plans to discuss some business with Alanna, who had awoken and responded to his texted request to speak before meeting with the CEO, as well as a number of “errands”.

  Your attention caught at that; you were not in the least bit ready to stop playing with your new spells, and weren’t ready to give in to sleep just yet, not to mention that staying busy meant avoiding thinking about going to meet Mr. Angah. If Demiurge left, you would be able to occupy yourself with trying out your new tricks in human form… and perhaps, even give Spirit Bolt a go.  You felt ready, despite his suggestion to take things slowly and avoid any spells you hadn’t first mastered together.

  He held you as you removed the ring. You wouldn’t say the transformations were getting easier, but maybe that you were becoming more accustomed to them. Knowing what to expect and being confident you would make it through was half the battle won.

  As soon as the twinges of change ceased, you felt your eyelids droop. Wow, sleep seemed like a much more tempting prospect as a human than it had as a fiend.  You stifled a yawn and Demiurge grinned at you, and underwent his own transformation while you watched with lessened (but not absent) anxiety than previous times. Then he was re-buttoning the collar of his shirt and collecting your contract and his phone.

  “I will return to wake you in a few hours, my Lady.  Must I say, I will be loathe to do it; it would have been preferable to sleep at my first suggestion, but I sincerely hope now—”

  “I’ll be fine, I promise,” you blinked through the weight dragging down on your eyelashes.  “If Alanna’s waiting, you should go! I’ll head to bed as soon as you’re gone.” You practically shooed him out of the apartment.  His pout as you cut off his last protest with a nod and a closed door was one of hesitating suspicion, but you simply smiled as you waved goodbye.

  This was a night of many firsts, (that list now including your first straight up lie to Demiurge) and somehow ending it with sleep seemed an anticlimactic thing to do.  You didn’t want to lose the momentum of progress, and you’d pulled plenty of all-nighters before. This would be fine. Practicing magic was a very good excuse for sacrificing some sleep, just this once.

  But ooh, your eyelids were very, very heavy.  You found yourself wishing you had an energy drink in the fridge; you avoided them as much as possible and hadn’t had one for years because you were convinced they didn't work for you like they did for everyone else, but right now you’d gladly down a can and take the chance.  You could find some sugar in the pantry, but waiting for a sugar rush seemed risky; you needed to stay awake now .

  What about some fresh air?  Cool mornings were always good for keeping sleep at bay.  You knew there was roof access from the elevator, but you’d never tried going up before.

  Well, it was a night for firsts!

  Grabbing a jacket and the empty can, you opened the door back up and peeked out.  The elevator was close to you; there were really only two other doors on this floor, and only one of them sat between you and the end of the hall.  Briefly you wondered what was within the other mysterious spaces; you’d never seen your neighbors, and had come to the conclusion that the other apartments must be empty or someone’s seasonal home, but after getting a glimpse of Pan’s living space, you realized they must be quite large.  His was the entire tenth floor, and you could tell from his entryway that there were many other rooms you hadn’t had a reason to enter.

  Whoever owned the other apartments on your floor, they must be very well off.

  The doors looked just as undisturbed as they always had, and the numbers above the elevator had just ticked up from eight to nine and hung there. Perfect.

  In reality you trudged, but in your mind you were skipping as you dragged your legs to the elevator and punched the button labeled “rooftop” from a selection that sat aside from the numbered floors. Just keep moving , you told yourself, clenching the can so as not to let it droop from your grip.  If you could just perform one Spirit Bolt you would be satisfied, you promised in an internal attempt to justify the lie you had told, feeling a little guilty.  All you needed was to prove to yourself that you could do it. Then Demiurge could feel secure in your safety; Spirit Bolt was a much more effective spell for defense than anything else you’d been able to reclaim.  Well, Bunny Tail was a bit useful, you admitted as the doors slid shut and the elevator shifted into motion. It reduced the aggression of the target towards the caster, but it’s effectiveness here was very unproven, considering it had been Demiurge you’d tested it on.

  Wait… was the elevator slowing already?  You weren’t nearly up to the roof--

  Oh no.  It was stopping… at the ninth floor.

  The adrenaline that raced through your body did a better job of waking you up than anything else could have as you panicked.  There was nowhere to hide in this tiny box-- you froze, it would be silly to try and hide--

  The doors slid open, and you and Demiurge looked at each other.  You plastered on a nervous grin. He wasn’t really smiling.

  “...Heeeeey….”

  “Mira… May I inquire as to where, exactly, it is you are traversing?”  He glanced to the can in your hand. “If I were to venture a guess, the roof, perhaps?”

  “...... Yes?... I, um… yup.  … Yeah, I was.”

  His shoulders were tense, and as you both stood there you half expected him to step inside the elevator and escort you all the way back to your bed.  You could see it in the way he concernedly measured the amount of color in the circles under your eyes, the way his knee had bent forward in a half-movement, ready to abandon his meeting to instead hover at your side to personally confirm your drifting off into dreamland.

  The elevator doors tried to shut. He stuck a hand out to stop them and sighed.

  “Since you so desire to avoid resting, I will do what I can to accommodate you. When I have completed speaking with Alanna, I will text you to meet me in the lobby and we will leave early for the office together.  Is that acceptable?”

  It would cut your magic practice time down to nothing, you knew. He knew. You knew he knew.  And he knew you knew that he knew.

  You grinned sheepishly and nodded.  “I mean, you caught me. So that’s only fair.”

  “I appreciate your compromising on the matter.”  He smiled tiredly and removed his hand, allowing the doors to close once again as he offered you a bow in parting.

  You covered your face as soon as the doors closed.   Holy cow that was embarrassing.  Way to be an adult, “Lady Mira”.

  You were still red faced as the doors slid open, and you stepped out to push on a door that led to the open air.  Not the two large doors that had sat immediately in front of you, but rather a more subdued side door. It would likely take you to a more secluded area, you reasoned, a place you could practice safer from prying eyes. The light of a sun not quite risen warmed your cheeks as the door swung wide and you took in a deep breath, trying to banish the flustered feeling with a cool rush through your lungs, and you allowed yourself to relax just a bit.

  Speaking of being an adult… you’d had a very adult encounter with that man only hours ago.  So much had happened in the space of a few hours that it felt simultaneously like moments and weeks had passed.  Aside from a few comments, you both had been quite blasé about the fact, and now that you were running on tired-brain and breathing in the stimulating morning air, it circled your mind like a halo.  What did this mean for your relationship now? The question of sleeping arrangements was luckily a non-issue, but your interactions and future expectations were all a big question mark in your mind. You had played it off, but you had never been the type to jump into such a thing before, and were honestly freaking out a little now that you had a moment alone to look back on your actions. Was this something unusual for Demiurge? What would he expect?  Would it become a regular thing? Maybe something you only borrowed his ring to do? What about what you would tell others—were the two of you friends? Acquaintances? Dating? Heavens, he’d only stepped into your life mere days ago; that felt a little quick to say you were dating.

  ...Wow.  It had only been days.

  You had only know Demiurge, actual Demiurge, in real life, for three days.

  A bird was calling forth the morning somewhere nearby, and you focused on that sound above the other noises of city life, letting it drive out that oddly uncomfortable thought, and took a look at your surroundings.  It was surprisingly peaceful up here, and beyond that, very well maintained.

  A few green hedges to your left etched out an area with a long steel and teak table with matching seats, and a grill sat near the hedge line, signaling that there was more to the roof beyond the corner you stood at. There was a sting in the smell of the air that you couldn’t quite place…

  But your attention was instead pulled to your right, to the area of the roof that was more a bit more welcoming to you at the moment. The colors of a garden sang out along the far side, beckoning you to look farther around the wall, unveiling a free standing hammock and a fireplace built into a water feature, a discreet storage cabinet lurking in the corner as politely as it could.

  Ok, this place was fancy.  Like, schmancy, fancy. How had you never come up here before?!

  There was a small side table by the hammock, and after testing the hammock’s swing out for a minute or two, you set your empty can on the little surface and positioned it so that you could take a few steps back with a clear shot to it.

  You straightened your shoulders and shook your hair out of your vision. Ok. Moment of truth, you could do this as a human, on your own. Retreating back to find that delicate web of strings in your mind, you felt the limbs of your magic alight in reaction to your call. You would never get tired of that feeling; as though you had a universe inside you just waiting to stretch out into the world.

  This was a much more difficult spell than what you had been attempting tonight, but in the grand scheme of spells it was small potatoes. It was new, but you squelched the feelings of intimidation and took in a deep, slow breath. You could do this.

  “Spirit Bolt,” you muttered, hoping saying the spell aloud would help you in the same way it had when learning Camouflage and Guidance. Nothing visible happened, but in a corner of your mind that felt similar to looking a bit to the left and up, something glowed briefly.  Excited, you latched onto the feeling, focusing your attention there, ready to draw your magic through that conduit.

  Another deep breath. Another minute or so of concentration. Another straightening of your shoulders.  Cheering on your confidence, you threw your eyes open and stared down the can.

  “Spirit Bolt!”

  Something like a wave in reality shot out from your palm, tinting the space between your fingers blue for no longer than the millisecond it took the shot to reach the can. A ping sounded out as the metal spun into the air, and as it landed with a bounce into the hammock, you stared at it with with a growing grin.

  “I freakin’ did it!!  First try, baby! Look at that!”  You couldn’t help but giggle as you picked your target up from the hammock, observing the sizeable dent placed in it’s side. The spell was meant to focus more on MP freezing, but the knock back was an important attribute that you knew could become much more powerful in preventing an enemy from at least advancing forward. Many times, it had given you just the edge you’d needed to escape a losing a battle.

  Oh wow, but that had really taken it out of you. The excitement was not enough to counter the abrupt weight of tiredness that settled over you, and you realized part of why Demiurge had shortened your practice time: With the greater depletion of your MP, your energy was running low.  Almost like sensing how hungry you were, the answer to your inward question of just how low was immediate; you were very, very low on MP.  Another Spirit Bolt was out of the question. Who knew that playing with spells for hours on end could wear out magical muscles you’d never used before. Go figure.

  Sighing in happiness and forcing your eyes to reopen, you swung your body around and lurched forward.  You might as well just wait for Demiurge in the lobb—

  A small “eep” sounded out as you collided with something at chest level, and a crash at your feet made you jump.  Bouncing backwards from you, a child collided to the ground, landing on their hands and rear with another alarming “eep”.

  You were immediately down on your knees; you had knocked over a kid!  How had you not even known they were there?! “Oh—oh, I’m so sorry, are you oka—”

  “I—I’m fine! I’m s-sorry, I shouldn’t have—!”

  The child looked up at your outstretched hand nervously, clutching a notebook while his face flushed with red.  A camera, lens cracked, sat next to him on the ground, and as two eyes looked up at you from behind blond hair, one green and the other blue, you felt your jaw hang open, your heart fluttering with realization.

  The sweet child you had just bulldozed to the ground was Mare.

 


 

 

 

Chapter Text

🔥 𝑅𝑒𝒶𝓁 𝓁𝒾𝒻𝑒 𝑜𝓃 𝓉𝒽𝑒 𝓈𝑒𝓋𝑒𝓃𝓉𝒽 𝒻𝓁𝑜𝑜𝓇 🔥

𝒸𝒽𝒶𝓅𝓉𝑒𝓇 𝓈𝒾𝓍𝓉𝑒𝑒𝓃


 

 There was another moment of hesitation as you stared wide-eyed at the boy. Slowly he reached forward and took your hand, and the contact jolted you back to reality, and you helped him to his feet as you picked up his poor camera.

  “Uh—are you sure you’re ok? I’m sorry, I’m… a little sleepy.  I’m not paying attention like I should.”

  He dusted the back of the skirt he wore timidly.  “I-I’m ok, really! It was my fault— I sh-should have said hello, I guess.”

  He seemed nervous to look you back in the eyes, so you politely averted yours as well, instead fumbling over his camera.  The poor thing’s lens had gained a crack from the impact, and the casing was scuffed. You felt a pit form in your stomach; you didn’t know a lot about cameras, but this looked like a nice one. An expensive one.  The repair would probably cost a lot if anything inside was messed up, and there was no way the lens could be fixed.

  You looked back at the boy, still clutching his notebook to his chest with one hand while the other modestly pulled at the hem of his skirt, his eyes finally meeting yours with a nervous smile.  Well… there was one way… but could you do it, right now?

  “I’m Mira,” you said in the most gentle friendly tone you could muster.  “I live on the seventh floor. What’s your name?”

  “Oh, it’s— it’s Martin.  But everyone calls me Mar!  ...Well—you don’t have to call me that, if you don’t want to!—it’s a n-nickname, but—”

  Holy cow, this kid was so sweet.  It was just how you would have imagined Mare to act; the dark elf child had been written by Bukubukuchagama to be the more shy of the twins, and that was shining through in the young boy.  You shook your head and held out a hand to signal him to stop his worrying. “It is a pleasure to meet you, Mar. It’s a great name, I really like it!”

  A grin spread on his face, and he blushed. “Oh! Thank you! I like Mira, too.”  He drooped his head, blush deepening. “It’s pretty, like you.”

 Ah, so little Mar was a charmer, was he?  So stinkin’ adorable. You wondered what brought him up to the roof so early—

  Oh… oh, how long had he been watching?  What had he seen?!

  “Um, so…. how long, uh… were you standing there?”  You tried to act nonchalant, but your odd question didn’t help to pull the awkwardness from the air.

  “N-not long!  I just, I heard you yell and… I wanted to… make sure you were ok.”

  Oh dear. Ok, well, he hadn’t seen you use Spirit Bolt then.  And it was very sweet how he was making it sound like your yell had made him worried for your safety rather than your sanity.  You did a mental once-over of yourself: smeared make up if any was even still there, uncombed hair, clothes that were probably oddly stretched out in the neck from your earlier transformation, stumbling like a drunk from tiredness… yeah, you did not look like a person a child would want to run into alone on a rooftop.  You’d probably scared him half to death.

  “What brings you up to the roof this morning?  Got something you’re working on?” You held the camera out to him and gestured to the notebook, hoping to establish some sort of sign that you were not in fact someone to begin a “stranger danger” protocol on.  But instead of taking the camera back, Mar’s eyes popped open and he flipped through his notebook, hurrying past you.

  “Oh—right!  I need to record today’s data!”  The smile on his face relaxed as he zipped over to a small box in the corner you hadn’t noticed before.  It was made of a clear plastic, and as he lifted the lid off it to check its contents, you looked at the plants growing inside.  Through the sides, you could see the dirt below had tinges of orange strips, and you cautiously stepped closer, curious.

  “It’s my science project for next year,” he explained, his voice lilting with contentment.  “I’m showing that there are natural alternatives to super absorbent polymers in farming! Most of what’s used isn’t biodegradable, but orange peels have more than sixty-four percent of polysaccharide! It’s a great alternative, and—”

  Holy cow, this kid knew his stuff. You were more than mildly impressed as Mar explained that this was his science project he was preparing over the summer, but also you were honestly lost by the terms he was using.  You fiddled with the camera, trying your best to act like you were keeping up—

  Oh!  The busted camera!  The camera you busted.  Right. You could probably fix it with Mend; it had worked on the broken plates, why not a cracked piece of glass, and whatever might be wrong inside?  And Mar hadn’t even turned back to you since he had started rambling and checking his plants, writing something in his notebook. This was your chance.

  A stern voice in the back of your mind told you that you were already far too exhausted to do this;  you could just apologize and not take such a risk. But you waved the voice away, in favor of avoiding Mar’s sadness at seeing his camera broken, and placed one hand above it, one below, counting on him looking at his science project for just a few moments longer.

  Your hands glowed with yellow, much less noticeable in the early morning light than it had been in the apartment.  You could almost hear the glass clicking, each millimeter of the crack zipping back into one piece. There was something else, too… deeper, maybe? Or, more microscopic… the added feeling left a ionized taste on your tongue, and you pursed your lips against it.  Whatever it was, you pushed the frown away as Mar turned his pleased eyes back to you, trying not to sway from the added sleepiness that clutched at your mind as the yellow light faded away.

  “Wow I am… seriously, I am very impressed. That’s a lot of work!  And to come up here this early to work on a project in the summer is very impressive.”  Ugh. You said “very impressive” twice. Lame. You were so tired.

  Luckily Mar didn’t seem to mind the lazy praise, and he grinned more brightly as you handed him his camera.  “Thank you! Honestly, I just like napping in the hammock in the mornings; my sister—” He blinked, looking at the camera. He turned it over, checking all its sides.  “I… I thought I broke it when I fell…” He looked up at you as though you had an explanation. You just shrugged, deciding it was a safer move than trusting your words right now.  Excited, he turned it on and fiddled with it, then his eyebrows knit together in confusion. “Oh no! Where did--…” He glanced up at you, then blushed back down to his camera. “...Well, I guess losing custom settings isn’t as bad as it being broken, right?  I, um… thank you!”

  “Yeah, of-- uh…”  You blinked, trying to play it off.  “Uh… for what?”

  “Oh—um, for picking it up for me!  And, for listening to me talk about my project.  And, for helping me up.”

  “Yeah, of course!  It was really great to meet you, Mar.  I…” you rubbed your palm against an eye, “I wish I could hang out more, but I’m meeting a… a friend down in the lobby.  How bout I see you around?”

  “Y-yeah! Yeah, I’d really like that.”  He clutched his notebook under his arm and blushed through a smile yet again.  “Nice to meet you!” You nodded pleasantly back and said goodbye, walking away.  “S-see you around!” he called one last time before you disappeared around the corner. You paused to give one last awkward wave, then walked back inside, called the elevator, and began the descent down to the lobby.

  You almost wished this elevator had cheesy music playing inside it.  Anything to help keep you awake. Wow, just that one spell had really knocked you out.  You knew for sure now, you had a limit. You’d have to be more careful about it in the future.  Hopefully no one would wander through the lobby while you waited there; having another polite conversation while feeling like this sounded awful. Who knew what kind of fool you’d make of yourself?

  You know what?...  You did not want to risk that.  You punched the button for the seventh floor and felt instant relief flood through you.  You’d just lay on the couch until Demiurge texted you. With the phone next to your head, you’d hear it and just run down there to meet him.  A smile crossed your face and a sigh hummed forth that felt like it originated in your very soul. Just a little nap. It’d be fine.

 

  The smallest of snores escaped you as his weight shifted the couch cushion.  Sleep undisturbed, you curled in a little tighter, knees and elbows adjusting to circle his warm hips, a hand going to rest on his thigh.  He released a breath as you moved closer to him, the tension of the past several minutes melting from his frame.

  He had battled fierce enemies.  Trained thousands of minions. Orchestrated impossible strategies.  Proved implausible experimental theories. But never had he encountered a challenge such as you.

  You were beyond both his control and his understanding.

  When you had not replied to his messages or his calls, he had searched the building while restraining a panic.  The roof had been the obvious place to begin, a small boy yipping in surprise at the composed aggression with which Demiurge observed and evacuated the sunlit greenery, and through a haze of shock a sweat-drenched Cole tried to greet the man in a suit who was irritatedly leaping around him over the stairwell railings as the demon sped off to check the next most obvious destination, your apartment.  Neither of them were of any interest to Demiurge. You were not with them, and if he could not find you before he cleared the building, they would be questioned accordingly. Threats against an invisible assailant flooded his mind, and the image of such a cretin’s neck growing longer in his grip gave him a moment’s peace from the worst case scenarios he was mentally strategizing against.

  But no such actions were necessary; here you were safe on your couch, at last having succumbed to sleep, phone as your pillow and jacket your blanket.  Lightly, his finger traced the subtle blush of your cheek, and he thought he spotted a smile twitch across your mouth. Your lips followed the pull, falling slightly apart and allowing your breath to pass between them unhindered.

  Ah, but those lips.  Now that he had experienced their embrace, they were more alluring than ever.  They had been his.  The reminder sent a shiver down his spine, phantoming through a nonexistent tail that had intertwined with yours.  He had at last laid a claim to you, deeper, more significant than one of Guardian to Supreme Being. That original bond was unbreakable.  Unseverable. The devotion of it was a raging power that nothing could ever dissuade from. But this bond…

  He watched your chest rise with a slow breath, and listened as it curled from your mouth.  Sometimes, things more substantial were gentler in their power.

  He would let you rest.  There was time before you both were expected at the office, and every moment you slumbered was another moment his soul could linger in your peace.  However, an hour’s sleep would not be enough to stave off the exhaustion your had brought upon yourself. Likely, you had expended more of your energy on the rooftop, and a low MP could amount to as much as a single night’s sleep, which you had already missed.  Cautious not to wake you, he ran a hand down your hair, tucking it back behind your ear. He could give you his Ring of Sustenance, and it could possibly aid in your MP recovery, but…

  His thumb circled on your earlobe, index finger cradling it’s back.  To do that, he would have to pierce it through your unmarred ear, and he did not have such an act in him without an express need or order.

  He had not given much thought to your lack of piercings before; as Lady Zoba, your ears had been lined with gold, hidden beneath your shifting hair, but as Lady Mira not a single hole graced their edges.  Perhaps he could present the idea of a solitary piercing, purely to possess his ring when it suited you.

  For now, he could guide you to the office once it was time and allow for you to rest in the room he had taken to house his work, until Mr. Angah arrived and completed his other morning business.  After such, he would meet with Demiurge and Albedo together, along with you. The man who echoed the great guildmaster Lord Momonga would hear the counsel of his two most trusted advisors. He would hear the preparations they had made for the future Demiurge suspected him of formulating.

  Then, Demiurge could begin to put his own plans into motion.

 


 

 

 

Chapter Text

🔥 𝑅𝑒𝒶𝓁 𝓁𝒾𝒻𝑒 𝑜𝓃 𝓉𝒽𝑒 𝓈𝑒𝓋𝑒𝓃𝓉𝒽 𝒻𝓁𝑜𝑜𝓇 🔥

𝕔𝕙𝕒𝕡𝕥𝕖𝕣 𝕤𝕖𝕧𝕖𝕟𝕥𝕖𝕖𝕟


 

  There was a hum in your ear, shifting and sturdy, as something moved you from your slumber.  The new presence around your back and legs was warm, and you tucked into where it gathered you as it adjusted you to meld with the change.

  Most of your mind did not wish to be pulled from its rest, but a small part still turned the alteration over in curiosity, and it occured to you like a match being lit; this was Demiurge’s embrace.  The realization was welcomed. Even if this development in the course of your nap caused it to end, his arms around you had been proven to bring comfort, and you trusted him to be taking you where you needed to go.

  At some point you realized you were on your feet, walking along with him into an office just as sleepy as you.  A few figures danced just outside your attention but none interacted with you, and it was with great relief that you once again found your body collapsing into a soft surface and a warm blanket covering your limbs.  You sensed more than saw him kneel down to brush your hair from your face.

  “I will return before you need concern yourself with waking, Lady Mira,” he crooned into your exposed ear.  It tickled a bit and you shifted your head into it with an unconscious grin. You felt his hand slide down the curve of your ear, pausing at it’s base.  He spoke something more, but you were already fading. You gave a vaguely affirmative noise, smiling a bit more purposely, and forced your eyes open to see his blue gazing back at you, a dream prettier than anything behind your lids could fathom.  He spoke again.

  “Is that something you would prefer now, my Lady?”

  What was he asking?  Was he still talking about sleep?  You nodded slowly, careful not to disturb his hand from the side of your head; the longer it’s radiant heat rested there, the better in your opinion.  Your eyelids reclaimed your vision, and he said something more as you drifted back into rest.

  —He… did he just pinch your ear?

  Your lips twitched. His hand fled down to your cheek as you frowned, but his touch banished your confusion, his warmth once again occupying you.  It felt so nice to have him touch you…

  “Thank you,” you mumbled, sleep slurring the words.  You wondered if he were casting some spell; your whole body felt a bit warmer now, energy spreading through you.  The need for sleep was still not gone, but it was graciously diminished, and you found it a bit easier to understand him as he said something more.

  “Thank you for allowing this, my Lady.”  You wrinkled your nose in a smile, opening your eyes to look at him once more.  He was pulling that silly card about your “supremity” again, wasn’t he? Ridiculous, but you were too tired to argue.

  He stood and walked to a door, and as your eyes drifted shut you heard it click closed behind him.  The serenity of the quiet that followed settled like a second blanket, and as you turned to burrow your face into the back of the couch, the land of sleep claimed you once again.



  “... I want it taken care of. NOW.”

  The sudden bark jolted you awake. Someone was right behind you, a voice you did not recognize, and you froze as the threatening tone reverberated.

  “Hmm.  Perhaps…”  These words came as mere mutters, and you tried to orient yourself in a panic.  Where were you?? Why was it so dark? This was far too comfortable to be your couch…

  Wait; Demiurge has placed you here.  You were… in an office. That’s right, you had been exhausted after using too many spells and…

  “Make sure they understand why it’s foolish to test me.  I want it taken care of.   NOW .  ….Yes, better…”

  You froze again as the voice boomed forth.  Who was that? Maybe they didn’t know you were here?  You tried to control your breathing, afraid the slightest sign could give you away.  Carefully, praying to whoever might be listening, you twisted your torso with your head, trying to peek at the figure.

  He was huge.  Facing away from you, his white hair shone in the dark room, cut into a classy but trendy business style.  His broad shoulders were proportionate to his height, which must have been over six and a half feet, and they were covered by an immaculate dark grey american suit.  One hand raised, you could see he was holding a small notebook, the scribbled handwriting impossible to make out in the low light. He was standing in front of a mirror which hung on the wall, and as his eyes traced across the pages you could see in the reflection that they could more readily be called absent of color than called blue.

  But as those eyes flicked over and connected with yours, you could have sworn they flashed a vivid red.

  Both unmoving, you felt your chest tighten as he stared back at you. His impossibly white face seemed to grow even whiter as he registered you on the couch, previously camouflaged by your blanket and the dark.  You took in a breath to squeak forth a hello.

  The door opened.  “Sir! I was just on my way to meet you.”  That sounded like Alanna! Of course, Demiurge’s work was her work as well.  But… the only person she would likely be calling “sir” was…

  Oh no.

  The little notebook snapped shut at the opening of the door and disappeared into a pocket, and the man turned with a much more composed expression to face the woman who had pushed her way into the room past her companion in red.  Demiurge, slightly annoyed, closed the door behind him as you sat up and tried to seem as awake as possible.

  “I was looking to speak with you, Demiurge.  My apologies, I did not realize you had a guest.”

  “Yes; I suggested Mira catch up on her rest before we began today.  She was up quite late dealing with some developments.” Demiurge looked you over and you smiled brightly back, adrenaline fueling the facade of wakefulness.

  The man who you had painfully deduced was Mr. Angah himself, CEO of Bazar Peak, turned to you.  “Ah! Then you must be the woman I’ve heard so much about. A pleasure to meet you, Mira. I hope I didn’t disturb your sleep.”

  There was a slight edge to his voice, and while Alanna was focused on her employer, Demiurge was still watching you as well, waiting for your reply.

  “N-no, of course not,” you said kindly.  “Don’t worry about it, you didn’t at all.  I was already up.”

  “I see.  Well.” The edge wasn’t gone from his voice, despite your assurance he hadn’t caused any issue.  You really hoped you hadn’t blown a chance at a good first impression.

  Also, he had heard about you already? Just what had Demiurge and/or Alanna been telling him?!  How were you expected to act, here?

  Heart pumping hard enough to run a car engine, you sat up even straighter as Mr. Angah continued.

  “Since we are all present, perhaps we can discuss the proposal you wished to present to me today,” he said, gesturing for the other two to take a seat. They obliged, Demiurge sitting next to you on the couch as Alanna moved to one of the two armchairs opposite, and finally Mr. Angah claiming the remaining seat.

  The room was still oddly dark, and the meeting felt like an ominous gathering of a secret society of which you had not yet begun your induction.  Demiurge was dressed in his red suit, the over-large shirt collar making a statement as he smiled self-assuredly, a blue folder twisting forward from his hands to the CEO, his weight shifting towards you as he did.  Alanna crossed one leg over the other, her purple pencil skirt following to hug her shape in contrast to the loose ruffled white blouse she wore. She was not looking at you, instead eyes shifting blankly from the file to Mr. Angah.

  Large hands took the file and began to leaf through it as Demiurge spoke.  “I’ve compiled for your convenience a list of attributes and accomplishments; as you’ll see, Mira has diversified her experience quite well.”

  Your name hit you like a punch to the gut.

  That giant file, the one Mr. Angah was browsing through, was about you?  You glanced to Demiurge, trying to keep the fear off your face. Where did he even find all of that?!

  It was cool, fine.  No problem. Everything would be fine.  It wasn’t like there’d be anything embarrassing in there like—

  “Animation Club Treasurer?”  Mr. Angah didn’t look up as he lifted a photocopied sheet from the bulk, the back of which held a picture of the club that had been placed in your high school yearbook.

  You just had to think it, didn’t you?

  “Yeah… I… formed the club with a friend,” you said, hoping it wasn’t obvious that you were fighting to make your jaw move.  Why did he have to ask about that one? You tried not to shift in your seat; it was better to be upfront about it, you decided.  “We were overbooked high school kids and used the club to get some movie time with friends, but since we were a small group, everyone had an assignment. I never actually touched the money—”

  “But according to your club’s advisor, you did organize the schedule, legitimize the need of the club to parents, and were responsible for handing off the torch properly to assure it’s continuance as a club to this day,” he interrupted, his voice lightened with what seemed to be approval.  He turned a few more papers, the expression increasing on his face. “Diversified indeed. A hard worker, team player, self-motivated—what are you proposing here, Demiurge?”

  Alanna spoke up.  “Mira and I work well together.  Having her act as an assistant to me could greatly increase not only our productivity, but she would be helpful in the organization and absorption of resources.”

  “Alanna is correct in this,” Demiurge agreed.  “However, I believe this is putting too little use to such a valuable asset.”

  You turned slowly to stare at Demiurge.  What was he doing?! You thought he was going to tone down the approach!  He had said he was going to take that you were “divinely generous” into account!

  “Sir, Demiurge is obviously—”

  “You will see my proposal at the close of the file,” Demiurge continued, ignoring Alanna’s interruption.  “This company is functioning well under your and Miss Bordeaux’s leadership. It is moving forward at a spectacular pace, taking leaps and strides that others in its line of business can only dream of.  However, this in and of itself is a deadly trait to an organization that disects others for it’s gain.” He leaned forward, tenting his fingers together and tilting them to point toward the file. “You require someone to lend your company a beating heart.  Someone near the head to make choices that involve you in decisions painting a positive display of your involvement in society. Mira is exactly that.”

  You looked from him to Alanna to Mr. Angah and back again to him, trying to keep a neutral expression.  In hindsight, you should have expected something like this from Demiurge. You really should have.

  Mr. Angah hummed, a hand over his chin as he turned to the last page.  “A chair head, then? Of an outreach committee? An interesting idea. But I don’t see much managerial experience here.  Do you think you could handle conducting such a program?”

  He was talking to you.  You whipped your head back to him, hand clenching to an anxious fist in your lap.  Could you do something like that?! Was Demiurge suggesting you run a team to make charitable contributions and such, show the company in a good light?  It did sound like a job you’d be proud to call yours, but… it was a good question. Was such a thing something you could really do, something you could give the care it deserved?

  You looked at your hands for a moment, collecting your courage.  You had done hard things with no experience before, like starting a club at fifteen, or running a costume shop on your own after the owner hired you and disappeared, or putting together raid schedules for a rotating busy guild.  And an opportunity like this would not come around again. Nodding, you looked up.

  “I think, given a little practice, anyone can pull anything off.  I’m willing to prove to you I can have it taken care of.”

  Something flashed across Mr. Angah’s face.  “Ah. Yes.” He cleared his throat. “I’m inclined to accept the proposal.  However, if I may borrow your office, Demiurge, I would like to speak to Mira in private for a moment.”

  Demiurge looked to you.

  “I’m fine with that,” you smiled, hardly over a whisper, nodding to keep the sudden dread from your posture.

  He frowned, but nodded as well as he stood.  “I shall wait at the door,” he said, implying courtesy but watching you with his eyes, making it clear all you need do was call for him.

  Alanna scoffed.  “Mr. Angah, please, consider this.  I do believe Mira can be--”

  “Thank you, Alanna, but I am not asking for your opinion at this time,” the pale man nearly growled.  “I will meet you in my office to hear your report shortly.”

  Alanna pouted, the irritation clear in her slow blink.  “Of course, sir. I’ll wait for you there.”

  They both exited, and the soft click of the latch closing echoed in the room.

  The silence was harsh as he stood and walked over to Demiurge’s desk, standing behind it and placing his hands on the polished surface.  He removed the notebook from his pocket, placing it on the desk and staring down at it’s cover as though he were observing a dark artifact of his own making.  You rose awkwardly from your seat, going to stand on your side of the wooden barrier.

  “I, um… I really am pleased to meet y--”

  “Look.”  He sounded tired.  “This is a very stressful position to take.”

  Was he still unconvinced you could handle it?  You shifted your weight to the other foot, trying to keep your back straight as your shoulders fell forward.  “I understand that.”

  “It’s hard to keep the face everyone expects.”

  “...Ok…”

  “The road that led here has been long, and I’m honestly not sure how it all happened, but I really am doing my best to keep everything running smoothly.”

  ...Wait, he wasn’t actually talking about you, was he?

  “I heard loud and clear your message in speaking of ‘practice’.  And you do seem capable enough to not hurt the company. So please, just…”  He looked up at you, and it was as though a mask had dropped to reveal the true actor underneath.  His grin was painful, as though he’d just been caught with his hand in the cookie jar while stealing for a sibling.  A hand went to the book, and he covered it like a shameful image.

  “Please do not tell anyone I’m not really a terrifying, all-knowing CEO like they want to believe I am.”

 


 

 

Chapter Text

 🔥 𝑅𝑒𝒶𝓁 𝓁𝒾𝒻𝑒 𝑜𝓃 𝓉𝒽𝑒 𝓈𝑒𝓋𝑒𝓃𝓉𝒽 𝒻𝓁𝑜𝑜𝓇 🔥

𝒸𝒽𝒶𝓅𝓉𝑒𝓇 𝑒𝒾𝑔𝒽𝓉𝑒𝑒𝓃


 

   The room was cold with the stiffness of silence.  He was waiting for your reaction, but all you had for him was a stunned stare.  His words didn’t make sense. You’d watched him handle both Demiurge and Alanna moments ago, and he had done it with the grace and command of someone who was completely confident in their abilities.  You let a bit of a smile creep onto your face, testing to see if he’d react back. This had to be a joke, one that you just hadn’t been let in on yet.

  “What do you… I don’t think I quite understand.”

  Mr. Angah’s shameful grin faded slightly into dubious disbelief.  “I have a grasp of how a friend of Demiurge, and anyone with the ability to impress Alanna, might perceive such a piece of information.  She did inform me of your initial negotiations, and I’ve had the pleasure of seeing Demiurge at work already with some of our foreign partners to understand his methods.  Neither are easy to impress, and both recognize value when they see it. Contesting that, it is true I’m not as they see me, perhaps. A blind spot they are fortunately unaware of.  But while they have made such an oversight, I still am no fool. And I am not to be taken lightly. I do have a compromise in mind to offer you, in exchange for your confidentiality.”

  You balked at the white-haired man.  What kind of person exactly did he think you were?  What impression had those two been giving?!

  “I think there’s been a misunderstanding.”  Your voice shook slightly and you paused to steady it, returning to your smile to cover the break.  “I’m not looking to be bought off, that’s not who I am.”

  He nodded, as though he had expected such a reply.  “No, what I know of your priorities would suggest otherwise.  I had a different arrangement in mind.” He sat in Demiurge’s chair, the frame of the desk around him slightly dwarfed by his size, like a teacher commandeering a high schooler’s desk; not an inconceivable arrangement, but out of place in a way that betrayed your perception.  “Alanna would have you be a supplementary aid to bolster progression, while Demiurge would put you in a place that requires constant supervision both from and of you. In between these, I believe I can give you the best of each circumstance. It would give you freedom as well as the power to invoke change.”  He slipped the book back into his pocket, eyes glinting red again as they flicked over to you. “I, then, would have the added benefit of little opportunity for you to divulge private information amongst my staff. How does that sound to you?”

  This was getting out of hand.  No, this got out of hand a long time ago.   A lock of hair slipped in front of your face as you shook your head, and you went to tuck it away.  “Mr. Angah, I don’t think—”

  Your finger grazed something hard, and you froze.   A thumb and finger grasped onto the object, and you felt a tug on your lungs as the motion tugged your ear.

  No way.

  No way.

  Your ear was pierced?!

  Your mind raced as Mr. Angah continued speaking, attention split between the two confusing happenings.

  “--and therefore, not require a committee while still instituting a direction to be taken.  With this in mind, you need only make face as often as he does; a few times a week for meetings and to organize with necessary staff.  Otherwise, your work will pertain to interactions outside this office.”

  “Mmm.  Yes?” You struggled to stay in the conversation, hand stuck to the side of your face as you forced your eyes to focus back to him while your mind continued to balk at the circumstances.

  Ear.  Ear was pierced.

  Misconception becoming a solidified job, that was also happening, ok.

  “Then we’re in agreement?  I’ll have the NDA written up for you to sign.  Have it in by the end of the day and we’ll consider you hired, full package, starting now.”

  Oh, shoot, you missed half that explanation.  What were you doing? What did you need to do?  “Yeah, just… I’m sure Demiurge will want a recap from you.  On all that. Um. Yeah! And I… yup. I will have that to you.”

  Mr.  Angah paused, taking in your stuttered response.  “I’m glad to hear it. You seem to be a lovely person, and it would be a shame to waste your potential and my time by sending my people to… clean up your mess.”

  Something about his tone made you wish your magic wasn’t so depleted.

  “Uh, thank you,” you tried to laugh, “I’ll keep out of trouble.  I’d hate to get off on the wrong foot with your legal team.”

  “Yes.  Them as well.”

  You felt your breath hitch in your throat.  Was that a…? No. No, he wouldn’t…

  This was Momonga’s double, after all.  He would never threaten you like that. He was kind, understanding, open to all his guildmates, ready to aid them in their troubles and see to their success.

  But… Momonga also had another reputation.  He was not only feared in PvP, he was the leader of the most evil guild in all of Yggdrassil, according to practically everyone who knew of it.  A bastion of dirty deeds and horrid grotesques, it’s creations unwelcomed by the rest of the players of the game. He led a guild willing to do anything to further its goals and protect itself.  To be fair, most guilds held to this dogma, but not all were dread as much as Ainz Ooal Gown. Any outsider was considered a threat, or at best a tool.

  And to Mr. Angah, you were an outsider.

  The realization pulled your heart from it’s torn frenzy solidly back to a harsh present.  You’d seen what Momonga did to those who threatened his friends, or to those who were in the guild’s way.  With that in mind, you understood: You were experiencing his polite warnings. Unless you wanted to end up like those who tried to cross your guild leader, you needed to regain some control of your situation.  Now.

  “...Oh.  Um, I see.  That… is very helpful know, thank you.”  You squared up your shoulders. Confident thoughts, think confident thoughts.  Show him you weren’t useless. If you wanted a place here, you’d need to prove you weren’t just going to mooch off a fortuitous happenstance.  “Demiurge is right; you do need someone to be this company’s moral compass.”

  Wait—Did you really just say that?!  You meant to prove you were beneficial, not challenge him!  That sounded like you were berating him for threatening you.  His lips pulled back as though in a flinch, but his eyes narrowed at your cut.  You pressed on, hoping your words would take you somewhere better than where you’d gone.  Your mind started whirring, sifting through your thoughts and narrowing them down by hopeful instinct.  You had to succeed in this conversation. Demiurge was expecting you to succeed.

  “You keep a strong face for your employees, but you do need someone else to humanize the company as a whole for the public.  I came here to work, not to be hired as a precaution, and I plan on doing that. I’ll start with your PR people. And then, see what I can do with your social media team, and we’ll have a direction to make sure I’m informed and that we take actions that benefit the company.  That’ll be my goal. I didn’t come here with the intention to do anything other than be helpful. And I will be.” You took a deep breath, smiling hopefully. “You can trust me to keep a secret. Who knows… maybe it’ll not be such a bad thing to have someone help with that, too.”

  Red eyes remained narrowed, scanning your soul for a sign of weakness that you prayed he couldn’t see.  You’d given him a plan of action and reaffirmed that you weren’t a threat. Hopefully, he believed that.  You remembered the instances where Momonga allowed a player opposite him to slink off with gratitude, battle avoided, as you stood at his side with your other guild mates.  You wished you were at his side now.

  Unexpectedly, the CEO dropped his harsh scrutiny.  He laughed, and you felt a knot in you chest loosen just a bit.

  “Well!  We’ll see if that proves true.  You seem to have the personality this workplace requires, as well as the intelligence to understand what you’re facing.  Against my better judgement… we might just get along, Mira.” He stood and began to walk for the door, gesturing for you to follow.  “Let’s make our next discussion a lunch meeting; see my secretary before you leave today.”

   “Uh— sure!  I’ll… I look forward to it.”  You were startled by the sudden change of tune.  A flame of hope sparked. Maybe it wasn’t too much to wish for the best.  Maybe one day you could be at his side again, a worthy addition to the “guild” of Bazar Peak.

  Maybe the allusion to his “people” was you reading too much into the situation.

  “Excellent.”  He opened the door, holding it wide and stepping to the side for you to walk through first.  His eyes followed as you obliged. “I’m sure we can come to know each other better during your time here.”

  You smiled as kindly as you could, relief flooding through you as you looked out to see Demiurge nearby, just as he’d promised.  As you emerged, he made a note on a paper and handed it back to the office worker next to him, who ran off to do whatever it was they’d been assigned.  His eyes danced between you and Mr. Angah, and he cleared his throat as he approached.

  “Miss Bordeaux requested I inform you she already handled the meeting with the eastern branch and is ready to debrief you.”  He took in a breath and smiled. “Might I assume you have come to a favorable decision?”

  “I believe so; Mira will be acting as our Accountability Consultant.  If you wouldn’t mind guiding her to the legal department after showing her around, and then to my secretary.  I’ll have the appropriate papers ready there for you to sign,” he added to you.

  Demiurge’s smile didn’t falter.  “I see… As a consultant?”

  You jumped in, smiling brightly at the tall white-haired man to show Demiurge everything was fine.  “We agreed it’s the best fit for what we want. I’m happy with it.”

  At that he nodded, expression still unchanged.  “Very well.”

  The pale CEO returned your happy grin and retreated to his office with a quick farewell, and Demiurge began to give you a tour of the floor.  It was huge, and you were shocked to learn several other floors belonged to Bazar Peak as well. It seemed to be an umbrella company for several others, organizations that branched into unexpectedly diverse fields.  You started to wonder just what you had gotten yourself into.

  Upon reaching the legal department, you were handed several papers to sign by a woman who seemed a bit too interested in asking your name and how you came to be here.  Demiurge caught on. He looked over the papers with extra care before you signed.

  “Hmm.”  He tapped a finger on a section, then handed you the NDA hesitantly.  “An interesting addition. And specification.”

  You glanced at the area he’d touched.  It mentioned not divulging the personal information of employees or management of Bazar Peak within or without the company.  The woman who’d handed you the stack tried and failed to look disinterested.

  “Yeah, I… will be working closely with some people and… you know.  It’d be bad to be a gossip.”

  “Of course,” the woman agreed.  Halfway through your signature, she added, “And you are the… accountability, consultant?”

  Oh.  Yeah, that explanation didn’t jive with someone who should possibly be exposing and correcting secrets.  You shrugged. “Personal lives are different than company matters, right? As long as they don’t cross, this form’s for everyone’s benefit.”

  “As I’m sure you’ll agree, Selena,” Demiurge added, in a tone that was far too smooth to carry only one meaning.  The legal assistant frowned, shifting nervously til you handed her back the completed paperwork. She thanked you, informing you copies would be sent to your email, and hurried off.

  “Thank you, but… what was that about?” you asked as Demiurge led you towards the side of the floor where Mr. Angah’s secretary sat.

  “Humans generally have secret lives, I’ve found.  Implying hers could easily be jeopardized is fair play against someone anxious to put their nose where it doesn’t belong.”

  You looked at the man before you and imagined diamond eyes glinting in the dim office light, remembered the feeling of your hands as they shone with energy.  His point was valid.

  Speaking of secrets… or was it, in your case, all just poor communication?  Your hand raised to the earring, the tip of your fingers tracing the curve from the front of your ear to the back, carefully testing the tender point at which it pierced your skin.  It was a physical manifestation of the continued surprises Demiurge had brought into your life. You had a strong suspicion as to what it was as you looked to his ear, staring at the empty space you had noticed along his tour.  On the long list of things to clear up, it was probably the first you should address.

  But as you observed him, your concern shifted.  Demiurge seemed a bit on edge, a slight downturn to his lips displaying the idea something was troubling him.  You felt bad for not noticing earlier; now that you were almost done here, your stress was fading and you realized his shoulders weren’t pulled quite as proudly as they normally were.  Something was wrong.

  “You ok?” you asked quietly, leaning your head forward to catch his eye.  His shoulders straightened quickly as he corrected his lips to a smile.

  “Of course.  I am delighted you came away from your conversation with an arrangement that pleases you.”

  You waited, looking at him.

  He glanced back over, hands collecting behind his back.  “... I am however curious as to why you decided upon such a position.  While it is prestigious, it sits outside the corporation, and the opportunity for growth to a greater title is lessened considerably.”

  “Well...there are reasons.”  You bit your lip. You didn’t like the idea that you had to keep this a secret even from Demiurge; you’d already proven you weren’t great at lying to him, and besides that… you didn’t really want to lie to him.  You turned away, hiding a blush at the conflicting thoughts.

  Demiurge took in a breath, held it for a moment.  “Would those reasons possibly coincide with the additional clause in your non-disclosure agreement?”

  Did Demiurge suspect the secret you’d been asked to keep?  Was he not as fooled as Mr. Angah thought he was? If so… maybe this wouldn’t be so bad after all.  Maybe you could talk about it in private, without guilt. You looked back and forth at his eyes, trying to deduce what he knew.

  “... They might.”

  Demiurge turned from you, and for a moment you thought his shoulders hunched in the action, but then you realized he was facing a desk and gesturing at the woman sitting behind it.  “This is Mr. Angah’s secretary, Yvonne. Yvonne, you have the pleasure of meeting Mira, our new Accountability Consultant.”

  You looked at the woman seated behind the desktop computer, and she regarded you in return over her glasses.  “Ah, yes.” She clicked at her computer, then leaned her head as though to address you without removing her eyes from the screen.  “I can schedule the lunch for Tuesday at one? Mr. Angah also requested I ask if you prefer Japanese cuisine or Mediterranean.”

  “Uh—that’s very considerate.  Whichever he likes more is good for me.”  She seemed familiar, with her bun hairstyle and serious expression.  A lot of people here did, actually, thinking back on the woman from legal.

  You finalized the details and got the address of the restaurant, Demiurge oddly silent until you both left the office and got to the elevator.

  You reached for your ear again.  Maybe now?...

  But Demiurge spoke first.  “You’re having lunch with him.”

  The statement surprised you.  It was phrased flatly, but there was a question within it.  “Yeah… he wanted to talk things over again. It’s a business meeting, I guess he’s pretty busy otherwise—”

 “It is, then, only a meeting?  Nothing more, my Lady?”

  Oh dear; he’d pulled out his title for you.  Something was really upsetting him. Why did his tone sound so desperate?  What was he worried about?

  “What else could it be?”  You looked to him, cocking your head to the side.  His hands remained clasped behind his back, and the elevator paused in its decent, opening its doors to allow two men to join you on your way to the ground floor.  Several times you tried to catch Demiurge’s eye, but there would be no more truly private moments until you reached the apartment, between the cab ride home and the busy streets.  Your list of questions, and whatever concerns were now clouding his mind, would have to wait until then.

  You rode downward together in silence.

 




 

Chapter Text

🔥 𝑅𝑒𝒶𝓁 𝓁𝒾𝒻𝑒 𝑜𝓃 𝓉𝒽𝑒 𝓈𝑒𝓋𝑒𝓃𝓉𝒽 𝒻𝓁𝑜𝑜𝓇 🔥

𝒸𝒽𝒶𝓅𝓉𝑒𝓇 𝓃𝒾𝓃𝑒𝓉𝑒𝑒𝓃


 

  Demiurge bid you farewell as you stepped off at the seventh floor, the tension in the air seeming to spill out with you as you reluctantly exited.  Pan had texted and was awaiting him with sensitive documents and matters to be addressed, matters that apparently could not wait another hour. You’d tried to bring up what might be on his mind as you ascended the floors to your apartment, but hadn’t had any luck; Demiurge was tight-lipped and coyly dismissive on the topic of his feelings.  Now, watching the doors close as he bowed his head to you and you curtsied back with an imaginary skirt, trying to make him smile and slightly succeeding, you hoped he would be alright.

  This was all overwhelming enough for you, and you were familiar with your surroundings.  Demiurge’s only real point of reference was you, and let’s face it, you weren’t exactly like you had been in Yggdrasil.  This world had different rules, different expectations, and society held no ready-made place for an arch devil to incorporate himself a new life within it.

  And yet, he was already doing so much.   Had done so much.  And what was it he’d said yesterday about all that work?

   “Every action I take has your happiness and safety planted as its core.”

  Demiurge was working his tail off.  …Literally, actually. He’d taught you magic, showered you with praise, taken you to an amazing restaurant, leapt across rooftops to guarantee your safety, found—no, created—an ideal job for you…  And he was doing it to serve you, trying to fulfill the role he viewed himself as having at your side in this world.

  Your hand hesitated over the doorknob to your apartment, key turned in its lock.  What had you done for him since he arrived? Bought him a few basic necessities, given him a pain-inducing ring, caused him no end of stress and worry.  You were the reason he was here in the first place, and you’d done nothing to actually aid him in that drastic change. Your focus hadn’t been on him, actually him as a living being, but rather the fact that he existed and the effect that had on your own life.  He’d told you himself; that first night, all night long, he had to processes his strange new circumstance.  And then after his self-contemplation, he’d fully shifted his focus to helping you.

  It was far past time for you to shift your focus as well.

  First on the docket: Your household chores hadn’t been attended to in far too long, but the worst of it all was the lack of produce in your kitchen.  You felt the extra weight on your earlobe; Demiurge would need a meal sooner rather than later, and you could make sure it was a sufficient one. No, you would make sure it was an excellent one.  After that, you could tidy the second bedroom and make sure he had a space to call his own. There might not be much of that available, but better use could definitely be made of what you had. A few extra boxes in your own room was no inconvenience, and you could both feel more comfortable once he was able to truly settle in.

  Flicking the key back over, you pulled it from the lock and opened your messaging app, pleased with your plan.

  “I’m headed out, but I’ll be back soon!”

  The reply was almost instant.

  “I will accompany you; Pan can wait.”

  You hesitated.  You’d rather not interrupt whatever work there was to be done, or make things more complicated for Pan than they needed to be.  The urgency in his request had been apparent, as though things were running on a timetable. And if you were going to be keeping secrets, you might as well practice with something simple, like keeping a surprise hidden for an hour or so.

  “No, go help Pan, I’ll be fine!  I’ll text you when I’m done. I can handle shopping on my own, promise! ;)”

  This time a few seconds passed before the reply came.

  “I will have Pan make sure your account is burdened enough that should you desire anything on your wanderings, you may attain it.  As always, I will be at your side in a moment if you require me. Please do not hesitate to call for any reason.”

  You rolled your eyes at the text, a smirk finding its way onto your lips.  So formal! And almost clingy. Of course, you didn’t really blame him. Like you’d just pointed out, you were his only reliable piece of familiarity in this world.  If the roles were reversed, you’d be clingy too, ready to stick to whatever bit of comfort you could find.

  ...You should go to the specialty butcher for some prime cuts, rather that just grabbing something at the grocery store.  He deserved it.

  After sending him another text reassuring you wouldn’t be long, you opened an app to make a list, getting a bit excited.  Let’s see, you could do a steak tartar, that seemed like a dish he might enjoy, or maybe lamb, and some roasted asparagus might be good… some red wine, as well…

 

  A muscle in Demiurge’s jaw twitched as he took a steadying breath through his nose, reading the message again.  The door to Pan’s apartment sat before him untouched, and Demiurge would have preferred to leave it as such. He tried once again.

  “If your outing is to be swift, I s”

  The phone in his hand emitted a quiet, high pitched screech and the display elongated like a sideshow mirror, then flickered out to black.  His other hand flew from behind his back to aid in pressing the few available buttons, a growl forming in his throat as though to warn the device that it had just made a grave mistake in denying him this communication.  A message appeared in blocky green on the screen.

  “Comrade, the lady has declared she is quite capable of completing her errands by virtue of her own abilities!  Come, our work awaits!!”

  A squeaking of glass warned Demiurge his grip was perhaps growing a bit too tight around the phone.  Numerous locks snapped open, the door they restrained swinging at a swift but mechanical rate, signaling him to enter to meet with the man inside.  Oh, Demiurge would meet with him alright, his eyes narrowing at the long hallway.

  The door to the room the energetic man generally occupied was open, and Demiurge slipped inside silently, walking up to the swivel chair like a shadow growing large against a light.  Pan was dressed in a black button up shirt with a white jacket, the medals on his chest like jewels against a velvet backdrop. The grey hat matched the ensemble quite well, with slacks of the same color adorning his legs and shoes colored to match the gold ribbon on the headwear.

  “By your dress,” Demiurge crooned, “I assume you understand the attitude your actions have brought me to.”

  Unphased, Pan whipped around in his chair, legs crossing and hand going to a hip as he leaned on the opposite armrest, winking up at the devil.

  “Ah, Demiurge!  My friend, you are going to be quite elated at the furtherance in your goals I have toiled to bring to you!”  A leg moved, and suddenly he was standing atop his seat to tower over Demiurge, swivel chair twisting slightly to the side and beginning a slow carousel for the hacker.  “I have your additional papers prepared directly over here—ja!” He picked a packet up off a shelf, leaning over dangerously to acquire it from its perch, the rotation speed increased by his action as he slipped down from the ride to present the prize to Demiurge.  “And my ongoing projects are advancing, of course, just as one would expect: Magnificently. There is a matter to attend to, however, that—...er….”

  Demiurge had not taken the packet, instead reaching forward to carefully straighten the medals pinned to the man’s chest.  “An impressive collection. One would assume the man behind such an array must be impressive as well.”

  “Well I am qu—!”

  “—A being with a reputation like yours, one would also assume, would recognize when a course of action could be favorable.  Or, conversely… unwise.” Demiurge tilted the final askew badge, patting it once to secure its place at the end of the upper line.

  Pan hummed in agreeance after clearing his throat, using his free hand to secure his hat on his head and stubbornly not breaking eye contact with Demiurge as the suited man raised his searing sight from the metal bouquet of honor.  “J-ja… I am certain I do.” He continued to hold out the packet. Demiurge ignored it.

  “Then we are in agreeance.  If you violate Mira’s privacy again, I will be sure to return the favor.  Is that understood?”

  “Good sir, you do not seem to understand what it is you have asked me to do.”  Pan raised his eyebrows, hand flinging over his heart. “To protect your fair maiden, I must intrude upon her privacy!  It is the world we live in!”

  “Her doings with me, specifically, are none of your concern.  You will never again intrude upon our conversations. What is your concern, is her safety, her whereabouts, and the amount of zeros at the end of her bank account.”  Demiurge’s hands gathered behind his back, his head tilting to the side. “Mira likes you. I would hate to end such a favorable partnership, especially one she approves of.  But if this arrangement does not reach the requirements I have of it, you won’t be leaving me with much of a choice.”

  “Ah, mein Freund… I believe you are making a mistake in restraining me with such a request.”  He sighed, the action inflating and depressing his entire upper body. “But! I will oblige. Für die Dame, you have my word!”  Pan burst into a smile and bowed, his top hat nearly colliding with Demiurge as he whisked it off.  Peeking up from it, he added, “...so, she does like me, ja?”

  Demiurge snatched the packet.  “Show me what your concerns are with your relatively simple assignments, Mister Darsteller.  And restore my phone.”

 

 

  The next ninety minutes passed amidst comparably amicable talk of numbers and coercion's and stratagem, alongside business acumen and worldly deceptions the likes of which the most unsensible conspiracy theorists would shake their heads at.  They were finishing the last of the items on Pan’s list, when the bald man glanced over from his computer screen to to chuckle, seeing his guest glance at and repocket his phone.

  “You need not concern yourself, Demiurge.  She is safe and returning to you.” He twisted a screen to be more easily seen from the suited man’s position, and a blue dot blinked as it found it’s center on a street along a map.

  Demiurge looked up at the screen over his glasses and scoffed, twirling the pen he held over a paper from the freshly opened packet and clicking it closed before setting it down.  “Seems you are doing your job correctly after all. Congratulations.”

  “You are quite welcome!  How could I ignore the concern in the eyes of mein Freund?”  Pan shoved off with his feet, launching to the other end of the room to grab a thumb drive and return halfway across the desk, plugging it into one of many usb port options.  Demiurge stood and walked over to view his project of the minute. It appeared to be the face of a woman in a crowd, at some sort of rally.

  “As your proclaimed concerned friend… may I ask what sort of spiritless mutilation this might be?”

  Pan turned offendedly to pout.  “This? This before you is a work of art, my genius made to automated laboring creation!  The woman before you is entirely fictional, although I would suppose you to never suspec—”

  “The teeth are horribly inconsistent,” Demiurge interrupted.  “The hairline is atrocious as well, and these nostrils are obviously not of the same human anatomy.  You expect to get any work properly done with such a sloppy execution?”

  Pan blinked once, then threw his arms behind his head, upper back arching to drop his neck behind his chair.  “The program is not yet perfected, perhaps. But it’s mastery will come soon, I assure you of that!”

  Demiurge sniffed, straightening up and walking back to his seat.  “It wont.”

  Pan sat up with a start, pouting to his new friend yet again, hand grasping at his heart.  “Ah, mein Kumpel! You wound me with your flagrant doubt in my abilities! I have already achieved a greater height in the field of deception than others would dare to dream!”

  “That is exactly why you are failing.”  Seated, Demiurge adjusted his glasses and clicked his pen, focus back on the packet before him.  “What you are dabbling in is not deception. It is creation, more exactly the sacred art of life from that which does not yet grace reality.  An attempt to automate such an act is not only an insult to your intelligence, it is a foolhardy oversight of your abilities.” Demiurge glanced at the screen; the dot seemed not to have moved from its last position.  He frowned. “You would require the skills of someone greater to achieve such a task as that, I believe. Someone with a knowledge and appreciation for the art of life and all that entails.”

  “I—I do not—Well—”  Pan sputtered and hunched back over his keyboard, fingers running faster than they had any right to.  “That particular display application entails the need of a refresh for accuracy, so you are aware,” he finally said, his tone hinting at testiness.

 Snapping the papers down from his face, Demiurge restrained a sigh as he glared at the hacker.  Leaning over to reach the keyboard below the appropriate screen, he hit the F5 button.

  The blue dot moved.  Drastically.

  Demiurge clicked again.

  It moved again slightly, but there was no mistake; you were back.  You had not texted him at your arrival as promised, and he felt a slight pang at the realization.

  “I must take my leave,” he announced, gathering the papers and dropping the pen onto the desk.  Before Pan could even question for an explanation, he had gone.

  The elevator came quickly, Demiurge taking the opportunity of waiting for it and it’s descent to meticulously straighten his suit and hair, pressing silver glasses up the bridge of his nose to sit smartly before his eyes.  He would be at his best for you, in every moment, but especially now that it seemed he was to be measured against—

  The elevator opened, and Demiurge froze.  A figure emerged from your door down the hall, expertly flicking an object around his fingers before tucking it securely under his hand.

  A silver knife.

  Demiurge burned.

  Before he could even register the elevator open at the end of the hall or the being inside, the man was in the air, throat in the devil’s grip, knife in his assailant’s hand.  The man’s own hands were wrapped quickly around Demiurge’s arm, attempting to lift his neck higher out of the steel-solid vice and gasp for air, toes barely in contact with the ground as he did.  A fire in the human’s eyes returned against the hell shown him in the demon’s glower.

  The knife was clean, untainted by crimson.  That was a good sign. For the human.

  Demiurge started to raise the blade and an aching along his spine begged to be itched, rage fueled by anxiety edging towards a restrained appetite…  “Where—!?”

  “Stop!!

  Demiurge felt the grip around his heart burst as the one around the man’s neck released at the shout.  The man didn’t immediately fall; he had successfully held himself aloft by his own attempts to raise his weight, and upon recognizing his release dropped heavily to the ground and backed away, hand going to his throat to aid a cough.  Demiurge would have been intrigued at the strength in such an older man, were he not otherwise occupied in the woman across the hall.

  Standing in a doorway that was not your own, you stared at Demiurge, one hand balled in a fist and the other reaching for him as you raced forward.

  Demiurge’s phone sounded an inconsequential ding as you held out your hand for the knife.  He gave it to you without hesitation, confusion exuding in waves from him.

  “M—Mira… Are you—”

  “—I’m fine, Demiurge.”  Your brow was furrowed as you immediately turned from him to the man who had exited your apartment.  “I am so sorry, he… can get… protective, and I didn’t explain—”

  “I can understand where the confusion arose from,” came the low and refined voice, only slightly strained by the force that had been placed against it, and a lightbulb lit over Demiurge’s head at the manner of acute diplomacy.  The bearded human’s eyes rose back up to challenge him from their gaze on the knife he’d possessed moments ago, and the flame within them flickered just as before. “Please, don’t trouble yourself over another’s actions. You have nothing to be sorry for.”

  “Are you ok?”  You took the worry Demiurge had expressed for you and placed it upon the man he had just attacked, the man who had been wielding a weapon within your home.  Shame and indignity filling his chest, Demiurge spoke up as the man reassured you he was fine.

  “M—Mira, what is this— person doing within your residence?”  For the second time, the title almost slid from his mouth, and his desperate tone caught the word in hesitation.  He attempted to mask his lack of composure as best he could from the man, but… how had this situation come to be? There were far too many factors he did not yet have answers to, too many pieces missing for him to feel comfortable at not standing between you and this newcomer.

  You turned back to him, in a position that struck at his dignity.  Hand out as though calming an animal, you furrowed your brow. But it was not in concern, no.  The wrinkles that formed instead displayed surprise, eyes not wide but searching over him, as though they could find something to explain the actions you clearly disapproved of.  The knife was tucked under your arm as the man had held it a moment ago, the tip pointed away from Demiurge.  That precaution did not prevent him from the sensation of a jarring cut, laid deep to his pride.

  You shook your head, and the grey-haired man who stood as this world’s answer to Sebas Tian, the Steel Butler, took a step closer, protectively guarding by your side while maintaining a polite glare.

  “Demiurge, this is Sean Tanin.  He’s our neighbor upstairs.”  You gestured back over to the doorway you had exited, and Demiurge noticed objects within the visible space beyond; the coffee table from your living room, a cardboard box overflowing with kitchenware.  Why were your possessions misplaced?  Why were you moving them?  The possible answers flitted through his mind, all pressed down as you continued.  “He’s… he was just helping, Demiurge.  He’s just trying to help.”

  Help?!

  “Forgive me, but by wielding a single knife?  He was within your—!”

  Your eyebrows pulled high.  “Yes, I asked him to get one of my—!  Look, I promise, everything is fine.  Sean was helping me with the groceries, I had too many bags and--”

  “My—!  I would have gladly come to aid you!”

  “I didn’t want—… Look at your phone,” you said, the words almost carrying an edge to them.

  He obeyed.

  “Hey, I’m working on something, stay up with Pan for just a bit longer!  I’ll text you when it’s ready!”

  “I should have texted you sooner, I’m sorry.  I didn’t really give you a heads up.”

  Demiurge opened his mouth to deny your need to give any apology, but the shadow of the butler of Nazarick put his hand on your shoulder, his gaze still piercing Demiurge as he spoke first.

  “Young woman, I’m sure we can agree that you hold no fault here.  It was a misunderstanding.  Perhaps we could all return to our work, and reconvene later with a fresh start.”

  Demiurge’s eyebrow twitched, lip beginning to curl at the hand on his Lady, but he dared not act again.

  “Did you finish everything with Pan?”  Your voice was even, soft.  As though patting his ego with worry in an attempt to soothe him from his obviously agitated state.

  “...No,” he admitted through his teeth.  “There is still a small amount to complete.”

  “You can go finish up.  I’ll call you.”  Your smile begged for one in return.  With a deep breath, one graced his face.

  “Very well.  Please accept my sincerest apologies for my reaction,” he crooned, lifting his sight from you to Sean.  “They were rash, but driven by a dread of the unknown.  The idea of any misfortune befalling Mira, however large or small, would cause no end of grief.”

  “I can understand your sentiment,” Sean replied, the threat clearly perceived and rebutted by the flame in his eyes that still would not lower.  Demiurge took in a breath, retort prepared.

  “Tell Pan I said hi,” you signaled.

  Your eyes, your entire posture, was begging him to just walk away.  He saw it; you didn’t want him to do this, didn’t want him to be there.  You would rather him leave you with a stranger than act as he had. You did not want him at your side.

  His whole being rent violently with warring needs and desires and instincts, Demiurge steadily lifted his smile, nodded, and obeyed the directive of this wretched world’s singular saving grace.  Without another word, he exited to the stairwell and was gone.

 


 

 

Chapter Text

🔥 𝑅𝑒𝒶𝓁 𝓁𝒾𝒻𝑒 𝑜𝓃 𝓉𝒽𝑒 𝓈𝑒𝓋𝑒𝓃𝓉𝒽 𝒻𝓁𝑜𝑜𝓇 🔥

𝒸𝒽𝒶𝓅𝓉𝑒𝓇 𝓉𝓌𝑒𝓃𝓉𝓎


 

  The straps of plastic dug into your forearms as you tried to redistribute their weight yet again.  You frowned at the red marks biting at your skin as the milk carton bounced against the rosemary and tomatoes and squash. You hoped nothing was bruising too badly as you made your way down the sidewalk, your building in sight at last.  You should have ordered a ride, but you’d had so many different stop you’d wanted to make, and that last bakery had been so close to home…

  Grumbling at your own avarice for this meal to be satisfyingly special, you trudged up to the building door, a bit of relief filling your chest at the thought that at least you were almost there.  Wrinkling your nose at the added effort, you started to strain an over-laden arm up to the keypad, but before you got halfway there the door swung open, the figure at it standing aside to allow you entry.

  “Oh— uh, thank you,” you said, smiling at the silhouette darkened by the difference in the indoor and outdoor light, watching to try and discern who had just allowed you entrance.  Stepping in, you saw there was in fact not one person watching you from within the lobby, but two.

  The first stood in front of you, face in the smile she wore so seamlessly, still dressed in blouse and skirt for the work day.  You cringed a bit; your last encounter hours ago with Alanna had not ended on a great note, and you’d hoped to talk to her again before feelings could grow awkward, but this was sooner than you expected.  The other was an older gentleman, grey head and beard as well maintained as Alanna’s attire and light grey button up shirt covered by a casual blazer.

  “Mira!” Alanna beamed, and you almost audibly sighed in relief; it seemed she wasn’t still upset.  Or at least, wasn’t showing it. “From one task right to the next, I see. That’s quite a bundle you’ve managed to acquire!”

  You gave a halfhearted sideways smile.  “Just a bit of grocery shopping. It’s good to see you so soon; you, uh, out on an early lunch?”

  “I had a meeting with my landlord.”  Alanna gestured to the man who was closing the door next to you, and he nodded his head down in greeting as she did.  “Mira, meet Sean Tanin. Sean, Mira.”

  “A pleasure,” he said, a small smile crossing his stoic face.  “Might I assume you are the new proprietor of the seventh floor?”

  “Yeah, that’s me,” you nodded.   “It’s great to m— oh.” You blushed, your attempt to offer your hand in greeting foiled by the weight still lining your arms.  “It’s really great to meet you.”

  Sean reached out, raising his eyebrows in a request for permission.  “Please, allow me.”

  “Oh, I’m alright, I’m just about back—”

  “Let him take some Mira, trust me,” Alanna sighed, an affectionate smirk lining her lips.  “It’s not worth the argument. The man takes better care of us on the ninth floor than we deserve.”

  “I can be quite persistent, when matters concern easily remedied issues,” he said, and you thought a dry humor tinted his words in response to Alanna’s gentle prodding.

  “I’m off,” Alanna said, rolling her eyes congenitally and checking her phone before slipping it back into a purse, walking between the two of you to open the door once more.  “Don’t let him make you tea; you’ll never be satisfied with another cup again.”

  And suddenly it was just you and this man.  You’d never met him before, had hardly known him all of two minutes… were you really comfortable with letting him help you take groceries into your home?  Alanna had vouched for him, but was that enough to assure that this was wise?

  One arm hung patiently in front of him, the other tucked behind his back.  It was such a familiar position, one you had seen Demiurge take so often in the past few days.  Polite, eager to assist, respectful. And something about him…

  Oh.   Oh.  The keeper of the ninth floor, the man who attended to its residents, adorned with grey hair and beard and refined in his mannerisms…

  You didn’t know much about this NPC back at Nazarick, the butler Sebas Tian.  Maybe he hadn’t had much backstory written, and that was why you were struggling to recall much about him.  But one fact stood out in your vague recollection; his karma had been decently high. And the way he stood, the aura of reassurance and dignity…

  It reminded you so strongly of Touch Me.

  You handed over an armful of bags.  He smiled and gestured for you to lead the way.

 

 

  “...Um, where are you going?”

  Sean stopped walking and glanced back at you as you spoke, equally confused as he saw you turned to your door while he had been continuing down the hall.  “Are these not your groceries? I was unaware you had a living assistant, but surely you made these purchases for yourself?”

  You stared at him.  “Living assistant?”

  “Do they prepare your food for you here?  Very well; I believe it is prudent to keep one’s produce on hand, but if you prefer for your cook to handle it in their own space—”

  “What—I don’t have a cook.”  You were laughing, but only as a mechanism to plead for understanding.  Where in the world had that assumption come from? What made him think you were some posh woman with a cook or a ‘living assistant’ or whatever he was talking about?  On the elevator ride up, you’d told him about how you’d inherited the space, having never met the relative who left it to you, and how lucky you felt to receive it.

  He looked back and forth at your eyes for a moment, then spoke.  “Mira. Is this apartment the one in which you reside?” He gestured to your door.

  You felt oddly uncomfortable at giving an answer, like a kid called on in history class who had been daydreaming for the past twenty minutes about Ghandi training velociraptors rather than the topic at hand.  “Well… yes?”

  “Are you aware of this apartment’s intended function?”

  “...For… living?...”

  He blinked.  He walked over to you, politely holding out a hand.  “Would you mind if I took a look at your key?”

  You handed it over.  He held it up, looking down the teeth.  Then he turned around and walked away. Stuttering an incomplete question, you followed after him as he strode down the hall towards the door on the opposite side, then one you had never seen disturbed.  Flicking the key between his fingers, he placed it smoothly in the lock.

  It turned.

  The door swung open.

  You stopped midstep, jaw hanging open.

  No.  No way.

  This could not mean what you thought it meant.  There was no way that…

  Sean turned to you.   “Was it never explained to you that you owned the seventh floor as a whole?”

  You picked up your jaw.  “I… guess not.” You hesitated.  Then you walked inside.

  Pan’s apartment on the tenth floor had seemed large, and you were positive you’d only gotten a glimpse of it.  Your modest apartment was large enough, with a kitchen separate from the living room and two whole bedrooms, and it felt like plenty of space to you.  You’d never considered where all that extra square footage that was available to Pan might be hiding on your floor. Here it was, lavishly laid out in open space and clean, concrete lines dictating a modern design with old sensibilities.  A frosted glass entryway led quickly to a space that must have been meant as the living room, but felt more akin to the waiting area of a manor, a large sleek fireplace dark against one wall. Gaping doorways at the back of the room as well as to the left and the right hinted that there was much more to be seen, and a large chandelier made of driftwood swayed slightly above in the tiny breeze created by the door opening, at last disturbed from the stillness it had endured in your ignorance.

  Sean tapped a switch by the door, and the chandelier flickered to life.  “It seems your electricity is in order. Shall we check the kitchen?”

  You murmured in assent as you realized you had wandered into the middle of the room, and followed as he walked through to the left.  After a few twists, you came upon the kitchen, appliances sitting in their appointed places, all working as they should. There was a slight musty smell to the fridge, but nothing too overpowering; you probably owed thanks to the open box of baking soda in the back for that.  Other than that one solitary item, it was empty, and Sean assisted you as you put away your groceries in a stupor.

  After all the perishables were taken care of, you stood against the kitchen island, countertops gleaming up at you from their flawless varnish.  You covered your mouth with your fingertips, elbows propping you up.

  “...I own this apartment?”

  “I saw your name added among the list of proprietors just the other day, yes.  This area, a butler’s quarters, and a storage space all are under your name. I’m appalled you were not made aware.”

  “The lawyer who gave me everything was pretty vague, I guess.  I was just told I inherited something, handed a deed and a key, and that was it.  I… I never actually read the deed. I just found the address, noticed my key worked on the first door, and… just assumed.”  You slid your face down into your hands in your realization, embarrassment flooding through you.

  It was silent for a moment, and then you heard that slight dry humor that had tinted Sean’s voice at Alanna’s sarcastic but honest praise.  “Well, when you have finished mourning, perhaps you would like assistance readjusting your current living arrangements to this new revelation?”

  A few minutes later Sean was carrying your coffee table over as you hauled a box of kitchen supplies, still thanking him profusely.  He insisted you begin more fully exploring the kitchen, as it was obvious from your choice of groceries that you had a meal planned, and you dug through the oversized box to pick out a few essential items.  Let’s see, some spices, a pan, strainer, cutting board, and here was a little knife for the veggies, but…

  “Drat,” you mumbled, hands filled with the items.  “Forgot the butcher’s knife.”

  Sean looked at your full arms and held up a hand as you stepped forward.  “I’ll retrieve it for you; you should take what you have here.”

  You stopped the strainer from teetering out of your grip as he once again saved you from your habit of overburdening yourself.  “Thanks… I guess I do need to get this going. It’s for a friend, and I’m not sure how long I’ve got before he comes back home. He’s doing heaven knows what kind of work upstairs, with Pan Darsteller?”

  Sean’s eyes glinted, and you blushed as you recalled the items he’d helped you put away; the expensive red wine, the french cheese, the quality cut of lamb rack.  “Ah yes, Mr. Darsteller. An interesting fellow. This… ‘friend’, I imagine, would be quite an interesting individual as well. Perhaps as special as your assortment in the kitchen?”

  “Y-yeah… well—”  You ducked one foot behind the other, balancing on it’s toe.  “I should, uh, go get started then. Thank you!”

  He merely nodded his head in response as you went opposite ways.

  Geez… was it really that obvious, even to someone who hadn’t heard you say more than two sentences about him, that you had feelings about Demiurge?  You dropped the items on the counter as carefully as you could and went to the fridge to get the rosemary and lamb back out, arranging your chosen spices on the counter next to them.  Was “feelings” even the word you were looking for? Things had gotten very intense very quickly, more so than any relationship you’d ever had. Usually you took things slow, let the relationship develop with time, but with Demiurge…

  You thought back to the other night, the passion and the need that had pumped through your veins, your relief at Demiurge seconding your feelings and confirming that he too did in fact want this.  For the first time since the event, you felt a knot form in your stomach. The racial attributes of your devilish from had been a factor, sure, and you could lie to yourself and blame everything on that, but either way… had you jumped in too soon?  You knew a lot about Demiurge, but did you know him ?  Had you just taken an action that would doom your relationship before it began?

  You should talk to him. You really needed to talk to him.  Maybe by the time you had this meal ready, you would know what to say and have your thoughts and feelings more sorted out.  Cooking tended to do that for you; it was therapeutic to go through the motions and sort through the various steps to compile and complete a meal.  Speaking of which, you should probably ask him not to come back till you had everything ready; you wanted to surprise him with his own space, move some things into the main room so that he could pick out a bedroom for his own, and also have the meal ready to go, set out on the coffee table, maybe use a few nice pillows as seats to give the lack of proper furniture an “on purpose” impression.  You wanted to feel prepared before this conversation began.

  Pulling out your phone and sending him a text, you looked up at the hallway that led back to the front door, biting your lip.  It had been a few minutes, and you hadn’t actually told Sean where your knives were, had you? You should probably go help him; it was kinda weird that you kept them in a cupboard, but your space had been limited in that kitchen.

  Wow… you had a new kitchen.  Forget the kitchen, a whole new apartment .

  You passed several doorways on your way back, a map of the large space already forming in your head, and you took note of a room or two that might work as bedrooms to point out as options to Demiurge later.  Of course, you thought as you came back into the main room, there was still the other direction to explore; likely more suitable bedrooms would be further down the layout, away from the elevator and other apartment.  Maybe you would even wait to go that direction and the two of you could explore it togeth—

  Your heart evaporated inside your chest as you saw into the hallway.  This couldn’t be happening. This shouldn’t be—

  You yelled out as you saw the glint of the butcher’s knife in the devil’s grip, felt your heart return in a searing rush as Sean stumbled back, and took the blade from Demiurge before you even realized you’d crossed the hall.  The look in his eyes was dying, doused out by your arrival, but you had seen it; the scalding readiness to end another, the twitch of anger intermingled with joy. It was unlike anything you’d ever seen before.

  Sean had stopped coughing as his hand supported his released throat, feet steady on the ground.  Would there be fingerprints on his neck that matched Demiurge’s hands? Would there be lasting evidence from this encounter, a physical marr as well as the one that hung in the air?  He assured you he was fine. Despite that, you saw the bite of wariness flash across his expression.

  You were scared.  Not of him, not of Demiurge, but of what could have happened.  At your lack of control over the situation you had brought into being, and at your level of ability to protect Demiurge from himself in this world.  This could have been much worse. For the first time, the idea of someone attempting to take Demiurge from your life and the havoc that could unleash entered your mind fully.  He was far more than what you were convincing yourself he was, more than just a being that had entered your life. There was a greater darkness in his soul than you had allowed yourself to admit.  Maybe you were more right earlier than you’d realized; maybe you really didn’t know him at all. Maybe that would spell disaster for you both.

  Your anxiety increased as he pushed back against your attempt to diffuse the situation, pressing his view of the danger as you defended your new friend, and you snapped more than you meant to in return.  The resistance shocked you. On the one hand, it was progress in your relationship to have him respond in such a manner rather than falling into a subservient tone, but on the other, you hadn’t expected the need to elaborate your position, and this was not the time to extend the situation into an argument.  This was your home, and the consequences to his actions were your responsibility.  You needed to avert the worst outcome as quickly as possible.

  You saw the resistance begin to fade as he read your text at your request, and you felt a touch of hope at resolving the misunderstanding.  This had been your mistake; you had promised him your errands would be quick, and they had not. You had promised him a text when you returned, and you had been lax in sending it.  Of course he would come to check on you; he probably noticed on his app that you had arrived and came rather than wait to be called. His relaxing in opposition was lowering your defenses as well, and you felt terrible for your poor communication.  The shock of betrayal in his eyes, the hurt at your rebuttal, was plain. You remembered his overpowering guilt the other day at what he viewed to be a failure to protect you, and his demanding petition for a chance to reconcile his perceived mistake.  He was only trying his best to serve you, he truly was.

  Sean placed his hand on your shoulder, and instead of reassurance you felt an extra panic; he wouldn’t understand, and he was surely affected by the encounter, despite the steadiness you felt from him.  When he made the suggestion Demiurge return to his work, you took hold of the opportunity. Yes; that would give you a chance to explain to Sean, and give Demiurge a moment to cool down. It would be for the best.

  As the arch devil in human guise bowed his head and apologized to the older man at your side with his customary poise, and then marched away at your plea, hands clasped tightly at his back, you felt something leaving with him, a coldness creeping into the void it had excavated.  Some stage of bliss, some sanctuary you had been curled within was breaking apart in this encounter, and you now might have to face whatever reality awaited you beyond. You found yourself wishing you could follow him, bring back the naivety that was flickering out, soon to be dead forever.  Whatever was ending, you missed it already. And whatever had just begun… well. Sean’s hand relaxed on your shoulder as the stairwell door closed, and you felt his tension drain down into you. You hoped you were strong enough for it.

 


 

Chapter Text

🔥 𝑅𝑒𝒶𝓁 𝓁𝒾𝒻𝑒 𝑜𝓃 𝓉𝒽𝑒 𝓈𝑒𝓋𝑒𝓃𝓉𝒽 𝒻𝓁𝑜𝑜𝓇 🔥

𝒸𝒽𝒶𝓅𝓉𝑒𝓇 𝓉𝓌𝑒𝓃𝓉𝓎 𝑜𝓃𝑒


 

  “Already returned from your pressing errand, mein comrade?  Wunderbar! I was concerned for a moment I would be forging your signature upon this array of approvals…”  Pan let his words fall as his legs raised, gold shoes landing on his desk as he watched Demiurge re-enter his tech-laden domicile, his pace greatly decreased from his rushed exit.  “... Would I be misled in assuming a less than favorable occurence possessing your outing?”

  Demiurge took the papers Pan had been reviewing, crossed the room to the couch, and sat.  Pan’s eyebrows raised.

  “That bad, my friend?”

  “If you would please.  Let us return to the tasks at hand.”

  Pan cocked his head.  His feet popping up from their resting point and dancing to the ground, he inched his chair closer to Demiurge, placing his chin in a hand, elbow on knee.

  Demiurge ignored him.

  “If I might persuade you—”

  Dropping the papers, Demiurge huffed a sigh and uncrossed his legs, leaning forward as his head also met his hand.  “I’ve made a mistake. One I should have been far more cautious of making, and damn it, my actions have created inconveniences for her that she would rather repair while I am… here.”  Demiurge glanced up from the glove covering his eyes to look at Pan, but he did not portray a glare. Instead it was a tired, lost glance that surprised the hacker. He ran the hand over his face once more, then sat up.  “At such, if we could complete what is before us in as timely a manner as possible, I would be extremely appreciative.”

  Pan looked at the man before him, back bent, hands clasped tightly.  He nodded. “Ah… Entschuldigen Sie, ja. Very well! I will call for the other deliveries to be conveyed from your site of employment at once!”  He shoved off back to his chosen screen, tapping away while still watching Demiurge flick through the pages.

  “...Is there something else?”

  “Would this mean I am now her favorite?”

  “Pan Darsteller.  Heed these words and reconsider your choice in posing such a hypothesis:  I am in no mood for your luck to be pushed.”



 

  Sean had insisted on aiding you while you cooked, which you were happy about.  The task had gone much more quickly with an assistant, and you were anxious to be certain there were truly no hard feelings after the misunderstanding.  He hadn’t mentioned it throughout the prep, and you had thought perhaps the situation hadn’t been as bad as it’d felt in the moment. But then, as you were placing the rack of lamb in the oven, he returned from your old kitchen with a kettle and a box of tea.

  Now, sitting on the chair he had also brought over, you wished you’d listened to Alanna.  This cup was unfairly delectable. So good that you felt rude changing from the topic of discussion he had pried open.

  “The gentleman seems to care for you, certainly,” he was saying as you looked avoidantly into your mug, “but his temperament is concerning.”

  The incident was not as forsaken as you’d hoped, which shouldn’t have surprised you.  But it was also not addressed in the direction you had feared; rather than being concerned for his own well-being, Sean had looked to your safety.  If you were honest, it was an angle you had never even considered. Sure, Demiurge might be a bit bloodthirsty by nature, or rather by his script from Nazarick, but you hadn’t worried about that tendency turning to you.  You had never felt anything but safe with him. And while others like Sean might perceive his actions as warning signs for a relationship, you understood Demiurge’s intentions better than that, even with how little you knew him.

  ...Right?

  If it were another person, in another relationship, would you allow them the same leniency?  Should you expect any less from those around you, looking in?

  This marked the third person to see your relationship and yearn after your safety within it.  The third time someone had encountered Demiurge’s interactions with you and offered you an escape.  Maybe you should start listening. Maybe…

  Sean’s steady gaze must have seen the falter in your thoughts.  He pressed forward, continuing to clean your dishes as you relaxed, something he had tricked you into allowing.  “It is often those we care for most whose actions we are most blind to.” He finished rinsing the pot, lifting it from the sink and causing a bit of water to run from the dish down his forearm, soaking into the shirt he had neatly folded to his elbows.  “Our perception of reality is frequently the greatest obstacle a person must overcome in their lifetime, if one is able to overcome it at all. The act takes a great deal of courage, and not a small amount of sacrifice.” He dried the pot, placing it with the other cookware you both had so recently put away, and turned to you.  “I see you as a person with courage, Mira. And great inner strength. You have a light inside you that deserves preserving, and a nature others might try to take advantage of. If you need assistance in that self-preservation, my door is open to you. And it will not close as long as you have need of it.” He didn’t shift from his lean against the sink, one arm tucked behind his back while the other rested on the metal edge.  He watched you, waiting for a response as though he knew you needed a moment to digest his words.

  You took another sip from your mug.

  If you were in his position, you would not ignore placing the offer of help in front of you either.  You would be there to help someone in need. Glancing his way, you once again saw another standing in his shoes, silver armor gleaming, proud chest of a champion pushed forward.  Touch Me would have opened such an opportunity for you as well, even with how formal your relationship with him had been. There wasn’t a doubt in your mind.

  Were you actually blinding yourself that much to what Demiurge really was?

  The mug pulled away from your mouth, and at it’s release you remembered the other night, as the devil had pulled his lips from yours, staring into your eyes with a hunger that begged further permission, one that didn’t move an inch without your approval preceding it.  You recalled how he had scaled rooftops to ascertain your safety with Alanna, his apology at the misinterpretation that led to the shower, his attempts to meet your desires at every turn. He was not acting with malice as his intent. He was only acting in the manner he knew and understood, and he was adjusting to the structure of his new world as quickly as he could.

  You weren’t the one struggling with altering your perspective.  That task in the much greater measure belonged to Demiurge, and he was striving to fit into your reality.

  Sean was still waiting.  You looked down into your mug one last time and placed it on the counter.

  “I mean, you’re right.  He does have a fire in him, and he’s got things he needs to work out.  But believe me when I say, he is trying to work them out.  I know about a lot of changes in life he’s adjusting to, things he never thought he’d deal with, and I honestly think he’s doing a great job, everything considered.  I’m really sorry you had to see him like that. I wish it hadn’t happened, and it was not ok, but that doesn’t define him.”  You shook your head, seeing Sean’s brow furrow ever so slightly against your denial.  “I do understand your perspective, really! I’d probably do the same thing you’re doing, so I really can’t blame you for being concerned.  And I promise that if I’m wrong about this and I need help, I’ll reach out to you. But I’ve got faith in him. I know he’s strong enough to overcome his perception of reality.”

  Sean’s eyes had dimmed slightly as you spoke, his lips turning downward.  “I can see that I’m pressing my bounds. Forgive me for being so blunt. You’re correct, I don’t know any more of you both than what I’ve gathered in the past few hours, and perhaps it is unfair of me to define your housemate in such a light with merely a trifle of information.  But, if you would… consider that perhaps it could be less of a misstep than it may feel.” He began unrolling his sleeves, the dark stain of dishwater appearing at intersections as though it had dropped decreasingly along the ridge of his ulnar bone. “In caution of such, please do not forget my words, or my offer.”  Sean picked up his jacket from the counter with a kind smile, slipping it on and covering the water stain, his appearance once again unmarred by the assistance offered to you. “Unfortunately, it is time I was on my way, as much as I would rather take the opportunity to get to know you both at a greater length. I wish my visit weren’t ending on such an adverse subject, but allow me to express again how delighted I am to have you join us in the complex.  Perhaps another day, we might all try again?”

  “Cole said something about planning a get-together with the other tenants,” you offered, feeling a bit dismayed your conversation would end in such a way as well.  “But if that doesn’t happen, I’m sure we’d both love to have you over for dinner. Next time I’ll make sure you get the chance to eat the meal, instead of just help make it.”

  You walked him to the front, more pleasantries exchanged as you did.  And as he nodded a polite final goodbye and strode toward the elevator, you shut the door to your spacious new home, feeling as hollow as it currently sat.

  It seemed he was going to keep the event between all of you for the time being, to give Demiurge another chance to make a better impression before releasing his opinion at large.  But he’d made some valid points. He had forced the curtain aside from your eyes, and you had to look at your circumstance in the light he had shed. This was a unique situation, one that required much more from you than you’d been giving, if everything was going to come out alright in the end.

  You felt the ring of silver at your ear, wondering sullenly why it couldn’t dispel the inky tiredness that was invading your chest.  Your phone felt like it had grown ten times heavier in your pocket, it’s presence creating a white noise in your mind that grew louder the more you tried to deafen it with reassurances.  You would call him back down soon, just like you’d said you would. You just… needed a minute first.

  You had so much to think about.






  Pan leapt from his chair to welcome the woman who walked into the room, arm swinging in a theatric bow as he boomed a greeting.  Laden with a bag of blueprints, her only response was to roll her eyes, allowing a quick survey of the room along with her immediate betrayal of opinion on her host.

  “Ah! The luminous Miss Luna, it is a delight to house your presence within my domicile, as I am sure you can agree!  Your arrival is perhaps slightly—”

  “You’re late,” Demiurge interrupted as the red-head caught sight of him.  He stood from his leaned seat on the desktop and strode over to her as her expression shifted to a grin, sipping from her latte when he snatched away the bag.

  “Boy-o!  I wasn’t told you’d be here!”  Ignoring the deflated Pan, still half posed in his bow, she skipped after the red-clad man to the couch, plopping down while he uncapped one of the long tubes and removed it’s contents.  “You’ve been ignoring my texts, what’s up with that?”

  “Did this require a response?”  Demiurge pulled out his phone, screen flicking to life as he reached his messages, displaying the image to her while running his finger along the blueprints.  On the screen a single line of text preceded a cartoonish character, reading “me walking into work with my two hours of sleep”. The picture below was of a shriveled looking squid in a brown shirt, smiling through his deathly appearance and seeming to be saying “lets get this bread”.

  “You could at least send a “lol”, geez,” she said, laughing at the meme herself.

  “Personally I preferred the one conveying the articulation of arachnids with footwear,” Pan said, hopping into his swivel chair and sliding over. Luna wrinkled her nose, then smirked at Demiurge.

  “Wait, have you been showing my memes to this dude?  Admit it, you do like them.”

  “Decidedly not, on either account,” he drawled back, rolling the first page away to glance at the floor plan beneath.  “Thank you for the delivery, you are dismissed.”

  Luna frowned.  “Ok… ok, look. Yes, the memes are gold, but really I was trying to get you to respond.  To the text I sent before all those, I know you got it. I sent it like three times.”

  He’d gotten it.  He’d ignored it.

  “So?  Have you?  Did you ask her out yet or what?”

  He rolled away another page.  “The situation is more complex than you are capable of perceiving.”

  Pan gave a (less than) discreet whistle of a lackadaisical tune and motioned a hand across his neck, pushing back towards his desk like a moth to a technological flame, weighing the conversation to be taking a turn he’d rather jump ship from.  He was plenty aware of Demiurge’s current mood.  But Luna was no so easily dissuaded.

  “Oh come on!  Complex, please.  Be as condescending as you want, it is not complex. You like her, she likes you, boom, you go on a date and hey, maybe a little more comes of it.  If not, you shake hands and leave it alone. Simple. Nothing about that needs to be complex.” She swung her legs onto the couch, tennis shoes landing inches from Demiurge’s slacks.  He brushed his thigh with an agitated sweep, as though to remove a speck of trampled dirt. She watched his expression as he kept his sight trained on the task before him. “Wait… Wait, oh no way.  Oh you’re in the doghouse, aren’t you? You’re in trouble!” She cackled at him, and he turned a glare to her.

  “That would be a gross exaggeration on a situation you know nothing of.  Don’t you have anywhere to be?”

  Her eyes crinkled in a toothy smirk before she raised her paper cup.  “Hey, you’re in luck. Not only is it notoriously easy to get out of the doghouse with Mira, I am your number one resource to knowing how to press all the right buttons to speed the process along.  I make a habit of knowing that kind of stuff about people. I got favorite coffee, favorite lunch, what kind of flowers she likes, little things she thinks are cute— you wanna get back on her good side, I got yer back.  You’ll be in good standing in no time.”

  Pan tuned back in, and his hands leapt into the air as his whole torso turned in delight, unable to restrain from the conversation any longer.  Honestly, he had probably never tuned out. “Truly, frauline? What an engrossing hobby! Surely then, you know several of mine own points of intere—”

  “No thanks,” Luna said quickly, hopping up from the couch.  “Look,” she added, skirting around the room to avoid the desk as she headed for the door, “text me and I’ll send you the address of my fave florist.  Meet me there tomorrow before they open, I will hook you up. You won’t regret it!”

  Her last words sang out in the hallway as she left, and Demiurge’s glare continued to follow her.  If she had any thoughts of this short conversation producing a different result than her attempts with discombobulated writing and pictured blather, she was in for quite the disappointment.  There was no need for this human who was so flippitant with her own life to involve herself further into his business. He could handle his issues quite well on his own, and her resolutions did not comply with what was required by the status of relationship between him and his Lady.  She, as he had stated, could not understand it’s intricacies. She could not understand the lengths it already held.

  Pan was pouting, a hand pulling at the rim of his hat as it draped over his eyes and another pounding his chest.  “Alas! It is a mystery of tribulation! Why do maidens so often seem to eschew my every forward attempt? A mere resolve toward friendship even evaded with the most vicious levity!”

  “Allow that opportunity to evade you, Mr. Darsteller,” Demiurge advised with a grumble.  “Some boons are not worth the trouble they produce.”

  Demiurge’s phone lit up.  An image of a boy behind a seated young man appeared, wielding a large red octagon aimed at the back of the man’s head.  He sighed. Perhaps he should have “spoken” to her concerning such communication before she left. His phone lit again, this time displaying a picture of an elongated pillow with a printed image of another elongated pillow upon it.

  Drat.  This nonsense had no end, did it?

  One more message came through, and the words confirmed as though she’d guessed his exact thoughts.

 

  “yeeeeah, im not gonna stop til you agree to meet up.  Welcome to ~*^Meme Hell^*~ Demiurge!”

 

  Eyebrows raising unimpressedly, he opened his mouth to query Pan on the process of preventing her delivery of of annoyances, but as the first syllable slipped from his mouth his phone lit with a different tone.

 

Incoming call: Mira

 


 

 

Chapter Text

🔥 𝑅𝑒𝒶𝓁 𝓁𝒾𝒻𝑒 𝑜𝓃 𝓉𝒽𝑒 𝓈𝑒𝓋𝑒𝓃𝓉𝒽 𝒻𝓁𝑜𝑜𝓇 🔥

𝒸𝒽𝒶𝓅𝓉𝑒𝓇 𝓉𝓌𝑒𝓃𝓉𝓎 𝓉𝓌𝑜


 

  The knock at the door should not have made your stomach drop, but it did.  The void that gripped your middle was heavy, freezing all motion in your limbs and causing your head to duck in reaction as the sound echoed through the barren rooms across concrete walls.  It wasn’t like the sound was unexpected; you knew exactly what it meant. Demiurge, at your request, had come downstairs to the new apartment.

  You felt an Alanna-esque smile overtake your face as you went to the entryway.  There was no reason to let your anxiety show, and holding it back until you’d both had a chance to at least start eating was preferred to getting lost in the discussion and letting dinner grow cold.  Taking a moment to first slowly fill and empty your lungs, you opened the door.

  Demiurge stood back, far enough that the door could have swung outward and still not touched him.  His immediate bow signaled why he had chosen to place such a distance between you, and you felt your smile threaten to falter as the pit in your gut inexplicably grew.

  “My Lady Mira,” he intoned.  “I must once again apologize for my earlier impudence.  It was unbecoming of your guardian, and—”

  Two steps forward, three steps back.  He was once again so formal, and the withdrawal of his casualness with you was discouraging.

  “No, no please.  Don’t… please, let’s…”  You reached out, grasping an elbow and a shoulder and guiding him out of the bow.  There was only the slightest resistance, and then he allowed for the adjustments, head lowered and solemn but eyes watching yours.  They were so blue, so calculating. You could see him guessing at your thoughts as you wondered after his own. “...I made you dinner.  I thought you might be hungry.”

  His blue eyes blinked wide.  They betrayed his disbelief with none of his normal masking collectedness.  Then, body still supported upright by your hands, he dropped his head to bow alone, fingers grasping over his heart.

  “Your graciousness and mercy are truly unfathomable,” he murmured.  Then, at a more audible devoted growl, he added, “I cannot perceive how I am fit in your eyes for such a gift, but I will do as you command.”

  “Demiurge,” you smiled, almost in a wince, “you haven’t eaten all day. You’re a human who hasn’t eaten all day. I mean— I— I did try to make it nice, but… you do need to eat something.”

  He once again seemed surprised at your statement, and nodded slowly.  “I see. As you say, my Lady. However, I do not intend to allow for myself to be the cause of your increased workload.  I exist to see to your needs, not to garner a need for your added labor.”

  This was going to get very tiring, very fast.  “Just come eat, Demiurge. I like cooking, and I like doing it for other people.  It’s not a chore, it’s a hobby.” Refusing to let him stand outside the doorway and play this game, you took one of his hands and walked inside, not glancing back to gain permission.  His palm carried a heat, and after a moment his fingers hesitantly curled around your own. “I wasn’t sure what you liked, but lamb somehow felt appropriate, and I made french onion soup, and some mashed potatoes.  I didn’t have time for rolls, but— there is dessert, if you’re still hungry afterwards.”

  Placed under the large, dimly lit driftwood ornament hanging from the room’s center, the coffee table sat with couch cushions on either side.  Placemats supported a plate and a bowl, wine glass and water cup sitting to the side along with a spoon, two forks, and steak knife. Lining the middle of the table between the two arrangements were platters and bowls displaying the meal itself, the rack of lamb magnificently colored a glistening deep amber while surrounded by a rainbow of vegetables, the platter flanked by a modest dish of mashed potatoes and an opened bottle of wine.  Two candlesticks of crystal bore white candles, marking the spaces between the items placed on the low table.

  Trying to calm your thrumming heart, you pulled your focus from the warmth of his hand and let go to cross to your side of the table, gesturing for him to take a seat as you did.

  “It’s not my best work,” you apologized as you slid off to the side, half of your rear on the pillow and half on your leg while he chose to keep his legs directly beneath him.  “But it’s decent.” You picked up a spoon and broke it through the cheese over your soup, remembering how Sean had tasted the broth at your request and insisted it was indeed well made.  Your own tasting had been disappointing, however, and the annoyance of that after your valiant effort to gather none but the best ingredients found within walking distance was yet another straw added to the back of today’s discouraging camel.  “I started cooking when I was a teenager; one class in high school was all it took to get me interested in the… I dunno, the… artistry of it? I considered working in a kitchen for like, one semester, then I realized that would be way too high stress of an environment for me.  But I still like doing it on my own! I’ve catered for a few friend’s parties, and I like looking up new tricks… There’s a few recipes I’ve tweaked enough that I feel like I can call them my own. Maybe I’ll do those another night. When I’m back on my game.”

  You were blabbing.  You were nervous and avoiding the elephant in the room and losing all power in your voice, as though support beams were crumbling in your throat as you forced words past them. Your eyes focused on a single bronzed bubble of cheese next to your spoon as you drove it once again through the broiled surface, into the deepening brown below.  Biting your lip, you told yourself to slow down. Don‘t force conversation. Don’t make it weird.

  Glancing up, you watched as Demiurge placed his spoon in his mouth, and saw his eyebrows raise.  He glanced at your bowl before looking to you, shaking his head. “Once again, my Lady, I must ask that you not take yourself so lightly.  It is no empty praise when I say that this is the most satisfying thing to pass my lips I can recall upon memory. ... Well. I must correct myself.  The second best.”

  You stopped mid-eyeroll to blush at the obvious implication in his lowered tone.  “U-um—” Nope, mayday, retreat, you were not ready to follow that thread just yet— “You don’t have to do that, really. I know it’s not my best.  That restaurant the other day, that was great. This is decent. But this won’t be the last time I cook, and it’ll get better, I promise.”

  Demiurge cocked his head at you. “Forgive me if I seem at all flippant toward your assessment, but in the interest of an experiment… would you truly say the meal from our first outing was a satisfying one?”

  Your turn to raise your eyebrows.  “Yeah. Yeah, it was really good. That’s one of the nicest places in town, apparently, according to reviews.  I loved it.”

  “Hmm.”  He was arranging the pieces of the puzzle in his mind, and you felt a smile tug at your lips as he brought a hand to his chin.  To see him logic his way through a problem was endearing to you, a show of his curious nature. You could relate, sure, discovering answers was fun.  But the tactical method with which he worked never ceased to draw your attention. “If I may make a suggestion in attempt of elucidation… would you remove your Ring of Sustenance?”

  “...Oh!”  You caught his train of thought.  If the ring neutralized the need for food and rest, how would it alter your body’s reaction to fulfilling those needs?  It would be like finding a twenty dollar bill on the sidewalk as a billionaire; a nice happenstance, but that discovery wouldn’t have the same chest-tightening rush of relief as someone down to their last dollar stumbling upon the same.  Maybe that was also true of the need for nourishment.

  It stung a bit, but the earring came out more easily than you expected.  You made a mental note to sterilize it before giving it back to Demiurge, along with cleaning the new piercing (that was probably a thing people were supposed to do with piercings, right?) but for now you set the bit of silver magic next to your wine glass.

  An odd sensation, like a flood in reverse, shifted through you.  As though a tide were going out, you felt an alternate facet of living return, toes on a sandy beach versus the gentle floating of a coral reef dive.  Along with it, an ache appeared around your shoulders like the weight of an old woman’s shawl, a reminder of the lack of sleep you’d still not quite recovered from.

  “Woo, that—that’s a very different feeling,” you said, a genuine smile crossing your tired face.  “I had no idea that… I mean, that was nice to use! And really helpful. But…” the table seemed brand new to you now, the adornments placed upon it almost brighter in their much more tantalizing aromas.  “I didn’t realize how much it changed.”

  “To every form, there are benefits and disadvantages, it is true,” Demiurge agreed. “I’m happy for you to view your work more accurately as to its accomplishment.”

  He was right; it had been wonderful to go through the day with little thought to resting or worry of a meal, but you had to wonder just how much you’d missed out on as well.  The earring had its uses, but you found yourself not craving it as much as you’d expected now that it was removed. Your natural state was like a breath of fresh air, a sweet return to what you knew and were accustomed to.  It was good to be back to yourself.

  Yeah… back to your natural state… you watched as Demiurge’s clawless hand lowered his spoon back to the soup, blue eyes glancing up at you in question.

  You took a breath. Just ask, it wasn’t weird.  “Do you, uh, would you rather be… I mean, it’s up to you, but if you’d prefer to—I’m just saying, I mean, I took mine off, so if you want to take off yours, then—W-wait, that kinda came out—”

  Demiurge had paused with the spoon rising to his lips, listening to you stutter your offer.  At your unintentional innuendo his lip curled up, and you saw his shoulders relax further. He wasn’t making fun of you, or taking pity.  The look in his expression was…

  His lips parted, and the slightest huff of air escaped him.  The proper mask slipped for a moment, and you saw the mischievous devil smirk from underneath.

  You couldn’t help it; your ridiculousness, his proper act, the transformation of the meal...  You let a giggle sneak out. Then you were laughing. Then he was snickering along.

  Tensions had been so high, you weren’t even sure either of you knew what you were laughing about.  All you knew was that he made you both comfortable and nervous all at once. Maybe you did the same for him.

  “I believe I shall accept your request,” he said after a moment, reaching for the ring.  “I would relish removing mine as well.”

  A moment later and his ears were twitching as though they had been longing for the ability to do so while his tail swayed like a satisfied cat.  His faceted eyes gleamed at you from his squint behind his glasses, fangs showing just as much in his happy smirk. You looked back into the pair of crystals, realizing once again just how much you’d missed them gracing his visage.  This was Demiurge more truly, and to see him comfortable was as much a relief to you as it was for him.

  The meal continued more pleasantly after that; you asked him what Pan had needed him for, and he recited the dimensions of various investments and his opinion on their uses, as well as recreating for you the pomp of the man’s outfit of the day.  He asked you about the meal, and you spoke on your favorite ways to season veggies and the best way to keep meat tender within a reasonable cook time. You decided not to mention how helpful Sean was.

  At one point while refilling your wine glass, you flicked your hand accidentally past a candle and the flame turned to smoke.  Grinning, Demiurge quickly snapped his fingers and watched your eyes twinkle with the new glow of a black flame. You put your hand near it, feeling the radiation of heat.  It tickled more than burned as you crept carefully closer, and a strange sensation almost like taste tapped against your palm. Cinnamon, maybe, or perhaps it was biting enough to be cayenne?  Something more earthy simmered in the background… It was somehow familiar.

  You fluttered your fingers past it, but the black only danced before your hand, unphased by your tease to put it out.

  “Hellfire does not easily relinquish its hold,” Demiurge smirked.  “It’s quite resilient.” To demonstrate, he snapped again, and the yellow flame of the other candle burst in a black swirl.  Curling his claws around it, he held the wick tightly. “It can be placed in ill-suiting circumstances, and continue as long as it’s master so wishes.”  Opening his palm to you, a black shape licked its way up his glove. “It does not fade unless neglected, or it’s specific hunger is sated.”

  You pulled your hand back a little.  “Oh. Right.” The flavor text of the spell “Hellfire Wall” ran through your mind as you watched the alluring flame; black fire could turn any material to ash, but the meal it preferred was something more insubstantial: the soul.

  “Is it too warm?  I can lessen their reach at your preference.”

  “No!  No, it’s seriously lovely, don’t mind me.”  You blushed, camouflaging your retreat by tucking your hair behind your ear.  “I just, should probably be more careful, that’s all. It’d be—”

  “My flames will never harm you, Mira.”

  The sudden fervor in his voice made your heart leap, and you looked up to him.  Extending his arm over the table, he opened a claw to you, watching your eyes as his palm breathed forth a flame much larger than that of the candlesticks.  It slipped along his fingers, tinting almost purple against the black of his glove. He opened his grasp a little wider.

  With admittedly a little hesitancy, you reached forward.

  The tongues seemed to spread to make way for your hand, then settled around your fingers as they did his, crackling at your skin as though testing the new ground.  They flicked down to your wrist, returning to the main gathering only to twist around the back of your hand and engulf your knuckles. Once again, while the feeling of heat was apparent, the sense of touch was more of a tingling embrace, while the oddity of taste rang through where it made contact.  You recognized the mixture of spices in the misplaced sense more clearly now.

  It was the same as him.

  “They bow to me, as I do to you.  You need never worry as to their allegiance.”

  The black glittered across his eyes, echoing deep in their diamond material.  Your fingers curled around his.

  You didn’t want to end this.  But the meal was growing cold.  And you still had a responsibility.  If you didn’t do it now… you honestly might lose the nerve.

  “I believe you.  Absolutely, completely.  But, Demiurge…. it’s not me I’m worried about.”

  The flames lost a little “oomph”.

  “Of course.  The matter of my reaction to Sean.”

  His fingers loosened around yours, but you held tighter, watching the flames as they crept between the cracks.  “It’s you, Demiurge. I’m worried about you.”

  “...Me?”  Ears twitched, tail drooped. Oh, wow, he was so much easier to read as himself.  You put your other hand under his. You probably should have practiced better what you wanted to say.

  “I’m worried about… about helping you?  I feel like I haven’t done enough to support you, be there for you.  I think we both have expectations and ideas that we haven’t had a chance to talk about.  I mean, really, we’re… I’ve known you for a few days, and I still feel like I haven’t asked you what you want in this world.  What you want, where you want to go, what you want to accomplish… you have a whole life and I want you to be happy.  I want you to be safe, and comfortable. So, I need to know what you want, and then I want to help you do it in a way we can both feel good about.  I want to help you feel at home here.” You bit your lip and chuckled. “I dunno. Does that make any sense?”

  You looked back up at him as the flames between your hands died.  He was quickly proving you wrong; you suddenly could not read him at all.  You could tell something was off, though.

  “My greatest desire is to serve you, to be at your side,” he said seriously.  “What I want is to bring you to all you are worthy of, and nothing less.”

  You pulled your eyebrows together.  He was answering you, but his mind was on another matter.  “That’s not what I mean. You’ve said stuff like that, but—I’m talking about what you want as an individual.  I mean pursuing something that makes you happy all on your own. I want that for you.”

  He did not respond.  At your words, the candles grew dimmer.

  “Demiurge… what’s wrong?”

  His fangs hardly showed as his lips parted.  “...How long was it that you stated we’ve known each other?”

  You blinked, then thought back, attempting to count the time.  “...Four days, now? It’s been about four.”

  His ears pulled back and his hand in yours pressed softly against your fingers, but you saw his other on the table tighten into a ball.  “My Lady… that estimation by my own measure is grossly inaccurate. I have known you for… years.  I know you as I know my own creator.  I have heard you speak and watched your mannerisms for…   Do you truly feel that time was spent so distantly from me?”

  The candles were still burning low.

  Years ago, you had wandered into the Burning Temple to see the new NPC Ulbert had created, having heard from others how impressive the build was and how well it fit the aesthetic the goat-man was striving for.  He’d mentioned the idea to you and others before, but now the basic shell was complete, and you had to see it for yourself.

  His ears had been shorter then, his skin tinted more of a red, and horns graced his skull.  Ulbert wasn’t finished with his masterpiece, but already you were enraptured. Every night after the others had mostly logged off, you would wander your course through Nazarick to see how various projects were coming along and to make notes of ways you could assist, and the Burning Temple of the seventh floor was always a treat.  It didn’t take much time for Ulbert to finalize the design and build, and it wasn’t too long after that before you began to make your trips to the NPC to talk through your thoughts and dissect your days.

  All those years, he’d been listening.  But you? You’d had no idea, the entire time.

  You weren’t sure what to say.  Your hands sat frozen in the absence of his flames.

  “Forgive me.  It was an irrational assumption, one I should not have addressed.”

  “No wait, it wasn’t just a—I mean, I get it, because—I shared everything with you, so of course you’d… I just… I never expected that…”  You bit your lip, trying to express the discord between your experiences without discrediting what to him had been so unquestionably assured.  “It hasn’t been that long since I first heard your voice.  Since we first had a back and forth conversation.  And I mean, back there, I did know so much about you, but… knowing about you, and knowing you?  Those are two different things.”  You moved your upper hand to join the hand beneath, your thumbs resting on his palm, absent-mindedly massaging the muscle and bone and physical existence under the glove.  He allowed it, but the curl of his other fist loosened only slightly.  “I’m sorry, I… it just wasn’t like this before. Not for me.”  You smiled at him before nervously returning your gaze to his hand.  “I like the way it is now, with all the ups and downs.  I’m worried about some things, yeah, but selfishly, I’m really happy.  It’s just… it’s a process.  And I mean, there’s a lot more to learn about me, too!  I may have blabbed a lot, but I never told you that I like to cook.  Or—! That I was obsessed with the Brothers Grimm fairy tales growing up!  Or that apparently I have issues with self worth, or something. Well—you knew that one, but—you know, there’s… stuff we both can ease into.  You may have seen me as Zoba regularly for a long time, but… Mira is a little different.”  You looked up at him, hoping to see a little less droop in his ears.  One twitched.  “...Is that ok if we work with that for now?  Maybe that feels like a step back, but... Can we just… talk to each other more often?  Let me catch up a little while we navigate this.”

  “...You are already aware that whatever your request, I will obey as command.  But… I understand your position.”  He watched your thumbs move over his hand, fingers lifting to press them down and cease their work.  “It seems the distance from you to me was, indeed, much greater than I to you, even accounting for our differences in status. This is my desire, then.  The selfishness you wish me to find.  For you to know me, as I learn more of you.”

  “Well, that’s still not—”  You stopped yourself.  You had just asked him to let you take things a bit more slowly, to try and avoid any miscommunications.  It wasn’t fair to ask him to immediately achieve autonomy in his desired life-goals as well.  “… it’s a good start,” you conceded.  Then you smirked.  “First thing about me: I love dark, dark chocolate, especially baked into a puff pastry.  They’ll be ten minutes in the oven, and it’s got to warm back up a bit, but I guarantee you:  They will be worth the wait.  Your turn.  What’s something I don’t know about you?”

 You released his hand at last and stood, gesturing for him to follow you back to the kitchen.  There was still so much to talk about, so much you hadn’t gotten to, issues that needed to be addressed.  But you’d begun, and you’d realized how far you had to go.

  It really was a good start.







  “[meme]

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  “[meme]

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  “[meme]

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  “[meme]

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  “[meme]

  “[meme]

  “[meme]

  “[meme]

  “[meme]

  “[meme]”

 

  “In the interest of collecting knowledge, send me the location of your florist.  I will meet you no later than 7AM to begin.”

 

  “Alchemy Blooms, north firea st & bare ave

  “( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)”

 

  “Please, enjoy your perceived victory.  But do so on your own time; I have other matters to attend to beyond sorting through collateral dross.”

 

  “( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)

  “[meme]”

 

  “Miss Luna, I will see you in the morning.  Mr. Darsteller, if you would.”

 

  “—^_%THE RECIPIENT YOU ARE SENDING TO HAS OPTED NOT TO RECEIVE MESSAGES. MESSAGE UNDELIVERABLE. DANKE DIR~!  ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°) ”

 




Chapter Text

🔥 𝑅𝑒𝒶𝓁 𝓁𝒾𝒻𝑒 𝑜𝓃 𝓉𝒽𝑒 𝓈𝑒𝓋𝑒𝓃𝓉𝒽 𝒻𝓁𝑜𝑜𝓇 🔥

𝒸𝒽𝒶𝓅𝓉𝑒𝓇 𝓉𝓌𝑒𝓃𝓉𝓎 𝓉𝒽𝓇𝑒𝑒


 

  Nathaniel closed the back door of his shop and flicked the lock in place, hiking his bag a bit more securely on his shoulder.  Taking in a deep breath, he welcomed the smells of the back room, an almost arcane mixture of herbs and pollen and oils in the bright morning air.  His grandmother must have been by earlier, he noted upon seeing a fresh delivery of flowers in the walk-in cooler. She liked to come occasionally at the break of dawn to take care of deliveries, then return later in the day when most customers arrived.  That meant these morning hours were all Nathaniel’s, before the shop opened and while she napped.

  Placing his bag on the workbench, he took out a cylinder of glass and sat it next to an array of others, all labeled and darkly tinted to preserve the usefulness of their contents, some glinting with liquid and others speckled with dry treasures.  His collection was impressive, arranged according to type of mixture and dilution, and by his own understanding was the most diverse and high quality in the region.

  While his grandmother Lizzy ran the floral shop, he ran his herbalist business right alongside her.  The two had worked up quite a loyal and far-reaching clientele, with their knack for bringing out the perfume of the blooms and capturing the vitality of fresh and potent natural oils.  Most of his dilutions Nathaniel prepared himself, gathering bases and raw ingredients from growth sites around the world that he thought would suit each client specifically and then storing the remainder for future use, but this new addition was for a project aside from business.  A citrus mixture of his own design, it could be suitable for multiple uses. The primarily orange-y aroma was a great energy booster on tiring days or could be used as a natural antiseptic, or even mixed into a cleaning solution. But this batch was for something aside from his usual goals, and he had put extra care into it.

  He pulled it back out from the line of bottles again, inspecting it for no reason more than an over abundance of caution and pride, and went to set it in the open space rather than amongst the rest.  In an hour or so, he’d take it to the shop down the street. And, maybe, they could chat a little about business, and there was a chance that could evolve into other topics, and—

  “Nate the Great!!”

  Nathaniel almost dropped the bottle, fumbling it into both hands as he whipped around.  “What— Who—?!”

  A woman sat on the counter near the exit, toothy grin basking in his surprise.  “You gotta remember to start locking your doors, Nate-y. One of these days it might not be me!”

  He held the amber-colored bottle to his chest as his heart slowed in pumping adrenaline through his limbs.  “L-Luna? Oh… it’s you. Wait… I thought I did—

  “I got a special customer for you guys!”  Luna cut him off, gesturing to the open doorway, into which was stepping a tall figure silhouetted by the early sunlight.

  Something about the man made Nathaniel stand a little straighter.  Maybe it was his own straight-backed posture, or possibly the way his hands collected at his back like a man adept at directing others to use their own on his behalf.  Or perhaps it was the stern gaze from behind the expensive frames, sizing the young man up before examining the shop itself.

  “W-we’re not really open for another hour or so…”

  “Yeah, I know Lizzy’s snoozin’.  But she can arrange and deliver it later!  We’re here for first pick of the day.” Luna tilted her head and put a hand to the side of her mouth as though that would prevent the man from hearing her next words, while her other fingers slid against each other in the universal sign for money.  “Special customer, Nate-Great.  Could be a valuable repeat one, too.”

  “Insinuations of that like do you no favors, Miss Luna,” the man hummed in what was almost a growl.  Stepping forward to the cooler, he rolled the sleeves of his black button-up shirt to his elbows and gestured to Nathaniel.  “With me, please.”

  “Uh— yes, sir.”

  “Demiurge,” he prompted.

  “Demiurge…  Right, thank you.  Is there… anything particular you’re interested in?”  The man did not look for permissions, opening the cooler door and observing the flowers as though they were his own.

  Luna answered.  “Peonies. Or magnolias if ya got ‘em.  And no babies breath.”

  “We actually sold the last of the season’s peonies a while ago.  And I’m not so sure we have magnolias today…”

  Picking a flower from its container, Demiurge turned back to the cooler entrance where Nathaniel stood.  “A pity. Is there nothing to be done to obtain them?”

  Something in his chest told him to find an answer, driving him to please the intimidating man.  And why not? Luna insisted he was a special customer, after all.

  “We could place some calls and see if any growers have late blooms for the peonies, but that could take a while.  If you’d like a bouquet today, we do have some alternatives that are similar. There’s—” he pointed a bit farther into the cold room, then closer and above them, “—some roses that are well set, and this morning we received a shipment of blue dahlias and gardenias.  If you’re avoiding babies breath and want larger flowers, I’d suggest adding some greenery to fill out the arrangement, but my grandmother can take care of that for—”

  “Mint sprigs among the filler would be lovely,” Demiurge said, twirling the flower he held in his hand.  “The dahlias and magnolias along with whatever else fits the ensemble according to the arranger will do. Blue and white,” he instructed, “gold trappings to accent.  This is to be nothing but your finest work.”

  “O-of course, sir,” Nathaniel said, holding the bottle that was still in one fist close to him as he repeated the instructions in his head.

  The movement caught the eye of the man, and he held out a hand.  “Would you indulge me?”

  A thump pounded against Nathaniel’s chest.  This bottle contained weeks worth of experimenting and time-consuming work, and although he now had his formula figured out, it would take time to make another.  If this man wanted it…

  He handed it over.  “I’m a natural herbalist; I make various personalized mixtures for people.  I run that business from this shop as well.”

  “This particular mixture you hold so closely would be a tonic for rejuvenation?”  He had removed the lid, wafting the scent below his nose, a side of his lip pulling slightly at the information.

  “W-well, partially… to be honest, that one is specifically meant to be used in food.”

  Demiurge froze in replacing the lid.  “An accessory to the culinary craft?”

  The young man’s heart started to sink.  “Yes. It’s optimized to go in chocolate, actually.  As a flavoring.”

  Luna snickered.  “Nate! You finally gonna cozy up to that chocolatier?  I’ve seen you givin’ her goo-goo eyes, it’s about time! Geez, maybe I oughtta get me a lover, everyone’s pairing up…”

  “What?!  No, I—”

  “You should be honest in this regard; Was this item made for you to pursue a romantic advancement?”  Demiurge’s question pulled Nathaniel from his embarrassment.

  “...It was, yeah.  I… wanted to give it to her later today.”

  Demiurge tsked and handed the item back to Nathaniel’s great relief while Luna sighed and tapped away on her phone, no longer involved in the conversation.  “I doubt my own intentions would appreciate such a course dissuaded from, and a second-hand gift is a thoughtless consolation in any case. However, for future purposes, could such an item be replicated in other forms at a request?”

  “You’d want to order flavoring oils from me?”

  Demiurge began to move forward, and Nathaniel at the cue stepped out of the cooler, making way for the man still holding a stem of white freesia flowers.  “Indeed. At another date, I may entertain that option.”

  “S-sure!  Yeah, that would be very possible!”

  “Excellent.”  Demiurge walked out of the cooler and over to Luna, tucking the stem behind her ear.  “Keep watch over that.” Still nose-deep in her phone, Luna gave a vague thumbs up. Demiurge turned to Nathaniel and began to walk towards the front of the shop as he spoke, once again moving business along.  “Now then, allow me to make payment for the bouquet. We should be off to our next appointment.”




  Demiurge had left long before you’d woken up.  Which was probably a good thing, you decided; you weren’t sure how you would have felt as you woke if he’d still been there.

  Your talk had continued long into the night, discussing likes and dislikes, but mostly focusing on the education of various topics.  He now had read several fairy tales, the original versions of which he greatly approved. You in turn had learned a bit about the anatomical differences between his various forms as they compared to humans, which had been enthralling.  Then you’d both sat in front of the fireplace and toyed with his flames, watching them glow across the room. He’d motioned them higher, and they had warmed your skin like a blanket, and your tired eyes had grown heavy in the late hours of a long day…

  And then you were waking up on your bed, placed in front of the fireplace, covers tucked around you, and Demiurge had left you another simple breakfast.

  He’d moved your entire bed to you, rather than move you from where you slept.  A little over the top, honestly, but you were admittedly glad to be waking here rather than on the hard floor.  A plate with a muffin and glass of orange juice sat by the hearth, in which black flames still flickered from last night. You were much braver after an hour or two of playing with them, and laced your fingers through the licks of fire as you sipped the orange juice as though caressing a pet.  On the plate beside the poppy seed muffin you noticed a glint of silver and sighed with a smirk, taking your hand from the flames to pick up the earring. You hoped Demiurge had gotten enough sleep last night without this.

  … He’d slept, right? Where would he have…

  The couch cushions still sat on either side of the coffee table, the only sign remaining of your meal last night.  So, he hadn’t slept on the couch. That meant, likely, that he either hadn’t slept, or…

  Nope.  Don’t think about it too hard.

  Pocketing the earring, you picked up the plate and walked to the front door and across the hall to your old apartment.  The first aid kit was still under the counter, and it was about time to redress the cut along your thigh.

  It hadn’t been aching too much, and you probably should have asked Demiurge to heal it now that you’d solved what was wrong with your mp.  But for now you could put on clean gauze and wait until tonight to ask him, as well as talk more about other concerns. You still hadn’t asked clearly what his plans were, or specifically how they concerned you.  That was probably important to address, knowing his track record.

  You shimmied out of your pants and began unwrapping the bandage around your thigh.  He was probably out getting things done. You should get a few things done too, maybe head into the office to prove to Mr. Angah that you really were going to take this seriou—

  Where was the cut?

  You’d unwrapped the bandage, which bore signs of the wound having been there, but the skin was smooth, there was no—

  Had he—?

  You had a thought and grabbed your ear.  The tender point where the Ring of Sustainability had pierced you wasn’t tender any longer, and looking into the bathroom mirror, you couldn’t find a hole.  Demiurge has healed your wounds while you slept.

  Part of you felt something warm stir in your chest at the thoughtfulness.  The other part prodded with a grin that you should probably add “bodily autonomy and independence” to the list of things to talk about.

  You went to find clothes to wear to the office, picking at the muffin and remembering how neatly the covers had been pulled around you this morning.  And as you debated between blouses, you allowed yourself to wonder if the warmth left beside you had been from the heat of the black flames, or perhaps, if it had come from someone else.



 

  Annie set another sample on the counter and Luna promptly popped it in her mouth, grinning as Demiurge stared into the glass counter display.

  “Oh that’s perfect,” Luna sighed contentedly.  “We’ll want that.”

  Demiurge nodded, still searching the case.  “Add them to the assortment, then.” He pointed to a tray of confectioneries that were such a dark brown, they almost seemed to shine black.  “And the percentage of these?”

  “That’s eighty-percent dark chocolate with salted caramel cream,” Annie quickly responded.

  “Eighty?!”  Luna snorted.  “I’m not eating that one.  How about one of these white mint—”

  “Do you have nothing darker?”  Demiurge crooned, his tone almost sharp.

  Annie looked at the large box she had been adding chocolates into for the past fifteen minutes.  It was laden with truffles, caramels, large chocolate roses, macarons, and bonbons, all of which this man had been very particular on.  “Darker? W-well, I do have some eighty-five percent in the back. But it’s not in anything I currently have made; there’s not a huge call for anything that high.”

  Demiurge pondered.  “Hmm. How long would it take to fashion something from your stores?”

  “Not long, depending on what you’d like.  I have some molds I could use, or if you’d rather, it wouldn’t be difficult to get some fresh fruit to cover.  But…” Annie looked over to Luna, who was sifting through the three remaining samples that had been set on the counter.  “If she isn’t going to eat it, are you sure you want to get them for her?”

  There was a moment of silence.

  Luna started laughing.

  “Please form a few of each option and add them to the spaces left,” Demiurge muttered.  “Have them sent to the address provided. These will be going to a woman of taste, not the hound you see before you.”

  Luna stopped mid-bite through another truffle to laugh again.  “Hey! Who’s insinuations aren’t doin’ them any favors now, huh?”

 


 

 

 

Chapter Text

🔥 𝑅𝑒𝒶𝓁 𝓁𝒾𝒻𝑒 𝑜𝓃 𝓉𝒽𝑒 𝓈𝑒𝓋𝑒𝓃𝓉𝒽 𝒻𝓁𝑜𝑜𝓇 🔥

𝒸𝒽𝒶𝓅𝓉𝑒𝓇 𝓉𝓌𝑒𝓃𝓉𝓎 𝒻𝑜𝓊𝓇


 


   You straightened your blouse as the elevator doors opened and smiled at the first person in sight; Mr. Angah himself, speaking with the young lawyer who’d handed you the packet of forms to sign yesterday.  Scanning you up and down with a judging glance, Selena frowned and then looked back to the CEO impatiently.

   “Ah, Mira!  How pleasing to see you.  You have impeccable timing, I wanted to discuss something with you.”  Then, to Selena, “Please print the forms and leave them on my desk, along with your report.  We’ll have it taken care of immediately.”

   You watched as Selena nodded and snapped her billfold shut, hurrying off to get to work.  “Everything alright? That looked serious.”

   “I believe there’s nothing to be concerned over, but it’s unwise to leave any potential issue unobserved.  Perhaps I’ll consult Demiurge on the matter later,” he said as an afterthought, as though your presence reminded him the option was available to him.  “Come; we’ll speak in private.”

   Mr. Angah’s office was large, much larger than any office had a need to be.  The desk seemed custom built for a man of his height, sleek and black with red accents along the side panels.  The windows were tinted so much that the daylight outside could have been mistaken for a night scape, and as you walked in he motioned for you to take a seat under the large crystal chandelier that hung high above your heads.  There were no decorative plants, but a few sculptures stood along the wall opposite the windows, spaced by frames holding what seemed to be mementos: airplane tickets, a newspaper clipping, a deed to a property. You sat in a plush chair, watching as he took his own seat in front of a wall of neatly assorted books and trinkets.

   He still felt so foreign to you.  The others—Mar, Cole, Alanna, all of them—felt like old friends.  Even though you’d never spoken to them back there, never actually interacted with the NPCs, their doubles here felt familiar.  Momonga you had known for years, and yet… out of all of them, he was the strangest to you, the one you felt the farthest from understanding.  Where was the person who had stood between Touch and Ulbert during their fights? Who had cracked silly jokes with his fellow guild members? Where was the person who had shrugged off the pomp of guild leader and instead allowed each major decision to be placed as a vote to the guild as a whole?  Where was your friend who loved to play games? Even with the recognition that you still sat outside his circle of trust...

   This was not him.  This was someone else.

   From his suitcoat pocket, he drew out the little black book, leafing through it and setting it down open faced on the desk surface.  You held your hands in your lap, gripping them tighter at the appearance of the item.

   “You have quite the leverage, with this information in your possession,” he began.  You again weren’t sure how to correct the assumption, or if you should even try. You stayed quiet.  “I was a bit surprised and glad that you didn’t use it in a more blatant attempt at blackmail. You could have asked for much more than you ended up with.  Granted, if you had attempted that, I would have been forced to retaliate, so in the end it’s better for everyone this way. But as I have just stated in regards to Selena’s concerns… I do not like to leave potential issues unobserved.”  He reached into a drawer and pulled out a manilla envelope. “So, I had my own research into you done. The people I have in my employ work fast. I received these less than an hour ago.” He let it fall from his grasp over the book. As it hit the pages with a weighty drop, you felt your stomach seize up.

   That envelope… was full of secrets about you?  Your mind felt like it was looking at itself through a fish-eye lens.  Thoughts streaked past you, unintelligible streams of feelings as much as words, as your eyes sat glued to the pale yellow packet.  What could he have found?! What secret was he going to hold over your head?! The distant walls of the large room felt close now, pressing into you as you stared at your secrets covering his.

   “It was an interesting read,” he said lightly.  “I discovered much of what I had already learned from Demiurge’s report, but there were a few other parcels of information I had not known.  However, there was something missing.” He leaned back in his chair, allowing the distance between you to extend as his words shortened it. “There was nothing to incriminate you by, beyond a bit of illegal streaming online.  Hardly even an overdue book fee. That in and of itself brings to mind many questions as to the company you keep, but your business in that regard is your own. I certainly won’t judge you for your choice in friends.”

   “Wh— so there’s nothing— … what do you mean, my choice in—”

   “I am saying, Mira,” he continued, “that contrary to my initial fears… you are in fact a very trustworthy person.  And I hope that our relationship can continue forward with that base. I understand I may have set a precedence that is in opposition to that hope, so I wanted to speak with you and allow for a chance to resolve any concerns you may have.”  To illustrate, he picked up the packet and casually dropped it behind the desk, into what sounded like a waste bin.

   “Oh.”  You blinked a few times, and the walls seemed to relax away from you.  He said he trusted you. Then, you would be accepted by him into his company, treated as family, like when you’d been in Momonga’s guild?  If that was true… why didn’t he feel any different? Why did he still feel like an untouchable stranger?

   Stop, you told yourself.  This was no time to mope over a friendship you had forfeited.

   “Thank you, I… I appreciate that.  I was just coming in today, actually, to prove to you that I’m serious about all this.  To try and get the ball rolling, talk with your teams and see where we stand. Try and… observe potential issues.”  You tested out the phrase, and he chuckled in return.

   “An excellent idea!  Well then, allow me to point you in the correct direction to begin.”  He stood from his seat and you followed suit, walking behind him as he passed.  What an odd and short discussion. You tried to pull your mind from the confusing whiplash, watching the items in the frames along the walls as you passed--

   And froze at the image of the deed.

   “Um, sir… Is…”

   “Ah.”  He sounded smugly pleased.  “I was wondering if you would notice.  Demiurge inquired after the same.” He took a step back and looked at the glass with you.  “It was one of the first properties I ever owned. Still own the land, in fact. However, you needn’t concern yourself over it; Demiurge has already addressed a proposal with me.  Not that it was ever truly an issue.”

   The deed was the same address as your own home.  Here he was, claiming to hold nothing over you… he realized he had plenty of leverage, didn’t he?  The ability to displace your whole building. Yet he was reassuring you that, once again, Demiurge had it covered.  And honestly? That was reassuring.  If Demiurge was handling it, something told you it would be handled well.

   “Are these all… business achievements, then?” you asked.  Maybe you should try and schmooze a little. It couldn’t hurt, while you were in good favor and had a moment.  Besides, you should probably practice a bit before lunch on Tuesday. That could be a very awkward hour if you had nothing to talk about.  “There’s a lot of them.”

   “Some are.”  He nodded, gazing along the wall with a step back.  “Others are more personal in nature.”

   You looked at the frame next to you; the plane tickets.  Perfect.

   “Japan?  How about that one, was that an achievement or an interest?”

   He boomed a laugh.  “Both, if I am honest!  Nihon no kuni ga daisuki.  A beautiful country, full of likeable citizens and bountiful business for my particular tastes.”

   You smiled.  “Was that— You speak Japanese?”

   “I have dabbled.”

   The conversation only grew from there.  Each frame held another story, and some of the statues were explained as well.  Some were short but heart-felt (a mentor in a silver suit and blue tie shaking his hand as a teen in a newspaper clipping) while others were given detail (a dispute over whether or not certain stocks were to be allowed in company usage, and the eventual compromise) but with every story, you felt the barrier between you melting away.

   You thought back to Yggdrasil, to the end, to the last several months particularly.  The friendship you’d had with Momonga had certainly been stronger before, back when the guild was at it’s most active.  Even when members had begun to leave you had considered him a close “online friend”, and while you didn’t talk about your life with him, the daily grind of the guild kept you together as he handled logistics and you attempted to make playing easier for busy guildmates.  You’d been a team, a team that enjoyed working side by side.

   Then his closest friends had all left.  You and he were all that remained. And you had avoided him while he gave up on trying to find friendship in you.

   Maybe… Maybe this was a second chance to have that, after all.  Maybe you could—

   A jingle sounded from Mr. Angah’s wrist, and he whipped his watch up to his face.  He made an annoyed sound under his breath.

   “I’m enjoying our conversation, but unfortunately I have a meeting to attend.  Would you still like me to point you in the direction of the marketing department?”

   You nodded.  You’d just started to feel comfortable chatting; it really was a shame to have to end it now.  But at least this way, you would have a topic to bring back up at lunch.

   He opened the door for you, and another familiar face crossed your path within fifteen feet of your exit.

   “Mira.”  Alanna’s smile felt more painted than usual, and a chill ran down your spine.  “How… lovely to see you. You’ve been… conversing with Mr. Angah?”

   You knew that look.  Every woman knew that look.  You started to sweat. Mr. Angah walked up beside you.

   “Alanna. You are prepared for the meeting, I take it?”

   The falsehood in the smile fled like a shadow behind a frosted pane of glass, sun suddenly shining through.  “Of course! I’ve researched all the owner’s prior business engagements, and I believe if we follow a more strict negotiation tactic we’ll have the greatest success.  I’m sure you were already planning for that, but I assure you, I am prepared to keep up! I also found that…”

   Mr. Angah was listening and nodding.  Alanna was proudly stating her findings.  You leaned from one foot to the other.

   Should you just go?  You were sure anyone you asked could point you in the right direction.  You hated these situations. It was always hard to tell if you should just assume the interaction was done, or if you were expected to wait... 

   You restrained a sigh and looked out across the office floor.  There were a few faces you recognized from yesterday, all trying to act like they weren’t watching the three of you standing there.  And there, across the crowd, walked Selena, carrying a stack of papers, acting like she wasn’t staring along with the rest. You wondered why she had given you that look upon your arrival, if there were rumo—

   She was going to place that stack on Mr. Angah’s desk.  In which you had just discussed his secret. In which he had illustrated his point with his book.  Which was…

   Oh.  Oh no.

   “Oh— drat,” you spat, interrupting Alanna and earning a death-stare.  You turned to the tall CEO. “I just remembered you asked me to get your pen for you off of your desk.  Because you left it there. ...Uncapped. On your desk .  And you needed it for paperwork you were getting.”

   His face drained.  “Ah. Yes. If, uh, you could retrieve that for me.  As quickly as possible.”

   Alanna sniffed.  “I can retrieve it for you, sir.  I’m sure Mira has other duties to—”

   “NO!!”  You threw your hand out in front of Alanna, and her death glare intensified to the tenth power.  “I mean… It’s just that, I’m sure Mr. Angah would much rather have you here at his side. Right?”

   “Yes!  Certainly, thank you, Mira.”

   The woman’s eyes widened as you backed away towards the office, and the twinkle returned.  You didn’t stay to hear her response. Selena was about ten seconds behind you.

   You tried to speed walk without speed walking ahead of her.  Nothing suspicious here, just you rushing back to the room you had just vacated to beat someone else who was about to enter said room.  Nothing weird at all.

  The door swung open and shut behind you quickly, clicking closed by the time you were halfway across the room.  Why did this room have to be so big?? You gave up the casual stride and sprinted the rest of the way.

   The book snapped shut in your hand just as the door opened.  You dropped your hand below the desktop, fumbling for a drawer to open to stash this thing away in.

   “Heeeyyyy…. Selena, right?”  You tried to steady your breathing.  “It’s good to see you again.”

   “Yes… a pleasure.”  Something about the way she said the last word was odd.  Emphasized. “Might I help you with something?”

   “Oh no, I’ve got it.  Just getting a… pen, there it is.”  You opened a drawer, in which a few pens twirled along their side from the momentum of your fervor.  “Perfect. All set. You? Can I help you with anything?”

   “Mr. Angah wanted these on his desk to read over,” she drawled.  Her steps to the desk were slow. “Are you sure that’s all you needed?”

   She was stalling, watching to see you leave.  You still had the book behind the desk.

   “I’d better just… make sure this one works.  Do you have a spare paper in the pile?”

   She frowned.  “No. Unfortunately not; I wouldn’t waste Mr. Angah’s time with anything unnecessary.”

   “That’s really thoughtful of you.  That’s ok, there’s probably a notepad in here.  I’ll be fine.”

   Selena reached the desk and dropped the stack of paperwork.  She was frowning. “...Very well. I’ll see you around, I’m sure.”

   “Yep!  See you around!”

   She walked with the same pace out of the room.  You collapsed into the desk chair when the latch finally clicked shut.

   Wow, that was close!  How had he survived with his “secret” this long?!  Forget what you’d been hired to do; this in and of itself could be a full-time job.  Groaning in relief, you noticed a little key, the sort that locked a drawer, rolling around amongst the pens.  This notebook was getting put somewhere safe, now. Pulling it out and placing it in a keyhole on the bottom drawer, you realized it was already locked.  You groaned. Oh no... what were you about to see? What in the world could he have hidden in…

   As you hesitantly pulled it open, your jaw dropped.  That couldn’t be. You hadn’t expected he’d hide… was that really…?

   Silver and worn around the edges, the rectangular object was familiar to you, though it had been several years since you’d owned one yourself.  The sight brought memories flooding back, as though nostalgia were a car and you were just an unsuspecting deer out for a jaunt in strange territory.

   There, among a box of sweets and a bag of dice, you stared at it, black book hovering over, ready to drop in but restrained at the sight of what it would cover.

   Mr. Angah had a gameboy.

   ...Maybe you would have plenty to talk about during lunch, after all.

 


 

 

Chapter Text

🔥 𝑅𝑒𝒶𝓁 𝓁𝒾𝒻𝑒 𝑜𝓃 𝓉𝒽𝑒 𝓈𝑒𝓋𝑒𝓃𝓉𝒽 𝒻𝓁𝑜𝑜𝓇 🔥

𝒸𝒽𝒶𝓅𝓉𝑒𝓇 𝓉𝓌𝑒𝓃𝓉𝓎 𝒻𝒾𝓋𝑒


 

   Demiurge tapped a finger to the side of his phone, a little blue dot popping up as the app refreshed.  You were still at the office, so he should have more than enough time to arrange the gifts he had purchased inside the apartment.  The larger items he’d ordered would arrive later in the week, but there was still plenty to show for their efforts today.  He had to admit, while she was undeniably infuriating, Luna did in fact know what she was about.  She’d assisted him well, led him in the right direction at every decision today.

   Speaking of…

   “You’ve missed the turn,” he informed her, barely looking up from the screen to point offhandedly down a passing street as Luna drove the car through the intersection.

   “Nope, I did not,” she sang.  “It is lunchtime, and McTaco is this-a way.”

   “...McTaco?”

   “Yeah, McTaco.”  She glanced from the road to him, expecting a judging look.  Demiurge’s face was blank. “… Wait, have you never been to a McTaco?!  There’s no way.” Luna’s eyebrows pulled together, jaw dropping in a horrified and offended reaction.  “There is no way. You have never dined on a glorious McTaco?!”

   Demiurge’s head shifted to the side.  “I’m going to regret this detour quite deeply, aren’t I?”

   “I’m gonna enjoy it, I know that for sure,” Luna cackled, stars in her eyes as she gripped the steering wheel excitedly.  “This is gonna be an event to remember!”

   

 

 

   The intercom buzzed, and an indiscernible voice said something with a monotone anti-enthusiasm that Demiurge empathized with immediately.  The outward sheen of this establishment did nothing to hide the musk of chemical-laden cooking oil emanating from every crevice, and the bright colors were betrayed immediately by the palpable aura of labor-exhausted and despondent humans.  It was the sort of conniving internment Demiurge would have normally appreciated the genius of.

   That is, if he weren’t about to be trapped in a car with its by-products.

   “Yeah, can I get a uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh…”  Luna stared at the menu before her and brought a finger to her chin, as Demiurge dropped his face into a hand.

   “Ooh! Ok let’s start with a nacho burger, then two hard-shell spicy chickens, a strawberry shake, also a chocolate one... diet soda and a twenty-four piece chicken nugget.”

   A muffled sigh.  “Will that be all, ma’am?”

   “Hold on.”  She turned to Demi.  “You want anything?”

   Demiurge was massaging his temples as though that could ease the circumstance into something less stunningly irritating.

   “I truly don’t even want to be here.”

   “Got just the thing for that; yeah, let’s also do a triple-decker jalapeño taco-burger, and that’ll be it,” she shouted back into the grated box.

   “Seventy-eighty-five at the first window, have a super fan-taco day.”

   Minutes later, Luna had parked under a tree, slid her seat back, and propped her feet up on the dash to unwrap her first hard-shell chicken sandwich.  One hand shoving it in her mouth, the other hand dug through the bag before extending a palm-sized burger to Demiurge. “Mmfph, yesh,” she hummed through the chicken, “that hits th’ spot.”

   Demiurge took the bundle of wax paper between two fingers and relocated it to the dashboard.  “While I’m not sure how you utilize your time, and I don’t care to be informed, there are those of us who value the hours in a day.  Exactly how much time will we be wasting consuming this amalgamation of offal?”

   “It’s not awful, it’s awesome!  It’s a cancerous gift to humanity from capitalism, which you’d understand if you gave it a shot.  C’mon, relax.”

   Demiurge ignored both the misunderstood vocabulary and the encouragement, looking at the map on his screen and calculating just how long it would take to carry all his purchases back to the apartment from here.  The area they were in had far too much space between the single-story buildings; he couldn’t use the cover of rooftops to speed his movements. Strictly walking, the array of confections waiting in bags in the back seat would likely melt in the heat of the day before arriving back in an air conditioned space.  It would be easier overall to Command Luna to proceed to the building. Taking a breath and smiling, he turned back to her.

   “Hey, you’re not gonna turn out to be a controlling jerk, are you?”

   The leading compliment he’d prepared stuck in his throat.

   “...Because, sure,”  Luna took a forceful bite of the chicken, gestures relaxed but her face strangely unanimated as she stared down the tree trunk outside the windshield, “you’ve got those cheekbones and shoulders and a nice butt and that’s cool and all, but Mira could score any hottie she wanted, if she had any clue how cute she is.  ...Then there’s that you’re suave and well-off, career-wise.  You kinda have a “cross me and you’re dead” vibe, but I mean you also seem like you’d fight pretty hard for the people in your circle.  So you got all that.  But that’s not important.  Impressive, sure, but not important.  It’s background noise.”  She crumpled the empty wrapper and tossed it into the bag, knocking items around in a new search.  “Mira deserves someone who encourages what she wants.  Who gets how great she is and lets her be her, not some accessory to show off.  So. You’re not gonna turn out to be some asshole who acts like he knows what’s best for her, right?  Some blind entitled white guy who thinks he deserves to rule the world by virtue of being him?  Minus the white part.  What ethnicity are you, anyway?  Doesn’t matter, my point is; I’m gonna be pissed if I find out I stepped aside and actually helped an asshole score Mira.”  She ripped open the nacho burger. “You get me?”

   Ah.  He should have guessed.

   This wasn’t about lunch.  He could see it pulling at the corners of her eyes, the restrained conflict concealed by her lazy, nonchalant nature at last admitted to.  He had suspected as to it's nature.  He simply hadn’t cared.  But, it it drove her to care after Mira, to give her the respect she deserved...

   With a sigh, he reached forward and unwrapped the unholy cluster of heterogeneity and sank his teeth in, swallowing the bite quickly.  Luna watched, eyebrows raised at the unexpected olive branch. He exhaled through a sneer, grabbing for the soda to wash the taste away, and looked at her over his glasses as he dropped it back in the cup holder.

   “I am a paradigm of charisma and intellect, but even I am far from worthy of Mira.  I can only ever deign to be a specimen that is capable of standing at her side. Furthermore, I would never consider such a despicable attitude as to attempt to alter her will.  You can rest with assurance that I second your sentiment against such a cretinous action.”

   Luna blinked back, then smiled, shifting farther into her seat.  “Don’t freak out, but I think you might have a crush on Mira.”

   Demiurge pulled dismissively on his sleeves to straighten them as he smirked.  “Ha!  An astute observation, you must be quite proud of yourself.  Allow me an inquiry, Miss Luna.  If you were concerned as to my height of conviction to her, why offer your assistance to me at all?”

   Luna shrugged, slowly crumpling another wrapper.  “Bold of you to assume I ever know what I’m doing.  Ha!  Yeah, ok, but… It’s what Mira would do, y'know?  Help someone out.”

   “Hmm.  Yes.  She certainly would.”  Demiurge lifted the burger, swallowed more of it with a pained expression and shook his head, extending it once again to the dash with two fingers.  “This is an abhorrent offence against the pursuit of nutrients.”

   Luna snickered, dipping a chicken nugget in her strawberry shake.  “Fancy words don’t hide the fact you took a voluntary second bite of it, boy-o.  But hey, now you can say you’ve tasted the glory that is McTaco!”

   Demiurge grumbled, but the mostly masked annoyance that had colored each interaction with the human was oddly less pungent than it had been moments before.  The sarcasm that coated his tongue betrayed a hint of brightness against all his rationale.  “Yes, how delightful. What a hellish accomplishment in which I’ll certainly place the utmost pride.”  He looked at her out of the side of his eye, watching her pop another morsel of culinary sin into her mouth.  She put her arms behind her head and gave him a toothy grin back.  “...You have my thanks.”



 

   “So we’re thinking a party in like a week or two, up on the roof, and make it a potluck!  Sean mentioned you’re a pretty great cook, but I don’t wanna put you out as the newcomer. You cool with bringing a dish?  Just something simple, I’ll be-- Hey, HEY!  HAVE YOU STARTED YOUR WAKIZASHI TRAINING, KEITH?  THEN PUT IT AWAY.  ...THANK YOU.  Sorry about that, a few of the kids want me to walk ‘em home after practice.  Gonna go grab ‘em some shaved ice or something.”

   You had missed Cole’s call an hour or so ago as you talked to the marketing head, and had caught him with your call back as his class was getting out.  Just what kind of class you weren’t sure, but it seemed a pretty safe bet on it being some kind of martial arts.

   “Sounds like fun!  They must love you as a teacher,” you smirked, holding the phone back to your ear.  Realizing where you were as you wandered the floor, you slipped through a familiar door into Demiurge’s office for a bit of privacy.  You turned up the dimmer on the lights and sat on the couch, taking in the darkly colored decor.  Seriously, what was it this place had against sunshine?

   “Well, they keep comin’, so I must be doing something right.”  You could hear the pride in his voice despite the humble response.  “Anyways, I’ll be taking care of the grilling, so we just need some side dishes.  Anything you’d like to bring will be great, but-- Hey!!  Kids who don’t play with weapons get shaved ice, kids who disobey their Master hold horse stance for thirty seconds, you got that, Keith?!”

   “I’m not a kid!” a distant voice replied.

   “You’re right, pre-teens get ninety seconds, thanks for the reminder!  You gonna put that away or not?  I better go, I’ll text you the details--  Put the yawara back properly, Kei--”

   You pulled the phone away from your face with a sputter of a laugh as the call cut out.  Herding a group of kids in a room that sounded like it was full of weapons seemed like enough to keep a person busy; you hoped organizing this get-together wouldn’t be too much of an extra chore for him, especially since you were pretty sure it was meant as a welcome party for you.

   He didn’t sound worried about your well-being, and he’d mentioned that Sean had met “the two of you”, so Sean must have kept the incident to himself as he’d implied he would.  You gave a sigh of relief at the thought.  You didn’t want things to get any more complicated; you already felt like you had so much catching up to do with things just the way they were.  Demiurge had been doing heavens knew what over the last few days, and beyond that, there was your own new life to sort out.  The conversation with the marketing director had been interesting, but you weren’t completely sure what to do with the information.  And you still needed to speak to the other department heads and get a clear view of their perspective on the company before moving forward with a plan. At the moment, from what you understood, not many in the public grasped what Bazaar Peak really was; a collection of so many investments, it was hard to keep track of whether or not the branches of the tree were in competition with each other or not, let alone which face was the true one of the company as a whole.  Which view from the public needed to be addressed? What should the company be perceived as?  How much should you be focusing on charity as a company versus individual portrayals--

   You didn’t want to be dealing with this right now.  You just needed to collect more information.  There was so much you didn’t know, so much to do, and you were already right here where you could learn more.  You shouldn’t waste the opportunity by lounging around.  You should get to work!  Right?

   You thought about the mess of facts you had gathered from the meeting in marketing, trying to prevent them from blurring together in your mind as you absorbed the overload of information, none of which felt like it was actually helpful.  ...Maybe just five more minutes.

   Looking around once again, you noticed a book laid purposefully on the center Demiurge’s desk; the fairy tales book you had been reading from last night.  A tie sat across the back of his chair as well, the red standing out from the black leather of the cushioned seat.  This space hadn’t been his long, but it looked like he was already making it his own.  You wondered how much of his past few days had been spent in this room.  If the book was here, then he must have stopped in early this morning, before heading out to wherever else his day had taken him.  Which was, yet again, another thing you didn’t know.

   Standing, you looked at the desk, the items on it, the mostly empty shelf against the wall.  You bit your lip.

   He had said he wanted you to get to know more about him, right?  He was a bit secretive, sure, but… you learning about him had technically been the one thing he asked for.  And there were things you did very much wonder about.

   You looked at the door.  You looked at the desk.  You fiddled with your phone.

   Just a quick peek.  Just a quick look, it wouldn’t be that big of a deal.  It was just taking an interest, not intruding.

   Ten minutes later every drawer had been opened, and you were red in the face with embarrassment at your self-delusion.  Not only had you told yourself you wouldn’t do precisely what you did, you hadn’t found anything helpful at all.  Papers about finance, references to similar companies and their holdings, books about history and atlases, a notebook of intricate scribbling you wouldn’t have doubted to be in code, but were pretty sure was instead an educated version of shorthand.  You still knew nothing new.  Even after searching to the point of being ashamed of yourself, you still were hopelessly uninformed as to anything of real use.  Mumbling at yourself, you leaned back in the chair, and your foot knocked against something.

   The wastebasket.

   You shouldn’t.

   … 

   The discarded papers were all of a similar vein to the ones found elsewhere within the desk, notes in the margins much more legible than those in the notebook but just as uninformative.  You sighed, lifting the metal cylinder up to swipe the trash defeatedly back where it belonged, when you noticed something else at the bottom of the bag within.

   A gathering of black ash stained the sides of the white plastic, flakes small enough to be mistaken as no more than dust clinging together.  You pulled the plastic bag from the bin and cupped your hand under the pile, watching carefully so as not to blow the particles into the air.

   Your fingers grew tense around it as you held it steady, wanting both to pull it closer and to keep a respectful distance.  Your spell Mend had worked on torn up paper, and on broken plates.  It had stitched up Demiurge’s coat.  Was there a chance it could…?

   You set the bag on the desk as though it sloshed with nitroglycerin and took a step back.  Turning to the shelf beside the desk, you feigned interest in a tattered book staged inside a case labeled “Codex Leicester” that seemed as though it might belong more fittingly in a museum, staring it down hesitantly as though it were voicing advice ill-suited to your dilemma.

   Nothing in here you’d discovered seemed even vaguely helpful to the whole point of your nosey-ness, beyond perhaps the notebook.  And even that, with it’s impossible to comprehend nature, had seemed like it related to logistics all about business and numbers.  Nothing truly personal.  This, however?  This burnt offering of secrecy?  What could he have wanted to keep so hidden that he had gone so far as to completely destroy it?

   You looked over your shoulder at the bag.

   It was your responsibility, right?  What if it was something worth worrying about?

   The excuse was feeble.  But you decided it was good enough.

   Dumping the ash with the utmost care into your palm, you called to the spell.  Yellow magic swirled around the burnt particles, twisting them until you jumped back at the little black flame that sprang to life.  The fire drained the black to white, ash sticking together like sand settling through water to become whole.

   The dark flame faded out, and ink was staged plainly before your eyes.

   Ohhhh, bad choice.  Nope.  This was a bad choice, you should not have done this.  You were already wishing you hadn’t done this.

   Face red from a different kind of embarrassment, you shoved the slip of paper into your pocket and returned the trash bin to how it had previously sat.  Maybe that was enough time at the office.  It was after lunch and you still hadn’t eaten; you should grab something on your way back to the apartment and go settle into your new home more.

   Heading out of Demiurge’s office and to the elevator, hardly even noticing who you passed on the way, you tried to focus on what you needed to get to fill your new space.  But instead, loopy handwriting trailed across your vision like a gnat flapping over a light, and you could practically hear the words that had been written, repeating over and over.

   A phone number.  And then, with a small heart, the words “call me” in purple ink.

   It was probably nothing.  Nothing at all.  It was fine!  It didn’t even matter.

   You stepped into the elevator, looking across the floor at the half dozen dizzyingly beautiful women you could see just from here.  Women who probably spent quite a bit of time with him over the past few days.  Women who probably all had flirty cursive handwriting.

   It was nothing, you thought, bit of paper crinkling in your pocket as the doors slid closed.  No big deal.

   You really wished you hadn’t looked.

 


 

 

Chapter Text

🔥 𝑅𝑒𝒶𝓁 𝓁𝒾𝒻𝑒 𝑜𝓃 𝓉𝒽𝑒 𝓈𝑒𝓋𝑒𝓃𝓉𝒽 𝒻𝓁𝑜𝑜𝓇 🔥

𝒸𝒽𝒶𝓅𝓉𝑒𝓇 𝓉𝓌𝑒𝓃𝓉𝓎 𝓈𝒾𝓍


 

   He had finally arrived back at the apartment.  Arms laden with bags, he pressed the button for the elevator, steaming slightly from Luna’s parting advice.

    “Work to do?!  You’re telling me you’re going to set all this up, then leave and go to work?!  You’re seriously not gonna spend the evening with her? Woooow. Pfft, you’re wasting the whole lead I just gave you!  Can I make a slight suggestion, really just a little itsy bitsy change in plans, don’t do that at all??”

   Once again, she was irritatingly incapable of grasping the full situation.  He had things to work towards, great designs that all led to the happiness and appreciation that you deserved!  There was much to be done in achieving his goals, and no time to waste in bringing them to pass. You deserved everything, and he would not stand for a delay as a consequence of his own actions.

   But… Luna had been helpful in obtaining knowledge he otherwise would have had to pester you for.  She had proven she had a value. And… perhaps, begrudgingly, a point as well. And if he allowed his more selfish desires to reign, he had to admit another evening at your side was preferable to the other before him, as fulfilling as completing those other tasks may be.

   The elevator arrived just as the door to the lobby opened again, and someone walked up behind Demiurge.  ...Lovely. He would be sharing the elevator with someone, it seemed.

   A deep voice carrying a feminine intonation followed him inside, and as Demiurge turned to face the doorway and consequently the additional rider, he took in the eclectic appearance:  Long pink acrylic nails with glittering bedazzlements, hair shaped with so much product it seemed to carry a life of it’s own, and an over-done face all accessorized a large human wearing the scrubs of a medical worker, patterned with bright red and pink lipstick prints over a dull green background.

   “Well, hellooo dear!  New to the building, are we?” she sang, looking him up and down through her false lashes.

   Demiurge lifted his lips in a smile.  “Indeed.  Am I to assume then that you are a resident here?”

   “Oh no, darling, I come ‘round to look after our lovely Victor.  My name is Honesty, but you can call me Tee.”  She pressed the button for the eighth floor and left her finger hovering over the remainder.

   “What a pleasure to meet you,” the devil cooed.  “Demiurge.  Seventh floor, if you wouldn’t mind.”

   Her finger hovered for only a moment longer before pressing the button, her gaze returning to the level at which his hands held the bags of gifts.

   “That’s quite an… impressive load you’re carrying there.”

   Demiurge restrained a sigh.

   “Maybe you could help me with mine?”  She bobbed her eyebrows and continued.  “A shipment of medical supplies arrived today, and my two helpers were unable to come in!  Poor Victor is in need of a few things within them, but it’s a bit much for me to handle on my lonesome.”

   “Well now, that can’t be true; you give the impression of such a capable woman!  I’m sure the matter is easily remedied by the means you have at your disposal.” The doors opened, and Demiurge took a step forward.  “If you’ll excuse me.  I do hope you have a wonderful da—”

   “Well, it’s just that…”  The expression on her face had changed, become more believable in it’s concern, and she didn’t move aside from the doors.  Demiurge felt his irritation rising.  “It’s a simple task, yes, but the damn delivery boys always place the heaviest box sideways, and I need it upright to store the tanks correctly.  It wouldn’t take five minutes of your time?  It would be such a help to me, and Victor, the dear thing.”

   Demiurge narrowed his eyes.  Couldn’t this woman see he was already in the process of something?  He needed to complete this task, move on to the next, press forward the designs he had laid out… but as he looked beyond the elevator doorway, into the hall beyond, he thought of you.

   You would help.  Of course you would.  Luna had just helped him, purely by your example.

   The displeasure blossomed on his face.   “...Very well.”  Then just as quickly, the smile returned.  “I would be delighted to assist a neighbor.  My host, Mira, will be disappointed to hear she missed such an opportunity.”

   “Oh, thank you!”  the portly woman gasped, hands clapping together.  “Mira, hmm?” she added as the doors slid closed, furrowed brows clouding her relieved expression.  “Haven’t met her yet.”

   “That is a pity,” Demiurge tsked as the elevator raised slightly and reopened it’s doors.  “The grace of knowing her is quite a privilege.  A more benevolent woman does not exist.  Very gifted, in my experience.  She has helped me with my loads before, but these I bear all belong to her.”  He turned back to the woman whose eyebrows had raised, lips turned downward in disappointment.  “It is her example you have to thank for my aid, Nurse Honesty.”

 

   Demiurge righted a crate of oxygen tanks and a few other boxes which had been carelessly discarded within the apartment.  The lack of pride in the work done by those who had made the deliveries was appalling to him; to allow for your efforts to end in such disorder!  Truly a shameful way to display one’s labor.  After discovering that the supplies delivered were meant to last a month, Demiurge took the extra few minutes to arrange the items properly, accessibly, and in a manner that allowed for minimal space usage.

   He may have been too thorough, he lamented, because as he was retrieving his items to leave, she approached him once again.

   “I just need to move him to the chair,” she persuaded.  “Normally I can do it on my own but I’ve had such a day without my usual helpers, as you can imagine!  If you wouldn’t mind…?  Just this one last teensy favor.”

   He wanted to say no.  He wanted to grin and tell her to earn her keep and return to his set course, but an idea had struck him as he had been working.  An idea he could simply not let go.

   The other floors held their respective reflections of those he treasured in Nazarick, as pale as those reflections may be, and if that held true here then there was a chance that a conversation he had been meaning to have, words that he had neglected to say, might in some equally pale way be at last expressed.  His thoughts had reminded him of a failure, one long past, that he could not help but feel the weight of far more prevelantly than the crate of tanks could ever press upon him.  The burdens he happily carried now relied much more heavily on his independence than had his responsibilities in days now past.  And a certain instance of those responsibilities in action had come to memory with ponderance on the thought of that other place’s eighth floor.

   “I have a moment I can offer.  Show me to him,” he allowed.

   The bedroom was large, well-lit, and decorated as though the interior designer was infatuated with minimalism, clean lines and bare walls echoing the rest of the apartment Demiurge had seen, with the exception of a painting on one wall, so large it nearly covered it.  A grove of trees topped with pink textured the canvas, the color swirling between the branches in an apparent breeze while a girl with red hakama danced through the petals in the distance.  And there opposite the painting, lying on a large bed, was a very small, very frail, very wrinkled man.  The most impressive feature of the ancient gentleman was two large tufts of hair sticking straight out from either side of his head, angling as though mimicking the painting before him in reverse, with the expanse of pink instead producing the branches that bore it.  Upon seeing the stranger enter his room, Demiurge expected a note of distrust to cross the elder’s expression.  Instead, he was surprised to be greeted with a joyful smile.

   “Ha!” the pile of wrinkles exclaimed.  “Uoy tsum eb eht remocwen, emoclew!”

   “Of course, darling, snacktime will be ready soon!  We’ll have it on the veranda today, how does that sound?” cooed Nurse Honesty.  She muttered to Demiurge, lifting her eyebrows, “Don’t ask me to translate, he jabbers like that all day long.  None of us can decipher more than a few words.  I personally find it best to smile and nod.”  She flounced her fingers through the air as she walked away, moving into the next room.  “His chair is next to the bed, I’ll be right back with the food, thanks sweetie!”

   How responsible.

   However, her lack of care to the situation did leave for a unique opportunity.  Demiurge moved to the side of the bed, hands clasping behind his back.  The old man watched him in return.

   “You may not comprehend this.”  Demiurge touched the bridge of his glasses, aiding the frames back against his face and holding them there a moment.  “But there was someone comparable in a distant way to you.  I failed in a task that encompassed my entire purpose for existence, and he succeeded where I could not.”  Demiurge removed his hand, looking at the dying human before him, regarding him with a fraction of discomfort revealed.  Humans had such painfully short lifespans.  It wasn’t that long ago that this pathetic creature had moved about this world freely, unhindered by the restraints age had placed upon his bones.

   The archdevil wasn’t quite ready to let his mind wander down that path.  He returned to his explanation.

   “I am impossibly distanced from that associate now.  I cannot speak with him as I may to you.”  Demiurge watched Victor squint, failing eyes looking him up and down as he spoke.  “Therefore, I would request you accept my words on his behalf.”  The old man pursed his lips, still staring at the features of his guest rather than his face.  Demiurge sighed, almost changing his mind, but pressed on regardless.

   “Thank you, for saving the tomb.  Those I was unable to prevent from defiling our home, you ended.  You have my complete gratitude for succeeding where I could not.  And I promise you: in my new appointment, I will not fail again.”

   Eyes clouded with years at last moved to the stranger’s blue at those words, and some small part of Demiurge ceased to feel silly in this attempt at connection.  At this outreach to somewhere beyond this reality.  This extending of a hand backward, back to that dark place he had called home, back to those creatures he had existed alongside.  For a moment, he felt a spark of security once again, and the worry that had gnawed at the back of his skull for days paused for breath.

   Then the old man lifted his cheeks in a grin.  “Uoy dnuos trams, tub eruoy etiuq eht odriew, ahctnera ynnos?  Heh, tel em ees eht seert, ajdluow?”

   Spark fading as it logically should, Demiurge chastised himself for expecting anything more than a reconciliation with his own lingering guilt.  He smiled and nodded.

   The man was lighter than he even expected, age seeming to have hollowed the small frame in preparation for what must come next.  He ignored the bit of babble that wobbled from the old jaw.  (“Evisserpmi! I desu ot evah selcsum oot, ay wonk.”)  This was not the guardian of the eighth floor of Nazarick, the being who had halted the advancement of invaders of the great tomb, ending the sacrilegious crusade of the enemies of the forty-two Supreme Beings, but Demiurge was acting under his Lady’s name, and on a more personal note, repaying a gratitude he could not otherwise give respects to.  He restrained himself from acting too hastily in his movements, bestowing as much dignity as he could to the action.  After all, he, unlike certain others, took pride in the process of his tasks, not only in their completion.

   Rounding the side of the bed to reach the electric wheelchair, he was shocked to receive a reprimanding whop on the chest from a bunched up fist.  He froze as the wobbly voice caught a sharp tone.

   “Dnuofnoc ti, I thguoht uoy erew trams!  Eht seert, nos, tel em ees eht seert!”

   Demiurge frowned and started to walk again, and the angry babble flowed once more.  He gritted his teeth and began to step forward regardless, when at last a hand rose to point, and Demiurge followed the finger.

   The painting.  The old fool wanted to be carried to the painting?

   One task after another… 

   He obliged.  Purely out of continued thanks for this human’s unknown counterpart, Demiurge begrudgingly obliged the request.

   The large piece was an original work, blobs of oil paint having been dashed across it as though gravity had turned just so they could remain weightless against the canvas.  The depth of the trees felt even more acute at this distance, the layers of paint adding to the illusion.  The feminine figure in red and white almost felt alive, the life placed in the brushstrokes by the artist betraying her movement in her dance, her unclear shadow drawing the eye as though she could transport you among the trees to dance with her.

   A pink, vein-riddled hand raised to reach for this patch of canvas, to trace the shape, and Demiurge realized; it possibly had been years since this man had been able to do such a thing.  It would be far out of reach from his seat in the chair.

   At last the hand dropped, and the old man mumbled something.  Demiurge more closely watched his body language now, realizing he was perhaps ready to allow him to finish his task.  He did so, and there were no objections.  Instead, as he secured a strap across Victor’s lap, the wrinkled hand was placed over his own.

   “Knaht uoy.”  The clouded eyes were tinged a bit red, and Demiurge patted his other hand over Victor’s.

   “I am honored to have been of assistance,” he replied.  He stood, straightening his apparel.  “However, if you’ll forgive me, I must be going.  There are matters I must return to.”

   Victor raised his eyebrows as he watched his guest run a hand over his hair, and a cackle escaped his throat.  “A etad, huh?  Yako avonassc, evah a nuf gnineve neht. Tub emoc kcab dnuora emitemos!”  The hand release by Demiurge shook it’s way up to the armrest, settling down next to a joystick.  Victor gave another kind smile.

   Then Demiurge leapt to the side as Victor and his electric wheelchair zipped out of the room.

   Well.  Perhaps there had been no need to be so cautious in his movements after all.

   “Ah, hello lovely, I have it almost ready!  Where is our guest, don’t tell me you abandoned him all to his lonesome!… Hmm, we should offer him something too, don’t you agree?”

   He was already in the last room, picking up his bags.  It was time to leave for certain.

   “Oh Demiurge, darling!  Now then, where did— AAOOohh, Victor!—  My poor toes ...”

   Demiurge closed the door behind him.  Twenty minutes lost.  But perhaps Luna was right in her core attitude, he recalled again, thinking on the peace that had come over the old man’s face as he handled the painting like an old friend.  Perhaps if he was to find the wider success he should be reaching for… slowing down wasn’t such a dreadful idea.

   Slowing down did, often, have it’s place.

   He heard someone coming towards the door he had closed and traveled more quickly to the end of the hall, disappearing into the stairwell to descend rather than allot the required minutes to shoot down Nurse Honesty and her endless requests as the elevator arrived.

   There were moments for slowing down, yes.  However, this was certainly not one of those moments.



   Your leg bounced as you craned your neck once again to peer out the front windshield.  Not much had changed since you looked two minutes ago.  Traffic was still backed up enough that the same billboard was visible through the same window, next to the same car.

   The driver swore, sticking his head out his window with a goal similar to yours: try to discover just what was causing the holdup.  “I don’t see cop lights, no accidents up there, nothin!  What’s the problem, it’s not even close to rush hour, people, let’s move!”

   You held back a groan.  You did really want to get home.  Your pocket felt like a hole would burn right through it.  The app had showed that Demiurge had arrived back home, and you were anxious to talk to him about your discovery.  There were enough secrets and unanswered questions; you weren’t going to let this get added to your pile, even if it meant admitting to your embarrassing actions.  Still, getting frustrated about the traffic wasn’t going to help your nerves.

   “It’s fine,” you reassured him.  “That’s just how it goes, right?  I mean, sometimes it’s nice to be forced to slow down for a minute.”

   “Yeah, well, you’re welcome t’ enjoy it, but I’d rather be gettin’ where I’m goin’,” he mumbled, slightly placated by your understanding words.

   Rolling your phone around in your hands, you watched your lock screen come in and out of view as it flipped over again and again.  It was a screenshot you’d taken in Yggdrasil, on the eighth floor.  You’d always liked the suddenness of the cherry blossom tree grove in the middle of the wilderness.  It’d been attended to by… one of the Pleiades, right? Something-Omega.  You felt a slight pang of guilt at your forgetfulness.  It was a beautiful spot, one you’d enjoyed walking through every once in a while, but of course it didn’t rank higher in your heart than the seventh floor.

   You unlocked your phone to reveal your background, a stylistic closeup shot of the lava found not far outside the temple.  If you were honest with yourself, you’d meant to switch it to an image of Demiurge once you downloaded that last recording, but…  There were a few reasons you hadn’t changed it.  One, you weren’t even sure you had access to your recordings anymore, with your headset fried.  The other… was that it would have been a little awkward.

   Well, awkward for you.  Demiurge would probably have been refinedly flustered, or alternatively waved it away with pride as a natural choice, considering how he was well aware of his good looks.  You wondered which it would be.  Maybe, if you did change your background and he saw… What would the look on his face be like?...  

   Geez.  First the mad scramble to investigate his private office, then this contemplating how to grab his attention.  Why were you being so… so… whatever this was?  What was going on with you?!

   You craned your neck again as traffic moved another few feet.  The driver was right.  There were times where it was good to slow down, yes.  But this was really not one of those times.

 


 

 

Chapter Text

🔥 𝑅𝑒𝒶𝓁 𝓁𝒾𝒻𝑒 𝑜𝓃 𝓉𝒽𝑒 𝓈𝑒𝓋𝑒𝓃𝓉𝒽 𝒻𝓁𝑜𝑜𝓇 🔥

𝕔𝕙𝕒𝕡𝕥𝕖𝕣 𝕥𝕨𝕖𝕟𝕥𝕪 𝕤𝕖𝕧𝕖𝕟


 

   He shouldn’t.

   There was no true reason he would need to resort to such a thing.  It was a desperate measure he was far better than, an invasion he absolutely would not stoop to.  There was no need for the action, and he had no right to such knowledge in the first place.

   He told himself all this as his finger hovered over the spine of your diary.

   All of the items Demiurge had been expecting had arrived, other than the arrangement from Nathaniel.  The young man had texted to say it would be arriving soon, and Demiurge had instructed him to leave it on the new dining room table, as the door was unlocked.  You still seemed to be slowly making your way home, the snail-like pace of the blue dot aggravating him to no end. In the need to be doing something while awaiting your arrival, he’d graduated from arranging your gifts, to arranging your home, to cleaning your home, which had gradually led him to the task of laundry.

   Thus, here he stood in your room, basket of clothes in one arm, tail flicking impatiently as he eyed the volume on your shelf.

   He had first spotted it while moving your belongings to this new space last night, and had tried to put it in the back of his mind.  For most of the day he had kept busy enough to succeed, but now…  He was naturally inquisitive.  Naturally craved greater information.  And here before him sat a neatly collected array of your thoughts, knowledge which he considered so unattainable. He knew it should remain exactly that: unobtained.  And yet… 

   There was something about it.  Perhaps it was the fact that it was leather bound, the material stained with the oils of your fingers from years of your touch.  Perhaps it was the dates inked into it’s frame below the engraved word “journal”, marking it not as current but as time long past, despite the absence of accompanying volumes of years at either side.  Or perhaps it was the words you had spoken last night.

   Your encouragement to be selfish.  Your agreement to learn of each other.

   He gritted his teeth and pushed his glasses against the bridge of his nose.  Excuses, all of them. And not particularly good ones, he chided. Flimsy, in reality, and ill-conceived little attempts at validating some unnamed thing that had taken hold within him.  He should walk away, and continue with the tasks he had found.

   Then why was he pulling the book from its shelf, and observing the little locking pin that held a strap in place around the pages?  Why was he pulling at the pin?

   This was sacrilege.  In the home of a goddess, within her private chambers, toying with the notion of observing a sealed tome?

   The pin slid out far more easily than he intended, the strap loosening around the binding.  Well… you had said quite plainly to do what he wanted.  You had told him when he first arrived that he was welcome to any of your books.  And, he was a devil, after all.  Then, perhaps a small sin—

   He tossed the book to the bed and began pacing the room.

   How dare he act upon such an impulse!  To rationalize such behavior.  It was atrocious, truly.  A betrayal of trust, an overstepping of bounds.  What misalignment of sanity could bring him to consider such a thing?  The metal pin flicked between his fingers as he glared at the item on your sheets, the spine still visible, the years contained within marked by your hand.

   Years he had known you.  Years he had thought he’d known you.  Years in which, you had stated, perhaps he hadn’t really known you.

   Swearing to reprimand himself later, Demiurge, Demon Emperor, Creator of the Blazing Inferno and Guardian of the Seventh Floor of the Tomb of Nazarick, sat on the edge of your bed and opened the cover of your diary.

 

September 3rd

It’s that time!

New school year, new journal.  Kinda crazy to think that this will be the last one I write in college, but mostly it’s exciting!  Four more semesters and I’ve got that slip of paper that says I know what I’m doing!

 

September 8th

Classes are going well.  Roommates are a bit messy but friendly; I don’t mind doing a few dishes for people who are easy to get along with!

 

   The style of your entries was both reassuring and frustrating.  They were short, occasional, and to the point, while still dazzlingly bright with your personality.  He recognized them as you. To hear the words in your voice as he read them, to remember the cadence from all those visits in the Blazing Temple, was a comfort he hadn’t realized he’d been looking for.  But he wanted even more, craved greater detail of your life. The further entries would have to suffice. Ear twitching in irritation against himself, he read further.

 

September 15th

Finally got that rare drop I’ve been grinding for!  I was able to get a partner for the two-man run of the Siren Hydra, and it actually dropped!!  Eleventh time must be the charm. It was a terrifying battle, I’ve gotta admit. I think I screamed back for like 20% of my attacks!  I am not built for a battle like that, not on my own. But I can’t really blame Touch Me for disappearing mid-fight. Apparently his wife made him log out with no warning, poor guy!  But, family does come first. And I survived! Might have nightmares for a week, but I did survive!

 

September 16th

Touch felt so bad about what happened yesterday, but it wasn’t his fault.  It was so nice of him to help me in the first place! I should do something for him, to show that there’s no hard feelings.  The first big test is coming up in Commercial Financing, but if I work hard I’m pretty sure I can study and grind enough data crystals to upgrade that couch he’s been wanting to fix for his room.  My teacher would probably tell me this is a bad use of my available assets, but I’m gonna use everything at my disposal to do all I can!

 

September 20th

Aced the test, and just presented Touch with his new couch.  Take thut! Now time to slep for like a million hours…

 

Demiurge ran a finger lightly over the name of your fellow Supreme Being.  He had not personally witnessed much of interactions between the creators. To learn such a detail, to gain such a treasure…  He turned the page.

 

October 9th

Apparently my psychology teacher gives extra credit if you come dressed up on Halloween!  That is for sure happening. An excuse to wear a costume, and a chance to boost my grade?!  Heck yes, that’s a win-win! Now I just gotta figure out something to wear… The first thought that pops into my head feels a little silly, but I bet I could make it look pretty cool, even if no one gets the reference!

 

October 18th

Went halloween shopping with the roommates!  I’m so glad they’re just as happy to put up decorations as I am.  They helped me find a few things for my costume too! They think I’m dressing up as some character from a cartoon on youtube, but I’m fine with them thinking that!  As long as they’re ok with me hogging the bathroom for a few hours on Saturday to dye the pencil skirt and jacket combo I found at the thrift store, they can think whatever they want!

 

October 29th

Success!  Everyone loved my devil costume!  I got lots of compliments on the outfit; those youtube tutorials on how to tailor a blazer really helped it fit me well!  But I think the bit that put it over the top was the white sclera contacts. I’m glad I sprung the cash for those! Wish they’d been blue, but white was on sale, and it’s close enough.  And it’s not like anyone but me knows the difference anyways! I think the silver tail confused some people, though.

 

   At this, Demiurge had to close the book for a moment.  Had you…? Surely not. But, it seemed… he looked to your closet.  He had not spotted such an item, but if it existed… shivers ran along his spine and a grin broke free as he pulled the book open again.

 

November 2nd

I’m so excited for the break to get here already.  This semester has been a tough one! At least my social life has been exciting; the past few days I’ve been asked out a few times, so that’s fun!  One of the guys, Marcus, seems pretty cool! He’s on the hockey team, and plays some baseball as well. He complimented my costume the other day and said he was watching for me at all the parties he went to on Halloween, but was disappointed not to see me out!  Kinda wish I’d gone out instead of studying now, but that Chem test would have kicked my butt if I hadn’t. He’s got this great dark hair, green eyes, charming smile… yeah, I’m excited to go out with him! He seems like my type!

 

   Another man.

   Demiurge took a deep breath.  If he was not more cautious, he was going to leave claw marks in the cover.

   He had taken off the Ring of Infiltration earlier to speed his cleaning, and was currently wearing only the sweat pants you had given him.  His gloves had come off so as not to hinder said cleaning, and he had removed his shirt as to not damage it with his wings, by which he had reached the driftwood chandelier.  The decoration was an eyesore in his opinion, but the cobwebs and dust it collected were unacceptable in your home, and until a replacement was found it would be kept in the best condition such a travesty could be.

   He released the breath slowly.  This man, whoever he was, was the same as the driftwood mobile.  A placeholder, and one that had an expiration date. No need to be ruffled.  After all, he couldn’t very well expect that such an astoundingly desirable woman as his Lady had never had her exploits, could he?

 

November 18th

Third date with Marcus yesterday.  We had a lot of fun! He took me to a nice restaurant, paid for everything, then we took the bottle of wine and headed to the outskirts of town to watch the stars.  He is a great kisser… He wanted to do more, but I told him I’m just not quite ready for that. I don’t jump into that level of relationship! Heck, our first kiss was last night!  If he hadn’t bought the whole bottle, I probably wouldn’t have been so tipsy. I probably led him on. He said as much. I feel kinda bad, but he respected it when I said no and took me right home.  He was a little quiet, but he did text me later about going on another date next week, so I think it ended up ok! Here’s hoping next week will be a bit better. I’ll stay away from the wine next time.

 

November 27th

It’s been nice to be on break; Marcus keeps texting me, which is cute!  I miss him too. I think I really do like him! The family has been teasing me, so it must be pretty obvious.  I try not to make it a big deal, but really, I don’t mind the teasing one bit!

 

December 13th

Marcus asked today if he could come see me next week before Christmas.  He wants to exchange gifts! It’s so thoughtful of him. He gave me a few ideas of what he’d like to get, and said he had just the thing picked out for me.  I’m excited to be able to see him even though we’re not on campus!

 

December 23rd

Marcus came by today and we exchanged gifts!  It was cute, he was waiting outside the door with a sprig of holly over his head.  I think he liked the wristwatch I got him! He got me a dress, a sleek black one. He actually guessed my size, which is pretty impressive!  It’s a little more sk  less to it than a dress I would normally wear, but I tried it on for him, and it was pretty cute!  I may have to buy a new bra for it though; the neckline plunges a little too much for any of the ones I’ve got right now.

 

December 25th

I logged in today to help with the holiday event!  Marcus wanted me to video chat with him, but he said it would be ok if we got to go on a date with my new dress once school starts back up.  I promised to make it up to him! Yggdrasil was great, though! I’m so glad I came on an hour early; a few players needed to collect more pinewood items for the event price, and we gathered everything just in time.  One of the drops I got was a santa hat that adds a beard as well, and since I already have a blue one, I put it on Demi for the rest of the day. Ulbert was dying laughing when he saw it. I thought it was pretty cute!  I’ve missed my Demi talks lately… I should do more of those.

 

January 8th

My roommates loved my dress, but they didn’t love that I was wearing it out with Marcus.  I get the impression they don’t like him much. They told me they’d heard some things, but I told them I haven’t seen anything like that from him.  He’s always been kind to me! Anyways, they convinced me to borrow some opaque tights and to take a jacket, which was a pretty good idea since it’s pretty cold out.  It should be a fun night!

 

January 9th

Should I have done it?  Most people have by now.  It was the right choice, right?

 

February 27th

Wow, I need to get back into a better habit of writing in this!  At this rate, I’m never gonna fill it. I’ve been busy, though; my evenings are spent either studying or going out with Marcus, and my classes have been tough.  My grades aren’t quite what I’d like, and I need to work harder to get them up to where they usually are. Having a boyfriend takes up a lot of time! Guess I’ve forgotten that.  But this time, it’s kind of different anyways, isn’t it? I should probably expect it to take up a bigger part of my life. It’s more of myself than I’ve ever committed to a relationship before, and if I’m going to make the sort of commitment I have, I want to make sure it means something.

 

   He was going to burn the driftwood chandelier.

   That was the most efficient way to remove it from the apartment, after all.  He would burn it piece by pathetic piece, breaking each shard of wood away from the greater mass until it was merely a shell of itself.  Then he would set flame to the remainder, frame and all, and watch the black lick away every trace. Not a single fleck of ash would remain after his work to sully your home with its insultingly unworthy presence.  He would eviscerating the whole and then disintegrate the bones. And he would take time to do so, watching the flames consume the monstrosity looming within your abode.

   A few indentations might have appeared on the cover.

   There were a few more entries that had great swaths of time passing between them.  Your tone grew tired, your words less hopeful and more accepting of the obstacles you encountered.  And that man’s name appeared far too often.

   Then, abruptly, the pattern changed.  Demiurge turned the page, and the entry that followed consumed all the available space before him.  And blessedly, the first words were the ones he had been yearning to read.

 

    Well, it’s over.  I’m done with Marcus.  I’m done.

   Today was his birthday.  I haven’t seen him in a few days, and he said that practice was going to run late and he needed to cancel dinner tonight.  I was a little discouraged, but decided hey, it’s his birthday! He has to run practice late on his birthday, which is rough, and I should be a good girlfriend and show my support however I could.  So, I went to the store, bought his favorite cookies since he doesn’t like the ones I bake, grabbed a balloon and a teddy bear, and headed out to the stadium to leave them at his locker. If I couldn’t see him, at least I could leave him a little something nice, right?

   I didn’t make it to his locker.  Not even into the locker room. Right outside the door, he was making out with some girl.  Blonde, cute high-pitched giggle, skirt hiked high enough that I’m not quite sure where his hand was supposed to be, but it didn’t have to wander far.  She saw me before he did, and I don’t think I’ll ever forget her words from her red-smeared lips: “What is your ex doing here?”

   She thought we were broken up.  He told her we’d broken up.  How long ago had he told everyone we’d broken up?

   I’m honestly not sure what happened to the teddy bear and the balloon, but by the time I got back to the apartment the cookies were still in my hands, so I dropped them next to the door and did the only thing I could think to do.  I went to play Ygg. A few other people were logged in, but I could tell from the guild chat that they were just messing around and no one was looking to do any big enemy runs, so I turned on my mute and went to my regular safe place.  The one spot I knew I could feel ok.

   Poor Demiurge.  I ranted to that poor devil for like an hour.  If that NPC wasn’t already sick of hearing my voice, he’s gotta be by now.  After I wore myself down and had a good cry, I learned a new game to play with him, though.  When he’s in standby mode, his tail occasionally goes into a cycle of swings, and if I time it just right, I can toss little rocks at the end and basically play catch with him.  More often than not, pebbles ricochet right back.

   That’s what I was doing when I felt three taps on my shoulder.  That’s my roommates’ sign when I’m in game that they need me, so I logged out.  My eyes must have still been pretty red, because the first thing Jen said was, “I can tell him to go away.”  She was reluctant to tell me it was Marcus at the door, but I was starting to feel ready to face him. She let me borrow some eye drops and I threw on a little extra mascara, and I went to the front door.

   It was the same spiel as usual, for the most part.  He said he loves me, that he made a huge mistake, that we’re meant to be together.  Then he asked me to move in with him. He even hinted he wanted to marry me someday.  Talk about pulling out all the stops.

   So, I told him it was no big deal that he was seeing someone else, because this time, I had someone I’d started seeing, too.  I have no idea where that came from. I just acted without thinking, I guess, went with the first idea that came to me. I was mad.  Mad at myself, mad at him, mad that I was starting to feel like just forgiving him and letting things continue in the same cycle we always fall into.  So, I made up a guy. I said he was tall, smart, a sharp dresser, great hair...

   My roommates backed me up.  Marcus started to throw one of his tantrums, and I must have gotten too used to his temper, because Jen called her mother who’s on the local force, and she agreed to send someone by.  He got a little nervous at that and said that this was between him and his girlfriend, so I corrected him.

   I said, “Ex-girlfriend.”  He kinda paused at that, so I handed him his cookies and said, “Do me one more favor?  Take these with you. They taste like shit.” And slammed the door.

   Still can’t believe I swore at him.  I remember exactly what I said because my roommates raved about it all night long.  I’m pretty proud of myself, overall. Marcus yelled at the door for a minute, but he must have left when he saw Officer Giles pull up.  We explained to him what happened and he told us he’d drive through the neighborhood a few times tonight just to check up on things. I can’t thank Jen enough for calling her mom for me.

   Jen and Becca broke out the 43 dollar bottle of wine we’ve been saving for a girl’s night, and we made a pact:  No more Marcus. They’ve known me for most of my relationship with him, and they never really liked him. They tried to to commit me to like three dates with guys they say they’ve been dying to set me up with, and I asked them some pointed questions, which because I’d only had one glass and they were each on their third or fourth, brought forth a lot of blushing and avoidant eyes and giggles.  Man, I hope they start dating soon. They have to realize they like each other.

   I logged on to play a little more Ygg before bed, and the two of them teased me about it.  Guess I talk about Ygg with them more than I think, because apparently they recognized the guy I described.

   Well.  Guess I’m fake-dating Demiurge now.  There’s a silver lining.

 

   Demiurge nearly dropped the book.

   He remembered that day.  He had been under a very different impression.

   Lady Zoba, in all your resplendent glory, had arrived in his home.  As usual he was at his post, and he waited eagerly for you to begin your customary ramblings, or to practice new magic, or to plot out your plans for the improvement of Nazarick, all while occasionally looking up to him and asking for his opinions or to share small secrets.  But this time, you merely stood there. Three, five, ten minutes passed, and still you hadn’t said a word. Your smiling mask felt contrary to the solemn steadiness with which you had begun pacing around the space.

   “IDIOT!” you roared, fists clenching as the accusation rang out with no warning.  The word echoed across the stone, wrenching Demiurge from his musings on what might be going on in the mind of the Four-Horned Djinn.  A cry tore from your throat, raw and full of a pain you did not deserve to witness, much less bear. “Men are idiots,” you choked. Glued to the spot, your feet were trapped in their position as though you were falling ill to his affliction, unable to take action within your own presence.  Silence for a moment, and then a hand phased behind your mask to cross over an eye. Tears? Was his Lady crying?

   “No,” you whispered.  “Heh. No, that-that’s cliche.  And mean.  The idiot’s not… I’m the—”  The phrase caught in your throat, and you freed your feet, transforming them to a mist and floating slowly across the room as though the momentum from prying them loose led you forward.  Demiurge’s thoughts raged against the unfinished self-accusation.

   “I’ve put in so much time.  I’ve tried so hard to always be there, I’ve given so many excuses.  You know, I… Ugh, I really tried to make you happy. Even when you don’t respond to me, even when it’s so one-sided, and— … It was never enough.  It’s never gonna be enough, is it?”

   Demiurge felt a hole open under the space where his hand stretched across his chest, heavy and hungry enough to consume him.  Were you… speaking to him ?  Were you so displeased with him and his inabilities?

   A laugh, and it sounded as hollow as the space in his chest.  “I’ve been fooling myself. For so long.  I gotta stop.  I should listen to Jen and Becca and put my focus back on my classes and…  But, what if I’m n-not strong enough to…”

   He’d heard these other beings mentioned before.  They seemed like decent companions, if oblivious of themselves.  Had they been advising you to stop visiting him, to go out and gain the strength in classes and ranks that other Supreme Beings had?  But you were perfect just as you were! There was no need for you to change.

   Was the time you spent together impeding you from your full potential?  Was he holding you back from a greater glory that belonged to you? And yet, the thought of losing you grew the ache in his chest.

   Perhaps you could free him from his post.  He could follow you anywhere you needed, aid you in whatever quest you chose to partake.  He would feel the grating guilt of abandoning his responsibilities, but to be at your side and a hindrance to his Supreme Being no longer, he would sacrifice so much more than his position on the seventh floor.  He would give it all in an instant for you.

   “You’re smart, Demiurge.  What do you do when there’s someone you’ve gotten so used to, you don’t know how to function without them, but you should?”  Reforming your legs, you’d turned from your course, walking over to him with wild gestures. “You- you grit your teeth and just do it!  Even if the idea feels awful, right? Because you deserve better!” You turned and walked in the other direction again a few paces in silence, then turned back to face him once again.  “No, I’m— I’m a good person, right? I try to work hard for the guild, and that shows a lot, right? I’m useful, I do a lot for a lot of people! I run a study group, I do the meal prep for roommate nights, I donate whenever there’s a blood drive… Ugh.  Lame. Lame excuses, what is wrong with me…”

   Your hand phased behind your mask again, and Demiurge was at a loss.  Had you been saying he should pursue someone other than you for his own sake?  Laughable. And he was glad when you immediately returned with the counterargument of your commendable nature, but then once again, just as quickly, you were condemning yourself.  He could hardly keep up with your actions, trying to fill in the blanks, but Supreme Beings were truly unknowable. Your greatness and majesty was simply too much at times for him to fathom.

   As you often did, you sat yourself on the ground a short distance from him, leaning against a broken pillar.  The silence grew yet again.

   Were you pondering your time here, spent with him?  The years you have given him, the uselessness such effort was to you?  Whether or not you sat here, whether or not you gave him your time and your secrets and shared your soul, he would give all he had in return naturally, in any case.  You were one of the forty-one. His life, his service, belonged to you already. The gifts you had given him were undeniably wasted.

   The one thing that had grown in that time, the only difference that had been made through all your efforts, was something he could never even reveal, by effect of the very lack of communication you condemned.  You already possessed his soul, if indeed he had one. But through the time and words and interest you had granted to him so selflessly, the fire of his being had shifted with another spark. You not only had his devotion.  You had his heart.

   You would have it, no matter his inabilities.  No matter your decision here today.

   You sighed, and he felt a smile almost tug at his lips.  Whatever the circumstances, you had an inescapable aura of cuteness when you pouted.  “Stupid cookies,” he heard you mutter. “Got a stupid aftertaste. Stupid lipstick smears, hope it was lip stain, stupid…”  And you picked up a rock. And he got an idea.

   After a certain time in the presence of a Supreme Being passed, Demiurge had realized he could gain a small amount of autonomy in his movements, specifically a rhythmic twitch in his tail.  It wasn’t much. It was next to nothing, and his control over such a movement was limited at best. But if he was extremely lucky…

   You tossed the pebble.  He swung his tail. It connected.  And you yipped as it came flying back and slapped you right in the chest.

   No.  Oh gods no.  Oh Supreme Ones it’d hit your breast.  He had smacked it right into your boob, of all the desperately brain-dead courses of action he could have taken he had to pick the one where he smacked you in the boob—

   Just as he was determining that his only option was to accept his fate and commit semper kai the moment his limbs would allow, you started laughing.  A blubbery and blushing laugh, one that ended with a barely audible “well ok, why not” and led to you picking up another rock, watching for a moment, and tossing it yet again.

   The Goddess of Desires had understood his intentions.  You must have realized what he’d wanted, even in his poor attempt to make you smile.  Even with a horrifying accidental smack to the boob. How did the devil have such luck?

  You continued to toss pebbles, and he did what little he could to direct them back to you, your contentment growing with each return.  The small act was euphoric. He was at last, in some way, able to interact with you. To make you smile.

   He could never hope to repay what you had given for him.  But everything within his grasp was yours.

   You’d left at some point, without any other words, and though he had feared things changing between you, nothing had.  You had continued to visit him, to share with him your thoughts, to treat him as a being capable of response, and occasionally you would lazily toss small pebbles against his tail, which he would gratefully toss back.  You had decided to continue with him, it seemed. He had been glad.

   And now that entire scenario had been turned on it’s head.

   You’d never been upset with him.  In fact, you’d used him as an example of what a man worthy of you should be.  You had conjured him up as a shield against this refuse who had so horrendously mistreated you, and labeled the idea of being with him as a positive benefit to making a difficult change.  You had not come to him accusatorialy at all. You had come to him because, at your own description, you felt safe with him.

   He made you feel safe.

   There was a sound beyond the bedroom, of the front door closing.  Ah. Nathaniel must have finally arrived. Demiurge frowned, standing and walking to the bookshelf as he reached into his pocket, to put on the ring and end this session of research, when he heard something more.

   “Demiurge?  You home?”

   It wasn’t the young man.  It was you.

   Suddenly the position his actions had created occurred to him with perfect clarity.  He was in your room, reading a book of your private thoughts, halfway dressed. To top it off, he realized, at some point in his astonished reading, he had dropped the locking pin.  Your footsteps grew closer.

   Where was it?!  There— there it was, back next to the door, somehow atop the laundry basket he had filled with the contents of your hamper, halfway buried in the clothes—  For the sake of all hell, why couldn’t he pull himself together? He ran a hand back along his hair— why was he panicking, when he should simply confess to—  His eyes widened as the little rectangle of metal was sliding further down into the basket— He leapt over and drove his hand into the pile involuntarily to retrieve it, something catching around his arm as he did—

   Your door opened.  You were met with a distraught and shirtless devil just inside, one hand holding a place in your old diary, the other tangled in a bright red bra.

   You stared at each other.

   “Ah… M-Mira.  I assure you,” he breathed.  “This predicament isn’t… quite as damning as it appears to be.”

   You gawked at him.  Then sputtered a laugh.

   “Well, uh,” you said, reaching into your pocket and revealing the slip of paper with purple ink far more easily than you had expected, “It’s nice at least to be damned together.”

 


 

 

 

Chapter Text

🔥 𝑅𝑒𝒶𝓁 𝓁𝒾𝒻𝑒 𝑜𝓃 𝓉𝒽𝑒 𝓈𝑒𝓋𝑒𝓃𝓉𝒽 𝒻𝓁𝑜𝑜𝓇 🔥

𝒸𝒽𝒶𝓅𝓉𝑒𝓇 𝓉𝓌𝑒𝓃𝓉𝓎 𝑒𝒾𝑔𝒽𝓉


 

   Demiurge held out a hand, and you placed the slip of paper into the center of his palm.  He weighed it there.  You could sense the black flames itching to spark between his fingers.

   “Are you certain?”

   You nodded.  “If that’s what it means to you… then yes.  I’m glad you told me.”

   Demiurge looked at the purple ink, the little heart, the coy message.  He opened his mouth, took in a breath.

   Then shut it.  Closed his hand around the bit of paper.  And put it in his pocket.

   “I was quite irate with her when she appeared at the office, you know.  Her impertinence is as boundless as her counterpart.  She has no fear of disrupting propriety for her own desires.”

   You sputtered a laugh.  “Wow, that really does sound like her!  That’s true, huh?  Peroronchino did make Shalltear a pretty bold personality.  Actually, to be honest, it sounds like a move he’d try pulling himself!”

   Charlotte’s invasion early that morning of the place you both now called work had been unwelcome and unnecessary, and as Demiurge passed by the front offices and caught her in conversation with an dark-expressioned Mr. Angah, he had immediately and rightly been suspicious.  She had apparently come to offer Demiurge her direct line, which Mr. Angah stated was an unusual gift on her part.  There was some uncomfortable but balanced history between her and the CEO it seemed, something Demiurge didn’t expound upon for you.

   The devil smiled, arguing with himself within his mind.  You had agreed with his reasoning, had even seemed to be relieved at his explanation.  There was no need to burden you with the details of this arrangement.  You would remain safe, and that was all that mattered.

   “She did not seem to appreciate that the small commemorative consultation I offered her two days ago in the lobby was merely a gesture of good will.  Throwing not only my name but yours around our place of employment was an affront I was more than slightly displeased with, and to presume she had any influence over my actions was an egregious added offense.  I had planned to remind her of her manners tonight, but… if you do find merit in the notion of such efforts, I will instead speak with her on our original proposed arrangement.”

   Biting your lip, you chuckled.  “If you think it’ll keep the neighborhood safer, then I think it’s a good thing.  I just… I mean, wow.  When you were so protective of me meeting her, I thought it was about how flirty she was, not what she was involved in.  I did not get a “crime lord” vibe off of her behind all that.  Never would have guessed! She really has that much control over the city’s underworld?”

   “Indeed.”  Demiurge gave a sure nod.  “She is in a position to keep scales balanced, and to right any misunderstandings that may occur before they become the issue of the general populace.  It can become a tangled web, which is why I attempted to offer a morsel of aid.”  He watched your face.  Your eyes darted side to side, taking in the information as the blanket over your bed balled up in your fist.

   You began to ask a question.  Then you hummed and asked another.

   “You absolutely promise me you’ll be safe, right?”

   His heart pounded at your worry.  “You have no reason to fear otherwise; I would not allow for such an occurrence.”

   “Heh, yeah.”  You gave a sharp nod, turning to look him in the eye.  “If you think Charlotte is the best way to keep violence off the streets, to make the city safe, then I’m all for it.  As long as you’re sure you’ll be ok, I’m ok with it.  ...I get why you didn’t tell me before, though. You’re right, I really, really want to help however I can.  But… I’ll stay out of it, whatever it is, for you.”

   He almost told you, then and there.  Almost.  But to do so, to listen to his heart over his mind, to allow emotion to rule beyond logic, would have been to abandon the course he had begun, which was the surest way to your greatest happiness and success and safety.  Serving you was worth wandering into an area of grey.  Guaranteeing the preservation of all you were… well, that was worth wandering much farther.

   “So, uh… now that that’s settled.”  You cleared your throat, pointing to the book between you on the bed while staring at the wall.  You’d gotten the answers you wanted.  Only fair to move on.  “How, uh, how far did you get into… How much did you read?  Of that.  Because um. Yeah, there’s, there’s stuff that…. Well, some of it’s— Ok, a lot of it’s super embarrassing, and— Geez, ok, I’m just making this worse, how far exactly did you get?”

   Demiurge pressed his hands against the mattress, and you flinched.  Ugh, he wasn’t going to kneel, was he?  For heaven’s sake, you’d both agreed to forgive each other!  It would just add to your embarrassment.  But he restrained himself to your great relief, compromising by lowering his head and crossing an arm over his chest.  “My readings led me to the date upon which… you and your companions Jen and Becca uncorked the forty-three dollar bottle of wine.”

   “Ah.  Yeah, the… the day I broke up with Marcus?  Cool. Cool, yeah, that’s… that’s uh.  A lot of… things about me.  To take in.  …So!”  You swallowed, trying not to think about which entries might be before or after that, what cringe-worthy things he’d gleaned from your old ramblings.  “Do you have questions?”

   You glanced over when he didn’t respond immediately.  He looked lost.

   “Seriously, you can ask me anything.  I’m— I’m sure some of it was weird to learn.  The, uh… the thing with the… black dress?  Or, I mean, there’s the, the cookies and… Geez, look just—”  Your cheeks were hot from blushing, your hands rising to hide your face from him.  “Wow, the Charlotte thing was way easier to talk about than this, I can’t—  You have to have thoughts, right?  Please tell me what you’re thinking.  What you think of me.”

   It was silent for a moment.  You peeked out from behind your hands.  He was watching you with an expression you couldn’t quite place, ears tucked back as he responded.

   “I suppose the greatest question to consume my thoughts would be…”  He paused half a beat, then curled his lips. “...the holiday of Halloween.  The costume you assembled was a bit unclear.  Perhaps you could expound upon precisely what it’s inspiration was?”  His tail laid gracefully across his lap as he turned his grin to you.

   You blushed and mumbled, but as you did and as his smirk grew, you felt an unexpected gratitude building in your chest.  He was letting you off the hook? And he’d done it in such a… casual way. Like an equal teasing an equal.  He hadn’t added the pressure of perceived perfection by waxing poetic at your “Supremacy”, even thought you’d unintentionally left him a perfect opening to do so.  He hadn't tried to explain away your actions, or condemn them, or deny the events had occurred in any meaningful way.  Instead, he teetered at the edge of a laugh as you tried to avoid directly admitting that the outfit in question might be around here somewhere, in one of your still-packed boxes of old memorable possessions.

   With your confessions, you felt like something had changed, that some choice had been made that set you both on a path together.  Maybe you could keep growing closer.  Maybe this could bloom into a true relationship, one with mutual understanding, and no more guessing or digging to find ways to make the other happy.  Maybe you could even… build a life like this.

   Your hand rested on the cover of your journal as you rolled your eyes at his suggestion of recreating the costume for the holiday this year.

   “No way.  No!  To even do it justice at this point, it’d have to be much more complex than last time anyways.  …But... I could save a bunch on the cosmetics if I just used the ring.”  As much as you were brushing it off, his prodding had gotten the idea rolling around in your head.  It was kind of fun to think about.  “And then I could convince everyone I knew a few things about animatronics to explain the tail.  But then, of course, if I was wearing the ring, you’d have to go as a devil as well.”  You remembered the intensity of that experience and scrunched your nose in a smile.  “And I can't imagine having to act normal next to you while feeling all that in publi—… uh.”

   You had glanced over and suddenly noticed again how very shirtless he was.

   He noticed you noticing.

   You saw his chest start to rise and fall a bit quicker.

   … You should probably stop staring.

   “Uh— Um.  Well, I mean… It was a, when we did it before, it was a lot to get used to.”  Stop staring.  “—I mean, I really enjoyed it!  It was nice, it was— It’s— I wouldn’t ask— Well, that’s not something I usually jump into, that level of physical relationship, it’s weird for me to get so comfortable with someone so fast and that was really— uh, it was unusual for me to do that, I—  It’s not typical for me.”  Wow, great job broaching that subject.

   “I did by chance take notice of your mention of that customary policy while reading.  As well as the several times you mentioned it the other night.”

   “Mmm.  Mm-hmm.  Yup, yeah, I did, didn’t I?”  Oh, geez, why did he have to be so collected and smooth when all you could act was stiff and weird?!  Do not look in his eyes no matter how smug his smile beamed, you were being so awkward, change the subject, change the subject—

   “I, uh, noticed a lot of new stuff out there!  The furniture looks nice.  And there’s sure lots of boxes on the counter, what’s the occasion?”  You tried to revive the teasing tone he had adopted earlier.  Maybe it could save you.  Probably not.

   “The blessing of a day with you is occasion enough for such a meager offering, my Lady.  To be frank, they are meant to adorn and impress you.”  A bit of a pause.  A deep inhale.  He took your hand from off the book and raised it to him.  “And if this devil is blessed enough…”

   Your eyes were pulled to his, and they flashed open wider for a moment.  They were clear to your vision, a blue echoing further within to color their appearance as the sharp angles they held cut him deeper into your soul.

   “...Also to secure a portions of your affections.”

   You felt his lips dust your knuckles.  Your eyes didn’t leave his.

   “Oh.”  Your reply was no more than a breath.  “Well, t-the dark chocolates were a pretty good purchase then.”

   His expression lightened at that, and you felt his tail tap happily against the mattress, directly next to your knee.  “Would you truly say so?!”

   That smile was glorious.  You felt it spreading from his face to yours.  “I tell you I like dark chocolate, and the next day you’ve gotten me some?  It means a lot.  Last night… that was really nice, Demiurge.  To talk, and to feel like, we’re really going somewhere with this.  With our... relationship.  To feel like this… could all be more than a circumstance.”

   The end of his tail twitched again.  He nodded, lowering your hand, still in his, to rest over his thigh.  “I have been, admittedly, struggling with the problem you set before me in that conversation.  Our difference of comprehension concerning past events.  And while I still do not believe there is as much from that time that separates our understandings of each other as connects us, my intrusion which has so easily been forgiven by you brought me to an abrupt reality as to the truths weighed against me.  Your descriptions of events are diversified from my own, not in all instances, but in several that illustrate well how I could not have seen beyond what was available in that time.  I understand more greatly the hesitation you expressed in your knowledge of me, as well.  If I, with the years of your welcoming voice teaching me of you, years of coming to know your actions and garnering your thoughts, still have miscomprehensions to correct, how could I possibly expect you to believe to know me?  Our interactions were frail, nearly inconsequential games, and showed you no insight to my own mind.  I must make up for that time.”  He looked down to your hand, turning his own over yours to rest atop it, leaving your palm to sit on his leg as he ran his thumb over where his lips had graced your knuckles.  “I wish you to possess all of me.  Every ounce of my being belongs to you, and I wish to do whatever is needed to allow you to accept that offering fully.”  The next words were barred slightly in their progress, but burst forth, a bit of a rush aiding their momentary lapse.  “And… as presumptuous as my goals may be, I do look to attain a portion of you.  Quite an inordinately elite portion of your sentiments.  I assure you, my pursuit of greater attainment cannot be sated, I will continue to desire and pursue you with single-mindedness as long as my existence is a reality!  Of course, that is not to say I will overstep any boundaries you may set!  I plan to make my intentions clear, but I cannot deign to grasp a gift unoffered, and will not—”

   “Demiurge?”

   His voice halted in his throat.

   “That’s a lot of words just to say I was right.”

   Your smile was pursed in jest, face flushed with red even in your teasing.  A small laugh escaped him, and your expression brightened at it.  Just as he had pulled you from your nervousness moments ago, you now gently rescued him from his own.  You were truly incredible.  Exceptionally remarkable.  Just as he knew you to be.

   Your eyes fluttered to his lips only for a moment, but that was permission enough.  His hand left yours and sifted into your hair to cradle your head, and it followed as you leaned into him.  His lips met with yours.  It was as though this were the first time they had.  A soft warmth rose with your collarbone as a new breath filled your chest, laden with the sensation of him, and you wondered briefly if you were right now in the midst of a flame.  The heat and light of this solitary kiss both sheltered and energized you as you felt him draw you closer, your hand rising from his thigh to his torso, glad to close the gap between you.  A sigh more like a groan slid from him, and you responded by wrapping your arm along his back in agreement.

   This was not like last time.  Last time had been driven with almost a desperation, a longing.  This was simpler.  This was docile in it’s advancement, each moment savored before shifting to the next.  It was like discovering a truth you had long been blind to, connecting to a portion of yourself you had only felt in phamtom before.  You felt no desire to rush this.  No need to worry over any part of it.  You had feelings for him, he had the same for you.  What was the point in pretending to be waiting for some imaginary precedent, in holding back from what you were both willing to labor for?  His tail lifted as his other hand circled under your knees, raising your legs up over his own, metal appendage unable to resist also finding a way to hold you and grasping around your waist as you inched more into his lap.  He broke your kiss only for a moment, to see your eyes, to place his hands around your face.

   You were safe here, in his hands.  You were safe reflected in his eyes.  You could wish for nothing more than this.

   “You are…”  He cupped your face closer, placed his forehead on your own.  His tail wrapped around the whole of you, end tapping at your side with a soft rhythm.  Your free hand had wandered to rest upon it, the sleek metal warming your skin as you held your breath, listening to his words as though to try and hold them as completely as he held you.  “... Everything.  You are truly everything.”

   Foreheads danced to noses as you sat stunned, floating in his second offense of this particular declaration of your worth, his lips falling once again to yours—

   “Mr. Demiurge!

   Good golly gosh, you nearly jumped out of your skin.  Demiurge had dropped his hands to support your back, head whipping away from yours to take note of the direction of the abrupt interruption.  You both heard the front door shut.  That door’s hinges were far too well oiled.

   You burst out with a laugh as Demiurge growled in protest, mumbling something about being late and having terrible timing.

   “Hello?—  Uh…w-wow, this is heavy...”  The voice rang from the main entry, down the hall and into your bedroom.  You snickered and dropped your head against Demiurge’s chest, petting his tail in reassurance that this was fine.  He stopped mumbling at that, but still couldn’t restrain a sigh.  “Sir, I’m just dropping off your delivery!  The door was unlocked! … Like you said!  So… I’ll just be on my way!  Thank you again for your business!”  Another moment, and the sound of the door closing once again clicked through the apartment.

   “More stuff?” you teased.  “Wow, Demiurge, just how much are they paying you?”

   He hummed, and you shivered as you felt it reverberate in his chest.  “Not nearly what I am worth, as an assurity,” he smirked.  “Would you like to observe the gifts I have arranged for you?”

   You looked up at him, diamond eyes gleaming as ears tilted skyward.  “I’m sure they’re all great.  But…”  You raised your hands to his neck, setting the base of them under his jawline as your fingertips played with the velvety texture of his hair.  You let the weight of your arms pull him closer.  “Maybe in a minute?”

   The fang-revealing smirk that grew on his face made it plain he agreed.

 


 

Chapter Text

🔥 𝑅𝑒𝒶𝓁 𝓁𝒾𝒻𝑒 𝑜𝓃 𝓉𝒽𝑒 𝓈𝑒𝓋𝑒𝓃𝓉𝒽 𝒻𝓁𝑜𝑜𝓇 🔥

𝒸𝒽𝒶𝓅𝓉𝑒𝓇 𝓉𝓌𝑒𝓃𝓉𝓎 𝓃𝒾𝓃𝑒


 

   “How about mornings versus nights?  Which do you like more?”

   You pulled out the flower Demiurge had placed behind your ear to inhale it’s scent deeply; it was heavier than you expected, a gentle fragrance that was still tinged with the mint that had surrounded it in the arrangement he’d pulled it from.  He cocked his head to the side as he handed you yet another bag to open, the mint you’d teasingly placed by his ear in return for the flower tilting slightly as he did.

   “Hmm.  Each has their benefits.  Mornings are a creator of productivity, made to allow for a properly fulfilling day to follow when treated correctly.  They fill the mind with purpose and enable it’s potential. However, evenings and nights allow for much more interesting activities… and nights become the predecessor to mornings, after all.  If forced to choose, nights would more benefit my machinations, if the last of it’s hours could be lent to business.”

   “So, you enjoy nights more than mornings?”

   “I find them much more useful, yes.”

   You rolled your eyes against your unyielding smile as you pulled something wrapped in tissue paper from the bag.  Another shirt, and a necklace to boot. The style would go well with the slacks and skirt from the last bag, and the necklace was a pretty blue dot jewel hanging from a thin gold chain.  You went to put it on over the t-shirt you’d changed into, and Demiurge turned the question back to you.

   “Nights,” you answered easily.  “I was always the first to fall asleep at slumber parties, but I still love nights.  The stars, the silence you can’t find in daylight, the feeling that the world has just stopped for a while and you can enjoy the moment as though nothing outside your field of sight exists.”  You stopped fiddling with the golden chain and put the flower back in your hair for a little better control over your fingers, and you felt the the clasp under your chin finally come together.  “It’s like… a different kind of powerful, a peaceful kind, and I love it.” Twisting the necklace around so the gem sat along the line of your collarbone, you looked up at him. “Your turn!”

   He stared at you.  You waited a moment, placing the blouse atop the three others you had already unwrapped.  The price tags had been removed, but it was easy to tell none of them had come from your regular second hand stores you liked to browse.  You tried not to think about the price. That wasn’t the point, and it would be rude, but… man, there were a lot of bags. You tried not to let it stress you out.

   Demiurge picked up a box and put it in your hands.  “Perhaps you could ask another as I ponder my next inquiry.”

   You felt around the edges for the sides of the lid, lifting it corner by corner as you registered his hesitation.  Your questions so far had been fun and lighthearted, but was he wanting to ask something a bit more serious? Maybe… you could help change the tone, if that was the case.  Present something that wasn’t such a generic topic.

   “Ok, I’ve got one then.”  You popped the lid off, revealing another set of blouses and a sweater.  Ooh, that actually looked pretty comfy. You ran the surprisingly soft fabric between your fingers as you presented your question.  “Your glasses. Do you need them?”

   Demiurge huffed a laugh.  “They were made to suit me specifically by Lord Ulbert.”

   You nodded.  “Yeah I know, I remember him rendering the details.  But… do you need them to see?”

   “I need them to be seen.  I do require them.”

   “...Ok, but—what does that—”  Your eyebrows bunched together and you narrowed your eyes, trying to decide if he was teasing you or being obstinate or if he truly didn’t understand the difference in what you were asking versus what he was saying.  He pushed them higher onto his nose. You sighed, adding the blouses to the pile.

   “Nevermind.  How about this one instead then:  If you could pick any other species to be for a day, what would you pick?”

   “I’m content with the variety at my disposal,” he replied, tail lifting another bag to you as he took the empty box away.  “I am more than well made enough as I am.”

   You took it with one hand and cuddled the sweater with the other, shaking your head.  “Nope, I’m not letting you get two in a row. Just for fun, anything, an animal or an Yggdrasil race.  What would you want to try on just for fun?”

   He folded the box and set it in the pile of empty boxes and bags, glancing over his frames at you as he did.  “Very well, my Lady.”

   You paused at his tone.  Did he just used “my Lady”... teasingly??

   “I suppose… There was a race unutilized by Nazarick I am aware of that I would very much have liked to encounter.  The Neverborn. Are you familiar?”

   You bit your lip.  “A little. Pscionic powers, right?  Kinda alien looking?”

   “Indeed.  A ring of energy encircles their head as a manifestation of and tool in the use of their abilities to psionically affect allies and enemies alike.  A creative mind could put their arsenal to great use. I would be quite tempted to see how far such abilities could be stretched. And…”

   “The irony of a devil with a halo?” you guessed.

   He barked a laugh.  “Precisely. And you, Mira?  What form would you adorn ‘for fun’?”

   “Well, I—”  —would be a djinn.  I would be Zoba again.

   The force of the words shocked you as you held them in your throat.  And here you thought you were over that. It would never happen.

   You pulled the sweater over your head.

   All the races of Yggdrasil, all the abilities that had been at your fingertips… they were nothing more than dreams now.  Sure, you had a little touch of magic. You had Demiurge. But you would never again have everything you’d enjoyed there.

   You slid the sweater down past your face, and Demiurge’s tail twitched at the change in your expression.  “Do you think… What if it had…” You tried to still the thoughts. What if I’d somehow been the one to stay with you?  What if we could have been in your world instead of mine?  Would you prefer if I was her?

   “Lady Mira?”

   You were silent for another moment.  …No. No, this was not a train of thought you wanted to jump on.  This couldn’t bring anything good with it, and it certainly wouldn’t make Demiurge feel like he could ask whatever question was on his mind.  Besides, the idea was impossible to begin with. No use tormenting yourself with it.

   “A capybara,” you replied.  “They’re so sweet and lovable and always seem content.  I would totally be a capybara for a day, I’ve always liked them!”  You flipped your hair out of the back of the sweater and smiled at him.  “Now, go ahead! I’ve stalled for you, it’s your turn. I know you’ve got one.”

   An ear twitched, and Demiurge frowned.  “As perceptive as I should have expected.  Very well… then I will reveal what is on my mind if you will impart what has just plagued your own.”

   You pursed your lips.  Well, drat. He had you trapped by your own curiosity, and by the presentation of a fair trade.

   “...A djinn.  If I had the choice, I’d be her.”  There. Not your full line of thought, but that should be satisfying enough, right?  You glanced over at him to see. His ears were pulled back. He nodded once.

   “As stated at the beginning of your question.  I believe we are both well made enough just as we are.”  His tail brushed against your leg and sat wrapped at your ankle.  You felt something lift off your chest. How did he always seem to know what to say?

   “Well.  Ulbert did put a lot of work into those glasses.”

   Demiurge grinned, then reached up and purposefully took them off, almost knocking the mint sprig out of his hair as he did.  “The effort of detail is not lost to me. His genius, as with all the creations of the Supreme Beings, is starkly apparent.” He examined the glass for cleanliness, then handed them over to you.  You took them with one hand, the other still holding the next present. Something about the offering felt internally important, as though this were a milestone of some kind or another. “And yours in particular was hidden amongst many of them.”

   His icy eyes squinted at you without the frames to cover them.  The light from the bulbs overhead refracted from them out to you, and you watched as the clear angles shined.  The sight with the topic brought back memories. “I did like to do what I could, yeah. Helping everyone make the best creations possible made me happy.”

   His tail shifted against your leg, a spike’s side pressing at your calf.  “I have wondered… Did you ever consider constructing a life yourself?”

   You blinked.

   Was that it?  The question on his mind?  Why didn’t you make an NPC?

   You shrugged.  “Well, yeah. I mean, I did.  I just never actually made it.”  You stuck a hand into the bag, fingers wrapping around something soft.  “I collected some items and mapped out levels and all of that. I even sketched it all out once, to try and get a better feel for what I wanted.  But, then… there were only so many levels available with the tomb, and everyone’s ideas were so great, I didn’t want to take away anyone’s chance to make their dream build.  I always meant to make mine as well, but… it just… never happened, I guess.” It probably wasn’t as big of an answer as he was expecting, no mysterious reason or huge obstacle revealed.  It just was the way things had turned out. You let the downturn of your lips fall away as you pulled your arm out of the bag, smirking as a velvety poof came into view. “Awww, a frog plush?  It’s so cute!!”

   Holding the two arms of the frames together in an “x”, you placed the glasses over the stuffed animal’s nose.  “Oh, he’s so refined now,” you cooed, turning him for Demiurge to see.

   The devil continued to squint, but smiled, the action more of a continuation of polite conversation than a true enjoying response.  Oh, right. Could he even see what you’d done? You unfolded the glasses and raised them hesitantly to your own nose, your question as to their use coming again to your mind.

   “... You did, then, create someone for you?”

   Your turn to squint.  Partly from the question, but also… something about these glasses felt disorienting, but not in the same way a traditional pair would.  Rather than distorting the shapes around you, they seemed further refined. Colors popped with greater clarity, edges seemed to separate with more decisiveness. There were even a few shades that you were sure you’d never seen in your life…

   You glanced over the top of them to compare.  Demiurge’s smile flickered.

   “I came up with an idea for a character I liked.  But it never came to anything. What do you mean?”  You tilted back up to look through the lenses again, squint returning.

   “... Might I inquire as to what features this creation held?”

   “I thought you were going to tell me what was on your mind,” you accused.

   “Perhaps I am more interested in this new discovery.”

   You looked over the frames again, eyelids still pulling together despite the absence of alteration to your vision, and shuffled a bit in your seat.  “I could pull out my notes later and let you see if you really want. Just… I know the stats aren’t utilized really well, but I was planning to ask Peroroncino for help adjusting them and never… got around to it.”  You didn’t want to admit that while the feathered guild member was very good at min/maxing stats to different builds, his blunt and boastful manner about it had disinclined you from approaching him. You had been sore enough about his critique (among other comments) on your own build, you didn’t need the added criticism on an NPC you probably wouldn’t ever get around to.  “So I know it’s not perfect, but…”

   “I would—be greatly honored!” Demiurge suddenly declared.  You jumped a bit at his excitement. “To be allowed a glimpse of creation!  To view that wonder from your position would be a privilege-- ah… notably benefiting my understandings as to your perspective.”  He collected himself partway through his outburst, relaxing his tail as it had gripped your ankle more tightly.

   A smile strained across your face.  “Uh… yeah, ok then. I’ll… I’ll find it sometime for you.”  You cleared your throat. “So, why do you ask?”

   He handed you another box, a smaller one this time.  It fit in one hand, and was colored a stark black with the silver emblem of a store pressed on top.  “I find myself reconciling the impressions I had of you before with the details I now learn. My most common finding is that while overall assumptions as to circumstances I made were incorrect, my understandings of who you are and the character behind your actions continues to ring true.  So, to reframe those thoughts, I would have your permission to present the questions that circled my mind unasked in those times.”

   You felt the frames slip down your nose as you leaned your neck forward and went to adjust them, then realized:  He could probably do with having his glasses back. You took them off, handing them over as you nodded at his suggestion.  “Ok. Well, you are behind a couple questions, after all.  And, if you count all the talking I got to do back then, it’s way past your turn to dictate the conversation.  So… Yeah, sure. Is there somewhere specific you wanna start?”

   He placed the silver frames on his face once again in silence.  He gestured at the box in your hands, and you obliged. He seemed to be choosing his words very particularly, and you didn’t want him to feel rushed.  If this was important to him, you were more than fine with him taking the time he needed.

   Nestled on a fitted bed of velvet, a delicate arrangement of blue jewels adorned a golden wire connected to a hairpin of the same color.  A single white gem larger than the rest sat at their center, and you watched it’s smooth surface dance with the rainbow beneath as you lifted the piece from the box.  It was stunning to watch. You wondered what the bright opal would seem like through his frames.

   “Unfortunately, there is not a singular question that can surmise my intentions.  But there may be a point upon which I can direct my inquisition, if you would allow for the understanding of this being merely a starting point to gain further direction.”  He wasn’t handing you another box. You fiddled with the hairpin.

   “I can get that.  There’s so much you’ve gotta have questions about.  I understand.” He deserved to know everything. But… 

   You felt a roar that had been hibernating in you twisting tighter, reaching from your gut to your throat, pulling your neck lower into your shoulders despite your struggle against it’s gravity.  There were some things you didn’t want to explain. Some truths you weren’t sure you wanted to put on him. Truths you didn’t want to put on you .

   You raised the pin, feeling around to try and fit it next to the flower.  He stepped forward.

   The cool metal slid through strands of hair, and you sensed a bundle gather within the grooves as he balanced it alongside the aromatic petals.  You inhaled at his neck as he disturbed the scent into the air, and together a bouquet of spice and flora filled you. Fingers fell into your hair as had the ends of the pin, resting against your scalp for just a moment.

   If only you’d known, back then.  If only you’d had the slightest idea.

   “Thank you, Demi,” you whispered.

   He took a slow breath in and out, seeming to lengthen time itself in the way you wished it would, then pulled back, picking up one of the few remaining bags.

   “It has been far too long since you’ve called me by that.”

   You took the bag, eyebrows pulling together at the statement.  “What?”

   “Demi.  The nickname has not been used since I arrived.  It… is good to hear it from you again.”

   The roar was overtaken by a silence.

   Had you really not called him that?  Not once?

   You used to call him that constantly.  It was a given for the word to roll off your tongue when you greeted him.  It was a term of endearment, a token of what you believed to be a one-sided friendship built against a wall, when he had been receiving those tokens all along.  He had been used to so much more from you, hadn’t he? How could you have forgotten that?

   “I… get what you mean about reconciling the past with now.  I didn’t really see…”

   He shook his head.  “I am the one who must come to terms with my surroundings, Mira.  You have been nothing but accommodating to my misconceptions, and I am only astounded at where we now stand despite them.”  His gaze fell across you, doubtless reminiscing on your closeness just before you had moved on to opening the overwhelmingly large array of gifts.  You certainly were, as your eyes joined in wandering him. “...And I apologize for creating a relevance to you where there need not be one. But I would heed your plea to seek out my own desires, and pray that endeavor does not trouble you in my attempt to find a reasoned place at your side.”

   You weren’t opening the bag.  You let the top fold over under your arms.  “Ask whatever you need to ask.”

   His tail was still at your ankle.  It released, moving behind him in a formal curve, his hands following to grasp at his straightened back.  The feeling of silence gathered at your shoulders, keeping the roar at bay. You needed it, you sensed. This question was going to be just what the roar was warning against.  A truth you didn’t want to face.

   “My Lady… Can you describe to me.  When you entered that reality… Exactly what was the realm of Yggdrasil to you?”

 


 

 

Chapter Text

🔥 𝑅𝑒𝒶𝓁 𝓁𝒾𝒻𝑒 𝑜𝓃 𝓉𝒽𝑒 𝓈𝑒𝓋𝑒𝓃𝓉𝒽 𝒻𝓁𝑜𝑜𝓇 🔥

𝒸𝒽𝒶𝓅𝓉𝑒𝓇 𝓉𝒽𝒾𝓇𝓉𝓎


 

   Alright, you had your purse. Your phone was in it and charged, you had your new heels on, deodorant had been applied, makeup was complete… where were your keys…

   You hopped from your bedroom to the kitchen, calling out as you swung in a circle to check both the island counter and the space under the cabinets in your search.  “Ok, I’m just about to head out!”

   “I will be awaiting your return,”  Demiurge assured you, walking into the kitchen doorway from the opposite end of the room.  “I will see to my work from here today, so I will be available should you have any need of me.”  He held out your keys, apparently having anticipated your loss of them. “May I suggest, an appetizer of chawanmushi is an excellent choice to begin, as the head chef studied with a man who reportedly has excellent abilities with the dish.  Then perhaps for the central meal, to move on to…”

   You took the keys as he spoke and juggled them between your fingers, trying to remember all the advice he recited for your benefit.  It was certainly a bit overkill; you had a feeling Mr. Angah already knew what he wanted since it was a place he enjoyed and you could just follow suit.  But this wasn’t surprising from Demiurge the last few days, to be even more over the top than you had come to know he was. Still, you had to stifle a bit of exasperation at just how drastic his attentive attitude was right now.

   “ … which should allow you ample opportunity to gain the approvals needed for the project.”  He held open a jacket, moving to slip it onto your shoulders and proving your thought that he was especially excessive today.

   “Thanks, I’ll try my best to remember,” you smiled as you pulled it around you.

   He smiled back.

   You played with your keys.

   “I appreciate the help.”

   “Of course!  I’m pleased at the opportunity.”

   His head tilted forward and you nodded politely.

   “I shouldn’t be gone too long.”

   “Of course, my Lady.”

   … This was awful.

   You took a few hesitant steps toward the hallway, then paused at his side.  “Is there anything you want me to mention to him? Or… anything we—”

   “I will be communicating with him later in the day on various items that are not of immediate importance.  But thank you, once again, for the offer.”

   You pulled the smile back on half-heartedly.  “Yeah… of course, Demi.” The interaction was settling a disorienting haze over your mind.  You had scheduled a ride-share to take you across town for this meeting, to the prestigious japanese restaurant.  It should be arriving any minute. You should really go downstairs to watch for it.

   “And—”

   You reversed momentum mid-turn and looked back so fast you were surprised your head stayed attached.

   “...I have the utmost faith in your abilities for this meeting.  My offer is sincere, however. Please do not hesitate to ask for any assistance.  I am but a call away, for anything.”

   It was there.  The subject was right in reach, tangible as an ivy hedge growing up between you.  It had been for days, growing thicker and thicker, hadn’t it? This undertone that had tainted your exchanges ever since you answered his question.  Was it possible you could lose sight of him completely between the leaves if you didn’t muster up the courage to talk about it soon, if you didn’t find a way to accept the truth yourself and then get through to him?  You knew you should have done it already. But besides Demiurge being oddly avoidant of the subject, you didn’t know how to cut down a weed you had planted.

   “I promise, I will.  Yeah.”

   His tail whipped in the half-moment of silence, spiked end remaining in the curl the motion created.  You watched his unbetraying expression. He watched you.

   Could you try to broach it?  He seemed so much closer to the topic in this instant, stalling yet still waiting, and you wondered if inside he were wishing you would give the time to discuss it here and now.

   But you had no time to give.  You had to go.

   And you still didn’t know what to say.

   “I-I’m gonna be late… you’ll be here later?”

   “Prepared for your arrival.”  He bowed his head. You tried not to flinch.

   “Great.  I’ll see you then!”  You put as much cheer into your voice as you could, turning and walking out of the room before the last word left your lips.  Ugh, now that you were leaving, you wished you could cancel the whole thing and just stay. Even with how horribly awkward it was today, you wanted to make things better.  Just yesterday you’d thought that maybe it was fading, maybe things would go back to how they’d been right before that conversation, maybe you could gain back the ground you’d lost.  Obviously, you’d been very wrong. Something about today had made it worse.

   You locked the door behind you with a guilt that thudded through the deadlock, gripping the strap of your purse like a rappelling rope as the elevator took you down to the lobby.  Once the pressure of this appointment with Mr. Angah was off, then you could concentrate on your own problems again. The mistakes you’d made in that conversation. Hopefully Demiurge would still be willing to talk when you got back.  You thought of the files you had on your phone, the lists of partner charities to go over with Bazar Peak’s CEO. A whimper found it’s way through your sigh. You had a lot of work to do.




 

 

   He had no work left to do.

   As he’d gone about his morning, it had become obvious that frustratingly rampant thoughts would cloud his mind far too heavily to be of any real use to himself until at best later in the evening.  To compensate for this, he had decided to finish only that which was necessary for progress to continue unhindered, and set the rest aside for a more productive day. Now, with you gone, he sat in the living room, glowering at the hearth as he added and took flames from it at his whim.

   His email inbox had been emptied.  His paperwork for the day sent off.  Requests for consultations had been seen to, and there were no emergencies, even minor, left to handle.  His personal projects were all moving along well, and any issues that he anticipated might arise could be undoubtedly handled by the appropriate party.

   The flames inched higher as he flicked another handful into their midst.

   Your blouse had been beautiful, laying well across your shoulders and leading attention to the lines that drew your frame.  It would set you apart from others as you enjoyed your meal. He wondered with almost a grin how many eyes would be captured by you today.  Likely, preferably, all of them. How could they not, after all? And once they were apprehended by the sight, it was only a matter of moments before they would realize the full allure of you.  Your stilling soul. The welcoming presence you offered. It was an effect proven time and time again, no matter what clothing you chose to adorn yourself with.

   But why not another blouse?  Among the array available to you, why that one?

   He curled a claw, and a tongue of heat shriveled into smoke.

   In the room next door, a television screen rested on a piece of furniture.  A shelf beneath housed a plastic rectangular box. Before those sat a chair, facing the silent arrangement attentively.  The last time Demiurge had been in that room, he had just gifted you several complete outfits, all of which had been equally befitting your shape to the one you just left in.  You had worn several of them over the past few days, and had also donned the jewelry offered by him, and enjoyed the sweets with a nearly sinful gratification.

   You hadn’t taken the time to pop a morsel of chocolate into your mouth on your way out the door, nor had you placed the golden chain with a fixed blue dot around your neck.  You hadn’t chosen an outfit with a single piece he had given you. Nothing, from your choice of food to your choice of clothing, clear down to your shoes bought only yesterday, had held a trace of him.

   A light blipped on and he snapped a hand to the cushion next to him, bringing his phone into view with a hope; perhaps you needed him there, perhaps you had decided not to have this lunch so privately—

   He grumbled and tossed it back down as a message from Pan garishly informed him that he had been correct in his prediction of betrayal in a certain asian governing party, and that the corresponding stock choices they had placed were doing 17.8% better than expected.  Of course they were, couldn’t the man simply do his job?

   Demiurge had half a mind to go on up and make sure he could in fact do his job.  And why not? It had been a moment since he checked in, after all, and his antics were admittedly entertaining.  More relevantly, it might be efficient to take the opportunity of this time to test the limits of the hacker’s skills.  The demon’s mind wandered back to the particulars of the freshly festering knowledge that menaced in it’s background, and how they related to the technology that the ostentatious man specialized in.  Perhaps he could take a look at the headset which had caused you injury on the night of Demiurge’s arrival. Surely there was something more to be learned from—

   With a growl he clenched a fist, claws snapping as he drove them to his palm.  The dark flames gave a squeal as they imploded as though they had only ever been the loop of a knot in a noose with no neck.  The wooden logs they had enveloped shuddered in the sudden death.

   That blouse had sat well across your shoulders.  The man you were going to meet would surely notice, as well.

   Another pale flash of light, and Demiurge swung a glare to see who else dared disturb him today.  The name lit in bright pixels caused him to halt in his mental hexing. He deliberated for a moment.  Then replied not in text, but with a call.

   Charlotte picked up quickly.

   “Well, isn’t this a pleasant surprise!” she began.  “And here I thought I’d wait hours to—”

   “You’re dealing with this discovered deficiency incorrectly,” he drolled unimpressedly, cutting her off before she could delve into further banter.  “I can arrive within a quarter hour.”

   “What?”  He could hear the smugness in her feigned shock.  “I thought you didn’t want to associate too closely with little ol’ me.”

   “That sentiment still rings rather true,” he growled, wondering already how much more he was going to regret this than expected.  “However, I would attend to this oppor— forgive me, this problem personally rather than remotely. You seem to be in need of an expert opinion before you create a larger issue from what is currently a simple inconvenience.”

   “Hmm.  Why, Demiurge, I do believe you’re asking permission to approach the line between advising and assisting.  If you’re not careful, you’re going to cross it.”

   “Make no mistake, I am not asking permission.  I am disclosing the options laid available to you, and assuming you are not a fool.  As such, I am also informing you; my assistance is, apparently , required.”  He held the phone between an ear and his shoulder as he picked up his carnelian-hued jacket and slid his arms back into the sleeves.  “With it thus offered to you and the optimism you are not completely devoid of sparking gray matter within that skull, I am on my way.”

   A pause, then a cackle, the sound like bells that would sooner steal a song than ring their own.  “Then I’ll make sure we’re ready for you!”

   “Excellent.  And, kindly don’t begin without me.”  Demiurge took his keys off the hook by the door, finger hovering over the “end call” button as he held the Ring of Infiltration in his palm.  The small “x” on it’s surface dulled in it’s matte indentation against the rest of the reflective metal. “I prefer to do my work with a clean canvas when possible.”

 

 


 

 

   “I have on average ten meetings a day.”

   “Yeah, that’s a lot.”

   “And everyone always turns to me as though I can solve whatever problem they put forth.  Like I’m a genius of a businessman and overflowing with untold wisdom.”

   “Uh-huh?...”

   “I’m getting worn out.  It’s been years since I even talked to anyone about my life.  I’ve almost forgotten what I used to be like. I mean, I haven’t done anything like this in a long time.”

   “...Coulda fooled me— dang it !!  Again?!  How?!”

   The pale man laughed.  “A battle isn’t the same as a raid; you aren’t fighting a computer, you’re fighting a person.  Button mashing isn’t going to get you anywhere.”

   You sighed, a smirk overshadowing your feigned annoyance as you slid your phone face down onto the table at last in defeat.  He set his down as well, the colorful “winner!” animation bright and celebratory on his screen. And yet, even though you had lost game after game, you felt like that celebration sequence glittered for you.

   You’d been so stressed about this!  Everytime you’d thought of this meeting a familiar pit fell open in your gut, one you recognized from school days where you felt unprepared for a test or anticipated giving a presentation.  But here and now, it felt like you were settling into a place where you’d forgotten you could fit. It felt like you’d finally won a place in this man’s true trust.

   Thanks to your nervous fingers tripping over a gaming app rather than opening the correct file on your phone, he had heard and recognized the jingle of the arcade-style startup screen.  He inquired, which led to you admitting you noticed the handheld system in his desk, and before you knew it the conversation had corrected course as though you’d flipped the channel from a heart-gripping thriller movie to a familiar childhood cartoon.  Moments later you were comparing favorite titles from earlier years as well as ones you were currently playing, and soon you were linked up to battle in a game you both happened to have on your phones. It occured to you that this was the first time you’d played something since Demiurge arrived.

   You swept the thought out of your mind. 

   “Maybe,” you admitted, “but you were hardly even paying attention!  I thought I could beat you this time at least.”

   “You’ve built your team without much strategy in mind,” he said, shaking his head as a grin blossomed.  “There’s no way you’re built for battle. But you’re still at quite an impressive level; it might be fun to do a raid together sometime.”

   A small sound to the affirmative managed to make itself heard as you tried to reply, but it was like the air in your lungs became sentient and leapt from your chest, kidnapping your voice as it dashed from the memory that his words unsurfaced.  You blinked as the vision of a skull filmed across your eyes, his words sounding so much like ones that had come from the lich avatar who had been your guildmaster.

    “You know, it’s just us these days, and it’s not entirely safe for you to go out alone with your build.  It might be fun to do a raid together sometime.”

   You had let the offer slide again and again.  It sounded like he was just being kind to you; surely he didn’t actually want to go out and play babysitter.  Because that’s surely what it would have been; with your low mele capabilities and specialized magic selections, you were a tag-along rather than a teammate, meant to boost usefulness rather than be it.  But maybe, you realized, watching the man in front of you shift persona to greet the server arriving with your food, maybe it hadn’t been about a properly balanced team or completing two-manned quests or reliving those memories with closer friends.  Maybe he had just been… lonely.

   “We should,” you said as a dish was set before you.  “I’d really enjoy that.”

   He peeked over at your softened and genuine tone, a look lighting on his face as though a possibility had stunned him.  Then he fumbled a hand to gesture among the food. “Yes. Well. Ah, forgive me for removing your opportunity to choose from the menu yourself; I have a habitual meal that’s arranged beforehand and didn’t think to have it altered beyond requesting the reservation be made for two.”

   “Oh it’s no problem!  I’m not as cultured in japanese food as I’d like,” you admitted, “so I’m kinda glad you did.  Although I did hear that the…” You tried to remember what Demiurge had called it, something along the lines of…  “… the chow-a-mushy, was good?”

   A laugh like dry thunder rumbled from him.  “Close! Chawanmushi. I’m glad you already have a good opinion of it, since that is in fact what you have there.”  He directed a finger toward the white ceramic bowl in front of you.

   Well, what a perfect coincidence.

   You pretended your face wasn’t turning red from your valiant attempt at pronunciation and looked at the little covered bowl, lifting the lid to reveal a charming design of purposefully placed ingredients.  They had been cooked into the surface of a light yellow solid which filled the space like an opaque gelatin. It wasn’t quite what you’d expected.

   “It smells great,” you said honestly as you tapped a spoon with your fingers, raising it gingerly to circle the edge.

   “The kitchen will be pleased to hear it.  It’s a savory egg custard, my favorite way to begin the meal.  It reminds me of my visits.”

   You dipped the spoon into the bowl, metal edge puncturing the custard and sending a curved tear along it as you dove in.  With little resistance, you lifted the utensil back out, a flower-cut carrot decorating the top as a mushroom slice appeared in the revealed underside.  It wasn’t until the bite was in your mouth that you realized Mr. Angah was watching for your reaction.

   Luckily it was divine.  An elongated blink showed your surprise at the smoothness of the texture consorting with the brothy undertones, accompanied by the affably flavored vegetables.

   “Those must be some pretty amazing memories to match this,” you praised.

   There was that look again.

   “Times with those close to us often are.”  He took a bite of his own, glancing at his phone as the screen at last went to sleep, bright confetti-filled colors fading in favor of the low light in your private corner.  He took in a breath, letting it linger in his lungs before putting it to use. “And life has a way of bringing us new ones to make, doesn’t it? We are fortunate to have old memories to cherish, and the future to honor them with.”

   Rounding out another portion of custard, you twisted your wrist to watch the slice of appetizer rise from the bowl.  You wondered just how much trouble and care it had taken to learn the story of what made this particular dish from this particular chef so special, how much had happened behind the scenes to gift you with just that one helpful fact.

   “Yeah,” you agreed.  “Yeah, we are.”

   There was silence as you savored the bite, a thought escaping from your mind to color your smile.  Then Mr. Angah cleared his throat, and you realized the silence was not as serene for him as it was for you.

   “So, Alanna tells me you share a residence within the same building.”

   “Uh—we do, yeah,” you nodded, scooping out another spoonful.

   “She, ah, had some interesting ideas when she was informed we would be having a discussion over lunch together.”

   You froze with the spoon in your mouth.  Oh! Business! Oh yeah, that was the point of this whole thing!  “Right! Uh, lemme just…” Your fingers stuttered across your phone as you opened an app to take notes.  “What were her ideas?”

   He raised a hand to itch at his hairline.  “She was… unconvinced as to the nature of this meeting, you could say.”

   You blinked as you waited for something relevant to type.

   “She suggested that, perhaps, there were alternate intentions I was harboring in asking you to share a meal.  And—”

   “Oh.  ...Oh.  Oh! Oh that— Uh…”  Shoot. Hold on, Alanna thought this was a lunch date?  As in, a date date?!  …Did he think that??  Crap, were you on a date with your boss who reminded you of your old guildmaster, and whom you had been trying to convince to open up and let you be closer to him, and with whom you’d now had multiple private conversations that you were asked to keep just between the two of you oh no was that what was happening that could very well be exactly what was happening this was a disaster how did you get yourself in this predicament he was your boss how were you even supposed to react to this—

   “I, er, well…”  He dropped the hand from his face to gesticulate both in front of him.  “I only bring the matter up, of course, to reaffirm that we both know what this is!”  He looked at you with a tight expression, head leaned forward in cue of a response.

   You felt your brow start to sweat.  “Yeah. Yeah, because we both know what this is.”

   “Naturally.  And this is…”

   The pause was thick as custard.

   “Two friends,” you blurted too cheerfully at the exact time that he enunciated, “Merely business.”

   Oh thank god.

   You couldn’t help it.  A little snort of laughter made it’s way from your mouth before you could cover it as his shoulders dropped significantly in the released stress.

   “Yes!  As I assured Alanna.  We are merely friends, discussing business.  No ulterior motives.”

   “Besides, if it was anything more, I sure wouldn’t want to be the one to tell her about it,” you giggled.

   He laughed a bit too forcefully.  “Ah. Me either.” Then an eyebrow raised.  “Or Demiurge, for that matter.”

   You blushed and shoved another bite into your mouth.

   “Then it seems we’re in agreement; we are in fact friends.”  His tone made you look back up, the simple joy exuding from the broad shouldered man warming you.  You felt a sense of contentment that came from more than just this moment.

   “And I’m happy to be your friend, Mr. Angah!”

   “Now wait, that won’t do.”  Wagging a finger as though in reprimand despite his pleased smile, he reached his chopsticks forward to claim a piece of sushi from the array of food that had been set out before you both.  “We can’t have that intrude on our newfound pact so soon after making it. Titles shouldn’t sit between friends, Miss Mira.”

   He set the chopsticks down, using both hands to accompany his next words.  One hand proudly held a lapel while the other splayed a generous open palm towards you, as though he were making an announcement in a meeting.  You wondered if that were exactly what it was meant to be; the move seemed practiced, as though it were something he kept in his little black book and rehearsed in front of the mirror at nights to gain more confidence in his role.

   “My full name is Ivan Owen-Grey Angah.  You, however, are welcome as my friend to call me Ivan.”

   Something about the cadence of the name struck a chord of dejavu you were becoming quite accustomed to.  That in and of itself felt appropriate in this moment. The angle of his posture, the way he gave you a formal welcome into his circle, the humility in his thinking he had been placed above his station…  It was all so Momonga.

   “Ok then…”  Straightening your back and placing your hands in your lap, you tilted your head forward politely, only a little in jest at his display.  More than that, you were sincerely grateful. “I am very happy to be your friend, Ivan.”

   You somehow had a second chance at this.  And this time, you wouldn’t mistreat it.

 


 

 

Chapter Text

  🔥 𝑅𝑒𝒶𝓁 𝓁𝒾𝒻𝑒 𝑜𝓃 𝓉𝒽𝑒 𝓈𝑒𝓋𝑒𝓃𝓉𝒽 𝒻𝓁𝑜𝑜𝓇 🔥

𝒸𝒽𝒶𝓅𝓉𝑒𝓇 𝓉𝒽𝒾𝓇𝓉𝓎 𝑜𝓃𝑒


 

   Demiurge was gone on an errand tonight.  Again. That was fine, you told yourself.  You’d rather he was home, but… it was fine.  It was something for Charlotte, and you really didn’t have a good reason to ask him to stay.  You didn’t want to admit that another day had passed without bringing up the conversation that had followed his question.  The appropriate words still hadn’t come to you, but you felt sure he must have several dizzyingly accurate descriptions of the situation and his view on it that he was keeping to himself.  He always seemed to have the words to say, but could be so obstinate in avoiding them.

   You placed the last bowl in the dishwasher and hefted up the door to start the load.  If you knew anything, you were certain that by the time morning came it would be emptied, Demiurge having taken the time after you’d gone to bed to put it’s contents where they belonged.  Any time you began a chore and stepped away, you would return to find it completed. Laundry? Folded. Windows? Washed. Floors? Not only swept, but polished to a gleam. No chore was safe from his overzealous resolve.

   Did he do it to show affection, a way of spoiling you?  Or was it because of the status he attributed to you? You wondered how much the two possibilities eclipsed each other, and if that same issue had anything to do with why he wouldn’t talk to you about what was on his mind.  Maybe he simply didn’t want to express anger or disappointment in “his Lady”, didn’t feel like such things were acceptable to express. You cringed as the thought crossed your mind not for the first time. His opinion on what emotions were impermissible to direct towards you had nothing to do with whether or not he was feeling them.

   Leaning against the counter and wrapping fingers around opposite biceps, you looked at the clock.  It was late, creeping into a time better described as early. He’d left you his Ring of Sustenance yet again, but as with the other nights he’d done so, you didn’t feel like wearing it.  Still, you’d stay up a bit longer. Sleep was a long way off from your mind.

   You mused over the idea of checking social media, seeing if anyone was up and wanted to chat.  Or maybe there was a good show you could put on for some background noise as you pretended to watch it.  You still had a few boxes you hadn’t completely sorted out, you could always look through those…

   Turning around and dropping your torso to collapse across the countertop, a groan echoed into the cool surface as it smooshed your cheek.  Boring. Boring, boring, boring, none of those options were nearly engrossing enough to keep your mind from straying into more over-worried thoughts.

   Oh… but wait.

   There was one thing you had been meaning to do that would be very entertaining.  And a good use of your time to boot.

   Excitement putting a skip in your step, you hopped into the living room and pulled a cleaned out spaghetti jar off a shelf.  The sound of metal tickling metal rang out as quarters and pennies alike slid past each other, clinking against the sides and lid as you lugged it to the coffee table.  Your change jar had a bit more heft to it than last time you pulled it out. Nice.

   You twisted the lid a few more times than needed as you debated what to do first, the nearly soundless clunk of it’s edges falling to an earlier groove creating a satisfying sensation under your hand.  Then you made your decision and removed a small handful of coins to scatter across the wood. A few gleamed bright under the light peeking in from down the hall like dewdrops on a hillside, but most were too worn in their purpose to reflect the kitchen’s distant offering.  You picked three of the more seasoned pieces, and one by one, touched them as you stirred the network shimmering within you.

   A bead of warmth traveled down your arm to envelop the coins, and soon three dots of light outshone their younger counterparts.  You felt like you’d cast Light on yourself as well as you watched them in silence, a joy reverberating inside your chest at the sight.

   You still felt stunned every time you realized it.  You had magic. Real magic.

   A few more coins were separated from the rest, and you decided to try something new.  A dime and two quarters, all of the shiny variety, stood proudly visible against the grain of the table.  Putting your hand on one, you thought back to when Touch Me had accompanied you and a small team on a mission in a forest, and his armor had continued to catch the attention of mob after mob of weak but time consuming corvid monsters.  At last you had used a spell, and the trip was much smoother after that.

   The memory tugged at a string in your mind.  You responded, and after a sensation you could only describe as stillness fell from your fingers, you lifted your hand away from the coin that had glittered like a pedestrian facsimile of your guildmate’s armor.

   In the low light enunciated by the three additional glowing points at your side, you lost track of it for a moment.  Then, watching closely and moving your head around the point where you knew it sat, you were able to spot a circle that shifted just barely out of time with the angle of the wooden veins.  A soft “Ha!” sounded from you as you fist pumped in victory, then after a moment of consideration you lifted the camouflaged quarter and overlapped it slightly onto the other. You’d lose that for sure if you weren’t careful.

   What else should you try?  You etched the coin in a figure eight across the surface as you mulled over your options.  There was Invisibility, but you didn’t want to push your luck with that tonight; Camouflage was good enough for now.  Bunny Tail and Haste would be nice, but there’d be no way to tell if they really worked if you cast them onto an inanimate object.  Same with Water Breathing. What other low level spells could you attempt to reach?

   You tapped your fingertips on your cheekbones, trying to remember what else had been among the first spells you obtained.  Lion’s Courage? Charge? Maybe Mother Earth’s Blessing! The concept of blessing food to increase it’s usefulness was simple enough… but that was probably still a bit too high level for you right now.  It was in the same general vicinity as Trickster’s Trade and Wishful Thinking, both of which you’d gained much later in the game.

   A jovial smirk found it’s way onto your face as you remembered one use of Trickster’s Trade in particular.  It had been on the seventh floor of Nazarick, years ago. You saw three figures walk up to the temple where you were relaxing as you regularly did, and felt a slight panic at being caught before a hint of their conversation wafted in from where they paused beyond the entry.  Ulbert was helping Nishikienrai prod Takemikazuchi into seeing whose strength was really greater. It was a common debate to have between friends, to argue the finer points of stat choices and technicalities. But this time, Takemikazuchi was belting his superiority despite the two friends against him.

   “I’m telling you, as soon as I finish this weapon, I’ll be able to outswing even Touch Me!  I’ll get my duel and prove my strength!”

   “Pah!  You won’t even go up in a little bet against Nishikienrai, and you’re making claims like that?”  Ulbert was pecking at the man’s ego, seemingly playing the bad cop to Nishikienrai’s good cop as the ninja was soothing his large Nephilim guildmate with reassurances that it was just a simple game for some fun and maybe a little coin.

   At last they all agreed to see who could more completely destroy their boulder in the bleak landscape, permission given by Ulbert to temporarily disrupt the scenery he created for the bet. (“What’s the point of creating ruins if you can’t break things every once in a while?”)  And you found yourself, invisibility cast, peeking out the window at the scene.

   Ohhh, this was gonna be entertaining.  These two were incredibly strong members of the guild, each with their own specializations but both with incredibly high stats in physical attack.  You honestly felt lucky to be a secret witness to it. One thing didn’t make sense to you, though. Nishikienrai was the one who had chosen the terms of the bet, and Takemikazuchi had quickly accepted, because it was obviously in his favor.  Nishikienrai had an incredibly high attack, yes, but in terms of raw destructive power, Takemikazuchi was arguably already the winner. If the contest were based on speed or against a living enemy, it would be another story. But this bet was set up plainly to be tilted towards Takemikazuchi’s victory.  Why would he do that? Why would he go so far as to put money down on--

   Then, turning at the neck, the ninja nodded his head in your direction.

   Oh.

   How you thought a simple Invisibility spell could fool the half-golem who had never let an enemy evade his sights was beyond you.  Of course he knew you were there. And you’d just been telling him about the new spell you’d picked up.

   You covered your mouth to hide a smirk that didn’t appear beneath your mask.

   Nishikienrai went first.  He cut his stone into several large pieces, and Ulbert seemed almost frustrated at his friend’s lackluster effort as he invited Takemikazuchi to have a turn.  Just as the armor-clad giant raised his weapon, an orange glow enveloped him.

   A ‘ting’ sounded out as a pebble broke off the boulder.

   Ulbert’s laugh could be heard throughout the entirety of the seventh floor.  He was on the ground, and you were pretty sure if his goat eyes could show his real world reactions, there would be tears streaming through his fur.  Takemikazuchi seemed dumbfounded, hitting the stone a few more times before Nishikienrai came over and offered to break it for him. Ulbert laughed harder.

   You’d had to hide as they came into the temple after that in search of an item Ulbert had stored there, but by then your spell had worn off and the entirety of the samurai’s physical attack points had re-separated themselves from the magical defense section you’d sent them to.  It was a good memory, one of the few times you’d had a fellow guildmate as a co-conspirator in one of your pranks.

   Now that you thought about it, Demiurge had been right there for that whole spectacle.  You wondered if he’d seen the event take place. If he’d witnessed your first use of Trickster’s Trade.

   If Demi were here right now, you’d feel confident in trying out way more spells.  He’d probably even have great counsel as to how you could activate the higher tier magics.  He would talk you through it, help you figure out how to do what he’d seen you do so effortlessly in Yggdrasil.

   What he’d seen you do as you played your little game.

   You weren’t quite so captivated with this activity anymore.

   Not bothering to put the jar away, you picked up a coin of Light and clutched it tightly as you ebbed away from the table, aimlessly letting your feet take you somewhere else.  The yellow glow colored to show as an amber as it pushed through the thinner obstruction of skin where your fingers squeezed together, giving a faint guide to your legs as they flowed forward.

   The devil was out working hard, all in pursuit of some grand plan in your benefit supposedly.  As he’d assured you. That had been what he’d busied himself with from the beginning of his existence.  While you played silly games and took advantage of the nature of his reality.

   At least now he knew how silly those games were.  How silly you’d been all along.

   You looked up from the glow in your fist to see where your careless wanderings through your large apartment taken you, and a dread sunk in your chest.  Apparently, even though you couldn’t bring yourself to talk to him about it, you weren’t going to avoid confronting this with yourself.

   A tv sat in front of you, console on a lower shelf of the stand.  A controller was still on the couch, right where it had been laid at the conversation’s abrupt end.  You remembered him hardly angling the joystick after you handed it to him, dropping it to the seat after far too long a silence while he quickly stood and straightened his tie.

    “Well.  I am more than grateful to be given this higher level of understanding.  You have given me an incredible gift, and please, I wish nothing more than for it to be interpreted as such.”

  He’d been collected and level and agreeable as he said goodnight and walked away… but reserved.  Detached.

   As you gingerly sat where he had been, lifting the controller as though it could strike at your neck if not treated with tenderness, you remembered his rebuttal of your comparison of Yggdrasil to the blinking game on the screen.  He’d had some good points. He had true memories of those times. Yggdrasil had operated on a far more complex level than any other game you knew of. And he had come from it. All proof of something greater at play. But you’d downplayed everything he said, afraid of the worship you thought you heard edging his voice again, desperate to cut down that pedestal before he could lift you onto it.  Maybe you’d come across too strong. Been a bit too honest. You heard his earlier words drum in your skull as the guilt rode over you in a wave.

    “Hmm.  I see. Then… you perceived your time and… interactions there as comparable to… this?”

   He hadn’t needed to glance over at the screen.  You knew what he was referring to. That’s when you’d lost your words.  That’s when the conversation ended.

   That’s when he’d gone to bed.

   Of course.  How had you missed the problem?

   Stupid.  You were stupid, how had you convinced yourself this would be a smart explanation?  Showing Demiurge your game console, trying to prove some point about your limits, and instead reopening the wound you were both trying to build around.  He wasn’t upset by your earthly appearance, by the baseness of the origin of his view of you. You couldn’t completely shake that fear, but sitting here, hearing his words again without your own panic so close in your mind, you realized what had been in his.  He had been more concerned with your view of him. You had tried to take yourself off his pedestal, and instead kept painting for him a picture of the depth in which the devil had stood.

   Maybe his motivation for doing all the things he did wasn’t to raise you up to what he wanted from you.  Maybe he was trying to reach from where he thought he was. He kept telling you as much, but… maybe he meant it.  Maybe, despite all the confidence he had in himself, there was still insecurity.

   You realized you’d hit the power button on the controller, bringing the console to life.  A little light shone at you, and you gazed back, the new realization festering in your mind.  Then with an angry huff, you set one foot on the ground to lean across the carpet and turn the tv on.

   A few instinctive clicks of buttons and rolls of the joystick, and you were staring at the title screen of one of your most played games, next to Yggdrasil of course.  A round little bird made of bulky pixels flew off the words as a gentle melody sang out, and the movements you made to continue your game were second nature. It hit you again; this was the first time you’d sat down with the intent to play a game on your console since a demon appeared in your living room.  And now that you were playing, it felt… less.

   He was right.  This was nothing compared to Yggdrasil.  Not even reality compared to what you felt in that game.  And it was gone.

   Your little character froze by the dog it had pet, unmoving as your vision started to blur.  Yggdrasil was gone, and you were so lucky to have Demiurge, and to have the abilities you did, and to have friends that felt so familiar… why wasn’t that enough for you?  Why did you have to debase those memories in favor of debasing yourself? Why had you tried to convince Demiurge it all meant so little?

   The character on your screen fell into an idle mode, dog wandering away as the pixels bobbed up and down.  Was it too scary to think of all the things that had happened there, and what it meant if they held weight?  What if all the times you fought against monsters, they had understood what you were doing to them? What if the NPCs all cared for your guildmates like Demiurge did?  What if, with the ending of the game, they had all…

   Yeah.  It was too much.  It was too much.

   And you would never know.

   The dog passed by your character again, chasing a butterfly across the yard that vanished into thin air as it slowed back to it’s usual speed.  You couldn’t see the details at the moment, of course. You only knew the cycle from experience. Right now all you saw was a yellow blob dart across the screen at a pace that quickly halved in speed.  You felt a sound bubble in your throat as one eye cleared it’s view, a cold line tracing down your cheek as it did. The bubbling became a laugh, trembling through your body, till at last the weak sound drove you to abandon the controller beside you and curl your knees up to your chest, arms clutching them tightly to you.

   Did he resent you, for being so blind to everything he was going through?  For not understanding the depths at which he had felt everything, the reality in which he lived?  Lived?   For over and over again denying not only what it all must have meant to him, but… to you.

   Because it had.  It had.  It had held weight, all of it.  You had treasured those moments.  You’d been naive in them, sure, but your growth as a person in Yggdrasil had shaped you just as much as the battles you’d faced in reality.  It had mattered.  The guild, the successes, the relationships.  All of it had mattered to you, whether or not you cared to admit just how much it did.

   Those memories had mattered.  And you’d over and over again discredited them to him.

   Your laughs had died.  Your hands were wet.

   “...Lady Mira…”

   A startled cry halted in your chest as you registered the voice.  Demiurge. Demiurge was home. Oh, dear heavens had he been watching you cry?!  This was so pathetic, you were bundled within yourself in a dark room with a video game--

   You turned to him sheepishly, and the furrowed brow he wore vanished as he blinked, taking in your red eyes.  Oh, even worse; he hadn’t realized you’d been crying.

   It was silent for a moment, both of you unsure what move to make.  He held a coin, the glow fading from the expended time to nothing more than a glimmer in his hand.

   Then he moved around the chair to crouch in front of you.  He took a handkerchief from his breast pocket and cleaned the salted remorse from your cheek, hand lingering a moment as he took in a breath.  Then with a bit of hesitation, he snatched a second controller from beside the console without a glance and handed yours back to you, joining you at the edge of the chair as he adjusted his glasses.

   “I am regrettably but a novice where you have gathered much expertise.  I hope you will forgive me of that.”

   You were too stunned to react for a moment.  “You… you want to play a game together? Are you sure?”

   Demiurge’s tail clinked as it wrapped around the leg of the overly large chair.  “You said the other night that these activities hold treasured memories for you. In the interest of learning more of you, Mira, I should enjoy some experience in it myself.  To forge a few memories together, that is.”

   His shoulders seemed to touch his ears despite his straightened posture.  It was like you were both just lost kids and he’d asked you to the school dance, unsure whether he would get a “yes” or a denial in return.

   …What was it Ivan had said about memories?

    “Life has a way of bringing us new ones to make, doesn’t it?  We are fortunate to have old memories to cherish, and the future to honor them with.”

   It was about time that you started honoring, rather than regretting.

   Clearing your throat to try and dislodge some of the emotion from it, you nodded your head, wiping the back of a hand across your uncleaned cheek as your eyes squinted in a grin.

   “Yeah.  I’d love that with you.”

   Neither of you mentioned Yggdrasil.  You didn’t talk about Nazarick, or the hours and hours you’d spent at his side, or that you’d realized the value they really held.  You didn’t need to.

   “So, hold the controller like this… Yeah, and push that button to get your character to join the game.  So, you’ve got a sword, press that button to swing it. That’s me over there, and we’re just gonna find some low level enemies to start getting you levels.  Now, don’t--”

   “I believe I’ve spotted one already.  I’ll make short work of it--”

   “That’s ok, that chicken is--  OK RUN. HA-- OHMIGOSH, RUN , turn the joystick like this--”

 




Chapter Text

🔥 𝑅𝑒𝒶𝓁 𝓁𝒾𝒻𝑒 𝑜𝓃 𝓉𝒽𝑒 𝓈𝑒𝓋𝑒𝓃𝓉𝒽 𝒻𝓁𝑜𝑜𝓇 🔥

𝒸𝒽𝒶𝓅𝓉𝑒𝓇 𝓉𝒽𝒾𝓇𝓉𝓎 𝓉𝓌𝑜


 

   The front left wheel of your cart kept sticking.  Demiurge had pointed it out with a scoff and asked if you would like him to retrieve another, which you of course declined.  It was fine, and it wasn’t squeaking or anything, just needed a little extra push to the right sometimes. Besides, a wayward cart was part of the grand experience of grocery shopping.

   “Could you grab that carton of eggs?  Oh, and check to make sure they’re not broken!” you asked as you looked at the dates printed on the gallons of milk, grabbing for one in the back that had the furthest out expiration.

    Ding.

   “Would you prefer brown shelled to white?”

   “Sure, why not,” you said, ticking the two items off your list.  With that, you only had one or two more aisles to go before the checkout and heading home.  You always tried to save the refrigerated items for last since you walked back from the store in the heat of the day.  One time of realizing your food had melted on your trek home had been enough to teach you to be wary of the order in which you gathered your items.  You looked down the list, double checking to make sure you had everything else as Demiurge placed the eggs in the cart. Hmm… maybe you should get a frozen pizza for a night when you felt a little lazy.  

    Ding.

   A hand reached into the pocket of his dress slacks to tap away again at his phone before letting it drop back in, adjusting his shirt sleeve while glancing over your shoulder at the list.  You still had to get puff pastry dough, bacon, and a bag of frozen mango, and tacked “pizza” on the bottom of the page as he watched.

   “There is always the option of having a meal delivered to us,” he suggested, guessing why you made the addition.  “I understand the joy you find in the preparation, but there is no detriment in the labor of others garnishing the table.  When comparing to a pre-made meal, of course.”

   You shrugged, leaning on the cart as you pushed off across the linoleum flooring.  “I like the smell of it cooking, though. But, we can always order if we decide to one night!  I’ve got no objections if you’d wanna do that too.”

   “I have little preference beyond what you would choose for yourself.”

   “Oh, really?  Then, you’d rather not be the one to pick the bacon we get?  Because I’d get the turkey bacon over the traditional.”

   He huffed a laugh.  “Ha! I’ve baited and trapped.  You have fairly caught me in what is apparently a lie.”

   A victorious grin spread across your face, and you turned to tease him with a little gloating.

    Ding.

   The phone appeared again as you halted.  You stared down at your list, repeating the four items over and over in your mind.

   It was probably Charlotte.  And Demi had told you that he’d be working a bit more closely with her, as things on the ground were getting a little tense.  Still, that was the sixth? seventh? text that he’d gotten since you’d started shopping. Hopefully he wouldn’t need to go out tonight; he’d been out so much lately.

   But really, was that a problem?  It was his life, and it wasn’t like he’d given you any indications for jealousy.  In fact, this was very much exactly what you’d encouraged him to do. Having his own interests, his own goals and desires that didn’t directly address you.  And whatever it was he was helping her with, numbers or stratagem or whatever, he seemed to really enjoy it.

   He pocketed the phone again, and you popped a pizza into the cart as you eyed the bags of fruit for the orange-yellow chunks of sweetness.  The bacon and puff pastry dough had somehow been collected by the time you spotted a suitable bag to add to the horde of food.

   Demiurge went ahead as you made for the checkout, and by the time you arrived, he was standing in a cleared out lane as the light signaling it’s availability flicked on.  Ok then, no self-checkout for you today. Which actually was nice, when you considered how much was in your cart. You tried not to giggle at Demiurge’s flagrantly smug satisfaction as the manager quickly scanned your items and stacked them carefully in bags.

    Ding.

   He’d let you carry one bag and one bag alone, and that only because you’d convinced him you wanted to snack on the grapes it contained as you walked home.  The rest of the groceries hung from his arms as though they were no more than dishrags on a clothesline, a weight hardly even worth taking notice of. You watched as he zoomed a thumb across his phone screen, sending off a text with a grumble and turning back to you as you decided to comment.

   “So… you’re sure popular today.  Getting lots of texts.”

   “My apologies.  There was a minor issue, but I believe it will all be dealt with easily enough.  If the instructions I’ve sent aren’t too complex for them to process.  Charlotte’s underlings do have a tendency to be a bit shortsighted.” He eyed your bag and you snatched a few grapes from it as nonchalantly as you could.

   “Oh.  So uh, how is Charlotte?”  You popped the grapes in your mouth, and Demiurge took a beat to reply.

   “Splendid.  She is getting along quite well.  Her schedule keeps her remarkably busy.”

   Busy?  Yeah, Demiurge would consider being “remarkably busy” as the same thing as doing splendid.  You pouted. When you’d first met, she’d seemed pretty eager to make a friend of you, and you still didn’t really have any objections to that.  If she was safe enough for Demi to associate with so regularly, she couldn’t be all bad, especially with how pleasant his mood always was after working alongside her.  And maybe it would be pushing it a little, sure, but… you really did want to have some sort of connection to the work Demiurge was doing. You’d been striving to be supportive of his life, but this felt almost like a secret he felt he needed to keep from you.  And you didn’t like that feeling. You didn’t want to butt in, but also wanted to have enough of a presence for it to be clear you were there for him.

   “All of her time is spent feeding off the excess of this city’s most bloated resources like a lamprey in an overfed pond.  With the adjustments I’ve incorporated there is a ridiculously flexible margin for error, and yet the mistakes I have caught for her are astoun--”

   You stopped in your tracks as though the thought that occurred to you were a brick wall.

   “Oh!!  Oh, that’s it!  Oh, I could-- Here--” You took your single bag and draped it into Demiurge’s hand.  “Can you get these home before they defrost? The pizza is totally gonna melt otherwise--  What time is it?!”

   Demiurge took the bag you had been guarding with a confused movement.  “It’s two-thirty-seven. Is there--?”

   “Shoot, I’ve only got like twenty minutes before it closes!” you called out, hopping off down the street.  “Thank you, I’ll be quick, I promise! I’ll see you at home!”

   He watched you skip away, disappearing around a corner.  The bags dangled off him, wrinkling his otherwise smooth shirt.

   ...Damn that frozen pizza.  He knew he should have given a greater attempt to dissuade you from it.  He stalled for only a moment longer before the puppy dog pout faded to an obedient sigh and he continued back to the building.

   There were thankfully no interruptions as he made his way through the lobby; while a few residents held conversation near the entrance, no one made a move to address him and he strode towards the elevator without any interest in them.  It was still a measure of oddity to be traversing so lightly among such beings in such a manner. Lower lifeforms, all humans with no skill for magic or battle, and hardly the slightest sense that there was so much greater than them to be found.  No idea of the beings which resided within their very building. He and you were beyond their comprehension, and far beyond anything they could hope to ever become. What a pitiable existence.

   And yet, he mused, watching the group as one animatedly told a story the others laughed along at, you had shown him that there was more to be found than pity and repulsion in their presence.  How strange, to find not only his actions but his opinions so rapidly altering by virtue of your guidance. Even stranger was the feeling that everything relating to such was just as it should be.  That this stage of existence and progression was to be remembered and treasured as one of stable serenity, where you explored your blossoming relationship and established your places in this world. It was a shockingly gratifying sensation, despite the unnerving tick that settled in the back of his mind whenever he mused on the subject for too long.  He moved on to other thoughts when the the tick grew too prominent; he was well aware that change would come, the reminder was unnecessary. He was actively preparing for it.

   The elevator conveyed him from the lively reach of the human’s conversation to the solitude of the seventh floor, and he took in a long breath.  Perhaps he was indeed growing more accustomed to the regularities of this world, but he still very much enjoyed his own company over the unnecessary proximity of unproven others.  Without you to soften such encounters, he could only bear so much before thinking pleasurably on how one or another might look without a nose, or just how far a needle could be driven beneath their nails before darkness overtook their eyes.  With you at his side, it was much easier to keep the teeth out of his smile when an interaction became undesirable. You had the incredible ability to brighten his opinion and lengthen his patience beyond what he would strive for in himself. And, to keep at bay thoughts he was certain you would not agree with.

   But now, as he entered the apartment and put away your items, he also put away such thoughts.  Perhaps such things were simply never meant to be shared between you, and he would forever need to deny his more… anatomically involved tendencies in favor of your presence.  It was a sacrifice he made without question.

   The pizza was at last within your freezer, and the rest of the groceries had been stored away.  Demiurge rotated his shoulders back, easing a bit of an ache from them as he opened the locator app you both shared.  If the place you had been headed to had only twenty minutes before it’s closure, then it wasn’t too unreasonable to assume he had at least that much time remaining before your return, and the blue dot affirmed this as he checked your distance from the building.

   There were no chores really to be done; he had well kept up with the needs of the household, beyond the work you already put forth to maintaining your home.  Charlotte would apparently be home for the evening, the issues of business all handled by his advice and unneeding of further aid. Work was well in hand for the day… although he could go sign a few documents and check on his personal projects before you returned home.  Yes, perhaps a trip to the tenth floor would be a welcome use of time--

   Ah.  But wait.

   On his last nighttime visit to the hacker, the man had mentioned hiring a new assistant to remedy the very issues Demiurge had placed before him concerning his need of an artistic eye.  Now, in the daytime hours, that assistant was likely to be present. And the devil was still disinclined to expend his energy towards niceties of even a minuscule degree, now that he had determined what his evening may or may not consist of.

   Well.  His options were limited.

   Frowning, he made his way to the room you had insisted he claim as his own.  It contained a simple king sized bed, dresser, armoire, desk, bookshelf, walk-in closet, and a few other basic amenities.  (Why you had not allowed him to change your bed from a queen to a king like his own, he did not understand. He had only given up persuading you in the hopes that perhaps the reason was a second new bed would not long be useful in your developing situation.)  He may as well retrieve his laptop and settle in the living room to await your arrival while checking on emails. Relaxing for a few minutes sounded oddly attractive at the moment, and regardless there was nothing better he could reasonably busy himself with.

   As he retrieved the sleek electronic from it’s case at the desk, a glimmer caught his eye, and he raised an eyebrow to the dresser to confirm his suspicion.  Yes, you had indeed returned his Ring of Sustainability. Again.

   The last time he offered it to you, he had attempted to impress the benefits that adorning it could create, at least in the evenings so as to increase your ability to recover while sleeping.  The advantage it placed to your overall health was astronomical, and he had thought that you were at last convinced to claim the accessory as your own. Yet, here it sat.

   Picking up the earring, he turned it over in his hand, sensing the properties and usability it radiated to his senses.  It was still in perfect order. There was no flaw in it’s function, no lack in it’s power. Was there a reason he was unaware of as to why you continued to return it to him?  After all, he wore an item of yours. Earring held between two fingers, his thumb reached across his palm to twist the Ring of Infiltration as it rested over his glove. Perhaps he was too forward in requesting you to wear something of his?... 

   He scoffed at himself.  The benefits were the goal here.  This did not concern feelings or hierarchy or a return of allowances.  It was about putting you at the greatest advantage he could create. He would simply need to reemphasize that to you.

   Speak of the devil’s mistress.  That was the front door closing, followed by the heart-lightening sound of your hum as you made your way into the apartment.  He could speak with you about it right now, before something else came up. Setting his laptop back down and taking a moment to remove the Ring of Infiltration, he made his way slowly towards your voice, collecting his thoughts in preparation of the conversation.  First he would try and discover why you had returned the ring, then he would determine if your reasoning outweighed his own argument in favor of your acceptance of it. If it did, he would simply have to find an alternative way to aid you in making sure your health was at peak condition.  Otherwise he would put forth his greatest effort in convincing you to--

   The scene as he rounded the corner to the kitchen stopped all workings within his brain.

   There you stood, a bucket placed on the counter and a foot of scaly flesh drawn from it into your resolute grasp.  And as his eyes took you in, his Lady, the woman he loved, whom he declared as the possessor and director of his entire being, your delicate fingers drove a well-chosen blade down into the creature’s feeble flesh with a jolting bite.  Your smile glowed in contented satisfaction as a line of red emerged from the calculated cut, trickling steadily into the clean glass bowl you had arranged below your work. He watched the heavy liquid drain before you, flowing more quickly as you set aside the knife and massaged down the body, red deepening to a near burgundy black within it’s new vessel.  The old one wriggled in confused resistance, and you steadied the tail with a confident hand as it emerged from the bucket, sharply thin fin a direct contrast to the gaping jawless maw that formed it’s head.

   You looked up, a simple joy squinting your eyes as you noticed him present.  “Hey! Do you wanna help me prep this? I’ve got two more-- oh, but you may want to change.  It could get a bit messy.” You bit your lip, eyeing the filling bowl and the small splatters that had escaped to dot your blouse in the brief struggle.  Hidden to your sight but clear to his own, several had sprung up to cling to the hand steadying the toothy head as well, the liquid beads gleaming a dark reflection on your skin.

   Had he been doing something?  He had probably been doing something.  He was no longer interested in that something.

   “No need,” he said, the words emerging as hardly a whisper.  His feet carried him to your side, mind too busy focusing on the growing drop of blood that had gathered against your little finger as it held the underside of your prey.  By the Supreme Beings, your grasp on the life ebbing away within was so very tight.

   “Can you take the tail?  I’m pretty sure I’m doing it right,” you mused.  “This is how it was described to me, anyway. I’ve never actually cooked lamprey or done a blood sauce before.  But it’s supposed to be good!”

   He removed a glove and placed his hand nearly over yours, a shudder running clear from his clawtips to the spikes of his tail as he did, body behind your own as he aided you.  You encouraged more blood to travel forward as he let words slide from his tongue.

   “You are… doing s-splendidly.  The cut is clean and correctly deep.”

   A pause in your massaging, a turn in your neck in his direction.  You’d noticed how much effort was being put forth in controlling his breathing.  You blinked, and he saw a realization alight behind your eyes. “Oh. Um, yeah, you would know a bit about that stuff, huh?  That… that’s right.”

   And now he couldn’t breathe at all.

   You turned your head back forward, hand pressing into a stationary place along the round frame.  He didn’t dare respond to the statement. The quiet seared so grimly through his ears, he could practically hear the fluttering of the lamprey’s extinguishing pulse as your grip unknowingly strangled a heart.

   “I-I’m sorry,” you stuttered, and your grip seemed to him to strain.  His thought of earlier rose as a taunt to himself; these tendencies of his nature were indeed very disinclined to your own.  That should have been clear. How despicable and selfish of him, to cause you distress in an activity he now sullied with his unspoken fantasies.  He could never--

   “Is this too much?  I didn’t mean to… did I make you uncomfortable?  I am so sorry, Demi.”

   Silence visited the air again, but this time he was the one to break it.  A bark of laughter, shocked, rang out.

   “Do you mean to tell me that you are concerned you have crossed a line?”

   “Well… You don’t… seem ok.  You seem like you’re kinda uneasy.”

   Your shoulders hooded forward and up, chin retreating as though a line tightened it toward your collarbone.  Concern for him rather than yourself emanated from your voice. The unpretentious nature of his Goddess was once again making a satire of his assumptions, and he could hardly keep from laughing a second time.

   “My dear Mira.”  His voice simmered from his throat, rolling an easing breeze past your ear.  “My Lady of Desires. What you have done here has not made me uneasy .  It has lit a path in a valley I thought unavailable.”  His gaze focused once again on the red dripping from the pale scales, lining your smallest finger with it’s hue.  Releasing the fading tail, he traced a claw along the line, drawing out the liquid and staining his own skin as he dragged the viscous material over your hand.  A huff pressed against his chest as the color connected between you both. He heard your own breath begin to deepen in an effort toward control. You understood where his mind was now, and why.

   “Oh.”

   He leaned his body closer to yours.

   You hummed an objection more to yourself than to him.  “...This blood really should be prepared before it coagulates.  A-and I’ve still got two more to do.”

   His hand plunged into the bucket, retrieving another creature without the aid of sight, the sense still devoted to the work before you.  The crack of water and a soaked sleeve cut through any illusion of hesitation on his part. “Consider me a very willing accomplice. I certainly won’t protest an encore performance by any means.  Please, my Lady… Allow my presence to be a facilitation. Allow me to take part in this labor with you, to bear testament to your skill with these materials; I implore you to persist in this design while I remain at your side.”

   The words tumbled forth unrestrained, and as they did a small part of Demiurge panicked once again; was he pushing this too far?  Was he testing his luck? A simple reassuring word in the affirmative would have been sufficient. Yet here he was, laying his want all too plainly before you like a cat revealing it’s hunger to catch the canary.

   He had the luck of a devil, the fortune of the bold.  Your head tilted in a giggle at his excitement.

   “Well… since you’ve got some knowledge, maybe you can guide me on the next cut?”

   Oh hell .  His brain sizzled with the preluded sensation of his hand over your own, a knife within it.  The words “It would be an unparalleled pleasure” came forth as more of a growl than a phrase.

   It only occurred to him upon retrieving the final lamprey that you in fact planned to bring this meal to Charlotte.  He quickly dismissed the worries that presented. He could put up an extra measure of precautions, throw a few more threats to insure your safety.  The smell of iron rose as he once again pressed his palm to your hand, sliding the blade down the scales to an appropriate point before compelling it to sink and release the viscera beneath to become your tools.

   This?  This bond, this means of connecting a part of himself he thought to deny to you forever… was worth whatever it required of him.

   Your hands and his stained red from the blood.  The devil over your shoulder burned hot as you drained the lamprey cold.

   This might even be worth forgetting the earring in his pocket.

 





 

Chapter Text

🔥 𝑅𝑒𝒶𝓁 𝓁𝒾𝒻𝑒 𝑜𝓃 𝓉𝒽𝑒 𝓈𝑒𝓋𝑒𝓃𝓉𝒽 𝒻𝓁𝑜𝑜𝓇 🔥

𝒸𝒽𝒶𝓅𝓉𝑒𝓇 𝓉𝒽𝒾𝓇𝓉𝓎 𝓉𝒽𝓇𝑒𝑒


 

   You rubbed your eyes and sighed, looking up from the spot you had claimed to nestle into the couch and over to Demiurge, who was situated as closely to you as he could be without hindering your use of the laptop.  You both were deep in your work, preferring the comforts of home today to the formality of the office.  He had adjusted the arrangement of the coffee table to both accommodate his layout of documents and allow for such closeness to you, and you had both praised and teased him for it.  His tail subconsciously tapped where it wrapped around your ankle as he created some sort of timeline from the papers before him, while you took a break from researching charities to watch.

   “I’m beat.  How’s yours coming?” you asked, leaning back and letting one of your arms fall to rest behind the couch while the other flopped down onto the cushions.  You were starting to feel stiff from sitting still for so long.

   “Hmm.”

   “Oh?  Wanna talk it through?”

   “...Yes, perhaps that would help.”  Demiurge cleared his throat and sat up from where his elbows rested on knees to turn towards you.  His tail started to slip off your ankle, and your leg followed in protest.  He grinned and recircled it over your calf.  “The investments made by Bazar Peak have proven in the past to be well-timed and congruous to the ticks in the economic climate, well before those changes are recognized by experts of the field.  It shows an incredible amount of foresight.  However, I am having trouble determining how these next moves will profitably benefit the company as a whole.  In fact, it seems that several of the moves Mr. Angah has made will, by what I predict, turn out to be a detriment.  It is well out of line with the regular streak of success he has attained; there must be something I am misunderstanding as to how this leads to a gain rather than a loss.”

   You bit your lip, eyeing the organized collection.  Official documents, stock market records, maps, data sheets, graphs, even what looked like a printout of a weather forecast covered the surface hiding any hint of the table beneath.  Demiurge was really going all out.

   “Well, what if it just… is a loss?  What if not everything he does is… is perfect?  People make mistakes, that’s just a thing that happens.  It’s natural.  In fact, you’re supposed to make mistakes, it’s a part of life.”

   His ears pulled back as you started, but as you continued, they twitched higher.  “Of course… How did I not see it?!  It’s ingenious!”

   The corners of your eyes tensed back.   “Wwwwhat’s ingenious?”

   “His ‘mistakes’!  Of course, with the systems in place to prevent one single institution in having too grand an advantage, Bazar Peak would be targeted with unwanted suspicion if it went too long without a sufficient amount of failure.  There are several other ways around such issues, of course.  However, making these acquisitions now with this perspective create the perfect timetable” —he reached forward and excitedly shuffled a few pieces around, sending papers fluttering from their places— “to allow for a grander conglomerate of titles and subcompanies overall.  With this… With this we could…  Where…”  Demiurge darted his hand out to the side, finding empty space and muttering as he tried to find a piece to his almost solved puzzle.

   You reached forward with a sheet that had zoomed into your lap in his swift rearrangement.  His shuffling hand froze as he spotted it.

   “Ah.  Yes, thank you my Lady.”  He placed the page on the coffee table and his chin in a hand as he looked over it all.  He didn’t finish his thought.

   “I’m glad that helps, but that’s not completely what I meant,” you pressed.  “I really mean it’s ok to make mistakes.  Not every move has to be right.  Ivan can make mistakes, and so can you.  So can I.”

   Did his tail cling a bit tighter as you mentioned Ivan’s name?  No, you probably imagined it.  Regardless, a coy smile crossed his lips at your last sentence.

   “Those are three very separate things, Mira.  The first is believable; while he is echoed of the great leader of Ainz Ooal Gown, Mr. Angah is indeed a mortal man and folly is to be expected, while not a regular occurrence.  And it is one I do not expect from him in such matters of business.  The second is also regrettably possible, while unacceptable and on a large scale not foreseen or likely.”  He turned again from his papers and leaned across the couch, bringing his face to yours.  “And the third.”  A lift of your hand, a small kiss to it.  “Regardless of what consequences your actions take, they will always be to me divine.  You by rights will make whatever choices you so deign to make, and I as your guardian will be here to herald them to your greatest advantage.”

   His smile grew more smug as color darkened your cheeks.  You wondered sometimes if he had made it a private game to see how often he could get you to blush.

  “Y-yeah.  Hmm.  Well that’s—that’s pretty debatable.”

   “I am quite certain in my position.”

   You curled your fingers around the hand holding yours and rolled your eyes, squeezing it as you brought your other arm back over the couch to your keyboard, signaling that you weren’t ready to be completely derailed from your work just yet.  “Me too, but one of these days I’ll convince you.”

   “I have great faith in you for many things, my Lady of Desires,” he retorted, “but altering the level of respect I hold you to is not one.”

   “Flirt,” you accused, trying and failing to hide behind your screen as he backed away, only releasing your hand with a final caress of his thumb.

   “At every chance I receive.”

   You both went back to work after that, an added warmness to the space between you.  The charities you’d narrowed your search to all seemed like good options; well reputed organizations with worthy causes, led by capable people with impressive track records of their own.  Everything about their image and what they presented seemed like it would be perfect to form connections with.

   However.  You weren’t so naive as to assume that meant they would be the best choice.  There was more to a book than it’s cover, and these organizations needed to be as stable and forward-thinking as the faces they portrayed seemed to be.  If they reflected badly on Bazar Peak, that would mean trouble for everyone.  You wanted to find only the very best; Ivan was relying on you to do your job properly, after all.

   You raised a hand to comb into your hair, letting the strands bunch between your fingers as your palm rested against your forehead.  Maybe there was a way to get more information than you currently had access to—

   A blaring baritone screech shot through the apartment.

   Your laptop slapped shut as the space above you was invaded, temperature flaring to a nearly unbearable heat within a blink as a rip sounded out.  At the same time a force drove behind your back, pulling you from your lounged position to a semi-standing one, your eyes and breath muffled as a darkness fell around you.  You yelped in the movement that was too fast for you to register, but as the sharp breath entered your lungs, you automatically gave in to the movement.  You recognized the scent of cinnamon, cayenne, and cloves coming from the limbs that clutched you close.

   “Demi,” you whispered from within your wrapping of wings and fabric, “what’s wrong?”

   He shifted a bit, and you felt a pounding from within his chest start to slow as the baritone note rang out again.  “...Is that… an alarm in the kitchen?”

   Oh, right.  You'd completely forgot.  The enchiladas in the oven.  “Yeah— yeah, that’s for lunch.  Did that… scare you?”

   He held you close to his chest for another moment and you felt your heart reach out as the strength of his only slightly subsided next to you.  The tone sounded a third time.

   “Simply an overreaction.  My apologies.”  He cleared his throat and started to unfold his wings from around you, but you laid your chin on his chest and looked up to see the corners of his mouth resting downward as more light entered your cocoon.  He stopped in favor of extending the moment.

   “It’s ok, it’s a pretty intense alarm,” you assured him, wincing as it boomed again.  “It’s the one I used to set when I had to be done with Yggdrasil at a certain time; I knew if I didn’t pay attention to it, it would tick off my roommates, so it made me actually log out when I needed to.  Guess I was just a little nostalgic today when I saw it?  Sorry, it is a bit much.  Heck, it startled me and I’m the one who set it.”

   He was looking down to you, nodding as his newly sprouted wings lowered like a cloak, arm still supporting your back.  “It certainly gives a stronger demand for attention than the oven’s customary timer.”

   “Yeah,” you smirked, “it always reminded me of a truck honking behind you on the freeway.”  Would he get that reference?  Had he been next to a truck on the freeway yet?  “Or… or a Balrog in a cave you thought was empty.”

   He chuckled, and you realized his tail had left your leg as it whipped behind him.  “It is rather reminiscent of something insidious.  … An Earth-forged Aboleth, perhaps.  I can certainly see the effectiveness in your use of it.”  His tail returned to circle your ankle as he stepped off the couch, aiding you in stepping down alongside him as a hint of tease tinted his tone.

   An Aboleth?  A monster that sought out gods in jealousy, looking to destroy them for taking what they thought was theirs.  That’s what Demi had reacted in threat of?  No wonder he’d moved so fast.

   One thing was for sure, you were now very aware of just how safe you were with him.  He’d been in a defensive position before you even finished flinching at the alarm.  It had made your heart skip a beat, and… well, yeah, and it was kind of a turn on, if you were completely honest.  You weren’t gonna deny it, it was pretty romantic the way he’d sheltered you so quickly.

   But to mistake the little fridge-magnet alarm you’d gotten years ago as a gag gift, for a creature of god-slaying power that didn’t even exist in this reality was a bit of a stretch.  You squinted as you searched his face, a slight smile settling as his default expression.

   “Are you ok?  Maybe… I dunno, are you feeling stressed?  Because I mean, you do have a lot going on.  That would be more than fair.”

   His smile broke into a fanged grin.  “Me?  Mira, I have been made to command armies, to run the defensive strategies of the most impenetrable tomb ever created, and to reign amidst the most intellectual of creatures.  You should have no worries concerning my abilities over my workload.”

   You shrugged, but admittedly felt a bit encouraged by the confidence he spoke with.  “I mean, sure, I know.  You’re great and amazing, and it’s really impressive.”  His ears lifted to match his lips at that.  “I don’t doubt that for a minute.  But, emotionally?...”

   “Ah.  No, there is no call for you to alarm yourself over my mental state.  I am adjusting well enough with you at my side.”

   You almost pouted.  That still wasn’t quite…

   “Ok.  Well, I’m gonna go get that out of the oven.”  You smiled back at him and turned to hide another squint at his slightly evasive answer.  He parted his wings, and you hurried into the kitchen to silence the still blaring alarm.  The casserole dish steamed with aroma as you lifted it from the oven with your mitts, and you once again felt a gratitude for granite countertops as you set it down directly onto the stone.  You bit your lip, watching the vapor as it rose upward toward the ceiling, like a solicitation you didn’t present to a deity you didn’t know.  Up it went, reaching for the floors above as though something were to be found there.

   An idea hit you.  “…Hey!  Do you wanna get out with me for a bit?”

   The response from the other room was immediate.  “An outing with you sounds delightful.  Where do you desire to go?”

   You shuffled around in a drawer for your roll of foil; lunch would have to wait.  This was more important to you.  “Not far.  I was thinking Pan might be able to help me out with some research, and I’d love you to come.”

   This time Demiurge’s reply was a beat delayed.  “I could message him for whatever you wish him to complete.  He responds rather well to that.”

   Nope, sorry Demiurge, you thought.  You wouldn’t let him out of this.  He needed to get out and relax, and by golly you were going to get the demon to relax, even if it meant putting him through a little torture.  He might complain about the eccentric man, but it was easy to see that he enjoyed the unique company.  “Yeah, but it’s been so long since I’ve seen him!  I’d really like to say hi in person.  And I’m sure he’d love to see you too, I don’t remember the last time you said you stopped in.  Then after we can go out on the town, if you want!”

   You’d taken care of the enchiladas and made your way back to the living room, where Demiurge had sat down on the couch, wings folded close to him as he looked tight-lipped over to you.

   You could tell he was trying to evade it.  You knew he recognized you were trying to get him out for his own good rather than your own.  So, you released your ultimate weapon.

   “Please?”

   The internal battle was over so quickly you could see it’s demise in his posture.  He sighed and tilted his head.

   “You are perfectly aware I cannot say no to that.”

   Skipping to his side, you picked up your laptop as he pulled the ring out of his pocket.  A kiss landed on his cheek.  “Yep! I’m aware. I’ll go get ready.”






   “Ah, meine Teuerste, you are impressively sagacious to have come to me for assistance!  This bedraggled mixture of truths and falsitudes would have been all but impossible to sort through without my own incredible skills and method of compiling knowledge!  Why, you might well have chosen to accept the innocence of this man as a fact despite the contrary events he has participated in! He has certainly chosen an interesting path of life to support his addictions.  What a truly—!”

   “Paper Bag Meals is the next group to check,” Demiurge interrupted monotonely.

   Pan frowned for half a moment, then spun back around to type on two separate keyboards, still chatting happily about the president of Hospice for Horses and some “addiction” that you didn’t quite understand the nature of and were quite sure you didn’t want clarification on.

   You were really glad you’d decided to come up and ask him for help digging up more information.  Two of the charities had already been marked off your list, and the energetic man had uncovered the information to do so in less time than it took you to put on jeans, ride the elevator, and walk to his lair of tech.  He was incredible at what he did; this was truly his element, perusing through nearly endless amounts of data to pick out just what it was you were searching for. And his joy at his work showed it.

   “So, how often do you get requests like this?” you asked, eyes flicking hypnotized between the several screens as information danced across them faster than you could keep track of.

   “Ah, alas, my line of work requires not a small amount of secrecy and discretion!  The exact nature of my activities and it’s regularities cannot be discussed among my vast array of diverse clientele.  But!  I will attest, it is not for every visitor at my door I offer such a personal expertise!  In fact there is a very limited amount of individuals I allow to visit me in my treasure box, and you are fortunate to find yourself on such a short list.  While this process of delving into personal histories is one I have a more than satisfactory amount of practice in, the aspect of frequentations by clients is one I often… discourage.  However, I will tell you, I have been quite interested in basking in your presence again, meine Dame!”  By some miracle, the military hat accompanying today’s uniformed outfit stayed atop his head as he twisted sideways and drooped his neck to crane you into view.  “Why, just last night in his regular visitation, your Schmusekater mentioned your name no less than eight times!  I find it quite—”

   “I see several infractions on this woman’s record; would that create a place for disqualification, in your opinion?”  Demiurge interrupted, setting a finger pointedly on a screen.  Pan made an offended noise and flicked the black glove away from his otherwise spotless displays, and continued to wave his hand around at the question.

   “Nein, this is all admitted to directly in their biography within the organization’s employee page.  The record and associations following these infractions prove their words are sincere when they declare these past misdeeds changed their perspectives and altered their behaviors.  A rare case, indeed, to flip so honestly, hmm?”

   “Then the organization seems to be acceptable?”  Demiurge ignored the look Pan was giving him as a microfiber cloth appeared and dabbed expertly at the screen, dropping back into a drawer with more of a flourish than the simple action required.

   “This does in fact pass the necessary tests for such a use, yes.”

   “Wonderful.  Then your next—”

   “Wait, hold up, what did that mean?”  The words came forth with a little more force than either of the men would have expected from you, but they were speaking so seamlessly, and a detail that had gotten quickly glossed over had struck you as suspicious.  They paused, Pan seeming to cheer at the instance of Demiurge getting interrupted, while Demiurge’s shoulders froze as he forced the pull of his lips towards a neutrally curious smile.

   “It means that your choice in charities is an outstanding five-to-one so far, and I cannot stress enough the impressiveness of such a feat when put through my rigorous system,” Pan praised, happily facing the back of his chair toward Demiurge to turn himself to you.

   You shook your head fervently before he had finished the sentence, and he paused momentarily at your reaction.  You took the chance to interject.  “No, what was that word you used?  Sh-musicater?...  That’s wrong but, what… whatever, what does it mean?  Who did you mean?”

   “Ah.”  A hand went to rub the back of his neck, the other humanizing the shrug emoji.  “Well, it is a term of endearment made to liken the subject to a feline with an engagingly amiable nature, and one might concede to a healthy amount of congenial sarcasm in it’s use, but—”

   His eyes flicked to Demiurge, and your suspicions were confirmed.

   “He was here last night?”

   Pan hummed in response to your unsmiling monotone.  A discreet twist of his foot rotated his chair slowly back towards his screens while culpable eyes strained to keep connected to yours, as though a disconnect might have undesirable consequences.  He only began to move freely again after what seemed to be an excruciating few seconds, when your gaze broke so you could instead direct it to Demiurge.

   “ ‘Regular visitations.’ ”

  He hesitated, then nodded nonchalantly.  “I have been instructing Mr. Darsteller in the work pertaining to my own endeavors, and it has become a fairly regular occurrence,” he offered.

   “So— you were here last night.  And, the night before that, you were out helping Charlotte.  And before that I know you stayed up doing work.  But Pan said it’s a regular thing, which means you’re here plenty of other nights too…  Demiurge, when was the last time you had a full night’s sleep?”

   His weight shifted to one foot, and he held a hand palm up in front of him to match his reassuring smile.  “I assure you, I am thoroughly capable of—”

   “I didn’t ask what you were capable of, I’m pretty aware that you’re ridiculously capable.  I asked , when is the last time you got a full night’s sleep?”  You looked meaningfully to the empty space at his ear, then back to him.  Your stare held enough pressure to freeze a rockslide down a ninety degree incline, and you could sense it forcing back arguments he had prepared just the same.

   Demiurge’s lips parted slightly, then closed as he swallowed and tried again.  “My nights have given me all the rest needed for—”

   “You haven’t, have you?”

   “The definition of a full night varies from—”

   “Don’t Bill Clinton me, Demi, you haven’t slept a full night since you got here!  Of course you haven’t, I should have known— You can’t just— Ugh!  Demiurge!  That is not ok.”

   Pan’s grin had been growing wider and wider as you grilled Demiurge, and without losing one inch, he joined you with a seriousness in his voice.  “My comrade, she is right!  How could you?!”

   “Is that why the alarm startled you?”

   A hand flew to Pan’s mouth, then folded over his heart.  “Frightened by a simple alarm?!  Disgraceful!”

   “Or why you lost track of that piece of paper?”

   “Losing documents, what a terrible transgression!!”  The rolling chair danced towards Demiurge, palms surrounding a shocked expression as he inched into personal space.

   “And you still don’t realize you lost your train of thought when that happened, do you?”

   Demiurge dropped a hand heavily to Pan’s shoulder, extending his elbow to shove the man’s chair an arm’s length away before he could again add his theatrically appalled two cents.  “There have been minor lapses, you are correct. It is something I should not have attempted to evade your notice with, but my limits are—”

   He stopped speaking as your hand grasped his own, tsking against his words as you strode forward to do so.  You raised your eyebrows at him, a finger tapping on the form of a ring under his glove as your other hand moved to touch the empty space on his ear lightly.  “Uh, no.  No thank you, that’s not gonna fly.  Your limits are different than what you’re used to.  You can’t do this, Demiurge, you’re gonna run yourself ragged this way.  Your health is way more important than whatever you’re keeping yourself so busy with, I don’t care what projects you have going.  It’s more important to me, and you need to make it a bigger priority, too.”

   His face was red.  You realized at some point, you had begun caressing his jawline more than making a point of the missing earring.  You dropped your hand as color flushed your cheeks as well, remembering there was in fact an audience.  Glancing over, you spotted dancing eyebrows.

   “Ah, such a compelling display of concern and affection!  Surely, she is correct, mein Freund—”  (“Pan,” Demiurge warned, still collecting himself, but the hacker pressed on)  “—there are likely much better ways to spend your evenings than away from a welcoming night’s rest.~”

   His words deepened your blush, but a thought occurred to you that overpowered your embarrassment as the smirking man brought attention to himself.  “Pan,” you said, eyes squinting.  “Demiurge has been visiting you.  When’s the last time you got a full night’s sleep?”

   “A-ah!  Well.  Obviously I take only the greatest sincerity in the task of self-care!  To neglect such an essential would be undoubtedly—”

   You folded your arms.

   “That is to say, one would see with the unusual rhythm my occupation alternates within, approximations of such things are matters that are correctly left to the equations presented in the specialization of somnology for individuals with—”

   “Pan.”

   A jingle filled the air, and Pan leapt for his phone before you could press more.  “Ah!  My young protege!  This is a call of most immediate urgency, undoubtedly; alas, forgive this sudden end to our fantastically superb meeting!  I grieve the closure on such welcome pleasantries, but I must not allow myself to miss this pertinent need!  You may leave the list on the desk, I will return to it the moment I am able!”  He dashed from the room, placing the phone to his ear milliseconds before the call was sent to voicemail.  “Holly!  Yes, how can I assist in your serendipitous pursuit of information?...”  Something about shrimp fried rice quickly faded out as he sped away down the hall.  You didn’t want to just let your avoidant friend off the hook, but in the end, he wasn’t your primary target, and you were willing to let a side quest slip past in favor of the main objective.

   You turned back to Demiurge.  The demon shifted to his other foot and cleared his throat.  He set the list of charities on the desk.

   “It seems it’s time to take our leave.”

   “Yes.  And a nap.”

   You laced an arm through his, and he released the grip behind his back in the startling realization you were dragging him out of the room.  “My Lady—”

   “Nope.  No.  No, you are taking a nap, and I am not taking no for an answer.  This is happening even if I have to personally oversee every minute of sleep myself.”  Demiurge trailed along behind you, his inhalation interrupted as you raised a finger threateningly in the air.  “Don’t test me; this is a battle you are destined to lose, ‘mein Freund’.”

 


 

 

 

Chapter Text

🔥 𝑅𝑒𝒶𝓁 𝓁𝒾𝒻𝑒 𝑜𝓃 𝓉𝒽𝑒 𝓈𝑒𝓋𝑒𝓃𝓉𝒽 𝒻𝓁𝑜𝑜𝓇 🔥

𝒸𝒽𝒶𝓅𝓉𝑒𝓇 𝓉𝒽𝒾𝓇𝓉𝓎 𝒻𝑜𝓊𝓇


 

   You were the queen of creating comfort.

   When it came to having a cozy sleeping space, you knew just what you were doing.  A warm bed in a slightly chilly room, fresh sheets, almost complete darkness, comfortable pajamas, and a quiet nature soundtrack of your choosing (thunder, ocean waves, crickets, it depended on your mood really) all made for an ideal setting.  Then of course, there was the proper preparation.

   Once you were satisfied with the setup in his bedroom, you had Demiurge take a shower while you warmed up a pot of milk, adding a dash of vanilla and a small sprinkle of sugar.  Once it became frothy, you took it off the heat and spooned it into two mugs. With a thought, you pulled a little bottle out of the cupboard as you put the vanilla away, setting it next to Demiurge’s mug.  He examined the label as he sat at the kitchen island, drying his hair in a towel so as not to drip over his silk pajamas.

   “Melatonin?”

   You nodded.  “I’ll leave it up to you if you want one or not.  I like taking one when I feel like I might have trouble sleeping.  I don’t even know if it’ll affect you, but…”

   He revolved it in his hand as he read the fine print, then grinned at you and popped off the lid with a claw.  “I’ll gladly take what you offer, my Lady.”

   You rolled your eyes, warming your hands around your own mug.  “You just think you can prove you’re not really tired. You’re tired.  I can see it.”

   “I am unaware of what you might be implying; surely we shall simply see what befalls us in these next few hours.”  He tossed a pill into his mouth and joined you in sipping the warm drink, mirroring your actions. His hair drooped over his face, towel having dropped onto his shoulders.  “Tell me. What would you have me do now?”

   Oh, so that’s how it was gonna be.  This was a challenge, huh?  Well, you sure weren’t gonna back down.  Demiurge needed to take care of himself, and you were gonna prove just how real that need was.  Challenge accepted.

   You wracked your brain for further methods to relax.  “Do you know how to meditate?”

   “Of course.”

   “Great.  How about…”  You scanned your eyes across the walls, and remembered a candle on a shelf in your room.  “Do you mind lavender scent?”

   “I have no objections to whatever use you would put it to.”

   “Ok.”  There was one other thing you could think of, but…

   Whatever, there was no reason not to just go for it.  You were pulling out all the stops for this mission. You were kind of on a roll.

   “Finish that slowly and meet me in your room.  I’m gonna get a few more last minute things set up.”

   He hummed, a sound you could tell hid an opinion that you were perhaps giving a bit too much effort to a futile quest, but he bowed slightly in agreeance as you skipped on your tiptoes from the room.

   The lavender and cedarwood candle had nearly been used up, but it seemed to have another hour or so of use left in it.  That should be plenty. Biting your lip, you decided to grab your old anatomy book as well; it might prove helpful for what you were going to attempt.

   One match and a quick study review later, Demiurge knocked at his bedroom door.  The towel was absent from his shoulders, hair seeming dry enough to have dismissed it and a bit frizzed from the fresh cleanse.  You knew by now that it would take a few hours to settle back to it’s regular state, but until it did the cute extra poof it carried made you smile.  He recognized the book as you closed it and set it aside.

   “Well, I’m intrigued; just what do you have in store, Lady Mira?”  His tail whipped as he stepped over, happy as you offered the book at his investigative curiosity.  He flipped through to approximately where you had been. You unfolded your legs from the criss-cross position you’d been sitting on the bed in and scootched back, rising to kneel, which put you only a head lower than him.

   “Sit on the edge,” you offered, smoothing the blanket out in indication of where you wanted him to be.  “Facing away from me.”

   He cocked his head.  Closing the book, he did as asked.

   You put a hand on his shoulder, feeling along his neck to the joint of his arm.  A soft sigh escaped him as you did, and you felt the muscle beneath relax ever so slightly.  Yup, you were right; this was a good idea.

   Back in college, your roommate Becca had worked as a massage therapist to help pay her way through getting a teaching degree.  She joked that she’d gone to school to pay for school so she could go back to school. You’d benefited regularly from her knowledge, and she’d even taught you a few basic tricks of the trade.  Let’s see, first thing was… to locate a problem area. Find a place that needed work, and focus there. Well, shoulders seemed like a great place to start, with how he had relaxed at just a touch.

   You placed your other hand on his other shoulder and started to feel for the muscle attachments, where they began, where they ended, and founds your fingertips travelling farther onto his back rather than his shoulders.  Right; Becca had told you that when people felt tension in their shoulders, it was typically their shoulder blade that really hosted the affected muscles. As you started feeling for the place the muscles attached to the bone, thumbs moving along the edge of the upper ridge of the scapula (oops, hadn’t she said something about not using your thumbs? Oh well) Demiurge's ears twitched.  A hand reached over his shoulder to touch yours, and you stopped as he turned his head a bit to one side and spoke.

   “My Lady… what are you doing?”

   You leaned in a bit closer as you unhunched from trying to stare through the fabric of his shirt in the low light of the single candle.  “Looking for the attachment points of your trapezius. You’re supposed to work through the most superficial layers of muscle first, before you can move on to the deeper ones.”

   He chuckled, but his hand grew tighter over your own. His tail curved from where it rested beside you on the bed to twist towards his lap.  “That sounds as though the Goddess of Desires would offer the service of a massage to her guardian. Which feels a bit… too selfish to accept.  And while I do recognize that—”

   Your eyebrows raised and you held his shoulders as he started to turn around.  “What— Demiurge, no.  No, the status thing doesn’t matter anyways, and this is… you know, it’s a good study of the differences in our anatomy!  For example, I’m working through your trapezius so I can feel the next layer of muscle at your neck, the spinotransverse group.”  You saw his chin duck a little at your words, saw him interested and processing the way you were presenting this versus how he perceived it, and pressed forward.  “I really wanna focus on the suboccipital muscles, but I’d also like to see if I can locate the erector spinae group, since yours are a bit different, right?  Because of your tail.  Illiocostalis must be pretty interesting.”

   His tail flicked again.  He sighed.  “...It is varied from a typical human anatomy,” he admitted, and you knew you were about to get your way.  Thank goodness you’d just refreshed your memory; the anatomical terms had absolutely stirred him in favor of feeding your curiosity.  You moved your palms in little crescents of victory, and he paused in his explanation to hum through the sensation.

   “I’m just gonna explore a little, then,” you cooed as your hands moved to either side of his spine, pressing small circles as they traveled down.  His tail swept from his lap to lean up your knee on the side of your thigh.  You felt the muscles under one hand shift and tighten as it swung, and the connection between the movement and the muscles you were locating sent a rush of excitement through you.  You’d just felt him move his tail!  Like, not just his tail itself shifting, but the actual cause of the shift. It was amazing to think of the organic mechanics of it all. You started to wonder about the workings of his tail itself; was the metal just a coat over muscle and sinew, or was it a through and through material?  Did the metal present itself elsewhere in his skeletal structure, or was it only in the singular limb?

   You opened your mouth to ask, but just as you did you ran your hands back up to his shoulders, and the sigh he allowed to escape his chest was brief but significant, as though something inside him was at last giving way.

   His head drooped forward just a bit, welcoming and even begging for your hands to warm the extended area of neck he exposed.  Happy at the offering, you felt around the collar of his shirt to try and get the greatest amount of space uninterrupted by the edge of fabric, and eventually leaned forward while reaching your hands around to his collarbone.

   “Mind if I undo a few of these for a bit of slack?” you asked, touching a finger to a button.

   “Allow me,” he murmured, reaching up, but at the permission you were already undoing the button you held.  You realized you were at the perfect spot to smell the freshly washed scent of his fluffed hair, and as your lips grazed near, you acted on your selfish impulse to press a kiss to the back of his head.  A low hum sounded out, and you basked in the tranquil reaction as you pulled the shirt collar back and wide, turning your thumbs in rotations up his neck.

   You almost laughed remembering how he had just minutes ago tried to get you to stop.  Did he seriously not get how overjoyed it made you to see him so at peace?  If he knew how warm his little purrs of contentment made your heart, maybe he even would have offered for you to give him a back rub long ago.

   The massage lasted probably another twenty minutes.  Occasionally Demiurge would speak up and breathe out a few anatomical facts, and you would nod and rephrase them back to him to show you heard and understood.  His tail would wave whenever you did.  You stuck to the areas he told you about; you took that as a sign that he personally was interested in you spending time there.  Finally, you felt like you’d done some good.  There was some flexibility where before you’d found only tension, and the more stubborn crackly knots has dissolved into smaller, more spaced out crackly knots. Demiurge's interjections has become less frequent, slowing in favor of his deepening breath.  You pulled your hands from his back and felt him curve his spine in loss as they left.

   “You’re finished?”

   “I want to do more, but my fingers are getting tired,” you admitted.

   “Here, allow me to see.”

   He brought a leg up on the bed as he turned to you, and you dropped to the side, sitting more on a thigh than your backside as you held out your hands at his request.  “See? Exhausted,” you joked.

   “Undoubtedly,” he joked back, and surprised you by linking his fingers of both hands through one of your own, palms up as his two thumbs crossed over to rest on your palm.  Your fingers were pulled downward slightly, extended as he pressed his own into the back of your hand, and relief tingled through them as he stretched their tendons. His thumbs began to run along your palm, easing the sensation all the way to your wrist.  Wow, this felt incredible.  Where had he learned—

   You recognized this move, you realized.  You’d seen it once before from this angle, when Becca had taught it to you.  And shortly after, you’d blabbed to Demiurge about all the interesting new facts you’d learned from your roommate, and had even clumsily tried to demonstrate your cool new hand massage technique she’d shown you.  You had thought maybe it’d be easier to work on yourself with four hands.  (It hadn’t been.)

   He’d remembered.  And he’d understood it better than you had, apparently.  Demiurge had paid attention to every silly thing you’d said.

   “Y’know,” you mumbled, as he worked the ache from your hands, “I’m… really glad I had you.  To look back and realize you were there… I’m just.  I’m really grateful for you.”

   His thumbs slowed for a moment, then he unlaced his fingers and reached for your other hand.  You consented, and he began anew with the second limb.  “I have a request,” he informed you, and you looked up at the soft tone.

   “What is it?”

   He didn’t stop working on your hand, but the facets of his eyes shifted upward, showing his gaze as it looked over his frames to you.  “Once, you mentioned there was a tune in your youth that lulled you to sleep.  It has long been a mystery to me, what song could be so cherished.  I’ve made more guesses than I can count.  And since you are so keen as to persuade me to rest… perhaps you could provide me with a demonstration?”

   “You—want me to sing for you?”  Mark down a point for Demiurge, he’d gotten you to blush yet again.  “I—well, there was a song that—it’s just a—you don’t actually wanna hear me sing, do you?”

   “I’ve heard you mutter a tune, hum a note.  You do so occasionally when you’re lost in thought,” he smirked.  “Were you unaware?”

   You stumbled over your words for a moment, and he watched you with a smile.  “A fully voiced, purposeful song is something I have never had the privilege to hear from you.  It is something I would be beyond joyed to experience,” he cooed.  And then, tail caressing over your free hand, smirk deepening in irony, he used your own weapon against you.

   “Please?”

   You groaned.  His tail tapped smugly.  “Quid pro quo,” you rebutted.  “If I sing one, you sing one.  Deal?”

   “How can I dismiss such a fair bargain?”

   Grumbling about how he was supposed to be going to sleep, not getting a concert, you tried to remember the nuances of the tune sung to you as a child.  Snuggled in a warm bed, a sweet but occasionally off-tune voice filling the nighttime air, the quiet of the memory settled around you.  Demiurge finished kneading the tension from your hand, and you scooted back farther on the bed, allowing him an invitation to join you.  He swung his other leg up over the sheets and did so, criss-crossing his legs to match your position and slid to you, closely enough as to wrap his tail around your back and rest it’s end on your opposite thigh.  You saw the sparkle in his eyes as you looked at him, and quickly turned your focus to the wall behind him.  Yeah, no, you absolutely could not look at him while you did this. The idea was already making your stomach do flips as it was.  You cleared your throat, smashed your stage fright, and focused on the yellow light of the candle flame against the wall.

   “Um, so.  I probably have the lyrics wrong.  But, this is how it was sung to me, so… yeah, here goes…

 

  “𝒲𝒽𝓎 𝒹𝑜 𝒷𝒾𝓇𝒹𝓈 𝓈𝓊𝒹𝒹𝑒𝓃𝓁𝓎 𝒶𝓅𝓅𝑒𝒶𝓇

   𝐸𝓋𝑒𝓇𝓎 𝓉𝒾𝓂𝑒 𝓎𝑜𝓊 𝒶𝓇𝑒 𝓃𝑒𝒶𝓇?

   𝒥𝓊𝓈𝓉 𝓁𝒾𝓀𝑒 𝓂𝑒, 𝓉𝒽𝑒𝓎 𝓁𝑜𝓃𝑔 𝓉𝑜 𝒷𝑒

   𝒞𝓁𝑜𝓈𝑒 𝓉𝑜 𝓎𝑜𝓊.

   𝒲𝒽𝓎 𝒹𝑜 𝓈𝓉𝒶𝓇𝓈 𝒻𝒶𝓁𝓁 𝒹𝑜𝓌𝓃 𝒻𝓇𝑜𝓂 𝓉𝒽𝑒 𝓈𝓀𝓎

   𝐸𝓋𝑒𝓇𝓎 𝓉𝒾𝓂𝑒 𝓎𝑜𝓊 𝓌𝒶𝓁𝓀 𝒷𝓎?

   𝒥𝓊𝓈𝓉 𝓁𝒾𝓀𝑒 𝓂𝑒, 𝓉𝒽𝑒𝓎 𝓁𝑜𝓃𝑔 𝓉𝑜 𝒷𝑒

   𝒞𝓁𝑜𝓈𝑒 𝓉𝑜 𝓎𝑜𝓊.

 


   𝒪𝓃 𝓉𝒽𝑒 𝒹𝒶𝓎 𝓉𝒽𝒶𝓉 𝓎𝑜𝓊 𝓌𝑒𝓇𝑒 𝒷𝑜𝓇𝓃 𝓉𝒽𝑒 𝒶𝓃𝑔𝑒𝓁𝓈 𝑔𝑜𝓉 𝓉𝑜𝑔𝑒𝓉𝒽𝑒𝓇,

   𝒟𝑒𝒸𝒾𝒹𝑒𝒹 𝓉𝑜 𝒸𝓇𝑒𝒶𝓉𝑒 𝒶 𝒹𝓇𝑒𝒶𝓂 𝒸𝑜𝓂𝑒 𝓉𝓇𝓊𝑒.

   𝒮𝑜 𝓉𝒽𝑒𝓎 𝓈𝓅𝓇𝒾𝓃𝓀𝓁𝑒𝒹 𝓈𝓉𝒶𝓇𝒹𝓊𝓈𝓉 𝒾𝓃 𝓎𝑜𝓊𝓇 𝒽𝒶𝒾𝓇, 𝒶𝓃𝒹 𝓈𝓉𝒶𝓇𝓁𝒾𝑔𝒽𝓉 𝒹𝑜𝓌𝓃 𝒾𝓃𝓉𝑜 𝓎𝑜𝓊𝓇 𝑒𝓎𝑒𝓈 𝓈𝑜 𝓃𝑒𝓌.

 


   𝒯𝒽𝒶𝓉 𝒾𝓈 𝓌𝒽𝓎 𝑒𝓋𝑒𝓇𝓎𝑜𝓃𝑒 𝒾𝓃 𝓉𝑜𝓌𝓃

   𝐹𝑜𝓁𝓁𝑜𝓌𝓈 𝓎𝑜𝓊 𝒶𝓁𝓁 𝒶𝓇𝑜𝓊𝓃𝒹.

   𝒥𝓊𝓈𝓉 𝓁𝒾𝓀𝑒 𝓂𝑒, 𝓉𝒽𝑒𝓎 𝓁𝑜𝓃𝑔 𝓉𝑜 𝒷𝑒

   𝒞𝓁𝑜𝓈𝑒 𝓉𝑜 𝓎𝑜𝓊.

   𝒟𝒶𝓇𝓁𝒾𝓃𝑔, 𝓅𝓁𝑒𝒶𝓈𝑒,

   𝐼 𝓌𝒶𝓃𝓉 𝓉𝑜 𝒷𝑒

   𝒞𝓁𝑜𝓈𝑒 𝓉𝑜 𝓎𝑜𝓊.”

   

   You had forgotten for a moment that you’d been nervous to sing.  But as the last line echoed, you felt it fizz out in the air, leaving silence that felt far to empty for you to be comfortable with.  Your heart thumped.  “...That’s it,” you said after a moment, trying to keep the anxiety out of your voice.

   Demiurge’s ears twitched, and you noticed they had inched forward as you sang.  He released a heavy breath, and brought his head up.  The smile on his face overtook his cheeks.  “Mira, your voice!  As I have now heard both, I can confirm without the barrier of assumption; my Lady’s singing is more ethereal than that of the jealous angels.”

   You let loose a laugh.  “I do remember that Yggdrasil’s angels were… a little pitchy.”  When the holy enemy monsters first came out, the voice actor had been incredible.  But when their abilities had been upgraded, the creators hadn’t sprung the cash for the same operatically trained singer, and the resulting vocals were less than ideal.  You’d harvested more feathers from them than you could count as favors for other people, since everyone hated having to listen to the awful screeching they chorused when they attacked.  “Thanks, it—it was actually kinda fun to sing for you.”

   His tail swept back and forth over your thigh.  “Truly??  Then perhaps you would—”

   “Hold up, no no, we had a deal,” you backpedaled.  “It’s your turn! I get to hear you now.”

   The grin on his face muted, and he smoothed a hand over his hair, which was still voluminous and bounced right back after his hand passed by.  “Hmm. Very well.”  The grin returned, and you squinted as he reiterated, “Quid pro quo?”  Before you could question the emphasis, he began.

 

  “𝔜𝔬𝔲'𝔯𝔢 𝔧𝔲𝔰𝔱 𝔱𝔬𝔬 𝔤𝔬𝔬𝔡 𝔱𝔬 𝔟𝔢 𝔱𝔯𝔲𝔢

   ℭ𝔞𝔫'𝔱 𝔱𝔞𝔨𝔢 𝔪𝔶 𝔢𝔶𝔢𝔰 𝔬𝔣𝔣 𝔬𝔣 𝔶𝔬𝔲

   𝔜𝔬𝔲'𝔡 𝔟𝔢 𝔩𝔦𝔨𝔢 𝔥𝔢𝔞𝔳𝔢𝔫 𝔱𝔬 𝔱𝔬𝔲𝔠𝔥

   ℑ 𝔴𝔞𝔫𝔫𝔞 𝔥𝔬𝔩𝔡 𝔶𝔬𝔲 𝔰𝔬 𝔪𝔲𝔠𝔥

   𝔄𝔱 𝔩𝔬𝔫𝔤 𝔩𝔞𝔰𝔱 𝔩𝔬𝔳𝔢 𝔥𝔞𝔰 𝔞𝔯𝔯𝔦𝔳𝔢𝔡

   𝔄𝔫𝔡 ℑ 𝔱𝔥𝔞𝔫𝔨 𝔊𝔬𝔡 ℑ'𝔪 𝔞𝔩𝔦𝔳𝔢

   𝔜𝔬𝔲'𝔯𝔢 𝔧𝔲𝔰𝔱 𝔱𝔬𝔬 𝔤𝔬𝔬𝔡 𝔱𝔬 𝔟𝔢 𝔱𝔯𝔲𝔢

   ℭ𝔞𝔫'𝔱 𝔱𝔞𝔨𝔢 𝔪𝔶 𝔢𝔶𝔢𝔰 𝔬𝔣𝔣 𝔬𝔣 𝔶𝔬𝔲

 


   𝔓𝔞𝔯𝔡𝔬𝔫 𝔱𝔥𝔢 𝔴𝔞𝔶 𝔱𝔥𝔞𝔱 ℑ 𝔰𝔱𝔞𝔯𝔢

   𝔗𝔥𝔢𝔯𝔢'𝔰 𝔫𝔬𝔱𝔥𝔦𝔫𝔤 𝔢𝔩𝔰𝔢 𝔱𝔬 𝔠𝔬𝔪𝔭𝔞𝔯𝔢

   𝔗𝔥𝔢 𝔰𝔦𝔤𝔥𝔱 𝔬𝔣 𝔶𝔬𝔲 𝔩𝔢𝔞𝔳𝔢𝔰 𝔪𝔢 𝔴𝔢𝔞𝔨

   𝔗𝔥𝔢𝔯𝔢 𝔞𝔯𝔢 𝔫𝔬 𝔴𝔬𝔯𝔡𝔰 𝔩𝔢𝔣𝔱 𝔱𝔬 𝔰𝔭𝔢𝔞𝔨

   𝔅𝔲𝔱 𝔦𝔣 𝔶𝔬𝔲 𝔣𝔢𝔢𝔩 𝔩𝔦𝔨𝔢 ℑ 𝔣𝔢𝔢𝔩

   𝔓𝔩𝔢𝔞𝔰𝔢 𝔩𝔢𝔱 𝔪𝔢 𝔨𝔫𝔬𝔴 𝔱𝔥𝔞𝔱 𝔦𝔱’𝔰 𝔯𝔢𝔞𝔩

   𝔜𝔬𝔲'𝔯𝔢 𝔧𝔲𝔰𝔱 𝔱𝔬𝔬 𝔤𝔬𝔬𝔡 𝔱𝔬 𝔟𝔢 𝔱𝔯𝔲𝔢

   ℭ𝔞𝔫'𝔱 𝔱𝔞𝔨𝔢 𝔪𝔶 𝔢𝔶𝔢𝔰 𝔬𝔣𝔣 𝔬𝔣 𝔶𝔬𝔲

   ℑ…"

 

   “Forgive me,” he fumbled, “that seems to be all I can recall.  I overheard the melody in a store, but that is as far as I am able to repeat it.”

   You were silent.

   “...Mira?  Is that acceptable?  If that’s not suitable—”

   “Demiurge,” you gasped at last.  “You can sing.  Like, you can really sing.”

   His tail began to swipe over your leg once again.  “Of course.  I am my creator’s masterpiece, after all.  You’ve enjoyed the performance?”

   “Yes!  Yeah, to say the least!  It’s… that was beautiful,” you pressed.  You watched the tips of his ears flush red.  Point for you, this time; you’d gotten him to blush.

   You gathered your thoughts to praise him further, but before you could increase the color from his ears to his cheeks, his voice rang out again.

   This time, you didn’t recognize the tune.  The chords sounded aged but coy in their movement, as though it were a Gregorian chant arranged by a minstrel of modern days.  The words that shaped the notes were like nothing you had ever heard before, guttural growls finding a place among haunting chimes and whispered sighs.  They resounded in you with such a vivid envelopment, they seemed to be composed more of color than vibration.

   This song wasn’t from this world.  This was something he brought with him, something that existed solely within him, remembered nowhere else.  And now, it existed within you.

   He’d finished, you realized.  You were still entranced by the images that had danced behind your eyes to his harmony.  Reaching forward, you wrapped your hands around his, holding onto him as the strange hues faded out of your sight, even as you closed your eyes and focused desperately on their shadows.  His hands felt as real as the feeling his voice had given you.

   “What…” you whispered.

   “An ancient song,” he answered.  “Written to be sung by angel and demon alike.  It tells of an angel who drooped a hand down, and a demon who arched upward in return.  It’s meant to caution the folly of breaking such conventions, but I have always found it instead to be an emboldening tale of risk versus reward.”

   “I love it,” you said.  The fluttering of the candle sent shapes over your eyelids, and you opened them to see him looking back at you.

   Expectantly.

   “...What?” you asked.

   He set his shoulders back proudly.  “We have a deal.  I believe it is now your turn, as per our quid pro quo arrangement.”

   Oh.  Ohhhh, this sneaky devil.  You should have seen this coming.

   “...You know what, I can’t even be mad after that.  I really can’t, I don't think I physically can be upset after listening to you sing that,” you giggled.  His tail tapped a bit faster, it’s movements minimized to keep the actions soft against your skin, and a purr rose in his chest as he happily leaned towards you.  “But this is the last song!” you swore, leaning in to match him, feeling a comfort along with an energy hit your spine as your foreheads connected.

   “If you insist, my Lady, I’ll concede to you.”

   You stayed like that for a moment, hands together, foreheads touching, knees against knees.  He exhaled, and you in turn breathed in.

   It was as though this moment had always been meant to come around.  As though you two were more than yourselves here, constellations having found life within you to become one mass of cosmic scattering.  As though your pull to each other had an existence beyond what time could constrain to one single instance.

   It felt like, even if this moment passed, it would never stop being real in the grand scheme of what composed reality.  As though you were preserved in it forever.

   His hands squeezed yours.  “What would you sing for me, my beloved Mira?”

   You felt emboldened from the song, like he’d described, but the stage fright still hadn’t completely left you.  And you didn’t want this intimacy to end.  “... Maybe we could lay down?  You’re supposed to be sleeping anyways, and I’ll be less embarrassed if I can do it without feeling like you’re watching me.”

   He had no objections as you pulled down the covers and crawled under with him.  Placing his glasses on the bedside table, he propped himself up on an elbow, watching you pointedly with a greedy smirk as you wriggled further into the mattress.  You sighed, turning with an eye roll but pulling one of his hands along to hold as you faced away from him.  “You’re impossible,” you complained, “how in the world do you think that’s gonna make me feel less self-conscious?  You want me to sing or not?”

   He laughed, but lowered his torso to the bed.  “Do you feel more comfortable now?” he asked repentantly.  He carefully cradled his body to yours, tail travelling over your waist to work it’s way to your free hand.

   He was always so gentle with you.  So happy to be close.  You pulled his tail in, the spikes along its end retracting as far as they were able as you held it to your chest.  You felt his breathing deepening again.  “Yeah,” you said, a trace of teasing still embellishing the conversation.  “It’s not bad.  I might just stay here a while, even.”

   “Mmm.  Perhaps until the candle burns out?”

   You remembered the small amount of wax at the bottom as you heard a calmness of fatigue accompany his words.  He wouldn’t be able to stay awake for long, you felt more and more sure.  You were almost disappointed at the idea.  “I could do that.”

   The hue of the room shifted, and you felt a smile creep onto your face as purplish shadows danced between an ebony light.  The satisfied purr from his chest increased as he exhaled, melting into you further.  He was so warm, so cozy.  He had worked so hard.  And now, he was so tired.  At last surrendering to his exhaustion.

   Yeah, you could stay until the flame went out.  You would stay here buried in his arms as he rested, until the wick covered in his flame was cold and ashen.  You took in a breath.

 

  

  “𝒴𝑜𝓊 𝒶𝓃𝒹 𝓂𝑒

   𝐻𝒶𝓋𝑒 𝓈𝑒𝑒𝓃 𝑒𝓋𝑒𝓇𝓎𝓉𝒽𝒾𝓃𝑔 𝓉𝑜 𝓈𝑒𝑒

   𝐹𝓇𝑜𝓂 𝐵𝒶𝓃𝑔𝓀𝑜𝓀 𝓉𝑜 𝒞𝒶𝓁𝑔𝒶𝓇𝓎

   𝒜𝓃𝒹 𝓉𝒽𝑒 𝓈𝑜𝓁𝑒𝓈 𝑜𝒻 𝑜𝓊𝓇 𝓈𝒽𝑜𝑒𝓈

   𝒜𝓇𝑒 𝒶𝓁𝓁 𝓌𝑜𝓇𝓃 𝒹𝑜𝓌𝓃

   𝒯𝒽𝑒 𝓉𝒾𝓂𝑒 𝒻𝑜𝓇 𝓈𝓁𝑒𝑒𝓅 𝒾𝓈 𝓃𝑜𝓌

   𝒯𝒽𝑒𝓇𝑒’𝓈 𝓃𝑜𝓉𝒽𝒾𝓃𝑔 𝓉𝑜 𝒸𝓇𝓎 𝒶𝒷𝑜𝓊𝓉

   ‘𝒞𝒶𝓊𝓈𝑒 𝓌𝑒’𝓁𝓁 𝒽𝑜𝓁𝒹 𝑒𝒶𝒸𝒽 𝑜𝓉𝒽𝑒𝓇 𝓈𝑜𝑜𝓃

   𝐼𝓃 𝓉𝒽𝑒 𝒷𝓁𝒶𝒸𝓀𝑒𝓈𝓉 𝑜𝒻 𝓇𝑜𝑜𝓂𝓈

 


   𝐼𝒻 𝒽𝑒𝒶𝓋𝑒𝓃 𝒶𝓃𝒹 𝒽𝑒𝓁𝓁 𝒹𝑒𝒸𝒾𝒹𝑒

   𝒯𝒽𝒶𝓉 𝓉𝒽𝑒𝓎 𝒷𝑜𝓉𝒽 𝒶𝓇𝑒 𝓈𝒶𝓉𝒾𝓈𝒻𝒾𝑒𝒹

   𝐼𝓁𝓁𝓊𝓂𝒾𝓃𝒶𝓉𝑒 𝓉𝒽𝑒 ‘𝓃𝑜’ 𝑜𝓃 𝓉𝒽𝑒𝒾𝓇 𝓋𝒶𝒸𝒶𝓃𝒸𝓎 𝓈𝒾𝑔𝓃𝓈

   𝐼𝒻 𝓉𝒽𝑒𝓇𝑒’𝓈 𝓃𝑜 𝑜𝓃𝑒 𝒷𝑒𝓈𝒾𝒹𝑒 𝓎𝑜𝓊

   𝒲𝒽𝑒𝓃 𝓎𝑜𝓊𝓇 𝓈𝑜𝓊𝓁 𝑒𝓂𝒷𝒶𝓇𝓀𝓈

   𝐼’𝓁𝓁 𝒻𝑜𝓁𝓁𝑜𝓌 𝓎𝑜𝓊 𝒾𝓃𝓉𝑜 𝓉𝒽𝑒 𝒹𝒶𝓇𝓀.”









Chapter Text

🔥 𝑅𝑒𝒶𝓁 𝓁𝒾𝒻𝑒 𝑜𝓃 𝓉𝒽𝑒 𝓈𝑒𝓋𝑒𝓃𝓉𝒽 𝒻𝓁𝑜𝑜𝓇 🔥

𝒸𝒽𝒶𝓅𝓉𝑒𝓇 𝓉𝒽𝒾𝓇𝓉𝓎 𝒻𝒾𝓋𝑒


 

   The shop was a bit worn around the edges.  The displays were far from the aesthetic of the times, bringing to mind instead a decade long past.  But the surfaces shone clean, the prices were right, and the wares were only the best quality.

   Geoff stood squarely behind the counter and examined the edge of his freshly sharpened knife, looking proudly around his little butcher shop.  The art had not been handed down to him from past generations, as he knew so many other shops in the city boasted. Instead, he had worked hard and gained skills through what in other professions would have been considered an apprenticeship, taking whatever lessons he could from the previous owner.  When she had retired, he had been humbled by her offer to take over in her place.

   Now, with a regular clientele and reputable sources of product, his shop had gained fame for it’s quality and diversity of goods.  For a butchery with such humble beginnings, he had truly risen from anonymity into highly desirable standings, and he was equally proud of and grateful for it.

   It was the little touches, he’d learned, that kept his shop relevant to those who cared to frequent it.  Remembering names, keeping track of preferences, having orders ready to go. So when the first customer of the day walked in, he began to reach for Mrs. Ramposa’s ribeye steaks, only to freeze as he saw who had actually come through his door.

   Your eyes were bright as you looked around, giving a small sound at the new antelope ribs that had come in since your last visit.  Geoff took in a breath and shifted back into a smile. You had surprised him the first time you met; he’d expected such wide eyes to mean that you needed assistance, and had discovered just the opposite.  You knew exactly what you’d been here for, what cuts you wanted, and which questions to ask before making a purchase. But the additional questions you’d put to the butcher had been so… he felt the memory somehow in his spine as he recalled it... medically correct.  Still, you’d been very polite, and sincerely kind. He shouldn’t hold an odd feeling against yo--

   Then the door you were holding open allowed another to enter, and the tingling sense in Geoff’s spine raced up to scratch at his neck.

   For how properly the man accompanying you held himself, Geoff couldn’t help but compare him to a well-bred but anxious greyhound, ready to burst with a mountain of restrained excitement at the slightest allowance.  His breathing lifted his chest faster than was necessary for the walking pace he maintained, and his smile, while honestly placed, seemed to hide another emotion beyond the contentment it presented. The dark red button-up shirt snapped into place as he tugged at the edges of his sleeves, folding his hands together behind his back.  His ice blue eyes fluttered around the shop, focusing only once you spoke.

   “He’s been out of these whenever I come in!  We should get some, I’d love to try seasoning them, I’ve got some ideas…”

   “Then we shall simply need to purchase enough for you to test them all,” the man cooed to you, retrieving the ribs and walking them to the counter.  “We’ll be gathering more; if you would begin tallying the price,” he informed Geoff in a much more solid voice as he approached.

   “Oh!  Right,” you said, skipping up to his side and just in front so as to better gesture between the two men.  “Demiurge, this is the butcher who’s been so nice to me! Geoff this is m— uh, Demiurge.” You recovered quickly from the lapse.  “He’s as interested in seeing your shop as I first was! Maybe more, actually,” you smirked and raised your eyebrows at the man holding an armful of ribs.

   “A pleasure,” the red-clad man said, adding a toothy smile to the same solid tone.

   Geoff couldn’t quite bring himself to say the same, but did nod and smile.  “Welcome to my shop; is there anything in particular you’re interested in? I’m happy to show you around.”

   Demiurge’s eyes flicked to the knife in the butcher’s hand, and Geoff realized he was still holding the tool rather tightly.  He reached for the aluminium scabbard he kept at his side; he found having it made his work in the back room go a little smoother.  It was also strangely satisfying to have the item on his person. He should put it away, however; he’d only had it out to sharpen while he watched the front, and typically didn’t wear it in front of the counter among the customers for safety reasons.  “Excuse me,” he said, beginning to sheath it, but Demiurge raised a hand.

   “May I?”

   No, he knew he should say.  Of course not, I cannot just hand you my blade.  But instead, he found himself shrugging and holding it handle-first towards the man.

   “Careful; just got finished sharpening it.”

   The metal raised to align with the keen eyes judging down it’s edge, handle tilting slightly as they traveled.  “A satisfactory job; you should be pleased in your effort.”

   Geoff frowned.  He saw you huff a smile and roll your distracted eyes at the man before he responded to the odd compliment.  “Walnut handle, ten inch carbon steel. It’s a custom blade, from a company across the country. They made a set for me specific to the needs I’ve got here in my shop.”

   “Oh?  Custom to your needs?”  Demiurge looked at him, and for the first time it felt as though the observant man were making eye contact rather than just staring back.  “I would be quite interested in--”

   “Oooooh, Geoff, you have leaf lard?!  How did I not notice that last time, I have been dying to try and make a pie crust with leaf lard--”  You had gasped in surprise at the display to the side of the counter and fallen into mutterings over your discovery.  You had been like this the other times you came in as well; excited enough to interrupt even your own train of thought with each new item spotted.  The butcher’s attention was drawn between the two seperate pulls, and while he very much felt a desire to attend to you rather than this man… He wasn’t sure he trusted Demiurge enough to take his eyes off him, especially while holding his knife.

   Demiurge, tilting the blade experimentally to examine the seams of wood to metal, waved Geoff away.  “Your time would be better spent assisting Mira, and I would quite prefer her needs met before my own,” he insisted, turning his attention back to the sharpness of the blade.  Once again, Geoff found himself complying against his better judgement.

   You asked as many questions as you had the last few times you’d come in.  As odd as the questions were, he was happy to indulge you. Your reactions to learning something new were endearingly sincere, and he realized he was learning just as much from you as you spoke on the different methods you knew to prepare various cuts, some through your own trial and error, some learned from the mistakes of an internet persona’s video tutorial.  At some point in conversation, Geoff realized Demiurge had joined as the three of you wandered the shop, asking his questions as well. His were also unusual, but instead of veering strangely anatomical, they sat more in line with the general practice of his occupation. (“How often do you receive new cuts?” “Are the slaughterhouses at a great distance from your shop?”  “How long were you in this career before you butchered your first lamb?” “Is it average to have such a small array of hooks to display your slabs?”) He didn’t find himself quite as endeared.

   Soon, the counter was laden with the cuts you had chosen, and Geoff was recounting the story of his first day as shop owner and the mishaps that should have led to a disastrous failure, but despite the knife slips, the freezer losing power, and the cash register jamming, somehow he had managed to make powerful customers very happy and opened the next day to a constant flow of new customers.  You were laughing, and Demiurge was watching you happily as he took the bags into one hand.

   “Hold on,”  Geoff said as Demiurge began to step away, “I believe there’s something you forgot.  I’d appreciate you returning that knife,” he said pointedly, looking at the arm tucked neatly at the man’s back despite the great weight that should be straining the one arm it rested on.

   A smile that echoed of a smirk, and the hand emerged.  Empty. The well-dressed man gestured to the doorway leading to the back room.

   “I left it alongside the others.  You’re quite welcome, by the way,” he said lightly, turning to catch up to you at the door.  He picked at a piece of paper sticking out of a bag. “Geoff’s Strogonoff?” he muttered, flipping the card over to read both sides.  You began cheerfully explaining how the butcher included various recipes of his own making alongside purchases, partially as a calling card but also to encourage repeat business to try the new dishes out.  You were quite pleased at the addition. Demiurge seemed pleased that you were pleased. The glass door closed, and as you reached a hand out towards your companion, Geoff watched him transfer the card to a pocket so as to offer a hand in return.  You seemed confused, beginning to point at the excess of bags he was carrying, then relented and shyly gripped back.

   Well.  That had made for an eventful morning.  Abandoning his wary stare, Geoff made his way into the back room, to check if what the unusual man had stated was in fact the truth.

   His set of custom knives and tools lay out on a table, spaced perfectly apart.  They shone as pristinely as the day they had first arrived. Perhaps, in reality, even more so.  All were present, including the one the man had held, and even the small blade he had thought to be misplaced by the boy working under him part time sat at the end of the group.  Raising this smallest, he gawked at the edge of the metal, almost hearing the slice it left in the air from the movement. It had been missing and uncleaned for long enough that surely there should have been rust or knicks marring it’s surface, but there was none to be found.  Curious, he put a finger against it’s sharp glint, then pulled away as the almost invisible sensation of contact produced a prick of red. Years of practice, and this was a sharper edge than he’d even been able to create on his tools. Somehow they felt improved overall, not simply in their maintenance; the balance between handle and metal felt right in his hand, and while he’d always felt comfortable with the custom grip, it now felt like a truer extension of his arm.  The wood shone as though freshly polished without having lost any of the traction required for the work it would be put to.

   Geoff knew he should be grateful and impressed.  And he was, quite honestly. But… he was also very certain that he would be more than alright if your next visit with your plus one was a long, long time from now.  These knives would keep their new freshness for long enough.

   And he wouldn’t mind not having to endure that smile again anytime soon.







   You put the last set of antelope ribs in the fridge rather than the freezer; tonight, you would set them in a marinade to be cooked for tomorrow’s dinner. The idea increased the height of your cheeks as you smiled.

   Demiurge had listened as you chimed into the quiet with thoughts on your plans for the freshly stocked kitchen, occasionally adding his own notes of interest as he made himself a cup of tea.  Mostly you were planning for the party coming up that Cole had asked you to bring a dish to; you didn’t want to bring too much, but you did plan on making sure there was a large variety for those attending to choose from.

   “A raspberry jelly topping might be an appropriate addition to your shortbread,” he suggested as you pondered the topic of desserts.  “Or perhaps mint crystals for the creme-filled bars.

   You hesitated in your exploration of cupboards for sparks of ideas.  “The raspberry would be really good,” you agreed. “But, uh, the mint crystals… we don’t really have those here.”

   Demiurge’s ears pulled backward.  “There are mint plants.”

   “Yeah.”

   “And you have edible mineral formations?”

   “Well, there’s salt.”

   “But this world does not produce mint crystals.”

   “Unfortunately not.”  You winced to show you were equally disappointed.  “There’s a lot of stuff I wish I had here to cook with.  Sour-pea petals, cocoa beetles, siren teeth broth… Man, the things I could do with just a teaspoon of powdered ichor!”  The enemies and foraging such items required ran along in your memory as you recalled each component. The powdered ichor had been especially hard to come by, but it had made consumable items crafted with it so much more effective.  You’d still had just a bit left at the end of the game, one of those but what if I need it for something more important type of pitfalls.  You’d always worried a more vital use would arise.  Now, you wished you’d taken of advantage of it when you’d had the rare item available.

   “Well.  That is quite a travesty,” he agreed.  “In your hands, such items would undoubtedly become unparalleled dishes.”

   You pushed the flour container back into place from your exploration and closed the cupboard, resting your elbows on the counter.  “You ate in Yggdrasil, right? Did you taste any of that stuff?”

   He nearly choked on his tea.

   “Mira,” he coughed, “are you truly telling me that the Supreme Beings did not experience the sensation of taste?”

   You glanced to the side as though someone with cue cards might appear to give you a better answer than the one you had.  “...No? I mean, we pretended to occasionally, for the fun of it.  But… No. No, the dive gear allowed for a lot, but the sensitivity wasn’t set high enough for taste.”

   He stared at you.

   “My Lady.  Have you put forth any extra attempts to access your item box.”

   “Uh.”  You raised your eyebrows at the strange inquiry.  “Once, right after I got the ring out. But I didn’t have any luck.  Why?”

   “I do recall you possessing a certain item.  A spice kit. Did you by chance retain it at the end?”  His tail was wagging in anticipation.

   Oh.  Oh.

   If you could get your hands on that kit…  Bittersweet powdered oldpine bark, earthy folkvangrain seeds, spicy magmarika, even mint crystals from the Bifrost!  And there was so much more you had kept on hand; the kit was mostly a basic arrangement to power up items in the field as needed, but even what you would have considered to be paltry helps there would be heart-stopping to have in reality.  You had always wondered how a dollop of honey would fair against a drop of nectar, if it was really smooth and sweet enough to satisfy the gods.

   You realized your jaw was dropped.  Demiurge was smirking wider and wider.  “What would you say to an exploration into rediscovering your inventory, my Lady?”

   Mere minutes later, you were sitting in the front room, a space in the middle of the great rug that dressed the floor cleared away of furniture and other items for no greater reason than it felt right to do so.  You sat cross-legged in the center opposite Demiurge, who kneeled in a pose that reminded you somehow of a poised sensei.  Maybe the impression came from the direct but calming manner in which his words flowed.

   “When we discovered the barrier preventing your use of magic, it related quite directly to your perspective of self.  It is not inconceivable to assume a similar connection to your item box. However, I believe there is another component to the issue.”  Setting his center finger to the bridge of his glasses, he ducked his head slightly in contemplation. “The ring appeared as you gave it only a paltry thought and the minimum effort.  This may very well be the key to finding your items: Nonchalance in the fact that they do in fact exist, and assumption of ownership over them with a sure conviction.”

   “So… I have to be… confident?”  You shifted, tucking your legs tighter around each other.  “Is that how you access yours?”

   He bared a regretful grin as he swept out the hand that touched his frames.  “I have attempted to access my inventory. Unfortunately, it seems not to have traveled with me.”

   You felt your heart drop.  “Oh… Demiurge, I’m so sorry.  I hadn’t even thought…”

   “Please, have no distress over my lack, Mira.  While it would indeed have been a blessing, those items are not vital to me here.  It’s a small sacrifice for everything I have gained.” He returned the hand to him, placing it over his heart.  “However, the principles for use of such Yggdrasilian mechanics do seem to correlate well with my means of employing them before.  With this in mind, and the understanding you have imparted to me as to how such means may be foreign to you, I am certain we can obtain a path by which you can reach what is rightfully yours.”  His tail rested to the ground, palms each settling over a knee. “Close your eyes. And allow your thoughts to quiet.”

   Wait, what?  Meditation?? As in, finding inner peace?  What did that have to do with confidence? “I thought you wanted me to--”

   Demiurge cocked his head, a ripple of amused movement rolling down his tail.

   “…Ok, yeah, I’ll… I trust you,” you conceded, eyelids dropping with a concealed sigh.  It was silent for a moment. He asked what came to your mind.

   “I’m a little nervous,” you admitted.  He asked why. You bit your lip. “You’re so patient with me.  I want to do this well.”

   “…Ah.”  Silence again, long enough that you were almost tempted to peek.  “You… wish to succeed for my success?”

   You felt your breath catch in your throat.  Words certainly weren’t about to come out right now, so you made do with an honest nod.  Another moment passed, then his voice, soft, answered.

   “Let those thoughts pass away from you.  This effort has nothing to do with the measure of your worth, nor the volume of my happiness with you.  If this brings nothing to fruition, then I am no less in awe of you, Mira. Allow such worries to fade.”

   You were sure that he wasn’t using his command mantra, didn’t hear the telltale hum that accompanied the ability, but something in his tone soothed you at your core.  Maybe it was something less supernatural and more of the development between you; it was the same sense of safety that you felt when he held you close, the same reassurance when he spoke truth to you.  Whatever it was, your chest warmed, and your mind slowly shed a layer you had been unaware it was shrouded beneath. You knew he meant every word. You trusted him.

   A deep breath filled your lungs, and it felt clean.  You tried to follow his next instructions, not worrying whether you did so exactly or not.  He led you in a rhythm, his voice carrying you more than you walked in the direction it asked you to take.  The rumble of his throat shaped by his lips swept your being of all other sensations. Then it fell away as well, and the emptiness was filled with simply being.  Just you, as a reality, as an assurance, as a grace.

   Sparking into existence, the thought of your purpose in this exercise glowed like a new reminder, and you drew in your next breath slowly as your tongue provided words.  “It’s not ‘confident’,” you murmured, letting the description of what you felt be conveyed to the guardian, “but it’s… content. With me.”

   “That is an excellent place to begin,” his voice came.  A hint of amusement colored it, blossoming across your mind like a watercolor flash, the tint remaining only as you savored the sound.  “Your ring came to you when called. At the reach of your hand, what belonged to you became yours. Now, it will do so again. That space is attuned to you and you alone; are these things true?”

   A silence that resolated like heavy snow was in the space where your mind rested, as though you had opened your eyes in a dream to perceive what had always been present.  “Yeah,” you affirmed. “It’s been right here.”

   He started to speak again, but for some reason his words cut off.  Your arm was reaching into the void of still static, and a weightless non-existence overtook your sense of touch, replacing it with a current that fluctuated with your focus.  A list came to mind, almost as though you were recalling a page of a book you once read, and you strained to read the printed characters.

   “It’s right here,” you repeated, trying not to let excitement pull you out of this achievement.  “I-I can sense them, there’s things in here…”

   “The shape and size of it does not matter,” Demiurge said, restraining the same excitement.  “Call for the item, and it will show you where it is. Then bring it to you.”

   Right.  The fact that it was fairly sizable didn’t factor in.  You just had to see it on this list, grab it, and drag it out.  Easy.

   Now if only you could manage to remember how to read words.

   “It’s all garbled,” you complained.  “None of this makes sense.”

   “Hmm.”  The tap of a tail against the rug made you grin.  “Then explore as you see fit. If it won’t clear itself, that is not an unconquerable obstacle; this is still a dimension that belongs to you.  It is yours to do with as you please. Rather than it’s name, instead search for it’s use.”

   You experimentally opened your fingers, and felt waves of sensation string around what you  understood to be your grasp. A use. Well, your use for the spice kit was to better an amount of food.  You would use it to improve the dishes you created, and to finally get a taste of all those items you worked so hard for alongside your guildmates.  It would help you to—

   There!!  There, something brushed against your farthest reach.  Stretching your grasp piece by piece, you surrounded the item and found it’s energy.  Then, your arm as a tether, you drew back your hand.

   You opened your eyes to see a wooden box, your other hand racing forward to help with the sudden weight.  “Holy cow, Demi, we did it! This is it!” You ran your fingers along the resin coating the lid, flicking the little metal lock to the side—

   Demiurge put his hand over the top.  “Yes,” he agreed, “your execution was flawless, my Lady.  But the state of the item… concerns me.” His other hand reached around to grasp beneath it, to ask permission to take the box from you.

   You saw it now.  The shape was generic.  The wood bent oddly outside the demon’s fingers, as though you had run too many mods on a pc game and the system was compensating by providing a low rendered image rather than reveal the true shape of the object.  The grain of the wood shifted as though you couldn’t quite connect the pattern steadily to the surface.

   Your kit was glitched.

   It felt as dirty as letting someone else pry your shoe from thick mud, but you let him take it from your hands.  He snuck his fingers around each edge, and you watched as his knuckles bobbed up and down, following decorative carved shapes you couldn’t perceive.  After each surface was explored, he reached for the metal latch and at last released it.

   The inside was hidden to you by the lid, but Demiurge’s expression did not change.  Your patience stretched to a slow drip as the tinkling of glass reached your ears, testifying to the solidity he was looking for in the build of each container of resources.  One was lifted high enough for you to see, and you were immediately reminded of the style of games you used to play as a child: Undefined polygons rounded just enough to give the impression of a vial, and a color inside that sat level at half-full despite the rotations the object was put to.  He set the box on the ground, and you felt anxiety fill your throat as he uncorked it.

   “Be careful, it—!!”

   Dipping a finger inside, Demiurge brought a bit of color to his mouth, and you sat forward like a cobra striking a darting mouse.  “What are you doing?!” you demanded, one hand grasping around the wrist that held the vial, the other dancing from hand to cheek to chest.

   “This is only mandrake root, nothing to fear,” he smirked, allowing you to take the vial out of the offending grasp.  “Forgive me, I didn’t mean to startle you.”

   “Startle me—Demi, you—Oh geez, you almost gave me a heart attack, I can’t… Demi, I don’t have any healing spells.  I’ve got nothing. Don’t do that again, if you—if you got hurt, I—”  Despite the strained giggle setting your voice to a staccato, your lungs were too large for the breaths you were taking, oxygen trickling into your bloodstream far slower than the rate at which your veins pumped.  You dropped your forehead against his, relying on the sound of his breath to reassure you that your own could steady.

   Instead you heard it etch from him as he realized your seriousness, and his hand circled to support your chin.  “I will not leave you,” he swore. “I wouldn’t have done such a thing if I didn’t feel securely certain in it.” He let you rest against him, vial clenched in your hand as his chest rose and fell.  You felt a chuckle vibrate within, and heard a smirk as he continued. “And while I will always place myself before you in danger, rest assured I would not give myself away to something as uninspired as food poisoning.”

   You laughed.  The vial felt cool in your palm, it’s unrendered appearance not translating to the curved glass texture under your fingers.  Mandrake root was among the health benefiting spices in the kit, and a much less potent one of the bunch; he had chosen it specifically out of caution.  Still, the fact that it was a glitched Yggdrasil item, and the idea of Demiurge interacting with it, then partaking of it… it gave you chills. Pulling back, you looked at him.  He moved a lock of hair behind your ear.

   His coloring was the same.  His breathing was steady. He didn’t seem bothered at all, no rashes appearing… you reached forward to feel his pulse as his neck, and he laughed again.

   “I assure you, I am in perfect health,” he said.  “If anything, the items within this kit seem to have lost a measure of potency; while the flavor is as it should be, there is little to speak of in terms of perceptible magical aid.”

   “Mm-hmm, that’s great,” you replied, focusing on his pulse between the rumblings of his voice.  Was that how his pulse was supposed to feel? A little fast and almost imperceptible? …Probably.  That seemed about right for a devil’s heartbeat. You gave up and scooted back, taking in a deep cleansing breath as you crossed your legs again into a seated position.  “Ok, let’s do that one more time. I think I can concentrate into it, I’ll give it a shot.”

   “You wish to attempt another item?”  Demiurge sounded startled, and you opened your eyes.  For someone who had just tried to convince you his actions were no big deal, he sure seemed funny about you taking your own actions.  You pursed your lips at him.

   “There are a few things I know for sure I had on me.  Some basic gear in case I ran into newbies trying out the game before it ended, one actual health potion, and one of my old daggers.  So…”

   Demiurge nodded and said, “You’re retrieving the dagger,” at the same time you said, “I want that health potion.”

   “Ah.  Yes,” he fumbled.  “A conscientious choice.”  You closed your eyes. “Are you certain you wouldn’t rather spend this opportunity on a weapon?”  You opened your eyes.

   “I’m a little more inclined towards making sure I can keep you alive at the moment than I am towards giving myself the ability to do five-hundred damage to someone,” you said pointedly.

   Ears drooping back, a grumble escaped his throat.  “I supposed I can understand the current proclivity,” he admitted.  “But with either attempt, considering the state this spice kit arrived in, you will be using caution in the retrieval?”

   You smiled and promised to do just that.  Then closed your eyes one last time, and floated into that space wherein hung the colorless portal.

   Geez, that had been kinda terrifying for a moment.  And you had not before thought anything could hurt Demiurge.  Not really, anyways. Nothing around you, nothing in this world that you were aware of, could do any real lasting damage to him.  Nothing short of a nuclear war. Probably.

   But something from beyond this world?  Something from Yggdrasil, heck, something from you?  That could potentially become a danger. If you got a hold of something that could act as an emergency measure against such a situation, you would feel better.  And it was good to explore this anyways, right? You should know what you were capable of, and what your limits were.

   It took a few attempts, but at last you felt your fingertips disperse in a tingle as you shifted them forward.  Demiurge’s verbal praise was enough confirmation that you had indeed accessed your item box, and the idea of a blurry list once again came to mind.  You ignored it, instead focusing on the need for a stay against injury, a boost in health. Nothing made itself known immediately, so you reached farther into the hollow space, extending the sensation of your being out to an exponentially widening expanse.  There was a questioning sound in the back of your mind.

   In the distance, in front of you, far out in the depth.  You heard it sing back in an echo of your search. You just had to reach a little bit more, an inch outward, just that fraction greater than what you were giving… 

   This really was an amazing thing, you thought.  A dimension of void, somehow bonded to your soul, to hold whatever you so deemed necessary.  A space that reacted in accordance with your demands, that welcomed you as a part of it. The sound of nothingness was like an anti-reverberation, slowing to a wave anything sharp or unbecoming.  Your body could extend to be at one with the stretch of static as much as it was both less than one and an infinity, both all of you and none of you as you lilted among it’s streams of energy that danced around like a breeze through a collection of clouds.  You could lose yourself in here, forget the meaning of and matter with time and find a cushion of haltedness to settle into. You could simply be here. You could… You…

    “MIRA!!”

   Your eyes popped open.

   Demiurge’s hands were on your shoulders, and as one went to yank your arm downward a sharp pain shot from it to scatter like lightning across your chest.  You gasped, your back extending in protest against the antagonistic spasm. The static and emptiness was gone, and the sudden awareness of physicality made you feel like you were drowning in an avalanche of consciousness.  Demiurge’s palms ran up your neck to cradle your head, brow creased with releasing panic as your eyes looked into his in confusion.

   “Mira,” he repeated.  Less volume. No less energy.  “You’re alright, my Lady. You’re safe, you will be fine.  You are here still. I’m with you, we’re together. You’re alright.”

   The pain lingered in your chest as you forced air to enter.  “W-what just happened? I-it was so peaceful, and then…”

   The wooden kit, you realized, had been pushed to the side.  Still corked vials spilled from it, no longer of any comparable importance to the plight your devil had pulled you from.  He ran his fingers through the wisps of hair along the back of your neck, digging deeper the longer he looked into your eyes.  The crystal seemed somehow fragmented, clearing as he calmed himself with your touch while his observations found you satisfactorily unharmed.

   “Your item box somehow mistook you for an instance of inventory,” he said.  “That is the only explanation I can conceive. It would appear… that the damage runs deeper than a poor-presenting kit.”

   Deeper damage?

   “That sounds bad,” you whispered.

   “It was bad,” he agreed, with a restrained shiver and an unconvincing smile.  “But now, you’re safe.” The words seemed to be made to comfort him just as much as they were to reassure you.

   You covered the backs of his hands with your own.  He leaned in closer, and as when you had placed your head to his, you focused on each other’s breathing.  On the steadiness of it. The reality of air filling and emptying from living, present lungs. On the miracle of existing together.

   “I am sorry,” he muttered.  You started to shake your head, but he spoke again before you could respond.  “Promise me,” he said. “Promise me you will not attempt to do that again. I understand the value of that item to you.  But this is no longer an ability to pursue. My Lady, swear this to me… I want— I want you to never venture there again.”

   His hands were quivering in your hair, tail curling tightly around you both.  The request was superfluous in your mind; that had been a close call, as far as you understood.  You were still a bit disoriented. You weren’t sure what exactly had almost happened to you, but you knew it was enough to frighten Demiurge, and that was plenty to make you wary.  But in a way, you knew he wasn’t wrong to make the request. If you were honest with yourself, the temptation to seek after an item that could protect him even now hadn’t completely lost it’s allure.

   Your hands moved to lightly tug his lapels, inching him forward, and your lips met his.  His tremblings slowed, and he rested into your embrace. You shifted upwards to the sides of your knees, pressing your shoulder into the crook of his arm, and he pulled you in close as smaller kisses passed between you.  After a few minutes of revelry in the reminder of each other’s presence, he parted his face from yours, facets gazing with determination.

   “Mira.  Grant me this promise,” he said.

   You were surprised at the intensity behind the repeated request.  This was more than a boundary set for your safety by a guardian. More than an outlining of common sense.  This was a selfishness he asked of you, an agreement to so much more than just what he was asking now. You felt your heart swell.  You reached up to speak the words against his cheek, to seal them with yet another kiss as your arms encircled his neck.

   “I promise.”

 






Chapter Text

🔥 𝑅𝑒𝒶𝓁 𝓁𝒾𝒻𝑒 𝑜𝓃 𝓉𝒽𝑒 𝓈𝑒𝓋𝑒𝓃𝓉𝒽 𝒻𝓁𝑜𝑜𝓇 🔥

𝒸𝒽𝒶𝓅𝓉𝑒𝓇 𝓉𝒽𝒾𝓇𝓉𝓎 𝓈𝒾𝓍


 

   Your cover-up was a dark blue with white eyelet lace on the bottom, and the way it flowed around was like a ripple across a mountain lake.  It didn’t hug awkwardly at your hips or bubble out so much that it got in your way like most of the ones you’d fussed between at the store did; this one fit like it was made for you.  You were pretty happy to have found such a comfortable item to wear to the building’s get-together.

   You’d considered wearing the little swimming shorts you already owned and a t-shirt, but the other women you knew here had gone for a slightly more showy ensemble, and your tie-around dress fit in much better.  Besides, it was kinda fun having just enough fabric at your side to watch it billow slightly when a breeze blew past. The roof was a bit windy, which was a welcome contrast to the thick heat of the day, but the very best remedy to a searing summer sun glistened at the heart of the party.

   Twenty-thousand gallons of water lapped at the edges of an azure-painted entrenchment, and you held up and hand to fend off the splash that scattered from the cannonball of Mar’s twin sister Aurora--no wait, she’d asked you to call her Rorie.  She was a spunky kid, and getting to meet her had made you glad you came to the party all on it’s own. She and her brother squealed as they chased each other around the water, earning a pouty reprimand from a margarita-wielding Charlotte as her inflatable lounge chair drifted by.  The complaint earned her an extra splash from Rorie before the twins dashed off again, more choice words sputtering as she tried to keep herself from tipping over.

   Demiurge was chatting with Cole over at the grill and, surprisingly enough, seemed to be honestly enjoying himself.  You’d been nervous at first, considering how their first interaction had gone, but a little fire and ground beef seemed to be the magic combination to get them to not just tolerate each other, but start to bond.  Demiurge appreciated the high temperature at which Cole set the grill to, and seemed to enjoy the proximity to both the flame and the meat. He kept taking deep, smiling breaths whenever the wind stirred up the scent of the grill.  You’d had to excuse yourself before you were too tempted to take over and save the burgers from becoming bits of charcoal, leaving the two to chatter over martial art techniques and various topics. The platters of sandwiches you had luckily brought to the party would compensate for whatever was too burnt to eat, and the nanaimo bars would be a soothing sweet against the aftertaste of soot.  It would be fine.

   You took the opportunity to go around and say your hellos.  Sean was chatting at the built-in bar with a few people who seemed to be tenants of the rooms on his floor alongside Alanna.  He was mixing drinks, and you watched him handle two bottles in one hand while slicing a lime with the other, all while keeping an eye on the blender.  He made it look effortless, and you wondered just how many hidden talents the man had. Everything he did was done with the grace of a thousand ballerinas.  No, the ballerinas would probably be green with envy over the poise he displayed. Pan had come, which by the reaction of everyone else, was a big deal; he apparently didn’t get out much.  His new assistant Holly had come along with him, and you couldn’t help but think with happiness that her presence had a lot to do with Pan’s. You’d had a few interactions with her already, and were talking about the cookies you’d made together for Pan to enjoy when Rorie skipped over with a nervous Mar and asked you to help them in their dive ring gathering competition.

   That’s where you found yourself, soaking your lower legs in the toy-filled pool as you tossed in ring after ring, when Luna waltzed in.

   She was wearing short-shorts and a yellow crop-top that wasn’t quite long enough to hide the black bikini sported underneath.  Her shirt used all the available space to announce “Beaches Love Me” in loopy pink font you would have more likely expected to find on a shirt that made a joke about needing more wine to get through motherhood.  In one hand she held a greasy weighted paper bag, the other raising an oversized cup to her lips, which searched for a moment to find the red straw and take a loud, long drag from it. A paper crown sat atop her head, held aloft with the aid of her red hair flipped into a messy bun, the headdress no doubt a mark of triumph over her great amount of spoils in the greasy bag.  The sound of air filtering through ice stopped when she froze, looking over at the grill. Then she hopped forward, and you caught the words in simple sans serif on the back of her shirt:

   “i’m beaches”

   You could see the drop in Demiurge’s demeanor before he even turned around.  You held back a laugh and tossed another ring.

   “Heyyyyy boyo, how’s it goin’?  And my main man Cole, how are we all doing this beautifully sweltering day?”

   “You don’t live here,” Demiurge said with a mournful tone.

   “Nope!  But they still can’t seem to keep me out.”

   “Luna,” Cole complained on spotting her bag, “why’d you waste money buying food?  You knew I’d be making burgers.”

   She finger-gunned, peeking at him over her bedazzled sunglasses.  “Yeah, this ain’t my first party at this place, my man. I was well aware.”

   “Her diet consists only of food with a certain toxicity threshold,” Demiurge said, at last turning to face the redhead.  “Grass-fed cattle is simply too organic for the mutations her bowels have certainly undergone at this point.”

   “Don’t worry.  I know your true feelings.  I will never let you forget that second bite,” she smiled with a gentle reassurance.  Demiurge frowned.

   The three of them heckled each other a bit longer before Luna conceded she was outnumbered and left them to enjoy their bonfire.  She tipped her crown to you and called out, “He needs another nap!” before skipping over to Sean at the bar, who had spotted her coming and was already pulling out a bottle of soda to refill her giant cup.  You sighed and rolled your eyes with a smile, throwing the last toy in the water and congratulating Rorie on her massive amount of rings and Mar for doing his best. Rorie celebrated her victory by giving in to the taunts of Charlotte and soaking her with a close-by floating water gun.

   Alanna was sitting at a table on the other side of the pool, and she caught your eye and waved you over.  Charlotte had abandoned her drenched inflatable lounge chair and plopped into a dry one next to the dark-haired woman’s table just as you arrived.

   “Ugh, that girl is absolutely unbelievable,” she whined, her bottom lip protruding as she crossed her arms and glared at the sky.

   “Really, Charlotte,” Alanna deadpanned, “The fact that you have a similar interaction with the same child every time we have a get-together is what’s unbelievable.”

   The platinum blonde made an offended noise and turned to you.  “Well!  At least there’s some pleasurable company here.  How have you been getting along in the city, Mira?”  Her tone slid from sulky to sultry as she batted her eyes in your direction.

   “I’ve been doing great, thanks,” you blushed as her eyes did the same up-and-down they had that day in the lobby.  Ah, good old Shalltear.  “Both of us have been.  Demi seems to be really enjoying working with you.”

   Alanna smirked at that.  “That’s right, I do remember him mentioning he was keeping you in line; I’m impressed he hasn’t died of fatigue yet.”

   Alanna took a dainty sip of an amber-colored liquid as Charlotte steamed.  “You’re just in a mood because Angah didn’t show to a party per your invitation again,” she shot.  Alanna nearly choked on her drink, and you wondered how fragile the glass was as her knuckles turned white.  “Ha! I knew it,” Charlotte gloated, rounding a smirk back to you.  “Just ignore her, dear, here!  Lay out in the sun and relax with us.  You’re welcome to share my chair if you’d like~”

   “Oh--Uh, thanks, but that’s alright--”

   “Come sit by me then,” Alanna spoke up, patting the padded seat next to her at the table.  “I’ll have Sean bring you over something, you’ll need a stiff drink to survive a party with some of the company here.”

   You weren’t quite sure how it happened.  One moment you were reassuring them you were fine, and the next Charlotte was sitting next to Alanna as you took off your dress to reveal your blue bikini so you could sun on the lounge chair.  Then at the reactions from the two women, you’d turned to see Demiurge removing his t-shirt and shorts to expose his own swimsuit.

   Either minutes or days later, Luna poked you in the arm and you jolted back to life, eyes finally pulling away from where they’d been glued.

   “Girl, you’re kinda staring.  A lot,” she teased.

   You were sitting up in the lounge chair, and Luna, Alanna, and Charlotte had all gathered around, having either pulled over a chair or taken a seat beside you.

   “W-well, I--It’s, I mean, it’s a bright red speedo.  It’s a bright--a bright red speedo.”

   “Ohhh, is that what you were looking at?  The speedo?  Huh.  And here I thought you were checking out your man,” Luna said innocently, shrugging.

   “Oh is that official?  Well well, good for you, Mira,” Charlotte congratulated, eyes fixed on the lower half of Demiurge’s body.

   “No, hold on, we-- we haven’t talked about--”

   “You haven’t?”  Alanna looked at you, eyebrows raised.  “He’s made it quite apparent he considers himself more than fond of you.  Devoted, I’d say.  In that case, if you haven’t taken the plunge into a decided relationship yet, the poses he’s been rotating through make much more sense.”

   “Mmmm, this one is my favorite thus far,” Charlotte hummed as Demiurge held out the hamburger platter for Cole to add more bricks of coal to.  “The way his torso twists so you can see the obliques really flex, and all the other additional angles on assets…  I may have to suggest a new dress code when he comes around.”

   “Well, that’s impressively inappropriate, even for you.  Is there no way to restrain your ghastly over-gluttonous libido?” Alanna scoffed.

   They fell into a fresh argument, one with the words “Angah” and “immaturity” thrown a few times into the mix.  You didn’t completely hear it, noticing instead how Charlotte was right in how well Demiurge's tight muscles bulged from his sides at that angle… among other things…

   Luna poked your arm, a mischievous smirk on her face, and you jumped yet again.  “Hey… hey. You should go over there.”  She leaned in as though she was about to tell a dirty secret.  “You should push him in the pool.”

   You tore your eyes away, head swinging to her with a look.  She held up her hands.

   “What?!  You totally should!  Look at that smug bastard, all flexing his impossibly toned abs with his perfect hair that he absolutely will not ruin by getting wet, even though he just made a show of acting like he’s gonna go for a swim in a suit that puts Alanna’s little string number to shame.”  She nodded over to the busty woman with the nearly non-existent white bikini who was still deep in an escalating passive-aggressive conversation with the purple-clad blonde.  “I’d do it myself, but he’d expect it from me a mile away.  But hey, I mean.  If you’re too nervous to go over to him dressed like that in front of everyone…”  She pursed her lips into a dismissing pout, cheeks still betraying the smile behind it as she waggled her eyebrows at you.

   “I’m not nervous, it’s not-- it’s fine, he doesn’t have to get in if he doesn’t want to.  He’s just as welcome to show off as anyone else,” you mumbled back.

   “Ten bucks,” she replied, short-lived facade evaporating.  “Ten bucks says you end up getting Demiurge into the water.”

   “Wait, what are we betting on?!”  Charlotte surfaced from the darkening argument like a puppet in a jack-in-the-box.  “Did I hear what I think I heard?!  Oh, I have to see this!  Count me in!  Ten against,” she challenged smoothly.

   You started to deny that anything was happening at all when Luna fired back.  “Twenty.”

   “Thirty.”

   “Thirty-five!”

   “Fifty!”

   “A juicy hundred!”

   “Don’t test me, I’m game,” Charlotte cackled, reaching back to the table for her margarita.

   “Sold!”  Luna crowed, and then grabbed your shoulders.  “Ok, look at me girl, look, you gotta get your head in the game, I’ve got one hundred bucks riding on this.”

   “Luna, you set that number!”

   “That’s in the past now, we gotta look to the future.”  She waved her hand.  “Game plan.  You walk over, do that cute half-laugh thing you do--”

   “Wh-- I do??”

   “--catch him off guard, and BAM!!  He’s in the water, easy as that.  Flip your hair or something too, that’ll really fluster him.  Yeah that’ll do it--”

   “Luna, I’m not pushing him in the pool!”

   “I’ll play too,” mused an alto tone.  “Against.”

   You turned your head to glare at Alanna.  She smiled sweetly back and held up her phone.

   “It’ll make great ‘office gossip’ if I ever need it.”

   “That is not encouraging me.”

   Luna dropped her arms at your shoulders.  “Two-hundred bucks.  Do you know how many McTacos that is Mira?!  Do you?!”  She looked seriously at you.  “It’s like at least five.  Five whole McTacos.  I could be five McTacos richer, Mira.

   You cringed in your resolve.  Ugh.  Oh, those puppy dog eyes… 

   “...Fine.  But you have to promise me that somewhere among those five McTacos, you will eat a salad.  A salad will be consumed.  By you.  Deal?”

   “...Taco-Pizza Salad McSpecial?”

   You stared.

   “Real salad, right, gotcha, I absolutely promise.  It will happen.  Sooooo…” She glanced at Demiurge out of the corner of her eye and tapped her fingers along your shoulder blades.

   You sighed and stood.  “I hate you,” you relented.

   “Love ya too,” she chirped back.

   Demiurge stood at attention when you began to walk over, but one quick backhand slap on the bicep from Cole and he leaned back casually against the grill.  You raised an eyebrow as you stepped next to him and he acted as though he’d just then realized you were there.

   “Hey,” Cole welcomed, “You here for a fresh burger?  These ones are just coming off--”

   You quickly shook your head.  “No, nope I’m good, thanks though!  I’m great. I just, uh…” You glanced behind you.  The pool was a distance from the grill. If you were really going through with this… 

   Your thumbs wrestled each other.  “Demi, could we, maybe, move over here?”  You pointed a thumb behind you, to a spot at the pool’s edge devoid of anyone else.  The twins had finally gotten out and were cuddled into fluffy towels at the only other area that hadn’t been claimed by adults or the mass of their toys, and if you had any shot at this, you were gonna need as clear a path as possible from him to the water.

   Demiurge gave a shocked sideways glance to Cole, who burst into a grin.  “Of course.”

   You tip-toed away and stopped at the water’s edge.  He followed, standing right next to you.  You casually side-stepped to angle him more between you and the water.

   “Wh-what did you wish to discuss?” he said, shoulders squared to you.  You bit your lip.

   “S-so, uh, me and the girls over there, we were talking, and uh… we started talking about, um…”  without looking, you gestured across his frame. “… you, and uh… yeah.”

   “Ah.  How interesting, Cole and I have been--conversing on similar topics as well.”

   The air around the pool was way too quiet.  In your head you were begging the three women, whom you could see over Demiurge’s shoulder, to at least try and be a little inconspicuous as they enjoyed their entertainment.  You wondered what Cole looked like over your own shoulder.

   “Cool, that’s cool,” you stumbled as you mentally calculated how close he was standing to the edge.  “Anything… in particular?”

   His fingers tapped against a thumb for a moment as he took in a breath.  “Yes.”

   “…What did you--”

   “Us, in fact.”

   Oh.

   “Oh.”

   He seemed to stand a little straighter.  “However!  That’s not necessarily something we need to delve into immediately.  I-- You had something to discuss, and I’ve rudely turned the subject to my own thoughts.”

   You shook your head.  “No, I asked!  A-and, I agree.  Yeah, we--we should talk about it later.  Us, that is.  But I think-- well, hope we’ll agree on it pretty fast.  We should. I think we’re on the same page.  But, um…”

   Demiurge’s chest had risen, shoulders breaking out of their stiffness.  “Yes!  I’m so pleased to hear-- Forgive me, what do you have on your mind?”

   You shifted your weight to one leg, then back to the other.  “Is your phone over with your clothes?”

   “It is; would you like--”

   “Just checking, um-- oh, just a sec, can I--”  You reached over and took off his glasses as he stood still, clearly confused, and set them on a table behind you.  Luna over Demi’s shoulder was face-palming as you turned back around.  You ignored her.  Fine, maybe you were stalling.  Just a bit.

   C’mon, you could do this.  Luna eating a salad was riding on this.  You got this.  “Ok,” you said.  “Ah, so… So, you guys were talking about what again?”

   Demiurge cocked his head.  “Mira, is something--”

   You lunged.

   His eyes widened as you rushed forward, and for a moment the confusion he wore when you removed his glasses persisted as your hands shoved him backwards.  He didn’t resist you, of course.

   Then in the flash of an instant you saw the pieces connect, and he understood.  He grinned.

   And he grabbed your hands.

   You squealed as you found yourself tumbling after him into the pool, the rush of cool water making you pull your hands back into you.  Demiurge was under you and still grasping your hands, and as you surfaced you both were together, holding onto each other.

   He was laughing.  Eyes squinting, shoulders shaking, whole-heartedly laughing.  He shook his head to move the hair out of his face, then went to work helping you move yours from your eyes.  Kicking a bit closer to him to help the effort, you giggled along.  How could you not?  How could you possibly not laugh with this wonderful man?

   He leaned as your lips came into view and kissed you.  An awwwww sounded out from around the pool and you blushed, suddenly remembering your audience.  He leaned into your ear with a chuckle.  “You are spectacular,” he hummed.  “You are my everything.”

   Your chest filled with his words.  You tucked your arms in, letting him pull you closer.  Yeah, you wanted to have that talk later.  In fact, you were pretty excited to have that talk.

   Movement over his shoulder caught your eye, and you glanced up in time to see Charlotte handing a crisp bill over to Luna, who was already holding a bill in the hand closer to Alanna.  “Worth it,” you heard Charlotte say as Luna accepted the winnings.

   Luna looked down at the hundred dollar bill, then looked Charlotte up and down.  “…Where exactly were you keeping this?”

   Rorie burst into laughter as Charlotte demanded to know why the same hadn’t been asked of Alanna, at which point Luna said, “uhhhhhhhhhh beeeeeecaaaauuuuuuse boobs, bye,” as she stripped off her shorts and crop top, tucked the bills into the bundle, and tossed it all onto the table before she shot towards the pool.  Jumping at the edge and tucking her knees up, she cannonballed a wave that overtook the two of you.  Demiurge was still smiling as the twins abandoned their towels to join the fun once again, and Cole called out to everyone that the burgers would be on the food table as he too entered the fray.  Soon a beach ball was hopping from person to person across the water, those outside the pool helping to make sure the game continued whenever it escaped.  When that game died down, Demiurge and Cole ended up with a twin each on their shoulders.

   After a while, you swam to an edge and pulled yourself up, elbows on concrete while your body rested in the water.  A soggy McTaco crown floated by, and you fished it out slowly, using the task as your excuse for taking a break.  Mar was on Demiurge’s shoulders, and together they formed a strategy for knocking Rorie from Cole.  You watched as Demiurge beamed with pride, praising the boy as Rorie sprawled backwards in a splash with a squeal, Cole booming with laughter.  You looked around, taking stock of your neighbors.  Somehow you’d missed saying goodbye to Pan and Holly; they must have left early, as did a few of the people Sean had introduced to you.  No problem, you were sure you’d see them around the building.  The majority of people were still here, enjoying the company and the chance to enjoy a free meal.  Alanna and Charlotte were toasting to something after thanking Sean for the fresh drinks, and the food table was quickly becoming pleasingly barren as everyone helped themselves.  Luna’s bag of grease sat on the table, and as you scanned for her, she popped up out of the water with a boo in an attempt to surprise Demiurge.  His only response was to take a hand from Mar’s leg and used it to push the offending face back under the surface while the two continued to plot their next winning strategy.  Everyone was having fun, in the water and out.

   And it hit you.

   You’d honestly been worried about Demiurge fitting in.  Having a place in this world, feeling a part of it.  Not in the way he’d already proven he could do.  You were pretty convinced he could be dropped on the surface of Mars with no supplies and he’d find a way to navigate his circumstances with little to no problems.

   You’d been worried about this.  About him finding joy here.  Finding satisfaction in the company of others.  Living among humans like you, and doing more than just tolerating it.

   He noticed you looking and nearly let Mar fall from his shoulders, distracted by your attention.  You found yourself giggling again. He’d said you were his everything?  That was still mind-blowing, however many times he repeated the sentiment.  But this time, it felt at home in you.  It felt real.

   He was your everything, too.  And here, finally, a bit of your guilt over that fact started to fall away.

   Maybe you could both be content, just as things were.  And maybe, just maybe, you didn’t need to worry about Demiurge fitting into this world.

   He already fit so perfectly into your life.

 





Chapter Text

🔥 𝑅𝑒𝒶𝓁 𝓁𝒾𝒻𝑒 𝑜𝓃 𝓉𝒽𝑒 𝓈𝑒𝓋𝑒𝓃𝓉𝒽 𝒻𝓁𝑜𝑜𝓇 🔥

𝕔𝕙𝕒𝕡𝕥𝕖𝕣 𝕥𝕙𝕚𝕣𝕥𝕪 𝕤𝕖𝕧𝕖𝕟




   You were back in the apartment, unable to disguise the shock on your face.  Demiurge was beaming at you, but as he took in your exposed expression, the wagging in his tail hesitantly slowed.

   He couldn’t have said-- did he really just say--?!

   “M-marriage?!” you sputtered.

   “Well, naturally,” he stated.  “Is it not the logical step in an advancing relationship such as ours?”

   “I-I was… I expected more like… boyfriend-girlfriend status, like saying we’re officially dating, but…”

   Your mind was going a million miles a minute.  It had been about a month since Yggdrasil had ended, since you had your first real conversation with Demiurge.  Marriage?!  After a month??  You stumbled back to plop down on the couch.  Was this why he’d wanted to take time to change out of your swimwear, to shower and don his blue suit before starting this conversation?

   “There’s a few other steps between where we are and marriage, Demi!  I-I don’t… that’s a big deal, that’s a huge step to… I am not ready for marriage.  No way.”

   You looked up and realized; he might have been standing still, but the demon was radiating the room with his nerves at your response.  His eyes sat wide, ears pulled back, and his tail was as still as a steel beam.

   “Forgive me, I should have recognized I was being far too presumptuous--” he started to fall to a knee and you jumped up, pushing on his chest to keep him standing.  No way, you were not regressing into that again.

   “Wait, wait waitwaitwait,” you chanted, “I’m sorry, that was rude, I just--”  You blushed.  Oh geez… you were still stunned.  Married.  To Demiurge!  You tried to shake your head out of the haze that thought put you in.  “I just… We should probably take it a bit more slowly than that.  We haven’t even said—um… well, we have a lot before that.”

   “Yes.  Of course.”  He gently laced a claw around your fingers, lifting a hand from his chest.  His tone was subdued.  Oh, man you felt bad. But how could he have skipped straight to marriage?!  What in the world had he and Cole been talking about?!  Your heart was still hyperventilating.

   He’d been thinking of your relationship together as a much more realistic dream than you had for a long time, you reminded yourself.  If you had known for all those years that someday you could even have a conversation like this with him, if for weeks and months on end you had been in his position, wouldn’t you be eager too?  Heck, if you’d put that sort of weight to your many daydreams, you’d probably be even more eager than him.  Also more embarrassed of all those many, many daydreams.

   Then a smile struck his face, and he nodded resolutely as he brought your knuckles to his lips.  “As you wish, my Lady. I am more than honored to take the title of ‘boyfriend’ and play the part well, on the path to becoming all you will allow me to be.  I will not disappoint you in this test of my feelings!”  He leaned down and pecked you on the cheek, and you caught your breath at his sudden excitement at the new challenge.  “Now, then; if we are to pursue a traditional courtship… hmm…”  His tail twitched at the word, and the facets of his crystals danced between thoughts before focusing back to your eyes.  “After this step, there is the role of engagement.  How much time would you estimate for us to reach such a stage?”

   You stuttered for a moment as he put an arm around you.  “Well, uh— It’s pretty normal to date for about two yea— or one, sometimes one year,” you changed, feeling the tense in his muscles at the length of time.  “It just kinda depends on what happens, really.”  A giggle sounded from you as he gave a long-suffering sigh.

   “Then I shall endeavor to overcome that duration,” he vowed.  He pressed his glasses to his nose, focused on you as he did.  “However, I will strive to convince you much more quickly than that of our merit for progression.”

   You hummed.  “I don’t doubt it… but, c-can we focus on just where we are?  Um, it’s a little overwhelming to talk about.”

   “Forgive me,” he repeated, this time pressing his forehead to yours rather than moving to kneel.  Mmm, you liked that much better.  There was a tinge of guilt returning to his voice, but you were too caught up in his embrace to give it much thought.  “I didn’t mean to cause you undue stress.  We will let the future bring whatever happiness it holds.”

   “Thanks, Demi,” you muttered, breathing in the comforting scent of spices coming from the devil.  Your future did look pretty bright with this magnificent man at your side.  You were beyond lucky to have him.  “I’m excited to see what it holds with you.”

 

 




   “You said what?!

   Cole somehow got the words out between sputtering coughs; he’d almost choked on his drink at Demiurge’s report.

   “We are at an equitable level of commitment,” the man in the grey shirt argued against the reaction.  “But you are not alone in your shock, unfortunately.  Mira’s response was much the same.”

   “Yeah, ‘m not surprised!”  The large man wiped a bit of amber liquid from the corner of his mouth as he finished coughing.  “What the hell!  That’s not the kind of girl you just-- I can’t believe you, that’s hilarious,” Cole chuckled again, going for another sip of beer now that his windpipe was clear.

   “It’s not as far-fetched a notion as you seem to believe.  I’ve known her for quite a long time; long enough to understand how deep my interest in her runs.  The only question as to our future is whether or not she would have me,”  Demiurge sniffed, swirling his own glass of whiskey.

   “Sure, you’ve known her at a distance for a while, but you didn’t start spending quality time together till you came into town.  Doesn’t count.  That’s how she told it to Alanna,” Cole explained at Demiurge’s cocked expression.  “Word gets around the building pretty fast when there’s a hot shot hanging off of the new girl out of nowhere.”

  “Hmm.”  Demiurge took a swig of his glass, teetering it thoughtfully between three fingers, then set it on the bar.  “You know, I don’t believe I’ve thanked you properly for that yet.  I am indebted to you all for the care you’ve directed to her; Mira is an incredible woman, beyond the words I can give place to, and that others so clearly identify her as a treasure is comforting.  I did have concerns at first when acclimating myself to this city as to whether or not such significant value had been properly observed.  To see those she had hardly been introduced to place such care to her brought me no small amount of peace.”

   Cole shrugged.  “The city can be a rough place.  I know, I see the kids I teach deal with plenty in their neighborhoods.  It’s been pretty calm lately, but they’ve been through enough to know that won’t last forever; it’s an ebb and flow.  Somebody like Mira?  I don’t mind making sure she doesn’t get pulled into a tide like that.”  He signaled to the barkeep for another round, finishing off the last sip of his pint and dropping his elbows on the bar.  “Y’know… it’s odd.  My old teacher, he had this sort of nobleness to him.  A joker, but very serious when it came to the art.  I hold the utmost respect for him to this day.  Will forever!  He was a Sensei more worthy of the title than most could ever hope for.”  He shifted his arms on the bar, adjusting as he fell further into thought.  “I remember once, someone stormed into his dojo, angry and all amped for a fight, and in that moment I was ready to fight to my death to protect my Sensei, even though I knew he could easily defend himself!  He beat some sense into the kid and told him to come back for lessons and learn how to have a proper fight.  Funniest part was, the kid did!”  Cole grinned at the memory, blowing a cool huff of air in laughter.  He shook his head.  “Point being, I have no idea why… They’re as different as it gets.  But I feel that same drive to be there for Mira as I did him back then.  Like… a bouncer, or a protector… or a…”

   “A guardian.”  Demiurge had an expression on his face that could almost be called proud, if there weren’t so many questions behind it.

   “Yeah… yeah, I like that.  It fits somehow.”

   Demiurge twisted his glass under a hand, with a speed that kept the chunk of ice within the dwindling liquid stationary.  “And, where is your Sensei now? Is he located in this area?”

   Cole dropped his head a bit, smile and gaze remaining stationary.  “He’s passed on.  Been a few years now.”

   The silence surprised Cole.  He looked over to see Demiurge perfectly still, as though even his heart had frozen under the words.  “My condolences,” was the solemn reply.

   The moment was broken when the bartender brought the refill, and did the same courtesy for Demiurge with a sultry wink before walking away.  Cole snickered.

   “Hey, you’ve got a good one in Mira, but I’m thinkin she’s scored a pretty in-demand catch herself!”

   “I can’t imagine a soul in this world that could convince me to part from her.  But I do appreciate and agree with your intent,” Demiurge grinned, shrugging off his generous refill.  “Let’s have a toast,” he urged, “to the honor of being a Guardian to those most important to us.”

   Two glasses raised, Cole tapped his drink against Demiurge’s, not noticing the small splash from it into his friend’s cup at his exuberance.  “I’ll drink to that! Speakin’ of which, you gotta catch up. I’m pretty sure I’m a whole round ahead of you.”

   An eyebrow raised.  “Are suggesting what I believe you’re suggesting?”

   “Oh now, don’t get yourself into trouble.  You’re no shrimp, but I’ve clearly got the bulk advantage here.  You’d regret it,” Cole egged.

   Hand reaching into a pocket and moving to an ear, Demiurge’s smile gleamed at the challenge issued by the human reflection of Cocytus the Vermin Lord, cryomantic warrior, ruler of the Frozen Glacier, and the Arch Devil’s old drinking partner.  “Ha. If you only comprehended how much I’m going to savor drinking you into the ground,” he purred, pulling his hand from the newly placed earring to his glass.  “I hope you won’t mind too regretfully your hangover tomorrow.”






   The pillow you cuddled to your chest sunk under the weight of your chin.  Demiurge shifted next to you, and you scootched closer into his arms, hearing the hum in his chest increase as you did.  In front of you both, the screen flickered with the image of a grand white dress adorning a young woman, her song entrancing an audience.  You felt the words echo in your mind almost before she sang them, the lyrics too memorable to not bring them forward:

 

   “𝒯𝒽𝒾𝓃𝓀 𝑜𝒻 𝓂𝑒, 𝓉𝒽𝒾𝓃𝓀 𝑜𝒻 𝓂𝑒 𝒻𝑜𝓃𝒹𝓁𝓎

   𝒲𝒽𝑒𝓃 𝓌𝑒'𝓋𝑒 𝓈𝒶𝒾𝒹 𝑔𝑜𝑜𝒹𝒷𝓎𝑒

   𝑅𝑒𝓂𝑒𝓂𝒷𝑒𝓇 𝓂𝑒, 𝑜𝓃𝒸𝑒 𝒾𝓃 𝒶 𝓌𝒽𝒾𝓁𝑒

   𝒫𝓁𝑒𝒶𝓈𝑒 𝓅𝓇𝑜𝓂𝒾𝓈𝑒 𝓂𝑒 𝓎𝑜𝓊’𝓁𝓁 𝓉𝓇𝓎

   𝒯𝒽𝑒𝓃 𝓎𝑜𝓊’𝓁𝓁 𝒻𝒾—”

 

   “Ah,” Demiurge hummed as though an idea had occurred to him, “The music is the true draw of the movie.  I see now your enjoyment from it’s composition, as you’ve praised; it lends a dimension of effort that is lacking in the plot.  Without the score it would be overly routine, since the whole affair will clearly take a turn for the worse as the--”

   “Oh, now hold on, I haven’t seen this movie in ages!  I don’t remember the details of what happens, don’t spoil it for me!”

   He barked a short laugh.  “My apologies.  But is it truly such a mystery she’ll fall for the Phantom?”

   You turned your head upward to look at him, failing at hiding a grin.  “What about Raoul?”

   “Obviously a foil to the opera house ghost, and will eventually be revealed as not as enticing as he appears to be.”

   You giggled.  It wasn’t often Demiurge wasn’t spot-on with his predictions.  “I mean, you’re not completely wrong.  But you’re missing a lot of information still!”  You gestured to the screen.  “The way the story gets told has been changed by modern perceptions of the characters from when it was originally written, so it might not be headed where you think it is.  Maybe by the end, you’ll be more impressed with the story.”

 

   “𝒯𝒽𝒾𝓃𝓀 𝑜𝒻 𝓂𝑒, 𝓉𝒽𝒾𝓃𝓀 𝑜𝒻 𝓂𝑒 𝓌𝒶𝓀𝒾𝓃𝑔

   𝒮𝒾𝓁𝑒𝓃𝓉 𝒶𝓃𝒹 𝓇𝑒𝓈𝒾𝑔𝓃𝑒𝒹

   𝐼𝓂𝒶𝑔𝒾𝓃𝑒 𝓂𝑒 𝓉𝓇𝓎𝒾𝓃𝑔 𝓉𝑜𝑜 𝒽𝒶𝓇𝒹

   𝒯𝑜 𝓅𝓊𝓉 𝓎𝑜𝓊 𝒻𝓇𝑜𝓂 𝓂𝓎 𝓂𝒾𝓃𝒹…”

 

   “Hmm.”  The demon’s ears twitched as he took in your statement alongside the lyrics.  He muttered, “Ah. The elephant. Of course,” but didn’t explain any further as Raoul stood from his seat and rushed to meet his childhood sweetheart.  You sighed, enjoying the classic story as you cuddled yet closer to the demon’s chest.  Demiurge always surprised you with his thoughts on things; you were anxious to see what he would think of this unpredicted ending.




 

 

   Christine was brazenly questioning the Phantom’s intentions as Demiurge summoned a flowing flame to blanket your curling feet, which you had tucked around his tail.  He kept the slight baring of his teeth hidden from you as Christine assured the madman that the only deformity she perceived was the one he held in his soul.  You released the strain on your muscles as the warmth of his dark fire nursed your tiredness to rise.

   Through the film, you had hummed disapprovingly as the hanged man fell from the rafters, whereas he had seen the outcome as to be expected.  You had shifted awkwardly as Christine was laid in a ready bed by a man she was entranced with, while he perceived the worshipful gesture to be only natural.  The most notable moment you had commented on agreeing with his reaction was when the Phantom tossed his love to the ground after committing an offense she could not have known of.  He had felt his spine bristle at the audacity, allowing a short growl to escape his lips, and you had scoffed with a worried tone, then giggled at your unity with him.

   The two main love interests provided as viable options for the young performer had changed dramatically from his first assertion.  Not in who they were or the actions they took.  Only in who they were to him.

   Demiurge watched as the bloodthirsty man strode above the newly arrived lovestruck fool, glad you were slipping into slumber rather than taking in the analytical dissection that likely would be plain to you on his face.  One taunted the other’s pompous yearnings, while the other begged only for the completion of his heart.

   The monster had a point; he had been molded into a specific purpose, as had the woman in return, and those purposes drove them together, brought them to an inevitable point.  He craved blood as readily as he did his art, and took it when it was well suited for his purposes and when it brought about a more favorable end.  His actions were driven with both logic and devotion to the purest passions of his nature.

   But the lover was the shining answer to the call of that lonely black existence Christine faced with her subterranean teacher.  This form of man lacked the abilities inherent to the Phantom, but he offered comfort in a world she loved, freedom, and safety from the nightmares that chased her.  He wouldn’t even harm the very entity that threatened her, after a simple word of request from her lips.  Demiurge sighed lightly as on screen the boy’s neck was jerked by an easily applied noose.  There was no praiseworthy tuned instinct to such a creature as this. He was as useless as a shield in Kyouhukou's chamber, but nevertheless, his sacrificing zeal in love was… relatable.

   Your breath began to steady, and Demiurge felt you relax as sleep tried to claim you once again before you startled back into wakefulness with a hop.  You huffed.  He knew you were determined to fight off your drooping eyelids until you witnessed the end of the movie.  He quietly circled a finger, and the warm flames crept a little higher towards your knees.  Your breathing started to lengthen again.

   “He’s… She’s so hurt, it’s so sad,” you muttered, trying to start a conversation to aid in staying awake.  Demiurge merely mumbled, “Indeed, Lady Mira,” and allowed your losing cycle of sleep attacks to continue.

   “She… can’t have the alluring one and the one that makes her feel safe.  She’s gotta pick one,” you said as your final words, eyelids fluttering closed.  He watched your chest rise and fall, reaching over to tuck back a strand of hair as it slipped towards your face.

   The three characters were singing all at once, but not even that harmonious cacophony could dissuade you from rest this time.  He took no interest in the screen over your form.  The ending had been obvious from the moment you provided him with the hint required to solve the puzzle; the filigreed adornments of the opera house obscured the murk of its inner workings, the mask of its phantom hiding his inner sins.  Contrastingly, the young naive boy had from the beginning bore his all plainly, and while it wasn’t nearly as complex or complementary, it appeared his bullheaded drive was no less passionate than his rival.  Their roles in the heroine’s life and in the story were quite clear.

   She would subdue the beast, flee with the man who matched her tenderness, and the phantom would fade into the background as phantoms are wont to do.  As you had stated, she couldn’t have both, and while each drew at her heart, the choice had in reality been laid out long ago.

   Still, as the woman’s words condemned the bloodthirsty choice presented to her, half of Demiurge’s heart stung with the guilt it intended to stir.

   Your breath was warm against his wrist as he cradled your cheek, focusing on the ripple of your eyelashes as you glanced about whatever world you were dreaming of.  Were you imagining adventure, the adrenaline of some exploit?  Alternatively, a picture of a laid-back bounteous life in which your desires were vastly over-attained?  Or perhaps your scene was merely the echo of thoughts, bringing you to an understanding with your subconscious.  Wherever it was your mind may have taken you, it shone on your face as one of peace.  And he was gratified at that.

 

  “𝔗𝔞𝔨𝔢 𝔱𝔥𝔢 𝔟𝔬𝔞𝔱, 𝔰𝔴𝔢𝔞𝔯 𝔱𝔬 𝔪𝔢 𝔫𝔢𝔳𝔢𝔯 𝔱𝔬 𝔱𝔢𝔩𝔩

   𝔱𝔥𝔢 𝔰𝔢𝔠𝔯𝔢𝔱𝔰 𝔶𝔬𝔲 𝔨𝔫𝔬𝔴 𝔬𝔣 𝔱𝔥𝔢 𝔞𝔫𝔤𝔢𝔩 𝔦𝔫 𝔥𝔢𝔩𝔩.”

 

   Demiurge’s ears twitched once again at his ironic mirror to the phantom’s epithet, and wondered idly what god other than you there could possibly be to thank for allowing a devil into such a heaven.

   A ring switched hands on screen, and the weight of a ring in his pocket reminded him of his similarities to the chosen of the two lovers as well.  You had given him the means to be what was required of him for you in this world, and it was a treasure he valued more than you knew.  The changes were painful, yes, but not in any way that was adverse to him.  It felt like a cleansing, as though he were stepping through a fire that at last could burn hot enough to do more than flicker against his skin.  A flame given by the woman who set his heart alight.  Each transformation was its own form of piety.  Just as each pain this man went to for Christine only strengthened his determination to love her.

   No.  This entire line of thought he was attempting to ascertain meaning from was quite ridiculous.  You were already deep in sleep; this story then truly wasn’t worth more than the lullabies it rang with that had aided you to such a state.  He was attributing far too much intellect towards its analysis.

   The Phantom shattered a mirror with a candlestick, and retreated morosely further into his darkness as predicted.  The hunting party that came for him found nothing but trinkets, and Demiurge didn’t bother to watch anything more that occurred.  The morals of the story were trite, and the two of you were in no danger of falling for similar mistakes.  He had both the foresight to protect and elevate you that the rivals lacked against their own incapacities, as well as an undeniable love that had been their saving quality.  What he had gained from this viewing had been a practice in your tastes, and the charming sight of you fighting sleep.

   Pointedly ignoring the final scene, he tenderly lifted you with arms and tail, carrying you to your room.  A chuckle crossed his lips as he hummed the same hypnotizing tune as the Phantom in his lair while he tucked you under your sheets.  He brought your hand to his lips.  Then turning to go, it began to slip from his fingers, but yours tightened around the black glove.

   “Come back,” you mumbled.  “With me?”

   His heart nearly spilled from his tongue as he replied.  “I wish nothing more.”

   Stripping quickly to remove his suit coat and tie, he slid beside you, tail finding quick refuge in your arms.  He still wore the Ring of Sustenance from the night prior, after having drunk Cole into a stupor strong enough that he had entertainedly decided to accompany the staggering man home, but now he reached up and placed it aside with his frames.  Sleeping beside you was one of the most serene activities he had found in this new life, and as you seemed to gain equal pleasure from him doing so, he never wasted such an opportunity.

   “Mmm… I have the best boyfriend,” you whispered into your pillow, just loud enough that it was clear you meant him to hear the words.  “…I have a boyfriend.  And the best.”

   The shiver that sparked up Demiurge’s spine rattled the sheets.

   The pride in your voice was clear.  Digging his brow a bit further into the fabric of your shirt, he felt his chest crack as he fought to contain the swell of emotion.  It had been a day or two since your decision to label the relationship as such, but every time you reemphasized it, the manner in which you spoke felt like an Enlarge spell had been cast over his heart.

    He had brought you such happiness.  Could there be anything greater he could wish for, than for his happiness to be yours as well?

   You leaned back, sighing into his warmth as it surrounded you.  He lifted his chin to allow you to tuck your head underneath it, cheek resting against his collarbone as you twisted to your back to slip closer, still clutching his tail.

   And, by the forty-one, you did want him to be happy, didn’t you?  You sincerely strove for it.  You felt he deserved to be independent, to find joy that was his and his alone.  The night at the bar with Cole had been your idea, after all.  The entire concept was still quite frivolous to him, but he was beginning to understand how truly important it was to you.

   He would search for it, then.  If your satisfaction and peace of mind came from him doing so, he would find such opportunities.  This world was not the world from before, after all, and his adjustments to the rules it abided by were going splendidly.  He was no phantom, housed within the walls of his creation and trapped by his own expectations.  Not anymore.  He was something more to you now, and that was not a blessing he would squander.

   For the present… he closed his eyes as you muttered something incomprehensible, likely more out of habit of fighting sleep than the need to communicate something.  It was no more than a breath from your lungs, and he treasured the very ripple of air as it brushed his shoulder.  For the present, all he wished was to sleep.  To rest at the side of his Lady, his purpose, the core of his desires, his goddess… 

   His Mira.

 


 

Chapter Text

🔥 𝑅𝑒𝒶𝓁 𝓁𝒾𝒻𝑒 𝑜𝓃 𝓉𝒽𝑒 𝓈𝑒𝓋𝑒𝓃𝓉𝒽 𝒻𝓁𝑜𝑜𝓇 🔥

𝒸𝒽𝒶𝓅𝓉𝑒𝓇 𝓉𝒽𝒾𝓇𝓉𝓎 𝑒𝒾𝑔𝒽𝓉


 

  “Alright everyone, to your stations!  Put on your aprons and take an eyes-only look at what you’ve been given, then come back on up here.  We’re going to have a quick tutorial on some basic knife safety, and then I’ll demonstrate what we’ll be doing first.”

   The white apron cinched nicely at your waist as you tied the string around to your front.  Demiurge secured his behind his back and observed the supplied items, displayed in glass bowls and arranged on the surface before you both, then turned to fussing at the strap that hung the apron over your neck.

   “How reassuring that those who require tutelage with sharp objects will be allowed an opportunity for it,” he smirked, pulling a lock of hair from a tangle with the strap.  “To see a finger lost in the pursuit of this activity would be… pitiable. Then again, a splatter of red would make for a dashing garnish of color to the plate, would it not?”

   You hid a smile as a woman standing on the other side of your station openly balked at the comment.  She was obviously trying to communicate her disapproval through each one of her movements, using french tipped nails to sharply tighten her apron strings as she pouted at the wall directly beside you.  You scrunched your nose and looked up at your devil. “They’ll be plenty colorful without it! You know that I purposely avoided any classes that handle… uh, red.” The night in the kitchen with the lampreys flashed through your mind, and you hoped no one could decipher the bite of your lip.

   He nodded, but said, “Indeed, I noted that effort.  However, I regret inform you: Our subject does nothing to subdue your allure, Mira.  Nor does the lack of extra stimuli.”

   You heard the muted hum of raised eyebrows and poorly hidden intrigue from the neighboring stations as he nuzzled his brow toward your own while a hand lifted the loose lock to join the others atop your head, and Demiurge bared a grin at your own blushing reaction to his tease. His hand swept down, about to cup your cheek.

   “Alright, looks like everyone’s ready to get started, let’s gather back on over here!”  The teacher flipped her microphone on and waved the group over. You ducked your red cheeks and pulled Demiurge over towards the central counter to watch.  Saved by the bell, class was starting.

   Demiurge wasn’t really one to constantly hold your hand, and unless his tail was available to him to hang off your leg, constant contact didn’t matter to the demon.  But when it came to PDA, he was absolutely shameless. Admittedly, you loved the totally unashamed proof of his feelings, but… the whole ‘public’ part of it still made you squirm a bit in embarrassment.  Sometimes you were convinced he did it just to see how deep he could make your blush.

   “Don’t be shy, crowd in, is everybody able to see the mirror up top?  Great! Let’s get started on making the perfect sushi roll! First thing’s first; your knives have recently been sharpened, so be careful with them.  A dull knife is more dangerous than a sharp knife, which is why I’ve checked them myself, but if you feel like you need…”

   You stood at the back of the pack with Demiurge, having decided that it was easier to just watch the angled mirror above the chef’s counter than try and squeeze into the crowd that had pulled close at the teacher’s bidding.  Demiurge had been joking about the knife safety, but you actually did wish you could skip a few of the basics; you were more than a little familiar on how to handle your equipment. You just wanted to get started on making sushi.

   It seemed like it would be simple enough.  Lay out the seaweed, add the rice with ingredients, then roll it up and slice it.  The tips on how to form a handroll would be nice to see, though, and you’d heard somewhere before that there was something special about the rice, but in general, you felt pretty confident in both of your abilities to form a basic tasty sushi roll.  You’d wanted to do a cooking class because it seemed like it would be a straightforward task where you could relax and have some fun.

   And, as part of the course, you’d be working with other people.  It’d be a good experiment for both of you to see how you handled interaction with an unfamiliar teammate, to try and have a positive experience for everyone involved.  And Demiurge seemed ready to succeed at that sort of test.

   But, well… this might be a higher level test than you’d expected.  You thought of the woman with her nails done who had implied her disdain of Demiurge’s words but turning up her nose.  She would probably be a part of your team, since she’d picked up her apron from the same station, and you were probably off to a rocky start, by that reaction.   Scanning over the class, you spotted her short haircut near the front, standing with a group of other women… four… five of them altogether. Well, that explained why she’d been assigned to your station; they had been one person over the limit, so the extra member had been added to you and Demiurge.  She would probably just slip on over to her friends once you got started. That was kind of a shame for your secondary goal, but it might be for the best. It just meant there’d be more time for you and Demiurge to—

   “Eep—!”  You slapped a hand over your mouth, a person in front of you glancing over to see if there was an issue, but luckily no one reacted more than that.  A quick half-step backwards put you right next to Demiurge, the hand that had tickled across your lower back under the guise of straightening your apron strings settling to your waist.  “D-Demi!”

   He chuckled, muttering with apology to your ear.  “We’re both equally dulled by these instructions; would you truly fault me for finding you to be a more enticing distraction?”

   “Yeah,” you whispered back, only catching a glimpse of the proper way to grip a kitchen knife, “because I will definitely end up embarrassing myself if you keep doing that!”

   “Hmm.  Well then, there is certainly a dilemma before us.  How am I to keep myself from such temptations for the duration of our time here while you look so ravishing?”

   Ravishing?  That’s not how you’d describe it.  Your hair was tossed nearly on top of your head in a messy but effective bun, your makeup was minimal, and your clothes were plain and just tight enough so as not to get in the way.  Nothing special at all about any of that. But as you prepared to scoff, you looked him over.

   Hair brushed back from his face, his grey sleeves were rolled up to his elbows, gloves set aside for this activity to reveal sturdy but well-maintained hands.  His top two buttons sat undone behind the white apron, the squared shape of the overlaying fabric only aiding in displaying his broad shoulders against the gradual narrowing to his waist.

   ...Huh.  Maybe you shouldn’t knock the “cooking class” look so quickly.

   “W-well,” you reasoned, “If I have to, so can you.”

   Even without the points, his ears always redden so much more quickly than his cheeks.

   The teacher behind the counter was demonstrating how to cut a cucumber, removing the watery center before slicing the remainder into pieces thin enough to be used in a roll as Demi spoke up again.  “A compromise, then.  Or rather, a wager, if you’ll allow it,” he cooed.  “Which of us is able to avoid the distraction of the other more consistently during the completion of this class?  If I am able to keep you more focused on me than you are of the task before us, I would claim a prize.”

   You kept your eyes on the mirror showing the countertop, but heard the smirk on his face as surely as he could hear the giggle you held back.  “Oh?  And what would that prize be?”

   “A kiss, here in the center of the room.”

   Your heart thudded a beat quicker, half out of nervousness at the idea and half at the romance of his boldness.  “Wh-what if you get more distracted than me?  What do I get?”

   There was a commiserating click of his tongue.  “Your prize would unfortunately be rather redundant to your current circumstance,” hummed the devil into your ear.  “You would receive anything you so desire.”

   You raised your eyebrows at him.  Opened your mouth… Then reconsidered.  “Ok.  Deal.”

   He cocked his head, but seemed to have a similar course of thought to your hesitation.  The game was on.

   About five minutes later, you had received instructions on how to make a handroll, an inside-out roll, and nigri.  It was all as straightforward as you’d hoped, the most complex part of the first being the direction to roll your seaweed, or nori, around the filling.  That was perfect; you were determined to win this bet.  You’d been so focused on not letting Demiurge pull your attention away, you had even forgotten to ask your questions about the rice.  You frowned as you realized the missed opportunity, but shrugged it off.  Right now, you were going to finish this first piece in record time so you could get to distracting your boyfriend.

  You looked over your ingredients.  A knife sat at the edge of the cutting board and you moved to set it aside to open the space between you and the rest of the supplies.  However, as you gripped it, a manicured hand settled over your own.

   “Oooh, did you understand the instructions on knife safety, hun?”

   You looked up as she pushed the tool back down toward the countertop.  Her pursed smile glistened down, but before you could respond, the hand was snatched away, a gentle handshake occurring as Demiurge removed her touch from you.

   “I’m sure you understood the instructions quite well yourself,” he cooed.  You saw the white knuckles hidden behind his back, and were grateful for the diplomatic reaction he chose to display.  “And interfering with one’s wielding of a knife is quite frowned upon.  Perhaps you would care to voice your concerns instead?”

   You slowly slipped the knife across the cutting board out of the way as the woman huffed, whipping her hand out of Demiurge’s as her cheeks flushed.  “We should all agree on who’s using the knife before we start.  And I have plenty of experience--”

   “Ah, I understand.”  Demiurge waved her comment aside, earning a flared look of annoyance.  “You’re unaware of Mira’s skill. That’s a forgivable misunderstanding, since we have yet to begin introductions.  This immaculate beauty is Mira, and I am Demiurge.  May I inquire as to your name?”

   “It’s Kathleen,” she granted.  She eyed your palm still over the knife, and you moved it back to your side, offering a welcoming nod.

   “Good to meet you!  It should be a fun class, right?  Have you made sushi before?”

   “I’ve had more than enough of it to know what I’m doing,” she replied, looking more at your clothes than your eyes before turning back to Demi.  “I’ve never heard of anyone named ‘Demiurge’ before; it sounds so exotic!  Is it Asian?”

   “From a certain perspective.”

   “So, Indian maybe?”

   “I wouldn’t say directly.”

   “Oh, more Pakistani?  Or Chi--”

   “No.”  Demiurge reached across the table, looking from the knife to you for permission, which you gave with a slight step out to let his arm reach before you across the counter.  “Perhaps you would like to get started?  I can prepare the vegetables for your use, if you have no objections.”  The knife flashed between his fingers, and he slid a cucumber closer as he twisted the blade to slice away the ends.  You didn’t see the precisely-sized cuts actually fall, and you were positive Kathleen couldn’t follow the speed either.  But you sure felt the solid thuds against the cutting board cut off the persistent line of questions.

   With an attempt at poise, Kathleen dipped her fingers into the bowl of water waiting in the middle of the station.  “Well, no need to get testy,” she muttered.  “Just making conversation.”  A toothy smile turned to you as you handed over a square of nori from a pile.  “And what about you, sweetie?  Are you from around here?”

   You took a deep breath.  You’d wanted a test, you reminded yourself; this was certainly turning out to be a test.  “We’re both pretty new to the area, actually!  Are you a local?”

   “By now I sure am!  I know this city like the back of my hand, inside and out.  I’m more of a local than people who’ve been here their whole lives.  But don’t worry, honey, there’s room for all sorts here.  I’m sure you’ll find your crowd.”

   The number of teeth she displayed didn’t diminish.  Just smile back, you thought with another deep inhale.  Surely soon she’d get bored and go join her friends—

   “How thoughtful,” Demiurge cooed.  “I’m certain we will.”  He had finished shaping the spears of cucumber and moved on to the bundle of carrots, almost finished with the group.

   You felt the snide remark, whatever it was, winding up for the pitch in his throat.

   “So we just need a little handful for the inside, right?” you asked, dipping your own fingers into the water to avoid them sticking too much to the rice.  “Did, uh, either of you hear her say anything about how she made the rice, by the way?  I’ve heard before that sushi rice has something special added.”

   Kathleen looked at you.  “Well, it’s a short grain rice.  That means the grains are smaller than, for example, jasmine rice.  That’s a common type of long grain, which is what you might use if you didn’t know any better.”

   You nodded, taking a bit of the short grain and shaping it across your sheet of nori.  “Yes… but supposedly there’s something added?  I meant to ask when—  I’ll just ask later, nevermind.  It’s just a silly question I had.”

   Demiurge scooted the vegetables to the center of the cutting board and set the knife aside.  “Certainly no one with any calibre would consider your thoughts to be silly, of all things.  ...There is however one method by which I can conceive to gain a clue,” he mused.  Then, using three fingers, he picked out a clump of rice and held it before your mouth, leaning at the waist to put his face level with yours.  “Say ah, my dear Mira.”

   Shoot.

   Darn it, he was totally gaining a point.  You’d forgotten you had a bet going at all!

   You tried not to let your heart rate show too plainly as you ignored the smoulder you knew for a fact he was giving you.  Relenting to his request, you fumed at how easily he’d thrown you off already—

   And then an idea occurred to you.

   As he popped the sample of rice over your tongue, you stifled your hesitations and closed your mouth.

   The zap down his spine was almost audible as he froze, fingers sealed in between your lips.  And as his eyes met with your nervous expression, the red in his ears reappeared.

   Score.

   Leaning back, you slipped his fingers out against your tongue, keeping eye contact.  His face was covered under a stationary smile as his adam's apple shifted slightly in a gulp.  “Thank you, ‘my dear Demi’,” you returned.

   “Mmm,” he said.

   Nails tapped in a rhythm against the counter.  “Uh-huh.  Well, ah, if you could wash those little digits again before dealing with the rest of the station, please?  That’s unsanitary, you know,” Kathleen urged in a staccato.

   Demiurge blinked, and his smile gained life again.  Lifting the hand to his own mouth, he cleaned the fingers carefully one at a time, keeping the eye contact you instigated.

   Holy cow--

   You directed your focus to your temaki roll.  Dang it.

   “I won’t be but a moment,” he promised, sauntering off to the sink.

   You straightened your shoulders and added a stick of cucumber over the shaped rice, giving it’s angle perhaps a bit more primping than it actually needed.  Darn it, were you in the lead or him??  It was hard to keep score.  Was it by each separate incident, or individual reactions, or was it by who ended up more flustered when the moment ended?  Any of them could be argued, and Demiurge was way too adept at persuasion to let it come to that.  If you were going to win this, it would have to be a clear undisputable victory.  You had to pull off something big.

   “Well?”

   You glanced up to see Kathleen looking expectantly at you.  You blinked back.

   Her head waggled, turquoise earrings jangling.  “Did you taste anything in it, or not?”

   Oh right!  The rice!  The grains had already been swallowed.  You weren’t quite sure when you’d done that.  Sensing around your mouth for any lingering flavor, you tried to remember what you could.  “Um… uh, it’s like a sweet… maybe some rice vinegar?  And… something else…”

  “Oh, honey, that’s ok, it’s fine!”  She reached a hand out and pat the air in front of her comfortingly.  “It’s no shame to admit you can’t taste anything, no shame whatsoever.”

   She smiled matronly as she took a bit of carrot.  You gave a light laugh, not sure how else you were expected to respond to her dismissal of your answer.  Instead, you focused on rolling up the two temakis you’d prepared, just tightly enough that the seaweed secured the cone shape for you.

  Demiurge returned and you offered him one of the rolls, which he praised generously, setting to the side with your own as the teacher arrived to check on your progress.  She also complimented the work all three of you had done.  You were a bit distracted and still flustered from both Demi and Kathleen, eyeballing the plastic-covered bamboo mat, planning how you would begin the inside-out rolls more than listening to her.

   “If I might take an extra moment of your time,” Demiurge said as she began to turn away.  “We were musing over the ingredients, and perhaps you could answer a question.  Is there anything particular as to the rice used to create sushi?”

   “Oh, now that is an excellent question!” she said, reaching for the black box at her waist.  “In fact, let’s get this answer to everyone.” You felt your eyes bulge as Demiurge flashed a smug grin toward Kathleen.  Twisting a knob, the teacher took a few steps into the middle of the room.  “Alright guys,” her voice boomed out, “I’ve just been asked if there’s anything special about the rice we’re using, and the answer is yes!  My measurements when I’m doing a batch at home like you’d probably do on your own time:  I’ll work with about four cups of short grain rice to start.  Rinse until the water comes out clear, and let it soak long enough that the water content is uniform, then cook it as usual.  You can use that for your sushi and it works just great.”

   You heard a pitchy hum come from behind you across the counter, and you shifted a little to your other foot.

   “Now, you don’t need to fix up your rice beyond that if you don’t want or don’t have the time, but I very highly suggest it; you’ll notice the difference!  Two teaspoons salt, two tablespoons sugar, mix it into a cup of rice vinegar, and then fold it all through your rice. You’ll wanna make sure you break up the clumps as you mix, because this step is what gives it that nice balanced sweet and salty flavor that elevates your sushi from everyday to impressive.  Don’t worry about writing that down,” she said as a few people fumbled for their phones, “it’ll be in the packet everyone gets as you leave class!  Great question from this group, thanks for bringing that up, guys,” she closed, switching the microphone back off and heading to the next group.

   Kathleen was oddly quiet as the three of you spread a handful of the specially prepared rice over your squares of nori.  Demiurge made a comment on how like you it was to have guessed such a thing might have an extra importance behind it.  The short haired woman’s smile filled only the lower half of her face as Demiurge gloated.

   The inside-out rolls seemed to have the room a bit more excited; after everyone’s confidence-boosting success with the first task, the next felt much less daunting.  You heard the words “california” and “uramaki” echo around the room as decisions on fillings were made, and you eyed the options for yourself.  Cream cheese sliced into long blocks rested on one of several plates under plastic wrap dotted with condensation, and with it were similarly shaped crab and salmon.  Demiurge noticed your staring past him to the ingredients.

   “Allow me,” he offered, removing the film.  “What are you interested in?”

   “Hmm…  Maybe some cream cheese?  Thanks,” you said as he retrieved a single line of dairy for you.  You held out your palm—

   The edges of the offered slice slipped through your fingers, melted liquid dripping to the cutting board below.  What—?

   “Ah, my mistake,” he said, black flame flicking out before anyone else could catch a glimpse, “This is my responsibility, what a mess.  I’ll—” he reached for your hand.

   Oh heck no.  You saw what he was trying to do.  Nuh-uh, he was not getting you to fall into his trap.

   You jerked your hand out of his reach.  “No, it’s fine, I’ll just go clean up! No need to worry!”

   He tilted his head.  “It’s of no issue; I can—”

   “Be right back!” you sang, his smile only growing as you retreated to the sink across the room.

   He’d almost had you again!  You grumbled despite your grin as you wracked your brain for a proper retaliation.  You would not lose this, no way.  Competitiveness had never mattered much to you, or that’s what you always told others.  Winning wasn’t important so much as making sure everyone enjoyed themselves and no one lost too harshly.  But there were certain circumstances, you had to admit, where even you could get a little determined about winning.  Beating this cocky devil in a game of subtle sabotage?  That was definitely on your list of exceptions.

   He’d opened the game to magic, you considered as you turned on the water with your clean hand.  Maybe there was something you could do on the same level.  But would he be expecting you to do that?  The most obvious choice would be to use Minor Illusion to somehow get the upper hand on him… but that trick with the fire had been pretty blatant.  Not like Demiurge at all.

   He was totally trying to lure you into using magic.

   You squinted across the room, just in time to see him turn and flash a grin in your direction.

   ...Unless that was exactly what he wanted you to think he wanted you to do, so that you wouldn’t.

   You had some powerful spells available in your arsenal, and the glaringly unusual event of a chilled chunk of cream cheese melting in an instant was a pretty open dare to use something just as flashy.  Was he goading you, or trying to dissuade you from an equally obvious display by starting the round with too high of stakes?  Or was it a triple counter…?

   Was he chuckling!?  He was chuckling!!

   You pouted at him, trying to make it appear genuine as you lathered soap into your hands and turned back to the water.  You just could not guess what that man would ever do next.

   Oh.  Oh, wait… what if you turned those tables on him?  What if you made him try to guess what you were going to do?

   There were lots of tools at your disposal, yes.  In the past few days, you’d been practicing newer abilities, opening more trails in the magical web of your mind.  Invisibility had taken a while to figure out, but you got the hang of it and were very proud of yourself for that. Lion’s Courage had been a resounding success, increasing Demiurge’s strength by the full twenty percent it was capable of bestowing.  At least, as far as you were able to tell.  Percents were a little more difficult to gauge in the real world. But out of them all, the spell he was probably trying to make you muse on was Confusion.  It would certainly give you the upper hand if it worked, but while you had a pretty good success rate, he had never been resisting its effects in your practices.

   You wouldn’t do that to him, though.  Not here, in the middle of a class.  He was sure to know that you would never do that to him.

   But if you made it look like you were going to…

   Trickster’s Trade.  Trickster’s Trade could be your big winner.

   In Yggdrasil, stats could mean a lot of things, and depending on what type of player you were, some meanings were more important than others.  For you, the attack stat had translated to physical strength and the ability to inflict damage, and since that didn’t help your target build in the slightest it was heavily neglected.  Contrastingly, your magic attack and defence were exemplary, so as to be certain your buffs and effects and tricks would be effective when they landed.  Your special stat was high as well, since other abilities and outlying talents could be bolstered by it.

   Demiurge’s build was quite similar to yours, while not balanced exactly the same.  And with Trickster’s Trade, you could snatch all the points from one stat and reallocate them to another, for a full thirty seconds.  And if his special suddenly dropped to zero when you should logically target his magical defence…

   You couldn’t help but grin.  He wanted you to play dirty? Alright then; you’d play dirty.  You’d misdirect the heck outta him.  Remembering the time you’d first tried this spell on your guildmate, you again wondered if Demiurge had seen you pull your prank.  Now he’d get to be on the receiving end of your mischief.

   There was only one problem.  You’d never tried Trickster’s Trade before.  Not in reality.

   Filling your hands with soap a second time, you scrubbed far more thoroughly than needed as you mentally tapped into the ethereal network granted you.  It had grown quite a bit since that first spark of use with Mend.  Now, it was like drifting through the tentacles of jellyfish as they brushed past your skin, electrical reminders of what powers existed within you.  A lace of northern lights, they pulsed and spun around your attention as you questioned them.  Trickster’s Trade shouldn’t be difficult to spot, now that you’d grown a feel for how your magic arranged itself.

   Maybe here?  Up high, among the place you’d found what you were pretty sure was Nomad’s Rest and sideways a bit towards Reflect.  You imagined reaching out a hand, and in your fingers you felt a bit of pale green come to life. Was this it?  It felt like it!  Well, it was either that or Illicit Element, but you were pretty sure that would have felt very different from the slippery hook that weaved around your fingers.

   You had one shot, probably.  A spell this high tier would take a lot out of you, and you didn’t want to be exhausted for the rest of the day.  If you were wrong, you wouldn’t get a chance to try again unless you wanted to go right home and take a nap afterwards.

   You turned off the water and used your apron as a towel, about-facing to march back to your station.  You could do this. You were gonna win this.

   Demiurge was patiently waiting for Kathleen to finish rolling her sushi in the bamboo mat, fingers resting in a tent over the knife on the counter.  It was cute, how you could tell he was itching to lift it and absentmindedly dance it across his hand.  He probably wouldn’t be so inclined to have it near his reach in a moment, when he was wary of gaining the Confusion effect.  A grin slid onto your face at the thought.

   He stepped aside to greet you, and paused at the expression.  “Is there something on your mind, Mira?” he asked a bit too smoothly.  Perfect; he thought he knew what you had planned.

   “Not really, just had a funny thought.  Oh, could you hand me the knife?”

   The edge of his mouth twitched as he lifted the handle to you.  “I wouldn’t deny you it, but might I ask what for?”

   “Just makes me feel a bit better with it over here, that’s all.”

   His expression didn’t change, but his eyes lingered on you an extra moment as you took the blade from him.

   “I’m gonna have to disappoint you, hun, I’m ready for that knife,” Kathleen spoke up.  She held out an expectant hand and waved her fingers inward.  In return, she held out the plastic covered mat, a long rice-covered roll sitting in front of her.  The bamboo mat was passed from her to Demiurge, and you passed the knife to Kathleen.

   “Oh, sorry,” you laughed, putting a hand on Demiurge’s back as he rolled his arrangement in the bamboo.  “I complicated that, huh?  Kinda turned into a Trickster’s Trade.”

   The green swelled at your fingertips and sunk immediately beneath his shirt.  You had to take in a breath as you felt the magic seep from you, something beneath your lungs pulling toward your heart as it left.  His head whipped towards you, eyebrows raised.  Yes!

   “You seem confused,” you teased.  “Am I distracting you?”

   He looked between your eyes.  You stared back.  He pressed his glasses to his nose.

   “I’ll have the knife when you’ve finished,” he commented lightly to Kathleen.

   He didn’t think you’d do it.  He wasn’t gonna fall for it!  Maybe you’d gloated a little too openly at your success in casting Trickster’s Trade.  Well, darn. Now you had to decide if you really wanted to cast a spell on him or not. Minor Illusion was still a good option, especially when he was at a zero special stat.  You could make him think that—

   Did you smell… smoke?

   You and Demiurge looked down at the same time.

   A small lick of yellow and orange poofed to life within the bamboo mat.

   Demiurge nodded, looking back up to you.  “Forgive me; I should not have called your bluff after all.”

   “Demi… you’re not Confused.”

   “…Hmm.”  He ran a hand over the flame.  And again.  Why couldn’t he—

   Oh.  Oh shoot.

   He expected that you’d emptied his magical defence.  You had taken his special.  And with it, apparently, diminished his special abilities.

   Oops.

   The sound of a sniffle came from across the counter.  “What is… Doesn’t anyone else smell—” Kathleen shrieked.  “FIRE!!”

   In the matter of a millisecond, you and Demiurge went through the same two-step thought process.  If the fire wouldn’t go out by command, Demiurge was still fireproof.  He could smother it.  His hand covered the flame, tightening over the center of the mat.

   That was a mistake.

   Rice and veggies burst from either end as the mat splintered under the force of his grip.  You’d moved all those points from his special into physical attack! Which meant he was—roughly three times stronger than normal at the moment.

   Flaming rice dotted the countertop, and you acted on instinct.  Grabbing the bottom of your still damp apron, you flew it up over the fire.

   “Mira--!”  Demiurge moved to pull you away, but the moment of hesitation to recalculate his current state was all you needed to smack the fabric down on top of the heat.

   A sizzle filled the air, peppered by the startled chatter of the class.  The teacher was rushing over to you moments later, fire extinguisher in hand.

   “Wow, you were right on that!  Have we got it all?”  She looked over the mess.  “Any idea what happened?”

   Heart climbing back down from your throat, you turned to Demi.  Two more seconds passed before he snapped to you like a released magnet, pulling stray rice from your hair and looking over your arms where they had landed near the tiny flames.

   “A fluke, doubtless,” he said as he ran an eye down your forearm to quickly check for burns, “one that shall not happen again.”

   You couldn’t help it.  A little sputter of a laugh burst out of you.  “Yup,” you agreed, “I have no idea how anyone could catch sushi on fire.”

   What in the world had just happened?!  You honestly couldn’t say, but something told you this was Yggdrasil-related.  Probably best to keep it on the down low.

   The teacher glanced between you, and you decided you really didn’t mind taking the easy road at the moment; calling back to the web in your mind, you wordlessly cast Bunny Tail on the woman, and she relaxed.  “Keep it together over here, ok?  I’ll get you another mat.  Let’s clean this up and get back on task, we’ve still got one last item to make together!”

   Kathleen was still making exasperated noises as you and Demiurge swept the rest of the mess into the little bin assigned to your station.  “Oh, my gawd,” she breathed, then shook her head with a gasp as the remains of Demiurge’s roll started smoking again in his hand. This time he snuffed it out quickly and dropped the handful of debris in the bin, staring transfixed at the mysteriously flammable mixture.  “Didn’t either of you pay any attention to the safety guidelines?!  I swear, the double portions aren’t worth— Is this your first ever cooking class?!  All these mistakes…  I might as well have just split Sandra’s rolls with her after all—!”

   Your arm shot out.  You tapped repeatedly against Demiurge’s elbow.  “Yes, Mira?”  His eyes didn’t move from the pile.

   “Demiurge.  This is your first cooking class.”

   “Indeed.”

   “No,” you reiterated, “Your first cooking class.  Here, or from Ygg.”

   His shoulders froze.  “Ah.”

   In order to accomplish more complex recipes back in Yggdrasil, you had put in hours and hours of time building your abilities.  You remembered the first time you’d tried to make a stealth-boosting soufflé in the Nazarick kitchens, thinking that your levels would be supplemented enough by the equipment to succeed.  It had been a frustrating lesson in how personal ability mattered more than the tools you used.

   Come to think of it, had Demiurge cooked anything before now?  Other than helping you that one night with the lampreys for a few minutes, had he actually ever made something more complicated than a cup of tea?

   You thought over the variety of random mishaps that could occur with a failed recipe, once again shuddering at the adventures of the failed soufflé.  Food spontaneously catching fire was certainly a rarer one, but all things considered, there were worse outcomes.  You just felt lucky it hadn’t somehow spawned a Putrid Plate monster.

   Kathleen was ranting a bit too loudly about how much she’d paid for this class, but you both ignored her complaints as she haughtily arranged her second california roll.

   “This blunder is entirely of my own negligence,” Demiurge confessed, putting a hand over your own.  “I am ashamed that I created such a mess for you to resolve.”

   You took his hand and rubbed a thumb across it, rolling your eyes.  “Trust me, you never saw the messes I made when I was first learning.  There were battles that lasted for hours.  More than once! Besides, there’s gotta be something you’re not perfect at, right?”

   His eyes softened as he took in your words.  “I have yet to find that something about you; certainly because such a thing does not exist.”

   You blushed and cleared your throat.  “You’re not earning another point; let’s get started on the nigri.  I’ll assist you, that should up our success rate and help you progress the skill a bit, too!”

   It was probably the simplest of the three items, which you were quite grateful for.  Demiurge had no problem slicing the salmon to top the balls of rice, but the simple task of applying wasabi and overlaying the bit of fish somehow ended in misshapen lumps that either burned of the green spice or stunk of ripe fish.  After the third try, you held the rice while he added the two final steps, and that seemed to at last bring success.  You squealed in victory, setting the piece proudly among the other finished products.

   “It’s amazing,” you beamed.  “We did such a great job!  You did a great job.  Look at the angle of that slice, the thickness is just right!  This should absolutely be posted on social media, I cannot believe…”

   You snapped a quick pic and looked over, expecting him to simply be smirking in silence.

   A blush covered his face, surpassing his ears and entering his cheeks, and you realized just how deeply your praise was striking.  This miniscule success had been an enormous hurdle to him, hadn’t it?  The comprehension of that blossomed like an unseen flower over your chest, framing your face with happiness at his joy.

   “I am undeserving of your praise,” he disputed.  You both twitched only slightly at the interjected “Ha!” as Kathleen adjusted a turquoise necklace.  “This is undeniably a trivial task.  However, I am grateful for your patience in this shortcoming.  Perhaps, if… it is agreeable to you, we might continue a few lessons in the apartment together.  The ‘mishaps’ could be more easily addressed there, as my learning curve improves.”

   You nodded excitedly and began to agree, when the teacher’s microphone once again clicked into an audible call.

   “Ok, everyone, that’s all the time we have!  Great job, you all made some wonderful sushi today!  Be sure to pick up a packet by the door on your way out, and don’t forget to take your creations home with you!”

   “Wow… that felt both like a very long class, and like it took no time at all,” you laughed, then tucked your hair behind your ear.  “So, uh, I got kinda distracted, but… I’m not sure who… between the flirting and the fire and the… well, uh, you probably won?  S-so…”

   Demiurge chuckled.  “Our wager?  My dear Mira, I lost that quite some time ago.  If I wasn’t doomed to fail by the fact that you consume my thoughts continuously, I would have lost at the distraction of kindled seaweed.”  He crossed an arm over his chest to his heart and inclined his head to you.  “The prize is yours to claim.”

   He was yielding to you?  Really?!  You’d won after all??

   Demiurge halted as a smirk twinkled in your eyes.

   Kathleen burst with an exasperated breath.  “Are you telling me,” she snapped, “that, that whole fiasco was just you two trying to flirt?!  I cannot believe— hold on, where exactly are you two—?”

   You weren’t waiting around to see what she had to say; instead, you’d grabbed Demiurge’s hand and skipped to the middle of the room.  Have a little bit of courage, you told yourself, looking around as people cleaned up and packed away their food.  This would be so worth it.  His expression would be worth it.

   You stopped in front of the teacher’s centrally located counter, spinning on your heels to face Demi.  Several people had stopped cleaning their stations and collecting their food to see what the two of you were up to.  Just ignore the attention, you reiterated inwardly.  A few extra pairs of eyes made no difference, it was no big deal.  You cleared your throat.

   “Kiss me,” you said.

   His shoulders jumped.  “I— You may have misunderstood my intent; the victory is yours, not my own.”

   “Yeah, you wanted a kiss in the middle of the class.  Well, I want you to kiss me in front of the chef’s counter.  Two different things,” you shrugged.  “So… I mean it’s up to you, but… do I get a kiss, or not?”

   “Kiss ‘er!” came a catcall from a corner of the room.  “Yeah, give her a smooch,” another voice yelled.  Oh dear.  You felt the heat enter your cheeks as you shyly glanced around from the increasing spotlight.

   “Your move, Demi,” you egged.

   His eyes stared at you wide, then he shook his head with a laugh.  “You are a trickster true to your chosen nature, Mira.”  In one move, you were swept around, facing upward into Demiurge’s face as he dipped you into his arms.  “Such a wish I could never deny.”

   A whoop went out as his lips met yours, and you blushed deeper as the room cheered your display with applause.

   “You learn something new every day,” came Kathleen’s raised voice.  “Looks like arson can be forgotten pretty quickly, with some good ol PDA!”  Her fake happy tone dragged a sigh from your chest as your kiss was abruptly interrupted, Demiurge freeing his lips for just a moment.

   “Kindly shut up, Kathleen.”

   The kiss continued, and you suddenly didn’t notice whether Kathleen had anything more to say, or if the crowd was watching, or if they approved or disapproved.  You just noticed him, his kiss, and you saw stars when he at last pulled away.  He was grinning at you as though he’d known exactly the state his kiss would put you in and had planned everything, over and around your own plan.  You didn’t think he had.  Really, you were certain he hadn’t.  Probably.  But in that moment, you didn’t care in the slightest who had won.

   All that mattered to you was his smile.







   The sun was warm on your shoulders as you skipped down the sidewalk, contrasting the gray sky that surrounded it.  You were almost home, which was good; you should get your creations into the fridge as soon as possible.  You wanted to start cooking something more to eat so that you could savor the fruits of your adventure as a complete meal.

   “I’m thinking some pork belly would be nice,” you said, trying to remember what was in the fridge.  “There’s some I started marinating this morning for tomorrow, but it should be good for tonight too!”

   “This might be an opportunity to order in rather than expend your time further preparing our meal.  Pan has introduced me to a location that is willing to deliver a delectable miso soup.  That way, your plans for meals will not require any reconsideration.”

   You grinned up at him.  “Well… that does sound pretty good.  And I’ve got to review those proposals from the charities for next quarter by tomorrow, anyway.”

   He humed, tilting his head at that.  “With the amount of time spent completing work at the apartment, I’ve come to the conclusion that one of the rooms would be best incorporated as a home office of sorts; with your permission, I’ll begin making arrangements for it.”

   “Oh that sounds like a great idea!”  Hand under your chin, you nodded, imagining it.  “Maybe the room with the big window.  We could get a bookshelf… cute little paper clips, a stapler, a white board or a cork board for notes.  With a nice fern to finish off the aesthetic!  But… I would miss sitting on the couch together to work.  Ooh!  Maybe we could just move the couch in there, too!”  You snickered at the suggestion.

   “An entirely new couch would be ideal,” he responded.  “There is no reason for you to sacrifice either comfort.”

   You almost rebutted the idea of getting a whole new sofa just as an office accessory, but decided not to argue as you turned the corner, your apartment building coming into view.  Sometimes you underestimated just how dedicated and overachieving Demiurge could be.  “I love the idea, but don’t work too hard on it, ok?  It’s nice, but it’s not something to stress about.”

   “You have no reason to fear for my well-being,” he promised.  Reaching out, he opened the door to the lobby and allowed you to enter before him.  “I have a recommendation for an interior designer; they will handle the process with merely my supervision.”

   You raised your eyebrows.  “Really?  Wow, that sounds… fancy!  How do you know them?”

   “Alanna heard of our move to the larger apartment and suggested the name to me.  Of course, by then I had already arranged everything, but for this proje—”

   From across the room a scoff rang out.  “Oh, how dare you!  You owe me, not the other way around!”

   Standing near the elevators, Charlotte in a frilly pink dress was flanked by two women, both of whom glared silently at the person Charlotte fumed at.  You’d noticed them around the building on other occasions, but never realized as you did now that they must be her employees… in one way or another.

   “Your goons have been messing with my business,” came the man’s retort, “I’m not going to let you hurt local owners like me just so you can make a point to your competition!”

   “Like hell they’re competition,” Charlotte sniffed.  “Dirty lowlife reptiles. You should be grateful it’s me you’re dealing with and not them!”

   The man narrowed his eyes to sideways slits, glowering at both Charlotte’s words and her company.  He wasn’t phased in the slightest by the imposing show of power that loomed two-strong behind the young woman.  His clothes seemed to echo his clearly displayed disposition to rebel from a self-important authority.  You looked at the heavy soled boots, hidden under black jeans while a worn leather jacket covered his arms.  Under the jacket sat a simple white shirt, neckline extended enough to reveal the edges of a red tattoo, it’s shape crisp despite the organic flow of the lines you could see around the obstruction of his current posture.  He tugged on a black leather sleeve, straightening it in a way that surprised you as… familiar, somehow.

   “I really don’t appreciate you telling me what I should be grateful for,” came the rumble from his throat.

   You could practically feel the heat in the air.

   Demiurge has stepped in behind you, and you slid to the side to let him enter without progressing toward the scene waiting at the elevator doors.  “Maybe we should take the stairs?” you suggested, half trying to make light of the situation, and half serious.

   No response.

   “...Demiurge?”

   He saw what was happening, right? You’d really rather avoid a conflict that seemed like it was over your head, and had assumed he’d immediately want you swept away from anything to do with Charlotte’s business.  Why wasn’t he reacting?

   You turned back, and had to do a double take to be sure you were seeing what you thought you saw.

   Demiurge was frozen.  He was staring across the room as though someone he’d thought long lost had returned in the dead of the night.  As you said his name a second time he glanced to you, placing a quivering hand on your shoulder as he returned his gaze to his target.  He took a deep breath.

   “Excuse me,” he murmured, brushing past to approach the confrontation.  His steps grew steadier again the more he took, til at last he was walking calmly into the fray.

   The words were hard to make out across the large room, since the tone dropped considerably after he began speaking.  That seemed encouraging, but still… his reaction left you with a hesitation in your gut.  Why was he so shaken?  What could possibly pull a response like that from Demiurge?

   You weren’t going to sit this one out.  You couldn’t.  Not with him like that. Besides, this was beginning to drag on, and you weren’t sure you should just be standing awkwardly across the room for much longer.  It felt rude, somehow.

   Cautiously, you approached the conversation.  The man in black directed his eyes to you once you got halfway across the room, looking head to toe, then again returned his attention to Demiurge.  The goatee on his chin was stroked as he listened.

   “Hmph.  I might be more willing to deal with those terms,” you heard him say in return to Demiurge’s smooth persuasion.  “If I knew the person, I’d be more willing to let them hang around.”

   “It calls for a lot of reorganization,” Charlotte grumbled.  “How is this beneficial to me?”

   “If you are concerned with the functionality of it, I will handle the alteration personally.  This is in the long term best interest for everyone involved, I can assure you of that,” Demiurge said.  Strange; was that an echo you heard in his voice?  You hadn’t heard it when he’d spoken to the man...

   She pouted.  “Fine, have it your way!  I’d rather not have to deal with this anyway, honestly.  It’s a bore.  Freida, Mary, let’s go home and leave these boys to their scheming.  I need a drink yesterday.  Good to see you, Mira darling,” she added, stepping into the elevator her two companions had prepared for her.

   You were standing next to Demiurge now, but until she said your name, no one had acknowledged you more than the single glance from the man.  But as the doors closed with a goodbye wave of her fingers, he looked at you again, eyes still horizontal slits as he observed.  You weren’t sure what to say, twisting a few fingers together as you tried to come up with a reason you’d joined the circle.

   Demiurge dipped his head.  “My apologies; Charlotte can be a bit shortsighted when a convenient path is open before her.  She tends to put aside more invested achievements when such temptations arise.”  Well; you’d come over with the concern of whether or not he was alright, and here he was once again saving you instead.

   “Lucky for her, she has at least one friend with some intellect to speak of.”  He broke his gaze with you to smile back.  “I’m glad you’re around to straighten her out.  Thanks for the assistance.”

   “If there is anything I can do for you more, please don’t hesitate to request it.  I’ll see what I can do to accommodate your needs.”

   The man’s shoulders finally relaxed.  “Right.  I’d be pretty bothered if I didn’t get the chance, seeing as how much more enjoyable your company is.  Was it Demiurge?”  He extended a hand.  The devil’s arm twitched as though it wanted to lay across his chest.

   What in the world was going on?  Had you ever seen Demiurge take to some one so quickly?  Well, besides you, you supposed.  His restraint with the self-entitled Kathleen earlier was proof that he was doing really well lately at adjusting, but this… this seemed a little over the top.

   Demiurge took the hand with almost a reverence.  “Indeed it was.  Might I request your name in return?”

   Reaching into his pocket, the man extended a card.  “Call me Burn.  Most people do.”

   With one hand neatly tucked behind his back, Demiurge accepted the card and looked it over.  You peeked at it, getting a good look before he tucked it into his breast pocket.

   It was black, with the color of a red rose bleeding into a corner.  Stylized words spelled “Horn & Hoof: Tattoo Parlor” across the top, and in a clean serif font below was a name.

   As you read, it was as though the stem of the bleeding rose on his card took root in your chest and shot through to your lungs.  The pressure forced a gasp, and memories flooded in as you began to process it all.  Now you understood.  Now Demiurge's reaction to this man made sense.  Of course he had seen it right away, of course he’d known just who he was.  You looked up at the lean man, sharp cheekbones accentuating his questioning recognition of your gasp, eyebrow arching at your expression.

   This man’s name was Olburn Alan Erdell.  The reflection of your old guildmate, Ulbert Alain Odle.

   Reality’s answer to the man who created Demiurge.

 







Chapter Text

🔥 𝑅𝑒𝒶𝓁 𝓁𝒾𝒻𝑒 𝑜𝓃 𝓉𝒽𝑒 𝓈𝑒𝓋𝑒𝓃𝓉𝒽 𝒻𝓁𝑜𝑜𝓇 🔥

𝒞𝒽𝒶𝓅𝓉𝑒𝓇 𝓉𝒽𝒾𝓇𝓉𝓎 𝓃𝒾𝓃𝑒



    “—And his determination!  It was quite clear that no matter the resistance put before him by Charlotte, he would be proceeding as he knew to be correct.  Denying any integration of structure that kept him from his self-earned placement and resources!”

   “Uh-huh,” you agreed, nodding as you shuffled through your keys.  When in the world did you get so many?  It shouldn’t be this hard to find the one you used every day; why did you even need a key to Cole’s gym?  Or Luna’s apartment?  Or Ivan’s office?  Or Alanna’s filing cabinet?  Or—why was your college dorm key still on here, this was just getting silly…

   “The malevolent integrity he commanded was all I could have imagined him containing.  How luminous!  No, nigh sulfuric!  The resemblance of spirit is simply uncanny.  Truly, he resonates precisely to the grandeur I recall of my creator.”

   “He was very confident,” you agreed.  You gave a small ha of victory as you at last got the correct key in the lock and pressed the door open.  “I’m glad you got the chance to help him. That seemed pretty heated before you started mediating.”

   “The intrusion was merely for my own benefit,” he insisted, smiling at the compliment as he followed you inside.  “He had his course of action prepared well before I arrived.  But now, having indeed involved myself in his design…  I should prepare a proper schematic to aid his pursuits—a personal inspection rather than handing away the duty seems appropriate.  But to be thorough, perhaps I will delegate specific tasks to Mr. Darsteller… the financial and economic state of those neighboring shops would be most effectively evaluated through his expertise…”

   He was losing himself in thought, and you smirked as you gently took the bags from him and walked toward the kitchen.  It took him a moment, but he retrieved the bags from you and completed the trek himself.

   “I suppose I have laid out the remainder of my evening,” he said in a dull tone despite his grin.  You reached over and pecked his cheek.

   “I’m really happy for you,” you said, dropping the weighty keys back into your purse and setting it aside.  “This seems like a big deal to you.  It is a big deal.   And, I’m so glad you get a chance like this.  I mean…”  You took a container from a bag and transferred it to the fridge.  “For me, getting to find Ivan?  Having that relationship again, getting another chance, it’s… it’s really healing.  I can hardly imagine what meeting Burn means to you.  I want you to have that same kind of completion I’ve gotten.”

   Demi didn’t respond to that.  His fingers tapped on the countertop.

   “Shall I assist you further in preparing our meal?” he offered.

   You looked at him, straightening his sleeves to roll them up.  But his eyes didn’t quite look at you.  Despite their focus, you could see they rather stared at a thought running around his mind.  “I’ve got it tonight,” you said, turning to put the second container in the fridge, “you’ve already worked up enough cooking experience for one day, I think!  But, thank you.  You go get a head start on that work, I’ll let you know when it’s ready.”

   He paused for only a moment, the hesitation soon overcome by thought, before giving a curt nod and rebuttoning his sleeve.  “As usual, your consideration is given too graciously, Mira.  I am over privileged to attribute the title of ‘girlfriend’ to such a divine figure.”  His hands met your shoulders, and he reached around your back to kiss your cheek.  “If you have any need of assistance, I will need but a moment to be at your side.”

   You thanked him as he sped off to the living room to find his laptop and begin his research, already deep in thought as to what courses to plot.

   Wait… hadn’t he wanted to order in food to complement the sushi rather than make something yourselves?  Maybe you had just lost track of the conversation and this was the plan you'd arrived at.  Yeah, that was possible.  Either way, it was fine!  You’d just cook up the pork belly like you’d contemplated doing, no problem.

   You opened the fridge again to pull out the meat, then turned the oven on as you began to gather spices.  He might be a little preoccupied tonight with this new revelation, but it was ok.  It was good that he was so excited about helping another person!  It was fine.

   You took in a breath, smiled, and fell into your work, as Demiurge in the next room assumed his devilish shape and fell into his own.






   The jittering in your gut felt sharper in the buzz of office noise than it had in the stillness of your home.

   You leafed through the stack of paperwork Alanna had agreed to leave you on your desk with a hand that felt as heavy as two, and puffed a sigh through your pout.

   Your private office was one of the few on the floor that sat next to a window not constantly covered with drapes or blinds, and while it had been presented to you with an apology as to it’s unfinished state, you had shaken your head and emphatically reassured that just made it easier to adjust to your own style.  The walls were an unpainted white, a color choice you had never expected to feel so enthusiastic about in contrast to the rest of the dim floor, and the shelves you had requested were a lightly stained walnut.  They didn’t house much at the moment, but you had started to bring in boxes of some serious looking books to accent the more relaxed items you wanted to display, like your old action figures, or possibly some art of your favorite fictional heroes.  Actually, you wondered if you could commission an artist to make an abstract interpretation of a scene from Nazarick to hang on a wall…  That might look nice and possibly even professional, to have a landscape hung up… 

   But you hadn’t gotten around to any of that yet.  If you were honest, you’d forgotten about the endeavor altogether.  The room looked like the incomplete half-hearted attempt it was.  A few plants brought some life to the room, but you really hadn’t spent enough time here to make it yours.  Ivan had made sure that whatever orders you put in were quickly completed, but you’d realized while debating what sort of desk to order that it felt somehow… presumptuous to do more than add a few personal items to the room.  You just couldn’t wrap your mind around the idea that you had an office in a prestigious company.

   So here you sat, color swaths taped to the wall beside you, plants the only items dotting the blank area across the room, and temporary desk nearly empty, aside from the new mound of paper waiting for your edits and signatures.

   You repeated your sigh.  And let it flourish to a groan.

   It wasn’t that you didn’t want to integrate yourself here.  You’d come to love your job!  Seeing the effect your work had was rewarding, and besides the proposing and approving of charity-related items, you really enjoyed being a friend to Ivan.  Most of the time when you came into work (which was about twice a week, which you loved), he would formally request you to attend a meeting in his office, generally consisting of five minutes of business review and a half-hour of whatever game you both currently felt like playing.  He seemed more relaxed in general, and your friendship was growing stronger the more time passed.  You’d denied his requests to have another lunch outing, however, at the fear of an increase of sideways squints from Alanna.

   Alanna.  The paperwork you were avoiding.  You glanced at it again, thumb paused halfway through the stack.  Ugh.  Right.

   This was ridiculous.  You hadn’t needed to come in today.  You hadn’t needed to offer Alanna any help with her work.  You hadn’t needed to leave your empty apartment and come in to your empty office.

   Then why did you feel like you needed to?  And why did you feel now like you just wanted to escape?

   Maybe you should get the name of that designer Demiurge had mentioned.  They could help you with both your home office and this one too, probably.  That might be fun.  You pulled out your phone to text him.

   No, no he was busy at the moment, you scolded yourself.  He said he’d gotten the name from Alanna, and you could get it yourself when you took the finished paperwork to her.  You stopped your knee from bouncing up and down.  Why were you feeling so anxious?!

   You growled and dropped your head to the desk.

  …Was it “anxious”?  Was that the right word for the gurgling chills that were creeping like cellar spiders under your skin?… 

   Of course it was.  Yeah, it was just some kind of anxiety you couldn’t place.  That had to be what it was, because there was absolutely no reason for you to feel—

   “Wow, I can come back later if this is a crisis situation,” came a teasing voice.

   Your head popped back up.

   Luna bared a toothy grin at you from your office door, leaning against the frame with arms folded in front of her.  She strolled in, squinting as her eyes adjusted to your office while you grinned back.

   “Hey!!  No, no it’s fine, you’re great, uh, it’s so good to see you!  How’ve you been?”  You wondered if you sounded desperate as she looked around at the lack of a chair, finally flipping over the wastebasket and plopping down.

   “Ah, y’know, doin’ this and that.  Hey,” she smirked and leaned in closer, quickly pressing the conversation to what was on her mind rather than tease you about the state of your office like you expected, “I’ve got a couple of uuuummm, ‘projects’?  Yup, that’s what they are, projects, that I need your help with.  Right up your alley, right?  Helping with projects!  Oh, you will not regret taking on this golden opportunity,” she added on seeing your suspicious expression.  “It’ll be just like at our old job together!  Y’know… those days when the office needed a little more life in its ambiance.  But this time, together~”  She splayed her hands in front of her as though decorating the air with sparkles.

   Yeah, sure.  You lifted an eyebrow.  “You mean, like when you rented fifteen puppies and left me and the boss to watch them all day?  Or do you mean when you installed glitter bombs in the bathroom stalls?  Or, when you got Annabeth to believe the new machine in the back had a retina scanner installed and she spent an hour where she couldn't figure out why it kept printing images of her face instead of accessing the menu?”

   “Ohhh, man that was classic!”  She snickered, sighing at the sweet memory.  “She forgave me after I bought her some GreenBell ice cream though, she loved that stuff.  And I know you freakin adored those puppies.  You did.  Admit it.  I got you out of a whole day of work with that stunt.”

   You gave in and let your solemn mask slip.  “Ok, fine, yeah.  Yeah it was pretty awesome.”  You giggled.  The puppies had been a handful, but your boss had been a pain that week, and when the two of you got stuck with the litter of pups, he’d relaxed considerably and turned his remaining grumpiness towards Luna instead of you.  “…Come to think of it, how in the world did you never get fired from that job?”

   “Easy!  Luna doesn’t get fired from jobs.  I just… move on from what I don’t think’s happenin’ for me,” she said, flashing a grin and a shrug.  You smiled back.  Man, you were so glad she was here.  It was great to have a friend you knew could make you laugh.  Especially today.

   Suddenly she pulled her eyes away from yours, shifting uncomfortably on the wastebasket.  You heard the plastic bag inside rustle, and made a guilty mental note to order a few actual chairs as she cleared her throat.  “So!  You can’t say no, there’s no way I’m not dragging you in on the joke one way or another.  But this way, you’ll be in on it!  Which means, you can totally reign me in at any time!”

   “Uh, no, I can’t,” you countered.  “That is not possible.  Pretty sure reigning you in is somehow against the laws of the universe.”  You looked at the pile of superfluous paperwork.  Then at the sparkling puppy-dog eyes of your friend.  “…But… I’ll help.  Just to make sure we don’t get into too much trouble!” you clarified as she beamed and finger-gunned in your direction.

   “Oh, whatever, you are just as excited for this as I am, miss covert-trickster.”  She hopped to the door, looking at you from around the frame as you stood to follow, grinning conspiratorially.  “You think I didn’t know it was you back then who filled the conference room with balloons?”

   You stuttered and blushed as she darted out, pouting in response to the victorious smirk on her face.  “Well, you still never figured out it was me who post-it noted your car, so,” you murmured.

   “You coming?”

   “Y-yeah!  Yup, right behind you!”






   The outside of the shop was rather plain.  One could even describe it as unkempt, black paint peeling from wooden sideboards and a single line of neon burnt out from the words “Horn & Hoof”, which shone otherwise unperturbed into the quietly darkening afternoon.  A lonely dandelion etched a stubborn life from the concrete under a window that engulfed most of the storefront, the corners of which were stained with the dusty residue of multiple careless cleanings.  In a pot near the door sat a rose bush, red flowers blooming with full petals despite the late season.  Almost as though they bloomed in spite of the late season.

   As Demiurge pulled his sleeve straight again and reaffirmed his resolve to treat this as any other interaction, he noted the surprising fragrance they added to the stale air of this side street, careful not to brush their thorns against his suit as he walked inside.  A clattering bell sounded as he did, doubling as he allowed the door to swing back into place once he breathed in the incensed yet mephitically-traced air.  Lounging behind a long desk formed of black metal and glass housing a small display of merchandise, Olburn looked up from his notebook as the second instance of the brassy chime rang through the lobby.

   “Heh, well!  Demiurge.  First appointment I’ve had today that’s not horrendously off schedule,” he said, glancing at the clock nailed beside the door.  “You’ve brought the proposal from that bloodsucking vampire?”

    Demiurge hummed, a smile overtaking his face at the man’s flippant and ironic description of Charlotte.  “Not quite.  She has agreed for me to fully commandeer this arrangement, at least for the course of its establishment.”

   “Well, there’s some good news.”  He snapped the notebook shut and slid it and a charcoal pencil across the desk with a flick.  “But business later.  First, I’ll give you the tour.”  Kicking his feet down from where they rested atop the counter, he curled two fingers as he stood, motioning Demiurge to follow behind.  The devil did.

   The waiting room opened to the left of the lobby.  Flickering with false flames, an impressive fireplace of grey stone dominated a dark maroon wall, centered opposite the tinted front window Demiurge had moments before stood beyond.  Gold cracked with black decorated furnishings, accentuating everything from the edges of furniture and the fireplace’s frame to the molding at the base of the room.  A light fixture made of barbed wire enveloped a neon red rose hung on a black cord, gold pendants dripping down the mass of barbs like gleaming ichor.  It gifted the area with a dim glow, to aid the patterned oscillation of man-made flames.  Art hung in the shadows, images of flowers and bones that blended off their canvases into the backdrop of red.

   An oversized armchair had a spotlight all it’s own in a corner painted ombre black.  Gold chains hung lazily overhead the monstrous tufted backing of ivory velvet, and half an armrest was sliced away by a knife still embedded in the plush.  Despite the other lavish items in the room, this demanded attention that felt only natural to give, rigid and thorned form countering the obvious comfort of its well-attended craftsmanship.  There were, of course, several other slightly more sensible seating options scattered through the room, but this one was staged for a scene that felt so blatantly reminiscent, it made Demiurge shiver in nostalgia.

   A tribute to the throne in the Blazing Temple.

   “Every piece in this room I’ve either repainted, reupholstered, or built myself,” he said proudly, striding to the armchair and pulling out the knife.  “This thing is rubber, but when I had the chair in the shop?  I let my artists do a shoot with a nice sized real one.  Made for good marketing pics to put on the website and for social media y’know?  Heh.  Clients love the damn thing.”  He tossed the toy up in the air, caught it by the blade and flipped it across the room.  Demiurge took it from the air as though it had instead been carefully handed over, twisting it around his fingers while observing the craftsmanship.

   “I’m sure it photographs well enough,” he replied, tossing it back gently.  “The room is quite impressive; I can more than understand the pride you take in it.”

   Burn laughed as he caught and replaced it in the armrest.  “You’ve got an opinion on knives!  I’ll remember that.”

   Fingers twitched to cross Demiurge’s chest, urged by the instinct to form a bow.  But instead, he smiled and smoothed his jacket.  “I’m honored you’d consider it worth remembering.”

   Burn stared at him for a moment, smirk growing.  “Next area is our artists’ booths,” he said, grazing past the suited man to move into the next room.

   Each artist Demiurge was introduced to had their own style displayed in their particular area.  A wide variety of specialties were boasted between the six, and Burn had allowed them free range to decorate their space as they pleased.  The clash was stark and obvious, and as the owner Burn seemed to take pride in the allowance, stating that most would have a much stricter style code for their shop.  He obviously didn’t approve of some of the stylistic senses present, but waved it away, stating that the results and the loyalty of the artist were what mattered in the end.

  The next area took the space situated behind the lobby, and Demiurge noted that moving to the right rather than the left of the desk would have led them down a hall to here.  It had a few tables and chairs for artist-to-client conversation, and a separate divided room housed a place for employee meals and relaxation.  The walls were red, but quite apparently meant as canvases for the artists to desecrate as the mood struck.  There was even a dent in one, around which a broken skull had been painted, colors dripping from the fractured bone.  After an offering for a cup of coffee and a polite refusal, they moved on.

  Last came Burn’s own workstation in a private room.  The tattoo chair and a rolling table were on the far end and a cabinet and sink were built into the wall close by.  Another light fixture of neon and gold drops decorated the ceiling, with complementary lights set around.  Near the door, a drawing desk and small consulting area were spread comfortably, it’s style echoing of the waiting room with a brighter-lit ambiance for better work.  Over the desk was a shelf on which sat a few objects of interest:  A plague doctor’s mask, spiked and engraved silver knuckles, a statue of a six-armed figure, and a set of gilded horns, flanked on each side by an urn.  They all rang of sentimental significance and pride.  Each item struck a tone of deja vu into his bones.  They felt more significant than this ignorant world could ever value them for.

   Painted on the wall above these items, however, was something that caused Demiurge to require a moment to catch his breath.

   A silhouette in black graced the wall.  It was in the shape of the head of a goat, fixed eye staring brazenly toward the viewer, spikes in a row at the neck underneath a horn.  The lines were sharp and sure, flecks of cinder floating from the edges as though it had been freshly burned into the paint.  And it loomed over Demiurge like the phantom of a god.

   “See something of interest?” Burn hummed.

   “The crest.  It’s quite an… inspired piece,” Demiurge murmured, eyes not leaving the image.  He filled his lungs slowly against the pounding in his chest.

   “Ha!  You think so?  Inspired is an appropriate word.  It came to me after a few nights of insomnia, and it feels like every time I close my eyes since, it’s there… seared into me like a brand.”  He strode next to Demiurge, looking up at the wall.  “So, I made it my brand.  When something’s mine, this is how I mark my claim.  With the mark that claimed me first.”

   “Hmm.”  Demiurge pulled his head away, but the haze of it remained, much as Burn had described.  Seared like a brand behind his eyes.  The image of his maker, somehow present and undistorted in this world.  Like a sign from beyond.  “I hope you have ample opportunity to use such an omened symbol.”

   “I have,” he stated, as though it should have been obvious.  “I’ve used it around.  It’s on the side of the building, in the alley, for example.  But, admittedly, I’ve got other hopes for it.”  He stepped directly in front of Demiurge, taking a seat in the rolling chair at the desk and angling almost sideways as he crossed his legs.  He gestured to the antiqued black leather chair close to it, and Demiurge took a seat as well.  “So,” he began, “You got any tattoos?”

   A huff of a laugh.  “There has never been an occasion in which I’ve found myself desiring the pleasure.”

   Burn raised an eyebrow.  “You got problems with tattoos?  Because if so—”

   “Certainly not, forgive the implication.”  Demiurge held up a gloved hand in apology.  “I’m quite honest in saying a proper situation has simply never risen.”

   Burn looked the man in the red suit up and down as though once again making a silent judgment.  Demiurge smiled and cocked his head, trying to seem uninterested in the outcome.  He wondered if he was truly trying his best.

   A minute passed as they held each other’s gaze.  Finally, Burn broke into a grin.  He held out his hand to accept the stapled proposal Demiurge still held in a black file.

   “Pah!  Well.  Maybe if you’re lucky, I can convince you to fix that travesty.”  He began leafing through the papers, stopping at intervals that seemed to be random.  He wasn’t watching the words.  “…There is something about you, Demiurge,” he murmured.  “Something I can’t quite pin down.  But.  Don’t worry.  I will.”

   He glanced back down at the last page of the thin packet, dropping it on the table between them and reaching back to his desk to select a pen.  Demiurge took the small moment free of observation to flex his shaking fingers.  “Now, then.  I’ve got a few conditions I’d like to add to this agreement…”


 

 

Chapter Text

🔥 𝑅𝑒𝒶𝓁 𝓁𝒾𝒻𝑒 𝑜𝓃 𝓉𝒽𝑒 𝓈𝑒𝓋𝑒𝓃𝓉𝒽 𝒻𝓁𝑜𝑜𝓇 🔥

𝒞𝒽𝒶𝓅𝓉𝑒𝓇 𝒻𝑜𝓇𝓉𝓎


 

   Bazaar Peak was a name not well known to the average person.  The company dealt with sub-companies and alternate names by means of so many legal loopholes, you didn’t understand how anyone could keep track of it.  Nevertheless, it was known to the circle of people that mattered, with a reputation for getting what they wanted and getting it done right.  It was a shadow over the business world, a paragon to some, and a boogie-man to others.

   Your job was interesting with this in mind.  It was honestly a bit superfluous; the legal department already knew exactly where they stood and what they could get away with while keeping their spotless reputation.  But your job wasn’t about helping Bazaar Peak look better.  It was about helping them to be better.

   Those efforts apparently started an interesting domino effect.  Your suggestion to increase charitable donations had been helpful in creating legitimate connections that made competitors uneasy as to what the company might be planning, and in turn increased their own charitable output to compete.  In the meantime, from the sudden rush of non-profit capacity, the general attitude of the economy had become more optimistic, and certain stocks Bazaar Peak had invested in shot up in value.  When that was reported in a meeting and Ivan applauded you on your wise foresight in front of the other executives, you blushed and sunk in your seat, mumbling something about good bringing good in turn.

   You’d had one or two people start up a conversation with you in the break room a few times after that, and it made you wonder when the other technical part of your job would come into play: the “accountability” part.  You were pretty sure that the weird additional clause in your NDA had been gossiped around the office, and now that you had a little reputation of competency, more people were trying to figure out just who you were and if you could really be trusted with their secrets for advice.  It was a bit nerve-wracking, honestly.  But no one had slipped into your office to confess they’d murdered a man yet, so you hoped that part of your work would continue to be directed to the company lawyers if the need ever arose.

   Luna snickered when you mentioned that worry.  “Heeeey,” she said, twisting slightly in the swivel chair she stood on, “does that mean you legally can’t tell anyone about these pranks?”

   “If you fall and break something, I am one-hundred percent telling the paramedics you were trying to set up a trap in the cabinets to launch a barrage of fake bugs at a coworker.”

   “Hey, these are ants.  Not just bugs!  I put thought into my pranks.”

   You looked up from the hole you were sewing shut in an old throw pillow.  “Suuure.  You didn’t just see a bag of them at the corner store and grab it on a whim?”

   She shrugged, snapping a rubber band into place.  “I thought about it and bought it.  What more is there to it?”

   You watched the chair under her feet carefully to make sure it didn’t shift too much.  You’d already narrowly saved her phone from getting run over by setting it on the table rather than on the floor in the path of the chair where she’d left it, and you felt a similar matronly pull to stay aware as the seat tilted under her, even though you knew she was more than athletic enough to balance just fine.  You looped in another stitch with a small glance down.  “Did you know Selena from legal thinks this couch is too low to the ground?  She grabs this pillow to sit on for a little extra height, so she can sit straighter.  It’s always this one, probably because it’s the firmest out of all of them.”

   Luna carefully closed the cabinet door while she slipped her hand away from the spring-loaded contraption within, then shot you a sly smirk.  “Oh that’s what you did with the whoopie cushion, huh?  Well did you know that every day, Michael from marketing comes in after lunch and grabs a thing of soda?  Or that Silica brought this chair in here because she likes being able to roll from the table to the fridge while she eats?”  She hopped down easily and sauntered over, pulling a foghorn, a pack of mentos, and a roll of duct tape from the bag beside you on the couch, smirk growing into an evil grin.  You snickered, lifting your eyebrows.

   “Ok,” you said, tying off your thread and setting the pillow in its place.  “I’ll admit, that’s some impressive thought put in.”

   “You bet’cher butt it is!”  She let out a contented sigh as she ripped off a length of tape from the roll.  “Y’know, teaming up like this has been on my bucket list for a while.  From like, the moment I realized I wasn’t the only prankster in the office!  And man, it’s as fun as I’d hoped.  You are an evil genius.”

   You stood back, making sure the pillow looked benign enough among the rest and snickered at her happiness.  “Oh, I dunno about that.  I’m just a bit sneakier than your style.  I gotta admit, this is pretty fun to do together, though.  We should do it again sometime, d’you think?”

   She didn’t reply.  You looked over just in time to see her turn away and start working on the rolly chair.  You decided she must have just thought the question was hypothetical, because she still seemed to be in the same joyful mood.  As though in proof, she grinned at you as you handed her another strip of tape to complete the job; she’d been very obviously struggling with the small bit she'd hurriedly begun with.

   Five minutes later, you both walked out of the break room and headed back to the central area, the bag on Luna’s shoulder much lighter than it had been an hour ago.  “You sure you don’t want help with this one?” she asked, handing you a few supplies.

   “N-no, it’s all good, I got it!”  You checked the time.  “They’ve only got like ten minutes left in their meeting, so if we’re gonna do them both, we really should split up.”

   “Truuue…”  She frowned, then shrugged it off.  “Well, do me a favor and make sure this one’s on there good.”  She handed you one last sticker and winked, skipping as she disappeared into Alanna’s office.

   You sighed in relief.  Yeah, you’d be missing the whole point of your real job here if you let Luna riffle through Ivan’s office.

   Trying to act natural, you walked in and closed the door quietly behind you.  There was a lot of material Luna had given you, and not enough time to do it all.  Let’s see… bubble wrap to put under his chair mat, that could be fun… confetti poppers to go in desk drawers, mmmm, probably shouldn’t draw attention to the contents of his drawers in case anyone else was in the room, but you sure had another good idea for them… fake keys for his keyboard?  Cute, but that could get annoying when you played pc games together… And you definitely didn’t have time to fill all these paper cups with water to set across the floor.  The fake mustache, though… you had no idea what Luna had planned for that, but you had an idea of your own.  Scribbling a quick note and hiding it with the false facial hair, you giggled.

   A few more items were approved or dismissed before your setup was complete.  Carefully, you slipped the door shut behind you, making sure the last of your tricky contraptions stuck into place as you did.  Just in time; Luna was exiting as well, and a commotion coming from the direction of the conference room signaled that it was time to get scarce.  You jogged over as she signaled you to follow her retreat.

   “Ohhh this is gonna be good,” she snickered, pausing at a corner and peeking back around to check the semi-discrete view of Alanna’s door.  She dug a hand into her pocket.  “I gotta get a video of this, I wanna remember this forev— crap! ”  She slapped at her hips for a moment, and then it seemed to dawn on her the same time it did you.

   Her phone wasn’t here.  It was back on the table.  In the breakroom.

   She grabbed your shoulders.  “Mira.  Mira you have to go back and get it for me.”

   “Wh-what?!”  You blanched, thinking of the look on Selena’s face as you walked into the room and took the abandoned device, proving you had been present minutes before the chaos of your pranks had erupted.  “It’s your phone, Luna!  You’re sneaky enough, you can get in and out no problem!”

   “Look.  Yes, I’m pretty amazing.  But if I do get caught?  Selena’s gonna get on my case and it’s gonna take forever and I’m gonna miss this whole beautiful thing!  You, on the other hand, can totally absolutely get away with it.  Pleeeease, please I’m begging, c’mon.”

   Man, those puppy-dog eyes were hard to resist.  And, it was you who put the phone on the table...

   You groaned.  “Ugh… ok, alright fine, I’ll try!  But you owe me one!”

   She threw her hands up in the air with a muted victory cheer and agreed.  You mumbled as you hurried back down the hall.

   Ok, you could do this.  You tried to hype yourself up.  You could manage this!  No problem, just slip in like it was no big deal, so that no one saw you, and…  Ugh, who were you kidding, you were without question gonna get caught.  And then, your facade as the kind of person who didn’t pull pranks would be forever tarnished.  You’d never get away with so much as a knock knock joke again!  The moment they saw you pick up the phone, you’d be connected in their minds to the subject of pranks forever.

   Oh… oh, but wait.  What if they didn’t see you pick it up?  What if they couldn’t see you at all?

   You halted and checked to see if anyone was watching, then ducked into an empty conference room.  You did have magic, after all.  Why not put it to use?

   Your camouflage spell wouldn’t be enough for this, though.  And anything showy would raise questions…  You took in a deep breath and used the pressure of your lungs to force the nervousness from your chest, making room for a tinge of excitement.  You felt the endorphins send a ripple across that more ethereal portion of your mind.

   It was time for a field test of Invisibility.

 


 

   A yell rang out as a hiss escaped the bottle, followed by a burst of foam spraying across the table.  There were more yells as Michael vainly tried to cover the soda’s opening with his hands.  The bubbling fizz poured between his fingers, only shooting farther as he tried to keep it contained.

   “Aaahh!  How many traps are in this room?!” Silica said after squealing as a barrage of plastic bugs launched at her from the cupboard that held the napkins.  She glanced with a sigh of betrayal over at the rolly chair, duct taped foghorn removed from beneath it and sitting innocently on the seat.  Her hat still sat rather crooked from the fright.

   Selena came over to help, abandoning the pillow she had just arranged with a roll of her eyes and picking things away from the spreading mess on the table surface.  “Honestly, if you two could handle your own crises, just for a few minutes.  My break will be over before I even get a chance to sit down!”  She shuffled a few things into one arm and took some napkins from the generous pile Silica offered, damming up the edges of the puddle while Michael mumbled his thanks.  They contained the spill, then she began handing the gathered items back out.

   One almost slipped from her grasp, and she darted out her other hand to catch it.  “This phone got a bit wet, who’s—”

   She spotted the image on the personalized case.

   A red-head held her fingers up in a peace sign, cartoon dog ears accompanying the words “howl at dat moon-moon” as a disco ball hung overhead, reflecting the faded image of a wolf.

   Selena’s eyes narrowed.  “Luna.”

   The two others looked at her.  “Is that the girl who runs as a messenger sometimes?”

   “I should have known; she’s always loved causing mischief,” she spat, shaking soda foam from the device.

   “Oh!  You know her?”  Silica was typically hard to read, but her tone raised with the intrigue of a rare glimpse into her coworker’s personal life.

   “Several of us once got swept into helping a mutual friend with a pop-up maid cafe, and ever since we all meet up for tea each month or so,” she said blandly, glaring at the grinning image.

   Michael suddenly seemed interested in the conversation, pausing in dabbing at his soda-soaked shirt.  “Isn’t she friends with Mira?  Do you know her much?  I noticed them palling around a bit today.”

   Selena gave a little huff, as though she’d been reminded of a personal joke.  “Yes, they’re friends, from what I understand.  And I know a few things about Mira.  She is… an unusual case.  A strange job arrangement, a wide variety of acquaintances, and then there’s that impression of loveable innocence.  But, there’s something… peculiar about her.”

   “Aw, c’mon, that girl is all sunshine and rainbows.”  Michael scoffed, returning to dabbing the stain.  “She’s a nonpartisan third party to recommend charities, it’s not like she’s a corporate spy.”

   “I like her,” Silica agreed.  “She always compliments my hat when she sees me.”  She smiled slightly and straightened the dark pink beret.

   “Well.  That might all be true.  But she’s more consequential than she lets on, at the very least.  I’ll say this, getting into her good favors is probably a smart move not just career-wise, but for social survival as well.”

   Michael tossed his wad of napkins to the trash can, narrowly missing.  He stood and picked it up, lining up a second attempt.  “So, what you’re saying is, it would really be in my best interest to ask her out for a drink, yeah?”

   “What?! ”  The shot flew wildly off course as he jumped at the double outburst from the two women.  He turned to see Silica’s hat was yet again crooked and Selena’s eyebrows were raised high.

   “You’re joking, right?” Selena demanded.  “Have you not met Demiurge?  Even seen him at a distance?!”

   “…Who’s Demiurge?”

   The blonde pinched her nose and sighed deeply.  “I swear, someday I’m going to lock you in a basement for your own good and take the promotion you so clearly don’t deserve, Michael.”

   “It probably would be for your own good at that point,” Silica agreed.

   “Wh-what?!  What do you—  Who’s Demiurge?”

   Selena tossed the phone down on the couch, straightening her skirt as she took a seat.  “Let’s just say, he’s obviously quite protective of her.  And to cross Demiurge, you’d have to be either stupid, reckless, or—”

    PFFFFFFFFFFFFFFT

   “...”

   “LUNA!!!”

 


 

   There was a jab at her side, and Luna jumped as her phone was shoved into her hands.  “You owe me big time,” you said, settling in next to her to stare as Alanna and Ivan chatted just outside her office door.

   “Geez, where did you come from— and why’s your face all red?”  Luna’s voice switched gears as she noticed the embarrassment in your cheeks.

   “Were you gonna record this or not?” you countered, blushing even harder.  She grinned and held up her phone.

   Alanna laughed a bit too hard at something Ivan said, and he tried to smoothly jab a thumb over his shoulder.  She nodded as he turned to walk away, and she took hold of her door handle… and froze for about ten seconds, looking in through the small crack.  Then carefully, she slipped inside and shut the door.

   You furrowed your eyebrows together.  “Um… what are we waiting for?  Did it not work?”

   Luna just grinned and continued recording.  “Give it a minute.  It might take a bit to set in.”

   You leaned over further, thinking maybe there was something you were missing.  Just what had Luna gotten up to in that room?  Her bag had seemed almost empty when she went in.  What could she have—

   Alanna snapped open her door, checked left and right, smiled wickedly, and then slammed it shut again.

   Luna verbally keysmashed.  “Ohhhhohoho wow this is so much better than I could have imagined,” she cackled, “No way!!  This is amazing!!”

   You opened your mouth to ask what in the world that meant, but a voice you recognized beat you to it.

   “Hm?  What’s so ‘amazing’?”

    Shoot.

   You whipped around to face the speaker, slapping Luna’s hands away from you as she in turn slapped yours away from her camera.  She quickly complied to your panicked insistence, though, when she also realized you were caught.   And, who you’d been caught by.

   Ivan raised an eyebrow at you.

   Luna ducked the phone into a pocket and spread her arms out.  “Mr. Angah!  Heyyyyy sir, what’s up, I— we thought you’d be in your office by now!  After that big meeting, with— Hey!  Hey, maybe you should see if Alanna—”

   “Are you leaving?” you interrupted, suddenly noticing all that he was carrying.  He had a briefcase in one hand, and his coat draped over the other arm.  “I thought it was Fridays that you’ve been going home early lately.”

   “Ah… yes,” he stumbled, “Well— I received word that my typical Friday appointment has been asked to provide…  ah, consultation on a project this evening!  I have agreed to lend my expertise.”

   Your eyes widened.  “Oh!  Oh, that’s great!  Well, then good luck with that, uh… knock ‘em dead!”

   “At the risk of sounding pretentious… I always do.”  He grinned, hanging a hand over his lapel.

   Luna looked at you as he walked towards the elevator, but you ignored her.  There was no way you were going to tell her you’d convinced Ivan to try an online D&D group, and that he’d fallen a bit in love with it.  Or that his necromancer character was already at level eight.  Or that he was apparently getting requests to aid other groups in their adventures.

   Instead you shoved aside your disappointment that he wouldn’t be stumbling into your pranks, and nodded back at Alanna’s office.  “Ok, what exactly did you do?  What is going on in there?”

   Luna fished her phone back out from her pocket and snickered, immediately dismissing the out-of-place interruption in favor of a prideful smirk.  “How about we go see?”  And with that, she dashed across the hallway.  Whipping your head left and right much like you’d just seen Alanna do, you hissed Luna’s name as you hopped after her.

   The red-head reopened her camera app, lining up the lens to a pinhole in the blinds behind the glass and angling around to find the tall woman.  Your jaw dropped.

   Every picture in the room had been replaced.  The walls had been plastered in printouts.  An extension must have even been added to the computer browser to replace every jpeg with an image of the same person.  And in the corner, rolled out down the wall, was a life-sized poster… of Ivan.

   You cranked your neck to angle the look of utter shock on your face from the phone screen to Luna.  She beamed smugly back.

   On screen, Alanna leaned next to the poster, a giddy expression on her face as she acted out some sort of cheesy drama you couldn’t hear, inching her hand closer and closer to the one on paper.  The phone started shaking.

   “Luna, no,” you barely whispered, “hold it together!!”

   “I c-can’t, oh my—holy crap, sh-she’s—”  Luna’s giggling became audible, and the phone shook enough that you lost sight of the room as you started shushing her, trying not to catch her contagious laughter as you scolded through your disbelief.

   A door burst open.

   This time, Luna didn’t need your swatting hand to convince her to drop the phone.

   Alanna’s eyes were wide as she peered out from the crack in the door, lips pursed tight and knuckles white on the door handle.

   You gulped.

   Her eyes darted wildly between the two of you, but before she could decide exactly how she was going to destroy you both from the face of the planet, you put your hands out.

   “It’s good to see you, Alanna!  H-hey, this is—completely just, like out of the blue, but um—you uh, remember how I signed that NDA?  Yeah, there’s no need to remind you or anything, but, just thought I’d bring up how I would never share anything that I was asked not to share.  Or, uh, that it was implied I shouldn’t share.  Would keep that stuff in confidence, no worries about that at all.”

   The almost-gold amber eyes narrowed at you as you sweat bullets, then shifted.

   “Luna?”

   “Yep,” she reassured, “I am one-hundo-percent signing the exact same thing in my brain like right now.  That’s me an’ Mira, never sharing anything that may or may not have just happened in that room involving a printouOOF—”

   You elbowed Luna in the side and smiled at Alanna.  “You have our word.”

   She calculated for another moment.

   “Sign an actual one before you’re gone,” she allowed, and you both nodded.  She glanced down the hall, then added one last order.  “And you’re not getting any of these back.”

   It was everything you could do to keep a straight face as you and Luna beelined back to your office.  You opened the door and stepped aside to let her enter, then gently shut it behind you.

   You peeked over at Luna just as she side-glanced to you.

   The laughter that erupted from you both shook the walls.  All the tension from the interaction combined with the thrill of your successful tricks came flooding around you, and you were swept up in the current.  “Ohh my god,” Luna wheezed, “I thought we were goners.”

   “I cannot believe you did that!” you gasped.  “Really?!  All over her office?  Are you nuts?!  And then we got caught and— I’m seriously impressed we’re still alive.  We should be dead, by all accounts.”

   “Yeah, but then you saved our butts with that NDA thing, that was brilliant.  And also with distracting Angah!  Still not quite sure how you pulled that off.”  She collapsed against the wall with the last of her laughs, and you slid down to lay your back against the leg of your desk close by.  “But really,” she said, your giggles fading as well, “It was honestly impressive.  You’re always capable of so much more than you think you are.”

   You looked over as her tone subdued with the honest compliment.  She was looking back, that cheesy look that was classic Luna settling to a contented smile as her eyes caught yours.

   You’d known each other quite a while now, hadn’t you?  Somehow, through all of the crazy turns life had thrown at you, moving to a new city, working a boring job, having an irritable boss, a demon appearing in your apartment, getting thrown into a new job, all the emotional and mental turmoil—the chaos of your every day, really—somehow, Luna had stayed close.  Somehow, she’d been there for you through it all.  Despite the fact that you both were so different, despite the fact that your lives got busy, despite how many times you’d grumbled at her… she’d been a constant.  She’d stayed your friend without question.

   And she mattered to you.  Really mattered to you.  It almost felt like how the others mattered, all those you’d felt a quick connection to that aligned with something deeper, like Cole and Charlotte and Mar and Rorie… but, there was more to it than that.  She’d been there with you through so much, and always made you laugh when you desperately needed to forget your worries.

   She’d always been your friend, from the moment you met.

   “...Luna… you—”

   Her eyes pulled away from yours.  She cleared her throat and a goofy grin plastered over her face.

   “So!” she said, cutting you off.  “I’m moving.”

   A silence cracked through the room.

   You felt like a stone had dropped over your head.

   She tucked her hands behind her neck, ankles crossing as she lazily stretched out.

   You struggled to find air.

   “You’re… you’re moving?  To—what, a different apartment, d-do you need help?…”

   “This city over on the coast,” she replied.  “Across the country.  Found a gig there, and I start tomorrow!  It’s pretty freakin’ dope, I’ll be scouting people to put on reality shows.  Allllll the craziest crazies of humanity, and I get to gather ‘em and watch the chaos ensue!”  She snickered.  She still wasn’t looking at you.  “And get this, McTaco’s headquarters is right there!  It’s the dream locale with the dream job~” she cooed.

   You… couldn’t think of how to reply.  Everything that came to mind felt like it would be more than what you should say.  But also… also like it wouldn’t be nearly enough.

   It was quiet.  You took a breath.  Then another.  Then heard a singular word echo as it was put to use.

   “...Why?”

   She didn’t reply immediately.  Her foot tapped lightly, gaze taking in the bland room as the sun streamed through the window, it’s apex long gone and the downward arc to the inevitable horizon marked clear by the angle of shadows.  Her face didn’t change as she took in everything but you.

   “Y’know, you’ve found a pretty great guy in Demiurge.  But, promise me you’ll stop selling yourself so short.”

   You realized her eyes were softer somehow.  They had gained a glow you didn’t often see in them, usually clouded behind the overwhelming energy she wore.  Or, maybe you were envisioning that, and it was just the light.

   Either way, they at last reconnected with yours, staring deeply as though she were adding you to the scene she’d just committed to memory.  “Make sure he deserves you, ok?”

   Her arms flung out from behind her, pressing in a wide motion against the floor as she sprung to her feet with a grunt of effort.  “Wwwwwell!  I got an NDA to sign and a plane to catch!  It’s been fun, this was a pretty epic prank day with the whole fearing for our mortal lives bit at the end!  Great way to wrap it up.”  She was reaching for the door.

   You scrambled to your feet.  “L-Luna— I—”

   She wasn’t looking at you again, smile back across her mouth.  “Take care of yourself, Mira.”

   And somehow, you just… stood there.  Watched, as the door swung and clicked shut.

   She was gone.

   Just like that, just that simple… and she was gone.

   You stood in your hollow office, ebbing one breath at a time into your lungs, overcome by an anxiety you couldn’t place for the second time that day.

   She’d just told you that you meant something to her, that you did in fact have a real value in her mind.  Right?  That was what she’d done, right?  And regardless of that, she’d left.  Even with all that... she’d still left?  But… you’d cared about her, she’d cared about you, and—

   “Well, goodbye to Yggdrasil forever, I guess!  You guys have fun without me!”

   What— why were you remembering saying goodbye to Bukubukuchagama?

   You felt your eyes darken as they were overtaken with the image of her form vanishing in a final burst of light.  The emptiness that had controlled the space she’d been.

   You saw the same happen with guildmate after guildmate, the same trace of an afterthought in their farewell to you, if a farewell was to be found at all.

   You saw Marcus, reassuring you that this was fine, that he cared about you.  Kissing someone else yet again.

   Ivan, briefcase in hand, proudly telling you that he had been asked to assist in a game that didn’t involve you, in a hobby you weren’t a part of.

   Demiurge, rolling up his sleeves as he went to work on preparing a plan to assist—

   What was going on?  What were you thinking?!  None of this made sense, none of these thoughts had any connection, what did any of this have to do with—

   Your legs felt shook, and you walked your hands across the desk, dropping into your seat as you reached it.  Your vision continued to fade in and out, memories darting before it till at last you found focus on what loomed in front of you.

   The mound of paperwork, still right where you’d left it.  Unfinished, unnecessary, irrelevant.  In the end, no one other than Alanna would ever even know you’d done it.  And likely, no one would have any reason to care.  Your eyes started to sting.

   You grabbed the entire stack, shoving it against your chest with one hand while the other fumbled for the upsidedown wastebasket Luna had sat on before.  Trembling, you righted the base to the ground with a slam, jamming your hand back under the stack as you shoved the mass out over the wire mesh.

  It hung there, ready to fill the basket and end the pointless task you had earned yourself.  Your fingers gripped it tight.  You could hear your heartbeat pound in your ears.

   With a measure of pain, you moved the stack back to the desktop and gently set it down.  Dragging in a wavering breath and releasing it with a staccato sigh, you reached for a pen.  You had a lot of work still to do, despite everything else.

   And you should, at the very least, make sure you were helpful.




Chapter Text

🔥 𝑅𝑒𝒶𝓁 𝓁𝒾𝒻𝑒 𝑜𝓃 𝓉𝒽𝑒 𝓈𝑒𝓋𝑒𝓃𝓉𝒽 𝒻𝓁𝑜𝑜𝓇 🔥

𝒞𝒽𝒶𝓅𝓉𝑒𝓇 𝒻𝑜𝓇𝓉𝓎 𝑜𝓃𝑒


 

   The drink was heavy, with a stench that unfortunately complemented the rest of the dingy bar.  Demiurge didn’t have to taste it to know; one look and he understood just what sort of flavor scraped the edges of the glass.  The dark, grainy syrup took him to reminisce on the swampy grounds surrounding Nazarick, and as he watched it bubble, he was quite convinced that the latter would have made for a more satisfactory drink than the putrid lager.

   He drank it anyway.

   Laughter and cheers erupted around him as he dropped the empty glass to the table, the artists of Hoof & Horn roaring at having gotten the well-dressed man to drink the worst beer any of them had ever tried.  Burn was cackling as well and slapped a hand to Demiurge’s back.

   “Jalapenos on those nachos, Bradley!” he hollered, as one of the artists stood, pretending to be upset as he went to place the order.  “I told these kids I could get you to drink a Skunk’s Pit within five minutes of walking in, just by asking nicely.  Not one of them believed me, and Bradley was dumb enough to put money down on it!”   Bradley shot back a friendly middle finger, sending Burn into a fit of laughs again.  “They all thought you were too much of a stick in the mud to have a bit of fun.  Or too stuck up to accept a shitty offering.”

   “I can’t help but wish that assessment were a bit more true at the moment,” Demiurge returned, lip still curled from the taste over his smile at the camaraderie of the table.  “I suppose I haven’t shown much else besides formality in my visits up to this point, so I can’t very well blame them for the impression.  While I do find pleasure in the business we’ve conducted, I typically try to keep personal enjoyments separate from work.”

   Burn tugged on his jacket, straightening the black leather over his shoulders.  “Pah!  With this sort of business?  That’s not much of an option, even less so when you’re working with me.  But we’re not here to get into those details, you’ve brought me something to sign, haven’t you?”

   “Of course.”  Demiurge waved at a waitress and asked for a whiskey to muddle the taste festering on his tongue, then turned back to Burn.  “I’ve implemented the changes agreed upon; all that is needed is your signature to show an understanding has been met.”

   “Y’know,” Burn said, watching as Demiurge raised a stack of papers from the case at his side, “these days people tend to just pdf this sort of thing.”

   Demiurge pulled a pen from his jacket.  “While I indeed have the resources to ensure the confidentiality of such a transaction, I believe we are both aware as to the reasoning behind the old-fashioned modality.  Besides,” he added, offering the pen and contract, “was it not explicitly stated that you would prefer our exchanges be made in person?”

   Burn smirked and accepted the items, flipping through the contract much like he had the first draft.  And the second.  This was, in fact, the third revision Demiurge had presented, and he was determined that this meeting would result in a signature at last.  He was aware of the game being played; the power moves, the show of authority, the testing of boundaries.  Burn was determining just how much Demiurge could be pushed.  And in return, Demiurge was proving just persistent he could be.

   “So?  Where is it this time?” Burn asked, flicking the pen between his fingers.  “Did you slip a loophole into an addendum?  Or is there a new trick set in the fine print?”

   “That would take the fun out of it, wouldn’t it?  Simply telling you where a catch might exist?”  He noticed as the tilt of his head caused his glasses to catch the light, the reflection flashing across Burn’s face.  The man stared back, seemingly making a decision.  He flipped to the end, checking a sentence or two, before setting the whole thing back down on the table.

   “Ivy,” he called out, “I owe you a game, don’t I?”

   The young woman from across the table jumped as her name was said, but shrugged through a grin at the invitation.  “Yeah, you sure do.  I need ta kick yer ass again.”

   Demiurge frowned as Burn put the pen over the papers.  “I’ve got a personal rule about contracts; I hate signin’ em.  So I only sign when I’m drunk.  But if I try to show Ivy how it’s done when I’m seeing double, that’s not gonna go so great for me!  So how bout you stick around till I’m in a position to get you that signature, eh?”

   “I promise not to leave without it,” Demiurge replied.

   A few minutes later, several artists had gathered around the pool table, haggling each other while occasionally getting scolded out of the line of play by Burn and Ivy.  Demiurge sat on the sidelines, the rest of the group still at the table as well, finishing their drinks and enjoying conversation.

   “I think it’ll take two hours this time,” one of them said.

   “You kidding?  If he wins against Ivy, he’s goin’ all night again, you watch.  He’s been talking about beating the whole team for days.  I’d bet he—”

   “Pardon.  Did I hear you say all night?”

   The two seemed startled to be interrupted by Demiurge, exchanging a wary glance as they turned to see his raised eyebrow.

   “Yeah,” the second affirmed, “it’s a company tournament.  We do it every time we come here, and eighty percent of the time it’s either Burn or Ivy that ends up the champ.  Why?  You want in?”

   Demiurge didn’t answer,  setting down his drink as he scrutinized the man in the leather jacket lining up his next shot.  Burn glanced up, catching his eye.  He grinned before sinking the eight ball in a corner pocket. The group burst into cheers as Burn declared his victory, and someone erased Ivy’s name off the chalkboard on the wall to replace it with another.

   The chalk was suddenly removed from their hand, and Demiurge was writing his own name.  The cheers turned to amused interest.

   “You neglected to tell me how long I’d be waiting for that signature,” he said, dusting the chalk residue from between two fingers and folding his hands behind his back.  “I would like to fill whatever time remains with a bit of entertainment.”

   Burn leaned against the table, skepticism plain in his posture.  “You play pool?”

   “Never a game in my life.”  Demiurge’s expression didn’t change.

   “Aw, let ‘im play, Burn,” Ivy said, walking over and offering her cue stick.  “It’s an open tourney, isn’t it?  If he wants to get his fancy-schmancy butt whooped, who are we to stop him?”

   Demiurge let a huff escape through his smirk as he accepted the tool.  “An appreciated vote of approval, if a bit misled, Miss Ivy.”

   Burn glanced over, then took to examining his own cue stick.  “Well, it shouldn’t take too long at least.  Challenger racks the balls?”

   Helpful hands around the table started pulling together a starting point for the newbie, placing the wooden triangle on the felt and adding object balls to it in formation.  Demiurge nodded politely as Bradley demonstrated how to make sure they were correctly racked, smiled as Ivy modeled an open versus closed bridge.  Once everyone was satisfied, the triangle was removed and Burn took aim to break.

   He looked down the cue, testing the swing, and a chuckle rose from his chest.  Ivy groaned and covered her face.  Bradley threw up his hands.

   “Are you— Now?  This game?!”

   Demiurge looked at the collection of eye rolls and snickers from the spectators and raised an eyebrow to Ivy.

   “He does this sometimes,” she explained, shaking her head.  “I have no clue how he does it.”

   “I told you, Ivy, I beat a champ once and ever since, I’ve had the magic touch.  I’d love to teach you how to play, Demiurge,” he cooed, “But I have a tournament to win.  My apologies;  this game’s gonna end for you as a grand catastrophe.”

   The cue struck it’s mark, and in a cascade of cracks, color shot across the table.

   One, two, three— five— eight—

   Eight.

   Eight balls sunk.  One stripe, seven solids.  The crowd exploded again with a variety of emotions, some hollering while shaking their friends, others downing their entire drink with a sigh.

   “Really, Burn?” Ivy laughed.  “A cheap shot like that against a newbie??”

   The roar began to settle down, and Burn raised his hands in return.  “You’re right, you’re right,” he submitted, “I can’t control the magic, but I am willing to be benevolent about it’s outcome.  How bout you take a turn before I clear the table, Demiurge?  And hey; I’ll let you decide what group you’d like to go for.  You wanna be stripes, or solids?”

   A few laughs, and Demiurge placed his hand on his chest.  “How generous!  After such a play, allowing me an opportunity to try my hand is indeed benevolent.  And I wouldn't dare claim your hard work as my own; I will of course aim for stripes.  But I must ask; are you sure you would allow me to usurp the remainder of your turn for a bit of beginner’s experience?”

   “Please,” he said, gliding an arm through the air to offer up the table.  “Be my guest.”

   “My thanks.”

   Demiurge  picked up the square of chalk Burn had set down, prepared his cue, and stared at the table for a solid ten seconds.  Chuckles filled the air around him.

   “Let me show you how to form a bridge—” Ivy suggested, but Demiurge raised a hand.

   “I have been watching,” he assured her.  “And have already learned at a distance the techniques you each have employed.  But thank you for the generous offer.  Now then, to clarify.  If I win...”  He paused as he turned to Burn, allowing for the increased chuckles from the spectators to diminish, “...I take control of the table, and you are out of the running.”

   Burn huffed, a wide smile on his face.  “If you win, you move on to the next game and I have to sit and eat those nachos Bradley bought me.”

   “Along with a few drinks of course, so as to be in a state to sign.”

   “You’re pretty determined, huh?  Alright,” he chuckled, “I’m willing to up the stakes, if you really want to do that.  You win, I sign tonight, no questions asked, no more delays.  But if I win?”  Burn looked the devil up and down.  “You’re getting your first tattoo from me.”

   Demiurge cocked his head.  Then he smiled.  “Very well.”

   Leaning at the waist, he squared up his right arm and placed the end of the stick over the back of his other glove.  His eyes left his target, and shifted to Burn.

    CRACK

   The movement was so quick, it took the crowd a moment to realize it had happened.  The cue ball shot across the table, smacking into object ball after object ball, some with hardly a graze while others went ricocheting in opposite directions.  Everything seemed to be caught in a ripple of motion that spilled across the table, and one by one…

   A purple stripe crashed into a corner pocket.

   A fourteen slid down a rail to a side pocket with a spin.

   Nine, thirteen, and a red blur bounced from one another to enter two corners and fill another side.

   And, at last, rolling with a nonchalance, the blue striped ten ball fell into the corner pocket over which Burn stood, slowly enough that he watched every inch.

   The bar was silent.

   Then it erupted.  Bradley was screaming tell me somebody recorded that as Ivy gaped at the table, leaning on it as though she needed to be certain it was really there.

   Demiurge took three steps to his left, lined up his shot, and sunk the only ball remaining:  The eight ball.  With a smooth tap, it slid forward, and dropped into the opposite pocket.

   Straightening his suit coat, Demiurge stood up.  An arm crossed his middle.  He inclined his head to the man in the black leather jacket, eyes connected to his in every movement.

   “Thank you for the game,” he purred.  “I hope it was sufficient for both our entertainment.”

   Burn blinked as though coming out of a stupor.  His hand gripped the cue stick at his side a bit tighter as he returned the gaze.

   He grinned.

   “You hustled me.”

   “I didn’t deceive you; this was indeed my first time playing.  I simply had the great fortune of viewing a master at work before I did.”

   Burn tossed his pole to Bradley, who nearly missed it as it flew through the air.  “Yeah, I don’t buy that for a minute, but I’m impressed either way.  Sure taught me a lesson about underestimating you, that’s for sure.  You’re in for a ride, Bradley,” he added, heading back to the table where the contract sat, waiting for his name.  “Ivy, you’re a notary, right?  Come watch me sign this damn thing.”

   Demiurge watched, then turned politely to the bulky man, now holding Burn’s cue stick.  He sighed.  “Well.  I believe challenger racks, correct?”

   It took the man a minute to move enough past his disbelief to prep the table, but soon the wooden triangle was lifted and Demiurge was lining up his shot.  As he pulled the pole back, Burn appeared at his side.  He slapped the contract on the railing, the final page signed and visible on top.

   “Done.  Now then, let’s get going; I’ve got some preliminary sketches back in the office I think you’ll like.”

   Demiurge glanced to the name in ink as he straightened up.  “Sketches?  I believe the terms of our agreement concluded that with my victory, the only required outcome was your signing of the contract.  The terms for your point of interest were not met.”

   Several people around the table with camera phones started complaining about the holdup.  Burn flipped the final page back under the stack and held it up.  “Yeah.  But we both know it was gonna happen eventually anyway.  So don’t keep me waiting; let’s go.”

  A smile crossed Demiurge’s face.  Turning to walk down the side of the table, he reached over and lifted the black eight ball from the center of the rack.  He turned it over in a hand, the sheen of the bar lights reflecting from it.  Then he dropped it into the side pocket.

   “The game is yours,” he said to Bradley, handing his cue to the nearest person.  “Do have a pleasant evening.”

   The crowd of camera phones protested, but Demiurge could not have cared less as he gestured for Burn to lead the way.  He had succeeded in finalizing the agreement.  He had impressed the man who mirrored his creator.  And now, he was following him to divulge in his art.  The devil’s heart thudded in his chest.

   This was turning out to be a tremendous night, indeed.






   “This?  That’s what you want?”  Burn lifted an eyebrow, looking up from the paper to the man across from him.  “What is this, a form of Russian?  Or, Persian, something like that?”

   “It’s an ancestral dialect,” Demiurge smiled from his seat.  “In reference to an old tune.”

   Burn traced a finger over the sharp edges of the characters, gauging Demiurge’s lack of revealing expression.  “I can work with this.  But you’ll have to tell me what it actually means first if I’m gonna create a design around it.”

   “Of course.  Roughly translated…”  Demiurge leaned forward in the chair as Burn lowered the paper, twisting a pen to fit better in his hand.  “It says, ‘the devil then lifted his head’.”

   Burn turned his eyes up from the page.  He twisted the pen between his fingers.  “I can do something with that.  In fact, I’ve got an idea or two already.”  He stood, signaling for Demiurge to do the same and to step away from the chair. Demiurge complied.  “The next question is… just where is this going to be?”

   “The shoulder seems to be a popular choice from what I’ve observed of your clients,” Demiurge mused.  “That would perhaps be a satisfactory location.”

   Burn paced around the man in red, taking his time as he looked him over.  “Pah!  You’ve seen that the average person does one thing, and you fall in line?  I didn’t take you as one who conforms to the masses, Demiurge.  No, let me find something to fit what you’ve requested.”

   His voice hovered behind Demiurge’s ear, and as hands reached up to slip around the collar of his coat, Demiurge almost jumped.

   “It would be better if I saw what I have to work with,” Burn hummed, the sound retreating as the coat came off.  “Your shirt as well, just on the chair is fine.”

   Demiurge cleared his throat.  His tie loosened, and as he pulled it from around his neck he looked over his shoulder, not enough to see Burn behind him, but enough to direct his question towards the man with the motion.  “Is this a regular part of consultation with a client, or should I consider this to be more unusual?”

   “You should consider it special treatment,” came the reply as the strip of red landed on the chair.  Then in a joking tone, “I typically charge extra for this.”

   “Ah,” Demiurge said back, the unbuttoned shirt stripped and dropped to cover the tie.  “In that light, shouldn’t the extra allowance be mine?”

   It was suddenly silent.  Burn made a sharp inhale.  Demiurge started to turn around.

   “Er— Uh, this, this would be a good location,” Burn blurted, his hand jumping to Demiurge’s shoulder to keep him from turning around fully.  “Yes.  Across the upper back, perhaps with a set of stylized eyes under the words staring up…”

   A finger traced an arch across shoulder blades, and Demiurge couldn’t restrain a shiver.

   Did he understand the reaction correctly, or was it just wishful thinking?  Had his form made an impression?

   “I trust your judgement,” he said, banishing the rough startlement out of his voice.  “What I have had the pleasure to witness of your work is more than impressive.”

   “I’m proud of the art I create,” Burn said, a bit of volume returning to his voice.  He stepped back around to Demiurge’s front.  “I work hard for it.  And it shows that work.”

   Burn took in a breath and released it without a sound as he eyed Demiurge up and down.  “Looks like I have a lot of work ahead of me.”

   Demiurge took in a breath of his own.  Steadied a gulp.

   “If I may.  For my skin to house the work of a creator such as yourself…”  He smirked, dropping his head forward.  His hand balled at his side to remain steady, glove creaking slightly at the minute strain.  “...Will be a supreme honor.”