Mind Over Matter Ch. 03bytag90tag©
Kai felt good. He was alive, and his head was clear. The cool air gave refreshed his senses and he could think with a calm lucidity that had become lost to him in the recent days. He did not miss noticing that he woke up before Claire, meaning that the divine perfection that was her body rested peacefully over him.
Looking up, he saw it had stopped raining. It was also night again, although he wasn't sure how late it was. Deciding it was time to get up, Kai gently rolled over to lay Claire on her back, over her robes. As he collected his pants, Kai took in the three newest additions to Claire's body.
Succubus wings now protruded from her shoulder blades. They were bat-like in shape, yet leathery to the touch. Kai worried this might be a problem in the future if Claire would further interact with humans. The tail was something he hadn't seen before. It was a long, thin appendage, the same raven color as her hair. The tail looked smooth all throughout its length, and ended in a half-arrow shape so it resembled a point with a triangle tip facing backwards like a barb.
The mark was the last thing he observed. Now that his mind was calm and he actually had a chance to look at it, Kai found its intricate patterns to be quite elegant. Umbra had left a permanent stain on her skin, and Claire's reaction to it when she woke up was a mystery to Kai. She did not seem worried about the shadows earlier, but she was not thinking especially clearly either.
Kai would have questions when she woke up, but for now he had to focus on what to do next. There was the matter of the notoriety he would be beginning to acquire throughout the Church for his actions, something he wasn't sure about how to respond to. Currently, he would have to address the more pressing matter of real shelter and food.
Kai took another look at the sleeping Claire and sighed. He draped his cloak over her again, and began to think things through.
Daervik was struggling to recover from the disaster of Vyzal's appearance. There was no physical damage to the city, but several guards had been killed, as well as all of the water mages the demon had corrupted. After Kai drained the power from Vyzal's staff, the demonic water mages fell to the ground dead.
Humans were societally adverse to all demons. Those faithful to the Church were no different, and one would not have to argue hard that their hatred burned even brighter. There wasn't really a reason for the contempt; it just seemed natural for the ugly, savage imps and goblins to have no place in a world controlled by humans. And the contempt spread to all beings arbitrarily classified as demons by the Church, even when said beings had less of a relation to true hellspawn than a house cat.
Nobody questioned these notions; it was just the way things were. That was the power of the Church's influence.
The Netyr Festival had been cancelled, of course. It had been decided it be was prudent that there should be discussion over how to react to recent events. Galleon had a strong sense of duty, but it was still to his dismay that he was appointed to preside over the meeting the first thing next morning.
Kai sat deep in thought, and only noticed Claire had woken up after she had wrapped her arms around him, her cleavage pressing into Kai's back.
"Hello," said Claire with a smile. She spoke softly into Kai's ear, hot breath enticing his senses, slowly leaning further into him so she could kiss him. Kai turned his head away at the last moment, however. He turned his whole body around to so his back wasn't to her.
"Claire, we should talk a little," he said plainly. When Claire's expression turned to one of worry, he quickly clarified. "It's not like that. I just want to understand."
"Oh," she said as her look softened. "Well, you can ask me anything."
"I appreciate that," said Kai. He took a moment to consider where to start, and the wings that were folded behind the succubus in front of him suggested a starting point.
"You have wings now, or were they always there?"
"How much do you know of my kind?"
"Only what I've read, which isn't much. I'm actually surprised I'm alive right now."
"You...were my first. I was a lesser succubus before, but you've changed me, Kai. Wings and a tail are the symbol of a fully-fledged demon. For my kind, our first feeding is usually the catalyst for this, but we can choose freely to take the life inside us or not. Your seed is enough."
"You don't have horns," Kai observed.
"That's a myth," Claire laughed softly.
"Ah," Kai said. After pausing to think for a moment, he restarted, "Thank you."
"Hm?" Claire tilted her head in question.
"For not killing me."
She smiled at this and gave a slow, single nod. "I wouldn't do that to you, Kai." She glanced at the intricate black markings on her front-left side as she spoke. Her fingers idly traced around the curves of the design while she admired the pattern.
"It doesn't bother you? You called it Umbra?"
"Yes. It's a manifestation of dark magic some strong demons are able to create. It's quite rare, and very potent. It comes in a lot of forms, so there's not much else I can tell you. The power's master decides its potential."
"So what are these markings?"
"I don't know. Judging by Vyzal's use of the Umbra before, I think I could be bound to you in some way."
"That's not what I wanted," Kai said.
"Yes it is, Kai. It's what I want to. I tasted your desire earlier," she blushed. "It was very flattering."
The warm-blooded part of Kai melted as the beautiful demon's complexion flushed a soft tone of red. The side of Kai that lived by logos was beginning to understand now.
Umbra would be an extension of himself. He remembered now. The unnatural terror he induced in those he wanted out of his way, the pleasure he desperately wanted to give Claire.
He was an Augmenter, one who could channel magic through himself into other things. Now he had new, stronger magic that could affect living things. The possibilities were already consuming his mind.
As he processed these thoughts, he let the magic rise from inside of him. From the center of his left palm came a darkness that seemed to suck light from around it. What he could only describe as a shadow turned to gas rose from his hand.
He glanced up from the magic to see Claire watching in wonder. He collapsed his fingers quickly to form a fist, and the Umbra dissipated like suffocated fire.
There would be another time.
"It's still pretty early in the night. We should be able to get to a town from here. I don't want anyone from Daervik finding us."
"Why not? You saved their city."
"My lifestyle doesn't allow for very much attention. I have to keep my anonymity or the Church will eventually catch up to me, and you as well," Kai explained. "I'm sorry to have dragged you into this."
"It was my choice to come with you," Claire said comfortingly. She then added quietly, "I'd follow you anywhere."
Seeing all of the seats in the conference hall filled, Galleon sighed and called the meeting to order.
He sat at the end of a long, rectangular table and waited as the attention of the room shifted to him.
"Good morning, gentlemen. Lady Carren, Miss Vaers," he acknowledged the two women in the room.
"We're here today to discuss matters concerning our city. We will begin by elaborating upon the events that transpired yesterday after the Netyr Festival match between Guierve and Michael so that we all may have a better understanding of the situation. From there the table will direct the conversation at its discretion, until we are satisfied with our view of the future. My name is Galleon Deven, a knight of the Holy Church. Would anyone like to begin?"
"I've heard it went like this," started a thin, rich-looking man as he leaned forward like a seasoned storyteller. The slim, black jacket he adorned looked to be made of a very expensive material, and he had a clean-shaven goatee. The man was the portrait of middle-aged wealth, if not a little skinny.
Galleon was a bit annoyed by this destruction of the formal setting he had tried to open the conference in.
"The last preliminary fight finishes, and all the victors are asked to walk onto the lake so they could be presented to the city as a whole. Then a huge red ring appears and suddenly we have a lich on our hands."
"Thank you, Matteus," said Galleon, who raised his hand to stop the words. "Summoned lichs need a host; what do we know of the announcer?"
An hour passed as people chimed into the talks, sharing what they knew.
"The woman was touched by the darkness, but the man picked up the demon's staff and drew all the magic back through it into himself. One man in my party tried to stop him, but he was...persuaded not to," said Galleon.
"So then perhaps he could have had a part in the summoning! Allow a lich to breach our walls and force us to retaliate ourselves. Once we had it surrounded, he comes and steals its power. We have a separate report of a man that threw a dagger right before the lich was summoned. This must be the same person, which would also confirm his pre-knowledge of Vyzal's arrival."
"Everyone saw the lich coming, though. The dagger just tells us our cloaked man is a skilled thrower."
"Our fire mage was left on the roof with a fatal knife wound, no? So it's fair to assume he is not on our side."
"And this cloaked man and his companion just walked out of our gates? Nobody tried to stop them?"
It was Lady Carren's turn to speak up. "Nobody wanted to. I was in the crowd by the gates. He was...very intimidating. The air around him felt dangerous."
"I think so. Nobody said a word as he walked by. The whole event was too unnatural. A man persuades a guard against his arrest, then he simply walks out of the city with a beautiful girl in his arms? It may have even been the lich's magic at work."
"We must find this man. Do you remember his features?"
"To an extent," was the reply.
"Good. Work with an artist so we can publicize his image. A bounty should be placed over his head, dead or alive," other members of the room began to speak again.
"Just alive," Galleon resolved. "We are still unsure of his motives, and I'm not about to be responsible for killing an innocent man, regardless of our questions."
"So that handles part of the situation of our cloaked man and the girl," he continued, "but what of Vyzal? What shall we do with him?"
"What shall we do with him? It should be destroyed immediately! The demon is responsible for the corruption and death of several mages, and should be disposed of as soon as we leave this room!"
"No," repeated the young woman named Arianna Vaers.
Everyone turned their head to look at the woman who had not uttered a word until then. She looked young, not over thirty, and spoke with a quiet voice which had an inflection that demanded the attention of its listeners. She was a beautiful girl with sharp features, but nobody had taken much notice of her until she had opened her mouth. Now the whole room waited for her to continue.
"The Church has plans for the lich. Move him to the keep, and we will take the appropriate actions."
Matteus was slightly angered by this and asked, "Are you saying that Daervik can't take care of its own problems?"
"Are questioning the authority of the Church?"
"Nobody is insinuating anything," Galleon cut in. "Miss Vaers and her company will take Vyzal, unless there is a greater objection."
It was a rhetorical question, of course. No one would stand up to the power of the Church.
"Good," said Arianna. She stood then and said, "That is all I came for. Have the lich moved as soon as possible."
With that she left the room, leaving a stunned conference and a bemused Galleon.
Compared to their morning arrival in Daervik, the small, undistinguished town that they came across during the night was quite plain. The pair spotted the village's torchlight from a short while away, and subsequently found the path leading through the trees and into the town.
To Kai's relief, Claire could hide her demonic features at will. The process was instant and happened without any outward discomfort from Claire. Her wings and tail just disappeared, along with the Umbra that marked her otherwise flawless skin.
Tired, their first order of business was to get a room at the inn and rest. The cheery innkeeper was strangely energetic and was enthusiastic in giving them a room, especially considering the late hour. It was closer to dawn the previous day's dusk.
For the second time that night, Kai and Claire slept in each other's embrace. It was one of the best periods of rest Kai had ever felt, and he and Claire woke up in the morning feeling refreshed. After a warm meal at the inn's bar, the two were ready for the day.
Leaving the gold on the table, Claire took notice of the amount of gold they had remaining and mentioned it to Kai.
Kai was constantly aware of the poor state of his purse. For their stay at the town inn and food for two mouths, he had about enough gold to last for a week at most. He was down on gold before rescuing Claire from the keep she was being held in. Not that given the chance he would opt out of having Claire in his life, of course. The problem was he was a few meals away from being bankrupt.
This town was just too small to attract the attention of the Church, so there would be no keep. Kai would avoid doing menial tasks for a petty salary until it was absolutely necessary. The tavern was always a good source of information, so perhaps he could find satisfactory work there. It became their next destination.
Upon stepping through the door, Kai drew three curious glances from the one occupied table, but nobody spent more than a moment considering the fresh face before returning to their drinks. Things were much different when Claire stepped through the door. The morning drunks were left with wide eyes as the dark haired beauty walked by.
"I guess I'd better get used to that," sighed Kai.
Claire planted a light kiss on Kai's cheek in response, much to the dismay of the other men.
The two took a seat at the bar where they were met promptly by two tall beer glasses. The grizzly man behind the counter asked then, "So what brings two new outsiders through here? It wouldn't be the beer, would it?"
Kai wasn't very into the common practice of addling one's senses with alcohol, but he still knew to take a drink when it was offered. "No reason in particular," said Kai after a nod in thanks and a drink. "We were just passing through the woods and thought we'd stop by for a little while. Maybe earn a little gold before moving on. This is a very cozy town you've got here."
"This beautiful girl is with you?"
"Claire," Claire answered. "Yes, I travelling with Kai."
"Name's Adel. Nice to meet you both. Well then, if you need anything else just call for Lisa over there. She'll get you what you need."
With that, Adel pushed through the door in the back.
Not a minute passed before the sound of a heavy glass hitting a table rang out from behind them. Shortly after, a man took a seat at the bar next to Claire.
"You didn't say you were with tha' guy, did you?" He gestured at Kai as he would to a dead rat in the street.
Kai glanced sideways toward him, sizing up the man. He stood taller than Kai, and had more raw muscle than him too. However, while Kai was not built as large as him, the cloaked man was still very much in shape and would make up for any lack of pure strength in fighting prowess.
On second thought, he was overanalyzing. Kai wouldn't need to throw any punches.
"Yes, I did. And right now I'd like to share a drink with just him," replied Claire coolly.
"Well I think you could do better," said the man. Rejection wasn't much of an option for him, as his two friends watched him from their table.
"I don't see anyone else in the room that would be better," Claire said back.
"Knock it off, Samuel," said Lisa. She was familiar with his personality, the pretty blonde having been victim to his advances on multiple occasions. Lisa didn't want this to go any further, especially because he was antagonizing new customers.
"We're jus' talkin', Lisa," he growled.
"Nobody here wants to hear you talk. Go sit down with your two grunts now. If you want to bother Claire again, talk to me first," Kai said. He spoke evenly and dangerously calmly, but his point was delivered clearly to Samuel.
Samuel stood up now. He had been waiting for Kai to talk; he was itching for an excuse to fight.
"What ya say to me?"
"I just wanted you to know how pretty I think you'd look in a dress," Kai said.
This caught Claire off guard a bit. She really hadn't seen Kai like that before. She loved his calm, kind nature, but she couldn't deny being a little turned on by the aggression. Lisa didn't want a brawl in the bar, but she couldn't help raising her eyebrows at the remark.
Samuel, on the other hand, had heard enough. He took four steps forward to slam his palm threateningly in front of Kai, leaning in and snarling.
Kai had already thought through his options and their ramifications, and he had decided he should deal with Samuel to deter him from causing trouble in the future. He brought the beer glass to his lips for a final taste of the liquor before it was inevitably wasted.
"Oh. Did you want some?" asked Kai innocently. He swished the glass in front of Samuel's face, provoking an angered reaction.
Samuel knocked the glass from Kai's hand. As the arm extended in front of Kai's face, a hand shot forward to grab Samuel's wrist. Kai forced the caught arm to continue its momentum far longer than intended, and Samuel was soon at Kai's mercy while Kai held his arm twisted behind him. The glass shattered on the ground shortly after.
The oaf squealed in pain. Kai was still in his seat and had hardly moved, but he was in complete control over the situation. He was causing excruciating pain. This would be enough, he had thought before. But now, while he still had the wrist in his grasp, he thought again.
There was absolutely no doubt in Kai's mind he could break his wrist.
This wasn't Samuel first offense. No, he seemed to have a reputation in the bar. He should be taught a greater lesson. Kai would be happy to teach it. It would be quick and easy.
This hand could be this man's livelihood. What if he couldn't work after this? Sure this guy was a jerk, but did he need to go that far? No, he didn't.
Samuel's cry in pain subsided as his right arm was allowed to twist back into a more natural state. His buddies in the back were relieved. They were all the more startled when the quiet was replaced by a scream in agony. Bone snapped as Kai smashed their friend's wrist against the wooden bar.
He didn't have to, but he did. There was something disturbingly satisfying in the action.
He was no stranger to murder, but that was always impartial. No names, no recognition. If there was someone in his way he would cut them down as was necessary, but this time he made a conscious decision to take an extra step.
As the pained man clutched his broken wrist, the two men in the back got up from their seats and quickly moved to help Samuel. They had no idea about how to go about mending broken bones however, so one of them ran out to find the local health mage while the other stayed with Samuel.
In a fit of rage, the injured man took a wild swing at Kai with his good arm. The attack was deflected, and Kai caught the arm and twisted it at the wrist just as he had with the other side.
Samuel looked into Kai's eyes for the first time. They were a bright purple, brimming with magic. That was uncommon, but not something one wouldn't see through their town once in a while.