“But Mister goat-man, Aleria said I would get to go out as long as you were with me… pleasseeee?”
“No. I have better things to do.” A certain Satyr responded sourly.
“And, for the last time, stop calling me that! I am Therion.” Therion punctuated his name with force, followed by a low growl. “Therion Alpha, a name that was graciously granted by my Master, and your savior, so the least you could do is pay attention to it.”
“But Therion isn’t as cute.” A short, yet simple retort came from Ella, supplemented by a short snap on the ground with her tail.
“It’s not meant to be cute, you little…” He shook his head before grimacing to himself.
For the past couple of days, Therion had been hard at work keeping the duo in line with what his Master desired. They had insulated themselves deep in a nearby forest, close enough to reach with a bit of effort, but also hidden away that they wouldn’t draw too much trouble to themselves.
Therion had quickly formed a perimeter of defense for themselves, in the form in a small hideaway in the side of a hill. It wasn’t overly large, in fact, it only intruded into the side of the hill for about thirty feet, but that was still more than enough for a temporary home.
And, although he had been left responsible for collecting meals for himself and the two Lamia, he rather enjoyed the freedom it granted. He had long been used to being left by his lonesome, as the Yami and Master went about their business but testing his hunting ability every now and again wasn’t so bad either. Now all that was left, was a certain growing Lamia’s complaints of boredom.
“Aghh…” Therion moaned to himself, although whether it was out of sheer frustration or anger he didn’t know.
Initially, he had been quite pleased with the crystal his master had conjured for him. The ability to understand a species that otherwise he would never would have otherwise was only proof of his master’s prowess. Given the day that he had been left with Ella without the crystal was miserable enough without it, he thought that things would improve with the small Lamia after he was able to establish some rules of etiquette between the two.
However, this thought quickly proved to be foolhardy at best. Simply put, the young girl seemed fascinated by him, and would constantly go on and on about wanting to travel with him again, much like he had been forced to endure by carrying her for long distances. The member of her village, that detestable older Lamia, Aleria, was of no help at all in that matter as well. Rather, she seemed content to sleep the day away, leaving him the sole one responsible for the young girl.
“Now listen, Ella, closely. Master was quite insistent that we stay somewhere out of the way. Given Yami’s connection with master, and the link she made to the crystal here, he is able to find us with ease. This isn’t the case for the average humanoid however, which means we need to be quiet, and not cause a stir. Understand?” Therion put his foot down on the matter. Drake had infiltrated the habitation of the humanoids, and needed to be given time.
“B-but…” The sudden scolding left her speechless, and soon, small tears began to well up in the corner of her eyes. “Fine. If that’s what you want, I’ll just sit here then, you big dumb meanie.”
“H-hey.” Therion protested. Frankly, it seemed that he was being made the villain in this situation.
“Don’t worry too much, Satyr. She needs to learn the meaning of no. You do quite the job of it.” Aleria looked up from her coils to Therion with one eye, her voice hiding an ever so slight teasing laughter.
“Finally awake, are you?” Therion looked over to the dark Lamia with a thinly disguised look of contempt.
Aleria’s eyes narrowed dangerously, and she looked as if she was going to respond, even going so far as to lift herself up out of her coils. But, just as she was going to, she settled down, only giving Therion a deep, contemplative look.
“Why are still you here? Why even stay to watch over us?” Aleria stared momentarily at Ella before looking meaningfully at Therion. “You could leave at any time, and merely write us off as dead to your master. Rather, you seem to spend an inordinate amount of time ensuring our safety. If we died, you would be free, as I doubt your master gave you any real commands after that.”
“Why do I look over you?” Therion huffed. “What good would it do for me to tell you that?
“Miss-” Ella spoke up for a moment before being quickly cut off by a wave of Aleria’s hand.
“I see the way you look at me. You think I couldn’t tell, after being given that same kind of look day in and day out? Your gaze softens when it comes to Ella, but you couldn’t give a damn about me. Letting me die would make your job easier, wouldn’t it? Yet every day you come back, instead of simply taking Ella away. So why?” Aleria’s voice was muted, but hard. She had clearly been thinking over this ever since she was saved, and was given to Therion to watch over.
“So, I should just let you die… is that right?” Therion paused, before gazing between the two Lamia, with the strangest sense of sadness tainting his words.
“Haa…” Therion sighed, before crouching down to console the young lamia next to him. She quickly warmed to the attention, before looking to Therion with a small amount of curiosity. He normally wouldn’t dare encourage her clingy nature. “I don’t doubt that you’ll find this laughable, but I didn’t find master by accident. I searched him out for revenge after my brothers were killed.”
“When I first encountered him, I expected him to be nothing but the typical demon. In fact, the little spitfire that he keeps as his companion seemed to confirm that at first. She was rather overbearing when I met her. Just like another girl I know, although in a different manner.”
Therion gave a small wink to Ella, who only responded with a childish, horrified expression at the mention of her in such a way.
Therion couldn’t keep himself from enjoying the betrayed expression the young Lamia gave him at the slight mention of her, along with the memory of his encounter with Yami. Thanks to master, their relationship had quickly improved, but he could still remember the hatred he first held for the imp as clear as day.
“After that however, master quickly shifted from the demon I imagined him to be. Rather, he wasn’t a demon at all.” He sighed to himself as he slowly relaxed onto the ground.
“Master was, and always has simply been a humanoid. One who ended up with the body of a draconian and the magic of demons, and has treated me far better than I ever expected to be treated. That’s why, despite how you may feel, I protect you. Both to thank a master that is far better than I deserve and to redeem myself.” He smiled, as he slowly ruffled his hand over Ella’s head, messing up her hair as he did.
“I take care of you and Ella. By doing that, I think that just a little, I’m able to make up for the brothers that I abandoned and let die.” He ended quietly, with a faint smile clear on his face and his eyes closed in a serene gesture.
“Mister… Therion. I’m sorry, I didn’t know.” The emotional Ella was already tearing up in full force again, and had taken extra care to use the name that Drake had given him. As he finished speaking, she had quickly wrapped her arms around the crouching satyr’s arm in an attempt to comfort him, a gesture that wasn’t left unnoticed by Therion.
“So that’s why I protect you and Ella, Aleria. Are you content with that answer?” He looked to the dark Lamia, his head tilted ever so slightly as he smirked.
“Hmph. A foolish reason for any demon, especially one like yourself. You are a disgrace to your kind.” She answered quickly but harshly, the same condescending attitude she held towards others displayed as always. However, a faint flicker in her eyes betrayed the cold attitude she was trying so desperately to keep up.
“I’m going back to sleep. Don’t bother me.” Aleria quickly sank back into her coils, her face intentionally turned away from the other two.
However, as the minutes passed, the muffled, frustrated cries of a woman were plain for all to hear, punctuated by a single word, over and over again. ‘Stupid… Stupid’.
I can’t believe this. Drake was up for half the night clearing away frost because of that stupid girl. Yami stretched her arms as she slightly yawned to herself.
Yami, who was happily wrapped around Drake in his sleep, was still annoyed by this fact. The crossdressing woman who had carelessly blasted her spells at the hobgoblins had hit the majority of their supplies. She, along with the others, had spent almost a full two hours breaking pieces of luggage off from each other as they melted. Thankfully, the rations they brought along for the journey weren’t too badly damaged. Still, the food they brought paled in comparison to the food that Drake used to catch regularly. It just didn’t have the same taste, no matter what they did to it.
Oh well, at least I have Drake all to myself again. Yami let out an involuntary squeal, as she squirmed against Drake’s neck. Soon, she would be too big to be able to do this much anymore, so she’d take advantage of it while she could. Then again… couldn’t she just take the place on his shoulders from that annoying Lamia? That would definitely be the best option thinking on it now.
Hm? What is that? As Yami watched on from Drake’s sleeping form, she noticed a strange mana signature that seemed to be floating through the air towards their camp. The signal seemed to be temporarily going to the side of them, before suddenly locking on to their location, over and over again. On top of that, it seemed to be taking great care to stay concealed, which was what really alerted Yami in the first place. A source that was weak in the first place would be unlikely to be even need or utilize such a technique.
Taking great care to not wake Drake, she carefully detached herself from him as she floated up and towards the source. She had to give at least some credit to the group Drake had attached himself to, they chose a suitable location to sleep in. On the side of the path they were traveling down to the ruins, and slightly in the interior of the wood line, keeping them close enough to pack up and move again, while staying out of sight of potential high-class monsters.
Just what is this… It’s not moving at all. It’s like it’s teleporting. Yami looked out to the wood line with suspicion. Creatures with a skill involving movement abilities almost always had specific conditions, usually to do with a largely magical creature and their related element.
[Who’s out there? Respond now, if you don’t want me warning the humanoids.] Yami ventured deeper into the wood line before sending out a telekinetic wave out towards the source.
The source suddenly stopped moving within a second of Yami sending out the order, which both intrigued her and put her even more on guard. Still, she was confident she could handle this on her own. However, the signal she felt quickly closed in on her, before suddenly disappearing altogether.
[You are indeed the horned man’s imp, are you not?] A refined, lilting voice asked her.
Yami quickly flew up and away from the source, only to see a slightly perturbed woman staring back at her. She was immediately reminded of a stray nymph she spotted while she was scouting for Aleria, but at the same time, she was entirely different. A normal nymph could be hard to differentiate between a normal woman at a distance depending on their affinity, but this woman had covered herself completely with vines and leaves, and a beautiful pair of antlers adorned her head. Such an appearance had obviously left her with some sort of nature affinity. And somehow, she managed to approach her instantaneously, and appear right behind her. How…?
[I dislike repeating myself. You are the horned man’s imp, are you not?] The hostility in the voice was much clearer the second time around. Clearly, she expected an answer.
[Y-yes, I am. Why are you here?] Yami asked.
[Good, good. I had hoped that I had not misstepped on my journey here.] She smiled faintly, before looking to her surroundings with cursory glances.
[Where is your horned master, by chance? Skills of his caliber looked to be worthy of my own tests, rather than merely the guards that inhabit the space above my domain.] As the woman spoke, an intense, predatory look was aimed at Yami.
[What do you want with him?!] Yami yelled in response, her voice full of disguised venom. No woman like this should meet Drake. No, she shouldn’t have known about him in the first place. Where did she even learn of him?
[Rather impertinent little imp, aren’t you?] She gave an equally venomous look in response, before shaking her head lightly.
[No matter. This excursion you and your group are on, where are you intending to travel to?] She examined Yami closely, expecting an answer.
This woman’s abrupt appearance and line of questioning had made Yami intensely cautious of her intentions. Despite this however, Yami knew enough to know that she likely wasn’t going to harm Drake directly. Rather, the sheer fact that she appeared here herself instead of sending more goblins to attack them while they were sleeping, and the ‘tests’ she wanted to provide proved that she wasn’t wholly a threat. Still, Yami didn’t feel she had much of a choice. Such a woman would undoubtedly attack her if she outright refused.
[We’re… traveling to some nearby ruins.] Yami talked slowly, but carefully. It was unfortunate, but it didn’t matter how aggressive and demanding the nymph was in her words. There was nothing Yami could do but answer truthfully. [There is supposed to be an unusually high concentration of mana there, even to the point where it enhances spells.]
From what little Drake told her, that was the truth. She hadn’t been overly concerned with where they were going, just that she be let free as soon as possible so she could stretch her wings, so to speak. She didn’t put too much effort into learning the details as a result.
[Nearby ruins? Do you mean the collection of buildings above my darling?] The woman turned her head to the side rather absent mindedly.
Above… her darling? Yami was left speechless for a moment. Just how was she supposed to interpret that sort of question?
[Uh… maybe. If the ruins you are talking about are somewhat nearby, they should be the same. There can’t be two nearby after all, probably.] Yami voice slowly started to become quieter as her gaze cast downwards, not wanting to meet the gaze of the woman after her answer. Her personality, and moreover, the feeling she gave off. It wasn’t one of a simple monster. Rather, the more she grew accustomed to her, the more her power seemed to be incalculable in Yami’s eyes.
[Probably, hmm? Well, you are correct. At the least, no one would dare encroach on my darling’s territory, especially under my watch. It should be the same one you are referring to.] She said in a succinct manner.
[Good, good. So, he is indeed coming to my lair after all, splendid.] The woman lifted her dainty hands to her face, before giggling in an utterly girlish manner. Then, clapping her hands together, her body seemed to dissolve into a myriad of wooden roots before quickly disappearing into the ground.
[Oh, something I almost forgot. As a parting gift, tell your master to place his hand in the fountain, and drink the water there once he arrives. His companions as well. I will then open the entrance to him, and the rest.] A haunting tone creeped into the dryad’s voice, making Yami nervous.
[And as thanks for your cooperation, I will also tell you that your master needs to drink only this once. Otherwise, even with your considerable power, you might become like the pathetic beasts that guard my territory] Another short, girlish laugh rang out in Yami’s mind, despite the terrifying implications that were starting to spin in Yami’s mind.
[Bye, young imp. See you soon~]
Just as soon as the frightening woman appeared, Yami felt the signal disappear just as quickly, and within a few seconds, the signal was entirely gone from her range of detection.
What… just happened? Yami stood there, floating momentarily in the air as a visible chill ran through her form. The wood based movement ability, the ‘guards’ that she regarded as mere beasts that she gained control over, not to mention it was undoubtedly her ability that enhanced the hobgoblins the night before, all of it pointed to her being an incredibly powerful creature.
Even more troubling was the mention of a lair. Generally, there were only one of two types that even attempted such a thing. Overly territorial creatures, such as Dragons, Gryphons, and other, more diabolical creatures such as Beholders, were one such type. The other type was almost invariably one specific role. The role of a dungeon owner. Although the reason behind them were fairly vague, she knew that they were meant to be a sort of testing ground.
She needed considerable power to even be eligible for that though. Could she be one of the predecessor’s as well, or gained some sort of gift from the creators? Yami’s brows tightened as she ran through the possibilities. In any case, she was the definition of troublesome. Whether the armor she was responsible for was special, or she could turn any form of wood into that same armor, she was capable of negating Drake’s own abilities. In a direct fight, given her own abilities, it might even come down to Drake’s main source of strength, his demonic mana, being completely useless against her.
For someone who was a Lord, and sacrificed roughly 20% of their natural physical prowess to enhance the power of their control and magical abilities, such an opponent could easily be called an ultimate counter. At the very least, she was someone who certainly didn’t need to be made an enemy. Maybe if Drake acted as a Lord, and established a solid domain to rule, he would be safe against her. At the least, it would give him some ability to repel outside influences, but he had always been reluctant to do that, given the effect his magic had on the environment.
Still, that’s inevitable, it’s a part of establishing an area that you can call all your own. It’s something that he needs to accept eventually. Yami shook her head reluctantly, as a dim fire was lit in her eyes. Drake wasn’t strong enough, that was clear to see now. He would need to fully advance his demonic mana core to a rank one, and soon. As he was now, only his most powerful techniques might even have an effect.
“Let’s go.” Yami sank down, before slowly making her way back to the small makeshift camp. Breathing deeply, she calmed herself as best she could before tenderly landing next to Drake, and shaking him awake.
“Come on, wake up. It’s important.” The young imp was intent on waking up Drake. Still, given her small stature, it took a moment before Drake slowly opened his eyes in a daze.
“Yami…?” Drake squinted suddenly at the morning light, before turning over to see what she wanted. Through their connection, it was obvious that something was worrying her.
“What’s wrong?” He asked lazily, still adjusting to the morning air as he cleared his mind.
“I have a lot to tell you.”
Yami then spoke at length about what she had learned from the strange encounter she had. She told him how she felt a strange mana source, and how it was searching out the camp. The sudden appearance of the woman, and her overwhelming abilities concerning nature magic left Drake with a growing sense of danger, but it wasn’t until Yami told him of her intentions that he felt the pit of his stomach drop.
[This… isn’t something I can run from, is it?]
[No, she’s much too powerful for that. Somehow, she knew about us, and that we were connected, although she called you my master. She must have been watching us somehow. We can’t escape as long as she can do that.]
[Is she dangerous?] Drake bit his lip nervously, as he looked to Yami.
[Not directly. Like I explained, she is likely a dungeon master. They didn’t have a real purpose when I was born, in fact, there were really no functioning dungeons in existence to my knowledge. But there’s one where we are headed now, and she has her eye on you.]
Yami grimaced as she looked to the ground. In a way, she felt directly responsible, despite the evidence to the contrary. Regardless, it wasn’t all bad.
[Dungeon masters desire to find suitable members for their dungeons. It’s a sort of impulse, to find those as strong as possible, and grant them powers that the creators mean to pass on. It’s also the reason behind why she warned you against the ‘fountain’ near the ruins. We’re likely the first group to come so close, and defeat the goblins she sent against us.] She mentioned offhandedly.
[Whatever the fountain is, it is undoubtedly a source of great magical power, and an addictive, controlling one at that to turn and evolve those goblins. For a prospective dungeon runner, and especially someone like me and you, it might be as effective as a large core.]
Like the wyvern core? Drake widened his eyes in anticipation. Still, he couldn’t afford to evolve to the next step and undergo a long process, Yami knew that. Yet why did he feel that she intensely wanted him to drink it?
[Do you know something I don’t regarding this so-called fountain?] Drake looked to her with suspicion.
[Well…] Yami shrunk down even more under Drake’s gaze, as her wings flapped nervously behind her.
[It won’t cause you to evolve, I know that much. It should push you to the edge though, and give you just enough power to be safe in the dungeon. Still, you wouldn’t be able to maintain that for long. Our mana slowly powers us over time, eventually, you’ll reach the point where you have to advance, and you won’t be able to stop.] She meekly explained.
Yami had known herself for almost a week now. She could evolve, and become even more powerful, but it would severely inconvenience Drake. She couldn’t do it without Drake knowing, so she wanted to wait until Drake began as well. Her capacity was much lower however, and she simply couldn’t maintain it for much longer without being forced herself to evolve. Drake being forced to the limit as well would be best for the both of them, both for his safety and for herself.
[Is that so…] Drake grimaced to himself, before nodding his head slightly.
Yami’s description of the woman, and her powers, was fairly detailed. Given what little Drake knew of mythology, he could be fairly certain that it was a Dryad. They were wooden spirits that thrived in forests, and typically preferred to stay far away from others, but he knew details concerning their personality that could change easily given their role in this world.
Most of all however, they were intensely protective of nature, and normally good natured as a result, unless angered.
Drake picked Yami off the ground with a confident smile, before quickly lifting her to his shoulder with an audible laugh.
“We’ll go to her, and see just what sort of ‘tests’ she has prepared for us. There’s nothing we can’t beat together after all. Right?” Drake said with a clear smile.
Yami’s eyes widened, before she quickly returned Drake’s confident smile. “Right.”