Once in the water, I had to dispel my wings to reduce drag. Like shrinkwrap, my personal shield shrunk to just over my skin, reducing sturdiness but increasing my mobility.
Through my shield, I could feel the water trying to crush me, pulsing and pushing like a living creature. It felt more like squishing through a den of snakes than swimming. The deeper I moved, the darker my journey became. Tiny cracks formed like webs over my body, warning me of impending spell failure.
I wrapped my shield in heat to reduce the pressure trying to crush and slow me. Thousands of tiny bubbles erupted around me as liquid turned to gas, raining upward, away from my body. Normal swimming was impossible, so I had to push myself using magic, like driving a nail into steel. I just hoped I didn’t break before reaching my destination. It was my power against a god—this could end badly.
What a lovely day for an adventure; the sun was shining, I’d had a new level card crafted for me, and the desert sand had formed into a giant sand serpent that was trying to eat me—what a great day.
“Wind isn’t doing anything; try something else!” Kyu called to me from the other side of the snake. She, like myself, was wrapped with a tan cloak to keep off the sand and sun. It was day three of our journey into the desert, looking for hidden knowledge about soul stones.
I don’t know a whole lot of spells yet!” I complained. “What do you want me to do, roast it? It’s sand!”
“Do you not know what glass is?!” She yelled back. The animated sand snapped at the demon queen, but she flapped out of reach quickly. A green flash incinerated a piece of the serpent’s face, but it filled back in with the limitless resources found around us.
“I know what glass is!” I retorted, slamming the golem into the nearest dune with my mind. It started reforming immediately. “But it will just do that if I turn it into a statue!” I said, gesturing at our opponent. “ I can’t just flash fry the whole desert!”
“I don’t know, maybe think up a water spell!”
“That doesn’t solve the problem!” A second snake joined the first, popping up just behind me. “We need to take out the source of its animation!” I shattered the new snake with a casual gesture.
“Then search for magic already!”
“I’m trying!” I said, then froze the next creature forming in front of me. After shattering it into ice shards, I continued, “But this is taking a lot of my concentration!”
Kyu abruptly swerved to dodge another lunge. Then glided my way. Grabbing my shoulder with one hand, she lifted me into the air, much to my confusion. The moment we were airborne, she formed a greenish-yellow bubble around us.
“You know, for a guardian-demon-king, you sure aren’t great at thinking on your feet,” she teased while lifting me into her arms. I placed both my hands on her hips and stared into the emerald oceans analyzing me. Spreading my own wings, I lightened her load so she could concentrate on our protection.
“I would have eventually figured that out,” I replied with a smirk—she just snorted.
“Sure, sure, if that’s what you want to believe. Are you going to look now or just stare at me all day?”
I raised an eyebrow. “I’m your king; I can stare at you if I want.” I gave her a long up and down to emphasize my point. She smiled but still smacked my shoulder.
“Business first, pleasure later,” she said, raising her own eyebrow.
“Then I’d better work quick.” I pulled back further to get a better view below. Kyu rolled her eyes.
Turning my attention to the sandy dune less than twenty feet under us, I tried to ignore the monstrous mouth trying to chew on us.
Since Kyu and I were out here looking for a secret location, hidden by both physical and magic means, I’d already created a magical tracking spell. I just didn’t expect to use it while in combat. A mini-menu popped up in my vision, triggered by a thought.
Since I’d noticed God playing video games designer, I’d found changes would happen every time I thought something was annoying or hard to use in my mental menus.
This latest addition was a quick use bar, which I could populate with commonly used spells for easy visual selection. I could still manually search my list if I wanted, but having this list sped things along.
After selecting Magic Eyes (super original, I know), I scanned the area. This spell was a bit different than the one I’d used while invisible. More spectrums were available, which allowed me to tell the difference between different kinds of active magic. Brightness showed the strength of spells.
Since we were dealing with a type of golem—an animated creature without a soul—it showed up as white.
Jesus Christ, this thing is enormous! I thought while tracing how far the magic reached. You’d think the physical creatures themselves would be the brightest part of the spell, but you’d be wrong. I really needed to rely on my excellent vision because the circle of magic was like, a mile wide (I don’t know what a mile looks like, to be honest).
Guiding Kyu through our bond, we stopped above the brightest section of the golem animation spell. An animation spell flows out from a caster or a piece of magitech. The further it spreads, the thinner the magic becomes. So, the strongest—and brightest— part of the spell would be where it started.
“There,” I said, pointing to some short, stone outcroppings. We floated down to just above the jagged stone. Several snake golems were smashing into us by this point, but Kyu didn’t seem to be straining, an advantage of being a demon queen. Her magic reserves were immense.
Actually, that wasn’t entirely true. A demon queen does have a lot of power, but Kyu has a lot more than she had before we met—a side effect of taking a mate that shared his strength through their bond.
I’m just awesome like that, sharing my power. I could have sworn Kyu snickered the moment I thought that.
The change of angle actually made the magic dim a little. That implied that the source was buried. Not surprising.
“So, I’ll dig, and you protect?” I asked.
She raised an eyebrow as if to say, ‘how would I dig without any digging spells—you idiot?’
So, I reached down mentally, scooping sand to the side as we slowly sunk into darkness. I stuck a light orb to my chest for illumination while I worked. It didn’t require concentration to use, so that was a bonus. Deeper and deeper we went, following a mountain of rock that sat beneath the sand.
From what I could tell, our destination was somewhere inside the brown rock; but, no entrance had presented itself yet. I was tempted to just drill through it. The moment that thought struck me, Kyu quickly reminded me that someone must have placed it there, so it had to have an entrance.
“Maybe this is connected to the tunnels we need to find anyways,” Kyu suggested, logically.
“This rock does look like what we saw in those memories that were shared with us,” I replied. “Could be the same building material they used back then.”
“Or the same building,” Kyu stated.
I nodded. “Maybe, if we’re lucky.”
After an hour of searching, we stumbled upon a hole big enough to enter. It looked like a carved entrance, which was a good sign.
“I still think we should have carved a way through the wall,” I said as I cleared the built-up sand clogging the hole. “Would have been faster.”
“This entrance was filled with sand,” Kyu countered. “If you just opened a new hole, you could have filled in and damaged the inner room.”
“Ah, good point,” I agreed.
Just inside the entrance was a short hall that led to a steep stairwell on both sides. Apparently, the door was a window. We took the path that aimed toward higher levels because the sand hadn’t filled it in. We climbed up the narrow, winding stone path on foot because it was too thin to fly.
Minus the lack of windows, it felt like climbing a tower. Maybe it was a tower before the desert consumed it. The first door we reached was locked and barred from the inside. I doubted anyone would be using it again anyway, so I didn’t think breaking it was much of a problem.
The reason for the lock was apparent once we were inside.
“Wow, that’s a lot of weapons,” I said, wiping dust off of the top sword in a pile.
“These are outdated but unused. I wonder why they weren’t taken when this building was abandoned,” Kyu commented. She was crouching by a series of low shelves, all filled to the brim with simple wooden spears.
“Maybe they left in a rush?”
“It couldn’t have been combat-related, or they would have used this stash, or at least have left it open, to access during combat.”
“Unless they were overrun too quickly.”
Kyu shook her head. “An invader would have looted this if everyone was dead or gone. No, this was something else.”
Kyu raised an eyebrow, then nodded. “They could have been a defence put in place that never got shut off. Or, if it was part of an attack, they were after something specific, hence why this stash was left untouched.”
“Why leave a golem of this size here if it were for an attack? I can’t imagine something like that would have been easy to get ahold of or make,” I said.
“Unless whoever left it here couldn’t find what they sought, so decided to keep people away until they could return.”
“Doesn’t look like they returned if that’s true.”
“Or they never found it,” Kyu suggested, meeting my eyes.
“You think they were after the same thing as us?”
Kyu shrugged. “Can only speculate at this point. Don’t have anyone to ask.”
“Good point.” I set down the maul I was inspecting and headed for the other exit to the room. “Shall we continue our adventure then?” I said, lifting the metal bar on the door.
After turning the knob and pushing the creaking wood out of my way, I stepped to the side and gestured to the demon queen to go first. She smiled and complied.
Another dark hall met us, naturally, but my light orb still faithfully shone our way from my chest. I’d learned earlier that Kyu’s night vision was incredible, so I hadn’t offered to give her a personal light.
Down the hall, we found more doors and more rooms. This section must have been a barracks or some form of equivalent as we found a training room and what could have been a sleeping area. It was hard to tell for certain, considering most of the cloth materials used as blankets had degraded with time.
“If this place is being guarded by that golem, to keep people from finding something, what are the chances we will succeed when others didn’t?” I asked as we headed down another hall.
“Different perspective maybe,” Kyu replied, keeping to my side. “Or just different magic. You may be able to create a better tracker than others could possibly use. Being as powerful as you are.”
“Well, whatever this hidden…thing is, I don’t know of it’s with looking for right now. This doesn’t look like the memories—similar stone construction, but not necessarily the same building.”
“Are you in a rush to return home?” Kyu asked, keeping her face forward instead of facing me like she usually did during questions.
“We’ve spent three days searching this desert so far. I know we can pop in and out of your lair when we need to, but this is the longest journey I’ve been in since I got here.”
“And you’re getting bored,” she added, letting a slight grin free.
“Ya, maybe a little bored,” I agreed. “Things have gotten a little…monotonous, since the, uh, rebellion thing. Going on adventures, going home, eating, sleeping—”
“Having sex,” Kyu piped up.
“Yes…that,” I said. I cringed. “Need I remind you—”
“This was all my idea, yes. I knew the King would insist on an heir to lock you into the family, but it…”
“I can still—”
“No.” Kyu stepped in front of me and turned to meet my eyes. “We need this alliance. Backing out now would do too much harm.” Her expression was hard, but her eyes gave her away. So did our bond. “Just trust me, this will all work out in the end.”
“My clan is the priority.” She turned away from me and started walking. I followed. “We are trying to accomplish the impossible, changing the reputation of demons and carve out a new home Sacrifices must be made.”
“I understand,” I replied, but I really didn’t. I couldn’t possibly understand. I knew Kyu would sense that, but I didn’t try to hide it. We’d had this conversation many times since she’d asked me to marry Anna.
We had discussed the reasons why this was best ‘for the clan.’ But I’d disagreed. It took a couple weeks for her to convince me to do it. But, I’d reluctantly agreed and approached Anna and King Klausen (Jaesing) to officially ask for Anna’s hand.
So, we became engaged, officially. Of course, everyone was pleased with this decision, but for me, apparently. Well, as per many conversations afterwards, Kyu wasn’t actually happy about giving her demon mate away, but she kept insisting it was for the best whenever I brought it up.
Then, out of the blue, Kyu asks me to come to help her find this hidden technique for freeing souls from a soul stone. I had the quest in my quest log already, so I figured I was the one who had to complete it. So, I’d said yes. However, time had altered the desert so much that following the path laid out for us in Elena’s memories was nearly impossible. Also, three days of tension had made this whole thing incredibly uncomfortable.
Once again, following magic brightness levels, I guided us up more stairs, down halls, and through rooms until we got nice and lost.
“I doubt what we seek is in a regular room,” I stated. “But no other magic is showing up, besides the golem.”
“I wonder why the golem didn’t follow us in here,” Kyu noted, while I looked over an intricately carved fireplace mantle.
I stopped and turned to her. “That’s a good question,” I said, looking around the room again. “It stopped chasing us the moment we entered the building, despite the magic still being active within.”
“So, either the inside has other defences, or something is keeping it from forming inside.”
“I don’t see any barriers,” I noted. “And anti-magic would disable the golem entirely, considering the source is inside the building. And I can see the golem magic field inside the building.”
“Meaning it was programed to not form inside the building.”
“But why?” I said, pushing on random sections of the wall to see if anything triggered. “Would the golem damage something if it rampaged inside?”
“That could be possible,” Kyu agreed, peeking out of a separate door than we’d entered through.
“What could be so sensitive they couldn’t risk having the defences inside?”
Kyu shrugged. “Most people would have trouble defeating a sand golem.”
“So it’s master told it to patrol outside only? That’s incredibly arrogant for someone who couldn’t find what they sought after years of searching.”
“That’s assuming our guess is correct; we could be wrong. That golem could be unrelated.”
“I don’t like mysteries.”
“I know. Maybe you should break through some walls then.”
I turned to her, excited. “Really? I’m allowed?”
“Try not to collapse the building on top of us, though,” she stated, gesturing around us.
I lifted a hand in the direction of the brightest magic. “You have no faith in me anymore.”
“I have faith in your strength, not your control,” she replied, stepping behind me. When I turned my head to follow her, she just smiled innocently. “You should really work on that,” she added. I returned my attention to the wall.
Mentally feeling the wall in front of me, I tried to ‘grip’ it further in, to see if I could determine what was behind it. This wall was only a couple feet thick, with empty space behind it. Here goes. Adding pressure on a spot as wide and high as me, the stone began to crack. Rock tore, and an arched-door-shaped slab broke free and fell down into the other side’s empty hall.
The hole had rough broken edges but mostly resembled a door. I’d say that was progress. Not waiting for the demoness this time, I headed into the previously separated room. Then immediately repeated the process, creating another ‘door.’ The next area was filled with sand.
After plugging the hole with a barrier, Kyu turned to me, looking incredibly unimpressed. “Well, can’t really spill sand into that room by breaking walls. It’s already filled,” I said, semi-enthusiastically.
“So, are we continuing the destruction or going around like normal people?” She said, placing a hand on the wall near her barrier. Demon steel began creeping around the hole into a doorframe.
“What if it’s actually in the sand in an open room? Maybe that’s why it can’t enter because the source is technically outside.”
“Sounds like you’re trying to justify excessive force,” she replied.
I sighed. “Going through every room is taking forever,” I complained. “What kind of fantasy world is this? Where are the quest markers? Why can’t we just ask the golem what it’s protecting?”
“Because you haven’t been listening,” Essing spoke into my mind.
“Spying on us again?” I said out loud, even though thinking would have worked just as well.
“I couldn’t help myself; watching you struggle is incredibly entertaining,” she replied.
“Don’t you have duties while I’m absent?” Kyu piped up, also out loud.
“I can multitask,” she said. “But back to the topic, golems don’t communicate the way we do, Victor. They form a bond with their summoner and interact through intent.”
How does that help us Essing? There is no summoner,” I replied.
“That’s where you are wrong, My King. A summon can’t last long without a power source. With its size, only a soul stone could power it. But those are too valuable to have been left as a defence.
“Wait, are you saying someone is living down here?” I said, not really believing her.
“It’s likely,” she confirmed.
“Then why don’t you use some of your fancy search magic and help us,” I said through gritted teeth.
“You can use the same spells as me, Victor,” she said with a chuckle. “You are our king, after all.”
I turned slowly to Kyu. “Doesn’t that mean you can use search magic also?”
She gave me her best ‘well duh’ look.
“You already found someone didn’t you…”
“How long ago?”
“Shortly after we stepped into this building.”
I groaned and rubbed my temples. “And why didn’t you share that information with me?”
“Victor, you have a bad habit of just blasting through everything. I figured I would try and help you develop other talents while I had the chance.”
“You chose now for a lesson? Really?”
“I haven’t had the opportunity until now,” the demon queen explained defensively.
I sighed, then opened my spell menu and headed over to the corruption demon section. As Essing had suggested, Life Search was lit up. Adding it to my quick use bar, I activated it and looked around.
Kyu and my own body lit up a smoky red, not so much to block out details, but enough to easily see the glow.
“Try closing your eyes,” Essing suggested. I complied.
Adding a black background did make it easier to pick out the glowing red of life. Turning in a circle, eyes still closed, I slowly searched up and down until a single figure caught my attention.
The moment I noticed the distant figure, I realized I could zoom in on them, like when looking into the distance when I had my eyes open. The horizontal figure looked human-shaped. But that didn’t make any sense. How had a human survived down here, buried by sand?
“This spell doesn’t differentiate between species. Be careful while approaching them. Compare their location to your magic tracking, and you will see that they are the source.”
I did just that, not that I didn’t believe the demoness—she was right, of course. That meant they were a powerful mage or sorcerer. Maybe even a demon. I couldn’t really see horns with Life Search—it looked like red mist fluttering around the shape.
Opening my eyes while keeping the search spell running, I turned to Kyu. “This is kind of helpful. But it doesn’t give me a path to follow…”
“What level is it?” Kyu questioned.
I opened my spell list and looked. “Level one,” I said.
“Can’t you improve it, being a guardian and all?”
I wasn’t really sure if I was technically still a guardian, but I had the talents of one, so maybe. The whole—becoming a demon king—thing had created all kinds of doubts.
Just like before, the moment I needed it upgraded, it upgraded. The level two description told me I could lock on to life, and magic would lead me there. What kind of cheat spell is that?
“Looks like I can,” I admitted. I know I wanted to finish this quickly, but somehow I felt disappointed. It was like I was adding in console codes to boost my character beyond ordinary means.
I suppose that was why I hadn’t bothered to learn many more spells. Being able to choose and upgrade spells at will was…too powerful. I wasn’t a god. But if I wanted to…
“I’ll lead the way,” I said, taking my first steps in the right direction. A thin red smoke lit up like the life I tracked, created a trail for me down halls up-and-down stairs, through rooms, and right to a massive dome room.
“Now we’re getting somewhere!” I exclaimed the moment we walked in. We were definitely heading in the right direction; they would have gotten to this building via an underground river in the past. I suppose it dried up and filled in with sand.
“According to the memory, we should find a hidden door in here,” Kyu added.
“Too bad it’s an old, fuzzy memory,” I grumbled. “She was an old spirit that held on the best she could, so I shouldn’t complain.”
“This room has been altered,” Kyu noted. “It hasn’t been used as a place of worship for a long time.”
“I suppose expecting nothing to change was too naïve.”
My demon companion nodded in agreement. “Looks more like living quarters. Hopefully, the changes didn’t block our entrance.”
“The life is in that box,” I said, looking toward the stage. Then I corrected myself, “That coffin.” I’m getting a bad feeling…
According to the memory, a quarter of the room consisted of seating in a semi-circle around the stage. Those pews were long gone, replaced by couches, a square table, and cushioned dining-room-styled wood chairs. Red carpet covered the floor on both the ground level and the stage.
The coffin sat center stage, the foot of it angled towards the low stage-edge. As we approached, the coffin opened.
Please don’t be a vampire. Please don’t be a vampire, I chanted internally.
The white-haired man that stood up from inside the coffin wore tight-fitting, pinstriped white pyjamas with a matching sleeping cap. His long, messy locks reached down in uneven clumps as far as his pyjama top—which stopped slightly above his belly button. This unknown man stretched skyward in a long yawn.
Um, is this a vampire or just a weirdo who sleeps in a coffin?
Mid upward stretch, they paused to stare at us. We stared back in silence, waiting to see what would happen next.
“It’s rude to stare, you know,” they said, quickly lowering their arms and pulling down their shirt to almost cover their midsection.
From our position just before the stage, the man looked like a skinny giant. When I say skinny, I mean elongated, stretched, disproportionately thin. Their solid black eyes appeared to point in our direction, but I could only guess without visible pupils. The darkness of his eyes almost matched the shadowy nature of his non-reflective flesh.
If it weren’t for his attire, I might have found his expression intimidating.
“You just climbed out of a coffin,” I retorted, not missing a beat. “That’s not an everyday event; of course, I’m going to be watching.”
That comment made Mr. Unnamed-Possible-Vampire cover himself with his arms and sink down into the coffin. Keeping only his head visible to us, he said, “So you’re a voyeur. How about you stay over there while I change.”
Ok, they’re just a weirdo, I concluded.
I shared a confused glance with Kyu. She just shrugged. An awkward couple of minutes later, a better groomed ‘vampire’ stepped from their ‘bed.’ Did he have a suit in there with him, or are there hidden drawers I can’t see from here? I have so many questions.
“That definitely looks more, uh, Vampiric, ” I said, taking in the black suit with a frilly white dress shirt billowing out. The suit jacket was unbuttoned, as well as the top two buttons on his shirt. He wasn’t wearing a tie, which gave them a semi-casual vibe. His hair was tied back in a tight ponytail, using a black ribbon. Those dress shoes are so pointy they could stab someone, I mused internally.
“Vampiric, you say?” The man said, “No, no, no, I am not a vampire. I am an Undead Life Drinker!” He gestured grandly like he was performing in front of an audience. I guess that makes sense, him being on a stage and all. Wait, did he say ‘Undead Life Drinker?’
After a brief silence, the over-dramatic man burst into laughter. “Oh man, you should see the looks on your faces! Priceless!” After a few leg-slaps, while having a good chuckle, they turned more serious. “But ya, I’m a vampire. Aug Tiier. Nice to meet you.” They placed both hands on their hips while introducing themselves.
Who taught them that superhero stance?
“Aug Tiier, I am the Corruption Queen, Kyu Ven. This is the Corruption King, Victor Brandon Wilhelm.” She gestured at me with the second part.
“Ah, a king and queen of demons,” Aug said nodding, but not changing their pose. “Then I suppose you are here for the Soul Spell.”
“If that is for freeing trapped souls in gems, then yes,” I replied, stepping closer to the stage.
“If you want that knowledge, you must prove your worth, ” he said but gave no other warning.
Without so much as a flicker, a hand slammed into me, hard enough to launch me backwards and over the centrally placed table. My wings caught me before I could crash into anything.
Kyu moved faster than I’d ever seen before, parrying kicks, punches and attempted grapples in fluid motions. However, it was apparent who was the fastest. With a mighty push from my wings, I launched myself toward the combat. Boosting my speed with magic, I landed a kick to Aug’s side that crashed him into the stage.
He rebounded like a tennis ball, slamming me in the throat with a kick so hard I couldn’t breathe for a few seconds afterward. I also did a neat little backflip because I’m cool like that. Kyu and I tried to jump him at once, but he turned into smoke and blasted us away.
As we rushed to our feet, he reformed back on the stage, retaking the superhero pose. “You can’t best the Vampire Guardian of the Soul Spell! I am undying! Bow before me, muahahaha!”
Did he seriously just say muahahaha?
“Do you mean, like, and actual guardian or like a guardian of knowledge? I’m just a bit confused.” I said, readying myself for another bout.
“Well, not like an actual guardian, no. I tried to sign up to be one back in the day, but everyone was like, ‘you can’t sign up, you just are one,’ which was stupid—”
They just let anyone become a vampire nowadays, don’t they…
“—Stop distracting me!” Aug exclaimed—while pointing a finger in my direction. “Where was I?” A huge grin spread onto their face. “Right! You have not impressed me yet, so let’s see how you fare against my special technique! Blood Eye!”
The air around him shook, rattling everything in the room, including my teeth. I braced myself for what was to come. A red mist formed around us, then rushed to the vampire to congealed into a giant eye, hovering just behind them. Everything in the background disappeared into shadow.
The eye blinked, instantly changing Aug’s appearance. Dark flesh and eyes became blood, wrapping a monstrosity of exposed muscle. They were just as tall and thin, but their long fingers now ended in sharp, black claws that matched the oversized razor-sharp teeth on display.
All this, topped with an oddly tilted head, oversized pointed ears and a dead gaze, actually gave me chills. Then the show ended. In fact, the mood changed so fast my first reaction was confusion.
One moment I was staring-down a predator that was ready to strike; the next, everything had returned to normal in the room. The red-eye and haze were gone, along with the freaky shadow surrounding it. The scary blood-soaked vampire was gone—replaced by a very startled young woman. She had the same black eyes and skin as Aug, but the suit didn’t quite fit her.
She just stood there in silence for a few seconds, looking comical in oversized clothing. Then, her stomach grumbled loudly.
“Well, this is awkward,” she said.
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