The cavern was dark and steamy. It was so hot that my lungs felt burnt just breathing in and out the acrid air. This path went on for what felt like ages. It was just me alone with the boiling sea, a lone path just barely above the water. I saw more bodies tossed along the path. Whoever those women were, they were now toast.
There faces were so burnt so badly that they were unrecognizable. There were also skeletons who had been boiled clean, their bones sitting for who knows how long. Were they past explorers? I didn’t know. The only thing I could do was keep heading forward. For some strange reason, I felt like my answers lay with whatever artifact they were trying to find.
When I first saw it, I thought I was looking at a mirage. In the distance, the cavern grew to an enormous height. I couldn’t see the ceiling anymore. Deep in the steamy fog was a massive structure. The closer I got, the more I realized it was actually a castle. I could only see the front of it. The rest of it was hidden behind the walls of the cave. Giant stalactites and stalagmites in front of the castle gave it a more menacing aura as if I was walking into the jowls of some great beast.
I pressed forward, having already made it this far. If Brooke was in there, I had to help her. If those two women had hurt Brooke, I didn’t know what I would do. I shoved my way through the front door, opening up into a massive entryway. It was much cooler on the inside than it was away from the boiling lake. There was a massive stairway that proceeded up to the second floor. There were also doors on either side.
Looking down at my feet, I could see scattered footsteps in the dust. It was definitely clear there had been more than a couple of people here recently. Going just by the bodies I had seen, there had to be at least a few dozen of the pit miners left alive. The steps seemed to scatter. Whoever the two mysterious women were, this castle wasn’t what they were looking for, it seemed. Rather, they were looking for something inside the castle.
“Clyburn? How are you here?” A voice came out of the darkness.
I spun, squinting as a figure came out slowly. It was a pregnant woman wearing a veil. In fact, she was probably the veiled woman whom I had met in that room with Angela. Wait? What did she call me?
I looked down at my hands and gasped. They were shorter and pudgier than the long and slender ones that I had before. In fact, they looked like my own hands. They look like Clyburn!
“How in the…” I shook my head. “Who do I look like to you?”
“…” The girl kept her distance. “I’ve been looking for you.”
My sudden surge of happiness drained as I remembered that these women were searching for me. “I know…”
Her eyes widened for a second but then narrowed suspiciously. “What do you know?”
“I know that baby is mine…” I couldn’t think of any other reason a woman would be hunting me down.
What I didn’t understand, was how they had found me here. There was some mention of scrying. They used some kind of magical spell to track me here. If that was the case, then wasn’t it possible that my family from Amaryllis could do the same? They could also be coming or already be here too, wondering where I am!
The girl grabbed her stomach, seeming very shocked by my words. “So… it really is you? Master?”
“M-master?” I laughed, scratching my neck awkwardly. “Actually, I’m a lord right now.”
The girl’s eyes flickered, and then she bowed down as low as her stomach allowed. In fact, it looked like she was about to teeter over.
“Of course… I didn’t mean any offense. My lord… you truly have been resurrected. Our sister feared failure. However, I knew the truth. I knew you transmigrated to this world properly.”
“Transmigration!” I shook. “You know I come from another world?”
“O-of course… my lord.” She nodded excitedly. “I come from the same world. I am yours. My body, my soul. Please… command me, my great lord.”
I shook my head, trying to get a grasp on this development. I had thought she was someone I knew, but it turned out to be something different. She was looking at me with reverence. She also seemed to know about my transmigration. That’s something I had never told anyone other than Hannah.
“Why did my body change?” I asked, looking back down at my body and making sure I was really Clyburn again.
“Eh? My lord?”
“I swear, I had a different face when I entered the castle,” I said, half to myself.
“Ah… the castle distorts illusions, remember my lord?” the woman finally righted herself with some difficulty. “So, you were hiding behind an illusion? No wonder we couldn’t find you. It was also genius faking your own death. We tried to stop that wretched woman from getting her hands on you, but that night went belly up for us all.”
Most of what she said was difficult to understand. Who was the wretched woman? Was she talking about Angela’s delivery? Just who had hired Angela to kidnap me anyway? They had hired a crazy person who had tried to rape me and even killed innocent people. There was no way they were good.
“Remember? Should I know this place?” I asked, looking around blankly.
“This place is your birthright, my lord. Your inheritance.” The woman explained. “When we tracked you here, I figured this must be where you were planning to head. We even had the Prince poisoned, and offered a cure to get permission from this city’s Royalty. That stupid mother would have burned down the city for her precious Caleb.”
I could only stare blankly as she filled in blanks one after another. So, Caleb was cured of poison? If that was true, then who was I? Was I just an illusion made to look like Caleb? Who put me in Caleb’s place? Where was the devil prince? Every time I had a question answered, it just led to more questions.
“It was… this Lilith person?” I asked.
“Let us not speak her name. She was only an imposter. Many in this world think she is you. She is a blasphemer who must be taken care of. Her and that associate of hers.”
“Associate? Is that the other… um… pregnant woman?”
“My lord does not need to worry about her!” The woman cried out, “She is just some harlot who should have died. I cursed her, so her baby will remain unborn!”
“Hah…” I shook my head, still, nothing was making sense. “In that case, I want to see who you are, pull off your veil.”
“Of course, my lord, this body is yours to do with as you please.” She pulled up her veil.
Immediately, my eyes grew distorted. I took a step back and hissed slowly. It was exactly who I expected it to be, and exactly who I knew it was impossible to be. The girl standing before me had short hair, a pretty complexion, and a pregnant body. Without makeup, she might have looked more like a boy. This was Ashley, the girl that haunted my dreams. The girl who had died. The entire reason I was in this mine was because I thought I had seen her. It hadn’t been a vision after all. It really was Ashley.
“Ash… I saw you die…” I spoke weakly.
The girl cocked her head. “She did die? But death is a minor thing.”
“Minor…” I couldn’t believe the words coming out of her mouth. “How can it be minor?”
I took three steps forward and then embraced her. The girl let out a cry of surprise, but then she didn’t fight as I hugged her, allowing just enough room for the baby. I kissed her lips. They were soft and warm, and they felt similar. Then, the fact she was pregnant hit me like a brick.
“The baby… It’s mine. You were pregnant?” I said.
She smiled and nodded. “Yes, my lord. He is male. Our baby is growing strong.”
“Shouldn’t he have been born already?”
“Of course not!” Ash laughed as I touched her stomach. “My lord knows that demon women have a much longer incubation period. It will take at least twice as long before the baby is born. I still have many months to go.”
“Right… a… a… demon?” My eyes dilated as I started to get a strange sinking feeling.
Ash smiled at me, but suddenly I could see a bit of sinisterness in her eyes. She was calling me lord as if it was natural. More than that, if she was the veiled woman, they had casually poisoned a prince, blackmailed a Royal family, started an illegal slave trade, and ultimately murdered dozens of women. This wasn’t the Ashley I knew. She even said it herself. Ashley died. Sulfur… I thought it was the boiling lake outside, but there was a faint scent of sulfur on her.
This couldn’t be Ashley. If that was the case, then that meant the demon summoning ceremony worked. That had been Diba Monic’s goal form the beginning. She had wanted to summon demons into our world. It was supposed to enter me, but it ended up inside Ashley instead! Demons were only supposed to be able to take over men! I had remembered reading something about that in this world’s bible.
That was right, Ashley was half male! Numerous body parts had been swapped out with her brother’s during an unfortunate accident. Although she was technically a woman where it counted, a demon could still get inside her. Ashley was a demon, and that would make the baby in her stomach a demon’s baby!
I didn’t know why the summoning had failed all that time ago. I took it up to Diba’s entire story being superstition, except that I felt the Demons. When I jumped across the portal to save Lyra, I felt them trying to enter my soul. However, it also felt like they couldn’t. So, what happened? They entered whoever they could. They had a whole tree of recently killed boys who could have been possessed. Why Ashley? Because she was pregnant? How many others are there?
“Demons… how many?” I asked, pulling away from her stomach like it burned me.
Ash didn’t seem to notice my change in expression. “Ah? My lord, it is just Rebecca and myself. When my baby is born in nine months, we’ll finally begin to spread the demon seed over the whole realm. Although, that won’t matter. You should be the one to do it. Once you regain your power, we’ll bring you as many women as you need. Spread your seed and create an army of offspring.”
I could only bite my lip bitterly. She was calling me lord. That would mean, Demon Lord. She thought I was some Demon Lord. Looking around this castle, I suddenly realized that calling it the Demon Lord’s castle seemed really easy. Maybe I was the demon lord after all. If demons could only enter men, and I could have 50% male offspring, then I’d be the quickest way to bring back the demon race. Now that I knew Ashley had a male child, I had to rethink the probability that I was the blessed one again. How close was blessed one to Demon Lord? Were they not essentially two sides to the same coin?
After all of this, whether I was a blessed man or a Demon Lord, my goal was to spread my seed across the world. It all came back to seed in the end. Just that alone was enough to make me smile bitterly. The second reason was Rebecca. She must have died when she fell from that height. Then, a Demon took her over too. Except, she didn’t have any male parts that I was aware of. Was it something Diba did to her during the ritual? I didn’t know. However, I had to face reality. Both women went missing shortly after the events of that day, and both women were demons.
What about Mia? Was she a demon as well? No, Mia had to have died in that explosion at the trolley. It’d be nice to think something else happened, but that was only wishful thinking on my part. Then again, was this fate truly better? I didn’t really know how I felt about Ash before she died, not that she was a demon, was she even Ash anymore?
A suddenly light appeared from a wristband she had on. Ash looked at it for a moment and then nodded.
“The inheritance has been found, my lord. It is time for you to claim it.”
“R-right…” We had been standing in the castle entrance for some time.
I started to follow Ash. She occasionally checked her wristband as if it was feeding her the direction, and then moved forward as if she knew the way.
“So, once I have this inheritance, my power will be restored?”
Ash shook her head sadly. “Your inheritance was broken into four pieces, hidden in your four castles. Remember, my lord? This will only restore 1/4th of your power. This is only one of two inheritances we’ve located so far.”
“The second… was taken by the Lilith line. That little monster stole it and identified herself as a demon lord. That woman died… and it’s been diluted over the years. The current Lilith still has your line. If we can capture her, you can take it back. We tried my lord, but she turned out to be too powerful.”
“Was that the night that Angela’s ship was destroyed?” I asked.
Ash tripped. “My Lord knows much more than he lets on. Are you testing me, my lord?”
Grimacing, I decided to go with the mood and responded with a lofty answer. “I am the Great Demon Lord. If there are flaws in my underlings understanding of things, I must take it upon myself to correct them.”
“Y-yes my lord!” Ash responded excitedly, looking at me with glowing eyes. “You are wise!”
I snorted and raised my chin, but on the inside, I was surprised I was still standing. It felt like moments ago I had just been thinking about escaping a mine, and now I was knee deep in a conspiracy that might very well be a world-ending disaster. I was right next to a demon who might very well kill me the second she realized I wasn’t this supposed Demon Lord. Furthermore, I was walking deeper into the Demon Lord’s castle.
At the same time, 1/4th the power of a Demon Lord sounded nice. I was reminded of a strange girl I once saw construct a massive magical pillar and keep the island standing. Was that the kind of power I would gain? Wait… if that was the power, then didn’t that mean that girl was Lilith, the fake Demon Lord? No, this was all just making my head hurt even more. I decided to just keep following Ash for the moment. I was already lost enough I probably couldn’t find my way back to the entrance.
The hallways were dark and humid. Ashley casually created a magical light source with her hand. I noticed that there was no invocation. That meant that she was mentally doing the math in her head. Was this the power of a demon? Somehow, I had a feeling it was much more than that. Half of me just wanted to hug and hold Ash, forgetting about the reality. The other half kept reminding myself that this woman had killed many people to get here.
The walls were barren and jail-like. The entire place had an oppressive atmosphere that threatened to fray at my mind. There was nothing of wealth strewn about at all. Whether the demon lord’s castles had been looted eons ago by eager adventurer’s or simply that the wealth was never there, to begin with, I didn’t know.
I could reason how long it’d take to bury this entire castle underground to the point that it was at the bottom of a deep mineshaft. This castle had to come from the time of the demons, long before Lilith’s War and the Demon’s curse. This was before God’s flood when Demons reigned supreme. This castle was only still intact likely from magic. It was older than this world’s history.
If I remembered my history books, one just like it was unearthed by Lilith. She was called the Demon Lord, but it turned out she was just borrowing the Demon Lord’s power. It seemed like when she had taken on his inheritance, she had learned the truth about men. Lilith then set out to stop the spread of male genes from the so-called Blessed Man. This got her vilified, and then the male hero who spread the male genes ended up enslaving her in a contract. Lilith followers hated men exactly because of her desperate spread of information.
However, because Lilith was enslaved, her anti-male story somehow got polluted, and the Lilith Followers started trying to deliberately bring back the demons.
Her bloodline continued though, up until this day. Ash had called her a demon hunter. That must have been why she was at school so long ago during the Day of Wrath. She must have picked up on the summoning and gone to investigate.
At least, that was all I could reason out by the time we came to a hidden staircase. Ash seemed to know just where to touch it to open up a long spiraling stairway down. She smiled and looked from me to the stairway. I sighed and took the front now.
Was I really going to take this inheritance? Well, I’d rather I had it than one of the demon girls took it. The stairway spiraled down for about six floors before finally letting out in what appeared to be a massive throne room. There was light on in this room. Torches along the columns seemed to grow with a magical light. Someone had clearly been here before us. As I walked up, I noticed a small mound of bodies. These were the woman from the pit. Many of them I had known. I had smiled and poured gruel for them.
Most had their throats slit, although a couple looked like they had suffered worst deaths. I forced myself to look at faces, but I didn’t see Brooke among them.
“Sister… it took you long enough. When it comes to taking the inheritance, I think I…” A person walked out from behind the throne, but when her eyes landed on me, they widened and she stopped. “Clyburn!”
The woman standing there was none other than Rebecca. Now there were two demons. This was another woman whose existence left me feeling complicated. We had sex, and were even friends for a while, except that she hated men with a passion. Well, if it was like Ash, that woman was already dead, and this was someone else.
“Yes, sister! We should rejoice! I have confirmed. He is the Demon Lord! Now, we can begin the plans for world domination!”
“You…” She narrowed her eyes looking at me. “Are you sure sister?”
Her eyes felt like they were seeing right through me. I instinctively shivered. I felt like she could see through everything with that look. I wanted to hide entirely.
“Of course!” Ash responded proudly. “Do you doubt me? My lord has stated that he has been using illusion magic to hide from us.”
“Illusions?” Rebecca frowned. “I’m not so sure. I do not detect a single ounce of demonic aura from this man. Perhaps your judgment is clouded. You’ve also insisted on keeping that baby, despite it also not having a shred of demonic aura.”
“Do not be ridiculous.” Ash laughed. “This baby is a demon, as is his father. There is no such thing as a man without demonic aura unless you want to speak of blasphemy. My baby only doesn’t show an aura because our great lord suppressed it so that wretched Lilith wouldn’t be able to find us.”
“If that is so, sister, then answer me this…” Rebecca frowned. “This castle removes all illusion. The second you walked in, any illusions would have been stripped. You said so yourself. So why is this aura still hidden?”
Ash’s hand went to her lips, and her eyes widened. It was clear she hadn’t considered this before. Perhaps, she was blinded by seeing what she wanted to see. She looked over at me. She had just a hint of questioning in her eyes but still seemed unconvinced that I was anything but what she expected me to be.
“This is my castle!” I spoke arrogantly, “Do you truly think I cannot control my demonic aura if I wanted to? I admit a lapse in judgment when it came to my physical alterations, but I would never be lax where it matters!”
“Y-yes, My Lord!” Ash nodded excitedly, before turning to Rebecca, “Enough is enough. This is our great lord. Stop acting so belligerent.”
Rebecca’s eyes didn’t change though. She was still watching me suspiciously, even as she casually bowed.
“My apologies, my lord. I don’t mean to be suspicious, but as the only living demons, we must be cautious. Perhaps my lord can pull back his restraints and let us feel his demonic aura?”
“Hah… that…” I coughed. “It doesn’t work that way. It would take many hours to undo the aura. I don’t appreciate your tone, Becky. Perhaps you should realize who is in charge here now.”
“S-sorry, my lord. It won’t happen again!”
“If I’m wrong, then you may cut me a thousand times to pieces, my lord.” Rebecca spat back, “But I won’t concede until I’m sure. In that case, I have a simple test for you. Afterward, if you prove yourself, I will beg forgiveness on my knees. Until you do, though, I won’t allow you to take the inheritance!”
Ash looked shocked, and I was starting to sweat, but I couldn’t let my persona slip now. “In that case, give me any challenge you feel is necessary. I will show you my might as the Demon Lord.”
Rebecca smiled, and then reached behind the chair. She threw something down, which rolled down the stairs painfully with several shouts and murmers. It wasn’t until they reached the bottom step only a few feet from me that I realized it was a person. It wasn’t just any person, it was Brooke! She was tied up and her mouth was gagged. Her eyes were wide with shock and disbelief. It looked like she had been beaten pretty bad by Rebecca.
“What is this?” I demanded.
“This was Clyburn’s bodyguard, your former host. Since you are are the Demon Lord, this is a sacrifice for you. Rape her, kill her, and then eat her. I don’t care what order you do it in.”
Rebecca stared down the lighting in the room making her eyes look as if they were glowing red. She tossed down something which fell near my feet with a clatter. Looking down, I realized it was a small knife. I knelt down and picked it up.
“If you are my Demon Lord, I believe you’d even thank me for this gift,” Rebecca said. “So, show me you are he, and then take your place on this throne!”
I gulped, staring down at Brooke tied at my feet, a shining knife in my hand. Why did this all keep happening to me?