The Aricitic Traveler Origins

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Prologue 3: The Demon Lord

The Hero could feel warmth all around her body. Was this the afterlife? There was a calming sensation and gentle sounds around her. Some of them were sounds of water and she felt the warmth ripple along her body. There were also quiet voices, almost that of a whisper, around her. Oddly, beyond the warmth she could feel… a pair of hands on her body.

She opened her eyes and looked around. She was in some sort of pond. The water was warm enough the steam was rising from it; a hotsprings perhaps? The voices were from the other women enjoying the water around her, they all seemed calm and content, enjoying conversation with one another. Surprisingly none of them seemed at all bothered by their own nudity or that of those around them… This must really be the after life, she must have moved on as a blessed soul. Certainly, there were even women with white feathered wings here.

Something bothered her though, the pair of hands. Not only that, she could sense a presence behind her; likely from where the hands originated. Slowly she turned her head and came face to face with the Demon Lord. Shocked she looked down at her body, which to her horror was as nude as those around her, including the Demon Lord. Quickly the Hero ripped her body from the Demon Lord’s grasp. She clenched her fists and began attacking the Demon Lord. No matter what he had done to her while she was unconscious, she didn’t care, he just needed to die!

But none of her attacks landed, and she could hear giggling around her. Startled and confused at the turn of events, the Hero turned around to find that she was now the center of attention. All of the women, no, females as they were of multiple ages, some as young as six and some whose ages she could only imagine. In addition to multiple ages there were many different species; she saw humans and their like: some little people including at least one dwarf and a couple of gnomes; some big people including an elf or two and one giant; a few fairies of many different shapes and sizes; there were even some pixies, dryads, naiads and sprites, although the last three were considered more elementals than Aerthians. The Hero was sure she had seen a woman made entirely of water in the hotspring somewhere, and somehow a child made entirely of fire, but she wondered if she only imagined them.

As she continued to look around herself in astonishment she realized that what she had previously assumed was a ‘pond’ must actually be a lake, given the number of people in it. Various different types of elementals and beastme- people, as well as humans, were resting here. She was surprised to see that many of the beast-people appeared more human than even those in the army she fought alongside with. While some of them were completely covered in the stereotypical fur she knew of, many of them were not and only had fur on some parts of their bodies, or patterns of color on their skin mimicking their more animalistic brethren. Generally speaking, though, they had fur on their ears and tails. While the vast majority of the elementals had a human appearance, the hero noted that some did have appearances she could not quite define as human, or humanoid.

“What is this?” The hero asked, “Some kind of harem?”

“Only if you mean ‘harem’ in the classical dictionary sense.” the Demon Lord replied. When the Hero turned around, ready to start beating on him again for seeing and touching her while naked, she saw he was holding a book. “And I quote: ‘mid seventeenth century: from Arabicharam, harim, literally ‘prohibited, prohibited place’ (hence ‘sanctuary, women’s quarters, women’), from ‘harama ‘be prohibited.’ and not the more generally known meaning of: ‘a group of female animals sharing a single mate.’” He then closed the book and it vanished. “Although, I suppose in this case the derogatory does apply in this case: ‘a group of women perceived as centering around a particular man.’ But I assure you that they are not my concubines, and I remained unmarried.”

“Did you bring me here to become one of them?” the Hero asked, disgust seeping from her words.

The Demon King sighed. “First of all, I don’t sexually abuse the females who live with me. The only reason you are seeing only females is because there are four baths in this building: one for men only, one for women only, one mixed bath, and this one. We obviously are not in the men’s or women’s bath, and the mixed bath would contain far more males - it is for families and those seeking to become families. This is a bath I created specifically to be a healing bath.”

“Healing bath?” the Hero asked skeptically. “Why did you bring me here?”

The Hero felt a pair of hands on her shoulders again. She braced herself to beat whoever it was again and turned to look. To her surprise it was the vampire from earlier, the one who had stood to the Demon Lord’s right. She was smiling pleasantly at the Hero and said, “Because you were nearly dead, child. Your flesh and bone had deteriorated and was practically falling off. To save your life he had to literally pull all of the energy generating those death spells out of your body and process it into something else.”

The Hero looked down at her own hands and shuddered. It was true that she remembered seeing them begin to break down and melt, exposing tendon and bone, but she looked just fine now. She turned back to the Demon Lord and noted that the succubus who had been standing to his left was now there again. The succubus looked her over and said “You have been unconscious for ten days. Even while trying to remove the remaining spells that sought to end you and those around you, he brought you here to heal your body. He hasn’t left your side at all in that time.”

While the succubus spoke the vampire moved to the Demon Lord’s side. She made a motion and the Demon Lord nodded and tilted his head to one side, extending his neck in the process. To the Hero’s horror the vampire then bit into his neck and began drinking. Taken aback, the hero stumbled few steps backwards; catching herself, she hoped no one noticed her nearly fall.

As the Demon Lord was otherwise unable to speak the succubus said “There are a number of different vampires species, all with varying or unique, how shall I put it? Abilities or disabilities. For example, some die in sunlight, some don’t need to drink blood at all but will be granted immense power if they do. Others have unique forms that grant them special powers. Many of them have migrated to this territory, mostly to escape persecution and retribution from other species. Here, so long as they follow his rules, he provides them with fresh blood as they need it. One of those rules is that no vampire is allowed to drink blood directly from any intelligent species without permission.”

Gulping down her embarrassment, the Hero inquired: “What about you?”

“Me?” the succubus laughed. “Similar to vampires, there are many different types of succubi. My race feeds off of ‘life energy,’ everything else…” she laughed again and winked at the Hero. “is added spice. For me to feed, hand to hand contact is sufficient, although my species usually prefers lip to lip… or more traditional ways...” she said with one corner of her mouth pulled up in a smile.

“Lilith, stop embarrassing her.” the Demon Lord said in a scolding voice, the vampire having apparently finished feeding. “She is already in a position that would bring most women, hell, even men, to shame. I don’t intend to make her more uncomfortable.”

Pouting, the succubus, whose name was apparently Lilith, said, “I was just having a little fun…”

The Demon Lord moved over and patted her on the head. “I know, but not everyone likes your kind of fun. The Hero is new here, both to this place and to our ways. She may not decide to stay, so be gentle with her.”

“Stay?” jumped the Hero. “What do you mean stay?”

Turning to face her, the Demon Lord replied, “To the people who sent you here, you are either dead or a failure. I wouldn’t be surprised if they tried to execute you if you were to return… if not that then they would place more curses on you and send you back to fight me again.”

“So, then you want me to stay and join your merry band of concubines?” the Hero spat.

“Good God, woman. For the last time, they are not my concubines!” the Demon Lord practically yelled, causing the room to go silent. As all eyes turned towards them, the Demon Lord sighed and ran a hand through his hair, visibly trying to collect himself. “As I said before, I don't abuse my station... and the only ones I sleep with are those who come to me. Those you see around you are comfortable in this place, with themselves and their bodies, but that doesn't mean I go around touching everyone, nor would I tolerate such behavior of them.

“Lilith, or Subu, rather, mentioned that I enforce a law that vampires are not allowed to drink blood directly from anyone without that person’s explicit permission. Similarly those Succubi that need sexual contact to feed are not allowed to just go around ‘taking men’ as they please-not that all of them would mind, perhaps, but there is a social contract that I enforce. Any species that requires something from another must ask, and possibly trade for it; any species that produces something useful for others must be fairly compensated for it… and that species gets to decide what ‘fair’ is.”

“He’s really touchy about this,” Lilith said. “Many of those who come here, both female and male,” she paused to laugh, “accuse him of this, so he gets a bit upset when it happens. I can assure you, of the many, many, shall I say, subjects he has, very few of them are ever graced with his touch.”

“Graced.” the Hero snorted. “So then why was he touching me?”

“Unfortunately the first healing ability that I learned requires hand to wound contact.” the Demon Lord replied. “While I do use multiple forms of healing, I have yet to find a way to strip one given system of its requirements… That is why I am here, originally anyway.” He paused and thought for a moment. “Anyway, I am sorry I had to make you uncomfortable. Frankly, I could have healed you immediately, but I assumed you would prefer to keep your humanity…”

Hearing his last words the Hero was horrified. “Keep my humanity? What are you talking about?”

The Demon King laughed, and a few others around him did as well. “I am not human, although I am sure you figured that out by now, certainly the amount of blood Nataseva took from me would kill a normal man…” he indicated the vampire. “I am of a species that, save for me, does not exist in these worlds. Similar to vampires, we have the ability to grant our form unto others, but unlike vampires we also have the ability to take on the forms of others. However, to do this to another person is to take away what they originally are, for, even if they return to that form and no longer be one of us, the changes made to the mind and soul are permanent. This ability, one of a few, allows for near instantaneous healing from almost any wound, even those normally fatal.

“Some here have chosen to make the change, but most have not, and many of those who initially chose have also decided to return to their original forms. Realistically, they can make the transition as many times as they like… so this isn’t a problem for me, and I can understand why they would eventually wish to return to what they once were as my people live an excessively long time… seeing all those you know and love grow old and die around you is difficult, even for me. And I have experienced it for longer than these worlds have even existed…”

He paused and looked at the people around him. “One of my purposes for coming to these worlds is to collect more magics and the forms of more species… but as there are so many species here, and different variations of those species, I have been able to do something here that would have taken me much longer. There exists a world where only humans, vampires and werewolves exist. In a world I have yet to visit, a queen of vampires, and one of four separate camps of their kind, has encouraged her people to be peaceful with the humans of their world. I honor her work, and, as her species is plagued by two disabilities some vampires have, I wish to change this. Here I have found vampires both with and without these disabilities, and have been working on a nondestructive way to allow those with them to be cured.”

“So you can add and remove aspects of a species?” the Hero asked. “To what end?”

“As Subu told you, there are vampires here who will die in direct sunlight. Likewise there are vampires who won’t die, but will be harshly weakened. Among a range of other things there are vampires who are completely unaffected by sunlight, although, thankfully, they do not sparkle.” He laughed for a moment. “It is for people like this, who will respect my ways, that I wish to find cures for ailments that harm the species. Another example is that fire elemental over there. If not for my intervention she wouldn’t be able to enjoy the water. Yet more examples are some of the very short lived demi- or meta-humans. I have been able to extend their lives by many years.”

This all sounded too good to be true, suspecting something, foul perhaps, the Hero asked: “All for free?”

“Certainly not.” the Demon Lord replied. “But I don’t demand more than they are able, or often willing, to give. To do this for anyone I must, ultimately, gain a copy of their form. There are also risks involved for me to mutate anyone without them first becoming one of my people. I sometimes also ask for other, usually simple things. Additional chores, for example.

“However, I encourage those who have aspects that are deadly, or harmful to others, to accept my offer. I will rarely ask much of these people as simply accepting the change is beneficial for all of the people in my lands… and, realistically, those outside as well. Sometimes, though, I find myself in a position where I must force someone to accept the change. Doing so always hurts me, ultimately more than it does them… but it is better than eliminating them…”

“And, what of me?” asked the Hero. “What are you going to do with me?”

“You?” responded the Demon Lord. “You are special… unique. In the world I originated from technology was as prominent as magic was virtually nonexistent - to the point of being considered merely a fabrication, lies, fiction or myth… This focus on technology led to a great deal of understanding of the world far beyond what many worlds of magic produce. Once, such advancement was an understanding of the concept of breeding, or reproduction.

“The precise mechanism of how two members of the opposite sex produced a new life, and what mechanics went into it. Part of this discovery was that each species had a unique pattern defining them, much like a tapestry, and mixing these patterns between species, while in rare cases possible, did not yield desirable results - in most cases the offspring couldn’t produce offspring themselves. However, many, many worlds somehow bypassed this mechanism and allowed different species to do what only races should be capable of doing. This, for example, allows anthropomorphic species to produce children with humanoid species, which, for all intents and purposes, should be impossible.

“You, my dear, are the result of many different species. While you certainly appear to be only of the Aerthian people, I can assure you that you have anthropomorphic…” he paused, as he noticed the look of bewilderment on her face as she silently tried to sound out that alien word, “... or beastmen, as you call them - elemental and even demonoid in you. This unique blend of species is one thing that gives you the vast power you hold, as well as your keen senses beyond what most other Aerthians have.”

Shocked, the Hero replied. “I’m not human?”

“In so few words… yes.” Replied the Demon Lord. “But it would be more appropriate to say, you are not merely human. While I cannot say that evolution played any part in producing you, and I wouldn’t necessarily go so far as to say the divines paid you much attention. If you were a product of Aerthian ingenuity then they certainly have been keeping it secret from me…”

Still unsure, the Hero asked. “Then, I’m special… right?”

The Demon Lord laughed with delight. “I think you already know that, my dear.” he replied. “"But, yes, you are special beyond your somewhat limited understanding. You are a singularity of these worlds, not only because of your power and strength, which far surpasses that of nearly all other living beings." here the Demon Lord paused a moment to collect his thoughts.

"As a singularity many things are unique to you. You unconsciously influence those around you. That is, the things you do can change their very fate, for better or for worse..." with this the Demon Lord looked into the Hero's eyes and continued, "No one else can do this... it is your power alone.

“I don’t know if the Aerthians knew of this when they recruited you, or if they just saw your potential… but they managed to tap into both your innate power and your ability to unconsciously manipulate people’s fate and scripted them to be positive until you reached me. For example, when you fought the worms without any casualties. Once you faced me the curses woven into you were designed to activate and turn your power and fate into an extremely negative force, one that would normally cause everyone around you to die for seemingly random reasons. Once I noticed what was done to you, I attempted to circumvent this by causing you to skip your entire journey beyond the walls… only to retroactively ‘live’ it, in an attempt to prevent the magics from activating. Unfortunately, they activated anyway when I began to explain the discrepancy between what you had been lead to believe and what was true.”

“So they were so desperate to kill you that they were willing to sacrifice me in the process?” the Hero asked, scoffing. “Doesn’t that seem stupid to you?”

“Yes, very much so.” the Demon Lord replied. “But desperate people will do desperate things…”

“Well, you are the one who made them so desperate.” the Hero retorted.

“Not entirely. While it is true that the monarch families and other so-called royalty are afraid of me. This is mostly because I rarely recognize their supposed authority.” the Demon Lord gently replied. “I have spoken with many of the leaders of this land, from Kings to Elders, and informed them of my intent. To these people I have specified what kind of person should be used for a ‘sacrifice’; those who have lost their families, are unable to be fed, slaves brought to their area, and the like. Essentially, I have told them to only send people to me who would otherwise live a hard and unpleasant life, or die before their time.

“Of course the ‘tribute’ is something else altogether. Tribute is merely fair payment for services I render. I do not cause bandits or monsters to attack; I do not cause the crops to fail or animals to die; I do not cause disease to spread, but I do offer to prevent these things from happening. For my efforts, I only ask that they give me something in return. This is usually a small percentage of the extra crops they harvest, or animals they produce.”

“But the kings and emperors are the ones who own the lands, who rule the people, who are in charge of the people.” the Hero retorted. “They were given this position, either by the people, gods, or because they themselves are descendants of gods.”

At this, the Demon Lord snorted. “Monarchs rarely have the blessing of their people. Usually it is one person who overpowered those around them and forced them to submit. As for receiving the blessing of any gods… while I won’t deny that some leaders have, none of the monarchs do. The same thing with those claiming to be descendants of gods. Godly beings may exist in these worlds, but even when they do take interest in ‘mortals’, they rarely have children with them. Regardless, if a godly being had taken control of Aerthian territory, I would have immediately done something about it.” Here he paused for a moment, as if deep in thought. “Although I dislike people abusing the terminology of ‘gods’ and ‘deities’ I see no reason to invade someone’s land, leveling and irradiating two of their cities, then forcing them to publicly admit that they are not a ‘God’.”

The Hero looked at the Demon Lord skeptically. The disapproval in her eyes filling the silence with her unspoken words, until she herself spoke, “You refute other people’s claim to power, or their lineage or birthright, and yet you claim to be a god yourself.”

“When have I ever claimed to be a god!” the Demon Lord snapped so loudly that everyone in the room jumped and the Hero fell back a few steps. “I may have more magic, more capacity, more knowledge and generally more ability than nearly all of those within these worlds... And I may be virtually immortal, but I am no God. I make mistakes! I feel emotions! And…” he trailed off and calmed himself with a deep sigh. “No. No, you are correct. The entire point of my journey is to become the definition of ‘overpowered’. So, in many ways, I do view myself as a god. Honestly, it isn’t as though I don’t have intentions of forcing that down other’s throats either, but I am working on a means to forcibly control myself.”

The Demon Lord glanced over at the Hero; then, looking her up and down, said, “You have been in the water far too long. Let us leave the bath, and I’ll show you around.”

With this he lifted himself out of the water, shook himself off almost as though he were a dog, and manifested clothes into his hands. With a single, swift motion he had transferred the clothes to his body… by magic presumably. He then turned around, a towel in one hand, the other extended to help the Hero out of the water. Reluctantly, as she still did not trust him, the Hero took his hand and, as he helped her out of the water he wrapped the towel around her.

“First, I will show you to the room you can use. We have prepared some clothing for you there, as yours were destroyed during your… meltdown.” the Demon Lord said. “You certainly do not have to stay, but should you choose to it will become your home, your living quarters, your private domain… unless you decide to take up residence elsewhere in my domain.”

He lead the way out of the room containing the underground lake, and into a foyer, which itself opened to several hallways. Subu and Nataseva followed, somehow having become fully clothed without Hero noticing. There were four other doors in this part of the hall. Above and to the right of the doors were signs containing text in various different languages. The Hero had been given an education beyond military training, so she could read at least one language, and she noted the doors were labeled from left to right: “Massage,” “Private,” “Women’s,” “Mixed,” and “Men’s.” The room they had come out of was the one labeled ‘Private’.

“Why is it called private?” the Hero asked. “There were plenty of people in there.”

“Huh... I thought you were going to comment on how it was bigger on the inside. It contains a body of water about the size of a small lake, after all, and the rooms to either side are not more than ten feet from one another.” the Demon King replied, glancing sideways at her. “The room isn’t so much ‘private’, as it is my personal bath and place to meditate. Others are allowed to enter, and certainly when someone is critically wounded they are brought there, but I ask people to not enter it as freely as the other rooms.”

“Oh,” the Hero muttered. “And what is ‘massage’?”

“People here do a decent amount of work. Those that live in this building and certainly those that are new are given massages to relax or calm them down.” said the Demon Lord. “Originally, I was the one who gave them, but now I only do it for newcomers or those who personally request me to. We now have others here fully capable of doing the same task.”

They walked down one of the hallways towards a door near the other end. Along the way Hero noticed a number of doors, most of which were labeled: “Maintenance” often followed by other words. She wondered what these rooms were used for, but she let it pass. Soon enough, they left that hall and entered a vastly larger area. This area appeared to be a courtyard, or some kind of walled off park. There was a wooded area, a large pond - not as large as the ‘bath’, but large enough for many people to be within it at once - a stream running from the pond into the wooded area, and a flat grassy area.

Surrounding the courtyard was a stone walkway. Set into the walls were a large number of doors, all equally spaced from one another. Staircases, placed every so many doors as well as at each end, led up to a floor above. Each wall surrounding the courtyard had the same pattern, and there appeared to be at least five levels of this. Additionally there were many people walking along the paths next to the walls or entering the doors, as well as mingling in the open spaces or in the pond. They all seemed lively and, well, happy. Those that noticed the group waved or even bowed.

“What is going on here?” the Hero asked, her confusion growing with each new thing she saw.

“This is one of the living complexes within the building.” the Demon Lord explained. “Each one of those doors is a person’s home. They have bedrooms, bathrooms, a living space and a kitchen. While most are standardized, meaning the same, those that need a custom home are granted it. Additionally, while living here is essentially free, the quality of their home is determined by how useful they make themselves to the community.” He paused for a moment. “And not necessarily just to me.”

He continued as they walked on, more people noticing them and waving or bowing. “Many people who come here have entered as slaves, but they very rarely stay that way. Even those that remain so have comfortable living spaces; far more comfortable than what anyone else would afford a slave, and certainly more comfortable than sleeping outdoors.” Again, he paused for a moment, reacting to some of the people who noticed the group. “About the least comfortable space I allow for is a hay bed, an old blanket, and three rooms: sleeping area, bathing area and cooking area.”

“How many people live here?” the Hero asked in awe of the numbers she had seen so far. Certainly this was more than a village, perhaps even more than a town.

“Hundreds.” replied the Demon Lord. “Of all ages, species and races, both genders, and essentially all walks of life. While I do allow families to live in the building I do not allow couples. If two people want to be together, then one of them, has to build a house somewhere on my lands outside of this complex - using the minimum requirements I provide - for them to live in. If, later, they choose to separate and come back, and there is room, then I will allow it. I use this method to make sure that both parties really want to be together, rather than one or both just taking advantage of the other.

“I don’t enforce monogamy here,” he said quickly, while greeting yet another group of people as the four passed. “I just encourage stability and a clear sense of personal rights. If a relationship is going to be forged, only to be broken soon after, then it is a pointless waste of emotions.” again he hesitated, “Those who choose to remain... unattached… or those who wish to enjoy the company of a bedfellow - disregarding any implications - are welcome to do so; we have things to prevent ‘accidents.’ However, mutual understanding and consent is still required.”

The Demon Lord stopped at a door, pulled out a key and unlocked it. As he opened the door, he motioned for the Hero to walk inside. Glancing behind her, she noticed that to either side of her were the vampire and the succubus. The Hero still didn’t trust the Demon Lord, and she was growing even more uncomfortable about the situation, “What’s going on?”

“This will be your place to stay.” the Demon Lord said. “One bedroom, one bathroom, a kitchen and living room. The clothes prepared for you are in the dresser in your bedroom.”

“... why?” asked the Hero. She had done nothing to earn this. Hell, she had even tried to kill the Demon Lord. If anything she would have expected to be thrown in a dungeon.

The Demon Lord sighed. “First of all, we don’t actually have a dungeon here. People are confined to their living space. Those few whose deeds merit severe punishment, are brought to my lab, the fields, or mines. I don’t see the point in putting people in tiny, barred boxes to rot… that feels too much like slavery to me.” He shuddered. “Anyway, to answer your question, because you earned this by being here. Because you were thrown away by those you trusted. Because you, while not incapable of living a good life, were fated to a painful, early death at best, and a lifetime of misery at worst... Much like the majority of those I save here.”

“What do you mean save?” the Hero snapped. She didn’t need ‘saving,’ certainly not by anyone she didn’t trust, never mind this… man!

Giving her an odd look, the Demon Lord replied, “I disagree. ‘Heros’ are often those who need saving the most. They are put through extreme difficulties, are underappreciated and are often completely spent, disabled, or dead in the end. Even worse off are your kind of heros. You are brought up and essentially created for the sole purpose of ending ‘the ultimate evil’ of your time. Then, when you finally succeed, you find yourself with no other purpose. If the people that used you don’t provide for you afterward then you struggle to earn a living and continue on with life… and this is all assuming you actually survive the ‘end of the ultimate evil,’ instead of being destroyed along with it.”

Shaken by his words, and unable to agree with his view of a hero, all she could manage was “And you are giving this to me for free?”

“Did I not say, no more than twenty minutes ago, that people don’t live here for free?” the Demon Lord replied, sighing again. “You will be asked to do various tasks... nothing beyond your capabilities... If you do well, you may improve your living arrangements as you wish. If you do nothing, your current lifestyle may be demoted... Although no further than the bare minimum I'll allow.

“Since you know how to use the sword, and perhaps other weapons, as well as magic, you might be asked to teach others. Otherwise you might be asked to use your magic for various helpful purposes, or be asked to maintain the safety of the area. There are plenty of jobs that you could also choose to learn and do. If you produce anything that can be sold you are even allowed to keep at least half of the earnings.”

“You won’t make me fight against villagers or armies?” the Hero inquired skeptically.

“Against villagers? Only if they are constantly attacking another population they see as a threat, and even then only in defense while we negotiate peace or relocation. Against soldiers? Again, only in defense. If I ever go on the offensive I will ask people here for help; they may choose to aid me or not, based on my reasons.”

Feeling the knot of unease loosen, ever so slightly, the Hero asked the final question she needed to know before entering, “You said there are slaves here, where do they come from?”

“All over the place. From the worlds the demonoids occupy, the worlds the anthropomorphics occupy, the worlds the humans occupy, the worlds the elementals occupy… Even the worlds that the godly beings occupy.” He paused to take a breath. “But I don’t enslave them. I either purchase them, trade for them, or rescue them. If you are wondering why I don’t just rescue them, it is because while some slave market owners are vile scumbags, some are trying to run what these worlds see as a legitimate business. If I simply remove the people they are holding, then they will likely fall into slavery themselves as they would no longer be able to support themselves or their families if they have one. I don’t make the slaves, I just bring them here and attempt to free them.”

“Attempt?”

“You would be surprised.” the Demon Lord replied. “I have had some who, after living here with a defining role, and then being informed that they were ‘free’, requested that I keep them the way they are…” again a pause. “Whether you know it or not, there are a few magics floating around that enforce the master-slave relationship. Typically they induce pain on the slave's part if they disobey an order, and in some cases also if the slave becomes too far away from their master. I always modify these slavery curses to provide protection and minimize the pain they cause, among other things. Surprisingly, when I offer to remove this binding entirely, along with it's physical manifestation, many ask for it to remain intact; as a symbol of our contract. I still remove the 'command' and 'obey' aspects, but I will respect their wishes to retain the markings.”

Nodding, the Hero walked through the door offered to her. Inside was a small lowered floor space just before an elevated floor leading to the rest of the rooms. To the right a number of short poles were attached to the wall, which the Hero assumed were designed to hang clothes on, and next to that was a number of small holes carved into a thing of wood. In one of the holes she saw a pair of what appeared to be shoes, but were unlike any she had seen before.

“This is the place you hang your coats and put your shoes. I don’t force people to take off their shoes when going into their living spaces… for some it is impossible as they don’t wear shoes, but I encourage it, to keep the floors clean. There are also shoes you can wear for walking around the house, that are not meant for outside. You can put these on if you wish, before I show you to your bedroom.”

Walking further in, after putting on the shoes provided - still clad in only a towel, and now shoes - she was lead towards the end of the hallway. Turning left she saw a bedroom with a bed in it fit for nobility. She didn’t recognize the materials used, and she couldn’t see the mattress, but considering the beds she had slept on up to this point she knew this was beyond simply shoving hay, wool or feathers into a bag. There were also pillows, two of them. Wait, two?

“Why two pillows?” the Hero asked, her voice squeaking a little.

Both the succubus and the vampire giggled as the Demon Lord replied. “Not so I can sleep with you, if that’s what you are thinking. The mattress is a queen size mattress and it makes more sense to have two pillows for such a size. The materials for the mattress itself are not from this world, but the sheets and blanket are locally produced. But, here, there is no need for you to be naked any more, take a look at the clothes I have provided you.”

Opening the large wooden wardrobe he indicated, she found many shirts and a number of dresses. There were indents evenly spaced in the wood below the wardrobe and after pulling at them curiously she found that they slid out to reveal a storage compartment. Inside one were two articles she didn’t quite recognize: something she assumed was an undergarment of sorts, and something else with two large bowls made of linen attached to strings. In the one below that were pants.

“Top, underwear, bra, pants.” The vampire said indicating what the things where.

“Bra…” The hero trailed off.

“Here, I’ll show you,” the succubus quickly replied, a faint smile across her lips.

Meanwhile the Vampire was ushering the Demon Lord out of the room, but this was likely mainly for show as he had already started to leave when the Hero pulled open the thing containing underwear and ‘bra’.

Over the next half hour the vampire and succubus had the Hero try on various clothes, all of which felt divine on her skin. She thought she could identify some cotton or wool, but most of the materials were far beyond her knowledge. Certainly, the colors alone must have come from dies she had never seen before, even from royalty. When the two dressing her, somewhat like a fancy children’s doll, settled on an outfit: long white dress, a similarly colored ‘bra’, and a pair of black underwear, they allowed the Demon Lord back in.

“Having fun?” he asked the two and then looked at the Hero. “I guess you must have, but, I say, you have good tastes. Did I rase you that way or did you learn it on your own?”

The two women laughed and the Hero blushed, although she wasn’t entirely sure why. People had called her cute or beautiful before, but rarely complimented her on what she was wearing or her appearance. Perhaps that was it, she was receiving a veiled compliment behind the Demon Lord’s words to the other two.

“I’ve never seen these kinds of materials.” the Hero said in an attempt to mask her embarrassment. “What are they?”

“The dress is mostly made of silk. Spider silk actually, from the various Arachne - part spider part women.” He paused to think for a moment. “Actually, most wares here are made from materials from those who live here. If a species does not produce some material, but instead is greatly skilled at working materials, then they take on that task instead.”

“And what of the things you demanded from the elementals?” the Hero inquired in an accusing tone.

“That… was an accident.” the Demon Lord replied. “It was a misunderstanding on my behalf. Elementals produce some of the best quality, how should I put it, elemental products in these worlds. The metals, crystals, soils… anyway, the things they produce within their bodies, that are not part of their living beings, are extremely valuable goods. Unfortunately I didn’t understand the customs of their species and instead ended up mortally insulting them instead. Before the event with that tyrant, I was trying to make amends and understand them better to prevent similar things happening in the future.”

“So, that was the cause of your absence?” the Hero responded.

“Absence?” the Demon Lord asked. “Oh, you mean the waning of the corruption spell?”

“That, and the lack of tribute or sacrifices demanded from the villages.”

They had moved to the ‘living room’ and were sitting on some chairs that were far softer than anything the Hero had ever experienced before. There was one very long chair that was much more a bench, but it had the same soft padding as the chairs. The Demon Lord was sitting on one that allowed him to lean back and put his feet up; the two demons were sitting on the bench thing and the Hero was sitting across from the Demon Lord on a soft chair with arms.

There was a small table in between them, only about shin high, and Subu had brought them warm drinks. The Demon Lord continued, “I have often left others in charge of collecting tribute or bringing the new members to my lands. During the time you call my ‘absence’ there were things happening around here and in the demonoid worlds that needed tending to. Unfortunately this lead to infighting and mass slavery in Aerth, but we are working on settling that as well.”

“Right…” The Hero said skeptically. “I still don’t see how you think you can regulate the entire world, or what gives you the right to do so in the first place.”

The Demon Lord laughed, “How I can? That’s easy. I have been educating my people to the best of my ability. Heck, I’ve done better than my ability, hiring peoples from more technological universes to do tasks either I cannot do myself or when there is far too much of a need for me to be able to do it myself. Doctors, teachers, professors, and the like. You would be surprised how many people would love to work in a fantasy setting, if they can get past the language barrier… which I have ways to help with.

“As for my right to do so… well, I am either the oldest being in the worlds or damn well near. If an older being exists they haven’t bothered to poke in and say ‘hi’ yet. Even among the godly beings of the higher worlds I am still quite old.” He thought for a moment, “But if you really want to know why I believe I have the right to police these worlds I can show you.”

Still wondering what some of the words he used meant she paused on his last implication. “Show me? Show me what?”

“Well, I suppose it is less of showing you some visual object, and more letting you experience first hand. I can temporarily give you the ability to experience what I constantly do, but I warn you, this is not for the faint of heart.”

Both Subu and Nataseva were grimacing and shaking a little as though remembering a trauma from their past. Curious as to what he could have done to make them react this way the Hero asked, “It isn’t anything disgusting is it?”

“If you mean sexual, firstly I don’t like that phrasing, and no, it isn’t. I’ve already told you that I don’t do anything to people who don’t ask for it.” the Demon Lord replied. “If you mean violent or gruesome, it isn’t that either. No, just a simple spell to allow you to see, hear, and feel what I do.”

Feeling brave and bold, the Hero replied, “Fine. I’m not afraid.”

“Ok, so, one second, five seconds, ten seconds, fifteen seconds or thirty seconds?” the Demon Lord asked. “Personally I recommend no more than five seconds, and one second would be the safest.”

“I don’t understand.” replied the Hero simply.

“He is asking you how long you want to try to last, dear.” Subu replied. “I would personally only go for one second. I’m told that Nataseva tried for thirty seconds and didn’t recover for a week.”

Well, if a vampire could do it… thought the Hero, and then she reconsidered. “Ten seconds.”

“Alright, but I’ll stop when you faint.” the Demon Lord replied, clearly underestimating the Hero’s abilities. He stood up, walked over and gently tapped her on the forehead with his index and middle fingers.

Suddenly the world went dark… well, not exactly dark. No, not dark at all. In fact the Hero felt an overwhelming sense of calm and contentment. Within that calm and content feeling she could also feel other emotions at play, some excitement, some joy, interest, focus… but as she continued to sense the emotions she felt as though she was lifting up and moving far away. The depth and amount of emotions expanded as she flew higher and higher. In some places there was a little fear or sorrow, but rarely anything unpleasant, more like childish emotions from playing a game.

Slowly, something like her eyes, began to be able to focus and she sensed she could focus on individual emotions or areas of emotion. All around her felt almost entirely warm. It wasn’t perfect, no utopia at least, but there were no strong unpleasant emotions… however, there was what appeared to be a border to this. Curious she moved towards the border and came to a vast emptiness.

A little perplexed at the sudden difference the Hero attempted to look through the emptiness to see where it ended. She moved, then moved faster, and faster and all too quickly it hit her. A massive wall of many, many different emotions. Unlike before where, even though the emotions were not one single emotion, they had been a range of mostly pleasant emotions, here there was everything. Terror, hatred, rage, intense hunger, exhaustion… yes, there were good emotions but there were many, many unpleasant ones as well. The waves of all of this flooded her senses, and she failed to notice that she was still moving forward into it and expanding around it.

Whereas before the number had been small, hundreds, maybe thousands, hundreds of thousands at most, now she was being swept up in millions if not billions of different instances of many, many different emotions. She tried to hold onto those that were pleasant, but the waves of unpleasant emotions kept shocking her and knocking her about. She was getting lost in a veritable sea of despair and a storms of hatred. The dark emotions pushing at her like harsh waves against a boat, the menacing intents striking her like lightening.

Still she continued to expand. She must have already surpassed the Wilds and Aerth by now, but she continued to expand. More and more thoughts and emotions flowed into her and she felt she was going mad. She couldn’t stop it, she could barely discern between different emotions anymore. She felt as though she was spinning faster and faster… and she did the only thing she could think of, she threw up.

When the Hero opened her eyes there was a wide and deep bowl of some sort in front of her. She turned away from the unpleasant stuff which filled the bowl, and wiped her mouth with the cloth which was offered to her. Subu, who was holding the bowl the Hero had vomited in, left the room, presumably to empty it. “How long was that?” the Hero asked weakly.

“About five seconds.” the Demon Lord replied. “I stopped when you threw up, rather than let you go until you fainted.”

“FIVE SECONDS?” yelled the Hero. “That felt like days! Weeks even!”

“I know. And I experience that every second, of every day. However, I have learned to control it, to focus on the individuals and specific emotions. I have come to be able to pinpoint locations and what the person looks like. This is how I am able to police these worlds. This is how I am able to determine who needs saving and who can be left alone… well, that and a bit of future sight.”

“You can predict the future?”

“To a degree. Perfect future sight doesn’t exist outside of a purely mechanical universe. Minds, wills and intelligence doesn’t allow for it. Any number of decisions can be made any at number of times… and whether those same decisions will be made at that exact moment or not can change far too much to allow for perfect prediction… but I can at least see if someone is likely to change in the future or not. If someone as a slave will be picked up by someone nice, or will continue to live a harsh and cruel life. If it is the latter then I will do something to bring them here and change their circumstances.”

“Who are you?” the Hero asked, utterly bewildered at the situation. “What are you? You claim to be older than even the oldest thing in the world… you keep saying ‘worlds,’ which I don’t understand. You can sense so much of the world around you, constantly, and you haven’t gone mad. You bring people to a domain that, to everyone outside of it appears to be a horrible and terrifying place, and yet you try to keep the peace, not only in your lands but in others...” she paused holding her head in confusion. “I don’t understand it. I just don’t understand any of it. What are you?”

“Would you like to hear my story?” the Demon Lord asked. “The story of an individual who may hold great power, but whose powers are all but entirely based upon those around him. Who has to travel to great lengths to acquire and learn to use the powers he needs to do what he wants. Whose goal is, ultimately, to bring happiness to those who do not have the power or ability to do so for themselves. My story may only be beginning, but it has still come a long way. Would you like to hear it?”

“... Does it have a happy ending?” was all the Hero could think to ask.

The Demon Lord laughed, long and hard. “Even I cannot say that with any certainty. I am still alive, and therefore my story is ongoing. But as with all stories there are happy moments and are there sad moments. And, while I could tell you what may come in the future, nothing is certain and it could all change. My very existence is based on events which could have… should have never taken place. Paradoxes within and outside of existence itself… but that is a story far too long and complex for now. However, if you wish, I will tell you the story of my arrival in these worlds up to this moment.”

“There it is again, you keep saying ‘these worlds.’ What do you mean by that?” the Hero asked. “Isn’t there only one world?”

“I guess that is as good a place to start as any,” the Demon Lord replied. “And please stop calling me the Demon Lord. I refer to myself as the Traveler.” the Traveler said. “So, Hero, would you like to hear my story?”

“Do we have time?” she asked.

“My dear. I have all the time in the world. I can easily give some of that time to you.” He replied laughing. “So, how about it?”

“Alright, then,” the Hero replied, shifting into a more comfortable position in her chair. “Tell me your story.”

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