Benjaman sat at his desk, his head resting on his hands, gaze locked on Mel. After so long, Mel wished he would have shown something other than complete and utter boredom whenever he ended up in his office, but maybe that was because he knew that Mel wanted him to do otherwise and this was his way of getting back at him. Saliim sat beside him, tapping her foot, chewing on her lip all the while Daisy stood to his left, gripping his shoulder. The way her hand shook told Mel his day would be far from over when he got out of this office, but first the old song-and-dance must be done.
Benjamin heaved a hefty sigh, heavier than all the ones Mel remembered before. Small victories? He removed his left hand from under his chin, motioning to the window in that direction, and beyond fire and chaos still reigned.
“Mel,” he said at last. “What did you do?”
“I’m going to be completely honest,” Mel said. “I’m normally honest, but, just to reiterate, I am being one-hundred percent, no jokes, completely serious about what I am about to tell you. This is in no way, shape, or form a lie. And, even if it was, it incriminates me more than helps me.” He took a deep breath, steadying himself, but the birdcage rattling behind didn’t help matters. He tossed its blanket back over, silencing the Storm Matriarch housed in it, and blew out. Slowly. Evenly. “Okay... I was trying to do the right thing.”
An explosion erupted through the window, leading to more screams, to more harpies begging for their lives, burned, zapped, frozen, and plucked out of the air by the magus. Benjamin didn’t change his face in any way, still peering into Mel’s eyes as if they were open doors, wanting more than simply an excuse.
“Mel,” he repeated, snorting, and rolled his wrist towards him. “Mind... elaborating why you brought back an entire harem of harpies-”
“To clarify that and nip it in the bud now, they are not sexually active with me at all, they are not interested in being sexually active with me at all, and I didn’t sleep with a single damn one of them.”
“Just all the gn-” Saliim began and the birdcage slammed against the wall as she was phased through the bars and returned to her buddy.
Daisy patted Mel’s arm and sauntered around him to the freed chair, pulling it close to his. She pressed down on the arms that were adjacent, keeping them apart, and they melted down into the bonded legs. She laid her head on his shoulder, kissing his cheek, his neck at times, giggling.
“You made me look bad,” she teased, poking his nose. “Confessing your love then going on a month-long vacation with exotic women? That looks awfully suspicious.”
“Trust me when I say I really... really didn’t want to be there.” He flipped the Storm Charm and caught it in midair, though it wasn’t the same as the one he initially had. That one was carved out of bone, its rune inscribed with stone. This one was made of polished sandstone and was traced with blood. The blood of the true leader of Hrral... Fraalda. “At least now I have a key.”
He flipped it again, waiting for it to come down, but Benjamin gave it a hard look, making it obey him and warp to his right hand. He made his head work to stay up as he looked over the Charm, humming. His gaze darkened a little as he shook his head and put it down on the desk, the red rune glowing softly on it.
“This will not bode well. Not with the Council,” he muttered. “Mages are not supposed to upset other dimension’s natural order. And yet you riled the harpies so much that they are attacking innocents on-sight.”
“It’s not what you think,” Mel said. “These harpies are batshit. They were killing their own people, so I thought I’d... give them a... head-start on their plans of existential domination.”
“Why were they killing their own, though?” Daisy said. “Something must have happened, something truly cataclysmic to make them turn against each other.”
“I... sort of... introduced something to the harpies. Something that never had a chance before.”
That finally caught a rise out of Benjamin... one eyebrow, but a rise.
“Harpies are always female.” He stated. “Their genetics stop the production of the Y-chromosome.”
“Well, tell that to all my little bird babies over there. Every single one, all billion and one or so, were carrying their daddy’s package.”
Daisy giggled, tugging on his cheek a touch.
“I guess even your genetics say fuck normal.”
“Or the side-effect of the potion he drank to lengthen said package,” Benjamin said, sighing, and shook his head again. “You really do throw caution to the wind with everything you do, don’t you?”
“Au contraire! I’m always careful,” Mel said. “I may not seem like it, but I always plan things out ahead of time.”
“Then what was your plan to get out of the harpy realm? Initially.”
“Good question... Um... I think... I was going to let my children hatch, then seal all ways in or out of the realm. That was back before I realized they were humoring me about that and you needed the Storm Charm, but after a few weeks and Daisy didn’t try to bust in Rambo-style, I thought there had to be a reason.”
“Speaking of,” Daisy said, tugging on his blue vest. “This outfit is kind of gay.”
“What part makes it gay?”
“The person in it.”
“Don’t see you complaining.”
“I am right now! You. Left me. For a month!”
“I do not wish to hear any more of your love life. Either one of yours.” Benjamin said. “I just want to know. Are there more harpies?”
“Yes, but the ones left behind in the realm are the ones that sided with my children... as well as the gnolls.”
That made Benjamin raise his eyebrow again.
“There were still gnolls? I thought they went extinct. Not a single scout to the harpy realm ever caught sight nor hair of them.”
“I can assure you, with utmost certainty, that there are still plenty of gnolls on Fraalda.” And many... many more to come, he thought, fighting the urge to whimper as Daisy pawed at his blue sock under the desk. Mel cleared his throat, catching her hand, and eased it onto his thigh, instead, holding it. “The harpies were in desperate of cleaning house, and the gnolls now have a chance to thrive again; as I said, I did good.”
“It would appear so... but what about the one in the cage?”
“She... heh... she deserved a... SPECIAL kind of punishment.” He even shuddered from how he said it, and fought the urge to gag. Only he knew what her punishment truly was, but let us simply say that she would never stop screaming, not until her vocal cords tore themselves apart only to be healed and continue hers... and currently Saliim’s torture. “She... out of all the harpies, she pissed me off the most. She will never be forgiven for what she has done.”
Though Mel usually stayed aloof, the more he spoke about her the more his own mask cracked, showing the ugly, sadistic smile underneath, quickly patched away into a disinterested smirk. Genetic, apparently; Benjamin’s slipped as well, and he showed a bit of pride for his grandson, returned to his bored expression.
Benjamin huffed, and stood from his throne, wiping his hand dismissively across the window as he moved passed it. Darkness filled the window, silencing and hiding everything beyond. Benjamin walked over to the small desk in the right corner, an old, moldy tome opened on it, sitting beside several layers of parchment. The top one had a red circle on it, seen, bled through the back as he picked it up, and cleared his throat again.
“We weren’t idle while you were playing hero, by the way,” he said. “We believe we found the spell to unbind whatever you accidentally summon from here on out.”
“Really?” Mel said, a bit... shocked? No. Not shocked... relieved. He was finally saved from his own eccentricit- idiocy! Idiocy. “That’s cool... So... how do we know if it works?”
“That’s where you come in,” Daisy said, and reached into her robes, pulling out a box of tea biscui-
“No.” Mel said, pushing them away. He repeated it, again and again, rising and becoming goofier with each iteration until he was probably going to be sued by a certain mousey-logo’d studio. “I refuse!”
“It’s the only way to test, Mel,” she said, continuing to push the tea biscuits on him.
“I will not have another life on my hands! Fuck. That.”
“Whoever, or whatever, may be summoned shall be just as quickly returned,” Benjamin assured, holding out his right hand. “It’s about time you showed me a bit of trust, lad. If you don’t trust me, trust Daisy.”
“You kidding? I don’t trust anybody, not even myself... for good reason!”
“Come on, Mel,” Daisy whined. Her lip quivered, her eyes wide yet pouty, yet he was the one whimpering like a beaten dog as she managed to grab him again. He tried to move her hand, but that was her cue, her moment, to shove the biscuits into his hand. “Gotcha!”
“Bitch!” He growled, and pulled out one, energy already sparking on his hands. “Fine...”
Once more, a succubus appeared, her skin flawless, hair- blah blah blah. She tried to introduce herself to her “master”, explain that she was up- Mel was already marching over to Benjamin, looking over the paper... and, again, a weird mix of relieved and shocked.
“Wow. It’s that easy?” He said.
“Apparently, but we won’t know until you try,” Benjamin said.
“Okay... Pyra, was it?”
“Pyarah, master,” the succubus s-
“Okay. Pyarah fuck off.”
Her runes flashed, and crystallized. Slowly, but not too slowly, like a step above a trickle, the crystals spread from them, consuming her. Her eyes had gone hollow, empty, no life to be seen. She had no expression, no fear nor anger to be had on that soft, rounded face. It was as if whatever had existed in the body had been removed, and now the crystal was sealing it away.
It flashed again once it had completely consumed the cadaver, and floated over to Mel. He saw his reflection in the soft pink crystal mirrored thousands, millions of times, wavering a little from whatever energy pulsed inside it. Mel wasn’t exactly sure what to do; it was simply... floating there... MENACINGLY.
“You ’avin a giggle, mate,” he said, cracking his knuckles, and threw a punch.
“Mel no!” Daisy said.
His knuckles just grazed the crystal, and the pink was gone, lost to fire and umbra. The exterior cracked, and energy lashed out, tearing away at the ceiling, the bookcases and everything that it could reach. Mel winced, withdrawing his hand; he had a small nick on his middle knuckle. Truly he was the victim here, even as black fire sprung forth, burning all in its path. It tried to hit him, but Benjamin did Benjamin things, stopping it from reducing him to ash. Good thinking: Ash never got anything done. Any of them.
The crystal exploded, filling the room with darkness. An oppressing aura tried to push down on them, magnifying the soft rumbling roar of whatever awaited in the darkness, slowly becoming clear as the room brightened. His purple eyes could be seen first, four of them lining his incredibly handsome face. He had the chin of an Adonis, with cheek bones to match. He didn’t have hair, instead having a weave of horns flowing from his brow down his back, each one shining like black glass. His skin was crimson red, clashing with his... shockingly white armor, covering from neck to toe. At least he made it up with his “sword”; It seemed more suited to be a claw rather than a blade, its cup guard covered with so many jagged spikes while its actual pointy end twisted and spiraled and splintered and had no real actual way to make a cut. It would still hurt if it hit somebody, given how many pointy bits it had, but a true cut? Never.
“Who dares summon the great Demon Lord Phroso?” He said... with a French accent.
“I knew it! I fucking knew it,” Mel exclaimed. “The French are the leaders of the underworld. They all called me crazy! They all thought I was xenophobic, which was absurd. I loved the Alien movies, and I love French fries! But there’s no way they could have made a food that is like crack and not be from Hell.”
“Manners, Mel,” Benjamin grumbled, and offered his hand to the Demon Lord. “We are sorry for the sudden summons, Lord Phroso-”
The Demon Lord slapped his hand away, returning his full focus to Mel.
“You,” he said.
“Me,” Mel said.
“Mel,” Benjamin said.
“You’re the one who summoned me.” The Demon Lord said, and brandished his sword towards Mel. “You foolish child. You have any idea the suffering you brought upon yourself and the Fate you brought upon all who reside in this realm? I won’t stop until everything lays in ruin-”
“And everyone is broken and riddled with despair-”
“Also did that.”
“A...and... I’m going to fuck everyone in the face!”
“Did that to two people so far.”
“Okay. Can you at least pretend to be afraid of me, if you are too ignorant to not be genuinely frightened?”
“I’m afraid to say that’s a no-go... because, well... you’re kind of... stuck with me.”
The Demon Lord blinked, showing that he had vertical lids instead of horizontal... then busted out laughing. The room shook with his laughter, hiding the birdcage clicking open and Saliim getting out, sitting at one of the chairs before Benjamin’s office. After a while, he sighed, wiping his two left eyes.
“You amuse me with your arrogance and simplicity, mortal,” he said, and roared as he tried to pierce Mel with his sword... instead stabbing himself in the back. He gasped, wheezed, and looked down at his chest, seeing his own blade sticking out of it... and yet it was still thrust at Mel. But it was through his chest, but it was pointed at Mel and it was through his b- “Okay! What the fuck!”
“It’s quite simple,” Mel said, and made the demon back-stab himself TWICE with his own blade, walking into the tip again. “You are bonded to me. Anything that may happen to me... happens to you first.”
“Wh... what kind of binding is this? I’ve never heard of this before!”
“Yeah, don’t look at me. It just sort of... happens... So... Welcome to the club, Demon Lord Phroso.”
Mel backed up to Benjamin again, and as soon as he did both blades left the Demon Lord. Blood stained his plate, running in thick rivers until the green energy patched him back up, leaving only scabbed skin. He was panting, as if he just ran a mile, and looked around the office.
“This is the Institute, isn’t it?” He said, growling as he looked back at Mel. “You’re only a mage. A simple mage.”
“Yes. Yes I am... but I’m the simple mage you are bonded to.”
“Then the solution is simple.” He raised his left hand, pointing up at the ceiling, and the ceiling was simply gone, sucked into the dark void that appeared above. The whole Institute shuddered and quaked, crumbling into that void as the Demon Lord laughed. “I’ll destroy EVERYONE! Even you.”
“Stop that now,” Mel said... and it was gone. “You are being very non-paragon right now you, you know?”
“Beats me. I’m a simple mage and man... now, I think as your punishment, I want you to transform yourself into... a four-foot floating banana.”
“Ah-ah! Less stammering, more banana’ing.”
The Demon Lord... simply stood there, allowing himself to be consumed by light. His vision was blank, his mind behind them shattered into a million pieces, but it was okay. He wouldn’t have to worry about that in a moment. After all, he was a banana... He looked around again, and saw Saliim sitting at the chairs. She patted one... and he floated over to it, plopping down in.
“Well... looks like we need to keep searching,” Benjamin said.
“By the way,” Mel blurted, “any news on my would-be assailant.”
“Afraid not,” Daisy said, holding both his hands. “They went dark as soon as you went missing. They’ll probably start up again now that you’re back, and then, this time, we should be able to catch them.”
“Darn... looks like nothing changed.”
“Well, one thing did.”
“You don’t mean...” She shook her head, and Mel cheered, running down the stairs... with a banana saying “ow” and his darling in tow. “I’m gonna be a mommy!”
“The pizza’s in my room. I put it kept in a special cube until you returned.”
“I love you so much!”
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