Beta'd by eveakane and gaouw, back at QQ forum


Chapter 19


The house was cold.

Even with its large fireplace constantly blazing on the main hall, walls of wood constructed to cleverly distribute the heat across the structure, and its modern heating system - a recent addition to the ancestral halls - the house was cold.

Not on a factual sense, but in a deeper, more existential one. A person wandering around here, especially when alone, would feel the same cold chill from the snowy night outside. They would tremble even though their bodies are warm, click their teeth even though they are near the fire, slowly but surly feel the ice creaking up on their veins. This was a house where things froze.

It was not a place for anyone to live, yet, a family did, for generations. I wonder how it feels to be naked against the elements in one's own home.

The woman named Marzia looked uncomfortable, but at the same time, she seems used to it. She barely trembled as they approached what could be considered the heart of the house, even though her breath came out as a white mist by the time she reached the door.

She stopped before the white oak door, taking a deep breath to steady herself, then, raised her hand to knock. She paused an inch from the surface, and in an act of defiance, gripped the handle and pushed it open without announcing herself.

If a person made their way through the house and reach this particular part of it, they would be amazed to find that the room wasn't completely frozen, or that their bodies weren't hit by a glacial rush of air as soon as they opened the door. It certainly feels like it should, from the area surrounding it.

But no, the temperature didn't change, nor was the room frozen. It could even be called homely if it wasn't for the general coldness. Many people would call it spartan, but that's because nowadays very few truly appreciate the sight of rows and rows of shelves filled to the brim with books, neatly organized in a beautiful display of preserved knowledge. The rest of the room was where most would take the spartan look, for it was composed solely by neutral, non-distinct colors and simple furniture.

The large bed immediately across the room certainly made for an impressive sight though, as did the woman on it.

She was sitting with her back straight as an arrow looking unflinching at the new arrivals. Her hands were calmly laid before her, partially hidden by the dark shawl she had draped over her shoulders; the only color different than the snow-white of the sheets that concealed her lower body. The whiteness around her seems to invade the shades of her own body; the paleness of her skin, the gray of her hair, it all seems to have a bit of white in them.

The woman was elderly; anyone would be able to see that, but she was sturdy and imposing for her age. No doubt people would have made comparisons to a stern grandmother, or a severe headmistress of a boarding school if they saw her.

Until they see her eyes that is.

Her eyes were frozen in time; they still held what they had decades before, still capable of provoking the same feelings on people they used to.

Many knelt before these eyes.

"M…Mother." Marzia Abamelik stood tall where most would buckle; perhaps the presence of the second woman, the one following close behind her, was boosting her courage. "I came to thank you for your help till now, a-and announce we will take over Nadia's search!"

The courage didn't last much longer however, the glacial blue eyes seem to suck away all from her. Soon, Marzia was cowering under the stare.

"… So, you resorted to this." The elderly's voice was just like her image, eerie, chilling, and full of a translucent essence that trailed behind. "And once again you failed to grasp the significance of what you've done."

The other woman entered further into the room, slipping past Marzia with soft, graceful steps. Her presence was that of a ghost, with none of the others paying any mind to it, both for entirely different reasons. She stopped short from the line where she would stop being welcomed and scanned the bookshelves with her eyes.

On the snow-white field of the bed, another figure stirred; an obese cat whose fur has been blending perfectly with the color of the sheets, sprawled to awareness. His golden stare locked on the form of the second woman as she inspected the room, his bushy tail waved from side to side to indicate his alerted state.

"It doesn't matter." Marzia managed, her thoughts stirring from the instinctual fear she felt toward the elderly woman into something more important. "I said from day one; all that matters is my daughter. I… I'm will do anything to find her. Even… even dirtying my hands."

The pale blue eyes of the older woman narrowed microscopically.

"You did more than that, in your ignorant haste… And that's not even considering the beast you've unleashed upon the world."

"That beast has a name you know." The second woman commented casually from the side. She was ignored.

Marzia tightened her fist. "I wouldn't have done it if you haven't… failed. Y-You failed to find her, mother! That was the sole reason I contacted you again." Her hands shot up to quickly wipe the tears that have gathered on the corner of her eyes. "You were planning to abandon her, aren't you!? You think she is a lost
cause-"

"Silence."

The quiet word was an ultimate, most of the words from the elderly woman were.

Marzia had to take a breath so remind herself she still alive. Her mother stood completely still, like a statue. It almost seemed like she wouldn't move again, but then she did; a small tilt of the head.

"… Your daughter's actions had led herself to be captured by the creatures of darkness. And your negligence was what allowed her to do so. I came here on your despairing hours to mitigate the damage caused by the loss of the blood of the Abamelik to the masters of blood." Her old eyes were pools of eternal winter; no one can look away, only freeze under it. "I spent the last two years making sure our family wouldn't be eradicated by the whims of a vindictive animal and a well-constructed blood ritual. Nadia Abamelik's recovery was important, but it was always secondary."

Perhaps somewhere in Marzia's mind, she knew her mother would think like this, but to hear her saying so blandly, it seems to be a shock.

She reacted accordingly, taking a step back as if she was struck. "…W-What… So, all this time… You… how could you…"

"The girl's odds were slim even when I before I started looking. It only grew slimmer since." The old woman explained. "If she is not dead by now, then she is worst off. But at least her blood won't be a hindrance to us." She matched her daughter horrified looks with chilling indifference. "I have told you before, and I will tell you again: Have another child while you still have your natural fertility, a magically prolonged one will lessen the quality of the heir." Her icy eyes turned into a shade of that some would even call annoyance if they looked more human-like. "Though I fear that will be the only option given what all this stress as done to your body."

Marzia's expression twisted indescribably; disbelief was there, along with anger, horror, confusion, and a flash of expectance.

I believe she never directly confronted her mother about this before, but just chose to believe in her.

She will scream, her body is projecting it. It was obvious by the way she drew breath and the way the muscles of her neck and chest were tensing, but at that moment, the air changed. A changed so brusque that every magical sensitive person in the room had to take a pause.

This house was old, well-lived, and most importantly, magical. It has been the lair of the Abamelik family from generations, usurped from an even older magical lineage that had made it their lair before them. And this meant that over the centuries, powered by all the magic users these walls housed; a powerful threshold has formed. And for each new layer of protection cast upon these halls, it has grown stronger.

Until now it has been letting the intruder pass for she was welcomed by one of the residents, but in this room, where the will of the matriarch was everything, it would only allow them a certain distance, any closer and it would give even a High-Class devil trouble to move.

Belinda Abamelik powered through it in a single step, a feat she has failed to achieve many, many times in the past.

"Oh, I'm sorry, did I interrupt something? Man, I can't believe who clumsy I am." Her mockery was punctuated by another step, this time there was a visible shift as the transparent energy of the threshold failed to push her back.

The cat hissed loudly, the fur of his back fully raised as he pierced the threat with his glare. Another step took the demonic creature directly beside his mistress' bed, by that point, he was ready to attack, even though every one of his instincts was telling otherwise.

Frozen blue finally turned to meet their much warmer counterpart. Cold indifference met fiery fury.

"Hello, Elsa." Said Belinda in a scorning smile. "Been a while… Got new wrinkles I see."

"… And you are still enjoying the reward of your forsaken humanity, as always." The elderly weighed what once was her twin and found herself disappointed. "I suppose congratulations are in order, devil. You masters seem to have given you a proper boost of power this time, I wonder what atrocities were needed for it."

"Hours and hours of training and getting shit done, something you seem to have forgotten how to do." Belinda crossed her arms, easily matching the glacial stare. "Loving reunions aside… Nadia. Why am I only hearing about this now?"

"I fail to see how Abamelik's business would be of concern of a devil," For the first time the elderly woman's face shifted from its cold neutrality, changing it to match her darkening mood. "You smell worse than before, are you part of a Devil's peerage again? A higher devil than the last one I see."

"You know damn well that anything related to Marzia and Nadia are my business." Belinda hissed through gritted teeth, ignoring the last remark. "I have them under my protection."

"For what good it did them." The elder said, still trying to gauge the level of grown of this creature, for the first time in a long while, she felt something resembling shook. None of it showed on the outside.

"Oh, because you're one to tell." Belinda jibed rolling her eyes. "Two years, Elsa. Those bloodsuckers evaded you for two years. How is good ol' pride after that blow? I hope it isn't still in intensive care."

"Childish as always."

"I could say the same you frigid bitch."

Belinda pushed her body further, now threatening to invade Elsa's personal space just to show she could. The elder, once younger, twin displayed no outward reaction, but her hissing familiar's eyes had turned blood red until the devil finally pulled back.

The maid huffed, squared her shoulder and turned her back toward the old witch, walking toward her niece who was watching everything with wide, astounded eyes.

"I'm going to find Nadia, you don't have to bother anymore." She placed her arm over Marzia's tense shoulders and began to lead her away. "In fact, you can go back to Moscow to the rest of those pompous assholes for all I care."

The elder waited until the door was open to speak again.

"The Bronze Scepter has been made aware of it." The maid stopped in her tracks. "Vagonostroitelniy and Crimson Twilight have also been called. Even Koldovstoretz has investigated the matter. They all dropped the case, every single one of them. Make that what you will."

Belinda's head turned ever so slightly, not to the point of looking back. Marzia's eyes were dashing between the two women confusingly.

"… Shit." That was the entirety of the blonde's reaction before she closed the door behind her.

From her shadows, I swirled around trying to remember what I knew about human magicians and magical organizations. I found out that I've never bothered with the human side of the supernatural all that much.

The house was cold; it makes the dinky little town in the nowhere of Russia colder just by being there. It was like it brought the winter with it.

But within the next hour, it was gone. No trace there was even a house there remained, even the people of the town started to forget there was even something there to begin with.

For the first time in almost two years, the temperature rose, and summer started.

-0-0-0-

The car ride was tense at best. The middle-aged man kept a thigh grip on the steering wheel while he eyed the dark, snowy road ahead, the middle-aged woman on the passage seat behind him kept sending nervous looks to the other, much younger-looking woman beside her. She bit the nail of her thumb while trying to calm herself, but the last few words of the conversation she had just heard kept buzzing on her head until she couldn't keep it in anymore.

"Aunt Belinda, about what mother said. Do you think…"

"I will find her," Belinda said, opening her eyes to show her niece a resolute look. "For what is worth, Marzia I assure you: I will find her and bring her back. Alive."

Marzia, despite having just suffered a hard betrayal, tried to find solace in Belinda's words.

"You can't promise this..." Marzia's husband, a large-size middle-aged man whose face was almost completely hiding behind a bluish, graying beard spoke.

"Vladislav, right?" Belinda looked into the rear mirror, where she could see the man's weary eyes. "You chose to stay with my niece through all of this? Most men would run away, not all can handle the more supernatural side of life."

Some glimmer flared back on the dark irises. "Most men are cowards."

Belinda let out a breath, crossing her arms under the larger breasts. "I see… About your statement. Yes, yes I can, I promise you as I promised Marzia, I'll get Nadia back."

The man had more to say, more doubts maybe, but in the end, something about the devil made it all dissolve into a nod.

"We'll take you to the forest tomorrow." His comment made Belinda raise her eyebrow.

"Forest?"

"It's where… Nadia and the vampire were meeting before he took her." Marzia explained, her voice heavy and tired. I don't blame her after the day she had.

"Got it." Belinda said. "… I have to ask… Did you consider the possibility that she went with him willingly?"

The couple hesitated.

"No/Yes." Marzia denied. Vladislav confirmed.

The blonde woman sent a shocked look at her husband. "No… no, how could she? I always warned her about the dangers of the supernatural; she would never do something like this without a reason."

"They were meeting for months, she and the bloodsucker. Artyom told us Marzia, you can't deny there might be something more going on." Vladislav didn't seem to be trying to convince her, he seems to be going through the motions... This sounds like an old argument.

Marzia shook her head, her voice starting to rise. "No, she wouldn't, he must have been bribing her, or threatening her some way… we raised her right." Yep, definitely an old argument.

Belinda laid a hand on her niece's shoulder, "In any case, we will see about that tomorrow."

"Yes." Vsevolod agreed. "Tomorrow… There is also… There is also the matter of Vadim's corpse."

Marzia flinched after she heard that.

Belinda turned her eyes to the dark landscape and the few houses rolling by outside the window. "That's the sacrifice, right? Already took care of it."

The driver stiffened then looked back. "... What do you mean?"

"Don't worry about it, I cleaned up the mess, it won't come to bite you in the ass," Belinda explained still unaware of the looks she was receiving.

"But that's… wrong." Vladislav looked back to the road, his eyes kept dropping to his hand and back. "We… I… I killed him, he was trying to help us, he didn't deserve it but I-"

"Don't dwell on it," Belinda said with her mind still on more important things. "I made some calls, by now people shouldn't even remember he ever existed."

"What!" The driver reacted again, quickly glaring back and to the road again, his breaths were coming in quick bursts. "What do you mean!? Nobody even remem- he was my apprentice! His family owns a bakery near our house, I've known him since he was a lad!"

"Vlad, please." His wife has leaned forward and was patting his shoulders, Belinda just blinked confusedly at the outburst. "Just… Let it go, it's just the way things are, just accept it, please."

"It's not right Marsy." The man didn't cry, he didn't seem like a man that cries easily, but the sob he gave did have something like a deep anger, a deep sadness inside. "People shouldn't just… disappear like that… It's not right."

The rest of the way was spent in silence.

-0-0-0-

Belinda didn't even stop to admire the cozy look of the guest room, she just collapsed on the comfortable looking chair they had there and let out a heavy sigh.

"Well, I certainly didn't expect that to happen," I commented, rising from the shadows like I was in an elevator. "Didn't you say you cut ties with your family?"

"Not all of them,"

"Clearly." I decided on a sufficiently flat wall and pointed at it, a tiny dot of shadow appeared and began to follow my finger as I drew. "You ok?"

"No." She pulled a deep breath. "Elias, early I promised them-"

"Belinda." Good grief this silly woman. "You are the second person I love most in this world. I will not spare any effort in helping you find your niece, no matter if she is dead or alive, I will make sure you fulfill your promise."

"… It might not be this simple, one hint that the Dantalions have some interest in this situation, and there might be questions." True enough, pillar families usually don't get involved with human business, but when they do, a lot of eyes turn in that direction.

"Oh, I'll be very sneaky." I sent the woman a look. "Honestly Belinda, it's like you don't even know me."

She relaxed on the chair, truly relaxing for the first time since she got the news. At least I imagine this is the case because she was quite the pile of nerves when I arrived on her shadow early.

"Thank you."

"Don't thank me yet." By that point, she must have seen the circle I was drawing on the wall but didn't comment. This was somewhat heartwarming because it showed how much she trusted me; if I found someone drawing circles on my mother's room or something, I'd have ripped their head off. "Now, I'm must confess I'm not very familiar with the human's supernatural organizations. But I believe the last name your undead sister dropped was a magical school correct?"

Belinda chuckled. "Is she really an undead?"

"Her body is more block of ice than human, so she might as well be."

"Hah! Hypocrite!" It felt good to see her smile. Her longs legs crossed attractively, stretching the tight fabric of her leggings- …I should make her wear casual clothes more often. "And yes, Koldovstoretz is a magical school, but it's also one of the biggest conglomerate/research center this side of magical Russia."

It didn't take a full second for me to make the connections, I voiced out loud anyway.

"And one of the biggest magical organizations in Russia... has dropped this case."

"Yeah." Her mood soured again. "And the others are also big names… No matter how she tries to portray it, Elsa pulled a lot of strings for this one."

I wiggled my finger to finish the highly complex set of Babylonic runes before moving to work on another part of the seal. "Not a simple case of vampire snatching then?"

"Elsa would have Nadia back before the weeks' end if it were." Belinda groaned.

"I suppose, we will know tomorrow." With the outer circle complete, I move to the inner square.

"Are you putting up a ward?" Belinda finally asked, sounding thankful. She probably noticed the similarities between this circle and the one I have at the castle.

"After, first we need something to conceal our presence."

Belinda rested her head on her fist. "Not that I'm complaining, but isn't that a bit of an overkill? I mean, I get it if it was a shield, or if we were in a more dangerous area, but I don't think we need something of this grade here."

"Err, yes we do, there was a situation… with mother."

"With…" Belinda trails off, her eyes widened as she realized she, technically, left her duty. "Satan's balls! What happened!? Where is she!? Did she lose control!? She's better not be thinking I abandoned her or something!"

"Calm down! It's nothing like that, it's just something I didn't predict…"

We both looked to the side where a pool of shadows that suddenly rose up without my command.

The shadow stretched out to about a meter in the air before it started taking shape, sprouting thorns and vines, and a few almost-flowers blossomed there and there. When the whole thing started to look like a coil of dark briar crudely shaped like an arm, it gave us a little wave.

"… Elias, what are you doing?"

"It's Mother." I sighed, "She is in the shadow."

Belinda's eyes widened in surprise. "You mean like you do? That's amazing-Ah." She couched over her fist and straightened her back, regarding the shadow projection with the utmost respect. "Congratulations on your success Lady Araneya, I'm overcome with joy."

Several vines of shadow suddenly burst out from the floor and wrapped themselves around Belinda, the thorns didn't even come close to hurting her of course, but the action was so sudden and unexpected that she let out an audible gasp. "My Lady what-Ah!" Now she's been pulled to the floor.

I sighed again. "Patience mother, I'm almost finished with the circle, soon you'll be able to get out and hug her yourself."

The Vines loosened their hold and slithered away from Belinda's body and back to the floor, the occasional silhouette of the briar sea appearing around the walls showed her anticipation.

"Elias," Belinda rubbed the places where the vines had caught her. "What was that? Why she doesn't come out?" She looked at me. "What is happening?"

"Well, I…" Now, how to put it. "I… did something to Mother, and it had an unforeseen consequence."

Belinda looked at me, continued looking, then slowly placed her hand over her face and sighed.

"What did you do? Was it sexual?"

I huffed. "Rude. Why is it that every time I tell you I've done something to mother you always assume it's sexual?"

"Track record." My head maid's blank look was long and hard, there was a giggle from the shadows that only I could hear.

"It's not… inherently sexual…"

She nodded, "So only partially sexual, make sense."

"Only if viewed in a certain way!" I almost pouted right there. How dare she think so low of me!? I always have the best for my mother in mind!

… And it's only occasionally sexual.

"So," Belinda leaned back, finally relaxing after seeing my lack of freak out, She knew I wouldn't be acting like that if it was something truly serious. "What have you done to her that requires such a powerful barrier to hide?"

"You will see… now." I flip my finger and the last line of shadow connected to the whole. The entire circle flashed a soft white light before completely disappearing. To the outside, this room and its immediately the surrounding areas became utterly unscry-able and undetectable for any and every supernatural means that isn't at least Satan-grade. "There you go mother, you can come out now."

And come out she did, raising from the shadows with her arms raised like a dancer, her bombastic body barely hidden by a modest little sundress that stopped mid-thigh and produced a mouth-watering silhouette for the enjoyment of the world. Anyone looking wouldn't be able to look away, but Belinda and I, who were used to it, could drink the visage while retaining the higher functions of our brains.

It was nothing out of the ordinary, but then again, mother's changes weren't on the outside, they were much deeper.

Belinda reacted accordingly.

"Wh…at…" She managed to gasp, while her body was compressed on the chair she was sitting. She could barely hold up her head without a struggle. "La... dy…"

I can only imagine what she must be feeling right now; a presence so great and so heavy that almost seems to have its own gravity, a monolith of pure power blasting just before you, making you intimately aware of your own insignificance in face of the universe. For a difference of power this great, there are no tricks, no strategies, no hopes, it just exists and crushes you with the weight of its monumental existence.

… No, I can imagine what it must feel like. I experienced once before.

When I looked into Infinity, all those years ago.

"Breathe, it's just a power leak, she is having trouble controlling it." I rubbed the tense muscles of my beautiful maid's back. "You've been a middle-class Devil before, right? What did you do when a high-class one decided to show off their power?"

Belinda stifled and flared up her own energy. The surge sent a subconscious message to her devil instincts that told her that she wasn't completely defenseless against the gigantic threat in the room and that she wasn't going to drop dead if it looked in her direction. Only then she could breathe again.

Seeing my maid compose herself, I continued.

"I have claimed mother for my peerage, using a modified evil piece I created myself." A roaring success, by the way, the intensity of the power boost is equivalent to a King Piece's, without the backlash of continuous use. "Mother's demonic energy, speed, strength, and endurance all jumped several levels."

And that's why she is a beacon of power that brings down lesser devils just by existing. She is not used to this new amount of energy, having been literally injected with it rather than grow it naturally. So she is having trouble holding it back, and by consequence is making everybody close to her feel as if one of the Underworld's top dogs wants their head on a plate.

That's why I and others high powered devils usually don't relax the hold on our power, hard to interact with everyone weaker than yourself if you constantly pressuring them into death or unconsciousness with your presence alone.

"That makes… no sense." Belinda panted; her face marked by beads of sweat. "An evil piece shouldn't have…" She blinked, "Wait, modified evil piece!? Peerage!? Elias what the hell happened while I was gone!?"

"Carpet~~!"

"A-And now she is possessed again, what the hell!?"

What my maid is referring to, is the fact that Mother took a single step forward and apparently decided that the carpet feels really nice against her naked foot, so now she is rolling on it.

"Ah, she is not possessed. What you're seeing here is the never-seen-before side-effect of suddenly gaining astronomical amounts of power. Mother is kind of a case study for now at least before her body grows accustomed to it… she's good in the shadows though."

My giggling mother rolled sideward and raised her upper body to us, a messy vision if this were anyone else but incredibly sexy because it's Mother. Vast cleavage aside, we managed to have a clear look at her eyes, or more precisely, the state of her pupils.

"Dear Satan, she's high!" Belinda gasped.

"Yeah, I think so too. Funny isn't it?"

"Linda~"

A mother-shaped missile hit my maid and knocked her and the chair down.

"Where were you Belinda?~" Mother says with a cute-ish voice of wavering pitch while she rubbed her cheek against Belinda's. "Everything was sooo nice- but then you were gone, I was on top of the world you know!? Ely was doing me in the ass! But then- But then you're goooone aaww!"

"Lady-I don't-wait a second please!"

It was funny to see Belinda struggling to deal with 'Lady Araneya' when she could deal with 'Bella' quite easily, there's even a tragic element to it. But I didn't want to simply put cow ears on mother to help Belinda's circumstance, she got to accept there isn't much separating the kind, high-born lady from the hyperactive sexual deviant.

Plus, it has been a long, and emotionally charged day for her, my maid needs a bit of Araneya's cuddles. In fact, she needed all the cuddles.

"WaitWaitWait not there this really isn't a good time to-Ahh Elias please help-DON'T JUST JOIN IN!"

"YAY Ely's here! Threesome time~!

-0-0-0-

As it was told and carved in the stone of reality; all good things must end eventually. And as much as mine and my mother's presence has brought some levity to Belinda, the reality of the situation set in once again on the next day, with Vladislav giving us a ride to the forest where his daughter was meeting the vampire.

Giving Belinda a ride I mean, Mother and I stayed in the shadows. This isn't another Kuoh situation where I had a clear idea of the players in the city; I don't know this place, I don't know who is watching and more importantly, I hadn't had time to prepare. So, me and Mother will have to be extra careful, otherwise, the nosy supernatural players might ask themselves what Pillar devils are wandering around in the ass end of the human world.

Vladislav looked jittery, the narrow window to his eyes between his beard and hair looked darker than yesterday, painted by deep eyeshadows. His hands thumping wheel as he occasionally tightened his grip. His glassed eyes were staring fixedly at the snowy road.

He is a normal human. Even though he had gotten familiar with the supernatural over this last few years, I got a feeling he is the kind of person that isn't comfortable with things that are unknown to them, things that might shake their perception of the world and make the other things they always knew to be truth, suddenly not. So I can't imagine it might be easy for him to process the fact he had partaken in an unholy ritual that required him to brutally tear apart someone he cared about with the intent of summoning a Devil. And that the ritual actually worked.

Not many people could deal with things like that; his wife was one of them, apparently. She tried to come with us but she was such a mess that Belinda had insisted she stay instead.

The car stopped on the side of a road, just outside the city, it didn't take that long to get there, with the town being so tiny and all. In fact, the only reason for the ride was to escape the cold and snow, even though there was considerably less of it than yesterday. Meteorologists around these parts must be scratching their heads.

"That's far as I can go without those fuckers bothering us."

"The magicians , right?" Belinda not really asked. According with our human guide, the help Belinda's witch sister brought decided that the forest should be quarantined until further orders, and apparently these 'further orders' were so further that they still here even after their organization dropped the case.

Looking ahead in the shadows… I can't blame them.

"How many are there?" Belinda asked as she opened the door.

"… 'round twenty, I think, I never counted." Vladislav glanced at his grand-aunt-in-law as she moved past his window. He opens it and leaned his head outside. "You're not going to kill them, right?"

Belinda paused, the wind rustling her fur-trimmed coat. She wore it mostly out of politeness, as we were used to the Dantalion's winter, which made every other type of winter feel nice and pleasant. "I will incapacitate them and make sure they don't remember."

The man chewed, not knowing where to go from there. "Er, good… I'm sorry, it's just… It's been so much-"

"Thank you." Belinda interrupted; she looked back with a grateful smile. "For taking care of Marzia… and for sticking with her. You can leave the rest to me now."

The man didn't say anything, there was nothing more to be said, he just nodded, closed the window and drove away.

Belinda let out a misty breath, inserting her hands into her cloak's pockets. "How bad is it, Elias?"

"Bad," I whisper into her mind. "It's distorting the shadows."

"Damn."

I echoed her sentiment; over the years I found that while there are some non-Dantalion beings that could perceive the shadows, very few could really affect it.

And in the forest a short distance ahead, shadows are not only affected, but twisted out of shape. So much so that everything was a big confusing mess to my shadow senses. I could make sense of the edges, and a bit going inside, but the center was a mystery.

I felt mother's feeble influence wash over mine, trying to imitate me and meld her perception with the surrounding darkness of the surface, probably thinking she could handle it better in her current state than with her bodily senses clouding everything. She was right, of course, but it doesn't mean it was easy or come naturally. Still, she managed about a mile radius, which was better than me when I first started, when I was about a week old.

I patted her metashadical head and she let out the equivalent of a happy squeal as a response.

It was strange having another presence in my shadow world, not the bad kind of weird, but it is kinda a shame that I basically lost the only place I could have full privacy.

I can muse about this later; right now I have to concentrate.

Belinda's boots crunched the slight cover of snow on the center of the road, there was no need to walk on the side of it, nobody was coming here. Besides, there is a lot more snow here.

"How many magicians ?" The thought was directed towards me.

I scanned the wide circular perimeter they had set, along with the barrier they had raised. It didn't cover the whole forest, just the important parts. "Fifty-eight, but, err, they won't be a problem."

"They are going to be, believe me. I know how soviet magicians treat devils." She huffed another misty breath; the blush of cold on her nose was quite charming. "Unless you're talking about their capabilities, in that case, I'm inclined to agree."

"Err, no, it's just…" I tried to put into it words… but it was one of those things that are so edgy and so anime you'd have to see it with your own eyes, "You'll see."

The maid frowned, "Not the time for non-answers Elias."

"No, really, you'll see, the border of the forest is right there. Look up, you should be able to see it by now."

She did, and didn't insist anymore, just narrowed her eyes and tried to make sense of it while she approached.

All the Fifty-eight magicians , who are dressed like a wizardry-themed version of the men-in-black, were lying unconscious in a pile of bodies, while a teenager sat on the peak.

To his credit though, he did have the right image and attitude for the dark image he wanted to convey. With pitch-black clothes under a dark trench coat all over a wiry body that was a lot more toned than it looked and a face locked in a cold expression of someone who means business; his sharp features, piercing eyes centered in deep eyeshadows and cheap cigar actually helped to sell that fact.

I'm sure he would look quite impressive if this was an anime, or he was dealing with the canon cast of this word, but as things stand, he was dealing with me, who was a paranoid and very observant motherfucker who liked to analyze everything and everyone I put my eyes own, something that, to his further bad luck, had been rubbing on Belinda and even Mother.

To our eyes, it was obvious that he was a normal-ass kid who was a bit more athletic than usual and was trying to hide his meager magical potential under layers and layers of hidden magical. That, and while he was able to take down more than fifty trained mage with some method that didn't involve fighting – He probably wanted us to think the contrary, but it was so obvious - he also took the time to drag their prone bodies from their posts and organize them into a pile just for the sake of looking more badass.

It would be better if he left them where they were and met us alone instead, the lack of any resistance from the mage would be enough to send a message. Now the image of this kid waking up before the sun rose to drag the bodies through the snow just to make 'cool' impression was preventing that very objective from happening.

Now, I don't disapprove of hammy presentations; I hang out with Riser for fuck's sake. But if you're incapable of making it appear seamless, it's better not to bother at all.

"Who are you?" Belinda asked immediately. She wasn't in the mood for dramatic staredowns.

"Someone who can help you."

Pff… I really don't think he can.

"Yeah, I'm not going to play this game kid, you gonna tell me who you are and why should I care right now."

He pulled away the cigar from his lips and let out a long stream of smoke.

"This forest isn't kind to those unfamiliar with its dangers." He said in a slow, enunciating tone. "You will need a guide."

I whisper a suggestion on Belinda's mind before her annoyance became anger.

"Right, so you tell me who you are, or you will be named Shadow, the grumpy Hedgehog." No matter who you are or what kind of mood you're trying to set, if you're dealing with people who don't need you and you failed to make an impression on them, you're gonna fail.

Teenagers are creatures of fragile self-esteem; none would tolerate being called by that, especially not dark, brooding ones who are in a constant fight against the unfair world.

The boy frowned, and then says in his best broody Tarzan impression. "Artyom."

Pieces fell into place immediately.

"Ah." Belinda relaxed, swaying her hips to the side and letting her lips form a quasi-cocky smile. "So, you're my elusive new step-grandson, your mother has complained about you yesterday, you know."

"That's what she does." He lazed forward and finally dropped from the pile of prone bodies. "And you're my devil relative, I reckon."

My maid gestured to the pile with her chin. "How did you do that?"

He looked at it and instead of going with an outlandish history like I thought he would, he came out with the truth. "I know where they keep their food storage."

Normal ass sleeping drugs… Efficient.

Belinda made a sound with her throat, "Heh, nice to meet you kid but you better be going, I have work to do."

"The name's Artyom," He narrowed his eyes. "Didn't you hear me? This forest isn't someplace you can just walk in. If you go inside blind, you're gonna get lost and die."

"Oh, believe me, kid, I'm confident in my ability to stay alive."

"So did the magicians , and they lost so many that they don't visit the mansion without my help anymore." The teen deadpanned.

"I think your parents would have commented if I needed you to take me there." Said Belinda, roaming the tree line front produced by the barrier around the place.

Artyom scoffed. "Like they knew I was talking to them."

"Ehhh." Belinda trail off knowingly in a tone that would enrage any teenager, but considering this was Belinda, the boy's hormones spoke louder than his emotions, so he almost blushed before the gorgeous face and charming song.

To his credit though, he managed to turn away before his stare truly became awkward. "Whatever. Look, you want to go to the mansion or not? The sooner we go, the sooner we can get to finding Nadia." There is more emotion on that last statement than I would have expected.

"Yeah, no kid." The teen glared. "Look, I don't know you enough to care about what secrets you've been keeping from your parents, so as long as you don't hurt anyone, we're golden. But I'm not going to put Marzia's second kid in danger, especially not when I'm trying to find the first one."

"Do you even know what's in there!? I've been to the forest before you know, even to the damn mansion. There is no one around who knows the areas as well as me!" The boy fumed. "I'm offering you help. Hopefully you can do a better job than those fucking losers there, so shut up and follow me."

I believe he was keeping this inside for quite some time.

It made no difference, though.

Artyom almost growled when he noticed Belinda wasn't in fact following him. What? Did he think that would work? What does he think this is, a movie?

"Didn't you hear what I say!?"

"Yes, now you hear me." Belinda began, "I'm stronger than my sister, I guarantee you that I'm stronger than all the magicians you've met, and I'm probably the second strongest thing in this side of Russian right now. I can take care of myself." There was a suggestion on her voice; just enough to trigger some deep instinct on the boy, something to remind him what he was dealing with hasn't been human for a very long time. "You right, I don't know what's in there, what dwells inside, or even how to get into the mansion, but you know what? It doesn't matter. The magicians might have needed your guidance, but I intend to make a beeline to the mansion going through whatever obstacle I stumble in the way and believe me, boy, you won't be able to keep up with the speed I intend to go."

She might be saying that but it didn't change the fact the shadows are twisted for some reason; something dangerous was happening there, I don't know how much, but dangerous enough to affect a metaphysical dimension of matter that only the Dantalions and really esoteric shit are able too. It was comforting to hear that the mansion could be reached by walking, and, if what Artyom implied was correct, that even an average human could do it. I never say something will be a piece of cake, but I have total confidence that we could deal with whatever is going on inside.

The boy turned dark and broody again, not that he'd ever ceased to of course, but now he was even darker and broodier. He matched Belinda firm stare with one of his own.

"'I can take care of myself,' do you know how many times I heard this?" Artyom growled. "Fine then, and how about this damn barrier, dear old frigid bitch-granny raise it first, then every magic fucker that came about reinforce it afterward, it's pretty much impregnable if you don't know the way to pass it." He let the, 'And I'm the only awaken person that knows it!' in the air.

Belinda smiled and showed me that her new Breeder essence had integrated nicely to her soul by making the hormonal boy's thoughts stir to a brief halt just by the sight. Pretty soon she was going to be like me and mother, who could turn an entire street into brain dead zombies if we had a good day and show it.

"I'm glad you asked." 'Elias' She called in her mind, and I was more than happy to comply.

A mass of two-dimensional shadows rose from the ground around Belinda, and enveloped her body in a large, dark bubble, before sinking neatly into the ground like it had suddenly opened up. Leaving a blinking teenager alone, and utterly confused behind.

I have been told that traveling through the shadows as a non-Dantalion feels like being flush through a long, dark tube with an underlayer of slithering noises blasting quietly on your ears. But that's because every time I bring someone in here, I actively manipulate the shadows around the person to become damp and mutter. Without this, their mind would implode trying to make sense of what was happening around them.

As I move Belinda's prone and tensed form, Mother followed behind, playing close attention to what I was doing so she could reproduce it someday. Though, I will have her start with animals, of course.

I pushed my maid out just inside the edge of the barrier, she let out a relieved breath for the rush of cold, but flesh and non-shadowy air.

That was about the only relief she felt.

The forest ahead was what one would expect for a very dark, very snowy forest. The trees were depleted of any vegetation and stood so close together that they had an almost physical kind of darkness in the gaps between. The whiteness on the snowy ground was so deep that it almost seemed to shine, contrasting sharply with the dark, almost black wood projecting from it, and it was utterly immaculate too, no tracks from humans, animals or whatever, just an endless stretch of snow that housed the jagged trees and gave the place an almost picturesque look of horror. So far, to be honest, it looked like home, even down to the eerie silence and the ever-present impression that you are being watched and something could jump out of the dark at any moment.

But that was not what made Belinda so restless.

There is an undeniable feeling of wrongness on this place, like seeing a shape that wasn't supposed to be, or an angle that wasn't supposed to exist, the whole place was like a picture drawn in colors that were just similar enough for you to name it, but different enough for you to doubt yourself, it was very… unnerving.

"Okay… forest in the sky, can't say I've seen anything like it?" Belinda commented.

What?

"What are you talking about?" I questioned, stirring my perception over the area. Even Mother was cutely confused by the statement. "There is just a stretch of forests. It's twisted yeah, but it isn't in the sky."

Belinda considered my words carefully.

"Then… we aren't seeing the same thing, Elias." She concluded.

And I… have to take a look.

On the next second, I was out of the shadows and beside Belinda, staring at the impossible forest with my own eyes.

… The forest wasn't in the sky… there is simply no sky, only more forest. In every direction, everywhere and anywhere we looked, there was only forest.

My breath started to accelerate before I gripped the fabric of the black and silver sweater I was wearing and calmed down.

My power had failed, and not just any power, a power so fundamental, so inherit to myself that it had slipped my mind until this very moment because it long ceased to be a power and had become the natural way for me to see the world.

Now, I'm seeing with my own eyes, and my shadow is seeing something completely different.

Twisted, twisted, the world is twisted.

"Elias, are you alright?"

I snapped my head at my maid. Everything back under control. "Perfectly." I smiled. Twisted world? Bring it on. "There's supposed to be a mansion somewhere around here, right?"

"That's what Marzia said." Belinda rolled her shoulders and gave a sweeping look to the perimeter. "But I can't see shit, and this place is messing with my senses."

As if premeditated, both our growing headaches spiked, it only made Belinda groan though.

"Well, I think-"

"Do not look to the fucking horizon!" A voice called behind us.

And there came Artyom, struggling against the snow, but not as much as he should, I noticed; where most humans would be waist-deep in the stuff, he was only knee-deep. Behind him, I saw… not a hole in the barrier per se, but an opening that was somehow scripted into the core circle and was disappearing without damaging the original format. This was a particularly impressive feat because the circle was nowhere close.

I followed the lingering magical thread to the front pocket of his edgily torn cloak, to an item that, according to my senses, was in the form of a quill pen with a large feather.

Interesting, so not all of his trinkets were useless.

"The fucking is wrong with you!? I told you this isn't a place you could just walk…"

He blinked.

I blinked.

He blushed.

"And w-who the hell is this!?"

Belinda and I looked at each other. This was going to be a bit more complicated than we thought.


A/n: Ok I believe(And fear) this chapter will disappoint many people who wanted plot progression and I really have no excuse, the initial plan was to wrap out the entire first part of this arc, this Russian part, in this chapter, but as you can see I stopped right in the beginning of the good part, honestly, that is because this chapter was getting hard to put into words, I was fighting dozen of wandering ideas that wanted to be putted into the paper but I promised to myself to not post anything before dropping this chapter, was(and am) dealing with some heavy shit in real life and is sucking away my energy and motivation, all while the chapter went on and on until eventually it started to weigh on me, by the 'end scene', when I had to rework some things and realized it would end up way bigger than I though, I just had to drop it to have some relief.

So yeah the final chapter ended up with almost no plot progression, but at least it gave me some feeling of closure so I can work on other things (Including new chapter of this story) with a lighter head however, I do feel bad for everyone that has been waiting all this time, so I won't shrug my shoulders and say it could help it, I can't drop the next chapter immediately but I will work on it sooner than what I was planned, so I can show you some meaningful plot procession.

Last thing, I don't like to say anything but I'm really feeling guilty for leave you wanting for so long, so I can at least tell what is on story, with no spoilers obviously, just some vague statements about the future.

In this arc:

Cannon characters will appear and play a role, and not mirror canon characters like Kalawarner or Cleria, major canon characters that Elias will have to deal with (And they will have to deal with Elias)

Strong enemies are coming.

And lastly, barring one of maybe two chapter after it, this arc is the last one before canon.