Adam and Lilith were now outside the Forest of Eldraine, accompanied by a swarm of more than a thousand insect monsters.
This… seemed much more manageable when we were still inside, Adam thought, looking around at all the insect monsters. Now that we're out in the open…
Almost every single type of insect monster that Adam had been taught about was present here: arachnes; ant arachnes; beelzebubs; devil bugs; giant ants; greenworms and their adult stage, the papillons; honey bees; hornets; mantises; mothmen; soldier beetles and vamp mosquitoes. Literally the only ones who weren't present were those native to completely different regions, such as the desert-dwelling girtablilu and the Zipangu-dwelling ushi-oni.
If this group were to approach a human nation—any nation—they'd cause panic and quick preparations for war. It would take countless lives to stop them. And now… the two of us are in charge of them all.
A quick glance to his side confirmed that Lilith was putting on a mask of confidence. But it was obvious to Adam that she was just as uncertain as he was. Anyone would be in a situation like this.
We must do something… but what? Simply telling them to not attack humans is unlikely to work, we don't have the power of a god—or equivalent—behind us. We can't replicate the miracles that occurred in the south sea and in Zipangu.
Yet while Adam was puzzling over this dilemma, Lilith spoke up.
"First of all, we don't know much about you—all of you," Lilith said. "We've told you about ourselves, but could you—could some of you talk about yourselves? I-It doesn't have to be everyone, just a few of you!"
That's… a good idea, Adam thought. It's a common tactic for breaking down social barriers, but it's commonly used because it works.
Though there was still the question of whether the insect monsters would be willing to go along with it. They were a mix of completely different races that normally didn't interact, except via competition or predation. On top of that, most of these races weren't very social to begin with. The only thing that even linked them together was being the former minions of Xa'shala, the atlach-nacha.
There was an uncomfortable silence. Many of the insect monsters looked down at the ground or at each other. Yet Adam and Lilith couldn't afford to press them on this issue, not if they wanted to avoid being tyrants.
Eventually, one of the giant ants spoke up in a timid voice, "A-A while ago, we found a big pile of fruit under a true. Ate them all…" Then the giant ant trailed off under the gazes of countless other insect monsters.
"That must have been quite tasty," Adam said, quickly coming to the rescue. "Was this before or after you were forcibly recruited by Xa'shala?"
"Before," the giant ant continued, waving its antennae around in what seemed to be bashfulness. "Times were better then. Gathering food. Building the nest. Caring for our family."
"At least our nest is safe," another giant ant said. "It's far from here. But with most workers taken away, our queen's had to go into hibernation. Most of the brood must have died off by now…"
All of the giant ants lowered their heads sadly. It was clear that even if they'd now been freed from Xa'shala's service, the consequences of being pulled away from their nest wouldn't disappear.
"Could—you—talk—more—about—what—it's—like—living—in—a—family?" one of the soldier beetles asked.
"Well… it involves paying lots of attention to—"
And little by little, the insect monsters became more talkative. Multiple conversations started up around Adam and Lilith. There were so many that it became impossible for Lilith's translation spell to keep up, causing Adam to just hear incoherent screeching and buzzing and hissing.
Perhaps I should try to learn more languages, Adam thought. Though that's difficult even at the best of times. And there are so many languages used by monsters, some with concepts that don't even exist in human languages…
On that topic, Adam saw many instances of the insect monsters having trouble understanding each other's languages. Again, this made sense due to them being of many different races that normally didn't interact. But these language barriers weren't complete, presumably due to the insect monsters having some experience working together.
Come to think of it, I wonder how their languages have developed? Most insect monsters are solitary or live in small groups, but even the solitary ones interact with others occasionally. Their languages would be affected by the sounds they're capable—and incapable—of producing. And from the things I'm hearing right now, it seems some of them have borrowed words from human languages. It would be a fascinating field for scholars to study.
Adam walked around the area, amongst the insect monsters. On occasion, he stopped to share more stories about himself. The insect monsters were quite curious about what he had to say, eagerly waving around their antennae or other appendages to catch every word.
Then Adam sensed a disturbance some distance away. He hurried over to find an argument between some arachnes and various other kinds of insect monsters. When Adam focused on this argument, he was able to understand what was going on.
"—still remember you! You ate my friends!"
"They were too weak to survive! You'd have done the same if you had the chance!"
This… is something we expected, Adam thought. Now, to settle this…
Adam stepped forward. The insect monsters who were in an argument quickly fell quiet and looked at Adam in fear.
"It's clear that you have a bad history with each other," Adam said. "And I'm sure there are other cases of that here."
Adam took a deep breath. He and Lilith couldn't afford to just rein in all the insect monsters by force as Xa'shala did. That was an unsustainable method which would break down as soon as the two of them couldn't keep an eye on everyone.
"I won't tell you to simply stop this," Adam said. "That would be unfair to you. Instead… I'll tell you about one story that's told in the town I come from."
Adam glanced around, but none of the insect monsters looked like they were about to interrupt him. Taking this as a good sign, he continued.
"It's a story about an old feud between my hometown, Merith, and the nearby town of Valeria. A few centuries ago, there was a dispute over land, which soon spiralled into outright war."
"Wait, humans fight each other?" one of the greenworms asked.
"Of course they do, you idiot!" retorted one of the beelzebubs. "They fight each other just like we fight each other!"
Before anyone could take offence to being called an "idiot", Adam quickly said, "And this war lasted for years. It devastated the land, including the very land which had started the whole thing. Humans killed their fellow humans because they were from a different town, an enemy town. Then they killed in revenge for their own friends and family being killed. And many died not to violence, but to starvation or cold or disease, all because of the devastation of the war."
And many died due to increased monster attacks, but Adam felt that now probably wasn't the best time to mention this.
"What… happened in the end?" asked a devil bug, its mandibles clattering together nervously.
"In the end, the people of both towns decided they had to stop fighting," Adam replied. "It wasn't an easy decision, of course. Everyone had lost friends and family in the war. Everyone had legitimate grievances against the other town. But… they realised that they had to stop, or more would die."
"So you mean we should give up as well?" asked one of the insect monsters who'd originally been arguing with the arachnes. "We should get along with our old enemies, or else we'll die like that?"
"I wouldn't say you need to go that far," Adam said. "Even when the war I speak of ended, Merith and Valeria still hated each other for decades. It's a perfectly natural feeling. For now, the only I ask of you—and this applies to everyone here—is to not start any new fights."
At this point, Lilith chose to enter the conversation. "If there's anyone who you have problems with, you just need to stay away from them. That's all we're asking. You don't need to talk to them or do anything else. Is that alright?"
A few moments of tense silence passed. Adam held his breath in nervousness.
If we can't persuade them, then this will be the impetus for them to all scatter, Adam thought. After all, they have nothing truly tying them together. And after they've left, some might choose to stop attacking humans, but many will revert to their old ways. Unless we… stop them here, but hopefully that won't happen.
Finally, the silence was broken.
"That makes sense… alright."
"If those spiders can stay away from us, then fine."
"Guess it's better than being killed."
"If that's your order, fine."
There was a veritable flood of positive responses. Some of them were clearly driven by… less than desirable motives, but there wasn't anything that Adam and Lilith could do about that yet.
After this was settled, there were no more arguments. Adam began walking around the area again, still listening in on conversations and occasionally contributing. While he still saw some harsh glares and aggressive stances, none of it led to anything more serious.
The conversations continued for another hour, long enough for the sun to start nearing the horizon. The insect monsters learned more about each other, and even Adam learned more about them. For example, he learned that devil bugs actually gave considerable care to their own offspring, rather than leaving them to fend for themselves as many outsiders thought.
Eventually, a new topic arose: that of where the insect monsters would go next, and what they would do from then on. And with their newfound knowledge, Adam and Lilith could now give an answer to this.
"All of you have homes that you were taken from, to serve as soldiers in another's war," Adam said. "The best option would be for you to return to them."
"And it would be best if you stopped attacking humans," Lilith added. "It might be difficult, but remember that you don't need to eat humans to survive… and if you attack them, you'll almost certainly be killed in revenge."
"But what will you do from now on?"
"Where will you go?"
"Will you follow us?"
Those were some good questions. There were many problems in the world, such as the planned crusade against the monsters of the south sea and the succession crisis in Lescatie. But recent events pointed towards another problem, one that overshadowed all others.
Adam and Lilith looked at each other. Just from that, they confirmed that they were thinking the same thing.
"Multiple monsters seem to be aiming for the title of Demon Lord," Adam said. "You're all familiar with Xa'shala, but there are others, such as a baphomet and a kraken, who were aiming to increase their power significantly."
"Like we said before, letting a new Demon Lord appear would be horrible for everyone, monster and human," Lilith said. "So… after this, we plan on going to the heart of all this. To Royal Makai."
"Are you sure about that?" asked a papillon. "It's really dangerous there…"
"Fool!" one of the vamp mosquitoes retorted. "They just beat that spider, so of course they could win!"
I wish I had their confidence in us… Adam thought. Though I suppose it would be difficult to be so confident when we're aware of people like Justinia, who are still above our level. Well, we'd better do our best to live up to their expectations.
With everything settled, the swarm of more than one thousand scattered in various directions. There were some mixed-race groups who were leaving together, which was a good sign. Adam and Lilith went off to the north, soon leaving all of the insect monsters behind.
Sunset arrived before long, so Adam and Lilith stopped for the night. They found a small cave, went inside and then slumped to the ground, exhausted. The battle against Xa'shala had been nothing in comparison to keeping a massive horde of insect monsters in line, even if the latter was only for a few hours.
"I still have trouble believing that just happened," Adam said quietly.
"Me neither," Lilith said. "If it wasn't for the evidence, like both of us still having traces of that… atlach-nacha's demonic energy, I might be thinking of this as a dream."
Adam took out his waterskin and gulped down the contents. It soothed his exhaustion somewhat.
Growing up, I did have the occasional dream about giving speeches to crowds of people, acting like a hero of legend. But when I actually started my hero training, such dreams were quickly replaced by more realistic notions. Yet just now, I spoke to an entire crowd of monsters…
"Do you think they'll really go along with what we told them?" Adam asked. "Perhaps we should have followed one or more groups for a time, overseen their behaviour? After all, during the founding of Zipangu, Kagachi spent considerable time in order to create a society where humans and monsters could coexist."
"We could've tried that," Lilith said. "Still, we also had something else to do, something more… important."
That was the crux of the matter. In the past few months, there had been three separate attempts by a monster to become the next Demon Lord. Only Xa'shala had explicitly stated it, but when Adam thought back on the actions of the baphomet and the kraken, the sheer scale of their plans, it was clear that these two had had similar intentions.
Calling many races of monsters to one's side is, historically, an act associated with Demon Lords. The three recent contenders all did this and had goals that would lead them towards the throne: increasing their own power, killing many humans and disheartening the rest of humanity, letting their followers feast on human—or elven—flesh…
All three of them have been stopped, but not before causing many casualties. Future contenders would cause even more. And this would be nothing compared to the casualties from a new Demon Lord actually appearing. Justinia may be wrong in her methods, but she's certainly not wrong in wanting no more Demon Lords.
"But in the long term, what can we do?" Adam asked. "We could try killing off any new contenders to the position of Demon Lord—itself easier said than done—but from what we know, that won't be enough. From what we know, new Demon Lords arise when humanity becomes too powerful."
"And that's something we couldn't stop, no matter how hard we tried," Lilith said sadly. "Everyone wants to grow their country, tribe, whatever group they're part of. They do it for better defence against monsters and to compete with their neighbours. Even if we could somehow convince everyone in one country that there's a need for it, they'd look at what other countries are doing, at the monsters out in the wild, and quickly change their minds."
Yet if persuasion couldn't work, that left two other options. One was to follow Justinia's lead and cull the human population… something that neither Adam nor Lilith could ever do. The other was to brainwash people into compliance, which had its own issues and would be impractical on the scale needed.
It would be necessary to brainwash… tens of thousands of people at the very least, all across the world. And to repeat that for all eternity. Even if a succubus were to become Demon Lord—something that's never happened in recorded history—I doubt she could manage such a feat.
Then Lilith spoke again, causing Adam to stop this line of thought to listen.
"I've just… thought of an idea. It's not a pleasant one, but it might be our only option. But it's…"
"Whatever it is, you can tell it to me," Adam said reassuringly, taking Lilith's hand in his own.
Lilith took a deep breath. "Do you remember what we did to those centaur children, before we went to Zipangu?"
Of course Adam remembered that. Even when he was on his deathbed, he would certainly remember that moment when he'd killed parents in front of their children, and then forced said children—or rather, given that burden to someone else—to stay away from humans in the future.
"I remember it," Adam replied. "But didn't you say that you could only make those children fear humans? You couldn't remove their desire to attack humans, simply override it with the desire to survive."
"I did, but that was before I knew what I was dealing with," Lilith said. "It was before I got much more practice with mental magic, when I was training you on our way to Lescatie. And it was before both of us became so much stronger."
Adam considered this for a few moments. "So your suggestion is to try and remove the god-given desire to attack humans from monsters? Thus reducing monster attacks on humans, and in turn, human animosity towards monsters?"
"Yes, but that's only the beginning," Lilith said. "If I'm right on this, then removing this desire from monsters should also remove it from their descendants! After all, the Chief God gave that desire to the original monsters, but we've never heard anything about it getting renewed over time. Both of us know what divine power feels like, from interacting with Poseidon, yet we've never felt anything like that in our lives."
These words were incredibly blasphemous, but fortunately there were no worshippers of the Chief God in this cave. And upon hearing these words, Adam began to do some calculations.
Based on how long it took Lilith to alter the minds of those centaur children, this wouldn't be a quick process. But even if she could only do it for ten monsters a week—probably a conservative estimate—that adds up to over five hundred each year. And if that were repeated for every year of our expected lifespans… it would amount to tens of thousands, a considerable fraction of the total monster population.
Now Adam understood the rest of Lilith's suggestion. "With most monsters no longer wanting to attack humans, there would be much less threat from a Demon Lord. They wouldn't be able to recruit the massive armies that allowed past Demon Lords to devastate the entire world. And… if by some chance, a new Demon Lord lacked the desire to attack humans, it would remove their threat entirely. Since monsters who attack humans are more likely to be killed by humans… after enough generations, there would be no more of them. They'd be outcompeted by monsters who are capable of coexisting with humans."
It seemed too good to be true… and there was a good chance of that being the case. Lilith's suggestion depended on multiple assumptions: her being able to remove the Chief God's order to attack humans, this removal being hereditary, and the Chief God not interfering with this at any point. But it was a potential solution, nonetheless.
"I believe that could work," Adam said. "We'd have to test it out first, before committing to it, but it could work. Thank you for bringing this up, Lilith."
Lilith squirmed around in embarrassment. "It's an idea I had just now, and it might not work anyway… And now I wish I'd thought of it a few hours earlier."
"To ask the insect monsters if we could use it on them?" Adam said. "That might have been possible, but most of them would likely have refused. It's not an easy thing to let someone alter your mind. If we attempt your suggestion, we should reserve it for those that we can't persuade, or who ask for it."
The two of them started feeling hungry, so they prepared and began eating dinner, still discussing their future plans.
"It's hard to believe that, less than a year ago, we were just an ordinary succubus and hero," Lilith said, biting into a wild tuber.
"Though you weren't, by most definitions of the word, ordinary back then," Adam said, starting on his own tuber.
Lilith turned away to hide her red face. "You know what I mean!" she protested, her voice slightly muffled. "I wasn't any stronger than other succubi, and I didn't have any grand plans or anything! And now we're heading right into Royal Makai, somewhere that most people have nightmares about!"
"Perhaps, but we've definitely improved greatly since then," Adam pointed out. "We've reached the point where we can fight against true dragons—not defeat them, but we can put up a reasonable fight against them. I doubt that many residents of Royal Makai can claim the same thing."
They continued eating for some time, reminiscing about the various things they'd done. It was already the stuff of legend, even if they'd had help for almost every step of the way.
Then something occurred to Adam. "If we're heading to Royal Makai, Lilith, then is there anything you want to do regarding your… home village?"
"…I was trying not to think about that," Lilith admitted, looking downwards. "But… I want to do something about them. I'm not sure what exactly, but I can't just leave them to… keep doing what they've always done."
Trying to help troubled family members was always difficult, even if it was for something as mundane as alcoholism or gambling addiction. Considering that Lilith's family and childhood friends were essentially combinations of rapists and murderers, she had an even greater burden to bear than most.
"This is just a suggestion, but would it be helpful if you returned there with me at your side?" Adam said. "To show them how it's possible for succubi to get along with humans."
"I don't think that would work," Lilith said. "They've only ever thought of humans as food… food that's fun to play with." She shuddered. "It would take a lot for them to change their minds. And how exactly would I introduce you to them? You're not technically human anymore…"
That was a good question, one that Xa'shala had also brought up. In most regards, Adam still felt human, but the demonic energy within him indicated otherwise.
"It's true, I don't have much resemblance to any known race of monster," Adam mused. "If anything, I should be some kind of succubus variant, since I'm like this due to an infusion of your demonic energy. Yet the only physical change is that the colour of my eyes now matches yours."
"Hmm… well, I guess there's not much point thinking about that now," Lilith said. "Unless more people like you show up, we'll never know how much of… this… is normal."
Afterwards, they finished off the rest of their dinner, which included rabbit meat in addition to the tubers. The food still tasted the same as it always did, something that reminded Adam of how, despite the changes he'd undergone, he was still the same person.
As they prepared to settle in for the night, Lilith said, "Wait, hold on. There's one more thing I need to bring up. You remember that atlach-nacha, the way her voice sounded odd when she said certain words?"
Adam nodded slowly as he recalled that. "Yes, I do. At the time, I wondered if she was trying to influence our minds using magic in her voice. Now, it doesn't seem like she was doing that."
"Now that I've had time to think about it, it reminds me of stories I heard back when I was… still in my village," Lilith said. "Stories of forbidden words that would hurt anyone who said or listened to them."
That elicited a frown from Adam. He'd also heard stories of forbidden words, though these claimed that such words hurt those who read them. But the general idea was similar.
"Supposedly, those forbidden words could be used to summon ancient monsters," Lilith continued. "Ancient monsters of incredible power and evil… which is why the words are forbidden in the first place."
"Did you ever hear anything about such monsters being immune to—well, the power of the Chief God?" Adam asked. "Xa'shala was completely unaffected when I used Evil Obliterating Incantation. And while it's true that you're unaffected by it as well, that was apparently caused by my transformation. I doubt you have anything in common with a mysterious spider monster."
The two of them puzzled over this for a while. They mentioned various myths and legends that they knew about, ranging from the plausible to the outlandish—recent events showed that even the outlandish ones could potentially have a grain of truth. They spoke of fallen gods, fallen heroes other than Justinia, demons of chaos, intruders from other worlds.
In the end, they weren't able to come to any firm conclusions. They therefore settled in for the night, though not without enjoying some time together first.
AN: Now we're heading for the endgame. With the scale of recent events, I decided that now was about time.
Something I've been considering for a while is a chapter focusing on minor characters only. It would give a better picture of the world as a whole and would slow down the pace of the story. Or I could go straight to the Royal Makai story. Let me know what you think.