Days had pasted and still they had yet to reach the center of Blood Glutch. Etna was tired and annoyed and just wanted to get the fucking rose and return home to her soft bed. The rest of the team were also tired and had been pestering her to stop and set up camp for the night. She finally had given in. Now she sat before the campfire, eat a bowl of stew and staring at the flickering flames. Hanako could cook using almost anything—it was a damn good thing Cross had stocked up on supplies beforehand. Etna really didn't want to be eating sticks and twigs.
Everyone else was around the fire as well—Hanako was tending to the stew, pouring the contents into small bowls for everyone; Elity played with the bowtie in her hair, completely at ease with the world; Wicket was in a fetal position, after what Hanako had done to him (he had to learn to shut up and think before talking); Sno and Cross sat next to each other, Cross being the worrying husband over Sno not holding back while she was pregnant; and Antoire was looking up towards the night sky. Etna wasn't sure what her vassal was thinking half the time. Antoire had been hired by a stupid demon lord to kill her, but had sworn her loyalty to Etna after she had beaten the crap out of her. She was a good vassal, just… a little off sometimes. Etna decided to listen in on everyone. She was bored and needed something to do.
"Sno, what will happen if you get severely injured or even die?" Cross asked, concern filling his voice. His wife just ate her stew and shrugged.
"I won't die, Cross, and you're worrying too much. I can still fight and stay out of danger." The Succubus Archer finished her stew, then what was left out of Cross' bowl. "My mother did this while she was pregnant with me and so did her mother. Our child will be fine."
"But, don't you remember what Elity said? We're not even sure if you can carry an unborn child into battle without serious harm being done." Cross grabbed two more bowls of stew, only to watch them disappear thanks to Sno's increasing appetite. Etna hadn't seen her eat this much food before. But their child needed it. She just shrugged it off—it was only the four month mark. The child won't be due for a while.
Sno finished her fourth bowl and looked at Hanako. "Anymore left, Hanako?" she asked, holding out her bowl.
The pink-haired girl shook her head. "You ate it all. How can you eat that much and not get fat?"
"What are you talking about? She's already fat enough as is," Wicket muttered before being kicked in the gut by both Hanako and Sno. Everyone had to laugh at that.
"Wicket can't seem to get the message, can he?" Elity asked as she got up to relieve herself.
Etna nodded in agreement. "Wicket, shut up for a while until we reach the Abyssal Castle, will you?" She grabbed her lance and stood up to stretch. Antoire finally came back for her trance and looked at the fire. Etna walked over and sat down beside her. "Something on your mind, Antoire?"
The Lilim looked at her and sighed. "It's nothing, Mas—Etna." She was still trying to get used to that. "Just thinking about my family."
"You have a family?" The Lilim nodded and produced a photograph for her hip pocket. It was of her and two little demon children—a young, red-haired Succubus girl of about ten years, and a brown-haired male Warrior, maybe only eight.
"The Succubus is my daughter, Marley. The boy is my son, Kyle. Takes after his father, bless his soul."
That last sentence sounded like there was something else behind it. Etna decided to press on. "What happened to his father?"
"Died in battle when Kyle was only three. I became an Assassin after Achilles' death so I could earn enough Hell to give the kids a future. Became a Noble Demon about two years after that."
Etna didn't know what to say. She couldn't remember ever having a family, except for Scorlia, Krichevskoy, and Laharl and Flonne. And little Aramis… That was something no one ever knew about. They just thought the zombie-maker was her slave, but he was more than that.
Her thoughts were interrupted by the sounds of battle. Everyone looked as Elity came running back from her break. "Master Etna! You have to come and see this!" Everyone followed the Nekomata to where she had been and gasped at what they saw.
Down in the valley below them was Laharl and one of his vassals. Tili, if Etna remembered correctly. They were completely surrounded by a group of wild demons, Laharl defeating them with ease, only to have them be replaced by more. Etna didn't even think as she slid down the slope and in to the fray, smashing a Phantom in the face with her lance. Everyone else –except for Sno, who stayed up on the cliff and provided support with her arrows—followed her into battle. Wicket slashed at a Gnast, rending the undead demon in two, only to be tackled from behind by a Treant. Elity and Antoire doubled up on a massive Golem, wearing the beast out until Hanako dropped her axe on its head.
Cross unloaded clip after clip into a Surt, the Great Wyrm not even feeling the assault as it turned around and smashed its fist into him. Cross was sent flying backwards into the cliff, slumping over upon impact. Sno screamed and launched an endless barrage of arrows at the Surt. It looked up at her and was about to jump at her when Laharl grabbed its attention by slashing at its back. It turned to face him, only to be on the receiving end of a massive team attack by Laharl, Etna, Tili, and Elity.
As it slumped to the ground, dead, everyone ran over to Cross' limp form. Sno slid down the cliff slope and rushed over to her husband, tears staining her face. "Cross! Wake up, Cross! Please, don't die on me!"
Elity knelt beside him and checked for a pulse. "He's still alive," she exclaimed. "The pulse is weak, but I think I can get it to strengthen." She casted a healing spell onto him and checked again, nodding as she was proven right. Sno held onto her husband's hand, praying for him to open his eyes, as Etna and Laharl spoke to each other.
"Prince, what are you doing here? We're getting the rose."
"I have to be the one who plucks it. Right, Tili?" The Brawler nodded.
"Why?" Etna asked.
Tili explained. "The Fallen Rose has a natural defense system. It will wilt instantly if someone with no use for it plucks it from its home. Had you been the one to do it, Miss Etna, you would have killed it."
"Where is the rose, anyway?" Laharl asked, looking around. "It should be here somewhere." Etna explained that to the Prince, who laughed at the news. "A vassal of Baal, huh? This is going to be fun. That old fart wasn't much of a challenge."
Etna shook her head at that. Facing Baal was far worse than anything she had ever done. She'd have taken the entire 12th Demonbourne Division instead of the Lord of Terror. But they had learned of Krichevskoy's real death after defeating Baal and sealing him away again. Adell and Rozalin had done the same only a few years after them, this time actually killing the fucking bastard. "Then his vassals won't be any tougher."
Laharl hadn't heard her. He had already begun to walk in the direction of the glutch's center. Etna sighed and called after him. "Laharl, we have to rest. We'll need Cross if we want to get into the castle."
Laharl stopped and looked at the Strider's body. "Are you joking?"
"Nope," she said. Sno looked at her and smiled, nodding at the Prince. "He's got all of our explosives." Which wasn't a lie. "And he's the only one who knows how to use them." Again, the truth.
Laharl sighed in annoyance. "Alright. We'll leave in the morning."