Demon Queened - Chapter 16

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I really wish I could say that I walked into Yara’s office with my head held high, and a fierce look in my eyes. Or at least with righteous irritation and a lot of stomping. I mean, Nivera and her basically called me an idiot, mocked me for not knowing things I had no way of knowing anything about, and bickered with one another while I just sort of stood there - like I was just some bystander and not at the center of this whole damn mess… Thing is, the stuff Nivera pointed out? The stuff I did know? Kinda made me think that I should have seen something like this coming.

I mean, it was pretty easy to forget with Devilla being… Devilla, but the “Queen” in Demon Queen was there for a reason. It wasn’t all about fighting (or fucking?) the Heroine in order to save demonkind - it was also about being in charge. Not that she’d really done much with the job, like ever, as far as I knew, but… No, wait, I guess she made it illegal to say Nivera’s name in her presence, or something? Which, on the one hand, felt incredibly dumb and petty. But on the other hand, the fact that she could just do that was sorta the point. Her word was literally law. She could… I don’t know, declare it illegal to be blonde, or something, and I’d be expected to buy hair dye immediately.

And then there was me. Some random ass maid who came out of nowhere and became her best friend. Someone who could theoretically - okay, pretty much definitely - ask her to pass a bunch of laws, and get it done. And now I was here, asking to meet with another powerful figure, while Devilla herself was out doing stuff I couldn’t exactly tell anyone about. That sort of thing sent a message - a message these two were apparently volunteering to help me take back. So I could cut them a little slack, right?

That’s what I had to keep telling myself, at least. It helped me keep my cool under Nivera’s death glare. And also kept me from snapping at Yara, who was leaning back in her chair, boots on her desk, with her eyes closed. Like she wanted to drive home the fact that she was done helping me. Even Bailey was at risk, if I couldn’t keep calm - though her biggest crime was just making me feel awkward, by silently standing behind me and glaring at the other two.

Thankfully, the uncomfortable stillness was broken pretty quickly - even if it really didn’t feel like it, in the moment - when the dryad secretary who’d first greeted me (what felt like a bajillion years ago) walked through the door with a fresh cup of that black juice Nivera had served Bailey and me. Or rather, the potion Nivera basically tricked me into giving up, I guess.

I glanced at the snake in question as I took the cup, wondering if she’d make another move to keep me from drinking it. She didn’t say, or do, anything though. If anything, her face was maybe a bit too blank? Like she was purposefully holding back, or something. Weird, but I wasn’t going to drive myself crazy trying to figure out what the fuck was going on there, so I mentally shrugged, tipped it back, and…

“Gah!” Bitter!

Nivera snorted, and even Yara let out a little chuckle, while I glowered at the both of them - maybe with a little more heat than I normally would for something as harmless as this, but screw it, I had an excuse. Anger didn’t stop me from chugging the remainder of the drink, though. Even if it was mostly spite that kept it down.

Technically, I didn’t need to drink the whole potion to make it work. But plant based potions - which I was pretty sure this was, what with it being (gross) juice and all - are generally pretty damn weak, compared to ones made with bits of monsters, or monster girls. And while most people could probably fix that by throwing enough magic at the problem, my magic capacity was kinda… Small. 

I needed all the help I could get, basically. 

“If you’re done poisoning your tastebuds with bitterbean,” Nivera started, “there’s still a lot for us to talk about.”

“Fuck you.” I considered cursing Bailey out, too, for not telling me what to expect, but a quick glance at her showed she was more confused than anything. She hadn’t had any problem with it, I guess. So, instead, I just reached for my magic. My capacity was sort of pitiful, like I said, but drinking the full thing had given me a big ball of warmth in my gut to work with. Just channeling what power I could afford through it was enough to clear out some of the stress-based fog from my brain, bringing the world into sharper focus. Something that would hopefully help me keep up with the slithery bitch. Or at least help me tolerate her antics. Good stuff - taste aside.

“So…” I began. Then stopped, and frowned, because where to begin? Nivera had implied some stuff about Devilla that hadn’t really hit me in the moment, but now had me… I don’t know. Wanting to ask what the fuck? What was all that crap about ‘breaking her again’? Not to mention the stuff about General Doll apparently going to bat for me? And peppermint being General Nella’s favorite snack? Which I guess meant it really did exist in the tower, somehow, but I was more concerned about what the hell all this information they were dumping on me actually meant for Devilla and me.

“Queen in danger?” Bailey broke in, stealing the decision from me. Not that I was really complaining - it was as decent a starting point as any.

“Physically?” Nivera shook her head. “No way. She could take on the whole tower, and walk off without a scratch. Emotionally? You tell me - how’s she going to react if people start suggesting that you’re only hanging with her in order to get near some bloodliner or another?”

“I still don’t know what a bloodliner is,” I pointed out. “Or redbloods.” I mean, I had a couple guesses now that things were calming down, but making her explain it worked better as a deflection.

Unfortunately, Nivera didn’t look like she was going to let me go, going off the way she was glaring at me. But what was I supposed to say? That it was a tossup between Devilla getting mad at them on my behalf, or saying it was fine if I used her, because I deserved something for putting up with her? Because I didn’t really see Nivera taking that answer well, and if I was being honest, the truth was probably worse - she’d almost definitely do both.

“For fuck’s sake, Nivera,” Yara groaned, cracking one eye open. “You can’t seduce a girl by glowering at her. You need to soften up a bit, if you want her to accept your help.”

“I want to help Devilla,” Nivera protested. “She’s just a potential ally of circumstances.” She paused, as if something had just popped into her head, then turned her head to scowl at the general. “And what the fuck happened to staying out of this, anyway?”

“I am staying out of this,” Yara said, lifting a hand to her mouth and letting out a yawn. “But this conversation’s too painful to spectate without a little heckling, y’know? I can only listen to you stabbing yourself in the tail so many times before it starts to become more annoying than funny.”

For once, I think Nivera and my expressions were almost a match - both of us were basically calling her out for that BS in our heads. She’d been interfering almost from the start! I kinda thought Nivera would take it a step further and say it out loud, and she obviously wanted to, but she just pressed her lips into a thin line. Then she turned her attention towards me (yay? Yeah, no), and asked, “What do you know about Demon Generals?”

I blinked, not expecting her to ask about something so… academic. I mean, I’m not sure what I did expect her to ask, beyond not something every child learned in school, but it wasn’t that. 

As for what I knew… I wasn’t really in the mood to start spewing lessons out and hoping I figured out what she was after. She probably wasn’t after the super obvious stuff - that they were all in charge of ten floors of the tower, that they used to rule over territories in the wider world back when we had them, and that they all had secondary responsibilities. Like how Yara was in charge of agriculture, and the harpies led by Mifa were meant to be aerial scouts. None of that had anything to do with bloodlines or politics, so far as I could figure. At least not directly.

“You’re talking about the noble families, right? Like the Lingingtons, I guess - you’re all descended from the generals Luci picked, wayback when the war first started…” Part of their bloodlines.

“Half marks,” Yara said, cutting off Nivera as she opened her mouth. Which of course got her a death glare from the perpetually angry snake girl.

“A quarter,” Nivera countered. “Tops. My aunt - General Sallina, to you - doesn’t even use Lingington as her family name. And we’re not nobles. That’s just a stupid misconception that the most arrogant of them - which is to say pretty much every asshole relative I’ve got - don’t see a need to challenge.”

“Seriously? You manage territories.” I held up a finger. “Wield political power.” A second. “Are considered special because of your bloodline.” A third. “And you have a special term for everyone who isn’t you.” A fourth. “I mean, redbloods is basically just common blood, isn’t it? As in, commoners?” A fifth. Not because it counted as a separate point, but because I felt a little dumb ending on four. “Sure sounds like nobility to me.”

“Yeah, well, there’s a reason it’s such a common misconception,” Nivera admitted, grimacing. “But there are differences. Important ones, that have to do with why Devilla’s in danger to begin with.”

“The big one is that it’s not codified by law,” Yara said, closing her eyes again. She looked like she was about half a second from falling asleep, but her voice was steady and sharp. I really didn’t really get why she was so determined to act like she was uninvolved - maybe just to piss Nivera off? Because relatable, if so. “There’s no rule saying our families have to be picked. Nothing that gives us special privileges over the rest of you. Just tradition and expertise.”

“And money,” Nivera added, scowling at Yara. Which was kind of a wasted effort, in my opinion, but I guess I couldn’t fault her for wanting to blow off steam. “Money lets you get away with all sorts of things.”

“But it doesn’t get you a job in the government,” Yara countered. “That’s a strict meritocracy - members of our families get the jobs because we’re the best at the jobs.”

“Because they make sure they’re the best,” Nivera corrected, hands clenched into fists again. “Our families are meritocracies, too - you’re only worth what you bring to the family. Prove yourself worthy? You can get adopted into a higher branch. Fuck up too much, though, and you might as well be dead to them. Add in access to the best tutors money can buy, on the job training, and an unhealthy heaping of nepotism? Somehow, a member of the bloodlines always ends up in charge.”

“Okay,” I cut-in, despite once again having no real clue where to go from there. I just didn’t want to be left in the dust while Nivera and Yara bickered their way into another tangent. Which was… Probably what I needed to say, actually? “As terrible as that all sounds, I’m still not seeing how it relates to Devilla?”

“That’s where the inter-bloodline politics kick in,” Yara explained, bringing the conversation right back around to where it left off. Hopefully she was being honest, and this actually was on track, because I was starting to wonder if there was even a point to Bailey and me being there. “Your worth is determined by what you bring to the bloodline, but the bloodline’s worth is determined by what they bring to the people. The better your territory is doing, the more prestigious your family is, and the more secure your position is. It’s the only good part of the system, so far as I’m concerned. Problem is, the bloodlines-”

“Are made up of fucking competitive assholes, brought up in twisted ways, who’d do anything to pull one over on each other.” Nivera narrowed her eyes at Yara. “Some people seem to think it’s not that bad, though.”

“It isn’t.” Yara said, frowning at Nivera. Which was an almost comically serious expression, when you considered the fact that still had her eyes closed and boots on the desk, like she was readying herself for a nap. “Maybe there’s some minor backstabbing - hidden barbs in every sentence, backroom deals, all that annoying crap - but there’s lines you don’t cross, and everyone knows the rules going into it. Go too far, and even members of your own bloodline will turn against you. But when you add Devilla to the mix…”

“Having her in your corner basically lets you get away with anything, right?” I guessed. Correctly, judging by the look Nivera was giving me. Not sure why she looked so surprised, though - Yara had basically spoonfed me the answer, much as I hated to admit it. “So, what? They’re all desperate to get her for themselves?”

“No,” Nivera scoffed. “They’re desperate to make sure nobody else gets their hands on her. Not that every fucking one of them hasn’t spent some time thinking about what they could get done if they had her ear. Like you do.

“Half of them are going to want you in their pocket,” Yara said. “And if they can’t get you in their pocket, they’re going to join the other half in wanting you out of the picture. Which means some idiot’s going to take it into her head that souring your relationship with Devilla’s the best way to restore the status quo.”

“The status quo?” I asked. Seriously?! “You can’t tell me they actually want Devilla to go back to being a brat?!” Not that getting rid of me would actually accomplish that, anyway.

“They want her to go back to sulking in her room, so that they can do things without worrying about her interfering,” Nivera said. Her fists were clenched so tight her knuckles had turned white - I was seriously expecting blood, at this rate. “And don’t say it wouldn’t work - this isn’t the first time Devilla’s done a personality switch, you know. It happened when she befriended me, too. And again when they fucked with our friendship”

“Wait, wh-”

“What?” Nivera interrupted. “You think your life changing friendship is one of a kind? You should know better than anyone how lonely Devilla is. And if she’s actually admitting that to herself, again, she’s probably getting all desperate for affection, too, right? Shouldn’t be that surprising that she acts differently when she’s actually getting some, instead of chasing after it, or convincing herself she doesn’t need it.”

“That’s…” Not quite right? The bit about affection, anyway - and I was pretty sure getting past life memories shoved into her head was a once in a lifetime thing, thank you very much. She wasn’t wrong about the loneliness, though - Devilla was pretty obviously desperate for me to stick around. I just thought it was something new… I guess I’d never really given her pre-rite self much thought, beyond complaining about what a brat she’d been.

“What was she like as a kid?” I asked. Not really intentionally. The question just sorta slipped out. “Before she was… Broken, I guess?” Made to think she couldn’t have anyone? 

“When we first met? Less broken.” Nivera narrowed her eyes. “Ask Devilla if you want to know more. Assuming she trusts you enough to tell you, anyhow.”

“That’s not what we’re here to talk about, anyway,” Yara said, before I could reply. “We’re here to talk through your next moves.”

“Uh, correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t me working with you guys the problem? Them thinking you ‘have my ear,’ or whatever?”

“No,” Nivera said. “The problem is them thinking you have a political interest at all.

“Before, they figured interacting with you wasn’t worth the risk,” Yara continued. “Between the chances of Devilla overreacting, and other bloodliners getting pissy, they were more concerned about keeping an eye on one another than actually reaching out to you. But you reaching out to me invalidates that - if you’re going to be making connections of your own accord, they’ll want those to be with them.”

“Great…” I groaned. “And telling them I’m just doing a favor for Devilla wouldn’t make it better, I’m guessing?”

“Worse, if anything,” Yara confirmed. “Favors don’t come without strings in those people’s eyes - and you’re running a direct line between Devilla and me.”

“So… How do you know I’m not doing that?”

“We don’t,” Yara admitted. Eyes still closed, for the record. “Frankly, if you were trying to go for favors, I’m probably the one you’d come to. Much as I hate the political game, I still play a bit - though mostly with the goal of staying out of the more troublesome bits. Growing a personal supply of favorite foods for the various bloodliners helps keep everyone off my back… And while the fact that my goal’s always to stay out of things certainly helps your case, you wanting to talk about peppermint of all things complicates everything.”

“What’s wrong with wanting peppermint?” I wanted to complain that I barely even knew what it was, but it was pretty damn clear that ignorance wasn’t getting me out of anything.

“What’s wrong is that it’s tied into those favors,” Nivera said. “General Nella’s favorite snack, remember?”

“Worse,” Yara added, “her exclusive snack. I don’t even know how you found about the stuff, seeing as how it’s not exactly included in the tower’s general food supply - a mystery I’ve already heard other bloodliners speculating about, by the way.”

“I…” felt like my brain was breaking here. “I didn’t know anything about it being an exclusive snack. Whydoes she even have an exclusive snack? Why does she have any snacks? Isn’t General Nella a spirit?! She shouldn’t even be able to eat!” She couldn’t even physically touch anything if she wasn’t possessing someone!

“Oral fixation,” Yara explained, shrugging. “She likes munching on different sorts of mint leaves, among other things. But it would be a waste of our limited space to grow five different varieties of mint for the tower, so…” 

“But how does she-”

“Everyone who works under her directly has a possession kink,” Nivera broke in. “Satisfied? Because I’d like to get back on topic.”

“...Fine,” I said, through gritted teeth. “Why don’t you go ahead and tell me what you want to do, then, since you obviously have something figured out already?”

“Congrats on figuring out the obvious,” Nivera sneered. “It’s only the whole reason I’m here - other than the fact that Yara was just going to refuse your request, and leave you to the others.”

“I don’t like politics. Think I’ve been pretty clear on that front.”

“And yet you obviously don’t mind benefiting from them,” Nivera scoffed. You know, if you were actually willing to try and help change things like me, maybe we wouldn’t be in this fucking mess to begin with?”

“Help Queen how?” Bailey asked. And thank the Fallen she did, because I don’t think I’d have been able to get the words out without cursing up a storm.

Nivera gave Bailey a level look. One that lacked any of the anger she always had for me. Then - still looking at Bailey, for some reason - she started talking to me. “Simple. We’re going to take control of the narrative. Nobody’s going to believe you came here for something innocent, so we’ll tell them you came to Yara hoping to sell information about Devilla. Then I swooped in, wanting to keep things from exploding - that’s easy enough to believe, everyone knows how I feel about Devilla getting dragged into politics, and Yara would obviously be happy if I took this problem off her hands. We’ll have some more meetings, to make it stick - we’ll let people see me handing you money, to pay you off and keep you from going to anyone else. Probably have you buy some luxuries, too, to really help sell it… And I guess maybe you can give me some information on how Devilla’s doing, so they think I’m getting something more out of it, too. Y’know, basic stuff like how she’s doing, or whatever…”

I stared at Nivera. She, meanwhile, continued to stare at Bailey. I considered shouting or cursing at her, to get her to look at me, but honestly… I didn’t have the energy. All the frustration I felt at being ignored, all the anger I felt at her condescending tone had suddenly been washed away, replaced by exasperation with this idiot who couldn’t even admit she was interested in how Devilla was doing! I mean, seriously?! Was Devilla even in real trouble, or was this all part of some elaborate scheme on her part? Could I trust anything she’d said? And if I couldn’t, what was the point of all this?

In the end, I turned to Yara instead. “Does she seriously expect me to agree to meeting up for more of this abuse? Just so that she can spread rumors about me selling out my friend for money?”

That got Nivera to turn her eyes towards me, at least. Not that I cared. “If you really care about Devilla-”

“I do care about Devilla. Which is why I’m going to talk to her, and work something out. And if you ‘actually care’ about her, then maybe you should do the same.”

“How?! It’s illegal for anyone to say my name around her, remember!?”

“You’re good at plotting, aren’t you? Figure something out. Maybe use a nickname, or something.” I turned towards the door. “Come on Bailey. I’m going to need a nap if I want the energy to tell Devilla about today.”

Hopefully she’d come home tonight, because I had a hell of a lot to say. Starting with the fact that she’d have to pick up her own damn peppermint.

Author's NotesSo full disclosure - this chapter didn’t end at all in the way I thought it would. I actually planned for Abigail to snap, and unload all her anger at Nivera after being essentially commanded to subject herself to more abuse… But then Nivera got all tsundere, and all that anger disappeared in a wave of pure exasperation. Honestly, I like how it ended up more than my original plan, though. It feels more fitting for this story, especially considering my plans for the future.

That said, I’m rather happy to report that we’ve officially hit the last chapter with Nivera for a bit, and the second to last with Abigail! We’ll officially be returning to Devilla and Lucy’s reunion in chapter 18! I’ve already written that and chapter 17 already, so I’ll be posting around this same time next week, and the week after. (That’s somewhere around 2-3 PM PST, on 1/28 and 1/04! They’re also available on my Patreon for as little as $1, if you’re feeling impatient. <3) I’ve gotten the first part of chapter 19 done, too, and while I don’t want to make promises I can’t keep about maintaining a schedule… Well, I’ll keep everyone up to date on my progress.

Other than that, I’d just like to thank my proofreader FallingLeaf, and my beta reader Lulla for helping me get all three of these chapters ready for the public.

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This story...

This is more like the one I remember. Great job! Thanks for getting back into it and sharing it with us, but remember your "you" time as well.