Lice. Lora has lice. The most disgusting thing that I could imagine, and it infests her head. I found this out only a few minutes ago when one of the little vermin was crawling on my shirt. Upon a quick inspection, I discovered the culprit was the woman walking beside me, helping me map out the hallways in Yama's home.
Thanks to my newfound understanding of how this place is laid out, I quickly walk Lora along until we arrive at the bath-house I've used twice since I appeared in the Labyrinth a couple of days ago. Hellga just happens to walk by as we show up, and for once, I'm delighted to see her disgusting face.
"Hello, human. What can I get ya?"
Her greeting is about as pleasant as I expected. "Lora has head lice. That won't do. I want you to scrub her as clean as possible and make sure they're gone."
Hellga stares at me for several long seconds, her mouth hanging half open. "Human, there are many things this old broad is willing to do... that is not one of them. Do it yourself."
"No, you will
do it. Otherwise, I'll have a little chat with Yama, see what he has to say."
The old demoness is incredulous, but after a few seconds, she groans madly and grabs Lora by the wrist, pulling her away from me. "Only because you asked so politely."
I watch as the two of them enter, before creating a seat and plunking down outside the bath-house.
Things have been quiet for the last two days. After my encounter with the Golden Commandos, I've been experimenting a bit with my abilities. As it turns out, Invulnerability and Invincibility are effectively the same, though they both have the downside of making me lose my sense of touch. I can't regain it either, not even by wordsmithing 'Touch" or anything similar.
Wordsmithing isn't omnipotent, as it costs energy. I was able to drain a decent cluster of commandos of their energy, but the amount was piddling at best. Yama tells me that human energy is hardly existent, compared to demons and angels.
Angels... so even they exist? Yama and the other demons are being deliberately tight-lipped about them. How many are there? What abilities do they have? How strong are they compared to demons? Are demons and angels mortal enemies, like in the Bible and other works of myth?
What if I could drain an angel of its energy? How much could I gain? Hell, forget Angels for a second... what about a demon? They're everywhere around me. Would anyone miss Hellga if she were to go missing? She's probably not very strong, though. Yama would probably give me a lot, as well as Beelzebub and Bael.
But I can't afford to take on the demons. Assuming I did manage to kill Yama and absorb his energy, there's no guarantee I'll get a lot of it. Merely using telepathy on Beelzebub made him furious, so I dare not try using other magic on the other demons, even if just to 'examine' them. I could probably get a good feel for their power if I did that, but I run the risk of pissing them off.
Yeah. Best not to burn what bridges I've made. The demons are a useful ally, for now. What I need is to find a way to increase my power levels. Teleporting will eventually drain me, to say nothing of all my other abilities.
Absentmindedly, I decide to play around with my powers again. I aim my mind at a patch of the floor a dozen feet away. "Sticks. Oil. Fire.
A moment later, there's a warm, cozy little fire burning and I lean forward to warm my hands. It's not exactly cold down here, but it's not hot either. I haven't felt the wind on my face since I woke up in the cryopod, and I rather miss it.
The flames vanish instantly, and only half-charred twigs are left behind.
My abilities have a secondary limit. On top of the maximum energy I can hold, I cannot create anything complex if I can't picture exactly how it works. For some reason, creating oil, which has an unknown atomic structure, is doable, but imagining the inner workings of a clock or a gun is impossible for me.
Why the distinction? What separates the two of them? Is it merely enough to know that oil is greasy and flammable? What if I'm not actually creating oil, but just a "greasy flammable black liquid"? If they're the same, does it matter?
I chuckle to myself as another thought enters my mind. "Lightsaber.
Nothing happens. This is my third limitation. It has to be a single word in order for the magic to work. In the case of this word, I'm unsure if it's because it's two words, or because lightsabers don't exist in reality. Then again, I don't know what a lightsaber's innards would look like, so that could be an issue too. After all, some double words will work fine.
A metal weapon shimmers before me for a split second before falling and clanging on the ground. I shoot a look around the corner at the women in the bathhouse, but I can't see either of them. They must be on the far end. I can't hear them, so they likely can't hear me.
I reach down and pick up the sword. To my annoyance, it wobbles quite a bit towards the far end of the blade, as if the metal is made of something akin to tinfoil, but perhaps a bit stronger. What is this? Iron? Steel? It can't be. Swords are supposed to be stiff and have little to no flex.
At least, I think so. I never studied anything about swords when I was in college.
Hm. What if... "Reinforce.
The sword continues to wobble when I shake it, and I frown in response. "Reinforce. Reinforce. Reinforce.
Nothing. The flex is still there. A thought occurs to me though, and I stand up and put a barrier in every direction to muffle the sounds around me. Taking aim at the chair I made, I swing at it with the sword, and the sword jams into the wood, getting stuck. After a moment of grunting, I pull it back out and swing again. Ten times, I swing the sword, and finally, I pull it back and look at it. The sword is not damaged in the slightest. Not even a scratch on its surface.
Finally, the sword stops wobbling, and stands straight and true as I imagined it should.
It's as I thought. This is incredible. I can alter an object's properties, like the bed, bit by bit until it's made to my specifications, but I can also adjust its atomic composition. I reinforced the sword to the point where it isn't taking any damage, and now it doesn't wobble around either. Isn't it possible I could sharpen it dramatically? I made that boulder heavier in order to crush a commando...
Wait. Hold on a second.
Yama mentioned there are other wordsmiths. A whole army of them, even. I'm just one of many. Those commando suits were incredibly strong, durable to a ridiculous extent. The future might be advanced beyond anything I can imagine, but physics should still exist, right?
Perhaps those suits were reinforced with wordsmithing. If they were, and it certainly makes sense that they were... then I'm not as vulnerable as I thought.
Oho. I have an idea.
I glance up and down the hallways and back into the bathhouse to make sure nobody is around.
In my mind, I picture a super thin green jumpsuit, one that covers me from head to toe. It's made of a practically weightless material, akin to nylon. The weakest form of protection I can think of. It probably wouldn't protect me from a bee sting.
The suit appears, and I alter it to fit myself, adding gloves, socks, and a mask that's super breathable. Quickly, I put it on after taking my clothes off.
I look stupid now. No doubt about it. If Lora and Hellga come around that corner now, they're going to get an eyeful of man-bulge. I'm sure they'll be thrilled, especially Hellga. Unfortunately for them, I plan to be done before then.
I speak the words, over and over again. Soon, the suit hardens to a point where I can't move at all. I might have made the atoms too tight or something.
I'm able to move again, and now I scratch at the material with my nails, only to find it feels like scraping a rock. I can't feel my finger at all. Perfect.
This is exactly what I thought. I must be right. Those suits were reinforced artificially. Yama wasn't lying about other wordsmiths. The only options I can think of otherwise is that perhaps the armor is being manipulated at the atomic level, possibly by humanity's advancements in science... or by other forms of magic. I don't know if Yama can manipulate matter in the same way as me, but judging by Hellga's response to my wordsmithing, the answer would appear to be 'no.'
" Instead of aiming the word at myself, I point the energy at my new suit. It vanishes instantly, but I can still feel it around me.
I am surrounded by an invisible armor now. One that should render me, like those commandos, impervious to normal attacks.
Quickly, I put my regular clothes on, though I do notice that the armor dulls my sense of touch a bit. Still, it's nothing compared to when I use 'invincible.'
This is incredible. The next step is to enhance myself. Abilities are good and all... but can I upgrade my physical performance? My strength? Agility?
Hmm. That's a bad idea. I definitely want to try it, but if something goes wrong, I could burst a vein and die, or stress my heart to the point of cardiac arrest.
However... I could always test on someone else. In fact, I have just the perfect person for the job. I'm sure she'll be happy to help her master out.
I release the barriers and sit down in the chair for a while, and after ten minutes or so, I hear the sound of footsteps behind me. Finally, the two women step out of the bathhouse. Hellga, as always, looks like a walking pile of fecal matter, but... Lora is...
Well, she's beautiful. Her red hair is shiny now, not matted down with dirt and lord knows what else. I should have done this sooner. She's much easier on the eyes. As my eyes wander over her body, Lora glances down shyly to avert her eyes from mine.
Hellga, of course, is always on the offense. "Get her nice and cleaned up for you. No more lice. Happy? Can I go now?"
"Yeah. You can go. In fact, please do."
"Don't trip over yourself thanking me, human. I wouldn't want you to go to any trouble."
"I won't. Have no fear."
She rolls her eyes and shimmies away, grumbling to herself about 'Shitty fucking humans
' and soon, she's out of earshot. Good. Her voice is about as soft and pleasant as a wet fart on a hot summer's day.
Lora shuffles her feet slightly, and I suddenly remember what I was going to do. "Lora, now that you're cleaned up, we're going to do some training. Are there any wide open spaces in the area? Some room where I have lots of maneuverability?"
She finally looks at me and taps her chin for a moment before nodding slowly and pushing past me. She does that a lot. It'd sure be nice if she could just learn to say yes
, and maybe even please
and thank you
. Probably a pipe dream.
We walk for over half an hour in total silence. This time, Lora doesn't turn right or left. She simply walks and walks until we arrive at what I can only presume is the end of Yama's property. Property? Maybe his domain? Whatever it is, the place he lives in is colossal.
And ugly. This demon is in serious need of an interior decorator. I'm getting so tired of black tiled walls. I've even taken to creating plants in my room, though they'll wither and die without sunlight.
Lora walks straight up to the wall and points, showing a vertical door handle bolted onto a wall with a seam running in the shape of a door. I reach forward and pull it open, right as some musky stale air blows into my face.
Ah... a warm breeze. It smells terrible, but soon the odor vanishes, and I'm surprised to see racks and stacks of armor, stuff that looks like it was made to fit men well over eight feet tall. My eyes sweep the huge room, being several hundred feet deep and wide and thirty feet tall, it's the size of a college gymnasium and loaded with all sorts of implements. In fact, it reminds me of the room I saw with the girl encased in crystal.
I've heard mention of monsters in the labyrinth before. If I had to guess, the armor here is for orcs, or trolls maybe. I spot maces and clubs that are far too big and bulky for any common man to wield, along with black shields as tall as me.
The room itself is covered in the same dull tiling as everywhere else, yet I find myself wondering where the breeze comes from. There's no light anywhere inside, and it's mostly pitch black, but my eyes have grown far more accustomed to the darkness than I'd like to admit. I have a theory. Blaarjiim gave me his energy, so perhaps I gained other abilities from him as well. Seeing in the dark is likely to be one, though if there are others I have yet to see them.
Heh... maybe I should try messing with my vision later. So many possibilities, and so little time to test them out.
I step inside and grimace at the darkness. While I can see, Lora can't, and she seems nervous to enter the dark, ominous room.
" I speak, and an illumination appears everywhere in the room, coming from every surface, and yet nowhere at all. I make sure it's dim enough to not hurt my eyes, but I still wince when the lights first come on before my eyes finally adjust.
Lora follows along after me, glancing from this to that and even inside her knightly armor, she looks unintimidating as ever. I'm going to change that today.
"Lora. I've had you swinging your sword at walls for a while now. Do you think you're used to its weight yet?"
"Good. Let's see if you've improved."
I aim my mind at an empty spot on the ground. "Dummy.
A wooden dummy appears, and I alter its appearance a bit, so it's stuffed full of straw and has a superior sturdy base at the bottom. It shouldn't move around no matter how hard she hits it.
"Alright. I want you to swing your sword at the dummy. Try to hack it to pieces."
She gives me a confused look before raising the sword up in the air and swinging it straight down at the dummy. The sword somehow doesn't cut the dummy at all, instead deflecting off its left shoulder and falling down until it hits the ground. During the fall, Lora loses her grip on it and the sword falls uselessly to the side.
I shake my head slowly. "That was fucking pathetic. If I ever see something like that happen again... I'll pick a new slave. Now grab your sword, and try again."
She nods hurriedly and bends down to grab the sword, wobbling slightly as her clunky armor rubs together. She still hasn't developed the stamina for it.
When she stands, I take a few steps back and whisper under my breath. "Strength.
Immediately, she shifts and her breathing becomes less labored, as if a weight was lifted from her shoulders. She lifts the sword up and the blade hums as it whistles through the air. Now she's holding it effortlessly. Indeed, she notices this and stares at the sword in confusion, wondering why it doesn't feel heavy anymore.
Without thinking about it, she steps forwards and swings down. This time the sword chops the dummy's left arm off effortlessly, but at the moment of impact, the sword splits in half and the pointy end flies directly at me.
Shit! Can't dodge!
The top half of the blade stabs my shirt and bounces off without any issues, landing on the ground at my feet. I quickly rub my chest and chuckle to myself. The armor worked. It was a solid idea. My T-shirt is ripped a little bit where the metal hit, but otherwise, I'm perfectly fine. Not even a bruise to be seen.
Lora, for her part, didn't even notice the goddamn sword breaking until a few seconds later, and she didn't see me nearly die. Once she does notice, I can almost see a question mark pop above her head as she examines the broken sword with a sad expression on her face.
"I boosted your strength. Don't worry about it. I'll make you another one. After this, I'm going to try raising your other abilities to see how you perform. I might even try boosting things that can't possibly be adjustable, but we will see."
Lora nods and sends an earnest look my way. Somehow... the expression on her face is different from usual. I almost feel a sort of confidence.
I create a new sword for her and then aim my mind at the dummy. "Repair.
"Alright. Let's find out the actual limits of the human body."
Trade agreements. Dignitaries. A nonstop stream of pencil pushing. All I do is work these days. I'm stuck in an office doing the daily grind so that others can keep me out of the way. I know it, they know it... but alliances are tentative. Everything is held together by threads as thin as needles. All it will take is one sharp person with a laser torch at the right moment, and it all could come falling down.
Such is the life of a Supreme Commander.
My eyes glaze over as I read yet another one of the endless intelligence briefings. What do they want from me this time? Political support in the Raza sector. Why? Probably some royals on that planet think they're hot stuff, need to suppress a minor rebellion. That's the way it goes. Once humanity attained immortality, the threat of dying off was eliminated, meaning those in power stayed in power... forever.
Of course, that wouldn't stop eager young women and men from jockeying for position on their way up the corporate, political, and military ladders. Luckily, thanks to massive innovations in terraforming, we've been able to shove more and more people to different planets across the cosmos.
This means, sadly, that the pool of bickering whiners has merely spread itself around a far vaster, more confusing territory. Another fifty years and we're likely going to hit the two-thousandth planet that humans have infested. How am I supposed to manage all of these? Even the Supreme Commander of all humanity is far from infallible.
But then... they
My thoughts are silenced as a soft tone rings throughout my office. It's quite a big space, with ample room to stretch as needed, and a nice big plexiglass window to see the city below me, but still... it's an office. I spend far too much time in here.
"Come in." The words loll out of my mouth, and I rest my chin on my fist while scrolling through the holopad's contents with my free hand.
The door opens, and to my surprise, it's not my assistant that enters but... someone else. A young blonde woman wearing a familiar red hypersuit. Her name evades me for a moment, but I whisper under my breath. "Identify.
Amy Gutierrez. Right. She's a corporal in my personal neutralization force. How could I have forgotten? At least she doesn't hear me whisper and thus isn't offended that I forgot.
"Supreme Commander Hiro. I'm sorry for bothering you in your office." She pauses awkwardly and bows, and I can't help but notice there's a feeling of awe as she looks at me. I get that a lot, as I try to keep myself distant from the lower echelons.
"Corporal Gutierrez. Delightful to see you again. What can I help you with?"
My words are polite but strained. I feel like this is going to take a lot of time away from my work, meaning I'll get home even later than usual. I could just cheat and slow down time, but that wouldn't be fair to the others, I suppose. They have to put in their eight hours, and so do I.
I gesture to the seat in front of my desk, but she shakes her head. "I won't be here to bother you for long. I merely wanted... I wished to hand-deliver a report on an operation I conducted yesterday."
"Fantastic. Let's see it then." I can't help but let boredom creep into my voice as she pulls up a hologram with a privacy filter active. Her retinal chips allow only her to see its contents, and even to a Supreme Commander, the contents are blurred. Our chief engineer is really talented at creating new military tech.
A moment later, she swipes across the hologram, and an indicator appears on my holopad. It's an old-fashioned clunker from a few thousand years ago, but I can't stand the thought of getting implants so it will have to do for me. Plus, I'm just used to it at this point. I got tired of switching and upgrading tech over and over again, so the last major epoch, I put my foot down and said no more
I skim the contents, but none of it looks very interesting. "Alright. Thank you for this delivery. Is there... anything else?"
An odd look passes across her face as she shifts her feet and glances out the window for a moment. Something's making her uncomfortable, but it would be rude to read her mind to find out what.
"Well, ah, it's about the mission. I guess you haven't heard anything about it yet."
"No. Just what I read in this report just now. Why? Did something happen?"
Her look of concern is starting to agitate me. Spit it out! I haven't got all year!
I want to yell at her, but that's not how we do things anymore. Politeness and civility are at their most extreme these days.
"I'll just say it. Forgive me, Supreme Commander... we had to use the Containment Protocol during this mission. It was an emergency, and I did everything I could to-"
She stops speaking as a dark expression clouds my face. I can hear the exact instant the words catch in her throat.
"You used the... the Containment Protocol? Under whose authority?"
She bows her head, unable to look me in the eyes. "M-my authority, sir. It was requested during the mission, and I gave permission."
"Oh." I swallow hard and slowly set the holopad down, before nudging it away from myself. "I see."
"I know you must be... terribly displeased..."
"To say the least."
"Right. But it was an emergency, Supreme Commander. We had to rush."
I feel an edge in my voice I haven't felt in years. "You know damn well
what the orders are regarding the use of that procedure. Authority must come from Central Command, directly through me. Directly
, Corporal. No exceptions. Not one, not ever. Unless an Archdemon appears and is about to exterminate every human in the galaxy in seconds, there is always
time to obtain permission for the protocol, and I am to always be present when it is used. Have I not made this clear before now?"
"Yes... sir. You've made it... abundantly clear." Her head hangs ever lower, but puppy-dog eyes won't work on me, nor will a simple apology.
"Good. Now I want you to explain to me what situation was so dire, what monster so threatening, that you had to override a direct edict from the Supreme Commander himself. I want to know in exquisite detail what could have been such an omnipresent threat that my presence wasn't required, but the Containment Protocol was."
Finally, she raises her head up and looks sheepishly at the desk, though she can't quite meet my eyes. "An S-class demon appeared, sir. I included all the details in my report. Flip to the, err, the section C, sub-header Gamma."
Silently, I use my telekinesis to navigate through the menus on my holopad until I arrive where she spoke of. I read the entry out loud to her. "The subject was a demon of unknown origin. It possessed diverse abilities, including telekinesis, instant teleportation without using hand-signs, invisibility, thermal evasion, and a devastating psychic attack that put three dozen commandos into a coma instantly."
I raise my eyes up after reading a bit more. "That's it? Certainly, a powerful foe, one I can understand why you were having trouble with, but the lives of three-dozen commandos do not
give you the right to override imperial authority, and certainly not my direct orders."
She stiffens slightly before looking into my eyes again. "I understand, Commander, but the lives of my men were in grave danger. I made a judgment call, and I will take full responsibility for the fallout."
"How convenient." I lick my lips and turn to stare out the window to contemplate. "If only it were that easy. Simply override my direct orders, then claim responsibility, and only one person gets tarred and feathered. That way people can abuse the system."
"I didn't mean it like that." A hint of frustration enters her voice. "We all know the Containment Protocol has no downsides. It doesn't consume any extra energy. It allows us to win against the demons all the time! Why can't we use it? Why can't we-"
"BECAUSE IT'S MY ORDERS! BECAUSE I SAID SO! THAT'S WHY!" I jump up, and the chair flies out from under me, banging on the hardwood floor below.
Amy shrinks back as a look of fear envelopes her face. A moment later I suddenly realize what just happened and I blink back rage before letting my shoulders slump a little bit. "Because... I said so. I have my reasons, Corporal. The top brass of the military wish for nothing more than to run in, guns blazing, and wipe out the demonic threat. The demons are a pittance... the demons are no threat to us. What are their numbers now, fifty thousand? Forty? The demons are the only thing preventing... preventing..."
My voice trails off as I realize she's shaking in fear slightly. "I'm sorry, Supreme Commander. I didn't mean to imply- I didn't mean to question your authority. You've done so much for us... I just thought that maybe..."
I raise a hand to cut her off. "Things are never so simple. I am disbanding your entire unit to make an example of those who disobey this policy. You will have your rank stripped, and will be removed from the United Military, effective immediately. There will be no other punishment."
"C-commander..." Her anger melts away as tears form. Her lip trembles softly. "I am sorry... I didn't mean for things to happen like this..."
"Few do. Go. I have work to return to, and now I have to schedule a meeting with the brass. This has quadrupled my work for the week."
Amy stares silently for a few long moments before bowing stiffly and marching towards the door.
She halts and turns back to me.
"I... Thank you for your services. Despite this incident... you were exemplary in extinguishing the resistance on Goldesh III. I have not forgotten."
She doesn't respond but merely nods quickly before heading out the door.
It closes behind her with a faint hiss
, and slowly I sink back into my chair, raising it up with my telekinesis.
My office is eerily silent afterward.
Slowly, I pull the holopad to myself and stare at it blankly, thinking about what led up to this moment.
A demon, S-class. These abilities are unheard of for demons to possess. Only a few demons had anything similar... and they're long since gone. Of the tens of thousands left, only a handful of demons could come close to this array of powers, and the chance of that happening is unlikely.
But if it was a demon that attacked the commandos... who was it?
I press a button on my holopad, and a video from Corporal Gutierrez's helmet camera plays back. Carefully, I examine the face of the demon caught on film.
Interesting. I'll have to investigate this myself.
............................................................... Hey guys! It's a special birthday release! Can you believe some people said I should take my birthday off? What LOSERS lmao! No but seriously, I was born and raised a Jehovah Witness (Left the religion at age 18, and I'm 25 now) so I grew up not taking birthdays and holidays too seriously. It's just another day of the year, no big deal. If anything, I like the idea of people giving out presents on their birthday instead of receiving, since I personally believe that giving is better than receiving. And so I release my present onto the wild internet! An extra long super spicy Cryopod part! Hope you liked it! Part 392B - Understanding