B2 — 46. Life As A Citizen

PoV :

1.  Sal Vences (the 15-year-old brother of our Maid Adoncia)

2.  Adoncia Vences (the Maid that was rejected by Iris)

3.  Sal Vences

Recap:  We went to the Quen’Talrat old mine where their weak and elderly went to die in service of the nation.  Elinor was able to gather many of the positions she needed, and now, we’re getting ready for the Empire’s first Semi-Annual General Conference, but first, let’s see how life has been for Elinor’s citizens!

I want to thank my patrons for continuing to support me:

Drinko, Luke Dowicz, Boris, Harukain, Nissarin, Jesse Brimingham, Pltergeist, and my other Patrons!


Sal Vences crept away from the group cleaning the front entrance of the palace, holding Alisa Espiritu’s hand; he’d been looking for an opportunity like this the entire day.  He had to be careful because Adoncia had been watching his every move.

Daylight was coming to an end in a few hours, but that was fine; all he wanted was to have some personal time—just a bit away with his girlfriend.

It had almost been two weeks of non-stop work, and trying to find time with a girl was so difficult.  Gwen kept most men and women separated in the endless list of tasks they had to complete.  Lucky and Gwen practically micromanaged when they could go to the bathroom or take breaks.

He and Alisa were fifteen, not adults; they shouldn’t have to do all the crap work just because they were young.  Washing the streets, moving broken furniture or rugs designed for giant apes, and eating soup, no matter how good it was, just got old fast.

Ducking inside the nearby alley while pulling Alisa behind him, Sal peeked around the corner with a small smirk.  “Hey!  Did Donica see us?”

Alisa’s grip on his hand was tight, showing how nervous she was, but there was a cute smile on her dirty face; even without makeup, sweaty, and without deodorant, his girlfriend was gorgeous.  “Umm … I think we’re good!  Gwen was asking if she could move a bunch of heavy stones.”

“Geez,” he mumbled, guiding her further into the extremely wide alleyway, “my sister’s a freaking monster now—have you seen how fast she can run?”

Alisa hummed, scratching her neck.  “It’s crazy.  You know the massive wall between the men’s and women’s showers—the changing room divider, too.  I watched her move huge parts together with another woman in a maid outfit!”

“Yeah, she’s stronger than any human ever—it’s insane … I don’t think I can beat her in anything anymore…”  he whispered, his tone bitter.  “She’s just…”

“Yeah, I don’t know,” Alisa returned as he trailed off.  Glancing back while brushing her brown bangs back, she sighed.  The soft wind cut through the massive city helped to mitigate the jungle heat.  “I think she’s sweet.  Donica’s always worked hard, and she’s so pretty.”

Sal looked away, vision narrowing; pain burned in his heart.  “I … I don’t know.  Anyway, did you bring it?”

A bright, adventurous smile lit Alisa’s cheery face that helped to ease Sal’s mind.  She pulled up her knee-length, slightly dirtied, white dress as they rounded the corner to a side area.  Tied to her left thigh was a rolled-up piece of paper and a pencil that she’d found in the rubble that the monster toads brought from Earth.

“Perfect!”  Sal grinned, focusing on his girlfriend’s outfit; she could look good in just about anything, but this was surprisingly well made, given what tools they had.

“Oh?”  Alisa giggled, spinning away to let it flair a bit.  “What do you think—oh, and my ribbon?”  she turned to motion at her ponytail.

“Red always suited you—of course, everything does,” he mused.  “Super cute, though.”

“Aww, thanks!  Gwen said we’d be getting custom…”  she paused, cheeks darkening.  “Well, you know how we don’t really have many clothes…”

Knowing she meant underwear and likely bras, Sal rubbed his chin, motioning for her to continue walking down the alley.  “Oh?  Geez, you girls get all the best stuff, huh?  I’m left here with slightly oversized boxers.”

“Hey!”  she playfully slapped his arm with a small smile.  “Girls come in all shapes and sizes—we need it!”

“I know!  I know!  I’m happy you’ll be comfortable.”

“Thanks!  Oh, and yeah, I got it,” she mumbled, coming to a stop to untie the ribbon she’d used to hide the items; he wasn’t even sure if people would miss them or if they were allowed to take it, but it was better to be safe than sorry.

Before she got the ribbon undone, she motioned for her to join him through one of the broken doorways of the colossal buildings of the impossibly big city; he had been somewhat surprised how minor damage there was on the infrastructure.  “Shh … who knows when my sister will be running like a cheetah to chase me down.”

“Oh!  Yeah,” she hissed with a wink, following him inside.  “I can’t wait to do—well, whatever we’re out here to do—should we start far away, so no one finds us?”

“Hold on—she might just run right past us, thinking we ran away,” he said, looking around at what appeared to be some kind of old storage room.

Alisa slowly took in the vast room with an open mouth.  “Wow…”

On the other hand, Sal’s focus was on his girlfriend; they’d been friends since they were kids, and he’d only gotten the courage to ask her out a year ago.  He thought she’d slam him to the floor and confessed, mostly to get it over with for his sanity, but everything went like butter.  In fact, she’d been waiting for him to ask for years—Sal only saw her as … well, as a girl for six months prior, which he thought about quite often.

Trying to dismiss the anxiety in his chest at finally getting away from his overshadowing sister, Sal took the items from her and walked to a nearby broken wooden beam that was big enough to be a bench.

“It is pretty cool—I guess.  You know, once my sister can’t see us, she’ll come running,” he rolled his eyes.  “She’s hovering around me like—I can’t escape!”

“I’m sure she’d join us,” Alisa replied, sitting next to him and smoothing out her dress.  “I think she’s just worried about you.”  She leaned over to nudge his side with an impish grin.  “Hmm?  Can’t let the little vixen steal you away!”

“Wha—no, my sister loved you!”  Sal grunted.  “I just need time away, you know—’cause I don’t know,” he grumbled, running his hands through his thick black hair and rolling around his shoulders.

Alisa’s fingers brushed up against his as she scooted closer.  “Hey … I know we haven’t had much time to talk this week, but—but if you need to, I’m always here.”  She licked her lips and pressed down on the back of his hand.  “To be honest, I’ve been—I’ve had these nightmares.”

Shoving his own emotions down with the chance she’d given him, Sal’s eyebrows pulled together at her tone.  He bumped legs with her, setting the paper and pencil behind them to put his arm around her back, trying to comfort her while locking fingers.  “What—why haven’t you told me?”

Her fingers twitched.  “Oh, no!  No!  You were the one that had something to say first—sorry…”

“C’mon, cut it out—talk to me,” he smiled, brushing his hair back to see her concerned brown eyes better and gently directing her posture to face him.  “Your parents?”

A melancholy look creased her face, looking away.  “They’re—well, you know … My mom’s trying to deal with my grandparents being killed—eh … we don’t have the bodies,” she whispered, scratching the back of her hand, still locked in his.  “I wasn’t really that close to them, but my dad’s trying to be there for her—it’s like she can’t even look at me for some reason.”

“Rough … So … hmm.  No other’s there for you?”  Sal shook his head, leaning in to hug her.  “Hey, I’m here for you.  If you want to just forget all of this stuff and explore, then I’m all for it!”

Her giggle transferred to Sal as she pulled away and grinned.  “When you asked if I wanted to sneak away and to get some paper, I was kind of scared, but—but I was excited, too.  I feel a little bad—heh, not that bad, though.  So, where are we going?”

Figuring Alisa was looking to forget the crazy world they’d been dumped into, he took a deep breath and put everything aside to make her happy—just seeing her smile was enough to lighten his heart.

“Mmh…”  he reached back and grabbed the items with one hand, giving them back to her.  “I know you’re way better at drawing than me—that’s one thing those hands are good at … well, besides playing with my hair.”

“Don’t make me sound weird!”  Alisa glared.

“Heh, if I’m being honest—eh, I just wanted to see your pretty face.  All this other stuff is ‘meh.’  I’m already feeling so much better just holding your hand!”

Alisa’s cheeks darkened a little as she leaned in and kissed his cheek, making his blood pressure rise.  “Thanks, Sal.  So…”  she trailed off as she nibbled on her lower lip for a moment, thumb rubbing the paper.  “Erm … What are we going to do?  Something that requires my drawing skills?  I’ve kind of only got a dress right now, so, heh—Gwen said they’re trying to make enough shorts for the girls, but it’s going slow.”

Clearing his throat, Sal gestured to the enormous ceilings over forty feet above them.  “This is a whole new world, and I’m not complaining about the dress!  You could make anything A-tier.”

“Shut up,” she laughed, shoving him a little with his elbow.  “I’m sweaty, and … ugh, I don’t smell?”  she frowned, looking down at herself.

“Hmm … one sec,” he leaned in to smell near her neck.  “Smell … smell…”

“He-he-he!  Cut it out!”  she shoved him back again with an accusatory look.

He held up his hands in defense.  “You’re the one that asked!  So…”

She lifted an eyebrow.  “So?”

“Want the verdict?”  he teased, showing his teeth.

“Mmh…”  releasing a sad puff of air, she scratched behind her ear.  “Give it to me straight—no B.S.”

“Oof … you drive a hard request, but … as your boyfriend, I gotta say, you smell fantastic!”

She rolled her eyes, pulling down on her dress hem a little.  “Boys.”

“Gotta love us!”  he snickered.  “So, not being so honest, I thought we could make a map of the cool areas—you know, explore a little—my real reason is to be close to you, of course.”

Alisa leaned away to give him a look.  “Mmh … What are you hoping for, boy?”

“That’s what I’d like to know.”

They both jumped, eyes snapping to the doorway to see Adoncia with a stern frown, crossed arms, and glancing suspiciously between them.

“A-Adoncia !”  Alisa chuckled, brushing back her bangs and scooting away a little.  “Heh, I … I guess you found us.”

Sal’s nose creased slightly, and he inched closer to Alisa, giving his sister a dirty look.  “Couldn’t leave me be for five minutes, huh?  Wanna join me in the bathroom, too?”

“I’m trying to keep you alive,” Adoncia mumbled.  “Mom and Dad are a mess—I think they’ve found a new addiction in some kind of drug the Ri’bot use for rituals or something.”

“I don’t care!”  Sal threw up an arm.  “Not like they’ve given a damn about me, to begin with.”

“Sal…”  Sadness moved Alisa’s brown eyes, knowing how hard their life had been.

Adoncia bit her lower lip at his response.  “Yeah—you’re right.  I’ve been the one that’s made sure you had supplies for school, lunch, and proper clothes.”  Her expression softened a little.  “I’m worried about you, Sal.  You’ve been avoiding me—the Empress gave me time off, but…”

“Worried about me?”  Sal scoffed, getting to his feet; Alisa followed him, staying silent, unsure how to inject herself.  “The Empress this—Empress that … Iris-something rejected you—you’ve got your duties.  I don’t even know you anymore!  Who was it that told me I was annoying and to go away?  Oh, yeah, it was you!”

Adoncia’s arms tightened around her core.  “I was going through a lot—I just returned to life, Sal.”

Sal’s vision dulled while examining his sister’s maid outfit; it was weird seeing her dressed like that.  Donica had done maid-work since she was twelve to those around the neighborhood, trying to make enough to supplement their parents’ wanting income.  They usually blew most of it on drugs.

He’d always looked up to his big sister, but ever since he’d seen her corpse, bloodied and broken … it wasn’t the same.  “Yeah, I’m sure you are too busy for me … Go be with your beloved Empress and maid roleplay,” he grumbled, nudging Alisa to follow him through the building, heading for the front.

“Sal … Sal!”

They passed into a huge kitchen area; it was caked with dust, leaving his sister to trail behind them.

“Leave us alone!”

“Sal,” Alisa whispered, “I think she’s just worried—she’s always been there for you.”

“Yeah, my sister has,” he returned.  “S***…”  He glowered at the closed front entrance down the long hall they’d entered.  “We need to go back—just ignore her.”

“Did something happen?”  Alisa asked, trying to keep her voice low.  “I don’t get it.”

His jaw tightened.  “Yeah … she died and left me.”

Alisa sighed, vision falling to the floor as he guided them past Adonica; he just needed to get away from whoever was in his sister’s body—it couldn’t be her.

“Why won’t you talk to me?!  I have things I need to do, Sal; come back … I don’t have all the time in the world!”

“Then go do those things,” Sal snapped.  “S***—just keep my mouth shut,” he grunted through clenched teeth.  “Just ignore her, and she’ll go away—she’s got things she needs to do.”

Adoncia slowed.  “That’s … not fair.”

Alisa gave her an unsure, sidelong look as they passed but followed his lead.

“I’m not going to leave … I’m still here…”  Adoncia hesitantly said, and he could hear the hurt in her voice.

Sal ignored it.

She’ll give up—she cares about her precious Empress more than me now … That stupid undead chick ruined everything—everything about this place sucks.  We’re friends with the murder toads—we have to work crazy hours—and she brought … It isn’t real … It can’t be.  It’s not my sister!

Making it outside, he turned left, continuing down the U-shaped alley that went back to the main road.

Dammit.  Just keep walking.

“Look at this place, Sal,” the imposter pleaded, “there’s so much we need to do—we’re trying to make this place livable!”

Yeah, for you and your Empress.  What if I don’t want to live here with you?  Ever think about that?

Adoncia’s tone cracked, causing his fingers to twitch against Alisa’s.  “Sal … I’m trying to make a normal life for you.”

“Normal?!”  Sal’s face heated as he whipped around.  “What about any of this is…”

His tongue went down his throat, eyes fixating on a terrifying white gorilla monster that stood over eighteen feet tall; the tremors of each step sent a quiver up Sal’s legs.

Alisa’s fingers began to tremble in his hand as she pressed against his side.  “S-Sal…”

This was one of the huge ones—the imposter called them Elite Hunters, and this was one of the top soldiers of their race.  Its arms were more than three times as thick as his entire body.  Just looking at the epic ape move put his mind into a paralyzed spiral, and it wasn’t alone.  The Elite Hunter was leading a metallic spider-like creature with a throne atop it.  

Empress Elinor was sitting quite casually on the monster; the intense pressure of her presence soon passed through him, freezing his lungs—every thought exited his mind.  The undead teenage girl was leaning against the side of her extravagant seat while appraising them.

The silence she brought was the most unnerving part; the imposter explained their unheard communication a few days ago, which further alienated him from his beloved sister.

A maid stood behind the Empress with Violet, one of the princess spider girls that could somehow take on human form.  At first, it was cool, yet every day brought more insecurities as he realized how insane this was.  Even their poor, backwater town that he’d determined to leave as soon as possible was leagues above this place.

“W-What do we do?”  Alisa quivered, refusing to make eye contact; they’d never been the center of attention for these creatures.

“J-Just don’t move.”

Adoncia curtsied to the girl before a forced smile moved her lips, and she brushed back her black hair.

Are you kidding me!  She’s embarrassed?  Why is she embarrassed?!  What are they talking about?

The exchange didn’t last long before the ape and spider took off like a rocket, leaving a whirlwind that fluttered Alisa’s dress and hair; they soon disappeared around the long circular road.

Air gushed out of Alisa and his lungs as they quivered, trying to regain their senses, and seeing the confused and hopeful look on the imposter’s face that had taken Adoncia’s form put a fire in his chest.  “W-Who are you!?”

“What?”  she looked down, processing his statement.  “I’m … your sister?”

“No!  No, you’re not!”  Sal yelled, realizing he was squeezing Alisa’s hand too tightly when she put her free hand on his arm.  “Sorry … sorry, I just … I don’t know her—I don’t know you anymore!”

She shook her head.  “No … I’m still your sister, Sal!  Who else would I be?”

“I don’t know!  Summon that club thing you showed me!  C’mon, summon it if you’re really a maid that takes orders!”

The imposter hesitantly raised her hand, flinching at the last part as the wicked club appeared with a single horn of red energy.  “It—it isn’t what it looks like, Sal … It’s my Class and…”

“You’re a monster!  See, Alisa!  See?!  She’s not my sister!  It’s pretending!  Put as many flowers in your hair and dress up like my sister, but my sister didn’t have blue eyes!”  Tears fell down his cheeks as he sniffed and pulled Alisa’s hand back.  “C-C’mon!  Let’s just … let’s go!”

“O-okay…”  she mumbled, brown eyes swimming.

Sal’s lungs pumped frantically, skin red with effort as he cursed and cried; Alisa stumbled a few times as they took streets at random, but he helped stabilize her.  Eventually, she pulled him back, her voice hoarse.

“S-Sal … Sal … I … I can’t breathe…”  Slowing to a stop, he sucked in sharp breaths as she collapsed to her knees, grasping her chest and adjusting the straps on her dress.  “I … can’t feel my legs—I’ve never run so…”

“Sorry … I’m sorry,” he cursed, punching a nearby piece of wood; pain bit his knuckles as his arm jarred, but he didn’t care.  “Dammit!  You—you saw, though—you saw her horn!  Is she a devil now?!  Is it in my sister’s body?”  

“I don’t know,” she mumbled, shaking her head.  “I don’t know anything.”

Sal smacked his forehead a few times as she broke into tears, hands covering her face.  S***!  S***!  Get it together, dammit!  A place to sit … she needs a place to sit…

Frantic eyes scanning the random alley they’d entered, he rubbed his bloodied knuckles.  He spotted some rubble that could be cleared away to offer a place to rest and moved to make space for Alisa.

“Umm … here…”  he whispered, going over to help her up.  “I’m sorry, Alisa—I just couldn’t stay there after—after seeing that.”

Holding her until she stopped shaking, Alisa took a shuddering breath before swallowing the lump in her throat and coughing.  “Did—did you mean it … what you said?  I could feel it—she was so hurt.  Is she really not your sister?”

Drawing his fingers into a tight fist, he filled his lungs and puffed it out in a long stream that hissed through his teeth.  “I don’t know … I don’t, and it scares me—terrifies me, Alisa … She’s so different—always composed or talking about random undead people … How can I be sure she’s Adoncia and not whatever that thing was?  I saw her die, Alisa—I saw her throat get cut!  She died—she was a corpse!  Is she even human … I don’t know!”

Alisa’s arms tightened around his chest, resting her head against his neck.  “I don’t know anything anymore either.”  Her ear moved down to his left breast, closing her eyes.  “I just know I can hear your heart—I like that … I can trust that … Everything else is so confusing.”

“Right?”  he asked, trying not to cry again.  “Who can we trust anymore?  All I know is that I love you.”

Her chest quaked against his side as she looked up to kiss his lips; it was salty, soft, and her strong pressure pushed his head back a little.  Trying to pull back a little to breathe, she pushed in harder, closing her arms around his back.

It was like his heart was exploding against his chest as she finally allowed him to fill his lungs with air, and she latched onto him.  “I just … I want to feel a little normal—just a little,” she whimpered.  “I love you so much…”

Coughing, he shook his head, feeling a little dazed.  “Y-yeah … I love you so much, too…”

His lips pulled in in anger as, against his will, his mind returned to the sight of his sister.  Get out!  Alisa just kissed me!  Get out!  Let me … let me live in this moment…

Alisa looked up at him with concern.  “What’s on your mind?”

Allowing her to rest against his chest, he leaned back and hissed.  “I want to think about that kiss … My heart is screaming at me, but my mind is pulling me back to my sister … Do you think she’s my sister … That she just wants to feel normal … but she can’t?  I’m scared of the answer…”

Tucking her lips under her teeth, Alisa’s hum transferred to his shoulder as she rested her neck against it, whispering in his ear.  “Hmm … Is that why you’ve been pushing her away?”

He closed his eyes, trying to keep the emotion out of his voice.  “I couldn’t handle it,” he shivered, trying to finish the thought.  “I couldn’t handle it if it wasn’t true—if she died—if this is some cruel joke … I can’t.”

* * *

The only thing holding Adoncia’s outward appearance together was her Maid Job Passives.  She watched her brother guide his girlfriend away at a sprint, nearly causing her to trip once while she tried to keep up with the evolving situation.

She let him go, solemn blue eyes slowly moving down to the club in her hand; it was pretty evident that things were going in this direction, but she didn’t want to believe it—the knowledge didn’t make it hurt any less.

“I’m not a monster … I’m not, Sal—it’s me.”

Her lips pulled in with hot air pushing through her nose, and she reached up to feel the horn attached to her head; they felt as solid as her own fingers.  I’m an Elite Warrior Ogress Class, Sal … just … just listen to me.  She tried to say what was on her heart, but it wouldn’t come out—it was difficult to break her serene character, even when it hurt.  My eyes changed—I don’t know why.  Why’s that so damn important?  It’s me…

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Letting her Ogress Ability deactivate, her club and horn faded, but her mind was fixated on the first time she’d taken her little brother to the local primary school when she was eight, and he, four.  Her entire life had been dedicated to taking care of him and providing for his needs.

She’d been the one to keep the house clean when her parents constantly trashed it in search for the hiding places they’d put each other’s pills, forgetting where they’d stuck them; of course, she’d been the subject of suspicion, but thankfully it never got physical—the verbal abuse she could handle.  Dishes, laundry, everything had been her responsibility by the age of ten.

Adonica would be lying to herself if she didn’t admit to being a little bitter about her life being utterly consumed by caring for her brother, but it was solely directed at her parents.

A lonely sigh pushed through her nose as her gaze fell to the street, fighting to moderate the emotions filling her breast.  She closed her eyes, shaking her head, ashamed that in her heart, she was scared that this wasn’t just a phase Sal was going through—that her brother hated her … He was all she had left.

Glancing around, she found a nearby broken window and smoothly walked to it, jumping inside to press her back against the wall; she had to hide from the open sky and find a boxed-in place to collect herself.  The questions she’d asked herself over the past week were wreaking havoc on her heart and mind.

How could I be so stupid?  I rejected Sal when I woke up—I was trying to understand everything … my purpose was shut down the moment I came back.  Was it me?  Am I defective?  Stupid questions to be thinking when Sal needed me.

Tucking her lip under, she bit down on it until causing a bit of damage, bitter hatred flashing across her blue irises.

Of course, Mom and Dad haven’t changed a bit … I’m so stupid.  We had a second chance to have a happy family—to be a part of something with purpose, yet they waste it away by finding another drug, and stupid me, thinking they’ve changed, helped them make the connections to do it.  I believed them … stupid.

Liquid gathered in her eyes now that she was alone, allowing her emotions to show, streaks falling down her red cheeks.  Sal’s so lost.  He hasn’t had anyone to talk to, and I’ve been so busy helping Gwen set everything up.  No … quit feeling sorry for yourself and get your s*** together!

Pressing a hand against her breast, she sighed, attempting to steel her heart.  Clearing away her wet cheeks, she composed herself and leaped back through the window to find Sal.  She took to the roofs to scan the limited paths they could take within the area given their low stamina, and it didn’t take long to find them.

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A frown touched her cheeks as she settled on the roof above; given the height, she had to strain her enhanced hearing to hear them.  Spying on them wasn’t what she wanted, but at the same time, she couldn’t forgive herself if something happened to him, and so she fought through the guilt.

Listening to her brother curse and scream about how inhuman and different she was put a knife in her chest.  Sal … even if you hate me … I’m not strong enough to let you go.  her heart pleaded, trying to come to terms with his feelings.  The Empress approved of her looking out for him, and if needed, she’d content herself in the shadows.

However, a piece of her dying heart mended upon seeing Alisa kiss him; she was a good girl and supportive.  Alisa could be there for her brother in ways Adonica knew she couldn’t, but her heart was being ripped apart at the thought of being replaced.  Still, she knew he had to grow beyond her, yet she’d never expected to be left behind—thrown away, even if it wasn’t his intention to make her feel that way.

A bit of hope dropped into the whirlpool of despair running through her bloodstream as she listened, and she took a shuddering breath before finding a way down two alleys over.  Thank you, Alisa … I can’t mess this up … I can’t.

* * *

Sal closed his eyes, resting his head against the hard wood with Alisa using his chest as a pillow.  “Do … you think I’m being too harsh … What should I do?”

Alisa didn’t answer for a minute, listening to his heartbeat.  “Hmm … I’ll be here for you no matter what.  Do you feel like you need to know—even if it hurts?  I can’t imagine how scared you feel.”

Shifting his back a little, he rubbed her back, shaking his head and looking up at the insane architecture of the gorilla people; they were like mice in this city.  “I’m terrified, but … yeah, I think I have to know.”

Her arms tightened around his care.  “I’m on your side, and…”  A lump dropped down her throat as she looked up at him.  “I think she needs you as much as you need her—Adonica has always been like that.”

“I know,” he whispered, smiling as he took a deep breath, finding comfort in her touch.  “I’m just so scared.  So … should I go back and ask?”

She found his hand, fingers closing around his.  “Only if you’re ready.”

“I don’t know if I’ll ever be ready,” he grunted.  “I just need to buckle down and do it.”

“Okay.”  Alisa pressed against his stomach to push herself up and kiss him again, and this time, it slowed his heart.  Breaking away, she struggled a bit to try and lift him up.  “C-C’mon…”

He gave her a sad smile.  “Having trouble there?”

“Shut up … I’m not weak,” she grumbled, making a note in her voice while tugging harder.  “I’m just trying not to hurt you!”

“Ah—right, right,” he chuckled, getting to his feet.  “Oh, look at that!  When’d you get so strong?”

“Humph,” she looped her arm around his and rubbed her dirty cheek.  “What did I tell you?”

“No doubts here,” he mumbled, nudging her back the way they’d come.  “Although, heh, we might be a little lost.”

“I know exactly where we are,” she replied with a small smile.

“Is that right?  Well then, lead the way,” he offered, feeling a lot better after having some personal time with her.

Pulling him back the way they’d come, she scanned the two options ahead of them.  “Eh … we came from this…”

She paused as Adonica came into view around the corner, slowly walking their way with her eyes fixated on the ground.  Sal’s lips pulled in, and his gut tightened, but Alisa’s presence helped to keep him calm.

Did she follow us all the…  His thoughts halted upon seeing the slightly flushed cheeks of his sister.  He knew what to look for when she was feeling sad and scared.  Her horn, red aura, and the club were gone.  “Hmm…”

Adonica paused as they came around the corner.  “Sorry,” she whispered, moving to the side of the wall.  “I’ll just stay back if you don’t want to see me … If it hurts you.”

His sister’s demeanor was the same uncharacteristically calm and controlled manner he’d come to expect over the week; she only had two modes, annoyed and restrained, but there had been a slight change over the last hour that he’d seen break past the mask.  It was the first time he’d seen evidence that she could still cry.

S*** … What kind of brother makes his sister cry … No, she might not be Donica!

Drawing upon Alisa’s calming presence to help stabilize his voice, Sal cleared his throat.  “Is … it really you … Are you my sister—please, be honest.  What parts of you aren’t Donica?”

He couldn’t quite see but felt the hurt in her blue eyes as they fell to the dirty black stone floor.  “What parts of me aren’t Donica…”  she whispered.  “Mmh … Can we sit and talk about it?”

Warning flags stabbed his chest at the response.  “If it’s not yes—you aren’t my sister … What does that make you then?”  he choked out, Alisa’s arm tightening around his to let him know she was there.  “Why can’t you just say yes?”

Alisa’s soft voice spoke at his side.  “Sal, try to give her a chance to explain—maybe it’s just too complicated for that.”

Adonica audibly took a long breath before smiling at Alisa.  “I am Adonica … It’s just that there are other things you have to understand about me now, Sal, Alisa … Please, can we just sit and talk about it?  It hurts me, too … even if I can’t always show it.”

“I tried to talk to you!”  Sal replied, taking a step back with Alisa.  “I tried, and—and you told me I was annoying.  That hurt—a lot,” he mumbled, biting back his burning nose and wet eyes.

His sister slowly nodded, hands pressed against her dress front.  “I know,” she whispered.

“Sal,” Alisa tugged him back a little.  “Let’s go sit down—heh, my legs are still a bit weak.”

Sucking on his lip, he sniffed.  “Okay … okay.”

Adonica kept her distance, and once they’d returned to the area he’d cleared, she leaned against the opposite wall to give them space.

He couldn’t take it any longer after seeing her calm demeanor.  “I don’t get it … You rarely show emotion at all, and when you do, it’s in front of that undead girl!  What was all that about?”

Refusing to make eye contact with him, she looked to the left.  “You’ve wanted to talk about all of this with me when I first came back—I understand.  It was just … Hmm.  It was rough being rejected by Iris, and I can’t even tell you exactly why … I was the only one rejected out of all the Maids.”

“Maids!  What’s up with that part?”  he demanded.

His sister gave a weak shrug.  “Honestly, it sounds silly, but an Empress needs aides, and I fit that mold.”  she paused, looking for the proper words.  “It’s just … certain other things were enhanced and made a part of me to better fulfill that role.  One of those has to do with how I act, and I am far from perfect … I’m learning that the Empress actually likes us to have our unique traits.”

Sal rolled his eyes.  “Why does it always go back to her?”

Alisa hesitantly nodded.  “It does sound a little odd, Donica.”

“I … can see that,” she slowly responded.  “Empress Elinor is the reason why I was given a second chance, Alisa, Sal.  It is also a part of her powers that I am loyal to her—it’s woven into my spirit or something along those lines.  Basically, I’ve been returned to life with the expectation to fulfill the role assigned to me, but everything else is me, Sal.”

The muscles in his arm twitched as her gaze lifted to him.  “I still care about you more than life itself.  I’m happy you have Alisa—maybe a little jealous,” she laughed, causing Alisa’s fingers to tighten a little.  “She’s a pretty and good girlfriend, and I do feel scared you’d abandon me at some point, yet you need to grow beyond me.  It’s just … hard, Sal.”

Unable to look into her eyes, he shook his head.  “Me, abandon you?  It feels like you’re abandoning me!  You don’t even have—why did your eyes change?”

Out of the corner of his eyes, Sal caught a weak shrug lift his sister’s shoulders.  “I can’t say.  It probably has to do with my class, I suppose.  It’s like the video games you used to play with your friends.  I have these powers, and some of them force things onto me … some are good, and others I’m not fond of, but I have to live with it … heh, in a manner of speaking,” she mumbled.

Alisa shifted closer to him.  “Umm … I heard some things from the adults … They were talking about the E-Empress, and how—I don’t know, certain things happened to people brought back.  They talk about her a lot.”

Sal’s brow furrowed at the topic.

Adonica nodded.  “Empress Elinor is powerful.  Please, understand that without her, I wouldn’t be here right now—none of us would, but I don’t want to get on that topic,” she whispered, giving him a worried look.

His nose started to burn again.  “You’re not really the same, though,” he mumbled.  “It’s just—I can’t see your eyes.”

“Why?”  Adonica asked, vision scanning her environment for answers.  “I know they’re blue now, but … why is that so important?”

Remembering back to his childhood, tears fell down his cheeks again.  “You used to read me stories—before I’d fall to sleep, and … and your eyes were the last thing I saw—we never even finished a book.  I always looked at your warm brown eyes—it always helped me when I was bullied, or Mom and Dad were on their pills and stuff.”

Adonica took a deliberate breath, looking down at the muddy ground with hollow eyes.  “I had no idea my eyes were that big of a deal … heh, you know, I’d always finish those small books myself before bed.  Sometimes I’d be tired in the morning because of it, but I’d force myself up to make you breakfast … It made me happy—the coffee helped, too.”

Sal’s eyes widened.  “Coffee?  When did you ever drink coffee?”

She giggled, shaking her head.  “Wow … a single cup a day since I was … ten?  Yeah, I started when we first got the pot—I had to fix it three times because Mom broke it.  I’d wake up before everyone, get ready, make a cup, and clean it up with the rest of the house—you know how Mom and Dad would usually get up between 12 A.M. and 3 to look for pills.”

“Huh … yeah, they did,” he whispered, vision falling to his lap.  “You really are Donica … You didn’t die?”

“Sadly, I did die, Sal,” she mumbled.  “It was horrifying.”  Her fingers lifted to rub her neck.  “I could feel my body going cold as the blood … Empress Elinor gave me a chance to be here for you.  If you let me, Sal … I want to be your sister—I am.”

Alisa pulled Sal to the left to lean against her side.  “Good!  I want you to be here, too!  Umm, so, what about that Iris lady … I think she’s a lady?  How are things going with her?  Is she okay with you spending so much time with us?”

A forced puff of air shot through Adonica’s lips.  “Iris … is the type of person to do everything herself.  She’s very independent.  It’s not just me; she refused every Maid.”

“Her loss!”

Adonica chuckled.  “You’re wonderful, Alisa.  I’m happy the two of you are together.”

Sal blushed a bit, looking away; Adonica had never been so open about how she felt when he and Alisa started dating.  Alisa drew his attention, though, when she leaned her head against his shoulder.

“That means a lot coming from you,” she chimed.  “You’ve kind of been my role model—you’re so dedicated and hard-working.  Is it hard being a Maid?   I don’t know, it’s just … ahem, Empress Elinor is just so scary.”

Sal could see more and more of his sister as they went on; she really was alive.

Adonica looked up at the sky.  “Hmm … there’s a power structure in the Empire—yes, that is what we’re building, and it is a place where everyone can be happy.  Will it be easy?  No.  However, you don’t see that Empress Elinor has worked without rest to see all of you safe.  She doesn’t sleep, and her mind is only focused on how to strengthen this nation, which we’re a part of.”

“What’s happened?”  Alisa asked, showing more interest and building back her bold spirit as they went along.  “Can you tell us a little?  Gwen’s so secretive about everything!”

“Gwen is dealing with a lot of things,” Adonica laughed.  “Hmm … she’s coming into her own role, too, and it’s not like she was trained for it.  As to what’s happening?  I can say that you’ll learn a lot in a few hours.  There’s going to be a big assembly of sorts—an important ritual is going to take place.”

Alisa pulled back her dress a little to look at the side of her thigh.  “Ritual … Oh, you mean the thing Tiffany does?  The one lady that healed everyone?  I was sick, and she made me feel better in seconds.”

“Wait, you were sick?”  Sal asked.  “Why am I just hearing about this now?”

She gave him a teasing grin.  “Right, I’m just going to bring up the fact I was suffering from cramps and cuts on my legs and arms from the toad people.  No, Tiffany made me feel like—wow, I can’t even explain it, and she even got rid of my acne!  Can you believe that?  It’s insane,” she laughed.  “Although seeing what it did to those toad people was a bit frightening, I have to admit.”

Adonica bit her lower lip for a moment.  “Tiffany … has a personality that … Hmm, it’s hard for me to say this, but most would not find … appealing,” she mumbled, and it seemed like she was having a challenging time finding the proper words.  “She is in the Witch Class for a reason.”

Sal shivered, remembering the lump of flesh, bone, and wet organs of the toad person on the crucifix that she’d gone to war with, returning to show them the results of what they’d done to their town.  “I try not to think about any of that.  Is this going to be, ugh, like last time?”

He caught his sister’s stiff posture ease and he calmed down.  “Oh, no,” she smiled, shaking her head.  “Tiffany has learned how to give humans powers like mine.  This will be the introduction to that process.”

“What?”  Alisa’s brown irises widened.  “You mean everyone could have powers now?  Oh, and I wanted to know more about yours!  It looked pretty wicked,” she snickered.  “The horn and the red glowing thing look so cool.”

Adonica’s lips fell a little.  “Yes, well, there are likely conditions.  As to my abilities—my Job may be a Maid, but every person brought back will have a Class and Subclass given to them.  Our Class indicates which Royal Court and station our combat capabilities fall under.”

Attempting to push past his discomforts, Sal lifted himself up a bit, resituating himself next to Alisa.  “Okay, so a job … Who are your bosses?  Is it that Iris spider woman?”

“Thankfully, no, Iris is over the Assassination Class,” Adonica replied, shifting her hand to her back, and her expression brightened.  “Actually, the newest Royal Court member, Sari’aél, is in charge of my Class as an Elite Warrior … She’s beyond words.”

“Sari’aél?”  Alisa hummed.  “Sounds angelic—wait, I heard some girls talking about an angel when I was leaving.”

Sal’s head tilted, and his eyes lifted.  “An angel?  You can’t be serious.  Like a full-blown church angel?”

His sister’s charming smile didn’t falter.  “Yes.”

“Wings?”  Alisa asked, scratching her neck.  “Halo and all?”

“Technically, she’s not even from our existence—whatever that means,” Adonicia stated, finding a nearby broken wheel and shifting the monstrous piece to allow her to sit.  “Sari’aél is a Daughter of the Sun; he’s some super powerful god-like person.  At least, that’s what I’ve understood from my conversations with her.  Empress Elinor met with him to allow her to join us.”

“An undead angel?”  Sal mumbled, imagining bone wings and a sickly appearance.  “Wild.”

“He-he-he,” Adonica managed her hair while shaking her head.  “She’s not undead.  I don’t know the details, but she has been revived because she can’t actually die—she just goes back to her godly father or something like that.”

“Oh … I guess that’s cool,” Alisa forced a smile.  “Isn’t this crazy?  What about your powers?”

His sister’s head fell a little with a sad sigh.  “I can’t say why, but I was given the Subclass of Ogress.  It can make me temperamental…”

“Nothing new then,” Sal smirked, looking away.  “You always had a short fuse.”

“Sal,” she frowned.  “That’s not nice.”

Alisa’s grin became strained.  “It is kind of true, though.  Sal’s bullies never went near him after you took them aside to talk to them after school.  I thought you were so cool.”

“Ah … yeah, that,” she mumbled, “well, I suppose I was a tad overprotective.”

An incredulous look crossed Sal’s face.  “A tad?  Sis, you were totally an—heh, an Ogress when you had to be.”

“If you say so,” she huffed, “but I remember it differently.  In any case, I can activate something called Ogress State, which increases my strength by five times if my,” her lips tightened, gaze turning away, “Energetic Pool and Ingestion Pool is above eighty percent.”

“Ingestion?”  Alisa asked.  “You have to eat a lot?”

Figuring his sister’s Maid Job was keeping her emotions in check because she was usually so animated, he knew she was trying to hide a blush.

“I haven’t fully activated the Ogress State, but I’m guessing it will alter my appearance a bit.”

“C’mon, show us!”  Sal urged with a grin.

“I don’t know,” she whispered, fingers sliding up to rub her right arm.  “I’ve never tried using it beyond ten percent.  It … does have an effect on my personality—and suspends my Maid Job traits.”

“Do it!  Do it!”  Alisa encouraged.  “I wanna see!”

Closing her eyes, Adonica stood up.  “Just this once … I can’t waste my energy, but I do need to know what it will feel like.”

“Yes!”  Alisa cheered.  “Isn’t your sister cool?”

“Yeah…”

An emptiness filled his chest, his mind automatically gauging the gap between them.  I was supposed to get older and protect her.  How is that even possible now?

His eyes snapped into focus as Adonica became outlined by a fierce red glow and a head pressed against his skin, causing Alisa to squeak and press against him.  A single horn of energy grew out of his sister’s forehead, becoming solid, and her tan skin tinted crimson.

“W-Woah!”  Alisa whispered as the overwhelming pressure increased, and red paint seemed to paint under her glowing eyes that changed from blue to yellow.  “Your hair … it’s growing—it’s turning gold!”

“I told you,” baring her teeth with a smile, Adonica giggled, showing her monstrous teeth.  “So, this is me when transformed,” she mused, flexing her cred hands before calling her club.  “This is my Challenge Mode.  Hmm … So I don’t have just one State when I fully activate my ability.  Interesting,” she hummed.

Sal’s skin tingled, instincts telling him he should run.  “Insane…”

Her eager smile fell as she returned to normal, and the horn returned to its energy state before vanishing.  Her black hair and blue eyes returned.  “I … felt like I could run forever.”

“That was intense!”  Alisa nervously giggled, wrapped around Sal’s arm.  “Why’d you turn back?”

“Because I couldn’t find a challenge,” she whispered.  “Hmm.  I suppose it has its own requirements.  So … what would you two like to do now that we have some personal time?”

Alisa threw her fist into the air.  “Explore!  Sal … Hmm?  What’s up, Sal?”

He gave a start, feeling overwhelmed.  “No—nothing, I’m just … Yeah, let’s go exploring.  That sounds fun.”

I’m useless to Donica … Can I ever stand on my own?  

Adonica guided them through the nearby buildings, rising up over five stories tall, but they felt so much more prominent because of the size of each floor.  Alisa asked non-stop questions, learning more about their new life, but Sal was stuck on how useless he was—he’d never experienced this level of anxiety.

He couldn’t enjoy all of the cool and exciting things Adonica showed them; in fact, he wanted to scream but couldn’t.  How can I protect what I love?  I can’t kill even one of those toad people.  What if Donica needs help or Alisa is in trouble?

His sister’s mention of Tiffany’s ritual that granted powers continued to jar his thoughts.  It wasn’t like he wanted to do it for the fun of it—he was scared of this new world, and the more Adoncia talked about just the minor threats inside the jungle, the more he realized they weren’t in a world that humanity had subjugated.

When night fell, Adonica guided them back to the palace where thousands upon thousands of creatures filled the balcony of every floor; his gut turned as he moved past the undead army that had gathered.

Empress Elinor would be making a speech soon, and by the stuttering trill of the toad people, the chatter of the money-foxes, and soft murmurs of the humans, everyone was restless.  This was a huge event—the biggest yet, and in the middle of the hall were six individuals.

Alisa leaned over to hiss in Adonica’s ear as they made it to the 2nd-floor to wait; his sister placed them in an area reserved for Maids, hooking them up.  “What are they saying—they’re called Ubisoc, right?”

“Ri’bot,” she giggled, pointing at each area where the creatures stood.  “Some of them are saying random things, but most are praising the Supreme Chief—what they call Empress Elinor.  A lot of Clanless have recently come into the Empire.”

His girlfriend’s eye creased.  “Ri’bot—like the sound English speakers say they make?”

“Yes, it is kind of ridiculous, but the Empress’s translation ability functions in odd ways sometimes.”

“The cute monkey-foxes?”

“Yaltha’ma.  They call her the Great One.  The spiders are called Thélméthra, and those big salamander-like corpses are Nalveans.  I believe they’re going to be revived by the request of a Nalvean that died to secure one of our greatest enemies.”

“What enemy?”  Sal grumbled.  “I don’t understand any of that.”

Adonica sighed.  “I know.  Maybe the Empress will talk about it in her speech.”

“And those men in the center?”  Alisa asked, pointing at the six humans.  “One of them even has a horse with him—aww, he’s so beautiful—look at that white coat!”

A Maid next to them leaned over with a small smile.  “That would be the Argent Dawn’s first candidates—the leaders over the order.  Tiffany has worked diligently to prepare this ritual over the past two weeks.”

“Esmeralda,” Adonica acknowledges.  “I understand you’ve been helping Tiffany through the process the entire time.”

A soft smile brightened her lips; the Maid’s honey brown hair was pulled into a high ponytail, and she had a somewhat mischievous look in her yellow eyes.   “Indeed.  There were many failures, but in support of the Empress, it was necessary.  Tonight will show the fruits of our labor.”

“Where’s Sari’aél?  I wanted to see the Seraph,” Alisa whispered, scanning the floors.

“The Empress is almost here,” Adonica whispered, turning to the palace entrance.  “Sari’aél went to join the Empress a bit ago on Edmon’s request … He worries for her safety.”

“Sometimes a bit too much,” Esmeralda hummed, playing with her bangs; she seemed entirely different from his sister.  “Tiffany isn’t worried.”

Adonica emotionlessly eyed the woman.  “I don’t believe we’ve had the pleasure of speaking.  I assume you are within the Witchery Class?”

Her smile widened.  “Indeed.  I have been learning much from Tiffany; she truly is a genius.”

“I’m sure.”

Sal could tell his sister was trying to warn Alisa and him to stay away from this Maid, but before it could continue, the sounds died down, and Empress Elinor’s dominating presence entered the hall on her spider throne.

Tiffany and Edmon moved out of different hallways to join her, seemingly knowing precisely the time they should make their entrance.  The two frightening Royal Court members couldn’t keep his focus, though, as it centered on the hovering visage of perfection beside the Empress—Sari’aél was a beacon of light in the gloom of the undead that filled the colossal space.

If someone like she can follow Elinor … maybe Donica isn’t wrong about her.


Maps:

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