Bathin sat back in his chair, eyes closed and grin in place as he contemplated his options; he spoke aloud, addressing the uninvited presence in the room. “Myōbu are on their way—more than one? If that is the case, then it would be quite a mess for me, but your arrival and recent events paint a desirable outcome.”
Opening his eyes, he glanced around Gerard’s old office; the shattered monitors and blood hadn’t been cleaned up yet, but it had been tidied. There were several black cushioned chairs placed around the room; two chairs in front of the monitors on the left side of the room, three along the right wall, and one in front of the oaken desk. The plain concrete design and minimal decoration made for a rather bleak, business-like environment, just the way Bathin enjoyed it, and the stains added a bit of flair.
Interest touched his voice as he scanned for the presence. “I am curious about your source. How do you have eyes on Inari’s movements? I imagined you a hermit with the information I have. Although, I must admit that I’m not well acquainted with the details of your past; in fact, the only name I’ve heard connected to you is more of a title, Neishin.”
Neishin hummed, clearly enjoying himself, physical presence hidden behind magical veils. “Information is never cheap, Bathin. You know this.”
“I do,” Bathin grinned, cracking his neck with a sigh. His tight pinstripe suit hid Githa’s magical burns that he was still combating. “I assume we are on a clock then—how soon until the foxes arrive?”
“I have a proposal, but the deal might take some time to negotiate,” he paused, the humor in his voice increasing. “I could show you one of Amaymon’s Demonic Wards … I myself cannot use them since I am not a demon, but it could buy us time.”
Bathin’s red eyes lowered to slits. “That would be extremely out of my league, trying to perform a Demonic Ward of Amaymon’s level is tantamount to suicide. Why bring up such a proposal? It would be valuable information to present me with, seeing as he is not allied with those I serve. So, what do you gain?”
Neishin’s voice shifted locations, appearing from the back left corner of the room. “On the contrary, this is within your capability, since it requires human sacrifice; a rare resource in the Hellscape War. A resource you’ve been secretly cultivating for centuries. With your host’s willingness to accept you in, contract formed, and requirements met, you are not violating the Founder’s laws of intervention. Now you have access to the resources required; a massive achievement to say the least, and you’re about to lose it all. It would be wise to complete the ward quickly, Bathin.”
His vision shifted to the broken monitors along the left wall. It could be beneficial to him if he plans on ambushing the Myōbu; he seems to know which ones are coming. He’s confident in at least that, but he requires time to negotiate with me, which is lovely, that means I hold some cards that he needs. I’m not very familiar with the Fourth Layer’s Eastern Wards though; he could be leading me into a trap, but he’s more than powerful enough to send me back to hell if not kill me entirely. There’s a larger plot at play, and I’m betting it has something to do with Sora if he’s already gained information on the Myōbu.
Features brightening, Bathin folded his fingers together. “Well then, Neishin. Show me the requirements of this ward.”
“Wonderful,” Neishin’s voice shifted to his back. “Call for three humans, ones that won’t be missed.”
Bathin chuckled darkly as he pulled out his phone, dialing Ainmire’s number. The answer was prompt. “Yes, my lord?”
“I need three sacrifices. I have a guest.” He glanced left at the wall with a slight smile. “Are three sacrifices all that’s required, Neishin? I could arrange more.”
“Three is all that is needed, then we can discuss plans for the Myōbu.”
“Very well. Ainmire, I need those sacrifices as soon as possible.”
The response was calm and distinct. “Right away, my lord. They’ll be there within minutes.”
Bathin ended the call. “So, what is the ward’s design?” He asked eagerly, setting the phone on the desktop. His lips parted with curiosity as he watched several monitors along the wall forcibly removed at the same time, thrown to the corner. After a moment, smooth and thin lines of glowing red light began to carve an intricate design into the wall that spanned half its length in a tapestry of demonic language.
“Where you start is not important; as long as the design is overlapped perfectly with the human blood, then the linked human spiritual network should attach with their lingering Oltera Nexus to power the ward.”
Rising with interest, Bathin walked over to the expanding design, tongue sliding across his molars. “Fascinating, this is quite proficient; effective at utilizing the human spiritual matrix, which is rather difficult for most demons. Amaymon developed this?” He frowned at closer inspection. “It’s not his work though—you’ve modified it.” He muttered, glaring to his left at the presence. “It doesn’t have the demonic flair. It’s a tad too … fluid.”
Neishin chuckled lightly, moving to his right in an instant. “Yes, I had to modify it. It’s not as if Amaymon sets out to design Demonic Wards to throw off Myōbu.” That’s acceptable, but still … this is actually an extremely powerful Demonic Ward. How did he come across it, much less the information to modify high demonic language? I doubt Fleurety would be able to see past this masking ward. It’s no wonder if Amaymon was the creator; he’s just under the level of Lord Beelzebub.
Cocking his head, he glared at the glowing red designs before clicking his tongue. “To go this far—whoever’s coming must be of great significance if this is only meant to slow them down.” Could it be Suke? If it’s Inari’s right hand, then I’m as good as dead, even if I had Lord Beelzebub with me. This could be the reason why he’s taking this opportunity to strike. How relishing … I haven’t had this many odds stacked against me for millennia. With the Wolfwere incident, Sora, and now Neishin showing up … yes, this could be quite entertaining.
Clearing his throat, Bathin looked right as he spoke the Demonic tongue. “Shirinvyn, come to your master.”
A massive burst of deep red flames flared into life beside him, a dark-skinned demonic woman appearing; she had four glowing red eyes, orange demonic tattoos of power inscribed across her visible skin, and black goat horns protruding through thick raven hair. She wore a dark velvet cloak, comprised of Hellgoat Wool that covered most of her body.
She glanced to her right, examining the demonic runes. “You called, Master Bathin.” She hissed passed full lips, fanged teeth flashing in the faint light of the overhead bulbs.
“Yes,” Bathin moved back to his chair, behind the desk. “Human sacrifices will be joining us shortly. Fill that outline with their blood; they must be kept alive before you finish the inscription. Once every line is filled, it will automatically activate.”
Shirinvyn bowed her head. “As you wish.”
Leaning back again, Bathin’s fingers intertwined. “Now, Neishin, what do you wish to negotiate?” Shirinvyn seemed to ignore the conversation as she studied each thin line carefully.
It took a moment before Neishin responded. “The lingering presence below, what is it?”
“Ah,” Bathin grinned. Of course he’d be interested in that. It’s a good thing that I’ve prepared him. “I think it would be best to hear the response from one that was involved.” His eyes moved to the door as two men and a woman entered the room, dressed as scientists; their expressions were vacant as they lined up in front of his desk. Mezmorized, Ainmire never disappoints.
“You three, go join Shirinvyn by the wall.” They obeyed without a word. Shirinvyn’s left hand lifted, exiting the folds of the cloak; her razor-sharp fingernails glimmered like obsidian in the light as she softly traced one of the runic symbols, head slowly turning to view the rest of the design.
She quickly moved to the humans and used her left index finger to prick each of their necks, drawing blood. Uttering a demonic word of power, she activated her dark energy and flicked her wrist, left index finger tilted upward. The blood flowing down the human’s necks lifted and began filling the design with Shirinvyn’s careful manipulation.
Neishin broke Bathin’s admiration at the art his servant was performing. “Who is this person you mentioned? The energy I’m sensing could provide a wonderful distraction, but I am unfamiliar with this chaotic force.”
Bathin smirked, head resting against the chair. “That isn’t surprising. This event has never happened before … it’s quite dangerous and unknown territory. It’s a wonder it was even allowed in the first place; she must know.”
“She?” It’s nice holding the information.
“I can arrange for some of the details to become clear, but is it right to assume this plays a role in your plans?”
The silence stretched for several moments; his voice became curious. “It might. It depends on how it will affect the Myōbu on arrival. They’ll be drawn to it the moment they cross over to this plane. What is the cause?”
Bathin picked up his phone, he text Ainmire Arrange for Ranglor to enter in five minutes. “You will get your answers shortly.” His vision shifted to the ward as the humans dropped to the floor, and the lines began to glow purple. It actually worked. “Shirinvyn,” she appraised the glowing demonic ward with a curious smile before turning to him.
“Memorize this ward and document it inside my personal grimoire.” He held out his hand, calling forth the book from his dimensional vault. Shirinvyn took the large volume with reverence before opening it to the end; a new blackened page appearing in a blaze of fire. She moved back to the wall to carefully study the demonic words.
Leaning back, Bathin closed his eyes for a moment. How will he take the information? It’s a dangerous wildcard, but takes eyes off me … he’s likely thinking the same thing. This will also play in the Herald’s game as she wouldn’t let it happen unless it benefited her. Does she even know the consequences though? I don’t know, perhaps, but I imagine very few beings will have a clue … no one of our level; that should include the Myōbu. It will be worthy information to report back to Inari on. It should be a blind spot since the Herald is involved, and likely the Homā … how much does Neishin know?
Sliding his tongue across his teeth, Bathin hummed. “Neishin, what do you know about Sora?”
He was silent several seconds longer this time. “Sora … is that the one-tailed Nogitsune that was greeted by Inari not long ago?” He does have a contact in Inari’s faction, but the information seems limited. Of course, Inari would wish to keep her niece hidden from prying eyes. She may even know there’s a spy; it would be prudent to assume she is aware. She did meet with her aunt and obtained her second tail recently then … although, at her age? Benjamin remembers her being sixteen years old … she is a Founder, but to handle the first stage of her transformation at that age … there must be more to it.
“Oh? Inari met with a single-tailed Nogitsune? That’s quite odd for her to devote her time … but, wasn’t her gathering not long ago? It wouldn’t be all that odd if she found a Vulpes with decent potential. However, no, Sora happens to be a two-tailed Vulpes, not a single-tailed.” He popped his tongue against the roof of his mouth. “I’m interested in this single-tailed Nogitsune though. Nogitsune are rare these days, but for Inari to meet with a single-tail … curious.”
Neishin chuckled lowly. “Your wordplay is as flexible as ever, Bathin. You can shed yourself of the feigned surprise. I’m able to tell a bit of what happened through the humans around this facility, and it’s not a far leap to assume she obtained her second tail while here. Information regarding the girl seems to have been kept within your organization’s top brass, because none of the other humans know much about her.”
Bathin opened his arms with a hearty laugh. “Oh, how thorough of you! Yes, yes, Sora is the Vulpes you mention.” His smile turned wicked. “However, what was it you said? Information is never cheap, Neishin. I hold all of the cards.”
The low hum at his back shifted to the front of the desk. “Indeed, you hold quite the hand; however, information is only as good as its credibility and how actionable it is. You may have something to sell, but that means nothing if you’re dead. I have business with the Myōbu, but I could wait until they finish with you or we could strike a deal.” How exciting. I haven’t had a negotiation like this in some time … it’s been a while since I’ve been between a rock and a hard place.
Bathin licked his lips eagerly. “Then, how about this? I will tell you the information I have that you will find sweeter than persimmon fruit, and in exchange, you will take care of the Myōbu, but I want something more.”
“Oh?” Neishin clicked his tongue a few times. “You think that this information is worth more? Very well, tell me what you really desire, and I’ll see if I can grant it.”
Fingers folding together, Bathin leaned forward, resting his hands against the desktop. “I want you to become partners with me in chasing after that little Vulpes. That is all; I merely want to accompany you in your journey. Oh, and I will be providing my own resources in accomplishing this as well, it is a partnership.”
“You—are still after this two-tailed Nogitsune? Even when it’s clear she holds some importance to Inari and would put not only you but those you serve in her sight? Does she hold—no, there’s no possible way Inari would give such an artifact to a two-tailed Vulpes.” The possibility of her being Inari’s family doesn’t even cross his mind; of course it wouldn’t, it’s been known for many ages that the Vulpes Sisters were barren. He has the knowledge I need to get what I need. This is beyond perfect … too perfect. What design is being spun here? No, I have to take the risk.
“Yes, I have my reasons, and I have no ill will for the girl. However, both our goals will align once you understand the scope of the situation, but before that, why don’t I express that lingering sinister energy you feel. Any moment, the primary person involved will appear.”
The silence stretched as they waited another minute; Shirinvyn continued to work in seclusion, documenting the High Demonic Ward carefully, as instructed. Bathin’s eyes shifted to the right wall as demonic energy exploded in a massive pulse; a blaze of fire erupted along the wall as a portal opened.
Neishin hummed lowly. “You created a door to the first layer of the Hellscape; it’s not powerful enough to transport anyone above your pet—what was her name, Shirinvyn? A second-layer denizen of the Endless Caverns of the Southern Planes of Darkness, if I’m not mistaken. A rare breed. You must have been planning this little expedition for some time to gather the resources…” He trailed off as a man stepped through the portal.
Bathin’s tone held amusement. “Neishin, let me introduce to you my newest recruit, Ranglor. It seems the experiment was a success.”
Ranglor had transformed completely; he was no longer old, wrinkled, and small. His muscles rippled underneath his leather-like dark gray skin, glowing crimson blood showing through popped veins. His hands were thin and dexterous, ending in sharp retractable claws. Hollowed black eyes shone with green light as he turned his monstrous head that resembled a rhinoceros; he had three horns, protruding out of his skull in a straight line, each extending further as it reached the forehead, and a single sharp spike protruded at the back of his hairless head. His jaw was much larger than it should have been, and without lips, his three rows of flattened teeth gleamed in the faint light, showing an appalling grin. He only wore plain brown Hellwool pants.
His teeth parted, stretching the sinew at the ends of his mouth, releasing a sharp popping sound. “Bathin—you called?”
Bathin’s small smirk grew as Shirinvyn stiffened, turning to face Ranglor, burning eyes narrowing. Her harmonic voice held steel. “You are to address his lord by Master, filth.”
A shiver ran down Ranglor’s body as he met Shirinvyn’s four red eyes. “Of course, Taskmaster Shirinvyn; I mean no disrespect.” He bowed to Bathin, dropping to his hands and knees. “Master, what is it that you require of me?” Fifteen minutes in the Hellscape and he’s already demonized. How can human Cores be so fragile yet hold so much power? It’s always been such a mystery. He was much weaker than I thought.
Neishin hummed with interest as his position changed again, Shirinvyn returning to her task. “I always found it fascinating; the effects of the Hellscape on the human Core. It seeps into their network and when it reaches the Core, it corrupts spiritual matrix, turning it in on itself as it absorbs the demonic energy. Nigh-irreversible—if only his Core were unlocked, even at the first level, he might have survived a day.”
“It doesn’t matter in the end,” Bathin chuckled. “Ranglor, speak about the experiment you conducted. What were the results? The quick version.”
Ranglor didn’t show a hint of defiance as he recounted the event. “The Eye incident made me and a few other researchers curious. We engaged in an unauthorized experiment that involved exposing a subject to The Eye, removing the infected subject’s organ, and putting it into a subject that was unaffected…”
Neishin’s tone became serious as he cut Ranglor off. “The Eye … describe it.”
Before he could respond, Bathin cut in. “I think we can skip by the nasty details; yes, it was the Herald’s.”
“You—forgot to mention that she was involved in this mess.” His tone indicated he was not pleased. “Inari detests their kind … how is she connected to that Vulpes?”
“We’ll get to that,” Bathin assured. “Go on, Ranglor.” He sees his own stake in this deal; he knows the risk, but not the reward. Wonderful. Just a little more.
Swallowing nervously, Ranglor bowed further. “Yes, master. We performed the experiment, transplanting the organ into a Wolfwere. I left to use the restroom … I had a weak bladder. When I returned, everyone was slaughtered, ripped to pieces—gore everywhere.”
Neishin clicked his tongue a few times, clearly disturbed. “I can understand the sinister nature of the energy now—you let it complete its adaptation, but … at least it isn’t whole. You’re right, Bathin—this has never happened before.” He paused. “The Myōbu will most definitely be distracted by this occurrence. The real question is why she let it happen … why was she here in the first place—to use that? Should we even interfere—what’s she planning?” Yes, stew on it … let it sink in.
Ranglor continued to bow, waiting for further instruction. Bathin’s vision shifted to him. “Ranglor, why is Sora important?”
“Sora—she’s a Third Generation Founder…”
Ranglor barely got the words out before he was thrown into the wall, intense bloodlust filling the space as he dangled against the concrete, grasping his throat, choking. “What—did you say?” Neishin growled. Ranglor’s body began to glow blue as he went limp, Neishin absorbing all his knowledge. In a manner of seconds, Ranglor’s withered husk dropped to the ground. Yes … that’s it … crawl in the web with me. You can’t resist.
“Impossible … Mia’s daughter—Inari’s niece … impossible. How? This—this changes everything … everything…”
Bathin chuckled. “Well, you didn’t have to destroy my pawn, but I suppose it was to be expected.”
Neishin’s voice was hoarse. “Bathin—you don’t know what this means to me … your deal. Whatever you want … give me the information. Where is she? Where is Inari’s niece?”