The rest of the journey was uneventful. The total time it took was little over a month, rather fast if I’d say so myself, but nothing beyond my expectations. We were greeted with cheers, the tale of my slaughter of slavers was passed on and almost everybody already knew it. The details were little cloudy at times, some people said that I took on the whole military force of human kingdom or that I only used a single swipe to clear the field. But otherwise it was an accurate retelling of my battle.
I had slightly more people with me than expected, the tribe heads were somewhat surprised to see elves and demons walking with me, but now didn’t press the issue. I asked for some place where we could set up houses for my people. “My people” raised a few eyebrows amongst the matriarchs, but they complied with my request. Actually that was something which would have happened some years later regardless. It was the elders’ plan, which I didn’t know of until later. I dismissed how easily they agreed.
Every person had their own idea of a house. Their construction experience was very limited, but with my help it was enough to build some sturdy shacks, enough for now. Everybody contributed in their own way, the demonesses gathered supplies, the dryads used vines to strengthen the framework, and elves even used their magic to grow some trees. We were a party of mixed trades.
We quickly set up some living space and then got to know each other. Now that we had some time to rest, I finally got to learn the names of my people. I also learned their stories and some of their customs. Of course, I was now free to change it as I wish, so Saturday Night orgies were totally a thing now… If only Elaya didn’t hear me thinking out loud about it. We still learned much about each other and could begin to build some kind of kinship.
I also got into the meeting of elders and heads of the tribes. Apparently human king really screwed up. Firstly, elves no longer traded with them. Agriculture was lacking up north, so not being able to import veggies set them up for a long lasting diet nationwide. The overabundance of bandits also messed up merchant trade routes. They would often get raided coming in and out of the human territory, so most of them just up and left the kingdom.
King blamed all of it on us as he did previously, but nobody listened anymore. Between starvation, poverty, crime, unemployment and other nice things king brought in with his ruling, we were very much a lesser evil. He now had to spend all the money he stole so far to pay his armies, who suppressed any rebellious activity. It was total tyranny. If humans didn’t jump on his “kill the Val” wagon previously, we would probably be forming a party for stealthy elimination, but now we just let them be.
The good news in this was the possibility to totally avoid the war. The likelihood of revolt happening soon was high, which would change the ruler of the country. If that happens, any previously conflicts are almost guaranteed to disappear; although the reforming of previous relationships and signing new treaties would be tough.
Because of this and because of me almost dying, I was deemed too valuable to send out on simple patrol missions. Elders wanted me to go through with every Rite and gain all the power I can. They couldn’t let me die before then. If I were to go on a mission, my brides and any people I deem important are to remain homebound, to reduce the chance of another rampage.
Elders also wanted me to sire children, so my safety and safety of my intended was crucial. I was not against this idea, but it would have to wait until our marriage ceremony at sixteen. This was the idea I implanted in Elaya, who passed it onto others. Now, even if I wanted to do anything serious with them, I would be turned away. Not that I would try anything, we still were little younger than twelve.
The development of the girls was apparent now; their secondary characteristics began forming and growing. Lilith would already turn the heads of men wherever we went. The whole “wait-till-sixteen” was completely arbitrary, this realm had no age of consent. People here were more like “grass-on-the-field” or “it bleeds-it breeds” kinds of people. Sixteen was the usual age of marriage amongst Val. It was also what tribe heads chose for my marriage with Elaya, if I were to somehow pass the rite, all those years ago. Elders were stuck babysitting me until then.
It became apparent that I won’t leave anywhere until Aedim’s rite of passage, so we began to slowly prepare for it. This year the idea for addition to my Rite was throwing sharp objects. I don’t even know why I go along with these ideas, probably not to embarrass myself, as I was the one to come up with them in the first place.
I also spent time building up houses in my territory. Our homes became more sophisticated over time, getting closer to what royalty had. Although there was some exquisite style to our houses – dryads and elves did fine job with their unique skills.
At some point I had to sort out the issue with Bella. Not wanting to stretch it out too much, I’ve gathered my people about a month after we arrived and sat down with them and Bella. I asked her to tell us her story and not to hide anything, she was now one of us, so she had to be open if she wanted to stay and have our trust. People had hard time believing her story, but I knew she was truthful. Her wish to have a happy life outweighed her fears of me. I treated her kindly, or kind enough for a threat that she was. The lack of torture helped her open up.
Her tale, as far as she knew began only a dozen or so lifetimes ago. She was one of many daughters of a powerful wizard. He experimented on them, nothing too horrible, just various magic formulae to boost their powers or change affinities. Apparently one of those allowed Bella keep her memories when she died.
I had an idea to make her remember whatever she had done to her, but then I decided against it. I could see how memories of previous lifetimes could be a hindrance. I enjoyed my life as it was.
Her second life was spent as a mermaid. She had a lot of fun, seeing how her previous knowledge and skills benefited her and helped her thrive. That was her happy life.
Her third lifetime was a struggle; her life could be described as an ultimate rape fantasy. She was born a bee demihuman, who were mostly treated like property. They would often have to go through with “taming” – having sex regardless of their wish, to remain sane and lucid. She was a servant of a wealthy lord. She would tend to the lord’s garden, clean the house and do other maid things. One day she met lord’s son, who studied to be a Mage. He was smart and kind, although he lacked talent, which made his father treat him harshly. They became friends and would spend some months together. She fell in love with him and wished to spend her life together, so she would need him to become her master
At some point, her Lord learned of their friendship and approached her. He said that she would be given to him once he turns sixteen, if she did some minor tasks. One of which was having a wealthy noble take her. She wanted nothing more than to be with the boy, so she readily agreed. It was degrading and disgusting, but she would endure anything. She saw him looking at her, and she could do nothing but smile while thinking how they would be together soon.
Of course she was betrayed. Such a naive young thing. She was told to meet master in forest clearing not too far away from the mansion. Once she got there she was ambushed by some plant demihuman. Being eaten alive is not a nice way to go.
When she was reborn, she was hurting, betrayed and separated from her love. She wanted to feel it once more, she was desperate for it. That would prove to be her undoing.
In that particular lifetime, she was born a kerna, centaure-sque type creature, with her lower body of a fawn and some deer like antlers. I would imagine she was beautiful. Still naive and hurting, she found herself confining in an outsider, an elf, with dark grey skin and red, shimmering eyes. He was charming, smooth and handsome. Truly a lady killer. If only that was a metaphor.
She fell in love again. At some point she decided to confess her nature to him. She was surprised to learn that he also was reincarnated. Her joy was great but short lived. That man turned out to be a monster. He tortured and killed women for his own leisure. How delighted he was to learn that there was someone who would bring his mark beyond the grave. He made it his life’s work to come up with ultimate torture, spending years perfecting his techniques on her. He never let her die, using healing magic on her to keep her alive and kicking.
She begged to die for many years. He treasured her screams of pain and her pleas. It was unfortunate that both kerna and elves were practically immortal. She spent enough time to last several lifetimes in that hell. By the end she was broken, insane, a husk of her past self. Her end came when a hero came to slay that despicable man. He was laughing, while bleeding, that she would remember him forever, even beyond the grave. Once the hero came to free her, she lashed out at him, heavily wounding him and getting cleaved in the process.
After that she spent several lifetimes coping with all she had experienced. No living soul should experience such torture, so the very next life, she clawed at her mother’s womb, killing them both. She truly wanted to die, to forget. But it couldn’t be helped.
At some point she calmed down. It took a long time, but she was able to put some if behind her and begin anew. She also got to experience joys of hikikomori lifestyle at that time.
Two lifetimes ago, she had a somewhat proper life as a royal gardener. It was a simple and easy life, letting her bury the terrors in the calm atmosphere of the flowers and bushes of the royal palace. An ultimate therapy if you will.
After that, she had a life as a princess of the elves. She enjoyed royal treatment and ordering people around. She was a bit ruthless and sadistic, but her people prospered under her rule. She also had some semblance of love, although she previously swore to forsake such emotion. Now she wanted to have similar treatment, and to live fulfilled life doing whatever she wanted.
Throughout most of her story she was crying. The girls comforted her and held her close. After she was done, she took some time to calm down.
“You asked me to be truthful, so that I can be one of you, but you yourself never told us that you are just like me.”
This was what I feared and why I contemplated killing her instead. To my surprise and relief, the girls already knew. I talk in my sleep! Elaya made sense of my words when she was eight and shared it with others. They all vowed to keep it a secret as long as I want it to stay that way. Such a minor habit revealed my greatest secret. How pitiful…
“No, Bella, I am not entirely like you. Yes, I was reborn, I lived numerous lives, but I know little about them. I am an entirely new person, safe for few moral traits. All I have from previous lives are some skills and knowledge. I am not who I was a lifetime ago or ten lifetimes ago. As such, I try my best to live every life to the fullest. That is why I am capable of loving and protecting Elaya, Meriden and others. Each lifetime is special and should be cherished, if not for the memories you would lose upon rebirth, then for the people you leave behind when you pass on. This is what I want to teach you. “
My thoughts on rebirths were eye opening for Bella. She treated it as one single unending life, while I tried to treasure every moment. For Bella one single moment of her extra-long life marked the rest of it as unhappy. She decided to give it a go and try living her life not as unhappy ten-millennium old hag, seeking only comfort, but as a seven year old girl with a little extra insight. It wouldn’t change overnight, but with effort, she could live happily.
This was also important for Sonja. Now, knowing the truth, the understood that her sister didn’t need protection, but affection, love and support. Now she could provide those things for her. Any protecting would be done by me if required.
We all bonded and talked amongst ourselves. Bella was accepted as one of the Bloodborn and counted like family for us. Sonja also gladly lost the facade she had; she could now enjoy her life as a teenager, and not care about being a noble and securing her image. It was also good for me; my greatest secret was revealed to not be much of one. I was often scared that it would drive them away. Even if consciously I tried to tell myself it would never happen, deep inside there was always that fear. Now it had no hold over me, I had one less nightmare to think of.
We continued to develop our little village. All the women were free to do what they wanted, many of them sought companionship, but other than me, most men avoided them. Women were rarely brought into the tribe, as their offspring would carry no power. They would often serve as servants and not marry. So, their attention was directed at me, and I denied them any hope. Instead, I began to train them. If they can go out into the world, they could find whatever they seek.
Thankfully, Frez offered his help, with one condition of me training his twin sons. I didn’t spend much time with Frez’ family before, so I didn’t know them well. But I agreed, as I respected Frez and would gladly help my friend.
His two sons were nine year old Jacob and Edward. They often fought amongst themselves over various things and had little affection towards one another. I decided to instill the spirit of kinship into them. I called for a Bloodborn girl of the same age. She was elven in origin and had superior agility and reflexes. After the baptism, she gladly took up arms and trained diligently with me or the girls. At that point, both of them had no chance against Rose.
I told them, that she is my pupil and if they wanted to take her place, they had to defeat her. Whoever wins in the fight with her would become my apprentice. Of course they clung onto the idea of tutelage under the Fiend. Their sibling rivalry showed immediately, they each challenged her to a duel again and again only to fail miserably.
At the same time, I had Eleanor talk to each one of them. She had her way with words; she explained the fault in the statement I made, because if they both defeated Rose, I would have to teach them both. Neither liked the idea, but sharing me with a brother is better than not having me as a tutor at all.
She also taught them to observe and plan. As one brother fought with Rose, the other would watch them both. Then, they would switch places and repeat the process. Meanwhile they sparred against each other, utilizing their newfound knowledge. Learning to exploit each other’s weaknesses and forcing one another into unfavorable situation were key skills for a warrior. In the end, they learned to feel one another in combat, their style evolved to complement one another. If one was to make a mistake, the other would use it immediately, or if they were on the same team, pick up the slack.
Their combined skills were way beyond what each of them could do separately. No matter how much they fought Rose one on one, they never succeeded. They continued observing her, her footwork, her signs and feints, her tells. In the end, when they were prepared, they both challenged her. She wasn’t surprised, she easily saw through my ruse, but played along masterfully.
It was a hard duel, but in the end they persevered. Rose was distraught; she sunk to her knees, crying about losing my tutelage… Nah, she just went off to train with Meriden, that girl was way better. How could you think otherwise, she was a girl, she used BOTH a sword and a bow, and she had those horrifically cute freckles ever since she entered puberty…
I had to admit defeat. The boys both challenged Rose and defeated her together. Word given cannot be taken back, so I was forced to teach them both personally. Oh the humanity.
Frez really thanked me for it afterwards. He could never make them play along with one another. Now they were inseparable.
I continued to train them for a long while after; they became the Val Twin Blades, two brothers with little but their parents in common. While they looked similar, Jacob had a feral nature; he would train his strength and eventually became bulky and muscly. He also thought once he becomes worthy he would become a Val’Kira guardian. Edward on the other hand had a slender build; he had a calm demeanor, almost like an elf. I think he got it from Rose. He favored agility and dexterity, wielding two blades and having some throwable knives, as in contrast with Jacob who wielded heavy two-handed blade, preferring to crush opponents with one blow. He also didn’t seek power, so he was content with simply marrying a girl. Perhaps that one girl he had a crush on in Val’Luna tribe. His brother didn’t understand what Edward saw in those bloodsucking demons.
The whole marriage thing didn’t get solved with them until years later. I must say their choice surprised everybody.