Chapter 148:

Asking for Help

Mad God


It was a hidden, small village under the shade of giant trees. Around two dozen lemurs were huddling together, shielding their young between their arms. The leaders of their tribe, in their human form, were standing at the edge of their home. It was a small settlement, mostly built around the remains of an old roadside inn and its orchard. The tribe's leaders were bowing their heads, with sweat running down their backs. Their skinny and lanky bodies were slightly trembling. It was no wonder as a giant, 2-meter-tall panther stood before them in its true form.

"Listen well because I won't say it again." The panther said, his voice like a deep growl. Its mouth was moving, bloody chunks of a little lemur falling out of it. He was still crunching on the bones of his unfortunate victim. "If I catch another one of your people that is trying to contact others, you are going to be our next midnight snack! Why are you like this?" He shook his head, gulping loudly, licking his bloody lips. "You need nothing to do except stay put and do what we tell you! This was your last warning!"

"He was just a kid… playing in the woods; we did not send him out to…" The young leader of the small group of lemurs tried to speak, but the panther just laughed, silencing him immediately.

"You were told to not leave this area, no?" He walked closer, and the lemur could smell the stench of death coming from its mouth. "Were you told or were... You… Not?" He asked with such a deep voice that the lemurs' insides started to shake. One of them even threw up blood, reverting from his human form back to his demonic, falling forward, already unconscious. "Hmf. Thought so." The panther snorted before leaving, disappearing between the trees.

"What are we going to do now?" One of the lemurs asked, tears streaking down on his face. He was trembling, crouching down at his unconscious friend's body, not expecting an answer from the others.

"We hope that Floo was lucky enough to slip by…" Ednai whispered, looking at the chunks and remains of the young, torn-apart lemur. He was his childhood friend and the one of two who volunteered to try to sneak out. Their plan was to go to Thunder Valley and ask for help. "We can only hope Fay's sacrifice bought enough time for him…" He groaned, biting into his lip, forcing back his tears as the feeling of helplessness was unbearable. Especially because he had just become their leader a year ago when his father, the previous chief, was torn to shreds. His death was done before everyone to set an example by the same panther that warned them again.

For the past 4 years, more and more tribes got a sudden visit from a feline demon and were subjugated by force. Those who resisted were either wiped out or disappeared, presumably taken by the felines, bringing them away, who knows where or why. His father tried to work things out, but the Panthers' demands got stricter and stricter as the years went by. Finally, they were isolated from everybody else. When he tried to reason with the panther, they could only watch in horror as he was eaten alive, his screams still haunting most of their dreams to this day.


….
…..

Further in the forest, the panther, after a high jump, transformed into his human form. He could tower over any other human with ease as he reached 2 meters in height. His muscles rippled with unbridled force as he flexed them, cracking his own neck with satisfaction. His head remained that of a panther's, and most of his naked torso was covered in thick, black fur. His yellow eyes scanned his surroundings before a more slim version of him appeared, reaching only to his shoulders.

"Good to see you back, father!" The younger demon said, rushing before him with a similar panther head on his neck.

"Are the rest back, Paku?" He reached down to him, patting his head with a loving light in his eyes.

"Not yet! Uncle Dranor and Aunt Meyka are still checking on their own tribes, I assume! You are the first to arrive back! There was no movement here; I made sure!" He smiled with an eager and happy light in his eyes, clearly aiming to receive his father's praise.

"Good!" Zargon laughed. He was the leader of the group sent here by the Tiger King. He was scratching his son's head, who immediately started to purr loudly, happy to receive his praise. "Aren't you bored? Sending us to such a meaningless job… Ahhh… I would be much more happy fighting at the front lines! Not in this backwater borefest!"

"The King surely had his reasons! But Father, you should remember the King's words! Do not underestimate the southern tribes! General Matu and his team all died here!"

"So what?" Another male voice came as Dranor arrived back. He remained in his original leopard form. "He was a twerp, always scheming, and he only fought battles when he was sure to win them! It was a pleasure feasting on that useless tribe! We don't need the weak in our ranks."

"Yet he was a general, and you can't even reach the rank of captain." A fourth feminine voice arrived as another leopard came back. She was transforming into the figure of a slim and fit woman. She had short, curly, golden locks and wore her fur as a spotted leotard.

"So what?" Dranor snorted, refusing to change shape as he always looked down on humans. "I'm not even aiming for the position. Others do the thinking, I do the killing. Simple as that."

"I get the feeling you are not refusing to take a human form because of principles but because you just can't. Your lack of intelligence is interfering with evolution." Meyka rolled her eyes, teasing her older brother, while Zargon just let them go at it.

"How's the rest of the tribes? Are they behaving?" He asked in the end, still gently rubbing his son's head.

"Mostly. They gave up on resisting by now. But if we want to subjugate more of them, we need reinforcements. Should we send a letter?" Meyka asked, tilting her head.

"I already did when the previous messenger came. Probably, General Tylvana will come with her personal guards." Zargon replied as the duo immediately shook their bodies.

"Really?!" Paku asked with shining, yellow eyes, as Tylvana had been her idol growing up.

She was the highest-ranking jaguar under their King and the strongest female warrior of his forces. Previously, she had been fighting against the wolves and even successfully rooted three tribes before being wounded by one of their ambushes. She was sent back home to recuperate. Now, after 3 years of rest, she has finally come back to service, and it would not be a surprise if the Tiger King sent her here. He clearly wanted to see if she remained just as strong as she was before her injury.

"Well… shit." Dranor and Meyka looked at each other. Knowing General Tylvana, she always expected the best from those who were under her control.

"It is going to be sooooo cool!" Paku pranced around, turning back into his panther form and circling his father. "I can't wait to join you in one of the operations and be able to hunt with you all! Nyaaah~" he meowed like a cat, making the rest laugh out loud.

"Soon, soon, soon!" Zargon purred at him, looking especially proud of him. "When the General arrives, you can learn from her how to hunt these worthless sacks of meat here!"

"Yes, father! I can't wait to tear them to shreds! You will be proud of me!"


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Back in Thunder Valley, Ren was visiting Niji in his office, sharing a drink with him.

"Even though you have bags under your eyes, you seem energetic." Ren chuckled, sitting down before Niji. He was stretching behind his U-shaped desk, filled with documents that he needed to push to the side to even see her.

"Because it is kind of fun organizing this city. I was never one who liked fighting, but I enjoyed the management role! It is rare amongst us. Since I feel at ease doing this, the rest of the leaders are happy to accept me as the head of the High Council."

"Perks of growing up with humans, eh?" Ren joked with him.

"Maybe. Who knows! Everyone has roles that they are good at! But I think you are not here to speak with me about who is good and at what. You don't need to hold it back! This city was built because of you. Even if the newcomers don't agree or see it that way, that does not matter! The High Council does."

"Did you notice what was going on the east side of the forest?" Ren asked.

"Are you referring to the independent tribes cutting their contact with us? I did. It has been going on for years now, but I have no time to spare and send people to investigate it." Niji shook his head, taking out a cigar from the pocket of his vest and lighting it up. "Want some?"

"No, thanks. You didn't send anybody to try to ask what was going on?"

"No." He answered as he took a big huff, enjoying its taste. "My time is consumed by the incoming human traders, companies from the Empire, and people settling down in the city. They are trying to strike it rich, sometimes with underhanded methods. Then there are the small and mostly nonsense conflicts between different tribes living here. The needs of the growing population. I am swamped with work!" He smiled with a weird satisfaction. "Also, the tribes that are nearest to us always come to us asking for all kinds of things. Even if they don't want to move in and join us here, they still want to stand under our umbrella. So we are planning to establish… outside villages and coalitions with them."

"Huh, you are growing faster than I anticipated. That is great to hear!" Ren smiled, rocking back and forth with her chair.

"Thank you~ Of course I am not stupid! I know something is going on in the east part of the forest. But I can't focus on it if there are tons of things to do here! Even if they are occupied by the tigers, we are still safe from them." He explained with a relaxed voice. "Olup is posted at the river crossing. He is the one overseeing our border patrol there, surveying the crossing points at all times. We don't need to worry about anyone coming from the ents' territory. And from the North, we are allied with the foxes. We are set, so to speak."

"Yes, but if the wolves lose at the North and the tigers secure the northern crossings in the mountains, they are going to come for us. They would want to obtain the southern crossing, too, so they can put the foxes into a chokehold. Attacking from two fronts. The Tiger King's aim is Lady Rumira in the end. After finishing her off, there would be no other demon who could rival his strength." Ren explained, leaning back in her chair.

"So you say that the isolation of the eastern tribes is the work of the tigers?"

"Yes. I don't know how much you know about the war that is going on in the North. The wolves are retreating, giving up their homes, inch by inch. What I know from Rumira is that the Tiger King already secured the pass, and they control who goes through the mountains. Slowly, he will turn his attention back here. I don't think he forgot how he failed at first, thinking this chaotic place was going to be easy pickings."

"Yet you were here. Foiling his attempt." Niji smiled.

"Yes, and I plan to do it a second time, too." Ren nodded.

"So… should I prepare for trouble? Is that what you are telling me, Ren?" Niji sighed, putting down his cigar, wearing a half smile.

"I just want you to be ready. I'll do the heavy lifting! I just want to ask you to back me up! I need a secure place behind me."

"I can do that! I can support you with anything you need! Kang would be willing to go into battle with you anyway."

"I don't want to drag the battles here. I am going to bring the fight to them! But I need you to do something important before that."

"What is it?" Niji leaned forward with a calm yet serious expression.

"Send out the word that Thunder Valley now is the official ruler of the Southern Wilderness. This place is the seat of power; every tribe here now falls under us. You said it yourself; they are trying to come under our umbrella! Then let's open it up for them! They do not need to come to live here. They can keep their original homes, but if they do, they are going to be vassals of Thunder Valley."

"Only a few would have problems with that." He crossed his arms before his chest, nodding at her words.

"No more fighting between tribes. We need laws and also people who enforce them. They need to come to terms with the fact that they are under the rule of Thunder Valley and must follow our laws. If they do not, then we are going to crack down on them! I can't let chaos erupt behind me when I'll be fighting the tigers. Can you do that for me?"

"I can." Niji nodded after a short pause. "As I said, most of the tribes here are already following in our footsteps after seeing the security, stability, and wealth we possess. I know which tribes can be brought to the table with sweets and which by only force. I can promise you that this side of the forest is going to be under Thunder Valley's control in a year!"

"It's relieving to hear that!" Ren smiled.

"But… Tell me. Are you planning to fight the tigers? By yourself?"

"Not by myself. First, I'll unify the South and put it under your rule."

"Eh…" He twitched his mouth, hearing her words. "More work for me."

"Ahahaha~ Kinda, yes~" She giggled playfully. "But when the south is secured, I'll see what kind of terms I can get with the foxes and wolves. My best outcome would be a coalition between the three forces aimed against the tigers."

"Are you trying to unify the whole forest?" Niji asked, thinking through her words.

"No. I am here for my own reasons. If it results in a unified demonic empire, then so be it. I won't interfere with that until it does not affect why I am here."

"And… why are you here?" He asked with a surprised voice.

"To kill a God."

"..." Niji blinked his eyes, unable to say anything, and that was when a knocking came, and Ohore walked inside.

"Sorry to disturb you, but an exhausted lemur just collapsed at the gates. After the fairies nursed him back to consciousness, he started begging for help. He says there is a group of big cats terrorizing the eastern tribes." She explained with a calm, even voice.

Niji only looked at Ren, who smiled softly, stood up, fixed her clothes, and turned towards Ohore.

"Let's go, I want to hear what he has to say."