Chapter 1:

Volume 1: Prologue: The Castaway Crimson-Haired Princess

Nephalem


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The sound of rolling thunder jerked her awake. Her bedroom shook, windows vibrating, and she squawked as she almost fell off the bed thanks to the intense, earthquake like shaking. It was only because her bed was so big that she avoided such an unfortunate and humiliating fate. The thunderous vibration soon stopped, and she sighed in relief, short-lived though the feeling was.


She glanced around the room, at the fine decorations that would have littered her walls but had now fallen to the floor, at the expensive furniture that sprawled across her floor. The shaking must have upturned her furniture.


Her bedroom was one of exquisite design. The walls were tastefully decorated with posters from all of her favorite bands from the human world, and there were even several posters that had been framed–though several of those frames had fallen. Their remains lay scattered along the floor. A moment of horror raced through her when she realized that her entire collection of manga, including her volumes of High School DxD, lay buried underneath her now broken bookshelf.


What had happened just now? She wondered. Had it been another energy storm? They had been getting those more frequently, but that hadn’t felt like any energy storm she could remember.


Her home shook again, and what she had first believed to be rumbling thunder, soon became much clearer.


Thunder it was not.


Peeling the covers back, she slipped out of the bed, her bare feet touching the soft carpet. She padded over to the window and glanced out.


There was something there. Multiple somethings. She squinted. In the not-so-significant distance, she could make out several million lights dotting the landscape around her father’s mansion. They were in the gardens, the forests, in front of the entryway… it looked like the mansion was playing host to a million will-o-wisps.


As she continued to stare, one of those lights flickered. She turned her attention to that one in particular. The ball, which suddenly expanded to twice its previous size, released an earsplitting Pzzttt!!! that caused her to wince and hold her hands to her ears. It then became an energy discharge that launched forward like a bolt of lightning. The mansion shook again.


A feeling that was akin to shock but closer to horror pierced her heart, which had grown chilled by the startling realization she’d just had. That had been an attack spell! Even if she couldn’t feel the energy from inside of the mansion’s barrier, she still recognized the tell-tale signs. But who could have been attacking them? And why?


Even as she said this, the shimmering light that hovered in front of her window like a thin layer of film fizzled, crackled, and then vanished altogether. The barrier which protected this mansion had just fallen.


That act was almost like a signal. All at once, multiple lights burst into incandescence and released their energy. It wasn’t just plane energy attacks either. Bright red flames scorched across the ground, icicles lanced forth to penetrate the mansion walls, and even bolts of dark energy shot forward. A coldness like the icy fist of a frost giant clutched her heart in its foreboding grip as she backed away from the window.


“Princess Alicia!” a voice shouted seconds before the doors to her room opened.


A woman with dark skin rushed into the room. She wore a black and white maid outfit with a lot of frills, and her black hair was tied into a severe bun. A pair of horns jutted from her head. Dark brown eyes searched the room before landing on her.


“Princess Alicia, I need you to follow me.”


The maid didn’t give her a chance to respond. Heels clacked against the floor as she walked up to her, grabbed her hand, and began dragging her out of the room.


“H-hey! Wait!” she said, not quite resisting the woman’s tugging, but not helping the woman either. “Matilda, what’s going on? Who’s attacking us?”


The one known as Matilda answered, even as she pulled her into a long hallway. “I’m afraid the anti-human faction has grown tired of your father’s policies, or perhaps they’re upset by what happened in the last meeting.”


“B-but my father isn’t here,” she said, stuttering.


“No, but you are,” Matilda shot back. “Everyone knows that His Majesty Bael, your father, isn’t the type to bow to political pressure, and he’s too strong for an outright attack like this to work. In fact, I would say it’s because your father isn’t here that they are attacking now.”


It took her a moment to figure out what her maid was implying. “You’re saying they’re here to kidnap me?”


“What better way to force His Majesty Bael into submission than to kidnap his only and most beloved daughter?”


A shiver went down her spine. This wasn’t the first time assassins and kidnappers had come after her life. However, this time was different. Her father wasn’t here to protect her. If she hadn’t been so rude, maybe if she and her father hadn’t gotten into that fight, then perhaps he would have–


… No. She couldn’t think like that now. She needed to follow Matilda and get to safety. She needed to tell her father about what was happening here.


Just as these thoughts occurred to her, the wall further down and to their left exploded with an ear-splitting rumble. Several figures poured into the room. They wore cloaks, so she couldn’t see what they looked like. Even so, the vibrant eyes that glowed with the color of blood were dead giveaways.


“These are…”


“Stand back, my lady!”


Matilda pushed her across the hall. Several magical circles appeared in front of the cloaked figures. Flames burst from the circles, shooting forward, slamming into the ground, the walls, the ceiling. Heat washed over her body. Sweat caused her nightgown to cling to her skin as the hallway was lit ablaze.


“No good,” Matilda muttered. “There are too many for me to fight while protecting you. Come on! This way!”


Her maid pulled her along, and as she did, several magic circles appeared around them as if to protect them from their attackers. Like all magic circles, these ones invoked a specific element, and, just like a magic circle from one in service to a lord, they bore a crest in their center. They had the magic crest for the House of Bael.


A swarm of locusts appeared from within the magic circle. It was her maid’s specialty, an ability granted to her as a member of her father’s peerage. They raced toward the horde of attackers, swarming them. Screams frothed from the mouths of the creatures who dared to attack them, agonizing and horror-inducing. She would have looked to see what was happening, but Matilda was already dragging her into another hallway.


Their feet thudded along the red carpeted hall with loud thuds, though much of the sound was drowned out by the pounding of her heart in her ears. She didn’t want to admit that she was afraid. Her blood was cold, her body was shaking with chills, even as her mind tried to tell her that she was going to be kidnapped and turned into a mindless slave.


The hallway split into two separate directions up ahead. They were almost there. Before they could make it, before they could even get close, three more figures with cloaks draped over their bodies appeared from one of the junctions and rushed forward.


“Tch!”


Matilda let go of her hand and darted ahead, the maid’s speed such that she could barely make out the blur that her maid had become. Their enemies couldn’t even make out that much. Loud shouts echoed down the hall as they suddenly found the woman in their midsts.


The fist of Matilda’s left hand slammed into the underside of one of the figure’s jaw. A loud clack! echoed across the hall as the figure was lifted into the air. The hood feel off to reveal human-like features and red skin. Along with the solid punch to his jaw, a swarm of locust spread over his body, devouring him until he was naught but bones, which fell to the floor with a series of clacks.


Flipping through the air, Matilda avoided two attacks from her left and right. Her body contorted like a gymnast. She spun around, flipping upside down as she launched simultaneous kicks at the two. Light flared briefly on her heels. Magic circles. The two that she kicked were blasted backwards as two compressed beams of black struck them. They slammed into the walls, denting them, and there they became embedded, stuck in place like picture frames bolted into the walls.


That was when she noticed it. The beams. They weren’t energy beams like she had first thought. They were locust, which swarmed over Matilda’s fallen foes, consuming them. It was probably a good thing that they were already unconscious.


Two years ago, Matilda had become a member of her father’s peerage and been tasked to work as her personal maid and bodyguard. However, in all that time, she had never seen Matilda fight. Now, here and now as she watched the maid fight, she realized why her father had made Matilda her bodyguard.


She was about to rush over to her maid, to check the woman for injuries, but before she could even get close, a hand forced itself over her mouth, and her body was violently jerked back into a muscular chest.


Her eyes widened. Fear overtook her, crashing into her like the violent waves of the Underworld’s only sea. She struggled and writhed and twisted. It was all for naught. The hand that covered her mouth, clamping down hard enough to send jolts of pain lancing across her face, remained firm.


“Quit struggling or I’ll crushed that pretty skull of yours!” a voice snarled in her ear. She stilled. “It’s good to see that even a princess like you can understand the kind of position she’s in right now… and you! Wench! Don’t even think of moving! Take one step closer to me and I won’t hesitate to kill this brat!”


The person behind her was not a lesser demon like the ones Matilda had faced thus far. That much was clear. Lesser demons didn’t have the intelligence required to speak. This meant that a member of her attacker’s peerage had her in his grasp.


Matilda, who had looked about ready to rush over to her, froze. Her eyes flickered. She could almost see the woman’s thought process as her maid tried to figure out how to rescue her.


“You wouldn’t dare harm Princess Alicia,” Matilda said at last. “You need her as a hostage. Without her alive, your master has no way of forcing His Majesty Bael into doing your bidding.”


“You might be right. I can’t kill her… but that doesn’t mean I can’t hurt her!”


“MMMMMM!!!”


Agony like nothing she’d ever felt threatened to consume her. It felt like her jaw was being crushed! The massive hand that covered her mouth was squeezing her, causing the bones in her jaw to squeal in protest. If he didn’t stop, her mouth was going to break!


“Stop it!” Matilda shouted.


The person holding her laughed. “Now you see how serious I am. I’ll be taking this girl with me. As you said, my master has many plans for her.”


Her blood ran cold at the thought of being taken by this person, at the thought of being brought before this person’s master. She didn’t want to be taken. She didn’t want to become a slave. She needed to do something!


She looked around as the person all but dragged her as he backed up. There wasn’t much around her. Just the walls, with their many paintings and columns, and the ceiling overhead…


… The ceiling!


Feeling a spark of brilliance, a plan formed in her mind. She pushed past the pain, moved beyond it so that she could raise her hand and call upon her power. A feeling tugged at her body. A magic circle appeared over her raised hand, and then, a massive bolt of crimson energy slammed into the ceiling.


“What the hell?!” the man behind her shouted.


The ceiling blew apart. Dark energy howled like a ravenous beast that had spotted prey. She bit the hand holding her, ignoring the acrid taste of blood as she dug her teeth into her would-be kidnapper’s flesh. The person howled as he let go. She used that opportunity to escape, scrambling forward as several massive chunks of stone fell on top of the man, burying him.


She stumbled, tripped, and then fell onto her hands and knees. Her body shook as adrenaline rushed through her. Wide eyes stared at the floor, but she was not looking at the purple carpet. All she could see was the hand that had been clamped over her mouth.


“Princess Alicia.” Matilda knelt before her. The maid’s voice was gentle, soothing, and it did wonders for her nerves. “That was a rather magnificent plan of attack. I am most impressed.”


“T-thank you,” she rasped. Her jaw still ached.


A hand appeared underneath her. “Can you stand?”


“Yes… I think so.” She took Matilda’s hand and allowed the woman to pull her up.
“That’s good. Then let’s keep going. We need to reach the warp point.”


Matilda did not let go of the hand as she began racing down the hall again. More explosions rocked the mansion, making her stumble. It was fortunate that Matilda kept a firm grip on her hand. Otherwise she might have fallen on her face.


A surge of energy appeared behind them. She turned her head and gasped as nearly two dozen figures rushed into the hall. Magic circles appeared in front of them. There were too many for her to count. If those attacks were launched, it would surely kill them!


Without looking behind her, Matilda raised her free hand. The blood red magic circle that coalesced into existence was massive. Locusts flew from the circle, rushed down the hall, and engulfed all of their would-be attackers. Screams echoed behind them, but Matilda didn’t seem to care. She created another magic circle, and this time the locusts slammed into the ceiling and detonated, causing it to collapse behind them.


“That should slow them down, if nothing else,” Matilda muttered.


Turning another corner, a thought suddenly occurred to her.


“Matilda?”


“Yes?”


“Where is everybody else?”


“…”


At Matilda’s silence, she felt her heart clench. “Matilda, the other maids, the butlers… what happened to them?”


“Most have already been slain,” Matilda said quietly. “I did not see any living maids and butlers when I was heading to your room, but I saw plenty of corpses. I believe many of them were killed before they even knew what hit them.”


She stifled a sob.


They continued to run down hallway after hallway. She wheezed with every pump of her legs. Her chest ached as though someone had stabbed her with a dulled knife. It wasn’t just her chest that hurt. A slow burning permeated her legs, making them wobbly and weak. If it weren’t for Matilda’s firm grasp on her hand, she would have no doubt lost all strength in her body.


“We’re almost there, Princess Alicia. Just a bit further.”


Just as Matilda had said, a large set of double doors lay ahead, ornately crafted wood with golden designs running across the glossy paint. The crest of House Bael stood out sharply on the oaken surface.


While the doors looked heavy, Matilda slammed them open with a solid palm thrust. They raced inside. Matilda closed the door behind them, sealing it shut with a spell of some manner.


As the magic circle on the door faded, Matilda turned around, and she turned with her.


The room they were in was vast. It stretched far beyond her line of sight, disappearing into an inky darkness that could not be penetrated. Giant columns decorated with ornate leaf patterns dotted the landscape. Implanted into the white marble floor, jutting up to the room’s ceiling, they stood like monoliths looming over everything.


This was the warp chamber. She had only been here once before, long ago, but there hadn’t been any need for her to return… until now.


“Come on,” Matilda said. “We need to reach the gate.”


Tap-tap. Tap-tap. Their footsteps resounded around the room, echoing almost ominously. She felt a sense of dread as she listened to the sound of her own feet. It accompanied her ragged breathing, which had grown heavy thanks to all the running she had done.


“Where does the gate lead?” she asked.


“It leads to a safe house in the human world. If there ever came a time where the more unruly factions of demonkind decided to attack, I was supposed to use the gate to take you to the human world and hide out there, until the threat has died down.”


Excitement bubbled up from inside of her, despite the situation. She had never been to the human world. However, she’d always been fascinated by humans. Music, video games, movies, and comics, she loved them all, especially Japan’s anime and manga. The Underworld didn’t have those things. That was why she’d had several maids travel to the human world and buy them for her. She even had a room dedicated entirely to human entertainment.


They walked deeper into the chamber. The gate lay up ahead, denoted by the seven curved pillars that jutted from the ground and surrounded a stone circle with a magical inscription carved into its surface.


Someone was already there.


His bulky frame stood several heads above Matilda, who, to her at least, appeared quite tall. Unlike her father, who looked completely human, this man had no human characteristics beyond his anthropomorphic body. Skin the color of sickly blood shone like fire in the low light. Malicious eyes glowing a deep red stared at her from beneath a thick brow ridge with no eyebrows. He had horns jutting from his head like a crown of spikes. With clawed hands and a malevolent aura, he looked every bit the majestic devil.


“Lord Belial,” Matilda said, stepping forward. “I knew that you were the one who attacked us from the moment I saw your legion of lesser demons swarming the mansion. I never would have believed that you’d deign to come here yourself.”


“For the daughter of King Bael, it is only right that I come here myself,” Belial said, his voice a deep rumble like distant thunder.


“I thought you were still at the meeting of lords.”


Belial’s lips were twisted into a sickening smile that made her gut clench. “The meeting of lords has been… postponed. They have other issues that they need to deal with right now.”


“I take your words to mean you and your ilk have finally shown your true colors and betrayed his majesty.” Matilda’s grimace aptly reflected the disgust that she also felt. She had never met Belial before, but her father had never said a good word about this man. “I knew you were an insipid fool with delusions of grandeur, but I never could have imagined you’d be so foolish as to betray the most powerful devil currently residing in the Underworld.”


“Betray?” The smile left Belial’s face and a snarl had replaced. “I am not the one who has betrayed King Bael. It is the king who has betrayed me! Betrayed us! He has forsaken his duties as the King of Devilkind! He would have us befriend the humans! He would have us work with those disgusting, low born monkeys! Why should we have to stoop so low for their kind? Devils are superior to humans in every way. We have power, we have prestige, we have a glorious history and deep roots. What do humans have? Nothing! They are weak, powerless! Wretched creatures like that should be serving us, not the other way around!”


The man’s voice boomed across the chamber, shaking the columns as though his voice had the power to make even the inanimate bow to his whims.


She was shaken to her core. While she knew that her father’s policies were not accepted by everyone, she had not realized that there were people who opposed them this much. Why, though? Why did Belial oppose her father? She didn’t understand. Humans were amazing! How else could they produce such fun entertainment?


“The fact that you would say something so foolish is proof of your ignorance,” Matilda said. “It has been thousands of years since you last visited the human world. Things have changed. His Majesty Bael has recognized that, and he has realized that to progress forward, we must work with the humans.”


Belial clicked his tongue. “I am done talking to you. Your ears have been filled with the disgusting lies of our inglorious king.” He held out his hand. “However, I can be compassionate and forgiving. Hand over the girl and I won’t kill you.”


“Go suck a cock,” Matilda shot back.


In that instant, a magic circle with the clan crest of Bael appeared underneath Belial’s feet. He looked down just as a swarm of locusts shot from the circle. He was consumed by a wall of blackness, a massive pillar of bugs that rose so high she couldn’t even see where it ended.


For a moment, she thought that would be the end of it. For a second, she assumed that Matilda had won.


Those hopes were dashed when a powerful presence crashed into her, sending her to her knees. Her eyes widened. She tried to move, but the presence kept her pinned in place. It was as if gravity had suddenly undergone a ten fold increase. Her legs refused to move, her mind seemed to have gone still, even her blood was chilled to the point of having become frozen. Her instincts screamed at her, telling her to run. However, her body refused to move, pinned as it was by the presence.


An explosion of fiery red energy blew the locusts away. Her eyes burned as a light brighter than the Underworld’s false sun seared her vision. Yet she couldn’t close her eyes, and the light soon died down, revealing an unharmed Belial standing exactly where he had been.


“You think such a pathetic attack would be enough to defeat me?” Belial roared. “I’ll teach you not to underestimate me!!”


A magic circle appeared in front of him. It was large and black, crackling with tendrils of arcane energy. In the center of the circle was the clan crest for the House of Belial.


With a bellow, a massive beam of magical energy shot from the circle. Matilda raised her hands. Several magic circles appeared in front of her. The energy beam slammed into the first circle and shattered it, and then it broke through the second circle, the third, the fourth, the fifth. Matilda gritted her teeth and fell to a knee as though she was experiencing pain each time a circle broke.


“Matilda!”


“Stay back, My Lady!” Matilda shouted, making her stop dead in her tracks. “This is not a battle you want to get caught up in!”


She wanted to run over to Matilda and help, but her maid’s words made her halt. It was true. In a battle, any battle, never mind one like this, she would have been no help. She’d only get in the way.


Six more magic circles shattered before the beam of energy dispersed. That meant nothing. The energy attack had just been a prelude.


Laughing, Belial appeared before Matilda and attempted to slam her into the ground with a massive swing from his fist. It was dodged. Matilda moved around the fist like water flowing around a boulder. Sadly, she could not counterattack. A massive shockwave erupted from where the fist struck the ground, and she was thrown back.


“Come on!!” Belial goaded. “At least make this fun for me!”


Matilda didn’t speak. Sweat was dripping from her brow as she created another magic circle, which unleashed a swarm of locusts at Belial, who cackled like a lunatic as he raised his hand. Black bolts of energy like lightning erupted from a magic circle in front of his hands. The bolts swerved and moved, as though they had taken on a life of their own, and all of the locusts that Matilda had sent were annihilated.


The black lightning remained, and Belial manipulated it with his hands somehow. The lightning swerved around to trap Matilda in what looked like a spider’s web.


She wanted to call out to Matilda. The only reason she didn’t was because she knew it would distracted her maid, who needed to concentrate. Plus, she had confidence. Surely, Matilda could get out of this.


The lightning suddenly converged on Matilda, who disappeared within the intense darkness. She cried out, calling her maid’s name, even though she knew that Matilda couldn’t possibly hear her voice. The dark light from the black lightning cast odd shapes on the columns. A massive roaring similar to bursts of rumbling thunder mixed with static filled her ears. Tears stung her eyes as she stared at what where Matilda had been. The entire area was encased in an orb of dark energy and–


'What’s that?'


She blinked when she saw a magic circle with the Bael clan crest underneath Belial’s feet. The red-skinned devil hadn’t noticed, busy as he was laughing. Something emerged from the circle. It looked like a set of black hands. Before Belial knew what was happening, the hands grabbed onto his legs and lifted him into the air. He screamed and tried to attack them, but the hands kept reforming. That was when she realized what they were made of.


Locusts.


With little fanfare, the hands pulled Belial into the ground. He grabbed at the floor, trying to keep himself from being pulled in, but the hands had the advantage. In a last act of desperation, he sent a burst of black lightning into the floor, but all that did was destroy the area around him. With an angry shout, Belial fell into darkness. His enraged screams soon faded.


“Well, that worked out better than I expected,” a voice said.


Shocked, she turned to look at the source. It was her maid. Her clothing was torn and blood ran down her arm and forehead. There were burns scattered along her skin, which was cracked as though it had been overcooked.


She rushed over to her maid. “M-Matilda! Are you okay?! You’re injured!”


Matilda smiled. “I’m fine, Princess. Do not concern yourself with me. We still have to get you out of here. Come on. Quickly now.”


She followed her maid toward the warp gate. “You defeated Belial.”


“No.” Matilda shook her head. “All I did was use a technique that pulled him into the ground. He’s the one who destroyed the floor. I was merely lucky that he isn’t the smartest devil around. Still, that wasn’t enough to defeat him. He’s too powerful. He’ll be back before too long, and you need to be gone by then.”


They reached the gate, which remained unsullied by the short battle that had taken place. The pillars, which curved significantly before ending in points, created what would have become a dome had they extended further. Up close, she finally noticed that they weren’t a uniform color. While the pillars were made of gray stone, black lines ran along their surface, glinting like obsidian.


“Stand in the center,” Matilda instructed.


She did as she was told, and, seconds later, the stone floor beneath her feet lit up. Lines of power appeared all around, connecting to each other and creating a network of glowing symbols. It was a massive magic circle.


“This gate will take you to the human world,” Matilda said. “You should be safe there.”


She was about to nod when something her maid had said struck her as odd. “What about you?”


“I need to remain here, to make sure that no one else tries to use the gate.”


“B-but that means you’ll have to fight Belial!” she shouted, shocked.


“Yes, it will.”


“But that’s dangerous! Why don’t you just come with me?”


“I cannot do that. Then there’d be no one left to guard the gate.”


She understood what Matilda was saying. She did. At the same time, her maid couldn’t possibly think that she could just leave like this, that she could leave Matilda behind?


Just then, the ground several meters away exploded in a gout of black flames. The roaring flames were secondary to the figure who appeared within them. Belial, his glowing red eyes narrowed into slits, and his lips peeled back to reveal saw-like teeth. He walked out of the black flames, his body wreathed in an intense miasma.


Fear made chills run down her spine.


“I’m going to kill you,” Belial snarled. “Fuck taking the bitch captive! I’m gonna murder you both!!”


“It’s time for you to go,” Matilda said in a hurry. She placed her hand in front of her, and while it could not be seen, the energy radiating from her body could certainly be felt.


The magic circle glowed a bright crimson.


“Wait!” she called out. “Matilda! Stop!”


But Matilda did not stop. She just smiled. “Be safe.”


She raised her hand, though whether this was to stop her maid from continuing or for some other reason would never be known. It happened in a split second. One moment, she was standing on the gate and Matilda was in front of her. The next, Matilda was gone, the chamber was gone, and she was alone.


The room around her was unfamiliar. It didn’t look like any of the mansions or castles that her family owned. Lights overhead helped illuminate the room, and she glanced at her new surroundings. The walls were a drab white. No artwork decorated them. The floor, too, it was nothing but a uniform gray.


She looked down at the floor; there was no magic circle underneath her feet. Then she looked back up once more. The only thing about this room that stood out to her, aside from its blandness, was the door located in the far corner to her left.


In something of a daze, she walked to the door, opening it and stepping through. A hallway greeted her. She walked down it, her bare feet thumping against wooden tiles. The hallway spread out into a room of some kind. It was small but furnished with expensive furniture, and the carpet was soft. She spotted several human amenities: a flat screen television situated inside of a shelving unit and several different game consoles.


So… this was the safe house that her father had created in the event of an attack? She wasn’t sure what she had been expecting, but she supposed this matched whatever mental imagery she could have conjured.


Because she had nothing better to do, she decided to explore the house. It was two stories. The first floor had a living room, a kitchen, an office of some kind, and several closets. The second floor had a number of bedrooms and a room filled with more games. While it was a lot smaller than she was used to, there was something comforting about it.


Yet the comfort she felt soon faded into anxiety. She rushed back downstairs, went back into the room that she had been warped to, and there she waited. And waited. And waited some more. Seconds turned into minutes. Minutes into hours. Her anxiety reached its peak. By the four hour mark, she was forced to come to a startling conclusion.


Matilda wasn’t coming.


She was alone.


Sinking to the floor, her knees curling into her chest as she rocked back and forth, Alicia Asmodeus Bael, twelve years old, cried for the first time since her mother had died.