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Category: An Eternity Between the Cracks
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She was Pazuzu and she wanted Oleksandra to feel the snuggly grasp of evil on her soul. That’s what Isaac parsed out from the words the infernal pokekit had half shouted. She seemed to be at the point in her speech development where she was competent in combining sounds enough to be understood but wasn’t really paying attention to the precise phonemes or volume of her voice.

“Dis id Middasquigglz,” the pokegirl who had introduced herself as Pazuzu said after releasing Oleksandra and holding up the tangle of fabric scraps with buttons sewn here and there at random. “He Mama speddle fren.” The tiny infernal child leaned in and whispered conspiratorially, “He notta real Middasquigglz, don tell mmdat.”

Oleksandra’s ears fell back as if she were afraid. She was certainly distressed from the confusion of trying to process what Pazuzu was saying. “Middah Skwiggalz?”

Pazuzu looked up and glowered. “No, Middasquigglz!”

Oleksandra looked around desperate for help.

Nadezhda suddenly could be heard shouting from the direction of the house, rapidly approaching the gate where Isaac, Jin, and Oleksandra had encountered the pokekit. “Pazuzu! You need your coat. You’re not supposed to talk to strangers, Pazuz- Oh!” The Succubus housekeeper came to a halt when she saw who was on the threshold to Astoreth’s property. “Isaac, thank goodness it’s you. We keep the door to the playroom latched, the windows are shut, of course.” It was winter. “And Astoreth even put phase and teleport blocks in place. She still manages to wander off on her own!”

Astoreth’s housekeeper looked run ragged. There was none of her haughty professionalism, none of her nubile sensuality, none of her calculated and dignified presentation. She was tired and frantic. Pazuzu looked at the Succubus angrily. “I bord.” She turned back to Oleksandra. “Bunnieee! Play wid me an Middasquigglz!”

Nadezhda looked pleadingly at Isaac. “Could you please play with her? She was supposed to be taking a nap with Yevfrosiniya but only one of them fell asleep.”

Oleksandra was still visibly upset over not understanding whatever Pazuzu was trying to introduce her dingy toy as. “What is the designation of her mophead-like doll?”

“Oh, Mr. Squiggles?”

“Ya! We go play nao!” Pazuzu seized Oleksandra’s hand and dragged the helpless Battle Battle Angel towards the house.

-

One of Astoreth’s guest rooms had been hastily converted to a playroom and furnished with wooden blocks and small carved figures. The mansion and its occupants were all clearly ill prepared to host an energetic young child. Yevfrosiniya was left to watch over the play session between Pazuzu and Oleksandra. Some sort of pretend game involving Mr. Squiggles enslaving or devouring the populace of a city. It was really more Pazuzu playing and Oleksandra following the infernal pokekit’s directions.

Isaac was puzzled. Pazuzu was a pokekit, that was something he knew from his ability to identify them on sight. Granted, that’s what everyone in the pokegirl universe would assume when seeing her, but she wasn’t a breed of pokegirls that existed. She wasn’t even something from a composition of breeds. Her breed wasn’t masked from him either, like Astoreth’s was.

He actually could probably identify Astoreth if he really put his mind to it, his intuition informed him. He’d been avoiding doing so because she always became uncomfortable when he investigated. She was strangely sensitive about the matter. So far his mind had pieced together a lineage starting at Youma and evolving to Daimon and then Demoness. It didn’t end there, however. Infernal breeds were so variable it didn’t matter much anyway. Isaac slipped through the door to Astoreth’s office.

She was nodding off while sitting on her office couch with an open folder in her lap. Her eyes snapped up to the intruder of her sanctum but her expression relaxed when she identified who it was. She slid the folder off her lap and rose while shifting to her reduced form, then padded over to Isaac and fell against him. The embrace came after a few seconds of her just leaning into the support.

“You haven’t had a daughter this whole time, right?” Isaac asked her.

Astoreth picked herself up and went back to the couch. Isaac sat down as well and uncharacteristically Astoreth was leaning against him right away again. “No. I guess I may be adopting her, though. Honorata has been out investigating if anyone is missing an infernal pokekit but nothing’s turned up. At least for a pokekit matching Pazuzu’s description.” There were always missing children in Svyatylyshche, and elsewhere.

“Where did you find her?”

“The southwest part of town. So she could very well not have any family left.” Svyatylyshche was rather strictly segregated on two axes. Southwest was impoverished and predominantly infernal. Not a good combination. “Suddenly she was there, hugging my leg and almost shouting about ‘the snuggly grasp of evil.’”

Isaac chuckled briefly. “She did that to Leksya too. Poor girl had no idea how to respond or what she was saying. Did you ask her about family? Or how she got there, alone?”

“She talks like her mother is still alive but can’t tell us where she is. All she says about winding up there is that she crawled through a hole. She’s not exactly a competent communicator and she’s telepathically unreadable. I’m assuming she’s a dark type.” Astoreth sat upright to focus on Isaac’s face. “What breed is she?”

“She’s not any breed I know of.”

Astoreth’s eyes narrowed. “Isaac, you’ve known every breed you’ve encountered.”

Isaac nodded. “I know, that’s what’s weird. She’s infernal and beyond that I guess I want to say she resembles an Esper.”

“Espers? How so?”

Isaac shrugged helplessly. “I don’t know how, I can just recognize that quality in her. She’s sort of otherworldly.” Isaac focused on the infernal sitting next to him. “Speaking of not really knowing someone’s breed…”

Astoreth held his gaze for a moment and then looked away. “You really don’t know what I am?”

“I know you don’t want me to know what you are. You don’t want anyone to know and you feel a lot of guilt about it.”

“Candi knows,” Astoreth said in a small voice. “It’s okay if you do too,” she added after a period of hesitation. So finally Isaac really focused on the matter.

Astoreth started her life as a Youma. Her role in the war and the fact that she survived saw her evolve to a Daimon rather quickly. Her continued exceptionalism meant she was given the mana stone necessary to evolve to a Demoness. From there… eventually, she evolved into a Mazouku, and that still wasn’t the end.

Of course. She’d learned under Hild, studied as one of the Legendary’s proteges. Shaped by her. Into a lesser version of her teacher.

“You said she’s dead, and all of her other students are as well?”

The briefest flicker of confusion crossed her face but then she accessed the greater context of the delta bond and nodded. “As for the lesser Hilds, I am. We all assumed she’s dead. So as far as we could tell, she’s gone from this world, one way or another." She sighed.

“We were just pawns but... Before I gave Candi a chance… She, my teacher, Hild was… It was still… I wanted to be wanted for something. Anything. Valued.” The unguarded infernal sighed deeply. “Then once I was in, there was no getting out.”

Isaac was curious about something and wanted to move on to something more wholesome. “How did you meet Candi?”

“I was rather disturbed at the conclusion of the war. I might as well have been feral. She was a celestial, I was an out of control infernal. She was supposed to kill me.” Astoreth paused as if she was thinking and then smiled. “Obviously things didn’t go that way.” Her brief moment of levity faded, returning to a state of exhaustion. She reached up a hand and rubbed her eyes.

“You know, she’s the one who asked me to come check on you. She was worried.”

Astoreth scowled. “I’m sure she was.” Her voice was heavy with sarcasm.

“You don’t trust her?”

Astoreth snorted. “I trust her completely. I trust her to pull Pazuzu into her influence and manipulate her like Candi does everyone else. Pazuzu isn’t like me though. She doesn’t need a Megami constantly hovering around her, causing her to question herself. If I’m responsible for Pazuzu then part of my responsibility is to make sure she has the chance to come into her own.”

Isaac sat and thought for a moment, not sure if Astoreth would accept what he was about to say. Of course, thanks to her telepathy and their delta bond she had a sense of it anyway. So he just came out with it. “Aren’t you being a bit extreme?”

Astoreth glared, but the glare eroded into weariness. She rubbed her forehead under her horns. “Maybe I am. I’m really tired. I only need four hours of sleep a day, usually, but somehow having such a young child in the home is wearing all of us out.”

That made sense to Isaac. Kids who were Pazuzu’s age could be rather chaotic and the pokekit had seemed rather rambunctious so far. There was a lot of potential for expensive, accidental damage in Astoreth’s home as well. “Well, she’s playing with Oleksandra right now. I’ll stay for a while and give you all a chance to rest.” Astoreth leaned against him and sighed.

“I would appreciate that.”

-

Astoreth’s eye’s fluttered open and after stretching herself to the limits of her reduced form shelooked at the face of an antique, pre-war grandfather clock that occupied one corner of her office. She’d been asleep for more than an hour and a half. She lifted herself up off of her office daybed and shifted to her larger, nearly two and a half meter tall and athletically sculpted form. She cast her cosmetic spell on her hair to enhance her glamour, smoothed out her skirt, donned her jacket, and with a content sigh pulled open the doors to the walkway above the front entryway to her mansion.

She accessed the security enchantments that allowed her to perceive anywhere in her home and quickly flicked through the various perspectives they offered her. Yevheniya was trimming the evergreen hedge maze. Yevfrosiniya and Veriko were cleaning up the kitchen after preparing afternoon snacks. There was a covered tray waiting on the counter for Astoreth. Nino and Sveta were mopping the floors of the east wing. Nadezhda was removing snow from the front entrance, there’d been some fresh accumulation while Astoreth had rested. Honorata had just crossed through the front gates, she was carrying a small parcel. What coincidental timing. That was everyone she was usually responsible for.

Isaac, Jin, Oleksandra, and Pazuzu were still all in the play room. They were seated on the floor with cards spilled out in a broad, flat pile. “Bunnie, you haffenie too?”

Oleksandra’s ears dropped back as she looked towards Isaac. “Twos,” her tamer offered.

“I do not possess any cards with a value of two. Go fish.” Pazuzu squirmed angrily before reaching towards the pile. She hovered her hand over top for a long moment and then smiled triumphantly and snatched up a card. It was the two of hearts.

Pazuzu let out a delighted squeal. “Bunnie! You haffenie too?”

“Pazuzu,” Astoreth had reached the doorway to the play room, “she already told you she did not have any twos. You should have asked for a different card.”

“Asdowef!” The infernal pokekit tossed her hand into the air as she jumped up to hug the massive mistress of the house. “Ay gud ad fishie. I finna toos.”

Isaac chided the mostly red colored devil child. “Pazuzu, you threw your hand again. Now we have to start over.” She made a face like she was about to have a tantrum but then she stopped and looked up to Astoreth.

“Play wid us!”

Astoreth chuckled. “Okay, but I don’t know the rules.”

“Isaac is not aware of the proper rules either. The proper rules are printed on this supplemental card.” Oleksandra stated plainly as she held up the white card with dense black lettering printed on both sides. “He learned an improper variation as a child. The undealt cards are supposed to remain in a stack that is drawn from rather than be spread out in a pile. He claims this way feels more like fishing.” Oleksandra’s face scrunched up in confusion. “I do not understand how this resembles procuring fish for the sake of nutrition.”

“It’s just what the game was named, Leksya. Don’t overthink it.” Isaac put a hand on his steel type, tech templated pokegirl’s shoulder. Oleksandra seemed determined to continue overthinking the matter.

Astoreth looked at how everyone was seated on the floor and with a puff of smoke her short dress skirt and stockings became dress slacks. Then she sat cross legged and Pazuzu plopped herself into the open spot in the older infernal’s lap. “Well, I’m a fan of rules so I would ask that we follow them fully.”

“Alright,” Isaac said with a shrug as he gathered up the cards to reassemble the deck.

Cards were quickly dealt again as Astoreth read through the minimal rules almost instantly. The ‘stock’ was left to draw from the top this time. Astoreth was the recipient of the first turn. “Pazuzu, do you have any queens?”

The pokekit gasped. “How you no?!”

Astoreth looked down overtop of the pokekit’s head and smiled. “I don’t know, maybe I got lucky,” she blatantly lied.

-

Jin swore under her breath as the narrow engraving chisel slipped, cutting a wild gouge across the talisman she was attempting to prepare. She tossed the small, flat piece of wood into a humble but growing pile of other failures. Chiseling something so small was difficult and she kept hitting too hard.

Assuming she ever completed the design, it would be a self-maintained warding enchantment that provided the Aura Barrier effect to whoever had it on their person. She’d give it to Isaac.

Enchanting was a lot more difficult than she first thought. While she had been able to produce the speed effect that allowed her to beat Nadezhda, that had been an effect she was constantly maintaining with her own magical power and by constantly holding the pattern that defined the spell in her mind. It made the use of any more magic difficult, basically impossible for her right now. She’d assumed it would be a simple matter of representing the same pattern onto a physical object and then applying some magical energy. She’d been wrong.

That had produced a piece of wood, about the size of half of a pack of cards, protected by an Aura Barrier. Only the piece of wood and only for as long as she kept feeding magical energy into it.

So she thought about it for a while and realized that she would need to layer multiple more enchantments onto the talisman to get it to function how she wanted. An enchantment to store magical energy and an enchantment to pull magical energy from ambient sources so that she wouldn’t need to recharge it constantly. A very complex enchantment to get the Aura Barrier effect to project to the individual who possessed the talisman and an even more complicated one to define what it meant for the talisman to be in someone’s possession. Then all of these needed to be connected and ordered by smaller, simpler enchantments. That all needed to be represented on whatever item it was she was producing. It had increased the number of marks she needed to make by tenfold. She’d started using a base piece of wood with twice the surface area and would have made it even larger except then it wouldn’t be practical to carry. It’d be bulkier than Isaac’s handheld computer.

Therefore, she had to make all of the markings smaller but she wasn’t very practiced with hammer and chisel engraving, which were the only engraving tools Elena had and Jin was practicing using Elena’s tools. She was using wood because wood was cheap, cheaper than metal but more durable than paper. Stone was much harder and would be even more difficult to work with.

The thought of starting with a simpler enchanted item never crossed her mind.

She stood up and stretched, pulled out her ponytail and shook her head wildly before tying her hair back up. The frustrated Enchantress went over to her pile of ruined earlier drafts, gathered them up, and strung them up to hang from tree branches. She’d take a break and use them for target practice for Mystic Bolts.

She still loved slinging magic more than enchanting, but enchanting was what she was supposed to be good at now and Jin’s ego wouldn’t accept her simply being of passing grade. She had to be better at enchanting because she felt like she was worse at offensive spellcraft now. She wasn’t, not realistically, but she hadn’t really become any better when she evolved so she considered it essentially the same thing. Her increased sensitivity to, well, everything also made it harder for her to cast like she used to. Her ability to tolerate the discomfort of overcharging her spells had been diminished. What used to be an exciting surge now felt overwhelming. She could only stand powering up her Mana Bolt to about sixty percent, she estimated, of what she could as a Witch. Of course that meant she was a lot less likely to hurt herself doing so which made it more difficult to convince Isaac and Elena that it was a problem.

She was focusing on the strange other style of magic she had discovered, the one she could use consistently while maintaining meditative levels of magical output. So far she had no idea how to overcharge this style. It was consistently the same level of power just about every time. That didn’t seem right to her. There had to be a way to put more energy into the spells. She still couldn’t really visualize the patterns she was creating in a way that she could represent in a formula. It was all bodily sensations. Maybe she could use the same increased sensitivity that was preventing her from casting her Mana Bolt like before to figure that out though.

She experimented with around twenty casts of Mystic Bolt without anything to show for it. Angry and frustrated, she let her form slip and cast one final bolt with wild and exaggerated motions. It was a bad habit for combat magic. It made counter-spelling much easier if she was up against an opponent familiar with magic.

But it worked.

The bolt flew faster and impacted the half-carved slab of wood with more force, enough to do real damage. She’d been conserving energy to conserve her targets.

That was interesting.

Jin started to experiment with more wild movements, just feeling the changes in how the energy flowed through her and adjusting the motions and posture a little bit each time. She didn’t produce any consistent results, but it was something…

Isaac found her still vigorously moving while firing off blasts of energy some minutes later. He wasn’t sure what she was up to besides using her inexplicable alternative casting method and he only knew this because as far as his limited sense of magical energies went he couldn’t tell she was channeling magic at all. “Any breakthroughs?”

Jin straightened up at the sound of his voice and then turned and smiled brilliantly. “Elena wouldn’t think so but yeah.”

Isaac returned the grin. “Any you can explain to either of us.”

“Nope.”

Isaac sighed. “You’re being careful, right?”

“Haaiii…,” she responded with a drawn out and annoyed tone. “I am,” she stated petulantly when Isaac didn’t look convinced.

Isaac shook his head wearily. “Anyway, we need to get to the Vesna border station. It’s the first day Neasa will be allowed back with us.” Jin didn’t look particularly pleased with the impending reunion. She’d enjoyed having less competition for Isaac’s attention. Oleksandra didn’t offer much, which was just fine in the Enchantress’ opinion.

Still, she was Isaac’s only pokegirl who could teleport. She wouldn’t be able to brag about that if they didn’t go where the Elfqueen was.

(-[|]-) End 13.1 (-[|]-)