88 The silver maiden
While the war of the south kingdom progressed, a couple of bystanders were still watching over the battle waiting for their moment to act to arrive.
Lilith, still stuck in her red harpy form which made her look like a grown woman with covered in feathers all over her body with wings merged with her arms, was observing the situation carefully on the balcony of the castle.
Next to her was Daren, who was also stuck looking like a monster right now thanks to his curse becoming too strong for him to control. He was looking like a black mass of muscle covered in hair with a lion face above his shoulders.
Lilith's mind was a little fuzzy every time she looked at him. Not too long ago he asked her out of nowhere if she would marry him if he ever found out a way to get rid of his curse and become human again.
At the time, she didn't know how to answer his feelings so Daren was now basically waiting for her response. Daren always had that kind of "wasting no time" attitude. He always seemed bothered by the fact Auren kept dancing around the idea of confessing his feelings towards Ria. He probably didn't want to risk missing his chance like Auren and just blurted out that proposal on a whim.
It's true that Lilith had already realized she felt attracted to Daren in a romantic way. At first, she looked at him only as a little brother, someone that was part of her family and that she wanted to take care of. Daren always was very kind towards her and did all he could to never make her upset. He basically treated her like a princess.
Because of that, she would often feel very comfortable relying on him. Even though he looked so skinny in his human form, he always had the look of a man that would never go back on his word. Daren was a man that Lilith could trust.
It was only after the night where she tried to talk to Ashley that she realized her feelings for him. She wanted to ask the smartest person on her group what it meant to be in love.
Ashley looked at her and pondered on how to answer in the simplest way possible.
"It's when you want to kiss your best friend."
Lilith wasn't sure what Ashley meant but the red-haired girl went on with her explanation.
"Love is basically the combination of two factors, physical attraction, and friendship. Sometimes you will feel attracted to someone's body but you won't have any interest on that person's personality. That's called lust."
"Other times you will feel an extreme sense of comfort just by being close and talking to someone, but you feel no desire to touch that person whatsoever, that's friendship."
"Once these two factors combine, once lust meets with friendship, that's when love is born."
"Many people tend to confuse love with lust and start saying that they're in love when in reality, it's nothing but physical attraction."
Ashley was confused as to why Lilith kept repeating her words but then she stared at her hands and realized that the young woman was actually writing down everything she was saying in a notebook.
"What are you doing???"
"I'm taking notes so I can remember all of this later in case I don't know how I feel..."
Ashley stole her notebook and hid it behind her back.
"Hey! What are you-"
"You don't need to write that down dummy!! Just use your head!!"
"Huh!! But!! What if I make a mistake??"
"Then make a mistake! Do you think Evlin discovered half of her abilities on her first try? Just go ahead and test your luck..."
"Look, let's take an example... Do you have a friend you're really close with?"
Her mind immediately started to think about Daren and she began to blush.
"Do you want to kiss him?"
Her mind once again started to imagine the scenario. She thought about the idea of her and Daren kissing each other.
"... ... ... Maybe..."
Ashley continued to watch as steam started to come out of Lilith's head. She could pretty much guess what she was thinking about.
"Then... Just go to Daren and ask him if he wants to try to find out if you two can work."
"Eh!!?? H- How did you know it was Daren??"
"Eh... You two always looked like a good match for me..."
"Me and him!!?? A good match?? ... ... ... Really...?"
Lilith started to hold her checks which were about to burst into flames as she continued to think about her and Daren together.
He was her closest friend and she could feel physically attracted to him. Could this be love? Ashley was just observing with a tired expression as Lilith continued to lose herself in her imagination while suddenly she noticed Lilith's expression changing.
Lilith began to imagine herself in Daren's arms, but before she noticed, his arms were the arms of his beast form, that terrifying monster form that Lilith was secretly always afraid of.
She always did her best to hide her true feelings, she was used to the concept of enduring pain in silence, but the moment she imagined herself on that thing's arms she felt like she was going to throw up at any moment.
Ashley observed as her friend's face completely changed from red to green and she fell on her knees.
"Lilith?? Lilith, what's wrong?"
"... I can't..."
"I can't... Love him..."
If love was the combination of friendship with physical attraction, Lilith could never love Daren since his monster side physically terrified her.
"I see him as a friend... But I can't imagine myself even touching that lion form... It just sends shivers all over my body simply thinking about it..."
"I could never fall in love with a monster!! The mere idea of touching him when he looks like that disgusts me immensely... I'm so sorry..."
Lilith began to cry while Ashley hugged her trying to make her feel better.
"It's... It's ok Lilith... You don't need to force yourself..."
"I'm so sorry!! I'm so sorry!!"
Lilith continued to apologize, not to Ashley, but to Daren despite him not even being in the room. She wanted to beg for forgiveness for not being able to properly fully love him because of her aversion to demons and monsters.
But despite that, something happened that started to reawaken her feelings.
During their mission to reach the demon kingdom, the two were assigned to enter a maze together due to her being able to use her future sight to keep him safe.
She was hoping that spending more time with him would make her forget her sense of guilt, but it actually worked a little too well since spending so much time with him made her realize she did in fact had a small lustful desire for her closest friend.
She never spent so much time with Daren alone with him in his human form. Most of the time she would be going on missions with him as a beast and usually with Evlin tagging along.
This time it was just the two of them, so she decided to try and follow Ashley's advice, just see if it could work. She offered the idea that she wanted to be the only one to take care of him, and that she wanted him to take care of her.
She assumed he would think she was talking crazy, but she could feel a small glimpse of interest coming from him towards the idea. There was hope for them.
If she could overcome her hatred for monsters, she could make this work somehow.
But things suddenly started spiraling out of control.
Daren became locked inside his monster form, Lilith was reunited with the fire demon she hated so much wich only reignited her hate towards monsters, not helped by the fact that she was now in a monster body herself and was hating every second of it.
And to top it all off, there was the dryad. That goddamn dryad.
She simply came out of nowhere and just started to throw the lives of her and her teammates into a nightmare.
She used all the knowledge Ashley had over the team to turn their weaknesses against them and torment them with their inner insecurities, captured Ashley and locked her into a demon castle so she could feed on her suffering, and even revealed to Daren how she secretly felt about him making him go into a state of depression.
Lilith always tried so hard to keep her inner suffering to herself so she wouldn't be a bother to anyone, and then this green demon showed up and just started playing with everyone's inner suffering like they were her private toys.
Every member of her team hated the dryad, but Lilith made a promise to herself, she would be the one to take her head.
Right now, the dryad that Lilith hated so much was right in front of her. She was crushing to death her desire to just grab her sword and slash that plant into a million pieces. She wanted to kill her with every fiber of her body, but she couldn't touch her until Ashley was rescued.
So right now, Lilith was waiting for her chance, like a grim reaper waiting the moment to take a deceased soul, she was watching the dryad and counting the seconds until she could finally end her.
But she still had a bigger problem ahead of her. The dryad's bodyguard, the demon leader.
Right now he was under a curse that made him look like the one anyone sees him hated the most, and to Lilith, that was the dryad in her original form. He was just standing there looking at the battle with his arms crossed.
Just like Lilith was waiting for her chance, the demon leader was also probably waiting for the right time to join the battle. He wanted to strike at the moment his opponents were at their weakest state.
A few minutes ago he used his power to turn Evlin's griffin into a full demon, as well as all the other pet monsters her group had recently acquired.
Evlin loved pets so Lilith couldn't even imagine how heartbroken she would be after finding out her friend was brainwashed. Lilith's hatred towards demons kept growing bigger and bigger.
As she was wondering for how much longer she would need to hold off her anger, she noticed a silver metallic object flying towards the balcony where they were all standing.
"Lilith!! Watch out!!!"
Daren leaped to move her out of the trajectory of the object. It was some kind of hugely wide claymore attached by a chain in its end.
"Ah!! Sorry Daren!!!"
She quickly moved away from Daren after realizing her silver armor was burning him. She stared down at the source of the attack and noticed a pair of demon slayers trying to attack the castle.
"Looks like it's your turn..."
Lilith was confused after the demon leader made that remark.
"We had a deal remember? You take the slayers and we deal with the mage."
"The deal was that the mage needed to go down first!!"
"Hmpf! How do you know my demons didn't already kill him by now?"
Because if they did, Evlin would have woken up, but Lilith didn't receive any message from Gustav. She couldn't reveal that information thought, so she simply remained silent.
The demon leader seemed to be getting impatient with Lilith. He then grabbed Ashley's body that was now fused with the dryad and started to choke her.
"Aaarghh!! Boss!! Please!! Stop!!!"
"Stop!! What are you doing??"
"Those who are not useful, are discarded..."
The leader started to strangle the green girl even more making Lilith scream desperately.
"Stop!! Stop!! I get it I'll go!!"
He released the dryad on the floor who was now coughing and gasping for air.
"Ugh.., Thanks, boss..."
Lilith didn't want to leave Ashley alone but she couldn't risk angering him too much. She knew how powerful he was. If he started to try and kill Ashley, there was little Lilith could do to hold him back.
"Have fun down there."
Lilith glared at him with all her hate before turning towards Daren who was still recovering from his small burn.
"Daren... I'll be right back... Take care of Ashley's body."
"You're going alone??"
"Don't worry... There are only two of them, nothing I can't handle."
"But... What about..."
"My trauma? My bad habit of losing control and start rampaging on the battlefield without realizing my surroundings? My extreme aversion towards harming humans?"
"... Huh... Yes..."
"... I think I reached a point where I just don't care anymore..."
"I'm tired, Daren... Tired of pretending that things are fine when they are clearly not..."
She stood up and walked towards the edge of the balcony. She stared at the two opponents that she would need to face.
"I won't deny who I am or what I feel anymore... From now on... I'll just accept all of my flaws and deal with them."
She proceeded to jump out of the balcony and using her harpy wings, glided towards the two slayers.
One tried to attack with his claymore one more time while the other aimed and shoot her with a metal arrow.
Lilith saw the attacks coming and even without being able to use future sight, she parried both of them by combining her sword swing and maneuvering with her wings.
She landed on the snow safely and stared at the two slayers.
"I hope you two don't mind... But I'm going to use you both to vent all of the frustration that I acquired ever since I arrived in this bloody kingdom."
The slayers simply assumed their battle positions and began to charge towards the red harpy lady covered in metal armor.