He'd been certain that absolutely nothing would top the send-off he'd gotten from his mistresses. While he did have to give Dark Fay some credit for organizing it like she'd insisted she would, all three of them got high marks for actually going through with it, for apparently even enjoying it. Even Kelda had later, in private, confided that it hadn't been as awful as she'd anticipated.
She'd also sternly warned him not to get used to it. He supposed it would be too much to ask for all of them to get on all of the time.
All of that seemed to be a vague fog as he took in some Empire courtyard, spattered with foul blue ichor, his blood singing with freshly acquired power. There he stood, shoulders heaving, while his mother looked on, cloaked in her voluminous robes. He was still unsure of what to make of her return, and of her motives. She'd helped him in the name of 'balance', but did that mean she'd be against him now?
He wasn't sure how he was meant to feel about that, or her. She'd left him all alone. Not even a note, either, she'd just claimed to be going to the market and never returned. He'd managed, obviously, but it didn't quite endear her to him.
She had been watching him for awhile now from a distance, hands tucked into deep sleeves, what little of her expression he could see neutral.
"I suppose you'll head back to your tower to celebrate," she said, voice dry. He shrugged at her and then rolled his shoulders, uselessly brushing at still-wet ichor. It smelled awful, "How long do you suppose it will last, hmn? A few months at best before you're drawn into another life-or-death scrap?"
"With whoever you decide to pit against me, you mean?" he said. His expression was hidden by his helmet, but he glowered as hard as he could.
She didn't flinch, but the corners of her lips tugged down into a slight frown. He supposed she was used to whatever sort of menace his father had put out, and added to that, she'd willfully left him to his own devices, so it was possible she was simply unaffected by his mood.
"I wouldn't mind a proper look at the new tower," she shifted the topic so suddenly, he couldn't help but blink. It was a tactic Juno used when she felt she'd lost control of a conversation, and it always worked on him.
"So you can get a better idea of where to send a lackey to kill me?" he persisted, deciding to not let it work for once, "I don't think that's a good idea."
"I'm not going to try and kill you, son," she said. The word sounded awkward on her tongue.
"I have no reason to trust you."
She was quiet a moment before she finally approached, catching the edges of her hood and pulling it back. Ten years had passed since he'd seen her, but he didn't think she'd aged too dramatically. Her vibrant red hair was a bit duller, shot through with grey, and her face had a few more lines, but she was still (he assumed – she was his mother, after all) an attractive woman.
Rose managed a thin smile.
"I'm capable of a great deal," she said, "But I don't think murdering my own flesh in blood is quite within my grasp."
They fell into a heavy silence, Rose looking up at her son with a strained smile, and her son looking down at her with a conflicted expression. Smiles had always been a rare thing from his mother, so much so that he barely recalled seeing them at all. The older he'd gotten, he presumed, the less she'd been inclined to.
"I was raised by my own minions," he said, frustration seeping into his voice. He'd felt that he'd finally come into his own lately, grown into his Overlord boots, so to speak, and his mother was making him feel like he'd set the hedge on fire while she'd been busy cooking dinner. He was a little boy in her presence, not the man he'd become over the course of reclaiming his birthright.
Rose drew a bit closer and reached out for him, tentative and quiet. He was possessed with the urge to swat her hand away, so much so that his hand twitched and caused his mother to back up a step and frown. While he wasn't about to apologize, he simply gripped the haft of his axe with both hands, squeezing it. It struck him that such a thing might be much more intimidating, but his mother understood what it meant. Gently, she laid a hand over one of his, apparently unconcerned with all the foul-smelling gore he was drenched in.
Her expression twisted up strangely for a moment and she looked up at him, her smile, while tight, sincere. She'd seemed so incredibly tall when he'd been a boy, and now he dwarfed her by a fair amount. Given, he towered over most people, but it was still a oddly jarring.
Slowly, she eased one of his hands off of the axe, her hand slender and small compared to his, and she put the other over top his knuckles.
"I'm sorry I left you," Rose said softly, almost imploring.
An apology, he thought, was hardly enough, but he felt himself nod at her before he was conscious of it. Whatever else she had to say, though, she could say in private. The minions were staring, enraptured. One of them was sniffling and he shot it a hard look.
"We can talk in the tower," he said, loosening his hand (he hadn't realized he'd been squeezing hers) and gesturing her close. She was an old hand at teleportation, and when they shifted from the courtyard to the tower, she didn't so much as stumble as they touched down onto the floor.
"Ah, Mistress Rose," Gnarl said, and not without a trace of sarcasm either, "Couldn't stay away, could you?"
"I've only come to speak to my son for awhile, Gnarl," Rose said, "Then I'll-"
"Witch Boy!" Kelda cheered from the stairs, "We were wondering when you'd be back! Gnarl kicked us all out of the scrying room after the fight. And what a fight it- oh."
The Nordberg girl stopped short, eyes flickering between the Overlord and his mother. It only took her a few moments to recognize her, though, since she'd seen her enough times as a child.
"You've brought your mum home," she stated the obvious, too stunned to do more than that.
Rose arched a fine brow and tilted her head to the side, favouring her son with a quizzical expression. He wasn't sure why, but he was suddenly embarrassed, and he rubbed the back of his neck.
"Ohh, who's here? That creepy old woman?" Juno crowded up behind where Kelda had stopped short on the stairs, "I hope you're not keeping her, honey. And that you plan on taking a bath."
"This is my mother," the Overlord snapped. Juno sucked in a breath through her teeth and winced.
"She was the former Overlord's Mistress, was she not?" Dark Fay breezed past both humans, unintimidated by Rose.
"He certainly has a type, eh?" Gnarl said to Rose.
"Takes after his father," Rose said dryly, her lips twitching into a smirk.
"Everyone, enough," he waved a hand authoritatively, "I need some privacy for once. You girls, upstairs. Minions, out. I want this throne room cleared."
"Of course, Sire," Gnarl said. There was an uncharacteristic growl in his voice, but he let the old minions sour attitude slide. Kelda looked a bit insulted to be ordered around as well, but she was the one to turn and shoo the other two mistresses upstairs again.
There were probably a few minions still around, as they were impossible to fully police, but it was noticeably quieter once a majority of them had gone.
"Three mistresses, son?"
"That isn't what you wanted to talk about, is it?" he protested. He wasn't about to have a conversation about his mistresses with his mother. That was just... no.
She sighed and shook her head, "No. It isn't. I feel I owe you some kind of explanation, but I don't know that it will make a difference."
"Doubtful," he admitted, "But I think I'd like to hear it."
Rose frowned and looked away a moment, gathering her thoughts.
"The worst, I think, was that I was never able to tell him I was with child," she began, "He was back and forth so frequently, I didn't always cross paths with him. Then he stopped coming back, but he'd been gone for long stretches before. It's not all sitting on a throne and kicking minions, as I'm sure you're well aware."
Her smirk was faint, and he didn't think she even noticed his slight nod. While his mother was something of a stranger, his father was nothing short of a legend. She had his rapt attention.
"Then Gnarl told me what had happened, and I... I didn't believe it, at first," she said, "I waited in that tower, heavy with child," Rose closed her eyes a moment and put a hand over her abdomen, "Until I realized that he was gone. Trapped, well and truly. I left, and while the minions protested vocally, Gnarl especially, they had no real means to keep me without their Master to guide them. I went as far as I could, to Nordberg, before I could travel no further."
Rose had started to walk as she spoke, coming to a halt as she left the throne room, the vast cavern the tower was nestled in yawning before her. There was no rail on the balcony, but if she was intimidated by the steep drop, her standing on the precipice suggested heights were one of the many things she did not fear.
"I gave birth to you in someone's stable in the middle of the night, driven inside by a blizzard," she said with a quiet laugh, "It was quite an adjustment, from living in opulence to that. And you were such a sweet little baby. You hardly even cried, you just stared at me with your big amber eyes. Just like your father's, the way they glowed. It was all necessity after that, of course. My magic was powerful enough to make a living off the villagers, though I made sure we lived a little ways outside of town. It turned out to be for the best, when the Empire started it's sweeping lawsbanning magic. Only made my business that much more profitable, since our cottage was right outside the Empire-installed magic detectors."
She paused again to turn and face him, putting a hesitant hand on his arm.
"I feared for your safety, but I couldn't travel with you," Rose said, "You were too obvious, and when you got older you started to... well. Manifest your birthright, I suppose. I couldn't bring down the Empire with you. And then you started asking questions. Why you were different, why the townsfolk didn't trust us... why wasn't your father there," her expression tightened some, "I knew Gnarl would find you eventually, and that you'd be fine for a little while on your own. It wasn't... it wasn't an entirely selfless decision, but it wasn't an easy one. You were all I had, the only piece of him..."
Rose looked away, fighting against some strong swell of emotion. It was an uncomfortable moment, realizing how deeply his mother still felt for his father. Thankfully, it passed.
"I did try and warn you against the perils of this life," she said quietly, "But it seems I played my part in ensuring you achieved your goals instead. You don't know what a relief it was, son, to see you grown and doing so well. He'd be proud of you."
The Overlord was quiet a long while, digesting the story. She was right, in as much as it didn't make him want to forgive her for abandoning him, but he at least understood it now. It had been a desperate and almost impulsive decision, one that they both had to live with. Resenting her for it was a pointless exercise, and that only left simple acceptance.
"Are you?" he wondered.
"Of course," she said, though her expression shifted from soft to dubious, "I'm not sure about this three mistresses business, though... isn't one of them that girl who'd follow us around in town and ask irritating questions?"
"Kelda," he said, "Yes. I brought her here when I took Nordberg."
"And how does she feel about being one of three?"
"She doesn't – well, it doesn't matter," he shook his head, irritated by the point she was trying to make, "I'm the Overlord. I can do as I please."
"Hmn," Rose looked unimpressed, "You were certainly raised by demons. By no fault of your own, of course. I'd like to meet these girls of yours."
"I don't think that's the best idea," he put up a hand in protest, "You told me your story, I have a better understanding of what happened, and now I need to get all this ichor off before the smell seeps into my skin."
"So you're kicking me out of your tower already?" she arched an eyebrow at him and he couldn't help but feel like a boy again in her presence. It was a frustrating feeling, to say the least.
"No," he grumbled, "But before anything else happens, I'd like to know what your plans are now that you've gotten your desired result for the... balance, or whatever all of that was that you were talking about."
He gestured vaguely. The Overlord didn't spare a lot of thought for that sort of thing – his purpose was to conquer, and that was as far as it went.
"You still don't trust me?"
"No," he said, "Not in particular."
She frowned at him, but it was a shrewd expression and not a forlorn one. Whatever softness she'd displayed during her story had all but dried up.
"Part of the reason I joined this order was as a means to find some way to open an Abyss Gate," she said. There was only a moment of hesitation, and his eyes widened by no small margin.
"To bring my father back?"
"To release him," she corrected rather fiercely, "He was trapped there against his will."
"He hasn't found a way out," he said.
"That's because he was too dependent on Gnarl figuring those sorts of things out for him," Rose said, "Where would you be without that manipulative little demon telling you when to jump?"
"Don't speak that way about Gnarl," he warned, "He never had a bad word to say about you. He might miss my father as much as you do."
Rose narrowed her eyes some at that, but if she cared to contest the point, she didn't vocalize it.
"If that's what you're really up to, I'm not going to stop you," he said, "I'm not sure it's the best idea, considering he might want his old job back, but I can't pretend like I haven't been curious about him. If you must talk to the gir- to my mistresses," he corrected himself, unsure of why, "Fine. But let me talk to them first."
"That's fair enough," she said, "I won't linger overlong, son. Have you told them your proper name at all? Kelda still calls you Witch Boy, which was what that entire town referred to you as. I'm a little surprised you haven't taken steps to correct her."
"I like that she calls me that," he said briskly, "Nobody knows my name except Gnarl, and he still calls me Overlord and Sire and all of that anyway. It's not all that important."
"Why do you like being called a derogatory nickname?" Rose frowned, quizzical.
"It's just... the way she says it," he waved his hand again, "Does it really matter?"
"No, I suppose not," Rose said, "Go on, then. Get cleaned up. I'll linger and... what is it that Gnarl always says?"
"I'll do that," she said, offering him a small smile. He wasn't sure why, but it made him feel a bit better, and the feeling followed him all the way up to the private quarters. It felt like his boots were extra heavy by the time he reached the top of the stairs, and as usual, it was Kelda that crowded in first, tut-tutting him and waving him to sit.
"You're in quite a state, Witch Boy," she scolded, already going after the straps that kept his bracers on, "Let's get you tidied up."
Dark Fay was lounging in the background, watching but not keen to dirty herself, and Juno was somewhere in between, compelled to do as much (and more) than Kelda, but completely put off by the awful smell, and likely how the ichor was sticking to the redhead as well. Kelda, of course, wasn't the least bit concerned with a little mess. He sat still and allowed her to divest him of the lighter bits of his armour, certain he'd earned a bit of spoiling after such a grueling and drawn out fight.
"So will your mum be staying long?" Kelda wondered. She'd never been subtle, and he wasn't surprised her attempt to be was something of a failure.
"Not long, no," he said, "She'd like to meet you three."
"Well, I've got a few choice words for her," the redhead muttered under her breath, tugging rather ferociously at a stubborn leather strap. He gently pushed her hand away and uncinched it for her before letting her continue.
"I don't think that's necessary," he said, "Things turned out the way they were meant to."
"Turning into a mystic are you, Witch Boy?" Kelda teased. She did look somewhat mollified, though, and he hoped that meant she wouldn't go off on some angry tirade against his mother. That likely wouldn't end well.
He didn't answer, but he did help with the heavier bits of his armour. As usual, she saved his helm for last, and since she was the only one game to be near him while he was drenched in ichor, she stole a kiss and winked at him once she lifted it off. The minions were already scrabbling to collect the armour and whisk it away for cleaning, so all that he had to do was wait for Kelda to disrobe and lead him into the pool in the center of the room. None of the girls were particularly shy, especially after the foursome, and he didn't even bother glancing at Juno or Dark Fay to see if they were scandalized. At the most, they might be annoyed, and perhaps even overcome their disdain for him being drenched with the goopy blood of some magical creature to join in.
"That stuff isn't going to stay in the pool, is it?" Juno had deigned to sit on the edge, a bit closer, but she was regarding the globules Kelda was washing off warily.
"The minions will give it a good clean," the Overlord said absently, more interested in how his first mistress seemed to be thoroughly enjoying wiping him down with a cloth.
"So you're the ruler of the Empire now, right?" she deigned to change the subject.
"In a manner of speaking," he said, "It's not the Empire anymore, but it's subjects are mine."
"Well I hope you didn't raze Empire City," Juno pouted, "There were a lot of shops there that I just adored."
"It might be a little rough around the edges," he said, closing his eyes, "But it's mostly there. I'm going to get back to it very soon, but after fighting that thing, I needed some time to recuperate. Maybe let things sink in a little."
"I wouldn't idle too long, my lord," Dark Fay finally spoke up, "Much as we revel in your company, it wouldn't do for the people of the fallen Empire to get the wrong idea about your position. You're the ruler, after all, not some force of destruction sweeping through and leaving them be."
"I've kept hold of Everlight and Nordberg," he reminded her, "I imagine they've got some idea of what they're in for. A day of letting them put out fires and cleaning up won't hurt anything."
"Right you are, Master!"
The Overlord jumped and Kelda squawked, hunkering in close to hide herself from the leering minion. He did have a knack for turning up at the right time, so much so that the Overlord was convinced it wasn't coincidental at all.
"Don't give her that title anymore, Gnarl. It's awkward."
"Of course, Sire," he bowed his head, "Rose is poking about the tower and she insists you gave her permission to."
"That's right," he said.
"And will she be staying?"
"Not long," he shook his head, "But she could do with someplace to sleep."
"I'll see to it," he said. Gnarl did not, however, budge from his spot.
"Witch Boy," Kelda said flatly.
"I'm going to throw a shoe at him if he doesn't stop staring at my arse."
"Gnarl," he said.
"Hmn? Oh, right. Seeing to things. Off I go!"
"You really to speak to him about just dropping in like that," Kelda said, glaring after the wizened old minion.
He smirked and ran his hands down along her curves, "Later. Right now, I need help forgetting all of Solarius's overwrought speeches."
Juno made an irritable noise and moved in the corner of his vision, already on her way out of the private quarters. He presumed Dark Fay would do the same, as she would probably find speaking to his mother more intriguing than trying to irritate Kelda in his presence.
Kelda didn't speak until both were gone, "I'll do my best, Witch Boy."
He thought of something his mother had pointed out, and he opened his mouth to correct her and give her his proper name. She wasn't having any talking, however, and the hungry kiss she covered his lips with drove all distracting thoughts from his mind.
AN: Thanks for the continued support of this goofy story, guys! I really do appreciate all the reviews, and I'll do my best to get this story adequately wrapped up for you.