Rhea, cleric of the Church of Divine Grace, sighed wearily and lowered her staff, her battle-chant dying in her throat. It was over. It was finally over. Just to make sure, she peered through the sulphuric smoke that now filled the Demon Queen’s dark, shadowed throne room. The throne was empty. The Demon Queen was gone, banished by Rhea’s divine magic. All that was left was a set of scorched blast-marks, and the Demon Queen’s scattered crown and scepter, left behind when her physical body was exorcised. It took Rhea a few moments to believe what her eyes were seeing. It was really, truly, finally over.
With that momentous realization, Rhea’s exhausted legs finally gave way beneath her, and she collapsed to the cold, stone floor. She wanted to laugh, to smile, to celebrate, but she didn’t have it in her. The final battle against the Demon Queen had lasted for hours, and had taken its toll on her. Rhea knew how haggard she felt, and she could only imagine how haggard she must look. Her long cleric’s tabard, emblazoned with the icon of her church, still hung on her chest, but only just. It had been torn to ribbons, and the form-fitting chainmail she wore underneath had been breached in a dozen places. Rhea’s long, white, silky hair was a battered mess, and her ethereally pale skin was soiled with bruises and bloodstains. She looked like she’d been through a war - which she had.
It had been years since the hordes of the Demon Queen had first sallied forth from her cavernous citadel, and in that time, Rhea couldn’t count how many cities had been razed and how many lives had been lost. The human world had never known such devastation. Nothing they’d tried, no army or diplomat, had been able to put a stop to it. In the end, only one solution had presented itself: the chosen Hero and her brave companions would make the dangerous journey to the Demon Queen’s castle, and try to defeat the enemy of humanity herself. Rhea had been one of those brave companions.
And now, she was the only one left. Over many long journeys, Rhea and her friends had undergone many trials, and gained and lost many allies. In the end, the road had led to the Demon Queen, as they’d always known it would. Despite all their best preparations, it had been a slaughter. The Demon Queen had been more powerful than they could have imagined. Over hours of fighting, Rhea had watched friend after friend cut down, and in the maelstrom of combat she’d completely lost track of the Hero. For all she knew, she was only the one left, but her holy magic had been enough to finish things. Their mission was complete. Rhea had completed her vows. She’d accomplished her purpose. She knew she should be happy. But she wasn’t. A simple question dominated her mind.
First, she would search for the Hero. Then there was the journey back, of course. Rhea had to tell people about what had happened. But what then? That was too big of a question for Rhea to even begin thinking about, at a moment when even taking the first steps back out of the castle and towards home seemed to demand an impossible amount of energy. She was injured, and while Rhea was more than capable of healing herself, first she needed to rest for a while and recover her magic. But where was there to rest? In the Demon Queen’s throne room, there was no bed. There wasn’t even a place to sit down.
Except one place, of course.
Rhea looked at it for a few moments, considering. Even though the Demon Queen had been vanquished - by her own hand, no less - the throne still felt foreboding. It was a huge, cruel edifice of black marble, raised high out of the ground with little concern for virtues such as modesty or austerity. After another moment, something about that made Rhea angry. She shouldn’t be afraid of this thing! Not anymore. Even less should she be reverent or respectful. She needed somewhere to sit down, and so she was going to sit on the Demon Queen’s throne. It was as simple as that.
First, she had to make it to her feet. That took more effort than Rhea cared to admit, but eventually, she managed it. Leaning heavily on her staff, she managed to cross the room without stumbling until she reached the base of the raised dais on which the throne sat. For a moment she was struck with a memory of the Demon Queen, sat languidly across her throne, regarding them with an arrogant, haughty smirk. Rhea banished it silently, and clambered onto the throne, wincing in pain before finally sighing in relief as she settled herself in it.
It might have just been the chance to take the weight off her feet, but Rhea immediately found the Demon Queen’s throne far more comfortable than she had expected. It was stone, yes, but not cold as she’d feared, and the hard edges were far from jarring. It was almost a pleasure, in fact, to sit on it. Idly, as her war-weary muscles finally started to relax, she started to imagine how the Demon Queen must have felt sitting there, surveying her lands, legions of demons at her beck and call, her enchanted crown sitting upon her-
It was only then, that Rhea realized the Demon Queen’s crown was right there next to her, perched on one of the throne’s armrests. The Demon Queen had set it down there before the battle. As tempting thoughts started to appear in Rhea’s mind, a crooked smile spread across her face. What she was considering seemed almost sacrilegious, somehow. But wasn’t that the very reason she should do it? It felt like the best possible way to prove that the Demon Queen was gone, and all her dark power along with her. And besides, Rhea mused, it might look good on her.
She carefully lifted the crown in her hands, weighing it. It was heavy - and no surprise, since it seemed to be made of some kind of black, demon-forged iron. It was large, too, and just as cruel as the throne: a black ring, with a dozen elegantly curved spikes mounted to it, each of them cresting upwards at least six inches. It looked every bit like the kind of crown the Demon Queen would wear, although Rhea did note that it was surprisingly plain in some respects. It bore only a single jewel, a massive, purple diamond, polished smooth and set into the front of the crown.
Rhea took a moment to admire it, and then, after removing her tall cleric’s hat and admitting herself another small smile, set it upon her own forehead.
The instant the crown settled on the cleric’s head, a sudden wave of light-headed dizziness overtook her. It was intense enough to make her almost fall off the throne, but she was able to grip it tight enough to keep her balance. Rhea grimaced. Maybe she was weaker than she had realized; too weak for such a heavy crown. Except, now that she was wearing it, and she had waited a moment for the dizziness, the crown didn’t feel heavy at all. It was almost weightless, somehow, and shockingly comfortable for such a sharp, angular piece of metal.
Maybe it wasn’t as solid as it looked, Rhea reasoned, failing to notice that the purple diamond embedded in the crown had already started to glow and pulsate with a venomous light.
Rhea giggled softly as she wondered what she must look like now, with a towering crown on her head. Did she look like the Demon Queen? Surely not. Not someone like her. There was no way a crown would suit a humble cleric. Rhea was beginning to get a sense of how the Demon Queen must have felt, though. From her seat on the raised throne, even the palatial throne room seemed small and insignificant. The crown alone added almost a foot to her height, and with a towering stature like that, Rhea was sure it would be easy to loom over and dominate anyone. For the Demon Queen, with all her might and magic, it must have been effortless.
Rhea closed her eyes as a vivid image appeared in her mind, unbidden, leaving her blind to the eerie purple light shining from the crown. It was an image of the Demon Queen’s throne room, viewed from the throne, filled from wall to wall with the commanders of the Demon Queen’s infernal army. As one, they knelt, their prostrations sending one simple message: we are yours to command. A shiver ran down Rhea’s spine. It was like it was real, like she could really see it. Like they were kneeling for her. Such power! Rhea didn’t know how to wrap her mind around it. An army powerful enough to topple the world. What were you supposed to do with power like that? Rhea had no idea, but the rush of blood to her head made her feel like she could do anything with it.
Maybe the only problem with the Demon Queen, Rhea mused, was that she had been evil rather than good. If such power had been harnessed in the pursuit of noble, virtuous goals, the Demon Queen could have changed the world for the better… or perhaps not. Rhea thought about the Hero’s masters, the ones who’d sent them all to stop the Demon Queen in the first place. The various petty princelings and spoiled princesses of the scattered, bickering human kingdoms. They would never tolerate such power, provided it existed out of their hands. They were always out for profit, constantly looking for ways to one-up each other. With a heavy heart, Rhea sighed and acknowledged that no matter what the Demon Queen had done, the human kingdoms probably would have seen her as an enemy.
Something about that made Rhea angry. Not for the first time, she felt frustration that the rulers of humanity were so petty and short-sighted. But this was the first time her rage had felt so intense. She seethed with it. Her friends had lost their lives. Perhaps even the Hero too, the greatest and noblest of them all. Why did the rich and powerful get to cower in their castles and behind their walls, while brave men and women risked everything to protect them? It was disgusting. Surely, after the defeat of the Demon Queen, things couldn’t continue like this. Surely things had to change.
And so maybe Rhea should be the one to change them.
Rhea frowned. That kind of thinking was very unlike her. She? Change the world? Hardly. She was a cleric, known for calmness, prudent council, and serenity. But maybe that was the problem. Maybe this was the exact right time to start making some noise. But how? What could she do? Being the Hero’s companion gave her a little status and repute, but she was under no illusions about the fact that she was in no position to make demands of kings and noblemen. That only left one option: force. Rhea knew it was something she’d never normally consider, but this wasn’t a normal moment or a normal situation. After everything that had happened, didn’t she have the right to get angry? The cleric never even considered that the Demon Queen’s crown might be having something to do with it.
What would ‘force’ mean? That was Rhea’s next question for herself. Her magic was nothing to sniff at, but she was just one person. She’d need more than that to change the world. She’d need an army. Fortunately, she was in the right place for one. There were undoubtedly legions of demons still prowling the halls of the Demon Queen’s castle, and Rhea had seen first-hand that the Demon Queen had possessed all kinds of magical artifacts allowing her to bind demons to her will. Perhaps Rhea could use those. But… wouldn’t that be wrong? The question troubled Rhea for a moment, before she reassured herself that it wasn’t. She wasn’t evil. She was a good person. A virtuous. She’d taken vows. If she had that kind of power, she’d use it to do the right thing. She wouldn’t be like the Demon Queen at all.
But maybe she’d feel like the Demon Queen, a little. That didn’t seem like such a bad thing. The Demon Queen had always radiated confidence, fearlessness and poise, the likes of which Rhea could only envy. If she could get a little of that feeling, that wouldn’t be so bad, would it? Rhea was finding it more and more desirable, and easier and easier to picture. She would sit there, on the throne, with her army awaiting her command. Before her, the assembled rulers of humanity would be left with no choice but to kneel and heed her words as she instructed them, telling them how the world should be. And if they didn’t listen? She would have her scepter in hand, ready to enchant them with a-
Rhea was holding it.
She opened her eyes, and there it was, in her hands. A short staff, made of the same dark metal as the crown, the end worked into the shape of an occult, demonic symbol. The whole thing emanated power. That was obvious to anyone with a sense for magic, even at a distance, but now that she was holding it in her hands, the feeling was visceral. It coursed through Rhea, almost threatening to overwhelm her. But that wasn’t what concerned the enthroned cleric. What concerned her was that she didn’t remember picking it up. Was something wrong? Was something happening to her? No, Rhea soon decided. Of course not. That was impossible. The Demon Queen was gone, and if any kind of magic or spell was being worked upon her, she would surely have noticed it by now.
The purple diamond in the crown kept glowing, but now Rhea’s eyes were glowing too, with the same ethereal, sinister light.
Her worries about what was going on dismissed, Rhea found herself tempted to laugh and toss the crown and scepter aside like they were trash. Her little dream of changing the world was fun to indulge in, but ultimately, it was nothing more than a silly, laughable fantasy. Wasn’t it? The instant that temptation hit her, she was battered by another instinct, foreign but fierce, urging her to tighten her possessive grip on the Demon Queen’s scepter. Who, if not her, would change the world? Who, if not her, would rule? It sounded arrogant, but wasn’t every act of heroism also an act of arrogance, in a certain way? Everyone who changed the world doubted themselves, surely, but a lot of them still ended up changing the world for the better. What made Rhea any worse than them, or any less suited to rule than any of the petty little kings or queens that currently sat upon the world’s other thrones?
Maybe she was better. Maybe she knew better.
Everyone had always told Rhea she was wise. Everyone had always told Rhea was kind, and good, and intelligent. Maybe it was time to start listening to them. Maybe it was time to stop effacing herself all the time. It was true that her cleric’s vows forbade her from seeking power, but they also swore her to help the needy, and maybe power was the best way to help those in need. Maybe it was the only way.
Rhea reached up to scratch an itch at her temples, not noticing that horns were beginning to emerge from her forehead, nor that her fingernails were lengthening and hardening into claws.
The more she thought about it, the more her conviction grew, until it started to become unshakable. It felt like the only way anything was going to be better. People couldn’t be trusted, without a firm hand guiding them. Rhea could be that firm hand. She knew it. The prospect of more conflict and more violence filled her with sorrow, but she knew she needed to be stronger than that. It was all for the greater good. For her greater good. In truth, she had no choice. It was the only way. The only way to set the world right, and the only way to avenge her fallen comrades. And if it was the only way, the only choice, then what was the harm in taking pleasure in it?
Rhea’s mouth twisted into an arrogant smile as she started - carefully at first, but then less so - to let the Demon Queen’s scepter’s magic flow into her. She knew it would change her, but she needed it’s strength for what was to come. Besides, it felt incredible. Rhea felt like she could do anything. She felt like she could break any limit, and like the rules no longer needed to apply to her. A torrent of new spells and abilities filled her mind, sending her new, glowing, demonic eyes wide as she was dazzled by all the possibilities. If she could do anything, then why not indulge herself, just a little? More and more, Rhea’s thoughts started to turn towards revenge. Revenge, against those who had spent the lives of heroes - of the Hero - so cheaply. They needed to pay. They all needed to pay. And she would make them. Plans sprang into her mind, fully formed, as if from the Demon Queen’s very lips. First, it would be-
The Hero’s voice, though thin and ragged with exhaustion, was, as it had ever been, full of clarity and conviction. Rhea smiled warmly, her heart lifted. The Hero had survived! Rhea could not have wished for a greater miracle than that. She greeted the Hero with an eager grin as her friend staggered into the Demon Queen’s throne room, bloodied and exhausted but very much alive.
The sight of the Hero stirred something deep within Rhea - feelings long held close to heart, but kept at bay by her vows and her duty. The Hero was majestic. There could never have been any greater embodiment of the word ‘hero’. Despite the long battles she had fought, the Hero’s brilliant eyes still shone with hope and strength. Without her golden helm, her flame-red hair blew out behind her in long waves, as if lifted by an invisible wind. The Hero’s armor was battered and dented in a hundred places, but it still remained as golden and noble as the garments of a champion, and while the Hero was dragging her holy greatsword behind her on the ground out of exhaustion, Rhea knew that if it was called for, the Hero would find the strength to lift it in her hands again and again, always ready to fight the next battle. In every way, the woman standing before Rhea was a true hero.
“Hero!” Rhea called out jubilantly, barely noticing the way her voice sounded now that her tongue was long, forked and serpentine. “You’re alive!”
“Yes, I…” The Hero looked around. “What of the Demon Queen? Where is she?”
“She’s gone,” Rhea told her. “I… I ended her.”
“You did?” The Hero’s smile was as radiant as the sun as she slowly approached the throne. “Rhea, that’s wonderful! That means… wait.” The Hero stopped, looking at Rhea anxious. “Rhea? What’s going on?”
“What do you mean, Hero?” Rhea sighed. She had been afraid of this.
“Why are you sitting on the throne?” the Hero asked, sounding heartbroken as the reality of the situation dawned on her. “Why are you wearing the Demon Queen’s crown? Why… god, Rhea, what’s happened to you?” The closer the Hero came, the more she could see of the changes that the Demon Queen’s lingering magic had wrought on the former Cleric. “Your eyes, your… are those horns? Rhea, no… you’ve turned… you’re turning into a demon!”
“I’m…” Rhea froze. What was she supposed to say to that? Was it supposed to give her pause? Maybe she was turning into a demon. But if so, that was just the cost of doing what had to be done. Rhea was willing to shoulder that burden, for everyone’s sakes. For the Hero’s sake.
Why couldn’t the Hero see it that way? In her heart of hearts, Rhea knew she never would. She could see the way the Hero was looking at her now, gripping her sword just a little tighter. At first, it struck her as frustrating, but then Rhea found herself smiling crookedly. Of course the Hero would never see it her way. She was too good for that. Too pure. Rhea couldn’t begrudge her that. It was what made her a Hero.
“I’m doing what needs to be done,” Rhea answered finally, her voice even. She’d been afraid that the look in the Hero’s eyes would make her falter, but it didn’t. She had already fallen too far for that.
“And what is that?” the Hero demanded warily.
“Saving the world.” Rhea smiled at the stunned look on the Hero’s face. It was so precious. “Saving the world from itself. This world is so unfair, Hero. The strong control the weak, promising protection, but when it’s needed the most, sending people like us into danger to do their dirty work for them. We deserve better. You deserve better. And we can do better. Think of it, Hero. You and I, together. We could tear down their thrones and build a better world. A more just world. Under our guiding hands.”
“Rhea, no…” The Hero paled. “That’s tyranny! You’re talking like her. Like the Demon Queen. Can’t you see what she’s done to you? What that crown is doing to you?”
Rhea ignored her. “Will you join me?”
“Rhea, please,” the Hero pleaded. “Think about your vows! Your faith! You know this is wrong. Doesn’t that mean anything to you anymore?”
“No,” Rhea answered flatly. “Now. Will you join me?”
With great reluctance but no hesitance, the Hero shook her head. “You know I can’t do that.”
Rhea smiled. “I know,” she said, and raised the Demon Queen’s scepter.
The Hero’s eyes went wide with shock as the scepter surged with magic. Clearly, she hadn’t been expecting Rhea to go that far, that fast. Rhea, on the other hand, didn’t hesitate. She reached for the magic bound in the scepter and unleashed it, along with her own, as a powerful spell of domination. The bolt of energy she unleashed struck the Hero like lightning, the violet blast wave cracking the marble floor around her as it hit home. Unable to move out of the way in time, the Hero could do little more than brace herself, trusting in her enchanted armor and innate resistance to keep her safe.
That was a mistake.
Sat on the throne, Rhea peered eagerly through the dissipating smoke, waiting to see what had become of the Hero. In the end, what she saw was both a thrill and a relief. The Hero was standing still, exactly where she had been. Her sword was still in her hands, but held limply at her side. She was swaying from side to side softly as if still reeling from the magical blast, her movements free of intent or thought. And her brilliant, bright eyes were wide, dull and empty. Rhea could hardly believe it. In a single instant, she had achieved something that the Demon Queen had failed at for so long.
She had brainwashed the Hero.
She wasn’t quite sure how. The Demon Queen’s scepter was powerful, yes, but there was more to brainwashing than power, especially when it came to someone like the Hero. Perhaps it was the traces of her own holy magic Rhea had mixed in. Perhaps the fact she knew how the Hero thought made it easier to get inside her head with magic. Or perhaps the Hero simply hadn’t believed that Rhea would really do something like that to her. Either way - she’d won. The Hero was hers now.
The Hero was hers.
For a moment, Rhea was stunned by the enormity of that, but her desires soon spurred her into action. She wanted so much - to have her revenge, to change the world - but for now, she wanted something much smaller. Still wearing the crown and holding the scepter, Rhea stood from the throne and started making her way down towards the Hero. As she moved, she became more and more conscious of how much her body had changed. She was taller, now, and the horns on her head shifted her balance. Her body was growing in other ways too, becoming curvier and beginning to rip apart the already-torn chainmail that clung tight to her form. Normally, she wouldn’t have been able to stand looking so obscene, but now, it felt right. It felt powerful.
In just a few strides, she reached the Hero. The Hero didn’t move. She couldn’t. She couldn’t do anything, not even think. Rhea felt torn, looking at her former friend. She regretted it had come to this. The Hero deserved better than to be mind controlled. But on the other hand, she looked so peaceful now. Her eyes were serene, and her jaw, always tight with thoughts of her duty was now slack and easy. She was even drooling a little. It was cute. The Hero did deserve this kind of rest, if nothing else. And now, Rhea could give it to her.
“Oh, Hero.” Rhea’s voice was soft and gentle, but laden with a sinister, serpentine hiss. “How do you feel now?”
“I… I…” The Hero’s voice was stilted and shuddering, and as she spoke, her brow furrowed with exertion. Rhea frowned.
“Oh no,” she cooed. “You poor thing. No, no no. None of that, now. Just… rest.”
For Rhea, it was the easiest thing she could imagine to raise the scepter once more, and call upon just a little of its power to banish what resistance was left in the Hero’s mind. She smiled gratefully when the Hero’s face slackened once more, slipping into an even deeper mask of mindless serenity.
“Good, good,” Rhea murmured, wiping the drool from the Hero’s face and taking a moment to run her clawed fingertips along the Hero’s handsome, beautiful cheek. “Be at peace, Hero. There’s no fight left to fight. Not for you. Not here. How do you feel?”
“I… f-feel…” the Hero’s voice, usually stern with conviction or bright with hope, was as empty and light as a cloud. “S-soft… w-weak… I… I…”
“That’s good,” Rhea soothed, leaning in. The Hero’s eyes were distant and foggy, but no less wondrous to stare into. “You can be weak here, Hero. You can be soft, with me.”
Rhea’s heart went out to the Hero. They were trying so hard, as always. Rhea just needed to help them stop.
“With me.” She reached out and took the Hero’s hand, squeezing it gently to reassure her and allowing her claws to trace little lines across the Hero’s flawless skin. Their faces were so close together.
For a moment, Rhea felt like she could do anything, and that scared her. What if she did something wrong? What if she did something unforgivable? But that didn’t matter, said a voice in the back of her head. She was in control now. She could change what was unforgivable and what wasn’t. Besides, she was going to change the whole world - for the better, of course. It would all be much better once it was under her control. So, what was a little indulgence? Didn’t she have the right to enjoy herself like that? Just like that, all her doubts dissolved into nothing.
“Hero,” Rhea said boldly. “Kiss me.”
Wordlessly, the Hero obeyed. Despite her newfound power, Rhea blushed and squirmed as the Hero stepped in close to press their lips together. For an instant, her heart froze. She was being kissed. She was being kissed by the Hero. The Hero was kissing her. On cold nights on the road, they’d sometimes snuggled together for warmth, but now that they were actually kissing, the Hero’s scent was even more intoxicating. The kiss was a little passionless, admittedly, but that was fine. Rhea could teach her passion.
Eventually, they broke off the kiss. The Hero returned to stillness, awaiting another command. Rhea wasn’t sure what to say, until she was seized by a sudden, violently possessive urge. The Hero was hers. No-one else’s. Hers. And she would make sure she knew it.
“Kneel,” Rhea commanded. Her voice still tender, but more and more demonic with each passing word.
Slowly and silently, the Hero fell to her knees, her heavy armor clanking against itself as the plates shifted to accommodate the movement.
“You’re mine now,” Rhea said. “Understand?”
The Hero was looking up at her, perfect comprehension and obedience in her eyes. “Yes, Rhea,” the Hero said. “I’m yours.”
“Good girl,” Rhea replies approvingly. She wasn’t sure what possessed her to talk about the Hero like that, like she was just a pet, but it felt right.
Rhea reached down to tousle the Hero’s vibrant hair, petting her with endless affection as she contemplated everything that was to come. Then, struck by an idle whim, she reached down and slipped a pair of her fingers into the Hero’s waiting, accepting mouth. As If driven by some mindless instinct, the Hero started sucking on them greedily. The thrill that ran down Rhea’s spine was indescribable.
“Oh, Hero,” Rhea sighed happily. “Rise, my beloved, and follow me to our new bedchamber. We have so much to do together. And with your strength at my side, I will change the world.”
She looked down at her own hand, contemplating the changes that had been wrought on her. She wasn’t afraid of them. She needed this transformation. She wasn’t a cleric anymore.
She was a Demon Queen.