Amara awoke to a burning light from the sun that snuck through her curtains and clawed at her eyes. The bed shifted as she tossed and turned times. No sleep was found last night; how could anyone sleep after what happened? Her body had settled into bed like she was a stone statue. Her mind, however, continued to swirl round and round.
She sighed. I just don’t know anymore. What’s right? What’s wrong? Lunella is a demon, this much I know. But everything I’ve read about demons agrees on one thing, that they are unequivocally evil. No room for error.
The pillows were soft and comfortable; she rolled over and buried her head beneath them. Her contradictory thoughts continued to prey on her. But if demons are evil and it was a manipulation—why did Lunella save us?! What is her goal? Amara screamed into her bed, “Why is this so difficult! Just who are you, Lunella?!”
Is it just a messy attempt to gain favor? Or perhaps it’s a long game slowly lowering our guard? After that, Amara tried to think of a different subject to drown out her thoughts in noise, but It didn’t take long before her brain punched her right in the gut. What if she was telling the truth? If she was honest with me this whole time. If she was . . .Then . . . A chill ran up her spine, and all of the messy implications of that thought poured out like a nest of snakes.
I thought it was better to be cautious . . . But If that was my version of caution and she was earnest . . . Then I’m a terrible . . . No! There’s no such thing as a good demon, it had to be manipulation. It. Had. To. She was just using me for supplies and information. Yeah, that’s it. She was just using me, that’s all. After she further rationalized her decision to herself, she only curled up even tighter into a ball.
She laid there, still unable to sleep.
Knock. Her silent non-sleep was interrupted by a knock on the door. There have been a lot of visitors lately. The bed didn’t move, and she just continued to lie there.
“Amara!” Eliza screamed from outside the inn, “I know you’re in there, get up already!”
Once she heard the shout, the bedridden Amara buried her head further under her pillows. The pillows were soft and comfortable; her problems could wait a little longer.
Eliza yelled with a harsh voice, “If you don’t open up, I’m going to break your door down!”
She’s not serious. Amara scoffed to herself. People don’t just break other peoples doors down—
Crack! The entire inn shook, which caused Amara to sit up. She actually did it?!
Amara heard Eliza’s footsteps in the hall, and her bedroom door was yanked open. A familiar red-haired ranger stood in the doorframe. Once she was in the room, she immediately lectured Amara, “I know that yesterday was a crazy day. But goddamn, you need to get out of bed! Seize the day we escaped the belly of the beast. It’s a time for celebration, not moping. Plus, you found out that your mom is alive.”
“I just don’t feel like it,” Amara mumbled
“Yeah yeah, I get it. You’re upset because the girl you betrayed came back to save you in your time of need. Now you’re either beating yourself up or justifying away your problems.”
Amara squeezed the hem of her blanket. “How did you guess?”
“Oh please, I was there yesterday; I saw the way you two interacted. I’m not an idiot! Here’s the truth as far as I can see: You messed up badly—now you’re running from the consequences. Even your uncle, who’s a freakin celestial knight, vouched for her.”
“But he was only a blacksmith for them. What does he know? All the books that I’ve read state that demons are without a doubt evil.”
“How can you be so arrogant! He has far more experience with demons than you do, innkeeper girl. The world is not that simple,” Eliza took a deep breath, then lowered her voice, “Stop this . . . own up to your damn mistake.”
“What did you even come here for?! Just to lecture me?”
“I came because we’re friends, aren’t we? Domak warned me that you’d end up like this and requested that I help you sort your feelings out.”
“Don’t . . . I don’t need you here just because my uncle paid you to come and take care of me.” Amara squinted at the foot of her bed. “I’m your client . . . we’re not friends.”
“You think I’m getting paid for this? It was a request as a person, not as an adventurer. But fine, if that’s how you want to play it . . . I’ll let you handle this yourself,” Eliza put on a sour expression, “You really have a nasty streak.”
Amara was left all alone, accompanied only by her own thoughts. However, she somehow managed to find the strength to get out of bed. After she made it down to the kitchen, she took a loaf of several-day-old bread and sat it in front of her. Her thoughts darted back to Lunella. What sort of life did she live to be so excited about bread? Her gaze pierced a hole in the old grain product.
Her teeth sunk into the stale bread. It didn’t taste rotten. Instead, it didn’t taste like anything at all.
After an obscenely long time, she finally managed to consume half the loaf before she threw it back on the table. Eating didn’t help her feel better. Her stomach only tied itself in knots, but at least she no longer had to remind herself to eat something. She had fulfilled her body’s demand for sustenance; she could return to her bed and continue her non-sleep.
Up the stairs and through the hallway, she came to a stop in front of Lunella’s abandoned room. The door seemed to draw her in, begging for her to go inside as though it contained some secret knowledge that would make her feel better. Maybe, I’ll just take a look. Perhaps there is some evidence of her wrongdoing . . . Then I can get back to my life.
She opened the door, careful not to disturb any spirits it contained. An empty room. A bed and a table; everything was just as anyone would have expected. However, something had caught her eye. A long sack rested against the bed; she approached it and noticed a small envelope attached. This is it! Evidence that she is up to no good. The bed sank down when Amara sat on it. Then she tore open the sack, pulling out a sword with a platinum shine. The sword was an exact copy of the one that Lunella had.
Amara’s eyes opened wide. What is this? She took the unsealed envelope in her hand and opened it. Inside was a piece of parchment with poorly written characters scrawled all over it. She squinted and turned it over several times before eventually reading it.
My dearest Amara,
By the time you’re reading this, I will be long gone on my way to the city of Aren. This sword is a present; I had Domak make a second one just for you. If you ever miss me, remember we share the same sword.
There’s something I need to confess. Domak advised me not to, but I just couldn’t do something like that to you. So I decided to write you this letter. I’m a demon, the very same creature that you want to go out and hunt.
I care about you. When I first flew into town wounded and lost, I didn’t have any hope to hold on to. Survival was the only thing I could think about until I met you. Learning your story and getting to know you, cooking, and spending those slow hours together, they’re my most cherished moments. You saved me from becoming bitter.
I truly wish these times could go on forever, but you and I are different. We belong in two different worlds. I have a wound to prove it. If I don’t get to Aren and cure my angelite poisoning, I’ll die. I doubt we’ll ever be able to meet again, especially if you become a knight. Still, I want you to have the best that life has to offer. Even if we’re destined to become enemies . . . With that sword, you should be able to learn to fight and join the knights.
I’m sure you’re mad that I didn’t tell you, but I need you to know that I’m still your friend, and I didn’t lie about anything other than my identity. So as long as you have room for me, I’ll always be your friend. Okay?
P.S. If it is at all possible, I hope we'll meet again.
After she read the letter, Amara reached up to her face and felt tears flowing onto her cheek. She hugged the letter softly, making sure not to crumple it, then laid back on Lunella’s bed. I really messed up, didn’t I . . . What have I done?
Time passed, and once her emotions stabilized, Amara got up from bed and proceeded down the hallway. She didn’t stop at her room; instead, she went further down until she reached the room at the end of the hall. Her mother’s room. She remembered something from long ago that she had to see once more. However, she didn’t have a key to open the door.
Using the sword she had gotten from Lunella like a lever, she pried at the door, eventually bending it. The door was sturdy, but she wouldn’t give up that easily. With a couple attempts at prying it open, the doorknob was loosening. With one final push, she broke open the door.
As she walked inside, memories flooded back to her. This room was a place where she had spent much of her childhood. Her mother’s room was well kept, and everything was neatly arranged into even stacks contrasting the chaotic organization of her own room. The target of her burglary was spotted: a torn, leather-bound book that had pages falling out.
She opened it up and read to herself out loud. “Demons are creatures of nightmares . . .”
The book was none other than the tale of the five heroes she had been read as a kid. This time, however, she would read it carefully, taking note of everything the book said, guessing the meaning hidden inside the old text.
“. . . oh ‘Heroes,’ I may fall today, but demonkind will live on, and one day, even you will have to pay the piper.”
Pay the piper? Why that phrase? It should be something like, ‘you will pay for crossing me.’ But to pay the piper?
She continued to read through the passage until another part lept out at her. “The Demon Lord’s body was battered completely, bones twisted in ways that they never should, his face was crushed and goopy, barely resembling anything human.”
Wait . . . Didn’t this final battle go a little too easily? Lunella was able to somehow still muster up the strength to fight even when her bone was sticking out of her leg. Why did the Demon Lord that brought the entire human race to its knees get killed like that?
She continued reading the story until she got to the end. “The Demon Lord lay bloody and beaten, tears flowed from its eyes—”
Hold on . . . I remember this. I noticed this when I was a kid too. What did I say back then? Amara racked her brain to recall what she had said to her mother when she was only a kid. ‘I think the demon lord cried. Maybe even demons have some things they care about . . .’
The moment she made the connection, an image of a different demon popped into her head. Not the demon lord, an innocent young girl, who showed up at the inn one day without a memory. When Amara asked the demon what her name was, she had started to cry. Amara hugged the demon, comforting her within her arms.
Amara’s head spun, she felt dizzy, and her stomach churned. Lunella’s words and her own bounce back and forth through her head. Her own words as a kid: ‘Maybe even demons have some things they care about. What Lunella wrote in the letter: ‘So as long as you have room for me, I’ll always be your friend. Okay?’
Finally, a whole experience grabbed hold of her. She was back in the orc camp where Lunella told her, “I came here to save you. I’m sure things between us will never be the same. Even then, I still can’t help but care for you. I’m an idiot, aren’t I?”
Her heart raced, and she immediately jumped up from the bed. The room was spinning around her; she retched forward, tightening her grip onto the table. The food that had been in her stomach spilled all over the wooden floorboards.