The library was a place of books.
A lot of books.
Lots and lots of books.
I didn’t know how else to describe it— all I knew was that we once again left it with no new information on how to get me back to the Netherworld.
“I’m sorry, Salvos. I thought they would have had some information in there about it.”
“And they didn’t?”
“They did, but nothing beyond the bare basics.”
Apparently what the bare basics meant was just ‘Human summons Demon with a sacrifice, Human and Demon form contract, Demon completes contract then goes back’. It was not something I had known prior to this, but it was just so vague that I almost felt like I was no more knowledgeable now about it than before.
So we were now headed to the local temple. Daniel had explained what they were to me briefly while we were still in the library. He compared them to be Demon-like creatures— except they were not?
They came from what he called the Spirit Plane, which seemed something akin to the Netherworld for me. I asked the Human man to describe it, but he didn’t really grasp the idea either. He just knew that that was where Spirits came from— connecting to the Mortal Realm through temples.
The [Priests] of the temple maintained this connection although it wasn’t active at all times; they simply ensured that the connection was ready to be made for whenever a Spirit summoning ritual was needed for whatever reason. And apparently, some Spirits liked to stay in these temples, choosing not to return to the Spirit Plane.
And that was what worried Daniel.
“Do you think they’ll be able to see through this necklace you gave me?”
“No— but don’t you think it’s possible they can tell you’re a Demon just by looking at you?”
I stared at him, face blank.
“But why not? Isn’t there like, some sort of intuition that tells you whether someone is a Demon or not? Wouldn’t it be the same thing for Spirits?”
I scratched the side of my head, considering this.
“I don’t think so. If a [Fiend] wore this Cloak of Shadows and hid their Subspecies, nothing would tell me that they’re a Demon and not a Human.”
“Are you sure?”
Daniel looked at me uncertainly. I nodded.
“I’m sure. Now let’s just go to the temple. I want to go back already.”
Not much time had actually passed since we began trekking through Hazelbury in search for a way to get me back to the Netherworld. The sun was still high up in the sky. And compared to the amount of time I had spent running around fighting monsters, the morning we wasted in the Adventurers Guild and library was like a small rock in a pile of large rocks.
So clearly, my drive to return to the Netherworld wasn’t the most pressing compulsion; Haec could wait for me as long as I returned eventually. He seemed capable of taking care of himself. But there was something that drove me even harder; something that made me want to get this over with as soon as possible. And it was—
I glanced around at the [Traders] and [Vendors] lining the streets, their shouts filling my ears as they tried to sell their wares; at the [Butchers] and [Hunters], carrying the meat of dead animals with them to their shops as the scent of food wafted to my nose; and at the dozens and dozens of Humans bustling about, hustling to the things they had to do. I saw all this, and I knew...
...I was already starting to get bored of the city.
We stood before the structure that Daniel called the temple. The Human man hesitated for a moment, but I just walked forward and up its marble steps and into the building. He hurried behind me, stepping up beside me as we passed the tall columns that supported its large ceiling.
“Everything’s so white— it’s almost like the… place. That place I want to go to! You know?”
“Yes, Salvos. You’re about as subtle as a hammer.”
I nodded, not really understanding what that saying meant at first. Then it hit me, and I frowned. But I was too distracted by my surroundings to respond as I found my head turning at every corner, staring at the pristine, white walls of the temple. Is this made out of the same rocks in the Netherworld? I thought, starting to feel excited at the prospect of going back. If they got this from the Netherworld, then they must be able to help me go back!
I nearly jumped as a man greeted us.
“Welcome visitors. What business do you have at our humble Sanctuary of Fauna?”
I warily backed up, identifying him.
[Priest - Lvl. 31]
He was almost 10 levels higher than me! But… I narrowed my eyes. Why is his face so wrinkly?
Daniel quickly patted me in the shoulder, not-so-subtly pushing my hands down because he wasn’t a subtle person unlike me.
“Are you the head [Priest] of this temple? We’re just here to… learn more about your summoning rituals.”
“Of course, we’d be delighted to show anyone interested in the Spirits the magnificent way they’ve become connected to and a part of our world. And while I’m not the head [Priest], I do hope my service would be to your satisfaction.”
The [Priest] gestured at us to follow and we did. We walked down the halls of the temple, entering a spacious, open area with a pond on either side of it. There was flora growing out of the rocks lining the bank of the small body of water, with buzzing insects and tiny animals fluttering or scurrying around this miniature garden.
“Every temple belonging to our sect has an area reserved to let nature flow through our sacred lands. This practice was first done to preserve nature, but now it has become a place of rest. Of recovery.”
His gaze turned to a group of Human women to the left. There were seven of them in total, all of them ranging in appearance and height— one of them was a head shorter than me. They were huddled around the pond there, all dressed in simple white robes as they quietly spoke to each other. It wasn't the raucous conversation that defined the Adventurers Guild, nor was it just the demanding silence that filled the library. It almost felt… somber.
I glanced at Daniel as his brows arched darkly over his eyes.
“What’s wrong with them?”
“I… they’ve just had terrible things happen to them, alright? Sorry Salvos, but could you save your questions for later?”
I nodded, not getting why he was suddenly morose; we continued following the [Priest], entering another, smaller building across from the main temple complex. As we did, we passed by a group of [Priests] helping four men out into the garden. I would have thought nothing of this sight if two of them weren’t missing their legs and the other was missing an arm and an eye.
I wanted to question Daniel, but he had just told me not to. So I didn’t.
We walked into a large, spacious room with a blank white wall stretching around all four corners; in the center of the room, there was another body of water. But unlike the ponds outside, this one was not only large, it was also shallow.
“This, my dear visitors, is the summoning pool the Sanctuary of Fauna uses to aid us in summoning our Spirits.”
Daniel stared down at his reflection on the glistening surface.
“How does that work?”
“Water is one of the most fundamental things in nature that is often overlooked, you see. Without water, life can not sustain itself. Only the Spirits are capable of thriving without it. So we use water as a medium to form an understanding— to lure in the Spirits that are most concerned with life. So we know that those that come through our portal will be our allies.”
“You say there’s a portal— how does it work?”
The [Priest] raised an eyebrow.
“You seem awfully curious about the exact details of our summoning ritual, visitor. I will oblige your question, but before that, let me ask one of my own: why do you seek this wisdom? Is there something you wish to do with it?”
The Human man trailed off, glancing down at me. He looked at me expectedly, and I just shrugged. What do you want me to say? He sighed, turning back to the [Priest].
“We’re adventurers, and we’ve been meaning to take the contract to slay the Demon that has been ravaging the towns and villages in Falisfield. But as you can see— we’re not that high leveled just yet. So we were thinking that we could maybe work around fighting it. Maybe we could banish it straight back to the Netherworld…?”
He said the last part like a question, looking unsure of himself. And I was surprised too. He was… lying? That was odd. Could you really just say that you were doing something you didn’t plan on even doing?
“I’m afraid I do not believe that is even possible. You see, the very nature of Spirit summon differs from Demon summoning greatly. Not only are Demon contracts only ever short term, the one who summons the Demon does not decide whether the Demon returns to where it came from. Only the Demon decides for itself.”
The [Priest] responded to Daniel as he asked more questions. But I didn’t hear it as I considered the ramifications of what I just learned. Is… is it possible that Daniel is lying to me right now? Maybe he isn’t actually helping me return to the Netherworld! Maybe he’s tricking me to— to— to kill me for experience!
I remembered, for a moment, the horned Demon that attacked Haec and I. But I quickly fixated on something else. And what about Haec? He’s my companion, right? What if he’s lying to me too!
My thoughts were interrupted as there was a splash, followed by a ripple forming in the water surface of the pool. I glanced up as the conversation between Daniel and the [Priest] was abruptly cut off.
I stared at the four legged creature that was striding through the water slowly towards me. She looked like a wolf, but even larger. She had pink fur covered in streaks of red, and a white mane that wrapped around her neck. I cocked my head as she approached me.
[Beastkin - Lvl. 42]
Daniel warily backed up and called my name.
I just met the [Beastkin]’s gaze as she approached, prompting the Human man to add more caution in this voice.
“Salvos. That is an interesting name.”
The [Beastkin] spoke, emerging from the shallow water and stepping lithely onto solid ground. She walked around me, her elegant tail swaying from side to side as she inspected me closely, but she never once touched me. I nodded with alacrity.
“That’s my name! Do you like it?”
“I wouldn’t say I like it, but it is unique.”
Daniel had his hand on his hilt now, as he glanced between us in a panic. The [Priest] laughed.
“Don’t be afraid. This is Sakura— the guardian Spirit of our temple. She offered her services to guard it, a long time ago when it was first established. And even when the [Priest] who summoned her passed, she yet remains. That is the contract between us and Spirits.”
She walked up to him, lying on all fours in front of him. He laughed and slowly stroked her head, before bringing his hand under one of her ears. He scratched it as Sakura kicked one of her legs back and forth.
“...are you supposed to be doing that with her?”
Daniel asked apprehensively. The [Priest] stopped as the [Beastkin] got up.
“And why not? She enjoys it. If she doesn’t she would never let me near her.”
“But don’t you guys… worship the [Beastkin]? This seems like it’s overstepping a few boundaries…”
The [Priest] snorted.
“We do not worship the [Beastkin]. We believe nature is a sacred thing, just like how the Sanctum of Elements see the essence as a thing of itself. And the only Spirits that share this view with us are the [Beastkin]. So we share a kinship through this. That is all.”
Daniel stared at Sakura as she nuzzled me, bringing her head very close to me. I tried to back up, realizing this, but it was too late.
“The cloak fools eyes, but not the nose. I can still smell it. The scent of ash. The smell of your blood.”
The [Beastkin] spoke softly into my ear, adding nothing more. I blinked as she pulled away, turning back to Daniel who she called.
“You speak of wanting to slay the Demon that is ravaging these lands, adventurer. But while you’re here wasting time searching for foolish tricks to play, he is out there, getting stronger.”
Daniel looked taken aback, opening his mouth to say something before slamming it shut. Sakura turned around, meeting my gaze slowly.
“The Demon shall not stop. He shall destroy all he can destroy, until he destroys everything, or he is destroyed. For no Demons that truly walk this plane will ever survive. It is only he, and no more. Until he is no more.”
The [Priest] was nodding along, rubbing his chin as the [Beastkin] spoke. But when she finished, he opened his mouth to ask a question and she ran.
She nimbly exited the building, returning to wherever she came from. The [Priest] put a hand out, calling to her.
She didn’t respond. He sighed, rubbing at his temples.
“Sorry, she does that sometimes. She probably would’ve been able to answer any other questions you had better than I, but… she’s gone now. If you want, I can—”
We left the temple shortly after, learning everything they could tell us. Once again, the Humans there were of no help to me. And yet, I remembered the brief conversation we had with the [Beastkin]. The one thing that stuck out to me.
It is only he, and no more.
No Demons lived in this world. Perhaps they were summoned for a contract, but only temporarily. This was everything I had just learned today.
Then it finally clicked.
“That Demon attacking your Human places— that’s Lucerna!”
Daniel turned back to me looking perplexed. I quickly spoke, explaining what I figured out to him.
“Lucerna. He’s a [Djinn] that was summoned by some [Cultists] to… kill a king or something? I don’t exactly remember because I was tired and thinking of a way to escape. But he’s the one you guys keep talking about.”
The Human man frowned, furrowing his brows. He gave me an accusing glance, which I didn’t exactly like.
“How do you know this? And why didn’t you tell me this sooner? We could’ve told the Adventurers Guild— inform the guards to send word to other towns. Maybe even tell the Iron Champions Guild.”
“I was summoned with him. I didn’t want to go, but he dragged me with him. And I didn’t know! So what if I didn’t tell you?”
He folded his arms, snapping.
“How could you not know? And if you told me sooner, we’d have been able to raise a warning about it being a [Djinn] yesterday. Not only is that a Greater Demon which no one knew, that’s a rare one. Incredibly dangerous and dedicated to their contracts. You heard what Sakura said— it’s your fault those people are dying right now!”
I started getting annoyed. Why is he suddenly talking to me like that? I didn’t know, but I didn’t like it one bit, so I punched him below the waist.
“Oh— what the fuck!”
I stared down at him as he lay on the ground, clutching his pants. I spoke casually, ignoring his grunts of pain.
“I didn’t know there were no other Demons here. I thought there were others— you Humans kept talking about Demons, so I assumed this was like the Netherworld and there were plenty of Demons around.”
“But you knew that Demons have to be summoned here.”
This time, I was the one to cross my arms.
“And why would that mean there aren’t any Demons here?”
The Human man opened his mouth, but I cut him off, jabbing a finger in his face.
“Listen, I’m telling you now that Lucerna is the one doing all these bad things to you Humans. So you can either do something about it or shut up. Stop trying to get mad at me for no reason. I do not like it, and unlike you, I will do something about it.”
I balled my clawed hands into a fist once again, waving it in front of his face. Daniel grimaced, but slowly got up. He averted his gaze from me slowly, rubbing the back of his head.
“I… right. Sorry. I got a little heated there because...”
He trailed off. I shook my head, walking ahead of him.
“Anyway, you’re the one who keeps telling me you can bring me back to the Netherworld.”
The streets were empty here, so I spoke without hiding my voice.
“And yet, here we are still as lost as we were in the beginning. Tell me: were you lying to me when you said that?”
“No— I just didn’t think it would be this difficult, Salvos. I didn’t think that no one would be able to help us.”
I narrowed my eyes.
“So you aren’t a liar then?”
Daniel flinched at the accusation. But he met my eyes as he responded.
“I did not lie to you, Salvos.”
I peered at him carefully, trying to determine whether I believed him or not. Realizing that I had no way to discern a lie from a truth, I decided that he was telling the truth.
Plus, I was already over it; lying seemed bad at first, but as long as it didn’t hurt me, I saw no reason to worry over things like lies. The Human man was walking next to me once again, no longer as riled up as he was before.
“I will help you, but we just have to do this first.”
I cocked my head.
“We need to go to the Adventurers Guild. It’ll take a minute, but we need to tell them about what you know.”
I looked at him dubiously, but acquiesced.
“Then let’s hurry up and do it then. As long as we don’t have to go to five different places for the rest of the day to achieve nothing, I don’t really care.”
He nodded and we changed course. We started heading back to the Adventurers Guild, turning corners and going down streets until we were back where we started in the morning. However, instead of just entering it like we did then, we stopped right outside.
“What’s going on?”
There was a crowd gathered in front of the Adventurers Guild. A tall man turned, noticing us as we approached.
“Oh look who’s back— It’s Daniel and the bitch who hit me in the balls and ran.”
I frowned, readying myself to hit the man again. But Daniel quickly stopped me.
“What’s going on, Blake? Why’s everyone out here.”
“That’s what you get for fleeing like a coward this morning, Dan. You missed out on your chance to earn some recognition for yourself.”
Blake laughed, then stopped. He placed a hand on his chin as if in thought.
“Although… if you were there, you would’ve made a fool out of yourself. And that would’ve been hilarious to see.”
“What scene? What are you talking about?”
Daniel raised an eyebrow as Blake slowly responded.
“The stupid Demon that has been attacking small villages and travelers around Falisfield? Yeah, it’s dead. Or at least, it’s going to be dead. It attacked Maplewell— just a few miles east of here. And unfortunately for it, Hazelbury got the news as soon as it happened. A Gold Ranked team left a bit ago to exterminate it.”