21.2. Ashes. Lots of Ashes.
“Is this your staff?”
“Yes— thank you. At least something survived the battle.”
We were taking shelter in one of the less damaged houses in the village. It was late, and Daniel and the woman decided we should only head back to Hazelbury in the morning. They were now huddled around a fire I helped create as only the crackling flames filled the deathly silence that hung over them after her comment.
Daniel said nothing, choosing only to poke the fire with a piece of wood. I watched as it began to burn up before he threw it in where the rest of the wood lay.
“You know, I can always just create more fire.”
I pointed out, but he did not respond. I watched him quietly sit there while the woman drew her knees in with a sigh.
“...we weren’t even supposed to be here.”
She whispered, her voice cracking with the flames.
“Our company sent us here— to Falisdale— because we heard the Iron Champions had found a Dungeon. They were trying to keep it to themselves as they always do, and we heard rumors that the monsters in there were at least Level 50. We just had to investigate whether this was true, nothing else.
“It was a simple mission. A safe mission. It was not even an adventuring job. But they assigned it to me because I had just become a Gold Rank, and they wanted me to just get used to being one. Most Silvers who are promoted to Gold act recklessly because they usually just completed a Class advancement. They think they can take on any threat, and they pay for it. I wasn’t going to be one of them— or at least, that was what I thought.
“I’m a [Summoner]. I had gone through dozens of contracts in the past with many different Spirits. But I finally got one that stuck— one that helped me reach Level 40. And then I met my team. They were always there for me. I had only known them for a few months, but I thought this was the start of something new. I thought we could overcome anything together. So when I heard about this Demon attacking small villages— I thought… I insisted…”
Daniel reached out and patted her on the shoulder as she sniffed.
“It’s not your fault.”
She looked up at him, learning forward, her face now illuminated by the firelight. I blinked as I saw drops of water streaming down from her eyes to the side of her cheeks. She was… crying? I didn’t understand it at all.
“Why are you crying?”
Her gaze snapped in my direction.
“Why am I crying? My friends are dead. My Spirits are all dead. And that Demon is still on the loose. Why would I not be crying?!”
Daniel held out a hand as she glared at me.
“Calm down. Salvos didn’t mean anything by asking you that. She’s just... eccentric.”
“Hey! I am not eccentric.”
My comment seemed to not have been heard by him as he continued talking to the woman.
She glanced up at him, finally turning away from me. He nodded.
“Edithe then. I know you’re feeling a lot of things right now, but please don’t direct your anger towards her. Please.”
She leaned back, looking up past the half collapsed ceiling and at the night’s sky.
“But I’m not angry.”
Daniel just looked at her, waiting for her to continue.
“I’m not just angry. I’m furious. I feel every single part of my soul raging against that [Djinn] that killed my friends. He was only Level 50, and yet he killed us all.”
Level 50? I thought, cocking my head. That’s not right.
“If I were just angry, I would get over it in a few hours or a day. No— I’m not angry. I want revenge. I will not stop until that fucking is Demon bent over by my feet, dying, and begging for mercy. And then I’ll watch as it chokes and drowns in its own blood while it fucking bleeds to death.”
There was a brief lull in the conversation, so I saw my chance to speak.
“But Lucerna’s only Level—”
Daniel spoke over me.
“You want revenge, I know. And you can get it in the future. For now, we should just sleep. It’s getting late, and I want us to leave as soon as possible tomorrow.”
I glanced at Daniel, taken aback. Why did he interrupt me? In fact, I didn’t think he acknowledged a single thing I had said since we came to this shelter. I was about to point that out, but then I realized something.
They were making it a point to ignore me! I wasn’t entirely sure why; it almost seemed like they were… annoyed at me? I had gotten annoyed before— I was annoyed at Daniel for not bringing me back to the Netherworld as he said he would— but I never considered that he could be annoyed at me.
But why? What did I do? I tried to reflect on my actions— narrow down which part of our interaction resulted in both the Humans getting annoyed with me. At first, I thought it was because I was asking too many questions. Daniel didn’t like that from what I remembered. He kept telling me to stop that.
Then I thought about it a moment longer, and I realized they weren’t exactly upset with me in the first place. They had already been upset before that, but I didn’t care for it. I didn’t… acknowledge the way they were feeling. But what was I even supposed to do in that situation?
I paused, and I remembered someone else. My companion, Haec, had recounted his time with the others once. He was… sad about the deaths of his original Demon companions. And I didn’t like seeing him sad, so I tried to reassure him.
Was that what I was supposed to be doing here? I glanced up at Daniel, and realized that that was what he had been trying to do all along. What I had been saying didn’t help, so he had been getting annoyed with me because of that. And Edithe might have been getting annoyed with me because I was interrupting Daniel’s attempts to reassure her. That’s it!
I clicked my claws together as the two Humans finished their conversation.
“...but with all the bodies, monsters will surely come wandering to the village. I’m not sure if I can sleep easy knowing that— if I could even sleep at all.”
“You’re right, one of us needs to keep watch.”
“I can do it!”
I jumped between Daniel and Edithe, staring at the woman then the man.
“I can keep watch.”
The Human woman folded her arms, meeting my gaze with her hazel-green eyes.
“All night? Are you being serious right now? Why should I trust you won’t fall asleep while keeping watch?”
I felt myself grinning as Daniel opened his mouth. He reached for me.
I ignored him and threw my hood back. I jerked a thumb at myself.
“I won’t fall asleep because I don't need sleep. I’m not Human, after all. See?”
Edithe screamed and swung her staff at me.
I dodged, of course.