There was a rumble in my stomach as I sat, waiting for Daniel to return. The Human man had hurriedly gone downstairs to gather a platter of food— an array he was going to spread out for me to try.
“Hurry up already or I’ll transform back!”
I groaned, and my stomach groaned with me. He was taking too long. I was getting bored. And even though it had only been about ten hours since I activated [Partial Mortality], I felt like I could already revert forms.
Was that what leveling the Skill did? It would be useful to be able to switch forms far quicker than it currently was. It might have also helped me stave off the need to sleep, and maybe even the need to eat. Initially, at least.
I didn’t think that a Skill that was called [Partial Mortality] would ever rid off something mortals apparently needed on a daily basis.
It wasn’t that much of a problem, honestly. If I didn’t want to eat or sleep, I’d just refuse to use the Skill ever again. It wasn’t like I never infiltrated a Human settlement as an [Imp]. So, I waited for Daniel to return. I made a bet with him— I suggested that if he beat me in a race, I’d try one of his Human foods just once— and I lost the bet somehow.
He must’ve cheated! He had my [Haste] boosting his speed!
But a bet was a bet. And he was finally going to give me a taste of the ‘greatest Human cuisine I’d ever find’.
After what felt like forever, Daniel finally returned hauling in a cart full of foodstuff. Fancy plates covered in mirror-like cloches were placed on the table before me. He even had a tablecloth thrown over it, with a candle in the middle just to set the mood.
He set out a fine selection of drinks— different kinds of alcohol such as ale, wine, whiskey— and I knocked them away, spilling it all over the tablecloth.
“What are you doing, Salvos?!”
“Gross, I said I’d try your Human food. Not your Human drinks!”
I crossed my arms. He scowled.
“You didn't need to do that. You got wine all over the tablecloth!”
“We don’t need a tablecloth! Just hurry up and give me your dumb food!”
Sighing, Daniel set the plates down on the sticky table. He had four different plates, each of them covered by the gleaming cloche, just waiting to be opened.
“First on the menu: a delectable, medium rare steak.”
I blinked as he revealed the first plate presented to me. It was a block of meat, sizzling hot, with smoke still rising from its brown exterior. He held up a knife and fork, slicing into the steak, cutting it open to reveal a red interior, some blood dripping down onto the plate. He stabbed the fork into the slice of steak and held it up.
“So, Salvos, what do you think?”
I had to admit, it smelled kind of nice. It was like the perfume Humans used to make themselves smell better, except it was put on the food.
“Give me that.”
Snatching the fork away from Daniel, I bit into the slice of steak. I didn’t want to waste time debating with myself. The moment was now, so I was acting now. I chewed on the piece of steak, my eyes growing wide.
Daniel leaned forward in anticipation.
“What do you think—”
And I spat it back out at his face.
“Ew, it tastes nothing like it smells! It’s disgusting!”
He wiped his face, snapped his eyes shut, and took a deep breath.
“Alright… that was…”
Shaking his head, he unveiled the second plate.
“That didn’t go so well. But maybe you’re not much of a meat eater. So, how about something simpler? This is a Cyclops delicacy, a bowl of rice with some fish on the side. What do you—”
Once again, I spat it out at Daniel’s face. His left and right cheeks were smeared in saliva and half-chewed food. He grabbed a napkin and cleaned himself.
“This time, maybe try swallowing the food before you make a decision, Salvos, ok?”
He smiled kindly, although I could tell it was very forced. I nodded.
Daniel handed me a bowl with a pair of wooden sticks.
“This is something from Earth. My world. It’s a home cooked dish, stir-fried noodles with vegetables. Surely you’d like it somewhat, right? It’s mom’s recipe after all.”
I was dubious at first. It took me a moment to figure out how to use these ‘chopsticks’ Daniel gave me. I tried a string of this noodle, and I paused.
I started to chew slowly, feeling the texture of the noodle in my mouth. I made sure to get a good taste of what it was like, absorbing it into my memory. He peered at me.
“It doesn’t taste like anything.”
I shook my head.
“I think it’s disgusting.”
His shoulders sagged. I nodded.
“Seriously! It’s like eating a rock— have you tried eating a rock?”
“...I probably should’ve expected that.”
Daniel looked exhausted. He wanted to resign— to give up. But he steeled himself. He slapped himself on his cheeks, readying himself for the final plate.
“This is the last option. Are you ready? No man on Earth has ever resisted the alluring tastes of its drizzling oil spilling all over your taste buds. I present to you the greatest biological weapon America has ever invented: the burger.”
Daniel was proud of himself. He wore a smug look on his face as he explained.
“I was never much of a chef back on Earth, but a burger is relatively simple to make. I spoke with a Level 47 [Chef] working in the inn and had him reproduce the exact same—”
“Brughghaehw! Ew! You eat that?! It doesn’t even taste like rocks like the others! It tastes like Human excrement!”
“I give up. Wait, how do you even know how…? Actually, nevermind.”
The Human man slumped over on a chair, rubbing at his temples. I patted him on the back and tried to comfort him.
“At least you tried.”
“I just don’t get it. So, this entire time, it wasn’t because you were a Demon? You just never liked the taste of food?”
“I guess? I mean, it smells nice. But it doesn’t actually taste anything like how it smells.”
“Do you have some kind of scent synesthesia or something? Are your taste buds broken?”
Daniel seemed to inspect me, poking me on my cheek. I glanced over at the half-eaten plates of food. It was a waste. The steak and the noodles actually smelled nice. The rice and the fish didn’t have much of a smell to it. The burger smelled like it would kill me from the inside. It tasted like it would kill me from the inside.
In fact, didn’t Daniel say something about how burgers were a biological weapon? I wouldn’t be surprised if eating burgers was responsible for tens of thousands of deaths a year in his world.
The Human man rambled on about how it made no sense why I couldn’t eat most of the Human food when I now had to eat food and all that boring stuff. I ignored him, still feeling hungry. Maybe I’d just finish the steak or the noodles to fill my stomach. I brought a hand over to the plates, and hovered it there.
I caught sight of something hiding within the sticky table cloth. Tiny little critters— ants, smaller than my fingertips— that crawled its way towards the food. My stomach rumbled again.
“Salvos, Salvos? Are you even listening? What are you—”
I picked up a handful of ants and put them in my mouth.
“What the fuck are you doing?!”
He jumped back, horrified. I crunched down on the insects. And for the first time ever, felt my mouth watering from eating food.
“This is… delicious!”
My eyes went round. I glanced over at Daniel who seemed to edge further and further away from me, before turning my attention back to the long line of ants on the table waiting to be eating. I snagged even more of them and began to feast on the critters.
“I’ve never tasted anything like this before!”
It was like I unlocked a new sense. One which I have never experienced before. Was this what eating food was like? It was wonderful!
A fly buzzed by my ear. It was quite big for a fly. It headed straight for the leaves mixed in with the noodles, and I grabbed it out of the air. I chomped down on it.
“Daniel, you have to try this—”
I looked over at the open doorway, hearing the heavy footsteps fade away.
“—and then she started eating bugs?”
“Yes, Edithe. You have to protect me from her. She’s a monster!”
“Hey! I’m not a monster, I’m Salvos—”
“I know, I know.”
The red-haired woman rolled her eyes and pushed Daniel off her. He stumbled forward, next to me, then hurriedly skittered back behind Edithe for protection. I bared my teeth at him, which made him shrink back since there were ants stuck in them.
Edithe placed a hand on my shoulder, meeting my gaze. A smile spread across her face.
“Ignore Daniel. I’m glad you found something you finally enjoy eating. Just make sure you don’t eat something that makes you sick, alright?”
“I won’t! And I found out I can eat without pretending to be a Human too! Isn’t that amazing?”
I tilted my head back.
“I wonder what Centinels taste like.”
She laughed and gestured for me to follow her.
“Come on, there’s something outside waiting for us.”
Edithe led us down the hallway of the inn. Daniel kept a wide berth away from me as we started down the stairs. I was curious about what was awaiting us down below. I blinked as I saw adventurers gathered in the common room of the inn.
They were all wearing the same uniforms— I believed that meant they were of the Forsaken Company? It was apparently a very big company. One of the Three Honorable Companies. Each of their fighting power rivaled or even surpassed that of nations.
I glanced around at the standing figures. I picked out Cody and Katie amongst them. They all stood respectfully facing us.
“What’s going on, Edithe?”
The red-haired woman smiled.
“Just follow me.”
We took a step forward— and the adventurers began to clap. It came all at once, a cacophony that nearly startled me, blowing me off my feet. I blinked. Then I realized they were clapping for me.
No, for all of us.
I slowly walked behind Edithe as she nodded at the adventurers. Most of them were below Level 40. There were only a few who were Gold, with even less Platinums. But the Diamonds? There were four of them. And they were the ones who gave us the most respect.
Because they were the only ones who have ever been to the Plaguelands— seen the powerful undead that walked the blighted earth. Cody hung his head low, speaking softly.
“I am sorry for what I said earlier, Salvos, Liberator of the Plaguelands.”
I paused, staring at him. Then I grinned.
“It is fine. As long as you understand that.”
“There’s more, Salvos.”
Edithe tugged me along, pushing the double doors of the inn open. I covered my face as the morning light shone in, taking a moment to acclimate to its brightness.
And the clapping grew louder. More than that, there were cheers, hollering, and shouting. I thought I was being attacked. But I saw a massive crowd standing before me. They looked at us with awe and wonder. The people of Huthwaite gathered before us.
People I have never seen before. Or wait, I knew some of them. Were there people from Ghostlight mixed in as well? Yes there were! I saw Jaden, the boy [Innkeeper], standing with the crowd. He was cheering, just as everybody else.
A feeling rose up within me. It was the very same one I felt back when I saved Silvergrove and slayed Lucerna. It was pride. Not just the pride of knowing that I accomplished something, but the satisfaction that came from being recognized by others. I did not shy away from this.
Daniel looked like he wanted to hide behind Edithe again, but for a different reason. Edithe took it all in stride, not really ashamed, not really enjoying it. But me? I embraced it. I basked in the moment, in the attention and in the praises. I raised my chin higher, smiling from ear to ear.
A man stepped forward from the crowd. I knew the badge on his shirt as signifying that he was in charge of the local Adventurers Guild. He held three badges in his hands, a blue gem in the middle of it.
“Salvos, Daniel, and Edithe. For slaying the Lich of the Plaguelands, the three of you are hereby promoted to Diamond Rank.”
He attached it to our clothes and stepped back.
“I know it is not a befitting reward for the feat you have accomplished, but unfortunately, the Adventurers Guild is not as resourceful as I’d like. If it were, there’d be no need for companies, right?”
The man chuckled as a woman took his place. She seemed almost familiar. It took me a moment to realize she was the guard captain who fined us a few months back. She nodded at us, a vastly different look from what she had then.
“The three of you, for your efforts in aiding the Vaun Qiuer Empire and killing [The Remnants of Zacharius], are rewarded the medallion of heroes. It is given by Emperor Nor Maran to only the noblest of individuals, giving you the privilege of having his ear whenever you are in need of help.”
These medals were fancy. They were etched with complex symbols and adorned with shiny crystals. I tapped on its hard surface as the guard captain continued.
“You will also be given property within the Capital city of Morningvale. It will be issued to you when you fill out these documents—”
Edithe’s eyes bulged as she accepted the pieces of paper. I ignored it. It didn’t matter to me. Daniel seemed uninterested as well. I wasn’t sure why it mattered so much to the red-haired woman.
Instead, I took in all the stares. The looks given to me by so many faces. Was it adoration? Admiration? I spread my arms wide, absorbing this feeling. Today, I discovered that eating was not so bad— not when I was eating what I liked. But even if it was a new, fascinating thing for me, the taste of food would never rival this.
This was what I loved. Recognition. From others, more than just myself. Of my actions and of what I have done. Knowing that the near-death experiences I had was not something only I knew about, but others were aware of as well.
It might have weirded others out. Humans thought of pride as something vain. They looked down on the idea of arrogance. But I didn’t. I wasn’t a Human. I was a Demon, and I was going to savor this moment.
“I am the Liberator of the Plaguelands, the Death of the Destroyer, the Savior of Falisfield, and many more. But most importantly, I am Salvos, and you will remember my name!”