192. And Pride
Saffron Merryster couldn’t get a wink of sleep.
She tried— she really tried. To ensure one’s performance both mentally and physically, one had to get a proper and healthy amount of rest. And she didn’t want to underperform, not in Mavos Academy, the academy with the highest dropout rates in the world.
But she couldn’t sleep. Because the young noble knew that just beyond her bedroom’s door was a Demon. An Archdemon of immense power. One that could end her life at any moment.
Logic told her that if that were the case, Saffron would already be dead. But her fear— the unsettling idea that this might just be the idea of a game for the Demon— kept her awake. So, she didn’t sleep. She lay in her bed with her wand in her hand. Even if she knew it wouldn’t save her, she wasn’t going to die without a fight.
A Demon, she thought to herself. This whole time, Salvos was a Demon. It almost made sense. The fact that Salvos had been so naive and ignorant of the world wasn’t because she was a foolish plebeian who hit her head as a child, but because she was a Demon.
Saffron almost felt betrayed just thinking about it. The fact that she was lied to and tricked— it upset her just as much as she now despised towards the Demon.
Salvos had warned her not to tell anyone. But Saffron couldn’t possibly remain silent. All Saffron had to do was wait until Salvos was busy… which wasn’t hard now, was it?
They both had classes tomorrow. All Saffron had to do was pull someone aside and tell them the truth about Salvos. Of course, it’d be hard to get anyone to believe Saffron. Somehow, Saffron was going to have to procure a Scroll of Lies. Even with her family’s connections… which were very limited as of right now due to the Primeval Demon in Nixa… she’d have a hard time getting such an expensive artifact.
Or maybe— She had an idea. It was one that required Headmaster Skyshredder’s help. She needed access to the Ritual of Veracity. But going straight to Headmaster Skyshredder just for potential hearsay from a single person was impossible, and getting his approval to use such an expensive ritual was even more difficult. She had to tell someone else first. Preferably, someone she trusted. And she had to prove that Salvos was a Demon to said person. Then her credibility would be increased.
Saffron felt slightly guilty for reneging on her word. But she had to swallow her honor and her pride to do this. For the sake of Humankind— as a Demon Hunter, defender of the Mortal Realm— she’d do anything she’d have to do.
No matter what.
“Good morning, Saffron!”
I cheerfully greeted the pink-haired woman. She stepped out of her room, eyeing me hesitating. I cocked my head, seated at the dining table.
“What’s wrong, not going to have breakfast? At least have some tea.”
I gestured at the porcelain teacup I prepared. I took a sip from it, before spitting it out.
“Ugh— it’s delicious.”
Saffron chewed her lips, starting past me.
“I am fine, Salvos.”
She didn’t meet my eyes as she spoke. Hefting her bag over her shoulder, she started for the doorway out of the room.
“I simply lack the appetite today. If you will excuse me, I shall be headed for my classes.”
“Alright! Have a good day!”
I waved at her. Saffron pulled the door open, pausing only when I spoke up once more.
“By the way, you didn’t forget about what you promised me last night, did you?”
There was dead silence for what felt like an eternity. It dragged out as I tapped my finger on the table.
Saffron steeled herself, taking a deep breath.
“I didn’t forget.”
“You better not break your promise! It’s a promise, you know!”
I settled back into my chair, satisfied. She closed the door behind her, hurrying down the hallway as I nodded to myself.
“Yep, she’s definitely not going to keep her promise.”
Saffron had a class on alchemy today. It was, for multiple reasons— some of which might or might not pertain to her being a Vampire— the class she least excelled at. And yet, she was skipping out on her lessons, opting to instead catch one of the few trustworthy people she knew in Mavos Academy.
Valda. A fourteen year old child prodigy. And also— a Vampire. Just like Saffron.
She was one of two people Saffron trusted enough to conspire with. Saffron caught her right as she was about to enter her enchanting class. Pulling her to the side, Saffron glanced around to make sure that the hallway was empty before speaking.
“We need to talk.”
Valda crossed her arms, frowning.
“You just kidnapped me from going to my classroom. I’m now late because of you.”
The girl rolled her eyes.
“Look, Saffy, if you’re going to try and convince me to pack up my things to fight that Primeval Demon that could kill us both with a snap of the finger, I’m telling you right now: my answer is no.”
“That’s not it.”
Saffron shook her head. She opened her mouth to explain, but felt a terrible feeling run down her spine. It was a prickle, as if ants were pressing their tiny legs onto her back. She glanced around, and saw no one. Pursing her lips, she continued.
“It is about Salvos.”
“The Liberator of the Plaguelands?”
Valda blinked. Saffron nodded.
“So, you’ve already heard of her?”
“Of course I do. Everyone is talking about her. A sudden transfer student into the highly regarded School of Aspiring Elites, who won entry into Mavos Academy by dueling Headmaster Skyshredder himself? Of course I’ve heard of her.”
“Well, that’s not… actually… what happened.”
Saffron raised a finger, not sure where to even begin. She shook her head.
“Look, it’s something very important about her. And I need you to trust me.”
“Wait a minute.”
Valda’s eyes widened.
“Are you the supposed lucky roommate who gets to live with Salvos?”
“I am, and I have discovered a—”
“What the fuck. You lucky bitch!”
Valda almost exclaimed in excitement. Saffron paused. Then she narrowed her eyes.
“I am not a child—”
“You are. You literally are, Valda.”
“Fine. I’m not a fancy noble like you, so I don’t need to watch what I’m saying.”
She snorted, and Saffron rubbed her temples.
“Whatever. I just need you to listen to me for one moment.”
“Why? Wait, is this about Salvos?”
Saffron spoke in an exasperated voice. She continued before Valda could interrupt her once more.
“I am her roommate and I met her long before she attended Mavos Academy. And you have to know that she is harboring a dark secret.”
Raising a hand, Saffron whispered a word. A bubble began to form around them. One that would block sound from escaping from within the bubble. It would be hard for anyone under Level 70 to scry through this spell. And if they did listen? Well, good. The more who found out, the better.
With a sigh, Saffron spoke in a solemn voice.
Valda grabbed Saffron’s hand, lowering it and dispelling the spell before it could finish forming. Saffron paused, perplexed.
Valda pointed an accusing finger at her face.
“I know what you’re trying to do. You’re trying to slander her because you’re jealous.”
“Why would I be jealous?”
“Or maybe you’re annoyed you’re forced to room with her. I don’t know. Point is, she doesn’t have any dark secrets, and I’m not going to listen to you make up some fake story about her just to get me on your side. I’ve read enough books to know where this is going, and I don’t want any part of your drama!”
Valda began to walk off, only for Saffron to grab her by the hand. Saffron gave her a pleading look.
“You have to trust me. It is important. The fate of the world is at risk if you do not help me.”
“I said no!”
Saffron drew back as the girl glared at her.
“Salvos is an amazing person who has done so much for Humankind. You can hear about her feats— the Titles she has gained in such a short time. Even Emperor Nor Maran of the Vaun Qieur Empire has sung her praises! That’s what you’re always on about, right? Doing what’s best for us Humans?
Valda waved her hands around, before staring down at her palms.
“And more than that… she was so kind to me. I have seen the way she treated others— that kind of compassion cannot be a facade. While others treat me like an ignorant, petulant child who entered the academy by luck, she gave me respect. I don’t care what ‘dark secrets’ you think she’s hiding. You should look up to her, not… whatever you’re doing. So, don’t you dare try and slander her name again!
She ripped her hand free of Saffron’s grip, speaking with finality in her voice.
“Especially not to me”
Valda stormed off, leaving Saffron alone. TSaffron stood there, even as Valda entered her classroom. The hallway was now empty, and Saffron was speechless.
“But… I was only trying to tell you the truth…”
“Sometimes, the truth sucks, and it’s better if you just didn’t say anything.”
Saffron jerked back as a figure appeared next to her. Salvos grinned, placing a hand over Saffron’s lips.
“Don’t scream. You’ll interrupt their class.”
The Demon with a Human’s skin gestured at the classroom next to them. Saffron slowly bobbed her head, feeling the cool touch of her finger. Perspiration dripped off Saffron’s face as she met the Demon’s gaze.
“H-how long have you been here?”
“The whole time. I followed you straight from the room. Kind of annoying, since I’m skipping a class right now. But hey, better to deal with this before it becomes a major issue, right?”
She chuckled, and Saffron let out a nervous laugh. Salvos ushered Saffron forward.
“Come on, let’s speak outside where we’ll have more privacy.”
“I almost had to kill you, you know?”
I spoke nonchalant, bringing Saffron on a stroll through Mavos Academy’s campus.
“I really didn’t want to, and I’m glad Valda didn’t let you say anything. You should thank her. Or maybe I should thank her?”
I wondered aloud to myself as the noble woman followed behind me, silent. I tilted my head, glancing back at her.
“Are you not going to say anything?”
“...what do you want me to say?”
“I don’t know— anything to make this less awkward?”
It was a helpful suggestion. One which elicited the first proper sentence from Saffron.
“W-where are we going?”
“Out of Mavos Academy.”
I replied simply. Saffron instantly came to a halt. She almost stumbled back, her entire body trembling.
“Relax. I’m not going to kill you or anything.”
My words did nothing to calm her, but still I continued.
“You refuse to believe that I can possibly be… good, no matter what I say. So, I’ll just have to prove it to you. I mean, I have to gather some sagetree sap anyway for my Potion of Regeneration. May as well kill two birds with one stone, right?”
Saffron paled, and I sighed.
“It’s an expression.”
“A very ominous expression.”
“I was trying to lighten the mood, ok?”
I took a step forward, but Saffron didn’t budge. She stared at me, very much dubious, and also quite nervous, shifting on her feet.
“How are you… exactly going to prove yourself to me?”
“Well, first of all, with the effort I’m putting in trying to convince you, I hope you’ll believe me by the end of all this.”
Then I spun around, baring my teeth as I steadily met Saffron’s gaze.
“And second of all, I will bring you to Adventurers Guild, ask some questions, find the location of all the damn Demon-worshipping cults in this country, and slaughter every single last one of them in front of you. Now, will that be enough to prove myself to you?”
There was a pause. An eerie silence. Then I smiled.
I clapped my hands together cheerfully, and skipped my way out of the school. Then I tapped a finger on my chin.
“Wait, this is like one of those school trip things, right? Daniel told me about them. This is going to be so fun!”