The Children of Eris
After returning to the square, the woman bought four meat skewers and gave two of them to David. Then, they sat down on the bench David had been sitting on earlier and ate.
Despite his fears, David had taken off his mask and set it in his lap.
Why is she doing this? David wondered as he unhappily ate. Did she not recognise me? Maybe she’s just pretending that she didn’t. The most she should’ve done is just given me my money back and left. Best play it safe and keep my head down.
“What’s your name?” She asked.
“…Allaric,” David mumbled.
“Allaric? Where are you from?”
David swallowed hard. “North Pass.”
“That’s quite the journey to make. Did you come here looking for work?”
“Does it matter?”
“I-I guess not. Sorry, it’s just…Never mind. Still.” She put on her friendliest smile. “I’m surprised at how fast you were. Are you an adventurer or do you just like to keep in shape?”
“…Neither. I ran away from home.”
“You ran away?” The woman repeated.
David nodded and tapped the mask beside him. “…I was chased out.”
David went silent and turned slightly away from her. “…Because they hated me. My mother was taken by a man who wasn’t her husband and was called a whore; they said her baby would be cursed. When I was born.” David brought his hand beneath his cloak and touched his face. “My eyes were bright red and everyone thought I was a monster.” He bitterly laughed. “Even my own mother did.”
David nodded and quietly sighed.
It was worth coming up with a backstory in case I was stopped by someone, David thought. If I gave people such a sad story, then they’d feel uncomfortable for asking me and that guilt would stop them from prying any further.
However. David scowled. If I met anyone from North Pass or went there and asked about me, then they’d know it was a lie. It was a risk I took into consideration and, hopefully, my cover won’t be blown.
While David was lost in his own thoughts, the woman put her hand on top of his and squeezed it gently.
“I’m so sorry, I didn’t know,” she whispered dejectedly. “That must’ve been so painful.”
“It’s not something you need to apologise for,” David said, freeing his hand from her grasp. “I’m used to people calling me a monster by now, so it doesn’t hurt.”
He laughed bitterly at himself. If only that were true.
David tried to get up and leave, but the woman grabbed his arm and held him in place.
“How could you say that, Allaric?” She asked. “How could you say that it doesn’t hurt you being called a monster?”
“I-I’ve gotten used to it, like I said, and-”
“Do you think of yourself as a monster?”
“…You do, don’t you?” The woman smiled tenderly and gently pulled him back onto the bench. “It’s okay. I don’t think that you’re a monster.”
“How can you say that when you’ve only just met me?” David mumbled, tightening his hands into fists.
“Why don’t you think I’m a monster?”
“Call it an adventurer’s intuition,” the woman said. “Allaric, I’ve fought and killed monsters. I’ve fought the worst kind of scum you could imagine that hide in the shadows and destroy people’s lives without batting an eye. I’ve seen people get blindly by corruption and money use that power to ruin lives for their own selfish desires. People like that aren’t born monsters; they become monsters the moment they do things like that.”
…The Demon Emperor is a monster worse than all of those put together.
The woman took one of David’s hands in her own and lovingly embraced it. “You aren’t a monster just because someone else says you are.”
David mockingly laughed at her and looked down at his knees.
That’s a nice thing to say, but I wonder if you’d be able to say that if you knew who I was, what I’m going to do, what I’ve got to do.
“Then, Allaric, let me ask you this: have you ever killed anyone?”
“No.” Not directly.
“Have you ever stolen from anyone?”
“Have you ever attacked someone?”
“Would you ever do something so cruel and horrible and act for only your own life?”
“…No.” That’s not a lie…It’s not.
“Then, to me, you aren’t a monster,” the woman gently said.
She released David’s hand and pulled down his hood gently, revealing his face. Panicked, David’s red eyes met her soft, brown eyes, and her beautiful, loving smile.
“See? You aren’t a monster,” the woman said, brushing some of the hair from David’s eyes. “If anything, I think your eyes are quite pretty.”
“…Pretty?” David whispered.
“Yeah. They’re kind of like rubies. Both the colour and that they should be treasured.”
A pleasant, gentle feeling rose inside David’s heart.
…What the hell? What the hell? What the hell?
Why did I feel happy when she said that? Why? Why? Why?! Stop looking at me like that. David scrunched his eyes together and quickly put back up his hood. Don’t make me feel like this!
In his scrambled mind, David knew that it wasn’t a feeling of love or anything like that, but it was something far greater to him, something that made him truly happy.
Someone in this world didn’t see him as the Demon Emperor.
She only saw Allaric and, by extension, David himself.
Not the cruel tyrant, but David.
“What the hell?” David muttered too quietly for her to hear. He put his mask back on and stood up. “Thank you.”
“You’re very welcome, Allaric,” the woman said. “Oh, I never gave you my name, did I?” She stood and held out her hand to him. “I’m Kella, an adventurer from Stonefall.”
“Nice to meet you, Kella.” The two shook hands. “What are you doing so far from Stonefall?”
“The Emperor sent out a call for all C-ranked or higher adventurers to join the expedition to recapture Black Port,” Kella said. “My brother ordered me to stay at home, but I wanted to at least accompany them to Themis before they left for the south-east. Honestly, I’m kind of glad I got to talk to you today, Allaric.” Her lonely smile made David’s heart ache a little. “I was a bit upset after being left behind.”
“Why did they leave you behind?”
“Well, I don’t know if you’d have heard about this given how calm the capital is, but some parts of the country are up in arms over the Great Disaster that’s falling the empire. Stonefall’s in a awful state right now and my brother wants me to help the people out where I can and calm them down.”
“That’s an admirable thing to do,” David sincerely said. “I wish you luck.”
“Thank you, Allaric. If you’re ever in the city, I’d love to talk with you again. If not, I’ll see you the next time I’m in the capital.”
“Sounds good. Bye, Kella.”
“Bye, Allaric. Stay safe and remember what I said.”
Kella took her spear and, once she was out of David’s sight, his expression darkened as a sharp, painful sensation blossomed in his heart.
I hope Kella and everyone she loves stays as far away from me as they can.