Chapter 40:

Behind the Mask

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. Bookmark here

Despite his fears, David had taken off his mask and set it in his lap.Bookmark here

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. Bookmark here

“What’s your name?” She asked.Bookmark here

“…Allaric,” David mumbled.Bookmark here

“Allaric? Where are you from?”Bookmark here

David swallowed hard. “North Pass.”Bookmark here

“That’s quite the journey to make. Did you come here looking for work?”Bookmark here

“Does it matter?”Bookmark here

“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?”Bookmark here

“…Neither. I ran away from home.”Bookmark here

“You ran away?” The woman repeated.Bookmark here

David nodded and tapped the mask beside him. “…I was chased out.”Bookmark here

“…Why?”Bookmark here

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.”Bookmark here

“…That’s horrible.”Bookmark here

David nodded and quietly sighed.Bookmark here

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. Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

While David was lost in his own thoughts, the woman put her hand on top of his and squeezed it gently.Bookmark here

“I’m so sorry, I didn’t know,” she whispered dejectedly. “That must’ve been so painful.”Bookmark here

“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.”Bookmark here

He laughed bitterly at himself. If only that were true.Bookmark here

David tried to get up and leave, but the woman grabbed his arm and held him in place.Bookmark here

“How could you say that, Allaric?” She asked. “How could you say that it doesn’t hurt you being called a monster?”Bookmark here

“I-I’ve gotten used to it, like I said, and-”Bookmark here

“Do you think of yourself as a monster?”Bookmark here

David froze.Bookmark here

“…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.”Bookmark here

Don’t.Bookmark here

“How can you say that when you’ve only just met me?” David mumbled, tightening his hands into fists. Bookmark here

Don’t!Bookmark here

“Why don’t you think I’m a monster?”Bookmark here

“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.” Bookmark here

…The Demon Emperor is a monster worse than all of those put together.Bookmark here

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.”Bookmark here

David mockingly laughed at her and looked down at his knees.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

“Then, Allaric, let me ask you this: have you ever killed anyone?” Bookmark here

“No.” Not directly.Bookmark here

“Have you ever stolen from anyone?”Bookmark here

“No.” Liar.Bookmark here

“Have you ever attacked someone?”Bookmark here

“No.” Liar!Bookmark here

“Would you ever do something so cruel and horrible and act for only your own life?”Bookmark here

“…No.” That’s not a lie…It’s not.Bookmark here

“Then, to me, you aren’t a monster,” the woman gently said.Bookmark here

Please, don’t.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

“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.”Bookmark here

“…Pretty?” David whispered.Bookmark here

“Yeah. They’re kind of like rubies. Both the colour and that they should be treasured.”Bookmark here

A pleasant, gentle feeling rose inside David’s heart.Bookmark here

…What the hell? What the hell? What the hell? Bookmark here

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!Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

Someone in this world didn’t see him as the Demon Emperor.Bookmark here

She only saw Allaric and, by extension, David himself.Bookmark here

Not the cruel tyrant, but David.Bookmark here

“What the hell?” David muttered too quietly for her to hear. He put his mask back on and stood up. “Thank you.”Bookmark here

“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.”Bookmark here

“Nice to meet you, Kella.” The two shook hands. “What are you doing so far from Stonefall?”Bookmark here

“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.”Bookmark here

“Why did they leave you behind?”Bookmark here

“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.”Bookmark here

“That’s an admirable thing to do,” David sincerely said. “I wish you luck.”Bookmark here

“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.”Bookmark here

“Sounds good. Bye, Kella.”Bookmark here

“Bye, Allaric. Stay safe and remember what I said.”Bookmark here

“I will!”Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

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I hope Kella and everyone she loves stays as far away from me as they can.Bookmark here

You can resume reading from this paragraph.