We decided to grab dinner on our way home, which was harder than it looked. A lot of the restaurants that Alicia tried to drag me into kicked us out. They’d come up with excuses such as “We’re overbooked” or “Our waiters are too busy dealing with our current customers”. Only one of the restaurant owners was honest when he said, “We don’t serve yankee brats like him,” as he pointed to me.
Thus, I ended up taking her to Fukiyama Mart.
“I can’t believe those people,” Alicia ranted as we looked through the frozen isle. I wasn’t sure what to get. There were a lot of options, but, well, I didn’t think convenience store food would be suitable for my new houseguest. “What the hell was their problem?”
“It’s the same problem most humans have,” I said as I pointed at a heated container filled with round items that anybody who knew about Japanese cuisine would recognize. “How about some nikuman?”
Alicia gave me a look but nodded. “Sure.”
I grabbed a box and filled it with nikuman. I decided to also take some anpan because I thought we could use something sweet with the main dish. After giving it a moment’s thought, I decided that we should also get something to drink, so I grabbed two bottles of ramune.
“I still don’t understand,” Alicia said. “I mean, sure, I feel wary of you for some reason, but that’s because I’m a devil. I can tell that you’re not human, even if I’m not sure what you are.”
“Your senses might be more acute than a human's, but don’t underestimate their animal instinct,” I said. “A human might not look at me and think, ‘he’s not human’, but they can still tell that something isn’t right. I think it’s even worse for them. You, at least, understand why you feel so leery of me, but humans? They can’t even tell that much. I’m a complete unknown to them, and sometimes, the fear of what you don’t know can be even greater than the fear that you do know.”
“I suppose,” Alicia said, frowning. “I still don’t like it.”
I smiled. “Trust me. You’re not the only one.”
When I went up to the register, old man Fukiyama stared at me, then the girl with me, and then he looked down at our meals.
“Your total will come to one-thousand, five-hundred yen,” he grunted. “Do you want a bag?”
“That would be great. Thank you,” I said. The old man rang me up, put my items in a plastic bag, and handed them to me. As we were leaving, I continued talking. “That’s why I appreciate Fukiyama-san. Even though he has the same wariness and dislike of me as everyone else, he doesn’t let it rule him.” I looked into the plastic bag I was holding. “At the very least, he let’s me buy food without complaint.”
“How nice of him,” she said, her voice rank with sarcasm.
I shrugged. “It’s better than how most people treat me.”
We didn’t go home right away. My apartment wasn’t far, but the food would’ve gotten cold by the time we arrived home. After several minutes of search, she and I found a park. It was a tiny place filled with green grass and a meandering brick path lined by various species of trees. Benches sat on either side of the path, and we chose one to sit on where we could eat our food.
“How is it?” I asked Alicia as she munched on her nikuman.
“It’s good, I guess,” Alicia said. “Not quite the fare that I’m used to, but it’s not as if it’s tasteless.”
“Is that a compliment?”
“It’s the closest thing to a compliment that I’ll give to food that belongs to a store owner who treats you so gruffly.”
While a gentle warmth spread through my chest at her words, I felt the need to defend Fukiyama. “You shouldn’t think so badly of him. Fukiyama-san is only human. The fact that he even allows me to shop at his store is a miracle.”
“That doesn’t mean I have to like how he treats you.”
“Thank you.” I smiled at Alicia. “I appreciate that you would get angry on my behalf, even though we’ve barely known each other for a day.”
I didn’t understand why Alicia would get angry over the treatment of a monster like me, but I also didn’t think it was smart to say as much. Besides, it made me feel warm. It felt like there was finally someone who cared about me, even if I knew that she was only this defensive because she didn’t know what I was.
Alicia looked away. “Of course I’d get angry on your behalf. You’ve already helped me so much. You offered me shelter and food, and you even gave up your bed for me. I haven’t been treated with such kindness in years.”
“I’m glad I could help you.” Looking up at the night sky, I idly sipped my ramune. “Still, if you get upset on my behalf every time something happens, you’re going to be very angry all the time. Trust me when I say that getting upset over something like this isn’t worth the effort.”
She stared at me. Perhaps it was my imagination, but I felt like her stare was penetrating my soul, as if her eyes had X-ray vision that could see past my blood, flesh, and bones. It was silly, I know, but I couldn’t help the embarrassment that overtook me as she looked at me with that vermillion gaze of hers.
After another moment had passed, she looked away. The sigh that escaped Alicia’s lips sounded like one of resignation. “I’ll try not to get so upset, then. For your sake if nothing else.”
“I appreciate that,” I said.
“My, my,” a high-pitched voice croaked from somewhere in the darkness. “What a touching scene. I never would have imagined that I’d find you like this… Princess Alicia.”
Alicia and I shot to our feet. I glared around the park, trying to determine where the source of that voice came from. It was impossible. The darkness was too thick. Even though it was dark, I could at least see the black and white barrier that had suddenly appeared high over our heads. It undulated and shifted, black and white constantly moving across the surface like ever changing patterns. It must have been designed to keep humans away.
“Who is there?! Show yourself!” Alicia shouted.
“It seems you have endeared yourself to this young man, Princess Alicia,” the voice continued, bouncing around the park. Was this a form of ventriloquism? “Were you hoping to make this wretched creature your ally? Pathetic. You should know that someone this pathetic could never stand up to my master’s power.”
Master? So this… whoever he was, had a master. It must have been the same master that was after Alicia, the one who’d driven her out of her home.
As I pondered this, several creatures appeared within condensed bursts of flame. Red skin gleamed with the dullness of leather, cracked and worn as though it had been left out in the heat. They had no eyebrows. However, their thick brow ridges hovered over their glowing crimson eyes. Fingernails like spikes clacked together, and clawed feet scraped against the ground. It was a horde of lesser demons. They were surrounding us.
“Ke ke ke ke.” The laughter from whoever was controlling this demonic horde was like nails on a chalkboard. Arrogance and greed filled it to the point where, if this devil’s mouth were a chalice, it would have been overflowing. “What will you do now, Princess? You’re outnumbered. Will you surrender quietly and allow yourself to be killed?”
I opened my mouth to tell this person where to shove his words and that Alicia would never surrender.
Alicia beat me to it. “If I did surrender, would you agree to leave the boy alone? He has nothing to do with this.”
“I don’t see why not. I don’t particularly care about that child. The only thing that concerns me is you.”
I turned to Alicia, to tell her not to listen to this man, that I didn’t mind fighting for her sake. It might have been selfish of me, but I didn’t want her to leave. Today had been the best day of my life. It made me feel guilty, deriving pleasure from this situation when Alicia was suffering, but just this once, I wanted to be a little selfish. Even if she left eventually, I’d like her to remain with me for as long as possible.
Alicia had other designs. As I turned to her, I felt something hard slam into my solar plexus. The air left my lungs as foreign demonic energy entered my body, zapping me of my strength. My arms and legs went limp. My mind became cloudy. As I slumped against Alicia’s smaller frame, I heard her whisper in my ear.
My world went black.