Chapter 43:

Hidden Resolve

How I (Accidently) Became a Demon Lord

His name was Jonas. He served in the Tirim army as a scout. The king had held off on scouting parties till the winter came to a close, avoiding the prints left in the snow. They were still a few months away from attacking the village of the Demon Lord, but they needed intel on anything they could.

Jonas' group was across the river, coming from the north of the village. Several other scouts would be checking the other directions, but this one was safest. The village had not crossed the river, no bridge nearby either. Because of this they could survey safely with a body of water separating them.

A flash of light blinded Jonas for a moment, he looked up, seeing a bird flying overhead. Snap. The sound of the bow string was swiftly followed by the sound of an arrow embedding itself deep into one of the scouts' eyes. He did not scream out, only a slight groan of pain before he dropped dead.

The other scouts exchanged looks of concern. Snap, another scout down, snap, another. It wasn't long before only Jonas remained. He pressed himself to the back of a tree. He noticed all the arrows came from across the river, they must have been spotted. Jonas just had to retreat, it was too dangerous to stay where he was.

Snap. The sound of the bow string rang out, but it couldn't pierce the tree. Snap again, where was the first arrow? Snap, Snap, Snap, Snap. Jonas felt the tree he was hiding behind suddenly shake with a sudden impact, then he heard it. A drilling sound.

Jonas backed away as an arrow drilled through the tree and out the otherside. The arrow dropped weakly from the tree, but the second arrow came through the hole the first had made, drilling into Jonas' shield, shattering it, and piercing his forehead.

Nasui took a deep breath. A flash of light from above signaling he took care of the targets. Above was a harpy with a mirror, several of them were scouting, alerting them of enemy scouts. The last scout was smarter than the others, he immediately took cover behind a thick tree.

Nasui had applied slowness to his first arrow, hitting it constantly with the bow string to build its momentum. Once the arrow was ready he let it loose, drawing another arrow for when the first broke threw the tree. Even he was surprised at his accuracy, though he used a larger arrow to make the hole bigger than his second arrow.

Fenrin stood over his group of Scouts, they were dead at his feet far too quickly. He was forced to take the east watch, which had the lowest chance of scouts. He was mad that he only got a small amount. They didn't even try to fight, just run, pathetic.

Above him Pelone flashed light into his eyes again, signaling no more targets. She then pointed her mirror to a harpy above the fortress, signaling the west was clear.

Nekra had an easy time hunting down his scouts. He used his wings to travel along the branches of trees and took them down from above, none the wiser of the kobold above them. His Harpy had sent the signal back, leaving him free.

He felt the tug again, it had come back ever since he returned to Criss. West, what was west. What dragon soul waited for him west?

Rath was annoyed. Not at the scouts that all stood in front of him with their weapons drawn. No it was that nagging feeling of being watched. He had felt it for almost a week now, a figure just out of sight. His guards did not report anyone, yet he could feel that they were there.

“Prepare to die, Demon!” a scout shouted.

Rath dodged the shortsword swing of the first scout. He felt that figure was somewhere nearby, but where? He didn't fight against the scout, just gaining distance. He wanted to expose as little about his abilities as possible, this hidden being was far too good, if it worked for Tirim he wouldn't be able to catch it.

The scout nearest Rath suddenly cried out in pain, a knife had dug itself deep into their skin. These scouts didn't have shields, most likely due to others being able to spot the shield from afar. Another yelled out, the knife stuck deep into his throat, he began to choke on his blood instantly.

A shadow jumped across Rath’s vision, slicing the throat of another scout with an unseen weapon. The shadow continued its assault till all the scouts laid dead on the ground, then returned to being out of Rath’s vision.

“Well that’s something.” Rath said to himself. The west was clear now according to the harpy overhead.

“It was a good plan.” Rath said to Malphis.

They all sat in the war room of the keep, the room Malphis used to run this operation. Pelone leaned back in her chair, next to Fenrin who looked annoyed. Nekra and Nasui sat together, happy that the operation went so well.

“It was just their initial scouting.” Malphis said. “Means that they will be preparing to move, we should raise our defenses.”

“Our people are working hard.” Nasui said. “Archers are ready, and we have plenty of arrows.”

“Our spearmen are ready as well.” Malphis said. “I've appointed lieutenants and captains so that we are more organized incase of a surprise attack. We could use more swords and axes though, shields and armor are doing well though.”

Rath had asked for protection to be a big focus, no man entered battle without some sort of protection. “Good, so we know they are scouting, what is the next move?”

“We focus on walls, we got more built thanks to the increase in workers, but we could use more.” Malphis explained.

“Could we get more housing for my people first?” Pelone asked, leaning forward. “We just are a bit too cramped.”

“Building resources are low.” Rath explained. “Once Kider returns I'm going to talk to him about getting some trade lines set up, i'm going to ask him to be our trade organizer for that. So please hold off just a little longer, your people can retreat into the walls faster than the others.” Kider had sent Rath a letter telling him how he was wintering in Kyol and he would be back in late spring, something Rath was sad about.

“Fine.” Pelone said, extending the word dramatically.

Rath stood on the battlement of the Fortress wall. He had escaped the celebration party they were putting on. Reese was quite thrilled and upset to make so much food for so many people, apparently his fellow cooks were terrified of the Red Cap. The air felt nice, spring air often felt great to Rath. he had chosen to leave the party early for a reason.

“Can you come out now?” He said into the void of air.

A good distance away a figure appeared in a bow. Rath was caught off guard by the figure, it looked up at him, revealing a red mask with a terrifying face on it. The figure had stark white hair and wore a red robe of some sort that cut off above the knee. On the figured back was two blades, but the thing that caught him above it all, was the ivory white horns sticking out of its forehead.

“Who are you.” Rath asked.

“This one is Yaki.” a gentle voice said.

Rath’s eyes widened. “Stand.”

The figure did, Rath got a full view of their form. To his surprise, the figure looked feminane. The red robe held a pattern of flowers, he recognized them as cherry blossoms, they only grew in Kyol from what he heard. A pink belt kept the robe shut tightly, only a slight V forming. Rath could see white bandages wrapped around her chest from the V, was she hiding her bust?

“What are you?” Rath questioned.

“Yaki is an Oni Sir Demon Lord.” the voice echoed from the mask, Rath could see slits for a mouth, nose, and eyes, but could not see behind them.

“An Oni?” Rath questioned, looking over her small frame. “And what are you doing here? I know you have been spying on me.”

“Not spying Sir.” Yaki said, she kept the slight bow with her arm and head down. “Yaki was demonstrating her abilities to you.”

“Abilities?” Rath asked.

“Yes Sir.” Yaki said. “Yaki avoided your eye, though not your detection Yaki fears. You witnessed Yaki’s combat abilities as well, Yaki is master of swordplay, her technique being that of the Falling Petal style.”

Rath tilted his head to her. “Why are you trying to demonstrate your abilities?”

“Yaki wishes to serve.” She said, bowing her head lower. “Please allow Yaki to serve you.”

Rath thought for a moment. “Where do you come from?” He asked.

“Yaki was born in Onigashima.” Yaki said. “It lies on the border of Exial and Karkien. Though it is a part of neither. She has lived there since she was young.”

“Where do your allegiances lie?” Rath questioned.

“If you will allow Yaki.” Yaki began. “Her allegiance will be to you, Master Demon Lord.”

Rath thought it over. “Very well, welcome to Criss Yaki, however. I ask to see your face.”

Yaki raised her head. “This one apologizes Master Demon Lord. Yaki cannot remove her mask.”

“Why is that?” Rath asked.

“It is a part of Yaki’s culture.” Yaki said. “Oni’s do not remove masks. Oni’s mask is their identity.”

Rath scratched his head. “Very well, what happens if I see your face?”

“It is great shame.” Yaki said bluntly. “Yaki wishes not to shame herself or Oni’s any further.”

Rath gave a gentle smile. “Very well, I will welcome you to Criss, however I won't give you a position just yet. I know nothing truly of you, Criss cant afford for you to backstab us.”

“Yaki understands Master Rath.” Yaki said. “This one will earn your trust so Yaki can serve you.”

“In the meantime, come meet the others.” Rath said.

Everyone at the party was surprised when Rath brought Yaki, yet she was accepted right away. Nekra began chatting with her right away, Nasui joining to interrogate her. Fenrin tried to snatch her mask as soon as he got in her range, Malphis had caught his wrist beforehand though. Malphis apparently knows about the Oni’s culture and told them how taboo it was for her to remove her mask in front of others. Pelone scoffed at her, keeping a distance. Mirv sat next to her and listened to whatever she said.

The whole time Yaki’s eyes darted back and forth between everyone. It was clear she was overwhelmed with the number of people, but she would get used to it. Rath could see her eyes now in the lamp lit room, crimson red.

“Why did you bring another in?” Mirv asked Rath later that night. They sat in his chamber, having retired from the celebration. Malphis assigned Yaki a room and would be monitoring her in secret for the time.

“Everyone is welcome in Criss.” Rath explained. “As long as they mean no harm to us. We could use the help in the time to come, you should have seen what she could do.”

Mirv pouted a little. “Fine, she seems nice. Just please be careful, I don't want to see you get betrayed. You're a trusting person and I don't want to see that destroyed by one person.”

“I've taken it into consideration.” Rath explained. “It will be fine.”

Mirv gave a warm smile. “Very well, I should be going.”

“Really?” Rath said, almost surprised.

“I have an early morning tomorrow.” Mirv said with a smile, crossing the room. “Plus, I have to get home while it's still early.”

Rath bit at his lip. “You know, you could.” He was cut off by Mirv who raised a hand.

“I won't be a mistress Rath.” Mirv said with a smile.

Rath’s eyes grew slightly distant. “Then, what about a wife?”

“Obviously I'll be that.” Mirv said with a laugh. “Way more respectable.”

“Once this war is over.” Rath began. “Once everyone is safe, I will marry you, we will have a wedding to out shine even the most royal weddings.”

“Wow I don't want something that fancy.” Mirv laughed. “You become a lord and everything becomes a big ceremony huh? I'm fine with something small. But I want you to ask me correctly.”

Rath tilted his head in confusion.

“You'll figure it out.” Mirv said, opening the door to leave. “Night Rath.”

Rath didn't sleep well that night, he was too lost in thought. He didn't sleep much recently, stress kept him up or caused him to wake up sharply. Deciding sleep was not an option he left to wander around the village. The sun had just begun to creep over the horizon, its rays stretching over the world. Dew fell on the world, making it feel damp everywhere Rath went.

A sound caught Rath by surprise, a cough. It was loud and guttural. Rath’s eyes turned in horror towards the source. Turv’s bar. He pushed the door open slowly, not wanting to see what was behind it.

Turv sat hacking up a lung into a handkerchief. Mirv stood over him, holding out a bottle for him to take. Turv pulled the handkerchief back, revealing splotches of blood. MIrv’s eyes shot towards the door, tears reddening her eyes.

“You're sick.” Rath said. He felt the world around him collapsing. It was all gone, a void. All that was left was Rath, Mirv, and Turv.

“Rath.” Mirv said, the tears breaking free of her eyes.

“How long.” Rath said. He didn't feel his feet move, he just noticed himself begin to approach Turv.

“Not long.” Mirv said, looking low to the ground.

“Oh shut it.” Turv said abruptly. Rath stopped in his tracks. “I'll live long enough.”

“What do you mean?” Rath asked, his eyes felt wide.

“Listen kid.” Turv said. He tried getting to his feet but his legs began to shake like a newborn deers so he sat back down. “I won't be dying, I'm going to see this through. I'm going to see your dream all the way through, you got that?”

“My dream?” Rath questioned, the word felt so hollow to him.

Turv lifted his body slightly, taking his fist and pounding it on Rath’s chest. “Yeah lad, I'm going to see this through, Criss as its own kingdom or whatever. I'm going to see all our people safe before I leave ya.”

Rath felt a sudden calm. He smiled at Turv, when did his cheeks become wet? “Very well.” Rath said. He turned around sharply and began for the door.

“Where are you going?” Mirv asked.

Rath turned his head back to Mirv. “I'm going to Pierce. I'm going to end this quickly.” 

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