It must have been two or three hours after sunset when we opened our eyes. Our sharp senses alerted us to any danger outside of the cave. It was thanks to that sixth sense that I had survived my many lonely travels on the road. No monster or human could ever sneak up on me. Gahn was the same way.
He was the first to move, grabbing his dual blades and crawling up the tunnel. I wasn’t sure what he was planning, so I followed him quickly. He would be at a disadvantage should someone be waiting for him outside the cave. I watched him pause in front of the stone, silent as he listened for any possible sounds coming from the other side.
I knew he was trying to scope out the danger outside, but it was no use with the stone in the way. We could hear voices and sense people out there, but we couldn’t see to know what we were up against. I flipped the cape of Gahn’s cloak to his back and spread his bent legs apart in order to crawl under him. He grunted in surprise but allowed it. Closing my eyes, I placed my hand on the boulder and chanted quietly.
As I cast the spell, a masculine disembodied voice joined mine, one that only I could hear. This was the voice was my spiritual guardian, lending me power for my spells. The spell I cast took effect instantly, turning the stone into glass. Now we could see through the rock, but on the other side, the solid remained opaque.
There were three people outside, two guards and one person dressed in robes. I recognized the pattern on the robes immediately as the crest of a psychic, the lowest level member of the clergy. The psychic had his hand out and eyes closed, trying to sniff out spiritual energy like a bloodhound. He was probably tracking us, though it was a surprise that the local temple even bothered to help out the brothel.
The psychic was currently standing in the area Gahn and I had been standing a few hours ago, facing in the direction of the cave. I noticed the young boy I had knocked out was no longer there. He probably returned to the brothel to report us…
“Here,” the psychic intoned, “Two humans – no – Demons stood here.”
“Demons!?” one of the guards shouted in shock. It was sad and funny how people were quick to forget that Demons were actually people.
“Yes. I sense her, the Demoness. She is the golden-eyed witch that you seek,” the clergyman continued, bringing a scowl to my face. Damn. Did he really know of me and my energy, or was he only versed in rumors? If the temple truly was aware of me, then I needed to get out of town as soon as possible.
“Impossible! She is just a woman!” the same guard argued, only to be ignored by the psychic.
When he directly faced the cave, I immediately placed my hands on the glass-like rock and blocked the flow of spiritual energy to his third eye. The psychic paused, eyes narrowed in concentration as he attempted to regain the trail. I rapidly made up a new path for him to follow – one that led away from us – and unblocked his third eye. His face relaxed but he stopped at the stone as he sensed my false trail.
Satisfied with the reading, the psychic opened his amethyst eyes. At first they glowed brightly in the night before they dimmed to normal human eyes. Then he turned to the guards, who eagerly awaited his reading.
“They stood by this stone, then headed northeast from here. The trail is fresh. They must have left no more than twenty minutes before we arrived.”
The guards quickly ran in the direction mentioned and was soon followed by the psychic at a slower pace. Gahn and I held still for a few minutes, making sure they were gone before I cancelled the spell. The stone lost its transparency and regained its original form.
If I had stayed home, I would have been a priestess by now. When I was young, I was forced to study in the temple so that I would one day join the ranks of the clergy. However, priestesses were no more than mere healers who had to serve the priests like slaves. I knew I was capable of much more than that, so I took my intensive training on the road and forged a new life for myself.
“Let them follow that trail for a while,” I said with a grin. They say priestesses didn’t have the power to manipulate energies like priests; that we were no more powerful than the lowly psychic. They were wrong, of course, and now I was Demon posing as a mercenary. Thankfully it was only a peon psychic this time. If the clergy around here should discover who I really was, I’d be in serious trouble.
I felt Gahn shift above me and reached out to the stone. He pushed it out of the mouth of the cave with one hand and told me to move. I finally noticed the rather compromising position we were in and speedily scrambled out from under him. When I was out, I noticed that he was trying hard not to laugh at me.
“We better go before they figure out what happened,” he announced, changing the subject as he closed the cave entrance.
I took a moment to glance around and weighed our options. I was pretty good at making false trails, but sooner or later the psychic was going to reach the end. Either they were going to spread out from there or return here to try again. They might pick up our real trails if they did.
“Wait. I better cut off our energy flow in case they try to do another reading here. Sit down, you’re too tall,” I ordered, approaching him.
Another priest level trick I knew was to temporarily seal the energy that flowed out of our souls. For a short amount of time, we could wander around without leaving anything behind for a clergy member to sense. It came in very handy for situations like this, and it sometimes allowed me to walk right under clergy noses if I traveled alongside a crowd.
He didn’t hesitate to do as I told him. I gathered sealing energy on the tip of my forefinger and drew the symbols on his forehead, chest, the palms of his hands, and the soles of his feet. When the symbols disappeared into his body, I traced the same design onto my own skin and felt my powers fade. Power came from the soul, as well as my spiritual guardian, so naturally I would lose them with the seal. It was the only drawback from using the technique, hence why it was designed as a time-limited spell.
For my protection, I kept my powers a closely guarded secret in fear that someone might make the connection that the Demoness could actually be the runaway priestess-in-training. I could be identified by my energy alone if I ever gave a priest a reason to do a reading on me.
Gahn was a tricky subject when it came to my powers. He already knew who I was from the moment he started to follow me, though he’d made an effort to act like he didn’t know anything about me. The unnerving part was that I was officially listed as a runaway Demon noblewoman, and that my former affiliation with the clergy was kept a guarded secret. The ‘Demon General’ himself shouldn’t know anything other than the official news, but he wasn’t one bit surprised when I accidentally slipped and cast a spell in front of him.
As far as I was aware, Gahn was never part of the clergy, so by all rights he shouldn’t have any access to clergy affairs to know right away that I had spiritual powers. In the end it didn’t really matter. Whatever he did placed him in a similar position as me, so he couldn’t do anything with the information he had. He would likely sooner be killed than rewarded for my capture. That assumption was only evidenced by the fact that he made no attempt to betray me during the long time we’d been traveling together.
Now that we were sealed, we began to follow the creek back toward the outer reaches of the town, away from the search party.
The seal lasted for half an hour, giving us enough time to exit the woods and reach the main road. On the way back to the city, we stopped at the outskirts of town where San lived. This area was considered the ‘poor district’ with its simple cottages and farm houses. It seemed ‘city people’ didn’t realize there were some who merely preferred peace and quiet.
There was a hill that separated the area from the main city and the vibrant lights could clearly be seen at the top. I stopped at the edge of San’s property, debating whether to visit him now or in the morning. We were supposed to meet here once everything was over, but since they had ratted me out, I wasn’t sure if I should show up. But I wanted my reward, and the guard was likely still chasing my false trail in the forest. Even if there were a few left lying in wait, it should be a small enough number for Gahn and I to handle without gaining attention.
Besides, the idiot needed to leave soon if he wanted to keep the girl away from them. He might have temporarily bought their favor by ratting me out, but that wouldn’t last long if they caught her at his home. If I waited until morning, he could be halfway to the next town. I didn’t want to give the brat a chance to stiff me the money he owed.
Gahn stayed at the poorly-made stick fence, lingering behind in case an enemy was lurking around the property. I saw something white on the steps and approached cautiously, keeping my guard up for a possible trap. As I drew closer I recognized the object as a small bag, with a note attached to the outside.
It was addressed, ‘To the dumb bimbo’. I gritted my teeth, knowing it was meant for me. The letter was even more infuriating.
‘Thanks for nothing you ass-faced idiot. You were supposed to deliver my girl to my house, not set her loose where she could get lost! She did at least make it back safely and we have since moved to Red Water. We’ll be staying there a few days and then move on to another great adventure. Tell Sir Gahn that he’s still welcome to join us. Don’t let your pea brain forget to tell him that. Then again you’re probably too stupid to read this.
San the Great Adventurer
P.S. The money belongs to Sir Gahn. Don’t you dare take it!’
I ripped the letter to shreds and claimed the money for myself. Gahn didn’t want it anyway, and he wasn’t the one they hired. I could tell by the weight that it wasn’t even half of my usual fee. Jerks.
How ironic for them to call me stupid when they left behind a note that not only gave away their location, but also admitted that they hired me to kidnap the woman. Had I not been the first person by here, then someone from the brothel would’ve found it. I felt bad for Ilana. Maybe being a whore was a better fate in this case.
I walked back to Gahn with a defeated grin. The sad part was that if they were stupid kids, then what did that make the person who agreed to work for them? But in my defense, I didn’t have much of a choice. There wasn’t much work for mercenaries around here, and I needed the money to survive.
“They’re safe,” I informed my companion. “He left a note saying I’m an ass-faced idiot and to tell you that you’re still welcome to join them in Red Water.”
His lips quirked at the colorful insult. “I wonder why they didn’t ask you to join them? You’ve done more work than I have.”
“It’s because I’m not a famous war general,” I said mockingly and glared at the ground, “Or it’s because I’m lacking a shaft and balls. Whatever. Let’s just go back to the inn. I want to leave first thing in the morning.”
“Ridiculous,” he muttered as he fell in step beside me.
We headed back in the direction of the inn where we were staying. It was probably gutsy of me to stay one more night with the threat of the clergy discovering me, but there was a greater chance of running into pursuit out there. It was better to leave casually in the morning, when all search parties were exhausted and there was less of an expectation for the criminal to still be in town. Such were tips from the brilliant war strategist imparted to me in the duration of our travels.
“It doesn’t matter who you are or if you’re famous. You clearly have skills far more advanced than any soldier I’ve ever met,” Gahn’s words slipped into the silence that had hovered between us in the last few minutes. He wrapped his arm around my shoulders, making me glance up at him questioningly. That was unusual, but I decided to let it slide. I assumed he was just trying to cheer me up.
I scoffed upon hearing his words, “I seem to recall you saying that I was ‘too soft’!”
I barely caught the smirk that appeared on his lips. “You are soft. …But you’re soft in the right places.”
I laughed. “That sounded like a naughty compliment,” I said, dismissing it as a silly joke. Even the ‘legendary’ Gahn made lewd remarks about women once in a while, though he never went out of his way to actually flirt with them. Sometimes he’d even tease me, but otherwise he’d treat me with the utmost respect, as he did with everyone else. Besides, any man who knew me long enough knew better than to flirt with me. I wasn’t that kind of girl to be interested in.
But my ease around him faded when his arm fell to my lower back and his hand slid toward my chest. “Maybe because it is one,” he replied in a voice that was playfully sinister as he grabbed a handful of my breast and gave it a squeeze.
“HEY!” I couldn’t believe the famous Demon General just felt me up! He wouldn’t have been able to if I was wearing my armor…
I pinched his hand off and moved as far away from him as I could. I scowled, making a mental note to never let my guard down around him again. In my long career as a mercenary, he was the first to have ever done that- and I was going to make damn sure he’d be the last.
The evil grin that crossed his face was alarming. It was hard to tell if he was joking or if he was really trying to seduce me… Gahn would never touch anyone inappropriately. At least not in front of me, since he’d talked of groping girls back in his army days. There was no way he was coming on to me. Maybe this was all an elaborate attempt to get me to forget about San and his discrimination. I wasn’t exactly happy with the treatment.
“Okay, if you’re trying to tell me that I’m a good mercenary and that people are just too stupid to see that, then I believe you. You don’t need to do or say anything to cheer me up. I don’t have to like my employers, after all,” I said in a rushed voice. I was horrified to feel my face burning and prayed that he couldn’t see it in the moonlight.
Gahn took a step closer and I instinctively took a step back. To cover my embarrassment, I started marching towards the inn. He easily caught up and fell in step beside me. He was staring at me again, but I chose to ignore him. I would’ve beaten up any other man who tried to treat me like a girl, but he was a special case. He was the only man who could actually beat me in a fight, and I held a healthy amount of respect for him.
We reached the Inn in record time with my sudden haste, and I was the first to enter our room. I wanted to throw my armor on in that moment to protect myself. I was feeling oddly naked without it on, now that Gahn crossed the line. The discomfort I felt was unfamiliar; I wasn’t sure if it was a good idea to share a room anymore.
I turned to fund my companion standing at the door, appearing uncertain. More importantly, he was still staring at me…
“What!?” I barked, then lowered my voice, “I mean…why are you just standing there?”
“You seem angry. I didn’t want to risk you slamming the door in my face,” he answered, his tone dry. He knew perfectly well I couldn’t cross the distance between us fast enough to do just that. Unfortunately I also lacked the tact and brute strength to forcibly push him out and make him sleep elsewhere.
“I’m not angry,” I muttered swiftly, glancing down at the night clothes I was pulling out to wear. I didn’t act like this with others: I was letting him get away with the grope without at least attempting to smash his face in for it. Whether he was teasing me or not, I didn’t let myself be an object for others’ amusement.
I suppose I could attribute my behavior to shock or embarrassment. Things like this didn’t happen to me. Normal men didn’t want a masculine woman who could fight and kill. Gahn didn’t strike me as the type to want a woman like me.
I was cut off from my thoughts when he crossed the room and placed his hands on my shoulders.
“You truly are fit to be called a Demon,” he whispered in my ear, and I felt an unusual warmth flicker within me. Coming from a warrior like him, that was an honor. To the public, we were something to be feared and avoided, but to us it meant that we were strong, intelligent, and independent.
I began to panic when I felt his arms encircle my body. It was a mistake to allow him to get near me again. My thoughts were demonstrated when his heated speech continued.
“Men are fools if they can’t see what a precious treasure you are, but I am no fool.”
I lost my voice and my heart felt like it was hammering against my chest. No, no, no… this sounded dangerously close to a romantic speech before a claiming. We were only traveling companions just hours ago. Where did these alleged feelings for me come from? How could I have missed them if he’d felt anything for me all this time?
His voice, strong and possessive, was clear in the silence between us. “You’re mine.”
“Wh-what!?” I came to my senses and tried to pull away from him when he slid a gold band on my finger, proving he was serious. When did he get that? And where did this foolish desire to have me for a wife come from!?
Marriage rituals were different for commoners and nobility. Nobles observed courtships and an official wedding ceremony. But commoners – or rather men – could marry by just ‘claiming’ a woman and forcing a ring on her finger. The woman had no say over the matter and must obey her new husband. This misogynistic and stupid ritual was perfect for simple minded commoners (though it tended to have a few issues if there were many suitors to one woman).
Though in truth it wasn’t as bad as it sounded. The man did have to seek approval from both the father and the head priest of the local temple before they could announce their claim, but it was a different story for women who had no family. I’ve had a few drunks who tried to claim me before, but I was able to get out of them. There was nothing in the law that said that I couldn’t beat up the idiots and make them change their mind. I could also kill them if need be.
However, I had no hope of winning against Gahn in battle. If only we hadn’t forsaken our nobility. If I were still a noble, I’d have the right to refuse him. At least highborn women had some say in their lives; not much, but more than a commoner.
I felt tears forming in my eyes, but the mercenary in me refused to shed them. “This has to be a joke,” I said shakily. “Just hurry up and tell me you were kidding.”
“It’s no joke. I mean to have you as my wife,” he answered, sounding confused. He was honestly serious? I couldn’t believe this was happening. To what purpose would it serve for me to be his wife? None of this made sense!
I laughed bitterly, then clenched my teeth in anger when I realized that he must have been planning this for quite some time. “I don’t care what the law says, I refuse to be your servant!” I yelled. I suppose there were some men out there who would love to have the Demoness under their control, but I never thought he was one of them. I was hurt and betrayed by this- so much so that I didn’t care if I was getting too loud to or if I disturbed the other patrons.
“I don’t want a servant,” Gahn replied patiently as he nuzzled my hair affectionately, “I want a strong and capable partner-”
“When I said ‘let’s be partners,’ I meant professionally! Not this!” I snarled, afraid to say the word ‘romantically’. There was no way that this was a marriage of romance. I almost doubted my thoughts when he turned me around to kiss me. I figured it was a tactic to silence me. If I were any louder, the innkeeper would throw us out.
It worked, since I could only stare in stunned silence as his wind-chapped lips moved against mine. He wanted to deepen the kiss, but I kept my mouth shut. Gahn knew I would bite his tongue if he forced his way in. I realized then how foolish I’d been. I let him get to know me and I allowed him to get close. I was so sure he’d thought of me as a man. Everyone else did!
His grip on me slackened as he pulled back, and without hesitation, I slapped him across the face. My hand pulled back for round two, but his hand easily caught mine, and fury pumped through my veins when I realized he let me hit him the first time. I braced myself for retribution, but none came. Instead, his lips trailed kisses from the tips of my fingers to the palm of my hand.
Gahn reassured me that nothing would change. I could still be a mercenary and act however I wanted, but I didn’t believe him. Not after that betrayal. I was now determined to make him regret this night. I would show him how ‘loving’ a wife I could be.
In the end, he didn’t force me to do anything and we went to sleep in separate beds. Suspicion and confusion coalesced in the face of his respectful actions. Throughout the night I glanced at his face, remembering the times when I used to hate him. Back then he’d conquered my kingdom, killed my king, and demoted my parents to the rank of Count. They were petty things that I had stopped caring about.
But now I wasn’t sure what to think of him. I thought I could trust him not to betray me like this. I wanted to do something to make him take back his claim, or at least get him to regret making me his wife, but I just couldn’t bring myself to approach his sleeping form. He scared me on some level, and I knew he could kick my ass in a fight.
I still wasn’t happy over the situation, but I had to let it go for now. I needed sleep and time to cool off anyway. Surely I’ll think of a plan to fix this and return everything back to the way it was, come morning.