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Chapter 1

The Demoness’ Life

 

I ducked down low against the chair I was hiding behind as several guards rushed past the open door of the room.  Apparently one of my new ‘teammates’ had revealed him self and had caught the attention of the guards. That was fine with me since it made my job a lot easier.

I had been hired by an odd group of young men who claimed to be adventurers. The leader, a boy no more than nineteen years of age, had lost his girlfriend to a local brothel because her parents couldn’t afford to support her anymore. He wanted to break in and save her, but not many mercenaries were willing to take on a brothel.

To take on a brothel would mean incurring the wrath of the brothel lord and be forever hunted by his men. Naturally, I told him this and was ignored. It was probably because I was a woman. Female mercenaries were very rare since most women my age were raised to be docile and were already claimed by a man.

I could have lived the simple life of a housewife or even the life my parents had chosen for me. But instead I was seduced by the lifestyle of my brother. He was a paladin, versed in the healing arts and an accomplished swordsman. But alas, women were not allowed to be paladins. I had to settle for mercenary.

In the beginning, not many considered me for a job. Only other women and sometimes the elderly hired me, thinking that I was a safe person to be around. My current employers hadn’t wanted anything to do with me at first, but eventually caved in when no one else would answer their call.

As I said before, no one was stupid enough to take on a brothel. But at least I knew how to sneak around in one. Since I was a woman, my opinions and good advice didn’t matter to my employers. The teenagers foolishly decided on a half-baked plan to sneak in a few hours before sunset. The leader’s job was to kill the boss, while the others covered him. I was given the mundane task of finding his girl.

I suppose my job could have been worse. I could’ve been the ‘lookout’. My skills in battle were being wasted, but I could make up for it with extra practice tomorrow.

When it was all clear, I moved from my position and headed out into the hall. I had little time, but I used the distraction to sneak into the rooms of the prostitutes to inquire about my target. The girls were just waking up from all the commotion. Some tensed up when I came in, but they quickly relaxed upon realizing that I was a girl too.

They were highly cooperative, telling me everything they knew about the new girl and where she was kept. Ilana, my target, was being held on the first floor in the auction cage. New girls were auctioned off on their first night as ‘virgins’. It didn’t matter if the girl was one or not, as long as she had never been seen in a brothel before.

Suddenly, a knock at the door and a gruff voice on the other side warned me that one of the guards was coming in to check on the girls. It was times like this that I loved my gender as the girls quickly scrambled to hide me. They covered me with the blankets from their beds and sat in front of me as the man entered, questioned them, and left. You could say it was ‘honor among women’ as a woman is more likely to help a sister. Or you could call it ‘greed’ as my success would mean that there would be one less girl getting their tips.

The patrolling guard momentarily disheartened me. It was a set back since I needed to get out of the room in order to get down to the first floor. I looked about the room to find that it was barely tall enough for a person to stand in. There was a small vanity mirror in one corner and many rickety old beds lining the walls. Clothing hung from pegs on the wall and at the foot of each bed was a small chest. There were no chairs or windows and the thin wooden floor creaked and groaned when I walked across the room.

I soon learned that this was only a bedroom for the whores to sleep and dress in before they headed down to the cages below to attract customers. The girls proved useful again as they showed me the hatch that led down to the first level. They lowered the steps for me and I thanked them for their help before I descended.

It was still mid-afternoon with sunset about an hour away when I touched the bottom floor of the cage. The cage faced the street but since it was still daylight, there were no men gathered and cat calling at the cage bars yet. There were quite a few people roaming the streets and visiting nearby shops, but none noticed me as I quietly crossed the cage to the wooden wall and the nearest door.  I strained to hear footsteps before I ventured out into the hallway behind the cage. I walked carefully to make sure that my boots didn’t make a sound on the hardwood floors as I traveled further into the heart of the building.

It wasn’t long before I heard feminine whimpering close to the back of the brothel. It was darker in this area as there were no windows, torches, or glowstones here. I turned a corner to find faint yellow light coming from under a door. As I kneeled down and pressed my ear to the door, I could hear the same whimpering sounds from behind it. But now there were a few squeals and shouts of ‘get away from me’.

Standing up, I felt around for the door handle and quietly opened the door. Inside there was a small, open cage at the back of the room. In front of the cage was a rather chubby man in expensive robes trying to subdue a young girl who looked to be in her mid teens. The girl was flushed from embarrassment and had tears rolling down her cheeks. From my vantage point, I could see that her under dress was ripped open at the chest and there was a red mark on her face that was beginning to bruise.

I noted her wavy auburn hair and grey eyes. She matched Ilana’s description. I quietly flung open the door and reached for the nearest blunt object. The man’s back was facing me so he didn’t see me coming as I struck him on his head with a thick golden candleholder. The man proved to be thick headed as the blow only dazed him, but it was enough for the girl to escape his grasp and run behind me.

Senseless, the man turned with a silly grin on his fat face and tried to reach for Ilana again. He stopped short when he noticed me in his way. Before he could ask who I was or call for the guards, I struck him again with the candleholder, this time across his face. It was almost comical to watch the fat of his face fly out in the direction of the hit before returning to his face like rubber.

The man managed to twist as he fell, landing face first with his rear end in the air. I found his rear a tempting and large target. I couldn’t resist giving him a sharp kick in the ass before grabbing the girl’s arm and dragging her out behind me. I wasn’t sure if the man was the lord or just some noble hoping to have an early audience with a whore. I just had to focus on my mission to get Ilana out of the brothel and to safety.

“GUARDS!” a voice screeched into the darkness. Apparently the fat man recovered fast. The thundering sounds of heavy boots soon filled the area and light began seeping into the darkened halls. I was thankful I had the foresight to do a reconnaissance of the brothel’s exterior before the mission to locate escape routes I could take. I quickly led Ilana towards the very back of the building to where the backdoor of the place was.

I was soon rewarded with the light of the late afternoon as I yanked open the lone door in the seemingly forgotten passageway. I lightly cursed the fact that the mission had to be done during the day where anyone could see us running away. But luckily the back door led to a wilderness of tall grass and low bushes. If we kept running east, we would be in the forest that surrounded the city.

Ilana was still weeping behind me, scared out of her wits. I didn’t have time to comfort her as I shoved her into the nearby bushes and jumped in after her. I knew anyone on the upper floors could see us so our best bet was to hide among the plants.

“Be quiet and crawl after me,” I hissed at the girl, but she refused to cooperate. She was getting dirty and the branches of the bushes were cutting her lilywhite skin. So I revised the plan and told her to give me her outer dress. If I could run in another direction and make it look like I was dragging her with me, I could direct the guards away from her and let her make her escape. She hesitated at my orders before I explained the plan to her. When she finally relented, she slowly removed her heavy velvet dress and revealed even more bruises on her arms.

She was now in a thin white under dress with several rips and tears. Ilana self-consciously crossed her arms to cover the cleavage showing from the rip. I told her to stay still for a few minutes and then head north after I was gone. I was dismayed to find that she didn’t know her directions and I had to point where north was.

“When you reach the road, go to San’s house and stay there until he returns. You should know your way when you get out of here.”

“Yes,” the girl nodded, speaking for the first time in a soft dulcet tone. I quickly arose from the brush with her outer dress in tow. I made a show like I was running with a heavy body as I headed east a good distance away from Ilana and dived into another sea of grass and leaves. I knew someone had spotted me when I heard shouting.

I threw the dress on my shoulder and crawled like mad. I had to put enough distance between my pursuers and me. I was careful not to disturb the bushes so I wouldn’t give away my position. I could soon hear the rustling of leaves as my pursuers drew nearer. Suddenly a hand shot out to grab mine and it took all of my private training not to scream out.

“Sathra, this way,” a familiar voice whispered to me. I allowed myself to be pulled by the hand into a trench in the earth. Upon further inspection, I realized that it wasn’t a trench but a creek bed and I was now squatting against a boulder in the bank. I took a deep breath, suddenly feeling tired. I sat down and pulled my knees up to my chest. I faced my rescuer.

“Thanks Gahn. I figured you would be done long before I was,” I said with a sigh of relief.

“All I had to do was distract the guards outside. They didn’t give me any other orders after that,” Gahn replied in a quiet tone. I remember hearing him challenging the guards to a fight earlier. I was glad to know that my talents weren’t the only ones wasted today.

“Hmm…did you win the challenge?” I wondered as I felt my eyelids droop. He most likely did, but I couldn’t help but ask. He was ten times better than me with the sword and I was no pushover.

“Silly question,” he chuckled back at me.

Gahn had been traveling with me for several months and had helped me earn more money than I could’ve earned by myself. In fact he was the reason I had gotten hired for this job.

I’d been traveling alone for many years when, one day, this warrior began following me. At first it was subtle. He happened to be heading in the same direction as I was and staying in the same inns. He would eat only a few seats away from me at taverns. He was like a stalker in a way, but a non-threatening kind.  It wasn’t long before he began to help me with the jobs I’d take on, not asking for compensation.

Soon after, I just accepted him as a partner and even lied to my employers that he was my mercenary partner in order to get hired. Gahn wasn’t a mercenary. He was a warrior, a former knight from the Silver Country.  I’ll bet there wasn’t a man alive who didn’t know his name or his legacy as one of the youngest generals of the Evergreen army.

I remember seeing him back when I was younger and when he was just a captain. I remember looking at him with hatred as his troops paraded into my town after his kingdom succeeded in invading mine. He was only fifteen years old then and I was seven. Over time and after I left home, my hatred for him and his army faded. I realized that our king was pretty much a tyrant and needed to be overthrown. I hadn’t lost any family or friends to the war. My brother had been eleven and was much too young to be in the army, while my father had been a court magician but was never even injured in battle.

When I first saw him again, it took me a while to recognize him. He pretty much looked the same, but much older considering he was in his early thirties now. At first I thought he was tracking me down to take me back home to my family, but I realized this was unlikely after a few weeks of him missing perfect opportunities to catch me. I later found out that he had left his home and position in the army. I didn’t know why he left home and I didn’t ask since I figured that he wouldn’t tell me anyway.

The sun soaked stone felt warm on my back even as the air around us began cooling in preparation for the night. I resisted the urge to lean my head on Gahn’s shoulder.  Instead, I folded up Ilana’s outer dress and placed it on my knees as a makeshift pillow. I wished I had gotten more sleep the night before.

Last night was the first night I had given in and decided to share a room with him.

It was my way of thanking him and showing that I trusted him. But I was so unused to having a roommate that I woke every time he turned in his bed. And he did that a lot.

I suppose it wasn’t really a good idea since it was taboo for a man and a woman to share a room unless they were married. Gahn didn’t seem to care though, and neither did I after I thought it over. Every man I met eventually considered me a man and treated me like one. I had the pretty face and figure of a woman, but no woman cut her hair short or wielded a sword. I even carried myself like a man. Most men were disgusted at the thought of having someone like me as a wife. What use was a woman who didn’t cook, clean, or sew, and could think for herself?

“Quickly! They were headed east!” a voice cried in the distance followed by the thundering hooves of horses. I smiled at the fact that the voice said ‘they’. It meant that they hadn’t found Ilana and they thought she was with me. I briefly wondered if my employer and his little goons managed to complete their mission or even get out alive. I hoped so for Ilana’s sake. …And because they still needed to pay me.

We stayed still, not daring to move an inch even as several men on horses jumped over us and crossed the creek. No one bothered to glance back as they headed off further into the forest. Suited me fine. Less chance of me getting caught. But we weren’t completely lucky as two men on foot jumped down and found us.

One of the men was a thick and burly old man in his mid forties. His head was shaved and had a few lumps visible on his scalp. Scars lined his sinewy arms and a few stitches could be seen on his upper left arm. The other one was the complete opposite. He was a youth of maybe seventeen years with some baby fat still on his face. His hair was a tangled mess of chocolate brown. His eyes were light brown, large with inexperience. There was not a scar or cut to be seen on his body. He would have been quite handsome if he practiced better hygiene.

“Well, what have we here?” the older man said as he held up his sword. Gahn was wearing a cloak with a hood hiding his face so they couldn’t figure out if he was the other ‘girl’ they were searching for. We both stood up and I was sure the men realized that my companion was much too masculine looking to match the description of the people they were after. Gahn was at least a foot taller than me and was wearing armor under his cloak. Unfortunately, I had to leave my armor back at the inn for this mission. I couldn’t sneak around with it on.

“Good evening gentlemen,” Gahn called out smoothly, “What can we do for you?”

The youth appeared doubtful and darted his eyes between Gahn and me. He then lowered his sword and whispered to his companion, “I don’t think these are the people we’re looking for. We’re supposed to be searching for two girls.”

“Don’t be fooled boy, this is her! Not many girls have dirty blonde hair and gold colored eyes. This man must be her accomplice and they have hidden the other girl.”

I faked a confused glance towards Gahn to make the boy doubt further and then asked out loud, “Any idea what this drunk is slurring about?”

For added effect I crossed my arms and pretended to be angry with Gahn, “Have you kidnapped some girl behind my back? You pig…”

I could see his smirk in the shadows of his hood. Both men appeared confused and unsure, but only for a moment. The older man shook his head and took a step closer.

“Do you think I’m an idiot? I will kill you and take the woman!” he snarled at Gahn, completely ignoring me. I sighed with boredom as I realized I would have to watch Gahn do all the fighting. Why didn’t they consider me a threat? I was the one who beat up the fat man and befriended their whores.

“I’ve had enough of defeating small fry,” Gahn almost whined, albeit in a monotone voice. He then glanced at me, “Why don’t you fight them?”

“Gee, thanks…” I deadpanned. I knew he was letting me have a turn, but did he have to make it sound like such an insult?

“What!?” the ugly one barked in rage. A disgusting waft of stale alcohol and bad breath drifted to my nose and a few droplets of spittle landed on my face. He was absolutely livid at the insinuation that I could face him in battle. His whole face was turning red and his veins popped out around his neck.

With a loud battle cry he charged at Gahn with his oversized broadsword. But he stopped short when my blade, a measly short sword, was placed under his chin. Normally I would carry a lightweight broadsword, but my mission also demanded that I leave it behind with my armor.

“You heard the man. I’m your opponent,” I insisted.

My ‘adversary’ growled before he managed to jump back and swipe at me with his weapon. I easily dodged and found an opening. Before the man knew it, he had a new bloody scar on his arm. He called me all sorts of vulgar names and tried to attack again, this time by lifting his sword above him. He intended to cleave me in half, but I was faster than he was. By the time the blade buried itself on the ground, I was behind him. I raised my sword and cleaved him across the back from his jugular vein to his upper hip on the opposite side.

His face was in shock as he dropped the heavy weapon and fell forward. But before he touched the ground and before his body could separate and spill all manner of blood and guts, he faded away. It was as if he turned into the smoke of incense and was blown away by the wind. It was a special technique of mine where I stole the soul from the body and sent it to be reborn again. The body then evaporated so that there would be no reminder of the former life of the soul. I only hoped he would live a better life in his next life.

The youth was shaking from the display, looking like he would piss in his pants any second. Even though it was an act of mercy, it didn’t change the fact that I had indeed killed the man. That alone scared the child. He flinched when I faced him and then held his sword before him in defense. I knew then that he had no experience in the act of killing. He probably never hunted for food before either.

I wondered why he was here doing this terrible job. Did he have no other choice? I couldn’t help but feel pity for him. A few years back, just after I turned twenty-one, I had been a bodyguard for a child. It was the first time I had been responsible for one and I somehow developed a motherly love for the child. Ever since then, I protected children and spared young teens on the battlefield.

Gahn noticed my hesitation and was quick to tell me that I was too soft. Any argument I could have thrown back was lost as I sensed another man heading for me. I turned to parry his blow and knocked the sword out of his hand before I sent his soul to be reborn as well.

“Don’t worry child, I won’t kill you. I can see that you’re too innocent to have blood spilt,” I reassured the youth when I faced him again. The boy dropped his weapon and trembled as my hand caressed his cheek. He must have thought I was a monster… It may not have been too far from the truth. I was called ‘Demoness’ by the other mercenaries and adventurers. I told the youth to find another line of work before I knocked him out with the hilt of my sword.

“We better hide until it’s safe to return to town,” Gahn suggested as I gently laid the boy down on the soft ground.

“Where should we hide? The forest is crawling with the brothel guards now,” I pointed out.

He answered me by rolling the large stone to the side. Behind the boulder was a tiny cave. He explained how he found it while waiting for me to appear. It was apparently an old abandoned clubhouse for children. I had to get on my hands and knees to crawl inside the cave. Gahn entered backwards so that he could move the stone in front of the opening.

The tunnel soon widened to a tiny room just tall enough for me to stand in, but too short for Gahn. In the center was a pile of natural glowstones that illuminated the room with a soft green light. Old musty pillows and blankets were piled around the circular walls, smelling heavily of mildew. Above us in the ceiling was a hole that led to the hill above the creek, letting in fresh air so that anyone inside wouldn’t suffocate.

I ignored the old smells and spread out a blanket to sit on. When I settled down, Gahn came to sit beside me.

“We should stay here until it’s completely dark. That way, it will be harder to be seen,” Gahn reasoned.

I think a made a noise to show that I was listening and that I agreed with him. At that point I was dead tired and the fighting had made it worse. Gahn tossed Ilana’s dress into my lap and then pulled the hood off his head. His hair was about the same length as mine, if not a tad longer. The ends of his hair curled up naturally, giving it the appearance of it being shorter than mine. It was an ebony color, darker than night itself. It was his hair color and the crimson color of his eyes that earned him the title, ‘Demon’ in my home country.

He was still considered a monster back home for all the attacks he led against us during the war. Demon was the title given to heretics that turned against the chosen way of life, but my people called him that out of spite. Kings and other officials brainwashed the public into believing that the individuals called ‘Demons’ were people who killed and bathed in the blood of others. This was to alienate commoners from Demons and to keep them from finding out that it was possible to think for oneself.

Gahn officially became a Demon when he left home, but my people always believed he was a heretic and a murderer. I simply stopped caring since it happened so long ago. Gone was the pale youthful face that I used to hate, replaced by a tanned, chiseled face belonging to a man. I hadn’t realized I had been staring at him until I focused on the beard stubble on his jaw. I was reminded of the fact that he didn’t have time to shave this morning and jerked awake from my daze as I wondered why I cared. I thought about odd things when I was tired…

I finally gave up and rested my head on his shoulder to doze off for a bit. I muttered a short apology, for what I wasn’t sure, and was about to slip off to dreamland. I jolted awake several minutes later when I felt his hand snake around me and pull me closer to his body. I had to admit it was a much more comfortable position to be in and warmer since the glowstones did little in heating up the cave. This was the first time I was ever this close to him and it was a bit unnerving.

“Why are you being so affectionate?” I questioned in teasing voice…at least I hoped it sounded teasing.

“No reason,” he replied.

He was so close that I could feel his warm breath on my face. It was unusual for him to willingly sit close to anyone. Since he was considered a legend, people worshipped and praised his being when they found out who he was. It made him seem superior to others, that he was someone untouchable. The fact that he would distance himself and ignore some people also helped to fortify the feeling that he was high and mighty. Even I felt beneath him sometimes.

I was aware that he was staring at me and tried hard not to blush. To my inner horror, I still felt the warming effects of a blush coming on. I had to say something to distract myself…

“San seems to want you to join his so called ‘adventures’. Are you thinking about it?” I inwardly cursed myself for such a stupid question. Gahn didn’t care for the little nuisance anymore than I did.

“I haven’t thought of his offer at all. Would you go?” It was a rhetorical question. He knew I wouldn’t have accepted the offer either.

“I wasn’t even invited.” I was surprised that I sounded angry. I guess I was still upset over the discrimination…

“Am I making you nervous?” His question was blunt, but I could hear the amusement in his tone.

“Why would you ask that?” I nearly squeaked, but I managed to control my voice at the last second. I almost jumped when I felt his head lean against mine.

“You’re tense and you’re trying to start a conversation with silly questions. There’s no reason to be nervous around me.”

Easier said than done, I thought bitterly, but then realized he was right. It was getting colder as night approached and there was no other way to keep warm …at least not with the ratty blankets in here. I was being silly. I learned long ago to shut away my feelings and let go of my dignity when it came to survival. My body began to relax again and my eyelids grew heavier. Gahn fell asleep first before I was pulled into sweet oblivion.

                         ****************************

It must have been two or three hours after sunset when we both opened our eyes. Our senses were as sharp as our blades and alerted us to any danger. It was thanks to my sixth sense that I had survived many lonely travels on the road. No monster or human could ever sneak up on me. I knew Gahn was the same way.

He was the first to move. He grabbed his dual blades and crawled down the tunnel. I wasn’t sure what he was planning. He would be at a disadvantage should someone be waiting for him outside the cave. But then again, he was the Demon General of the Evergreen Army. I followed him until he paused at the entrance. He was trying to hear outside.

I knew it was no use since the stone was very thick. Even someone outside wouldn’t be able to hear us. I quickly pulled up the cape of Gahn’s cloak to his mid back and spread his thighs so I could crawl under him. He made a grunt of surprise at my actions, but allowed it. He was probably curious to see what I was up to. When I was up to the boulder, I placed my hand on the stone and closed my eyes.

Let us see, but not be seen…” There was another voice added to mine. It was more masculine than mine. I learned at an early age that the other voice was my spiritual guardian lending me power for my spells. The spell was quick to take effect, turning the stone into glass. Soon we could see and hear outside, but whoever was out there couldn’t see or hear us.

I could see three people outside. Two guards and one person dressed in robes. I recognized the pattern on the robes as the crest of a psychic. The psychic had his hand out and eyes closed, trying to sniff out spiritual energy like a bloodhound. He was probably tracking us. The psychic was currently standing in the area Gahn and I had been standing a few hours before and was facing 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, they’re bathed in too much blood to be considered human. Two Demons of battle stood here.”

“Demons!?” one of the guards called in shock before the psychic continued.

“Yes. I sense her, the Demoness. She is the golden eyed witch you seek.”

“Impossible! She is just a woman!” the same guard argued. He was yet another example of male ignorance of the abilities of women. The psychic ignored the guard and began walking towards the cave.

I quickly placed my hands on the glass-like rock and blocked the flow of spiritual energy to his third eye. The psychic paused and then scrunched up his face as he tried to concentrate harder to regain the trail. I quickly made up a new path for him to follow, one that led away from us, and then unlocked his third eye. His face quickly relaxed as he continued on the original trail. He stopped at the stone, and then 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. He then 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, who walked at a slower pace. Gahn and I watched them 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 powerful priestess by now. I still carried the powers and knowledge of one due to my intensive training as a child.

“Let them follow that trail for a while,” I said with a grin. Thanks to my little nap, I wasn’t so tired anymore. 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 then told me to move. I finally noticed the rather compromising position we were in and quickly crawled out of the cave. He looked like he was laughing at me on the inside when he followed me out.

“We better go before they figure out what happened,” he said as he closed the cave entrance. Gahn was aware of my powers and was surprised to learn that I was the runaway priestess in training that everyone in Silver Country was searching for. I had not told him who I was until he finally asked me. It was after that moment I began to trust him because there was a large reward for my capture and return. Gahn only shrugged off the information and acted as if my priestess powers were no big deal.

“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 before I cast a spell into the air and gathered sealing energy on the tip of my forefinger.

Gahn didn’t hesitate to sit on the ground as I approached him. I drew a simple symbol on his forehead that looked like an upside down 4. I then continued to draw the seals on his chest, the palms of his hands, and the soles of his feet. It didn’t matter if he wore gloves or boots as the seal was designed to head straight for the soul. I then drew the seals on myself and felt my powers fade when the last symbol was drawn. My power came from my soul and from my spiritual guardian so naturally, I would lose them with the seal.

The seal lasted for half an hour, giving us enough time to head northwest out of the forest. We made it to the main road that led back to the city and started heading west. After ten minutes of traveling, we made it to the outskirts of the city where San lived. There was a hill that separated the outskirts 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.

Surely they would have made it back by now…if they were alive. I decided to check in, more to see if Ilana was safe than out of worry for the knuckleheads. Gahn stayed at the poorly made stick fence, refusing to come any closer to the home. He wasn’t interested in them or their money. Like all homes on the outskirts of Nine Hills, it was a simple cottage made of wood and straw. The buildings and homes at the city’s center were made of adobe, stone, or brick.

I was about to raise my fist to knock on the door when I noticed a bag on the doorstep it with a note attached. It was addressed ‘To the dumb bimbo’. I gritted my teeth, knowing it was addressed to 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, since you’re a girl, 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 took the money anyway. Gahn didn’t want their money so I might as well take it. I could tell by the weight that it wasn’t even half of my usual fee, but I was relieved to see that they had returned my talismans with the money. The talismans contained the same sealing magic I had cast earlier and they had the ability to hide spiritual energy when touching the skin. For some reason I had felt pity and let them borrow the talismans so they could make a clean escape should they fail to kill the brothel lord.

I felt really bad for Ilana. Maybe being a whore was a better fate in this case.

“They’re safe,” I informed Gahn when I returned to him. “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 don’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 stated mockingly before I 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 up the hill. The inn where we were staying was only a few blocks away from the brothel, but far enough away so we wouldn’t have to worry about being seen by guards. I didn’t want to know what Gahn was calling ‘ridiculous’, but it didn’t seem to matter, as he wasn’t finished talking.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re famous or if you’re a woman. You clearly have skills far more advanced than any soldier I’ve commanded.” He wrapped his arm around me. I glanced at him questioningly, but let it slide. Maybe he was just trying to cheer me up.

“Hmph,” I scoffed upon hearing his words, “I seem to recall you saying that I was ‘too soft’!”

“You are soft. …But you’re soft in the right places.”

That sounded like a naughty compliment,” I grinned. I always loved pointing out dirty things that people said without knowing it. I almost didn’t catch his smirk as the hand he placed at my waist suddenly moved up.

“Maybe it was,” he said in a voice that was playful and 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 was quick to pinch his hand off and moved as far from him as I could. I made a mental note to never point out dirty things in front of him again.

It was probably the most evil smirk I’d ever seen on Gahn’s face. I couldn’t tell if he was joking around or if he really was trying to seduce me. I decided that he was joking and suddenly realized how all the men I made fun of felt. After all my years of giving men a hard time, I’d finally received a taste of my own medicine.

“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 tease or cheer me up. I don’t have to like my employers, I just want their money,” I explained to him in a rushed voice. I was horrified to feel my face burning and prayed that he couldn’t see it in the moonlight. Since when had I ever acted like such a girly girl?

Gahn took a step closer to me and I instinctively took a step back. To cover my embarrassment and to prove that I wasn’t afraid of him, 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 refused to let him get the upper hand on me again.

We reached the inn in record time considering my sudden haste and I was the first to enter our room. I wanted to throw on my armor that moment to protect myself, but I knew that was a stupid idea. I would have to take it off again in order to sleep. Gahn stayed at the door, almost unsure if he should come in. More importantly, he was still staring at me…

“What!?” I barked out, then quickly lowered my tone, “I mean…why are you just standing there?”

“You seem angry. I didn’t want to risk you slamming the door in my face.”

“I’m not angry. Not at you anyway,” I replied. I could ask him how he would feel if I felt him up, but he would probably point out that I had it coming for making that comment. I would’ve said the same thing if I were in his shoes. I really walked into that one.

As I was steaming over my humiliation, Gahn came up behind me and placed his hands on my shoulders. He probably thought I was still upset over San.

“You are truly are fit to be called a Demon,” he whispered in my ear. 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 me. I shouldn’t have let him get close to me again. That was a mistake.

“Men are fools if they can’t see what a precious treasure you are, but I’m no fool.”

I lost my voice. The situation was turning really bad. Surely he wasn’t going to…

His voice was strong and possessive as he announced, “I claim you.”

“D-Don’t say that!” I cried as I tried to pull away from him.

Marriage rituals were different for commoners and nobility. Nobles observe courtships and an official wedding ceremony. But commoners, or rather men, can 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. 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 kill my ‘husbands’ and be set free. Gahn however… I had no hope of winning against him in battle.

If only we hadn’t forsaken our nobility. If I was still a noble, I could refuse him. Gahn easily held me still as I struggled against him. Damn it! I didn’t like feeling this weak! I was just as helpless as he slid a gold band on my finger. How long had he carried that around?

“Please, take it back. Let this be a joke.” I hadn’t really prayed this hard since I was thirteen and a priestess in training. I felt tears forming in my eyes, but the mercenary in me refused to shed them.

“Why would I take it back? I mean to have you as my wife.”

“And then what? Take me back to the Holy Citadel? Or perhaps Evergreen? I don’t care what the law says! I refuse to be your servant!” I was hurt and betrayed by this. I didn’t care if I was getting too loud and disturbing the other patrons.

“I’m never returning to the Silver Country and I don’t want a servant. 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 this was a marriage of romance. I almost doubted my thoughts when he turned me around and kissed me. I figured it was a tactic to silence me. If I screamed any louder, the innkeeper would throw us out.

I could only stare in stunned silence as his wind-chapped lips moved against mine. He wanted entry, but I kept my mouth shut. Gahn knew I would bite his tongue if he forced his way in. …He knew me. How foolish I’d been. I let him get to know me and I allowed him to be this close to me. I was so sure he had thought of me as a man. Everyone else did!

His grip on me slackened as he pulled back. I didn’t hesitate to slap him across his face. I was furious to discover that he let me hit him. I knew this because he easily caught my hand when I tried it again. I braced myself for any retribution, but none came. Instead, he began kissing my fingers, then the palm of my hand.

Gahn reassured me that nothing would change. I could still be a mercenary and act however I wanted. I didn’t believe him. Not after betraying me like that. 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. He was the only one to fall asleep though. I glanced at his face and remembered the times that I used to hate him. Back then he 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, he’d taken my most cherished freedom away from me.

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