They wanted me, but since I wasn’t there, they took Lilly instead?
How on earth does that make any sense?
What was their criteria for choosing the person they wanted? Gender? Apparent age? Body size? Did they just want to pick up a little girl, without caring who in particular?
And what ‘return’? Am I some sort of object that people pass around at will? That is very rude. No wonder devils have a poor reputation.
And why would they want me?
How did they even learn of my existence in the first place?
Maybe it has something to do with that ‘bounty’ thing? Maybe there was already a bounty on me, even before the events in Kohln? I was recently involved in a fight that resulted in the destruction of a rather sizeable city – along with a mine – after all. It wouldn’t be too far-fetched for some people to have seen me there. They may have assumed I was the one responsible for the mess.
Seeing me silently thinking to myself apparently isn’t to Finram’s taste. He quickly starts to accuse me once more. “Akasha! You cannot pretend you don’t have a part of responsibility in this! Lilly was taken because of you! I told you this once, in the past; that I would not tolerate you putting Lilly in danger!”
Huh? What kind of nonsense is this, now?
I’ve never even seen a devil before, so why would I be responsible for anything they do? It’s my fault when they attack other people to get to me? How unreasonable.
[…She was taken because of the devils.]
Finram grits his teeth. His fists clench and unclench repeatedly, as if he’s carefully restraining himself from impulsive violence. “The devils would never have come here if it weren’t for you!”
I suppose that’s true, in a way.
But I don’t think that really makes me responsible for anything.
Right now, I’m more interested in what these devils wanted.
[…Just tell me what happened.]
Finram seems like he’s about to get angry again, but Rieshia speaks before him, walking toward us with Ophelia following half a step behind her. “Three days ago, a group of devils arrived at the estate. They came peacefully, and requested – politely enough – that we return you, Lady Akasha. I’m not quite sure what they meant by ‘return’. Perhaps, they thought we were holding you against your will.”
“We told them you’d already left nearly a month ago, but they didn’t seem to believe us. I don’t know where they got their information, but they were certainly very confident in its veracity, albeit mistakenly so. Of course, since you weren’t there, we could not ‘return’ you, and said as such to them. It was after this that things took a turn for the worse.”
Rieshia’s voice dies down, and Finram continues her explanation, in a more agitated and aggressive voice than hers. “The bastards came back the next day, but this time, it wasn’t for a negotiation. A squad of devils attacked the city. After the way their first visit ended, we were expecting them to, of course, but with only a single day to prepare, except for alerting our own troops that trouble might be coming, there was little we could do. It certainly came too fast to hope for any reinforcements.”
[…Wouldn’t you alone be enough?]
Didn’t Yarang say that devils are actually rather weak and have only earned their reputation by slaughtering great numbers of weaklings? I’d imagine someone as strong as Finram – stronger than Yarang himself, that is – would be enough to deal with opponents like those, no matter how many of them come.
At my question, a vein starts bulging on Finram’s temple, and the muscles of his jaw knot and clench. His reply comes out as little more than a growl. “They had a 9th-ranker, and I had to fight while protecting the city below me. While I was busy dealing with him, the rest were free to run amok.”
It’s true that if two people with this level of power fought seriously here, this city should look a bit more battered than it currently does. I wouldn’t be too surprised if it ended up completely ruined, in fact. So one of them must have expended quite some effort making sure it stayed safe.
[…So, what happened with Lilly?]
“While Finram was fighting the enemy powerhouse and the rest of them tied up our troops by causing as much chaos as they could within the city, another group of devils snuck into the mansion,” Rieshia answers. “They fought through our defenders and eventually reached us. Solaire and I tried to fight them off, as well, but it was in vain. They were clearly still hoping to find you here, despite our assurances the previous day that you’d already left. In the end, when they failed to find you anywhere in the estate, they decided to take one of us hostage, so as to coerce us into finding you again and sending you to them.”
[…Wouldn’t Solaire work better for this?]
I don’t quite see what’s so important about Lilly that anyone would prefer her over him. Solaire is a duke, for whatever that’s worth, while Lilly is just some random kid with no special abilities or talents that I could discern, besides an uncommon enthusiasm for anything she deems ‘cute’. Surely, threatening him with death would be more efficient to motivate everyone here.
“Perhaps you’re right, but they still took Lilly. They took my little girl.” Rieshia’s eyes redden, and her voice starts shaking. “They showed no interest toward Solaire himself. They only beat him unconscious. He… He still hasn’t woken up.”
Ophelia steps up behind Rieshia, apparently standing ready to catch her in case her legs become unable to bear her weight, and Finram once again takes up the slack.
“Since we knew you were in Kohln at some point or another, we sent fast couriers there, in hopes of catching up to you. Didn’t you guys cross paths, while you were returning here from there?”
I didn’t follow the road. Since I learned I and the two elves might have gained bounties, I felt it was more prudent to cut through the wilderness, as far as possible, and avoid roads where humans might be travelling, in order to reduce the probability that we’d be found by anyone.
Looks like it worked rather nicely.
“In any case, now that you’re here, you have to go meet them!” Finram says. “Only then will they return Lilly to us!”
Behind him, Rieshia looks at me with expectant eyes, tears threatening to fall from the corners of her eyes. Ophelia next to her sports almost the same expression.
…Maybe taking Lilly actually was the right decision. Looking at those people begging me to help them, those devils might not be that stupid, after all. They certainly achieved their goal.
[…Aren’t devils bloodthirsty? What if they’ve already killed Lilly?]
To me, this sounds like a perfectly valid question, but apparently, this wasn’t the right thing to say at the moment. Rieshia instantly breaks down crying, and Finram’s face reddens so much I wonder if his head is going to explode in the next few moments.
“Are you saying you’re just going to give up on her?!” he shouts at me. “Don’t you feel anything?! After all the friendship she’s shown you when you were together?!”
Do I feel anything?
Well, I suppose I do feel a little angry.
A little more than usual, I mean.
Like I did with the little elf girl captured by the slavers.
I just feel like killing a few people who seem to think it’s funny to take children from their homes.
But I don’t think it has anything to do with friendship.
I have no illusions about this.
In the end, this has more to do with my own issues than anything else. I’m not really doing this for anyone but myself and my own bloody, murderous satisfaction. I care more about killing whoever has annoyed me than helping their victims.
In the end, whether or not Lilly and Silica die doesn’t matter much to me.
It’s not like they’re Nerys, after all.
Still, those devils do interest me. I can’t help but wonder why they want to see me so much. I’ll wait until they’ve explained themselves and said whatever it is they want to say, before I kill them all.
“Hey! I’m talking to you! Are you even listening to me?!”
Sanae’s right. I’m thinking a bit too much, these days.
[…I’ll go meet the devils.]
Upon hearing me, Rieshia fiercely looks up at me. “You will? Really?”
My promise seems to calm even Finram. Rieshia covers her mouth with her hands and cries some more, and he too looks just about as relieved.
“Thank you,” he says in a quiet voice.
Perhaps because he knows I’m a god, Finram seems confident I can fix this situation and bring back Lilly to them safe and sound. But they seem to have forgotten that nobody has answered my question.
What if Lilly’s already dead?
I didn’t ask this because I enjoy upsetting people, but because this seems like a distinct possibility, according to everything I’ve heard about devils.
[…So, where are they?]
“Before leaving with Lilly, they said one of them would be waiting for our news in the village of Dorn, near Rigonn’s northern border. Though it’s unlikely that this is where they’re holding Lilly herself.”
Well then, let’s…
<Elves. Shelter. Trade.>
Oh, right. Good idea.
Quickly grasping Sanae’s intent, I look back and forth between Rieshia and Finram. In my eyes, Solaire was the one who seemed to decide this sort of thing, but since he’s still unconscious, these two might have inherited this right.
“What’s wrong?” Finram asks.
[…I want something in exchange.]
Finram’s brows slowly crease into a frown. “What is it?”
Hmm, I probably need to explain the circumstances a little.
[…I rescued two elves from slavers, in Kohln.]
“Yes, we heard about this, as well, though not exactly in those terms,” Finram replies. “Reportedly, you laid waste to half the city, slaughtered an entire regiment of soldiers, and assassinated the city lord? In any case, you and your new elven friend have both earned quite the price on your heads. Issued by imperial authorities, no less.” He blinks in seeming realization. “Is that it? Do you want Solaire to use his authority to help you cancel the bounty?”
[…No. I need you to let that elf and her daughter live here. In peace.]
Finram doesn’t hesitate. He nods decisively, without consulting with anybody. Judging from Rieshia’s expression behind him, she doesn’t object to his decision.
[…They’re waiting in a grove, an hour’s walk away from here, off the road leading to Kohln.]
“Please, don’t worry. We’ll find them,” Rieshia replies before Finram can. “Are you going to Dorn right away?” she asks with a hopeful look.
No reason to delay.
“I’ll be going with you,” Finram interjects suddenly. When I look up at him, he returns a determined gaze back to me. “Lilly is my niece. Failing to protect her is also my responsibility. I must do everything I can to get her back.” His face turns even grimmer than before. “I’ll be going with you,” he says again.
Getting my acknowledgment, Firnam turns to Rieshia and raises a hand to squeeze her shoulder. “Don’t worry, Rieshia. We’ll definitely get her back safely. I give you my word.”
Well, since everything has been handled, let’s stop the pointless chatter and get going already.
Who knows? Maybe these devils will be able to give me some answers to a few questions I have. Hopefully, they’ll be cooperative.
[…Oh? How do you see this ending, then?]
[…Well, that works, too.]