I was sitting in Min’s room, reading a book when Evan returned. I wasn’t doing anything improper. I was actually reading some scrolls I had borrowed from the elves. They were a brief history of past conflicts involving humans and demons.
These conflicts seemed to have gone back a few thousand years. Every ten or so years, some kind of war broke out. It usually lasted for 2-3 years, only for things to repeat. I started to wonder about progress. Why had the humans and demons not developed a more powerful means of war? You could claim that magic stunted their scientific progression, but what about their magical progression?
As far as I understood it, humans had only been on Earth for around 200,000 years. Most of that time was spent developing culture, cultivation, writing, and other such things. Yet, by the time we were as advanced as this culture, that was only 1000 years ago. That meant, we went from small villages, kings, and medieval environments to spaceships and plastics in only 1000 years.
From what I could tell, this world had been stuck in their medieval ages for as long as recorded history. It would be at least 20,000 years by my estimate. This was also, ironically, around the same time the demon realm appeared, as well as monsters. It was when the worlds great event happened. There wasn’t much on it, but it was supposedly called the Great Mana Cataclysm. Before it, this planet seemed to be on a course similar to Earth. Afterward, it was demons, monsters, and magic, not to mention the status and skill system.
Even if this place didn’t develop nuclear weapons and guns, their spellcraft should have advanced. City destroying spells should exist. Perhaps, they weren’t used, but someone should have developed them. Yet, their very idea of such a thing was outside their understanding. When I asked the librarian about it, their mouth literally just fell open. The closest thing they had to it was the rampage of a dragon.
That dragon was the dragon god. He was a dragon over level 100 who supposedly went on a rampage and destroyed several cities. It was the closest they had to something causing devastation that wasn’t a force of nature, and some even declared dragons as a force of nature anyway. As it turned out, that dragon god was the father of Bahamut, the dragon who cock and been chopped off and used on me when I earned the Dragon Layer title.
Well, all of this studying was just me trying to get a better understanding of the dynamics of this world. Given the current rising peace talks between the demons and the humans, I wanted to understand where the animosity formed and what could be done about it. The answer wasn’t satisfying. It seemed like it had always been there.
Monsters raped humans. Sometimes, that human had a child. That child was a first-generation demon. It’d go out and rape more women, creating second, and then third generation demons. Eventually, the demonic blood stabilized and you’d have demon lines which eventually became the demon races. Each race was based on the original monster that formed it. Although, now, there were hybrids and backcrosses and all kinds of stuff.
There was one thing made aggressively clear though. It has been years since any new first-generation demon blood has been introduced into the gene pool. The demonic blood has been thinning for the last few hundred years, and it’s reaching a point where some demons barely look different than humans. Many don’t care about it, but those higher up, like the Demon King and Lord Typhon, are generally concerned about this development.
I heard a loud thump in the living room, breaking me off from my thoughts. Getting up from the bed, I walked out of Min’s room into the darkness of the tent.
“Flame.” I held out my hand and a flame instantly appeared in it, bringing light.
“Do you want to set the whole tent on fire?” Evan cursed, although his words were slurred and he was holding onto a table like he was afraid he’d fall.
“Hmph…” I snorted. “I won’t set the tent on fire unless I intend to!”
Although I said that, I grabbed a lantern, lit it and then let the fire go out. Given my strange luck, I probably would cause the entire tent to burst into flame. It would be just my luck that I would burn down Min’s former home.
“Yes… well…” He calmed down once I snuffed out the lantern.
He went to sit down in the nearby chair, missed it, and fell to the floor, causing more things to be knocked to the ground.
“You’re drunk,” I stated the obvious, putting my arm out to help him up.
I was usually on the other side of this. I was the drunk one, and it was someone else who had to support me. That other person had often been Min. Perhaps this was only justice that now I was here giving her father the same kind of assistance.
“It’s none of your business.” He snapped as I helped him up. “Elf business.”
“Well, I wouldn’t want to stand in the way of all-mighty elf business,” I responded bitterly.
Although he was drunk, he still managed to pick up my nasty tone and shot me a look before giving out a helpless sigh. “It’s the damn council. A bunch of cowardly fools. They’re actually listening to Hector now. Seven elves. That’s how many of our people have gone missing or died since we’ve taken on this fool’s errand.”
I nodded sympathetically while schooling my own features. Naturally, three of those seven deaths fell on my shoulders. They were the men I had went with into the labyrinth. Well, Baron was considerably more responsible for it than I was.
“The peace talks are important,” I stated the same sentiments that many people in the village started to try to excuse the high taxes and harassment the village had been under since the beginning of these talks.
“Bah!” He waved off my hands and then planted himself successfully into the chair.
He immediately reached across the table to grab a pitcher of something kind of like tea that had been brewed earlier that day. It was lukewarm now, but he didn’t seem to care as he took the entire pitcher and began gulping it down. When he finished, he slammed the thing back to the table and wiped his mouth.
His actions didn’t show the elegance of a typical elf. Rather, those actions fit better on someone from the Adventurer’s Guild or some mercenary group.
“So, what are you going to do about it?” I asked instead.
He blinked and then shook his head sadly.
“What can I do? I will do what I have always done. I’ll do what the council tells me. I will work to keep our elf tribe from falling like all the others. That has always been my goal. Most of the council though, the humans and demons lined their pockets with bribes, that’s all they see. Hector…” He made a bitter expression like he wanted to spit. “He’s trying to set up a deal. He wants our tribe to integrate with the demons. He doesn’t see that once this happens, it’ll be the end of our way of life.”
“So… what are you going to do about it?” I asked again.
He frowned and looked up at me. “Are you deaf? There is nothing I can do.”
“Bullshit,” I snorted, looking away in disgust.
He continued to look in my direction. “Excuse me?”
“Nothing?” I asked. “There is nothing you can do? Your tribe is suffering. It’s on the cusp of collapse. Your rival is about to get his way? A man who slept with your wife. A man who all but killed your wife… and you’re going to do nothing?”
He grimaced. “It’s not that simple.”
“Oh, it never is…” I wasn’t hiding the disdain on my face now. “For cowards!”
His eyes started to narrow. “How dare you…”
“Oh? How dare I? What are you going to do about it? More nothing?”
“That’s the thing about nothing… nothing ever happens.” I sneered. “It’s no wonder Min ran away.”
“What do you know about it!” He shouted, suddenly standing. “Min was a whore! She cost me my wife, and then she took my life.”
“Watch it!” I suddenly spoke, buzzing energy erupting off of me as my hood fell back. “That’s my vesse you’re talking about.”
His angry words caught in his tongue and he blinked. “V-vesse?”
“Min Fairstryder, at least that was the name she was registered under as an Adventurer. My wife.”
“Y-you…” He suddenly sat back down, his eyes wide and locked on me. “You know her?”
“Intimately,” I responded, glancing over at the tempt flap and smiling slightly. “I knew her.”
“K-knew…” He didn’t look surprised, instead lowering his head and nodding to himself.
“She didn’t talk much about you, or your home,” I responded casually. “But now, I think I have a better understanding of why.”
“You’re just like her…”
“Is that so? Then you didn’t know her very well. Min was a far better person than I ever was. She might have even felt sorry for the elf tribe and tried to help you, despite everything.”
“What could I have done…” He tried to give a helpless again.
“Tried!” I hit the table. “You could have tried! You could cut that bastard Hector’s throat. You could take control of the council. You could make them settle that peace treaty and you could march your elf tribes to a place and build safety for yourselves. However, you don’t! Because you’re afraid if you fail, that it will all be on your shoulders. Well, I’m sorry… that’s the cost of trying.”
“Rich coming from a slave with no freedom of her own.” Evan scoffed. “You know that you’re just a bargaining chip in the peace talks, right? Whatever side wants you more, they’ll have you when the final agreement will be made. You’ll just be a single line. That’s how much your life means here.”
“I know…” I responded darkly.
“So, you understand the-“
“I understand what freedom costs. I understand what I’ll need to pay to get it. Do you think that I’ve just been sitting here doing nothing?”
He turned away, looking slightly flustered. “The reports say you disappear with Baron every day. Most assume you’re just playing in the forest. Baron would be the type to sleep with a hu-“
He cut off his words, realizing that his daughter Min had also been the type who ended up sleeping with me. I could only roll my eyes.
“When I make my move, everyone will know it.” I responded, “When everything goes down, what will you do? Hide in your tent?”
With those words, I stood up and turned to leave. I didn’t want to talk to the drunk man any longer. I knew this from the moment I met him, but Evan was truly a man who had given up on everything. There was no drive left in him anymore. He had no ambition.
“Aria…” His words were soft right now, and he sounded much more sober than he had a moment earlier.
“Min… was she… was she happy?”
I glanced back to see him looking at me with tears in his eyes. There was a distant look of hope in them.
“No.” I crushed that hope in an instant. “Those failures I spoke of? Min was perhaps my greatest regret.”
“Oh…” He said, not bothering to ask any follow-up questions about where or what Min had been doing.
In the grand scheme of things, those details didn’t really matter. I turned and left the room, returning to Min’s stuff. I pulled out a piece of jewelry that had been left in her room, a piece that she once owned. Looking down at it, a single tear fell down my cheek.
“I don’t know what you would have wanted, Min,” I spoke softly. “But I assuredly wouldn’t have been able to do it for you. There is only one thing I seem to be good at, so that’s what I’ll do. I’ll burn it all to the ground. Then, we’ll see what rises from the ashes.”