"Doctor, I've been meaning to ask…" Erik frowned as he sat up.
"Just call me Kevin." He pressed his lips into a thin line as he pulled a jar from the shelf and placed it beside the bowl.
"I couldn't. It's important to respect professionals."
Kevin chuckled. "That’s appreciated, but unnecessary."
"Anyway, Doctor, I didn't want to ask with Madeline around because she likes you, but I’ve been wondering why you tried to heal a ruby demon. Don’t our countries make us enemies?"
Kevin glanced at him, but quickly fixed his attention back on examining the shelf. "My clan had always promised to heal the sick, regardless of faction."
"Clans…” Erik furrowed his brow. “It's strange being in this den where it seems like clans still matter in this world."
"We're all demons. Isn’t that a type of clan these days?"
"Madeline did say that you sapphire demons act less like a convenient alliance and more like a family. Why is that?”
"Yes, my four younger brothers and sister." Kevin’s lips quirked into a smile. “This world is filled with loss, but fate has given us an opportunity to fill that void. Demons aren’t meant to be solitary.”
“Tell that to Emeradotouhou.” Erik laughed derisively.
“Those were humans.” Kevin frowned, trying to convince himself as much as he attempted to convince Erik. “Their king is a human and their army is mostly humans. We need to stop defining each other based on the choices of humans.”
“Interesting.” Erik smirked. “Madeline said that you considered the emerald demons to be your enemies.”
Kevin pulled a few more jars from the shelf. “You’re right. That’s only because we were forced into an unwinnable competition. Or at least, a pyrrhic victory in our case. I assume you feel similarly toward the topaz demons.”
Erik swallowed repeatedly as a lopsided grimace crossed his face.
“Is your throat hurting?” Kevin glanced at him.
“No. The others… did… Madeline wanted to save her sister so badly that I was never sure they could be only bad…” He swallowed and frowned. “An unwinnable competition, like you said…”
“Since being back here, only one emerald demon has truly acted against us.” Kevin crossed his arms. “I’m trying to see him as the enemy and not the others, but it’s difficult to separate the past from the present.”
“A soldier with an emerald cape…”
Kevin flinched and stared at Erik. A soldier with an emerald cape… Could he be describing Justin?
“Erik, you’re still awake!” Both demons turned to the entryway as Madeline quickly froze, then stepped back from the entrance to the medical wing. “Were you talking about me?”
“No, of course not, Madeline.”
When Erik smiled warmly, she traipsed into the room and sat beside him. As she returned his smile, she held his shoulder gently.
It’s weaker than Minako’s demeanor and less ardent than Nick’s reciprocation, but there’s a fragile kindness between them. Kevin laughed quietly. It’s unfair of me to make blanket judgements about humans, especially when so many demons are calmed or even undone by a Pandora’s care. A bewitching human indeed.
He glanced away, then busied himself with the shelf again. “I was just thinking about someone.”
Madeline glanced at Erik and slowly removed her hand from his shoulder. “You’re thinking about Nicky, aren’t you?”
“Among other things…” Kevin pressed his lips into a thin line as he grabbed a jar from the table. “Erik, you mentioned a soldier with an emerald cape.”
“A demon…” He furrowed his brow. “Is that who you’re hoping to find in Emeradotouhou?”
“Hoping… That’s an interesting way to put it.” He set the jar on the ground as he kneeled beside Erik, then began undoing the bandages at his chest. “Madeline, assist me.”
Madeline took the bandage from him and began rolling it as she helped remove it.
Erik grimaced and shut his eyes. “I met that demon in the mountains. He’s unhinged and dangerous.”
We’d only ever seen Justin use his sword… Kevin frowned as he placed the rolled bandage on the ground beside the mat. After twisting the lid off the jar, he applied the salve to Erik’s chest wound. The deep claw marks had left gashes that bubbled with blood. The crisp, dried edges seemed charred and expanded from the slices in pitch black streaks that snaked across Erik’s skin toward his shoulders and waist. “What did he say?”
Erik groaned and ran his hand through his hair. “I can’t remember our exact conversation, but the message was clear. Refusal meant death.”
What could he have possibly asked? And why would he use his claws now? Does this wound have something to do with his powers? Kevin began layering a fresh set of linens over Erik’s wound, letting the silence fill the room as he worked.
“I’m glad we found you.” Madeline hugged Erik’s arm and leaned on his shoulder. “I would have…” As she swallowed, she quickly glanced away and loosened her grip.
“Would you face him again?” Once the initial layers were set, he pulled a fresh roll of linen from beside him. After wrapping as far as he could reach, he handed it to Madeline for assistance.
Erik furrowed his brow.
“If you’re not sure…” Madeline glanced at the ground. “I’d really like it if you came to Topazuseihou with me.”
Erik swallowed, then a small smile crossed his face. “Whatever my Priestess asks, I will obey.”
“You don’t need to obey me, Erik, I’d just… really like you with me… but only if you want to be with me.”
“I already told you that I would.” He laid his hand across Madeline’s after she handed the last of the linen roll to Kevin.
Kevin chuckled again as he took it and secured the ends. I wonder if Nick would behave so graciously in a world where Minako didn’t choose him.
“Hmmm?” Kevin stood, attempting to conceal his expression from their scrutiny as he walked back over to the table. After setting the salve on it, he mixed the herbs he had pulled from the shelf into the mortar. First he crushed them with a pestle, then transferred the contents into the small bowl before pouring hot water into it, and finally mixed the concoction with a spoon.
“Are you also going to Topazuseihou or would I be able to travel without you?”
“Topazuseihou is probably safer than Emeradotouhou in general, and probably easier to navigate while recovering even despite the desert.” He walked back over and handed Erik the medicine. “If you feel confident traveling, that would be my suggestion. I can provide specific instructions on your recovery care for Minako and Madeline.”
“I trust you to take care of me, Madeline.” Erik smiled, then began drinking from the bowl.
Madeline hurriedly averted her gaze to the floor.
The silence settled around them again as Kevin pressed his lips into a thin line. “Why were you in Safaiananpou?”
“Safaiananpou was always purported to be a sanctuary in a warring era. I was hoping it would provide a safe haven from the shadow pursuing me.” Erik frowned.
“The demon soldier?”
Erik nodded. “But when I arrived, I was turned away without being able to speak to the king.”
“When we returned, it didn’t seem as though they knew what happened in the castle. But even assuming their king was still alive, his advisors would probably prefer not telling you that he was away.”
Madeline glanced at the door. “It would be hard for His Majesty to see you when he’s away… I wonder how long they wait before they assume that you’re… dead…”
“Are demons involved in the monarchy in Rubiihoppou?” Kevin walked back to the table and began placing the jars back on the shelf.
“No, the king was a person too. They said that Pandora was supposed to save them from the demons.” Madeline grimaced, continuing to pause each time she reached a word that seemed offensive. “They called you all… murderous and vengeful creatures that… poisoned the world. But they also said finding the box would cleanse the world… from evil demons… and evil in general...”
Judging all demons… Kevin growled, clenching his hand tightly around the jar he was holding.
“But you’re not all like that. What did His Majesty say about the box?”
“You would have to ask him or Minako for exact details, maybe Nick. I didn’t hear the story from him, but when I was younger, I was always taught to believe that the box gave demons the power to give the world peace.”
“I wonder why it’s different?”
Erik set the bowl back on the ground and snarled. “Prejudice? Jealousy? Fear?”
“Humans would speak about demons differently than demons would speak about demons.” Kevin crossed his arms. “Also, Aohouseki is a southern walled city. Akahouseki is a northern city constantly battling weather, at minimum.”
“Do you think all the countries used to have more demons?” Madeline asked.
“Of course they did, Madeline! Then Emeradotouhou sparked the siege!” Erik growled. “Scoundrels…”
“Did you all used to be… like this?”
Kevin frowned. “Howie speaks of five demon kings, brought forth from the sky to create peace in a warring land. However, he doesn’t speak as though we’re all descended from them.” He furrowed his brow. “When we arrived here, Elder Virgil treated us as the leaders of fallen nations, but still revered Howie as king. It’s possible that all demon clans once resembled this place, but it’s difficult to tell.”
“Erik! Are you a leader of a fallen nation?”
“Hardly.” Erik huffed. “It’s hard to believe there are even demons in the monarchy. Fallen nations…”
“I just thought…”
“You’re probably both right.” Kevin’s voice remained firm as he spoke. “I wonder if it depends on how our clans allied in the past. Rubiihoppou, Emeradotouhou, and Safaiananpou are fairly different. The emerald demons treat each other like necessary evils while all of you seem to treat each other as a coerced alliance. You already mentioned that we treat each other like a family, but Howie, Brian, AJ, Nick, and I still aren’t completely similar. It sounds like Safaiananpou may have approached our early alliance as a suzerainty more than a true alliance.”
“Kevin?” Madeline glanced back up at him.
“Internally autonomous, externally dependent. But the barrier demons are the only remnants of what it may have been like when all clans thrived, at least here in Safaiananpou.”
“You’re all boys… Are there places with female demons? I’ve never seen one…”
“They’re around, they’re just not as common as males.” Kevin leaned against the wall. “When I assisted my Master with births, it was about one girl for every ten babies. When I assisted with human childbirth after the siege, it was much more even.”
Madeline furrowed her brow and counted on her fingers. “That doesn’t seem sustainable.”
“It’s not. Hence leaders of fallen nations.”
Erik snorted. “With the addition of Emeradotouhou trying to kill us.”
“They seem really dangerous…” Madeline frowned. “Why would they want to kill all the demons?”
Kevin pursed his lips. “Probably the same reason Rubiihoppou saw Pandora as a savior from demons. I wonder if it was originally a demonic legend corrupted by human influence?”
“Why would demons need to be saved?”
“Of course you know what our situation is currently like.” Kevin shrugged. “In the past? It’s difficult to say for sure.” But in a place where clans thrive, there may be answers… He straightened as he glanced at the door. “If you would excuse me for a moment. Erik, please rest until I return.”
“Kevin, are you okay?” Madeline bit her lip as she stared up at him.
“I’m fine.” He smiled. “Thank you for worrying, Madeline.” He exited the medical wing and began walking down the corridor.
It is strange that we were meant to ally, but had never been in contact before. I wonder if it’s possible that we were close before, but some external factor forced us apart. And if the Pandora legend is originally a demonic legend, why would humans assimilate it and pass it on to a strange foreigner when she arrived? Why would demons be so welcoming to a strange foreigner? I’m sure all of us were taught to ally with her for the box, but what did our ancestors say? Since Brian’s clan seems largely untouched, they may have preserved this history.
As he entered the main room, he spotted Brian standing to one side of it. The female demon he spoke with laughed, covering her face with one hand and touching his arm with the other. When Brian glanced up at him and waved, Kevin began walking over to him. Brian frowned, then patted the female demon’s shoulder before brushing by her. Eventually, he and Kevin met in the center of the room.
“You look like you’re having a great day.” Brian grinned.
“I’d like to speak with your grandfather.”
“Sure…” Brian frowned. “Is everything okay?”
“Why don’t you come with me?”
“Okay…” Brian furrowed his brow, then motioned for Kevin to follow him.
“Elder Virgil, thank you for meeting with me.” Kevin slowly sat on the carpeted stairs.
After glancing at the doors as they slowly latched, Virgil smiled at the two sapphire demons. “Of course. How can I assist you?”
“Kevin, what’s this about? Should we get everyone else?” Brian furrowed his brow and frowned as he sat beside Kevin.
“No, it’s fine.” Kevin rubbed his chin methodically. “I had a few history related questions. I’m not sure of the implications yet and don’t want to trouble them.”
Brian’s forehead continued to crease as he leaned on his staff.
After setting his hand in his lap, Kevin turned back to Virgil. “What did your relationships with the other clans used to be like? And do you know where the Pandora legend came from?”
“On the whole, democratic.” Virgil laughed and gestured to the five chairs behind him. “So much so that we originally modeled our internal structure after the ancient interactions between our clans.”
“Did we choose Howie’s clan to be kings?” Kevin furrowed his brow. Is that why his powers are more complicated?
“It is likely the powers associated with the monarchical clan held some fundamental importance to our early history that the other clans could not provide.”
“I wonder why alchemy is fundamental?” Brian clapped his hand over his mouth. “Grandfather! That’s a secret! Don’t--”
“I see, he told you.” Virgil smiled broadly, his eyes moist. “Were he not young in our clan’s eyes, Lord Brian is being treated in the ancient way, as a confidante and equal, a king with fealty.”
Brian exhaled deeply. “Howie would be really upset… or… relieved?” He cocked an eyebrow, gripping his staff tightly. “You already knew…”
“It is a secret we have passed down among our council, though we do not know the ancient purpose of the monarchy’s powers. I believe that I have something that may interest you both.”
In this time of loss, their preservation of history is admirable. Kevin pressed his lips into a thin line. I may need to consider if I have other questions he may be able to answer.
After walking past the pool of water, Virgil stopped at the center chair and pulled it aside. He knelt and lifted the sapphire carpet, revealing a small door hidden beneath it. He slowly opened it, pushing aside some objects inside before unearthing a scroll. He quickly reset the door, carpet, and chair, then returned to Kevin and Brian. Once he sat, he rolled open the scroll and held it toward them. “It is old, but not ancient back to the original progenitors.”
The scroll depicted five chairs surrounding a recessed pool, though instead of containing water like in the council room, fire sprang from it. Unlike the chairs that stood empty in this room, five demons filled the chairs depicted in the drawing. In the center, a demon wearing a dark colored, long, flowing gown with large sleeves and a beaded crown atop his head. A sword with a swirling hilt rested upon his lap. To his left, a demon dressed in a dark colored long cape over an equally dark colored and long tunic with light wide stripes descending from the collar bone. He held a staff similar to Brian’s in his right hand. Beside him, a demon with a light colored short tunic over light colored pants. An undetailed handle of some sort rested in his lap. To the right of the king, a demon dressed in a cuirass over a tunic and pants. His unfinished left hand grasped a long, but incomplete pole; however a rather detailed angular helmet with large curved eye slits, a long nose bridge, and a rounded crest at the crown covered his face. Beside him, a demon in a loosely fitting dark colored tunic with buckles across the center and pants. He held a length of rope in his partially completed outstretched left hand.
Virgil smoothed the edges. “A depiction of our clans involved in some sort of council.”
Kevin frowned. “It’s interesting that the clothing for the king and the barrier demon is quite detailed, but the other three lack a lot of defining characteristics, things they probably considered important at one time. That helmet is just as detailed, though, for some reason.”
“An unreliable memory on the part of the original artist, perhaps.” Virgil chuckled quietly. “The Shield would likely have had more intimate knowledge of themselves and the monarchy than the other clans throughout our history.”
“I’ve never seen Howie in finery, but I’m sure he still wears similar clothing. This barrier demon seems to be a compilation of what you’re both wearing. It’s hard to tell with AJ and Nick looks nothing like this, but this is definitely similar to my clothing.” Kevin smiled. “Is this why your health-related members dress like me?”
“Healers would know the best attire for healing.” Virgil’s enigmatic smile quickly became a frown. “More than the other clans, the Celestials have been silent for some time. I have not seen any since I was younger and preparing my ascension into our council. If they were extremely factioned or extremely decimated, many of their traditions or treasures are likely lost. However, I do remember that they were always prepared for a fight, so armor may have been necessary for their role in the past.”
Brian peered at the drawing as he laughed. “A fist fight, maybe. What did Howie say about those legends? Didn’t he call Nick a warrior? I wonder if they were fairly militaristic originally.” He ran his hand under the figures. “There’s writing on this.”
“Writing? Of what?” Kevin leaned closer to the scroll.
“Can I, Grandfather?” After Virgil nodded, Brian picked up the scroll, holding it close to his face. “It’s old script…” He squinted, as though he scrutinized the writing. “This part under the king says ‘He who rends and forges’… That’s a weird epitaph…” Brian frowned as he glanced at Kevin.
“Something to do with Howie’s powers?” How is alchemy related to rending and forging?
“Probably.” Brian peered at the scroll again. “This part under the barrier demon just says ‘humble me.’ Clearly.” Brian chuckled to himself. “The healing demon says ‘stoic and merciful, but just.’ That seems about right.” He smiled at Kevin.
“Thank you Brian.” It’s nice to know that even when I feel unsure, they see me that way as well.
“The shapeshifting demon says… ‘unpredictable and unusual, but helpful.’ I guess that’s like AJ’s powers…” He laughed quietly, then squinted as he pulled the scroll closer to his eyes.
He began laughing uncontrollably.
Virgil laughed as well. “Yes, that last one is rather endearing.”
Kevin leaned closer to the scroll as Brian held it toward him.
“It was hard to read, because it’s written much smaller, see?” He ran his finger under the minuscule writing. “I wonder if this barrier demon worried about the others seeing it… Or just this celestial demon in particular. It says ‘ILL-TEMPERED’ larger, then ‘but also bright and loyal, a treasured confidante’ in even smaller writing.”
Kevin laughed. It’s good to know Nick comes by it honestly.
“Yes, we were supposedly quite close before the silence.” He pursed his lips. “I believe the missing weapon of the Celestials was a two-pronged pole weapon of some sort. The Healers had some sort of knife and the Shapeshifters had some sort of sling.”
A knife would be useful from a medical standpoint and in a world of war. Kevin furrowed his brow and glanced at the ground. It is interesting that we all possessed weapons. Though he doesn’t use it that way, even Brian’s staff is a weapon. “What do you think caused the silence from the other clans?” Kevin glanced up at Virgil.
“Of course the siege, but it began happening before that. The other clans began shrinking, then there was… an illness… that couldn’t be cured by the Healers that led to decimation. Demons attempted procreation with humans, but all the children were born…” He glanced away. “...Unwell… They lived very short lives, their mothers died soon afterward, and the fathers within days. Many demons went into hiding and we lost contact between clans.”
“I’ve seen that!” Kevin clapped his hand over his gaping mouth. “Sorry for shouting, Elder Virgil.”
“That sounds horrible…” Brian grimaced. “You’ve seen that, Kevin?”
“It was…” Kevin pressed his lips into a thin line as he paused. I’d tried to block that from my mind... “...A while ago. Before the siege, but after I saw Nick’s birth. I helped my Master deliver a baby that seemed demonic, but animalistic. It growled constantly and had completely black eyes. It lived for maybe an hour, overcome by fever, then died. Then the same thing happened to the mother moments later. The demon father had begged us to stay as he began exhibiting signs of the poisonous fever as well. Maybe he thought we could do something for what he already expected to happen. It was…” Kevin swallowed. “...heartbreaking.”
As Brian glanced at the ground, his eyebrows pinched together.
“Brian?” Kevin frowned and put his hand on his shoulder.
“I’m fine... That… does sound… very heartbreaking…” Brian kept his gaze fixed on the ground as he spoke.
“What you described was the illness. Unlike female demons who have no powers, but gain the powers of the unborn offspring and male demons during gestation, the humans did not and the offspring were not hearty.” He gripped his staff. “Actually, the very last time I saw any Celestials until you all arrived was when a Celestial who was my age came to beg my father to arrange for a bride for his son, who was the same age as my son, Brian’s father.”
“Arrange for a bride? Why would they come here?” Brian frowned, but did not lift his head.
“You know that the females are rare and do not live long compared to the males. We have been treasuring and pampering them since ancient times in order to keep our population diverse enough to be sustained. The clans would often arrange marriages in the past for this reason. But while we hid, the other clans did not, and suffered.”
“What do you remember about that request?” Kevin ran his hand on his chin.
“My father carefully selected possible choices who wanted to go. The Celestials remained with us for a short time and the son chose one. I asked my father why he was so careful in his selection and he said that he had requested volunteers that were the heartiest and most spirited females we had because the Celestials were hoping for a warrior.”
“Howie’s legend… A warrior and a shrouded sun…” Brian slowly rolled the scroll, fixing his gaze on the turning paper.
“I remember that the two demons in that small hidden house in the clearing cried so joyfully that day. I had no idea why then, but maybe I could have helped them more if I knew that the baby was Nick and that we were waiting for him too.” Kevin frowned. I wonder where those prophecies originated from…”
“It is… unclear.” Virgil frowned as well. “Though they are as old as the Pandora legend, that a woman would appear from elsewhere to gather demons surrounded in sapphire, one from each great clan. And together, they would open the sealed box, then bring peace and harmony back to this land. They likely all have the same origin, though it is long forgotten.”
Brian handed the scroll back to Virgil. “I’m… going to go… Thank you for sharing this with me, Grandfather. I enjoyed it.” He hurriedly exited the room.
That’s not like Brian… He’s acting strange… Kevin gazed at the closed doors.
“Did you have any other questions?” Virgil glanced at Kevin as he held the scroll tightly in his lap, but his gaze trailed back to the door.
“No, that was everything for now. Thank you for the information, insight, and help.”
“Please let me know if I can assist you in other ways.”
“I appreciate it.” Kevin bowed, then quickly exited the room as well. Once he was on the other side of the doors, he rushed down the corridor. “Brian!”
Brian froze, then turned back toward him. “Kevin, what’s wrong?”
Kevin caught up to him, then cupped Brian’s shoulder. “Are you okay? You seem upset.”
“That story about the sickness was…” Brian glanced at his feet. “...very sad…”
“You’re thinking about something else.” Kevin frowned, then crossed his arms. “Tell me.”
“It’s not my…” Brian furrowed his brow. “I’m just… It’s fine...”
“I’m not sure if it’s anything yet… Can we talk about it later?”
Kevin tensed and swallowed as he paused. I shouldn’t push. Brian’s being very quiet when that’s normally not the case. “We can.”
“Minako wanted to try to make stronger barriers to help get us out of Emeradotouhou. Do you want to come and help me teach her?”
When a hint of a smile appeared on Brian’s lips, Kevin felt his body relax in the comfort of the typical. “I should see to my patient, but come find me in the medical wing if either of you are having trouble.” A small smile quirked on Kevin’s lips.
“Of course.” Brian clapped his shoulder. “See you later, Kevin.”
“Bye.” Kevin waved as Brian hurried down the hall. After confirming that he was alone in the corridor, he leaned against one of the stone walls and exhaled forcefully.
Have the demons in Safaiananpou always been more connected than the other countries or did those alliances only crumble when humans displaced demons? That drawing was clear, though, our clans were once deeply connected. I’m glad they are again, but that sickness… and the siege… We need to be worrying about what happens after this fight. Can we go back to the way things were? Or will we always be called back here until there is a new generation to fight these battles? How do we make that? Are there even enough females here for all the clans to repopulate? What if the sickness returns? He held his hand to his face. I wonder if those prophecies are the answer to ending all of these fears? Maybe that’s why the humans also latched on to the Pandora legend. But it’s very old… Why would it take so long to come true?