53 A Goddess’ Demons
⊱————- Shiro's PoV ————-⊰
It could have been such a beautiful day. The sun had risen over the horizon only one or two hours ago, but it was already greeting us with golden rays that turned everything around us into a vivid ocean of colors.
The leaves looked almost as if they were glowing, so bright were their colors. Most of them were still hanging on the trees that were long since preparing for winter, others were dancing in the air, carried by the wind. In the midst of all of this, there was a small fox that didn't even waste a single glance at the works of art surrounding her.
Ever since she had run away from Ofris and the others, it had been hard to talk to Rika. She was always in an ill mood, easily agitated and even depressed from time to time. A part of her was always ready to give up, it wanted to run towards Ofris and talk to him or at least see him from afar, but a far larger part still was too stubborn to accept that she felt lonely and lost.
It wasn't only her that felt lost. I, too, had to face my fair share of foul mood which came in the form of grief and guilt. Grief because I couldn't help her even though I wanted to and guilt? There was too much to feel guilty about. And still, I would probably commit all of those little crimes again.
«I am pathetic...»
I had long since lost my life, everything I had been. There was no memory left, nothing that would allow me as much as a single glance at who I might have been or what how people might have called me. There was nothing aside from that little shrine. And even that memory was altered by her into something far more beautiful.
The very first memory I had was about her or rather him visiting my shrine where he met his fate as the building dedicated to me came crumbling down. I was unable to react, unable to call out for him, to scream at him to flee. There was nothing I could have done.
When his soul rose from his dead body, my everything changed. There were no ruins, no destroyed roofs, no cracked pavement, only this marvelous, well-maintained shrine with lanterns, signs and various other items I did not even know the meaning of.
I suddenly had a body, a real body with legs, arms and a face that turned me into what he believed to be the most fitting image for a god. It was him that had given me these fox ears of mine, the tail, and the white hair. It was him who decided on what dress I should wear and what to have underneath.
And still, I lied to him. I had told him that it was me that had killed him and that I had done it out of inferior motives. I made him believe it was revenge for him sullying my shrine, though I was far too weak to even pluck the petals of a flower.
It was easy to fool him and even more easy to gain his hate. That was all I needed. As long as I worked him bad enough, tricked and pranked him or just talked to him whenever I had the chance, he would surely remember me. He would spend every minute of his day thinking of me and thus giving me the strength I needed to survive a little longer.
This was one of the few things I knew, a cruel truth that had haunted me ever since: if there was nobody to believe in me, I would cease to exist. It was that easy. And this time, there wouldn't be a shrine for anybody to stumble in. I would never wake up again to see a stranger's face.
In the end, I used my remaining strength for a last gamble, one last card I could play for me to hope for a future by giving him a new body so he would continue believing in me. Without any memories of having met somebody else besides him, there was only one body I could model his new one after, one body I knew was good enough to be perfect in his eyes: the one he had given me.
Using days and weeks, I created a body that matched the face he had given me, the eyes, the tails and even the ears. I gave him my everything so he could be born once again, to believe in me and never forget that I existed.
He would show me a new world by exploring vast lands, meeting weird animals and colorful cultures. Sometimes he would cry or curse, other times he would laugh loud and brightly. Maybe he would even fall in love. And I would watch all of this, forever staying at his side. Or at least I had hoped so.
Before I realized it, he had found his peace, with me and with his new body and it was me instead who had learned to hate - myself. All those tasks I gave Rika, all those words I called her, she swallowed them all.
It was long since too late for me to shout at her, to tell her to believe in me, to pray to me or say my name, the very name she had given me. I was safe, but at what price?
「Lucky!」 Her voice rang through my mind.
Rika had found the meal she had searched for all morning. It was a large, black bird that was currently busy trying to find food itself. I could almost hear Rika swallow her salvia.
"You want this one," I asked her.
「It looks tasty!」
It didn't. The bird wasn't even looking edible compared to the meat Ofris had roasted over the campfire or the meals she had eaten in the city.
"If you say so."
「What are you waiting for?」
A cold shiver went over my back as realized what she was asking for.
"Oh yes, the magic..."
「What is it? You promised me!」
「So do it! It will fly away soon!」
I could only do what she had asked me for. Of course I was afraid, as any of my pitiful attempts of changing her world cost me a huge chunk of the little energy she was giving me. What else cut I do? Anger her again? Just do nothing and risk that she will hate me? It was impossible.
A large ball of fire suddenly appeared above Rika's head. For a fraction of a second it spun around, gaining power and momentum, then it shot forward and into the brush the bird had trapped itself in.
It had no chance. Hit by the magic I had brought forth, the bird just dropped to the ground. If it wasn't for the charred smell and small flames lingering here and there, it would have looked as if the bird was exactly the same as me, just too exhausted to keep going. But there it was, dead. And I was once again reminded how close I was to following its fate.
I felt weak. Not as weak as I had felt after saving her from those goblins but nevertheless weak enough for me to be faced with the demon called 'sleep'. But I couldn't give in yet.
If I fell asleep now, with Rika being in the midst of an unknown to her forest, how was I supposed to save her should an animal attack? She was far too weak in her fox form and unable to use her sole form of defense: magic.
Once again I felt like forcing her to undo the transformation, even though she would most likely hate me for it. But even if I ignored this and did turn her into her human form, who would hinder her from just transforming back to continue hiding from Ofris and all the shadows I had cast on her?
Ofris. It was just a name, but to me it had long since become the epitome of both immeasurable hope and despair. I needed him, yet I couldn't bring myself to ever again add him to the quests I gave her. Not after all the tears she had shown me, not after watching her sleeping under a brush and fighting against the bitter cold.
「Can I really eat this,」 Rika asked herself after pulling the bird out of the scrubs.
"You wanted this..."
「What is with your voice?」
So she had found out. It was to be expected. Not only was I bad at pretending, but I had also grown too weak to even think of any half-decent excuse. I felt exhausted and confused.
A far too familiar feeling of cold and weightlessness already grasped for me. It would soon consume me and force me to once again sleep. Maybe for hours, maybe for days, depending on how often she would think of me. Maybe she would just forget and this was the last time...
"I'm just a little sleepy..."
「Why would you be sleepy,」 she immediately complained. 「You did nothing but say the name of the magic!」
I already knew this wasn't enough to satisfy her. Her thoughts were already circulating around all the possible explanations there were. Not a single one was right. She hadn't realized yet. Maybe she never would.
「You told me to trust you. So say the truth!」
「No you don't! Every time you use my magic, you get sleepy! What's up with that?!」
What could I even answer to that? Should I tell her what my pitiful attempts at changing the mortal's world demanded from me? Should I tell her that I was slowly killing myself whenever I did? And that I still did just so that she wouldn't stop thinking of me? There is no way I could do that.
Rika's next question was even harder to answer. It was as if she could read all my thoughts, my fears and my dreams.
「Will you stop talking to me again? You did the same after we met those goblins! And not only then!」
「Talk,」 she demanded.
"I am too weak..."
I answered like this, knowing that it wasn't what she wished to hear. Soon enough, the fragile hope that she might just give up on it was harshly crushed.
「What do you mean too weak?」
"Changing the world of mortals drains the little strength I have..."
「So why do you do those stupid quests then?!」
How could I answer this? Without making her despise me? Without telling her each and every one of my secrets and weaknesses? Without telling her that I had been lying to her?
I thought about it, trying to come up with an answer or at least a good way to start revealing my everything, but I soon realized I had run out of time. It got harder and harder to keep my eyes open and follow her steps, and soon enough it was impossible to even think straight.
And still, I did. I used a little more of my strength, just enough to make three familiar green screens appear in her mind. They would cost me days, maybe even weeks, but I didn't care. She would remember me. She would think of me, and she would be safe.
As the darkness slowly embraced me I held onto the new memories I had been blessed with, swearing to myself to not lose a single one of them ever again.
«It will be fine,» I reassured myself. «It will be fine...»
⊱————- Extra ————-⊰
Miriam: Do you think they will be okay?
Sophia: If anybody can find her, it will be those two.
Miriam: They have to! It will be bad for the baby if she is out there alone!
Jack: Baby? He doesn't even remember swinging his pickaxe! Why do you think he hit gold?! Shouldn't you be waiting for him to dig a little more before celebrating?
Miriam: Swinging his pickaxe?