“How lovely,” Amura said as they stood at the edge of a field of wildflowers.
Mira edged away from it. “Best keep walking. I don’t want to be here come sundown.”
“Why’s that? I was thinking this might be a fine place to spend the night.”
“Because of the fairies. I… had a bad experience once.”
Amura laughed. “The fairies? Ok, sure… wait, are you serious? Fairies aren’t real.”
Mira turned to face the other woman fully. “A horde of flesh eating monsters appears every time there’s a red moon. Demons are all over the place. I literally have one’s heart in a bag. You helped me stop it by using music to mess with its head. And you don’t believe in fairies?”
“I’m not sure what you’re trying to say. Demons are real, of course. Magic is real. Fairies aren’t.”
“Trust me, they are. They really are.”
“You’d be the only person I’ve ever seen or even heard of who’s met them then. Another mystery to add to your list.”
Mira sighed and turned away. “Just… let’s find somewhere else, ok?”
“What does this field have to do with fairies, anyway?”
“I found them, or they found me, I guess, in a field just like this one. They tried to eat all of my emotions. I only got away because a fire broke out and started burning the forest.”
Mira sighed again and walked off. A few seconds later, Amura started after her. The minstrel had caught up with her early the morning after she’d left Rohaim, and Mira hadn’t been able to get rid of her since.
It put her in an awkward position. Sooner or later, Shy or Jorath would catch up with her. It wouldn’t be good for Amura’s health if she was still around. Shy didn’t go out of her way to be cruel, but she also wouldn’t hesitate if she decided that eliminating Amura was necessary. Jorath would probably kill her without a second thought, just on the off chance that she might some day threaten his goals.
And Amura had been nothing but helpful. The first day, they’d passed through a village that just happened to have a caravan parked there. Amura had put together a travel pack of out of her own money and given it to Mira. She’d claimed it was by way of apology for the problems she’d caused Mira at Vinmarch. Since then, she’d secured rooms to sleep in more often than not, usually for no more than an hour or two’s singing.
The problem was that she was so damn nosy. Amura knew there was something off about Mira, and after a few days of constantly being peppered with personal questions, Mira was more than ready to go off her own way.
“Have you decided where we’re going yet?” Amura asked.
That would be hard for Mira to do, considering she didn’t know where anything was. “No,” she said. “Just going wherever the road takes me for now.”
“Paldu is only a week from here. I need a new lyre anyway. If you’re not going anywhere in particular, we could head that way.”
There was no good excuse not to agree, so Mira nodded. If she was lucky, they would part ways there and she could get back to doing what Jorath wanted so that she could finally go home.
They set up camp a mile down the road from the wildflower field. After a few nights of doing it, they had developed an efficient system of dividing the chores up and had it ready in no time.
“Can you start the fire?” Amura asked after Mira came back from doing her business on the other side of a tree.
Mira pulled the inferolisk heart stone out of its pouch and focused on it. Heat spread through her body, which she channeled into the pile of branches Amura had broken down to be used. within a few seconds, flames licked at the thick ones on the bottom, and after a bit of work, they had a small cooking fire going.
“Thanks,” Amura said. She shot a look at the heart stone and added, “How long do you think it’ll last?”
“I don’t know. The only other one I had crumbled as soon as I let it go. This one though… I can feel it even when I’m not holding onto it.”
They cooked and ate in silence, then cleaned up their dishes at a nearby stream. When they were done, Mira wrapped herself in a blanket and bunched her cloak up to use as a pillow. She laid there, trying to fall asleep, while Amura hummed to herself. It was only as Mira started to drift off that she realized it was some sort of lullaby, and that maybe she was falling asleep faster than normal.
* * *
It was still dark when Mira felt someone leaning over her. She jerked awake and started to shout, but a gloved hand clamped over her mouth. “Ssshh,” a voice whispered. “We need to talk.”
Mira’s eyes widened. It was the demon who’d warned her about the inferolisk back in Rohaim. He moved his hand away and gestured for Mira to follow him away from Amura. Quietly, she climbed to her feet and wrapped her cloak around her shoulders.
“What the hell are you doing here?” she asked as soon as they were out of earshot.
“I have a warning for you,” the demon said. “The heart stone you took, you must not rely on it so heavily. The more you use it, the stronger your bond to it will become.”
“I don’t understand what that means.”
The demon gestured to himself. “You will become like us if you allow yourself to use the heart stone like you have been. It’s dangerous for you to even carry it for so long, let alone to use it for such mundane tasks as lighting camp fires.”
“So you’re saying I should chuck it in a lake and not look back?”
“No. This world is dangerous. You need a way to defend yourself, and the inferolisk heart stone will work for that. I’m saying that you should only use it in emergencies, and you should find a different heart stone to replace it as quickly as you can.”
Mira gave the demon a suspicious look. “You sure seem to know a lot about how this all works.”
“You are the last of your clan, Mira Tanner, not the first. We’ve known how the Montrose demon hunters have operated for centuries. The dangers of their powers are well documented.”
“Ok, fine, I can buy that. Let’s say that I believe you. What do you get out of this?”
“Ko ruh tuva sira?” the demon asked.
Mira glared at him. The demon smirked back and shrugged. “Keep hold of that heart stone and you’ll understand soon enough.”
“Or you could just tell me, asshole.”
“No, you wouldn’t understand, not yet. It’s something you have to experience for yourself.”
Mira gripped the pouch containing the heart stone in one hand and held it up. “Maybe I should just torch you right now. You’ve been a pain in the ass since you first showed up. I’m sick of your little guessing games.”
The demon’s eyes went flat as he regarded the pouch. “That would be a mistake on your part. My orders are to keep you alive, for now. It would be a shame to have to hurt you, but make no mistake. I am not an inferolisk. I am not anything so weak as that.”
“Right, because I didn’t already beat you once.”
“You did no such thing,” the demon said. “Jorath’s shadow magic fought for you, and even that wasn’t enough to hold me for long.”
“Are you saying you want to test it again?” Mira asked. She pulled the heart stone from the pouch. “Just say the word and we’ll go.”
The demon shook his head. “You are young and foolish. Do not take my warnings lightly, unless you like the idea of becoming a demon.”
“What do you even care for?” Mira asked.
“I told you already. Ko ruh tuva sira?”
Mira grit her teeth and stuffed the heart stone back in the pouch. “Just get out of here, whoever you are.”
“My name is Maluk.”
“Ok, Maluk. Who do you work for? Why are they interested in me? Why should I cooperate with you?”
“It’s not my place to speculate on the council’s desires. But consider this: do you really believe Jorath will honor his word to you? If treachery had an avatar, it would be him. He’s betrayed everyone and everything he’s ever come in contact with. You would do better with us than with him, when you’re ready. Vuh kora.”
Then Maluk was gone. Mira peered into the darkness after him, but the demon had disappeared so completely she wondered if he’d ever really been there at all. She walked back to her blanket and settled down under it, but there was too much on her mind for her to easily fall back asleep.
* * *
“You’re quiet today,” Amura remarked as they walked.
“Just thinking,” Mira said.
“Just, you know, this thing.” Mira gestured towards the pouch holding the heart stone. “How dangerous it is, and whether I should keep it or get rid of it.”
“Well, it’s certainly handy to have around,” Amura said.
Mira laughed bitterly. “Sure, but look what it came out of. It might be time to get rid of it.”
“What brought all this on?” Amura asked. “You’ve been carrying it around for over a week.”
Mira thought about telling her about Maluk. She’d thought about it for most of the morning, but in the end, she wasn’t going to for the same reason she wasn’t telling Amura anything else about herself. She didn’t trust the minstrel, and the whole reason she’d been taken from her world was to oppose the most powerful demon ever. No doubt the only thing keeping her alive was that he didn’t know who she was. The less people who knew about her, the safer she was.
There was too much going on that was out of her control. Shy and Jorath were God-knows-where doing God-knows-what. This new demon, Maluk, represented some group that had an interest in her and knew way too much about where she was from and who she was. And she knew next to nothing about them.
She needed to get a handle on things before something killed her. The problem was that no one was trustworthy. They all had their own agendas, and she didn’t doubt for a second that any of them would hesitate to throw her under the bus the moment she stopped being useful.
The problem was that Jorath had something she wanted. Without him, she had no way of getting home. The only solutions she saw was to either accept that and start a new life in demon-world, or find some other way that didn’t involve him. She didn’t think she’d be able to hide from him though, so if she was going to break off from him, that meant she needed a way to defend herself.
A rock that let her start fires with her mind seemed like a good way to start, except that if Maluk was to be believed, using it too much would turn her into a demon. She’d been going over her thoughts, emotions, and actions over the past week, trying to find something that was out of character, something that might suggest that the demon was telling the truth about the heart stone. Nothing had leaped out at her.
“Mira?” Amura said. “You’ve gone quiet on me again.”
“Sorry. Just… a lot of my mind. I don’t want to talk about it until I sort it all out.”
“Sometimes talking about it helps, even if you don’t have the answers.”
Because Amura never could seem to stay quiet while they traveled, she often hummed or sang when they weren’t talking. Sometimes Mira understood the songs, but Amura didn’t limit herself to singing in just English. She often lamented, loudly, about the loss of her lyre, but she seemed to know plenty of music that didn’t require an instrument.
“Hey,” Mira said suddenly, “did you… sing me a lullaby last night to put me to sleep?”
Amura’s cheeks flushed and she looked away. “You’ve been having problems sleeping lately. I thought a full night would be good for you. It might even make you less cranky.”
“Well, don’t do it again please. That’s kind of a violation of trust thing to have you just use your magical voice on me without my permission.”
“I’m afraid I don’t follow.”
“What’s not to follow?” Mira said. “You did something to me without my permission or knowledge. I’m asking you not to do it again so it doesn’t become an issue.”
“I was just trying to help though.”
“I know, but I don’t want you to do it again. Please respect my wishes.”
Amura just stared at her blankly. It was obvious she didn’t understand Mira’s point of view. Mira wondered how much of her life Amura spent manipulating the emotions of actions of people around her, whether for their own good or for hers. The more she thought about it, the less comfortable Mira was with the woman.
“I think you’re making too big a deal out of this. It really wasn’t anything,” Amura said.
“Oh my God, how are you not getting this? I asked you not to do it. Don’t do it. It’s really that simple.”
There was no singing or humming after that. The silence was uncomfortable, but Mira thought that might be a good thing. Maybe it would convince Amura to split off soon, before Shy or Jorath found her.