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Mending Scars

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Faujas hitched his horse outside the inn. He dismounted into the muck, sinking into the sludge. Townsfolk hurried over to meet him.

“Did the Order send you?” blurted a peasant.

“They did. Who speaks for you?” asked Faujas.

“That would be me.” A lean man with sunken eyes and a crooked nose strode forward. “My name is Heden, the mayor of this town.”

Faujas shook his hand. The townsfolk beamed at him. Their admiration was wasted; Faujas had little patience for errands like this these days.

“Where shall we speak?” asked Faujas, anxious to get out of the cold.

“This way,” urged Heden, leading him towards the largest building.

“And where is the man who saw the demon?” asked Faujas.

“He’s at the tavern. I’ve already sent someone to fetch him. Along with a hot meal for yourself, of course.”

Faujas entered the assembly room. Villagers flowed in behind him, taking whatever seat they believed to be closest to where he would sit. Faujas took the seat next to Heden.

“Was the journey here difficult?” asked Heden.

“No more than usual,” said Faujas. He tapped his fingers against the rough wood. It irked him that a town could be so frightened about the prospect of a demon incursion but be completely unprepared for his arrival. Just once he wanted to arrive, be told where to go, and be on his way without a villager telling him about a demon that seemed to grow bigger every time the story was told.

A pregnant silence filled the roomy interior while the assembly waited for the witness. The door burst open. A fat man staggered forward. His red face was wreathed in a matted, unkempt beard of greasy hair. Another man followed behind him, bearing a plate of food.

“This is Lubin. He was the one who saw the demon,” explained Heden.

“I see…” Faujas watched the drunkard stagger towards him. The man next to him surrendered his seat so that he could sit.

“I saw it alright! The name’s Lubin.” The man extended a greasy hand towards Faujas. The stench of alcohol was strong enough to make Faujas grimace. Nonetheless, he shook Lubin’s chubby hand.

“Paladin Faujas. Could you tell me about the demon?” asked Faujas, eager to be rid of the inebriate.

“It was a few nights ago. I was coming back from a hunt with my furs. It was a path I had walked a thousand times. Goes round a pond, you see. Right in the middle of the woods. That’s where I saw it,” said Lubin.

The plate of food was slid in front of Faujas. He took a bite of food. Disgusting. None of these towns ever had more than a spoonful of salt between them to season their food.

“But what did it look like?” demanded Faujas impatiently.

“I’m gettin’ to that!” huffed Lubin. “As I was saying, I know everything that walks, slithers, and crawls through those woods. But I ain’t never seen NOTHING like this before.” Faujas took a sip of water in a bid to weather the man’s dramatic pause. “It shambled through the trees like a deer, only it didn’t walk right. Didn’t pick its way through; its steps were too deliberate. Thought it looked funny, so I watched it. That’s when I realized what I was looking at. It were a demon! One with the body of a horse, and the torso of a woman stuck onto it! The thing wore clothes just like you and I do. And it had a wicked horn sticking out of its head! Oh, I ran faster than I have in years to get out of there! If it had seen me, I’d have been its supper for certain!”

Faujas stared blankly at the man as he concluded the story. The townsfolk whispered amongst themselves nervously, looking to Faujas to reassurance.

“And where exactly was this? In the woods to the north?”

“Northeast,” corrected Lubin. “Up past the mountains.”

“How far?”

Lubin laced his grubby fingers and reclined in his chair. The wood squealed in protest of the immense weight it was forced to support. “That depends on you, sir. Myself? I can be up and over those mountains in a few days’ time. I reckon it would take you nearly two weeks.”

Faujas could feel the veins in his temple bulging. “Distance, Lubin. Forget the terrain; give me a measurement.”

Lubin chuckled. “You can’t forget the mountains, sir. They certainly won’t forget you.”

For a town so desperate for help, these yokels weren’t very forthcoming with their information. “Very well. Two weeks to the Northeast.” Faujas stood up and made for the door.

“When will the others arrive?” called Heden.

“Never. Demons are rarely seen on this continent; they don’t have the numbers to stage a raid on the village. You’re all safe here; I’ll make certain of that,” said Faujas.
Heden nervously wetted his lips. “I mean the rest of your company. When will the other paladins arrive?”

Faujas shrugged. “The answer is the same. I’m all they sent.” He put his palm over the hilt of his sword. “And I’m all they’ll need to send.” He turned and left the uneasy crowd behind him.

~~~~~~~~

The wick of the candle burned slowly. Faujas rubbed his eyes and reassessed his planned route into the wilderness. Another town, another “demon sighting.” How many of these had he been sent on in the past few years? Some drunken clod sees a deer with the mange or an especially large wolf, and suddenly the whole town is being overrun with “demons.” And every time, Faujas would show up to confirm that there was nothing lurking in the woods waiting to feast on their bones. Putting down the occasional rabid animal or spelunking into an empty cave wasn’t so bad, but excursions like this were the worst. Day after day of trekking through the forest to make sure that the infinitesimal chance one of these idiots actually did see a demon was unbearably monotonous. Half the time the fools were so panicked they couldn’t remember where they had seen the damn thing. At least this town hadn’t started jailing or killing anyone yet.

Faujas winced. He shifted in his chair to ease the strain on his side. It was no wonder the Order sent him to these backwater shanties. He wasn’t good for much else these days. Maybe it was time to think about retiring after all. Faujas didn’t like to dwell on his mortality, but he knew that he wasn’t the young man he once was. Another encounter with brigands could be his last. He looked at his sword, resting against the bed. What good was a soldier who couldn’t fight? Dying at the hands of a demon might be more dignified than withering away in some monastery, or teaching swordsmanship to some noble’s bastard son. Faujas snorted in frustration. Snuffing the candle and vowing to put aside all thoughts of death and resentment towards the townsfolk, he climbed into the rough linens and fell asleep.

~~~~~~~~~~

“I’ll return in due time. Until then, remain vigilant. And don’t kill anyone! Jail them if you must, but summon a cleric to make certain that they’re a demon before you lop some innocent’s head off,” commanded Faujas.

“When will you be back?” asked Heden.

“When I’m confident that there are no demons in the forest,” said Faujas.

The townsfolk didn’t seem placated by his answer. They stirred nervously around his horse, eyeing the woods in the distance. Lubin rode through them on a lean nag, looking even worse for wear than her rider.

“I’ll show you the way,” said Lubin confidently.

Faujas wanted nothing more than to embark without the drunkard it tow. His mere presence was enough to irk the paladin. After a few days listening to him prattle on about his adventures, chances are Faujas would be ready to feed him to any demon he came across. But dragging him along would mean a faster trip, and a witness to testify that there were no demons in the forest. If these fools believed his story before, it would work in Faujas’s favor if they did again.

“Lead on,” said Faujas.

Lubin bid his horse onward. Faujas followed behind him, keeping at a distance that would make conversation unwieldy.

~~~~~~~~~

Lubin broke out into another bout of out-of-tune song. Faujas’s hands tightened around his reins. It never ceased. How could a man who spent so much energy flapping his gums be so fat?

“Here’s where it starts to get steep! Follow closely, you hear? No shortcuts around these parts!” called Lubin.

Faujas traced a series of rough switchbacks up the slopes. At least the drunkard’s boasting hadn’t been for naught. True to his word, he had marched Faujas through the forest faster than he could have ever hoped to move on his own. For such a sloppy man, he kept the path he used to bring his wares back to the town neat and well-marked.

“How much farther?” asked Faujas.

“Two days. We can stay at my cabin. It’s on the other side of the mountains.”

A cabin. The warmth of a hearth sounded nice. The prospect of having to share a confined space with Lubin, on the other hand, was daunting. Faujas spurred his horse onward up the mountain to the tune of Lubin’s humming.

~~~~~~~~~~

Faujas surveyed the forest. No sign of any demons. Lubin looked over his shoulder again. He was twisting so much Faujas was surprised he hadn’t unscrewed his own head.

“And you’re certain it was here?” asked Faujas.

“It was here. Right over there,” whispered Lubin, pointing towards the pond.

They had been around the pond a dozen times. The only piece of “evidence” Lubin had offered was a mess of tracks through the mud. It looked as if a hundred animals had passed through the muck, but Lubin insisted that he could see the beast’s tracks amongst the sludge. Faujas had humored him, allowing Lubin to try and track the demon. He had been led hither and thither in an aimless pursuit of the thing without seeing so much as a stray hair from it. Now, after spending three days crammed into a cabin with Lubin snoring into his ear every night, Faujas’s patience was wearing thin.

“You don’t have to whisper,” said Faujas.

“It might hear us!” said Lubin.

Faujas rolled his eyes. “We’ve been here for days. Unless you can show me something more than old tracks and broken twigs, I’m going to report that this matter is concluded.”

“You can’t! It’s still out there!” pleaded Lubin.

“Then where is it?!” roared Faujas.

Lubin winced. “I-I don’t know, sir…”

“Then perhaps you should have figured that out before dragging me out here!”

Lubin glared at him. “Now just a minute! You have a duty to protect those fine folks in the village from-“

“From what, you oaf? Their own shadows? Shall I check under their beds before they go to sleep? There’s nothing out here besides deer and trees! You probably saw a buck and were too drunk to realize what you saw!”

“It was real! And don’t you dare say it wasn’t!” said Lubin.

“Then where is it?!” shouted Faujas.

Lubin was about to reply in kind but stopped short. His eyes widened. His lips began to tremble, and he raised a finger to point past Faujas. Faujas glanced over his shoulder. A frightened human face disappeared into the brush as he looked. Something large fled through the forest, crushing twigs and branches as it went. For a moment, Faujas thought he had gone mad. He whipped his head back to Lubin.

“Did you- Was that-“ Faujas weakly gestured towards the creature.

“To hell with this! Go kill that thing!” Lubin turned his horse and fled.

“Wait! Bastard, help me catch the damn thing!” called Faujas. He swore. Turning his horse around, he took off after the beast. As much as he had come to resent Lubin, having a trapper would be invaluable if he needed to track this thing. But why did it run? It had the opportunity to ambush them; was it just clumsy? If it relied on the element of surprise, he would need to kill it before nightfall. Once the dark set, it would have the upper hand.

To his surprise, Faujas caught up to it quickly. The thing had left a path so obvious that even he could follow. In a matter of minutes, he came upon the thing. The human half had the sleeve of its robe caught in a thicket and was desperately trying to free itself. When it saw Faujas approaching, it screamed. The cry was so bloodcurdling it made Faujas’s horse rear. Faujas stared at it. Her. It was definitely a her. She was the most beautiful woman Faujas had ever seen, even if her body was attached to that of a horse. A single horn protruded from her dainty face, now streaked with tears and marred by terror. Platinum blond hair kept in a fraying braid hung down behind her head. Her body was concealed in a modest cloak made from a material that looked like gossamer where there was only one layer of cloth. One of the long, flowing sleeves trailed down to her delicate hands was snared in the thorns. Faujas gawked at her. A real demon. How many years had it been since he had seen one? He had trained his whole life for this moment, and now that the time had come to put into practice what had been instilled through years of practice, he was at a loss. Only when she finally freed herself and tried to escape could Faujas shake off his stupor.

“Halt!” he shouted. He shook his head. What a stupid thing to say to a demon.

The creature squealed again and stopped in its tracks, throwing its hands up. Faujas likewise stopped behind her. She began bawl. Faujas dismounted and fumbled for his sword. His hands were shaking so badly it took him several attempts to free the blade from its scabbard.

“Please don’t kill me!” wailed the creature.

Faujas gulped. Shuffling around to the creature’s front, he held the sword up at her. It was a pathetic display. The weapon bounced and quivered in his hand, putting his fear on display for any to see. A unicorn. He had brushed up on his demonology over the past few nights; far from the worst demon he could have encountered.

“Shut up!” shouted Faujas.

The unicorn screamed again. Her horse legs bent until she was resting on the ground. She laced her fingers in front of her chest and began to beg. “P-p-please, don’t kill me. Oh, gods… No… Please… I’m sorry! I just overheard you mister knight! I- Oh please, don’t kill me!”

Faujas felt numb. This felt like some sort of nightmare. One where he was both the monster and the victim at the same time. Here he was with a demon at sword point, yet he felt like a highwayman standing over a woman he was about to murder.

“I said shut up!” barked Faujas. Her begging was making it impossible to think. What should he do? Just kill her? Was that… alright? He had always imagined a demon to me so much more than a sniveling coward. This unicorn put up less of a fight than some of the pickpockets he had apprehended.
“I was just curious, that’s all! You two had been getting along so well these past few days and then you started fighting so I went to get a closer look and I didn’t mean to startle you!” said the unicorn, never pausing to take a breath.

“You were stalking us?!” said Faujas.

“No!” pleaded the unicorn. “I was just watching you from a distance!”

Faujas had had enough. He raised his sword. The unicorn screamed again. He faltered, lowering his sword again. Thoughts of the dead woman lying in the leaves made his hands tremble. Was there nothing else to be done? He gasped. Information! He should learn if there were other demons here in the woods. It would be a waste to kill her when there was potentially valuable knowledge to be gleaned from interrogating her.

“Where are the others?!” barked Faujas.

The unicorn stared at him in confusion. “What?”

“The other demons! Where are they?”

“There are no other monsters here! It’s only me!” sobbed the unicorn.

“Liar! Where are they?” said Faujas.

“That’s the truth, I swear! I have no reason to lie to you, mister knight!”

“It’s paladin, fiend!”

“I’m so very sorry, mister paladin!”

Faujas kept his sword at the ready. The unicorn continued to cry until her sleeves were sodden. Around him, the shadows of the trees stretched towards the horizon as the sun sank lower into the sky. Faujas cursed. If she was telling the truth, there was nothing to fear; but when had demons ever told the truth? He grabbed a length of rope from his horse. The unicorn squealed in surprise when he grabbed her wrists and pulled them together.

“Silence! I’m taking you with me!” said Faujas.

“W-where?” sniffled the unicorn.

“Somewhere else. Now shut up!” Faujas bound her hands. Mounting his horse, he began leading the unicorn towards the cabin. Now what the hell was he supposed to do? Execute her? He gulped. No, he should take her to the city. The Order would want to see her. They would think he had gone mad if he didn’t bring back any evidence. After all, how many of these had he been sent on before with nothing to show for his efforts? The clerics would think that he was fabricating his story to earn a promotion or extra pay. Faujas looked over his shoulder. The sullen unicorn plodded dejectedly behind him, tears still running down her face. He shifted in his saddle. There was nothing else he could do. She was a demon, and he had sworn to protect humanity. He winced. All this commotion was making the pain in his side flare. Careful to keep his horse from pulling her too hard, he wound his way through the trees to the cabin.

~~~~~~~~~

A knock at the door interrupted Faujas’s meal.

“S-sir paladin?”

Faujas opened the door. The unicorn was quaking like a leaf in the wind, clearly freezing in her wispy clothes.

“I was w-wondering if I c-c-could start a f-fire,” she said through chattering teeth.

“You’d sooner burn down the cabin with me in it than warm yourself,” said Faujas.

“I would never hurt you! Please, mister paladin! I can’t feel my fingers!” moaned the unicorn.

Faujas looked at the rope around her hands. It was still as tight as it had been when he had tied it. The wind blew. He shuddered, retreating a step back into the cabin. “You’re a demon; cold doesn’t bother you,” said Faujas.

“It does, sir paladin! Please, it’s starting to hurt…” pleaded the unicorn.

Faujas scratched his beard. The rosy hue in her cheeks and the paleness of her skin certainly lent to the fact that she was suffering. Having her inside would make it easier to keep an eye on her too. He grunted. “Fine. Come in.”

She gave him a curious look. “In?”

“Yes, in.”

The unicorn crouched down and ducked through the doorway. Faujas stepped outside and undid the knot around the post he had tied her too. The rope slithered inside after her. He watched her trot over to the fire and lie down in front of it. She extended her hands to the fire, flexing her shivering digits in the warmth.

“Thank you, sir. I promise I’ll cause no trouble,” said the unicorn.

Faujas took a step towards her. She winced. He grabbed the end of the rope and tied it to a post on the wall. Faujas didn’t bother with a fancy knot this time. He had a feeling that this monster didn’t intend to hurt him. Yet… Faujas returned to his desk and continued to write up his report. After only a few strokes of his quill, a loud rumbling broke the silence in the cabin. He looked at the unicorn.

“Was that you?” asked Faujas.

“No!” blurted the unicorn. Her stomach growled again. She clutched her midriff, ears wilting in embarrassment.

“Are you hungry?” asked Faujas.

“A little,” admitted the unicorn.

“I’m afraid I have no soul to feed you,” said Faujas, returning to his work.

“Soul?”

“That’s what your kind eats, isn’t it?”

“Oh, no sir paladin! I would never! That’s the most important part of a person!” gasped the unicorn.

“Then what have you been eating?” asked Faujas.

“Berries, roots, leaves… Oh! And mushrooms! There are some lovely mushrooms in the forest this time of year,” said the unicorn.

“Am I to believe that a creature of your stature could survive off forage?” asked Faujas.

She pouted. “Do you think I’m fat?”

Faujas was taken aback by the question. “Fat?”

“So you do!” cried the unicorn.

“I said no such thing!” said Faujas.

“It was the dewberries! They came in so well this year, I just couldn’t help myself!” moaned the unicorn.

Faujas watched her begin to cry again. This demon had a strange sense of priorities for someone in such a dire situation. His curiosity was piqued by her insistence that she ate regular food. “What else can you eat? Meat? Humans?”

“Humans?! Goodness no! I would-“ she gagged. “I can’t even eat meat! Just thinking about what it once was is- is…” The unicorn broke down again.

Faujas dragged his hand down his face. He couldn’t seem to catch a break with this creature. Everything he did drove it to tears. And if it was merely an act, the thing was a better performer than any troupe he had ever seen visit the cities. He went to his pack and pulled out some grains. He set a pot over the fire and poured them in. The unicorn moved out of the way, making no attempt to push him into the flames. Faujas kept a hand next to the poker just in case she decided to change her mind.

“I’m sorry,” the unicorn said softly.

Faujas looked at her. “For what?”

“I’m in the way.”

Faujas stirred the grains. “Not by much.”

“It’s because I’m so big. All the other girls said that men wouldn’t like me because I’m so much bigger than they are,” sniffled the unicorn.

Faujas’s blood ran cold. “Other girls?”

The unicorn nodded and wiped her eyes. “Back in the city I lived in. They used to tease me all the time because I couldn’t find a husband.”

Faujas swallowed the lump in his throat. This was it. Concrete proof that there was a whole city of demons out there. “A city, huh? Was it a nice place?”

The unicorn shrugged, playing with her sleeve. “The buildings were nice. But everyone in it loved to mock me. So I took a ship across the sea and came here to in hopes of finding a husband. But… every time I see a human, I just get so nervous…”

Faujas breathed a sigh of relief. She took a ship. Which means she came from the monster continent. The knowledge that monsters could cross so easily was disconcerting, but it was nice to know that there wasn’t a demon city on the human continent. He stopped stirring. “Did you say a husband?”

The unicorn blushed. She hid her face in her hands. “Oooh! This is what I mean! It’s just too embarrassing to talk about these things! How would I even tell a man I think he’s attractive?! If I wait for him to say it to me, he might not ever do it!”

“What does a demon want with a husband? Do you like to play with your food?” said Faujas.

“I would never hurt my husband! A husband is the most important thing in the whole world to a mamono!” insisted the unicorn. Her eyes flared with determination. Faujas looked back at the grains.

“The most important thing, hmm? Is that why so many of my friends are never seen again after they’re dragged away by your kind?”

The unicorn winced. “I promise all of your friends are alive, as hard as that may be to believe. It’s difficult for our kind and our spouses to visit human lands. Most of the time it ends up like-” she pulled at the ropes around her hands “-this… Or worse.”

Faujas recalled one incident years ago when he and his company had been hunting down a demon in a city. Apparently, someone’s son who had disappeared years ago showed up on his family’s doorstep one day with his demon ‘wife’. One of the neighbor’s had seen them enter the house and called in the Order. After three days, they never managed to track the duo down. The family all claimed to have been under the influence of some sort of spell. A few days later, they packed up everything they had and were never seen again. The way they spoke had never sat right with Faujas after all these years, and he was beginning to wonder if the unicorn wasn’t just trying to lull him into a false sense of security after all. He snorted. If that was her goal, she was adept at her craft. Here he was, sitting beside her in front of a fire, making her dinner. If the other paladins saw him like this, he would be excommunicated in an instant. No wonder the Order ingrained such a fear of temptation into them. Chatting with such a beautiful woman was a treat that few soldiers were afforded these days. He thought about some of the other women he had known in his life. Women who he’d left behind to serve the Chief God’s needs. He clutched his side.

“Are you hurt?”

Faujas looked over at the unicorn. He quickly removed his hand from his side. “No. I was just thinking.”

“You’re hurt. I can tell,” said the unicorn.

Faujas chuckled. “Oh? You can tell? And how do you do that?”

The unicorn tapped her horn. “I’m a unicorn. I can tell.”

Faujas looked at her skeptically. “Some kind of magic that lets you sense weakness?”

“Not weakness; pain. And it’s not a magic, per say. More of an intuition.”

“Your intuition is wrong. I wouldn’t be all the way out here hunting you down if I were injured,” growled Faujas. The unicorn was quiet for a while. Faujas stirred the pot.

“I’m sorry,” she said softly.

“Now what is it?” grunted Faujas.

“I didn’t mean to imply you were weak. Even the strong can hurt.”

“I’m as hale as the day I was born,” said Faujas. They both listened to the crackle of the fire and the grating of the spoon against the pot. A thought entered Faujas’s mind. He snickered.

“What is it?” asked the unicorn.

“I was just thinking: you’re probably the most polite demon I’ve ever met,” said Faujas.

“You’ve met other demons?”

Faujas sighed. “Something like that.”

“Did you… fight them?”

Faujas clutched the spoon. He didn’t dare tell her that she was the first beast who hadn’t taunted him and disappeared, or made off with one of his comrades. He poured some grains into a bowl and passed it to her. The unicorn stared at it.

“What’s this?” she asked.

“Food. I want you to prove to me that you can eat like a human can,” said Faujas.

“Are you certain, sir paladin? I don’t want you to go hungry,” she said.

“Eat it!” demanded Faujas.

The unicorn flinched and brought the bowl to her lips. She recoiled with a squeal and pulled away.

“I knew it!” shouted Faujas.

“Hot!” wheezed the unicorn, sticking out her burnt tongue.

Faujas faltered. “Then let it cool, you simpleton!”

The unicorn blew on her bowl a few times. Lifting it back to her mouth, she took a small sip of the sludge. Faujas watched her chew and swallow. Her ears wiggled. Licking her lips, she began to eat more of the gruel. Faujas ate some of his own food, watching her clean out the bowl in minutes. She licked the last morsel off the edge of the bowl and offered it back to him. He took it and placed it on the hearth. So, she could eat human food after all. He should make a note of this. If monsters could eat like humans, it would make them even harder to detect. He frowned. The unicorn shifted nervously.

“Is something wrong, mister paladin?” she asked nervously.

“Hold still.” Faujas stepped towards her. She stared up at him meekly. Faujas used a napkin to wipe her face. The unicorn blushed. She made no effort to stop his hand until her face was clean.

“I’m sorry. I’m not usually a messy eater,” stammered the unicorn.

Faujas grunted. He finished his food and put his bowl away. Returning to his notes, he wrote down what he had learned. Tapping his quill against the table, he realized that his report was missing something important.

“Demon, do you have a name?” asked Faujas.

The unicorn blinked. “Me?”

“I don’t see any other demons here,” said Faujas.

“I’m not a demon; I’m a unicorn.” Faujas narrowed his eyes. She looked away. “My name is Clemantia.”

Faujas jotted it down. “Not a very threatening name for a demon.”

“I wouldn’t want to intimidate anyone.”

Faujas left the book open to dry and put away his stationary. The unicorn remained seated in front of the fire, watching him work. She still bore the same sad expression she had worn all day. What a piteous creature; bullied by demons and reviled by men. Who did you have to turn to when even devils wouldn’t take you in? Faujas stretched. Tugging at his knot on the wall, he made sure that it wouldn’t come undone during the night. He settled into the bed, keeping the sword on the opposite side as Clemantia. Settling in, he tried to fall asleep.

“Um… mister paladin?” asked the unicorn.

“What is it?” growled Faujas.

“Oh, um, nothing…” she squeaked.

“Spit it out. If you’re going to bother me, do it now. Otherwise I’ll leave you to freeze outside.”

“I just wanted to know your name,” sniffled the unicorn.

Faujas shut his eyes hard and muttered under his breath. “Just call me paladin.”

“Your name is paladin?”

“No. But if I told you my name, you might have some sort of power over me,” he said.

“Is that how names work?”

“It is when you’re dealing with demons,” said Faujas.

“Then… do you have power over me?” asked Clemantia.

Faujas thought about it for a second. Was there a way to command her to do his bidding? He would have to look at his demonology books. “If Clemantia is your real name, perhaps.”

“It is, sir. Clemantia is the same name I was born with,” she insisted.

“Then you’d better listen to what I tell you. Now go to sleep,” said Faujas.

“Oh, alright… Goodnight.”

Faujas stared at the wall. Here he was, sharing a cabin with a demon tied to the wall of a cabin in the middle of the woods, and it just wished him goodnight. What a strange mission this was turning out to be. Listening to the sounds of the dying fire, he fell into an uneasy sleep.

~~~~~~~~~

“Where are we going, mister paladin?” asked Clemantia.

“Back to the village.” Faujas finished securing his things on his horse and stepped up into the saddle.

“T-the village? Do you mean a human village?” asked Clemantia in a hushed tone.

“I don’t know of any other kind,” said Faujas.

“Oh.”

“Do you have any objections?” asked Faujas sarcastically.

“Um… well… I don’t think they would like me very much,” said Clemantia.

“I doubt they shall. Come on.” Faujas tugged the rope connected to her hands.

“Ow! Please don’t tug, that hurts!” whined Clemantia.

“I don’t care. I’m not going to freeze to death up here when winter sets in because you were too slow to get out of these accursed woods,” said Faujas.

Clemantia trotted along behind him, keeping pace with his horse. He had been worried she would waylay his progress, but she seemed to have no issue matching his speed. Her gait was similar to that of a horse, though she twisted her body to step over obstacles in the same manner a human would. It was a bizarre sight to see, watching her prance over fallen logs and rocks. After an hour of walking, she gently tugged on the rope.

“Excuse me, mister paladin?” said Clemantia.

“What is it?” asked Faujas.

“I was just thinking, if we’re just walking together, could you untie me? My wrists are beginning to chafe.”

Faujas looked back at her. She held up her wrists to show him the red marks under the rope.

“Are you insane?” asked Faujas.

Clemantia’s ears wilted. “What?”

“You, a demon, are asking me, a paladin, to untie your hands? Let you just run around the forest of your own volition? Have your hands free to pick up a rock and beat me to death?”

“I wouldn’t do any of those things, mister paladin! I may pick some berries, but that’s all I would do, I promise!” pleaded Clemantia.

“I said no!”

“But my wrists hurt so much!”

Faujas stopped his horse. He dismounted and marched over to Clemantia. She tried to back away, but he held her in place with a tug of the rope.

“Let me see your hands,” demanded Faujas.

Clemantia held out her wrists and looked away. The skin around her wrists was raw and wet. She must have been hurting for some time. Faujas swallowed. Seeing her perfect skin blemished like this upset him in a way he didn’t understand. It didn’t feel right seeing something so flawless tarnished like this.

“Fine, I’ll heal you,” grunted Faujas.

He raised his hands. Closing his eyes, he began to mutter a prayer to the Chief God. Would this work? Could holy magic heal a demon? Faujas prayed that this didn’t set her on fire.

“Oh!” Clemantia exclaimed.

Faujas cracked his eyes. Motes of light were falling onto her wrists, slowly sealing her skin. Clemantia watched in awe while the spell did its work. She gasped and held up her wrists, inspecting them in the dappled light shining through the leaves.

“That’s amazing, mister paladin! I didn’t know you could heal people!” said Clemantia.

Faujas couldn’t help but puff his chest out a bit. It wasn’t every day he was praised for healing the infirm. Most of the time they would just enter into the temple and demand to be cured of whatever ailed them. Faujas was lucky to get a thankyou over the shoulder on the way out.

“Please. Such a spell is trivial to one trained in the ways of the Chief God,” said Faujas.

“I can heal too!” said Clemantia.

“Are you a physician?” asked Faujas.

“No, I’m a unicorn!” Faujas stared at her quizzically. Clemantia beamed. “If you’d like, I could take a look at your side. I know it’s been bother-“

“I’m in perfect health. And you’ll do well to remember that,” growled Faujas. Nonetheless, his hand drifted to his injured flank.

Clemantia pouted. “Are you sure? It wouldn’t be any trouble.”

“No. You are to remain calm and follow my orders. Nothing else. Do you understand?” said Faujas.

Clemantia nodded plaintively. “Yes mister paladin…”

Faujas grunted. “Good.” He eyed her restraints. “Don’t move.”

Clemantia watched him untie the rope binding her wrists. When it came off, she rubbed the aching skin where she had been restrained.

“I said don’t move!” barked Faujas.

Clemantia flinched, pulling her hands towards her chest. She quickly realized her mistake and held them out for Faujas. “I’m sorry! You startled me.”
Faujas redid the knots. This time, he left a bit of space to prevent any irritation. “There. Better?”

Clemantia pulled at the tie. “Yes, mister paladin.”

Faujas nodded. “Good. Then I expect to hear no more complaints from you.”

Saddling his horse, Faujas spurred his steed onward. Clemantia began to hum a song behind him. Though he hadn’t heard the melody before, it filled him with a strange sense of nostalgia. His thoughts began to muddle as he became lost in Clemantia’s song and the sound of the woods around him.

~~~~~~~

Faujas stoked the fire with a stick. Clemantia sat across from him, quietly eating her bowl of oats. Faujas had decided that it would be reasonable enough to let her eat with a spoon this time. After all, he had taken her out of her binds without incident earlier; it seemed silly to not trust her now. He watched an ember float into the air. Trust. What a thing to place on a demon. Maybe if that oaf Lubin hadn’t left him here, he’d wouldn’t be lonely enough to make these asinine decisions. Clemantia nervously handed him the bowl and used a finger to wipe the edges of her mouth.

“Thank you,” she said softly.

Faujas grunted and took the bowl from her. He inspected the few gobs of food still clinging to the bowl. “Is this… enough? For something your size, I mean.”
Clemantia blushed. “Are you saying I’m heavy?”

“You’re a horse!” snapped Faujas.

“Only half of me,” said Clemantia. “But, to answer your question, yes; that was enough for me.”

Faujas put the bowl away. Wandering over to Clemantia, he quickly trussed her hands together again. She didn’t protest, holding her arms out for him while he redid the knot. Faujas sat back against a log and pulled out his demonology tome. Clemantia watched him intently from across the fire.

“What are you reading?” she asked.

“I’m reading about you,” replied Faujas.

“Me?” gasped Clemantia. “I’m in that book?”

“You kind is.”

“Unicorns?”

Faujas held up the book for her to see. The text under the unicorn entry was accompanied by a crude woodcut of a man being impaled by the creature’s horn while it trampled a knight. Clemantia recoiled.

“We don’t do that!” she squealed.

Faujas tightened his lips. “Err… yes, well, I suppose the author may have taken some creative liberties when they made that cut…”

“I’ve never hurt anyone in my whole life!” said Clemantia.

“So you’ve mentioned.”

Clemantia fidgeted nervously. “What else does it say?”

“The unicorn’s diet consists of souls and the flesh of men.”

“That’s not true!” cried Clemantia.

“Do you want me to read or not?!” snapped Faujas.

“Is everything in that book a lie?” said Clemantia.

“Their horns house powerful magic-“

“That’s true,” smiled Clemantia.

“-And are potent alchemical resources.”

Clemantia’s face blanched. She quickly held her hands over her horn.

“Relax. I can hardly make oats properly. Someone else will have to take your horn,” said Faujas.

“Will someone take my horn when we get to the village?” asked Clemantia.

Faujas nervously wet his lips. “I don’t think so. Actually, I won’t allow it. I need you in good health; for now.”

Clemantia looked only the least bit reassured by his promise. “I see…”

Faujas looked at his book in order to avoid looking at the dejected woman. “’Disposition is timid, will only fight when no other option remains.’ I guess that was a lie as well…” Clemantia didn’t seem amused by his quip. She stared into the dirt, gently running her fingers up and down the length of her horn. Faujas cleared his throat. “You say that your horn contains magic, but I’ve never seen you use any. If you’re so powerful, why didn’t you use your spells to escape or kill me?”

Clemantia sighed. “Most unicorn magic is pharmacomancy. We heal people; it’s almost an instinct to us. This-“ she rubbed her horn “-it acts like a magnet sometimes. Drawing me towards people who need my help. I doubt I’m powerful enough to hurt you even if I wanted to.”

“You don’t want to hurt me?” asked Faujas. Clemantia shook her head. “Not even a bit?”

“No. I knew there were risks coming to the human lands. I just hoped… I hoped that I might find someone more forgiving…”

Faujas’s heart sank. He shut the book and returned it to the saddlebag on his horse. All of a sudden, he didn’t feel like reading anymore. Clemantia watched him role out his bedding. Faujas climbed in without another word and went to sleep.

~~~~~~~~

The trek back through the mountains was mercifully quick. Lubin’s trail of cairns was easy to follow in the absence of any vegetation. The difficulties came when Faujas was faced with the task of navigating back through the forest on the other side. Clemantia had been stalwart through it all, never complaining or fighting. Her singing and conversation made the trip infinitely more bearable than his time with Lubin. That made her sudden halting all the more surprising. Faujas fell back in his saddle, still holding onto the rope binding her hands.

“Oh! I’m so sorry mister paladin!” gasped Clemantia.

Faujas sat up and adjusted himself. “It’s fine,” he growled. “Why are you stopping?”

Clemantia kicked a pebble with her hoof. “I was just admiring the meadow.”

Faujas looked around. Patches of late-blooming flowers sprang up between the browning grass. Trees were beginning to eschew their usual emerald hue for the fiery colors of Autumn. Insects frantically buzzed through the air, desperate to collect the last bit of food they could before the frost set in.

“Yes, very tranquil. Let’s go.” Faujas tugged at the rope.

“Couldn’t we stay a bit longer?!” blurted Clemantia.

“No. You’re a prisoner, not a tourist.”

“But we haven’t had lunch yet; wouldn’t this be a nice place to stop and rest for a moment?”

Faujas rubbed his beard. It was a bit early, but he could stand a bite to eat. And he wouldn’t be able to enjoy weather like this for much longer. He sighed. “I suppose an early meal wouldn’t hurt. Though I expect you to make up for lost time afterword, understand?”

Clemantia beamed. “I will, sir! I promise!”

Faujas felt reassured by her word. As far as he knew, she hadn’t lied to him yet. Clemantia hurried through the grass towards the center of the field, dragging Faujas along behind her like a dog on a leash. On a whim, Faujas let the rope slide out of his fingers. Clemantia hurried away, prancing through the flowers with her newfound freedom. Faujas watched her go. She looked so alive like this. How many other creatures, human or otherwise, had he known that could derive so much joy from the simple act of living? The monks in their monasteries all told him that this world was given by the Chief God to men for their enjoyment; and here was a demon putting it to better use than any he’d seen before. Clemantia turned to smile at him. Faujas felt his heart ache. That melancholic feeling, one he’d grown more and more familiar with, was tying another knot in his stomach. When she realized that he’d released her, she stopped at once. Seizing the end of the rope in her bound hands, she quickly ran it back over to Faujas.

“I’m so sorry, mister paladin! I didn’t know it slipped out of your hands! I wasn’t trying to run!” said Clemantia.

“I know you weren’t. I thought you might need to stretch your legs,” said Faujas.

He dismounted his horse and grabbed his blanket. Faujas cast it out over the grass. Clemantia clapped her hands as much as she could.

“Oh, this is delightful! Like a picnic!” said Clemantia.

Faujas snorted. “That’s one way to think of it.” He brought some food over and laid it out. Clemantia held out her hands. Faujas undid the knot so she could eat. The more he unbound and rebound her, the more he wondered why he bothered with the rope at all. If he ordered her to march to the city on her own, Clemantia would likely acquiesce. She took a piece of bread and nibbled at it.

“This continent is so lovely. I’ll bet you’ve been on all sorts of lovely picnics like this,” said Clemantia.

Faujas shook his head. “Never been on one.”

Clemantia gasped. “Never? Not even once?”

“Nope.”

“Oh, you simply must, mister paladin! There’s nothing better than taking your beloved out on a picnic!” said Clemantia.

Faujas took a bite of his own bread and looked at a flower swaying in the breeze. “I don’t have one.”

Clemantia’s ears folded. “W-what? Oh! I’m sorry. I just thought that someone your age would be married. I mean, it’s not a bad thing that you’re not! There are plenty of men your age without a wife!”

There was a painful pause between them. Clemantia continued to suffer from her own words in silence.

“It’s just something I never got around to. I was always-“ Faujas waved at his armor. “-too busy.”

“You shouldn’t neglect love, mister paladin! It’s very important! Even if you think it’s too late, I promise you it isn’t!” said Clemantia.

Faujas chuckled. “I think that might be the first lie you’ve told me.”

Clemantia puffed her cheeks out. “That’s not a lie! Love is important! And you can find a woman to love you; it would be easy! You’re kind, and considerate, and handsome. There must be dozens of women who have shown interest in you.”

Faujas cocked an eyebrow. “I almost stabbed you.”

“Oh. Well, yes, I suppose you did. But only because you thought I was a threat to the people you love! Come now, there must be a few ladies you could woo!” insisted Clemantia.

“I’m a soldier. Women want more than my meager wages and an empty house for months on end. What good is a wife if I never see her?” said Faujas.

“If you truly love each other, then you would be happy just with the knowledge that she was waiting for you; and she would feel the same.”

Faujas looked at her. She seemed as earnest as ever. He scoffed. “I admit, sometimes I envy the men who got out of the service in time to start a family. But I don’t regret the life I’ve led. Besides, I’m too old now.”

“It’s never too late to start loving someone, mister paladin!” said Clemantia.

Faujas brushed some crumbs into the grass. “I don’t know. Love is something I have no experience with. I doubt that I could court someone even if I tried.” The thought of failing to romance a maiden at one of the galas he was so rarely invited to made him grimace.

“You could tell them stories,” offered Clemantia. “If you’ve been a paladin for so long, you must have dozens of tales you could regale a suitor with.”

“Gods no. Women don’t want to hear about all that gore and violence. Even I don’t want to hear about that anymore…”

Clemantia’s face darkened. “Gore?”

Faujas rubbed his side. The pain from his wound had been growing worse with every day of riding, and the conversation was making it flare. “Are you finished with your food?”

“Oh! Y-yes.” Clemantia quickly stuffed the last morsel of food into her mouth. Faujas packed up the food and blanket. He looped the rope around Clemantia’s hands. Remounting his horse, he began to ride without another word.

~~~~~~~~~

Faujas awoke with a start and gasped. He tried to sit up in his bedroll and collapsed back down in pain. His side was on fire. Had Clemantia finally betrayed him? Was she trying to gouge out his innards with her horn? It certainly felt that way. Struggling to breathe, he groped for his sword.

“Mister paladin! What’s wrong?!” Clemantia hovered over him.

Faujas’s agony overwhelmed any sense of relief that Clemantia wasn’t killing him. Dust slithered into the cracks of his armor as he writhed in the dirt. Faujas arched his back, desperate for air. Clemantia began to cry, burbling out whimpers and sobs above him while she watched him suffer.

“Please, mister paladin! Let me help!” begged Clemantia.

Faujas didn’t care. He could die if she didn’t save him. And if she did kill him, well, death would be preferable to living like this. His hand crept out, seizing one of her equine legs. He squeezed with all his might, pleading with his eyes for her to do something.

“I think you want me to help, but if you didn’t, then I’m so sorry mister paladin!”

Clemantia lowered herself to the ground. Raising her hands over Faujas’s body, she shut her eyes. Clemantia’s ears folded back. Her horn began to glow. She moved her hands over Faujas’s body, hovering over his injury. Clemantia gasped. Motes of light began to flicker out of her horn. They swirled and swam through the air, slowly settling down onto Faujas’s body. Each one disappeared through his armor, one after another. The excruciating pain in Faujas’s side began to diminish. Dirt clung to the sweat on his face, forming a layer of mud on his cheek. He panted into the dirt, drinking in what little air his body would allow him to take in. By the time Clemantia had finished, Faujas felt as if he had aged ten years.

“Mister paladin, are you alright?” asked Clemantia softly. She brushed his hair out of his face, looking down at him concernedly. Her hand came to rest on his cheek.
Faujas put his trembling hand over hers. “Yes…” he whispered.

Clemantia used her thumb to brush some dirt off Faujas’s face. He shut his eyes. Gods her hand was soft. The salubrious warmth of her touch felt divine against his clammy skin.

“You’re shaking,” fretted Clemantia.

“It will pass,” said Faujas.

“Has this happened before?”

Faujas weakly shook his head. “Never this bad…”

“May I see it?” asked Clemantia, reaching for one of the clasps of Faujas’s armor.

He grabbed her hand. Clemantia looked at Faujas with a mixture of concern and disappointment. Faujas sighed. He let his grip loosen. “Very well…”

Clemantia slowly undid the pieces of his armor. Faujas looked up at the grey morning sky. Now that he was no longer flailing, the chilly air of the morning was making itself known against his exposed skin. Every piece of armor Clemantia removed only worsened his predicament. He shivered. Clemantia grabbed his discarded blanket and pulled it up around him. He hiked it higher on his body, careful not to interrupt her work. Clemantia used one of her forelegs to help Faujas sit up and remove his shirt. She gasped.

“Mister paladin…” she whispered.

The throbbing mauve lump on his side stared back at Clemantia. The scar tissue glistened in what little light the sun could force through the clouds. A hideous mass of flesh, as smooth as a lake stone. Faujas draped an arm over his eyes to hide his face.

“What happened?” murmured Clemantia. She rolled him over and gasped. The second scar. One wound, two deformities.

“Bandits,” said Faujas.

“B-bandits? They did this? Were they mamono?!”

“Humans. I’ve… never fought your kind before,” Faujas admitted.

Clemantia looked crestfallen. Faujas looked away. This could be the worst moment of his life. The experiencing the pain of being stabbed all over again, being cared for by one of his mortal enemies whom he was sworn to destroy, and now seeing someone whom he had treated so poorly, who had been a beacon of levity and joy throughout this short trip fall to despair over his condition. A few tears began to flow down his cheeks.

“Mister paladin! Don’t cry, I’ll make you feel better!” insisted Clemantia. In spite of her brave words, she began to cry too.

“I’m so weak…” said Faujas. “Look at me for fuck’s sake!” He tried to sit up and gesture at his body, only to be forced back down by a fresh jolt of pain.

“You’re not weak, mister paladin! You caught me, after all,” said Clemantia.

“You gave up!” shouted Faujas. Clemantia flinched. Faujas wiped his face. “I- I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to snap like that.”

“It’s alright, mister paladin,” mumbled Clemantia. She began to use more magic to soothe his pain.

Faujas rested his arm on his forehead and looked at the sky for a moment. “Faujas.”

Clemantia looked at him. “What?”

“My name is Faujas.”

Clemantia wiped away a tear. She smiled at him. “Nice to make your acquaintance, Paladin Faujas.” Faujas couldn’t help but smile. He chuckled once but stopped when a fresh wave of agony rocked his body.

Clemantia gently put a hand on his chest to force him back down. “Just relax. This will take time.”

Faujas grunted. Using the blanket to cover as much of himself as he could, he let Clemantia continue her work.

~~~~~~~~~~

“Paladin Faujas.”

Faujas shoved away the hand shaking him, rolling over onto his side. The wound in his gut ached, but not enough to keep him from the first restful sleep he’d had in months.

“Paladin Faujas.” Clemantia shook him again.

Faujas sighed. “What?”

“I made dinner. Would you like to eat?”

Faujas’s eyes shot open. The night sky stretched out above him. Clemantia was sitting next to the small fire she had made.

“How long was I asleep?” asked Faujas.

“All day. My goodness, I thought I would have to find a lich to bring you back. I’ve never seen anyone sleep so soundly. I hope you don’t mind that I made you something to eat. I assumed you would be hungry when you woke.”

She was right about that. “Yes, I’ll take it.”

Clemantia passed him a bowl of oats and a slice of bread. Faujas squinted at it. “What’s this?”

Clemantia giggled. “It was supposed to be a jam. While you were asleep, I picked some berries. I don’t have any sugar, but I think it turned out edible enough. I thought you might like something more than dried meat and grains.”

Faujas took a bite. Certainly not as sweet as any jam he had eaten before, but it made the dry bread more palatable. “It’s good. Thank you.”
Clemantia’s ears wiggled. “I’m glad you like it.”

Faujas set his bowl and bread aside and sat up. His joints cracked and groaned after being in the same position for so long. Faujas stretched. Keeping a hand over the wine-colored scar on his side, he twisted back and forth.

“How does it feel?” asked Clemantia.

Faujas laughed. “It feels incredible. There’s hardly any pain at all.”

Clemantia beamed. “I’m so happy to hear!” She waggled a finger at him. “This could have been avoided if you had just told me what was ailing you in the first place.”
Faujas sat back down. “That’s easy to say now.”

Clemantia looked down at her bowl. “Yes, I suppose circumstances have changed…”

Faujas dipped his bread in the oats and took a bite. Clemantia’s eyes lingered on the wound. Faujas shifted his body to move it out of her view. She blushed and looked away.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to stare,” she stammered.

“It’s alright,” grunted Faujas.

Clemantia stirred her oats. “I’ve just… never seen anything like that.”

Faujas snorted. “What, demons never get hurt?”

“There are accidents, but we rarely see wounds like that from fighting. Our weapons only subdue; they don’t maim. Is it- do humans do that to each other often?”

Faujas glanced up at her. Clemantia was staring back with eyes full of worry. He finished his food and set the bowl down. “More often than any of us would like.”

“And that’s how-“ she pointed to his side “-that happened?”

Faujas rested his arms over his knees. “Yeah.”

The fire softly crackled. Clemantia stared into the flames to avoid looking at him. For a long time, neither of them said anything.

“It wasn’t supposed to end like this,” said Faujas, absentmindedly rubbing his side.

Clemantia looked at him. “Hmm?”

“My commander told me it was supposed to be a simple task. We had captured a rogue baron a month ago, and some of his forces were still running amok. The Order sent us in to clean up the stragglers. By that point, there was no organization amongst them; they were glorified bandits. I’d seen it a hundred times before: a gang of upstarts with a dead cause thinking that they’re larger than life, only to break rank and run at the first sight of someone who fights back. Not this time. A handful of them decided that the extortion and robbery racket they had was too lucrative to let go. So while we rode through the woods, they decided to ambush us.”

Clemantia watched Faujas intently. He exhaled a long, slow, breath and continued his story.

“Seems that when everyone in your squadron assumes that they’ll never have to draw their weapon, they make for easy prey. If I had been wearing my armor, I wouldn’t have this hole in the first place. None of us thought that they would attack us so far from their own territory. Eventually we rallied together and routed them, but not without casualties.” Faujas threw a twig into the fire and shook his head. “I saw more men killed by humans that day than I’ve seen killed by demons in my entire life. Sometimes it makes me wonder if the Order is focusing on the real enemy…”

Clemantia was on the verge of tears. “That’s awful!”

Faujas shrugged. “What’s done is done. I’ve had time to mourn for the ones we lost that day. I only wish I could have done more to protect them. Some days, it feels like this wound is some sort of justice for my ill preparedness.”

“You mustn’t think that way, Paladin Faujas! I’m sure you did all you could to help them! Even if the others died so that you could live, doesn’t that mean that you should honor their memory by making the most of your life?” said Clemantia.

Faujas smiled at her. “I suppose you’re right.”

Clemantia offered him a soft smile. She looked down at his side again, her mouth slowly returning to a worried frown. “Did they heal you after the battle? Was it to grievous a wound to mend?”

Faujas gently patted his flank. “One of the clerics saved my life on the battlefield. I’ve been visiting healers and physicians ever since, but it seems I visit more and more frequently these days. When I set out to investigate the claim of demons beyond the mountains, I was worried something like this might happen. At this point, even a week away from medical treatment is a daunting prospect.”

Clemantia smiled. “Then you’re fortunate to have me in your company.”

“I suppose I am.” He shook his head and laughed. “I never thought I would count myself so blessed to have a demon traveling with me.”

Clemantia blushed. She gestured to his bowl. “Would you like anymore food?”

Faujas handed it to her. “Yes, thank you. You’re quite the cook, aren’t you?”

“I make do,” said Clemantia with a hint of pride.

Faujas took the bowl and took another bite. “How long have you been out here? In the woods, I mean. You don’t seem like the type who would be at home in the wilderness come winter.”

“A few months. I was actually thinking about leaving before you showed up. The forest treated me well, but it was becoming too cold for my liking.” She stirred the pot. “Is it warmer where you’re from?”

“A bit. There’s still snow and ice aplenty.”

“Is it a city?” Clemantia asked with a curious smile.

“It is.”

She clapped her hands together. “How exciting! What are the human cities like?”

Faujas stared at her. It was obvious that she clung to a romanticized notion of what life in a human city was like. Crime, filth, and greed as far as the eye could see. No matter how many patrols he went on, no matter how many criminals he arrested, another crop of reprobates would spring up before he had closed the cell door on the first ones.

“They’re… interesting.”

“Oh, they sound so wonderful! I’ve always wanted to visit a human city,” Clemantia said wistfully.

“Maybe someday,” said Faujas.

“Ah, that’s right. I suppose I’ll probably visit one whether I like it or not,” she said nervously.

“Maybe. There aren’t any definitive plans yet,” said Faujas.

Clemantia stared into the dirt. “The other humans… do you think they’ll hate me?” Faujas’s hesitation told her everything. He looked away in shame. “Do you think they could learn to not fear me? Like you did?”

Faujas thought for a moment. Did he not fear Clemantia? No, not anymore. She’d had the perfect opportunity to kill him, and she’d passed it up. She could have just as easily left him and escaped into the woods, too. Instead, she had healed him and spent the whole day collecting food to nurse him back to health. At this point, Faujas trusted Clemantia more than he did some of his superiors. He shifted uncomfortably in his bedding. Was she really telling the truth about everything? What if she was using half-truths to trick him into trusting her? Clemantia claimed that demons loved the men they kidnapped; there must be more to it than that. He was a high-ranking paladin; if anyone ought to know, it should be him.

“Paladin Faujas?” asked Clemantia.

Faujas snapped out of his stupor. “Hmm?”

“Never mind,” Clemantia said softly. She began cleaning up the pots.

“I think they would learn to like you,” Faujas said hastily.

Clemantia gave a weak smile. “I can only hope. You should get some sleep. I’ll take care of the mess.”

“Are you sure? You went through all the trouble to make that meal. The least I could do is clean up.”

Clemantia nodded. “Alright then. Thank you.”

Faujas struggled out of bed, bringing over his bowl and utensils. By the time he had managed to put away the bowls and plates, Clemantia had nearly finished cleaning the camp. “You should rest, Paladin Faujas. You need your sleep if we’re to make up the time we lost.”

Faujas nodded. “Indeed. Goodnight.”

“Goodnight, Paladin Faujas.”

Faujas crawled back into his bedroll and quickly fell asleep.

~~~~~~~~~

Faujas and Clemantia stared at the village in the distance. The pleasant conversation that had flowed so freely between them for the past few days had tapered off into a tense silence.

“There it is,” said Faujas.

“It’s smaller than I had imagined,” said Clemantia.

They continued to watch smoke trickle out from the shoddy chimneys. Faujas squirmed in his saddle. He had imagined this moment over and over when he had first captured Clemantia. Bringing her into the village at his heel, bound for all the townsfolk to see. The conqueror of demons. Now, all he felt was dread. Images of an angry mob coming towards Clemantia with pitchforks and torches flashed through his mind. If he had to protect her, it would mean having to draw his sword against the villagers. And that would mean-

“Paladin Faujas?”

Faujas’s head snapped to Clemantia. “What?”

The unicorn flinched. “You were gripping your reins so tightly that I feared the leather may snap. Are you feeling alright?”

Faujas swallowed and wet his lips. “I’m fine. Just… thinking about things.” He looked down at her. “I should probably…”

Clemantia offered up her hands. Ever since she had healed him, Faujas hadn’t bothered with any restraints. Slipping the rope loosely around her wrists, Faujas tied it off in a pathetic knot. Probably best not to make an entrance into a human village with a free demon. Faujas wasn’t ready to answer those questions and the villagers weren’t ready to hear those answers.

“Well, shall we go?” asked Clemantia.

For a moment, Faujas considered turning around and fleeing into the woods. He looked down at Clemantia. She held her lip stiff, but Faujas could tell she shared his thoughts. How could he take her into the village? It felt like a sin to take such a kind, beautiful creature into the midst of the barbarians in those shacks. But if he didn’t reappear, they would send someone else. A squadron of other paladins, or worse, a hero. None of which were likely to share Faujas’s sentiments towards Clemantia. Even if escape was the correct choice, he needed time.

“Paladin Faujas?” asked Clemantia.

Faujas sighed. He would make this work. For her. “You should probably stop calling me that. Just ‘paladin’ while we’re in the village.”

Clemantia covered her mouth and nodded. “Good point.”

Faujas looked at her worriedly. “Listen, I’m going to keep you safe. No matter what happens in that village, I’ll protect you.”

Clemantia blushed. She quickly looked away to avoid Faujas’s stern gaze. “I’ll be in your care, then.”

Faujas exhaled slowly through his nose. He spurred his horse onward towards the village. Any minute now, the villagers would see him. He had to be ready. They would swarm him, ask him all sorts of questions about Clemantia. He had to have a satisfactory answer for each of them before they were asked. Faujas began to mumble out a few lies to hear how believable they would sound. His soft rantings about Clemantia’s origins slowly tapered off when he realized something was wrong. The orchard was vacant. Baskets and tools at idle under the trees. Half the trees were picked bare, but the rest remained laden with fruit.

“Paladin?” whispered Clemantia.

“Something is wrong…” said Faujas.

They were well past the wood line now, out in the open for the villagers to see. Yet there was no cry of alarm, no shout of triumph, or crowd of gawkers coming to greet them. The only sound was the sound of dry leaves rustling against each other in the early autumn air.
“Where is everyone?” asked Faujas.

“Is it a human holiday?” asked Clemantia.

“No. Not while there’s still food to be harvested,” said Faujas.

The duo continued onward. Soon the ground beneath them turned from grass to mud, and they were standing amidst the buildings. Faujas looked around. The smoke from the homes told him that the village hadn’t been abandoned. There wasn’t enough carnage for a bandit raid either. Faujas took his horse to the nearest hitching post and secured it, taking Clemantia’s lead into his hands.

A door opened. Faujas and Clemantia jumped. She shuffled behind Faujas to put him between her and the man carrying an armful of logs towards another house. He glanced over at them. The man did a doubletake, spilling the logs out of his arms. He disappeared into the house before Faujas could call out to him.

“Paladin Faujas, something is wrong. My horn is tingling…” said Clemantia.

“What does that mean?” he asked.

“It means someone needs healing.”

The man emerged a moment later before Faujas could inquire further.

“HE’S BACK! The paladin is back! And he’s captured a demon!” shouted the man.

Faujas grimaced. So much for subtlety. He braced for the onslaught of curious townsfolk. Doors slowly started to open. A few haggard peasants shuffled out to see what the commotion was all about. Sickly faces filled the windows. Faujas looked around in horror at the ghoulish faces around him. Lubin peeked out from a door at him. That bastard; he had a lot to answer for. For once, Faujas wasn’t the center of attention. All eyes were on Clemantia. She clearly wasn’t enjoying the attention, doing her best to hide what little she could of herself behind Faujas.

“What happened here…” he asked out loud.

“Paladin! You’re alive!” Heden hobbled towards him. His skin was clammy and beaded with sweat. He squinted at Faujas. “But how?! We thought you were dead!”
“Dead?” echoed Faujas.

Heden coughed. “We were told you had been ripped to shreds by the demon.”

“I’m sorry to disappoint,” said Faujas dryly. “That fool abandoned me at the first sign of trouble; I had to find my way back to the village on my own.”

The crowd looked at Lubin, still cowering behind the door. “I- I- didn’t know! What if it had used magic? I’m just a trapper!”

“Our sincerest apologies, paladin; we’re now doubly in your debt,” said Heden. He glanced at Clemantia. “I take it that is the…” he trailed off, waiting for Faujas to confirm his suspicions.

“She is,” said Faujas. He shut his eyes. Not a minute into the conversation and he had already slipped.

“Gods above… a demon,” mused Heden. “How did you capture such a beast?”

“Skill and faith; all one needs in this life,” said Faujas confidently.

Heden wrung his hands. “Paladin, I don’t mean to impugn your wisdom, but is it safe to bring that creature here? It isn’t dangerous, is it?”

“Nonsense. By the power of the Chief God, I am able to issue it any command. It is totally loyal to me,” boomed Faujas.

“Then what’s the rope for?” asked a villager.

“It’s for… reassurance, of course! For all of you! If I had walked into your town with a demon walking so causally behind me, would you all have not suspected that I had fallen from grace into the arms of the demons?” asked Faujas. The crowd murmured in acceptance. Faujas began to feel a bit theatrical. “Behold! I will undo the creature’s bonds. It will do no harm unless I command it.” He slipped off Clemantia’s restraints.

“Thank you,” she said.

“He taught it manners!” exclaimed one of the villagers.

“Er, yes. I did that as well. I had a lot of time to train it, you see,” said Faujas.

“But what will you do with it?” asked one of the villagers.

“I will take it to the city, so that we may interrogate it and learn more of the demon’s plans,” replied Faujas.

Heden shifted nervously. “Oh, yes, very good…”

Faujas looked around. Clemantia’s novelty was waning fast, and most of the villager’s glassy eyes were starting to glaze over again. Some of them shuffled back to their homes, coughing up gobs of phlegm into the dirt as the went.

“Heden, what happened while I was gone?” asked Faujas.

“A trifling matter, Paladin,” Heden said quickly, eyeing Clemantia warily. “You must be tired after such a long journey. We should discuss what transpired.”

His eyes conveyed a sense of urgency that troubled Faujas. “Indeed…”

“Wonderful,” coughed the mayor. “Now then, as for your hostage, where will you be keeping it?”

Faujas scratched his head. Accommodations were something he hadn’t put much thought into. After all, she had slept in the cabin when they were still in the mountains. “I suppose a…” He looked at Clemantia. She mouthed the word ‘barn’ to him. “A barn will suffice.”

“Very good, sir. Once you’ve stabled the demon, come find me in the townhall,” said Heden. He winced, clutching his forehead. Turning around, he hobbled back into the meeting hall. The other villagers left as well. Soon, Faujas was left with Clemantia in the deserted street again.

“Mister Paladin, I don’t like this,” whispered Clemantia.

Faujas shook his head. “Me either. Come on; let’s get you posted up somewhere comfortable. Then I’ll get to the bottom of this.”

~~~~~~~~

Heden nearly fell into Faujas’s arms the moment he entered the town hall.

“Thank the gods you’re back! I thought we would lose every soul in the village!” wheezed Heden. His condition had worsened even in the few minutes that it had taken Faujas to house Clemantia in a nearby barn. Others crowded around Faujas. With their pallid skin and diseased complexion, they looked more demonic than Clemantia like this.

“Good gods, man! What’s gotten into you?” said Faujas, pushing him away.

“Plague!” coughed Heden. He doubled over in a coughing fit, clinging to Faujas’s armor to keep himself upright. “It began not long after you left. Ekan was the first to get it; he must have brought it with him from the city. It spread like fire. There isn’t a soul in the village that isn’t ill.”

Faujas nodded. He couldn’t pretend to be surprised after seeing so many townsfolk in such a state. “Why all the secrecy? Why didn’t you tell me when I arrived? Now I could be sick!”

“You had the demon with you! If it knew we were vulnerable, it may decide to consume us while we are too weak to fight it.” Heden cleared his throat. “I’m sorry to trap you like this, paladin, but we’re in desperate need of your help. The reinforcements turned on us, and they now prevent us from going to market to purchase medicine.”

“Reinforcements?” asked Faujas.

“Your comrades,” said Heden. Faujas froze. Heden continued, under the impression that he was confused. “After Lubin returned with word of your ‘demise,’ we sent for more soldiers to protect the village. But when they learned that we had become infected, they turned on us. We are forbidden from traveling to town; they have every road guarded. I understand that it’s for the safety of others, but I fear that we’ll all perish before this disease has run its course.”

Faujas relaxed a bit. Thank the gods. As long as the other soldiers were enforcing the quarantine, Clemantia would be safe. It wouldn’t buy him much time, but it was better than marching her into the arms of a bloodthirsty platoon.

“Why haven’t they sent any healers?” asked Faujas.

“It would seem that the plague has already appeared in other cities. Every apothecary, physician, and healer is already overexerted.”

Faujas raised an eyebrow. “It’s that bad?”

Heden nodded somberly. “Ekan died of it. He was a young man, paladin. Not the kind to be taken so easily. Three more elderly have succumbed, and I fear that tomorrow we’ll have more to mourn. At the rate we’re dying, I fear that there will be no one left to dig graves come the thaw. Please Paladin, you’re the only one who can help us now.”

Faujas stopped stroking his beard. “What?”

“We need you, Paladin! There must be something you can do! A prayer, an invocation, a ritual, anything! The Chief God can’t be so cruel as to let so many good people waste away!” pleaded Heden. The others nodded in agreement, desperate for Faujas to tell them that there was hope for them.

Faujas looked over the feverish masses. He desperately wanted to tell them that everything would be alright. But Faujas wasn’t the savior they needed. He had never been skilled enough to heal anything more than a small wound. Curing one peasant was a daunting prospect; forget the entire village. There was one other alternative, though the villagers wouldn’t like the idea.

“I need time. Until then, just tend to yourselves as best you can. I won’t be long,” said Faujas.

“Bless you sir,” said Heden. “Please hurry.”

Faujas exited the townhall and hurried towards the barn Clemantia was housed.

~~~~~~~~~

Faujas threw the door to the barn open. Clemantia jumped. She took cover in the stall she was tied to, only emerging when she realized who it was.

“How did it go?” she asked.

“Not well. Can you heal illness?” said Faujas.

Clemantia nodded. “I can. I was wondering if you were going to ask about that. It doesn’t take my senses to see that these people are desperate.”

“More than you know. As it stands right now, you’re the only one who can treat them.”

Clemantia smiled. “Then I’d better get started.”

“Not so fast,” said Faujas. “You’re still a demon to these people. And none of them are going to be keen on being tended to by a creature they’ve been raised since birth to fear.”

Clemantia’s ears folded. “Oh, I see…”

“I’m going to do what I can to convince them. Listen, if things don’t go well, be ready to leave,” said Faujas.

“Why?”

“They might think I’m possessed by you.”

Clemantia gulped. “R-really?”

“You can never tell,” grumbled Faujas. “If you hear yelling, make for the door. I’d like to escape without incident if we have to. Wait here and don’t come out for anyone other than me.”

Faujas slipped out of the barn. Clemantia gave him a small wave before he shut the barn door behind him.

~~~~~~~~

“Heden, we need to talk,” said Faujas.

“Paladin! Are you prepared? Can you heal us?” asked Heden.

“That’s what I need to talk about…” said Faujas.

Heden’s face contorted with despair when he heard Faujas’s tone. “What is it? You can help us, right?”

Faujas sighed. “I can’t. But the demon can.”

Heden blinked once in confusion. “What?”

“The demon; it can heal your people. It’s the only way.”

Heden’s confusion shifted to anger. “Is this a joke to you?! Our people are dying, and you expect us to be healed by that- that thing?!”

“She isn’t a ‘thing’,” snapped Faujas. “And she’s the only hope you have.”

The door creaked open behind them. “Heden, is- Oh!”

A woman crept in, leaning against the wall to support herself. Her bloodshot eyes fixed on Faujas as she hobbled over. “You’re ready, yes? Please, my son, he’s dying. He hasn’t woken in days. I don’t think he-“

She broke down and began to cry. Her aching body lurched with every sob. Faujas glared at Heden. The mayor stared at the woman morosely. He looked back to Faujas. “Fine, Paladin. We’ll use your demon. But if we end up damned, I’ll spend all of eternity cursing your name.”

~~~~~~~~~

Faujas knocked on the door. “It’s me.”

Sliding the door open, he hurried over to Clemantia’s stall and undid the rope.

“Are we leaving?” she asked, glancing nervously at Heden standing in the doorway.

“We’re making a house call,” said Faujas.

He led Clemantia out into evening air. Heden shuffled along ahead of them, leading them to the house with the sick child.

“What’s going on?” whispered Clemantia.

“There’s a child…” said Faujas.

Clemantia gasped. Heden whipped around to look at her. Clemantia put Faujas between herself and the mayor, slowing her pace. “That’s horrible! I’ll do everything I can.”

The trio approached the home. Faujas followed Heden inside. Clemantia stood in the doorway. The woman who had pleaded with Faujas earlier was resting on a bed, glaring at the demonic interloper. A boy laid in a bed beside her, unresponsive to their presence.

“Excuse me,” mumbled Clemantia. She squeezed her body into the house, forced to crouch on her equine legs to avoid scraping the ceiling.

“Can you save him?” the woman asked coldly.

Clemantia looked at her. She shimmied over to the boy and put his hand between hers. Her brow knit with concentration. Clemantia opened her eyes and nodded. “I can.”

The woman’s face softened. She began to cry. “Please…”

“Rest. There’s nothing to worry about. I’ll take care of everything,” Clemantia said softly.

She held her hands above the boy. Heden watched nervously from the side of the bed. Faujas placed himself between Clemantia and the mayor in case he decided to intervene. Her horn began to glow. The light flowed down her arms to her fingers. Motes of light began to descend from Clemantia’s hands onto the boy’s chest. His hand twitched. On the bed, his mother gasped.

“Narska! Narska, can you hear me?!” the woman cried hoarsely.

Clemantia continued her work. Faujas watched in awe as color began to seep into the boy’s cheeks. He gasped, heaving a raspy cough out of his throat. His eyes fluttered open. “Momma?”

The woman rolled herself out of bed and staggered over. “Yes! I’m here!”

The light faded from Clemantia’s hands. The boy looked over at her. He showed no sign of fear, only curiosity. Clemantia smiled at him.

“You were in my dream…” he said wistfully.

“Was it a good dream?” asked Clemantia.

“It was once you showed up,” said the boy.

His mother hugged him. He weakly put his arm around her. The woman wiped her eyes and looked at Clemantia. “Thank you.”

Clemantia bowed her head. “It’s an honor to help such kind people.”

The woman looked at Faujas. “I don’t know what magics you used to purify her, but you’re a miracle worker, Paladin. A saint.”

Faujas cleared his throat. “I’m just doing my part, ma’am. She’s your savior.”

Heden silently watched from the corner. The tension had disappeared from his face and shoulders. His tired eyes had misted over by the time Clemantia and the woman had finished their exchange.

“I’ll be damned. I never thought I would be so grateful towards a demon,” he said.

Faujas chuckled. “It’s a strange feeling, isn’t it?”

“Indeed. Thought, I hope your familiar can help the rest of us. I know it’s a tall order, but there are others who are already comatose. I fear that without her help, we may yet lose the village.”

Clemantia stood up. “Just show me who needs help.”

Heden looked at Faujas. “You heard the lady,” said Faujas.

Heden smirked. “Very well. Follow me.”

~~~~~~~~~~

Faujas held Clemantia’s hand steady as she tottered back towards the barn. She collapsed into the hay of her stall, resting against the wood.

“I’m exhausted,” she panted.

“I’m surprised you can stand after how many people you healed,” said Faujas.

Clemantia shut her eyes. “I may have overdone it. But I just can’t say no when people ask for my help…”

Faujas squeezed her hand. “You were fantastic. You saved a lot of lives today.”

Clemantia blushed. “T-thank you. Ah, but there are still so many that need healing…”

“Tomorrow. Tonight, you rest. I’ll bring you some food,” commanded Faujas.

“Thank you,” Clemantia yawned. “Do you think you could bring be a blanket too?”

“Right away.” Faujas stood up to go get her things. Looking back from the barndoor, he could see that she was already asleep. Careful not to wake her, he shut the door quietly and went to retrieve a blanket.

~~~~~~~~~~

For the next two days, Clemantia worked tirelessly to cure the villagers of their plague. She carefully selected who would be next in a meticulous triage, guided by her instincts towards the villagers closest to death. Under her care, the townsfolk rose from their beds one after another. A small cult began to form around Clemantia, following her everywhere to beg her for blessings and good fortune. Some saw her as a divine gift sent from the Chief God, come to save them from the plague. Others were less ecstatic, seeing her as a tool Faujas used to heal them and nothing more. And then there were the villagers who refused to be healed by Clemantia at all. A few stalwart souls who demanded that she leave, going so far as to bar entrance to their house and throw things at her when she got too close to their homes. To them, she here to steal their souls with her sinister magic and seductive ways. Clemantia remained cordial to all the villagers, even the most detestable. Faujas stood by her every step of the way, ensuring that she was adequately fed and rested while she set about saving the village.

Clemantia hushed the infant in her arms, using one arm to cradle the crying infant while the other sprinkled golden light down onto its head. The infant stopped crying. It cooed and burbled, reaching out towards Clemantia’s chest with stubby sausage fingers. Clemantia tickled the infants chin before handing it back to the child’s mother. Faujas watched Clemantia’s face closely. Her eyes became melancholic for just a moment when she handed the child back. Clemantia loved children; that much was clear. Her touch alone was enough to silence even the fussiest of infants.

“Another job well done,” said Faujas as they exited the house.

“Yes,” said Clemantia, waving goodbye to the young couple.

“Something wrong?” asked Faujas.

“Hmm? Oh, no,” said Clemantia.

“You’re good with the children,” said Faujas, trying to coax more out of her.

Clemantia smiled and blushed. “Oh dear, is it that obvious?”

“It’s nothing to be ashamed of,” said Faujas.

Clemantia put her hands to her cheeks. “They’re just so pure and innocent! We unicorns are drawn to purity; when I see such a tiny little human with such a precious soul, I just-“ Clemantia squealed into her hands.

“Does your kind have babies?” asked Faujas.

Clemantia’s ears stood straight up. She stared at him with her mouth agape. “W-w-what are you saying, Paladin?!”

Faujas cleared his throat and looked away. “I don’t know! I thought your kind might just… pop into existence or something. How should I know how demons reproduce?”

“We reproduce just like any other species! We find someone, fall in love, and then-“ Clemantia trailed off. She buried her face in her hands again and uttered a muffled scream.

The crowd of people following behind them murmured amongst themselves. Some of them were convinced that Clemantia was some sort of walking gospel and had taken it upon themselves to try and ‘interpret’ anything she said. Faujas had thought about discouraging this kind of thinking, but Clemantia was as pure as the driven snow in the way she spoke and acted. As far as he was concerned, the world could use more people who thought and behaved like she did.

“Alright, I get it,” said Faujas.

“Please don’t think I’m crass, Paladin. That’s just the way it is,” said Clemantia.

Faujas didn’t reply. His eyes were fixed on the crowd gathered in front of the house they were headed towards. A group of men, some armed with farming implements, stared down the approaching mob.

“What is this?” demanded Faujas.

“Justice, ‘Paladin.’ Take your demon elsewhere; this house relies on the Chief God for providence,” rumbled the man at the head of the mob.

“This is your providence,” said Faujas, jerking a thumb at Clemantia. “The woman in that house is gravely ill; if you aren’t going to let us in, then you can make yourself useful by digging her grave.”

“Humans shouldn’t be healed by demons, you traitor! It’s unnatural!” snarled the man. A few of his cohort raised their tools and echoed their approval.

“Paladin!” A young man waved at Faujas through a window. He disappeared into the house. A moment later, he tried to open the front door. Men on the outside tried to hold it shut. An argument broke out between them. “Please! My wife is dying, they won’t get out of the way!” pleaded the man.

“Stand aside. That’s an order,” said Faujas, donning a more authoritative tone.

“You can’t give us orders anymore. You’ve fallen!” roared the man.

“I’ve fallen?! There are men in your midst who were healed by this ‘demon.’ And now they stand here, trying to prevent their neighbors from receiving treatment?” said Faujas.

“They were wrong to accept help from a demon. Now they’re working to right that wrong,” said the man carefully.

“How very convenient…” said Faujas. His hand slipped towards the hilt of his sword. The crowd shifted nervously.

“Get out of the way! I don’t care what heals my wife as long as she lives!” pleaded the husband.

“Shut up! If you had been praying like you should have the moment she fell ill, she’d be better by now!” snarled one posse members.

“If you have so much faith in the Chief God to heal you, then you have enough faith in her to forgive you for being misled. I take full responsibility for your damnation if I’m wrong,” said Faujas.

Clemantia tugged his cape. “Mister Paladin, please. There’s no need to get upset. We can work something out.”

The mobsters began to murmur amongst themselves, debating the eschatological implications of Faujas’s statement. Fretful glances between Faujas, his sword, and Clemantia continued for a moment before they emerged from their huddle. The man leading the mob didn’t seem pleased.

“Fine. Heal the woman. But you’re going to have to answer for all of us on the day of judgement.”

The mob quickly dispersed to either side of the door as Faujas strode forward. Their leader brushed past Faujas, knocking shoulders as he went. Faujas glared at him over his shoulder. Clemantia entered the house. Faujas stood in the doorway for a moment longer, staring down the lingering mob before ducking inside after her.

~~~~~~~~~

“Goodness, this is all so exhausting,” sighed Clemantia.

Faujas threw Clemantia’s blanket over her horse body. “You’re almost done. I don’t think anyone else will die, but I’m sure there are people who feel like it. Why don’t you rest tomorrow?”

“Oh, I could never do that. Not until I finish,” yawned Clemantia.

Faujas rubbed her back. That had better be fast. Word would get out about Clemantia’s presence soon. Faujas intended to be long gone by then. Where and how, he didn’t know.

“Sleep tight. I’ll see you in the morning,” said Faujas.

Clemantia hummed groggily. “Goodnight, I love you.”

Faujas stared at her. She was already asleep, resting her head in the hay. His heart fluttered. It was probably something that slipped out. Clemantia was comfortable around him, that was all. Just like saying goodnight to a parent. Maybe it was a demon thing. Though, she hadn’t said it before. Faujas watched delicate face rise and fall with her soft breaths. Even in the cool night air, he felt a little warm. Hurrying to the door, he took one last look at Clemantia before sealing the barn.

~~~~~~~~~

“Paladin! Paladin!”

Faujas awoke with a start. He fumbled for the sword behind his bed. The young man who had roused him found himself at the end of Faujas’s sword.

“What?” demanded Faujas. He rubbed his eyes with his free hand. The light of dawn was streaming in through the window.

“The barn! The one Clemantia is in; it’s on fire!” said the man.

Time seemed to stand still. Faujas stuffed his feet into his boots and shoved past the man. Bursting out the door onto the street, he looked towards the barn. It hadn’t been the light of day he’d seen. The roof of the barn was ablaze, billowing thick clouds of smoke into the night. Faujas sprinted towards the conflagration. A brawl had erupted around the barn, adding to the chaos.

“What’s going on!?” roared Faujas.

“Paladin! They’ve trapped Clemantia inside!” pleaded one of the villagers.

Faujas pushed them aside. A bolt had been placed over the barndoors to prevent them from being opened.

“It stays there, Paladin! It dies tonight; like it should have the moment you laid eyes on it!” The man who had led the mob earlier that day stepped forward. His lackies had been handily defeated by the villagers trying to extinguish the fire, but the damage was done. There were too few people to man a proper bucket brigade.

Faujas paid the man no mind. He ran forward and heaved the door bar out of the hooks. Smoke exploded out of the door when he threw it open.

“Clemantia!” Faujas stepped forward, shielding himself from the heat. “Clemantia!”

Keeping low, he hurried towards her stall. Clemantia was sprawled out in front of her stall. Faujas ran over to her. He felt a faint pulse in her neck. Praising the gods under his breath, he took hold of two of her horse legs and began hauling her towards the exit.

As he neared the door, the great wooden slab slammed shut. Faujas swore. “Open the door!”

Sounds of renewed fighting were barely audible over the roar of the fire. Faujas looked back at Clemantia. He tightened his grip on the sword. Raising it above his head, he began to hack away at the wood. The ancient boards splintered with every cleave. Soon, he was able to see the bar sealing his fate. Faujas thrust his sword into it. The blade held fast in the wood. Using the hole he had cut for leverage, he pressed down on his sword. The board lifted out of the hooks, falling into the dirt with a soft thud. Faujas kicked open the door. Grabbing Clemantia by the legs, he hauled her the last few feet out of the barn. Her body slid over the cool grass until Faujas was satisfied that she was safe from the blaze. He sat back on the grass and panted. The barn gave one last high-pitched groan before collapsing in on itself. The villagers scattered like flies as it did, only to congregate around the burning pile of timbers a moment later.

“Clemantia…” wheezed Faujas. He began to rub her chest. Pulling her mouth open, he blew into her lungs. “Please gods, Clemantia!” Faujas continued his ministrations. After a few rotations of chest compressions and mouth-to-mouth, Clemantia coughed a mouthful of sooty air into Faujas’s mouth.

Her eyes fluttered open. When she realized that Faujas was still attached to her lips, she gently pushed him away and coughed. Turning back to him, she beamed. “I knew you would save me.”

Faujas cradled her head in his hand. “I would never leave you.”

The villagers whom Clemantia had befriended gathered round to see their savior. A clamor arose at the edge of the circle. The men who had tried to burn the barn were trying to force their way through. Faujas saw red. Letting Clemantia go, he reached for his sword. The villagers realized what his intentions were and scuttled out of the way. The mob melted away before him, each member fleeing to the back when they realized that they were first to face the enraged warrior.

“Let us through, Paladin,” demanded the mob leader. The rest of the village formed a ring around the posse. Any rapport they had built had gone up in smoke with the barn.

Heden stepped forward from the crowd of Clemantia’s supporters nursing a swollen cheek. “Stand down, Reiner. It’s over.”

“I ought to put you down like the killer you are,” said Faujas.

“Killer?! That thing is the real killer! It’s the reason we have this plague in the first place!” said the man. “It sent the plague back with Lubin! That fool got us all infected, then it shows up with the paladin it seduced to ‘cure’ us!”

“You’re a coward and a liar!” roared Faujas.

Some of the crowd began to stir nervously. They looked at Clemantia with renewed skepticism.

“Doesn’t anyone else find it strange that the man who wields holy magic has to rely on a demon to heal us?!” continued Reiner.

Faujas snapped. “This creature is a saint! She’s the purest, most innocent being I’ve ever encountered! I treated her like an animal, and she’s shown me nothing but kindness. She’s had hundreds of chances to kill me, or harm me, or even leave me for dead, and she’s never once done anything that wasn’t for my sake!”

He began to advance on the mob. They shrank away from him. “I’ve never met anyone with such a love for the world. She sees this life as a gift from the gods, and she shows her appreciation for that gift every day in the way she loves everything and everyone in this world! And so help me, if you so much as lay a finger on her, I will cut you down like-“

“Paladin Faujas!” Clemantia caught Faujas’s arm as he raised his sword. “Please, there’s no need for violence! They’re just scared,” coughed Clemantia.

Faujas shut his eyes and exhaled slowly. Even now, she was saving him from becoming something he would hate. “You’re right.”

Clemantia hugged him. “Everyone is safe, that’s what matters.” She turned to the men. “Um… I’m not the best with speeches… But, I really like this village! It’s been so nice to meet all the wonderful people in it. You’ve all been so hospitable to me, even though I’m a, well, you call me a demon, but that isn’t really what I am… A-anyways, I only want what’s best for you! Seeing you smile is the most wonderful feeling in the world to me. I know that our time together has been short, but I’ve cherished every moment we spent together!”

Clemantia began to cry. “I know some of you don’t believe me. I know I scare humans, even though I try my hardest not to. As much as I want you all to accept my love, I know that some of you won’t accept me yet. So I’ll keep trying! And I’ll find a way to prove that I don’t eat souls or human meat or anything else that the rest of you couldn’t stomach! So… I’m sorry I caused this mess; I love you all.”

Clemantia was crimson by the time she finished. The passion she had conveyed at the beginning of the speech had tapered off until only those closest to her were able to hear her whisper out the closing lines. Nevertheless, her words had their intended effect. All but the most fervent members of the mob stood in complete dejection. A few near the back slipped away towards their homes to lick their wounds.

“I don’t trust you. And I never will! The Order will hear about this!” shouted Reiner. He pushed his way through the villagers and hurried off towards his home.

The other villagers pressed in to fawn over Clemantia. The unicorn did her best to assuage their worries, insisting that she was fine. Heden informed them that Clemantia was welcome to reside in the townhall now that the barn had been burnt down. The other villagers discusses a loose watch rotation to ensure that there were no more attempts on her life that night. Faujas was pleased by their devotion to her. He intended to stay by her side as well. There was no chance that he would be able to sleep after all this. His heart was still racing. A villager nudged him with a wet cloth. Faujas graciously took it and used it to wipe some of the soot from his face. Whatever came of this mess, it would be solved tomorrow.

~~~~~~~~~~

Faujas watched Clemantia cure the last of the villagers. Reiner and his ilk had packed their things and left in the early morning. Even with the primary instigator beating a hasty retreat, the whole village was on edge. Patrols kept watch over the roads and surrounding forests for any sign of their return.
Clemantia finished her healing and accepted her praise from the man. She walked outside with him, wrapped in the scarf that had been knit as a gift by one of the elderly women.

“Ready to go?” asked Faujas.

“Do we really have to leave?” asked Clemantia, watching a group of children run across the street.

“The Order is coming. And seeing the reaction of these peasants hasn’t filled me with confidence that they’ll be as understanding of your predicament as I was.”
Clemantia nodded solemnly. “I suppose it was silly to think that I could win over every human.”

Faujas held her hand. “It wasn’t silly to try.”

Clemantia smiled at him, giving his hand a gentle squeeze. Her face slowly became melancholic once more. “What shall we do now? If we can’t stay here, where will we go?”

“Actually, I was hoping you might have a suggestion,” said Faujas.

Clemantia gasped. “Me?”

“As far as the Order is concerned, I’m a traitor. I don’t regret what I did, and I would do it again if I had the chance. But I feel there are others whom I can help, and I’m not ready to die just yet. Wherever you decide to go, I’ll be there with you.”

Clemantia sniffed and wiped her eyes. “Faujas…”

He held her hands in his. Faujas took a deep breath. Standing here looking into Clemantia’s blue eyes was harder than any campaign he had ever been sent on. He knew what he wanted to say, he just didn’t know how to say it.

“Clemantia I-uh…” She waited patiently for him to finish. Faujas gulped. “I-I think I love you.”

Clemantia gasped. She searched his face for more answers. Faujas remained stalwart, holding her gaze even as his cheeks filled with color.

“I love you too, Faujas!” squealed Clemantia. She wrapped her arms around him, careful to avoid skewering him on her horn as she embraced him.

A few nearby villagers offered some supportive jeers. Faujas returned the hug, still reeling from his accepted confession. Now what was he supposed to do? It had taken everything he had to finally tell her how he felt; what more could be done? Clemantia pulled away and wiped away more tears. She leaned in and kissed his cheek. Faujas smiled dumbly. All of a sudden, he had the strangest feeling that things would work themselves out in the end.

“Oh, this is wonderful! There’s a town with a fair number of demon inhabitants on the north coast. We can stay there until we figure out what to do.” Clemantia squealed to herself and trotted in a circle. “This is so exciting! Oh Eros, this is all happening so fast! I have to tell my mother!”

“The north coast? That’s going to be a hell of a trip to make in winter,” said Faujas.

Clemantia didn’t seem fazed. “We’ll make it. We have each other.”

“I think we’re going to need more than just the clothes on our backs,” said Faujas.

“Did you say the north coast?”

Faujas looked behind him. A young man was standing behind him.

“That’s right, what of it?” asked Faujas warily.

“And… there are more like you there?” the man asked Clemantia.

“I don’t know if there are more unicorns there, but I know several mamono, if that’s what you meant,” said Clemantia.

“Then… could I go with you?” asked the man.

Clemantia and Faujas looked at each other.

“With us?” asked Faujas.

“Yeah. To the north coast,” insisted the man.

“Absolutely not,” said Faujas.

“Faujas!” scolded Clemantia.

“It’s dangerous out there, Clemantia!” said Faujas.

“Couldn’t be more dangerous than here. I just can’t stand to be here anymore. Humanity just isn’t as glamorous as the Order made it out to be…” said the man.
Faujas rubbed his beard. A few other villagers had gathered, making no attempt to hide their interest in the conversation.

“We would be moving quickly…” said Faujas.

“I can keep up. I’ll carry all my own food and water. You don’t need to worry about me at all! And I’ll collect firewood every night, if that’s what it takes,” pleaded the man.

Faujas looked around at the others. “And I suppose some of you would also like to get out of here before that Order patrol arrives?” Some of them nodded. Faujas shook his head and exhaled. “Fine. Then muster as many horses and supplies as you can. No wagons, they won’t last a day where we’re headed. And blankets! We’re leaving soon.”

The villagers scrambled to collect their things. Clemantia put her hand on Faujas’s shoulder. He put his own hand over hers, still watching the chaos.

“I don’t know about this. That’s a lot of people to protect,” said Faujas.

“Then we’re lucky it’s you who’s protecting us,” said Clemantia, planting a kiss on his cheek.

Faujas turned to plant a kiss on her lips. A surge of excitement filled his body. It felt just as good as the other men had said. He chuckled.

“What is it?” asked Clemantia.

“Are we… married now? I mean, by demon standards?” asked Faujas.

Clemantia smiled. “We are. Is that funny to you?”

Faujas shook his head. “No. I was just thinking what I would say if someone had told me that this routine assignment would end with me married to a demon, shepherding blasphemers into the wilderness to escape the Order.”

Clemantia giggled. “I suppose that would be quite a bit to take in.”

Faujas smirked. “It’s been a hell of a story.”

Feeling bold, he wrapped an arm around Clemantia’s waist. She leaned onto him, brushing his face with her hair.

“I’m glad we were able to give it a happy ending,” said Clemantia.

Faujas savored the warmth emanating from her. This truly was bliss. “Isn’t this just the beginning?”

Clemantia giggled. “I suppose you’re right.”