The black demon roars as wave upon wave of pure spirit energy slam into it. Rika gasps for air as a surge of dizziness threatens to knock her from her feet. She throws another wave of energy, trying to break the demon’s hold on this world. Her partner, Jerenn, stands next to her. His right hand hangs limp by his side as red blood drips into the white ashes. Burning embers—all that remains of the town of Jerida—rain down around them.
“I don’t have anything left. Can you hit it again?” he yells. He pushes the tip of his sword into the ground and leans on it. Rika can hear the exhaustion in his voice.
“I have enough for one more,” she yells. Darkness seeps into the edges of her vision and she shakes her head to clear it. She clenches her fists and screams as she throws every bit of spirit she has left. A blue light surrounds the demon and for a moment, it’s frozen. Then the light explodes and the demon howls. Rika and Jerenn cover their ears as the ground shakes. A gaping hole opens beneath the demon, spilling out orange tendrils of light that seek it out. The tendrils wrap around its scaly body, twisting and folding it until it’s no bigger than an apple. They pull the folded demon into the hole and, with a crack, both demon and gateway to the under realms are gone. Rika and Jerenn wince as their ears pop. The world falls silent and they both collapse onto the scorched earth. Soldiers, frozen in awe, shake themselves free and rush to carry the demon hunters to the medics.
Rika opens her eyes to see Jerenn sitting across from her. She raises her eyebrows.
“We’re in the medic tent. How do you feel?” asks Jerenn.
Rika sits up and pats herself down. “I could sleep for a few weeks, but otherwise I think I’m ok,” she says. She looks from Jerenn’s swollen left eye to his bandaged right hand. “Certainly better than you.”
Jerenn shrugs. “Hazards of demon hunting.” He eases himself onto her cot with a grunt. “You did it again, you know. Just when it looked like everything was lost, you found the strength to save us all,” he says.
She shakes her head. “We did it together.”
Jerenn laughs and grimaces as his cracked ribs creak. “Don’t be modest. You’re the only one in Erenthil who has the power to send demons back to the under realms. If you hadn’t come to this world from Earth through the Mirror Gate, the demons would have burned every city to the ground and taken us all as slaves.”
Rika stares at her hands and frowns. The mention of Earth dredges up hazy pieces of memories that she can’t quite put together. A smiling man with brown hair. An argument. Clothes and books thrown into a bag. Anger. Disappointment.
“Do you miss Earth?” says Jerenn.
Rika shakes her head and the ghosts vanish. “I wouldn’t go back to Earth even if I could. I’ve known since I was a kid that I was destined for something great, but no one there ever realized how special I was.” She turns to Jerenn. “In Erenthil, I’m the hero I always knew I could be.”
He smiles. “You’re very special to this world. And to me,” he says. As he leans in to kiss her, the world turns over and everything goes dark.
Rika fights to swim up through the thick blackness engulfing her mind. She tries to move but her limbs are heavy and her body burns like fire. She opens her eyes to a blurry, dim world. There’s something soft underneath her. Where am I?
She tries to call for help but her mouth and lungs won’t cooperate with her brain. Someone is speaking; the voice is familiar, but the words are muffled. A dark shape moves past her. A demon! Her mind screeches at her body to get up and fight. The voice comes closer.
“Skye! Can you hear me? Wake up! Stop fighting me! I’ve gotta get this IV off you. Skye, stop!”
Who’s Skye? Rika keeps trying to push the demon away but it’s too strong. Pain shoots through her arm and the demon moves away. “I’ll get you some water,” it says. Its footsteps grow faint.
She closes her eyes and feels around for anything she can use as a weapon. There’s something hard and flat to her left. A table? Her fingers brush past a stack of what feel like paperback books. She reaches farther and knocks something onto the ground. It bounces and clatters in the quiet room. She flinches, listening for the demon. After a few moments, it doesn’t return and she releases her breath. Be careful, stupid. She gingerly feels around the table again and comes across something cold and long. The tip feels very sharp. A knife of some sort? She hides her weapon under her thigh and waits.
A moment later, the demon crouches next to her and says, “Drink this.” Rika shakes her head and pushes the glass away, spilling its contents everywhere. The demon sighs. “I’ve been trying to wake you for an hour. You fell off the face of the earth for two weeks and when I finally find you, you’re using somnium. Somnium!” It sounds distraught, like it’s crying. Why does its voice sound so familiar?
“For fuck’s sake, Skye! Why wasn’t anything ever good enough for you? We had a good life, but all you ever wanted was some god damned fairy tale!” It sobs and knocks the pile of books onto the ground; pictures cut from them flutter down like leaves. The world snaps into focus and Rika looks into the demon’s eyes. Her throat tightens and her eyes burn. Why is its face so familiar?
“I don’t need a fairy tale, Skye, I just need you.” The demon wipes its eyes and takes a deep breath. “You’re gonna be ok, I promise. I love you so much.”
A tear slips from the corner of her eye. The demon brushes it away and caresses her face. Its hands are soft – nothing like Jerenn’s hands, calloused from years of training. Rika jerks her head away, tightening her grip on her weapon.
It swallows hard and wipes its face again, pushing its brown hair back from its eyes. “You’re not yourself. It’s the somnium. I’ll get you to the hospital and everything’ll be ok.” As it leans closer, Rika swings her arm as hard as she can and the shining blade sinks into its neck. The demon screams and falls back, black blood pouring from its wound. Trying to stand, it slips on the fallen books and crashes backwards into the wall. Rika stands and picks up one of the books. On the cover are two beautiful characters, a man and a woman, both with silver hair, holding hands under the bright light of a golden sword. Above the sword are the words “Demon Hunter Hero”.
“Skye… help me… please…” whispers the demon. It gasps and reaches for her with blood-covered claws.
Rika throws her head back and laughs. “You thought you could trick me, demon, wearing a familiar face and crying with a familiar voice? How dare you! I’m demon hunter Rika, the hero of Erenthil. I’ll help you by sending you back to the under realms where you belong, you son of a bitch!” She stabs the demon in its iridescent yellow eye. It screams again and convulses before being pulled into the flashing red and blue lights of the under realms. Rika smiles and drops the book. She stares with unfocused eyes as the blood spreads over the floor and soaks into the scattered clippings, painting the silver-haired woman black.
A jolt of pain shakes her from her trance. She drops the blood-covered shears and crouches down panting. The ache radiates from her arm into her chest and head. She takes several shallow breaths and lurches through the mostly empty room, searching for anything to stop the pain. Next to the table, she finds something. Turning it over in her hand, it looks like a bandage, but it’s oddly shaped and attached to a bag filled with some sort of orange fluid. All of this is so familiar, she thinks, staring at the books again.
She sinks down onto the mattress and her hands begin moving by themselves. The bandage stings as she places it on the wound on her arm. A moment later, a welcome coolness spreads throughout her body, quenching the burning in her veins. She picks up a clipping of the man with silver hair and holds it to her chest. There are sirens somewhere in the distance. Someone is banging on a door. Rika lays back and everything goes black.
“Rika! Rika! Are you ok?”
Rika opens her eyes. Jerenn is standing over her, a black streak smeared across his face. “Thank all the gods,” he says. He pulls her to him and hugs her tight.
“Easy. I can’t breathe,” she says. She coughs and winces; her mouth tastes like ashes and her head is pounding. The medic tent is in shambles around them. Several dazed soldiers sit on the ground nearby having their wounds tended to by soot-stained medics. “What happened?” she says.
“A second demon attack. Seems the demon king finally decided to rear his ugly head. You managed to defeat it even though you seemed to be in a trance,” Jerenn says.
Rika blinks and shakes her head. “I don’t remember fighting the demon king. I dreamt I was back on Earth. There was a demon, but it looked like a human. It gave itself a familiar voice and face to get close to me. I think it used some sort of stasis spell on me–I couldn’t move. I finally fought free of the spell and sent the demon back to the under realms,” she says. She rubs her arm, probing for a wound and finds painless, unbroken skin. “It seemed so real.” She chews her lip remembering the sadness in its voice and the tears in its eyes.
“No, you were right here the whole time. I saw it with my own eyes. The shining sword of the true hero appeared before you and you used it to defeat the demon king.” Jerenn points to a gleaming golden sword lying on the ground next to Rika. “The demon king was known for using its magic to pull the minds of its opponents into a dream world. There, it could drive them mad, killing them at its leisure. It used its powers on you, but you won.” He brushes her silver hair from her eyes. “You really are the one true hero the prophets foretold,” he says.
She stares out into the devastation around them for a long moment and then nods. “That must be it. The demon king trapped me in a dream world and tried to trick me and drive me mad. I got the best of it in the end,” she says. She rubs her hands on her pants trying to wipe away some of the dried, black blood and frowns. There’s so much. “Now what?”
“The shining sword has returned and the demon king is defeated. The kingdom of Erenthil has found its queen. You’ll be crowned and then you’ll choose your royal consort.” Jerenn looks away from her. “There are many brave generals who fought in the Demon Wars. Any one of them would be an excellent consort to the queen…”
Rika smiles and takes Jerenn’s hand. “I want you to be my consort. Be by my side now and forever, Captain Jerenn Delin.” He grins, picks her up, and kisses her to the thunderous applause of his soldiers.
She laughs. This is everything she’s ever wanted. She’s a true hero and she has the heart of the handsome silver-haired captain. It’s just like in her favorite graphic novel series from Earth.
Breaking news: There’s been another somnium-related incident in Westhorpe that has left one person dead and another in a coma. At 10:30 last night, police were called to the Red Court Road apartment complex for a possible domestic disturbance. In a first floor apartment, police found 26-year-old Jacob Andrew Andersen. He had suffered multiple stab wounds and was unresponsive; he was pronounced dead at the scene. A woman identified as 25-year-old Skye Lynn Harrington was found unconscious. She was using an IV infusion of somnium, the illegal drug used to induce lucid dreams. Police believe Harrington attacked Andersen while under the influence.