Obviously, things got more difficult from there.
I had to stick to Lucifer like glue over the course of the next few days, having adopted the incredibly difficult task of keeping things diplomatic. I had to do my best to calm him down whenever he got riled up (which was often), to try and appease his vicious desire for revenge with a reminder of the innocents at stake, to hold him to leaving Purgatory an independent state.
Over a short period of time, I got to see the best and worst of the King of Hell. His compassion, his brilliance, his pride and blind bloodlust. I’d been praised, threatened, insulted, trusted in rounds.
It was safe to say I was exhausted.
At the end of each day I would vent all of my troubles to Myrrh, reliving my small successes and mourning my failures. She listened well, offering a surprisingly insightful remark every now and then. She was a lot smarter than she let on.
Myrrh also acted like something of a personal cheerleader to me. I could tell she appreciated my approach to the negotiations and she often mirrored my ideas and complaints.
Times when I came back to my room defeated and broken down she would carefully build me back up, reminding me of where I had succeeded, of why I had to keep persisting.
There were a lot of fronts where I had no power to stop Lucifer. But I fought hard to keep him believing in the importance of letting Purgatory continue to exist.
Lucifer also pleasantly surprised me a number of times, proposing programs to support families of fallen soldiers, to rebuild areas obliterated by war.
I’d lost count of the meetings I’d had to sit through. Talking to Myrrh and sleeping were the only respite I had from worried-looking diplomats who seemed to flinch every time Lucifer moved.
The countryside was beautiful, though. Any time I felt like my head was on the verge of exploding I would duck out onto the wonderfully plush grass and feel the sun on my face.
It was on one of those walks that I ran into Bob.
YOU’VE BEEN DOING GOOD THINGS, COMMANDER.
I’d been stunned into silence, and had to blink a few times before I could respond.
“Bob? You’re here?”
I WANTED TO KEEP AN EYE ON YOU. AFTER….EVERYTHING THAT HAPPENED. SEEMS LIKE YOU’RE DOING FINE ON YOUR OWN, THOUGH.
“No, no,” I said quickly, “I’m so glad you’re here, and…talking to me. How have you been?”
AS WELL AS COULD BE EXPECTED. AFTER EVERSIO WAS DISCOVERED I WAS INVESTIGATED AS A POSSIBLE ACCOMPLICE. HELL DOESN’T DO INTERROGATIONS POLITELY.
“Are you okay?”
I’M ALIVE. AND I’M GLAD TO SEE YOU ARE TOO.
ANY TIME, RECRUIT.
I smiled out of nostalgia.
“So what are you going to do now?”
NOT SURE. I THINK I’M GOING TO STAY AWAY FROM THE ROYAL FAMILY FOR A BIT. MAYBE GO INTO ADVERTISING FULL-TIME. OR JUST TAKE A BREAK FROM EVERYTHING.
“That sounds like a good plan.”
LISTEN…I’M REALLY SORRY ABOUT EVERYTHING.
I raised an eyebrow.
“Everything? What do you have to be sorry about?”
EVERYTHING THAT HAPPENED TO YOU. THAT WE STOLE YOU FROM YOUR HOME, YOUR FAMILY, YOUR LIFE…THAT YOU HAD TO FIGHT A WAR WHEN YOU SHOULD HAVE BEEN FIGHTING WITH YOUR PARENTS ABOUT STAYING OUT LATE. YOU DIDN’T ASK FOR ANY OF THIS.
I let out a breath slowly, tucking a strand of hair behind an ear.
“You were just doing your job. If you didn’t do it, someone else would have. And better that this happened to me than anyone else.”
YOU’RE REALLY BRAVE, KNOW THAT?
“Some would call it pig-headed, but thanks.” I laughed, remembering something suddenly, “Bob, I was wondering…Manara’s…last words to me were not to worry about the magic lessons. Do you know what she meant?”
I heard Bob chuckle.
“She’d been trying to teach me to use my demon abilities.”
I HATE TO BE THE ONE TO TELL YOU THIS, BUT YOU DON’T HAVE ANY.
THE ONLY DEMONS THAT HAVE ABILITIES ARE THOSE OF CERTAIN BREEDING. THOSE THAT MASTER THEM ARE EVEN MORE RARE. YOU’RE HUMAN.
“But…I learned to fight so quickly. I heal. I – “
THOSE THINGS COME FROM THE PROPHECY. THE STYX.
“If Manara knew this, why was she giving me magic lessons?” I asked, stupefied.
FOR A NERD, YOU CAN SURE BE DUMB SOMETIMES.
“That didn’t explain anything.” I shrugged, perplexed.
SHE WANTED TO SPEND TIME WITH YOU, OBVIOUSLY. MANARA CARED FOR YOU.
“She could have just asked me to hang out…” I continued, still confused.
WHEN YOU WERE PREPARING FOR WAR? YOU WOULDN’T HAVE GIVEN HER THE TIME OF DAY.
I blinked, and something clicked in my head.
“Did you give her this idea?” I asked, folding my arms.
….MAYBE. I JUST DIDN’T LIKE TO SEE HER PINING AWAY –
“Pining?” I asked incredulously, “For Eversio?”
THEIR RELATIONSHIP WAS ENTIRELY ONE-SIDED. SHE LET IT HAPPEN, PROBABLY BECAUSE SHE SAW THE WAY YOU LOOKED AT EVERSIO.
“She was trying to keep me away from him?” I asked, becoming more and more confused.
YES! MAN, YOU WERE RIGHT WHEN YOU SAID YOU WERE PIG-HEADED.
“So…she thought she was protecting me from Eversio?”
IF I WASN’T SO ATTACHED TO YOU, I WOULD CONSIDER BASHING YOUR HEAD AGAINST THE WALL RIGHT NOW.
I pulled a face.
“If it’s possible, I think I know less now then before I asked.”
SHE KNEW ABOUT HOW BACKWARDS HUMANS COULD BE IN SOME RESPECTS, NO OFFENSE. SHE WANTED TO FIGURE OUT WHETHER OR NOT YOU WOULD GET ANGRY BEFORE SHE SAID ANYTHING.
“Wait…are you saying…that she – “
YES. NOW, I’M ALREADY RUNNING LATE, BUT I THOUGHT THIS WOULD BE A QUICK GOODBYE –
“Goodbye?” I asked incredulously, “You’re leaving?”
HAVE YOU HEARD A SINGLE THING I’VE SAID?
“Sorry, I did.” I sighed, “I just didn’t put two and two together. I’m going to miss you, Bob.”
I’LL MISS YOU TOO, RECRUIT.
For a second I felt a warm whoosh of air that could for all purposes have been a hug.
BE GOOD, OKAY?
And then the warmth was gone.