Susha Unhuor almost averted his gaze but with a slight furrow of his brows, he held back. No matter how much this figure resembled Jusha Lale, it wasn’t him. There was no reason for him to act like this. Still, it was not easy to reconcile the feelings that sprang up at seeing this scene with his knowledge. Unfortunately, he did not have the luxury of just stepping back and could only go forward.
Susha Unhuor took a faint breath and stepped into the room, keeping his back to the wall once again. He narrowed his eyes to look through the steam, trying to find some more hints. He could make out the figure in the middle of the room, or at the least, half a figure.
The figure moved its arms, some water running down its arms and dropping from his elbow. There was once again the sound of faint splashing. The figure brushed back the half-wet hair and turned around, its eyes widening in surprise. “I … I didn’t know somebody was here.” The voice was only a whisper, seemingly dampened further by the steam in the air.
Before Susha Unhuor could answer, the figure reached up and brushed the long black hair back over its shoulder, a few drops of water landing on its face and rolling down its cheek, past its jaw, and down the slender neck.
Susha Unhuor just watched dispassionately, wondering if this was also just based on Shaun Reng’s fantasies or if the demon had come up with this on its own. He sure hoped that Shaun Reng had not known how his nephew looked in this state. But then again, it could be possible. After all, Jusha Lale wouldn’t have had his guard up against him since he didn’t know about his uncle’s feelings.
At this moment, Susha Unhuor couldn’t help but feel angry that Agur Suhi hadn’t shared what he knew with Jusha Lale. If he had, then the dan could have stayed cautious against Shaun Reng, making sure that something like this couldn’t occur. But so … he had put him in danger. Well, it wasn’t important anymore. Shaun Reng was already dead and these things were in the past. It wouldn’t change anything anymore to wonder what could have been different.
The figure smiled faintly and then turned around, the water splashing against the wooden tub while a white knee emerged from the surface. “Well, since you are already here, why don’t you give me a hand? You could help me wash my back.” The smile on its lips seemed a little coquettish.
Susha Unhuor surveyed the room and then slowly went over, kneeling down next to the tub.
The figure motioned over to a small stool at the side, where a piece of cloth was lying. “You can use that. Or you could use your hands. I don’t mind either way.”
Susha Unhuor gave the figure a look. Yes, this was definitely more enhanced by the demon. He did not believe that Shaun Reng had had that thought considering what he had seen in the study. Naturally, he couldn’t say for sure but he just felt like it was true when he saw this. And as Jusha Lale had said, he should probably trust in his gut feeling.
He picked up the rag, put it in the water only for his hand to be seized by the figure.
“Do you really insist on this?”
Susha Unhuor did not answer. Instead, he gave the figure another long look, trying to find any hint of a demon’s features in that face. He couldn’t see any. Most likely, this was another illusion. It did make him wonder where exactly the real demon would be. The places left … he’d rather not think about it.
Before he could decide on what else to do, the figure had pulled his hand closer and pressed it up against its chest. Susha Unhuor felt a faint heartbeat that seemed to accelerate while the skin below his fingertips warmed up further than the steam from the bath had managed to achieve.
“Do you feel this? I’m not quite sure why but my heart seems to be speeding up. I feel a little faint. Could it be that the water is too hot?”
Susha Unhuor stared at the figure in front of him, his mood subtle. This kind of behavior … he was afraid that the young dan would die of embarrassment if he actually had to do something like this. To still have it happen … this was clearly somebody else’s imagination. Considering the type of demon that was behind this, he believed that it was merely an illusion though. Yes, this still wasn’t the actual demon.
He continued to look at the figure, which was smiling back at him, seeming a little sweet. There was nothing too stimulating about this, completely uncharacteristic for a rūn. He really had to say that that Shaun Reng had been quite tame. It seemed that while he had had some forbidden thoughts about his nephew, he had also known where the limits were.
Or maybe rather than that, maybe he had just been interested in something other than merely Jusha Lale’s beauty and body. Come to think of it, everybody had described Shaun Reng as a family man. Maybe his dream actually hadn’t been to just possess Jusha Lale but to have a family with him. It was just as much out of the question as the other possibility was but at least it didn’t sound quite as bad in theory. At the very least, it showed that he had held some kind of respect for his nephew.
Susha Unhuor gave the figure a faint smile and then turned to the side, picking up another cloth. He didn’t intend to linger and just handed it over, actually folding the illusion’s fingers around the edge. “In that case, you should get out of the tub. I’ll wait outside.”
Before it could do anything else, he went out of the room, faintly shaking his head. From the map, he knew that Jusha Lale’s chambers weren’t that big. If one ignored the small room in front where he received visitors, then his personal rooms only included this bath, his study, and his personal bed-chamber. In other words, the demon was likely in the last room. After all, why else would it make the illusions be in the other two rooms? Yes, as much as he loathed the idea, this seemed like a certainty now.
Susha Unhuor gripped his weapon tighter and then slowly made his way over, listening for any suspicious noises. Right now, nobody but him and the demon should be in this building. There might be some part of the illusion that gave off sound but it was usually confined to the place where the illusion actually took place. That was why he had only heard the sound of the water when he opened the actual door to the bath but not when he stepped into the small corridor in front. This also meant that if he was able to hear something, it should be the demon.
He made his steps as light as possible and even tried to flatten his breathing when he reached the door. Listening more closely, he only managed to hear the sound of breathing from inside. Well, this was better than nothing. At the very least, it indicated that the demon was there.
Susha Unhuor tensed his muscles, raised his weapon, and then opened the door. The scene that he saw … even though he had almost expected something like this, it still made his whole face turn red.
The demon was lying on the bed as if to invite the one who entered the room to join it between the sheets. And naturally, it had taken on Jusha Lale’s appearance to do so.
That alone wasn’t grounds for either being surprised or feeling embarrassed. After all, this was what the rūn usually did. He had seen it happen more than once. It was rather how casually the demon had adjusted things to suit its taste.
Jusha Lale was already an almost ethereal beauty in real life. He appeared gentle and refined, with the slightly softer features that were popular in Alo. Under the influence of this demon’s magic, some parts of that appearance were highlighted even further, taking the dan’s appearance out of the realm of the humanly possible.
His captivating eyes that had always seemed to show the depths of his thoughts that belied his young age had become deeper, giving them an unspeakable allure that made it almost impossible to look away. Who would not want to take a dive into what was lying behind them? It did not help that the long lashes framing them had turned denser, the dark color forming a clear contrast with his jade-white skin while his pupils were partly shrouded in shadows, adding to their mystery.
The worst thing was that the demon had not just changed those details but had instead changed his bearing completely. Jusha Lale was the kind of person that would sit in front of you with his back straight and his chin held high. It wasn’t that he looked down on anyone. It was just that he knew who he was and what his status entailed. He was the dan of Alo. It was the simple truth that he was that one person that stood above thousands of others, the one who held the lives of his people in his hands. If he did not have the slightest bit of pride, could he fulfill the role he needed to play?
This demon though … it was lying on the bed, the outer robe slightly crumbled. It was one that Susha Unhuor had actually seen Jusha Lale wear before. Maybe it was some kind of favorite piece of clothing that Shaun Reng had clearly remembered and thus revealed to the demon.
The lapel of the robe was crooked as if it had been pulled apart by the person wearing it to cool them down. The inner robe below had been exposed, the white fabric not leaving much to imagination. In fact, it seemed as if it had gotten slightly damp with sweat, making it rather easy to see through. From the demon’s collarbone to halfway down his chest, there really wasn’t anything that couldn’t be seen.
And things didn’t end there. While the belt was still fastened, the lower part of the robe was brushed upward, exposing the toes of one foot and the other leg up until the calf. The whole posture was that of a person just about to throw off their clothes, waiting for someone to embrace them to satisfy their intense longing.
If this had been the real Jusha Lale, he probably would have needed to be drugged out of his mind to ever find himself in such a state. And even then, Susha Unhuor almost expected that he would likely do a better job at keeping his composure.
Especially in terms of the expression on his face. The one the demon showed was hovering between suffering and confusion as if this person it portrayed was uncomfortable all over but didn’t understand what was happening to him and thus needed somebody to help him out of his misery.
Susha Unhuor’s lips almost twitched when he saw this. He probably should’ve expected it. This was very much in line with the illusions he had seen before after all. If Shaun Reng ever were to give in to his desire, it would surely be in such a situation: One where he could justify that he was not doing this for his own enjoyment but rather for his nephew’s wellbeing. Because if he didn’t act in this situation for fear of doing the wrong thing, Jusha Lale would suffer needlessly. And without the knowledge of what was wrong with him, he could not help himself and might even be taken advantage of by another person.
How could a good man like him let that happen? That was probably the justification Shaun Reng could have given himself if he stumbled upon this scene. The demon had just made sure that the decision could be made a little easier by making Jusha Lale’s appearance even more seductive.
Susha Unhuor refrained from showing this distaste. He was actually quite angry at seeing this since he knew what Jusha Lale had suffered through. Especially in that case, he felt that it was an affront to portray him like this. There was no way that Jusha Lale would ever lose control over himself like this. Not with him, not with his uncle, not with anyone. To pretend that he would was disgusting.
The demon lifted its torso from the bed, and the robe was pushed slightly higher on its legs again. “You … What are you doing here?”
The voice sounded more or less like Jusha Lale’s. But just like with his appearance, it was also somewhat … enhanced. The demon still used the same tone as Jusha Lale but there was a certain languidness in there that wasn’t part of how Jusha Lale usually spoke. Just like his appearance and his posture, it was as if this voice was being an invitation for whoever had just entered the room to enter his bed as well.
Susha Unhuor didn’t answer the question. In any case, a normal person would ask who the person coming in was if they didn’t know them. He definitely had the real one this time. Thus, he could not take any risks and needed to move fast.
He glanced around, making sure that there weren’t any bad surprises waiting for him, and then rushed at the demon, striking out with his weapon.
The demon’s eyes widened and it rolled to the side, barely evading the brunt of the attack. A strand of hair was cut though, scattering on the bed and turning into an ash-gray color.
Susha Unhuor smiled faintly. If there had still been any doubt in his mind, it would have been dispelled now. Any part of the demon that was hit with a blessed weapon like his would revert to its original appearance. The hair naturally wasn’t an exception.
The demon rolled down from the bed and then looked up, giving Susha Unhuor a horrified look. “What are you doing? What have I done to you for you to treat me like this?”
Susha Unhuor ignored the words. It was still pretending to be Jusha Lale. He didn’t have to care about that any longer. He just needed to make sure that it couldn’t escape. Thus, he jumped to the side, once again striking out and trying to drive the demon into the corner. He couldn’t let it get away. Otherwise, things would turn ugly. It needed to be killed directly in this room.
The demon yelped and moved back again. The fingernails that originally looked human turned into sharp claws that glinted in the lights falling through the windows. Instead of attacking him, they cut through the ribbon holding the belt, making it drop to the floor. The outer robe that the demon was wearing so haphazardly opened up, revealing more of the thin inner robe.
Susha Unhuor tightened his lips and attacked again, this time managing to strike the demon’s shoulder before it hurriedly blocked the rest of the attack. For a moment, there was a hint of rage on the demon’s face but it calmed down after just a moment. A rūn’s strong suit wasn’t fighting so it would naturally try to evade a confrontation.
“Visitor, please don’t hurt me! I have never done anything wrong. Why do you treat me like this?”
The demon was clearly trying to appeal to his softer feelings. It was a pity for it that Susha Unhuor was still unhappy just from seeing it use Jusha Lale’s appearance and even showcase it so blatantly.
As someone who was hardly interested in these matters anyway and had now finally found a related soul that actually held the same thoughts but had been forced to give up on his convictions, he loathed seeing this. To him, Jusha Lale had become a kindred spirit, somebody that he could share his problems with and discuss what he saw in his future. He was someone that did not question him or make fun of him for what he said in these moments.
Also, Jusha Lale had confided in him just the same. It made him feel that he owed him a little. And this kind of thing that he knew Jusha Lale would be disgusted by if he knew … he could take it even less. That was one of the reasons why he hadn’t told him about the actual reason his uncle had summoned the demon. Now, he would go about it the same way. He would destroy the demon and then never mention again what he had seen here. That was the best way to go about things. The best way to ensure that after all this was over, Jusha Lale would be able to live with peace of mind, without having to think about these things any longer.
He struck out again but the demon fell to its knees, and then lunged forward, hugging his legs. “Hero! Don’t do this. You have the wrong one. If you are searching for the demon, then it is in the other room. I’m really just an innocent person that has been trapped here and been put under the spell of the demon. If you could go and vanquish it, I would be forever grateful to you!”
Looking down, Susha Unhuor’s gaze collided with that of the demon. His eyes seemed especially soulful. And for a moment, he really had trouble moving as if his soul had been hooked by that gaze.
He gulped and then swung his weapon, making the demon scream. The blade cut into skin but then the demon finally struck out itself. The sharp claws collided with the blade, ripping it out of its flesh and making the blood splatter. Despite the demon showing part of its real appearance, the deep red blood looked tantalizing on the white skin.
Susha Unhuor furrowed his brows. He kicked the demon in the chest, stomping down when it lost its balance and fell to the ground. “Of all the people available, you really had to choose him, didn’t you?” He raised his weapon, ready to cut its head off.
The demon hurriedly reached up, wanting to grab onto his leg again. The weapon came down, and the demon hurriedly clasped onto the blade instead, barely holding it up above its head. The white skin turned gray where the blades connected to it, the change slowly spreading down until it reached the forearms of the demon.
Susha Unhuor tried to force it down and while the blade got closer to the demon’s throat, he didn’t manage to actually cut off the head. He furrowed his brows, unhappy with this. A rūn like this actually couldn’t be called strong. It was just that it really was slippery, trying to evade a fight and entice him so it could strengthen itself and then use a moment when his guard was down to kill him. Well, that would not work on him. He stepped down harder, trying to make the demon let go.
The demon groaned, the sound a mixture of a painful grunt and a seductive moan, and then focused all its strength on holding onto the weapon. The appearance that it had taken on slowly started to crumble further. “Why are you doing this? I haven’t done anything!”
Susha Unhuor scoffed. “Haven’t you taken on this appearance to take advantage of it? That is already doing something. And even if not, you already killed one person.” It could probably be said that it was a summoner’s own fault to be killed by a demon. But the person who originally would’ve suffered from this was Jusha Lale.
Just like right now, if he hadn’t already had everyone evacuated, this demon would have destroyed his life. Being here, using his appearance to gain strength … he would’ve lost the trust of his people, his image in their minds as a righteous ruler would have been overturned and he would not have been able to go on.
And who knew what else would have happened? Jusha Lale did not deserve this. And even Shaun Reng who definitely carried some sinful feelings for his nephew shouldn’t have needed to die for it. There might have been other options to deal with this.
The demon’s eyes blazed with fury. “Who did I kill? I haven’t hurt anyone! A demon like me, what would I kill for? They are much more useful for me when alive.”
Susha Unhuor stared at the demon, almost wanting to laugh. They were more useful for it when alive? He really wasn’t sure if this was the kind of thing that should convince him to let the demon go.
He already wanted to mock it for this attempt and then continue on with this task, when he suddenly realized something. “What do you mean you didn’t kill anyone?” In fact, what the demon was saying wasn’t wrong. A demon of desire was one that would gain more power if it could entice people to give in to their desires.
Showing the people around the palace what was desirable — especially so in regard to Jusha Lale — would’ve made it much more powerful. But this demon wasn’t. Killing Shaun Reng definitely wouldn’t have been of any advantage to it. That could not be denied. In this case, there might be something more going on. Could it be that there was a second one?
His expression turned even grimmer when he thought of that. He hadn’t taken that into consideration because it was very rare that something like this would happen. In fact, in all his years as a zhireng, he had never experienced this himself. At most, he had heard a story about something like this once.
Seeing that Susha Unhuor wasn’t immediately trying to kill it, the demon hurried on to explain. “I really didn’t even try to kill somebody! I was just trying to fulfill somebody’s wish. Who knew that he was so dissolute? Instead of taking what he wanted, he actually tried to push the thought away.”
Susha Unhuor’s brows furrowed even further. Well, this did at least not sound as if his worst fear had come true and there was a second demon. “Then what happened?”
“I was trying to help him. I knew that that boy he wanted was in the temple that day. So I … sent him over there. It would have been too easy. There was only one other person around. Since he’s a man of the military, he could’ve just gone ahead. Who could have stopped him?
“In any case, while I did manage to make him go there, he resisted until the last moment. And finally, things ended just like that without even a lick of his desire being fulfilled. But I didn’t force him to! It’s not like I made him push that brazier.”
Susha Unhuor stared at the demon unbelieving, his mouth suddenly dry. If he understood this right … then Shaun Reng hadn’t tried to actually do something. The demon had taken over his body at that time and forced him to go to the temple. That was why he appeared. But Shaun Reng himself had fought against that control, trying to shake it off because even though he had those feelings for his nephew, he did not want to harm him.
He knew it was wrong and he never intended to act on it. He was fighting against it. Most likely, deep inside, he had always known that this would never lead anywhere. And when he was almost forced to ignore those thoughts and give in to base desire, he still did his utmost to make sure that nothing would happen to the person that he liked.
Yes, most likely, he really hadn’t just desired him physically but had had genuine feelings for Jusha Lale. That was why he struggled so much on the way there. As the high priest had put it: He had been wavering, each step looking uncertain and forced.
“You say you didn’t kill him but you wanted to force him to do something he wasn’t willing to do. You almost made him force another person to do something they didn’t want. In the end, is that any better than directly killing him? You left him with no other choice. He was either to disrespect both himself and that person or to end his own life to save both of them. You are not any better.”
The demon lashed out, trying to break free but Susha Unhuor wasn’t having it. He stomped down again, the weapon finally making its way down and severing that head from the body.
The appearance the demon had taken on vanished and made way for the true appearance below. Susha Unhuor didn’t bother to take a closer look. He made sure that the demon was dead and hadn’t just abandoned its body and then dragged the body and head outside of the room, putting it down in the courtyard. He made a fire and then watched the flames lick over the remains, slowly turning them into ash.
A dark shadow emerged from them but Susha Unhuor took his weapon and sliced through it, completely ending what had once been the demon that terrorized the city of En.
He closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and then slowly exhaled. This whole matter … it had started unexpectedly, the turns had also not been what he thought they would be, and finally, the ending reversed it all. He didn’t know what to think of it.
On the one hand, he pitied Jusha Lale. He had lost this person that had been so important to him and while he didn’t know the full truth, he still assumed that this person had been willing to have him die. Now, things actually weren’t like this. But he couldn’t tell him without admitting to the rest. This really was a difficult situation.
He shook his head, picked up the ashes, and dispersed them with the wind before he grabbed his weapon and left the palace.