Susha Unhuor stood on the steps for the palace for a moment, looking down the main street of En. Without any people present, this place looked quite strange. Usually, the streets should be filled. Especially one as important as the main street. There should be carriages rushing about, people lingering in the streets, talking, vendors showcasing their goods, children playing at the side of the street … But now, everything was empty.
Even when he closed his eyes, there was a silence hanging above everything that just didn’t want to fit this place. He only heard the faint murmur of the high priest’s singing coming from the temple.
Susha Unhuor opened his eyes again, took a last look at the main street, and then turned to the temple. He went over to the main hall where the high priest was still sitting, chanting incessantly.
Susha Unhuor lightly knocked on the door when he stepped in, nodding at the man. “Su anqeng, the demon has been vanquished. You can take a rest now.”
The high priest immediately fell quiet, the fatigue showing on his face. Yes, this man had been working on keeping the demon and shadows at bay for all these weeks since Jusha Lale had gone to travel around to find a zhireng willing to vanquish the demon. It wasn’t wrong to say that he probably had expended much more energy than he actually had. If not for the fact that there were still groups of other priests outside the city supporting him, it definitely wouldn’t have been possible to go on like this. He could imagine how relieved he was that things had been dealt with.
Susha Unhuor looked over his shoulder before turning back to the priest. “I will go and tell the priests outside that they don’t need to worry anymore. After that, I will go back to the city and inform the king that it is safe again. I will tell him to wait some time before letting the people return so that you have enough time to deal with the darkness that has started to infect the palace.”
Yes, while the demon was gone, the traces it had left behind were still there. It wasn’t safe to let people get too close to that. Those who did not have the blessing of the gods, strong mental fortitude, or were without desires would have a hard time not losing themselves if coming into contact with this. Thus, it was better to cleanse the palace and the city first and only then let the people return. Otherwise, he might have to vanquish several minor demons soon enough.
The high priest inclined his head. “Thank you, zhireng Susha, the city of En owes you.”
Susha Unhuor shook his head. “This is why I have been given a blessing by the gods. Since I have the power to stop it, I should do so.” His gaze turned a little subtle when he said so.
Originally, he had gone to the temple of Sundang because he felt that being a zhireng was not worth it. After vanquishing demon after demon and still seeing more of them turn up at every corner, he just felt that there was no use in it anymore. He doubted that there would ever come a day when the demons would be completely defeated because the human heart was ugly.
Even if things were going well like in a kingdom like Alo, there would still be those who were dissatisfied with their lot. Those who wanted more, who wanted things that weren’t meant for them, things that would actively harm others. They knew but they desired it so they wanted to take it. They were willing to take great risks to obtain whatever it was. After observing that time and time again, he had felt resentment build-up toward the whole world.
At this moment, Susha Unhuor actually had a bit of hope though. Not only had he seen how far Jusha Lale as the king was willing to go to save his land and his people, but he had also found out that despite summoning a demon, Shaun Reng actually hadn’t been such a bad person. Yes, there had been some darkness hiding in his heart. Yes, he had done things wrong. But at the last moment when it really counted, he had not given in to the darkness. He had resisted. Resisted until the point where he lost his own life because he was not willing to harm somebody else.
If there were still such people around, was it really useless to fight? Even if he could not stop all of the darkness in the world or even just in Alo, he could at least do his part to reduce it a little. He could try to show others that it was worth it keeping the good side of yourself in mind and to make choices based on that, to not just give into whatever it was that you wanted but to take others into consideration instead. If he could be a part of this, then maybe it was worth it.
Susha Unhuor lowered his gaze and smiled faintly. “Well, I will be off then.” He nodded and then turned around, striding out of the temple in a decisive gait.
Standing in front of the gate, he looked up at the sky. When he left the palace, his thoughts had still been troubled by what he had just found out so he hadn’t paid much attention. But now that he had sorted himself, he noticed that it had already gotten quite dark. Soon enough, night would fall. Most likely, he wouldn’t be able to make it back to the city today after informing the other priests. He sighed and shook his head. Well, there was nothing he could do.
Grabbing the reins of his horse that was still waiting at the side, he rode toward the gates again. From outside, the low chanting of the priests could still be heard, the familiar sound filling him with a sense of peace.
Susha Unhuor got off the horse again, opened the small door at the side of the gate, and approached the priest closest to him. He didn’t use many words and just quickly told them the same that he had told the high priest. Then, he returned to the capital city and went into one of the houses close by the gate. He only looked around for a bit to make sure there weren’t any traces of a demon and then searched for a place to lie down. In any case, it was only spending one night here before he would return. Most likely, the people actually living here wouldn’t have a problem with it.
Outside, the sky was turning darker and soon, the last light had faded. Susha Unhuor was lying on the ground, one arm behind his head, and stared up at the ceiling. He couldn’t help but wonder what he should do when he returned tomorrow.
He hadn’t told Susha Unhuor about what he had found out from minister Agur because he had been worried about how he would take it. He still felt that the young dan might have an easier time accepting that his uncle wanted the throne than that he might have wanted his body. So telling him seemed out of the question.
At the same time, he knew how difficult this whole thing was for Jusha Lale. It had been obvious from everything that he had said, especially how he felt rejected after his uncle first got closer to him to help after his father’s death and then pulled back. So if he was able to tell him that it had been because his uncle wanted to keep him safe from his own failings, he felt that Jusha Lale might have an easier time accepting it. But he really couldn’t do one without the other.
Susha Unhuor sighed and rubbed his forehead. If only there was something more that he could do. Unfortunately, there wasn’t an easy way out of this matter. Well, he would try to think of something when he saw Jusha Lale again. Maybe he would find a way to explain to him.
Soon enough, the zhireng fell asleep. On the other hand, things weren’t as calm on Jusha Lale’s side.
After having talked with Agur Suhi for a long time, he had finally returned to the house where he was supposed to wait for Susha Unhuor. He couldn’t stay calm though. Everything in the past two years suddenly seemed questionable. The time that he thought his uncle had selflessly helped him so he would not be taken advantage of by others or his throne being threatened, the conversations they had had that had originally helped him to come to terms with his father’s passing … All of that suddenly seemed like a big lie, used to cover up the sordid thoughts beneath.
Jusha Lale hadn’t even tried going to bed and was instead still sitting at the table. Right now, he really wished that Susha Unhuor was there. After all, other than him and Agur Suhi, nobody knew about this. Minister Agur was still trying to see his uncle as a good person. So he really couldn’t have that kind of conversation with him about this.
Things would be different with Susha Unhuor. Since he had been told, they could speak about it and since he hadn’t even known his uncle, he wouldn’t mind speaking his true thoughts and wouldn’t mince his words. It would’ve been so nice if that was possible. Unfortunately, the zhireng was currently fighting against the demon that his uncle had summoned. It wasn’t even clear if he would return.
Jusha Lale held his forehead and then lowered his head, not sure what to do. Just thinking of the demon reminded him of just why this had happened. It made everything even worse.
He sighed and then turned to look at the bed behind him, wondering if he would be able to sleep if he went to lie down. In the end, he didn’t even try though. For one, this news had been too much. If he went to sleep now, he might just be plagued by nightmares. He’d rather stay awake for a while longer and try to come to terms with it somehow. On the other hand, there was also the fight with the demon. If he was honest, he was a little worried.
Originally, he might not have known Susha Unhuor. He had just thought that as a zhireng, he should be willing to do this. He had hoped that he would be the one person that was able to do what the gods had originally blessed him for. But now, they had already spent a few weeks together and especially the last few days had shown him that this man was actually quite similar to him. He might actually regard him as a friend by now.
Naturally, he would not want that friend to be hurt or maybe even die. Thus, he was worried thinking about it. Just how would things go with the demon? Susha Unhuor had said to wait a week before he did anything else. So maybe he would not find out what had happened to him up until that week was over.
Jusha Lale furrowed his brows when he thought of that. In fact, it didn’t really seem to make sense. How could the fight with the demon take this long? Susha Unhuor might’ve been blessed by the gods but he was still a normal human being otherwise. Maybe he had powers that normal people couldn’t even dream of but that didn’t mean that everything else was different as well. He would tire. And there was no way that he would be able to fight for a whole week without rest. But where would that rest come from? There was nobody else to distract the demon, nobody else to fight at his side. It was completely up to him to take care of this.
Thinking of this, Jusha Lale became even more worried. Ah, if only there was something he could have done. He truly hated being this helpless. Now, he might need to watch how a person he cared about would die once again. There was nothing he could do.
Jusha Lale did not manage to find any peace that night. Even when he finally tried to get a few hours of sleep, he still just lay awake, thinking of everything that Agur Suhi had told him and what might be going on over in the palace with Susha Unhuor. Finally, he got up again before dawn, putting on his clothes and going outside. He went to knock on the door of Shunche and Chomong and the two guards rushed to get ready as well.
“I want to go back to the pavilion and wait there. If zhireng Susha Unhuor has been successful, I would like to welcome him back from there.” It likely wouldn’t make a difference but he wanted to know as soon as possible.
The two guards nodded and Shunche rushed ahead to get the horses while Chomong stayed at Jusha Lale’s side. Finally, the three of them left the city and then went to the pavilion, reaching the hill just when the sun finally went up.
At that time, Susha Unhuor was just getting up. While he had been worried about how to speak with Jusha Lale, he was still somebody who was able to sleep rather easily when night fell. As a zhireng, that had always been something that he needed to be able to do. After all, who knew when the next demon would appear? At that time, he had to be well-rested to be able to take on the challenge.
He stretched, put on his clothes, and then went out to grab his horse to finally leave the capital city. Riding down the road, he finally spotted the pavilion with the two people waiting at the foot of the hill and one person standing atop. He became slower, his heart unexpectedly jumping. Jusha Lale. He had actually come here to be on the lookout for him. He smiled slightly and then urged his horse to go faster. When he reached the foot of the hill, he nodded at the two guards before he jumped out of the saddle and went up.
He stepped a few steps away from Jusha Lale, looking at him. Seeing him after what he had seen in the palace … His heart actually settled down. Now, he actually felt that Jusha Lale looked quite normal. Compared with other humans, he was still more beautiful but it couldn’t be compared to the exaggerated manner of a demon or a demon’s illusion. Also, his looks were quite familiar by now. “I’ve vanquished the demon.”
Jusha Lale smiled faintly. “And you made it back unhurt, as it seems. You aren’t hurt, are you?” He gave him a questioning look, not quite sure how to feel. On one hand, he was angry. This person had actually kept such a secret from him. On the other hand, he could understand how Susha Unhuor must have felt when he found out. Was this really the kind of thing that he could tell somebody? They hadn’t known each other for long. It must’ve been awkward for him.
Susha Unhuor looked down and then shook his head. “A few scratches. Nothing more.” He wanted to say more but then awkwardly fell quiet. Saying that the demon was unexpectedly weak would allow him to say more about what he had found out. But on the other hand, this was the demon that had given Jusha Lale such a headache before. And suddenly, now that he saw him, he also couldn’t help but think of what Jusha Lale had given up for this. If he told him now that there might not have been a need to do so … he wasn’t sure how he would take it.
Jusha Lale noticed that he looked a little uncomfortable. He turned his head away, looking in the direction of the capital city, and then went over to lean against one of the wooden beams of the pavilion. “It is good that you managed to come out of it without big injuries. I was a bit worried.” He had wanted to say something, to ask him about why he had made the decision but he realized that there was no need to.
He could understand. So why make a show out of things? He might as well just accept it. In the end, he was the one who had to live with it. And soon, Susha Unhuor would leave again. Even if he could talk with him now, he wouldn’t be able to do so in the future. He had to learn to live with this secret by himself.
Susha Unhuor looked at him, trying to figure out what to say himself but finally, he just nodded and then motioned in the direction of the other city. “So, do you want to go back? I’m afraid the people won’t be able to return for a few more days. The priests will have to make sure the city is alright first. But maybe you want to spread the message already that at least the demon has been vanquished.”
Jusha Lale sighed and turned back to him, nodding slowly. “That would be good. It would be giving them a bit more hope. Also, there will be some preparations necessary to make sure that there is no chaos when everyone returns. I will have people prepare for that. You …” He gave him an uncertain look, not quite sure how to phrase his thoughts.
Susha Unhuor raised his brows. “What about me?”
Jusha Lale turned to look at the two guards that were waiting at the foot of the hill with the horses and then glanced at Susha Unhuor before turning back. “Well, your task is done. Will you stick around for a while? You said that you didn’t want anything but there might still be things left in the palace. After everything is settled, you could come along and take a look. Just take whatever you want. I don’t care.”
Susha Unhuor looked at him, his gaze softening a little. “Well, the time after a demon is vanquished but before the decay has been controlled, there is a heightened risk of more demons emerging. I should at least stay around until we have made sure that nothing of the like has happened, shouldn’t I?”
Jusha Lale nodded. “Yes, let’s do it that way then.” He seemed to want to say something else but then just turned around and walked down the hill.
Susha Unhuor looked after him, faintly shaking his head. This person likely wanted him to stick around for a while longer. He wasn’t quite sure why but maybe it was just that it gave him a bit of comfort. He could somewhat understand it. Even though there had always been the threat of the demon looming over their heads, he had also found some comfort in the conversations that he had had with Jusha Lale. He wouldn’t mind having a few more. Especially when the young dan was finally able to resume a normal life and did not have to worry about so many things at the side. He was quite interested in hearing his thoughts in such a state.
He followed him down and the group finally returned. Jusha Lale sent Shunche and Chomong out to inform the leaders of the other cities while he and Susha Unhuor already went to talk with Agur Suhi since he was in charge of this city.
Jusha Lale had one of the servants bring them over to the room where Agur Suhi was currently staying. When the servant knocked and opened the door for them, Agur Suhi seemed a little awkward when he spotted Jusha Lale. He got up and greeted him but then didn’t know how to continue. It didn’t get any better when he saw Susha Unhuor enter behind him.
His brows furrowed together and he had a hard time staying calm. This man … he had actually returned from the capital city already. Since it had been so easy, had there really been a need to tell the king? He would’ve liked to question him but with Jusha Lale right next to them, he could only shelve those thoughts, and try to see what exactly the king had come to tell him.
The three of them sat down. Susha Unhuor noticed Agur Suhi’s gaze but he wasn’t quite sure what exactly this was about. Right now, this wasn’t important anyway. They first had to speak about the matters at hand. Then, he could still try and figure out what exactly was going on with the minister.
Jusha Lale noticed that the other two men were acting strangely but he didn’t bother to acknowledge it. In any case, he could imagine what was currently going through their heads but they had more important matters to deal with. Whether the secret was out or not … it really wouldn’t change anything.
Turning to Agur Suhi, he gave a faint smile. “Minister Agur will be happy to hear that zhireng Susha has been able to defeat the demon. The kingdom of Alo and our people are saved.”
While Agur Suhi was still a little cross because of the matter with Jusha Lale, he was still relieved to hear the dan confirm what he had already thought. “I have to thank zhireng Susha then. Without your help, there would have been a lot of suffering in the future.”
Susha Unhuor shook his head. “Don’t mention it. That is my task as a zhireng.”
Jusha Lale nodded and then went on to discuss how to go about what had to follow. “The zhireng asked us to wait about a week’s time before we go back to the capital city so that the priests can do away with whatever corruption has spread. I think we should take this time to organize everything.”
Agur Suhi nodded. “I will see to it, dan. You should probably take this time to go and rest. It was a long journey. You’ve probably suffered more than any of us together.”
Jusha Lale lightly shook his head. “While the journey wasn’t easy, everybody had the same fears. In fact, you could say that my chances to survive even if things went wrong were a little bit better than others. There would be people that want to make sure that I survive after all. The common people do not necessarily have the same means. They should have been quite afraid.
“Also, they needed to leave their homes and relocate here. Others needed to accommodate them. It will be quite difficult to sort everything out. Also, who knows if there were some outlaws who would have taken advantage of the situation and robbed people? You have to take all of that into consideration.
“After we return to the capital city, I want you to take inventory of what is left in the palace. Compensate the people of the other cities that graciously allowed everyone to stay. Also, have a few more people work on any case of theft that is being reported in the next few weeks. I’m afraid there will be an increase. Make sure that this is dealt with accordingly. If such a crisis befalls the whole country, then we cannot let people try and take advantage of it. This is something that would have cost everyone. The profit of it … these people really lack morals.”
“Don’t worry, dan, it will certainly get done.”
Jusha Lale nodded but stayed quiet. He wasn’t really sure what else to do. Relocating the people back to the capital city wouldn’t be easy just as it hadn’t been easy to get them here in the first place. It was also a task where he couldn’t do much. After all, this would need a lot of people working together.
The things he could actually do in this situation were minuscule. In fact, with his identity, he might even slow things down because people wouldn’t be able to treat him like everyone else. Thus, it was probably best to follow Mister Agur’s suggestion and just go to rest. The same was probably true for Susha Unhuor.
Jusha Lale turned around to him and gave him a faint smile. “Zhireng Susha, what about you? You’ve been fighting with the demon yesterday. You’re probably exhausted.”
Susha Unhuor actually didn’t feel that bad. This demon hadn’t been as scary as expected. He likely wouldn’t tell anyone about that though. It would be a bit tone-deaf to do that after what everyone had suffered. “Well, then I won’t be polite.”
Jusha Lale nodded and then turned back to Agur Suhi. “In that case, if you will excuse us, Minister Agur. We will go to the place that Shunche arranged the other day for us.”
“Of course. If there is anything you need, please just have somebody come and tell me. Also, now that you are back, you should probably have more people follow you. The danger of the demon might be over but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t others around.”
Jusha Lale chuckled lightly. “So far, you’re the only one who knows that I’m back. And if I don’t leave that place much, nobody will find out either. Let’s just leave it at that for the time being. I’m afraid all the guards will be needed to help the people settle back and organize everything. Don’t spare a thought for me. After we are back in the capital city, I will listen to you though.”
Agur Suhi really would’ve liked to argue but there was no way to do so in front of Jusha Lale’s smile. “Very well. Then I will make sure that things are organized as fast as possible so you won’t have to be without protection.”
“Don’t overwork yourself, Minister Agur.” Jusha Lale got up and walked to the door, Susha Unhuor getting up after him.
Just when the zhireng wanted to follow him, he remembered that there had been something strange about Agur Suhi and looked back. It had still been alright before he did so but as soon as the minister noticed his gaze, his expression turned cold.
“Didn’t you promise that you wouldn’t say anything? Why did you have to tell him? The demon is gone but he will forever remember Reng that way.”
Susha Unhuor furrowed his brows, slightly tilting his head. “I …” He wanted to say that he hadn’t said anything but finally, he shook his head. “I’m sorry. I know I promised but things changed when we went to speak with the high priest. He needed to know. I’m really sorry.” He inclined his head and then turned on his heels, following after Jusha Lale.
He didn’t know how or why but apparently, the dan had found out. And apparently, the king had lied about how he did so. While he certainly wasn’t happy to be accused of something, he still felt that it was better to just take the blame on himself. Jusha Lale was a good king. There should not be anything marring his relationship with one of his ministers. As for the rest … Well, since they were going to the same place, he would ask him about it. If he had to take the blame, he might at least get the truth out of him.