Chapter 49

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            Rika was cradled in darkness. There was nothing to see, nothing to feel, just endless black. Even her thoughts seemed to have to struggle through the nothingness encasing her. Then, like a bolt of lightning, she was suddenly aware of her body again. She gasped, feeling her lungs burn as she frantically sucked in air. Fighting her eyes open, she saw a familiar face standing over her.

            “Ahisu?” she said, struggling into a sitting position. Her eyes slid from the mage down to Elthia, who was collapsed beside her, moving chest the only indication that the healer wasn’t dead.

            “No. I am Ishbak. You, human child, will answer my question now.”

            “Oh my god! Is she alright?” Rika asked, reaching a hand out to try and find Elthia’s pulse.

            She heard the demon hiss. “I lent her my power. Her mortal body couldn’t take the strain so she fell when the power left her. Now, you will answer my question.”

            Rika turned to Ishbak, frowning. “What question?”

            “What was the point of what you did? You had to know that you would die. I had provided ample proof of that.”

            “Oh,” she said, feeling herself flush. Which she found odd, since she didn’t felt like she had the energy for any kind of emotion. “Well, you said you were going to kill everyone and Shay said there really was no way to stop you. So, I thought since it was the end for me, I might as well say the one thing I hadn’t dared to say before, rather than regret it.”

            Ishbak frowned at her. “But you would have still been dead. Nothing would have changed that. So what does it matter if this body were to hear what you said or not.”

            While part of Rika wondered why a demon cared, the rest of her thought her answer through. It was hard to articulate everything she’d been feeling. “Because it needed to be said. I’m sure it doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things, but it was something I’d been repressing, and with death looming, I thought I’d feel better about dying if I said it. I always thought love was a sudden thing, that you’d just see someone and know. But it’s not. It sneaks up on you. I can’t even pinpoint the time when my feeling shifted. They just did, and I couldn’t die with them buried inside of me.”

             “You don’t care if it made any difference? It was of no concern to you if you were answered?”

            She nodded. “I didn’t expect an answer. And it was more something I did for me, rather than for him.”

            “I don’t understand, human child. Why would you feel such a strong urge to declare your love that you would die for it? It seems to go against reason.”

            Rika laughed. “That might be a good description of love. Going against reason. Love is…more than just you. It’s greater than you. It’s very nature means that someone else has to be involved. And there are different kinds too. I love my friends and I love my brother, but they’re not the same type of feeling. It’s…wanting to see someone when they’re not around, or thinking about them all the time, or seeing them smile making you smile. If they smile, that is,” she said, snorting slightly. “It’s wanting to be with them and be a better person with them and trying to help them improve their life. You want to help them find happiness. It’s an emotion that makes you think of someone else before yourself.”

            “I still don’t understand. Either the emotion, or how it influenced your actions.”

            “Well, you’d have to understand humans to get it I think. Or another race or species or whatever that experiences love. Do demons love?”

            “No. We do not.”

            “Then I guess you really won’t get it. Humanity and love are tied up together. Some of the greatest and some of the worst things have been done for love. Different forms of it, but love nonetheless.”

            The demon hissed. “You are saying that to understand one, you must understand the other? Humanity and love are bound together in such a close fashion?”

            Rika nodded. “That’s how I see it.”

            Ishbak stared into her eyes, the depths of Ahisu’s black pupil seeming to glow in a way that she had never seen before. “Then it is clear that my understanding of humanity is lacking. If I wish to restore the balance, I must first be certain that complete annihilation of the human disease is indeed what is best. I will study humans until such a time as both love and your actions make sense to me. Until then, you have a reprieve. I will see you again, human child.”

            Rika’s lips formed the word what, but before she could make a sound, the demon was gone. At least, she presumed he was gone by the way Ahisu’s body crumpled to the ground. Rika crawled over, feeling his pulse. It was there, a little weak, but strengthening as she felt it.

            Sitting back on her haunches, she stared around her. Elthia and Ahisu were collapsed to either side of her. Damek was on the ground further away, likewise unconscious. Shay was staring at her, like the demon had never seen her before. Most of the soldiers were doing the same. There was not even the sound of a bird calling to break the silence.

            Rika took another look around before she cleared her throat and asked “What just happened?”

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