In case something frightening was to appear before my eyes, I buried my head into Dmitri’s neck and clung to it, concentrating more on the swaying of his body than on the darkness. I could feel his steady footsteps as he walked.
As my mind settled, various thoughts finally pierced through my fear.
‘It’s slower than I thought.’
I expected that since he could step on his demon and leap very high, we would reach the destination quickly as if we were flying. However, he climbed the mountain with a leisurely gait. Except for occasional leaps over rocks or vaulting steep cliffs in one bound, he was moving at his usual walking speed.
‘…Is it because I’m heavy?’
As I pondered my weight, a sense of guilt finally welled up within me.
‘I thought it wouldn’t be too hard for Dimitri to carry me since he asked me so casually…’
Well, climbing a mountain normally was already hard enough, so carrying an adult on your back up a mountain must be an incredibly strenuous endeavor, even if you were a strong cat shapeshifter.
Feeling embarrassed about clinging so tightly, I spoke in a sheepish voice.
“Could, could you let me down here? I’ll walk on my own.”
“Are you scared because I leaped too high at once? Should we go a bit more slowly?”
In that question, I realized that Dimitri hadn’t slowed down because he was tired, but rather to consider my comfort. He hadn’t even broken a sweat.
I felt like I was being treated like a weak person, so I tried to raise my self-esteem.
“No! It’s just the creepy things that scare me, I’m not scared of everything.”
Even though it was true, it wasn’t really a helpful thing to say in this situation since I had just made myself look like someone with a fragile ego. When I heard Dimitri let out a puckish chuckle, I got irritated and released my arms from around his neck.
“Fine, laugh all you want. If it weren’t so dark, I wouldn’t have acted so flimsy!”
Dimitri, who was obediently dropping me down, suddenly stopped and looked behind me.
Feeling a shiver running down my spine, I remained frozen in place like a stone. At the same time, he whispered in a slightly surprised voice.
“There’s something over there…”
Simultaneously, the sound of leaves rustling and something approaching rapidly reached us.
When I screamed and clung tightly to Dimitri’s neck again, he glanced behind me and exclaimed.
“Oh. You scared Rowaine, Shedim. It should have approached even more menacingly.”
It was only then that I realized Dimitri had summoned his demon to play a prank on me, and I angrily slapped him on the back.
“You mean person! That was really bad!”
“So don’t strain yourself like that and just stay put. I’ll take you there comfortably. It’ll be easier and faster for me, too.”
My legs had just given out, so I couldn’t even stand up properly anyway.
I burst into tears, soaking Dmitri’s clothes.
Around that time, Sasha, who had excitedly raced ahead, appeared. She casually leaped onto my shoulders and settled down.
“Huu! I don’t know the way. I want to ride Rowaine comfortably, too!”
After finishing her words, she casually sat on top of me while I was crying, purring contentedly and grooming her fur.
…These mischievous cats definitely had no sympathy for my fear in the slightest.
After a series of twists and turns, we eventually arrived at a cave hidden beneath a cliff. Although the entrance was narrow, once inside, a fairly large spacious area was revealed.
We moved a little further inside. Of course, I still had my eyes tightly closed and clung to Dmitri.
“Here you go, Rowaine. Open your eyes. It won’t be scary.”
As he gently set me down on the flat ground and whispered, I gingerly opened my eyes shakily before letting out an exclamation.
Contrary to my expectation of being trapped in pitch-black darkness, the cave was surprisingly bright as moonlight streamed in through a large hole in the cave ceiling.
Certainly, I hadn’t realized that the moon was so bright outside, but it felt exceptionally luminous here. The verdant light created a mystical atmosphere, illuminating the inside of the cave, and minerals embedded in the rocky walls reflected the light, shimmering like tiny stars.
It felt like standing in the midst of a galaxy.
“It’s so beautiful.”
It felt like I was in a dream. I didn’t know if it was because I’d been crying a lot and my mind was tired, but everything seemed more surreal and dreamlike.
While I glanced around, Dimitri was busy moving… no, he was fighting with the demons.
“Instead of whining, if you want to draw, then draw.”
In front of him stood Samael, whom he had summoned, with its six wings fluttering. Once I realized I could see the demon, I could see not only Shedim but also Samael vividly.
As befitted a demon, also called the ‘Angel of Death,’ he had wings that resembled angelic wings, and those beautiful wings were densely covered with glossy black feathers.
He wore a full suit of black armor, with a giant bow and black arrows strapped to his back and two sheaths hung from his waist. Furthermore, on the leather belt fastened to his chest, various daggers were attached in a neat row, like piano keys.
Samael crossed his arms and glared at Dimitri as if he was dissatisfied.
Despite the fact that his scattered black hair mostly obscured his face, the glimpses of his eyes through the strands looked eerie. Unlike humans, his eyeballs were black and his pupils were white.
‘I’m afraid of ghosts, but I’m not scared of devils.’
Was it because one was a fear that I hadn’t yet faced in my imagination, while the other was a presence that I could clearly see with my own eyes? Perhaps it was because I knew that Samael obeyed Dimitri’s orders.
In any case, driven by curiosity, I watched in silence as Dimitri got annoyed with Samael.
“Draw it properly so that a strong one might come out.”
He kept instructing Samael to draw something.
Samael kept pursing his lips, muttering in a voice I couldn’t hear before he reluctantly fluttered his wings floating in midair and started drawing something with his long black nails on the flat ground.
“What is that?”
When I asked him, Dimitri turned to me with a puzzled face.
“What do you mean?”
“That demon is drawing with his nails.”
He tilted his head.
“Do you see it right now?”
“Oh, I haven’t told you yet. I’ve been able to see demons for a while now.”
Dimitri asked again as if he couldn’t believe my words.
“You’re saying you can see demons?”
“Yes. I was surprised, too.”
“That can’t be. I’ve never heard of a human seeing demons before.”
“But I can see them.”
“At first, I could only see them as black mist, but gradually, it became more and more visible.”
Hearing his surprised voice, I was actually more astonished.
“Wasn’t it normal for people not to see even that?”
Dmitri narrowed his eyes.
“Could it be that you have the blood of cat shapeshifters or shapeshifters among your ancestors…?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Well, Rowaine doesn’t show any characteristics of shapeshifters at all. Hm, this is strange.”
He continued to cock his head in puzzlement. In the meanwhile, Samael, using his nails to carve the rock like it was tofu, created a massive magic circle.
“Can you see that summoning circle?”
“Is that a summoning circle?”
“It looks like you can see it. That’s a summoning circle for calling demons, but usually, it’s not visible to human eyes.”
“Though why does Dmitri’s demon seem to dislike it?”
“It hurts his pride to open the door with his own hands, which might allow a lower-ranked person than himself to come out.”
“Can only demons draw that?”
“It hurts my pride for me to do the errand when I could have the devil do it.”
‘…So, cats are the devil.’
Seeing me gasping, Dimitri asked.
“Can you hear his voice as well?”
“No, not to that extent.”
“When the summoning circle is complete, the magic becomes stronger, and sometimes even humans can see parts of the demon. Rowaine might even start hearing the voice. Don’t be surprised. It won’t be a pleasant sound to hear.”
He kept asking about Samael’s appearance, seemingly fascinated by the fact that I could see demons. For a while, I had been answering his questions, but I became increasingly uneasy and at a loss for words as his demon continued to draw the summoning circle intricately.
Sasha, who had been crouching near Samael, watching over the summoning circle, rushed over to me.
I embraced her.
Feeling uncomfortable, Sasha tried to slip out of my arms like a liquid, but I managed to hold her in place using all the flexibility I had.
“I’m not scared, Rowaine!”
“I’m sorry, but I’m scared…”
I couldn’t finish my sentence and just closed my mouth. There was no need to pass on my anxiety to Sasha. Instead, I held her tightly and replaced my inner thoughts with words of encouragement.
“You’ll do fine because you’re strong. Remember all the things Dmitri told you, okay?”
“Of course! I won’t be fooled by the demon’s words, and I won’t be swayed. I’ll clearly engrave in my heart the reason why I wanted to make a contract with the demon.”
I couldn’t help but wonder and worry if such things would really be helpful in a fight against the demon since the content seemed too abstract to me. However, Dimitri placed his hand on Sasha’s head as if he were proud of her words.
“You remember well. Let me tell you one last thing. Don’t die. Don’t fall for the demon’s illusion and commit suicide, and don’t let yourself be killed. Just make sure of one thing. Your desires must remain unshakable.”
At that moment, Samael, who had completed the summoning circle, fluttered his massive wings and flew up into the air.
Then, along the drawn lines, black smoke began to emanate, accompanied by a faint light.