We had hoped, but it came back to haunt us.
The three of us soldiers are on the way back from a mission. The objective was simple: we slayed the beast that has been terrorizing villages for months.
Our employer did not tell us the beast we killed belonged to a demon, either over incompetency or wilful neglect.
I don't know about the other two guys, Mawusi and Wekesa. I chose this life not because I'm good at it; I can get good any most thing if I put my mind to it. I pick it because it is simple. When there is a need for moderate violence, I provide the service. Either I finish the work or I do not (in which case I will be dead). I get a very clear sense of what is a good day of work. I wish I can say the same about my old world.
As soon as the beast was slain, the demon appeared demanding compensation.
I heard of its kind before. This demon kills with passivity. First it creates a bubble of silence around you, effectively taking away your hearing. Next, while you may still see, it takes away your ability to communicate altogether. It does not matter what you do, no one will understand what you say, and you would not understand anybody else. If you somehow survive this phase, the demon will escalate to the point where you cannot hear even your own thoughts. I'm told a person looks permanently paralyzed here.
Rather than taking revenge on us for killing his pet beast, it demands more from us. It wants to hear something interesting from us that is completely novel to it, something true that he has never heard of in his 500 years of life.
I knew this realm can be weird but not this weird. I have the ability to go back to my original realm if I want to, to the exact point in the time when I left. But I still feel the baggage of my time there, particularly the secrets I kept from my wife. All these secrets neatly taken down in the notebook I carry with me.
While I'm hesitating over this, Wekesa offers to go first. He looks confident that whatever he tells is going to be something the demon has never heard of. Conspicuous confidence tends not to go with cleverness.
Wekesa: "I once caught a fish shaped like a brick and changes color."
The demon is waiting for more. "That's it?" the demon asks.
"It tasted like beef. It's great." says Wekesa.
The demon looks at Wekesa with disbelief. It lets us go and vanishes.
The three of us spend the next day walking home. At some point Wekesa stops talking. He falls increasingly behind. We tell him to catch up but get no response. I think this is the sign.
Mawusi tries to shake Wekesa out of it, all he gets is blank stare. I sense a small hint in Wekesa's eyes that he is trying to talk back but could not formulate any words, not even body language.
The demon appears just in time. It says nothing but it does not need to. Wekesa's story was not interesting in the least, he is now being punished for it. Wekesa is lost in his own mind and could not escape.
Demon: "I've been alive for a long time. There's no kind of food I've not seen before. Even so, why would I find it interesting? What does it say about anything other than simple pleasure?"
"How about simplicity itself?" says Mawusi. I know what Mawusi is getting at, but it's not the right time to sell a change of mindset.
Demon: "If I'm after simplicity I wouldn't be out looking for something new, my friend."
Wekesa looks completely paralyzed by now. Now it's our turn to come up with something new to entertain the demon. What can the two of us possibly come up that the demon has never heard before?
Can we have it consider idea that has not cross its mind? Mawusi wants to try something we discussed in the past. I'm not entirely convinced but at this point why the hell not.
"Are you born the way you are? All your qualities, good and bad, are they nature or something you chose?" Mawusi asks the demon.
"Why yes, most of it are my nature," the demon is suspicious.
"So it's not your fault for being cruel when you torture people, would you say?"
"That's what I do, I cannot help but do it. If it makes you feel better by seeing that it's not my fault, good for you," says the demon.
"I thought so. Have you come across people who... enjoy children?" continues Mawusi.
The demon considers what Mawusi meant for a second: "I take it you mean predators who like children, sexually. Yes I tend to give them special treatment in punishment."
"Well consider this. Some of them don't hurt children directly, but they do get off on looking at naked pictures of children. It's the only way they get sexually gratified," says Mawusi.
"What are you getting at?"
"If I should accept that you're exercising your nature as a demon is part of the way of the world, then we have to accept that these people acting out their sexual compulsion is part of nature too and should not be subjected to punishment."
The demon seems to be giving this a real consideration. I am genuinely surprised.
Demon: "It's an interesting thought my friends, but too mild. What do you call this, ethics? If only I care about it enough for this to mean something to me."
It continues: "I'll spare you just for trying, for now. But I want something more. Give me something out of this world, thrill me!"
Mawusi is out of ideas; he is pinning his hope on me. If Mawusi's attempt did not work, I doubt I have anything the demon would want.
In the midst of considering this, it turns out that Mawusi has been speaking to me the whole time and I did not hear him. I've lost my hearing, the demon has started his spell on me. If I don't give him something I'm going to stop understanding anyone at all, and it'll be too late for me to offer anything.
There is my notebook. This notebook contains everything I've gone through and learned in this realm and before, my private thoughts that are too embarrassing even for me to read. It is bound to contain something new to the demon. But no, if I let him have this it may pick up new magic and be a greater danger to everyone. Do I take this risk?
I give my notebook to the demon. It starts by flipping through the pages to get a sense of what it is. It then slows down, paying attention to each page. Eventually it stops, looks at me, then go back to reading again.
It focuses on one particular page for far too long. I see it contains the words 'derivates' and 'consolidation'. Those words do not belong in this realm.
This is what I was afraid of. The demon has figured out that I did not come from this realm. It has now discovered the possibility of traveling to other realms. Sometimes next frontiers open up just from knowing that it's possible.
I must now leave this realm and never come back, or my knowledge may expose every realm to danger.
I snatch the notebook back, make a dash away from the demon, cast a spell and vanish away from this realm. The demon will probably kill Mawusi for this. I'm sorry.
I'm now back to the realm where I originated from, to the exact point where I left. I'm seated in my car next to a lake. No time has past as far as anyone here can tell.
In this world screens dominates, things run on money, domestic relationships are doomed to end. I almost drove this car into the lake.
I now remember I was here after having a big fight with Gwen, my wife. Gwen must still be at home, so I'm heading back there. We were fighting over the washing of dishes or something frivolous, but it's really about the secrets I keep. Even I am sick of the secrets I keep now. I no longer know who I am protecting with my secrets.
I'm back home without any reception. Gwen is doing laundry. For the first time in a long while I pay close attention to her face. There is a wrinkle I did not notice before. I don't mind it being there, but I think I have something to do with it.
It could be a risk worth taking. I say to her "Honey, I want to show you something I can do."
This story started out as an examination into the threat of cold shoulders. Such instances ranges from being purged societally, being cancelled professionally to silent treatment domestically.
That somehow led me to the concept of a novelty-seeking monster and the idea of what is fresh and new.
But eventually and most importantly the story forced me to look at my general attitude towards being opened. My personality make up is such that I'm a reflexively a closed person; sharing what's on my mind is something I do by default especially in a domestic setting. There are prices to pay for this, and this story is a demonstration of that.