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Chapter 1: Red Eyes

Description: The traveling merchant Leuven stops his covered wagon by the roadside to take a rest when he hears strange noises coming from the woods. Perhaps it would have been better to stay at home rather than venture out into the dark and brutal world. However, a stranger rushes to his aid. This stranger, however, does not seem to be like a normal human.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5


Part 2

A vigorous jolt woke Leuven the following morning.

The sun shone in his face through a small slit in the tarpaulin and blinded him.

The wagon rocked from side to side, back and forth.

The young merchant eagerly poked his head out of the wagon.

A branch struck him hard on the cheek, leaving a reddened mark.

“Damn,” he groaned loudly.

Leuven looked around.

His wagon was no longer by the roadside.

It came to an abrupt stop.

He was startled to realize that someone or something had pulled him into the forest.

“No, no, no,” Leuven grumbled, quickly put on his boots, which reeked of sweat and dirt, and climbed out of the wagon.

He moved his head around excitedly. “What is going on?”

Evan’s voice echoed in front of the wagon. “Your mare has not returned.”

When he emerged, he wiped the sweat from his forehead with the back of his hand. “The wagon is heavier than I expected.”

“It was you?” Leuven snorted. “You pulled my wagon into the forest?”

Evan looked at him in surprise. “Yes, of course. I told you that your mare hasn’t come back. Aren’t you listening to me?”

“But, but, that’s impossible!”

“Half-demon. Already forgotten? – You really aren’t listening to me.”

Evan walked past the merchant. “Are you coming with me, or have you changed your mind?”

“Do you want to start by telling me why you pulled my wagon into the forest?”

“Your belongings were so important to you. Now they are safe.”

“But why? – How am I supposed to get it out?”

“For the time we’re on the road, your wagon should be well hidden.”

“You don’t really want to go to Harren Castle, do you? – But I probably won’t have any other choice. But listen to my words. They will never, ever let us into the castle!” Leuven protested.

“Starving to death or being eaten by wild beasts is not an alternative either. Well, then the only choice is to go to the castle.” Evan mocked the young man.

A loud stomach growl drowned out the forest idyll, with its bird songs and the leaves crackling in the wind.

Leuven’s face turned red.

He felt caught. But truly, he had eaten nothing but dry bread for days, and the rest of it had burst into the flames the night before.

“I hope you know what you are doing,” he groaned.

“You never know, but I’d like to find out,” Evan replied, pushing a branch aside and leaving the forest in the direction of the road.

“Ah, wonderful. Now I’m following a half-demon. Father was right. I’m just not cut out for a life like this.” Reluctantly, Leuven followed Evan through the branches.

The narrow, sandy road stretched desolately in front of them, riddled with numerous potholes.

“We should reach the castle around noon,” Evan said.

“Great, now I have to walk for hours in the middle of nowhere, with a half-demon and an empty stomach,” Leuven replied tiredly. “All my limbs hurt.”

Evan turned to him. “You haven’t been traveling long, have you?”

Leuven raised his hands defensively and grimaced. “Well, no, not really. I left my hometown about a month ago.”

“A month ago? – I didn’t think it had been this long. You’ve survived so far, that’s a surprise.”

“What? – There is more to me than you might think!”

Evan turned back to him. “Well, then the path shouldn’t be an obstacle for you.”

Leuven swallowed. “I hope so.”

For the young merchant, the journey felt like an eternity.

Groaning and panting, he trudged up the last hill.

Actually, he had been doing it the entire way, but Evan was able to successfully tune him out most of the time.

It was only at the end of the journey that the merchant’s whining became a burden to him.

“Could you perhaps die a little more quietly?” Evan asked.

“Oh, please excuse me for disturbing your silence. It’s not like we’ve been wandering around for an eternity.”

“Sorry. I didn’t think it could be any more challenging for you.”

“But is it.” Leuven gasped. “Not all of us are half-demons with supernatural abilities. But while we’re on the subject, how do you actually become a half-demon?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, I’ve heard a lot of horror stories about demons, but never about a half-demon. Can that really be true?”

“I’m the living proof.”

“Yes, but as I said before. You look so human. Were you born as a half-demon? How does that work?”

Evan stopped and turned to Leuven with a serious look. “Of course not. I was a human. Just like you. Maybe not exactly like you.”

A shiver ran down the young merchant’s spine. “And um, what happened?”

The half-demon sighed. “If you really want to know. My heart was ripped out.”

„What!?“

“Don’t look like that. It’s just the way it is. The heart of a demon beats in my chest now. I’m anything but thrilled about it myself.”

“So it wasn’t your choice?”

“Of course not!” Evan replied. “Nobody wants something like that. If anyone does, then he’s an idiot. And that’s enough with the questions, we’ll be there soon.”

Evan walked on.

After a while, the half-demon spotted a tower between the treetops.

“There it is,” Evan said.

He didn’t seem to be off the trail in any way. Unlike Leuven, who was breathing heavily with his hands on his knees.

“Finally,” he gasped. “It’s about time. I thought I was going to die.”

“You managed. Be proud of yourself.”

“Oh, yes. That was a piece of cake, wasn’t it? – A stone’s throw, I’m already looking forward to the walk back after the guards have sent us away. Aren’t you?”

The half-demon didn’t replied, but a slight grin flashed across his face, like a quick lightning bolt through the night sky.

The small castle with the tower was surrounded by a massive stone wall to keep enemies out.

Two men in simple iron armor guarded the entrance gate, which was made of thick, rusty iron bars.

Leuven’s uncertainty was clear to see, while Evan approached the two guards calmly.

The evil looks didn’t bode well.

While Leuven was mentally preparing to head back, Evan didn’t let any tension arise.

“Stop! No entry!” said one of the guards in a strong voice. An old but sturdy man, with a graying mustache and a bald head.

Evan studied him. His fingernails were broken, and his face was covered in soot. The eyelids drooped like two wet bags.

“We would like to speak to Lord Dancker,” the half-demon said firmly.

The two guards looked at each other amused. “Hah, he want to speak to the lord!”

Evan crossed his arms over his chest and nodded.

The old guard took a step closer and peered under his hood. “What’s wrong with you?”

“What should be?” Evan remained calm.

“Are you sick or something? – Are you bringing the plague into our castle?”

“Neither nor. I heard rumors.”

Evan didn’t even try to hide his demonic eyes. On the contrary, he hoped he could gain respect from the guards.

“Pahahaha!” the guard staggered back, laughing. “He heard rumors!”

Evan nodded.

“What rumors?” asked the second guard, amused. A tall, thin, and young man, with greasy blonde curls.

“They say there’s something lurking in your castle,” Evan replied calmly.

Leuven sweated in fear. “Evan, maybe we should…” he said nervously, his voice low.

“Fuck off!” spat the old guard. “Go to hell and don’t you dare go near the castle ever again!”

His head turned red. The veins in his neck throbbed menacingly.

But Evan wasn’t impressed, even though he was certainly aware of the tense atmosphere. “We are here to help.”

“You’re shit!” the guard quickly pulled his sword out of its scabbard and held the blade threateningly in front of Evan’s eyes. “I won’t say it again, fuck off, asshole!”

A high and gentle voice suddenly sounded behind him. “Stop it!”

The guard turned towards the gate, startled. Behind the bars, he spied a young woman wearing a dark green velvet coat.

“These are the exterminators the lord ordered,” said the young woman.

“Exterminators?” the old man asked irritably and looked at his colleague, who shrugged his shoulders and shook his greasy curls.

“Yes, the exterminators,” the woman repeated. “The lord ordered them three days ago.”

“Exterminators,” the guard stammered, then looked back at Evan. “You don’t look like an exterminator.”

He tilted his head to the side. “What does an exterminator look like?”

The guard looked past him and surveyed Leuven. “At least not like this!”

The half-demon moved into his view. “How many exterminators have you met?”

The old man clicked his tongue, lowered his sword, and looked at the young woman behind the gate. “Are you sure?”

“I am,” she replied, stretching demonstratively.

“I warn you. If you bring us harm, your heads will roll before dusk,” the guard growled, taking a step to the side.

Leuven’s heart sank. What have I gotten myself into? he thought to himself. His knees were shaking, and his head was hurting.

This was clearly too much for him. First the Karraks, and now they were in trouble with the guards of a nobleman, albeit of a lower title.

Evan nodded and looked meaningfully at Leuven.

“Open the gate!” the old guard called.

The gate opened with a loud, metallic sound.

The half-demon entered the castle courtyard, closely followed by the young merchant.

In front of the castle, there were buildings typical of a small castle.

A barrack for the guards, a barn, a horse stable, a chicken hedge, and a small shelter under which the blacksmith did his work.

The castle itself was very old. Leuven knew the stories about Harren Castle.

It was a fief granted by the King of Brunen. It had been in the Dancker family’s possession for generations, but only as long as they were loyal to the ruler.

The king had the right to hand the castle over to another vassal of the Kingdom of Brunen at any time.

There was the brick main house and the tower that they had already spotted from the distance.

Evan looked at the young woman. “Thank you. But I hope you know that we are not who you think we are.”

“Evan,” Leuven stammered, horrified. “What are you doing?”

Can’t he even keep his mouth shut? He continued in his mind; it seemed like he was desperate to get into trouble.

The young woman laughed and tossed her black curls to the side with a swing of her head. “Oh yes, I was waiting for you.”

“You were waiting for us? – Rather unlikely. How would you know about us?”

“Evan… Please stop.” Leuven was exploding inside, but on the outside he looked more like a heap of misery.

“Well,” she said, looking at the half-demon with her deep blue eyes. “I’ve seen it.”

“You have seen it?”

“Yes. I’ve seen it. I dreamed about you a few days ago. But I have to admit that I didn’t see your companion in my dreams,” she replied, amused.

Evan stopped. “You are a seer.”

She smiled and nodded. „Marie de Boer. I’m pleased to finally meet you. I didn’t know if it would actually happen, but I’m even more pleased.”

“Evan.” He replied dryly.

“And your friend?” Marie asked, looking at the uncertain-looking young man who was standing behind the half-demon.

“I… am Leuven.”

“Hmm, I really didn’t see you in my vision. But what I see is always changing. Time doesn’t stand still; it’s constantly changing,” she said.

Evan looked at her seriously. “What does a seer do in a castle?”

She smiled again. „The lord asked for my help. I assume you’re here because you’ve heard rumors of a ghost. They are true. The lord sent for me to help him with this plague.”

“And then? – Would you have convinced him to move on, become friends with him, sing songs together? Evan asked suspiciously.

Leuven placed himself between them. He felt the urge to say something. “Don’t be so rude!” he shouted. “She helped us; then at least you can listen to her.”

Marie raised her hand. “That’s fine. I’m used to people not taking me and my talent seriously. But I’m sure I can convince you of my abilities. Just like I did with the lord.”

»Mhh. I’m sure you saw that in your dreams,” Evan said.

“Call it intuition.”

She stretched out her arm with a grin. »Come, I will introduce you to Lord Dancker. But be careful, the steps are slippery.”

They entered the small castle via a narrow stone staircase and a wooden door.

Indeed, the stone steps had become slippery from the morning thaw.

Leuven almost slipped. He saw his face already lying in the horse manure as he clung to the castle wall in terror.

A narrow hallway stretched out in front of them.

The furnishings were rather sparse. There was neither a carpet on the floor.

Oil paintings of landscapes hung on the walls. Nothing special in Evan’s eyes.

Even Leuven didn’t seem impressed by the furnishings.

The gray stone walls were cold and exuded an oppressive atmosphere.

The corridor led to the dining room.

A massive wooden table with space for up to ten people stretched out in front of them.

Leuven could imagine that banquets had often been celebrated here.

Opposite of them was the fireplace and above it hung a picture of a young knight, with golden hair, in shining armor. He sat proudly and reverently on a white horse.

“Wait here,” said Marie and disappeared through a door next to the fireplace that apparently led into the tower.

Evan nodded and inspected the large room. Bare walls, a few paintings, nothing that reflected the grace of a lord, except for the painting of the young knight.

His eyes finally fell on something else, something small and black.

On the mantelpiece he discovered a small box, perhaps six inches long.

It was decorated with a half-relief depicting various stylized animals and other creatures that were difficult to recognize. The half-demon recognized a deer and a wolf, the other were unfamiliar even to him.

“You are pretty rude,” Leuven snorted.

Evan looked at him puzzled and stepped away from the fireplace. “I don’t trust any seer who claims to have seen me in her dreams.”

“But without her we would never have passed the gate!”

»There is always more than one way. We could have done it without her.”

»We wouldn’t have, and you know that too! – You act so smart, but you still owe the proof. Just like with my mare,” Leuven’s voice became ridiculously high, “Oh, she’ll come back, wait until tomorrow, then she’ll be back, oho! – Well, where is she?”

“Shut up,” Evan snorted.

»No, you don’t shut me up. Please rein yourself in as soon as the lord enters.”

Evan sighed and rolled his eyes.  “Yes, I will behave respectfully towards the lord.”

“And Marie?”

“What should happen to her?”

Leuven looked at him intently with wide eyes.

“Well, I’ll be respectful towards her too,” the half-demon promised reluctantly.

Empty phrases or the truth? – Leuven couldn’t estimate it, but he hoped they wouldn’t get into any trouble.

The large door next to the fireplace opened.

Marie entered the dining room. Behind her appeared a stocky man with disheveled, medium-length gray hair and a partially braided beard. He wore a robe typical of the lower nobility. A dark green shirt with gold-colored decorations and black, wide trousers.

The brown boots were freshly polished.

The man looked tired. Like he hadn’t been able to sleep for days.

Leuven looked at him and then looked at the painting above the fireplace. He was sure. The painting showed the lord, albeit in his younger days.

Evan looked confidently at Leuven.

“I’m warning you,” the merchant hissed quietly.

“Hrach!” the lord uttered, as if there was a fat lump of mucus in his throat. “So you’re the one the seer was talking about.”

“It seems so,” Evan replied coldly, receiving a light nudge from Leuven’s elbow.

“It seems so, my lord,” the half-demon corrected, glaring at the merchant.

“Very well, has Madame de Boer explained what happened?” asked the lord, plopping down on a wooden chair that was standing at the dining table. The legs of the chair cracked under the strain.

“Not yet, my lord,” Marie said, interlacing her fingers in front of her hips. “I didn’t want to get ahead of you.”

“Well then, what do you want to know?” His tired gaze went to Evan.

“Everything. Start from the beginning, tell us the middle and then the end,” Evan replied stubbornly.

“Jeez, you promised,” Leuven whispered angrily. The half-demon’s uncouth manner visibly got on his nerves. In front of a peasant he could behave as he wanted, but in front of a lord, regardless of rank, society, and etiquette demand respect.

“My lord, forgive me. My colleague is a bit rude. My theory is that he fell on his head as a child,” he said finally, hoping the lord would excuse Evan’s behavior.

The lord grimaced and looked first at the half-demon and then at the merchant, in his noble but completely dirty clothes.

He glanced briefly at the seer. “And you are sure this is the one you saw in your vision?”

She nodded. “Yes my Lord. I´m sure.”

“I had imagined it differently, what’s wrong with your eyes, are you sick, are you bringing the plague to the court?” he finally asked Evan in a barking voice.

“My eyes? What should happen to them, my lord?” he replied, feigning ignorance.

“Well, your eyes look strange, like you’ve caught something.”

Evan shook his head. “No, my lord.”

“But then what is it? – That’s not normal. Madame de Boer, that’s not normal, is it?”

The seer wanted to say something, her lips moved excitedly, but no sound came out of her mouth.

“Oh, you mean the color of my eyes,” Evan said finally.

“Yes, but of course I mean the color of your eyes!”

“I’m from the South.” The half-demon’s voice betrayed no emotion.

Lord Dancker looked at him suspiciously. “Are red eyes common in the South?”

“Not usually, they are rare there too. But whether brown, blue, green, or red, they are just colors. If I remember correctly, I once knew a prostitute who had gray-yellow eyes. I hadn’t seen that before either.”

“It’s okay, it’s okay,” the lord panted, “It shouldn’t interest me any further.”

“Oh, did you know,” now Leuven was also wide awake, “the color blue doesn’t actually exist. The Druids of the Shepherd’s Tree are said to have started this rumor to see whether people would buy this hoax. In reality, the color blue is just a shade of green. Interesting, isn’t it?”

Punitive looks hit him from all sides.

Embarrassed, he took a step back.

“And the chatterbox? You didn’t tell me about him,” said the lord and looked at Marie with piercing eyes.

“My lord, this is Leuven. He is the companion of Mr. Dhorne. Unfortunately, I didn’t see him in my vision.”

“You haven’t seen him? – Well, he doesn’t look dangerous.”

“My lord,” said Evan, “we have come to solve your problem. The sooner we start, the sooner I can free you from this. Tell me what you know and we will be on our way again soon.”

“I’ll tell you what happened. It started a few weeks ago. At night. A horrifying scream echoed throughout the castle. Everyone woke up from it. As it turned out, this came from my maid Yvette. She was really upset and thought she had seen a ghost.”

“That’s all?” asked Evan, irritated.

“Of course not,” said lord Dancker, yawning. “We found her in the basement, in the pantry. She said she wanted to check the supplies for the winter so she could place the orders for the next few weeks. Suddenly a girl stood behind her.”

“A girl?”

“Yes, a girl! – But not just another brat, Yvette claimed that the girl had no eyes. It only had two bleeding cavities, at least that’s what my maid thought. But we didn’t believe her, at least at that point.”

“A fantasy, it seems to me,” Evan remarked.

“Yes, that’s exactly what we thought! – But since then it has happened more often. Not just Yvette. Several of my servants claim to have seen something eerie. Sometimes in the pantry, sometimes in the horse stable, even the horses neigh hideously at night. Besides, these dreams plague us.”

“Keep talking.”

“Horrible dreams. Each of us has dreamed of this girl without eyes.”

Evan looked at Marie. “Did you see her too?”

The seer nodded sadly.

“Listen,” said the lord. “These dreams, they feel so real. One night I woke up and the girl suddenly sat on me, cut off my breath, and pushed my arms into the bed. But then, as if nothing had happened, I woke up again and was lying in bed next to my wife, who was sleeping peacefully. I didn’t even know if it was a dream or real.”

“Sometimes powerful dreams can manifest in our minds,” Evan said. “Nothing indicates a ghost yet.”

Lord Dancker looked at Marie, who answered him with a sad nod.

“Then look at this,” he said to Evan and showed him the burn marks on his wrists. Red prints like those of little fingers.

The half-demon clicked his tongue. “Of course that changes everything.”

Marie placed her hands on the wooden table. “It’s not my imagination. Everyone here in the castle has seen the girl before. They dream of her, they feel her. I can feel her presence too.”

“Does everyone have the same dream?” Evan asked. He slowly took the matter seriously.

“Not that I know,” Marie replied. “It is usually associated with something personal. For example, I dreamed of my mother standing by the fireplace making soup. Suddenly she was gone, and the girl jumped out from under the table. With their empty eyes and sharp teeth.”

“Before she gave me these scars, I was also dreaming of something else,” the lord interjected. “I rode into battle on my white horse. To my left and right the men were fighting each other, it was pretty confusing. She stood there in the middle of the banter. Nobody seemed to notice her. Only I could see her. Then she jumped at me. I woke up and she pushed me deep into the bed. Yes, that’s how it was.”

“Hmmm. So it can jump into dreams, but it can also manifest itself in the real world,” Evan said thoughtfully.

“So it wasn’t a dream?” asked the lord. It seemed like he felt vindicated, even if that was little consolation.

“Do you have any idea what kind of ghost that could be?” Marie raised an eyebrow.

“Hmm, a succubus has such abilities. As a rule, she only looks for men who she can drive crazy, but in this case, men and women alike are not spared. Maybe a succubus and incubus pair, but that’s unlikely.”

“A succu-what?” spat the lord, his eyes wide open.

“Succubus. These are demons who usually appear in the form of a pretty woman and seduce men in their sleep. They penetrate deep into the mind,” Evan explained calmly.

“But why?”

“Well,” Evan paused for a moment. “They do this to procreate.”

“How can they reproduce like that?” Dancker asked, frowning.

“Oh well…”

Marie spoke up and looked embarrassed as she spoke. “They steal the seed from men.”

“What are they doing?” Horrified, the lord jumped up from his chair, which crashed onto the bare floor.

“They steal men’s seed,” she repeated. “They can use this to keep their species alive.”

Marie cleared her throat and looked over at Evan. Her look was malicious, as if he had forced her to speak.

“But the ghost was a little girl, for each of us!” Dancker protested, gesturing wildly with his arms.

“That’s why I doubt it’s a succubus,” Evan said. “Whatever it is, firstly, it’s tied to this place, and secondly, something must have caused it to appear.”

“Do you think there was an incident that summoned the ghost?” asked Marie, spellbound.

“An incident, a ritual, that’s what we have to find out.”

“Very well,” said the lord as he set up his chair again. “Get this thing out of my castle. Madame de Boer, you will help these gentlemen. If you need anything, you can ask Vermeer.”

Dancker raised his index finger admonishingly.

“And you,” he turned to Evan and Leuven, “feel at home. But not too much, please. You can have a room, and I think fresh clothes wouldn’t be a bad idea. Vermeer!”

After a moment, the door next to the fireplace opened. A slender, middle-aged man in a neat but not overly elegant robe entered the dining room. “Yes, my lord?”

“Vermeer, redress the two gentlemen and wash their clothes. Give them a bath too.”

“But of course, my lord, everything is already prepared,” Vermeer replied in a calm but respectful voice.

He turned to Evan and Leuven. “If the gentlemen permit, I will show you your room. You can change your clothes there. We will wash your armor and robes carefully. Is lemon okay with you?”

“Oh, please don’t do that,” Evan replied.

Leuven took a step forward. “Do you have lavender? – I think it makes the laundry smell better.”

“Please no,” the half-demon next to him groaned repeatedly.

“Of course, sir. If you want to follow me.” Vermeer held the door open for the two of them.

They circled the long wooden table.

Evan stopped next to Marie.

“We should discuss our next course of action,” he told her.

“Go and get ready. In the meantime, I’m sure I’ll know more,” Marie said with a mischievous smile on her face.

“We will meet back here in an hour,” Evan replied coldly and walked on.

The seer puckered her soft, rosy lips. “Take your time.”

Leuven bowed before following the half-demon. “Lord Dancker, my friend and I, we thank you for your hospitality. I promise we’ll find out what’s going on in your castle.”

Perhaps his words were more to boost his own confidence, or was he trusting too much in Evan’s abilities? The answer remained hidden from him, but he fervently hoped for a good omen.

“Yes, I see,” the lord replied calmly, waving his hand indulgently and suppressing a hearty yawn. “Do what is necessary. I’m going to rest for a few more hours. We postpone lunch until the afternoon. Vermeer, please inform the cook.”

He nodded and continued to hold the door open for the guests with one hand.

“Are the gentlemen ready?” Vermeer looked at the half-demon invitingly, but his voice was laced with an almost exaggerated friendliness.

“May I ask what’s for lunch?” asked Leuven, his eyes twinkling. His mouth was literally watering. He dreamed of fried potatoes, beans in bacon, and quail eggs. Although his growling stomach kept protesting, the young trader tried to disguise this with occasional, strange body movements.

Evan grabbed him by the collar and pushed him past Vermeer into the hallway to the chambers.

“Hey, hey, don’t be so rough!” the merchant protested as he almost slipped on the bare stone.

Vermeer closed the thick wooden door behind him after bowing to the lord.

Dancker turned to the seer with a tired look. “Do you think he’s the right one?”

Marie looked back indignantly. “I think so, yes. I’ve definitely seen him. However, I have to admit that there was more. My vision was a bit blurred.”

“You look very worried.”

“No, my lord,” the seer thrust out her chest. “It always takes a bit of interpretation when you have visions.”

“Keep a close eye on him,” the lord cleared his throat. “I feel uneasy at the thought of letting a half-demon roam free in my castle. My wife must not find out about it. You are responsible, do we understand each other?” The lord’s tone became harsher.

Marie curtsied respectfully. “Of course, my lord.”

“Hah,” Dancker laughed briefly. “He’s from the south. Does he think I’m a fool?”

“My lord, I don’t think this was meant as an affront. I just guess he’s tired of having to explain himself.“

“I don’t think much of his kind, but as long as he’s beneficial to me, he should do what’s necessary.”

“I understand. But I still see some humanity in him.”

“One drop of demonic blood is enough to lose all one’s humanity. As far as I’m concerned, dung can also run through his veins. If he is a help to you, let him do his work. If he fails, he will die.”

“And if he doesn’t fail?”

The lord growled.

“My lord?”

“Perhaps I’ll let him live then. But Marie, it should be clear to you that you shouldn’t fail either.“

The fear was clear on the seer’s face. Nevertheless, she put on a confident look. „We will not fail.“

The lord nodded and walked past her. His voice reached her ears softly. “I advise you.”

Dancker left the dining room through the door next to the fireplace. With a bang, it fell into the lock.

The seer remained standing at the large table for a while. Her fingernails dug into the tabletop, and she bit her lower lip sore.

Damn, she thought, I saw him, I’m sure, but he was different, if my dreams punish me for lying then it will mean my death.

The seer stretched her back and let her long, black curls fall down her neck.

She sighed. “Okay, that happens. Dreams are just interpretations. They can blur into each other. That will probably be it. That must be it.”

She was unsure. Her dreams occasionally played tricks on her, but usually her life didn’t depend on them. That was the big difference. But she was clever. She had been preparing a plan to escape the castle for days. She knew the duty rosters of the valets by heart, and when the guards changed in the castle and at the gate, she also knew that.

For a moment, the seer remained at the wooden table to organize her thoughts, then she also left the hall.

The guest room was just as simply furnished as the part of the castle Evan und Leuven had explored so far.

Only the large green banners bearing the emblem of a majestic deer adorned the bare walls and brought a touch of color into the room.

The banners flew throughout the kingdom. For centuries, the deer on a green background has been the coat of arms of the Kingdom of Brunen.

Two impressive beds made of solid wood complemented each other harmoniously with the cupboards and dressers made of the same wood. Evan suspected oak, even though he wasn’t very familiar with wood types.

Leuven was impressed as he sank onto one of the large beds. „Oh, that’s nice! – How I missed sleeping in a real bed.”

For him, it was pure luxury to be able to swap his sleeping roll for a bed after a month. He snuggled against the pillow.

Evan looked at him confused. „You could afford a bed? – Hmmm. I thought you were a poor  merchant.”

Leuven grimaced. “It may surprise you, but yes, I had my own bed. Who do you think I am?”

“You give me the impression of a poor merchant.”

Leuven puffed out his cheeks.

The urge to say something was strong, but he made no comment, letting the air leave his mouth and stretching his arms and legs on the mattress.

“Well, gentlemen,” said Vermeer, “you will find fresh clothes in the closet. You should find something suitable. We have a certain selection for our guests. Your armor and robe will be picked up by one of our housekeepers and taken to the laundry room. In the next room, the men will find two washtubs. Warm water has already been filled in.“

“You seem well prepared for guests,” Evan said, folding his arms.

” That is also part of my job,” replied the valet. „Madame de Boer also instructed us.“

“She seems to see a lot, but she hasn’t found your ghost yet.” Evan snorted his nose. Almost as if he was amused by the fact of the seer’s failure.

“Well,” the servant added, “she reported your arrival and now you are here. So far she has shown no doubt about her abilities.”

„Hmm.“

“If the gentlemen have no further wishes, I will withdraw.,” said Vermeer, turning on his heel before Evan asked him a question that almost paralyzed him.

“And where did you see the girl?”

A cold shiver came over Vermeer.

“I do not understand, sir” Vermeer tried to hide his uncertainty, but his shaky voice gave him away.

“The lord mentioned that nearly everyone in the castle saw the girl. Where and when did you see her?”

The chamberlain turned back to Evan, looking tense from beneath his bushy eyebrows. “In the stable, sir, about five days ago.”

“In the stable, really?” Evan’s voice sounded dark and menacing.

Leuven was now completely focused on the story and sat up in the bed with an interested look.

“It was early in the morning, and the lord wanted to ride, so I prepared his saddle,” Vermeer began. His voice was literally trembling with fear. Evan felt the oppressive atmosphere. “Then suddenly I felt an ice-cold touch on my neck. The silence became oppressive. A horse neighed, only to fall silent again the next moment. I dared to take a look…”

“What did you see?”

Vermeer stared into space, his eyes glassy, his face deathly pale. “There was this girl who tore off a horse’s leg and devoured it in front of me. Right in front of my eyes. When it noticed I was watching it, it dropped its leg and slowly turned to face me. It was horrible. Her empty eye sockets – I can still see them in my mind. She began to laugh, a laugh that grew louder and more insane. My ears were already hurting from her laugh, and then, yes then, she opened her mouth and showed me her sharp fangs…”

Evan cocked his head to the side. “So she attacked you too?”

Vermeer looked at him in shock and pushed his collar aside. The deep bite wounds were still clearly visible.

The half-demon inspected them in amazement. “Interesting.”

“Then if you’ll excuse me?” Vermeer swallowed the lump in his throat. “If you need anything else, call for me.”

Evan nodded his thanks.

When the valet left the room, Evan could barely stand still. He touched his chin thoughtfully.

“What’s going on?” Leuven wanted to know.

” I do not believe that we are dealing with a simple ghost,” the half-demon replied without looking at him. He was lost in his thoughts circling in front of his face.

“So, a Succu… Suc… Succubas?”

“Succubus,” Evan corrected the merchant. “But no. It was early in the morning. A Succubus appear at night when people are sleeping so they can have an easy time. We are dealing with something far more dangerous. It attacks people. I can’t see a pattern, but there must be one.”

“Is it more dangerous than a demon stealing your seed?” Leuven found it difficult to suppress his laughter.

“Shut up,” Evan snapped, continuing to speak, lost in thought, “no, perhaps a vengeful ghost. Then there definitely has to be a trigger for it. Something related to the little girl. But it could also be a changeling, only then it wouldn’t be an apparition and couldn’t penetrate dreams.”

“You really have a lot of knowledge about all these things,” Leuven remarked in astonishment.

“I’ve encountered some demons and ghosts too.”

“Are ghosts real? – I thought they were just some horror stories.”

“There’s a lot out there that seems to have its roots in horror stories.”

A cold shiver ran through Leuven. The images of the Karrak attack appeared in his mind again. The powerful tusks, the sharp teeth, the menacing crest of bone on their backs. He swallowed nervously.

“Well then,” Evan said, looking around the room a little more closely. “We will find out what this creature is. Trust me.”

“I’m not sure I even want to find out,” the merchant replied tremblingly and was startled when a mouse squealed and scurried out from under the bed.

He hugged his legs tightly and crouched on the mattress. “They really need an exterminator.”

“Don’t act like that,” the half-demon hissed and walked to the small window. A large forest stretched before his eyes. He could only imagine how long their path to the castle was.

Leuven got up from his bed and staggered to the closet. “A bath will definitely do us good. But let’s see what we have here.”

He rummaged through the entire closet before pulling something out with sparkling eyes. “Well, we have something suitable for you!”

The half-demon stared at him irritated.

“Perfect!” Leuven pulled out a long, lime green dress with a plunging neckline and embroidered sleeves. “Surely that looks good on you.”

Evan scowled. “That’s more your taste.”

“No,” replied the merchant, “neither hips nor breasts would find room in it.”

The merchant hung the dress back in the closet and brought out something more suitable for the two of them. “I think that should work.”

The half-demon looked puzzled at the gold-embroidered green shirt and the black trousers with leather lacing.

“I feel more comfortable in my armor,” he admitted.

Leuven did not respond to his words. Instead, he waddled to the next room. “Come before the water gets cold.”

“You can go first,” Evan replied, looking out the window again into the far distance. He narrowed his eyes as if he were trying to fixate on something with them.

The hand clutching his arm snapped him out of his thoughts.

“Come on, the water doesn’t stay warm forever,” Leuven said, trying to pull him away from the window, without success. “Believe me, you need the bath at least as much as I do, so hurry up.”

Evan sighed. “Very well, go ahead. I’ll take off the armor, it will take a while.”

“I assume you can do it on your own.”

The merchant shrugged his shoulders indifferently and pursed his lips unsightly. “I definitely won’t miss out on the warm water. My legs and back hurt, this will definitely be good for them. But come right away. I don’t want to offend you, but you smell like a horse.”

He stalked into the next room, his voice echoing from it. “I didn’t want to tell you so clearly, but there doesn’t seem to be any other way to move you.”

Evan narrowed his eyes. Why damn? – Why did I take him with me? – It would have been best to leave him in the forest.

He knew the answer and took a deep breath.

“I should stop always trying to save other people’s lives,” he said to himself and with a strong pull loosened the strap of the first bracer.

“Did you say something?” it echoed from the next room.

“I said…” Evan shouted, then lowered his voice. “Oh, forget it.”

He loosens the strap on the second bracer and places them both on his bed. He took his time removing his armor.

In the meantime, Leuven began singing a few songs and splashing wildly in the water. The half-demon could truly imagine better places he wanted to be at this point.

He wrapped a towel around his waist and followed the young merchant’s off-color chants into the next room.

Leuven looked at the half-demon with wide eyes as he spotted his shoulder-length, matted hair.

“Hah,” he uttered. “You could also give your hair some fresh air every now and then.”

An angry look met him. “Mind your own business. I’ve been traveling for weeks.”

“I’m sorry. It’s no different for me either. But you shouldn’t neglect personal hygiene!’ replied the young merchant.

“I keep my eyes on my target. I don’t have time to dwell on that sort of thing,” Evan snorted.

“Sort of thing? “You would be doing the people around you a great service if you didn’t call it sort of thing,” Leuven replied with a raised finger. “Besides, what’s your target?”

“It’s none of your business.”

The half-demon let the towel slide to the floor and climbed into the washtub.

He didn’t want to admit it in front of Leuven, but the warm water felt comfortable on his skin.

Evan felt the relief in his whole body. He almost let out a relaxed sigh, but managed to suppress it.

He didn’t want to begrudge Leuven this victory.

Evan didn’t stay in the washtub long. He rubbed his arms, legs, and back with a brush and quickly washed his face and hair. Then he got out of the tub and put his towel back around his waist.

“That was quick,” remarked Leuven, who was lying relaxed in the tub next to him and had obviously overdone it with the soap. White clouds of foam spilled over the edge and spread like moss on the stone floor.

“I washed, didn’t I?” Evan snapped.

Only then did Leuven notice the countless scars on Evan’s body. Arms, legs, and back were covered in smaller and larger furrows. Some had already healed well, others appeared to be extremely fresh.

But the most noticeable thing was the long scar that ran across his entire chest.

The young man couldn’t take his eyes off it.

Was the story Evan had told him true? – Did the heart of a demon really beat in his chest?

Evan noticed the stares and turned away.

He quickly left the room without saying a word.

Leuven also bit back the question he was asking himself at that moment.

“You shouldn’t stay too long either; otherwise, you’ll shrink!” the half-demon shouted to the merchant, trying to distract from himself.

“Don’t worry,” it echoed back. “There is enough body mass.”

Evan dried his tangled hair with a second towel and inspected the fresh clothes on his bed.

That didn’t really suit his style.

If he couldn’t feel his armor on his body, he preferred simple clothing. The more inconspicuous he was, the better. But in a lord’s castle, it probably didn’t matter anyway, he thought, until he smelled the lemon scent and his face grimaced.

He hated the smell of lemons.

At that moment, there was a knock on the door, tearing him out of his thoughts.

He opened it gently and looked around the hallway in front of him. No one was to be seen.

He was about to close the door again when a high, albeit quiet, voice rang out. “Here below!”

Evan lowered his gaze. In front of him stood a dwarf with medium-length hair and large, buggy eyes. She smiled kindly at him.

“I was asked to get your clothes,” she said friendly. “But sorry, I’m obviously disturbing you.”

Evan looked down; he had almost forgotten that he was only wearing a towel. But he wasn’t ashamed of it and stretched his back in a relaxed manner.

The dwarf was quite petite, despite her puffy face. Evan studied her. She wore simple clothing, typical of court servants.

“Sorry,” he said and opened the door completely. “Come in.”

He wandered over to his bed and folded his armor. „Please avoid contact with lavender or lemon. I like my clothes to smell sterile.“

Glancing over his shoulder, he noticed that the dwarf hadn’t moved.

“Come in,” he said in a demanding voice.

“Oh, um, I’d rather stay here, but you can put the clothes in the sack,” she replied, holding out the empty sack in front of her.

“You don’t have to be afraid of me.”

“I haven’t either, sir. But we are not allowed to disturb.”

“But I allow it in this case.”

“I’m sorry, the order comes from the lord himself.”

Evan cocked his head to the side, clicked his tongue, and turned back around to fold the armor.

“What’s your name?” he asked as he bent down to pick up his pants, which had slipped to the floor.

“Petunia, sir.”

“Petunia, allright.” He put his clothes and the pieces of armor into the bag, then paused for a moment. “Petunia. When did you meet the girl.”

“The girl, sir?” she blinked her bright eyes excitedly.

“Yes, the ghostly apparition that is wreaking havoc in the castle.”

The dwarf dropped the sack on the floor next to her and placed her index finger thoughtfully over her mouth. She tapped her lips several times while staring dreamily at the ceiling.

“Petunia?” Evan asked irritably.

“Ah yes, the girl. No,” she replied, taking the bag back into her hands.

“You haven’t seen her?” the astonishment was written on the half-demon’s face.

»No, I just heard other people’s stories. But I have to tell you, I’ve only been employed at the castle for a week.”

“For a week?”

“Yes, sir, for a week.”

Evan nodded his thanks. “That would be all; you’ve helped me greatly.”

“What about?” Petunia asked, smiling with a wide mouth at the half-demon. The look on her face was almost frightening.

“Well, that’s all,” Evan repeated, grimacing in astonishment.

“Thank you, sir!”

The half-demon closed the door behind him and scratched the back of his head in surprise.

Leuven had also finished his bath and came out of the next room wearing a towel. “Who was that?”

“The maid,” Evan replied shortly.

“Ah, so she…” the merchant suddenly opened his eyes wide. “No!”

“What’s up?”

“You did that on purpose!”

Evan opened his mouth as if to say something, much to his surprise. He couldn’t make a sound because he didn’t even know what it was about.

“Here!” Leuven held out his soiled doublet to him. “You just gave her your clothes!”

“It really wasn’t intentional,” Evan said in a low voice, without a trace of remorse on his face.

“Just because I asked for a little lavender in the fresh laundry?”

“I don’t care about the lavender,” Evan replied, shaking his head and placing the fresh clothes on his bed.

“I knew it!”

“Leuven?” the half-demon held out his index finger. „I don’t care at all. It doesn’t matter if your laundry smells like lavender, it doesn’t matter if it’s clean or dirty, and I don’t care what you think of my opinion.”

The merchant puffed himself up.

“Go after her,” Evan said indifferently and wandered into the next room with the fresh clothes. “She won’t have gotten so far.”

“What, should I run naked through the castle, is that what you want?” Leuven snorted.

Evan’s voice boomed from the next room. “Jeez, put some clothes on first. She’s not that fast on foot, and besides, you’ll probably find the laundry room alone.”

A tiring discussion for the half-demon, which he quickly grew tired of. He dressed in his fresh clothes and left the bedchamber.

Through the window opposite, he had a good view of the castle courtyard.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5


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Chapter 1
Red Eyes

Description: The traveling merchant Leuven stops his covered wagon by the roadside to take a rest when he hears strange noises coming from the woods. Perhaps it would have been better to stay at home rather than venture out into the dark and brutal world. However, a stranger rushes to his aid. This stranger, however, does not seem to be like a normal human.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5

Part 2

A vigorous jolt woke Leuven the following morning.

The sun shone in his face through a small slit in the tarpaulin and blinded him.

The wagon rocked from side to side, back and forth.

The young merchant eagerly poked his head out of the wagon.

A branch struck him hard on the cheek, leaving a reddened mark.

“Damn,” he groaned loudly.

Leuven looked around.

His wagon was no longer by the roadside.

It came to an abrupt stop.

He was startled to realize that someone or something had pulled him into the forest.

“No, no, no,” Leuven grumbled, quickly put on his boots, which reeked of sweat and dirt, and climbed out of the wagon.

He moved his head around excitedly. “What is going on?”

Evan’s voice echoed in front of the wagon. “Your mare has not returned.”

When he emerged, he wiped the sweat from his forehead with the back of his hand. “The wagon is heavier than I expected.”

“It was you?” Leuven snorted. “You pulled my wagon into the forest?”

Evan looked at him in surprise. “Yes, of course. I told you that your mare hasn’t come back. Aren’t you listening to me?”

“But, but, that’s impossible!”

“Half-demon. Already forgotten? – You really aren’t listening to me.”

Evan walked past the merchant. “Are you coming with me, or have you changed your mind?”

“Do you want to start by telling me why you pulled my wagon into the forest?”

“Your belongings were so important to you. Now they are safe.”

“But why? – How am I supposed to get it out?”

“For the time we’re on the road, your wagon should be well hidden.”

“You don’t really want to go to Harren Castle, do you? – But I probably won’t have any other choice. But listen to my words. They will never, ever let us into the castle!” Leuven protested.

“Starving to death or being eaten by wild beasts is not an alternative either. Well, then the only choice is to go to the castle.” Evan mocked the young man.

A loud stomach growl drowned out the forest idyll, with its bird songs and the leaves crackling in the wind.

Leuven’s face turned red.

He felt caught. But truly, he had eaten nothing but dry bread for days, and the rest of it had burst into the flames the night before.

“I hope you know what you are doing,” he groaned.

“You never know, but I’d like to find out,” Evan replied, pushing a branch aside and leaving the forest in the direction of the road.

“Ah, wonderful. Now I’m following a half-demon. Father was right. I’m just not cut out for a life like this.” Reluctantly, Leuven followed Evan through the branches.

The narrow, sandy road stretched desolately in front of them, riddled with numerous potholes.

“We should reach the castle around noon,” Evan said.

“Great, now I have to walk for hours in the middle of nowhere, with a half-demon and an empty stomach,” Leuven replied tiredly. “All my limbs hurt.”

Evan turned to him. “You haven’t been traveling long, have you?”

Leuven raised his hands defensively and grimaced. “Well, no, not really. I left my hometown about a month ago.”

“A month ago? – I didn’t think it had been this long. You’ve survived so far, that’s a surprise.”

“What? – There is more to me than you might think!”

Evan turned back to him. “Well, then the path shouldn’t be an obstacle for you.”

Leuven swallowed. “I hope so.”

For the young merchant, the journey felt like an eternity.

Groaning and panting, he trudged up the last hill.

Actually, he had been doing it the entire way, but Evan was able to successfully tune him out most of the time.

It was only at the end of the journey that the merchant’s whining became a burden to him.

“Could you perhaps die a little more quietly?” Evan asked.

“Oh, please excuse me for disturbing your silence. It’s not like we’ve been wandering around for an eternity.”

“Sorry. I didn’t think it could be any more challenging for you.”

“But is it.” Leuven gasped. “Not all of us are half-demons with supernatural abilities. But while we’re on the subject, how do you actually become a half-demon?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, I’ve heard a lot of horror stories about demons, but never about a half-demon. Can that really be true?”

“I’m the living proof.”

“Yes, but as I said before. You look so human. Were you born as a half-demon? How does that work?”

Evan stopped and turned to Leuven with a serious look. “Of course not. I was a human. Just like you. Maybe not exactly like you.”

A shiver ran down the young merchant’s spine. “And um, what happened?”

The half-demon sighed. “If you really want to know. My heart was ripped out.”

„What!?“

“Don’t look like that. It’s just the way it is. The heart of a demon beats in my chest now. I’m anything but thrilled about it myself.”

“So it wasn’t your choice?”

“Of course not!” Evan replied. “Nobody wants something like that. If anyone does, then he’s an idiot. And that’s enough with the questions, we’ll be there soon.”

Evan walked on.

After a while, the half-demon spotted a tower between the treetops.

“There it is,” Evan said.

He didn’t seem to be off the trail in any way. Unlike Leuven, who was breathing heavily with his hands on his knees.

“Finally,” he gasped. “It’s about time. I thought I was going to die.”

“You managed. Be proud of yourself.”

“Oh, yes. That was a piece of cake, wasn’t it? – A stone’s throw, I’m already looking forward to the walk back after the guards have sent us away. Aren’t you?”

The half-demon didn’t replied, but a slight grin flashed across his face, like a quick lightning bolt through the night sky.

The small castle with the tower was surrounded by a massive stone wall to keep enemies out.

Two men in simple iron armor guarded the entrance gate, which was made of thick, rusty iron bars.

Leuven’s uncertainty was clear to see, while Evan approached the two guards calmly.

The evil looks didn’t bode well.

While Leuven was mentally preparing to head back, Evan didn’t let any tension arise.

“Stop! No entry!” said one of the guards in a strong voice. An old but sturdy man, with a graying mustache and a bald head.

Evan studied him. His fingernails were broken, and his face was covered in soot. The eyelids drooped like two wet bags.

“We would like to speak to Lord Dancker,” the half-demon said firmly.

The two guards looked at each other amused. “Hah, he want to speak to the lord!”

Evan crossed his arms over his chest and nodded.

The old guard took a step closer and peered under his hood. “What’s wrong with you?”

“What should be?” Evan remained calm.

“Are you sick or something? – Are you bringing the plague into our castle?”

“Neither nor. I heard rumors.”

Evan didn’t even try to hide his demonic eyes. On the contrary, he hoped he could gain respect from the guards.

“Pahahaha!” the guard staggered back, laughing. “He heard rumors!”

Evan nodded.

“What rumors?” asked the second guard, amused. A tall, thin, and young man, with greasy blonde curls.

“They say there’s something lurking in your castle,” Evan replied calmly.

Leuven sweated in fear. “Evan, maybe we should…” he said nervously, his voice low.

“Fuck off!” spat the old guard. “Go to hell and don’t you dare go near the castle ever again!”

His head turned red. The veins in his neck throbbed menacingly.

But Evan wasn’t impressed, even though he was certainly aware of the tense atmosphere. “We are here to help.”

“You’re shit!” the guard quickly pulled his sword out of its scabbard and held the blade threateningly in front of Evan’s eyes. “I won’t say it again, fuck off, asshole!”

A high and gentle voice suddenly sounded behind him. “Stop it!”

The guard turned towards the gate, startled. Behind the bars, he spied a young woman wearing a dark green velvet coat.

“These are the exterminators the lord ordered,” said the young woman.

“Exterminators?” the old man asked irritably and looked at his colleague, who shrugged his shoulders and shook his greasy curls.

“Yes, the exterminators,” the woman repeated. “The lord ordered them three days ago.”

“Exterminators,” the guard stammered, then looked back at Evan. “You don’t look like an exterminator.”

He tilted his head to the side. “What does an exterminator look like?”

The guard looked past him and surveyed Leuven. “At least not like this!”

The half-demon moved into his view. “How many exterminators have you met?”

The old man clicked his tongue, lowered his sword, and looked at the young woman behind the gate. “Are you sure?”

“I am,” she replied, stretching demonstratively.

“I warn you. If you bring us harm, your heads will roll before dusk,” the guard growled, taking a step to the side.

Leuven’s heart sank. What have I gotten myself into? he thought to himself. His knees were shaking, and his head was hurting.

This was clearly too much for him. First the Karraks, and now they were in trouble with the guards of a nobleman, albeit of a lower title.

Evan nodded and looked meaningfully at Leuven.

“Open the gate!” the old guard called.

The gate opened with a loud, metallic sound.

The half-demon entered the castle courtyard, closely followed by the young merchant.

In front of the castle, there were buildings typical of a small castle.

A barrack for the guards, a barn, a horse stable, a chicken hedge, and a small shelter under which the blacksmith did his work.

The castle itself was very old. Leuven knew the stories about Harren Castle.

It was a fief granted by the King of Brunen. It had been in the Dancker family’s possession for generations, but only as long as they were loyal to the ruler.

The king had the right to hand the castle over to another vassal of the Kingdom of Brunen at any time.

There was the brick main house and the tower that they had already spotted from the distance.

Evan looked at the young woman. “Thank you. But I hope you know that we are not who you think we are.”

“Evan,” Leuven stammered, horrified. “What are you doing?”

Can’t he even keep his mouth shut? He continued in his mind; it seemed like he was desperate to get into trouble.

The young woman laughed and tossed her black curls to the side with a swing of her head. “Oh yes, I was waiting for you.”

“You were waiting for us? – Rather unlikely. How would you know about us?”

“Evan… Please stop.” Leuven was exploding inside, but on the outside he looked more like a heap of misery.

“Well,” she said, looking at the half-demon with her deep blue eyes. “I’ve seen it.”

“You have seen it?”

“Yes. I’ve seen it. I dreamed about you a few days ago. But I have to admit that I didn’t see your companion in my dreams,” she replied, amused.

Evan stopped. “You are a seer.”

She smiled and nodded. „Marie de Boer. I’m pleased to finally meet you. I didn’t know if it would actually happen, but I’m even more pleased.”

“Evan.” He replied dryly.

“And your friend?” Marie asked, looking at the uncertain-looking young man who was standing behind the half-demon.

“I… am Leuven.”

“Hmm, I really didn’t see you in my vision. But what I see is always changing. Time doesn’t stand still; it’s constantly changing,” she said.

Evan looked at her seriously. “What does a seer do in a castle?”

She smiled again. „The lord asked for my help. I assume you’re here because you’ve heard rumors of a ghost. They are true. The lord sent for me to help him with this plague.”

“And then? – Would you have convinced him to move on, become friends with him, sing songs together? Evan asked suspiciously.

Leuven placed himself between them. He felt the urge to say something. “Don’t be so rude!” he shouted. “She helped us; then at least you can listen to her.”

Marie raised her hand. “That’s fine. I’m used to people not taking me and my talent seriously. But I’m sure I can convince you of my abilities. Just like I did with the lord.”

»Mhh. I’m sure you saw that in your dreams,” Evan said.

“Call it intuition.”

She stretched out her arm with a grin. »Come, I will introduce you to Lord Dancker. But be careful, the steps are slippery.”

They entered the small castle via a narrow stone staircase and a wooden door.

Indeed, the stone steps had become slippery from the morning thaw.

Leuven almost slipped. He saw his face already lying in the horse manure as he clung to the castle wall in terror.

A narrow hallway stretched out in front of them.

The furnishings were rather sparse. There was neither a carpet on the floor.

Oil paintings of landscapes hung on the walls. Nothing special in Evan’s eyes.

Even Leuven didn’t seem impressed by the furnishings.

The gray stone walls were cold and exuded an oppressive atmosphere.

The corridor led to the dining room.

A massive wooden table with space for up to ten people stretched out in front of them.

Leuven could imagine that banquets had often been celebrated here.

Opposite of them was the fireplace and above it hung a picture of a young knight, with golden hair, in shining armor. He sat proudly and reverently on a white horse.

“Wait here,” said Marie and disappeared through a door next to the fireplace that apparently led into the tower.

Evan nodded and inspected the large room. Bare walls, a few paintings, nothing that reflected the grace of a lord, except for the painting of the young knight.

His eyes finally fell on something else, something small and black.

On the mantelpiece he discovered a small box, perhaps six inches long.

It was decorated with a half-relief depicting various stylized animals and other creatures that were difficult to recognize. The half-demon recognized a deer and a wolf, the other were unfamiliar even to him.

“You are pretty rude,” Leuven snorted.

Evan looked at him puzzled and stepped away from the fireplace. “I don’t trust any seer who claims to have seen me in her dreams.”

“But without her we would never have passed the gate!”

»There is always more than one way. We could have done it without her.”

»We wouldn’t have, and you know that too! – You act so smart, but you still owe the proof. Just like with my mare,” Leuven’s voice became ridiculously high, “Oh, she’ll come back, wait until tomorrow, then she’ll be back, oho! – Well, where is she?”

“Shut up,” Evan snorted.

»No, you don’t shut me up. Please rein yourself in as soon as the lord enters.”

Evan sighed and rolled his eyes.  “Yes, I will behave respectfully towards the lord.”

“And Marie?”

“What should happen to her?”

Leuven looked at him intently with wide eyes.

“Well, I’ll be respectful towards her too,” the half-demon promised reluctantly.

Empty phrases or the truth? – Leuven couldn’t estimate it, but he hoped they wouldn’t get into any trouble.

The large door next to the fireplace opened.

Marie entered the dining room. Behind her appeared a stocky man with disheveled, medium-length gray hair and a partially braided beard. He wore a robe typical of the lower nobility. A dark green shirt with gold-colored decorations and black, wide trousers.

The brown boots were freshly polished.

The man looked tired. Like he hadn’t been able to sleep for days.

Leuven looked at him and then looked at the painting above the fireplace. He was sure. The painting showed the lord, albeit in his younger days.

Evan looked confidently at Leuven.

“I’m warning you,” the merchant hissed quietly.

“Hrach!” the lord uttered, as if there was a fat lump of mucus in his throat. “So you’re the one the seer was talking about.”

“It seems so,” Evan replied coldly, receiving a light nudge from Leuven’s elbow.

“It seems so, my lord,” the half-demon corrected, glaring at the merchant.

“Very well, has Madame de Boer explained what happened?” asked the lord, plopping down on a wooden chair that was standing at the dining table. The legs of the chair cracked under the strain.

“Not yet, my lord,” Marie said, interlacing her fingers in front of her hips. “I didn’t want to get ahead of you.”

“Well then, what do you want to know?” His tired gaze went to Evan.

“Everything. Start from the beginning, tell us the middle and then the end,” Evan replied stubbornly.

“Jeez, you promised,” Leuven whispered angrily. The half-demon’s uncouth manner visibly got on his nerves. In front of a peasant he could behave as he wanted, but in front of a lord, regardless of rank, society, and etiquette demand respect.

“My lord, forgive me. My colleague is a bit rude. My theory is that he fell on his head as a child,” he said finally, hoping the lord would excuse Evan’s behavior.

The lord grimaced and looked first at the half-demon and then at the merchant, in his noble but completely dirty clothes.

He glanced briefly at the seer. “And you are sure this is the one you saw in your vision?”

She nodded. “Yes my Lord. I´m sure.”

“I had imagined it differently, what’s wrong with your eyes, are you sick, are you bringing the plague to the court?” he finally asked Evan in a barking voice.

“My eyes? What should happen to them, my lord?” he replied, feigning ignorance.

“Well, your eyes look strange, like you’ve caught something.”

Evan shook his head. “No, my lord.”

“But then what is it? – That’s not normal. Madame de Boer, that’s not normal, is it?”

The seer wanted to say something, her lips moved excitedly, but no sound came out of her mouth.

“Oh, you mean the color of my eyes,” Evan said finally.

“Yes, but of course I mean the color of your eyes!”

“I’m from the South.” The half-demon’s voice betrayed no emotion.

Lord Dancker looked at him suspiciously. “Are red eyes common in the South?”

“Not usually, they are rare there too. But whether brown, blue, green, or red, they are just colors. If I remember correctly, I once knew a prostitute who had gray-yellow eyes. I hadn’t seen that before either.”

“It’s okay, it’s okay,” the lord panted, “It shouldn’t interest me any further.”

“Oh, did you know,” now Leuven was also wide awake, “the color blue doesn’t actually exist. The Druids of the Shepherd’s Tree are said to have started this rumor to see whether people would buy this hoax. In reality, the color blue is just a shade of green. Interesting, isn’t it?”

Punitive looks hit him from all sides.

Embarrassed, he took a step back.

“And the chatterbox? You didn’t tell me about him,” said the lord and looked at Marie with piercing eyes.

“My lord, this is Leuven. He is the companion of Mr. Dhorne. Unfortunately, I didn’t see him in my vision.”

“You haven’t seen him? – Well, he doesn’t look dangerous.”

“My lord,” said Evan, “we have come to solve your problem. The sooner we start, the sooner I can free you from this. Tell me what you know and we will be on our way again soon.”

“I’ll tell you what happened. It started a few weeks ago. At night. A horrifying scream echoed throughout the castle. Everyone woke up from it. As it turned out, this came from my maid Yvette. She was really upset and thought she had seen a ghost.”

“That’s all?” asked Evan, irritated.

“Of course not,” said lord Dancker, yawning. “We found her in the basement, in the pantry. She said she wanted to check the supplies for the winter so she could place the orders for the next few weeks. Suddenly a girl stood behind her.”

“A girl?”

“Yes, a girl! – But not just another brat, Yvette claimed that the girl had no eyes. It only had two bleeding cavities, at least that’s what my maid thought. But we didn’t believe her, at least at that point.”

“A fantasy, it seems to me,” Evan remarked.

“Yes, that’s exactly what we thought! – But since then it has happened more often. Not just Yvette. Several of my servants claim to have seen something eerie. Sometimes in the pantry, sometimes in the horse stable, even the horses neigh hideously at night. Besides, these dreams plague us.”

“Keep talking.”

“Horrible dreams. Each of us has dreamed of this girl without eyes.”

Evan looked at Marie. “Did you see her too?”

The seer nodded sadly.

“Listen,” said the lord. “These dreams, they feel so real. One night I woke up and the girl suddenly sat on me, cut off my breath, and pushed my arms into the bed. But then, as if nothing had happened, I woke up again and was lying in bed next to my wife, who was sleeping peacefully. I didn’t even know if it was a dream or real.”

“Sometimes powerful dreams can manifest in our minds,” Evan said. “Nothing indicates a ghost yet.”

Lord Dancker looked at Marie, who answered him with a sad nod.

“Then look at this,” he said to Evan and showed him the burn marks on his wrists. Red prints like those of little fingers.

The half-demon clicked his tongue. “Of course that changes everything.”

Marie placed her hands on the wooden table. “It’s not my imagination. Everyone here in the castle has seen the girl before. They dream of her, they feel her. I can feel her presence too.”

“Does everyone have the same dream?” Evan asked. He slowly took the matter seriously.

“Not that I know,” Marie replied. “It is usually associated with something personal. For example, I dreamed of my mother standing by the fireplace making soup. Suddenly she was gone, and the girl jumped out from under the table. With their empty eyes and sharp teeth.”

“Before she gave me these scars, I was also dreaming of something else,” the lord interjected. “I rode into battle on my white horse. To my left and right the men were fighting each other, it was pretty confusing. She stood there in the middle of the banter. Nobody seemed to notice her. Only I could see her. Then she jumped at me. I woke up and she pushed me deep into the bed. Yes, that’s how it was.”

“Hmmm. So it can jump into dreams, but it can also manifest itself in the real world,” Evan said thoughtfully.

“So it wasn’t a dream?” asked the lord. It seemed like he felt vindicated, even if that was little consolation.

“Do you have any idea what kind of ghost that could be?” Marie raised an eyebrow.

“Hmm, a succubus has such abilities. As a rule, she only looks for men who she can drive crazy, but in this case, men and women alike are not spared. Maybe a succubus and incubus pair, but that’s unlikely.”

“A succu-what?” spat the lord, his eyes wide open.

“Succubus. These are demons who usually appear in the form of a pretty woman and seduce men in their sleep. They penetrate deep into the mind,” Evan explained calmly.

“But why?”

“Well,” Evan paused for a moment. “They do this to procreate.”

“How can they reproduce like that?” Dancker asked, frowning.

“Oh well…”

Marie spoke up and looked embarrassed as she spoke. “They steal the seed from men.”

“What are they doing?” Horrified, the lord jumped up from his chair, which crashed onto the bare floor.

“They steal men’s seed,” she repeated. “They can use this to keep their species alive.”

Marie cleared her throat and looked over at Evan. Her look was malicious, as if he had forced her to speak.

“But the ghost was a little girl, for each of us!” Dancker protested, gesturing wildly with his arms.

“That’s why I doubt it’s a succubus,” Evan said. “Whatever it is, firstly, it’s tied to this place, and secondly, something must have caused it to appear.”

“Do you think there was an incident that summoned the ghost?” asked Marie, spellbound.

“An incident, a ritual, that’s what we have to find out.”

“Very well,” said the lord as he set up his chair again. “Get this thing out of my castle. Madame de Boer, you will help these gentlemen. If you need anything, you can ask Vermeer.”

Dancker raised his index finger admonishingly.

“And you,” he turned to Evan and Leuven, “feel at home. But not too much, please. You can have a room, and I think fresh clothes wouldn’t be a bad idea. Vermeer!”

After a moment, the door next to the fireplace opened. A slender, middle-aged man in a neat but not overly elegant robe entered the dining room. “Yes, my lord?”

“Vermeer, redress the two gentlemen and wash their clothes. Give them a bath too.”

“But of course, my lord, everything is already prepared,” Vermeer replied in a calm but respectful voice.

He turned to Evan and Leuven. “If the gentlemen permit, I will show you your room. You can change your clothes there. We will wash your armor and robes carefully. Is lemon okay with you?”

“Oh, please don’t do that,” Evan replied.

Leuven took a step forward. “Do you have lavender? – I think it makes the laundry smell better.”

“Please no,” the half-demon next to him groaned repeatedly.

“Of course, sir. If you want to follow me.” Vermeer held the door open for the two of them.

They circled the long wooden table.

Evan stopped next to Marie.

“We should discuss our next course of action,” he told her.

“Go and get ready. In the meantime, I’m sure I’ll know more,” Marie said with a mischievous smile on her face.

“We will meet back here in an hour,” Evan replied coldly and walked on.

The seer puckered her soft, rosy lips. “Take your time.”

Leuven bowed before following the half-demon. “Lord Dancker, my friend and I, we thank you for your hospitality. I promise we’ll find out what’s going on in your castle.”

Perhaps his words were more to boost his own confidence, or was he trusting too much in Evan’s abilities? The answer remained hidden from him, but he fervently hoped for a good omen.

“Yes, I see,” the lord replied calmly, waving his hand indulgently and suppressing a hearty yawn. “Do what is necessary. I’m going to rest for a few more hours. We postpone lunch until the afternoon. Vermeer, please inform the cook.”

He nodded and continued to hold the door open for the guests with one hand.

“Are the gentlemen ready?” Vermeer looked at the half-demon invitingly, but his voice was laced with an almost exaggerated friendliness.

“May I ask what’s for lunch?” asked Leuven, his eyes twinkling. His mouth was literally watering. He dreamed of fried potatoes, beans in bacon, and quail eggs. Although his growling stomach kept protesting, the young trader tried to disguise this with occasional, strange body movements.

Evan grabbed him by the collar and pushed him past Vermeer into the hallway to the chambers.

“Hey, hey, don’t be so rough!” the merchant protested as he almost slipped on the bare stone.

Vermeer closed the thick wooden door behind him after bowing to the lord.

Dancker turned to the seer with a tired look. “Do you think he’s the right one?”

Marie looked back indignantly. “I think so, yes. I’ve definitely seen him. However, I have to admit that there was more. My vision was a bit blurred.”

“You look very worried.”

“No, my lord,” the seer thrust out her chest. “It always takes a bit of interpretation when you have visions.”

“Keep a close eye on him,” the lord cleared his throat. “I feel uneasy at the thought of letting a half-demon roam free in my castle. My wife must not find out about it. You are responsible, do we understand each other?” The lord’s tone became harsher.

Marie curtsied respectfully. “Of course, my lord.”

“Hah,” Dancker laughed briefly. “He’s from the south. Does he think I’m a fool?”

“My lord, I don’t think this was meant as an affront. I just guess he’s tired of having to explain himself.“

“I don’t think much of his kind, but as long as he’s beneficial to me, he should do what’s necessary.”

“I understand. But I still see some humanity in him.”

“One drop of demonic blood is enough to lose all one’s humanity. As far as I’m concerned, dung can also run through his veins. If he is a help to you, let him do his work. If he fails, he will die.”

“And if he doesn’t fail?”

The lord growled.

“My lord?”

“Perhaps I’ll let him live then. But Marie, it should be clear to you that you shouldn’t fail either.“

The fear was clear on the seer’s face. Nevertheless, she put on a confident look. „We will not fail.“

The lord nodded and walked past her. His voice reached her ears softly. “I advise you.”

Dancker left the dining room through the door next to the fireplace. With a bang, it fell into the lock.

The seer remained standing at the large table for a while. Her fingernails dug into the tabletop, and she bit her lower lip sore.

Damn, she thought, I saw him, I’m sure, but he was different, if my dreams punish me for lying then it will mean my death.

The seer stretched her back and let her long, black curls fall down her neck.

She sighed. “Okay, that happens. Dreams are just interpretations. They can blur into each other. That will probably be it. That must be it.”

She was unsure. Her dreams occasionally played tricks on her, but usually her life didn’t depend on them. That was the big difference. But she was clever. She had been preparing a plan to escape the castle for days. She knew the duty rosters of the valets by heart, and when the guards changed in the castle and at the gate, she also knew that.

For a moment, the seer remained at the wooden table to organize her thoughts, then she also left the hall.

The guest room was just as simply furnished as the part of the castle Evan und Leuven had explored so far.

Only the large green banners bearing the emblem of a majestic deer adorned the bare walls and brought a touch of color into the room.

The banners flew throughout the kingdom. For centuries, the deer on a green background has been the coat of arms of the Kingdom of Brunen.

Two impressive beds made of solid wood complemented each other harmoniously with the cupboards and dressers made of the same wood. Evan suspected oak, even though he wasn’t very familiar with wood types.

Leuven was impressed as he sank onto one of the large beds. „Oh, that’s nice! – How I missed sleeping in a real bed.”

For him, it was pure luxury to be able to swap his sleeping roll for a bed after a month. He snuggled against the pillow.

Evan looked at him confused. „You could afford a bed? – Hmmm. I thought you were a poor  merchant.”

Leuven grimaced. “It may surprise you, but yes, I had my own bed. Who do you think I am?”

“You give me the impression of a poor merchant.”

Leuven puffed out his cheeks.

The urge to say something was strong, but he made no comment, letting the air leave his mouth and stretching his arms and legs on the mattress.

“Well, gentlemen,” said Vermeer, “you will find fresh clothes in the closet. You should find something suitable. We have a certain selection for our guests. Your armor and robe will be picked up by one of our housekeepers and taken to the laundry room. In the next room, the men will find two washtubs. Warm water has already been filled in.“

“You seem well prepared for guests,” Evan said, folding his arms.

” That is also part of my job,” replied the valet. „Madame de Boer also instructed us.“

“She seems to see a lot, but she hasn’t found your ghost yet.” Evan snorted his nose. Almost as if he was amused by the fact of the seer’s failure.

“Well,” the servant added, “she reported your arrival and now you are here. So far she has shown no doubt about her abilities.”

„Hmm.“

“If the gentlemen have no further wishes, I will withdraw.,” said Vermeer, turning on his heel before Evan asked him a question that almost paralyzed him.

“And where did you see the girl?”

A cold shiver came over Vermeer.

“I do not understand, sir” Vermeer tried to hide his uncertainty, but his shaky voice gave him away.

“The lord mentioned that nearly everyone in the castle saw the girl. Where and when did you see her?”

The chamberlain turned back to Evan, looking tense from beneath his bushy eyebrows. “In the stable, sir, about five days ago.”

“In the stable, really?” Evan’s voice sounded dark and menacing.

Leuven was now completely focused on the story and sat up in the bed with an interested look.

“It was early in the morning, and the lord wanted to ride, so I prepared his saddle,” Vermeer began. His voice was literally trembling with fear. Evan felt the oppressive atmosphere. “Then suddenly I felt an ice-cold touch on my neck. The silence became oppressive. A horse neighed, only to fall silent again the next moment. I dared to take a look…”

“What did you see?”

Vermeer stared into space, his eyes glassy, his face deathly pale. “There was this girl who tore off a horse’s leg and devoured it in front of me. Right in front of my eyes. When it noticed I was watching it, it dropped its leg and slowly turned to face me. It was horrible. Her empty eye sockets – I can still see them in my mind. She began to laugh, a laugh that grew louder and more insane. My ears were already hurting from her laugh, and then, yes then, she opened her mouth and showed me her sharp fangs…”

Evan cocked his head to the side. “So she attacked you too?”

Vermeer looked at him in shock and pushed his collar aside. The deep bite wounds were still clearly visible.

The half-demon inspected them in amazement. “Interesting.”

“Then if you’ll excuse me?” Vermeer swallowed the lump in his throat. “If you need anything else, call for me.”

Evan nodded his thanks.

When the valet left the room, Evan could barely stand still. He touched his chin thoughtfully.

“What’s going on?” Leuven wanted to know.

” I do not believe that we are dealing with a simple ghost,” the half-demon replied without looking at him. He was lost in his thoughts circling in front of his face.

“So, a Succu… Suc… Succubas?”

“Succubus,” Evan corrected the merchant. “But no. It was early in the morning. A Succubus appear at night when people are sleeping so they can have an easy time. We are dealing with something far more dangerous. It attacks people. I can’t see a pattern, but there must be one.”

“Is it more dangerous than a demon stealing your seed?” Leuven found it difficult to suppress his laughter.

“Shut up,” Evan snapped, continuing to speak, lost in thought, “no, perhaps a vengeful ghost. Then there definitely has to be a trigger for it. Something related to the little girl. But it could also be a changeling, only then it wouldn’t be an apparition and couldn’t penetrate dreams.”

“You really have a lot of knowledge about all these things,” Leuven remarked in astonishment.

“I’ve encountered some demons and ghosts too.”

“Are ghosts real? – I thought they were just some horror stories.”

“There’s a lot out there that seems to have its roots in horror stories.”

A cold shiver ran through Leuven. The images of the Karrak attack appeared in his mind again. The powerful tusks, the sharp teeth, the menacing crest of bone on their backs. He swallowed nervously.

“Well then,” Evan said, looking around the room a little more closely. “We will find out what this creature is. Trust me.”

“I’m not sure I even want to find out,” the merchant replied tremblingly and was startled when a mouse squealed and scurried out from under the bed.

He hugged his legs tightly and crouched on the mattress. “They really need an exterminator.”

“Don’t act like that,” the half-demon hissed and walked to the small window. A large forest stretched before his eyes. He could only imagine how long their path to the castle was.

Leuven got up from his bed and staggered to the closet. “A bath will definitely do us good. But let’s see what we have here.”

He rummaged through the entire closet before pulling something out with sparkling eyes. “Well, we have something suitable for you!”

The half-demon stared at him irritated.

“Perfect!” Leuven pulled out a long, lime green dress with a plunging neckline and embroidered sleeves. “Surely that looks good on you.”

Evan scowled. “That’s more your taste.”

“No,” replied the merchant, “neither hips nor breasts would find room in it.”

The merchant hung the dress back in the closet and brought out something more suitable for the two of them. “I think that should work.”

The half-demon looked puzzled at the gold-embroidered green shirt and the black trousers with leather lacing.

“I feel more comfortable in my armor,” he admitted.

Leuven did not respond to his words. Instead, he waddled to the next room. “Come before the water gets cold.”

“You can go first,” Evan replied, looking out the window again into the far distance. He narrowed his eyes as if he were trying to fixate on something with them.

The hand clutching his arm snapped him out of his thoughts.

“Come on, the water doesn’t stay warm forever,” Leuven said, trying to pull him away from the window, without success. “Believe me, you need the bath at least as much as I do, so hurry up.”

Evan sighed. “Very well, go ahead. I’ll take off the armor, it will take a while.”

“I assume you can do it on your own.”

The merchant shrugged his shoulders indifferently and pursed his lips unsightly. “I definitely won’t miss out on the warm water. My legs and back hurt, this will definitely be good for them. But come right away. I don’t want to offend you, but you smell like a horse.”

He stalked into the next room, his voice echoing from it. “I didn’t want to tell you so clearly, but there doesn’t seem to be any other way to move you.”

Evan narrowed his eyes. Why damn? – Why did I take him with me? – It would have been best to leave him in the forest.

He knew the answer and took a deep breath.

“I should stop always trying to save other people’s lives,” he said to himself and with a strong pull loosened the strap of the first bracer.

“Did you say something?” it echoed from the next room.

“I said…” Evan shouted, then lowered his voice. “Oh, forget it.”

He loosens the strap on the second bracer and places them both on his bed. He took his time removing his armor.

In the meantime, Leuven began singing a few songs and splashing wildly in the water. The half-demon could truly imagine better places he wanted to be at this point.

He wrapped a towel around his waist and followed the young merchant’s off-color chants into the next room.

Leuven looked at the half-demon with wide eyes as he spotted his shoulder-length, matted hair.

“Hah,” he uttered. “You could also give your hair some fresh air every now and then.”

An angry look met him. “Mind your own business. I’ve been traveling for weeks.”

“I’m sorry. It’s no different for me either. But you shouldn’t neglect personal hygiene!’ replied the young merchant.

“I keep my eyes on my target. I don’t have time to dwell on that sort of thing,” Evan snorted.

“Sort of thing? “You would be doing the people around you a great service if you didn’t call it sort of thing,” Leuven replied with a raised finger. “Besides, what’s your target?”

“It’s none of your business.”

The half-demon let the towel slide to the floor and climbed into the washtub.

He didn’t want to admit it in front of Leuven, but the warm water felt comfortable on his skin.

Evan felt the relief in his whole body. He almost let out a relaxed sigh, but managed to suppress it.

He didn’t want to begrudge Leuven this victory.

Evan didn’t stay in the washtub long. He rubbed his arms, legs, and back with a brush and quickly washed his face and hair. Then he got out of the tub and put his towel back around his waist.

“That was quick,” remarked Leuven, who was lying relaxed in the tub next to him and had obviously overdone it with the soap. White clouds of foam spilled over the edge and spread like moss on the stone floor.

“I washed, didn’t I?” Evan snapped.

Only then did Leuven notice the countless scars on Evan’s body. Arms, legs, and back were covered in smaller and larger furrows. Some had already healed well, others appeared to be extremely fresh.

But the most noticeable thing was the long scar that ran across his entire chest.

The young man couldn’t take his eyes off it.

Was the story Evan had told him true? – Did the heart of a demon really beat in his chest?

Evan noticed the stares and turned away.

He quickly left the room without saying a word.

Leuven also bit back the question he was asking himself at that moment.

“You shouldn’t stay too long either; otherwise, you’ll shrink!” the half-demon shouted to the merchant, trying to distract from himself.

“Don’t worry,” it echoed back. “There is enough body mass.”

Evan dried his tangled hair with a second towel and inspected the fresh clothes on his bed.

That didn’t really suit his style.

If he couldn’t feel his armor on his body, he preferred simple clothing. The more inconspicuous he was, the better. But in a lord’s castle, it probably didn’t matter anyway, he thought, until he smelled the lemon scent and his face grimaced.

He hated the smell of lemons.

At that moment, there was a knock on the door, tearing him out of his thoughts.

He opened it gently and looked around the hallway in front of him. No one was to be seen.

He was about to close the door again when a high, albeit quiet, voice rang out. “Here below!”

Evan lowered his gaze. In front of him stood a dwarf with medium-length hair and large, buggy eyes. She smiled kindly at him.

“I was asked to get your clothes,” she said friendly. “But sorry, I’m obviously disturbing you.”

Evan looked down; he had almost forgotten that he was only wearing a towel. But he wasn’t ashamed of it and stretched his back in a relaxed manner.

The dwarf was quite petite, despite her puffy face. Evan studied her. She wore simple clothing, typical of court servants.

“Sorry,” he said and opened the door completely. “Come in.”

He wandered over to his bed and folded his armor. „Please avoid contact with lavender or lemon. I like my clothes to smell sterile.“

Glancing over his shoulder, he noticed that the dwarf hadn’t moved.

“Come in,” he said in a demanding voice.

“Oh, um, I’d rather stay here, but you can put the clothes in the sack,” she replied, holding out the empty sack in front of her.

“You don’t have to be afraid of me.”

“I haven’t either, sir. But we are not allowed to disturb.”

“But I allow it in this case.”

“I’m sorry, the order comes from the lord himself.”

Evan cocked his head to the side, clicked his tongue, and turned back around to fold the armor.

“What’s your name?” he asked as he bent down to pick up his pants, which had slipped to the floor.

“Petunia, sir.”

“Petunia, allright.” He put his clothes and the pieces of armor into the bag, then paused for a moment. “Petunia. When did you meet the girl.”

“The girl, sir?” she blinked her bright eyes excitedly.

“Yes, the ghostly apparition that is wreaking havoc in the castle.”

The dwarf dropped the sack on the floor next to her and placed her index finger thoughtfully over her mouth. She tapped her lips several times while staring dreamily at the ceiling.

“Petunia?” Evan asked irritably.

“Ah yes, the girl. No,” she replied, taking the bag back into her hands.

“You haven’t seen her?” the astonishment was written on the half-demon’s face.

»No, I just heard other people’s stories. But I have to tell you, I’ve only been employed at the castle for a week.”

“For a week?”

“Yes, sir, for a week.”

Evan nodded his thanks. “That would be all; you’ve helped me greatly.”

“What about?” Petunia asked, smiling with a wide mouth at the half-demon. The look on her face was almost frightening.

“Well, that’s all,” Evan repeated, grimacing in astonishment.

“Thank you, sir!”

The half-demon closed the door behind him and scratched the back of his head in surprise.

Leuven had also finished his bath and came out of the next room wearing a towel. “Who was that?”

“The maid,” Evan replied shortly.

“Ah, so she…” the merchant suddenly opened his eyes wide. “No!”

“What’s up?”

“You did that on purpose!”

Evan opened his mouth as if to say something, much to his surprise. He couldn’t make a sound because he didn’t even know what it was about.

“Here!” Leuven held out his soiled doublet to him. “You just gave her your clothes!”

“It really wasn’t intentional,” Evan said in a low voice, without a trace of remorse on his face.

“Just because I asked for a little lavender in the fresh laundry?”

“I don’t care about the lavender,” Evan replied, shaking his head and placing the fresh clothes on his bed.

“I knew it!”

“Leuven?” the half-demon held out his index finger. „I don’t care at all. It doesn’t matter if your laundry smells like lavender, it doesn’t matter if it’s clean or dirty, and I don’t care what you think of my opinion.”

The merchant puffed himself up.

“Go after her,” Evan said indifferently and wandered into the next room with the fresh clothes. “She won’t have gotten so far.”

“What, should I run naked through the castle, is that what you want?” Leuven snorted.

Evan’s voice boomed from the next room. “Jeez, put some clothes on first. She’s not that fast on foot, and besides, you’ll probably find the laundry room alone.”

A tiring discussion for the half-demon, which he quickly grew tired of. He dressed in his fresh clothes and left the bedchamber.

Through the window opposite, he had a good view of the castle courtyard.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5



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