I think I manage to squeak out some approximation of “excuse me” before fleeing out of the room. In my haste to get away, I don’t stop at my room… it’s too new to really register as mine. I keep going until I reach the door at the end of the hall… the bathroom.
Oh, well. At least that will give everyone a plausible reason for my sudden flight… well, less plausible to anyone who understands the implications of my semi-mortality, but my money says that if someone suddenly flies out of a room and makes a bee-line for the nearest restroom, few people will want to know the exact details.
Putting some distance between me and the triggering situation helps a little but all by itself, but the main reason for getting out of there was to prevent myself from doing something I’d regret, with preventing anyone from seeing that struggle being a close second.
Everyone has to grapple with their inner demons from time to time. Mine is pretty well under control, but the problem is it’s not metaphorical. The other problem is the outer demon, which tends to reflect the inner one.
Demons are superficially indistinguishable from humans, their designated prey. It’s part of how they work. This works to my advantage when it comes to blending in… the demon half seamlessly mingles with the human half. Looking half-demon I just look human.
But if you saw me when I’m angry…
Well, you wouldn’t necessarily conclude that I was demonic. People do get mad. They go red in the face and contort with rage. This is a thing that happens. If you didn’t know what I was… and I managed to avoid starting a fire or pulverizing whatever I was holding… you’d think I just had issues.
If you did know, chances are you’d think you were watching the run-up to a full-on, all-out demonic rampage. This was a lesson I’d learned more than once growing up. And of course, everyone in the room knew I was a half-demon… I’d just told them that a few seconds before.
I’ve learned to control my anger, to mask it and choke it down, out of necessity, but sometimes things take me by surprise. I’d been braced for just about any reaction to my announcement, but I hadn’t expected to be so affected by the golem girl’s brief introduction… that had come out of nowhere.
I’m pretty sure I made it out of there before anyone could make too much of my reaction. I might have given myself a reputation as a bit of a spazz, but I can deal with that. I just have to regain a little composure and then go back in.
I take a deep breath and head for one of the sinks. I’ve never done anything so theatrical as splashing cold water on my face, but a mirror can be handy… generally, the amount of control needed to force my face into a non-threatening look of calm tranquility is exactly equal to the amount needed to actually calm down.
Standing around trying to will myself to not be angry about something rarely does anything because I’m focusing on the thing that made me angry in the first place. I’ve never been very good at meditation… my mother’s original prescription for my adolescent rage… because there’s nothing to distract me and my thoughts just chase themselves around in circles. Focusing on my outward appearance shifts my attention to something else, though, and it usually works.
It isn’t necessary this time, though… the sight of Alea over my shoulder startles me out of it as soon as I look in the mirror.
“My apologies,” she said. “The intention behind my approach was not to startle you… I am still not used to the reality of mirrors.”
“You don’t use them?” I asked.
“They have their places, but are not as prevalent in our society,” she said. “Mirrors reflect light.”
“I’ve noticed I can’t see as much in a mirror as I can in the room when the lights are out,” I said.
“In any case, I’m sorry for intruding on what might have been a private moment… I thought you might have been distressed by the golem’s plight.”
“I wasn’t distressed,” I said. “I was angry. I have… anger management issues.”
Alea laughs. It’s a beautiful sound, which does a lot to salve the wound it inflicts. If anyone else had laughed at me at that moment, it probably would have led to a worse flare-up than the one I’d narrowly averted.
“It isn’t a joke,” I say.
“Of course not,” she says. “But my life may be… that phrase is a very good approximation for what was said to me, shortly before my parting for the surface. I have ‘anger management issues’ as well… anger often causes us to do things in haste that we regret at our leisure.”
“If regret was the biggest consequence, I would have stayed in the room,” I say. “Regret I can live with.”
“I would think regret implies that some other consequence exist to be regretted,” Alea says. “But I doubt you’re in a mood to argue semantics with someone who is still learning the language.”
“As moods go, there are worse ones,” I say. “Thanks for your concern, Alea… for future reference, though, if I run off like that, it may not be safe to follow me.”
“I didn’t assume it would be this time,” she says. “I know little of the nature of demonkind, but I have heard stories.”
“And you came anyway?”
“I have heard stories of ‘drow’, as well,” she says.
“I… I’ve also heard those stories,” I admit. “I have to admit, I don’t know much about your actual culture.”
“I am still learning new things about it, myself,” she says. “The only thing I can say with certainty is that we are neither monsters nor angels.”
“That’s not exactly a rousing defense.”
“If I am to fight against any preconception my people are held to, the one that we more so than most need a defense would be the keystone I would attack,” she says.
“I was actually thinking of myself,” I say. “I need to be more than ‘not a monster’… I need people to see me as a person.”
“Then I believe we are, as they say, on the same page,” she says. “And I think your righteous anger at the golem’s plight does you more credit than you believe.”
“I’m not sure how righteous it was,” I say. “I don’t know her story… for all I know, I was completely overreacting. Maybe that’s just the way she sounds?”
“I do not believe you were,” she says. “My heart ached at her voice… I do not believe any living creature is meant to sound like that, and if she was indeed designed, then her designer has done her at least one disservice.”
“Yeah, I’m kind of grasping at straws… I just don’t want to get pissed off again thinking about how bad it could be.”
“Then perhaps the solution would be to acquaint yourself with the reality of her situation,” Alea says.
“That won’t stop me from getting mad.”
“No, but you will at least know that it is justified.”
There’s a knock at the door, which opens a crack.
“Is everything okay in here?”
I kind of expect it to be Kiersta since checking up on us would be the R.A.’s place, but it doesn’t sound like her.
“We are perfectly well,” Alea replies.
“Sorry to barge in, then,” Demeter says, opening the door all the way. “Uh, one of my charges thought that something was wrong, but to be honest, they don’t really understand people all that well. This little experiment is meant to help there, but I expect there to be a lot of little miscommunications and misunderstandings along the way.”
“I have no doubt that you will find yourself to be correct,” Alea says.
“Thank you!” Demeter says, without a hint of awareness. “On that subject, I shouldn’t be leaving them unsupervised in a room full of people for much longer, so you’ll have to excuse me.”
“She’s… something,” I say, after the door has swung closed.
“She is indeed,” Alea agrees.
“And so are you,” I say. “But I mean that in a good way. You’ve obviously mastered sarcasm faster than a lot of people who were born here.”
“My previous… my former lover often commented on the wickedness of my tongue,” she says. “Though it often landed me in trouble, it was not always a complaint. She was… you would say she was high-born, and she had a very insular upbringing. She had a difficult time doing anything that you would be likely to recognize as flirting, which made it all the more affecting when she attempted. But it also meant that I had to do a certain amount of… pursuing, even when it wasn’t quite seemly for me to do so. I wonder now if that was worth the trouble.”
“She must have seemed worth it, at the time,” I say.
“She did,” Alea says. “She certainly did… even still, I’m not sure that I would do it again, for her or for anyone.”
“Once bitten, twice shy?”
“An apt saying,” Alea says. “Yes, Kegan… I think I’ve had enough of pursuit for the time being. I think I would like to find out what it feels like to be pursued.”
I’m still trying to figure out what the hell to say to that when she glides out of the bathroom.
It takes me an embarrassing amount of time to realize what she means for me to do.