Buwaro could see that Kieri was groggy as he walked into her room. She whimpered softly, then opened her eyes. She turned her head to him weakly, before her eyes shot open and she scrambled off the bed, falling with a yelp. Buwaro winced. "Are you okay, Snowy?" he asked, his voice soft and nervous.
A moment of silence passed. Finally, Kieri's head poked up over the bed. "Wh...wha? Buwaro? What happened?" she asked, eyes wide at Buwaro's new form.
Buwaro looked away, grimacing. "Yeah, I'm not sure either," he muttered, trying to hide his now-huge wings in a self-conscious gesture. "I got mad at him for hurting you, and then my wings just...grew."
Kieri blinked, sliding back onto the bed carefully. "I'm sorry too," she replied. "I did not recognize you in the silhouette."
"It's okay," he smiled, sitting in a chair by her bed. He moved a hand out to gently rest on hers. She smiled back, holding his hand.
"You could've waited for us," Rhea joked as she walked in with Heathcliff. "She wasn't going anywhere."
"Neither was Denevol," Buwaro replied, sticking out his tongue.
"D-Denevol?" Kieri managed. Then it clicked. "The Angel that attacked us?"
"Yeah," Heathcliff replied. "We talked to him today. You were out for a day," he clarified.
"W-what happened?" Kieri asked with a stammer.
"Buwaro beat the crap out of him over you," the middle-aged man said. "Didn't know he had it in him, but he cleaned his clock, Seraph or no."
Kieri's jaw dropped as her eyes went wide as dinner plates. She stared at Buwaro, and he could see the gears turning in her head. "You are unaware of how you got this power?" she asked, her voice barely a breath above silence.
"N-not really," Buwaro replied, now worried.
Kieri turned pale. "A Duke," she murmured, shocked.
Everyone was silent for a moment. "A what?" Buwaro asked, tilting his head.
"No way," Rhea stammered loudly, her tail puffed out in shock. "Buwaro? As in our Buwaro? He's a – " She lowered her voice. "A Duke of Hell?" she finished almost as a whisper. Kieri only nodded.
"It seems likely now that you mention it," Heathcliff nodded, stroking his chin thoughtfully. His eyes held concern in them. "The old stories talk about some Dukes growing wings, or re-growing them if they were mangled."
"Um, what are you guys talking about?" Buwaro asked, now looking worried.
"A duke is a sort of ruler," Heathcliff replied. "A Duke of Hell is a legend from the Great War, of Demons who would gain sudden surges of power that could potentially put them on the level of a Guardian. A Heavenly Baron was the Angel version of that, though somehow they seemed rarer.
"No one knew what caused a Duke to appear, though it was said that a truly tragic moment, for an Angel who stood for the right things, would cause the rise of a Baron." He looked at Buwaro, calmly reasoning through the details. "You gained that power when you thought Kieri was dead, right?" The boy nodded, and he sighed. "You have two friends to your name. No family. Half your relations had been cut down before your eyes. That sounds pretty tragic to me, even if it was a mistake on your part. So maybe it's simply emotional trauma."
"And it's happened before," Rhea muttered. "He lost his sister a while back, too..."
Heathcliff winced, now feeling even worse about what he had told Buwaro a while back. He hadn't thought the boy had been through that much already, with how happy-go-lucky he'd been so far. "Okay, yeah, you were probably a dam waiting to burst. No wonder you cringe so much..." He sighed. "Either way...you're gonna have to learn control over your power. Master what you have, and develop what you can. You can defend Kieri and yourself now, if you need to, but the better trained you are, the better you'll be able to do so."
Buwaro nodded, looking thoughtful. "...Snowy?" he asked.
"Yes, Buwaro?" she asked, wondering what he was thinking.
"Is there any spell to heal people?"
Kieri smiled sadly. "There is," she replied, "but it's a spell only Angels can use, because of our Light element."
"Okay, dang," he sighed, trying to think. "Because I don't want to just hurt people, if I can. I mean, that's what people think of Demons, right?" he added as everyone looked at him oddly. "Step one: Change people's minds about that."
Rhea snorted a laugh. As Buwaro glared at her, she responded, "Sorry Buwaro, but changing people's minds is one of the hardest things to do right. Besides," she added, losing the humor, "some Demons aren't so nice as you. They might take advantage of that."
"So?" Buwaro responded. All eyes were on him. "I'm a Duke of Hell, right? I could get them to stop."
"It's not that simple," Heathcliff responded, then smiled, "but if no one tries, it doesn't happen anyway, right?"
"Exactly. I guess," Buwaro smiled. Chuckles filled the room, including the young Demon's.
The group was soon on the road to St. Curtis. Buwaro walked along the wagon most of the time. Eventually, he asked, at Rhea's prodding, if Heathcliff would teach him the basics of magic. The man was somewhat reluctant at first, since the boy was a Fire Demon, but he reasoned that Kieri could put it out if it came to that.
Buwaro surprised him by nearly mastering the Fireball spell with little more than a few minutes of instruction and an hour of practice. "Impressive," Heathcliff admitted with a smile as Buwaro showed him the ball of flame, burning merrily in his hand. "Sammy took a full day to get it down that well."
"It's still a lot of work to do," Buwaro admitted. "I have to put lots of energy into it."
"Still a good starting point," Heathcliff shrugged. "Keep working with it, and it'll get easier."
Buwaro nodded and began focusing, working with the spell. By the end of the next day, he was working on more advanced Fire spells and had mastered the basic Fireball. After four days of study, he'd mastered a long-range Fire spell, a minor explosive Fire spell, and a spell that simply lit fires, which of course helped with camping. The next few days saw him mastering a spell to quell flames and one that created a smokescreen.
Heathcliff was a bit concerned by his rapid growth. "He's taking to magic very well," he said casually to Kieri.
"Most Demons are somewhat better with magic than Medians," Kieri explained, "but he does seem to be better at it than most Fire Demons. Even better than some Fire Angels," she admitted. "Perhaps it is part of being a Duke?"
"Maybe," he sighed as Buwaro began conjuring flames to linger and flare around his claws. "That kid's gonna be a terror to fight soon, isn't he?"
"Yes," Kieri smiled. "But I think he knows a bit about when to fight, now, too."
The next day, Kieri decided to teach Buwaro about flight, since it looked like his wings were large enough to bear him aloft. The first hour or so wasn't as productive as the time he'd spent on his Fire magic, however – he kept forgetting how to flap his wings, not being used to the idea of swimming, much less "swimming in air."
Kieri asked if maybe a swimming lesson would help, and he quickly became shy and nervous. She sighed softly. "It might help you to understand what you're missing," she said.
"Yeah," Buwaro murmured, "but I don't like water...I dunno why."
"But I'm a Water Angel," she replied, pouting. She hoped the implied hurt would get him to at least try.
He hesitated. "...alright," he sighed. "I don't know what it is – it just feels weird to me."
"What is it about the water?" she asked.
"I dunno," he said, frowning.
Finding a shallow part of the river, they eased in while holding hands, and got the water up to their knees. They stopped here, and Kieri said, "Alright, first I'd like you to think about how it feels. Maybe see what the problem is." He nodded and closed his eyes. "Is it the cold?"
"No. I mean, snow's cold."
"And snow is basically frozen water, so..."
"Wait, really?" he asked, staring at her.
She giggled. "Yes, it is. It's frozen rain, basically."
"Weird." He concentrated again.
"Is it because it's wet?"
"I don't think so," he murmured. "I mean it's not like it hurts, but it does feel weird. Like I need to be afraid and I don't know why."
Kieri thought. Perhaps he had a history with water – Rhea had mentioned the Styx was near his home, after all. "Let's go a little deeper, then," she said cautiously.
Buwaro's hand clenched hers a little tighter. "I don't know," he said.
"It's okay," she smiled. "I'll be right there." He nodded, nervous as she led him deeper. Every few steps, he clenched a bit tighter and unclenched, as if to reassure himself. A while later, they were about halfway up the belly in the water. "You okay?" she asked.
"No," he murmured. "I don't understand."
"Maybe you fell into the Styx when you were small?" she asked.
Buwaro closed his eyes, thinking. "Yeah, I might have. I feel really panicked, like I don't even know why except that I just know something's gonna go wrong."
Kieri hugged him. "It won't. I promise."
He gulped. "Alright. Let's...let's try more tomorrow, okay?" he said. "Or in an hour or so."
"Alright," she replied. They made their way back to shore.
Back up at the wagon, Kieri told the group what they'd discovered. "Figures," Rhea sighed. "Poor guy." She put a hand on his shoulder.
"It's alright," he said. "M-maybe I can find a way to get over it."
"Time in the water will probably help with that," Heathcliff said. Buwaro nodded, shivering from the thought. "At least your girlfriend will be there to help you, if it goes wrong. Water magic could give you a place to grab with ice, or dam up the water."
Buwaro stared at him. "What up the water?" he asked, as if disturbed.
"Block it up," Heathcliff sighed. "Some words sound the same, but don't mean the same thing."
"I was about to ask if we were thinking of the same word," the boy chuckled nervously.
Another week passed. After dropping off the Fairies near the Southern Forest, the group moved north. Buwaro wasn't sure whether to be happy at leaving the river behind or not, since he did want to overcome his fear.
Still, it hasn't been pleasant, so he was partially relieved.
Either way, Kieri taught him a bit about flying, worked with him on reading, and even taught him what she knew about unarmed fighting. There were a few times he'd gotten a little close with his claws, and he'd felt bad about it at first, but she shook her head and smiled. "If you are skilled enough to injure me," she replied as she bandaged her wounds, "you're skilled enough to injure most people in a fight. And if you injure someone enough, you can force them to stop fighting you, either by scaring them off or wrestling them down."
From there, Buwaro wanted to learn how to wrestle. He turned out to have a bit of a knack for it, being able to scrape sensitive spots with his claws to gain a temporary advantage and taking quickly to the grabs and escapes – especially with his new understanding of punches and kicks. Rhea found herself impressed at how he took to this particular combat art.
And then Kieri taught him how to suplex someone. Building up his strength enough to do so with someone his size was fairly easy – all he really needed was the flexibility, which Kieri worked into his routine. Soon he was able to suplex his girlfriend, though she always made sure that she had her arms loose while they practiced, so she could catch herself before she hit anything.
He wasn't great at it, but Miranda said she'd teach him a bit once things settled down with the baby. Kieri had been surprised to learn that Miranda was more than a potion brewer, but had once been for-hire for pirates and other sailors.
The night before they reached St. Curtis, Kieri and Buwaro gave a quick demonstration of what he'd been learning. "He's gonna be a beast when you're done teaching him to fight," Rhea grinned as they finished.
"Aren't I already?" Buwaro asked. Rhea was about to respond when she saw his grin. The group got a few chuckles from the pun.
The next morning, as they arrived in the city, Buwaro found himself too excited to stay in the wagon. He held Kieri's hand as they walked, but he was obviously bouncing with interest at almost everything. Kieri giggled at his pointing at certain things, watching the entire city closely. "It's such a pretty place," he said, gently running his hand along a huge root from the tree at the center of town.
"I know," she smiled, "it is beautiful."
As they rounded a corner, Buwaro heard a yelp. He glanced at the source – a Jakkai woman with a bag of groceries, backing away from him. He slowly backed up, motioning with his open hand to let her pass. She stared at him, as if confused. "What is this?" she asked suspiciously. "A Demon, being nice?"
Buwaro paused, thinking about her reaction. Finally, he sighed and sat down, looking the woman in the eye, letting go of Kieri's hand in the process. "I don't get it," he said frankly.
"Huh?" she asked, confused.
"Maybe I'm the weird one for Demons," he said, gaze lowering a bit. "Maybe I'm not supposed to be nice. But if that's the case, I don't care. I'm perfectly happy how I am. The only time I've ever really wanted to hurt someone was because they hurt Snowy. I thought he'd killed her. And when I found out she was fine, I felt really bad about hurting him." He stared at her again, and she shifted nervously under the intense gaze. "Am I really that weird, because I'm a nice Demon? If so, I have one question: what is wrong with all the others?"
Kieri stared at him, surprised, before she kneeled by his side. "Buwaro," she said sadly, placing a hand on his shoulder. "I don't think you're entirely alone, no. I don't know why there aren't more as nice as you, though. Maybe they don't think they can be."
Buwaro stared at her, confused, before it clicked. "Because of the Stupid War," he said.
Kieri chuckled in spite of herself at his nickname for the Great War. "Probably," she nodded grimly.
"So you're friends," the Jakkai said, slowly walking closer to them. "I mean, seriously friends."
"Rhea said something about exploding her," Buwaro said sheepishly. "I'm guessing it's a slang or something."
Kieri blushed brilliantly. "That's...yes, 'bang' is a slang word," she managed, embarrassed, her hands covering her face. The Jakkai giggled in spite of herself.
"What does it mean, then?" he asked.
"It..." She hesitated. "It means sex."
The Jakkai's jaw dropped as she stared at the two. "Yeah I'm gonna pretend I didn't hear that last bit," she said, quickly walking away from the scene.
Kieri was likewise stunned. "Ohhh my," she murmured. "I'll explain it this evening, alright?" she laughed nervously. Buwaro simply became more confused at her nerves, but shrugged and nodded.