The petulant demon sat on a cushioned throne. This was a room designed for debauchery. The succubae giggled nervously. They had tried to get his mind off of the girl, (bitch), and focus on their talents. They were like cats, only purring and rubbing if ignored by their master. One flicked her tail under his nose, and was rewarded with her liver being removed through the lacings of her corset.
Demons’ tales of self-serving histories are apocryphal tales; demons share their triumphs with wanton disregard for another’s point of view, with their grandstanding monologues and soliloquies to such esteem that their own mothers blush at their spawns’ self-love. Demons never think they are wrong, because they never lie.
Their motives are honest.
They want what they want.
And cannot be stopped.
However, the demon had not prophesized Dacianna. Reckoning on the rogue’s folly, and the arrogance of whomever hero he could dredge up, the demon monster used a mental abacus of careful measurement and game play. He would win, the sister would be taken, and the rogue would die. The heroes’ hearts would be savored: the male paladin’s especially, would be a trophy.
But…the female paladin soured his stomach, like a badly digested rat. His room of masks usually played the best games of all: mind games. Torturing intruders with their own anguish, flipping it back on their own worn roads of doubt and fears. But onward she strode, the bold little bunny.
Daci entered the chambers with her right-foot first. Gaenlon stood by her side.
Micah followed behind, in the shadows, and went to his sister’s side. She smelled like rusty incense and polluted oils. She did not smell clean. Her embersilk dress was soiled and sweat-stained. Her long iridescently icicled locks were dulled and matted. Looking in her tattooed eyes, Micah’s sour face was reflected her eyes, like two cracked mirrors. She smelled like she had been washed in lies.
She scampered in his arms, not relieved to see him for her sake, but for his. He did come back for her; whether or not she wanted to escape, that was another matter. He was alive, foolish, but alive. She forgave him everything, from putting her in the arms of the devil in the first place, and using her as collateral in a lopsided bargain. Sold to the demon for blades. She considered the offerings: be the concubine of a powerful demon and giving him heirs was not necessarily an unfortunate fate.
But Micah’s sister looked in his eyes, back at Micah’s gaze, and with an unseen light, grace covered her soul. He tried, he tried, and he tried. Everything he had done had been to protect her, in his fashion. She saw all with clarity. Being the consort of a powerful demon would never be worth the warmth of loyalty, however misguided, the missteps, and mistakes. She needed to go find her home, and help him find his, too. She knew where to start.
Under the cushions, as a bitter nuptial gift, the demon had given her the blades her brother had sold her for, the very daggers that danced in Micah’s nightmares, stabbing him in his heart, but never killing him, slowly poisoning him with plum and crimson-colored regret. Micah’s sister gave him the blades. “Here is what you come for, Micah.” Micah looked at his sister with fresh painful guilt. “Did the demon take everything from you?” Micah asked, choking, softly, afraid of the answer.
His sister responded, “He doesn’t know who I am: he was going to make me his bride and take his name tonight.” Freshly covered with poisons, he put the daggers in his side scabbards, their enchantments quietly but inviolably peeling off deadly fumes. Rogues’ immunity to poisons is not infinite, and their resistance to the toxins they use may ultimately cause their death if sour deals and traitorous negotiations do not kill them first. Death, for rogues, can be a slow seepage of sewage, either cutting their veins open from the inside, if not by another’s blade from the outside.
Dacianna confronted the demon. She just saw him as another foe, one who would test her, certainly, but he seemed a bit flaccid in her opinion. Besides, Gaenlon was right here, although he looked pale and waxy. His cloak hung on his back in tatters, as if shredded by claws, and his red hair was oily and dirty. He glanced at her with tired eyes. There was a thin scratch running from his eyebrows to his chin, curving ever so toward his mouth. The only desire Daci felt was to bring him home alive, and to end this. She felt oddly detached from what happened to him after they left this place; she squelched a tiny but stinging shudder deep in her chest, like she had swallowed an itch.
The demon shifted restive on his throne. Daci did a mental calculation of all the players in the room: the rogue was by his sister’s side, and would know the best time to strike, she hoped. There was an enhanced greenish aura about him Daci couldn’t place, but a feeling of renewal struck her. The sister—out of the way. Probably drugged and weak, they’d have to work together to get her out safely once this over. Gaenlon was ready to fight, although he seemed—she could not allow herself to think it. He was weakened. But yet, there was still something of an inner fire in him. He could handle his blade. Dacianna doubtfully counted on it.
The goblin servants and slutty succubae had vanished—not likely to be back. This was not their fight. (One succubus scraped some offal off of her hob-nailed footwear on her way toward the gates. A goblin manservant boldly slapped her on her tail, and promised he knew a friend who could clean up her outfit for a bargain. She giggled. As if she would pay.)
Daci spoke to the demon: “We only came for the rogue’s sister. Stand down, or you die.” No quaver or falter in her voice. Her stance was bold and strong, her muscled thighs bent at the knee, turned three-quarter stance so as not to absorb any direct hit. Her shoulders held the shield at a protective angle, meant to block as well as hit with its strong force, her sword held like a handshake made in faith and truth, its enchantment thick and powerful.
The demon chuckled. “Little pink paladin, pink, pink, milk and blood, pink. The little rogue girl is beautiful, indeed, but stupid as an imp. She cannot seem to remember her own name. The rogue brought her here drunk or drugged, and left her to me. I wish she would tell me her name, but can’t seem to get it out of her, she is that dumb. Dumb. Dumb. Dumb. Maybe all pinks are dumb. He has the daggers he came for now, so just give her up. I need her name to perform the ceremony tonight. The moon is almost full, fat old cow that the moon is, but you, tiny pink paladin, bore me to tears. Go back home now, there’s a dear.” And with a wave of his clawed hand, tiny sparks of purple and scarlet began to rain from the illusion of a ceiling.
Daci surrounded herself with great threat, height, and righteousness as naturally as she breathed. Her presence, her righteous presence, created energy of another soul at work. She tried to use her shield to coalesce the tiny sparks, but though each one was harmless as a sparkle, a shower of them began to burn.
Gaenlon roared as the fire mist grew to raining shards. A stream of holy light from a guardian spirit poured over him and Daci. Only because of Kiindra’s gifts was this possible, the extra healing she had bestowed. The demon squeaked, ignoring their attempts to stop him, “I want this girl, paladin. I want to have her, bed her down, and eat her soul. Give me another, and I shall set her free, and you as well. Give me another. We’ll trade. I like trading for better deals. One foul girl for a fresh pink one.”
“Never” thought Gaenlon. He could barely speak. His voice was scorched by smoke.
“Not this time…”
Dacianna continued to fight in her formally trained style—shield hit, shield hit, power infusion, sword thrust, she missed again, hit, missed, not causing enough damage to weaken the demon…she felt outside of herself, desperately wanting to be unorthodox, to hurt, to kill this devil, to beat him down, but her training had not prepared her for imaginative deaths…she called upon her Na’aru sprits, her own guardians of light, but for her they offered only a straight path…enough…she threw herself into the demon with her off-side, swinging around and kicked him like the animal-warrior inside of her that she was born with. She had been given these horns and hooves for more than freakish jests, by gods.
Micah just wanted to get his sister out safely. The paladins’ rage was a blur of feathers, light, blood, and sweat. He couldn’t estimate the time left. With his throwing ax, and one of the daggers in quick succession aimed for the demon’s skull and throat, respectively. Though Micah still possessed lightening speed, the demon was a hair quicker, and caught the dagger between two fingers. The fiery rains increased, scorching their vision, the smell of burnt fur and hair infused the room.
But the throwing ax, the old, dulled throwing ax, hit its target.
The demon’s skull began to crack, the point in between his eyes, and fissured down his face. He seethed out words, for if he screamed, his face would open…”What is her NAME PALADIN?”
Gaenlon did not speak her name.
The demon deftly spun the blade in his fingers. Poison dripped down his forearms, leaving tiny shots of smoke, bullets of acid.
“I will cut it out of you.”
He pulled Gaenlon’s head back, and while the demon only saw the pulse of a jugular vein, Gaelon saw lights. He saw two lights, light as shadows, leaving, away, spirits…gone. Daci fell back, her shield sliding across the floor. Scrambling up, she was strong enough, but not fast enough. Gaenlon smiled at the demon as he slit Gaenlon's throat, opening a gash, spilling pure blood, crimson black, like overripe fruit. The blood spilled on his cloak pin. The blood spilled on his lap, and in his hair. Gaenlon twisted and thrust his blade under the demon’s groin, up through his midsection, the entrance being his foulest path, soiled, and oozing blood and bile, a viscous mix of fecal drippings: the blade sliced up the curved spine of the demon, nicking its blade on the bone but making its target, and out of the bottom of his throat, just at his clavicle, the tip of the blade cut off his voice, his words, and all his power.
The demon spoke no more.
There were a few more sad breaths. Kiindra’s gift, the Na’aru blessing, made it so as Gaenlon’s life subsided, he stayed full of love, forgiveness, and hope.
Not thoughts, no pain. Just peace.
Micah and his sister continued out, away, away, away…
Daci fell to her knees. She could not leave Gaenlon there; this was no proper tomb for him, not in a pool of black blood and demon butchery. She scooped him under his shoulders, his head lolling back, and then flopping sickly forward. But he wasn’t heavy...she carried him away and conjured her grand elekk, taking his body to the foothills nearby, and buried him next to a boulder pile. She buried him with his shield, his sword, and all of his armor, save his cloak pin and pauldrons. She didn’t want him to feel burdened in the next world to shoulder any more weight.
Dacianna went to Gaenlon’s parents and told them his final deed. They took comfort in their son’s heroism, as it was befitting his station.
“Here is your son’s cloak pin,” Daci handed the piece to Gaenlon’s mother. Just for a moment, a look of such grief, deep and black, passed over the mother’s face. She aged twenty years in front of Daci’s eyes: “Please, my brave girl, you have it –take it, please,” whispered Gaenlon’s mother. Standing immediately upright next to her husband, they vowed that the world would know of his final brave act. Dacianna never understood the humans’ arrogance and need for braying. The superficiality disturbed her greatly. Perhaps she would seek out Micah’s sister, and see what they could do. She sensed a survivor in her, someone who would balance her with friendship and grace. New lands were opening up, and they each deserved someone who loved them, for life.
In another land, far away, through emerald hills and violet skies, Kiindra went to check on her small girl, an orphan. At the doorjamb, her knees buckled under. Something was wrong. Something happened. A loss. The sense of having something, knowing where everything existed, and then, her heart felt as if it had caved in. The baby girl slept. Kiindra went to the tall chest, and pulled a letter out of a hidden pocket under the ancestral treasures and trash she kept for sentimental reasons. The paper was thin, weakened. She read it again. Time stopped. The movement of the world whirled around her. It was a letter of sorrow, of regret.
Micah and his sister hobbled their way to their homeland, their mother’s empty house. The way back seemed inexplicably shorter. On the hill where the grandmother Cenarion tree grew, Micah collapsed. Their dead mother’s cottage was within view, a glowing lantern beaming like open arms. There was some movement inside, a shadow passed. Micah spewed blood and spittle on the grass. His sister cleaned up his face, wiped back his hair from his sweating, clammy face, and held him upright. The poisonhoney’s stings leeched Micah’s life. His sister kissed him on his forehead. The grass was so fresh with its own dance of clover and honey; she could not smell his sour, burning, fading breaths. Two large roots from the tree encircled and cradled him, his sister knelt next to him. Micah reached out to her, and she grabbed his hand, grasped his finger, and held on tightly. She smiled at him, in innocence and love. His finger slipped from her grasp, he smiled at her, and let go.
Alone, she walked down the hill, toward the house, with the light on inside.
Alone, she walked down the hill, toward the house, with the light on inside.