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Devil Child

By Nicholas Woode-Smith All Rights Reserved ©

Fantasy / Scifi

Ch 1: The Devil Child

“There is only one people, one race and a million animals. Any other that claims sentience is but a demon, a manifestation of a heretic’s mind.” – Word of the Imperial Council, 56 000 I.F

Stones hurt, they always did. Again and again the assorted smooth and jagged pebbles pelted the girl as she gritted her teeth and tried in vain to ignore the searing gashes opening on her exposed flesh. They had strapped her down, as usual. Maybe it was more entertaining to harm someone who could not do anything to defend herself? Perhaps it gave them a sense of dominance, a belief that they were not the lowliest beings in their existence, that there were a few that even they could tread on?

Regardless, the torment continued. All she could be thankful for was that they had, at least, used rope this time. She could tolerate the hot fibres tearing her flesh much more than the alternate metal clamps which, on a good day, would only flay her knuckles, leaving hot searing wounds which even the Preacher’s herbs could not help to dull the pain.

Another rock was hurled and she could barely contain herself from crying out in pain. Luckily, she managed to restrain any indication of weakness – showing pain would only invite more. Any suggestion of fear would only reward her attackers and give them even more incentive. She didn’t want to give them any more pleasure than they already had.

Sometimes, she pondered the justification for the pain she experienced every day. Sometimes, she could even come to agree with those that tortured her. She had done much to harm them, even if she may not even have been the one doing the harming. Accused of blasphemy and demon-harbouring was a serious offence on Xerl, after all. It could be ignored in polite company if one had the right ancestry, but no one could leave her be outside the safety of her house. That was the very reason her parents, if they could still be called that, forced her out at least once a day to receive punishment for her supposed thoughts.

She remembered happier times: days when she had friends and was more likely to be greeted with a congenial smile than a beating. Those days ended, seemingly as quickly as they had started. From warm camaraderie, her peers attitudes turned to cold hatred. She was hated.

Was there any real justification for her pain? Often, she would say not, but could thousands of Imperial preachers really be wrong? Maybe what they said was true – maybe she deserved the pain?

It had been eight years since her sister disappeared; eight long years of pain as she was punished for the famine that her sister had wrought. The Martyr himself had declared her a manifestation of heresy. All the off-spring of House Lien were declared demons. Her parents begged for permission to redeem themselves - to be allowed to kill her. The Martyr forbade them. Their punishment was to allow her to live - their only daughter allowed to live as a testament to the sins of their other offspring.

The famines had ended, but old habits die hard. She was punished every day. Old friends whipped her, relatives stoned her. No one spared her a glance of sympathy. All she could do was keep on living, hoping for an end that would never come, as they would never let that day come. Her people lived a long time and, with medicine, her lacerations and illnesses were healed. Any person would have dreamed for the care she was given, but she only wished it would stop. A small part of her longed to succumb to infection. It would mean death, yes, but it would also mean an end to the pain, the misery. She wanted an end.

As blue as her punisher’s unmarred skin, the sky heralded a good day for many. Her day would be like any other. Only thirteen and covered with blood and scars, she winced as another stone struck her. She cursed at the loss of her own strength. They would not be bored fast this day.

She steeled herself, awaiting the next blow. It never came. Normally, turning from the wall brought only a broken nose and black eye, but this time, she felt that it would be different.

Her ears still rang from the pain. This deafened her to the surroundings as effectively as ear plugs. This ringing in itself hurt her, as her long sensitive ears could not stand loud noises.

No blows came, but as the ringing subsided, she heard footsteps. Finally, she turned her head.

Standing above the now chastised and kneeling bodies of the three boys who had attacked her was an Edal, older than herself but still young, only now coming into manhood. He stood nobly over the ones who had hurt her for most of the morning, clutching a rod, the design of which was normally used against her.

She cursed silently. Adults sometimes felt the need to vent their frustration upon her and would chase away the usual younger torturers. They were much more brutal. She almost shivered.

Her hearing was coming back to her and she could hear the faint sound of communication as the adult spoke harshly with the children. He switched one of them lightly and sent them off.

He looked up as they ran off and the girl hastily turned back to the wall. Once again, she steeled herself. The crunching of boots upon gravel could be heard approaching. Seconds hurt, the anticipation was a nightmare.

Relief hit her like a wave as the ropes restraining her gave way. Instead of collapsing to the floor as she was usually allowed to do, she was caught. Her mouth was dry and her skin torn. She was used to this. The sudden relief left her vision white, and she could only feel as a bottle of what felt like water was brought up to her lips. She drank, but then stopped. Swiftly, she tried to break way. No one would offer her this kind of kindness. Xerl was a planet devoid of kindness towards the likes of her. She broke away, but from the force of it, she almost fell, until she was caught again. The grip was strong, but not painful. There was no animosity.

‘You are safe now. I am not going to hurt you.’

The voice was soothing, kind. It put her at ease. She drank greedily. Her chafed lips and dry throat needed it. Her vision cleared and she looked up.

The man had smooth blue skin, hinting at a life of luxury. This was no farmer. His hands showed no evidence of calluses. His face was warm and he wore a slight smile. At least, she thought it was a smile. She hadn’t seen one for what seemed like an eternity.

The man had placed his jacket upon the ground and slowly lowered the girl upon it. Looking around, he pointed at a pile of rags questioningly. The girl nodded as the man bent down to pick up her shredded clothes. She could not have been sure, but he seemed to shake his head, almost in disgust.

Dubiously, she accepted them as he handed them to her. She put on her shirt, only wincing a little as the fabric made contact with her flesh. They both remained silent until the girl looked up at him.

Finally, he spoke. ‘Re’lien, I presume?’

Stunned that someone would know her name and not spit it as it passed their lips, she only nodded. She managed to collect herself and reply. ‘Yes, I am. Re’lien en Xerl. The Devil Child.’

At the proclamation, the man immediately burst out laughing. Shocked at this display, Re’lien backed away slowly, hoping that if he meant her some sort of sick harm, that he wouldn’t notice her retreat.

Then she noticed his eyes. They held no mirth. She had never seen a humourless laugh before. Even the sadistic guffaws she was usually forced to witness held pleasure. This man laughed because the world was too unpleasant not to.

He stopped laughing and offered his hand. Nervous but without any other option, Re’lien accepted it.

‘Well, Devil Child, I am Kei en…well, that part doesn’t matter. Just know that I mean you no harm.’

He looked genuinely sincere, but Re’lien knew that sincerity could be the greatest weapon used against her. Creating hope and then crushing it was the cruellest of tortures used against her. But for some reason, she felt no hint of villainy from the man – Kei as he called himself. She felt a sense of eccentricity, but with that, kindness. She could not think why, but around him, she felt safe.

‘I have heard much about you, Re’lien. Mostly bad – well, all bad, but that was what has made me curious.’
He released her hand and continued. She regretted the loss of touch for a second.

‘Devil Child is as odd a term as any in this bizarre Empire we call our home and I decided to come take a look at the heretic who blighted her planet. Call it a hobby of mine to travel the stars in search of oddities. I can say from my first experience of said child, however, that the claims are grossly over exaggerated.’

Kei wore a slightly amused grin. At that moment, Re’lien could not help but realise how much of a mess she must look. Embarrassed that she had thought it in the first place, she chastised herself. It was not her place to look presentable. Kei, on the other hand, looked no worse for wear. His skin was smooth and youthful, accompanying his spiked dark blonde hair. His clothes were clean and other-worldly. He was definitely not a local, probably not even from the system. Xerl was a farming planet; the people were characterised by their physical toil.

Re’lien did not speak. She hardly ever did. A life of punishment and social isolation tended to do that to a person. Kei frowned and then shook his head, clutching his forehead in frustration.

‘How stupid of me. I expect to be able to make conversation with you while you stand beaten and unclothed. Please, allow me to invite you to my residence.’
Accompanying his request, he gave an exaggerated bow. He looked up and winked, ‘I have yet to have any ladies call upon my abode and I would be honoured if I was to have the infamous Devil Child over for l’eron.’

Re’lien didn’t answer, but it seemed that that was answer enough as Kei took her by the arm and pulled her gently away. The courtyard where she had spent the majority of the morning being beaten soon left her vision, and she barely noticed as Kei took off his jacket and placed it on her shoulders.

The streets were relatively empty and she was thankful that the few people out and about did not recognise her. She did not know Kei’s true intentions, but did not want him punished for helping her – if that was what he was genuinely doing. He had shown her kindness. Her distrust was warranted, but he could be thanked for the little he had already done.

Re’lien used this opportunity to get a good look at the town in which she had lived her whole life. Every day she may have left her house, but she had seldom had the pleasure of viewing her city in peace.

Shops flanked her on either side. Double-storied and constructed of white smooth stone, they shone in the dawn sun. Windows constructed of depleted Crystals dotted the second floor in a pattern, the first floor only interrupting that pattern with a doorway. Each doorway was constructed in the general Imperial fashion – an arch flanked by thin decorative columns. Sometimes, the columns would be pushed forward and used to keep up an extension of the roof, which people could use as shelter in harsh weather. Re’lien had never been allowed to use such shelter.

Rows of shops ended as they entered blocks of apartments and residences. These buildings were much taller, but followed a similar design. Edal were a conservative people, and even architecture had to follow a strict code.

As they walked, Re’lien became increasingly aware of her pain. Her sides ached, her back ached and her legs ached. As the hot searing agony increased, she stumbled. Before collapsing, a hand caught her and lifted her up. Her feet left the ground. As exhaustion took her, she could only keep her eyes open and watch as Kei looked at her, his face creased with concern. He was carrying her. This kindness in itself shocked Re’lien more than any stoning or ambush by her sadistic peers. She had faced pain that no one her age should ever experience, but it was this kindness that she found truly shocking.

She did not have any reason to be allowed any form of pleasure. Her crime of association was sin. She was a curse as long as she existed. Why would anyone help her?

As she was carried by the strange young man, she could not help but stare up at the sky as her eyes flickered closed, a tear streaming down her face.

‘She’s a demon! We cannot allow her to live!’

The rotund man was shouting, spittle flying from his mouth. A group surrounding him shouted in agreement. The woman Re’lien stood next to was crying, trying to conceal it. Re’lien recognized the woman as her mother, but all similarities between this woman and the one she had known were now long past.

Smartly dressed and armed with the House Conduit, Re’lien’s father put in his agreement. At that, the group turned to him.

‘How can we trust you, Tren’Lien? With all due respect, you have spawned the demon; you could be one of them!’

‘Do not let your anger destroy your sense, Commander. I have lived faithfully by Council laws my entire life and will continue to do so till the day I die.’

‘That may be sooner than later, eraztar,’ another man added through gritted teeth.

In a flash, curved knives left their scabbards.

‘Take that back, filf, or I’ll cut you till you beg even heathen gods to save you!’

His knife pointing at Re’lien’s father, the man replied.
‘I don’t take orders from demons.’

Re’lien’s father lowered his knife, but then raised his left arm. The man backed way, stunned.

‘No! No! Blasphemy is one thing, but murder…Don’t do thi…’

The last was left unsaid as energy blasted from Tren’lien’s glove, incinerating the agitator and leaving nothing but a charred cadaver in his place.

Lowering his arm, the Lord of House Lien turned to the group who stood frozen, staring at the corpse.

‘Any others wish to doubt my sanctity?’
No one replied.
‘Good, then let us take my heathen daughter to the temple for purification! For the Martyr and Council!’

Re’lien now wished that her father had been allowed his request. If he had, the pain would have been short. There would have been an end. When the Martyr had forbade him the privilege of allowing his honour to remain through her death, she was the one who was truly punished. As much as her father reminded her that she was a demon and deserved all the pain she received, as much as he reminded her how much he suffered, it was she who had to live with the pain. His honour had nothing to do with it. They were her scars, her pain.

It had taken a long while, years even, to realise that. For what seemed most of her lifetime, she suffered while apologising to her father. She felt that she had deserved the pain. Only recently had she started feeling differently.

She had awoken upon Kei’s back minutes ago as he continued to trudge through the morning frost. The sound of a bustling community had awoken - shouts of street vendors, the call of the local overseers and the services of the many Imperial Preachers. She knew the sound well. She had lived in this town, Lien’Xerl, her entire life. Her House was, after all, the primogenitor of the settlement when the Martyr had first come to Xerl.

Every day she was forced out of her home by servants. Her parents never spoke with her or even acknowledged her existence. No, they were no longer her parents. She held no affection for them. There was no warmth or bonds of fellowship. All she held for those who had given birth to her was a cold tolerance, and a tinge of betrayal.

She had regained most of her strength by the time that Kei asked if she was awake. She indicated that she was and he smiled slightly. This man seemed to project optimism. That was something foreign to Re’lien. In a world of bleak greyness, even a speck of colour was enough to make her life seem lighter. Kei’s smile, a genuine sign of friendliness and affection brightened her life. She couldn’t understand what she felt, but at that moment, she knew that she liked this man.

They had stopped outside a small abode. The walls were slanted and the entire structure seemed to be spherical. This was a filf’s residence. No columns or stone here, just a practical place to live. Re’lien’s home was much larger and probably more comfortable, but she had never felt that it could be home.

They entered, Kei lowering her to her feet so he could open the door.

‘Welcome to my home. Temporary, as it may be, I have come to like it.’

The room was bright, and not just with the warm glow of the fire. The walls were not just the sombre white and grey of the town, but were painted a myriad of reds, greens and blues. Paintings dotted the walls, showing scenes that Re’lien did not recognize. Scenes of what seemed like filfs standing above burning buildings, holding weapons in their hands. Other paintings depicted much more peaceful scenes. One such painting displayed what Re’lien was sure could have been a tree, but was much too large. No tree was taller than a house!

‘Please make yourself at home! I will get something to eat.’

He left the room with a flourish, leaving her to glance around the room. Besides the paintings, bookshelves lined portions of the walls. She had never seen so many in her life.

Sounds came from the back of the house where she presumed Kei was preparing food. He had told her to make herself at home, and admittedly she didn’t understand completely what home was, she felt that it would at least allow her to read.

Re’lien’s life had been one of major confusion. On the one hand, she was abused and hated, but on the other, she was educated and healed. She had been taught the Edallic script and could read basic literature. She was almost never allowed to put her knowledge to the test, however, as ‘books were no object for heathen hands’.

She walked cautiously up to the shelf and withdrew a book at random. She opened it to an unspecified page in the middle and was met with a series of illegible lines and circles. If this was Edallic, she was truly inept. She tried paging towards the front, but was met with more unknown symbols.

She closed the book and looked at the cover. The right hand side, just along the spine, held a line of the symbols. Resigned, she was just about to put it away when a voice behind her spoke.

‘The People are Collective,’ the voice said. Re’lien, in her fright, didn’t hear what the voice had said. Turning with fright, she flinched as she saw a figure of white. Hairless, earless and flat-nosed,  the Ulyx stared back at her with piercing yellow eyes.

‘The People are the Collective of the Person,’ the Ulyx expanded, ‘a Krugari philosophy on consciousness and identity, written before they disappeared two decades ago.’

Re’lien had heard that, but that did not change the fact that she didn’t know how to react. She was now on the floor, back against the wall. Seldom did anyone talk to her, and until Kei, it had never been without hostility.

Kei entered the room, carrying a tray. He stopped at the sight of Re’lien and the Ulyx near the bookshelf and laughed.

‘Roryx, please refrain from scaring my guest. Re’lien, don’t worry, Ulyx are ugly but seldom dangerous – except, of course, in their banking practices.’

‘That’s somewhat rude, Kei, and uncalled for. I was merely stating the name of one of your many dull pieces of literature.’

The Ulyx, Roryx, said this, but his face betrayed his sentiments. He walked over to Kei, his face divided by a huge toothy smile. They took each other in a friendly hug.

‘It’s been awhile, Kei. What have you been up to these days? I mean before you called me here.’

‘Exploring - mostly. I’ve been to the Kragonian worlds recently.’

‘Haven’t they been in an uprising? The Council in Central is up in arms about it. Apparently, the capital on Kragon has been taken by rebels. The Council is close to sending in the Voroz.’

Roryx looked saddened by that. ‘I thought you had stopped this, Kei. I was sure you had grown some sense after Ter’un.’

Kei’s expression had also darkened. ‘I did not lead these uprisings, Roryx, and neither do I evoke them. I give the people the truth and they can act upon it as they see fit. It is not anyone’s place to prevent people from feeling anger.’

‘Even when the truth costs them their homes…their very lives?’

‘There is no exception, Roryx! There is truth, and there is deceit. I seek the former, and will stop at nothing to spread it. The galaxy deserves nothing less. Somebody has to do it.’

Roryx signed, looking resigned. ‘I know, Kei. I know that you care and just want the world to as well, but sometimes we just go a little too far. I sometimes think that Arenn Pemii’livv was right. Maybe peace, even if false, is better than the chaos that follows enlightenment. Maybe the people aren’t ready yet.’

At that moment, Roryx glanced back at Re’lien. He had seemingly forgotten about her. He looked back at Kei with a questioning expression.

‘Ah, yes, excuse my rudeness,’ his mood had seemed to lighten again, ‘my friend here is Roryx Tyen’Glant, one of the greatest bankers on this side of Central.’

Roryx gave a formal bow and smiled. His reptilian eyes struggled to put her at ease.

‘And this,’ Kei said, indicating at her with a flourish, ‘is Re’lien en Xerl, the Devil Child.’

Roryx brought his hand to his mouth in a thoughtful fashion, but then smiled warmly. ‘Pleased to meet you, Re’lien. May I call you Re? I’ve always found this Fringe habit of including a villages name in your first name as quaint, but irritating.’

She nodded, but stopped. Quiet as she normally seemed, she somehow felt that she needed to make a good first impression.

‘Yes, Re is fine. Lien has never been my home. The title is just a worthless addition.’

Roryx looked concerned for a second, but then smiled. ‘Even I, with my limited knowledge of these parts, have heard about you, Re. It would be my pleasure to talk to the infamous Devil Child.’

‘That will have to wait. I am sure that Re is starving,’ Kei interjected, holding out the tray that he had been carrying earlier. ‘Please, eat what you like.’

Re’lien looked at the tray, but without any prior indication that it was food, she would have totally disregarded it as anything of the sort. What Kei held out did not look like the fare that she normally received, but more like the beautifully crafted artwork that was draped across the walls. It was exquisite. Colourful objects sliced into bits were arranged atop plates. A bowl held what she presumed was a sauce of some kind.

Never had she seen food such as this, and never had she been offered food in such a manner. As much as they were strange, however, she couldn’t bring herself to distrust them.

She picked up a small slice of something from the centre plate. The centre was red with a greenish tinge around the skin. Kei indicated for her to dip it into the sauce and she did so. Hesitantly, she brought the food up to her mouth. Staring at the morsel from the bottom of her vision, she took one final gulp and then placed it in her mouth. Before any second thoughts about the safety of the food could reach her, flavour invaded her mouth. It practically exploded. Sweet liquid spread throughout her mouth and she was hard pressed to swallow, lest the taste stop. She had tasted something like this before. It had been so long ago, but she remembered.

A tear fell from her eye as she swallowed the fruit piece. Before the taste could subside, she took another – and another after that. Tears now fell openly from her eyes. She noted that Roryx was not looking at her, but was reading instead. Kei continued to hold the tray. He was smiling, but looked somewhat sad.

The plate was almost done when she finally stopped. Her face was drenched, and she was on her knees. She could not recall when she had lowered herself, but Kei had lowered himself with her. She felt something on her shoulder and she turned. Roryx stood there holding a handkerchief. She accepted it and dried her face. Ashamed of her lapse in strength, she once again changed back to her stoic expression. The damage was done, however. She had shown weakness.

For what seemed like most of her life, she had tried her utmost to conceal her emotions. Emotions led to torment, allowed her torturers an opening to harm her. For years, she had managed to put up with the beatings, managed to dredge up the ability to keep on living without shedding a tear for her own pain. She never could have thought that what would have broken her would have been kindness.

Wiping her eyes, she looked up. Kei had placed the empty tray on the table. A blanket of wool had been draped across Re’s shoulders. The warmth was comforting, and she noted how the pains of her earlier beatings had since subsided.

‘Why?’ she finally asked.

‘Why wouldn’t we help someone in need?’ Kei answered. He had taken a seat near her.

‘No one helps me. I am beyond help. I’m the Devil Child! The sins of this world are mine to bear, as well as their punishment.’

‘And you are okay with this?’

Re opened her mouth to reply, but stopped. Was she truly okay with this? She spent her days pondering that question, but never came up with an answer. Did she genuinely believe that she deserved this pain? This punishment? All her life, she just endured the pain, she did as she was told. She knew nothing else. The pain was all she now knew. She accepted it as was her place to do so. Never had someone asked her what she felt – until now.

‘…No,’ she whispered, eyes downcast. ‘I am not okay with this!’
She looked up, her mask disappearing, her complacency collapsing.

‘For years, I have lived under this torture! I have withstood pain every day of my life. The agony was endless, but I could cope with that. Yes, it hurt, but it would abate. No, the real pain was in the madness. I was mad! The Preachers hammered that into me. They made sure that if they could not change what I felt, they would make me doubt myself. They made me doubt my very identity, my very life! I would lie awake at night, pondering. I would try banishing the demons in my soul, but the more I did so, the more I realised that it is not I who was mad, but the world!’

She only realised after the fact that she had been shouting. She didn’t care as she once have might. She had to let it all out. Here she had found an audience, and she wanted to let the world know her suffering.

Roryx and Kei were both watching her intently. A third figure stood by the doorway. She would have gulped and lowered her eyes, normally, but she was sick of unwarranted humility. She looked at the figure head-on – defiant.

To her surprise, the figure began to clap, drawing the attention of both Kei and Roryx who seemingly had not noticed it.

‘Well said, Devil Child. I had my doubts about you, but you have some backbone in you after all.’

The figure approached her, entering into the fire-lit room and revealing itself to be a short Edal woman. She wore a sleeveless vest with pockets lining the sides. Her pants were baggy and also possessed many pockets. By her side she wore a satchel containing what Re presumed was a weapon of sorts. The lady had short spiky dark-blonde hair. Her face was bare, but she wore a bandana around her neck which Re presumed was used to hide her identity.

‘From what I’ve been hearing,’ the woman continued, ‘you were nothing but a spineless heretic. Maybe they’re right, but you’ve made an impression with this already.’

As she approached, she looked at Kei and Roryx with an irritated expression. The two previously calm men seemed to back away, looks of worry crossing their usually calm faces.

The woman glared at them, and then looked at Re, scanning her from top to bottom, arms firmly on her hips.

‘…Is there a reason,’ she began, breathing as if she was trying to keep calm, ‘that this girl here is wearing nothing but rags?’

‘Eri…um, nice seeing you here,’ Kei gulped, ‘we only came back recently, and…I don’t have any suitable clothes for her as such…you understand, right?’

‘What I understand, Kei, is that all men are perverted. Tssh, why do I even bother? Did they do anything besides ogle, child?’

The last question was directed at Re. The lady’s tone had shifted from angry, to resigned, to calm in a matter of seconds. Taken aback, Re shook her head.

Nodding, self-assuredly, the lady turned back to Kei and Roryx. ‘It seems you two will maintain your ability to walk a bit longer.’

Taking a seat by the fire, she crossed her legs and then said, ‘So, aren’t you going to introduce me?’

‘Your presence seldom requires an introduction, Miss Kara’zar,’ Roryx snickered, halting under her glare.

‘Ah, yes. Allow me to introduce Eri Kara’zar. She is most well known in central space as the Scythe Corsair,’ Kei seemed a little more at ease now. It really seemed that he was genuinely frightened by the short woman.

Eri was puffing up her chest, looking proud. As Re did not reply or make any exclamations, she seemed to grow impatient and then disappointed. Pouting, she said, ‘I was expecting more of a reaction.’

‘Not everyone follows pirate escapades, much less in the Fringe Worlds,’ Roryx added, ‘Re is hardly going to know about a space brigand such as yourself. I doubt they allow her any information at all outside of Lien.’

Eri looked at Re expectantly. She shook her head. ‘I don’t even know what a pirate is.’

Eri gasped. ‘Not know what a pirate is? That is unacceptable! How can one live anything but a dreary bland life without tales of swash buckling, blaster raids and the romantic adventures of the corsairs? Danger, dread, wealth, romance…all is the domain of the pirate. We are the owners of space, the great unchained! We are…’

‘…Criminals really,’ Roryx added, his fear from before seemingly non-existent as he paged through a red hardcover.

‘One could say the same of bankers. At least we provide entertainment! I can’t think of anything as dreary and as dangerous as a banker!’

‘You kill people! Every time you go on one of your little raids, innocent people die!’

‘The people I kill are anything but innocent,’ Eri had tightened her hand into a fist. Her knuckles were going white as she clenched her fingers. ‘Every ship I burn, every Enforcer and petty merchant I slay is a slave of the Council – if not a murderer, an advocate of murder. They deserve no pity!’

‘Not everyone who fights under the Council is responsible for the Council’s crimes! We cannot risk becoming like them in our effort to defeat them.’

The two were glaring at each other; Re could positively see the sparks of aggression. Their glares were like knifepoints.

‘It’s been two years since we last all saw each other,’ Kei interjected, ‘Let’s at least try to get along; especially seeing that we have a guest.’

That gave them pause.

‘My apologies, Re,’ Roryx soon added. Eri seemed to say the same under her breath. The apologies seemed more directed at her than at Kei, who looked relieved nonetheless.

‘As I said, it has been a long time since we last saw each other. We don’t want this project to fall apart before it has even started due to some petty bickering.’

Project? They kept discussing things which Re did not understand, but she had an inkling. Their consensual association with her was enough, but all this talk of rebellion and unknown doctrines – much less the condemnation of the council – made her sure.

‘You’re eraztar, aren’t you?’ she asked, surprise showing through her voice even though she had figured it out a while earlier.

‘Eraztar?’ Eri asked, eyebrow raised.

‘It’s a Fringe World term, loosely translates to rebel,’ Kei answered. He then looked at Re. The look held no malice, but held a sense of knowing. They were.

Re kept her face calm, but inside she was terrified. Before she had been pronounced the Devil Child (and even after), she had been taught the evil of all those that went against the Council. They were called Eraztar – Demon Traitor. There was no fitting punishment for an Eraztar besides swift execution. They were a blight upon existence, not worthy of any prison and too dangerous to let live. In some ways, Re was similar to them, but even so, they felt separate. Even if the Council was not her friend, she had been brought up with the Eraztar being her enemy.

‘Why am I here?’

‘There is a saying,’ Kei answered, now looking into the fire, ‘The enemy of my enemy is my friend. You are obviously not a friend of the Council. I can see the abuses they have piled upon you, the unjustifiable torture and acts of violence that haunt you every day. No, you are no friend of the Council – and neither are we.
‘Every one of us has reason to hate the Council. We all have reasons why we want it to fall. For years we have sought to damage them anyway we can. We have failed and we have succeeded, but the fight continues.’

‘So you are Eraztar!’

Kei chuckled humourlessly. ‘That would imply that the Imperial doctrines are correct. That blasphemy was mere corruption of speech. That would imply that I believed a word of the drivel they preached. One cannot fear, nor worship, demons if they do not believe in them. I cannot be Eraztar, as Eraztar do not exist.’

Stunned, Re did not know what to say. Not only had they admitted to rebellion against the Council – an entity all powerful – but Kei had just disparaged Council Doctrine! Wasn’t that what she was accused of? No, she was accused of harbouring demon blood. She was still expected to believe in the demons. Kei was different. He was not a heathen or an Eraztar. He truly did not believe what the Imperials said. In a way, the Imperials could not touch him.

For years, she had been thinking the thoughts that she had previously been falsely accused of pondering. These were the types of thoughts that powers like the Council feared the most. They were doubts. The Council had accused her of blasphemy and by doing so, led her to doubt their very doctrine. It was ironic, really, that by accusing her of a crime, they guided her to genuinely commit it. Every day was hell for her, and that hell was by the Council’s orders. How was she expected to follow the doctrines that led to her pain?

She wasn’t.

‘I want to help,’ she said, ‘but I want something else in return.’

Roryx raised his eyebrow and Eri sat up in her chair. Re’lien looked up, eyes aflame.

‘I don’t want to be afraid anymore.’

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