Patricia Thalassa, former demonologist, former pyromancer, former murderer for hire, and now, former maid, walked down the street. Her high heeled shoes, part of the maid uniform and currently her only shoes, clicked against the cobblestone as she walked.
She was carrying a white linen shirt, a pair of dark grey trousers, and a pair of brown leather, steel toed boots. The pants and shirt were cheap, but Tanya’s boots cost more than she’d hoped. In total, Tanya’s outfit was 4 silver, leaving her only 2 silver and some change in her coin purse. Patricia decided not to buy anything else for the time being.
Tanya said she wanted to earn money. Patricia was skeptical, but with Tanya clothed she’d be able to do her thing. They could buy more supplies if her plan succeeded. If not, Patricia could always come out of retirement and ask for another contract.
As she approached the Tarnished Blade, Patricia’s jaw dropped. She stopped and stared at the scene. One of Tanya’s boots slipped out of her hand, clattering on the cobblestone road.
Amelia was walking down the street, arms shackled together in front of her, surrounded by guards in a humiliating parody of a parade. The Saintess’ eyes were glued to the ground in shame. Captain Richter walked at the front of the procession, completely failing to hide his smug smile.
“What in the name of Thule’s swinging cock do you think you’re doing Maurice?” Patricia scolded. There was nothing wrong with his first name, but the Captain was self conscious about it for some reason, so Patricia liked to use that against him whenever she caught him doing something unbelievably stupid.
“Arresting a criminal, Patricia,” Captain Maurice Richter spat back. He was trying to mimic Patricia’s snarky tone, but it didn’t work on her, she happened to like her name.
“On what charges?”
“I don’t need to tell you, citizen.”
The shape appeared in Patricia’s mind. It was an old memory, warm and nostalgic, but tainted by the sounds of screams, and the smells of burning flesh. A ball of supernaturally hot swirling blue flames appeared in her hand.
“I’m not feeling very patient right now, Maurice.”
Maurice glanced nervously at the flame for an instant, before his cocky expression returned. “Attacking an officer of the watch in broad daylight? You wouldn’t dare,” he announced confidently.
She wouldn’t dare? The peaceful life she built for herself, her friends, her family, her safe place, her fresh start, her redemption… all of it burned away. What was left? Her magic. Fire and death, and nothing more. That’s all she was now. What was left to stop her? Why shouldn’t she just set the world on fire? The power was right there at her fingertips, itching for release.
The Captain must have seen something in Patricia’s eyes, because he quickly changed his mind about what Patricia would dare, or not dare to do.
Holding onto his pride, the Captain managed to roll his eyes, but he answered the question, “Accessory to the murder of an inquisitor, aiding a fugitive, and consorting with demons.”
Patricia drew the mana back from the Fireball spell she was holding, and the swirling flames dissipated. Her mind raced. Murdering an inquisitor didn’t make sense, but aiding a fugitive, that was probably the smelly Elias guy. Consorting with demons… that was obviously Lily.
Patricia knew the dangers of demonkind firsthand. Greater demons weren’t just strong, they were old, and cunning. A few well placed words could destroy civilizations. Making it illegal to speak with demons was a reasonable measure.
What wasn’t reasonable was the exceptions to that rule. Certain demonologists were given permission to keep demonic familiars. Supposedly these ‘special case individuals’ were judged to be resistant to demonic influence, which was obviously bullshit. Interestingly enough, these special cases were almost always humans, and never dark elves or other nonhumans. It was mostly mages that were rich enough to bribe the right people, or influential enough to intimidate the right people. Ironically, the only person who would stand a change at seeing through a demon’s lies, and truly resisting demonic influence, was Amelia.
“That’s all bullshit and you know it.” Patricia finally said.
“She broke the law, she admitted it, and we’re locking her up until her trial. Normally, for those of higher status, the Lord would make a judgement, but Amelia’s demon buddies killed the lord. She’ll have to wait until a proper noble judge can come from the capital.”
“You know it wasn’t a demon that did this right?”
“And how would you know?”
“Is that supposed to mean something to me?”
Patricia clenched her fists. This thick skulled moron… “When investigating a magical assassination, the first fucking thing you should be asking, is ‘what spell did they use?’ Clearly you didn’t do that, because demons don’t fucking use Witchfire. This was a mortal mage.”
“And why would I believe you? The Inquisitor said it was the Children of Kair Tarost, your demon worshipping kin. Obviously they summoned a demon to do it.”
“Those idiots could barely start a campfire, let alone cast a high tier spell. They couldn’t conjure a demon powerful enough to bypass those wards.”
“Aha!” the Captain said triumphantly, “You’re defending them! Typical dark elf…”
“Aargh! Fuck it! I don’t care,” Patricia couldn't take it anymore. She walked away from the idiot in a huff, desperately resisting the urge to reduce the smarmy little bigot to ash.
Amelia stared down at the cobblestone, hunched over, avoiding eye contact as Patricia passed. “We’ll figure something out,” the dark elf whispered. Amelia gave no response.
Patricia let the procession pass, bent down to pick up Tanya’s dropped boot, and continued on to the inn.
“What did you say?” came a growling voice.
Patricia walked inside the Inn and saw the disturbance.
“Patricia can you help me here?” the soft spoken voice of Nedrithel came from behind the bar.
“What did you fucking say to me?” Tanya’s voice growled louder.
A scruffy looking young man cowered in terror, dangling helplessly. Tanya, clad only in her panties and a frilly maid apron, held him up by his collar. The other men in the tavern were watching the scene with amused smirks on their faces.
“I-I said you had a nice… uhm… posterior…” the scruffy man whimpered.
“Did I ask for your fucking opinion on my ass?”
Patricia walked up to the angry woman. “Hey sugar, nice ass.”
Without moving her body, Tanya’s head turned to face Patricia. The intimidating glare quickly changed into a friendly smile.
“Thanks! I’m quite proud of it. You’re not half bad yourself…” The smiling girl said, still holding the man off the ground by his collar.
“W-why does she-” the terrified man started to ask.
“Because she’s hotter than you.” Tanya replied, returning to her low, menacing growl.
“Hey Tanya, stop bullying the guy, and come upstairs with me, we’ve got some things to talk about.” Patricia decided to step in and end the fun.
Patricia walked by and started climbing the stairs to the room. She heard a thump of man hitting the ground, and Tanya’s soft barefoot footsteps following her upstairs.
They reached their room and closed the door behind them. Patricia handed the clothes to Tanya, and Tanya immediately started changing.
“So…” Patricia began, “I saw Amelia outside, being marched down the street like a criminal. What the fuck happened?”
“An Inquisitor came to visit, wanted to talk to Amelia and Lily. They went off to some secret room to talk without me. The next thing I knew, the inquisitor was dead, Amelia lost her mind, confessed to a bunch of bullshit charges, and turned herself in to the guards. I was left here by myself in my underwear. And oh yeah, there’s apparently an invisible demon lurking in our room.”
Patricia looked over her shoulder nervously.
“I’m not sure if it was Amelia’s weirdness or not, but Lily seemed to take her seriously,” Tanya said, passing the maid apron back to the maid.
Patricia concentrated on a spell and saw a shimmer of mana sparkle over her vision.
“Woah, freaky,” Tanya commented.
Patricia smiled. The spell made her eyes glow blue. By sheer coincidence it was the exact same colour as her fire. She loved this spell for that reason alone and used to be in the habit of casting it on herself regularly, even when she didn’t need to. Of course, it wasn’t pure vanity, it had a practical purpose too.
“Arcane Sight, it’s like a weaker version of Amelia’s eyes. It lets me detect magical auras and see through magical illusions,” Patricia explained.
The elf scanned the room. There was no demon to be seen. “Nothing here,” she said.
“So, Amelia was just being crazy?” Tanya asked.
“Maybe, maybe not,” Patricia replied. “Did she describe what she saw?”
“Uuh… a shadow, shaped like a man. He apparently sat on the bed watching us and didn’t react. Lily walked through him, felt his aura, and said he was a demon. Other than that, I don’t know.”
“Invisible and incorporeal, so Sloth or Envy…” Patricia muttered. “It didn’t attack or try to possess anyone, and its true appearance looked like a shadow? So, Sloth then. Probably.”
“Yeah, probably a Witness,” Patricia said. “What was Amelia doing when he appeared?”
“I think she saw him when you were here, right after she read the book.” Tanya explained.
“Silent Witness of Blasphemy. Lucky her. Witness demons are nearly impossible to track and kill, and we have no idea how many of them have infiltrated the mortal plane, but as demons go, they’re mostly harmless. They’re the eyes and ears of Demon Lord Occulith. He never exerts his power on the mortal plane, but he likes to watch things happen. Apparently having his book read by a mortal was interesting enough to Witness.”
Patricia suddenly stopped, and looked around again, “Speaking of blasphemy… where’s Lily?”
Tanya scratched her head awkwardly, “Uhh… she ran off. Amelia, in her mindfucked state, apparently told her to go away after she killed the Inquisitor. She took off before I noticed the chaos downstairs. I have no idea where she went.”
“That stupid little…” Patricia buried her face in her palm and paced around the room. “Amelia’s solution to Lily attacking someone is to say ‘not my problem’? What… Is she going to let the absolutely worthless town guard handle the Inquisitor-killing Greater Demon? Stupid girl… it’s probably just the Book’s influence on her, but she shouldn’t be making these kinds of decisions when she’s impaired. Fuck, I don’t even know if I could kill Lily if I needed to. She’s immune to fire, and lightning could stun her, maybe tear a muscle or two, but she’d be immune to the heat component of the attack. Those are my two strongest elements, by the way. I’d be stuck using lower tier combat spells.”
“I don’t think she’d attack us.” Tanya said.
“She’s a demon, of course she would.” Patricia said flatly.
“She likes us.”
“She liked us,” Patricia corrected. “And now we’ve slighted her. We can’t assume she’ll still be friendly next time we see her.”
Patricia suddenly stopped pacing and stared in horror at the corner of the room. Something was missing. Something important.
“Tanya… where’s the Book?”
The demon’s foot embedded itself in its target with a crack. Lilizath drew her foot back and kicked again. There was another crack. The third kick resulted in a louder crunching noise, followed by creaking and snapping as the tree toppled over. Finally, there was a crash as the tree landed on the forest floor.
“Stupid humans,” the demon grumbled.
The tree was just the latest in a long line of recent victims of the demon’s wrath. Lilizath had felled 14 trees, and killed 17 animals, three of which were too shredded to even bother eating.
Lilizath hadn’t broken her word. 'Against a real threat, I will show no mercy,' she’d told Amelia that when she demanded to follow the little blonde woman to the town. Inquisitors were a real threat. This wasn’t a normal human. The Inquisitor said he was going to capture her, that was enough to warrant an attack. Lilizath didn’t have the luxury of waiting for the Inquisitor to stand up and draw his sword. The pre-emptive strike was the only safe move.
She was still curious about what the little black ball was, and why it didn’t affect her. The Inquisitor seemed to think Lilizath needed to follow his orders if he used the ball to say them. Lilizath let him believe that, and the idiot let his guard down, giving her the perfect opportunity to attack. Still, the man wouldn’t be an Inquisitor if he was completely stupid, she had to assume that it would work on other demons. What was different about her?
Lilizath looked over her shoulder at the town in the distance. She debated going back, seeing Tanya again. No, Tanya would just tell her to go away too. Amelia was the accepting one, and she was the one who sent Lilizath away. She had to face reality. She was a demon.
Lilizath looked at the long line of smashed trees. Playing pretend was fun, but this was what she was. She was a destroyer. A predator, not a prey. Just like in the story books, she was the wolf, and humans were the sheep.
It was a shame that sheep were so soft and cuddly…
Lilizath looked ahead again. Back to the original plan, survive and grow. The humans could stay in their town, doing their stupid human things. She still had some mass to gain back. No sense wasting her energy felling trees. She’d focus on hunting for now.
Moving on from the demolished forest, Lilizath VekxZ’Kraugh went off in search of meat.
Amelia sat in her cell, watching the sunset. She had certain preconceptions about dungeons, so she was pleasantly surprised by her current accommodations.
The cell was up on the second floor of the guard barracks’ keep, and it was closer to a bedroom than a dingy dungeon cell. There were no rats, wall manacles, echoing screams or whatever dungeons were supposed to have. It was a small room, with a straw stuffed bed almost as comfy as the one in the Tarnished Blade. There was a desk and a chair. The walls were a pleasant painted stone. She even had a window looking down on the courtyard so she could watch the men sparring with each other outside.
The only thing that made it a “cell” and not a guest room was the heavy iron-reinforced door barring the exit and the wrought iron bars across the open window. Amelia assumed most other “guests” of the town watch weren’t given such a nice cell. She supposed this was one of the perks of being a Saintess. She was getting the VIP prisoner treatment.
With nothing better to do, Amelia reflected on her day.
Ugh… how did everything spiral out of control so badly. The original plan was, ‘travel to Dursten.’ Somewhere along the way, that turned into domesticating a demon, unravelling a conspiracy, reading an ominous sounding prophecy, surviving an explosion, and dealing with the aftermath of killing an inquisitor. How did a simple trip to the Imperial capital turn into this?
Everything was a disaster. It was all falling apart. She was lost, and she didn’t know where to turn. Acolyte Joffrey wasn’t there to guide her. Danica, the smartest of her friends wasn’t there to ask. She couldn’t even talk to Tanya anymore, not now that she was locked up.
A memory popped into Amelia’s head, one of Joffrey’s first lessons to her. According to him, it was the most important lesson a divine spellcaster could learn: How to talk to a god.
Prayer wasn’t about ceremonies, and it wasn’t about words. It was about achieving a personal connection to one’s divine patron. When Amelia had first been chosen, it felt blissful. There was a warmth there inside her, the light of Truth shining down and piercing the darkness of deception.
A sudden pang of despair struck Amelia heart, because she now realized she couldn’t feel that warmth anymore. She didn’t know when it happened, her gifts hadn’t gone away, but Verita’s warmth had left her. Had Verita left her? No, it was Amelia that had closed her heart to her Goddess.
Lost, and with nowhere else to turn, Amelia took a deep breath and closed her eyes, and she did something she hadn’t done in far too long.
At first, there was only the darkness of her closed eyelids. As Amelia cleared her mind and pushed the distractions away, she felt a presence again. The presence reached out and touched her heart, and a sudden, overwhelming surge of emotion struck her. Disapproval. Amelia had failed as Verita’s Chosen. She’d cast aside the Goddess’ Truth. The emotion was so overwhelmingly strong that Amelia’s concentration broke and her eyes opened wide.
Or… they tried to.
Amelia realized she couldn’t move. Her body was paralyzed, and she couldn’t open her eyes. She was forced to see what Verita wanted her to see, and to feel what the Verita wanted her to feel. Unbidden, the Truth revealed itself to Amelia.
Danica was dead. Her body was ash, and her soul entered the realm of Sylene to be judged. She, Lord Roland, Lady Claire, Lord Caiden, all but one of the maids… they were gone too. They were dead. They might someday be reincarnated, but they will never return as they once were. This was the Truth.
Amelia couldn’t deny it anymore. The grief hit her all at once, and she couldn’t turn away from it. She couldn’t distract herself with other thoughts. Minutes passed, maybe hours, while she was forced to sit there and feel the pain of loss. Tears leaked their way out from between her closed eyelids, and down her cheeks. The only sound in the room was Amelia’s quiet sobs.
When Amelia ran out of tears to cry, the next emotion struck her. This one was gentler, comforting, almost motherly.
Demon Lord Occulith’s views were honest, but incorrect. Everything would be dust someday, but it was not dust right now. Life was transient, but at any given moment, it was still sacred, still valuable. A monument that lasted forever was impossible, but a monument could still last long enough to be meaningful. That was the Truth, as Verita saw it.
Amelia felt a weight lift off her chest. Everything was not dust. Suddenly the words written in the Black Book felt foreign, the thoughts of another, rather than herself. She could now see which thoughts were forced on her by the Black Book’s magic, and which thoughts were truly her own.
The next emotion Amelia felt, was sympathy. Sadness. Verita had witnessed a tragedy.
Words might have worked. The Inquisitor was obviously part of some conspiracy, and Amelia might have been able to convince him that arresting her would be risky given her status and ability to perfectly defend herself in a trial. Amelia was right.
Words also might not have worked. If that was the case, Lily was in danger. The Inquisitor said he wanted to capture Lily. According to the rules Amelia agreed to, the demon was within her rights to defend herself. Lily was right.
Amelia’s actions had been correct in her own eyes, and Lily’s actions had been correct in her own eyes. Lily did not betray her. She did not act out of malice. She was acting to protect Amelia and herself from the corrupt holy knight. Lily was not a monster. She was not a normal demon. She was special. Sending her away was a mistake.
Amelia felt a sudden surge of guilt. “I’m sorry, Lily,” she whispered.
Amelia was released from her darkness. Her eyes opened and she could move again. The sun had gone down while Amelia was lost in prayer, and the moon was high in the sky. Hours had passed. The Saintess gently wiped the tears from her cheeks with her sleeve. Verita was with her again.
The connection was rekindled, with a warm feeling in her chest just like before. Amelia felt forgiveness flow through the connection, raising goosebumps on her arms. She had failed, but she could try again. She was still Chosen. Verita hadn’t made a mistake. New tears flowed from her eyes, tears of joy and relief.
Amelia felt emotionally drained, and now that she was free to move, she suddenly felt exhausted. She decided to lie down for a bit.
The Saintess turned away from the window, and immediately fell out of her chair, yelping in surprise. Sitting on the foot of her bed, hands held politely on his lap, quietly watching her with unblinking eyes, was Mister Shadow. Horror quickly gave way to annoyance.
“Yes?” Amelia asked. “Can I help you?”
There was no response from the shadow.
Amelia quietly reflected and realized that she should probably be a little bit more scared around this demon. Lily had desensitized her so much that she was treating this unambiguously evil monster with casual indifference. Even so, she still couldn’t get herself to feel scared. He was creepy, but he didn’t feel like a threat.
“Why are you following me?” Amelia tried again, this time speaking Infernal.
The shadow monster reached inside his smoky mass and pulled out a simple unadorned black book. He gently laid it on Amelia’s pillow, and returned his hand to his lap. Amelia glared at the shadow and the book.
“You want me to keep reading the mindfuck book?” Amelia asked.
The shadow sat quietly without moving for half a minute, and then nodded slowly.
The shadow shrugged.
“Are you going to try to possess me or something?”
The shadow slowly shook his head, no. It was an Honest gesture.
“Trying to weaken my mind? To corrupt me for your Demon Lord masters?”
Once again, the shadow honestly shook his head no.
“Then, what do you have to gain from bringing me this book and getting me to read it?”
The shadow shrugged again.
“Is there some part of the book you specifically want me to read?”
The shadow took a moment to ponder, gently tapping an elongated finger against his chin. He ponded for two entire minutes before he slowly reached out, picked up the book, and flipped it open. It was agonizingly slow, but Amelia watched the demon flip its way through the book, lingering for nearly a minute on each page, for page after page after page...
Amelia was too nervous to turn away from the monster, but frankly… he was sort of boring. After thirty-five minutes spent slowly leafing through the pages, the demon finally stopped and laid the open book on the bed. Amelia focused inwards, felt her connection to Verita. Ready to spot and ward away any corrupting thoughts, she carefully stepped forward and picked up the book.
The other aspects waste their effort in encouraging sin. When a man reaches out to help his fellow man, or when he inflicts cruelty on his fellow man, there is nothing gained or lost. Both men will die. Suffering and salvation are only temporary. Those created under the aspect of Sloth understand that all effort to kill and corrupt mortals is wasted, and so they gaze upon the world with indifferent eyes.
To that end, I have created my Witnesses. They exist only to watch evil and do nothing about it. They Witness the ugliness that all men desire to hide. They Witness gruesome murders. They Witness brutal rapes. They Witness cruel betrayals. They Witness merciless torture. They Witness heinous blasphemies.
They accomplish nothing. They do not instigate, and they do not aid. Such is the nature of Sloth. Yet by observing the evil act, and doing nothing to aid or hinder it, the act itself gains a new purpose. It becomes a living prayer to Sloth. Both victims and sinners are given an indifferent audience for their depravity, and that audience is essential for it to become a truly blessed act.
Amelia laid the book back on the bed. “So you’re one of these Witnesses?” She asked.
The shadow nodded.
Amelia looked around the room nervously. If a murder or rape were to happen, she knew that she wouldn’t be the aggressor… Thankfully she didn’t see any murder-rapists hiding in the corners and her room had an extremely good lock. Mister Shadow was connected to this book, and this book was definitely blasphemous, so… Amelia decided to make an optimistic guess.
“Blasphemy?” she asked, hopefully.
Much to Amelia’s relief, the shadow nodded.
“By giving me this book, aren’t you helping me commit blasphemy? Doesn’t that go against Occulith’s orders to remain indifferent?”
The shadow shrugged.
“I guess the living embodiment of apathy doesn’t really care that much about enforcing his rules.”
The shadow made no reply, but he took the book again, and flipped the pages. Amelia waited patiently as the demon once again made his way from page to page with agonizing slowness. Luckily, he stopped after only a few page turns. When the demon placed the open book back on the bed, Amelia saw the magical circle again.
She quickly averted her eyes, glaring at the demon with suspicion, “This is the page that messed with my brain. You want me to read it again?”
The shadow nodded.
Amelia didn’t budge. She kept staring at the shadow, but he seemed to have no further reaction. She wasn’t going to win a staring contest against a sloth demon. It would be easier to win a staring contest against a rock…
As Amelia tried to recall what the circle did to her mind, she realized she couldn’t remember the magic circle itself. When she first looked at it, there was a sublime moment of understanding, but it felt… incomplete. Patricia interrupted her, knocking her out of her trance. That was probably a smart decision on her part, but because of that Amelia only retained a partial understanding.
It was a bad idea. An unambiguously horribly bad idea, but she wondered what would happen if she let herself finish studying it. This was a magic circle, that implied it was a spell she could learn to cast. The Saintess’ first spell… learned from a demon book. She had no idea what it would do, but forbidden demon magic sounded… powerful. And the Chosen of Fate’s letter mentioned that she needed power…
This was stupid. Stupid, reckless, and… extra double stupid! And she’d already made enough stupid mistakes for today.
But… she had help. Closing her eyes again, Amelia focused on her connection with the goddess. She prayed to Vertia to spare her mind from the book’s deceptions. To allow her to learn the contents objectively, without losing herself to them again. She felt a warmth in response, it felt relaxed, and comforting. Supportive.
With the Goddess’ help, Amelia could withstand the corruption. She could emerge from the trance unscathed. She knew what to look for, how the book altered her mind. She was ready this time.
Amelia took the book and lay on the bed, placing her feet inside the uncaring shadow man. Taking a deep breath, she braced herself, and looked at the book.
And once again… she understood.