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They found another totem hanging from a tree branch, the fifth that morning. The odd wooden figures, similar to Tabri's animated dolls, were becoming increasingly common the deeper she and Damné ventured into the woods. The two had been settling in, exploring their new home in the nameless forested land, when they first discovered the idols several days before.

"What do you think they could be?" the devil asked.

"I'm not sure. There's some kind of enchantment to them though. I can feel it tingle on my palms."

Tabri cupped one of the effigies in her hand and sure enough, an electric sensation prickled at her skin. The magic was strong too; yet different from any she learned in Xur.

As they passed more decorated trees, sudden wooziness overcame Damné, riding on her shoulders, and he wobbled on his perch.

"Damné, are you feeling okay?"

"These figures..." he put a hand to his head, "Something about them makes me ill."

"Maybe we should we turn back then."

"No, let's continue for now. We may find some answers ahead."

"If you think you can."

She adjusted her passenger and followed her dolls' trail deeper into the glade. More and more totems hung from the trees, along with strange patterns of stone set into the ground. The young spellcaster couldn't discern the meanings of the symbols they formed.

Her passenger let out a soft groan.

"Let's talk about something to take your mind off the pain," she said to him, "Why did you decide to stay with me?"

"In truth Tabri, I am curious about you. My people's opinion of humanity is very meager, though few of us have every met one of your kind in person. Most of us see you only as food, gullible livestock we can leech misery off."

"Your people sound quite cruel Damné."

"I suppose they are. But I have never been able to accept what they said about humans at face value. Any beings that think and feel as we do could not be so different I felt. Yet another reason my fellows considered me disturbed."

The devil's words tugged at Tabri's heart. Damné's tales of his people's treatment couldn't help but remind her of the way the Deacon treated her. Both of them had been cast out for their differences, based on the arbitrary beliefs of those with authority. She was glad of his companionship, and sympathetic toward his plight. Better to be two exiles together than alone.

"Plus, you are my only source of food," he said.

Tabri chuckled. "You don't have to be so honest."

As they walked past another stone circle, he swayed on her back again. Before she could help him, Damné tottered off and collapsed to the ground.

"Damné!"

"Too... strong," the devil stammered out, "Won't... let me... in."

"What's too strong? The magic from the totems?"

The fire within his hollow head dimmed to smolders.

Tabri knelt down and lifted his head, unsure what do. The sound of a bowstring being drawn sliced through her panic. She turned to see a sharp arrow notched in a taut bow pointed at them both, held by a hooded figure.

Their assailant shouted at them in a language she didn't understand.

"Please, I don't know what you're saying," said the young exile, "My friend needs help. Help!"

The archer hissed and relaxed their weapon. As they pulled off their hood, Tabri stifled a gasp at their appearance. They revealed themselves to be a dirty blonde haired woman with skin blue as sapphire. A sneer displayed her almost fang-like teeth, and she stood more than a head taller than the Xurean maiden.

"By the gods..." said Tabri. "Are you a native to this land?"

"Lireg kawag tenod. Dinef toht morph yawa tegh," the woman said to her.

"I'm sorry, I still don't understand."

The blue-skinned archer just rolled her eyes and snatched Tabri's arm, pulling her up from the ground. She gave Damné a kick before dragging the young spellcaster into the forest of totems.

"Wait! What are you doing?"

"Lireg etihaw diputs, ouy ginivas!"

Seeing the language barrier would get her nowhere, Tabri shouted back to her companion.

"Damné! Move back outside the trees. Go back to the cave if you can. I'll come find you!"

Weakly, the devil raised himself up and nodded back to her. He scurried back the way they came as best he could.

"Where are you taking me?"

Her captor shushed her and said, "Egalliv ym ot kacab ouy ginakat mi. Ouy ot ka-eps stanaw manahs et."

Tabri gave up the struggle for now. The archer's grip was strong, and she only had her feeble magic to defend herself with, but defend herself she would if necessary. At that moment though, she worried more for Damné than herself.

After weaving through a maze of totem-draped trees and stumpy stone plinths, they came to a rough wooden wall. The archer rapped it with her knuckles, casting a spell to Tabri's shock, and a split opened up in the barricade. With another forceful tug, she was led through. Beyond, intermingling with the forest, lay a small village filled with more of the blue-skinned natives. Their huts, built from found timber, thatched grass, and canvas, were primitive compared to Xur's soaring architecture, but clearly crafted by an intelligent, organized civilization. As she was marched through, Tabri became quite the source of attention. Many blue-skinned people came out of their homes to see her. She stared back, observing that though the women were of average height all the men were smaller, only three-quarters of their size, and wore scarves around their mouths.

More of the incomprehensible talk fluttered around her. The young spellcaster knew gossip when she heard it, even if she couldn't speak the language. But why did these people find her so fascinating?

Tabri's captor finally released her arm at the village's opposite end, outside a building of rough stone decorated with intricate runic patterns. From appearance alone, Tabri couldn't help but think of it as a temple. A beaded curtain of many colors marked the entrance. The archer pulled this aside, sweet vapors wafting out from within, and indicated for her to enter.

"In there?"

The other woman nodded, patience wearing thin.

Wary of what she might find, she entered.

Smoke stung her eyes as they adjusted to the temple's dim interior. Only candles and burning incense lit the chamber. Chanting seemed to vibrate through the ancient masonry. A native woman of extreme age, her face lined with wrinkles deep as canyons, wearing a hat wider than her body sat cross-legged on the floor. Tabri sensed the old magic, of both the woman and the temple, in her bones. It felt older than her homeland of Xur.

The elderly woman beckoned her to sit, and she did so. Soft heat wrapped around her like a blanket. A smile twitched at the ends of her host's mouth. Despite her captor still being outside, Tabri thought she was in no danger here.

"Sadoow row ni ginivil naikicigam ganoi et erah ouy os," said the elder. Her voice was neither hoarse nor rough, but had the crack of dry aged wood.

"I'm sorry. Like I told your archer, I don't speak your language."

The old woman nodded in understanding and pulled an oblong root vegetable from the folds of her shawl. She offered it to her guest.

Thinking this must be a ritual of theirs; Tabri took the plant and gave the woman thanks. It sat in her cupped hands until her host motioned for her to eat. She swallowed the vegetable down, the flavor bland and the skin papery, though it left behind a tingle on her tongue, an aftertaste she couldn't quite describe.

"I believe that should make communicating much easier," said the woman in perfectly intelligible Xurean speech.

Tabri gasped. "I understood that. You speak my language?"

The old woman chuckled. "No child, no more than you speak ours. But there are ways around such things. That turnip you just ate was enchanted to let us understand each other."

"So it was magic?" She said putting two fingers to her throat. That tingle had been a spell at work. "I knew it; the scent of the arcane is all around us. Baked into the very ground."

"Yes, magic is rich in the soil and air of the Old Wood. But you would know something about Magic, wouldn't you my child?"

Lifting her sleeve, one of Tabri's animated twig dolls teetered out, returning to its mistress. She let the tiny mannequin hug her wrist, glad to see it alive.

"We've been finding your little servants around the edges of our village for a few days now, wondering where they came from. Imagine our surprise to find a foreign spellcaster living in this forest. What is your name, girl?"

"I'm Tabri." She moved to curtsy, but couldn't while sitting. Embarrassed, she gave an improvised bow instead.

The elder smiled. "I am glad to meet you Tabri. My name is Ozaika, Mother of this coven."

"Forgive my bluntness Mother Ozaika, but who are you people? We had no idea anyone lived outside of Xur."

"Nor were we aware any people dwelt beyond our ring of peaks. We are the Witchfolk, born of the planet itself, and this land has been our home since its creation. But I am curious, why did you remain behind in the forest? The rest of the foreigners have moved on."

"So they survived then?"

"As well as they could. We've been observing your people from a distance since you descended from the mountains. They found the fields on the other side of our trees to be more hospitable."

"I'm glad to hear so."

Tabri may have bore ill will to the Deacon and his zealots, but she still harbored love for many others, like her lost friend Alinka. She had no wish for them all to suffer in this strange new land. Knowing her fellow Xureans had escaped to a better place came as a comfort to her. Mind set at ease, the young spellcaster laid out her tale of banishment to Ozaika. Once completed, the older witch scoffed.

"How preposterous a reason to leave you behind. Fearing the arcane. Here, every child is born with magic in their veins and taught the art. It is as important as learning to hunt, or read, or count. Even our men know a few spells, though none seem to possess the knack for casting."

"That may be how things are amongst the Witchfolk, Coven Mother, but it is not how things were in Xur. I would have mastered more, in time, if not for our city's collapse."

A near-silent sigh escaped her lips and Tabri stared at the ground, ashamed.

"But you still learned some spells," The older woman pointed to Tabri's doll, doing an improvised comic dance around a fat candle.

"Meager conjuring, that's all. I can't even start a fire."

" I am settled on the matter then," said Ozaika, "Since your people have cast you out for your magic, and taught you so little of it, I invite you to join our coven Tabri. If you wish, you can make this your new home, and we will teach you spellcraft."

Tabri's shame vanished. She looked up in disbelief. "Really?"

"Of course. We'll fashion you a proper talisman for casting and I'll begin your education myself."

"That... That would be wonderful!"

Excited possibility overcame Tabri. Things had appeared so grim when she watched her people leave her behind, tied to that tree. But now she was being handed a second chance. A chance to live on and fulfill her dream that looked lost with Xur's fall, to learn the art of magic. First Damné came into her life, and now the Witchfolk would take her in.

Oh, Damné!She thought

"I appreciate your offer but I have my companion to think about as well. May he join me here?"

Sunlight invaded the sanctum as Tabri's former captor, the archer, drew the curtain aside and entered. "That is something I wanted to discuss with you, Coven Mother," she said.

"Tabri, this is the leader of our rangers, Salaska. What do you mean about her companion?"

Ignoring their guest, Salaska came around to Ozaika's side and whispered into the elder witch's ear. The expression on her face drew concerned, and then almost furious. Both witches regarded the young exile with suspicion.

Ozaika said, "Tabri, is it true you are fraternizing with a Fiend?"

"A Fiend?" she asked. "What is a Fiend?"

"Don't deny it!" snapped Salaska, "I saw the miserable little imp riding on your back!"

The Coven Mother held up a hand to calm her ranger. "Tabri," she began, "Fiends are evil spirits who feed on misery and despair. They revel in cruelty and their twisted magic only corrupts and destroys. These malicious Vespers know nothing of compassion or love. Have you truly been living with one?"

Tabri could not deny that the description matched what Damné had told her of his people. That would explain why the totems hurt him, they were wards against evil presences. But Damné was not some monster. He wouldn't harm her. He was as lonely as she was.

"No," she said shaking her head, "No, even if he is a Fiend, Damné is not the sort of creature you're afraid of. He's an outcast, banished by his people just like me."

"The Fiend has a name," said the ranger gripping a sheathed knife.

"I gave him that name!"

"And it didn't strike you as odd that your devil gave you a sob story that almost perfectly matches your own? Did you ever consider what the chances of that were?"

"Well..."

Ozaika took over. "Salaska is right, Tabri. This is what Fiends do, weaker ones in particular. They manipulate the sympathy of the naïve to get close, and then they pull on your desires to lead you into misfortune. All so they can feed on you and grow more powerful. They are selfish beings to their core."

"No!" Tabri shot up. "That may be how Fiends are, Damné told me as much himself, but I trust him. He helped me when it would have benefitted him more not to, when it would have fed him more. He's anything but selfish. If you won't allow him in, then I'll stay in the woods."

The Xurean maiden let out an exhausted breath as she finished, surprised at how attached she'd become to the little demon.

"Very well." Ozaika rose from her spot and grabbed her walking stick, shocking Salaska. "Let us go and meet your devil, Tabri. We'll make this assessment for ourselves."

"Coven Mother, are you certain that's wise?" the witch ranger asked.

"Don't worry, I have ways of protecting myself."

Tabri was simply grateful for the reprieve. Letting her twig doll march in front, she led them to the cave where she and Damné made their home. Her infernal companion waited inside, tending to the embers of their fire. His own flame perked up when he spotted her approaching.

"Tabri, I'm glad to see you're safe."

She ran up and clutched him in a strong hug.

"Me too Damné, but you were the one was hurt. Are you okay?"

"I am fine. Once away from the totems my strength returned. Though your concern is both appetizing and appreciated."

The Coven Mother cleared her throat and the devil took note of their visitors for the first time. "Blue. They are blue. Are people normally blue Tabri?"

"No Damné, these are the Witchfolk. They... have some questions for you."

He gave no expression, but regarded the witches with silent calculation. "Very well," he said.

Ozaika stepped forward but Salaska notched an arrow and aimed at the devil.

"Careful, Coven Mother," the ranger said.

"That won't be necessary Salaska," said the older witch, lowering the bow with the end of her walking stick. She glared down at Damné as she came toward him. He turned sheepish under her gaze, and turned to Tabri for support.

She clasped his claw-like hand and gave him a soft smile.

"Hello, Little Fiend," Ozaika said to Damné, "Young Tabri has told us quite a tale about you. But we have met Fiends before and know how your kind lie to serve your own ends."

"This is true," he agreed. "Silver tongues come naturally to us. Though I never managed to be a very good liar."

"So you say. We Witchfolk have offered your companion a home with us, a place for her to learn magic and be safe from this forest's dangers. But she refuses to accept unless you are allowed to come with her."

"Oh." He glanced at his companion, "Tabri, do not burden yourself with my well-being. I am used to being alone. Go, it's what you want."

"Damné..." said the young exile.

Ozaika's face scrunched up at his response, surprised at the devil's apparent earnestness. She couldn't figure what he was playing at, for Fiends always have a hidden agenda. Salaska, for her part, scoffed and began sharpening her hunting knife.

"Give me the truth demon," Ozaika said, "What are you doing in the Old Wood?"

"I am confused. I thought Tabri told you. My kind exiled me for my disturbed behavior."

"I want the real reason! What do you intend to do this girl? Do not make me send you back to the Fiendlands."

"I... I don't..."

"Answer me!"

From her shawl, Ozaika thrust one of the witches' totems, larger and more intricate than those on the trees, into Damne's face. The sight of it struck him like a thunderbolt and he reeled back, cowering behind his hands.

"Answer me Fiend!"

"Stop it!" yelled Tabri.

Knife in hand, Salaska moved between her and Ozaika, stopping the young spellcaster from interfering.

"I swear my story is true," said Damné, "I have no agenda. Do not send me back; there is no place for me in the Fiendlands. I only want to stay with Tabri."

"Then swear by your creator, swear by the Chained God!"

"I swear! I swear by my creator, Father of all Fiends. I swear on the name Tabri gave me, the only name I've ever known."

The statement took Ozaika aback. Withering beneath her ward, Damné couldn't lie. To swear on his creator would have been enough, but to swear on a name held all the more significance to one so steeped in magic like her. She hid the totem and Salaska released Tabri. The Xurean maiden rushed to her devil's side, her sympathy already restoring him.

"Forgive me," said Ozaika, unable to face them. "We Witchfolk have had encounters with Fiends before. They have proven deceptive, so I needed the absolute truth. You may both come back and live with us."

She withdrew an amulet; a wolf tooth carved with runes, and tossed it to the unorthodox pair.

"That will negate the wards around the village. Tabri, your lessons will begin tomorrow. Come Salaska."

The two witches departed, Salaska shooting the devil a skeptical glance before leaving. When they were far enough away, Tabri knelt and placed the amulet around Damné's neck, then held her companion's head close to her chest. The flames in his hollow skull tickled her chin, but did not burn.

"Did she hurt you too much? Do you need more from me?"

"No, I will be fine. Thank you. Hmm, those words still sound strange in my mouth. Your joy gives me strength enough. You will get what you want after all. You're going to learn magic."

"My joy comes from more than that, silly devil. We're going to have a home."

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A note from NicholasDuval

Hello Royal Road!

This is your serial wordsmith, Nicholas Duval. Thanks to everybody who checked out the first chapter of Girl Meets Devil and this second chapter too! There's a lot more on the way, so please stick around. 

If you haven't seen my videos, Girl Meets Devil is the first in my Tales From Mirthland series. There are four more stories after this one, all leading up to a book release! Check out my website, nicholasduval.com, for more info.

Until then, thanks again for reading and bonne nuit. Bonne nuit to you all.


About the author

NicholasDuval

Bio: Nicholas Duval, or Nick to his friends, is a Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Genre writer from the US. He's been writing for Seven years and is happy to finally be sharing his work.

He also may or may not be a Giant Robot. No one is sure.

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