Hours before all that stuff with Nyx and Ethel crossing over to another planet happened, Felicity got trampled and died.
Almost died, at least. Had she been a regular creature that didn’t revert to a regenerable soul gem, anyone would have left her for dead. She’d been not only flattened, but ripped in uncountable ways on impact—left ragged, pulverized, and pulped, but not even usable as paper. That’s just what demon hoofs can do to you.
Instead of being kicked aside, though, Felicity was picked up as a possibly valuable artifact. This despite not looking like anything a sensible mortal would value. But since the demon who picked her up was a foamy demimold, that was okay. The mold was only making an educated guess about what constituted art or an artifact for the anthropomorphic.
The mold returned to Husk, the nature hell of ever-growing rot, and Felicity was flung into the same trash heap as all the mold hive’s other spoils, pet insects, and food chunks.
This is where she regenerated, her mind in a hibernation that was far from peaceful. It cycled in a rage, like a dog chasing its own tail with a vengeance. Why her? Why here? How long until she’d have the strength to do anything? (And she would welcome almost anything, at this point.)
And, for that matter, how long?
Some unknowable stretch of time passed before she was dug out and hastily traded to demons from the hell of light, who took her to a place among the Darshannan clouds. These new owners garbed themselves like angels and were constantly shedding downy feathers. They were the sinseers, and they looked down from bioengineered living cloud platforms to judge the dwarves living in Darshanna’s icy north. Aided by their trusty scribes and a flood of menials—imps and peons from every element known to the underworld—they recorded what they considered dwarvanity’s sins, then repaid them double with impure nightmares, itching, and smallpox.
As soon as they learned Felicity could read (even if barely), they thrust books into her hands and charged her with learning the tongues of the village of Thunderclap so she could be sent, in disguise as a wisp, to listen in. It wasn’t too hard, really. Demons have nothing but time, and if an imp has any inclination to learn human tongues at all, it is bound to happen. Felicity learned the languages of laypeople and monks both, and spent many evenings weaving around the pillars of the monastery, haunting the ropes of the seven bell towers they rang at dawn.
It was a decent enough existence, but a sleepy one. All of Thunderclap’s problems—the wild beasts that attacked, the local crimes that unfolded—felt distant to Felicity. As well they should, since she had no stake in the place. And the sinseers took no interest at all in their little wood imp, seeing as she was just the latest in a handful of wood imps, and the one with the most grating voice.
But all adequate things come to an end. The sinseers’ cloud home was split rudely apart by a static flea far too big to escape mortal notice. The creature was twice as long as a blue whale and three times as wide, and once it had thundered through the clouds, it couldn’t help but smash into the village below. What the weight didn’t crush, the electric aftershocks did.
Few sinseers and fewer underlings survived, but the ones who did, pulling themselves up from scraps of cloud, vowed revenge. Well, actually, only the underlings vowed revenge. The sinseers wanted only the preservation and proliferation of the dwarves that remained—they loved their flock of mortals, in a way.
And to keep the humongous flea from wreaking any more havoc on them, they agreed that its captain and crew could take whatever goods—living as well as nonliving—they wanted.
The captain, a bipedal beast with tusks like a beetle, was taken with Felicity. She declared she’d reserve a very special role for her. The imp’s proud heart fluttered in a way that nobody, not even Lord Nyx, had provoked...
Until she learned she was a personal bottle opener. Sure, she cut open letters and threw marbles to trip up enemies riding rival fleas, cruisers, and all-terrain hellboats, too, and of course she got to hang from the captain’s belt as she did so, but it wasn’t particularly invigorating. Plus, it was hard to see what was going on from the hammock-like belt, and swinging all the while.
The hide of the flea-ship was a labyrinth of its own—beneath the shell were rooms in rooms and chambers with none of the regularity of ol’ Nightfall Castle. And the flea and its crew were in constant motion, jostling, wrestling, killing soul-collecting, shouting, literally never resting for a single moment.
Their mission, as far as Felicity could guess from the conversations that nobody bothered to explain to her or any other imp, was simply to slay or double-cross the weak and hope they had some riches. Or territory—that seemed to be even better. Maybe they needed the land claims for a war, or for one of the uncountably-many demon dick-measuring contests.
She hated it. If only she’d been higher-ranked. Then she’d be allowed to understand anything and actually make decisions worth a damn.
But instead of wishing she’d been born in a different body and social stratum, or flung into different circumstances, she bided her time and power, perhaps to escape. While the captain laughed over vomgrog, her devoted imp grinned, then retreated deeper into the hammock and honed her bladecraft. Knowing that wooden swords would never work in the long run, she decided to focus on the highly specific art of tiny, stealthy needle pricks, microscopically precise.
One day, the captain brushed past a ship’s mate, bringing Felicity within centimeters of a rival imp on a rival belt. Quickly she stuck a telescoping needle’s needle’s needle through the fabric of the belts and into the swamp imp’s leathery hide, administering a phlegmlock poison that would prove fatal to their species. Within moments the swamp imp was coughing up mysterious clouds of hellsmoke...and while the imp never died, Felicity was glad enough to beam.
Soon this status quo was yanked out from under her. An emergency dawned, one so great it made the whole crew hold council and stop for a few hours. The captain—whose name, Felicity learned just now, was Teegan—was informed that the hell their static flea rocketed through had begun to break down.
It turned out that what Felicity had hazily confused with Gaia’s star-studded night skies, and thus outer space, was actually Positron Space. As usual, the hells performed a dance of mysterious movement, some drifting further apart and others coming together along coordinates that no demons but the silent chthons could fully chart.
Thunderhead, the sub-hell of mingled water and electricity, had never come so close to Positron Space before. Some magnetic overload or wrong polarity was pulling Positron apart at the spirituo-molecular seams.
It all smacked of some multitude of souls guiding Thunderhead there on purpose. Clearly there was a vendetta of power grab at the heart of it—
And the moment Captain Teegan heard this, she pepped up. With a hearty laugh and a slap on the table, she bellowed, “A war, eh? A war! Then we’ll have to get into the middle of it! Wo ho ho!”
“Shut up,” hissed a small voice.
Teegan whirled around at the whole room of motley underlings, but nobody confessed to having spoken.
“...And why should I?” said Teegan.
“Just because I hate your voice,” said Felicity, still hanging from her belt.
Teegan buckled and gagged as the poison that had entered her system twenty-two hours earlier began to take hold. She staggered and then, before falling, exploded into a snarl of black mist.
Felicity flipped through the air and landed immaculately on the table, even avoiding dipping her feet in the flagons. She faced the seated crew as if she were already their master. Scooping up a flagon and raising it in a fist, she rallied them, or attempted to.
“Demons of the Shaltenforb!” she shouted, using the name of the flea-ship she’d learned ten minutes back. “I may be an imp, but I will also be your ruler! Serve me or mutiny at your peril!”
Her words were drowned out halfway through by a roomful of laughter.
Just as arms began to reach for her, and for guns and bows and arrows, an announcement rang throughout the ship. Not through an intercom (fleas don’t have those, they just have stomachs) but through a sound spell.
The voice of some peon that Felicity had never heard before said, “This is Nightfall Cruiser. Who runs this flea?”