Chapter 94: Total Dork
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Chapter update time has moved four hours ahead to be at a more convenient hour for a majority of readers. Except this one. This one is early because I accidentally set the chapter for PM tonight instead of AM tomorrow on Royal Road. As I like to keep both sites synced, that means an "accidental' early release here too. Future chapters at 7:15AM GMT -8 on Wednesday/Saturday.

Officer Lorton glanced at the pile of paperwork and heaved a rattling sigh. His breath hitched and the sigh turned into chuckles, and then chuckles into a full-blown belly laugh. Too much. It was all just too much. Collapsing back into his chair, he thought back to last night. Well, this current night if the barest hints of morning red outside were any indication. He was still in his dirt-covered clothes and sweat pulled them tight around him in the morning chill.

Tonight had been all too absurd: tragedy, death and destruction. Demon fighting demon in the streets. Over a dozen people were dead in the pit down in Riverside. The burnt hole had filled with water when the tide came in, silencing any cries to search for those who might have still been alive down there. Lorton knew there was nothing alive down there when the tide came in. Whatever heat that demon Zarenna had magicked up melted the stone.

Four city blocks—gone. Half the city guard—implicated for corruption. A quarter of Lockmoth’s nobility—packing their bags and set to flee.

The captain of the guard, his boss, had tried to pin the whole thing on anyone and everyone: Zarenna, her friends, the Gelles Company, and Lorton himself. And it didn’t stick! It didn’t stick! Just a few hours ago, Lorton didn’t think he’d live to see the sunrise. He still might not, but he’d be dancing in his grave if he did die.

Lorton wasn’t privy to all the details of what transpired—he wasn’t that lucky, or that well connected. But he knew that dozens of eyewitness accounts and a pressured Church of Dhias had rebuffed the former guard captain’s claims. The final nail in the coffin for the former guard captain was the evidence Lorton had squirreled away for years finally coming to light: a huge cache that incriminated the guard captain, much of the city guard, and some of the nobility to boot.

Lorton patted himself on the back for that one. All the paranoia had been worth it. An awful victory for the lives lost, but this stack of paperwork in front of him would bring the best day of Lorton’s life as far as he was concerned. All the reports and filings and the final touches on sweeping away the worst of the city’s corruption. The Mudrats were about wiped out, too, and the Bleeders had taken a heavy hit. On top of all that, a man high up in the Mudrats, a wiry, rat-like man named Vink, had been captured alive.

Free from many of the obstructions that had threatened to sink Lockmoth under the tide, today was when the real work began. Lorton started in on the paperwork, wishing only for more comfortable clothes and a cup of tea. As the guard officer worked, his thoughts bounced around and landed on that demon woman, Zarenna.

Dozens of people had seen Zarenna acting selflessly—or claimed to have been saved by her. Lorton hadn’t been there, but if Nelys was to be believed, that demon woman saved a hundred people and killed a demonic monstrosity as big as a house. The church couldn’t kill her outright after a showing even a tenth as impressive and public as that. Especially with the Gelles Company claiming protection.

Unless the nobility got involved, things could still turn into a fight—and the church was weak in Lockmoth, a double-edged echo of the city’s corruption. On top of that, Firalex had claimed Zarenna had Ordian citizenship, which would, on paper, prevent the church from certain action against her without imperial approval. That couldn’t possibly be true that Zarenna is a citizen though, could it? Lorton thought. They certainly don’t give demons citizenship, and if it was given in error to a demon’s human guise, it wouldn’t be valid. There had to be a reason, but Lorton supposed that was the least of his concerns right now. Although he did wish her well. As terrifying as she looked, Zarenna hadn’t nearly been so scary in conversation—downright pleasant, even.

And she sure knew how to pick friends. Lorton held the quill in the inkpot and, for a moment, debated taking just a few minutes break to freshen up. With a dry chuckle, he shook his head and pulled the quill back out of the inkpot, setting it down against the page. No break just yet; there was a job to finish.


“Hey Renna, hold still!” Abby pouted. “I’m gonna mess up if you keep twitching!” She was young and small. I felt small too, the stool overlarge under me.

“I’m trying,” I complained, squirming again and sending the makeup brush across my nose. Seyari was pulling my hair too hard trying to get it set in twin braids.

Abby huffed and turned to the half angel. “Sey! Be gentler! You’re hurting Renna!”

“She’ll be fine.” Seyari batted Abby with a white fluffy wing. “Renna’s a tough girl.”

“You two gonna fight?” Taava said from somewhere off in the fog. “’Cause my bet’s on Abigail. No goody-two-shoes angel could take a real knight down.”

I looked up again and Abby’s makeup brush shifted into a gleaming sword. Abigail Hunter, my best friend, stood in full, shining armor. Her regal demeanor cracked when she gave me a lopsided smile and a thumbs up.

I glanced at Seyari and Taava, and found all of us to be standing in a forest—one I recognized from my childhood. The kazzel was dressed in an explosion of colorful frills and posed coquettishly, while Seyari wore a suit of armor similar to Abby’s, except for her massive white wings that stood proud and glowing behind her.

“Wake up,” Abby said.

I looked at Abby again and watched her form resolve into Kartania. Shadows lengthened, the forest around us now dark and ominous.

“Wake up,” my sister said with a sad smile, her voice sounding foreign.

The dream faded into fuzz, then the reddish blackness of my eyelids. I opened my eyes, expecting to find my sister, or someone standing over me and telling me to wake up. All I saw was an unfamiliar ceiling.

I could feel that I was in a bed, and a pretty nice one at that. Or, at least, it had been nice. My claws had shredded the sheets and my horns had punctured the pillow. I dulled them reflexively and looked from the unfamiliar ceiling to my sides.

A head of silver hair lay slumped against the side of the bed near my chest, breathing softly. Seyari. I sat up slowly, and realized my nakedness as the sheet fell away from me. With one of my lower arms, I covered my chest, and then I looked around the room. Through the shutters, the red glow of morning was just starting to seep through the cracks. A change of clothes lay neatly folded on a dresser nearby the bed.

Without a sound, I slid out from the sheets and toward the clothes. Despite my best efforts my claws tapped on the wood floor as I walked, and my girlfriend stirred.

“Renna?” she mumbled, still half asleep. “Are you awake?”

“Sleepwalking,” I replied cheekily, a soft smile playing across my lips.

Seyari smiled softly at that, then sat bolt upright, awake in an instant. Gold eyes full of worry looked me up and down. “You look a mess. A hot mess, but a mess.”

I looked down and saw a mass of scars and scabs and bruises across my still-naked body. “I’m still pretty tired, but I think I’m in one piece. Did my horn grow back?”

Seyari’s golden eyes flicked up and she moved her silver hair out of her face. “Yeah. It still looks chipped though. We need to go downstairs—now. They’ll have heard us talking, so I won’t be able to stall.”

“They?” I asked, hurriedly pulling on the too-small clothes that had been set aside for me. Holes had been hastily cut for my arms, and my tail pushed through a similar alteration in the trousers, tearing them only slightly.

“The Church, the Gelles Company, and a representative from Lockmoth’s nobility,” Seyari replied anxiously. “Everyone important in the city knows, or is going to know what you—we are.”

How much did Mordwell tell the Church of Dhias about us? Did he spread lies or keep silent? I was still alive and unshackled, and Seyari had no apparent issues, so hopefully we were clear. I can’t risk asking about it right now. My anxiety ratcheted up another several notches.

Trying to keep the rising tension out of my shoulders, I walked over and helped Seyari up from where she’d been kneeling by my bedside. “Thanks for staying up to watch over me, but you could’ve lain on the bed with me.”

Seyari shook her head, frizzed silver hair flowing oddly into place. “Not with your claws still sharp. Besides, even if you didn’t move, I’d have fallen asleep too with how tired I was.”

“You’re saying you weren’t asleep a moment ago?” I teased, taking a step toward the room’s only door.

Seyari blushed. “Fine, you win.”

I smiled, then sighed and pulled my face as neutral as I could muster. “Not yet.”

Seyari’s own smile faded and she took one of my hands in hers. “Soon.”

“This conversation’s going to suck, isn’t it?” I couldn’t help but think of how many times I’d dreamed of the chance I have now downstairs. But I didn’t want it to be like this. Not with so many dead.

“Yeah, it is.” Seyari put her hand on the doorhandle and I stopped her.

“How many dead?” I asked quietly.

“Thirteen missing, presumed dead. There’s probably more, but the pit filled with the tide, and it’s deep enough that it won’t fully drain.” Seyari squeezed my hand tighter, cutting off my protest. “It’s not your fault.”

“I… but I could’ve done more. Maybe saved a few more people, I—”

“Shhh,” she pressed a finger to my lips. “Not. Your. Fault. You did what you could, Renna. And you also taught me this same damn lesson when we were wandering the desert. Don’t make me teach it back to you, you dense demon. You saved so many people last night. What do you think would’ve happened if that thing had gotten loose?”

My brain’s frantic scrabbling stopped dead. “It, well…”

“Exactly. Now stop with the survivor’s guilt and get down there.” She pulled open the door before I could voice another protest.

A woman stumbled forward from the sudden jerk of the door opening out from under her. Reflexively I caught her with my upper arms and she glanced up at me, eyes suddenly afraid.

“It’s not polite to eavesdrop,” Seyari said coldly.

“You’re the paladin from last night!” I interjected, helping the woman up. She had the same light blonde hair and piercing blue eyes, and she was at least as tall as Seyari, even without armor. “I’m Zarenna, but you probably already heard that through the door.

Seyari glowered at me and I gave her a side-eyed glare right back. No fighting.

The paladin, in her underpadding, glanced away and coughed. “Yes, right. I’m Inva. As for why I was listening in, we have to make sure there’s no duplicity. The Church of Dhias doesn’t deal with demons, and it’s unprecedented we’d even so much as ignore one’s presence.”

“Understandable,” I shrugged, to Inva’s obvious surprise. “I’d have done the same. Which way to the meeting?”

“Right, yes.” She stood straight and pointed down the hallway. “This way. Follow me.”

Inva’s voice was formal, and with an accent that suggested she was from the same southeasterly region of Ordia that her complexion hinted at. Seyari and I, still holding hands, followed her down the stairs and through what I quickly realized was someone’s house—and a fairly nice one.

“Where are we?” I asked at the bottom of the stairs.

“A nearby property owned by Lord Phelian. His representative is here with us now.”

“Sorry about the sheets then,” I admitted sheepishly.

Inva turned around to look up at me. “The sheets?”

I scratched at a horn, claw sticking in the chips along the ridged bone’s length. “Yeah, my claws and horns did a number on them, and I’m pretty sure my blood burned some holes in them, too.”

“Right, sheets, yes,” Inva mumbled and continued leading us to a door at the end of a short hall.

Inside was a sitting room packed with people. The ambient conversation stopped dead when I tried to walk in. I was so caught up in the moment, that I forgot to duck and my horns cracked into the top of the doorframe. I stumbled backward awkwardly, Seyari and Inva catching me.

“Oh geez, sorry!” I winced and reached up to feel the deep dents I’d made in the wood. I didn’t think a silent room could get any more silent, but this one somehow managed. “So,” I started, “you all wanted to talk to me?”


“So,” Zarenna looked around nervously, “you all wanted to talk to me?”

She had one hand behind her, feeling the top of the doorframe her horns had just bumped into, another intertwined with Seyari, and the last two fidgeting nervously in front of her. Fira snorted trying to hold back a laugh.

The paladin, Inva, gawped at her, as did the other church members. If only Rodrik were here, Fira mused (although they were glad he wasn’t). The representative of Lord Phelian was wide-eyed, although the awkwardness of the wrath demon’s entrance had jarred him out of the trance-like state of fear he’d been in. In fact, with a nervous cough, he was the one to break the silence.

“P-please have a seat, Miss…” he trailed off and looked to Firalex.

“Miller,” Fira stated. “Zarenna Miller.”

The representative nodded, and gestured to an empty stuffed chair.

Once again, Fira found themselves hoping against hope Zarenna hadn’t given an alias. It would take time to verify identity and citizenship, but that time was limited. She’d said she’d died and come back as a demon, so everything should be fine, right?

Zarenna sat down and Seyari stood next to her, their hands finally parting. The chair creaked a little, and Zarenna had to shift forward and to one side to make room to curl her tail around and down by her legs. The tip extended out past her feet, spade twitching nervously on the floor. Any intimidation she could have had achieved was ruined by the way her black and blue slitted eyes danced nervously around the assembled crowd, and how one of her wickedly sharp teeth teased her lower lip.

Seyari, however, stood cold and stoic next to her partner. Eyeing the crowd with tired eyes that still managed a convincing “I dare you to try something” look, the half-angel cut quite the opposite figure. Hot and cold, in a way. A reversal of assumptions in another. Fira already had to field questions about Seyari the half-angel, but the priest had seemed satisfied with their answers. While half-angels were usually with the church, it wasn’t unheard of for one to go unnoticed.

A quick glance at the priest and his entourage, whom Inva had quietly joined, showed that they were equally confused. They must be trying to figure out what kind of act this is and what greater machination is going on, Fira thought triumphantly.

If only they knew. If only they knew Zarenna was simply a total dork.

Woooo #1 trending yesterday! I'd put more exclamation points, but I've never liked how that looks.

As for this latest chapter? There are no deep plans from the wrath demon, only anxiety. Some fun, happy moments here in-between heavier chapters! Originally, this was going to be all one chapter with the next. But that would've been like 7k words, and I think this stands quite well on its own as a reprieve.

Oh, and there's, uh, totally no foreshadowing in that last scene. None. Not a single line hinting at any future issues.

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