Chapter 95: Allies/Enemies
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transphobia, deadnaming (necronyming)


“Describe for us what happened last night,” the church leader opened, “from the beginning.” He was man of average breadth that spoke of good diet and self-care. Slightly receded dark brown hair gave his severe widow’s peak an exaggerated intensity, and his bushy eyebrows contrasted sharply with his well-trimmed mustache and beard. Dark, intense eyes studied me. His red and white vestments were still, showing a kind of practiced calm in his posture.

I nodded, trying and failing to hide my nervousness. This wasn’t just people staring at me. This was powerful people staring at me who could, would, and will make decisions that affect my future dramatically. The normal confidence my own strength and abilities gave me didn’t apply right here in this room. There was no taking the wrath demon way out of this one, even if I wanted to. Which I vehemently didn’t.

Clearing my throat unnecessarily, I began. “The joint operation between the city guard and the Gelles Company had just started and my group was moving through the Underwash toward the Mudrat base their leader Garvin was suspected to be hiding out in. I—”

“Earlier,” the same man cut me off.

I glared at him to little effect, but started my story earlier. He had me describe the details of the contract (not last night) and how I came to be employed by the Gelles Company (also not last night).

“Can you confirm your name, Zarenna Miller, is accurate and will be found in the citizenship records of Ordia?” His tone was monotonous, but cold as the Linthel river in winter.

We haven’t even gotten to last night! What gives?

“Will you know if I’m lying?” I asked, frustration leeching into my tone of voice.

“Yes,” came the curt reply.

“My name…” I trailed off and froze. My name wouldn’t be Zarenna Miller. Somewhere in Linthel was a headstone with my old, dead name on it. My head spun and I struggled to keep it together, but I somehow managed.

“Continue, please,” the church leader said, affecting a tone both bored and frustrated.

I wanted to lash out, but Seyari grabbed one of my hands and held firm. “Her name isn’t the story of last night,” she said icily.

“Correct. And mind your tongue,” the church man spoke again. He fixed the half angel with an intense glare, a twitch of his hands and a twist of his mustache the only outward signs of his well-disciplined anger.

Seyari’s own anger flared, but I kept both of ours in check.

“Miller was my surname before I died,” I confirmed. “There was a huge fire in Linthel nine years ago—you should know about it. I was killed by a hired hand of an inquisitor named Finley. If my body was found, it would have been by the well on Baker Street.”

The room’s occupants couldn’t hide their surprise. Firalex looked vindicated, but also curious. Inva’s eyes closed in thought, and the leader of her group looked at me with an even harder expression. The acolytes behind him, shifted nervously.

“The traitor, yes,” the man’s voice dripped venom. “He will be found and dealt with. But,” his dark eyes met mine, searching, “the demon created that night from that foul, blasphemous, evil ritual has already been dispatched.” I opened my mouth, but he continued, “and I need your first name, not just your surname. There are many Millers in Linthel, Miss Miller.”

So Isidore was right! There was another demon created! My surprise at that revelation quickly settled into a pit in my stomach. My first name. The old me. The me whose body was all wrong.

I bit my lip hard enough to taste blood. “My creation as a demon was not an intended part of the ritual. I found an amulet bearing a symbol from before Linthel’s unification with Ordia, and I interrupted the ritual before I died.”

“Why did you interrupt the ritual?” Inva asked quickly, then clamped her mouth shut at a glare from her superior.

“Yes,” he repeated, “why did you interrupt? And your name?”

I furrowed my brow, digging up ancient, half-repressed memories. “I had to buy time for my sister to escape. I’d twisted my ankle earlier and I fell and there wasn’t time to run away anymore, so I ran at Finley. I didn’t make it, and when I died, the amulet did something.”

“I see. Name.” This time it wasn’t a question.

“Zacharias,” I whispered.

“Zacharias?” the man repeated, bushy eyebrows rising in visible surprise. “That’s a man’s name.”

“Well, that was my old name. My new name is Zarenna Miller. Unfortunately, I wasn’t given my name until I’d already died.”

I watched Fira’s eyes widen in understanding. They gripped the edge of their chair, knuckles whitening.

“So you’re a different person, then,” the church leader hadn’t phrased it like a question.

I shook my head and dug my claws into the plush chair, earning a wince from the noble representative. “No. Same person as always. My best friend gave me this name. I may never have gotten to use it while I was alive as a human, but I’m not going to let her sacrifice be in vain. She gave her soul so that I could have this chance at life that I am living right now.”

“Interesting fantasy.” The man leaned forward and steepled his well-manicured hands. “But were you a man before?”

I took a moment to phrase my reply. “My body was male, yes. But I wasn’t.”

His mouth quirked downward. “You’re one of them, then.”

“Them?” I quirked an eyebrow and showed teeth.

Beside me, Seyari’s anger lit a blaze and Fira’s wasn’t far behind it. The representative of Lord Phelian, a rotund man with octagonal spectacles and a surprisingly thick shock of graying blond hair, started to sweat visibly.

“Priest Herron, enough,” Fira demanded, giving a name to the combative man. “You’ve heard enough about her name. How dare you make her bare her life story to a man who hadn’t even so much as given her his own name!”

“She, or he?” Herron accused.

“Sir—” Inva started

“She.” Seyari asserted. “You can’t possibly be unfamiliar with the concept. Zarenna’s far from the only one in her position. It’s common knowledge not everyone falls into the role of ‘him’ or ‘her’ and you don’t seem to have a problem with that.”

The priest’s steepled hands twitched and he scowled. “Yes, but that’s not going against—”

“Against what,” Fira asserted.

“I won’t be intimidated,” Herron replied, forcing his voice calm. His hands balled into fists, then slowly returned to the arms of the chair, twitching. I could feel his anger too, running higher as he was challenged.

“Sir, I—” Inva tried again. I could feel her anger skyrocketing as well, and I suddenly wanted to know more about the amiable paladin.

“Not now,” Herron brushed her off and she glared at him. He looked at me and spoke with a voice dripping scorn. “So, Zacharias Miller lived and died in Linthel and you’re a demon who is masquerading as an offshoot of who he was. A walking blasphemy to his life.”

My control of my wrath was all that kept me from leaping out of my chair and tearing Herron’s head from his body. I forced a breath in and out, a lick of flame escaping despite my exhausted state. The claws on my feet dug runnels in the floorboards. Next to me, Seyari glowed uncomfortably brightly, her holy warmth both burning and soothingly familiar.

“Are you saying,” Firalex spoke in a dangerous, quiet tone, “that the Church of Dhias does not recognize the legitimacy of the leadership of the Gelles Company?”

“Where did that come from? Of course, the church does.” Herron huffed. “Your case is different. Language can’t adequately express—”

“I’m not talking about myself, Herron,” Firalex said with forced calm. I’m talking about Xavien, the leader of the whole of the Gelles Company. He wouldn’t want to work with someone who didn’t recognize who he was.”

Herron’s bravado took a hit, and his voice lost its sharp edge. “Well, this is a different sort of thing. She’s a demon and he—”

“Sir!” Inva blurted out. “What of me?”

“What of you Inva?” Herron said, now fully tired and frustrated. “You’ve performed well in line with expectations since your transfer here last year.”

“I’m the same as she is.” Inva pointed to me. “Not a demon, but I used magic and herbs. And if I were in her place, I’d let the rest of the city burn before I poured out my life story and told my dead name to someone as antagonistic as you.”

“But you’re—” Herron started.

“I’m what?” Inva cut him off.

The two of them glared daggers at each other. Sweat stains were spreading from the armpits of Lord Phelian’s representative and the four acolytes looked desperately like they wanted to merge even farther into the background than they already were.

A fight here would be bad. I siphoned the anger from the room, feeling my strength surge even as the tension dropped into confusion and standoffishness. My remaining injuries healed over as my mana returned—a bright fiery core lit once again deep inside me.

“Inva’s a woman,” I answered for Herron. “Same as me. It’s not a hard concept. Yeah, my journey’s a bit different, but we’re both who we are. Look up that old, dead name of mine that I gave you. You’ll find it if the records are still around.”

“What did you do?” Herron asked, cold fatigue lacing his words, unable to summon more fury.

I smiled, showing a hint of teeth. “I ate everyone’s anger. Delicious, but no substitute for real food. Though I do have to say I appreciate being able to heal away the last of the night’s aches and pains.” I stretched. “Are you going to accept this, or do you want to cause a problem?”

The representative paled, and Herron’s acolytes who’d stayed quiet thus far started to whisper doubts I heard clear as day. Inva stayed resolutely silent, thought I noticed that her gaze slipped over to me.

Herron hesitated a moment before replying, finding his confidence again. “You wouldn’t dare.”

“No,” I replied with an easy shrug. “I would. Really. I want to live in peace, find a place to call home, and not have to hide what I am. But I’m also a demon of wrath—I’m not going to take this sort of thing and just smile and nod.” I smiled wider, showing off my many sharp teeth. “Just look up the name, okay? I can give you any memories or details or weird little secrets you might need to make sure I am who I say I am, okay? I’ll cooperate if we can both respect each other.”

“You.” Herron looked at Seyari who was wearing a smug, ice-cold expression. “Why would a half-angel fall so far as to consort with a demon?”

“I love Zarenna for who she is,” Seyari said unabashedly, and I (along with Fira) savored the shock on everyone’s faces. “What, you didn’t think we were just friends did you? Zarenna showed me real empathy and kindness—not for what I am but for who I am. The least I could do was reciprocate. It’s not my fault if you’re too stupid to see that.”

She took a half-step and plopped down onto my lap. I wrapped my lower arms around her waist, and she leaned back against me. Herron tried desperately to be furious. It took most of my focus to keep that from happening, and silence reigned in the room.

“I-if I may,” the lord’s representative broke the silence, his voice high and reedy. “It is my lord’s opinion that Miss Zarenna Miller has saved Lockmoth from great disaster. My lord would like to—”

“You.” Herron spoke stiffly, interrupting the nervous representative who sat back down and deflated with relief. “What is your plan, demon?”

“I already told you.” I sat up straighter and pulled Seyari up with me. “I want to make a home with Seyari, I want to get revenge on Former Inquisitor Finley and any accomplices, and then I want to live quietly without conflict. Didn’t you say you could tell if I was lying?”

“I did.”

“Well, can you?”

Another silence stretched out. Herron closed his eyes for a long moment, once again steepling his hands. “Somewhat,” he finally answered. “My training is entirely mundane.”

“Well, can you tell if I’m lying?” I pushed.

“I can’t. I don’t know how you’re hiding it demon, but I will uncover—”

“Oh, shut it!” Fira interjected. “Just give her a chance. Do you want to keep pushing her until you force her hand, or will you leave well enough alone? She’s done nothing wrong that I know of, and I think it’s safe to say most normal humans put in her position would have started something or stormed out now with how you’re acting.”

Unable to summon his anger, Herron’s face walked through a variety of expressions before settling on a weary frown that bent his mustache in an inverted v shape. “I have seen firsthand the machinations of the most dangerous demons. Insidious insanity with a veneer of honesty. Were the inquisition not so preoccupied at the moment, I would call for a full investigation.” Herron glanced at the noble representative who had failed to shrink himself out of existence. “But I see that I am alone in my faith and in my sanity. I will ensure the records are searched, but I do not believe the demon’s lies and I will follow it intently, waiting for the moment it slips up.”

The inquisition is preoccupied? Seyari and I shared a quick glance that said “we’ll talk later.” I didn’t doubt this was Mordwell’s doing. What, exactly it was, I couldn’t say, but it couldn’t be good news.

“Good thing I’m not an “it” then,” I replied darkly after a moment’s pause. “Thanks for having enough presence of mind not to kill yourself by my hand.”

Herron pointedly ignored me. “We’re done here. We have wounded to tend to and rats to ferret out of their holes. Come.” He stood and beckoned the others after him.

Some looked apologetic, others just looked relieved as they stood to leave. Except Inva.

“Sir, if it is permissible, I would like to stay to see the lord’s perspective. There are also some further questions I would ask of the Gelles Company and Zarenna herself.” Her tone was formal and the tall blonde woman gave a half bow that looked somewhat ridiculous in her underpadding.

“You are not one of mine, so I cannot force you to leave. However, if you’re staying, you will report for an examination against mental influence immediately after leaving the premises. Is that understood, Paladin Inva?”

“Clear as ice, Priest Herron,” Inva replied evenly.

Herron nodded and, with a sweep of red and white vestments, left the room with a shaken group of acolytes in tow.

After the door had shut, Inva sighed heavily and turned friendly eyes to me. “I want to apologize, Miss Miller. I can’t excuse Priest Herron’s actions, but I can confirm he has experienced the deep deceit of a greater demon before. He is only… mostly as bad as his words suggest.”

“He’s probably worse,” Seyari groused.

I tried to act cordial. “Apology accepted, Paladin Inva. I can’t vouch for my girlfriend, but I’ll consider your words and Priest Herron’s experiences and prejudices and try to behave accordingly.”

“I couldn’t ask for more,” Inva replied, sitting in the chair Herron had just left. She waved at the noble representative who jumped to attention.

“Right, yes!” he said quickly, small eyes studying me from behind octagonal frames. “For your actions, Lord Phelian wishes to offer you land and a house here in Lockmoth, in Drytown.”

My eyebrows shot up. A whole house? Just like that? “What’s the catch?”

The representative waved his hands out placatingly. “N-no catch, I assure you. Lord Phelian simply wants to reward your heroism. There aren’t any deals or stipulations for staying in the city or anything like that.”

I thought about it for a moment, but the idea didn’t feel right. Even if I came back later, I wanted to be back in Linthel—my home wasn’t here. “Thank you, but we’re not really intending to—”

Seyari elbowed me and sat up. “We’ll gladly accept the land and home, sir.”

The representative nodded, but kept his eyes tenuously on me. “Do you agree, Miss Miller?”

“Yes,” I nodded. “Thank you and we’ll gladly accept the home and land.”

What are you getting at Seyari?

“Excellent!” The representative clapped his hands with a thud. He gave me the address and handed me a worn, but well-made key. “if there are no further questions, I really must return to my lord with the good news.” He excused himself with a half-bow. “Oh, and you’re welcome to stay here the night if need be.”

The representative scooted quickly out of the room, leaving just myself, Seyari, Fira, and Inva. The Gelles Company member spoke next.

“I’m surprised you took that offer, Seyari,” Fira said, knowing full well I accepted only on her behalf.

“We can rent it out. And this city’s a big trade hub, so having a place if we come through here would be nice. Plus, it legitimizes Zarenna further and also gives us a fallback option.”

“I guess,” I groused, “but it feels like an obligation.”

Seyari shrugged. “They probably just gave us some run-down vacant house on the bad side of the district in the hopes we’d live there and bring in money to the area.”

“Are you familiar with this sort of thing?” Firalex asked my girlfriend with a raised eyebrow.

Seyari replied cagily, “prior experience in the area, you could say.”

Inquisition experience probably? I’d bet they have a lot of safehouses and secret places in most of the major cities.

“…Right,” Fira nodded. “I won’t ask. Anyway, I believe my business here is concluded. I’ve done my part and I can say the company looks forward to continuing to work with you. Taava and Salvador are still staying at the company if you want to stop by later. We also may have some contracts headed down south you could take.” With a glance to Inva who seemed lost in thought, the Gelles Company branch official left as well.

Now it was just me, my half-angel partner, and a dazed-looking Paladin.

“Everything okay?” I asked.

“O-oh,” she startled, looking around and seemingly just realizing she was alone with Seyari and I. “Yes. Apologies, but I should be going as well.”

“Sure,” I shrugged and Seyari got off my lap to sit in Fira’s chair. “I won’t stop you, but do you have time for a question?”

“I do,” she replied slowly, posture tense. “But I have a question for you as well if that’s okay.”

“Absolutely! You can ask first, even.”

Inva shook her head. “You ask first, please.”

I nodded. “I’m trying to help change the attitude around demon-blooded for a close friend of mine. Salvador Rozaro, if the name’s come up. Do you think you could help?”

Inva took a seat hesitantly, hands folded in her lap. “The name came up, yes. Mr. Rozaro isn’t demon-blooded, but I presume he has a relative or…?”

“Daughter,” I answered.

“Oh, is she—”

“She’s well, I’ve heard. And things weren’t as bad as they could have been, but I take it you know what I’m talking about?”

Inva sighed and ran a hand through her long blonde hair. “Yes, I do. There are similar procedures I went through for my own… transition is I suppose a good word for the process. As a result, I have close friends who are demon-blooded. I already don’t think there’s any rational basis for current church procedure regarding their treatment.”

“Have you read up on the subject?” Seyari asked.

Inva shook her head. “All evidence I have is purely anecdotal. However, I assume you want me to use you as an example? Some sort of parallel using the idea of a demon unbound to her nature to prove that demon-blooded have no inherent predilection toward ‘demonic’ activities?”

“Exactly that, yeah.”

Inva nodded thoughtfully. “I’ll see what I can do. Meeting you has been… motivating is one way to put things. I’ll speak with Mr. Rozaro when I can today.”

“Thank you so much!” I smiled broadly at Inva and she only flinched slightly. “Sorry, uh, my smile—”

“Don’t apologize,” Inva laughed and smiled, showing her own clean teeth. “Your teeth are pretty, in a dangerous sort of way.”

Seyari sighed.

I giggled. “So, what’s your question.”

“Oh, I wanted to ask what being a demon is like, mentally and physically. And, if I’m being honest, a bit about biology from the perspective of someone else who was born with boy parts instead of girl parts.” Inva’s cheeks flushed.

I glanced at Seyari.

She waved my concern off. “Go ahead. Not my place to say one way or another.”

“Okay, I’ll start with the mental stuff then.” I leaned forward planting two elbows on my thighs. “I had issues controlling my wrath at first, but they were never severe. I think my case is unusual for details I’m not willing to say right now. What I can say is that, as of right now, I’m not any more of a danger in terms of the health of my mind than anyone else who has anxieties and fears and loves and comforts.” I listed the items off on my fingers.

Inva nodded along, listening intently. “That’s good to hear, but does what you cannot say mean you’re unique?”

I shook my head. “Not so far as I’m aware. Maybe in some ways, but I can confirm there are other demons who are more than their malice or their vices. Who though, I won’t say.”

“Fascinating. What about your physicality? My apologies if this is too forward, but are you…”

“Biologically female?” I cocked me head to one side. “As far as I can tell, yes. Though I don’t have periods and Seyari has complained to no end about how unfair that is during our travels.”

“Zarenna,” Seyari warned.

“Relax,” I smiled cheekily, “I’m not gonna go any further.”

“I-I think you’ve gone plenty far enough,” Inva said with a red face. “T-thank you but I didn’t need the details.”

I shrugged. “Sure, fine. Sorry if I overstepped. Anyway, I need to eat and sleep, but not all demons do. Probably something about me being closer to human in form. I’ve also realized how awful lacking a tail for balance or the proper number of arms for holding things can be.” I moved my hands independently for emphasis and curled the spaded tip of my tail.

“Proper number of arms?” Inva struggled to hold in a laugh. “What’s wrong with two? Don’t the other two get in the way?”

I rolled my shoulders—all of them. “Not really? And what do you mean what’s wrong with two? Haven’t you ever wanted to hold something and just not had enough hands?”

“I have. But why are four arms proper and not six? Or eight?”

“Now those would get in the way!”

Inva leaned forward. “Ah, but what if they didn’t!”

The revelation hit me like a boulder. What if they…

“Inva,” Seyari cautioned. “Please don’t give her any ideas. She’s incorrigible at the best of times.”

Inva lost the battle against laughter. My own giggles joined her and then Seyari’s. What a wonder it is how quickly warm company can push away a bad mood. Our questions asked and answered, Inva hung around a few more minutes to chat about topical things before she gathered herself to go. We offered to go with her to the Gelles Company, but she insisted she should stop by the church first and not blow them off. “No sense in ruining this fragile peace” she’d said. True words.

Seyari then mentioned we should check our property after getting something to eat. On the way to my new sort-of home, I thought about all that had happened since I woke up this morning. The church knew I was a demon now. Mordwell must not have told them anything (especially about Seyari), but he was also moving the inquisition to do something and that scared me. Would I be okay, or would the other shoe drop? Only time would tell.

Big chapter! Big scene! This chapter took a while to write. Not so much in a draft sense, but in the editing sense. There's a lot going on in this fairly dense conversation, and I definitely didn't get it all the first attempt. Zarenna here starts to really show off how she's taking greater charge of the direction of her life, and the narrative.

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