Chapter 97: The Captain
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As luck would have it, Seyari and I bumped into Salvador and Taava at the company while they were taking a late lunch. Both of them seemed pensive.

“Hiya Renna! Looks like your magic put ya together again right quick!”

Pensive in a relative sense, that is. Taava’s low-lying ears betrayed what her voice didn’t. I waved and Seyari nodded. The line moved fast, and I got my usual double portion.

“It did, yeah.” I plopped down next to Salvador, who managed to fight out a genuine smile my way. “Did someone from the church come by already to—”

“Fira made an announcement a short while ago,” Salvador responded. “No robed people though.”

“Do you think the church will make their own announcement?” I asked, then tucked in.

“I think they’ll keep your existence as low profile as they think they can get away with.” Seyari pushed her fork around the plate idly. “Your existence contradicts a lot of what they preach.”

I couldn’t respond with a full mouth. Taava likewise had her pie hole stuffed with, in her case, actual pie. For lunch. I didn’t even know that was an option.

“Her existence doesn’t need to contradict what they preach,” Salvador said matter-of-factly. “Unless I’m mistaken, Zarenna is an exception rather than the rule.”

I swallowed. “You don’t have to tiptoe around it, Salvador. While I think demons should be given a chance, we all know how that would be exploited.”

“Indeed,” he nodded, “and it’s something I’ve been thinking about since you revealed yourself on our first company mission. There’s no simple answer.”

“Yep!” Taava interjected, surprisingly articulate around a full mouth. She jabbed a spoon at all of us in turn. “The way I see it, demons’re just like people, but more. More emotive or whatever. They don’t have the same kinda masks folks wear.”

“I like to think people malevolent less often than demons are, Taava. If what you said was true, then it’d be standing room only in the demonic plane.” I pulled the last of the meat off the chicken carcass.

Taava rolled her eyes, but I didn’t miss the smile that played across her lips and was gone in the blink of an eye.

“She does have a point, though, Renna. Even if it’s not the one she wanted to make. Few demons are going to be as kindhearted as you are.” Seyari looked up at me, and her proud look turned into one of disgust.

Not my fault she looked up when I had the whole chicken carcass in two hands, fanged mouth open and ready to take a big bite.


I eyed her pleadingly. Seyari put her face into her hands and groaned.


Salvador laughed.

Taava snickered. “Sovereign of Wrath. Bane of Chickens, more like it.”

Any witty response was blocked by my ill-advised crunchy mouthful.

When his laughter died down, Salvador spoke up. “I’m not certain how to bring this up, but I wasn’t quite done with what I was saying earlier.”

I nodded for him to continue. Seyari looked pointedly away from my chicken carnage, but she glanced in Salvador’s direction as well.

“I think that, without help, the church will muffle the impact your presence within the Gelles Company will have. Still, you’ve made a difference—will make a difference—for demon-blooded everywhere. I…this is hard, sorry. I think I want to return to Inolza. My daughter won’t want her old man around for much longer, and I want to be there to help her help others. I also want to spread what happened here—that a demon saved humans for no selfish reason.”

Taava’s ears twitched. “What if the church just goes around sayin’ Zarenna’s put a spell on the whole company or somethin’?”

Salvador shook his head. “I sincerely doubt they would, barring certain individuals.”

“You’re right,” Seyari frowned, “but I disagree. It’s not in their best interests to start a fight over this. If the leadership of the Gelles Company backed Zarenna, things could get ugly because they can’t exactly prove she’s malevolent. They’ll try to spin this, maybe make themselves out to be the ‘saviors of the reformed demon Zarenna’ or something equally ridiculous.”

Salvador lowered his gaze. “I… do not share the same opinions of the church as a whole that you do, Seyari.”

Seyari sighed and leaned over across the table to Salvador. “Sorry. I spoke without thinking.”

“Is what you said not truly your opinion?” The middle-aged hunter looked tiredly across the table at my girlfriend, who looked honestly apologetic.

Taava and I both shared a glance and kept quiet.

“Well, I can’t say it isn’t,” Seyari admitted. “Maybe I’ll have my mind changed.”

Salvador nodded and forced a smile. “And maybe I’ll have my mind changed. Is it safe to say we both hope that won’t be the case?”

Seyari hummed weakly in agreement.

“For what it’s worth Salvador,” I added, “I also want to think you’re right. I just don’t know enough to form a good opinion yet.”

“Aww, this is sweet!” Taava interjected. “You three all good now?”

“Yes.” “Yeah.” “Yep!”

“When do you leave?” I started to dig into my second plate.

“I’ll be taking the next ship to Inolza. Truthfully, I’ve not had time to go check when that may be. Within a week, safely.”

“Then we’ll all celebrate before you leave!” I declared, pointing a clawed finger into the sky.

“Celebrate what?” Seyari asked.

I opened and closed my mouth, then put a hand to my chin and shrugged. “Traveling together? Friendship? Salvador bailing me out back in that town I never got the name of?”

“Works for me!” Taava said enthusiastically.

“I’d like that,” Salvador said with a simple, genuine smile.

Seyari sighed. “I’m in, too.”


Firalex and Rodrik were both busy on company business—definitely something to do with the past night and my status. That meant we had a window of time before we could meet with them, and I knew I needed to talk to Taava. I also needed to talk to Aretan and Nelys, but they were also probably busy—not to mention halfway across the city.

I followed the kazzel upstairs after we finished eating and chatting. After a glance back at me, she turned and with nimble purpose, slipped out of an open window and upward toward the roof. I rushed to the window and stuck my head out, careful of my horns. Up above, I saw the kazzel’s legs and tail hanging down from the edge of the roof.

“Taava!” I shouted up. “I just want to talk—and no lectures. I want to see if you’re alright, that’s all.”

Taava kicked her legs. “I dunno.”


“I prob’ly won’t run away if ya climb up here.”

I put my hands on the sill then paused. “I can’t fit out this window, Taava!”

“Not my fault you’re too big!”

I huffed. “Fine! Wait right there!”

Grumbling, I walked quickly out of the building and climbed up the side, carefully. True to her word (somewhat surprisingly) Taava was sitting on the edge of the building’s mansard roof, hands planted behind her and ears twitching to and fro. Where we sat we could just see the crater from the fight, especially since the afternoon sun had burned away most of the clouds and mist overhead.

I planted myself carefully down next to her. “Hey.”

“Hey?” She looked up at me with a resigned smirk. “That sounds an awful lot like you’re about ta talk serious-like.”

I pulled my tail down to hang next to hers. “I guess? I want to see how you’re doing. Back down in the Mudrat base, it really looked like Garvin—”

“He’s dead.” Taava interrupted, light brown-furred ears flat on her head. “That’s it.”


“That all ya wanted ta talk about?”

I took a long while to respond. We both fixed our eyes on the horizon, but weren’t really watching it.

Eventually, I did. “Yeah, I guess that’s it.”


We kept sitting. Before the sun finally emerged victorious from the clouds, they dumped one last rain shower on us. Despite how ill-advised it may have been, I made a shield of fire above us. Instead of a patter-patter of rain, a soft, gentle hiss enveloped the warm space we shared.

Shortly after the rain stopped, Taava got up. “Talked with Fira and Lorton this mornin’. My debt’s cleared and the city lord pardoned me. So now ya don’t need me ta stick around.”

“But I want you to stick around!” I replied before thinking.

“Hmph,” Taava half turned, just enough for me to see the corner of a fanged smile. “Sounds good, boss.”

I didn’t move as she dropped down below and into the same window from earlier, unlatching it deftly from the outside. I hadn’t just seen a smile; I’d seen a tear on her cheek.

After a slow climb down, and in way too emotional of a mindset for a debrief, I sat alone in the room I shared with Seyari and stared at the ceiling, thinking. For as melancholic as things were, I was sad because of the hurt of others, and of the trauma my friends were going through.

My friends. My friends who were friends with me. A demon. I couldn’t help but smile despite it all.

My mood had improved drastically by the time I met up with Seyari and Salvador outside the same meeting room from just over a week ago. It seems like both longer and shorter a time—at the same time. Unsurprisingly, Taava was absent.

When I ducked inside, I found Fira, Lorton, Aretan and Nelys arrayed around the long table. I followed Seyari in, closed the door with my tail and sat down. Immediately, I was reminded that the chairs in this room had solid backs.

“Do other people with tails just not complain?” I muttered, turning the chair to sit sideways. My legs didn’t really fit under the table easily anyway.

“How are you feeling, Zarenna?” Firalex asked, ignoring my half-serious question.

I cocked my head to one side. “You saw me earlier today though?”

“Yes—I don’t mean physically.”

I looked at the arrayed faces and noted no one had turned the room’s runes on. Someone could eavesdrop, and the way Lorton awkwardly ran a hand through his hair showed that he also knew he was the odd one out among a room of my friends.

“Better, honestly,” I said truthfully. It wasn’t like I had anything to hide. “I’m worried that all this is going to come crashing down. I also can’t stop thinking about last night—my mind just keeps landing on it whenever I draw it away. I’m sure there were some people alive in the crater when I did my spell.”

I did my best to avoid going on a rant, but my words still flowed out like water from a burst dam. And like a burst dam, water followed—in the form of tears. Despite my earlier happiness, the woes of those around me still affected me as a person. I wiped at my eyes. “But I’m hopeful for the future, I guess.”

Seyari laid a hand on one of mine and Nelys jumped up from their seat and ran around the table to give me a hug, chair and all. Their arms didn’t reach all the way around. Salvador squeezed my shoulder. Lorton and Aretan both looked down at the table, though I imagined for very different reasons.

Firalex met my gaze when I looked up and they and nodded. “That’s a bit more personal than I’d intended, but I guess that’s what I get for asking you such a question. If you’re alright to continue—Guard Captain Lorton and I can go over what we’ve learned.”

Guard Captain? That was a fast promotion—

“I’m not guard captain yet, Firalex,” Lorton replied evenly. His voice was fatigued, but his posture had a sort of presence I hadn’t seen before. “But I can give a quick rundown. Firalex, would you mind?”

“Not at all.” Fira got up and walked to the door.

“Did you have the runes off so someone could eavesdrop earlier?” Seyari asked, more tired than cold.

“Yes and no.” Fira jerked the door open.

Inva the church paladin, in plainclothes this time, stumbled before her eyes went wide.

“Get in here,” Fira commanded and they poured magic into the room’s runes.

Her head down, the paladin obeyed.

While Inva awkwardly took a seat next to me, Fira continued, “We agreed to let a representative from the church attend this meeting. There’s nothing to be said here they don’t know already.”

I smiled at Inva and she smiled awkwardly back.

Lorton coughed. “Right. I’ll be brief. After the events of last night, the Mudrats are no more. Anyone we didn’t kill or arrest is either disappearing or moving into one of the other gangs. Rodrik’s crew took out some of the other ambitious leadership. Likewise, what evidence we could recover from the flooding Mudrat base has helped immensely with the corruption among the guard. The nobles who supported the corrupt guards are hurrying to save face and cut their ties. For now, I believe the best course of action is to try to discourage the city’s underground by making it less desirable to join it—and harder to fall into it.”

Fira nodded.

I raised my hand and spoke. “Am I okay to walk around without my human transformation?”

Lorton sighed. “You’ve already been doing as much. You should see the reports I’ve gotten.”

I winced.

“I don’t mean don’t do it. Just maybe not all the time outside of Lockmoth. Look, I don’t mean to tell you what to do or anything, it’s just—”

“People will see me and run screaming in the other direction.” I sighed. “Yeah, I get it.” Progress doesn’t mean a complete solution, damn it.

“Right,” Lorton said. “Aside from Taava’s pardon, I think that’s all the news I have? I think it’s clear that you’re not in trouble, Zarenna.”

I felt my shoulders relax tension I hadn’t noticed. “Thanks.”

Lorton shrugged.

“Aretan, was it?” Fira gestured to the Navanaean man who sat up ramrod straight. “Officer Lorton said you had something to announce?”

“Ah, yes.” Aretan cleared his throat and looked at me with a sad smile. “Zarenna. It was a pleasure traveling and working with you, but I’m afraid I will be returning home to Navanaea to try to help end the war. My family wields considerable influence, and I should be able to at least rejoin my prior company.”

“I understand.” I held out a hand for him to shake and he took it. “Thank you for all you’ve done for me. Be safe on your travels, and I look forward to visiting you someday in the future.”

Aretan nodded sharply, and his gaze fell to Nelys. “Nelys was the one who convinced me to go. And for that, I am thankful.”

Really? Wide-eyed, I looked down at the diminutive former pirate. They were still hugging me.

“Yep!” they answered. “I could tell he wanted to, but he wouldn’t admit it. I’ve already seen Navanaea and I don’t want to go to a war though, so I’ve decided to stick with you for now, Renna. Firalex and Rodrik said I passed the company tests this morning.”

“It’s true,” Fira admitted before I could look up at them. Their green eyes glittered under orange bangs. “You can take them with you on your next contract, Zarenna.”

“Am I being promoted?” I asked, confused.

“Not officially, but outside of branch leaders and administration, the Gelles Company has a very loose hierarchy for our mercenaries. You’re free to take a contract wherever, so long as it goes through the company.”

Oh no. I looked slowly down at Nelys, who was smiling up at me.

“I’m looking forward to working with you, Captain!”

I must’ve paled because Nelys tilted their head in confusion.

“You alright Captain?”

“Not you too…” I whispered as quiet as I could make it.



Seyari squeezed my hand reassuringly. “If you have something important to say, Captain, then you should say it.”

Help! I’m getting mixed signals.

My eyes darted around the room, looking for help. Salvador gave me an encouraging nod. Aretan met my gaze with a stoic “I’m proud of you” look mixed with the “not my problem” discipline of a career mercenary. Lorton coughed and looked away. Inva blushed, which made everything worse, and Fira smiled and let me stew for what felt like an hour.

“Are there any other orders of business?” the branch leader eventually spoke up.

Salvador raised his hand, and with a nod from Fira, spoke his piece. “I intend to return to Cavenze, Inolza specifically, at the next opportunity.”

“We have a branch there—though it is meant to support contracts in the region rather than act as a proper base.” Fira rubbed their chin. “If I may ask, why?”

“I have a vested interest in the church rights of demon-blooded, and I wish to work in Inolza for the time being, for family reasons. My daughter, specifically, is demon-blooded and should soon be a priestess of Dhias.”

Fira gave him the “I didn’t know you had a family” look and Salvador gently smiled it away.

Without warning, Inva raised her hand. “May I go with you, sir?”


Salvador looked at the paladin with confusion written all over his face.

“I apologize since we’ve just met, but I was in Lockmoth awaiting travel north anyway. After meeting Zarenna this morning—well, and last night when she saved my life—I want to help!”

“Why are you going to Cavenze?” Seyari butted in.

“A paladin in a town near Inolza is retiring and I am to be his replacement.”

Seyari frowned, but I got the sense she didn’t see any deceit in the paladin’s words. Not that her ability was infallible, but Inva struck me as a bad liar.

“I see no reason why not,” Salvador assented. “We may even be headed to the same location, at least initially. I believe that’s settled then?”

Fira nodded in agreement. “Anything else?”

I raised two hands, giving me the power to speak without being addressed. “Seyari and I will be headed south along with Taava and Nelys. Are there any contracts we could take that would fit? How would we find them?”

“That’s simple enough to explain,” Fira replied.

I disagreed that the explanation was simple, but after a couple minutes of back and forth, I understood how to take contracts for the company and where to go to request them or see what is available. With my question answered, the meeting adjourned. Salvador waved us goodbye for now. I told Inva, Nelys, and Aretan about Taava’s idea for a party before we all parted ways. Aretan, with genuine sadness, declined. His ship was leaving first thing in the morning and he had to get ready and sleep immediately after we finished.

Seyari and I spent the rest of the afternoon combing through the contracts, and also took some time to set our newly-granted estate up to be rented out. One of the contracts we found stood out—an escort contract to Gedon, a small city in the north of Edath. From there, we’d only have a week’s travel by foot to Linthel—and we could probably hire a carriage for that part.

Seyari could, anyway. I’d received my first pay since joining the Gelles Company and it amounted to a depressingly small amount after subtractions. Worth it.

Is it really so wrong to eat the bones?
It's fun to have Zarenna slowly taking on more of a leadership role.

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