The last few days had been a whirlwind of changes. Nearby the company, people were mostly used to seeing a demon walking around (me), and I’d even received thank-you letters from some of the people I’d saved. More surprisingly, I received a letter from Paula. Nothing formally addressed, just a slip shoved under my door one morning.
“Sorry” was all it said—in blocky handwriting with her name under it.
Still, the gesture brought a smile to my face. This morning I found myself sitting on the end of the bed in Taava’s room at the Gelles Company, lost in thought.
The church was clearly keeping eyes on me—but there wasn’t much I could do about that other than be so crushingly unremarkable in my day-to-day activities that they’d eventually give up their surveillance. Probably wasn’t going to happen, but I wasn’t going to give my eavesdroppers any mana against me.
Though I had to admit, I was rather pissed off that the dinner date Seyari and I had was spied on. Ruined some of the atmosphere of the nice restaurant. With all the staff on edge due to my presence, I couldn’t really act against the watchers a few tables over, even subtly. I’d even ordered something without crunchable bones just so I wouldn’t be tempted.
While Aretan hadn’t been able to make the party a few days ago, he’d sent a letter, and the event had gone off almost without a hitch. From what I (and Inva) had gathered, the church hadn’t been able to spy on the party. I’d assumed the were going to—not like we had anything to hide—but Lilly had certainly been behind blocking them out. The Sovereign of Lust had helped us fill in some of the blanks regarding who was after us, but hearing that it was, potentially, an alliance of two other Sovereigns had done quite the opposite of putting my mind at ease.
Lilly had to be planning something, and I was cautiously optimistic that I’d be on board with whatever it was. Until then, I was in no shape to go on the offensive—if I’d even had any idea where to start. Perhaps Mordwell was tangled up in this as well?
No use thinking in circles over that sort of thing. Drin and Tren had been at the party, and had gotten together there as well. It was sweet to see how awkward the budding couple were around each other. Oh, they were still friendly for sure, but with that sort of “I don’t want to offend you now so I’m acting different” thing that Seyari and I had briefly gone through ourselves. The party helped them move past some of that—at least if the friendly ribbing increasing with alcohol imbibed was at all a sign of things to come.
With Drin and Tren, we also found renters for our estate. Lacking any staff to maintain it, we rented the couple the overlarge home for what was probably a steal. They should be moving in today, actually. All in all, our last week in Lockmoth was an odd sort of calm before what would surely be a new storm.
For us who were leaving for Edath, the future was as dangerous as it was tenuously hopeful. The assassins seeking Taava would find her again, and I wagered soon. I couldn’t stay looking like a demon through every town we passed, and our enemies were still at large, their plans largely undisturbed. On top of that, we’d surely made an enemy out of Avarice and the other Sovereign (potentially Envy) who may be working with them. I had to hope they knew less about me than I did about them.
For now, the goal was to head south, gain influence, and work as hard as we possibly could to gather evidence and move subtly against Mordell and Finley ahead of the meeting with my sister on the summer solstice, which was half a year away.
This morning was the morning we’d meet our client and head south. Everything and everyone were ready, except Taava. For some reason, potentially spurred on by her fashion “success” at the party earlier in the week, she had me in her room at the company helping her try on clothes while Seyari and Nelys finished packing and paperwork. The kazzel wanted to make the best possible impression with the client, according to her, and she had slipped almost fully back into the same “traveling bard” act as when we’d first met.
Not that I’d complain about her playing or singing. I would, however, complain about how putting together an outfit was going.
“Taava, you can’t use my horns as a coat rack!” I huffed, pushing a shirt out of my eyes.
“Looks like it works fine ta me!” The kazzel said, struggling around a silky-looking top.
“The only reason you don’t have holes poked through everything is because I’m dulling them.”
She got one arm in a top and then the other shoulder before giving up. “Sounds ta me like you’re okay with it then!”
“No, I’m just trying—” I coughed in surprise as another skirt was thrown on top of me. “—To be patient with you.”
“And you’re doin’ great so far!” Taava replied, shuffling around as she threw together another outfit. “Say, how does this look?”
I moved the latest shirt out of my eyes, hissing. Taava looked, well, a little off. Not quite the flamboyant performer look she wanted. “Your top doesn’t match, and you’ve mixed gold accents with silver,” I replied honestly.
Taava looked herself over and frowned, tail flicking in annoyance. “Crap.” Ungracefully, she quickly took her top off.
I covered my eyes with two hands. “Taava!”
“What? We’re both girls!”
“Yeah, that’s kinda the problem! And I’m taken!”
“Prude.” She stuck out an arm holding the discarded top. “Hold this.”
I stuck out a third hand, keeping my upper pair clamped firmly over my face. “Fine. Tell me when you’re decent.”
More shuffling. “I’m better than decent.”
Like a chump, I opened my eyes. “Taava!”
I was still slightly red-faced when we finally cleared out from the company building and said our goodbyes. Taava had decided on a riot of red and gold that I sincerely doubted was a totally traditional Raavian look, despite her insistence. The sparse outfit looked far, far too insubstantial for an Ordian winter. Just because I’m a walking heater doesn’t mean you should abuse that fact!
Fira informed us that, given its location near the Edathan border within the empire, the Gelles Company had a small office in Gedon that we could report to once we arrived. Salvador and Inva were in the city for another day or two before their ship was scheduled to leave, and they saw us off with the rest of the company.
For the first time in a while, I was in my human transformation. I also carried my newly-repaired spear with me while my dress, a small shield, and two sets of tail rings (one spiked and one decorative) were in my bags.
For this mission, I was the group leader, with Seyari, Taava, and Nelys as the other members. We’d notified the client via letter that I was a demon and apprised her of some of the situation around my current status. She’d responded with a sparse affirmative, and I couldn’t get the slight twist out of my gut that she hadn’t exactly taken everything seriously.
When we got to the meeting place on the outskirts of Lockmoth, there was quite the gathering up and down the road. I knew we were to be part of a caravan, but I’d imagined something more along the lines of Florian’s caravan through Navanaea. Gathered here, prepping to head out, was a diaspora of various small merchants and other travelers. We weren’t the only guards I could see, though we were the only ones from the Gelles Company that I was aware of.
Shouting was the order of the day and my sensitive ears were getting pounded with a variety of orders and questions and frustrations, most all of them in Ordian. Head high and focused as best I could, I strode forward to the exact spot detailed for the meeting. I only had the vaguest description of our client, along with a name and papers, so I had to hope they were exacting in their instructions.
The crowd wasn’t particularly dense given the terrain, but I was glad to be able to see over everyone else nonetheless. I was used to my countenance making space around me, so I had to take a few steps to adjust to weaving and softly shouldering my way through stubborn groups of people. Ironically, I was probably the worst person among my group of four when it came to making my way through a crowd—and that was including my size.
Lucky for us, I spotted our client and her wagon in the shade of a crooked plum tree. She was a solo merchant—some large part Cavenish or Navanaean. Her dark hair was shaved nearly to her head on one side, and long on the other, showing one ear with a very slight point. Her light brown eyes were about the same shade as her skin, and she, like us, was dressed for travel. Next to her, looking wary, was a more typically Ordian-looking young man with sandy blonde hair, a dusting of freckles, and a well-worn brigandine. Her personal guard, I would bet.
Since she should have our description as well, I approached with a smile and a wave, my friends right behind me. The guard stepped up, but our client put a hand on his shoulder and he relaxed.
“Myrna, I presume?” I inclined my head forward and stuck out my hand. “I’m Zarenna Miller and this is my group. We’re here from the Gelles Company as per our contract.”
Myrna took my hand in a firm grip and smirked. “I thought you’d be taller. Glad you showed up on time!”
It took me a second to realize she said the first part in Navvish. “Any taller and I’d hit my head on all the doors I don’t already,” I responded in Navvish, my grasp of the language still somewhat poor. That earned a slight smile from Myrna.
Behind me, Seyari chuckled and Nelys laughed.
Taava elbowed Seyari and whispered, “what’d she say?”
Seyari mimed measuring up my height and then smacking her head into an invisible doorframe. Taava snickered.
Myrna stiffly released my hand after another moment. “Strong grip, too. I get why you’re called a demon—most people at least wince when I do that.”
“Anyway,” the merchant continued in un-accented Ordian, “this is my normal guard, Phol.”
Phol nodded stiffly. “Sorry, ma’m. It’s, uh, nice to meet you.”
Myrna frowned and sighed, rapping the guard’s shoulder rather heavily. “Sorry about him. He’s put out that I’ve hired more protection. Probably a total waste of money, but the rumors have me spooked and we’ll be taking a pretty isolated route to Gedon.”
“Why would a caravan this large not take the main road?” Seyari asked. “And I’m Seyari by the way. The annoying kazzel with the lute is Taava, and Nelys there is our sneaking and stabbing expert.”
Nelys smiled ear to ear, bouncing on the balls of their feet. Rather than pouting, Taava smiled and strummed a chord before taking an over-exaggerated bow.
“Caravan?” Myrna barked a laugh, slapping Phol on the back. To his credit, he didn’t stumble. “We’re not going with them. We’re just taking the same road out of the city. You think I’d waste time slowing down for those chumps?” She flicked a thumb at the bigger wagons and then at her sleek-looking horses. “We’ll be going fast. One wagon, but we’ll find space to cram in there. I’m hauling quality, not quantity.”
“Hauling what exactly?” Seyari asked.
Myrna leaned forward with a predatory, appraising smile. “Well, aren’t you the cold inquisitive one? I thought angels were supposed to be nice—but this is way better. Anyway, I’m hauling spices from Navanaea and we’ll be picking up rare herbs and some semiprecious stones along the way. Anyway, that’s enough dawdling. Show me the contract and let’s go.”
I took out the papers with their wax-stamped seal and handed them to her.
She scanned them quickly and handed them off to Phol before jumping up into the driver’s seat. “Come on! Daylight’s burning!”
The four of us had scarcely scrambled up and put our stuff in the wagon before Myrna took off. She patted the space next to her in the front and I sat down after placing my wrapped spear in the back with the few small crates and sacks already there. We passed the other wagons in the row, and I noticed a few had hired guards—one pair of wagons in particular had several hired swords. I guess there really were rumors of danger.
“What are the rumors?” I asked. “Demons?”
“Yeah,” Myrna replied. “Most of that’s bullshit, but I can’t deny I had good sources tell me travel is becoming more dangerous of late, for a bunch of different reasons.”
“What are the other reasons? Animal attacks? Bandits?”
Myrna shrugged. “Stuff like that mostly. Don’t tell me you’re nervous?”
I shook my head. “Not for myself, no.”
“You must be pretty fierce in a battle to get called a demon, yeah?” She asked without taking her eyes off the road ahead. “You’re built like damn statue, Zarenna.”
I watched the small farms blur by for a second before I sighed. “I thought we were pretty clear in the paperwork, but I guess not.”
“Huh? Something up?”
“I’m not ‘called’ a demon. I am a demon. I just showed up in my human form because I didn’t want to cause a stir. Didn’t you hear about what happened? Any of the rumors that must be going around about a demon in Lockmoth?”
“That big crater in the city? I stopped by it, but I only got in town a couple days ago. I don’t take stock in rumors like that unless I see profit in them.” Myrna turned to look up at me, still clearly not believing me. “You saying you did that crater?”
“No—well, not really. I killed the thing that made it, but I guess I did burn it into an arena for us to fight in.” Under my breath I muttered, “damn it—why is this always so awkward.”
“That’s one heck of a boast, even for a merc.”
“Can I revert my human transformation already?” I looked around. We were going fast, and mostly out of the city. Besides, I was technically okay to walk around as a demon—for now. Who knows how long that’ll last though.
“Sure, why not.” Myrna laughed.
I couldn’t help a giggle myself. “Just don’t drive us off the road, okay?” I reverted my human transformation and stretched. “My tail always gets such a kink in it!”
Myrna froze, and the wagon started to drift before she jolted and yanked us back on course. The horses whinnied, but thankfully didn’t bolt. “Well fuck.”
“Told you!” I exclaimed, the last syllable turning into a yawn.
There was a whimper and a scuffle from behind me.
“Phol, don’t bother,” Myrna snapped. “There’s nothing we can do.”
“She’s a demon though!” Phol’s voice was muffled.
“But Renna’s nice! And we told you she was a demon.” Nelys grunted, probably while trying to hold the man down.
“The company knows, too,” Seyari clarified. “And I can guarantee you our protection will be well worth the money. The protection of a greater demon is no joke.”
A strummed chord broke the tension. “This’s a song I’ve been workin’ on,” Taava said in a singsong voice, speaking over everyone else. “I call it ‘My Boss is a Demon, but she’s a Total Bleedin’ Heart.’”
As Taava began playing, I sighed. “Every time.” I looked down at Myrna with what I hoped was a pleading look. “It’s like this every time, ugh! I really should just not bother with my human form.”
Myrna’s wide eyes softened and she cocked her head back at the singing ‘bard.’ “Complete with the song, too?”
I flushed deeper scarlet. “No, that’s new.”
Taava continued singing, “And when she saved me from assassins, I saw nothin’ but kindness in her eeeeeeeeyes!”
I buried my face in two palms.
“Your friend Taava seems like a good singer.”
“That honestly just makes it worse.” I chanced a glance back between fingers and saw Phol starting to relax with a melty Nelys across his midsection.
Seyari was rather successfully stifling the giggles, and Taava managed to somehow belt out more lyrics while wearing a shit eating grin, her tail twitching behind her.
“She threw herself in the hellportal and tried in vain to drive back the beast withiiiin!”
“…It doesn’t even rhyme,” I mumbled.
“That’s because it’s a work in progreeeeess, ya big red jeeeerk!”
I shrank down into my seat and pulled my legs toward me with my lower arms and tail, keeping my face covered. “I’m going to try to disappear now. Tell me if something’s dumb enough to attack us.”
“I can do that.” Myrna said, and I felt a cautious hand on my shoulder. “You have good friends, Zarenna.”
I groaned into my knees. Taava finished the song and started again; Nelys joined her this time.
Taava eventually stopped singing, around when we turned off the main road. Unfortunately, I’d gotten to hear her song of our exploits evolve. It was starting to rhyme—and be in meter.
The terrain folded into rolling hills and light forest pulled in around us as the road narrowed.
“We’ll make camp for the night on this road, and get to our first stop hopefully tomorrow night or the next morning,” Myrna announced.
All I could do was nod, although I had at least recovered enough to look around for threats. I saw none, and I had to hope my presence was a strong deterrent. At speed or at a distance, I might be mistaken for a tall demon-blooded, but no one would make that mistake up close.
We continued to ride until close to dusk, then pulled aside to camp, carefully taking the cart through the twilight to a place not visible from the road. There was a tarpaulin that could cover the back of the wagon, but I was intending to stay up on watch with Seyari, and sleep in our own tent.
“I’ll get firewood,” I volunteered. “Do you want me to try to catch anything for dinner?”
“We have plenty of food for ourselves,” Myrna answered. “Only if you want something.”
The others shrugged, so I stepped a little into the woods to look for a good tree.
Myrna helped the half-angel Seyari get a fire pit started. Truthfully, she was still rattled, even if she didn’t show it. Before becoming a merchant, her past was… rough. The way the four-armed demon, Zarenna, held herself probably looked at ease to most people, but Myrna picked up on the little things. Zarenna moved deliberately, and with a sort of odd languid slowness that suggested she was actively trying to look more normal. To Myrna, it looked uncanny. It didn’t help that the demon seemed to be walking on eggshells with how carefully she did everything: from climbing up on the wagon, to helping put the tarpaulin over the back of it just moments ago.
The merchant arranged the rocks for the fire pit while Phol dug out the center and Seyari and Nelys moved a log closer for seating. Taava strummed idly on her lute, sitting propped up against a tree. The bard also bothered Myrna. The angel wasn’t hiding a martial history, nor was Nelys, but Taava was different. Obviously, hired mercenaries—expensive ones, too—would be competent, but the kazzel was more than she appeared.
Myrna needed some black tea in lieu of a stiff drink. Zarenna had hardly been a minute out when a sharp crack echoed through the trees. A few muffled snaps and moments later, Zarenna returned. She was carrying a bundle of handsbreadth-wide logs that had clearly been snapped apart.
She set them in the fire pit and gestured for everyone to stand back. Calmly, she breathed a jet of fire at them, sustaining it until the dense new wood caught of its own and a core of heat built up underneath.
To complete her intimidation, the demonic woman plopped ungracefully on the ground, yawned and asked, “Hey Sey, what do we want to do for dinner tonight?”
I don’t understand her, Myrna thought, but she doesn’t actually seem that bad—I just hope she’s in control of herself.
Myrna's reaction to Renna is interesting. Does she have prior experience with demons that are in control of themselves and aren't actively dangerous to mortals?
If only I could answer that...
Couldn't Zarenna half transform in towns instead of either human or full Demon? Pass herself off as Demon blooded, try to ease people into the whole her being full Demon thing?
She could! She's just a bit dense (and idealistic) when it comes to certain things, and maintaining a halfway state would make it very easy to slip up and transform the rest of the way.
@MadMaxine Also how far does Demon blooded go? We know horns and skin color are a thing, but what about tails, or the extra arms? How far can you claim to just be Demon blooded, or is it just kinda arbitrary.
@Knight_Redundant It's somewhat arbitrary, but the extra arms would definitely be a no-go. Her tail miiight be okay. A big part of it is the eyes (black sclera and slitted) and overall sort of aura, some of which would definitely leak out.
Sonia Rozaro, for instance, is more on the upper end of the scale as far as demon-blooded looking like demons go.
@MadMaxine I thought she was Ogre blooded, though? Lol
congratulations on the milestone! if I had any sense of rhythm myself I'd offer a theme song in your honor but alas
Also I bet "don't be suspicious " was going off in the background with the whole dance and everything between the gals
Thank you! And "don't be suspicious" was absolutely ringing out at full volume!
Just realised you released a chapter titled total bleedin heart the day immediately after I released one called bleeding hearts. Great minds, I suppose.
Thanks for the chap! Looks like myrna has some baggage going on, excited to see things unfold! Grats on the trending, btw. You deserve it.
Great minds indeed! I really do need to finally go check out A Scale of Sapphire!
!!! Well I hope you enjoy it then! I really admire your work!
Congrats on reaching a milestone!!!
I am not caught up yet but came here to say I am loving the story so far and keep doing what you do best
Aww, thank you!
And enjoy the rest of the journey to this point!
This part confused me a little:
The angel wasn’t hiding a martial history
Does this mean she knows about Sayari's martial history because Sayari isn't not hiding it, or that she was so distracted by Zarenna and Taava that she overlooked Sayari's tells?
@Caterina It is kinda confusing. It means that she knows about Seyari's martial history because Seyari isn't hiding it at all.
Congrats on 100!!
Congratulations on hitting chapter 100 and being number 1 on trending multiple times! You deserve it!