Chapter One
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In a nameless village of demons there lived a demon named Sadrahan Hamashi, thick arms and broad of body, he was, save for his greater size, no different from most of the other demons who lived around him, not in general, and not in that hour.

Like the others who worked the land, he wiped his forehead with the back of his hand to clean away the stinging foulness that stung his eyes as a result of his hard work.. Sweat came away and gave little pinches of pain to the little cuts that ran just below his burgundy colored knuckles.

He took a swig of red water out of his waterskin, it was lukewarm, but still refreshing after hours in the fields. The sun pounded the world like a smith’s hammer struck the forge, and the rustling of the forest branches was loud enough that even at a distance he could hear the rustling of the trees. ‘The wind is blowing hard today, at least it makes for more comfortable work.’ He thought and scratched the horns that grew out of his forehead and took a look in the direction of his home to see if he could spy his wife.

The home was wood, made of thick logs with gouges cut by demon claws to create dips into which the next log up would be nestled, they were then stacked back and forth and the gaps sealed with pitch. The roof was made of cut branches overlaid with a carpet of thick red moss which would glow at night and soak up any rain that didn’t just drip away from the angled design. The door was a simple animal hide hung from the top for privacy, as one would never shut out a neighbor in need.

True to his hopes, Lamash’s clawed hand came into view first, followed by the rest of her when she swept aside the dark bearskin and emerged into the light of day.

In her arms she carried a small bowl from which steam was rising, and a thick dark loaf of black bread. He gave her a fang filled smile which she returned to him in kind, while she waddled toward him.

He snorted, ‘I could just go back to the house…’ He thought for the thousandth time and walked toward her at a swift clip, his long broad stride ate up ground far faster than the waddle her pregnancy imposed on her.

“I would have come to you, you know.” The demon farmer said, dropping his hoe into the dirt and leaning down to lock his horns around hers so that their foreheads touched.

“And that’s why you’re worth coming to, myself.” She smiled up at him when her pregnant belly pressed against his body. “It’s just a short walk from the house to the field, not the epic journeys like the human bards love to sing about.” She tittered a little, and he joined his laughter with hers, unlocked horns and straightened up, accepting the bowl of hearty stew and loaf of bread. The thick steam filled his nostrils with the smell of seasoned meat and broth made from marrow and boiled bones which caused him to smack his lips together with hunger.

He stepped away just enough to give him room to eat and immediately dunked the bread to soak it for a moment before he began to chow down. The bread cracked between his sharp teeth and the flavor burst in his mouth like a magic caster’s firework spell.

With his cheeks stuffed he still managed to speak, “Yuh, I knowh, but shtill. Easier forh me than you.”

Lamash crossed her arms in front of her chest. “I’m pregnant, not crippled you big oaf.” Even though her dark eyebrows were furrowed and she glared at him, he couldn’t resist a big smile back down at her when he swallowed his first bite of her marvelous meal.

“So you keep telling me. But I like doting on you.” He said emphatically and gave a sharp, affirming nod.

She rolled her deep red eyes, and the tiny little fleck of stray gold within them seemed to sparkle in defiance of her pretense of indignation. When he just kept grinning she finally let out a long suffering and greatly exaggerated sigh. “You’re impossible to say no to.”

His grin grew bigger and she put her hands on her hips, her red eyes gleaming, she quickly quipped, “Don’t say it!”

He let out a guffaw and then choked back any further laughter until her attempt at a glower transformed into another eye roll and a chuckle of her own.

“Honestly…” She said, “Anyway you should come in early this time, there’s a traveler sighted on the road, could be a tinker, could be a merchant, and I know you were wanting to get a few things repaired.”

Sadrahan looked down at the hoe he’d dropped into the dirt, he nudged it with his leather boot, the loose head rattled against the wooden handle. ‘It does need tightening, the nail is coming loose and it’s too rusted to take another hit… plus there’s the mattock and…’ A list of chores and things that needed to be done flashed through his mind in an instant while his wife looked at him with steady expectation.

He quickly finished the stew, tilting the wooden bowl so that it poured over his tongue with all its rich and savory flavor, then he rubbed the bread over the remnants, soaking up any remaining juices and shoving it into his waiting mouth. “Ohkay, yesh.” He said, and then he handed her the bowl.

She took it in two claw tipped fingers and after he picked up his hoe they walked, at her pace, back toward their log home.

When they entered, he swept a hand through his short black hair and cleared his throat, “I’ll grab everything that needs to be fixed, just leave the coinpouch hanging by the door and you relax for a little while. Thank you for the food, it was filling as always.” He licked his lips and went to the wall rack where various tools sat in differing stages of wear and tear.

“You’re welcome, dear.” Lamash replied and taking up an empty pouch, she removed the pouch from her side and began to fill the one he would take, with small round copper rings. She then bound the leather pouch shut with the cut leather strings and hung it from a nail embedded beside the door while the clatter of tools rang out behind her.

He left the house with his arm curled up, holding the pile of tools over his shoulder and bicep, snatching the coin pouch off the wall and looping it around his claw tipped fingers.

True to what his wife said, looking down the long dirt road which cut the village in half, a covered wagon pulled by a donkey was rolling in their direction, with two men seated at the front with one of them holding the reins.

One was clearly aged, his face wrinkled, his beard white, and as he came closer, his knuckles were clearly gnarled, though his clothing was clean of filth and was of a bright golden shade with polished leather boots on his feet, a cloak on his back had the red hood pulled away to reveal a mostly bald head which was part of a body that was clearly a little bit fat.

At his side was a younger version of the same man, with brown hair and a brown beard. He held the reins and was dressed similarly to his companion. The wagon they drove was ordinary wood, with a tan fabric cover, and he took one hand off of the reins to wave to the demon village just as one would to old friends.

“Helloooo!” The human shouted with youthful enthusiasm as the wagon drew closer. The road of loose dirt cut the demon village in two, and out of the various homes that were virtual copies of Sadrahan’s came demon men and boys with tools, copper rings, and things to sell, in every combination.

Closest to the outskirts of the village were the oldest demon families, those whose bodies were no longer able to manage the strength to fly even though their wings could still emerge. Rather than crowding around the wagon as it approached, each household stood beside the road, allowing the eldest demons to go first, exchange pleasantries, buy, sell, or trade, and then move on.

Sadrahan’s turn came within the hour, and he extended a welcoming red hand to the elder human, then the younger while taking care to not injure the human skin with his knife like claws as his neighbor on the opposite side did the same. “Welcome to the village.” He said in his deep baritone and gave a thin lipped smile down to the travelers.

“Thanks, neighbor.” The younger of the pair answered, “I assume that,” he pointed to the tools, “all needs repairing?”

“Badly.” Sadrahan answered with an emphatic nod as he bent and lay the tools against the waist high wagon wheel.

The elder remained in the wagon while the younger hopped down with one adroit motion as soon as Sadrahan stepped aside. And while he looked at the work to be done, plucking up one item after another and reaching inside the covered wagon for tools, he chattered.

“So, any news?” The human asked.

“Nothing new, farming is farming. Things don’t change much… but there is one strange thing though, the human villagers didn’t show up this year to buy from our last bean harvest.” Sadrahan scratched his head, “That’s kind of news, I guess. They used to come around this time every year.”

“Oh, so really, no news?” The young merchant asked, and when Sadrahan cocked his head, the young man went on. “You remember my name, right?”

“Midas the Younger.” Sadrahan answered at once, and the young man gave a broad, toothy smile.

“Right. It’s been a few years, and you member me like it was yesterday. Demons sure are smart folks.” He said and tossed the old nail out of a tool and into the wagon before tapping another back into the place of the old one. “But we just came from that village, and even though you see them every year, I’ll bet none of them remember yours. You folk just aren’t all that sociable.”

“So?” Sadrahan asked and swept a hand out to encompass the village, “This is home, this is all I need to know or remember.” He frowned a little bit as a chill crept up his spine. Midas’s face became grave, the trace of a frown formed on his face.

“A few years ago we passed through that village, they called you ‘their neighbors’ same for a bunch of other human villages, they called their demon villages just ‘their neighbors’ and talked about other human villages the same way. Know what they called you this time?”

“What?” Sadrahan asked when Midas the Younger set one tool down and then picked up the hoe while his father chattered with another demon on the other side of the wagon.

“Those demons. There’s a new religion out there that’s taken hold, a new human Kingdom is being built up, good for trade… roads are safer for travelers and folk like my pa and I. But… they don’t take too kindly to demons, dwarves, or other folk.” Midas said, and his voice dropped in a whisper. “There’s bad stories out there too, villages going missing, things like that, you know. You want my advice, move farther away.”

“Farther away from what?” Sadrahan asked, intrigued by the promise of a ‘safe’ scary story, he leaned down to hear more.

“Ever heard of a city before?” Midas asked, his little frown wasn’t gone, but the whites of his eyes opened a little more with the prospect of gain.

“No, what’s that?” The demon asked, raising one ink dark eyebrow and scratching his left horn.

“Take as many villages as you got beans in your field, then put all those villages together in one spot, and then put up walls, not against monsters, but against other folk, and that is a city.” Midas answered, “Lotta money to be made there, after pa dies-”

“I heard that! I’m not dying yet!” The old man snapped over his shoulder.

“But after he does, I’ve thought about setting a permanent shop in place in one of them.” Midas finished the sentence regardless of his father, who snorted with derision.

Sadrahan’s claw scraped away a few flecks of red skin from his horn, “So what, what’s that matter? It doesn’t seem like a great way to live, how can you know everybody?”

“You don’t. But there’s a lot going on there, busy place, and like I said, you can swim in money there.” Midas answered, then the greed faded from his brown eyes as he added, “But they do not like demons, or much else. And they’re expanding, the village that used to come here to buy from you once a year, now they go the other way, buy from some of the big city’s forts, pay taxes over there, that kind of thing.”

“Taxes? What’s getting tired have to do with-” Sadrahan began to ask but stopped speaking when Midas shook his head.

“No, not like ‘taxing’, taxes. Basically they pay money or work or goods, and the fort takes it to the city and then the city does things for the village, like protecting it from bandits. They won’t be coming here again to deal with you, they don’t need to.”

“Oh. That sounds like a lot of work.” Sadrahan dropped his hand down at his side, “Villages can pretty well protect themselves, so why give up all that to someone else you don’t even know? It sounds stupid.”

Midas the Younger shrugged, “I’m just telling you what I saw, Sadrahan, I’m just telling you what I saw. Take my advice or don’t, but they’re not the friendly place they used to be.”

“It can’t be that bad. We’ve always had peace here, there’s no reason for that to change.” Sadrahan answered with a shrug of his broad shoulders. “Anyway, I’ve got rings to spend aside from just repairing things, my wife is due to have our first child this summer. I’d like to have a few things to help brighten up our home. Do you have anything that might do that?”

“Yeah, yeah I do.” Midas grinned as he set the last tool down and going to the back of his wagon he reached into a jar and pulled out a single red stone. It shimmered when it caught the light, and Sadrahan whistled.

“What’s that…?” He asked and held out his fingers to take it between his claws.

“They call them ‘rubies’. There’s a tribe that wanders close to the mountains, they found a few of these while trying to get some iron ore. We bought up the lot. They’re no good for forging anything, but they’re pretty to look at.” Midas explained.

“I’ll give you three rings for one.” Sadrahan offered.

“Make it ten to pay for it, and I’ll put it into a silver necklace for you. I’m sure the wife will love it.” Midas prompted.

“That’s not exactly brightening up the home…” Sadrahan pointed out.

“It’ll brighten up your wife, are you telling me that doesn’t count?” Midas raised a brown eyebrow up.

Sadrahan looked over his shoulder, though his wife was nowhere near and could not possibly have overheard the business discussion, he swore, ‘I can practically feel her asking that same question.’ He finally nodded, “Good point, and I’m sure she’ll love it.”

He reached into his pouch, removing ten copper rings plus the cost of repairing his tools, and Midas the younger went to work.

He laid out a tiny lump of silver secured to a small silver chain, and with his finger hovering over it, he cast his spell, “Melt.” The heat flared and the little lump of almost white metal began to droop inward. He shoved the ruby into place and then swiftly covered the stone and silver with dirt.

Minutes later, Sadrahan pulled the chain up and gave the necklace a look, it dangled and danced in the breeze, catching the light and shimmering with the brightness of Lamash’s eyes.

“Beautiful.” He praised the merchant, and Midas hopped back into the wagon, ready to move to the next house, he smiled at the demon and his face became serious again.

“Thanks, but take my word for it, things… they’re not like they used to be, just because they’ve always been a certain way, that doesn’t mean nothing’ll change. There’s other villages, this’n, well, it’s home, I know. But you don’t want it to be a grave too. At least not so soon.”

Sadrahan snorted, “Thanks for the concern, but we’re fine, nothing ever really changes much around here.

Midas shrugged, “If you say so.” He cracked the reins, and moved on, leaving Sadrahan to gather up his tools and return home.