The demon was not supposed to be out of the house alone. Nan had given him lots of reasons and he had crafted an argument against each of them and carried them like arrows in a quiver on the chance that she woke up before he got back and he’d had to explain himself, which was low, he figured. Nan had hit the whiskey tonight, the good kind she kept tucked behind the pickles brining in the cellar. It was the anniversary of her daughter’s departure into the Worldwound, his mother. If he’d ever known her, he might be melancholy himself, but he wasn’t. It was just another night. He might not be sad but at least, he’d chuckled to Nan, mom had left him blue.
He hadn’t expected the blow to come as fast as it did from an old lady or sting as hard. Her backfist had smacked his temple and sent his chin hammering into the kitchen tabletop, blood filling his mouth from his bit tongue. He’d sprawled on the stone floor and gazed up at the woman who had raised him as she stood and staggered out of the room, not bothering to see if he was hurt or not. She likely believed him unkillable, if the “accidental” leaving out of various toxic cleaning products while he’d toddled about nineteen years ago were any indication. But he’d survived, much to her disappointment.
Lying on the floor then, he’d contemplated killing her. It would be easy. His mind had filled with visions of cutting her throat and then carving away her skin. If only he were strong enough to do that in reverse order, well, that would be something to savor.
Then he’d shaken his head and pounded a fist onto his own skull, “No! No, stop it! Stop it!” he’d hissed a whisper. “Nan can’t help it. You are the monster, Dusk. That’s why mom and dad left. That’s why Nan is sad all the time. It’s your fault. She knows you think those things, those evil things! Bad! Bad!”
He’d dug his nails deep into his own blue furred scalp, pressing his heels of his hands against his yellow eyes as if he could rip the dark impulses out of his own skull. His pointed tail had thrashed back and forth and he’d lifted his head off the floor and struck it down again and again until the voices stopped when everything had gone black. After he’d come to, night had descended and into it, he’d slipped, heavily cloaked and aimless.
The demon reminded himself again of what he would tell Nan when she inevitably voiced each of her reasons again. One, he would be killed if someone spotted him. He was a demonblood in a city of demon-hunters. Theoretically, the paladins and crusaders of Kenabres would only kill someone if they’d done something wrong. They were the epitome of law and goodness after all. But, in a war, no one would blame one of them for cutting his head off based on his appearance. Hearing that he was the child of a pair of Riftwardens, the mysterious organization of arcanists who studied the myriad planes of existence, would likely merit an apology and a shrug.
Dusk would tell her he wouldn’t get near any crusaders. Being out at night, he could spot anyone with his inhuman eyesight long before they saw him in the shadows. He’d also learned how to call upon an innate power to darken his close surroundings like the lowering of an oil lamp. Nan didn’t want him doing it in the house but he liked it. It was like pulling up a blanket all around him, not that she’d let him have any of her blankets. His indifference to cold temperatures led to her indifference in trying to keep him warm. He did like it by the hearth, though, and sometimes even climbed inside to sleep curled up on the dying embers. Nan’s distaste for him openly betraying his unnaturalness so conflicted with her realization that the scent of brimstone which accompanied him when he was excited in some way dissipated up the flue when he parked himself there.
Two, even if he weren’t killed outright, he would bring great shame upon Nan and his parents should his connection to them come to light. His father D’karik, a sorcerer of whom Nan claimed dabbled in forces that should not be dabbled with, had already shamed them enough with his violet eyes and slightly pointed ears. A half-elf he’d claimed himself to be, but Nan was not convinced. Dusk’s mother, Liana Clarseen, had fallen for him, likely through enchantments, Nan had claimed. The two were almost never apart since arriving in Kenabres to tell Nan they’d been wed. And when Liana had come to her ninth month of pregnancy, the tale spread was that their child had been stillborn and the grieving planar travelers had gone to forget about their loss.
That part might be true, Dusk had to admit, but he had been born as alive as he was alien: covered in soft blue fur, already growing teeth, smelling of foulness, and with a nub of a tail that his father had refused to allow Nan to cut off. Nan said shame had driven them away but Dusk still believed it was their work which had taken them from him and they would return when he was grown to join them in grand adventures.
A child’s fantasy he knew, but was he not still a child? Even after years of watching human children who were born the same year as him grow into apprenticeships and courtships and other adult things, his body still sought simple pleasures and his mind arrived at the easy conclusions of a much younger being. Though physically he seemed to only lag slightly behind. He was not particularly tall, but could pass for a human teenager at least, so long as no one looked under his cloak.
At any rate, he would tell Nan if he were found, he would never give her name. He would say he lived in the streets. He half-believed he would have a better life there anyway. Stealing and scrounging were often what he’d had to do at home anyway as Nan figured his otherworldly appetite could be sated with rubbish — rinds and bones and stale crusts — just as well as fresh food. After the events earlier that night, he was contemplating not going back at all. It was not like he’d any possessions of his own to go back for and he worried about one of them killing the other before too long.
The third reason was the worst of them. The times he’d been out before, cloaked and wrapped such that none would see him, he’d asked Nan why he couldn’t go play with the other children or even talk to them. He’d watch the nobles of Kenabres parade their families with pride down the boulevard on a sunny morning on their way to a shrine or temple, most likely dedicated to Iomedae. Or sitting on a bench while their children frolicked and laughed in the grass of the park. They seemed so happy. The demon wanted to join them. No, Nan, always said. If he were to ever talk to another child, they would be denied their place in the glorious upper planes when they died and suffer torment forever. He didn’t want that to happen.
But that was the easiest reason for him to tell her he could be out on his own. He just wouldn’t talk to anyone. Then they’d be safe.
So with these thoughts in mind, Dusk flitted from shadow to shadow, the pain and anguish of hours earlier forgotten in the excitement of freedom to go where he pleased. He’d always liked the district of Old Kenabres the best, with its huge stone structures and cobbled streets, so he made his way to higher ground.
He had a marvelous time, hiding and watching people as they went by, never guessing that he was there. He even dared to make some rude noises as a man and woman tried to have some private mushy time when they thought no one was looking. That was funny. But just as he was thinking it was time to get back home, he spotted a too-bright light in the distance.
By the time he arrived, there was a lot of shouting and noise. A big house had a fire on the inside. He could see flames at every window. Four or five people had gathered in front. A man and a woman were coughing and lying on the ground covered in a blanket. A bell was ringing but no one had come to put the fire out yet. The man was trying to crawl back into the house but the other people wouldn’t let him. The woman was pointing to an upper floor and Dusk could hear the faint cries of a baby.
His mind raced. He thought he could get through that fire just fine. It didn’t burn him as badly as it did Nan or other humans. He could go save the baby for those people. But then everything might go wrong. They might try to kill him. They might know about Nan and mom and dad. Or worst, he would make them all have to go to the Abyss when they died if he talked to them.
Then, he suddenly had an idea. He concentrated and clutched his cloak and suddenly all around him in the alley where he’d watched, it got pitch dark. If they couldn’t see him, they wouldn’t try to talk to him. Then he raced towards the open doorway, the flames dimming into shadowy illumination.
It was a lot hotter than he’d expected and kind of hard to breathe but he was able to see where to go. Up the stairs and then towards the front of the building. When he grabbed the doorknob to the baby’s room, it burned his hand. Still, he pushed in and then saw, miraculously, a pretty little girl and a white kitten curled around each other in an undamaged corner of the room. It was not clear who was protecting whom but they both opened their eyes wide when he walked in.
His unnatural darkness battled with the light of the fire and in shadow he approached hesitantly, trying to open his arms in a show of harmlessness. He took his cloak off as he knelt down before them.
The girl had been sobbing and now looked at him in apprehension. He knew he couldn’t say anything so he just held out his hand and his tail to see if she’d grab on as he’d seen other babies do with their parents.
The tail swaying before her eyes seemed to capture her imagination and she took it in her hand and felt the warm fur of it. She stopped whimpering and sniffled a little. The white cat unarched its back.
“Kitty!” the girl mumbled, smiling at him. “Boo kitty!”
He smiled back to her. She let him wrap the cloak around her and her pet and then he lifted them, pressing the bundle close to his chest as he bent partly over to take the heat of the flames upon himself, and left as quickly as he dared.
When the sphere of darkness moved out of the building and engulfed the small group outside, the people were even more alarmed. But when the mother felt the familiar weight of her daughter pressed into her lap along with the frayed remains of a filthy cloak, she called to her husband joyfully, “It’s Auciell! Our Auciell!”
“Thank Sarenrae!” he cried aloud as the darkness receded towards an alley, and he beheld his baby once again, kissing her small hands. “Thank you, Sarenrae!”
“No, Papa!” the demon heard as he legged it back towards the Ring District. “Boo Kitty! Bye, Boo Kitty! Bye!”
The demon slipped back through the basement window and checked if Nan was still sleeping. She seemed to be. The whiskey bottle lay on the floor near her bed along with the open locket painting of her own little girl, Liana, who had gone off to save the world again and left her own problem here.
Dusk liked to think about telling his mom when he saw her how he’d done a good thing tonight too. She’d be proud of him and she and dad would take him with them next time, to places where it would be safe to talk to people and they’d like him. He picked up the whiskey bottle and sniffed at it. There was some inside and didn’t he deserve some kind of reward?
He was just finishing off the last of it when the pounding came at the door, waking up Nan. The Inquisitors had seen him and he was wanted for questioning regarding a mysterious fire at the Ferre house. To this, he didn’t have a ready answer.