The demon, in tortured agony, gazed up at the face of the young man who, in fifty years, would become the most powerful man in Kenebres.
“Now,” said Hulrun Shappok, “we’ve learned that fire and electricity hurt you but do not harm you. Though you do not resemble most demons that we know of, you share many of their traits. If there is one thing we have learned, in our devotions to Iomedae, is that our enemies can have many guises.”
A handful of white-clad zealots murmured their assent to this, surrounding the table on which Dusk was strapped down upon. The light here was magical for they were deep underground, but it blazed with the intensity of a handful of suns from every corner. It hurt Dusk’s eyes but that was his least concern.
His naked blue-furred body gave off a powerful sulfurous musk as it reacted to his discomfort. Several patches of fur had been burned off and cuts from various implements — some steel, some silver, some cold iron, some blessed, some magic — decorated his exposed arms and legs. His tail, half-severed, hung limply off the side of the table stained black with his dark red blood.
“Though, it also appears you do not seem to share your blood’s vulnerabilities to certain materials and magic.” He called for a subservient to cast a Zone of Truth in the room, forcing lies to be forsaken for self-incrimination.
“Now… speak! Speak and we will be merciful and give you a quick death. Admit that you are a demon!” snarled Hulrun, holding a sanctified blade near the teenager’s eye. “Admit you were sent here to commit evil! Who are you working for? Admit you burned down of home the unbelievers! Why?”
Dusk merely shook his head, tears pouring from his eyes. “I told you and told you every day. I didn’t do that. I don’t know what I am. I only went into the fire to help the girl. Please, let me go home to my Nan!”
“Your ‘Nan’ tells us that you are a demon that somehow incubated inside her daughter,” answered the young inquisitor with a sneer. He turned to his minions. “Somehow, he resists the magic.”
“Master,” offered a heavyset young woman, “We need no more evidence. None speak for him. We still fall within Iomedae’s law. The case is clear. Surely he must have set fire to the house in which to besmirch your own name among the clergy since it was only after you had spoken openly of the danger of Saranrae worshippers in Kenabres harboring our enemies.”
“Quiet,” Hulrun replied, a thoughtful expression coming over his face. “I will return. Try some holy water.” He paused and added, “Make him drink it.” He headed to the heavy iron-bound door.
“I told you, that won’t do anything to me. I’m not a demon,” the demon pleaded.
Hulrun stopped with a shining steel gauntlet pressed against the door and turned back, speaking again to his assistants. “Record your results. Then… try acid.”
He barely heard the screams all the way back up to his chambers to prepare for the morning devotions.
= = = = = = = = = = =
A month later, the demon curled in a fetal ball in the corner of a dank cell. He had become too weak to try to scrabble after the rats that nipped at his toes and tail. Therefore, he had not eaten for days.
“What do demons need with food?” taunted the crusaders who checked in on him from time to time. “Besides, we have hungry citizens to feed, refugees from demon attacks, praise be to Iomedae.”
Dusk realized that death would soon creep upon him. He didn’t understand. He had done something good, hadn’t he? He thought his actions at the fire might even be a way for him to be accepted so that he too might play games in the park or laugh and marvel at tales in the Defender’s Heart or smile at a girl and have her smile back at him. Now, it was over. Would he just rot after he died or would he truly go to the Abyss, to become another tortured foot-soldier for eternity? He wished he could ask someone. He wished he could see his parents again to ask them why they had done this to him. He wished he could hear them tell him that they loved him.
After some time in a dreamless sleep, a noise roused him. He was too weak to raise his head at the sound of the door creaking open. Was he dead at long last?
“This is the creature,” intoned the authoritative voice of Hulrun. “Iomedae save us from the stench.”
“Thank you,” came a gentler voice of another man, though strained somewhat as if the man had further statements to make but held them back.
“You claim to speak in this thing’s defense?” growled Hulrun. “Does your goddess understand that blind compassion needs tempered with wisdom or perhaps your lack of it will be the cause of your cult’s downfall.”
The man took in a breath and held it. When he spoke, Dusk vaguely recalled hearing that voice before. “I am sure religious historians will have many theories in the future and scholars will judge all of our actions as mere mortals seeking to do our gods’ will in the world.” This was said with an audible smile.
Before Hulrun could retort, the man added, “It is not I that will speak in the defense of this boy. It is my daughter.”
Then Dusk heard a small cry of alarm and the quick steps of a toddler dashing between the two men.
“Auciell!” cried her father.
“Get away from it!” snapped Hulrun.
Dusk felt a tiny weight thrown upon him clumsily and fiercely and then the warm embrace of the child, salty tears of joy and sorrow sliding down soft cheeks to moisten his rough fur.
“Boo kitty!” she cried, again and again, until she was pulled away. “Boo kitty.”