By Lynn Bartlett
There comes a time when a child must put away childish things. For a Mazoku, it's when they turn twelve and make their contract with their elemental. On that day, a Mazoku becomes an adult, leaving behind whatever innocence they may have possessed - though it's not likely they possessed much. It's a race of demons, after all.
The day you turned twelve was the day a part of you died.
When you were little, you had the sweetest temperament of any of your siblings. Gwendel was serious and grave, and while most people believed that Konrad was a nice enough person, the images of the Ruthenberg Patriot still lingered in their minds. So it was you who people loved, because you had the beautiful blond hair and lambent green eyes of your mother. They doted on you, enough to spoil you, and if your mother had her way, you would have turned into a useless fop, good only for decorating the court. Perhaps you would marry well, trading on your name, but that would be about it.
That's when your brothers stepped in.
Together they kept you on a straighter path than Cheri might have preferred - or maybe they did exactly what she wanted. None of you knew how much she has manipulated you over the past twenty years - nor did you want to. Ignorance was bliss, sometimes.
They made learning fun, especially Konrad. Gwendel, distant though caring, was not the one whom you loved. You respected him and valued his guidance, but he was a difficult man to relate to. The bond of brotherhood tied you together, and it was him you look to as your moral compass, but he was not the one who ruled your heart. It was Konrad, the brother who always had time for you to either to offer a gentle smile or a word of advice, whom you secretly loved best.
And then he betrayed you.
The day before you were twelve, you entered a ritual of fasting. Humans might have called it a purification ritual, but that was not the Mazoku way. Your race long ago realized that purification made sense while summoning elementals because in many cases, the true forms of the elementals would turn the stomach of a child. It helped to have nothing in the stomach, because more than one ritual had been destroyed by a child throwing up on the pentagram, usually to disastrous effect.
That night, you heard your brothers betting with their close friend, Gunter, over what kind of elemental you would summon. They were sitting at a small table in Konrad's room, and you came across them accidently. You had only shown up to ask a question which you can't even remember now. Seeing them together made you duck behind a curtain, occasionally peeking out to see what was going on.
"He'll summon a wind elemental," Gwendel said confidently. His voice lacked much in the way of emotion, but you knew him well enough to detect the fondness he held for you.
"No, no," Gunter replied, and there was a teasing edge in his tone. He was never able to resist baiting Gwendel, the almost-flirtation a constant subject of court gossip. "Water!" It was a compliment, because water was the most rare of the elementals, because they were the most changeable. Water elementals like people with depth, and if you were one of the rare few that summon one, your power was assured.
Konrad looked sad, shaking his head. "It will be fire," he said softly with a certainty that resonated through the room. He drained his mug of ale, wiping his mouth on the cuff of his sleeve, probably a bit drunk. "I only hope he survives."
The others fell silent, knowing what he was implying.
You wondered at Konrad's certainty briefly before his insight managed to penetrate. A fire elemental... powerful, but dangerous. The Mazoku unlucky enough to be drawn toward fire tended to die young, usually when they lost control of their elemental. Half of them didn't survive the summoning, and these would be found fried to a crisp the next day when the ceremonial chamber was opened.
"You can't be sure," said Gwendel.
"I know him, better than he knows himself. The fire elementals will not be able to resist his passion," Konrad replied. "He's not calm enough for earth, and he's too controlling for wind. As for water... no. He's too certain of himself, too directed toward a path. Tomorrow Wolfram will summon a fire elemental."
You shivered in fear, for the first time realizing the danger of the ceremony you were about to undergo. Not all Mazoku survive - but you had never before considered the possibility you might die.
"He'll survive," Gwendel said reassuringly. "He's Cecile's child, just like us. We're survivors."
Konrad toyed with his empty mug before looking up and meeting his brother's eyes. "That doesn't always mean anything. Sometimes it's the father's blood which can make a difference."
"Wolfram's father is a noble!" Gunter said. "Not like-" he skidded to a halt, his pale face taking on a flush of embarrassment.
You didn't understand what they were talking about, and the confusion broiling in you nearly came to a full boil. It was all you could do not to stomp in there and demand answers.
"It's okay. You can say it. 'Not like your father, Konrad.'" Konrad gave another smile, though this one was resigned. You never thought that Konrad's smiles were anything except genuine, but you started to question them at that moment. They seemed to be a shield he was hiding behind, and in the back of your mind a faint uncertainty takes root.
"It's not your fault, Konrad!" Gwendel said fiercely, and his face is dark with rarely seen emotion - frustration, affection, a bit of anger. He was letting his emotions show, and your fascination with seeing the play of them across Gwendel's normally stoic face almost distracted you - but Gwendel's next sentence blew your distraction away like dust on a strong wind. "Even though your father's human, you're still one of us!"
"Even though? You just-"
What Konrad said then and the rest of the conversation were forever lost to you as that evil, ugly word resonated through your mind like a death knell.
Like most Mazoku, you despised the inferior creatures. They were petty and grasping, and killed their own. You couldn't respect people who were weak, and for you, the very word "human" had become almost an epithet. Humans didn't deserve any compassion, because they didn't understand what it was. They were only a step above cows and pigs.
You stared at Konrad's face as he argued with the others, but you are deaf to the words flowing out of his mouth. All you can see is someone you loved who has suddenly been horribly transfigured into something of undescribable horror.
Never before did you wonder about Konrad's lack of family name, assuming that your mother had selected some lower ranking Mazoku, one whom she had disposed of just as quickly. Cheri had a way of going through men like a fish through water, needing their presence, but unable to linger. However, finding out the truth made your stomach turn in revulsion. Cheri... had slept with a human. Better she had copulated with a dog - at least that way there would have been no offspring.
It's amazing how quickly your love turned to loathing. The ideals of your upbringing warred with your love for your older brother, and it hurt. For a moment you were tempted to cry, but then remembered that Mazoku men do not cry. Crying was a sign of weakness, and you refuse to be anything but strong.
Those tears that rolled down your face were merely from the dust.
You crept away before they could find you. You were supposed to be meditating to clear your mind for the ceremony tomorrow, and they wouldn't be happy at the way you were breaking the rules.
You didn't sleep that night, and you should have. All you could do was think about human Konrad and how he had pretended to love you. It had to be pretense, because humans hated Mazoku. When he came for you the next morning, you were ready for him.
Konrad didn't bother knocking. He never did, at least not with you. You had no secrets from him until that moment - a secretly festering wound which encouraged you to strike out like a lion with a thorn in its paw.
Konrad moved to throw the curtains open, but halted when he noticed you were sitting up, dressed in the long blue formal robe of the von Bielefeld family. He gave you that smile, which you were finally able to see through. "Good morning, Wolfram," he said. "Are you excited about today?"
It was the morning of your twelfth birthday, and there was a party planned for after you made your contract. Normally you would have chattered about what kind of elemental you were going to summon, or about your plans for the future, since you would finally be considered an adult, but that day you merely gave Konrad a cold look before rising to your feet.
"Let's go," you ordered.
Konrad looked a bit taken aback at your rudeness, but smoothed his expression quickly. "Wolfram, I know you're probably nervous, but-"
You interrupted him, not wanting to listen to his lying mouth anymore. "How do you know? You've never gone through this. You're human," you spat out, and then there was no more secret, simply silence and the feel of the tie that bound you together being ripped apart.
Konrad looked genuinely surprised, and then regretful. "Wolfram-" he started, placing his hand on your shoulder, but you forcibly shoved it off. The space between you seemed to grow, and all you needed to do was reach out and say you were sorry to bridge it, but instead you severe yourself completely.
"I don't want humans touching me."
You could almost here the "snap!" of your relationship falling apart. Konrad was not upset, but you knew your words had probably cut him to the quick. You didn't care, though, because all you wanted was to hurt him the way he hurt you.
"I understand," Konrad murmured, his face losing a bit of animation. "I'll take you to the ceremony now, Wolfram von Bielefeld."
You trailed after him in the hallway, ignoring the way people bowed before you and the calls of good luck. All you can think of was your anger - even the ceremony before you held no fear, because you knew you will not fail.
The summoning chamber is in the middle of the palace, and though you knew where it was, you have never been allowed to enter. Most Mazoku only enter the room once, and never again. The more powerful ones occasionally returned for ceremonies, but there was a... well, fear was not correct... caution that people seemed to gain after making their contract. Some things were best not toyed with, and the elementals were one of those things.
Outside Gunter and Gwendel flank the doors, a formal guard for what was to come. Gunter is wearing the long green robe of an earth elementalist, while Gunter is dressed in the pale white and blue that represents wind. It never occurred to you before to wonder about Konrad's element, which made you want to hit yourself over the head now. It was all so obvious - Konrad's lack of magic, Konrad's name.
You forced that thought from your mind and resolved not to think of it anymore. Konrad was not worthy of your attention.
"Who seeks entrance to the Chamber of the Mazoku?" Gunter said, his eyes glittering in anticipation.
"Wolfram von Bielefeld," you replied, omitting your other titles.
"Do you understand what you seek?" Gwendel asked.
"I seek my inner strength, and to bind with the allies of my forefathers," you replied, the ritual response coming easily to your lips. You had practiced it over fifty times, with Konrad. I must not think of him now! you thought.
"Then be welcome, and become a true son of the Mazoku," the two replied in unison, throwing the doors open in a grand gesture.
You stepped in, not looking back. As the doors shut behind you, you knew that you were leaving your old life behind.
The room was simple, an affair of gray stone that bore no decoration. Light was provided by a torch in each corner, which rumor had never burned out. It was still dark, and it was only your heightened eyesight that kept you from tripping on the cracks in the floor as you moved in. The only thing that made this room unusual was a large pit in the center, carved out of the granite floor. Around it, a large pentagram was traced, the thing that tied your world to the next.
Carefully you climb into the shallow pit. In the middle, there was a squared stone just large enough to stand on, and it is here you stood as you threw your arms wide, knowing what you had to do.
"This proud Mazuko calls upon his element to make a contract," you said.
At first, nothing happened. A minute ticked by, but you waited more patiently than you ever had before. Then finally sparks begin to fly, and before you can think, you are surrounded by flames. The flames did not burn, but you spared a second to resent that Konrad had been right.
Around you, the flames danced, and you laughed as power was finally in your grasp. Then there was only the fire, scorching away anything else but the brilliant reds and orange that tantalized you.