It is easy to kill.
I know some make very different claims: "Once you kill, you are changed" or "Kill and the remorse will kill you." But cruelty is built into us mortals as much as kindness ever was. How many children pull the wings off a firefly just as easily as cradle the creature gently in their soft hands? You can't say that "They don't know any better." Children choose what seems best. Shame or remorse is only possible once you know that there are consequences—that the limits of the world do not reside in your own desires—that the firefly knows what it's lost.
I'm starting to sound like a priest, or a prim sage who measures the world by letters and ink and paper.
Well, I don't have the purity of a holy woman. The world has changed before my eyes. We are all a part of something new, whether you believe in destiny, choice, chance—a silver shard struck my chest, set me on a course I did not want to follow. I have been bound by my blood, but have also found freedom. I have seen the Abyss and wielded the power of gods.
While I would be content keeping these pains and pleasures, fears and wonders all to myself, I cannot. I write because it is the only thing I have left to give. Many ask me questions: some I can answer, many more I simply do not understand. One thing I can say is that the stakes I fought for were no different than for anyone else who walks beneath the sun.
Fireflies. Some cradle, crush , or let them slip away.
They're still fire.
Amara "Half-Blood" Chidi
Who knew such small places can have such an impact on the larger world again and again, and yet still disappear into obscurity? West Harbor, the unremarkable swamp village of my childhood, has been the scene of staggering conflicts. After every disaster, the Harbormen rebuilt; the only collective memory that endured was a simple credo:"Wars always come."
But we survive.
My mother, Esmerelle, arrived in West Harbor on one of those clear winter nights where the sun, in a cold fury only gods can get away with, burned every cloud away, so that none of his heat grazed the ground—at least, that's what I imagine when i see them there, before the hearth that was supposed to be mine.
A short, slight figure, concealed in a red cloak, knocked on the door of one house on the edge of town. Daeghun, only slightly shorter, answered the door and drew the cloaked figure inside. He was well-favored in the sublime way of elves, but there were wrinkles in the corners of his large, moss-colored eyes that spoke of seeing many things in his long years, things that would leave marks.
The elf pulled the red-robed figure into a tight embrace. Neither of them spoke.
Daeghun guided her towards the chair closest to the hearth, the warmest seat he had. Snow glazed the windows, making crystalline shapes across the surface. Esmerelle studied the shapes on the window as she removed her cloak.
Daeghun watched Esmerelle as he waited for her to speak. He felt the rise of her belly, saw the wobbling footsteps, but Daeghun was not one to ask questions. He could wait until she told him what he needed to know. He always waited. That's why he had lost her...why she always came back.
"I'm sorry to come to you in such a manner, Daeghun," her voice held the same strange tone, as if she held a hummingbird captive in her chest, "but I...had little choice."
"I hope you come here of your own will, Esmerelle. I have missed your company."
"And I yours, my friend." She smiled. Whatever had happened to her, she still could sooth or inspire with little more than teeth. Many fell for the promises they saw in that smile, but Daeghun was one of the few that knew her radiance stemmed—in part—from celestial heritage. Even though Daeghun knew its source, it always held the promise of every good thing, a reflection of her character as much as her lineage.
A trick firelight tinged her pale hair with flames.
When Daeghun spoke, it was a response to her unaccustomed silence, "Would you like something to eat or drink?" He spoke like a man trying to make a women he loved happy.
She shook her head and looked back at the hearth. There were sudden tears in Esmerelle's eyes, but she did not look away from the fire.
"Ha! Instead of greetings I give you tears—how weak you must think me..."
Daeghun sat beside her, gently took her hand.
Her eyes watered again as she look at Daeghun, "I have so many regrets..."
"We can compare, then."
Esmerelle squeezed his hand like a child grasping at a parent for comfort after the terrors of a nightmare. "First of all, I never treated you as well as I should have, my dear, dear friend.. But I mean to make up for it. I did so many things because I wanted to be good, but now I see that many of my actions were rather vain. You were right. And now I, Esmerelle, Paladin of Ilmater, am heavy with a demon bastard. "
She laughed, but there was no joy or warmth in it.
Daeghun 's eyes flashed. "Did he force you?"
Esmerelle gazed at Daeghun with a haunted expression. "No—the Crying Lord help me—it was my own doing."
She looked back at the fire as the words rushed out of her. "When you settled here with Shayla, I went back to Neverwinter to visit Duncan." she look at his face, but Daeghun did not protest the mention of his half-brother, or of Esmerelle visiting him.
Esmerelle continued, "I made my way north and east, searching for information on the King of Shadows. I went alone, but I soon met a man on the road. He was very tall and darkly handsome, though I couldn't tell you anything more than that. Wait...his eyes...they were oddly bright. Either he or I was under an enchantment that made me forget his actual face. He asked me strange things, and seemed to know too much about me. Every time I thought I was rid of him, he'd show up again. Well, he saved my life from some shadows. I was grateful, and when he showed me tenderness...I could not help myself. After we lay together, I turned my head for one moment, and he was gone. I started to suspect some power at work. I went to a temple, and the priest told me I was with child. Yet he told me with no joy, for we could both sense the demonic blood mingling with my own. Then there was no doubt that my lover had was a fiend of some kind. I couldn't go back to Neverwinter. I have been wandering since then, but I am too tired to go any further."
She looked at him with a fear he had never seen before. "I am afraid, Daeghun . Not only of the father, but I'm afraid...of myself."
Esmerelle didn't have to say anymore. Daeghun knew what she might do, even if she did not say it. Ending the babe's life would end so much sorrow...
They held each other for a long moment.
Daeghun watched he lace a hand on her belly, as if she could will what was there to disappear. I can't be nursing a babe in battle."
"We will do what we can. But we are all subject to nature. Worry about the babe, and then we'll deal with the King of Shadows."
"This is not natural, ranger. Demon blood and celestial was never made to mix. It's an abomination. I'm an abomination. The gods will punish me. I should punish this body."
Suddenly, both her hands closed over her womb. She made a fist, raised it-
"I've already tried...to claw it out of me. But nothing works. Not even prayer." She buried her head in her hands, began weeing like a frightened child.
" Esmerelle. please, stay. You know it's all I've ever wanted."
"I'd rather take my life."
Daeghun flinched as Esmerelle moved from the fire to the window which, round as she was, made the sweat glisten on her forehead.
Her mind wanted to pace, but her body wanted to remain right where it was, "The world is falling apart. I don't want to breed some new horror into the world. There is enough already."
"The child cannot help who its sire is. But you are strong, Esmerelle. Your blood will prove the stronger."
Her voice churned with an edge he had never heard before, "Do you really believe that?"
When her yellow, beacon eyes met his, she was every bit the woman Daeghun had gladly left everything for so long ago, "I will stay until it comes. I suppose we've survived worse things than births."
I was born with two horns.
Daeghun wrote to Duncan soon after I was born.
...They are dark, delicate, and long, much like the horns of an elk. I know they have power, if only to threaten. There were times when I considered taking a knife to them myself, but the babe always cried like any other.
At least it feels pain.
The ears and incisors are also pointed. The hands manage to be elegant and deft even with an extra finger on each hand.
Esmerelle has skin like warm cream. The child's skin is dusky and and hair is black. And the eyes...a vivid green. Unnatural, brother.
Duncan, when he got drunk one night, showed me this and several letters concerning my mother after my trial. In that letter, Daeghun described how my mother screamed when she first gazed upon me and vowed to those present that she would never touch the 'demon spawn'—me.
Duncan wrote back and offered to visit West Harbor, but Daeghun said that it was unnecessary. Though Daeghun did not give a reason for refusing his brother's offer, I have my own assumptions. Either my mother was in hysterics and Daeghun wanted to maintain her dignity, or Daeghun suspected that Duncan might harbor some feelings towards her and didn't want to burden Esmerelle any further in her ...delicate state.
I don't think Duncan loved her. If he had, he would have come to West Harbor, damning Daeghun all the while. I think the kindness Duncan extended to me at the Flagon was partially due to his own feelings of guilt from leaving Esmerelle and me in his brother's frigid hands.
I don't remember this, but I know it from the letters. If I had been in my mother's place, would I have done anything different?
Hells Yes. I thought when I began to understand all this-that I was a consequence she didn't want to deal with. I wasn't two summers old. The only happy thing I can remember of her was when she would sing. I was a babe, but I remembered.
Then she was dead.
Daeghun told me my mother died to save me. Far more likely is that she saw her chance to leave this world heroically and did so. The war with the King of Shadows was a means to an end-her end. I hope that she sleeps soundly on Ilmater's bloody bosom.
Maybe I am lucky. If she had lived, my mother would have been too sincere to conceal her hatred of me. Such a fate, however, somehow seemed far worse than enduring a foster father who became as cold as the depths of the Mere from the loss of the two women he loved most...and the third he could never touch.
I didn't need horns to know that.
An untouchable heart is what raised me, and so I learned to be untouchable.
The first time I saw the demon was in a dream.
I was seven summers old when I dreamed of a man whose features I could never remember in the light of day. The tall man—but every adult is tall to a child—stood on a precipice. I didn't know where. He motioned with his finger for me to step out onto the edge beside him.
His skin oozed a clear-blue, jelly-like substance.
I tottled, trusted this fellow, even though he seemed quite...odd, and looked down.
"What do you see, Ikenna?" His voice was quite soothing.
"My name is Amara."
He lightly touched my horns, "Not here."
I saw fire elementals melting snow, making a river that flowed around a place where buildings were stacked right next to one another. People crowded the tiny houses. There wasn't a wood or field for miles and miles... "I see a city. I think," I tried not to wipe at the place where he had touched my horns.
"You will see many."
"Besides West Harbor?"
"Will I get to meet Elminster—" I squealed.
"—You will meet greater men and women when you are ready, Ikenna." The man gestured at the city below us like a man swatting at a fly, "You have a destiny that no one will understand. You will have to learn to wield power, or it will be taken from you. But do not worry, child," He touched the hem of his garment. Though I did not recognize the cut, nor the color, I knew it was immaculate."I can teach you how to command others, even in the farthest reaches of the planes. You have reached the age of choice among your Father's people. All I require is your permission."
I, Ikenna, looked at the man with a hungry look, "You know my father?"
"He is the one who sent me."
"Can I see him? I would like to see him..." I bet he looks like me, I thought.
"Not now. But please Him, and He will take you away from this rotting world."
I didn't care about that, "Does he love me?"
"He would like to." the tone of his voice said that I would have to do much to be found worthy. Well, he couldn't be any worse than Daeghun, "What will I have to do?"
"What is necessary. Your training must begin immediately."
"Do I have to agree now?"
"Not for many years. I will teach you through your dreams." He touched something to each eyelid, and then my forehead, making some mark there. "Will you swear to serve your Father and be bound to his service?"
Though I knew the words were more than mere formality, I did not hesitate,"Yes."
"You have to say it. You must bind yourself with your own words. It is words that shape all things, that give power. And take it away."
I narrowed my eyes, thought for a moment before I spoke, but I then spoke very deliberately, knowing I n my gut, in my soul, that the words more real than any other I had uttered, "I swear to serve my father. And he will come...and claim me as his own."
The man laughed. It sounded like the shifting of large animals from foot to foot, "What is the human saying: 'Out of the mouths of babes'? The deal is made, but you have bound your Sire as well. Quite amusing. You already know your business. I am eager to see how this all turns out."
Tears came into my eyes, but they were tears of blood. I touched them, smeared them across my face, and giggled.
I felt...aware...as if I had never opened my eyes until that moment. I saw the cliff was made out of patterns, squares, and spirals of something tinier than human eyes could see. The man's skin, with its strange jelly, against the sky stood out starkly . The jelly was to to help him transition from plane to plane, one form into another. It made him luminous—his name sprang to my lips—
He waved a hand in front of my eyes, "You will never remember your pact nor me when you wake, but I will speak to you and teach you through your dreams. Now, you must wake, Ikenna, and make your Father proud."
I never really belonged in West Harbor, but I didn't have Daeghun's patience and love of the slow-moving swamp. Mosquitoes bit me. I was frequently ill since my body did not have the same immunities as the native stock. Many a Harborman thought my frequent bouts of illness proved I was 'unnatural.' At least those suspicions were correct, in a way. Meaner gossips whispered that giving birth to a demon drove my mother mad, and that I probably would have killed her with the evil eye if the King of Shadows had not beaten me to it. The most shameless rumormongers even suggested that I had survived the attack because I was the King's own get.
No one said anything to Daeghun's face. They knew he would have mocked them, as he did to me. There was one day that the fisherman said my mother was some drow's whore. He reached for an arrow, but he didn't even bother with his bow, just brought the arrow's tip toward the man's right eye. His only eye. Daeghun did not move or even change his expression, even after the fisherman squealed his apologies.
Just as quickly as he had attacked, the ranger turned to face me, still expressionless. "Your mother was a paladin of the maimed God. You will never tolerate to have her name tarnished. Understand?"
I nodded, but I thought, How many times had he let them whisper about me?
Too many to name.
All this should have been unbearable. And yet, I survived. I think it had something to do with the dreams, the ones I could never remember. Still, I suspected they played a part in my clarity about the waking world. I saw the village and everything around it from alien angles. Strange pattens lay over events and people like fine spider's webs, rubbing off from one person to another. I couldn't understand completely, but I felt power—the call from worlds waiting, hunkering just past the corner of my eye. Sometimes the other worlds sang to me with voices that made me weep because of their terrible, poignant beauty. Other times, I would get horrid impressions of darkness and heat so fetid that I had to put my hand against my mouth to to keep from gagging.
I learned to avoid the blacked spot of ground near the center of town that no one—not even the gossips—spoke about in my presence. That place made me physically ill, but I was accustomed to odd sensations.
West Harbor, I hear people speak of 'home' with warmth, or a yearning to go back, or somehow re-create the happiness and the sense of belonging that define what 'home' is supposed to be. The best I can say is that it could have been worse.
So I left. Those who have heard of me know that I left West Harbor to find out why the githyanki attacked the village to possess a shard hidden in the Mere. In truth, I had been searching for a way out for some time.
I had to use my blue-green blasts against the gith, bladelings, and duegar slaves. Maybe I thought we wouldn't live through the night. Maybe that was why Daeghun was so insistent that I leave for Neverwinter, why he pressed the sharp into my hands and their extra digits.
He must have suspected that my powers were from another realm. Daeghun may not have loved me, but he knew. If I stayed, I probably would have hurt him and the rest of the village— I was capable of cruelty. It was in my blood, as he had reminded me my entire life.
I knew which blood he meant. Truth be told, I was eager to get away.
I was eager, ready for something grand and bloody to begin when I shouldered my pack, stuffed with the meager things I thought I needed, and walked out of West Harbor. I did not look back, but as the sounds of the swamp swallowed every hint of the village, I widened my eyes, certain that every snapping twig and bird call was an enemy just out of sight. Never before had I felt my own vulnerability so keenly.
...And I was supposed to protect this bloody shard? I coughed. I didn't see how I could prevent some swamp monster from making a necklace out of my innards.
While I was stomping my way through the swamp, certain that some doom would come clutching at my feet, I came upon an inn. Indeed, I had never been so happy to see a battered, ill-drawn sign of a frothy mug beneath the boughs of a stylized willow.
Just outside the building's entrance stood a dwarf and several men. They were bandying back and forth. It was none of my business, but they saw me as I tried to sneak unnoticed through the doorway, but I was always terrible at being sneaky.
"Hey girly," one drawled. He was clearly drunk.
I turned. Perhaps I had been in the swamp for too long—tussles were one of the few things that relieved my boredom. As I raised my sword, and let out a primal yelp, something told me Daeghun would not have approved.
Which is why I did most of things I did.
"Fuck you!" I screamed at the man in front of me. There were just some words that were cut through even the drunkest of heads, for he saw my horns, then squealed loud and high.
"Demon girly," his friend corrected, making Tymora's kiss with his hand."You'll have to wait your turn until we finish, uh, with the ankle-biter." It was all bluster.
"Ankle-biter?" The dwarf shouted, brandishing his ax,"Aye, that's where I'll start, lad..." The man's kneecaps were quickly detached from his tendon.
I tried to summon some powers, but when I aimed my hand at the nearest man's head, one of his goons rammed his elbow into my stomach.
He stood over me, " I had hoped for more fun from a demon."
"You...son of a bitch!" I growled as I jumped to my feet, as I bit into his earlobe.
He squealed. "Get her off me! Get her off me!"
I ripped his ear off. Keening all the while, my assailant held the side of his head as blood poured down his neck. I spat out his ear and wiped my mouth on my sleeve.
Then I grinned.
"Fuck this," one of the men shouted.
Then there was only me and the dwarf, who looked me up and down the way I had seen men appraise horses they were thinking of buying.
"That was a good wrangle. It's been too long since I've seen a man get something bitten—in a fight."
"I've been in a tussle or two," I said as I spat, trying to clean out my mouth.
"How about ya tell ole' Khelgar over a over a pint, lass?"
I shrugged. Let the blood remain.
When we sat down to drink, The dwarf was surprisingly genial; he even offered me a stained kerchief to wipe off the man's blood from my chin. I always respected someone who could handle himself in hand-to-hand combat. Though he was shorter than his would-be-attackers, the dwarf's zeal more than made up for any advantage bigger folk might think that they had.
I was accustomed to people making a warding of some sort to draw my ill luck away: Tymora's kiss or Lathander's circle, so I didn't roll my eyes when the tavern wench did both so with a shaky fist.
Khelgar seemed to enjoy the girl's reaction. I imagine dwarfs got similar reactions among us big-folk. knew what I was (he called me a 'tiefling,' a much more neutral term than what I am normally called), it didn't seem to matter. That violent dwarf wasn't afraid of me. All he cared about was if I had his back.
Sharing the remaining bottles of whiskey, we toasted our bloody partnership. He was quite impressed with the amount of liquor I could consume in one sitting. When he was fairly drunk, and I was still sober, he told me about wanting to become a monk, but I shrugged it off as just drunken rambling.
A few minutes later Khelgar was snoring like an old hound.
A dwarven monk! Well, it was no more ridiculous then a half-demon warlock trying to make her way in this crazy world.
I put my hand to my head. The drink must be getting to me too.
I'd like to say that we strode down the road like the Knights of Myth Drannor, but in truth, my temper was shorter than the dwarf's pinky finger. For one, I was doe-eyed. I wasn't used to dealing with another person's wants and needs. Privacy was paramount with Daeghun, and we let each other be for days, even weeks, depending upon his mood.
For another, according to Khelgar, I was as green as a fawn still sucking on its mama's tit. He was right. I had never left West Harbor before. I was unaccustomed to trails, to sleeping on your back beneath a sky that could be starry and inviting one night, rainy and bleak the next. I wasn't accustomed to minding the direction, sheltering against the weather, or watching out for ambushes. My boots were as worthless as slippers. I had to wrap my feet every day and rub the blisters at night. I didn't complain to Khelgar, but he often had practical advice, or just a sympathetic shake of his head.
"Lass," he said, his head was practically wagging in perturbation, "We need to get you some proper gear at the Fort. "Do you ya even know how to defend yourself—besides biting?"
I nodded. I made a gesture with my hand, pretending to throw lighting from my hands.
It was the first bit of fatherly advice I had ever gotten. I thought I would be angry. While I scowled at the old dwarf, inwardly I was quite pleased as I rubbed my foot.
"Men are more apt to behave like gentlemen if they've been softened up a bit."
"Should I test that technique on you?" I raised my heel.
Khelgar laughed from the tips of his toes to the crown of his bald head, "Now yer learnin'!"