A/N: And here's the final chapter of my fanfiction. I originally wrote this as one large short story, but had to split it into three chapters for publishing. You may notice a bit of a shift in writing style here, but that is completely intended. Hope you enjoy, and peace out!
I sprang up at this frightening sound. I was in the same basement, but standing at the doorway was a group of extremely odd-looking people. Some were entirely naked, but a few wore voluminous red-and-black robes. Some carried daggers, others carried animal bones. Some had wild eyes and unkempt hair, others had sophisticated, goateed faces, and others still covered their faces with masks designed to look like the heads of animals. But one thing was certain.
I was not welcome here.
The one who had previously screamed "Aiieee!" lunged at me. It was a long-haired, almost naked man, eyes filled with a bloodlust rivalling that of the demons themselves. He raised a club, prepared to strike me down. I quickly rolled to dodge, my cloak sliding off in the process.
By the light of many candles held by the odd people and a few on the walls, my full form was exposed. I cringed, prepared for the worse. I heard many gasps, but they didn't sound frightened, but almost...delighted...?
The man who had just tried to attack me froze, dropping his club. He dropped to his knees. "Forgive me, great one!" he shouted, tearing at his hair. "I didn't recognize you!"
"What's going on here?" I managed to mutter.
A man approached me - at least I thought it was a man. He wore a blood-red robe with a heavy iron necklace around his neck that depicted a ram's visage. Covering his face was a mask made out of what must have been the skull of a goat. "Truly, you should know why you are here," he said in an old, scratchy voice. "For our great lord Pazuzu had answered our call - and sent us one of his servants to guide us."
My eyes widened as he said this. Great lord Pazuzu? Pazuzu was a demon lord of the sky, who resided on the same layer of the Abyss as I did before my departure. He had many mortal followers in the world, as did a lot of powerful demons. These people gather in hideouts seeded throughout civilization, secretly revering their demonic masters. The Abyssal lords they adhered to didn't care much for their mortal cultists, but boy, did they love being worshipped. They revelled in it, and under rare circumstances, actually granted unholy powers and servants to their most devoted followers.
"Um...oh yeah! Of course!" I replied, playing along and pretending like I understood. The group suddenly surrounded me and dropped to their knees, wide-eyed.
"Praise our leader! May all his foes be engulfed in his unholy flames!" they chanted. "Praise our leader! May all his foes be engu-"
"My name's Khaa, by the way," I interrupted.
"Praise Khaa! May all his foes be engulfed in his unholy flames!"
Whooping and hollering, the cult scattered about the room. Candles were lined up on the walls, banners bearing demonic symbols were hanged, and an alter was set up near the room's center. At the end of the basement opposite the trap door, a few cultists laid down a throne messily constructed of wood, bones, a strip of velvet here, a hunk of silver there. In any event, they kneeled down, gesturing for me to take a seat.
I approached the odd-looking thing and did as they said. It was pretty comfortable, actually. I made myself comfortable, and one of the cultists quickly ran up to me and bent over, allowing me to use him as a footrest. I laid my foot on his back, deciding that it wasn't so bad if he wanted me to do it.
The man who had spoken to me before, with the goat-skull mask, approached my throne. He presented a crown of teeth and bones from his cassock. He slowly lowered it onto my head, then kneeled before me.
The entire cult broke into a furious chanting and cheering. I had been crowned their king. Wow...never before, not even in the Abyss, had I felt so...accepted. Loved. Idolized, even.
I raised one claw. This was enough to silence everyone within seconds. I was drunk with joy. I felt so...so powerful. So sacred. I felt like a god.
"So, what are we doing tonight?" I asked loudly.
The goat-masked man, who had by now made it clear that he was the leading figure, (until now, of course) said "Well, milord, we have a new initiate who is ready to complete the sacred ritual that will allow him to become one of us!"
"And what would that be?" I asked regally.
He only grinned and made a motion with one hand. A young woman who sat in the back stood up and approached him. She only wore regular clothes, as, I presumed, she was not yet an official member. He nodded slightly to her and removed a dagger from his robe. It was a bone-white dagger (What is it with these guys' obsession with bones?) that he held on each end with his fingers. She gripped the handle, testing the end of the blade with a sick smile.
The woman then approached me, kneeling before me. The cult looked like they were...waiting for something. Not sure what to do, I poked her on the head. This seemed to suffice. Perhaps she had wanted my blessing? Wait, if I'm a demon, and a blessing is largely a holy gift, would that mean that she wanted my "curse"?
But no matter. She stood beside the altar that had been set up. A few masked men brought up a squirming bag of...something. They deposited out a white mass onto the altar, tying down flailing arms and legs. It was a young man, who could not have been anything over eighteen. He yelped in fright, muffled by the tight gag over his mouth.
Suddenly, the illusion was broken. I realized that if I let this man die at the hands of this cult, it would be largely my fault. These people, friendly and appreciative as they are of me, were still evil and corrupt.
But was being good really the way to go? I thought back to the bear, and the girl I had saved. I did an incredibly good deed, and what did I get? An arrow to the shoulder. Were I born a mortal, or an angel, or an elemental, heck, anything but what I was, I would have gotten a shower of gratitude. I was hated for something that wasn't my fault. Not for who I was, but for what the gods happened to choose me to be.
And then I thought about what happened when I hung out with the evil crowd. They revered me, kissed the very ground I walked on, treated me like a prince. No, a king. No, a god! They seemed a good deal friendlier than the so-called "good" folk. If I stuck with them, I could finally live a happy life for all eternity. After all, what is the point of pursuing good if you will only be persecuted for it? It wasn't as if it were my fault I was born a demon. Maybe...maybe this whole idea of "good" was an illusion. A phantom, lying to me, driving me away from the truth. The truth being that angels were good, demons were evil, and mortals could choose whichever way they wanted.
Maybe this was meant to be. I studied the struggling man, pitiful against his bonds. A perfect example of the helpless innocent. The lamb to be sacrificed to gain the favor of the gods of darkness, and as a result, power. Maybe I was meant to be evil, just like all the others, nothing any more special. But being evil meant advancing yourself above the weak. To be evil means to advance yourself above the weak, to kill your enemies without mercy. To be evil gives one every advantage in life. But, to be good...?
The young woman who was ready for initiation raised the dagger high above her head. She looked to me, waiting for my signal before plunging it downward. Everyone in the room seemed to hold their breath in anticipation.
I lowered my head, descending into an even deeper state of thought. The woman must have mistaken this for a nod. She began to swing her dagger downwards with terrifying speed and coldness.
"STOP!" I screamed as loud as was possible. Everyone in the room gasped. The woman stopped herself, dropping the dagger in shock. The would-be sacrifice stared shakily at me.
I then left control of my body not to my mind, nor my logic, nor my lust for power, but to what I knew in my heart was right. I stood up from my throne and approached the man. All the cultists appeared confused, especially the initiate, who just stood, fixing her eyes on the sacrifice. Most likely they thought I knew what I was doing.
I leaned down, beginning to untie the man's bonds. Everyone gasped, letting out cries of protest and muttering amongst themselves. When the man was free, he flailed around like a fish out of water.
"HELP!" the man cried violently. "HE-"
The initiate clamped a hand over his mouth. She then stared at me, confused, appalled. I ignored her and surveyed the crowd before me. They were now silently glaring at me, waiting for an explanation for this odd turn of events.
"Murder..." I began. "Does not please me. You will not win my favor by killing in my name, but quite the opposite. You have idolized me tonight, treated me like a king, even crowned me. But, as subjects, I do not respect you, nor do I want to rule over your kind. So, if I am the ruler you make me out to be, I command you all to go home, disband this horrible group, and try to pursue a cause that is less...evil."
They remained silent. Some stared at me in pure disbelief. Some shook with rage. I had no idea what the cult planned to do next.
But I know that I did the right thing.
"HOLD YOUR GROUND!"
Everyone looked around frantically as they heard the door being kicked down. Then they screamed like a pack of animals, running for their weapons. The guards must have heard the commotion going on down here and dispatched a team to investigate.
The trap door opened, and an armored man looked through. "What's going on he-WAAAUGGHH!"
The guard had just been attacked by a raging cultist, dragged down into the room. This was enough to prompt the rest of the guards to draw their weapons and begin storming the room. A horrible battle has just begun. Because of me.
"Betrayer!" shouted the cult leader, pointing a solitary finger at me. "Abomination!"
One of the guards shouted at the top of his lungs to his fellows: "They're a group of devil worshippers! And it looks like they've summoned a demon to help them!"
And that was my cue to escape. I climbed, spiderlike, up the wall. Using my strong, padded skull, I bashed against the ceiling. And again. The old, brittle wood had already begun to crack.
It was a slow, tedious, and painful process, but I managed to break through and fit my slender body through the hole. I ran from the bloody battle whose two sides were now both just as hostile to me. I had no idea where I was going as I crashed out of the house's window and began to run through the streets, completely naked and exposed for all to see.
Several citizens had lit lamps by this time and were fearfully gazing out their windows at the bloody skirmish. Some had seen me, and were not afraid to let loose cries of "Demon! Monster!" into the stormy night.
Lightning struck above me as I ran through the streets, turning corners, jumping fences, ducking in alleyways. Rain pelted my face as I sprinted blindly through the formless maze that my entire life had now become. I was running away from everything: the bear. The girl's father. The cultists. The brigands. The travelers. The guards. The chapel. Everything that I had ever known was hostile, and they were all chasing me down, and they wouldn't rest until I was plunged back into the bottomless pit where I belonged.
After this meaningless running, I arrived at a cemetery on the outskirts of the city. There was another flash of lightning, and the angry roar of the gods echoed through the sky.
By now, I was beginning to tire. Yet I kept running, and running, until I arrived at a tomb that was larger than all the rest, with a statue of a heavenly servant at the head. This carving of an angel, with wings spread outward and holding a sword with the blade buried in the ground, seemed to stare at me with all the fury of the gods. I slipped on the wet stone, falling before the angel.
I had come to realize that to be a truly good being was a rare and special thing. The temptation to do evil was quite alluring, and no one could blame me if I had chosen that path. After all, it was only nature's law. Heaven was pure and incorruptible. The Abyss was a disgusting, hideous realm that was beyond redemption. But for a demon, who has been born from the very concept of evil, to choose the path of righteousness...it could be seen as a miracle by some, but an abomination by others. Most did not see it. Most did not see past the red, slimy skin, and the barbed tail, and the sharp teeth, and the black, lifeless eyes. And who could blame them? After all, I was one of the only demons to go against the laws of demonkind, the very natural order.
And now I was going to do the universe a favor. I will give everyone the only good I have left to offer.
I will rid this world of myself.
I reared my head toward the sky. "Gods!" I shouted toward the heavens. "If you despise me so much for going against your law, then take me now! Wipe me off the face of this world, and toss me back into the dark Abyss! I have suffered long enough!"
And with that, I collapsed completely to the ground, sobbing in unison with the harsh rain. I did nothing, but waited for death to overcome me. Once again, the devil whom I had made a deal with flashed back into my mind, and I heard a dark chuckle. But this chuckle was not in my mind.
I felt a cold hand rest on my shoulder. I was too deprived of energy to look up, or even wonder who it was. I only waited for whatever plans the gods had for me to take effect.
"You know, you didn't have to take such a thespian approach," hissed a slimy voice behind me.
My eyes opened. It was the voice of Abraxas the Wishmaker, in the flesh. I slowly turned my head, and indeed saw the creature standing directly behind me.
"I mean, the gods do know what everyone is thinking, do they not?" he observed. "It would have made no difference if you had just thought out that entire speech. Shouting it will only make it easier for them to find you."
"If that is what the gods will, then so be it," I said softly.
The cunning devil cocked his head. "Really, now? Well, I don't know if it's just me, or you seem really eager to die. So you've lived your entire life in the Abyss, and after barely a day in the Material Plane, you're already begging for death. Now that sure says something about the gods, doesn't it?"
Again, he chuckled darkly. "But what do I care? After all, the closer you are to death, the closer I am to getting a new servant!" He laughed diabolically, and I said nothing.
Abraxas fell silent. "Well, never before have I met a soul that was so easy to catch," observed the Wishmaker. "I suppose there's not much left to do but wait for those mortals to find you. And you can bet that they will be angry..."
I ignored his comments. I remained crouched on the ground before the angelic figure, hands clasped. It didn't matter any longer that I was to be his slave for eternity...it would serve as my punishment for being born a demon, and having the audacity to go against the Creator's law.
A sudden gasp pierced the air. I looked back, seeing Abraxas cowering in fear. With a twinge of anticipation, I turned to the direction where he was looking in horror.
Before me, the angel statue was gone. In its place, I saw the Angel of Death himself. He had a tall, robed figure, shrouded completely in darkness. Two majestic wings spread from his shoulders, his robe, black as midnight, billowed around him, and he carried a long staff in one hand.
Abraxas began to stammer. "Wha-is it-could that be...the Reaper himself?" His previous look of smug satisfaction had morphed completely to an appalled expression of awe.
"Yes," replied the supernatural being in a sighing, wind-like voice, which was soft and quiet yet at the same time loud and booming. We've all heard tales of the Angel of Death. They say he was neither good nor evil, and upholded neither order nor freedom...but that he knew which destination to send the deceased for their afterlife. "And I have come to retrieve the soul of this babau, for his time has arrived."
"Ah, yes," Abraxas smirked. "And he's off to a life of eternal slavery, I presume?"
The Angel simply replied "No."
The devil's eye twitched. "But-!" he protested. "But we've made a deal! It specifically indicated that if he died, his eternal life would belong to me! This is no concern of you!"
The mysterious spirit's wings spread, and he slowly raised a finger to point at Abraxas, who shrank back in terror. "Fate decides where all beings go after death," boomed the Angel above roaring thunder and pelting rain. "Not pacts and agreements. When the moment arrives, We choose where he will spend his afterlife."
"And where would that be?" hissed Abraxas.
"Whichever place is chosen for him," he replied, with infinite calm and majesty. The Angel of Death looked down to me. "Arise, spirit."
Shakily, I stood up, my own height nothing in comparison to that of the shrouded figure before me. I looked up into his hooded face, which did not look down at me in disgust. Rather, there was an air of...admiration? No, impossible.
"You have done well, O Ascended One," he said to me as the cool rain ran down my body. Lightning struck again in the distance. "But the time has come for you to depart."
I nodded in understanding. I knew not where this agent of the forces of the universe itself was planning to take me, but at least I could rest assured that I was departing to where I deserved to go, rather than being condemned to eternal slavery.
Abraxas may have left by then. I was not sure. But I knew that I stood alone in the rain, aside from the shrouded figure before me. All was silent except for the quiet pitter-patter of the slowly softening rainstorm.
He raised a solitary finger. It was a light, almost meaningless gesture for mortals, but when this spirit did it, it carried much weight. And as he slowly moved it towards me, I forgot about everything. The angry townsfolk that were likely hunting me down, the Abyss, the troubles of this world...it slowly seeped from the back of my mind. When the finger finally rested against the crest of my forehead, my head began to spin. But not in a dizzying, chaotic manner, but more of a relaxing spinning, like one would feel before going unconscious. I faced the ground, with nothing more to say.
And for the first time in quite a while, I felt like this was genuinely...good. I did not hate myself to such a degree that I thought the world would be better off without me. That is not the reason I felt like I felt. I felt good because I was losing control of my morality, and even though I very much wanted to stay in that beautiful world, to smell the flowers, to stare at the sky with my head nestled against the grass, to observe and study the peaceful creatures of the wild...and yet in the bottom of my heart, I knew that the mortals did not want me here. And I discovered that that is what it means to be good. To do all you can to keep others safe and happy, even if it is at the expense of yourself. And that in itself, in my opinion, is more rewarding than if I were praised and crowned a king.
And for the first time in my chaotic, bizarre life...I felt truly...happy...
In the town of Windbrook, a mob had formed.
Many citizens were awakened by horrible cries in the middle of the night. "To arms!" heaved the calls of duty above an ongoing skirmish which was happening in the old, abandoned house that everyone steered clear of. "Monster attack!"
Grabbing family heirlooms, rakes, torches, whatever weapon they could scrounge, a formidable army of the hardworking populace searched for the recently sighted monster's trail, while the wives stayed home and hugged their children tight. The general populace, you see, had an almost zealous devotion to Mara, goddess of mercy. Whenever they caught wind of the godless fiends known as demons and their followers daring to enter their town's walls, they were quick to arms.
They were led by a man known as Cornelius Datorim. He was a well-respected cleric in those parts, and was the head of the town's chapel to Mara. Cornelius was well known for his living only by Mara's principles, giving money to the poor even if they do not ask, and inviting the homeless inside the sacred building for a place to stay. Cornelius was a rather quiet but friendly man, but when fiends and heathens were brought up, the fury of the gods shined in his very eyes.
"This way, everyone!" shouted Cornelius at the top of his lungs, clutching a mace, an artifact, wielded by Saint Julius long ago. "I saw the fiend enter the graveyard!"
With cries of violent eagerness to spill the blood of the wicked, Windbrook's residents stormed the cemetery, branching out in all directions to search for the cunning little devil. By now, the rainstorm that had recently formed was letting up, drips only occasionally falling here and there. But it wouldn't matter to Cornelius if there was a hurricane striking at the time; he would have gone out and searched for the fiend no matter the circumstances.
The cleric searched, and searched, and searched some more. But it appeared that the recently sighted monster had escaped. Perhaps, he wondered. Mara's fury had scared it off. Her mercy does not extend to demons, after all. This idea reassured him, but not very much.
After about 10 minutes or so of searching, the citizens had begun to lose faith. It was pretty obvious that if the fiend was skulking around here, he was doing a danged good job of it. The militia began to look anxiously toward Cornelius, as if expecting him to give them the answers they deserved.
Taking their hint, the priest raised his arms to gain everyone's attention. "If the demon still resides in this town, it will likely be lurking somewhere besides this place. Surely our Lady of Mercy would strike the foul creature down if it dared to disturb the resting souls in this place? Let us return to our homes and comfort our families, comrades, for surely Mara's light will have scared the beast off by now."
The now passive civilians nodded and solemnly muttered in agreement. Giving a few humble goodbyes, the brigade of men slowly broke off as they journeyed back to their respective residences. Cornelius remained at the cemetery in quiet contemplation, when he turned around and noticed something strange.
The tomb of Saint Uriel was no doubt the highlight of the cemetery. It contained the body of a well-known paladin who had rallied and lead an army against legions of invading orcs, and died in combat. He was basically the paragon of all Windbrook, setting a fine example for men of all ages. A guardian angel stood vigilantly over him, as if to ward off any who might disturb his slumber.
What was odd was that a new statue had been added to accompany that of the angel - a crouching man, who had his hands clasped as if in prayer. But his face was at a high angle, as if looking off at the sun. But there was something strange about that man...thought Cornelius could not put his finger on it. It did not appear human, nor monstrous. It was neither divine nor fiendish. The creature represented by the statue appeared to be...something of its very own. Something unique, a rarity.
The angel, however, was mostly unchanged, except for one minor detail. The statue's sword, rather than pointed at the ground, was touching the creature before it. But not in a threatening way, but more of a glorifying manner. It rested on the unidentifiable thing's shoulder, as if the angel were knighting him.
Cornelius shrugged. The effects of aging had already began to befuddle his memory, and perhaps it had always been like that but he did not notice. Glancing one last time at the tomb, the priest walked solemnly back to the main square, with other things on his mind.
And from that day forward, nobody had ever heard again from Khaa, the demon who dared to be different.