Prologue – Part 1
A wave of sadness rushed over her as she surveyed the devastation. Ash and soot from the dying fires were floating in the air towards her, but somehow seemed to avoid where she was standing. She could hear a small crashing sound as one of the still standing buildings gave up its struggle and collapsed. The village had been a large one, with maybe three thousand inhabitants, almost enough to be called a town. It had been a farming village that probably didn’t even have weapons beyond those used for hunting. Until a year ago, the people of the village had lived in peace and harmony with its neighbors.
Then there were the bodies. Some of them had been charred beyond recognition by the flames, while others had been hacked to pieces by frenzied people not accustomed to wielding weapons. Few unlucky ones had been made into an example. What remained of them was hung on the smoldering ruins of the gate of this poor village; a gate that had most likely not been closed for hundreds of years. She wondered idly if it was even capable of closing, with rust corroding the hinges. Now the inhabitants of the village would never know. The attackers had been thorough and not a single person was spared. The purge had been complete.
‘Is this what happens when the so called forces of good win?’ She thought sadly, and not for the first time. This was not the first time she had come upon the remains left behind by the purge. She had seen similar sights too many times already, and she was always too late to help. She’d walk among the wreckage and use her magic enhanced senses to try and find survivors. She so desperately wanted to find survivors, but she never did. One thing the angels were good at was leading these purges.
The former inhabitants of the village were a race of demi-humans. Part of their ancestry was human, but they were unfortunate in that they also had demon blood in their veins. This didn’t really show much, the only differences were different shaped pupils and some individuals with stronger demon heritage growing a pair of leathery wings or horns. They were some of the most peaceful inhabitants of this world, which already was a backwater planet that had not seen real war in eons. They barely qualified as demons but that barely was enough for the forces of ‘good’ that were reveling drunk in the sweet taste of victory.
As she tried futilely to find survivors, she remembered what had led to this carnage. The War in Heavens had raged for uncountable eons, claiming countless lives on all sides. Powerful individuals came and went, and if you asked anyone taking part, they would tell you that the war would rage on forever. What had tipped the balance had started as a rather harmless experiment. Harmless experiment that had resulted in something that no one could have imagined possible. The thirteen hells had been destroyed, taking the armies of Fallen, demons and devils with them. The four sided war had suddenly become three sided and the balance of power had been broken.
The demons and angels had always been the two sides most eager to carry on with the war, while the two other sides mostly just observed, only taking part when their own interest were threatened by the flames of war. There had been some alliances but those had lasted mostly for short periods of time. With the destruction of their arch-nemesis, the forces of ‘goodness’ and ‘order’ had decided to take advantage by making sure the demons never rose up again. Their solution had been the complete eradication of demons on any world within their reach.
They angels called it the Holy Purge. Their armies scoured all the worlds they controlled for any beings which could be classified as demons and eradicated them. On worlds where they didn’t hold enough power to bring in their own troops, they sent some of their angels to preach the ‘evils’ of demonic races, inciting the populace to do the dirty work for them. The angels always had their representatives present to cast the first stone, to fire the first arrow and to draw the first blood. This incited the mob into a frenzy, allowing them to let their bestial natures take over.
The result was what she saw around her. Peaceful communities destroyed for no other reason than having the wrong ancestors. She shed a small tear for the dead and wished them better luck in their next lives. She also felt the rush of guilt washing over her. ‘This is my fault.’ She thought.
Trying to find survivors was her way of trying to find redemption. There was a reason she always arrived late. What would she do if she did arrive in time? Should she kill the mob that was whipped into a murderous frenzy? Just pushing them away would only lead to more resentment and they would be back once she was gone. It wasn’t the fault of the mob, not really. How could a group of inexperienced and powerless peasants resist the honeyed words of the angels and their preachers? She suspected the mob might even be under a spell. They weren’t exactly innocent, but it was not really their fault either, at least not enough to deserve death. Even if she did lead the demons away from here, they would be hunted down mercilessly by the angels. One or two people she could protect, but thousands?
So she arrived late, hoping to find survivors. Unfortunately the angels had access to same detection spells she used, and the purge was always complete. “Nothing this time either.” She mumbled as if talking to herself.
Suddenly an androgynous voice coming from her chest answered. “I can’t detect any mana or ki either. As magical beings, they should have enough natural mana in their bodies for me to detect even untrained children. I understand that you feel responsible, but you can’t keep doing this to yourself. I can see it’s breaking your heart. You’re simply torturing yourself at this point. You did not cause this atrocity!”
“I have to keep going! Even if I can save just one, then the pain will be worth it. Please, I don’t care which deity of this world is listening, just let me save one!” Her desperate plea echoed among the ruins of the village.
Either because her yell stirred something, or because her pleas reached one of the local deities, she could hear a faint cry of a child coming from somewhere in the ruins. “What in the name of…?” She mumbled.
The androgynous voice hurriedly replied. “I still can’t detect anything. A village like this should not have the spells to block my detection. This should not be possible.”
She started running towards the direction where she though she heard the faint cry coming from. “Try searching for souls instead. Some of the souls of the dead should still be lingering around, but you should be able to tell the difference between a living soul and a dead one.”
The androgynous voice took its time to reply, and she could not hear the cry anymore. “I got something. That half collapsed building to your left. It’s hazy as if shrouded by something, but I think I could sense a living soul inside.” The voice finally replied.
She had left the detection spells to the androgynous voice simply because that wasn’t her specialty and the owner of the voice was very good at it. As she rushed into the house and used her magic to support the crumbling building, she came into a fairly large room with a body in the center of the floor. The body belonged to an old and disfigured woman. The body had not been disfigured by the attackers; rather they were old wounds from a long life. The woman had been killed with one strike to the heart, by an angel’s blade judging by the wound.
She looked around the room but couldn’t find any sign of the child whose voice she had heard. “I need a little help here.”
“Give me a second.” The androgynous voice replied. “Whoa! Whoever hid the child did a great job of it. I had to forcefully break the spell. Look under the floor next to the corpse.”
She rushed next to the body of the old woman. Now that she knew where to look, she could see some of the blood running unnaturally towards something under the floor. As she removed the floorboards, she could finally see a small bundle soaked in the old woman’s blood slightly twitching, making the faintest breathing sounds. The baby had been hidden for a while, and would have died in hours if she had not come along.
She fed some of her magic to the baby, trying to heal any wounds and diseases, and to provide the baby with some strength. Once she was certain the baby had enough strength to survive for a while, she laid a finger on the baby’s forehead and delved inside the baby with her senses, trying to find if there was any damage she had missed. She withdrew her senses as if in recoil almost immediately. “What is going on here?”
She used some gentle air magic to clear some of the blood off the baby and looked stunned for a moment. This baby clearly didn’t belong in this village. The foxlike face and white fur of the baby became clear once the blood and soot was removed. There were no races like this baby on this world. She looked at the magical symbols around the hiding place of the baby. The symbols were carved into the stone walls of the small cubbyhole. This was not something created in a hurry just before the attack, and the spells were foreign to this world. She recognized them though.
“What’s wrong?” The androgynous voice asked, clearly confused by her reaction.
“Give me a few seconds to piece this together.” She replied, while staring thoughtfully at the symbols.
Suddenly she turned towards the corpse of the old woman, and turned it around to get a better look. The old woman had hidden it well with magic, but she was clearly not a demi-human. This was a pureblood devil. The woman had lost her right arm at some point, cleanly cut off at the shoulder. There were numerous old but already healed battle scars on her body, and the woman had managed to lose an eye at some point in the past.
“They usually had a tattooed insignia on their right shoulder, but this one has lost that shoulder. By design I suspect.” She mumbled to herself.
“You’re not thinking..?” The androgynous voice asked, clearly knowing where she was going with this thought.
“One way to find out.” She replied, putting a finger on the woman’s forehead delving inside the corpse. Delving dead bodies was not a pleasant experience, but she knew what she was looking for, and found it immediately. There it was, a dormant magical insignia inscribed on the now dead heart of the old woman. A magical insignia that said a lot about the old woman’s origins.
“Is she really…?” The androgynous voice asked with trepidation.
“Yes. She was once a member of the Hounds of War, the elite unit serving the thirteen hells.” She replied, still trying to piece together what was going on.
“What was one of the Hounds doing in a backwater place like this? I thought all their members died either when the thirteen hells were destroyed, or during the first years of the purge. One would think the angels would make a priority out of hunting them down.” The androgynous voice wondered.
“I’m guessing it has something to do with this baby.” She replied quietly.
“The baby? Why would one of the Hounds care about a baby? I would understand if she was the child of one of the lords of the hells, but the hells fell several years ago and that baby can’t be more than a few months old.” The androgynous voice questioned.
“I don’t think that’s the reason. When I delved the baby, I noticed a few weird things. Firstly, there’s a reason why we didn’t detect any mana from her. She’s a psion, and thus has no mana or ki. Secondly, I couldn’t determine her race.” She replied thoughtfully.
The more she thought about it, the more certain she became that the old Hound was here to protect and hide the baby. There seemed to be no other purpose to hide in such a remote world, and the Hound seemed like she died without a fight, simply trying to avoid anything happening to the baby. That was not normal behavior for the elite unit that had claimed countless lives during the war, innocent and otherwise.
“A psion? Well that explains it, I suppose. Psions use their own form of power instead of mana or ki, which would make her hard to detect. Psions are extremely rare, but that hardly qualifies as something important enough for perhaps the last Hound to sacrifice her life over. The baby looks like a fox demon of sorts though, so I have no idea what kind of trouble you could have with recognizing her race?” The androgynous voice replied with slight confusion in its voice.
“She may look like a fox demon on the outside, but that’s not what I sensed inside her. She seemed like a mix of several races. I could detect at least five for certain, but I suspect there’s more. Those five are simply the dominant ones. It didn’t seem like a natural mix from breeding either. Someone made her that way on purpose. The only reason she looks like a fox demon of some kind is because the other races are still dormant inside of her.” She explained her vague feelings. It was difficult to delve a psion, because the psionic power naturally repelled the delving. She could force it, but that would hurt the child.
“Someone made her like that? What other races are inside her? And perhaps more importantly, for what purpose?” The androgynous voice questioned.
“I’m almost certain that someone went through a lot of time and effort to make her as she is. Time, effort and a lot of power. As long as the other races remain dormant, I can’t identify them without being too forceful, and that could kill the baby. As for the purpose, your guess is as good as mine.” She replied.
“You’re going to keep her aren’t you? Not that I mind, but the angels already dislike you. Harboring a few demons is one thing, but this will surely piss them off if they find out.” The androgynous voice pointed out.
“I asked for a survivor, and now we have one. I’m not going to throw her away after searching through all those fields of carnage and genocide. Whatever her origin may be, it is not her fault, and I wouldn’t be any better than those fanatical angels if I threw her away.” She felt some hope. Maybe this child would offer her a small chance at redemption.