It had been a glorious raid on the fruit stall! The young Tiefling was flushed with excitement as she scampered away with her part of the booty hidden under her cloak. The portly merchant hadn’t even noticed the theft yet, due no doubt, to the demon child’s excellent planning. In the four years that she had been with Valerian and the Wild Kin, she had absorbed everything she could about strategy and fighting. The motley band of children, recruited from the streets and rescued from the Dens of Ruin, were so well organized that most merchants didn’t recognize their existence. Street urchins and thieves were to be expected, but the reputable citizens would have scoffed at the idea of an army of them.
She ducked down a side alley, slowing to a trot; Safe Haven was not far now.
Although her heart jumped, her stride didn’t waver. She was disguised by her cloak and other precautions; it was not generally known that she ran these streets. Ever since Valerian had saved her from the Man, she had been very careful not to be seen as herself.
“Tiefling, I know it is you!” the woman yelled.
The girl darted around a corner, and hugged the wall. She needed to lead her pursuer away before she lost her in the crowds; right now, they were too close to Safe Haven.
“I need to talk to you.” The voice quieted. “I am your mother.”
The plans and strategies buzzing in her head dissipated in an instant. She caught her gasp in her throat before quietly peeking around the corner. A woman stood in the alley, her hair dull and listless around her shoulders, her face lined and haggard. Her mother had aged and badly, but it was her mother. She took a slow step out of cover and could smell through the alcohol and sweat, the slight tangy scent that she had recognized as an infant.
The woman’s lips curled and her eyes hardened. “So it is true. I thought you were dead.”
The girl froze except for her tail twitching madly as if it wanted to free itself from its belt restraint. Confusion flooded her. Why did her mother seek her out after all these years? The revulsion she never bothered to hide for her daughter was still plainly etched upon her face.
“What do you want, Mother?” she asked coolly.
Chewing the inside of her cheek, her mother’s gaze narrowed on her thoughtfully. Suddenly, her expression lightened and she smiled.
“This is very hard for me,” she said. “I have to admit that I have failed you as a mother.”
The Tiefling stared back at her suspiciously.
“I am sick,” her mother continued softly. “Maybe dying. And I want to make amends. Will you come with me? Just for a while…”
Unconvinced, the girl started to move back.
“Wait! I could tell you about your father!” Her mother’s smile was soft and entreating.
That tantalizing tidbit was enough to overcome her reserve. She stepped further into the alley.
“You remember him?” she asked tentatively.
“Of course, I do.” Her mother held out a hand invitingly. The look on her face was one the girl had never seen directed at her: tenderness, admiration… love?
The girl took her hand.
With a hard yank, her mother pulled the girl towards her and clasped her other arm with cruel fingers.
“You don’t forget a monster!” she hissed.
Something was thrown over her head and she was carried off, kicking and clawing. She could hear muffled voices. Forcing herself to concentrate, she could discern only one other person besides the Whore that borne her: the man who carried her now. She had no doubt that she was being taken to the Dens and if she was to escape it should be now while they were still in the open and their numbers were few. The man had not bothered to restrain her except for gripping her arms against her body. And he had overlooked her tail.
Reaching back, her fingers found the tie that held her tail to her belt so it would not be seen beneath her cloak. A slight pull and it slithered free, snaking from under the restraining cloth. The girl grit her teeth and focused. Her tail was notoriously unreliable, being unable to grasp and having a tendency to twitch wildly when she was agitated, but previously she had managed to use it to trip and slap her companions during fighting training. Under ideal situations.
Gathering her strength, she lashed out with all her limbs, concentrating her tail on where she believed her captor’s face to be. She heard his grunt of surprise and felt herself falling. In less than a heartbeat, she landed on her feet and whisked the cover from her head. Her dagger appeared in her other hand like magic. She noted the Whore cowering off to the side, not an immediate threat, and concentrated on the man who had clapped a hand to his eye.
“I know you,” she hissed, her body poised and battle ready. “You tried this before.”
Since her escape from the Man four years before, she had learned that he was a procurer for the Dens of Ruin, a man of influence and power. Although the Wild Kin were rabid to bring him down, Valerian cautioned that that would bring unwanted attention to them. They rescued who they could.
The Man recovered himself enough to pull his own dagger. “I never stopped looking for you.” His smile was oily. “You will be my prize.”
“I am no one’s prize!” she snarled. Over his shoulder she caught a glimpse of Coyle in the shadows and was relieved that the Kin would know her fate.
“I am a monster!” She smiled, showing her sharp teeth, and threw back her hood so her horns gleamed in the muted light. “As are you!”
The Man laughed and stepped forward, unimpressed. He started to speak, perhaps something memorable and fitting for his last words, but he didn’t get the chance. The girl still had the cloak he had used on her in her hand. She swung it now and entangled his weapon arm. With a jerk that pulled him off balance, she sprang agilely onto his back and with a graceful arc of her arm she ran her dagger across his throat before springing back. It was easier than she thought.
With a wet gurgle, the Man staggered forward, his fingers inadequately staunching the blood, before he sank to his knees. The Whore was screaming and there was blood everywhere. The girl paused for a moment to seek out friendly eyes in the shadows before turning her back.
“This was all my doing,” she said to the Whore. “Be sure to tell everyone about the monster.”
Then she ran past her toward the heavily populated marketplace. People, attracted by the Whore’s screams, drew back in horror as she flew by, noting the demon’s horns and tail and the bloodied knife. She made sure she was seen by enough that she would be more than a rumor before she slipped into the back alleys and covered herself.
She scrubbed at the bloodstains and tied her tail back up. Hurry, hurry, hurry! She had to get out of the city before news of the murder spread. Coyle would warn the Wild Kin and they would move their base; they would be safe. But she needed to hurry.
She found herself in unfamiliar parts of the city, but she followed the crowds toward the city gates. No one had heard yet of the Demon who lurked in the slums. Just before the closing of the gates, she found herself before them and although her heart was in her throat, the guards barely spared her a glance.
She ran for three days, not sure where she was going but staying off the main road, away from people. Finally, exhaustion overtook her, and after she finished the last of her pilfered apples, she sank into a deep sleep.
The smell of rabbit cooking over a fire finally penetrated her dreams. She stirred drowsily, her stomach grumbling.
“It is time you woke,” a deep voice intruded. “Sleep is good, but food is better.”
She sat up, abruptly awake, her cloak falling to the leaf-strewn ground.
In an instant she was aware that the small clearing she had fallen asleep in was now dominated by a huge scaly creature hovering over a small campfire. It turned to look at her with golden eyes above a blunt snout. It was covered in scaly gold hide with frills at the cheek and a heavy, extended brow. It was hard to tell where its scales stopped and its armor began. She had never seen anything like it.
“Are you a monster?” she asked softly.
The creature snorted. “No more than you are.”
“But I am!” She sensed that it wasn’t impressed. “And a killer!”
Her companion snorted again and laid a clawed hand on her head. “You are still a child. Yet you have done well through your trials, Tiefling. Pelor’s blessings are upon you.”
She frowned. “How do you know my name?”
“‘Tiefling?’” It made that sound again which she was beginning to recognize as its laugh. “That is what you are, not who you are.”
“Oh.” She felt deflated. No wonder so many had known what to call her.
“Is that what you were named?”
She nodded. “That and ‘Demon Spawn’.”
Instead of laughing, it gently squeezed her shoulder with a claw. “Then you must decide for yourself what to be named. I am Donaar of the Dragonborn; it is customary of my kind to take a name of our ancestors. Some Tieflings choose a name that embodies an ideal to strive for as they find their place in the world. A reminder of what they seek, such as ‘Fame’ or ‘Joy.’ You must find a name that brings your past and your future together in harmony.”
“Harmony,” she murmured.