And Other Stories


Pasha had always been special, from the day of her birth. She had been marked for it. She had been chosen for it. Ordained by the goddess herself to lead her people out of their subjugation and back into freedom. Except she didn't.

She couldn't. While she still lay in the crib, a secret kept safe within the tyrant's own domain, others slew him. The head of the serpent was cut off, and the rest of it was left to thrash and split apart. Innumerable petty tyrants succeeded the first, clamoring to grab whatever they could and to sit atop the broken throne. Once again, her people were subjugated, and still she was too young. This time, they cast off their own yokes, once again without her. An uneasy peace and freedom had been achieved just as soon as she came of age.

Pasha always thought she must have been chosen by mistake. Her destiny had clearly been meant for another, someone who could have saved her people from years of oppression. Instead, it had been her. But since it had been her, Pasha tried to make the best use of her gifts as she could to help others. She had many, and they had many uses, but most of all she could heal the wounded, the sick, and the lame. She took to that with alacrity. It was a good purpose, even if it was not the one she was truly meant for.

She could never shake the idea of having some higher calling. It stung most when she heard tell of the other peoples of the world, those nations who had crusaded against the empire only to leave her people to its remnants. Apparently most among them thought her people had been willing subjects, miserable cowards if not vile traitors. After all, every other people of the world had brought their champion Heroes together to cast down the Demon King, while those of her people had marched under the fiend's banners.

Apparently those other nations of the world were starting to encroach onto the old borders of the demons' domain, further than simply reclaiming recent conquests. There was a worry if they would find themselves conquered again. That, at least, Pasha would refuse to allow. She could prove herself a chosen Hero and demonstrate her people still held their goddess's favor. Perhaps, she thought, that was her greater purpose, the way she could serve her entire people.

And then one night she had a vision of a new tyrant, one who would succeed where others squabbled and failed, reclaiming the broken throne, crushing rivals under thumb and the world under foot. He would rule as the spitting image of his hideous and monstrous father, only twice as fearsome and thrice as cruel. She stirred from her nightmare, and discovered more signs in her waking stupor. They led her to the wilderness near her home, to a cache hidden in a tunnel among great stones and beneath an ancient tree, where she found a set of armor. However long it lay undisturbed it was in perfect repair, even the padding, and fit her with no issue. She saw one more sign from her goddess that night, and truly understood for the first time what was her purpose. She was to slay this new Demon King, not the last. And with his head she could prove her people were not demons nor loyal to them.

So as she lay on the ground, feeling the blood pooling over her gauntlet as she struggled to draw any breath, she did not know where she had gone wrong. Her gifts were gone, somehow, and it was almost too difficult even to think. Some other liquid joined the blood, pouring off of her, and she barely noticed. Her vision started to swim, and suddenly more light was shining into her eyes, which she screwed shut. She twitched her hand and felt a wound, almost gushing hot blood. She didn't know whose it was or what happened, but tried her best to heal it, before things went black.

Then everything rushed back all at once and it was much too much as she gasped for breath and felt her heart hammer against her hand and she rolled over to see a beautiful sky. Her eyes trailed back down and settled on the people before her. The monsters before her. A short one, which looked like a pallid elven woman with frighteningly sharp teeth and clawed hands and feet, and thick hair that hung over half her face. And the other, who might have been a statuesque human were it not for the blood-red serpents coiling and darting and hissing from atop the head, or the slit pupils in the eyes, and nails shaped almost to imitate claws. She recognized that one from her vision, there was no mistake, although he—although she—wasn't quite the same.

They were talking to each other, and then to her. She almost began to respond before remembering herself, and quickly tried to get to her feet. The Demon King approached, reached out to do something, and Pasha desperately lashed out with what she could muster outside of her gifts. The force of it knocked her back down, but didn't even faze the monster now looming over her. And then she started talking again, giving a hollow promise to discuss things, dripping with condescension. Pasha got up and spat back a reply, lashing out with genuine incredulity and outrage to disguise that she was desperately scrambling to think of something, anything she could do.

And then the world began to grow hazy again. She tried to reach towards her chest, but her hand didn't obey, and besides, this time there was no wound to heal.

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