The Daemon Within

Prologue

The Choice

The sand was endless. The heat, unbearable. Every breath was a deep labored pant. Her legs felt as if rocks were tied to her ankles and every shaking step felt like her last. Unable to fight it any longer, Zara sank down to her knees.

Before her laid a desolate desert that reserved no mercy to any and all that dared to walk its smoldering sea of nothingness; behind her, a life stripped of honor, friends, and family. Forsaken and disgraced, Zara could not turn back.

Dry tears stung the back of her eyes. The burn of the wound on her arm pulsated. She dared not look down at the prestigious tattoo that was now blurred into melted ink and skin lest she became consumed with grief again. The thought of it, however, brought back the storm of emotions she thought the trek through the desert had numbed. Alas, she still felt the sharp sting of betrayal and desertion. She never imagined that her only family would betray her this way. Would forsake her this way. The grief was unbearable. The rage, inevitable.

The sun, bright and omnipresent in its blue realm, bore down on her. It shone its obnoxious golden light on all of her exposed flaws, scars, and gaping wounds. Not caring that she would expend the last bit of her energy, she screamed up at the unforgiving sun, pouring out her anger, sadness, and anguish. She screamed until her voice was hoarse. But even then, that was not enough. There was still so much pain.

“That is useless,” a wheezing voice called.

Zara was not startled by the sudden appearance of another. She sensed its presence long ago. It slunk slowly into her line of vision, its rancid smell preceding its form. It was not as ugly as she imagined or its smell hinted. Some of its humanity still lingered. The color of its eyes had not yet been blotted by darkness and its startling blue color was nearly as beautiful as the sky overhead. It was marred only by the fact that its owner was a daemon.

“What do you want?” Zara rasped.

The daemon settled into the sand a few feet in front of her, holding the thick hood over its head carefully so as not to let the light touch its face. From within the depths of the hood, the daemon smiled a crooked, yellow smile.

“It is not what I want,” it said. It reached into its cloak and pulled out a waterskin, the sloshing liquid within reminding Zara of her thirst. “But what you want.”

“And what do you know of what I want?” Zara rasped darkly.

“I know that you are angry. Very angry. I recognize the look on your face,” the daemon said, its smile far from fading.

“I am not like you,” Zara said through gritted teeth.

“But you are angry. You have been forsaken, betrayed, marked,” the daemon said, pointing at the “x” burned into her skin, right over the tattoo of the crest of the Order of Protection.

Zara glowered at the daemon.

“You and I have much in common,” the daemon said, exposing the skin over its chest to reveal a mark of its own. The scar was stretched over the bones, but Zara could make out the cut of a sword. “I too was betrayed by someone I loved.”

“Get to the point, daemon,” Zara demanded.

“What you do next is a simple choice, princess,” the daemon said as it opened the waterskin. “You can chose to die in this forsaken desert. Or, you exact vengeance on those that wronged you.” The daemon offered her the waterskin.

She knew what the daemon was suggesting. The deformity that sat before her, with its rotting skin and rotten heart, had made a very similar choice long ago and it cost him the light of his soul. As her grief and rage roiled in her heart, she finally understood the daemons she had been fighting for so long.

“How did they pay?” Zara asked, motioning to the scar on its chest.

“With my sword through their hearts,” the daemon answered with a wicked smile.

Zara paused. Slowly, she reached for the waterskin, her hands, for the first time since she trekked into the desert, steady.

“The ones that wronged you will pay in the same manner, my princess,” the daemon assured her as he pushed the waterskin into her hands.

The liquid was bitter, but cool. It ran smooth down her throat and into the depths of her belly, quelling for a few moments the storm that had been raging for the past few days. In this moment of stillness, Zara closed her eyes and looked into her heart. White hot, like the scorching sun overhead, rage burned at the core, a rage she realized she had always felt.

As she drank the rest of the water, she made her choice.