A blue eyed incubus lifted his son down off the saddle. The dusky grey Sleipnir it was attached to, stood statue still while Clarence lifted the saddle flap and loosened the girth. Rin reached up to the creature, so his father chuckled and lifted him up to stroke Death’s neck. Death blew a hot breath out of his nostrils and shook his mane. It was matted with fresh dew, small twigs, lawn clippings, dandelion fluff and crunchy leaves from their early morning walk through the lazily, rolling hills of the countryside.
The five year old boy giggled as his father set about sliding the bridle off, stroking the front of the beast’s face with his large, laboured hands. The grey beast swished his tail and sighed before he nibbled on young Rin’s fingers with his velvety lips.
Clarence heaved Death’s saddle off his back and hung it over a convenient stump.
“Bye, bye Death.” Rin chirped, waving to the beast.
I’ll be waiting right here, young one. Take care and have a wonderful day.
You’re just like your grandfather. Death thought to himself as the pair walked into town. Happy and innocent. It’s a shame that Durin never got to meet you. He’d adore you, like I do. Before any passer-by could see him, the beast dissolved into thin air.
“This early in the morning? I don’t think so.”
“Oh, okay.” Rin’s folded ears tugged at his father’s heart strings.
“Chin up champ. We’ll get ice-cream on the way home. I promise.”
“Thank you daddy!” The raven haired boy cheered, smiling up at his father.
His father cast a broad, looming shadow over his five year old son. While Rin skipped along, chattering happily about the book he was learning to read at school, Clarence’s blue eyes narrowed, surveying the street for danger. People on the street had gotten used to Clarence a long time ago. Even before Edith ran out on him.
The night was burnt into Clarence’s memory. The crazy woman demanding to birth at home, offering her newborn son to Clarence in exchange for immortality. Clarence spared Rin’s life. Edith ran out into the storm. Clarence hoped that Edith sought psychiatric help. Despite her insanity, he loved her dearly. The softness of her ears, which Rin inherited. The sway of her tail. Her scent, supple skin and smile.
“What do you think daddy?”
At this age Clarence’s mind was prone to wandering to the past, thinking about what he had then and how things could have turned out if he knew what he knew now.
“Miss does not like the book I bought to school.”
“She thinks it is too adult. What does that mean?”
“Which book was it again?”
“The one on the tippy top of the shelf. You read it to me every night. About grandpa.”
“Ah yes, that one.” He rubbed his chin. “Tell her that if she has a problem with what I let you bring to school, she is to contact me. The office has my number. Okay champ?” Clarence ruffled Rin between the ears, but his ears remained pinned back.
“Why don’t I have a mummy?”
Clarence was gobsmacked.
“Of course you have a mother Rin. Everyone has a mother.”
“I know.” He sighed. “A mummy and a daddy made me, but where is she?”
“She’s...” I don’t know. I hope she is safe. “In a better place.”
“What does that mean?”
“It can mean any number of things. You will understand when you are older. Are those idiots from across town bullying you again?”
The five year old hesitated, remembering the vicious tail pulling and name calling. They were older than him. They threatened to bash his head in if he told anyone.
Clarence made a mental note to speak with the principal. The bullying had to stop. He understood that bullying was necessary to build character, but to a five year old? What was the world coming to? Rin needed support, being a motherless half-blood.
“I’ll talk to the principal again. Don’t let them ruin school for you. You are a smart kid. You are much smarter than I was at your age. There are plenty of books for you to read there. Endure it. Remember, if you want something, you have to work for it.”
“When we get home, can we go riding?”
“Anything for you on your special day.” How can it be your fifth birthday already?
The father and son pair lived on a hobby farm on the outskirts of the suburbs. Both of Rin’s white tipped tails swayed from side to side as Clarence hoisted his son onto his shoulders. Rin howled with laughter and spread his arms. Riding on his father’s shoulders reminded Rin of the thrill he received when astride Death’s saddle.
Half a street before they reached the hair salon, Clarence exhaled, his muscles relaxing. Rin fell asleep, bathed in warm midmorning sunlight. His long, black tails calmly swaying from side to side. Clarence smiled to himself. This was the reason he had not returned to the king’s service. Every second with Rin was precious to him. From the good to the bad. Clarence feared the day he could not hold Rin in his arms.
In a rush of air an incubus appeared. Normally, any demons who lived here tried to disguise themselves. Clarence raised his hand to the strange demon. An inferno engulfed it in the blink of an eye, reducing the charred skeleton to a pile of ash in a cartoonish fashion at Clarence’s feet. Witnesses screamed and ran in all directions. Others called the police. While Clarence was distracted by the anarchy, a duo erupted skywards, pumping their bat-like wings.
“Daddy!” Rin screamed as the demons clawed at his arms, lifting him into the air.
Clarence chased them through the crowded street, knocking pedestrians out of his path. He hurtled across the middle of a hectic intersection. He skidded to a stop before colliding with a store front, his arm pulled back. He was prepared to launch a fireball at the pair, but he could not risk them dropping Rin from that height. The little boy’s screams for help faded as their silhouettes disappeared into the clouds.
This is exactly why I left the demon realm. He cussed as he vanished into thin air and re-appeared beside the saddle. Clarence called frantically for Death. The thought struck him. What if Death was already processing his son’s soul for the afterlife? The mortal realm had made him too soft. The winged kind were fast, but not impossible to catch. Maybe, Death could pass through the barrier into the demon realm and find Rin before it was too late? Time was quickly running out for his beloved son, if the winged demons had not already devoured him alive. In his time serving the king, Clarence had seen atrocities that would have broken most demons.
I have failed as Durin’s son and as his father. Why today? He’s only five years old. He can’t…No! Don’t throw in the towel yet. Maybe they’re different? You’ll find him.
A pair of demons wearing the infamous feather laden crowns, golden earplugs and neck collars were spotted in the outskirts of the Hubris village. There was no mistaking the flamboyant, heliotrope robes and belts passed down over generations. For the first time in seventy five years, the eleventh couple to rule over the seven kingdoms of the demon realm were in the open, without any means of protection. Was this the royal couple’s first and final mistake? Previously, without the Riders protection, eight monarchs and their wives were assassinated in broad daylight.
Speculation spread like wildfire. Was this demon parading in the royal garb the prince who vanished seventy six years ago? Setting down their tools and shutting their doors behind them, parents ushered their children inside, fussing over their appearances. Children whined as they followed. Bored from being kept indoors all week the children wanted to play in the sunshine. More rain was expected this week.
At first, few demons approached the couple to examine if the jewellery and robes were authentic. Shortly after it was confirmed, every villager spilled out of their stone and mud brick, thatched roof huts and onto the footpath to meet the royal couple. Everyone was curious to meet the incubus who had brought them out of the dark ages. Was their king experimental like his grandfather or tyrannical like his father?
The queen realised that she was the cause of this reaction and hid behind her husband. Her husband returned the villagers’ affections with the smile that had melted his wife’s heart seventy five years ago. Patiently, the king assured the clamouring villagers’ that he was the missing prince from seventy six years ago.
The villagers’ attention shifted to the queen. Considering that she was not born royal like her predecessors, Victoria was beautiful. Why had their king chosen a half-blood queen? In the meantime, Victor II refused to answer such intrusive questions. This sparked further speculation about what really happened seventy six years ago.
Children showered the couple with gifts of food and textiles on behalf of their families. Seeing that Percival’s son was as kind hearted as the older villagers remembered from the few times they saw him as a young prince, demons of all ages congratulated the couple for unifying the seven kingdoms. A goal that ten kings before Victor II failed to achieve. He listened to his people as they told him what they wished he would change. Everything about him told them that they could trust him.
Cheers from the villagers’ faded into the distance. The couple entered a vast expanse of agricultural land, bordered by jagged mountains, accompanied by the crunching of their sandals over lilac granules of sand. The couple walked hand in hand, with Victoria tugging on her husband’s arm, desperate to run ahead of him.
The couple was secluded in their home for seventy five years. Praying that they were safe from the wrath of their predecessors’ people. The people of Hubris were most powerful while wounded. To tempt her husband to stray further from the path, Victoria rubbed her tail over his and fluttered her long eyelashes at him. Despite being fifty years her senior his face was as youthful as it had been when they met.
The incubus reprimanded his wife by narrowing his piercing green eyes at her. Victoria sighed and shrugged her shoulders in acceptance. The brown eyed succubus had convinced him to leave the safety of the palace this morning. The villagers of Hubris had received them more positively than either of them anticipated.
Victoria’s gaze wandered over grand, sweeping mountains, hazed violet by the blinding midday sun. Everything is so beautiful.
She mentally comparing this barren desert landscape to the natural splendour of the other realms that she had seen in drawings and paintings. Not that she was complaining. Victor had done everything right by her since she had known him. She could not be happier despite everything that had transpired seventy five years ago.
Victor dug in his heels, squeezing her hand. The brown eyed succubus stopped in her tracks and peered over her shoulder to her husband. He nodded slowly and let go of her hand. The brunette turned to face her husband, her eyes lighting up with a child-like anticipation.
“Be careful, my dear.”
She nodded vigorously at his words of caution.
“I will!” How bad could it be?
She grinned to herself and broke into a sprint, her sandals sinking into the sands embrace.
The brown eyed succubus spread her arms and spun herself dizzy with delight. She giggled until her lungs felt like they would collapse. The air was refreshing. Like it had been in her childhood. Ah, those days. Days that were not wrought with fear but fun.
Suddenly, she heard something. She froze, listening intently. There it was. Once more. Carried faintly on the breeze. Someone was crying. She turned her head and looked for her husband. Victor was nowhere in sight. She picked up her long lavender hem and went to investigate.
She found a small child scrunched into a ball, no older than five years old. She approached cautiously. The child was terrified by the long shadow that she cast. The child scrambled to his feet. The brunette knelt down and smiled at him, taking note of his torn clothes, greasy raven hair and pale complexion. The child tried to run, but his knees were too weak to support him. He plummeted to his backside in the sand. He winced as the course sand impaled deep, jagged cuts in his arms. He struggled to his hands and knees and stayed there, trembling.
Victoria’s motherly instincts took over. She embraced the boy, listening to his heart throw itself at his ribcage. The child whimpered, snuggling into her bulbous breasts. She was warm. Like a mother should be.
The blue eyed, raven haired boy reached up gingerly, his fingers causing the golden tear drops dangling from her earlobes to jangle.
“You like that don’t you?” Victoria chuckled.
The blue eyed child nodded, flicking them again before he felt comfortable enough in the succubus’s arms to stop struggling. Instead he rubbed at the fluids seeping from his swollen eye, trying to make the blurry figure come into focus.
“No, don’t do that.” Victoria roused in her sweet voice, grabbing his wrist.
The child peered up at her, wheezing with each breath. His good eye misty with tears. The succubus hated seeing children in distress. Even when she had been younger, growing up with her father and older sister. She called for Victor, stroking the child between the ears in an attempt to comfort him. The five year old purred and swished his tails calmly, falling asleep in her lap. She hoped it was not too late.
Victor arrived, listening to his wife plead with him. The brunette reiterated that they could afford to keep the child because they were unable to have children of their own. It was not the king’s fault. After marrying and procreating with their sisters, mothers and cousins in the past, the Humilitas bloodline had become sterile.
“Sakura could use the company. The poor thing must be lonely with no kids her age to play with.”
The incubus was wrapped around his wife’s finger. Victor sighed heavily and walked closer to them. The child lifted his head to the sound of the new voice. The child looked at the large horns on the looming figure. With vivid memories of his ordeal with the winged demons flashing through his mind, the child sprinted away.
The boy stopped when he realised that the pair were not in pursuit.
“W-wait. You aren’t going to chase me?” He stammered in a mousey voice.
Victor shifted his weight from one foot to the other.
The boy flinched, hugging himself. He felt like he was going to collapse again.
Victoria looked at Victor and then back to the raven haired boy.
“Of course not.” Victoria gasped with disbelief.
The older incubus smiled modestly as he waited for her to continue speaking.
“We’re good demons.” Victoria insisted with her sweetest smile. “We’re not going to hurt you.”
The boy smiled meekly. For the second time today, his ears perked up.
It was late in the evening by the time the couple returned home. Rin slid down out of Victor’s arms.
“Wow!” The boy gaped around in awe. “I get to stay here until dad finds me?”
“You sure do.” Victoria smiled, “I’ll show you to your room.”
“My own room? That’s awesome!” I usually sleep in dad’s bed.
The couple assumed that everyone in the palace was asleep. A young green eyed succubus was hidden behind a pillar. The ten year old balled her hands into fists. Her fists clenched onto her nightgown as she watched the new orphan. Sakura despised the way that he reached up to Victoria. She snarled through gritted teeth.
Victoria treated Rin with the same generosity she had when she brought Sakura home to the palace. Sakura padded silently to her bedroll, her mind bursting with vengeful plans for the new orphan. Sakura had been in Victoria’s care for four years.
This is my home. I won’t lose my family. Not to you or anyone. Not this time. I haven’t done anything wrong. Sakura thought bitterly. You’ll wish you were left to die.
Rin’s existence spelled the end of her new family. In the weeks to come, Sakura would make sure of that he did not replace her. She would not be abandoned again.
Meanwhile, Rin had no idea that Sakura hated him. His father married a human, but she left after his birth. Being so young, his father had never explained why. Rin did not know about racism or hatred. Of all the things that his father had taught him, those concepts and mannerisms were not among them. Clarence wanted his son to remain innocent for as long as possible. He knew that preserving that pure child-like wonder forever was an impossible feat, but he would be damned if he did not try. All Rin wanted was to be accepted as part of Sakura’s happy family. He had faith that his father would not stop looking for him. No matter how long it took to find him.
Victor II knew that he could not subject Rin to a childhood like his own, the king knew how quickly living in the confines of Hubris palace drove a child to the brink of insanity. For his peace of mind, the king gave the child a stick so that he could tap it ahead of him through the long grass and hopefully avoid hurting himself. In the Old Kingdom era, the architecture supplied Hubris with fresh water, but today the water was stagnant and the network of plumbing had deteriorated into inescapable ruins.
The half-blood was happily exploring the ruins, waving his stick from side to side as he was told to. The five year old smiled with delight. The sudden sound of someone’s approach made him turn around. He swallowed the lump in his throat.
His ears laid back to make himself appear braver than he felt. Sakura scared him more now that he could see the pretty face connected to that hateful voice. Sakura was a young green eyed succubus with extraordinarily prominent horns for her age.
She advanced menacingly, shaking her fist at him. She jabbed her thumb at him.
“Let me tell you something jackass. I’m the top dog around here.”
The raven haired incubus nodded meekly. He did not want to cause any trouble.
“G-got it. I want to b-be your friend. My name is Rin. What’s y-your name?”
Sakura had no time to watch Rin wring his hands. She shoved his chest. He staggered back, his ankle hooking on the lip of a well, hidden in the grass. The stick fell from his hand as he spiralled down into the well. The stone floor breaking his fall.
The impact paralysed his body, nearly stopping his heart. Rin peered up at her with a groan, his tails tucked between his legs. His eyelids fluttered weakly as he struggled to lift his head off the ground. Sakura curled her hair around her finger and hummed to herself. If the fall failed to kill Rin, exposure would take care of the rest.
My work here is done.
She dusted her hands. Pleased with herself, she skipped the whole way home.
Groaning, the five year old picked himself up. He rubbed his swollen eye, tears pricking at the festering flesh. He sniffled, rubbing his weeping nostrils with the back of his hand. An icy wind howled through the labyrinth of maintenance tunnels in the abandoned well, making ghostly moans. Surprisingly, all he suffered was a dull head and back ache. Rin was blissfully unaware of how long he had been unconscious.
There was an odd presence in the air. It was subtle at first. The feeling was akin to walking into a childhood home and getting the feeling that you were not alone. If you forgot to acknowledge them, something caused harmless mischief to remind you of their existence. The hair prickling sensation was familiar to the young incubus. He had grown up with the majestic grey Sleipnir. Rin’s body tensed before he reached his fingers out. The apparition cocked its head, recognising the raven haired boy.
What are you doing here?
I could ask the same of you.
Rin was born with a Curiosity that allowed him to communicate with his thoughts.
Death pursed his lips with disapproval. He was Death. He saw all.
You are sweet of heart. Just like Durin. Climb onto my back. I will take you home.
Yes Rin. To the palace.
How will we get out of here?
Rin stared at Death’s hooves at then back to the moss covered brickwork.
Death sighed heavily through his nostrils as Rin climbed onto his back. Clinging on with his thighs, the boy look around. Hundreds of half-blood slaves died to construct this well. A history of mass genocide explained why Death appeared here.
Death had belonged to his grandfather. Rin had never met his grandfather. He grew up listening to his father’s stories. Death would always tell Rin how similar they were, but at this age, he did not understand what looking at him made Death feel. When the Riders had needed the gods most, Death, Conquest, War and Famine destroyed their weapons and deserted them. Rin was a painful reminder of what could have been. Patience and Marshal deserved to have children of their own.
Rin. I want you to do something for me.
“Sure!” The raven haired demon chirped.
Rin’s fearlessness amused Death. Most beings, living and dead, ran away from him.
First. Tell me how you ended up here.
“Um…” Rin wrung his fingers so hard that one would be forgiven for thinking that water would come out.
No. Not in this well. In this realm. You must realise that this is not Άspro Kósmos.
“Daddy and I were going to get a haircut. Scary demons, with wings, picked me up.”
There are more holes than I thought. Death kept that thought to himself.
“I…” His bottom lip quivered. He buried his face in Death’s mane. “I…”
There’s no need to be afraid. I won’t punish you, little one.
He nodded. “I can t-tell you anything. You won’t tell d-dad will you?”
That would depend on what you did Rin.
Rin sniffled, dabbing his nose on the corner of his shirt.
“I didn’t mean to kill them. I know you don’t like working late.”
They were going to eat you. Or worse. You are forgiven. How did you kill them?
“I...” He choked on the words.
If the Reaper had resurrected itself, it would not be long before the other weapons emerged. If they fell into the wrong hands, demon kind would face certain extinction.
Death’s words snapped Rin back to his senses. He shuddered and shook his head.
“The Reaper appeared. It was an accident. I blocked with the handle. Their heads…”
Blood spurting from their severed necks like water from a sprinkler. Their heads bouncing to the ground. Their wings collapsed like faulty parachutes, their bodies plummeting to the ground. Rin hit the ground hard enough to lose consciousness.
When he woke up from the fall, he realised that he was not in Άspro Kósmos.
The sky. The ground. The water. Everything is purple. Is this Hubris?
His father mentioned Hubris in his stories. Rin lent on the Reaper like a crutch, hobbling away from the corpses. He had no idea where he was going. His instincts told him that anywhere was better than here. Then the king and queen found him.
Death bowed his head, letting Rin know that they had surfaced outside of the well. Rin jumped down off Death’s back. Death seized the corner of Rin’s shirt between his teeth and helped tear strips off Rin’s clothes to bind injuries on his arms and legs. Because Durin had been Death’s aide, Clarence and Rin could not be killed easily.
Now for my second request. Summon the Reaper.
Rin was mortified.
I know you are scared, but the Reaper cannot hurt me. I made it.
“I don’t know how-”
Rin. Calm down. Focus.
Rin spread his tiny palms. The gothic, oversized scythe appeared in his tiny hands.
The day crawled along as if it had something that it would rather do. When afternoon descended like the talons of a beast, Rin failed to return. Fearing the worst, the king went looking for him. The king found the stick he gave Rin, nestled in the long, plum grass. He turned the stick over in his hands with a hunch that the twin-tailed boy ran away on his own. Victor had survived the consequences of jealousy. As a child, his blood brother tried to kill him. He knew the signs all too well.
Victoria gasped when Victor told her what he discovered. As twilight dawned, the boy staggered home alone. Death did not want to draw attention to Rin’s heritage. Victoria welcomed Rin inside. She helped the half-blood bathe and change into warmer clothes. The doe eyed succubus showered him with affection, insisting that she did not need to know what happened to him today, as long as he was safe.
The next morning, Rin apologised to the king.
“I did not mean to worry you. I…” The boy hesitated, “I fell into a well.”
Victor reached his arm out. Rin flinched, bracing himself. He was surprised to feel Victor patting him between the ears. It felt so nice that Rin could not stop purring.
Gradually, the boy smiled up at the older demon, nuzzling his cheek into the king’s palm. The blue eyed boy’s relief did not last long. The exertion of his escape caught up to him. Rin plummeted to his knees, groaning weakly. It took too much effort to turn his head. Victor put his arm out and caught the child as he lost his balance.
While the couple waited for the healer to arrive, Victor helped the boy out of his makeshift bandages and clothes. The boy’s fever sky-rocketed. Victor encouraged the boy to sip some water before allowing him to burrow under the covers to sleep.
While the child slept, the healer spoke with the king and queen about what had happened to the child. How did they find him? More importantly, what did they plan to do with him? Someone so accident prone would be an enormous burden to them. It was no secret that the couple already contended with Sakura’s personal baggage.
Victor insisted that Rin’s bad luck was the least of their concern. The healer respected his argument. Slainte had known the king for a long time. A conflict of interest within her family had introduced them to each other. Back in her teenage years, Victor conquered her problems one at a time. It had been painless. The king applied the same logic to this situation. Between the consequences of his brother’s quest for power and the unifying of the realm, a child in this sickly state, was but a drop of blood in the ocean. Rin had proven himself as independent as a demon that Victor had grown up with. He wondered if they were connected. Only time would tell.