The Cleric Chronicles 9

Hell isn’t so bad. I mean, it’s cold all the time. But not like winter cold. More like grave cold, so cold that it eats through your bones and takes a freezing bite out of your soul. If you have a soul that is. And the sun never rises. It never falls either. It just sits suspended halfway in the sky, eclipsed and red, so that you never know what time it is. Sleep is meaningless. So is trying to keep your sanity.

Home, how I didn’t miss you!

The moment I stepped out of the portal, I turned to Ari, watched as realization flashed in her eyes as she took in my demon form. She called Shea over and I could see them whispering, looking at me. Their whispers rubbed together like sandpaper in my ears, consuming me. Suddenly, I was 16, fresh from hell and wandering from human city to city, skirting through the shadows as the townspeople whispered behind their hands to scheme how they were going to get the monster out of their home...or what they might do to me if they had the chance to get me alone.

Their whispering sounded like screams in the quiet domain.

But instead of shrinking to that fear, I asked Lainie to drop my illusion and I stood there as they gawked, as the group’s expression turned to shock, as they figured out that a monster had been traveling with them all along.

I wish I could say I told them everything, that I spilled every one of the secrets that weigh on my shoulders daily. But it was too much. There is no way I could dig into my entire past and survive the tale while staring at the twisting, thorny mass of a tower that I used to call home. There was one thing I needed to admit though, something so important and terrifying that my knees were literally weak.

I confessed that this was my home and that I could take them across the terrible, unending, cloudy domain with ease because we had entered my father’s realm. All of the lies about not knowing the demon lord who had plagued us connected in their head and I braced myself for the song of swords unsheathing, of arrows nocking and daggers whirling through the air.

But what I received was understanding. They listened, let me explain why I felt I needed to hide who I was and didn’t judge me for who I was related to.

Well...most of them did. Xiara disappeared into the mist of my father’s domain. Even as I ran for her, I knew there would be no way I could catch her and if she delved too far into the darkness, she would never find her way back.

I could see our friendship, one I’d worked so hard to cultivate disappearing into the haze behind her as she pulled up her cape.

Since she cut me off before we could talk, there was nothing left I could do but keep my word and lead the party to the tower I’d fled from seven years prior. Every step felt like torture but I knew that with each one, I was regaining their trust, keeping my word, proving that I wasn’t the demon I looked like by the girl they had gotten to know over the past few months.

I was surprised to find the tower guarded. I thought father would have already known we were coming and rolled out a red carpet soaked in blood to greet us. But we had to sneak in through the back.

It’s funny actually. We ended up having to go across a scary moat (that was definitely not there before, I wonder if father added it after I escaped) and had to walk on a thin rope. Even though I’m not normally thankful for my tail, it was nice to be able to wrap it around the rope as I walked and remain secure. And watching Teo just believe in Pelor’s light, even after he had just escaped from here, and walking across with no hesitation was… *ahem*, let’s just go with inspiring.

Inside the tower was exactly as I remember, blending father’s affinity for covering the ugly with a beautiful illusion. I tried to usher them quickly through the first floor so they wouldn’t be subjected to the psychological torture he loves to imply but I wasn’t quick enough. The harsh white lights flickered out on the smooth black and white room, revealing the rot and disease just underneath.

Xiara finally joined our group from the shadows but she refused to talk to me. I kept waiting for her to look at me, to let me explain, but as we traversed the first several floors, her eyes never once met mine.

Father left us so many surprises. One or more on each floor, including a chest with a skull in it. Brink took possession of this particular dark entity, not beil

As we were walking up to the next floor, having finished traversing yet another trap room father had placed in our way, Butter turned around and pointed out Brink, who was chasing after a figure running up a new set of stairs. My heart lurched in my chest as I stretched out my hand, trying to reach for him as the stairs separated from our level and twisted away from us. I didn’t tell the rest of the group because I was afraid to scare them but as we watched Brink’s shock of blue hair retreating from us into the darkness, I knew that would be the last time we ever saw him. No one wanders into my father’s tower by themselves and gets out.

Pelor, save us,