The light burns and the darkness soothes.

This weapon of mine

With it, I can protect you

Without it, I can embrace you

While my left hand creates and gives love

My Right hand brings only destruction

My left-handed weapon

My right-handed heart

Is it never to be that I can embrace you?

Is it never to be that I can protect you?

What then, would my purpose be?

Chapter One: The Demonologist

"Do I have to wear the cape?" Isang said as he clasped it on.

"Don't like it?" Lynn asked, smiling at him in the mirror. He didn't return the smile; he didn't see it. He saw only his own eyes, and the lines within them. At first they had been small, faint hair-thin streaks, barely noticeable, but now they were blotches. Once upon a time, his eyes had been the deep green of a lush forest, but now the violet smudges gave him the demonic appearance he had been warned of.

"Not really," he said after a short pause. "I think it makes me look too special."

"Well this is a special occasion," she finally caught his eye, and he returned the smile. "Just suck it up."

"Sage," he shook his head. "Magic military, soldiers trying to be what they once were. I'm no sage, I'm not even a noble. Capes like these are for important people."

"What you do is important." Lynn reminded him.

"It is, I know, but only the town council sees that. The rest of the people, they don't know me, they don't even care. It's really better that way."

"You really think so?"

"The less they know, the safer they are," Isang finished fixing his outfit and spun to face Lynn, who had been ready and waiting for ten minutes. She sat on the end of the bed with her playful smile, her raven colored hair tied in a ponytail. "As they say, ignorance is bliss. Mine is not the profession others should take their time learning about."

"Do demons really attack the smart ones?"

"Let's not talk about it," Isang said, not for the first time. "How do I look?"

His boots were all black, thin leather, made more for making appearances than walking, and felt constricting on his feet. The soot colored pants stuffed into them were loose and comfortable, as was his wont, and the belt's silver buckle shimmered in the dim light of his undersized bedroom. The cape, a mess of different dark colors, put the rest of the outfit to shame, but with the thick silk shirt, made specifically by Lente's finest tailors and given to him as a birthday gift, stood out the most, proudly the best piece of clothing they would see all night.

She stood up energetically, her lilac dress flowing with her movements, and stepped over to him. She put her hands on his shoulders, looking only into his half violet, half green eyes, and smiled again.

"You look fine, don't worry. If the cape's too much, take it off."

"They'd throw me out of town for that," Isang said. "Anyway, we'll be late if we don't leave now."

He stepped away from her, striding briskly over to the door. He stopped when he heard the familiar sound of a slight tap on the floor. Lynn always did this when she was annoyed, or disapproved of something. He turned around slowly, his weariness clear in his eyes.

"Something wrong?"

"You're not leaving looking like that," she folded her arms, her face going flat and serious.

Isang looked at his chest, and the rest of his outfit, spreading out his arms, searching for an error or blemish he'd overlooked. "But, you just said-"

"I mean your face," she said with complete seriousness. "Fix it."

Isang frowned, "What are you talking about?"


He rolled his eyes, "You want me to smile the whole time?"

"It would be nice, yes."

"I'll try, but no promises. I'm not the happiest person in Kael."

"Nor are you the saddest," Lynn's face switched from serious back to playful in a flash, and she walked to stand beside him, hooking her arm in his. "You have been engrossing yourself in your studies, Isang, and you've worked hard. This town is recognizing it. Try to show appreciation, they're taking the time to acknowledge everything you've done and continue to do. You have a nice house, nice things, a good reputation, and the love of a very lucky woman."

"You're right," he said, nodding and putting on his best smile. "But I won't like it."

"I didn't say it had to be an honest smile, did I?"

His smile, for an instant, was genuine, more of a smirk than anything, an expression that she thought ruined his face, but she said nothing. Arm in arm, they left the house, entering unnoticed into the town of Kael.

The town had been preparing for this night for a long time, and for all intents and purposes, it was akin to a surprise party, though no one had bothered to inform Isang to avoid the town square. On the rare occasion he did leave the house, it was for going into the woods, hunting with Lynn, or sneaking around the back alleys to talk to Dakid, the 'shady' merchant. Most demonologists fit the archetype: reclusive, lanky, intelligent, and offbeat, and Isang was no exception. His only saving grace, of course, was Lynn Windsor, a well known and well loved noble who shocked the entire country by deigning to get romantically involved with someone as poor as Isang. They had moved to Kael one year after meeting in Lente, the capital city, and have lived there ever since, in a four room shack of a house, tucked into the back of the town. Isang, at the time, wasn't known at all; the name Firayon barely reached beyond his hometown, but he worked tirelessly, humbly, to create some credibility.

When one heard Demonologist in this day and age, they thought of mad scientists or pampered sages who spent their time dwelling in towers like wizards in fairy tales. Isang had seemed like the type who would go mad in some grey-bricked tower or lose his sanity studying demons and all things relevant to the Realm of Chaos, but thanks to Lynn, and the support of his town (originally out of fear of having one of their own collapse and go on a killing spree), he was doing well, though he never discussed his business.

Tonight, though, all rumors and worries were (on the surface) whisked away for the sake of having a good time. A large banner awaited Isang and Lynn in the town square, held high above the fountain that now poured pure, magicked golden water, and it read: ISANG FIRAYON, CONGRATULATIONS. She smiled and pointed to it, and he only nodded distractedly. Children were out, running and screaming happily in circles, not dissimilar to someone on fire. They were just happy to be allowed up past their bedtimes, and probably didn't care at all about a demonologist. If Isang had been given any say in the attendance, he would have insisted on a small crowd, no more than the council or a few discreetly chosen town gossips, but no, everyone was there. This was bad, he knew, but for the sake of peace, he said nothing.

"Isn't this nice?" Lynn said, gripping his arm tight and pointing to the table where young girls danced and an illusionist juggled balls of fire the size of human heads. "Everything is so lively and happy, don't you think so?"

"You've really been starved for entertainment, haven't you?" Isang replied in a voice more smug than he had intended. "I guess that's my fault."

"Not at all. I choose to stay inside most of the time."

"You don't have to, you know. I'm really fine working alone. In fact, that's when I get my best work done."

"What kind of wife would I be if I ignored my husband?" she said, pushing her body into his, sending him staggering a foot to his left. "If people always saw me wandering about town, they would think 'there's the noblewoman who is unhappily married to that demonologist!'."

"We're not even married," Isang stated. He opened his mouth to quickly add 'yet', but Lynn beat him to it, smiling and kissing him on the cheek. She then pulled him toward the cluster of entertainers who had drawn a small crowd since they started their acts. He resisted at first, and felt a bit embarrassed when she easily overpowered him. She would just think he physically complied, but truly she didn't know her own strength. She was slender, really such a tiny thing, and several inches shorter than he, but having spent all of her youth hunting had toughened her up.

The illusionist juggler saw them coming, nodded enthusiastically, and stepped up his game. The balls of fire turned a bright blue, and the children cried out in awe. They flew in crisscrossing circles around his hands, soaring around his shoulders like large satellites. He held out his hands angelically, and the people nearby clapped and yelled out, completely stricken.

Too many people, Isang thought to himself, looking at but not watching the blue balls of fire. Speaking of demons is almost as bad as calling their names in summoning circles. To honor a demonologist is to mock them. This whole town, all of these good people, they're just begging to be attacked. Or perhaps I'm just worrying too much?

He turned his head past the banner, and sighed inwardly. The violet streaks across his eyes were not just a mark of his trade. They now meant something. He saw wisps of black and purple hanging in the air, tiny, ever-moving threads flying around the people like ribbons, unseen by them, and unfelt. He knew they meant something, but he couldn't tell what, which worried him more than if he did know. More likely than not, it was dark residue, the traces left behind by a demon just passing by, or remnants of the magic being used by the sages and illusionists, but he couldn't be sure. He stared at them for a while; they were spread out mostly over the fountain of gold water and the elderly that had accumulated near the refreshment table. Lynn gushed with excitement and he snapped back to reality, spinning his head to watch as the juggler's balls of fire gathered into one and exploded in a flare of blue, blinding them for a moment. When the light was gone, so was the juggler. Isang grinned, and detached himself from Lynn's arm. Her fingers gripped his sleeve for a moment, ruffling the fabric, but she didn't hold him back. He added a spring to his step, walking over to the fountain, donning his faux smile again as he called out.

"Mayor," he said, energetically approaching him and proffering his hand. "Mayor Skin, how are you?" He stopped, casually forcing the mayor to walk over to him. His eyes flashed to the black and purple wisp that had, until that moment, been wrapping around the mayor's neck. With his sudden movements, the wisp coiled onto empty space and fluttered into the air.

"Firayon!" the mayor called out boisterously, smacking aside Isang's hand with outstretched arms and hugging him tight. His fat stomach threatened to crush Isang's stomach, and his flabby arms stretched his sleeves to the point that they looked like the seam might burst at any moment, but Isang just smiled, patting his back in a neighborly fashion. "It's good to see you, finally. I was worried you wouldn't show."

"To be honest, sir," Isang wiped clean his smile and stared directly into the mayor's eyes. "I would have preferred to stay home. This whole night is a bad idea."

"Oh, come now, Isang, what bad could come from all of this joy?" he stepped back, spreading out his pudgy hands over the area around him, smiling and throwing his head back dramatically. "All of these happy people, demons don't go for happy, do they?"

"I didn't know you were a demonologist, mayor."

Skin chuckled, slapping Isang on the shoulder, almost sending him to the ground in the process. He shook his head. "I know, I know, you're the expert, but for tonight, let us honor you with our protection. If any demons come, they'll have to deal with the sages!"

Isang's face lost some of its color and his eyes went wide. "Sages?" he echoed. "You have sages?"

"The very best," the mayor whispered, leaning close to him. "From Lente, no less. Your wife would be excited to learn this, no?"

"No," Isang said. "Mayor Skin, with all due respect, sages are a terrible idea. Demons are traditionally attracted to three things: despair, pride, and concentration of magical force."

"We're not hosting a grand ball, Firayon," the mayor said with another chuckle. Isang rolled his eyes as he now smelled the wine from his person, and tried to move away. "Five or six sages won't attract any demons."

"I can't help but think you're trying to make my life harder, mayor." Isang said, looking around, his eyes now chasing the wisps and searching for the sages. If Skin was being honest, which he usually was, they would be hidden, but even the magically attuned humans had difficulty completely concealing their power.

Isang finally pushed the mayor aside, striding over to the long wooden refreshment table, surrounded completely on one side by the old men of Kael, sharing stories of wars that never happened, talking loudly and acting unaware of their 'old' scent. They parted, half of them happily greeting him, the other half barking about his rudeness, and he walked past courteously, keeping his eyes fixed on the sky.

The second wisp, the one gathered over the old men, spiked upwards into the air like a startled animal, swirling like an airborne ribbon, and followed him, wafting carelessly in his direction. He turned and walked backwards, stopping at the end of the table, and watched it mimic him, staring at him without eyes, honing onto his presence. His face was as solid as stone, and his eyes almost hurt to focus on it, like trying to see a glare as more than a glare, but he kept looking. Eventually, the wisp twirled upward and disappeared from view. Isang frowned, but shrugged, walking past the old gentlemen to the center of the town square.

As he did so, a group of young men, working men mostly, ushered him aside kindly and carried a series of long, thin tables, made of polished, fine grain wood, unlike any he'd seen in Kael. The chairs followed, and next to the shoddy refreshment table with the old chatters, the new setup was impressive, though he didn't express his shock for long. Isang knew that, with the tables, people would begin to gather around him, forcing him to feign interest in their lives (specifically demon related problems), and drag him into a cloud of dim conversation.

Fortunately, Lynn perceived all of this with a single glance, and walked over to the new setup, speaking loudly and obnoxiously, clinging to his arm again and laughing. Isang smiled thankfully, and just waved at the people encircling him like vultures. They wouldn't dare interrupt him now, with his woman at his side, ready to sit and dine. Now they just tried to pass by and insert their bits of talk in with the colloquial pleasantries, and every single one of them was thwarted by Lynn's loud, almost abrasive remarks. They retreated, and didn't think an ounce less of her, but nonetheless returned, defeated, to their spots.

Mayor Skin then called out to Kael's residents, beckoning them with his large chicken arms to the tables. They all came with smiles and proud faces: children, entertainers, nobles, sages in disguise, elderly, working boys, young innocent girls, artisan craftsmen, merchants, housewives, veterans, and well-wishers. They flocked to the four tables, arranged to the shape of a square, and sat, erupting into chatter. The official celebration was now underway, the second phase, or, as Isang saw it, the Hard Part.

Mayor Skin sat at the center of the table positioned just under the banner, and Isang sat beside him, trapped between him and Lynn. On Lynn's other side, one by one, sat the town council, mostly fat old men and pompous women, but overall good enough people. Isang found himself, to his surprise, quickly ignoring the black and purple wisps and looking with appreciation at the entirety of Kael gathered before him. The council strained to catch his eye and each of them gave him a smile, and the common people, the real reason he worked so hard at his job, were just as merry. The children sat sandwiched between their parents, and everyone doubled in happiness as the chefs came and delivered the food.

"Is this from Lente, too?" Isang quietly asked Lynn. She glanced at him, back at the food, and nodded with a frown.

"I'm afraid so," she said. "I'm sure it's delicious, though.

"I don't care if it's delicious," he said, not holding his voice. "We don't need your father funding the entire town just for a half-assed occasion."

"Keep your voice down," she hissed. "Why can't you just be happy?"

"I'm doing my best to keep happy, Lynn, really. It doesn't help with your father breathing down my neck from miles away. The food, the tables, the sages, it's too much, it really is."

She forgot her anger for a split second. "Sages? No, there couldn't-"

"There," Isang said, pointing in his secret way. He pointed to the people sitting two seats to the right of the sages, a trick that Lynn was in one, and one by one gestured to three men who sat with hooded cloaks, acting just as social as was necessary to seem inconspicuous. A few of them even started conversations or laughed at other's stories, but for the most part they kept a low profile. "And there, and there."

Lynn's anger reappeared on her face, but it no longer seemed directed at him. "That's bad," she said. Isang nodded his thanks, widening his eyes in agreement.

"I think I'm going to have to cancel the rest of the celebration," he said.

"Isang, don't," she said, shaking her head. "We've only just started. We've still got, what, three hours? Don't ruin this."

"Sages, Lynn, sages and a lot of people. I'd be doing them a service by disappearing. Something's going to happen, I know it, and when it does, I won't be able to protect these people."

"No one's asking you to," she said, taking a bite of her chicken subconsciously.

"Yes, they are." He looked once more upon the faces of Kael's people. They were happy, yes, and he was glad they were, but when danger came, they would all be running and screaming, begging him for help he might not be able to give. These were good people, most of them, but if they kept praising him like this, they wouldn't live long.

Isang said nothing for the next half hour as the town ate. People went out of their way again, approaching him and congratulating him, clapping him on the shoulder and kissing him on the cheek, and he responded to them all as friendly as he could. As the party went on, however, the wisps began to gather, roaming over one another like birds passing on messages. After a full fifty minutes had passed, they rotated slowly around themselves in the center of the tables, their presence keeping Isang's eyes and full attention. No one bothered him now, as he looked to distracted and detached to approach, and Lynn took over in engaging the conversations for him, speaking on his behalf (though he was deaf to this, listening for a sound, anything, from the wisps) and gripping his shoulder sporadically.

An hour and a half passed, and the people slowly finished their meals. Skin, after a cursory glance to make sure that no one was hungrily attacking their plates, stood and raised his hands for silence. Isang looked at Lynn.

Speech, he mouthed, shaking his head. Lynn tilted her head like a dog, pouting and nodding toward the mayor. Just do it, her look insisted. He shook his head again, but her face turned stern and he rolled his eyes, nodding submissively. He turned his head to the mayor, who began speaking.

"People of Kael!" his smile was broad, unusual for a man with such fat cheeks, and his voice carried well over the steadily quieting crowd. "It is with the greatest pleasure that I, on behalf of the town council, and indeed the world, congratulate our very own Isang Firayon!"

Cheers and applause, silenced only by the mayor's hands flicking upward again.

"Indeed, when we met him so long ago, he was poor, unsightly, and more than just a little odd," this was met with laughter. "But I think I speak for everyone when I say we have all grown to love and respect him, yes?"

More cheers.

"And so, tonight, at the start of summer, I am giving Mr. Firayon the reward he had been working so hard to earn, and very much deserves. Tirelessly, this expert demonologist has been keeping demons at bay, bringing to us wealth, peace, happiness, and safety. He sacrifices his mind and body, and we are protected by his knowledge of the darkness. Studying, but never practicing the Realm of Chaos' rituals, hearing but never listening to the chants of the demons who lurk there, and keeping watch of their habits, he does what very few men dare to do and puts himself between us and them!"

Roars of approval, and applause that indicated Kael was at the moment no smaller than all of Lente's grand cities.

Isang smiled, blushing slightly, and waved, though felt unnoticed next to the charismatic mayor.

"And now, I give you the man himself, the man who after tonight shall be known far and wide as Sage, Isang Firayon!"

Isang gave Lynn a look of concern, but stood when the mayor sat beside him and nudged his elbow. He felt like he was on a podium ten feet in the air, above the entire world, and felt their eyes instantly pierce into him. He was not one to succumb to stage fright, but rather took his time to find the right words. He glanced once more at Lynn, who was smiling, and shook his head.

"Good people of Kael," he said slowly, roving his head over them, meeting their stares. "The work of a demonologist is never done, and always difficult. It is a practice of darkness, as much as summoning or even some of the darker sins of our world.

"Demons are more than the crawling things and vague shadows you see in your nightmares. Most demons, truly, by their appearance alone would make you want to cease living. Their faces, their movements, and their very presence is enough to make the bravest man shriek in horror and claw out his eyes. What they do, what they truly spend their time practicing, speaking of it in brevity would cause you to stop eating and sleeping. These monsters, above even the name monster, are horrid contrasts to everything we hold close. When they attack, they are precise and witty, not like the sluggish mutants they are made out to be in tales of heroes. They are smarter than us, more numerous than us, and stronger than us. Most of them have bravery the likes of which you will never see in your stalwart generals, and their speed and strength is superior to any tale you might have heard from your mage officers.

"Put short, ladies and gentlemen of Kael, and children, too, demons are the very antithesis of human existence. Thinking about them brings despair, and this despair summons them as efficiently as inviting them into your home. Speaking of them, as I am now, is enough to draw them from the Realm of Chaos. Mentioning their names, above all, is the worst offense. Similar to this, mentioning a demonologist, and praising his efforts, is not an inch different than stamping your Death Deeds. When you see me, and you know my profession, do not mention it, and instead greet me as you would a normal citizen. When you hear of my work, put it out of your mind and keep living your life. When you are aware of the presence of a demon, ignore it, and pray.

"Lastly, if you encounter a demon, come to me, if you can, and think happy thoughts. Focus your mind entirely on your greatest memories, for they may be the last mental action you have. Demons, exorcising them, vanquishing them, purifying them, toying with them, or any involvement with them such as the involvement of my profession, are not to be mentioned. I give you this warning, and this one warning: do not thank me, do not honor me, and do not make me a sage. If you wish to see your children carried away by beasts that would turn your blood to ash, then keep praising me. Otherwise, good people of Kael, do not acknowledge me any different than you would my fiancé, or the mayor. Good night."

He kicked out his chair, slowly walked around the formation of tables, and walked home. He caught only a glimpse of the anger hidden on Lynn's perfect face, and did his best to ignore it. He put the burning eyes of the shocked citizens behind him, and didn't turn back.

That is, he didn't turn back until he heard the shriek of a demon in the center of the tables, a shriek that demanded attention from a mouth that craved flesh.