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There is an uneasy silence in the spacious room as Irnok and I eat the meal Phillia has prepared for us. Phillia occupies herself with tickling the nu'raabi that play all around her like the happy children they are. I tighten and relax my fists to distract myself from emotions. I can still barely look at Phillia. The way the demoness plays with the nu’raabi painfully warms my heart, but I still want to hate her. And yet, she, Xanenax, Irnok, and Knel are the only reason I have survived thus far.
“...Phillia,” I say after a prolonged silence.
Phillia pauses in her play and slowly lifts her eyes to mine, her eyes neutral.
“I… don’t know if I can forgive you. But I know it wasn’t your fault.”
The mask Phillia wears crumples, replaced with compassion, pity, regret, and grief. “I’m so sorry. If I had known what was happening-”
“I believe you,” I interrupt. Phillia’s imploring makes my rage swell, but I force myself to calm down. “But I don’t understand. How can you, Knel, and Xanenax seem almost human, but the other demons..?”
Phillia smiles wanly as she plays absentmindedly with one particularly feisty nu'raabi on her lap who is lightly biting her finger as if it were a delectable chew toy. “Because nothing, no one, is so simple as purely good and evil. Even when I was human, I was too concerned with survival to strive for any greater good, and down here, there is little choice in the matter. Killing other demons out of self-defense, political gain, or spite is one thing… but to slaughter innocents…,” Phillia’s eyes look haunted and begin to water. “I cannot excuse what happened, for myself or those under my command. All I can say is that all demons are compelled and tormented by the darkness within us, and that all demons, ignomi and exhili alike, are unable to change what we are, or who we are in the strictest sense.”
“Because you can’t create?” I ask quizzically, to which Phillia nods sadly. “Irnok said humans are one of the few beings who can create, and that we are able to choose who we are, but you can make stuff. You made the ground become a liquid.”
“But that is not true creation,” Phillia replies. The confusion on my face must be evident as Phillia’s smile returns despite her melancholy. “Demons, like angels, can only imitate what either God or the other few beings who can create, like humanity, have already made. I can make useful tools and instruments, of course. But…” The resilience in Phillia’s eyes shifts to hardness as she braces against immense pain. “No. I can no longer create, as such…” Phillia closes her eyes, unable to speak. “Maybe it’s a punishment God inflicts upon us for refusing to love Him.”
“How do you mean?” Irnok asks.
Phillia sighs and displaces the small nu'raabi that was on her lap, despite its vehement protests. “When I was human, five hundred years ago, religions existed, but they seemed almost trivial. They all just bickered amongst one another, killed other people in their gods’ names, and claimed their own ideologies to be the absolute truth, while millions died of hunger and the planet became a wasteland. Maybe God is being vindictive if that’s what it means to be pious. Or maybe He just doesn’t care about us anymore. Maybe Xanenax is right, and we have just corrupted ourselves beyond repair,” Phillia muses with cynical humor, wrapping her arms around her knees and resting her chin upon them. “Fortunately, I managed to find fulfillment elsewhere. Priests can say as they like, but I could not forsake ecstasy for prayer.”
“In the religions of long past,” Irnok opines, “ecstasy, even erotic ecstasy, and prayer were regarded as similar paths to the same end.”
“Yes, but my desires have little to do with sacrality, dear elemental,” Phillia smiles knowingly, to which Irnok snorted in amusement. “I may have lost my humanity, but at least I can say I have truly lived as I have wanted to, to the best of my ability. Even if my becoming a demon is God’s judgment, I will not give up who I am simply because He had different intentions for me. I would rather God hate me for who I am than love me for what I am not.”
“Then, why does being a demon bother you so much?” I ask.
Phillia closes her eyes again, and this time the pain is clear on her face. Her eyebrows tilt softly as if someone had struck her heart. “Because… as much as I say that I am myself... After all this time, I still feel so lost…” Phillia hugs herself tighter unconsciously and her gaze falls to the floor.
“Phillia?” I ask quietly.
She raises her head, and her eyes belie a confusion and uncertainty that runs to the core of her being. Tears streak her cheeks from her glowing red eyes. “I’m sorry. I’m just not used to talking about myself.”
“Would you please teach me more magick?” I ask, trying to redirect the conversation. The fact that Phillia had unknowingly led the attack on my home still weighs heavily on my heart, but I see that Phillia’s own pain and confusion is genuine, and I set my anger toward her aside.
Phillia smiles wearily and with appreciation for the diversion. “Alright. What do you want to know?”
“I want to learn to control lightning,” I say. “I… don’t want to hurt anyone by accident again.”