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After failing to return to sleep, I knock on Xanenax’s room. Doubts still gnaw at me as I hear Knel’s voice answer, “Come in!”
I open the door to find an array of weapons laid out on a table to one side of the room, a variety of axes, swords, and spears among others. Xanenax and Knel sit in meditation in the middle of the room, their breathing regular and deep. Their faces seem calm and peaceful, despite the situation they are in. As I approach, I notice how closely they are sitting and understanding dawns on me. I have little to no understanding of what sex entails, but even in my innocence, I had longed to be intimate with Sarya, to love and be loved by her.
And like a knife through a veil, my pain once again comes pouring in.
“Are you alright?” Knel asks as she opens her eyes.
“I’m fine,” I answer, swaying on my feet. Unsteadily, I close the door and seat myself beside them.
“Are you ready to begin your training?” Xanenax asks without opening his eyes.
“Not yet. I… want to talk,” I say. “I don’t want to kill. I want to save.”
Now Xanenax opens his eyes, and the intensity that burns within them makes me fear for my life, despite the fact the demon hasn’t even looked at me yet. When he does so, Xanenax’s eyes are steady, patient, and determined.
“Why?” he asks. “Is it inspired by guilt, or do you genuinely wish to save everyone? Because that… is an impossible road to travel.”
“I know. Because others will try to kill me.”
“And those who fight beside you. And because Kira’thaz’s death would eliminate a great deal of suffering from the world. You must create the ideals you live your life by, but your naivete is astounding if you think you stand a chance of succeeding without taking life. If Kira’thaz defeats us here, Creation is going to fall under his thumb. And that will turn what is left of reality into a living Hæll.”
“But you would have killed Phillia if I hadn’t told you what happened. How do you know when someone deserves to die?”
Knel strokes her chin thoughtfully. “Would you kill Kira’thaz, given the opportunity? Especially if it meant saving countless?”
“... I want to. But how many do I kill in the process? I don’t… want anyone else to die.”
Xanenax nods with understanding. “Even before I transformed into a demon, I have always been surrounded by death. My world was ravaged by it constantly. Since coming here, I have sought the Truth, in what way I could, trying to make the world into something better than it was. At first, I thought I had to destroy myself, both for the sins of my past and because of my failure.”
After Xanenax does not speak for a moment, I ask, “Why?”
“I failed… to stop the Rending. When I was a human, I had been a soldier, a captain who blindly followed orders until I nearly drowned in the blood of all those I had killed. I then turned on those who had enslaved all of humanity, psychologically if not literally, and tried to destroy them. When I confronted their leaders, the ritual that triggered the Rending unfolded in front of my very eyes because I was too late… too weak to stop it.”
I feel my face slacken as I stare at Xanenax in disbelief.
“Once I awoke as a demon,” Xanenax continues, “I found myself unable to end my own life, and I then turned on my kin. Anyone bearing a corrupted, inhuman face and disgraced with horns was my enemy. After a time, Lucifer found me, at which point I had almost become a verizin, though I was unaware of that at the time. The world had become a howling madness, and the only redemption was through the destruction of every reminder of my failure, of humanity’s failure. Lucifer showed me that one can always strive for Truth, in our words, thoughts, and deeds, even those who have fallen from grace. Those of my own kind who died to establish a governance of reason and freedom, as was the intention of Lucifer’s Mandate, died for a reason of their own choosing, for the truth that burned in their hearts, just like those who died defending your home.” The fire in Xanenax’s eyes flares slightly as his scowl deepens and his voice becomes harsh with spite. “The demons Knel and I have just slain died because Kira’thaz forced them to be there, by manipulating the power that is a mere shadow of what we demons, as a unity, created together. Everyone dies for a reason. Kira’thaz will die for a just one.”
“... If I have to...,” I say, my voice shaking with overwhelmed emotion, “should I… kill him?”
“I cannot answer that, Eron,” Xanenax replies. “That is a choice you must make for yourself.”
“How will I know what is right?”
“You will know,” Knel replies. “Some knowledge is intrinsic to your very being.”
But… can I do what I need to… when the time comes? And how will I know what I need to do?
“Eron...,” Knel says.
I really need to work on my poker face, I think to myself as I realize how openly I wear my emotions.
“You must develop your own awareness and understanding, and then act upon that,” Knel explains. “Xanenax and I know that killing Kira’thaz won’t end the death and destruction… but we also agree that we must bring this to an end. It is our responsibility.”
I nod, unsure of what else to say.