Dawn Harshaw / Zombies VS Vampires VS Demons / Embrace The Demon Priestess (short story)
In the animal biosphere, the harshness of nature and predators serve to cull those weak of body. For humans, religion and society serve a similar purpose: they organize into predominantly hierarchical structures so that collective weakness of mind is minimized.
The tragedy of humanity is that we have no predators for the weakness of spirit - unfortunately, self-responsibility never truly caught on the way sociopathy did.
- Dreamer's Handbook
The woman suspiciously eyed the offered bag. "What's that?"
"Two days worth of food rations and a bottle of clean water," Leona said. "Here, just take it!"
The woman ruffled her unkempt hair while mulling over. "And what would I have to do in return?"
"Nothing at all! It's a gift."
She grabbed the bag from Leona and held it firmly against her chest. After long seconds of no one trying to take it away, she muttered a 'thank you'.
Leona smiled. "Don't thank me; thank the demoness EnrRrei, who made it possible for both of us to eat a good meal tonight."
The woman frowned, but nodded.
Leona withheld a sigh until after she left the woman's nest-like abode. Sand covered her clothes and crackled under her teeth. Even the weakest know that gifts come with strings attached... even if they bind only with the strength of gossamer.
It wasn't just the sand which bathed the camp in a dirty orange color; the smell of refuse and unwashed sweat contributed significantly. Most similar camps were grey, both in ambient and the resigned state of mind of their inhabitants. This one is different. It has character.
The makeshift shacks were built out of junk and not very sturdy. Maybe that's it. Maybe they're so broken they no longer care. When a sandstorm blasts away their flimsy shelters, the survivors pick up the scraps and rebuild according to their momentary needs.
Leona walked to her pack animal and led it to the middle of the camp. Filling her backpack with gift bags wouldn't require such a long walk, and she hoped the camp residents would seek her out on their own.
She passed by a man wearing a coat with a missing sleeve and pink sunglasses. "Here, have some food and clean water."
The man grabbed the bag and ran away without a word.
"Compliments of EnrRrei!" Leona yelled after him.
It occurred to her that she was the only one walking with her head held up high. Leona truly believed in the humanitarian nature of her task; she believed that spreading the word and influence of EnrRrei - and thus denying the influence of other demons - was the best thing for these poor souls. EnrRrei might be a power-hungry strategist, but at least she's not a raging butcher.
Humans were drawn to the deserts. They hoped to escape the zombies and vampires that preyed upon them, and were willing to accept the horrible living conditions as last resort. But, they rarely realized in time that the desert was also a battlefield. The demonic entities used the humans for their own nefarious purposes, and without the distractions of overabundant life, their presence was strongest in desert areas.
It was no accident that most desert dwellers had at least one screw missing. Although hopelessness alone could drive a person crazy, the botched or expired possessions of demonic entities rarely left minds undisturbed. The ones who didn't resist sometimes managed to avoid insanity - but at a deeper cost.
Leona knocked and peeked inside an abode with two occupants. "Hello! May I talk to you?"
Leona bent her back and kneeled to squeeze in. She tried to refrain from grimacing at the horrid smell that greeted her.
"Come, friend, share a meal with us!" The hunched man offered her something sticky and grey, which she accepted.
"Thank you. What is this?"
"Dried desert rat meat, of course! The leg's a delicacy. We know how to treat our guests right," he elbowed his partner, "huh Emelyn?"
The hunched woman smiled with a toothless grin.
Reluctantly, Leona downed the rat leg in one gulp - she didn't want her taste buds to get into any contact with it. "Mmh, delicious!" With a timely increase of hormone secretions or minor induced mutations, EnrRrei's influence protected her against most diseases.
"Right? I told you," the man beamed.
Nutty, but adorably sincere.
Leona's smirk revealed sadness, and she nodded. "To repay your generosity and hospitality, please take this." She offered one of her gift bags.
The man took the bag and peeked inside. "Look Emelyn, what treasures!" Both of them looked at Leona with wide eyes. "Are you an angel from heaven?"
"I'm a priestess of EnrRrei; she rewards generosity and loyal worship. Here, take another bag. Give thanks to her tonight, will you?"
The man was too awestruck to reply.
"We've had a priest of Shkazzrt pass through here..." the woman rasped, "but you're much nicer than that fellow. I heard he died. Choked." She illustrated with a two-handed choking gesture, complete with gurgling sounds.
Leona's smirk was more mischievous this time. "Take care," she said as she got to her feet and left the tiny shack.
Leona considered herself lucky to avoid their fate. Thanks to her skillset and quick wit, several demonic entities approached her years ago - the ones who wanted her mind and personality intact protected her from the others. In the end, she chose EnrRrei, who offered partnership rather than subservience or possession. She stayed true to her promise.
Leona noticed a man - not far from her mutated mule - banging on his own head with a piece of metal pipe. She found that peculiar, but nobody seemed to care. An everyday occurrence?
She approached the man with open arms held high and one of her gift-bags in hand. "Good day, my fellow human! Why are you-"
When he noticed Leona, his pained grimace turned into a furious one. "You!" He shoved her and started menacingly swinging the pipe. "This is my city! Mine!"
Leona dropped the bag, and deflected the blows without much effort - a moderate knowledge of close-combat and restraining techniques came in useful when dealing with crazy people on a daily basis.
One of Leona's blocks hurt the fingers of the pipe-holding hand, and he dropped it. "My city! Get out of my city!" Regardless, he continued the assault.
Camp-folk started gathering around, not out of concern but out of eagerness to be entertained. They kicked up the rusty, iron-rich sand, and the color red infused the dreary landscape.
Leona considered her options as she defended herself: Retreat looks bad. Subduing the bastard or putting him out of his misery looks worse. Involving the audience looks bad too, unless...
Being a priestess had its perks - for example, being alone never meant truly alone. Although EnrRrei usually initiated contact, Leona learned to focus her thoughts a certain way to kindle a conversation inside her mind. In case of danger, fear or pain would also serve as triggers.
Talking to EnrRrei was always a peculiar experience. Sometimes EnrRrei talked to her in delicately crafted sentences in languages she understood. At other times, it was more of a turbulent exchange; an ebb and flow of thoughts, emotions, states of mind, and even identities - these were brief, but quite exhausting. When it was a matter of urgency to EnrRrei, the diverse mental imagery was accompanied by sentences in demonic languages - none of which Leona spoke, but she could always understand the words while they reverberated in her mind.
Despite fending off the blows and being increasingly scrutinized by the observers, Leona calmed herself and held up the outline of her plan clearly in her mind.
EnrRrei's attention turned to her - it felt like consciousness being sucked out of her body and spit back. Temporarily dazed, her hands moved on their own to defend against the clumsy, but increasingly frustrated attacks.
An emotion of complete acceptance echoed through her being and calmed her once again - EnrRrei's way of saying 'okay'.
Feeling significantly stronger than usual, Leona grabbed the man's arms and held him immobile. She yelled out for everyone to hear: "Souls weak and lost, hear me, for ye shall be lost no longer! Witness the power and benevolent embrace of EnrRrei!"
The man squealed and struggled to no avail, but like a switch turned off, the willingness to resist left him abruptly.
Leona had a vague idea how this worked: after cutting the Gordian knot of dead-end patterns of the mind, EnrRrei pushed out the leftover jumble of demonic energies and replaced it with her own. Being merely touched by a demon wasn't the same as being possessed by it, since a large degree of free will remained. Probably that pest Shkazzrt or Orummagh. Not Rremine though, she doesn't do sloppy.
Leona let go of the man and started chanting. "EnrRrei's the greatest! EnrRrei's the greatest!" She vehemently waved her arms around as she tried to motivate the camp dwellers to chant as well. At first, only the most feeble of mind joined in. It slowly gathered momentum and grew louder - merely by its nature as a chant and not its meaning.
The man's eyes popped open. "I can see," he murmured. "I mean, I can think! I'm 'me' again!" He grinned wide and lifted his arms to hug Leona. "You have my eternal gratitude!"
She smiled back and accepted the hug. Much good it will do you, a cynical side of her remarked. Just wait till the endorphin high wears off, you're in for a mighty headache. She felt EnrRrei's energies slowly withdraw.
A sentence in her mind that wasn't her own stood out prominently: "Keep up the good work."
The crowd cheered and kept on chanting. You had your show; time to pay up.
"Please, may I have your attention!" The clamor subsided. "Let's give praise to EnrRrei by joining in worship and praying together - may she bless this community! I'll be happy to hand out whatever food and water I have left afterward."
Leona inhaled - the wind whistled a broken tune - and she shouted out at the top of her lungs: "EnrRrei's the greatest!"
Dawn Harshaw / Zombies VS Vampires VS Demons / Embrace The Demon Priestess