Erin M. Evans

Brimstone Angels


The village of Arush Vayem,

The Tymantheran frontier

21 Nightal, The Year of the Purloined Statue (1477 DR)

Farideh met the devil in the dead of winter, seventeen years after she’d been left at the gates of a village on no one’s map. It was the winter after she’d drunk too much whiskey for the first time, and four winters after she’d had her first heartbreak, infatuated with the dairyman’s much older son. Seven winters had passed since she’d first managed to swing a sword without dropping it.

And ten winters had blown through the village of Arush Vayem since she’d first realized that all of these things were bound to be heavy with other implications-all because she was a tiefling.

Farideh hugged the book she carried to her chest to make an extra layer against the frigid breeze that blew through her cloak and her clothes beneath. Her tail was nearly numb with the chill as she made long tiptoed steps to keep the drifting snow from crumbling into her boots, her eyes on the ground to keep her balance.

As she passed the well, she looked up from her feet, and her chest squeezed tight.

Not ten steps before her another tiefling, Criella, the village midwife and a priestess of the earth goddess, trudged up the same path. Bundled against the cold, Criella’s sawn-off horns were hidden and her brick red skin ruddier than usual. Suddenly conscious of her own unaltered horns, curling back from her face and uncovered, Farideh smiled nervously.

“Well met, Mistress Criella,” Farideh said, “and good morning.”

“Well met,” Criella said. Her smile hovered at the corners of her mouth, but her eyes were hard. She stopped in the middle of the path. “Where are you heading?”

“Home,” Farideh answered.

“Hm. Where did you get that book?”

Farideh made herself keep smiling, as if she couldn’t hear Criella’s implication that she ought not to have the book in the first place. “From Garago,” she said, naming the wizard whose book it was. “He lends books to Havilar and me sometimes.”

“Havilar and I, dear.” Farideh bit her tongue as Criella continued. “And where is your sister?”

“Inside, probably,” Farideh said. Criella pursed her lips, and the younger tiefling quickly added, “I haven’t seen her in some hours. She’s likely with Mehen.”

“Does Mehen know you’re borrowing magic books?” Criella asked.

Farideh turned it over and opened it to show the frontispiece. “It’s just a history book.”

The Legacy of the Skyfire Emirates in the Calim?” Criella said. “What has you so interested in there of all places?”

Far, far to the west, other tieflings sometimes joined the fiery efreets in the Calim Desert in their perpetual war against their enemies, the djinns of the air. Criella didn’t have to say another word-Farideh knew what she was implying: Why was Farideh reading a book about rogue tieflings who aided monsters and known slavers? Didn’t Farideh understand that she-just like everyone else descended from devils and fiends-had to know her place, to stay safe somewhere like Arush Vayem, to be quiet and unnoticeable?

Or did Farideh want to be the sort of tiefling who made life hard for the rest of them?

“Mehen was talking about the wars there.” Mehen, a dragonborn and a soldier in his life before Arush Vayem, had been the guardian of Farideh and her twin sister, Havilar, since they were abandoned at the village gates. More than a few of Havilar and Farideh’s childhood bedtime stories had been sweeping, gory tales of battle. If he hadn’t talked about the Calim, it was the merest coincidence.

“Was he?” Criella said.

“He mentioned them,” Farideh amended. “It seems like such a silly thing, don’t you think? For so many hostilities to range around something as unchangeable as one’s nature?”

Criella’s smile vanished altogether. “Ah. Is that something else Mehen has taught you?”

Farideh flushed. “That … the djinn shall always be djinn?” she said as innocently as she could, but her pulse raced. It had been too near to admitting there was something like fear lurking in herself. That the lines of descent that linked her to some long ago and faraway fiend were more powerful than anything she could affect. “I believe that’s why they’re called elemental,” Farideh added.

“Of course,” Criella said, but already she was studying Farideh as if there might be some sign of her true nature unfolding. Farideh blushed harder. Any of the human villagers would find Criella’s scrutiny too subtle to notice. But Farideh’s eyes were like Criella’s-she knew the shifts and flickers of a tiefling’s eyes. Criella wasn’t trying to hide her disquiet.

Farideh longed to tell Criella that she knew. That she hated it. That it was worse coming from someone like Criella, who was a tiefling too. Who had gotten the same scrutiny from someone else when she was Farideh’s age. Who had cut off her horns and clubbed her tail because of those looks and run away to Arush Vayem, a community of tieflings, dragonborn, and anyone else who wanted to disappear.

A prison and a refuge, Farideh thought. The wall around the village-the wall that kept out the monsters of the mountains, raiders and scouts, the hordes of people who hated Criella and the others enough to drive them to a place like Arush Vayem-might as well have been a circle of armed warriors, half their weapons pointed inward.

“Blood is a powerful thing,” Criella said, her eyes burning into Farideh, “though it is always within our power to circumvent it. If we are vigilant.”

“Criella.” The gruff voice behind Farideh made her jump. Criella looked up, and her surprise at seeing Mehen standing there was as plain as her contempt for his foster daughter. He might have weighed as much as a small ox, but Mehen could move with a silence not even Farideh could predict. She shifted out of his way.

Mehen stood a full foot taller than the already tall and gangly tiefling girl, his scales a dull ocher over hard muscle, and the frill along his jaw full of holes where he once wore the jade plugs that had marked his clan. Those rested now in a small enameled box Mehen kept in his room. He did not discuss them with Farideh or Havilar.

“Well met,” Criella said. “Farideh was just telling me about her interest in the Skyfire Emirates.”

“Is that right,” he said. He looked down his snout at Farideh. The way Mehen looked at Farideh made her suspect he never quite knew what to do with her. She was not like Havilar, who would have polled her own horns like Criella had it meant she could be a warrior of Mehen’s skill.

But even if she was not his favorite, Mehen would surely not take Criella’s side.

“It’s a history book,” Farideh said again. She knew Mehen’s expressions too-well enough to spot the shift of a scaly ridge that registered his annoyance at Criella.

“Good,” he said. “The genasi’s tactics are blunt, but it’s good to know your enemy.” He smiled at Criella, and she drew back at the row of sharp, yellowed teeth. “Run along,” he said to Farideh, “and get inside. You’ll freeze to death in this weather.”

“Yes,” Criella added. “I was about to say the same.”

Farideh bobbed her head meekly over the edge of the book.

She wanted to tell Criella, “I know you’re thinking I’d be lucky to freeze. I know you’re thinking my blood runs hot as the Ninth Layer of the Hells and we’ll all find that out soon enough. I know you’re thinking that with twins, one of us is bound to turn out rotten, and your coin’s been set on me.”

“Good morning, then, Mistress Criella,” was what she did say.

She had no more than rounded the corner before Mehen and Criella started talking again. “You had best set them to a profession,” Criella said. “They’re too old to be running wild.”

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