Becoming

Her mother appeared at the doorway of the monastery one dark, rainy night. She was in labour, exhausted, starving, barely alive. The monks of the mighty and gracious Mitra took her in and tried to help her, delivering the child into the world. The baby was born full of life and energy but to the horror of the monks it had a long, scaled tail and when it opened its eyes they glowed a faint red in the darkness. The mother took one look at the abomination she had spawned, sobbed and died taking her story to the grave.

The monks called upon the Fire Undying to cleanse the creature. The abbot summoned great power and drove the light from the child's eyes, burning away her very essence. He was assisted by brother monks who cut the tail away, destroying it in flames.

By the blessing of Mitra, the child survived - an empty shell, ready to fulfil the commands of the abbot and his order. She owed a great debt to the abbey for her cleansing. A debt that would take a lifetime or more to pay.

At least that was the story told to her whenever a monk took too much wine and decided to remind her how fortunate she was to have the opportunity to serve - slave - for the greater good. The lesson was usually delivered during a violent beating, and the half-starved girl endured it because she owed them a great debt.

She had no name - the monks didn't see the need for this empty shell to have one. In the end, Shell became her name. She would get another when she was filled with Mitra’s holy purpose.

She studied when she could. The monks gave her leave to learn the glorious truth of Mitra and she discovered she had great aptitude in some areas. She kept this quiet, for fear that it would lead to further beatings. And so life continued - for nearly twenty years.

It was while in the orchard, picking apples to be used in the creation of the monks’ cider, that she met The Traveller. He was tall and mysterious and she was drawn to him. The Traveller was camping at the edge of the orchard; odd as the monks took in those journeying through and offered them shelter. He explained he did not want to owe the monks a debt. Shell nodded - she understood debt. He was kind to her and they talked for some time. Shell found herself telling him the story of her birth and he gently touched her on the shoulder and told her that he would be staying in the area for some days and if she needed his help he would do what he could. At his touch, Shell sensed on the edge of hearing the roaring sounds of a great fire and felt heat spreading through her from his hand. She attempted to draw back in alarm, but he grabbed her wrist and told her plainly - her father was Asmodeus, mightiest of the Rulers of Hell. Far from being an abomination, she was one of his heirs and within her burned a sliver of his power.

The monastery had stolen her inheritance. The debt she owed them was not the one she thought.

Shaken, she returned to the abbey. They had talked for so long that the evening had drawn in, leaving many of her chores undone. She was savagely beaten for her tardiness, and in the pain in the darkness she again felt that fire within her. The monk saw a faint glow in her eyes and called for his brothers - shouting that the abomination must be destroyed this time. In terror, Shell grabbed a poker and lashed out at the advancing monk, dealing the surprised brother a lethal blow to the head. The fire within burned through her body, filling her with power and a giving her life she had not experienced since the day of her birth. She saw her life in a new light, revealed by The Traveller - the abuse at the hands of the monks, the slaving over every chore, the beatings, the mental trauma. She reached out, feeling the stirring of the monastery as the monks responded to their brother's shout. She sensed them approaching and as she screamed the world exploded in fire.

Hours later, The Traveller found Shell outside the gates of the ruined monastery. Monk corpses lay around the grounds as if tossed aside by an invisible hand, the still-burning buildings hid the bodies of dozens more. The abbot sat atop the remains of the tower, head cracked open to leave his skull an empty shell.

The Traveller clothed Shell and delivered her to the inn in the local town. There was no question of a debt - she instinctively knew that she had done his bidding at least as much as he had helped her - and it was no surprise when he left her to find her own way. This was right - she would need to reclaim her inheritance if she wanted to be whole. She was an empty shell, but now she knew how she was going to be filled.

It didn't take long for her door to burst open, and her room to be filled with soldiers wanting to ask her questions about the monastery...