The Thousand Flames by Guerric Haché

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This was not supposed to happen; something was wrong. Demons rarely took the exact form of their owners. Demons always represented one thing, one aspect of a person. Even Zef's demons, when he had fought his horror twins –

"She didn't chose," he spat. "She just –"

"Took what was offered." The form approached him, and he backed away, blades held at the ready. "Because you offered nothing; because you just waited and hoped. You are not only a murderer, you know, but a coward. And how many times has it happened before? How many times..."

He closed his eyes. He tried to think. There was something – something in the philosophy he had been taught, something in the poetry, something in the legends. Something that was supposed to help him, here – he could feel it.

"Are you hoping for some kind of help from the past?" the demon snarled; Zharka looked into its eyes, but it was weeping. Weeping, sad eyes stared at him as the violent snarl only worsened; what was this? Then it was his teacher, the last he had had. "You never learned, Zharka, never learned. Always too hasty to decide that you were done for."

"But I had cause!" he replied, enraged. "I was right! History showed –" But he stopped. That was it; history. "I know you, demon. I know what you are."

The teacher growled, and was dead Pasha once more. "You know me, little Zharka, but that means nothing. I am not under your control – you are not even in power in your own mind. You cannot –"

He took a step forward. "I can change, Demon. Or should I call you my past?"

"You cannot change – only decay. Only rot, as it were."

But the talking was over; it was his Past, and he remembered the lesson that they had been trying to teach them. The very principle on which was founded the Zefazji nation, just over a generation ago; the very idea which allowed for a new kind of nation in a world where the rest were old and melting apart. The past was the past; the future was all that remained. To create the past on which experience and strength lies, one must live in the future.

Blades of fire danced; the shape twisted into something like a human, but clawed and faceless. It was over before he had realized it had begun; the demon was no match for the molten blades. He spun and danced, and the demon lay in pieces – then faded away in a glow of fallout, of residual energy that stank of magic and would twist and mutate any unborn offspring it encountered. There was no past. The present was too late. There was only the future.

He was breathing hard; yet he was not breathing alone. He turned; there was a woman behind him, tall, beautiful, but terribly violent-looking. Her face was almost expressionless, save a raised eyebrow.

"Interesting display," she muttered. "I have never seen such a demon. You murdered your friend?"

There was no denying it; he hung his head. "A week ago," he mumbled. "He – he's probably in the... the lake, by now."

"Murder is not something we tolerate, in Zefasja," she informed him. "Not at all."

He nodded.

"But I will turn a blind eye," she said.

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