A Pact of Greed
A Song of Sins Story
No one is truly immune to falling from grace and into the Land of Sins. Not even innocent babies, who couldn’t imagine what a sin is. As long as they have greedy parents, they will fall into the Plains of Endless Greed just as anyone else. Those are the ones we call Debt Orphans.
And that’s how I ended up here.
My name is Eve Fargrace and, apart from my name and some other unlucky details, I know very little about my past and family. The demons told me my father wanted his duchy’s family back, and was willing to offer his eldest child in exchange for his wish.
Well, it worked, because here I am.
My parents’ contract was made with Avaritium, the Ruling Sin of Greed himself, and he deemed himself both my guardian and jailor. A demon, no less, how lucky I am, aren’t I? Well, Avaritium believed I was very lucky indeed.
“Don’t be a brat, Eve,” he kept reminding me. “Don’t you know most orphans like you don’t survive their first years? If it wasn’t for me, who would take care of you? Not your parents, that’s for sure.”
At first, his comments hurt me. I would cry myself to sleep many times, wishing my parents weren’t so taken by their greed. But when I was a teenager, I was already used to Avaritium’s taunting remarks.
As much as I disliked to admit, he wasn’t all wrong. Debt Orphans used to stay with the demons they were given to, and most of them weren’t willing to take care of children. Some just let the little ones starve out of sadism, but most are sold as servants to other demons, some worse than others. The ones who were taken care of ended up being slaves to demons, traveling with caravans through the Plains, under magical servitude. But those lands aren’t safe for children, so many perish.
Since I was given to Avaritium, I worked as his servant in what is possibly the safest place in the Plains, if any place could be described as such. His own damned castle, full of demons, a library full of contracts, and mortal servants in constant pain.
Avaritium changed his castle’s location sometimes, but the place we stayed longer was Emoria, one of the worst cities that ever existed. I particularly hate it there, because it’s the embodiment of why Avaritium can be so powerful. Before falling into the Land of Sins, Emoria had everything: a good ruler, a decent guard, a fair share of merchants, good cultural and educational establishments… And all went to hell when the prince and the princess decided to start a war over who should rule. If making pacts with demons to conquer their wishes wasn’t enough, they sold the souls of their own people as well.
They are both awful. It astonishes me how some people just can’t be saved from their own avarice.
I tried to survive the best way I could. I avoided annoying demons around me, grabbed food and other supplies everywhere I had the chance, and kept my business to myself. When no one was looking, I read some of the contracts made by Avaritium, so I learnt a great deal about them. I also kept my eye on every demon invited to the palace by Avaritium. Knowing how demons work was always a smart move. No matter how discreet I was, Avaritium kept making my days a living hell every now and then, but sometimes he got so busy he forgot about me, which was a blessing.
I remember the first time I found a lute, lost within one of the many caravans that arrived at Avaritium’s castle. I know I said that I tried to avoid making demons angry at me, but this time I took a chance. That lute was the most beautiful thing I saw in a while.
Stealing the lute without getting caught wasn’t hard, and learning how to play it was an enjoyable little adventure. I read everything about music I could find and watched some mortals and demons who played at Avaritium’s parties. The worst part was when Avaritium found out and tried to crush this new source of happiness I had found.
“Before we start our monthly gathering, I want to show you all something very special,” Avaritium announced, at one of the many parties he threw with the most powerful demons in the Plains. It was an honor to be invited, but it was also a warning. If you were there, it meant you were strong enough to be noticed, which meant that, if you become too powerful, Avaritium would notice and do something about that. “Come here, Eve, darling, show us what you’ve been practicing with that lute of yours.”
Let me remind you that my fifteen-year-old self didn’t know Avaritium was aware of the lute. Much less that he wanted me to play in front of the most powerful demons in the Plains, but there I was, and I couldn’t deny an order from the Ruling Sin. I grabbed my lute and, with shaking hands, tried to play any song that came to mind.
Obviously, it was awful.
All demons began to laugh, the shame was so great I couldn’t play for a long while, and that was exactly Avaritium’s plan. He wanted to break my spirit and take the joy from me. But I guess I’m too damn stubborn, because that was the day I promised myself that I would get back at him somehow.
I practiced in hiding, every day that I could. I got to know Emoria like the back of my hand and Avaritium’s castle like the palm. I found every nook and cranny, every secret passage and faraway hiding place. It was years before I was good enough, and when I was seventeen, I finally dared to walk into Emoria’s taverns and play by myself, now much better than before. I even managed to make some money! Take that, Avaritium!
I was so happy that I could do something that gave me joy, that I barely noticed, at first, Avaritium’s agents keeping their eyes on me. You see, a bard gives hope to the people, and if they have hope, they are less susceptible to demonic contracts.
Playing in taverns is how I finally made some friends. There was no one I could truly trust within Avaritium’s castle, but now I could actually enjoy other people’s company. Areli, one of the few righteous people in this hell, was touched by a song I played about an Emoria with no war. Niman, a Debt Orphan like myself, ran after an imp who tried to steal the money I got one night. It was trust at first sight.
This new freedom gave me a new purpose as well. After experiencing the world outside Avaritium’s castle, I wanted to see the world beyond the Land of Sins.
Many people told tales from the material world, a place with no demons crawling around. I took those stories of a free world beyond the Land of Sins and made them into songs about freedom. Those who came from that world were reminded of what they’d lost, and those like me longed for the freedom we had never known.
But songs weren’t enough anymore. I wanted to leave the Land of Sins for good, and whenever I imagined myself out of this hell, I ended up composing a song about victory and freedom. But truth be told, none of them were really good.
I tried to escape many times. I knew leaving the Plains by myself was certain death, so I tried to infiltrate many demonic caravans, but none of the attempts worked. They dragged me back to Avaritium. Most of the time he just mocked me, but one day he decided to say that failing at every attempt wasn’t just incompetence.
“You can try as many times you want, you fool,” Avaritium spat those words towards me and threw a contract on my face. “Read it, it’s your parents’ contract. Last clause: ‘the child can’t be taken from the Plains’. There is no way out for you.”
As usual, Avaritium crushed any hope I had. What is written on a contract can’t be erased. I’m ashamed to admit that I was also scared of him. I hated Avaritium with every fiber of my being, but I knew exactly how cruel and dangerous he could be. I saw many of Avaritium’s judgments, in which people perished under Lienn’s blade, one of the worst demons in the Plains. I saw souls trapped with Soul Jailers and hunted down by Umbra Torment. I didn’t want to end like them.
Avaritium could scare me, but couldn’t take away my dreams. So I kept composing songs about one day achieving those dreams. More and more people in Emoria came to see me play and shared that they wish they had never made any contracts.
Maybe those people weren’t so bad after all…
As the years went by, not only the mortals in Emoria paid attention to me. One day, Avaritium summoned me into his royal castle, and for a moment I feared it was Lienn who was going to greet me. But only Avaritium was there, sitting on top of his throne of gold and luxuries, playing with a trident he had just won from a contract. Honestly, I’m still not sure if I preferred to have seen Lienn there in his place.
“Ah, Eve, how was your show last night?” I didn’t answer. He leaned over, with a mocking smile on his face. “Come on, don’t be shy. Everyone in Emoria is talking about your songs.”
“What do you want?” I asked, trying to keep my composure.
“Let’s get down to business then.” He made a gesture with his hands, and a contract appeared in front of me. “I would like to make an offer.”
“I’m not interested,” I answered, rolling my eyes. I’ve seen this scene many times, from behind the curtains of that same room. “Go offer your contract to someone else…”
I turned my back to him and I wished that I had left the castle before he could say:
“Even if it can get you out of the Land of Sins?”
There was no way I would ignore that, Avaritium knew that very well. I turned to face him again, and the contract was still floating in the same place.
The problem of growing up in the Plains of Endless Greed is that, in some way, we end up internalizing all this avarice around us. And as much as I’d like to ignore it, I wasn’t immune. Wasn’t it my will to leave and write a masterpiece about it, a materialization of my own greed? The will of carrying the title of first mortal to walk away from the Ruling Sins wasn’t a greedy thought?
Avaritium knew that, he wouldn’t have occupied the role of Ruling Sin without being able to detect people’s desires.
I approached the contract that opened itself to me. I could read the terms, while Avaritium’s words hammered into my head.
“Let’s be frank here, shall we?” Avaritium said. “Your songs are a problem for me, the more you sing, fewer people sign contracts, and I can’t have that. So my offer is this: I’ll give you a compass to lead you out of the Land of Sins, and you’ll stop playing around my subjects.”
“What is the catch? This is too good to be true.”
“I guess it is.” His mischievous grin made a shiver go down my spine. “You have a month to leave. If by any chance you can’t, your soul will be mine.”
Bastard! He did say he wanted to make me an example, and this was the perfect way of doing it. Consuming the soul of the woman who dared to dream, and lighting the hope in the hearts of many others.
“What about my curse?” I asked, remembering what he once told me.
“As long as you carry this compass, the curse will be suspended, you will be able to leave.”
I grabbed the contract in my hands and read all the small words, still a little skeptical. I saw Avaritium signing many contracts and knew a thing or two to keep me safe.
“I want to add a clause,” I said. “You can’t do anything to stop me from leaving, otherwise the deal is off.”
“Fair enough.” With another move of his claws, a new clause instantly appeared in the contract, with exactly what I proposed. Maybe he was too sure I wouldn’t be able to leave, but I was willing to prove him wrong.
The deal was on. I had to rush to make the best use of my thirty days.
Areli and Niman decided to come with me. Of course they did, both of them always supported me in my craziest journeys. In the first days, we gathered supplies and Niman checked to see if the magic in the compass wasn’t jammed. Once everything was verified, we took a wagon and started our way out.
I must confess, I was naive. I truly thought there would be no problem once we were sure the compass worked. Yes, I should have known better, with Avaritium nothing is fair. But I let myself dream, and my own greed guided me through the Plains, believing nothing could go wrong.
The thing is, the Plains are a huge place. Sometimes we go through miles of nothing but some trees and rivers, but no city around. Areli is very good at saving supplies, and Niman traveled through the Plains for years, so that definitely made us not starve to death. But every time a hungry city came around, we had to hide ourselves. Demons travel in caravans all the time, and they love to pick on mortals, some even tried to steal from us. And of course, the wildlife in the Land of Sins isn’t welcoming.
But the compass kept working, and even though we took more time than I wished to reach the edge of the Plains, there was still time.
Until the prince and the princess arrived.
We took a while to notice the Emorion brothers were after us. Why would they chase us, after all? I never did anything to annoy them, I actually tried to keep my distance from them as much as possible. Maybe they were coming after Areli? It didn’t matter, we started to be attacked by a rail of arrows from both sides.
I got hurt, an arrow right on my shoulder, and if it wasn’t for Niman curing my wound, I would be done. Areli defended us the best he could, but we were fighting against two different parties. Ulmira was advancing faster than Mirza’s men, but we quickly realized they weren’t on the same side. Areli took advantage of that, making sure both sides knew they weren’t alone. While they fought against each other, we managed to escape, but lost most of our supplies and our wagon on the way.
Areli found a safe place near a river so we could rest, and I was so frustrated I couldn’t even begin to describe how I was feeling. We just went back to talking after Areli was back from checking the roads next to us, to see if we were still in danger.
“Those bastards don’t have anything better to do? Ouch! Be careful, Niman!”
“You are welcome,” Niman said sarcastically, while cleaning my wound. “I still don’t see why they came after us.”
“There are soldiers from both sides patrolling the roads to where the compass was pointing. It’s as if they know where we were going. I tried to listen to their talk and could figure something out.” Areli sat by my side, seeming worried. “I heard Mirza soldiers. They wanted to capture you, Eve, apparently the prince and the princess offered a big reward to whoever brought you back to Emoria.”
“Is Eve keeping the crown and didn’t tell us?” Niman rolled his eyes. “That doesn’t even make any sense, those guys are crazy. Maybe they want to punish you for the nights at the tavern? Maybe some song made their subordinates realize they were being dumb by following the royal stupid duo?”
“It’s Avaritium,” I said through my teeth. “The bastard must have set up a contract on my head and offered the throne in exchange.”
“Dishonorable as a demon should be,” Areli sighed. “He led us into a trap.”
“And if that is the case, the bastard knew exactly what he was doing. Didn’t your contract say he couldn’t stop you? Smart imp, he isn’t the one coming out here, so everything is good for him,” Niman complained, finishing his work on my shoulder.
No, Niman is wrong. I thought.
They were angry, and I should be as well, but I could see a light at the end of the tunnel. Suddenly, I grinned. Maybe Avaritium had made a mistake, one I could use in my favor.
“Trust me, I have a plan.”
What plan, you ask? Well, I was ready to give my best performance, and that all started when I went back to Emoria and stepped in the judgment room.
“I demand a contract review!”
This happened when I still had three days until my contract expired. Of course, such an event, reviewing a contract made by Avaritium himself, couldn’t happen right away. But I didn’t have much time left, so the judgment was set to happen in a few days, on the last day I had before losing my soul to Avaritium. Thankfully while my contract wasn’t reviewed, I would be under the protection of Lienn herself. There was no escaping now. Lienn would not let me be harmed, at least for some days, but neither she nor the agents of Avaritium would let me go. All eyes were on me, and I was counting on it.
I stepped into the room alone, and despite neither Areli nor Niman being by my side that day, I felt they were with me. But a lot of demons were there, including the prince and the princess, who had bent over backwards to get back to Emoria before each other. Avaritium was on his throne, as usual, grinning with the certainty he had already won. Avaritium’s contracts were ironclad, and no one ever won a confrontation like this against the Ruling Sin. The court of demons was used to these events as grand affairs now, and they all waited anxiously for the reading of the contract.
“Lienn, Blade of Greed, listen to my plea,” I begged, while all eyes were on me, in hopes my plan would work out. “I made a contract with Avaritium, Ruling Sin of Greed, but he didn’t keep his part of the deal. I demand the contract to be deemed as invalid and that Avaritium gets punished for breaking the ancient law, just like any sinner in Emoria would!”
The demons gasped around the room. Both Mirza and Ulmira looked at each other, but Avaritium still seemed unbothered.
“Nonsense,” he answered. “Lienn, she is just desperate because her contract is minutes away from expiring. Have I ever broken a contract? Of course not! You’ve seen people trying to claim this absurdity before. Just end her.”
Slowly, Lienn turned her head to him, cold as a statue and menacing.
“Present the contract,” she demanded, making even Avaritium’s smile fade away.
He couldn’t deny Lienn’s wish, it was her duty after all, so Avaritium showed her the contract he made with me. She took her time reading it. What felt like hours were just painful minutes, and I wished I could have more time… But Lienn wasn’t as slow as I would have hoped. She raised her head in my direction.
“What is the fault here?”
“None!” Avaritium said before I could open my mouth. He seemed more restless than before. “End her, Lienn, now! She is trying to fool you, why are you being so slow?”
“Wait! The fault is here!” Shouts emerged from the audience.
The cavalry arrived to my rescue, just in time. I sighed in relief. Barging through the main room doors, Areli and Niman came in, each one of them carrying a different contract in their hands.
Ulmira gasped while Mirza cursed under his breath. The other demons, clueless about what was happening, stared at each other, whispering questions around.
Avaritium froze and I grinned.
I had won. Now Areli and Niman did their part, I just had to finish it.
“Those contracts have nothing to do with Eve’s situation!” Avaritium insisted, charging forward to grab the contracts from my friends. But Lienn was quicker, and as the contracts magically flew to her hands and out of Avaritium’s grasp. She put her sword between her and Avaritium, stopping him in his tracks. He had himself empowered Lienn’s blade and knew its strength. The Ruling Sin stared at me with a deadly look, and I knew he wanted to kill me right there.
All demons went silent while Lienn analyzed those new contracts.
Why would the Emorion siblings come after me, specifically at the time I was finally able to leave the Plains? Why would they want my head, if they never cared much about my existence before?
Because Avaritium offered each of them a contract.
It was a leap of faith, one I was ready to make once I heard the information Areli got from Mirza’s guards. The only thing that would make the siblings go out of their way to get me was the possibility of getting the throne. And if Avaritium had offered them the throne for my head, it meant he had done something to stop me…
…Which meant breaking our contract.
Areli was a great warrior and knew quite well Ulmira’s side of town, so he promised me he could get the princess’ contract in time for the judgment, even if it meant bringing some people down. Niman had visited Mirza’s state many times while working with Grigori. He was pretty good at sneaking around and was pretty confident he could get the prince’s contract.
So my mission was: go back to Emoria, turn myself in for a judgment while Areli and Niman found proof of my suspicion. All of Emoria would stop to watch a judgment about a contract made by Avaritium, including the siblings and their guards, which meant their states would be mostly unprotected.
Perfect to be stolen.
Lucky me, they both got it in time, and now Lienn was realizing the big mistake Avaritium had made. The reason Avaritium had been able to become so powerful was the balance in the deals he made. People always had a chance to escape, but always failed. That came at a cost, though. The same laws that bound the sinners, bound Avaritium himself.
“Those contracts have, indeed, a conflict of interest. Eve is right. You broke your contract, Avaritium.”
With a terrible scream coming from the Ruling Sin, we saw Avaritium’s castle start to shake.
And crumble down.
There were a few earthquakes in the Plains, but none so strong as this one. Lienn couldn’t care less about the danger, she grabbed her sword and charged in Avaritium’s direction, ready to punish him. The two most powerful demons in the Plains started to battle, while the walls of the castle started to crumble. Just like his bloated form, Avaritium’s castle sat atop a foundation of contracts signed in blood, and Avaritium’s downfall meant a lot of that foundation was becoming null and void.
The demons in attendance, as well as the corrupt nobility and the Emorion siblings, started to run to save their own lives, and so did we. Lienn and Avaritium could kill each other while the castle fell, as far as I was concerned.
Avaritium started to weaken with each contract that crumbled to dust becoming more like the imp he was many years ago, before enlarging and taking his place as Ruling Sin. That made Lienn capable of defeating him. The last thing I saw before running from the room was Lienn’s sword thrusting into Avaritium’s guts.
Areli, Niman and I ran as much as we could, but it was getting harder to move in a castle that was falling apart around us. Areli was the first to arrive at the gates, the only place still standing, and Niman went right after him. I could feel the floor under me getting soft, crumbling down, and I knew I was about to fall to my certain death, into the void left by vanishing contracts As the gateway also began to break apart and close my escape route. Areli held the falling arch stones and Niman reached his hand in my direction…
I jumped when the floor deteriorated under me… But I couldn’t grab his hand.
I heard my friends screaming while I fell, under what once was Avaritium’s castle. Darkness surrounded me. Was it the end?
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