As some of you know, I’ve been running around getting ready for Dallas Comic Con with the ZSC. This has left me with NO writing time for my blog stories.
My savior this week is my darling James. He’s sent along a short piece about his demon, Asher, and Asher’s favorite victim, Stephon. Hope you enjoy!
I have found that life has fallen into a set and easily predicted routine. I rise several hours before the sun sets, and dinner is served promptly at 9 PM, as it has been since my beloved shared the meal with me. Stephon sits to the left of the empty setting where my Faith should rightfully be, one of the many small reminders as to why he is tormented. By 11 PM Stephon is given the chance to save my nightly victim, which he inevitably fails to do.
500 years has passed since the first time I put a sword in his hand, and he still has not progressed as I had hoped. Even though his mastery of the blade is nearly complete, his inability or unwillingness to use the other gifts I have given him hamper his progress. I blame this short coming on myself. I wanted to keep his pain constant and sharp, and in this task I have failed.
It seems that even the most horrible of acts become bearable through enough repetition. This is a lesson that is new to me. I have never kept a victim alive this long. I have never seen this type of reaction in a human. Stephon no longer strives to make me stop. He only strives to endure my torments quietly. Perhaps he believes that I will grow bored with him and finally grant him the mercy of death. He is of course mistaken in this assumption. The only thing he has truly managed to do is anger me, and encourage me to find a entirely new way to torture him. If the blood of his progeny no longer motivates him to grow stronger, I will simply have to be a bit more creative.
Dinner is usually an uneventful matter. Neither of us need the food to survive. The only reason I continue with the tradition is that it was my Faith’s desire that I do so, and I have become quite the connoisseur of fine foods. Every night we would sit and she would listen to me tell stories of times before she was born. It was the one tradition from her mortal days that she clung to more fervently than any other. He parents had shared the evening meal every night for more than 40 years, through good times and bad, sickness and health. She said it was what kept them so close for all those years.
I caught Stephon before he had a chance to make his way to the dining hall, and he seemed honestly confused. “There is a single candle sitting on the table. I want you to use your powers to light it.” The scowl on Stephons face was almost worth the effort that I had put into arranging the night’s events. “I may have no choice but to use the beast you forced inside of me, but I will not feed a demon by giving it form. Choose your punishment for my refusal and move on. I will not give you what you want in this.”
I had already known what his response would be. He had frequently said that he would not sell his soul for the power to beat me. I wanted to lend lie to those words. “Fine, but there will be a price to pay for your refusal. ” There was always a price, so the news did not come as a shock. He simply walked past me into the dining hall and took his seat at the table. Again, I knew that this would be his reaction. In some ways he was as predictable as the sunrise, in others he was still a complete mystery.
Without another word I took my place at the table and waited for the first course to arrive. It was a very simple pasta dish with tomatoes and asiago cheese, but that was not where my focus laid even though it was a wonderful dish . Instead I studied eyes. I knew he would examine the new girl that was bringing the food. New servants where rare in my home, and one so young was sure to stand out and catch attention. As soon as she exited the question I had sought was asked. “Who is she Asher, and why is she here?” There was a small hitch to his voice that nearly brought a smile to my face.
“The answer to that is very simple Stephon. I found her in an alley way, broken, filthy, and hovering on the edge of death. I had her nursed back to health, cleaned and given proper clothes. She has barely seen her fourteenth year pass, and yet her life has been tragic. She has no one in this world that cares for her. Tonight you are going to make a difference in her life, one way or another. On one hand, I may give her all the money she would ever need to live her life in the lap of luxury. She may never again know want or need, never again know suffering. On the other, I may make you watch me burn her to death, one limb at a time. The choice is entirely up to you. All you have to do to save her life is light a single candle. Are you willing to sell a tiny piece of your soul to save the life of that young girl? Or will you fail her, as you have with so many others?”
This was the part of the plan of which I truly did not know the outcome. The pain that the death of innocents had once brought Stephon had been a thing of beauty, but it faded nearly to nonexistence. I could see it in his eyes that he’d given up on beating me with the sword. 500 years without drawing a single drop of blood or saving a single victim had taken the edge off. But perhaps, just perhaps knowing such a simple task could save such an innocent creature would spur him to action. “You have until I finish the final course to make your decision and light the candle. ”
The creamy, nutty taste of the asiago cheese was the perfect compliment to the freshly sliced and seasoned tomatoes. I really needed to remember to take a moment to compliment my chef yet again. But I couldn’t tell if it was one of the best appetizers that he had ever made, or if I was simply eager to move along to the next meal. The anticipation was exhilarating. The simple fact that I could not predict Stephon’s decision was a rare and precious treat for me.
Earlier in the night I had seen to it that the girl was to both deliver each course, and to be the one that removed the dishes from the table. Stephon had not taken a bite by the time she arrived with the second course, which was a shame considering the quality of the dish. The second dish was a butternut squash soup, served with a side of garlic and herb ficottia liberally brushed with olive oil and dusted with oregano. The soup would have been perfect if a dash thyme had been added to the squash. Still, it was a very pleasant dish, and the portioning was perfect. Just enough to give one enough of a taste to satisfy a craving without filling one up before the next course. Again Stephon’s dish went untouched, and he struggled desperately not to make eye contact with the girl as she picked up his bowl and saucer.
By the time the main course had arrived, a rare and perfectly seasoned tri-tip steak, there was a fine layer of sweat coating Stephon’s face. Six courses had passed and I had seen the pale blue of his inner demon flicker behind his eyes several times, but the candle still sat there absent its own light. I was almost tempted to tap into his inner thoughts, simply to listen to his turmoil. I was positive that the conversation he was having with himself was more than just interesting. I resisted temptation only because watching him struggle was infinitely more interesting than anything he could have said in words.
Dessert was my personal favorite, a raspberry swirled cheese cake topped with a heavy whipped cream with mint. It seemed that the poor girl was doomed to a very untimely, and very painful death. I was beginning to believe that there was no punishment harsh enough to force him to bend to my will. It was not a thought I was willing to accept, but still one that had passed through my mind.
After the last sweet and minty bite of cake slid down my throat I rang the small bell that called for the girl to retrieve the last set of dishes and end her labors for the night. “Come here and close your eyes girl, I have a gift for you.” I whispered into Stephon’s mind, “Her name is Brianna, I hope you scream it in your nightmares tonight.” I lifted the glamor that hid my burning eyes from the house staff and bid her to look at me. The horror that spread across her beautiful young face was magnificent. No matter how many times I saw such a thing I never seemed to grow tired of it.
I wrapped my hands in demon fire as I rose from the table. “Look at him Brianna. He could have saved you from this fate with a such a small act. He could have kept you from joining the millions of victims that have come before you but he refused. Now you will suffer for his cowardice.” I drug it out, allowing her the time to back up all the way to the far wall as I savored her horror. My hands were nearly to her shoulders when I heard Stephon scream ‘No!’ behind me, and then the room exploded into pale blue flames. The girls fear had called to his flame like a sirens call, and his own rage had set it free. The entire room was engulfed in flame, including the young girl he had sought to save. She tried to scream but the heat swallowed her voice and silenced her forever as she fell lifeless to the floor. At my most imaginative I could not have dreamed up a better outcome.
Stephon was in motion before I could even turn to look at him, and moving with speeds that I had never seen him muster. For 500 years he had failed to draw a single drop of blood from me with some of the finest blades that had ever been created by man. Tonight he succeeded with a piece of kitchen cutlery. The cut was small, hardly the death blow I am sure he intended, but it was a cut none the less.
He screamed at me while swinging the steak knife like a man possessed. “You bastard! She had never done anything to any one! She didn’t deserve to die!” I smiled softly as I deflected his attempts to inflict further damage. “You are right. She had not done anything to deserve such a fate. So exactly why did you murder her?” His frenzied attack faltered and I slapped the blade from his hand. “You made me do it!” I smiled at him wider before throwing him across the room and into the table. “No, I told you to light a candle. I told you to do a simple task and instead you burned a poor girl to death and ruined my dining hall. I would have granted the girl her hearts every desire. You killed her because you were too weak to call back your flames. You killed her because you refuse to feed. It does not care what you want. It does not care about your morals. If you refuse to feed, it will reach out and do it on its own.”
I put out the fire that was threatening to spread to other rooms of the manor as he freed himself from the remnants of my dinner table. “Tomorrow we will have two girls, and you will light the entire candelabra. The night after that we will have three. Girls like her are easy to find. The streets are full of them, hungry, dirty, and forgotten. They will be more than happy to come with the nicely dressed stranger who is offering them such kindness.” Stephon left the room without another word.
Later that night I sat outside his door with my back pressed against the cold stone wall. I heard him weep again like he had during the early days, and he did indeed call out the girls name in his sleep. It was like music to my ears. Only time will tell what I will have to do to keep pushing him further, but I am confident as always that his spirit and his morality can be broken. There is always a new horror, a new form of suffering I can inflict on him. I will keep my word to my beloved Faith. I will make him suffer as no creature on earth has ever suffered, no matter how creative I have to be.