Sunday, February 27, 2011

Personal Demons, part 5 (final)

The Harvest Festival had been held at nightfall, and now it seemed as if it had happened years ago, or in a dream. Despite her fear, Vera’s eyes began to close of their own accord, and she began to realize how long it had been since she last slept. She went to the corner of the room and pulled her knees up to her chest, allowing her back to rest against one wall and her head to rest on the adjoining one. Soon, she was asleep.

Much later, she was woken by a familiar clang and the sound of the door opening. It took a moment for her to gain the fortitude necessary to open her eyes, but once she did, a sudden bolt of adrenaline assured that she was completely awake. She pushed herself onto her knees and bowed deeply before the prince.

“Rise,” he said.

Vera swiped a bit of dirt off of her cheek, then stood, being careful not to further sully her silken dress. She stared at her feet.

The prince chuckled, though there was no mirth in it. “Look at me,” he said. “I want you to see.”

Confused, she looked up. The prince looked the same as ever; same handsome features, same raven hair, richly appointed clothes…but something was wrong.

He chuckled again, and this time he slowly looked her over. She could feel his gaze on her, as if it were caressing her, and it felt for all the world like the gaze of…Achossebein.

The Demon laughed. “I’m afraid the king has fallen ill," he said in the prince's honey voice, "and all guests of the palace are being detained shortly, asked about their business, and then being sent home. You will have to leave.”

Vera tried not to tremble. She had faced Achossebein many times, but never without the barrier of glass between the two of them, never with him unbound and at full strength. Part of her wanted to leave as soon as possible, but she also felt an obligation to do something, anything, to stop what was about to happen to her kingdom, her home, and her family.

“You didn’t fulfill your promise…” she whispered.

“What do you mean? You are being allowed to go free, your virtue intact…if, indeed that is what you wish.” His eyes offered more.

“My dinner. Before the Harvest Festival, you said I’d have what I desired.” She was grasping at straws and she knew it, but she pushed forward anyway, brazen and mad. "You must fulfill your promise, Demon."

“Do you still wish to sit at the king’s table? I could arrange that, if not tonight, then soon. Perhaps you would like to be my concubine, and sit there every night?”

Vera shook her head. “No.”

“Then you are free to go.”

She raised her chin. “This is not over, Achossebein. I will call on you, and when I do, you must fulfill your earlier promise and grant me dinner with the king. You cannot let him die until this is done. I will not release you from your oath.”

His eyes narrowed. "You will not release me?" He took a menacing step toward her and reached out--she shrank away from him and he laughed. "My dear, I am already released."

"No," Vera said. "You must obey your word, even if you twist those words to breaking. You promised me that I would have what I desired, and that promise is yet unfulfilled."

"You would give up your chance at freedom in exchange for a dinner in a Demon's palace?"

"I plan to have both," Vera said.

The Demon's lips curled into a leering grin. “Very well,” he said. “I will look forward to it.”

“As will I,” Vera answered. "We will have our day of reckoning."

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Personal Demons, part 4

The Queen had a great love of rare and beautiful things, and surrounded herself with them whenever possible. Her chambers were the most opulent in the palace; the walls were almost entirely hidden behind fantastic paintings and tapestries, the floor was practically layered in rugs from exotic lands, and the furnishings were the finest to be had anywhere, at any cost.

She adorned herself in much the same way, with glittering rings and a swath of necklaces, baubles in her hair, and the most fabulous gowns; not even the wealthiest baroness could afford half as much. Some had said that the Queen’s style was gaudy; other’s believed her to be compensating for an otherwise unremarkable persona.

Marcella could not have disagreed more.

She curtsied deeply, the only formality required of her after so many years of loyal service. “You called for me, my Queen?”

“Yes," The queen said without looking at her. "Marcella, I must know where your loyalties lie.”

Marcella’s breath caught at the question; she frantically searched her memory for anything that she could have done or said that would have cast doubt on her fealty to her queen. Then, realizing that hesitation was probably worse than any answer she could give, she answered, “My loyalties are with you, as always…”

“With me? Or with the royal family? The kingdom, perhaps?”

Again Marcella was caught of guard. The king and prince each had servants of their own; there was no better way for her to serve her kingdom than to spend her life in servitude to the queen. She looked the queen in the eye, and with all her heart, she answered, “My loyalties are with you, my Queen.”

“Very well, then. I have a favor to ask of you, Marcella, and it is crucial that no one ever know of it.”

Marcella nodded.

“You must give this to a member of the kitchen staff. Which one is up to you, but you must not be overly fond of them. This powder is to be placed in the evening tea of the king.”

Marcella took the powder, but her confusion must have shown.

“Will you balk at this request, Marcella?”

She shook her head. “No, my Queen.”

“Good. Now listen to me. This powder will make the king fall ill, but do not despair. It is entirely undetectable, and even were someone to suspect you, I would vouch for your whereabouts and your innocence. Remember also that this is not a fatal poison, and the king will recover shortly.”

Marcella nodded, and swore to do as she was asked.


Vera gently slid a single finger across the mirror’s smooth surface, tracing the lines of Achossebein’s lips, forming a connection between his world and hers. When the Demon’s eyes seemed to focus on her, she quickly stepped back; the bindings on Achossebein were weaker than she had ever dared before, and she intended to take no chances.

“Nice dress,” he purred, his tone both appreciative and mocking.

Vera narrowed her eyes, but said nothing.

“I assume that all did not go as you planned, then?”

“Achossebein, you will get me out of this or pay dearly.”

“Ah, but I thought you wanted all this…”

“You heard me, Demon.”

Achossebein chuckled, then seemed to look not at Vera, but through her. “The bindings on me are weakened. All that holds me now is a thin line of impure salt.” His voice was a mixture of hunger and conjecture.

Vera swallowed hard as she realized that she had no idea how impure the bath salts were, or what they were mixed with, or if they would even hold. Combining that with the lack of candles…

“Get me out of this, Achossebein!”

The Demon licked his lips. “Gladly, my sweet. Simply run your finger through the salts. Give me a pathway out of here, and I shall provide you with a way out as well.”


“No? Really? But I thought you wanted out. You know very well that all I can do while trapped like this is speak to you.”

“If I let you out, the only path to freedom you would grant me is that of the grave.”

The Demon’s eyebrows went up in mock surprise and his lips curled cruelly. “I am shocked. Surely you know me better than that? There are many things I would rather do to you than kill you…though that is still on the list, of course.”

“I will not avoid letting the king have his way with me by allowing you that same privilege. I know ways of hurting you, Achossebein, and you will find me a way out of this situation you have created, or I will use them.”

Again the Demon laughed. “I have other aspirations besides tasting your flesh, girl, and pain holds no fear for me. I find it interesting, though, how often you are calling me by name. It’s as if you think that that word has power over me.”

Was he lying? Vera had been taught that knowing a Demon's name was one of the ways to bind him, but if not, then she had even less control than she'd thought. And now that he mentioned it, she had to wonder what aspirations he had, other than devouring her soul. Why else did he come when she called? “What aspirations do you have, Achossebein?”

“I want what everyone wants,” the Demon answered, “I want power. Wealth. Women. Let me out now, and I will have them all.”

“And why would I grant you that?”

“Because you secretly want the pleasures I would grant you?" She opened her mouth, furious, but before she could speak, he said, "No? Then perhaps because in exchange, I shall let you leave here unharmed and with your virtue intact. I assume that at the moment, I am the only one who has such an offer for you?”

Vera considered. She knew that the Demon was evil, but he was a familiar evil, an evil she had dealt with comfortably for many years. She was much more comfortable here, in a dark room with a trapped Demon, than she would be if left alone with either the king or his wife. But still…

“What would you do if you were loosed on the world?”

“That’s none of your concern.”

“None of my concern? How can a Demon being loosed on the world be none of my concern? Especially if I am to be the one doing the loosing?”

“We will have made a bargain, and each of us will have fulfilled our end. After that, we shall part ways.” He paused to watch Vera’s face. “Let me ask you this: if you give a beggar coin, and later discover that he used that coin to commit an evil act, are you to blame? Are you to blame if you fail to kill a stray animal that later goes on to maul a child? You cannot control the beggar or the stray once they are out of your sight, and it isn’t your job to do so. Worry about yourself, girl, and let me do as I will. My doings are no more or less in your control than are anyone else’s.”

“But that isn’t true.”

“Oh? How so?”

“You do not belong in this world, and if I don’t allow you into it, you cannot harm it. If I let you in, knowing the harm you will do, then I am responsible for that harm.”

“Then why did you call me?”

“I don’t know," she said quietly, "But I will remedy that now. I cannot risk the world in order to save myself."

For the first time, anger flashed in Achossebein’s eyes, and he opened his mouth to speak, but as he did the bedroom door opened, and two large guards walked in. Vera panicked and turned her back to the mirror, hoping that the breadth of her body and the dimness of the room would be enough to block the guards’ view of the Demon she had summoned.

The guards remained focused on Vera, and before she realized it, they were close enough to grab her arms. She panicked when one of them stepped on her circle of salt, and threw herself on him, screaming for him to stop. In response, he stepped back and jerked her forward rather brutally, dragging her feet through the circle. The barrier was broken.

Vera screamed. "Let me go," she begged, "Please!" But there was no reply, other than the guards becoming even rougher, more heavy handed than before. She began to scratch and kick, fighting as if for her life, but all she accomplished was getting herself hoisted up and carried away instead of simply being drug. Soon, she was reduced to pounding her fists uselessly on the guard’s strong back and sobbing uncontrollably.


Vera was taken to a small dark room with no windows; there was only a single hardback chair and a small lantern on the floor. She assumed that she was to be punished; that the guards outside her room had overheard her conversation with Achossebein. But if that was the case, then why had they come in only after she had said that she was going to send the Demon away? And why were they not mindful of the protective ring?

Her thoughts were interrupted by a loud clang and the room’s only door coming open. A tall, wiry man wearing royal livery stepped in, after which someone outside pulled the door closed once more.

The man said nothing, but looked her over closely, seeming to take in even the smallest details. His gaze made her shudder.

At long last, the man asked, “Are you the girl they’re calling Vera?” Vera was confused by the phrasing of the question, but she nodded.

The man narrowed his eyes slightly. “You were brought here by coach, just after the Harvest Festival, am I right?”

Again, Vera nodded.

“Can you tell me what you have done since then? Leave nothing out; if I suspect that you do, or that you are lying, you will be tried for treason.”

Vera swallowed hard. “Where exactly should I begin?”

“The moment you walked through the palace doors. Tell me what you were wearing, what items you were carrying, who was with you, and what they looked like. I need to know everything.”

She told him of the guard leading her in and the matron’s derisive sniff, of the warm bathwater and the red powder that was put on her lips, and of the bedroom she had been left in afterwards, but oddly enough, that is where the wiry man stopped her. “Once you were there,” he asked, “you didn’t leave?”

Vera shook her head.

“And no one came in until the guards?”


“Very well then.” And with that, the man turned and left the room and Vera found herself unexpectedly and abruptly alone once again.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Personal Demons, part 3

From a distance, the palace seemed to rise out of the perpetual mists of lake Aned, its towering spires and stone walls hovering, lighter than air. Vera had spent many nights staring in awe at the sheer size of it, entranced by the way the glass in the upper windows caught the moonlight and boldly reflected it back to the heavens. She had always wondered how it would look up close; wondered if its dreamlike qualities would melt away under closer scrutiny.

Now that it loomed over her, dreams had given way to nightmares, and as the carriage driver called for the horses to stop, a sudden bolt of panic robbed her of breath and sent a tear down her cheek. She didn’t bother to wipe it away, and the guard who came to escort her into the palace didn’t seem to care. His large hand enveloped both her hand and her wrist, and he led her firmly if not forcibly up the palace steps, under a pair of magnificent arches, and into the palace proper. From there she was turned over to an elderly matron, who sniffed derisively at Vera's obviously common appearance and muddied dress, then walked away saying, “You will follow me” as if she was speaking to a particularly naughty child.

She was taken to a room with a large wooden tub at its center. The matron nodded curtly towards a small table that stood near one wall, then turned and left without explanation. Vera watched her go until the heavy wooden door was shut firmly behind her. There were no windows in this room, save one small, slitted opening near the ceiling. There would be no escaping through there. With no other options left to her, Vera wrapped her arms tightly around herself and went to investigate the table.

There she found a good-sized jar of bath salts, a choice of sweet smelling oils, a bar of scented soap, and a tiny hand held mirror. This last she picked up almost without thought, and in it she saw her own image; her hair was tangled from hours spent dancing in the night air, and her eyes were slightly swollen from fighting back tears. Earlier this evening, she had thought herself a very pretty young woman, radiant with the full bloom of life. Now she saw herself clearly as a crying, disheveled little girl.

She remembered Achossebein, the way the Demon had sneered as he promised that she'd get what she desired. She threw the mirror down in disgust, and it clattered across the stone floor but stayed intact.

Another tear trickled down her cheek, but determination was building inside her. Achossebein. It was he who had done this to her. She would find a way to repay him. But first, she had to find a way out this situation. She disrobed quickly, then threw her dress over the jar of bath salts, grabbed the bar of soap, and stormed over to the tub. She found the water surprisingly warm, but she refused to allow the pleasant sensation rob her of her newfound anger. .

By the time the servants came to prepare her for her audience with the king, Vera was calm, clean, and dignified. She stood perfectly still while they took measurements and tailored a silken white dress to fit her lithe form, and even made small talk as they brushed and styled her hair. They placed jewels around her neck and painted her cheeks and lips with fine red powder. They fussed over her for what seemed like an eternity, and when at last they were satisfied with their work, they retrieved the mirror from where Vera had thrown it and offered it to her. She refused. Then, just before she was led away, she grabbed her own dress from its place on the table. No one noticed that the jar of salts was taken along with it.


Vera had imagined that she would be led up a long flight of stairs, to a small room high in a tower. Instead, she was kept in a large, well lit bedchamber only two doors down from where she had bathed. She had noticed immediately that there were no windows, and a tentative peek through the crack underneath the door revealed two large pairs of boots.

She nodded. She had been hoping for guards. Guards meant that she would be left in this room for at least a short while, and she hoped that a short while was all she would need. She removed the bath salts from their hiding place within the dress she carried, threw the dress on the floor near the bed, and looked around the room. There was a large chest, several small tables with lanterns on them, and a writing table. Two tapestries, a small portrait, and a mirror hung on the walls.

She scooted the chest underneath the mirror, and with a little effort, she was able to wriggle the mirror free of its holders and lower it to the ground. She then carried it across the room, propped it against the writing desk, and used the salts to make an almost complete circle around it.

Vera had all she needed to summon the Demon, though she wished for black candles to make the binding stronger, or incense to ensure that Achossebein would heed her call. She shook her head and told herself that she would just have to make do, then went about dimming the lanterns.

After one last peek under the door, Vera took a deep breath and went back to her makeshift summoning ring. She put the last bit of salt into her left hand and stepped up to the mirror, then carefully completed the circle with herself inside. Before speaking the ancient invocations that would summon Achossebein, she took a moment to look the circle over once more. Any gap, any break at all in this protective ring, and the Demon would escape his prison and be loosed on the world.

Slowly, barely above a whisper, she began to mumble the words that would call the Demon forth. The incantation was ancient and powerful; as Vera chanted, it wove its spell not only over the salt and mirror, but over her, as well. Her eyelids fluttered and her eyes rolled back as her body began to sway. Her voice grew louder and deeper, and she began to hear her own words as if they belonged to someone else.

The air grew thick, the room darkened, and deep within the mirror, grey mists began to swirl.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Personal Demons, part 2

The Harvest Festival was always held during a full moon, and tonight, the Silver Lady was bright enough for Vera to find her way to the festivities without additional illumination. Soon, she was amongst the dancers; swirling, mingling, drawing close enough to feel one another’s breath before parting once again. The stringed instruments sang sweet serenades, while the big, wooden drums pounded with all the depth and need of a lover’s pulse. Vera’s breath rose and fell with her steps, and she was acutely aware of the cool night air on her skin and the beating of her own heart. She was dressed in her finest dress, made to rise and flutter with her every movement, and already she had caught the eye of more than one attractive young man.

In years past, this would have been more than enough. She would have lost herself in the dancing, partaken only lightly of the sweet food and bitter wine, applauded as the king and prince chose their evening partners, and then disappeared amongst the jubilant crowd. In years past, she would have come home exhausted but thrilled, too excited to sleep. But not this year. This year, she had come for a bigger prize.

While others danced for enjoyment, Vera danced to impress the prince; as she spun, her dress revealed an ample view of her thighs, and always she searched to make eye contact, to catch a smile, to give just the right glance. Several times she was sure that he noticed her, but as the night wore on, it became clear that she had more than one rival for his attentions.

Too soon, it seemed, the dancing was over and the king ascended his raised dias, surrounded as always by a small retinue of servants and armed guards. Vera struggled for a spot near the front, where she could be seen, and where she would be able to hear the announcements, but no one was willing to budge in any direction other than forward. Exasperated, she gave up on pushing her way through and moved towards the outer ring of the crowd.

A large man grabbed her by the arm, and instinctively she tried to wrench free of his grasp; doing so twisted her arm painfully but failed to pull it free. Panicked, she turned to face her attacker, and was stunned to see the livery of the palace guards. “Vera Rhineheart?” the guard asked. She nodded, and as she did, she heard her name once more, this time from further away. The king was announcing her name.

Vera felt dizzy as she was led towards the dias, and she stumbled, stepping on the hem of her beautiful dress and muddying it. The king had called her name. Not the prince, but the king. He had done the unthinkable and chosen Vera over his own notoriously jealous wife. The servant pulled her forward through the crowd, relentless, even when she stumbled. The mass of people parted, and now Vera could see the king stepping down from his dias, and the prince replacing him in order to make his own choice. Dimly, she saw the cold glare of the queen--a look that promised death, if not worse--and heard the shocked mutterings of the crowd. The air suddenly seemed much too cool, and the pace of the guard much too fast. She tried to pull her arm free, tried to protest, but the guard refused to look down at her, much less respond to her increasingly panicked pleas. She was pulled alongside the dias, past a line of guards, and to stand before the king. A heavy hand on her shoulder pushed her downward--trying, she realized later, to force her to curtsey--but in her stupor, Vera fell to her knees. The king eyed her much the way Achossebein had. "Clean her up," he said. "Get her ready for dinner." The guards closed in around her, blocking her view of the royal family. Once again, she was grabbed roughly by the arm and lead away by a man who refused to meet her eyes.

Vera tried to compose herself and come along with dignity, but a sickly sweet nausea was spreading inside her, causing her limbs to shake and threatening to make her vomit. She stared at the back of the guard in front of her and focused on placing one foot in front of the other, until she was unceremoniously deposited in the carriage that would deliver her to the palace.


Sunday, February 13, 2011

Personal Demons, part 1

This is an older story of mine (like, from a couple of years ago.) I recently found it in the dusty recesses of my hard-drive...

Personal Demons

Darkness and candlelight mingled within the mirror’s surface, nearly obscuring the angular, leering face within. Vera knew that face all too well; fearful, twisted, and yet…

She took another step forward, through a heavy fog of incense that filled her lungs, leaving no room for air. Her head swam, and her body felt unnaturally light, but still she was drawn forward. Slowly, she raised one hand and gently ran it across the mirror's surface, directly over the image’s lips.

Warmth flooded her body, and she inhaled sharply to quell her sudden trembling. Within the mirror, the lips parted, and it seemed as if they would have kissed her fingertips were they not held back by their cage of glass. Vera was sure that they would. And they would not stop there.

She stepped away from the mirror, although, as always, part of her was reluctant to do so. It was part of the Demon's power.

“Achossebein,” she whispered, “I have summoned you because I need your advice.”

Inside the mirror, lips curled into a mockery of a smile. “Oh?” His voice was both mesmerizing and terrible. “Are you sure that is the only reason?”

Vera narrowed her eyes. “Don’t even suggest such things, Demon.”

Achossebein laughed at the title. “Well, what is it then? What is so important that a young, nubile…” His eyes slowly traced the lines of her body, and his snake like tongue darted across his lower lip, almost too fast for her to see, “…delectable morsel like yourself would summon a Demon?”

She felt her cheeks color. She tried to push past the embarrassment and answer, but Achossebein interrupted. “Ah,” he whispered. “I know. It must be a man.”

Vera nodded.

“Well,” smiled the Demon. “You have come to the right place. You see, no one knows the way of a woman and man better than myself.” His eyes were smoldering, an open invitation for her to come to him and learn all that he knew.

“Listen, Demon,” she said, trying to sound unflustered and failing miserably, “I have come because tomorrow night is the night of the Harvest Festival. The king and the prince will each choose their partner for the evening from amongst those in attendance--”

“--And you would trade your chastity for a queenship.” It wasn’t a question.

“Do not speak that way to me, Achossebein!”

The Demon smiled, pleased with the ferocity of her response.

Vera took a deep breath and said levelly, “The king always chooses his wife, and it is well known that the prince requires his chosen to have dinner with him, and nothing more.”

“Then what is it that you so desire that you would summon me?”

Vera looked away from the Demon, her eyes falling on the candles, the dresser, the dirty, moth-chewed bed, before finally coming to rest on her own feet. “All I want is to spend a night in the palace. To sit beside the prince, dressed in finery, and to partake in the evening meal of the king.”

Achossebein laughed. “Oh, is that all? Well, you sure don’t ask for much, my little morsel, do you?”

Vera opened her mouth to respond, but Achossebein cut her short. “Don’t worry, my dear. You shall have what you desire.”

"I will have dinner at the king's table?"


"Do you give your word?"

"I do." And then the mirror showed only Vera, standing within a circle of salt amidst the flickering dimness of her own room.