Prologue: Adam Charmont
The sun began its slow rise in the Kingdom of Cendrillon.
It was dark in the small cellar of the castle. Dawn crept across the grassy fields outside the kingdom walls, but the light did not make its way this deep into the bowels of the castle. This is where I first met Adam Charmont in the flesh. He was right where I knew he would be. Adam’s dark hair swept across his pale, white face as he walked on the cobbled stone of the dungeon floors. He was a slender boy, and did not look like he was well fed (though, as a princeling of Cendrillon he was present at countless feasts). Adam spent a lot of time in the darkness, and that is why I liked him; he was not at all like his heroic king brother.
Then again, I designed him this way.
I walked into the room slowly and silently. Adam had come down soon after waking to read a book he came across years ago in the castle library. He had lit a single candle in the center of the rectangular table and pulled the book close to him before opening it to exactly where he had left off. He had read this particular tome many times before and always in secret. This book contained the account of how his mother and father, Cinderella and Henry Charmont, had first met. A story which, by all accounts, is fiction except for the one person who lived it and knew it to be true; but not even Cinderella knew the entire truth.
Cinderella; the one-time servant of her stepmother, subsequent princess, rightful Queen, and now widow. By the time the sun sets on this day, she will have had to bury one of her sons, but it would not be Adam. This one belonged to the darkness, and the darkness is my realm.
“Hello, Son,” I said, making myself fully visible for the first time. The sixteen-year-old prince turned to look at me, growing paler than he first appeared. I rarely show my true form to humans I do not wish to kill. It has been said by the good men who have witnessed my true form that my black skin was scorched by the very fires of Hell itself. My shoulder-length hair was trimmed neat for this occasion. I wore a doublet of shiny black leather under a black fur cloak. My razor-sharp claws lay motionless at my sides. I was not there to threaten young Adam. I had quite the enticing offer for the young princeling. Adam’s reaction to my appearance was reasonable. It is not every day one meets a High Demon of Hell.
“Who are you, and what do you want?” Adam asked, standing at full attention. He was a brave lad to be so brazen in sight of me. I had seen braver and stronger men piss in their britches after seeing my true form. I could hear the fear in the voice of Adam Charmont, and I admired the way he stood his ground in spite of it.
“My name is Askharoth,” I said, stepping closer to the table at the center of the dank cellar. “I am a High Demon of the realm of Hell. I was placed here on this Earth to serve my own purposes and to find those that would aid my own realm. I only wish to talk and extend a most intriguing invitation to you. There are pieces moving and events unfolding even as I stand here and expel breath. You must be a part of it. This, my princely son, is your destiny. It is the very reason you were born into this world. You need me as I need you. Come with me and embrace the inevitable.”
“Why do you keep calling me son?” Adam asked me, confidently not moving from his spot. The book was still under his hands. He was fighting the urge to pull it to him and hold it to his chest like some kind of talisman.
“There is much you do not know or understand, young Adam. Perhaps you would like to join me at the table? I can tell you of many things. I can tell you of your mother. I can tell you of your father. I can tell you of your grandparents and those you have never even met. I can tell you of the past and present and I can tell of a future that you and I together can share. You have lived a very sheltered life, Adam. It must have been dark standing in the shadow of your brother.”
This got his attention. He slammed the book on the floor and kicked his chair behind him. “WHAT DO YOU KNOW OF MY BROTHER’S SHADOW, DEMON!” he shouted, allowing himself to become slightly vulnerable now. “All my life I have felt a heaviness on my soul. Henry was always father’s favorite. Henry was mother’s handsome little man. Henry, the king of this dung heap kingdom; simply because he had the good luck to be born a mere seven minutes earlier than I. And what does he do when he finally gets his pretty crown and throne?! He tries to undo our father’s work. He strives to make peace with the very men that ended our father’s life. This is treason, and our country’s only course of action should be war!”
I could see I had chosen this one well. War was the answer I was hoping for. War was the inevitable end of this little game I had chosen to play. War would bring the pain, blood, and sorrow I would need to awaken The Viss, and to cloud this world in a darkness it would never recover from. Heaven’s tears shall taste sweet indeed.
“Young Adam,” I said, patiently folding my hands in front of me. “I sense a great darkness deep inside of you. Many would say this is a great weakness, to force you to hide your true nature. Not I. In darkness there is power and strength. There is much you and I can accomplish together. Together, we shall have glory. Together, we shall rule not only your ancestor’s land, but all land. The dogs in the East will be ours to cull as we see fit. The salty pirates across the Southern Sea will sail red seas under our flag. The men in West Cendrillon will bring you the finest foods and greatest pleasures of all the land. The lands across the great seas of this Earth will all fly your banner. Together, we shall be immortal. Together, we shall defeat and rule over Heaven as if it’s a pen of beaten and broken dogs. All this is possible once your brother’s body is lying motionless at your feet.”
“I am a Prince of Cendrillon,” Adam said, proud and defiant. “My father and his father and his father’s father bore the blood of kings, and so do I. Do not think you can use me as some pawn to conquer your own enemies.”
I grew weary of his prattle and let my frustration show. “I despise the hierarchy that man has placed on themselves,” I said, lowering my voice into a noticeable growl. “Your father and his father and his father’s father and so on, built castles of immense sizes to pay homage only to themselves. They took what they wanted and stepped over all those who opposed their greed and war-mongering. You call forth the names of your ancestors all you want, boy. In the end you are all pawns in a game so big, you cannot even begin to imagine the majesty of it.”
“So you are above all that, are you?” Adam said, still high on the adrenaline his rage had brought on. “Are you not a High Demon, as you put it yourself?”
The boy’s haughty mouth was edging him closer to death’s door, as I held my claws at my sides in order to not tear the boy’s head from his slender shoulders; he was extremely lucky that I needed him alive. “There is a difference between you and me,” I said, controlling my rage with just an exhale of breath. “The position of High Demon is something that is not easily earned. It is not given to you based on the blood of your father. There is only one chair of power in Hell, and it is not shared. Only talent and power is rewarded with my kind. It is not given to you, as a birthright, as it is to your people. Then again, you being born to the proper parents is what prompted my playing this game in the first place.”
“Do you often speak in riddles, demon?” Adam asked, somehow calming himself.
“Only when I fancy them,” I replied. It seemed young Adam enjoyed these riddles nearly as much as I enjoyed posing them.
Young Adam finally picked his book off the floor and placed his chair back by the table. The candlelight flickered across his stubborn face and shiny black hair. He folded his hands on top of the large tome where his parent’s history was written. He was so easy to read. I could see he longed for this. He may have even prayed for my arrival in the darkest loneliness of his soul. Jealousy was his sin of choice, and one of the easiest for me to exploit. I did not lie to him. I did need him as much as he needed me, and I meant everything that I promised.
“I have read of your kind,” Adam said calmly, tossing his head toward a stack of books in the corner. He returned his gaze to me as he drummed his fingers on the top of the book. “If we strike a deal, you have to honor it no matter what. Is this correct?”
“It is,” I said lustfully.
“Then I shall name the deal,” Adam said, relaxing back in his seat comfortably pleased with himself. “I shall join you in the darkness and rule with you by my side in the shadows. I will send armies to their deaths, and I will spill blood across this Earth. I will allow you to rid me of my pompous brother as well. I only ask one thing in return: It is a simple request, I think.” The smile on Adam’s face told me more than his words could.
“Name it, and if it is in my power, it shall be done,” I said. I did not try to conceal my own smile.
Adam drummed his fingers on his book once again; the book that contained the tale of two souls that came together, in a love-story that every high-born maiden, washerwoman, and whore, knew by heart. Adam read my gaze as I looked at the book and suddenly stopped his obnoxious drumming. “I want to know everything as you promised,” he said finally. “The pieces missing from this story; the pieces missing from my own as well. I want to know about mother’s past and father’s death. I also want to know about you and your shadows, Askharoth.”
The boy was smart. He had noticed there were holes in the stories he had often been told as a child and even those that were recent histories. His idiot brother would not have seen these in the light, but in the darkness, the holes became clearer. Young Adam may not like some of the answers he would receive, but it was no matter to me. Once my tale was done he was bound to hold up his end of our deal. He would be under my complete power. He knew this as well as I knew that I would have to hold up my end of the deal, and tell him true.
“Very well, Adam,” I said. “I will tell you the entire truth of what I know but not in the order as it happened. The pieces fall much better when they do not fall in order. Do you not agree?”
“I do agree,” Adam said sitting back in his chair. He could barely hide his giddiness. “Please begin.” The candles burned a little brighter as I sat across from him, looking into his dark eyes that were so much like his father’s. I liked this boy very much. Very much indeed.
“Excellent,” I said. “We do not have much time. It is a long tale, and your brother will be dead by nightfall. Let us begin, long before you were born, with my trek up to the witches of Black Keep in the North Mountains.”
Chapter 1: Deals in the Dark
In the deep Recesses of a good man’s soul,
Light cannot make one pure and whole.
The hearts of good men struggle and fight,
And drown in sin in the absence of light.
I looked through a pair of eyes that could only belong to a young girl. I could smell the dew on the green grass under her bare feet. I discerned that the blue of the sky shone vibrantly. The sun warmed her small body and she felt as if she were glowing. She was walking with her back to a grave I could not see. Though the young girl was obviously in mourning, she walked as if there was a song in her heart that could not be silenced by any amount of darkness. She passed the small trees that bordered her father’s Château gardens as a small smile spread across her face; it was not easy for her to remain saddened on such a lovely day.
She watched the birds soar through the sky and wished she could be up there with them. She spread her arms out on either side of her and ran through the fresh, green grass. The cool breeze rushed past her cheeks as a wisp of golden hair grazed her thick eyelashes. Suddenly, she stopped dead in her tracks and dropped her arms to her sides, noticing that the others had joined her.
She knew these girls who entered her yard, although she did not know them as well as she wished. She knew the two sisters were named Charlotte and Darcy, and they were the daughters of the woman her father was currently courting. Charlotte and Darcy made the girl nervous when they came to visit with their mother, but she still raised her hand and gave them a warm and welcoming smile. If the pair of girls appreciated the gesture, they did not show it. Charlotte and Darcy sneered before turning heel and quickly walked in the opposite direction. The pair went to sit in the shade of a large a tree where they would gossip and gripe maliciously, as they usually did during their visits.
The girl turned back to her activities, once again spreading her arms in a crude imitation of the birds soaring in the sky overhead, uncaring what the other girls thought, although she hoped they would lighten up and join her. Even though she was young, the girl could see the physical similarities between the mother and her daughters. They shared the same pointed and upturned nose and thin, glaring eyes. Mother and daughters both had dark hair that was usually worn up, fashioned into a bun of some kind. If Darcy was not so much shorter than Charlotte, the two may have been mistaken for twins. The same could be said about Charlotte and her mother. Her father invited the mother over for dinner often, and even she took great lengths to avoid eye-contact with the girl. Even at their own dining table, the lady would scarcely look in the girl’s direction.
The birds flew off in direction of Castle Cendrillon and the girl’s gaze followed. She always loved the view of the castle from her father’s Château, and in the bright blue sky of this late-spring afternoon, the sight of it nearly took her breath away. She no longer had any thoughts about the lady her father was courting or the daughters she dragged along during her visits. The only thought in her untroubled mind was the longing to see the huge castle up close and meet the people inside. Oh, how they must dance and dress in the prettiest of gowns! The two birds turned in the sky, and the girl followed smiling and laughing as she went.
The girl was so caught up in her flight around the Château’s gardens; she nearly jumped when she heard the voice of her father calling for her across the garden. “Cinderella!” he shouted. She turned toward the Chateau and saw her father’s handsome face emerge from the opened door. “I have need for you inside! There is something I wish to talk to you about!”
Cinderella ran toward her father as the green grass and bright blue sky left my vision, and I was left with the gray fogs and barren terrain of the Northern Mountains of Cendrillon. It had been a long journey, and I was eager to be done with it. I did not want to burden my already busy mind with tedious visions of a frolicking girl.
My trek up the Northern Mountains had been a long one, but witches usually do not congregate where they can easily be found and killed. The witches of Cendrillon and its outlying lands had fallen into hard times. Most of their kind had been hunted and slaughtered thanks to a story going around about a witch that became queen of a kingdom by tricking a princess into eating an apple that she had cursed. In the end, her own wickedness had been her undoing, but that mattered not to the good people of this Earth. All humans knew, was that witches were vile and treacherous and should be disposed of immediately; to the contrary, I found them quite useful when I needed them to be.
The base of the mountain was surrounded by a small fortress that encircled a village called Northwood. Northwood’s small and unremarkable population consisted mostly of barbarians and farmers. They were labeled as outcasts of the Kingdom of Cendrillon. Word around these parts was that even the farmers and smiths were bred to be fierce fighters and killers from an early age, so they would always come in handy if needed. The men and women of Northwood dwelled in small huts and tents hidden behind tall wooden walls. It was even said that the people inside would don thick animal furs and pelts to ward off the hard bite of northern mountain winters. Many children died of cold and starvation every year; the children that were not taken by the witches or fed to demons, that is. This was the harsh price the people of Northwood paid for their anonymity and seclusion. If you asked any one of them, they would call their cursed and meager existence “Freedom”.
The mountain witches liked to use lesser creatures to their advantage. Those bred in darkness were especially useful when using dark magick. Ten nights prior to my flight up the mountain, an old black and red owl found me in the dead of the night. He had been searching Cendrillon for me for three long months.
“Lord Askharoth,” the old owl said flying down from the cloudless night sky and resting on the branch of a nearby tree, bowing slightly as he alighted. He had one eye closed, and he looked as if he were eternally winking. “The witches of Black Keep summon thee for council.”
“Take heed, owl,” I said, sneering. “I am a High Demon and cannot be summoned so easily. I provide council only when I deem it a necessity. Especially from the likes of witches that would send such an old and raggedy owl to summon me.”
“Do not let my appearance fool you, my Lord,” the owl quipped in a deep and abundantly rich voice that suddenly did not match his outward appearance. “I have served the darkness in some capacity since my existence began. I do not wish to evoke your anger or your wrath. I only wish to inform you that the witches have need for your immediate presence. They have read a startling prophecy and believe it is meant for you.”
A prophecy. Now this was most intriguing. Witches would not summon a High Demon for a prophecy unless they thought one could alter or change its course. They would not risk my rage if they wasted my time. “You have flown very far to find me,” I said. “This prophecy must be worth hearing. How much of this prophecy is known to you, good owl?”
“Not much, I am afraid,” the owl said. “I only know that it has been read very recently, and the witch who interpreted it thinks it could mean a great deal to you. I believe they wish to ask a trade in return.” The owl tilted his head slightly. I could sense that he spotted some prey not too far from where we spoke. He wished to hunt, and I meant to let him do so.
“Very well,” I said. “Hunt well and eat your fill of rodents and vermin tonight, owl. When you fly back to Black Keep please tell your mistresses that I will arrive in ten days’ time to hear their words. I will trade with them if I deem their prophecy worth trading for.”
“Yes, master demon,” the owl said. “You are very wise. May the night hold many pleasures for you.” With his last word, he flew off in the direction of whatever unlucky animal was scurrying too noisily atop the fallen leaves.
I traveled north toward the mountain ranges that the good men and women of Cendrillon call, The Northern Mountains. It would have been a quicker trip if I could unfurl my hidden wings and fly the entire way, but if one of my enemies spotted me, it could cause a lengthy delay. I did use my wings, however, to fly past the small village of Northwood near the base of the mountains where the good creatures of this earth rarely venture, but only to impress some of the younger lads and lasses in the fields, who gazed upon my form, stunned and mouths agape. They needed to keep their faith in demons, after all.
It was on the tenth day of my journey that I arrived at the gates of the tiny witch village, Black Keep. It was a rotten and dank place. Rocks and dead grass coated the black earth on which I walked. The walls of various huts and tents were painted red with animal blood. Cats and rats wandered around aimlessly. Around the rear of the small witch village, there was a garden and stream where they grew various herbs and ivies they used for potions. This area was to be kept pure and unspoilt. The known punishment for disturbing this area was death by dismemberment.
Witches are among the vilest of humans on this earth, which is why I enjoy their existence so. Since no human is permitted to use dark magick, the stronger spells they cast can have an extreme backlash on the user if used against another human. A witch must be careful how she casts a spell and her reasoning for doing so. The casting can rebound and cripple or kill an inexperienced witch. Just by invoking the dark spirits involved in black magick, a witch’s soul and appearance can be tainted. This was the reason one rarely met an experienced witch that did not look decrepit and ugly.
I was greeted by Eleanor, who was the youngest witch of this particular coven. Her long white hair blew back from her tall frame when the door flung open. Her sunken eyes decorated a face riddled with pimples and wrinkles that she had earned through her past dark dealings. This withered beast of a woman was once a beauty until her husband was caught sharing a bed with her whore-sister. She then went into a depression that sent her straight to Black Keep. Today she stood greeting demons while her soul decomposed, and her beauty continued to wither away.
“Greetings, Lord Askharoth,” the witch Eleanor said. “I hope your journey treated you well. Will you sup with me on this night?” She held out a brown tray with a plate of bloody meat (probably goat) and a tall cup of witch-brewed wine from their dark vineyard. I stepped inside the keep.
“I think not, lady witch,” I replied. Even demons are wise enough not to sup with the likes of a witch they did not fully trust. “I have traveled far. I would like very much to hear of this prophecy the owl spoke of.”
“Oh yes,” the young hag said, suddenly brandishing a wide smile of yellowed teeth. “Lady Ivy was the reader of the prophecy. She summoned you so that you might hear it. Would you like me to bring you to her, my lord?” Eleanor passed off the plate of meat and ale to a small, hunchbacked, human man in a dark, hooded cloak. From time to time, the men of Northwood offered their services to the witches of Black Keep for good fortune, and for a blessing for their family, neither of which would actually come to pass. Silly humans.
“I shall like very much to meet with Lady Ivy,” I replied. “I haven’t had much council in the matters of prophecy on this Earth for quite some time.”
“Follow me,” Eleanor said, beginning to walk in the opposite direction. “Lady Ivy’s hut is right down this path.”
Eleanor took me to Lady Ivy’s hut, which was made of wood and covered in wolf hide pelts. It was clearly the largest hut in the small village. Eleanor opened the front door to the hut, gestured for me to go in, and took her leave with a low bow. Lady Ivy evidently wanted to speak to me in private, as I was not led to the usual formal meeting hall. I found her sitting at an empty table in the center of the room. Her coarse black hair hung behind her like a cape of rat nests. Her wrinkled face and dark eyes fixed on my form as I walked towards her. I sat in the empty chair across from her, admiring the candlelight blazing in her eyes, and calmly waited for her to speak.
Most demons look down on witches and their ilk, but Lady Ivy knew I was an exception. I make no secret of my disdain for humans that look down upon those brave enough to invoke the powers and magick of the kind of darkness reserved only for demons, and other dark-natured creatures. I paid a great deal of respect to the elder witches who could barely be called something as ordinary as human. There is much to admire for those who possess the gall and the skill to toy with such dark powers. Lady Ivy had been a witch for a very long time, and respected the forces of darkness. The only deformity she showed was a missing little finger on a haggard, burnt left hand.
Finally, Lady Ivy broke the silence. “I seek to deal with you, Lord Demon,” she said.
“I will hear your offer, Lady Ivy,” I replied. “If we can agree to terms than it shall be done.” I crossed my arms in front of me, ceremoniously. Witches usually didn’t have much to offer a demon, but a prophecy can always be useful.
“As the owl told you, I have read a prophecy,” Lady Ivy said staring into my eyes. “This prophecy will not only spread darkness throughout the world of men and their kin; but also, turn the tides against the armies of Heaven itself.”
Now this was indeed interesting. I believed every word the old witch had to say. It is not in a witch’s nature to lie or betray a High Demon or any power holding entity of darkness. Any lie, no matter how small, can do great damage to a witch’s soul, life-force, and ability to use dark magick. A lie of this caliber would lead to not only her pain and death, but the pain and death of all her kin as well. And yet, I had to be careful as well. It may not be in a witch’s nature to lie to a demon (even a higher one such as myself), but they still left certain things unsaid, and usually prophecies such as these could have the opposite outcome, if read by those who would move against the darkness. Still, I was very intrigued to hear it.
“I would very much like to hear this prophecy of yours, Lady Ivy,” I said, careful to watch my tongue so as to not give away my suspicion. “What would you request of me in return, I wonder?”
Lady Ivy continued to look me in the eyes. “Feathers,” she said. “Three of them.” She held out her maimed left hand with three of her remaining fingers pointing skyward.
This witch was indeed an excellent seer after all. There was no doubt as to which three feathers she spoke of. Not a soul alive knew of the three feathers I kept as a souvenir after my battle with the angel Auriel; or so I thought.
My normally dormant demonic powers slowed the flow of time to a halt as Lady Ivy held up her fingers for me to gaze upon. Soon, I was no longer in the small hut with Lady Ivy. In a blur, I was transported into my own memory of the day I had met the sweet little dove, Auriel, in Tsarok’s swamp.
I met the angel Auriel decades ago in the swamps of Heady, far south and then west of the Kingdom of Cendrillon. There I was searching for a demon-creature called Tsarok who was infamous for creating hoards of creatures solely from the fecal matter that drifted into his swamps from nearby villages. Auriel was there searching for this monster also; but his agenda was to kill him for loosing his monsters, which Tsarok called The Skreets, into a local shipyard and killing hundreds of men, women, and children. All I wanted was to convince him to let me borrow a small army to march north and cause a slight bit of damage to the villages on the outskirts of Cendrillon.
“This does not concern you, demon!” And there was Auriel, bellowing at me from across the swamp. His thin white sword was in his right hand and her round silver shield was in front of him. This angel was too slender and effeminate to even be called a gull. Clearly the foolish tart meant to stop me by force if I did not comply.
“Oh, this does concern me, dovey!” I called back, not bothering to hide my grin. “I have business with Tsarok today. You shall have to come back to kill him another day!”
“If I must destroy you today I shall, Askharoth: The Deceiver!” Auriel screamed as he lunged across the swamp at me.
Now my blood-lust rose up from within the chasms of my damned soul after hearing the vulgar name the Angels called me, and my claws shot out in rage. However, I also knew Auriel was not as experienced in battle as most Angels, and Tsarok was not a strong demon. After all, any demon that would make a pastime out of creating monsters out of human waste could not be too fierce. Auriel could have easily handled the likes of him, but unfortunately for him, he was not currently lunging at Tsarok.
Auriel was very quick with his light frame, but not as strong as another Angel might have been. I casually pulled his shield away from him, along with the bottom-half of his left arm. He arced his sword downwards towards me, but he was too slow. With my lightning-quick speed, I slashed his stomach and bosom open, and shredded his silver breastplate. His bright red blood flowed freely into the swampy water at my feet. And since his chest muscles and ribcage were ripped to shreds, I was able to reach into his chest cavity to pull his heart out (one of the few ways to put an angel down for good). Then, I stomped his vacant body into the putrid swamp. Once he was gone into the same festering pool of wretchedness that would create the Skreet, I found three of his feathers floating on the surface of the swamp. I picked them up, bound them together at the base with a small piece of rawhide I kept in my pocket, and hid them from sight. I had kept them with me ever since.
This, I kept secret. Usually, I love nothing more than to gloat about how I slaughtered a young Angel-dove, and left him to rot under the muddy, filth-filled swamp, but I did not want Heaven to feel slighted enough to unleashed a battalion on me. Even though it had been the angel who wished to battle, Heaven would still see fit to have me slain for my sin. I did not have time for that kind of nonsense. So I kept the feathers secret to all, but myself.
Suddenly, the memory faded as quickly as it appeared, and I found myself back in the presence of Lady Ivy. She, of course, was not able to see my vision and revelation, but it appeared she was at least aware of it, in some sense. My left hand absent-mindedly went under my black cloak to where I stored my secret trophy of the angel’s feathers, just to ensure they were still there.
Lady Ivy wanted these three feathers. As fond as I was of my trophy, this prophecy could mean more to me than just a bunch of pretty dove feathers from a short, delicious battle. Lady Ivy would get her use out of them by using them as fodder for powerful spells. Lady Ivy also knew that if I did not find the trade fair, I would unleash my wrath upon her entire coven. This prophecy must be good indeed, I thought. I made my decision, quickly.
“I find these terms agreeable, Lady Ivy,” I said placing Auriel’s feathers on the worn table in front of me. They still looked as pretty as the day I plucked them from the water’s surface of that putrid swamp. “Now tell me this prophecy, and tell true.”
“As you know, I have no need to lie to a High Demon,” Lady Ivy said before clearing her throat. The room seemed to darken a bit as she began:
“A golden haired maiden of high birth and modesty shall befall great suffering;
A young prince shall be bathed in the blood of his enemy;
The two shall come together in a fierce love that shall birth the changing of an age.
A golden son to spread the light of Heaven and bring a great age of peace;
A dark son to spread darkness and bring a great age of war;
A golden son to banish evil from this earth forever;
A dark son to dim the light of heaven forever.”
The witch sat silent for a while. Repeating the words seemed to tire her energy. Oh yes, these were strong words indeed. The hidden meanings as bright as day. This son she spoke of had two possible paths: one of light and one of darkness. Now that I knew of him, I intended to steer this son towards the latter.
“You know where to begin,” Lady Ivy said, regaining her focus. “I believe you already have the young prince at your disposal?” The witch again revealed her great skill as a seer. I did have a young prince promised to me. All I had to do was make a deal with his dying mother.
For the second time, Lady Ivy’s hut disappeared from my earthy perceptions as I relived my own memories.
It was nine years earlier when a great sadness overtook the Kingdom of Cendrillon. I took the form of a poor farmer looking to make money by selling a mule and made my way to one of the villages near Castle Cendrillon. I quickly heard the rumors that were on the lips of every good man and woman. The pregnant Queen, Helena Charmont, lay sick and likely dying while her husband was off to do battle in the East. He was prone to go to battles quickly, and without much thought, and it was also rumored that he had a legendary member, which he often used on whores or the village maidens after a victorious battle. There were very few whorehouses in the land that you would not find an account of his royal highness’s sexual escapades.
I sneaked into Cendrillon Castle late one evening. I shed the guise of the poor farmer, took the form of a castle guard, and gained access to the royal chambers where the ill queen lay awake, still sweaty from fever and her last coughing fit. I could sense death on her and the unborn child still inside her as soon as I walked into the room. She saw me and grew immediately agitated. “Why do you see fit to bother me in my chamber, guardsman?” she asked sitting up with great effort.
“I am no guardsman, my Queen,” I said, shedding my exterior disguise and showing her my true form. “I wish to speak with you if you have a moment to hear me.”
“It is you!” she said brightening up. “I prayed for someone to come. Someone to come and end my life and the life of this rotten little king in my belly.”
This was what I had hoped. My whispers of the king’s whores had gotten back to her. I had made sure word of all King James’ misdoings and rape had reached the queen’s ear. The sickness she had was also my design. I knew a demon who could discreetly spread ill unto humans. I had him give the queen a sickness that would kill her and her child unless someone could stop the spread of the disease.
I could easily use my dark magick to quell the sickness, to say it true, but why do that when making a deal is so much more fun? Dealing with humans is so much more complicated than need be. Sure; I can poison, kill, curse, or maim any human I see fit, but I cannot change their will. It is one of those stupid rules that cannot be changed, not even by the likes of me. I needed a prince, and the Queen could give one to me.
There were, however, loopholes in some of these stupid little rules. For instance, I cannot change any will of any living human on this Earth, but a child that is not born yet does not has a will of its own; its will still belongs its mother.
“You wish for death, my queen,” I said walking towards Queen Helena’s sickbed. “I hear your wish and shall grant it. I only ask one thing in return. You will birth this king’s son prior to your death and you give him to me. I see you wish your death to be a spite on your husband, and it will be so.”
“I would not have you harm my child,” Queen Helena said, defiantly. “I would rather him die than be raised by my pig of a husband and end up whore-mongering and killing for fun like he does!”
This was slightly disconcerting. “That is a good plan indeed, my Queen, but I may have a better one,” I said, slyly. “In two months’ time you will give birth to a little boy. I can sense him in you. He is strong. He is defiant. Most of all, he has your eyes and face. Let this child come forth from you as you give your last breath. He will be a constant reminder to your husband for how he left you to go warring and whoring while you lie in your sickbed with his child. He shall look upon his son, and see you. He shall look into the eyes of your son, and regret every filthy whore he stabbed with his kingly manhood. He shall feel regret for not being here for the birth of his son and the death of his beloved wife. What say you, my Queen?”
She sighed heavily. The baby inside her kicked, as if in protest. Whether it was from her depression or fever-induced delirium, she conceded to my bargain. I could sense the sickness building inside her once more. If she did not allow me to extend her life she would be dead by the following morning, along with her child. “What do you want of me, demon?” she asked, exhausted from nothing more than a short conversation.
“All you have to say is: ‘In exchange for a quick and painless death during childbirth, my son will listen to your whispers with open ears and an open heart,’” I said. “That is all. Say the words and our deal will be concluded.”
“I swear it unto you, demon,” the Queen said. “Upon my death in childbirth, that my unborn son will listen to your whispers with open ears and an open heart.”
At the conclusion of her words, I let the Queen fall into a deep sleep and performed my magick. The following morning, she showed vast improvement and may have even believed our meeting was a bad dream. Over the next two months you would never have guessed she had ever been ill to the brink of death. On the day she gave birth to Prince Henry (she had arranged to have her son named after her father whom the King greatly despised), she died quietly and swiftly. The King arrived home from his long battles with the Easternmen the day after she was buried. He regretted her death every day of his life.
Thanks to his mother, the young prince would listen to my whispers. I could not force him to do my bidding, but he would have to hear me out as he would a close friend or lover. Anything less subtle than that would have immediately been noticed by the agents of Heaven.
Lady Ivy’s eyes pierced me. I could sense that she knew my demonic senses would take me back to that day. Only a fraction of a second had passed, but I had relived the entire event. Lady Ivy was a great seer indeed.
“This is very good, Lady,” I said as Lady Ivy got up from the table. “Your skills are great indeed.”
“Come with me, Lord Askharoth,” she said. “I have something else to show you. This, I will give you as a gift.” Lady Ivy went outside. I followed her to where Eleanor and another witch I did not know had a young dark-haired girl in chains. “She is our gift to you, my Lord.”
I looked over the girl. Long dark hair flowed to the small of her back. She was dressed in rags and covered with what looked like coyote fur pelts. I looked behind her ears and saw no dirt or blemishes. It was as I thought; she was a high-born maiden. She must have been stripped of her clothing and valuables. How the witches came to have her in their midst, I did not know, and I did not ask; it was neither my concern nor business. “What am I to do with her?” I asked.
“A name,” Lady Ivy insisted. “She will offer you a name. A name you can follow to the second piece of the puzzle.”
I looked down at the scared girl; no older than sixteen or seventeen years of age, and in the greatest danger of any living creature on this earth. “Give me the name, girl,” I said, approaching her slowly.
Her terrified, wet eyes looked me over, suspiciously. Her lips trembled. I thought she’d die of fright at that very moment, but instead she gave up the name. “T-T-T-Tremaine,” she said. “Tremaine,” She collapsed onto the hard ground and burst into tears.
“Tremaine?” I asked turning to Lady Ivy. It was a name I was not familiar with, but would be very soon. But Lady Ivy did not answer me in the way I had hoped. It seemed she would leave me to my own devices to figure out the rest. Very well. I have worked with less.
“The girl has one more request to make of you,” Lady Ivy said smiling. “She wishes to join our coven.”
I sighed in disdain. A woman can only make a covenant towards the darkness with a demon through sexual contact. Lady Ivy was asking me to take this girl’s purity.
“You know how this kind of magick works, Lady Ivy,” I said. “She has to ask me of her own free will.”
Lady Ivy turned to the scared girl. “Go on, girl,” she said. “Ask him.”
The girl looked at me again. Tears were spilling freely from her eyes, in torrents. I grew aroused as I detected the smell the salt in the air from the maiden’s tears. There was no doubt she would ask to become a witch. They had either threatened violence against her family if she said no, or they had poisoned her. Either way, if she asked, I would have to comply out of respect for Lady Ivy and her coven.
“Yes, demon,” the girl said shaking. “Please make me a witch.” The frightened girl did not even know how to address a High Demon properly. No bother. She would learn soon enough during her long life as a witch of Black Keep. I would surely not be the last demon to grace this wasteland of a village.
I took the young girl to the hut we were directed to, and led her by her grubby little hand to the makeshift bed, made of moist hay and putrid animal skins. She was terrified, but that was fine by me; I liked it better that way. I finished with her before my seed was spent, and opted to spill my fiery, demonic seed on her stomach, where it scorched the skin like acid. The girl let out a shrill scream as it burned her flesh, leaving a twisted scar that would never fade.
When I was done with the now newly-initiated witch, I took my leave of the lot of them. I had a lot to ponder on this dark night.
“Lord Askharoth,” I heard a voice say, once I was out of sight of Black Keep, and nearly into the dense forest that surrounded it. I grew agitated that my thoughts were now being interrupted. “I hope you found good fortune tonight.” It was the voice of the owl that had sent me to Black Keep ten days prior.
“I did and then some,” I said to the owl perched in the tree. “Fly down from that branch and tell me who you really are. I am most interested to find out.”
“Very well,” the owl said. “You are most observant, Lord Askharoth.” The dark silhouette of the owl changed as he came down off his branch. He grew to the shape of a demon slightly shorter than I. His skin was red and black and he had one eye above his bulbous nose. He wore a dark brown cloak made of owl feathers. I had seen such cloaks before. The in-line of the cloak had been enchanted by witches so that its wearer could change forms at will. Once he changed forms, I could finally sense a very strong demonic aura.
“Greetings Askharoth,” the newly revealed demon said. “I am known in the realm of Hell and Earth as Orgen. I come to you at this time to bring you word of Drog’s undoing and demise.”
This was ill news indeed. Drog and I were close friends from two centuries ago. Together we fought a small army of men and feasted together on many of their maidens and daughters. “How did Drog meet his end?” I asked.
“His half-human son put a spear through his demon heart,” Orgen replied.
“The idiot,” I said. “I warned him to kill that whelp whilst he was no more than a pup suckling on his human mother’s teat.”
Orgen and the forest outside of Black Keep swirled and were gone from my earthly perception in an instant. I was once again reliving one of my own memories. This time, I found myself standing outside of a dank cave near the shore of Rego Bay awaiting my oldest friend, Drog.
When Drog finally emerged near dusk, he was holding a calm child in the palm of his left hand. Drog was a large demon. He was at least a head taller than myself and had a thick, gray hide over his thick layers of muscle. Two white horns adorned his forehead. I was sickened by the proud, accomplished look on Drog’s face as he held his half-human child in the dying light of the day. No High Demon should be happy when a human births one of his spawn.
“What a fine warrior he shall make!” Drog said. Spittle flew from his mouth. He had to open his mouth wide because of his large teeth.
“I trust its mother is taken care of,” I said with no hint of joy in my voice. There was no need for it, and Drog knew this.
“Her life’s blood flows from her nether region in great torrents,” Drog said. His eyes watched me intently as he spoke. “The witch’s body grows colder as we stand here and speak. My son suckled whatever milk was left in her breast and left her husk to rot.” It was a bittersweet end for the damned maiden who had become a witch after a night with Drog. He had met the maiden behind a tavern in Old Blakesport and had taken it upon himself to make sure the girl did not return to her parents unmolested. Drog put her in a hypnotic trance so he could defile her under the wooden wharfs amongst the smell of rotting fish and dung. The painful pregnancy lasted more than two years as Drog’s spawn feasted on her from the inside.
“The child should join her in death,” I said, stepping closer. Drog was one of the fiercest demons I have ever known, but I knew he did not have it in him to kill the child. I would complete this task if he asked it of me. Drog knew this as well.
“No,” Drog said defensively. “The child is mine, and the decision rests with me alone. I know what this means, but my seed shall live on.”
“Very well,” I said. “But know that nothing but ill can come of this.”
“I know you have no want to father your own spawn,” Drog said. “But do not assume that others share your ideas on the subject.”
“Fools,” I said in a near growl. “The lot of you. If that child were mine, it would be rotting at the bottom of the bay at this moment.”
I forced myself from the memory. I had not thought about it often, but that was the last time I would see Drog. He did not seek out my company after that day. I much preferred the damp forest outside of Black Keep to the memories of the warm rocks of Rego Bay.
Drog was indeed an idiot for letting his child live. The proof of this was in Orgen’s words. There is a reason why I did not spend my demonic seed inside that young girl during her initiation into the darkness. Centuries ago, myself and a few of my now dead companions (Drog included) uncovered a prophecy read by the deceased Witch King telling of a way in which you can kill a High Demon of Hell. Translated from the language of the Angels it read simply: A High Demon can be killed by any weapon wielded by a child bore of its seed.
“Drog’s death aside, I must share more pieces of information that you may find useful,” Orgen continued. “It is very important you actually hear the final piece of the prophecy of which Lady Ivy spoke.”
“That treacherous hag!” I spat. I should have known she would try to leave something out. A witch could not openly tell a lie to a High Demon, but that meant they could leave certain things unsaid. “One day, I shall have her ragged head on a stake and feed her entrails to her goats.”
“There is no need to kill Lady Ivy, Lord Askharoth,” the demon Orgen said. “She can be quite useful for our causes. Besides, the final piece was merely blocked from Lady Ivy’s perception with angelic magick.”
This also was ill news. The use of angelic magick meant that some being from Heaven’s forces may also have known of this. Lady Ivy was indeed a fine seer. Angelic magick would be the only thing possible to block her unearthly perceptions. “Speak now, harbinger. Tell me what was hidden from the old witch.”
“The prophecy spoke of two more beings intertwined within the words that spoke of the child of darkness and light,” Orgen said. “Only one versed in angelic and demonic languages would be able to interpret such words. This part of the prophecy spoke of a demon who would forge the world into a renewed darkness, and an angel who would vanquish its’ evil from the land. It is clear now that you are the demon, and the Angel, Lord Askharoth, is Mikhiel the Archangel.”
Mikhiel. I nearly gagged on the bile that was rising up in my throat. There was no other Archangel alive or dead that had thwarted me as much as this pretty gull had. Every time I tried to amass an army of men, he would convince them to seek peace. Every time I would gather demons to me, he would slay them with his white sword. I have defeated him in combat many times and he has defeated me as well, but never to our deaths. This game we played had already lasted centuries, and always ended in stalemate.
Angels have their powers as well as their weakness, just like demons or any of the lesser creatures of this Earth. They are blessed with stunning good looks, so they would appear beautiful to any human that comes across them. They have phenomenal fighting skills and are given weapons powerful enough to cut down the strongest of demons. But where they are weak, I am strong. An Angel cannot interfere in the lives of humans if that interference would cause the mortal harm in any way. They also cannot take the shape of other creatures to sneak about like a demon can. And of course each and every one of them fancies themselves as some kind of grand thespian, putting on dramatic shows for the humans they love so dearly.
Oh yes. Their love for these stinking sacks of garbage and bile called humans, would make me sick to my stomach, if I had one. Angels valued human life above all others, even their own. I have known angels to spare no compassion whether they were saving a high priest, or a lowly whore. It mattered not whether they worshipped their almighty Father, or not. This Mikhiel was especially fond of these humans as well.
I would have to be extra careful once again to be playing against an opponent such as Mikhiel. Especially now, since I had planned on this being our final game should he attempt to interfere.
“You are indeed a harbinger of bad news, Orgen,” I said, bowing slightly. “But I thank you for your warning. May your days be full of your enemies’ bloodshed and woe.”
“You are too kind,” Orgen said, bowing back and transforming back into the form of an old owl. He landed on a tree branch less than ten feet away, and looked back at me. “I am stationed here to watch over the witches of Black Keep. Should you wish to return to this place, I will aid you in any way I can. Farewell, Lord Askharoth.”
And so it was that I left Black Keep and the Northern Mountains, and traveled south towards the kingdom of Cendrillon. It was a long trip, but I made it there quickly. I took to the air when I could afford to spread my large, reptilian wings and took the form of a traveling merchant once I was forced to use the main roads. It took me three days and nights to travel into the villages of Cendrillon. Château de Tremaine was easy enough to find. The Tremaines were a high-born family who made their wealth in coal mining and farming, and everyone knew that their house was in disarray.
I stood in the courtyard and used my demonic senses to see and hear what was beneath the surface of the rather large château. I immediately was able to see and hear all the recent events that had taken place there. Evil plans were already in motion, and I planned on inserting myself into them. Only, I had no idea how easy it would be.
The lady of house had suddenly fallen ill and died the year before, and the master of the house was becoming quite desperate to give his daughter a mother who would raise her like a proper young lady. I saw her image: a little girl about ten or eleven years of age, skipping through the courtyard in front of the stately Château; petting the horses in the stables; helping the maids and groundskeepers with small chores; feeding the field mice and birds whenever she could; always making a point to visit her mother’s gravestone before dinner every night. Etcetera. This was the young Cinderella, who was named after the kingdom in which she was born. She was the golden-haired maiden of high birth that the prophecy spoke of. I now knew why I was shown visions of this girl as I trekked north.
She would be the perfect vessel for my dark child.
I then met the woman who would fancy herself the new Lady of Château Tremaine. Master Tremaine had already proposed to her after wooing her for only a few short months. She was a widow with two young daughters about the same age as Cinderella. Her former husband was an abusive rapist who would beat her senseless after coming home drunk and smelling of whores. When she fought back, he would rape her as well. Their second child, Darcy, was a result and a reminder of one such raping. If he only knew what an evil woman his wife would surely become he may have finished her off.
But the Master had died suddenly one night and she was widowed. The cause of his death was highly suspect, but it was not ruled as murder. Around the same time, Cendrillon officials were granted funds to put an addition on their own lofty headquarters. The new widow took charge of their lofty Château and was solely responsible for raising their two daughters (even though the master of the house took very little interest in his own offspring to begin with). Over the years, the maintenance of the Château was neglected, and the widow spent the rest of her husband’s money on fancy clothing and pretty jewels for herself and her troll-like offspring. Before long, she had become desperate and began sniffing around for another wealthy benefactor. After a few mismanaged love affairs, she happened upon Edouard Tremaine.
Master Edouard Tremaine had looked passed her haggard facial appearance and nasty demeanor, choosing to focus on her high birth and mothering instincts. The widow knew her time was past, so she put forth her ugly and spoiled daughters before anything else in life, and at the time Edouard thought this to be a noble trait in a woman. Her dead husband’s money was all but squandered, and so she had no option but to marry Edouard Tremaine when he proposed to her on a moonless spring night.
I waited patiently in the shadows until a month before the Master and Lady were to be wed. Master Tremaine had already bought up all her dead husband’s property and holdings, and he added what little wealth there was left to his own vast fortune. The Lady and her two daughters moved in, and appeared quite comfortable. Cinderella was very friendly to her new family, but her new sisters and future stepmother showed nothing but disdain for the young girl.
“Good evening, Lady Tremaine,” I said, concealing my identity in the form of a gardener. It was growing dark, and the soon-to-be Lady Tremaine was walking through the rose gardens behind the estate. I startled her a bit as she threw a bitter, sideways glance at her new surroundings.
“I am not yet Lady Tremaine, servant,” she said, haughty and indignant. “Nevertheless, a low-born gardener should not address the Lady of the House unless he is addressed first. I shall have your job stripped from you if such an affront happens again.”
“But I am no servant, my Lady,” I said, shedding a little bit of the gardener disguise. I showed her my dark eyes and their yellow irises. “You can call me Lord Askharoth.”
“A demon?” she gasped. Her hand instantly flew to her bosom. “I have heard stories of your existence, but I never thought I would ever come in contact with one. What would you have of an honest and true woman such as myself?”
“Please,” I replied with a sneer. I moved closer to the frightened Lady as I spoke. “I can see how honest and true you are, haggard widow. I know you do not love this man. I know that you despise him and his perfect little daughter. You would like nothing more than to be alone in this lush estate with all of the Master’s money, shoveling lavish baubles down your daughters’ throats.”
“And you can make this happen?” She asked, with an eager glint in her eyes. She was a quick one. “You can get rid of this boorish man and his prissy little weed of a daughter? I say yes. I will pay whatever you want in return! I shall offer you my very soul in return if you ask for it, my Lord Askharoth.”
“An earthly demon has no use for a human’s soul,” I said. “Especially one as tarnished as yours,” I smiled at her once again. “I do have a special deal for you, if you would hear it.”
“I shall hear it,” she said, becoming nearly breathless with anticipation.
“Good. Soon after you are married, your husband will fall ill and die from sickness. This, I can make happen. You shall inherit his estate, his home, his riches, and his daughter.”
“His daughter?!?” she asked, incredulous. Her face twisted as if she had sucked on something unpleasant. “The sickness can take Cinderella too, for all I care! I freely give her to you.” She was now on the floor, pleading on her knees. Her hands were folded in front of her face, as she edged her way towards me. Her pathetic behavior evoked my rage.
“YOU CANNOT GIVE ME WHAT YOU DO NOT OWN, YOU SNIVELING HAG!” I bellowed. My voice was saturated, like pitch-darkness. Her bladder loosed, and I could smell the hot piss soaking her dress and pooling on the ground around her. “I have other plans for Cinderella,” I said, lowing my voice to quell my anger. “Her father will die per your wish and my own, but in return you must raise Cinderella for me. It shall be a miserable childhood. You shall abuse her. You shall lock her up. You shall treat her lower than any servant. You shall do this until the day I return to remove her from your care. Do we have a deal?”
A smile spread quickly across the Lady’s plain and aged face. I could see she liked this plan much better than one that would simply let the pretty girl die. I was appealing to the Lady’s sadistic nature. She could torture and neglect poor little Cinderella in any way she pleased, as long as the girl was there when I required her to be.
“We have a deal, Lord Askharoth, and I thank you.” The Lady said, bowing. I let her take leave so she could get out of her piss-coated clothing and clean herself up.
A month later, the widow was re-married and became Lady Tremaine, the woman of the house. Less than a year after the wedding, her husband fell ill, and not too long after falling ill, he died quietly in his sleep. Cinderella was the most distraught and saddened over his death, and she took to spending most of her free time sitting in the now empty chair in his chamber, facing the wall, staring blankly with a tear-streaked face. She refused to bathe; she refused to eat. But one day, after a week of this, Lady Tremaine ordered two servants to drag Cinderella out of her father’s chambers, kicking and screaming, then assigned her chores to do around the estate. Her daughters would often watch Cinderella do these chores, taunting her while they played with their expensive toys while wearing fancy dresses. Soon, Cinderella was forced to move into a small room in the attic, where she was told to stay until she was summoned. Cinderella knew that the only rebellious act she could muster was to put forth a happy and brave face through all her adversity, while doing as her stepmother demanded.
I took my leave of Château de Tremaine for the time being. I had other business to attend to, and I was confident in Lady Tremaine’s ability to do what I asked.
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