By Lauren Rabalais
Web Content Contributor
“So bent he seems/ On desperate revenge that shall redound/ Upon his own rebellious head”– John Milton
Alphonse swiped his emergency cloth from his side and unrolled it with unsteady hands before dressing his still-bloody finger. A little needle-prick of this size shouldn’t endanger him, he surmised, and he slumped over with shaky laughter as blood started to seep into the white cloth.
His relief was interrupted by a rugged groan.
He looked up and expected to find some hideous creature with flashes of shiny, sharp teeth, grotesque horns and giant leathery wings, but what he saw looked awfully human. He rubbed his eyes, expecting the figure to morph into a writhing, sputtering horror of shadowy talons. Instead, he saw a young man pull himself up and brush down his black trousers, grimacing as he tried to smooth out a stubborn wrinkle that clung onto his right pant leg. There was nothing to indicate that this man—demon, Alphonse— came straight from Hell: no horns, no wings. Nothing. The most sinister things about his appearance were his top hat and his garish red coat.
The demon-human looked down at the young man still on the floor. He appeared almost irritated, maybe even bored, if not only for a second before his indistinct grimace melted into a lazy little smile. Alphonse thought he could hear the slightest swelling of trumpets as the man poised himself with all the magnificence of a noble.
“It seems I have been caught,” the demon said with a sigh, his voice slipping past his hominoid lips in a snake’s hiss. “Your skill is quite commendable.”
“G-great Demon,” Alphonse said, knowing that error of speech would most likely bounce around his skull all night. His nose flared and his legs burned as he pushed through his exhaustion, dragging himself up to meet the demon’s height. “I am Prince Alphonse of the House of Watson,” he said with a shaky bow, trying his best not to topple back down. “It is a pleasure. Might I question why you appear mortal? I must admit, I expected something perhaps more,” he paused for a moment. “Ghastly.”
“Don’t you know I can change form?” the demon said with an exasperated swing of his arms, which were broader than Alphonse expected. “Surely a skilled warlock like yourself would be so educated.” Alphonse opened his mouth to retort, but the demon continued.
“I do wonder how I was ensnared by such a novice.” He stretched his arms out in front of him, releasing a full-bellied yawn as he stepped out of the circle. “I must be having a lousy evening.”
A chuckle gurgled from Alphonse’s mouth as he stumbled his way towards the bed. Goodness, he needed to save face and process this. “Ah, of course. I must have forgotten that you demons have multiple appearances. Do excuse me, Great Demon.”
“I am known as Ashtad.”
The demon—Ashtad—walked towards the bed and plopped down next to him. Does this creature not know that sitting upon another’s bed as an acquaintance is improper? The prince moved away a few centimeters.
“Now, then,” Ashtad said, his voice steady with practice. “What is it you desire? You wish to make a deal with me, correct?”
Alphonse swallowed down the nerves that were tearing up his throat like acid. “I request that you slay King Harold Aldrich Richard of the House of Watson— my father. He is an abhorrent man who must atone for his sins against Apatéa.”
Ashtad suddenly gave a broad, toothy grin. “Ho, ho, regicide and patricide? It must be my lucky day. What a nasty plot. You are quite the vengeful prince.”
Alphonse smiled back, but his eyes didn’t follow. “Is ‘vengeful’ truly the appropriate expression? I am protecting the kingdom from a monster— I would hardly call that selfish revenge. I wish for nothing but excellence for the people inhabiting this land.”
“Is your father an improper king?”
“Perhaps—” Alphonse started. “While I regret to admit he is an acceptable commander at times, I know his genuine nature shall ultimately come forth. He is a horrid villain who deserves an eternity with the gallows. If we refrain to act, peril shall befall the kingdom.”
The demon’s smile almost reached his ears. “Believe you me, Prince—you are hardly a model of morality,” he said. “Well, no matter. Let us discuss the matter of payment for our bond. You may request any service you wish, and it shall be yours. Kindly consider that I cannot resurrect the dead and I cannot heal any illnesses or wounds. Simply put, I cannot directly impact your form. In a similar vein, I cannot make anyone enamored with you.
“In return, when you part with this realm, you shall relinquish your soul to me. I cannot kill you with mine own hands, but your spirit—the very essence of your being—shall replenish me upon your passing. Is this an acceptable contract, mortal?”
“Aye,” Alphonse paused. He tried to swallow down the saliva lodged in his throat as he stared at his well-kept shoes. “Will I not reach Heaven upon my death?”
The apples of the demon’s cheeks sank again, and Alphonse couldn’t place his finger on why. “You would be shunned from Heaven even if I refrained from taking your soul. Murderers do not go to Heaven.”
“But shall not a savior reach Heaven in the name of justice, even when relying on unsavory acts?”
Ashtad looked down at a frayed thread on his pant leg. “In principle, I suppose,” he said, reaching down to pluck it away. “Justice is such a fickle notion.”
He heard what he needed to. “Very well,” Alphonse said without any additional consideration, and he noticed that Ashtad’s eyes seemed to brighten just a bit. “I accept your proposal.”
Alphonse expected to watch his intangible soul fly out of his chest or for his heart to seize up with horrible pain, but he was surprised by the lack of grandeur. The only sensation he could focus on was how the once-pleasant trumpets ringing in his head swelled into a deafening, frantic crescendo.
Ashtad’s hollow, quiet laughter seeped into the bedchambers in a wave of poison, echoing deep in Alphonse’s chest. “And so it shall be. It is a pleasure doing business with you, dear Alphonse. When do you wish to act?”
Featured image by Johnnie Losoya.