By Lauren Rabalais
Web Content Contributor
“Death is lighter than a feather. Duty, heavier than a mountain.”Robert Jordan
Ashtad watched the sparrows.
He sat atop the balcony rail in Alphonse’s bed chambers, swaying his legs back and forth as he watched the birds glide past the castle with outstretched wings.
He didn’t want to be summoned again. It wasn’t the first time it happened, but it was definitely the first time in years, perhaps even decades, and when it had happened—when he had to stare down yet another beady-eyed creature who wanted nothing more than to take— he knew he would be disappointed once more. He’d heard too many depraved desires to expect anything different.
The cycle was never-ending: humans would summon him to their realm, ask for wealth or notoriety or any other capricious desire, and live miserable lives until they died. And once demons were summoned, they could not return to Hell until the summoner passed away or unless the summoner rejected the contract. It used to be a worthwhile trade—wandering around a world that wasn’t home for decades in exchange for a human soul—but boredom soon outweighed its value. At least he had friends in Hell.
But the prince— the brilliantly stupid prince, he decided, and he wasn’t sure which of those words suited him best—was a bit less disappointing.
He was so wide-eyed and earnest, barely able to stand up as he asked him to murder his own father. It was almost unreal, really, how small and vulnerable the weepy prince had looked below him when he had so much anger etched into the wrinkles on his forehead. The prince’s resolve was as iron-solid as the stone-walled castle around him, and Ashtad was magnetized to it.
But something within him changed after the incident in Dolos. He saw the moment it happened, when the prince’s eyes glazed over as he stared out towards the frozen River Caligo. Ashtad was there, of course, for he was always there. That was the nature of the contract, after all, tethering demon to human until death did they part.
He was still uncertain of the pact’s specific rules, but he knew he could only get so far away from his summoner until his movement was obstructed as if he’d bounced off an imaginary mirror. After centuries of attempts to find solitude, he’d concluded that he had about 200 meters or so of distance. That, fortunately, was enough space to traverse most of the castle, and that was more than enough for now.
He stayed perched on the railing, finger to his lip. The prince had been laying in his bed for hours, now; perhaps it was time to intervene. With a sigh, Ashtad twisted around and hopped off the rail.
“You are welcome to share your feelings with me, dear prince,” he said as he opened the porch door and made himself visible. “I know your mind is troubled.” From his bed, Alphonse peered up with heavy eyes, not even startled by his appearance. Ashtad found this irritating for some reason.
“Were you outdoors?” Alphonse asked lowly. “I heard the door creak open.”
“I was, indeed,” he responded. “Though it seems you have much you need to discuss.”
Alphonse turned his body away from the demon with a huff. “I do not wish to converse with you. Leave me at once.”
The prince had been different before, but now, he seemed far away, like some distant, melancholy thing staring up at the rest of the world from deep below the surface where the light couldn’t reach. He wanted the old prince back.
“You will achieve nothing like this. The world is still waiting for you to discover it. Those gentle dames meant no ill will.”
Alphonse rolled over to look at him again, his eyes wide. “How might you— how might you know what they spoke of?”
“I know every breath you take, prince; I live in your shadow. Even if you cannot see me, I am with you. I can move a small distance independently, however.”
“Oh,” Alphonse said, astonished. “I thought you simply flitted back and forth between your world and mine.”
Gracious, he would if he could. “As you now know, that is quite the falsehood,” he said. “You cannot live for eternity; it would be wise to take advantage of your newfound freedom and see what lies in the unknown.”
He received a blank stare in return. “I am quite okay remaining here, thank you. The world outside is no different than the world within this castle.”
Ashtad was struck by a sudden idea, exhilarating in its deviousness, and he couldn’t help but chuckle under his breath.
“I daresay you may be right, after all. The castle was corrupt under your father’s reign, so I surmise that the world outside must be as well,” he said, willing himself to not grin and ruin this opportunity. Alphonse looked tired and a bit confused, but his eyes were a little sharper than before as he sat up on the bed.
“You did a splendid job eliminating the biggest evil in Apatéa. With me to assist you, Your Highness, you may enact judgement on any other wicked individual desiring to make others suffer.”
Alphonse’s eyes widened as if he’d reached a grand epiphany—Ashtad could practically hear the screeching of the cogs spinning wildly in his head. “Is that my destiny, do you think? Is punishing evil individuals my purpose in this world?”
Ashtad simply gave him a small smile. Alphonse smiled back with that resolve Ashtad had been looking for all this time.
“Then I shall be the best executioner the world has ever known.”