By Lauren Rabalais
Web Content Contributor
“To me, the thing that is worse than death is betrayal. You see, I could conceive death, but I could not conceive betrayal.”― Malcolm X
After Alphonse’s call, Ashtad appeared, standing in front of his bed. Upon his arrival, he immediately moved to sit down in Alphonse’s study chaise. In typical Ashtad fashion, the demon sat with his legs crossed atop the chair cushion.
“Am I correct to presume that we are to execute your sister, Your Highness?”
“Aye,” Alphonse said, laying on his bed while clutching the book to his chest like it was a child’s stuffed animal. “You knew of my plan already,” he said with his cheek smushed against his pillow, his words slightly slurred.
“It is what I would do,” Ashtad said nonchalantly, his elbow on the prince’s study desk and his cheek rested into his palm. With his other hand, he traced little shapes into the mahogany wood. “Your sister, to her own detriment, is quite intelligent. She is already convinced that a demon is behind the murders. If you do not eliminate her immediately, then there will be no hope for you.”
“Though she may be innocent…” Alphonse said, swallowing in a desperate attempt to get rid of the awful lump in his throat. “I must get rid of her. Not even she can get in my way, now.” If the road towards his goal had to be paved with sacrifice, then he was ready to lay down the granite.
Alphonse scooted to the edge of the bed and stood up on shaky legs. A sudden feeling of exhilaration bloomed in his brain, and he couldn’t help but let out a breathy giggle. Ashtad looked up, his mouth slightly agape with confusion.
“Don’t you see, Ashtad?” His smile was big and bright, and his eyes were wide. “I’d give up anything! I’d burn this entire bloody castle to the ground if it meant that the wicked would be purged from this world!” His giggling turned into a full-bodied cackle. “Yes, no human alive could stop me! I’ll start with Dolos, and I won’t stop until all of Apatéa is cleansed of its filth!
“Your plan would be fruitless without my assistance, Your Highness.”
“Well, of course,” Alphonse said with a playful smile as his laughter came to a stop and he sat back down onto the bed. “And I have you to thank for giving me this power. With you by my side, I feel like I could do anything.”
For the first time since they met, Ashtad’s cheeks reddened. Alphonse found it to be quite charming when the demon bashfully looked away and returned to tracing shapes onto the desk with his fingers. “Yes, right. We will depart at midnight.”
“Have you already forgotten, Alphonse?” Ashtad said with a sigh. “I informed you of this just a short time ago. I had to visit Violet’s bed chambers with you. Do you recall? Your chambers and hers are over 200 meters apart, so you cannot remain here.”
“Then… could I wait in the hall, perhaps?” Alphonse said in a small voice. “I… don’t want to witness this.”
Ashtad’s absent tracing went to a sudden halt. “I believe your sister deserves better,” he said after a tense moment of silence. “If you intend to kill those you deem unworthy to live, then you must be able to watch the life fade from their eyes. You cannot turn away from your actions.”
Alphonse hung his head in resignation. “You drive a fair point,” he said with a somber smile. “Very well.”
To both Alphonse’s excitement and dismay, midnight finally came, and Ashtad was ready to translocate them both to Violet’s chambers.
“Are you ready?”
Alphonse stared blankly ahead. “Perhaps as much as I could be, I suppose.”
“Very well,” Ashtad said as he held out an ungloved hand. “Take my hand. I cannot bring you with me otherwise.”
Alphonse took the proffered hand, and Ashtad gave him one last smile— a warm, reassuring smile.
His vision suddenly faded to black— the darkest of blacks that reminded him of lonely nights and haunting nightmares, even if it only lasted for a moment. Before he could adjust to the darkness, light flashed across his eyes. He let out a panicked gasp.
Violet was not asleep.
His sister stood before him in her long, white nighttime gown, her eyes dilated in fear and her lips uttering a sorrowful little gasp. Governess Adelia and Viscount Devitt flanked her either side. There were several other guards behind the queen, each one equipped with a rifle. One guard immediately dashed from behind Violet to the door, blocking it with his stature.
“It’s true…” Violet’s mouth quivered, but her eyes were frigid. “You desire me dead.”
“W-what makes you believe such a ridiculous idea, Violet? T-that’s not what I came here for!”
The princess’s eyes lit up with recognition, and she pointed a thin, shaky finger at Ashtad. “That man—that creature—visited my door this evening. He cautioned me of your scheme to eliminate me at exactly midnight.” Alphonse whipped his head over to the demon in shock. His heart sank.
Violet dropped her arm, letting it loosely dangle at her side. “He told me he was a creature of the devil. I did not believe such a confession would be true— he appeared so sincere and amiable. I remained awake and informed the guards, in case the man was an honest fellow. I suppose I was correct to heed by his words.”
Alphonse’s pretty face twisted into a horrible sneer as he pointed at Ashtad. Violet recoiled at the sight. “You… you traitor!” he screamed, tears streaking down his flushed cheeks. “After all we’ve been through, you… I thought we had a bond!” He fell to his knees and wept, banging his fist repeatedly against the wooden floor, not even flinching at the pain. “Damn it all… Y-you were my dearest friend!” He clenched his teeth and hissed, seething with anger. “Well, demon? Aren’t you going to finish the job? You cannot defy my orders! Kill her!”
“Even if you slay us all right here, I have guards at the ready on standby! You will not take this castle down with you!” Viscount Devitt yelled.
Alphonse only saw red. “Kill every last one of them!”
Ashtad gave him a smirk dripping with mirth. “As you wish.”