March 20th, 2014 • Avigdell
Malstefin sputtered awake with a groan. Something was pawing at his foot, and he jerked it away on reflex.
“Hey, hey, easy!” It was just Falient. “Easy, ol’ boy. You’re alright.”
The Demon looked down to see Falient bandaging his tattered foot. His other foot was already wrapped, along with the wounds on his legs and arms. The stab wounds to his sides and belly had been cauterized– the farero’s fire, no doubt, he thought– and treated with a blackish green salve. He recognized the smell.
“You have falstaroot here?” the Demon was surprised.
“Aye,” Falient replied, “Got myself a nice little Dark garden growin’ in my cellar– for patchin’ up things like you.”
Malstefin rubbed his face, finding Falient had washed his hands of the blood and grime that had caked on them. He raised his head a bit, taking stock of his surroundings. He was in a windowless room, presumably underground, out of reach of the Light sun on the island. He was in a massive bed (the Demon was surprised they’d had one to fit him), softer and more comfortable than anything he’d ever lain on. There was a chair nearby, and a table full of medicines and bandages. There were no chains in the room.
“This is not a cell,” Malstefin noted, “Nor dungeon.”
“Guest room,” Falient answered, patting his ankle as he finished tying off the bandage. “Under Lask’s house.” He reached for the table, and uncorked a bottle there. “Here. For the pain. If you can keep this down, I’ll see about getting you something to eat.”
Malstefin accepted it from him and drank. It was a familiar tonic, and he downed the full bottle in a few gulps.
“Ah… thirsty, then?” Falient said, eyeing the empty bottle he passed back.
“Here.” Falient passed him a silver cup.
Malstefin regarded it with a skeptical eye. “There’s nothing–” Even as he spoke, the cup filled with water. The Demon craned his head back from it as if it might bite him.
“It’s ok,” Falient assured him with a chuckle. “That’s what Light houses do– they provide for those the Light favors.”
Malstefin downed the water, then said, “Why would the Light favor me?” As if in answer, the cup refilled itself, and he emptied it again without further questions.
“Why’s it feed me?” Falient shrugged. “Reckon it thinks you’re worth somethin’.” He picked up a clean rag and dunked it into a bowl of soapy water nearby. “Gonna let me wash that face before you start shoveling food into it?” He reached to swab Malstefin’s dirt-smeared brow, but the Demon snarled and snapped at him.
“Easy!” Falient yelped. “I just need to finish cleanin’ you up is all.”
“Nobody touches my face,” growled the Demon. He glowered, but didn’t look very imposing bandaged up among all the bed pillows.
“Want to do it yourself, then?” Falient offered him the rag. Malstefin took it, and scrubbed at his face with it, working around the eyepatch and leather strap. He scraped up a few scabs, drawing fresh blood, but ignored it, scouring off the dirt and bloodstains before handing the rag back.
“I ever tell you how I got this?” He gestured at the jagged scar extending above and below the metal patch.
“Nope, and I wasn’t stupid enough to ask.”
Malstefin snorted, almost a laugh. “A Luminor captured me in the early 1600s. Kept me prisoner for six months. Tortured me every day. I thought I would die there. One day, about four months in, I pissed him off enough, he gouged out my eye. Pissed me off enough I decided I wasn’t going to let him kill me. Started getting a handle on my magic while he was gone from the room– never had much need for magic before– managed to wear the chains eventually, got loose, killed him. Took three days to do it.” The Demon grinned a bit, revealing pointed teeth, as if remembering a fond memory. “Took his castillo, made it mine. The rest is history, as they say.”
Falient listened, trying not to show how disturbed he was to think a servant of the Light could wreak such atrocities.
“He was more like me than he realized,” Malstefin murmured, then took another drink from the cup. “He didn’t die like most of them do. I think he was near corruption. I like to think maybe he is stuck in eternal limbo somewhere, unable to cease being like Dark-dead, unable to move on with the Light.” He glanced up at Falient. “How do you like yon farero?” He nodded towards the door, as if Lask was just outside it.
“He’s a good man,” Falient replied. “One of the most decent I’ve ever met. He’s good to me. He’ll be good to you, I bet.”
“If I take the Light.”
Falient shrugged. It was an unavoidable point. Malstefin sighed, glancing down at his battered body.
“Even when I was chained on that Luminor’s table, I didn’t feel this…”
“Stuck?” Falient supplied.
“Si.” The Demon’s tail coiled around the bedpost. “I have lost before, but not like this. At least before I had ruins to rebuild.”
“You still might,” Falient said. “I might see if Wyatt wants to go scout your old place soon. Anything you’d like me to look for?”
“Keep an eye out for a little brown snake, no longer than your forearm. Name’s Kellak. He won’t bite. Lived in my chamber for centuries.”
Falient nodded, thinking it was an odd request. He’d never known a Demon to keep a pet. He thought for a moment, then said, “You know… if you come to this side, the Light could prolly fix your place.”
“If I survive.”
“Aye.” Falient shrugged again.
“When do I have to take the Light?” asked the Demon.
“When you’re ready.” Falient patted his arm. “Heal up for a few days, think about it, sort stuff out in your head. I’ll do it when you tell me to.”
Malstefin nodded. “You are…” he paused. His language didn’t have a word for what he wanted to say. “You favor me,” he said at last.
“Kind,” Falient replied. “The word you’re looking for– it’s kind. Light words.” He smiled a little. “Aye. We’re like that here.”
“I would like to speak to your farero before I ask for the Light. Can you arrange that?”
“I’m sure he’d be happy to talk to you.”
Malstefin nodded, and rubbed a sore place on his head. He snorted, as if to clear his head, then said, “You said there would be food.”
“Aye, that I did. Comin’ right up.”
The next evening, Lask descended the tower steps to the underground chambers. He knocked on Malstefin’s door.
“Intran,” the Demon grunted.
Lask turned his key, and let himself into the room. The Demon looked surprised to see him.
“You were expecting Falient, I take it,” Lask said, taking a seat in the chair.
Malstefin was lounged on the bed, looking much better than the day before. His wounds had scabbed, some already fading, and his skin had regained its bold crimson hue. His one orange and gold eye inspected the Luminor with suspicion.
“Would you like Falient to be here?” Lask inquired.
“No,” Malstefin replied. He shifted, throwing his legs over the side to sit on the edge of the bed across from his visitor.
“How are you feeling?” asked the Luminor.
“Better.” The Demon was gruff and stared at him with a wary eye.
“Would you be up for a walk?”
Malstefin’s brow furrowed. “You would let me out of this room, still Dark?”
“You’re on an island surrounded by Light water. I’m not worried about you escaping, and if you wanted to hurt me, you could do that just as well in this room.”
The Demon nodded with a shrug, conceding the point, and rose. “Fine. I trust it is nighttime?”
“The sun set an hour ago,” Lask confirmed, rising with him.
Malstefin towered over him, easily over seven feet tall not counting his horns, and seemed broad as a mountain. Lask glanced up at him, seeming at ease, but bracing for any move the Demon might make. Malstefin noted the look and shook himself, shifting into his human form. He was still taller than Lask, but only by an inch or two. Lask smiled a little as he held the tatters of his pants at his waist.
“I think you’ll find some clothes that would fit you in that dresser there.” He motioned to the corner.
“What dresser?” the Demon asked, turning to look. His brow furrowed as he saw the piece of furniture that had appeared in the corner. He approached and opened a drawer, as if expecting it to be full of hissing vipers. Instead, he found a fresh pair of black pants, and a rust-colored button down shirt. He pulled them on without complaint, and spotted the shoes that had appeared beside the dresser.
“Is your house always like this?” he asked.
“Most of the time,” Lask replied with a smile.
“No wonder fareros are so–” the Demon caught himself mid-mumble, and cleared his throat. Lask made no comment, and opened the door for him.
Malstefin ventured out of the room onto the small landing, and glanced up the stairs.
“Don’t worry, it’s not far to the outside,” Lask assured him. “May I help you?” He offered an arm for the Demon to lean on, but Malstefin snorted at him and started up the stairs, pulling himself along the rail.
When they reached the hallway above, Lask led him to the door at the side of the house. Malstefin stood in silence when he opened the door, and scented the air, nostrils flaring at the night’s perfume. The crisp breeze blew in the fragrance of early spring flowers. The garden lay beyond in the soft night, full of sleeping color and the pleasant choir of night insects. The path was lined with flickering lanterns, their fires lending a gold halo to the nearest roses.
“Come,” Lask said, guiding him outside.
Malstefin followed him, still with a marked limp, taking in the place. “You live here, with such…” He paused.
“Beauty?” Lask supplied, knowing his language had no such word.
The two strolled in silence for a moment, and Lask watched the Demon from the corner of his eye. Malstefin absorbed his surroundings, seeming unsure what to make of the place.
“You could stay here, you know,” Lask told him. “You could have a garden like this, and your own home to provide for you.”
“Go Light, you mean,” the Demon grunted.
Lask nodded. “It’s not so bad,” he said with a slight smile.
“I have to take the Light,” Malstefin said. “You will not let me go, no?”
Lask said nothing, but his silence was enough.
“I must convert or die,” the Demon said. “I do not know how to be Light.”
“It will come,” Lask told him. “You could be whatever you wanted on this side.”
“I have no desire to be under your boot, farero,” Malstefin growled.
“I’d not presume to tread on you, scorpion,” Lask replied. “You are a king. You have always been a king, and always will be. You may have no kingdom at present, but the likes of you is never without one for long.”
Malstefin seemed taken aback at the statement.
“People follow you,” Lask continued, “And you are fair to the ones who are loyal. That will not change when you come to the Light. People will still follow you, you will bring many to better things, and bring your kingdom to flourish. Is that not what all good kings desire?”
“You do not know me, farero,” hissed the Demon.
“Don’t I?” Lask arched a brow at him, holding his gaze a moment.
Malstefin growled and looked away from his keen eyes– those burning crimson eyes that seemed eerily familiar to his heart for reasons he did not understand. He busied himself studying the gazebo across the garden.
“Your kingdom flourishes,” the Demon noted as he took in the island.
“I am no king,” Lask replied, keeping easy pace with his limping gait.
“You lead this alkesh, you are lord of this domain, admired by many. You wear that golden crown.” He glanced to the circlet upon the Luminor’s brown, set with rubies and ornamented with his crest of the sun.
“I am the counsel of kings,” Lask said, “And I steward what may yet be a wide kingdom, but there is no throne for me, nor should there be.”
Malstefin glanced at him, intrigued at the strange creature beside him, wondering how one so powerful could have so little ambition.
“Sometimes you just know things about yourself,” Lask replied to his look.
The Demon thought this was a cryptic statement, but it felt true.
“Is that why you walk with me here, Counsel of Kings?” asked the Demon.
“Do you ever speak plainly?”
“Not often.” Lask smiled at him, and Malstefin considered punching the grin off his face, but quashed the urge.
“Falient seems to like it here,” the Demon remarked.
“Yes. It’s good to see him happy.” Lask smiled.
“It is good to have a familiar face in this place, even if it is that pain in the ass.”
Lask was surprised to hear what sounded like a fond chuckle rumble out of the Demon. It faded quickly, and a shadow fell over his face.
“You have lost much,” Lask said, voice soft.
“It is not the first time, and you needn’t pity me for it.” Malstefin looked away, tilting his nose toward the stars in a way that was very Luminor-like. Lask didn’t think he’d be pleased at the resemblance, but couldn’t help smiling at it.
“What was lost will return to you,” Lask replied, “For the Light is good.”
“I have not taken the Light yet.”
Lask walked ahead of him, leaving him some space to think. The Demon looked after him, watching him move through the lantern light among the roses and lilies, and for a moment the Luminor’s surety silenced the masked terror behind Malstefin’s iron countenance.