Upon entering the shadow of the moonlit church, they shuddered. Neither knew what to make of the ethereal chill, but from a glance to each other they understood it wasn’t in their minds.
Kaia just grinned.
“I’m still mad at you,” Rasmus said and walked up the steps.
The light made white lines on the church, its face bathed in black. The doorway swallowed a figure, and when the priest bowed, the siblings hesitated.
The man smiled and turned to lead the way, immediately gushing. “It is so good of you to come!”
Rasmus didn’t know what the original monk, who’d sought him out, had told the others, but this priest seemed giddy, his speech fast, a bounce in his step despite the late hour. He immediately ushered them forward and down a thin hallway.
Both Rasmus and Kaia stood heads over the little man, and Kaia was a fairly average height. She’d finally acknowledged after all these years she had stopped growing, but still refused to admit she was shorter than her brother. When they tested it, she’d just smack down his mop of blonde hair and say, “It’s just your birds’ nest that makes you feel so giant!”
“You have come in good time,” the priest told them. “We don’t know how much longer we will be able to keep him. He is a captive of our preacher—the head of our order,” their guide explained. “A fine and impressive man, but one human nonetheless. His knowledge of the demon race allowed him to capture the beast not only alive, but bind him. There are, of course, some who fear keeping him here, but the father stays and watches him well every moment.”
The wooden floors made loud clopping echoes in the chamber. They passed a series of bumpy tapestries featuring holy relics and resurrections, the small torches doing very little to illuminate anything. The monks all occupied the hallway, watching. Nuns and ladies of the cloth kept their eyes wide.
A singular door materialized from the dark at the end of the hall. The priest, quick in his step, opened it without hesitation.
“He’s downstairs. Be careful as the beast is a crude one. Do not get close to the bars, and listen to Father Abram. Remember, we are all prepared if something should happen.”
“I will not be doing anything to the demon tonight,” Rasmus assured everyone.
The priest hadn’t yet left the demon’s side, and he was tired.
He stood outside the bars, far away from the line of reach, glaring inward towards the captured beast.
The creature looked perfectly human. If not for the disdain he showed the members of the church, he may be considered a liability, easily confused for an innocent. But the marks of hell were there: his white hair, an invisible yet very tangible dark aurora… and then there was the burns. The demons without the burns were worse, for they were still master to their human lord. This one, with singed skin around his wrists, had been freed. He held no loyalty to anyone but himself. But in order for a demon to be released, he must complete his master’s request, and the priest could only shudder to think what he committed to be allowed from the binds of hell.
The monster’s disgust for the human race was apparent. He had made no point to disguise himself, still clad in black tatters of ash, a strange dust that clung and moved like cloth. It could only be found in the reaches of the lower planes where no human had ever been. And his hate for all others never escaped his eyes. Those beasts who could lie about their loathing were more dangerous. They tricked the easily fooled into trust. This one had been captured due to his revulsion, so the priest could only be happy for the hateful gaze that followed the father’s pacing.
The beast hadn’t moved for hours, legs stretched comfortably before him, his eyes the only piece of him to break from an unnatural stasis.
The door opened and the priest turned. He sighed.
“Welcome,” the father said.
As Rasmus entered, he came with curiosity, but his step was certain. An aged wonder overcame him and he moved in silence, analyzing the caged beast with a glare. They locked eyes. The creature slowly blinked. Rasmus surveyed his full body.
Kaia kept behind her brother, clutching his sleeve tightly and peering over his shoulder. Her face seemed expressionless.
“Perhaps,” the priest began, “the lady would feel more comfortable outside.”
She flicked him a look.
“It isn’t a wise idea to bring her into the mouth of the beast,” he added.
Rasmus gave a disgusted frown, but shrugged it off. “Get rid of her if you wish.”
The girl and the priest stared at each other. He made no motion.
Rasmus approached the bars.
“So this is the creature,” he said. “He seems… shorter than I’d expect.”
The priest ignored him, standing to explain, “I have him chained with silver. I only give him water and soy. Without blood or meat, his strength is diminished.”
Rasmus watched the demon’s expression poorly refrain from a scoff. With a smile, Rasmus glanced to his sister to see if she had noticed.
She was almost white.
He frowned, but was not entirely surprised.
“Does it speak?” he asked.
“He has said little, but yes, he does understand. His accent is a little foreign, but he’s completely understandable.”
“Is it the old language?” Rasmus said.
“Like I said, he is completely understandable. He is not an ancient,” he looked over to Kaia. “Is the woman alright? She appears a little ill.”
“She’s fine,” he said with a wave. “Tell me your story, demon.”
The thing just stared.
Rasmus looked to the priest and shrugged. “I expected as much. What are your plans for him?”
“The Vampire Hunter’s Guild was the first to alarm us to his existence, but one of their members was unfortunately hurt and had to be hurried home. I hoped they would return with others to bring the demon back to the proper facilities, but we found him after they left. Though they claimed he was what had hurt them, they didn’t prioritize retrieving him, it seems.”
“Will he be killed?” Kaia asked.
The priest paused to examine her interest. “I do not know. He may. He may be studied. He may be taken prisoner and used for certain labors. He also may be cut into pieces and used for magical elements.”
Rasmus paused before leaning in. “Are you sure it’s best to be talking about that in front of him? Word of punishments are usually grounds for tantrums.”
The priest glared at the demon coldly. “He knows what’s coming.”
Kaia leaned forward, finally stepping away from her brother to ask, “And if they don’t come?”
Rasmus contained a scoff. She damn well knew who they’d outrun to get here.
Father Abram looked at her as if she was an idiot.
“I sent a letter to the main church. They will know what is best.” His eyes narrowed. “You don’t look well my dear. I fear for your safety.”
Rasmus stepped between them. “What is it exactly you’d like from me, sir. Support? Extra information?”
He seemed offended, probably, to some extent, correctly. Tilting up his chin, he stated, “I have everything under control. My studies have given me apt information against the demon. I assure you, I don’t need any assistance.”
Rasmus eyed his sister who was timidly waving to the man behind the bars.
The creature raised an eyebrow.
“Well,” Rasmus said with a polite and annoyed smile. “I never indicated my services here were necessary. My sister and I were just passing through. We thought—were told even—we’d be able to help before just leaving. However, if you have no need of us, I’d be happy to just take my departure in the morning.”
The priest’s face drew taught, his mouth thin and eyes narrowed. Eyes rolled to the corner, he eyed the demon, biting his lips on the verge of speaking. Finally, he turned to Rasmus, saying, “Let us speak in private, shall we?”
Rasmus paused before nodding. But Kaia stood there with no intent on moving.
Father Abram glared her down pointedly.
She stared back.
“My dear, if you would please—”
“She’s fine,” her brother snapped. “If you want to discuss this alone, we will need to take it out in the hallway. She won’t move.”
The priest still watched the girl. She remained blank.
“I do not leave his side,” he said finally.
“If he could’ve gotten out, don’t you think it would be when you and your spleen are right there? I will respect your wishes to confide in who you want, but I will not be witness to the enormous tantrum she’s going to have the second you try to kick her out.”
“You may not be able to control your sister, but I won’t have a woman alone in here.”
“Kaia and I have traveled from the seaside here to help your
town. My sister may be an incompetent with no ability to do what she says she will, who outright refuses to listen or sell her portion
, and uphold her side of things
,” he said at her pointedly, “but she is extremely knowledgeable about all things that lurk in the Wyrd, demons included. I’d wager she knows more than you and me combined. She and I have both been in our fair share of incidents with these types of things. You may consider her nothing more than just some woman, and that’s fine. We’re both accustomed to that. I won’t argue with you. But I’m not going to help you belittle her either. I wish to talk to you outside of the demon’s ears, and someone
should keep watch.”
The priest didn’t speak at first.
“Surely,” he said finally, “you did not come all of this way knowing the church had sent some help for just a rumor of a demon.”
“You think we’re not interested?”
“I know many people claim to have seen one. The messenger came back with the Vampire Guild’s reaction…” Father Abram said.
“And they were dismissive.”
“Very much so. We expected it. But they would come…”
“Do you know why they agreed?” Rasmus asked.
He tried to answer, but couldn’t come up with anything. He finally bowed his head in submission.
“We don’t either. The hunter who had been injured here was a friend of ours,” Rasmus explained. “Kaia’s friend. She is desperately determined to understand what happened. Perhaps we can help each other.”
Father Abram took this in, chest puffed out. “It is stupid to open our traps in front of certain people.”
“As you wish,” Rasmus said. “In the hallway we go.”
Rasmus shut the door behind him and stood, arms crossed, solid in his place. He counted the seconds. There was a moment of doubt, but it was short. He barely released a breath when the door creaked open and the priest stepped out.
“So?” Rasmus demanded, balancing at the bottom of the stairs with an impatient rock.
The priest tilted his head to glance up the steps, searching to see if anyone was really listening.
“Please,” he whispered, arrogance flattened. “I don’t know about leaving your sister there.”
He shrugged. “Well, if she breaks anything, I’ll be sure to scold her.”
“This is the first I’ve left him alone without a guard since he was taken in.”
“Well, again Kaia’s there,” Rasmus said, amused.
“They are the most easily manipulated by his wiles.”
“Then you better just tell me whatever it is you need to say,” Rasmus snapped.
The father paused, staring at him before nodding.
“I do need you here.”
“For what?” Rasmus said impatiently.
“I have spent all my time down there, watching him… staring at him… studying him. I can feel my mind strained.”
“Well, it would make anyone go crazy.”
“No!” the man insisted. “It is not because of my own confinement that I will snap. It is because of him! One cannot outlast his powers forever. I can feel him slowly starting to deceive me.” The priest leaned in closer. “I can feel sympathy
Rasmus’s mouth twitched, but he did not smirk.
“He, of course, cannot know this. He will use this to his advantage.”
“So what do you need of me?”
“I wish for you to take my place and watch him.”
“I know people of your caliber have experienced these things. I understand you will be stronger. Besides, not being of the cloth makes you even less likely to fall to him. It’s those who don’t stand so close to the light that adjust quicker to the darkness.”
“You haven’t shared your time with the other monks? I doubt they are as pure
“Well,” the priest coughed. “That’s the thing. This is what the demon really must not know.” The father leaned in once again. “They are not the sort to commune with the devil and make it out unscathed.”
Kaia had occupied the priest’s chair and took to merely staring at the creature with a happy smile.
He had paced a little, but now glowered back. A certain level of a competition flicked between them, and the demon felt the smirk on her face a threat.
His lip curled up on one side in the form of a winning smile. She gave a wide-eyed empty look.
They kept at it for quite some time.
“So,” Kaia said finally. “Do you have a name?”
His eyes narrowed.
She threw her ponytail over her shoulder, stating in a staccato condescension, “My name is Kaia. I’m from out of town. I love this place though. You’ve been here long?”
With a guff, he took to pacing again.
“I imagine you haven’t. You really should see the sights before you go. There’s this lovely little bed and breakfast in some lady’s basement, and if you go to the large wall I believe there’s a decent layer of vomit that is just astounding.”
Now the demon looked at her.
A sly grin crossed her face. She leaned forward in her chair. “You know, not talking to me won’t make me leave faster.”
The creature’s grin broadened. He slammed his fists on the bars. A loud clatter from the chains forced her to jump.
“How’d you come here? Are you lost, little girl?”
She recovered with an exaggerated face of thought, slowly shaking her head. “No. I’m in the basement of the church with a lunatic. I know exactly where the door is.” She tapped her head. “Mental note.”
His playful side diminished into lethargy, the creature sinking on the bars, eyes drooping in disgust.
“The question is, do you
know how to get out?” she asked.
With a swift jerk, he turned away from her, dragging the silver chains to the back wall.
Kaia leaned back and crossed her legs, her toying nature gone, a sincere thought resting behind her face.
“I don’t mean to bother you,” she said.
He flashed a look at her.
“I’m just trying to keep you company.”
He rolled a shoulder between them.
“I mean, aren’t you bored?”
“You are an idiot,” he growled.
She threw up her hands. “Alright, fine. Point taken.”
From the corner of his eye, his gaze followed her, though his back remained even as she stood and walked from his line of sight.
She sighed, walking over to the far table in which a candle flickered over crisp papers. Kaia began to flip through the pile.
Finally, the beast turned completely, studying her scanning the things over. She glanced over only a few pages before a smile crossed her face and she looked back to the prisoner with humor flashing behind her brown eyes.
She held one out to better read. “He really does hate you, doesn’t he? What the hell did you do to him?”
The demon lurched forward with interest. The chains held him like a leash. He jerked back with a loud clatter.
The door opened. Kaia smiled at the priest, informing him with a flip of the paper, “I don’t think these are objective notes.”
“Put that down!” the man shouted as Rasmus entered, a tired look behind his eyes.
“Come on, Kaia, let’s go,” he said.
She hesitated, staring at the look on her brother’s face before crumbling the paper into the reaching priest’s hands and chasing after him, her brother having left before even looking to see if she would follow.
They left with a thump as the door slammed shut.
The priest focused on flattening the papers before glaring at the beast with a deep amount of hate. The demon just stared at the door before suddenly he slammed chains onto the cage.
Father Abram jumped.