Chapter 9, Part 1

The day that irrevocably changed Alessandra’s life began like just about every other day of her exile thus far. She woke up after a night of sleeping too lightly to get any real rest, and she stumbled out of the outskirts and into the slums, looking for someone to steal money from, so she could buy enough food and water to live for another day. That part of her day went pretty smoothly, and soon enough she was back in her hovel in the outskirts, munching izumal, sipping water, and thinking about how her life had gotten to this point. It wasn’t as if she had anything else she could do right now. Some days she wandered the streets of the outskirts, but generally she tried to conserve her energy. She still had no idea how she was going to get revenge on Bezzum, but she knew there was no way it was going to happen if she was exhausted from hunger.

The sun was starting to set, and Alessandra was still sitting in the doorway of her hovel, gazing out at the barrier and thinking. A vague feeling of despair settled over as she sat there. After three weeks of exile, it was really starting to hit her that this was her life now, that all she had to look forward to for the rest of her life was scrabbling on the edges of the city, desperately trying to cling to survival. What was the point? Why even continue to go on? Torea had said that she was giving Alessandra her life, but what kind of life was this? What was the point of living such an existence?

The longer she sat there, the deeper her feeling of despair grew, until she was seriously considering drawing one of her daggers and ending it all right then. Slowly her fingers creeped toward the hilt of her dagger, but just as they brushed it, she shook her head. This wasn’t like her at all. Alessandra wasn’t one to give up. She’d been in hard spots before, and she’d always found the strength to carry on. There was no reason for her to give up now. Pulling her hand away from her dagger, she stood up, full of a new sense of determination.

“So, you have strong will to live,” said a voice behind her. “That will serve you well in the days ahead.” The voice was unlike anything she’d ever heard. Cold, harsh, almost metallic sounding, it didn’t sound like anything a human tongue could possibly emit. Instantly, she drew her daggers and whipped around, dropping into an alert crouch. What she saw behind her almost made her drop her daggers in shock.

It was unquestionably a demon. It was shaped vaguely like a man, in much the same way that the previous demon she’d seen was shaped vaguely like a dog. It was tall, draped in sinister-looking black and red robes, and had long, white fingers that ended in what looked like claws more than anything. Its face was the most striking thing about it. The skin on its face was a mottled red and black that matched its robes, so much so that Alessandra almost wondered if the robes were actually its skin. Its face was also heavily scarred and pockmarked. It had sharp, white teeth, so sharp they were really more like fangs. It had no eyes, instead it had skin where its eye sockets should have been. Its hair was long, straight, and brilliantly white. Despite its lack of eyes, Alessandra got the unsettling feeling that it could see better than she could.

“What do you want?” Alessandra snarled.

“Relax,” the demon said, putting its hands up in what it clearly intended to be a soothing gesture, although it had the opposite effect on Alessandra. “I’m here to talk, nothing else.”

“Why should I believe you?” Alessandra retorted.

“Does it matter?” the demon replied with a knowing smile. “What would you do if I tried to kill you?” Alessandra had no answer for this, and the demon’s smile grew mocking. “That’s what I thought.” It began strolling toward her, moving almost lazily, utterly unconcerned about the long daggers in Alessandra’s hands. This, Alessandra had to admit begrudgingly, was probably completely justified. “You believe there is nothing left for you except revenge, do you not?”

“Am I wrong?” Alessandra snapped.

“Maybe. Maybe not,” the demon shrugged. “It depends on how events unfold. I make no claims to be able to predict the future.”

“Then why are you here?”

“Merely conversing. It has been a very long time indeed since I have spoken with a mortal. I had forgotten how…fascinating…you can be.”

“I’m…flattered? I guess?” Alessandra said, confused. The demon chuckled at this, and its laugh was perhaps the most bone-chilling thing Alessandra had ever heard. It sounded less like mirth and more like a disdainful hatred of all mortal life.

“Fascinating, indeed,” it said with cruel smile. It turned away from Alessandra and began walking away from her, and as soon as it did, Alessandra struck. She wasn’t sure why she did it. She knew that she had no chance of killing the thing, and it hadn’t made any threatening moves toward her, but an instinct deep inside her felt as if this creature was her mortal enemy, and if she could destroy it, even if doing so cost her her life, it would be the most important act of her life.

The next thing she knew, she was slumped against the wall of her shack, her ears ringing, her vision blurry. The demon was still standing with its back turned to her, but it had one arm outstretched to the side. Slowly, it curled its fingers into a fist, and lowered its arm to its side.

“Perhaps fascinating is the wrong word,” it said. “Amusing might be more apropos.” Suddenly it cocked its head to the side, and then it turned and faced Alessandra again. A truly sinister smile crept across its face. “Now the real fun begins.”

To be continued…

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