The Snake and the Mirror

Chapter 20

October 3rd, 2024

 

“This is bad,” Leyla said for perhaps the fourth time. “This is bad, really, really bad.”

“I get it,” Asha said. “This is bad. I agree.”

The pair of them, along with Eli, were standing on opposite sides of a transparent wall to a self-confessed demon, who was trapped in a chamber of reinforced glass-like plastic.

“As I said,” The demon spoke again. “I prefer the name Constance, not ‘bad’ if you please.”

Its voice came through a speaker in the wall allowing them to hear while preventing any noise or movement of air from escaping the chamber. It was androgynous in appearance, neither male nor female, with chalk-white skin and jet black hair that hung in short curls around its neck and head with straight bangs over emerald green eyes. The straightjacket it wore kept its arms pinned around its sides and back, and it sat loosely cross-legged on the floor.

“Shut up!” Leyla snapped at Constance. “We’re not talking to you.”

“No, we’re not,” Asha nodded. “But what are we doing with…it?”

“Destroy it obviously,” Leyla said. “It admitted to being a demon, after all. What else is there to do with it?”

“We just need to figure out how,” Asha said.

“Now, now, rather hasty discussion, isn’t this?” Constance asked. “Come I can be quite agreeable, even in appearance. Let’s clarify our pronouns, shall we?”

Even as she watched, Asha could see Constance’s outline shifting. Between the blinks of her eyes the demon turned from almost rigidly androgynous into definitively female. The demon’s waist shrunk as its hips expanded, the face rounding and the eyes tilting, the flat chest swelling into prominent breasts as the arms thinned.

“I imagine most of you find this form more agreeable,” Constance smiled, “At least one and a half of you do. Which is good enough for me.”

“Wait…” Leyla blinked. “One and a half?”

“Oh yes,” Constance’s smile never faded. “I can recognize the powers burning in your souls from here. Call it a gift. Let’s see…” It, or perhaps she, gestured with her head towards Asha “Reunified Fravashi empowered by a Zoroastrian spirit of no mean power…” She looked to Eli. “A similarly empowered Zoroastrian mortal, though much more subdued in power and in purpose…” finally she looked to Leyla. “And here we have two people in one shell, plus one spirit makes three, Must get crowded in that head of yours.”

“That does it,” Leyla growled. “Let’s find a way to open this fish tank and burn this demon.”

“Hold just a moment,” Constance said. “Let us all think rationally for a moment, shall we? If I am so wonderfully gifted to dissect the three of you on sight, imagine what I can do regarding your enemies.

“Don’t listen to it,” Leyla said. “Demons are masters of temptation. All they want is your soul.”

“Says who?” Constance scoffed. “I could not care less what you do with your soul. It seems demons have a rather poor reputation here.”

“Hmmm…” Asha thought. “Back in Rome, Cat talks about how all spirits are called ‘daemons’ with evil ones being called cacodaemons.”

The demon laughed, a cold and humorless tone that bounced off the chamber wall and caused the speaker to quickly garble into distorted static.

“I am no cacodaemon, daeva, or dragon. What I am is something you very clearly have little experience with.”

“Then how about you tell us?” Asha asked. “Precisely what you are.”

“Asha, it will only lie,” Leyla said. “It will say anything to get out of that cage and turn on us. We can’t humor it.”

“I’ll be able to tell if its lying,” Asha said. “It can lie to the humans who contained it, and to you two maybe, but not to me. If it’s lying, then you can use that sacred flame to turn it to ash.”

“I doubt that will work,” Constance shrugged. “But you could give it a try. As for your questions, by all means, ask away. If you’re intent on killing me either way I’ve no reason to lie.”

“We’ll see,” Asha said. “If you’re not actively malevolent, but not a cacodaemon or eudaemon, what are you?”

“I call myself demon because that is what I have been called,” Constance says. “Like all things I define myself by how I am observed to be. But I am of a different brand than your gods and nature spirits. I am a piece of that roiling chaos from which this and all universes were born, living contradiction of order and chaos in corporeal form.”

“So you’re what…neutral? “Asha asked skeptically, senses ready to detect any trace of falsehood.

“More like a living contradiction,” Constance smiled.

“So you’re as much nature spirit as a Primordial?” Eli spoke next.

“And equal parts neither,” Constance nodded. “At the creation of all things, when order was born in chaos across dozens of cosmologies, my kind were born. We are far from all-powerful, not comparable to Primordials or even petty gods, but we like to keep to ourselves, and we like mortals most of all.”

“Because you can trick and tempt them,” Leyla frowned.

“Because they are like us,” Constance said. “The people who trapped me here called me demon, but I can be as much angel as I am demon, dependent on who is asking and what I want.”

“And what do you want?” Asha asked. “Remember to speak truthfully.”

“Short term same as you,” Constance said. “Get out of here and deprive those URIEL scientists of their research power. Long term…well, any number of possibilities, but I’m inclined towards chaos at the moment, particularly pointed at Shadiya’s government.”

“Why,” Asha asked. “Why attack Shadiya’s government?”

“Well, for one they are sort of keeping me prisoner,” Constance gestured around with her shoulders. “That’s reason enough right there.”

“But that’s not all,” Asha frowned. “Not enough reason to trust you.”

“You don’t need to trust me, just agree with me,” Constance smiled. “We both want Shadiya removed and power restored to the people. I can give you more than you can imagine. Knowledge about Shadiya and URIEL, contacts in Damascus. I could be an invaluable resource to you.”

“I think,” Eli said, frowning. “That is the very definition of a Faustian bargain.”

“Clock’s ticking,” Constance smiled, and as she did, the alarms from the door outside grew louder. Reinforcements were on their way.

“How do you know about us wanting aid from Damascus?” Asha demanded.

“Inductive reasoning,” Constance said. “You’ll need outside help. The only viable solution for hundreds of miles if Damascus. Though you’ll find that difficult. If it’s anything like it was three months ago there’s quite a power struggle going on there…of course, all this is academic if I remain in this ‘fish tank’ as you called it.”

Asha ground her teeth and turned to Leyla. “We have three options. Listen to it and let it help, kill it, or leave it to URIEL.”

“Well, we’re not leaving it,” Leyla said. “That we can’t allow.”

“Do we even know if we can destroy it?” Eli asked.

“If it’s evil, infernal, or comes from any dark place the sacred flame will burn her to the core,” Leyla said, drawing his sword. “I say we finish it. I’d rather have nothing than have its aid.”

“And if the sacred flame doesn’t burn me?” Constance asked. “What will you do then?”

“Then we’re going to have to make some difficult decisions,” Asha said, going to the controls and pulling the lever covered in red markings warning them not to pull if the case was occupied.

With a great hiss of stale cool air rushing into the room the walls of the chamber slid upwards into the ceiling, leaving Constance sitting alone a raised dais which Leyla stepped up onto, burning sword in hand.

“Any last words, demon?” Leyla asked, raising the sword.

“Fire away,” Constance said smoothly. As Leyla’s sword came down on her neck, Constance didn’t even flinch, and the blade seemed to glide smoothly through the skin and flesh of the demon’s neck, not leaving so much as a scratch behind save for the sound of rushing air.

“What the…” Leyla pulled his sword back before taking several more wild swings at Constance, each time the blade simply passing through her body as if she was a ghost.

“As expected…” Constance sounded almost disappointed. “Your blade kills all manner of evil, as it was designed by spirits of good. I think it’s time the three of you learned to broaden your horizons.”

Constance stepped past Leyla, dropping down onto the floor. “Thankfully I don’t take offense to futile attempts on my life…not that it matters, our little spiritual conflict runs both ways.”

Constance swung around with inhuman speed, raising a clawed foot in a kick that would have smashed directly into Leyla’s skull, but instead her foot simply passed clean through.

“All of you are defined by spirits existing within you, untouchable to something like me. Even most humans are beyond my direct interference.”

“It seems we need to rethink our options,” Eli said.

“Before that,” Asha said. “We need to escape.” She reached out and grabbed Constance by the coat, satisfied that her clothes at least could be grasped. “And you’re not leaving our sight.”

“As you wish,” Constance smiled. “Lead on.”

The three, now four of them, ran back the way they came, Asha and Leyla using their combined powers to burst through any doors that remained in their way, and felling the guards that chose to stand and fight. After a frantic and wild half hour, all four of them managed to break through a rear door of the facility and escape into the moonlit night.

As they rushed down a side alley to catch their breaths, Asha squeezed her fingers to ensure that she still had a tight hold on Constance.

“Don’t worry,” the demon smiled. “I’m not going anywhere.”

“Neither are we if we don’t keep moving,” Leyla said, his voice going quiet as they heard dozens of monstrous howls echo through the night. “What if they can sense that thing?”

“You can’t even touch me with a sword, you think they can smell me?” Constance asked, amused.

“I don’t know what the hell you are,” Leyla growled.

“He’s right,” Asha said. “Come on, let’s keep moving.”

The four of them stole away into the darkened city as the streets began to fill with armed guards and hunting monsters. Though Eli needed help, the three of them could move with inhuman alacrity, jumping to rooftops or ducking into side streets to dodge patrols as they moved slowly and cautiously through the night, eventually reaching their small rented apartment and sneaking in through the window.

“Safe for now,” Leyla said. “But we can’t risk a raid like that for a while. Security will be insane.”

“A fine time to go to Damascus then,” Constance smiled.

“What are we going to do with…it?” Leyla asked.

“Oh come now, I changed myself to feminine form for all of you,” Constance scowled. “Calling me ‘it’ feels so…dehumanizing.”

Leyla let out a short bark of laughter. “I say we just keep trying until we find a way to kill this thing.”

“I want Hazif to see Constance first,” Asha said. “He said he was half-demon, it’s a start. No doubt he’ll be here tomorrow to confirm we caused all this chaos outside.”

“In the meantime,” Constance smiled. “We can discuss…arrangements.”

“No,” Asha said. “We are not cutting a deal with you. That is where I’m drawing the line.”

“Asha…” Eli started, but Asha cut him off.

“No, Eli. I know we need to make compromises and we can’t always do right when we’re trying to take a city, but I’m not going to cut bargains with a…being I don’t fully understand.”

“My, seems you’re all smarter than I gave you credit for,” Constance said. “Very well, no deal, but I will offer my services for…consultation.”

“We’ll see,” Asha growled. “For now, you’re not a partner, consultant, or even help. You’re a prisoner until we have reason to say otherwise. Got it?”

“Got it,” Constance smiled. “Prisoner or not, I can already tell this is going to be a very interesting experience.”

 

 

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The Cities Eternal©2017, Evan Murdoch, Ben Sousa

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