Sir Brandelis threw the creature’s head onto the floor of the demon’s throne room. It left a long blood trail as it slid across the smooth surface, stopping at the foot of the dais. The screams of the demon’s playthings in the flesh towers above reverberated in the cavernous room.
“Another triumphant return,” the diminutive demon prince, Niozar, crooned from its throne made of enslaved souls who had failed their tasks — wretched creatures opening their mouths in silent screams as they moved inside their amniotic prison.
“Another mark for our brave knight,” Niozar said.
A servant demon, this one bent and black like a used matchstick, approached Brandelis with a needle-sharp dagger. The knight took off his gauntlets and arm pieces. Thin, bloody cuts covered the length of both extremities. Each mark measured no longer than an inch, but they were deep, dripping onto the floor. The matchstick demon wove around him like smoke. Brandelis removed his armor until he was naked before Niozar, every piece of skin showcased a microcosmic range of pain from the marks he endured.
The dagger finally sliced a mark on the last pure piece of flesh left on his body while Brandelis stared at Niozar.
“How much longer?” Brandelis asked.
Niozar grinned so widely it reached the femurs drilled into the top of its head.
“Is it that time already? My, how it does fly,” Niozar mused. “You do look tired, knight, but tell me: why are you here? Slaying demons day after day? Answer me that and earn your renewal.”
Brandelis wanted to answer, but his only memories were of battles on the plains of Hell.
“I don’t remember,” he said, looking Niozar in the eye.
“As I thought,” the demon prince said and pointed toward the moat of blood flowing along the edge of the room.
“There you will attain your renewal and your memories.”
Brandelis squeezed his eyes shut, wanting to believe, but knowing better than to question the demon prince. He walked over and peered into the moat — nothing revealed itself. He wanted the ordeal to end; anything at all would be better than this ceaseless slaying.
“You must immerse yourself in the river of sin,” the prince said.
Brandelis paused. Then, he dove into the past.
The sun pierced through the clouds on a windswept field. Brandelis regarded the creature in front of him: A small demon, but one he could tell was not going down easily. He had spent his life hunting them and every day their numbers grew. For every demon he slew, three more took its place. He lost a bit of his hope for victory each time he fought.
He feinted at the demon with his blessed sword, but the demon appeared behind him and laughed. It created circles of burnt grass around Brandelis as it pranced, taunting him.
“Why hurt me, knight, when I can help you?”
“Shut your foul mouth, demon. There is nothing you can do to help me. It is I who will help you back to Hell.”
“But I can help you. I can grant your heart’s desire in exchange for my life. It loses me a soul, but there will be more in the future. Tell me what you want, and it is yours!”
Sir Brandelis lunged at the creature — a useless gesture, like stabbing ash.
“Think of the good you could do with a wish, knight.”
Brandelis panted, lowering his sword for a moment.
“No, I will not.”
“I can give you energy too. You will never grow tired.”
The demon appeared on his shoulder and whispered into his ear.
“Tell me what you wish.”
Fatigue, desire, hope, poured out in his next words as sweat dripped from his brow.
“There is nothing you could offer me.”
“Is that so?” the demon asked, his horns twitching in delight. “Let’s talk.”
Brandelis broke the moat’s surface, choking and vomiting blood. He pulled himself onto the edge, gasping, his skin perfect and new. The matchstick demon pushed his shining armor toward him; his sword freshly honed was thrust into his hands.
“Why are you here?” Niozar asked, leaning forward on his throne. “Slaying demons day after day? Answer me that.”
Brandelis grinned, energy and purpose surging through his body.
“To kill every demon in this world and the next. To take you off the throne I put you on with my battles.”
“Without me, you would not have such aspirations,” Niozar said.
“I will not need you when it is down to the two of us,” Brandelis said.
“You are so confident? You have no idea how many of us there are.”
“You think I care how many there are or how long it takes? This is my heaven and I will enjoy it until the end! You think I suffer? I will enjoy slaying every last demon until your own blood, Niozar, runs on this sword and we die in each others arms.”
The demon prince leaned back in his chair.
“I’ve heard all this before from your own lips, but is your resolve as strong as you believe? Do you imagine I would have given you immortality if I thought for a moment you would complete your task?”
“We will find out,” Brandelis said, heaving his sword onto his shoulder.
“Yes, we will. But until then—”
The demon prince raised his arms and the other demons beat their chests in approval but worry played over the sea of twisted faces. Brandelis smiled at them all, imagining their bloody demise.
“Slay!” the prince bellowed.
Brandelis strode out of Niozar’s palace.
Danielle DeLisle lives in Texas with her supportive husband and two goofy dogs, but she is a Vermonter in her heart. Danielle is a graduate of the Odyssey Writing Workshop (Class of 2013). She is an affiliate member of the Horror Writers Association.
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