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I.

The first lesson I will teach you - Power is everything. You may unlearn everything else.

But if you forget this one thing, you will suffer until you learn it again.



We were so young then, so happy. I'd just gotten out of school having been told I'd get to play part I wanted in a local production of Lord Ochre. I didn't understand the play at the time - just that we all got to dress up in silly costumes and run around stage, and that afterwards the adults would pour us hot chocolate and my dad would take time off early to walk us home.

Dad hadn't come home early that day, but it didn't really bother me. With just the three of us running through the knee-high grass, William making airplane sounds and waving his arms, I wondered if summer might never end. Lucy was telling me a funny joke. It wasn't that funny, I guess. A joke about the sky, some sort of pun. I don't remember what the punchline was. I just reemember the weird metalic whump sound.

It wasn't like something you'd hear naturally. William went whump - I guess it was probably the sound of the rebar bisecting his torso. Lucy finished the joke, then told it again, then a third time. Neither of us payed any attention to William. It was like our expressions were frozen in that moment, and if we moved them just a bit...

The details still kind of get blurry for me. Master says that it's only natural, since I'm so weak. I guess that's normal, since Master is so very smart, but I feel like he'd be nicer if I could talk about it. I just remember the first shape - the way each pair of wings was simultaneously larger and smaller then the lst, and the way they descended from the sky in columns, like they'd flown straight out of the sun.

... Maybe William and Lucy weren't even hurt that bad. Maybe I was just a coward. I don't know. I just was scared and terrified and yelling, hoping that dad or mom or someone would hear me and help me out. I don't think I got very far before I crashed into Master, who was staring at the whole scene in disdain. I remember sobbing, begging for help, looking up at him pleadingly.

And I remember him not staring at me at all - only watching the destruction unfold with a slowly widening smile.

Finally, he noticed me or pretended to first notice me, and asked me what I was doing so far from school on such a bright day. I must have repeated myself until my voice grew hoarse, asking if he'd help me get home and make things better. I remember the way his cane drew ditches in the soil, and the look of smug superiority on his face as he told me:

"Child, the world is ending. There will be no homes for anyone else, any more."


II.

The second lesson I will teach you - power is everything. You may delude yourself into thinking that friendship, or kindness, or money may give you security. But words of love will turn into lies, coins of gold will melt into so much worthless metal, and friends will be the first to drive a knife between your ribs.

But with power, you may learn to rectify this. You may take as much wealth as you need, may guard your affections with jealousy and chain your lovers to you - and without friends, you will be secure, a fortress in yourself.


Master was perhaps sixty years old, or older - but it was hard to tell. He walked as easily as someone in their youth, but did so with a manner that was... Dignified? Hateful? Aloof?... I have no word to describe it. His hair was a mess of silver and black, marinated with grease and knife-bearded. He wore only clothes that he had made, and everything he made was blue, or gray.

He told me repeatedly that I was lucky he had taken me in, else the same demons that killed my friends would have torn me apart moments later. He told me that it had been a sudden kindness that made him do so - but Master was not kind, nor sudden. Everything he did was deliberate - and cruel. He told me that through work, I might be of use to him - find some salvation. I found nothing in his work but suffering.

Every day, the same lesson was taught. With either the whip, or a ruler, or the hard teak of his cane. He affected a limp, despite having no weakness in either leg - the cane was just there as a tool, a symbol of his authority. Once - and only once - I made the mistake of asking if dad and mom were all right - if maybe, I could go see them.

He laughed and laughed and laughed and laughed and laughed and laughed -

And laughed and laughed and laughed, laughed until tears ran down his face and got stuck in his beard and maybe were even saltier than the things he said.

Then, once again, the lesson proceded as usual.


III.

The third lesson I will teach you - power is everything. If you show momentary weakness, this world will jump upon you. You, who are doubly weak - you are cursed with an innate disadvantage. You must armor yourself and become strong, or you will be nothing more then a tool to those around you.

Your tears are weak, your attitude is weak, and your feelings are weak. Just looking at you disgusts me. Now - can you imagine for a moment what one who is not as magnanimous and kind as I must feel at your sorry sight..?


Maybe the third or fifth month into my stay with Master, he started getting the letters. I had stopped talking at that point because whenever I spoke Master found a way to silence me. But that turned out to have it's own advantage, because it was at that point he started to forget - and with his forgetfulness came a kind of freedom.

I didn't believe the letters were real, at first - wasn't the rest of the world ruined by now..? The wards around Master's residence were strong, but at the same time - genuine paper, and genuine ink. Different styles of handwriting, some soft and gentle and other harsh and demanding - and none of them Master's.

Leonard. I finally had a name, though no last name. I wondered if he might have erased it - Master seemed like the sort of person who would, simply because he could. My throat caught, and I looked over my shoulder - but Master was gone, out on one of his many rambles. He had told me numerous times never to leave - and I was terrified of disobeying Master.

However...

However, he had never told me - in exact words - I couldn't explore the residence, so I did. All of the books were written in a mystic language, foreign and exotic - I could read none of them, though the pictures were beautiful. He had a television, a radio - but neither worked. Master drank frequently, and smoked more frequently, and I contemplated grinding dust and soot into his tobacco - but shivered at the thought of him finding out.

"Hey, you there."

The voice wasn't Master's, nor was it familiar. It beckoned at me from behind a bookcase, and made my heart skip. Someone else was here..? Did they belong to Master, too..? Hesitantly, I whispered out a meagre cry.

"H-hi..."

"Don't be shy - that man will not return for some time. Why dont'cha push that shelf to the side? I can't see you, but you sound brave. Go on - just push it. Just a little bit more..."

My shoulders heaved, and I tried to pretend I was a superhero. Eventually, the shelf gave out - and behind it was a passageway I had never seen. Maybe it was a bit predictable, but at the time I was stunned - by the stone-cut stairway and the flickering sconces, the smell of saltpeter and sulfur.

"Free me, pal. Free me and I'll be your friend forever."

The voice spoke, growing louder as I strode down each stair.

"Free me, and I'll grant you your fondest wish. Free me, and I'll free you."

I began to run, run down the stairs, breath heaving and crying and hoping desperately Master wouldn't appear, laughing without laughter and smiling his unphaseable smile.

"Free me, and I'll kill ya."

The room was wide - wide enough to house five or ten rooms each as small as mine. The room was tall - the ceiling seemed to rise above me, taller even Master when he got angry. In the center was the sky-blue prism surrounded by the same letters in Master's books... And in that prism, the demon looked at me with a gap-toothed grin.

Without hesitation, I destroyed the room, knocking over candlelabra and pedestals that had stood in the same places for generations. I ran and raged until I could do no more - looking fearfully at where the demon had been before, and hoping it had been enough to free it.

I still remember the look on the demon's face as it stepped out into the open, rows of teeth grating against one another as it rose to it's full height, almost touching the ceiling. I remember the tears of happiness streaming down my face as I stared at it - stared until minutes turned to hours... Perhaps eternities.

Finally...

"Why - won't you kill me..?"

The demon, looking incredibly bemused, replied:

"What sort of monster do you think I am? Why on earth'd I do something like that..?"


IV.

The fourth lesson I will teach you - power is everything. Do you know where electricity comes from? The sky, the earth, the roaring blood of wires and metal and machinery? It is none of these things. Electricity is a form of power - and if you can control yourself, you may control it as well.

But you won't ever be able to do that, because you are weak - weak and fragile. The moment you try, your body will sizzle and blister and die even as 'you remain alive and conscious.

... So go on. Let us try, try again. This time - I want to see you last for more then a few seconds. It should be - amusing...


The demon helped hide everything. Master knew it had free'd itself somehow, but not once did it cross his mind that I had been the one to help it escape. Once again, his hypocrisy was a source of my amusement, but only when he was gone - collecting herbs, or as he called them - reagents. During those times, the demon would emerge from the dark places it hid and talk to me of many things - and it was the first time since those days I remember feeling happy.

For the demon had been a slave as well - and though it had been so for a longer time than I, it felt my imprisonment had been much worse, or so it told me. The first question is I asked, of course - why, on that fateful day had demons killed my friends?

"No idea, really. It doesn't exactly sound like something we'd do."

The demon was staring up at the ceiling and juggling several books between it's many-pronged claws, not caring that the beautiful pages were being destroyed by those ink-stained razros.

"But I saw it - and then Master came, and the world ended..."

"Is that so? You saw demons attack your friends? Sucks to be you, pal. I hate to ask, but doesn't mean that you should have a better idea of what happened then me..?"

And what had I seen, exactly? It was true I'd seen horrible things - but come to think of it, I only saw the demons after I had began to run. And why would a demon need to throw rebar, when their bodies were as ever-changing and deadly as any weapon?..

"You might be right. But - but what about the world ending, and why I can't go outside!"

I had very little else to cling to, you see. At the time I felt if I had even this much, I could bear anything that Master said - or did.

"That's ridiculous. One of the reasons I want to get out of here is to see the human world... The world of demons is supposed to pale in comparison to yours. And trust me - we demons have very good sixth sense. I'd definitely tell if the world was destroyed, no doubts about it."

And with that, my reasoning fell apart and once again I cried.

The demon felt guilty and awkward, and attempted to improve my mood through card tricks and funny stories and weird gestures of its many lidless eyes. But I continued to cry until my eyes grew dry, and then I kept crying without tears, sucking in air and rocking back and forth.

... Then, I felt one of the demon's several claws tenderly on my shoulder, as it asked -

"Hey, hey, don't cry. Don't cry. You wanna learn something cool? Something useful? You wanna learn what makes that damned old man so scary?"

"Do you wanna learn how to kill people?..."


V.

The final lesson I will teach you - power is everything. At the end of the day, you have nothing and no one to rely on but yourself. Anyone who tells you otherwise is a liar. And even dreaming of strength is too much for a child like yourself. That is why you are needed here - where your only purpose is to be sacrificed on that day, of that month.

Only then will the world return to normal. Only then will you finally be of some use. Yes, I'm sure your dear dead parents would be ever so proud. Now, cry again. You will only work if you are as miserable as possible. Otherwise you are not even useful for this. Otherwise, you are of no use to anyone, at all...


It had been drawing close to the day of the sacrifice. Master had told me frequently that he expected me to be as quiet as possible while he found the rarest ingredients. That everything was necessary to regenerate the world -

By then, I knew he was lying, of course. But the demon had taught me well, and I was a quick learner. Despite what the 'master' had said, I was strong, strong, STRONG! It takes strength to survive and carry on when your world has been destroyed... And as I grew under the master - Leonard's tutelage, I learned that his many words were so much smoke to cover his own weaknesses and fears.

He was little more than the two-dimenonsional villain in Lord Ochre, and I and my demon friends would put a heroic end to his wrongdoing. For I had made many friends - and many of them bore grudges against this man, who treated them as tools to be used and discarded at leisure. They whispered kind words of encouragement every night - and I listened, and learned, and waited.

The day of the sacrifice came - and Leonard walked down in his ceremonial robes; which, of course, had been made by his own hands.

"The time has finally come."

He said it without a trace of remorse, and a sliver of anticipation.

That all changed in a heartbeat, when I responded.

"Yes. Yes, it has."

As the room exploded and portals opened on the walls, the ceiling, and the ground, my 'master' ran, shrieking from the hallways. He ran like a man possessed, chased by hounds that were the size of small carriages, and had more faces than teeth. All pretense left as he fled - the broken, weak, shell of a human being that only the truly cruel can be.

And it was in that glorious moment, after breathing in the musty air of the old residence one last time, I and my first demon friend stepped out into the world once more - savoring the sun on our backs and the light of freedom, true freedom.

And it was in that moment that the heroes wandering by fell upon us in a flurry of swordblows and spells, such spells as I had never heard.

My friend never stood a chance, skin ruptured and melting as holy words tore into it like some kind of acid. Screeching, it evaporated into sulfurous smoke - as I fell to me feet, stunned; too stunned even to cry.

"Yes! Score another victory for us! Way to go, guys - this must be the evil lord! Look's kinda runty though, don't you think?"

"Ahdunno. Evil lord isn't really specific thing, I mean you kind of guess it'd be some old guy sitting in this tower, but it could totally be a kid like this, too!"

"Er-hrm! Then it behooves us to put this one out of it's misery before it summons more of those foul creatures, no? Your foul days of villainy end here, Leonard! Prepare to taste my Blade of Justice!"

I couldn't help but laugh. It was funny. Everything was funny.

Wasn't it?

"I'm not... Does that even look like... it should be my name?"

To give them credit, the party of adventurers looked a little confused and even remorseful as I tasted the tinny wine of my own blood. It was only a momentary regret, of course - but that was enough for me. And as I faded away, I felt a faint tug at the corners of my mind.

It's all right, pal. Don't worry - we've got your back. After all - you're one of us now.

Finally feeling at ease, I closed my eyes - and let everything else drift by.


Epilogue


"Thank you for saving me, brave heroes!"

The wise old man with the kindly eyes intoned, smiling deeply. The way he leaned on his cane suggested a great deal of exertation - especially from one who needed to use such sturdy wood just to walk, let alone run! "It is my luck that you arrived when you did. If you hadn't, well - I'm sure the servants of the evil lord would've eaten me by now!"

Flexing his pectorals for no particular reason, the knight who led the party gave a roguish smile. "Don't worry about it, Old Bro! Saving folks is what we do! Still though - what a twerpy evil lord. Uh, do you have any gold or something like that? We'll probably need to get new equipment n' stuff..."

"Oh, yes. Gold is no problem for one who as lived as long as I! Ha ha ha ha!"

Laughing and slapping his bad knee, the old man reached into his tooth-rent clothing and pulled out a satchel of coins. They were of unfamiliar make, some having the emblem of some sort of bear - and others having the face of a regal-looking lady upon them. For a minute, the party cleric stared at the old man, face lost in thought - but it passed soon enough.

"Great, awesome. Well you just... Carry on with whatever stuff old people do. Okay gang! So our next mission'll take us across a desert or something, so we'll definitely need to find a town and talk to everyone in it..."

The adventurers wandered off, already thinking of their next glories. As he watched them go, the old man's expression grew dour, then bitter, then hateful. He spat on the ground, and struck it with his cane - and where he did, the earth wailed.

Opening his mouth, the evil lord Leonard began to say a disparaging comment - but as he did, he bit the tip of his tongue. And his teeth bit his tongue, he tripped while attempting to affect his limp. And as he tripped, the ground rose up and grew toothy and wretched - and the demons that had disguised themselves as hills tore him apart, flesh and bone, and ate and ate until their bellies were so bloated that they could not fly.

They left, and the residence soon fell to ruin and returned to the earth - and of the evil lord, not even rumor remained.


Written by Stormlilly

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