Excerpt of Chapter XXI
Despite the darkness, Mercedes sensed the demon stagger. His granite resolve was cracking at last.
‘…to refuse my nature as I have done, is to deny justice. A crime in itself. Yet to obey justice is to confess myself to be an abomination. A criminal…’
The shadows, the faces; they shot past, faster and faster, as if caught in a maelstrom. Too near, the water of the ghostly Seine gurgled a promise of relief. Mercedes recognised its call, and knew to fear it. The demon’s dark currents had quelled her fire. Now she scrambled to clear the tumultuous thoughts that threatened to pull her down, into the abyss of his corrupted mind. She clawed at every shadow that was less black than the rest, but her fingers had lost their talons and slipped on the rock hard, ice-cold— ‘Oh no. No!’
The demon’s shield had closed again – around them both!
‘Exchange one crime for another? That is not justice!’ howled the currents with his voice. ‘What is the answer? What is the answer?’
Swirling shadows transformed, became razor blades that sliced her as they whipped past and drew blood not her own. She recoiled from his unadulterated agony, but there was no escape. All was solid darkness but for her glow, which painted the demon’s writhing form in cobalt and indigo. She tried not to stare, but his searing pain etched into her colours all the same. He shivered and twisted under the force of an onslaught still deeper within himself. By the blue light she emitted, she watched in horror as his human shape failed. Growing dread added purples, greens, and finally yellows to her aura. Her anger had receded too far now to set her skirts alight, but even so, she shone like a candle in his darkness.
And by that light, what had looked like a man became a monster.
‘All are accountable for their choices,’ howled a voice – warped and raw, but undeniably his. ‘All must be held accountable!’
His presence filled the confines of the shield. What suggestion of up and down Mercedes had clung to ceased to have meaning as she lay trapped between massive extremities. Those on either side of her resembled a canine’s hind legs in stance, although no real wolf would have nails like sickle knives the size of her head. Her energy shimmered with fright, and it all but dimmed completely at the ominous growl coming from the black expanse above her.
‘Every action begets a response,’ the growl rumbled. ‘Rightful actions born from just choices are rewarded; unjust actions born from malice are punished. This! This is justice.’
Thunderous conviction slammed her down with the force of an anvil. She lay helpless as a wall of pitch-black fur bowed over her and extended two long arms from broad, hunched shoulders. Gnarled claws flicked the hues that surrounded her.
‘Every choice has consequences,’ the demon wheezed. ‘When a mistake is made— Guilt is—’ He whined as if struck. ‘Suffering guilt is insufficient! Insufficient recompense for the damage my faults have caused!’ One claw wrapped around its opposite wrist and combed slowly through the tangled fur. Or rather…
Mercedes winced when the trail of the talons ran wet with dark drops that soaked the coarse hairs. The demon shuddered but seemed strangely content to have drawn her attention.
‘Suffering is private; accountability must be public,’ he grunted as he brought his enormous, disfigured muzzle to her face. Moist lips pulled back to bare an infinite number of dagger-like teeth. ‘There must be confession, and atonement. In full!’ From under the heavy brow, eyes black as coals gleamed in her light. ‘Absolution cannot be obtained in silence. It must be earned.’
Thick globs of putrid saliva spilled from the opened jaws. His hunger was overwhelming, nearly tangible in this intangible world. Mercedes willed herself to gather the courage as he licked her cheek with his rotting tongue. It was covered in blisters and sores, as were his lips.
‘The scale of the damage is immaterial. A lie is still fraud, taking a life still murder. Petty theft is still… theft.’
The muzzle snapped. Mercedes cried out, but his teeth had barely grazed her. Shaken but determined, she glared back. A guttural growl replied. Urgent and strained, it struck her core, dissolving the remaining barriers between them.
‘Choices… Choices are not immaculate. They arise from reasons. Intent. But intention does not… mitigate the damage. Intentions are…. intentions are to be disregarded. They must—they must—they—aah!’
The demon reared, screaming as a thin beam of light pierced his narrow forehead. His unbearable howl filled her with pain; not her own, but too close for comfort. This ache and anxiety of a world coming to an end, she had endured it. Some days she still did.
The waves of his torment hit her hard. The offending light was born from kindness, that much Mercedes sensed, yet its presence tortured the demon to the brink of insanity.
If it hadn’t already pushed him over.
His roars deafened her senses, but as she raised herself, it was the sight of him that struck her dumb. The monster’s long fur was matted and bloodied, sticking to open wounds and bleeding sores that covered every part of his body. And the burns! What she had thought to be festering flesh was too alike to acid burns.
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