The Devil's Gift

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The sun was setting in a deep orange-pink pool and the stars began to pop out. The second the sun had dipped below the horizon, I was out of Castle Blackmoor and blowing through the trees, the maze of buildings being my destination. I was soon walking slowly down the still-busy streets of Italy. I soon felt eyes upon me as I stalked past a large group of youths that eyed me cautiously. I turned around to face the bustling street. No one I saw was watching me, well, no one that I considered to be any threat that was; the vast majority of the people that walked past me were eyeing me. I knew the poor villagers here had a distaste for wealth when they had so little. I for one, did not care about these people and had no interest in talking to them, they were beneath me, and I was not ashamed to admit I felt this way.

I took a sweeping view of the street again, no, no one was watching me, well, no one was watching me in a way that made me feel as though I was being followed. I proceeded down the street which now started to empty as people retired from their evening shopping and last minute plans. Over the next hour, I attempted to waste time away, though it was far tougher than it sounded. The street quietened and only the night time wanderers now prowled. I slipped down a dark passage and scaled the rough stone wall. Here, I stood upon the roof of a tall shop that sold different bits for clothes. I stood there, keeping a keen eye on the willow tree where I would meet Sophia, though it was at least half a mile away.

My eyes were sharp and quick and saw even the ants that crawled upon the willow’s trunk. I waited for hours until the moon finally shone bright, bathing Italy in a beautiful silvery pool. When I looked once more at the large tree, stood beneath it was a beautiful woman with a long sheet of chocolate brown hair falling down her back, it glistened and shone in the moonlight. Her face turned towards me but did not look in my direction. Her face was lit by a sliver of silvery light that made her deep green eyes twinkle. Her face was round and comforting, her cheeks, tinted with a pink flush making her look impossibly beautiful. My eyes lingered on her petite figure, covered in an expensive white dress that made her look as though she was floating as the breeze fluttered the hem of her dress.

I felt, rather childishly, excitement rush through me and I leapt lightly down to the street below and immediately hurried to greet her. I made sure to keep the speed to a minimum as I made my approach. As I stood in front of her, my body was overcome with great sadness that filled me like a rising lake of water. I stared into her bright green eyes as if they were Maria’s and opened my mouth to speak, but my voice did not seem to able to function properly. Sophia seemed oblivious to my pain and greeted me warmly.

‘Roconn, this is a beautiful spot you picked, I’m so glad I came, it’s wonderful to see you. How are you?’ Her voice was silky smooth and I detected the tone of sincerity in her voice. My pain faded like trickling water and after a few seconds of silence, disappeared completely. Sophia looked questioningly at me, her gaze pressing me for an answer. My voice caught in my throat as I was momentarily stunned once more by her beauty.

’I... I am very well, grazie. And yourself?’ I asked as Sophia regained herself and shook back her hair responding with enthusiasm.

‘That’s wonderful to hear. I’m getting by.’ She said with a bright voice.

I nodded, requested we walk, and led the way. Sophia walked readily beside me, she seemed to skim across the ground with her light steps. I set a path toward a place I thought might impress her. We walked slowly for a few minutes keeping light conversation. I walked slowly and deliberately to a beautiful, underground cavern filled with a vast lake of water. I was certain I was the first, and probably the last after Sophia, to ever lay eyes upon the marvellous sight. I was certain not a single person was aware of its location. The entrance was concealed and we soon descended into the earth. A large roped lift brought us down, how old it was, I had no idea, though it functioned perfectly. When we arrived, I watched Sophia’s face change into a mask of shock as her eyes fell upon the beautiful scene before us. She took a small intake of breath. The underground lake was cavernous and reflected the look of something mythical and mysterious. The water was like glass, reflecting the high-stoned ceiling like a mirror. There was no light here, but somehow, the very stone around us seemed to be emitting some deep-blue haze from glistening crystals that sprouted from the stone. Sophia was speechless as she proceeded down the stone steps in front of the lift. Though nothing moved, a strange hum filled the vast space before us.

I looked to Sophia and followed her, allowing her time to absorb the sight. As we walked toward the lake, she hitched up her dress and knelt slowly on the stone floor. The flooring was not cold or as hard as normal stone, it seemed to mould itself to the contours of her legs whilst maintaining the stability of normal stone. She looked at me carefully.

‘Roconn, what is this place?’ Her voice seemed to shake as she spoke.

‘In truth, I do not know. I stumbled across the entrance some time ago. There are none, to my knowledge, aware of this location except you and myself.’ I replied. The bluish haze allowed me to see beyond the stretch of water in front. As far as even I could see, there was no end to this magical place, every few inches on the stone walls and ceiling, a glowing crystal supplied the cavern with light. We spoke for a while, both entranced by the beauty of such an impossible location, here under Italy itself. I took her to the edge of the lake.

‘Is it safe?’ She asked.

‘I assure you no harm will come from this place, I have been here many times.’ I reassured her. She was silent as she slipped off her shoes dipped her toes into the water sending out a ripple that broke the glassy surface.

’It… It is beautiful Roconn, I have lived here for quite some time and I never knew such a place could exist! Even the water feels softer than normal.’

‘It is one of many beautiful secrets that are not meant to be shared to all.’ I replied joining her in soaking my bare feet. It was true, the water did somehow feel softer and delicate. It seemed to caress the skin.

‘What is this place called?’

‘Agartha.’ I spoke.

‘It is incredible, it feels so peaceful down here, like we’re detached from the world and their problems. How far down from the surface are we, it seemed to take a long while to reach this lake.’

‘I’m not entirely sure, if I’m honest with you, though I’m sure we’re not altogether on the same plane as we were on the surface. I would explain further, but it’s rather difficult to comprehend.’

‘You don’t have to, I understand.’ She said calmly.

How long we were down here I had no idea, but we kept up a conversation for what felt like hours, sat comfortably on the strange stone, our feet warm and submerged in the lake. It was only when Sophia yawned did I become aware the time was late, and we really ought to be getting back. We stood and the water seemed to slip from our skin, instantly drying our feet as if they were never touched by water. As soon as our feet was clear, the lake became perfectly still once more, mirroring the stone above. Reluctantly, we walked slowly back to the lift and returned to the surface.

‘What is that you do then, Sophia?’ She answered almost automatically as we emerged on to solid, familiar stone.

‘I am advisor to His Holiness the Pope.’ Unable to think of a suitable response I remained silent. As we plodded on through the empty streets, I felt relaxed for the first time in a while. Sophia made a suggestion, not long afterwards, to head home. A chill had crept into the night, though it went unnoticed by her, who seemed lost in thought. I thought better than to ask what was on her mind, this was our first meeting since the church and I felt it was best not to push my luck. As we walked slowly down the streets, we took random turns here and there, not really paying attention to our course.

We went a full ten minutes without speaking once. The only time the silence was broken was when the wind howled past a building, or the rustling of leaves on the paved stone. Just as I turned down an alley, a sickly scent filled my lungs. My stomach lurched as I inhaled the smell of three teenagers and I had a strong feeling they were not passing by. My suspicions were confirmed the moment the youths started jeering and laughing loudly to one another, before turning their attention to us. I somehow slipped into protection mode, they would not harm Sophia, I would make sure of that.

As expected, the youths approached us. I looked directly at them. The shouting became more intense as did the aggression. Sophia seemed to snap out of her reverie, though she did not seem entirely worried, I drew my own conclusion that she was hiding her fear for her own safety. The youths dressed in rather shabby, old, baggy clothes that reeked of stale body odour as they drew nearer. I caught the scent of their vile breath. The tallest of the three, I’d have guessed as the leader, approached me directly, shouting and cursing, as the other two eyed Sophia with a look of lust and desire. I automatically stepped in front of her, cutting off their gaze.

‘Who do you think you are?’ The boy asked in outrage, flinging his arms in the air. I exercised what self-control I could summon, whilst handling a matter as delicately as I could.

‘My name is Roconn.’ I spoke. I noticed I was more spitting through clenched teeth. One of the youths muttered an unintelligible insult that I was too transfixed to detect. Sophia was obviously paying more attention and gasped. The difficulty to maintain a calm state of mind became increasingly harder.

The aggression started to pick up and the youths began to taunt me, shouting and insisting they felt no need to listen to me when I told them they would regret it if this argument became more heated. Of course they insisted they wished to proceed.

‘I am warning you now, go home, and I will forget about this.’ I spoke coldly. My request fell on deaf ears and they edged closer, foregoing any sense of mere threats now. When their leader got close, he made a false attempt of grasping my wrist. I saw it coming and parried sending him spinning into his friends. This only seemed to agitate them further and ignite their short fuse. I told Sophia to step back, and that I would handle this. She seemed in two minds but obeyed nonetheless.

The three youths charged at me, each flailing their fists blindly, attempting to hit me as hard as possible. They made it only too obvious and I dodged easily. They each attempted to hit me but they struck only air. As I parried and dodged, the leader turned his attention to Sophia, his eyes full of greed. I saw him take a step toward her in my peripheral vision. A burning desire to strike him threatened to engulf me but I suppressed the urge. Though his friends were intent on keeping me distracted, I pulled one of them in front of me and his wide torso took the blow that was aimed at me. I pushed the doubled-over teen into the attacker and focused my attention on the stalking leader. I wasted no time in rendering him unconscious and allowed his friends to support their leader’s limp body and retreat home.

‘I warned you, go home. Now.’ I ordered. The authority in my voice was pronounced and they daren’t disobey once more. The two other boys managed to conjure up enough strength to half-carry their leader, and help him limp away from the alley as he began to come round once more, groaning as he did so. I turned to face Sophia who looked shaken, but otherwise, unharmed. I placed my hands gently on her shoulders and looked into her eyes, and for a moment, that’s all I could see.

‘Are you hurt?’ I asked. The sound of my voice seemed to calm her down and she recovered herself.

‘I - yes, I’m fine.’ She said, her voice shaking slightly. Her breath was cool and sweet as it blew over my face.

‘I can’t apologise enough for this, I should have avoided dark alleys.’ I said. The sincerity of my apology seemed to render her speechless, so she merely smiled. I took that as an acceptance of apology.

‘Let’s get out of here.’ I said casting my eyes up the now empty alley. She seemed only too keen to agree and we left. We walked hand-in-hand for the remainder of the night. After spending most of our limited time away from the dark alleys, I suggested we meet again.

‘I’d love to.’ She smiled brightly.

An intense feeling of elation filled me as we walked quietly to her house. I hadn’t really given much thought as to where Sophia lived but in any case, this was not what I would have come to. The buildings became elegant and large as we drifted away from the main town. Large rose bushes bordered the houses and entrances became longer. Most of them were white with large gardens all neatly pruned. The blazing sun had scorched the grass and it now almost glowed a brittle yellow. We soon rounded the corner of a larger path, strewn with white gravel. The garden was bordered by a huge metal fence and a large, thick gate now stood before me. I was momentarily stunned by the vastness of an advisor’s home. Either side of the gate was a large pillar, topped with an extraordinarily ugly gargoyle. Sophia halted outside the gate and made it obvious we were going no further. Behind the black metal was a huge manor, almost ghostly white.

After surveying the marvellous house for a brief moment, I bade goodnight to Sophia and walked slowly back through the wealthy area, back to my castle.

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