The Lady, now Countess Aksinya Andreiovna Golitsyna hobbled toward the outhouse just behind the family quarters. She originally pulled the chamber pot out from under her bed, but she realized there was no one to empty it anymore. Disposing of human bodies seemed fitting for the demon—disposing of her own waste was unimaginable to her. Her legs were improving, but they were still bruised. She used her staff. It was a long knurled piece of yew. It was unusual because yew usually grew straight. She prepared it herself for the work she found in her books. It was a sufficient tool for that work and for this. She still wore her nightgown. It was frilly and cotton, but not too thin. It was insufficient for the cold house and completely inappropriate for a trek to the outhouse. Cloaks stayed on the wall just outside the door into the partially enclosed walkway that led to the outhouse, but she didn’t have the energy or the time to don one. She was in such a hurry, she hadn’t put on her shoes and the stone floor was freezing.
Aksinya was shivering, and she almost reached the outhouse when she heard the door open and shut behind her. Aksinya whirled around and lost her balance. Just before she fell, a black shadow rushed from the door to her. At the last moment, she recognized Asmodeus as he caught her. But it was too late. She couldn’t hold it any more. She sat in his hot, black arms in a now sodden nightgown. She tired to stand and couldn’t. She tried to push him away but couldn’t. Finally, in frustration, she cried, “Let go of me. Look what you made me do.”
“I have done your bidding, mistress. What you do you wish now?”
“I wanted to use the outhouse, but now there is no need.”
“Humanity is disgusting. Well, there is nothing else to do.”
In spite of her protests, he picked her up and carried her back to her room. When he arrived he asked, “Do you wish me to help you with your clothing?”
“Prepare me a bath.”
“You are freezing.”
“Prepare me a bath.”
“You are an idiot.” The demon yanked the wet nightgown over her head and wrapped a blanket around her.
Aksinya blushed, “Don’t ever do that again.”
“I don’t intend to, but I can’t let harm come to you. You are making things extremely difficult for me.”
“And you for me.”
“Wait here, and I will prepare your bath. I never expected to become a domestic servant.”
“You wouldn’t if you had come sooner.”
“If you had called me sooner, Countess, for that is what you now are. All this misery is your doing and not mine.”
The demon entered the bathroom and Aksinya glared at him the entire time. After a while, he came back out and stepped to her side. Aksinya moved away from him, “Don’t touch me. Get my staff.”
Asmodeus returned with it. Aksinya still glared at him, “Can you heal my injuries? The ones you caused?”
“I can’t heal. Only that guy can do that.”
“Magic can heal.”
Asmodeus smiled, “Perhaps you should try that then.”
Aksinya levered herself up and headed for the bath. Before she took a few steps, she had lost the blanket. She ignored that and continued into the bath. Inside, she closed and locked the door. She just ignored the door on the other side of the room. She didn’t have the strength to hobble over to it and lock it.
The tub was high and filled with hot water. She gazed longingly at it and made her way to the side. She felt it to make certain it wasn’t too hot and with the staff climbed over the side and into the water. This was marvelous. For a moment, she felt better than she had in what seemed a long, long time. That’s when hunger began to gnaw at her. She was so upset and uncomfortable before she hadn’t noticed it. Now her hunger stole her thoughts, and like she usually did when she was uncomfortable, she sought something, anything to take her attention away.
Aksinya examined her body. She was undeveloped. That was so obvious in the bath. Her legs and thighs were still bruised, but they were healing. The black and blue marks on her skin had turned an ugly brown. They were going away. She shifted her legs. In the warm water they moved more easily than before. She touched them. They were still painful, but it was less than before. She moved her hands up her torso. Her breasts were nothing like her mother’s or her sister’s. Her fingers lingered there for a moment then moved them more quickly before those thoughts came again and filled her mind. She wasn’t beautiful. The demon was right. She wasn’t even pretty. Her mother said in time she would gain a degree of beauty, but Aksinya knew that was pity. She was afraid to look at herself after she had given most of her hair to the demon. It was short now and fell to her ears. It was likely as ugly as her face now. It had been her only redeeming characteristic before she cut it off. Now she could feel the uneven ends, and she wondered if it would ever grow out again—she had given it to the demon. It was his forever, would it ever grow again. Finally, she called out, “Asmodeus.”
His voice came from just outside the door, “Yes, Countess.”
“Why do you call me that?”
“Because it is true. Your family is dead, you are the Countess now.”
“I don’t like you to call me that.”
“Then I shall continue to use it.”
She gritted her teeth, “Why did my legs become so injured when you took me here?”
“I thought I explained that to you before.”
“I didn’t understand it then. Give a better explanation.”
“Any explanation or the truth?”
“Tell me the truth you horrible creature.”
Asmodeus laughed, “When you took my hand, you reached out to me. I carried you through stone and earth and then we traveled through the cosmos to arrive at the front of your house. Since you didn’t trust your body and soul to me, your body endured that travel. What did you think would happen if I dragged you through stone and earth and the cosmos?”
“But when you carried me, I wasn’t injured.”
“You trusted your body and soul to me—you then completely aligned yourself to a demon. Your soul was harmed, but not your body. I can protect your body, but I can’t protect your soul. Eventually, you will heal—that is the way with humans.”
Aksinya thought a bit more.
Asmodeus voice boomed from behind the door again, “You are hungry. You will not heal or survive long without sustenance.”
“I can’t fix food for myself. I can barely get around my own room.”
“Then I must prepare it for you. I did not agree to become your domestic. We must adjust this situation before we continue too far.”
Aksinya laughed at him, “How do you propose to do that demon?”
“I must find you a servant to take care of your needs. Obviously, you don’t want me to have to dress and undress you. You are as vain as any woman. I grow weary with taking care of these petty human needs.”
Aksinya laughed again, “For now get me some food and place it in my room.”
Asmodeus growled, but Aksinya heard him leave her room.
In a while, the bath became cool. Aksinya let the water out and picked up her staff. She levered herself out of the deep tub and stood shakily on the cold floor. She caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror and without thinking, turned her head toward it. She appeared pale and her face was pinched. It displayed her pain, and she looked haggard. Her hair was now as ugly as everything else, and the locket the demon had given her fell between her breasts. She angrily drew it over her head and examined it. The silver metal that formed the heart and the chain had a dark patina of tarnish. She tried to polish it a little, but it wouldn’t clean at all. It stank of sulfur. On the outside were strange marks like words of an odd language and in the center a fish. She tried to open it, but it wouldn’t open. She noticed again the links of the fine chain were also heart shaped. She didn’t put the locket back around her neck. She laid it on the counter under the mirror. She was chilled again.
Aksinya toweled herself off as well as she could and wrapped the towel tightly around her thin body. Then she unlocked the door and peeked into her room. The demon had not returned yet. She picked up the locket and hobbled to her jewelry box. It was a beautifully enameled case with a black background and a wonderful brightly colored village scene on the top and sides. Aksinya opened the box and hid the demon’s locket at the back under the velvet-lined drawer inside. She didn’t care if she never saw it again.
Aksinya shivered and stumbled to her wardrobe. She dragged out the first nightgown she touched. This was luckily her winter gown. It was wool. She drew it on and though scratchy after the smooth cotton of her other one, she felt much better, finally clean and warm.
She climbed back into bed and laid the staff next to her.
Asmodeus strode through the door with a service in his hands. He laid the tray in front of her on the bed. It held a hot pot of tea. He poured it for her and lifted the covers from the dishes. The smell of the food overwhelmed Aksinya’s senses. The sulfurous scent of the demon was only a trace in the air. He had made her an omelet and bread. Everything was fresh. She prayed and crossed herself.
The demon let out a depreciating sound, “To bless that which was made with a curse is perhaps the act of a fool.”
Aksinya ignored his comment and began to eat.
She ate almost everything he brought her. Then she settled back in her pillows with the cup in her hand, “Thank you, demon. I feel much better.”
“You needn’t thank me, you gave up part of the virtue of your soul along with your life to gain that repast.”
“I understand that, but I needed to eat.”
“These human needs…”
Aksinya sipped her tea, “Don’t you eat?”
“Never. I have no need for food. I have no human needs and no human desires. My only desire comes from our contract and from my desire to do evil.”
“It is not evil to prepare good food or to take care of my needs.”
“It is evil for you to use up your soul and life to gain them.”
She peeked over her cup, “Perhaps.”
“Now,” Asmodeus sneered, “since your human needs are assuaged, it is time to plan. What do you intend to do now?”
“I only thought to save my family. Now, I have no family. They are all dead. I don’t know what to do. You tell me. You can’t or will not help me fight the Bolsheviks. You told me, you won’t help me fight this revolution…”
“I like revolutions. The evil it brings to the world is pleasant to me.”
“I have no other plans.”
“You must survive. Whether you accomplish the desires of your heart are beyond my understanding or care, but for our contract, you must survive.”
“The desires of my heart…I had but one desire and that is dust and ashes.”
“Then perhaps you will meet my desires.”
Aksinya’s lip curled up, “Your desires are the least of my concern.”
“But your desires are mine. Especially those that are evil, and those that continue to abrade your soul.”
Aksinya glowered at him, “What would that be?”
“It should be obvious to you. I wish you to do evil. The most evil thing you have ever done was to bring me into this world and to contract with me. It was a lifelong goal for you. This is a very pleasant kind of evil to me.”
“What if I don’t wish to do evil?”
Asmodeus smiled, “It is too late for that. If not willfully, I will force you to engage in evil doings. You have engaged in it so long…why should you complain if I ask you to continue in it? I know your heart—it is as black as mine. Plus, what I ask you to do is simple for you.”
Aksinya turned her head, “Why? What do you want of me?”
“I wish you to continue with your study of sorcery. That is certainly evil.”
“I have no purpose for it anymore.”
“You put years of study into it, and you are very adept—perhaps the greatest sorceress in this lifetime. The fact you called and contracted me are the evidence of that.”
Aksinya sipped her tea, “I did not intend to give it up.”
“I thought so. It already has marked your soul—the forbidden fruit. Such things become like the lustful desires you already know, they are difficult to purge from your heart and mind once they are experienced.”
“Zatknis'6! You may know my mind, but you needn’t say such embarrassing things.”
“It is like all human desires. It is what makes you human,” his lip curled up over his fangs. “Humans are so disgusting.”
Aksinya sipped her tea and ignored him.
“Now, Countess, let us plan what you should do. The first is that you cannot stay here.”
“I have nowhere else to go.”
“Foolish lady, we will soon run out of food to feed you and heat to sustain your puny body.”
“You can provide me all these things…”
“At the expense of your soul.”
“I thought you desired that.”
“And at the expense of my reputation. I told you, I do not wish to become your domestic.”
Aksinya laughed, “You already are.”
“I have my pride, that is one of the seven deadly sins, you know.”
“So, if you are my domestic it hurts your pride?” Aksinya continued to chuckle.
“This is not funny. I am Asmodeus. I will not remain this way.”
“What can you do to stop it?”
“I will protect you and I will fulfill our contract, but I can make it exquisitely painful for you to carry on in this manner.”
Aksinya’s brow rose, “How could you do that? What suffering could you bring me that I haven’t already experienced?”
“Your people and friends will be pursued by the Bolsheviks. I can bring great suffering to them—that is my purpose.”
Aksinya let her cup fall to the saucer, “You wouldn’t dare. I would simply order you to…”
“I told you. I can’t stop this revolution, and I don’t desire to stop it. The lives of your friends and your people are nothing to me. You can order all you wish, but I will protect only you. My purpose, otherwise, is evil. You know this.”
“I understand this,” Aksinya ran her fingers through her short hair. She regretted that as soon as she did. It reminded her of everything she had done already. Meekly, she whispered, “Then what do you wish me to do.”
“First, I must find you a servant.”
“If so, it must be someone you will not harm.”
Asmodeus grinned, “I have the perfect servant in mind.”
“I told you, you must continue to study sorcery. To do that, you need a safe place to live and work.”
Aksinya mumbled into her teacup, “Where is such a place?”
“There are many such places. I know your mind so I know you have relatives beyond the boarders of this country. They will be willing to take you in and give you leave to live as you wish.”
“You want me to travel?”
“I wish to travel too. There are many places in the world that need more evil. Let us seek such a place.”
“So you can make it like this one?”
“That would not be so safe for you. I’ll settle for a balance of evil as long as you participate in it.”
“I will not do such a thing.”
“You can’t help yourself.”
Aksinya shifted her eyes, “Where do you want to take me?”
“In , you have family and acquaintances who will accept even an ugly countess. They hold the aristocracy in honor there and that can become a place for great evil. There is also , but you don’t have any direct relations there anymore, and they don’t speak French.”
“What has that got to do with anything?”
Asmodeus cocked his head, “You speak French very well, countess. Your German is not as perfect. I must train you up to be an appropriate vessel for evil. You must be able to speak and interact with the people to gain their trust.”
“So you can enact your evil?”
“And you yours. You can improve your German in . I see great things ahead for you there.”
“When do you plan to take this trip? How do expect to travel with revolution all around us and a World War at our borders?”
“The World War unfortunately ended a day ago. Yesterday, 11 November, the very day you unbound me, the Allies signed an armistice with in a railroad carriage at Compiègne. It is an agreement that will certainly lead to another war.”
Aksinya lowered her eyes, “One great impediment breached.” She glanced up, “If you are not lying.” Her voice was taunt, “There is still a revolution here.”
“I could simply carry you.”
“At the expense of my soul.”
“That hasn’t bothered you much in the past, but I intend you to travel by somewhat normal means. There is the problem of the servant and of these domestic, human considerations. I don’t want to bother with all your female issues either. I have only had male masters before. They were never such a trial to me.”
Aksinya sputtered, “What if I will not go?”
“I told you. I will cause you suffering beyond that which you can bring to me.”
“I cause you to suffer?”
“Your human issues are painful to me. Plus your simple goodness nauseates me.”
“Do I have simple goodness? Do I have any virtue left?”
“Yes, but I will seek to expunge that from you. In time, I shall.”
“By threats and coercion?”
“You will seek evil on your own. I will simply focus your actions so they may provide the most evil. That is my purpose. Now, you will be able to travel tomorrow.”
“How do you know that?”
“You will attempt some healing sorcery tonight. Since I put the thought in your mind, you have thought continually about it. You are already eyeing your books and wondering how you can accomplish it without my knowledge. When the desire and the pain becomes intolerable enough within you, you will do it.”
“I am not in pain right now.”
“You are lying.”
Aksinya opened her mouth, “I am lying.”
“You are holding it back well, but since you are clean and fed and have emptied your bladder, the pain has been growing in your legs and thighs. You wish there were something to take care of that pain. You wish me to bring you wine and drugs.”
“I could order you.”
“I would not help you. It would only deaden the pain. I wish you to suffer. That will bring you to compromise yourself. I protect you, I don’t cater to your every whim. Not unless your whims lead to evil. That’s the point, after all.”
“I’ve heard enough. Leave me.”
“Very well. I shall wait outside your room. If you require my help, just call my name. I can aid your sorcery.”
The demon bowed. He backed to the door and stepped out.
Aksinya stared to throw her still half-filled cup at him, then thought better of that and pitched an empty dish at his back. It broke against the door with a satisfactory crash.
After he left, Aksinya sipped on the rest of the tea. She finally put everything back on the tray and settled back in her bed. She tried to sleep, but the demon was right. She felt every ache and pain. She couldn’t move without pain and the covers on her only increased her suffering. Her nightgown was warm but too heavy. It pressed against her legs and added to her agony. The tray pushed on the covers and the nightgown and added to it. She couldn’t toss and turn, that was also too painful. She didn’t dare touch herself. The demon knew that weakness in her and already had mocked her. She hurt too much for that to be of much comfort anyway. She wanted to settle into the bath again, but she realized, until she did his bidding, he wouldn’t prepare a bath for her again. After a long while, she thought to herself, what was the problem with just reviewing her books? They would take her mind off her pain and allow her to feel the power of sorcery again.
Aksinya sat up. She tried to move the tray to the side, but she couldn’t lift it. She tossed it to the floor and threw off her covers. She lifted her nightgown off her legs. That felt better, but now she was cold. And this was entirely too tempting to her. She put the nightgown down again, but that made her legs ache. Just to read the books would sooth her mind and take her thoughts off of her pain. She grasped her staff and scooted off the bed. When she moved, it seemed like the ache in her legs reduced, and then she wondered if the demon could make that happen. She wondered if he was manipulating her right now.
She made her way to the stack of books and examined them. The book she sought was right on top. That seemed peculiar too. She carried it back to the bed and sat up with it. The moment she began to read it, she felt as though her suffering rolled away. There was nothing so bad in the Latin words. They simply described the proper elements and dark words to heal. She had read and memorized them long before. Every time she read these words, whenever she read her books, they eased her mind and heart. She wasn’t reading about curses only how to cure the body using the power of the world. She knew all about that. It was her hobby. It was her expertise. Why shouldn’t she use it? The demon didn’t know everything. He didn’t understand her at all. She could use this power without harm. It would only help her. She knew it.
Almost without thinking, Aksinya slid off her bed to the floor. She threw back the oriental rug at the side of her bed. She took her special chalk and drew a circle then a pentagram within it. She lit a single tallow candle. One was sufficient for this. She read the words. She didn’t need to. She knew them by heart. She read them anyway, the heavy feel of the book in her hands gave her comfort. She made the cabalistic signs, sounds, and words. She did it all until she came to the sacrifice part. This was a little tricky. The best sacrifice was a part of yourself. She took her dagger and held it against her hand. She easily and precisely sliced her finger. She had done this so often it was normal for her. The multiple scars on her left fingers and hand were a mute witness to her expertise. The blood splattered to the floor and there was a flash. The slice on her finger was immediately gone. Another light scar appeared. The pain in her legs was immediately gone. She raised her nightgown. The bruises were gone, and she felt fantastic. She blew out the candle and carefully erased the circle and pentagram. She put back the rug and slipped into bed. She felt so good she couldn’t help herself. Her desire was uncontrollable. She touched herself and pleasured herself. Afterwards, she slept.
In the morning, the demon stood at the side of her bed. She smelled that faint whiff of sulfur. Aksinya’s eyes opened. She didn’t blink, “I did not invite you into my room, demon.”
“Countess, I have your breakfast. Would you like to eat it here or in the dining room?”
Aksinya sat up, “Here, please.”
“Would you like me to draw your bath?”
“What would you like me to pack?”
Aksinya chewed on a crust of bread and took a sip of tea before answering, “Take all my mother’s dresses and mine. Also my sisters. Bring the china and silver and any of the fine artwork. The money is in my father’s safe and in his room. Get it all. If you know my mind, you know where all of it is.”
“I know where it all is.”
“Don’t forget my mother, sister, and my jewelry. Bring my sister’s shoes. They fit me.”
“Do you want me to take the furniture also?”
“Then take it all—everything in the house and guesthouse. By the way, where will you put all of it?”
“That is my secret. What about your books and things…” he drew out the word.
“Put those on the top where I can get them at any time.”
“Very good, Countess. When you are finished and dressed, we may leave. What clothing would you like me to lay out for you?”
“My blue traveling dress the one with the puffy sleeves and the lace. I’ll wear my blue button-up shoes. The ones mother brought me from . And don’t forget my blue traveling hat—the one with the feather.”
“Very good. I’m glad you are feeling better and in such good spirits. It’s amazing what giving in to a little temptation can do for you.”
Aksinya dropped her toast. She choked and bowed her head. After her breath returned, she whispered, “That’s what I did, didn’t I.”
“Yes, splendidly. I was so proud of you.”
“I’m suddenly not so proud of myself. I’m not hungry any more.”
“Eat, Countess. I’ll not be put off. When I am done with the packing, we shall depart. I have in mind to get your servant, and I have in mind to leave this house before the Party visits it this evening.”
“My sources tell me they will.”
“And who are they?”
“I’ll not bore you with the details.”
“I should speak to the villagers before I go.”
“They know your family is dead. They assume you are too.”
Aksinya took a deep breath, “How did they know?”
“While you were a slug-a-bed, they came to check on your father. They found the bloodstains in the snow and the fresh graves in the plot.”
“I should have had you hide it all.”
“It wouldn’t do any good. They would find out eventually.”
“Surely they see the lights from the house. We have been burning them since, since, since that time.”
“I have given the impression that no one is here. I have kept it all still as the grave and hidden any signs of life. It is as if you were dead.”
“Yes. I see.”
“Because, you are dead to this life, Countess. You start a new life today. Today, we shall leave for and your family there.”
Aksinya mouthed the words, “So you can do evil there.”
“No, so we can accomplish evil there.