Natalya woke Aksinya in the early morning. She served her tea, dressed her in the uniform of Sacré Coeur, and arranged her hair. Aksinya fit very primly into her clothing. The severe uniform of Sacré Coeur didn’t improve her figure at all. The cut made her look more boyish than usual. Her hair simply turned her features from those of a maiden to those of a lovely boy. Natalya carefully steered her away from the mirrors in their room and bath. Natalya, on the other hand, appeared like an especially proper and beautiful young woman. Her figure was very evident even in the unflattering uniform. Natalya put on her baggy sweater to cover her curves—she hoped Aksinya wouldn’t notice.
They went down together for breakfast and more tea. Aksinya was very fond of tea, especially the tea Natalya made for her. They sat together and no one dared to sit with them. After breakfast, everyone marched to chapel in the church. They went through the dormitory to the second floor and entered the nave from the back of the choir. The moment Aksinya stepped through the door, she felt a pain in the pit of her stomach. Natalya took Aksinya’s arm when she faltered and helped her to her seat near the back at the main floor.
In their seats, Natalya put her hand on Aksinya’s forehead, “Mistress, you are pale. Are you well?”
Aksinya bent over a little, “I just feel a little ill. I’ll be all right.”
Natalya bit her lip. She steadied Aksinya when they stood and when they knelt. The entire time, Aksinya clasped her arms across her chest and couldn’t raise her head. Natalya held the prayer book for her. Aksinya seemed to get worse as the service progressed. She mumbled in Latin, a counterpoint to the priest, but luckily in a throaty whisper that only Natalya could hear. When the bells announced communion, Aksinya gave a groan. Natalya put her arm around her. No one else seemed to notice, or they carefully ignored the two. Natalya and Aksinya didn’t take communion. Aksinya was happy they couldn’t. The very thought made her nauseous. At the blessing, Aksinya slipped out of her seat and hurried to the side door up and out through the choir. Natalya followed behind her.
On the other side of the door, Aksinya doubled over and leaned against the wall.
Natalya held her, “Mistress, you look terrible. What’s wrong?”
Aksinya’s eyes were wild, “I’m wrong. That’s the problem. I’m not sure I can stand this, but I must. I must.” She stood straight and grasped Natalya’s hands, “Lady Natalya, you must ensure I attend chapel every day. This is necessary…for my soul. Please.”
Natalya frowned, “I will, mistress. I promise. Please, I don’t wish you to be ill.”
Aksinya touched Natalya’s face, “Don’t cry, lady. Just help me, I beg you.”
Natalya slipped her arm around Aksinya’s shoulders. Before the crowd of girls came through the corridors, they returned to their rooms, and before the bells announced the beginning of class, Aksinya drank another rejuvenating cup of Natalya’s tea. They walked together to their first class. Natalya carried their official Sacré Coeur briefcases for them both.
The first class was German. The room was filled with a total of ten younger and older students. The teacher was a middle aged nun with a very friendly and elfish face. She greeted Aksinya and Natalya at the door pleasantly in French, “Good morning Countess and Lady Natalya. I am Sister Margarethe Traugott. I teach German, both beginning and advanced. I understand the Lady Natalya doesn’t understand any German and that you, Countess, wish to improve your proficiency in the language.”
Aksinya smiled, “The Reverend Mother must have spoken to you.”
Sister Margarethe gave her a very large smile, “Yes, she told me about you, and we discussed your curriculum. You seem a wonderful young woman to have faced such suffering.” She stared at Aksinya and didn’t give a glance to Natalya. Suddenly, she reached out her hand and touched Aksinya’s face then brushed the tips of her hair, “I’m very glad you are in my class. I hope we can be good friends.” She pointed, “Please take the seats near the window at the front. I will assign you your books.”
Aksinya and Natalya sat where they were directed. Natalya pulled out notebooks and fountain pens for both of them. Natalya began with a primer, and Sister Margarethe spoke with Aksinya for a long time in German before she handed her a book of advanced German studies. At the end of class, the sister let them out of the classroom with a comment, “Countess, I’ve given you an advanced course of study. If you find your studies difficult, please come to my office. I would be happy to help you.
Aksinya grinned, “Thank you, Sister Margarethe.”
Their next class was mathematics followed by history. Luncheon was simple and there was again tea. Afterwards, they attended literature, science, and theology. Luckily literature was in French. Aksinya translated during science and theology for Natalya. The science was simple for them both, the theology foreign.
They ended their first day at dinner, and the conversation at their table was muted, slightly tense, and definitely less exciting than the first day. They both had time to speak to the students and teachers and although they didn’t make any major inroads with them, they seemed to be accepted to a degree by both.
After supper, Aksinya and Natalya returned to their rooms to study at their desks. The gas lamps provided barely sufficient lighting—their rooms were filled with shadows. Natalya had already prepared Aksinya for bed. Aksinya sat in her silk nightgown with a sweater over her shoulders.
Aksinya struggled with one of the problems in mathematics. She was about to give up and ask Natalya’s help when she heard the door to her room open and close. She didn’t turn away from her desk right away. She was immediately happy that the Lady Natalya felt comfortable enough to come to her room without knocking.
The bed behind her creaked. Aksinya gave a happy sigh. She was about to turn around. The voice of Asmodeus startled her. It dripped with sarcasm and animosity, “Hello, Countess, did you forget about me?”
Aksinya put her hand to her throat. The scent of sulfur filled her nose. She paused a moment before she completely cleared her features and slowly turned, “Demon, I told you to knock first. I am your master. You show me great disrespect by not waiting for my summons.”
“You show me great disrespect by not accomplishing your purpose.”
“I have done all you have asked me—you have not obeyed my instructions in the least.”
The demon snarled, “What instructions are you talking about?”
“I wanted my mother’s and sister’s jewelry. I told you more than once.”
“It just slipped my mind. I shall bring them in the morning.”
“I’ve heard that before from you.”
“Then I shall bring them tonight.”
“That would suit me better.”
“Now to my complaints.”
“How can you have any complaints at all? As you insisted, I traveled to my uncle and aunt’s. I came to this school. I called a servant. I have been the one doing your will…”
“Exactly, and I have more for you to do.”
“You ass, this is not how a servant obeys his master. You would learn a lot from the Lady Natalya’s patient service.”
“Is that how a human responds to a demon?”
Aksinya clamped her mouth shut.
“Now, Countess, as I said, I have more for you to do. You are to study sorcery. Shall I assign you a lesson book and insist that you keep to it?”
Aksinya thought quickly, “There is no need, but I do require my books and implements.”
“Ha, you know very well I can’t bring your books and items here to you. They would be discovered by that snarling Frau Drescher at her first search.”
“Does she search the rooms?”
“Every day. Many would be surprised what young women bring into their dormitory rooms. Their parents would be appalled. It might even astound you.”
“Without my books and equipment, how do you expect me to study sorcery?”
“That is the first step for you. I have engaged a place. The residence across the street is yours. I shall set up your house there. It will have all the wonderful things you are used to having around you. It is your house. It belongs to you. It has a wonderful cellar similar to the one you used for so many years. There, I will set up everything for you and protect it for you. Tomorrow, you must take the Lady Natalya, and I will show you your new place of study.”
Aksinya didn’t speak.
“Aren’t you going to say something? Aren’t you going to thank me?”
“Thank you? I’d rather damn you to hell.”
“I don’t want the Lady Natalya involved in this.”
Asmodeus lay on the bed and idly wrote with his clawed finger on her pillow, “You are too late to stop that also. She has such a strong desire to be like you, just like you. She is your apprentice. You will teach her sorcery.”
Aksinya held her head in her hands, “She must learn Latin first.”
“She is a very adroit study. You will find that she will master the language quickly. You are good to have concern for the Lady Natalya. She might have problems in this German school, this gymnasium.”
Aksinya raised her lip, “Why is that?”
“She doesn’t speak German. If you wish her to succeed and not be left behind, you need to help her.”
“To help her study?”
“I would suggest a little help in what you are the best at. That will go a long way to meeting all our goals.”
“You mean use sorcery to help her? Can’t you understand? I don’t want to meet your goals.”
Asmodeus voice was tinged with false despair, “Why should you meet your goals, and I not meet mine?”
“I have no goals…”
“Other than to be rid of me. I understand you perfectly, Countess. Now listen to me and listen well. You experienced the suffering of your soul in the church today. That guy rejects you. The church will eventually vomit you out. I suggest not going at all—otherwise your secrets will be revealed to all the world. Your sweet helper won’t be spared either.” Asmodeus turned his eyes on her, “Second, do not confess to anyone, anything. It might do your soul well, but it will cause you immense suffering.” The demon sat up, “I do have an instruction on a positive note. The Sister Margarethe is a special person whose attention should be encouraged. She will help you and she will help the Lady Natalya because of you.” The demon gave Aksinya a large fang filled grin.
“Is that all you have to tell me, demon?”
“Do you want more? I can certainly give you more instructions. I really wanted to wait a while.”
“You infuriate me. What if I won’t do as you ask?”
The demon examined his claws, “You have already proven to me, a little pain and suffering goes a long way to encourage your compliance. Beyond that, the Lady Natalya is a very gentle girl who has faced much suffering. You haven’t made her suffer much, yet. That can quickly change. Then…this school is filled with mostly innocent beings whose only guilt was to be in the wrong place with a sorceress as their classmate. The sisters of this convent’s peace is also at risk. Frau Drescher is a sour woman whose life has been very unpleasant for a long time. She hides the excesses of the students because she is truly indulgent and kind—she could change. You see, Countess, I brought you here to this place at this time to give special attention to your and my special abilities. We shall work together to promote evil and we shall bring much evil to these innocents.”
Aksinya’s eyes darted from one side of the room to the other, “But I don’t want to do any of that.”
“So long as you accomplish evil, I will be pleased. Choose the evil you will do, and do it well. I only remark the evil that will occur if you fail at your part of the bargain.”
“I made no such bargain. I contracted you to be my servant. That was our agreement.”
“There you are wrong, Countess. You contracted to me using a part of your body as a surety. The contract was to me, the demon Asmodeus. I agreed to do your evil work in the world. That is our agreement—to do your evil work in the world. Since you have chosen to have no plan to pursue evil, I am providing one for you. I am happy to do it. I must confess, I was very pleased with how our relationship started. I am not as delighted with how it has progressed.”
“I hate you, demon. God will surely punish you for every way you torment me.”
“God will surely punish you, Countess, because all the evil I do is in your name. In fact, I myself commit no sins—it is you who sin. I am simply a tempter.”
“Get out. Get out of my room and torment me no more.”
“I will leave you for now. You understand what you must do, Countess.” Asmodeus slipped off the bed. He backed to the door and out of the room.
Aksinya waited a few minutes before she moved. Then she ran to her door and yanked it open. The demon was gone. She took a deep breath and leaned against the jam for a while. Then she closed her eyes and mouthed a prayer. She crossed herself. That small action hurt her heart. She couldn’t hold back a whimper and glanced around. She was afraid she would hear the demon’s laughter come out of the close darkness.
After a little, Aksinya closed her books and went to Natalya’s room. She didn’t even finish the work she was supposed to do. With Natalya, she reviewed her lady-in-waiting’s German work and spoke German with her for an hour. Then she went to bed.
In the middle of the night, a knock at Aksinya’s door woke her. She sat up and answered without thinking, “Come.”
The dark heavy shape of the demon entered her room. The scent of sulfur trailed in his wake. He was more massive in the darkness than she ever remembered, “Countess, as I promised, I brought your mother’s jewelry box. She had more than one. You were not specific so I brought the largest.”
Aksinya’s voice trembled, “That will be sufficient for now. What about my sister’s jewelry?”
“I have not been able to find it.”
Aksinya wanted to cry out, “You liar.” Instead she took a deep breath, “Bring it when you can find it.”
“Yes, Countess.” The demon still held the ornate box, “Where should I put it?”
Aksinya scooted toward the head of the bed, “Here on the bed.”
“Do I need to repeat myself? Place it on the bed.”
The demon’s fangs were evident in the light from the streetlamps. He might have been smiling. He placed the box near the middle of Aksinya’s bed. Then he stepped back, “You should not leave this in your room.”
“Why not, demon.”
He snarled, “Frau Drescher will find it.”
“Will she steal it?”
“I wish she would. That would be a definite sin. In any case, I do not wish any other undue attention toward you at this point. In this place, they worship your aristocracy. This is a pleasant little lust for all of them here. A little more mystery might enhance that mystique at some point, but not now.”
Aksinya wondered how much the demon lied at that moment. Was she herself a temptation to others—that statement was likely true. If the jewelry were found here, would that really cause a problem—more temptation? He could be lying and by that lie be informing her that to let the jewelry be found would cause her fewer problems. He could also be telling the truth, that the jewelry would lead to more issues for her and temptation for others. It could all be meaningless. On the other hand, Frau Drescher might be tempted to steal the jewelry and that would be a terrible thing for Frau Drescher and for Aksinya. Aksinya felt a very strong avarice toward her mother’s valuables. She knew she would react in a terrible way if they were taken. After a few moments thought, she responded, “Yes, demon. Tomorrow morning, you may take the jewelry to my house across the street. You promised to take care of these things that belong to me and belonged to my family. See that they are protected.”
The demon bowed, “Yes, mistress.”
“You may go.”
Asmodeus bowed to the door and out of the room. After he left, Aksinya gave him a few minutes. She tiptoed to the door and opened it. The demon was gone. She realized that really meant little. Where might a demon go, and how might a demon conceal himself? He might be in the room with her at this moment.
Aksinya lit the gas lamp over her bed. Her mother’s jewelry box was a piece of art itself. It was handmade by a craftsman from the late fifteenth century. The box was decorated on the sides with the four seasons of their estate in . The top showed the house of the Counts of Golitsyna. The façade of the house was almost unchanged from that time to this. The box had been a wedding present from her father to her mother. It was locked, and the heart-shaped key was in the lock where her mother always left it. Aksinya remembered the first time she saw the jewelry box when she was a child. She had stared at it for a long time—until her mother finally opened it.
With shaking fingers, Aksinya unlocked and opened the jewelry box. Inside were all her mother’s beautiful things. They were literally a princess’ dowry of gold, silver, and jewels. On top lay a fabulous jewel encrusted crucifix and rosary. It was her mother’s favorite piece. Aksinya always remembered her mother wore it on Sunday, every Sunday. It was too large and fine a piece to wear everyday.
Beside it lay a smaller crucifix and rosary made of intertwined white and yellow gold. On it, the body of Christ was yellow gold and the cross white gold. The tiny adornments, the loincloth, the crown of thorns were white gold. The prayers and decades were white and yellow gold. It was the most beautiful rosary Aksinya had ever seen. Her mother let her wear it on Sunday, but had put it away during the week. She told Aksinya it was her wedding present when the proper time came. Aksinya lifted it in her hands. It was warm to her touch. She bit her lip and quickly put it over her head. It fell around her neck and immediately the crucifix became hot. She felt the heat against her breasts. The heat rose through the prayers and decades and irritated her neck. She felt slightly nauseous. Still, she promised herself she would not take it off. If she lost to this, she felt she would lose to everything. The demon might make her do the most horrible things in the world, but in this very little part she could fight back. She knew at least one of his weaknesses now. He could not move an evident cross. Unless the demon was playing a game with her, he had not taken her sister’s jewelry box, it was decorated with crosses. He had not taken her cross decorated bookstand. He had been able to move her mother’s jewelry box even though it was filled with crosses and crucifixes.
Aksinya didn’t let herself feel encouraged by this little piece of knowledge. It was much too early for that. She simply filed the information in the back of her mind—it was a little more information about the demon and his weaknesses. She would use it, if she could, against him.
She pawed through the rest of the jewelry and removed a couple of more pieces. Each piece brought back some memory of her mother. She couldn’t stop her thoughts. Aksinya’s stomach ached the whole time, and the rosary burned against her skin, but she would endure it, she would. Sleep began to overtake her, and she eventually closed and locked the box. She wanted to go to sleep. When she tried to lift the jewelry box from her bed, she found it was much too heavy for her to lift. She couldn’t budge it. If she tried to push it off the bed, it might fall and break. The noise would surely wake Frau Drescher, whose own rooms were just below hers.
Since she couldn’t move the box, Aksinya finally curled up in the remaining space on the bed that was left to her—it wasn’t much. She was cramped. She couldn’t move. Her stomach ached. The crucifix burned her skin. She wasn’t certain she slept at all, but she did wake when Natalya shook her in the morning.
Natalya just stared at the jewelry box and at Aksinya.
Aksinya was drowsy. She sat up and stretched, “The de…, Asmodeus paid me a visit last night. He left the box. Would you like to see inside?”
Natalya was enthralled, “Is it something that has to do with you know what?”
Aksinya’s brain was still a little fuzzy with sleep, “You know what?”
“Yes, the things you can do…” Natalya whispered, “Sorcery.”
Aksinya lowered her eyes, “It has nothing to do with that.” She unlocked and opened the box.
Natalya gazed at the jewelry. She let her eyes move lovingly over every piece she could see. Aksinya picked them up and let Natalya see those things underneath. Aksinya tried to hand a couple of pieces to Natalya, but she wouldn’t touch them. After a while, Natalya sighed and stated, “Please mistress, we will be late.”
Aksinya put away the pieces, closed, and locked the box. At the same time, Natalya began to pull the nightgown over Aksinya’s head. She stopped when she saw the crucifix.
Aksinya complained, “It’s only half off. Keep pulling.”
Natalya squeaked, “Around your neck…”
“Yes, it was my mother’s. Keep pulling.”
Natalya pulled the nightgown off the rest of the way, “You are burned, Countess.”
“Yes, the crucifix did it. It is burning the impurity from my soul.”
“Doesn’t it hurt you, mistress?”
“It hurts like the dickens and my stomach aches, but I will endure this.”
Aksinya’s shoulders drooped, “I’ll tell you later. Yes, later. Please hurry, Nata. Otherwise we shall be late.”
“Nata?” Natalya put the blouse on Aksinya and began to button it.
“Yes, Nata, and you are supposed to call me Aksinya.” Aksinya slid off the bed and stood.
“I am so embarrassed…” Natalya pulled the slip and skirt up Aksinya’s slim legs. She buttoned and belted it.
“I have a gift for you, Nata, but only if you call me, Aksinya, as you did last night.”
Natalya pulled the sweater on Aksinya and began to button it, “I am sorry, mistress. I will call you Aksinya.”
“Very good.” Aksinya took a small jeweled cross on a golden chain that had been in her mother’s jewel box. “Bow your neck, Lady Nata.”
Natalya bent her head and Aksinya placed the chain around her neck. Natalya picked it up in her hand and stared at it, “Is this really for me?”
“It is yours forever, Nata. Now hide it. It’s definitely against Frau Drescher’s rules to wear jewelry—even a cross.” Aksinya pulled open the top of Natalya’s blouse and let the cross fall down its front.
Natalya gazed at Aksinya, “It doesn’t burn.”
“That’s because you are an innocent person.” She gave a half smile, “I am not.” Aksinya started for the door, “Come on, we’re late, we’ll have to get tea at breakfast.”
Natalya made a strange face, but she answered, “I’m sorry mistress. I already heated the water for tea.”
Aksinya smiled, “You are so very, very good, Nata. Come on, I’ll pour your tea today.”
Natalya put her hands over her mouth, but she quickly followed Aksinya out of their rooms.
When they went to chapel, the crucifix burned against Aksinya’s skin, but her stomach felt better. She didn’t feel quite as nauseous, but she didn’t feel well either. Natalya still had to help her out of the church at the end. They went to their rooms to retrieve their books. The jewelry box was gone. Natalya served Aksinya tea.
Their first class was German with Sister Margarethe. The sister greeted Aksinya and nodded to Natalya. The sister did help Natalya, but she spent most of her class time speaking with Aksinya. At the end, she placed her hands softly on Aksinya’s shoulders, “Dear Countess, your skill with German is very good and improving already.”
When they were outside the classroom, Aksinya whispered to Natalya, “I didn’t even finish my work for the class.” And she laughed. Natalya just looked concerned.
They went to their other classes and finally dinner.
Asmodeus came to visit that evening. He knocked on the sitting room door. Natalya opened it for him. She curtsied. Asmodeus strode into the room, “Countess, are you ready to make a visit to your house?”
“If I must.”
Natalya looked on with curiosity.
Aksinya went back to her reading.
Asmodeus blinked, “The time to visit is now.”
Aksinya yawned, “The school and convent is locked and the hour is late. How do you expect us to go visiting now?”
“I suspect I will not get your help in concealing the both of you, but I can do it for now. I insist you go.”
“Your acquiescence now will mean a lot less pain and suffering for you later.”
Aksinya tuned a bored look at the demon, “Are you threatening me?”
“Whenever did I not?”
“You are always lying to me, but because I don’t perceive any harm in seeing my own house...”
“Yes, Countess. It is your own house. I procured it for you.”
“Then servant, demon, let us see my house.” Aksinya levered herself off the small couch and Natalya went to get Aksinya’s mink cloak. Natalya tied it for Aksinya. Natalya lovingly put on the heavy woolen coat Aksinya gave her at their first meeting.
The demon led them out into the corridor, down the stairs, and to the back exit from the school. The door was bolted and locked. The demon pulled off the heavy wooden bolt. He stood back, “I’m sorry, Countess. I don’t have a key.”
“Then that is all there is for our foray tonight.”
“It is a simple thing for you to open it, Countess.”
“I shall not. I told you before.”
“This place is filled with innocent sleeping girls. There is so much lust I can inscribe on their hearts. Only your good will and acquiescence prevents me from touching their innocent souls…”
“You can’t harm innocents.”
“I cannot kill innocents nor torture them. I can tempt them as I desire—that is my purpose.” The demon hissed, “Open the lock, Countess. Your apprentice wishes to see your power again.”
Aksinya made a depreciating sound. She raised her hands and said a group of words in Latin. The crucifix on her chest burned.
The lock made a slight clicking sound, and the demon pushed open the door, “Well done, Countess.”
Natalya stared on wide eyed.
The demon led them into an alley. The night was cold with a thick frozen drizzle in the air. Aksinya pulled her mink cloak more tightly around her body. Natalya bunched close beside her.
The demon led them across the empty street. They heard loud voices from a tavern out of sight on their left. The door that the demon stopped at was finely carved cedar. Aksinya hadn’t noticed it before. The house itself was wonderfully made. It was the house of an aristocrat and in the center of Wien. Aksinya wondered immediately why it wasn’t in use. That is until the demon bought it for her. She almost asked him, but suddenly realized the knowledge would be available at a much less dear price from other sources. She pressed her lips together.
Natalya held onto Aksinya’s mink cloak. At the front door, the demon paused. Aksinya put out her hand, “This is my house, give me the key.”
“I will always be able to open it for you, Countess.”
Aksinya didn’t look at the demon, “Give me the key. It is my house, you told me. And give a key to my lady-in-waiting. Do it now, demon.”
The demon sheepishly pulled out two keys. He handed them to Aksinya, “Give them to whomever you like. They are yours.”
Aksinya grabbed them from the demon’s hand. She put one in her coat and put the other into the lock. It turned with oiled ease.
Asmodeus smiled, “I prepared the place for you.”
Aksinya pushed open the door. She took a step inside. The house had looked completely dark from the exterior. Inside the gas lamps and lanterns were lit. A large wood fire lay blazing on the main hearth. Aksinya stopped and for a moment couldn’t move. The foyer opened into a room so like the parlor of her family’s estate she sucked in her breath. She walked deeper into the room. Natalya still held onto her and came with her. Aksinya stood in the center of the wonderful room and turned a slow circle. Everything was just as she remembered it. She could almost imagine her father’s voice calling to her. Then she stopped. It wasn’t the same. There had been a cross and a crucifix in the room. Another cross used to sit on the mantel, it was not there. The room was almost correct, but not quite. Still it was wonderful. Aksinya could almost relive the memories of her childhood—not so long ago. She recognized each thing. She had to touch each thing and remember her family—her parents and brother and sister. They had each been so dear to her—still she could not mourn them any more than she already had.
The demon waited for her then led them both through the rooms in the large house. There were very many. There were almost as many as the rooms in Aksinya’s estate in . The furniture from that place filled each of the rooms. It was arranged cunningly to give the impression it was the same place. After a while, the demon took them upstairs. The rooms there were very much the same, but different. In Aksinya’s house in , a crucifix decorated one wall in every bedroom. They were obviously missing here. The bedrooms were slightly changed too. They did not hold the personality of Aksinya’s mother or sister, brother or father anymore. The demon had set the furniture in such a way that the resemblance was certain, but it was enough of a difference that it was obviously not their rooms.
The baths were very modern, like those in the school’s dormitory. They each had a toilet, bidet, and a bathtub. The entire time, Natalya held tightly to Aksinya. The bedroom and sitting room that was filled with Aksinya’s furniture was the grandest in the house. It was more finely decorated than any of the others. Yet Aksinya wondered how it could hold her plainer furniture and still appear so much finer. The fireplace in her sitting room held a wood fire. The rest of the rooms including her bedroom had coal fires in their fireplaces. It was warm and soothing. Next to Aksinya’s bedroom was a room for a lady-in-waiting. It was decorated in a style that made Natalya cry out. She ran into the room and touched each thing. She glanced at Aksinya, “Thank you, Countess. I don’t know how you did it, but this is my room. These are all my things.
Aksinya thought immediately about the dresses, but she looked around. In the usual German fashion, the wardrobes from Aksinya’s house covered one wall of each bedroom. The dresses were closed up in these. The demon didn’t have to remove them from their traveling locations.
Aksinya let out a small sigh of relief.
Asmodeus stepped beside her, “Would you like to see your workroom, Countess?”
“Not particularly, but I suppose you will whine until I do.”
The demon bowed. He led them back down the stairs and to the kitchen. Aksinya had a moment to note, it was a very fine kitchen. The door to the cellar was there. The demon preceded them down. There was a fire and lamps lit here too. It wasn’t too dark nor too light. The high windows were blocked with stone.
Asmodeus made a large circle around the dank room and bowed, “Welcome, Countess and my mistress, my compatriot in evil. Welcome to your own place.”
Aksinya’s books were set on a beautifully carved bookshelf at the side. All her items were carefully arranged on tables and on shelves. They were all laid out. She didn’t have enough room for them all to be out at once in the guesthouse cellar. The mahogany book stand the demon had stolen for her was in the center of the room on the floor. Everything was in position ready to be used. And Aksinya felt a strong desire to use them.
The demon sucked at his fangs, “Go ahead, Countess. Everything is ready for your work and study.”
Aksinya laughed, “Not tonight. It is enough to appreciate your work, demon. You have done a fine job.”
Asmodeus lowered his head so his face was close to Aksinya’s. She tried not to tremble. The demon spoke kindly, “Since you did a bit of sorcery already tonight, I shall not insist, but you should plan what work you will do, Countess. That is the point after all.”
Aksinya remembered her first halting and painful steps at sorcery. The yearning to power. She remembered and was drawn to it. She desired it like she desired nothing else in the world. Yet, she grasped her mother’s crucifix under her dress and pressed it’s burning metal against her breasts. She would not work sorcery again tonight. This she promised herself.