He has a devil-may-care-so-let-us-make-every-effort-to-be-considerate-of-his-infernal-highness’s-feelings attitude.
— Steven Kaas
September 20, 1999
[Content warning: Thamiel chapter. Sorry for short chapter. Story will pick up again next week as we move into final arc.]
Midnight falls in the Garden of the Gods, and Robin West stands alone beneath the cold stars.
She draws a circle on the ground, names various angels; not your better class of angels, but the sort of angels who hang around the seedier parts of Heaven and murmur about how they “don’t want no trouble” whenever the gaze of the Almighty falls upon them. She sprinkles the ground with various libations. Says some words in some languages that are not so much dead as not-talked-about-in-polite-company. Some more sigils.
A tall dark man appears in the circle. A crown of fire is on his head. His facial features are oddly indistinct. No matter how directly she looks at them, she cannot shake the feeling that she is seeing them through her peripheral vision.
“A woman,” he says, “young, but with sunken face. Hairless. Too thin. A terminally ill patient, driven to summon Thamiel, Lord of Demons, in her desperation.”
He paused a second for effect.
“…is what I would say if I were a moron. I am Prince of Lies, Robin West. Don’t ever try to deceive me.” He stepped out of the magic circle, strode up close to her. “These things don’t actually bind me, you know. The books of black magic say they do, but nobody ever thinks to ask who wrote the books of black magic.”
“I want to make a deal,” whispered Robin.
“Good,” said Thamiel. “I like deals. But just so you know, my BATNA is killing you, wearing your body like a suit, and slowly poisoning the lives of everyone you have ever loved until they scream for death.”
“You’d do anything to destroy my husband, wouldn’t you?”
“If you’re going to ask me to sell you my soul, I will have to cut off this conversation right here.”
“No,” said Robin. “All I’m saying is – if he knew I went into this willingly, it would break his heart.”
“I’m listening,” said Thamiel. Then, “Wait, no, I’m not listening, too low-bandwidth, I’m clawing the information directly out of your mind.” He grabbed her head and pulled, not quite hard enough to snap her neck. His hands were scalding hot. Robin screamed. Thamiel didn’t let go. Then, suddenly, he said “Interesting!”, and relaxed his grip.
Robin panted in pain and exhaustion.
“I am contractually required to inform you that you will lose your immortal soul and burn in Hell for all eternity.”
“You really don’t,” said Thamiel. “You really, really don’t.” He mulled it over for a moment. Then he said “Nope. No deal.”
Robin’s shock was palpable. “What?”
“Too easy. You’re plotting something.”
“How could I be plotting something by offering you my soul for eternity?!”
“I don’t trust the Comet King. I don’t trust the people who trust the Comet King. And I definitely don’t trust the people whom the Comet King trusts.” He kicked a foot on the ground, and sparks flew from it. “How do I know you’re not trying to infiltrate Hell, use some kind of special Name once you’re in there to bring the whole place crumbling down?”
“The Shem haMephorash? You know my husband is the only person who can say that without burning up or going mad halfway through.”
“True, true. But something doesn’t add up. You don’t add up, Robin West. What are you plotting?”
He grabbed her head again with one hand, wrenched it back, stared into her eyes.
“Oh,” he said. “I’m afraid that’s not much of a plot. I’m not sure I would call it a plot at all. A hope? A wish? A desperate attempt to deny obvious reality?”
Robin tried to answer something, but couldn’t make herself speak.
Thamiel frowned. “But still, no deal.”
“Offer me something else.”
“What else is left to offer?”
“Oh. Definitely the right question, there. Let’s see. I’ve got your soul. What’s left after the soul? Ah yes. The body. Make love to me, Robin West.”
She stepped backwards. “What?”
“You said it. I would do anything to hurt your husband. I want to grind him down and break his heart and rot his soul. So, make love to me.” He held out his arms for her, laughing.
“Fine,” she said. “But not like that. Show me your true form.”
The laughter stopped. “Really?”
“What would you possibly…”
“So that nobody will ever say I did it because I was deluded. I’ll do it, but show me your true form.”
The tall dark man began to melt. A misshapen figure, too-tall, with a second head on his shoulders, locked in a perpetual scream. The sound of buzzing flies.
“Your true form.”
“Any truer and I stop being in space-time. It’s this or nothing.”
Robin started to take off her clothes. The buzz of the flies was louder than anything she had ever heard before. Every tree in the garden wilted at once. The bright rocks turned black. The stars fled to the edges of the sky.
Robin West made love to the Lord of Demons.
When it was over, in between the waves of pain crashing through her body and the nightmare visions crashing through her head, he whispered “The day he returns. At sunset.”
“So soon? Can’t it be later?”
“You have nothing left to bargain with. Sunset. Expect me.”
And then he disappeared into smoke.
She lay there, in the Garden of the Gods, naked and alone, on the foul sulfur-scented dead grass, and it was not until morning that she picked herself up and returned to the palace.