The little demon who cou.., p.14
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       The Little Demon Who Couldn't, p.14
 

          
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  THE little demon blinked hard. There was something familiar about the Persian carpet. He could not remember exactly where, but he knew he had seen it before. Then Murmur looked up. Looking back at him with horror-bulging eyes was the great Hernando of Isiz A'bai. The magician's scarcely-believing face was filled with shock. In a flash, he kicked the two demons under a nearby desk.

  'So, think you still that the man who sells his soul to the Devil gains the greatest wisdom of all, Hernando?' asked a woman, in a loud, ringing voice.

  'Indeed I do!' replied the great one. 'There are many things a demon can tell a man which he may not discover for himself. Demons are cleverer than men, and therefore the man that can summon a demon to answer his questions and do his bidding is mightier than any mere mortal alone can be.'

  'Ah, but can they tell you all about the things that are in Heaven?' cried the woman, in her commanding tone.

  'What man needs to know about Heaven?' scoffed the great Hernando of Isiz A'bai. 'A man with all earthly knowledge and power does not need Heaven! Why? Because he has everything here on earth.'

  'What about your immortal soul, Hernando?'

  'Better a king for a day than a worm for eternity!'

  'Indeed? Think you to be a king, do you?'

  'Certainly, Madame d'Angelo! Through my dark magic, I have many demons at my beck and call. Through them I have built a great fortune. See those men working breaking rocks in yonder quarry? All are my slaves, all! And see those beautiful women lounging in the shady courtyard? All are my concubines, all!'

  'Ah, but wait-who be the master and who be the slave? I say that it is not you who are lord over these fiends you do conjure, but they that have the power.'

  'I see that you are jealous of my riches and powers, Madame!' cried the great Hernando of Isiz A'bai. 'The green-eyed lady does envy!'

  Still crouching under the desk, little Murmur put his eye to a chink between its planks and peered through it. A very tall, slim lady stood in the centre of the room. Long silver hair cascaded down her back, her nose was long and aquiline, her eyes flashing, and her brow noble. She moved with the grace and dignity of a queen.

  The beautiful lady drew herself a little taller as she fixed her glittering blue eyes on the magician. 'I challenge you.'

  'To what?'

  'I challenge you to prove that your demon-given powers and wisdom are greater than what may be achieved by being good.'

  'I accept!' cried the great Hernando, proudly strutting across the room.

  The regal silver-haired lady stepped forward. 'Then tell me; what star was I born under?'

  A slight flicker of doubt passed over the magician's face. 'I must first say the spell and draw the signs that will make a demon-servant appear?' Stroking his goatee beard, he flipped through a foot-thick tome lying open on the table before him.

  'You mean to conjure a demonic presence? But you already have one-two, in fact!' The queenly lady had stridden around the desk, and now stood looking down at the cowering demon pair.

  'They are nothing, mere toying to pass the time!' splattered the great Hernando. 'I must have uttered some spell quite by accident!'

  'I think not, Hernando. I say you attempted to conjure a fiend the instant you saw me cross your threshold.'

  'They are nothing!' shouted the now-flustered magician, waving a dismissive hand. 'I don't even know what they are doing there!'

  The regal lady bent and reached her hand out to pluck Gribon up by the back of his collar. 'Does the magician speak the truth, demon?' she asked, holding the little devil like a cat might hold her kitten.

  Hanging limply, the fair-haired fiend stared back at the lady with round, frightened eyes. 'I don't know why I'm here!' he squeaked, in a tiny voice. 'I just wanted to get some boots for my cold feet-I want to go home!'

  'Oh, you poor dear,' cooed she, setting Gribon down on the windowsill. 'Your laces are all knotted up? There, is that not much better?'

  Looking down at his now properly tied up boot laces, Gribon nodded. 'Thank you, madam. It is very decent of you.'

  'Fear not, I will tell you the spell to get home later.' She then turned back to the horrified magician. 'You have not yet answered me, great Hernando.'

  'Patience, woman, patience!' blustered he, flipping through his book with hands that now shook slightly. Suddenly he stopped. 'Demon, by the sign of six I command you; come!' he cried, spinning around thrice.

  'Master, you called?'

  Every eye in the room turned with a start towards the direction from whence the sly, slippery voice had sounded. There, standing in a corner, was a tall goat-legged demon smartly dressed in the fashion Beball, Behemoth and the other demons of their ilk adopted. He held his feathered soft cap in his hand and was bowing low with the elegance of a courtier.

  'Ah,' said Hernando, looking smugly upon the demon, 'Malphas, the mighty Prince of Hell with forty legions of demons under his command; the builder of high towers and strongholds and reader of minds. I command you, demon; tell me the thoughts of Madame d'Angelo!'

  The sly, suave, slippery demon put his cap back on his sleek dark hair. 'Malphas? You think me to be Malphas?' Then he sniggered.

  The great magician's eyes bulged once more with rage and shock. 'What! Then why are you here?' he screamed.

  The tall demon gave a twirl that showed off his very fine red satin cloak. 'Because you called, master.' He bowed again.

  'Who are you then?' demanded the great Hernando of Isiz A'bai, seizing his book.

  'I, your honour, am Adramelech.'

  'Rank?'

  The suave devil strutted into the centre of the room. 'Demon.'

  'A common, garden demon?' The rage and indignation of Hernando was great. He slammed the book down and banged his clenched fist on it. 'Where is Malphas? Why have I got you instead?'

  With a swagger that the watching Murmur thought very fine and grand, Adramelech sauntered up to the magician. 'While your call is very important to Malphas,' the demon said sniffily, 'he regrets that he is unable to answer due to the high volume of calls he is currently experiencing. He will get to you as soon as he is able. That may be sometime next century. He apologises for any inconvenience this may cause you.'

  'Answer my questions, demon, or get me your superior!' snarled the great Hernando of Isiz A'bai.

  'As you wish, your honour.' Adramelech bowed again.

  'Tell me what star was this here lady born under.'

  'Hmmm?' Frowning thoughtfully and twirling his smart black moustache, Adramelech hesitated. 'Hmmm?'

  The tall, silver-haired lady had been observing these events with mirth. At this latest setback, she threw back her head and laughed a pealing, bell-like laugh.

  'Answer, demon!' screamed the magician, hopping with rage.

  'Hmmm?' went the demon again, frowning harder and twirling the end of his moustache faster. 'Hmmm?'

  'You don't know, do you?' The great one's voice was now hoarse from shouting. 'Get over there!' He pointed at the ledge the round-eyed Gribon sat on.

  Then the great Hernando began franticly flipping through his book. Suddenly his flipping stopped. 'Ich gom banet som kabash!' he cried, drawing signs in the air.

  A great booming and beating of wings filled the air. The room darkened as a great shape blotted out the sun. Then a hideous winged creature that was half vulture, half dragon swooped in through the open window, knocking Gribon off his perch.

  'You called, master?' said the creature, in a hoarse, croaky screech, as he folded his wings.

  'Are you the demon Furcifer, Great Duke of Hell?' asked the now-smug great Hernando.

  'I am,' croaked the horrid creature.

  'Oops!' exclaimed the magician, stooping to pick up the pencil he had just let fall onto the floor. 'Here, draw a triangle on the ground!' he hissed to little Murmur, passing him a chalk.

  The little demon rather reluctantly did as he was bid.

  'Tell me, Furcifer; what star was this lady born under?' as
ked Hernando.

  'She was born under the constellation of the Ram!' cried the creature.

  'Wrong!' answered she.

  'Come around to here?' said Hernando, beckoning the creature to step where Murmur had just chalked the triangle.

  Furcifer did. And suddenly he was changed! In a puff his wings and scales were gone, and he took on the form of a deer.

  'Tell me what star the lady was born under!' cried the triumphant magician.

  'You two-faced beast!' shrieked Furcifer, struggling and pushing as one might against a fence or wall.

  'Yes, the great Hernando knows that the demon Furcifer is a great liar unless made to enter a magic triangle!' crowed the magician.

  Little Murmur jammed further into the dark corner under the desk. No demon must know about his drawing. Not one.

  'Ahhh!' shrieked the demon Furcifer, throwing himself at the invisible wall. Then he seemed to have found a gap.

  'Do as you are bid, demon!' cried the magician, desperate now that he saw his captive was in danger of escaping.

  Cowering in his corner, little Murmur stuffed his fingers into his mouth to silence his chattering teeth. He saw it now. The triangle, he had not drawn it correctly. There was a gap where the end of the stroke did not quite meet its beginning. It was sloppy and lazy.

  Still squeezing and struggling, Furcifer was compelled to answer. 'She was born under the sun! That is her star!' Then he shot through the gap, bounded out the window and was gone.

  Lucky for Gribon he had decided against remounting the window ledge. If he had, he would have been thrown out by Furcifer's speedy exit.

  'There, I have your answer!' cried the magician, turning triumphantly to the tall lady.

  But she flicked a dismissive hand. 'Bah, that was nothing! Any man or woman who studied the books of knowledge could answer. I am surprised you even thought to conjure a demon to answer such a trifle. Every child is born under the sun!'

  'If you think that so, give me another challenge!'

  'Very well. Tell me, what lies forty fathoms beneath the ground here?'

  'I accept your challenge, Madame d'Angelo,' replied the great Hernando, 'but I issue one to you in return. You have for many years tried to get me driven from this city. I say that this shall be the final. Whoever wins shall stay.'

  The silver lady's eyes flashed more brilliantly than ever as she regarded her nemesis from down the end of her long nose. 'It shall be as you say. It is time this land was rid of you and your evil.'

  The magician began to chant spells and incantations, and to make signs and gestures that were wild and terrible. Faster and faster he chanted, and his gestures became wilder and more contorted. Then a clap of thunder boomed forth and rolled across the city.

  Gribon shot under the desk and crouched beside Murmur, shaking and jittering.

  The magician started to whirl. Round and round went he. More thunderclaps boomed, and the sun was blotted out once again. This time, it became as night. Little Murmur could see the stars twinkling in the sky. Then the stars were blotted out as a black shape filled the window. With a final boom of thunder, a demon appeared. He was riding an infernal beast with dragon's wings and a serpent's tail. The horrid creature had his wings outstretched as he alighted on the window ledge, then folded them once he had taken a bound to land in the centre of the room, right before the magician.

  The magician's eyes glittered with triumphant delight, although he was careful to hold a certain ring close beneath his nose. This was on account of the demon's noisome breath, which reeked most terribly. The demon was in the form of a hurtful angel, scrawny and sinewy with long, taloned fingers and toes and feathered wings. He had a golden crown upon his head and in his right hand carried a spitting, striking serpent. This was all that he wore.

  'You summoned me, master?' he cried, his voice harsh and cutting beyond compare.

  'You are Astaroth, the Twenty-ninth Spirit, mighty, strong Duke of Hell who ruleth forty legions of spirits?' asked the Magician, keeping his ring close.

  'I am he!' screeched the infernal Astaroth.

  The great Hernando stroked his goatee beard with smugness and immense satisfaction. 'Ah, excellent!'

  But the regal lady was unperturbed. She did not even pay him the compliment of looking slightly horrified.

  'Tell me, demon of the First Hierarchy,' demanded the magician, 'what lies forty fathoms beneath the ground here?'

  'Forty fathoms beneath the ground here there lies a rich river of gold!' screeched he of the deadly breath.

  The silver lady paled a little. She put her hand against the wall to steady herself and took a breath. Then she went paler still and staggered slightly. 'You did well, magician,' said she.

  'Now I will challenge you!' cried the great Hernando of Isiz A'bai. 'Tell me how many stars are on Astaroth's seal.'

  'One.'

  'How did the Spirits fall?'

  'You cannot ask me questions the answers to which you know not yourself, magician! That foul creature of your summoning knows of that, and of things past, present and to come. You do not!'

  The magician then asked the lady a mathematical question so complex that little Murmur scarcely understood a single word of it.

  'I see that this is not your first meeting with Astaroth,' said the lady, who was growing ever paler as the infernal demon's breath slowly overcame her.

  'Oh no, indeed not. Astaroth is a very learned fellow. What he cannot teach a man about the mathematical sciences is not worth knowing.'

  Barely succeeding in holding herself up, the lady closed her eyes in concentration. After a few moments, she opened them and gasped an answer that did not reach little Murmur's ears.

  But he knew it was the correct one. The magician went pale. Quivering with rage, he turned to the infernal Astaroth. 'At her! At her with your serpent!' he screamed, pointing his long, long finger directly at the lady.

  The mighty demon kicked his beast, which bounded forward. Then Astaroth hurled back his serpent-wielding hand as one would a whip, and brought it forward. Held by the tail, the snake hissed and spat with rage, striking at the air.

  Murmur could see the serpent bearing down on the shrinking lady, who was pinned against the door. He felt sorry. She had been awfully nice to Gribon. The little demon let out a sigh.

  The serpent was almost upon her. The infernal demon flung back his living whip and brought it forward to strike. Almost fainting from the demon's terrible breath, the lady could not defend herself. She raised her eyes towards Heaven.

  Suddenly a flaming golden sword flashed through the air and slashed the serpent's head off. Wielding this sword was a magnificent warrior-angel. Hovering behind the lady on outstretched wings of blue and white feathers, he was dressed in a breastplate of shining gold over a short tunic of yellow silk, and draped across his shoulder was a cloak of vermillion red satin that floated and rippled all about him. His stern face was breathtaking in its terrible, heavenly beauty. His hair of spun gold waves brushed the top of his shoulders, and encircling his head was a circlet of radiant light-or was it pure gold? Murmur could not tell.

  The angel put one of his strong arms around the drooping lady to support her, while with the other he held his sword out at the serpent, whose head had now regrown. The snake was more enraged than ever. Venom rained down as it hissed and spat. But none of it fell upon the lady, for it was vaporised the moment it touched the angel's radiant aura of golden light.

  The infernal Astaroth lashed the serpent forward to strike. And in a flash the angel slashed its head off again. Letting out a howl of rage, the mighty demon kicked his beast to the attack. The vile creature flapped up into the air, and the demon steered it in for the attack. Still holding the lady, the angel warrior rose into the air too, and together the spirits did battle. The room was filled with the beating of wings, and soon there was not one piece of furniture still standing. Ever and again the serpent regrew its head, and ever and again the magnificent angel sli
ced it off.

  All the while the great Hernando screamed at the demon to attack and defeat, ducking and diving as the winged spirits crashed and rose about the room. Now not one piece of furniture was intact. The desk the two demons cowered under had collapsed at one end, and Murmur was sure it would not survive another blow.

  Adramelech watched the drama with a detached interest, perched on the window ledge and carelessly filing his talons as he did.

  Suddenly the magician noticed this inactive bystander. 'At them, demon, at them!' he screamed at the careless demon, pointing at the prey.

  'What do I get in return?' asked the slippery knave, continuing with his filing.

  'Anything, just kill her!'

  The evil dandy paused his filing. 'Anything?' Murmur caught a very fiendish flicker in the beady red eyes.

  'Anything! Now get off your rear and attack!'

  'Alright,' said Adramelech, and hopped down from his perch.

  Murmur and Gribon shrunk into the desk's darkest corner. The lady and her warrior angel were frightening, but worse still were the infernal Astaroth and his beast. Though they were not the little demon's greatest source of fear-that honour belonged to Adramelech. There was something about the sly demon that sent a chill through Murmur.

  That demon slipped his hand into his pocket and brought out a handful of pebbles, which he began to toss one by one at the angel. The pebbles did nothing. They simply bounced off the angel's radiant aura of light.

  In the angel's arms, the regal lady had recovered somewhat from the demon breath, which could not penetrate the angel's field of light. She reached up and took a dart from the quiver slung on her angel's back. This she threw at Astaroth. The dart bit deep into the demonic beast's serpent-tail.

  The creature let out a howl and began to writhe and thrash with its tail. It flew even more savagely to the attack, biting and snapping while its rider lashed out with his hissing serpent. The angel's sword was a fiery streak as he sliced and slashed, all the while wheeling and ducking.

  Then the queenly lady reached again for a dart and sent it on its way. The dart found its target in the beast's hide. Scarcely had the creature howled and thrashed when another dart hit, and another and another.

  Letting out a roar of rage, the beast attacked madly. Crashing against the walls and roof, its blind fury knew no bounds. The furniture was pulverised, and the walls too began to crumble before the constant battering.

  With a sweep of its tail the beast swiped the broken desk against the wall. Clinging to it, Murmur and Gribon were swept along too. Masonry started to crumble and fall. But the magician hardly noticed. Standing livid-faced in the room, he screamed at the beast to attack and the demon to kill, his eyes bulging and voice hoarse from shouting.

  With a fierce kick, the beast suddenly had the angel on his knees. Then the infernal Astaroth lashed with his serpent. The angel warrior did not have his flaming sword on guard. Open-mouthed to strike, the serpent attacked. But suddenly its fangs were embedded in a piece of wood-a piece of wood held by Gribon.

  The angel had stumbled right beside the desk Murmur and Gribon cowered under. Gribon could not see the lady hurt. She had been kind to him. Nobody had ever been kind to him before. He had unthinkingly thrust out his wood into the serpent's jaws the moment it was about to bite. Its hissing stopped abruptly. With its fangs embedded in the plank, the serpent was disarmed.

  But while the lady was out of danger, her angel was not. The infernal Astaroth reached out his scrawny hands and twisted them around the angel's neck. The magnificent angel let out a choking gasp and his sword-bearing hand dropped.

  'Kill, kill, kill!' screamed the magician, hopping with mad blood lust as victory came near.

  Standing idly by, Adramelech merely tossed a few more pebbles at the angel. They bounced off just as quickly as his earlier ones had.

  The angel's deep sapphire eyes began to glaze and dim as the infernal demon tightened his chokehold, all the while cackling with fiendish laughter.

  The little demon could stand it no longer. The angel was the most fearsomely beautiful and magnificent thing Murmur had ever looked upon. It would not fall. It could not fall. It must fly again. He would see it soar high up towards the heavens. Seizing his little pitchfork, he stabbed hard at the beast's exposed, scaleless underbelly.

  The hideous beast let out a roar and bucked violently, throwing the infernal Astaroth from its back. The angel was free. He instantly rose on his magnificent blue-feathered wings, lifting the lady with him. Below, the beast was bucking and thrashing about with Murmur's little pitchfork stuck in his underbelly.

  'Here, slave, here!' screeched the infernal one, in a wild fury at his disobedient mount.

  But much as the demon lashed at the hideous creature with his serpent and roared obscene words, it did no good. The plank still was in the snake's mouth; it was impotent.

  Letting out a howl that shook the tower's very foundations, the Twenty-ninth Demon leapt onto his creature. Urging it on with kicks, howls and yells, he turned the beast towards the window. Still mad with rage, the demon-mount bucked so violently that its master could barely cling onto its back. The beast's mighty serpent-tail thrashed and writhed, even as the demon wrestled his slave into submission.

  'Hah! hah! hah!' shrieked the infernal demon, lashing the beast with his snake.

  The hellish creature finally obeyed. With one bound it leapt out the window and spread its wings in a shaky flight. But its mighty tail thrashed one final time, crashing through the window frame and taking out the entire west wall of the tower. As the demon sped away over the city on his still-bucking beast, the tower shook down to its very foundations once more.

  'Come back, I order you!' screamed the magician, shaking his fist at the fast-disappearing mighty Duke of Hell.

  'Rot in Hell!' was the demon's distant answering screech.

  But this time the tower did not stop shaking. More stones crashed down. Then the roof began to creak and sag. Mighty groans and splits rant the dusty air. Then the west side of the swaying tower's roof crashed down. A cry sounded, which ended with a gasp.

  Gribon and little Murmur crawled cautiously forth from their hiding place. Lying on his back on the floor, almost entirely buried under a pile of rubble, was the once-great Hernando of Isiz A'bai. A trickle of blood run from his mouth, his face was almost white, and his eyes bulged with shock at this sudden end to his raging.

  'My life-I feel it ebbing away!' he gasped. 'Help me, demons, help me!'

  Adramelech sauntered over to stand over him. 'Why should I?' he demanded callously.

  'Because I am your master.' Hernando's fading gasp was barely heard by Murmur.

  'Hah!'

  Horror crossed over the magician's ashen face. 'The end, I feel it drew nigh?' he murmured, staring fixedly up. 'Help me! Help me!'

  'Afraid, are you?'

  'Terror fills me!'

  'Heh heh heh?' sniggered the sly demon, rubbing his hands together. 'You promised me, magician.'

  'Promised you what?'

  'That you would give me anything if I attacked the angel.'

  'You tossed a few-wretched pebbles,' gasped the stricken Hernando.

  'A promise is a promise, master,' sneered the sly one.

  Fresh horror filled the magician's face. 'What is it?you want?'

  'Your immortal soul, that is all.'

  His eyes widened with fear. 'My?my mortal soul? I never promised to sell my soul to the devil for the tossing of a few pebbles!'

  'I think you will find, master, that you did,' replied the slippery fiend.

  'I-I did? I did?'

  'And now I claim it! You belong to me, slave!' shrieked the triumphant Adramelech, and laughed a great 'mwah-ha-ha-ha!'

  Twilight now hung over the city. Into this gloom, a light flashed forth. A mighty angel stood before the magician.

  'I am the Angel of Death,' said the towering spirit. 'I have come to bear your soul away.'


  'Excuse me, angel.' It was the sly fiend Adramelech who spoke. Twirling his moustache, he looked casually up at the great spirit-being. 'I have a prior claim on this man's immortal soul. It belongs to me.'

  'Man, is it as this demon says?' came the Angel of Death's booming voice.

  'It is. Now get away from me, you infernal angel!' cried the magician.

  In a flash, the towering being of swirling flame-coloured light was gone. Darkness held sway once more.

  'Come, follow me to Hell!' shrieked the triumphant demon, seizing hold of the magician.

  The man cried out in terror as the demon's talons bit into him. But he could not shake him off.

  'Come, slave! To heel!' ordered the devil, pointing the way.

  The magician's immortal soul now had left his body. It cowered at the demon's feet, pale, cold and afraid. 'Ah, darkness, now it surrounds me!' he cried.

  The demon seized his soul and sprung up into the air bearing it with him. As the demon flew off into the night, his cackling laughter rung out across the city, and with it the magician's cries of terror. Then they were heard no more.

  Standing in the ruin beneath night's dome of twinkling stars and the slim sickle of a crescent moon, Murmur looked at Gribon, and Gribon looked back.

  'A terrible fate,' muttered the little demon, shuddering.

  'Terrible?' echoed Gribon, staring bleakly into the night with his pale eyes.

  'Only a fool thinks to go in league with a demon and remain the master,' said the lady. 'The Devil always gets his pound of flesh. Always.'

  'Is the magician damned for eternity?' asked little Murmur (he was woefully ignorant of the workings of Hell).

  'Every man must pay his dues, but ages in time and space come around when a man has a fresh chance to redeem himself,' answered the warrior-angel. 'There is nothing that does not have its chance to be redeemed. Although often times one may have to wait many, many ages before a missed chance comes once more around.'

  'I want to go home,' said a little demon voice.

  'I want to go home too,' said a second.

  The lady looked down at the two young demons. 'And so it shall be.'

  There was a sigh of air as the magnificent angel unfurled his great wings and stepped forward. With each arm he lifted a demon, and then he rose into the air. Quickly they passed high over the city, the land and then the ocean. When the snow-covered rooftops of the town came into view far down below, dawn was breaking in the east. The clear sky was flushed magenta and the pristine snow pale pink.

  The angel swooped down to alight in the garden of Murmur's tumbledown home, where he gently set down his young charges.

  'Thank you!' cried little Murmur, who was mighty relieved to be home safe.

  'Thank you, thank you!' echoed Gribon, even more relieved to be home safe.

  The beauteous spirit-warrior smiled a gracious acknowledgement before taking flight once again. He rose up towards the heavens on his blue-feathered wings, his vermillion drape floating and swirling about him and the first rays of the rising sun shimmering on his golden breastplate.

 
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