Lynn barely had time to raise her arms when the toothy screeching wart of a creature flew into her. It bit and scratched and tried to get to her face in a frenzy. Acting on pure instinct, she tossed it away before it latched on properly. The creature landed on its side, rolled and pounced right back at her. It looked like a toad the size of a large cat, except toads didn’t have multiple rows of needle-sharp teeth, didn’t stink of carrion and didn’t, generally, try to tear one’s throat open.
The creature slammed into Lynn. What it lacked in mass, it more than made up for with single-minded murderous intent, driving her to the ground. It bit deep into Lynn’s left arm, pulled on her hair with one clawed hand and tried to gouge her eyes out with the other. It squirmed and bounced and raged, resisting Lynn’s attempts to get any kind of hold on it. Twisting, she brought up a knee between her and the creature, and with a cry and a lock of her hair still clutched in the monster’s hand kicked it away.
With barely a second of respite she got and still on the floor, Lynn reached for the bag she had dropped. Knife. Something to protect herself with. The creature landed on her back and screeched in her ear, claws on all of its limbs digging into her. Lynn’s fingers closed on… Not a knife. Didn’t matter. She clutched the monstrous claw that Josh had stolen from the Beast, and swung it at her assailant. Pinned on her stomach as she was, with the thing sitting on top, the claw failed to reach its target. The creature screeched again and bit into her right shoulder, causing her to drop the weapon.
Lynn got her knees under her, slipped on the wet mosaic, got up on all fours again. The thing was still stuck on her shoulder. She grabbed the claw with her left hand and finally managed to jab it into the monster.
“Get off me!”
The thing yelped, and skittered away. Lynn stood up, panting, her right arm hanging limp, blood dripping down it, the claw clasped firmly in her left. The creature crouched a couple of meters away. It poked at the gash the claw left on it.
“Oh well, can’t blame a demon for trying,” said the thing.
Lynn brought up the claw defensively.
“Relax. I know when I’m licked,” the thing’s long tongue dashed over its wound.
“You can speak.”
“Noticed that, huh. I can already see this’ll be a wonderful working relationship.”
“What are you?” Lynn was growing more confused by the minute.
“A demon. Keep up!”
“You’re a demon?”
“Oh boy, we have ourself a smart one. Real observationist, you are.”
“Shut up. Why were you here?”
“Lady, I don’t even know where ‘here’ is. You brought me here.”
“What are you even talking about?!”
The demon sighed.
“I’ll use small words, okay? The claw you hold. It’s me. I live in it. Like… Like a maggot in a corpse. Except it’s my corpse,” the demon waved its left hand around, one of its fingers missing, “It’s complicated, and doesn’t matter. What matters is that I’m yours to command, as long as you hold my phylactery. My finger, I mean.”
“Mine to command?”
“Got it in one. Who’s a good fearless leader? You are!”
“So why did you attack me?”
“You didn’t have the finger when I did, now did you? I swear, where’s a warlock out to make a deal when you need one. Those guys know what they’re doing. Well, they think they do, it’s actually hilarious. But at least they know something.”
Lynn’s annoyance at being both a physical and a verbal punching bag finally outgrew her confusion.
“Shut it. If you’re under my control,” she brandished the claw, “Then stop insulting me, to start with.”
“Yes, your commanding highness,” the demon stood to attention, as much as its crooked legs, pot belly and humped back would allow it.
“And no more attacking me.”
“As you wish, your magnificarious majesty.”
“In fact, no attacking anyone, unless I say so.”
“A most prudelicious order.”
“And stop making up words.”
“A made-up word to a fool is just picayune altiloquence to a sage.”
“Did you just call me a fool?”
“I can hardly be blamed for the conclusions you draw from the observations I state.”
“Enough! Enough with the snide remarks and the sarcasm and the rudeness.”
The demon opened its mouth, then closed it again. Rotated its bulging eyes. Opened the mouth again, let out a stifled croak, and sat down, looking pitiful.
“You can’t,” Lynn realised with a nervous laugh, “You can’t actually not be unpleasant. You have nothing to say that’s not meant to ruin someone’s day.”
The demon nodded, and attempted its version of puppy-dog eyes, which ended up being much more like constipated toad eyes, not that Lynn ever saw such a thing. Thankfully.
“Fine. You can talk.”
The demon cleared its throat with a quick succession of words describing acts that were biologically improbable, historically inaccurate and theologically unwise. Lynn could understand about a quarter of it, enough to turn her face bright pink. Another quarter she could surmise the meaning of, and felt like her hair had turned pink in response as well.
“Much better. Now, fearless leader, what villainy am I to conduct for you?”
“I want to bring someone down. Get rid of them,” Lynn found herself saying, without any pause to think.
“A vendetta! I may have underestimated you. Who’s the unfortunate soul, then?”
“The Beast. Your previous owner.”
The demon fell on the floor, laughing. Every time it seemed like it was done, it would look at Lynn’s determined face and begin anew.
“I’m not kidding,” she said grumpily.
“I know,” replied the demon between the croaking fits, “Wouldn’t be funny otherwise.”
“Done?” enquired Lynn after it had finally stopped.
“For now. But seriously. You, against a true rakshasa? You barely overcame me, in this puny form.”
“I don’t intend to fight him directly. And what’s a rakshasa?”
“Rakshasa, my suicidally fearless leader, is one of the meanest things to ever walk these blasted lands. I say that with envy and admiration. And that particular one, Karadash, has walked them before they were blasted, too. So what do you have to oppose a centuries-old sorcerer with a demon’s heart?”
“I see. Sorry to disappoint, but the most use he found for me was as a paperweight. He’d defeated me at his weakest, and me at my strongest. The demon’s heart I mentioned? Not a metaphor.”
“I’ll figure it out.”
“I’m looking forward to my eventual return to being a paperweight. Is there anything else you wish me to do right now, or can I go back to sleep?”
Lynn considered the question. If not for the scratches all over her arms and back, this was a good luck turn, and her head was still spinning from it. Or maybe it was the blood loss. A stinking, swearing opportunity had landed on her lap and took a bite.
“How can I call on you? And why did you come out now, for that matter?”
“The delicious blood woke me. There’s something about those last few drops, as it’s growing cold on your tongue, you know? You can almost taste the emptiness the soul leaves behind.”
Lynn shuddered. It was Josh’s blood the demon was talking about. For a brief moment, she had been glad to have this comically vile thing serve her. Now she realized there was nothing comic about its vileness.
“As for calling me, just use my name: Stain.”
“You’re called Stain?”
“As in shit stain, yes.”
“That’s… No, that’s just wrong. Even for a demon.”
“Like you’d know.”
“I’m your boss now, and I say your name is… Stan.”
The demon chortled. “That’s not how it works. You can command me to respond to that name, sure, but you can no more change my name than you can command me to be nice. One and the same, really.”
“Why not? Be Stan. Be nice.”
Not-Stan smiled sweetly, exposing all of its crooked teeth.
“You poor little defenseless girl. It must be so scary, being alone in the whole wide world, with no one to turn to,” it crooned, “How desperate you must be, to ask a demon for help. The blood I tasted, was that your friend? Your only friend? How horrible your fate, how unfair. How you must torment yourself, wondering if you deserve all this, if you are at fault, somehow. Is that why you are on your silly little quest, to end your suffering?”
“Stop. Stop,” Lynn was shaking, “That wasn’t nice. That was mean and condescending and… Don’t.”
“Was it? I wouldn’t know. I know about being nice as much as you know about being a demon.”
“Fine. You are a horrid little thing, I get it. I’ll still call you Stan.”
“Your wish, etcetera, etcetera. Oh, by the way. Those scratches I left, you may want to get them treated. You don’t want to know where my claws have been. Though I’d be delighted to tell you.”
“Why the sudden concern for my well-being?”
“Oh, I want you dead, but I don’t want you dead in a ditch. Being a paperweight is better than being lost.”
With that, the demon disappeared, and the claw throbbed in Lynn’s hand. She stood alone in the gloom, wondering what she got herself into. Faceless stone angels observed her in silent judgement.