Monday, February 14, 2005

 

the child, thirty-five


Twisted. That was the word that came to Starr's mind. Everything about the demon seemed twisted - distorted - like a foul mockery of a human being.

Except that, really - it was a foul mockery of an angel.

The wings - the eyes - the faces. It reminded her so much of Mathilda, of Michael. But the wings were dark and leathery, the eyes hard and bitter, the faces sneering and hateful. Twisted. Nasty. Sickening.

'Don't listen to her.'

The words caught Starr by surprise. For now Jessie's voice was coming out of the demon's mouth, perfectly reproduced. Jessie in the corner had fallen silent - yes, and fallen to the floor as well, hiding behind her own arms, whimpering.

'Don't listen to her,' the demon said again, cutting its many eyes in Starr's direction. 'She hates me. She's egging you on to kill me, you know. She's evil.'

It took both Starr and Forest a second to realize who the demon was talking about. 'You mean Starr?' the boy gasped, still sorely pressed by the demonic blade.

'She's jealous,' the fake voice of Jessie went on. 'Because the Master made me his bride, and not her. So she lies about me. She hates me! She would love to have you kill me. Then she thinks she would have a chance to snare my husband for herself - as if he would have her!'

Oh! The demon may have been fighting against the boy Forest, but its words struck deeply into Starr's heart. Twisted! It had somehow twisted Starr's motives and replaced them with Jessie's, and Jessie's with hers.

Starr dropped back a step, her mouth fallen open, hurting, bleeding within where it could not be seen. Surely, surely Forest wouldn't believe such lies!

And she started to speak up, to denounce the lies for what they were. When she looked down.

Her sword was in her hand. She didn't remember having drawn it. She looked up again, found that the demon was grinning at her, even as it continued to press its attack against Forest. It leaned nearer to the boy, its lips moving, whispering words she could not hear into the lad's hearing.

Forest glanced back at her, his eyes wide in shock. He dropped back another step, and then another.

His resolve was flagging, Starr realized. Whatever lies the demon was pouring into Forest's ears, they were sapping his confidence, sowing doubt.

Lying devil! she thought. Her fist tightened on the hilt of her sword. How she longed to wade into that demon, to make it eat those lies - yes, and choke on them!

She took a step forward...

Wait... Was she coming to Forest's defense? or to her own? The Master's words flooded back into her: '...you are not to defend yourself, for I shall do that, and you shall rest in my defense of you - the use of the sword is not to defend yourself, not to promote your own ways - but it is to defend others, to protect them from the wiles of the enemy...'

Again she looked at the sword in her hand. Which was she about to do - protect Forest from the enemy's wiles? or defend her own self - her own good name - from the enemy's lies about her?

Again she glanced back at the little group outside the house. There was Stone, his own sword in hand...

But her eyes were seeking the Master. He was standing there, so calm, so serene. Smiling, he lifted his hand.

And she felt his touch, there on her cheek, across the intervening space.

Sureness flooded into her. She need not defend. Smiling back, she decisively sheathed her sword.

And turned back to the scene inside the house, her hands now empty. Forest was pressed back against the wall now, his eyes near to panic. The demon was right up in the boy's face, its scaly free hand reaching to grasp Forest's throat.

'Oh, Master! For Forest!' Starr breathed.

She barely spoke the words aloud. And her hands were yet empty. But suddenly the demonic body jerked and shuddered, as if it had taken a great blow. Snarling, it turned on her, glaring, hissing. 'You see!' it growled. 'She strikes me in the back - like the coward she is!'

Starr raised her hands, showing them to be empty. And then dropped them, palms outward, completely and utterly vulnerable.

The demon's eyes glowed with glee to see Starr leave herself so wide open to attack like that. Forgetting the boy, it turned, regripped its cruel evil sword - and charged, hurtling itself full force towards the unprotected Child.

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