Short Story #1
It had been about a year since Astra had been moved to the Eastern Tower and put under Hiante’s care. After Astra had been convinced there were no spiders nesting in Hiante’s head, she began to ease up around Hiante and the bodyguard even suspected she had begun to think of him as a friend. As the days wore on, however, Astra had been getting weaker and weaker. She couldn’t sleep through the night without nightmares waking her in a panic. Night after night, Hiante found he could do nothing to help his young charge and brought up the problem with King Edgar and Queen Lina. At first, neither Edgar nor Lina knew what to do; they left Hiante with a few ideas to try (none of which worked) as they tried to think of another plan of action. In the following days, they returned, a new plan already in motion.
The king left Astra in the care of his wife at the tower and he took Hiante back to Sabine. When they arrived, Edgar led Hiante to the catacombs underneath the castle; if Hiante could still feel the cold, he was sure he would have been overcome with chills as they descended deeper.
“How is the answer to her problems down here?” Hiante asked as he followed the king. He wiped a few cobwebs that had clung to his cloak and flicked a few spiders that had assumed he was ripe for more webs.
“I had to put him somewhere,” Edgar explained as he took Hiante to a lone room in the back of the catacombs.
After he paused to listen, Edgar pulled a key from his clock and unlocked the door. He ushered Hiante in first and followed the skeleton closely.
Inside was a room with barely enough space to accommodate more than three people. Locked to a set of chains on the wall was an odd looking boy, no older than fourteen. He had milky white skin that lacked the pigment of a normal person and had messy brown hair. On his small body were very thin clothes; a pair of black trousers and a short sleeved cotton shirt (neither suitable for the weather outside nor the dampness in the catacombs), though he had no shoes to speak of. That wasn’t what took Hiante aback, however; while the boy’s eyes matched the color of Astra’s, instead of the typical whites that a normal person would have, his were pitch black.
“He’s a demon,” Hiante whispered.
“Ah, so you noticed,” Edgar said and laughed. He tapped the ground with his foot and as Hiante looked, he recognized a demon circle etched into the floor. “Lina and I discussed what to do with Astra’s dreams, and we realized that some demons have the power to fix dreams.”
The small demon snorted and glared at Edgar. “If you want someone to help you, what’s the deal in locking me up in here?”
“Calling a demon is a heavy price to pay, King Edgar,” Hiante said as he crossed his arms. “You have something else planned, don’t you?”
Edgar shrugged and looked at the skeleton bodyguard. “It’s not for you to worry about; I just crushed two birds with one stone that’s all.”
“What are you going to do with him now?” Hiante asked.
“You can still sense when Astra is harmed, correct?” Edgar asked.
“As far as I am aware, yes I can.”
“I’ve connected her lifespan to his,” Edgar explained as he looked at the demon again. As if the demon could get any paler, the demon somehow managed it out of fear as Edgar held up a hand. “Now, we’ll test if there are any other effects before I send him to deal with her dreams.”
Hiante jumped as a bolt of lightning flew form Edgar’s palm and crashed into the demon. It slowly flowed around the demon’s form, but after mere seconds, the shock slipped into the demon. The poor boy only held out for a few seconds before he started screaming and convulsing from the pain.
“Edgar—what the hell is this supposed to do?!” Hiante shouted.
“Is Astra being harmed at all?”
Hiante held back the urge to punch the king and paused; he wasn’t feeling anything from Astra back at the tower. “No, she isn’t,” he said. When Edgar didn’t move to stop the shock that still ran through the demon’s body, Hiante grabbed the king’s arm. “I think you can stop now; anymore of this and I think you’re going to kill him.”
“You think I care if a little demon is hurt?” Edgar said and laughed. Nevertheless, the king held up his hand and the shock dissipated from the demon’s body. The demon slumped to the ground as his body gave out a few twitches and he whimpered.
When Edgar found Hiante staring at him, he realized that if Hiante still had his face, the bodyguard would be glaring, Edgar smirked. “It’ll teach him who’s in charge, at least.”
“And if it had killed him?”
Edgar snorted and readjusted his gloves. “I think you believe him too fragile; he is a demon after all.”
“He’s just a boy,” Hiante stressed. “Even you can see that; how did you end up summoning him even? Demons that young don’t even have their summoning scriptures finalized yet.”
“I think I know more about demons than you do,” Edgar snapped as he glared at Hiante. “I just drew the circle. I don’t care who answered as long as he can do what I ask him to do.” He pulled another key from his cloak and handed it to Hiante. “Unlock him and bring him with you up the stairs. We’ll take him to the tower now.”
“Are you going to at least give him some shoes?” Hiante asked as he took the key.
“Why bother?” Edgar laughed and shook his head. “You’re humanizing the thing a bit too much, Hiante.” The king opened the door again and started through. “Don’t dally too long; I want to get to the tower and back here before it gets dark.”
All that produced from Hiante was a sigh; when Edgar left the small room and his footsteps started to echo around the catacomb, Hiante looked at the demon. The urge to send the boy home was strong, but Hiante had no idea how to do that; he doubted the demon would even know.
As though preparing for another attack, the demon had curled up into a ball on the floor. He even gave out a twitch now and then. When Hiante knelt in front of him, the demon looked at him with wide eyes and flinched.
“Come on now,” Hiante said as he took the demon’s wrists and unlocked the chains. When the demon was free, he pushed Hiante away and flattened himself against the back wall. Before the demon could do anything, Hiante reached into one of the pockets lining his cloak and pulled out a tonic. He held it out. “Drink this; while it won’t really heal anything, it’ll at least help with the pain.”
The demon watched Hiante with wide eyes for a moment before he grabbed the tonic and popped off the cork. He downed the whole bottle within a manner of seconds and shuddered.
“My name is Hiante; what’s your name?” Hiante asked as the demon handed the bottle back.
“Erio,” the demon said as he tried to stand. He almost stumbled forward as his legs buckled underneath him, but Hiante took hold of the demon’s arm and tried to keep the boy steady. “That really hurt; what the hell is that bastard’s problem?”
Hiante chuckled. “He is a bastard, isn’t he?” he remarked as he helped Erio out of the room. Edgar was nowhere to be seen and that put Hiante at ease; the king wouldn’t hurt the boy and Hiante wouldn’t have to fight back the urge to pummel Edgar.
“Why did you answer that summon anyway; it wasn’t yours, was it?” Hiante asked as he helped Erio over to the stairs that led up into the castle.
“No it wasn’t mine,” Erio replied as he sighed and shook his head. “My sister told me not to answer it after she made fun of Edgar, but I was really curious on how it worked… there isn’t a way back to my home nearby is there?”
“None that I have found; I do believe you’re stuck.”
As Hiante and Erio returned to the castle, Hiante found the king’s advisor, Richard, waiting for them. The advisor had a small pack of items next to him in which he grabbed when Hiante came out of the catacombs. A few guards gave Erio a worried look from their post, but as Richard did not give them an order to apprehend the demon, they resisted the urge to do anything. As Richard’s eyes fell on the demon, however, his face paled and he readjusted the glasses.
“The king’s waiting for you at the castle doors,” Richard said. He held out a pack of items toward Hiante. “I put together some supplies for Astra at the tower. Since you’re here and all.”
Hiante smiled, but he doubted Richard could tell. He took the pack and nodded. “Thank you,” he said.
Richard gave the bodyguard an awkward bow and led Hiante and Erio through the castle. When they reached the main doors, Edgar was indeed waiting for them and Richard made his leave. A little fair haired boy had started to peek out from the throne room, but Richard ushered the boy back inside and shut the door behind him.
As Hiante approached the king, the guards nearby gave Erio another worried look, but when they saw that Edgar did not react negatively, their expression eased.
“Are you certain you won’t get him some shoes at least?” Hiante asked as he and Erio paused before Edgar. Erio deliberately stayed behind Hiante in an attempt to hide himself.
Edgar sighed as he lifted his hood over his head. “If you are so concerned, give him your shoes; I don’t even know why you bother with them,” he said. He turned to the castle doors and the guards nearby opened them for their king.
While Hiante agreed, he sighed all the same. He had no reason to wear shoes himself, but he hated the uncertainty of walking on just his bones. Nevertheless, he kicked off his shoes for the small demon. Erio didn’t need convincing; as soon as he could, he slipped on Hiante’s shoes. They were much too big for the small demon, but Erio didn’t complain. For good measure even, Hiante put his cloak around Erio’s shoulders and for a moment, the demon looked flustered with embarrassment.
“Will you stop taking your time?” Edgar shouted from down the path.
“I promise you he doesn’t show up at the tower often,” Hiante whispered as he led Erio out of the castle. He fought back a cringe as his feet sunk into the freshly fallen snow; he couldn’t wait to get to the tower so he could have his shoes again. He had an extra pair back at the tower and in a few days, he was sure he could convince Richard to get the demon some better clothes and even shoes that fit.
The trek back to the tower wasn’t perilous at all; snow fell, but it didn’t deter Edgar. The snow even melted around the king and Hiante was sure Edgar had placed a warming spell on himself to take the edge off the cold. The large phantom bird that Edgar and Lina had summoned to protect Sabine flew overhead a few times and Hiante was glad it didn’t believe that Erio was a threat. Even under the best circumstances, Hiante doubted Edgar had the bird under as much control as the king boasted.
In a few hours, they arrived at the tower and once inside, Lina did not looked pleased as she looked the demon over. She crossed her arms as Astra hid behind her and peeked out to see the demon herself.
“This doesn’t look like the demon we agreed on,” Lina said. “He’s a boy and is surely not fully grown.”
“I drew it just like you said,” Edgar snapped. He rounded on Erio and the demon attempted to hide behind Hiante again; without the cloak around Hiante, however, Edgar could still see Erio through the bodyguard’s bones. “You can deal with dreams, right?”
Erio nodded quickly. “I-It’s not hard,” he whispered.
Edgar smiled as he looked at Lina. “See?”
Lina sighed as she pulled Astra out from behind her. “If you say so,” she said. “Astra, be a dear and introduce yourself.”
Astra looked shyer than Hiante had ever seen her and he held back a chuckle as he pulled Erio out from behind himself and stood the demon in front of Astra.
“My name’s Astra,” she said and stuck out her hand.
Erio appeared to ease a bit as he took Astra’s hand and shook it. “My name’s Erio,” he said.
As if she couldn’t wait to leave the tower, Lina briskly walked past everyone, grabbed her husband and pulled him out of the tower. “I’ll be back next week Astra; be sure to do the reading I’ve assigned,” she said before the door to the tower slammed.
“You’re so cold!” Astra exclaimed as soon as the door closed. She took hold of Erio’s wrist and pulled him deeper into the tower. “Come to my room; it’s the warmest!”
Hiante stopped from laughing as he heard Erio from the room with the stairs.
“That’s a lot of stairs!” the demon shouted.
“Oh, we can use my magic!” Astra said.
A gust of wind blew from the stairwell, blowing open any door within range and Erio gave out a shout of fear. They landed at the top with a thump and Hiante peeked in.
“I’m still working on the landing,” Astra admitted from above.
“Don’t scare the poor demon,” Hiante said as he glanced up the stairs. “He’s had a rough day already.”
Hiante knew Astra had rolled her eyes even if he couldn’t see them from down below. As Astra pulled Erio toward her room, Hiante ducked into the extra bedroom they had on the ground floor. Lina had used it when her lessons with Astra had kept her longer than she intended, but Hiante doubted she would mind if Erio used the room while he stayed. As the days went by, Lina didn’t want to spend as much time in the tower and Hiante was expecting any week now, she would not return.
Hiante went over to the bed and pulled a small box from underneath; inside was an extra pair of shoes and he stepped into them. His bones safe, he started for Astra’s room. He couldn’t wind himself up all the flights, but thankfully he never felt tired or out of breath; having no lungs attributed to that.
. . .
After Astra had showed Erio everything in the tower—from the various traps Hiante had set up for anyone who shouldn’t be in the tower, to the giant astrolabe she used to watch the stars (Erio was a natural at getting it to work)—it had become night and the snow still fell outside, gleaming brightly from the full moon peeking out from the clouds. Hiante figured he should get Erio to work to stop Astra’s nightmares.
“What kind of nightmares do you have?” Erio asked as Astra slipped into her bed. Hiante moved around her to make sure she was tucked in tightly.
“I don’t remember them well,” Astra admitted. “I remember fire and being in a room with no doors.”
Erio sat next to her bed and leaned on the mattress. “That’s it?” he asked.
Astra glared at him. “I guess I shouldn’t expect a demon to understand being scared.”
“I understand being scared,” Erio snapped. “It’s just can’t you like dream up a door?”
“Queen Lina asked me that too, but I can’t,” Astra said.
“I’ll make you a door then.”
“Is that all you can do?” Hiante asked.
“Dreams aren’t my specialty,” Erio explained as he looked at the bodyguard. “That’s my sister—who your stupid king meant to get.”
“But you can still help?” Astra asked worriedly.
“Of course I can, my sister taught me the basics of what to do.”
“What would you normally do?”
“I like making medicine,” Erio said and smiled. “Now go to sleep. I can’t help you if you’re awake.”
It took Astra more than an hour to fall asleep; she had told them both to leave the room after fifteen minutes as she complained she couldn’t sleep if people were staring at her. As they were waiting for her to sleep, Hiante showed Erio where he’d be sleeping. The demon’s nose scrunched up as he entered.
“It smells like that queen,” Erio complained.
“Not much I can do for that,” Hiante said.
After showing Erio what all was in the kitchen and getting Erio something small to eat, they returned to Astra’s room and found her asleep. Erio returned to his position from before and took Astra’s hand in his. When nothing happened after a moment, Hiante crossed his arms.
“What happens now?” Hiante asked.
Erio sighed and looked at the bodyguard. “Be quiet,” he said. “I have to concentrate.”
As Erio readjusted himself on the floor and closed his eyes, Hiante sat at the desk in Astra’s room. He had no idea how long this would take so he grabbed one of the books Lina had given Astra and started to flip through them.
. . .
The dream was just the same as before; after Astra fell asleep, she would float in darkness for a little while and then she would fall suddenly. A floor appeared underneath her to catch her and that’s when the flames would start. They would start in a circle around Astra and spread out from there. She didn’t wait for them to start this time; if they would, she wouldn’t be able to move without burning herself. She hopped up and ran toward one of the walls. As soon as she reached it, the fires sparked up and surrounded the spot where she had been. Like before, walls stretched high into the sky all around her and even if she wasn’t in the circle of fire, she was still trapped. Slowly, she knew the fire would grow until it engulfed the entire room and take her with it.
She didn’t have to wait long before someone started to come up from the floor. She recognized him as her new friend and she knelt in front of him.
“Why are you in the floor?” she asked.
“I’m not good at entering dreams yet—get me out!” Erio said as he lifted his arm.
Astra sighed and grabbed Erio’s arm and pulled him upwards. His body slid out of the floor and when he was free, she pulled him toward the wall. Flames sprouted from where he had come from and shot high into the sky.
“Is this it?” Erio asked as he glanced around.
“That it is,” Astra said. “Welcome to my room on fire.”
Erio surveyed the room but Astra wasn’t sure what he looked for. From their spot they could see every single wall and the only thing aside from them were the flames. Before Astra had a chance to ask him what he looked for, Erio turned to the wall. He placed his hands on it and closed his eyes.
“Think up a door,” Erio said.
Astra turned to the wall and imitated Erio. As her palms touched the wall, she fought the urge to take them away; the walls were blazing hot. Through the pain that tickled her palms, she tried to imagine a door. As a response, the flames behind them kicked up and a loud howl came from above.
“That never happened before!” Astra shouted.
“Just concentrate on a door!” Erio snapped. He took his hands away from the wall and stood behind Astra with his back to hers. He held out his arms again and a barrier surrounded by sparks shot up from the floor. The flames hit against it hard and the room howled again.
Astra flinched from behind Erio and she pressed her hands against the wall harder, willing for any kind of a door to show up. As the flames wormed their way around Erio’s shield and slammed against the wall around Astra, the room shook. Both Astra and Erio fell to the ground and as Astra started to pull herself back up, she saw the door; it was across the room.
“There it is!” Astra said.
Erio turned and cursed under his breath. “It wasn’t supposed to show up over there,” he said as he flattened his hands against the floor. Before Astra could ask him what he was doing, his eyes glowed and the walls started to turn.
The flames were not happy; they roared again and as the door settled in front of Astra, the flames rose high into the sky and started to turn in the air. Neither dreamer waited for the flames to descend; Astra was already at the door and she threw it open. She jumped out and after falling through a sea of darkness, she entered a meadow of flowers. Stunned, Astra froze and stared at everything. It looked nothing like Sabine; violet and white flowers dotted the grass that blew in the breeze and the sky was bluer than Astra had even seen it. It looked just like the beautiful paintings Lina had showed her when she was younger.
“Erio this looks so pretty!” Astra said as she looked over her shoulder. She jumped when she saw Erio flung through the doorway; he hit the ground and slid against the grass and the flames overtook the doorway as something from inside roared once again. A mighty crash from the room shook the surrounding meadow and in the middle of all the flames appeared a lone scarecrow, a smile stitched into its face.
“Close the door already!” Erio ordered.
Astra nodded and reached into the room again. The scarecrow watched her, its eyes in its turnip head glowing and its smile started to twitch and turn into a frown. Before it could do anything, however, Astra slammed the door shut. The room and the small building it was in gave out another mighty shake, but then it became quiet. Astra waited a full minute and when nothing happened, she looked at Erio who had sprawled out on the grass, out of breath.
“What was that?” Astra asked.
“I haven’t the slightest idea,” Erio said.
“Are you all right?” Astra moved over to Erio and knelt next to him.
“I should tell Hiante I fixed your dreams,” Erio said as Astra helped him sit up.
“Am I going to dream of the room again?”
Erio shook his head. “I don’t think so. The way my sister told me this works is that since I got you out of the room, you’ll have a dream of escaping the room each time,” he explained. He looked around the meadow. “Now you get to play in a meadow! That’s much better, right?”
Astra grinned and nodded. “Of course it is,” she said. “Are you going to leave my dream now?”
“I can come back if you want.”
“I’d like that! I’ll wait right here for you.” Astra sat cross-legged next to Erio. “Tell Hiante not to worry.”
As Erio smiled, he slowly slid through the grass in the meadow and disappeared. Alone, Astra sighed and took in a deep breath. She couldn’t smell anything; of course not, she thought. She had never been in a meadow before in her life so she had no idea what it would smell like. Astra looked back to the small room and it still sat quietly, but she was sure the scarecrow was still inside. The sooner Erio returned the better, she thought to herself. Then she could move away from the room and not have to worry about it anymore.
. . .
Back in the tower, Erio woke with a start and Hiante jumped from his place at the desk. The demon had been sleeping soundlessly before and had looked as still as a statue; Hiante hadn’t been expecting the sudden movement.
“Did you figure it out?” Hiante asked as Erio struggled to stand.
“I think so,” Erio said. He gave up trying to stand and sprawled out on the floor.
“Wow, I think I over exerted myself. I can barely move.”
“Are you going to be all right?” Hiante asked.
Erio nodded. “I just need sleep, but Astra wanted to tell you that she’s safe and for you not to worry,” he said and looked at the bodyguard. “I do have a question though: are there any scarecrows on this island?”
Hiante paused and thought a moment. “There are quite a number of them are underneath Sabine Forest,” he admitted. “Why?”
“Just curious,” Erio said quietly. He paused for a moment and tried to sit up again. When that failed, he sighed. “Can I sleep here? I can hardly move.”
“Let me get you a pillow then.”
When Hiante came back to Astra’s room with the pillow from the bedroom downstairs (and even a blanket), he found that Erio had curled up in his spot and had fallen asleep. Hiante chuckled to himself as he placed the pillow down and moved Erio so his head could lay on it. The demon didn’t even wake and Hiante realized that Erio hadn’t been kidding; he must have worn himself out. Hiante only hoped Erio wouldn’t have to overdo anything again; he still hoped he could send Erio home soon, but if Erio didn’t bring up any ideas on how to get home, Hiante would have to come up with it himself. He wasn’t as well-versed in demonology as Edgar seemed to be and Hiante knew he couldn’t ask the king for help.
After Hiante he covered Erio in a blanket, the skeleton bodyguard returned to the book he had been reading. It was part one of a series about a wind mage with a skeleton friend that worked together. Astra only had part one and Hiante made a note to himself to ask Lina if she had the other parts somewhere in Sabine’s library.