Once Upon a Mephisto
The little ball of twine went up, and the little ball of twine came down. If it bounced off the wall, Dana did not see it happen. If it were to snag on one of the six hundred and sixty-seven identical grey bricks that together made the wall, she did not know if she would care. The little ball of twine had long since exhausted all conversational merit and, short of knitting herself a rope to hang herself by, there was about as much value in its existence now as there was in hers.
On her next throw she couldn’t even be bothered to catch it. The little ball of twine, perhaps in response to her complete lack of regard for its personal wellbeing, bounced off of her forehead and rolled away to a dimly lit corner on the opposite side of the room - presumably to sulk. From where she lay upside down, with her legs stretched up the wall and her unwashed skirts bunched around her unwashed butt, she squinted menacingly at the ball and willed a bird to come and fly off with it.
But of course, if a bird could get through the narrow bars of her window then that alone might be the most exciting thing to happen to her in weeks.
As was the theme of her life now, she quickly grew tired of glaring at the little ball of twine and sighed into a weary slump. That was the paradox of her imprisonment - the less she had to do, the less energy she had with which to do it. She wondered how many more weeks would go by before she altogether refused to leave her bed, even to use the privy. What difference would it make if, in a year or a decade or a century, the guards finally returned to find her naked but for a gown of her own hair and shit? Would they lock her back in and throw away the key?
Or had they done that already?
This depressing train of thought was interrupted by a sudden crackling of purple light between the bricks of the far wall. Six hundred and sixty-six bricks in that wall, yet it was identical in shape and size to the wall against which she sat. Why? Had the builder run out of bricks, and just trowelled in some extra mortar before calling it a day? Was that wall the correct one, and instead she set her buttocks against the abomination? Such thrilling consideration had gotten her through her second week, but only after she’d been bored enough to count the bricks to begin with.
The purple glimmer spread slowly between the bricks and across the wall, until it covered a perfectly round circle from floor to roof. The bricks began to tremble and shake, as if aware that something very bad was about to happen and that, unfortunately, it was going to happen to them. Then they just fell into the wall, not shattering or breaking but stretching into total blackness only a foot beyond the surface. Dark shimmers rippled across the inky void and the shadow of a man appeared silhouetted against the murk.
In testament to how thoroughly bored Dana felt, the first thing she thought when she saw this happen was, “Yes! Now I can do a re-count.” She didn’t scream as she assumed a normal person might do if they saw a wall fold in sideways, and in any case there was no-one around to hear it if she did. She didn’t even question what she saw, because if she finally had lost her mind then at least life was about to get decidedly more interesting.
Instead, she pulled herself upright on the bed, carefully combed the floor dirt out of her tangled hair with her fingers, and held her breath as the silhouetted figure stepped out of the wall.
The man was seven foot tall if he was red - which he was, though the part about being a man was open for debate. His serrated teeth and cloven hooves looked misplaced against the black formal tunic and white ruffles, and a pair of short horns lay back against his slick mane of night dark hair as if driven beneath the same mighty comb.
He was also the most handsome man-maybe thing anyone had ever seen; or so she hoped because otherwise she was comically weak against a well formed chin and a nice smile.
Between his fictitiously good looks and the portal yawning behind him, he could have stepped straight out of a fairy-tale. He was a dashing adventurer come to rescue her from the den of the dragon, a glorious hero on the battlefield of her heart. She would run to his embrace and his arms would be the great walls of Solitude - not all the armies in the world could reach her inside them, and no-one would ever put her in a cell again.
He would love her and keep her safe.
He was the perfect gentleman.
But the smile did not reach his eyes, and his glib attire made Dana think less of the darling knight and more of the mockery of one. A caricatured champion, charging the lists not for pride or honour but out of contempt at the very concept. And the proof was in those eyes. Behind those dazzling greens, in stark contrast to his mannered façade, raged something primal - and barely restrained. The way he looked at her was not the way a gentleman looked at a lady. It was not even the way a man looked at a woman.
It was how a wolf looked at a stricken deer.
The room was suddenly hot and far too small for the two of them, and perhaps more than any other moment since she’d been barricaded inside her tower she desperately wanted to be let out.
The man strolled closer still and so Dana retreated away from the edge of the bed. The irony of using the bed for protection from those wild eyes was not lost on her, but she didn’t exactly have a knife at hand and she must have left her crossbow in her other cell. Any worry as to his intentions, however, were at least stalled when he stopped in the middle of the room. Appearing to take note of her unease he looked away and, with a hint of disappointment, he sat down on thin air with a thud.
He plucked a small scroll from up his ruffled sleeve and unfurled it in one hand. A few stubborn rays of sunlight bent their way between the bars of her window, and from one of these the man pulled a simple set of reading glasses. With them on and the heat gone, it was hard to believe that mere moments ago she’d been frightened of him.
As if giving voice to her earlier boredom, he read the contents of the scroll in an indifferent monotone, “Dana. Female. Born in Brock’s Mill twenty-two years ago. Black hair. Pale skin. Scar on left forearm, interior, from falling from the mill sail at age eight. Is this you?” Given his passionless oration, she barely registered the last as a question. Only the return of his sharp eyes on her own brought her to nod and cautiously bare her forearm for scrutiny.
He appraised the arm as a farmer might a sack of potatoes, with a purely mechanical appreciation. There was no trace of his earlier passion. Seeing the scar, a thin and mostly faded nick not far from her wrist, he nodded and tossed the scroll over his shoulder before saying, “Good. Come with me.”
He rose again to his feet and, after sliding his glasses back into a ray of sunlight - a different one she noticed, as if it mattered - held his hand out towards her. A firm, powerful hand that might enclose her own and never let go. Calloused and rough, her mind wandered to thoughts of it against her skin, sliding not smoothly but purposefully down her side and across her back…
She shook her head, as much to clear it as to tell him no. It had been a long time since she’d seen a man, she told herself. A long, long time. But she was behaving like a fool of a girl, caught between fear and desire for the dashing figure before her - as if she too were lifted from a fairy tale, but penned by some man to have the brains of a butter churn.
No, she would not go with him - he was clearly a demon that had just stepped out of the wall, after all. But she wouldn’t be afraid of him either. “No, I won’t go,” she said, simply. It was the first time she’d spoken in months, and the unsteady words clawed her throat on their way out.
The man’s mouth pulled up at the side, and a frown marred his beautiful face. This wasn’t how he was used to things going. But she did not leave the bed.
With a sigh of frustration, the man slumped back onto the air. He pulled both his feet up on his ‘chair’ as a child might, and rested his chiselled chin on an arm wedged into his meaty thigh. There he sat, floating in mid air and with a deep look of consternation across his face. She found it much easier to meet his eyes now.
She expected him to repeat the order, or at least to try to convince her to follow. But when he eventually gave up on staring her down, it was to ask a question. “So what are you? A virgin sacrifice? An evil witch? A murderer?” he joked, gesturing around the cell. “Why else would they lock you up? And why haven’t they come back?” He seemed genuinely confused, and more than a little curious. “Why are you here?”
It had been so long since she’d had someone to talk to, yet now that she did she found that she didn’t want to answer any of his questions. Not yet. So instead she asked one of her own, “You don’t know? Then what are you doing here?”
If he was annoyed at the blatant evasion, it didn’t show. “Dad sent me. I’m here on official business, unfortunately. He sent me to kind of speed things along. That’s all he told me, that and what was in the scroll.” He leaned forward and his air chair scraped audibly across the ground until he sat just in front of her bed. He held out his hand and smiled again, but without the hungry heat of earlier. “The name’s Mephisto.”
Carefully, and without taking her eyes off of his, she reached over and took his hand. It was as rough as it looked, but where she had expected sparks and a sensual caress there was only a firm grip and a friendly shake. The lack of fireworks left her feeling a little cheated, as if he’d reneged upon some unsaid promise.
Perhaps she had merely imagined it all, that animal hunger and primal lust. Because now she could scarcely believe it possible. Finally at ease, she let go of his inert hand and said, “Your father? Is that Satan? What could he possibly want with me?”
Mephisto tilted his head. Confusion again, followed by a look she couldn’t place. Then he leaned back tiredly in his chair, and when he spoke his voice was soft with sympathy. “Do you really not know?” She suddenly wanted him to spit it out, to get to the point. But she simply shook her head. “You’re going to Hell.”
Hell? Why would she go to Hell? She’d done nothing wrong.
Hadn’t she suffered enough already?
If anything, it should be the people who had locked her in this cell that were made to suffer. Mephisto should have come for them. When she got out, she’d make them pay a hundred times over for what they’d done to her. She’d lock them all away in this tower and feed them nothing but rats and little balls of twine for years until they forgot who they were and what they did. Then she would destroy them, and savour the fear and confusion on their faces as one by one they died without even knowing why it was they suffered.
Just like she had.
Then she’d raise their souls and do it all over again.
Mephisto wrapped his fist around Dana’s, entirely enveloping her tiny hand. Putrid olive light oozed from the gaps of his fingers and a numb coolness crept up his arm. He pulled on her hand, and when that failed to move her he pushed. The tight cords of his shoulder wept with the effort, and in the end it too was for nothing. He would sooner move a mountain than the power that bled out of her frail little fist.
“Dana,” he plead to unhearing ears. Her glowing green eyes had not left his own, but he knew she could not see him. Not while the power flooded her. Not until it consumed them both.
And so he began to squeeze.
His hand was by now entirely numb, so he couldn’t tell how hard he pressed. But it was hard. He kept increasing the pressure until he heard a pop. Then a pop and a snap. Dana gasped, but the deathly light of her eyes only shone sharper still.
So he squeezed harder.
Mephisto felt her hand collapse inside of his, the bones cracking and the fingers coming apart. Only then did the ugly light splutter out of existence and her eyes return to normal. When Mephisto finally released her, she just stared blankly at her ruined hand as if it were someone else’s. She didn’t scream, and she didn’t cry.
Mephisto was a demon; not an angel, not a chivalrous knight, not even a good man. He was quite literally the spawn of evil. But there was a difference between being evil and being evil and, no matter how necessary it had seemed in the moment, crushing the hand of a helpless girl most definitely fell under the later. So Mephisto did something he rarely, if ever, felt the need to do.
He apologised. “Dana, I’m sor-“
“I’m all of it. I’m a witch. And I’m a murderer…” she said numbly. Mephisto had already figured that much out. It hadn’t been hard to find her; she was the only living thing in the entire town. At first he’d assumed the townsfolk had left in a hurry, but having seen first hand how little control she had of her power left him with no doubt that just outside the door he would find the first of many corpses - all chewed to the bone by a terrible plague.
She belonged in Hell almost as much as he did.
“Listen, Dana,” he began. He wanted to tell her that everything would be alright, to offer her some meaningless words if they would only take the edge off the hurt. But they died on his lips when she stood up from the bed, her mangled hand dangling uselessly by her side. Her skin had gone pale even by her standards, and despite the strong front she seemed determined to put forth her pain shone through the cracks.
She looked down on him, her waiting damnation, and spoke with fierce resolve, “Don’t call me that. Dana is dead. Now take me to Hell.”
Mephisto rarely enjoyed doing jobs for his father. It wasn’t because of some objection to the work, or a hereditary tendency towards familial disobedience. In reality, he just found it all so damned tedious. He would rather be whoring his way through the seedier parts of Neverwinter, or paying a visit to all manner of mythological seductress. Dragging people back to the fires of Hell was often much more boring than it sounded.
But, every now and then, he would come across someone so very… interesting.
He rose to tower over her. When she swayed ever so slightly, he moved quietly to her side in case she should fall. To cover the movement he leaned down and gestured towards the yawning portal in the wall. The animal inside of him clawed at its cage.
Softly, he said, “You first, my lady.”