[Cecily]Nine: "A Penny for Your Soul"





June 29, 2189

       Twelve paces across. Fifteen from mouth to back wall. And seventeen on the diagonal. I'd paced the cave so much I could probably have figured out the area and square footage, but I didn't want to bother with the math. I'd never liked math much, anyway. Nigel Thompson always used to tease me about it, at least until I beat the snot out of him. It wouldn't have been all that funny, except he was fourteen and I was nine.
       A disgusted snort broke through my random moment of nostalgia. Stark was sitting on the floor, paper strewn about her, each piece with a partially-drawn figure upon it. She stabbed her pencil at the sheet currently in front of her. "Are you ever going to hold still?"
       I stopped halfway through another pass across the floor. "Sorry, but probably not." I sighed. "I'm going to get some fresh air."
       As I left the cave, she called after me, "Don't overdo it!"
       "'Don't overdo it', she says. I'll be lucky if I can make it across the floor."
       I usually don't consider myself a vindictive person, but right at that moment, I had pretty much decided one of my life's works would be to wipe every single Beholder out of this universe.
       Back home, there are two fringe groups with whom I've often had the ill luck to cross paths. One of them, "the only good demon is a dead demon" types, is a bunch of testosterone-poisoning cases who spend most of their time sitting around planning how they would kill all the demons if they just had a few more guns... For the most part they're all talk and no walk, but every once in a while they gang up on some poor fae critter and then pat themselves on the back, boasting how they've done such a great service for humankind. On the opposite end of the spectrum is PETDE (People for the Ethical Treatment of Demonic Entities), a conservation group who feel that all classes of demon kind should be preserved so we don't upset their natural balance. "Demons are people too" is their slogan. Which I don't entirely disagree with, I just don't think ALL demons deserve that classification. Some need to die.
       Both groups hate my guts. PETDE finds me abhorrent because I actually kill demons, and don't take the gentler route of just banishing them back to the demon realms (forget that someone else can just summon them back...). and the anti-demon brigade finds me contemptible and weak because I don't kill every demon that crosses my path. You just can't please everyone, I guess.

       There was one memorable incident that happened about six years ago. Harry and I were down in Lancaster, at Queen's College. Harry had won some prestigious award for his second paper on Beholders, and we were there for the award ceremony. Apparently, PETDE had gotten wind I would be there, and showed up to protest the College's audacity at allowing such a cruel, heartless person like myself to be involved in such an event. It was after, the ceremony, when we were leaving, that they cornered us.
       One of them, a very impassioned young woman holding a sign proclaiming me a murderer, asked me how I could be so hypocritical; did I not, after all, employ a demon? Why didn't I kill him, too? "Because my accountant doesn't feed on people's souls, that's why," was my response.
       The next morning, the main city rag paper bore the headline, "Reknowned Demon Slayer Gained Powers By Selling Her Immortal Soul to Demonic Master!"
       Harry, of course, was mortified, but I bought an extra copy and took it home to Murray, who went around chortling for a week as he contemplated just how to calculate the net worth of my immortal soul.
       He never told me what he'd come up with...
       I was musing on that memory when a shadow passed over me, and a rush of air ruffled my hair. My gun was out before I had even registered that the winged shadow was an apologetic looking Ilie. He dropped to the ground in front of me. "I'm sorry. I did not mean to startle you."
       Thumbing the safety back on, I slid the pistol back into my holster. "No, Ilie, I'm sorry." It was comforting to know my reflexes hadn't suffered, but I was too jumpy. I took a deep breath, slowing my heart rate to a more acceptable rate. I liked walking that fine edge of adrenaline, but I also well knew that being too intense was just as likely to get me killed as being too slow. I gave Ilie a wan smile. "I guess I'm just a little edgy from being cooped up."
       He nodded knowingly, and easily climbed onto the rocks I'd settled myself on to sit beside me. "I believe I would be in much the same mood, were I in your place. But perhaps this will cheer you." He drew out a quiver, filled with the adamantine-tipped poison arrows that had proven so effective against the Beholders, and presented it to me with an air of solemn ceremony. "I ask only that you give your word that these will be used only against demon-kind."
       "You have my word, Ilie." I pulled one of the arrows from the quiver, and examined the point, careful not to accidentally stick myself. I'd have to dig my bow out of my pack and assemble it later. Hopefully I could draw the damn thing without splitting my guts open again. "Thanks. I think this will be a big help to us."
       He regarded me for a moment. "You believe you will fight with the Beholders again?"
       I sighed. "Unfortunately, yes. Whoever commands them has some interest in me, though I must say that his methods leave a bit to be desired. It'll be awfully hard to talk to me if his minions have eviscerated me."
        "What do you think he wants of you?" Ilie asked.
       That's the $64,000 question. With a shrug, I said, "Who knows? Maybe the price of my immortal soul."

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