Kari flopped onto her bed and mumbled the words of power which should have doused the lights and sealed the doors. To her chagrin, the light above her bed continued to blaze away and the door to the cozy bedroom remained ajar, their magics obstinate in the face of her desire.
“Haven’t I fixed enough today?” she moaned as she rolled over and stared at the ceiling. The thread of angel hair that was spun within the glass bulb continued to radiate its soft light at her despite the frown she directed at it. She tried the words of power again, and again they went unheeded.
“If you make me get up, I’m going to fix you permanently.” Kari warned the light bulb.
Where the words of power had been ineffective, her simple threat did the trick. The room was plunged into darkness so quickly and deeply that it was as though the light bulb was overcompensating in an attempt to make up for its earlier failure.
Kari was pretty sure that wasn’t the case, since on this world objects weren’t generally sentient and the animistic spirits preferred things unworked by human hands like rocks or trees or sausages. Regardless of why the light bulb had chosen to turn off though, she was quite willing to forgive and forget so that she could catch a few winks of sleep.
In her defense, she’d been awake over two weeks, so the desire wasn’t unreasonable, or wouldn’t have been for the normal human girl that she appeared to be. In Kari’s case however, it was driven more by a desire to see her friends again than any actual need for rest.
“You will regret doing that!” a serpentine voice cackled from the darkness around her. “The little thing was only trying to save you.”
Kari felt fingers of cold metal brush across her bare legs. Breath that smelled like fresh blood wafted over her face and she felt a chill as though lips of ice had come a hair’s breadth away from touching her ear.
Sighing, she rolled her eyes and sat up.
“Save me from what?” she asked, still sounding as tired as she had a moment before.
“From me!” screamed a creature that appeared from the darkness. It looked like a centipede. A ten foot long centipede. With long multi-jointed arms where it should have had legs, and eyes that were too big even for the enormous maw that opened wide in front of Kari’s face.
“Am I supposed to scream here?” she asked, unconcerned.
The Centigrim stared at her, perplexed. Then it smiled.
“No. Not at all. You don’t have to scream at all.” it purred as it twisted itself around her and lined up to take a bite out of her arm. Or all of her arm. It wasn’t sure quite where it would stop.
An instant before it struck though, Kari spoke again.
“Good. So can we get on to the part where you start screaming then?” she asked.
“I do not not scream my morsel.” the Centigrim assured her.
It moved again to take a bite out of her arm.
“You will.” Kari assured the creature.
The Centigrim paused and looked at her again.
“And why would I have cause to scream?” the monster asked, irritation reddening its tone.
“Because you’ve caught my when I’m busy and I’m not feeling particularly nice.” Kari said.
“Am I to be afraid of you then?” the monster asked, a sarcastic humor biting a path through its words.
“No, not at all. It’s much too late for you to be afraid.” Kari said, her tone plain and matter-of-fact.
The Centigrim’s minimal patience evaporated at that and it snapped forward, intent on crushing the girl’s head in its envenomed mouth. That was its intent, but its action produced very different results. Instead of warm, agonized flesh, it’s teeth closed on nothing but air.
Then they shattered.
“You were rude.” Kari said. She loomed over him. The Inne was gone. The city the Centigrim had been preying upon was gone. All that lay around them was an empty, monochrome landscape covered in shadows.
“Where are we?” the Centigrim demanded.
It recognized the desolation. Ayden. The Summer Isle. First of the mortal realms. The first to rise in grace and beauty like the new dawn and the first to fall before the unholy appetites of the Centigrim’s kind.
It’s people had been the ones who had banished the demons to the Pit and locked them away, but at the cost of their own destruction. They had sought to purge evil from the world by burning themselves and their land but they had failed. Still, of all the lands of the world, Ayden was the one place which the demonkind could not tread. Nor could mortals. The ancients had soaked the bones of the earth there with their hatred for themselves and all others. They had cursed the Summer Isle so thoroughly that even the foulest of beasts would rot away at its touch.
“I’ve moved us.” Kari said.
“That’s not possible.” the Centigrim raged. “Your power is spent.”
“And how would you know that?” Kari asked.
“We have been watching you. The Bleeders and the Defilers and the Breakers.” the Centigrim said, naming the classes of demon that were free to walk in the darkness of the world and prey on the people there.
“And what have you seen?” Kari asked. She twirled her index finger as she did so and the Centigrim felt itself pressed down onto the landscape. No matter how hard it tried to move away though, the force that was pulling it down was inescapable. Beneath its belly, the land burned where the Centigrim touched it and the monster screamed. It would have kept on screaming but Kari’s words compelled it to answer.
“The balance has tipped. The mortals have broken the Seals of the Pit in their lust for power. After countless aeons, they freed us to feast on their pain. And then you came along.” the Centigrim growled. It couldn’t move and it’s mouth was in agony as the shards of its fangs pierced its gums and let its venomous saliva burn into the wounds.
“So you saw what I was doing?” Kari asked.
“Yes. We thought you’d come to help us.” the Centigrim admitted.
“Why would you have thought that?”
“You changed the portals. The Seals were broken but you stripped them even further. Never again could we be imprisoned in the Pit.” the Centigrim said.
“That didn’t seem odd to you?”
“Mortals are all mad fools. We watched what you did with the power that you collected. You used it to imbue magic into areas of the world where it was weak.”
“And why did you think I did that?” Kari asked.
“To give us more fertile ground to play on of course!” the Centigrim said regaining its manic demeanor for a moment.
“What tipped you off that I wasn’t doing all this for you?”
“It was the seeds that you began to plant. We saw how you took the last of the magics you had collected and gave them as tiny sparks of inspiration to mortals around the world.”
“I take it you didn’t like the result of that?” Kari asked.
“They saw us for what we were. They began to fight back.” the Centigrim said. “They should not have been able to fight back. That is not the order that was ordained for them. Mortals cannot perceive the Infernal directly.”
“But I can see you just fine.” Kari said.
“Only because I willed it so. The better to harvest your fear. You were weak and tired from expending all of the magic of the Seals. It was the right time to strike.” the Centigrim said.
“Was it really? Why don’t you disappear then?” Kari asked.
“I can not.” the Centigrim grumbled.
“No you can’t and do you know why that is?”
“You are not what you appear to be.” the Centigrim said.
“Wrong. I am very much what I appear to be. I am also very much more. As are all of the ‘mortals’ which you seem to believe exist solely as meat for your appetites.”
“That is why they exist!” the Centigrim shouted. “They are food for us. Their world is no more than a stewpot of pain and misery, deceit and betrayal. We allowed ourselves to be imprisoned because we knew if we waited they would be boiled in their own failings and seasoned to perfection by their sins.”
“And you think their world can’t be changed?” Kari asked.
“They are mud and, no matter how they dream otherwise, they shall never be more than the dirt and filth that makes up their hearts.”
“And yet they are rallying against you. Fighting back the demons in their midst. Awakening to what they can become.” Kari said.
“A temporary condition. When the ones you have inspired return to the dust, the rest will go on as they ever have, driven by fear and hatred and greed.” the Centigrim said.
“How many do you think I have inspired?”
“We have seen thousands bearing the spark of your magics. It will not be enough. You could have inspired millions and still they would pass away and leave behind only dust.” the Centigrim said.
“There wasn’t any need to inspire millions. Or thousands. I only inspired one. All the mortals that are fighting you? They inspired each other.”
“That’s not possible.” the Centigrim stammered.
“Oh yes it is. It’s not just possible. It’s inevitable. What’s impossible is what I’m going to do to you.” Kari said.
“What do you mean? What are you doing?” the Centigrim asked, fear choking its voice.
“I am going to give you a gift. A very simple gift.” Kari said as the Centigrim felt the pull that was holding in place begin dragging it into the ground.
“You are immortal and unchanging. You chose at the start of your existence to embrace the path you’ve walked on since then. But you chose blindly.” Kari said.
The world went pitch black for the Centigrim. Its eyes were gone and it knew it.
“You’ve been held to that choice for too long. It’s time you were saddled with the burden of responsibility.” Kari said.
The Centigrim choked out a cry as it was pulled down into the warm soil. The earth around it was heavy and crushing.
“Whatever you do to me doesn’t matter. I am eternal. Destroy my form and I shall be restored to hunt you down again.” the Centigrim screamed before its head went under the earth. Though it’s ears were filled with dirt, it still heard Kari speaking.
“That was true before, but now you bear my gift. All of you, every brother and sister demon you’ve known, do too. The ones that are free to walk upon on the earth and the ones that are too massive to leave the Pit.” Kari said.
“You cannot destroy me!” the Centigrim belched out with the last of its breath.
“This world would be unhappy with that, but I’ve made worlds unhappy before.” Kari said, her voice echoing through the ground the crash of mountains being born.
The Centigrim felt the earth begin to compact it down, crushing it into a tiny, little piece of itself. As the tectonic forces ground it away, the millennia of memories the Centigrim held were crushed out it. Little by little, it became less of what it had been.
“The truth however is that I don’t need to destroy you. Destruction is a tool for those who are defined by their power. What I am is not limited in that way. I don’t need to destroy you because I can change you.” Kari said and her words fell on the Centigrim with the weight of an eternal doom.
“You’ll start over as the simplest of flowers. You’ll grow in this land that you destroyed, you’ll die and nourish the soil. And in dying you’ll have a new choice to make; whether to pass into dust and forsake this world, or embrace it and become one with it, rising again the next spring to repeat the cycle.” Kari said, and then added, “And that is what you get for interrupting my nap.”