Sophie has left Francescu’s house—gone out to face the Devil on her own.
Christine has gone to bed.
And Francescu sits in his favorite chair, sipping a glass of wine, with his angel and his demon on their perches to his sides.
“Will Sophie be all right?” he asks.
Francescu’s angel looks skyward. It thinks. “As long as Christine remains a God-fearing woman,” it says, “Sophie can’t properly be damned. I suppose that she could suffer horrible tortures or some sort of infernal perversion of her will, but material pains are transitory.”
“She’ll lose,” says Francescu’s demon. “She’ll probably turn into some kind of diabolical avatar and eat all the rest of your siblings. That can happen, you know.”
“Oh? Is that how it is?” Francescu asks.
Francescu’s demon shrugs.
“I remember thinking that people could stand up to the darkness,” says Francescu.
He swirls his wine around. He takes another sip.
“I liked thinking that.”
Francescu’s angel looks uncomfortable. “In the grace of the Lord,” it says, “all things are possible.”
“Yes,” Francescu says softly.
“But grace conditions on humility,” the angel says. “This is not something I have found your family to possess in great measure. Only Tomas yields himself to the light, and—”
“And with the fullest arrogance of his humility,” Francescu summarizes.
“Yes,” the angel says.
“I wanted Manfred to save her,” Francescu says.
“What, back then?”
“Francescu,” the demon interrupts, “I don’t think Violet needed saving.”
“I know he has his own angel,” Francescu says. “I wanted him to listen to it. To go out. To fight the Devil instead of letting it destroy her.”
“Had,” says Francescu’s angel.
“He had his own angel,” Francescu’s angel says. “Broken from my nest. But his is dead.”
“I didn’t know that could happen,” Francescu says.
“Enh,” shrugs Francescu’s angel.
And before Francescu’s angel can react, Francescu has swept it from its perch and is clutching it tightly and possessively to his chest.
It kicks its legs.
It flutters its wings.
It splutters in indignation.
“Hee hee,” says Francescu’s demon, calling attention to itself, which turns out to be a mistake.
“Don’t leave me,” Francescu says.
In a time of wizards and kings, one name stood above the rest. He was Montechristien Gargamel.
He seized from the mushroom village one hundred of the blue essentials and transformed them into gold. From that time on his power was limitless. He broke the world and repaired it again. He dispensed terrible destinies and powers as if they were the most ordinary of gifts. And as the time of his death approached his children came to his Castle to dispose of the matter of their legacy.
Violet, his eldest and most dear, who had betrayed him before she was even half-grown.
Francescu, the deathless sorcerer, who had turned his back on the affairs of the world.
Manfred, the fallen knight, whose strength was legend and whose spear was magic’s bane.
Tomas the cruel, who had looked in his tenth year upon the face of God.
Christine, the mad sorceress, who wandered the world in her living house.
Sophie the skinchanger, soulless and Devil-tainted, and once the one Montechristien loved best.
Elisabet, the Devil’s child, a creature as much of shadow as of life.
In the hour of the end, each turned their hands against each other, and the halls of Castle Gargamel ran with blood. This is the twenty-third installment of the story of that time.
Manfred is sprawled on a patch of gritty dirt. Above him there are twining purple auroras and scattered stars.
Everywhere around him there is darkness.
He says, “Where am I?”
And his voice echoes back to him: “Where am I? Where am I? Where is the Manfred who slept with his sister and gave himself over to the dark?”
The echo is not entirely exact.
He pushes himself up onto his hands and knees, and then struggles to his feet.
“Santrieste?” he asks.
But the unicorn has abandoned him.
“Santrieste?” he screams.
And the echo comes back: “Santrieste? Santrieste? He gave you his freedom and you spat on the gift.”
“She wasn’t my sister,” Manfred mutters.
He looks around. He walks to the edge of the dirt on which he found himself. It is finite in its extent; at the edges of it, it crumbles away into an infinite dark well below.
In the darkness, far below him, an eye opens. It is larger than Manfred. He cannot judge the distance to it; perhaps it is larger than Castle Gargamel. Its iris is black and the rims of its eyes drip with purple-black ichor.
There is a wet touch upon his back; but when Manfred turns, there is nothing behind him. He rubs at his back; his hand comes back coated with onyx-colored slime.
An Unclean Legacy
“Tell me,” Manfred says, “where I am.”
And all around him he can see that the air is not air but the moving and shifting of dark tendrils and the entire place is one great living thing.
“You have been given a forlorn and dolorous fate,” his own voice echoes back. “You have been cast from the world into the onyx realm. Your voice is loud but it will fall silent. Your movements are vigorous but they will grow still. You will cease to exist in the human fashion, though perhaps a thing named Manfred will rise again from this void.”
His voice echoes back: “Why? Why?”
Manfred sinks down. He strikes the dirt with his fist. “Why would she do this to me?”
And there is silence for a time. Something brushes his cheek, cold and wet; he does not react. Then there is a warmer wetness on both of his cheeks and his nose is stuffed up and his voice is hoarse.
“Why did she betray me?”
Softly, the void answers, “It is not her curse but your sin that brings you here, Manfred.”
The sky above him tears open. There is another eye staring down.
“I thought that I knew better than God,” whispers the onyx void around him. “So I carved open the ichorous wells into the world and sent the elder races forth. And they demonstrated the purpose that I gave to them—their quiet, cold, and simple love for their own nature and their own beauty. But they did vile things with the freedom and the power that I gave them, and now they are forgotten of the Lord; and in this, you and they are alike.”
Manfred looks frantically from one shoulder to the other; but his devil is silent, coated by glistening slime, and his angel is gone.
“When your blood is black,” says the void, “and you are cold and quiet and slow, then you will be free, as they are, and you will not know what you have lost.”
“What will I have lost?”
There is a shrugging in the void.
“I do not know myself,” the echo comes. “Perhaps there is nothing. Perhaps the Lord has lied to me and I am greater than an angel and the elder races are more glorious than man.”
“I won’t give in,” Manfred says.
He clutches at his shoulder and his brassards rattle on his arms and he can feel nothing where once he felt Santrieste.
The dirt is slowly falling from the island on which he stands.
“I’ll be good,” Manfred pleads, empty and abandoned in his onyx void.
What blood runs now in Manfred’s veins?
Will Francescu ever trust in knights again?
There’s not that much left of An Unclean Legacy—so tune in tomorrow for the shocking story of Cursebreaker: “Despair!”