We invite you to sit back and enjoy the next in our fiction series,
By EM Malachi
Many years ago…
When the neighbor’s black cat scratched him, Virgil Hassen knew he was going to have a bad day. The cook’s worries were confirmed when he fell in a mud puddle on the River’s Gate Bridge. Being an hour late for work on the day of an important dinner party didn’t help Virgil’s mood either.
Chef Tirel stopped chopping carrots and shook his head when Virgil arrived. “You’re very lucky. Lady Tessa made me promise not to fire you.”
“Lady Tessa is visiting?”
“She’s here for the dinner, but she visited us to drop off a few gifts.” Tirel made a show of his new knife.
Virgil looked around the kitchen. Pastry chef Lindley was smiling and wearing a scarf of Nujel’m lace. Milly, the dishwasher, had a porcelain doll tucked in her apron. His fellow kitchen porters had expensive liquor bottles by them on the counter tops. “Gifts, you say?”
“But I made her promise not to give you anything if I let you keep your job. A job you still need to do. Go turn the roast and keep an eye on it this time. Lord Blackthorn is here tonight, and he likes his beef as bloody as his politics.”
Virgil wanted to complain, but noticed that Tirel had already turned his attention to a pile of onions. As he walked past, Lindley looked up from decorating a pie. “Sorry, V, but Lady Tessa really was trying to help. I baked her wedding cake, you know. She was such a beautiful bride.”
After Virgil caught up on work, he asked George, the old porter, what the dinner was about. “The valet told me some mage is presenting his work to the King. The mage wants to use daemons as domestic servants.”
Chef Tirel banged a ladle against the side of the soup pot. “What’s the point? What’s next? Magic to make wagons pull themselves without horses? Utter rot!”
Milly asked a question from her wash pot. “Am I going to lose this job? I have a daughter I’d like to send to school when she’s a bit older. She already knows how to read.”
Lindley tried to reassure her friend. “You can’t wash dishes with big demon claws. I don’t think demons would be very good at making pies either. Their warm hands would melt the butter wrong. Now caramel, maybe.”
There was a roar and commotion from the throne room. Virgil asked, “Should we be worried?
Tirel continued to prepare plates. “It’s either going very well or very badly. Either way, we’ll need more wine for dessert. Go help George get more bottles from the wine cellar.”
As he was returning from the cellar, Virgil heard the screams before he saw the daemon. The huge beast of smoldering ash had Tirel impaled on its claws. George tried to intercede when it swiped at Milly, and the old porter was broken against the kitchen wall.
An apprentice mage charged into the room and threw a bolt of raw mana at the creature. Her spell injured the daemon, but it quickly returned to slaughtering the kitchen staff. As she tried to protect them, the mage missed the daemon’s tail, which wrapped around her throat. She managed to gurgle an apology before the fiend broke her neck.
As the daemon focused on him, Virgil found his senses. He hurled the crate of wine bottles at the daemon. The fiend laughed and let loose hellfire on the survivors.
Virgil’s world exploded into fire and pain.
A pack of hellhounds charged the stranger when he entered the dungeon. The mage waved his hand, and the creatures crumbled to ash. An imp sentry fled to alert a greater daemon of Hythloth.
When the daemon arrived, the stranger gave an awkward bow and crooked smile, as if his entire flesh was new clothing. A burst of hellfire from the fiend hit feebly against the mage’s wards.
The man made no move to cast an offensive spell, waiting for the creature to approach to rend him. Then, he produced a rune of Blood Spawn and slammed it against the daemon. There was a sizzle of magic and flesh from the arcane brand. The daemon fell to the ground in agony.
The mage stood over the creature. “You are the first of my new servants. Go and tell them that Relvinian has returned, and none of you will disobey him again.”