“Garhyysa,” repeated Shera slowly.
“Garh’yza.” The imp was perched on the old wardrobe of Shera’s room, its wings folded, eyes shimmering in the dark. Shera, sitting on her bed, now leaned back on the wall and sighed.
“This is difficult.”
“Nobody said it would be easy,” said the imp without opening its mouth. Shera and Dorzo, as the little devil was called, shared a very special bond. He was her soul mate, bound to her. She was able to talk to him in a universal language of pure thought, without having to move her lips or use words of any particular tongue. She knew what he was feeling and could almost see through his eyes. The bond worked both ways, allowing Dorzo to know what his little twelve-years old mistress was thinking whenever she so desired.
“Tell me stories of Stygia and the Blood War.”
The imp stared at her blankly from the dark corner under the ceiling for a moment.
“It’s cold,” he conveyed finally, through his thought. “Think of the coldest you have ever been in your life, and now consider that to be warm and pleasant compared to plains of Stygia. There is no place on Toril that comes even remotely close to it in harshness and hostility. It’s where souls of warm-loving creatures are sent to suffer. The plains seem to be infinite in size and many believe that they indeed are, although I personally think that that is impossible. Nevertheless, everywhere you look, everywhere you travel, there is nothing but ice, blue and white, with stalactites rising from the ground, sharp as swords, towering high into the sky under an unchanging dark layer of clouds.”
“Have you seen much of Toril? Surely there must be places where it gets hellishly cold as well? I heard stories of giant glaciers and cold plains far in the north.”
Dorzo waited patiently for Shera to finish her question before answering.
“I have not been to the north of your world personally, no, but I just know that the Fifth Hell is and always will be colder. For us Baatezu, some things are just common knowledge. Would you like to proceed with our lesson now?”
“Tomorrow. I am tired now.”
The winged creature nodded and disappeared into thin air as Shera waved him away with a motion of her hand.
The next day she was woken up by birds chirping and sunlight emanating into the room through the thick windows. It was Spring time and the sun was already fairly high in the sky, even though it was still quite early in the morning. This was the first sunny day after a tenday of mostly just rain.
Shera got up and went to prepare breakfast for Lady Clarissa and herself, just as she had been doing almost every day for the past two years. The Lady was in a good mood today, smiling from ear to ear at the sight of her young maid, and after the usual chit-chat about the weather, Lady Clarissa invited Shera for a walk to the market. She was close to seventy years old now, but still surprisingly energetic and eager to live each day to the fullest – a life style that Shera had observed to grow in her mistress since the day she adopted her from the streets.
After about an hour outside, when they were leaving the market and heading to the city gate to extend their walk into the nearby woods, Clarissa turned to Shera:
“How do you wish to spend your life, my dear?” Shera was taken aback by the sudden shift of Lady’s tone, from the usual banter about jewelery, horses and flowers to a more serious, even sombre mood.
“What do you mean, my lady?” replied Shera. She chose an innocent and sheepish tone of voice, while secretly searching in her mistress’ eyes for any hints of suspicion regarding her connections to the Baatezu or her nightly murderous excursions. “No, she has no idea,” thought Shera to herself with relief.
“What I mean by that, my child, is that I am old and won’t be around for very much longer. You will of course inherit the mansion and whatever wealth is left...”
“Oh hush now, my dear. I have already made up my mind. There is no one else I have left and I really want you to have a bright future. However, living a life of a noble of not for everyone, and besides, there is not enough wealth left to last a lifetime. You have your entire life in front of you and there is also eagerness, a thirst for adventure and excitement in your eyes. I know, I used to be young as well,” she chuckled and looked away. “Tobiah, who is a dear friend of mine, as you know, is acquainted with an archmage from the Tower. You are old enough to join the ranks of mages if you desire to learn magic. I can arrange it.”
Shera took a moment to answer. She was eager to learn more magic and grow in power, of course, but she knew that experienced mages could reveal her true nature given enough time and that she just could not risk.
“I appraciate the offer, my lady, I really do, but I don’t feel that magic is really my domain. I have always been more attracted to music and art and would perhaps like to persue that path instead.”
“Oh? I had no idea that our little harp sessions would have such an impact on you,” Clarissa now smiled with her eyes. “I will talk to my friends and see if there is a school for talented artists we could send you to.”
Shera blushed. She had obviously no intention of studying music, even though she had to admit it to herself that music did soothe her. She would now have to come up with an excuse not to attend any school that Clarissa might find for her for two reasons. Firstly, her hunger for power was growing, which meant that she needed to kill more people and gather more souls every day, and that was too time-consuming already, and secondly, getting to know other people like lecturers and classmates was dangerous.
In the course of the past two years or so she had taken souls of too many beggars and vagabonds to pass unnoticed by the authorities, not to mention the occasional slip when she would incinerate a drunk merchant whom she mistook for a homeless person or a guard that caught her in the act and had to be silenced before he could alarm the others. She noticed that the number of watchmen in the Beggar’s Nest had increased during the past year, and there also have been various rumours circulating the city, ranging from complete nonsense about hungry trolls to fairly close ones about a witch roaming the streets under the veil of the dark and taking lives of people for her own amusement. Under these circumstances it was incredibly dangerous to regularly meet with people that could soon start noticing her strange habits and ask inconvenient questions, before putting the pieces together.
Clarissa and herself did not mention the topic of future or education for the rest of the walk, returning to the more light-hearted topic of gardening and pets on their way back to the mansion, but Shera felt that this was something she would have to spend more time thinking through.
The sun was still high in the sky when they returned from the walk. The air was filled with fragrance of blossoming trees and the city river shined and glittered with golden sunlight. “It was a beautiful day,” said Shera when she was preparing supper. Clarissa cheerfully agreed.
After the meal the Lady asked Shera to play the harp with her. There were two harps in the guest room next to the fireplace. One belonged to the mistress and had been there since her youth, the other one Lady Clarissa bought for Shera to teach her to play. At this point Shera was proficient enough to be able to accompany the Lady or even play duets with her, playing and singing known songs or just improvising. This day was no different. Lady Clarissa started with her favourite song while Shera joined in, then they played a song Shera liked and the rest of the evening was spent in sombre, delightful improvisation.
“I think you have chosen a beautiful path, Shera. You really do have talent,” concluded the mistress when the last note was still hanging in the air, slowly dying away and disappearing into silence.
“I really do have a great teacher,” replied Shera with a warm smile.
That night Shera lay on her bed in thoughts, staring at the ceiling, her mind wondering. She thought about other girls of her age, what they were doing and what they were like. Probably studying or training some skill if they were lucky, working in the fields if less so, or even worse: begging in the streets, just like Shera used to. She owed her food and the roof over her hear to Lady Clarissa, just like now she owed her her future – the promised heritage and the possibility of education. Yet, she couldn’t bring herself to feel grateful, not in all honesty. Instead she was worried that her life style might be disrupted by having to attend to whatever lessons Lady Clarissa finds for her.
“Do you wish to start with new vocabulary?” conveyed Dorzo to Shera telepathically. The imp was, as per usual, perched on the top of the old wardrobe opposite to Shera’s bed.
“Not today. No lessons for me today, please,” answered Shera without speaking a single word out loud.
“Why have you summoned me then?”
“I like your company.”
The imp did not reply to that, only remained staring at her with his tiny shining eyes. Shera sighed.
“Garh’yza,” said the girl finally, pronouncing the word loud and clear.
“Well done,” said Dorzo in the Infernal tongue. His voice was high-pitched and raspy, like croaking of a raven, but more menacing.
“How many more words do I need to know in the Infernal tongue?” asked Shera, again fully in the language of Baatezu.
“Many many more. Learning a language is a long process. But you will need it. You are already making a great progress.”
“Progress,” repeated the girl in the foreign language to practice the pronunciation. The door creaked and opened.
“Shera? Who are you talking t...” breath left Lady Clarissa mid-sentence as her eyes met with those of the imp. She was standing there in her nightdress, petrified, her face turning even paler in the moonlight. “What is that?” stuttered the woman, taking a step back.
“No,” conveyed the girl telepathically to Dorzo when she noticed him preparing to attack. Then she turned to Clarissa: “My lady!”
The elderly noble shook her head in disbelief and turned to run down the hallway. Shera sprang out of the bed and persued the old woman with Dorzo’s wings flapping right behind her. Clarissa was surprisingly quick for her age, being scared to death probably playing a role, but Dorzo was quicker. She was just about to reach the main door when the imp’s body slammed into her head. She was flung onto the floor and before she could move, Shera was on top of her.
“What... are you?” let Clarissa out when her eyes met with Shera’s. The girl didn’t answer, instead her hands found their way around the Lady’s throat. “Please, don’t hurt me. I won’t tell anyone, I swear,” pleaded the woman, tears now rolling down her cheeks. Shera squeezed harder. ,,Shera, my dear,” whispered the old Lady, her voice muffled by the lack of breath, “please, pleaaaaase...” Shera held firmly. The woman’s arms flailed uselessly for a moment, but no more words came out of her mouth. After a few seconds she was motionless, her eyes idly fixed on the ceiling. Shera released her grip and climbed down from her. The imp stared at her, radiating excitement.
“Help me drag her to the cellar,” she conveyed to Dorzo soundlessly and they both began to move the still warm limp body on the old carpet, down the flight of stairs and left her at the coolest place of the mansion where Clarissa stored wine.
“I am impressed with your efficiency,” said the imp finally when Shera closed the cellar door and locked it. “Most of your kind would hesitate.”
“There is no time for that,” replied the girl. “I need to gather my thoughts now and get some sleep. I will summon you tomorrow.” The winged devil nodded to that and disappeared as Shera waved him away with a familiar gesture.
That night she spent almost an hour staring out of the window. In was a warm night, the first one after almost half a year of cold and bleak weather, and people were still outside, drinking and talking around the taverns. Lady Clarissa used to love warm evenings like this, and in the summer, they would both stay up late, playing music, telling stories or chatting with her like-minded friends. All those memories now merely flashed through Shera’s mind as she was focusing on her next course of action.
The next morning she woke up surprisingly fresh and full of life. She jumped out of bed and went to the kitchen to make some breakfast. The house was completely quiet and empty. It was just her and nobody else. The feeling of freedom was envigorating.
When chewing on a slice of cheese at the dining table, she waved her hand and uttered the incantation in the Infernal tongue. There was a flash of light and Dorzo appeared next to her.
“I want to discuss my plan with you,” said Shera, using the language of Baatezu. The Imp settled on the backrest of the opposite chair, listening. “It’s the Third day of the tenday. Maria comes in every Ninth day to wash the bed sheets. That gives us six days before anyone notices that something is amiss.”
“Do you wish to leave?”
“Is there any other option? We could arrange it in such a way that Clarissa died of natural causes or got lost on a walk, never to be seen again, but that is far too risky. Besides, I had no intention of staying anyway. People in the city are already suspicious.”
“Very well. Where do you intend to go then?”
“There is a couple of merchant... how do you say...”
“Krykk. Ships,” answered the imp, reading the thoughts that Shera allowed him to read.
“Ah, yes. Most of the ships sail the routes to other cities along the Sword Coast. There is a good chance that we might catch one to Luskan or Waterdeep. Truth be told, I would prefer south over north, and I have also heard a lot of fantastic stories about Waterdeep.
I have a favour to ask, Dorzo. I need you to help me wrap Clarissa in as many layers of cloth as we can find. Since it’s finally getting warmer outside, the body will be decomposing quicker and the stench could give us away.”
“I have a better idea,” said Dorzo, grinning a wicked grin.