Chaos watched with satisfaction the corpse of the village he had just laid waste by fire. Mount Ater was to be completely his. Not a single mortal would be allowed to set foot on its ground. It would be from here that he would rule entire worlds.
Daemon Custos approached him cautiously and bowed low. ‘My lord, the yellow crystal cave requires restoration. The demons will die if it is not restored. Demon Inopia is already half-dead after all that travelling and shapeshifting.’
‘The demons have served their purpose,’ Chaos growled, brandishing his serrated iron teeth. ‘I see no reason to keep them alive.’
‘But my Lord—’
‘And I see no reason to keep you alive either.’
‘But I am immortal. I can’t be killed.’
‘True, no mortal weapon can kill you, except this’ —Chaos lifted his right hand forefinger which had for a nail a long sharp dagger— ‘this will kill you.’
‘But … but I could still be of use to you,’ Custos stammered, frightened.
‘How? I am here now. I have no need for demons or demon keepers or even agents. They were necessary tools in the past for when I could not enter the world.’
‘But my Lord, I only wish to serve you, so allow me to just serve you.’
‘Serve me how exactly? You are useless to me.’
‘Just let me worship you then as your servant,’ Daemon Custos begged.
‘Worship me? You can worship me with your death,’ Chaos growled, then plunged the dagger into Custos’s chest.
Blood spurted out of Custos’s chest and he fell to the ground. He was surprised to see that his blood was red, but then he was surprised to see that he had reverted back to the way he was before – the way he used to look – as Sir Ludvig Haust. His eyes fixed their gaze at the inky dome of the night sky where a rook flew by and cawed: this, for your sins … this, for your sins.
This, for my sins…
Sir Ludvig Haust sat at his desk, reviewing the latest expenses for his wife and children. Oh, the children! Seven daughters! And the eldest, Kera, being eighteen, was engaged and soon to be married, which meant that he was responsible for the entire cost of the wedding. And his wife, Izette, would want the best for their daughter. Haust sighed. Oh, the second daughter! Tamita was sixteen but she had a sweetheart and she too would get married in a couple of years’ time, and before he could recover from the cost of the first wedding, he would be hit with the second one. In fact, with seven daughters, born two years apart from each other, he would have no respite from wedding expenses for at least the next twelve years or so.
Gods must have wanted to curse him when they gave him that many daughters. Why not a son?! He certainly wouldn’t be responsible for the cost of his son’s wedding. Not to mention that if he had a son, he would have an heir to both his fortune and his name. Haust didn’t know whether to holler for want of a son, to groan from the weight of so much expenditure, or to laugh in joy at the news of his wife being pregnant again. He guessed that he could have laughed if he knew that she was pregnant with a son, but at the rate they were producing daughters, the odds were that this one would be a girl too. Just as well that he was a very rich man, otherwise how could he cope with so many daughters.
‘Papa!’ cried eight-year-old Alina excitedly, as she ran to her father and jumped onto his lap.
‘And what was that for?’ Haust asked, when Alina planted a kiss on his cheek.
‘I love you, Papa.’
Haust smiled at his daughter. Yes, his daughters were a costly financial lot, but what a beautiful lot they all were. Violet-colored eyes like their mother, raven hair like their mother, rosy cheeks and rosy lips like their mother, and skin so radiant and so soft that no silk could match it. Filled with love, Haust gave Alina a hearty kiss on her soft rosy cheek, then started tickling her.
Alina’s high-pitch laugh invited the attention of six-year-old Oda who rushed to her father, wanting to be tickled too. The roisterous laugh of Haust and his two youngest daughters brought the rest of his family into his study.
Haust looked at his wife and their seven beautiful daughters with love. Gods did not curse him. Gods blessed him with seven gorgeous daughters and a gorgeous wife. He now knew what he wanted to do and that was not to holler or groan, but to laugh, to laugh in joy of having his wife and his seven daughters, to laugh in joy of having quite possibly an eighth daughter. In fact, he could see himself laughing even with their tenth daughter.
Izette looked lovingly at her husband. She fell in love with him when she was seventeen. And Haust, a dashing good-looking army officer of twenty years of age, whose aristocratic family boasted fabulous wealth, became besotted with her. They married as soon as Izette turned eighteen. But after his father’s death, Haust left the army and took his wife and two daughters to the country to live in the Haust manor. The manor, of course, was in actual fact a castle with a seven-hundred-year-old history that had seen many battles and sieges, and it was reputed that no Haust had ever been defeated in a battle.
‘Let’s take a holiday and go somewhere,’ Izette suggested, glancing at Kera. ‘Somewhere that we can all be together as a family one last time before Kera is married.’
‘I like that,’ Kera agreed sweetly.
‘Let’s go to Mount Ater,’ Tamita said. ‘My friend went there last year with her family and some friends of theirs. She said that they had a lot of fun up there.’
‘I can’t see how,’ Haust said, frowning. ‘There is nothing there and nowhere to stay.’
‘She said they pitched tents.’
‘Hooray for tents,’ the girls screamed and clapped their hands excitedly. They had always wanted to try that, to sleep outdoors in a tent, at least just for one night.
‘Tents are fun,’ said ten-year-old Mita.
‘Last year a girl from my class spent a whole week in a tent,’ said fourteen-year-old Savina.
‘Everyone I know has at least spent a few days in a tent,’ said twelve-year-old Tia.’
‘I submit, I submit,’ Haust said, laughing, putting both hands up, ‘I submit to the will of my beautiful girls. Mount Ater here we come.’
Two weeks later, the Haust family arrived at Mount Ater with a big trailer, carrying everything they needed to make two large tents. It was decided by common consensus that they would not take any of their servants, and that they themselves would set up the tents.
The girls, Haust knew, had no idea of how to pitch a tent. Of course, himself, being an army man, was an expert at it. But he decided to play dumb. The girls were so excited about the tents that he wanted them to claim all the credit for setting them up. So by making a lot of fuss, pretending not to know what he was doing, he made sure that he tricked his daughters into believing that they were actually doing most of the hard work. Once the tents were erected, the girls stood there looking admiringly and proudly at what they considered to be their own work.
‘You are a beautiful husband and a beautiful father,’ Izette whispered in his ear. ‘I am a very lucky woman.’
‘My darling, I am the lucky one,’ Haust said, kissing her hand.
That night as Haust lay in bed, thinking about his good fortune, he thought that he heard someone outside the tent, so he went to see if there were any strangers prowling about. Finding no one, he returned to the tent, only to hear someone whisper his name.
‘Who is there?’ he asked in a low voice, not wanting to wake Izette.
‘Haust!’ came the whisper again.
Haust took a flashlight and went outside the tent again. But there was no one there. Not feeling tired, he sat on a log, turned off his flashlight and gazed at the inky sky lit up by the full moon and myriads of shimmering stars. What a marvel the sight was up here on Mount Ater, he thought. He was glad they came here.
‘Who is there?’ Haust turned his flashlight on and scanned the surrounding area. There was no one there.
The shock made Haust drop his flashlight. On the log next to him sat someone who looked exactly like him – his exact double. Haust rubbed at his eyes. Surely, this must be a dream. Or maybe he was hallucinating. Maybe the air up here was too thin and had affected his mind.
‘It is neither,’ the double said, as if reading his mind.
Haust opened his mouth to say something, but no sound emerged. After a few long moments, contemplating whether he was dreaming or not, whether he was hallucinating or not, he asked very tentatively who the double was, for surely it couldn’t be himself.
‘I am whoever you want me to be,’ the double said. ‘But the important question is who you are?’
‘Who I am?’ Haust’s eyes widened and his brow lifted in a look of total vexation. ‘I am Sir Ludvig Haust,’ Haust said confidently.
‘I don’t mean your name or your title, for I know both. I want you to tell me who you are,’ the double said brusquely.
‘I am a husband and a father,’ Haust said, frowning and looking disconcerted.
‘Is that all you are?’
‘Well, I am a man,’ Haust said, casting an exasperated look at his double.
‘You are a man?’
‘Yes.’ Haust grimaced. ‘What is the meaning of all these absurd questions?’
The double gave a short, sardonic laugh. ‘Tell me! Are you all that could be in life? Do you ever aspire to anything more?’
‘I think time for such things has passed me by. I am a middle-aged man with seven daughters and one child on the way.’
‘What if an opportunity was given to you to fulfil your greatest ambition in life?’
‘My greatest ambition!’ Haust snorted. ‘My greatest ambition can never be fulfilled.’
‘Oh! How so?’
Haust snorted again. ‘In my younger years, back in the days when I was an army officer, I wanted to become the most powerful man in the world.’
‘Powerful? Why powerful? Why not the richest man in the world? Besides, power can be bought if one is rich enough.’
‘True, but the kind of power that I was after could not be bought by wealth.’ Haust ran a hand over the top of his head, smoothing his thinning grey hair. ‘Really, it was just a foolish dream, a young man’s fancy, nothing more.’ Haust threw an uncomfortable glance at the double. ‘I can’t believe that I ever entertained it.’
‘No harm in entertaining dreams. After all, it is the birthright of every young person to entertain the impossible. How else could the impossible become possible if such dreams were not entertained?’ the double said sagaciously.
‘Yes, but what I wanted was not something that could be rendered possible.’
The double thought for a moment, then asked for what purpose did Haust want this power.
‘I wanted to change the world.’
‘In what way?’
‘To make this world of ours a better place.’ Haust paused for a moment, reflecting and remembering. ‘It—it is difficult to make it better. So many things must be done, so many hurdles must be crossed. Oh!’ He heaved a deep sigh. ‘So many unimaginable obstacles have to be overcome. It is an immense undertaking. One needs magical powers to do all that needs to be done to make this world of ours a better place for everyone.’ Haust waved a hand about. ‘As I said it was all just a young man’s fancy.’
‘Fancy or not, your desire for power was certainly for a noble cause and not at all self-serving. And what price would you have been willing to pay for such a power?’
Haust laughed nervously. ‘Well, at the time I guess I would have paid anything for it, seeing that this kind of power borders on the supernatural.’
The double narrowed his eyes and then said, ‘What if I were to tell you that such a power is very possible to have.’
Haust scoffed. ‘I would say that this is all a dream.’
‘Well then, if it is, what do you have to lose? So indulge me with your response.’
Haust took a moment to think, then said, ‘Well, if it were at all possible to have such a power, my response would still be the same. I would give anything.’
‘Hmm!’ The double cocked an eye. ‘You can’t mean anything … because you wouldn’t give up … for example your wife … or your daughters, would you?’
‘Oh, no,’ Haust said emphatically. ‘I wouldn’t give them up, not for anything in the world. They are priceless to me. They are my life.’
‘So what would you give up?’
Haust shrugged his lips. ‘Not sure. Can’t think of anything right this minute.’
The double thought for a moment, then said, ‘What if I were to tell you that I could make you the most powerful man in the world if you agreed to become my servant first? That you use your power in my service first! Would that be a fair price to give for such a gift … such a grand gift?’
Haust laughed incredulously. ‘Your servant? But you are me, aren’t you?’
‘Maybe, maybe not.’
‘And what would you have me do as your servant?’
‘Anything I ask for.’
‘Good or bad?’
‘Good and bad are only points of view.’
Haust laughed again. ‘So I gather that you would want me to do bad things for you.’
‘Do you object to that? After all, I am giving you a great power and you did say that you would give anything for it.’
‘Yes, I did say that, didn’t I? But for … bad?’ Haust winced, not sure if it was such a good idea to make this bargain.
‘Try to look at it this way: once you are free of your service to me, you can right whatever wrong you were compelled to do under me. Now would that be a fair deal?’
Haust gave a reluctant look, not quite convinced by the logic.
The double rose to his feet. ‘Well, I can see that I have been wasting my time with you.’
‘Now wait a minute,’ Haust said, raising a hand.
‘For what purpose? You made yourself perfectly clear. We have nothing further to discuss.’
‘If I am to be your servant and be used by you to do ill in the world, then I want something in return...’
‘Like what?’ the double asked sternly. ‘I offered to make you the most powerful man in the world.’
‘Immortality,’ Haust said.
‘Immortality?’ The double affected a look of shock and dismay.
‘Yes, immortality. To accomplish everything that I want to accomplish in the world I need to be immortal and not just powerful.’
The double gave a thoughtful frown, then extended a hand. ‘You got yourself a deal.’
Haust extended his hand, but stopped short of shaking the hand of the double.
‘What is it now?’ the double said in an impatient tone.
‘I want my family to be immortal too.’
‘Once you have power and immortality, you can do anything you want for your family, even extend their lives to match yours. Now, do you want the deal or not, because this hand won’t stay extended for long.’
Haust nodded and shook the hand of the double.
Haust woke up to the noise of cars outside.
‘What’s this dreadful noise?’ Izette said drowsily with her eyes shut.
‘I don’t know. I’ll go and check it out.’ Yawning, Haust got up, put his robe and slippers on and went outside.
What in the world!
Haust rubbed his eyes at the sight. Several law-enforcement officers were milling about outside their tents.
‘What’s going on?’ Haust asked the officers.
‘Sir Ludvig Haust?’ called an officer, walking up to him.
‘Yes. Is anything the matter?’
‘Sir, I am chief officer Milfern. May we have a word with you?’
‘Sir, there was a great fire last night in your castle and it got burnt down.’
Haust staggered back. This could not possibly be true. From the corner of his eye he caught sight of Izette coming towards him.
‘What’s wrong, Ludvig?’
Stammering, Haust told Izette that their home got burnt down.
At the news, Izette felt her legs were giving way from beneath her, which quickly prompted one of the female officers to rush to her and help her to steady herself.
‘Was … was anyone hurt?’ Haust stammered.
‘All your servants, sir. They all died in the blaze.’
‘What … what caused it,’ Haust stammered again.
‘We will know more once the investigation is complete.’
The most powerful man in the world! Haust wept at the thought of his absurd dream. He was the most powerless man in the world. As if the fire that destroyed the castle, and all the priceless treasures in it, was not a great calamity all on its own, in the same night he lost all his money due to a sudden financial collapse of the companies he had investments with. The only thing remaining to him was his land, but that was to be auctioned off soon by his creditors. And to top it all, the insurance company was refusing to process his claim on account of him being regarded as the main suspect for causing the fire deliberately to recover the money lost in the companies that went broke. How all of this was even possible, he did not know. He could not even wrap his mind around it. He guessed that no one could.
Haust looked out the small window of their small rented house to see the gloomy street they were in. They had nothing save for the clothes on their backs and a bit of money they got from selling all their camping gears. Even the cars were seized by the creditors. Surely, this was a dream, or rather a nightmare, for no one could lose so much within days.
‘Ludvig,’ Izette cried as she came through the front door, ‘Kera and Tamita are distraught. I don’t think they can survive this…’
‘None of us can survive this,’ Haust said bitterly. ‘Where are the children?’
‘Lady Verren offered to take charge of the children for a little while until we can get back on our feet. But this is not what I meant when I said that Kera and Tamita can’t survive this. Terrel broke off his engagement with Kera.’
Haust frowned. ‘Broke off his engagement? Why?’
‘His family doesn’t want him to marry the daughter of a pauper.’
‘Have they forgotten who we are?’ Haust growled in anger.
Izette sighed mournfully. ‘Without money, apparently we are nobody.’
‘Garrin broke off with her too. No boy of wealthy family wants to marry the daughter of a pauper. I never knew how shallow people were. If those boys truly loved our daughters, they wouldn’t leave them on account of this…’
‘I will fix this. I promise you, I will fix this,’ Haust said through gritted teeth.
Haust rose to his feet. ‘I have to go somewhere. I’ll be back in a few days’ time.’
‘Where are you going?’ Izette cried, not wanting her husband to leave her alone in an unfamiliar and rough neighbourhood.
‘I’ll tell you everything when I get back,’ Haust said on his way out. Maybe it was a dream, maybe it wasn’t, but he had to find out one way or another. The sudden and absolute poverty that had struck him was so unusual that it defied all known logic, and if it defied all known logic, then something else was at play.
It was near dusk the following day when Haust arrived at Mount Ater after a very slow journey. He had travelled part of the way on train and part of the way on foot, since there were no direct public transportation routes to Mount Ater. Tracing the track back to where they had camped not twenty days ago, Haust found the log that he had sat upon to converse with his evil twin.
‘Show yourself, you bastard!’ Haust bellowed, enraged.
Haust went straight for the neck. ‘I asked for power and immortality and you gave me poverty and grief.’
‘You didn’t ask for wealth.’
‘You mendacious bastard, you have made me an utter and complete pauper.’
With ease too unbelievable for Haust to fathom, the double freed himself from his grip on his throat. ‘You didn’t ask for wealth. You asked for power and immortality and that was the deal.’
‘I want out of the deal,’ Haust shouted.
‘The deal cannot be broken,’ the double said with such malice that made Haust flinch in fright.
‘Who are you?’
‘I will reveal that to you once I know that you are ready.’
‘Ready? Ready for what?’
‘Ready to accept your new … life … powerful and immortal.’
‘Powerful? Immortal? I am a pauper,’ Haust shouted in fury.
‘Poverty is irrelevant once you become powerful and immortal. Now are you ready to accept your new life?’
With an angry growl, Haust said that he was ready.
Suddenly pain struck Haust with such violence that he thought his bones were being crushed all at once. Screaming in pain, Haust asked the double what was happening to him.
‘You are changing.’
‘Changing? Changing into what?’ Haust rasped, groaning and doubling over in an agonising pain.
‘Into my servant. Remember the deal?’
‘I want out of the deal,’ Haust screamed in pain and anger.
‘The deal is made. It cannot be broken.’
Haust fell to the ground, convulsing in pain. It was a while before the pain subsided. With his eyes shut tight, Haust began to move his fingers. They were moving. He moved his toes. They were moving. He moved his arms. They were moving. He moved his legs. They too could move. Certainly no bones were broken. Gingerly he opened his eyes. The double was standing over him, looking at him.
‘How do you feel?’ the double asked.
‘No thanks to you, I feel all right, I guess.’
Haust rose to his feet and as he did so, he noticed that he had no clothes on. His eyes widened in horror. He didn’t need any clothes. He was a grey-looking monster. He couldn’t help but scream. ‘What have you done to me?’
‘I turned you into my servant.’
‘What? What? Damn you! Damn you!’ he cursed. ‘How am I going to return to my family looking like this?’
‘Hmm! That would be a problem, wouldn’t it?’ the double said with a touch of amusement.
Haust glowered at the double of his former self and he clenched his fists. ‘I am going to kill you,’ Haust spat. ‘You can count on it.’
The double laughed. ‘You are killing me now … with laughter.’
‘I am going to kill you,’ Haust repeated in fury.
The double scratched the side of his nose. ‘Tell you what. I’ll make you a deal.’
‘No, no more deals,’ Haust refused.
‘So, you are quite happy to look this way to people, eh?’
Haust groaned in fury. ‘Can you change me back?’
‘For a time.’
‘Change me back.’
‘There is a price for it,’ the double said with a sly grin.
‘What?’ Haust grimaced.
‘I want your seven daughters, as well as the one that your wife is carrying, to become my servants.’
‘Are you mad? Are you crazy? You lunatic! No, absolutely not,’ Haust shouted.
‘Then you are happy to remain in this form?’
‘Oh! Oh!’ Haust groaned. ‘Now I understand!’ Haust clenched his fists and waved them at the double. ‘You orchestrated all of this, didn’t you, you piece of excrement? You wanted my daughters right from the very beginning, didn’t you? Oh! Oh!’
The double laughed. ‘I am going to tell you a secret.’
‘What?’ Haust shouted, his eyes bulging in anger.
‘There will come a day when you will love this form that you are in.’
‘Never is a long time. Anyway, do we have a deal or not?’
‘Deal for what?’ Haust snapped.
‘Your former shape in exchange for your daughters.’
‘To become your servants?’
‘But that would not be possible. You cannot make them your servants,’ Haust vociferated.
‘That’s true. I can’t. That’s your job. In fact, it is to be your first task as my servant.’
‘What if I refuse to do anything for you?’
‘Then you and your family will die a horrible and cruel death. A death that you cannot even begin to imagine in your worst nightmares.’
‘How am I going to make them your servants?’ Haust asked dispiritedly.
‘That is your problem, not mine.’
Haust spat at him. ‘You are a monster and a demon.’
The double threw his head back and gave a raucous laugh.
‘Why me?’ Haust demanded.
‘Soon you will have eight daughters and I am in need of eight sisters.’
Haust took his head in his hands and wept. His wife was carrying a girl, a beautiful girl just like her sisters. He then raised his eyes at the double in a look of pure loathing. ‘It is all your doing that our friends have deserted us as if we were a contagion,’ Haust shouted, twisting his face in rage.
‘You don’t need friends. You daughters don’t need husbands. You and your family belong to me now,’ the double snarled. ‘Now listen carefully and follow my instructions to the letter. At the foot of Mount Ater, on its easterly direction, there lies a cave; a cave made of yellow crystals. As soon as you get back to your family, I want you to take your daughters there and convince them to become my servants.’
Haust laughed mirthlessly and said, ‘In case you don’t know, it is impossible to get here without a car, which I don’t have. The train that I got dropped me in a town about a day’s walk from here, so tell me how am I going to make my children walk all the way here?’
The double mirrored Haust’s laugh and said, ‘In case you don’t know, there are berry trees between that town and here, so I suggest you encourage your daughters to eat berries while they make their way there. This way, they won’t tire quickly.’
It was quite late at night when Haust arrived at the gloomy little house in the gloomy little street where he lived with Izette. He still wanted to believe that this was all just a bad dream, that he would wake up any moment now to see that his life was back to normal, for surely such monstrosities could not happen in real life. Evil twin! It sounded absurd. The whole thing defied belief. This could not be true. But it was true. The wealth was gone and he had made a deal with a demon; over what, he could hardly remember now.
Sitting across from Izette in their small dingy kitchen, lit only by the feeble light of a small candle that sat between them and which threatened to turn the mute and quivering shadows around them into one giant malignant and murderous demon, the very reflection of what he had become, Haust nervously readied himself for the delivery of his lie.
‘Izette,’ Haust began, lowering his gaze to avoid looking at her, ‘I want to spend some time with our daughters … alone.’
‘This is such an excellent idea,’ Izette said softly, wrapping her hands around his. ‘They need you right now more than ever. Go and spend some alone time with them. Why don’t you take them to Mount Alba?’
‘Mount Alba?’ Haust frowned, raising his eyes at Izette. ‘Why Mount Alba? What’s in Mount Alba?’
‘I have been hearing that Mount Alba is a very peaceful place. It might cheer up the children.’
Haust nodded, lowered his eyes again, and nodded some more. Poor Izette! If only she knew. Haust sighed inwardly and hissed a breath.
‘Yes,’ Haust said, raising his eyes quickly at Izette, then lowering them just as quickly.
‘When you return, bring the children here. I don’t want them with lady Verren. I don’t think we should be indebted to her. Anyway, our children don’t need a big house or food served on expensive porcelain plates. They need our love and our devotion. They need us, their parents. So bring them here. This house is small, yes, but I am sure we can manage to fit all of us in.’
It was nightfall by the time Haust and his seven daughters arrived at the yellow crystal cave.
‘What are we doing here, Papa?’ Kera asked, looking distractedly at the yellow crystals on the cave walls.
‘I brought you all here for a purpose,’ Haust said, finding it difficult to say the right words for what he wanted to do.
‘What purpose?’ Tamita asked grumpily, rubbing her ankles and feet; they were sore from all that walking.
‘A purpose that might change the course of your lives forever.’
Kera frowned. She was not amused and she did not like mysteries, especially when she was not in a good mood. ‘The course of our lives has already changed, Papa. We are paupers.’
‘For now,’ Haust said. ‘Now all of you, tell me, what’s wrong with our lives?’
The girls scowled, looking at one another, wondering why their father was asking such an absurd question when the answer was so obvious.
‘Come now, tell me,’ Haust prompted his daughters.
Kera rolled her eyes. ‘Papa, we are poor. That’s what’s wrong with our lives.’
‘Do you think we could change that?’ Haust asked, looking at his daughters.
‘Could we, Papa?’ Savina asked.
‘Anything is possible,’ Haust said, affecting an air of confidence.
‘Give us a clue, Papa,’ Kera said impatiently.
‘What would you be willing to do to change our lives?’
‘What would you like us to do, Papa?’ Kera asked, stifling a yawn. She was getting tired and was wondering where they were going to sleep. Surely not on plain old dirt in a weird-looking cave!
Haust let his gaze slide from Kera to Tamita. ‘What about you?’
‘Well, I wouldn’t want to marry an ugly old man just to become rich.’
‘Papa, where are we going to sleep tonight?’ Kera asked, wondering.
Haust ignored Kera’s question and turned to Savina. ‘What about you, Savina? What would you do to change our lives?’
Savina shrugged and mumbled that she didn’t know.
‘Papa, I am tired,’ Kera snapped. ‘Just tell us already what we must do to change our lives and we will do it.’
‘Before we get back our fortune, you must all first become … servants…’
‘Servants!’ Kera echoed in disgust. ‘Is that your bright idea? To work in some rich person’s house as servants?’
‘No, no, no,’ Haust said quickly, shaking his head feverishly, ‘that’s not what I meant.’
‘Then what did you mean, Papa?’
‘When I said for you to become servants, I didn’t mean to go and work for someone rich, but for you to become servants to … to…’ Haust hesitated. He didn’t know what he should call his evil twin. His daughters would think him mad if he were to say that.
‘To … what, Papa?’ Kera prompted.
Haust looked at Kera thoughtfully. How should he put it? Evil entity! No. He must avoid using the word evil in case the girls took fright. Then what type of entity should he say that they were going to be servants to? He had given the matter a great deal of thought before their trip, but he couldn’t come up with any appropriate term that would be believable. Then an idea hit him.
‘To become the servants of yourselves,’ Haust said measuredly.
‘What do you mean, Papa?’ Kera asked, not understanding.
‘Within each of us there is a dark version of ourselves. Would you be willing to become servants to your darker versions of yourselves?’
Kera nodded, but only to humour her father, for she believed that her father had surely lost his mind on account of losing their wealth. And bringing them into this creepy cave was a proof of that.
‘What about you, Tamita? Would you be willing to?’
‘Sure,’ Tamita said offhandedly, disappointed that they had come all the way to this stupid place only to talk about more stupid things.
‘Now you might all wonder what you have to do to become servants to your darker selves. Well, it is a bit like this. Kera, would you like to take revenge on Terrel for breaking your heart?’
‘I would if I could.’
‘Suppose that you could, what would you like to do to him?’
Kera sighed. ‘I would make him and his entire family so poor that they would have to eat cockroaches for food.’
‘That’s good. That’s very good. Now, what about you, Tamita?’
Tamita narrowed her eyes in anger and said, ‘Garrin broke off with me because his family and friends told him to do it. So if I had the power to take revenge on him, I would make him a victim of malice.’
‘And Savina, what about you?’
Savina frowned. ‘Papa, I am only fourteen. I don’t think I have a darker version of myself.’
‘You sure about that?’
‘Well, if I have a darker version of myself, the worst that can be said about her is that she is greedy when it comes to candy.’
‘So, would you say that your darker version is greedy?’
‘I suppose,’ Savina said with a shrug.
‘What about you, Tia?’
‘What?’ Tia said distractedly, yawning and rubbing her stomach. She was hungry and thought that she could cry if food was not served soon.
‘Serving your darker self?’
‘What’s darker self?’
‘Weren’t you listening, Tia?’
‘No, Papa, I am hungry,’ Tia whined.
‘But you ate a lot of berries!’
‘Well, I am still hungry,’ Tia said, scowling. ‘And berries aren’t real food. They’re something to munch on.’
‘I will get you something to eat shortly, but first you must answer my question!’
‘What’s the question?’
‘If you wanted to take revenge on someone for doing bad things to you, what would that be?’
‘The worst thing that can happen to anyone is to be hungry, so I guess if someone were to hurt me and I wanted to hurt them back, I’d make them go hungry.’
‘Very good.’ Haust turned to Mita next. ‘What about you, Mita?’
Mita put a finger to her lips, thinking. The worst thing that ever happened to her was the time when she fell ill. ‘I guess, I’d make them sick,’ she said.
‘And you, Alina?’
‘I don’t know. I want to go home, Papa,’ Alina grumbled.
‘Answer my question and we’ll go home.’
‘I guess I’ll make them all miserable the way I’m right now.’
‘And you, my little Oda?’
Oda was lying on the ground, looking at the ceiling of the cave. She could see nothing but plain old dirt. Back in the days, not long ago, when they lived in their own home, she liked to lie on the floor and let her imagination view the world from a different perspective: what was up was down. In that perspective she could see herself walking on the ceiling, around the stems of the chandeliers, and instead of walking through the doors, she would step over the top ends of the doorframes. And when she would look up, she would see a carpeted ceiling with furniture hanging off it. Oh, what fun it would be if what was up was down and what was down was up!
‘What would you do?’
‘Do with what?’
Haust rolled his eyes. Oda was too young to pay any attention to anything. So he changed his question. ‘Suppose that you were a fairy and you could do anything you liked to the world, what would that be?’ Haust asked, hoping that the answer would have a negative nuance to it.
‘I like to make everything upside down.’
Haust was about to praise his daughters for their answers when he heard a clap. Immediately the girls screwed their heads around to see who was clapping. From the darkness that was beyond the yellow crystals, a dark silhouette of a man appeared.
‘Congratulations, Haust. You succeeded in your first task admirably. It was very clever of you to come up with the idea of darker self.’
‘Not really. I only had to think of you, my darker evil self,’ Haust said tonelessly.
‘Who is that, Papa?’ Kera asked, totally confused by the strange conversation.
Haust closed his eyes for a moment, wishing that when he opened them none of this was real. But that was not to be. He opened them and the nightmare was real. ‘That, my dear,’ he said with a deep mournful sigh, ‘is the one who has the ability to turn the wishes of your darker selves into reality.
‘Indeed,’ the double said. ‘Kera, are you ready?’
‘Ready for what?’ Kera scowled.
‘For your new existence!’
Thinking that the new existence meant that they would not be poor, Kera said that she was ready.
‘Are you all ready?’ the double asked in a loud cheerful tone.
‘Yes,’ the children said, following the response of their eldest sister.
Suddenly, Oda began to scream in pain, but before her sisters could rush to her aid, they all fell to the ground and screamed in agony. Haust averted his gaze. He did not want to see the monstrosity that was taking place before his eyes.
As his daughters rose to their feet one by one, Haust recoiled in horror. They were no longer children, but grey old hags with wisps of long white hair sprouting from their skeletal heads. He had to turn his face away when he noticed that they had no eyes – just empty sockets where eyes should have been
‘Papa, what happened? And why is it so dark here all of a sudden. I can’t see a thing,’ Kera croaked plaintively.
‘Who said that?’ Tamita shrilled, not recognising her sister’s voice.
‘Kera,’ boomed the double, ‘as my servant, you shall no longer be called Kera, but Inopia. You shall spread poverty among people.’
Kera looked blindly around. ‘Who said that?’
Ignoring Kera’s question, the double turned to Tamita. ‘Henceforth, you shall be called Invidia. You shall unleash malice among people.’
Tamita asked the same question as Kera’s, but the double ignored her too, and turned his attention to Savina. ‘Savina, since you are greedy, you shall be called Avaritia. You shall unleash greed among people.’
‘But not everyone is greedy for sweets,’ Savina hissed and got a shock when she heard her own terrifying voice.
‘And Tia,’ the double turned his attention to her next, ‘since your darker self likes to cause hunger, you shall be called Fami. You shall spread famine in the world.’
Tia blindly looked around and whimpered in her shrilled voice that she was afraid.
‘Mita,’ the double called next, ‘since you like to make your enemies sick, you shall be called Pestilentia. Go and unleash pestilence in the world.
‘And Alina, you shall be called Calamitate, for you shall unleash calamity amongst people.’
Then the double turned quickly to Oda and said, ‘Oda, you are the youngest and like to see the world upside down. Henceforth, you shall be called Eversio, for you will cause upheaval in the world.’
Last, the double turned his attention to Haust and said, ‘And you Sir Ludvig Haust, from now on you will be known as Daemon Custos – the demon keeper. You served me well.’
The double reviewed the newly born demons that appeared frightened and confused. ‘Sleep, my beauties,’ he said, raising his arm.
One by one the sisters fell down asleep.
Haust looked at his sleeping daughters. ‘You didn’t tell me that you were going to change them into such hideous looking monsters.’
‘They have become demons,’ the double said.
‘Why did you put them to sleep?’
‘They are children,’ the double answered, ‘they need time to adjust. They will sleep for seven days and when they awake, they won’t remember their former existence – who they were and what they looked like – but they will remember you, though not as their father, but as their keeper.’
‘These children did not have any dark side. I just tricked them into believing that they had.’
‘And it was very clever of you to do that. I already told you that,’ the double said with a satisfied grin.
Haust regarded the double with hatred for a few long moments and then said, ‘Why did you make them blind? How could they exercise the evil powers that you gave them when they can’t see anything?’
‘They are only blind to goodness. Once they wake up to true darkness they will be able to see perfectly well.’
‘Seeing that my daughters are all’ —Haust felt himself chocking with tears— ‘old, I want to give them immortality right now. So how do I go about it?’
‘Not necessary. The yellow crystals that you see all around’ —he gestured at them— ‘prevent the intrusion of time in the womb of darkness where your daughters will be residing and from where they will exercise their powers.’
‘What is this womb of darkness and where is it? Is it in this cave?’
‘It is. The womb of darkness is a place where no light can ever penetrate it, where no goodness can ever reach it, and where nothing and no one can ever assail it, for it has always been and always shall be the lair of demons.’
Haust sighed in grief. ‘What now?’
‘Now you will go and bring your wife to me, for I must have your eighth daughter in my service.’
‘I won’t be able to trick my wife the way I tricked my children.’
‘No tricks needed. She will submit herself to me of her own free will.’
Haust laughed sarcastically. ‘That will never happen.’
‘She loves her children, doesn’t she? She will submit herself to me, thinking that by doing so she would find a way of freeing her children.’
‘Then you don’t know my wife at all,’ Haust said as he left.
To be continued…