This is not the ninth! And I am so sorry. My puzzler is completely confuzzled by pneumonia, obviously.
But, of course, my dilatory pneumoniatastic ways mean that I am LEGALLY OBLIGATED (well, perhaps not in any way legally obligated, but however) to take requests. the_glow_worm asked for one of the demons who wasn’t Nick. I tossed a coin for Liannan vs Anzu, and Anzu won, so here it is, the demon-tastic second-last Surrender cookie.
Hope you enjoy, and let me know what you want for June…
The drums of the Goblin Market were her own heartbeat in her ears. The Market was in her blood and bones. It didn’t matter where she was: she could dance a Market night into being.
And the demon would come.
She danced and made the fall of her dark hair the night, the drape of her skirts the drapes on the market stalls. The swing of her hips and the arch of her back were the dance. Nobody could take this away, and nobody could resist her.
“I call on Anzu the fly-by-night, the bird who brings messages of death, the one who remembers. I call on the one they called Aeolos ruler of the winds in Greece: I call on Ulalena of the jungles. I call as my mother called before me: I call and will not be denied. I call on Anzu.”
The dark cloud of her hair veiled her view of the room for a moment after she was done.
When that brief darkness had passed there was already a light rising. There was a sound between a crackle and a whisper.
Sin felt as if she was standing in the ring on a giant stove, and someone had just turned it on.
The flames rose, flickering and pale. They seemed hotter than the flames at the Market.
The demon rose as if drawn into view by fiery puppet strings. Anzu was trying to mock her and scare her at once, Sin saw. His wings were sheets of living flame, sparks falling from them and turning into feathers.
He was wearing all black, like the dancer boys did at the Goblin Market to contrast with the girls’ bright costumes.
Fire and feathers were raining down on her, and she didn’t have a partner.
Anzu tilted his head, feather patterns shining in his golden hair. She felt all the things she usually did when standing with a demon: the cold malice, the abiding fury. There was something else today, though; a kind of startled curiosity that left her startled in turn.
“What are you doing here?” Anzu asked.
“I’m here for answers,” Sin said in a level voice, and kept her head held high. “As usual. I will not take off my talisman, and I will not break the circle. Other than that, you can name your price.”
“Is that so,” said Anzu. He looked out over the flames at the little wooden cellar, the open books on the tables with their pages curling as if trying to get away from him, and the faces of her three customers. “I don’t think you know what a prize you have bought,” he told them. “This is the princess of the Goblin Market, their heiress, their very best. Throwing her life away for a song.”
The women looked at Sin in a way she did not want. She was meant to be a beautiful tool for them. They weren’t paying her to be a person.
Sin knew the demon was only trying to provoke her, but she could not help her own anger, and the curl of Anzu’s lovely predator’s mouth let her know he could feel it.
“Not for a song,” she informed him. “For a price. What’s yours?”
“Let’s put ourselves on an equal footing, shall we?” Anzu’s smile made it clear how much she was degraded, how far the princess of the Goblin Market had fallen. Sin’s rage burned, and Anzu’s eyes gleamed. “Three true answers in exchange for three true answers. Doesn’t that sound fair?”
Merris had always said Sin wasn’t good at looking ahead. Well, let it be so. She chose to act, give the customers what they wanted. She would think about the price later.
The woman with the red salon hair was the first to speak, her voice ringing out and obviously the voice of a born organizer.
“Does my husband love somebody else?”
Anzu looked over at her face. For a moment his eyes did not reflect otherworldly lights, but the ordinary lamps of this ordinary room: for a moment his gaze was warm.
“No,” said the demon. “But he stopped loving you six years ago.”
The woman’s faint beginning of a smile shattered. Anzu’s savage pleasure coursed through Sin’s veins like poison.
The next woman spoke, the one without jewelry or salon hair. Her fingernails were bitten down to the quick.
They saw what happened to everyone else, but they always thought the demon’s answers would be different for them. They never seemed to learn that the truth was always cruel.
“Will they find out what I – what I did?”
The woman’s voice was a thread that had become knotted, a twist in her throat.
“Yes,” Anzu answered. The woman sagged as if she had been dealt far too hard a blow, but that wasn’t enough for Anzu. “But you asked the wrong question,” he continued relentlessly. “Will they find out tomorrow? Will they find out after you die? You’ll never know when.”
He gave her a smile as brilliant as a lit match hitting gasoline. Then his attention swung to the
last woman, who had real diamonds at her ears but rather a nice face. She looked uncertain under the demon’s attention, and Sin thought for a moment she might decide to be wise.
As always, desire was stronger than wisdom.
The woman took a deep breath and asked, “Did she forgive me before she died?”
Anzu’s cruel delight washed through Sin, like the cold rush of an ocean wave with knives in it.
The last woman began to cry. Anzu turned away from them all, making it clear he was bored. He shook back his hair: a cascade of sparks becoming feathers drifted through the air, like a flurry of golden autumn leaves.
He wasn’t actually all that good at showmanship, Sin thought. He relied far too much on props.
“And now, dancer,” Anzu said, eyes on her alone. “Now it’s my turn.”
He lifted a hand. He couldn’t touch her, not while she wore her talisman and kept within her lines, but he wanted the shadow of his hand on her, talons curled, a looming threat.
Sin lifted her own hand, fingers curled to mirror his, and made a dance of it. She’d danced with one demon already today. She could dance with this one too. They walked in a circle within a circle, the shadows of their hands touching on the firelit wall.
If she didn’t answer every question with absolute truth, he had the right to kill her.
“What happened to you,” Anzu asked, “to reduce you to this?”