It was different after the demon. Claret spent even more time away and the demon took up residence at the house. I saw it more often than others. I was expected to continue my duties and though I did without question, each repeated sight of the demon shook me. The others treated it as something hallow, to be revered. I tried, but I couldn’t. Something about it shook me to the core.
It liked this about me. The demon as in every word a prisoner, and that was part of the reverence my brothers and sisters had. Claret could control such a creature, hold it in her thrall, force it to her bidding. She was that powerful. Such a great creature, such an immense demon couldn’t break her slavery bonds. It bent to them. It had to. It was a feat to be worshiped, and all my brothers and sisters did, and I tried. But I couldn't. The demon scared me, and it knew it.
Every time I came to complete my duties, it taunted me. It seemed to wait for my daily arrival, as if I was its only entertainment. I first thought of it as a test that Claret left for me, to test my loyalty in the shadow of something so terrifying and immense, to see my strength and mettle against such a terrible creature, and yet as months passed, even those thoughts couldn’t carry me. I found myself unable to breathe as I entered Claret’s residence, and my feet became clumsy and wooden. I thought that fear was enough until I’d finally see the glimmer of green eyes alight in a dark corner, along with the sound its lips made as they twisted into a grin. That sound was always deafening to me. Is that really a sound people can hear? I felt like it was the loudest sound in the world, then.
I don’t know what Claret intended for the demon. It, too, seemed tasked as I was to complete several duties, but it was difficult for me to discern what. The demon was not too giving on its business either and seemed to prefer stopping its work altogether to haunt the footsteps of mine. I tried to resent it for this, but its hot breath down my neck evaporated every thought I tried to have. The emotion that overflowed was always just terror. I felt angry and weak for it.
“You’re here,” it would say every time I entered. I began questioning why it would use that phrase. Was it surprised I returned or was it just making an observation? It always used the same words, the same tone. Only the length of the grin would change. Why did it feel the need to do that?
“I am,” I would always say. This was my best show of defiance. I couldn’t say much else, but I could reply to its greeting, if it was really a greeting at all.
The demon moved in strange ways. I knew its size because I was there the day Claret summoned it, but it always seemed like it moved too quickly for something that large. It moved more like the swipe of a shadow across a wall, like when you pass your hand over a candle flame. One moment, its eyes bore down on me from the corner and the next I could feel its breath down my neck. It was hot enough to hurt.
“Same as yesterday?” it would ask me. I wouldn’t reply, maybe because I began to resent these duties Claret tasked me. Why was I always coming here? Why did Claret make me do these menial things? Was I not a good enough witch anymore? Did I not do enough? Did I make a mistake?
Did she doubt me?
“Like a clock,” it told me once. “The same thing every day, tick, tick, tick.”
“How do you know anything about clocks?” I asked in challenge. I don’t know where that courage came from, really, but I did know enough that a demon shouldn't know about such human things.
It pointed a clawed finger to the clock on the mantlepiece. “I watch. I listen. I observe. Oh, and I have time,” it said with a grin. It seemed to savor the last word.
We had very few other conversations. I’d complete my tasks and leave as soon as I could. It also became hard to think of Claret when she was gone for so long. Before, just the thought of her was enough to get me through the day, but so much time spent away from her made my mind grow foggy. I wasn’t forgetting her, I think. But I was forgetting something about her. Something that was important. Something that was needed. I felt thirsty for it, like something was missing. It tugged at the corners of my mind, nagging me, urging me to try harder. To remember. To feel. But I couldn't. It always felt like it was on the tip of the tongue and couldn't go further.
The demon was perceptive and noticed something was amiss, or at least it was able to notice more than just my fear of it. It too knew of Claret, but thought of her in different terms than me. I don’t think it was permitted to speak its hatred outright – its bonds probably forbidden it – but it made its hate known in other ways.
“What do you know of glamors?” The demon once asked me. I knew much about glamors – after all, I was, am, a witch – but I didn’t answer. It wasn’t one of the days when I didn’t feel tough enough to talk back to it.
“What do you think about… persuasion?” The demon once asked me. I made sure I stole away around the corner so it didn’t look too strange that I didn’t answer. I don’t think I succeeded, because I heard the sound of its grin again.
“In my world, there is such thing as seduction spells. They work on any creature…” the demon began one morning. It often spoke in longing tones for wherever it came from. I didn't know to know. I again busied myself in my tasks as best as possible and tried to ignore it.
Though I tried to ignore it, the demon succeeded. It was cunning. It would wait weeks until it introduced the next step of doubt. Slowly, against my will, the seeds of doubt planted in me, spread. Perhaps Claret was testing me after all. Was she? Or was the demon? Did she know? Did she want this?
Glamors. Persuasion. Seduction. Why did it say these things? What did they have to do with anything?
Were these spells that Claret asked it to do? Why? Why not ask me to do them? I was her favorite student.
Or perhaps the demon had nothing to do with these things, maybe it was just observing. Or no, maybe it was just bored. Maybe it was just cruel.
No, or maybe…
My mind swirled daily at the possibilities. If this was indeed a test, it was a confusing one. I was determined to be loyal, valuable, loved by Claret when she returned. It was all I wanted, what anyone wanted in the Coven.
But even that want was replaced for a little while. What I wanted then was for this demon to leave me alone. I couldn’t stand it anymore. I just couldn’t. I couldn't keep coming there and listen to it, to feel the doubtful seeds of its words, feel its breath on my neck, to hear its grin.
When it felt like I was reaching my brink, Claret finally, finally, finally returned – but once again, she wasn’t alone. There was another. Another demon. And she told me this new one was meant for her.
A new one? For her? Then the current demon was…?
"And this one?” I asked, referring to my tormentor. I remember feeling such relief just by Claret's mere presence in the room: the sight of her red cloak, the sound of her melodious voice. It all rushed back to me why I was here. It felt like a veil was lifted and I felt clarity again. It felt like what I was missing was back, whatever it was. Something important.
“He is for you,” she told me simply.
"He? Mine?" I blurted. I never thought of it as a "he" before. It was a demon.
"Yes," she confirmed.
The demon. It. The one taunted and toyed with me for months. No, no – it was a he.