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Of Devils and Other Fine Things

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”Devils do not get married, as a rule,” she says, but there is a hint of of a smile on her lips, is there not? A sad one, to be sure, but when has she ever been other than sad?

”I shall endeavor to change that custom, then”, you reply, ”for if I've learned anything in my travels over the years and across the zee, it is most definitely that all things change.”

”Ah,” she breathes, and that is unquestionably a smile now, ”but in changing, they do often stay the same as well. But do try, my dear captain, I find myself sorely in need of a diversion in this cold and lonely place.”

You bow down and she allows you to touch her hand with your lips. The skin is warmer than a human's, but not unpleasantly so, and there is a hint of metal mixed with her perfume, like the scent of a hot iron, just removed from a blazing fire. You let the kiss linger just the tiniest bit too long to be entirely proper, and are rewarded with a knowing look in her eyes when you finally rise.

 

 

You go straight to your ship from that meeting and spend weeks at sea. London is an uninviting place right now, and in any case, you must think hard and well if you are to come up with a plan to win her. And you've always felt your thoughts flow better on the waves.

You stop at the Chapel of Lights as usual, their food simply can't be beaten, even by the concoctions the Varchaasi offer. Afterward you head on to Mount Palmerston, but something stops you from docking. It does not feel right, to set your foot where she no longer can tread. And she might smell the wind of the place in your hair. You do not wish to cause her that pain. So, despite your crew's grumbling, you speed on into the dark of the zee, leaving the mountain's strangely inviting glow behind.

The Lady at the Island of Cats tries to get you to drown your worries in honey. ”There is nothing quite like it, you know,” she says. ”There was once. Or might be someday. But I'm almost certain right now it is the best thing for sorrows.” You decline politely and move on, with a load of contraband filling your hold and an increasingly restless heart.

 

 

You bring her souls from the Elder Continent. Weird, misshapen things, but they seem to delight her for a moment at least. ”I haven't had one of these in ages,” she says while pouring you a cup of tea. You don't ask what kind it is, even though the scent is unlike any tea you've ever tried before. In the Embassy they sometimes get imports from Hell, but you don't think she would poison you now. One can never be sure with devils, of course, but you can't see how that would amuse her more than your courtship does.

 

 

As your desperation increases, you go to greater and greater lengths to find the key to her heart. If she has one. But there must be something coiling in her breast that fills her with need, and that is the thing you have to reach.

You deal in souls and even less savory things. You make a pact with an entity too foreign to describe in words; your deepest desire for the objects it needs for its own. A zee-captain as seasoned as you should really know better: the prize is never what you think it is, and the cost is always too high.

 

 

Your visits to London grow rarer and rarer. The zailors mutter and whisper among themselves, but you manage to pacify them with tales of wonders and riches, just about to fall in your hands. The sight of Wolfstack Docks brings more dread than pleasure these days, for she is waiting with a sarcastic air, or even worse, disappointment in your efforts.

She is never cruel, it is not her way. But you can tell that she is growing weary of the game. You have vivid nightmares of coming to her door and finding it barred, never to set eyes on her again. Of her on the arm of some dashing golden-eyed rake that can understand her better than you ever could. “So sorry, dear fellow,” the dream version of her says, and turns her back. The dreams are worse than any horror of the zee. So you stay away, as much as you can. Until the longing gets too much to bear.

 

 

“I had thought you had quite forsaken me,” the Deviless says the last time you meet. It is impossible to tell whether she is truly grieved, or teasing you. “Never,” you reply, “I'd sooner forget to draw breath.” “Is that not a thing humans can forget?” she asks. “You are such curious things, it is hard for me to recall all the workings of your bodies. Especially here with my own folk, who don't like me to see much company these days.”

Instantly anxious, you ask whether she is kept here against her will, then. “Oh, oh, no. Nothing like that. You need not concern yourself with my affairs. Everything is in order. Yes, quite in order indeed.” But something has changed in her, and it disquiets you. She should remain the same, always, an eternal bastion of beauty and grace. A mystery, for only you to unravel. So, troubled, you take your leave, without even finishing your tea.

 

 

When next you ask the overly courteous devil at the Embassy door to please let the Deviless know that you have come calling, his face sinks. On a human countenance the look would be pity, but on a devil's, who knows? You demand to know what is wrong, raising your voice and maybe your hand as well, it's hard to tell with the reddish haze filling your vision. The devil does not seem to mind. With perfect composure he produces a sealed envelope from the desk in the hall. “She has gone. Left you a letter though,” he says, pressing said missive in your hand while quite gently pushing you out of the door.

 

“My dear captain,

I have only the fondest memories of our time together. You have offered refreshment to me in a bleak time. And I must thank you, once again, for without your aid this would never have been possible. You must guess it already, and indeed you are right. I have been sent back to Hell! I know you'll be so glad for me.

Sadly our friendship must now come to an end. There is no postal service in my glorious home, for there is no need for such silly human correspondence there. But I will remain,

Ever your most grateful friend”