Two Kingdoms – Kristy Cunning

Supposedly, when I make up my mind, I put my head down and accept my fate fearlessly. At least that’s what Lamar said. He said it with a believable dose of conviction, so I don’t think he was lying. I just think he’s an absolute idiot. Because as the Devil wickedly grins at me like I’m the most amusing thing he’s ever witnessed, I don’t feel fearless at all. Fake it until you make it. “You want to make a deal with the Devil?” Lucifer asks me, almost parroting my words. Then he imitates a man who is waiting patiently, as though he expects me to beg to retract my naïve words. I try to recall exactly what made me think I could pull this off, but it’s too late now. I’ve committed to this role, and there’s no turning back. I’ve prepared for him to manipulate and trap me into some semblance of my deal, but in reality, I’ll only get a little back. He’ll be like the damn genie with three shitty wishes, so my wording has to be on point. “Yes,” I tell him with a firm nod. “But on my terms.” He scratches his chin, studying me a little differently.

“And what, might I ask, exactly are these terms?” Clearing my throat, I move to take a seat at the end of the bed on the pretty little purple stool there, pretending he’s not the least bit threatening. I try really hard not to react when several other things in the room start weirdly turning purple—even some walls. He doesn’t move from his spot. The Devil simply watches me. I should not be losing sight of him to track the progress of the rapidly spreading purple. But…it’s sort of shiny and pretty and…soooooo not important. “My boys will gain access to hell and whatever boosts they need to make themselves more invincible again,” I tell him, readying for his counter offer that will slice my request down to nothing and force me to stand firm. “Done,” he says with zero resistance and a shrug of his shoulder, like it’s no big deal. Apparently, I’m aiming a little low. “But what exactly will I be getting in return?” he asks.

Without hesitation, I say, “I’ve not finished stating my terms.” He grins. “Of course not. You never did know how to deal.” Bristling at the familiarity he seems to find in this moment where I feel like a fumbling novice, I go on. “I want them to be able to come and go as they please. They will not be prisoners.” His grin only grows. “I only assumed as much, Paca. Trickery is reserved for those who don’t have the capacity to make my life miserable, as you well know.

” He narrows his eyes, even as his twisted version of a grin stays in place. It’s a rather unsettling expression. I’m positive it’s his “evil” expression, if evil has an expression. But I just learned I have the capacity to make his life miserable. So…there’s some bonus information. I’d prefer definitive confirmation that I have the capacity to end him, but I’ll settle. For now. “They can visit Hell’s Black Heart to restore their strength the quickest,” he adds. A cold shudder passes over me. “As guests who can come and go as they please?” I reiterate, super careful about unspoken words that need to be spoken.

He rolls his eyes. “I’ve stated as much already. Why do you insist on hearing it more than once when I still have questions of my own we should be getting to?” Clearing my throat, I continue. “Due to my perfected balance, I want the freedom to roam topside when I please,” I go on. His expression changes, although it’s subtle. It’s the barely-there slant of his head and the way he cuts his eyes toward me like I’ve just asked a slightly surprising question, instead of stating a logical demand. “Of course,” he says, back to looking just as indifferent, but something has changed. I can feel it. And I hate that he’s masking it for some hidden, likely evil, agenda. To keep him from being suspicious, I go for something that has been nagging at me.

I’m sure it would have irked the old me as well. “My paintings should all be restored to the hallway,” I tell him firmly, intoning no room to broker for less. He wipes away his smile as his eyes brighten. “You always were vain. I’m surprised you’ve made it this long without demanding that particular request.” “My vanity is your own doing, since it was an impurity you handpicked for me,” I say, pretending I know everything. I’m worried it comes across as trying too hard. One would assume the Devil’s daughter would find it a lot easier to be awesomely deceptive. “Indeed it was,” he answers, but there’s still something peculiar shading his eyes. “And I want to take hell books with me whenever I please,” I proceed, remembering what the boys said about knowledge being power.

He bats a hand as if to say that is fine as well. Where is the Devil’s manipulation I’ve heard so much about? Why is it putting me on edge that he’s not even trying to negotiate me into a shitty deal instead of just accepting my terms with no counter? “But we still haven’t reached my part of the bargain, have we?” he muses. “What do I get, Paca?” “I know what you did. You get to live for as long as you leave us be with all the amenities I just mentioned. That’s the deal. Take it or leave it.” I’m so proud of how badass my voice sounds. He nods slowly, his smile slipping a minimal, but still noticeable, bit. “And what is it that I did exactly?” he drawls. “Obviously you made sure I died,” I tell him vaguely, leaving an opening just in case he had it done instead of doing it himself.

He may have given someone else power. Clearly he’s capable of doing far more than most people are aware of, so that’s a huge possibility. “Is that so?” he asks, sounding ever so intrigued as he takes a step closer. “And how did I do that?” I hold my hand up and pretend to be annoyed instead of piss-my-corporeal-panties panicky. “Let’s not play games. I think we’ve done enough of that. I’m stronger than you thought, and I’m back. Stay out of my way, and I’ll stay out of yours.” He randomly erupts into a fit of hysterical laughter, as though I just told a joke. No one ever laughs at my jokes, but everyone always finds me amusing at inopportune moments of pure seriousness.

And…he laughs for a really long, slightly terrifying amount of time. Warily, I take a step back, preparing to go phantom. However, after this continues for an obnoxiously long time, it just grows agitating. He pretends to be wiping tears of laughter out of his eyes as he faces me again at last. “You don’t remember a thing, do you? Well, that explains so damn much. Here I was going to punish you for your insolent, long games in such a dire time.” He’s so damn amused. So damn sure of himself. “I do remember, Lucifer. I remember it all,” I assure him.

In the next breath, he’s suddenly right in front of me, his hand on my neck. Something crackles in the air, and my skin heats like it’s trying to burn for an intensely brief second. I try to go phantom, only to watch in horror as his eyes turn solid black—like that cliché that I once carelessly mocked—and I stay frozen in this form. “You’re very lucky I’m lucid enough to see my daughter’s presence and don’t mistake you for a shapeshifter.” With a dismissive shove, he releases me, and I stagger a little, still dizzy from the power that rushed through his touch. As he leisurely eyes one of my journals, he begins to slowly move in a predatory gait. “If you could remember, you’d know I had nothing to do with your death.” “How convenient,” I bite out, clutching my throat. It doesn’t hurt at all. The burning dissipated as quickly as it began, and there’s no proof it even happened.

He never squeezed or even choked me. But whatever he did has left me unable to go phantom. “Very neat little trick you picked up since your death—only letting your boys see you.” He struts around so casually, like he hasn’t done anything to me. “Your trick will work again once you’re out of my presence. I mean, clearly you know how to unravel my magic and can fix it yourself now, though,” he goes on, a challenge in his tone. This is the devil’s manipulation… I wasn’t prepared for this level. He’s slithered in through the back like a snake—well, that really shouldn’t surprise me—and hit me with a sucker punch. “I can see we don’t have a deal,” I say tightly. He just grins.

Suddenly, there’s a sword in my hand. I drop it like it’s a scalding block of ice as my heart thumps wildly in my chest. “Well, now, that’s rather alarming. Is that fear I see on my fearless daughter’s face?” he asks in a deceptively curious tone as I recover. Rolling my shoulders back, I bend and pick up the sword, ignoring the unsettling feeling of touching it. When I look across at him, he has one of his own. Are we about to sword fight? Because…that’s totally unexpected and not at all something I could have possibly prepared for. The answer I have is not the answer I thought I was going to luck into. It makes me realize just how lucky I’ve been up to this point. “I expected it to turn into a snake or something,” I say bitterly, playing off my slip.

His lips twitch. Then, in a completely foreign language, he strings together a bunch of hard consonants that I think are supposed to make up words. I stare blankly across the room at him, because I think he just cussed me out in that gibberish. “In your favorite language, I just threatened the lives of your boys,” he tells me. I lunge for him before I can think it through, sword raised above my head. With lazy movements, he blocks my wild strike with his own sword in just one of his hands, and he stops his blade inches from my neck with his counter attack. Freezing in place, I suck in a sharp breath. My sword stays out beside me, clutched in my tight grip, as my eyes stay locked on his. The black of his eyes recedes, fading into a duller hue. “You didn’t understand my words until I repeated them in English, dear daughter.

You’ve never been good at hiding secrets from me.” His jaw grinds as he slowly lowers his sword. “Deception is not one of your impurities. It’s like you’re still gone even when you’re right in front of me. But I’ll fix that. Time in hell may restore the things you’ve forgotten.” I say nothing, because I really don’t have an option to argue at this unfortunate moment where swords are involved and my phantom is blocked. “And you’ll remain here full time until said memories are hopefully restored,” he adds with a smirk. “The rest you can have. That’s the deal.

Take it or leave it.” “No,” I say coldly. He grins. “Some things never change. You never did like to negotiate. Should we settle it then? The way we always settle a stalemate?” he asks. I say, “Yes,” before I can stop myself, because something about him makes me far too competitive. It’s like I need to win this argument with the same urgency a human needs a breath of air when they’re drowning. Right now it feels like I’m scrambling to break the water’s surface, yet it only seems to be drifting farther away. He holds his sword out, the tip pressing to my chest.

I take a few steps back, and he follows me, his blade never pricking the skin. After he finishes walking me to where he wants me, he moves back to his original spot. It’s when he lifts his sword and takes a proper fencing stance that I suddenly understand the random appearance of the swords. He saw this moment coming, because I’m predictable to him. Apparently we once settled disputes by sword fighting. Just freaking peachy. Why can’t we settle things with nineties trivia or an old-fashioned foot race? “Then let’s fight for it, dear. First one to be stabbed through to the hilt is the winner and their terms will remain,” he tells me, smirking like he’s already won. He doesn’t know how much I don’t want to be stabbed. “Any use of powers will be an immediate forfeit,” he goes on.

Which deflates what little bit of a bubble I have left. “And go,” he says without any other warning, swiping my sword out of my hand in the next instant, leaving a gentle clang in the air around us. I barely recover my balance in time to see him lunge, sword aimed at my stomach. For a split second, I almost fear I’m about to freeze, but I manage to roll out of the way and collect my sword before I shoot back to my feet. A surprised cry escapes me as pain lances my side, and I whirl around, clutching my hip where the Devil has sliced me. A taunting grin is on his lips. “Something tells me I’ll be winning all the arguments for a while. I rather like this aspect of your memories being gone,” he goads. Teeth gritted, I lunge for him, slicing my sword through the air, but the dick dodges me easily and slams the blunt hilt of the sword against the back of my head. The pain that shoots through my skull is nothing compared to the indignity of me stumbling forward like an idiot as he toys with me.

“Perhaps I’ll add killing one of them to the list to see if that inspires a jump in your memories,” he drawls from behind me. I’m not really sure what happens, but this time when I whirl around and lunge, it’s faster, more precise, and he barely blocks the swipe of the sword aimed for his neck. His eyes flare to life as a grins spreads over his lips, and he comes down hard with the sword. I dodge it, seeing sparks fly when metal clangs against metal. The air around us electrifies, causing all the hairs on my body to prickle and tingle with defensive awareness. My fist flies out, nailing him in the face and surprising him so much that he stumbles back from the impact. To be honest, it surprises me a little as well. “There’s my girl,” he tells me, eyes on me like he’s excited, as the small split on his lip heals in front of my eyes before blood even drips from the small wound. “It’s an echo of a memory—muscle memory. Try to extract the actual visual, Paca.

” He lunges hard, and my knee flies up on instinct, connecting with his torso. I slam the butt of my sword against the back of his head this time, making him suffer the indignity of it. But…he merely laughs harder as he turns around. “I’m about to stop taking it easy on you,” he confesses, giving me a wink as he tries to unravel my newfound thread of confidence. He attacks first, and I roll under the swipe before shoving my sword upward, driving it into his torso. His eyes widen as I leap to my feet and ram the sword the rest of the way in, a sound of pure determination straining from me as bones audibly crunch inside him. Despite the fact it should be agony, he doesn’t exactly scream in pain. Not even a little. A little arrogantly, I hold onto the sword instead of running for my life as I lean over to his ear, ignoring the fact the psycho is still chuckling. “I win.

My deal sticks.” I leave the sword symbolically stuck inside him like a bad pun, as I turn to walk away, trying not to act like it’s a big deal I’m leaving the Devil my vulnerable, real-girl back. “If you could remember, you would have known you already have all those same amenities, sans the reborn boys having access to hell,” he calls to my back, laughing lightly. “I was just fucking with you, dear daughter.” My teeth grit together as I blow out a frustrated breath. I have no idea what to make of him. “Put my paintings back up,” is the last thing I say as I cross the threshold. I feel his power melting away from me, as though simply passing through those doors broke the confining spell. Without hesitating to try, I turn phantom and get the hell out of hell.

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