It’s just you.
It has been just you for a while.
You don’t think about the people that used to be there, in the past, not anymore. The painful memories can still haunt you. You got away, each time, you survived, at a cost of not letting anyone else come close. You grow to like it that way. Your life is quiet, peaceful. From time to time, you dream about the great, the impossible, and of one who would understand. But it’s only dreams. All the beautiful things that you love, you enjoy them without company. Most importantly, you have yourself.
Then he enters your life.
At the most unlikely moment of all unlikely moments, in the most unlikely place of all unlikely places. It is like that sometimes. He stands in front of you, tall and imposing, and your first thought is, how can a man’s eyes be this dark? For his eyes are dark, so dark, they are filled with darkness. He smiles and stretches his hand towards you. “Come with me.” His hand is slim and pale, with a large black ring on his middle finger.
You take his hand.
A new world opens to you. He takes you everywhere, gives you everything. His minions wait on you hand and foot. Surely this is too much, you think. It is too much. “Anything worrying you, my love?” he asks. You tell him. He laughs. There is no such thing as overindulgence, he answers, put that out of your mind. So you do. After all, why shouldn’t you enjoy life to its fullest, after… after everything.
He takes your hands into his. “I have known fear too.” He speaks in a low voice. “And pain. And despair.” He gently rubs his thumbs over your knuckles. In that moment, you understand what you share. And you’re not afraid anymore.
You embrace the lifestyle and the lifestyle embraces you. The dreams have come true, the impossible has become possible. He is real, the one that understands. It’s you and him now, the two of you. Your companion to enjoy your beautiful things, and he shows you even more.
Still, you cannot forget the knife. He always has it with him. He lets you hold it and admire it. It’s exquisite, he gushes, exceptional work of craftsmanship. You see your face reflected in the blade. It is of an unusual silvery colour, the blade; the hilt is black. Even from a distance, at a glance, one can see the knife is razor-sharp.
So? What use is a blunt knife, anyway? You hand the knife back to him, he slides it in the scabbard on his belt. He offers you his arm. “Shall we go?” And you go. To pleasure, joy, happiness. And luxury, always luxury.
The grand midwinter ball approaches. He’s talked about it often, you recognise it as the most important event of the year. Your gown has been made for you, a rich red brocade. When you try it on, you never want to take it off. You swirl in it, yes, it’s the real thing. “I can’t wait for the ball,” you tell him, and he smiles.
The day finally arrives. You dress up in your red gown, he’s in his usual black. The ball takes place at a castle in the mountains. It is an old castle, hundreds of years old, with battlements and towers and turrets. The great hall is all lacquered dark wooden floor and long mirrors, several crystal chandeliers hang from the ceiling. The music plays loud and clear and you dance. You spin around on the dancefloor, under the dazzling lights; there are numerous other couples, but you only have eyes for each other. You know he finds you beautiful. He doesn’t have to say it. Those dark eyes of his have not looked like that at anyone else. So you dance, step and slide in a flawless harmony—who knew you could dance this perfectly?—and it feels like you’re flying. You twist backwards, his arm holding your waist. You just want to show off, he says, smiling. He likes it.
And that’s when you ask the question. “How long will this go on for?”
“How long will what go on for?”
“This. Us. Our life together.”
“That, my dear, depends entirely on you.”
“So I can stay as long as I want to, and leave when I want to?”
“Oh no, it’s not that simple.” He throws his head back and laughs. “This has only been a prelude.”
“A prelude to what?”
“To something bigger. And better.”
“For how long?”
Shivers run down your spine. “And how will it be done?”
“You only need to use the knife.”
The knife. You should have known it would have to be the knife.
He leads you outside, to the gardens. It’s dark, the moon is a waxing crescent. The ground is covered in snow, but you’re not cold. You’ve not felt cold since you met him. Snow in the night has a different colour, silvery grey. A bit like the knife.
“For all of those who have hurt you,” he says, patting the scabbard on his belt.
“But that’s in the past.”
His question makes you pause. The past it may be, but the scars haven’t faded, if they ever will. “I have everything I want now—and you.”
“You didn’t think that would come without a price, did you?”
“N-no.” No, it would not come without a price.
“If you use the knife, everything will be yours.”
“What if I don’t?”
“Nothing,” he shrugs. “You go back to your previous life. But you will remember this.”
“Can I think it over?”
“You don’t have much time. It’s got to be tonight, before midnight.”
That still gives you several hours yet. The night is long, after all, it is midwinter.
“What would you prefer me to do?”
He doesn’t answer. You stand there quietly. You hear music coming from the great hall, another waltz. An owl hoots.
The knife is sharp, you think, always so sharp, razor sharp. But the knife has never been sharpened, you know that for a fact. It has never been sharpened, ever, in its entire existence. And how long is that existence? The history of time, your inner voice whispers. No, this is no ordinary steel. This is devil’s steel.
“This castle,” you gesture towards the very structure, “it belongs to you, doesn’t it?”
“It does. So do many things.”
Yes, they do. “You, too, can have it,” he continues. “If you take the knife.”
But you can’t, that is just it. It’s not you. This has been amazing, for sure, but—
“Has it even been real?”
“Of course it has. I said a prelude, not an illusion.”
“But my old life—“
“Is still there. Your job, your apartment. You can return.”
You liked your job. And your apartment.
“I will not see you again.”
You look into his eyes. It seems as if they deepen, and you feel yourself falling into that darkness. You and him for—what was it he said? For eternity.
You pull back. You cannot allow yourself to become that. Not even for him.
“Why me?” you ask.
“You must know why.” His voice softens. “You and I, we are the same.” He stretches his hand towards you, but this time you don’t take it.
You shake your head. “I can’t.”
Somewhere down beneath your consciousness, you knew what he was, from the start. The dark eyes. The power. The decadence. “I know the truth,” you say.
“I never lied to you.”
“You didn’t tell me who you were.”
“You didn’t ask. In any case, you know now.”
“About those things that happened to you… in the past… that was true as well, wasn’t it?”
“It was. I told you I never lied.”
He doesn’t lie, you know. He doesn’t need to. Your eyes fall on the black diamond on his finger. “I should have known you were the villain all along,” you say.
You won’t mind going back to your old life, you were quite happy living it. But can you truly live again, without the only one who ever understood you?
You will keep the memories. Some sweet memories, at last. You’ll relive them, over and over again.
But your souls have touched. Nothing will ever compare to that, ever.
“So, what’s it going to be?”
His tone, as if he was asking what you want to order for dinner, is charming and infuriating at the same time.
But you have no time for either.
The knife is drawn from the scabbard. The hand that holds it is steady.
The blade glistens in the moonlight.
His lips curve into a smile, and it’s that type of smile that thinks it knows you better than you know yourself.
Music still flows from the great hall, couples are dancing, and the knife is sharp.
You look him in the eye.
“I’m not like you,” you say.
He holds the gaze. “But if I’m the villain,” he says, amused, “why is it your hand that is holding the knife?”
Inspired by OWLG #225 prompt “look the devil in the eye”, which I slightly modified by changing “the devil” to just “him”. Thank you for reading!