Chess with the Devil
Authors Note: Well folks, here it is! I’ve added several parts to it, so If you liked what you’ve read, chances are you’ll like what I’ve added! Thank you everyone for a great year: the great feedback, praise and critiques have really encouraged my writing! I hope y’all like this, and feel free to critique it or whatever!
Thanks again! Your friend,
Chapter I An Empty Soul
Lady Ace Sterling was alone in the house. Although she had all the money she could wish for, as many servants as anyone would need, a large amount of guests and suitors, she was alone none-the-less.
The most pivotal part of this story is that Ace lived in an ancient castle-like mansion. The rooms stretched out over the expansive grounds, taking up acres and acres of space. There was wing for everything. The entertainment wing contained with billiard rooms, dining rooms, and the ballroom. Back when the Sterling’s accepted visitors in the house, they would have stayed in the guest wing, which was in and of itself like a hotel. There was an entire wing set aside for Ace, which included the massive three story library, her expansive art studio, her music room and large bedroom. All of these were not to mention the basements, dungeons, cellars, and underground passages that went on for miles underground.
Even when Ace explored the rickety manor for days on end, there were still sections to surprise her. Hundreds of differently sized towers crowded the roof-top– some containing painting galleries, hidden libraries, and perhaps food storage. However, many of them were locked, and the keys hidden.
Ace was a disturbed girl. Her parents died when she was ten years old, and although she was clearly traumatized, she could not remember the exact nature of their death, even though she had witnessed it herself. Ever since then, she took on the family companies, the inheritance, and all of the duties which Lords and Ladies had to perform.
Ace seldom let anyone other than her butler Whestford come into the main wing of the house. Since what happened, she felt it would be silly to try and fill the hole in her heart with un-caring people. The servants whom she paid to tend the ground stayed in their far off wing, and did not bother her.
In many ways Ace felt trapped inside the mansion. She did most of her work from there. All business plans, financial speculations etc. she performed directly from the house. She had her trusted butler Westford do everything else.
The only times Ace left the house were to walk outside the front door to attend the parties which she frequently held on the lawn.
The grounds of the house were expansive. Tennis-courts, croquet fields, apple-orchards, gardens, and a beautiful swimming pool all clustered about the mansion, creating an ideal scene for a party.
Ace invited people to enjoy her hospitality on the lawns, where she could make friends without it becoming too serious. She enjoyed the company of people to a certain extent, just so long as they did not barge into her personal space.
Her parties were lavish and extravagant. She paid for a live band to come and play jazz on the front lawn. All of the richest people in society would come and freeload off of her benevolence as they drank her champagne and lounged on the sofas which she had her servants lay out on the front walk. She did this not only for her own pleasure but as a clever business move. She made deals with people. She invited them to come back. It made her social standing much higher. Who could resist Ace Sterling’s parties?
Ace spent much of her time in one of the upper stories of the house painting and writing at her own leisure. Although many afternoons and evenings were spent entertaining guests outside, the earlier hours she created things, came up with ideas, and read books from the vast library on the first floor. When she became bored, Ace explored the house. The expansive rooms provided her with hours upon hours of exploration without having to walk through the same room twice. There were turrets which she loved to climb, and beneath the main floor, basement beneath basement of store rooms, dungeons, and even a collapsing theater were buried beneath the ground.
Despite these privileges, Lady Sterling had a hole in her heart. Her soul seemed irrevocably empty and void of happiness.
* * *
She lay awake in her large bed. The white sheets black in the dark were thrown aside- and she felt something like sickness somewhere in her. It was not quite in her throat–more in her heart.
The stars did not shine through the windows. Clouds seemed to have covered over the moon. Why could she not cry? Why did tears not fall?
Ace got up and began to pace about the house. She lit a candle and wound her way through the rooms. In the dark the house was even more gloomy and terrifying. She felt at any moment that a monster would jump from behind a door. However, it seemed to matter little; for in her that constant state of mind she did not care if she died or lived. Life was stagnant and sullen.
“Lady Ace?” Whestford turned a light switch on. “Are you quite alright?” Her Butler was in his night clothes, and wore a blue silk bathrobe.
“You should be used to me walking about the house Whestford,” Ace said flatly.
“I may be used to it, but that does not mean I shouldn’t be worried about you my Lady.” Whestford bowed slightly. “May I make you a cup of tea or some such relaxing drink?”
“No.” Ace looked down a bit. “Sometimes not even tea helps.” Ace sighed. Sometimes she went into darker moods than others. This was one of those times. It was times when she found herself drenched in a constant memory. It was a tantalizing reminder of what she herself could not remember.
Ace would replay the night in her head–the night of her parents’ death. She replayed it over and over again, trying to remember what happened.
“Perhaps you shouldn’t try to remember my Lady,” Whestford looked down at her.
Ace tried to cry. She tried her very best to cry. No tears came.
Whestford came forward and held her close to his silk bathrobe.
“I am the only thing like family you have left. I will never leave your side Lady Sterling,” he said.
Chapter II Forgotten History
Seven years earlier, Ace was a quiet, shy, and sweet little girl. Her parents took her along to many political and societal functions, but she generally preferred being alone. She far too often just clung to her mother’s skirts and said nothing at social functions. Of course, this made people think her to be all the more adorable.
She was a charming thing, with pale hair and bright eyes. Although shy she did not lack good manners which her mother and governess had so carefully taught her.
At ten years of age, she had matured some-what into a caring and innocent child. She began to be more and more inquisitive about the world, and the way people acted. It was then that she started to ask questions about reality. She was able to go to her father and mother and ask them all sorts of questions. Her life, although sometimes busy, and sometimes hard, was a good life none-the-less. She enjoyed the benefits of wealth, respect, good friends, and a happy family.
However, one night, things changed completely.
Ace and her parents, Lord and Lady Sterling had gone out to the theater. They were dressed in their finest, and enjoyed a fantastic opera. Ace’s love for music and acting was stimulating by the acoustics in the theater, and the skill of the performers.
Ace re-entered the mansion with her parents.
“Will she be alright Whestford?” The man asked, taking Ace’s wrist and checking her pulse. “I’m afraid she went into shock. She will doubtless suffer a great amount of post traumatic stress from this. Treat her with care Whestford.”
The Butler nodded. He looked down at his young mistress. She looked at him with confusion.
“Can either of you tell us what happened?” The constable said.
“No sir. I was in the kitchen and heard nothing until Ace screamed. I came into the foyer to see both of them on the ground with Ace holding them in her hands. She was screaming. They had been dead for not moments.” Whestford spoke quietly, with reverence and grief.
The constable next looked at Ace. “What happened? I believe you were the only one to see what occurred.”
“I don’t understand,” Ace said. “What happened?” She looked around her. She could see the tall ceiling of the foyer. Several policemen walked about the room and on the floor she saw blood. “Has someone been hurt?” she asked, still shaking. All of her muscles were tense and every blood vessel pounded and pulsed rapidly. She could sense that she had great fear in hear heart and her stomach was sick. Yet, she could not understand why. She could only remember walking in through the front doors.
The constable turned away. “I fear she will be of no help in catching whoever killed them,” he said to another policeman. “We can rule her and her butler out of the suspect list. There is no possibility that Lady Sterling would have had the strength or knowledge to inflict such force. Also, Whestford would not have been able to remove such a great amount of blood from his person. The other servants were with him in the kitchen house. Whestford said he came when he heard Ace scream, but that was all any-one heard. Whestford clearly phoned us directly when he saw what had happened, for they had not been dead for more than twenty minutes when we arrived.” The other policeman nodded in agreement. “Whoever did this fowl dead was a mastermind. There were no footprints, no fingerprints, no evidence of struggle…nor anything of the like left behind.” The two men looked very concerned. “We can investigate, but I doubt to see how we will find any leads. Furthermore, it appears that Lady Ace has forgotten her memory, which is common amount children in such events.”
By this time, Ace realized something. What had happened was bad, and her parents were not there to comfort her. She put her two and two together. “Where are mum and dad?” she asked Whestford in a whisper.
He did not answer, but looked at her with tears in his eyes.
“Where are they?” she shouted. “Where are they?” She screamed.
Whestford bent down on his knees so that his eyes were level with hers. “They are gone,” he said quietly. The tears rolled down his cheeks and spilled onto his starched white collar.
Ace lost her breath. Her vision caved. Her throat ached and she realized she was crying.
* * *
Morning always comes. Ace woke in her bed. The bad dreams had come again.
“Were you having the memories again?” Whestford stood beside her bed. “When I carried you upstairs last night you weren’t doing so well. I was afraid you might have the bad dreams again.”
“Why can’t I remember, Whestford? WHY?” Ace looked down angrily. “If I could remember who killed them, then there would be justice.” Ace got out of bed and dressed in the clothes which Whestford had set out for her. “All I can remember is coming into the house and then–you were holding me. I was crying. I–I can’t remember what happened!”
“Did you mean there would be justice, or did you mean there would be revenge?” Whestford said, pouring a cup of tea and then taking her clothes out of the wardrobe. He laid out a professional looking ladies suit for her to wear. “By the way, today you have a meeting with Lord and Lady Hasburry to discuss the expansion of your fabric company. I have prepared one of the front rooms on the east wing for that. They will enter through the side room. I will serve tea and scones.”
Ace took a sip of tea. “What else?”
“The stables need some overlooking. You should spend some time with your family horses.”
“You spend time with them Whestford. Can’t you see that I am too busy?” Ace rolled her eyes.
“I will teach you piano in the upper music room today, as well as Latin in the café of the library.” He paused to get some hairclips out of the upper draw of the bureau. “Also, the stock-holders of the book company would like a report written up.”
Ace sighed. “Alright then.”
“The queen has been asking about you. She said you used to eat dinner with her on occasion, and she misses it. Would you like to go to the palace again?”
“The last time I went there was with my parents,” Ace said. “I’d rather not go there again any-time soon.”
The day went as planned. When evening came Ace changed into an appropriate gown and went out onto the lawn. Hundreds of Lords and Ladies had gathered as usual.
“Why Lady Sterling! This just the most darling party!” said a young Duchess, walking up to Ace. She hailed one of the passing servants to obtain a shrimp cocktail from him. “You’ve really out-done yourself this time!”
“Oh! Duchess Amelia! What a pleasure. I’m honored that you could attend.” Ace curtsied lightly and asked the general questions.
In a few moments she moved on to the next. She got caught in a rather heated discussion about the economy.
“Lady Sterling! What is your company’s next action? Are you going to expand despite the risk?” One Lord asked, taking a thick cigar out of his mouth.
“I am still weighing the odds Lord Walton. It depends on the actions of the other companies at this point.” She smiled. “I am sure that the direction your company takes will have a great deal of impact upon the public. You are a very influential man.”
The Lord blushed slightly. “Oh er, why thank you Lady Sterling.” He took a puff of the cigar. “It was your parents who helped me to get so far.”
The evenings continued so. Ace shared as much kindness as she could with the passing people. She danced with many people where the dancing tent was set up and she even played some tennis with some of the younger lords.
When the evening was drawing to its close, Ace whispered something in Whestford’s ear.
In a few moments, the night sky was lit up with dozens upon dozens of colorful fire-works.
The people clapped. “My my! What a splendid evening!” they all said as they slowly left the grounds. “I certainly hope we get invited again! You know, I think maybe we should invest in Ace’s next business venture. I’m sure it would prove useful.” This was the usual. This was what she did.
Chapter III Underground
“Lady Prince,” Westford stood beside the large breakfast table where Ace sat.
“Yes Westford,” Ace responded, taking a sip of tea from an elegant cup.
“If I may,” He began. “The house is beginning to collapse.” He spoke with concern but respect.
“Yes.” Ace was disinterested.
“Madame, if you continue in such a way, that is, begging pardon, that you are doing nothing, then the house will fall apart.”
“Then,” Ace straightened her back, her blond her finding a new placement on her shoulders. “What would you like me to do about it?”
“Well,” Westford spoke with a smooth and elegant voice. Although he had served the family most of his life, (he was less than forty, and had the suave regality of James Bond.) “You need to go to the foundation of the house. The vault is what holds the house together. However, it seems my lady has misplaced the three keys which are required to open the vault. The vault needs to be strengthened. However, the blue-prints for the house are held within the vault. Those blue-prints are essential to strengthening the vault.”
“I see,” Ace said. “So you want me to find the keys?”
“If you are capable,” Westford stated graciously.
“Don’t insult me Westford,” Ace said blandly. “Of course I can find the keys.” However, Ace had no idea how to find them. Ever since her parents had died, the keys were missing. How long would it take to search an entire wing of this mansion?
Ace pushed her chair back from the breakfast table and walked from the room. She walked down into the foyer. It was a large black and white checkered hall, with a number of sitting rooms and entertainment rooms to the left, and another hall leading to the library and ballroom on the right. The stair-well to her quarters was located close to the large front door. The stairwell leading into the basement was to the left of the entry-way, several doors down.
She carefully searched the room, looking in a few decorative tables which lined the hall. She opened the first door, which lead her into a dingy sitting room. Dark red curtains closed out the light from the French windows, and the glimmering light from the rusted chandelier which she flicked on hardly was sufficient to see.
A few hideously broken down sofas stood in the center of the room, and a large chest of drawers with a mirror above them lined the right wall. Very old and moody watercolor paintings crookedly adorned the other walls. The floorboards which she walked on would have been find hard-woods years ago, but because of Ace’s lack of interest, they were now some-what rotted. Though she searched through the drawers and even looked beneath the faded rugs, she could find no keys.
Ace left that room and went onto the next. It continued in the same way. She went into a dirty and dingy room, was depressed by it, found no keys, and walked on.
After exploring a large amount of the main wing’s rooms, Ace walked slowly down the stairs, holding a flashlight in her hands. Her shoes made marks on the dusty steps as she descended into the desolate billiard room.
The room had a checkered floor and mahogany paneled walls. In the center of the room sat a large pool table, and on either side were smaller card tables. A record player was in one of the corners.
She walked through the room and down more steps into a deeper basement. Walking down a deep musty hallway, Ace felt a strange sensation. The basement was so still, solemn and eerie.
The floor on which she walked was black and white checkered, though it could hardly be seen by the light of the single bulb which hung bleakly from the decayed ceiling.
Ace shivered. She saw shadows dance behind doors, and to her every corner held some unknown specter.
She continued walking. She entered rooms. Some of them were storage rooms, others were obscure bedrooms. She found a rotten library. Why on earth it was there she had no idea. The entire basement was very strange. The rooms seemed disorganized.
As Ace walked through the labyrinth of dark rooms, she came to two very large and beautiful bronze doors. They seemed to stare down at her with their melancholy designs. She took both handles and opened them. The doors were very heavy, and scraped the floor, which was tile.
As she walked through the doors, the floor became carpet, which was old and unclean. It was a faded red. The room in which she entered was massive. Ace found a light switch near the door. She realized with a shock that it was a very large and elegant theater. The floor crept down and down and down and was blanketed by a few hundred seats. Above her was a balcony. Ace wondered how deep she must be underground.
Ahead of her was a large and ornate stage. She walked towards it, all the while observing the soaring ceiling, and the broken down seats.
She walked around the orchestra pit and up a few steps onto the stage. Massive curtains were draped about it.
Shadows fell about the stage, and she felt that in the wings or behind stage there must be something awful lurking.
She turned to leave.
“We’ve walked here long Sterling,” said a strange voice in a whisper.
Ace spun around, pulling her flashlight out of her pocket and switching it on. “Who’s there?” She demanded as coolly as she could manage. She fingered a revolver in her pocket.
“Revolvers don’t work on us girl!” said another voice.
Ace felt a cold and silent fear in her chest. The fear tickled her skin with chills.
“Why are you in my mansion?” she demanded.
“To have fun!” A few of them laughed. “It was when your parents died that we came here,” one of the whispers came from out of the black.
“Who are you?” Ace asked.
“Simply some rather measly demons,” said one.
Ace strained her eyes. She could see nothing in the darkness.
“Measly?” cried one. “We’re quite powerful!”
Ace wondered how many there were. She guessed about six or seven.
“So you’ve haunted my basements for seven years?” she asked.
“Yes,” a few voices said in unison.
“Why have you stayed in the basement?” Ace tried to stay calm.
“We cannot enter the main wing unless our master permits,” one spoke with malice.
“Who is your master?” Ace said.
“You mean you really don’t know?”
Ace stood there silently.
“Well,” she said presently. “I’ll leave you to have fun.” Ace turned to walk out. As she did so, a cold and scaly hand grasped her wrist.
“Our master’s orders have changed.” The breathy whisper matched a scaly, pale creature. The thing was taller than Ace and had transparent wings. Its face was very vague, with undeveloped features.
Ace’s heart nearly jumped out of her chest. “And?” her voice cracked.
“We can come into the upper stories,” the thing said.
“What will you do there?” Ace asked.
“We will destroy everything!” it laughed.
Ace yanked her wrist from the demons hand. “No you won’t.” Her voice deepened into a threatening tone. She took a crucifix from beneath her color. “Does this mean anything to you?”
The thing shrank back a little. “Alright alright!” it said. “We can make an agreement…your terms.”
Ace thought for a moment.
“If you don’t want us to come into the upstairs, then you have to make a deal of some kind. A bargain. If you do something…then we won’t come up stairs!” The demon said.
Then from somewhere in the wing, Ace heard a very different voice. The voice was rich, deep, icy, attractive, and terrifying.
“Ace,” the voice said. It was so deep and quiet, she could barely hear it. “The terms are this. You will play pool in the billiard room with these seven demons every night.” The voice gave Ace chills. Something about it was so beautiful, and so horrifying. It gave her a strange sense of déjà vu. She felt that she had heard it before. “If you win each game, the demons stay in the basement. If you lose, then they come into the house.”
Ace frowned. “That is not fair!” she shouted. “What kind of a deal is that?”
The voice began again. “Well if you’d rather us destroy the house now, that can be arranged.”
“Fine!” Ace snapped. “I’ll play in the billiard room. And I will win! I will win every single night…for however long it takes me to figure out how to kill you all.” With that Ace spun around. She walked up the hall out of the theater and opened the large doors. Once she had closed them behind her she set off running. She ran up the stairs. She ran through the hallways. She ran and ran and ran.
Ace realized in horror that she had no idea where she was, or how to get up to the main floor. She ran up another flight of stairs. Turning a corner, hoping to find something familiar, she found herself in a hallway which had doors running down both sides. She began opening the doors one by one.
One of opened into a room with hundreds of dead potted plants in it. She closed the door quickly. The next door belonged to a room which had several tables stacked in it. The next door she opened had no room. There was simply a wall an inch behind the door. “What kind of a place is this?” she cried. “Where am I?” she looked around desperately. Had the rooms changed sense she had walked through them before?
She began to feel awfully tired. She walked, but her legs were exhausted. She wondered how long she had been walking. Was she walking through the rooms in circles?
Ace finally just sat down on the floor and tried to catch her breath. Before she knew it she was dreaming. Her dreams took her out of the labyrinth in which she was trapped. In her dream she was being carried by warm arms into an open space. Someone was making hot tea and scones for her. The dream was so lovely. Then in the dream, she saw a vision of the demon which she had seen in the theater. She jolted awake.
“Get back!” Ace shouted. Then she lay there panting. She looked around. She had been moved sense she fell asleep. She was lying in the sofa next to the kitchen.
“Is everything alright Lady Ace?” Whestford walked over to her.
Ace grabbed him around the waist. “Whestford!” She tried to cry. “Did you carry me from the basement?”
“Yes my Lady,” Whestford said. He was rather taken aback at her forward clinging and obvious fear. Usually she hid it when she was moved, and hid it when she was afraid of something. “Did something happen, Lady Sterling?” Whestford asked.
“There were demons!” she cried. “Demons in the basement! They threatened to come destroy the house…I have to play pool with them in the billiard room to keep them from coming up here!” she panted out.
“Oh dear,” said Whestford. He frowned. “Demons? In our basement?”
“Yes Whestford,” Ace said. “You must believe me. There were seven. And they had a leader- but I didn’t see him. It was in the theater down there!”
“Everything will be alright Ace,” the butler laid his hands on her shoulders. “I will help you defeat them.”
Chapter IV The House, The Boy and The Party
Ace sat at the breakfast table. She still could not decide whether she preferred coffee or tea at breakfast. Because of that, she traded off day by day. Today’s was coffee.
As she poked at the frittata with her silver fork she heard a walking in the room above her.
“Whestford,” Ace said. With that her butler leaped up the stairs in a few bounds. Subsequently he returned.
“I’m sorry my Lady, but I could not find the source of the noise.” Whestford bowed in apology.
“Whestford I am sure that there is someone in this house other than us…and other than those demons.” She sighed at that. “Yes unfortunately tonight I am to play pool against them. I have no idea what I have gotten myself into.” She chomped at a piece of bacon. “Back to what I was saying…someone is in this house. I believe it to be a man, tall-ish, not extremely old, and I think he is not dangerous.”
“Yes my Lady?”
“Well I have been hearing someone that was not you moving about in different rooms. At one point I saw his shadow in a doorway. Whestford, this has been going on for quite a long time. I hope you are equally aware!”
“Yes,” Whestford began. “I have been investigating the matter myself. I believe there is someone in our house.”
Ace wondered why Whestford was being so secretive. Clearly he knew more than what he was saying. Then again, Whestford was always secretive.
“Very well, we will discuss it at another time,” Ace said, finishing up her last of the breakfast and getting up from the table. “I am going to study in the library. Once you aren’t cleaning the dishes, you can tutor me as you usually do. Until then I will focus on reading. When you arrive we will do arithmetic.”
The morning passed slowly. Lady Sterling paced about the expansive and dusty library with books and tea. Once it was late afternoon, she went outside to oversee the party plans. The lawn was looking splendid as usual. She realized that guests would arrive soon.
After having a good look around and having seen Whestford’s blueprint of the evening, she went inside. She dressed for the evening; putting on a floor-length red silk dress, curling her hair, putting on an evening hat, and pulling on white gloves. This was all a part of her attempt to make potential shareholders like her.
She walked down into the foyer and standing at the window by the door, she watched people arrive in their fancy cars. The party looked terribly boring as usual. Of course to most people it would have been a splendid affair, but since she experienced it frequently, it was naught but another evening.
Ace looked at the front door, anticipating going out. She had little desire to.
Suddenly, she heard a key turning in its lock, and the door swung inward.
Ace frowned. No-one had keys to that door except for herself and Whestford. Her butler was certainly not who she saw in the doorway. Instead, there stood a young man, perhaps 18-years-old. He wore a dark blue button down shirt with its sleeves rolled up to the elbows, black pants, suspenders, and Chuck Taylors.
He seemed surprised to see her. “Not too late for tea am I?” he asked.
“Yes you are,” Ace said. What is this American doing in my house? “It’s past dinner time.”
“Oh dear!” The boy scratched his neck.
“You’re him aren’t you,” Ace said, looking at him carefully. “-the one who walks this house?”
The boy said nothing, but took three keys out of his pocket. “These belong to you.”
Ace took them in her hands. “I–” She paused. “I’d been looking for these. How did you find them?”
“Well…you could call it magic,” he awkwardly dodged the question. Then he stepped forward, offering his hand. “There’s dancing outside. You aren’t a part of it!”
“I,” Ace faltered. “Ok.”
The strange boy lead her into a waltz, which went in time to the loud music which came from outside.
“You don’t have to hide in here. Why are you all alone?” The boy asked as they danced about the foyer.
“Well,” Ace began. “People wouldn’t like it in here.” She motioned at the decaying ceiling, the peeled wall-paper and the discolored tiles.
“Well…a little touch up here and there might help.” He twirled her.
“I suppose,” Ace said unsurely.
“And now that you have those keys, you’ll have the blueprints necessary,” the boy said knowingly.
Ace stopped dancing abruptly. “Who are you?”
“I’m a friend,” the boy said earnestly.
“Why did you have those keys?”
“It’s…” the boy seemed to not know where to begin. “I…I don’t know. I mean. Well.” He seemed very awkward. He scratched the back of his neck, and moved from one foot to the other…not knowing what to do.
“The truth is,” Whestford walked in at that moment. “That he came here a few months ago, asking if he could begin to investigate your parent’s murder. His uncle is the inspector who failed at solving the case. However, this youngster here decided not to give up. He had no warrant, but asked me if he could help. He said there may be demons living in the house, and that this could prove very dangerous for you.” Here he coughed. “I of course let him in. Since then, he has been searching the house for clues. He in the process found these three keys.”
Ace’s mind was blown. “Whestford…why did you not tell me about this,” she demanded.
“Well,” Whestford began. “I know you hate other people to be in the house. I was afraid you would order him to leave if you knew of his presence.”
“Oh fine fine.” Ace sighed. What a complicated life. “Well I have to go out to the party now.” Ace said. She turned to look at the boy one last time before walking outside. What was this feeling she felt? It was so strange.
The people breezed over the lawn, laughing. Tail-coated servants filled their fluted goblets with Spumante and they grinned the evening along. Ace wound her way through the crowd. She despised the carefree manner in which they partied.
“Ace!” a forty-year-old woman in a sparkly dress accosted her. “It’s a darling party! Just like you!” The woman squeezed Ace’s cheek.
“Madam Ellington,” Ace smiled cordially, pretending she was pleased. The woman’s thick cosmetics oozed about her face. “It’s lovely to see you again! I understand my father helped start off your business. That makes your family close to mine!” She shook the woman’s hand. “Egbert,” Ace hailed a passing servant. “Replenish this Lady’s glass with our finest!” She turned to the woman. “Enjoy your evening.”
Most of the evening passed in that way; Ace trying to make people feel comfortable. She most certainly did. Despite Ace’s morbid introversion and dislike of the public, she hid it most beautifully. Everyone thought her extraordinarily gentile, ladylike, and beautiful. Guests left the party saying, “That Ace has grown up beautifully! She looks just like her father! And she seems to be doing so well!” None realized Ace hid a broken heart.
When the last guest had left, Ace walked back into the house. It was time to face some demons.
Chapter V The Billiard Room
Ace armed herself with as much swagger as she could manage. Red lipstick, a fedora, and a shot of brandy were her pre-billiard room preparations. You see, when one is about to go and play a game with seven demons, one must be prepared. When she finally walked down into the billiard room, they were already in the room. Each demon was tall, had scaly skin, pale faces, and translucent green wings.
“I’m here demons,” She announced. The atmosphere of the room was so dark and chilling that Ace wanted to vomit.
One of the demons lay on the couch. One was greedily drinking scotch behind the small and tattered bar. A few of them were arguing at the poker table and one was stealing poker chips. There was an awful racket.
“Everyone shut up!” She commanded. Each devil stopped and looked up at her. “This is my mansion and I will give the orders in it,” she said. “If you came to play pool, then play. All of you against me.” she walked over to the record player and turned on Mozart’s Don Giovanni. “Let the games begin.”
The demons slunk around the table. “Greed, you don’t go first,” said one, pushing the other with his stick.
“Whatever Envy!” the other said, pushing the other to the side.
“Greed, Envy, Sloth, Pride, Wrath, Lust and Gluttony!” Ace shouted. “You will stop fighting. I will go first.”
“How did you know our names?” A few asked in wonder.
“Observation and deduction,” she replied. She wished Whestford were there. She didn’t see why cleaning up the party was so important at a time like this.
The game began and each did his best. Ace new that she had no choice but to win. Being very good at pool, and having never lost, she did extremely well throughout the first half of the game. However, as things progressed, the demons began scoring higher.
“What am I to do?” Ace thought to herself. She knew that if she lost, the house would be destroyed.
A few demons lit cigarettes and made martinis. “Care for a martini Ace?” said Lust. He (or it-Ace couldn’t be sure) neared her, holding out a glass in his scaly, black-finger nailed hand. His teeth were pointed and protruding from his shaggy black and red hair were pointy horns.
“No thanks,” Ace glared. She turned her focus to the game which she was slowly losing.
The music became loud. The demons voices were bizarre and the mood was chaotic. Ace stared at the white ball. Fear and despair started to creep down into her fingertips. Tobacco smoke hung heavily in the air. Speculation made every breath harder.
With a sudden bang, the door to the stairs leading upstairs swung open. “Sorry I’m late!” Ace turned around to see the boy.
“You’re just in time,” she said.
The boy sauntered down the stairs, and after adjusting his suspenders, lighting a pipe, he went over to the record player. “I think we need to lighten the mood a bit Ace.” He looked at the records there. “I love Mozart,” he said. “But we need something with a beat.” He turned on Muse. “There’s nothing like alternative rock to give you some confidence in your pool playing.”
The demons glared at him. “You’re an American. You probably have a gun don’t you.”
The young man laughed casually. “Hey now, don’t be like that!”
In a few strokes, Ace and the boy won the game. The demons sulked, and made threats they couldn’t carry out. “You’ll regret winning Ace,” some said. “You sort of cheated!”
“I didn’t break a single rule in our agreement,” Ace said. With that, she walked up the stairs to the main wing of the house. The boy came up behind her. “Thanks for helping me out,” Ace said honestly to the boy. “I don’t know what I would have done. How can I repay you?”
The boy thought for a moment. “Why not some coffee and a walk in the back garden?” He asked.
The two of them walked into the kitchen. Ace rarely went there, for Whestford did the cooking. She realized what a nice part of the house it really was. Whestford kept it well. Perhaps the entire house was not haunted and foreboding.
“Cheers,” they both said as they clicked their coffees together.
Walking in the moonlit garden delighted Ace. She did not remember ever feeling at peace in such a way. Her heart seemed light, and she felt safe in a way which she had never felt before.
“What is your name detective?” she asked.
“Sam,” he shook her hand, as if it were the first time they had met. “You really don’t have fun often do you?” He blushed. “Sorry, that sounded unkind…I just meant, every time I see you, you seem sad.”
“No, you’re right,” Ace said, brushing her blonde bangs from her eyes.
“Well, let’s make a change!” The boy said, “Come on!”
They walked back into the house. The boy suddenly started running about, grabbing things out of cabinets and laying them on the floor in the foyer. He carried in a record player, two board games, twenty pillows, tea, and a bunch of lamps.
“Your life is gloomier than necessary,” he said.
Ace stood watching him in wonder. Before she realized it, there was a white tent made of sheets with glowing lamps inside. Sam opened the tent from within. “Come in!”
Ace bent down some to enter. The floor was covered with pillows. “Clue” was set up in the center of the tent. A tray of tea and scones sat on a pillow, as well as several stuffed animals. Also a copy of Shakespeare lay close-by.
Lady Sterling laughed. She rolled dice, and the two of them took turns. Sam won one game, and Ace won the other. After that, the boy took up Shakespeare, and two stuffed animals.
“This one is Henry V,” he said, shaking a brown teddy bear. Soon he began Shakespeare’s Saint Crispin’s day speech. He put on a slightly sloppy British accent. “What’s he that wishes so? My cousin Westmoreland? No, my fair cousin–” He read dramatically, moving the teddy bear about the tent. Soon he finished, “–And gentlemen in England now-abed shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here, and hold their manhood’s cheap whiles any speaks that fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day!”
Ace clapped heartily.
“Er- you read for Exeter…?” he handed her a purple bunny with a bow-tie.
Ace accepted the thing gingerly. She did her best reading, and when she was finished, Sam jumped up to give her a standing ovation and in the process whacked his head on the ceiling of the tent and sent it collapsing over them. All was dark for a moment before they found their ways out of the rubble.
“Oops,” he looked at the collapsed tent. “Well it’s a good thing I brought other things to do!” Sam went over to the record player and turned on Frank Sinatra. “I hope you know how to swing dance,” he said.
“Of course I do!” Ace responded, coming forward. The two began triple-stepping, rock stepping and turning. While they did so, they laughed and told each other jokes.
After dancing for a while, Sam paused. “Ace,” he seemed nervous. “I came here because I don’t think you are safe here.”
“Yes?” Ace looked into his eyes.
“The demons…they work for someone more powerful.”
“Who?” Ace grew nervous.
“The demon who killed your parents,” the boy said quietly.
“Why? What does he want with me?” Ace blurted out.
“Your soul,” Sam said. Realizing that her eyes had grown wide with fear, he laid a hand on her shoulder. “You have something greater protecting you.” Then he smiled. “Have you gone in the vault?”
Ace shook her head.
“You should. It’s the safest part of this house. It’s the only place where he cannot go.” The boy smiled at her. “I have to go. My parents are going to get worried about me if I am off ‘investigating’ all the time.”
“Bye,” said Ace. She watched him leave. She hated to see him go.
A few moments after the door had shut behind him, Ace felt a cold fear. She realized that Whestford had gone to bed, and she was all alone in the room with a strange person standing in front of the vault.
The man who stood in the foyer must have been seven feet tall. He was bony, had a narrow face, long white hair and long black fingernails. He wore a great mantle of white fur, and a grey pinstripe suit fitted him closely.
Ace felt as if her blood had turned to ice when she saw him.
He looked haughty, handsome, strong, and completely wicked. There was something inherently beautiful about his chiseled, pale face. He was graceful and stately. Yet somehow, his smile, his glassy eyes, and his bony hands sent a chill down Ace’s spine. What was this déjà vu she felt?
“Hello Ace,” the man said in a deep, dark, beautiful and hideous voice.
Chapter VI Remembering
Memories; sometimes they haunt us. When Ace saw the man, (if he could be called a man) she felt a sudden surge of déjà vu.
“Who are you?” She shouted.
He laughed- a deep, velvet laugh, which seemed to chill the very marrow in Ace’s bones.
“You mean you don’t remember?” he walked forward, his white hair gracefully swaying with his regal movements. His white boots clicked on the foyer’s floor. In a moment he had grasped Ace’s jaw with his cold, bony, long finger nailed hand, and he was looking into her eyes. “Don’t look away,” he said. “But remember,” he whispered.
Lady Sterling looked at his long pale face, smirking lips, and lastly his deep red eyes. Then she remembered.
In the memory, she stood in the exact same place. However, in the memory, her parents stood in front of the door, and two demons stood at their sides. Another one stood by Ace, with its grimy hand on her wrist. Behind her there parents stood the tall white prince, smiling. He laughed.
“What’s going on?” Ace’s father, Lord Sterling demanded. “What do you want?”
Lucifer laughed. “I want her!” he pointed at Ace with a long black fingernail.
Chaos seemed to soak into the seams of the room. Where had reality gone?
“I am here to make a deal with you Ace.”
“What deal?” Ace asked.
“Here’s the deal,” he began nonchalantly. “I am going to kill your parents,” he said. “Unless you come down into the underworld with me.” He pulled out a silver pocket watch. “I’ll give you a moment to decide.”
The room grew still.
Ace’s parents began to speak quickly to her. “Don’t do it Ace! You can’t! We will be fine! Don’t go! Stay here!”
“I,” Ace breathed heavily. “I don’t know.” She began to cry. She shut her eyes.
She heard a strange noise. It was smooth, and lasted only a second, then she heard a heavy, dull thud.
She re-opened her eyes, and saw Lucifer standing right in front of her, with two beautifully designed silver daggers, which were covered in red.
“You’re time was up.” With those words he left the room along with the other demons who trailed at his heels.
The memory faded away, but even so, it was paralyzing. Ace’s knees gave out, and she would have fallen to the floor had the prince not caught her.
“How could you do that?” She cried angrily, breaking free from his grasp.
She took a revolver from her pocket and shot at him. Though she was known for being a good shot, he dodged the bullets with ease.
“What kind of a freak are you?” She shouted angrily.
“The devil,” he said with a satisfied sigh. “You can’t just kill me you know.”
“Watch me!” She went to a bureau which stood by the wall. From it she took a sword. “Let’s play a game!” she said through her teeth. As she ran forward, he pulled out his own two daggers. How she hated those things.
Ace stood her ground for a long time; but after a while, she realized the demon wasn’t trying to kill her–only tire her out.
He was a magnificent fighter. Every move was smooth and perfect. Ace found herself out of breath, with cuts on her arms and face. She could not continue fighting.
She started to cry. The tears that fell seemed hot and thick. What was this foolish life she led? It was such a lie. It was her fault her parents had died. If only she had been braver. She was a fool and a coward. She did not deserve to live. She looked down at herself. Ace saw blood on her clothes.
Lucifer walked over to her. “Why is that you are alive Ace?” he asked.
Lady Sterling tried to mumble, but she could barely breathe. He was right. She was selfish. She never helped anyone.
“You have no business calling yourself a Noble. You have spent your life hidden in this mansion, never caring about anyone.” He laughed. “To think that God would still let you into his kingdom after what you have done?” here he smiled.
His words stung at Ace’s core.
“You have already abandoned what you’re parents believed. You have stopped doing what you should have done. It is too late to go back!” He began to speak faster. His laughter echoed in the hall. He paused and then he leaned down, offering his hand to Ace. “But you can still live. Only if you come with me will you survive.”
“No!” she muttered with the little strength she had. “I won’t come!”
“You will come!” he grabbed her wrist tightly. “You have no place here anymore!” He lifted her from the ground with ease, and started to carry her to the door leading to the basements.
She couldn’t see clearly, and she felt that she could not move.
“What’s going on?” She tried to look around but a strange paralysis had overcome her. Everything went black.
Chapter VII – The Devil’s Lair
When Ace awoke she found herself in a cold room which was barely lit. She could see a door in front of her. She sensed that she was sitting on a cold floor with her back to the wall, and something heavy was laid across her lap.
“Hello?” She shouted. “Is anyone there?” Ace looked down, but it was too dark to see anything.
“You’re fine Ace,” said a deep, shimmering voice. She knew it to be Lucifer.
“Why have you brought me here?” she demanded.
“Oh-just to see if I could do some convincing.” Ace could barely see his ghostly outline.
There was something torturous about everything. Ace smelled something heavy and somehow familiar. She couldn’t place it though.
“Where am I?” Ace breathed deeply. What on earth was this thick smell?
“Beneath your mansion in my lair,” replied Lucifer.
“Why am I here?” she asked again. She tried to move, but the heavy and damp thing in her lap made it difficult. “Turn on a light!”
“As you wish.”
A few overhead lights flickered on. Ace saw that she was in a small room with a semi-low ceiling. On all of the walls thick red curtains were hung, giving the room a theatrical atmosphere. The floor was shiny black tile which seemed very old.
She looked down on her lap and saw Sam. He was not moving at all, and blood was oozing from his chest. This was the smell.
“Sam!” she looked at his face. “Is he dead?” Ace tore his shirt open to see strange gashes on his chest and stomach. “What have you done?” she screamed with rage.
“No- what have you done, Ace?” Lucifer walked forward a few steps and leaned down so that his face was level with hers. “This is your fault.” he made a face of mock pity. “If you hadn’t let him spend time here- I would never have touched him. If you hadn’t let him fall in love with you, he never would have tried to come rescue you!”
“Is he dead?” Ace tried to cry but no tears came. “Sam!” she shook him. “Sam!”
“He would be more comfortable if he were dead,” Lucifer said. “Oh don’t worry; he is just passed out from blood loss. His wounds aren’t mortal–most likely.”
Ace took her blazer off quickly and ripped into shreds. Then she began binding up the cuts. “What kind of torture mechanism did you use? You monster!” she shouted at Lucifer. Her throat began to ache.
Lucifer licked blood from his index fingernail. “It’s my special.”
Ace ran her hands through Sam’s brown hair. “Wake up! Please wake up!”
“All of your family gave themselves for you…all because they thought you have the strength to defeat me. Do you?”
Ace stood, laying Sam’s head carefully on the tile. “Where is Whestford?” she said slowly.
“He’s fine!” Lucifer waved a disregarding hand. “He’s in one of the dungeons in custody of seven demons.
Lucifer walked over to the side of the room where there stood a record player. He turned it on and a slow diabolical jazz began to play.
“Give in Ace.” he smiled. “You don’t stand a chance. All your life you flee the facts- you are useless.” he looked at Ace and she felt his terrifying gaze. “Remember- your parents. All your life you’ve felt misery, yet it has always been the ones around you whom you make suffer!” he walked over to Sam, and knelt beside his face. He brushed Sam’s hair to the side and said, “It’s time to wake up, silly boy.” he ran a long black fingernail across Sam’s cheek, and blood began to trickle onto the floor.
Ace saw Sam awaken and he cried out in pain. It was a horrible sound.
“How dare you?” she shouted. She ran forward and began clawing Lucifer, throwing punches, kicking him as hard as she could. It only ended in her lying breathless on the ground.
“Why don’t you join me Ace?” Whestford said. “Fighting me is useless. You should just give in to the madness.” The music played on. The dim lights flickered. Sam lay on the tile, to week to move.
Lucifer stepped towards Ace, and offered a hand to help her up.
She glared at it and stood up on her on. “You are despicable. I hate you! What’s worse is, you will suffer eternally for what you’ve done. So don’t even try to tell me to join you.”
Lucifer grew indignant. “You little brat.” He raised his hand and struck her across the face. He hit her so hard that she lost her balance and fell backwards.
Sam, seeing this, made a desperate struggle to stand. In a flash he had leaped behind Ace to keep her from falling. Her weight slammed them both into the wall. Poor Sam took the impact, and let out a groan. Ace turned.
“Oh Sam!” She wrapped her arms about him. “Sam. I’m so sorry. This is all my fault. Sam!”
He weakly let his arms rest on her shoulders. “Don’t mention it. We’ll get out of this ok.” He tried to smile. Instead he began to cry. “I’m sorry Ace. I–I’m not strong enough to save you. I don’t know what to do.” He gasped for breath. “I just want you to know that I love you.” He awkwardly kissed her forehead, leaving blood on her hair. “I love you so much. If I die, just please know that!” he sobbed heavy sobs.
Ace took a flask of brandy out of a pocket. “Drink this. We are going to get out of this. You won’t die.”
Sam drank the brandy, and it seemed to give him some strength.
“Oh, and Sam,” Ace said quickly. “I love you too,” and she kissed him. It was a very emotional kiss, and once their lips had parted, Ace stood.
“What about this,” Ace began. “You let us go for the time being, and then we fight. I would like to have our final fight tomorrow night.”
“You aren’t going anywhere.” Lucifer said, and he cuffed her hands, then tying the hand-cuffs to a ring in the wall. “You will stay here as long as I say, and you will leave when I let you.”
“Ace!” Sam looked at her and sobbed even more.
“You shut up!” Lucifer looked angrily and Sam. “Stop crying. It’s disgusting!”
“I won’t let you get away with this,” Ace glared at Lucifer. “You know me. I am strong. You have watched me for over seven years, and I am not one to just give up!”
“Yes yes,” Lucifer walked towards her. He took a small bottle from one of his pockets and poured its liquid into his mouth. Then, taking Ace’s jaw strongly in one of his hands, he forcefully kissed her, and whatever poison was in his mouth now had soaked into her. Her vision grew dim, and all her senses dwindled. She could barely hear anything Sam shouting. Slowly but surely she felt herself slip out of consciousness altogether.
The door swung open. “It’s time for things to end you demon.” It was Whestford. His beautiful tuxedo was in shreds, and he was covered in blood. He carried a sword in one hand.
Lucifer turned. “Oh, if it isn’t the butler.” he laughed. “You seem to be doing well.
“Better than ever!” Whestford smiled a gruesome smile. Pointing a sword at Lucifer, he began to chant. “Pater noster, qui es in caelis, sanctificetur nomen tuum.” It was the Lord’s prayer in Latin.
When he began speaking the words, Lucifer grew weaker and weaker.
“Sam, I want you to take Ace upstairs. Take her into the vault and don’t open it unless it’s me. I will be right behind you. Go!” then he continued. “Adveniat regnum tuum, fiat voluntas tua in terris sicut in caelis sunt.”
Sam rallied his strength and went over to Ace, who was unconscious. He untied the handcuffs from the wall, and picked her up gently. Sam carried her hurriedly through the maze-like halls of the basement. He walked up stairs, went through hidden passages, and climbed up ladders. Finally he reached the vault. He gingerly took the vault keys from around Ace’s neck, and unlocked the three locks.
He carefully laid her inside, and then came in himself, closing the door behind him. When he had finished this task he collapsed in a heap on the floor.
Ace awoke in a few hours. When she did so, Whestford was sitting beside her, and Sam was sleeping on the floor.
The vault was a rather small room, which was well lit, had beautifully paneled walls, several book-cases, large safes, and a host of bear rugs.
Whestford had tended his own wounds and was in a fresh suit. He had treated and bandaged Sam as well.
“Sam will be right as rain in no time Lady Sterling,” he said kindly. “Don’t you worry yourself.”
“What happened?” she looked up at him. “Lucifer poisoned me and I passed out.
“Yes, I actually had the antidote for the strong sleeping medication which he gave you.” Whestford said. “Oh, yes I actually came in and distracted Lucifer for a bit while Sam carried you to safety.”
“Sam? He carried me?” Ace looked at the wilted young man. His face was now rather pale, but at least he wasn’t bleeding and sobbing like before.
“I prepared you a cup of tea,” Whestford said, and handed it to her.
“Ace?” Sam had just woken and was looking about. He still seemed rather weak.
“Sam!” Ace rushed forward with giving him a big hug in mind, but Whestford held her wrist gently.
“Don’t crush him. I don’t want his wounds to re-open.”
“Right,” Ace blushed deeply. “Er, thanks everybody for…er…saving me.” Then she began to feel confused. “Wait, Sam…how did you even get here anyway? I mean, you had already left when Lucifer came upstairs.”
“Whestford telephoned me!” he said. “I’m glad you did,” he turned to the butler. “Things are much worse than I thought. Then he turned back to Ace. “Don’t you worry.”
“Oh, ok.” Ace nodded.
For some reason, the vault was the most peaceful place Ace had ever been in.
That night Ace fell asleep in the soft folds of fur blankets with the steady sound of Sam’s quiet breathing.
Chapter IIX – Final Confrontation
How do we defeat our fears? How do we overcome that which frightens us to the core?
Nightmares; they came all night. Ace could not shake the feeling that she had failed in every way. Lucifer was out for her soul, and she knew she could not let him have it. However, her mind was drenched with confusion and fear. Sam staying close to her comforted her very much, but she knew her problems must be resolved. She knew that when she faced her fears, she would face them alone. It would be Ace versus Lucifer. That is how it always is. It is us versus the devil. No matter how many times we try to convince ourselves that it is us versus other people, it is not. It is us versus our own problems. They taunt us, they haunt us, and if we aren’t careful, they overcome us.
For far too long Ace had crawled like a worm from a bird. She crawled from her past, and wallowed in her pain. She did not face what she was or who she would become.
Ace made a plan. By that night, Ace had everything she needed.
At ten that night, Ace sat at a small table in the foyer. Across from her stood another chair, and on the table a chess set.
As she expected, it took only a few moments for Lucifer to appear. He shimmered into the room, slowly becoming completely visible. He stood ominously, his pale grey pin-stripe suit so closely fitted that Ace could see his bones. His pale face was framed by the straight white hair which fell past his shoulders. What made him so beautiful and so hideous?
“Take a seat Prince Lucifer,” Ace offered the chair.
Lucifer took it. “Surely you don’t intend to play chess against me? The devil? The master of all evil?”
“Why are you here?” Ace asked. “Why do you want my soul?”
Lucifer laughed. “I want to be your lover forever. Throughout eternity, I want you with me in the underworld, by my side throughout the torment.” He leaned in across the table. He took her jaw in his hands and neared his lips to hers. “What would be so wrong about that?”
Ace removed his hands in a violent swing of her arm. “You are fear.” she smiled grimly. “I have no interest in fear.”
Lucifer sat back in his chair. “Oh you’ve grown sassy.” He looked at the chess set. He moved the first piece; a pawn. “Oh Ace. Why do you keep on believing in something so invisible? You hold on to what your parents believed. It’s silly.”
Ace then moved one of her pieces. “I walk by faith and not by sight.”
Lucifer winced slightly. “What makes you think you can still experience paradise after the foolish life you have led?” He moved a piece.
“‘…we were by nature objects of wrath. But because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions–it is by grace I have been saved.’” Ace moved a piece.
Lucifer moved a pawn. “What makes you think God loves you? You are disgusting. Look at your life. Look at your past. Look at what you have done!” He raised his voice. “How could God love a pitiful creature like you?”
“Why do you want me to be with you forever?” Ace asked.
“Because when all else has abandoned you I have not. I have loved you all along.” he reached out his hand to touch her face.
“You have loved me?” she asked with disgust and anger. “No. You abandoned love when you left God.” Ace took her turn.
“Yes but what is it that you want Ace?” He moved a Knight across the board. “You keep going on about God and such, but what about what you truly desire?”
“I desire love,” she said.
Lucifer again leaned in. His voice became deep and somewhat quiet. “I can give you love if that is what you desire.”
“You are incapable of love,” Ace said.
They continued playing, each taking turns and calculating moves and responses.
“You think you are so clever Ace,” Lucifer said. “But I and I alone can give you every desire of your heart. I know that you want to stop being afraid of God’s wrath. Wouldn’t that be nice? If you stopped trying to please him so much, your life would be easier!” He said. “You wouldn’t be afraid anymore.”
“To be with you? That would make me un-afraid?” Ace laughed bitterly. “Only love can cast out fear. You yourself are fear. You are fear in its most concentrated form! There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.” she paused. “Check.”
“Oh?” Lucifer looked down at the chess board. He moved his king. “Why this silly game. Let’s get to the point girl.” He took hold of her hand which was resting on the chess table. “How could it be wrong for you to be with me? I love you, and that’s all that matters.” he smiled. “You need to let go of your fears and embrace madness. Let go of the tantalizing hopes, and embrace your dark side, which is your true self. Check.”
“You might say you love me, but I certainly don’t love you,” Ace responded. “Check.”
“Oh?” he smiled. “If you didn’t at least like me a little bit, I wouldn’t be here? Why do you think you can see me? It’s because you believe in me.” He moved his king. “All along, it was your own terror of God which made me being here possible!” He licked his pointed teeth with his tongue. “That is why you are going to be mine forever.”
“I’m not sure if it was the way you said that, or what it was that you said that I am completely done with. This game is nearly over.” Ace moved her queen. “Check.”
“Risky. Getting your queen so involved,” Lucifer said.
“It wouldn’t be a fight if I weren’t vulnerable,” Ace said.
“If you bow down and worship me you would never have to feel vulnerable again.” Lucifer moved his king.
Ace rose from the table. Lucifer looked up at her. “Have you had a change of heart?” he asked. He slowly rose from the table. He opened his arms slowly. “Come close to me.”
Ace did so, and was enveloped in a both cold and hot fire. As she wrapped her arms about him, she carefully unsheathed a silver dagger which was on his back. She knew not if he realized, for he seemed distracted by laying kisses on the top of her head. She slowly pulled away.
“Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.” she leaned down to the table and moved her queen one last time. “Check mate.” she said.
“How dare you?” He whispered venomously. He leaped forward and grabbed at her throat. “I will kill you.”
Ace found herself on the tile floor with Lucifer’s strong hands tightly about her neck.
“Where is your God now?” He said angrily.
Ace, with the last remains of energy lunged forward with her right hand. She stabbed Lucifer in the heart. He let go of her immediately, and stumbled backwards.
“In the name of the Lord, I command you to leave this house, and to never come back.”
The form in front of her slowly began to melt. Bits of it vanished and left only a faint smoke, which in turn left the room.
The foyer became lighter. Feelings of despair were swept from the area, which had long been the gathering place for haunting memories.
Ace stumbled backwards, suddenly feeling drained of all energy. Sam caught her.
“Hey Hey! he’s gone!” Sam said quietly but excitedly. “I came just in time!” He picked her up. He looked down at her. “I think you need a cup of tea.”
Chapter IX- Changing
Ace sat on the kitchen counter. She didn’t remember doing that since she was a child. She could faintly remember the times when she would come in to the kitchen and beg Whestford and the cooks for Jammie Dodgers, (a British shortbread biscuit.)
This time only Whestford and Sam were there.
“I feel really…strange,” Ace said. She accepted a cup of tea which Whestford held out for her. She also took a Jammie Dodger in her hand, which was one of Whestford’s specials.
“Well, it’s quite natural that you would feel strange,” said Sam. He smiled. “But it’s all over now. The demons from the basement will no longer haunt you, and neither will this murderous devil. You can rest.”
“What about you Sam?” Ace suddenly felt worried. “Since you aren’t here to protect me from Lucifer, will you leave?”
“Of course not!” Sam smiled. “We’ll talk about that later- but right now, I wanted to ask you if you would like to leave the house for a few days or weeks. You can bring some money with you and we can do some traveling. I think it might be good for you to get out. You haven’t left this house for ten years.”
“You’re right Sam,” Ace smiled. “You are completely right. I need a vacation.”
After eating breakfast Sam and Ace headed into the library where they began looking up possible destinations. It confused them greatly as to where they should go. Finally Ace said,
“Why don’t we just pack up some things and then just start driving. I think it’s too difficult to figure out where to go. I haven’t adventured in ten years. I think it’s time to play things by ear.”
She rung for Whestford. He appeared in a flash. “Whestford, could you cancel all of the evening parties for a week. Also, could you wash Martin. He’s a bit dusty.”
Whestford bowed, hiding a smile. “Yes my Lady.”
“Martin? Who’s Martin?” Sam asked.
“Oh, the Aston Martin. Silver sports car. My favorite in the garage.” Ace smiled.
“Wait, you have more than one?” Sam’s eyes widened.
“Oh yeah. My parents were big into collecting cars. I haven’t ever driven one myself.” Ace blushed a little. “I don’t actually no how to drive. Could you?” She felt odd asking him. What if he thought her a complete buffoon for not knowing how to drive?
“I would be honored to drive your Aston Martin!” He grinned. “Oh, shall I be the DJ? I can get together all the best music for us to listen to while we drive.”
After heartily agreeing, Ace went to her room to pack up clothes. She took out a large suitcase and packed all her favorites. Her red silk dress, her dancing dress, her blue evening gown, and other such things were carefully laid into the suitcase. Also she packed more relaxed attire such as her favorite pinstripe pants and the world’s greatest t-shirt, suspenders and chucks.
Ace carried her luggage down the stairs to the garage. She found Sam and Whestford arguing.
“But it’s an Aston Martin! It’s James Bond car!!!” Sam protested.
“I still think I should be the one to drive,” Whestford said flatly. “You are still a teenager Sam. It would be safer if I drive.”
Sam looked at the car longingly.
Ace laughed. “Hey hey hey! You can both drive it ok!”
Whestford bowed slightly. “If that is what you desire Lady Ace, then so be it.”
After some further ado, the three of them got into the car and began to situate themselves.
Sam sat squished in the back with the picnic basket and the teddy bears which he just had to bring. “Hey Ace could you pop this in the CD player?” he handed her a disk. A moment later he handed her twenty more CDs. “These are all the best.”
Ace put in the first CD. Blaring from the speakers was none other than the James Bond theme.
Sam grinned. “I couldn’t resist. It’s just too perfect!”
“I believe that’s my cue,” Whestford smiled, and turned the key in the ignition. The engine made a beautiful noise, deep, powerful and sleek. Whestford drove the car out of the garage very quickly. He started speeding down the drive, and turned suddenly at the road.
“You said it would be safer if you drive?” Sam shouted over the music. “This is madness!”
Whestford smiled. “You wouldn’t drive it any differently would you Sam?”
The trip continued in such a way. The car, the music, and the people were ideal.
Once they reached the city, they readied to stop by a restaurant. Ace looked at Sam. “You aren’t wearing very fancy clothes.”
Sam blushed. “Sorry…the nicest I have is my black suit.”
“Oh that’s ok. We can go buy something. That suit is not quite what I’m going for.”
The three of them drove to a men’s clothing store first. Ace walked in and began to pick up different things and handing them to Whestford. She found a silvery gray suit which was quite ideal. Grey socks, grey oxfords, grey suspenders, and a lavender bowtie were the accoutrements she picked out.
Whestford handed Sam the clothes. “I believe this is what Lady Sterling has picked out.”
In a few moments Sam emerged from the changing rooms looking very dapper and handsome. The suit was semi-fitted, and gave him a very chic appeal.
Ace clapped her hands. “Now we can go to eat!” Ace herself wore a knee-length blue dress which had a full skirt. (Perfect for dancing in.) The dress was made of pure silk and had an overlay of shimmery voile.
“So, umm,” Sam began. “What will this fancy restaurant be like?”
“You’ll like it!” Ace said. “Don’t worry so much.” she smiled. “You look quite fantastic.”
Chapter X- What it Was Really
After eating a delicious dinner at the restaurant Ace, Westford and Sam found a nice hotel to lounge in. As they walked down the street to the hotel, a couple of teenage girls ran up to Ace.
“Are you Lady Sterling?” One of them asked excitedly. “I hear you haven’t been in the city for seven years!”
“I am Lady Sterling,” Ace said kindly. “The city is a welcome sight.” She smiled.
“Can we have your autograph?”
Ace kindly relented. When they finally reached the hotel, the staff were also surprised.
“Lady Sterling! Let us give you our best rooms! Are you on a trip to see the queen?”
Once they had their three rooms and had unloaded their bags, the three travelers sat in the hotel’s café to relax.
“I had no idea people would act so strange,” Ace said. “I mean, seven years ago people were like that, but I didn’t know people would still remember me.”
“You don’t remember those photo-shoots Vogue did of you on the lawn?” Whestford asked quietly.
Ace buried her head in her hands. “This is weird.”
“It’s just like your parties on the lawn except more-so. Don’t worry yourself my Lady,” Whestford said kindly, offering a cup of tea.
That night Ace slept well and in the morning she woke early. She dressed quickly and exited her room. Sam’s was right next to hers and she readily knocked on his door.
“Hello?” Sam opened the door. He was in his pajamas and his hair was matted to one side.
“Good morning Sam,” Ace said. “Er…do you want breakfast?”
Sam rubbed his eyes as bit. “Yeah. Umm, just hang on a second.” Sam closed the door and in a few minutes he opened it again, this time wearing the grey pants and white shirt Ace had picked out. He simply left off the vest, tie, and coat so that it would not look so formal.
“What about Whestford?” Sam asked as they walked to the elevator.
“Oh doubtless he will be eating breakfast,” Ace responded.
Sure enough when they entered the breakfast room Whestford was sitting at a table with a newspaper and a cup of tea. “Hello Ace, Sam.” He nodded at them. “In a bit, I am going to go back to the mansion.”
“Wait,” Ace began. “Why?”
“There is some business I would like to get underway.”
“Whestford. Tell me what you are doing and why,” Ace ordered.
Whestford sighed. “Alright. Well the end of this week is your birthday and I was going to go back and prepare you a gift.”
“Oh,” Ace blushed a little. “I had completely forgotten!”
“Oh hey! What should I get you Ace?” Sam asked. “Maybe I could buy you something today!”
After saying goodbye to Whestford and eating a delicious breakfast Sam and Ace decided to walk around the city. There were a large amount of shops within close range of the hotel.
Once they had walked into almost every store close by and not found anything worth buying, they sat on a bench under a tree to rest.
“Sam,” Ace began slowly. “Why did you really come to the house?”
Sam looked at her a little nervously. “Well…I umm.”
“How can you stand me? I am not a pleasant person to be around. Why do you think I hide from people? It’s so I won’t have to hurt them.” Ace looked down.
“Ace, you are pleasant to be around. Everyone hurts someone, and everyone makes mistakes. I think you dwell too much on your fears.”
“I suppose you are right,” Ace said quietly. “But why did you come to the house? Was it really because your father hadn’t finished his job on the investigation?” Ace was confused. She still did not completely understand Sam.
“Well…” Sam began awkwardly. “Ok. I’ll just tell you everything.” He took a deep breath. “I’m from America- as you can tell by the accent. My parents died when I was fifteen. Their deaths were very mysterious, and ever since then, I’ve been what some people might call a “supernatural hunter.” Basically, I specialize in crime-fighting against demons. My legal guardians then were my Aunt and my Uncle (who is the chief inspector.) I came over here. When I heard my Uncle talking about the mysterious case of Lord and Lady Sterling’s murder and the young girl who now lived without a family, I became strangely curious. I wanted to know more. I never had a chance. Life went on. I started to acclimate to the culture here. I enrolled in a high-school, got a part-time job with my uncle, and so on. Then, one day when I was sixteen, my family received a letter in the mail. It was an invitation to one of your parties. I had never been so excited. You see…I had almost nothing to live for then. My parents were dead, and I really didn’t like my new ones, and…well things were just hard. So, when I got a chance to go to those fancy cool party where the host was a mysterious Lady, I was pretty happy!” he sighed. “So when we got there, I felt kind of out of place. There were so many rich people everywhere!” He paused. “Then you came out to the party. Immediately the guests sort of fell into a hush, and they watched you walk through their midst. I had never seen anything like it. I wondered how a girl so small could have so much power. You went through talking to different people. You made sure every guest was comfortable. You ordered more champagne, you played croquet with little kids to make them happy.” He paused nervously. “You talked business with other Lords. It was incredible. Then you came up to me.
“You probably don’t remember do you? I was different then. I had shorter hair and I was a little more nervous about life then. Well anyway, you came up and asked how I enjoyed the party. I still remember the way you looked into my eyes when you talked and the way you acted like I was the only person there. That’s how you treated everyone.
“I could still tell something about you was sad though. I could see that you weren’t happy on the inside. It killed me that no-one else could see that. When no-one else was watching you, you were looking up at the sky with sadness. I could tell that when you smiled you weren’t happy. Ever since then, I resolved to get you to smile for real. I wanted you to be happy.
“So I began researching. I wanted to figure out why you were sad. I asked my uncle about the details of your parents’ death. I knew right away that you needed much more help than you were getting. As soon as I could I came to your house and asked Whestford if I could investigate. It became not just a mission to make you happy, but to save your life. I was terrified that something would happen to you. By this time I was sort of independent from my uncle and aunt, so when I drove on my Vesper, I had my backpack loaded with a sleeping bag and some provisions. I camped out in your mansion for a long time. Whestford fed me. He told me he was glad I was there, and he himself was very worried about you and the demons which were in the basement. It went like that for a few months. Then one-day, when I came in through the front door, you were standing there. I was stunned by everything about you. You were in a deep red silk dress which almost reached the floor. You seemed almost unreal. And–you know the rest from there.” Sam folded his arms.
Ace looked into his eyes. “You wanted me to be happy?” Her own eyes filled with tears. “Why?” she began to sob. “I- I haven’t cried in nearly seven years. Why now?” she wiped tears away. “I don’t understand.”
“It’s ok,” Sam said. “Sometimes we don’t understand.”
Chapter XI – Coming Home
Ace and Sam walked about the city for a while. They went into a bookstore and explored the rows and rows of words.
“Hey Ace! This one says ‘Sterling’ on the spine,” Sam said, bringing her a book.
“Oh yes. One of my family businesses is a book publishing company,” Ace said, looking at the book.
“One of them? How many companies do you have?” He asked.
“Five. But that’s not important.” She had picked up a stack of books. “Are there any books you would like Sam?” He added a couple of science fiction, American comic books and Daft Punk albums to the stack.
After making their purchases the two of them ate lunch at a small ethnic cafe then they walked to the park. They walked through the grass, talking, laughing, and sometimes just looking around without saying a word.
That night they went to a swing dance, which was incredible fun. Afterwards they went to see a movie.
“I think I’d like to go back to the mansion,” Ace said the next morning at breakfast. “Since today is my birthday, and Whestford’s getting something ready, I need to be there.”
“That’s fine with me. Plus, I’ll be able to drive the Aston Martin the whole way back! That sounds great!” Sam smiled, taking a sip of orange juice.
“We can pack up our loot and go after breakfast.”
Once they were finally in the car they set out at full pace for the countryside. When they finally reached the house, it seemed dark and desolate as ever. No exciting party had brightened the lawn, so the mansion seemed to have a dark cloud hanging over it.
Ace walked rang the front door. Whestford opened the door and revealed a beautiful room, sparkling and clean. The chandelier cast a lovely yellow light on the shining black and white tile floor.
“Oh Whestford. Did you, redo the house?” Ace was stunned. She had not seen the Sterling mansion look so perfect in seven years.
“Yes my Lady,” Whestford bowed. “If you would come this way,” he lead her to her room, which also was gorgeous. The windows were open. The walls had been re-painted, and the floors re-finished. On the bed there lay a beautiful black silk dress. “Happy Birthday Ace.” Whestford bowed once again and smiled. “Sam, if you would give Ace privacy as she dresses.”
Sam left the room and Ace went behind her changing screen to put the gown on. When she was ready Whestford zipped it for her and then he fixed her hair. He adorned it with two little black velvet bows which gave her an adorable look of innocence.
“It’s beautiful Whestford. Thank you,” said Ace and she wrapped her arms around Whestford. It was one of the first times in years that she had hugged anyone, much less her stoic butler.
“It is my pleasure. Now come this way.”
He walked with her through the beautiful foyer, and through now well-cleaned halls. In a moment they had reached the ballroom. When Whestford opened the two doors, there were hundreds of people inside. They all held champagne glasses and all wore beautiful clothes. The ballroom was decorated with red roses and beautiful banners.
All of the faces of the people she saw were so kind. These were all the people she had shut out of her mind for so long. She had been afraid of them, but now she wasn’t.
“Happy Birthday!” they all shouted in unison, raising their glasses. A string quartet and a pianist were set up in a corner of the room and buffet tables at the other. All of the dancing took place in the center.
“Hey Ace,” Sam walked up to her. “Happy Birthday,” he said casually. He wore a beautiful pinstripe suit and a black tie. He handed her a little package.
Ace carefully unwrapped it. “A piano album? Chopin! I love Chopin.” She smiled. “Thank you Sam. This is perfect!”
He smiled. “Look at who is playing the piano.” Sam pointed at the CD.
“Sam Jameson Bluestreet?” Ace looked at Sam. “Is it you?” she was astonished. “I didn’t know you play the piano!”
He blushed a little. “Er. Shall we dance?”
He took her gloved hand and led her to the dance floor where they waltzed.
“So, um. Ace. I uh…” Sam looked down.
“What is it Sam?” Ace asked. “Is something worrying you?”
“Well. When we were in the basement in Lucifer’s lair…and I was all beat up and stuff…you said you loved me. Did you mean it?”
“I did!” Ace smiled. “I certainly did.”