The crowd set him down by a shallow pit cut through the lacey limestone bedrock of the island down to black, hard rock. It was maybe twice his height, but the walls were polished smooth. They thrust a long curved knife into his hand and shoved him in.
Years of performing deaths of tragic heroes taught him how to fall without hurting himself too much. He did hit his shoulder when he landed, but it was not that bad. And, he narrowly avoided impaling himself on his own weapon. At least this drew the cheers from the gathered, not booing.
He straightened slowly, checking that the shoulder was his only problem. Then he forgot all about his old bones. A living demon stared into his eyes.
The creature was locked behind a metal grate in a shallow cavern cut into the pit-wall. Space would have been too small to stand up straight even for a human, let alone for the taller fay, so he looked a dull white, despite their hides being universally praised for their rich hues and lustre. He must have spent futile days in clawing the limestone walls of the cell and dusting himself in the process. No, not 'he', 'it'!
Between the dust and the emaciation, the demon didn't look all that different from the mummified carcasses of its brethren on display in the faery Temples. It had the same protruding and way too long facial features, clawed hands, and powerful legs. The mane that might have been brushed and braided for the faery's displays had turned to dreadlocks on the prisoner, but it still cloaked the demon's neck and shoulders.
Only the eyes were different from those of the stuffed demons. The glass or carved jewels set in the leathery sockets by the taxidermists failed to convey the real thing. The living demon's eyes burned through him, but it did not move, did not even blink. No, not 'it', 'he'! And he is barely alive.
Under any other circumstances, Jiang might have felt pity. Instead, he felt hope. He stood a chance against the creature this pathetic.
Above him, someone used a winch, and the gate moved up, releasing the demon. Before he had a chance to stretch to his full height or restore any flexibility to his limbs, Jiang lunged, knife leading.
The demon barely evaded the amateur strike and reached for him timidly.
Jiang cursed his aim and swung the knife at the claws, but an invisible force rammed into his core. It rooted itself in his chest and started coiling around him, tighter and tighter, like a chain.
The world broke like a porcelain cup. He could no longer breathe. The darkness crept up from the periphery of his vision, closing in. The knife tumbled out of his grasp.
The demon changed. The desiccated tissues filled out under his skin. He shook the dust out of his hair, flexed his shoulders and screamed with joy. White dust rose in a cloud as his skin stretched over the quickly growing muscles. He now had rich maroon colouring, free of sores and wounds, and even ran his clawed hand through his dark-red hair to brush out a few clumps of dirt.
Jiang could not manage a peep, him, a singer!
The demon advanced towards him, with a strangely sad smile.
Just before Jiang closed his eyes forever, a dark, solid shape came between him and his tormentor, Jung Hwa's argumentative son.
The young man clasped hands in front of his chest, then pushed down and outward in a powerful gesture.
The ethereal chain that held Jiang in thrall broke, and he collapsed, gasping for breath. From his unenviable position on the pit's floor, he watched his saviour. The muscular frame, thick neck, lustrous hair falling from under the headscarf to the shoulders, the strong features, the glowing eyes... in short - the demon's match!
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