Actions

Work Header

A Thousand and One Tales a Phantomhive Butler Must Know

Work Text:

There was once a demon shrouded in the darkest of shadows who enjoyed the taste of human souls. At first, he was not very particular in the way one should procure such souls, but as he grew older and wiser, his palate became much more refined and selective. Gone were the days he would hastily and violently wrench a soul from its living body. Instead, he would carefully manipulate, prepare his meal like an expert chef, and his most valuable culinary tool would be his Contract: a binding agreement between he and his human prey.

The demon created many Contracts with men and women alike, and one-by-one, he fulfilled their selfish wishes. It did not matter to him what their desires were, so long as once they were achieved, he would have their souls, made delicious by the trials and tribulations of their journeys toward their goals. Some wanted fame and riches, others wished to catch the eye of a would-be lover-- the demon had heard them all, every variation multiple times. The reasons grew quite stale and his contractees became predictable, but it had become a way of life for the demon who could never go back to ill-prepared meals. This changed, however, when he became acquainted with a certain little boy.

His name was Ciel Phantomhive, the son of a British earl, and he was barely ten years of age when all manners of horrors befell him. His family was brutally murdered, his home was set ablaze, and he was sold into slavery where he fell into the hands of mad cultists. There they branded him, used him in torturous and demeaning ways, and finally, they sacrificed him in one of their fanatical rituals. But this unfortunate boy’s suffering would not be allowed to end just yet.

The demon took an immediate interest in the boy. The hatred and anger, he had seen many times before, but the blackness that had spread across his once pure soul piqued his interest and stoked his ever-present hunger. This boy’s soul would be a rare feast indeed, and so, a Contract was mutually formed: in exchange for the child’s soul, he would be the boy’s sword and shield; he would attain the boy’s revenge, and lastly, the demon would be his ever loyal servant. The demon was only slightly amused, until he realized what sort of young master this boy would be.

Ciel was overbearing, demanding, picky, and most importantly, he held no fear of his newly acquired demon servant. He rejected meals when they were not to his taste, upending the plates at the demon’s face. He would order the demon to drink poisoned refreshments and lobbed sharp things at his human body, just to test his supposed invulnerability, and the demon’s new young master enjoyed making even the most ordinary tasks difficult, much to his chagrin. While the attainment of revenge would be fulfilled in time with the proper investigational work, the demon would have to endure such menial tasks that others of his kind would find demeaning.

His young master was insufferable and troublesome to deal with for sure, but such difficulties were surprisingly easy to ignore. Ciel’s fearlessness toward him was refreshing, and his cunning and cruelty amused the demon greatly. He was also one who suffered much at an early age, and yet, instead of begging for a quick end to his misery, wrath fueled his strength to live and his willingness to damn himself for vengeance. And unlike most humans, he made no pretense of nobleness in his actions. He sought vengeance not for his late mother and father, but only for himself and the humiliation that he had endured. Ciel was an intriguing young master indeed, and the demon delighted in watching him walk the path of damnation; with each passing emotion, with each trial that no one as young as he should ever have to endure, his dark soul fluctuated and matured in the most appetizing ways that the demon would sometimes find himself longing for it.

However, for all his fearlessness and unhesitating confidence, his young master was still quite the child. He disliked being told he could not have dessert before dinner, and he would always claim that he would be unable to rest without a certain pillow that the demon found unspectacular. One night he was being especially stubborn, and his young face held a foul expression.

“Sebastian, I cannot sleep,” he announced in an irritated voice, and he glared at his demon servant with an expectant air, fully expecting him to remedy the situation.

“Oh?” the demon replied with feigned concern. “You have your pillow, do you not?”

His young master made an irritated sound, clutching said pillow to his small chest. “Of course I have my pillow, but I still cannot sleep. It must be the bed.” He narrowed his eyes at Sebastian, as if accusing him for the discomfort.

“It has nothing to do with the bed. You are only feeling restless,” Sebastian sighed, ignoring the accusatory glare with ease. He tilted his head, regarding Ciel with a look of exasperation. “You only have yourself to blame. You should not have had that tea before bedtime.”

“I cannot have my serving of dessert without my tea,” his young master glowered, disliking that condescending tone from one who is supposed to be his servant.

“You should not have had a second serving of dessert just before bedtime.”

“If that is what you believe, then why did you serve it to me anyway?”

The demon straightened, raising a brow at Ciel. “Because, Young Master, you ordered me to.”

As the demon’s young master, and from the stipulations of their mutual contract, Ciel’s word was law. No matter what he ordered, Sebastian was obligated to obey for fear of breaking the Contract. The loss of such a delectable soul was to be avoided at all costs, so the demon acted as his pawn and heeded his words. Mostly.

Ciel scowled, knowing full well the trickery that his demon was capable of. “I asked for dessert before dinner and was denied. Why did you obey me then, just before I was to retire? You knew this would happen!”

Though the chores and tasks of acting as Ciel’s servant were bearable, and he had a contract to uphold, the demon could not merely obey commands alone. He had to amuse himself, and the suffering of his young master delighted him so.

The demon’s lips curled, and a chuckle escaped from that eerie smile that could both make a woman swoon and a dog flee. The demon could tell no lies to his young master, and this was all but a confession, which did nothing to improve Ciel’s mood.

“Sebastian,” he growled, “I order you to remedy this.”

The demon continued to smile, most amused. “You only have yourself to blame for your gluttony, but I suppose I can medicate you,” he answered lightly.

“You will do no such thing. My own butler cannot put a boy to sleep without resorting to medication? You are no Phantomhive servant.”

Though medication, or even a draught of warm milk mixed with a sweet liquor would be the quickest remedy for the young master’s restlessness, it seemed he was intent on testing the demon’s abilities. The demon considered, thoughtful. “Never have I assisted a child in relieving his restlessness, but I will do as I am ordered. Though, what else will help you attain a restful night’s sleep?” he wondered aloud.

Ciel supposed it was not strange that the demon had never encountered such a situation, but that gave him no excuse to be incapable of solving this problem.

“Just talk,” he ordered the demon, growing more irritable by the moment. “Your voice shall be sufficient enough to bore me to sleep.”

The request was both unusual and mildly annoying to the demon, for he had many chores to complete during the night, but he had no other choice to obey.

“I suppose a story would be enough to bore you,” he mused aloud. “Would that be sufficient?”

“Just do it,” quipped Ciel, and he made himself comfortable upon his bed.

The demon sighed and reluctantly began.


***

As you may or may not know, Young Master, there are many variations of my kind. From the archdemons who are directly descended from Heaven’s fallen generals and who live in lavish palaces of bloodstone, to the smallest of hellions that only cause mischief to those powerless against them. In this tale, we follow one such imp.

He was a small, pale thing, not much larger than a frail child like you. He enjoyed living in the human world, and spent so much time there that he began to dress as one of them. By this time, he looked nothing more than a very short, very old man. But do not let his innocuous appearance deceive you, as he was still much stronger, more powerful than any human man in his prime, and he held a mysterious power close to his dark heart.

One day, while on his daily prowl, the imp heard the sweet sound of a woman’s weeping. The pitter patter of her tears falling was alluring, and he could not help but follow it. Indeed, the tears belonged to a young woman who might have been beautiful to a human’s eyes. Curiously, she was locked inside a castle tower’s room, and she was surrounded by bales upon bales of straw. And before her stood a wooden spindle, which did nothing but bewilder the imp. Why would the silly humans keep a woman, straw, and a spinning wheel in the same room?

“O woe is me!” she cried, soaking her sleeves with her tears. “Why did father brag that I could spin straw into gold? Now I am to die in the morn!”

She wept, as most humans did, when they believed all hope was lost. And a hopeless, desperate human was always good prey for a demon, no matter his size. As it was, the imp found her soul to be delectable, and he revealed himself cheerily.

“Ho! You poor maiden. Do not cry, for I am here. I can spin this straw into gold!” Indeed, the imp had alchemical powers that only those of his demonic lineage possessed. “But before I spin this straw into gold, I will need something in exchange.” He was fully intent on forming a Contract with her soul as his reward, when her shimmering necklace caught his eye. “I want that! That thing around your neck.”

Hope returned to the maiden’s eyes, and if her life meant the price of her precious necklace, then so be it. She immediately delivered the necklace and the imp worked diligently through the night. By morning, the room was filled with wisps of gold and the imp left to show off his new necklace to his brethren. However, they only laughed and jeered at him, for it was foolish to forgo a meal in favor of silly human jewelry that would only melt in the fieriness of Hell.

Determined to obtain his soul, the imp returned to the maiden’s room, only to find that it was filled with twice as much straw as before. Her eyes lit up when she saw the imp, and she begged him to work his magic again. “Only in exchange for--” he started, but his eyes caught sight of her glittering ring. And so, he exchanged his services for her ring, spinning all that straw into gold. And again, he was laughed at by his brethren.

The imp again returned, sure that human greed will warrant an even larger amount of hay to be spun into gold, and he was indeed correct. But as he offered his services again, he noticed that something had changed in this maiden’s soul, and it did not look quite as delicious anymore. How fickle human souls can be when it is not tended to constantly! But if he were able to constantly manipulate a soul to his own tastes, it would be quite delicious.

“In exchange for spinning this straw into gold, I want your first born!” he announced with a wicked grin.

The maiden was aghast, but she reluctantly agreed, for her life meant more to her than some child she may or may not have. The gold was spun, and the imp left the maiden to her devices as humans need quite some time to breed.

A year later, he felt the pull of his Contract and he flew to the maiden’s side. There, a babe lied in her arms, and its soul was pure and beautiful, untouched by any force.

“Give me your first-born, as per our Contract!” he cried. The maiden pleaded with him, offering all her riches, but he refused, having learned his lesson.

In tears, she finally offered this: “Please, do not your kind enjoy games? If I could guess your name, will you leave me and my child be?”

The imp was dumbfounded. What manner of offering was this? She broke the Contract! Enraged, he stamped his small but powerful foot into the ground. A smoking chasm opened, leading to the fiery pits of Hell, and it swallowed the foolish maiden up. There, she suffered all manners of torment from the peeling of her skin to the puncturing of her eyes....


***

The demon continued with the gruesome details of the poor maiden’s fate, as he intended to punish his young master for forcing him to tell such tales. But he soon realized that Ciel was fast asleep, and he wondered what about torturous imps would encourage him to such a peaceful rest.

The next night, his irritable master demanded that he retell the story, halfway from the end. When the demon did as he was told, the boy looked disbelieving.

“That is not how the story is to end! The imp was to offer her three days to guess his name.”

It was the demon’s turn to have an incredulous expression. “Is that how you humans tell the tale? Why would a demon allow a Contract to be broken without consequence? You humans are so terribly spoiled.”

His young master scowled at the insinuation, and he wondered if all demonic versions of the tales he once knew were much the same. “Will I suffer the same fate as she, should I break our Contract?” Ciel asked curiously.

“Will you break it, Young Master?”

“As long as you continue as my loyal servant until my revenge is attained, there is no reason to,” the proud child announced without hesitation. “And you will not as well,” he stated, confident in his own words. Sebastian would not want to lose his soul, after all.

The demon smiled, quite amused. “No, I will not. I shall serve you until the end.”

“Good,” the child replied, appeased. “Now, continue to fill the silence with your voice. I shall sleep again tonight due to your uninteresting stories.”

And for many nights, the demon did as he was ordered. He told tales of rebellious angels who had not fallen all the way to Hell, of death gods that hated his kind and were regularly outwitted, and of humans who foolishly constructed poor Contracts and met unexpected ends. Though these were demonic tales and not short of horrific details or macabre themes, enough to give most weak-willed humans nightmares, Ciel still slept peacefully after each and every one. It intrigued Sebastian, and one night, as he watched Ciel's sleeping, upturned face after a tale of demonic possession and the enslavement and use of a small family, he realized.

His young master may belittle him and test even his patience, but in the end, he trusted Sebastian. He trusted him to protect him from the dangers and tortures Sebastian took such care to detail in his tales. Even in his dreams, when the Contract's burn dimmed with his lack of awareness, the promise of it had seeped into his young master's consciousness so deeply that Sebastian shielded him in a place the Contract had no hold, allowing him to rest easy.

How unusual, for his tiny suspicious master to have such wholehearted and foolish faith in him.

But the next night, he tried a different kind of story, and as many nights passed, the nature of the demon's stories began to change. No longer did he narrate tales of carnage and torture. They never had the intended effect in the first place and he grudgingly admitted that he enjoyed revisiting the fables of his childhood. And so his young master listened with rapt attention to each one, the new stories more to his liking, and he was eventually soothed to slumber. However, one night, this was not the case.

Sebastian had chosen a tale of human origins, one that he had heard not long ago in relation to his long life. It regarded a little boy who once lived comfortably in a modest but warm home, surrounded by the love of his family. But misfortune fell upon them, and he was orphaned, living upon the cold, grey streets alone. He tried his best, selling trinkets and matchsticks that no one wanted, but each night he would retire with an empty belly in the cold.

One night, it was much too cold for his little, skinny body, and he lit a match to keep warm. There, to his amazement, he saw an image of his late family in the small flame, but it soon extinguished, leaving only a thin trail of smoke. The boy missed them terribly, and with high hopes of seeing them again, he lit another match. He was transported back to the home he used to know, and it was gloriously warm and the dining table was set with a feast, but the image faded when the match was blown out by the wind. Wanting nothing more than to be with his family once again, in a place where he knew would be warm and safe, he lit his last match. Finally, they were all together basked in golden light, and they embraced him. Unfortunately for the poor boy, he was found frozen to death the next morning, but curiously, he passed away with a smile upon his worn features.

When the demon had finished, he had rightly expected to see his young master fast asleep, but that was not so. Ciel’s eyes were open, stricken with discontent with a faraway look. He was deeply disturbed by the sad, yet somewhat uplifting tale, devoid of the usual gore of Sebastian’s stories. “Young Master?” Sebastian called out, concern in his voice.

Ciel finally returned from his thoughts, and he spoke with a small voice. “The boy could do nothing to alter his fate, Sebastian. He was weak and useless and he suffered. He died a miserable death.” He curled in upon himself, his heart resonating with the demon’s story and it pained him so. Ciel was once weak and useless, and he suffered dearly. And he had nearly died, if not for the demon who craved his soul.

The demon frowned, also discontent. He had grown used to his young master enjoying his stories enough to slip into slumber, and now he lay awake with turmoil in his heart. It bothered him, and he told himself it was because he had failed to carry out his order this night. “But the boy had passed away and met his family in Heaven,” Sebastian answered. He would try to allay that distress, and maybe then his young master would be able to retire.

“They were only hallucinations,” Ciel muttered coldly. “Why would anyone from Heaven return to this world of suffering? They would be too happy there to even bother. He died alone, Sebastian.” His gaze lowered. “I shall die alone.” There would be no one to receive Ciel when he dies, for he had also forsaken Heaven and God in exchange for his selfish vengeance.

For a long moment, neither uttered a word. The silence was deafening, and Ciel wondered if he was alone even now. But as his gaze rose in search for his servant, the demon touched his cheek with such tenderness that it surprised the both of them. “How could you forget, Young Master, that I am your servant? As per our Contract, I shall be by your side until the very end. You shall not die alone.”

Ciel had never seen such a sincere expression on his servant before, and he would have been hesitant to accept it if he did not need this supposed illusion now. He was still very much a child and he had weaknesses in his heart that he would never admit to. But this one would not last long, not when he was comforted by the thought of never dying alone, even if it were a demon to see him off. He pulled away from Sebastian’s comforting hand, and he gazed up at his servant, expectant.

“Tell me another story, so I may forget this one.”

The demon smiled and complied. He would continue to tell him tale after tale, for he had many due to his long, long life. And he would continue to sit by his young master’s side until the very end.