The damp, cavernous corridor was filled with emptiness, its darkness beckoning any who came near it. A sweltering heat choked the air, adding a delirious feel to the voices calling from just out of reach. Isolde strode confidently through the dim hallway, her footsteps echoing down the empty hall.
This place is a hellhole, she thought to herself. Though it was, she conceded, literally Hell. A bitter anger tugged at her gut, a latent sensation from her years as a human. Hell shouldn’t be this, well, hellish. Not for her kind anyway. But a decade of battle with Abaddon’s army of Hell-borns had taken that sense of free reign away. A semblance of safety was all that was to be had by General Lilith’s army of formerly human demons. Still, Abaddon’s grunts would have a bitch of a time storming Lilith’s Castle Fortress of Doom.
Gleefully, Isolde raked her sharp, cone-like nails along the stone walls of the corridor. She relished in the disjunct squeal of hard, dead flesh against rough stone. It was so much like a scream. She grinned, her viciously pointed teeth pinching her lips.
Continuing down the corridor, Isolde pondered what this summons from her general was about. She had not seen Lilith since she had been appointed Captain of the Human Guard. Cringing, Isolde hoped she was not about to be verbally bitch-slapped in front of Lilith’s entire guard. The situation with the humans wasn’t going very well. But that was hardly her fault. Some creatures just couldn’t be contained. That she well knew.
Isolde summoned back up her usual confidence, determined to never let Lilith see her weak. With renewed vigor, she headed toward the end of the hall. The swaying of her chestnut hair, tied back into an unkempt ponytail, slowed as she neared the large black double doors that blocked her entry into Lilith’s office. After a quick pat down of her leather armor bearing Lilith’s sigil, Isolde pushed open the dungeon-like doors and sauntered into the room.
Lilith stood motionless in front of her old, smoke-tarnished desk. Her long blonde hair hanging stock-straight on either side of her face. Pointed ears poked out from beneath the sheer curtain. Everything about demons was prickly and sharp, Isolde noted with amusement. Lilith watched her through red, malice-filled eyes, but something else flashed in them that Isolde couldn’t identify. Isolde bowed before her superior.
“You called for me, General?” Isolde asked, a bitter edge escaping her tight leash. She tried to look contrite, but Lilith shook her head.
“Save your apologies,” Lilith replied. “Such groveling is for humans.”
Isolde gave a firm nod. She itched to ask what Lilith had summoned her for, but knew another step out of line would not be so tolerated.
“Our armies— mine and Abaddon’s— have been at a bloody stalemate for too long,” Lilith began. “We’ve tortured them, murdered them, and left their blood flooding the streets.” Isolde grinned, relishing the thought of such carnage. She yearned for the taste of blood laced with fear.
“But they,” Lilith continued, snapping Isolde out of her thoughts. “Have done the same to us. Neither one of us have succeeded in claiming Hell as our own. Even with our ability to replenish our ranks faster, we still fight for total control.”
“We’ve won the last few battles,” replied Isolde. “That’s hardly a stalemate, if you ask me. General.”
Lilith smiled a predatory smile. “You’ve been topside for too long, Captain Isolde. For every one of those battles, Abaddon’s army has now won another. The Hell-borns have caused nothing but death in extreme scales on both sides in battles that neither of us could claim as a victory. Believe me, they have not been and will not be kept down.”
“But, we were winning,” Isolde said lamely. “We’d have won by now if it weren’t for the humans suddenly acting up.”
“Yes, the humans are acting up,” Lilith said. “The very humans who have been under our control for centuries are now suddenly fighting back just as Abaddon’s Hell-born army is beginning to gain ground. Care to explain that, Captain?”
“They’ve learned their own tricks,” Isolde said, a cold resentment burning in her gut. “They know how to kill us.”
Lilith smiled, but pure fury shown in her eyes. “That information was lost to them centuries ago. And yet, they now possess it. Why do you think that is?”
Isolde pondered this for a moment and thought of only one word: traitor. There was a traitor among them. Isolde snarled.
Lilith smiled again. “Ah, yes. Now you understand. Someone in my army has become a turncoat, running to Abaddon’s cold, unforgiving arms. Of course, I am far more unforgiving. Which brings me to why I summoned you here, Captain.”
“You want me to… find the traitor?” Isolde asked skeptically. “I’m not a bounty hunter.”
“Of course not,” replied Lilith coolly. “At any rate, we’ve already found the traitor. We’ve looked him up and eked out all the information we can from him.”
“Then what exactly is it you need me to do? Sounds like the job’s already done.”
“I need you to perform the execution.”
Isolde frowned in confusion. “Why me?”
“There’s no one else I’d rather have do it,” said Lilith vaguely. Isolde opened her mouth to question her general further, but was interrupted. “I wanted to wait to tell you your reward, but I can see you’d benefit from hearing it now. You know, of course, as one of my captains I have been following your career. I’ve seen your strength in leadership, the way you command and persuade a crowd. I’ve also seen how lethal you are in battle. I’ve decided that warrants promotion. I want you on my personal guard.”
“Really?” screeched Isolde in excitement. “It is an honor, Gen—“
“Of course,” interrupted Lilith. “You will have to take care of the prisoner first.”
“Absolutely! I’ll do it right away!”
“Wonderful,” replied Lilith, a delightfully vicious grin plastered across her face. She quickly summoned a few of her guard to escort Isolde to the prisoner’s hold.
“Right in here,” said one of the leather-clad guardsmen, directing her to a cell. Screams pierced the chilly air, as the guard unlocked the cell door to admit her.
“When I come back out, I’ll be one of you,” Isolde bragged to the guard before she headed inside. The guard slammed the door in response. Shrugging, Isolde turned to the prisoner.
His head lolled on his shoulder, as though merely holding it up would take effort. His arms were held up in iron chains, burns marking his wrists from the toxic substance. Every one of his claw-like nails had been ripped out, leaving behind only crusty blood stains. As he gazed up slowly at her, she saw that his fanged teeth had been filed down to round stubs and his eyes were bloodshot. His red-rimmed eyes stared directly into hers. Her own blood froze over. It couldn’t be…
The prisoner laughed, a raspy sound from both screaming and lack of use. Smiling weakly, he spoke to her.
“Hey, baby. It’s been a while.”
Isolde stretched out on the creaky mattress, her chestnut hair splaying haphazardly across the pillow. She fiddled absentmindedly with her knife, as she watched Baz pace back and forth across their motel room.
“You’re going to wear a hole in their lovely carpet,” she teased him. Baz stopped only to give her a sardonic look. “Come on, babe. Just, sit down or something. You’re stressing me out.”
“I’m stressing you out?” he asked in disbelief, as he sat down on the bed beside her. He ran a hand through his perpetually messy black hair. “Not the incredibly shady woman who just offered us the world, as long as we only take jobs from her?”
“Hey, everyone on the Dark Web is shady,” replied Isolde. “We’re shady.”
“Yeah, but this is a whole new level of shady,” Baz insisted. “You’re really not worried about accepting her offer at all?”
“Sure, at first I was a little skeptical,” she admitted. “But honestly, it’s too good to pass up. Don’t you want out of these dingy motels?”
“Yeah, but an assassin’s guild?” Baz said. “A secret lair? Sounds too good to be true, baby. And what kind of jobs would we have to take? What if it’s outside our job description?”
Isolde laughed. “Nothing’s outside our job description, Baz. I’m telling you, you’re worried about nothing. We’re talking about a place we can call home. Doesn’t that mean something to you?”
“Honestly, not much. I’m more of a who-you’re-with than where-you-are kinda guy.”
He smiled before continuing. “And it’s not like it’s free. We have to give a portion of what we earn to her.”
“Yeah, Baz, that’s called rent,” Isolde teased.
“Seriously,” he replied.
“Seriously think of all the money we’ll get to keep,” she argued. “Money is one of our favorite things.” Although, that wasn’t strictly true. Baz loved money. That just wasn’t what drew her to the business of a paid assassin. It was the fear she instilled in her victims. It was the power in knowing she could continue or end any life in the room if she chose. It was the high in watching the light go out of someone’s eyes, matched only by the high of a good fuck. Killing and fucking went hand in hand, as far as she was concerned. It was all just carnal desire.
Baz, naturally, saw through this. “You don’t love money.”
“No, but I love you,” she replied. It was her final ploy to convince Baz to agree to the woman’s deal, but it was also the truth. It was why, as much as she wanted this, she refused to do it without him. They were a team.
“I love you too,” he replied. “But I just don’t—“
She interrupted him the good, old-fashioned way. With a kiss. Though he stiffened at first, clearly wanting to return to his point, he quickly submitted. It didn’t take long before they were under the sheets, a sweaty heap of touches and moans. Afterwards, she lay quietly in his toned arms as he stroked her hair.
“Isolde, you’re going to Hell in a handbasket,” he said.
“Please,” she scoffed. “I’m going in a Bugatti Veyron or not at all.”
He chuckled and hugged her tighter. “All right,” he said with finality. Even coming off her sex high, Isolde knew that meant she won.
The following day, she and Baz had contacted the woman again and signed their contracts. Little did they know they had signed their souls away to become minions in Lilith’s army. The vision of that assassin’s keep came in the form of Lilith’s stronghold. Isolde had never found out who that woman— clearly a demon in disguise— had been. Still, she threw herself into her work as a demon, feeling more like herself in this form than she had as a human.
As for her and Baz, they had initially been in the same infantry, but over time were promoted to leaders of other sects. Isolde had gone to the Human Guard and Baz had joined the ranks of the Masters of the Fledglings, training the newly-minted demons for demonhood. She hadn’t seen Baz in years, and now, here he was in front of her, torn and beaten and set up for slaughter. By her.
“What? Nothing to say?” Baz teased, his voice scratching out of his throat. “That’s unlike you. Or have you forgotten who I am, while you’ve been busy being so important and all?”
“Baz,” she breathed.
“She remembers,” he said. “So. Go ahead and ask.”
“How could you?” she demanded, though her authoritative tone had chosen this moment to flee. “How could you betray Lilith? All of us? Me?”
Baz actually looked surprised. “What?” Clearly that had not been what he was expecting her to ask. But why not? That was what all this was about, what it had been about since they’d been turned. “You don’t… you don’t know.”
“Don’t know what?” Isolde cried, her inner commander finding her again. “I know that you betrayed secrets to Abaddon about the humans to bolster his army. I know that has only prevented us the victory that we should have won a long time ago. I know that you turned your back on me, your general, and your entire kind!”
“Isolde, I have never— could never— turn my back on you,” Baz said, his demonic eyes shining a little too human. Really, too much about him was human since he had been mutilated. He looked too much like the boy she loved. “It’s Lilith that can’t be trusted.”
“We’re demons,” replied Isolde scathingly. “Who out of us can really be trusted? All we have is a common goal.”
“You don’t understand,” Baz pleaded. “Lilith did this to us. She took away our lives, everything that made us human and turned us into these… monsters.”
“Lilith didn’t,” replied Isolde. “We did. We may not have known what we’d become, but we knew what we were getting into.”
“She manipulated and used us,” Baz said. “We’re nothing more than cannon-fodder to her.”
“Baz,” said Isolde, her voice softening a fraction. Baz seized the advantage.
“She doesn’t care what happens to us,” Baz explained. “She just wants to own us, use up until we break. But you, you’re a threat. You haven’t broken and she needs you to. Why else do you think she sent you of everyone in her army to kill me? But we can stop her— you can stop her.”
Isolde stood stalk-still, Baz’s words settling into her mind and body. Of course Lilith wanted to break her like a horse. That was why she bound her with a contract. That was why she sent Isolde to kill Baz. Because Lilith knew what Baz had meant to her, what it would mean if she actually murdered him. She couldn’t stop her body from shaking with a very human rage.
“You see?” said Baz. “She deserves to lose this war. She deserves whatever punishment Abaddon has coming her way. Because she wants to make you her pet monster. I couldn’t let that happen.”
“You really did all this for me?” Isolde asked. She felt empty, but for a strange buzzing in her chest. That must’ve been where she kept her Baz.
“Of course I did, Isolde,” Baz replied. “Everything I’ve ever done was for you.”
For the first time since she entered Baz’s cell, Isolde smiled. She watched Baz sag with relief, as though he wasn’t sure he could convince her. She knelt down in front of him. His hands reflexively tried to reach for her.
“Then you’ve never known me at all,” she whispered, cold contempt in her throat. Baz’s eyes widened as she pulled back her hand. She thrust her barbed thumb forward and slashed it across his throat.
Isolde sat wordlessly in the ornate chair in front of Lilith’s desk, the demon woman smiling gleefully at her from across the surface.
“Well done, Isolde,” she said. “I must confess, I was not sure you could go through with it.”
“Well, I do always love to flout expectations,” Isolde replied. “I take it I’ve earned my promotion?”
“Of course,” replied Lilith. “I shall summon the guard and we’ll begin the ceremony.” Lilith walked gracefully to the heavy, black doors that marked her domain and let herself out. “I do love a challenge,” she purred, before shutting the doors behind her.
Isolde looked at her claw, still dripping with Baz’s blood. Gingerly, she licked the side. It tasted sour and burned. He may have loved her once, but he didn’t understand her. Well, not entirely.
His words rung in her head. She wants to own you. But Isolde would not be owned, not by anyone. She would bide her time, playing Lilith’s dutiful guardian. But she would not be kept. Not by Lilith, not by Abaddon, not by anyone. And at the end of it all, Hell would drown in the chaos of her making. And she would just laugh.
Thanks for reading my story! I originally wrote this for a short story writing class back in 2015. It was, in part, inspired by Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas. While the story itself is different, the character Isolde was based on Celaena and Manon. I think I did a good job making her my own.
The title was taken from lyrics from “Control” by Halsey. It’s a mix of the lines “I’m bigger than these bones” and “Who is in control.”
I did make a few changes to this story since 2015, namely Isolde and Baz’s confrontation and Isolde’s takeaway from it. The original version had some contradictions and made Isolde a softer character than I wanted her to be. I think these changes make the story stronger.
Plus, I had to change Isolde and Baz’s names, which were originally Manon and Kaz.
I’ve considered expanding this story into a full-length novel, but I haven’t worked out how I’d do that yet. I’d definitely do more world-building, especially in regard to the demon war.
Anyway, please let me know what you think! I’m excited to keep sharing my stories with you guys!