I have included some comments from a reader. I will address the questions and some of the comments in italics.
From a reader:
You're novel, fascinating & original. Though, was wondering, did you get the idea of demon/human dialogue, from the CS Lewis's Screwtape Letters? Regardless, brilliant, and engaging. Betcha, when completed, and polished, it will become a best seller. Thanks. I do like the Screwtape letters.
Have several Q's; unfortunately, will be a few days before I can much detail ('cause, I'm swamped at work).
Though, will quickly make a few points:
1. Really like the way you're weaved the story theme, plot & character development together; especially revealing, with the dialogue between demon & the girl. Thanks!
2. Particularly liked the bath scene; like the (authentic) setting, the description (sets mood), and way the girl (mentally) assessed herself; gives the reader a a good (subtle) sense of her locus of identity, her vulnerability, etc. Precise point and this is something that will potentially be fleshed out more in the final.
3. Very interesting/clever how you discuss her sense of loss of identify, with loss of her hair...the only redeeming characteristic that (she thinks) defined her beauty, given to the demon, as surety for contract. Clear, she's mis-guided, by focusing on the external (hair), whilst the demon is focusing on the internal (acquisition of the soul). The maturity/immaturity of Aksinya is a continuing theme.
4. BTW, I also, like the way you used the 'mirror' to allow her to catch image of herself, and characterize herself. Thanks, excellent observation.
5. Brilliant how you turned the demon into a temporary domesticated helper...getting food, drawing bathwater for her. Almost lulls you into a 'false' sense of sympathy for him, domestically caring for her...though, he makes it clear, what his agenda is, etc. That's exactly the point--we shall see how this plays out.
Must say, I was very surprised, you (the writer) were so straight forward, in having the demon directly suggest she study sorcery. I understand his motive, why, etc.
But, personally, I thought, it was a waste of a great opportunity, to further highlight the demon's cunning, and plumb the depths of the girl's character, and highlight her 1st futile (misguided, toxic) attempt to regain control her destiny, after death of her family; and horrible contract with the demon.
Kindly suggest, you consider unfolding in a more subtle extended manner; gives you a sense of the demons's cunning; perhaps, a dialogue between the girl & demon...
Say, he at the bedroom side of the door, she in the bathroom. She initiates, and engages, in dialogue with him, while concurrently pondering over her current situation, looking at her physical condition, maybe, in the mirror or bath, seeing her physical vulnerability & bruised condition again, & maybe, have a few fleeting thoughts pass through her head...highlighting her state of mind,and emotional vulnerability...maybe, have the conversation trail off....die down...than resume, different cadence, different length of dialogue,e tc.
This is an excellent observation. I thought about doing exactly this, and in the next cut, I may put this more into play. The reason I had the demon suggest sorcery to her is to tempt her to sorcery directly. This will become clear somewhat in this piece, and definitely in the next. It could perhaps be more subtle and I agree with the comments. There is a reason for the demon's suggestion...
The point is, through the dialogue, you (the reader) gets the sense that the demon clearly senses her vulnerability, her desire to control or influence her future...so he begins embarks on a elaborate or scheming dialogue with her which culminates in him (obliquely) suggesting sorcery...not directly upfront...but, rather gets her to crave after it herself....the temptation is planted by him, but, she goes after it....so, it seems like her idea, when really it's an infection from him.. Betcha it would add an interesting dimension, to the character development, and story plot.
6. Liked the way, you had the girl say a prayer, for the food brought....some subtle hint of hope, for redemption of her soul. Yes, maybe the prayer was just an unconscious habit, but, it most certainly was picked up by the demon, irritated him, and he tried to invalidate & smother it with condemnation..gives you a great clue, on the condition of her soul...though not innocent, most certainly redeemable... Again a great observation.
Well, that's a few points of feedback on your latest chapter..
But big picture, probably the two most fascinating themes, I've seen woven into your story, aside from the original 'contract with the demon', was your unfolding of the concept of the 'bounding of the demon', and, your unfolding of the idea of 'choice & consequence' that plays out, with the girl making a deliberate choice of the injury she will gets, through her interaction with the demon....but, she doesn't fully realize the ramifications, of either choice, until afterwards. We will see the demon has more bounds.
The following dialogue was particularly noteworthy:
"You trusted your body and soul to me—you have aligned yourself to a demon. Your soul was harmed, but not your body. I can protect your body, but I can’t protect your soul. You will heal—that is the way with humans.”
As well as the following:
"It already has marked your soul. Such things become like the lustful desires you already know, they are difficult to purge from your heart and mind once they are experienced.”
Alot of truth, to both; especially the second. Ah, the delights of sin are good for a season, but the consequences, can be fore a lifetime, or eternity.
Reminds me of that verse:
"What does it profit a man, if he gains the whole world, but looses his soul." This in some measure is the theme of the novel.
Here is the next installment. It doesn't get to the full endpoint of the temptation, but it moves toward it and gets to the next point--the purpose of the demon and the purpose he wishes for her. Additionally, this tells you why he mentioned sorcery while she was in the bath.
“Now, countess, let us plan what you should do. The first is that you cannot stay here.”
“I have nowhere else to go.”
“Foolish lady, we will soon run out of food to feed you and heat to sustain your puny body.”
“You can provide me all these things…”
“At the expense of your soul.”
“I thought you desired that.”
“And at the expense of my reputation. I told you, I do not wish to become your domestic.”
Aksinya laughed, “You already are.”
“I have pride, that is one of the seven deadly sins, you know.”
“So, if you are my domestic it hurts your pride?” Aksinya continued to chuckle.
“This is not funny. I am Asmodeus. I will not continue this way.”
“What can you do to stop it?”
“I will protect you and I will fulfill our contract, but I can make it exquisitely painful for you to continue in this manner.”
Aksinya’s brow rose, “How could you do that. What suffering could you bring me that I haven’t already experienced?”
“Your people and friends will be pursued by the Bolsheviks. I can bring great suffering to them—that is my purpose.”
Aksinya let her cup fall to the saucer, “You wouldn’t dare. I would simply order you to…”
“I told you. I can’t stop this revolution, and I don’t want to stop it. The lives of your friends and your people are nothing to me. You can order all you wish, but I will protect only you. My purpose, otherwise, is evil. You know this.”
“I understand this,” Aksinya ran her fingers through her short hair. She regretted that as soon as she did it. It reminded her of everything she had done already. Meekly, she whispered, “Then what do you wish me to do.”
“First, I must find you a servant.”
“If so, it must be someone you will not harm.”
Asmodeus grinned, “I have the perfect servant in mind.”
“I told you, you must continue to study sorcery. To do that, you need a safe place to live and work.”
Aksinya mumbled into her teacup, “Where is such a place?”
“There are many such places. I know your mind so I know you have relatives beyond the boarders of this country. They will be willing to take you in and give you leave to live as you wish.”
“You want me to travel?”
“I wish to travel too. There are many places in the world that need more evil. Let us seek such a place.”
“So you can make it like this one?”
“That would not be so safe for you. I’ll settle for a balance of evil as long as you participate in it.”
“I will not do such a thing.”
“You can’t help yourself.”
“Where do you want to take me?”
“In Austria, you have family and acquaintances who will even accept an ugly countess. They hold the aristocracy in honor there and that can become a place for great evil. There is also Germany, but you don’t have any direct relations, and they don’t speak French.”
“What has that got to do with anything?”
“You speak French very well, countess. I must train you up to be an appropriate vessel for evil. You must be able to speak and interact with the people to gain their trust.”
“So you can enact your evil?”
“And you yours. You can improve your German in Austria. I see great things ahead for you there.”
“When do you plan to take this trip, and how do expect to travel with revolution all around us.”
“I could simply carry you.”
“At the expense of my soul.”
“That hasn’t bothered you much in the past, but I intend you to travel by normal means. There is the problem of the servant and of these domestic, human considerations. I don’t want to bother with all your female issues either. I have only had male masters before. They were never such a trial to me.”
Aksinya sputtered, “What if I refuse to go?”
“I told you. I will cause you suffering beyond that which you can bring to me.”
“I cause you to suffer?”
“Your human issues are painful to me. Plus your simple goodness nauseates me.”
“Do I have simple goodness? Do I have any virtue left?”
“Yes, but I will seek to expunge that from you. In time, I shall.”
“By threats and coercion?”
“You will seek evil on your own. I will simply focus your actions so they may provide the most evil. That is my purpose. Now, you will be able to travel tomorrow.”
“How do you know that?”
“You will attempt some healing sorcery tonight. Since I put the thought in your mind, you have thought continually about it. You are already eyeing your books and wondering how you can accomplish it without my knowing. When the desire and the pain becomes uncontrollable in you, you will do it.”
“I am not in pain right now.”
“You are lying.”
“I am lying.”
“You are holding it back well, but since you are clean and fed and have emptied your bladder, the pain has been growing in your legs and thighs. You wish there were something to take care of that pain. You wish me to bring you wine and drugs.”
“I could order you.”
“I would not help you. It would only deaden the pain. I wish you to suffer. That will bring you to compromise yourself. I protect you, I don’t cater to your every whim. Not if they don’t lead to evil. That’s the point, after all.”
“I’ve heard enough. Leave me.”
“Very well. I shall wait outside your room. If you require my help, just call my name. I can aid your sorcery.”
The demon bowed. He backed to the door and stepped out.
Aksinya stared to throw her cup at him, then thought better of that and pitched an empty dish at him. It broke against the door with a satisfactory crash.
There is indeed more that can be done with subtlety. We will find out the demon is both subtle and direct. This is the point of temptation--it is always subtle and direct.