Over the following week, we fell into a routine. I liked routines. They let me know what to expect and when to expect it. As you must have noticed by now, I’m all about the planning.
Every day went like this: We should get up around sundown, eat breakfast, train, argue, degrade each other, train, eat, watch a few episodes of Friends to unwind, then go to sleep. It was a system that worked, and, most importantly, Damian was improving.
I was impressed. Of course, I would never tell him that, but I was. He had progressed far more quickly than I expected. After managing to break the glass on the second day, he shattered the whole cabinet of china with only a little difficulty, getting better as the number of dishes dwindled. By the third day, he could manage thin streams of shadows, making them come together and move at his will. By the fourth, Damian could make them more or less corporeal.
For the final few days, he had merely been practicing what he had managed so far, making his streams stronger, holding them longer. At the end of the week, he could pull the sofa across the room, if he concentrated hard enough. I was starting to think that he might actually have some skill in the shadow department.
Another important part was that Damian was clearly enjoying it. He didn’t have to say it out loud for me to know. I could read it in the look of triumph on his face when he managed to break another dish, or the small smile he got after using shadows to scratch behind Mr. Skullcrusher’s ears. He was enjoying the shadow power, and I knew it.
My plan was working without a hitch until, of course, there was a hitch. That hitch was named Sirio. Let me start from the beginning. Well, actually, I already started from the beginning at the actual beginning of this story, so let me start from the beginning of this… chapter. The beginning of this single chapter in the long epic novel of my life.
I blame the pizza. Now, I enjoy a nice round hunk of dough with some cheese and sauce as much as the next demon, but I can’t help but think that if it hadn’t been for Damian’s craving for pizza, we wouldn’t be in the mess we are now.
“There’s cereal in the fridge,” I said idly as the sun began to sink below the horizon. My eyes were tired from sleep, and I yawned as I poured myself a cup of coffee.
“I can’t live off cereal alone,” Damian grumbled. “Why’s it in the fridge, anyway?”
I didn’t answer. That was a story too complicated for me to explain so early in the night.
“I could really go for a pizza right now,” Damian commented.
On cue, my stomach growled. I was about to say no because that’s just what I do best, but then I pictured the warm, gooey cheese, the savory sauce, the crispy crust… Damn it. “Well, I guess you have been working hard lately. We can order a pizza.” If I was going to give into my stomach, I might as well chalk it up to getting on Damian’s good side through positive reinforcement.
“Sweet,” Damian said, hopping off his chair. “I’ll call.”
Over the past few days, some of the hostility that Damian had been harboring towards me seemed to have died down. I had no doubt that he still hated me with a burning passion, but it had taken the back burner lately. I’m telling you, everything was going exactly as I wanted. I had no doubt that, in time, he would begin to see me as less of an enemy and more of a mentor, and then everything would fall into place.
That was, if it hadn’t been for my prick of a brother. But we’ll get there.
“It’ll be here in fifteen minutes,” Damian said as he hung up. “Wow, that’s fast.”
“Well, when the pizza place is two buildings down…” I pointed out.
“True,” Damian replied, taking a seat at the table again. “So,” he said conversationally, “how do you think my training is going? When will you teach me how to do shields and cut trees in half?”
I looked at him over my coffee mug. “All in good time.”
“Ok, fine. Do you at least have an idea of when this ring-stealing thing is going to happen?”
“Depends on how fast you learn.”
Damian scowled. “How fast do I learn?’
“Seems like reasonably fast to me. I’m not going to rush this, though,” I said. “We only get one shot, and you have no idea how much I want that ring. I’ve waited long enough; I can wait a little longer.”
“Great,” Damian said sarcastically.
“Hey, you should be glad. The longer you’re under my tutelage, the more tricks you’ll learn to impress your friends later on,” I pointed out.
Damian cocked his head. “Wait, you mean you’re going to let me go after this whole thing is over? I’m not bound for life?”
I paused. “I can release you from your promise at any point.” A great deal of tension faded from Damian’s face. “Although,” I continued, “if all goes well and I get the ring, I was planning on making you an offer to be my… right hand man, let’s say.” That seemed to take Damian by surprise. He didn’t say anything, so I gave a half shrug and added, “Just something to think about.”
Damian was quiet for the rest of the time until the pizza came, which I supposed was a good sign. Had I mentioned that proposal a week a go, he would have flat out refused and probably gone off about what a horrible person I was and how he would never in a million years work with me. The shadows and my considerable charisma were doing their job already.
There was a knock at the door. “Pizza’s here,” Damian said needlessly. “I’ll get it.”
As he headed over to the door, I took another sip of coffee and turned on the TV. I heard the door squeak as he opened it, then a horribly familiar voice said, “Delivery for Baxel.”
I was out of my chair in a half a second, but I was only fast enough to catch Sirio grin at me, drop the pizza box, and take hold of Damian’s wrist. “No!” I yelled, sending shadows their way. The light from the hallway flooded in with a flash of brightness, and they were gone. My shadows fell uselessly to the floor. They hadn’t been fast enough this time.
For a moment, I stood there in shock. Sirio had found us. Sirio had Damian. This was bad.
Before I could figure out what to do next, Sirio reappeared in the doorway. Without a second of hesitation, I lunged at him, my hands aiming for his throat, but he twisted away at the last second, then put some distance between us.
“Come now, Baxel. Let’s be civil about this.”
“Where is he? Where did you take him?” I demanded. “Civil my ass, give me back my fr- servant.”
Sirio laced his fingers together and let them fall the waist of his impeccably clean white suit. “He’s somewhere safe, trust me.”
“I don’t trust you at all.”
“How wise of you,” Sirio commented. “I don’t trust you either, which is why I’m here.” He looked straight at me, his light blue eyes piercing and uncomfortable. “You’ve been training him in the art of shadows.”
My eyes narrowed. “You told me to.”
“No, I told you to corrupt him,” Sirio said, “not to train him.”
“My mistake,” I said simply, as innocently as a demon could.
Sirio gave a little laugh and shook his head. “Oh, it was no mistake. For all I say about you behind your back, you’re not stupid, Baxel. You planned to get the boy on your side, and only your side.”
For all I said about my brother behind his back, he wasn’t stupid either. “You never said I couldn’t.”
“Well, I’m saying it now,” Sirio said. “In fact, I think it’s time I try my hand at training the boy. See which one of us he likes better.”
“Then why didn’t you do that from the beginning?”
Sirio shrugged. “I thought there was too much risk. He was young when I killed his parents, but that sort of thing seems to, you know, stick with people. But this has served as a good test. You look just like me, only with hideous skin, so if he didn’t take exception to you, he should be fine with me. He must have forgotten.”
I was getting tired of this conversation. “Where is he?”
“I’m not telling you that, Baxel.”
“I’ll figure it out, don’t worry. How did you find us?” I asked.
Sirio smiled. “I have bugs in places you can’t even begin to imagine.”
My eyes drifted downward, as I said, “Um, too much information.”
Sirio gave a dramatic sigh. “Not actual bugs, you imbecile. Spies. And once I had your location, even your reduced light was enough for me to sense the disturbances in the light. I took a wild guess that you weren’t systematically shattering all of the dishes for fun.”
I glared at him. “I swear I’ll get him back. And once I do, know that there is no way in hell I’m ever working with you. I’ll get this ring on my own.”
“Good,” Sirio replied. “All I needed you for was to test to see if he recognized you. Plus, I mean, if you were willing to do all the work of turning him over to our side, then I wasn’t about to object. You went too far, though. But you’ve served your purpose. We’re done here. Goodbye, Baxel. Good luck getting the ring without the boy.”
“You won’t be able to convert him,” I said, speaking quickly. “He’s loyal to me.”
“Ha, you always were one for a joke,” Sirio said, shaking his head. “Oh, and Baxel? I was never going to let you help me get the ring. I just knew you’d be gullible enough to go for it.” I clenched my fists and sent spikes of shadows hurtling towards Sirio, but he was gone.
He was gone, Damian was gone, and I was alone. (Well, Mr. Skullcrusher was there, but for dramatic reasons I’m going to leave him out of the headcount. )
I was completely alone.