“See, I’m a really nice guy to bring you here. That’s an honor that very few mortals ever get,” I said, smiling. “You’re really lucky.”
Damian had moved back to his sister’s side. They both looked pale, as if the blood was slowly draining from their body. I knew it wasn’t. Something much worse was happening. “What is this place?” the boy asked, and, to his credit, his voice shook only a little.
“The Nether,” I replied cheerfully. “One minute down here for most sorcerers is enough for the shadows to seep into the core of their being and drive them bat shit insane.” Casually, I checked my watch. “Got about fifty seconds left, I’d wager.”
Panic was beginning to creep into the eyes of the two teenagers in front of me, though their masks of calm were impressive. The eyes always gave it away. I snapped my fingers, sending a wall of shadows into Damian’s back, shoving him forward and into my reach. My hand closed on his arm and, before he could react, we were on the surface again, this time in a darkened alley.
“Let me go,” Damian growled, jerking his arm away. I let him. He jerked his head around, scanning the alley. “Where’s my sister?” he demanded.
“The Nether,” I replied.
I held up a hand. “You have about forty seconds until she goes insane, so I’d suggest skipping the protesting part.” He shut up. “I’ll make this as brief and simple as possible. I need a new minion, an apprentice, if you will. For reasons I won’t get into, I’ve chosen you. As you might imagine, this isn’t exactly a choice on your part, hence the situation you’re in. Now, you can either agree to join me, - swear your undying loyalty and train under me - or your sister is going to suffer a fate worse than death. You have,” I checked my watch, “oh, twenty five seconds to decide?”
For a brief moment, Damian’s face was a blank mask of surprise and panic. I could practically see the wheels turning in his head as he processed my request. Or demand, rather. Another second passed. “Okay! Okay, fine, just go get my sister.”
“Not so fast,” I said, and sent a stream of shadows to slice across both his palm and mine. Damian gave a little cry of surprise, but was silent when I pressed our hands together, the black of my blood darkening the red of his. “Do you swear to be loyal to me for life?”
He hesitated. I looked at my watch. “Fifteen seconds,” I said.
“Yes,” Damian replied through gritted teeth.
“Do you swear not to attempt to double cross, cheat, or otherwise betray me?”
“Do you swear not to share anything I teach or tell you with anyone else unless you have my permission?” I spoke so fast my words almost blended together, but not quite.
Damian looked like he wanted to murder someone. Probably me. “Yes.”
“Oh my god, just get my sister already!”
I raised a brow smoothly. “Arguing is wasting time. Last one. Do you swear not to sabotage me or any of my genius plans from within?”
I nodded, letting go of his hand. “Awesome, welcome to the team.”
I wiped my hand, still sticky with our combined blood, on my jeans. Perks of having black jeans and black blood. I felt my cut heal up, and, quite honestly, I didn’t care about Damian’s. Speaking of the boy, he currently looked either outrageously furious or sick. Maybe both. “Get my sister,” he demanded, and I didn’t even bother to take offense at his sass. Things were going too perfectly; everything was according to plan.
Snapping my fingers, I said, “Right.” The shadows bore me down into the Nether where Taryn kneeled on the ground, her head hung and shoulders hunched as if an indescribable weight pressed down on her back. I clasped her shoulder, and together we returned to Damian.
“Taryn!” Damian shouted as I let go of her and she fell listlessly to the ground. He placed a hand under her neck and lifted her head off of the grimy alley pavement. When she didn’t respond to his gentle attempts to wake her, Damian looked at me in accusation. “I thought you made it in time.”
“I did,” I replied simply.
“Then why isn’t she waking up?” he demanded.
I shrugged, leaning nonchalantly against the wall. “I said it takes a minute for people to go mad, not that you’d escape unharmed if you were only down there for fifty nine seconds. It’s not like the shadows have a stopwatch and are just like, ‘Hold on. Haaaaang on,’” I raised my hand dramatically, raising my other to look at my watch. “‘Okay, it’s been fifty five seconds. Five, four, three, two, one…. get her!’” I finished with a flair. “Doesn’t work like that, kid.”
This time, there was no mistaking the flash of fury in Damian’s eyes for sickness.
“You make me sick,” he spat.
“You’re a monster, you know that? You led me on; you tricked me! She didn’t do anything to you; she had nothing to do with this!” Damian shouted in outrage, his eyes wet with angry tears that he was valiantly trying to hold back. “I hate you. I hate you, and there’s no way in hell I’m ever helping you with anything.”
Damian looked down at his sister, then back up at me. This time, when he spoke, there was a sense of finality to his words - a weight that I didn’t expect from a teenager. Not that I found it in any way intimidating, but still. Commendable, maybe. “I swear to God, I’ll be the one to end you.”