I knew where the ring was. Don’t ask me how; I won’t tell you. At least not now, anyway. All in good time, my friends. And no, don’t protest either; this is my story, and I’ll tell it how I want to. Let's just say a little birdie told me.
Now, since I knew where the ring was, all I needed to do was figure out how to get it exactly. That same birdie told me that there were protective measures installed to prevent, well, people like me from waltzing in and taking the ring. What those measures were, however, happened to be where that little bird brain of his got fuzzy. Which is to say he didn’t know.
What I did know was that Sirio was bound to be making his way there any time now, and I had to beat him, obstacles or not. It was time I showed him who was the dominant brother here. By the end of this, he would be kneeling at my feet, begging me to let him serve me. I just knew it. I could just feel it.
I could also feel it when it was time. That time happened to be four fifty three in the afternoon. I chose my beautifully tailored black suit for the occasion, complete with a black dress shirt and tie to match my skin. I wasn’t really the suit type, but if I was going to go toe to toe with Sirio, I was going to look my best. Plus, I might not favor suits as a general rule, but damn, can I pull them off.
Before I left, I leveled a look at Mr. Skullcrusher. “If I don’t come back, the place is yours,” I said. His eyes seemed to tell me not to go. Ok, that’s a lie. He just looked vaguely hungry and a little confused. But it was good enough. “Don’t worry. I’ll be back in time to feed you.”
Closing my eyes, I took a deep breath. Well. This was it.
The Nether was calm, as usual. It’s not like very many exciting things happened down there. I could honestly say that it was only interesting whenever I visited. Granted, I was the only one who visited, but still. I didn’t have any time to waste. If I was going to beat Sirio, it was going to be now. I scanned the shadows of the world, narrowing my scope from continent to country to city to castle. Why there was a castle in Canada, I didn’t know, but I ended up there in a heartbeat.
Canada. Of course it was Canada. I didn’t know how I’d missed that on my own; after all, it was the most illogical place to hide a weapon with massive amounts of power, which made it the best. I mean, come on, when looking for something called the “Bane of Mortals” with the power to cripple the human race, you might think it’d be in the hands of the Russians, or the Germans, or the Chinese, or, on a good day, maybe even the Americans, but Canadians? Ha. It was genius, really.
I felt for the shadows within the building, but it was like hitting a wall. They were blocked to me completely, but it wasn’t the same as if the entire inside of the building had been filled with light. It was different; some sort of warding that kept me from connecting with the shadows inside. For all I knew, Sirio was in there already. I headed for the door.
The castle was random. I know that might sound like a weird way to describe a castle, but it was the truth. The bricks were an off shade of grayish yellow, and the whole thing was laid out rather weirdly. It was as if you’d taken the classic princess’s castle, chopped it in half horizontally, and laid the bottom out behind the top. I’m aware that probably made no sense, so picture it like this: the spires and fancy shit of the front facade of a traditional Disney princess castle only attached to a warehouse made of stone stretching out from the back. Make sense? Eh, whether it does or not, I don’t really care. The important part was that I had to get all the way to the back. Or at least that’s what my gut told me. My gut and the little birdie were in league, so I figured I was right.
When I reached the front entrance, I paused. This was a big deal. I was closer than I had ever been to the infamous Bane of Mortals - my lifelong dream. For once, what had always been a long shot was actually achievable. I could almost taste the victory. I pushed the door open and stepped in.
The force of the warding hit me like a tidal wave, nearly knocking the air from my lungs. I felt my grasp on the shadows loosen; I felt them slip away no matter how hard I tried to hold on. When they were gone, I was overwhelmed with an incredible sense of emptiness. I sagged against the wooden double doors. The shadows and I were so intertwined in every fiber of my being that to be without them felt like someone had ripped out most of my internal organs. As you might imagine, it wasn’t that pleasant.
Slowly, I pushed myself away from the door and stood upright. I was okay. I was completely functional, and I could do this. Predictably, what lay in front of me was a long hallway, no doubt rigged with traps every step of the way, and I was powerless.
Well, not entirely powerless. I still had my wit, and my wit told me one thing: even random castles like these had ventilation. And I was the master of air ducts.
“Let’s do this,” I said to myself, spying the vent up near the top of the wall. It was too high for me to reach, and I didn’t have the shadows to give me a lift this time. But that wasn’t going to deter me. Nothing was. I was getting that ring and shoving it in Sirio’s stupid face.
I carefully approach the wall, lightly pressing with my toe on the carpet before I took each step. There were holes lining the walls below the air vent, but I ventured to guess that they weren’t foot holds. They probably had arrows or some archaic weaponry in them. I wondered if they even still worked not that I was about to find out.
I flipped up the carpet, causing a cloud of dust to rise up and sting my eyes. Crouching, I covered my mouth until it died down, then eyed the stones underneath. There was one row that seemed slightly raised, so I took a chance and walked forward, stepping over that single row, which I assumed were pressure sensitive triggers. Nothing happened; no arrows shot at me or poison gas sprayed at my face. Letting out a breath, I put two fingers into one of the holes in the wall and my toe into another. Hoisting myself up as quickly as possible, I got a hold of the air vent and ripped it right off the wall. I might have been a little out of shape, but I at least had enough upper arm strength to flail my way into the air vent.
Once I was in there, I was golden. I army crawled through the tin tube, trying to make as little noise as possible while still moving as fast as I could. It was difficult, but I was doing fine and making good time until about halfway down the corridor. There, a pouch jutted off the wall to my left, and it seemed filled with some nefarious looking green substance. The pouch was connected to a series of tubes that ran down through the wall. I wasn’t eager to find out what they held.
Turning on my side, I slowly, carefully, squeezed past the weird wall-pimple, making certain that I didn’t touch it. As soon as my foot cleared, I let out the breath I’d been holding and turned back on my stomach, ready to go the final distance. And that’s when I heard it.
The hissing sound got louder, and when I turned back to look, I was confronted with a half-dissolved shoe-lace and a steam of green rising from where my stray lace had apparently punctured the bulbous, delicate form of the pouch. The vaporous gas was headed my way.
I crawled like no one had ever crawled before. Screw the noise; all I was worried about was speed. Apparently, my valiant efforts weren’t good enough. I felt an itching at my ankle and risked a moment to glance back. The vapor was over taking my feet, causing my expensive leather shoes to bubble and contort.
I could only imagine that was what was going to happen to my skin.
Of course, being a demon like I was, there weren’t very many things that could kill me permanently. Nevertheless, there were things that could put me down for a good, long nap, or cause me endless amounts of pain and frustration. This, I guessed, was one of the latter.
Ignoring the creeping discomfort in my feet, I kept going, wishing more than ever that I had shadows to help me along. But maybe this was all part of the test. After what seemed like an eternity, I managed to pull ahead, and I could see the end of the shaft in sight. Light streamed up from a vent not five feet away from me. I covered the final distance, then pushed the vent down without taking the time to look in. The vapor had mostly dissipated, but I wasn’t taking any chances. I slipped down the hole, landing hard on my already hurting feet.
It took me a minute of heavy breathing to compose myself, and then I looked up. Sirio and Damian stood in front of me with a box sitting, closed, on a pedestal. Damian stood slightly behind Sirio and wouldn’t meet my eyes. After the brief spark of surprise faded from his face, my brother smiled. “Nice of you to join us, Baxel - an inconspicuous entrance as always. You’re just in time to watch me take the ring you’ve been working so hard to get. Now, Damian, my friend, will you do the honors?”
Damian smiled at Sirio and reached for the box.