“I swear to God,” Damian professed, “I’ll be the one to end you.”
I laughed, which, surprisingly enough, didn’t seem to help his mood. “Swearing to God can’t get you out of this. You swore to me. And that, my friend, is binding,” I said, grinning. Damian lost a bit of his bravado. “Besides, you claim that I tricked you? Do you mean to say that if you’d have known she was going to come back like… this,” I said, waving vaguely to her lifeless form, “that you would’ve said ‘Screw it’ and left her there?”
Damian looked down at his sister, his expression changing infinitesimally. He knew I was right. I knew I was right.
“We both know you would’ve done anything to get her out of there, even if she’d have already gone insane, so don’t claim that I tricked you.” I folded my arms, only to pull out my hand and hold up a finger. “Actually, just don’t say it in those words. I much prefer ‘manipulated’ or ‘threatened.’ Even ‘forced.’ Those are more accurate.”
Damian was still glaring. Really, you would have thought his face would’ve gotten tired by then. “You are the worst creature to walk the face of this earth,” he declared with an authority that he absolutely couldn’t possess.
We stood in silence for a moment, the only sounds breaking the stillness of the night being the cars on some far off street. Not even wind disrupted the vile air in the alleyway, which was truly a shame. Wind did magnificent things to this cloak.
Slowly, Damian’s anger seemed to dim. I’m sure he was still seething on the inside, but he must have realized, rather correctly, that he had much bigger things to worry about. “What’s wrong with her?” he asked quietly after a few minutes had passed.
I looked down at him. “The shadows rule the Nether. They make up the very substance of that realm, and they will, inevitably, take over anything or anyone that enters it. That is, unless you are one with the shadows yourself, like me.” I figured I was going to have to teach him this eventually, why not hit the ground running?
“As you know,” I continued, “most sorcerers these days are a mix of mortal and Light blood. That usually gives them about a minute. Mortal blood is notoriously easy to corrupt, so a full-fledged mortal would last maybe thirty seconds. Light blood, however, provides a little more of a challenge. The more you have, the longer you last.”
There was a pause. “That doesn’t answer my question,” Damian said with a scowl, still looking down at his sister. He brushed a hair out of her face and shifted his hand to better cradle her head.
“Oh, right,” I replied. “What’s wrong with her? Uh, I don’t really know if there’s a name for it… I’ll just make up one then. Shadow poisoning. She’s got shadow poisoning. The shadows have seeped into her blood, and since her body isn’t equipped to handle them, she’s simply ceased to function. She’s still alive though, so that’s a plus. I guess.”
“How do I cure her?” Damian asked, his tone grim but determined. I knew he would do anything, and that was the genius of my plan.
“You have to learn to control the shadows,” I answered, smiling slightly in the darkness. “Once you can do that, you can force them out of her.”
To be fair, I had absolutely no idea if he could actually learn to control shadows. After all, it seemed logically impossible given that he was a mix of Light and mortal. Even so, I figured he might as well give it a shot. After all, Sirio told me to get him on our side, but that wasn’t exactly my goal. I wanted him exclusively on mine. That way, when the time came, I could be assured of his loyalty to me over Sirio. But that’s getting ahead of myself.
“Why can’t you just do it?” Damian demanded. “You’re the one who put her in this state.”
I opened my mouth to say something different, but instead what came out was, “So you’re acknowledging that I’m the most powerful, suave, intimidating, and good-looking guy you’ve ever met, and I’m the only one capable of fixing your sister?” Seriously, I meant to say something far more serious and impartial but my voice box slipped. It was an accident.
Damian gritted his teeth. “Yes, that’s what I’m saying.”
“… Oh, Powerful One.”
“Oh, Powerful One,” he added on with the utmost reluctance.
“Ooh! Wait! ‘Oh, Bane of Mortals.’ Yes, I like that better,” I amended.
The look of concentration on Damian’s face seemed to imply that he was using every ounce of his willpower to prevent himself from exploding on the spot. “Oh, Bane of Mortals,” he ground out.
“Are you going to cure her or not?” he interrupted.
“Now, now. Is that any way to speak to person doing you a favor?”
Damian’s free hand formed a fist. “You’re not a person.”
“Fix her,” he demanded. I looked at him, and he sighed. “Please.” I couldn’t help it. I laughed. Damian stared at me for a second before asking, “Why are you laughing?”
“Listen to yourself!” I responded, gesturing flippantly with a hand. “You can’t seriously think it’d be that easy. Just say please and the soft-hearted demon is just going to bend to your will? Hardly.” I could see the hope abandon Damian’s eyes faster than a shitty father upon realizing his son was a demo- Ahem. “You said it yourself, kid. I made her like this.” I waved a hand, gesturing vaguely to her body. “This is my fault. Why the hell would I fix her? Just because you asked me to?”
Damian opened his mouth to say something, but I cut him off.
“No, listen. I’m a demon. You got it right. I’m not a person. I may have a killer sense of humor, but at the end of the day, I’m only one part of that. A killer,” I said, my voice taking on a seriousness that had been absent for a while now. “You’re going to have to get used to that, and to take it into account. I can’t have you believing that everyone else has sympathy to appeal to. That’s the easy way out. Not everyone has that weakness, and, yes, it is a weakness.” A weakness I’d break him of soon enough.
I pushed away from the wall and moved to stand in the middle of the alley, the streetlights behind me casting my shadow over Damian and his sister. I couldn’t help but acknowledge how the dark suited Damian. His dark hair blended into the black night, leaving his eyes as two glowing spots. The shadows filled in the contours of his face, making him look sharp, angular, fierce. Damian looked like he belonged in the dark.
“Before I go, let me warn you of something. As you must have realized, those promises you made are worth a little more than a pinky swear, and if you break them, I do a little worse than breaking your pinky. Well, actually, the shadows do. Since I’m making names for things today, I’m going to call that a shadow promise that we completed. You swore your loyalty to me and whatever else, and should you break any of those promises, the shadows will overtake your body, but they won’t drive you mad. No, you’ll be perfectly aware and forced to watch as they use you as a weapon and set about systematically killing everyone you’ve ever come in contact with.” My eyes pointedly drifted down to Taryn. I raised a brow. “Think on that before you go about trying to kill me.”
Damian’s jaw tightened, and his scowl deepened. He seemed like the type to get no rest until he found a loophole, so I dearly hoped there weren’t any. I was no lawyer; I could’ve made a mistake. Write those terms down, I instructed myself. That sounded like a good idea.
“Your time with me starts tomorrow at midnight. Make whatever arrangements you feel that you must for your sister, but don’t plan on returning to her any time soon, and you may not under any circumstances give any details on what happened, how she got that way, or where you’re going for the foreseeable future. Don’t burn any bridges with those gits, though. I want you to stay on their good side, understand? That’s an order.” Damian didn’t meet my eyes, but I knew he understood.
“Good talk,” I muttered sarcastically. “Be at 349 Kestler St. tomorrow at midnight. Don’t mind the blood on the mat.”
I spun dramatically, letting my cloak swirl out behind me in a glorious arch, then strode down the length of the alley and out onto the empty sidewalk. The moment I was out of Damian’s view, I slipped into the Nether, then back into my house. I could have, of course, done that right there in the alley, but, let’s be real, my exit was so much more badass.
Mr. Skullcrusher came trotting up to me, bumping his snout into my leg. Kneeling, I scratched behind his ears. “Tomorrow, we’re getting company, Skull. And you and I are going to have so much fun.”