I disappeared for a while. I didn’t mean to be gone for as long as I was, but I needed time to brood, and Damian needed time to sulk, and, well, if we were brooding and sulking together, that just wouldn’t work. So I took a month off. Part of it I spent in the mountains, part in the arctic. The landscape mattered less to me than the thoughts that circled around my head.
I had a son. My son was Damian. All I wanted was to raise him to rule by my side, but I couldn’t tell him the truth. I was stuck.
It wasn’t that I hadn’t tried; I had, and I had pictured it countless other times, but I just… couldn’t. Damian seemed so upset about finding out that he had demon blood in him, and I couldn’t bear for him to hate me after finding out just whose it was. Sure, he had hated me before, but that was for what I had done. Hating me for what I was - for what I was to him - would be so much worse, especially when he had finally begun to warm up to me again.
No, I couldn’t tell him, and I thought I might just hide away until I could. I wondered idly if maybe he was thinking about me, curious as to where I’d gone off to.
It bordered on five weeks by the time I returned to Maryland to find the house and inhabitants much like I left them. Taryn’s ribs were almost healed, and she had regained most of her strength and mobility. Mrs. Grant still waited on the teenagers hand and foot, which was refreshing, for it meant that the ring’s effects didn’t wear off by time or proximity.
All that had changed was the new level of distrust in Taryn’s eyes as she looked up at me. Of course, I had never felt especially welcomed by her, but, perhaps due to her injured state, I didn’t feel that she hated me as much as might have seemed reasonable. Now, however, something dark had developed in her gaze. I was usually a fan of the dark, but this didn’t seem to bode well for me.
“You’re back,” she said flatly when I walked into the kitchen.
“I am,” I replied, a little redundantly. I was only vaguely aware of my mildly disheveled state - my hair having gone several days without a wash and my clothes dirtier and more ragged than I would’ve liked. I glanced around the room. “Where’s Damian?”
Taryn gave a shrug that betrayed everything. “The Nether, probably.”
I tilted my head. “Has he been going down there often?”
“He’s been trying recently. Just now managed to go down and come back in a timely fashion.” There was an edge to her voice as she said this.
“That bothers you, doesn’t it?” I half questioned, half observed. “His shadow abilities.”
Taryn scowled at me, her hair falling into her eyes. I could see now that it was several shades lighter than Damian’s. “What’s it to you?”
I thought about that. “Nothing really.” There was an awkward silence for a moment, then I clapped my hands. “Well, it’s been a nice chat, but I need to speak to your brother, so I’ll just be goi-“
With a swirl of shadows, the brother in question was deposited in the corner of the room. I turned to him placidly. “Speak of the devil,” I muttered. “Hello, Damian.”
I was prepared for questions about my absence. I was even prepared for a little concern, or maybe suspicion. What I was not prepared for was being slammed against the wall by an arm of shadows that pinned me there, or tried to. I waved them away, and they, of course, obeyed me over him. “What the hell?” I demanded.
Damian was fuming as he advanced, stepping close to me, almost nose to nose. “How could you not tell me?”
I imagine I would’ve paled a shade if it was blood that ran through my veins. Not out of fear, but more… trepidation. “Tell you what?” I asked, feigning innocence.
“You know what,” Damian spat. His hair had grown longer in the past few weeks; it was well to chin length now. His eyes seemed darker than before. Perhaps all that shadow practice was changing him. “I just had a chat with Sirio. He thought I knew.”
My tongue darted out to lick my lips in a rare display of nervousness. This should be easy. This shouldn’t have affected me as much as it did. “I didn’t tell you because I thought you’d hate me.”
“I do hate you!” Damian shot back, his breath hot on my face. “That’s not an excuse!”
“I know it’s not!” I shouted, despite the fact that we were inches apart. “I know it’s not an excuse, and I know you hate me, but I thought… I thought we had something good here. You were finally starting to trust me, and I didn’t want to ruin that.” My tone was hard, sharp, and betrayed far too much honesty.
“You ruined that by disappearing for a month without a word,” Damian responded coldly. “You don’t think I had a right to know this?”
“I tried to tell you,” I protested. “Really, I did. But you were so disgusted by the thought of having demon blood in you that I couldn’t very well tell you that it was mine and think that would help.” There was a gasp from Taryn, who I’d honestly forgotten was there.
Damian’s eyes flicked back and forth between mine, his brow creased in a mask of anger. “I still deserved to know,” he said quietly.
“You did. You do. I’m sorry,” I tried. “I came here to tell you now, but it looks like Sirio got to you first, as usual.”
Taking a step back, Damian ran a hand through his hair pensively. “I’m not sure I accept your apology.”
I ignored how my stomach twisted a little at that. That was fair. “Why’d you go see Sirio in the first place? It’s worse for him if there’s no company. He loves to talk… to manipulate.”
“He’s not the only one,” Damian muttered. “I wanted to tell him that I knew it was him behind my parents’ deaths.”
“What did he say about that?” I asked a little too quickly. If Sirio told Damian that I, by a chain of events that I had initiated, was responsible for his parents dying, there would be no recovering our relationship, and I knew it.
Damian looked up at me, scowling. “That I should ask you about it.”
What followed was perhaps the best acting job I had ever done. “Why? I don’t know anything about it. I hadn’t had any contact with him in over two centuries; at least not until a few months ago.”
His eyes narrowed, but eventually, he seemed to believe me. “I don’t know.”
“I’m telling you, all he does is manipulate people. He feeds people lies to drive them apart,” I said, taking a step forward. “We’ve had good times, Damian. We’ve done great things. We can do more. I’d still like you to work with me, if you still will.”
Damian was quiet for a minute. “Was it a lie that you’re my father?”
There was no avoiding that one. “No.”
Damian nodded, as if I had just confirmed more than his question held. When he spoke again, it was quiet, somber, and almost apologetic. “I’d like you to release me from my shadow promise.”
It was all playing out exactly as I had feared. Still, I had no choice. Refusal would only serve to drive Damian farther away. “Are you sure?”
There was a flicker of hesitation that I almost missed, but then Damian nodded. “Yes.”
“Very well,” I sighed. “You’re released.”
“Is that all it takes?”
I smiled sadly, without any real feeling. “There was never a promise beyond your word. It was fake. Nothing would’ve happened if you had broken it, though I would’ve felt considerably betrayed.”
Damian’s brow creased further. “You mean that was just another way of manipulating me?”
I gave a humorless laugh. “I guess I really am no better than my brother, am I?”
“No worse, either.”
That was a small comfort.
“Well,” I said, “I guess there’s no point in me sticking around. I have some world domination to engage in…” Alone. “Have a nice life.” I took one last look at Damian. He wouldn’t meet my eyes. I nodded to Taryn, who sat in silent shock, then slipped into the Nether, far away from Sirio.
I could go anywhere. The world was my oyster, as they say, and I could do anything, have anything I wanted. Anything except for the one thing, the one person, I was denied. I looked down at the ring on my finger. I had lusted after it for so long, but now that it was mine, the victory felt empty, hollow. I had the power I’d always wanted, but didn’t have the companionship I’d never known I needed.
Standing in the gray expanse of empty space, I came to a resolution.
I was done with feelings. I was done getting attached, and I was done with sentimentality. I was a demon, after all; it was time I started acting like one. No remorse, no conscience, no pity. The world wasn’t my oyster, the world was just mine, and I would have it how I liked.
No more humans would infiltrate my life. No one would. Damian wasn’t my son. Sirio wasn’t my brother. I was alone, and that was a good thing. I was powerful alone. I was strong and in absolute control. I didn’t need anyone else. I was Baxel. My name would be spoken about in legends, in tales of terror. It would go down in history in whatever form I decreed, because I was in charge now.
And this time, no human would get under my skin. No one would stop me, and no one would rule by my side. (Well, except for my dog, but, again, for dramatic reasons, he was left out of the count.)
The shadows bore me up to the surface without effort, and I drew them around me in a cloud of darkness. Shadows swirled and whipped at my fingertips, and darkness stained my eyes, bled into my lips. I turned to the onlookers who stood, frozen in terror at my appearance on the city street. My lips split, revealing my teeth like a pearly white gash through skin and into bone across my face. They curled into a grin and a wild hunger leapt into my eyes as I gazed into those staring at m in horror.
I had only one thing to say, but it carried with it a weight like nothing ever had before. The single word sprang from my lips in a maniacal whisper that somehow echoed across the block, striking into the ears of even those who couldn’t see me. Even without the ring, the command would’ve done its job.
It was all that needed to be said.