Do you remember when I said I was the only demon on earth? Well, that might have been a bit of a lie. Ok, that was a blatant lie. There was one other demon who hadn’t gone off with the others to wherever they’d gotten to, although I liked to pretend he didn’t exist. I wish he didn’t. Unfortunately, I was looking right at him. And the crocodile he was riding. (That’s not a euphemism, he was actually riding a crocodile.)
“Agares,” I said, and he yanked on the crocodile’s reigns to turn to face me.
“Baxel,” he hissed. “What are you doing here?”
I put my hands in my pockets and paced around the stone cave. The firelight was low, but flickered high enough to grant the hoard of treasure piled from floor to ceiling a glittering gold light. I surveyed the stash. “Have you been collecting?”
“What’s it to you?” Agares snapped, crossing his withered, wrinkly arms. In doing so, he pinned his silver beard to his chest and had to yank it out with a jerk of his chin. “What do you want?”
Agares rolled his eyes. “That’s what they all want. I’m not teaching you another language, Baxel. I’m busy.”
“With what?” I asked, looking around.
Agares’s eyes darted away shiftily. “…things.”
“Sure, sure,” I said. Agares glared at me, but I didn’t feel threatened in the slightest, not only because he was an old man riding a crocodile, but also because he was one of the least harmful demons I’d ever met. His self-proclaimed specialty was teaching people different languages. Though, of course, the catch was that he would only teach them curse words. Oh, and he guarded treasure. Terrifying skills right there. I was shaking in my fine Italian-leather shoes.
“Listen,” I said, “Let me just ask what I need to ask and then get out of here.”
“Did you sleep with a woman eighteen years ago?”
Agares laughed in my face. “Is this some sort of joke?”
I scowled. “No.”
“Look at me, Baxel. What woman would sleep with me?” Agares asked. It was true. He was a short, squat, and disturbingly saggy little man.
“I thought maybe in your other form…”
Agares had the unnerving ability to either take the form of an old man riding a crocodile or a beautiful young woman. Why he favored the man, I’d never know.
The other demon thought about it. “While I have been known to…experiment in that form, I can’t be certain whether I did eighteen years ago or not. You know how strangely time passes when you’re immortal.”
It was true. I hadn’t the slightest clue what I was doing eighteen years before. “Okay, well let me ask you this: if you did sleep with a woman in your woman form - and I don’t need the details here - but would it be possible to get her pregnant?”
Agares scowled at me, but shook his head. “Atdırmaq, no.”
Shit. Or should I say, sūdi. “Okay, last question. Have you heard of any other demons coming back to earth recently?”
“I don’t think so. Not demons,” Agares replied.
“What do you mean? You’ve heard of other things?”
Agares looked around the cave, not meeting my yes. “I hear things.”
“Elaborate,” I told him.
“No,” Agares said, shaking this head. “They’re rumors anyway, and I’ve told you enough for one day. I don’t know of any other demons besides you and I. That’s all, good day, please leave now.”
“Agares, tell me-“
Agares’s eyes flashed. “Go home.”
I looked around, surprised to find myself in the living room of Mrs. Grant’s house. I cursed. I’d forgotten that one of Agares’s other weird specialties was sending people who’ve strayed back to their homes. Talk about useless abilities, I used to think.
“Uh, how’d you do that? The shadows didn’t move,” Damian spoke up from the couch. I hadn’t realized he was there.
I looked down at him. “Not important.”
I flopped into the armchair, scowling. I could feel Damian’s eyes still on me. “Where’d you go?”
“If I’m going to be your right hand man, you better start telling me things,” Damian commented nonchalantly.
My head snapped up. “What?”
Suddenly unsure, Damian replied, “That is, if that offer still stands…”
“It does,” I said. “I just honestly didn’t think you’d take it.”
Damian gave a little shrug. “Don’t expect me to be your mindless slave or anything, but yeah. I mean, someone has to keep you in check with that ring. I still do care a little bit about the human race, you know, and who else would ever take that job?”
Slowly, my face broke into a genuine smile. I offered my hand. “Welcome to the team.”
“Is it really a team if it’s only you and me?” Damian asked, raising a brow as he accepted the handshake.
“Well there’s Mr. Skullcrusher, too,” I pointed out. “And your best friend.”
“My- Oh, right. Ted.”
I smiled. “Yes, Ted.”
Damian held up a finger. “One more thing.”
“You’re not allowed to order me around with that ring,” Damian stipulated.
I cocked my head. “Oh, I’m not? Go make me a sandwich.”
Nothing happened. I frowned, not feeling the warm glow of the ring that had come with my ordering of Mrs. Grant. “Go make me a sandwich,” I tried again. Still nothing.
“Why isn’t it working?” Damian asked.
And then it hit me; Damian had a strong mix of magical blood. Maybe that git Venti was right when he claimed that the ring could only control people with a majority of mortal blood. Damian was too magical. “You’re not mortal enough,” I muttered, deep in thought.
Damian scowled. For a long minute we were silent, letting that sink in. “Well, at least you get your wish,” I said eventually. Damian looked angry or hurt or some other emotion I couldn’t place. “You ok?”
“I have Dark blood,” Damian muttered, his eyes downcast. After a beat, he looked at me. “How can I have Dark blood? Does Taryn?”
I had a quick debate with myself on whether or not to tell him what Sirio had told me. I settled on, “I don’t know.” If I managed to figure out who his father was, perhaps I would tell him then. “Taryn doesn’t.”
“If you don't know, how can you be so sure?” Damian asked, his eyes narrowing.
“She was affected by the Nether,” I answered quickly. “You weren’t.”
Damian accepted that, but didn’t seem happy about it. He pushed himself off then couch and headed for the door. “I’m taking a walk. A lot to think about.”
I watched him go, but didn’t follow. I had a lot to think about too.