It was ironic, or perhaps coincidental, or maybe just plain good timing that right as Damian was losing hope that Baxel would find him in time to hear about Sirio’s plan, a small, weirdly shaped creature just appeared in his room. When Damian stepped out of the bathroom and his eyes landed on the little green imp, he stumbled back and very nearly let out a noise of surprise before it said urgently, “Don’t speak!”
Damian’s eyes were wide. He blinked at it in askance.
“Come sit on the bench and act like I’m not here,” the creature said.
Damian considered fighting the thing. He could definitely take it, and perhaps he would have, if he wasn’t clinging so desperately to the hope that someone or something would come and break him out of here. If this was that thing, well… so be it.
After taking a seat as casually as he could, Damian waited for the creature to talk again.
“Hello!” it said cheerily, bouncing on the balls of its feet. “My name’s Ted. I’m an imp. Baxel sent me!” he said, all in one quick stream of words. Damian perked up at that last bit. Perhaps Baxel was going to break him out after all. “He says you’re gonna be my new best friend if I just help you out of this sticky little spot you’re in, and you seem really nice so I’m glad I found you after all!” Ted jabbered on. “I’m an imp, so when I don’t wanna be seen or heard, I’m not. Cool, huh? I sense you’re being watched, so I’m just going to pop out and tell Baxel where you are. I’ll be back in a split, though, don’t worry! I wouldn’t leave my new best friend here all alone, now would I?”
Damian blinked and he was gone.
Okay, yes I know that I might have… carefully omitted sections of my account. I’m aware. It was done all in your best interests, I promise. After all, I’m a storyteller at heart, and I wanted to make sure you guys got a good story. If I told you everything, where would the fun be?
So remember when Nybbas came to visit me in my kitchen? Well, let me go from there.
“Nybbas, you’re here,” I said. “Did you find him?”
Nybbas looked at me with wide eyes. “I’m sorry, Baxel,” was all he said.
…Except that wasn’t all he said.
“I really enjoyed having you as my best friend,” Nybbas went on, “But it seems that time is over. I have a new best friend now and he’s human and really cool, and I’m so sorry, but this was your idea, after all, so I guess I don’t feel too bad-“
“Wait,” I said, interrupting Nybbas’s rambling. “Wait, are you saying you did find him?”
“Oh, yes, of course! I had motivation, you see,” Nybbas said proudly.
If I had a heart, it would’ve been pounding. With tension, not excitement. I promise. “Well, that’s great! Where is he?”
“Somewhere you’ll never get in,” Nybbas said dismissively.
“But you got in?”
“Of course I did. And I can get in again, too. I told him I’d come back for him with a message from you, so what do you want me to say?”
I thought fast. “Nybbas… imps can create illusions, right?”
“Please, we’re the masters of illusion. I wouldn’t be able to do half the pranks I pull without them,” Nybbas replied, his little chest puffed out. “Why?”
“I have an idea.”
Aaaand, back to Damian. He sat alone in that bright room, waiting for the weird little imp to come back and wondering if this meant he wasn’t actually going to go with Sirio to steal the ring. Some part of him was disappointed about that fact. As much as he wanted to get away from the angel, Damian secretly thought that Sirio had a better chance of getting past whatever safeguards that were in place than Baxel did. For all his faults, Sirio was organized whereas Baxel had somehow allowed Damian to be kidnapped in the first place.
The imp appeared out of thin air, startling Damian yet again.
“Hi, friend!” Ted said happily. He walked over on thin, wiry legs. “You and Baxel are just going to go have a quick chat, but don’t worry, I’ll keep your seat warm. See you soon!”
Ted reached out and placed a leathery palm against Damian’s knee and the next thing he knew, he was in an apartment somewhere.
“Damian!” I said, emerging from the shadows with a wide grin on my face. “See, I told you I’d break you out.”
Damian blinked. “No, you didn’t…”
I shrugged. “Whatever, I’ll tell you it when I send you back in, then.”
“What?” Damian asked in surprise. “You’re sending me back?”
I nodded. “Well, yeah. We can’t have poor Nybbas in there pretending to be you forever. He’ll get tired and his illusion will start to slip.”
“Oh,” Damian answered. “He’s kind of weird.”
I shrugged. “Weird, but useful. Also, you’re his best friend now, just so you know.” Before Damian could ask, Baxel moved on. “Okay, well, we don’t have much time, so here’s the plan.”
“We have a plan?”
I gave him a look. “We always have a plan.” I clapped my hands. “Okay, here it is: I’m going to send you back to Sirio in-” I looked at my watch. “-seven minutes. Then, you’re going to pretend to be his perfect little apprentice or whatever he’s making you do-“
“I already am,” Damian said proudly.
Inclining my head with a bit of surprise, I kept talking, “Good, you’re ahead of the game then. Anyway, you’re going to somehow get yourself included on the mission to get the ring-“
“I already am,” Damian said again.
This time, I paused. “You’re worryingly good at this. You didn’t betray me, did you? You aren’t actually working for him?” Until that point, it hadn’t occurred to me to ask.
Damian shook his head. “Do I look like I was eaten by shadows?”
I cocked my head. “You are looking a little pale.”
Scowling at me, Damian replied, “No, I didn’t betray you. I just figured my best shot of getting out of there was by playing nice.”
“And you’re not planning on betraying me, right?”
Damian’s face darkened noticeably. “Not with him.”
I studied him. “Why do I get the feeling there’s something you’re not saying?”
“He killed my parents,” Damian said flatly. “I don’t know if he doesn’t remember or doesn’t know I saw, but it was him. There’s no way in hell I’ll ever help him willingly.”
Perfect. Perfect. “Ah,” I replied knowingly. “That’s fair.”
“I mean, you’re not on much better standing, but…” Damian began.
“Hey, I haven’t killed anyone you love yet.”
I waved my hand dismissively. “Anyway, back to the plan. You’re going to go with him to get the ring, and once you get to wherever it is, you’re going to signal me through the shadows and I’ll come intercept, you’ll betray him, give me the ring, and I’ll go heal your sister. Got it?”
“Well, sure, but some of that is a little unnecessary,” Damian said.
I nodded in agreement, “Yeah, your sister can wait until after we take over the world.”
Damian shot me a glare. “That’s not the part I meant.”
“I don’t need to signal you through the shadows,” Damian said. “I’ve got the location right here.” He pointed down at his feet.
I blinked. “I don’t think the ring is hidden in these floorboards, but I could be wrong…”
“Not in the floorboards,” Damian replied, kneeling down to unlace his shoe. He handed it to me.
“The ring is in your shoe?” I asked. I sniffed it tentatively. It smelled like something had crawled up in there and died.
Damian rolled his eyes and flipped the shoe on its side in my hands. He pointed to numbers etched into the rubber. “The coordinates of the ring.”
My eyes grew wide. “How did you get these?”
Damian grinned. “I told you. I’m good.”
Slowly, my grin spread to match his. The plan was pure perfection, and it was going swimmingly.