Remain. [NaNoWriMo '16]

[Sequel to NaNo '15 novel Run.] Ruling the world isn't as easy or as fun as it sounds, especially not when a group of angry angels are thrown into the mix. What's worse is that Baxel is without his right-hand man, who just so happens to be the key to everyone's plans.

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8. Seven: They Both Hold Grudges

 

    Damian swore he lay there for hours, but eventually the pain in his body ebbed to a slow throb. The shadows felt like they were seeping into him, integrating into his body and healing him from the inside. Damian tried to move his hand, and after a second’s delay, his finger twitched. 

    From there, it was just a matter of waiting until the rest of his body followed suit, and, at long last, Damian was able to push himself up into a sitting position. His face, arms, and neck were laced with cuts from the sharp sand, but at least he was alive. If Samyaza hadn’t had that light dagger, Damian could’ve taken them all easily. As it was, he had no idea that the dagger could shoot light like that; he wouldn’t be caught off guard again. 

    When Damian could stand, he was disappointed to see that whatever the shadows had done to him hadn’t healed the wound in his leg. It still twinged when he put pressure on it, but it was no worse than before. Now that he could move and focus, Damian willed the shadows to take him back to where he had entered the Nether, and from there he returned to Earth, both eager and afraid to know how much time had passed. Whether they would still have time to stop the angels from returning to Earth was uncertain, especially since there would undoubtedly be more of them by the time Damian and Baxel caught up. That was, if Baxel could even come.

    Damian appeared in the room of the sorcerer who had performed Sathariel’s spell, but it wasn’t as he remembered. Furniture was broken up and strewn across the room, shards of glass littered the floor, and a trail of blood led to the sobbing woman in the corner. Damian held no sympathy for her. 

    “Where’s Baxel?” he demanded. 

    “He left,” she choked out.

    Damian didn’t stick around to chat with her. Instead, he headed outside, following the trail of destruction that he knew led to Baxel. The woman’s mailbox was smashed in, then the windows on each of the cars along the street were shattered. A few blocks over, Damian found Baxel slumped on the sidewalk, his fists covered in black blood and his head hung. He was resting against a brick wall, and those who passed and recognized him as their Demon Overlord were quick to scurry along. Even Mr. Skullcrusher looked dejected, laying with his head on his paws.

    “Hey,” Damian said, approaching with caution. Baxel’s head snapped up. 

    “Damian,” he greeted almost in surprise. “It’s been almost three hours. I was sure you were dead.”

    Damian shrugged, sitting down beside him. “Nope. Here I am.” 

    For the briefest of seconds, Damian thought Baxel was going to hug him. But then the look on his face was gone, and the moment had passed. But that wasn’t the strangest part. The weirdest thing was that Damian couldn’t tell if he was relieved or disappointed. 

    

—[]—

 

    I almost hugged him there. I had wanted to for a brief moment before I realized what I was, who I was. Perhaps this lack of shadows was making me weak in more ways than one. I quickly scolded myself and wiped the thought from my mind. “Well. Good. I… I might need you.”

    Damian quirked a brow. “You? Need me?” he echoed. “You, the almighty, the all powerful, the demon overlord with the most powerful ring ever created, need me?” There was derision in his voice, and I didn’t know why. This wasn’t the usual sarcasm that went with many of Damian’s words; it was different. It was like I had stumbled upon some trigger and fallen face first into the pit below. 

    “Yes,” I said. “Trust me, I wouldn’t ask if I had any other option.”

    Scoffing, Damian turned away. “Oh, I’ll trust you on that one.”

    I narrowed my eyes at him, my eyes flicking over the shallow cuts on his skin. “Is something wrong?” 

    Damian still wasn’t looking my way. “Samyaza says hello.”

    If I had a heart as such, it would’ve stopped cold. “Samyaza. Now that’s a name I haven’t heard in centuries.”

    “Well, he certainly seemed to remember you,” Damian snapped. “After all, you’re ‘old friends,’ right?”

    I bit back a laugh. “Hardly. Samyaza was the closest thing I ever had to an arch enemy.”

    Damian swallowed, his eyes falling to study the broken cement of the sidewalk. “Yeah, well. He’s free.”

    “He got away?” I wasn’t surprised. Damian was good, and he had certainly gotten better with shadow magic, but I wouldn’t pit him up against Samyaza even if Samyaza had no more powers than the average human.     

    “Yeah. He shot me with light from that dagger thing,” Damian replied, scowling like the very thought pissed him off. “I should’ve seen it coming.”

    I waved that away, not wanting to tell him that I didn’t think he could’ve won that fight even if he had. “Are you hurt?”

    Damian shook his head. “Other than these cuts and the leg thing, no. It just paralyzed me for a long time, but, I don’t know, I think the shadows healed me. It was weird.” 

    “You know the shadows in the Nether attack light. They probably drove it out of your system.”

    For a moment, Damian was quiet in thought. “Then why hasn’t it attacked me yet? I still have light blood, even if I’m half dark.”

    I shrugged. “How do you know it hasn’t? Just slowly, gradually, too subtle for you to notice.”

    This idea brought a frown to Damian’s face, and I regretted what I had said. I didn’t want him to become afraid of the Nether, afraid to be fully corrupted by the dark. But he said nothing more about it, instead changing the subject. “So what do we do now? If we combine the time we were passed out with the time I was in the Nether-“

    “We’re out of time. They’ll be on earth within the hour.”

    We both fell silent after that, individually contemplating what that would mean. Angels loose on earth again - angels who were banished for a reason. 

    “What’s our next move?” Damian asked eventually, breaking the silence. 

    The sun was beginning to set behind the buildings of the town, and I kept my gaze fixed on it as I leaned my head back against the wall behind me. “I don’t know,” I admitted. “I don’t know.”

    For a minute I sat there in my own misery and self pity, bemoaning my loss of the shadows, letting the fact that I had no plan anymore wash over me like some kind of strange, reckless comfort. 

    “Baxel,” Damian snapped, and I looked over to find his eyes on me. “Whatever this is, you need to snap out of it. You said you need me, but I might need you too. You can’t do this now.”

    Damian’s face was grim and serious, and I was suddenly struck by how little he looked like a teenager anymore. He was a man now, with a strong chin, jaded eyes, and, well, still the emo hair that he’d had before. But even so, he cut a different figure now. Damian couldn’t be mistaken for a boy anymore, and I felt a joint sense of pride and loss. 

    “Okay,” I agreed. 

    He nodded once. “I need to get cleaned up. Let’s find a hotel or something.”

    Damian stood, and I followed without thinking, Mr. Skullcrusher on my heels. He led the way to a Best Western down the road, and I didn’t protest as he walked up and asked for a room. The receptionist asked for payment and was about to comment about the dog, but then she caught a glimpse of me and balked. I looked at her, tired, and said, “Just give us the best room for free. And don’t say a word about the dog.”

    She complied, as they all did, and soon we were ushered into a suite with two king sized beds and fluffy pillows. I perched on the edge of one of them and stared out the window at the falling night. Usually, I would feel the shadows growing stronger at this time of day. But now, I felt nothing. Or perhaps I felt everything a little too much.

    Dimly, I acknowledge the sound of the shower start in the bathroom. All alone in that large room, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. My anger from earlier had gone, and now all that was left was loss and emptiness that I didn’t know how to replace. I had never needed to replace the shadows; they had always just been there. I had taken them for granted.

    If I ever got them back, I swore never to do so again. 

 

—[]—

 

    Damian emerged from the shower amidst a cloud of steam, vowing never to take hot water for granted again. After laying in that stiff position in the cold dark of the Nether, being warm and clean and wrapped in a fluffy hotel robe was heaven. For a little while, Damian lingered in the bathroom, staring at his reflection in the mirror, evaluating his injuries, and just plain delaying facing Baxel. 

    He was strange, Baxel. Which didn’t come as a surprise, exactly, considering that he had never been normal from the start, but even so. Damian wasn’t sure why, but he felt the sudden need to be gentle with the demon, to treat him as porcelain that could break at the slightest provocation. But he was being foolish. Whatever was wrong with Baxel, whatever was up with his shadows didn’t change who he was. He was a demon. And, besides, since when did Damian worry about hurting Baxel’s feelings?

    Damian stepped out of the bathroom to find Baxel staring out the window in the exact position he had left him. “What are you looking at?” he asked. 

    “Nothing,” Baxel said, turning around like he was emerging from some trance. He scooted back on the bed until his back was pressed against the pillows by the headboard. In that moment, he looked softer, more human, than Damian had ever seen him before. It was strange, to say the least. 

    Damian mirrored his position on his own bed, and for a long minute, they just sat there, staring at a black TV screen and not talking. 

    “I’m not connected to the shadows anymore,” Baxel blurted into the silence. 

    Damian turned his way. “What?”

    “The shadows. It wasn’t just that I was drained,” Baxel explained, his eyes fixed on a spot on his comforter. “They’re gone. They don’t obey me anymore.” He paused. “They don’t trust me.”

    It took a second for Damian to understand what he was saying. Baxel hadn’t been able to go into the Nether because the shadows had rejected him. It hadn’t been Damian’s lack of strength after all. Everything became clear, then. Baxel’s strange mood, his anger, his… softness. To even imagine losing the shadows made Damian immensely uncomfortable, but for Baxel it had to be millions of times worse. He had been one with the shadows since his birth countless years ago. Having that ripped away from him had to hurt worse than losing the love of your life. After all, this was a connection that stretched back hundreds of lifetimes.

    “Maybe we can get them back,” Damian offered slowly. “Get them to trust you again.”

    Baxel looked over, hope in his gaze. “You’ll help me?”

    Damian almost said yes, but then hesitated. Samyaza’s voice rang in his ears. Baxel does nothing that is not a manipulation. “I didn’t say that.”

    “You said ‘we’,” Baxel pointed out. “Damian, please. If not as my son, then as my friend.”

    He trusts no one but himself. “Since when are we friends?”

    “The offer has always been there,” Baxel promised. The red of his skin looked like blood against the snow white sheets, the black of his hair like inky poison that spread around him. “All you have to do is accept.”

    Every word out of his mouth is a lie. Damian swallowed. “Why should I trust you?”

    “When have I ever let you down? Betrayed you?” Baxel’s face was more expressive than usual, his dark brows drawn together, his eyes wide and staring. 

    He does not care for you, and he never will. “You almost killed my sister, you used me as a distraction while putting her in harm’s way, and you didn’t even tell me that you were my father. I had to find out from the angel that killed him,” Damian shot back. “Is that not ‘letting me down’?” 

    “I’m sorry for what I did to your sister, alright?” Baxel replied. “But that was ages ago, and I made sure she was okay afterwards. And I didn’t tell you that I was your father because I knew that you wouldn’t like it. I never wanted you to hate me.”

    Damian’s jaw clenched. “I don’t have to do this. I don’t have to help you get the shadows back,” he said. “And if I didn’t, the world might be a better place. You wouldn’t be able to terrorize people the same way you do now. You wouldn’t be able to stop someone from taking the ring - someone who could help fix the world you ruined.” Baxel’s face hardened, and Damian pushed on. “You ruined the world, Baxel. Do you know how many people you, personally, are responsible for killing? Why would I ever return to you the power that let you do it?”

    “Because you need me,” Baxel replied, his tone flat. “I wish it was because you trusted me, but it seems like you’ll never do that-“

    “You’ve never given me a reason to.”

    “I’m trying, Damian!” Baxel snapped, raising his voice. “I’ve been trying since the day I decided that after years of being alone, I didn’t want to be anymore. Since I decided that I wanted someone to trust and I wanted it to be you. I’ve been trying. So hard.” He shook his head in frustration. “But do you know how hard it is to go from being a demon who’s done whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted for centuries to not being a monster?”

    Damian was quiet. He didn’t have anything to say, and Baxel wasn’t done.

    “I’m a monster. I know that. And I liked who I was, but it’s time for that to change, and I know it. It’s a lonely life, with everyone hating you. I don’t want to be that person anymore.” Baxel dropped his voice, letting out a breath. “But I can’t turn it off overnight. I know that you don’t trust me. And I know that I haven’t exactly been the best person, especially when it comes to you, but do you know how many people I’ve killed since I took power? I could count them on one hand. If I’d gotten the ring thirty years ago, half the population would be dead by now.”

    “But what about the wars you let happen? The famines?”

    “Maybe I wouldn’t have let them happen if you didn’t run off on me,” Baxel shot back. 

    Damian scowled. “Don’t put that on me.”

    “I’m not. I’m just…” Baxel shook his head. “You’re going to leave me one day,” he stated. “If not because you choose to, then because you die. And if you leave me without shadows, I wouldn’t be able to bear it. How many people do you think I’ll kill then?”

    Damian was conflicted. To give a demon his power back seemed to violate every moral bone in Damian’s body, but at the same time, Baxel was right. Beyond all of that stuff about trust and trying to change, at the heart of the matter was the fact that Damian did need Baxel. Without his shadows, Baxel’s only value was his possession of the ring. He was nearly powerless, and if a group of criminal angels were now roaming the earth, Damian couldn’t fight this fight alone. 

    “Okay,” Damian agreed. “Fine. I’ll help you get the shadows back, if I can.”

    A look of such pure relief washed over Baxel’s face that Damian almost wondered if the loss of the shadows hadn’t changed Baxel’s very nature. “Thank you, Damian. Thank you.”

    “But you have to promise to stop manipulating me. I know you’ll probably keep doing it to other people out of habit, but please,” Damian said, “if you ever want me to trust you, you can’t manipulate me.”

    Baxel smiled a little, the soft expression looking out of place on his face. “I’ve been trying to stop that for months now.”

    Damian didn’t reply to that because he didn’t know how. “Well, we’ll work on that first thing in the morning, then.”

    “You must be tired.”

    Nodding, Damian replied, “Yeah. But not too tired to ask why those angels were locked up in the Nether. You said it’s a long story, but I need to hear the whole thing.”

    Baxel agreed, pushing the dark hair from his face. “Yes, you do.”

    Reclined on his bed, Damian felt almost like he was being read a bedtime story as Baxel began, “It was a long, long time ago. I honestly lost count of just how long. But it doesn’t really matter. Anyway, back when the angels still interacted with humans, there was this group sent down to watch over the humans, aptly dubbed ‘The Watchers.’ They were supposed to guide humanity, serve as an extension of God’s will. 

    “Well, The Watchers began to spend more and more time among the humans, and they started to see the beauty of their ways, but not in the way God wanted. They became overcome with lust for human women, and one day it became too much. They decided to rebel, led by Samyaza.” Baxel swallowed, closing his eyes. Damian’s threatened to do the same. 

    “They slept with human women, impregnated them and created the Nephilim, half angel, half human hybrids. But they didn’t stop there. They started to teach humanity things - things that they would’ve figured out eventually, but they did it all at once. Some of it was fairly innocent, but some of it wasn’t. They taught them the arts of war, weaponry, astrology. They introduced cosmetics and mirrors that led to vanity. They effectively corrupted the human race. 

    “So God was like, ‘the fuck did you do to my precious humans’ and he banished The Watchers to the Nether, chained them up there, but that wasn’t enough. Their children, the Nephilim, were reputed to be giants, but they were really just tall and strong. Either way, they were causing destruction, following in their fathers’ footsteps. And, besides, humanity had already been corrupted,” Baxel explained, his tone steady and almost soothing. “So he sent Gabriel to warn Noah, then he sent the flood.”

    “I wasn’t there for the flood. I hid in the Nether until it had passed, but I saw the aftermath. Almost all of earth was wiped clean of human life, but somewhere, a few Nephilim survived. Seeing what following their fathers had done, they turned their backs on the light magic that they practiced, and decided to focus on their human sides and develop energy magic. You’re one of their descendants.”

    Damian cracked an eye open. “You mean one of The Watchers is my ancestor?”

    Baxel nodded. “Yes. Though your angel blood is probably pretty diluted by now. The fact that you can practice light magic at all is unique, since those secrets have been lost since the first Nephilim. Sirio was never one for teaching.”

    “How’d he survive the flood?”

    Baxel shrugged. “He’s annoyingly hard to kill. I never asked.”

    Silence fell, and Damian tried to sort out the story and what it meant for them. If The Watchers were now free to walk among humans again - a race that they had all but destroyed once before… Well, it was a little too heavy for his exhausted brain to contemplate. “Thanks for telling me. That’s a lot to think on.” 

    “Yes,” Baxel agreed. “You should get some rest.”

    Damian nodded, resting his head back against the pillow. He reached out with his shadows and flicked the light off. 

    “Show off,” Baxel muttered, but he didn’t sound as bitter as he might have earlier. There was a moment of silence before Baxel whispered, “I’m sorry I failed you today. If I had been able to go into the Nether, we could’ve stopped them-“

    “Keep apologizing and I’m going to think that spell really messed up your brain,” Damian warned. 

    There was a pause. “I suppose losing the shadows has… affected me more than I thought.”

    “It’s kind of a welcome change,” Damian admitted, the words coming easier in the darkness. “Goodnight.”

    “Goodnight, Damian.”

    Damian closed his eyes, falling asleep in the same room as a demon and not thinking twice about it.

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