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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3. Two: For the Good of the World

    The Nether was nice this time of year. It was cold and dark and silent, just like I liked it. The shadows welcomed me home and followed in my wake, making me feel truly powerful - ironically more powerful than I felt on Earth with the whole of the human race under my thumb. 

    I knew where in the Nether I wanted to go, and the shadows graciously bore me there. The thick bars of the cage I’d erected around my brother stood firm, and he was his normal crumpled self inside. Tired, grumpy, Heavily Salted, but there.

    “Hey, bro. How’s it going?” I asked cheerfully, leaning casually against the bars. 

    Sirio glared at me. “What do you want, Baxel? Can’t you just leave me here to wallow in peace?”

    “Now, that’s not a healthy attitude to have about imprisonment,” I scolded. “Remember, act happy, be happy.”

    “I am personally going to rip your skin from your body one square inch at a time.”

    I raised a brow. “You’ve been down here for how long? And that’s the best you came up with?” 

    Sirio’s gaze darkened. He shifted, and I caught a glimpse of the hand that was half hidden in the folds of his clothes. 

    “Nice appendage you got there,” I commented. “Black and gnarled is coming back in style, I hear.”

    The knotted fingers on Sirio’s black hand clenched, but he hid it quickly. “This is your fault.”

    “I know. I’m proud of it,” I replied. I knew his hand would grow back after Taryn cut it and the ring off, but to have the shadows contaminate the process so thoroughly? Well, that was just immensely satisfying. “Anyway, talons aside, I just came down for a quick chat.”

    “Is that so.”

    “Yep,” I answered. “So, I’ll just be going now.”

    Sirio’s eyes narrowed. “You thought I escaped.” 

    “What?”

    Pulling his gaunt face into a smirk, Sirio replied, “I always was the smarter brother. You came down to check on me. You though I had escaped.”

    I shrugged. “I heard some things. Thought it wouldn’t hurt to check.”

    “Tell me, how would I get out of the Nether?” Sirio demanded. “There’s no light down here for me to use my powers on. The shadows are the only things that can cross the barrier, and they’d never take me. They’d obey you, but you’d never agree.”

    “Put some thought into this, have you?” I asked, amused. “Really, you ought to make your peace with being down here. A few months is a blink of an eye for eternal beings like us. You’re going to be down here for thousands of times that.”

    Sirio glared at me. “I’ll find a way out. I swear.”

    I smirked. “Didn’t mommy ever tell you that nice angels don’t swear?”

    “Get the hell out of here, Baxel. I don’t want to see your face.”

    “Why? Does it remind you too much of your face back when your eyes weren’t sunken in baggy grayish skin? ‘Cause let me tell you, I acknowledge your attractiveness because it’s usually my own, but right now… Damn, son.”

    “Fight me. I’ll still win.”

    I laughed loud and long. “Right. I’m not falling for that one.” I gave a jaunty little wave. “Let’s hope your next idea is a little better than that, yeah? See ya, Sirio.”

    The shadows returned me to where I entered the Nether, then bore me back up to the surface. Taunting my caged brother usually lifted my spirits a bit, but that faded quickly. After all, if Sirio was still in the Nether, who was off playing with light?

    Unless. Unless it was the one human I knew who had light powers. The one human that I had resisted spying on for a few weeks now. But now, I had a legitimate reason to check in; I had to get to the bottom of these reports for the good of the world. Yes, for the good of the world. 

    I had to visit Damian. For the good of the world. 

 

—[]—

 

    Damian came back from the market tired. He’d tried the light orb experiment another four times, then struggled back to the upper world so exhausted that he crashed for three days. When he woke up, he was starving, and all he had in his cabin were a few rotting fruits and a jug of water. 

    After buying an assortment of bread and produce and eating half of it on his way home, Damian had gone from starving back to tired. He braced the paper bag on his hip as he pushed open the door to his dark cabin. The shutters over the windows kept the light out when he wanted to focus on shadows - or, in this case, sleep. 

    Damian dropped the bag of food onto his little table, then bent down to untie his shoes. 

    “How domestic,” a familiar voice commented from the darkness. “Coming home with groceries.”

    Jerking back, Damian nearly fell off his chair, only just managing to catch himself on the edge of the table. A laugh echoed from the darkness, and with a snap of the fingers, one of the shutters cracked open, bathing the red demon in midday light. “Hi,” he said. 

    “What are you doing here?” Damian demanded, scowling. 

    “Now is that any way to greet your father?”

    Damian growled. “You’re not my father.”

    Baxel raised a brow, a playful smirk dancing across his lips. “Uh, yes I am. I think. I mean, we never got a blood test, but… come on, look at the evidence.” 

    “Gregory Cross was my father. He raised me. He loved me. You’re just a demon playing parent,” Damian spat. 

    Something flickered across Baxel’s face, but he waved a hand and it disappeared. “Never mind that; debating lineage versus parentage is actually not why I’m here.”

    “Why, then? I thought you were going to leave me alone.”

    “I don’t actually remember promising that,” Baxel pointed out. “But either way, I have. I haven’t even been spying on you, though this dark little house would’ve made it easy.”

    Damian leaned back in his chair, crossing his arms. “Then how’d you know I was here?”

    “Keeping tabs is not the same as spying.”

    “Right,” Damian muttered, rolling his eyes. “So what do you want? Let’s get this over with.”

    Baxel considered him, his dark gaze studying Damian’s scowl, his frown, the set of his shoulders. “You’ve changed.” 

    “Yeah, finding out you’re an abomination will do that to you.”

    Baxel said nothing to assure him that he wasn’t an abomination. Instead, he just shook his head. “No, it’s something else.” He flicked a trail of shadows at Damian’s face, and they diverted a second before touching his skin. “You’ve been spending more time in the Nether. The shadows, they obey you.” There was a hint of pride in his voice alongside surprise.

    “So what? You thought I was just sitting here on my ass and not practicing?” Damian shot back. 

    A slow smile split Baxel’s red lips. “Something tells me that you don’t entirely resent your demon blood. I actually don’t think you’d change it, if you could.”

    Damian’s silence was enough of an answer. 

    Baxel clapped his hands. “Well, it’s not shadow powers I’m here to discuss. It’s light. Have you been galavanting across the globe doing little light shows for people to see?” 

    “What?” Damian asked. “I haven’t left Africa since I got here.”

    This didn’t seem to be what Baxel wanted to hear. “Hm… well, then. We might have a problem.”

    “We? Sounds like you might have a problem.”

    Baxel sighed. “Listen, kid, problems in the magic world are going to affect you just as much as me.”

    “I doubt it.”

    “Believe me, if there’s somehow an angel loose on earth, you’re going to feel pretty damn affected.” 

    Damian looked up. “An angel?”

    “Yeah, probably. Angels control light, you know that. Humans with light blood can too, but those secrets have been lost for thousands of years. So unless you or Sirio have been going around teaching people, it’s probably an angel.”

    “I thought heaven was closed. I didn’t think they could come down here.” 

    “They can’t,” Baxel replied. “That’s why this is a problem. If the angels are up in heaven - well, other than the few in the Nether - then where’d this one come from? Assuming it is one. We should probably figure that out first.” 

    Damian wasn’t listening to the last part. “Uh, did you say there are angels in the Nether? Like angels, plural? I thought it was just Sirio.” 

    Baxel shook his head. “The Nether’s a great place to lock up angels, since there’s zero light. No light, no powers. It’s pretty hard for them to escape that.”

    Damian’s heart was beating so loud that he felt certain Baxel could sense it somehow. He tried to make his face blank, but not soon enough. 

    “Whyyy?” Baxel asked, drawing out the last syllable. His eyes narrowed to little slits. 

    “Just curious,” Damian replied. 

    Baxel wasn’t buying it. He stepped closer, his tone hardening as he said, “Damian. What did you do?” 

    “I didn’t do anything,” Damian snapped defensively. He dropped his gaze from Baxel’s face, and knew resisting was futile. Baxel would annoy the truth out of him if given the chance. “I just did a few… experiments. With the Nether.”

    “What kind of experiments?”

    “Um,” Damian began, “like taking… light… into the Nether.”

    Baxel blinked at him. “What? You can do that?”

    “Um.”

    “Why the hell would you do that?” 

    Damian shrugged. “I was curious to see what would happen.”

    Baxel was fuming, but set aside his anger to satisfy his own curiosity. “And what did happen?”

    “When I let the shadows that were masking it go, it just kind of vanished. Not because of the shadows, though. They didn’t move, really. It was just kind of… sucked away.”

    Baxel ran a hand though his chin length black hair, turning as he did so. His shoulders rose and fell as he took a breath, then turned back. “Damian. Please tell me you didn’t bring anyone up from the Nether.”

    Damian hesitated. 

    “Damian.”

    “I didn’t think I did,” Damian started slowly. “I thought it was just a hallucination because I was so tired, but…” Baxel’s gaze was piercing. “When I came up from the Nether the last time, it was harder than the other times. Like I was pulling more than my own weight. I didn’t see anyone, though. Just felt…” He shook his head. “And then I got back here and passed out for three days.”

    Baxel took a step back, the bed hitting his knees. He sat down hard. “I’m not gonna lie, this is pretty bad,” he declared. “But if you did bring someone up, it’s only one angel. We can handle one angel.”

    “We?” Damian repeated. 

    Baxel’s eyes were dark when he turned them on Damian. “This is your mess. Don’t think you’re not going to help clean it up.”

    Damian didn’t argue. He knew Baxel was right. “Fine. One angel. That’s all.”

    “That’s all.”

    That wasn’t all.

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