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WHEN LANCE ANNOUNCED THAT he had fallen in love, no one paid much attention. Lance fell in love at least three times a month, each time with a different pretty girl who had no interest whatsoever in being his girlfriend. He would pine over her for a week or so, and then fall out of love just as quickly when the next pretty girl came along. To those who knew him, Lance’s claim that he had fallen in love carried about as much weight as a lion’s claim to have become a vegetarian.
So when Lance rushed into Mr. Warwick’s study babbling about being in love for the second time that June, Cain, who was in the next room, turned up the radio to drown out his voice. Yet he could still hear Lance ranting to his father, and he could understand most of it.
“Hey.” Steve poked his head through the door. “What’s Lance carrying on about? I could hear him all the way in the kitchen.”
“New girlfriend.” Cain rolled his eyes. “I think her name is Michelle.”
Steve snorted. “Again? I give ‘em three days.”
Steve was Mr. Warwick’s other son. He was younger than Lance, fifteen years old, and Lance was seventeen. Steve was thin and dark, whereas Lance was big, beefy and sandy-haired. Steve was level-headed and intelligent, whereas Lance was impulsive and often stupid. The two brothers even had dramatically different tastes in fashion. Lance liked loud Hawaiian shirts, and his tastes for specific styles frequently changed to accommodate whatever clothing happened to be popular at the moment; Cain vividly remembered the tantrum he had thrown last year when Mr. Warwick refused to buy him a Members Only jacket. Steve gravitated toward plain black or white T-shirts and didn’t particularly care what his classmates thought of his outfits. In fact, Steve was much more like his father than Lance was, but Lance was clearly Mr. Warwick’s favorite child. Cain didn’t pretend to understand it; but then he was a demon, and as Mr. Warwick liked to remind him, what did demons know about the stranger points of human emotions? As Mr. Warwick’s servant, Cain was not in the position to say anything anyway.
Lance had apparently finished his tantrum; the study door slammed, and his angry stomping echoed through the hall. After a moment of silence, Cain heard Mr. Warwick calling him to the study.
Steve made a face. “I think my dad wants you, Cain.”
“Mmm.” Cain already knew his master wanted to speak with him; the dog collar around his neck had jerked even before Mr. Warwick called out. “Wish me luck.”
He stumped off down the hallway—clumsily—because Mr. Warwick insisted that he wear an old pair of Lance’s shoes in the house so his hooves wouldn’t scuff up the expensive hardwood floors.
Mr. Warwick was seated behind his desk. He was a tall man with piercing gray eyes and long, elegant hands. The records of the various corporations and government agencies to which he sold his services listed his occupation as “scientist” or “consultant.” However, anyone who had seen him at work or caught a glimpse of the odd books lining the shelves of his study would realize at once that it was neither consulting nor science that had made him the fourteenth richest man in America and prematurely silvered his hair. He looked up as the door to the study opened.
Cain paused in the doorway. “You wanted to see me, Master?”
“Yes. Come in, Cain.” Mr. Warwick’s sharp-nosed, brooding face was even more brooding than usual. “Lance thinks he’s found the girl of his dreams…again.”
“Does he, Master?” Cain repressed a sigh of annoyance.
“He does,” said Mr. Warwick. “Michelle, this one’s name is. Apparently, she’s from out of town, visiting family in the city. He was just in here, complaining bitterly because she wouldn’t give him the time of day. It’s a pity, really, that he falls in love and gets rejected so often. He’s such a sensitive boy.”
Cain thought that Lance was about as sensitive as a lump of granite, but he wisely kept his observations to himself.
“Lance is angry with me now because I refused to use my power to help him win this girl over.” Mr. Warwick shook his head. “I love my son, but I’m finished with wasting my precious energy on love spells for all the silly girls he’ll fall out of love with in a week’s time. Still, I hate seeing him in so much pain. I don’t know what to do, Cain. I really don’t.”
Cain said nothing. He knew from experience that he wasn’t expected to provide answers or advice; he was expected to stand and say as little as possible while Mr. Warwick vented and bounced ideas off him, as if he were no more than a favorite dog or a photograph of a long-dead relative.
“I’m sure Lance will be over his infatuation in a few days,” he went on, sounding a little reassured. “Until then, though, he’ll be miserable and angry. Then, of course, there’s the danger that this little episode will be repeated in the future. It’s high time I had a talk with Lance, man to man, about girls and dating.” He raised his eyebrows quizzically. “Do you think he would respond to that, Cain?”
“I think he would, Master,” Cain lied. Mr. Warwick had been having the same man-to-man talk with Lance two or three times every month for the last five years, and Cain seriously doubted that yet another repetition of it would make any more of an impression on Lance than all the others had. If anything, it would make him even more sulky and short-tempered and convinced that the girls who sensibly wanted nothing to do with him were stuck up and didn’t know what they were missing.
“Yes, I think he would too.” Mr. Warwick nodded. “The sooner the better, I say. Lance will be eighteen soon; it’s high time he stopped chasing flighty, loose girls and started looking for a nice one.”
Most of the girls Lance chased were perfectly nice, in Cain’s opinion; it was Lance who was flighty, loose, and most definitely not nice.
“Yes—the sooner, the better,” said Mr. Warwick. “I won’t be around forever, and I do hope Lance will take over the…family business…one day. He’s been making such great strides in his lessons.”
Cain nodded in feigned agreement. Perhaps Lance was indeed making great strides in his lessons, but Cain had certainly not noticed them. The few traces of his father’s abilities that Lance had inherited were less than impressive, and Lance was too impatient to learn to use them properly.
“I’ll feel much more confident about his readiness once he’s married and settled down and has an heir of his own on the way. I had such high hopes when he took a shine to Clarissa; the Babbitts are a fine—and very wealthy—old New York family. It’s too bad he lost interest in her so quickly.”
Cain said nothing and stared at the floor. He had been shocked the first time he had heard Mr. Warwick talk about breeding his son, and the fact that the old man only spoke of Lance’s crushes in terms of their value as breeding stock for passing on the Gift—the rare ability to channel magic—disturbed him even more. The subject still made him very uncomfortable.
“Too bad indeed.” Mr. Warwick frowned. “Still, I suppose it’s just as well. Clarissa is pretty enough, but she’s such a mundane little thing that I doubt any child that came out of her would have the Gift no matter who the father was. Besides,” he smirked, “I’ve had the dubious pleasure of working with her parents. Senator Babbitt would be quite useless if it weren’t for his deep pockets, and his wife is a horrible shrew. They’d make wretched in-laws. Don’t you think so, Cain?”
Cain became even more uncomfortable. Mr. Warwick was always polite to his female clients’ faces, but his bland façade always melted away as soon as they left. He even referred to his own late wife—when he spoke of her at all—as “the traitor.” Cain had never met Mr. Warwick’s wife, but Steve’s few fuzzy memories of her were pleasant ones. Cain had no idea why the old man hated her so.
But it wouldn’t do to let Mr. Warwick see his discomfort. Any sign of dissatisfaction on his part could bring on a scolding, or worse. “Yes, Master,” he said in the faintest hint of a resigned tone.
Mr. Warwick didn’t seem to notice. If anything, his expression became a bit more cheerful. “Yes, I’m sure that’s the best thing to do. I’ll wait until Lance has recovered a bit, and then we’ll have a nice talk. I’m sure he’ll come to his senses this time. You may go now, Cain.”
“Yes, Master?” Cain paused in the doorway.
“Turn that damned radio down. I can barely hear myself think in here.”
Steve was standing in the hallway as Cain emerged from the study. His head was tipped back, and he was pressing a bloody towel to his nose.
“Hey, Cain.” He grimaced. “Can you help me out here? His Royal Spitefulness caught me on the way back to the kitchen and decided to take it out on me again.”
Almost from the day Lance learned to walk, he had been taking out his frustrations on Steve. As Mr. Warwick was too busy to notice, Steve had always come to Cain for comfort and pain relief after their one-sided fights. Cain, in turn, went to Steve to vent after Mr. Warwick talked down to him or took the fireplace poker to his back for failing at a task. Steve was the closest thing he had to a friend in the human world.
“Of course. Come and sit down in my room.”
Steve followed Cain to his bedroom and sat down on the edge of the frayed, rickety bed as he had done many times.
“It doesn’t look broken.” Cain watched a fresh trickle of blood drip from Steve’s nose as he removed the towel. The fragility of Steve’s human body amazed and worried him. Cain’s thick scales protected him from most injuries like those that Steve sustained in minor tussles with Lance. Even Mr. Warwick’s occasional beatings did little damage, though Cain always made a point of pretending that the beatings hurt him more than they actually did for fear that his master would dream up harsher punishments. “That’s good. There is a lot of blood, though. This may take a while.”
Steve nodded gingerly and sat back. He winced as Cain placed three fingers against the bridge of his nose and concentrated. Cain couldn’t heal wounds exactly; but if he was careful, he could stimulate the body’s natural healing mechanisms to work at an accelerated speed. It was a delicate job, but Lance’s frequent temper tantrums had given him plenty of practice. In two minutes he had managed to stop the blood flow, and Steve looked much less uncomfortable.
“Thanks.” He wrinkled his nose and gave an experimental sniff. “You know, you’d think I’d be better at avoiding Lance when he’s pissed about something by now.”
“I think he’s just gotten better at finding you.”
“That’s probably true.” Steve sighed. “You’re lucky you’re bigger than he is, Cain. He’d never have the balls to try and beat you up even though you aren’t allowed to fight back.”
“Maybe not.” Cain scratched at his collar thoughtfully. It was true that Lance had never actually hit him, but he could recall several occasions when he could distinctly feel him wanting to hit him. It was bound to happen one of these days. “Still, there are times when I’d rather be hit than listen to the old man complaining about how the whole world is against his dear son.”
“What did he say this time? The usual?” Steve made a derisive grunting noise in the back of his throat.
“The usual. ‘These stupid, fickle girls don’t know what they’re missing, Cain! It’s a shame. Lance is such a sensitive boy.’” Cain imitated Mr. Warwick’s voice mockingly. “I don’t know whether his Lance-worship makes me want to laugh or cry, and the worst part is that I’m not allowed to do either.”
“You’ve got more self-control than I do.” Steve rolled his eyes. “I wouldn’t be able to keep a straight face. Or I’d just throttle dad.”
“A slave collar is good for self-control,” Cain began. As he spoke, he felt it again—the collar gave a sharp jerk, as if someone had tugged an invisible leash around his neck. In this way, he always knew when Mr. Warwick wanted him even when he couldn’t hear him calling. It was also the charm that bound him to Mr. Warwick in servitude until the old man released him or died. He hated it, but there was nothing he could do to change it. The black leather drew tight around his neck like a noose whenever he even thought about tearing it off.
“Speaking of which,” he said wryly, “your dad’s calling me again. Let’s hope he wants me to help him put a curse of impotence on Lance.”
“Fat chance.” Steve grinned. “Like the idea, though. I think I’ll try that once I learn enough magic.”
Cain lay in the early evening twilight, listening to the distant, comforting buzz of the Warwicks’ muffled conversation at the family dinner table. Mr. Warwick had excused Cain from serving them today, and Cain had already eaten his dinner of raw ground beef in his room. He was never allowed to eat with the family because Mr. Warwick found the demon diet of raw meats undignified. Cain preferred to eat alone anyhow. If Mr. Warwick didn’t give him enough food, which he usually didn’t, Cain could sometimes sneak out his window to snatch a pigeon or a small rodent from the backyard. He often wished that he could venture into the woods outside the neighborhood in search of larger game, but his collar wouldn’t allow him to travel outside the confines of Mr. Warwick’s property without his express permission. Hunting came easily to Cain—a skill, he guessed, that he had learned in his previous life—though he had no memory of his life before servitude.
Mr. Warwick often wiped Cain’s memory. Cain suspected that it was one of the many ways in which Mr. Warwick kept him in check. As a result, Cain was always excited and somewhat anxious when he was sent to do errands. Every time, he felt as if he were encountering the outside world for the first time.
In the last five hours, Cain had flown to the Peruvian Andes to gather rare mountain lichens that Mr. Warwick needed for a specially ordered flying ointment, stopped in El Salvador to slip a poison too vile to contemplate into the wine glass of a progressive-minded politician whom Mr. Warwick had been hired to assassinate, and passed into Mexico to pick up a flint knife, cruelly sharp and inlaid with an exquisite turquoise mosaic, which Mr. Warwick wanted for purposes of his own. He had also had orders to spy invisibly on Lance’s new crush for an hour or so. He had learned nothing new about Michelle except that she was visiting her Uncle Walter and Aunt Janice in Yonkers, that she was pretty and brown-haired, and that she was intelligent enough to have recognized immediately that Lance was bad news. He told Mr. Warwick everything but the last point. Each errand had been both terrifying and exhilarating for Cain. After dinner, he knew Mr. Warwick would wipe his memory of all of these events. He savored them while he could.
Cain switched on the ancient radio that sat on the milk crate he used as a bedside table. He squinted up at the grimy little window with its threadbare yellow curtains, hovering on the edge of sleep and dangling his feet over the footboard of the lumpy old bed—not that he had much choice, for the bed was too short for him. The last notes of a song he had been half-listening to faded out on the radio, and the opening chords of Killing Medicine crackled through the speakers. Cain perked up. Killing Medicine was one of his favorite songs.
He closed his eyes and listened. The band—he had never been very good at remembering band names (was it Lion of Judah, maybe?)—had a lead singer with a voice unlike any Cain had heard before. It veered effortlessly between smooth baritone and shrieking tenor, moaning an arcane tale of betrayal and anger.
The guitarist launched into a complicated solo. Cain sighed and began to relax. He liked the mournful, distorted wailing of electric guitars. It reminded him of something from before he was captured, something he was no longer permitted to remember…
His eyes flew open.
A mountaintop in the Outside. We flew here together, my tribe and I. I shivered in the snow as they lined up—tall creatures, hoofed and scaled like me, but darker somehow, trailing black wings behind them.
The memory was fading already, as all memories of life before his capture inevitably did. He fought to hold it.
They turned their faces to the sky and began to sing.
The collar started to sting. Cain dug his long, sharp nails into the mattress and closed his eyes tight, straining against the inevitable.
Such singing! Cain thought. More tones than I could count, perfectly mingled and overlaid…and sad, so deeply sad. A mourning song. A song that seeped into veins and deadened nerves…
A sudden, painful burst of light erupted against the inside of his eyelids, and the memory was gone. He let out a snarl and squeezed the mattress in helpless anger. The collar bit him as his claws left fresh punctures in the already tattered fabric.
Michelle went back home to California two days later. Lance was gloomy and irritable for two days more. He beat Steve up three times, talked back to his father and earned the first cross word Mr. Warwick had said to him in months, and threw a shoe at Cain, who had failed to bring the Coke he ordered upstairs in what he considered a timely manner. By the end of the second day, he was grumbling sullenly about Michelle being too stuck up to give him a chance. He seemed on the verge of writing her off and moving on to another girl.
The next few days were normal enough. Mr. Warwick wiped Cain’s memory of his previous errands, but he allowed him to keep the memory of spying on Michelle until the matter was “resolved.” He also sent Cain to Ontario to pick up a pound of witch hazel. The boys sat through Mr. Warwick’s attempts to teach them the basics of sorcery. Steve wasn’t half bad at it, but Lance was a hopeless cause. One day, Mr. Warwick came home in an exceptionally good mood.
“Some rich televangelist met him for lunch today,” Steve explained when Cain asked what was up. “Seems he’s offering dad a lot of money to help him fight this freaky underground cult that, like, kidnaps people and sacrifices them in demon-worshipping rituals and stuff.”
As he did laundry that afternoon, Cain wondered who these mysterious demon-worshipping humans were and what in the world they thought they could accomplish by kidnapping other humans and sacrificing them. He sighed as he inspected a stain on one of Lance’s shirts.
If these people exist at all, he thought with a bit too much enthusiasm, they’re probably very angry with Mr. Warwick and ready to give him a solid beating for enslaving one of their “gods”…
The collar tingled ominously. He pushed the idea out of his mind and started on a spell to remove the stain.
There was only one thing out of the ordinary: Lance kept talking about Michelle.
He wasn’t grumbling about her alleged coldness anymore either. Instead, he was sighing over what he saw as her more pleasant attributes.
“She had the most amazing hair,” he gushed at the dinner table one night while Cain was in the kitchen tidying up. “It was always so perfect. And that figure! I’m getting hot just thinking about it.”
“Lance,” said Mr. Warwick as he helped himself to more mashed potatoes, “don’t you think you should forget this Michelle person? She’s gone now, and she wasn’t good enough for you anyway.”
“I know she’s not good enough for me!” Lance brought his fist down on the table, launching a minor eruption of peas from his plate. “That’s the whole problem! She’s not good enough for me, but I’m in love with her anyway.”
Cain rushed into the dining area and started cleaning up the mess with a wet rag.
“I was afraid this would happen someday.” Mr. Warwick shook his head sadly. “I was always afraid that you would fall in love with a girl who wasn’t good enough for you, and she would break your heart. You’re too sensitive, Lance.”
Steve and Cain exchanged a disgusted look over the table. Cain knew that if Steve had started whining about being in love with a girl who didn’t love him back, Mr. Warwick would tell him to get over it and to stop bothering him while he was eating.
Lance poked his untouched potatoes sulkily. “This wouldn’t have happened, you know, if you’d just given me help when I asked for it. She’d be eating out of my hand right now, and my heart wouldn’t be broken.”
“I admit that,” said Mr. Warwick. “But you see, Lance, love spells are expensive to make and even more expensive to undo. I really didn’t want to act until I knew that this was the real thing.”
“It is the real thing!” Lance squirmed with frustration. “I told you that, and you didn’t believe me.”
“Tell you what, then. We’ll wait a while, and if you’re still in love with Michelle after a certain period of time—say, two weeks—then we’ll start talking magical solutions.”
Lance was pacified and began to dig into his food.
“Good boy.” Mr. Warwick smiled, and then glanced at his empty cup. “More coffee, Cain.”
Cain balled up the dirty rag and went to get the coffeepot. He knew from experience to show no interest in the outcome of the argument, but he couldn’t help feeling sorry for Michelle.
Steve and Lance went to the beach the next day. Cain, of course, was not allowed to go.
“Meet any pretty girls today, Lance?” Mr. Warwick asked pointedly as the boys came home.
“Plenty.” Lance glared at his father. “They were all bitchy, uptight college girls, though. I can’t stand it when a girl knows more than me. Michelle is smart, but at least she’s decent enough to hide it.”
“A fine quality for a young lady to have,” admitted Mr. Warwick.
“She wouldn’t have to hide it if you would make a little effort to raise your IQ above the single digits,” muttered Steve as he rummaged for a cold drink from the refrigerator. Lance was sulking too deeply to hear him.
The days crawled by, and Lance showed no sign of moving on to a new unwilling girlfriend. Mr. Warwick called Cain into his study on the evening the two-week deadline expired.
“Well, Cain, Lance has certainly proved himself. He’s never been in love with anyone this long,” he said, sounding as if Lance had fawned over her for two years instead of two weeks. “I’d still rather not resort to using spells, but I don’t see any other way to keep my promise. The only question is how to do it. I don’t want something so powerful that I’d have trouble undoing it should Lance decide he doesn’t want her anymore, but the lesser ones aren’t good for much of anything but a simple crush.”
“Yes, Master,” said Cain unhappily.
Mr. Warwick frowned. “Of course, the effects are strengthened if the victim already has fond feelings for the intended object. If only there were some way to make this Michelle fond of Lance to begin with—some way that didn’t involve magic.”
“Master?” Cain swallowed nervously. Speaking out of turn was risky, but this time he felt that he had to say something. “Ah…doesn’t Michelle live in California?”
“She does.” Mr. Warwick drummed his fingers on his desk. “We’ll need some excuse to bring her back to New York…”
“What if…I’m sorry, Master, but…what if…she doesn’t want to be with Lance anyway because he lives too far away? It is a long way for a human to travel.” Cain stared at the long-necked blue vase that sat on the corner of the desk. It wasn’t much of a defense, but he was afraid to come across as insubordinate.
“What a quaint idea, Cain.” Mr. Warwick chuckled. “Distance makes little difference to young people in love—though I wouldn’t expect any demon to understand love since you all have limited ability to overcome baser instincts.”
He cast a jaundiced eye over Cain’s bare chest and arms.
“I’ll wear a shirt tomorrow, Master,” said Cain unhappily. He had hated the squeezing and scratchiness of human clothes since the first hours of his capture. It was a hot day, and he thought that wearing pants was a perfectly adequate compromise.
“Good.” Mr. Warwick smiled. “Anyway, I suppose you are at least right that the distance is inconvenient. I’ll overcome it somehow. I just need a little time to think.”
The time Mr. Warwick took to think annoyed Lance greatly, and he took his frustration out on Steve in increasingly bloody ways. Cain was too startled to react when Lance slapped him with an open hand for burning his toast at breakfast. Lance rarely came close enough to touch him because he was a little afraid of the blue demon ever since he was seven years old and suffered a nasty bite after he pulled Cain’s tail.
“Whoa, Lance. Take it easy!” yelled Steve from the safety of the other side of the table. “It’s not Cain’s fault that dad’s too cheap to replace our piece-of-shit toaster.”
“Shut your mouth, Steve,” growled Lance. “Stupid animal had it coming to him. He needs someone to teach him a lesson.”
Cain shuffled over to the sink without a word and willed himself to start unloading the dishwasher. As much as he would have loved to leap on Lance and give his other arm a matching bite-shaped scar, the momentary satisfaction wouldn’t be worth the vicious choking he knew he would get from the collar. He had hardly felt the slap through his scales anyway.
Mr. Warwick had lunch with a client that afternoon. While he was away, Cain and Steve sneaked into his study to search for a love-ending spell. Unfortunately, love spells tended to be most effective as potions. Although Lance was a poor magician, he did have a minor talent for sensing and detecting magic, especially the kind of magic found lingering on potion-contaminated food.
Cain pushed yet another dusty tome aside. “Well, there were plenty in that book, but they were all potions. He would smell them from a mile away.”
Steve groaned. “Why do love spells always have to come in potion form? At the rate Lance is going, I’ll be beaten to a pulp or dead before dad stops brooding over work and turns his full attention to the Michelle problem.”
Cain began to flip through another book with no success. “I feel sorry for the girl too. She has no idea what she’s about to be dragged into.”
“True. She might at least civilize him a little, though—Oh, shit!”
Cain followed Steve’s gaze to the door. The handle was turning.
“I thought dad was away at some kind of meeting,” Steve hissed.
“He was,” Cain whispered back. “He must have gotten home early. Well, on to the emergency plan.”
They scrambled to opposite ends of the room. Cain closed his eyes and concentrated on reducing his size until he was small enough to crawl into the space between the wall and the last book on a shelf. He hated to shrink himself—it caused a crushing, breathless sensation that made him feel as if he had been stuffed into a thick paper bag and stomped upon—but it was a quick and effective way to hide. Steve hunched in a corner and rattled off a spell of invisibility, one of the first spells he’d learned, and one he had used many times to escape from Lance.
It wasn’t a very good emergency plan. They left books scattered all over the floor, and though Steve’s invisibility spell was more than enough to fool Lance, Mr. Warwick could probably see through it if he put the proper effort into detecting hidden magic or looked in just the right place.
Mr. Warwick swept in, and Cain held his breath as he moved in the direction of the pile of books. Fortunately, he didn’t seem to notice them. He walked silently to his desk and leaned there with a casual air. A moment later Cain and Steve both saw why he assumed this stance: he had company. Mr. Warwick’s companion was a big man in an expensive-looking blue suit. He paused in the doorway, peering suspiciously into the study as if he feared that dozens of bloodthirsty murderers were lying in wait among the books.
“Come in, Reverend Breen.” Mr. Warwick made an inviting gesture. “You see, there are no dried bat wings or toads in cauldrons in here—just books—like your study at home. I assure you that what I do is perfectly legitimate and respectable.”
“It does look that way. But there is something uncanny about it.” The minister’s words were spoken slowly, in a sonorous tone, and slightly over-pronounced as if he were trying to hide a Southern drawl. His steely, olive-colored eyes narrowed as he leaned toward the shelves—perilously close to Cain’s hiding place—and inspected a book with a collection of arcane glyphs engraved on the spine. “Still, my congressman-friend recommended you pretty strongly. Says you singlehandedly took care of that dangerous Communist firebrand Aurelio Cáceres somehow, and that if anyone could give us an edge in our battle against this awful cult, it’s you. Knowing what you do, though, I had to come meet you myself and make sure…” He looked uncertain.
“That I’m not a Satanist myself?” Mr. Warwick chuckled, not at all insulted. “You have nothing to worry about—I assure you. I detest black magic of any kind.”
For someone who detests it so much, thought Cain contemptuously, you certainly use it a lot.
“That’s good to know.” The Reverend Breen didn’t sound entirely convinced. “Are you willing to help us, then?”
“I don’t see how I could pass up the opportunity,” Mr. Warwick replied in his most sickeningly faux-sincere business voice. “Your cause is a good one; the pay is excellent; and I do believe that this assignment will be much more challenging than anything I have ever encountered. I do love a challenge, Reverend Breen.”
Cain wondered if Mr. Warwick knew that he was being hired to fight people who didn’t exist. He did sound excited at the thought of hunting demon worshippers, but Cain had known him long enough to recognize the placating smile plastered on his face. It was the same smile he flashed at clients when he thought he could send them on their way with a vial of perfectly ordinary sugar water tinted with green food coloring instead of the powerful potion they ordered.
“Good, good.” The minister sat down heavily in the antique oak chair that faced the desk. “Now, if we can get down to business. What exactly do you intend to do?”
Though Cain couldn’t quite see him anymore, he suspected that Mr. Warwick was sitting behind his desk with his fingers pressed together, fixing the minister with his most intense and sphinx-like stare. Mr. Warwick liked his clients to feel uncomfortable; their discomfort made it easier for him to remain in control of their interactions.
“I intend,” he said finally, “to fight magic with magic.”
The minister winced visibly at the word magic, but said, “Go on.”
“You say that these Satanists have escaped justice so far because they use their powers to mask the evidence of their crimes and keep ordinary law enforcement officials away from their meeting places, do you not? I know how these things can be done.”
“And you know how to keep them from being done, I hope?”
“Of course.” Mr. Warwick’s voice grew more serious. “But I cannot do it on my own. I’m just one person, after all, and there are thousands of them—thousands upon thousands. If you want me to be able to make any difference at all, I must have help.”
“What kind of help?” asked the minister with more than a hint of suspicion in his voice.
“People with…special training,” Mr. Warwick replied. “People who can do the kinds of things I can do. People who can go out into the field, as it were, and be my operatives. If I have enough of them working for me, and if I am given enough time, I am quite sure that I can manage to bring the whole organization down from the inside.”
“That sounds like excellent news,” said the Reverend Breen nervously. “But I have to ask, where would you get your…recruits? We aren’t expected to provide them, are we? I would rather not have anyone in my ministry getting involved in…in that line of work. No offense.”
“None taken,” said Mr. Warwick calmly. “I understand your objections, and I assure you that I already have people in mind who have nothing to do with your church. You need not be involved with the training process either; I’ll oversee that myself. I just need you to provide me with enough money to run it and enough space to work.”
“That sounds reasonable,” said the minister. “I am curious, however. How exactly does one go about training for your program?”
“It is a rather complicated process. I’m afraid you would find the technical points very boring, but basically what I do is…”
To Cain’s disappointment, he lowered his voice so they could no longer hear what he was saying. This tactic was another favorite trick of Mr. Warwick’s: he’d awe his clients by whispering information to them, giving them the impression that they were being let in on wonderful and highly privileged mystical secrets. He could see the minister shifting in his seat as the conversation went on.
“That sounds awfully drastic,” he said at last.
“It’s the only way, I’m afraid,” said Mr. Warwick sadly. “You know what kind of people we’re up against. And you must remember that you wouldn’t have to be involved in it—not directly anyway.”
“What about the legal issues?” the minister asked. “This sounds like it’s in the gray area at best…”
“I’ve dealt with the law before,” said Mr. Warwick. “The law won’t touch me.”
There was a long silence, and then the minister said, “Very well. I’ll consider your offer.”
“Excellent.” There was a shifting sound, and Cain guessed that Mr. Warwick had stood up. “I’ll show you out.”
The Reverend Breen got out of his chair with a great noise of upheaval and effort. He turned slowly to the door, and Cain thought he looked as if he deeply disliked whatever Mr. Warwick had told him. Mr. Warwick glided around the desk and began to show the minister out. Cain held his breath as he paused to frown at the pile of books on the floor; but he apparently decided to deal with it after he had seen to his guest. He continued out of the study, the minister following in his wake. The door closed, and there was silence.
Cain hopped cautiously down off the bookshelf. He had barely finished expanding to his normal size when Steve materialized beside him.
“God!” Steve’s face was pale. “That scared the shit out of me. I thought dad was supposed to be gone all day.”
“Me too.” Cain shuddered and picked at his collar. “Let’s get out of here before he comes back.”
They scurried out of the study without replacing the books, having decided that Mr. Warwick would be even more suspicious if he came back to find the study clean. Once they were safely in Cain’s room, they turned on the radio at full volume to mask their voices in case Mr. Warwick was listening.
“Wow,” said Steve. “That Reverend guy—Brent? Bryant? I forget his name—seems pretty serious. I wonder if there really is a cult out there.”
“I don’t think so,” said Cain. “If there were people who really worshipped demons, why would they let anyone put a slave collar on me and mess with my memories?”
“Maybe they’re scared of dad for some reason,” said Steve, his eyes full of worry. “Maybe dad expects us to help him fight them, as some sort of test to see what we’ve learned or something?”
“I wouldn’t worry about it.” Cain sighed. “What is it your dad always says about those televangelist people? That they’re a gang of hypocritical, sanctimonious, money-grubbing…” he paused, trying to remember all the complicated words Mr. Warwick was so fond of using.
“Bloviating, mendacity-minded frauds?” Steve volunteered. “Yeah, he comes home ranting about some televangelist friend of Mrs. Babbitt’s every time he has a meeting with the senator. I’m surprised he made it through a whole lunch with that preacher guy without being an ass to him.”
“Exactly,” said Cain. “I don’t think he’s going to do anything to help the minister. I think he’s just going to let the minister think he’s helping.”
“Oh!” Recognition dawned in Steve’s eyes. “You mean like the fake beauty spells he started giving to Mrs. Babbitt after she called him her husband’s glorified assassin when she thought he wasn’t listening? Yeah, that’s definitely something he would do. But still, why would the minister lie about something like this? It’s a pretty big and crazy thing to lie about.”
“Yeah,” Cain agreed. “I have no idea why anyone would lie about something like that. But I’m not the best person to ask. I have no idea why humans do a lot of things.”
Mr. Warwick brooded in silence for the rest of the day. It made Cain uneasy; the old man was usually annoyingly cheerful after landing a lucrative deal. This time he sat at the dinner table glaring at his pork chops. He even went so far as to snap at Lance to stop whining and to be patient, for he was already doing everything he could. Steve and Cain exchanged worried glances as he pushed his half-eaten meal aside and slouched off to his study without another word. The scattered books weighed heavily on Cain’s mind as he cleared Mr. Warwick’s dinner plate.
Two hours later, Cain felt a tug at his collar as he lay in his bed rehearsing good explanations for the mess. He switched off the radio, set his teeth, and wobbled his way to the study.
Mr. Warwick was sitting behind his desk, most of his attention focused on the paperweight suspended in the air four inches above his outstretched palm. He looked, if it were possible, even more disgruntled than he had at dinner.
“Cain,” he said curtly. “I need you to go to Los Angeles for me tomorrow.”
Cain blinked in surprise and relief. It was a tentative relief, however; Mr. Warwick was still clearly in a temper about something.
“Yes, Master,” he said in his meekest tone. “What do you need me to get for you?”
The paperweight barely wavered as Mr. Warwick’s eyes bored into it.
“It’s not for me,” he said at last. “It’s for Lance. I need you to bring Michelle to him.”
Cain raised an eyebrow, convinced that he couldn’t have heard correctly.
“I…ah…beg your pardon, Master?”
“I need you to bring Michelle back to New York for Lance.” Mr. Warwick’s tone was suddenly gentle, but Cain wasn’t fooled; the paperweight was beginning to vibrate, reflecting his irritation.
“Now, now, no need to look so shocked, Cain. I don’t mean for you to swoop in and carry her off against her will. You must convince her to come of her own volition and give my boy another chance—without using magic, of course. I’ll take care of that part. You just be kind and attentive to her, and praise Lance often. Beg her to come back for another visit. Use all the charm you have. She’ll be bound to come around eventually.”
Cain’s tail curled nervously around his knees. It had not taken him long to realize that most humans found the sight of a seven-foot-tall, scaly blue demon with curved black horns and fangs distinctly less than charming.
“But I don’t have any charm, Master,” he muttered.
“Nonsense. You’re charming enough in your human form.” Mr. Warwick smiled, and the paperweight gyrated furiously.
Cain groaned. It was true that he could take human form easily enough, but he rarely bothered. He had always found it terribly uncomfortable, and somehow he could never avoid making himself look so striking that he stood out almost as much among humans when he was in human form as he did in his natural shape.
“I’ll take human form, then,” he said in resignation. “But Master…I hope I don’t sound like I’m trying to get out of work, but…Well, I don’t see why you want me to do this. I’m not very good at this kind of thing.” Contrary what most humans seemed to expect of demons, Cain had absolutely no talent at tempting anyone into anything. He had regularly failed even to tempt Lance and Steve to come in from the snow for hot cocoa when they were both younger.
Mr. Warwick’s smile instantly turned to a frown. His hand shot up, snakelike, and snatched the paperweight from the air.
“If you had been paying attention when you were spying on Michelle, you would know why I need you to go,” he hissed. “But you weren’t. You failed to give me one important detail: her last name. It’s Breen. Does that sound familiar?”
“I…” It did sound familiar, but the absurd unfairness of being blamed for not finding out Michelle’s last name distracted him. He had assumed that Lance would at least bother to find out the last name of the girl he was supposedly in love with on his own.
“She’s the daughter of Nathaniel Breen.” Mr. Warwick’s eyes narrowed. “The Reverend Nathaniel Breen, who just so happens to be my biggest client right now.”
“Oh. I see, Master.” Cain tried his best to look abashed.
“There’s no doubt about it,” growled Mr. Warwick. “I had a meeting with him this afternoon, and what do you think he brought up in the conversation? His darling only daughter, Michelle, who was just in New York visiting relatives and ended up being followed for days by some dunderheaded love-struck local boy.” He looked furious at the very memory of hearing Lance described this way. “I can’t tell you how much this revelation complicates things, Cain. The good minister was leery enough of me already. I had to bring him back to the house to show him that I don’t work out of a deep, dank dungeon. Thank God we didn’t run into you; I don’t think I ever would have convinced him to come back. If he ever found out that Lance is Michelle’s love-struck local boy…I can’t look as if I was involved in this arrangement, Cain. You must convince Michelle for me, as quietly as possible.”
“I’ll do it, then, but…but I still don’t understand how I’m supposed to do it, Master,” said Cain desperately.
“Use your imagination!” Mr. Warwick shot him an exasperated look. “Pretend to be a friend of Lance’s who has come to put in a good word for him, or convince her that her aunt and uncle want to see her again. Become a movie star if you have to! I really don’t care as long as you get the job done. This girl wouldn’t be my first choice for Lance, to be perfectly honest, but she does at least seem to have a good reputation and a decent background. And most importantly, she’s held his interest longer than any other girl. That must be a good sign.”
“Yes, Master.” Cain sighed. “Is that all?”
“Not quite.” Mr. Warwick pressed the tips of his fingers together. “I found a pile of books lying on the floor of my study when I came home this afternoon. You wouldn’t happen to know anything about that, would you?”
“Steve wanted help studying, Master,” said Cain meekly. This statement was the truth, more or less; Mr. Warwick couldn’t prevent him from lying, but he was more than capable of punishing him for it.
“Hmm. Well, just clean up after yourself next time.” Mr. Warwick turned gloomily to the window. “Good for Steve. I do wish Lance would study more. He has the potential to be great if he would only apply himself.”
Cain almost said “Hah.” Luckily, he remembered where he was in time, and just said, “Yes, Master.”
Cain lay awake, staring at the darkened ceiling in tense, set-jawed concentration. A few frayed memory fragments had emerged from the empty stretch of impenetrable darkness in his mind, which stood in place of all the recollections of life before his capture. He juggled them as they shifted in and out of his grasp, trying to get a good look at them before they vanished again.
I spoke another language before I knew this one. It’s gone now, swallowed up in the past, but bits and pieces come back sometimes. Havah was food and raii was fire; kema was yes and amo was no. My whole tribe spoke it. We called ourselves Malakim, or Fallen Ones. Never demons. I was not a demon until my master captured me and gave me that name. Now it’s the only name I know. Nath samakh, my tribe would say. That is the way of things…
The sudden headache came, and the memory was lost again. Cain blinked away the ghostly blue aura that danced against his vision. It was perfectly circular with a five-pointed star in the middle. That same symbol always exploded in his mind’s eye after he stopped remembering. He had no idea why he saw it or what it meant, but he hated it almost as much as he hated the collar.
Cain switched the radio on with a sigh. He still hadn’t the slightest idea how he was going to find Michelle, let alone convince her to come all the way across the country for the sake of a boy she had known for all of two days and detested.
He wasn’t even sure he wanted to convince her; but that made no difference. What he wanted did not matter, and it would never matter as long as Mr. Warwick lived. He was his master’s demon. He had to follow orders, whether those orders involved collecting rare herbs, poisoning someone who had never done him any harm, or procuring a girlfriend for loathsome Lance. He scratched at his collar as guitars wailed angrily in his ears.