Xerix huddled behind a tree, contorting his four foot frame into a smaller target, waiting for the signal to attack. A cold air with a hint of dampness slithered around him, and water frothed in the lake, smashing against the sandy shore.
He peered around the trunk, his claws digging into the roughened bark. Which one would win? His cruel master who sent him on dangerous missions or the Mage Demon Enforcer who would then banish Xerix back to his home world?
A shiver danced along his arms, and smoke swirled beneath his black skin. Home no longer existed, destroyed during the Overlord’s invasion. Many of his kind had died during the fierce war. Even the warriors bred for battle couldn’t withstand the onslaught. After two hundred years of constant combat, the leaders of his world had surrendered, and his people had been added to the Overlord’s massive armies.
Xerix, however, hid on Earth, masking his true face from the population, hoping each day his master, Glabryhra, would die at the hands of another. The only way he could gain freedom was through her death. The summoning ring would fall into another’s hand, but without Xerix’s true name, no one could summon him. And she would never share his name.
Worse though, Glabryhra was of the Geryon race, the nasty demons who cared little for anything except gore and death. Not that Xerix had anything against a good, bloody battle, but he also enjoyed a warm woman, and the human drink called scotch.
“I am Mage Demon Enforcer Jackson Thorne. Your mage summoned you for illegal activities and has confessed to this crime. You will now be banished from this plane.”
“Wait.” Glabryhra, guised as a frail human female, brought up an imploring hand. “I haven’t done anything wrong. Please, I can’t go back. He’ll beat me.”
“Who?” Jackson’s tone softened a fraction and Xerix rolled his eyes. What kind of Enforcer fell for the ‘helpless, beaten woman’ routine? A dead one, that’s who. “Maybe I can help you.”
Tears shimmered on Glabryhra’s eyelashes, and she slumped into herself, appearing smaller and submissive. Eyes downcast, she missed Jackson’s finger twitching, but Xerix didn’t. The mage wasn’t as stupid as he looked.
This might be interesting, after all. Xerix grinned, one that would cause a normal person to flinch in fear. The stretching of his lips was less from happiness and more from the anticipation of death. A shame her essence would flow back to her home plane, leaving behind no corpse to feast upon. Devouring the enemy was a tradition his line of ancestors valued, one he enjoyed.
“My master. He wasn’t happy about the summons. He’ll hurt me if I go back.” Her thumb slid over the tiny diamond nestled in a gold ring that Xerix would gladly toss into the middle of the ocean if he ever gained possession of it.
He tensed, aware soon she’d call him and order the mage’s death. Anticipation flowed through him. Fighting mages demanded cunning and deviousness, both of which he had in mass quantities. He hated the boring fights, where one swipe with his claws gutted his opponent and ended the battle. Xerix wanted a challenge. And perhaps, he could accidentally-on-purpose sever Glabryhra’s finger and steal his ring from her, then disappear to his favourite place – Koh Tao, a small island near Thailand. There he spent his days fishing or out in the open sea on a boat or partaking in a no-holds-bar fist fight to the death. He preferred the latter.
“I’ll see what I can do.” Jackson’s fingers tapped out a furious rhythm behind his back, sparks of electricity showcasing the amount of magical energy coursing through the mage.
“Thank you,” she whimpered, playing up the pitiful nature of her disguise. A cruel twist of her lips revealed her intent, though, as she then whispered, “Xerixlaskolata.”
Xerix stiffened under the attack against his essence. It pulled and twisted at him until he became a wisp of ether hurling towards his master. He reformed a few feet away from her, any attempt at covering his demonic nature stripped away from him.
He would’ve preferred his cousins’ massive black wings, dragon-like snout with wicked teeth, and a tail that doubled as a weapon. Instead, due to crossbreeding, he had smooth black skin without any scales, spikes down his spine for defence, and two white horns on his forehead. His race mocked his kind, called them–
“An imp?” Jackson said, cocking his head to the side. Xerix snarled at him, hating that slur. It denied his heritage, proclaimed him as an inferior. “Why do you have a summoning ring for an imp?”
The mage didn’t bother waiting for a reply, though. He sliced his hand at Glabryhra and she froze where she stood. Not even the wind from the lake could ruffle her long, tousled hair.
Xerix’s snarl died in his throat, shocked a mage, even an Enforcer, had gotten the better of a Geryon. Their race was vicious, shrewd, and enjoyed victory at every turn. He clamped down on the urge to gloat at her. She still held his ring, damn it.
The wind picked up, tossing sand into Xerix’s eyes and he squinted against the fine granules. A flash of light and a rumble of thunder accompanied a sharp spoke word from Jackson. Blinking the debris from his eyes, Xerix almost cackled in joy. Jackson had banished the bitch, and his ring lay gleaming in the sand.
She’d left this plane without the gold band that bound him.
He leapt for it, intending to snatch the ring and then teleport home. The mage again proved to be quicker than he looked. The piece of metal jumped from the ground to Jackson’s hand, and Xerix howled in rage.
Before he could attack, Jackson said the dreaded word – Xerix’s true name, the one that held complete sway over his physical actions. Curse that damn Geryon for uttering his name.
Could he force Jackson to drop his ring, abandon it somewhere? He’d heard tales of ways to drive a summoning mage mad. An evil cackle rolled through his mind and he shoved the vile sound through the mental bond. While this would never work on a Geryon, mages were a weaker race, easily manipulated.
Jackson raised an eyebrow, unimpressed, and crossed his arms over his chest. “You are under my control, demon. Tell me, what name do I call you?”
“Xerix.” The word flew from his mouth, eager to obey the new owner of the ring. He clamped his lips together, furious at the indignity. Channelling the emotion, he conjured images of spilled guts, severed limbs, decapitated bodies, and him feasting on the remains of a fallen enemy.
Again the mage didn’t react, a smooth blankness to his features that begged for Xerix’s claws. Maybe some actual pain would break through Jackson’s apparent calmness.
Images assaulted Xerix, slamming into him at a ferocious rate, and he staggered back a step. Each one was a memory of Jackson’s – beaten, bloody, in pain, but not bowed. The rumours were true, then; the Academy systematically tortured their mages to teach control. Or were the images lies designed to cow Xerix?
He grinned, one that showcased his flesh-rending teeth.
“You’re not my first demon summoning,” Jackson glanced at his cell, his attention no longer on the conversation. “I know the games, but today I don’t have time to play them. If I summon you later, will you help me?”
At a loss, Xerix studied the mage. No fear, no bravado, no normal reaction. Was Jackson insane? Were all Mage Demon Enforcers like this? He hadn’t met any before today, since Glabryhra avoided them and with good reason. She hadn’t fared well against Jackson.
Curiosity pushed aside his confusion. What kind of assistance would the mage need from a demon, especially one Jackson viewed as an inferior imp?
“Yes, I’ll help you,” Xerix said.
The assault on his essence yanked Xerix from the arms of two warm and willing women. He growled in frustration. Damn that mage.
Reforming next to Jackson, Xerix imagined ripping him apart, claws severing limbs, and blood pooling at their feet. He shoved the mental pictures at the mage who calmly stared at him. Not even a twitch of horror or distaste marred Jackson’s blank features.
A sliver of admiration crept in and Xerix stomped on it in irritation.
With a low rumble in his chest, he said, “Well, what do you want?”
“We have a demon to capture and interrogate. I want to know who his summoner is.” Jackson’s gaze drifted to the large, single-story warehouse in front of them. “You will distract him while I sneak up on him.”
“And how will you sneak up on him? You stink of magic,” Xerix sneered.
Jackson didn’t reply. Ozone permeated the air and Xerix wrinkled his nose against the stench. Several whispered words later, the mage cocked an eyebrow at him and waited.
A strong wind blew, scattering the scent of ozone, and Xerix breathed in, enjoying the crisp cleanness, a welcome relief after the magic-coated odour. Eyes narrowed, he sniffed again. The mage had, for all intents and purposes, disappeared. No scent betrayed him and when Jackson moved, no sound accompanied him.
“Magic is a wonderful thing.” The corner of Jackson’s mouth kicked upwards. “Go in, scout it out, then tell me how many demons are in there.”
Something about his tone stiffened Xerix’s shoulders. The mage already knew, perhaps had scouted it out himself and was now testing his control over Xerix.
He nodded, unable to deny an order from the owner of his ring.
Drawing on the natural ability of his ancestor’s line, he cloaked himself with shadows, becoming one with the darkness. Most demons couldn’t sense him in this form, and yet Jackson’s eye flicked to him for a moment before sliding away.
Without a word, Xerix dashed into the warehouse, searching for the demons. Had they been summoned by a mage or by the Overlord? He shuddered at the thought of the sadistic warlord and focused on hunting instead. His race had a line of trackers, those who could find anyone anywhere, and though his blood had been diluted by his ancestors breeding beneath their station, he had enough of their abilities.
A quick sniff ferreted out the faint scent of a demon to his left. The rest of the odours belonged to humans, mages, and a werewolf. Possibly day workers. With night settling around them, a sole security guard patrolled the area, her scent stronger on the right side of the building.
Sneaking around a storage container, Xerix studied the single demon before him.
A Loatiskan – the same race as Xerix. One of the warriors? Not a tracker, for Xerix would have felt a connection to him even before he saw the other demon, an odd sensation of kinship that none could explain but one they accepted as fact.
He wore no human guise to cover his reptilian appearance. Blue scales, nostril slits, round eyes with no pupils and vertical eyelids, and a mouth full of serrated teeth.
Melancholy settled around Xerix at the familiar sight of his own kind. They’d been fierce, proud warriors until the Overlord. Now they were slaves, dancing to the whims of the insane warmonger.
Tempted to reveal himself, craving time with another Loatiskan, the command of Jackson held him back. He was to scout and report, not engage in conversation. With a scowl, he remained hidden and cursed the damn mage again.
The other demon spun around, his attention on the guard who’d circled around the building. She remained on the outside, perhaps safe from the demon inside. Then again, the flimsy cement walls wouldn’t contain a Loatiskan for long. She’d be dead before she had a chance to scream.
The demon’s shoulders tensed, as if preparing to smash down the wall, and Xerix’s breath caught in his throat, fear closing his airway when he caught sight of the markings on the Loatiskan. Without a second thought, he raced from the building and stopped before Jackson.
“We must leave. Now,” he demanded.
Jackson shook his head, refusing to budge. “No, I’m here for the demon inside and I will get him.”
Xerix danced from one foot to the other, agitation bursting in his veins. “Forget the demon. You can’t control him or bind him. He belongs to another.”
Jackson’s gaze narrowed. “I order you to explain. Why does he belong to another?”
“He’s tattooed. It controls his essence and he can never be fully bound to a summoner. You can banish him, but he’ll come back. Your magic has no say over the tattooed ones.”
“We’ll see about that.” The mage strode into the darkened building, confidence seeping from every bold step. Xerix trailed behind him, anticipating the recovery of his ring with Jackson’s death. If the other man wouldn’t listen to reason, then far be it for Xerix to interfere.
Maybe he could feast on some of Jackson’s flesh and gain some of his power? Not that he’d yet received an increase in abilities after eating an enemy, but it never hurt to try.
Jackson stopped several feet away from the other demon and waved a hand. Ozone again assaulted Xerix’s nose, but the other Loatiskan didn’t react, no whirling around, not even a muscle twitch. Had the mage frozen him? Such a handy ability to have.
Head cocked to the side, Jackson stepped closer to the demon, obviously trusting in the strength of his spell. His finger traced the tattoo, similar to a stick figure with its arms raised and a line slanted upwards. The character next to it was X with a line on top.
Taking his cell phone from his pocket, Jackson snapped a picture of it, and Xerix slunk back onto the shadows. Soon the mage would stir a nest he had no business touching. And when that happened, his death would free Xerix from another useless master.
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