Chapter 213: Holding
3 0 0
Reading Options
Font Size
A- 15px A+
Table of Contents
Loading... please wait.

The cabin door slammed behind Nyx and almost split into timbers. A thin layer of snow crunched underfoot, then melted down to a puddle. Nyx manifested a hood around their head, a little snow shield, but didn’t mind feeling the cold.

Hands on hips, they looked out at the night. And shivered, and gave themself space to cry. Their face fidgeted as they fiddled with their tear ducts and coaxed out tears. Eventually they came out like a flood and bit like ice. People in Nyx’s life had often said that it helps to cry, but when the crying was forced and the one doing the crying was constantly drifting away from the island of human normalcy, it could provide no relief.

Nyx made themself perform a long, mucus-filled sniff. It reminded them of all the crying they’d ever done and all the childhood temper tantrums. It made them realize they wouldn’t feel any pain at Ethel’s leaving, except in whatever moments still remained for Nyx to sulk over lost humanity. Which happened less and less often, of course. Which would continue to dwindle.

—Rustling. Not from the trees around them, but a demicrow beside them. Near the corner of the cabin, Agi was standing peacefully as can be, ruffling his feathers the least bit.

Nyx knew he’d wanted to get their attention, yet he continued looking straight on into the dark woods.

“Given that you are so attached to things, your majesty,” said Agi, “I have come up with several leads, based on the types of demons that looted your home.”

“Better to get new things,” said Nyx.

Agi brightened and relaxed his shoulders. “As for that, I have several more. In Darshanna alone there are several kingdoms. Some have isolated themselves, made their own pocket dominions, and those, I believe, are the most vulnerable.”

“I’m in full agreement.”

He turned to give Nyx a stern look. Not stern because of the tears—he didn’t seem to care about the tears, and Nyx appreciated that. “You should invest in a proper demon household this time, you know.”

“Oh, yes. I’m aware.”

“And if your majesty wants to hear my opinion...”

Agi raised an eyebrow at Nyx—Nyx gave no objection to Agi.

“...they should take all their human weakness and bottle it up within their little friend. Take that weakness for a tour, if need be.”

“There is a need,” said Nyx stoically.

“And if that doesn’t work, one can always invest in a servicer.”

“...In a...?”

“A servicer?” Agi frowned. “Splitting and compartmentalizing the mind?”

“Can you start that sentence over?”

“When a great demon lord has much to ponder and not many minds with which to ponder it, often they’ll engage in some mindsplitting and give different tasks to different mental parts. These are the servicers. It may take weeks or years, it may be painless or not painless. Hm...I’m surprised you didn’t know about it, I thought you’d tried. Then again, I shouldn’t have been.”

“Urrich taught me nothing,” Nyx said bitterly. Their arms dropped limp to their sides.

“It’s neither here nor there, my lord.”

Wind tossed the snow into airborne swirls.

An object, small and solid, appeared in Nyx’s hand, put there so fast and stealthily it could have grown there.

Without looking, Nyx knew what it was. Their hand closed tightly around it.

“Why’d you save this?” they asked.

“Because aside from the greenhouse, I knew this was the one thing that might be of deeper significance to you.”

Nyx turned to Agi, breathless and stunned, feeling the snake pattern of the lockbox.

“It is also nice from a strategic point of view,” he added.

“And it’s a tag,” said Nyx.

“It is a tag,” he admitted.

“I don’t give a shit about the tags. You do realize that, right?”

He gave them a stiff nod.

“...You’ve been neglecting to say ‘my lord’ and ‘your majesty’ as much as you should be,” said Nyx.

He ducked his head. “Humblest apologies.”

“And I want you to cut it out forever.”

Agi clasped his hands together and rubbed, smiling, wondering what this meant. “Is this a trick—my lord?”

“It’s just the truth. Formalities never sat totally right with me, and you know that. Now, come back inside. Don’t wanna start thinking you’ve gone traitor again.”

“Why wou—” Agi stopped himself, composed himself. He gave a straightforward response this time. “I betray those I do not respect. I play with those I like.”

“What about the ones you do respect?”

He wondered for a few seconds if he should say more. Then he did. “I tell them the whole truth, even when not strictly warranted. You have a lot of work to do, Nyx, but I do have many years on you, and you’ve always entertained me.”

Nyx figured that was as good as they were going to get. They nudged the door open with their foot, and the two of them slipped in like shadows.


People appeared, glitched into existence.

It was an inconvenient time of night on the jagged rocky edge of a dirty river, and in the distance, headlights twinkled along a concrete bridge.

Ethel turned and saw two long figures sleeping on the rocks, next to bottles in crinkling plastic bags.

“Well, looks like the city is right there!” shouted Ragnorre, pointing near the bridge. The long figures woke with a start, but she didn’t notice them. “You better go find someplace ASAP. Could be monsters out here!”

Ethel said, “Ragnorre...don’t make assumptions about homeless people...”

With a change of clothes, a sachet of pawnable gold jewelry, and Earthlike food in her backpack, Ethel was theoretically ready to survive on Earth. Realistically, she’d been thrown to the wolves. She shuddered to think what the implications would be of Ragnorre possibly defending her as a glitch murderer-thief, spatially illegal, incompatible with any moral code.

So she waved goodbye and let Ragnorre go. A cloud of pixels disappeared her. The people waking up stood and cried out to each other, watching the weird lights go. Ethel, figuring that moving away slowly with affected relaxation was better than hurrying off, walked toward the city lights.

She felt in her pocket for the wooden lockbox, refashioned from half of Nyx’s.