It was my day off. Oh, blessed day of rest, a chance to unwind, to get my head on straight again, far from the noise and bustle of the job. I was relaxing after breakfast, letting the dishes wait in the sink while I caught up on my reading in the mid-morning sun, nibbling the last of my toast. The wife and kids were out shopping and I wondered how long it had been since I had been able to enjoy such peace and quiet. I took a breath, scratched myself idly, and allowed myself a smile. Then I felt the tug.
"What the ... ?" I set my book down and looked around the room. Everything seemed normal. I relaxed. Just imagination.
The tug came again. Oh, crap. You read about this kind of thing in the papers, but it's always someone else. Again I felt the pull, stronger this time. "Oh, no you don't!" I bellowed into the air. "There's no way in hell you're taking me!"
I fought, I thrashed, even as the kitchen became indistinct. I fought with all my will and let me tell you, there aren't many demons as powerful as I am. "Raaaaaahhh!" I shouted as my sunny kitchen was replaced by a dank stone basement. Some humans were there, wide-eyed and fearful, and I flung myself at them, only to slam into some sort of magical wall. I rebounded, stunned.
I was standing at the center of a circle of candles, and on the floor were symbols written with human blood. I figured I'd be adding a few more choice sayings by the time I was finished here.
"Stay, demon!" bellowed one of them. "I have summoned thee to do my will! By the dark powers you are mine to command!"
Even as I imagined ripping his head off and using it to smash the skulls of his friends, I felt the compulsion of his words. He was pretty powerful, all right, but he only had the upper hand because he caught me by surprise. "Do you have the slightest idea how friggin' rude this is?" I asked.
The wizard paused, then said, "I care not, hell-spawn. You shall obey me!" The others in the group seemed reassured by his words.
"I tell you what," I said. "Apologize for ruining my perfect friggin' morning, wave your bony little arms and let me get back to my book, and I won't kill you." I'd make him suffer, but now wasn't the time to be mentioning that.
"You cannot fool me with your demonic wiles, fiend!"
"All right then." I addressed the others in the group, huddled behind their leader. "You realize, gentlemen -- and I use the term loosely considering your behavior so far -- that if some stray breeze happens along and just one of these candles goes out, I am free. And right now I am very unhappy. Think about it."
"Listen not to his lies! He seeks to divide us!"
"Mr. Wizard here has no idea what he's scooped up in his net. Even if he can control me, he's guilty of kidnapping and forced imprisonment. That makes you all accessories. My people take things like that very seriously." The knot of humans looked at each other nervously. I pressed my advantage. "I've got a deal for you," I said. "The one of you who kills the wizard, I will spare. In fact, if you all get together and toss him over here, I'll let you all live."
"Silence!" The wizard bellowed, and I was unable to speak. Which just pissed me off more. "You see?" he continued, "I control him completely."
"But he said -- "
"Who are you going to believe, me or a beast from the pits of hell?"
I tested my restraints again. Barely adequate. I wasn't kidding when I said that just one candle was all I needed. I brooded, and glared with baleful hatred at the knot of pathetic humanity just beyond my reach. I caught the eye of one of the group and dragged my finger across my throat, then pointed at the wizard. The man's eyes got big.
"Freeze!" The wizard shouted, and my body ceased all motion, no matter how hard I willed it to move.
The wizard gathered himself. "Heed my command, foul creature!" That he shouted everything didn't help my mood one bit, and the 'foul creature' wasn't the one who had interrupted someone else's peaceful morning. It didn't matter. I heeded.
"Tonight a child is born, foretold by prophesy. You shall take her."
I stood motionless.
"You may speak," the wizard said.
"You guys really should kill him," I said.
"Only about things in direct relevance to my commands!"
I still couldn't roll my eyes. "Take her where?"
"Take her life. Take her to hell."
Ah, crap. Another kid underfoot. Luckily humans grow up fast. They learn fast, too. I wondered about the prophesy. Normally I stay away from those things, but in this case I was willing to take a chance. If she had talent, she could do a lot worse than learning in our schools. The state of education here on the Earthly plane is abysmal, especially where magic is concerned. By the time she had the skill to get home, she'd be a force to be reckoned with. I'd have a list of names for her as well. I can be patient.
"All right," I said. "I shall do as you command."
* * *
"Don't take my baby!"
I surveyed the unconscious people strewn about the room. "I've got no choice," I said.
"I don't know for sure. There's a prophesy of some sort."
"Ah, crap. Did Melkon send you?"
I tipped the midwife out of the chair next to the bed. She fell in a heap onto the floor, insensate. I sat, trying not to tower over the woman clinging to her child. "Yeah, he's the guy."
"You got that right. I was just reading my book, enjoying my toast, and -- "
"You! You're the bastard!"
I held up my hands. "Hey, whoa, hey there. I didn't ask for this. In fact--"
"I can't believe he'd stoop to this."
"Yeah, well, there's that prophesy and all..."
"You bought that crap? Prophesy? The guy wouldn't know a prophesy if it told him it would bite him in the ass tomorrow."
"Well, actually, I'm pretty sure--"
"How does it feel to be the slave of a petty, small-minded jerk?"
I smiled slowly, with lots of teeth. "That situation is temporary."
She clutched her daughter closer.
I sighed. "I will take this child. I have been commanded to do so, and you cannot stop me. Heck, I can't stop me."
"But ... She'll die."
"Well, technically, yes."
"You can't have her!"
"Look, it's not like I have a choice, but even if I didn't take her, Wizard-boy would find some other way to get rid of her. She's a lot safer with me than she is with you." That was an oversimplification; she would have to be tremendously powerful to survive school in the demon realm -- even simple sibling rivalries could be fatal. But there was that prophesy. I'm not that good with the future, not my bailiwick, as they say, but there was some sort of vibration coming from the kid I knew better than to ignore. "Who knows? She might even be able to come back some day."
* * *
I watched her as she sat cross-legged on the stone floor, her face a mask of concentration. My own kids had grown up quickly, but humans live their entire lives in the blink of an eye. When I first brought her to the demon realm she had been nothing more than a delectable little morsel, pink and helpless. I defended her constantly from those who would eat her, even as I myself contemplated what she might taste like.
No worries on that account anymore. Once she developed her concentration skills, the dark arts came to her with astonishing ease. Ever since then she had insisted on defending herself; no help from me would be tolerated ever again. It was a relief, but also a disappointment -- I had enjoyed my protector role in some peculiar way. She only had to kill two of her classmates and one teacher before the school knew that their youngest pupil was also one of the most dangerous.
The death of a faculty member had led to a brief inquiry, which as her guardian I was forced to attend. It went something like the following:
INQUISITOR 1: You killed the school's master of magical combat, a respected member of the faculty and a key defender of the demon realm.
MY LITTLE PRINCESS: He attacked me first.
INQUISITOR 2: You want us to believe that one of the most powerful fighters in the Demon Realm attacked you and not only did you survive, but you prevailed?
MLP: Does anyone have a problem with that?
The record shows that no one had a problem with that. That's my girl. I sighed over my morning paper. She would be going home soon, I knew.
I watched her for a while as she stared at the floor in front of her, the corners of her eyes squinched in the way they did when she was in deep concentration. Finally her face relaxed.
"What're you up to, Princess?"
"Oh? Waiting for what?"
She smiled her glittery smile, the one with the dangerous glint in her eye. "It's a surprise."
I wondered if I wanted to find out what the surprise was. "Uh, Okay. Well, happy birthday."
Now her smile was a little friendlier. "Thanks, Daddy."
"It seems like just yesterday I brought you here, and now look at you. Only sixteen years old and you're already becoming an adult."
"Oh, you get like this every year. You're lucky mom doesn't see you; she'd rip your big soft heart right out of your chest and eat it."
"That's why I'm very careful -- " I stopped when my adopted daughter held up her hand for silence, a gesture that expected to be obeyed.
"It's time," she said. With a word and a gesture she twisted the universe, and out of nowhere a figure appeared. The pale human hovered the air for a moment, naked, eyes bugging out of his head, before falling with a splat right on his bare ass.
Melkon looked around in shock as he covered himself with his hands. "Wha ... ?"
"I have summoned you," my little princess said.
The wizard radiated outrage. "How dare you trifle with me! I was in the bath!"
"Yes, I know. I waited until you were nice and comfortable."
The wizard stood and began marshaling his magic. "Then you shall pay the price!" That's when he saw me, and took in the rest of his surroundings. "Oh," he said. "Shit."
My little girl turned to me, beaming. "This year you get a present, too." She ran over to me and gave me a hug. "Happy birthday, Daddy."