“Roberto,” I said, tasting the name again.

Nen looked up at me, anticipating something more.

“To track a demon, a demon hunter seems like a good start.  Even if I don’t believe in demons, really.”

Nen sat on the edge of the table. “I believe in terrible things that will gladly eat your face.”

“My face in particular or do they just have an occasional craving for faces?”

“A rumbly only faces can satisfy?”

“Well, there’s one thing wrong with them, anyway.” I frowned, and not just because fey quoting internet memes was a thing.

Rayya showed me some sympathy. “There are many beings whose desires border on malevolence as we experience it. A blatant addiction to cruelty perhaps. If something required the pain of others, a foul succubus of sadism. We call it angelic when the same need is in altruism, do we not? But they are still parasites.”

“Not how I really thought about angels. Messengers, yes, but not like the things within vampires.  It sounds pretty cynical,” I said, thinking about it.

“It is the demon within your mythology who makes the contract, and yet the Covenant and other forms of agreement are found on the so-called opposing side.” Rayya made a face I recognized as something she didn’t particularly appreciate.

“So-called?” I asked, appreciating the diversion.

“It is the same source, is it not? Just divided over ideology,” she said, a little hesitant.

I thought about asking her more specifics, but Nen beat me to it. “Some readings differ, as Gilgamesh sees the screech owl that was banished to the wastelands. Metaphors woven, stories made to explain competing tales of humanity’s celebrated children.  And yet do the two who invite speak different tales, such cacophony of myths that it took a Great Star to diffuse the voices into a symphony of reality.  Sound and fury, the shouting of ‘I am,’ similar between gods and mortals.” He shrugged. “A chemical reaction, an accident of life, all desires to understand the taming of chaos.”

“Which is thought to be the source of magic,” Rayya added.

“I’m feeling the cynicism,” I retorted.

“Recognition,” Nen corrected.

“Recognition? Of what?” I asked.

“Of the struggle akin in all realms: to tame chaos to one’s own advantage. A unifying theory of sorts.”

“Magic is physics?” I asked, scoffingly.

Nen shrugged. “And yet you say humanity would be content without interaction in the realms.”

“For which you disagree?” I wasn’t sure.

“I don’t know if it is a lack or an excess of imagination,” Rayya said softly.  I couldn’t tell if she was describing me or humanity, or heck, both.

I shook my head. “And this relates to demons?”

“No, malevolency. If chaos is the source of malevolency, demons are the forms of chaos to balance the forces of that which tames it,” Nen suggested.  “Chaos’ paladins, spreading the word of the anarchy in design.”

“Do anarchists have designs? I mean, the first sounds a little too ‘Chronicles of Amber’ for me,” I made a wry smile.

“Everything wrought can be undone,” Rayya shrugged.

“I’ve no horseshoe nails, if you’re about to ask.” I said. “Sounds too much of cold iron, anyway.”

“And in there is an anchor to the myth.”

“Also made of cold iron?”

“What would the temperature really have to do with it?” Rayya asked, but I was beginning to recognize the signs of her having me on, at least a little.

I flattered her with a look that kind of said that, and was rewarded with a smile.  She looked away after a moment.

I sighed. “I should do it.”

“Speak to your kin?” Nen asked.

“Am I that transparent?” I grinned.

“The speech of your movements brings you back to a younger time, and the marks of those years are upon you. Perhaps it is the same with mine.” He looked at Rayya.

She didn’t need to look at him. I recognized that, too.

I sighed and leaned over for my phone.

“Is that Numancy-fancy boy still dancing to your tune?” I asked when she picked up.

“I haven’t gotten bored of him…yet,” she replied. “And how are you?”

“Failing. I have 100 problems, and 99 of them aren’t demons.”

“I’ve always been better than you at math, but that’s implying an imaginary number. I know how you feel on the subject.” That was her saying that I’d made it quite clear.

“You’ve been better than me at just about everything,” I said, and I guessed it was the sentimental influence of the spriggan sibs, or I would never had said it.

She chuckled. “You’re going to ask me a favor, aren’t you?”

“Oh, indubitably.” She gave me the out.

“You need one of Robert’s patented full body massages?”


“I’m pretty sure it’s an entirely new technique that no one else has ever used before, but it involves anatomy and consent I don’t think you have.”

“I don’t…”

“…need to hear any more.” She laughed. “Okay, so instead of his physical skills you want something more … esoteric?”

“Good way of putting it.”

“Huh.” She was quiet for a moment. “Well, it’s going to cost you.”

“I won’t beg, I won’t do arson, and murder’s completely out.”

“Think cheaper.”

“Mom?” I tried not to whine.

“No, are you crazy? Don’t go there. She’s having one of her …”

“One of her…?” I let it trail off.

“Look, she wants grandkids, and unless you’ve made the awful decision to get back with Magdalen P. U., you should be nowhere near her.”

“No, no, no.” I literally pushed back on my chair, as if I could increase the physical distance between myself and that whole thought. “So what is it? I know it isn’t money.  It isn’t money, right?”

“Hah. I don’t need the change between your cushions.  Besides, you have a futon.”

“You don’t say.  So what is it?”

“I’m in.”

“You’re in what?”

“Can I trust you with my boyfriend?”

“Um… his virtue? You were all but throwing him at me a moment ago.”

“No, I want to go with you, wherever you go.”

“You having one of your feelings?”

“Yeah.  Big time.”

“And that’s it?”

“Oh, I’m going to think of something else.  Let me get him on the phone.  Lunch?”

“Usual place?”

“Of course.”