Trisk rose from the fertilizer-stained cement walk, wiping the growth substrate from her fingers onto a rag tucked into her lab coat. A stiff, artificial wind blew dry air over the sturdy tomato plants as she stretched her back in satisfaction. The leafy, tart-smelling greenery spread nearly a quarter acre under artificial light, healthy and strong. It would be cheaper to have her largest testing field above-ground, but after the Cuban bioweapon crisis, legislation forced all true-breeding GMO research into facilities that could withstand a 747 hitting them.
This would be the last year her Angel tomato would reside in Global Genetics’ largest quarantine field, and in actuality, what was here was the seed holding the final tweaks that Saladan had demanded. Her project was making money, and it felt more than good.
It did, though, beg the question of what would fill the perfect rows between the dirt and the raised irrigation system next year. Perhaps after she had proved herself with Daniel’s virus, an elven lab would offer her a job.
Trisk bent over one of the ripening fruits, examining it for any hint of cracking to find only a perfect red skin. The tiny little hairs that helped retain moisture were a soft fuzz on her fingers. Her feelings were decidedly mixed. It would be wonderful to leave the clunky, labor-intensive techniques that a human-run facility was saddled with to work directly on developing her donor virus, but she wasn’t sure she wanted to leave the comfort of where she was, fighting only the expectation that she should be cooking in a kitchen, not at a Bunsen burner. Her reputation was here, and to leave it, even to help her people, would be hard.
“Dr. Cambri?” Angie’s voice came across the intercom, shouting to be heard over the massive fans. “Mr. Rales wants to talk to you.”
Trisk turned to the observation window with a grimace. She’d skipped the man’s first staff meeting this morning, and he probably wanted to nip that in the bud. “Sure!” she exclaimed, hoping the mic could pick her up from here. “Can you take a message? I’m busy.”
“Uh, he’s in your office?” Angie said apologetically, and Trisk winced.
“I guess I’d better get my ass in there, then, eh?” she said softly, and then louder, “Got it! Thanks!” Making her way back, Trisk plucked a tomato to take home for supper. It wouldn’t hurt to remind Rick that her work paid some of the bills when he made whatever lame-ass request he had buzzing around in his vampire-infested brain.
Wanting to make him wait, she carefully knocked the growth substrate off her field boots before slipping into her office shoes. She took the time to wash the tomato in the decontamination sink. The minimal procedures were nothing compared to Daniel’s elaborate precautions, but seeing as the Angel tomato was on the market, they were all she needed.
Rick’s shadow loomed close to the observation window. He was smiling, but Trisk didn’t like the way he was looking at Angie, and she hustled to the door.
“Dr. Cambri,” the man said as the air lock hissed open. His disapproving glance at her slacks rankled, and she held up a hand to shut him up for a moment and maintain control of the situation.
“Angie, I want the field to go another three days without water. Could you adjust the irrigator for me?”
“Certainly, Dr. Cambri.” The young woman gave Rick a lovelorn look. “Have a great weekend, Mr. Rales.”
“You too,” the living vampire said with a closed-lipped smile. “See you Monday.”
Never taking her eyes off him, Angie stumbled out the door Trisk had come in through and into the field. Eyebrows high, Trisk shifted to stand between the closing door and Rick. She didn’t like him watching her lab assistant. “What brings you down to the basement, Rick?”
Rick’s attention went to her, Angie clearly forgotten. “You,” he said, and Trisk blanched as his smile widened to show his capped teeth. “You weren’t at my meeting this morning.”
He looked better than good in the lab coat he’d begun to wear lately over his tailored slacks and crisp white shirts. He smelled good, too, sort of a dusty-book-and-wine scent. Knowing the man had made a game out of learning what turned on each of the female staff—not to mention that he’d pegged her correctly in two days flat—Trisk cocked her hip belligerently. “That’s right,” she said, offering no explanation. The monthly staff meeting had been a waste of time under Hartsford, and probably would be doubly so under Rick.
Making a small noise, Rick turned to a shelf of reference books stacked beside her terminal. “I’m sure you heard everything through the grapevine,” he said, and she stiffened as he ran a finger sensuously over the spine of the most worn.
“No,” she said, feeling her pulse quicken. Daniel had been in a sour mood—the little she’d seen of him. “What can I do for you?” she said, wanting him to stop touching her things.
“Me?” He turned, shoe squeaking. “Nothing. But I need you to clear out the office next to yours by Monday morning for an incoming researcher.”
Trisk’s lips parted. “That office connects directly to mine, Mr. Rales, and I’m using it.” Damn it, why did new management always think there was a better way to do things?
“Your assistant is using it, not you,” he said, going still.
The barest widening of his eyes was a clear warning at her argumentative attitude. It wasn’t that he didn’t like it, but that he did. The sun must be down. It would be harder for him to keep a lid on his instincts. “Yes,” she said, eyes down to give him space to collect himself. “But it’s connected to mine. My work is proprietary, and the security risk alone—”
“Your work has been on the shelves and in every third-world field for over a year,” Rick interrupted. “There’s no security risk. Perhaps next time you can make a product that doesn’t self-seed.”
She’d taken a lot of flack for that from Hartsford as well. “Species that don’t reproduce on their own shouldn’t be taking up resources in the field,” she said, her face warming at the hypocrisy. Two-thirds of the elven population was alive due to genetic tampering.
Rick turned away, clearly struggling to maintain an even temperament as she argued with him. “We can put in a lock between your offices if you like,” he said, voice low, “but he needs a terminal linked to the mainframe, and your assistant’s is the only one available.”
“Mr. Rales,” she protested, and he spun, shocking her to silence with how fast it had been. His shoulders were hunched and his lips parted. His eyes held the need to dominate. Trisk’s mouth went dry. Quen said to never argue with a vampire . . .
“This isn’t a request, Dr. Cambri,” he said, inches away, his aftershave coating her like a heavy blanket to make her pulse quicken. “Dr. Kalamack needs access to the mainframe to verify that the modifications you made to Daniel’s virus will hold through multiple generations.”
“Kalamack!” she exclaimed, her fear vanishing at the thought of the prideful snot in her office. Eyes darting, Trisk glanced past Rick to make sure the intercom was closed. “Does the enclave know about this?” she all but whispered, and Rick made an ugly face.
“Of course they do,” he said, as if she was being stupid. “He’s here to assist in the patent transfer of the T4 Angel tomato to Saladan Farms, but you will give him access to Dr. Plank’s tactical virus. Everyone wants to be sure it is safe before it goes into live trials, and that means a second opinion. Get that office cleared out by Monday. Stay late or come in this weekend if you need to, but get it done. And be at the welcome meeting at nine a.m. Monday morning, or I’ll bring the party down to your lab.”
Trisk jerked as Rick strode to the hallway door, almost looking as if he was fleeing. She knew the tweaks she’d made to Daniel’s virus were perfect. She’d checked the original code herself, taken steps to be sure the organism wouldn’t easily mutate. It wasn’t her universal donor virus, but it was clean. And Kal was coming to check it? Bullshit.
“Rales!” she shouted, but the door had already swung closed. Lips pressed, she yanked it open and strode out after him. He was halfway down the long hallway, moving fast. Quen had told her in his last letter to never follow a fleeing vampire, but he’d also told her the enclave was cutting off Kal’s funding. He was coming to steal credit for Daniel’s work. Either that, or hers. Or both. “Rales?” she called as she ran to catch up.
Rick spun, a savage, almost pained expression on his face, and Trisk slid to a frightened halt. “Are you following me, Dr. Cambri?” he all but rasped.
Breathless, she backed up. “Was it your idea or the enclave’s that Kal check my work?”
“The enclave’s,” he said, hunched as he looked at his clenched hands, exhaling as they opened. They were shaking, and Trisk put more space between them. “His findings will be going to the witches’ coven of moral and ethical standards through Saladan. The Weres have Colonel Wolfe as their representative, and the vampires have me. This is not a small matter, Dr. Cambri, and I’d advise you to cooperate with Dr. Kalamack and give him what he wants.” His eyes narrowed as his hands crooked into claws again. “I’d also advise you to stop following me.”
Damn. Every major Inderland species was involved, and she nodded her agreement, cursing herself for beginning to sweat. “Daniel’s virus is perfect,” she said, her thoughts going to her own secondary research on a universal donor virus. It was vulnerable and easy to steal if you knew where to look.
“Then there should be no problem.”
His closed-lipped smile chilled her, but she had been counting on her hidden contributions to Daniel’s virus to advance her reputation in the elven field. That would be gone if Kal claimed it as his own, and so she reached out, her hand falling before it touched him. “Wait,” she said as Rick began to turn away once more. “I know what is going on. This is Daniel’s virus. His research. I won’t let Kal put his name on it.”
Rick smirked. “I believe what the enclave said was ‘We’re not so foolish to allow a potentially deadly virus to reach the public without our best people vetting it.’”
“What?” she exclaimed, face warming. “Kalamack is a research-stealing hack who hasn’t had a unique thought since the third grade. I know, because I was there! Bring in someone else.”
Eyes pupil black, Rick leaned close. “I don’t care, Dr. Cambri,” he said, inches from her ear, his beautiful voice reaching deep into her and twisting until fear oozed out, thick and black into her veins. “My master and the rest of Inderland simply want a tactical virus that is what you say it is, and nothing more. Whose name is on it means zip.” He pulled away from her, and she began to breathe again. Turning, he walked away, lab coat furling and his steps loud on the tiled floor. “Cooperate with him!” he exclaimed, back hunched as if in pain.
Suddenly Trisk realized she was pressed up against the wall. She didn’t remember putting herself there. “Damn,” she whispered as Rick stiff-armed the security door open, his voice pleasant as he told George to have a good night. And then the door shut, and she was alone.
But the thought of Kal near her research was even more frightening than a living vampire fighting a thousand years of instinct to not break her skin. If Kal was coming here, it wasn’t to double-check her work, it was to steal it. And sure as spoiled boys grow up to be small men, the enclave would turn a blind eye. Everything she’d worked for would be gone. How many times, she wondered, is this going to happen before they give credit where credit is due?
Anger began to push out the lingering fear that Rick had instilled. She would not let Kalamack walk over her again. She’d finally gotten his footprints off her back from the last time. The enclave wouldn’t help her. Her father . . . no, she couldn’t ask him to fight her battles anymore. She was alone. But she had skills—skills she’d never dared use before.
Pace fast, she blew into her office, jerking to a stop when she almost ran into Angie. Her assistant was waiting for her, the clipboard in her hand clearly needing her signature. “Angie,” Trisk fumbled, wondering if the woman had seen Rick pin her to the hallway wall.
“Is everything okay, Dr. Cambri?” the young woman asked, and Trisk took the clipboard.
“Saladan has a guest researcher coming in to facilitate the patent shift on the T4 Angel,” Trisk said stiffly as she scrawled her name across the bottom. “He needs your office and the terminal to the mainframe. I’m sorry about this.”
“That’s okay,” Angie said, the question of whether she’d seen Trisk and Rales arguing still ambiguous. “I’ve already got my desk emptied.”
Trisk frowned at the box of belongings by the door. “You’re taking this better than I am,” she said to try to explain away her anger. “Go on home. I’ll clear out the computer. There’re some sensitive files in there, and if there’s a problem, I don’t want it to fall back on you.”
Angie nodded, accepting that. “It’s going to be okay, isn’t it, Dr. Cambri?” she asked again, her expression pinched in worry, and Trisk managed a thin smile.
“Of course. He’ll only be here for a few weeks.” But she didn’t believe it. Her fingers began to twitch, and she hid them in her lab coat pockets.
“Okay,” Angie said, clearly not believing it, either. “I’m going to bug out then, unless there’s something else you need. See you Monday.”
“Monday,” Trisk echoed, her hands now in fists as Angie gathered her things and left.
Trisk didn’t move until she heard Angie’s cheerful good-night to George. Frowning, she locked the door to the hall, then strode to the adjoining office, yanking the door open and going into the spacious but nearly empty room. Immediately she pulled the blinds that looked out onto the hall, then locked the main door as well.
Wincing at the grinding squeak, she pushed the desk all the way to the wall to leave an open space half circled by built-in terminals that overlooked the tomato field. Kal might have been sent here to check her work, but he would try to steal it, change it enough that he would feel justified in relegating her to the footnotes. She’d be lucky to be listed as his assistant in the history books. But Trisk was a Cambri, damn it, and they never gave up.
In her flowed the blood of dark warriors who’d stood and killed demons when others fled. It was said that it had been a Cambri who learned how to travel the ley lines and escape the ever-after. Her kin had carried the survivors to safety, and because of that, she had one more card to play.
Nervous, she checked both doors again. It was after sundown. Demons couldn’t be summoned when the sun was up and the natural energy flow of the ley lines was contrary.
“Okay, let’s see how useful that minor in demon studies is,” she whispered as she took a key from her keychain and opened a locked cabinet. It was empty but for a cardboard box loosely closed by its interlocking flaps.
Her motions slowed as she took it out and set it on the displaced desk. With a methodical reverence, she pulled the flaps, stifling a sneeze at the dust. Peering inside, she exhaled in relief. Everything was still there. Gaining help from the same species who’d cursed the elves’ genetic code into a slow, cascading decay would be a chancy game of truth and misdirection. She had the basics, but even her professor didn’t have a demon name to summon one with. Demon summoning wasn’t illegal, just foolish, which was probably why the university hadn’t minded her minoring in the dead-end study.
Trisk’s fingers shook as she draped the purple satin ribbon around her neck, the tails brushing the top of her lab coat’s pocket. It was for show, but any form of protection was appreciated. Still inside was a jewelry box full of sea salt, a candle, a stick of magnetic chalk, and a small jar of cremation dust from her grandmother: all definitely not for show.
It was the cremation dust that was the most valuable, not so much for the cremains themselves, but for the small stone she’d found among the ashes when she’d accidentally broken the original container. Trisk was betting her grandmother had swallowed it before she’d died, a gift to whatever family member might find it. The river-worn stone was engraved with a long, complicated word Trisk hadn’t found in any dictionary or encyclopedia. It had to be the name of the demon her grandmother was rumored to have been able to summon.
“This is so stupid,” she whispered as the magnetic chalk rolled to the metal stapler sitting on the desktop and stuck. But her fear of what Kal would do was greater, and she pulled the chalk free and turned to the open floor.
Breath held, Trisk scribed a six-foot-diameter circle, practice making it absolutely perfect. Hesitating, she went over it again to make sure the holes were filled. Still not trusting it, she made a second, larger circle around the chalk line with the salt. Salt was cheap, her life was not, but if her grandmother was brave enough to summon a demon, she could be, too.
“Thank you, Grandma,” she said as she carefully shook a tablespoon of ash into the center to attract the demon. Stretching, Trisk set the candle beside it before rising to wash any hint of ash from herself. The candle was there to direct the demon to the pile of ash and not any residue on her hands, but why take chances?
Stupid, stupid, stupid, she thought as she stood before her double circle and shook out her hands. Exhaling, she stretched out her awareness for the strongest ley line. It wasn’t always the closest, and here on the coast, it was rarely the same one from day to day. Small quakes disturbed them, making the connection unreliable and chancy.
Settling on one outside Sacramento, she pulled the energy into her to fuel a hard-won, often-practiced series of mental gymnastics. Reaching out, she pinched the wick of the candle. “In fidem recipere,” she whispered as she released both the wick and the energy swirling through her. The candle flickered and steadied, the pure scent of wax rising unsullied by the hint of sulfur. It was set with her will, and would be stronger than one lit using a match or lighter.
It wasn’t too late to walk away, but instead, she strengthened her hold on the ley line to set her containment circle. “Septiens,” she whispered, using the power of the lines to shift a molecule-thin span of reality into the ever-after. A wavering barrier of alternate reality sprang up, rising until it began to fall back in on itself to create a half bubble of containment.
Another half sphere mirrored it under the floor, and she’d already taken pains to ensure that no pipes or electrical lines crossed it, possibly giving the demon a way out. The word to set her circle wasn’t as important as the intent behind it. Any nonsense word would work. Latin was the language of choice because it wasn’t used in regular conversation and the chance of accidentally setting a circle when, say, asking someone to pass the salt was nil.
Tension tightened her jaw, and she retreated to the desk, resolving not to move from it until this was over. She had her ash to draw him in, the candle to direct him where to materialize, and the circle itself to contain him. She’d done all of this before for her final, but the teacher had only a nonsense word to use in place of a demon’s name, and there’d been no danger except of looking like an idiot if her circle hadn’t formed. If she did it wrong now, she’d die. Or worse.
“Facilis descensus Tartaros, Algaliarept,” she whispered, hoping she hadn’t made a mistake and that the word engraved on the stone buried in her grandmother’s ashes was actually a demon’s name and would pull him from the ever-after.
Breath held, she waited. Nothing. Trisk’s shoulders slumped. She shifted her weight to push from the desk, but with a wash of fear, she stopped, stifling a shudder at the blossoming scent of burnt amber, cloying and thick, slightly acidic and sweet in the half-light coming in from the underground field. “The Goddess help me, it worked,” she whispered as she pressed back against the desk, and then louder, “I know you’re here.”
The candle flame hadn’t flickered and the ash was untouched, but she could smell him. Damn it, what if I had dropped my circle?
“Who, little elf, are you?” a bored, masculine voice with a noble British accent said as if from nowhere. “And how, between here and the ever-after, did you get my name?”
Trisk stifled a shudder. He was here. It had worked! Excitement mixed with her fear, and she clasped her arms around herself. “Show yourself and I’ll tell you,” she said boldly, shaking inside. She had summoned a demon. She had summoned a demon!
“You offer me Felecia Ann Barren’s ashes,” her demon intoned, and she grimaced as a haze condensed over the ash. “Are you her daughter, by chance? I never did finish with Annie. I could finish with you.”
“Show yourself,” Trisk demanded, not liking the disembodied voice. Her hands were cold, and she unclenched her jaw. The Goddess help me, I’m talking to a demon!
“Gra-a-a-anddaughter,” the demon said confidently, and Trisk’s attention darted to the malevolent, goat-slitted red eyes that blinked owlishly at her from a haze of nothing. “Felecia Ann Barren would never allow her daughter to be so . . . attractively aggressive.”
The demon chuckled, the sound tripping down her spine to make her squirm. Mouth dry, she watched the haze condense into a man’s shape. Contrary to popular belief, a summoned demon wasn’t her slave. He could vanish at any time and couldn’t stay after sunrise even if he wanted to, but he’d probably indulge an inquiry or two on the chance she’d make a mistake and he would have her body and soul.
“I’ve waited long for someone like you,” Algaliarept said, and like a Cheshire cat, he blinked his red eyes at her from the darkness, hovering a few feet above the floor in the middle of her circle. A wide, blocky-toothed smile was next, and then a disembodied face, his cheekbones strong and his complexion ruddy. He grinned at her, his body a bare hint of a silhouette sitting cross-legged in her circle. “Now that I have found you, I curse the years you waited to call my name. Love.”
Trisk forced her shoulders to relax. If her circle hadn’t been strong enough to contain him, he’d be out by now, dragging her back to the ever-after. “I have a problem,” she said as his shape became more substantial and the shadow of a crushed green velvet frock coat appeared.
“Don’t we all. My God, are those . . . tomatoes? Why are you growing tomatoes underground?” Algaliarept tugged a misty lace from his coat sleeves as he looked past her to the field, lit softly by security lights. More lace appeared at his throat, and with an unheard wave of energy, he became entirely solid, the buckles on his boots shining as he sat beside the ash and candle. He appeared for all the world like a Victorian dandy. Perhaps her grandmother had liked the look, but she thought it silly.
“Tell me your name. You promised, yes?” he said with a disparaging sniff, and round, blue-tinted glasses materialized on his nose. “Don’t be cliché and start our association on lies.”
She forced her arms from around herself. “Felecia Eloytrisk Cambri.”
The demon started. “Annie let her daughter marry that Cambri bastard? No wonder she stopped calling on me.” He sniffed again. “I’d be embarrassed, too.”
Trisk’s lip curled as he found fault with her father. “She didn’t have much choice.”
The demon’s eyes flicked up, finding hers from over his blue-tinted glasses. She felt herself warm as he looked at her brown eyes and dark hair, his silence almost as hard to take as the racial slur he was probably thinking. “Indeed,” he finally said with a pout, brushing at his frock. “Tell me, Felecia Eloytrisk Cambri with the dark hair and eyes, what ails your heart to risk calling me? Ple-e-e-ease tell me you want more than a vanity curse to shift your locks to the color of ripe corn and your eyes to the shade of a verdant valley.”
Trisk glanced at the clock humming on the wall. “I need help keeping what’s mine.”
“Where am I?” The demon smoothly stood, her circle humming a warning when his softly curling black hair neared the top. “Fractured lines, faint quakes. I smell fires, mudslides, and an asto-o-o-ounding number of vain egos.” His smile brightened to show thick, blocky teeth. “West Coast?”
Trisk pulled her lab coat tighter about her shoulders, uneasy with how good he was at guessing. But then her nose wrinkled as a wash of black haze seemed to raise itself from his skin, coating him for an instant in the scent of burnt amber before it soaked in again.
He’d changed. The Victorian dandy was gone. Rope-and-wood sandals now poked out from under a loosely made pair of brown trousers embroidered with thin ribbons. The trousers were held up by a wide black sash, tattered tassels on the ends. A bright red long-sleeved shirt and a baggy vest had replaced the crushed green velvet and lace. His soft curls were now long black waves held back with a metal clip. A thin, silver-streaked beard went down to his chest. His eyes, though, were the same, watching her from over his round, blue-tinted glasses. They glinted at her reaction as she relaxed at the less imposing image, his smile going even wider to show drug-stained teeth.
“Do you like my Jesus boots?” he said coyly, showing her his sandals. “I stole them. Right off his feet before they nailed him up.”
Trisk frowned, her dislike growing. This vision was probably closer to his true self than the other. He looked harmless—just another hippie, until you realized that like the worst, the most dangerous beach guru, he lived solely for sensation, taking without thought as if it was his right, taking in order to feel, whether it be a mind-altering drug or a willing or unwilling woman to relieve his baser urges with. In his eyes, she saw that manipulation was his weapon only because brute strength had lost its flavor until whim and fancy drew him that way again. She was something to be experienced, and he would use and discard her on his way to his next fix, never finding enough to be satisfied.
“We’re in a lab,” Algaliarept said confidently, looking at his knobby hands as if he missed his gloves. “A human lab,” he added disparagingly. “The science here may as well be in the Middle Ages. Daughter of Cambri, my love, have they trodden you so low?”
“I’m working two jobs.”
“No doubt.” He ran his hand across the inside of her circle. A crackle of burning flesh hissed, and he rubbed his thumb against his index finger, rolling the blackened skin off. Under it was new. “You’d have to in order to maintain an elven lifestyle with a human’s wages.”
“I meant I’m working a human lab position so I can fulfill my real job for enclave security.”
His eyes rose to hers, mocking. “Come with me. Right now. Drop your circle and let me take you. You’d be a slave, but you’d probably be working fewer hours.”
Frustrated, she put her hands in her pockets and leaned against the desk until it scooted back a noisy, grinding inch.
“Ooooh, now I see what scares you!” he said brightly, and he vanished in a swirl of black-tinted smoke. His wide shoulders slimmed down to a pleasant span, and his waist shrank. With a shake of his head, the black waves vanished to a closer cut, the white strands almost not there. His ruddy complexion cleared to a light tan, and his face became angular with a narrow chin and small nose.
Trisk felt her expression go blank. He’d become the image of Kal, dressed in a business suit with a vibrant red tie that matched the demon’s eyes. Only the glasses remained.
“I like the hippie better,” she suggested, and he laughed, low and long, running a hand suggestively down his new lanky height.
“No, this is nice,” he said. “Who is this, little bird, and why are you afraid of him?” The demon smiled at her with Kal’s face. “Nasty dark elf shouldn’t be afraid of the light. He’s pretty, though.” He posed, shifting his hips suggestively. “He’d fetch a fair price on the block. You’d probably bring more, despite your dark hair, having dared to summon me. Tell me now. Would you like me to make it fair for you? I’d only ask for one year of service. This pretty man would die for you. I promise.”
Trisk grimaced, wishing he wouldn’t prattle so. “His name is Kal,” she said impatiently. “He’s trying to steal my research. That’s why I summoned you. And I’m not afraid of him.”
Glancing at the humming power over his head, Algaliarept sat back down, his smaller guise of Kal looking odd on the floor in his suit and tie. “You are, or I wouldn’t be here. He wants your research? Is it that good?”
A flash of affront quashed her nervousness. “I found a way to fix the damage you inflicted on us before we left the ever-after,” she said, and the demon cocked his head, a mocking slant to his eyebrows. He looked so much like Kal—apart from the red eyes and blue-tinted glasses— that it scared her. “A carrier virus. With it, I can insert healthy code into somatic cells to repair existing damage, or possibly the germ cells to improve the next generation even before they’re born.”
“Why would I help you with this, love?” the demon said, the image of Kal making talking-hand motions. “I would just as soon see you all dead. I am curious, though. Why did you let him do that to you? You are a dark elf. You are a warrior.”
“I’m not letting him,” she said, offended. “Did you not hear me say he was going to steal it? Did I not just summon you to be my sword and shield?”
He beamed at her show of anger. “I make a better mirror,” he said slyly, then sighed. “You want me to help make you famous. I thought you were special, granddaughter of Felecia Ann Barren, spawn of Cambri, but you want the same boring thing everyone who calls me does.”
“I want to keep what I earned,” she said, then louder when his shape became misty at the edges, “I have not dismissed you!”
His form solidified. “No, you haven’t,” he said calmly. “But you should.”
Trisk pushed away from the desk, and Algaliarept’s evil smile, looking odd on Kal’s face, widened. “Will you do it?” she asked, pulse hammering.
“To ensure you get credit for your research? Mmmm. I could kill him,” the demon suggested, eyes on his manicured fingernails.
“I don’t want Kal dead. I want to stop him from claiming my research.”
He looked up. “It would be easier to kill him. I’d enjoy it. You’d enjoy it. I’d let you watch. No?” Algaliarept sighed as if in regret. “Well, if I can’t kill him, I need something in return for my services. Your soul, perhaps?”
Trisk shook her head. If he had her soul, he had her body.
“Why not? You’re not using it,” the demon coaxed. “Take a bare moment. You think you have nice computers? I’ve got the entire power of your basement mainframe in the palm of my hand. I’d let you play with it in your downtime.”
“If you don’t take me seriously, I’m going to send you back,” she threatened, knowing he was bored out of his mind, and the demon predictably stiffened.
“Tell me his name. His full name,” he asked.
Trisk’s eyes widened. “You’d make sure my name is on my work for Kal’s given name?” she asked, shocked, but the demon shook his head, eyeing her over his glasses.
“Names are power, Felecia Eloytrisk Cambri, and you should swallow that stone you found my name on before someone else sees it. It won’t leave you. I promise that. Curiosity prompts me to know the name of this man you hate with so much of your heart. Call it a retainer to continue to entertain your dismally small aspirations until you’re ready to sacrifice your soul to retain your life’s work.” He smiled. “I give you a week.”
A frown pinched her brow, and she clasped her arms around her middle. She hated Kal, but giving a demon his name went against her morals. Algaliarept gestured from the floor with a Well? motion, and she licked her lips. “Trent Kalamack,” she said softly.
The demon’s eyes widened. He looked down at himself, then back to her. With a whoosh and thump of moving air, he vanished to reappear as the Victorian dandy. “Kal-l-l-l-amak,” he drawled, as if tasting the word. “Goes by Kal, you say?” the demon mused aloud, tugging his white gloves tighter onto his hands. “The little bastard is proud of his family name and insecure about his place among his kin. A man-child eager to make his mark.” Eyes fixed on hers, he leaned in until her circle hummed a warning. “Full name,” he demanded, and she blanched at the anger behind it.
“Trenton Kalamack,” she said softly.
“The boy has a middle name, does he not?” Algaliarept inspected his pocket watch.
“I don’t know—” she started, jumping when Algaliarept hit the wall of her circle with an angry fist. Stress lines rippled out, threatening to fray. “Trenton Lee Kalamack,” she said loudly, pulse fast.
“There. Isn’t that better,” the demon purred. And then he looked to the door and laughed, white-gloved hands clapping. “I do so love working with the novice. You forgot to lock your door.”