Yeah, suddenly I am SO FEELING this one. Wasn’t sure what I should do next, but Rob and Sol are demanding my attention. I know how these series develop, saleswise – if they’re good, they’re like potato chips, you don’t want to eat just one. So readers wait to “binge read” them all when they know the series is ongoing, and has good reviews. In other words, this series may take some time to develop an audience. Wow, me, not going for the immediate gratification thing! What’s up with that? Now I gotta find a hot sexy pic for my cover…
This picks up right after the “sneak peek/prelude” I published at the end of #1. Of course all my regular readers have already got their copy of Rob #1, but…WARNING: If you haven’t read it, none of this makes ANY SENSE till after you read “Rob the Daemon,” so get your copy now! Here at the ‘zon, here at bn.com, here at Smashwords.com, and here at allromanceebooks.com.
CHAPTER ONE – IN WHICH SOL IS GIVEN A BOOK, AND A TASK, AND EXTRACTS A PROMISE IN RETURN
Like every other day, the countdown was the first thought I had when I woke up. Sixty days down. 178 to go before Dark O’Clock, the end of Daylight Savings Time and the return of Rob Sabat, my daemon lover, from his underground prison. I was breaking it up into percentages, too. 25% of my wait was over. That’s a lot, right? Don’t think about the 75% to go. Accentuate the motherfucking positive.
Easier said than done. You know what sucks? Loving and losing. But not exactly losing, because he’s coming back. But you can’t even talk to him while he’s gone. So it’s like he’s dead, but he’s not, because he’s immortal, but he might as well be dead… Even if he was in normal prison you’d get to write him and visit him. But this was daemon prison, so no, not even that.
Yeah, it’s enough to make you lose your mortal mind.
So I stayed busy. On this day, day 60, I got up and got coffee and took Gary for a walk. “Nice day,” he said, wagging his tail in the crisp early May air.
“Yeah, it is,” I said. A jogging lady looked at me funny as she crossed our path. But people see what they want to see, so I’m sure she imagined a Bluetooth thingie into my ear on the side of my head she couldn’t see. I didn’t look like a crazy person, so I must not be. Right?
“What’s the plan?” Gary asked, his tongue lolling out. To anyone else, it sounded like a huff and a half bark. But to me, Solomon Cohen, direct descendant of King Solomon the champion daemon wrangler, and inheritor of his supernatural powers, it was plain English. Of course, the talent of hearing animal speech had only displayed itself after my overeager attempts at magic got me transformed into a bird. Fortunately, it survived my retransformation into a human. The bed was mighty lonely without Rob in it, but a big Springer Spaniel snuggled up with you is the next best thing.
“Some reading on that occult Nazi book. Some shopping. A visit to Rob.”
“Nice. You need to get out in the woods.”
“Yes, I do.”
When DST had ended in March, Rob had gone back into the ground, a part of the curse he was under, doomed to lay there until November when DST started again. We’d gone together to pick a spot in the Sierras, a nice place to rest I suppose, just off Thomas Creek trail. Also, easy for me to visit him there. It was easy to get to in most weather, though I’d had to snowshoe up there a few times. Now I just needed my North Face snow boots with the grippy soles. Soon I could just wear my trail running shoes.
Because I was up there a lot, for a while. Rob could hear me when I talked to him, he just couldn’t talk back. But then one day I couldn’t get out of bed, other than to let Gary out to pee. And the next day I was “just not up for it.” And so on. Depression sucks. Then I felt guilty because I hadn’t visited Rob in a week. That made me feel more depressed. Finally this morning I was ready. Or at least more guilt-ridden than depressed.
When we got back from our walk, I tried doing my homework, but reading “Unholy Alliance” was depressing, too. The Nazis’ origins in crackpot occult groups was not surprising, I suppose. Most totalitarian endeavors need some supernatural justification, God on your side and all that. Even if it’s the “old gods” of Norse mythology, bastardized and reframed as it suited the purposes of your racial nutjobbery. And I couldn’t help but see Rob’s old master, my not-so-distant cousin it appeared, in every one of the unsavory characters involved, as they muttered darkly about Freemasons under every bed. Which one of you bastards, I thought, fuming with anger, was the one to put him in the ground?
I needed a hike after that, a walk in the woods at altitude to cleanse the dirt from my mind that accumulated after reading about that time, those awful people. I put Gary in the car and we drove in silence to the trailhead.
I knew right where to go off trail and hike up the steep slope to the boulder that was Rob’s temporary tombstone. I brushed the snow off it and sat down in my ski pants, the cold penetrating through the nylon and my thermal undies right into my ass, reminding me of the Snow Throne that Rob had made for me this last winter, when he’d recreated Solomon’s temple for me.
But just think how cold Rob was, I told myself, down there deep under the frozen ground. At least you can share his misery a little bit.
Gary sat next to me, solemn-looking. I took a thermos from my backpack.
“Hey Rob,” I said. “I brought you some hot coffee.” I poured some into a cup for myself, and poured some onto the ground as well. “Symbolically, anyway. It’ll warm the ground about a billionth of a degree I suppose. It’s good coffee, though, trust me.
“So, I’ve been keeping up on my reading. I finished all of the Joseph Campbell books, and The White Goddess. And I haven’t been casting any spells, if you’re wondering. Well, one or two. But garden variety stuff, a cone of silence and shit like that. And I’ve been reading ‘Unholy Alliance,’ too. Gross. Well, you know that, don’t you, you had to live with them.
“Anyway. Sixty days down. Celia says hi. She’s chomping at the bit for you to get back, I don’t know how much of that is her looking out for me and how much is her rarin’ to go for her own magical education to restart. She’s at some awful networking thing today, or she’d be here. She just realized she can visit you, too, duh, right?
“It’s fucking cold, man. Cold in my bed too. No offense, Gary, but you’re not the same kind of bedmate.”
“We’re good,” Gary replied.
“I miss you. Fuck I miss you.” A tear slipped out from underneath my Oakleys; since I hadn’t taken them off, I couldn’t pretend it was from the glare on the snow. “I’m waiting. Like you waited. Not nearly as long as you waited for…great times a billion grandpa. But it’s a long mortal wait. It hurts, you know? Not to touch you. And I’m sorry I haven’t been here for a while. I got depressed, couldn’t get out of bed.”
I sighed. “But the days are getting longer. I know that’s no comfort to you, but it is to me right now. I finally turned the HappyLight off for the year, so that’s a good sign. Anyway.”
I didn’t have much more to say than that, so I just sat there and drank my coffee. The view was gorgeous from here, down the steep valley into the bowl that held the city. The air was so crisp and clean and fresh, free of the wood-smoky, car-exhausty inversion layer that was pooling over Reno. And for some reason, and I couldn’t say if it was supernatural or just psychological, I felt like Rob was here, not just here-in-the-ground here, but with me. Like if I just turned my head I’d see him. But I didn’t dare turn it for fear that he wasn’t. If I didn’t look, everything would be okay, everything would be the way it was supposed to be, the two of us would be hiking back down this trail together and stopping at Whole Foods to pick up a bottle of wine and some fresh veg and a nice cut of meat and going home and cooking something wonderful and snuggling on the couch, fat and happy, Rob’s big wide-receiver arms wrapped around me.
“Okay, dude,” I said at last. “My ass is really fucking cold, and you’re not here to warm it up with a hot beef injection. So we’re going to head out now.” I bent down and touched the ground, where Rob had stood before the earth swallowed him. “I’m headed to Portland to see the parental units for a few days, but I’ll be back soon.
“I love you, Rob Sabat. I miss you. And as always, I’m counting the days.”
So, yeah, Portland. Gray, rainy, grim, dark. That sketch on ‘Portlandia’ where they chase a single beam of sunshine around all day, yeah, that’s a documentary. And me with SAD, right? You can imagine my dismay when Mom and Dad moved there from sunny (duh) Sunnyvale after I left home for school.
“Your father wants to take up craft brewing,” Mom said, “and I’m sick of combat driving. And people who talk about their house values all the time because it’s their hobby to check Zillow six times a day. And the heat. And the taxes. And…”
“Okay, Mom,” I said. “I get it.” And Portland’s a great town. To visit. There’s more light in Powell’s Books than there ever is outside, but hey. Portland has Powell’s Books, right? What more do you want?
The plane ride from Reno is short enough to feel more like a long cab ride. Well, it felt longer because of the guy in the row behind me. He shouted into his cell phone right until the flight attendant made him turn it off. You know, the usual bullshit: “I AM ON THE PLANE. WE ARE ABOUT TO TAKE OFF. I WILL ARRIVE SOON.” Then as soon as we landed, he was shouting in it again. “WE JUST LANDED. I AM HERE. I AM IMPORTANT. EVERYONE NEEDS TO KNOW WHERE I AM AT ALL TIMES.”
Then he was behind me again in the cab line (the parents had ditched their cars after the move). “I AM WAITING FOR A CAB. I WILL BE THERE SOON.” That was it. Sorry, Rob, I thought.
I turned around and looked him in the eye. “From your toes to your chin, great silence sweeps in.”
He went to say something to me and his throat locked. The look in his eyes was priceless. His wordless mouth moved frantically like a fish gasping for air. No, he could breathe, I’m not a monster. But that was it. No more hollering.
I got in a cab and looked at him. He was watching me with dumbstruck fear. I waved my hand, releasing him.
Magic was so handy sometimes.
The door to the funky old house was open, the Pixies blaring from the high-end stereo/home theater that was more expensive than all the furniture put together. It was that loud so Dad could hear it in the basement where he was making beer, and Mom could hear it in the kitchen, where she was making dinner. Why they didn’t rewire the place so they had speakers where they need them, I don’t know.
“I’m here,” I shouted from the entryway, to no avail. I followed the smell of baking bread to the kitchen, where Mom was beating the crap out of some dough.
“Hi, honey,” Mom said, as if I’d just been to the store and not as if I hadn’t seen them in six months. “Can you give me a hand?”
I dropped my bag and washed my hands, smiling. This was home, this was love, me and Mom kneading dough together.
“Any particular army coming to dinner?” I asked, looking at the loaves already cooling and thinking how many she still had to bake.
“I’ve got a stall at the farmer’s market now.”
I raised an eyebrow. “Isn’t it a little late in the day to start making bread for sale?”
“Oh, it’s a night market. Very groovy. People come out of the bars and shop drunk. Hilarious, sometimes. They’re all mad for bread, and sugar, with all the booze in ‘em.”
I laughed. Mom was almost fifty, allowing her curly hair (that I inherited) to silver a bit. Her California tan was long gone under the grim Portland skies, but paleness became her. She was trim and strong from vigorous exercise, including of course scratch baking.
“And does Dad have a stall, too, for his craft beer?”
She shook her head. “Coals to Newcastle. Also, he’s been spending most of his time designing and redesigning the label for the bottle. He’ll never get to market at this rate.”
Not that he needed to. Dad had made a pile in software when a big corporation had bought out his small game design firm, and he’d immediately retired to spend more time with his money.
“Okay,” she said at last, when the dough was thoroughly pummeled. “Wash up and go see your father.”
“Yes, mother,” I said, and she looked at me gimlet-eyed. Then she realized what she was doing and smiled.
“Right, you’re not a kid any more, I keep forgetting.”
“It’s nice to regress sometimes,” I said wistfully, and there must have been something in my voice or on my face, because her expression changed again. She debated what to say and decided it would wait.
“Go on, then we’ll get dinner and then you can help me at the booth tonight.”
I padded downstairs to see Dad. As Mom had predicted, he was not working on the beverage itself but was frowning at his computer, moving graphics around, sighing heavily.
Dad didn’t look like a video game designer, a supermassive Star Wars nerd, or a software millionaire. He looked like a Brooks Brothers model, all square-jawed and handsome as fuck even now, pushing fifty. Mom and Dad had discovered outdoorsiness late in life, and actually looked great in those skintight bike shorts and Lycra shirts. It boded well for my own aging process, I thought. I mean, Rob would “outlive” me but at least, if genetics won out, we’d have another good twenty to thirty years together before I started to crumble.
“How’s the label going?” I asked him, hugging him from behind.
He patted my hand idly and sighed. “Yesterday I put a comma in, today I took it out,” he paraphrased Oscar Wilde. “How’s it going, Sol?”
“Congratulations by the way, I hear you’ve graduated from editing jobs to getting 100% of your income from writing. That’s fantastic.”
“Thanks,” I said guiltily. In truth, about half my income was from writing, and the rest was a generous grant from the Rob Sabat Foundation for Sorcerous Instruction. Rob and I had agreed that some of his fortune (unguessably enormous, I imagine, after all these years of careful shepherding) would be best spent freeing my time up to learn how to free him.
“I don’t know about these mountains in the background,” he said. “I keep feeling they look too…you know…Coors Light.”
“Ouch,” I said. “That would be bad, yeah. I mean, I don’t see it. They look like awesome mountains. But I see your point.”
“God, you know, marketing this shit is about a thousand times harder than making it. When I had the company, I had people to do this for me.”
“You know, you could hire someone to do this, too, Daddy Warbucks.”
He laughed, the lines around his sparkling eyes crinkling up. “Yeah, but that’s kinda sorta the point of this, is to do it all myself. To make it work.”
“You should just put Gary on the label. You can’t go wrong with a Springer Spaniel.”
He pondered this. “Hmm. Do you happen to have…”
“All those pix are in the family Dropbox folder.”
“Right,” he nodded. “Hmm…”
I smiled and crept away, knowing I’d lost him for now to the machine.
“We can get a great burrito at the market,” Mom said.
“What about Dad’s dinner?” I asked her as we packed the Outback with bread.
“Oh, you know your father, once he’s on the computer…”
“I put his dinner at the top of the stairs so he’d trip over it on his way to the bathroom when he has to pee. He’ll eat then.”
The night market was pretty cool. A street was closed off in the drinky section of town (well, the drinkiest; like most gray places, Portland’s a pretty drinky town), and tables and tents had been set up to take full financial advantage of the impulsive nature of people who are full of alcohol. You could hear the clashing sounds of bands playing in bars up and down the street.
For some reason, unlike his beer label, Dad had no problem whipping up a cool graphic for Mom’s bread bags. And “Internal Sunshine Bakery” was doing a booming business tonight. I hardly had time to make change, let alone talk to Mom.
Finally the traffic died down and we had a minute. “So what is it?” Mom asked me.
“What do you mean?”
“You’re a little…down. Depressed. Trust me, I live in Portland, I know depression when I see it.”
I laughed. “Yeah, I bet. It’s complicated…”
“Of course it is,” Mom said, putting a hand on my shoulder. “If it wasn’t, it wouldn’t be depressing.” She reached into the cooler she’d brought with us, mostly full of jam she sold to go with the bread so that drunks could put sugar on their carbs. She pulled out two (unlabeled) bottles of Dad’s beer and popped the tops off. “Drink up.”
We clinked bottles and drank. It was good, with a touch of sage in it. Rob would approve.
“Well, I met this guy.”
“Yeah, it is. But he…well, he’s not around for a while. Not of his own choice. And I can’t communicate with him while he’s gone.”
“He’s not in prison, is he?”
“Ha. No.” Not exactly, I thought. “And it’s fucked up, you know? I love him, he loves me. But it’s almost worse than not having anyone, to have someone and then not have him, but not lose him so that you can move on, but just be…waiting.”
She nodded. “Yeah, but only until he comes back, right? He’s coming back?”
“Then it’s worth it. It feels bad now but think how great it will feel when he comes back. If the two of you are true, and that moment comes…my God, the violins.”
“Right. I just wish…I don’t know. I don’t wish it wasn’t like this, because it has to be like this, for it to be this with him.”
She took a pull off her beer. “It’s magical, isn’t it?”
“Yeah, when we’re together…” I laughed. “It’s literally magic.” If only she knew.
“So is he a spirit? Undead? Werewolf? Or…daemon?”
I choked on my beer. “What?”
She smiled. “It’s alright, dear. It runs in the family, you know.”
We packed up the stand and sat on the edge of the Outback, the hatch sheltering us from the slight drizzle, working our third beers.
“Your uncle, my brother, was a magician. A stage magician, that is.”
“Yeah, Uncle Ethan, I remember. He used to entertain us kids at birthday parties. He was a big deal, he played Vegas all the time.”
“Right. See, he had these tricks. Nobody could figure them out. Nobody has figured them out yet. They’re some of the last secrets of magic that haven’t been blabbed all over the Internet. Because…they were magic. The real deal. You know, you pull one bird out of a hat, big deal. But ten? Where do you hide ten live birds? Or he’d cut a lemon in two, show you the inside, yep, definitely a lemon, and then he’d put that half on a juicer and twist, and pennies would come out of it instead of juice.
“And your great uncle Jonas, he was a dowser in Texas. Could find water anywhere it could be found. And your great-great uncle Albert, he led a squad into Germany that had a zero percent casualty rate between D-Day and V-E Day. Do you know what the casualty rate was in World War II? Upwards of 200% on some companies, counting replacements. He had an uncanny ability to know where the shells and bombs would fall next, where the bullets were going, where they were coming from…
“So,” she said, “I was wondering what you’d manifest, and when. It comes down the female line, but only to the men. Which I find terribly unfair, but that’s genetics, I guess. Or the will of King Solomon, or Yahweh or whatever,” she said airily, dismissing any religious explanation with the family atheism. “So, what is your particular talent?”
“Magic, I’m told. Not stage magic, the real thing – sorcery. I need to be trained, but I’m learning to do some things already. Basic stuff. Rob doesn’t want me to do much without him. I had, uh, an incident when I tried to do something big when he was out of town.”
“So can you do something little?” Her eyes were eager, childlike, waiting to be astonished. How could I deny her?
“Sure,” I said. “Drink your beer.”
She lifted it, her eyes widening as she felt the weight of a full bottle. She drank it. “It’s your dad’s beer.”
“Open the cooler. Find the empty.”
She found and extracted the empty bottle, the cap still on it. “Wow. And that’s something little?”
“Yeah. The big stuff is more complicated, obviously. I couldn’t have moved the beer from, say, the keg in our house into your bottle. Well, probably not without blowing something up. But the exact same amount from the bottle in there to the bottle in your hand, yeah, I’m good enough for that.”
“And this curse, that’s the final exam, I suppose. Lifting that.”
“That would be the goal of all this, yeah.”
She nodded. “So November, then. We’ll be meeting Mr. Sabat at Thanksgiving?”
I laughed, relieved beyond compare. Not only did Mom know my secret, not only was it no surprise, but she embraced the crazy truth, the existence of my daemon lover and my sorcerous potential and everything I thought I’d have to hide from my family for the rest of time.
Well, from part of my family. The next thing Mom said was, “Now, whatever we do, we can’t tell your father.”
We had another beer. And another. One of the other night market sellers saw our beers, and traded us Jager shots for them. Then we had to call Dad to have him bike on down and drive us home.
“I’m going to be so hung over tomorrow,” I groaned from the back seat, where I had the window open to the cool damp air.
“No, you won’t be,” Dad said cheerfully. “There’s a secret ingredient in the beer!”
“And even if there wasn’t…” Mom said, then caught herself about to say something like, even if there wasn’t, there must be a spell for headaches. But she could hold her booze, and finished with “…you’re at a lower altitude and the oxygen will make it all better.”
“Right,” I said.
At home, Dad went back to the basement and Mom wiggled a come-here finger at me. “I have something for you.”
In their bedroom, she rummaged through the closet, moving shoes and boxes until she could open an old steamer trunk. Inside that was a little chest, like a stereotypical pirate’s booty chest. She reached inside her blouse and pulled out a key on a chain.
“Your uncle Ethan left this for you. He said, ‘give it to him when he gets it.’” She shook her head as she unlocked the box. “I couldn’t understand what he meant for the longest time. Then I figured out that if you had ‘it,’ if you were the one in this generation who had the power, the box was for you. It could have been one of your cousins, my sister’s boys, you know.”
I snorted. “Ike and Jake? They’re as dumb as a box of rocks.”
“True, but you didn’t hear me say that, and if you repeat that to Meredith, I’ll kill you.” She opened the box and handed me its contents.
Even though it was heavily and carefully wrapped in parchment paper and sealed with wax – the seal of Solomon, no less, of course – it was obviously a book. A fairly big and heavy book.
“Open it,” Mom said. “I’m dying to see what’s in there after all these years.”
“Well,” I said hesitantly. “That might not be a good idea. Books like this have power, and seeing how well sealed up this one is, I don’t think I should open it till I get home. Where I can open it in my…”
Mom raised an eyebrow. “Your sorcery lair? Your secret chamber?”
“Yeah, pretty much. These things have a smell, for lack of a better word. They attract…things.”
“Daemons. Not the fun kind.”
She sighed. “Okay, but I want a full report. Now off to bed with you. We have a big bread baking day tomorrow.”
The next night, Saturday night, we didn’t bring any beer with us. Not that Dad would have minded another night bike ride to come get us, but tying one on two nights in a row was not our idea of a fun time.
Besides, I had to keep my wits about me now. I’d thought coming to Portland would be a little “sorcery vacation,” but no go. I could feel the book humming from underneath my bed where I’d stashed it. It wanted to be opened, it knew I was the one who would open it. Like a passenger cramped into a coach seat for too long with the seat belt sign on, it wanted to get up and stretch its legs, shake off the cramps, get some air.
No way, buddy, I thought grimly even as I smiled and made change and restocked the table from the Outback. I had not forgotten the lesson I’d learned when I’d summoned Phoenix, a daemon who, it turned out, had a very large bone to pick with Rob, and who turned me into a raven for longer than was fun for me. I would not get ahead of myself again, and end up like Mickey Mouse, chased by a thousand pissed-off brooms. And Rob was not around this time to save my ass from becoming a permanent bird-brain.
“I’m getting coffee, you want anything?” Mom asked during a lull when the bands started playing in the bars and the streets cleared off a little.
“You got it.”
Mom headed off to get beverages, and I looked around at the people, the street, the whole environment. Portland was great…if you didn’t have SAD. I could totally live here if only there was a sun in the sky, but without that daylight, I would be inconsolably miserable in weeks.
Suddenly the bands in the bars were silent, as if the power had been cut. The people were silent, because there weren’t any around. I was alone in the dark and the silence.
And then a figure walked down the row of tables towards me, red hair flaming in the night.
“Fuck,” I whispered, my blood going cold. It was Phoenix.
“Not tonight, thanks,” he said in a hoarse voice that shocked me. Could daemons catch colds?
I blinked a couple times to make sure I wasn’t seeing things, because Phoenix looked…well, he looked like shit. His smooth perfect ginger skin had wrinkles, he was wrapped up in layers as if he, a fire spirit, was feeling the chill. His eyes were watery and laced with red.
My last experience with him kept me from blurting, what happened to you? But the question on my face was obvious.
“That bread looks good, how much?”
“On the house,” I said quickly, handing him the sandwich sized loaf he’d indicated.
“Thanks.” He held it in his hands for a moment and it warmed up, and I could smell it, one again fresh from the oven. He took a bite and sighed. “That is good. Compliments to the chef.”
“I’ll pass that on.” I noticed that the sounds were coming back, the music, the people, the lights. It had clearly drained him to make such an entrance, but for some daemons, style is everything.
I let him finish eating, waited on some other customers while he stood there, just another night crawler in a street full of them. Mom came back with our hot beverages.
“Hello,” she said warily to Phoenix, sensing something a bit amiss.
“Mrs. Cohen,” he nodded politely.
“This is Phoenix,” I said. “Phoenix, Mom, Mom, Phoenix.”
“How do you do,” she said, extending a hand, and she twitched just a bit at his warm, gossamer, seductive touch.
“Sol, can we talk?” Phoenix said.
“Sure. Mom, you okay to hold down the fort?”
“I’ll be right here,” she said, not blinking as she met Phoenix’s emerald green eyes. “Waiting.”
We strode through the night market, and I finally said, “You don’t look so good.”
He laughed. “Yeah, I know. That’s why I’m here. I need your help.”
“I don’t like the sound of that. I owe you a favor, but it’s not due until…”
He waved that away. “I know, not due until you’re fully officially ensorcelfied or whatever. Well, I need it now.”
“I’m not ready. I’ve summoned one spirit – you. And that didn’t work out so good for me.”
He stopped in his tracks, and I nearly ran into him. “You don’t need to summon any spirits for this. And besides,” he smiled, “you have The Book.”
Dammit. Just taking it out of the chest must have sent the message out in Glorious Odorama. “What’s in The Book?” I asked.
His eyebrows popped. “You haven’t opened it?”
“No. I’m waiting to get home. To open it in my sorcery dungeon. When Rob gets back.”
“What a good boy you are,” he smirked. “Waiting for Big Daddy Rob to come supervise your first baby steps. Who’s the master and who’s the servant?”
“Rob’s not my servant. He’s been released from the binding to Solomon’s line. I released him.”
He looked at me, trying to keep a poker face, which itself told me how astonished he was by that. “You shouldn’t be able to do that.”
“Well, I guess I’m full of surprises.”
He sighed. “All the more reason you’re the one I need. Look. Here’s the deal. I’ve got a problem with this guy. A sorcerer. A pretty good one, unfortunately. He’s draining me. That’s the reason I’m…not looking so fresh. He drains me for a month, I die, I’m reborn, phoenix from the ashes blah blah, it starts over again. It’s getting on my fucking nerves.”
“Wow. So he sounds a lot more skilled than I am. And, if he’s chock full o’ daemon, a lot more powerful.”
Phoenix laughed. “Chock full o’ daemon. Breakfast of champions! Yes, he’s powerful, but in cycles. You see, when I die, he’s got about a week of dragassery before I’m reborn and he can start sucking on me again. During that week, you can kick his ass.”
“I promised Rob…”
“I know what you promised Rob,” he snapped. Then he recovered his manners. “Look. You can do this. We’ll go through the book together and I’ll…teach you things. You know what the Lemegeton says of me.”
I sure did; I had that puppy memorized. “ ‘He will speak Mervellously of all wounderfull siences.’ And I assume that includes the ‘wounderfull sience’ of magic.”
“You assume correctly.”
Well, that was tempting. And I wouldn’t be summoning daemons…just fighting another sorcerer. When he was down. And with Phoenix’s help.
Then it occurred to me what I could ask for in return – something even more valuable than what he was offering.
“Okay, but on two conditions. One, this fulfills my favor owed to you.”
“Two. You help me find the way to undo Rob’s curse.”
“Aaarrgh,” he hissed, more demon than daemon for one frightening moment. “Fuck. Fuck that guy.”
“What did he do to you?”
“Never you mind. No. No way.”
I shrugged. “Okay.” And I broke one of Rob’s commandments – never turn your back on a daemon – and walked away.
“Wait.” A huge sigh. “Fine. Have it your way.”
I turned around. I rolled my sleeve up to show the Seal of Solomon tattoo on my forearm. “Put your hand on it and swear.”
“Seriously? Isn’t my word good enough for you?”
He laughed. “You’re learning.” He put his warm hand on my arm, and I nearly creamed my jeans. I think at that point any good looking man’s touch would have set me off, to be honest, but a daemon’s touch, so like and so unlike Rob’s… I wanted to fly home, race up to the mountain, hump the ground where Rob was buried.
“By the power in your bloodline, that of Solomon King, I, Phoenix, swear that I will teach you many wondrous things about the powers within you, and that I will help you in your quest to free Rob Sabat, Barbatos who was and is, from the curse that lays him in the ground each year.”
He wasn’t proud of me this time. “And that this act releases you from the favor promised when I unbirded you,” he said darkly.
I nodded. “Good enough.”
“Now,” Phoenix said, and I could see some of his beauty returning to him along with his hopes, “let’s go have another of those loaves of bread.”