“If it’s at all possible, it would be a good idea to get this demon out of the monastery and make it live somewhere else,” Daniel said, as they reached the top of the stairs. They’d better be the top of the fucking stairs, Sam’s legs hurt.
“Let me guess,” Sam muttered, catching his breath. He was in better shape than he had been, but this was still a lot. Daniel sounded fucking fine, of course. “Everyone in Ech’kent will love me if I let them have their stupid monastery back.”
“No, they don’t care about the monastery, it was built by the Kyainese. They like the mountain, though.”
“There are mountains fucking everywhere.”
“They like this mountain.”
“Is it?” Daniel asked. “You have fifty knives and you wear the same one every day.”
Sam frowned. “That’s not the same.”
Sam’s favourite knife was the first one Daniel had given him. It was sharp and curved and had a nice handle and holding it felt different than his other knives. Was that how the people in Ech’kent felt about this stupid mountain? “Whatever, maybe the demon can move to the castle.”
“Or back to hell,” Daniel suggested casually. “Let’s go in.”
They pushed the doors open, and Sam stepped inside, Daniel right beside him. “It’s a big room, mostly square,” Daniel said. “Three doors, centipedes everywhere.”
“Like a thousand,” Daniel said, making a vague noise. “They’re just kind of around.”
“Hm. The demon’s power is deeper inside, so let’s…”
Daniel took Sam’s hand. “You’re its master, it can come to you. Call it.”
Sam hated being interrupted, but Daniel had only interrupted him because he hated being contradicted more. He touched the Forces, did a simple invocation spell to demand the demon’s presence. He didn’t need a summoning because it was clearly already in this world.
“Wow, rude,” said a vaguely masculine voice, as a loud chittering filled the air. “Coming into my house and dragging me out of the shower.”
“You invited us,” Daniel reminded the voice. “Quite vehemently. Do you always put on a show of mashing all your centipedes together like this? You’re powerful enough that you could just appear human like you do now without all the theatrics beforehand, right?”
“Heh. You know, you’re not as interesting as the other Hermit Crab,” the voice said. “Have you considered crying more and not knowing how to handle all your big scary emotions? I think you’d enjoy it.”
Sam wasn’t going to let this thing waste time antagonizing Daniel. “What do you want?” he asked. “You went to all the trouble of inviting us here.”
“I did, and you came, Sammy,” said the voice, moving closer. “Your daddy never visited me after he got rid of all the bugs here so I could live here, I’m so glad you’re better than him.”
Daniel had already prodded Sam to realize that this creature was the reason why Solomon had wiped out the monastery. It had been foolish of him not to realize that the centipedes were a demon for so long, but once Daniel had suggested he probe what power they’d been created from, it had been obvious, and just as obvious that they were hiding it, probably to avoid this exact conversation. Sam opened his mouth.
“Answer Sam’s question,” Daniel said. “Or we’re leaving.”
“Hey, you’re not calling the shots here,” said the demon. “Let the big boys talk.”
“You’re not calling them either.” Daniel didn’t sound scared. He never sounded scared. “You’re a demon, and you’re bound here by a contract with Clan Netzer, and Sam’s the leader of Clan Netzer. If you don’t want to be banished back to hell where you belong, it’s a good idea to do as Sam says.”
“You’re not supposed to be here,” Sam agreed. “Demons are supposed to be in hell and only in our world when summoned and bound by a sorcerer. If you’re bound here, that means you have to do what I say. If you aren’t, I’m sending you back right now. What do you want?”
“Hmmmm, this is the worst timeline,” the demon complained, in a voice like embers popping on human skin. “Ugh. Fine, I want to be allowed to munch on everyone who lives in the big city you think is called Three Hills. I was also hoping you’d consider renegotiating the contract with me, but I should have known better than to do something that can’t decide what side it’s on.”
Sam didn’t care if the demon ate Three Hills. It was a stupid crowded city and it smelled bad and he didn’t like anyone there. But he could feel Daniel’s voice in his head telling him to ask why instead of just deciding something didn’t matter. “Why do you want to eat Three Hills?”
“So I can build my nest there.”
“Because it’s got a good view.”
Sam exhaled. “I’m not giving you anything until I know what you actually want. If you’re going to dance around my questions, you’re not getting anything.”
“Who’s dancing? Dancing is for crabs, Sammy,” the demon insisted. “I’m answering your questions.”
“No, you’re saying things after Sam asks questions,” Daniel told him, touching Sam’s elbow. “You must think he’s a complete idiot if you think he’ll fall for that bullshit. We will renegotiate your contract, though. It’s clear that Solomon let you have too much leeway. I think we should start by limiting how many centipedes it’s allowed to have in the world at a given time. Maybe a hundred?”
“A hundred?” the demon asked, voice cracking like air. “That’s hardly any! I won’t even be able to sculpt with that few! Sammy, don’t listen to this idiot, he doesn’t know what he’s…”
“I think that sounds good,” Sam said, voice cool. He’d been thinking about disagreeing with Daniel until the demon had insulted him. “A hundred, and I want to know where they all are at all times. Tell me the rest of your terms with Solomon and I’ll decide whether they’re worth keeping.”
“Maybe I’ll just take my legs and go home,” the demon muttered darkly.
“Be our guest,” said Daniel. “But we all know you’re not going to do that. So stop posturing and start talking.”
But the demon did start talking, and Sam listened carefully. He knew that beside him, Daniel was listening even more carefully, and together they made sure to set terms that had no holes for a centipede to crawl through.