Imp, p.1

Imp, page 1

 

Imp
 


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Imp


  Imp

  Debra Dunbar

  Copyright © 2012 Debra Dunbar

  All rights reserved.No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including information storage and retrieval systems without permission in writing from the author, except by a reviewer, who may quote brief passages in a review.

  Published by Anessa Books

  Chapter 1

  Az scooted further into the bush, liking the way it scratched against her orange scales. Thorns caught on the edges and pulled, before releasing with a crackle of leaves and twigs, and the dense foliage hid her wings from view. She was safe here in the border woods, nestled deep inside the briars. Safe for now.

  She’d barely escaped Paquit this morning. The eldest demon of their sibling group since Leethu had gone off for succubus training, Paquit was her personal nemesis. The bigger demon had made it his mission in life to beat the crap out of her at every opportunity. She tried to stay out of his way, tried to remain unnoticed, but even when she hid, he eventually found her. For centuries he’d been ambushing the little imp, stomping her wings to bloody bits with his hooves while her siblings watched and took bets. They didn’t take bets anymore. No one was fool enough to bet against Paquit.

  Crunching a plant pod with her teeth, she looked toward the woods. It was boring here in the woods since that elf boy stopped coming. He’d probably never come again, but she still checked every few days, just in case. For months the elf had been chasing her through the woods in what had become a ritual for them. He’d shoot her with arrows, and shout in triumph as she thrashed on the ground, exaggerating the pain way out of proportion.

  Last week, she’d collapsed on the ground with three arrows in her rear and rolled about like she was mortally wounded, before lying still, tongues extended, eyes open just a crack so she could watch him. Her performance must have been particularly convincing, because the elf actually stood with his foot on top of her shoulder, bragging to the woodland creatures of his prowess. Then he had bent down to run his knife along one of her heads, no doubt planning to take a few scales as a trophy. She had wondered briefly how it would feel. Paquit often ripped scales from her, but never had cut any off with a knife. Overcome with excitement, she’d flipped the elf boy over, pinning him under her scaled bulk. His eyes had widened in fear at the unexpected turn of events.

  This elf, this appealing elf with soft, tender skin, and glorious, golden hair was too much temptation. Az had looked into his frightened green eyes and ran her three forked tongues all over him, tasting every last bit of flesh not covered by the woven plant fibers. Wondering what was under the soft skin, she’d bit down hard and chewed on the tip of one of his ears, tasting a warm, metallic spurt.

  The elf had been squirming around in a tantalizing fashion, making little, fearful, whimpering noises that shredded her control. As she bit his ear, he had responded with a piercing shriek, and she’d jumped off him, startled. It had been the most amazing sound, and Az had wondered what would happen if she bit his other ear, or what he noise he’d make if she bit his ear totally off? Unfortunately, her opportunity had passed. In her moment of astonishment, the elf had jumped out from under her and ran like a flash through the woods.

  So here she sat, hiding in a briar bush, staring into the empty woods, remembering, waiting. Yep, she’d never see that elf again. Coming back with elf blood on her mouth and the taste of him on her tongues had brought her status up significantly, though. She’d earned some temporary respect from her siblings. Except for Paquit. He’d caught her three times that evening, and beat her so hard it had taken her days to repair herself properly.

  “Ni-ni!” a voice shouted from the meadow just a few hundred feet away.

  Ni-ni was her baby name, a nickname derived from Niyaz, which meant want. Her new, adult name was Az, which meant pretty much the same as her other one. Az. Insatiable, all consuming, liable to devour everything in a never-ending need. Why couldn’t someone give her a cool name that meant plague bringer, rage of fire, or bolt of destruction? Instead she was labeled as some kind of demonic black hole.

  “Az!” the voice shouted, closer, this time, and with her adult name.

  She scooted further back into the bush. It was her brother, Dar, no doubt sent to retrieve her. He was sniffing loudly with his long slimy snout. Dar had a very good nose. He’d find her soon. He always did.

  She was late for her lesson, this one to learn how to sire and form new demons. All these lessons and classes. She’d be glad when she was declared an adult and able to do whatever she wanted.

  “There you are.” A long wet snout, with strands of sticky goo hanging from it, poked through the briars and against her scales. It left a slime trail, like a slug down her shoulder. Dar. He really did have a good nose.

  “You’re late. Pere wants you back for your lesson. Why are you hiding here in the woods, and not in the swamp?”

  Az shuffled her way out of the thorn bush. The swamp was amazing, her favorite place. There the mud sucked against her four legs, the reeds rustled on her scales, the air smelled of damp decay. But she kept hoping that fun elf child would return, and elves hated the swamp.

  “Ah, you’re looking for elves, aren’t you?” Dar asked. He’d been especially impressed when she’d come back with blood on her mouth from the one she’d bit. Not impressed enough to help her fight off Paquit’s attacks, but still impressed.

  “Did you hear? The kingdom of Cyelle is looking for a demon to do a job for them,” he added in a hushed, secretive voice. “A sorcerer has run off, and they’ll pay nicely to have him brought back, dead or alive. Can you imagine the status if one of us were to catch him?”

  Az laughed, shaking the twigs and leaves from her scales and blue tufts of fur. “Right. Like the elves would want an adolescent demon to go after a sorcerer. If he’s that weak, they’d do it themselves.”

  Dar assumed his important look, the one he always got when he was privy to some secret bit of information. “Rumor has it the sorcerer went through a gate. That’s why they can’t go themselves.”

  Elves never crossed the gates into the realm of the humans, even though the angels had put those big, gorgeous passageways there specifically to tempt them home. Whenever something needed to be done on the other side, elves always sent their human slaves, or paid a demon to do it. Of course, activating the gate was beyond a lot of demons’ skills. And even if one could, chances were great that an angelic gate guardian would be waiting to dole out death on the other side.

  “Then we’re still out of luck. Neither one of us is old enough to be able to activate a gate. Forget about it.” Az batted him playfully with a wing as they walked back. “Maybe in a few more decades.”

  “Rumor has it that Paquit is taking the job.”

  Az frowned. Paquit could activate a gate? Just one more thing the jerk could do that she couldn’t. She glanced nervously over toward the cluster of houses that they’d called home since birth. Hopefully her nemesis wasn’t there, waiting for her, although she doubted he’d interfere with her lesson with the demon instructor. Pere would have something to say about it if he did. Strong as Paquit was, Pere, her Dwarven foster father, was stronger. No one crossed Pere.

  “Fine. Let him get killed by a gate guardian. My wings will be grateful for it.”

  “He’s not any better than us, Az.” Dar’s furry chest puffed out with pride.

  “Well, he’s definitely better than me,” the imp replied. “That’s why I’m always the one in a bloody heap on the floor while he’s kicking me with his hooves.”

  Dar halted, leaning towards her. “I’m got an idea. Something really fun I’m working on. You want to come with me when I go?”

  Yes, she would. She always had fun with Dar on his var
ious adventures, even if they usually went painfully awry.

  “Count me in,” she told him, walking through the doorway to her lesson.

  Her instructor was furry with a horse body like Paquit’s, except with a massive, bear-like head and neck. Physical form was not involved in these exercises, which was a pity because Az really wanted to pull at his fur with her claws, to explore the horse torso, to know all she could about the flesh he wore. He’d introduced himself with his six names, but Az knew she should never call him anything but his title, Sri.

  “Put your wing or something on my neck or back,” he told her.

  “I thought we didn’t touch?” Az asked, surprised.

  Her instructor looked irritated. Really irritated. Like he had something important to do and just wanted to get this over and done with.

  “How do you expect to get your spirit, your personal energy, to me? Are you going to launch it through the air? Without a body, you will shred and dissolve. I don’t have any problem at all with you dying, but I’m hardly likely to get paid if you commit suicide right now.”

  Asshole. She really wanted to whack him with her tail, maybe bite one of his legs, but he was older and more powerful. He’d kick her ass. Better to just put up with his nastiness and get this lesson over with. She rested a wing across his back.

  “Good. Now reach down into your spirit, your personal energy, and separate a portion. Doesn’t matter what. You’ll need to distance it away from your physical form as you separate it.”

  Az hesitated. How was she supposed to do this?

  “You’re too rooted into your form, you stupid imp,” the demon complained. “Pull back.”

  It felt weird, leaving a part of her empty, unattached as she withdrew. There, a tiny portion.

  “I don’t have all fucking day here. Pass it over to me.”

  No. It was hers. Mine. She didn’t want to share. It hovered at the edge of her form, right next to him, but she couldn’t make herself give it over.

  “Crazy bitch. I’m not going to keep it. I don’t want anything of yours.”

  Fuck this jerk. Resisting the urge to slam a lightning bolt into him, she tried to push her energy further out. An internal battle raged, causing her to tremble slightly. Tired of waiting, he reached out and grabbed it, snatching it right from her. A snarl built up from deep inside. She would fucking kill him. Mine. Mine. But before she could react, the part of her was back, safe and sound.

  “TaDa!” His voice was sarcastic. “See? Done? And now you know how to sire.”

  The second part of the lesson was in forming. Az readied herself to accept the tiny bit of her instructor, to hold it a brief moment before returning it. Her mind wandered again to the forest, to the taste of the little elf boy. Just get through this and she could leave and go back to the woods. Or maybe the swamp.

  “Well, take it, you imbecile.” The demon was waiting, a portion of himself ready for her at the edge of her wing.

  It was beautiful, this small section of such a horrible demon. Shiny and smooth, golden with a peach tint here and there. Receiving was so much better than contributing. She would get to hold this beautiful bit. Was the rest of him this interesting? As she moved to receive his offering, she extended herself further.

  “Oh no you don’t. Just this part. The rest of me is off limits. Demons don’t merge together, that’s disgusting. Get back where you belong, you gutter slut.”

  His voice faded into the background. Want. Pretty. Shiny. Want. The instructor pushed against her, trying to force her back. He was thousands of years older than her, much stronger, more powerful, but it didn’t matter. Az pulled, shredded, devoured. Mine. The word roared through her with the power of the ancients, power she was far too young to possess.

  “What are you doing?” he screamed.

  What was she doing? Az was perplexed. She was only doing as he’d instructed. Why was he panicked? It was just a little bit more than he’d offered, he shouldn’t begrudge her that. She’d give it right back. She couldn’t, though. In an instant she pulled his entire spirit self into her, converting some to raw energy, taking portions and modifying them, integrating until there was no him anymore, only her. The hunger she always felt deep inside her abated, changed.

  Before she could contemplate what she’d done, the door burst open and Mere and Pere both rushed her. Within seconds, the dwarves had her across the room and on the floor. The other demon was also on the floor, his hooves sprawled at an awkward angle, his tongue dangling from the bear mouth. It was kind of funny, but Az knew better than to laugh. She was in big trouble.

  Pere looked grim as he went to the demon. He didn’t have to tell her. She’d killed him. What had she done? She hadn’t killed him by destroying his physical form. She hadn’t done anything to his physical form. What had she done? It had felt almost like Owning him, separating his spirit from his physical self and taking it, but she hadn’t Owned him. He wasn’t existing separately inside her, he was gone. Somehow he’d ceased to exist as she gobbled him up. At least she hadn’t Owned him. That was a terrible no-no. Owning another demon made a being insane.

  “What did you do?” Pere roared at the imp, his beard shaking with anger.

  “It wasn’t me,” Az lied. “It was him. We were going along marvelously, and he just imploded or something.” Always blame the dead guy.

  “His physical form is fine. He’s dead. What. Did. You. Do?” Pere moved a step toward her, clenching his fists.

  “Nothing,” she squeaked. “We were doing the breeding practice. He’s really old, maybe the excitement was too much for him and he died.” She was a terrible liar.

  “Breeding is not exciting, it’s boring.” Mere held a hand out to Pere, trying to hold him back. “Tell us the truth. Tell us what you did, Ni-ni.”

  It felt like something knotted up inside her when Mere called her by her baby nickname. Mere. The one who helped her hide when Paquit tormented her, the one who comforted her when she felt empty, hungry. But she couldn’t tell the truth, she’d get in trouble. Big trouble.

  “He attacked me. Overpowered me. I tried to fend him off and accidently killed him.” Third time a charm?

  Mere and Pere both glared at her, furious and grim. No one ever believed her when she lied. All the others were good at it, but not her. One more thing she sucked at.

  “I don’t know what I did,” she confessed. “The sire thing went okay, but when I went to form, I took too much of him and he died.”

  They exchanged a glance, and looked at her in confusion. “How could he give you too much?” Mere asked. “He was three thousand years old. He has sired almost two thousand beings. He knows how to do it. It’s not possible to give over too much.”

  Az contemplated the floor with her three heads, and scraped the edge of a wing along the ground. “He didn’t give it. I took it. I didn’t mean to, but he was pretty inside and I wanted him. I just reached in and took him. All of him.”

  They were silent, incredulous.

  Pere broke the silence. “How? He should have been able to easily fight you off. You’re just a little demon. And you’re an imp, not exactly powerful. Are you lying again?”

  Az shook her head. “I don’t know. It just happened.”

  They exchanged another glance. “There, there,” Mere said, an edge of soothing blue in her voice. “We’ll say the lesson was successful and that he was attacked and killed on the way home by one of the older demons.”

  Fuck that. They were going to let some other demon get the credit, but she’d end up with the bill. There was a price. This would be her first weregeld. They’d need to compensate this demon’s household from her trust fund, probably reducing it significantly.

  “If I’m paying the weregeld, I’m getting the credit for the kill,” Az said with a confidence she was far from feeling.

  The blue from Mere vanished. “You are far too young to have credit for killing this demon,” she said sternly. “You are just a little imp. I know you
’re greedy, but don’t be foolish. Taking credit will give you a status you can’t defend. You’ll be dead within a week.”

  “That’s so unfair! I killed him,” Az insisted. “I want the credit.” Maybe she would finally see respect in her siblings’ eyes. Maybe they’d finally think of her as more than an inept little imp with stubby legs and three heads. Maybe Paquit would stop tearing her wings off, and leave her alone.

  “Don’t be stupid,” Pere told her. “You were lucky. There is no way you should have been able to kill a demon of this level under normal circumstances. It was luck.”

  She glared at them with all three heads and sat down, stubborn and immovable on the floor.

  “You always seem to have luck on your side,” Mere said gently, the hint of blue back. “But luck is a fickle mistress. You can’t rely on her to always be with you. If she’s all you’ve got, one day she’ll fail you, And you’ll be dead.”

  Az wavered. Perhaps it would be better if no one knew she did it. That respect would be very short lived if the next demon she encountered beat the crap out of her with one hand tied behind his back. She wasn’t very strong, didn’t have any notable skills or abilities. She was only an imp, practically a Low.

  “Okay,” she choked out. It was so unfair.

  Pere went over and picked up the demon. Grabbed him by his hind hooves with one hand, and his front hooves with the other, and slung him over his shoulder. Dwarves were strong but short, so the demon’s bear head smacked on the ground, and the extended tongue trailed on the floor.

  “Az, you cannot do this again,” Mere told her as Pere dragged the demon out the door. The fact that she called her Az was significant. It was her grown-up name, not her childhood one, not her baby nickname. This was to be a serious, stern, conversation.

  “His weregeld will be huge. Your makers had the foresight to put up a sizable trust fund for you, but you won’t have any left if you keep doing this.”

  Az pouted. The female dwarf was short and round with an equally round face and heavy limbs. Her braided hair almost touched the floor, and the light fuzz on her chin was the same silver blond. Az’s brothers and sisters cursed at Mere, tried to bite and scratch her, arrogantly walked out when she was talking to them. The dwarf never got mad. She’d restrain them, punish them, patiently maneuver them where she wanted them, always with a calm, placid air.

 
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