"We need to talk," said the warlock.
The demon before him looked something akin to a lizard and something akin to a bull and something akin to a gorilla. It stood short at five feet, with its bull-like horns only adding on a few inches. Its hardened skin was mottled green and gray with patches of red. The horns beside its donkey-like ears were bull in shape, but far shorter in length, and the creature's teeth were reminiscent of a shark's.
"Whatever you say, boss," the demon said. "I'm all ears." Before the warlock's eyes, the demon's skin warped and stretched, sprouting rows of ears along its shoulders like blossoms in a garden.
"Ehy?" said the demon. "Ehy? Ehy?" It pointed finger guns at the warlock, its face split in a pointy grin.
"Genowrath, this is serious."
"Sure, sure," said the demon. "Whatever you say, Davey." He plopped down inside of the summoning circle, sitting crosslegged. He leaned back and rested against the invisible barrier formed by the circle's magic.
"Genowrath, there's something I've needed to say to you."
"What's with the circle, Dave? You haven't used one this strong since-- well, ever, now I think about it."
"Genowrath," David took a deep breath. "I don't think I'm going to summon you anymore."
Genowrath stared for a second. Then another.
"Is this a joke?"
"I'm dead serious. I want to call it off."
"Call what off?" Genowrath sat forward. "The magic? Why? You're getting so good at it! Why would you stop now when you've come so far?"
"It's not the magic," David said. He looked away. "I'm sorry."
Genowrath got to his feet. "It's the rituals, isn't it? Too much goat blood? Look, I told you that you don't have to use goat's blood, you can substitute for chicken or pig, and they sell that at the butcher's--"
"It's not the rituals! It's not the blood, it's not the sacrifices, it's you!"
The demon's jaw dropped. "Me?"
"No," said David hurriedly. "No, Geno, I didn't mean--"
"What do you mean it's me?"
"It's not you," said David. "It's me."
Genowrath stared. "No," he said. "You did not just pull that line with me!"
"I mean it's the situation! I've grown! I've got bigger needs now! Little potions and minor curses just aren't cutting it anymore. I want people to respect me, and for that I need more firepower, more strength-- just more."
"Have you been summoning someone else?" Genowrath said. David looked away, his face flushed. Genowrath's eyes widened. "You have! You've been summoning someone else!"
"And what if I have?" David snapped. "This was always an open relationship-- you made that clear at the beginning!"
"That's entirely different! I'm a demon. I get summoned. I can't help it!"
"Oh sure it is! Is that why I saw you with Necromancer Terry last week? I saw you help him raise those zombies-- you never helped me raise zombies! Said it wasn't your style, remember? Or how about Wizard Mortimer down the road? Conjured gold from thin air, is what I heard. You've been summoned by every wizard in the state, seems like, and I can't even get you to give me one good enchantment that lasts more than a week, or won't melt when the sun comes up--"
"Is that what you want?" Genowrath said. "Enchantments? Strength? Power? I can give you those! I can give you zombies, I can give you a hundred zombies!"
"You always say that!" David shouted. "Every single time, it's always 'I can get you that. Sure, I can totally make that happen.' But you never do. You never do. I know demons lie, but most of them have the decency to actually keep up their end of a bargain! I let you take my soul, Geno! I gave you everything and you've never given anything back. Not really. I'm tired of being the only one giving in this relationship. I'm tired of being the only one committing."
"Don't," said Genowrath. "We can work something out. We can change. I can change!"
"I'm sorry," David said, "but this isn't something I'm going to change my mind on. I brought you here today because I wanted to tell you in person."
"Don't," said the demon.
"I didn't want to just leave you hanging and never summon you again. That wouldn't be fair to you. Because we did have some good times, once."
"We still can! You and I together, we can take over this whole town!"
David shook his head sadly. "Geno, I don't want this town. I want the world."
"Don't," Geno said helplessly. David moved his hands, readying the dispelling ritual.
Genowrath surged forward, clawing the invisible barrier of the summoning circle. "I'll kill you!" The demon screeched. "I'll tear you into pieces! I rip you apart!"
And then he was gone.
* * * * *
Genowrath appeared in his dorm, in the West Gate Infernal Dormitory in South Pandemonium. He stared at the empty wall in front of him, then at his bed, his desk, his dresser. His heavy metal band posters, his collection of deer skulls and jars of random human eyeballs, his potted hemlock plant that needed watering. And he screamed.
"I hate him!" he shouted, clawing the stone wall hard enough to leave deep strips.
"I hate him!" he screeched, summoning hellfire to send the dresser up in flames.
"I hate him!" he sobbed, jumping into bed and pulling over the covers.
That bastard, he thought.
Who did Dave think he was? The ingrate was nothing without him! He gave David his start! He was the one who'd found the mewling little piece of trash all those years ago, was the one who'd graciously accepted a half-assed summoning from a baby warlock. Any other demon worth his snuff would've taken one look at the runt's face, one look around what had to have been the weakest, most badly constructed summoning circle in the world, then broken out and eaten him. Not Genowrath! Genowrath had been merciful. Genowrath had listened to the little warlock's tale of heartbreak and revenge-- about how his poor mother had been beaten to death and his stepfather had done it, how his stepfather beat him too, how he wanted the man to pay for it. All this Genowrath had deigned to listen to while the bastard had wept through the whole tale. Who'd given him his revenge? Who'd helped him murder his stepfather in the most torturous ways imaginable? Who'd shown him the real kind of magic? And this was how Dave repaid him!
I'll kill him, Genowrath thought. I'll murder him. It will take him years to die. I will devour him. He will scream for mercy, he will beg my forgiveness. I'll tear him apart. I'll--
He choked on a sob. It wasn't fair.
Someone entered the room. Genowrath recognized the voice. He peeked out from the covers and saw a familiar gray demon, silver maned and with a figure roughly resembling an upside down dorito chip. In his hands was a family-size bag of actual dorito chips.
Genowrath buried himself back in the covers. "Hey, Charamas," he said miserably.
"Hey dude. So uh. Dude. You know your dresser is, like, on fire?"
"Dude, are you, like, moping? What's the deal?"
"Leave me alone," Genowrath said, his voice muffled by the pillows.
"Bruh. You, like, scratched up the wall?"
"Yeah," Genowrath said from under the pillows. "Deal with it."
"What's wrong, bro? Normally you're, like, totally hyped after visiting dirtside. What's the deal?"
Genowrath turned beneath the covers, tightening the cocoon he was in. "The warlock I've been working with dumped me."
"Bro," said Charamas sadly. He stuffed a handful of chips in his mouth.
"Tell me about it."
"What happened?" said Charamas through the chip crumbs.
"Man, I don't even know. It's like one second we're cool, and then he's all talking about taking over the world, and how I'm like, not committed enough? It's just shitty."
Charamas swallowed the chips in his mouth and went for another handful. "Maybe you can ask Hebdekios about it," he said.
Genowrath tensed. He peered out from under the pillows. "What would Hebdekios know about it?"
"Oh, dude. . ."
"What, Charamas?" Genowrath sat up and growled, "What would Hebdekios know about my mortal?"
"Well, it's just that, like, he told me he'd been coming around your dude for a couple weeks now? Said the dude was, like, looking around for a new demon pal, y'know? I thought he meant, like, your dude was just pulling the Faust gig with different folks. Summoning around. I didn't think he meant, like, dumping you."
Genowrath felt his claws and teeth lengthening and had to physically control himself. He took a deep breath, then another.
"Thank you, Charamas," he said, spitting the words through gritted teeth. "I'll ask Hebdekios."
"Oh. uh. No prob, dude. And hey man," Charamas came over and gave him a friendly pat on the shoulder. "There's always more souls in the sea, you know?"
"Yes," Genowrath hissed. "Right. I have to go now. That is something I have to--"
He shot out of the bed and walked quickly down the hall.
* * * * *
It didn't take long to find Hedbekios. He was a presence in the Low Quarter, the dwelling place of lesser demons and imps; even if you never spoke to the guy, you'd know him. Genowrath asked around and found him in the commissary.
It was equally easy to spot Hebdekios. He had the look of a traditional demon incarnation: brick red skin like concrete, goat legs, whiplike tail, horns as long as a third-grader was tall, a goatee-- everything. He was old fashioned that way. And he was tall. Six feet, at least, though he might've grown since the last time Genowrath saw him.
Genowrath fumed as he watched Hebdekios move through the commissary line, towering a full head above the rest of the lower-level imps and demons. It wasn't fair. Hebdekios was well on his way to becoming a greater demon-- his bigger size advertised it. The more power a demon amassed, the more souls he tempted and traded and gave to The Dark Lord, the more power he was granted. Hebdekios was doing fine on his own. Why did he need to go after Dave?
Before he know what he was doing, Genowrath found himself striding forward.
The other demon turned, still holding his lunch tray. "Yeah?"
"I hear you've thrown in with a new sorcerer."
"Uh. Yeah?" Hebdekios scratched his chin lazily. "What's it to you?"
"That was mine," said Genowrath. "You know he was. Charamas told me. That was my sorcerer. I've been working on that soul for years. You can't just snipe another demon's mortal!"
"Hey, don't get mad at me because you can't keep a warlock happy," said Hebdekios. He set his tray down on the serving platform.
"What's that supposed to mean?"
Hebdekios put his hands up. "All I'm saying is that it was stupidly easy to get that dude to pledge himself over to me. I barely had to lift a finger. He was dying to get a shot at teaming up with a real demon. Seems to me like you weren't getting the job done."
"You don't go after another another demon's mortal!"
"I didn't go after him. He came to me."
To Genowrath, it was like a pit had been slowly but surely opening up inside ever since Dave had said they needed to talk. It had grown in inches, then in feet and yards. Now the pit inside was miles wide, and it had been full of hard, cold nothing. Chilling winds and frozen ground without even snow to soften the edges.
That all changed in an instant. Suddenly the pit was there, but now it was full of hot, raging fire.
Genowrath didn't know what happened next. He had some vague idea of what must've happened, but he never knew for sure. He must have launched himself at Hebdekios. He must have been bathed in hellfire. He must've had his claws out. He must have been really lucky. Because the next thing he did know was that he was on top of Hebdekios' chest, ripping him open and devouring his heart. All that was left of the greater demon's eyes were charred and blackened holes from when they'd been gouged out by Genowrath's burning hands. Hebdekios' throat was slit horizontally and vertically, and the flaps of flesh had been opened and spread like some horrendous papercraft.
The heart was the sweetest thing he'd tasted in years.
When he looked up, he saw that a small crowd of demons were watching him. He rose to his feet and lazily licked the blood off his fingers.
To the several demons standing around him, he gave them finger guns and cheerfully said, "You don't take another demon's mortal."
After a moment, they began nodding in agreement. It was, they murmured, a dick move. They stopped hovering now that the show was over and went back to getting their lunches.
Genowrath took a last look at Hebdekios' corpse and then left. Something fluttered in Genowrath's chest. He was smiling. he couldn't stop. he had to restrain himself from skipping down the hall back to his dorm.
He had an idea.
He was just approaching his room when Charamas poked his head out of the dorm next door to Genowrath's. "Dude! How'd it go?"
"It went great!" Genowrath said. He had to try not to laugh. Everything was so perfect. "I killed him and ate his heart."
Chramas blinked slowly. "Seriously?"
Genowrath waved, showing off his hand, still streaked with blood. "Yup. Don't know how I did, but I did."
"Dude. Hebdekios was, like, gonna be ranked-up. You took out an almost-greater demon."
Genowrath laughed. He couldn't stop it. It bubbled up from his chest and came out like a donkey bray. "I did!"
"You look better."
"I feel better. I've got a plan."
Charamas gave him a thumbs up. "Niiiiice. Well, like, if you need any help or anything--"
The gears in Genowrath's head began turning. "Actually, Charamas," he said. "Do you have a spare mirror I can use? I'm gonna need it."
* * * * *
The next day, Genowrath felt the inevitable tug of a summoning spell being cast. The difference was that this spell wasn't strictly meant for him. He closed his eyes and mentally followed the source and, with a feeling of satisfaction, allowed himself to be called. For the second time in two days, he materialized in the summoning circle in Dave's kitchen.
The smoke cleared. David looked up, surprised. "Genowrath?" he said.
Silence stretched between them.
"So," said David. "Uh. You've been well?"
"I see. That's good. I'm glad. Uh. Look, Genowrath, I don't want to be rude, but I meant to summon my new patron--"
Genowrath made a point to examine his fingernails. Be cool, he thought "Hebdekios is dead."
"What?" David said.
Genowrath flicked his eyes to David's face, them back to his nails. Be cool.
"Yeah," Genowrath said. "Died in the commissary downstairs. That happens sometimes. Demons squabble. You know how we are."
"I can't believe it." David dropped into the dining chair behind him. "I mean, I didn't know him well, but we had just started-- I thought there'd be time-- he's just gone?"
"Yep, that's how death tends to work."
David put his head in his hands. "I can't believe it."
"Yeah, well, believe it. I just answered the summoning because I figured you deserved an actual answer instead of, you know, you summoning forever and never getting a response."
David sighed. "Thank you, I suppose."
"Listen, Dave, don't let it get you down. You're gonna find that most patrons you look into, especially the 'stronger' ones, tend not to last long."
"Oh yeah. I could've told you if you'd asked. There's always infighting between demons, infighting between sorcerers, sometimes the boss gets itchy and wipes a few hundred of us out. Angels. There are a million ways that a fine lowstanding demon might be offed-- if they're stupid. Why do you think I'm still around? 'Cause I'm smarter than any of the rest of the idiots in the Pit."
David snorted, but he looked uncertain.
"You don't need to believe me," said Genowrath. "It's true. Seriously; ten bucks says that any demon you summon is gonna croak it before you can get any work done."
"Yeah. Sure. I'll keep that in mind."
Genowrath shrugged. "I'm just sayin'."
David sighed and stood up. "Well, thanks, Geno. But I've got some research to do, so. . ."
"Yeah," said Genowrath. "Same. Hurry it up so I can get outta here."
David blinked. "Uh. Right." He made the gestures, intoned the words, and Genowrath was returned back to his dorm.
He could barely contain his glee.
His plan was going to work, he could feel it.