Every head in the temple started swiveling around, trying to follow Astirioth’s pointing fingertip to see who it was she was talking about. But the demon moved, pointing at first one person, then another. I thought for sure that she was only playing a game, to see which of her followers would turn on each other. From what I’d read, demons liked games of that nature.
Owen was still standing too closely beside me, his arm around my shoulders, in place for whatever he thought was going to occur between us when the ecstasy portion of the evening commenced. I started to turn to let him know that it wasn’t going to happen, when his arm slipped around my throat, yanking me off-balance so that I fell into him.
He backed away, dragging me with him.
Several of the demon-worshipers turned at my cut-off scream. Masks, hoods, and plain, unadorned faces stared at us. Up on the podium, Astirioth laughed.
“Stay back,” Owen snarled. “Anyone tries to get close and I’ll kill her!”
He’d kill me? Okay, there were two problems with that.
First off, did he honestly think that a major Demon Lord and a bunch of worshipers were going to care less if he killed me?
And second, did he really think I was going to let that happen?
“You try anything,” he muttered to me, “and I’ll slit your throat.”
I felt a cold line of fire at my neck and realized that he had pulled a blade from somewhere and now held it against me. For a brief moment, I felt the thrill of real fear run through me, but then I remembered who I was.
I was Lilly, a necromancer. And not just any necromancer, but one of the Watch. I knew things that Owen would never understand and what was more, I was trained to deal with situations like this. The Watch never assumed its spell-casters wouldn’t end up in some sort of physical confrontation, and they taught us how to disarm opponents and how to fight. Most never got the chance to use those skills, since everyone knew it was death to kill a watchman of any type. If that happened, all bets were off, and they’d send out any and all of us to find the guilty party.
So, if Owen did get lucky and take me out, at least I had the comfort of knowing he wouldn’t be far behind.
But I wasn’t going to rely on those hand-to-hand skills either. Not when I had other, more reliable ones, to fall back on.
“Okay,” I said soothingly. “I’m not going to resist. It’s too bad though. I was looking forward to the rest of the ceremony.”
“Sure, you were,” he snorted. “Do you think I’m stupid? You’re pretty and all, but with an attitude like that? Come on.”
Astirioth laughed again and called out. “Well? Are you going to do it, or not?”
“Shut up!” Both Owen and I shouted at the same time.
“Why are you doing this, anyway?” I asked.
“I’m doing it for Malbsathug!” His voice rose to a yell, to make sure everyone present, including Astirioth, heard him. “My master will never be second! Never give his faithful to you!”
“Oh, you silly, little man,” Astirioth said, stretching lazily. “Malbsathug has been mine for a long time now. How could it be otherwise? All I needed to do was promise him what he wanted. The poor dear is still waiting, unable to free himself from his own desires.”
“That’s not true!” Owen shouted. “He sent me here! Told me to get close and kill you!”
“How were you planning on doing that, you idiot?” I hissed. “She’s a demon-lord!”
“With this!” He moved the dagger held against my throat, cutting me a tiny bit. I felt drops of blood run down my neck.
Astirioth laughed even harder.
“You really are stupid,” I said, and reached up and grabbed his arm.
While he’d been busy yelling at Astirioth and convincing us all of his master’s worth, I had been quietly preparing a spell. Normally, I chanted out loud. It helped me focus. This time, I did it silently, forming the words in my mind. The effect was the same. The flickering room dimmed as my eyes turned black, although interestingly, I could see Astirioth a little better. I felt my hair start to lift.
“What are you doing? Stop it!” Owen’s voice cracked; he was on the verge of panic.
I cast the spell. Beneath my hands, Owen’s arm started to rot at an accelerated pace. The skin blackened and started to slough off. He screamed and tried to cut me, but the damage was already done, and his hand wouldn’t move. I shoved backward, hitting him in the nose with the top of my head, which brought stars to my vision as well.
See how it ends in Work-Death Balance! Get it here.