“What is that boy?”

Oh no.

I turn to the doorway and see the doctor’s head looking around it, staring at Con. How much did he see?

“Doctor, you have to understand, I have only the safety of-“

“Safety!?” he asks.

He steps through the door and walks toward me, rage barely contained in his being.

“You’d have me believe you’re thinking about our safety? This boy just survived what no man could. He injured what you have been having trouble trying to even locate. He vanished from one side of the room like a magician!”

“But this,” he gestures to Con, “thing is supposed to keep us safe?”

“Yes!” I nearly scream.

“Wouldn’t you say with all these abilities he is better equipped to protect your people? That he is strong enough to help with this situation? And if you saw all that, you must know he has thrown his life on the line to protect you!”

The doctor’s eyes break from mine. An opening.

I continue.

“Wouldn’t you say all of that is worth the benefit of a doubt?”

The doctor’s hand is shaking slightly. He holds onto that anger so tightly. I will admit, if any of his workers were in the room, I wouldn’t dare be so audacious. But if they were here, I doubt an appeasement would have helped my case anyway.

“You said you trust me, Dr. Maladar. You gave me permissions to search everywhere on your property. That means something from a man such as you. I cannot explain what this boy is, or how he came under my employ, other than he is who we need.”

He looks as if he is about to interrupt me, when I quickly finish my speech.

“If you do not allow him to remain, I will cease my investigation. Abandon you and your people to the horrors that ravage your home and not think twice.”

His mouth dropped open in surprise. A man raised in all that wealth and authority, and he’s never had someone speak to him this way.

Admittedly, I wouldn’t truly abandon him. These demons are too dangerous to leave alone. Even so, Maladar has no clue how to react to anything I’ve said.

The look of surprise fades quickly. He resumes a controlled and collected demeanor.

“Go into the main house, Branner. One of my servants will escort you upstairs. The study was your next destination, correct?”

“Indeed it was,” I reply, a sense of dread lifted from my thoughts.

“Go. Before I change my mind, Branner”

I turn to Con and give him a nod. We gather my things and leave the hall for the main house. As we exit, I hear the front door open, as the doctor exits.

He must be truly upset to open that door himself. My words were harsh, but not wrong. I do not think we can solve this without the help of Con.

Though I’m not to be trusted either. Yes, I need Con’s help, but I also believe him to be something more than the half-demon he appears to be. Even when released, he has full control of his demonic blood. I need to study him more after this investigation.

“Branner! We gonna move or what?”

“What? Yes! What?”

“You’ve been standin’ down there for a while now. Ya got something you wanna share with us?”

I clear my throat and start stepping up the stairs.

“No, no. I do believe I’m ready to continue.”

“Great. Then come on! I wanna see the upstairs when I’m not tryin’ to run for my life.”

The boy excitedly runs up the stairs. It’s a mean trick, but I did promise Maladar to keep him contained. I focus on the ring. The energy seeps out and into the band on his finger. He trips.

“Grah! What did ya do that for?! This stupid friggin, frappin…”

“Come now, Con. Such language should not be used in public. How are you feeling?”

“…grrr…hate you…” He stands up and shakes his head.

“It seems you’re getting used to the transformations. Soon you might be able to go back and forth with no problem.”

“Yeah. That’s a real shiny thought.” He cracks his neck. I notice some of the maids passing through become startled. I suppose he’ll take a bit of refining before he can become my official aide, but then, one could say something similar about me.

I flag down one of the passing servants, a young looking man who looked a bit nervous, and ask him to lead us to the study. We continue up the stairs, Con wobbling just a little bit.

“So, what is your name?”

“Con. Ya already knew that.”

“I wasn’t talking to you, though I do know that can’t be your real name. I was referring to the young man helping us.”

“Oh! Uh, my name is Lance Welling, sir.”

“Don’t look so timid. We’re not going to hurt you. Is this your first day?”

“Third, sir. I hope my inexperience isn’t-“

“Don’t worry about it, son. It’s why I picked you.” Someone summoned these creatures long before Lance started here. Actually…

“Why did you take up the position here? Surely you know of the dangers in the house.”

“I do sir. All too well, actually. See, my older brother worked for the Maladars before me. He provided for us. When we lost him…”

I understand.

“Your brother worked as a cleaner.”

“Yes, sir. I suppose Doctor Maladar told you about the incident.”

“He offered you money. He felt responsible. But you refused the flat out charity.”

“Indeed. Instead I agreed to work for him. To earn my money.”

I can’t keep being this cruel.

“Mr. Welling, if you would prefer to return to your normal duties, to keep away from these instances, I would understand. It would earn you no disrespect in my eyes.”

“I am fine, Master Branner. If I’m to be working here, I must be able to do all that is asked of me. Ahem, this way.”

He turns and directs us down another hall. These upper levels are like a labyrinth. And Lance has already worked through and memorized the layout.

I do seem to have a knack for selecting proper help, now don’t I?