The basement door was opened with a long, dramatic groan, the hinges absolutely against the idea of moving. Alix’s arms were hit with a sudden gust of cold air as he took the first couple of steps. Creek. Creek. Each step sounded older than the last, each piece of wood more wrinkled than the previous one. The florescent lights whined overhead like an unfed toddler and Alix made a mental note to have his much taller partner, Fagan, change them out. He let out an annoyed sigh when he realized that he had made the same observation to the stubbled gentleman a week ago. Between the lights and the stairs it was an orchestra of noise that made Alix swear under his breath. As functional as Fagan's basement was, it certainly wasn't in the best repair.
As another wave of cold ran down Alix’s arms he added the basement’s cold temperature to his permanent list of complaints. There was a furnace but it only worked when it damn well pleased which translated to “not when Alix was downstairs.” His partner never complained, instead claiming that Alix just wasn’t used to the Minnesota weather. The basement is fine, he always said, maybe you should invest in a sweater.
Alix frowned at the thought; he wasn’t so pathetic that he couldn’t last a few minutes in a crummy basement. Besides, the cold in the basement had nothing to do with the state itself. “Cold Minnesota” was always Fagan’s excuse for, “Didn’t get the heat fixed yet,” or, “I’ll call the guy right away.” Alix had definitely heard of the cold weather, it had been the main topic of discussion when he moved here for college besides Vikings, fairs with strange concoctions on a stick, and some giant mall with an amusement park inside. He may have grown up outside the state but he had visited – and lived – in much colder places in his life. Such was the trials and tribulations of a family that moved around a lot. Minnesota winters weren’t all that hard to survive in comparison, unless if you had a partner that seemed allergic to heaters.
As he stepped off the stairs and moved to the back of the basement the florescent lights grew dimmer, one failing after the other like an obedient soldier. One light remained defiant, struggling to stay on to give Alix enough light to see up ahead. He ventured forward into the area that had been turned into a makeshift cell, thick iron bars protruding from the ceiling and meeting the cold, basement floor. Brushing a stray lock of blond hair out of his eyes, Alix crossed his arms and looked into the darkness behind the bars, waiting.
"The lights hurt. I left one on." The voice was quiet and smooth, caressing Alix’s arms like the freshly dried linen in laundry detergent commercials.
Alix frowned as he looked inside the cell, eyes focused on the shadows in the very back. "Step out to where I can see you," he said, speaking directly to the shadows as if they were a living thing.
The shadows in the corner remained still for a moment before Alix heard a deep sigh, “If you insist.”
Alix watched as the shadows pulled back in a receding wave of dark black. A figure stepped out of the shadows, the waves parting for him like a curtain. Its feet were silent against the uneven concrete, gently touching the floor with the elegance of a trained dancer. It was tall and skinny, the type of thinness that reminded Alix of news reports of war torn countries where the people looked like they never ate. Despite its malnourished appearance no bones showed through his skin, but the texture of its flesh looked like a frozen liquid, small ripples flowing down its arms and chest. Its skin was a color similar to runny ink pens, the black bleeding into the concrete. Its eyes were hollow, missing pupils and deep like endless black holes. It made Alix wonder how the creature could see in front of him.
In contrast to its creepy, elongated features, two large ears flopped down around its head. It gave the creature a strange resemblance of a playful puppy, something that could be trusted.
But Alix knew better.
To think that creatures like this shadow dog – the closest thing that Alix could associate the demon with – sparked nightmarish stories of demons and other religious fodder was laughable. What stood in front of him now certainly didn’t look like the demons the rest of the human world whispered about during campfires and underneath childrens’ beds. In fact, there was a good portion of them that probably would have thought that this inhuman thing was, dare he say, cute, something to keep as a pet and make do tricks for spoiled little children.
Alix was disgusted by the thought.
The figure nodded politely to Alix and sat down on the chair it'd been given, making an effort to look more approachable. Alix noted there was a metal piece hanging from its ear. An insignia of some kind? It had to mean something, Alix thought, since it was the only thing the demon seemed to be wearing as far as clothing or accessories were concerned. But he could worry about the creature’s fashion sense later; there were more important matters to discuss.
"You're a different kind of demon than the ones we've seen. Why wouldn't you bother to escape? You obviously could. I've seen you move through shadows before."
The demon shrugged, "What would be the point of escaping simply to be hunted down again?"
"We kill demons here."
"So why haven't you killed me?"
Alix couldn't resist the urge to smirk. This demon was different from the mindless mass that he had hunted down with Fagan over the years. Unthinking creatures who rushed after their unsuspecting targets, demons were to be killed swiftly because they never listened to reason, nor did they feel things like remorse or regret. But this one was actually civil and Alix could feel a spark of intelligence behind those empty voids that served as the creature’s eyes. This demon seemed patient and wasn’t the type to give into bouts of uncontrollable rage that he'd seen in so many others.
It made him a threat, but it was a risk Alix was willing to take. It made his stomach turn itself into several knots when he considered the thought, but perhaps this was the demon who could assist him.
Alix crossed over and pulled up a chair, straddling it backward. “There is a story I’ve heard before, during my hunts.” Alix paused for a moment, deep blue eyes searching for the proper way to word it, “It was a rather interesting tale and I want to know if there is any truth to it. I want to know if there are demons who have the power to... change things."
The creature in front of him thought about that for a moment, silently rubbing its chin in an almost human behavior. "I am assuming you mean larger things, possibly past things. There are indeed stories of a specific type of demon who can do that, but you won't find him in your world."
Alix nodded. "I figured as much. Tell me about him."
"In my world they call him the Storyteller. According to our world, every living thing has a book where its life and stories are recorded and written down. These books are stored in a room.”
“A room full of books? You mean like a library?”
“Library?” The creature tilted its head in what Alix could only assume was a curious gesture, “Yes, I suppose that is a good word for it if these ‘libraries’ of yours are endless.”
“Endless? No, nothing like that.”
“I see. Well, I suppose calling it a library will do for now,” the demon chuckled before speaking again, “The Storyteller is the one who collects these books and watches over them. But he also has the power to write new books and rewrite events.” It stopped and tilted its head again. Unlike the previous demons that Alix had become accustomed to killing, this one seemed curious about a lot of things, particularly in Alix’s reactions during their conversation. The empty holes in its head focused on Alix, studying him, its body shifting in its chair each time Alix frowned or let out a soft breath. Soon it spoke again; crossing its arms at its chest in the same way Alix had his arms crossed around the back of his chair, “Why? Is there something you wanted the Storyteller to change about your story?"
"That is nothing for you to worry about,” Alix said quickly, “Where would I find him?"
The creature shook its head, the movement liquid against the rippling shadows behind him. "You can't. The Storyteller doesn't leave his library and no one else can enter there."
Alix looked at the demon in disgust and stood up, pushing his chair aside. "So he doesn't actually exist and you're wasting my time." Turning, he moved toward the steps to leave. He was forced to stop as the light directly above him snapped out with a small pop. Alix glanced back at his prisoner.
"In exchange for my life. If you swear that I will not be harmed by you or your associates, I will tell you what I know about him."
"You’ve already told me everything I need to know. You also just said that no one could go there or see him."
"No. I told you what my world believed. I have met him."
This was a trick. It was obviously a trap that the demon in front of him was using to extend its life. They already knew that light hurt it, the creature clinging to the shadows and darkness. They could easily wound it, if not kill it by flooding this entire space with lights bright enough to replace the new stadium that had been built for the “Twinkies” – the terrible nickname given to the city’s baseball team. The creature was at their mercy and now it was negotiating for its life.
Perhaps Alix could use this beyond his own personal desires.
Alix turned back to the creature, crossing his arms. "In exchange for your life, you will give us any information we ask for of any demon, including this Storyteller."
The creature hesitated, mulling over the choice and the consequences. The shadows shifted, as if they too were trying to figure out if this was a good deal or not. Seconds felt like an eternity to Alix, each one ticking down as he waited for his prisoner to make a decision. Finally, Alix was given a small nod of acceptance as the demon stood up and extended a dark hand past the bars.
Alix did not step forward; he simply acknowledged it with a nod of his own. "Then you have my word that neither I nor my associates will harm or kill you."
The creature lowered its hand. "A word is worth nothing without a name."
"Alix. Alix Andre DeBenit."
"Dox. Son of the Lurkhamara." The demon nodded. "I accept your word."
Alix turned and headed back up the stairs. He needed to talk to Fagan and decide how to proceed. As he walked up the stairs he did his best to ignore the shadows around him. They were all rippling now, like water drizzling down a clear pane of glass. There was something about that name - or was it a title? It felt like mentioning the Lurkhamara had made the very shadows respond. Was it a sign of respect perhaps? Halfway up the stairs Alix gave into curiosity and glanced back. Dox had returned to simply sitting in its – his, he had said son – chair, waiting. He couldn't tell if the creature’s eyes were open or closed but there was an itch down the back of his spine that made Alix feel like he was being watched.
Pushing those thoughts from his mind he left the basement, closed the door behind him, and made sure to lock the door securely. He didn't let himself think of the fact that the lock would probably do nothing. The shadows on the wall, even if they didn’t move at all, confirmed that the thing residing in Fagan's basement was far too powerful for steel and a deadbolt to stop him.
Perhaps they would need to invest in something stronger, though Alix had a feeling that Fagan would “call the guy” just as quickly as he had called to get the heat fixed.
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