He had to get rid of all the words. He had to stop thinking like this. He’d been taken and indoctrinated by those humans, but he knew everything and he could do anything now.
He stopped and tried to think of something he wanted to do. The storm had no answers for him.
The human world had been the demons’ goal for so long, Nick was not sure what to do with it now he had it. The magicians were their masters, promising relief from the pain as long as you gave them obedience, and every demon dreamed of being a master instead. Being the one with all the power, who could terrify and rule the humans.
Demons did not see that there was any position in the human world but the position of master or slave. Now he was no longer a slave. He could crush the people in this world if he felt like it — but what would he do then? He could create a hundred storms like this one. He owned this night and all those trapped in it.
It was dark, and a little cold. He felt tired and chilled by everything that had happened today. He wanted to go home to Alan, eat cereal on the sofa, and sleep in his own bed.
That was what humans did, with the whole world laid out before them every day.
He buried the towers in storm clouds. He could set the river Thames on fire if he chose, reduce it to steam in the riverbed.
He could not go back to a human. Going back to a human would be like a beaten dog escaping its chains and then crawling back to its kennel, whining for its owner.
That was a human sort of comparison, though. He had to stop thinking like a human. He had to stop thinking in words. He did not remember being taught words. Sometime in the distant past he had learned that a sound meant an idea, a particular sound meant a particular idea, and sound and idea could never be disentangled and independent again. He remembered how they all used to laugh at words, to which humans attributed so much power, as if sound and air could possibly mean an idea, or an individual.
He thought of the name Alan, and what that meant.
It seemed that the word home, once learned, was hard to forget.
Black Arthur had been right, though. He had never been human, never felt things in a human way, never been completely comfortable with a language made of words. Nick wondered if the girls brought up with the wolves had ever been comfortable with the wolves or humans. He wondered if they had wanted to go back to the wolves once they were rescued, and what the wolves would have done if they had.
It was easiest to be with your own kind. Nick thought of winking at the possessed man in Mezentius House, and how Alan must have seen that and run away to hide his horror and fear, seeing his demon brother belonging with the demons.
Nick had gone after him. It had been all right.
That had been before he knew. He thought of Black Arthur telling him, You are not something that can feel. Nick knew what he meant now. A demon had no capacity for warmth.
Alan had let him go. Nick would never have taken that kind of risk with his own world, with his own kind. The humans were not like they were, not powerful and logical, not barren and bleak like the endless stretches of space in the demon world. He thought of Mae’s body heat against him, anchoring him while he crossed running water. He thought of Liannan and her cold mouth, how she had wanted a moment of warmth to take back with her to their world.
Things were what they were. They couldn’t be changed. Something eternally cold could not turn himself inside out, turn his face away from everything he was, and should not long for something brief and stupid and senseless and warm.
Everything was changed now. He knew the truth. He knew what he was.
There was no way back, not ever.
He let the storm clouds dissolve and the winds die away, and in the gathering quiet it occurred to him that he had left Alan in a nest of magicians.
He went back faster than sound or light, fled uncaring through a city he could have owned to the one place that mattered, then came in through the roof and hovered over the floor where the bodies lay.
There were people standing. Alan was not one of them.
He was lying on the floor, half-covered by Black Arthur’s body. Black Arthur’s eyes were open and blood was coming out of his eyes, his ears, and his nose. He was dead.
Nick had been angry, but surely not angry enough to hurt Alan. Surely he had struck down Arthur before the man had a chance to touch Alan.
There were other magicians in this room who were still alive, and therefore still a threat. Mae and Jamie were facing them hand in hand, defenseless, and facing them just the same.
Nick was about to whirl on the magicians when he noticed that none of them were actually attacking. The most that seemed to be happening was that Gerald was standing toe-to-toe with another magician, and that man was talking loudly.
“We should kill them all!” he said, and Nick pinpointed the man with his power. It would be easy as pinning a butterfly to the wall and watching it die.
Gerald reached up in his friendly, casual way and took the man by the throat.
“Do you think you give the orders around here now, Mark?” he inquired lightly. “Are you challenging me?”
“No,” Mark said. “No, of course not, I simply assumed—”
“Don’t,” Gerald advised, and smiled his shy smile into the older man’s face. “We’re going to leave now. We’re going to let them live. What do you have to say about that?”
“I — nothing,” said Mark.
Gerald let him go and turned him like a child, giving him a solid push between the shoulder blades in the direction of the door. The other magicians took the hint and, even though some cast venomous glances behind Gerald’s back, they all started filing toward the exit. Some had to step over the bodies on their way.
Gerald gave a small sigh of relief, as if a potentially awkward situation had been happily resolved, and turned to face Mae and Jamie with his hands in his pockets.
“I gave you your lives,” he said. “Remember that. I don’t give without expecting a return. I’ll be watching you.” His eyes lingered on the healing cut he’d made along Mae’s cheek, something cold in them surfacing for a moment. Then he was smiling again. “And I will be back to collect.”
“What, our lives?” Jamie exclaimed, moving in front of Mae.
Gerald shrugged. “Come now, Jamie,” he said, eyeing him with what seemed to be a considerable amount of amusement. “Do you think I would go after one of my own?”
Jamie reached behind him and found Mae’s hand again. “I’m not one of yours.”
“Sure you are,” Gerald murmured. “You just don’t know it yet. Are you going to feel safe waiting for everyone else to discover your little secret, watching your sister grow afraid of you, knowing that a demon’s on the loose out there? You just might be glad to see me when I come back.”
He nodded his head at them in farewell, turning to follow his magicians out into the corridor.
He paused at the door and let his gaze sweep up and down Mae, that glint of coldness appearing again like a knife carelessly hidden by someone who would not mind too much if people saw it and were afraid.
“Of course,” he murmured, “you might not be.”
He winked at Jamie and shut the door.
Nick did not kill any of them. There were enough bodies lying on that floor for Alan to see when he woke. What Nick did was drift toward one of the bodies, the one lying in the magicians’ circle. All the other circles were empty. Anzu had gone when the man who’d called him died.
There was no fire left in the circle, and no life in the body. The chest was rising and falling, but the open eyes looked dead.
They were blue eyes, like the eyes of his dead parents. They were all dead, that magical blue-eyed family. The child had never had a chance to live.
Nick surveyed the vacant body dispassionately. He knew it, could remember the feeling of every muscle and sinew. He knew where every mole was, knew every line of the face. It was just that he also knew he did not belong in it, and did not really need it.
He remembered again that time on the river, and the persistent nagging feeling that his body did not belong to him. It was a hundred times worse now when he tried to force his way inside. The body felt heavy, like the earth humans were supposed to be made out of, and he felt as if he was entirely the wrong sort of material to be put into it. It was as if someone was trying to squeeze too much water into a cardboard box.
For a moment he felt as if the body might burst, but then he seemed to settle back into it, his energy running comfortably along the lines of the body again and finding a way to fit. Then it was just a matter of remembering that he had to move the limbs in order to move again. It seemed such a clumsy way to do things, and he levered himself up with arms that felt like rubber.
Nick squinted, and the world came into focus.
Jamie was standing by the window, saying, “The storm just stopped,” in a wondering, detached sort of way. He turned at the sound of Nick getting awkwardly to his feet.
At least stepping out of the circle was no problem now.
“Nick woke up,” Jamie told Mae as Nick walked, surer with every step, across the floor toward his brother. His body was working well enough that when he got to Alan, he went down on his knees beside him, and nothing had ever been so easy.
Alan was lying on his side, and he was still breathing. He had just been knocked out when Arthur tackled him, Nick told himself. He was all right; he had to be.
What Nick did do was reach out and wipe away the trickle of blood at the corner of Black Arthur’s mouth. Then he leaned over, passed his bloody fingers over Alan’s leg, and watched the demon’s mark fade away.
Nick did not touch his brother again. He just stayed by his side and waited for him to wake up.
After a moment, he slanted a look over at Mae. She had not stirred when Jamie told her about the storm or about Nick. She was standing over the body of the man she had killed. Nick remembered now — she had killed him and taken the mark off Jamie. He made an effort to catch her eye, and when he did he smiled.
“Well done,” he said.
Mae looked sick. Nick realized that somehow he had said the wrong thing, and he was just thinking that Alan would have said the right thing when he saw Alan stir.
The first thing Alan’s eyes fell on when he opened them was Mae, and immediately he sat up and said, “Oh, Mae. I’m sorry.”
For some reason, that seemed to be the right thing. Mae almost smiled, and at the sound of Alan’s voice, Jamie stopped looking lost in troubled thought and looked instead at his sister. He went over to her at once, looked anxiously up at her, then reached out and wrapped a protective arm around her shoulders.
She smiled properly then, dropping a kiss on his head. That was good, Nick thought, and then Alan said, “Where’s Nick?” and all thought of the others was lost.
For the first time since he had heard the truth, he turned and looked into his brother’s eyes.
Alan looked enormously relieved to see him and scared to death. Nick looked at him and knew what Alan was seeing: blank black eyes set in an expressionless face, and no way to guess what was going on behind those eyes. Alan had flinched violently away from him when waking from dreams of demons. Alan had deliberately unleashed him on the world.
Whatever Nick did now, Alan would think it was his fault.
Nick decided it was good that he had not allowed Alan to wake and see that empty body. He could be here. He could do that much.
“Nick,” Alan said, and his eyes traveled from Nick’s face to Mum’s body, lying too close to them. Alan flinched back, as if the sight hurt him. He was shaking a little. “Nick,” he said again, and his voice was shaking a little too. “Nick, talk to me.”
Nick shook too, but not from horror or grief. He just felt cold, empty of the right words. He knew how to talk, but he did not know what to say. He could not give Alan what he did not have. He could not be human, even for Alan.
He allowed himself to remember Black Arthur’s voice once more. Black Arthur had said that a demon was a creature defined by its actions and its desires.