“Now remember, this is a vacation, not carte blanche for you to run amok and be obnoxious.”
I made a little pout, which let me tell you, ain’t easy when your face is shaped like a Newfoundland dog’s muzzle. Which mine was by dint of the fact that my most magnificent form to date was that of an extremely handsome, debonair, and utterly fabulous Newfie. “Have I ever run amok and been obnoxious?” I asked my demon lord, a kinda clueless Guardian by the name of Aisling Grey.
She lifted her hand and prepared to tick items off her fingers.
“Yeah, yeah, whatever,” I interrupted before she could get going on what may or may not have been a few unfortunate incidents in my past. “Kiss kiss. Have a nice time on Drake’s yacht. Don’t let the door hit you on the ass on the way out.”
“It’s not too late to send it to the Akasha,” Drake said as he walked past me, a baby carrier in each hand. “You would be able to enjoy our vacation without worrying about whether or not the demon was causing trouble.”
“Hello! ‘The demon,’ as you so rudely referred to me, is standin’ right here!” I gave Drake a look, but he missed it entirely. You’d think that a guy who just happened to be a wyvern, leader of a group of dragons who marched around the earth in human form, would be a little more aware of things, but Drake was like that, always missing my pithy comments and witty repartee. “And Aisling wouldn’t send me to the Akasha. That’s the cruelest thing a demon lord can do to her charming, adorable, and entirely innocent demon, one who, it might be pointed out, was recently praised for actions above and beyond the call of duty with regards to the birthing of the spawn.”
Drake muttered something extremely rude in Hungarian under his breath as he took the spawns out to the car.
“One,” Aisling said, doing that finger-ticking-off thing again. She made mean eyes at me as she did it. “You will cease referring to the twins as ‘the spawn.’ They have names; use them. Two, yes, you were of great assistance when it came to their birth, especially since you had to don human form to do so.”
I made a face. “Man, that was totally sucky. You should have seen the size of my package in human form. It lacked, babe. It just lacked.”
“Two and a half—you will not tell me, in any terms whatsoever, about your genitalia, be it in doggy or human form.”
I rolled my eyes. “Sheesh, Ash, loosen up a bit. I didn’t go into actual measurements or set up a website devoted to it.”
“For which the world is truly grateful.”
“Yeah, well, I’m still peeved at May for making me take that form. Human form is just so boring.”
“May was doing the best she could given a bad situation,” Aisling said, pointing to a suitcase sitting near the door when István, one of Drake’s elite guard, came in from where the car was waiting to take Aisling and Drake to a yacht he’d hired for a couple of week’s vacation. “Just that one is left, István. Are you and Suzanne set for your trip to New York?”
“Yes, we will leave as soon as Jim is picked up.”
“You make it sound like I have babysitter,” I grumbled, a bit annoyed. “You know, I’m over a thousand years old—I think I can take care of myself for ten days. Just leave me a credit card and the number of the local pizza place, and I’ll have a Mrs. Peel-athon while you’re gone. And maybe a Morgan Fairchild-athon. Rawr.”
“Now there’s a recipe for disaster.” Aisling’s lips thinned as she continued. “Three: you will obey Anastasia. I have formally given her the right to give you orders, and you will respect that, and do as she commands.”
“She just better not let that creepy apprentice of hers around me,” I said, scratching an itchy spot behind my ear. “During that lunch you dragged me to meet Anastasia, that Margarine Chip chick looked like she wanted to gut me.”
“Buttercup is Anastasia’s apprentice, and unused to demons,” she said, her nostrils flaring in that nostril-flaring way she had. “You will be polite and courteous to both of them, do you understand?”
“Yeah, yeah, keep my nose clean, gotcha,” I said, wandering over to my favorite British newspaper, the one with the girls flaunting their bare boobies. “So long as Anastasia takes me to Paris to be with my darling Cecile, we’re all good.”
“Four: while you are visiting Cecile, you will do anything that Amelie asks you, and you will leave when Anastasia says it’s time to leave. You are not to beg Amelie to stay with Cecile. She is a Welsh Corgi. She can survive the nights without you. ”
“I don’t see why I have to spend the nights at a hotel with Anastasia,” I said, tapping my toes on the picture of a particularly busty chick. “It would be easier for everyone if she just dumped me off at Amelie’s and let me have my vacation there, with Cecile, rather than picking me up every night like it was some sort of day care or something.”
“Five,” Aisling said as Drake reappeared at the door, giving her a raised eyebrow. “You will remember that if you step out of line, the Akasha awaits.”
“You wouldn’t really let anyone send me there,” I said, rubbing my head on her leg just to let her know I’d miss her. “There’s no way out of the Akasha unless you’re summoned out, or get a special dispensation from the Sovereign. You don’t know ‘cause you’ve never been there, but it’s hell, Aisling, it’s really hell. Worse, ‘cause Abaddon ain’t that bad once you figure out how to avoid the torture seminars. But the Akasha? Brrr. Bad mojo all around.”
“Just you remember that when Anastasia gets here. Are you all packed?”
I nodded toward the doggy backpack she got me for the visits I made to Paris to hang out with my lovely Cecile, she of the tailless butt, and oh, so suckable ears. Corgies may be low to the ground, but they are the sexiest things on four legs, and my Cecile was particularly snuffleworthy, even if she did get a bit grumpy now and then. “Eh? What?” I realized suddenly Aisling had been droning on about something or other.
“Kincsem, we will be late for the train if you do not leave now,” Drake said, taking her by the arms and steering her toward the door.
“I asked you if you have your cell phone and the phone book with the emergency numbers in your backpack.”
“Yup, all there. And extra drool bibs, that nice bamboo brush, a clean collar, and a two-week supply of Welsh Corgi Fanciers for when Cecile is napping.”
Drake rolled his eyes and pushed Aisling through the door over her protests.
“Be good!” she bellowed as he shoved her into the car.
“Don’t forget to bring me back a present!” I yelled back, and waved goodbye before slamming shut the door and heading straight for Drake’s library and the leather couch they always forbade me to sit on.
That’s where Suzanne found me almost an hour later. “Your substitute Guardian is here,” she said, frowning. “Did Aisling say you could sit on Drake’s nice sofa?”
“What Drake doesn’t know can’t cheese him off,” I said, sauntering out, waiting patiently while Suzanne fetched my backpack.
“Hiya babe,” I said, greeting the white-haired Guardian Aisling’s mentor Nora had dug up to accompany me on my trip to Paris. Anastasia wasn’t really my idea of a babe, her being approximately a million years old (or at least looking like it), but I’m nothing if not Mr. Smooth Moves, and I know how the ladies like a little flattery. I did a quick gender check on her (nose to crotch, just to be polite), then sucked in my gut while Suzanne strapped on the backpack.
“Good afternoon, Effrijim,” Anastasia said, smiling vaguely. I was pleased to see that her weirdo apprentice wasn’t around. “Are you ready to fly to Paris?”
“Been ready all day,” I said, accompanying her to the door. She said goodbye to Suzanne, who waved at me (I gave her hand a quick lick goodbye), and waited for me to go first. “I’m glad to see your uber creepy assistant isn’t here. She really freaks me out, you know? I think she has something against demons in incredibly handsome doggy form …oh, hi Butterball.”
“My name is Buttercup!” The woman who stood waiting at the limo that Drake had arranged for us (against his will, but Aisling has him wrapped all around her fingers), narrowed her beady little eyes at me. “Can we not just banish the demon, mistress?”
I snickered, about to make a comment about BDSM, but Anastasia’s gentle, elderly voice stopped me. She was a nice old lady, so I didn’t feel right about shocking her with references to stuff like bondage.
“Aisling has assured me that Effrijim will be on its very best behavior, and I’m quite sure that it will be so,” she said, giving me a kind of vague smile as she got into the limo.
“Absotively,” I agreed, shouldering the buttery one aside so I could sit next to Anastasia. “Hey, do you mind if we stop at a McDonald’s on the way to the airport? I didn’t have much lunch and I’m famished.”
“But mistress—” Buttercup started to protest, but it did no good. I flashed her a charming grin before settling back in the seat.
“No, my dear. I know the demon offends you, but consider this a good learning experience. Aisling claims it is harmless and after meeting it, I am in complete agreement.” She flashed a smile my way. “Effrijim is too much of a gentleman to cause trouble, I’m quite sure.”
I straightened up a little, pleased by the gentleman comment. “Damn straight. Although ya know, you can just call me Jim rather than Effrijim. I really don’t use it much ‘cause it’s kinda sissy sounding, don’t you think?”
“Not at all. I think it’s quite distinguished. It suits you,” she said nicely. I rubbed my face on her just because she didn’t think the name was awful (it is, but she didn’t admit that, which wins beaucoup brownie points in my book). “I must admit that I’m a bit curious as to why you chose to adopt the form of a dog when you could have appeared in human form.”
“Don’t get me started on human form,” I said, shaking my head. “It’s awful, just awful. When May—she’s the silver wyvern’s mate, and a really nice chick even if she is a doppelganger—when May made me take up human form a few months ago, everyone laughed at me. I don’t think I’ll ever get over the trauma of that experience.”
“How very odd,” Anastasia said, looking me over. “I can’t imagine preferring a canine form over that of a human, but I’m sure you have your reasons.”
Buttercup looked sour and mean at the same time, but she kept her pie-hole shut for the trip to the airport. Until the plane took off, that is.
“Mistress?” I was curled up on a loveseat that sat along one side of the jet when Buttercup unsnapped herself from a big comfy chair and moved forward to where Anastasia was sitting with a book. “Are you all right? Mistress?”
“What’s wrong with her?” I asked, hitting pause on the DVD I was watching. I slid off the seat and wandered forward, wondering if the old lady was scared of flying or something. I would reassure her that Drake’s pilot was really good, and there was nothing to worry about over a quick trip to Paris.
“I think…oh dear, I don’t feel well. Don’t feel well at all,” Anastasia said groggily. “I can’t seem to keep…eyes…”
“You’re having some sort of an attack,” Buttercup said briskly, shaking the old lady by the shoulders. “We will get you to a doctor immediately, but Mistress, the demon! If you are unable to command it, it will do who knows what heinous acts!”
“Hey!” I said, allowing a little blop of slobber to hit her shoe nearest me. “I don’t do heinous! Not when I’m on vacation, anyway!”
“Mistress, you must make an effort!” Buttercup demand.
Anastasia’s eyes fluttered open, the faded blue of them cognizant but obviously sedated. A horrible, nasty suspicion filled me at the sight of her dilated pupils. “The demon…you must take charge.”
“Now, wait a sec,” I said, shoving my head in between them to try to sniff at Anastasia’s breath. It looked to me like she’d been slipped a mickey. “No one needs to take charge of me. I’m a sixth class demon. I’m not really bad. Besides, Aisling would skin me if she found out I did anything bad—”
“I am yours to command, Mistress,” Buttercup said, grabbing me by the collar and hauling me back. “Tell me what you want.”
“No, listen to me—” I started to say, but the old lady’s eyes rolled back in her head as she said softly, “I grant you the authority given to me.”
I stared in horror first at her, then at Buttercup as she straightened up, a victorious smile on her face.
“You drugged her!” I gasped, shocked to my toenails.
“You’ll have a hard time proving that where you’re going,” she said, then waved her hands around in a hokey manner and said quickly, “Effrijim, I command you in the name of my mistress, in the name of your Guardian, and in the name of all that is good and right in the world. I banish your unclean being to the Akasha, where you belong!”
“Noooo!” I wailed halfway through her speech, but it did no good. One second I was standing next to a comatose old lady who thought I was distinguished, and the next I was next to rocky outcropping that jutted up out of a sepia-toned landscape filled with shadows, horror, and endless torment.