“Of course,” you say politely, but Kesi’s gone before the words are out of your mouth, and the room stinks even more of sulfur than it did a moment ago. You sigh, and start trying to right the chessboard to the best of your ability. It’s probably not important, but it’s [[something to do]].
Nab grimaces like you’ve physically winded him. It occurs to you, not for the first time, that any other servant might get punished for mouthing off like this to an employer who outranks them by a mile. But Nab doesn’t look angry - he sighs, and runs his fingers through his hair, tucking it behind his ear.\n\n“You’re right,” he says.\n\nYou blink. Those are words you don’t hear come out of his mouth particularly often.\n\n“I’m sorry, what was that?”\n\n“Morse,” he says, in a tone that says you’re testing your luck.\n\n“No, no, go on. Repeat it.” You grin at him. “I want to savor it.”\n\nNab groans. “[[You’re right|correct]]. I should have told him before he made the contract.”\n
“Just to see if Naberius is home yet,” he says, the heels of his shoes clicking against the floor as he comes towards you. He stops, bending over to study Nab and Abyss’s chess game. His uneven bangs dangle freely, and it takes every ounce of self-control you possess not to grab a fistful of his hair and bounce his nose off the chessboard.\n\n“He’s not,” you say instead.\n \n“Oh? What’s he doing on Earth for so long?” Kesi’s lips curl into a grin. “I thought he was just supposed to be routinely gathering information about Crocell’s death.”\n\nYou dig your fingers into the arms of the chair. “Did you come here to act like an asshole, or do you actually [[need]] something?”
“He doesn’t know,” you say flatly.\n\n“He was in the middle of dying,” Nab says, still avoiding your gaze. “I didn’t think it was pertinent.”\n\n“He was making a contract with you! Knowing he’s going to be forced to fight another human to the death seems like pretty [[pertinent information]] to me!”
It’s been a few days since Nab’s been gone, close to a week by now, and as loath as you are to admit it, you almost [[miss]] him.
“I know,” he says, softly. “That’s why I thought I would ask you first.”\n\nYou push the black queen with your index finger, taking out the rook. “You’re going to [[tell Austin the truth]], before this party?”\n
The question catches you off guard, but you know enough to roll your eyes and reply quick enough for Kesi to think you’re telling the truth.\n\n“How should I know? All he told me was to watch the house.”\n\n“Of course, of course.” Kesi pushes the black queen around the chessboard - somehow it doesn’t snap back into place when he moves it away from its initial position. So he does have some magic, after all.\n\n“Have you found a human yet?” you ask, hoping for a reaction. He doesn’t give you one, still idly moving chess pieces just a few spaces from where they were initially, shifting the whole flow of the chess game. You wish you could remember what it looked like before, to reset it once Kesi leaves.\n\n“I have my eye on a few,” he says finally, straightening up. “Listen, when your master gets back, tell him I haven’t forgotten about our little arrangement, and I’m not going to [[let him put it off]] forever.”\n
“Does your master [[know]] you’ve got such a mouth on you?” he asks in return, snidely.
“Fine,” you concede. “I’ll [[help]] you throw a party.”\n
It’s kind of absurd, you know - to miss the guy whose life you schedule, whose messes you clean up. But Nab is...well, he runs his household a lot differently from any of the other important demons you’ve met. You have a few suspicions as to why that is, but it’s nothing you’d ever bring up to him, even considering the fact that he uses you as a sounding board to bitch and moan about societal imbalances in Hell almost constantly. You know you’re allowed to speak your mind around him, but maybe digging into his insecurities isn’t the best idea. He did [[make you]], after all, and he can probably [[unmake you]] whenever he wants. Not that he would, but he does love his dramatic gestures.
Nab’s smile grows a little wider. He looks down at the chessboard, thinking for a moment before sliding a white bishop upwards to take the black queen.\n\n“Checkmate,” he says, and [[resets]] the board with a snap of his fingers.
He looks away from you. You know what [[that means]].
Nab is in the library, where he said he’d be, in the chair you were sitting in before he showed up. He’s frowning at the out-of-order chess pieces. You take the chair on the other side of the chessboard, curling up into it, making sure to take your shoes off before you lift them up onto the cushion.\n\n“Kesi was here,” Nab says, without looking up, his voice carefully neutral.\n\n“You mean Duke Kesi?” You snort. “Yeah, right before you got back. You’ve really got to stop just missing him like that, or he’s going to think it’s on purpose.”\n\nA smile tugs at the corners of Nab’s lips. “I hope you were polite to him.”\n\n“He told me I’ve got a mouth on me.”\n\n“I should hope so,” Nab says, pushing a white bishop back into place. “It would be hard for you to get anything around here done if I had forgotten to give you one of those.”\n\n“He wanted to know if you’d [[found a human]] yet.”
More words you don’t hear from Nab particularly often. Actually, maybe you’ve never heard those words come out of his mouth before. You stare at him, trying to come up with something to say, finding absolutely nothing. For once in your relatively short lifetime, Nab has actually managed to tongue-tie you.\n\n“What?” he asks, raising his eyebrows as if he doesn’t know why you’re totally flummoxed.\n\n“You,” you say, after opening and closing your mouth a few times. “You. Naberius. Want to throw a party. Here. In your estate.”\n\n“It was just a thought.” Nab shrugs.\n\n“You know you have a certain reputation to uphold here, right? The reputation of being a weird recluse who doesn’t open his mansion for parties, or even large groups of houseguests?”\n\nAt that, Nab laughs. “I am [[aware]], yes.”
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[[“Yes,” he says.|yes]]\n
“Has he?” Nab asks.\n\n“He was cagey about it.” You lean back into the chair, pushing your head into its back and glancing upwards, at the towering bookshelves. “He said he had a few in mind. You might actually be ahead of him with this whole thing, as far as I could tell. It kind of seems like he’s not getting to Earth any time soon, unless someone summons him there.”\n\n“Or someone has already, and he’s lying,” Nab points out. He gives up on the chess board with a small sigh, and crosses one long leg over the other, drumming his fingers on his knee. “Hopefully it’s not that. I’d love to have some time to let Austin train. He already seems like a good fighter, but with weapons, I don’t know -”\n\n“Nab," you interrupt gently, “have you [[told him|lie]] yet?”\n
You grit your teeth. Nab tends to avoid the m-word around the house. You’re pretty sure it stems from discomfort on his end of things - some hierarchical bullshit about how he’d be a much lower class if he weren’t a demon of rank and title. Given that Kesi’s in a similar situation, you would expect him to have a more pleasant attitude towards servants. But you’ve never known Kesi to be pleasant to begin with.\n\n“What do you [[want]]?” you ask him.\n
don't worry, we'll be watching you
Kesi brushes the soot from the shoulders of his jacket and sniffs in disdain. “Is that how your [[master]] taught you to greet visitors?”\n
You were starting to worry that maybe something happened to him on Earth, before you realized that the spell that allows you to keep existing probably would have failed if he’d died. So that’s a small comfort. Unfortunately, it doesn’t save you from the stress headaches you get, thinking about what else Nab might be up to among humans. And throwing yourself into your work only increases the stress headaches, because you can’t just clean in this godforsaken mansion, because you have to think about putting things exactly in the places they were, or else Nab will brood for hours and insist you’ve upset his delicate system of throwing books all over the library.\n\nYou’re really not sure why you miss him. Maybe it’s just the [[lack of conversation]] that’s getting to you.\n
“So tell him now,” you suggest.\n\n“We-e-ell,” he says, stretching the word out, and you get the feeling that what’s coming next isn’t going to be a plan for how to apologize to Austin. “Before I do that, I was thinking -”\n\n“Dangerous,” you cut in, and pull back before he can smack you on the wrist.\n\n“I was thinking,” Nab continues, “about throwing [[a party]].”
Not a dead body. Just a filthy one, with clothes that look like they’ve been mauled by a wild cave beast. Nab puts them down, and they lift their head to glare at you. Or you think that’s what they’re doing, at least. It’s hard to tell with all the dirt and blood on their face.\n\n“This is Austin,” Nab says. “He’s a human.”\n\n“I see that,” you say.\n\nNab clears his throat meaningfully. “He made a contract with me.”\n\nSo he did find a human after all. Austin doesn’t look like much, but maybe in [[a bind]] he’ll do okay.\n
The front door of the mansion slams loud enough for you to hear it in the library, and you accidentally knock a few pawns on the floor.\n\n“Fucking -” you groan, sliding out of your chair to pick them up before it occurs to you just what the door slamming means.\n\nThe pawns can wait. You’re out of the library and on the stairs to the main hall in a matter of seconds, your sensible work shoes skidding on the marble and making long, black marks that you or someone else is going to have to scrub off later. You trip over your feet on the last couple of steps - serves you right for running, really - and go face-first towards the floor before [[a hand]] catches the back of your vest and tugs you upright.\n
There’s a popping noise from the other end of the room, and a cloud of smoke billows outwards from the cracks in the floorboards, smelling of soot and brimstone. You wrinkle your nose. You hate that. So hard to get the stink out of the couches.\n\nOnly one figure appears in the smoke, which is odd - you’d assumed Nab would be coming back with a guest, from what he’d said before he left. Maybe you misinterpreted, or he couldn’t find someone who fit the bill. You stand up and smooth out the collar of your shirt between your fingers, smiling, but the excitement is short lived as the smoke begins to dissipate.\n\n“Oh,” you say, sinking back down into one of the high-backed chairs around the chessboard. “It’s [[you]].”\n
Austin is silent the whole way to the bedroom, so silent that you have to keep looking over your shoulder to make sure he’s there. You think about asking why he’s so dirty and covered in blood, or what he made a contract with Nab for, but those two questions kind of answer each other, when you consider them a little more. And Nab will tell you the whole story at some point, you’re sure.\n\n“Well, here we are,” you say, stopping at the door of the largest guest bedroom in the mansion and gesturing into it. Austin shuffles inside next to you, and stands awkwardly in the center of the room, eyeing the huge, four-poster bed but not sitting on it. You don’t blame him, with the state of his clothes.\n\n“The bathroom’s in here.” You move to the door on the right side of the room and open it, showing Austin. The bathtub inside is nearly half the size of the bed, and you twist the knobs to turn it on, testing the water with your hand as it starts to flow out of the pipes. “You should wait a couple minutes for the water to warm up. I’ll grab you some clean clothes and, uh, see what I can do with the ones you came in later on.”\nYou look behind you to make sure Austin’s listening. He’s silently undressing, already stripped down to just his underwear and socks, and freezes to look back at you. His eyes are mismatched, you realize with a small start. How [[weird]].\n
“Austin, this is Morse,” Nab says, gesturing at you. You wave a little bit. “My personal attendant.”\n\n“He means butler,” you say dryly.\n\nNab laughs again, and it makes the space inside your chest feel warm and pleasant. You really did miss him, as crazy as any other demon’s servant might think that is.\n\n“You can ask Morse for anything you need - within reason, of course,” Nab says. He turns from Austin to look at you. “Morse, can you show Austin to one of the guest bedrooms, and run a bath for him? I’ll be in the library when you’re finished.”\n\n“And here I was hoping for a harder task than operating a bathtub.” You smirk, mock-bowing to Nab before straightening up and motioning for Austin to follow you back up the stairs. “[[Come on]].”\n
“So why the sudden change of heart?”\n\n“Selfish reasons,” he admits, toying with one of the rooks you scattered off the chessboard, turning the ivory piece end over end in his long fingers. “I want to show Austin off. And if Kesi hasn’t found a human yet, he’ll look like an idiot.”\n\n“And if he has, you’ll be able to meet them,” you say, slowly grasping the ulterior motive here. “Because he won’t be able to resist bringing them. It’s a win-win for you.”\n\n“Exactly.” Nab sets the rook down on the chessboard, neatly placing the black king in check. You let out a long breath.\n\n“Throwing a party is going to be [[a lot of work]].”
Well, it’s not like he’s your dad or anything. He just magically sculpted a couple barrels of black ink into a person-shape and gave it sentience. It’s basic familiar-building. You still get weird looks when you go outside, because demons don’t tend to make their familiars out of something so strange or fragile. The stares you can stand, but it’s the touching that gets you, people pressing their fingers into the thin membrane that holds all your ink inside of you. It makes you feel [[unclean|miss]].\n
“He’s the one who put it there,” you say. What little patience you had left for Kesi is evaporating rapidly by the second. “Seriously, Kesi -”\n\n“Duke.”\n\n“Fine, Duke Kesi, okay, why are you here? If you’re looking to argue some more with Nab, just go to Earth.” You see his grin twitch around the edges, and something dawns on you. “Oh wait, you [[can't]], can you?”
Considering that your body is bunch of ink held inside a thin, transparent skin, you don’t really need to sleep like most do. Sometimes you nap, just to do it. Other times, you don’t. You’ve been staying up a lot lately, just in case Nab comes home and there’s no one there to greet him. He won’t care - no one will get disciplined about it, certainly - but you know he’ll be dramatic about it, anyhow. Usually you can find something in the library to hold your interest, but tonight, nothing is really [[cutting it]] for you.
“Careful,” Nab chides you as he lets go, his voice quiet and amused. “Don’t get too excited.”\n\n“I’m just excited that someone knows how to use the door in this place,” you say. It earns you a laugh.\n\nYou look Nab over - he’s grinning in that particular adrenaline-fueled way of his that’s always either a good thing, or a very, very unfortunate one. He doesn’t look hurt. And he’s holding a [[body]] in his other hand, by the collar of their shirt.\n
You wonder if Nab has [[told him]] yet.
You push a few pieces around on the chessboard in front of you, watching them snap back into position once they stray too far from where they were. Nab has a game ongoing with Abyss, who comes to visit just about every other day, when they’re both around. The board-sealing spell is ostensibly so that a servant won’t mess up the game by bumping into the table and spilling everything on the floor, but all the other servants are gone for the night, and it’s [[just you]], bored, by yourself.
“Just doing my job,” you say, and slip out the door as fast as you possibly can, making a mental note to come back later to give him clean clothes and make sure he hasn’t fallen asleep and [[drowned]].\n
“[[Thanks]],” Austin says, his voice hoarse and low.
“Shut up,” Kesi says, dangerously quiet.\n\nYou don’t know why you hadn’t pieced it together before. Kesi’s the lowest class of demon there is, and he only just got his title a few centuries ago. He’s probably not experienced enough to get to Earth on his own. Even Nab has a hard time doing it, though you suspect it’s more a matter of inexperience in his case. He barely leaves his estate, if he can help it. But it makes a whole lot of sense, now, why Kesi tried to bargain with Nab to let the Council send him to Earth in Nab’s place.\n\n“You could stick around and wait, I guess,” you say, folding your arms over your chest. “But I don’t know when he’s getting back. No one does.”\n\nKesi looks smugger than ever. “He’s looking for a [[human]], isn’t he?”\n