Despite the efforts of the room’s tungsten lights, darkness came. The corner of the room whispered a name.
He looked up for a moment from the twin flatscreens inlaid beneath the plexiglass surface of the desk, and frowned slightly. Behind him, the sun cut through Detroit’s fog for the last time that day and the city slipped into twilight. He sipped from a glass of pale gold liquid and waited. Nothing.
He looked down and the numbers danced again. Profits, losses, credits, debits, balances forward and in arrears woven together in a four-dimensional matrix. Projections birthed from the financial mandala as—
He removed the thin, gold-framed glasses from his aged face and placed them gingerly on the desktop. Unburdened, his tired eyes scanned the room and settled on the shadowed corner across from him. He waited. Nothing.
“Show yourself,” he said, finally.
“As you wish,” said nothing.
The corner’s shadow became mist and flowed forward. It shifted, and silently extended a long and articulate part of itself into the room. Solid now, it clicked against the marble floor and found purchase. Another slim extension, hard against a nearby wall, dug in and pulled. Darkness entered from the corner and skittered against the floor. Slick and shapeless, it grinned.
The man stood slowly as it came, the pale color of his hair now matched by the skin of his palm pressed hard against the desktop. He licked his lips and nodded. “As good a name as any, I suspect.”
“We all have many names, some truer than others. We all bear many faces.”
“I doubt you came here to recite trite philosophies. What do you want?” His eyes flicked to the room’s other corners and then back to the dark form stretched before him.
“You have spoken my question.”
“Then the answer should be obvious: I want you to leave.”
The grin turned sly. “But I shall not. Your tower is crafty and well protected, and I have spent much time gaining entrance. I demand my due time of you.”
“Speak your piece and get out. I have no time for such as you.”
The darkness grew larger before him. “But you have devoted much time to me already. Everywhere my children are hunted by your agents. My deepest nests burn in the night and my young cry their last.”
A smile touched the man’s lips. “Good.”
Blacker eyes in the darkness narrowed and it moved forward slightly, brushing aside furniture. The man stepped back. “Do not taunt me, for I have not the patience and may slay you before I intend. Speak the ills I have done you, Damien Knight, so that I may wonder at my own foolishness.”
The man looked down for a moment at the numbers that continued to flash beneath the desktop. He touched the surface, and the screens dimmed and faded away. A light came on above him and cast his shadow on the desk. He looked up and faced the darkness.
“You”ve done nothing to me, spirit.”
“Then I have harmed your precious corporation. Have I weakened Ares Macrotechnology in some manner I have forgotten?”
“No. My only losses connected to you have been ammunition expenditures.”
A tendril of darkness lashed out over the man’s head and struck the light. The fixture shattered and sprayed metal and glass across the room. Darkness swelled behind a flashing rake of teeth. “Then why do you burn my nests?”
“Because you are.”
“My spawn damned for simply being? Then likewise are you. For their essence I take yours.”
The man’s eyes widened slightly. “My soul is mine to give. You cannot take what is not yours.”
The darkness hissed. “I am the form incarnate: all is mine to take.” It lashed out and struck at him from every corner of the room. Blinding silver blocked the darkness as veins of white fire shot up through the marble floor and created a circle around the man and the desk. The darkness stepped back and black talons scratched brilliant sparks as they probed the borders of the ward.
“Powerful,” came the voice from somewhere in the darkness.
The man shrugged. “It suffices against such as you.”
“Such as I will feast on your soul until the last cycle falls.” The black eyes and grin reared over him and dark limbs grew from the shadow to grasp the boundaries of the ward. Everywhere they touched, argent fire danced along their length.
The man shook his head. “I think not. If you were truly as you would have me fear, this ward would not slow you. You are no avatar.”
The eyes narrowed above him. “You know nothing of the names you wield.”
Now the man grinned. “I know more than you think. While you are less than you claim, I am more than I seem.” The man’s features turned liquid and ran from him, the carefully styled silver hair growing long, black, and shiny. The creased, aged face smoothed and sharpened and his dark brown eyes shifted to piercing blue.
“Ah. I named you wrong. No matter, I will have your soul and then that of the man you pretended to be.”
The man shrugged and let the now too-big suit jacket fall from his shoulders. “I say again, you are no avatar. You are no incarnation, insect, merely another true form sent to destruction at your master’s bidding.”
The talons tightened, and the ward strained, white and black energy arcing about it to form a geodesic dome of power over the man. The spirit’s grin grew. “Then I will have your heart, mortal, to give to the newborns so that they may know the taste of human early.”
“I think not. You will, in fact, find the situation even worse than you begin to suspect.”
“Defiant to the end! Sweet will be the taste of your lifeblood. Banter on, mortal, this ward of yours is soon no more.”
The man spread his arms wide and looked up at the spirit. Black and silver lightning danced just beyond his reach. “The ward is not mine, and so protects you from me more than I from you.”
The spirit laughed, and a high, sharp, cracking tone began to grow. “Who are you, child of the earth, to stand against one such as I?”
The man brought his arms together, one held straight out, the other touching the first at the elbow in a well-practiced, fluid gesture. Power shifted and grew around him. “I may be born of this earth, spirit, but that is not where I have been of late.”
Part of the ward gave, and a black limb gouged into the floor within the circle of light. The spirit’s chitinous, ebony body slammed against the circle as it began to buckle. “Many of your kind wander the greater planes. I feast on them often.”
“Wrong realm. Knight suspected something would try to kill him, so the corporation brought me down to protect him. Magic is so much easier here.”
The ward shattered, raining white sparks down around the man. The spirit’s legs caged him and its impossibly grinning face came closer to the man. “Magic is easy for me everywhere. There is nowhere I am weak.”
“Nowhere on the Earth, perhaps, but what of above it?” The man pulled his arms toward himself, and held his palms parallel. Power flowed inward, cleanly, from everywhere around him. A light grew between his hands.
“Your tricks will avail you not, human, I am power incarnate.” The spirit reared again.
The man laughed. “I’ve shaped power among the stars and danced with hearts far darker than yours.” The spirit fell upon him, a wave of darkness pierced by a shaft of light brighter than a hundred suns. “Taste what I have learned.”