“So, how’s your roommate? That guy you got after I moved out?” Enna said. “Tyrone, right? I’ve heard he’s a riot at parties.”
“Yeah, he definitely is. He had to move out though.”
“Aw, that’s too bad.” Max got the impression that Enna wasn’t actually sad about this. “I’d offer to move back in, but I can’t leave my current place until it’s been at least six months.”
“I have a new roommate anyway,” Max said.
“Yeah, she’s gonna be with us for lunch. I think.”
A bell over the door of the café rang as they entered. A head of flaming red hair popped up at the sound.
Max winced at the volume of Tali’s voice, even from across the room. He and Enna navigated partitions and tables to reach the far corner where Tali and Journey sat. Journey quirked an eyebrow at Max when he saw who’d come with him. Max gave him a slight shrug of one shoulder in response.
“Max, who is this?” Tali said.
“Enna, this is Tali. Tali, Enna was my roommate before Ty.” Max met Journey’s eye. “Enna is the new teacher assistant in demonology.”
The two young women eyed each other for a second, then apparently came to a silent decision. Tali took Enna’s hand and shook it energetically.
“Got any embarrassing stories about Max you can share with me?”
“Absolutely,” Enna replied. “One time he was so tired he put ketchup on his cereal instead of milk.”
“That was not tiredness, it was an experiment,” Max said stiffly.
“Right, and so was the time when you almost walked out of the apartment in your underpants.”
Tali nearly snorted soda up her nose. “I think I’m gonna really like you,” she said to Enna once she could breathe properly again.
The four of them continued their friendly - and very teasing - conversation as they ordered and ate their lunch. Afterward, Enna waved goodbye to Max and walked back to the campus with Tali. Journey turned with Max to walk the other way.
“So,” said Journey.
Journey stared at Max. “Didn’t anything about that seem odd to you?”
Max shrugged. “I already spent half an hour before that getting over what she said when she moved out, and two hours before that trying to avoid looking at her in class. So, it’s basically been a weird day overall.”
Shaking his head, Journey said, “I don’t remember the last time I saw her being that nice. I’d be careful if I were you.”
Tali arrived home from her last class a bit later than Max was expecting.
“I ran into Enna again when I got out, and we went out for coffee,” she said.
“Did you get many embarrassing stories about me?” said Max.
Tali flopped down on her chair. “Hate to break it to you, Max, but you’re not the focus of either of our lives. We talked about plenty of other things.”
Max rolled his eyes. “How was your class, then?”
“Great! Ms Vanderwell seems nice, and she definitely knows what she’s talking about.”
“Yeah, I had one of her classes in my first year,” Max said distractedly.
“So what are you working on?”
Max had been sitting with his laptop for the last hour, trying to do his reading homework. Tali looked at the page of text on the screen and made a face.
"You’re really taking that boring class? You know, me and Grunkle Alcor could teach you way more useful stuff about demons.”
Max shrugged. “I might as well take the class. Even if it’s boring I can learn a lot from it anyway.”
“If you say so.”
Tali retreated to her bedroom, leaving Max alone in the relative silence of the living room with his demonology textbook.
He’d always had an aversion to demonology. Unlike the discomfort that surfaced when he had to deal with other supernatural creatures, he couldn’t explain it. He managed to deal with Alcor by thinking of him as just a very strange person - but when it came to demons being true demons, Max just didn’t like to think about it.
As he read through the introductory chapter, delving into the history of demons, he felt himself trying not to pay attention. Tali’s entrance was a welcome momentary distraction. Yet, when he finally forced himself to take in the words on the page, he found himself becoming genuinely interested in what he was reading. In the quiet of the apartment he became immersed in the history of humankind’s interactions with these creatures of chaos, these dealers of destruction. Their influence over the world was long and, for a long time, very subtle.
The first time the text mentioned the Transcendence was in the first chapter, as the event that brought demons back into public awareness along with all the other creatures that had faded into myth. Later it was brought up again in its own chapter. It was only when he reached that chapter that Max realized what was happening.
Looking up from his computer’s screen, he saw that it was completely dark outside. He blinked in astonishment at the clock on the wall, seeing that a few hours had passed since he’d started reading. He looked back at the ebook.
The homework assignment was to read three chapters. He’d read straight through twelve.
With a blank expression, he set aside the laptop and stood up stiffly, then wandered into the bathroom. When he came out again he went to the kitchen for a drink of water, then returned to his chair and stared again at the title of chapter thirteen. He knew he should probably put the book aside. He should go to sleep. But the chapter title held him in place, and he felt like the only way to release himself from it would be to read on.
Taking a slow breath, Max scrolled down onto the first page of the chapter, and began reading about how the Transcendence changed the world for demons.
That awkward aversion intensified a little as he read. He knew the story of the Transcendence - who didn’t? - but to see it outlined from this perspective, it became a little more terrifying. There were mentions of Alcor, of course, since he was widely known as the demon who had caused the event in the first place. Something about that didn’t sit right with Max, but he already felt so uncomfortable about the whole thing that he didn’t spare it much thought. The most jarring thing was the mention of Mizar. She was named as Alcor’s twin and partner, a creature more powerful than the mighty Dreambender, and the only being capable of controlling him.
Max faltered. Then he started chuckling. Then he was laughing hysterically, and before he knew it his laughter had half turned to sobbing, and he was wiping away tears that wouldn’t stop flowing.
There was a soft pop, which Max was barely able to hear through his hysterics. The laptop had slid off his lap and he was curled into a ball on the seat of his chair, now sobbing more than laughing.
“Max, what’s wrong?” said Alcor.
Max was only able to sob harder. His breath caught when, a moment later, a child-sized body climbed onto the chair next to him, wrapping a pair of arms around his shoulders in a comforting hug. It reminded Max of his first encounter with Alcor, when the demon had curled up around him on this very chair, and purred him to sleep - except remarkably less awkward. After a few minutes Max stopped crying, and his curled-up posture relaxed.
“So what was that all about?” said Alcor, whose head was resting on Max’s shoulder.
Shaking his head, Max answered, “I don’t even know. I was just…reading.”
Alcor lifted his head for a second to glance at the laptop’s screen.
“I remember that book. It’s hilariously inaccurate.”
Max pulled away a little so that he could turn and look at Alcor. “The stuff about the Transcendence?”
“That, and other things." Alcor had taken on something resembling his Tyrone persona, but much younger. Max tried to find it strange that the demon was in the form of a prepubescent boy, but couldn’t. He decided not to say anything about it.
"The stuff about Mizar being able to control you because she was more powerful…?”
“Power has many forms. She didn’t control me, she…helped me control myself. She supported me. It would be a very different world for all of us if she hadn’t been there for me.”
While there were many questions Max could think to ask about that, he thought now was probably not the best time for them. But he did ask, “Am I supposed to do that sort of thing for you?”
“If you want,” Ty replied, giving Max a squeeze with his noodle-armed hug. “But right now, the other way around works too. I’m always here if you need me.”
“I…I don’t feel weird about that. I should, but I don’t.”
Max then blurted out some barely comprehensible words about the weirdness he felt toward demons. Tyrone listened, frowned thoughtfully, and finally said, “Maybe it’s better if you don’t understand it. There are things the soul carries from one life to the next. But I’m glad you don’t feel like that about me.”
“I guess it makes sense that I’m fine with you.” Max smiled a little. In the corner of his eye he saw the laptop screen flick off as the computer went into sleep mode. Glancing at the clock again, he said, “Shit, I still have half my homework to do. I got so distracted reading that I forgot to answer those damn questions.”
Tyrone picked up the laptop and passed it back to Max, then sat perched on the arm of the chair. He grinned. “Would you like some help with that?”
For a moment Max looked at the demon, wearing an expression of exaggerated suspicion. Then, unable to keep a straight face, his mouth twisted into a smile. “Sure,” he said. “What kind of help did you have in mind this time?”