"I can't," I said, shoving half a granola bar into my pocket.
"Sure you can," Terra replied. "It's just a little one."
"No, seriously I don't know how!"
We stood in front of a house that might've been called vintage by some or nearly-dilapidated by others. It was old and empty and looked like it might collapse any minute.
"Come on," said Terra. "You've killed demons before."
"Like two! Or wait-- three. But I don't know anything about them, I'm not a-- a demonist or something!"
"Or I guess maybe warlock."
"Whatever! I don't do demons, I do dead things! Ghosts! Zombies! You said it was a ghost!"
She shrugged. "I wasn't sure you'd come if I said it was a demon."
"You were right!"
Terra stepped forward and pushed open the door. I was 99% certain that the door hadn't actually been unlocked, but Terra was just Like That. Fairies aren't supposed to be able to break into places, but most fairies aren't wizard-named.
"Look," she said. "We're here already. We might as well deal with it."
And with that, she strode into the house, and I ground my teeth and followed her.
The house was dark, the only light trickling in through the boards on the windows. Sparse furniture sat gray beneath the dust carpeting the house, and the air smelled of mildew, must, and the leavings of mice. Terra glided confidently through the house, past closed doors and empty rooms. I followed closely behind, grimacing as cobwebs clung to my clothes.
"How do you even know it's here? I don't sense anything."
Terra tapped her nose. "I can smell it. Barely. It's a little one. Too small for you, probably."
She found the door leading to the basement steps.
"After you," she said with a bow.
The basement wasn't much better than the rest of the house. All it had going for it was that it was more crowded; all along the walls were piles of precariously stacked cardboard boxes and crates.
"See anything?" she said, coming down behind me.
"Not really?" I said, squinting in the dark. "You wanna--?"
She snapped her fingers before my sentence was done, and a ball of bright, white light appeared suddenly in the air beside us. The light-ball floated into the center of the basement, illuminating the entire room.
"No problem broski."
I scanned the room, looking for anything demonic. The last few demons I'd encountered had been summoned by warlocks, and the rooms where they'd been had all kinds of blood circles and candles and sacrificed animals and whatnot. But the room as just a basement. The most indimidating thing down there, as far as I could see, were the spider webs.
"Where--?" I started.
"Right there," she said, pointing to a sack in the corner. "It's in there. You ready?"
"Gimme a sec." I closed my eyes and breathed deep. I felt a sudden pang of cold, right between my shoulder blades, in that spot where your neck meets your back. The cold spiked right through me, into my chest, then spread out. I imagined it like vines of ice, or maybe it was my veins freezing over. They probably weren't, but that's what it felt like. When I opened my eyes, my right hand was holding dark fire-- the way my death magic manifested itself.
It took less than a few seconds. "Ready," I said.
We approached the sack cautiously, ready in case the demon rustling around inside decided to spring out and eat our faces.
It didn't. We stood there, waiting for it to come out and acknowledge us, but the demon kept rummaging through the bag. We could see it moving through the sackcloth, and hear the noise of it crunching something.
Terra and I exchanged looks. Then she stepped forward and said, "Hello?"
All movement within the sack stopped abruptly. The demon did not come out.
Tentatively, Terra moved close to the bag, then nudged it with her foot. Nothing happened, so she nudged it harder, knocking the sack over entirely. Rice spilled onto the floor, and a brown-gray lump of fur came tumbling out with it.
The demon was rat-sized. No, scratch that. It was a rat. A gray-brown, sorta chunky looking rat. It scrambled to its feet and ran back to the sack of rice, but instead of hiding, it started shoving rice into its cheeks without chewing I realized that it was storing food in there, the way that hamsters did.
"It's a rat," I said.
"It's a demon," Terra said. "I'm sure of it. It stinks like Hell."
I didn't bother asking her how she knew what Hell smelled like and instead patted my pocket, looking for that granola bar.
"I don't wanna kill a rat," I said. I knelt down and held the bar out towards the demon. "Hey, Ratsy. Hey little dude."
"It's not a rat! It's a demon. It's probably possessing the rat."
"Why not possess a person? Or an animal with a little more oomph?"
The little rat eyed the granola hungrily, but otherwise stayed frozen by the rice.
"Maybe it's too dumb," Terra said. "Too dumb and little. Hear that?" She said more loudly. "You're too weak and stupid to get a human so you got a rat instead."
If there had been a demon in the rat, then that should have gotten a reaction. It should have attacked, or manifested some kind of power, or even tried to possess one of us. Pride is usually one of their hot-buttons.
Instead, the rat's attention remained firmly on the granola bar. I took pity on it and broke a chunk off, then tossed the small piece over.
"Here you go, little guy."
The rat tentatively scooted forward, reaching for the piece. Then it grabbed the granola and darted back a few paces, back against the rice bag, and frantically started nibbling.
"I don't get it," Terra said. "It should be trying to tear our faces off."
"Maybe he's just a rat."
"Maybe you should do some actual magic and see."
I stopped crouching and let myself plop onto the ground, sitting cross-legged. Behind me, Terra started clapping her hands rhythmically, mimicking the sound of a heart beat.
I closed my eyes and listened to the sound, and tried to get a better look at the rat again.
For a second, I thought nothing had changed. The creature in front of us was still very ratlike; hunched like a rat, furry like a rat, with little rat ears and a tail and little rodent hands. But the tiny thing wasn't a rat, and the longer I looked, the more clearly it became. It looked like some kind of tiny gremlin merged with a rat, thought it still sat firmly on the rat side of things, as opposed to looking more humanoid. Its whiskered nose twitched as it sniffed the granola.
"Uh," I said.
The rat demon, seeing me See it, made small, frightened noises, but clung to the food.
"What? What's up?" said Terra. The clapping stopped.
"It's some kind of little rat-gremlin thing."
"Yeah, but it doesn't look like any demon I've seen." I cast out my senses, trying to see what kind of magic this thing had been up to. Though it definitely had a kind of demony smell to it, there wasn't any particular odor of active evil. I'd met humans who had done more wrong than this thing, and I told Terra so.
"Maybe it's bad at its job," she said.
The demon-rat finished off the chunk of granola I'd tossed and was looking at me pathetically.
"Here," I said, breaking off another piece. This time, instead of throwing it, I placed it in front of me, just at the edge of arm's length.
"You probably shouldn't be feeding it," said Terra. "As I recall, that tends to lead to bad times."
The demon looked at me and danced anxiously in place. Slowly, as though prepared to bolt, it slinked its way forward, dragging its belly on the ground, its eyes flicking between the granola and me.
"I don't know," I said. "It hasn't tried to buy my soul or threaten to kill me yet."
The demon reached the granola and started eating, this time staying in place. It continued to watch me nervously.
"I don't think it's a threat," I said.
Terra crouched down beside me, spooking the demon enough to back off, but it returns to the food almost immediately.
"Huh," she said. "I think you're right. It doesn't seem that smart, you know?"
"It's like an animal, right?"
She held out her hand to me, and I gave her the last part of the granola bar. She held it to the demon, much closer to us than the last chunk.
The demon, apparently emboldened by the first two successful meals, crept forward and started eating out of her hand.
"We shouldn't," I said, already knowing we were going to do it anyway.
"But we're gonna," she said.
"It's not a smart thing to do," I said, already planning how to rearrange the living room
"Smart is for nerds," she said. "I'll do it. I'm immune to any weird Hell diseases."
And with that said and with lightning-fast speed, Terra's free hand darted out and snatched up the rat.
The demon squealed and tried wriggling away, pushing at Terra's closed fingers in a way that was almost funny.
"Don't worry, little guy," she said. "We're not gonna hurt you. Like. Not unless you suddenly turn big and scary and start eating people or something, right?"
"Right," I said.
I pat the demon with one finger, stroking its head and scratching it behind the ears. The rat demon froze at my touch, and I could see it breathing heavily, staring straight ahead in abject terror. Slowly, I brought the last piece of granola up so it could see it. Immediately, the rat demon reached for the piece, struggling against Terra's hand to grab the food. I took mercy and gave it to it, and the rat demon apparently forgot about its predicament and began eating again.
"Do you even have a cage?" she said.
"There's a pet store on the way home. We passed it on the way here, remember?"
"Alrighty, but if I'm holding this guy, then you need to drive."
She took the keys from her pocket one-handed and tossed them to me, then we started for the stairs.
"Any idea on what to name him?" I said.
"That's your thing," she said. "But probably something small and calm so he'll mellow out and not, you know, start eating souls or something."
My mind blanked. "Shoot. Uh. All I can think of is 'Filbert,' and I don't know if I like that."
"No biggie," she said with a shrug. "You can think about it on the way."
"Do you think demons need terrariums, or cages?" I said.
"We can probably ask the people at the PetSmart," she said.
We left the house, and the rat demon didn't seem to notice. Outside, I unlocked the car and let us in, then we headed for the store.