A thin, jagged gash rippled across Meralry’s forehead, splattering her Frosted Flakes with droplets of cherry-red blood. She glared at her mother. “Great, Mom. I used the last of my foundation this morning! My makeup is ruined. Thanks.”
“Oh, stop with the dramatics,” Vairudla growled as she searched under the couch cushions again, acidic venom dripping from her fangs. Why was it so difficult for her to remember where she’d thrown her keys? It wasn’t as if they’d somehow escaped– they only attempted that once, and she’d ensured they would never try again. “That wound will close itself within a few seconds. You’re a creature of darkness and fear, sweetheart. I’m sorry you’re stressed, but YOU are responsible for controlling your bloodaches, even if that means you have to endure listening to your mother.”
The younger demon lifted a spoon to her scarred lips and mumbled something impolite. For three years now, she’d shadowed her brother Zugdaulth as he bartered souls for fame and fortune, traded years and health for beauty and power. “You practically worship the ground that boy defiles,” Vairudla said. “Your father and I worked overtime for years so that you’d have options. Drafting additional binding contracts, planning defenses against demon-hunters…it’s honest work, Meralry, but can’t you at least consider the other job? “
Her daughter paused in mid-chew. “What other job?”
“The one at the mall. Your father said–“
“Oh My God, that was a joke, Mom!” Meralry rolled her eyes back into her skull. “I’m not applying to Forever 21!”
“Watch your language!”
“S-sorry. ” The teenager gulped hard, her fire dampened. Vairudla typically didn’t chastise her spawn for cursing–in fact, she often encouraged the practice–but speaking any of His names aloud was a deeply dangerous endeavor. “It’s just…I’ve dreamed about this since my hatching. I can’t sell tank tops and cheat naive saps out of Heaven!”
“MERALRY, DEVOURER OF HOPE, SCOURGE OF WESTERN ILLINOIS, I TOLD YOU TO STOP SWEARING!”
“Hey, you promised I could say Heav–I could use the ‘H’ word when I turned fifteen!”
“Eighteen. I pulled that same gaslighting trick with my mother. It didn’t work for me, and it won’t for you either.” A sharp clicking sound leapt from Vairudla’s mouth, and one of the chairs shot out from the table. It trembled as she maneuvered herself into place. In truth, her tail couldn’t fit through the allotted opening in the back, but the chair knew enough to never mention that fact to Vairudla. She ran her claws over Meralry’s horns, a soothing motion that her Hell-baby had loved since her first scream. “Contract work is spiritually rewarding, but it’s not nearly as glamorous as you think. I’m proud of your brother; he’s built a name for himself. But you could topple governments. Unleash the next historically-memorable plague. Bring about discontent and suffering on such a massive scale that every demon in Hell will look at you with envy.” And as a bonus, maybe your mother would rack up some nice mentions at the office water heater, she added silently.
“I hear you, Mom,” her monstrous offspring mumbled. “Truly. But swindling humans is the only thing for which my cold, dead heart. um, doesn’t beat. “
Her mother paused, thinking that over. “I…what?”
“Uh. I was, well, trying out some poetry?” A warm pinkish hue flushed through her scales.
“Ah. Like the Fall Out Boy. Drir’gezan’s spawn listened to their tortured ballads when she was your age. Meralry, an emu phase is perfectly natural for–“
“Emo, Mom,” Meralry said loudly. “But no one’s used that term in years! And I don’t listen to Fall Out Boy!”
“Maybe I ought to hex them.” Vairudla looked thoughtful. “I could hit the entire band with some ghastly curse, removable only if they convince you to consider all your career options.”
“MOM!” A short bark of white flame from her child’s throat.
“I’m teasing, my little imp,” she chuckled. “Listen, tensions are high. Let’s stew over this and sulk for the rest of the day, and we’ll revisit it tomorrow, OK?”
“I…OK, Mom,” her spawn muttered. “I didn’t mean to upset you. You know that, don’t you?”
“Of course I do, sweetheart.” Vairudla kissed her demonic daughter on the cheek, and Meralry smiled as she felt the venom burn and seep into her skin. So comforting. “Of course I do.”