• Chapter One

    The early morning sunlight shone through the cracks of the wooden shutters that covered the windows on either side of the barn. I buried my head deeper into my hay stack and pulled the small blanket I slept with over my head in an effort to block out the sunlight. My horse, Pino, kept pushing me with his nose trying to get me up. I groaned and looked at him. His blue eyes, which stood out vividly against his black hair, shone down on me happily.

    “I know, I know,” I mumbled. “Give me a minute, Pino.”

    I stretched my arms, cracked my back, and sat up. Pino’s face was in front of mine. I pushed his head out of my way and walked over to his stall. He was my master’s youngest horse, only a year old, and it was my job to take care of him. After all of the training that I had given him, he wouldn’t listen to anyone but me. This made my master angry, of course, but I got a companion out of the deal. I scratched him behind the ear. This horse was one of the only things that kept me sane around here.

    “NERO!” The booming voice of my master filled my ears as I was filling Pino’s trough. “GET YOUR a** OUT HERE, BOY!”

    I looked at Pino and ran out of the barn. If I delayed, he would be angrier. My master was leaning against the post that we tied the horses to so they wouldn’t get loose. He had a bull whip in his hands. He tossed it back and forth, from one hand to the other effortlessly. His brown eyes were almost as red as mine in the sunlight as he glared at me. It was obvious the man was trying to intimidate me, but it wasn’t working too well.

    “Nero, you know the drill,” he growled. “Shirt off, hands on the fence.”

    I went over to the fence, unbuttoned my shirt, and put it across one of the boards. Then, I put my arms out as far as I could stretch them and leaned toward the fence, my chest just an inch away from the board in front of me. A warm wind blew across my bare back. I braced myself, and then a loud cracking sound filled the air. I couldn’t scream. Screaming made it worse. I gripped the board as hard as I could. After about fifteen lashes, the cracking stopped and was replaced with a sharp voice.

    “Put your shirt on. Clean the stables.”

    The sounds of footsteps stomped towards the house. I could finally cry. Tears streamed down my face as I sunk to the ground. I pressed my forehead against the fence trying to ignore the pain. Every day I went through this torture. It was for a good reason. That’s all that mattered.

    Light, fast footsteps were coming toward me. I got nervous. Who could this person be? I couldn’t defend myself if it were someone who wanted to hurt me. My heart rate elevated, and I felt my back itch and sting from the feeling of drying blood.

    “Nero, you shouldn’t let him do this to you.” I exhaled. It was Anna, my master’s only daughter. There was a stinging and the smell of alcohol on my back. Anna cleaned off the blood. “You’re lucky you’re a demon, or this would be serious. You’re already healing.”

    “I’m fine. I don’t feel it anymore. Honest. If he wants to beat me, it’s what I deserve. It keeps me tame. You know this all too well.”

    She looked at me with concern. My master’s daughter was short – only five foot three – and had green eyes and long, light brown hair. I hugged her tightly. Anna Conti was the only person in the world that seemed to care about me, and I couldn’t bear to hurt her. As long as I acted like I was okay, she couldn’t get anymore hurt. She already hated her father for what he did to me. If I showed just how much it did hurt me, she would leave.

    “Anna, I’ll be fine,” I said in my most even tone. I even managed to put a smile on my face. “Now, let me clean out these stables before your father kicks my a**, okay?”

    Anna managed a smile as well. “Okay, Nero. Just don’t overwork yourself, please? I don’t want your back to start bleeding again.”

    “I promise. I’ll take it easy.”

    She got up and ran back to the house. I was pretty sure that she had to get back to packing for college. College. . . She was going to leave me soon. I looked down at the ground and shuffled back to the barn where Pino was at the door waiting for me to return. No matter how much I tried, she was going to end up leaving me anyway. I scratched him behind the ear again in an effort to comfort him, but I knew it wouldn’t work. Nothing I did kept anyone I cared about at ease.

    The beatings happened every day, and I hated it. It wasn’t like I didn’t know why, though. It was because I was a demon. Physical pain kept it tame, and my master was afraid of me lashing out against him. He knew I wouldn’t because I had nowhere else to go. However, he always took precautions. Anna, of course, didn’t like it, but she knew that he had to.

    I walked over to Pino’s stall, took the pitchfork, and began cleaning. After about twenty minutes, the barn door opened and Angelo, Anna’s twin brother, stepped through. He was taller than his sister by a few inches but, still, shorter than me. Angelo had a crew cut and his green eyes sparkled in the light. Angelo walked closer to the stall.

    “So, Demon, what’s new?”

    I glared at the wall and continued cleaning. Pino got in between the two of us defensively. With him there, Angelo would not come near me, especially after last time. I smirked. This was probably the first time in a long time I actually felt safe. For someone I was supposed to fear, Angelo seemed quite insignificant.

    “Woah, don’t be like that. I just want to talk. I thought that I would try to make friends with you. You’re going to need someone to talk to now that Anna’s leaving, aren’t you?”

    “I’m sorry, Angelo, but I’ll pass. I don’t need anyone. Now go along and play with your serving girl.”

    “ANGELO!!” Anna’s voice came, and I relaxed. “DAD NEEDS YOU!”

    I heard a sigh. “We’ll talk more about this later.”

    There were footsteps, the creaking of the door, and some mumbling. I smiled again. Anna always got rid of him in the nick of time. The door creaked open again, and there were lighter footsteps coming toward me. Pino moved toward the person. It was Anna, as I had expected.

    “I’m sorry about him, Nero,” she said. “I’m sorry I’m leaving you, as well. If I had a choice, I’d stay here, even if my father is a jackass.”

    “I understand,” I said, forcing a smile. “You need to go. This will help you get a better life. Maybe one day you can come back here and take me away.”

    She walked over to the pile of hay that I normally slept in and sat down, motioning for me to sit beside her. I walked over and sat. Anna looked at me with a serious expression. I wondered why she was being so severe about this. We both knew this was going to happen eventually.

    “Did you know that I’m not really my father’s daughter?”

    I looked at her with a shocked expression. This wasn’t what I had expected her to say. “What do you mean you’re not my master’s daughter? You’ve shown me pictures of your mother pregnant with you!”

    “Well, it turns out all of those pictures and the stories were lies. That woman was my father’s first wife. She was going to have his kid, but she was killed. He wanted to fill the void in his empty life, so he went to the shelter and found a woman trying to get rid of my brother and me. She was probably our real mother. He took us in and legally adopted us. He had just told me today.”

    “Wow. That was unexpected, Anna.”

    “Yeah, well, you’re the only person I’ve told.” She put her head on my shoulder and started playing with my hand. “I wish you could come with me, but I don’t think that anyone would allow that right now.”

    “I know. I’m going to miss you when you leave.”

    “I already told you I’m sorry. Don’t make me feel worse!” She laughed and squeezed my hand. “You’ll be fine. Don’t worry.”


    “You know, you’ve proven the normal stereotypes about demons wrong. You’ve got a sweet disposition and you don’t complain. You have never once tried to run away.”

    “That’s all because of you, Anna. You make me want to stay. You just watch. The day after you leave, I’ll be out of this dump.”

    “I bet you will be.” She kissed my cheek and got up. “Maybe you’ll find me. You never know. I’ll see you around the world, huh?”
    Anna walked across the barn and out of the door. I sighed and looked at the ceiling. I wished she didn’t have to leave. I knew that when she did, I would have to as well. There was no real reason for me to live anymore. I got up and went over to Pino’s water trough. It reflected a pale boy with black hair and burning red eyes back at me . . . the face of a demon. Who could love that? I went back to my stack of hay to fall into it, but there was a bottle there with a note.

    Drink this and you will know everything.

    I looked at the bottle. I didn’t even know what was inside of it, but it was from Anna. I trusted her with my life, not that it meant that much. So, I decided to drink it. When the cork was out of the bottle, I smelled wine. It was all too familiar, as my master loved to drink wine along with other drinks. I didn’t see the harm in it, so I chugged it. Then, all of a sudden, there was blackness.

    “This is an abomination!” an echoing voice said in my head. “My wife is dead because of this THING!”

    I was standing at the end of a wooden bed with black satin sheets, the bloody corpse of a woman lying on the mattress. Her mouth had blood streaming out and down her cheek. The woman’s eyes were wide open, eyes bulging out of her skull. Part of her stomach look like it had been devoured. The cries of a baby could be heard in the other room. The surrounding room had dark, wooden walls and one huge window. It was dark outside, but the huge fireball in the middle of the room illuminated it quite well. A man in rags was standing by the only door, a baby in his arms, talking to a bigger, angry-looking man.

    “My lord, if I could say, he is just a child,” the man with the baby said nervously. “He doesn’t know what he’s doing. Maybe if he just was raised and learned our ways, he could be –“

    “Accepted? Normal? No!” the angry man snapped. “THAT THING KILLED MY WIFE!! I don’t want it around my Anion. She is normal, and I don’t want that demon-child messing her up!”

    They looked at the corpse. Did that child eat this woman’s flesh? The man with the baby had blood-red eyes. The baby was looking around, and he, too, had the same color eyes.

    “He didn’t know.”

    “Are you feeling sympathy for him?”

    “He is of the same species as I am, my lord. It is only natural I feel some sort of sympathy towards little Nero.”

    Nero? That baby was me? I leaned against the bed, breathing heavily. This man was my father. The cries in the other room . . . were those the cries of my twin?

    “Nero? What kind of name is that?”

    “Demons come with names, my lord. I thought you would know that? It is after the human Roman emperor.”

    “Whatever. Send the thing to Italy. There is a family there that will take him. They already have two of our kind.”

    “Yes, my lord.”

    Then, everything went fuzzy and swirled in front of me. It got really cold, so I curled up in a ball. How was I to know if that was real or a dream? If this were real . . . it would explain a lot. I opened my eyes. The entire barn was dark. Pino wasn’t beside me like he normally was.

    “NERO!” my master called for me. “GET OUT HERE! NOW YOU DIRTY LITTLE DEMON!!!”

    I tried to get up, but I couldn’t move. The barn door open, hitting the wall with such a force there was a cracking of breaking wood. Heavy footsteps vibrated the floor. I was suddenly forced up by the front of my shirt. Something slugged me in the stomach and I screamed.

    “Where is Anna?” he asked in a calm voice. “WHERE IS SHE?”

    “I don’t know,” I groaned.

    I was being punched over and over again. He wasn’t giving in. I was surrounded by an abyss. My master’s voice echoed through the darkness in a fearful voice. I ignored his cries for help and turned my attention to a beautiful, ivory door that had appeared in front of me.