Hermitwitch’s Weblog

At Wit’s End

Chapter One

Chapter 1

“Well, this can’t be good.”

Four seconds past, I had been in my bathroom, just stepping out of a much needed shower. Inexplicably I now found myself standing, dripping and cold, in a strange room. I tightened my towel and looked around rather wildly.

The room itself appeared to be an old nursery or schoolroom, complete with a desiccated antique pram listing to one side, and a moldering rocking horse. Books and toys lined the built-in shelves, and almost everything was covered in a thick rime of dust. The windows, tall with leaded squares, were dark with grime, and one corner of the ceiling was home to the largest cobweb I had ever seen. There was, however, one clean section in the room, and it happened to be on the floor where I stood, aging wool rug flipped back to expose gleaming hardwood. Looking down, I saw the reason for my unexpected arrival in this room.

A circle, a pentagram, indecipherable runes, and a ring of table salt, of all things: a demon summoning circle. It looked as though the caster had run a bit short of salt because one side of the salt line was perilously fine. The runes were mostly correct from what I could see of them. It was the “mostly” part that would get the caster in trouble, though, and me out of it.

I stepped out of the circle.

“HEY!” a voice shouted. “You can’t do that!”

I looked up and beheld a young man lurking in the shadows. He was an unremarkable youth of average height and mien, although possibly older than he first appeared. Either he had a bit of five o’clock shadow, or his chin was dirty. He was wearing a brown stuff wizard robe, liberally decorated with chalk dust, and something that might have been breakfast. He even wielded a truly formidable looking wand.

“Oh my God,” I muttered. I tightened my towel.

“You don’t look like you do in the book,” he said accusingly. “And you must remain in the circle.”

“No, I really mustn’t,” I replied. “What book is this?”

The boy pointed to an open tome on the floor. To call it a tome was fitting since it was the approximate size of a small raft. I stepped over to look at it. The boy scampered back several feet.

“I summoned you! You must stay in the circle.”

Ignoring him, I hunkered down next to the book and suffered a nasty shock. I recognized the book, having seen it once before, safe and sound, presumably secure from anyone who might know how to use it. It was a compendium of demons, almost a peerage, a nasty little revelatory directory of True Names. The book was open to show a succubus, in standard alluring posture, with curling red locks, lush nude body, and full, moist lips. The boy was certainly right; I looked nothing like that. Her True Name was scribed beneath her picture in an illegible scrawl which, like the sloppily rendered circle, explained a lot.

It would have been funny if it hadn’t been so stupid and dangerous.

“Where did you get this?” I demanded, trying to turn a page. The page would not turn, as though the vellum sheets had been cemented together. I discovered I was unable to scoop up the book, which is what I really wished to do, followed by a hasty escape.

“How come you were able to leave the circle?” the boy asked, now sounding a little shaky.

“Badly drawn. Shouldn’t have worked at all,” I answered shortly. “Where did you get the book, why can’t I pick it up, and what is your name?”

The young man stared at me for awhile. I snugged up my towel again, just in case, and stood.
The summoning shouldn’t have worked for a number of other reasons, primarily because I am not a demon, much less a succubus. My class (and demons are notorious snobs about that sort of thing) was that of a familiar, which we of the shadow folk consider a very separate species. We may be called, usually by witches, but I’d never known one to be summoned to a demon circle. It was worrisome.

“Not what you expected, eh?” I said drily. The kid shrugged dismissively. “What you’re doing, or trying to do, is dangerous and stupid, to say nothing of automatic-death-sentence illegal. You might call up an actual demon and, since your circle doesn’t hold, you’d end up as a demon snack. Not to mention loosing evil upon the lands and all that.”

“My name is Phil. I am a third year student, and I know what I’m doing. The book belongs to me. And you can’t pick it up because it’s protected by my powerful magic!” The young man, Phil, now looked smugly belligerent. “Calling upon you was just an experiment to see if it worked. I will now be able to summon a powerful demon. Later.”

I regarded Phil for a few heartbeats. He was more than merely an arrogant blockhead, there was strong malice there. And a taint, a breath, of something truly dark. I stepped closer and, despite himself, he stepped backwards. He waved his wand at me, uttering a garbled spell. Despite myself, I laughed.

And a moment later, I was on fire. At least, it felt that way. There were no visible flames, smoke, or actual burning, but it hurt like all hell. Plus, my towel had fallen away. Sodding brat.

“That wasn’t nice,” I said mildly, although I was several points past annoyed. Familiars don’t have the same powers of destruction and mayhem that demons do, but we’re not toothless. I reached out a hand, intending to feed this spell back to him, for starts. As I opened my mouth to speak, Phil’s eyes rolled back in his head, and he fainted.

“Well, so much for that,” I said aloud, feeling vaguely cheated. I let his spell leech away into nothingness. I inhaled deeply, shaking the last bits of his spell away. A faint, bitter scent like burned cinnamon, hung around my new friend. “I know that stink.” I sniffed again but couldn’t quite place it. Sisal might know. Something Not Nice was hanging around, controlling this child. Something like a vampire.

And that was it, that elusive odor. Vampire. For a bad moment, my mind boggled at the notion. Vampires are not magic users, beyond their own powers, but they are good at thinking up magical mischief. So a vampire-enslaved sorcerer who could summon demons, who would in turn be in control of the vampire…this fell into the category of pack-yer-bags-we’re-leaving. It wasn’t so much that I thought Phil could do anything other than hurt himself; I just didn’t think the junior-league sorc at my feet was a likely pick for any vampire. There must be others. I needed more information from the slumbering Phil. I nudged him with my toe. He didn’t even groan.

Trying once more to pry up the book, and failing, I turned to pick up Phil. Although preternatural strength was supposed to be one of the benefits of the supernatural life, I always felt I didn’t quite get my share. The kid was heavy. Hoping the ill-drawn circle had at least a little juice, I stumbled once more into the ring, turning thrice counterclockwise within it.

“No portal may deny me,” I muttered, and we vanished.

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