work to do, part 4 of 4

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“I’m going to set you free now.”

Dahlia’s violent green eyes narrowed alarmingly.  “Don’t tease me like that.”

Sofia smiled softly.  “I’m not joking.  You’ve proved your faithfulness.  I trust you, Dahlia.  I’m going to release you from the spell that binds you to me.”

The creature uncoiled and swiftly crossed the room.  It kept its eyes level with Sofia and asked, “Are you sure that’s wise?”

Sofia ignored the hint of laughter.  She had decided months ago that it wasn’t important.  It was just part of Dahlia’s personality and didn’t mean anything good or anything bad. 

Answering Dahlia, she said, “We’ve worked together for more than a year now and you have helped me achieve more than I imagined was possible.  With your help I have learned so much more about our worlds than I would have if I could live for several lifetimes.”

“Do you know why I chose this form?”

“I do, yes.”  While not entirely certain, Sofia had a guess she believed to be correct.  In the moment between worlds, Dahlia could have chosen to be a falcon, which might have made escape easier, or it could have chosen to be a bull, which would have given it ample strength to either fight of flee if it chose, but it chose to be a snake.  In their time together, Sofia had come to the conclusion that Dahlia chose the form of a snake because it was the most frightening and arguably the most lethal.

“And you aren’t worried about what’s going to happen when you set me free?”

“I trust you,” Sofia repeated.

“Then do it.”  For the first time, Dahlia’s words weren’t a whisper.  Her words came out as a resounding demand, a shout that filled the room with slithering echoes.

Sofia closed her eyes, gathering the energy she needed for the spell and focusing on the words.  Then, opening her eyes, with a flick of her wrist she indicated that Dahlia needed to move into position, over a rune that had begun to pulse with an orange light. 

Dahlia moved quickly.  Its eyes glittering in the strange light coming up from beneath it.  Its jaws lifted in what could only be described as a smile.

“We’ve fought.  We’ve learned.  We’ve grown together.  And now, Dahlia, it is time for you to be free.”

Sofia spoke the words to the spell in a ringing voice, her hands moving in intricate patterns.  The orange light stopped pulsing and grew in intensity.  Sofia’s voice grew louder and louder until it became a scream.  A sharp ripping sound drowned her out and then her scream ebbed away.

Panting, her hands on her knees, she looked up to watch as Dahlia slid away from the rune, now just a smudge of dull chalk on the floor.  This was the moment of truth.  The creature was free of her control and could do as it pleased.  Dahlia’s tongue tasted the air.  Once.  Twice. 

Then it asked, “We’ve still got work to do?”

Sofia smiled broadly, “We’ve only just begun.”

work to do, part 3 of 4

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It had been six months since Sofia had called Dahlia into her world.  They had procured many fascinating, and powerful, items in the intervening time.  Sofia had spent every free moment either pouring over those items and enhancing her knowledge or working on her relationship with Dahlia.  She could tell that Dahlia didn’t see her as an equal yet.  It seemed like she was nearly there, though.  They were more comfortable with each other and while Sofia hadn’t yet told Dahlia the reason for all their little gathering ventures, Dahlia had guessed it.  The creature hadn’t seemed upset, either. 

Sofia was coming to understand that while Dahlia was bound to her, Dahlia was more free in this world than she had been in her slumber in the darkness of the other world.  To be trapped in dreams certainly didn’t sound appealing to Sofia, anyway.  Sure, some dreams were fun but part of that fun was knowing you were going to wake up.  If you never woke up?  If the dream wasn’t fun?  And endless swirling of nightmares?  Or, worse, endless nothingness?  Sofia didn’t like to think about that. 

Besides, Sofia was still hoping and working towards giving Dahlia complete freedom.  She just had a little more to learn, a learn more to understand.

Chief among that, she needed to know why Dahlia had chosen the shape of a snake.  She had been looking for clues but had not yet come across any.  But once she had that key piece of information she was sure she could release Dahlia without fear.

She was hoping to do that before she had completed the task she had summoned Dahlia to help with.  That particular hurdle would be better if Dahlia acted in support on its own.  But, if not, so be it.  One way or the other Dahlia would help her achieve her goals.  Every day of the last six months was a step in that direction.

Closing the tome she’d been studying, Sofia turned to gaze at Dahlia.  The creature was watching her from the opposite side of the room.  The link between them was strong enough that Dahlia would understand that Sofia had just learned an important piece of information but not so strong that it would know exactly what the information was.  Dahlia waited patiently, it’s tongue lazily tasting the air and it’s eyes glinting with equal measures of humor and curiosity.  

Not for the first time, Sofia wondered if she was wasting her time and should just ask Dahlia all her questions.  She knew there was value in doing the research herself, but it was very likely that Dahlia could tell her everything she needed to know if she would just ask.  It was tempting.

Dahlia laughed, that same unnerving sound that Sofia had grown certain she would never get used to.  “You know that you’ll only be able to trust me fully when I can trust you fully.”

Sofia’s lips twitched upwards and she nodded.  “Yes, of course.”  Crossing the room she began to caress the shiny scales behind Dahlia’s head.  The laughing sound switched to the purring one.  There was no need for Sofia or Dahlia to expand on that brief conversation.  They both understood the consequences of that trust.  If fulfilled and then broken, it could be devastating for both of them.  Dahlia could be banished back to the darkness.  Sofia could easily be killed, or suffer a much worse fate depending on how Dahlia retaliated. 

“Do you want to hear what I just learned?”

Dahlia whispered, “Yes,” without breaking its purr.

work to do, part 2 of 4

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“Where are we going?”

Dahlia’s question was little more than a whisper.  For its size, the snake-like creature had an unsettling soft voice, sometimes hissing, sometimes purring.  The creature never seemed to raise its voice.  At least, Sofia had never heard it if it had.

Walking next to Dahlia, as the creature slithered through the dark tunnels, Sofia patted it gently on its head, “We’re nearly there.”

“That didn’t answer my question,” Dahlia replied, with a hint of laughter.

She wasn’t sure if the laughter was a good sign or a bad, but Sofia let her hand rest on Dahlia’s head rather than respond.  It wasn’t that she couldn’t trust the creature.  It had proved its loyalty in the past couple months.  Their bond had strengthened quickly and Dahlia had never attempted to break free of her control.  By all accounts they had turned into quite the formidable team.  However, Sofia didn’t think it would be wise to let the creature know all her plans.  Knowledge is power and Dahlia was already far more powerful than Sofia.  If not for the spells it was under, the one that had brought it into this world and the one that held it captive to Sofia’s whims, Dahlia could easily destroy the witch.  They both knew this. 

In time, perhaps, their bond would grow strong enough that Sofia could trust Dahlia completely.  That would only happen if Dahlia saw Sofia as a true equal, and Sofia had a lot to learn before then.  She wasn’t a novice but it takes a special depth of learning to match the knowledge of a creature that lived outside the normal confines of time.  Sofia was very interested in reaching those depths, and some of their excursions had been in search of knowledge she needed to further that effort, raiding enchanted libraries, stealing secrets from more learned mages, and so on. 

The tunnel began to climb slightly and Sofia signaled for Dahlia to stop.  She drew a rune of divination in the dirt next and spoke the word that sparked it to life.  The rune glowed red and then spun slowly in one full circle before sliding in the dirt a pace forward and slightly to the left.  There it faded from red to orange to yellow to green, pulsed three times and disappeared.  Sofia stepped to that spotted and pointed upward.

“Our target is above our heads.”

“What would you have me do?”

“There is an artifact I need,” with that she touched the snake again and sent it a mental picture of what she wanted.  “If you can take it unseen, great.  If you are seen…”

Dahlia finished the thought, “Then none shall live to speak of what they saw.”

The creature pushed its head into the soil of the tunnel roof and slithered upwards, using its powerful magic to carve through the earth without disturbing the ground itself, until the tip of its tail disappeared and Sofia couldn’t tell that it had passed at all despite knowing exactly the spot it had gone.  She closed her eyes and used her link with Dahlia to see through the creatures eyes.  She wasn’t in charge, just a passenger watching Dahlia’s progress.

Sofia felt Dahlia’s whispering voice in her head, “You don’t trust me to run this errand on my own?”

“I do trust you, I just want to see if there’s anything else that catches my fancy while you are there.”

Again the sound of something like laughter came from Dahlia.  Again, Sofia wasn’t sure if the laughter was good or bad.

work to do, part 1 of 4

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The wall split open with a sharp ripping sound and the dark creature slipped through the crack, hissing and spitting, furious at being dragged from its long slumber.  It gathered itself on the floor, coiled, and raised its head up.  Its long forked tongue tasted the air, once, twice, and then it’s violent green eyes found their target.  The witch held her ground and held the gaze of the beast she had summoned.  Then she carefully lifted her right hand aloft and snapped her fingers twice.  The monster blinked, shook its head slightly, almost a shudder but not quite, and then lowered its head back to its coiled body.

“Good,” the witch cooed.  “Very good.”

With her right hand she reached out and stroked the glittering, midnight scales.  There seemed to be twinkles of scattered light hidden beneath the surface, like thousands of stars hidden behind a veil of clouds in a moonless sky.  You didn’t know if you were really seeing the stars or if your brain just made you think you were because you knew they were supposed to be there.  She brought her right hand in front of the snakelike being’s jaws and, using all her considerable self-control to suppress a shudder, she let the snake’s tongue whip out and wrap around her wrist.

It wasn’t really a snake, of course, that was just the shape the summoned creature had chosen as it slid into this world.  It could have taken two other shapes, that of a bull or that of a falcon.  In time she would learn why it had chosen this form instead of the others but for now she needed it to taste her power and learn to trust her.  They would have time for the rest once this ritual was completed and her new pet had accepted her.

The crack in the wall began to disappear even as the snake’s tongue released her wrist.  She had passed the test.  It would submit to her command willingly. 

Smiling, she took her right hand and once again stroked the magnificent scales behind its head.  “My name is Sofia.”

In a whispering hiss, the creature replied, “I’m Dahlia.”

Sofia continued to lovingly caress the snake.  The wall sealed off.  Dahlia began to make a sound that make Sofia think of a cat purring.  It was not a natural sound to be coming from a snake, but Dahlia wasn’t a snake and wasn’t what most people would consider natural either. 

“We’re going to do great things together, Dahlia,” Sofia said.

A Ghost Story, Part 13

Lucky number 13? Cursed number 13? Read on and find out as Revis and I bring you another segment of our little tale of family and demons. As always, we hope you enjoy.

….

Jake started chanting again but the demon rushed at them, even faster than it had when it still inhabited his mother’s body, and Jake felt himself yanked aside just before the creature could slash him with its clawed hands.  The demon roared and spun towards him again, slashing with its hands, trying to grab him and puncture him at the same time, and once again Jake felt himself moved aside just in time. 

It was a very weird sensation to be so detached from what his own body was doing.  He didn’t have much time to dwell on it though as the demon rushed at him again and again.  Each time it missed it snarled louder and eventually a layer of white foam began to form around its mouth, like a raging animal gone rabid.

“This will work better,” his father’s voice came to him, “if you could be in charge of moving yourself out of the way so I can focus on the magic.”

“That makes sense,” Jake replied glibly, and he immediately sensed his father smirking again.

Once more, he began to chant.  Jake didn’t want to wait for the demon to rush him so he began to move in a circle around it, always trying to keep it in front of him while forcing it to spin likewise if it wanted to charge him.  Then the chanting stopped and Jake’s armed raised and pointed towards the demon.  Flames, not black but white, shot from his outstretched hands towards the demon.

Screaming echoed throughout the entire area. Whatever magic he’d just unleashed must’ve hurt it. The demon, Mocregork it had called itself, jumped backwards to escape the flames. It  didn’t jump far enough. The white fire licked its flesh as it continued to roar in pain. 

Jake smiled, but his father reminded him that the fight was far from over. To prove that point, the demon reached down, tore a chunk out of the ground, and threw it at him. He’d seen the entire movement, so he had time to get out of the way. As he did, however, his hands dropped as he darted to the side. When they did, the white flames disappeared. Mocregork must have anticipated that because he was moving toward him the moment the magic blinked out.

It took all Jake had to get away from the attack. Even then, he didn’t fully dodge the attack. Two of the demon’s claws dug lines into his back. They weren’t deep, though they didn’t need to be. The wounds burned with Hellfire, a bit of information that could’ve only come from his father. Soon enough, that pain went away, just like the pain in his leg.

“That’s about the extent of my ability to block your pain,” his father said. “If you get hit again, you’ll feel every bit of it.”

“Let’s try not to let that happen then.”

His voice began chanting again.  Mocregork seemed to have no interest in getting hit by another spell because the demon rushed forward trying to disrupt the casting.  Jake, in control of his body, if not his mouth or his mind at the moment, rolled under another slashing attack.  The claws caught in the tatters of his shirt but missed his flesh.  That didn’t keep Jake from feeling the searing the heat radiating off them.

After continuing his roll, knowing he needed to buy his dad time to finish the spell, Jake then sprang to his feet and moved swiftly away from the demon.  He could hear Mocregork laughing and then all of sudden Jake had to jump away from another attack.  The demon had somehow gotten in front of him again.

“This is my plane, you mortal fool.  I can shape it how I desire.  You can’t run away from me.”

“Who said I was trying to run away?”  His dad had spoken through him, having just finished his chanting.  And then Jake once again felt his arms move of their own accord.  His pinkies and index fingers were pointed at Mocregork and then a blast of energy shot from his body, rocking him backward at the same time.

Jake scrambled to stay on his feet and then watched in awe as a wall of stone, twice his height, formed into the symbol of a cross and slammed into Mocregork. The large stone cross fell on top of the demon, pinning it to the ground. Smoke rose from every part of Mocregork touching the magic construct. An ear piercing shriek erupted from under the cross. Jake was forced to use his hands to cover his ears. He was afraid that if he didn’t, the demon’s cry would rupture his eardrum.

“Quickly,” his father urged. “We need to get over to him so I can cast another spell while he’s distracted.” 

Jake made his way over to where Mocregork lay under the cross. The demon’s wail became louder and more intense with each passing step. His legs began to shake as he moved. Determined to not give up, Jake pushed himself forward until he was standing next to the howling demon. He felt his hands start to move away from his ears and he did everything he could to lock his muscles in place.

“Don’t fight me,” came the plea into his mind. “I need your hands to complete the spell.”

“But I’ll probably lose my hearing if I move them,” Jake protested. 

“That’s better than losing your life,” his father countered, to which Jake had no argument.

Reluctantly, he let his father move his hands for the spell that would hopefully vanquish the demon. 

It was all Jake could do to relax enough to let his father take control.  The demon’s shrieks were so painfully loud that every instinct demanded he protect his ears.  The sound enveloped him and rattled his teeth.  His eyes watered.  He tried to force his mind and thoughts away from it but couldn’t.  It was too much.

In the few short seconds he was grappling with that internal struggle, his father had used his hands to draw symbols in the air and then chanted off another spell.  His arms reached forward and white flames shot from his fingertips again.  The fire spread over the stone cross and the demon, reaching from the tip of its horns down to its wickedly curved clawed feet, burning so brightly, so intensely, that Jake stumbled backwards a step so he didn’t get caught up in the flames.

“Hold steady,” admonished his father.

Jake was going to reply sarcastically but the demon suddenly disappeared and his father cursed.  The flames died away as his father ended the spell.

“Get ready to move,” his father warned, “the beast likely flipped the plane on us again so it could get out from the cross.  I’d hoped it wouldn’t be able to.”

Jake came up with another sarcastic reply but before he could give it voice, a snarl of pure hatred and pain rolled over him.  He whipped his head around looking for the source.  He couldn’t see Mocregork anywhere.

“Move.  Move randomly.  It doesn’t matter how or where. Just move so you aren’t a standing target for it!”  There was panic in his father’s voice and Jake didn’t need to be encouraged more than that.  He started zig-zagging, hoping it was at random, away from the cross.

“Left!”

Without thinking, he dove to his left. Jake always saw people in movies be able to roll back into a standing position when they do that move. It was at that moment when he realized that he was not an action movie star. He tried to roll with his dive and smacked his head against the ground as he did so. His vision went blank for a moment and if his head wasn’t momentarily spinning, Jake might have remembered how scary that was in his current situation. 

“Right!”

As his mind recovered from the bump to his cranium, he felt his body respond to his father’s command, rolling off to his right. It once again crossed his mind about how strange it was to have so little control over his body, especially when the one controlling it was someone he just met hours ago. Wait. Had it been hours ago? Or just a few minutes? With all that had happened that night, it was hard telling. Time was not flowing as it normally did.

“Focus on the problem at hand!”

There was a hint of irritation in his father’s voice on that call. Jake wanted to do what was asked of him, but he couldn’t. His thoughts were swimming and he wasn’t able to get them under control. Irritation turned to sadness during his father’s next words. “I was hoping I wouldn’t have to do this. I was hoping we’d get a little more time together. Before I go, I just need to tell you that, even though I wasn’t around, I have loved you since I found out your mother was pregnant.”

With that, Jake felt his father leave his body and watched as his spirit raced for the demon.