by Xenophon Hendrix
I woke up about seven on Boxing Day and went upstairs. Mom, Dad, Aunt Kate, and Andy were all sitting around the kitchen table drinking coffee. Everyone but Dad had some toast. No one else seemed to be up yet. I wished everyone a good morning.
"Did you sleep well last night?" Mom asked.
"I didn't have any trouble," I said.
"With the amount of napping you did yesterday, I didn't think you'd be able to sleep at all."
"I woke up once during the night. Other than that, I slept steadily."
"Are you coming down with something?"
"Not so far as I know. Anyway, I have to pee." I made my escape. Most of my stuff hadn't been moved downstairs yet, so before heading into the big bathroom, I quietly got some older clothing that Mom considered play clothes out of my former room. After relieving myself, I did the morning ablutions. Then I dressed warmly--long underwear, both top and bottom; a flannel shirt; wool socks; and khakis. I also had a pullover sweater that had passed into the ratty category, but it was too warm to wear in the house. I just carried it for the time being.
I moved my toothbrush to the small bathroom where it would be handier to the basement, and I took my pajamas downstairs. Now that I was dressed, I put my athame in my pocket. When I went back up to the kitchen, Mary was eating a bowl of cereal at the table and chatting with Aunt Kate. I got my own bowl of flakes and joined them. Mary was going on about the piano. I mostly ignored the conversation; I was already starting to concentrate my thoughts on the task ahead.
Have a piece of pie, Ursus thought, once I had finished the cereal.
For breakfast? Arthur thought.
"Everything in moderation" and "get it while you can" are both good principles, so we'll have a moderate slice of pie, Ursus replied. I fetched a small slice of chocolate pie.
Of course, Mom, who was putting cups in the dishwasher, remarked, "Pie for breakfast?"
"It's dessert. I had my cereal first." She shook her head but didn't say anything more.
When I finished eating, I went downstairs and got both the bike rack that Mary had given to me and the tools from Dad's workroom that I needed to mount it to my bike. I went back upstairs and pulled on the sweater before going out into the garage. With the big door shut, I figured the sweater would be warm enough while I installed the rack.
The rack came with instructions, so I didn't have any trouble. While I was working, Mary came out. "I like your gift a lot," I said. "Thank you."
"You mentioned a couple of times how handy mine was, so I thought you'd appreciate it. I like the gift you got me, too. Did you know Mom and Dad were going to lease a piano?"
"No, but I was confident you'd find a way to learn."
"You seem to have developed a lot of faith in me, lately."
"I've become less stupid and self-centered, and I started to see what a fine person you are. Or should I say, 'ek-skellent' person?"
Mary lowered her gaze. "Thank you."
"You're welcome. I need you to do me a couple of favors today."
"So, you were just buttering me up?" She smiled when she said it.
"No, but it seemed like a good time to ask."
"What do you need?"
"I'm going to track down the demon summoner this morning. If I'm not back by about ten, call Danny, Mike, and Terry and tell them that band practice is after supper today. (Kirsten already knows.) More importantly, if I'm not back by dusk, you need to tell Mom and Dad everything that has been going on. I'd prefer not to endanger anyone else, but this guy has to be stopped. Emphasize how dangerous things are. I doubt if they'll believe anything about magic or demons, but it might at least make them cautious."
"I want to go with you."
"You can't. I have a protective amulet, but you don't, and I need someone here who knows what's happening if things go wrong."
"You almost froze to death last time."
"I'm using a different technique now. I won't freeze."
"Why didn't you use it last time, then?"
Yeah, why didn't I? I asked Ursus.
At the time, I mostly considered it a training exercise--something to build us up and increase the understanding of my young brain mates. I had no idea how serious things were about to get.
"I was just starting to practice scrying then," I said, "and I was already primed for using my scrying pan. Once things turned ugly, I needed to invent a more portable method. I'll show you before I leave."
Mary acted as assistant as I finished up installing the rack. When we went back into the house, no one saw us, so I left my boots on and grabbed my old coat and took it with me as we went downstairs. No one else was in the basement. I moved the new pointing device to where it was handy and took up my guitar. I played until I had gathered some manna and then picked up the pointing device and fed it a trickle of magical energy. "See, it's pointing to the place the goat was killed, which is most likely the magician's basement."
"That's so cool!" Her expression turned serious. "But I wish it wasn't pointing you toward danger."
"Yeah, but I don't have any choice. I'll show you on the map roughly where I'm heading." I dug out my sketch of the local area. "See where the two lines cross? The magician should live somewhere around there." It wasn't a half-mile away, just a little west and then south of Cord. I could cross Cord at the traffic light in front of Thompson High School.
"We're not supposed to go over there without permission," Mary said.
I was about to tell her to get some perspective, but then I thought better of it. "OK, I'll get permission." I gave her the map. "Hang on to that. You can show it to Mom and Dad if I don't get home on time." I put my coat on and carefully wound the string of the pointer onto the pencil and gently put it in a coat pocket.
I picked up my guitar. "You go up first and turn into the kitchen so that you're mostly blocking the view as I put my guitar in the garage. I don't want people asking questions about why I'm taking it with me."
We did that. I was only in the garage long enough to lean the guitar against the wall on the hinge side of the door. I didn't necessarily have to bring my guitar with me, but I didn't want to start out, find that I needed to collect more manna, and not have it.
I went back inside and stood in the doorway between the kitchen and the little hallway that the laundry room, small bathroom, basement stairs, and backdoor all came off of. "Hey, Mom, I'm going for a bike ride. Is it OK if I go to the subdivision on the other side of Cord?"
Mom and the other adults were at the table with Susan and my brothers. Pretty much everyone was chattering at once. "Why do you want to go over there?" Mom asked.
Time to lie. "Well, the junior high is over there. I'll be attending next year."
"Are you thinking about next year already?"
"The solstice and the new year are natural times to think about the future, aren't they?"
"I guess. Is Mary going with you?"
"I don't think so. Mary has other things to do."
"Yeah, uh," Mary said. "I was going to read some and maybe practice the organ."
"You're really enthusiastic about music, aren't you?" Aunt Kate asked Mary.
I decided it was a splendid time for me to do a slow fade and headed for the garage. I put the big door up and waited a little to make sure Mom wasn't going to stick her head out. When I was satisfied, I took a glass pop bottle from one of the cases stacked against the wall and slipped it under the spring clip of the bike rack.
Even though I knew they were there, I felt to make sure I was wearing both my star amulet and my protective-circle amulet. I pulled on a ski mask, slung my guitar on my back, and walked the bicycle to the end of the driveway.
I turned the guitar around and played long enough to collect a little manna. Taking out my athame, I cut a symbolic door through the inner circle. I then went through it and redrew the circle while feeding it some energy. I did the same to the outer circle. Once I was outside the circles, I put the athame away, pulled on some gloves, and set out. I hoped that anyone who saw me just chalked my behavior up to typical weirdness.
I turned left at the corner of Dewey and Bradley and then right at the corner of Bradley and Cord. The snow along the main road had turned from white into a mixture of black and gray since the last snowfall. I pedaled down the sidewalk of Cord for several yards and then got off the bike, held my gloves in my teeth, and played long enough to collect as much manna as I could hold. Hang on to the energy, Arthur, I thought. He didn't argue. I could feel him focus his attention on the job.
I took the bottle from the rack, slipped the toothpick with the goat hair inside, and unreeled the pointing device. The bottle would protect the toothpick from the effects of the wind, and in extremis it would serve as a weapon that didn't necessarily look like a weapon.
Ursus started feeding the pointer a trickle of manna while chanting point, point, point. I turned the guitar back behind me, pulled my gloves back on, and then stood still long enough for the toothpick to quit moving. It pointed south, or nearly so, maybe a bit west, too. I slipped the bottle into one of my big coat pockets. Carrying a glass bottle that way wasn't the smartest thing to do, but getting the toothpick back out would be tricky, and I didn't want to put the bottle back on the rack with the toothpick still inside. Jostling along with it lying on the side of the bottle could mess it up.
I got back on the bike and pedaled until I was in front of the high school, a red brick ugliness on which all architectural niceties had been spared. I checked the pointer after Ursus started giving it manna again. It now pointed both south and east, so I had gone too far west. I went up to the traffic light in front of the school and waited for it to change.
The north-south street coming perpendicularly off Cord and almost in line with the driveway of the high school was named Silver Avenue. I needed the street one block east. I didn't yet know its name.
I crossed Cord once the traffic stopped. I was on the east side of Silver. A fire station was on the west. When Mike, Terry, and I were younger, we used to run to the corner of Dewey and look down Bradley in hope of seeing a fire truck go by when we heard the warning horn on the fire station. To Arthur, those days felt long ago.
I went back east along the sidewalk. I learned that the street I needed was named Weiner Avenue. I waited at the corner while Ursus fed the pointer manna as a double check. It more-or-less pointed down the street. I headed south on Weiner.
I hadn't gone far when three kids, two boys and a girl, walking north on the sidewalk saw me. I guessed they were a bit older than Arthur. "Hey, kid," the girl called. I wasn't going fast, and I slowed some more. "Why are you riding around with a guitar?" She had dark blonde hair hanging out from her winter hat.
My first impulse was to ignore them, but that might piss them off, and I couldn't afford trouble at that moment. I stopped. More lies were needed. I felt a little sick to my stomach, but I didn't want kids involved with the situation. "Have you ever heard of busking?" I asked.
The girl shook her head, but one of the guys said, "Isn't that, like, when you go around playing on street corners and stuff in the hopes that people will give you money?" He was fairly tall.
"Yeah," I said.
"You picked a hell of a day to do it, dude" said the other boy, who was shorter.
"On the bright side," I said, "most people are off work." Only emergency workers and those providing essential services worked on Boxing Day, by law.
"Good luck on finding them outside," the tall boy said.
"Perhaps I'm overly optimistic," I said.
"Play something," the girl said.
"What's in it for me?"
She pulled a package of candy from her pocket. "I'll give you a licorice stick."
I shrugged. It would probably be the quickest way of ending this without unpleasantness. I got off the bicycle, shoved my gloves in the pocket on the other side of the coat from the one with the bottle, turned the guitar around front, and began to play. I strummed "Up in the Air" while I sang the words. Arthur took the opportunity to gather manna until I was again holding as much as I could.
The three of them started to clap when I was finished. "You're really good," said the girl. "Play another."
"Do I get another piece of licorice?"
I sang them "The Paragon's Parade." They clapped again.
"One more?" wheedled the girl.
"I need to get going," I said. She looked disappointed for a second, but then she smiled and handed over the candy. I didn't really have any place to put it where it wouldn't collect fuzz. Oh, well. I unzipped one of my smaller pockets and shoved it inside.
"How much have you made so far?" asked the shorter boy.
"Two pieces of red licorice," I answered as I climbed on my bicycle.
"Good luck," said the girl. The two guys echoed her. I gave them a wave and pedaled down the street. It was a nicer subdivision than Arthur's. The homes were older, but they were all different shapes and sizes rather than uniform tract housing. The trees were bigger, and the yards were about twice the size of those on Arthur's block.
After a several seconds, I checked behind me. The teenagers weren't looking at me, so I got off the bike and pulled out the bottle. Ursus fed the pointer manna while I sighted along the toothpick. It was definitely pointing west of south, now. We were getting close. I looked at the most likely houses and reached out with my senses for magic. It wouldn't do to go blundering into someone's magical trap. It would be even worse if the demon or his magician caught us. All three of my consciousnesses felt scared.
I didn't get back on the bike but chose to walk it. Arthur controlled the manna. Ursus worked the pointer and gave slivers of his attention to help both Arthur and me. I felt for magic. We walked along until Ursus thought, This is the house. He took note of the address and memorized it using one of his mnemonic techniques.
I spared the house a piece of my attention. It was ranch style with white aluminum siding. It looked normal from the outside and well maintained. As I walked, the toothpick turned so that it kept pointing directly at it.
Well, that settled that. The pointer had served its purpose. I clipped the bottle back onto the rack and started to mount up. Then I caught a movement from the corner of my eye. A trim looking man was glaring at me from the picture window of the house. He looked to be about medium height, and he had curly gray hair. Shit.
Stay calm, thought Ursus. Try not to look suspicious. I felt Ursus lift our hand and give a wave. I was concentrating on getting on the bike and getting the hell out of there. Arthur, bless him, still had a firm grip on our manna.
As I pedaled off, Ursus thought, Go a normal speed until we're out of sight. I kept my magic senses extended, but mostly I paid attention to riding and steering and let Ursus worry about everything else.
The magician's house was three doors away from the next cross street, called Sire Avenue. I turned west on Sire and sped up. When I came to Silver, I turned back north and sped up even more. I badly wanted to be home, within the protection of the two circles.
I had almost made it back to Cord when the demon attacked. When he hit the protective circle provided by my amulet, the impact felt somewhat physical. It also felt somewhat mental. Mostly, though, it felt thoroughly unpleasant, like stepping into a pile of reeking shit while a gangrenous pack of hyenas drag their claws over chalkboards while crushing bones in their jaws and blowflies grown fat on rotting human flesh fly into one's eyes and attempt to lay their eggs--but a whole lot worse than that.
Ursus immediately took over primary control, and I lost all awareness of my body and surroundings. A picture formed within my mind. It was an empty space, black, except for a single circle of light. Within the circle stood a demon and a bear facing each other.
The demon looked clichéd. No doubt the vision--a red-colored man with horns, a goatee, obscenely large genitals, goat's legs, hooves, and a pitchfork--had been dredged out of Arthur's subconscious.
The bear stood rampant. He was larger than a grizzly, larger than a polar bear. His hair was black with white highlights on his muzzle and ruff. His claws were silver. His eyes flashed blue and shone with power. I knew that Ursus and Arthur and I were the great bruin, and that the tripartite being that we formed was joined together in a common purpose. With the realization, my point of view shifted, and I was seeing through the eyes of the bear.
I concluded that the demon had broken the protective spell of the amulet and was now inside my mind. He pointed his pitchfork at me. "Yield, peasant, and your death will be painless."
I chuckled, a humorless growl. "Your kind does nothing without agony. Yield, demon, or your defeat will be painful."
I knew that in facing the daylight and in breaking the amulet's spell, the demon had weakened himself, so the contest was much closer than one might have guessed. I dropped to all fours and began to circle to the outside of the demon's stance.
The demon turned to keep his weapon between us. Part of my mind watched the evil spirit, part tended manna, and part began to visualize a spell: the demon's pitchfork shattering in his hands.
The slow circle continued as I fed manna to the vision, but the demon took action of his own: The roots of every strand of fur on my ursine body began to itch. Then they began to burn. It started to feel as if I were on fire.
I forced my concentration to deepen. One mind began to address the manna: "Come to me, you that I have loved, you that I have served, you that I have put before all others. Come to me. Come to me. Come to me." As the mantra continued, I could feel our supply of energy begin to replenish.
Another mind continued the spell: It visualized the pitchfork shattering, its splinters tearing off the demon's hands and arms, shredding its body. The scene became more real, little by little.
The third mind focused on my opponent. Watching. Waiting. Circling. With the increased concentration, the pain all over my body began to recede.
The demon broke first. He lunged with the pitchfork. I batted it away with one paw while stepping closer to my enemy. I reared and raked him with the claws of my other front paw. The demon stepped even closer and clinched. He had claws of his own and began to tear at my back. I bit him between the shoulder and neck and began to shake. His blood burned like acid in my mouth, and I clawed him some more.
For an unknown amount of time we were again at stalemate as we ripped and tore, blood and flesh flying. But then I concentrated my will and hugged the demon to me with one foreleg as I lifted the other. I extended a claw and drew the pentagram for air while feeding it manna. I growled, "I ask that the elemental power of air bless this circle and contain the demon within."
I agonizingly turned to the right while forcing the demon within my grasp to turn with me. As I rotated, I pictured the line of air coming from my claw gradually turn into a line of earth. I drew the pentagram for earth. "I ask that the elemental power of earth bless this circle and contain the demon within."
I turned more. The struggling of the demon became even more vicious as he tried to break my grasp. The line of earth slowly became a line of fire. I drew the pentagram for fire. "I ask that the elemental power of fire bless this circle and contain the demon within."
I continued to turn. The line of fire transformed into a line of water. The demon became more frantic. He bit and clawed and pissed and kicked and puked. I held on. I drew the pentagram. "I ask that the elemental power of water bless this circle and contain the demon within."
The demon's struggles became weaker now. I began to close the circle, visualizing the line of water turning again into a line of air. I didn't close it all the way, though. I pushed the demon away from me and then stepped back through the gap.
The demon lurched for the opening, but I closed the circle. He was too late. "You are circled, demon, yield." I dropped back to all fours.
"Never!" He spat at me, but it bounced off the barrier.
The manna gathering mantra had never wavered. First things first, I thought. I visualized myself healing. I repaired the burns to my mouth, muzzle, face, and chest. I healed the cuts on my back, belly legs, and groin. I then repaired my minds by forcing myself to forget just how utterly horrible the ordeal had been. My pain, both physical and mental, eased.
"I'll give you another chance to end this, fiend." The demon didn't deign to answer. "So be it," I said.
In my inner vision, I could see the imprisoning circle clearly. I began to feed it manna until it glowed with power. The demon stood huddled in the center.
I began to will the circle to shrink. Slowly, ever so slowly, the walls of the demon's prison drew closer. He began to howl. His screaming caused me pain in more than my ears, but I was undeterred. I continued to tighten the circle until the demon barely had room to stand.
He fell to his knees. "I yield, master! I yield!"
"Swear it on your seal," I growled.
The demon drew a complicated glyph in bloody flames upon the floor. "I swear on my seal that I yield, master!"
Something wasn't right. "That is not your seal," I said. I willed the circle to shrink some more.
"I'm sorry, master! I'm sorry!" The demon erased his first glyph and drew another. "I swear on my seal that I yield, master!" Blood was running out of his eyes like tears. This time it felt right.
"Swear on your seal that you will never attack me again."
I again started to shrink the circle. "Please! Please! I can be summoned and compelled to attack. Such is my nature. I swear it on my seal."
I thought for a minute. "Swear on your seal that you will never attempt to harm me or anyone else again, including my family and friends, unless you are summoned and compelled to do so."
"I so swear on my seal."
"Say it all."
"I swear on my seal that I will never attempt to harm you or anyone else again, including your family and friends, unless I am summoned and compelled to do so."
"Swear on your seal that you will never, either through action or inaction, attempt to induce someone to summon you."
He looked displeased. "I swear on my seal that I will never, either through action or inaction, attempt to induce someone to summon me."
"Swear on your seal that you will never, either through action or inaction, attempt to induce someone to compel you to harm me or anyone else again."
"I swear on my seal that I will never, either through action or inaction, attempt to induce someone to compel me to harm you or anyone else again."
"Swear on your seal that you will never induce, either through action or inaction, another entity to attempt to harm me or anyone else."
"I swear on my seal that I will never induce, either through action or inaction, another entity to attempt to harm you or anyone else."
Given my limited time to consider the matter, I figured that should cover the issue. I thought some more. "Demon, you will swear by your seal to answer truthfully any and all of my questions."
"I swear by my seal to answer truthfully any and all of your questions."
"Why did you attempt to hurt me?"
"I wanted to protect my minion, plus hurting someone is always pleasurable."
"By 'minion' do you mean the magician who summoned you?"
"Does he live at--" I recited the address Ursus had noted.
"Why did this minion need protecting?"
"He has committed what humans deem crimes." The sneering tone in his voice let me know what he thought of humans and their crimes.
"What crimes has he committed?"
The demon started to rattle off a list, beginning with speeding tickets.
"Stop," I commanded. The demon stopped. "Do you understand what humans consider serious crimes?"
"What serious crimes did this minion commit?"
"He has murdered, raped, tortured, stolen--"
"Stop, that is enough," I said. "Why did you feel the need to protect him from me in particular?"
"You were scrying him. You might have seen evidence of his crimes and reported him to other humans or attempted to stop him yourself. Your kind is foolish that way, master."
"You saw him commit rape yourself. There are the remains of two human bodies in his freezer. There--"
"Stop," I said. "The girl I saw being raped, was she involved with your minion beforehand?"
"Oh, no." The demon smiled. "He saw her and wanted her. It amused me to compel her to go to him. Watching him break her was so sweet. He--"
"Stop," I said. "Is she with your minion now."
"She was when I last saw him."
"Loyalty is not a property of demons. Why is the minion of which we speak so important to you?"
He hesitated before answering. I willed the circle to close a little more. "In these times," he said, "there are many humans who long to summon my kind, but few remember the proper rites. We have learned to value those who still do."
Did I want to know the rites? No, absolutely not. "Demon, I am about to give you an order. You will swear by your seal that once you carry it out, you will immediately return home to your metaphorical dimension and never come back to this current physical dimension, unless a summoner compels you to do so."
"I swear by my seal that once I carry out the order that you are about to give me, I will immediately return home to my metaphorical dimension and never come back to this current physical dimension, unless a summoner compels me to do so."
"Demon, you will swear by your seal that you will strive to your utmost, expending every iota of your being in the attempt, that while harming no one and nothing else, you will now kill your minion, the magician who lives at--" I recited the address.
He glared at me and spittle flew from his mouth as he recited my order. "I swear by my seal that I will strive to the utmost, expending every iota of my being in the attempt, that while harming no one and nothing else, I will now kill my minion, the magician who lives at--" He recited the address and disappeared from the imprisoning circle.