A Demon's Footsteps (working title; I am terrible with titles)
I stood before the symbols carefully painted in the floor, my mind focused on a ritual I'd performed a hundred times before. Expensive scented candles burned, along with incense of every sort, filling the air with an acrid, yet refreshing smoke. I took a deep breath, closed my eyes, and felt out to my invisible friends.
Four spirits came to mind, each that of a great wolf, and I could feel their minds. They were bound to me; they were my pack, and the pack needed another member. I turned away from the pack, to the empty circle before me, and reached into the aether, searching for another spirit of wolf to call forth.
I can do this quickly, but when I want to bring forth a spirit not just for some quick task, but to hold, potentially for the rest of my life, I take my time. I let myself drop deeper and deeper into their world, looking for just the right spirit to bring back. I found one, strong and perfect for my needs, and reached an invisible tendril of strength toward him. He resisted, but I wouldn't have him had he not. If I am to remain Alpha of the pack, every one of the wolves must test me, and I must win every test.
He was fast and strong. I fought to find him, and I fought to keep him in my grasps. I didn't pull too hard too soon, as this was but the easy part of the ritual. It was better to wear him out bringing him forth, and he could fight less when it came time for the ritual to bind him to me, forever. I was about to reach out for the final grab when the klaxon sounded.
My apartment is soundproof. No sirens on the streets, telephones, or any other distraction can enter. Except one, which I never even considered. A voice, as if from god, sounded just after the klaxon silenced, informing me a fire had been reported in the building, and I was to evacuate immediately. I was too deep in the trance, though, and my grasp on the spirit was strong. Although concentration was broken for an instant, I could still feel him in my grasp, and pulled, fighting him every step of the way, until we were both back in the material world.
The spirit took form before me, and I fell back, in horror, before any words could leave my mouth. What should have been a creature which looked, more or less, like a wolf instead was a beast beyond any of my imagination. He stood upright, like a nine foot tall man, though nothing else about him suggested any form of humanity. His head was vaguely that of a wolf, with red, glowing eyes, long, pointed ears, swept back almost artistically, and a pair of fierce horns. He was covered in a fur, whose color varied from almost golden brown around the face to deep red-black wafts of hair along the top of his head, behind his ears, and below his chin. His body was muscular, covered in the same golden brown fur with black markings like tattoos all over his chest and arms. His arms were heavily muscled, ending in strong hands, each finger ending in inch-long black claws. He appeared well fed, just one the edge of fat, but nothing about him suggested he was the least bit out of shape. His legs ended in cloven hooves, perhaps like those of a deer, and a long tail twitched behind him, beginning the same gold brown as the rest of his body, but ending in a deep red tuft of long, silky fur.
He wore no clothing, per se, although a bone necklace circles his neck and he bore gold bands around his wrists and fetlocks. Each of his ears held four gold earrings, and his horns were painted with ornate symbols in what looked to be gold paint. A purple sash hung from his right shoulder, the ends bound together, also in gold, along the left of his waist, and numerous bones, which appeared to be taken from human hands were woven into the sash. He was clearly a male creature, showing no modesty, and looked down to me with a distinct, inhuman grin.
"What the hell are you," I finally stuttered out, under his stare.
He laughed. "I am the one you summoned, whether you intended to or not."
I drew power into myself. "I banish you back to the hell from which you came!" I yelled, releasing the power toward the monster. He continued laughing, as the power I threw at him simple dissipated into nothing.
"No," he spoke, his voice growing serious. "You will not send me back." The klaxon sounded again, and with the wave of a hand, the room grew dark and silent, as if we existed in a universe of our own, away from any interruption. "Hell is a tedious place. I have no intention of returning any time soon. You summoned me, now you will perform the binding ritual, so that I may remain here until the day you die."
"Never," I yelled. "I will never allow a Demon such as you to remain!"
In an instant he was upon me, holding me against the wall by my throat. His mouth was inches from my face, and the carrion-like breath of the beast fell upon me as he spoke. "You have a choice here. You can refuse to bind me. You can't send me away, though, and I can stay here at least half a day before Hell calls me back. Over those hours, I will slowly, methodically, and with great pleasure torture you until, just before I am forced to return, I rip your beating heart from your still living body, and carry your soul down with me. Or, you can perform the binding ritual, and I remain on earth, to do as I please, so long as you live. And bound, I may be summoned. Should your life ever be in danger, I will come to your aid. I will ensure you live long and prosper, for it is to my own benefit as well as yours."
He sat me down, but continued speaking. "Yes, I am a Demon. Yes, the moment your concentration faltered, I forced myself into your grasp instead of the poor wolf you were hunting. Yes, I used you. You will call me evil. You think of me as the Devil incarnate. Evil is never a black and white thing, though."
He paused a moment, as if in thought. "You are no better than I. You take those souls of wolves, and bind them to do your bidding, and for what? Money. I know you. I know what you are. There's nothing honorable in what you do. You don't fight any more for what's right. You fight for money. I promise you, I'm no more evil than you. You have my word. If I lie in this, my soul is yours, to do with as you please."
As he spoke the words, I felt the magic behind them. He told the truth, or at least, if I caught him in a lie, all that he is would be mine to take. I felt the power in his being, realized he was not tens, hundreds, or even thousands of years old. He remembered the world when humanity was still trapped in caves, and was worshiped in those days. If he wasn't a god, he was the next thing to one. If he lied, if he was more evil than I, that power was mine.
Even as I conducted the binding ritual, I feared for my own soul. He resisted not at all, and he was bound to me more intently than any of my wolves. Yet, as soon as the ritual was done, he was gone. The apartment was back in the real world, and the klaxon continued to sound. I bundled up and headed down the emergency stairs, getting to the parking lot just as the fire trucks pulled up.
It was nothing, really. Someone left the oven on as they went out for the day, dinner caught fire, and set off the fire alarm. When nobody answered the phone from the security office, the building was emptied. To this day, I wonder if the Demon had anything to do with that. I could feel him in the back of my mind, but didn't dear reach out to him.
I was working with a team acquiring an object of some value. Hell, who am I kidding? We were stealing a small statue worth millions to the right people. Security was tight, and my pack of spirit-wolves fought well. When all was said and done, the battle over, the pack sent back to the aether from which they came, I saw the bodies of three of the guards, or what was left of them after my pack had taken them down. It wasn't pretty, and my mind flashed to the Demon as I looked down at what I'd done, in shock.
Three people crouched before him, terrified. I could tell he felt my mind in his own, and I felt what amounted to a hint of satisfaction in the sense. I tried to pull away, but he held me firm, and I experienced, through his own body, as he casually stepped toward the closest of the three, ripping the woman's head off without any apparent difficulty. A man and woman remained, crouched in a corner. The man appeared frozen with terror, as did the woman at first glance. I felt his satisfaction at her reaction, though, and realized it was an act. As she shook, her hand reached for a gun.
She emptied a dozen shots into the Demon, and I felt the impacts as if they were on my own body. Head, chest, arms, legs, every part of his body seemed to be hit by the bullets. The Demon looked down at her, shook himself a bit, and the wounds simply closed and healed, leaving him undamaged. In a flash, the Demon's claws were within the man's chest, and he held the man's still beating heart before the woman, who now wore a genuine look of worry. I could taste the bitter salt of blood as the Demon swallowed the man's heart, and stood before the woman.
He said something to her, but blocked his own words from my understanding, and they came out as a muted, distorted blur of sounds. Her reply was no less distorted, and the two spoke at some length. She grew desperate as the conversation continued, and eventually the Demon grew tired of her words.
He took his time in killing her, and her screams echo through my dreams even to this day. I wanted to call him on his bet, that anyone capable of that had to be more evil than I, when my mind suddenly went back to the three dead guards standing before me.
We sold the statue for even more than we planned, and managed to net a few hundred grand each. That wasn't enough; nothing was ever enough.
There were jobs just about every month, but it was a year later when I next reached out to the mind of the Demon. We got together, made plans, and hopped on a jet halfway around the world to commit what amounted to little more than simple burglary. I managed not to be actually, personally responsible for anyone's death on that job, which made me feel better. The woman's screams still haunted my dreams, but they were always accompanied by the images of the three dead guards. I felt good, though. Nobody died, and I reached out to my pet Demon, to see what he was up to.
For some time, I'd known he'd formed himself a small harem. He spent time with the four women, and I never really wanted to know what went on in those sessions. When I reached out, he grabbed my mind again, and we sat in some penthouse apartment in some unknown city. He reclined on a bed of pillows, most of the jewels removed and sat aside. He was with his harem, and I suddenly felt like the worse sort of peeping tom, yet he gave me no choice.
Two of the women slept, one off to the side on the bed, one actually using one of his hooves as a sort of pillow. He was careful not to move the leg, for fear of waking her up. The two other women were awake. A red-head leaned against him, one of her hands rubbing his chin, the other scratching between his ears. The other lay in bed next to him, stroking his tail, which stretched across her chest. I was suddenly shocked by the realization that, other than the near complete lack of clothing, this was as innocent scene as one could imagine in a harem.
Even more shocking, there was actual compassion between the women and the Demon. The women loved the beast, and, most surprisingly of all, as best I could tell from sitting inside his mind, he loved them in return. He looked to the woman laying next to him, and shifted his tail so that the deeply furred tuft stroked her chin. She sighed happily, and leaned over to kiss the Demon on his chest.
As she moved, I could see signs of bruises on her body, almost but not entirely healed. He reached one of his hands to her face, gently stroking her cheek with razor-sharp claws, leaving not even the hint of any marks. He pulled her close, holding her tightly, and I could sense, more than anything else, relief as she was held by the great monster.
He sat a hand atop her head, and suddenly, without warning, opened a flood of her own memories into my mind.
She was in a run-down apartment, barely suitable for any human. I could smell mold and mildew, and it was cold. A tiny space heater ran in the side of the room, but the cold, damp winter was far too much for it's weak heat. There was soup on the stove, from a can. She added twice as much water as she was supposed to, for it had to feed two people, and there wasn't enough food. She added a bit of salt and corn starch; they were cheap, and made it seem less watered down.
The door to the apartment opened with a slam, and a man stormed in. The smell of alcohol was clear the moment he entered, and before she could move, the back of his hand fell across her back. She stumbled, almost dropping a hand into the boiling water, but recovered just in time, though toppled the soup onto the floor.
The man yelled in rage, cursing her stupidity, clumsiness, and general incompetence. He threw her to the floor, telling her someone had to eat the soup, and since he wasn't going to, she had better. She licked up the soup, like a dog, gagging at the taste, fouled by the never-cleaned linoleum. I felt, through her memories, tears coming to her eyes. She stood up, going to the pantry to look for another can, but her husband threw her onto the bed.
"Bitch!" he yelled as tears came freely to her eyes. "Good for nothing bitch." He picked up a knife from the table. "I should just kill you. Can't even cook soup."
"No. I'm sorry, honey." She spoke softly, through silent sobs. "I'll make more, I promise. Right now."
"We can't afford more, unless you go whore yourself out again." He sat on the bed next to her, knife in one hand, running the other through matted hair. "You'd like that wouldn't you. A new man every night."
"No, honey." She looked to his face as she spoke, seeing him grow more angry. "Or, yes. Maybe. I don't know."
"What? I'm not good enough for you!" he fumed. He slapped her in the face, hard enough to leave a bruise, then ripped open her shirt, exposing bare breasts. "You whore! I'll make it so no man ever wants you!"
He painfully grabbed her by one of the breasts, lowering the knife to her flesh, as if to cut it off, when a crash of broken glass sounded from behind him. A great, clawed hand grabbed the man by the neck, pulling him back from the woman.
"Who the hell do you think you are," came a familiar, demonic voice.
The man sobered up surprisingly fast, in the grips of the Demon, and swung the knife straight at the creature's manhood. In a heartbeat, the Demon's other hand grabbed the man's arm, snapping the bones in his arms with a sickening crack.
"Learned to fight in bars, did we?" The great beast pulled the man close to his mouth, in a sight which I thought must have looked very much as he did when he spoke to me. "You lived through your encounter," the Demon's thoughts came into my mind. "This man wasn't nearly as lucky."
I expected the Demon to bite the man's head off, or something similarly violent, but instead, he just tossed him aside. He lived, but was in deep shock from his broken arm, and cowered away from the great beast. The Demon turned and looked to the woman, almost kindly. He reached a hand to her face, and the world went black.
"She didn't need to see what I did to him," a thought came to my mind. "He suffered, and I have no regrets for the pain I caused him." Suddenly, without warning, the taste of his very flesh entered my mind, and I nearly gagged, not at the taste itself, but at the taint from years of alcohol abuse. "I fed well that night, but I can't, in all truth, say it was a meal I would consider a good one."
Back in his harem, the woman lay beside him, nearly asleep as she snuggled with the Demon's tail. "He stole her from her parents when she was fourteen. He was twenty. They were married two years later, which was almost a decade ago. Both of her parents were killed when a meth lab in the apartment next to theirs blew up, and I'm pretty damned sure they were buying from the lab anyway. She had nowhere to go. He was a day laborer, and she was without skill. I couldn't send her to the street, so I brought her here."
I was stunned, and speechless. A man walked into the room, rubbed one of the ears of the Demon, and handed both the beast and the still awake woman to his right glasses. The Demon took a sip of what I could taste as fine Champaign, as did his companion.
"They aren't all women who make it here. A few men were similarly left out and alone. They are my menservants, and are treated every bit as well as my harem." I still felt the world through the Demon's body, and could feel the woman to his left drifting to sleep, holding his tail tightly. "She's my most recent… acquisition. She's very hurt, and very sensitive. I hope, someday, she can go out into the world on her own, but she can't now. The one sleeping to the side I took shortly after you set me free. Her parents were using her to transport drugs. You watched me kill them, in fact. In just a year, she's almost entirely recovered. She could leave now, but remains, at her own choice. She's like a new mother to the others, and without her, I don't think the others would make it.
"What happens if I summon you now?"
The Demon growled in my mind, but I could sense a bit of humor in the growl. "I disappear, leaving two very shocked women in my wake. I appear before you, and unless you have a damned good reason, leave a couple deep claw marks in your face." I could again sense a compassion in his thoughts, which I never would have expected a year before. "I am an evil creature, by some measure. I've probably killed a hundred people in the year since you freed me, and I am going to keep killing. Most of them, I eat, both body and soul. I must do that, or I will not survive. But not a one of those people I killed didn't deserve it. I've killed rapists, murderers, drug dealers, and gang members. I've even killed a few crooked politicians and immoral CEOs. I am judge, jury, and executioner, and I enjoy every second of executing someone.
"I know what I leave behind when I kill someone, though, and I do what I can to make it better. That's why this place exists. That's why few, if anyone, actually gets to witness me killing someone." Suddenly, it was as if I was the Demon, rather than some voyeur looking in from the outside. I felt the woman snuggling against the Demon's tail as if it was my own, felt my ears and chin being stroked by the other woman, and even felt the gentle pressure of a head resting on my hoof. "You're in control, for now. Take a moment, to understand."
I reached a hand to the woman at my right, feeling just how sharp the claws really were. I rested the hand on her knee, and felt her shudder a bit. "She was the daughter of a wealthy couple. They ignored her to the point of abuse. She fell and broke her leg when she was young, and they didn't notice for almost two days, while she lay in bed, crying. She's had enough surgery it's mostly healed, but an contact there brings back the memory." I raised the hand, she she looked up at me, a weak smile on her face. "I place my hand on her knee every day, as well," the Demon continued. "It's painful for her, I know, but I believe it's healing."
Control over the Demon's body drifted away from me, back to it's rightful owner. "Why?" I asked. "Why didn't you tell me this when I first called you?"
"Would you have believed me? I am a cold-blooded, ruthless killed. Never forget that. Had you refused to bind me, I would have taken great pleasure in ripping you to pieces. You're a thief and a murderer. You deserve to die, and one day, I probably will kill you. But not everyone does, and I will do whatever I can to make their life better."
"You killed her parents," I asked, changing the subject.
"Of course. I came to them a month before, though, and gave them a choice. Straighten up, or die a horrible death. They called the police, were forced to see a shrink, and somehow blamed their daughter for their 'problem.' They didn't live very long after that. Officially, they died in a car accident."
"You gave them a second chance?" I asked, a hint of hope in my voice.
I could feel the Demon grinning as he sent his reply to me. "Most people get one. Tailhugger here… Her husband was too far gone. But usually, they get some form of warning, if they just recognize it." That the final comment was directed at me was entirely obvious.
I felt his being burn deep into my soul before he continued. "I told you, prove yourself less evil than I, and you have my power. I meant it. I am as old as time, but not in any normal mortal way. What I am has passed through many souls. Prove yourself worthy, and you will follow in my footsteps. Fail, and I will kill you. It will be a slow, painful death, and I will take the greatest pleasure in doing it. All you have to do is manage to be less evil that a creature who likes nothing better than torturing someone to death. Doesn't sound that hard, does it?"
Even as he said it, I felt the woman stroking his chin, as another slept using his tail as a security blanket, and I really wasn't sure it was going to be easy.
I'm not really sure where it goes next, or even if there is a "next," rather than just leaving it alone where it is. I may go back and rethink parts of it, though, to make sure some of the parts all fit together... We'll see!