Prologue – The Girl and The Boy
The crisp air of early December could sometimes steal your breath from in front of your face. It nipped at your nose. The cold moisture in the air could seep into your bones. Light gloves were giving way to heavier mittens and dense scarves. Adults sat at their desks with blankets over their laps and warm coffee in their hands. Most avoided going outside unless it was unavoidable. Groceries were needed, work was necessary. There was a need to leave the house a few minutes early to start the car and scrape the frost from the windshield.
The only people it didn’t bother were children. Children were never bothered. It was as if there was a magical spell upon them all that allowed them to run and play outside no matter the temperature. The sweltering summer days were a time to stay out until the crickets called. The damp and cold December days were all the more perfect for racing through the barren trees and swinging at the nearby park. No need to stay home when there were adventures to be had.
One such child sat on the remains of a fallen tree. She was wearing a vibrant wind breaker with patches of pink, green and blue. On her head she wore a knitted black touque and on her hands black gloves. Her brown hair was pulled into pigtail braids that were slung neatly over her shoulders. Her cheeks were flush from the cold and her perplexing hazel eyes traced the surface of the tree. Perched there happily as she observed the peeling bark. The tree had always been lying like this across the forest floor. It was her favourite spot. Something about it felt…magical. She’d returned as often as she could and over time…the stump had shown itself to be exactly as she suspected. Something lived within this log, something special.
“Are you looking for fairies?”
The girl nearly tumbled from her seated position at the declarative voice. Putting her gloved hand down she turned her head to face the voice. Standing there was another child, a boy. He looked familiar, he was likely from the same school as her but she believed he must have been in the other 2nd grade class. He was wearing a hooded sweater and a puffy vest, a heavy touque on his head but no gloves. Instead his hands were shoved into his pockets. He had tanned skin and dark features that were examining her casually.
“N-no…” she stammered defensively. There was no way she could tell him. He’d surely make fun of her and the last thing she needed was everyone in the school to know these things about her. She didn’t have many friends to start with and at this age stratification was already beginning to happen among classmates.
He stepped closer, peering into the wood. “You should be careful,” he commented, “Fairies might look cute but they’re dangerous. They’ll steal you away if you’re not careful.”
The girl’s shoulders lowered, her defenses cracking a bit. She couldn’t say anything though. What if he was making it up to get her to admit it.
“The one that lives here is a stray though,” the boy said as he put his hand on the log.
“What’s a stray?” she asked.
“It doesn’t come from a large colony…a family,” the boy explained, “Like a dog that lives on the street alone. A stray. Plus…I’m pretty sure this one is one of the friendlier types.”
“There’s more than one type?” her curiosity got the better of her. She scooted forward on the tree, leaning towards the boy. “I’ve only seen her in little flashes,” she whispered secretively. “She seems shy.”
“Fairies are better in groups,” the boy answered. He ran his bare hand over the rugged bark of the tree. It seemed to sparkle a bit under his touch. The fairy dust had been the first indication to her that something magical was here. There was no reason for glitter to exist in such a place, as fine as it was. “It’s good though, if she hasn’t come out to see you that means she doesn’t know.”
“Doesn’t know what?”
“I’m Salvador,” the boy answered instead, looking at her square in the eyes and smiling. “What’s your name?”
“Lalia,” she answered. She was a bit miffed that he hadn’t answered her question but she had quite a few more. “How come you know about fairies?”
“I know magic is real,” Salvador replied with a grin, “Everything is. From witches to fairies and more that people don’t even talk about. You know it’s real too don’t you.”
Lalia’s hands twitched, closing into fists on the bark of the tree. “Sometimes…” she said softly, “If I think really hard about something…it’ll happen. I like to think it’s magic…what do you think?” When she glanced back up shyly the grin on Salvador’s face answered her question. Childlike glee was painted across his face.
“I think you’re right,” he nodded vigorously. “But…you have to be careful. Fairies can be good or they can steal you away. And there’s more. Demons and stuff. You have to be careful.” He leaned back and stuffed a hand into the pocket of his puffy vest. When he brought it out there was a chain hanging from it. He thrust his hand out toward her and opened it, within the palm of his hand there was a shining opal pendant the size of a fingernail attached to the silver chain. “Here, you can have this,” he said, “It’ll protect you from bad magic.”
“I can have it? Really?” Children were never the ones to refuse a gift. They readily accepted them without question and the necklace was beautiful. Something about it was entrancing. Magical. She reached out and took it between her fingers. It felt….heavy. Heavier than it should be. The pendant at the end wasn’t large enough to be this heavy. “It’s magic?” She asked.
“Mmhm,” the boy answered. “But keep it a secret okay. Keep all magic a secret. Even our talking today. Keep it a secret. Can you promise me?” He held up his little finger. “At school, they can’t know that we’re friends.”
“You…want to be my friend?” Lalia asked, a soft smile growing on her face.
“We’re already friends, we know magic is real,” he responded bluntly. He bounced his clenched hand in front of her face, pinky-finger still extended. “But only here. Promise me.”
Lalia lifted her own hand and tugged her glove off. Wrapping her pinky-finger around his they shook hands firmly. His skin was cold to the touch from the exposure but she didn’t mind. The contrast seemed to make this promise magical in a sense. The promise was made.
Chapter 1 – The Schoolgirl
Lalia Greenfield was, by most considerations, an average teenager. Though average was not a great descriptor of any individual beyond physical characteristics. She certainly appeared average. She had brown hair, as most of the world had a variation of brown or black hair. Her hair fell into the darker end of the spectrum as well. It was long, going past her shoulders and to the middle of her chest, a length that most girls her age had. She wore glasses at times, contact lenses at others. Another commonality with over 70% of the world’s population. She was of average height at 164 centimeters. All the face values might have put her in the ‘just an average 17 year old girl’…but that would be to take things at face value.
No one was truly like anyone else. There were common interests, shared experiences and limits to appearances. However, deep down everyone was unique. There were always little quirks that kept them unique. Physically there were things to set her apart. Most of the time she could pass as Caucasian but her ethnicity was a mixture. Her mother was half-Japanese and half-Italian. Her father was from Britain originally but he had a mixture to him as well, his own parents a Welsh mother and a French man who had been of mixed African descent. She had a family history full of different cultures and most of the time she tried to avoid any projects at school that revolved around her cultural background. Her eyes were a bewitching shade of hazel that sparkled under the right light with a center of gold and an outer ring of green. Her feet were above average in size which made shoe shopping a tiring experience. She had rather long fingers which had left her adept at playing certain musical instruments. However it also led to poor circulation and in winter she wore gloves almost constantly.
She had her favourite hairstyles, specifically a braid across the front of her hair to keep her growing fringe out of her eyes and then all of her hair swooped back into a ponytail. She enjoyed wearing clothing with animals on it, oversized sweaters and leggings. She hated wearing jeans. She always wore the same necklace every day, an opal pendant on a silver chain.
She enjoyed watching animated children’s movies, despised horror films. She loved to eat peanut butter with dill pickle in sandwiches. She hated bolognaise sauce on pasta. She didn’t drink enough water but she’d started enjoying coffee early. Specifically she enjoyed lattes, made with whole milk if she wanted to treat herself or soy every other time. She’d gotten an espresso machine for Christmas one year and she bought her own milk-frother so she could make them from the comfort of home. There were a great many things that made her unique as opposed to her classmates. She talked to herself when she was alone. She documented her dreams in a journal she left beside her bed. She loved to flatten out her garbage when she was done with a snack.
And she had magic powers.
Categorizing someone at first glance as average…would certainly not be advised with someone like Lalia Greenfield.
Lalia had been possessing of odd abilities since she was a child. The first memory she had of it had been when she was a young child, though the exact age had been left out from the memory. She had been at the supermarket with her mother and there had been something she wanted. A walnut. It had just been a walnut. She’d wanted it, wanted to try breaking it open. Her mother had thought this small childlike desire for a nut was, by all definition, ridiculous and had rejected it. Lalia had wanted it though, so badly that her thoughts could not stray from it. She wanted it so badly. She wished it could just appear in her pocket and be hers. Then it had. Quite suddenly. One moment her hands were in her pockets, clenched into fists, and the next there was a walnut there. Nestled beside her hand.
She had waited until the car ride home to remove it from her pocket and quietly peek at it out of the line of vision of her mother. A walnut had appeared in her pocket. She felt incredibly guilty as she knew the walnut had been the exact one she wanted. It wasn’t that she recognized it but as a child she knew. She’d wished for that walnut and it had appeared. She’d essentially stolen it, magic or not.
Over the next few years she’d tried a few other things and they’d come true. She could lift something off the floor, make things lighter. Sometimes she could run a little bit faster. Other times she’d eased the pain of an injury. She’d made things warm and cool. Nothing fantastic. It took a lot of effort and sometimes the weariness that followed made it not worth the trouble.
On top of that she could see things. Little magical things that others couldn’t seem to see. She wasn’t sure if they were invisible, exactly, or if they simply had a veil upon them that normal people couldn’t perceive. It was mostly fairies in the forests and little animals here and there. Sometimes there were spirits of the deceased and there were the few times she’d spotted demons…though always small. She was quite grateful for that.
There had never been anything big though. She’d been able to live her daily life without incident and without really questioning it. Her abilities were so small that she really didn’t think on it much.
Average. Yeah, that was her. Average.
“Hey Lily! Any plans for the weekend?” The girl who had the locker next to her asked. Her name was Eshe and her and Lalia had shared a few different classes during their time in high school.
“Uh…I was thinking of getting some studying in,” she replied as she plopped her bag down and started selecting the textbooks she wanted to take home. “Also…it’s Thursday. Planning ahead?”
“Friday is a joke. Anyway, it’s December…” Eshe said, her face bluntly disappointed, “Finals aren’t until January. What do you have to study for?”
Lalia paused before flicking her eyes up to Eshe and shrugging, “…just finals.”
“Girl! You have got to be one of the blandest goody-two-shoes I have ever encountered,” Eshe rolled her eyes. “You always get good marks-”
“Because I study,” Lalia pointed out, she straightened her back with a stretch. “That’s not all I’m doing. There’s a new show out on Netflix and I think I might binge watch it on Saturday night.”
“That a’girl!” Eshe complimented her happily.
“Also,” Lalia said, “Some of us can’t pull off last minute studying. I’m jealous of you. You get pretty good marks too and you do everything the night before.”
Eshe shrugged, “I know what works for me. Only problem is if I forget we’re having a test. It’s either an A or an F. There is no in between for Eshe.” She plopped only a single textbook into her bag and turned her head to talk again but then stopped, mouth open like a fish before she began to rapidly smack Lalia’s arm.
“Hey! Ow-ow-ow!” Lalia hissed back.
“He’s coming!” Eshe whispered anxiously.
Lalia turned her head and there he was. The group of young men currently walking through the halls were generally seen to be the most attractive group in the school. Five boys who all excelled at their given fields: Sami the soccer captain, Jian the student body president, Farid who was one of the strongest members of the debate team, Jacob the star basketball player and Salvador who had played every major role in every dramatic performance that had happened at the school. They were a well rounded group of friends who had so many excellent qualities that most of the girls in the school swooned at the mention of their names. ‘Gorgeous’ was a word thrown around a lot.
Lalia didn’t really care. Well, not in the way most girls cared.
Eshe watched as they went by, transfixed. Lalia watched as well but only so that she could see if she could catch Salvador’s eyes. Back when they were younger they’d been friends. Secret friends. They’d never acknowledged each other within school but after school they’d met in the forest and discussed magic. Though as time had gone on Salvador had become less and less welcoming of it. He’d told her to hide it more. It became risky to even talk about it. Finally…he’d stopped coming to the forest altogether. Something had frightened him about it, for some reason he’d come to hate her. They’d never interacted within school so that had simply continued. But every so often she’d catch him staring. She had to admit she stared as well when he wasn’t looking.
“God they are just gorgeous!” Eshe gushed, “They’re like a variety sampler pack of deliciousness. A bit of athletics, a bit of bookish smarts, a bit of leadership. Plus,” she looked over at Lalia with a smirk, “You have to admit that a friend group is always better when it embraces the rainbow.”
“Right,” Lalia nodded with an amused smile.
Eshe groaned, “Come on, you can’t tell me that not a single one does anything for you.”
Lalia shrugged, “I don’t really know any of them.” Her heart was beating in her chest now. She hated it when conversations came to this. When people started talking about their crushes. Demanding to know her own feelings about others. They never believed her when she said she felt nothing. Sometimes she wanted to scream…but she kept it to herself.
“They look like angels on earth,” Eshe jabbed, “You don’t have to know their characters. They. Are. Beautiful. Talented. Smart. Built like…god…I don’t even know.”
Lalia zipped her bag shut and shouldered it, “Sorry Eshe, I’ve got nothing. I’ll see you on Monday.”
“Girl you sound broken!” Eshe called after her jovially, “I’ll find you a man yet!”
Those words stung most of all. Why was this the pinnacle of teenage existence? Dating, romance, sex…why was that it? Why was that always what it came down to? She felt nothing. She wasn’t broken. She knew she wasn’t broken….now. Things had been different when she was a teenager. The start of puberty had been her first indication. The first crushes and she’d felt nothing. She’d felt broken. Absolutely and utterly broken. Until she’d done some sleuthing on the internet and found the words to describe herself. God…not everyone was straight.
To this day she had never outed herself to anyone. It was none of their business. She knew who she was and that was enough. But that didn’t stop jokes like that from hurting. She wiped at her eyes quickly before exiting the school building and beginning her walk home. She’d walk today. It was a crisp December day but the sun was out. The walk would help clear her head. It would make her feel better.
Chapter 2 – The Escape
Stitchbite had never thought he’d find himself a captive. That was not supposed to be the fate of anything or anyone from hell. Demons were essentially beings of pure energy. Their job was to condemn those mortals who had allowed evil to take hold of their hearts. His job was quite specific. He was a hell hound. He dragged souls to hell, specifically souls that harboured evil and lingered on earth past their time. Spirits that were flooded with hatred, anger and ill-will against the living. They did not belong on the surface of the earth anymore and it was his job to punish them.
He did not look like a dog all the time. His true demonic form would have sent most people running in fear. It was not a sight for mortals. Instead he mostly took a human appearance. Tall and lanky with long arms and legs and a thin torso. Wolves were adept at running because of their lengthy limbs and his human form took on a similar sort of appearance. He had shaggy black hair that had become overgrown and reached to his shoulders. His eyes were stone grey and unsettling if you looked him straight in the eye….giving his lanky appearance more and more an eerie feeling. His skin had an ashen tint to it, making him look a little ill and he didn’t exactly hold himself up proudly.
He was a powerful demon as far as hell hounds went. He could not go to the surface without orders but coming to this surface this time had been against his will. Summoned within a circle and then enslaved. How long had he been the dog of that man? How many innocents had he murdered at that man’s order. It was a sickening thought. He may be a demon but even then there was a job he had. Punish the wicked. Some demons took delight in taking the souls of any human, they figured all humans wicked and corrupt. He wasn’t of that opinion though…and yet he had likely killed many that did not fit into the category of wicked. Against his will.
It had taken years for him to wrestle free of the controlling magic that had been put upon him. It had been painful. Wrenching his mind and body out of powerful magic had been….more painful than he could have possibly imagined.
He was free now.
He had made it.
He had ran.
His mind was foggy and he could not recall where he had run from. Memories from the time of control were reminders of pain and he shoved them away. Focused instead on running. Running until his body was exhausted.
He found himself a row of buildings, one of which seemed to be unoccupied. A business had resided there, the old signs crooked and the colours cracked and fading. A small grocery store, likely run out of business by the large corporations that seemed to run every city these days. Newspapers had been plastered to the inside of the windows to block people from seeing inside but their yellowed appearance left the place looking even more decrepit than the potential sight of an empty interior. He pressed a hand against the window, covered in a layer of dirt and grime, as he leaned over to catch his breath. Earth was not the healthiest place for a demon, especially one that was unattached. He had no master now and that wasn’t great news for a hell hound. With no higher demon to give him support he was no better than a weakened lone wolf. There was little he could do to protect himself if that man sent his legions after him. Though he’d rather be winded and weakened than be that man’s dog again.
He had to find a way back into hell.
Supporting himself against the wall he shuffled to the side of the building and allowed himself to finally rest. Sliding his back down the wall of the alleyway he tilted his head back and took in gulps of air. He shook his disheveled hair out of his face. Lifting a finger he picked up a matted strand. When was the last time he had bathed? On earth he was subject to all the rules of the mortal plain. He got dirty. He supposed his last bath had been more like a shower…chasing people through the rain. It made his stomach sick. He hadn’t even known those people. They had been a couple, likely married for a few years. His master…his ex-master…had wanted their house.
They hadn’t run very fast.
Stitchbite lowered his hand from his hair, letting it drape across one knee. He was trapped here until he found another demon stronger, one that could open a proper portal and let him home. He could try a summoning spell of his own and hope it caught someone’s attention. He’d likely be made a mockery of in hell though.
“Excuse me…are you all right?”
It was a female voice, soft and concerned. He cursed internally. He was so weak he couldn’t even properly hide himself from human eyes. He had hoped most people wouldn’t notice him. Demons weren’t capable of invisibility but normally they gave off an aura that read simply as: don’t bother me. He couldn’t even manage that.
Turning his head he looked to the source of the voice. It was a young woman. She was wearing a pair of black ear muffs, a light brown coat with a fluffy inner hood, a pair of black pants that were tucked into well worn brown laced boots. She had brown hair that was pulled into a braided ponytail…and her eyes. Wait. Her eyes.
No wonder she took note of him. His own low level magic would have been an immediate signal to her. Though there was no telling how powerful she was. She seemed innocent enough, she looked concern for his welfare. Though that could be a ploy to get him to lower his defense. Not that he had many defenses beyond simple physical strength. If she was a normal human he could tear her apart, if she was a competent witch then he was not going to have a great time.
He’d simply have to engage and see.
“Did you come looking for me?” he croaked, his voice hoarser than he would have liked.
“I’m…sorry?” she responded, definitely confused. “I don’t think we know each other. Why would I be looking for you?” She paused, taking a moment to glance to her left and right before she stepped into the alley. It was tight and she scooted past him before dropping to a crouch on his other side. “You’re…magic aren’t you? Like, you’re not human.”
Stitchbite chuckled, “Something like that…aren’t you?”
She nodded, “You’re hurt?”
Stitchbite looked down at his body and it was indeed battered. Escaping from his prison hadn’t exactly been as simple as walking out the door. There had been more than a few traps he’d had to crawl his way out of. He was bruised but not broken. He shrugged, “Nothing I can’t heal from.” He looked back up suspiciously, “Why did you stop for me?”
“Because you seemed hurt,” she responded, “I don’t often see magical creatures that are…hurting…”
An innocent nod, “I didn’t know they could…”
“That’s a ridiculously stupid notion. Of course we can get hurt. Do you even know what I am?” he asked.
She shook her head.
“Well I’m a demon,” he responded, “So it’s really best that you keep your distance. Demons are dangerous. I could tear you to shreds in an instant and there’d be nothing you could do.” He looked her in the eyes, hoping his strange grey irises would put her in a position to reveal herself. Either she’d show her true self as a confident witch or she’d be frightened. He was quite surprised when he garnered neither of those reactions.
“If that were the case you’d have already done it,” she pointed out. “Though…you’re a demon? I’ve never seen a demon this big before. Normally the ones I see are…little things in the corner of dark places. You’re big.”
Ah. So that’s what this was. She was a witch but likely so diluted in her bloodline that she could only perceive small magical creatures. Tiny little things, demons and celestials. That made sense. If he had been at full strength she wouldn’t have noticed him but since he was as weak as he was she had been able to perceive him like she could other bottom-tier demons. It made sense. She smelled faintly magical but if it hadn’t been for her eyes he wouldn’t have registered her as anything magical at all.
She was barely a blip in the world.
“I’m a bit out of sorts,” he admitted. “Though I’m fine. Unless you have some healing potions on you.”
“I don’t,” she laughed as though it were a joke, “But I could try and relieve some pain. I think I can do that.”
Arching an eyebrow Stitchbite considered the curious offer. She didn’t do potions…so perhaps she had some other sort of magic. Spell casting, word weaving, a magic book, crystals. It would be interesting to see what type of witch he was dealing with, as powerless as she seemed to be. “Sure…if you’re willing to help a demon. In return I promise to not eat you after you do.”
“I don’t think you would have anyway,” she responded with a soft smile. He had no idea where this confidence came from. Lifting her hands to her mouth she used her teeth to tug off the gloves she wore and she shoved them into her pockets.
Taking a breath she extended her hand, holding it an inch away from him. Closing her eyes her face scrunched up in focus. Stitchbite rolled his eyes. That wasn’t how magic worked. Not at all. He opened his mouth to get her to stop but then he felt it, before he saw anything. A warmth spreading over him. Blinking his eyes in shock he looked to the hand and it was glowing, very faintly, a golden light. It was faint, almost unnoticeable. Unmistakable and unlike anything he had ever seen. No magical items, not a single uttered word. Just pure magic.
When she opened her eyes she seemed weary, breathing heavy and her cheeks flushed even more than they had been in the chilly air of early winter. “How do you feel? I don’t…try and help other people very often…”
He felt great, markedly better…but that wasn’t important. “How did you do that?” he asked.
“Uhm…with magic?” she attempted but he shook his head.
“You didn’t use a single worded spell or magical item,” he said, “I can tell from your eyes that you’re a witch but…not like one I’ve ever met. Not a spell caster, word weaver, crystal user or wand waver. How did you do it?”
“I just….thought really hard,” she shrugged. “That’s always been how works. Am I supposed to do it some other way…”
This was impossible.
A witch like this hadn’t existed for over two thousand years. But how was it possible he hadn’t smelled something stronger. A witch like this should be bubbling with magical energy that was potent enough to smell from miles away. Yet she smelled like a normal human girl with just a hint of something else.
Something was afoot…he’d stumbled into something. Something big. “What’s your name child?” he asked slowly.
“I’m seventeen, not a child,” the girl pointed out, “But it’s Lalia.”
Chapter 3 – The Hidden Child
Lalia didn’t like to think too hard when she felt the pull of magic. She directed her attention to it immediately. No one else ever seemed to notice those small magical things in the world. She’d seen numerous ones but normally they were tiny things. The largest she’d ever seen had been the size of a cat and it had…actually been a cat. A black feline spirit that had been patrolling around a house. She’d paid it a bit of attention and it had been affectionate before disappearing. She’d never seen anything larger than that which had possessed a physical form. Ghosts didn’t count because they were basically just semi-transparent balls of energy that rarely took on anything resembling a body.
But this was quite different. She’d felt it before she’d seen it. A heavy darkness that had felt…sad and painful. It made her chest feel tight. She’d taken the wrong turn on purpose to locate it and had come across it. A man in an alley but he wasn’t human. There was a strange aura that surrounded him, wispy and grey. It was like a fog that she could catch out of the corner of her eye but if she focused too much on it the fog vanished.
He reminded her of a stray dog, wounded in an alleyway. She had decided to reach out to him.
Though she couldn’t have predicted where it had led. She’d thought to heal him. Healing was something she’d done a few times and mostly for herself. She didn’t do it often for people. The last time had been when she was in Grade 5. A game of tag had gone awry during recess and one of the boys chasing her had fallen and skinned his knee badly. Feeling it was her fault she had tried to pacify him by trying to ease the pain.
It hadn’t worked. He’d still tattled on her for causing him to scuff his knee. She hadn’t meant to push him so hard but…it was her fault. Easing his pain had just made it easier for him to run to a teacher. She’d decided after that point she likely shouldn’t. Plus…Salvador hadn’t been happy that afternoon after school.
“Don’t use magic on normal people! What if someone finds out and you get dragged away to some sort of…I dunno…mental hospital! With a straight jacket and everything!”
He’d had a point. She always wondered why he was so absolutely petrified of magic being found out. She never got around to ask him before their small friendship had disintegrated. She hadn’t healed anyone since then…until this demon. And in doing so it had garnered a reaction far larger than she could have predicted.
He seemed spooked.
Could demons even be spooked?
Apparently she’d done it wrong. Though she knew that couldn’t be. She was doing what felt right. Though it seemed to really affect him. He asked for her name, and took a jab at her appearance at the same time. She did not look like a kid. She was in her final year of high school and would be going off to University next year. She was closer to being an adult than being a child.
“Can I ask for your name?” she asked.
He shook his head, “Nope,” he said, “A demon’s name can be weaved into a contract. Or it can be used in a banishment spell. At least for a demon such as myself.”
Lalia frowned, “I’m not going to do something like that,” she pointed out. “I just want to know what I can call you.”
“He…him….the demon dog…hell hound,” the demon shrugged. “Names are important to us demons. The gift of a name can be just as important. Names can be used to trap, to ensnare and enslave and to destroy.”
“I gave you mine!” she pointed out accusingly, “Does that mean you can do something funny to me?”
“I could,” the demon shrugged, “But I’m not going to. You have my word.”
Lalia eyed him, “Demons make good on their word right? Or are you tricksters?” She knew all the tales of demons making deals. Sometimes it implied that a demon always kept their word. Other times it seemed like they were in it to trick the poor mortal that had entered the deal.
“Words are important to us,” he said, “Demons are more akin to word weavers when it comes to magic. When we make a promise we hold it. We honour words. That’s why the words mortals should use when making deals with demons are very important.”
Lalia nodded, “So…why did you want my name?”
“To see if I had heard of you anywhere,” he responded.
“Why? I’m just….a normal girl.” To this he eyed her suspiciously. His eyes were stunningly beautiful. They were grey as stone but seemed to sparkle slightly. “Okay so I’m a normal girl who has a little bit of magic. It can’t be that uncommon. Magic is everywhere. Plus you just said a bunch of magic user titles and stuff so there has to be plenty. I’m just one that does little tiny tricks.”
He shook his head, “No…your magic doesn’t make any sense. Small tricks should be an understatement of what you can do. The type of witch you are could shatter the foundation of this building easily.”
“And yet I can’t do that. No way,” she shook her head, “It takes enough effort to heal you. Breaking this building would be impossible. Also…a witch? Just because I have some magic powers does not mean I’m a witch.”
“That makes no sense to me,” the demon pushed back. “And also yes, yes it does. You’re a mortal being with magic. You’re a witch. Or a warlock if you prefer. Then after that you go down the branches. Sorcerer, word weaver, spell caster…” He paused, “Has no one told you this before? Surely you come from a lineage of magic.”
Lalia shook her head silently. As far as she knew there was no magic in her family at all. She would have assumed someone would have mentioned it to her up until now. Unless they were waiting for her 18th birthday or something along those lines. It didn’t seem logical especially since she could already use magic. “You know a whole lot more about this than I do,” she said, trying to lighten the mood a little with a smile.
“That’s a little concerning,” the demon sighed, “Especially with what you are.”
“A witch? Or…further than that. The branches you mentioned…which one am I on?” He didn’t answer right away. She sighed and slowly lowered herself to properly sit on the ground instead of crouching. Her shins had started to burn from the prolonged awkward position. “Okay, let’s be straight,” she said point blank. “You clearly know way more about this than I do. I know we’ve just met. I also know you’re a demon. But…you seem like an okay person so far. You haven’t done anything to make me afraid of you or worry. You promised not to use my name against me. Why can’t you just be direct and tell me what I am?”
“Because what you are…is not only rare but dangerous,” he admitted, “Plus I’m basing it on things I’ve heard and not experience. You say you simply wish for things to happen and that’s what makes them happen and that’s…not how most magic works. It’s dangerous and the fact that someone like you exists means the world itself is in a bad state. People like you don’t just show up without a reason. And yet…you can’t do any of the things that you should be able to do.” When he paused she leaned forward, unblinking. Her eyes boring into him until he turned his own gaze away uncomfortably. “An Enerkist,” he finally said softly, “A dream whisperer is what you might hear more often…if you hear anything at all.”
“I’ve literally never heard that term in my life,” Lalia said, “Sounds made up.” To this the demon gave her an unamused look. “But I believe you,” she nodded. She took a look at her wrist and the watch she wore there. “I should get going,” she said, “I have to be home soon. But…thanks for all the information. I’ll look it up.” She shuffled her feet around before pushing herself to her feet. She extended a hand towards the demon, “Need some help up?”
To this the demon sighed but nodded. He extended his own hand and took hers and the moment he did so she felt a flash of pain in the center of her chest. A stabbing pain straight through her. She released his hand immediately with a gasp but the pain didn’t stop. It felt like there was something stabbing her.
“What is it?” the demon asked, scrambling to his feet in concern. Strange how it was a demon showing concern for her.
She couldn’t respond, she was too busy unzipping her coat. Trying to get whatever was trapped between it and her chest. She tore her scarf off and that’s when she saw the culprit. The pendant she’d worn since she was young, the opal gem, was glowing red hot. Stabbing into her somehow without actually hurting her. She grabbed it in her hand and the stabbing pain made it feel like she’d grasped a sea urchin instead of a smooth gemstone. She released it with a short cry of pain.
“Wait…that’s…” she heard the demon said before he reached out. “One moment!” His hand snatched the necklace and his face wrenched in pain but he seemed better adjusted to pain than she did. He wrenched it back, the chain snapping at the back of her neck. He then threw it towards the back of the alley and seconds later there was an impact. The gem exploded. The sound that it made was simply the sound of shattering glass but from it a shockwave erupted, knocking the two of them off their feet and to the ground.
After a few moments, when nothing further happened, Lalia pushed herself up and on to her hands. She’d managed to land on top of the demon and she apologetically scrambled to get off him. “Are you okay?” she asked in concern.
He groaned but nodded his head as he pushed himself up. A quick shake of his scruffy head and he opened his eyes, the moment their eyes met she watched them flash before he had scrambled away from her so quickly she could barely register it. He took hold of the neck of his shirt and covered his nose with it.
“What….what’s wrong?” she asked in concern. His brow was furrowed and those grey eyes had grown darker. His shaggy black hair seemed to bristle and move on his head as though he were submerged under water. He looked agitated and distressed. On top of that the fog was no longer something she could catch in the corner of her eye. It swirled off of his shoulders thickly like smoke from a fire.
“That explains it,” his muffled voice came from beneath the shirt he was using to cover his mouth.
“Explains it?” she asked cautiously.
“That pendant was a damper on your powers,” he pointed out in a strained voice. “Dammit…” he struggled back a few more inches.
“What’s wrong?” she asked, “Are you okay?”
“The smell of you,” he said, “Hell hounds have good noses.”
“I smell bad now?”
“No you smell delicious,” he said, “Intoxicatingly good. If I ate you…damn…I’d be able to return to hell easily.”
Lalia scrambled back to her feet and then a little ways back. “You said-”
“I know what I said and I’m holding to it,” he coughed behind his shirt. He seemed contemplative for a moment. In his silence Lalia looked down at her body and…the change was quite surprising. Lalia had always been able to spot magical beings because they always seemed to give off a little something extra. Something her eyes could never quite catch fully but she could spot it sometimes. But she’d never seen it on herself.
Here it was…plain as day across her skin. It was like she had been working with Christmas crafts and decorations, gold glitter across her skin. She dusted her hands together but none of it came off. It wasn’t like she was gilded but it was certainly enough that when she moved her skin sparkled. She blinked her eyes, trying to focus on it. “I’m covered in glitter!” she exclaimed, looking up towards the demon who still seemed to be suffering.
“This definitely confirms it,” he commented, waving a hand as though trying to wave away a nauseating smell. He stomped a bit on the ground, frustrated. “Agh…fine,” he finally growled, “Give me a name!
Chapter 4 – The Named
Stitchbite had not suspected what could have happened and how explosive it had been. The pendant had been possessing of some rather intense magic. It had kept her completely hidden but also completely stifled her own magic. No wonder she had no idea what she was, it had been hidden from her. Who would have done such a thing? Her existence proved that something big was going to happen to this world. A large catastrophe of some sort that could lead to absolute ruin. There was also the potential that she could help save everything but that really hinged on a whole host of factors. Who had shielded her from this destiny with such a means? She should have been preparing for it from childhood.
She was absolutely radiant now. Her physical appearance had not changed but her scent surely had. She was alluring. Smelling better than any other human soul. If he consumed her he’d no longer be the weakened wolf pup that he was, he’d transcend several levels and likely be hailed in hell upon his return. However, he did not have such levels of greed that it clouded his eyes from reality. He did not know this future catastrophe and it did not necessarily lean in the favour of hell at all.
Regardless, the first problem was that he had made a promise not to eat her. He had to hold true to that first and foremost. How was the question. He had two options: either flee from the scene or accept her. It was a frustrating decision to make. Accepting her meant taking her as his master. He’d just freed himself from a master who had been cruel and used him for nefarious means. He’d had his freedom for less than twenty-four hours and already he was contemplating attaching himself to someone new. Fleeing was no better of an option. Fate had brought him to this alley and to her. Something in his gut told him it wasn’t to destroy her.
He wished he had more time to think this decision through but the scent of her was going to drive him mad.
“Agh…fine!” he snapped, “Give me a name!”
The girl, Lalia, had been spending quite some time staring at her own skin. She had noticed something about her own self and was likely a bit overwhelmed with the magic she was now oozing with. Though his words stole her eyes away and back to him. “I’m…sorry?” she asked.
“Give me a name. Name me,” he demanded.
“I thought you said names were important,” she asked quizzically.
Something caught his attention. A sense of impending danger. He couldn’t smell anything over her scent and that fact gave him reason enough to worry. If she smelt this strongly to him…there were likely several creatures within a stone’s throw away that had also caught on. They weren’t safe here. “I know what I said,” he growled, “And I can explain most of it later. But I think something might be on its way to us and if that’s the case…you need to give me a name and fast.”
“What?” She didn’t seem at all convinced.
That was when the ground seemed to waver beneath their feet. Not an earthquake but a sinking feeling like a ship on the ocean.
“Wh-what was that?” she asked, looking back to his face fearfully.
Stitchbite dropped his shirt from his nose, turning his back to her and the street. “Something…dangerous…” he admitted, “We don’t have time. You have to give me a name right now. Just say ‘I name thee’ and insert whatever name feels right.”
“Okay, okay, fine…” she stammered, “Uh…uh…” He could feel her tension behind him even though he was no longer looking at her. Instead his eyes scanning the street. Something magical was coming and he couldn’t place from where. “I name thee Ethan!” Her shout pierced his thoughts and all at once the mood seemed to falter.
“Excuse me?” he asked in sheer disbelief, “That’s the…best you could come up with? Ethan?” He turned to face her and she shrugged, looking guilty.
“You put me on the spot,” she protested, “I don’t know what’s going on.” She held up her hands, “I’m covered in glitter, you say something is coming and you wanted a name. That’s….the best I have.”
“In the hundreds of years I’ve been alive…that is the most boring and ridiculous name I’ve ever had,” he shook his head. But it was done. At once her scent was dying down in potency. She still smelt powerful but no longer in such a way that demanded he consume her. The name was given. She’d given him a name and that built at least a weak attachment between them…for the moment.
The ground swelled again.
“You felt that right?” Lalia asked, moving to brace herself against the wall.
“Yeah…but where is it…coming from?” Ethan growled, he hadn’t spotted anything on the horizon. He inhaled deeply now that Lalia’s scent no longer clogged the air for him. Then he caught it. “Shit!” he cursed, turning his gaze upward and there it was. A monstrosic hell beast leaning over the top of the abandoned building. It had no discernible shape. It had clearly been trapped on earth for a long time, feeding off of negative energy and festering in the abandoned building. It closely resembled a blog of black tar, the size of a small car. From this goopy mass numerous lengthy appendages slithered out with thin, spider-like fingers. They stretched out over the gap between the buildings, grabbing hold of the opposite ledge. Thick sludge dripped down from the contact point. The fact of the beast was perhaps the most unsettling. It was only a blank emotionless white face that closely resembled the masks you could buy at any costume store in the hopes of decorating. However it had become distended on top of the sludge and there were cracks that ran from the edges of the mouth and up to where ears might have been had it not been sitting on a giant pile of tar. The moment Ethan laid eyes on it these cracks widened to reveal a cavernous mouth full of sharp teeth.
Lalia had followed his gaze and upon seeing this creature she back up until she was against the wall. “What is that?!” she screeched.
“A demon mask,” he answered angrily, “An angry spirit attaches itself to a human-looking face mask and consumes energy…this is a big one…a demon now. Not just a spirit.”
The demon began to slide its way down the wall, mouth gaping and saliva dripping from its serrated teeth. Lalia gave a small shriek and ran to Ethan’s side, hiding behind him and grabbing hold of his shoulders. The contact sent a shudder through his body. The sheer amount of power this girl housed…it was insane. Yet she had no idea what to do with it. Had she any idea of what to do she could banish this thing easily. For now there was no way she’d be convinced she was capable. “Wh-what do we do?” she asked, “I’ve never seen anything like that before. You can’t leave me.” Her fingers gripped into his shoulders.
“I’m not leaving you. You named me,” Ethan promised. “Though I can’t do this alone. I’ve been weakened. You need to give me strength.”
“Eh?” she squeaked.
“It’s why a name is important,” Ethan said as he held out his arms and slowly backed away from the creature. It was descending slowly so he hoped slow movements would discourage it from lunging. It soundless gaped at them as it slid down the wall, tentacle arms snaking out from its body to brace itself against both walls of the alley. “Focusing on strengthening ‘the demon’ wouldn’t work because there’s two of us. So focus on the name you gave me. Give me the power to defeat that thing.”
Lalia did not respond to this. Instead she burrowed her face into his back and the hands on his shoulders bit down even stronger. Ethan stopped backing up, waiting. Hoping. She was growing warm, or rather, the points where she was touching him were becoming warm. A humming warmth that spread from her fingertips into his body…seeping into his skin. Enerkists were not holy, nor were they demonic. As such her powers could do anything for anyone. And right now with that warmth there was a growing sense of confidence. A swelling within his body as he felt himself invigorated. Stronger than he’d felt in a long time, he couldn’t even properly recall the last time he’d felt this rush of power.
His hair bristled on his head, the power pouring from his pores and smoking around his body. Yes. This was exactly it. “Let me go…” he instructed her, his voice a low growl but not threatening. It was guidance. Her shaky hands released him and the moment they did he was no longer a human man standing in the cramped space. Instead a fully fledged hell hound stood there. As tall as a human with the body of a wolf. Long legs with paws the size of a human head. The fur was grey and black, the colours changing like shifting flames. His muzzle long and currently his sharp teeth were bared into a fierce growl.
When the hellish monster saw this change its mouth closed. The emotionless mask tilting as it examined him softly. For a few slow moments there was silence. “If you see a chance…run to the street.” He projected a message to his master. This message was punctuated at the end as the monster let out a deafening screech, maw opening once more and saliva spraying out across them. It lunged forward and Ethan did the same, jaws snapping as he leapt towards the beast.
It surrounded him with its spindly legs but they were burned on contact with his fur. His jaws snapped into the mass of the body, tearing away at the flesh as it burned within his teeth. A hell hound’s jaws could grip at the wiliest of spirits that refused to enter the afterlife. This beast was unable to escape their strength and as he tore away at it the creature shrieked in pain.
It tried to wrestle him off but the limbs were burned on contact and it instead settled with trying to shake him away. He dug his claws in, snapping and biting as he worked his way towards the face. Finally the beast lurched, slamming him into the nearby wall and dislodging him. He fell to the ground but landed on his feet. The blow had barely hurt. He still felt full to the brim. The girl had her magic bottled up for who knew how long and she’d unleashed so much of that pent up energy into him. Hopefully she’d heeded him and run. He glanced to where they had been standing. She wasn’t there. Though she unfortunately had not run as he had desired.
It also explained why he had so much energy that he was nearly vibrating. Lalia had collapsed to the ground, looking winded and drained. She’d like put all her built up energy into him and doomed herself to being on the ground. Growling at the turn of events he turned back to the beast that was attempting to recover from its gaping wounds. He didn’t give it another chance, leaping again with his jaw wide.