Ediora Sutherland checked her own work against the diagram in the tome she held. For the third time, she scanned every line and scribble, every dot and whorl of the spell inked onto the heavy vellum page. Her own lines in chalk on the scrubbed flagstones of the secret chamber beneath her master’s study gleamed faintly in the torchlight. To Ediora’s eye, the spells were identical. No breaks in the chalk lines, no wavering or smudging.
She placed the tome back on the wooden stand that stood on her makeshift altar and picked up a glass jar filled with a fine green dust. The warlock’s apprentice dipped her hand into the jar and scooped up a handful of the powder. Letting the tiny grains of it spill between her fingers like water, she walked the outer circle of the spell and left an even trail of green dust in her wake. When the circle was complete, a flash of light illuminated the cell-like room. Moments later, it faded until only the spell itself was glowing in the darkness.
Ediora took a deep breath and stepped up to the southernmost edge of the spell circle, where the master rune was inscribed. “Here goes nothing,” she said softly to no one in particular.
She thrust one hand out toward the circle and spoke three words of power. Each dripped from her lips like molten slag, singing the air and blistering her tongue. A stream of flame arced from her fingertips to the center of the circle. It spread along the lines, consuming chalk and green powder both and leaving an after-image so bright it burned itself into her eyelids so that she saw it even when she blinked.
A surge of dark magic filled the space within the circle, gathering in the innermost ring of the spell. It coalesced into a vaguely humanoid shape. Transparent at first, the darkness continued to gather and solidify until the demon was fully formed within her circle of binding.
Ediora looked at the book sitting open on the altar near her spell. On the page opposite the diagram of the binding circle, the author had carefully sketched the image of a succubus, a lust demon. Horns curled above a face equally beautiful and cruel. Bat-like wings framed a figure almost aggressively hourglass-shaped. Long, shapely legs ended in hoofed feet cloven like a goat’s, and a bladed tail completed the effect.
The figure in her summoning circle looked nothing like the succubus in the illustration. It hovered above the ground, its robe fluttering over empty air where its feet should have been. A hood obscured most of its face, leaving only a pinched, lipless mouth visible beneath the shroud. Long-taloned hands emerged from bell sleeves. They were gnarled like a corpse’s, all sinew and papery brown flesh and blackened nails. The long fingers flexed, then relaxed.
Slightly shaken by the idea that something might have gone wrong with her spell, Ediora nonetheless squared her shoulders and addressed the being in the binding circle.
“I am your master now, demon.”
One long, spindly hand gestured. Two floating orbs materialized above the demon’s shoulders. They shivered in the dim light, then oriented on her. Leathery lids peeled back to reveal crimson irises and oblong black pupils. Giant, floating eyes. The demon laughed.
“Foolish child,” the demon said, lisping strangely with its grotesque mouth. “You have summoned your doom. I serve only one master.”
Ediora raised her chin stubbornly. The magic circle flared. “I have summoned you, and you are mine to command.”
The demon floated slowly forward until it hovered a hair’s breadth from the outer ring of binding. It raised one hand. Ediora expected the barrier to sizzle and repel him as he tried to pass through it, but the hand extended toward her with no resistance. The laugh grew louder, and a sudden cold sweat broke out on her skin.
“I will enjoy learning your secrets,” the demon said. Now its whole body floated across the glowing barrier with no effect. It’s spindly hands reached for her, and Ediora did the only thing she could think of. She turned and ran up the stairs to Rossko’s study, hoping against hope that he had returned early from whatever errand it was that had pulled him away from the manor this time.
She heard, rather than saw the thing materialize behind her. The gaze of those horrible crimson eyes followed her as she dashed past the obstacles in Rossko’s study and out into the hallway. All she could think was that she needed to get it out of the manor and away from anyone else. She slowed down just enough that she was sure its eyes had tracked her as she turned toward the rear of the estate. There was a faint whooshing sound, and she knew without looking that it was on her heels again.
A pair of Rossko’s private guards stood at the end of this hall, guarding the exit out onto the grounds that sloped away toward the smithy. They seemed surprised to see the master’s protégée, out of breath and dashing madly for the dubious safety of the outdoors.
“Out of the way!” Ediora gasped as she reached the doors. “There’s a demon behind me, out of the way! I need to get it out of the house!”
Both guards looked behind her and drew their short swords. “No!” She grabbed one of them by the arm. “Don’t. It might burn the estate down if we fight it in here. Help me lead it outside.”
They exchanged a quick, dubious look, but allowed her to pass them by. “As you wish, lady,” one of them said.
“Hey, ugly!” The second guard called down the hall. The demon was pursuing Ediora still, though not very quickly. It seemed to float along without any sense of urgency, as though it was so assured of its quarry that it knew not to expend too much energy in the chase. It paused at the guard’s shout, then continued in its inexorable pace toward the now-open door. The guards joined Ediora on the lawn.
“What is that thing?”
“I have no idea,” Ediora said, and her voice shook a little.
“How do we kill it?”
She shook her head. She had been trying for a succubus, not… whatever this thing was. If she was lucky, swords would work. If not…
“Same way we kill any other demon, I suppose,” she said, trying to be light about it. “You try your swords, and I’ll try fire.”
Instead of drifting out through the doors, though, the demon materialized behind Ediora, costing the guards a few precious moments to regain their bearings. The two floating eyes blinked, glared, and raised a wall of green fire that separated the guards from the apprentice.
She raised her hands to hurl fire of her own at the faceless demon, but it was seemingly impervious to her spells. One ghastly hand reached out and snatched an orange fireball from the air, holding it as though it were no more dangerous than a child’s toy.
Ediora heard shouting from the smithy at the bottom of the hill. Someone else had seen the thing. Could she hold it off until help arrived? It wasn’t attacking her, just hovering inexorably in her direction. The fireball had vanished. She flung another, and the demon didn’t even bother catching this one. It hit the thing’s robes and fizzled into nothing.
Skeletal hands like iron vices closed around her upper arms and the thing began lifting her from the ground. She opened her mouth to scream and struggled in the thing’s grasp, but there was a wall of fire between her and the guards and reinforcements were still too far away at the bottom of the hill. They could not reach her now. The floating eyes continued to belch flames toward the ground, keeping the guards from reaching the demon now rising into the air with his captive.
The demon’s inhuman face seemed incapable of expressing emotion, but she could almost feel its glee. In an act of desperation, Ediora let her own flames crawl up her arms toward the thing’s hands. If she could get it to loosen its grip, she thought she could survive the fall. But though she could feel the heat from the magical fire and smell singed hair and cloth, the demon seemed unaffected.
“Your terror is delicious, mortal. I will savor every scream until you perish.”
The two figures were suddenly wreathed in shadows, and then they disappeared. The guards were left standing in the yard, staring at the scorched earth and wondering how they would explain to their master that his apprentice was gone.