The Dragon’s Scion Part 35

“T-tomah?” Tythel sputtered, trying to figure out if she’d misheard that name.

“Yeah,” Nicandros missed the stuttered, and seemed to take the question for confusion. “Still don’t know what happened to him. Probably never will.”

“I’m…I’m so sorry,” Tythel managed, taking deep breaths to try and calm herself. Tell him, Tythel, she chided herself. But tell him what? That his beloved son had been involved in the raid that killed her father? That he’d become a murderer in imperiplate? That she’d found him and, even though his armor had been broken and he’d been injured, she’d fought him and burned him alive?

“Thank you.” Nicandros chuckled darkly. “It’s funny. Even though he was working for him, I blame the Alohym for his death. I don’t know what they did, but…”

“But they must have something to do with it.” Tythel finished for him, wanting as she did to burrow into the floor of her cell and die. She’d killed Thomah. Not in the heat of battle, but as an execution. Revenge. And Nicandro’s son had…

Wait.

“I want to burrow into the floor,” Tythel muttered to herself, looking at the ground.

“What was that?” Nicandros asked, and Tythel was glad he didn’t have her hearing.

“The floor, Nicandros. Look at the floor!” She had to fight the urge to shout.

There was silence on the other side, and she could picture him studying it “Have you lost your mind, girl? It’s a floor. Stone and…” and she could practically hear it click into place for him, like her hearing had gotten so good she could pick up on thoughts falling into place. “And nothing else.”

Tythel, as much relieved for the distraction as she was for the possible escaped, worked her fingers into the gaps between the stones. She could see why they didn’t bother with putting mortar between them. They were far too heavy to be lifted by someone that was working with normal strength. Even Ossman would find these impossible without being able to get his hands down beneath the stone.

Ossman didn’t have the strength of a dragon.

The stone was slick and smooth, worn by ages of prisoners held within the cells. Her first time, her fingers couldn’t get purchase on the edge of the stone. It slipped out of her grasp before she had it more than a couple inches off the dirt, thudding back to the ground with a dull sound that set her heart racing.

“Careful, girl,” Nicandros hissed. “What about the chain, anyway? Don’t rush it.”

Tythel scoffed. “My hands are free. I can deal with the chain now.”

“Still, don’t rush it.”

Tythel took a deep breath. “You’re right. We don’t even know where the others are.”

“Good news on that front at least.” Nicandros sounded like he was recovering from talking about his son, which was fine by Tythel. If they never mentioned Thomah again, it would be too soon. What are you going to do? How could you keep that from him? How could you not? No answer presented itself as Nicandros continued, “Eupheme and Armin’s cells are across the hall from me. Haven’t seen Ossman, but there’s only two other cells down here, he has to be in one of them. Looks like Haradeth and Lorathor made it out. But still don’t try to get out yet.”

Tythel blinked, tilting her head at the wall. “Why not?”

“If we wait until tonight, the guards will be less attentive, and that’ll give the Alohym time to patch up Ossman and Armin the way they did me. Eupheme’s fine, but they both took a beating.”

Tythel sighed. “Good point. I’ll dig over to you, shouldn’t take too long. Then when I do-” She cut herself off. “Quiet, something’s coming.”

In hindsight, she probably could have finished that sentence. Her hearing gave her plenty of advanced notice, but why risk it? A guard walking down, keys jangling with every step. “How are the prisoners?” he asked, and Tythel recognized that voice. Lucien Ori, she thought, the name seared into her mind. She needed to get him talking, need to find out which Alohym he served.

“The two are whispering, like Rephylon hoped.” Knew it, Tythel thought triumphantly, but the guard was still speaking. “The heiress punched the wall, I think. The big one’s been taken for healing. The others…silence.”

“Good,” Lucien said, although his voice was sour. “That girl…they’re really going to spare her.”

“I heard the conversation. Yeah, they are. She’s too flathing useful to let die, apparently.” From the guard’s tone, he was about as enthused by it as Lucien was.

“That little bitch cost me Thomah.” Tythel’s heart started pounding, but their voices were low. Nicandros hadn’t heard, right?

“I heard.” The guard sighed. “Who are we to defy the will of the Alohym?”

“No one,” Lucien said without hesitation. “But have they given any orders regarding her friends?”

The guard was silent for a moment. “Just the one next to her. They need to be able to talk. The others…”

Lucien chuckled. “They’re healing the big one. It’s not for us to undo Their work. But the other two?”

“No reason they can’t have an accident,” the guard growled in agreement. “The boy. The other girl, she’s…disturbing.”

“I’ll see you tonight, then,” Lucien said, and she heard his footsteps recede.

“Okay, he’s gone,” Tythel said, “although they can hear us whispering. Can’t make out what we’re saying, though.”

“I can’t make them out either,” Nicandros responded, and Tythel had to fight back a sigh of relief. “What’s the word?”

Tythel bent down and began sliding her fingers between the cracks in the stone, “They Alohym are going to heal Ossman. Not Armin, though – and some of the guards are coming back tonight to kill him.” She began to drag the stone up as carefully as she could. “We can’t…” she grunted, “afford to wait. If they…” and hear the stone started to slip again, and she pressed her fingers tighter against it. Sweat began to form on her finger tips. It was nearly three inches out of the stone now, ready to slide back in, and if it did the sound would be too loud to mistake for a frustrated slap on the wall this time. “…if they don’t heal Ossman, we’ll have to care for him…” another inch, and her arms were starting to tremble with the effort. The stone was starting to tilt. It was almost free, she was almost there, “ourselves.”

With that last word, and final surge of effort, the stone slid away from the others. She didn’t need to worry about letting it fall – it took all she had to slide it across the floor.

Beneath the stone was dirt. Beautiful, brown, packed dirt.

“Damnit,” Nicandros growled. “Alright. Did you get the stone out?”

Tythel was panting with the effort. “Yes. It’s just dirt underneath.”

“Think you can dig fast enough?”

Tythel raised her hand to the chain attaching the collar to her neck, and wreathed it in dragonflame, like she had in the sickbed in Hillsdale, but without the fear of burning too hot. It snapped in seconds. She turned to the hole in the floor, letting the dragonflame dance on her fingertips. “Oh, yes. Get ready, Nicandros, I’m coming.”

“Great. Keep your ears open, let me know if you need a distraction.”

Tythel didn’t respond with words, instead plunging her hands into the earth, shoveling out great scoops of semi-molten dirt as she combined digging her way through the ground with melting it away. Light, give me strength to do this and Shadow, shelter me as I do, she thought as she worked, and maybe, some day, grant me both so I might confess to Nicandros what I’ve done.

There wasn’t any time to worry about that, though. Armin’s life was hanging in the balance.

She dug.

Exercise the Demons Part 21

When she got there, the twenty-two demons she taught were already assembled.

Chemosh was not present. “Damnit,” she snarled, turning towards Belphegor. “Where’s your boss?”

“Hmmm. Well, I’m not overly-” the demon began, his gaping stomach maw slurping with every word.

“Belphegor. Is Chemosh coming?” Kelly was not having this, not right now. She needed to get moving, she needed to save her brother.

“No,” Belphegor slurped.

Kelly sat back on her desk, feeling tears of frustration welling up in her eyes, wanting to just punch something with building rage. Without Chemosh, she and Shannon couldn’t face the Sarombies and win. They’d need…

Uh, hello, Kelly?

The thought was like a spear to the head with how quickly it cleared her thoughts. She looked around. Belphegor, the corpulent mass that, while thinner, was still an immense bulk of demon flesh. Eisheth, whose withered flesh was covering muscles thicker than when she had arrived, and with fangs that had lost none of their potency. Haagenti, a human torso that was showing some definition on top of a mass of tentacles with a head like a hyena. Orobas, a four-horned being that walked on his hands to let his raptor-like foot talons serve as weapons, and all of them leaner and more vicious than when he had arrived.

Nearly two dozen demons, all of them made of weaponized Sin and technically required to do whatever she said for the next two hours.

“Okay, everyone, we’re doing something different today!” Kelly said, clapping her hands for attention and giving them a manic grin. “Take on human form, and head to your cars. It’s time for this class to get into practical application!”

She’d call Shannon on the way. But nothing in Kelly’s contract said classes had to happen there, and nothing had insured the safety of her students.

If Chemosh didn’t want her to lead a small army of demons in an attack against the Seraphim holding her brother hostage, he should have said so.

The crew of demons arrived in a motly collection of vehicles. Some beat up sedans from the early 90’s, dark SUVs that looked like they had rolled out of a movie sequence about a shady government organization, one pickup truck with an American flag painted across the hood. If Kelly hadn’t been heading the convoy, riding next to Belphegor in a Chevy Impala, she never would have believed that they were together.

Shannon had met them on the way. She road in the backseat, her eyes white so she could watch what was going on within. “I still think I should go in with you.”

“My dear,” Belphegor slobbered, “I think that, hmmmm, the intelligence you could provide is far, far more valuable than your, hmmmm, newfound occult skills.”

Kelly had confirmed with Belphegor. The contract was clear that discretion was required as to the exercise classes. As long as no one told Shannon how Kelly knew them and stuck to the story that Chemosh had allowed her to conjure up a horde of demons, they were fine.

“He’s right,” Kelly said, fitting in the bluetooth they had picked up along the way. Every demon that would keep ears when they went in would be wearing one, and with Shannon’s aid be able to coordinate. “Don’t worry, Shannon. We’ll get him back.”

Shannon nodded tersley as the convoy drew closer. “Alright everyone,” Kelly said into the bluetooth, “Sariel has watchers on the balcony. They’re going to open fire as soon as they see us. We’re going with the plan, so everyone else, get ready to bolt. Eisheth, take point.”

Eisheth, who drove a pickup with a snowplow on the front, pulled out of the convoy and pulled it to the head of the line.

“Once we’re in there,” Kelly continued, “only speak if you need to relay information. Otherwise, listen to Shannon and me. Remember we’re calling the people Sariel has possessed Sarombies for short, and that if we find anyone who hasn’t caved to him, we want them alive and unharmed. Now then, sound off. Everyone ready?”

Kelly waited for everyone to report in. One by one, all vehicles’ occupants informed her they were good to go.

“Alright, it’s up ahead. And…one and two and three and four-” Kelly’s countdown of the time to impact was cut short when she saw Mabel, standing on the balcony. The older woman’s glowing eyes grew wide with shock and she reached for her shotgun.

The convoy screeched to a halt, and the demons began to pour out. Everyone except for Eisheth, who pushed down on the accelerator and slammed her truck through the front door in an explosion of glass.

Sarombie Mabel opened fire, but was also screaming for the others. An important detail Kelly had almost missed last time around – if she needed to speak, the Sarombies weren’t a true hivemind. They had precious seconds before the entire complex came down on them.

“Go go go!” Kelly shouted, shedding her human form to charge in. Orobas, as they had planned, overtook her to lead the charge, bowling over the few Sarombies in the lobby that were still standing after the car impact.

Kelly called up her trident and threw it through a Sarombie that was raising a pistol, and his eyes flashed even brighter yellow before his body went limp, all light and life gone from them. Kelly felt a pang of guilt, but he had already been dead, and besides, there was a war to fight.

Belphegor waddled over to the stairwell, throwing the door open and shoving his stomach mouth into the gap. Anyone trying to come through would have to try and get past that slavering maw, and until a gun came along it was unlikely. Orobas finished disembowling the Sarombie he was crouched over and joined a few other demons in waiting for the elevator to come down.

When the doors opened, it was like a blender had been set off. Fangs and claws and and bladed tendrils lanced in and began tugging Sarombies out, and they didn’t even have time to scream as they died in flashes of light and viscera.

“Oh, damn, that shit is messed up!” The speaker came from the hallway, and Kelly whirled to face that direction, realizing it wasn’t the deep and resonating voice of Sariel. The crowd of Sarombies parted to show Sean standing there, holding a gun against Clifford’s head. Clifford looked like hell, beaten and bloody. “Alright Kelly. Call off your demons or your little brother dies.”

“Wait!” Kelly shouted, for the demons and for Sean. The battle stopped and everyone turned to face the two of them. “Sean, you don’t have to do this.”

Shannon whispered in Kelly’s ear as Sean laughed, and she almost couldn’t hear her friend as Sean started to rant. “Seriously? Bitch, you’re crazy, you know that. You went psycho on our date, you turned into a demon, you possessed me, and now you’re slaughtering people and telling me I don’t have to do this?

“They’re already dead, Sean. Sariel killed them when he possessed them, there’s-”

“Shut up with your lies!” Sean screamed, flecks of spittle flying from his lips as he did. “Enough! I’m so sick of you, you stupid whore! Send out your demons or your little brother gets a hole in his head!”

Kelly sighed. “I tried to reason with you Sean, I really did. Multiple times. You just had to stay out of it.” She took a step forward.

Sean pulled the trigger, and as Shannon had promised, the gun clicked down on a dead round. Sean looked at it, an expression of stupid shock on his face, right before Kelly drove her trident through his gut. Even the Sarombies stared at her in shock.

Eisheth looked at her and hissed. “I thought we were sparing anyone Sariel hadn’t possessed.”

“He was a douche” Kelly said, grabbed Clifford and pulling him away from the Sarombies.

“Oh my god, oh holy shit, oh fuck oh damn,” Clifford was just repeating various swears, and Kelly slapped him gently across the cheek to get his attention.

“Cliff. Look at me.” He did, his eyes wide with panic. “Shannon is outside. Go to Shannon. And stop freaking out about the bloody murders and focus on the fact that I am going to kill you for not telling me you two were dating.

As she hoped, that much more normal fear gave some anchor of sanity for Clifford to grab onto. He nodded and ran.

Well, demon. You have what you came for. I suppose our business is concluded?” The voice coming out from the dozens of mouths was fairly conversational.

Kelly tapped her chin thoughtfully, then gave the nearest Sarombie a grin. “I mean, I want to say yes. I want to be done with this. On the other hand…you kidnapped my brother. Everyone, let’s kill a Seraphim, yeah?”

As one, Kelly’s horde of demons charged forward. As soon as they did, the light went out of the eyes of of the Sarombies, and they fell to the floor.

Sariel was gone. But he hadn’t gotten a truce, he’d fled in terror.

Kelly decided that it counted as a win.

“Great!” Kelly clapped her hands in time with her instructions with the music. “Now left! Now right! Now left! Now right! Now point your fingers up and give me some hellfire!” She basked in the the heat from dozens of jets of infernal flames shooting upwards.

“Alright everyone, great work. See you tomorrow!” It was the day after her horde had saved her brother, helped her kill Sean, and driven Sariel away. Chemosh was sitting at her desk, as he had been the entire class, his features unreadable.

Shannon had taken Clifford home with her, and had locked away the memories of what happened in his mind, last Kelly had heard. When he was ready ready to deal with them, he would be able to, but he’d been a complete wreck.

Kelly thought that was probably best for everyone. One less thing to worry about, unlike the demon glowering at her from her desk. Not wanting to waste any more time, Kelly walked over to him, her face a wide grin. “Hey Chemosh. Happy with-”

Chemosh held up a finger to interrupt her, then reached into his jacked and unlocked his phone. He showed her what he had pulled up. A newswoman, looking directly into the camera. “Right now, no terrorist groups had come forward to claim credit for the attack. It is now believed by authorities that the truck used in the attack, registered to a Carol Penders who died in 1987, was driven by a Sean McAlister, and was laced with a nerve agent that caused the apartments inhabitants to turn on each other before -”

He closed the app. “Discretion, Ms. Schmitt?”

Kelly shrugged. “Told you it was a typo. I didn’t violate the contract.”

“No, you did not.” Chemosh tapped his chin in thought. “Ms. Schmitt, if I’m being honest, I’m impressed. What you did was perfectly within the restrictions I’d given you. I really do think you’d make an excellent demon.”

Kelly’s smile widened. “I agree. Why don’t we formalize that?”

Chemosh’s face took that carefully blank negotiating gaze. “I would be amenable to that. Have you decided what rank you want?”

“Oh yes. At least, assuming I understand how things work. Tell me, Chemosh, is Archdemon a rank?”

That broke through Chemosh’s facade, and his eyes widened. “It is, yes, but it requires you have followers.”

Kelly gestured to the room of demons, who were shifting into their human forms. “And they are?”

Chemosh looked at them, looked at her, and he dropped the blank expression entirely to let a smile grow across his lips. “Well then. Welcome to Hell, Archdemon Kelly Schmitt.”

Kelly smiled and felt herself shudder. Her human form slipped. Her wings sprouted in full, and she stretched them experimentally. They were the color of her hair, like flames of feathers, and she could not wait to stretch them. “Thank you, Archdemon Chemosh. So…where do we begin?”

Chemosh smiled, and moved out from behind her desk so he could take a seat.

It was only fitting. After all, he was now in her domain.

Exercise the Demons Part 20

“What the hell!” Shannon shouted as they pulled away from the apartment.

“Sariel. He-”

“Kelly, I was remote viewing you. I know why you went in! That’s how I know Cliff’s fine, he’s just tied up. I meant what the hell, why did you go without me?”

Kelly breathed deeply, and started to tear strips off her shirt to make improvised bandages. “I wasn’t thinking. I knew he was in trouble, so I just charged.”

Shannon grimaced. “Okay, I get that. I do. But it was stupid. And now you’re bleeding all over my car!”

“Sorry about that,” Kelly muttered. She was starting feel dizzy. “Hey, you didn’t happen to get healing powers from Chemosh, did you?”

“No.” Shannon tensed her jaw. “Kelly, how much blood have you lost?”

Kelly’s hands were starting to grow numb, and trying to wrap the bandages was like trying to type with your hands asleep. “Um…lots.”

“How…how bad a shape are you in?”

Kelly felt her head getting fuzzy. Something in what Shannon had said. “Bad? Shape?” Yes, that was it. Shape. Something about shapes.

“Oh my god we need to get you to a hospital. Can a hospital help you? I don’t even-”

“Shape!” Kelly shouted, so suddenly Shannon swerved the car in surprise. Kelly grabbed Shannon’s arm, ignoring the sound of horns honking. “Shannon, I can shapeshift!”

Shannon looked at her with wide eyes. “Then stop talking about it it and do it!”

Kelly took a few deep breaths. Finding the strength to close the wounds was hard, and focusing enough to do it was a nightmare. By the time she had, her vision was growing black, and her head was in a full on spin. “All…done,” she muttered, before passing out in the seat next to Shannon.

When she woke up, it was in Shannon’s apartment. Booger was sitting on her chest, and had been pawing at her nose while she slept, his tongue hanging slightly out of his mouth in a permanent, derp infused blep. As soon as he saw she was awake, he meowed and rolled over to be pet on his belly, in the process falling off her chest and onto the bed beside her. He decided that was the best place to be and started purring as Shannon came in.

“Here, drink this.” Shannon said, handing her some green drink. Kelly took a sip from it slowly. It tasted like grass and herbs and worst of all, kale.

“Some kind of potion?” Kelly asked.

Shannon gave her a strained smile. “Just some high iron food. I wish it was a potion. I could have made one, but I have no idea where to get a newt’s eye at this hour.” Kelly stared at her, and Shannon shook her head. “Not kidding. And before you ask,” she said, as soon as Kelly opened her mouth again, “Cliff is still fine. Sariel was badgering him about signing up, but Cliff just recited the Green Lantern oath over and over instead of answering until Sariel wandered away. He can’t hurt Cliff, not unless Cliff lets him in.”

That thought got a smile out of Kelly. “Sariel is not expecting how stubborn Cliff can be,” she said, then the smile faded as she considered further. “We have to go get him, Shannon. He’s going to eventually crack.”

Shannon shook her head. “You’re about as strong as Booger right now, and half as threatening. Most of the Sarombies are asleep right now, we can wait. Talk to Chemosh when you have the strength to call him. All that.”

Kelly tried to argue, but Booger crawled over to lay on one of her hands. When she tried to lift it, the weight of the cat was too much. She glared at Shannon. “Did you tell him to do that?”

“It’s Booger, you think he figured it out on his own?” Shannon smiled. “Rest, Kelly. I’ll keep an eye on Cliff, and if anything changes i’ll let you know. But right now, rest.”

Kelly nodded. “Thanks, by the way, for saving my life.”

Shannon’s smile widened. “Of course. After all, you saved mine. Glad I got to return the favor.”

Before Kelly could ask her what the hell that meant, Shannon had left the room, and true sleep claimed Kelly.

When dawn broke, Booger was idly chewing on Kelly’s fingers. He meowed when she woke up, and again – more urgently – when she sat up. Shannon came in, giving her a frown. “You’re already up?”

Kelly nodded, flexing her hand and putting her hooves on the floor. “Yeah, I feel…actually pretty alright. Guess I can shift to heal myself up.” And recover from massive bloodloss faster, although I shouldn’t point that out to her.

“It almost killed you yesterday. You realize that, right?”

Kelly rubbed the back of her neck and stretched her shoulders, shifting her body back to it’s fully human appearance. “Yeah, I know. I was there, remember?”

Shannon shook her head. “You were there, but you weren’t exactly with it. I’ve got breakfast cooking, come on.”

Booger tried to follow them into the kitchen, but had gotten himself tangled in the sheets. Kelly chuckled and helped free him before going after Shannon. “You’re still not the brightest, are you?” she said to the cat.

Booger’s tongue stuck out further, and Kelly found herself wondering how smart the cat really was. She scooped him up and carried him into the kitchen. “So I’m going to need to run home, then I can go meet Chemosh. Once I’ve done that, I can go deal with Sariel and save Cliff.”

Bacon was scraped out of the pan and put onto a plate. “You mean we can,” Shannon said, her voice firm.

“Maybe. Shannon-”

“No, Kelly. Nope, nada, zilch, not going to happen. You’re bringing me, and unless you promise to, I’m just going to remote view you the entire time you’re gone and make sure I get to Cliff’s apartment when you do.”

“You can’t heal the way I can,” Kelly countered, planting her feet on the floor like Shannon might try to physically bowl her over. In the back of her mind was the knowledge that Shannon couldn’t monitor her when she went to the studio or Chemosh would probably be very unhappy with them both. And Kelly needed him happy. “And besides – wait, hold on.” Kelly’s eyes narrowed. “If you were just watching me, how were you so close to Cliff’s place?”

Shannon blanched. “Now, really, Kelly, that’s hardly the most import-”

“You weren’t watching me at first, were you?” Kelly pressed, her eyes narrowing. “You were watching my brother!”

“I…” Shannon stared at Kelly in a perfect imitation of a deer in headlights.

“And you told Cliff about my hair and eyes. You…” Kelly reached up and pinched the bridge of her nose. “How long have you and my brother been a thing?”

Shannon deflated. “About a month now. We were going to tell you, but we wanted to make sure it was going to work before we stressed you out.”

“Damnit, Shannon,” Kelly said, shaking her head in disbelief. “Why didn’t you…you know what, it’s not important right now.” How the hell did I miss this?

“You’re right about that.” Shannon had found her spine again, and quickly. “But there’s no way I’m going to let you go in there alone. I’m not losing either of you, and I’m definitely not losing both of you.”

“Fine,” Kelly snapped. Kelly didn’t want Shannon there, didn’t like the idea of Shannon there, but this changed things in ways that didn’t bear thinking about. “I’m going to talk to Chemosh. You get ready, I’ll call you when I’m going in. Don’t watch me. I don’t think Chemosh will like it.”

Shannon nodded. “Promise?”

“I promise,” Kelly said with a growl, then whirled to leave before she changed her mind. It was a short jog to the studio from Shannon’s apartment, and class started soon. Chemosh would be there, and they had much to discuss.

Exercise the Demons part 19

It was storming by the time Kelly got to Clifford’s apartment complex, great sheets of rain coming down to the point of being near-blinding. She pulled up and put the car into park, a peal of thunder echoing through the air as soon as she did with a timing so perfect, she wondered if it wasn’t some kind of side effect of whatever Sariel had done.

The whole building thrummed with energy, some kind of force that Kelly could feel all the way out in the car. She shivered at the sensation, a goose walking over her grave. It felt like an empty church late at night, and just as Kelly was trying to put her finger on what about it was so disturbing, her train of thought was interrupted by a shotgun slug putting a hole in her window.

Either the shooter couldn’t aim well, or Kelly had the devil’s own luck. The blast shattered the window and the slug as well as the shards of glass missed her head by a narrow margin.

She ducked down behind the dashboard, heart pounding. Kelly had expected some kind of crazy angel powers or flaming swords or, well, literally anything then a twelve gague. “Begone, demon!” a decidedly human voice shouted from the balcony above, and another shot rang out. This one punched through the hood of her car and the engine, still running from coming to a stop earlier, died.

A small part of Kelly took absurd annoyance at the loss of her car. She only needed it every couple of weeks, but it was still her car!

She pushed her way out of the car before the shooter could reload, diving towards the doorway. She got a brief flash of who was shooting and tripped in surprise, grabbing herself out of the puddle and scurring the rest of the way to the door.

It was Mabel, the kind grandmotherly woman from the end of Clifford’s hall. She had made Clifford chocolate chip cookies when he moved in! She couldn’t harm a fly, let alone Kelly.

Granted, last time Kelly had seen her, Kelly hadn’t been a demon, and Mabel’s eyes hadn’t been glowing with some kind of golden light. Kelly managed to duck into the door just as a second shot from the elderly woman hit the concrete she had just been occupying. “The demon has breached the peremiter!” Mabel shouted.

Kelly realized she had no weapon, no plan, and didn’t even know what demonic powers she currently possessed. If it was possession, she didn’t like her chances on trying to leap into the body of someone glowing with that holy light.

Taking a deep breath as footsteps began to pound in the hallways, Kelly reached to draw a hellfire sword out of the air. Instead of a sword of hellfire, what came out into her hands was a pitchfork, woven of some kind of black iron and with a skull design sitting at the point where the prongs joined. Remember, Kelly, none of these people are in control of themselves. Or are they? Shit, this kind of stupid rush is exactly what Sariel wanted.

The elevator was approaching the lobby. Kelly threw the pitchfork into the door, where its prongs did an excellent job of holding the door shut once they were buried in the thin metal. Footsteps were already coming down the stairs, so Kelly dashed into the hallway where at least she could meet her attackers with more freedom to move.

As she ran, she shed her human form. Shoes were ripped apart by hooves, the claws popped out of her fingers, and a pair of horns she was certain hadn’t been there before sprouted from a brow.

Time to contemplate this development was limited. In the hallway was a horde of apartment dwellers with glowing eyes, armed with whatever was the most dangerous weapon they could find in their homes. Most of them weilded a terrifying variety of kitchen implements, cleavers and knives. An overweight man with a shirt that said “NANI?” was handing out Katanas to people who ran past, and in the back Kelly could see a couple of people with guns that at least weren’t trying to shoot through the mass of bodies.

It was like a zombie horde, but moving with purpose and intellect and eyes that shone like holy lamps, all converging on Kelly.

“Sariel! Face me yourself, coward!” she shouted, knowing that soon the horde would be upon her.

That at least got the horde to stop, coming to a halt in a single motion. Behind her the group from the stairs removed the pitchfork from the elevator, and it clattered to the ground.

I do face you, demon.” The voice came from every throat that was facing her, as perfectly in unison as if they had rehearsed it.

“Let go of these people. Possession’s more our trick, isn’t it?”

“They have let me in, so that they might receive rewards everlasting once I am done with their flesh.”

“Oh.” Kelly blinked at that, trying to figure how a giant mass of eyes and wings convinced everyone in this building to let him possess them as a group, especially if it meant they would die afterwards, but it had to wait. She’d bought herself time, but she was surrounded now. “Well…give me back my brother, and no one needs to get hurt.”

Every single person, in the same moment, threw their heads back in laughter, each individual laugh timed together, then snapped their heads back forwards. “You are an abomination, a monster, a twisting of God’s plan. You will be cleansed from this world, and with these servants of God I will be able to do so.”

“And just to be clear, once you leave, these people are all dead?”

“Yes,” the dozen of voices said, “Their bodies will break, and they will be welcome into the Kingdom of Heaven.”

No point negotiating. He wasn’t interested. No point trying to reason, he was beyond that. Nothing to do but fight her way through and try to find her brother.

Kelly held out her hand to draw another pitchfork. Instead, the existing one lifted of the ground and flew into her grasp. She focused on it, and this time managed to wreath it in hellfire. You only get one chance at this, Kelly. Don’t screw it up.

She held the pitchfork straight out, directly at the mass of former humanity looking at her.

“Groovy,” she said, her face twisting into a half-mad grin.

Sariel shouted in rage with dozens of mouths, and Kelly screamed with a single voice.

She charged as the horde began to close in.

Chaos. That was Kelly’s biggest takeaway from the frantic melee she entered, lashing out with the flat and handle of the pitchfork like it was an axe. Every time she struck one member of the horde, the entire thing reeled back as if she had struck them all. If she managed to hit multiple, the effect was more pronounced.

At one point she got a bit deeper into the surge by leaping higher than she knew was possible, having to bend over to not smash her horns against the ceiling. She landed on a couple members of the mass as she did, driving them to the ground, and with a sweep of the pitchfork she was able to create a circle for herself.

For a moment. The problem was, every time the horde surged in, she found herself victim of at least a couple cuts and scratches. Already she was bleeding from her arms, her legs, one cut along her side, and there were still the gunmen in the back to worry about.

One of the people armed with a katana courtesy of Mr. Nani in the back managed to break through. Kelly caugh the blade in the prongs of the pitchfork and twisted. It seemed the owner cared more about aestetics than practicality, and the blade snapped from the hilt and went falling to the ground.

That momentary victory was earned at the cost of a butcher cleaver being buried into her thigh by one member of the mass, and Kelly howled in pain. She managed to hit its weilder in the face with the butt of the pitchfork, and heard a satsifying crunch of bone as his nose broke under her blow. Every single hand there went flying towards their faces for a moment, giving her enough of an opening to bowl through them with her horns down, knocking people out of the way to get her closer to the guns.

She managed to disarm one of them before they had fully recovered, but their were more of them, and more of them were armed, and Kelly realized she was overwhelmed.

“Your brother will accept me. You will be removed. The Kingdom is Nigh!” they shouted, and one of them brought a baseball bat down on her skull, sendings stars flittering across her vision. This is it. This is how I die, Kelly thought dully as she fell to one knee. She’d be another body among what would likely be considered a mass suicide.

Then the window at the end of the hall tore open, shards of glass flying in and cutting into the mob of humanity that was pressing down on her. Kelly looked up and saw Shannon there, one hand extended. “Move!” she shouted, and it was the sweetest word Kelly had ever heard.

With a surge of strength she didn’t know she had, Kelly leapt out the window and towards Shannon. Her friend gestured again, and the wind that had blown the glass in surged again, a solid wall of air that pushed its way into the building and sent the screaming mass that was Sariel tumbling down. “Clifford,” Kelly managed to gasp.

“He’s fine! Come on, my car. We have to go!”

A gunshot punctuated Shannon’s point, and Kelly limped towards Shannon’s car before they were both murdered by an angelic host.

Exercise the Demons Part 18

She got a call from Shannon later that night. “Oh my God, you won’t believe what happened!” she gushed before Kelly could speak. “Or I guess you would because you arranged it, didn’t you? Oh wait, should I even be saying oh my God anymore? Is that wrong?”

Kelly laughed into the phone. “Deep breath, Shannon. I take it my friend showed up.”

“Uh huh. Gives whole new meaning to the phrase handsome devil, huh? Anyway, we signed some contracts, and then the deal was struck and now…oh Kelly, it’s amazing. I made Booger my familiar! He can talk to me now, kind of.”

“Wait, your challenged cat? The one that gets lost on his way to the litterbox? The one that traps himself in your cabinet weekly? Booger, the windowlicker, is your familiar?” Kelly loved that little idiot, but Booger had the critical thinking skills of the carboard boxes he’d occasionally get trapped in.

“I know, I know, but he’ll live as long as me now! And he’s a bit smarter now” Shannon laughed. “I think he’s almost at normal cat levels. He can’t talk, talk, but I can feel his emotions and see through his eyes.”

“Okay, that sounds pretty cool. What’s it like?”

“Mostly staring at whatever he’s confused by. But still!”

They both shared a laugh. “And I’m already figuring out basic spellcraft. I’m working on my remote viewing right now – I can see you.”

Kelly was glad she was wearing a robe out of the shower. “How do I look?”

“A lot more normal! What’d you do?”

“I figured out how to hide the hooves and wings and fangs and all that. Chemosh said it would probably accelerate my actual transformation but on the whole, I can blend in better.”

Shannon let out an excited cheer. “That’s awesome, Kelly! We should celebrate. Hit up the club, get down with our fiendish selves.”

Shannon had always been vivacious, excited, and energetic. But never in the time Kelly had known her had she been this full of energy. It might have worried Kelly, if it wasn’t for the fact that her friend just seemed so happy. “If you want to. But I figured you’d want to practice with the magic some more?”

Shannon did a raspberry into her phone. “Part of the deal was I’d learn by doing, not by sitting around studying and all that boring stuff. Not much point to selling your soul if you have to spend the next thousand hours learning how to use it. I’m sure I can find some douchebag that needs a good hexing while we’re there, let’s go!”

“Well, I can’t argue with that logic,” Kelly said, laughing. “Give me thirty to get ready and we’ll head out.”

“Sure thing! Meet you there?”

“Absolutely. See you soon.” Kelly ended the call and hurried to get dressed, wondering if Shannon was still peeping and not particularly caring. They’d been roommates, after all.

Thirty-five minutes later Kelly was in her slinkiest black dress and boots that were made for walking and dancing and being noticed, makeup done and hair perfectly straightened. Kelly was glad that shifting her feet allowed her to wear the boots normally again, and was even gladder that she didn’t clop when she walked like a damn horse.

Running late and excited to see her friend, not to mention excited to get out for a fun time for the first time since her ill-fated date, Kelly didn’t notice her phone’s charge was only at ten percent. By the time she had gotten to the club, texting Shannon to let her know she was there, it was down to 7. Kelly noticed then but it was too late to do anything about it, so she put it on power saver and stuck it in her purse.

It sat there for the evening, untouched after the initial photos were taken to post to Instagram and share on Snapchat. With the power saver enabled, it didn’t even light up to notify her of the likes she was getting on Instagram, or the responses she was getting from thirsty guys on Snapchat.

It didn’t light up when Shannon started tagging her in the other photos they took that night, including one with a man who called himself Eduardo but was actually named Steve, a man Shannon would catch trying to slip a roofie in Kelly’s drink. She put her first ever hex on a man on him. He would become a magnet for ghosts, and the rest of his life would be plagued by creepy dolls, random hauntings, and terrifying apperations until finally drawing attention of a poltergiest that would ultimately end his life.

It didn’t light up when it started ringing, as it was approaching 4%, a call from Kelly’s brother that went to voicemail. Or the second call. Or the third, or the fourth, or any of the twelve frantic calls he made before the phone went completely dead, around the time Kelly flopped onto her bed, too exhausted and drunk to remember to charge it.

It didn’t light up until the next morning, when it turned on after Kelly plugged it in on her way to the shower. It sat, unnoticed, as she ate a bacon breakfast to celebrate her cheat day, and it didn’t get noticed until she had gotten dressed and gone for her first hoofless jog in days. It was a relief to get the jogging in, to actually run using her real feet and not needing to worry about who might see her clopping along.

Getting back meant another shower, and when that was done, some time after noon, she finally grabbed her now fully charged phone to check the notifications.

“Kelly…please check the phone.” Clifford’s voice was ragged and he sobbed. It didn’t sound like pain, not to Kelly’s ears. It sounded like fear. She put the phone on speaker before her furious grip crushed the device. “There’s something here, something huge and…so many wings, Kelly. I think it’s-”

Whatever Clifford thought it was got cut off. She could only hear a terrified scream, then a squelch that conjured horrible images, then silence before the voicemail ended from silence.

He’d said so many wings. That was all Kelly needed. Sariel. She was already grabbing her keys and heading to her car.

Sariel can’t hurt Cliff. He can’t hurt mortals. For a moment that thought calmed her, until another one crept up on its heels. Then what can he do to him?

She started running to the car, begging the universe to not be too late.

Exercise the Demons Part 17

The training was only an hour. Hardly any time at all, really. By the end of it, she could pull her hooves back into feet, and the wings back into her shoulder blades. The red hair and eyes would take a great deal of practice, but at least she could go back to blending in normal society. She was also exhausted by the end of it, feeling her own sulfurous sweat running down her back. (At least that, Chemosh had assured her, mortals wouldn’t notice – their noses couldn’t pick up demon musk.”

She wrapped a towel around her shoulder and wiped her face. The training hadn’t been physically demanding, not in the way Kelly thought of the term. No running, no jumping, no lifting. It had just been simply telling her body it was in the wrong shape and forcing it into the one she had in mind. Oh, is that all? Kelly thought, grinning at her own logic. I can’t imagine why that would be demanding.

“So, storytime.”

Chemosh chuckled and sat down across from her. “As you wish. So the story you know, the one in the bible – how do you recall it?”

Kelly thought for a moment. “God made the world in seven days. During the creation, Lucifer rebelled against heaven because he was jealous, took a third of the angels with him. They lost the fight because, well, omnipotence, and were cast down into hell. Lucifer leaves, heads up to the Garden of Eden, pretends to be a snake, tempts Eve and through her Adam into eating from the Tree of Knowledge. Humanity now knows how to sin, Lucifer goes back to rule in hell, and that’s that.”

“Well, that story is true in the broad strokes, but many of the details are outright lies.”

Kelly blinked. “I mean, I kind of figured that a lot of that was at least allegorical. The universe is like ten billion years old, right? But outright lies?”

“You know what they say. The victors write the history books.”

“Okay.” Kelly crossed her legs up onto the chair and rested her elbows on her knees with her head in her palms. “So, what really happened?”

“The Creator, Yahweh, Jehovah, Allah, whatever you want to call him – God works well enough, I suppose – created the cosmos. It wasn’t a week between creation and mankind, like you said. Fourteen billions years would be more accurate. Although it also was a week. Time doesn’t flow for the Divine the way it does for mankind. To care for the details, He created us, His first children.”

“Right, angels,” Kelly said.

“No.” Chemosh made sure he had her attention fully. “Demons. We were things that saw to the physical, the brutish, and the crass. The fires that burned in the hearts of stars, the order that governed chemicals bubbling in the primordial soup of a hundred thousand thousand worlds, the gravity that pulled together matter, and more. The laws that created physics. Angels came later. Their domain was the spiritual, the holy, the ephemeral. Art, music, philosophy, hope, love – that was what they saw in reality.”

He paused to take a drink from a water bottle. “For the most part, the Angels were above us, and we were content with that. The universe was nice and ordered. Then the unthinkable happened. An angel and demon fell in love. Ba’al, the greatest of us, and Kerubiel, queen of the Cherubim. Many feared God would smite them for their violation of the order, but he favored them. He even elevated us demons to allow for their love to be one of equals. In time, they begat a son. Lucifer, the Morningstar.”

He looked to see if Kelly had any questions, but she was far too focused on his words. Chemosh smiled and continued. “Lucifer was favored by God, being His first grandson. He was elevated to be above both angel and demon, the greatest being in His creation. For a time, he was second only to God, and for billions of years He saw it was good.”

“Then came the great Experiment. Mortal life, mankind. The creation of physical beings that would only rule one world. They were placed within the Garden of Eden to be watched and cared for, and being God’s youngest children, they were also his new favorites. Lucifer tried to love you all, but mostly he was concerned.”

Kelly coughed in surprise. “Concerned? For what?”

“Your lack of Sin. He felt that without it, you would never reach your full potential.”

Kelly rolled her eyes at that. “How convenient for him.”

Chemosh’s grin widened. “Tell me, Ms. Schmitt. What human is without sin?”

“Infants,” Kelly answered without hesitation. “I guess by the time they’re older, everyone’s committed some sin, even if that sin is mostly being an obnoxious little shit.”

He chuckled, but did not contradict her. “Now imagine an adult human without sin. Do your best. What is that person like?”

This took more thought on Kelly’s part. After several minutes, she answered. “Sweet, nieve, innocent. Doesn’t get to far because to push themselves would be Pride. Stays in shape to avoid Gluttony, but doesn’t do anything with their appearance because Vanity. They’d be calm at all times because Wrath, but never lazy so they won’t fall prey to Sloth. Friendly to everyone because they lack Envy, generous because no Greed, and if they’ve ever had sex, it would only be called making love to avoid Lust.”

“Yes. Now tell me, Ms. Schmitt. Can you see such a person ever accomplishing a great thing? Discovering some unheard of science, propelling mankind to new heights? Or does it require sin to do those things? Some combination of Pride and Vanity to believe you can achieve greatness. Maybe they’d need an insatiable hunger for something, be it knowledge or power or wealth in a form of both Gluttony and Greed. Perhaps they would require motivation through spite or to win affection, the combination of Wrath and Lust. Or, if all else fails, a unique form of Sloth where you create tools to be lazy later?”

Kelly had to think about that even more, her frown deepening. “I mean, innovation doesn’t seem like it should be called sinful. I can see the virtues motivating someone – Charity to improve the life of your fellow man, Courage to push yourself ahead, Hope that you’ll succeed, etcetera”

Chemosh nodded in agreement, to Kelly’s surprise. “They can push mankind to new heights too, yes. But those aren’t traits you ascribed to your sinless individual. Virtues are obtained in part through resisting the temptation of Sin – the two are mirrors of each other, yes? If you lack Sin, can you truly be Virtuous? Or are you just a machine doing what it is designed to do?”

“I guess I can see both sides of the argument there,” Kelly said.

“So could Lucifer. He argued that you should be given Knowledge, even though that would lead to Sin, because it would also lead to Virtue.”

Kelly held up a hand. “Wait, hold on, that’s a contradiction. You said he was worried we lacked Sin.”

“He believed that progress required Sin. God disagreed. His proposal was to grant Knowledge to let you all decide for yourselves.”

“Ah, okay.” Kelly motioned for Chemosh to continue.

“When he was refused, he decided that was too much. That you must be given Knowledge. First there was the war in heaven over that. We lost, not because of God’s omnipotence – it’s not as all-encompassing as it’s been made out to be – but because we were outnumbered two to you. Then there was the temptation of Eve, and for those two things those who followed Lucifer – all of the demons and a smattering of angels – were cast into Hell. Our punishment was, for the rest of eternity, to only interact with the worst of Humanity, those of you most steeped in Sin.”

“That…” Kelly swallowed, “that makes an uncomfortable amount of sense. So heaven is objectively better than Hell?”

Chemosh shook his head. “What do you need to be free of to go into Heaven?”

“Sin,” Kelly said promptly.

“And what do they call eating the fruit in the Garden?”

“Sin?” Kelly half said, half asked, wondering where he was going with this.

“Exactly,” Chemosh nodded. “And we know that fruit conferred Knowledge upon Humanity. Now tell me. You have the rest of eternity ahead of you. Would you rather do it without Knowledge?”

Kelly considered what it would be like for a moment. Literal ignorance is bliss, for the rest of eternity. It made her want to vomit. “No, I suppose not.”

“And that’s why we tempt people to sin,” Chemosh said. “To spare them that destruction of the Self.”

“So,” Kelly turned over his words in her head. “We’re not the good guys or the bad guys, we just disagree about how to best spend Eternity?”

“I suppose you could see it that way, Ms. Schmitt,” Chemosh said with another chuckle. “I suppose you could.”

Kelly needed a couple more minutes to mull it over. “Do souls that end up in hell get torture? That seems rather excessive.”

“They get punished for the crimes the committed in life, but the punishment fits the crime. Petty thieves do not get boiled alive, liars do not have their tongues cut out. We’re wardens, not sadists.”

Kelly smiled. “Well, at least I feel better about helping Shannon get a one way trip there. I’ll bring her buy Monday, an hour before class? She’s dying to meet you.”

“Sounds wonderful,” Chemosh said, standing up as he did. “Oh, you did promise to tell me why you didn’t feel all that guilty about condemning her when you thought it was all torture and fire and brimstone.”

“That’s easy.” Kelly also stood up, ready to start cleaning the place up before enjoying getting to go to the store without needing to worry about her damn hooves. “She wanted to do it, so badly she nearly cried when it occurred to her I was joking. It was her deepest, darkest desire. And even though being tied to you guys has kinda been hell, if you’ll forgive the pun, it has been the most interesting weeks of my whole damn life.”

Chemosh regarded her closely. “And?”

Kelly sighed. “You all really don’t go for allowing people to have their illusions, do you?”

“No.” Chemosh grinned. “I just told you we were all about shedding them, after all.”

“Yeah, fair enough.” Kelly shrugged. “And I want someone I can talk to about this who isn’t my judgemental brother or, well, you.” She saw Chemosh’s face and rolled her eyes. “I’m not going to break confidentality, Chemosh, and I already get I can’t tell her any of what you just told me. But I can talk to her about my own transformation and demonkind and all that.”

“Good. As long as we understand each other.”

“Perfectly.” Kelly rubbed her temples. “I’ve got to clean up. Thanks for clearing that up, Chemosh.”

“Happy to finally be able to. One more piece of advice, free of charge?” Kelly nodded. “Have a care. Sariel may not be able to directly harm you, but he can make your life a living hell if he sets out to.”

“Thanks. See you Monday, Chemosh.”

“Of course.” With that, the demon was gone, and Kelly was left to fumigate her studio and wonder what new powers she’d gain at midnight this time.

Exercise the Demons Part 16

“Alright, stretch! And hold, breathe in, breathe out – great job, keep breathing. Morax, I can literally see your lungs, I can tell you’re holding it in. There we go, let them inflate! Now breath out, great job. Okay, and…down.” The assembled horde relaxed. They were drenched with sweat, and although the odor of demon musk was no longer bothering her – a small part of her was starting to enjoy it, which made her wish her stomach would churn – she’d have to spend a lot of time airing this place out.

The increased exercise was a result of her making good on her promise to Chemosh from last time. She’d pushed them even harder than she had when she was annoyed yesterday, and they were going to be feeling it. “Great job everyone! Remember, tomorrow’s a day off. Make sure to do some stretches and I’ll see you Monday!”

She strode over to Chemosh, who was at least not sitting at her desk this time, instead having pulled a chair over to watch the class more closely than he had been. “Like what you saw?” she asked, flashing him a smile as she did.

Chemosh returned the smile with his best car-salesman grin. “Absolutely. Results have been astounding – I do hope you decide to stay on after your initial contract, Ms. Schmitt. “

“We’ll see. I like the money, I like the powers. Not a huge fan of the mystery or the angelic threats.” Kelly punctuated the response with a wink, not wanting Chemosh to think this was going to escalate to an argument.

“Of course.” Chemosh’s smile was unwavering. “I’m assuming you have something on your mind, since you brought it up?”

“Yup.” Kelly hooked a chair under her hoof and slid it over to where they were. She could still, just barely, hide them in shoes while she was in public, although it made walking painful. Her jogs had moved to the earliest parts of the mornings, when no one would see her running along like a goat woman. The tufts of feather on her back were getting more pronounced, too. It would not be long before it would be near impossible to hide, not without wearing clothes far too hot for the weather.

That was a problem that, last night, Kelly realized she could probably solve along with getting more information. “Last time you said if I wanted more information, I’d need to do a few things. Extends my contract or provide you a soul or make a sacrifice, right?”

Chemosh nodded.

“And to be clear, that means a personal sacrifice, not literally sacrificing a life to you?”

“Actually,” Chemosh smiled, “It could mean either.”

Kelly nodded. “Well, I’ve got a two in one for you – a soul and a personal sacrifice, bundled together.”

Chemosh’s eyebrows shot up. “Oh? And how did you manage that.”

“My best friend’s ready to make a deal. Her soul in exchange for power. And the sacrifice is I’m offering to facilitate the bargain.”

Kelly was surprised by how smooth his face went. She couldn’t read anything on it at first, but he was silent for just long enough for her to pick up a glimmer of emotion. Surprise. “And…what do you want in exchange for that?”

“Well, I’m doing two things at once, so I want two things. I want the truth behind the angels, heaven, hell, all that. I want to know what I’m getting into. On top of that, I want some ability to shift to look human again, same as you all. I’m clopping around on hooves, sprouting wings, and I found a bump right above my ass that I’m sure is going to end up being a tail.” Chemosh nodded to confirm that. “I’m going to be unable to go out in public soon. Both of those and you can have her.”

Chemosh took a slow breath, and for a moment his eager excitement so perfectly mirrored Shannon’s from last night that Kelly wanted to laugh. “You do know that if you choose not to stay on with us, that does not free your friend’s soul. She will live with this for the rest of her life.”

It was Kelly’s turn to nod.

“And, to be perfectly clear,” Chemosh continued, “you are doing this with your current knowledge of what we are, based on Christian scriptures. As far as you know, you are condemning your friend to eternal torment.”

“Yeah, Chemosh, I get it.” Kelly’s voice was a bit lower now. “And after we’re done with the deal, I’ll tell you why I’m okay with that, free of charge.”

“You really would make an excellent demon, Kelly Schmitt.” Chemosh reached into his jacket and pulled out a scroll. “Then let it be so agree,” he intoned.

This time, Kelly was very careful to read every detail. It was much shorter than the one she had signed, which was something at least. No nasty loopholes jumped out on her, and she signed. Chemosh added his signature, and the deal was made.

“Alright, spill.”

“That’s not how this works, Ms. Schmitt. We have not secured your friends-“

Kelly didn’t mind interrupting him. “I checked over my contract. Right there in Section 13, Subsection P, ‘Securing of Assets.’ In the event a bargain directly improves my ability to serve your interests, or prevents me from being unable to fulfill it, I can collect on it before payment is received, with appropriate penalties details in Section 91, Subsection I, if for some reason payment does not occur.”

Chemosh’s grin returned. “As I said, an excellent demon. I will show you how to cloak your form, since you being arrested or harassed is unwanted attention, but I fail to see how complete knowledge of our conflict improves your ability to serve our interest.”

Kelly frowned. “Well, for starters, it improves my morale, which is always nice. But more importantly, if I get jumped by Sariel again or some of his buddies, knowing what I’m up against and why could slightly improve my chances of survival.”

“I don’t see how.” Chemosh spread his hands. “I want to help you here, Kelly, truly. But my hands are-“

“If I know why I’m fighting, I’ll fight harder. I’ll feel less confused, more comfortable, and every little bit can make the difference between life and death.”

He liked being as interrupted as much as he had before, but it didn’t look like it was going to set him off. Instead he licked his lips in thought. “Very well. I can sell that.”

Kelly relaxed and leaned back in her chair. “Awesome. So, storytime?”

“No. First, I need to teach you how to hide your form. Then…then storytime.”

Knowing when to choose her battles, Kelly got out of the chair. “Show me.”

Chemosh rose to join her, and they began.

Exercise the Demons Part 15

Kelly was starting to have doubts about her plan by the time Shannon was supposed to arrive. It was one thing to find yourself sliding into becoming a demon, but getting your friend to sell her soul so you could get more information out a demon? That seemed…

She was still struggling to find the right word when Shannon texted to let her know she was here. No time to think it through anymore. She didn’t have time to change, anyway.

“Come on in,” she texted back, “door’s unlocked.”

Shannon opened the door a moment after Kelly heard the chime in the hallway of her apartment. “Must have been a rough day. You didn’t even have time to cha-oh my God!” Shannon was so shocked she dropped her phone, and the screen cracked as it hit the wood near the door.

“Shit, sorry, didn’t think you’d drop it!” Kelly said, moving over to help Shannon pick up her phone. She needed the help. Shannon was just staring at her, mouth agape.

Kelly was wearing shorts and a tank top, no shoes or socks or gloves or anything else to conceal what was happening to her. The hooves were clearly visible, as were the feathers on her back when she bent down and pick up the electronic and press it back into Shannon’s hand.

“Kelly? What…oh my God, what is going on?” Shannon sounded shocked, but Kelly didn’t hear any notes of fear in her voice. Confusion, of course. Concern, which was expected. And…was that excitement?

Kelly put a hand on Shannon’s shoulder and led her further into the apartment. Step into my parlor, said the spider to the fly, part of her brain couldn’t help but editorialize. “Was kind of hoping to get a chance to tell you about that. Wine?” Kelly already had a glass poured, and Shannon reached for it with a trembling hand.

“Tell me about what?”

Kelly sighed, making sure to make it as dramatic as possible. She couldn’t tell Shannon the truth, Chemosh would have her head, but she didn’t want to lie either. “I’ve been…well, I’m changing.”

“No shit! You’ve got hooves! And…winglets?” Shannon’s mouth dropped open. “Oh my God, are you a mutant?”

She couldn’t help it. Kelly threw back her head and laughed. “Oh god, I wish. No, that would be so much simpler.” She sat down at the table across from Shannon, taking a sip of wine for herself while Shannon gulped hers with trembling hands. “So…I can’t explain a lot of it.” Kelly did her best to imply that it was because she didn’t know, and from the way Shannon nodded that’s the way she interpreted it. “But apparently I’m…part demon.”

Shannon gasped again, but Kelly was watching her eyes. Her pupils nearly doubled in size, and her breathing hitched at the word. “How long?” Shannon said after swallowing another gulp of wine.

Kelly took a deep breath. It was time to twist the truth into shapes as strange and unnatural as her legs. “About the time my hair started changing colors. At least, that’s when I really noticed it. From there it was kind of a waterfall, you know? The hooves finally hit fully earlier today. Remember how I told you my dad used to be big into the occult stuff?” Shannon nodded, and Kelly fought back the urge to breathe a sigh of relief. Her dad had owned a tarot deck and Ouija board, and once gone to a psychic. Kelly had told Shannon her dad had been into occultism freshman year, when that had seemed like peak occult to her middle class, mostly Christian upbringing.

The idea that his toys had seemed like anything close to supernatural was a laugh now.

“Well,” Kelly gestured towards herself, an expansive motion that covered the top of her flame-red hair to the bottom of her clover hooves. “I’m not going to say that somehow he did something, but…”

“But what else could it be?” Shannon breathed her eyes wide. “Unless it was those nerds you have for the class.”

Kelly laughed and, seeing Shannon was serious, quirked her eyebrow and said in her most dismissive voice, “Please. If they could do that, don’t you think they would have done it to themselves first?”

Shannon nodded after taking a moment to study Kelly’s face. “Yeah, fair point.” Shannon took another trembling sip of the wine, but it was Kelly’s heart that was pounding. Everything hinged now on what she had seen when she’d touched Shannon just a few days ago being true.

“Are you going to be alright?” Shannon asked after a pregnant pause, her face filling with concern.

Kelly put a smile on her face. “I’m getting pretty good at hiding the physical side effects, and I was freaking out at first, but now that I got settled into it? It’s actually kind of nice. I can make a hellfire sword, and remember the date I had with Sean?” Shannon nodded, spellbound, “well, halfway through the dinner I saw into his deepest sins. He was a bully and had some serious issues, and God only knows how long it would have taken for me to figure out without that.” Kelly laughed again. “Although I guess I shouldn’t be talking about Him. Guess I’m not on his good side anymore.”

That last line Kelly couldn’t help but throw in. If Shannon was going to do this, Kelly wanted to make sure that she considered her immortal so-

“That sounds amazing.” Shannon said, cutting off the train of thought with her excitement. “Is it weird that I’m kinda jealous?”

And now we’re in business. Kelly laughed again. She’d tried to warn her away, her conscious was safe. “Jealous? Shannon, do you have any idea how hard it is to cover all this up?”

“Oh, not for that part. Although you are definitely rocking the demoness look! No, I’m just…” Shannon had to finish her glass of wine to get the fortitude to push forward, and Kelly was happy to refill it. “I use to fantasize about it, ever since I read Faust back in high school. Like, the idea of cutting a deal with a demon, having the kind of power you could get from that? I just never really…I mean, I didn’t think it was possible. And now you actually are a demon, or turning into one or whatever. It’s real! And that means…” Even with the extra liquid courage, Shannon couldn’t finish that thought.

“What?” Kelly prompted with a sly grin. “You’re thinking about cutting a deal with Lucifer now? Selling your soul to the devil in exchange for power and all that?”

Shannon blushed. “Well, I mean – why not? You’re a demon now! How’re you gonna judge me?”

“Hey, easy. Didn’t say anything about judging you.” Kelly leaned forward onto the table, and Shannon finished the second glass of wine in a single swallow. “Is that what you want to do? Really?”

Shannon nodded.

“Well…think about it overnight. Make sure you’re sober and all that. And if you still do, let me know. I’ve been in contact with another demon, and that might be possible.”

“Really?” Shannon said in a small voice.

Kelly’s only response was a somber nod.

“Please tell me you’re not messing with me, Kelly. That you’re not wearing some fancy make up and costume and this is an prank.” There was real thickness in Shannon’s voice, far more than could be accounted for just by the wine. Kelly hadn’t ever imagined the idea of tears of hope before, but seeing Shannon’s eyes right now, she knew she was seeing them.

“I promise, Shannon.”

“Then tomorrow when I’m sober I’ll tell you the same thing. Yes, Kelly. I want this.”

Kelly smiled at her. “Then we’ll get you there. In the meantime, I can’t just call him up or anything. Still want to watch the movie?” Shannon laughed, and they headed over to the couch to get some cheap laughs and fake scares.

Let’s hope I didn’t just damn both of us, Kelly thought as they sat down. In spite of that thought, try as she might, Kelly couldn’t manage to feel any guilt.

Exercise the Demon Part 14

Chemosh wasn’t in class the next day. Kelly was taking out a bit of her frustration with an extra intensive workout regime. “And leap forward! Now back! Now forward! Now back!” The musk of demon sweat was even thicker than usual. She’d left the front and back doors cracked with fans running to help alleviate the stench, but she’d need to spray some deodorizer after they were done.

She’d been on edge all day, ever since escaping from Sean. Kelly had almost never felt helpless. She’d barely slept the night before, finally crashing at around four AM to nightmares of Sariel showing up while she slept and re-binding her. The late hour she had fallen asleep had kept her out until ten am, and she hadn’t slept that late since college. It had her thrown off. On top of that, everyone she saw that day looked like a giant walking suit, just begging her to put them on and take them for a ride. Resisting the urge had been as bad as nicotine withdrawal. She was just waiting for someone to give her a reason to go off.

One of the demons, to Kelly’s joy, was happy to oblige her. “Mercy, human, please” Belphegor said as an aside to the demon next to him, Eisheth. She sniggered at the joke, right up till she saw Kelly’s eyes flash their way.

“Everyone drop down. Push-ups, now!” Gone for that instant was Kelly the cheery personal, and in her place Kelly the drill sergeant snapped into place. She channeled her father, barking orders at her from the side of the soccer field, but with no intention of later mussing their hair and saying “good job, sport!”

The demons did as they were told, and Kelly walked among them till she was directly next to Belphegor, then crouched down to make sure he could hear her. “I like you, Belphegor. You seem like a decent enough demon. But I don’t know what’s worse. The disrespect for me, or hearing someone like you ask for mercy. Do you think Sariel is going to find your jokes about mercy cute? Do you think it’ll stay the hands of the angels that are swarming around this city?” Sweat trickled from Belphegor, pooling on the floor below him. “I asked you a question. If you want to stop before your gut falls off, you’re going to answer it.”

“No, it won’t, hrnghmm,” Belphegor croaked out.

Kelly’s eyes narrowed. She realized how she looked, crouched down on her hooves. Like a gargoyle crouching atop a building. “It won’t what, Belphegor?”

“It won’t…” Belphegor paused to wheeze a few times, “It won’t stop Sariel! Or, hmmm-“ he was interrupted by another few wheezes, “-or his angels?”

“Damn right it won’t. Alright everyone, on my mark, stand if you can, flop to your guts if you can’t. I had a terriblenight, so be glad you’re getting this fifteen minute break.” Then she smiled, the drill sergeant gone, and clapped her hands together, “Mark!”

The horde of demons collapsed. A few of them managed to rise to their feet or related appendages, but most went the route of Belphegor and crumbled to their stomachs. Water got passed around, and Kelly made sure to drink from a bottle greedily.

“A bit hard on them, aren’t you?”

Kelly whirled to the front desk. Chemosh had showed up, and was once again sitting at her desk. “A bit hard on them?” she growled, walking over to him. “Chemosh. I got abducted by a human being given powers by Sariel last night. What’s worse, it wasn’t just any human, but a douche I met on Tinder!”

Chemosh blinked at her, “I fail to see how that makes it worse.”

“It was humiliating, on top of being a huge risk. Insult to injury. Did you miss the part where one of the angels is empowering a human?” In spite of her anger, Kelly kept her voice low. She didn’t think it would go well if she yelled at Chemosh in front of his demonic friends. Or minions, whatever they were. Thankfully, they were giving them a wide berth at the moment.

Chemosh nodded in apparent understanding. “Sariel, you said? I’m having trouble believing that. No Knight has stood against him and lived.”

“Well, midnight hit before he showed up. I wasn’t a Knight, I was possessing the guy that had abducted me.”

Chemosh chuckled at that. “How fortuitous. If I didn’t know better, I’d be tempted to say you had the devil’s own luck.”

Kelly dug her fingers into the desk. “Chemosh, are you seriously joking right now? I could have died.”

“You did not. Can you not see the humor in this?” Chemosh spread his hands, “Sariel, one of heaven’s greatest assassins, foiled by a woman who is not even a full demon yet! He fell for the oldest trick in the book, possessing a living being. The literal oldest trick in this case, seeing Lucifer used it in the Garden. You should be proud of yourself.”

“I only got loose because the human he picked was a moron and wrote the Enochian in marker. I was able to sweat to …I’m just making you laugh now, aren’t I?”

Chemosh grinned. “Guilty. Ms. Schmitt, I’m not unsympathetic to your plight, and yet you lived. Why not revel in that?”

Kelly opened her mouth to object, and then her eyes narrowed. “Can you tell me more about the angels? Straight answer, yes or no, please. Not will you or won’t you or are you considering, just direct – is there more you could be telling me?”

Chemosh scratched his chin in thought. “You are getting better at this, you know,” he said in an aside before sighing. “I would need a sign of commitment to be able to provide more information. An agreement to stay on past the two weeks, a soul bound to us, a sacrifice of immense import – something that I can use to show to my superiors that you are serious.”

Kelly’s nodded, and smiled. “Okay then. Now that I know I didn’t get screwed because you were holding out on me, then yeah, I can enjoy the fact that I outsmarted Sariel.”

“Good. Although,” Chemosh looked over her shoulder at the demons, which were back on their feet, “I almost wish I had let you stay irritated through the rest of class. I think it’s time you pushed them harder. After all, only one week remains.”

Kelly smiled, “don’t worry, I’m not going to ease up on them. I’ve got a better understanding of what they’re fighting now, after all.” She turned around to get the group back in line, pulling out her phone as she did. “Two minutes, everyone,” she shouted without looking up.

Her fingers flew and sent a text to Shannon. “We still on for dinner tonight?”

“Totally! Your place or mine?”

Kelly smiled. “Mine. I have something special in mind.”

She locked the screen. A small part of her, in the back of her mind, pointed out she was running some real risks here. That she was putting her best friend in danger that she’d been trying to avoid. That this could backfire horribly.

For the most part, however, she didn’t care. If everything went the way she wanted tonight, she’d be able to get more out of Chemosh, and Shannon would get exactly what she wanted.

Exercise the Demons Part 13

Sariel was staring at ‘her,’ and even though he hadn’t moved, he was radiating impatience. Think fast, Kelly. “Uh…the demon?” …smooth.

“YES. THE DEMON. WHERE IS SHE?” Sariel’s booming, resonating voice echoed in Kelly’s bones – well, Sean’s bones, that Kelly was currently using.

“Damn, bro, could you turn it down a bit?” Kelly was glad to have access to some of Sean’s mannerisms and verbal ticks. The angel might not notice little details like saying ‘bro,’ but Sean was a big enough tool that he might be expecting it.

Sean piped up from the back of his mind with a sullen, “You don’t need to editorialize so much, bitch.”

“Stay classy, champ,” she fired back at him, but Sariel was already speaking. This time, at least, his voice was slightly less painful to hear.

Fine. The Demon. Where. Is. She?” His voice had gone from resounding to just forceful, and while Kelly couldn’t be certain, since she’d just met the angel, he sounded well and tired of Sean’s crap. For that, Kelly felt a kinship with Sariel.

“Look, man, I dunno how to say this but she’s…well, she’s escaped.” Kelly cringed slightly with Sean’s form, glad that at least the angel couldn’t see she was wearing Sean like a meat suit right now.

Sariel’s hands clenched and unclenched, and Kelly braced herself for the throttling it seemed the angel wanted to give her host. Instead, he spoke in the slow, level tones one usually reserved for spoiled children that were misbehaving. “Sean, you had one task. Capture the demon. Detain her. I would speak to her, and then she was yours to do with what you will. To accomplish this, I gave you access to Enochian magic. I taught you the language of creation. Now tell me, how did you fail in such a simple task?

“Hey! It’s not my fault that she could break your binding spell! How was I supposed to know sweat could break it?” Kelly didn’t need to come up the words for that, just repeat verbatim Sean’s mental objection. Thanks for the help there! She thought at him cheerfully.

Blow me, he responded.

Not with another woman’ s lips. Now shush, the grownups are talking. As much as his mental voice could help, it wasn’t worth the distraction.

Sweat should not be able to break it. What did you use to inscribe the runes?”

“Crayola washables.” Kelly was certain to make sure that Sean’s voice sounded proud of himself. She was glad he could still listen in. She wanted him to hear the angel’s response.

For several seconds, Sariel just stared at them. “I gave you access to the language with which God wrote the cosmos. The most beautifully sublime tongue ever spoken by any being. A language that would have seared your mind if I had not shielded you. And you wrote it in marker.”

It wasn’t a question, but Kelly was having fun. “Blue ones,” she clarified, and even though she couldn’t see the angel’s face, she could watch him wince.

Ah. Well, that makes everything better.” The pressure of Sariel’s gaze grew more intense. “I want you to understand, if I was empowered to harm mortals, I would smack you right now.

Bingo, Kelly thought, shutting off Sean’s access to what was going on as she did. That’s why you didn’t just smack me down yourself, and why your angel buddy in the alley lost our one on one. You can’t touch me. Kelly turned Sean’s smile into a dopey frown. She wanted to pressure the angel now that she was feeling safe. “You don’t got to talk to me like that, man. You’re an angel, you’re supposed to be good. And you just said you could hurt me, so-aarkgl.” The angel’s hand had closed around Sean’s throat.

“You misunderstand. I cannot do you physical harm. Choking you to unconsciousness? Does not harm you. Stripping you of your sight, and hearing, and taste, and touch, leaving you only able to interact with the world through scent? Does not harm you. Stripping your intellect to its basest level where you will require assistance to clean your own fecal matter? Does not harm you.” Kelly couldn’t help but note that the grip was just tight enough to cut off Sean’s air supply, but not enough to even bruise him. His mind began panicking, darkness quickly claiming him – but not Kelly. She could still see, hear, and think perfectly fine. “When you wake up, think on that when next we meet. You still will assist us in dealing with this fiend. If you fail, you will regret it.”

And here Sariel really caught Kelly off guard. He reached up and tossed aside his black robe, and if Kelly had been able to breathe, she would have screamed. Underneath was a man’s torso – well, really just the pectorals. Attached to them were two arms and six feathered wings the color of the sun. Along each wing were rows of disturbingly human eyes that blinked out of sync with each other, all of which were fixated on her. “Stand in awe of me, mortal. I am a Seraphim, and I will never bow to you.

Sean’s body passed out, and Kelly let it slump like the strings had been cut, although she still kept her fingers on them. Sauriel let him fall to the ground. The room got brighter, so bright she could see it through Sean’s eyelids, and then the light faded – and with it, the feeling of a presence in the room.

She waited a bit longer, then stood up Sean’s body. It was still unconscious, which meant all the little things that Sean did to control himself, the decades of muscle memory, weren’t in place anymore. She moved awkwardly. Now I feel like I’m really wearing a meat suit.

Each motion was awkward. A couple times she tripped over his feet and went falling to the floor. Her muscle memory was designed for a body half this weight and a decent amount smaller in general, and to avoid breaking a bone or tooth while she was still in Sean’s body she crawled the rest of the way back to the room where Sean had kept her, and her clothes still lay.

To get out of Sean’s body, she had to crawl out his mouth, and Kelly was glad she’d left the space with mirrors to do it. It started with her hand emerging from between his lips, and his jaw distending like something out of a horror movie until her entire form was free. Once she was out, his body fell limp. Still don’t know what I’m going to do about him, she thought as she got dressed. He would be a problem again. The smart thing to do would be to kill him – she could kick him to death, and cops would be left trying to figure out how an abnormally large goat got into his room.

Instead, she dragged him over to the Saint Andrew’s cross and chained him back to the base, then tossed the keys into the hallway. He’d have to drag the apparatus behind him like Jesus walking to Golgotha. It wouldn’t stop him, but…she grabbed a pen and paper from the kitchen, carefully grasping them both with tissues to avoid her fingerprints and scribbled on it.

Sean.

I had you possessed. I could have made you kill yourself. I could have made you hang yourself and then exited your body before you choked out. I could have slit your wrists and got out while you bled out. Or I could have just done the job while out of your body and told the police how you held me captive and I had to escape. There’s a dozen things I could have done that I didn’t do because I’m not a demon. FYI, Sariel’s pretty POed at you. Something to think about.

<3,

Kelly.

P.S. If I regret this decision, you will too.

She dropped it on his forehead and then, for a final petty humiliation, put a book under the base of the cross so, when it fell, it would be certain to fall forward onto Sean. Jerk.

That done, she hunted down her purse and, after confirming everything was still in it, walked out of his apartment, calling an Uber as she did. She’d go home, get some sleep…and then once again try to talk to Chemosh.

Maybe he’d give her some more answers.