Exercise the Demons Part 11

The first impression Kelly got upon regaining consciousness was one of pain. Her wrists, neck, and ankles felt like they were being slowly cooked. When she tried to pull them away from whatever was hurting them, she heard the clanking of chains. Inch by inch, consciousness and rationality took control of unconscious fear.

She was in a room with no windows, although sunlight coming in from under the door across from her told her she was on ground level. The room had a couch and computer desk with chair, so it was a home office of some kind. Unfortunately, it had a nonstandard feature – she was secured by chains to a Saint Andrew’s cross. Who the hell has a Saint Andrew’s cross in their computer room…oh God this is probably a sex thing, isn’t it? She was at least relieved that she was wearing the clothes she’d been knocked out in.

Sean’s not that sort of monster, at least, she thought, then realized she knew exactly what kind of monster he was because she’d seen it. He was a sadistic bully who enjoyed inflicting pain, and Kelly felt a momentary flash of disappointment that it apparently also translated into BDSM. I wonder why I didn’t see that? The answer occurred to her pretty much in unison with the question – at that point, she’d been seeing sins, not desires.

The door opened, Sean summoned by the earlier clanking of chains, and he looked her up and down with a smile. “Can’t break free, can you? There’s Eunuch-ian runes on them, demon.”

“Okay, if you’re going to Snidely Whiplash on me, get it right. It’s called Enochian.” Kelly didn’t question how she knew that, but was certain of it the moment he’d started speaking it. The language of angels. “Second of all, what the hell? You were just some cute guy who turned out to be a douchebag, when did you learn Enochian magic and get cuffs inscribed with runes?”

“I had help from a higher power,” Sean said, clearly trying to sound as enigmatic as possible. Kelly rolled her eyes.

“No, idiot, I got that, I saw the angel behind you. You do realize that-”

“Ciaofi!” Sean interrupted.

It felt like every nerve in her body had simultaneously been drenched in molten steel. Pain coursed from the bindings and raced through her body, stretching up and down every inch of her and running deep into her core to the point where it felt like her heart had been set alight. She screamed at the sensation, and for a moment, thought this was it, that he was going to kill her.

Then, with same immediacy it had begun, it was gone. Sweat beaded her forehead as she gasped at the shock of it. “You will speak to me with respect,” Sean spat out, stepping forward to put his face only inches from her. “I am a human, you are just some demon. I spoke the words, I have dominion over you.”

Kelly let out a deep breath and glared at him. “I don’t understand how you got the cuffs,” she said after a tense moment.

Sean shrugged and stepped back. “Ciaofi,” he said, in an offhand voice.

Again, the agony coursed through her, and she found herself screaming. Maybe someone will hear me and send helpshe thought as the pain receded, although she didn’t thinks he’d get that lucky. Her hair was beginning to hang in a damp patch from the sweat the pain caused, and she shook her head to clear it out of her eyes. She shifted her arm slightly to bring one of the cuffs into view, and could see the runes were written on them in marker. At least that mystery is solved.

“Sean, can-”

He opened his mouth, and she clamped her shut before he could say the word. He gave her a cold smile. “Good girl,” he said, moving to sit on the couch. Fear and fury churned in Kelly’s gut. If I get out of here, you’re going to pay for that comment. But she kept her mouth shut for now, working on a way to get out of this mess.

“I can’t believe this. I’ve got an actual demon in my possession! Sariel said he didn’t care what I did with you, so long as I didn’t strike a demon. Oh man. So, let’s start,” Sean rubbed his hands together eagerly. “Fix whatever you did.”

Kelly blinked. “What?” She saw he was getting ready for the word again, and hating herself for wanting to avoid it, she rushed to explain, “I mean, I hit you with your own sin, but it was a temporary thing, right?”

That was, apparently, the wrong thing to say. “Ciaofi,” he snarled at her, and he continued glaring until the pain subsided. “Every night I see it. Every time I close my damn eyes. It’s a fucking nightmare I can’t escape, you bitch. Fix me!

Kelly swallowed hard. “I…can’t.”

She was braced for it this time, and although the agony was nearly unbearable, she achieved a small victory in keeping her teeth clenched against the pain. “You know the best part, bitch? I can keep saying it, over and over, and it’ll never kill you. If you don’t undo it, I might leave a recording of me saying on loop in here overnight. I live on a huge plot of land, no one will hear you scream.”

Kelly could feel sweat running down her back from the latest round. She knew she had to get out of here, and soon. Maybe it was different for full demons, but if he kept this up, she’d go insane.

Wait. That’s it. Not going insane, but she knew exactly what to do. “Even if I could, I wouldn’t,” she snarled.

He frowned. “Ciaofi,” he muttered.

She let herself scream this time, because she didn’t want to waste the strength fighting it. As soon as the pain passed, she panted out, “I’m so glad I didn’t hook up with you. Someone as fucked in the head as you are must be compensating for something. How many times have you heard “is it in ye-”

“Ciaofi!” he bellowed and again, she howled, but she was smiling as she did, and that seemed to piss him off even more. “Ciaofi ciaofi ciaofi!”

She lost sense of time, lost sense of reality. For a little bit, there was nothing other than the pain, pain so blinding a small part of her brain that wasn’t engulfed in agony wondered if maybe she’d miscalculated, maybe she would go insane before her plan worked, maybe she’d end up a drooling moron or completely broken or-

The sweat began to run down her wrists and neck and legs, and all of a sudden, the pain stopped. Sean blinked. “Ciaofi?” he asked, hesitantly.

There was no pain this time, and she sat there, panting at the pain, then with a swift motion lunged her arms forward, shattered the chains binding her. A quick kick did the same to the ones on her ankles as she pulled the collar in half. She held it up, where he could see how the sweat had ruined the hastily drawn Enochian runes.

Sean let out a sound halfway between a scream and a squeak, and turned to bolt out of the room. She leapt across the distance in a single bound, hitting him on the back and tackling him to the ground. She pressed one hand to the back of his head, forcing his face into the carpet. The claws on that hand extended, digging into his scalp just enough where he’d have a painful reminder they were there. She leaned down close to him so she could whisper in his ear.

“Say ciaofi one more time, Sean,” she purred in his ear, “for me?”

He started to scream.

Exercise the Demons Part 10

“Alright, everyone, great job!” Kelly gave the infernal legion a clap of her hands, and the assorted demons beamed at her, smiling with whatever they had that served as mouths. The temperature in the studio was nearly a hundred and ten degrees, and Kelly felt sweat beading her brow.

Hellfire was brutal, and she’d been avoiding using it. After the run in with the Angel, however, she’d decided that it’d be good to get some practice with it in herself. In this area, at least, her students greatly exceeded her.

Clifford had gotten back to her during the class. Actual classes to learn sword fighting were rare, and most of them were focused around fencing, which apparently wasn’t much good for her burning blade. According to him, it was closer to something called an arming sword, and he’d attached some YouTube videos that might help. She made a note to watch them later.

Shannon had also texted her, wanting to grab dinner, but Kelly responded to put her off until tomorrow. She still hadn’t figured out what to do about Shannon. Her friend clearly had some issues that needed working though, and part of Kelly wanted to get her to open up about them, see if she could maybe help somehow.

Another part of Kelly wanted to get Shannon in front of Chemosh for some kind of infernal deal that would give Shannon everything she thought she wanted.

That’s not the only impulse problem you have, Kelly reminded herself. She played the earlier conversation with Chemosh in her head. She’d been loud, brash, demanding, in his face. It had ended up being good, exactly what she needed to at least make some progress getting the demon to talk to her, but…but it’s not you. With all of that, an evening to herself sounded like exactly what she needed. She wanted to go for a run, she wanted to take a nice, long bath, and she wanted to curl up on the couch with a glass of wine and good book.

She definitely didn’t want to go out and find angels who were claiming human souls. Absolutely did not want to do that at all.

Not even a little.

She waved goodbye to Orcus and stepped out back to have a frustrated cigarette. Before all this, she’d smoked maybe once a week, just a little treat here and there. With everything else going on, including the changes to her body…well, what was a little bit of carcinogens on top of freaking hooves.

Stepping outside, she realized she’d forgotten her lighter, and after a moment sighed and held up her fingers. A puff of flame erupted from them, catching the cigarette on fire. At least it’s somewhat useful.

“Don’t move! Whatever the hell you are, don’t move.”

Kelly froze. The voice was high and strained, but sounded oddly familiar. It was coming from her side, and she wanted to turn to look at the speaker. Given how frightened he sounded, however, she decided it was best to listen to him for the moment. “Okay, I’m not moving,” she said, slowly exhaling the smoke. “What now, big man?”

“Jesus. Jesus Christ. What the hell are you?” The speaker began to walk closer, circling around Kelly, until he finally came into her field of view, a gun raised and pointed at her chest.

She swore. “Sean?

“Kelly. If that’s even your real name. Which, by the way, I doubt. Jesus Christ, you’re actually a demon!” She saw what was in his other hand now, a crucifix.

“And you’re actually an asshole. How the hell did you find where I work?” Instinct lowered her hands to her side, and his gun went off, hitting the stone wall behind her. She flinched at the sound and put her hands back up, though mostly what she felt was annoyance.

“I had your phone number. It was listed. Oh my God, what did I do?” He was shaking, and Kelly really wished his finger would come off the trigger. He’d looked at surprised at the shot as she’d felt.

“Nothing. You just swiped right on the wrong woman,” she said, forcing a smile to her face, trying her best to keep her voice soothing. “Why don’t you put the gun down and we can talk about this, okay?”

“I…you’re a monster. An actual monster! Look at you, you’re standing…Jesus.” Kelly glanced at her feet, saw she’d risen back up to her tiptoes again. Damnit.

“Look, Sean. Just relax, okay? I was just stretching my feet and didn’t want you to shoot me. So can you please lower the gun?”

Her voice was as reasonable as she could manage, but Sean wasn’t listening. It looked like his world was unravelling around him, and he was mostly talking to himself now. It took a moment for Kelly to pick up on the mutterings. “He was an angel. He was an actual an angel! So…I’m doing a good thing here, yeah?”

Oh shit. “Sean, who was an angel?”

He looked at her and laughed. “Sariel. That was his name. He said you were a demon and you…you’d cursed me. But he could free me.”

Kelly began taking deep breaths. The moment that gun waved away, she was going to charge him. Full bore, no stop. She just needed an opening. “Okay, so you’ve been touched by an angel. But I’m not a demon. Have you ever heard of a demon running a fitness studio?”

“The devil hath power to assume a pleasing shape! Get behind me, Satan!”

Kelly sighed. “Seriously? You’re going full crazy. Look, Sean, I-” The gun went down, the crucifix went up. Kelly started to lunge mid sentence, but Sean was already shouting.

“Olani Commah Ol!” Her leap was arrested mid-flight, like she slammed into a physical wall made of air. It would have been comical if it wasn’t so frightening. Immediately she unsheathed her hellfire blade and slammed it into the barrier.

Sean wasn’t done talking. “Olani Micma Ol!” he shouted, his voice gaining a resonance it hadn’t had before. The sky began to grow dark, and her sword winked out existance. Kelly felt her heart begin to pound, and she unsheathed her claws to turn them against the barrier.

“Old Olani Nanaeel!” Those last three words hit her like a brick to the stomach, driving her to her hands and knees. Her vision began to grow dark, and she saw Sean step forward, his face a wild grin.

“It worked! Oh my God, it worked! I bind you, demon!” He started to laugh, and Kelly felt the world fade away.

The last thing she saw before her vision completely faded was a hooded figure hovering just behind and above Sean, nodding approvingly.

Exercise the Demons Part 9

Kelly got to the studio early the next day to set up. Clifford had gone back to his apartment after eliciting a promise to keep him updated, a promise that Kelly half intended to keep. He’d given a promise to keep his mouth shut in return, a promise he had no trouble giving – after all, as he’d pointed out “There’s no way I don’t end up in an institution if I talk about this.”

Standing normally was becoming difficult. Kelly kept finding herself wanting to stand on her toes, and her feet were getting longer. Much as she wanted to deny it, there was no escaping that she was gradually growing full blown hooves. Well, if being a demon doesn’t work out, I could always make a killing doing fetish videos. The idea wasn’t as funny as she wished it was.

As much as she hated to admit it, the other changes were kind of cool, except for the ones she could hide. Retractable claws, flame hair, red eyes – all of that could be completely concealed if she was careful, and she’d actually started liking her look with the other two. They were a bit off putting, but they were striking in a way she enjoyed. Hooves? That was just creepy. At least she could hide them with normal shoe for now. When she couldn’t hide it anymore, however, what was she supposed to do? ‘My feet are hooves’ fell squarely into run out of town with torches and pitchforks.

She distracted herself with trying to figure out the modern equivalent of that. Run out of town with iPhones and Pickups, maybe? It helped keep her stress down, and also prevented her from noticing Chemosh was waiting for her when she walked in.

“This is your idea of discretion, Ms. Schmitt?” he hissed, his voice having regained that harsh quality it had initially possessed on the phone.

Kelly almost leapt out of her skin at the sound of the voice. He was sitting in her chair, his feet propped up on her desk, his fingers steepled. Even though he should have been completely illuminated by the lamp, it somehow cast his normally handsome face in sinister shadows. “What else was I supposed to do?” she said, fear making her snap harder than she intended.

“You told your brother about our arrangement, Ms. Schmitt. That is a direct violation of our contract. I could annul it like this,” he snapped his fingers at her to illustrate his point, a gesture that couldn’t have been better suited to get Kelly blood boiling if he’d tried, “and to be honest, I have half a mind to, and impose the full penalties for violation. Why on Earth would you do something like this?”

“Again, what the fuck was I supposed to do?” Kelly didn’t swear often, but Chemosh was getting to her. And not just because he was scaring her. Although that was a factor. He doesn’t have to be a dick about it, though. The idea of having her contract revoked had put ice in her veins on top of the anger. As much as some of the effects bothered her, she wasn’t sure she she wanted it to end, and she definitely didn’t want to find out what happened if she was found in violation of it. “He saw me pull a hellfire sword out of my ass, he saw a thing in a hood with a laser sword sucking some homeless guy’s soul out, how exactly do I cover that up?” Her nostrils flared. “On top of that, how the fuck do you even know? Do you have spies watching me?”

He clenched his teeth, and the words were spat out as he said, “Of course not, Ms. Schmitt. But as the holder of the contract, I am aware of the nature and time of any such violation. Something you did agree to in Section 91, Subsection F, ‘Enforcement and Penalties.’ If I do not end it, you really should fully read the document, it’s quite bad form to be…” the last word trailed off, and Chemosh sat there, his fingers still pressed together.

“To be what?” Kelly asked, and Chemosh held up a single finger to silence her. Part of her wanted to push ahead, but something told her discretion would be the better part of…well, she was turning into a demon, and he was a demon, so valor didn’t quite fit. Better part of survival seemed more fitting. As she watched, his lips moved slowly, and she realized he was going over everything she had said.

Finally he spoke, his tone becoming the more pleasant ones he had been using when dealing with her so far. “Ms. Schmitt, what exactly did you mean ‘a thing in a hood with a laser sword?’”

“Exactly what I said. It made the air cold, it had a sword of light, it was sucking out some guy’s soul, and when I landed a good hit it flew away on smoke wings when I landed a hit.” Kelly’s anger hadn’t faded, but she wrestled her tone to the ground and left it hogtied for now before it could make the situation worse.

“Ah. Well…that is an important detail. Hellfire sword you said? So you’ve got the powers of a Knight right now, interesting.” Chemosh gave her a warm and friendly smile. “I shouldn’t have doubted you, Ms. Schmitt. You’ve proven quite resourceful, and given the circumstances, the truth was likely the safest option. Although we will be to taking measures to ensure he doesn’t tell anyone the story.”

Kelly stared at him, open mouthed. The transition from furious to conversational was so abrupt it gave her whiplash, and hadn’t done anything to temper her own anger. Kelly made sure her tone was still tightly bound before continuing, “Just to be clear, I’m not in violation of my contract? And that’s not going to change suddenly?”

Chemosh nodded. “Section 91, Subsection F, Paragraph 24. ‘The contract holder [Chemosh] or an entity of a higher rank has the right to declare any such violations null and void due to mitigating circumstances at the contract holder’s discretion. Such declarations are final and binding.’”

The knots were untied from her tone, and she snarled, “Good. Then get your feet off my desk, you asshole.”

Chemosh’s eyes widened, but he did. “I take it something is amiss, Ms. Schmitt?”

“You’re damn right it is, Chemosh.” She leaned forward, putting her hands on her desk so they were face to face. “I dealt with not having answers before. But I almost died, my brother was in danger – incidentally, you’re going to stay the hell away from him – and I finally calmed down from that to have you making demands and threatening me like your my asshole father. You have to give me something to work with.”

Chemosh leaned forward, the dramatic shadows returning, his voice returning to its hoarse tones. Their faces were now inches apart, and part of Kelly wanted to quake under that gaze. “And if I don’t?”

They held that gaze for several seconds, an intensity so great that Kelly felt sweat begin to spring up her forehead. She began to wonder if something was actually happening here, some mystical force that she couldn’t comprehend, but as much as Chemosh frightened Kelly right now, the idea of what might happen if she lost this contest of wills terrified her more. “You know damn well there isn’t much I can do, Chemosh. But I’ll read the contract. I’ll do the bare minimum for the next week. And as soon as the week’s up, that’s it. I’m done, I’m out.”

“And you really think you’ve valuable enough for me to care?”

Kelly felt her knees begin to tremble, and she hoped Chemosh couldn’t see. It definitely was something more than just the normal clash of personalities. “Yeah, I do. If I wasn’t, you would have just revoked my contract without giving me a chance to explain. Since you didn’t…I’m worth something to you.”

Chemosh pursed his lips, and the pressure faded. Kelly broke his gaze then, using the pretext of wiping her forehead to do so. “I don’t have the time to restart. Very well Ms. Schmitt. You may ask your questions.”

“Okay. First of all, what the hell was that?”

Chemosh smiled. “Practical, I like it. That was a Duel of Wills. You declared it by making a demand linked to eye contact. I accepted.”

Kelly felt her irritation rise. “Why did you accept? I didn’t know what I was doing! That could have gone terribly – I have no idea what it means.”

His smile took on a smug overtone. “Because if I won, you would have found it difficult to ask about it again. And if you won, I would be free to speak of things that I wouldn’t have otherwise. Either way, it benefited me, and in the event of victory, it benefited us both.”

It was a bit of relief to hear what happened if she had lost wouldn’t have been terrible. Kelly had been imaging some kind of horrible fate, like eternal subservience or a shattering of her mind or being cast straight into hell or something worse. She took a deep breath. “So you’re saying you let me win?”

Chemosh shook his head. “Oh no, Ms. Schmitt. I’d much prefer I had won. But you were…unrelenting.” He gave her a cold smile. “Next question, please. Do keep in mind I am still fairly limited in what I can say.”

“Fine,” Kelly took a deep breath, and forced her heels back onto the floor, just that moment realizing she’d been standing on the toes. “What in hell was that thing I fought then?”

“Oh, it was nothing in hell. No, Ms. Schmitt, quite the opposite. That was an Angel of Mercy.”

“Of Mercy? That angel was trying to help that guy?” Kelly felt sick. She’d just firmly planted herself on the side of hell, and fought an angel

“In a manner of speaking. It was giving him the Final Mercy, death and ascension into Heaven. I’m quite glad you spared him – more time for us to claim his soul.” Chemosh looked quite pleased, and Kelly felt sick.

“I don’t want him to be damned to hell, Chemosh.”

Chemosh gave her the first genuine smile she’d seen today. “You should. It’s much better than the alternative.”

Kelly actually took a step back in surprise from that claim, and didn’t even notice returning to standing on her toes. “What do you mean?”

“Unfortunately, that goes a bit beyond what I can say even now.” Chemosh scratched his chin, and Kelly got the impression that he was trying to figure out what he could say within his limits. “Can we, for now, leave it at that all accounts of Hell you’ve heard were either divinely inspired or written by Christians, which might not be the most reliable source when talking about their adversaries?”

After considering it, Kelly agreed. “For now. But I’ll want more answers than that, Chemosh. I want to know what’s going on with me. What is this test program?”

“Again, there’s a limit to what I can say,” he held up a hand to forestall her retort, “but I can say a bit more. Are you familiar with the Fall of Lucifer?”

Kelly nodded. “One third of the angels followed him. Cast into hell and all that.”

Chemosh nodded. “Every demon you are teaching was once an angel that followed Lucifer, transformed into the forms you see, as am I. We were already outnumbered, but when we started to fight harder against the forces of Heaven, we realized we were at another disadvantage. Heaven has a means to resurrect fallen angels unless we have time to perform certain costly rituals. We do not. Their numbers are infinite, ours do not replenish. Children can arise from our unions with mortals, Cambions, but angels rarely allow such spawn to survive long.” Chemosh frowned at that last bit, and Kelly could have sworn there was moisture forming in his eyes as he did.

She spoke to keep him on topic, and before she started feeling pity to what was essentially an overseer. “I see. So…what? You’re trying out turning an adult into a demon directly?”

“Yes, actually. That’s the program you’re piloting right now, in addition to getting our soldiers into shape where less of them die. We were…lax for some time. And that, Ms. Schmitt, is the extent of what I can tell you right now without permission from a higher office.”

Kelly tapped her fingers in the crook of her arm. It wasn’t a complete answer, but it was something at least. “Who is the higher office, anyway?”

Chemosh gave her an impish grin. “Lucifer, of course.”

“Oh.” Suddenly, Kelly’s throat went dry. “No…no need to bother him right now.”

“I thought you might say that.” Chemosh stood. “I do apologize for my initial outrage. I’ve grown proud of your results, Ms. Schmitt. I was afraid I’d have to scrap the project, and you.”

“Yeah. You’re all heart.” Kelly couldn’t manage any rancor at that. “Could I have a copy of my contract?”

“Bottom drawer of your desk.” Chemosh held up his fingers, then cocked his head slightly. “One more thing, Ms. Schmitt?”


“You have the powers of a Knights. You will see other angels. I suggest considering very strongly if you want to intervene in the future. Some are far tougher than what you faced.” Before she could speak again, he snapped his fingers, and in a puff of flame he was gone.

Kelly let out a sigh of relief. There was a lot to think about in that, including going over her contract, but the confrontation had taken…forty five minutes? How long were we staring at each other? She had work to do.

She also sent a quick text to Clifford. “Hey, could you look up where I can get sword lessons?”

She put her phone back in her pocket without waiting for a response. She’d look it up herself is she hadn’t heard back by the end of her class.

Something told Kelly she’d been needing the lessons soon.

Exercise the Demons Part 8

Kelly raised her sword to intercept the glowing blade of the hooded figure. Maybe the figure wasn’t very skilled, or maybe she got lucky, but the two blades crashed together. She hadn’t been sure what to expect from the sound of hellfire crashing with holy light. Maybe something like steel on steel, or a hissing sound like oil on a pan.

What she got was a resounding silence, a cancellation of all other noises. Like the chiming of an anti-bell, everything around them fell silent for just an instant, including Clifford’s panicked yelling.

Kelly moved. She’d never held a sword in her life, and her knowledge of using one was from TV shows and movies. But she had worked out every day since high school and had been on varsity volleyball, so she was fast and quick and could hack and slash. Which she did, with the wild strikes of a desperate novice.

The figure was unprepared for the fury of her uncoordinated onslaught. Although its glowing blade came up to intercept each of her strikes, Kelly didn’t give it time to attempt to respond in kind. Each time their blades met that odd silence un-echoed through the air, cutting Clifford’s sentences to pieces.

“Kelly! It / falling back / need to lan / hit, try / angling your / ade.” She translated the missing parts in her head as best she could. “Kelly, it’s falling back. You need to land a hit, try angling your blade.”

Kelly remembered that Clifford had, back in high school, bought a sword against their parent’s objections. He’d played with it some, but mostly had just read about swordplay and how to use it, on top of posting a few shameful pictures to facebook of himself holding it and about how he’d “studied the blade.” He’d literally been more dangerous to himself than to others, something he’d proven when he’d cut his thigh and stopped the swordfighting forever.

The figure had found its footing and lunged at Kelly’s face. She fell to the ground to avoid having her skull split in two.

Despite his failures, Clifford still knew more about sword fighting than her. When the figure’s blade came down, she held her sword up to intercept the blow, but instead of holding it parallel to herself, angled it with the point facing the ground. This time, instead of the figures’ sword of light rebounding off her hellfire, the sword slid along the length of her weapon until it sliced into the ground.

She didn’t need to be told what happened next. Before the figure could bring its sword back around, she lashed upwards with her, slicing its hands. The light sword vanished, and the figure let out another shriek, this one of agony instead of anger. A cloud of smoke erupted from its back like dark cloud wings, and with a flap, it retreated into the air.

Kelly panted, watching the figure retreat into the sky, before letting go of her sword. It vanished, and she slowly got back to her feet.

Clifford was staring at her, his eyes wide and his mouth gaping in a comical O of surprise. “Wuh…what?”

Kelly sighed, rubbing her temples. She didn’t want to explain this to her brother, but she couldn’t leave him in the dark. Not after he had seen that. “So maybe there was a bit more more to the style changes then I let on. Want to grab our coffee to go?”

He stared at her, and slowly nodded. “But what about…” he pointed to the homeless man at the end of the alley.

Kelly blinked. She’d forgotten about him completely, and walked over. The man was unconscious but breathing low, hitching breaths. “Call 911. We’ll wait for the ambulance, then get fresh coffee, then we’ll go.”

Clifford reached for his phone, not taking his eyes off of her.

“So let me get this straight.” They’d moved on to her balcony so they both could smoke. The coffee had been finished long ago. Kelly had switched over to wine, Clifford was sticking to water for now. “You made a deal with the devil to be the personal trainer for literal, actual, for real demons. A side effect of that has you slowly turning into a demon. Which means you’re getting new demon powers every couple of days. By the grace of…uh, by something other than the grace of God, you today have the power to conjure hellfire swords.”

Kelly took a long drag of her cigarette. She’d kicked off her shoes and socks, and her feet made a distinctive clopping sound when she hit them on the wood of the balcony. Definitely turning into hooves. As she exhaled the smoke, to prove her point, she pushed the breath even harder to let him see the cinders. “That last part is a theory. It could be that I can do that all the time, just never tried.” She put out the cigarette on her arm, watching Clifford wince as she did. It was becoming a habit, but she enjoyed the show of it. “I don’t burn, too. I dunno what my heat tolerance is, but I don’t burn.”

Clifford took a deep breath. “You do realize that thing in the alley was probably an actual angel there. Like, holy being, sent by God, etc?”

“Yeah, maybe. On the other hand, that didn’t look particularly holy.” she took another sip of wine. “You were there, Cliff. You saw that thing. Anything about what happened there look holy to you? That guy was almost dead!”

“I mean, no,” Clifford frowned. “On the other hand, in the bible, whenever angels appear they always say ‘be not afraid.’ Maybe because they look like that?”

“I doubt it. Or do you recall a bible passage where the angels showed up and said ‘krsheeeeeee’ before trying to suck someone’s soul out.” Clifford shuddered at the imitation of the sound the figure had made.

“I guess not. Jesus. Sorry, I guess I shouldn’t…like, does saying his name hurt you?”

“Jesus. Christ. Christo. Yahweh. Jehovah.” Kelly sampled each word carefully. “Nope, no problem.”

“You forgot the Holy Spirit.” Clifford studied her face.

Kelly shrugged irritably. Her ears itched. She pushed it aside. “That’s two English words. I’ll try if we have an actual name, okay? Anyway, nothing to worry about.”

Clifford nearly choked on his water. “Nothing to worry about. Nothing to worry about.” He gave her a wide-eyed stare, before shaking his head like she’d just announced the sky was purple and tasted of raspberries. “Kelly, you’re…you’re turning into a demon, and just did battle with a hellfire sword in an alley. You teach exercise to out of shape demons. What part of that isn’t wroth worrying about?”

Kelly rubbed her temples again. “I thought you’d be excited about this. All that shit in your fantasy books and your Worlds of Warcrafts or whatever – it’s real.”

“Okay, first of all, you played a paladin to level seventy back during Burning Crusade when you were dating Jimmy. You were offtank for Black Temple. Don’t pretend you weren’t as big a nerd as me back in the day, I hate it when you pull that shit. And second of all, that’s fantasy. This is real life, biblical shit. I mean, what if you’re going to give birth to the antichrist now? Or you are the antichrist?”

“The antichrist is a dude, I think. And then I won’t get knocked up.” The headache was getting worse, and Kelly realized she’d extened the claws on the hand holding the wine glass.

“Kelly, you have hooves. How are you not freaking out?” Clifford almost shouted the last six words.

It was too much. Kelly threw the wineglass at the wall behind him, causing him to jump as the glass shattered against the wall. “Because I can’t do anything about it. What the hell do you want me to do, Cliff? Tell Chemosh to take his bargain and shove it up his asshole sideways? Tell the small horde of demons that will be in my studio tomorrow that they can be a bunch of fat fucks for all I care, I’m done? How do you think that ends for me! So I’m stuck, and I might as well enjoy it until it’s over.”

Clifford had shrunk back into his chair, hands gripping the sides so tightly his knuckles were white. The look he gave her was one of pure, unadulterated fear, but he wasn’t staring at her face, he was staring at her hand. At the fully extended talons on them.

“Jesus,” she said, getting the anger back under control. She flexed her fingers to pull the blades back into their sheathes. “Cliff, I’m sorry. It’s just…it’s happening, there’s nothing I can do about it, you know? But don’t think I’m not freaking out underneath it all. I’m just focused on what I can control, and right now that pretty much amounts to my attitude about it.”

“Okay, fair.” Clifford rubbed his arms for a moment, taking a deep breath as he did. “You just…I’m worried.”

“Me too,” Kelly lied. “But it’ll be okay. Let’s go inside, it’s getting cold.”

“Yeah, sure.” Clifford gave her a forced smile, trying to match her mood. “Hey, hellfire sword is pretty badass. Maybe you can be like Ghost Rider or Spawn, use hell powers for the side of good?”

She smiled and gave him a hug. “Thanks. It feels good to be able to talk about it it. C’mon. I’ve got toffee, mom’s recipe.”

They headed inside, and Kelly let out a relieved breath that the conversation was over.

The truth was, she wasn’t scared. She was angry, she was frustrated, and she needed some goddamn answers, but the fight in the alley – like everything she’d done so far – was more exhilarating than anything else. A rush like nothing she’d felt, not since she got clean. And it’s even better than that.

She was nearing the beginning of the final week, and more and more found herself wondering what she would do when her contract was up.

Exercise the Demons Part 7

“Alright everyone, good work. Grab a drink and we’ll start the next set!” Today’s class was the last of the week, and Kelly liked to make those double sessions.

She’d found the feather in her bed, and checked her back in the mirror. There were tufts of deep red feathers between her shoulder blades, slightly raised. It didn’t take a genius to figure out those would become wings.

Kelly wasn’t sure how to feel about that. On the one hand, sprouting wings would be impossible to hide. There were limits to what she could do, and wings large enough to support her weight would definitely exceed those limits, exceed the limits of anyone. But for right now they could be easily hidden, and….and if they did become wings, she’d be able to fly.

Maybe. She needed to talk to Chemosh again. She wove through the throng of demons, pausing here and there to talk to them in turn, making sure to offer them praise where she could. Since they weren’t leaving, they were maintaining their demonic forms, which made it a bit more difficult. She almost stepped on one of Dammon’s tentacles, and had to slide under the trunk-like arms of Orcus.

“Chemosh. Hey. Got a moment? I’m going to step out back for a smoke.”

The red-suited demon nodded to her, and they slipped out the rear exit.

“So, did you find yourself with a new gift?”

Kelly nodded, then lit the cigarette. “Temptation. I get to see people’s deepest desires, and help them act on it. Although it seems to be not working today, so I guess it changed again?”

“Hmm, cycling through rather quickly. How’d you like that one?”

Kelly bit her lip in thought, then took a drag of her cigarette. “It was…interesting. Exciting, yeah, but didn’t quite fulfill the same sense of justice as the other one and oh my God what am I talking about?” She glared at Chemosh. “Are you doing something to me right now?”

Chemosh smiled and shook his head. “You’re just being honest. We like being honest among our own kind, when possible. Not much point to deception.”

“Yeah, about that.” Kelly’s eyes narrowed. “I’ve been doing research. Demons are pretty much all Fallen angels, right? The one third of the heavenly host that followed Lucifer in rebellion and all that?”

“Yes,” Chemosh said, smiling.

“Well, then how the hell can I become one? I’m not an angel. Unless I’m descended from a nefy…neffil…”

“Nephilim,” Chemosh supplied, nodding. “You are correct, you are not an angel, and like I told you, there was nothing special that lead to you being chosen. You’re just the lucky one.”

Kelly put out the cigarette on her wrist and took a swig from her water. “I’m growing wings.”

“Don’t worry – it’ll be weeks before they’re noticeable. If you sign on for an extended contract…well, our goal is not to prevent you from having a normal life.”

“Then what is your goal?” She glowered at him. “I feel like I should get some answers.”

Chemosh regarded her for a moment, then smiled. “It’s good to want things, Kelly. I believe the time for your break has expired.” Before she could respond, he had headed inside.

Kelly wanted to hit him, but not badly enough to want to alienate her one contact with the demon side of things that seemed to know the answers. She stalked inside, fixing her smile back on her face as she did. “Alright everyone, break’s over! Let’s get back to the mats now. Good job. Thorammah, you need to get in the corner with those legs. There we go now. Okay everyone, lets warm back up, start to twist that torso. And stretch to the right three, two, one…”

Chemosh’s refusal to answer had put her in a foul mood. She decided to jog home instead of her usual sedate walk. Seriously, who does he think he is? He’s not the guy from the dream, which I’m guessing is Satan. So shouldn’t he be able to give me some kind of answer?

“Kelly?” The confused shout drew her out of her reviery, and she half expected to see Shannon standing there. It wasn’t Shannon though. Her baby brother, Clifford, was at the coffee shop between her studio and her house, his eyebrows furrowed. “Man, Shannon wasn’t kidding about your hair!”

“Shannon talks too much.” She smiled at him, cursing her lack of contacts. “Heya Cliff, how’s it going?”

“Well, I was in the area, thought I’d grab coffee and wait for you to be done! Did you not get my text?”

She shook her head. “Must have come in while I was running.” The truth was cell service was spotty with the runes protecting her studio now, and it took her phone a bit sometimes to reconnect. But try explaining that to your perfectly ordinary brother. “What are you even doing in the area?”

“Oh, just was checking out the network at one of our buildings on this side of town. Finished the job early, remembered your class was around this time, figured I’d see if fate smiled upon me.” He gave her a big grin.

She returned it, although hers was more forced. “Wow, that was almost believable. You are so full of bullshit, though.”

He sighed, and held up his hands. “Fine. I was worried. C’mon, let me buy you a latte and make it up to you.” He motioned to the table, and she sat down.

If you hadn’t heard the connection, you’d never believe these two were siblings. Clifford took as much care with his weight as Kelly did with her video game skills, and Kelly hadn’t touched one of those since her ex had dumped her back in September of twenty sixteen.

“So, Shannon ratted me out?” Kelly said, keeping the smile up.

Clifford shook his head. “I FB messaged her, and it came up that you had dyed your hair and your eyes – you look like a…like…I don’t even know, Kelly.”

“You message Shannon? Why did you message Shannon?” Clifford flushed, and Kelly leaned over to pat him on the back of the hand. “Oh Cliffy, honey. Don’t, okay?”

“Why, because she’s out of my league?” Cliff snapped, and Kelly shook her head.

“You know I don’t buy into that. But because Shannon is…you two have literally nothing in common.”

Clifford frowned, and pulled his hand away. “Not important right now.” Kelly wanted to argue that point, but he pressed ahead as she took a sip from the latte. “Kelly…you’re different. Dying your hair, tattooing your eyes…what’s gotten into you?”

“Maybe I’m just tired of being boring?” Kelly couldn’t muster up the right rancor for that. There was something bothering her, something on the edge of her senses she couldn’t quite place. Like a high pitched whine on the edge of her hearing.

“C’mon, it’s me. You know you can tell me…where are you going?”

“I hear something.” Kelly was walking towards the source of the sound.

“I’m trying to talk to- Kelly, what the hell!” Clifford got up and started to push after her.

The sound was coming from between the alley of the coffee shop and the bridal shop next store. As soon as she entered it, the temperature dropped a good thirty degrees. She could see her breath.

“Kelly!” Clifford shivered in the alley. “What are you doing.

He hadn’t seen it yet, but Kelly did. Behind the dumpster. A hooded figure, wearing the kind of black robe Kelly thought only existed in movies, was hunched over an old man who was laying in the alley. Something white and misty was passing from the old man’s mouth into the hood off the figure.

“Hey! Step away from him!”

It whirled on her, and Clifford made a sound like a strangled cat. That hood was empty, save for the white vapor trailing into it. Not that she could see the back of the hood. It was empty like a sore, so black it sucked at the eye like it had a gravitational pull. Light seemed to vanish as soon as it hit the interior of the hood.

It let out a scream that stabbed straight through to Kelly’s bones.

She raised her hands in shock, and a sword made of deep red hellfire formed between her fingers. Clifford made another choking sound.

“Okay, well, this is…new.” She steadied herself and stared directly into where eyes would sit on that empty void in the hood. “Back off?”

Shockingly, the hooded figure didn’t flee at her confused demand. Instead, it began to rush towards her, a floating dash. As it did, a blade formed in its hands.

A blade of glowing light.

Oh, man, Chemosh, if I survive this you’ve got some explaining to do.

Exercise the Demons Part 6

By the time she got to class, she was glad to see the assortment of demons. “Alright everybody! You ready?” She asked, flouncing into the room.

In the past four hours, in addition to Henry, she’d run into a man who wanted his wife to tie him up and beat him with a flyswatter, a woman who wanted to burn her office building to the ground, a young boy with a balloon who’s darkest desire was eating six scoops of ice cream, and a woman who desperately wanted to run naked through a sports game.

Since the little boy’s mom distracted by her phone she’s just bought him a cone of ice cream from a nearby store because that was just too precious, but the others she’d encouraged in little ways. Maybe ask your wife to tie you up, hmm? Maybe instead of burning it down, quit the job if you hate it so much? Instead of somewhere public like a sports game, maybe get a taste of that thrill with the woods behind your home?

It wasn’t that it was easier to see desires than sins, nor was it more tempting on a visceral level to use than the other power. It was, however, much more fun. Besides that little psycho, of course. But it was a hollow fun, and she knew that one of these times she was going to get curious and find someone with a really sickening desire.

Plus, she really didn’t like what it might say about herself that she was enjoying this so much.

So she was glad for the chorus of halfhearted affirmations from the demonic host. “C’mon, you all know better than that! I asked if you were ready?”

This round of affirmations was more spirited. Kelly was just glad the same motivation that worked on humans worked on the legions of the damned. “That’s more like it! Now we’re going to start with jumping jacks. Remember your form if you have more than two arms and legs! Malphas, I know you’re not using your wings! And one and two and three and four and…”

The rest of the class passed in a blur, but at least here Kelly felt almost normal. You do realize you feel normal when you’re leading an exercise class of demons? Like, Kelly, you get how twisted that is, right?

She fought the voice down. She was not going to let her own insecurities spoil what was becoming the best part of her day. “Alright, now two groups. If you have two arms and two legs, to the right, if you have more of either to the left. Those of you on the right, let’s start with pushups. Put your hands shoulder width apart, make sure they’re lined up and one. And two. And three. Good job, keep that up till twenty. Those of you on the left! Let’s…figure out the closest thing to a push up you can do.”

Anything to distract her from the fact that she only had three hours until she saw Shannon. She had spent some time today pretending she wouldn’t want to find out her best friend’s darkest desire…but by the time she’d gotten to class, she’d decided that it was best she was honest with herself.

Besides, what could possibly be darker than Shannon’s sin?

Shannon had gotten thai food on the way over. “Oh my god you are a literal lifesaver!” Kelly exclaimed, opening the door for her. “I was about ready to eat my table.”

“Well, I’ll let this use of literal slide since that would literally kill you.” Shannon laughed and put the food down on the table before Kelly could take it from her and brush fingers. “So, any panic attacks today?”

Kelly shook her head. “No, thankfully. Just…busy. Feel like my life is out of control, you know?”

“Mmm,” Shannon swallowed the noodles she was already shoveling into her mouth. “I know exactly what you mean. But look on the bright side – we’re doing it! You made enough money to retire and become a personal trainer before you were too old to do it, and I’ve got my own firm! We are our own bosses!”

Inspiration struck, and Kelly held up her hand for a high five. Shannon reached over to slap it.

They weren’t in Kelly’s apartment anymore. Shannon was alone in a small stone room, littered with skeletons and lined with coffins. Shannon stood there, wearing only the skin she was born in and painted with strange symbols. For a moment, Kelly was afraid she was about to learn her friend had a horribly macabre fetish, but Shannon knelt down, painting on the floor with the same strange red paint that adorned her body.

Blood. Somehow, Kelly knew it had come from a goat, which was a relief. Shannon was painting a pentagram on the floor.

Once that was done, Shannon began chanting in Latin. “Venite ad me Dominus tenebris! Dona mihi potestatem Princeps mendacium! Inimicus! Inimicus! Et tu iubes vocationem hercle!” As she chanted, the room began to grow dark, and the skeletons on the wall began to turn their heads to face her.

A shadow formed in the center of the pentagram, and out of it stepped the six winged figure from her dream last night. “You dare call me directly?” He said, his voice full of unholy anger.”

“I dare and have done!” Shannon retorted defiantly.

The figure smiled. “A bold choice.”

The desire ended, and Shannon continued, “So let life take care of itself! We’ve got this.”

Kelly smiled at her, but her heart was pounding. The urge to push Shannon into somehow following through with that desire was strong, almost overwhelming. She stuffed some of the Thai into her mouth to keep herself from whispering some temptation into her friend’s ear with that silky voice she could use now.

If it hadn’t been for a different desire, Kelly might have done it. But something far more human was vying for attention. I could tell her the truth. If that’s what she wants, if that’s her darkest desire, she’ll understand. But that would open a whole new problem.

Knowing what she truly wanted, what would Shannon do with that knowledge?

Exercise the Demons Part 5

Kelly dreamed of a lake of fire. In the center of it stood a figure, darkly handsome like Chemosh but somehow more so, his chest bare, and six ebon wings extended behind his back. He smiled at her, and gestured. Walking to him would mean crossing the burning lake, but her cloven hooves had no problem balancing upon the flames. Her own wings were still too weak to fly, but

The dream was shattered like a dropped glass as her phone beeped. Kelly rolled over and clutched at it. For a moment her fingers stuck to the wood, and she noticed that cat-like claws had extended from the tips. Half asleep, figuring out how to retract them was beyond her at the moment, so she awkwardly pulled her phone over, balancing it delicately in her talons. It was Shannon.

“So…are you going to tell me what the hell happened the other day?”

Kelly reached up to rub her eyes, and stopped herself with the claws inches from her eyeballs. Slowly, she flexed her fingers until the claws pulled back into the tips. I’m not even freaking out. I woke up with retractable finger claws, and I’m more worried about responding to a text.

Must be the cobwebs. She tapped at her phone. “So…it’s embarrassing, but I’ve started having panic attacks. New business and all that, y’know? Had one and bolted, then was too embarrassed to fess up.” She followed it with a nice and friendly frowny face, carefully chosen from the various frowny options, one Kelly felt did a good job conveying both regret and shame. It looked like it had been caught mid-sigh.

Shannon responded almost immediately, before Kelly could fully get out of bed. Her back itched, right between her shoulder blades, but she couldn’t quite reach the spot. Instead, she pulled her wool blanket up and started to rub it across her back, sighing in relief.

“Panic attacks? I know you hate when I pry, but…”

Kelly didn’t hesitate with her response. “It’s fine, you keep me honest. I promise there’s no problem there. Let’s grab dinner tonight after my class? Maybe some carry out?”

“Sure! Sounds great. See you tonight. 6PM work?.”

Kelly responded in the affirmative and slunk out of bed. After what had happened with that murdering jackoff the day before, she had decided to let her friend’s sin slide after asking herself a simple question – would she be able to mete out vengeance on an actual six year old for doing that? The answer had been, thankfully, a resounding no. Besides, she felt good this morning. Better than she had the last couple days. Besides the claws, nothing else had changed while she slept – in fact, she looked great in the mirror. Too good.

She leaned forward to look at her reflection closer. She looked like she had just gotten out of bed in a TV show. Hair was perfectly tussled, an artful mess that would take a team of stylists two hours to get just right. Her face looked like she’d perfectly applied her makeup already, and not her normal quick “don’t bother with too much because you’re going to get sweaty anyway” makeup, but studio quality. It even framed her red eyes perfectly, so they looked less menacing and more…exotic.

Okay, Kelly, think. The demons that come to your class definitely don’t look like they walked off a film set, unless it was something by Guillermo Del Toro. So why do you?

Unfortunately, nothing came to mind. It was unnerving, but compared to growing claws and hooves, she’d take it. Class wasn’t for another four hours, and her slowly growing demonic nature aside, she still had to take care of her life. For starters: her fridge was empty, and her pantry wasn’t much better. Time to hit the store.

With everything else going on, perhaps she could be forgiven for not noticing the downy black feather that had fallen on her bed.

Kelly loved being a self-employed early riser. If she hit the store before her morning jog, she could be there while the rest of the city was stuck in traffic trying to get to work, and the aisles were almost completely empty. Almost. Today she found herself sharing the salad bar with an older gentleman she’d seen around a few times before. Henry.

Apparently she knew names of relative strangers now.

She didn’t feel any particular urge to make contact – apparently Chemosh had been right about that fading, or the old man was such a saint that he didn’t have any interesting sins. From the way he kept trying to glance down her shirt, she doubted that was the case. So when he reached for the lettuce, out of perverse curiosity, she reached for the spoon as well, her hand brushing against his.

She was Henry, but not the Henry standing next to her. This Henry was seated at a table, and in front of him laid a feast. Steaks, plump and juicy. A pot roast that was dripping with juices. Three cakes – one made of the most decedent chocolate, another rich in cream cheese, the final a chocolate chip cookie almost two feet across. Banana splits drizzled with chocolate and raspberry sauce sat between the cakes.

Someone was eating on the floor next to him. His greasy fuck of a son in law, the one that had stolen his daughter and now had power of attorney, threatening to throw him in a nursing home if he ever stepped an inch out line. A petty child that bullied Henry into eating this stupid salad with kale, whatever the hell that was, no matter how healthy his doctor said he was. That little pig, in this dream, was scarfing salad out of a bowl, his hands tied behind his back so he had to eat like a dog. Henry threw a steak bone at the fat little pigs head when Henry had finished cleaning it, and the little pig shuffled over to lick the meat off it.

As soon as their hands made contact, a new feature was added to the fantasy. Kelly was there suddenly, or at least a fit young woman that at this instant looked like Kelly, and would later look like the cute jogger that ran by his porch every day at 9am sharp, and later still would be the barista who snuck him an extra shot of expresso because he was such a sweet old man. Whichever woman it was, they were dressed like harem girls out of some 1970’s Hollywood fever dream of the ancient Middle east, and when they weren’t fetching him fresh plates, they were beating the little piggy with bamboo poles for not eating fast enough.

Kelly broke contact, her eyes bulging as she did. Henry pretended not to notice the touch, which was for the best, since Kelly couldn’t help but wipe her fingers on her sleeve. It wasn’t a sin. It wasn’t something Henry had done, or would really ever be able to realistically do. Desire. It’s his deepest, darkest, most profane desire.

Kelly wanted to walk away, but another perverse urge reared itself up. Instead, she leaned in towards the salad bar, her head as close to Henry’s as she could get it. “Perhaps a bit much,” she said in a voice far more silky than her normal chipper tones, “but maybe just the cake? What the little piggy doesn’t know won’t hurt, right?”

Henry looked at her, his eyes narrowing. “I’m sorry, miss, did you say something?”

She gave him a look of wide-eyed innocence. “I’m sorry, must have been muttering to myself.”

Henry licked his lips, opened them again, and then closed them. He gave her a brisk nod. “Of course, my apologies.” He turned away from the salad bar, his half-filled container abandoned.

She watched as he turned towards the bakery, his strides growing more sure with each step.

…Oh goddamnit, I’m tempting people now, aren’t I?

She really wished she’d scheduled dinner with Shannon for another day.

Exercise the Demons Part 4

“And bend down, touch those-” Kelly glanced a the various appendages that supported the class and corrected course without missing a beat, “-touch the floor! And hold for five, four, three, two, and one and up and breathe and step. Now down again!”

The assorted mass in front of her did again. She walked among them, counting down, correcting posture where she could. Belphegor was struggling to bend down – he claimed the jaw in his midsection wasn’t particularly flexible – but given that his mouth was shrinking with his girth, Kelly figured it had to have more give than he claimed, and pushed him further. He grunted at the exertion, but the jaw distended to allow the motion. “Five and four and knew you could do it, three and two and one and up and breathe and step!”

The praise made him grin, which Kelly liked. It helped distract her from the slight trouble she was having walking today.

Her feet still fit in her shoes, thankfully, but her toes were mostly fused together. It made balance difficult, to say the least. The skin was definitely harder too, and she’d shrunk a shoe size.

Chemosh sat in the back, watching approvingly. Kelly was glad he was here. Following the man last night had lead to more questions.

“Alright, everyone! One more, this time to ten!” she began to count down, moving among them, checking posture. Eisheth, one of the few females of the demons, moved down a few extra inches as Kelly approached. A few flakes of skin shredded off her desiccated form as she did, but Kelly gave her a thumbs up. “And one and rise! Great job everyone! Haagenti, watch those tendrils next time – the goal is to stretch the back, not the limbs. Orobas, great attempt, but keep in mind the limbs you walk on are your feet, not the limbs at the bottom of your torso. Make sure you treat them like feet next time. See you all same time tomorrow!” She strode over to Chemosh, moving quickly in case he’d just come by to check on progress.

He didn’t seem in any hurry to leave, at least. He was still wearing that red suit, perfectly tailored for him. Is that what you really look like? Are you actually a handsome devil? Or do you look like the rest of them under that. “Thanks for stopping by,” she said, still catching her breath from the exertion.

Chemosh gave her a small bow. “I should have checked back in sooner, to be fair. Things became rather…heated.” She noticed with the phrase how stiffly he moved his arm.

“You alright?” she asked, frowning.

“I appreciate the concern,” he said with a smile, “but I am fine.”

“It’s not just concern, Chemosh. Without you, I’m not sure what happens to me.”

“Fair. Trust me that you will be cared for.” She waited to see if he would explain further, but no elaboration seemed forthcoming.

“You know what? Okay, fine. That’s hardly the biggest worry I have.”

“Of course. Shall we step into your office?”

She lead the way, closing the door behind them once they were in. “What’s happening to me, Chemosh?”

“Straight to the point, fair enough.” He smiled blandly at her. “Merely fulfillment of all terms of the contract.”

“I’m becoming a demon.”

“Of course.”

Kelly felt her temper flare up, and slapped her desk. The thick wood cracked slightly under the blow. It seemed unimportant. “Don’t ‘of course’ me. I didn’t sign up for that!” Chemosh stared at her hand, and after a moment, she pulled it off the desk. “Sorry. But…how is this what I signed up for?”

Chemosh smiled at the apology, and pulled a contract out of his jacket pocket. “Section 12, subsection B, Paragraph 2. ‘The trainer agrees to the risks of working with demonic forces, including but not limited to corruption of flesh, shifting of ethical considerations, minor alterations to the trainer’s person, visions, and any other unnatural alterations.’”

“Minor alterations? My hair and eyes changed color. I think my feet are turning into hooves!”

“Compared to the extreme variations of your students, those are fairly minor. But that’s not all. Section 12, subsection C, Paragraph 18. ‘The trainer agrees to participate in a trial program to delve further into the nature of the human soul, and at the end of the program acknowledges that s/he will need to choose a rank amongst the demonic hosts.’”

Kelly took a moment to process how he’d managed to pronounce the slash in s/he. She’d just heard it happen, but it hurt her mind to try and recall it. She shook her head to clear it. “What if I don’t want to be a demon, Chemosh? I didn’t…I didn’t understand.”

“Oh, please, don’t think me cruel. You have the option, at the end of you contract, to choose to accept the rank of Attendant. Should you choose that option, you will revert to your mortal form and live out your life normally. Then, when you die, you will be judged on your sins like every other mortal. If you find yourself in the pit, however, we’ll be discussing other options than eternal torment.”

Kelly let out a long sigh of relief. So it’s temporary. Or it can be. She tried not to think about why she felt conflicted about this. “Can I ask some other questions?”

Chemosh nodded. “I can’t promise I’ll answer all of them. Some questions will require a level of commitment before I will elaborate.”

“Fine. Why can I see people’s sins?”

“Ahh. That at least is simple. As part of the trial program, you are sampling the powers of various ranks of our kind. It seems you are sampling the power of a Purifier at the moment. Or at least, you were – tell me, has the desire to find sinners faded today?”

Kelly pursed her lips. “Yeah, it has. After…last night. I followed a…there was a guy. I followed him home. Grabbed him on his way in.”

Chemosh’s smile turned more genuine. “And what happened?”

“He was a professor at State. Had already killed three of his students.” She shuddered at the memory, seeing those kills from this monsters point of view, feeling the sick waves of pleasure flowing over him as they slowly sunk into the concrete, begging for their lives. “I showed him their pain. It…damnit, Chemosh, it killed him.”

“Purifier, yes. Do you regret killing him? Would you prefer this man wandered about, claiming more innocent lives?”

“I mean, no, of course not. But I’m not a killer. I want to help people get into shape, not murder them!” She was nearly shouting, but Chemosh didn’t seem to mind this time.

“Ahh, but you didn’t. You merely let his own sins consume him. No murder was done.”

Kelly wanted to argue with him on that…but part of her really liked the justification that she wasn’t a killer. “So what’s this trial? Does it have to do with your war?”

Chemosh shook his head. “More commitment is needed for that level of trust. I can’t risk you…turning on us. You know a great deal we wouldn’t want our enemies getting ahold of.” He raised a finger before she could object. “I will tell you this trial has nothing to do with the forces of Heaven, as you think of them. Does that satisfy your curiosity enough, Ms. Schmitt?”

Kelly bit her lip in thought, wincing slightly as she did. Were her teeth getting pointed? God I hope not, that’ll be hard to cover up. “No, but it’s better than nothing. Thank you. Why don’t I want to go hunt down sinners anymore?”

“I imagine you’re done with that test for now. You’ll have another soon enough, new gifts to help you fulfill them. Do try to enjoy it, Ms. Schmitt. No sin you commit during this period will stain your immortal soul. Section 71, Subsection Y, Paragraph 34 stipulates that. Any other questions?”

Kelly took a deep breath. “Yeah. One more. Why me?”

Chemosh laughed. “Ahh, yes. You want to know if you are somehow special, somehow chosen, yes?” She nodded. “Ms. Schmitt, you were the first advertisement I saw that mentioned discretion. A trait we were looking for. That is it. I regret to inform you that you weren’t anything special. Although…maybe you will be. Good day, Ms. Schmitt.”

With that, Chemosh was gone, and Kelly slumped into her desk chair. While it was good to have answers, the parts that didn’t get explained were still gnawing at her mind.

They distracted her so much, it was a couple more hours before she thought to wonder what “the forces of Heaven, as you think of them” meant.

Exercise the Demons Part 3

“And lift and kick. Lift and kick. Ten more seconds, fellas, you got this! Lift and kick and lift and kick and almost there, just another lift and kick and break. Great job everyone!” Kelly gave the group an excited clap, and a couple of the demons beamed at her.

They were starting to like her praise. Or at least, she thought they did. At first the demons had been pretty dismissive of her, only following her instructions because Chemosh had been standing in the corner and glowering at them. He’d stopped coming after the first week, which had been nice.

Except now that she wanted him here, she had no idea how to contact him. She’d tried the phone number he’d called her on initially, but it was a burner.

And she needed to talk to him. On top of what had happened last night, she’d woken up this morning with her shoulder length hair the color of fire, white at the roots and gradually darkening to blood red at the tips. It was a striking look, to be sure, but it was also a change she couldn’t hide easily. The contacts weren’t working as well as they could, and she’d had…urges.

There wasn’t a better word for them. But walking down the street, she’d seen people, and she’d found herself wanting to brush against them, like she had with Sean. See their sins. Some of them were stronger than others – one man in particular she couldn’t get out of her head. He had been a slightly nebbish looking man wearing a suit and with a pencil-thin mustache, and she’d almost given in and touched him.

Even now, she could still feel him, like he was calling her somehow.

She grabbed one of the demons as they walked towards the door. His human form was that of a pudgy man, but in his demonic form he was a corpulent mass, standing on six tiny legs that looked better suited to an infant, with a single eye in the center of his chest. “Belphegor, right?” she smiled at him.

He nodded back, a thick smile crossing his face as he reached out with pudgy fingers to shake her hand. “Kelly. Thank you. Hmmm. I’m already down to six hundred thirty nine pounds.”

She shook the sweaty appendage, marvelling at the fact that in his normal form it was a crab-like pincer. “So glad to hear it. I was wondering if you could do me a favor?”

“Ahh, well, favors are difficult. We don’t do much for free, you know. Demons and all that.”

“Right, of course.” She pursed her lips. “What would it cost me to get word to Chemosh, then?”

Belphegor’s smile widened, reminding her of the second toothy maw he had where a normal man’s belly button would be. “That, my dear, is not a favor, hmmm. Carrying word to my Lord and Master is a duty of mine.”

Kelly let out a sigh of relief. She didn’t know if she wanted to do more demonic favors…although the first one was working out well so far. Besides the transformations. And the ‘sinsense,’ for lack of a better word. “Great, awesome. Could you let him know I’d like to speak to him as soon as possible. There’s some things about the contract I’m…not sure I fully understood.”

“But of course, my dear, but of course. It may take, hmmm, a day before he can respond, of course. Chemosh is very, very…busy. Important member of, that is to say, the Infernal Hierarchy. Very important. Hmmm.”

Kelly forced a smile onto her face. But I need to talk to him now! “Great, thank you so much. See you tomorrow Belphegor!”

“See you, hmmm, tomorrow, Kelly.” Belphegor shuffled out.

Tomorrow felt like an eternity. She spent some time fumigating the studio. Sweaty demons left an odor something like meat left to rot on a pile of sulfur, although she found it less offensive now than she had at first. Oh god I hope that’s not how I smell. She’d just about got it smelling normal when the door chimed open.

She whirled around, but it wasn’t Chemosh. It was Shannon, her old roommate. “Kelly! You ready for lunch?”

Shit. She had completely forgotten they had plans. “Uh-”

“Oh wow, your hair! I love the look, it’s very striking!:” Shannon walked over and then her brow furrowed.

Kelly realized she’d left the contacts out.

“Girl, what did you do to your eyes? Please don’t tell me you got an iris tattoo, that shit can leave you blind!”

“Oh my god, it can?” Kelly latched onto the excuse. “I hadn’t…wow, I guess I got lucky!”

“You okay? I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m glad business is booming, but…dying your hair, getting tattoos on your eyes?”

Kelly smiled as best she could. “Guess I’m taking to freedom a bit harder than expected.” She watched Shannon’s eyes track down her arm to her elbow, and Kelly felt her lips thin. “I’m still clean,” she said, harder than she expected.

Shannon winced at being caught. “Sorry, it’s just…”

“No, Shannon, I’m sorry. You were just worried. I swear though, I’m not turning in my five year badge.” Kelly pulled out the key to show the medallion still dangling there. “My last class ran a bit late, sorry. Come back to my place so I can shower and change and then we’ll go?”

“Sure thing.” Shannon’s smile returned. “I want to hear all about this Geek class you’re leading now. What’s it like?”

Kelly smiled at her. “It’s nothing like I expected, I can tell you that…”

The story Kelly told Shannon had enough fo the truth to be plausible. They were demon LARPers, trying to get into shape for some kind of big battle. They were in the kind of shape people who spent most of their time around tables pretending to be action heroes usually were, but since they had just joined this LARP they wanted to get into shape. They were super into it – they all used their demonic names even in class.

“That’s wild,” Shannon said. At this point they were at the coffee shop, sandwiches and drinks in front of them. “I bet they love your new look though. Fire hair, red eyes – do they spend the entire class leering at you?”

Kelly laughed. “Not really. I get some looks as they come in and leave, but they’re dedicated to getting fitter.”

Shannon caught Kelly up on her life too. When the company had gone under, she’d used her severance package to go into private practice as an accountant. Much more reliable income than personal trainer, and unlike Kelly Shannon actually liked doing the math. But it was boring as sin, at least in Kelly’s mind, and she found her mind wandering as Shannon began to drone.

Which means she wasn’t paying attention when Shannon reached out to grab her hand, noticing the new bracelet Kelly had bought with some of her demon money.

Immediately Kelly saw Shannon, but she was six, and hiding behind a car, her stuffed rabbit clutched close. She was staring at a burning house. Immediately Kelly knew what this was – Shannon had told her about it, the night her father had died. Why would I see this? It wouldn’t be a sin unless…oh no.

Shannon’s father came running out, flame still clinging to his body. Shannon hugged her rabbit closer, tears streaming down her face. Her father hadn’t been a good man, constantly drunk and often abusive. The drunkeness was why Shannon had been cooking her own meal. She’d wandered away from the stove.

“Call 911” The burning figure screamed.

Shannon just stared at him, still crying. Later on she’d tell therapists that it had been because she was so scared, but Kelly saw it right then, saw it in her soul.

She’d decided to let her father burn to death, although she hadn’t understood what she’d done at the time.


Kelly pulled her hand away from Shannon’s like it was red-hot. Shannon recoiled a bit, looking concerned. “Kelly? Is everything…where are you going?”

But Kelly was already standing up, already had thrown her money on the table. She muttered an apology and something about not feeling well before running out into the street. A burning desire to make Shannon feel what she’d done to her father was sitting in Kelly’s throat like heartburn, but on the other hand…she’d been a child. Did she really deserve that? Can a six year old really be guilty of murder?

She needed to do something though. The urge was building up within her, an irresistable force.

The man with the pencil mustache still called to her, and Kelly started wandering in his direction.

Let see what your sin is…maybe you deserve this.

Exercise the Demons Part 2

Kelly didn’t have horns the next day, so thank Christ for that small favor at least. She chuckled at herself for thinking thank Christ, because she strongly suspected he had very little to do with that. The skin on her feet was starting to turn dark grey, however. When she pressed it, it felt firmer than before, almost like scar tissue. It was…concerning, but at least could be hidden by shoes. Her breath didn’t seem to smoke either unless she forcefully exhaled, and her eyes…her eyes required a quick stop to a costume store to pick up a pair of colored contacts.

Thankfully, they had some in blue that was close to her natural color. When she put them on, the faint red light beneath them made her look closer to purple, but still within the range of “normal eyes.”

You should probably just cancel on this date, she thought, but it had been ages since she’d had a date. She’d met him online, but this guy seemed nice, and had made her laugh, and was good looking, and above all else was normal.

Kelly had a feeling her days of normal were numbered.

“We still on for fondue at 6?” she texted, adding a smiley face behind the question.

“Absolutely. Want to meet there or should I pick you up?” He followed his question with a winky face, a ‘if you see my meaning’ winky face, a ‘maybe guarantee myself a chance to come in’ winky face.

“Meet there!” She followed it up with her own winky face. A ‘don’t get too excited’ winky face, a ‘but don’t get too disappointed either’ winky face.

It was a nice place, nicer than anywhere she’d been since Hart and Wolfe Inc. had gone belly up, and she was glad Sean had already insisted on paying or she’d be starting to get nervous. The demon money was good so far, but she didn’t know if she’d get to renew at the end of two weeks, and depending on how these changes went, she didn’t know if she’d need some major surgery to fit into a normal life afterwards. I really, really hope that if this goes too far, I have some way of not being stuck looking like a freak forever.

Sean walked up and she gave him a small wave as he did. He was good looking – not quite Hollywood good looks, not Henry Cavill or Bill Skarsgard good looks, but more everyday good looks. Blue collar, with muscles he earned at work, not the kind of muscles he earned from someone like Kelly. He gave her a dopey smile.

“You look…wow, stunning,” he said, and she returned the smile.

“You look pretty good yourself. C’mon, our table’s ready.” She walked first, which was a mistake, because he did wrinkle his nose slightly.

“You’re a smoker?”

“Only a couple times a day, when I’m nervous.” She smiled at him, let him think that she’d been smoking because of the date. He seemed to relax.

“Fair enough. I’m not a huge fan of it myself, but for someone as pretty as you, I’ll overlook it.” He winked at her and laughed, and she laughed back, but wanted to roll her eyes instead. Plus one point for being cute, minus one point for that.

Dinner went well for a bit after that initial speed bump. Fondue was delicious, and you had to eat it slowly enough you had to talk. They had the kind of banal conversations that first dates were made of, although she had to be careful when talking about her business so far. Hmmm. I wonder if “I teach an exercise class of literal demons’ is third date material, or fifth? She laughed at the thought, right when he was finishing a joke that hadn’t been funny, so it was good timing at least.

Things got rocky at desert. When dipping marshmallows into the rich chocolate, chocolate so dark it was almost black, their hands brushed together. Probably a calculated move on his part, a chance to get some physical contact, but for Kelly, it was like she had just grabbed a live wire.

It was Sean, but he was twelve, and the boy on the ground in front of him was a year younger. The other two boys with him were about his age.

”I said to stay away from my sister, you little fa-”

The homophobic slur was cut off when one of the other boys kicked the boy on the ground in the stomach, and he cried out in pain.

”I’m sorry, Sean, I’m sorry.”

Sean spit on him. “Yeah, you better be.”

But it wasn’t just like a movie, she could see into Sean, see into his soul. He wasn’t just doing it because the kid, Eugene Brown, had been flirting with his sister. He did it because he liked being big, he liked being strong. It made him feel good, powerful. She saw him inflicting petty torments on people around him. Deliberately cutting off someone who was trying to make a turn. Giving waiters complex orders and then yelling at them for it being wrong, even if it wasn’t. Cussing out people on the phone tech support. Tiny, little sins.


The word filled her, and she jerked her hand away from him.

“Woah, you okay?”

She looked at him, feeling her fingers curl into a fist. “Eugene Brown.”

His eyes widened. He remembered the name. You never forget you first victim. “How do you-”

“Shut up. It doesn’t matter how. What matters is you’re a bully, Sean. You’re a petty, tiny little man who likes feeling powerful. God, I can’t believe I was actually thinking I might hook up with you.”


“I said shut up!” She shouted the last four words, standing up as she did, and he looked into her eyes and those eyes were burning so brightly the contacts couldn’t hide them and in that moment. But that wasn’t why he shut up. He could see that scene she had seen, Eugene on the ground crying, but this time he was Eugene, and he felt every kick, every poke.

By the time he came to, Kelly was already gone, shaking in her car, not sure if she should be satisfied or sick.

I need to talk to Chemosh. She’d ask the demons in her class afterwards. One of them would have to know a way to contact him. At least whatever had happened had spared her wasting any more time with that asshole.