‘Crisis’ by guest author RC Hutchins

Robin Hutchins - PictureCHAPTER ONE

“I can’t believe you would say that,” his voice grated on my nerves, even as my hands stuffed shirts and pants into a shoulder bag, “and I can’t believe you’re just going to leave! What you said to my parents back there-“

“Was the complete truth. If they didn’t want the truth, they shouldn’t have asked.” I know; I was being short with him, but he was just fouling up my already ruined mood. “Now, I’m going to leave before I am insulted further.” I slung the bag over my head, turning towards his amethyst gaze. But what I met wasn’t what I expected. The normal fire in his eyes was gone and there was pain and hurt clearly there. “Look… Derrick. I’m sorry, but I can’t stay here.”

“But my parents-”

“Your parents don’t exactly like me, especially your father. I’m pretty certain they’d celebrate if I left.”

Derrick shook his head, sticking out his lower lip in that way I found so cute and yet so very childish. “Don’t ruin Michelmas for me… please… besides… once Dad gets to know you I’m sure he’ll stop insulting you… just give him a chance?”

“I’ve met him, Derrick. He isn’t going to stop. If all he’s going to do is insult our relationship, then I’d rather spend my time with Professor Know-It-All. At least there, my talents are recognized and he isn’t prejudiced. I can practice my spells without someone calling me a devil worshipper or fag.”

Derrick took a few quick steps towards me, taking my free hand; my other was occupied fiddling with a side pocket of my bag. “Dad didn’t mean that… he just doesn’t know how to handle this…” the redhead murmured, pressing his forehead into my shoulder. A foot and half shorter than I, Derrick couldn’t do much else. “Please don’t go… we should be celebrating, not fighting… I don’t want you to be alone on Michelmas, please… don’t leave me alone…”

With a sigh, my hand strayed from my bag and brushed over red strands of his precious hair. “Derrick. I don’t like being insulted…its better they say it to my face, but it still hurts. I wanted to call these people my parents, but…” I lifted his chin, my thumb smoothing over the ivory soft skin, “I can’t do that. Not with how they treat you, or me. Especially how they view our relationship…”

“They’re just… it’ll just take time for them to adjust…” Derrick tried to come to their defense but it wasn’t very convincing.

With a sad smile, I brushed my lips over his. “Come with me. They don’t deserve your loyalty.”

But, as expected, he shook his head. “I can’t. You know that.”

I nodded. Yeah. I knew. “Then I’ll see you around…the fourth or fifth day of January?”

“Yeah.”

With that, I sealed my lips over his, slipping my tongue between his lips. Our tongues wrangled for a few moments, before he pulled away. “…please stay…”

But I shook my head, kissed his forehead, and slipped past him. “I love you.”

—–

Rubbing tired eyes, I leaned back from the book on the desk, setting my quill down. Professor Orion was still scratching away at the scroll in front of him, his quill weaving and waving, the light on his desk and the light on mine the only illumination in the room. The windows are dark, and I can hear rain pattering on the window. With a small smile on my lips, I think of what Derrick and his parents are doing right now. It’s Michelmas Eve, and I was sure Derrick was staying up late with his overly pious parents. They would watch the sunrise and greet it with a glass of goat’s milk and a plate of cookies. Then it was time to get the feast ready. I knew all of Derrick’s extended family would be at the feast, so the house servants would be completely swamped with getting the big day ready. Everyone fasted until it was time to sit down for the holiday feast.

At least, if you followed the tradition, you fasted. But I, on the other hand, wasn’t religious. I believed in my magic, my intelligence, and myself. And after three years together, I believed and trusted in my boyfriend. He was the steady rock beneath my shaking feet, and had kept me sane whenever I got behind on my studies. He was always there for me, and it was especially needed when my sister – and last living relative – had passed on more than two years ago.

With a frown, I shook off those melancholy thoughts and leaned back over my book and scroll. I had to prepare these spells and memorize them for the time when the moon was highest in the sky. At the turn of the day, exactly midnight, every wizard and sorcerer could perform miracles, feats they never even dreamed of trying on a normal day or night. But tomorrow night, the night my Master and I were preparing for, was the night when magic was strongest. For those without magic, it was just called Michelmas, or whatever holiday they followed. For those with magic, it was called the Night of the Dragon. Being one of the most powerful in magic, dragons claimed this night for themselves and magical folk alike.

And my Master, Professor Orion, was preparing for the biggest spell he had ever performed. I was his assistant, and as such was responsible for preparing the circle and ingredients needed. My Master would be preparing his mind and the words to the spell.

What was he trying to do? Well, he was trying to summon a demon lord and place him under his control. Not just any demon lord, either. He was going to summon Belial. If the Professor played his cards right, he could gain immense power and stature in the world of magic. Demon lords were hard enough, but Belial was at least a class B demon lord. He was a general, after all.

Because of that, everything had to be perfect. Everything. Nothing could go wrong, or Professor Orion would be killed. The backlash from such a spell was bad enough, but if you mis-summoned any kind of demon, they could – and most of the time did – kill the summoner and anyone else in the room on the spot.

Which would include me.

So I was not going to mess up. I couldn’t be distracted with thoughts of Derrick and his rude as hell parents. Or the feast.

—–

This was it. The Night of the Dragon. Tonight, in the south and north poles of the world would be a beautiful show of color, the like seen only on this night. Tonight, every magic user in the world would be performing spells, making potions, and imbuing objects with magic. Tonight, the world of the living and the world of the dead were nearly touching.

Tonight, if Professor Orion was right, everything would change. Everything would be different.

My Master entered the circle of magic, wearing only a white shift, one that wouldn’t cause friction. He did not wear shoes. His hair was slightly damp, as he had just purified himself, body, mind, and soul. He breathed in the incense and eased himself into a sitting position. I stepped into a circle of protection, breathing a quick word of power to encase myself in the shield. If anything went wrong, the demon would not be able to breach the circle.

At least, I hoped he wouldn’t. There was always the chance that Belial was stronger than everyone thought. No demon showed its true strength, not unless he was sure anyone who saw would die.

With those thoughts flitting around my head, I watched Orion begin the breathing exercises, clearing his mind of unnecessary thoughts. My eyes flitted around the room, nervousness pounding my heart into a frantic rhythm. Damn. I hoped my anxiety wouldn’t affect the energy in the room. Glancing down at my watch, I gave a relieved sigh. One minute till midnight.

The minute passed quickly. A magical wave crashed down over the world as the moon came into alignment with the stars. That was what Orion was waiting for.

My Master rattled off the summoning spell and his aura seemed to light up the room. The magic flowed through him; the summoning and summoner’s circles burst into brilliant purple light. Then, as if he was waiting for the call, the demon lord appeared in the summoning circle, stepping from the plane of demons and devils into our own.

From where I was, I couldn’t see much of the demon as his back was to me. He was tall, impossibly tall, with bronzed skin and curving black horns coming out of his head. The light of the candles gave off enough light to reflect off the mass of black strands that flowed down his back.

“Well, well. Trying this again, Orion? Didn’t you learn last time that you don’t have the power to control me? Weren’t six dead apprentices enough?” the demon lord smirked and mocked my Master. “Wasn’t a ravaged world enough? But please, keep trying. I do so love torturing you every time…”

But the words caused me to start. Professor Orion had tried this already? He told me it was his first time summoning a demon lord of this strength. Wisely, though, I remained silent. Orion had to have all of his concentration to subdue the demon.

“Not going to indulge in a little banter?” the demon taunted, starting to pace slowly in its circle. Belial could not set foot outside the circle until the spell was complete – or the spell failed. “Come on, noooow! I only get to talk to you once every few years. Can’t I get a little more fun this time?” Then the demon’s eyes turned toward me. Gold, piercing eyes gave me an once-over before the demon got as close as he could to the edge of his circle. “You must be the new apprentice… I’ve got to say, for a human, you’re better looking than the others he’s had.”

Now that the demon was facing me, I could see his chosen form clearly. Even though I knew what he was, I couldn’t help but admire the way Belial’s long black hair flowed down his back, a few strands out of place on his shoulder. The stance of the demon bespoke arrogance, confidence, and power, with one hand on his hip and his head tilted just slightly to the right. The set of Belial’s square jaw was a little intimidating, as was the size of his shoulders. The demon was not slender; Belial wore no shirt and showed clearly several well-toned muscles, his skin dark and smooth. Flowing dark fabric covered his lower half, tied right above the left hip, reaching down to his ankles. Pointed ears protruded from his hair, along with a pair of straight horns and a pair of curving ram horns. His feet were bare, and I could see the sharp claws on his toes.

A small shiver crawled up my spine as I allowed myself to indulge in a silent fantasy. It was shameful, certainly, but I had so far been celibate for two weeks. Masturbation only took one so far.

As if knowing my thoughts, the demon shifted slightly, just enough so that I could see a toned, muscled thigh peeking from the break in the fabric. A lustful smirk broke out onto the demon’s face, and his golden eyes bespoke all he would do to me. At the look, I felt like a blushing teenager seeing his first naked lover, what with the heat on my cheeks.

But I looked away first, turning my attention back to my Master. His lips were still moving, but the hardest part was over. Getting a demon lord’s attention on the Night of the Dragon was nearly impossible. All Orion had to do now was bind the demon lord to his will.

Even as he worked, I sensed something was off about the demon lord. Belial, seeing that I had lost interest in his form, yawned and turned back to frown at the mage who kept him prisoner right now. “Well, get on with it. Try your best. I’ve got all night, you know. Not much going on right now.” His tone was that of boredom and I almost felt sorry for him. After all, who knew how many mages tried repeatedly to bind such a powerful demon?

I certainly wouldn’t – well, not without a lot of help.

As I watched, Professor Orion lifted his hands and drew out several runes in the air. His lips moved quicker now, and then his fingers flared. The mage breathed, “Resa!”

If I had blinked, I would have missed everything. In the same breath as the word, my Master’s aura surrounded Belial. An angry red joined the purple, and demon lord flexed his power. Suddenly the red shattered the purple. The light of both the summoning and summoner’s circle changed from the gentle purple of my Master to the fiery red of the demon lord.

Time seemed to stop as the demon lord smirked and stepped from the summoning circle and into my Master’s circle. I couldn’t do anything to help him; I was too slow. My Master saw the end coming, but denied it with a quick spell. It just… bounced off Belial. The demon lord ripped out my Master’s heart as I watched, helpless, in disbelief.

Then those eyes turned to me. I took a small step back, then reminded myself not to step out of the circle of protection. If I did, Belial could easily tear me apart. My eyes darted towards my dead Master, then to the still pounding heart in his claws. If Belial could tear apart Orion’s magic… he could easily rip open my own. I had to think of something, and fast. His slow steps seemed to echo in my ears, the red light of the magic circles dimming. Then the candles went out, and the demon lord banished the remaining illumination of the circles. I was left in darkness, left with only the dim blue glow of my shield.

Except I saw his golden eyes burning with hunger in the darkness.

“Let down your shield… I won’t hurt you…” the demon purred, slipping closer and closer with each step. “Tell me your name…”

I could feel the compulsion with the words, and knew he wanted my true name, the name every living being has to keep hidden for fear of being controlled. I would never give that name to a demon lord, even under compulsion. “You don’t need my name.”

“How about your mortal name?” Belial smiled, and I could see him from the meager light left in the room.

“You don’t need my name,” I repeated, my voice strong. There was no compulsion from the demon lord this time.

A chilling smile replaced the almost friendly one from a moment ago. “If you won’t tell me…I’ll just have to search for it…”

I knew Belial meant my mind. Immediately, I imagined a wall, unbreakable, with no weaknesses. I couldn’t break, and I couldn’t let the demon in. I didn’t know exactly what would happen should he get in, but I figured it’d be bad.

But the demon lord kept smiling, taking slow, steady steps. I took a deep breath and kept my wall in place, reinforcing it with steel, then concrete. When that was in place, I enclosed my mind in a crystal castle, surrounded by another wall made of diamond. I doubted the demon would get past the wall, but better safe than sorry. For extra measure, I look my knowledge and my memories and shoved them into a deep underground vault beneath the castle, and sealed it with a spell. I refused to be used. I refused to be played with.

Then I felt a light touch on my mind, a gentle push against the reinforced wall.

The wall crumbled. There wasn’t anything left but dust at just the gentlest of touches. Panic gripped my heart and I stared wide-eyed at the demon lord.

Belial only smiled and purred, the words slow and seductive, “Tell me your name… I wouldn’t want to damage you without reason…”

Still panicking, my foot scraped against the ground as I retreated a few inches again. I was against the circle now, nearly breaking it. But I pulled in a breath and tried to calm my hammering heart. Belial was right outside the circle of protection, his shinning gold eyes looking into mine.

“You have beautiful eyes for a mortal…” the demon purred, his head tilting to the left. Then I felt a gentle push against the castle’s wall, and the diamond cracked. Another push and it shattered.

“Stop…” I breathed, reeling from the mental assault. It hurt, to have my defenses shatter and turn to dust with a mere flex of power. Even if it was a demon lord.

“Then tell me your name… you have such potential, I would hate to ruin that by tearing apart your mind looking for just a simple name…” Belial licked his lips as he purred, voice as smooth as a chime, silky as the softest sheets.

“Just my name,” I murmured, eyeing Belial.

“A simple name is all I ask… and don’t try to lie to me, little mortal… I can always tell…”

I mulled that over for a moment before nodding. “Pull back.” That was my only condition. I couldn’t let the demon any further into my mind; he might find some information to use as blackmail, and I wanted everyone safe. Everyone.

Especially-

I cut that thought off, but it was too late. I could see it in the demon’s eyes. They blazed with curiosity and the demon smirked.

“Well?” he purred, as I felt the presence retreat from my mind.

“…Koen,” I said, frowning. “Koen Seren.”

“Koen Seren…” the demon purred, letting the German name roll off his tongue. That seemed to please the demon lord, for he smiled again and placed a hand on my shield. Belial didn’t bounce off it, nor did he burst through the meager protection. The demon lord merely smiled and purred, “I let you live this day, Koen Seren. But on one condition…”

My heart sank like a rock when I heard those words. “What condition…?”

The demon licked his lips and purred, “Bind yourself to me. Swear fealty to me, and no other. You have enormous potential, Koen Seren. And I don’t plan to lose you to another. I’m sure my kin will spot you soon, and I refuse to let them have you.”

Swear fealty to Belial? To a demon lord? “What do you need me for?” I knew the answer, but I had to ask.

“I need a mortal willing to summon me whenever I want to be on the mortal plane of existence…” the demon purred, smirking. “But you already know that.”

I wanted to look away from those eyes, eyes that shone with an inner lust. It was as if Belial had trapped me with those eyes, however, and no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t look away.

“Swear fealty to me, and you will live… no other demon will ever try to harm you for fear of my wrath…” the demon purred such sweet words, and I knew it was the only way I would live through this.

“And if I don’t… you break my shield and kill me.”

“Exactly…”

I took a deep breath to steady myself and nodded. “Fine.”

Well. Professor Orion had been right on one account: everything changed.

—–

After Belial disappeared, I called the police and explained that my Master had died during a failed spell. Police everywhere were sure to get these same calls tonight. As expected, the woman who answered the phone told me it would be at least an hour until anyone could get to me. She told me not to touch or move anything in the room, and that I should stay in another room until the police arrived. Knowing this, I had moved to the kitchen of my Master’s home while she spoke to me.

I set about making tea to calm my nerves, mulling over the nights events. Belial most certainly had the name of my lover. His parents’ names wouldn’t be hard to find, and he’d likely find out anything else he had to, just to keep me under his thumb. Well. I couldn’t let that happen. With a sigh, I glanced at my phone and knew what I had to do. Derrick wouldn’t like it, though. He never seemed to understand how dangerous magic could be sometimes. This wouldn’t be easy.

But it had to be done.

Before I could pick up the phone, it started to buzz on the coffee table. Blinking back my surprise at the name displayed on the screen, I picked it up and flipped open the phone.

“Derrick, what a coincidence, I was ju-“

“Shut up, fag.” The rude voice of Derrick’s father came through the phone rather than Derrick’s; surprise and shock shut me up more than that rude comment. “What did you do to him? What did you do to Derrick?!”

That brought me out of my shock. “What are you talking about? I’m no where ne-“

“Don’t give me that bullshit! I know you’re a devil-worshiper, I know you’re a witch!”

I didn’t comment on this; after all, the proper term would just wash over the ignorant fool.

“Mr. Julius, I honestly do not know what you are-“

“He won’t wake up, you bastard! What did you do to him?! Did you curse him?! Did you get into a faggy little fight and curse my son?!”

I tried to speak; my mouth moved but nothing came out. My mind was completely blank and I couldn’t … I couldn’t think. What did he mean, Derrick wouldn’t wake up? My mind grasped at straws, at vague ideas that wouldn’t quite form.

Then a horrible thought occurred to me. “What…what does his skin feel like? Is it cold, warm, or normal?” I was not sure if he would reply, and for a moment, I thought he hung up on me.

But then the reply came, hesitant, “He’s burning up.”

“Then he isn’t dead. Did you call a doctor? Check his vitals?”

“W-well, no…”

“So you wasted time accusing me of something I didn’t do? Call 911 before your negligence kills your son, damnit!”

Then I hung up on him. Fuck him. At least he was in an area with very few wizards, so the police and hospitals wouldn’t be bogged down and over packed with spells, potions, or experiments gone awry. Maybe that would be a blessing, unless some idiot – like Mr. Julius – fed the police some lie about me being a psychotic mage hell-bent on cursing my lover.

Because I honestly will never understand that man.

Before my thoughts had time to push me to melancholy, the doorbell rang. Hoping that was the police to deal with the late Professor Orion, I stood and opened the door. My prayers were answered; two police officers and what looked like two detectives, stood on the steps.

“Good evening, I’m Detective Gelbert and this is my partner, Sulley. We’re here about the death of Professor Orion,” the shorter man said, gesturing to the man next to him. The two officers behind him glanced at me, then dismissed me, categorizing me under ‘no threat’.

“I’m Koen Seren, the Professor’s apprentice,” I introduced myself as I stood aside and let the four men in the door. “His body is in the study. I called as soon as the magic dispelled.” Magic had a habit of destroying electronics. “I didn’t move anything, just like the lady on the phone said.”

“You’re handling this rather well,” the first detective, Gelbert, commented.

I shrugged, glancing towards the study. “I’m sure it’ll sink in and hit me pretty hard. I’ve studied under my Master for nearly nine years.” Which meant I was beyond ready for the journeyman test, but Orion had never believed me ready.

The time span wasn’t lost on Sully. “Long time to be an apprentice.”

Shrugging it off, I sat on the couch and gestured to the study. “I wasn’t ready. Now without my master to sponsor and vouch for me, I can’t take the next step.”

I felt wetness on my cheeks and realized then that I was crying. Damn. My master was dead. With a shaky breath, I pulled a tissue from the box beside me and wiped my eyes and now running nose. “Sorry…” My voice came out shaky, and my breath hitched. “Guess it just caught up to me…”

Detective Gelbert nodded, then sat across from me while Sully and the two cops moved into the study. “I know it’s hard, but can you tell me exactly what happened?”

“Yeah, sure,” I murmured and related the story, leaving out how Belial had forced me into swearing fealty to him and how the demon lord had shown great interest in me. “There isn’t much else to tell. It was a risky summoning, but Professor Orion wouldn’t listen…” I sighed and shook my head. “I can’t… it’s a little hard to take in and…” Then I let out a strained laugh. “Heh… the professor was going to let me take the journeyman test this year… he said there was just one more spell he wanted me to master before taking the test. Now, I won’t ever know what that is… and no master is going to take on a 23 year old apprentice.” I shook my head, deflating on myself. “I spent more than half my childhood as an apprentice. And now it looks like I have to stay one…”

The detective gave a sympathetic smile. “I don’t know what I can do to help, but I hope things look up for you. Is there anything else you can tell me about your master’s death? Like the identity of the demon?”

“Yeah, I can tell you that easily. He was Belial, the demon lord and general of the third circle, guardian of the north gate of the Nether.” Even as I said this, I could feel the demon lord in the back of my mind, letting out a cackling laugh. He knew I spoke of him, and it- pleased the demon lord? Belial must be twisted indeed.

But then I realized something: the more I spoke of him, the more he continued to influence me. I’d forgotten the first thing about demons, it seemed.

“Belial? That’s rather strange,” the detective mused; he glanced up when his partner came in. “Anything out of the ordinary?”

“Well, whatever else that thing did, it ripped out the mage’s heart and left it on the floor,” Sully muttered, shaking his head. He looked a little pale. “It’s… a little brutal. I haven’t seen something like this since the War.”

Gelbert nodded at the admission. “That’s because the one who did this led the War.”

“Do you mean the one three decades ago?” I asked, hoping they didn’t. But, of course, the two detectives nodded.

“Yeah, that’s the one. The one the media nicknamed the Nether War,” Sully shrugged. “I fought in that war. I’m lucky I ain’t dead. Those demons are damned hard to kill.” Then Sully let out a dry laugh, shaking his head. “Hell, I’m lucky not to be crazy as fuck after what those things put us through.”

After what I’d seen today, I understood. Belial… he wasn’t your run of the mill demon. Sure, he was cruel and – Damnit, Koen, stop thinking about the damned demon!

“So, Boliol or whatever his name wa-”

“Belial.” I didn’t realize I was the one who spoke, correcting the detective.

Both glanced at me, curiosity in their gaze.

“Belial. He’s the one who did this ripping out the heart thing?” Sully asked, glancing to his partner for confirmation. At his partner’s nod, the detective glanced once more at me, then at the crime scene. “Right. That makes this a little easier to report. Your master try the impossible tonight?”

“Doesn’t every mage?” I couldn’t help my reply. It was stupid to talk like this to the police, but I just couldn’t stop myself.

“Why’d he let you live?” It was an innocent enough question and I don’t know why it sounded accusatory. Maybe that’s how the detective meant it.

I rose to the bait. “I-I don’t know. One second the room was calm, the next Master summoned that thing…and then his heart…and I don’t know why, but the demon just laughed at me and vanished!” Yeah, it was a half-truth, but I couldn’t tell the full truth. It wouldn’t be good at all if I tried that.

“Just vanished, huh?” Sully glanced at his partner, who shrugged. “I think we should take you in for questioning. This doesn’t look good for you.”

With a sigh, I looked down at my hands; all I could see was imagined blood, though I knew it wasn’t my fault. My master’s blood wasn’t on my hands. I hadn’t even touched Orion’s corpse.

“At least you’re being honest with me…” I mumbled, running one hand through my hair, shutting my eyes tight. When I opened my eyes again, I stood, hands held at my sides. “How bad does it look? I know it was the demon. I just want to know what you think.”

Sully nodded his approval to his partner, who smiled warmly. “Just routine questioning. I don’t think you’d have the stomach to kill your own master when you’re so close to taking that test you talked about.” Gelbert’s eyes were bright and honest, and I was genuinely glad that I had him, not someone else, taking care of this. It would have been hard, otherwise; I was certain.

“Alright,” I nodded, running a hand though my hair. “Let me get my coat.”

Though I felt their eyes on me as I moved, I didn’t feel threatened. I grabbed my coat and scarf from the hallway closet. After I slid into the comforting leather, I wrapped the warm scarf around my neck, smelling the familiar incense of the apartment I shared with Derrick. I turned back down the hallway, noticing as the detectives entered the hallway themselves. The detectives nodded towards the police officers.

“We’ll be taking Mr. Seren to the station. Take pictures, clean up, and gather any evidence we need,” said Detective Gelbert. Detective Sully walked past me, opening the door.

“Let’s go,” Sully nodded out the door, glancing at me. I merely nodded and followed the two detectives out the door and got into the waiting car.

“Do you know how long this will take?” I asked, settling into the back seat and buckling up.

“Why, got somewhere to be?” Sully questioned, glancing at me through the rearview mirror.

“I just need to check on my boyfriend…” I muttered, frowning. “The last call I got was from his father, something about him not waking up. So… I want to make sure he’s okay.”

“Boyfriend, huh? I didn’t peg you for that.”

Oh, great. I hoped these guys weren’t homophobic. “Yeah, well, apparently his parents didn’t peg him for that, either.”

Gelbert merely laughed. “Don’t be offended, kid. We aren’t judging. Just asking questions like a good detective, ya know?”

I shrugged, glanced out the window, and remained silent for the rest of the drive to the station. It didn’t take long for the detectives to fill out the forms and to take down my responses to their questions. The evidence wasn’t stacked against me and there was plenty for my defense; I was cleared of any suspicion and allowed to leave. A helpful secretary offered to call a taxi, but I declined; we weren’t far from the professor’s house where my car was parked.

Stepping out into the cold winter air, I zipped up my jacket and wrapped my scarf tighter around my neck. Derrick’s incense filled my nostrils, nostalgia spreading through me. Just thinking of Derrick made me miss my short redhead. Sighing slightly, I moved off the station steps and started walking toward the professor’s home.

As I walked, I wondered briefly what would become of the professor’s things. He didn’t have any living family; the professor had inherited everything he had from his father and mother when they passed on. The old man had never married, though, so he didn’t have any children or spouse to pass his belongings to; and I highly doubted he put me in his will.

My boots crunched in the soft snow covering the sidewalk as I strode, my thoughts elsewhere. Then his voice whispered into my ear, a slow and seductive purr.

Don’t forget who you belong to…

I hunched my shoulders against his voice and the cold, a shiver running down my spine that had little to do with the chill in the air. “… I know…”

Muttering something about impatient demons, I pulled out my phone; Derrick’s wellbeing was far more important than satisfying Belial. Flipping open the cover, I dialed his father’s cell number – please, don’t ask me how I have it in my contacts, it was Derrick’s idea – and pressed the call button. A grimace crossing my lips, I put the phone to my ear and waited out the dial tone.

“Anthony Julius,” came the voice of Derrick’s father over the phone.

“Mr. Julius, this is Koen,” I began, making sure my voice didn’t waver, “I’m calling to check up on Derrick.”

“Why don’t you lift whatever witchery you put over him instead?!” Mr. Julius went from accommodating to utterly rude in two seconds flat; a new record.

“Sir, please believe me, I haven’t done a-!”

“Don’t give me your bullshit and lies, boy!” the older man growled. “The doctors tell me there’s nothing physically wrong with him! It’s a spell, you faggot, and you’re the one that put it there!”

A spell. Which probably means Belial got Derrick’s name – and probably more – while in my head.

“I haven’t done anything, but I can help-!”

“Bullshit. Stay away from my son, devil worshipper!” I heard the phone click as he hung up on me. With a sigh, I shut the phone and shoved it into my pocket, grumbling slightly.

Wonderful. I didn’t even know what hospital he was in or even how he was doing. With a muttered curse, I kicked some snow into the street and sped my steps toward the professor’s townhouse. Maybe Belial will know – but that will just be far too dangerous for something trivial. Demons don’t give up information without gaining something in return.

“I’ll just… have to find out on my own,” I muttered, shoving my hands into my pockets. About a hundred feet down the street was the professor’s home where I stopped at the steps, looking up at the door. There were still police coming in and out; one of the officers recognized me and came out.

“I’m sorry, sir, but we can’t let you go inside yet,” the officer said.

“Thank you, but don’t worry about it… I’m not going inside. I’m just getting my car so I can go home, change, and then try and find out where my b-… my friend is,” I caught myself before saying ‘boyfriend’; I didn’t need any insults or derogatory comments about it. I’d had enough for one day.

The officer nodded and watched me get into my car; my keys, thankfully, were still in my jacket pocket, where I always left them when at the professor’s house. Magic had a tendency to mess with electronics, so keeping the keys far away from our spells was best. Once I’d started the car, the police officers dismissed me as ‘no interest’. As I drove away from the townhouse, I was reminded that Belial was with me.

The demon lord materialized in the passenger seat, completely relaxed in the soft leather. “Nice car, pet,” the demon smirked, tilting his horned head in my direction. “So… heading to your lover, are we? You sure that’s such a good idea when his father just wants to kill you and never again let you near his child?”

“Must you remind of that? Look, I have to find out where he’s been admitted first and then deal with Mr. Julius…” A thought occurred to me then, glancing at the demon lord with my peripheral vision. “Why’d you curse Derrick in the first place? If you were going to curse someone, why couldn’t you have cursed his father instead?”

The demon laughed, a rich baritone that filled the small space of my little four-door Minamo. “Just because someone close to you is suddenly cursed, you suspect me?”

“Well, the timing is rather… coincidental…” I murmured, gluing my eyes to the icy road.

“And you don’t believe in coincidences, do you, Koen?” the demon lord smirked.

“… What do you know, Belial?” Stupid, I knew. But if he knew something about Derrick – I had to risk it.

“It wasn’t me that cursed your cute little bunny, pet…” the demon purred, languidly stretching his body in the passenger seat. With a smirk on his lips, the demon lord disappeared and reappeared in the backseat, stretched out as much as my little Minamo would allow.

When no other words came from the demon lord, I scowled and glanced at him through my rearview mirror. “Comfy, your highness?” I growled.

“Not really, no. But have no fear…” Belial purred, a smirk on his lips, “once we reach your apartment, I’ll be plenty comfortable.”

Another thought occurred to me then. “… Belial, how are you staying materialized on the mortal plane? I thought you guys drew power from the sorcerer who summoned you… but Orion is dead. Shouldn’t you have gone back to your own plane of existence?”

The demon lord’s smile grew wider and he purred in delight, “Oooh, such a smart little pet I’ve got… I’m not like other demons, my pet… I’m a demon lord, remember? A General of the highest rank… and I earned that rank…” When the demon saw I still didn’t understand, he laughed. “Alright… I’ll give you a freebee for this information… I don’t need a sorcerer’s power to keep me here. Once I’m here, I stay as long as I want.”

—–

Glancing at the clock, angry red numbers stared back at me; it was nearly seven o’clock in the morning. Rubbing my tired eyes, I pushed away from the computer and put my head down on the desk.

His laughter interrupted my brief reprieve. “Giving up so soon, pet? It’s only been five hours…” With a groan, I lifted my head and looked at Belial, the demon lord stretched out carelessly – and damnit, beautifully – on my couch. “Have you exhausted all your other sources?”

Running a hand through my hair, I admit, “Yes… no one knows anything.”

“Oh, too bad…” the demon lord purred, chuckling as he rolled over onto his stomach. Belial looked at me with expecting eyes, his eyelids slightly drooped. “You still have one more source, pet…”

But I refused to stoop to that. “I’ll just… I’ll just call him again.”

“And it’ll turn out differently? Really? A night of no sleep and you think that old grouch is going to give you any more information than last time? He won’t even tell you how your bunny is doing…” Belial purred, pillowing his arms beneath his chin. “Poor little bunny, all alone with those awful people. You must feel terrible…”

Gritting my teeth, I looked away from the demon lord. Gods damn it, he was right. But I couldn’t ask Belial; I couldn’t know what he wanted in return. Giving in once was enough – when he spared my life – but giving him the satisfaction of becoming my crutch would be horrendous. A disaster.

Horror stories were told about ancient sorcerers who relied on demons.

“…I’m not going to ask you,” I growled, reaching for my phone.

“You’ll come around… after he yells at you again…” Belial purred, languidly shutting his eyes.

“Don’t rip up my couch with your claws!”

The Demon Lord cracked an eye open and smirked, “I wouldn’t try to order me around, pet. You’re mine, not the other way around.”

Grumbling slightly, I leaned back into my chair and glared at the computer screen. No hospitals near Derrick’s parents’ house would tell me if Derrick was there. None of my friends in that area could find out or weren’t picking up.

But this was an emergency. If it was a spell keeping Derrick asleep, and it wasn’t Belial, then it had to be some other being – and that meant Derrick’s life could be slipping away into an energy pool for that being. Glancing again at Belial, at his smirk and his shining horns, I swallowed and took a deep breath.

We both knew how this would end.

“… What do you want for this information?”

Belial’s smirk widened as he slowly sat up and stood, his movements graceful like flowing water. “Finally,” the demon purred, slowly walking over to me. He reached out and placed his clawed fingers under my chin, tilting my head up to look him directly in the eye. “I have your fealty, my pet… but I want more than that… give me your soul, your body, everything that is you… and I’ll not only take you to Derrick, but I’ll free him from the geas that binds him…”

My eyes widened at that – at both the price and the offer. “Y-you’ll really save him?”

“I said free him, not save him, pet,” the demon purred, smiling. “Now… either take this offer or leave… I’ve been very patient…”

I nodded at that, gulping. “Alright. I… my body, my soul, everything that is me… it’s yours.”

The demon grinned and leaned down, purring, “Good boy, pet…” Then his lips were sealed over mine, a surprise though I should have expected it. After the way Belial had eyed me, I should have known this is where it would lead.

But the demon lord didn’t go further than a deep kiss, slowly pulling back, his eyes shut, his body shivering in delight. “Oooh… yes… I will enjoy our bargain, pet… as I’m sure you will as well… now… let us go… I will fulfill my end.”

Belial straightened and headed for the door, not even glancing over his shoulder to see if I would follow – but I did, of course. Anything to save Derrick. I scrambled from the desk chair, grabbed my coat and my scarf, and swiped the keys off the counter.

“Which hospital?” I asked, following the demon lord out the door and locking the apartment behind us.

“Berisville Central,” Belial replied, his hips swaying rather suggestively as we strode down the hallway. He preceded me to the stairs and out the building’s doors; Belial assumed I was following. The demon had the air of a leader about him, all confident stride and straight back. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I envied that.

“Right… that’s just about five hours north, I can drive that,” I murmured, unlocking the car and sliding into the driver’s seat. But Belial didn’t get in; instead, the demon strode to the driver’s side door and didn’t let it closer.

“You’ve gotten no sleep, pet,” the demon lord purred, pulling me from the car. “I don’t want to lose my precious sorcerer to sleep deprivation. You’ll fall asleep at the wheel and then I’ll have to find a new mortal to push around.” Belial smirked. “And don’t think I’m doing this for free. You’ll pay me back after you play hero with your bunny.”

I blinked at that, standing there with my mouth open rather stupidly. “W-wait a second, you can drive? You have a driver’s license?”

The demon lord laughed. “You think this is the only time I’ve played on the mortal realm, pet? Now get in the car, shut up, and go to sleep…”

With a sigh, I walked to the other side of the car and got in, buckling up. “Alright, just… take it slow? My car isn’t that great on ice.”

“Have no fear, my pet,” the demon purred, starting the car. “I will not crash your car…”