Juliana walked through the streets of Brakket city. Despite being late September, the temperature was through the roof. Part of the problem might be the several pounds of metal she wore. She made air holes at strategic points to let it breathe a little; it didn’t help all that much.
What a horrible day to be out, Juliana thought as she took a long drink from a water bottle. The temperature was supposed to drop next week. Juliana had half a mind to go home and come out then.
That wouldn’t do. She was on a time limit and had already delayed to the point where things could get dangerous.
Juliana took a quick glance around her. No one in sight. She sprinted around the back of her abandoned house–the same one she had used for summoning demons the first few times. It didn’t take long for Juliana to decide on a more hidden location.
A Juliana-sized hole in the ground opened before her with a flick of her wand, her other hand turned on a small flashlight. After jumping in, she reformed the ground.
The small room she found herself within was neither elegant nor clean. Dirt walls, dirt floor, dirt ceiling. None of it had been smoothed over or polished up.
Juliana reinforced the walls and ceiling as she moved along a downwards sloping path. There were no supports in the walls. As much as she believed in her earth magic prowess, she couldn’t account for any settling of the earth in her absence.
She did not want any sort of collapse.
The path led to a larger room. Using her flashlight, Juliana went around to all the jars laying on the floor. She picked each one up and gave them a shake. The contents started glowing as the liquefied magic mixed.
Slowly, the room brightened to manageable levels. Juliana flicked her flashlight off and went around reinforcing the walls where needed.
She actually spent some time on it while initially creating it. The dirt floor had been compressed and hardened to the point where it was more of a smooth stone than actual dirt. The walls received a similar treatment, though not to the same degree.
Convinced nothing was amiss, Juliana set to work.
“You know what they say,” Juliana mumbled to herself, “twenty-forth time is the charm.”
Drawing out the summoning circle every time was tedious. Annoying. A pain.
Mostly in her back. Being hunched over wasn’t the natural state of being for humans.
But if she wanted to continue looking through demons, she’d make sure to do it properly.
After the imp somehow escaped her shackles over summer, Juliana wasn’t going to take any chances. She still wasn’t sure if the demons that attacked Zoe had come from her summoning circle or not. Juliana didn’t summon them, but she didn’t know if they could have used her circle.
Juliana vowed to erase it completely after she finished. Just in case. Until she knew more about demons and especially about how summoning circles worked, she would take every precaution with the creatures.
It didn’t help that most of the ‘benign’ ones were anything but. Few of them could actually speak. Most tried to break out of the shackles the moment they were summoned. Juliana didn’t have time to try forming a contract before she had to banish them.
And she was going to banish them. Every time.
The author clearly did not know the meaning of benign. Juliana actually doubted her own memory and had to look up the definition just to be sure. Maybe the meaning changed over time, but she would never have labeled any of those demons as benign.
She wasn’t going to give up. Juliana knew plenty of demons. Plenty of perfectly fine demons that weren’t running around killing everyone. With demons attacking teachers to the point that they had to be hospitalized, she wasn’t going to rely only on her own powers.
Her ferrokinesis was top-notch. The rest of her earth magic didn’t fall far behind. Yet Zoe could beat her every time. Professor Lurcher likely could as well.
Both had been gravely injured.
Even Eva hadn’t done much to help, according to her story.
Juliana would stand no chance on her own.
That was why she couldn’t give up.
No. Finding a demon on the level of Arachne might be hard, but it was worth it. A protective companion that, most importantly, would not lock up at the sight of dead bodies.
After the zombies, the flesh golems–she still could barely remember what happened during that encounter–and the nun, Juliana had recognized a major issue with herself.
She could fight. She would fight. She wanted to fight. Not only to call herself a friend and peer to Eva, but to follow in her mother’s footsteps.
Juliana doubted she would get very far if the sight of blood was enough to send her to her knees.
Oddly enough, she didn’t have that issue with the skeletons in the necromancer’s crypt. Juliana thought long and hard on why and came to the conclusion that they were far enough removed from a human being that it didn’t ‘count’ in her mind.
Juliana shook her head. She was getting distracted by her thoughts. The summoning circle was almost complete and she did not want to mess it up.
She double, triple, and quadruple checked her drawing once finished. Especially the shackles.
Allowing what she planned to summon to escape would be unacceptable.
Not to mention deadly.
She didn’t want to jump into the deep end so soon–the deep end of her book–but she was out of time.
Juliana didn’t know how much attention Eva paid to the books in her possession. With Eva having eyes back, she’d have to stealthily return the book before she realized it was gone. Luckily for Juliana, Eva seemed fairly preoccupied over the last week and a half with cataloging and reading the books she stole from the necromancers.
That would buy enough time for today’s events at the very least.
Juliana flipped through the book. Past all the crossed out ‘benign’ demons and crossed out ‘easy-going’ demons. Straight to the back of the book.
She’d already read the entry. Memorized it, even. Preparations had been made. The enticement, a children’s doll, sat in a jar to her side along with a single candle. She wasn’t a pyrokinetic, but she would be able to light a candle.
Juliana ignited the wick and waited.
It was just a simple candle. Unscented and black. A decoration for Halloween.
The book made no mention of any specific types of wax apart from black. She might be in trouble if it needed something abstract. Like tallow. Juliana hadn’t the slightest idea where to even acquire a tallow candle.
While waiting for enough wax to melt, Juliana turned her attention to the doll. Porcelain dolls were far harder to come by than a black candle. She had wholly expected to have to order one.
That would have caused all kinds of attention that she did not want. Especially if Eva or Arachne got wind of it. They would probably realize why she needed a porcelain doll.
Then she found The Little Shoppe That Wasn’t There Yesterday. It actually was there yesterday. And the day before. Juliana had seen it several times on her excursions into town. It wasn’t in the market or entertainment areas meant for students, but it wasn’t well hidden either.
And she fully expected it to be there the next time she passed by as well. It was just the shop’s name, after all.
It did, however, live up to expectations. All the decor was black and gray, dust and cobwebs–cobwebs she was quite sure were fake–lined every product. And all the products were suitably creepy.
Including a suitably creepy doll section.
She picked out one of the old dolls and paid for it with cash.
It wore an elegant red dress with white frills at the seams. Blue and white bows had been tied around its upper arms with a larger one on its chest. Its necklace had a large, red gemstone that might have been an actual ruby for all Juliana knew. A bonnet that matched its dress covered the top of its black hair. A red rose made from glass was pinned to the bonnet.
Deep blue, glass eyes stared back at Juliana, almost begging not to be subjected to her intentions.
Juliana had spent far too much to give in to some lifeless doll’s wishes.
After coating her fingers with metal, Juliana carefully picked up the candle. She dribbled hot wax over each of the doll’s eyes. Only one eye managed to get fully covered with the melted wax at hand. She had to wait for more wax to melt for the other.
Soon enough, both eyes were completely hidden by the black wax. Streaks dripped down the doll’s cheeks in a facsimile of tears.
Juliana tried not to think that the doll was crying as she waited for the wax to completely cool.
It didn’t take long. Juliana spent the time running through reading the book again to ensure she hadn’t missed any details. By the time she finished, the wax was cool to the touch and thoroughly covered the doll’s eyes.
Juliana placed it in the center of the circle.
She took a deep breath as she moved out of the circle. Juliana almost started channeling magic into the circle for the summoning. A quick worry brought her up short.
One more check of everything.
There were no problems. Juliana looked through everything two more times and didn’t find a single thing wrong. The idea of summoning the only demon labeled as ‘extreme danger’ had her nerves all jittery.
Before another thought of hesitation entered her mind, Juliana started channeling her magic.
The summoning circle’s innards started spinning. It pooled and bubbled like a basin of water with a faint light source just beneath the surface.
All that despite the fact that the floor was opaque. Not to mention Juliana’s sense of earth telling her that the circle was completely solid and unmoving.
The doll sat up.
Its little hands clawed at its eyes. Tiny tracks of wax peeled away with each swipe. The jaw had no hinges and could not be opened, yet its mouth opened wide in a silent scream.
Apparently giving up on trying to clear its eyes, the doll clambered to its knees. It crawled along the ground while using its hands to feel out the floor. Like a cartoon character having lost their glasses.
Or a blind person waking up in an unfamiliar environment.
Juliana suppressed a shudder. Despite her best efforts, she couldn’t tear her eyes away from the spectacle.
It froze as a loud crash echoed throughout the small room.
Juliana froze as well. Nothing like that, like any of this, had happened in any previous summoning. She could feel her heart pounding beneath her chest.
The doll slowly craned her neck; looking, or perhaps listening to some invisible entity behind it.
Another crash actually shook the room. Dust and dirt fell from the walls and ceiling. Juliana tried to jump up and reinforce the room.
She was stuck, watching.
Watching as the doll panicked. It scrambled to its feet and took off at a full sprint.
Its tiny legs didn’t take it very far very fast. Although it had ignored the movement while sitting or crawling, the slowly rotating summoning circle acted as a sort of treadmill. If anything, it was losing ground; every step forwards brought it two steps backwards.
Until the rotation stopped.
The doll stumbled forward to the edge of the summoning circle. It slammed into an invisible wall right where the shackles started. Cracks ran through its formerly flawless skin at the point of impact.
It let out another silent scream as it fell onto its back.
More dust fell around Juliana as a tremor shook her little room.
It pulled itself to a sitting position right in front of Juliana.
And it cried.
No sound came out of the doll’s mouth, but it was unmistakably crying. The doll even tried to wipe away nonexistent tears with the sleeves of its red dress.
A wide crack split the summoning circle in two. Flames belched forth, forcing Juliana to flinch away from the heat. A motion in her fingers had her ferrokinesis moving metal to cover her entire face.
As she felt the heat die down, Juliana formed two peep holes for her eyes.
The doll managed to catch itself on the edge of the crag. Wax melted away under the lingering heat. Two blue eyes met with Juliana’s own in fierce accusation.
The moment lasted mere seconds.
Another tremor shook away the small bit of land that the doll had managed to hold onto. It fell into the flaming pit with one last silent scream.
Juliana stared as the pit slowly mended itself. The doll’s face had been so lifelike in those last few moments. She could almost see herself in its features. Had its hair color been different…
She shook her head as a shiver ran up her spine. It was just a doll. Nothing more.
So absorbed was she in staring that Juliana almost forgot the next step.
Juliana brought her hands together in applause.
“Thank you, thank you. You’re too kind.”
Juliana had to hold in a scream. The man appeared without a single motion or noise. All the other demons she summoned had climbed out or otherwise emerged from the summoning circle.
None had just appeared, especially not mid bow.
At least he appeared human. She was still not sure that the vocabulary existed to describe one of the demons she’d summoned.
He wore a fancy tuxedo with a bow tie and a red rose in his lapel. On his head was a featureless, white mask. It had been pushed to one side of his head, as if he moved it out of the way to eat.
Held in both of his white-gloved hands were cross-shaped wooden planks. Strings dangled loosely beneath them.
Looking closer, Juliana realized that he had thin strings attached to his wrists, head, back, arms, legs, and several other points that extended up into nothingness.
Fitting for a demon subtitled ‘The Marionette.’ She wondered if there was something more, something hidden away beyond the obvious thing in front of her. She wasn’t sure she wanted to know either way.
“I trust you enjoyed tonight’s performance, milady?” As he spoke, he raised his head from the bow to look Juliana in the eyes.
And there it is, Juliana thought. His eyes were similar to Eva’s eyes. Red with slits for pupils. Most of the demons she had summoned had eyes like that. Sometimes color or size of the iris varied. In his, if anything was different, it was the amount of glow they had.
His didn’t seem to glow at all.
“Is something the matter, milady?”
Juliana blinked and shook her head. She’d been staring. “No. It was very, um, unexpected.”
“Excellent,” he said as he clasped his hands together. The puppet control sticks vanished as his hands connected. “Life would be so droll if nothing unexpected came along.” He flashed a smile full of sharp, interlocking teeth. Very much reminiscent of Arachne’s teeth.
“To whom do I owe the pleasure–” He cut himself off with a tilt of his head and a small sniff of his nose. “There are a number of other demons around, including one with almost overwhelming power.”
“That would probably be Professor Zagan.”
“I think they were calling him a pillar.”
The demon blinked. And blinked again. “Well,” he said with a nervous chuckle, “I see I’ve overstayed my–”
“What? No. Don’t go.” Juliana bit her lip before letting some of the metal around her head retreat. “You’re the first demon that can talk and isn’t trying escape the shackles to kill me.”
He gave a deep, guttural laugh. Almost predatory. Quite the contrast to his otherwise affluent speech. “First, you need more experience at determining when a demon is trying to kill you. Second–”
“You’re trying to kill me?”
Another chuckle. “I hope I don’t offend. It’s like tradition. I will say that your shackles are well made. I might be able to get through them given some time. You might look into finding how to create stronger ones.”
He smiled, though it appeared slightly strained. “As I was saying, pillars are bad news. Lastly, said pillar is heading in this direction. Since you seem new to this, I’ll give you a tip: demons can sense one another for quite some distance in the mortal realm.”
“He’s what?” Juliana jumped to her feet. “Why is he coming here?”
“Probably to play with us before he kills us,” he said with a wave of his hand.
“You don’t seem that worried,” Juliana said far calmer than she felt.
“All I have to do is jump down there,” he said with a gesture towards the rippling summoning circle. “You’re the one who will be stuck here with him.”
“That’s–I mean–I should go. You should go.”
“If you want my advice, be far away when he gets here. If I were a mortal, I’d be at least a quarter of a planet away, if not hopping to another plane of existence. I hear the fairy queen’s realm is nice this time of year. Well, every time of year. She doesn’t allow it to be not nice.”
“Tell you what,” he raised one of his gloved hands in front of him. A blue eyeball shimmered into existence hovering in the air. A glass eyeball. “That was a nice doll. I’d love the chance to kill you later. Get away from Zagan and use that in place of a doll to summon me.”
“Why would I want that?” Juliana half shouted.
“Well, you summoned me for a reason, I assume. At least this way, you’ll get me instead of some completely unhelpful demon.”
Juliana frowned and didn’t make a move to grab the eye.
“Take it or leave it, milady.” He gave a brief nod of his head. “I hope to see you soon.”
With another nod of his head, the demon collapsed. Like all the strings holding him up had been cut. Rather than crumple into a heap of limbs, he fell straight through the floor.
A moment later and the ripples ceased rippling. The glass eye still hung in the air.
Juliana plucked it out of the air with only a moment’s hesitation. She wasn’t being forced to use it and leaving it lying around didn’t seem a good idea. Perhaps Ylva would be willing to talk to her later on.
For now, she just wanted to leave before Zagan showed up.
— — —
The glass of hellfire shattered in her hand. The room temperature liquid burned her hand as it dripped to the floor. Small whiffs of steam dispersed into the room where the drops hit.
Martina Turner paid it no mind.
“Nothing,” repeated that infuriating demon. He was enjoying this. The grin on his face couldn’t mean anything else.
“And the demons that attacked my professors?”
Martina was glad she hadn’t reached for a second glass.
“Except…” Zagan trailed off. Waiting.
For her to repeat the word.
Absolutely infuriating. Martina was having second thoughts about summoning up demons as guards. Perhaps hiring on regular humans would be for the best. Less insubordination that way. She wasn’t sure she could handle much more between Zagan and Catherine.
And he still hadn’t continued his report.
“Except?” Martina said through grit teeth.
“I believe the embryonic girl is looking into that. Or the one she calls master.”
Martina flipped through a report on her desk. “Ah, yes. Randolph Carter. Harley Warren. Devon Foster. All aliases. The school’s administrators were rather interested in him following Eva’s little reveal. The self-proclaimed demonologist with no familiar and no–”
“I am interested in him myself. However, he seems fearful of me–”
As well he should, Martina thought with a barely concealed scoff.
“I do not wish to disturb him. He may be the reason I am here.”
“The big upset in Hell?”
“Something like that.”
Martina made a small humming noise as she nodded. He’d been short on details over that particular incident. Whatever it was had been enough for him to submit to a contract. To ask for one, no less.
“The administrators are wanting to hire him on as a special consultant. Likely in relation to these demons that attacked my professors. The demons you continually fail to turn up any information about.”
Zagan just shook his head with a smile. His golden eyes flashed lightly before settling down. “They do not concern me.”
“They concern me!” Martina slammed her hand down on her desk. Shards of glass embedded themselves into her fist. Before she could even feel the pain, the glass vanished from her hand, reforming into an unbroken cup full of hellfire. Martina grasped it and took a quick drink.
The demon in front of her gave a polite smile.
“Because they concern me,” Martina said, “they concern you.”
“Aren’t you hiring guards for this menial work? Surely they can handle it. The demon I sensed this afternoon wasn’t near as strong as a jezebeth or a carnivean. I have far better things to occupy my time with.”
Martina hit a button on her phone. Audio only, no video. She was once again forced to wait until the very last second before the other end picked up.
“Catherine,” she shouted. With any luck, the demon would have had her phone right up to her enhanced ears. “Would you have been able to deal with whatever demon appeared earlier?”
There was a short sigh on the other end of the line followed by what sounded like the turning of a page. “Undoubtedly. But…”
Martina could feel her blood pressure rising. “But?”
“It would have been too much work.”
Martina slammed the button to disconnect the call. Why that creature was considered a demon of lust rather than a demon of sloth, she would never understand.
“That doesn’t change that she would have been unable to deal with the carnivean and the jezebeth.”
“One would hope that whatever guards you hire would be better equipped to handle combat than a menial secretary, yeah?”
“After said guards are hired, we will be revisiting this conversation. In the meantime, be prepared to investigate any and all unauthorized demonic activity.”
“I don’t suppose you have any kind of time frame for when that will be?”
“October first. I fully expect you to be in attendance to vet all candidates.”
“I look forward to it.” He stood from his seat and turned towards the door.
“Zagan,” Martina said, “you have yet to adequately state your location for that night.”
“I was out of town. Farming. I believe I told you that I had fields to plow.”
The glass, now empty of hellfire, once again shattered. “Get out of my office.”