IT WASN’T that Angus Donohue couldn’t summon a demon; it was that he didn’t want to. He didn’t even want to be here. A cool breeze brushed against his skin, and the trees around him rattled like a closet full of old bones. Maybe if he didn’t put enough will into the spell the whole thing would fall apart.
If he couldn’t summon a demon, he’d fail the class and get kicked out of the exclusive Warlock College his father had forced him to attend. While there was a certain prestige in being a warlock, it wasn’t what Angus wanted to do with his life. He certainly didn’t want a demon to draw magic from. He had to fail this class. His father would be horrified, but Angus would be free from all things magical.
“Widdershins, three times,” the lecturer commanded.
All the college students of Demonology 102 started walking anti-clockwise around the circles they had carefully constructed out of will. Angus suppressed the shiver. He wasn’t afraid of demons. Okay, maybe just a little. What if his demon was something truly monstrous?
Last semester they’d been learning about the different types of demons and the theory behind drawing magic from one. This semester was about putting that knowledge into practice. Those people with magic who didn’t draw on demons were called wizards and usually sold their services cheaply in the local paper. Angus didn’t want to be a practicing wizard either. Just because he had magic didn’t mean he needed to make a career out of it, and telling his father that hadn’t been a wise move. His father had spent three hours railing about why wizards were dangerous and should be banned from practicing magic.
So here he was, trying to summon a demon that he didn’t want, to give himself more of the magic that he didn’t want either. He let his circle weaken and his attention drift. He would not summon a demon.
He’d have rather been a vet.
Maybe studied medicine.
Although the rich, these days, saw specialist warlock healers who had demons. Though his father sneered at them too. He sneered at anything that didn’t increase his power and standing. That he was on the board of the East Vinland Warlock College did not make life easier for Angus.
Angus tried not to focus on the spell, but it was hard not to think about the demons on the other side of the void. Whatever demon popped into the circle would be his personal demon to summon at will. He’d be able to control it. And when it was no longer of use, or drained of magic, kill it and move on to another demon. It all sounded perfectly safe as long as he followed the rules.
Still, none of the rules he’d learned about dealing with demons had worked to assuage Angus’s fears or doubts. It was safer not to summon one.
After all, if humans could summon demons across the void, what was to stop demons from summoning humans across the void? No one ever talked about that. Not in public anyway, though wizards and warlocks occasionally went missing. Those who had been found and brought back from Demonside never spoke publically. What had happened to them in Demonside?
There were groups, websites that suggested that demons were no different than humans. They looked nothing like humans. The college reminded students at every opportunity that demons were lesser beings.
Cold balled in Angus’s gut as he made his third turn around the circle. He cleared his mind of demons and did everything short of dropping his carefully made circle.
His skin prickled as the circle went pop. The power was there, a breach in the void between the worlds now existed in his circle. Damn it. He hadn’t even meant to get that far. The lecturer looked at him, his face fixed in a mask of expectation. They all knew who he was. His father was too well known, and his family had attended this college for generations.
Angus couldn’t shut the tear in the void without the lecturer noticing. Maybe he could avoid calling a demon through. If he didn’t call, surely there would be no answer. Maybe he didn’t have a demon waiting for him.
Around him other students held their circles, the forest now full of little tears in the void. What if they ripped and joined up…?
“Now call your demon to you. Feel the energy. There is a link between the worlds, a demon that wants to rush to your side and act as a magical conduit for you.” The lecturer’s voice rung out, bouncing off the trees. “Your demon that will give you the power you need. This is a very important moment. The kind of demon you call will say a lot about your magical skills and your warlock potential.”
Angus wished that his parents hadn’t insisted on him going to Warlock College. He really just wanted to be a normal nineteen-year-old guy who was nothing like his father. Not everyone who could control magic should.
The air in his circle shimmered as something came across the void.
This wasn’t supposed to happen. He was supposed to fail and be kicked out of college. Failing demonology was an automatic out. There was nothing his father could do. Angus would’ve been free.
He risked a glance around. Demons were popping into existence in the circles of the other students. A cat-like thing with a scorpion-like tail, that was a scarlips. A hulking purple saber-toothed gorilla. A white-skinned woman with blood red lips and talons to match—a vampry—powerful and dangerous.
Angus snapped his attention back to his circle. A tall mannish creature with elegant black horns and a tail stood there. His demon. He was now officially a warlock. All his hopes of failing and leaving the college fell apart. He closed his eyes for a moment. He needed a new plan. He didn’t have one. He’d pinned all of his hopes on not getting a demon.
Now that he had one, he was going to have to deal with it. He opened his eyes to study what he had summoned.
In his circle was a typical black-horn demon. A garden-variety demon, nothing too horrendous or dangerous, nothing his father could boast about. While its chest was bare, the demon was wearing black pants and carrying a rather ferocious looking machete. It was also smiling.
That was disconcerting, as though the demon wanted to be there. Maybe his lecturer hadn’t lied about demons wanting to serve. The longer Angus looked at the demon, the broader its—his—smile became.
The demon was supposed to be anathema to him. He wasn’t. Intrigue fluttered in Angus’s chest. Then he remembered that he was in class, and he was supposed to be exerting control over his demon.
“I am your earthbound master,” Angus said, echoing several other students.
The demon laughed, dark and rich. “And I am your Demonside master.”
No one else’s demon was answering back. They were all waiting for orders.
“That’s not the way this works.” Why did he have to get the smartass demon? Why did he have to get one that could talk?
The one that looked almost friendly in a dangerous kind of way.
The lecturer was still speaking. Angus struggled to tear his gaze away from the demon. A warm breeze brushed against his skin. Summer had just finished, not that it had ever really begun. There was talk they were heading for an ice age. No one could agree on why, but the top warlocks were working on it. The heat was tempting, and he took a step closer to the circle and the demon. Until one of them died, he was stuck with this demon.
“Right, now everyone has their demon, let’s try a simple gathering of energy before we send them home.” The lecturer sounded pleased with his class. That everyone had a demon meant that he’d got a 100 percent pass rate. No doubt he’d won a bet or would get a bonus. Not every student was successful.
Angus had screwed up failing the class.
He returned his attention to his demon. The demon stared at him. Angus was sure the demon was creating the warm air but he didn’t know how. He had a bad feeling about drawing some power from the demon since his demon was smiling and looking entirely too comfortable. In the fading light, his skin had lost its reddish gleam. For a demon he was attractive in a dangerous kind of way.
Angus pushed aside the thought. He should not be admiring the creature in the circle. Or the way it was so calm. Other demons were obviously agitated, thrashing their tails and snarling. The vampry was picking her at her nails as though bored. Angus shuddered; she was creepy. At least his wasn’t creepy.
All he had to do was draw some magic, and then he could get rid of the demon that he hadn’t wanted to summon in the first place, until the next class when he’d have to see him again. Now whenever Angus needed power, all he had to do was summon him and tap into his demon. He’d spend the rest of the semester, his life, being entirely too close to the horned creature.
Angus closed his eyes and tried to feel the magic flowing from Demonside. It was soft and spicy like a freshly baked treat that was begging to be eaten. He wanted to reach for the magic and sample its delights.
His demon laughed.
Magic swelled, but it wasn’t Angus’s doing.
“I want to see what lies within your heart.” The demon broke the circle. Before Angus could protect himself—the first thing every warlock learned—the demon grabbed Angus by the wrist and pulled him through the void.
Heat slammed into Angus and then sank into his skin. He stumbled on the uneven ground, the demon’s grip on his wrist tightened to prevent him from falling. The air was hot and thick and heavily scented. He wasn’t in the cold forest of Vinland anymore. He knew where he was, but he hoped he was wrong.
Angus squinted and blinked against the bright sun. Around him the conversation quieted and then became appreciative murmurs. Someone clapped and a few others joined in.
“Thank you. I was prepared. If a mage of my level cannot snare a young warlock, then something is amiss,” the demon Angus had summoned said.
Angus looked around, his eyes dazzled by the glare coming off the sand. Everything was too bright. He blinked a few times. He seemed to be in some kind of market.
In a shimmery blue circle with his demon.
With a small gesture, the circle shattered like crystal, leaving a sharp tang on the air.
Wait…. Magic was visible here? He had seen the circle. Had anyone else?
“Don’t try to run, there is no settlement for several days and the scarlips will find you most tasty… assuming another demon doesn’t get hold of you first.” His demon’s voice was smooth and too close. He was still holding Angus’s wrist as though he expected him to flee.
Angus lifted a hand to shield his eyes. Beyond the mats of wares, there were colorful tents, beyond them miles and miles of red sand. Red, not yellow. He glanced up. Above him in a slightly more purple sky than he was used to was a fat orange sun that seemed too big and too close.
He knew the answer, but he still had to ask. “Where am I?”
“What you call Demonside. We call it Arlyxia. It is one of the dimensions closest to yours, thus the bleed through.”
“What?” Only the first part of that sentence made sense. He knew where Demonside was, and he hoped that he wasn’t there. All the talk about demons summoning their warlocks had suddenly become truth. Some of those missing warlocks were never heard from again.
Angus felt that he should be panicking or crying or begging or something, but all he could muster was a kind of numb shock.
The demon stared at him. His skin was a dark reddish brown and glittered as though covered in metallic dust. His eyes were black, as black as his horns. The typical black-horn demon was considered relatively harmless. They had no sharp teeth, or claws. If anything, aside from the horns and tail, they looked fairly human. There was no glory in having a common black-horn demon. His father would be disappointed. No, his father was going to be infuriated that a demon had dragged him across the void to Demonside.
“Aren’t you supposed to be an all-knowledgeable warlock? Hmm?” The demon lifted a brow ridge. He had no eyebrows or any hair on his head. “Did your classes not give you the whole truth?”
“Um… no?” None of his teachers had ever mentioned what to do if taken. Not in ethics, spell casting or the theory of summoning, or even the history of demons and their use throughout ancient and classical history. Modern history and the demon wars of the early twentieth century were well known.
Had he read something about horned demons being tricky and debauched? Gaining mastery over your demon was so important so they didn’t act up. Oops. He obviously hadn’t succeeded, that or his demon was trickier than usual.
Nice work, Angus. He could hear his father’s disappointment already. Did this count as a fail? He hoped so.
“I should be getting home. My parents will be worried.” How hard could it be? Make a circle and open up the void. Easy. Demons crossed the void all the time and ran wild through cities until the college stopped them. He started to imagine a circle. It formed, and shimmered around him, then shattered.
Angus gasped. That was twice in one day this demon had brought down his circle. Had the demon called himself a mage? What was that exactly? Was it like a warlock? If it was, he was in trouble. More trouble.
The demon shook his head. “I don’t think you understand your situation. I told you I am your Demonside master and I meant it.”
Angus blinked at the shimmery, handsome demon. “You can’t be my master. That’s not the way it works.” He needed to get home. “I am going home.”
He cast another circle only to have it pulled apart again.
The demon laughed. “Humans. You have such a limited understanding of magic. You think you can pull us through the void and tap us for power whenever you want. Where do you think that magic comes from?” The demon stalked closer.
“Here.” Everyone knew that magic flowed cross the void from Demonside, but only some humans could use it.
“We call it alchemy; I believe you call it physics. Energy cannot be created or destroyed, yes?”
Angus nodded, suddenly aware that there were still people, demons, watching them.
“So where do you think the magic comes from, and where do you think it goes?” The demon crossed his arms over his bare chest. “What happens when the two worlds become unbalanced?”
“I haven’t studied that yet.”
“I don’t think you will. It isn’t in the syllabus.” He turned away. “Follow.” Then he glanced over his shoulder with a grin, his teeth were a little too pointy for it to be reassuring. “Or not.”
Angus did a quick assessment of the market full of demons and decided that, in this situation, it was most definitely better to go with the demon he knew if he wanted to get home.