A Girl’s Guide to Witchcraft and Demon Hunting #0.5
Part Two: Down The Wolf Hole
The path to get to the underground is hard to find in the dark, and even harder to navigate. The power boost from the rave has completely worn off, leaving me dependent on the light from my cellphone to guide the way. Lucky for me, my companion has great night vision.
“So not to be rude, but how old are you anyway?” I ask as we crawl over a fallen rafter and around some scattered rubble.
Phillip sighs heavily.
“You talk a lot, you know that?”
I shrug, “Personality flaw.”
“I’ll be three hundred next year.”
I whistle. “Wow, that’s like, a lot of candles.”
He offers me a confused glance so I explain.
“Like on your birthday cake? Candles?”
He turns back to the tunnel, “I’ve never had a birthday cake.”
His response makes me stop mid-step. “Wait, like ever? In three hundred years? That’s hella sad.”
“I don’t really eat carbs,” he says, as if it’s totally obvious.
All I can do is shrug and continue forward. “Fair enough, I guess. Still. We survive this, I’m buying you a birthday cake. With candles. Probably the number ones though because, damn.”
We turn into the next shaft and the room becomes familiar.
“Hold on,” I say, pushing past him. “It should be just over…”
We turn one last corner and as I take a step my shoe slides out from under me, forcing me to grab the wall for balance. I lift my boot, and the ichor strings off of it into the skin puddle below. “Oh gross.”
Lowering my light to examine the goo, I hear Phillip growl beside me, a low, guttural noise. My eyes flick up without the aid of the light, and three sets of shiny black eyes reflect back at me from the doorway.
I don’t even have time to drop the f-bomb before Philip is shifting, bones crackling and skin stretching. The sound alone is nauseating so I don’t shine the light on him, too afraid of what I’ll see. Instead I raise the beam of light to the nest of demons at the door. Three of them, in full demon form—a mass of muscle and ichor and tendons over black bone—huddle around what probably used to be a person, but now looks kind of like a pile of raw spare ribs.
Vomit burns its way up the back of my throat but I swallow it back down, drawing my katana with my free hand.
Beside me Philip lunges for the one on the right. Sending it sprawling as he lands on top of it, claws and teeth biting and scratching. They roll away, into the shadows, but the sound of their battle echoes in the damp chamber. The other two stand, snarling at me. The first one pitches forward, crawling over the dead body, the other backs up into the doorway and vanishes.
I’m muttering my spell even as it closes in. “Goddess of light, Goddess of land, I invoke thee now to bring light to my hand.”
The energy of the leylines takes hold of the spell and I exhale, the power coursing up through my feet, through my body, and out my hands, which begin to glow with a blinding, golden night. The creature growls and backs up, shielding its eyes.
As it moves I catch a whiff of something like rotting cabbage in a gas station bathroom. The odor makes my stomach churn.
“Oh my god, I get that you’re evil, but do you have to smell bad too? Isn’t being ugly enough?” I ask, dropping my phone with a clatter and slashing forward with my blade. This demon is smaller than the one in the club, shorter and slower. Its mouth hinges open, rows and rows of sharp teeth exposed in the light, bits of flesh still stuck between them.
It lunges and I dodge, side stepping the attack.
“Come on, you’re not even trying,” I say, taunting the creature.
It moves in again and I spin, dropping to my knees and slicing one leg out from under it before flipping back to my feet and striking again, this time nearly taking the head off. It’s already starting to heal when I deliver the final blow, severing the head from the neck completely. It rolls away, a flaming ball of yuck. A dog-like whimper beside me draws my attention. I move to join him, but he shakes his head.
“The door, quickly,” Phillip’s human voice escapes the now elongated muzzle. “Before they can bring reinforcements.”
“Shit,” I mutter, taking the vial of holy oil from my pocket. He’s right. As much as I want to charge in and help him, the door’s gotta go first.
Part of me is wondering how I didn’t know that Weres could speak in wolf form, making a mental note to add it to the family grimoire.
Assuming I survive this, of course.
The other part of me, the part trained for the hunt, brings the light from my hands down to a soft glow, focusing the light into a single stream with my energy. I feel the gateway before I see it, like a magnet, pulling at me.
The rancid smell hits me again, and I manage to duck just as a clawed hand slices through the air where my head had just been. My katana still in one hand I slice at hip level, the blade catches but doesn’t cut through entirely. I have to fall back, drawing it free with a wet slurp.
The creature wails and runs past me, back into the gateway before I can get to my feet. It vanishes, a ripple of air the only indication that there’s an actual portal and not just an empty room behind it. Stepping back I sheath my katana, knowing I probably don’t have much time until the creature heals and comes back to finish the fight–probably with a few hungry friends.
The frame looks like any normal door frame, except the wood is so old and smooth it could easily be petrified. Carvings are etched into it, the language ancient and indecipherable, and they glow faintly as I drizzle the oil on it before reaching into my back pocket for a pack of matches.
Striking the first match, I use it to light the whole pack, touching it to the door in a few places, letting the oil catch flame.
The door burns up quickly—far faster than normal wood would burn, even doused in gasoline–but with no smoke. The engravings vanish moments before the whole thing collapses into a heap of black ash and coal. No sooner is it gone than my light flickers, the energy from the leylines severing like a cut ribbon. Reaching inside myself, I manage to spool my own power, just enough to keep a faint glow in one hand. It’s draining me quickly, and I know I don’t have much time. Grabbing the katana once more, I rush back to my furry companion, hoping that I’m not too late.
The demon wails beneath Philip as his massive wolf form rips at it’s neck, the muzzle wet with ichor and chunks of meat.
“Aright, your turn,” I say, approaching them both. Philip rolls off the creature, his fur covered with thick, slimy blackness, and I deliver one clean strike to the wounded monster, decapitating it.
Once the body has burned away I kneel, offering my hand to the still furry Phillip for a fist bump. I expect him to ignore the gesture, but to my surprise he taps my knuckles with one paw.
“You alright?” I ask.
He nods, licking his chops. “Tastes like sewage,” he says spitting and hacking.
“Smells like it too,” I agree.
The last of my magic dissolves and the light goes out. I cuss, flipping onto my knees and groping for my phone.
“Two feet to your left,” Phillip says. “And forward just a bit.”
Following his instructions, I retrieve the device. Once it’s in my hand the beam of light shines again. Despite the trauma, there’s no apparent cracking. I’d just dropped it on the back, obscuring the flashlight.
“You alright over there?” Phillip asks with a snort. “You look like you’re holding the One Ring.”
Turning to stare at him over my shoulder, I raise one eyebrow. “Did…did you just make a Lord Of The Rings reference?”
His head twitches to the side, “What? I read.”
I’m not sure what to say to that so I just let it go. “Whatever. I didn’t spring for the insurance, ok? These things aren’t cheap.”
“Kneeling in a pile of demon goo, and you’re worried about your replacement plan?” he mutters something else under his breath that sounds a lot like, “Damn kids.” Turning his back on me, he begins slinking back the way we came. Taking a moment to wipe the ichor off my blade with my jeans, I jog after him.
“You gonna shift back?” I ask as we make our way back topside. “I mean, a wolf running around Seattle might alarm the normies.”
He shakes his head, bits of ichor spraying from his fur and coating my pants. I’d complain, but I’m already such a mess it doesn’t matter anyway.
“Clothes tore off when I changed. So, it’s this or an old naked guy. Ironically, I think this is the better option.”
“What a world we live in,” I say, climbing over the last pile of rubble with a grunt. “Thanks again, for coming with me.”
He stops walking, turning to stare at me with his big, golden wolf eyes. “You know, you close the rest of those doors and that’s the end of magic. All magic. You ever stop and think about what that means—really means—for the rest of us?”
I stop, just as I can finally see the sky. Turning my chin upward, I close my eyes, bathing in the moonlight. “I have, trust me. It’s worth it though. If a world without magic is the price for a world without demons, I’ll pay it. Every time.”
“Others wouldn’t be so quick to agree to that. They’ll try to stop you.”
My gaze settles back on him, “That include you?”
After a tense moment he speaks, “Nah. Whatever comes or doesn’t come, I’ve had my fill. Maybe it’s time. Maybe the world needs a change.”
“Maybe,” I agree.
“But you won’t have your powers anymore either. You’ll be just another human.”
He says human, but his tone makes it sound more like prey.
Human. What would that look like? What would it even mean? In that moment all I can see is my mother’s face. The fear in her eyes as she reached out for me.
“Let them come. I don’t care about power anyway.”
“What do you care about?”
“Revenge.” Taking a deep breath, I look back to him, “I’m headed down south next. Got a lead on a gateway in Texas. You wanna tag along? I could use backup.”
“Nah.” Sitting on his haunches he shakes his head, “I’ve had bellyfuls of revenge over the years and you know what I’ve learned?”
I roll my eyes, “No, oh wise dog face. What have you learned?”
“That it never fills you up. The more you eat, the emptier you feel. So, if you want some advice from an old dog—”
“I really don’t.”
“—carve out some kinda happy for yourself, Aria. Before the darkness eats you alive. Find some light.”
With that he stands, shakes his head once, and stalks off into the shadows, leaving me the way I’ve been for the past three years.
“I’m a cat person anyway,” I call out after him.
And now a sneak peek at DEMONS LIE Chapter 1!
The streets around me are still. It’s been hours since the last of the meandering population took refuge for the evening. There’s something about towns like this that make people, on a deep, instinctual level, walk a little faster once the sun sets. They burn the lights just a little brighter to drive away the shadows and retreat into their safe, cozy homes to wait out the night.
Glass shop windows reflect the pale hue of moonlight, the streetlights too sparse to provide much relief to my tired, strained eyes. My calves ache, too long crouched behind the copper buffalo–a statue in honor of the town’s founder, according to the plaque below its massive head–too many hours walking the barren alleyways, too long since I’ve had anything resembling a real night’s sleep. Every muscle protests, every joint throbs.
I’m running on vapors, the last of the caffeine and adrenaline long since leached from my system by the hours of patrolling the roads.
No rest, or Starbucks, for the wicked, I suppose.
But it’s close. I can feel it like a humming in my veins. A primal warning system, a subconscious alarm. Danger ahead, turn back now. This is the feeling that makes most people turn and walk the other way.
Luckily, I’m not most people.
I’ve been in town less than a week, more than long enough to follow the trail of ichor and dead bodies. There’s a full moon tonight. Predators love the full moon; all the better to spot their prey.
Standing, I lean back, stretching as best I can. The humming is stronger now, and I let it guide me, a tether in the darkness, toward the shadowy parking lot between the buildings. There’s only one car, a beat up old Chevy sitting beneath a single, flickering street lamp.
Making my way toward it, I pull the keys from my jeans pocket, jingling them in my palm.
“Jesus Christ,” I mutter to myself. “What’s a girl gotta do to get a little action around here?”
“Hey, are you OK?” A voice calls across the parking lot, making me jump.
“I was. You scared the shit out of me,” I say, putting one hand over my racing heart. Watching the man walk toward me, I play with my keys nervously. He’s short and stocky, and as he heaves a bag of garbage into the dumpster behind one of the buildings, the hem of his dark T-shirt rides up just enough to expose a ridge of muscles trailing into his jeans.
It’s hard not to appreciate the sight.
“You need some help?” he asks, motioning toward the Chevy.
“That’d be great, actually. I was supposed to be meeting a friend, but I think the battery’s dead.”
Nodding, he approaches. His hair is long and sandy brown, his eyes a light, crisp blue. He’s cute of the hella variety. Probably in his mid-twenties, with a light Texas drawl that adds easily three points to the hotness scale, he makes his way over with his hands stuffed in his pockets.
I take a minute to glance around, but there’s no one else. Above us, the light flickers and buzzes.
“You new in town?” he asks, grabbing the hood of the car.
I shake my head. “Just passing through.”
“Lucky me,” he offers with a goofy grin. “You wanna pop the hood for me?”
“Maybe,” I tease. Leaning against the door of the car, I offer him my best flirty smile. “What makes you think you’re lucky?”
In a moment, his expression changes, the whites of his eyes flooding to black. His grin widens until it’s too wide for anything human, the corners of his mouth tearing and bleeding. “Because I’m going to do terrible things to you, little girl.”
I straighten, my hand reaching back, parting the dark hair at the base of my neck and wrapping around the hilt of my katana. “Funny, I was just thinking the same thing.”
The ring of metal against the sheath echoes through the air as the grin falls from his face. He’s already beginning to slip his skin, patches of it sloughing to the ground in oozy black puddles.
“Witch,” he spits, taking a step back.
I frown. “Rude. You don’t even know me.”
He lunges, but I dodge, bringing my blade up between us. I catch the front of him, and the last of the flesh falls away, revealing the mass of muscle, sinew and bone beneath.
“What? Not even a little foreplay?” I ask, taking two steps back and settling into position. “You demons are all alike.”
He hisses, his fingers extended into talon-like claws. “I’m going to eat your soul.”
It’s hard not to roll my eyes. “Yeah. I’ve heard that before.”
He attacks, fast and off balance. Young, I realize. A baby in demon years. Inexperienced in a fight. Pressing my advantage, I’m able to get a few decent slices in before he knocks me back against the hood of the car. Rolling to the side, I scramble onto the car, the hood denting with each step. He reaches for me, and I parry, slicing off one hand.
The creature wails, a high-pitched cry somewhere between dog and human. While it’s distracted, I make my move. Rushing forward, I jump off the hood of the car and tackle the demon. We both tumble to the ground, but I manage to stay on top.
With one smooth motion, I press my sword to its neck. It claws at me, talons of its one good hand slicing into my back. I scream but manage to hold position.
“You think you can stop us?” It laughs. “We are legion.”
“Yeah? Well, I’m a Taurus, and I. Don’t. Care.”
With that, I press forward with all my weight, severing the head from the shoulders. I manage to pitch to the side and off the body before it bursts into flames, reducing itself to a pool of muck in only minutes before the flame dies away.
Only then do I give in to the pain ripping up my back. Gasping, I allow myself a moment to lie there, a string of words that would have gotten my mouth washed out by my Nana spitting from my mouth. Only once I’ve cussed myself mostly better do I force myself to my feet, slinking back to the spot I’ve been squatting in.
Flicking on the light of the bathroom, I strip off my tank top and examine the wound. It’s deep and angry, the edges burnt from the ichor between its claws—that’s probably the only thing keeping me from bleeding out, the seared flesh. Grabbing the black salt from the counter, I toss the whole jar of it in the tub and fill it with cold water. I’d been able to splice into the box outside for electricity, but the hot water heater had been disconnected and removed long ago. Falling to my knees beside the iron tub, I hold my hands above the surface.
“Grant me now thy holy fire, as is my need–as is my desire. By the power of salt and the grace of the sea, grant thy fire unto me.”
The heat builds in my palms moments before the top of the water ignites, blue and green flames flickering several minutes before snuffing itself out. The last of my energy sapped, I crawl into the tub, still in my jeans and bra, letting the now warm water cradle me. Even the sharp stinging of the black salt into my wounds isn’t enough to keep me from lulling to the side, surrendering to the blissful arms of sleep.
The next morning, I jolt awake. I’m shivering, goosebumps covering every inch of me as I pull myself from the water and onto the cracked tile floor, gasping for breath against the frigid cold.
Luckily, the window is open and the already sweltering temperatures are warming the whole room. Prying myself free of my clothes, I stand, wrapping myself in a towel, and pull my hair over one shoulder to look at my back in the mirror.
The cuts are mostly healed; only red, angry scratches remain. Grabbing the now empty jar of black salt, I swear under my breath.
It’s not easy to come by and takes a painfully long time to consecrate enough to be useful for that kind of healing. Not exactly something you can order on Amazon.
“Shit,” I say, setting it aside. “Guess we do it the old-fashioned way.”
Dressing as quickly as I can given the ache in my back, I dry my hair and head down to the pharmacy at the end of the street.
Last night’s empty streets are once again bustling with life, people on their way to work and school; totally oblivious to the evil creature I’d dispatched less than twelve hours ago. I can’t help wondering how long it’s been here, preying on these people. How long it had gone unnoticed.
The door chimes as I enter, picking up a basket with a groan I can’t contain. Wading through the aisles, I pick up a pack of bandages, some burn ointment, and an energy drink for good measure. I’m about to head for the checkout when I catch a snippet of conversation between the pharmacist and an older man.
“They say it was a coyote attack. Seems odd it’d venture so far into town, don’t you think?”
Pausing, I stand in front of a random shelf, biting my lip as I strain to hear.
“Third one in as many months. You’d think animal control would have found the damn thing by now and put it down.”
“That poor family. She was barely fourteen, you know. Just a tragedy.”
“Do you know when it happened?”
“Early this morning, I guess. Betsy said she left before sun up to do her paper route. They found her about six-thirty.”
“Oh, fuck me,” I mutter.
“I’m sorry, miss. Did you need help with something?” the pharmacist asks pointedly.
I glance at him, blinking. “Oh, no. Sorry, I was just,” I turn back to the shelf and find I’ve been staring at a rack of condoms for the last five minutes. “Need a few of these,” I finish, grabbing a handful of boxes. “You know, safety first.”
The men exchange a startled glance, and I head for the register, first aid gear and prophylactics in tow.