A Girl’s Guide to Witchcraft and Demon Hunting #0.5
Part One: A Date With Disaster
The coffee shop is mostly quiet, the dull hum of the old-fashioned percolator like music in the background. A chalkboard sign hangs on the teal wall to my left with the command to, “Pretend it’s 1995, turn off your phone and talk to each other.”
Not that anyone is obeying. Even the barista is leaned across the counter, phone in hand as he smiles at some unknown digital amusement.
I sigh. Seattle actually reminds me a lot of my green, mossy home in Louisiana. Even in the heart of the city trees, vines, and ferns cover nearly every possible surface, allowing you to forget the concrete below. Of course, there’d never been a place like this back home. Trendy to the point of annoyingly pretentious, this coffee shop is just like the half dozen others in a three-block radius. The napkins are cloth, the mugs vintage and unmatching, and the booths reclaimed pallets with cushy pillows.
I scan the room once more. Seven people—no, scratch that, seven bodies besides my own. The distracted barista in white apron with curly blonde hair down to his shoulders, three elderly women in loud colored clothes playing cribbage in the far booth, a couple behind me who, judging by what I can over hear, are on their first date, and the server, in a plaid shirt, with a deliberately scruffy chin and knot of hair at the back of his head. He approaches me now, coffee pot in hand. I raise one finger, calling him over wordlessly.
At my table he hesitates, cocking his head to the side. “I gotta ask, are you sure you’re old enough to be drinking this much coffee? You look about twelve.”
I bristle at his observation. “I’m sixteen.”
He whistles, filling my cup. “This much caffeine isn’t good for you, you know.”
“What can I say? I already drank all the whiskey.” He shoots me a concerned glance but I hold my face neutral. Truth is, my gut instinct is to tell man-bun to get bent, but unfortunately, I need his help.
Gotta play nice.
Lowering my voice, I lean forward. “Hey, this couple behind me, they regulars?”
He glances over my shoulder, then shakes his head. “The girl is, can’t say I recognize the guy. Why?”
I shrug, “I’m looking for someone.”
“Yeah, someone who knew my mom a while back,” I whisper, offering him a pointed look. Clearing my throat, I continue, “Like, sixteen years back. We might, uh, share some DNA you know?”
Ok, it’s a total lie, but it’s enough to take me from weird stalker to someone harmless–at least in his mind. His expression morphs from concern to sympathy. “Ah, gotchya. Well, good luck.”
“Thanks,” I mutter blowing on my fresh cup. When he’s gone I sit back, once more tuning into their conversation.
“No, it’s true,” she says, her voice light as a feather. “It’s the full blue blood moon tonight. It’s a really rare cosmic alignment.”
He snorts, “I suppose you’re going to tell me that Mercury is in Gatorade or something too.”
She laughs, but it’s sharp, defensive. “I’m serious. You think things get weird during a full moon? Tonight’s going to be crazy.”
I don’t see him shift in his seat, but I feel it, a change in the air. “How do you know so much about all this, anyway?”
I take a sip of my coffee just as she releases her next words.
“Oh, I was an astronomer in my past life.”
Boiling coffee shoots up my throat and out my nose as I try to hold in the laugh threatening to erupt. Grabbing a rag, I wipe my face, coughing. But the time I compose myself they have resumed their conversation and I can only wonder what on earth compels a guy to stick it out after a comment like that.
They exchange a few more meaningless pleasantries after that, before she finally drops the bomb.
“Hey, so I’m going to this underground full moon party tonight, you wanna come?”
He doesn’t even miss a beat, “Sounds great.”
Gathering their things, they stand. As they walk by I take a moment to really look them over. He’s not super tall, but good looking enough. He’s got that perfect five-day beard and dirty blonde hair that hangs long on one side and short on the other, a muscular build accentuated by his one size too small tee shirt, and jeans with embellishments on the back pockets. She, by contrast is practically an amazon. Long red hair, deep green eyes, and a hint of freckles riding across her perfectly sloped nose. She’s got a few inches on him, probably around the six-foot mark, and of course, a rack big enough to make men not really care how crazy she might be.
Maybe it’s magic, maybe it’s just boobs.
Inhaling deeply, I force out a long, slow breath just before they hit the door. Reaching out with my magic I find what I’m looking for, the thing that drew me here. A familiar tingle returns to me, sending an electric shock through my skin.
There’s no doubt. But which one is it?
Standing I pull a few crumpled bills out of my pocket and drop them on the table.
“You be careful out there tonight,” man bun calls out from where he’s tying a bag of garbage. “This city can be dangerous after dark.”
“You have no idea,” I mutter and follow the couple.
It’s nearly a mile before we hit the warehouse. Dark has fully fallen and the city street is aglow with pink and green neon lights, that’s good enough to allow me to slink behind them, never far but managing to stay unnoticed. Last Supper Club, the dilapidated sign reads. There’s no line outside, but a handful of people in weird Victorian era clothes mill about, smoking what certainly isn’t tobacco. The couple steps inside and after a few minutes, I move to follow them. A tall man in a bowler hat and vest stops me with one had.
“Twenty-one and over sweetheart.”
Sighing, I pull my wallet from my back pocket and hand him one of my fake ID’s.
“Uh huh, nice try,” he says, handing it back.
Opening my mouth before I can even decide between giving him a sob story or simple trying to bribe my way in, a tingle washes over me again. It’s like static on a television, and it drives its way up my spine and into the base of my neck, making me shiver.
Brushing past me, a burly man with a tall top hat and curly mustache nods to the doorman who returns the gesture. This feeling is different from the other, but also familiar.
“Werewolf,” I mutter to myself, taking a step back.
Shit and double shit.
While not unheard of, it’s rare to just run into one, especially on a night like to night. For a werewolf to be out tonight, he’s gotta be super old and super in control. Either that, or he’s just super crazy and about to eat a club full of humans.
Could go either way, really.
And here I thought tonight would be boring.
However, I’m under dressed for a fight with one—much less two—potentially clawed opponents. Opting to regroup and prepare, I duck out of line and grab a cab to the building I’m currently squatting in.
“Wait for me?” I ask, tossing a fifty over the back of the seat.
“Five minutes,” he says flatly. “No more or I go.”
Damn. You can’t even buy a decent sidekick these days.
The apartment is nothing fancy, but still nicer than the abandoned movie theater I’d called home in Denver, despite being in a rough side of town. It’s a second-floor studio above a boarded-up tattoo parlor with an old brass chandelier in the hallway that still glowed with three of the six bulbs. Jimmying the lock, I hurry inside to grab my katana and a vial of holy oil.
The floor is cluttered with old maps of the underground, sewer tunnels, and public utilities, my battery powered lantern in the corner of the room casting enough light to keep the bugs mostly away. In and amongst the papers are my good scrying crystal, my family grimoire, and of course, a protection sigil I’ve carefully carved into the old floorboards. From the corner of the room a hiss reminds me that the stray cat I picked up yesterday was still hanging around, despite being released to the fire escape last night.
Reciting an incantation, I hold my hands out, calling to the spirit world. The magic pulls at me, a draining feeling that I probably shouldn’t risk this close to a fight, but to be honest, I want to reach out—in case it’s the last time.
“All geared up and nowhere to go, baby doll?” My Nana’s voice booms from inside the ratty calico which now struts toward me boldly, its tail twitching.
“Actually, I’m in a bit of a hurry. Found a club that’s playing host to a demon and a werewolf tonight. Double the fun.”
Sitting, she begins to lick herself. “You gotta watch those mutts, especially on the full moon.”
“Really? I had no idea,” I mutter, picking up and tossing aside the papers one by one.
“Don’t get lippy with me, missy.”
I sigh, “Sorry Nana. I’ve got a cab waiting. Have you seen my amulet? The Lapis one?”
Standing again she saunters to the pile of blankets I’ve been using as a bed for the past few weeks. With one paw she reaches under the top blanket and pulls out the chain.
“Oh, yes,” I say, crossing the room and grabbing it. I slip it over my head, shaking my long brown hair over it and tucking the stone under my green tank top.
“You decided on your next stop, baby girl?” She asks, pausing to scratch herself. “Maybe headed back down to the bayou?”
Gesturing toward the laptop on the floor I answer. “Nope. Looks like Texas. Lots of disappearances, lots of unsolved animal attacks. Sounds like my kind of party.”
“You just be careful, darlin. And if you can’t be careful, be—”
I cut her off, “Be armed. I know.”
Rolling onto her side, she looks up at me, her eyes far too wise for the face they currently occupy. “You still upset about Denver?”
I shrug, turning my back to her as I fumble to braid my hair. “I’m fine,” I lie.
“It wasn’t your fault, Aria. You know it wasn’t.”
Turning back to her I let the first real hints of irritation slide into my voice. “I’m not a child, Nana. I was unprepared and people died. That’s on me, plain and simple.”
“Don’t you do that, baby girl. Don’t you try to carry the weight of that.”
“I really don’t have time for this. I need to get back to the club—before any more innocent people get eaten. Or worse.”
She doesn’t ask what worse might be. We both know worse. We’ve lived worse.
I’m about to close the spell when I look at the nana cat once more.
“How’s daddy?” I ask. “Any better?”
Cocking her head to the side she rubs against my leg. “Oh sugar, its gonna take time. When someone takes their own life like that…there’s a lot of healing that needs to be done before his spirit’s whole again.”
I lick my lips. I know. She’d explained it more than once. At first, I’d been so bitter I hadn’t even cared, but then, as time rolled on, forgiveness had crept in. Now, I mostly just miss him. I miss them all.
“For what sweetie?”
I shrug, “For hanging around, I guess.”
“Anytime you need me, I’ll be here. We all will, our whole family back to the beginning of everything. We’re all looking out for you.”
She winks, an expression almost comical on the face of a cat, “Then next time leave us some good Scotch and gumbo to say thanks. No more gas station sushi and Dr Pepper, alright?”
“Sorry Nana, times are tough.”
She opens her mouth to say something else, but I clap one, hard clap, releasing the spell. The cat, now looking confused and a bit terrified, blinks once then runs for the dark corner of the kitchen.
Less than an hour later I’m back at the club and I’m armed and ready for a fight. I’d found the gateway—the portal the demons were using to enter our world–yesterday, down in the ruins of the old city about twelve feet below our feet. I should have burned it down right then, but something stopped me, an instinct as ancient as my family line. Since the great fire in the late 1800’s, a dozen or so folks were either murdered or went missing each year in just this six-block area. The most recent, a school teacher, had been found sans head. Nothing screams demon like decapitated English teachers.
Plus, there was the ichor.
Demon blood isn’t like human blood. It’s black, slimy, and basically battery acid. Every time a demon shifts into human form and back, it oozes the stuff.
I knew what it was at first sight, but it had likely been dismissed by human authorities as oil stains or something similar, if it had been noticed at all. Humans tend to ignore the supernatural as a matter of standard operating procedure. Truth is, people see what they want to see, they know what they want to know. It’s one of the few constants in life.
Bowler hat guy is still manning the door, so I slink around back, all the better for not being spotted with my sword, sheathed at my back but far from concealed.
Pulling a switchblade from my pocket, I hold out my arm, quickly carving the sigil for stealth into my skin as I curse out loud. It’s a shallow cut but it still hurts so badly I nearly faint from the pain, but as soon as I connect the final lines, the wound heals over, a light pink scar that will be gone in a few days. Most sigils can be done with consecrated ash, but in a pinch, blood would do just as well. I breathe again, forcing myself to push past the ache and focus on what’s inside.
The back door is locked, no surprise, and I am about to force the lock when it swings open. A man, probably in his early twenties with an impressive neck tattoo that looks like a bat and a ring through his septum, looks me over.
“Hey,” I fumble. “Any chance you’d be willing to let me inside? I just want check it out. My older sister keeps raving about the place.” He hesitates, so I add, “Please?”
His eyes wash over me once more, this time he licks his lips. “Alright, but stay away from the bar, got it?”
I nod, “Promise.”
He pushes the door open fully and I duck under his arm and inside. It’s a small kitchen that reeks of stale bread and olives. He points to a narrow hall.
“That way to the club.”
“Thanks,” I offer again as I head down the dark hallway.
Stepping out into the club, I realize quickly that I may be in over my head. The place is packed, hundreds of people writhing on the dancefloor beneath a gold, strobing light. Sweaty bodies, pulsing music, the stench of body odor and alcohol and…something I can’t quite place.
I take a deep breath to confirm.
Yep, definitely pot. Not that I’m prudish about the stuff—it’s just not my herb of choice. Give me a good nettle tea any day…
Despite the normally calming effects of the smoke, the energy of the club hits me like a tidal wave. It’s strong, pushing at my skin, forcing its way into my lungs with each breath. Closing my eyes, I reach out with my magic to survey the room, a trick my mother had taught me too long ago to recall. The werewolf hits my energy wave first, a cool tingle not unlike cold rain. It makes me shudder, then refocus. He’s thirty steps to my right, sitting at the bar. His power is cold, literally freezing, a feeling unique to his kind, at least in human form. The animals are warmer, the heat of their magic burning like a fever. His kind normally run a comfy sixty-five degrees on average, but this was even colder, a testament to his self-control that the wolf was so well contained.
My magic recoils from him but continues stretching out until I feel the familiar static. It’s almost painful, the pins and needles feeling you get when a limb falls asleep. Opening my eyes, I walk in the direction of it, finding the couple in a red velvet booth, my mind spinning with scenarios that might let me lead him out of the club, into the back alley where I can dispatch him without causing a scene. The girl from the diner is on his lap, her back to me, her body vibrating oddly. Initially, I think they’re kissing. But then, as I get closer, I realize it’s something else.
So much for doing this quietly.
“Hey, let her go,” I order, my voice audible even above the pounding, wordless music.
The girl stiffens, then sits upright. When she turns to me, her neck at an impossible angle, she grins.
“Ok, let him go. Sorry, I shouldn’t have assumed,” I say. “But seriously, you’ve got a little evil on your face.” I point to my chin, “Just right here.”
She hisses. I glance around, my hand already grasping my katana. No one seems to notice us. Either my sigil is working, or people really just don’t give a fuck anymore.
Probably a bit of both.
“Get lost, little witch, or I’ll eat you all up,” she says, blood and spittle smeared along her chin and lips. Her teeth are pink, her eyes pitch black and reflecting the pulsing lights.
“Gotta be honest here, it’s hard to take you seriously in that ugly ass tube top. Seriously, you look like my grandmother.”
With that she launches herself to her feet. In the booth first date guy slumps over, his eyes fluttering.
I motion to him with my empty hand, “Was that really necessary? I mean, I get it, he wasn’t exactly prince charming, but don’t you know not to play with your food?”
She’s lunging in an instant, but I already have my blade up. The crowd parts just enough to give us room, but still, no one looks directly at us.
“Fire!” I scream, but they continue ignoring us.
Well shit. The sigil worked a little too well.
She dives forward and I dodge left, slicing her in the back as she moves. She snarls again, the skin slipping from her hands like melting wax, revealing sharp claws and sinew below.
“Ugh. Neat party trick. Gross, but neat.”
She moves again, this time slashing with claws. I roll backwards, bounding upright just as she closes the distance between us once more. Stumbling back, I try to put some distance between us. The katana isn’t exactly a close quarters weapon and this isn’t exactly a roomy dance floor anyway. She slices through the air and I bend forward, her claws catching my shirt but not the skin beneath it.
Losing my balance, I fall onto my ass with a thud, raising my katana between us. But she’s too fast, and I brace for the claws heading my direction.
Before they can connect, a pair of arms wraps her from the back, dragging her off of me and I roll to my feet. She struggles with her assailant, writhing as strong arms hold her.
The music screeches to a halt and a voice comes over the loud speaker. I think it’s going to be a warning—someone has seen us and is going to tell everyone to get out—but it’s not.
“It’s nearly the witching hour boys and girls, count it down with me,” the DJ orders, eliciting a round of cheers.
The sound of bones cracking draws my attention back to the demon who, in a move like nothing I’ve ever seen, doubles over, sending the old man werewolf flying and I have to duck so he doesn’t hit me.
Around me the energy of the room intensifies, the crowd screaming their count down.
“Seven, six, five…” they chant. That’s when I realize what’s happening around me. In the old day’s witches would have huge bonfires where they would dance and chant, a way to raise energy then channel it to do their spells. An old-timey rave, just like this one. They had only two purposes, to raise as much magic as possible, or to call something ancient and powerful onto this plain.
The leylines beneath our feet pulsate with energy, converging in the heart of the old city, sending power into the gateway like nothing I’ve ever felt. It must be lit up like a beacon now. A glowing, all you can eat, sign to every nasty creature within a hundred miles of our world and theirs.
I don’t hesitate, dropping my guards I let the energy flood into me, soaking it up like sunlight until I feel stronger, brighter, faster. It seeps into the marrow of my bones.
“Four, three, two…”
With two quick steps I slash downward, even as the demon runs at me full speed, the last of her human skin sluffing to the ground in a wet, ichor filled puddle.
My skin prickles again as the flashing lights change, gold to yellow to red. They may be raising the power, but it fills me as well, a jolt somewhere between ten cups of coffee and a syringe of adrenaline to the heart. I’m fluid as I open myself to the power, letting it fill me. Every moment is achingly slow, though somewhere in the back of my mind I know I’m actually moving so fast most of the humans probably can’t even register what’s happening.
My blade sings through the air, not stopping until it hits the stone floor with a ring. The demon blinks, its mouth wide as it crumples in two, severed halves. It’s less than a second before blue-green flames erupt from the corpse, consuming it with a noxious odor until only ashes remain.
From across the bar another set of eyes is on me, a tall man, probably in his early thirties wearing a black suit with the tie loosened around his neck, stalks toward me, his eyes black as ebony.
I’d been so distracted by the girl, I hadn’t bothered to check the rest of the club.
It’s a goddamn demon bar.
Suit guy reaches me, still looking more human than monster even as I step back, taking a fighting stance.
He says nothing, rushing me with his shoulder down. He’s fast, but I’m already moving, the blade of my katana slicking his head from his shoulders as I spin away from him.
Just then a screaming whistle erupts, followed by flashing silver lights. Spinning, I see the werewolf near the front door, his hand still on the fire alarm as it blares.
There’s another demon at his feet, a guy with long blonde dreadlocks and a multi colored tunic with a peace sign on the front. His head is twisted around backward, ichor pouring from his mouth as he gasps on his hands and knees.
“You just gonna leave that lying around?” I call out.
The Were looks down, sighs heavily, and kicks the demon hard enough that he rolls down the stairs and to my feet.
I hop backward as he reaches out, one hand slipping out of its skin and wrapping around my ankle.
He pulls and my leg goes out from under me, leaving me on my ass once more. But I manage to hold the blade as I fall and leaning forward I slice off his hand, rolling to my feet. Once I’m upright again, I slip the blade under his chin and pull upward with all the force I can muster.
“Not bad,” the Were says, jogging down the steps.
“Yeah. Thanks for the assist,” I offer. Around us the crowd continues to roll around us, rushing for the front door.
“We should probably make a hasty exit,” he says, grabbing my arm, which I promptly pull from his grasp.
“Don’t wait for me,” I order.
Sheathing my sword, I fight against the tide of people filing out the front, stopping to lean over the still unconscious guy from the coffee shop. His pulse is slow, but strong, so I slap him in the face sharply. He’s bleeding from the neck and shoulder, obviously the demon had taken a few bites out of him, but he’s mostly intact.
As he snaps to, his hands immediately find the wounds and he whimpers.
“What the fuck?” he asks, then seeing the blood on his fingers, he squeals.
“Relax, you’ll live,” I say, patting him on the arm hard enough to make him wince. “Next time, maybe you’ll stay away from the crazy ones.”
Blinking, he looks up at me, his mouth turning into a full-on pout. “But I like the crazy ones.”
Throwing my hands up I leave him, “Fine then. Get eaten. What do I care?”
I’m out the back door just as the first sirens approach in the distance and I slink down the alley, not too far but far enough to watch, and duck into the shadows behind a greasy brown dumpster.
Eventually the old Were appears from the chaos. He circles the building, looking down the alley for me. Stepping out from the shadow, I call to him.
“Hey, over here.”
He walks toward me. I’d been right about him being old. There’re deep lines around his mouth and eyes, his hair and mustache streaked with silver. It’s easier to see now, in the unforgiving yellow streetlights.
I chuckle and he looks at me quizzically.
“Sorry, I was just thinking you’re a silver fox, only a wolf.”
His expression doesn’t change.
“Guess it was funnier in my head. Anyway, thanks again for the assist back there,” I offer, wiping my hands on my ripped jeans.
“I’m Aria,” I say, holding out a hand. He just stares at it so I lower it down. “Or that’s cool. Whatever.”
After a moment of hesitation, he growls, “Philip.”
“Alright Phil,” I mutter. “Anyway, thanks. So, see you around. Or not.”
I turn to walk away but he calls out.
“You could have gotten yourself killed. Or worse, exposed us to the humans.” His tone is deep and accusing.
I spin on my heel.
“Chill grandpa. I took out the demons, saved a club full of humans. No harm done. I’ve got one more issue to deal with, then me outta here. Don’t get your mustache in a knot.” Then a chilling thought occurs to me, it’s enough to make my hand twitch for my katana. “Unless you were there for the meal?”
“No, what?” I demand. “No, you weren’t there to eat the humans or no, you’re not going to let me walk away?”
He shakes his head, “No, I wasn’t there to hurt anyone. Werewolves don’t eat humans, which you would know if you were half as smart as you seem to think you are. Don’t you know you shouldn’t go looking for trouble?”
“I know Weres don’t eat humans, but I don’t know you, now do I?,” I scoff. “And besides. Rule number nineteen of demon hunting, always go looking for trouble.”
“You shouldn’t be here.”
“Oh, something tells me this is exactly where I should be. What about you. Why were you in this particular club on this particular evening?”
He bristles. If he’d been in wolf form the hair on his back would be standing at attention.
Finally, reluctantly, he answers, pointing skyward at the massive, pale blue moon, “Fighting the change on a night like this takes a little extra energy. I followed the leylines here. Thought I’d soak up a little juice.”
“Next time just crack a Red Bull like everyone else,” I say. “It’s safer.”
“Then take your own advice. Whatever other business you think you have in Seattle, forget it. Go home. Get out of the city. Tonight.”
“Or you’ll what? Piss on my carpet? Pfft,” I turn my back on him, but the moment I do he pounces. Between one heartbeat and the next my katana is drawn and I’ve turned into the attack, crouched with the tip of my blade at his neck.
“Bad. Dog.” I say, my muscles tight and ready to strike.
“You don’t think I know who you are and why you’re here? Word travels fast in our circles, witch. And you’re making quite a name for yourself. Roaming town to town, hunting demons, killing monsters. One of these days that mouth is gonna write a check your sword can’t cash.”
“I like that, maybe I’ll put it on my business cards.”
He grunts, “If you live long enough. Problem is, you’re not just taking out the bad guys. I hear you’re making some pretty powerful enemies of your own kind too. Messing with their magic. They sure are put out about it.”
Now it’s my turn to get surly. “Why do you give a shit about a few grumpy witches?”
He holds up his hands, “I got my reasons. Staying in good graces with the local witch helps keep the skin on my back.”
It takes me a second, but I catch on, rolling my eyes. “Oh, I get it. Local witches keeping you hidden from your pack, right? I mean, wolves without a pack…tend to get put down, don’t they?”
He says nothing, but I can see the truth in his eyes.
I straighten, lowering my sword and sheathing it. “And what, you’re gonna rat me out to them if I don’t tuck tail and run?”
Now his expression changes, shame filling his features.
“You like having your city full of soul sucking demons? Because I sure didn’t see any of your local witches here tonight, taking them out. Even though it’s kind of literally their job. Makes a girl wonder.”
He stays silent for a moment, finally speaking in a calm whisper.
“What’s your plan?” he asks. “The demons are gone now, so why are you still here?”
Stepping in close enough that he can feel my breath in his face I turn my chin up, holding his eyes. “I’m closing the door—this one and all the others. I’m slamming it shut so their kind can’t infest this city anymore. And then I’m going to close the next one, and the next one, until they’re all gone. I’m going to wipe every single demon off the face of the earth with my bare hands if I have to, and I’m gonna make sure they can never slip through ever again.”
“That’s a lot of rage for someone so young,” he says softly.
I wave him off, “Yeah. Anger issues. I know. You’d have them too if your family was slaughtered by the things. I was nine when they took my mother. I watched…” my voice breaks so I harden my face, clenching my jaw until I’m sure I can speak without wavering. “So, you can walk away, or you can help, but so help me if you get in my way, I’ll cut you down where you stand. Nothing personal.”
“You know where the gateway is in the city?” he asks after a few tense moments.
“Then let’s go.”
A Girl’s Guide to Witchcraft and Demon Hunting #0.5
Part Two: Down The Wolf Hole